Saturday, February 25, 2017

Zoo Excursion

Yesterday was a beautiful day, weather-wise, and Christine asked if we wanted to go the zoo.  The last time we went to the zoo was back in July 2009, and it was definitely a memorable trip.  It was hot, crowded . . . and my wallet got stolen.  My pregnant sister-in-law was out visiting with Emily, and the next day she had to watch my 7 kids (Nathan had just turned 12, and Faith was 5 months old) while Bob and I ran around trying to get replacement ID cards for Nathan, Luke, and me (because they were all in my wallet, which seemed like a good idea at the time, lol), as well as a new driver's license.  And then in September we found out new credit card accounts had been opened in my name, but fortunately Chase sent us a letter, so we were able to close them, but then in January 2010 . . . I got a letter from the Penn Credit Corporation that was alarming:

We are writing to inform you that sensitive personally indentifiable information about you was accessed without authorization by two employees of Penn Credit Corporation . . . Once we learned of this incident, we ended the employment of both individuals. Please be aware that the Manhattan District Attorney's Office is actively investigating this matter . . . In late October 2009 we were contacted by representatives from the Manhatten District Attorney's office concerning an ongoing identity theft scheme perpetuated by a group of individuals, including our former employees. A member of the group with no connection to Penn Credit would contact our two employees after acquiring personal information taken from pick-pocketed wallets. The employees would then, without authorization, use Penn Credit's computer resource to access the social security numbers and other personally indentifying information . . . Contrary to our company policy, those individuals would then share that information with the individual who contacted them. This individual, working with others in the scheme, would ultimately add this data to the information they had previously acquired so that they could conduct fraudulent banking transactions . . .

I was eventually contacted by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office to say I might need to go there to testify in the trial because my information was the first that they matched up with this gang of criminals, and it helped catch them.  Whee!  The main guy ended up taking a plea bargain, so I did not have to go to NY for the trial, but not too long ago I did get a letter stating he was up for parole, and that I could send in a letter saying why I didn't think he should be released!  I did not, but anyway . . . you can probably see why I have been more than happy to never set foot in the National Zoo again in 7 1/2 years.

But we went yesterday, except for Luke.  We left early, so parking was a breeze, and the zoo was so wonderfully not crowded.  The weather was just so beautiful--high in the mid-70s--so that was very enjoyable as well.  We got to hear a tiger roar (?).  I don't know if that's what you call it, lol.  It sort of sounded like he had just woken up, and his voice was froggy!  Faith's favorite animals were the tigers.

 We had a good group of us--17 kids and 3 moms, I think it was.
 There were lots of volunteers around, and since it wasn't very crowded, we could actually converse with them.  This gentleman was telling us about this cobra that had been mishandled and is super mean.  For 7 years, no one has been able to go in the same cage as him.

I found the small mammal house to be the most interesting, especially the naked mole rats.  I remember seeing them before (and I remembered how incredibly ugly they are!), but this time I read that they do not get cancer!  Also, they live to be about 30 years old, but they never appear to age (someone commented that's because they already look old and wrinkly, lol).  So researchers are hoping to learn about these characteristics and maybe figure out how to use them to stop cancer in humans, which would be so wonderful.
 Here is Caleb McC communing thoughtfully with the gorilla statue.
 The panda bears were the animals Anna most wanted to see, and it was a great day to see them!  Both the mama Mei Xiang and the cub Bei Bei were out, chomping away at their bamboo.  Bei Bei was really chilling, practically laying on his back to eat, and the volunteer said that was his particular style--most pandas eat sitting a little more upright, rather than reclining!
 Verity was tired, and we thought she was actually going to fall asleep in her stroller, but then she got her second wind.  She liked the elephants.  Actually, she liked any animal that was big and obvious enough for her to see right away, lol.  If it could be seen from her stroller, that was an even bigger plus!
 And then there was Drew . . . About halfway through, he started complaining about how tired he was, and hungry.  I gave him some Cheez-its to ward off imminent starvation, but he continued to lag behind.  I would describe him not as wandering off, but more as bumbling around, like a bumblebee through a meadow, not paying the slightest attention to where he was going, and definitely not making any effort to stay up with the rest of the group.  Various older boys did yeoman's work to hold his hand and try to coax him faster, but for most of the time, I was in the back with the stroller, constantly urging him onward.  I should have brought the double stroller--or, as I texted to Luke, left him at home with Luke!

At one point, I was talking to another mom, and we missed the right-hand turnoff where the rest of the group had gone.  Micah and Drew were ahead of us with some of the other kids, and we were on a path looking down on the path by the sea lions and otters, instead of down there, where we actually wanted to be.  We turned around, and then turned left onto the path.  When we got to the first place you can look underwater to see the animals swimming around, I didn't see Drew.  I asked around, but none of the older kids had him.  We wondered if he might have been with Christine and her group that had been ahead of us, but I knew he had *just* been ahead of me on the upper path, so there was no way he was with her.  Some of the kids ran ahead to  look in the other little overhanging places.  Caleb and I went back up to the higher path, and Caleb ran down that one a ways.  I looked around fruitlessly for someone to ask for help.  Eventually Caleb came back and went the other way on the path, back up where we had originally come from.  It was only a few minutes more before he texted me to say he had found him, which was an incredible relief.  Drew had apparently missed the turnoff the second time and wandered on up the path.  Eventually he did realize no one he recognized was around, so he sat down on a ledge by a glass wall looking into the wolf exhibit.  A lady with her 3 kids saw him sitting there, and she called the park police.  She waited there with him for a few minutes, and then Caleb came by.  I rushed on over as soon as I got Caleb's text, and we all waited around, since theoretically, the police were on their way.  We waited for almost 10 more minutes, and then we all finally started walking back towards where the rest of our group was.  The other lady was super nice, and we had a nice conversation.  I was just so immensely relieved that I didn't really care about anything anymore, although I was a bit perturbed that the police had not responded sooner?  I guess there are probably a zillion lost kids on crowded summer days, but still . . . it did not inspire confidence.  Eventually, as we were walking we saw a park policeman sauntering up the path.  We told him that if he was responding to the little boy who was lost, he had been reunited, and the policeman said great and walked on.  So that was that, but it definitely gave me several more gray hairs and probably took a few years off my life!
We finished up (with me having a death grip on Drew and his hand) and ate a nice picnic lunch in the parking lot before heading home.  I was glad we went . . . but I will be perfectly happy to wait another 7 1/2 years before we go back to the National Zoo.  Apparently, I lose things there!

Friday, February 24, 2017

A Life Well-Lived

Friday night, on our way back to the house of my parents' friends, we stopped by the house of my oldest cousin for a big family meal.  She is a teacher, and the other teachers and staff at her school provided such a delicious feast for the whole family--several pans of enchiladas, rice, beans, salad, chips and dip, and tons of dessert!  It was for lots of people too.  My aunt and uncle have 4 married daughters, and there are 17 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren!  Most of them were there Friday, although a few were still traveling then, and a (very) few just couldn't make it at all.  I think the thing I enjoyed most of all about the trip was getting to see these family members that I just never have been able to spend much time with, since the west coast is so far from the midwest, and now the east coast!  I have met a few of the grandkids, but only when they were young, and they definitely didn't remember me.  Now at least 4 of them are married themselves, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the ones I talked with.  It was also really wonderful to catch up with my cousins.  Facebook is great because I have been able to see wedding, baby, vacation, etc. pictures, but it's still not like a conversation!

Saturday was the memorial service for my aunt.  Although the church it was held at was a little far out, in the mountains, it was really well-attended.  The church also had a beautiful view of trees out the front windows of the sanctuary, so it just had a restful, peaceful feeling.  Even though everyone was sad, I think it was one of the more joyful memorial services I've ever been too.  My aunt knew she trusted in Christ for her salvation, and she was confidant that she would be with him when she died.  She had battled internal melanoma for 6 years (much longer than what doctors told her to expect to live), using primarily alternative methods.  She was able to see 4 grandkids get married and 2 great-grandchildren be born in those 6 years, and she was even able to take a big trip to Hawaii with several of her kids and grandkids last March.  Everyone was relieved that she was not in pain anymore, and she left a lifetime of memories and relationships.  In fact, the grandkids had each brought things she had made for them--quilts, table runners, stuffed animals, cross-stitch projects, etc--and had them all out on a table in front on display.

The slideshow was full of beautiful pictures, my dad spoke, my oldest cousin read a poem she had composed about her mom's hobbies and interests, and then my second oldest cousin read a series of texts from various grandkids that came in as my aunt was dying.  Wow, those were so moving!  They really showcased the relationships she had with each of them, and all the things she enjoyed doing with each person--cooking, sewing, playing games, doing puzzles, etc. Then the pastor opened the mic up to anyone else who wanted to speak, and some other relatives spoke as did a neighbor, and her Community Bible Study leader.  Everything together gave a really full picture of my aunt's life, and what she considered important, primarily her faith and her family.  It was really neat.

Then we all went over to my third cousin's house for a meal, so everyone got to visit some more.  I heard more interesting stories about the area, and I took this picture of a picture--my grandma with my 2 aunts and my dad!
As a kid, I looked a lot like my aunt on the left (who was killed in a car accident when she was only 18, and I was named after--for anyone who doesn't know, my first name is actually Barbara).  My dad is the one in front, obviously.

Sunday my parents and I went to church with Bob and Lucille, and then out to lunch, and on to a church small group with them. During the small group time, I got the disconcerting text that my flight to San Francisco had been delayed, and that meant I was going to miss my connection home!  So afterward, my parents drove me to the airport so I could talk with the ticket people there.  The problem was all the rain/bad weather in CA, and SF was delaying/diverting all the smaller airplanes.  There just aren't many planes flying out of Medford, and the ones in the morning to Denver nad SF were full.  The earliest I could get out was 10:40 Monday morning to SF, connecting to a flight here to DC.  My worry was that that flight would also be delayed, since it was still going to be raining, and then I would eventually get to SF but not be able to go anywhere else on Monday.  "Well, yes, but at least it would be the daytime, " was the helpful response from the ticket lady.  I knew I didn't want to be stuck in SF, and that the later I got there, the more likely it was that I would get stuck!  I was definitely getting worried, but after some time, another lady came over to help.  She was able to change me to Delta so I flew out Sunday night to Portland, then to Atlanta, and then home Monday morning at 9:00.  What a miracle and answer to prayer!  (And the person who helped her do that wanted her to be sure to tell me it cost United a *lot* of money.  I am very, very grateful!!)  My parents flew out Monday morning to Denver at 5:25.  When they got to the airport, they found out that both the morning flights to SF had indeed been cancelled on Monday--so I would not have gotten out that day on United either.  I was so thankful to be home Monday morning!!  I took a 3 hour nap, then ran several errands and prepared for Rivendell on Tuesday.  Back to real life!  But that is better than being a terminal rat, LOL!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Northern California Memories

Last Monday, my dad's sister died in southern Oregon.  She is the one we tried to go see last year, when the space a flight we were trying to make got moved up, and we couldn't make the show time for it.  I still am so sad it didn't work to get out there, as no other flights worked out.  Anyway, I really wanted to get out there for the funeral, if possible, which was on Saturday.  Because of the excitement on our flight to Nashville last month, I had a $150 voucher from United that I was able to use toward this trip!  I flew out early Thursday morning (after juggling around my carpool driving responsibilities) to Denver, where I met my parents, and we flew on the same plane to Medford, OR.  My seat was even next to one of their's, so my mom and I got to visit the whole flight!

We stayed with friends of my dad's from his growing up days.  He and Bob met each other in 3rd or 4th grade, and they graduated from high school together.  They also did cub scouts/boy scouts together, and had a lot of great adventures.  Dad was the best man in their wedding, and the 2 couples have kept in touch over the years.  We had such a good time staying with them! They have a house on 7 beautiful acres, and I thoroughly enjoyed tromping around out there, collecting samples to bring home to show my biology class of things like different types of lichen, some moss with sporophytes, and other nonvascular plants.
 Here is a view off the back deck of some of the property I got to walk around.
 Here are some of my samples, including "Methuselah's Beard" lichen on the branch in front, and "Oakmoss" lichen as well as the flatter "Hammered Shield" lichen on the twig in back.

After breakfast on Friday, my mom, dad, and I headed over the Siskiyou Pass into northern CA, where my dad grew up.  Our first stop was the old mining town of Yreka. This is the old hotel on the main street through town, with a neat stagecoach in front.
 My grandpa moved the family there when my dad was around 5.  He opened a hardware store in this building on the corner (just down the street from the hotel), which is now a meat market.
 This was my dad's house growing up.  It was actually 2 separate buildings until his dad joined them with a walkway at some point, but not before there was a big mudslide that came in between them and filled up what was a (nasty) swimming pool in the front yard.  My dad was in favor of just leaving the mud, since the pool was always gross, but my grandpa insisted that they dig all the mud out of it.  We couldn't get close enough to tell if the pool was still there in the front, and you can't even really tell in this picture where the pool would have been!  The house was up at the top of North St.--not too far from where his friend Bob grew up.  There weren't very many houses around back then, and there was just a field behind the house, but now there are several houses to the right of this one, and a neighborhood behind it.
 Then we headed just out of town to the Greenhorn Reservoir area.  My parents used to own some property out there, so we drove past it.  They sold it when the soil only perked for a 2 bedroom house--that wouldn't do any of us any good!--and the house that has been built on it is indeed tiny.  We stopped at the park, where they have some mining equipment and buildings on display.  This wheel was completely remade by the brother of Bob's wife Lucille, and he did an amazing job.  I don't know if you can really see it, but the spinning wheel turns the flat wheel, which spins a stone that . . . did something.  I can't remember, lol.  The wheels all look great though!
 Here are my parents standing in front of what's left of an old stamp mill.  Because of our time being stationed in Colorado, I read a lot of books about the mining history of that state, so I am somewhat familiar with the equipment.  I really find it all fascinating!
 Here you can better see the heavy metal weights that crush the ore.  We agreed that the park needs someone like Lucille's brother to restore this stamp mill, but boy, I can not even imagine what a chore that would be!  Those metal things are SO heavy!
 After a quick lunch at Taco Bell (it was a novelty to me to not have to order 2 taco 12 packs--I got a doritos taco and a chalupa!), we headed to the (even smaller) town of Montague.  After selling the store in Yreka and delivering auto parts for another company for awhile (which is when my grandpa found that wonderful Model A Ford that he and my dad fixed up, and that my dad still gives the grandkids rides in today!), my grandpa opened another hardware store in Montague.  It was in the bottom of this greenish building, and they lived in an apartment on top.  Unfortunately, the building burned quite a few years ago--and there the building stands, all burned out and desolate looking.  Rather depressing, actually!
 Right behind the burned out building is this house, which is where my grandparents were living when I remember visiting them.  The house is looking quite shabby now, which is sad, because my grandparents always kept it looking very nice and kept up. The area is somewhat depressed though, with not much industry around since the lumber mills were decimated after the spotted owl stuff.  Montague definitely had more of a depressed vibe than Yreka, though, although there is one huge lumber mill operation not far from there that I was surprised to see.  It was enormous!
 Then we headed back north up I-5, almost to the Oregon border.  This is where my aunt and uncle owned and operated a service station/liquor store/restaurant for many years.  Now it is just a liquor store, and one of my cousins said the owner is making a killing.  He buys more in bulk than Costco, so he can give better prices, and apparent'y the people are willing to drive through the mountains for a deal!
 The place did not look as nice as it did when my uncle was in charge though, and there were all these huge trailer/shipping containers behind the store that didn't used to be there, plus huge security fences.  My aunt and uncle built the house below on the right, and I used to LOVE to go visit them and my cousins!  They had a pool, and sometimes a horse, plus all this land to run around on, and I thought the station was so interesting!  I know now that it all had its downsides too, like being really isolated, but as a little girl, I thought it was amazing!
You can see from all these pictures that it was cloudy and rainy, and that is how it was the entire trip, which was disappointing.  We didn't get even a glimpse of Mt. Shasta!  But there was no snow, and it really didn't actually rain all that much--just little sprinkles.  I really enjoyed seeing all these places, and I *really* hope we can get our kids out there to see everything too.  Small town life in northern CA (and I mean REALLY northern CA, not just "around Sacramento", lol) is so very different than life here in northern VA.  Plus the history is so interesting, and I love how the families are all so connected in all these little mining towns up in the mountains.  Fascinating!

I'll post more about the rest of the trip in another post, but the whole trip was really wonderful, and I am so glad I was able to go!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

My Week: Two Birthdays, a Clean House, and No Diet

What a great week!  My birthday was Tuesday.  Normally birthdays are no big deal, and frankly, I was a little bummed that my birthday fell on a Tuesday this year, since those are definitely our busiest, most stressful days.  But it turned out to be a great day!  Not quite as good as my best birthday ever, 3 years ago, when we were in Hawaii on our space-a adventure--but a close second, for sure!  Who knew 44 would be a great age to turn?!
Christine had emailed me Monday night, asking if I could be at opening ceremonies for our elementary co-op.  She was in China for the week, visiting her son, who is there for 9 months for an intensive language program.  They were going to skype with the kids here.  I was happy to start biology a little late to be there!  Isaac taught the kids how to say "happy birthday" to me in Chinese, which was so fun!  He said some super nice things about me as a teacher, which about made me cry--such a nice surprise!  We can't wait for him to come back!
When I came back to our house, I was surprised to see donuts!  Luke and Caleb Mc had run over to Shoppers to get their delicious donuts while I was over at the other co-op.  It was "Tie Day" at Rivendell, lol.
The boys sang "Happy Birthday" to me, and I thoroughly enjoyed a chocolate frosted donut with sprinkles before (finally) starting biology.  Good thing class was pretty short!
At lunch time, Michele brought out cupcakes she had brought, and the kids all sang "Happy Birthday" to me again!  Twice on one birthday!  A record, for sure, lol.  I had also made a flourless chocolate cake the night before, so we brought that out too.  I can honestly say I ate more sugar on my birthday than I ate the past 6 weeks.  It was worth it!
And to top it all off, we dissected frogs for life science!  Poor Joel didn't love the frogs, but he powered through.  Verity was quite enthralled with watching him work!
The next day was Faith's 8th birthday.  We already knew it wasn't going to be a great day to celebrate her.  For one thing, it was the day for my biggest present--having a team of housecleaners come and clean the main 2 floors!  Also, Jonathan and Grace had orthodontic appointments in the afternoon, and the 3 girls had gymnastics all evening long, which meant they had to leave by 5:30.  So we knew we were going to celebrate this weekend!

I have been wanting to have a cleaner come for a long time, but I just could not get it together enough to have the house clean enough all at the same time to actually have someone come over to give an estimate.  That sounds pathetic, but there you have it.  But a week or so ago, I started being very determined to make it happen, because I felt like I was drowning!  Last Thursday night, I asked my facebook friends if anyone could recommend someone.  One friend wrote back immediately to recommend her lady--and say that she could come over the next day at 2:00!  I got some other names too, fully intending to get a few estimates.  Evy came over the next day.  She was so nice and really liked all the kids.  I still felt like the biggest slob as she walked around our house, saying how much she would be able to help me, lol  I ended up just decided to go with her because 1. she could clean on Wednesdays, which works for me, and 2. I didn't want to have anyone else traipse through my house!  Anyhow, Evy and 2 other ladies gave the house a thorough cleaning on Wednesday, taking about 6 hours (gah . . . ).  Now they're going to come back every other Wednesday, and hopefully it won't take as long.  I was mortified at all the things I never do, like dust off the tops of my cabinets.  Yeah, picking up and keeping the paper clutter down is about all I've managed well lately, lol.  I'm hoping that having everything really clean will help me be more motivated to clean out cabinets and closets.  I've just felt pretty paralyzed.

Friday Faith and I celebrated our birthdays at Bible study.  I made her a funfetti rectangular cake, and she decorated it in a heart motif, along with Caleb, Anna, Grace, Jonathan, and every other sibling that passed by and thought frosting looked like a fun thing to do.  

I made a chocolate truffle cheesecake, which was a new recipe for me.  It was quite delicious, but I had some trouble with it.  After it came out of the oven, I was pouring the ganache topping on top of it.  All of a sudden, the little bowl of ganache slipped out of my hand, right into the middle of the cheesecake, leaving a huge crater!  Ack!  Not to fear, though--I just smoothed out the ganache, and no one could tell.  Until we cut the cheesecake, that it.  Then you could see the cross-section of the big crater, lol.  
We finally got to really celebrate Faith's birthday on Saturday, with her birthday dinner (she picked grilled chicken, wild rice, glazed carrots, and fruit salad) and presents.  She was very patient to wait a few extra days for her presents!  She was thrilled to receive from Grandma and Grandpa a kit to decorate a little pillow like Anna and Grace got for Christmas from Aunt Melinda.  She also got a mini American girl doll ("Kaya", which Anna clued me in was Faith's favorite), a Lego Friends ice cream truck set that Jonathan picked out, and some random candy, and a bracelet.  She was very happy!
We're hoping to have a little party for her at some point in the next several weeks.  She really wants to do some crafts with friends, and she's been making lists and planning things out for that.  Now--to find a day that works . . .

I took this whole past week off from any sort of diet.  I ate cake (of all kinds), cookies, chips, peanut butter cups, ice cream, pizza, cheese . . . and I enjoyed every minute of it!  Actually, that's not totally true. I had some big headaches, I got a canker sore, which I haven't had for a while, and I definitely didn't sleep as well.  Also I gained back about 5 pounds.  It was nice to have some "regular" things for dinner--and to take a break from all things balsamic vinegar, lol.  And it was really nice to actually feel like I celebrated my and Faith's birthdays!  I'm going back to at least a paleo diet tomorrow, though.  Back to salads.  I know I feel better eating that way . .  . but cheesecake and ice cream . . . .  Curse this 44 year old metabolism!