Wednesday, May 29, 2013

K-Grad; and, thanks for the thanks

Today was the Bug's kindergarten graduation.  It was a super fun little ceremony, proceeded by a very fun and cool little to-do in her room.  As I've said, the Bug's teachers are top notch.  And this was all class and fun and showcasing of the six-year-old superstars moving on to first grade.  Surprisingly, I only teared up once.  Maybe twice.

A not-so-small aside during it all was a shout-out to all the parents who've volunteered during the course of the year.  The kids made these super cool poster-sized paint-hand-print bouquets to thank their parents for "helping them to bloom" throughout the year.  I love mine.  (Even though it says "Mrs. O'Keefe".  I can get past that.)  It's totally sweet (but, sadly, not easily photographed).

So imagine my surprise when we made our way down the little hill to return the Bunny (she wouldn't miss this excitement!) to her class..... and she and her friends had made one for me, too!  The four little boys from the class were so sweet and proud when they presented me with my special room-parent thank-you hand-print bouquet.  Which I also love.

So to the teachers, and to the kids (especially all my little buddies in Pre-School 1)..... Thank you so much! 

And to my sweet little Bug, enjoy your summer!!..... I've heard the first grade homework load is killer.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


I know I say it every time one of my kids has a birthday, but time really does fly.  The Bug turned six over the weekend (and has kindergarten graduation this week - eek!).  Yikes. 

Our weekend kicked off with some major Saturday morning seed planting.  The Bug had asked Santa for "seeds to plant a garden," and the big man complied.  Four hours later, the kids had long since given up on the project, I was covered in dirt (which I almost, but not quite, ran out of)... but we did have pots and pots of flower and vegetable seeds in the ground.  We'll see if we can manage to harvest anything this fall! 

Then we took the kids to the pool to cool off - and I was actually amazed at how well the Bug is swimming, all under water and everything!

This birthday celebration on Sunday started with bacon, chocolate chip pancakes and a trip to the American Girl Doll store.  If you've never been to one, I can assure you there are oodles of ways to spend money, and the staff is so unbelievably pleasant you do so willingly.  Next door is a restaurant with dolly high chairs so that Julie (Bug's first A.G. doll) and Saige (the new one) could join us at the table for lunch.

On Memorial Day we carted an entire BBQ (including tie-dye cupcakes, which looked pretty awesome and took forever to frost) down to Aunt Jessie's house so that we could celebrate with Mima and Boppie and my grandparents and great aunt.  It was a super fun day, and somehow both girls ended up with bags and bags of fun new stuff.  We played horseshoes, badminton, ring toss and hula hooped.  Everyone (from age 3 1/2 to pushing 89) had a ton of fun!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Doctor Zhivago

My current schedule does not give me much time for reading, so Boris Pasternak's incredible Doctor Zhivago took me ages.  I continue to stand by my absolute rule to read only Russian translations by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.  This is a masterpiece.

I've actually never seen the acclaimed film, so the plot was entirely new to me.  The novel is set after the Russian Revolution and before World War II, and it's primary action is after the October Revolution and during the civil war that followed.  While I have read numerous Russian novels, none have taken place during this time frame, so I did have to spend a ton of time in the end notes in pursuit of context.

As a child, Yuri Zhivago has a dead-beat dad and loses his mother.  His uncle, a philosopher, raises him for a time, before he essentially joins the Gromeiko family.  He ultimately studies medicine, marries his best friend Tonya Gromeiko, and embarks on an ordinary life.

All this changes with the war.  Yuri is drafted, sustains an injury, and is treated by the beautiful nurse Larissa.  Time passes, he returns home, they head for Siberia to escape.  But Lara...

Suffice it to say, Yuri and Lara find each other again.  Despite both being married, they fall deeply in love and consummate the relationship.  And this is something wonderful.  Love despite the devastation around them.  The war is rotten, but Lara and Yuri have each other.

Doctor Zhivago is a serious primer on the Russian civil wars, a period I knew nothing about.  This translation provides excellent end notes, but it makes the reading slow.  This novel is absolutely worth it.

Next up: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.  Somehow, while devouring all he has written, I have missed his most famous work.  I will now remedy this omission.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Today's threat-down: BEARS!

In totally typical morning fashion, I wrapped up making my kids' lunches, turned to my email and caught some movement out our bay window.  Usually when I look up it's a chipmunk, or Sparkle the bunny who lives in our rocks, or a few deer, or maybe an elk or two.  So imagine my surprise when I saw a baby bear, walking right toward me. 

In atypical fashion, my good camera was in reach.  I snapped a few pics then through our windows, as he walked down a couple of steps and under our deck.  Didn't want to miss my chance!

Strolling past the dining room window
 As I called Joker to tell him what the Bunny and I just saw, I walked back out to the living room, and again something caught my eye.  It was the same little fella, sitting on the railing of our deck and making short work of our birdseed.

Mmmmmm..... black oil sunflower seeds
Really, though, he's pretty cute

He actually hung around for half an hour before his meal was done.  During this time, he stopped to lie down on the railing to rest, he sat with his legs over the edge just like a little kid, he used his "fingernails" to pull the feeder closer and save himself the stretch, and he checked us out a couple of times.  When he'd had his fill (also known as "eaten all of my birdseed"), he turned around, walked across the railing - and over my unplanted (thank goodness!) window boxes - hopped down to the deck, took the stairs down, crossed our neighbors lawn and disappeared across the street.

Window box, schmindow box
Awesome!  Exciting!  Holy WTF! 
Methinks perhaps the bird feeders should come down for the season.

Diving (and other fun) in the Upper Keys

As if I haven't enjoyed enough beautiful scenery in the past weeks' get-aways, I had the extreme pleasure of meeting up with an old college friend in Tavernier, Florida.  Even as we began booking the trip we didn't realize that this is a separate key, located between Key Largo and Islamorada.  Fortuitously, it also was exactly what we wanted.

Although I'd spent time in Key West, I'd never been to the upper keys.  The first pleasant surprise: upon crossing the 18-mile stretch, you are immediately somewhere else.  It's laid back, beachy, friendly, low-key.  Tavernier is a tiny little key, and our hotel was situated on a little beach on a harbor, with a few picturesque sailboats between us and the mangroves.

We had booked some dives before getting down there.  And if you find yourself in any of these keys, do yourself a favor and book with Conch Republic Divers - one of the best outfits I've been diving with yet.  They're professional, their equipment is top notch and they ensure every diver has the very best time possible.  The diving in the upper keys also happens to blow away that of Key West - the reefs are better, the wrecks are plentiful and we had great visibility, no currents, gorgeous marine life (including turtles, morays, nurse sharks, puffers, barracuda, schools upon schools of reef fishes, lobsters and more) and no unbearable choppiness.  In fact, after spending two days diving with this shop, we added a third.

Restaurants and bars in the upper keys are.... generally fine.  We ended up eating very well actually, owing to repeat visits to our fave spots.  Night life is pretty weak, but since my friend and I were looking to catch up - not to catch a fella - that was fine.  We could even have ridden a mechanical pig, would that have appealed in any way, shape or form.

So really, lack of action and photos aside, this was a perfect trip.  It's wonderful to reconnect with a friend after so long, and to feel as if it had been only a few days.  We talked for hours on end, enjoyed a couple of mini-adventures (paddleboards, mangroves, the local state park), and we dove, ate and drank.  What a fabulous vacation.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Desert wildflowers

Since I'd so much enjoyed photographing the flowers in Rocky Mountain National Park last summer, and also since the Bunny pointed out EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. while we hiked in Utah..... I thought I'd share some of these.

The prickly pear cactus were so close to blooming in both Arches and Canyonlands.  We did see some in full, bold, red and orange bloom.... but it was while we were on a mountain bike ride, and since I cannot safely carry a camera (or anything that isn't a very small, snug Camelbak) while riding, here you can see those tight buds, about to open into glory.
The Bunny and I really loved these (totally not hilariously-named) Beakpod Nippletwists.  Which you can also call the Little Twistflower, if the first name makes you blush.  Either way, they are tall and delicate, and both the white flowers and the reddish-purple pods (also flowers???) are tiny, and the itty-bitty pop of color makes for a lovely contrast with the red, sandy soil.

The pale evening primrose has a very delicate flower, and the closed buds are completely red/pink.  Which means the Bug and the Bunny can spot one from a mile away.

This little beauty is called the yellow-eye cryptanth, and we spotted it crammed between a couple of red sandstone rocks while on Whale Rock. 

Doesn't this stunner look like coral?  We saw these common paintbrush - a relation to the tundra flowers I love so much - on our way to Delicate Arch.

The bright orange of the scarlet globemallow appears to be just coming out.  In a couple of weeks, the trails at Arches will be lined with these little beauties.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Back to the Arches

During our last visit to Moab, we managed to take in some of the most easily accessible sights in Arches National Park.  We all loved it the first time, and the kids have both been talking about it since.  In fact, between the arches and the swimming pool, they pretty much want to move here.

Delicate Arch
This trip, with limited time to see the sights, we decided to head straight for the most famous arch at the park, perhaps anywhere.  We drove past the visitors center and the spectacular formations we saw before and parked at the Delicate Arch trail head.  It ended up being both longer and more strenuous than we'd thought, but the view was out of this world.
Winter Camp Ridge, as seen from the trail

The Bunny had to be hauled up most of the way by Joker, but the Bug and her friends were total troopers...  In fact, after rocking it up the entire trail, she wanted to hike the Park Avenue trail we'd done last time. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Canyonlands with the kids

This weekend we made another trip to Moab.  We stayed at the same awesome place, and added another day to the itinerary so that we'd have more time to explore.

Tops on the list was to get into Canyonlands National Park, a massive and spectacular place with two entrances an hour or less from Moab.  I was struck by a couple of things before we even got there.  First, that the entrances are for parts of the park that cannot be accessed from one another.  There are places in Canyonlands that are only for the seriously hard-core hikers: you bring in your gear, and your water, and your compass, and you can see some of the most amazing petroglyphs in the country.... but you've gotta find your own way out.

The White Rim, seen from Green River Overlook
Anyway, with four kids ages six and under, that was clearly not for us.  But with the help of another amazing visitors center, we not only got our National Parks passports stamped, but we also had some Junior Ranger materials (and a backpack) in hand, and we were off to explore.

We spent our day in the Island in the Sky section of the park, which has the closest entry to the town of Moab.  First we did the half-mile loop to Mesa Arch, where we got some serious vertigo along with sweeping views of the landscape.  Even the Bunny did great on this, although she did stop to point out every flower along the way. 
Peeking through Mesa Arch

Next, we eschewed the cliff-grazing hike to Grand View Point, instead scrambling up the formation known as Whale Rock.  The 2-mile round trip felt so much shorter since it was all rock hopping.  And I learned that I have a serious fear of heights when my kids are on the same planet as me.  I might even have gotten chewed out by the Bug for freaking out unnecessarily.
Looking west from atop Whale Rock

The kids were wiped after our hikes, but we did stop to take a look at the White Rim.  Roughly 1,200 feet below where we stood was the next "ledge", with another 1,000 foot drop to the river below.  The distances are vast, the formations are stunning, and if nothing else you feel like a tiny drop in the bucket of time.  I could have just looked for hours, and hope to someday hike down into this moonscape.

Aztec Butte
We only got the tiniest glimpse of Canyonlands, and all (including the kids) came away thinking we've seen the parklands to beat.  We collectively cannot wait to come back and check out more of this incredible place.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Science + Innovation = Diorama

The Bug has thankfully had no homework for the past two weeks.  You have no idea how much she hates the cutting and pasting exercise in her weekly spelling packet.... which, frankly, why???  I mean, how bad can cutting and pasting be?

Anyway, the homework was replaced with the kindergarten project for the school's Science Innovation Day, taking place next week.  The assignment: an old-fashioned shoebox diorama of an animal habitat.  Bug went with the rainforest, which I hear was a popular choice.  Although judging by the materials used, this is a rainforest going through a terrible drought.

Still, with all the smiling insects (and the smiling fish added post-photo-op), seems to be a very pleasant place to be, indeed.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mud season in the 'Boat

Last weekend a girlfriend and I had a little get-away to Steamboat.  While there were some tasks at hand, we really got to relax and enjoy.

Fish Creek Falls
One of the funny things that we learned - and that I should have remembered from our visit a few years ago - is that Steamboat basically shuts down from mid-April thru the beginning of May.  They call it "mud season," a very appealing term to describe the down-time between ski season and summer.

Steamboat is known as a balloon destination
Our weather was perfect - sunny and warm, especially awesome after the string of Tuesday/Wednesday storms we have had every week in April.  (And, incidentally, again today.  May 1.  Ugh.)  We sat outside for cocktails, took long walks and hikes, ate incredible meals both at home and at the locals' hang-out restaurants.  And the snow was still melting on the hills and along the rivers.  It was absolutely beautiful.

Really cool old log