Saturday, July 27, 2013

north of the 60th parallel

This past Monday morning, I left at 4:00 AM for a trip to the Canadian Arctic.

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Over the next few days, I'll post some of the pictures I took - but none of them will give this remote region of the world any justice.

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I'm still trying to process what I've seen and experienced the past few days and the only word that comes to mind is amazed.

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Amazed at the beauty and sheer ruggedness of such a place.

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Amazed at the incredible remoteness.

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Amazed at the plants and animals that have managed to thrive in such a harsh environment.

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Amazed that across the 587,206 square miles (375,811,840 acres) ... there are a mere 42,000 people. Or, approximately one person per every 8,957 acres.

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Amazed that the pioneers who ventured in to this land and settled it - survived.

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Amazed that people continue to trek north despite the fact that there are virtually no roads or means in and out - except by airplane or boat.

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Amazed that people DO actually live there and have built small communities around themselves and are incredibly reliant on one another for survival.

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Amazed at humanity's insatiable desire to explore and conquer.

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Amazed that the vast majority of people will not have the privilege of experiencing what I just experienced.

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Amazed that when I look at a map of the world, I was practically at the top of it.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

'round the world in 90 days

In my new role as a technical advisor, there is considerably more business travel than I've experienced previously in my life.  Within the past month, I've flown to Texas and California.

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This is some of the fine cuisine I enjoyed while in Houston (mmm Po-Boy and a cup of Gumbo)...

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And here's the not-so-lovely view from my Houston hotel room.

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I think I like the view of the California coastline better.

Was it really this beautiful when we lived there?

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Tomorrow morning at 4:00 AM, I'm leaving our house, for a flight that departs at 6:15, for a week long trip to the Northwest Territories of the Canadian Arctic.  I'm most excited about seeing tundra for the first time and meeting a Polar Bear Hazer.  For those not in the know, a Polar Bear Hazer is a professionally trained person who will accompany us on our trip and will have a "Four Point System" for stopping any rogue and ravenous polar bears from attacking.  From what I understand, the first point is a bull horn alarm; the second is a bean bag shot; the third is a tranquilizer shot; the fourth is a lethal shot. While I'm not at all excited to actually see or have them use any of these four points - I am certainly intrigued that the very, very (very, very) slim chance exists.  I'm also glad that I know I can run faster than at least three of the people who will be accompanying me, should it come to that.

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Later this month, I'll be traveling to North Carolina on a business trip and then next month I'll be back in Texas. Within the fourth quarter, I'm slated to be in at least six other US states, Europe, Australia and Canada - again.  Outside of my trip to Hawaii in 1993, I've never left the North American continent.  Whenever I crossed the border to Mexico or Canada, I'd beg them to stamp my passport so it would at least appear like I've done some international travel.  But in my limited experience, our neighbors to the north and south don't even stamp passports. So when I just submitted my passport for renewal, the only stamp that I'd received for the past decade, was a stamp from our trip to the Bahamas in 2003. On a clear day, I think you can see the Bahamas from Florida, so I don't think that really counts as exotic travel.

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I just wish there was some way that I could bring Charlie and the children with me on all of these adventures.  But I suppose with all the traveling I'll be doing between now and the end of the year, I'll have accumulated enough frequent flier miles that bringing them with me could be a real possibility, next year.  Until then, I'll just fly around on my own and hope with every fiber of my being that the plane (and pilot) does exactly what it / they are supposed to do upon take off, flight and landing.

For as much as I love the thought of travel and adventure - and even though I've passed my 38th year relatively unscathed - I'm still a very nervous (and palm sweaty) flier and after my trip home from California last week, where we were two hours late departing out of our connection in Denver because of the weather and then hit such bad turbulence that people around me were praying and grabbing and filling their air sick bags, I've solidly decided that flying definitely isn't one of my favorite things to do. Especially when I can see the wings rattling and fully expect to see one of them SNAP OFF at any moment as we fall 37,000 feet down, down, down.  

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Let's just hope that doesn't happen on any of the eight flights I'm scheduled to take over the next five days.  On a happier note,  I'll rake up almost 10,000 frequent flier miles this week alone and I'll be that much closer to flying and freaking out with my precious family!!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

honeysuckle

Along the banks of the Reedy River in Greenville, South Carolina, there are the most fragrant honeysuckle bushes. When I was 10-years old, I remember my friend teaching me how to pluck the flowers and suck the nectar out of the funnel-like bottoms.

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A few weeks ago, I spotted a honeysuckle bush growing in our neighborhood and the sight of those yellow and white flowers was a blast from the past. I excitedly explained to the kids how I used to love honeysuckle when I was a child. Now, whenever we ride our bicycles past the bush, the kids jump off their bikes and hunt for flowers just like I used to do. These really are sweet memories in the making.

Friday, July 19, 2013

favorite thing friday: she shoots, she misses; she shoots again, she scores (she = me)

My mother can be very difficult to buy a gift for and has a reputation for returning presents.  Every so often, I land a great present that my mom loves. For example, in 1994, I bought my mother a pair of Teva sandals for Christmas, and you'd think I'd given her the Holy Grail. I've never in my life seen her so excited.  She screeched and squealed and danced around and there were tears of joy. I think she was more excited about those sandals than she was when I told her I was expecting triplets.

But for every one great gift I give, it seems I drop at least five bombs.

Last year we bought my mother and iPad for her birthday. While I didn't have one myself, I thought they were the coolest things and I really thought my mother would enjoy it.  Imagine my surprise when she opened the box and huffed, "What's this? Oh pfft! I don't need this. I have no idea how to use one of these things ... here, take it back."

Wait. What?  It's a brand new iPad, Mom. One of the most magnificent inventions ever?

Coveted the world over? 

Mom didn't want anything to do with it and I could tell the mere sight of it made her punchy. Which probably had more to do with her being upset that I'd spent a lot of money on a gift for her, and not due to the fact that she had an Apple product in her living room (rest assured, Steve Jobs).  So I defeatedly returned it to the sparkling white Mac store cinch sack and considered taking it back to the store. But then I started using it and the next thing you know, I'm the proud owner of an iPad! Yay me!

Over the past year, I've come to really love my accidental iPad and I know, just know, that my mother would love it too if she'd just give it a chance.  The whole idea of her not knowing how to use it is preposterous.  There's really nothing to know except how to push the button. So this year for my mother's birthday, I bought my mother an iPad mini.  Maybe the smaller less expensive sized version would be easier for her to swallow, figuratively speaking.  Especially if I wrapped it up and presented it to her in a Teva shoe box.

As she was opening her present, she was telling her friends that were gathered 'round how last year I'd bought her an iPad and she gave it back to me because, really?! What does a 79-year woman know about that kind of crazy technology?  Then she pulled out the iPad mini and huffed, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME? You did it again?!" and I explained, "No, I didn't do it again, I got you the SMALLER one this time and trust me Mom, PLEASE TRUST ME ON THIS, you and your 80-year old self will LOVE it."

William, who was standing behind me whispered, "Hey Mom, if she doesn't want it again and gives it back ... can I please have it? Pretty please?"

Son, not now.  

I was determined that this gift would STICK. So for the next two hours, I showed my mother and several of her friends from Florida who had converged for her birthday surprise, how to work the iPad and by the end of the night I had them all convinced it really was the greatest gadget ever.  They've even invited me to come down to Florida next winter and spend a day with them teaching the ins and outs of the brand new iPads they all intend to purchase.

One day last week, I Face Time'd my mother on her iPad mini from our iPad. She was giddy to be looking at me - real time - on the tiny little device that she is also using to retrieve her e-mail and check recipes and take photos and videos and and live stream Netflix. While I walked around our house and showed her the girls who were in bed sleeping, and the boys who were in bed wrestling each other,  my mother told Jim's family (who were visiting), "Would you look at this? This is Jen! She's calling me from MY OLD iPad to MY NEW iPad! Isn't this amazing? I've never seen anything like this!!"

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Yes M'am. It would appear we have a winner.

Don't tell me persistence doesn't pay off!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

it's electric

Following the incident where Louie bit our neighbor's puppy, I called two professional dog trainers in order to have them complete an assessment of Louie.

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Neither one of them called me back. So I met two dog trainers at two pet stores and told them about what has happened with Louie and asked for their advice about dog training.  Both of the dog trainers told me that Louie never ever should have turned on me and given his history of showing signs of aggression towards other dogs, they would strongly recommend that Louie be trained by a private trainer - in our home. That sounded like a great idea. If the dog trainers that offered private sessions would call me back. 

A few days later, we were at a festival in town and we met a private dog trainer at a booth she had set up. And she said she would come and do an assessment on Louie. So three weeks later, after trading several voicemails and e-mails, she came by our house.  When she came in, Louie ran over and jumped up on her and was so excited because peoplepeoplepeople he loves people!   Within a few minutes, the children had drawn him in to another room and were working with him on sit! stay! down! roll-over! while feeding him dog treats.  The dog trainer was duly impressed with our children's ability to direct him, and his obedience to their commands. 

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Then the trainer told me a little about her training technique. I was expecting that she would be a dog trainer just like our last dog trainer was a dog trainer.  But now what with all the advances in technology, she uses what is effectively a shock collar that is controlled by a small hand held remote. She fit Louie with a demo collar and firmly said, "OFF!" when he jumped on her again while giving him a gentle (non painful) vibration. The next time he jumped, she again said, "No, OFF!" before cranking up a little juice on the collar.

Because she'd allowed me to feel the voltage of electricity that she'd be subjecting our dog to before she but the collar on him, I knew what he was feeling and it wasn't entirely pleasant. 

Once she zapped him, he immediately obeyed and stopped jumping. Not only that, but he seemed to become more attentive to her and what she was directing him to do. Sit, stay, down, heel. When she walked out the door to her car, she had control over his every move.  I could see that the possibilities with this thing were endless, not just for the dog - but for our children and difficult co-workers - and I couldn't wait to be her next customer! 

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But then the trainer told us her pricing schedule. It would cost $300.00 for the electric dog collar and $600.00 for her to train us how to use it. Alternatively, we could purchase the collar and send Louie away with her for 14 days so she could work with him, and return to us a completely obedient dog at the end of two weeks.   The cost for that package was $1,600.00. Plus the price of the collar.  

When she went out to her car to get us a sample of some dog food that she uses, I pulled out my iPad and did a quick search for electric collars.  Within five seconds, I found an almost identical collar for $150.00 and it came with a book.  I'm not sure if I've mentioned it before, but I know how to read. So for a savings of $750.00, I could buy a collar and learn how to use it on my own. 

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Of course during that two-minute internet search, I saw all kinds of stories about how electric collars are animal cruelty and the lazy way out of training your dog.  But then I saw that my friend, Cesar Milan, has endorsed using them in certain circumstances, and then I thought about the Invisible Fence that we were thinking of getting and how it works on the same premise, and then I decided that fitting Louie with an electric dog collar was probably LESS animal cruelty than shipping him back to the shelter - so we told the dog trainer "We'll think about it..." 

Then we bought our own "e-collar" and had it shipped to Michigan so we could bring Louie with us on our trip. Granted, we were a little hesitant to use the dog collar in front of Eileen's friends, especially her friend who is a veterinarian for fear of what they might think. But as soon as her friend, Tom the Vet, saw the dog collar he said, "Hey! We have that one, too! Isn't it the best?!" 

The dog collar really was impressive and we could see a dramatic improvement in his behavior with just the stimulation, not even the "shock" component.  Last year on our trip to Michigan, Louie ran away from us several times and was a pulling nightmare on leash.  This year, he never left our sides. All in all, things were going great. 

Until.   Elizabeth approached him when he had just stolen a rawhide from his dog-cousin, Star.  I was sitting right there and was watching when Elizabeth went up to Louie and with her hand outstretched, tried to pat his head. He eyed her for a second and then he growled and yapped, yapped, yapped at her.  So I flew out of my chair and I grabbed him by the collar and I brought him downstairs, and a very teary Elizabeth followed me, as I had him lay down. Then I had him roll over.  As he lay on the ground, on his back in a passive position, I had Elizabeth give him the rawhide and then take it away.  We repeated this several times and all the while I had my hand on that zapper because if he so much as showed one tooth to my child, I'd turn him in to a POODLE. 

Two days later, Charlie was on the ground stretching and Louie came in for a pat. As Charlie was patting Louie, Star - who is completely harmless - entered the scene and growled at Louie. Star grows at everything, though, including her own shadow.  Maybe it was because Charlie was in the middle of it, Louie growled at Star and then nearly lunged at her, and Charlie had to grab him by the collar and flip him over on his back. My mind was instantly made up.  

Louie has to go. NOW.  This instant. 

It's not worth the risk. It's not worth the anxiety. It's not worth the stress. 

That night, Emily came home from college. Remember Emily? Our sweet Emily Rose who we nearly lost two years ago when she had a terrible bicycling accident?  Well, she just finished her junior year of college and is interning at a hospital and planning to pursue a career in medicine. 


Anyway, Emily loved Louie. And Louie loved Emily. She swung him up in to her arms and he nuzzled her face and I couldn't believe it.  As she sat with him in her lap for the rest of the evening, Emily's good friend told us that her beloved 13-year old black lab had just died the week prior. So I asked her if she'd like another dog, another dog that looks just like a black lab puppy except he is already housebroken and will never get any bigger, and she said YES.

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Then she called her father and her father said, YES.  And her sisters said YES.  So Charlie and I mentally prepared ourselves that Louie would be staying, forever, in Michigan with a family that loves him and can focus all of their attention on him and our children will be sad, sure, but they'll quickly get over it when we bring home a dopy yellow labrador retriever named Daisy. Or Duke.  Or maybe Daisy Duke and we'll get a kitten named Luke and have flashbacks to corny shows from the early 80's.  

The next morning, the family called to tell us that their mother, who had been sleeping the night before when all this scheming had been going on, was now awake and she didn't want another dog. So they wouldn't be coming for Louie after all. 

Ugh. Rationale women.  They always throw a wrench in things. 

So Louie is still with us.  He is doing well and hasn't shown any other signs of aggression and is walking beautifully - both with and without a leash - and will come and sit and stay and heel and lay down and roll over and children are putting things in and taking things out of his mouth and I don't know if I really believe he's a changed dog or if he could flip at any moment?

My co-worker told me that I was an IDIOT for getting a puppy and it took almost two years for him to not want to abandon his dog somewhere.  Maybe what we've been going through with Louie is just puppy stuff? He's had a track record of being snippy, but maybe he's outgrowing it?  Or maybe I'm a dope and I'll kick myself when he bites someone and say, "Just as I'd suspected!" Or maybe Louie really has grown past this stage of defiance and at some point in his life he'll pull a total Lassie stunt and do something amazing to save our lives. 

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While I think about these things and wait for a potential new owner to find us, we're keeping him and contemplating how his behavior really has seemed to change over the past few weeks and the only word that can be used to describe that transformation is shocking. 

No pun intended. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

toasted coconut are my favorite

While we were in Michigan, my sister hired a personal trainer to come to the house and give us a workout.  The personal trainer's name was Duncan and he was chiseled. 

The first day that he came by, I was eagerly thinking, "I can do this ... I can so totally do this!" so I did it and the next day I couldn't really do much of anything except breathe because every inch of me hurt.  The next time Duncan came to the house, I'd been up the night before thinking I might die from a raging virus, so I took a pass on bringing that thought of dying to fruition right there on my sister's front lawn.  As for the rest of the group, they subjected themselves to another round of torture while my mother and I sat in comfy chairs and took pictures.  Here's the group is scrambling as fast as they could up and down the hill like crabs. Oh, this might look easy enough ... but trust me, it's not. Especially the 12th time you do it.

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Here's the group with beach towels, saturated with lake water, that they had to vigorously swing around...

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... and then toss to each other.

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The first group started to run in the water - raising their knees above the water line, while the second group had to pick up the pace on their towel saturation - throwing exercise, before shifting locations with the first group.

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Then they ran around the sand, sped walk across the dock, jumped in to the water, and did some kind of alternating exercise of jumping and swishing before they did another lap.

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They dug deep holes in the sand using their forearms, and then made piles of sand in a circular motion, before smoothing it out and digging more holes, 'round and 'round.

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After 45 straight minutes of this fitness fun, they wrapped it up by doing several dozen donkey kicks and jump push-ups in the water.

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When they finished everyone showed off their biceps and shouted, "Bodies by Duncan!!" So I held up my not-quite-so-impressive bicep and shouted back, "I have a body by Dunkin, too. DUNKIN DONUTS!" 

It was quite funny at the time, but now it sounds kind of pathetic.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

the family with 12 red shoes

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What can I say ... the shoe store was having a big sale and now our whole family has a pair of red Vans.  Next, we'll be buying matching skateboards.

Monday, July 15, 2013

and the moon did shine

For the past several years, my mother and Jim have rented a beach-front condo in Florida. The condo immediately next door is owned by a couple, Kate and Rich, and each year during the winter months - they lend the condo to Kate's mother and stepfather, so they can escape the chilly Connecticut winters.

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My Mom and Jim are very close friends with Kate's mother and stepfather...

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While my sister, Eileen, and her husband, Clark, have become best of friends with Kate and Rich.

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They've forged such a strong friendship, that Kate and Rich have traveled to Michigan several times for various parties and events that Eileen and Clark have hosted.  Their travels for the 4th of July were the third (or fourth) time that they've been to my sister and brother-in-law's house in three years.

Kate and Rich are a fun, fun couple.

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They're a sampling of some of our friends who are living an intentionally child-free existence and have traveled extensively around the world and are enjoying life and each other, as much as possible.  Now I mention this because on or about Day 3 of our trip to Michigan, Eileen informed us that Charlie and Rich would be having a Pizza Cook-Off and all the people in attendance, over the age of 10, were to serve as the judges.

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Charlie loves to cook and is quite good at it.

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Rich also loves to cook and he is quite good at it, too.  The difference between the cooking skills of these two men is that one cooks in order to serve food as quickly as possible to four constantly hungry children ... whereas the other has been known to take several days off from work (three to be exact) so he could perfect a specific dish.

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And that specific dish turned out to be his fig, date, chicken, broccoli, goat cheese pizza and while I was unsure how exactly this would turn out .... Sweet Caroline, it wound up being the best pizza I've ever tasted in my life.

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Now for a quick backstory... 

When I first met Charlie he was running for the President of the Geology Club and was telling people that he was buying votes. As a poor college student, I was completely broke so I told him that of course I'd vote for him ... if the price was right.  We both laughed because he wasn't actually serious about the bribe, and I wasn't actually serious about my vote.  You see, I'd promised my vote to Charlie's opponent - this student named Adam - who I'd met earlier in the day when he asked if I'd vote for him and I'd already told him yes.

If I recall correctly, there were around 100 people that voted on that election. And on the day of the election, when they tallied up all the votes, Charlie wound up with 98 and Adam wound up with 2.  Charlie won on the premise that he was the coolest guy in the Department, he was smart, handsome, outgoing, funny, athletic, and an all-around respectful gentleman.  He was Captain of the Softball team, financed the pizza parties after every game, and threw outrageous Halloween parties. Adam was a nice enough guy, but he was no Charlie. 

I'd never divulged to the man who would become my boyfriend, fiancĂ©, husband and father to my children that my vote was promised to someone else.  Until ... the first night of our honeymoon.

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Charlie and I were sitting at a romantic candlelit dinner on Nantucket Island, reminiscing about how we first met and fell in love.  Charlie told me that he fell in love the moment he laid eyes on me when he was bribing people for votes.  And I told him that I fell in love the minute I watched the way he interacted with people. Then we talked about the election and my new husband speculated on the results.  He pondered aloud, "I've always wondered who the other person was that voted for Adam. I mean, I know he was one of the votes ... but who was the second?"  

So I nibbled on some bread before sheepishly telling him that it was me, his new bride that cast the vote for his opponent. Charlie was stunned. "Really?" he kept asking me. "You're kidding, right?"

Even now, I can remember that feeling of betrayal. It was terrible, me voting for another man. Some might ask, "How were you to know that you'd wind up marrying Charlie?" I didn't, of course. But I do know that when I voted for Adam, it just didn't feel right.  My mind said one thing, my heart said another and if there's one thing I've learned in life it's that you should always follow your heart.

Since then, I've sworn that I'd never vote against my husband again.  And I'm happy to report that I kept my promise. Unfortunately, the rest of the crowd that was gathered on my sister's patio slowly sipping Moonshine, didn't share my sentiment and Rich's pizza won by a landslide.  Here's Charlie getting a group hug...

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After lamenting that his pizza looked SO SQUARE.

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"I don't understand! How did you get your pizza so round?" he kept asking, incredulously.

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Kate said that she sat on it, but I think (or rather, hope) that was the moonshine talking.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

six

Henry turned six-years-old on the Fourth of July. Six years old.  Let me just take a moment to reflect on how this little sparkler...

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Has morphed in to this gorgeous firecracker who told me yesterday, "Mom, I might not marry you when I grow up." So I had to hold him down and tickle his belly until he said, "OK, OK, I'll marry you, HONEY!!!"

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For the third year in a row, we celebrated his birthday in Michigan. This time, with a very special guest.  Please focus your attention on the lovely woman on the back right row wearing the festive hat that was decorated by my Aunt Grace.

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This was the third year that we also took part in the town's Fourth of July parade. Henry has had his own "float" for the past two years, so this year, Clark and Eileen had professional banners made so that we wouldn't be up until 2 AM making signs out of poster board.

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We actually had the pleasure of decorating TWO vehicles for the parade because my mother, Mary, turned 80 on July 7th, so while Eileen drove the truck with Henry - Clark drove my mother in his new Porsche which was also adorned with banners and balloons.

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It was so awesome to have my mother join us in what has become an annual celebration. Word has spread about how much fun we have, so as a surprise - my mother's neighbors that she sees every year during the winter in Florida - made their way to Michigan from Connecticut so they could join in on the action.  On our way to the parade...

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My mother was absolutely shocked to see her dear friend, Flavia (aka: Auntie Sam)...

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And Flavia's wonderful daughter, Kate (aka: Lady Liberty).

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Here we are in our patriotic best ...

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Here's Kate with Mrs. Michigan...

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And the Blue Man.

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Here's the Birthday Mobile at the lineup...

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And here we are pulling out on to the parade route.

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The first year that we participated in the parade, we were directly in front of the high school band. This year, there was a rock band on the float behind us and it was so fun marching to the music!

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A friend of a friend (of a neighbor) joined us in the birthday lineup because their daughter was turning one on the Fourth of July and they, too, wanted in on the parade marching birthday action. The little doll in the wagon is the Birthday Girl and next year her parents are thinking of upgrading her to a pony. Or a llama. Or something that will allow her better visibility of the crowd (and them of her).

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Sticking with our theme of "We Give Kisses for Birthday Wishes!" ....

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Henry did a great job throwing out handfuls of frozen Hershey Kisses...

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To the thousands of people who lined the nearly 2-mile route.

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Including a police officer with a fantastic reflex to catch airborne kisses.

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We meandered down Main Street...

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With our flags waving ...

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And faces smiling.

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We went past the Grand Stand and listened to the MC identify my mother celebrating her 80th birthday (visiting all the way from South Carolina), Henry celebrating his 6th birthday (all the way from Virginia), and the little girl in the wagon celebrating her 1st birthday (all the way from the next town over).  "So you see," he told the crowd, "people from all over America must realize this is the BEST PARADE in the country!" and then he told my mother that she was more beautiful than the car before asking, "By the way Mary, is that car your birthday gift?" 

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My mother had so much fun that two days later, her cheeks still hurt from all the laughing.

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Once the parade was finished, there were presents ...

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Cake ...

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And fireworks.

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Talk about ending the perfect day with a bang!