Thursday, June 30, 2011

All Creatures Great and Small

Concluding the Grand Beaver Tour, we ended up in the Land of Beavers: Canada!

While there, we stayed at a Fairfield Inn in Guelph, Ontario. Where? Right. It's about an hour west-ish of Toronto, and it took far fewer hotel points to stay there for two nights than it did to stay in Toronto for one. In fact, the Canadian Border Patrol agent, upon hearing that we were going to Guelph, said, "Why?" in what was probably a little bit derisive tone. To its credit, it really is more of a nerd convention town than a vacation destination. We were at home, though, for obvious reasons.

Our first full day in Canada we knew we were headed to Toronto. It was my responsibility to decide what we were going to do in Canada, but of course, with summer school and two kids, I didn't, so we were winging it. Eli just wanted to see BMO Field, where the Major League Soccer team, Toronto FC, plays. So, the plan was to drive by the field and head on to other kid-friendly endeavors. However, when we drove by the stadium, something was going on, so I jumped out of the car and asked at the box office, and it turns out that there was an open practice for Toronto FC. Without even asking Eli what he wanted to do, I got four admission tickets (free, but you had to have them) because I knew he would want to go. We spent the morning with Elsie running around the stadium getting her exercise, while watching the practice and the freestyle performers that came on at the end (it turned out to be an event for local school children to learn about healthy lifestyles).

We got back in the car and both children crashed before we even made it to the ferry terminal to do research about going out to Center Island, so we decided to head back to Guelph and stop at any interesting landmarks along the way. Just in case you find yourself driving in Toronto, it is important to note that outside of the multiple-lane highways, there is no fast way to get North to South in the city. I suspect the same holds true for East-West travel, but we didn't go that way.

Once we finally got back out on the Canadian interstate equivalent, we saw a sign for the Apple Factory Farmer's Market as a point of interest, so we decided to investigate. It was not so much a farmer's market as a food boutique, but Elsie loved that there were chickens in the side yard. They had a double-Beaver gumball machine (told you Canadians love Beavers!) that dispensed chicken food. After that, anything that even remotely resembled the granular feast was labelled by the toddler as "Chicken Food!" and she pointed it out everywhere.

How we decided what to do the next day was really decided for us by the toddler. Elsie is addicted to brochures. I mean, we can't stop at welcome centers along the interstate without her emptying a couple of racks--one brochure at a time--and bringing them to us, shoving them in our hand saying, "Here," and then going back for more. Same with hotel lobbies. Which is how we found out about the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory. So, on our way out of town, we headed to Cambridge, Ontario to see the butterflies. We pass the Beaverdale Country Club on the way out, just in case you wanted another example of Beaver love.

The Butterfly Conservatory was so beautiful! It was a just large enough greenhouse environment that the toddler had room to walk (or run, as the case may be) around and observe butterflies, birds, and koi, but small enough that the parents didn't have to stay right with her 100% of the time. There were hundreds of butterflies just flying around and sitting on plants and eating fruit. Elsie loved it. Oscar just tolerated it. Haha.

Looking at a butterfly with daddy:

Playing in a bowl of butterfly wings from the previously deceased:

Look, Mama! Budderfy!

She's starting to get sleepy. Did you see her highly-apropos shirt? Just coincidence.

Proof that O-man came on this jaunt with us, too:

We also found this magnetic treasure in the gift shop and couldn't pass it up:

I know, right? Perfect souvenir.

After the butterflies, we got in the car and drove to Detroit. The original plan was to got to the Henry Ford Museum, but it was later than expected, and so we stopped to eat dinner instead, with a plan to go to the Meijer and get some swim wings for Elsie so we could skip the museum and swim in the hotel pool that night. Guess where we ate? In Marysville, MI:

Thursday morning we got up bright and squirrely and drove to Cincinnati for this leg of the journey home. On the way, we stopped in

(Ohio) for lunch. I already knew before we even left home that I wanted to go to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens. We've never taken Elsie to a zoo before, and my first zoo memories were from this same zoo, as far as I can recall. The zoo was fantastic. If we lived there, we would be members.

Elsie was most enthralled with the gibbons on Gibbon Island. They were LOUD. She loved the "muckeys". She also enjoyed showing the lion how it's done as far as roaring goes. Once she was done, he responded back. But, by far, her favorite part was the train around the park. Here are some pictures from that trip:

Choo choo!

Show us your new tooth, Oscar! (The land of Beavers inspired a new one..)

Gorilla Girl!

Ooooh! A lion! (Very little in the background above his hand...)

Ridin' nerdy:

To end the night, we met my sister and nephew and niece at IKEA in Cincinnati since they were driving through on their way home to Texas from the wedding (after a week of photogging and mucking around in cemeteries for genealogy stuff). We love them so much. For days, Elsie kept talking about them, bringing their names up randomly in conversation, pointing out people who vaguely resembled them (there was a girl at the hotel who was tall, thin, had long light brown hair and glasses, and from far away Elsie thought it was M and got so excited). As a bonus, I got to walk around IKEA. Score!

The next morning, Friday, we got out of the hotel and drove as far as Chattanooga to go visit with Eli's aunt and uncle who live there. They got us tickets to the Creative Discovery Museum in Downtown Chattanooga, so we took the kids in the afternoon.

Elsie playing the guitar:

Oscar trying his hand at the harp-thing:

Oscar needs a hat in the Bob the Builder exhibit. Elsie said so.

Pretend-a-saurus meets fabulous archaeologist hat:

Finally, Saturday, we drove the last leg of the trip home. Ah, home sweet home. Glad to be here.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Grand Beaver Tour

When we were looking at the second leg of our trip and planning what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go to use Eli's free hotel points from all the weeks the Army made him suffer at the Marriott Residence Inn, I had a stroke of brilliance to break up the monotony: why not find Beaver locations along the way? I mean, Canadians LOVE beavers, right? Surely there would be Beaver landmarks in other places, too. To start, I plugged Beaver and Pennsylvania into Google maps to see what came up since that was where we would be starting and I was delighted that Beaver, PA, was near my cousin's wedding, just the other side of Pittsburgh. (This is actually how I eventually found the church in Beaver, PA, that we sadly did not get to attend.)

We could have gone a little crazier than we did, and had we been 5-8 years younger (i.e. newlyweds without two young children in the car), back in our "road warrior" days, I think it could have been insane. But, alas, our age, "maturity," and sense of responsibility kept us in check.

Without my knowledge, Eli started the Grand Beaver Tour without us. Haha. On his drive up through the mountains of West Virginia, he saw that off the beaten path, but still in the right direction lay the town of Beaver, WV, so he swung through there and snapped a picture:

On Monday morning, the Beaver clan loaded up the car, said our goodbyes to Mimi and aunties and cousins and made our way to Niagara Falls, NY, via everything Beaver:

In Beaver Falls, PA:

Headed toward the falls:

In NY, right before the Niagara Falls exit (it's an island--wish we had had time to stop!):

And our intermediary destination:

Elsie really loved all the water and was anxious to get in it. It was very difficult to explain that that was not an option. At one point, Eli had her chasing seagulls across the grass in the park. She wanted to walk a lot of it, which was fine with us since we'd been in the car for hours and she needed to burn her energy. After spending a couple of hours at the falls, we got in the car and headed across the border into Canada...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

To Monongahela and beyond!

Now that we're back, I'll let you know that we were gone. These days, I'm cautious about making an announcement that I'm on vacation, that my house is standing vacant, and that you are more than welcome to come and illegally help yourself to anything I left behind. That's part of the reason I don't use the Check-In function on Facebook, too. Not that I have anything at the house that someone would want to steal (well, except my compact OED).

Now would be a good time to let you know that my house did not, in fact, stand vacant while we were gone. Yes, Timmy and Coco were here, but so was Jill. I haven't mentioned it here before, but my friend Jill is living with us this summer while she works an internship in Montgomery. It was actually Eli's idea when Jill mentioned that she was looking for a place to live, and I immediately agreed that it was a great idea. We knew we would be gone for over a week this month and it was perfect that Jill would live here and take care of the cats, the house, and *most importantly* the garden. Haha. It also doesn't hurt that she loves my children and is not afraid to help out in feeding, bathing, or changing them, and that she also helps out with the little tasks--taking out the trash, loading/emptying the dishwasher, cooking dinner once in a while. And did I mention that she's been babysitting the kids for me on Tuesday nights while I go run the Summer Swing 5K, one of the only things I get to do for myself? LOVE her. She sure made the last five weeks of Eli's absence run very smoothly.

So, anyway, we've known for a while that my cousin was getting married Father's Day weekend, so we already had vague plans to use this trip as the first leg of our 2011 summer vacation. The original plan:

1. Drive to PA for the wedding.
2. Go to Niagara Falls, NY.
3. Cross over into Canada and visit Toronto.
4. Come home. Voila. Vacation.

But, as the date came closer and closer, we knew that Eli was going to be in training up until the day before the wedding, so we had to regroup. Here's the recap of the first half of our trip.

On Wednesday, my sister Stacey and her two teenagers drove from Texas to Alabama to pick us up and take us to Pennsylvania.

On Thursday, we got out the door by 6:30 a.m. 17 hours later (11:30 p.m. CST) we arrived at our hotel in PA, where Mom, my sister Julie, and my cousin the bride were present to help us unload and get the kids to bed. The kids (both teens and tots) did great in the van--moms in the front, boys in the middle, girls in the back. It was nice to not be on a timetable, so it wasn't too stressful to be stuck going eight miles in 1.5 hours as we tried to cross under the mountain into West Virginia. Note: This was my first time ever in West Virginia--another state colored in on my "States Visited" mental map.

On Friday, we had a leisurely day, going into town to find a K-mart/Walmart to replace forgotten toothbrushes, etc., then going to my aunt's house for some non-hotel time. In the afternoon, we went to the church for the rehearsal and delicioso spaghetti dinner. Oscar got some good chugga-chugga-choo-choo action with Aunt Julie. When we got home, the kids got baths and went to bed surprisingly easily for being in a hotel room with 2 Pack-N-Plays.

[Sometime during the day on Friday, Eli graduated from DCC in GA. He would be meeting up with us the next day.]

Saturday morning, I heard from Eli that he slept about 3 hours later than he meant to, so he wouldn't be to PA in time for the reception (we knew he wouldn't make it for the wedding). We headed out to Kmart again because I remembered that I had this fabulous dress and no shoes to go with it, and also I needed to find a sewing kit because the ruffle on the petitcoat on Elsie's flower girl dress had come unstitched. We later dropped Stacey off at the church (she was the photographer) and grabbed some lunch before heading up to the church ourselves (me and the four kids) where Elsie got her nap in the carseat of the van in the parking lot of the church while family members arrived. Oscar was whisked into the church by Great Aunt B. When the flower girl awoke, she was fed and dressed just in time to walk down the aisle. I handed her the basket of flower petals with directions to take it to Mimi (my mom's grandma name) and she set off. I went to stand up and the heel of my shoe was caught in the overlay of my dress, ripping it, and I couldn't get it untangled, so I hopped on one leg out of the view of everyone except my cousin bride and my uncle-father-of-the-bride and wrestled it all back to normalcy except for the giant hole. By the time I stood up and made it to the side door, Elsie was already all the way down the aisle. I missed it! Darn dress. Darn shoes. She was reportedly really cute, though.

The bride and groom were adorable, and the reception was a blast. I got to use my sister's fancy schmancy camera to help take crowd shots. There may have been a lot of shots of my children, too. I mean, how often do I get to use a good camera to take pictures of them? Never. See why it was necessary? And then there was dancing. Oh, how I love dancing. I just really wish that my favorite dancing partner had been there. I still killed the Chicken Dance, though--oh yeah.

And then there were tired children. Oscar wanted to got sleep for a while, but there was so much going on that he just laid pathetically on my should while I danced. Finally, he fell asleep in Mimi's arms. She gave him to me, and I ultimately put him in his carrier. Elsie got a second, third, nay, FOURTH wind and just wanted to keep dancing. And snagging cookies from the cookie table. And eating M&Ms. Oh, and running her cousins ragged. Haha.

When we got back to the hotel finally, I heard from Eli that the weather was bad and that the stripes in the road in West Virginia were not reflecting well in the rain, so he pulled off for the night at a hotel, but he would be with us when we woke up.

And he was. Pretty much. We had planned to go to church in PA; I had already gone online and scoped out an EPC church in Beaver, PA (not a coincidence), but when I logged onto their site to verify directions, turns out that they changed their summer worship hours since I looked four weeks ago and we wouldn't make it in time for church. Boo. So we went to Denny's with the Aunt B and her friend, to Best Buy to get Eli's Father's Day/Birthday present, and then went to hang out with Aunt D and Uncle D and Cousin A at their house for a bit in the evening. We said our goodbyes and went to sleep, dreaming about the Grand Beaver Tour to come...


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

On Bitterness

Bitterness is a funny thing; like heartburn, it tends to bubble to the surface when you just want to enjoy the food just eaten. Last week I spent some time in my classroom getting ready for a new school year (fueled by enthusiasm from having a contract renewed for another school year) and I was sorting through boxes of random "school stuff" that had been so labeled and sitting in our dining room for months before I finally stacked them in the front of my classroom. I opened a box labelled "Professional Paperwork" with one objective--find a professional development certificate from my Lee v. Macon awareness training I did when I lived in Tuscaloosa. Every teacher in Alabama is supposed to have this on file with their current district, but, alas I do not because I never got around to it when hired at my present job.

I was completely unsuspecting of the emotions, thoughts, and feeling that would greet me upon sorting through the contents of the box. Let's just say that I didn't leave Tuscaloosa Middle School willingly in 2008, but rather, at the hands of a vindictive assistant principal, and this box contained copies of all the evaluation reports that she compiled and submitted for my permenent file.

And I was suddenly angry about the situation all over again.

I stewed for a couple of minutes, and then I closed up the box, and started thinking about all the ways my life has changed since being pink slipped in '08: I live in a town I adore. I have a job that I love. I have two children that I can't get enough of. I have a husband who makes me so very proud of him. I have a garden that has hundreds of tomatoes in it. I'm a homeowner. I have fantastic neighbors (all around). I'm a member of a church that is challenging me in wonderful ways. I'm three years older and wiser. What's to be angry about?

Hindsight is 20/20, so the saying goes. Yes, the circumstances in the moment were hurtful and taken oh, so personally, but only good things have sprung forth from that experience.

God was moving in my life in ways I didn't understand, in ways that I would not have chosen for myself. It's a dang good thing that I'm not actually in control, or I could have really messed this up. Really.

But, God is faithful and good, just and sovereign. He is, was, and ever shall be. I am humbled. Again.


Saturday, June 4, 2011

How Does My Garden Grow?

I've never had a garden. Really, I've never been able to keep plants alive. There was this one time when I was in fourth grade and we were studying life cycle of a plant that we germinated lima beans and planted them. Mine grew to be the tallest plant and I was pretty proud. I took it home and I don't remember what happened to it (coincidentally, the one food my mom won't eat is lima beans, so there may have been foul play). That was the last time a plant in my care lived for any length of time.

Since we moved into the house, we talked about planting a garden, but since Eli was going to be away we considered not doing one this year because I know nothing about gardening. I was more concerned about taking care of the weedbed on the corner (which we did). But while shopping the high school's FFA Plant Sale this year for flowers to go around the house, on a whim I bought a flat of garden plant seedling since it was only $10 for six six-packs. I got what they had, which was Sweet Baby Girl cherry tomatoes, Monster tomatoes, Black Beauty eggplant, giant jalapeno peppers, green bell peppers, and then some Giant marigolds because they supposedly keep the bugs away.

When the Beavers were here to help with the yard, they used the tiller and tilled up the weedbed that was under my kitchen window and got some MiracleGro Garden Soil and planted 3 of each type of tomato, 3 eggplant plants, and 2 each of the pepper plants, then covered the bed with mulch. One of the monster tomato plants had broken and was probably going to die, but father-in-law stuck it into the side of the bed anyway.

I kept the leftover plants in their original containers and offered them to anyone who wanted them, but I didn't have any takers, and since I had paid for them, I didn't wan them to die, so I bought some pots and planted the rest of the eggplant and peppers in the pots while I was re-potting my Target plants from cute little pots. And then I had four tomato plants left over and they grow too big for pots. These ones were pretty close to biting the dust. I tried again to get someone to take them off of my hands, but ended up having to plant them on the other side of the patio, under the living room window in the red clay to try to keep them alive. I thought for sure they would die but planted them anyway, just in case.

Remember, I've never done this before. I didn't know that having 11 tomato plants in the ground was going to be a lot of tomatoes. Each monster tomato plant will yield 10 tomatoes total for the summer, and the cherry tomatoes would yield about 25-30 each. Right? Right?!? Yeah, so like I said, I've never done this before.

My cherry tomatoes started having flowers. Lots of flowers. And as I learned from the peach tree (and probably should have already known this, but if I learned it previously it went to the backburner of my brain) that fruit grows where the flower was. And now, the three plants that are in the MiracleGro soil are scaring me. I've only harvested 10 so far (Elsie ate 9 of those) but there are over two hundred tomatoes growing and hundreds more flowers. Oi!

This is a picture of the three Sweet Baby Girls under the kitchen window. (These pictures were taken last week, and the tomato count and plant size has doubled already!):

Here's a cluster of tomatoes on one of my plants:

The monster tomato plants have been growing and I would check them every day and not see any fruits, in comparison to the cherry tomatoes. Then one day, I was pulling off dead leaves and I came across this hanging on the back side of the plant behind lots of leaves (it's the size of my fist!):

Since last week, I've spied about 10 little monsters starting to grow. The mini-me in the picture above is already twice as big. Everything is still green though, even the big'un.

This is exciting. These plants are growing in spite of me. I'm learning as I go, and I've learned that plants like water. Basic, right? And I'm learning that plants grow in clay, too, but not as big and not as fast. I had to buy tomato stakes for the plants under the living room window, too, and the cherry tomatoes are starting to produce. My peppers and sweet basil are flowering, and my eggplant leaves are growing bigger and bigger and will hopefully soon flower, too.

Something else I've realized is that the smell of tomato plants is a distinctive nostalgic smell for me. I didn't realize this until I had to get up close and personal with them as I tied them to the stakes. That smell is the smell of my grandparents' garden. I smelled it and was immediately taken back to my childhood vising my grandparents' farm in northern Ohio. I'm always amazed at the power of smell to conjure memories. Maybe Elsie and Oscar will have good memories of tomato plants, too! :)

Eli has been laughing at my enthusiasm for gardening. Who knew I would like it this much?


Friday, June 3, 2011


I have a ton of other things I've been meaning to blog about, but this is the one that seems most pressing at present.

I've spent the last two years working on a team of FANTASTIC teachers, and we just work so well together! In fact, this last year, every team in the building got swapped around except for us, and I like to think that's because the administration saw that we had a good thing going. And we did! I have already been mentally preparing for our awesomeness next year.

And the ball dropped today.

Our social studies teacher is moving to the high school. They're out a football coach and they want him there. He loves teaching middle school, but he really wants to coach high school football, and this is the only way with the way the school schedules work. Not that they asked him. They told him they would be moving him, and he's going. I was up at school today working on my lessons for summer school when he stopped by my door and told me that it was official (he had mentioned on the last day of school that it was rumored, but that he didn't know anything for sure). In a move of maturity, not making it about me and how I feel about the situation, I said, "Congratulations!" He just kinda' shrugged and made an "eh" sound. He's conflicted, but I want him to go with confidence because 17- and 18-year-olds are not 12- and 13-year-olds, and as far as I can tell (and remember from my days of teaching high school), that's a good thing.

But it changes everything, leaves open a wild card spot on our cozy little team, a scary, gaping hole that could be filled with who-knows-who come August. I have to remember that not so very long ago, I was the wild card, and it turned out well (I think). So, I'm venturing into a weird area here. I'm going to start praying for my new coworker, whoever he or she is, and for Mr. Social Studies as he heads into a whole new adventure.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Cute Little Pots

I have a summer job working for the National Writing Project e-Anthology E-team. People who participate in the NWP summer institutes post their personal writing on the e-Anthology to get feedback from other writers, and in turn comment on each others' writing. At the height of the summer, more institutes are in session, more people are posting, and more pieces get left unnoticed--in theory. That's where the 12-member E-team comes in. We spend the summer trolling the anthology primarily for pieces that have no responses (and then when all those are addressed, the pieces that have only one response) and we give feedback, so that every person who takes the time and guts to put their work out there gets a thoughtful response. I really love this job.

Part of the e-Anthology's launch in May required the E-team members to have prepared pieces to populate the anthology so that summer fellows wouldn't feel like they were showing up to a ghost town. I composed the poem, "Cute Little Pots," for this purpose. Mostly, I was trying to showcase the multimedia features of the e-Anthology by including photographs of something bizarre that Elsie did, but I failed miserably. I'm posting it here as a guinea pig so that I can try it again with pictures on the e-Anthology. I don't usually do poetry because I feel like it's too forced, but prose didn't really work so well with this. I hope you don't hate it, and maybe even get a chuckle out of it. :)

Cute Little Pots

Three little pots
with cute little seeds
to become cute little
basil, parlsey,
and strawberries.

Little plants tended,
watered, and sunned
are little plants that
outgrow little pots.

Cute little girl
(not a day over two)
finds empty little pots
and lines them up
three in a row

and plants her own
to watch them grow

in cute little pots.