Saturday, March 21, 2009

three girls, ski girls

We spent the last few days of winter doing the finest thing one could possibly do in winter--skiing, at one of the finest places to ski, Squaw Valley. We left wednesday after school and stayed at a lodge which is in the Squaw village and walking distance to everything. No, they aren't on spring break now. Yes, we took Erin out of school for two days in order to ski and I have a clear conscience.

The girls were signed up for ski school for both thursday and friday, which turned out to be a grand decision. There was NO ONE up there skiing those days. The ski classes, normally designed for 5 students per instructor, were nowhere near filled. Erin spent the first morning with just one other little girl in her group and in the afternoon she had the teacher all to herself. On friday Erin was with two others, the twins had their instructor all to themselves all day.

Allison was happy to see Erin back at the ski school after their lessons:

John and I had a great time skiing all over the mountain, mainly up at the top and on the backside--terrain we wouldn't be able to do with the girls on saturday, when we planned to be together. It was very sunny and fairly warm our first two ski days and the snow conditions were overall very good. I was having a blast. John asked frequently, "Where to next?" and I'd find someplace that looked fun to me. John's responses:
"Are you crazy?"
"You mean, on purpose?"
"Have you lost your mind?"

But he usually went along with the "delightfully challenging and furthermore, exhilarating" slopes I chose at least once. When I came back a second or third or fourth time he usually opted to take a different route and meet me at the back at the chair lift. Friday morning I saw a place in the village selling ski helmets for 50% off. I've never used a helmet in my 30+ years of skiing but I decided that it was probably time. John thought that was a good idea, "Then I won't have to worry so much when you go off on those ridiculous slopes."

I've never heard of anything so silly. There are NO ridiculous slopes.

After picking the girls up on thursday afternoon we all rode the cable car up to High Camp, a stopping point a little higher than about mid-mountain. Up there we looked around and got some pictures and went inside for hot chocolate:

spectacular views up there:

By friday afternoon John and I were talking about how we'd work the logistics of the 5 of us going up chair lifts together the next day...something we've never done before. Most of the beginner slopes have a lift that seats only 2, which would not work for us. Erin is too young to be trusted in a chair on her own. There is one beginner chair which seats 3 and it's a nice long run so we figured this is where we'd need to come. Towards the end of the day we headed over there to ride that lift and then ski the terrain under it to check it out.

In Oregon the ski school instructors told us that the twins were ready to start riding the lifts and doing the regular beginner terrain (as opposed to the nearly flat bunny hills right outside the ski school). But they weren't taken on a lift on thursday and we assumed because they had a new instructor for friday that they wouldn't go up that day either.

When we got to the top of the beginner chair I saw a woman get off the chair with two little kids, one in dark pink, one in light pink...hey...that's Kate and Allison! They were coming over toward us and then Kate recognized John, "DADDY!" The instructor said they had been skiing there all afternoon. "They're doing great!" she reported. So I took some photos and we skied most of the way down that run near them and they both looked so, so good and happy.

The next morning we took all the girls up to that same lift and we all skied together for the first time.

The twins did fine, Erin was a bit over-confident at her being back on a green=beginner slope after skiing most of the past two days on blue=intermediate. She and Kate seemed to have adopted the same general skiing philosophy: "turning is for suckas".

Clearly, if one wants to ski down, the most direct way to do that is to just go down. John was with Allison trying to show the her a good path to follow at a speed he thought she could match safely and was separated from the 3 of us when both Kate and Erin went BOMBING down the hill. I was just stunned to see Erin ski that way. I've never seen her ski so quickly or so aggressively. I took off after them and saw Erin slow down pretty well but then fall and lose a ski, so I headed for Kate and yelled at her from behind, "KATE! TURN! KATE! TURN!" and she did, slowing herself down and stopping safely and with a look on her face like, "what's the problem, old lady?"

Puh-lease. If they wanna see fast, I could show them some FAST skiing, but I'd like them both to be considerably better before we try a contest like that.

I got Erin's ski back on and lectured them both about staying with me and needing to control their speed with turning, reminding them that I don't just go flying down the hills either (when they are there to see me). During the next many runs they did better in that regard and I even took the two of them on a nearby intermediate slope to see how Kate would fare (she's much more confident that Allison at this point, but the blue run proved to me too much for her).

Here's John and his three little ski ducks following behind him:

In the afternoon I took Erin on some really challenging intermediate slopes and she did absolutely great there too. It's amazing to see the girls' progress this ski season. Erin tried one intermediate run last year, I think. She did a couple of them in Oregon last month but she was really anxious about them and exhausted afterwards. Today she skied them happily and confidently over and over and did just so well overall. And the twins started this year skiing for the first time ever, and have definitely progressed to the point where they belong on the chair lifts. I didn't think the 5 of us would have a chance to ski together until at least next year. What a great way to end this ski season. I can't wait to see what next season has in store.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

erin go bragh!

Happy St. Patrick's Day to my fellow-Irish/mutt heritage Americans. A couple of weeks ago Erin and I were at a craft store to gather some supplies for a school project and she spotted a particular decoration in the St. P Day display area. "Hey, that says my name! That's me! But you don't spell 'brag' with an 'h'!"

Somehow she's made it through her first 6.5 years without running across that slogan before and come to think of it, I never drew her attention to it in past years (and know that my cousin, the Irish dance instructor from Chicago, would be soooo disappointed about this oversight). So I explained what little I could remember about it and we couldn't resist buying the decoration. When we got home and hung it up she showed it off to daddy and the twins. I also found a shirt for her bearing the same slogan so she could wear it to school today. She was so proud of it that her teacher asked her to come to the front of the class and explain her shirt to everyone.

This past weekend was the beginning of softball season and all last summer, fall, and this winter Erin made sure to remind me on a semi-weekly basis to sign her up for softball again for this spring. She is a Marlin this year (a Shark last year), so obviously the fishy theme continues. She has entirely different teammates than last year and a new coach too, who I am eternally grateful for. Her coach last year drove me nuts. He was late to every practice and every game and was generally supremely disorganized, and that characteristic makes me crazy. This year the coach is super on top of everything and I volunteered as the Team Admin which means I push paperwork around and set up the schedule and send out team emails and reminders about everything and answer the same questions 10 times each, kinda like a government employee.

Erin had a great time at her first practice and was one of the more reliable hitters/throwers/catchers because she played last season and for many of the girls this was their first time throwing a ball.

John took her to her team pictures/opening ceremony and first game last saturday morning while the twins and I were in German school. Then we came to the field and saw the last 15 minutes of her game on a very cold morning. I think it was about 50 degrees so she kept her jacket on. When we reached the sidelines her team had the field and Erin was playing first base and got two runners out, back to back. I was stunned. I was so surprised that I forgot to take pictures. John said she got another runner out in the last inning.

Erin finally got the hang of the game, mostly, by the end of last season but in the one opportunity she was given last year to play first base she wore her glove on her head for much of the time and used a stick to draw pictures in the dirt. Needless to say, she wasn't such a great rookie first-baseman, but I guess a year can make a world of difference.

Too bad it's no longer an Olympic sport.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

the month of oma and opa

Though the weather this past month was more rainy than not, we still managed plenty of excursions, motivated by Oma and Opa's extended visit from Pennsylvania. They had the opportunity to house- and dog-sit near the coast for a month, and happily took the opportunity. They just left for home today so I'm playing catch-up on our visit together.

A month ago, before the current deluge began, we enjoyed some nice days outside. I searched out some new destinations for us and found a small natural history museum/zoo which we haven't visited before. It features native wildlife for our state and some exhibits indoors.

There were many hands-on type exhibits so the girls were occupied with those for a long time, though when any of us tried to explain what the exhibit was really demonstrating only Erin had any interest. If there was a display to be touched, K&A hit it, if there was something to turn, they wanted it spinning of of control, if there was something to place together carefully, they slammed it or threw it. They enjoyed the hands-on activites, but for them it was more like four flying fists-on.

Outside it seemed to be nap time for most of the animals, but a very active raccoon, a few snakes, and marsh bird of some kind held our attention for quite a while, as well as a coyote and this bobcat on the right:

On the way to this museum we passed by an aviation museum which I've heard about and also never visited, so a couple of days later we headed there. Opa worked in Naval aviation for 30+ years, so I thought he'd get a kick out of it and as it turns out, we all did. The exhibits walked us through the history of aviation with life-size models and replicas of countless machines. I'm convinced that first aviation inventors were all mentally ill. That's the only explanation I can come up with for being motivated to risk one's life by leaving the ground in some contraption made of wood and cowhide, incorporating bicycle pedals and a helium balloon.

There were a few fun things to sit in or test out, like a flight simulator, helicopter, and a Blue Angles cockpit,

And airline seats to rest in, which aren't any more comfortable when you aren't in the midst of a cross-country flight, I discovered. The front section of a real 747 outside which was open for exploration was a big hit too.

Our next big outing was to the boardwalk on a sunny but cool afternoon.

It was a nice day out but not warm, though that didn't matter to the beach volleyball players, who were mostly shirtless and wearing shorts. "They're playing volleyball naked!" Allison shouted, since to her that's as naked as men ever get.

That evening, Brad and Shadzi met up with us for dinner. We went to a nice little Italian place which had something I've never seen in any other restaurant--a magician to entertain guests as we waited for a table. The kids were tired and hungry and getting restless, but the magician kept their attention. Notice he doesn't seem to have impressed Shadzi much, though. His first few tricks were a little cheesy but he quickly moved on to some really, really impressive ones and he had us all applauding. He even had the girls "help" him with a few of the tricks.

Smartly, as soon as we sat down I ordered for the girls and asked that they be served right away, and not 5 minutes later, they were. Notice in the photos none of the adults have their meals yet. So the girls ate and it got later and later and later we still didn't have our food and Kate and Allison had clearly had enough. Of everything. It was nearing their normal bedtime. They were getting more restless and loud by the minute, so before getting our dinners I packed them up and decided to leave, giving Brad, Shadzi, Oma, Opa, and the rest of the diners in the restaurant a fair chance at having a reasonably quiet meal.

The next day (mostly raining) we hit the aquarium.

Since the price of a family membership was exactly the same price as the five of us going in for a single day, we joined the aquarium. We all had a great day there, as always. It's really such an incredible place.

And for the rest of Oma and Opa's visit through a very rainy February, we hung out at home a lot--dancing, sitting, reading...

and Opa and Kate enjoyed a game of soccer in the yard when they weren't interrupted by the groundskeeper.

One day we went out for a great lunch at German bakery in the area and later that week we all went to a well-known German restaurant in the city for dinner. Of course, purely in the spirit of the place, we all had a few large drinks. Even the milk was served very generously:

And despite the decor being not really very German, the food sure was. It definitely reminded me of last year's trip to southern Germany with Oma and I think Oma found the food pretty authentic as well. After a glass of wine or two she led us in singing an old German drinking song:

And after an adventurous evening of big food, drink, and song, the girls were worn out.

When it came for Oma and Opa to leave the girls were all sad, though happy to learn that we'd see them again in a few months, when we visit the east this summer.