Tuesday, October 28, 2008

horse whisperers

I've been a bad blogger. I've just been busy lately and so I've totally procrastinated on posting about our visit with Aunt Pat, one of my mom's sisters, who was here a couple of weeks ago. Aunt Pat is from New Jersey, and though she retired to South Carolina a year or so ago, I still think of her as from New Jersey. If she replaces her NJ accent for a southern one, maybe I'll change my mind.

She was on her way home from a trip to Asia and arranged to have an all-day layover in our area. I picked her up from the airport while the girls were in German school, and we hung out in a bakery/cafe nearby until the girls were done with class. Having previously visited this area a couple of times and having never met the girls before, spending time with them was her main interest. Doing touristy things in the city, not so much. So I thought we'd take a little drive into the hills and visit a ranch I knew of which offered pony rides and had a winery, and offered some nice overall scenery, from what I had heard.

I called the day before to check on availability and hours and to make sure my kids were old enough to ride and so on and everything sounded fine. When we got there the girls visited and petted some horses for a few minutes while I signed them up for riding. Then after getting their helmets Aunt Pat and I learned about exactly what I had just committed us to doing. This wasn't pony riding as in the kids are guided around and around a penned area while we rest in the shade and watch...WE, along with one employee, would each be escorting a pony along their 1/2 hour hike along the trails around the grounds.

This could be a problem because both AP and I were wearing sandals, and she informed me just a couple of minutes prior that she is allergic to horses. And me, well, I'm allergic to horses and everything else one could possibly encounter on a horse ranch. Or a cow ranch. Or any other kind of ranch. Or anyplace else on the earth for that matter. But we thought we'd tough it out anyway and the girls were certainly excited to get going.

So we set out on very uneven ground with ponies that looked calm and gentle and with names like "Pumpkin". Our main instructions were to hold their reigns near their heads and don't let them "snack" along the trails. Alrighty then.

It was a really pretty property. The vineyards were all around and we had some nice views of the west hills and down into the valley.

But it was also one of those walks where the entire time it seemed like we were going uphill. And it turned out that "Pumpkin" and the others were small but all muscle, and determined, and keeping them from stopping to eat along the trails was nearly impossible. Not only were AP and I reluctant pony guides, we were very reluctant pony wrestlers, and the ponies won.

Allergy-wise, AP seemed fine along the walk and I was too. After the ride we briefly sampled a few of their wines in their tasting room and headed out. By the time we were driving home her allergies had hit AP pretty hard. I offered her some drugs at home, and some anti-histamines too. Erin decided to show her some less-allergenic horses while she recovered.

And after a few hours of resting and talking and visiting and hanging out, we all went out to dinner and Uncle Brad joined us. Though I nearly killed her with my horse outing idea, I think AP had a good visit and the girls just loved her and want her to visit again soon. If she does I promise her an equine-free visit.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

the state of the house, part III

In case you didn't see it, overall floor plan here.
The work continues, relatively smoothly. The new roof (over the whole house) is ready for the new shingles and the various inspections continue to go well. The interior is as stripped as it's going to be and no surprises have turned up (i.e. termites, dry rot, mold, etc.) Now that the interior walls are largely framed and the old walls that were to be removed have been and the final floor plan is in place, I am finally starting to get a feel for what living in the new house might be like, and it's seeming pretty cool.

Here are couple of exterior photos in bad late afternoon lighting from today:

A close up looking into the house from the new front entrance, which hopefully will not continue to be blocked by a porta-potty when you come to visit us next time. There will be a window above and next to the front door.

A bit of the interior. To get some perspective, here is a "before" photo taken from the kitchen out into the dining area, and on the other side of the far wall in this room was the entry way, and beyond that was the west wall of Erin's room.

Here is a photo from today taken from the same perspective. The dining area is opened up to the new living room (where Erin's room used to be) and the entry way is moved off to the left because the front entrance moved out to the left (out towards the street)about 6 feet. Those pantry cabinets that are on the right of the "before" photo will be moved to the left (north) wall of the dining area:

Here I'm standing in the new living room, looking out to the new front door and the new garage entrance door (the old garage entrance was through the kitchen. The pantry cabinets are going where this entrance used to be). It's not a big entry way but it has a much higher ceiling now--the highest ceiling in the whole house actually--and that makes it feel bigger. Next to the garage entrance door in the entry way will be our relocated coat closet.

Another view from the new living room looking down the original hallway. The first door on the right is to the hall bathroom (no work will be done in there except retiling the floor and perhaps a new light fixture), followed by a couple of closets, and the last door down the hall (door open) is to the master bedroom. These interior doors will all be replaced.

The view up from the living room--good thing it's been warm and dry. We're having three skylights put in, but they won't always be quite this airy, I hope.

joel on the job

T-10 days, and Joel is still on the job. I've been compiling (aka stealing) AP photos of him from the 'net and thought I'd share some.

Friday, October 17, 2008

the week of disney

Last Thanksgiving we went to Disneyworld for a week and to say we had a good time would be an understatement, yet we still found some room for improvement. This past spring John suggested we go to Disneyland during Erin's fall break and plan a few things differently to make for an even better trip.

First, a bonus, Erin's break is a very off-peak time of year for a Disney vacation. Second, we were going to stay longer. We did 4 parks in 5 days at WDW, which gave us enough time to see most of the attractions, but we never had enough time to go back to the resort/hotel and just relax or swim or hang out there. In John's world eating meat on friday is fine but going someplace with an awesome pool and not using it is a major sin. Third, we missed going on several of the big thrill rides last fall because the kids were too small to take on with us and we didn't have anyone to watch the kids to allow us to ride them alone. This year, our plan was to bring the (ex-)nanny and her fiance and provide them a hotel room in exchange for some babysitting throughout the week. Everyone involved thought it was a pretty good deal.

So we set off by car on sunday October 5, which, as the Disneyland Hotel informed me no fewer than three times during the preceding month (by email, mailed letter, and a phone call) was to be a private sweet 16 birthday party for that spoiled rotten useless chick that plays Hannah Montana on TV, and therefore Disneyland would be closing at 5pm that day. Just. For. Her. Oh good grief...whatever. I think it's really only a matter of time before she enters a 24-hour marriage, shaves her head, and speeds down the freeway in a luxury convertible, fleeing "baby daddy" with a toddler on her lap. Call me cynical, but once you get Disneyland, all of Disneyland, for a private birthday party as a teenager I'm guessing the only place left to go in life is down. And we didn't plan on going into the parks that first night anyway (insert loud raspberry here).

We all arrived at the hotel in the late afternoon and after settling in a little bit we went to nearby downtown Disney to look around and have some dinner. Downtown Disney is all of 30 yards from the Disneyland Hotel, yet almost instantly John and Jacob and even Danielle were convinced by small people to become sherpas.

We enjoyed the lego store, and the giant giraffe that I tried but couldn't manage to fit into a photo. We went into a Disney store and Allison thought she found the perfect "little" souvenir. Think again.

The next morning the fergyfive had an early reservation for breakfast in Goofy's Kitchen, featuring many of the classic characters:

The girls love these meals since the characters make the rounds to all of the tables and everyone has a chance to visit with them and take pictures. At WDW last fall the park was so crowded that all of the characters inside the parks had lines an hour long to meet with them, so our only real encounter with characters was at these special meals.

After eating we went to the California Adventure park first, which was so empty that we had many rides all to ourselves.

The girls loved playing in the "It's a Bugs World" area (from the movie) where everything is designed to make you see things from a bug's perspective.

And that afternoon we made good on the "thou must enjoy the unique swimming pools" commandment and took a good long swimming break back at the hotel. The pool area had waterslides and a jacuzzi and this pirate ship in the middle, and was overall, just cool, and huge.

So that was monday. The following day got a little more, ah, interesting. To back up, Allison came down with a cold about a week and a half before this trip. She missed a day of preschool, it spread to me, then to the other kids and finally, when Allison and Erin were back to normal and Kate only had some residual sniffles, John got it about three days before we left. That first day in the park and swimming all the kids seemed fine. John still had some sinus congestion but was managing okay. On tuesday by mid-morning Allison was obviously sick again and at times seemed a little wheezy. She rode in the stroller rather than walked, but still wanted to go on some rides.
We went back to the hotel in the afternoon, the other kids swam with Danielle and Jacob and John and I put Allison to bed. When she woke up she looked horrible, was soaking wet with sweat, and wheezing tremendously. Conveniently, Kaiser Permanente has a hospital in Anaheim and so I took her to the ER there.

That evening we had planned on Danielle and Jacob babysitting all the kids while we went out to a very nice dinner with good friends Trish and Hugh, who live in Irvine, but obviously those plans got scrapped.

A couple of x-rays and a consult later, Allison didn't have pneumonia, which is what I initially suspected. She "just" had croup. So the hotel provided us with a humidifier for the room and we put her to bed and the next morning she was already a good deal better, and we just made sure she always rode in the stroller and again in the afternoon we brought her back to nap, and a couple of long steams in the shower helped out too. The rest of the week went alright after all.

On wednesday was the planned belated birthday surprise. Near main street in Disneyland you can make a reservation to celebrate a birthday with Pat E. Cake, a crazy disney chef guy who sings and brings all the birthday kids cakes for them to decorate. Then he and the kids have a little parade over to Mickey and Minnie, who make an appearance to greet all the birthday kids. The girls had a really good time with all of this. I have much more video than photos of this event, but I'm not going to be able to upload that in the near future, I think.

That evening we had a really, really good Japanese dinner, and the hostess gave the kids training chopsticks to try. Erin made a good attempt with them but went to her fork after several minutes. It's hard enough to convince Allison to use utensils, so new utensils didn't go over well. Kate on the other hand, was a natural, even with her rice.
After dinner we went back to Disneyland to catch the evening parade:
On thursday we had the very important "meet the princesses" lunch scheduled. The girls had been looking forward to this all week.
Though Erin was willing to socialize with other characters too. Unlike WDW last year, the parks really weren't crowded and the girls got many opportunities to visit with the characters in the parks as well as at special meals.
John and I went on Star Tours, and he was happy to see some of the large LCD panels that he designed way back when for the rides' entrance area were still there and in operation:
Last day in the parks, last chance to ride those favorites one more time, which for Erin meant her THIRD ride on Space Mountain, a second ride on the Tower of Terror, Matterhorn, Star Tours, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (another fast coaster)...basically, Erin is a six year-old adrenaline junkie. The bigger and faster the ride the more she liked it. She's tall enough now to ride on all of Disneyland's attractions except for one (Indiana Jones). She LOVES them. When we spent what she considered too much time catering to her sisters' ideas of excitement, on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride or Dumbo or the Winnie the Pooh adventure ride or whatever else, she'd say, "Can we go on something FAST now? We haven't gone on a FAST ride in a loooooooooooong time! This is a BABY ride!"
Our last ride of our last night was on Splash Mountain, which even the twins were tall enough to ride. None of us had managed to get on this one throughout the week and it's one of John's favorites, so we had to be sure and make it on. Most of the ride is pretty tame, but there is one big drop near the end with the anticipated big splash at the bottom. The ride has one of those cameras that take every boat's picture as it starts to make that drop and here is a picture I took of that picture as it appeared on the monitor at the end of the ride. This was not Allison and Kate's favorite attraction:
"Don't take me on Splash Mountain again, mama!" Yes, dear. Aaaaaaarrrrrr.