Saturday, October 31, 2009

Extremely Lame Pun Avoided

One of the many benefits of being out here is the duckling's ability to be close to their cousins. (Should they be the goslings?) This week they all got to go on a birthday trip for the youngest cousin (who is just three weeks different in age from D2). Among the features were a corn maze, a tricycle race track, and a pumpkin launcher. And, of course, a nice backdrop for a cousin picture.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Morbid Reading with D2

Today I was noble and actually had school with the older ducklings. Naturally if I made D1 a book, I had to make one for D2, so I did, with everyone's names figuring prominently and a lot of rhyming words since that's about the limit of his reading right now.

At the end I wrote "The End." Then I went back and drew everyone through the book.

When I got to the last page, D2 said, "Hey, draw the end of us!"

I started to smirk at his unconscious pun, when he said, "Yeah, draw the end of us! Draw us all dead!"

Maybe that was why those big pigs were digging.

(D1, of course, prefers morbid math.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Places We Went, Things We Did

I feel that I have been exceedingly negligent in posting about the trip, but as someone has said, after a move it's not as if you can just do a few loads of laundry and be done. (In fact, I still haven't finished bringing in the toys and spare snacks from the car.)

The first two days we just drove straight up to northern Wisconsin, where we visited a friend for a few days. We had a lovely time walking in the woods, watching the snow fall, and generally relaxing after a very exhausting week . . . month . . . year . . .

After we left Wisconsin, our first notable stop was at Mall of America, which we visited ONLY because it has a large Lego store. To our bewilderment, D2 wandered off and insisted he wanted to go on a neighboring amusement park ride. We persuaded him that it was impossible and finally left, ears ringing, brains buzzing, the only benefit being everybody had a chance to stretch their legs out of the rain.

Our next destination, near the end of the next day, was the Badlands. This was particularly noteworthy as we arrived near sunset, and the older ducklings were on the watchout for bad cowboys the entire time. DOB and I were more watching out for staying on the road and not hitting antelope.

The following day we had gloriously warm weather and visited Mt. Rushmore. D1 and D2 were most impressed by the "mountain with faces." We stopped for a roadside picnic at a lovely little spot only a few minutes up the road from the main visitors' area--which turned out to be a good thing when a certain child who shall remain nameless realized an urgent need despite ceaseless attempts to take care of all such things before leaving the last available restroom.

The following day we had the choice to drive through Wyoming or Montana and settled on Wyoming, being rewarded by a drive on an even more lovely day through the incredibly beautiful Bighorn Mountains and Ten Sleep Canyon. We were hard-pressed to move on as everyone was ready to settle down as cowboys. (The good kind, of course.)

Bad weather had to catch up with us again at some point, and it finally did at Yellowstone. We still braved the drizzle to watch Old Faithful erupt, and saw a few other features before sleet settled our minds that it was time to move on.

The following day we drove a longish ways to central Washington so we could have a short drive the following day. That also gave us the chance to spend the night with some acquaintances, which was fun and relaxing. Midway we had the serendipity to discover a lovely park when we pulled off to look for gas in Idaho, and gave the kids the chance to climb on play equipment, something that they had found rather absent amid all the scenic beauty.

After putting in five to seven hours of driving each day, our final stretch of three hours seemed effortless. We didn't even bother to stop. We had seen plenty of rocks and trees and trees and rocks and so forth.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Travel Companions

We have arrived, bags and baggage, which are all piled about at random right now. Instead of dealing with them, however, I shall sit and reflect upon the journey. The contemplative life and all that.

The best advice about traveling with a lot of small children is probably: don't. Nonetheless, I'm glad we had a good excuse to do so, because I adore road trips, even though with four small children it takes an hour-long stop just to cycle everyone through the bathroom.

Plus we were at the point where we had the maximum amount of gear per person and the minimum amount of hefting power. The ducklings tried, but they were not always clear on the concept, D4 insisting on hauling the diaper bag back out to the car no matter how many times we tried to point him to the hotel room door. When we could get a place with luggage carts, however, all was well--indeed, riding on the luggage cart was the highlight for everyone. We probably should have gone by luggage cart instead of by van.

D1 and D2 were well stocked with ideas and maps and presents to open and generally enjoyed it all fairly well. D1 was convinced that all the most scenic items were on D2's side of the car, though I tried to convince her that the American West was not carefully arranged to disadvantage her. She worked it out by always announcing she had seen whatever sight there was to see, whether or not she had, and definitely if D2, whose brain seldom switches gears fast enough at 80 mph, had missed it.

D3 was our easiest traveler, as her ideal of life is to sit, hold Doll-doll, suck her fingers, and stare out the window. This she did with great contentment for hours on end, sometimes with her eyes shut, sometimes with them open. She was not without adventures, however, as a tumble off a wall in Wyoming left her with a nice patch of bandaids on her forehead for strangers to remark upon.

D4 was the one we were most concerned about. Sitting still is not on his List of Things To Do any day of the week. Seeing new places and things compensated him greatly, though. The first few days were a bit uneven, and once he started shouting, "Done!" from the back seat we knew we had better be done fast, but once he got used to the routine of travel he was contented and even eager to ever be moving onward. I was then worried he would not be content to remain, but he seemed to know that this was the place to stay as soon as we arrived; perhaps it was finding his bikes all waiting for him to arrive, or his new freedom to wander outside as much as he pleases.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

On the Pain of Packing

I made a comment on facebook that packing for a road trip was worse than labor, and got some vigorous disagreement--and some agreement. Perhaps it depends what pain is freshest in your mind. Nonetheless, as I was sitting on our friend's floor, surrounded with eight different receptacles and fifteen different piles, gasping for air, while people brought me water and encouragement but could offer no tangible assistance, it did feel oddly similar. Unfortunately, all the information as to what had to be packed where existed only in my own brain, a place where it was never really at home and kept trying to leave.

I read some wise advice that one should pack in outfits for each person per day. Thus, the advice said, you would only have to take in a bag of pajamas and toiletries and another bag with tomorrow's clothes. This made a lot of sense. So I packed that way. So now, at any given spot, we only have to haul in the bag with tomorrow's clothes, and the bag of kids' pajamas, and the bag with grownup pajamas, and the bag of dirty laundry, and the bag with toiletries and DOB's swim gear, and the cooler, and the box of food/kitchen items, and two beds for the babies, and two booster seats for the babies.

But, you know, there's a small bin of clothes at the bottom that we don't have to haul in every night. It helps.

I hope the beds for the babies survive the trip, as we could find nowhere to put them but down the aisles of the van--which doesn't get in the way of the kids' legs, but I'm not sure what my weight climbing on them a dozen times a day is going to do to them. We put the babies in the very back, in hopes that they would sleep more readily that way, and also because they have a handier shelf for accumulating toys to throw on the floor. This makes for quite an ordeal getting them in and out, however. They do sleep a lot in the car, which means they do not sleep once we arrive at a hotel, instead spending a couple of hours popping up out of their beds like prairie dogs. But the tradeoff is worth it at this point and we will rediscover a Sensible Baby Schedule once we have arrived.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Minor Emergency

Someone asked me if I was planning to pack enough diapers for the whole trip.

"No, of course not," I said, "They have these things called stores that sell diapers."

Which would be true if I remembered to stop and buy them. But I didn't, and thus yesterday when the babies arose from their naps I had two very stinky babies and only one clean diaper. (Later research unearthed one in the car, but at the time we had no idea it was there.)

This called for some improvisation. A bit of digging unearthed some birdseye diapers which DOB uses as handkerchiefs in allergy season. The babies are, it turns out, bigger than a bread bag, but some small bags in which DOB brought his wet clothes home from the gym proved to be the right size. I cut out leg holes, taped up the top with packing tape (a tricky, two-person operation) and we were able to make it into town for more.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Jazz for the Open Road

At 9:49 on Saturday morning, we pulled out of our driveway for the last time. Of course, we had planned to leave at 5:30, but then it turned out the gym wasn't open the night before as late as DOB was able to go, so we had to wait for him to go the next morning, and we certainly had not finished loading everything, but Cicero was there to tidy up the last bits, and so we at last just went.

Our destination the first day was Madison, which meant seven and a half hours on the road--which we hope will be our longest day. D4 certainly hopes for that, though he did surprisingly well. When he started shouting "Done!" from the back seat, though, we knew it was time to find a rest stop. Very soon. And produce snacks in the meantime.

We managed to survive on picnics for the first day, but below forty degrees picnics start to get a bit less fun. Fortunately we were on a toll road for suppertime, and instead of freezing outside in the dark were able to take our food to a food court at an indoor "Oasis" that crossed the tollway.

To mark our progress, we are creating a paper clip chain to which we add a new paper clip every fifty miles. So far it stretches from the mirror nearly to the dashboard. The big kids get a coloring page for each new state we enter.

Sunday we had an abbreviated picnic on a nippy but glorious mountain park with giant boulders buried in golden leaves. We're now in the north woods of Wisconsin for a couple of days, visiting a friend and watching the snow fall on the autumn leaves. And trying not to think about how many of miles of cold lie between us and our destination.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Now It's About Packing

I feel slightly guilty that one of the primary tasks of preparation has been planning activities to do in the car. Did Ma Ingalls worry about keeping the girls occupied for months on the trail? I think not. Of course, they didn't have to be completely immobilized for the entire trip. And there are a lot fewer buffalo chips to gather these days. Besides, what's the point in bemoaning how much more spoiled we are than past generations? Now is when we live and there's not much to be done about it; we might as well enjoy it.

In that line, I am delighted by the discovery of burning MP3 files, which our car CD player can handle. With the aid of Librivox and some spare CDs, we now have more than a dozen books on three cds--which in audio files is only about half of one short book. Trying to aim at books enjoyable for all concerned, I have both Alice books, The Princess and the Goblin, the Just So Stories, a whole bunch of Oz books (pretty silly as I recall, but DOB has a deep appreciation for lame puns that should carry him through), The Lost Prince, and an E. Nesbit I've never heard but am willing to take on faith. Also I and II Samuel, Luke, and Acts.

There's a point in an airline journey--usually it's getting on the second flight on the trip out--where I always used to be able to think of nothing more than the misery of another flight (I never quite outgrew motion sickness) and then think with further dread of how I would soon have to repeat all this in a few days to return. Why not stay where I was? Whatever it was I was going to do fades completely.

This is that point in packing. All I can think of as I watch everything disappear in boxes increasingly random in composition despite every attempt to make them sensible, is how I'm going to have to unpack them all. And then pack them all again. And then unpack them all again. Each time no doubt increasing the randomness. (The trouble is, things seldom occur to me the same way twice. This time it made sense to put the extra tea and the cookie cutters and ingredients for cookies in a box labeled "Tea and Cookies," but is that likely to happen again?) And how is it that we already gave away half of our stuff AND packed up half of what was left and stored it at someone else's house, and we still have this much stuff left?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Countdown Menus

One of those basic housekeeping tasks I've never done before is planning a week of menus and then shopping on that basis. I have been following a general outline of menus--the same basic two-week-rotation with tweaks--since D2 was a baby and my brain started to fry, and then I just keep the kitchen and pantry stocked with basics plus what's on sale. Supposedly this is in fact even cheaper than regular menu planning, but I've never done the math. Plenty of pantry and freezer space has made me careless of getting duplicates. (Quintuplicates?)

But, this week I face the challenge of getting the pantry down to as little as possible before we go. Actual planning seemed in order. And since I'm rather pleased with myself for doing it, and, more importantly, since this slip of paper is almost certain to get lost or thrown away before the end of the week, I shall document it here.

Monday: Pizza Pasta (using up some of the many cans of diced tomatoes that had overtaken the pantry, plus the last of the mushrooms, olives, pre-cooked hamburger, and all but the last half-box of pasta.) I forgot to serve the corn--we have a lot of corn in the freezer--which goes to show why I don't usually bother with detailed planning.

Tuesday: Chicken (probably just pan-fried with spices) with roast veggies (using squash from the garden), peas (from freezer).

Wednesday: A simplified version of Lengua, using the last can of chiles from the pantry, more of those tomatoes, corn from the freezer, and of course, tongue. (DOB tries to forget that this is in it, since the thought grosses him out but the dish is delicious.) Crisp for dessert using mystery berries from the freezer and possibly pantry.

Thursday: Turkey sausage and fried potatoes; salad of whatever is left; whatever frozen vegetables are left.

After that the dishes and pots will be packed.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Shoes and What Goes in Them

The pendulum has swung back, and from maintaining the house in unflinching neatness we have gone past normal functional-but-messy-at-the-edges to Total Chaos. This could be psychological, or it could just be the necessary consequence of trying to pack with the children's help. ("No, you DON'T want to pack your tennis shoes. You need to wear your tennis shoes." "Hey, Mama, what can I do to help? Oh, hey can we play dress-up? I'm sure a good helper, huh?")

Actually wearing shoes is what the babies like best. After weeks of borrowing any shoes lying around the house, they were thrilled to get their Very Own Shoes, and they know quite well whose are whose and that you need both of them to get dressed. They hold out their little feet, quivering with excitement, for socks to be applied. And then, please, can we go Out? Door? Out? D4, especially, finds a day wasted if he does not get to acquire a brand-new scar. (The prizewinner was falling off a brick wall into a rosebush.)

Not to be outdone, I invented a new sport this week. I have been needing a more aerobic activity, because when I don't get aerobic exercise, I can't sleep, and when I don't sleep, life is horrible. Which it was last weekend. I like to just walk, but unfortunately I tend to forget I am walking for exercise and instead mosey along lost in thought. It's good for the mental health, but not sufficient physically. Unfortunately, brisk walking or running require concentration on something that is, to me, extremely boring, i.e., repetitive physical movements.

Early this week we watched a movie that included some demonstrations of free running. Now that looks fun, I thought. And--another requirement in my book--no special equipment or location. Unfortunately, while other little girls were doing gymnastics and turning cartwheels, I was walking into walls. So the more acrobatic elements of the sport--vaulting, flipping--are well beyond me.

But, I figured, anybody can stop going straight on boring paths and instead look for ways above, under, or through obstacles. And thus, I invented my own personal sport, which I shall call "crazy running" because the goal is to have the neighbors look out and say, "What is that crazy lady doing?" The rules simply are (1) Keep moving quickly; (2) Keep it changing; (3) Avoid actual damage to people or property while otherwise pushing the limits of acceptable adult behavior. So, climbing trees, running up or down slides at the park, jumping off bleachers, running and jumping on and off the curb, taking advantage of abandoned jump ropes and hopscotch games, high-fiving random poles, breaking into a crazy step pattern, vaulting fire hydrants, and who knows what else I may think of tomorrow. (I'll admit, my attempt to vault a fire hydrant was not very successful, but I think I can learn how.)

The challenge of coming up with new crazy things to try keeps me interested and moving fast. The variety of movements makes for a far better workout than running or walking alone would. I've been doing about a half-mile of running/jumping interspersed with brisk walking, which I know is not much but it's where I have to start and I hope that now I will actually build up my strength. Afterward I cool down by taking a classic mosey to clear my brain.