How the Earthquake made me stop blogging

Ronin decided to ready up on earthquakes, but it didn't keep him awake at night.

Ronin decided to read up on earthquakes, but it didn’t keep him up at night.

On Sunday, August 24th, I was awake in the middle of the night for some reason. I had woken up a while before and couldn’t get back to sleep, probably just thinking about things I needed to do or some problem I needed to solve. I felt a little rumble, like a big truck was going by on the road behind the house. Then it wasn’t just a low rumble, but more like a thud, and I thought that one of the cats must have jumped off something really high for me to feel that.

The whole house started shaking back and forth by then, and I realized it was actually an earthquake instead of any one of the normal little things that cause me to feel movement in the house (we can feel the kids running in the front of the house when we are in the back of the house). By then, Justin started waking up and I told him it was an earthquake. Just when I started thinking it might get worse and it was getting a little scary, it stopped. Justin went back to sleep. The kids didn’t wake up.

I was awake for a few more hours, checking the USGS earthquake data and entering my data in the “Did you feel it?” site. I was surprised to find out it was as strong as it was–a 6.0 centered not far from us, in American Canyon. It didn’t cause as much damage as it could have, although a lot of buildings crumbled and a lot of wine bottles broke.

Still, the reason I bring this up is because the day after the quake, our power went out for a while and my computer crashed spectacularly. I don’t know if it’s related, but it’s associated in my mind. After the power came back on, my computer wouldn’t restart. Justin eventually got it working, but the files had to be restored completely from back up, and apparently it hadn’t been backed up since May. I lost all of my pictures since May, except fortunately I hadn’t deleted my Canada pictures off my memory cards yet.

Justin told me that he had switched the computer from automatic to manual back up in May, so I should have started doing a manual back up on a regular basis, but he had not informed me about my back up responsibilities or that he had done this.

However, after that the computer didn’t behave quite right, and it started crashing more and more often, until it failed completely again, around the same time my phone crashed and also needed replacing. I told Justin I needed a computer ASAP, because I do a lot of my volunteer work, household management and bills, and other things online. Justin paid $50 for overnight shipping to build a new computer so he could put it together it on a weekend when he wasn’t working on his real job, except it was more complicated than it promised to be. We’ve had computer innards strewn on every surface for more than two weekends now, but finally we have our computer working. I have a lot of catching up to do.

First Day of Second Grade!

First Day of 2014-2015 School Year

First Day of 2014-2015 School Year

Today was the first day of school for Claire and Ronin, who are entering second grade. We found out this past week that they have the same teacher as last year, and we are all so happy. We all LOVED that teacher. We were thrilled to find out that he was moving up to second grade, but we didn’t dare hope that they would both be in his class.

Soren is in his last year of preschool. He moved up into the Dolphin Room, and is relishing his new role. He is helping out the younger kids and is being more responsible and even more charming.

Soren wrote that he wants to be an animal doctor. Claire wrote that she wants to be a gymnastics teacher. Ronin wants to be an engineer and a businessman.

Okay, can we go already?

Okay, can we go already?

They were more prepared for school than I was. I had packed all of their backpacks and set out Soren’s show-and-tell item, but we forgot all of that in our hurry to get out the door. When we got to school we realized the backpacks were still at home, so we turned around and went back for them. Soren was able to pick out a new show-and-tell item from my box of toys in the car. We were all still on time and Mom and I went out for brunch after drop-off.

Claire and Ronin turn 7 at my cousin’s wedding in Milwaukee

Happy 7th Birthday to Ronin and Claire in Milwaukee!

Happy 7th Birthday to Ronin and Claire in Milwaukee!

My cousin Katie (who is also a twin) scheduled her wedding on the same day our twins turned 7 years old. All of our Wisconsin relatives would be there, and it seemed like a great opportunity to take part in their celebration and see family we don’t see all that often and maybe add on a trip to the island in Canada afterward. It took a lot of planning–eight plane flights, two water taxis, one rental car, two different hotel reservations, five regular (non-water) taxis, one last-minute switch of a plane reservation, many arrivals after midnight, lots of delays because of weather (dust storms closed one airport, thunderstorms and rainstorms closed another), and several long sprints through airports to catch connections in the nick of time. My mom traveled with us, and my sister and her husband did most of the same trip, with slightly different flights and times.

Milwaukee

Lakeshore State Park, Milwaukee

Soren, stopping to smell the flowers

Soren, stopping to smell the flowers

Three kids at the shoreline looking for treasures in the rocks

Three kids at the shoreline looking for treasures in the rocks

We got in to Milwaukee after midnight the night before the wedding, and spent a good part of the day taking a free trolley tour around the downtown area and walking around the beautiful urban state park on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Crossing the bridge at State Park, Milwaukee

Crossing the bridge at Lakeshore State Park, Milwaukee

We were gone longer than we planned because the shuttle did not come back when it was supposed to, and after a 45-minute wait I called the transportation office on the sign and they told me that a shuttle would be there in about 5 minutes. They were right, and it was surprising to talk to a real person on the phone when I called. We got back to the hotel just in time to meet Dinah and Manuel and Justin on the sun deck for a quick snack before we had to get ready for the evening.

All of the children at the wedding, dressed up in their finery

All of the children at the wedding, dressed up in their finery

Claire in her flower girl dress

Claire in her flower girl dress

I was a little worried about how the evening would go, considering how late we got in and how tired the kids must be, but everything went fine for a while. Claire was to be a flower girl, and she quickly made friends with the other flower girls. Ronin looked really sharp in his suit and I heard some of the guests commenting on how he was putting them to shame. Soren was sweet and charming for a bit, until it was time to go sit down for the wedding, at which point he had a bit of a temper tantrum and started crying and yelling “I hate you!” and I had to muster up everything I could to get him to be quiet enough to be able to stay during the ceremony. Ronin was asked at the last minute to be a ring bearer, so he stood up at front holding the (unbeknownst to him, empty) box, solemn with the responsibility of it all, throughout the entire ceremony.

Ronin was asked at the last minute to be the ring-bearer, and he did a fantastic job

Ronin was asked at the last minute to be the ring-bearer, and he did a fantastic job

Ronin was momentarily confused when they asked for the rings and someone else handed them over while he was left holding the box, but he recovered and I explained later that he looked so good in his suit they just had to ask him to be a part of the wedding right before it started, but they hadn’t had time to rehearse with him the full job, or to take the rings back from the person who was already holding them, so it was a shared job. Soren fell asleep during the last part of the wedding, and I picked him up and carried him to a soft spot to rest. A lot of people took pictures of him.

Soren, napping after the wedding

Soren, napping after the wedding

The wedding was lovely, but I realized afterward that I missed talking to some people I really wanted to talk to. Although I didn’t actually have to chase after kids all night, since they made friends and played together, there was a large enough space that I missed some groups, and I did get pulled away by one child or another occasionally. It was a perfect wedding to not have to worry about the kids, actually, because although there was dinner, courses were provided at different stations throughout the venue and available at-will during the reception. There was an area with photo props. There was a bridesmaid that Soren fell in love with and he kept pulling her onto the dance floor. That was not part of how they made it work out well for the children, but it’s just a side note. Actually, Soren fell in love with a lot of the bridesmaids. Every girl in a blue dress he would grab by the hand and lead somewhere, either onto the dance floor or over to us or someone else and introduce, such as “This is my friend from a long time ago, everyone!” They loved him back.

Ronin and some wedding photo props

Ronin and some wedding photo props

The kids danced well into the night. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate a 7th birthday. They flew to a place they’d never been before. They ran through a park and played in a fountain and climbed over some rocks. They rode on a trolley. They stayed in a hotel (they love that). They ate out at restaurants (they love that). They got to dress up in the fanciest clothes they’ve ever worn and take place in a ceremony they’ve always wanted to see. They did go to a wedding for their first birthday, but they don’t remember it. They were surrounded by relatives they’d missed and they met new friends. They were thrilled.

Ronin and Claire, dancing through the night on their 7th birthday

Ronin and Claire, dancing through the night on their 7th birthday

The next day, we left Milwaukee and set off for Canada. We were due to arrive at the Sudbury airport, after a couple of connections, around midnight. I had verified more than once with the rental car company that they would be open when we arrived, and they assured me they stayed open until the last plane landed. We had more delays. Storms around Chicago and Toronto. This is where I made the last-minute switch that rerouted us directly to Toronto so we wouldn’t miss our connection. We did some more running through airports, and then sat in our plane for hours before taking off, just waiting for it to be fueled. We landed around 2 AM, and Dinah and Manuel had not made it onto the plane. The next day Manuel asked me how we even got out of Toronto because he heard that no planes were leaving at all due to the storms.

Sleepy children at the Sudbury Airport, waiting for transportation

Sleepy children in the middle of a stormy night at the Sudbury Airport, waiting for transportation

Our rental car company was closed when we landed. The airport security said they left because they were not allowed to work longer than a certain amount of time during the day. The cabs all left while I was trying to deal with the situation. Security called for another cab, and I tried to talk to the car rental headquarters and leave a message for the local rental company. The national line said they couldn’t do anything from their end and once again they didn’t realize they had a branch in Sudbury. I left a message at the local office asking for my rental to be delivered at the hotel the next day and hoped for the best. We packed all of us into the cab that arrived around 3 AM, drove into town with our feet on suitcases, and finally got settled into bed around 4 AM. Morning came pretty soon.

Recipe: Braised Chicken Thighs

I was asked to post this recipe by several people, so I am finally doing so. I have scribbled it out on pieces of paper a couple of times for friends at work, and it is easy enough that I can buy ingredients and cook it without looking at the recipe. It is my go-to dish if I have unexpected company and have to whip up a dinner that will satisfy most adults who have differing palates, yet it still has a touch of old-world simplicity and elegance, especially when served alongside a warmed crusty bread and butter and a salad.

The recipe is easy to double, triple or quadruple, and it reheats well for leftovers. You can use more wine and less (or no) chicken broth, or no wine and more chicken broth. I used about half a bottle of wine and no broth except a smidge of  bouillon in the pot when I cooked this for 12 people in Canada. I don’t measure anything. I have found that the carrots don’t always cook in the 30 minutes the recipe suggests, so I either pre-cook them a little bit in the microwave before adding them to the pot or put them in earlier. I have tried to cook this with an additional chicken breast or two for guests who might dislike the thought of thighs, but I recommend against that because the breasts are not as moist and succulent as the thighs become in this dish.

Rainbow colored carrots

Rainbow colored carrots

Braised Chicken Thighs, from Southern Living’s Great Food for Busy Cooks

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 2 tsp. salt, divided
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 6 skinned, bone-in chicken thighs (about 2 lb.) — note — I have always used boneless thighs, and I reduce the total cooking time because of that
  • 1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and sliced
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine (can substitute chicken broth)
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 10 baby new potatoes (about 1 1/2 lb.)
  • 1 (1-lb.) package baby carrots

Preparation

  1. Combine flour, paprika, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper; rub over chicken thighs. Cook chicken in hot oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat 2 minutes on each side or until lightly browned.
  2. Add onion and next 4 ingredients. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook 30 minutes. Add potatoes and carrots; cover and cook 30 minutes or until chicken is done and vegetables are tender. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tsp. salt.

Happy eating!

Soren’s first trip to the ER (warning – pictures of blood)

Last Tuesday, as I was commuting after work on the Bay Bridge, I got a call from a restricted number. I always have to answer those calls, because of this sort of thing. It was Soren’s preschool, and the director told me he’d fallen and hurt his head and the wound looked like it might be big enough to require medical attention. She assured me that it had been washed and pressure had been applied and he was doing fine. I told her I’d be there soon. Like the time that Claire fell off the monkey bars at the same school, I was glad that Soren’s injury happened as I was already on my way to pick him up.

I pieced together the story long after we were in the ER. Soren was on the small play structure at his school, by himself, and was trying to swing from the top of a small set of stairs into the tunnel below it and missed, and hit his head on the edge of something on the way. I’m not sure if he was going over the hand rail or around it. The teachers said they knew something was wrong because he cried, and he doesn’t normally cry when he falls down. At first glance it just looked like a little cut, but the more we looked, the deeper and wider it appeared to be. It had stopped bleeding by the time I got there, but every time he moved around, it started bleeding again.

Soren's forehead, still oozing more than an hour after pressure was applied.

Soren’s forehead, still oozing more than an hour after the bleeding was stopped

I took Soren to the brand new Emergency Department at our new hospital building. He amused himself by playing with some of the kids’ toys on the walls, but some of them were already broken. He trotted around and seemed happy and friendly. In the picture he is unhappy only because I was asking him to hold still for a picture and he wanted to run around some more. Everyone who saw him commented on how well he seemed, so I started second-guessing myself about needing to bring him in, but the ER doctor told me that it was a good decision. She said the wound was well into the subcutaneous tissue, and as she worked she needed more time and suture to close it effectively.

Soren was incredible. He did not like the thought of having stitches and had hoped to get glue. The ER doctor apologized to me and told me she thought it would be better for his wound, and I told her it would be okay. Everyone left to get supplies, and I explained to him what was going to happen. He teared up for a second and I talked to him about how glue wouldn’t be as strong for a big wound like his, and I showed him some stitching on his shorts and illustrated how well it worked. He sat up and resolved to get through it, and then the staff came back in and whispered to me how I would want them to talk about ‘the procedure’ to him. I told them I already talked to him about needing to get stitches and why, and we were both okay with it.

They gave me a choice of staying or leaving, and I stayed. I helped hold Soren. They wrapped him in a sheet, and I helped bundle him up. I raised the gurney and positioned the light. Then I held his hands and he cried when he got the local anesthetic, and he also cried at the end when the doctor pressed down on it. The rest of the time I entertained him with stories about all of the other ER visits that we’ve had, with Claire and Ronin. I tried to talk to him about other things, but the only thing that distracted him was hearing about how Claire and Ronin ended up with their injuries and what we did about them. He was so brave.

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After nine sutures

One of the nurses whispered to me that she didn’t like working with kids because she hates hurting them and hates it when they cry, and I agreed with her, but I know that sometimes it’s the parents who are more difficult than the kids and I was trying to be helpful instead of getting in the way. Soren didn’t make it too tough for them and I think the nurses all had a great time listening to the antics of past ER visits. They started chiming in, “Claire again?” when I would start another Claire story. I got an email from the ER doctor saying that Soren was very cooperative for his age and that it was due to my presence.

I have been changing his dressing twice a day since we’ve been home and they gave me a suture removal kit to take home with me. I can either take his stitches out myself tomorrow or bring him back to remove them. He has been asking me what it feels like, and he has a lot of little ones very close together. I have a sneaking suspicion that like Claire, he may not tolerate me removing them at home, and I might have to rush home from work tomorrow afternoon and take him back in.

My trip to Wyoming (guest post by Ronin)

Ronin traveled to Wyoming with my mom during my vacation week over the 4th of July. He visited Jackson Hole, Yellowstone, and went to the world-famous Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis to tour the dig sites. He came back full of great stories and happy memories.

Grandma and I went to Wyoming. We flew to Idaho Falls and drove over Teton Pass.

Grandma and I went to Wyoming. We flew to Idaho Falls and drove over Teton Pass.

I went on a short hike on Teton Pass. There was SNOW! It was cold and it felt like my hands were burning.

I went on a short hike on Teton Pass. There was SNOW! It was cold and it felt like my hands were burning.

The butt to butt bear was at a gas station where we stopped to get beef jerky on the way to Thermopolis.

The butt to butt bear was at a gas station where we stopped to get beef jerky on the way to Thermopolis.

I am getting eaten by a Tyrannosaurus! PLEASE HELP! We got to see lots of dinosaurs (at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis).

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The dino dig is awesome. I would like to dig dinosaurs some day.

We drove on a bad road and then we hiked and got lots of prickers in our socks. We climbed some rocks and found the petroglyphs!

I did not like the sulphur smell of the waterfall in the hot pool at Thermopolis.

I did not like the sulfur smell of the waterfall in the hot pool at Thermopolis.

This is me at Yellowstone National Park. We saw a marmot, 23 bison, some deer, elk, and many waterfalls.

This is me at Yellowstone National Park. We saw a marmot, 23 bison, some deer, elk, and many waterfalls.

We ate ice cream. It was called "Moose Tracks." I liked it. We saw Old Faithful erupt. It didn't go as high as we thought but it was AMAZING!!!

We ate ice cream. It was called “Moose Tracks.” I liked it. We saw Old Faithful erupt. It didn’t go as high as we thought but it was AMAZING!!!

4th of July Flag to Flag. The parade was fun; they threw lots of candy. It was surprising to see my California friends in the parade and a tram off the cable.

4th of July Flag to Flag. The parade was fun; they threw lots of candy. It was surprising to see my California friends in the parade and a tram off the cable.

I loved the trip! Let’s do it again. I want to do it again with my brother and sister.

Don’t you wish this trip was yours?

4th of July in Tahoe with Claire and Soren, me and Justin

Our 4th of July weekend in Tahoe ran into a lot of roadblocks

Our 4th of July weekend in Tahoe ran into a lot of roadblocks

As you might recall, I got back from camping to messages that our hotel reservation was canceled because it had been overbooked. We were scheduled to leave the next morning. I tried to get in touch with the reservation company, because it suggested an alternate hotel that would be equally nice and was the same price, but it wasn’t true at all. We had originally been scheduled for a two-bedroom suite with a kitchen and living room and a swimming pool on the property. They un-reserved us and told us we could get a hotel with one room, no kitchen, and no swimming pool for the same price. Except the messages were several days old by the time I got them after returning from our camping trip, and that hotel wasn’t available any more, and neither was any other hotel. We went to bed that night without knowing if we’d be able to go on our trip the next day, so I did my best to unpack from camping and do laundry, but didn’t do too much to get ready for the road trip.

Our hotel in Tahoe had a hot tub and a nice view on the roof.

Our hotel in Tahoe had a hot tub and a nice view on the roof.

I tried a couple of times and a couple of different ways to get in touch with the reservations department the next morning, and I also tried the hotel where we had our original reservation, and I tried researching new hotels on my own. It didn’t look promising. Tahoe was very full. I found out later that it had a world-class fireworks show over the lake, and it was a very popular destination over the holiday weekend. There were a few rooms far out of town that were selling for a premium. There were one or two in town that looked very bad and were still very expensive, and as I kept checking, those were disappearing. I finally talked to the reservation company and they tried to get me a room and after about two hours they gave up and said that even though they were a hotel reservations company, they were unable to find anything.

Our resort had a playground in the clouds.

Our resort had a playground in the clouds.

I was still frantically searching, while still doing laundry and trying to find things to occupy the kids, and talking to the reservation company, and I ended up finding a two-bedroom rental in a timeshare resort on a high mountain overlooking the lake that was available over the weekend. The reservation company agreed to pay the difference, since it still didn’t cost as much as a single hotel room was going for by that point, and we got on the road a little before noon. The road trip took almost six hours because we left so late and we got in close to bedtime, tired and stressed. The rooms were nice, and the resort was luxurious, and we were able to get fresh food made for us and take it back to our rooms to eat without any effort.

The ten-lined June beetle, also known as the watermelon beetle

The ten-lined June beetle, also known as the watermelon beetle

It had a game room, a mini golf course, multiple swimming pools and spas, a putting green, hiking trails, a couple of playgrounds, several places to eat, activities, shops, big rocks to climb around on, lizards, beetles, an outdoor pool table, a lot of wind, and a great view. We really only had one full day there. We got there close to bedtime the first day, and we spent the 4th of July there, and then we left the morning after that. Justin did not get to go on the hiking trails or go into the town or explore around. We went down into town to see the fireworks, because despite the great view, we couldn’t see the lake from our suite and we wouldn’t be able to see fireworks. We went down close to the lake and made our way through the hordes of people to find a quiet spot on the grass.

Two kids on a rock at our hotel.

Two kids on a rock at our hotel.

We did not get there too early. We sat down on our picnic blanket on a not-too-crowded spot of grass in barely enough time for Justin to feel like we weren’t late, and to get the two kids who were with us plus either Ronin or Justin, depending on how you were counting, light-up flashing swords. Justin used my camera to take pictures of Claire and Soren slashing their swords through the air in the dark, using a neat feature I’d never used before, the second curtain flash.

Soren and his sword

Soren and his sword

We had asked around, but as soon as the fireworks started going off, we realized we were completely blocked from seeing them by trees and other stuff, and we had to pick up and move over. It wasn’t too far, and it was greatly entertaining for our kids, whose vocabulary was enormously enriched by the staggering youths surrounding them. “Great f-ing swords! I mean it! Those swords are some *&@$! &#@%! !&*#$!ing !* ^&#@!” is what we heard repeated over and over, before the fireworks started and on our way back to the car. They also got to see some public North American mating rituals. As our children are always interested in learning new things, they absorbed all of this with some interest but it was soon minimized by the excitement of the fireworks.

Claire swirling her light-up sword around

Claire swirling her light-up sword around

Soren practicing a thrust and a waggle

Soren practicing an offensive maneuver

I ended up getting a black eye from leaning in too close to the camera while Justin was trying to wave Claire over to see the cool pictures. It was dark, and he couldn’t see that I was coming and I got a knuckle in the eye.

I have to say that despite the luxurious accommodations, all the stress before going and the subsequent late departure and the consequent traffic that more than doubled our 2.5 hour driving time all contributed to a far less relaxing vacation segment than my ‘roughing it’ vacation when I was alone with the kids camping earlier in the week. I had a nice relaxing bath in a tub the night we got there after the kids were asleep, but aside from that I felt like we were at sixes and sevens and it wasn’t so much of a vacation as me trying to figure out more scheduling problems.

Fireworks over Lake Tahoe

Fireworks over Lake Tahoe

We left right at checkout time on Saturday, the day after the 4th of July, hoping to beat the traffic. It still took us most of the day to get back. We stopped for lunch after a long wait at Fenton’s in Vacaville, but the kids were tired from being up so late after watching the fireworks and it was really hot. We were looking forward to getting home and seeing Ronin again after his trip, and being able to return to our normal routine. I was hoping to get a brief break before going on our next vacation. It’s weird thinking that being home is a break from vacations, but that’s what life with young children is like sometimes.