O Christmas Tree, Take 2.

Well, folks, something happened on the way to Christmas. Our tree shed its drawers, so to speak. The entire bottom half ended up bald. Observe:

needle drop

And…a close up:

needle drop close-up

Nobody knows for sure why this happened to us this year, but I hear we’re not the only ones who experienced it. We have always had great luck with the trees we cut from the tree farm. This year was just an off year, I suppose. Probably had something to do with the drought.

Well, we knew the situation was not going to improve, so we were left with no alternative but to go on a quest for another tree. Greg yanked the old tree out of its stand and threw it off the deck.

Yes, that is what we do with our old trees. Then they sit there for a week or two until I send the kids down to drag ‘em into the woods. Okay. Maybe it’s longer than a week or two.

Anyway, this seemed like a good opportunity to participate in a St. Louis tradition – trees and concretes from Ted Drewes. I, for one, absolutely love their Great Pumpkin. Who can resist a slice of pumpkin pie all mixed up with frozen custard and topped with whipped cream?

So anyway, let me tell you folks, Ted Drewes is mighty proud of the trees on his lot. I wanted an inexpensive replacement because, hi, we’d already paid $40 for the first one.

We hemmed and hawed and searched through all the rows…many times…until we finally just gave the decision wholly to the kids.

I think they picked a nice tree.

And we paid another $40.

Sigh.

But after all, it’s Christmas, and we have to have a tree.

Here it is:

tree take 2

And, just because we have never grown up, you see the two red balls hanging off the left side? With one hanging lower than the other?

Those are Tree Nutz.

You’re welcome.

The Saddest Christmas Tree Ever.

Every year we head to the local tree farm and cut down a tree. This year was no exception.

When we arrived at the field, Greg said, “How about we find a tree close to the front so I don’t have to carry it all the way back up the field here?”

Well, that didn’t happen. It seems that was everyone else’s idea, too, so Greg still had to make the laborious haul with a tree perched on his shoulder.

We got home and put it in the stand, and I swear it was all level and plumb and gorgeous.

And then, at some point, this happened:

saddest christmas tree ever

Greg offered to fix it, and he may even have tried to do so, but I didn’t press the issue. I find the Leaning Tree to be rather charming.

What I don’t find quite so charming, however, is the record shedding of needles this year. Greg thinks the tree ran out of water and he is probably right – after all, I left the kids in charge of it and they kept reporting to me that the reservoir was full. Or maybe this poor tree owes its baring branches to the dog and cat, who spend an inordinate amount of time chasing one another around it. Okay, well, mostly it’s the dog chasing the cat. But still.

many needles

If this tree has any needles left by December 25, it’ll be a Christmas miracle.

But I don’t really care. Like I said, the listing of the tree is charming, and regardless of its looks, I think it’s beautiful. After all, its ornaments chronicle our lives together.

Back.

At least, that is my intention.

There have been a few times in the history of this blog that I’ve gone a bit of time between posts. I think this was the longest.

There really has been no good reason. Instead, the reason is a mishmash of Facebook and the fact that we managed to lose the charger to our good camera.

But I’ve decided to be like Avis and Try Harder, so stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I leave you with this gem. Here’s Ethan, from 2007:

applejuicespokesman

applejuicespokesman2

A Very Bad Day.

Today was one of the worst days we’ve ever had as a family.

Today we had to put our beloved dog Vinnie down.

We are devastated, but I am very glad I had the foresight to get one last photo of Vinnie with the kids last night just in case.

vinnie

Vinnie was the very best dog. He was so good. I made sure he heard that over and over as he faded away. I thanked him for everything he had done for us as a family and for me, personally. That dog was by my side while I learned to be a stay-at-home mom, he was at my side as I learned to run, and he protected us all from deliverymen and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Damned if that isn’t a great dog.

This was the hardest decision Greg and I have made, and it was the hardest 30 minutes we’ve spent. We have mostly come to terms with the idea that it was the best decision for Vinnie, but yesterday I clutched at straws, spending hours searching the internet for help, for a way out, for something to convince us there was an alternative.

One person’s experience really resonated with me: “It was one last favor we could do for our friend.”

I think he was right.

But I miss my dog.

So much.

Vocal Vinnie.

Some of you are aware I’ve been taking a beginning fiddle class. Some of you have heard my complaints that our dog Vinnie howls his way through every single one of my practices. So yeah, I don’t practice very often.

But still.

I have tried to play and record this phenomenon over the weeks without much luck. Either he wouldn’t howl while I was recording or the phone wouldn’t be set up, or the atrocious quality of my music would keep me from posting it anywhere.

But today, friends, today I got it! My fiddle teacher sent several samples of the music we are trying to learn, and while playing one of those I got a good example for you.

And so. For your listening pleasure:

This could mean he loves it. It could mean he hates it. Who can tell? But I’m going to assume he loves it because if he hated it he could leave via his dog door.

Happy 7th Birthday to Ethan!

Each year I write about how X number of years ago it was pouring down rain when Greg and I made the trip to the hospital to welcome our son into the world.

This year I’m thinking about other things

This year I’m thinking about how last week our son got a nosebleed at 2 a.m. and climbed down from his loft bed, got paper towels, stopped the bleeding, washed himself up, gave the dog a pat on the head, and climbed back into bed.

Neither Greg nor I heard a sound.

He didn’t need or want our help.

I’m thinking about how on vacation he rode his bike a very long way before using the radio to call us because he finally realized he was hopelessly lost. I remember how he admitted he had tears in his eyes…but he didn’t ever quite get over the edge into full crying territory. I was scared and proud at the same time. Scared, of course, for obvious reasons – but also proud, because when faced with an emergency he knew what to do, by finding the largest landmark he could, at a high point so the radios would work, staying put, and calling us. I don’t know that we ever told him that was what he needed to do – he just knew.

It’s becoming clear that while he is not yet grown and still needs us now and again, he is most certainly no longer my baby.

I miss that baby sometimes, but I’m so proud of the little man he’s turning out to be.

Ethan, you’re one hell of a kid. I’m so glad I’m your mom.

Happy 7th birthday, son. Yeah, I know it was last Saturday and I’ve been slow about writing lately. But I think you’re cool enough to know how much we love you even if we’re slow to write birthday blog posts.

 

Ethan birthday

First Day(s) of School, 2012

This year Ethan entered first grade. Laurel is a freshman in high school.

I’m not sure how we got here, but here we are.

These are photos from last Wednesday, Ethan’s first day of school – which was also Laurel’s freshman orientation. Yeah, it wasn’t her official first day of school, but it might as well be, so I took a photo of her before she left. Against her will, it would seem.

laurel freshman orientation

Ethan, on the other hand, is a much more cooperative subject:

Ethan first day of school

So naturally, since it wasn’t Laurel’s official first day of school and I wanted to irritate her a little more than I already had (hey, when you have a sulky 13-year-old, why mess with a good thing, right?), I insisted upon another photo of her for her Official First Day. And here it is:

hiding from the paparazzi on the first day of school

So, uh, yeah. We’ve entered the phase wherein we think it’s cool to be completely unenthusiastic and angst-y about everything. Whatevs. She’ll soon figure out it’s easier to be enthusiastic than to listen to your mother nag you about it. ha!

Happy Back to School, everyone!

The Great Northern Adventure 2012, Days 13 through the End.

PENINSULA STATE PARK, DOOR COUNTY, Wisc. – Our family awoke on Day 13 looking forward to a trip further north on the peninsula.

“Well, we had these big plans to visit a maritime museum and stop at a smokehouse for some smoked fish and maybe head over to Washington Island,” said Michelle, “but the reality was that we woke up and didn’t feel much like doing any of those things other than the smokehouse.”

And that, friends, is the reality of vacation. Sometimes you get just a little tired of it all and decide to take it easy. So after a late start to their morning they decided to take that drive north and just have a relaxing day enjoying the sights.

“So take a look at these crazy signs on the road,” Greg noted:

crazy-curve

“That road had one of those signs – pointed AT the road – on almost every curve, but not EVERY curve, and we couldn’t figure out any rhyme or reason for it so we figured it was some sort of crazy Wisconsin joke.”

After a brief visit to pick up smoked fish, a drive by the maritime museum (“unimpressed,” noted Michelle), and a trip through the nearby state park, our group headed back to camp to laze the day away until it was time to go back to Al Johnson’s.

“FOR MEATBALLS!!!” Michelle exclaimed.

After pulling into camp and distributing the walkie-talkies, Ethan took off on his bike while Greg and Michelle relaxed in their too-comfortable-for-camping REI chairs.

Until…

“There’s a kid threatening to KILL ME!” Ethan yelled over the airwaves.

“Uh…okay…you need to come back to camp,” Greg responded.

“10-4!” Ethan exclaimed.

He returned, and glorified our family with the story of a boy who had a knife and was chasing him through camp.

Sighing, Michelle looked at Greg and said, “You need to go see about this.”

Away the boys went on their trusty bike steeds, and approximately 4 minutes later Michelle lost patience and swooped in for backup.

Greg and Ethan were at the boy’s site talking to him and yes, he admitted that he had indeed chased Ethan with a folding saw. Michelle asked him where his parents were and he said he didn’t know. There he stood with a folding saw in one hand and a hatchet in the other.

“Jesus Christ,” Michelle muttered to Greg. “Look at that. He is 7 years old with his hands chock full of weaponry and not an adult to be found. We’ve got to tell somebody about this.”

Now, normally our family’s parents are pretty easygoing. The last thing they want to do when camping is get something going between families or involve a ranger in something, but this was a pretty dangerous situation so they went to find the campground host, who called the ranger.

Then they went back to their site to ready themselves for an early dinner back at the Swedish goat place.

“Yum, meatballs,” thought Michelle.

But as they were leaving the park, the ranger was flying in with lights running and they realized the camp host hadn’t asked for any contact information. Also, Michelle was starting to feel a little bad. “The kid did something stupid and he knew it,” she said. “He was totally freaked out about his parents finding out about his transgressions and I started wondering if maybe there was a reason for his complete freakout. Maybe his parents would completely overreact. So we turned around and went back to let everyone involved know that we know kids do stupid stuff all the time, we’ve been there, and we really didn’t want him or his family cited by the ranger. It was just that the parents weren’t there and he didn’t know where they were, et cetera.”

The ranger said he understood and our family was soon on their way back to Al Johnson’s for those meatballs Michelle really wanted.

“They were so good,” she said, “and this time? There were goats on the roof. See?”

Al-Johnsons-with-goats

And so our travelers enjoyed a leisurely lunch (“Greg actually got meatballs this time, not some crazy Americano food,” Michelle laughed) and returned to camp just about in time to go see a play.

Peninsula State Park hosts the American Folklore Theatre, which puts on several productions of their own design throughout the year. Well, once Michelle knew of this there was no hope for anybody who wasn’t up to watching thespians. Away they went to their reserved seats (“Yes, I did, I paid more for the reserved seats,” Michelle said) and watched Belgians in Heaven, a delightful comedy that left them singing about “Cheese Curds, Boo-yah, and Beer,” all the way back to camp.

Ethan, in particular, was excited about the entire prospect – not so much because he loves plays (though he does enjoy a good rousing comedy) but because of the mode of transport to the amphitheater.

“WE RODE BIKES!!!!” he exclaimed.

And so it was fortuitous they attended the first showing of the evening at 6 p.m., for it was a cloudy evening and the ride back to camp would have been, shall we say, hairy had they waited for the late show in the dark.

It wasn’t long after the return to camp that the whole family turned in.

“Vacationing really takes it out of you,” observed Laurel.

***

Day 14 was another rainy one, so there was nothing for it but to laze around camp until lunchtime when our family headed south to Shipwrecked brewery for lunch.

The most notable thing about Shipwrecked is its décor. Specifically, this décor:

boobies

Now, normally this wouldn’t really be anything to catch our family’s collective eye (well, okay, maybe Greg’s), but Ethan is growing up to be sure, and before the parents knew it, Ethan was taking photos of the above-pictured maiden with his DS, and drawing big blue arrows pointing right at her breasts.

“At least they’re natural,” shrugged Michelle. “Now if I can just keep him from showing people that on Electronics Day at school, we’ll be in business.”

The food was mediocre. The beer was mediocre. But, true to form, our family was full by the time they left.

On the slow drive back north (“Yes, SLOW DRIVE,” complained Greg, “getting ANYWHERE in Door County is SLOW,”) our travelers stopped at the geographic marker for the 45th parallel, which Ethan thought was pretty cool.

“WE ARE HALFWAY TO THE NORTH POLE. WAIT. HALFWAY FROM WHERE?”

So Michelle and Greg explained and he thought i
t was cool and climbed to the top of the rock upon which the plaque was affixed “(“THE BEST PART!” he exclaimed), and then the whole crew was back off to the park and campsite once again.

halfway-to-North-Pole

And then what did they do?

“We drank beer. That’s about it,” Greg responded.

***

Day 15 was much sunnier, which was a very good thing. Why?

Because our group had scheduled a kayak tour in the bay. Away they went, bright and early, up to the beach to rent their kayaks. Laurel and Michelle took one while Greg and Ethan labored in the other.

And laboring, friends, is precisely what it was.

“I don’t know if it’s the lack of current or the two-man kayaks or what,” Greg said, “but this was rough.”

“Indeed,” Michelle agreed. “And I came back with the blisters to prove it.”

The family was also facing a good solid 5-hour drive to Rock Cut State Park in Illinois immediately after the kayak trip, so they mostly had camp shut down anyway and were anxious to get back.

“I could’ve totally rowed crew with the way I beat it back to that dock so we could get out of there,” Michelle laughed. “Besides, the most exciting thing the naturalist had to show us was an eagle’s nest. The eagle wasn’t there, and we’ve seen many eagle’s nests, so….y’know….”

And beating it back to the dock is what they did, followed by a quick change out of their kayak wear, a quick packing for a lunch on the road and a quick exit from the park.

Everything was not so quick, though, for alas, there is much construction through Madison, Wisconsin.

“Thought we’d never get out of there,” Michelle grumbled. “All I wanted was to GET THE F TO ROCKFORD ILLINOIS.”

Well, get there they finally did and after what must have been the fastest registration for a campground ever, they backed into their little one-night spot. One lacking a picnic table.

“Oh, well,” Michelle said, “We’d planned to go to Giordano’s anyway, and were picking up donuts for the drive home the next morning. What’s really cool is there is a camp store that opens at 8 a.m. and serves coffee, so we didn’t have to go hunting for that.”

After a heavy meal of Chicago style pizza, our family scurried back to camp for one last night in the camper before returning home.

***

“SERIOUSLY?! I mean, what the hell?” Michelle exclaimed. “Ugh, this is just…so frustrating!”

It was 8:05 on Day 16.

The store with the coffee wasn’t open.

“I don’t even smell any damn coffee brewing,” she continued. “GAH!”

She made her way back to the site where Greg and the rest of the family waited, trailer hooked up, all ready to roll.

“No friggin’ coffee,” she relayed.

“Oh well,” Greg replied.

So the family endured the final 5.5 hours of their journey without any coffee but with some old stale donuts.

How did they feel about it?

“It made home that much sweeter,” Michelle said.

And there you have it, folks. That puts an end to our Great Northern Adventure 2012. 16 days and approximately 2100 miles later, our family pulled back into the driveway in scorching heat and made one final decision for the trip.

“Let’s maybe wait to unpack.”

“Great idea.”

The Great Northern Adventure 2012, Days 11 and 12.

PENINSULA STATE PARK, DOOR COUNTY Wisc. – Day 11 was a fresh new day and one Michelle had long anticipated, for Michelle intended to go to the place with the goats on the roof.

“Al Johnson’s!” She exclaimed. “I’ve waited on this for months!”

Al Johnson’s is a Swedish restaurant with goats on the roof. Sure enough, folks.

“Don’t forget the Swedish food!” Michelle chimed in. “Lingonberries and Swedish pancakes and MEATBALLS FOR BREAKFAST, wheeeeeee!”

So up they got and away they went for a late breakfast and when they got there they looked for the goats and they saw this:

01-Al-Johnsons-NO-GOATS

“Goddammit!” Michelle exclaimed. But she wasn’t the only one.

“That just pisses me off,” Greg repeatedly grumbled. “It’s like, you know, their THING, the goats on the roof, but there aren’t any goats on the roof. Pisses me off.”

But what about the food?

“Oh, the food was good and fun,” Michelle said. “I had pancakes with lingonberries and meatballs, and Ethan began a fascination with fresh fruit. He didn’t order it for that meal, but he knew I intended to return for a lunch or dinner meal at some point later in our stay, and every time we mentioned it Ethan was all, ‘FRESH FRUIT! I WANT SOME FRESH FRUIT!”

And who can complain about that, honestly?

On the way back to camp, our group decided it would be a Very Smart Thing to work off some of those pancakes (“or eggs benedict, in Greg’s case, because you know – at a Swedish restaurant with all kinds of interesting Swedish foods, you should order EGGS FRIGGIN’ BENEDICT for breakfast” Michelle taunted).

“Leave me alone,” Greg rejoined.

As they wound their way through the park they stopped at Eagle Tower, and this reporter is quite sure it would be Greg’s turn to laugh, because several years prior as they built this little shed right here, Greg had to rescue Michelle off the roof. She had suddenly discovered a fear of heights and ever since that time she’d been a little wonky when climbing.

“This is true,” Michelle noted. “It is about all I can do to climb the fire tower down in Hillsboro, but for whatever reason – Swedish meatballs and pancakes as fortification, perhaps – this didn’t bother me so much.”

02-Eagle-Tower

Climb they did. 101 steps later they looked out on this:

03-Horseshoe-Island

And this:

04-Little-truck

Look at that little bitty truck!

Soon after returning to the campsite (and establishing new boundaries for Ethan’s bicycling), it was time for a program up at the Nature Center.

Now, our family’s children dearly love camping, and one of the best reasons for this is the nature programs. Some are great, some are not so great, but they love them all. This one was on making wampum bracelets, and Michelle figured they would be super cheap materials, but no. They were not.

“It was actually pretty cool,” Greg said, “They used real leather and, sure, synthetic sinew but I guess you have to accept some limits somewhere, right?”

But here is the weirdest thing of all.

Are you ready, dear readers?

As the family was there in the Nature Center, a full 575 miles from their little home in Missouri, Laurel comes rushing to Michelle and exclaims, “Mom! That girl over there is from my school!”

“What?” Michelle asked, stunned. “Are you really very sure about that? She doesn’t just look familiar?”

“Yes, I’m sure!” Laurel cried. “She even waved at me!”

“Wow…that…that is really amazing,” Michelle responded.

And sure enough, folks, what are the chances that Laurel would run into someone who not only is from St. Louis – because our family has found that is really not so odd – but from her very school, who participates in her very Fiddlers group?

So the families had a nice little chat while the kids finished their wampum bracelets and soon after, returned to their campsite, awed once again by just how small this little world is.

Day 12 started with a Michelle-sponsored event: A 10-11 mile bike ride.

“YAY!” She exclaimed. “PHYSICAL ACTIVITY!” And the family needed it, for lo, they had been subsisting on high-calorie, high-fat foods for much of the trip.

“I just call those foods tasty,” remarked Greg.

So away they went. Peninsula State Park has a lovely bike trail. It was a cloudy day, but the family met the challenge with verve. Just look at the verve on the faces of these kids:

01-sunset-bike-trail02-Sunset-bike-trail

It was, admittedly, a long trek for our crew, but it ended at the very same lighthouse where Ethan sheltered just a couple of days before during his big solo adventure. The family took a tour and then rode the remaining half-mile or so back to camp…

03-Eagle-lighthouse04-light-on-the-left-works-via-solar-now05-Waiting-for-a-tour

…whereupon Greg left to go make another conference call and do some laundry.

“It was super!” he exclaimed. “I got up to the laundromat and found they had canceled my call. Sweet!”

Meanwhile, Michelle took the kids to the bay for a swim.

“Yeah, good times getting back on that bike seat after a couple of hours off it,” she said. “Also, Ethan wanted to take his boogie board and although Laurel assured me she could ride one-handed and carry the boogie board in the other, I knew better, so guess who got to carry it? Whee!”

The bay was choppy and the kids had fun jumping the waves, but Michelle kept her eye on the sky. She has exhibited an uncanny knack in the past for knowing just when a storm will hit and she was nervous.

“I waded back through the bay to check radar on my phone, and there it was, all lit up in red,” Michelle said, “so I estimated the kids had 5-10 more minutes before we really HAD to get out and get back to camp unless we wanted to get caught in the rain.”

Naturally, the kids moaned and groaned about the Injustice of it All, but were convinced by the angry red of the radar app. So back upon their bikes they climbed and they raced back to camp. They were within the borders of the campground when the storm started, and were within their own site before it got bad.

“Score one for the former country girl,” Michelle gloated.

The storm passed quickly and Ethan went back out on his bike for another ride with the radio. Greg returned and, not long after, our family decided to visit a nearby cherry orchard and then just have pizza and call it a day.

“So we get to the pizza place and they tell us it will be a 45-minute wait,” said Greg. “No matter, though, they had a full menu of craft beers and the kids had their DS systems with them. It’s easy to pass the time that way.”

It’s so easy to pass the time that way, in fact, that our family didn’t even hear their name when called. Oops. But not long after, they realized they’d been skipped and were promptly seated, served, and fueled.

A good end to a good day. Except for the conference call thing. And the storm.

Oh, well.