Wednesday, December 9, 2015

How do you say "let's take turns!" in Hmong?

About once a week I go "teach" at a preschool for Vietnamese refugee kids. They are all here with their families, waiting to be processed through the UN refugee program. Because they're here illegally, they aren't allowed to go to school for the 4-5 years that it takes to get assigned to a new country. I'm not actually sure how much they're learning, but they sure are cute. I thought I'd give you guys a visual.

Christmas party last week.

They're very bright kids.

This week we had 45 kids in this room.

Snack time.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

So many choices!

What happened when Gordon asked Hal to pick a cake for his birthday-

Here's the transcript- "This one! This one! This one! This one! This one! This one! This one! This one! This one! This one! This one! This one! This one! Marshmallow cake!"

Monday, November 30, 2015

I think the blog is slowly drifting off into Facebook and Instagram, but I'm loath to let it go completely. Especially if there's stuff like this to remember:

darcy photo shoot
nature walk at the elem school
dead forest... sssoooo sad.  terrible terrible
picking out a christmas tree with viv and sarah and kids (hal)
beet salad, rach stuffing, lemon/blackberry pie, viv rolls, ham, fancy drinks
staying up late with viv
sarah got sick
blessing baby mae: tim, grandpa, jerry, gordon
claire crying at what she was thankful for and making gordon cry at his
jerry was funny
gwen was fairy queen of the stairs
eric and levi watching stanford play football

beth "i want this pie eaten at my funeral
eric  "why are we even TALKING about your funeral!?"
claire " well?  LOOK at her?!

mae sleeping so soundly on grandpas lap
soccer outside
falling asleep by the fire with eric on the blowup mattress, then being jumped on by hal
watching "girls just wanna have fun" late at night with darcy and syd, sarah, viv, rachel

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Dance Party in Ross

Almost as good as that scene in Footloose, wouldn't you say?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Look AT the camera. Just look at it! In a normal way!

At the first real 'photo-op' point of our Nepal trip, our guide took out his camera and motioned for us to group closely together. Initially I was confused, but then I realized...he wants to take a picture of our family. I thought about gently refusing, but he seemed so nice, and I didn't want to be a grouch, so I encouraged everyone to give it their best. We huddled together and smiled. He clicked the shutter and glanced down at the view screen. His smile faded slightly. "One more!" he announced, with renewed enthusiasm. Again, glancing down at the camera after taking the picture, he paused. "Hmmm. Another!"

Multiple times he tried, looking increasingly puzzled each time an image captured. After about a minute I began to recognize the look on his face. It was the same look I've seen on Vivian's face, or Rachel's- really on anyone who has ever tried to capture a group of Gregorys on film.

To quote Grandma Brown, we look good from the back. But, try to pose us in any way and things start to fall apart quickly. Maybe we just spend more time with our eyes closed than most people do? In any case, a retrospective, of Gregory family photos:

This is the photo shoot where I first realized it was a problem.

But, even in casual settings we can't do it.


Just put sunglasses on Chris, you say? Well, that works. Sort of.

I can't just blame Chris.  No, I blame Chris AND Lucy for not taking this seriously.

Now the happiest moments are when I get the trifecta. At this point it just kind of warms my heart. But I'm not sure our Nepalese guide really saw it that way.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Thoughts From a Sickbed

A night of vomiting and diarrhea left me pretty drained this morning and I spent the day in bed, too dizzy and weak to do anything else. Even sick, you can only sleep so much, so a good part of the day was me just looking at the ceiling and thinking about stuff. Stuff like:

- If a blanket is so soft that you can barely feel it, does it really count as a blanket at all?

- When even the thought of food makes you queasy, why is it impossible to stop thinking about food? "Don't think about those cookies you ate last night...don't think about them...gah! Ugh! Cookies!"

- Did God create cold ginger ale just for me on this exact day?

- It's too bad that I'll have to cancel Pi day this year, as I'm never eating again.

- Is my goal of removing the 3 neatly tied grocery bags full of vomit from the bathroom floor before the maid gets here a realistic one?

- Does any sentence containing the words "before the maid gets here" make me seem pampered and entitled?

- If the best books that I've read this year were non-fiction, why do I read so much fiction?

- I wish I had a really fluffy, non-serious book to read right now.

- Wait Wait Don't Tell Me is straight up quality.

That's all really. I'm sure this has been fascinating, but it was a pretty quiet day.

Friday, September 18, 2015

September 17, 2015

Welcome to the family, Mae Vivian Rees. You are adored.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Last day at work-

Today was my last day of work. It feels very strange. I've been in the same office, working with some of the same people, for over 8 years. It's hard to say I'll miss it, because of all the new things coming into my life to fill the void. But I think I'll have fond memories of my time at UC Davis.

I've spent months trying to clean things up, and pass things off. And for the last week, I've been depersonalizing my desk space, taking down valentines from Levi and Gwen, packing up my snacks and dishware. And most fun of all, going through any personal files on the computer.

I came across some real gems. Documents created by me, while I should have been working:

- A spreadsheet (with fancy graphs) tracking my weight gain over two pregnancies.
- A list of options for a drugged up, recently wisdom-toothless Rachel who came to stay with us, so she could just point, instead of talk (Would you rather watch The Office, eat pudding, or spit?)
- An apocalypse identification flowchart (you remember)
- A list of questions I asked Gordon, to help determine if we should get married

Also, this photo, which I took years ago in the 1st floor bathroom. It makes me laugh. Mostly because it probably made people stand outside their stall even longer, since they had to read a sign.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Grand

I'm not sure I can even explain how much I loved our 16 days rafting the Grand Canyon, but I'm going to try.

I loved the boats.

I loved rigging them, and strapping things down. "Rigging to flip" means that you should be able to turn the boat upside down and shake it and nothing would fall off. I loved carrying everything we needed on them, rigged to flip. I loved the feel of pushing off for the day with adventure ahead. I loved balancing with my bare feet on the side tubes as I got ready to jump off and tie us up when we came into camp.  I loved the look of them, headed through the canyon, peaceful but exciting all at the same time. One night I even slept on the boat, and it was good.

I loved the water.
Stockdolager Rapid

I loved hearing it constantly, day and night. One evening I waited until the full moon rose then found a place to strip down and wash my hair. Cold water, warm air, full was exquisite. Most of the time there was a current but the water was smooth. But on big rapid days you would hear the roar, sometimes from 1-2 miles ahead, and the anticipation would start to build. When we were just above the whitewater we'd pull over and climb up to scout the best line. Serious, serious discussions would take place because this water was big enough to flip a boat and that's a disaster. I loved the discussions, because...

I love the lingo. Where you or I might just see a bunch of water, real river runners see ledge holes, keeper holes, lateral waves, sleeper rocks, hydraulics, eddies, circulating eddies, eddy lines, haystacks, v-waves, bubble lines, strainers, pour overs, and flip rocks. There are tongues and chutes, rock gardens and cheese graters. A typical analysis of a rapid might go like this: "I'm going to ride the bubble line down the tongue right of that ledge hole, bow pivot to T up with those laterals, pull hard through the right side of that V wave and then hope I can stay off that cheese grater into the haystacks at the bottom. If not we could get maytagged and there might be a fire sale." I would squint at the river and nod. I loved squinting and nodding.

Here is a video of running Lava rapid, "the most intense 8 seconds of water in the Grand Canyon." It's not us in the video, but I was sitting where the camera is, so it brings back great memories, although I couldn't have told you what was going on.

I loved the river, but I also loved the side canyons.
Silver Grotto in Shinumo Wash

When I heard we'd be hiking every day, my heart sunk. Grand Canyon hiking sounded miserable- hot and steep and exposed. I had no idea about the little slot side canyons. Oooh...when you say 'hiking,' what you actually mean is swimming through narrow pools and scrambling up waterfalls! That's the best kind of hiking in the world! Besides, it's a great team building exercise, and...

I loved the group dynamics of the whole thing:
Helping Joann make the climb.

My first impression of the group was a couple of kids, some Outside magazine poster boys, some old people, and us. But the old people free solo climbed 50ft waterfalls and took the inflatable kayak through Class IX rapids, not to mention that Joann (as pictured above) was the best boatman on the trip. The poster boys and the kids turned out to be mellow and hilarious, and by day 2-3 we were tight. After 16 days of isolation and adventure and inside jokes they seemed like the whole world to me.

But now that I remember the rest of you, it seems like the only way this trip could have been better would be to have you guys on it. River trip, anyone?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

This is why some kids think their parents are idiots-

This morning, I was getting ready for work, and Hal was playing in the front room.

As I walked by the door, I saw him moving his hand around, making the sound of a train whistle-

Hal- "Whoo-whooooo!"

Me- "Oh, is that a train?"

Hal- "No, it's my hand."

Oh. Right.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Summer 2015

lets go.. get this stuff down!

1. Carrie throwing the Frisbee for an hour to boys at grandpa's pool
2. "Who invented 'taking turns' anyway..?" - Levi
3.  blindfolded pool noodle fight - carrie and vivian
4.  Claire (and other peanut gallery) coaching Rachel on her "mean face".
5.  RAIN at cousins camp
6 "BETH!  It's happening AGAIN! " - Theo requesting help with his nasty nose
7. Eric heroically finding Darcy's lost flipper in the ocean
8, huge art project - "Pull!"
9. crazy foosball action
10.  great lightning storm and running to get bedding off the trampoline in the rain
11.  Greek myth story told by Lucy with lightning in the background
12.  Rachel VS Carrie spanish-ice cream fight
13. Hugo's walking skills
14. "When I die, I want this car on my gravestone, with the inscription 'Crappy Car' carved under it" - Levi, holding up the car he tried all day to trade away, walking home from the cemetery.
15. Staying up late at Cousins Camp discussing hospitality and quirks.
16. Kids digging tunnel in beach sand
17. "Free sand!?!"
18. Gwen- "You are making a really horrible mistake!" (forcing her into Sarah's car after the museum)
19. Froot Loops flavored potato chips (along with chicken satay, basil)
20. Levi dancing during Busking Day
21. Watching Brad be a dad.
22. Nighttime flashlight adventures with Vivian, Claire, Sarah, Rachel, Gordon and Mom.
23. capture the flag game with rachel, beth/kids, and theo
24. grandma/eric/lucy lunch date
25. lucy bursting into tears when lawrence kids start to talk/wish they were moving
26. jerry's frog talk
27. crazy airbnb camp site with giant yurt, teepee, drum set in awesome granite creek, and neighbors intent on criminal harm with wicked nails. Using kids as minesweepers. Carrie pouring melted butter from the paper grocery bag. Shake-shake-shaking punctured can to eke out tomato soup on our ration of canned beans and bacon.
28. You mean all these books are FREE?!?
29. Teaching the kids how to shoot with dad's scoped pellet gun. Eric hitting a match, Carrie exploding the glass jar for the grand finale.
30. Hal's pronunciation of 'dumptruck'.
31. Beth leaping out of bed at 5:30am to chase a squawking rooster around, catch it, consider killing it but instead stuffing it in a cat carrier in the garage, all so Rachel can get a couple more hours sleep in the backyard.
32. Sending the Gregory kids off on an unaccompanied minor flight
33. Levi's birthday at Skywalk
34. Baptisms at the temple with Mom, Sarah, Rachel, Sydney, Eric
35. Sydney and Eric getting doused by giant wave at Morro Strand. Sydney getting within 10 ft of an otter
36. Theo and Jack eating spicy food at Beth's until Jack eats a red ant and gets bitten on the tongue.
37. Mark Porter's wedding reception- Bry jumps out of a cake
38. Sarah and Lucy go to One Direction concert
39. Levi and Theo get unsupervised playtime, use it to tag carport with spray paint. Viv's head explodes.
40. Dad pays Eric $4 to climb through hole in fence, move dead possum further into neighbor's yard.
circa 2012


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A year in the life

We made it.  We all made it to 1 year old.  Hugo is 1 year old!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Police Car!

Last night, after a spate of Hal stalling going to bed (asking for water, or more blankets), he'd finally quieted down, and I thought we were good for the night. 25 minutes later I heard him come to the door.

I marched back there, already yelling, "Get back in bed, Hal! Go to sleep!"

When I entered his room to ask what was going on, he said, "Police car!"

A bit of background: recently he's been going to bed with a dump truck, a crane, a red car, an orange car, sometimes a plane, and yes, a police car.

"No!" I said. "You don't need your police car."
"Police car!"
"It's probably already here in your bed! Go to sleep!"
"Police car!"
"Hal, close your eyes, hold still and go to sleep. You shouldn't be playing anyway"

 Finally, he just grabbed my hand, and moved it to his thigh....where I could feel his police car, trapped inside his pajama pants. After I stopped laughing, I reached up through the tight ankle part of his pants and moved the police car out of there.

He went to sleep shortly after.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Carrie, we rember you!

If we did make you a cake this year (which we didn't) it would probably look like this:

Thursday, June 18, 2015

"Man, that was awesome..."

Theo had his school sleepover last night. Haven't you always wanted to go to sleep on the floor of your classroom?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"Owl is the grand and rather clever old man of the forest. He can also spell Tuesday.." - Winnie the Pooh

I was picking up some kids for school and saw this guy on a wire. the kids who lived there said they saw him there the day before also.   i didn't have my glasses on, so at first he just looked hurt and blurry.. but when Colin and I rode back later on our bikes (with glasses on), i realized that his foot was stuck in the twists of the wire.  it was windy and he was exhausted and trying to keep his balance on one foot.  the more he tried to fly away, the tighter his foot wedged in there.

I called a rescue, who said to call PG&E, because of the wires, and that they are under obligation to come out.  so i called them and we decided to wait and watch.  I didn't know how long they would take, but to their credit, a nice guy and his bucket truck showed up within 15 min.  He was surprised to see the owl alive, because "usually, they are electrocuted".  He got  gloves and an extra shirt to put over him.  he had some trouble freeing his leg, and ended up hurting him quite a bit (pulling the leg at bad, bad angles) to free him.  then he lost his grip and the owl spread his wings and floated down to the ground.  The guy tossed me his shirt and i tossed it over the owl.

His leg was in terrible shape, black and rubbed all the way to the bone.  It looked burned, and the foot was swollen.  But he was a magnificent creature.  I have never seen one "in real life".  His coloring, his alien face, his huge, pupil-less, starry eyes, and his sharp beak and talons made for an almost unreal experience.  it felt like i had captured a ghost or a pixie.  About the same size, chickens are heavy and the owl was like holding a feathery balloon.  He weighed almost nothing.  When we put him in a plastic tub, he immediately went to sleep... or died.

We got him home,which was tricky because it was a BIG plastic tub, and colin's tire decided that was the moment to go flat and it was 3/4 of a mile away. 

When I got no response from the first 3 phone calls, and it looked like i might have to keep him over night,  I looked up how to care for injured owls.  I found an article that was hell bent on making sure you didn't even THINK about keeping that owl - "unless you are ready to commit to obtaining, thawing, and dissecting copious amounts of dead rodents, at all times of day and night for the next 10 years, an owl is not for you." - was my favorite argument.

well we found a rescue and a vet and raced to make it there by closing time.  All 7 of us went in to the tiny waiting room... a girl took the box and said, "ok".

then he was gone and we all stood there for a few extra minuets, to see if anyone wanted to make a nat geo special about us... no interviews?...
ok.  um.  bye.

Monday, May 18, 2015

You had me at "surprisingly"...

Since I'll be leaving this job in a few months, it could be a long time before I have the enjoyment/pain of going through resumés again. It hasn't been a huge part of my job, but it would come around every once in a while. 

It is exhausting sometimes, to have to review hundreds of job applications, but it can also be quite entertaining. I've posted about a few of these before, but thought I'd catch up with some more highlights. Maybe some other time I'll document the amazing interviews I've seen.

One of my favorites, listed under Academic Accomplishments:

-California Scholarship Federation: Surprisingly stayed in for several semesters

Or these lines, listed under Traits or Skills:

-Proficient in email and using the search engine (like anyone, ever)
-Competitive athletic experience in figure skating (admittedly, not like anyone, ever)
-Great Communication Skills (Oral and Written), Experienced in Costumer Service
-Proficient in word processing and other emerging technologies.  (like the fax machine, presumably)

One person just wrote: 

-Organized, (yes, it ended with a comma)

And my personal favorite

-Predicted 10 out of the 11 games in the 2011 NFL Playoffs (82%)  

Depending on the position, we might have specific questions we want them to answer:

Describe your purchasing experience using automated purchasing systems.
-I have used systems like amazon and ebay.

Describe your experience working in a business office setting performing purchasing, receiving, accounts payable or other business transactions.
-coworkers were friendly and team players. They also let you do your thing.   

Other gems- the resumé I got (as a pdf) that was 6 pages in 48-size font, the applicant who had written a self-published novella about her cat, and the guy who went into detail about his experience helping to recycle boxes by carrying them from the 3rd to the 2nd floor.

The most memorable application I received, though, was an email from the automated job site, with nothing but an attached file, titled Resume.pdf. When I opened it, all I found was this*:

I might have hired the guy if he had included even a shred of contact info.

*Not the actual photo, as I felt that might be unethical, but this was very close. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

What Does Carrie Do All Day?

I know you guys are wondering. "She doesn't cook, or clean. She barely has any hobbies. Her kids leave for school at 6:30. What on earth does she do?"

So, though this might be the most boring blog post of all time, I thought I'd publish today's 'To Do' list:

-talk to Ralegh's mom about Minecraft playdate after school. Figure out how to get Ralegh to go home when playdate is over.

- Email school transport office about Theo's bus plans tomorrow

- Prepare lesson for Sunday. Ask Viv for funny story.

- Fill out/scan 8 pages of medical history forms to renew everyone's medical clearance for living overseas

- Call to make medical clearance appointments.

- Nap

-Call maintenance for broken AC in Lucy's room

- Go to Pharmacy for Lucy

- Write an outline for the discussion section of the malaria paper I'm writing

- Configure 'local reactions' table for same paper. (People were bitten by mosquitoes. The bites were itchy.)
- Mail pictures to Viv for Jackson baptism project

- Make kids practice instruments

- Foot massage

- Take Lucy to orthodontic appt

- Take Theo to grocery store to spend his money on root beer.

So see? Except for the no cooking or cleaning, the naps and the foot massage, I'm just like you.

God Bless Lionel Messi

Starting the very day I got here, we were on the longest run yet for not having any new Ebola cases or deaths in Sierra Leone. I liked to think that my mere presence in country was enough to get rid of Ebola for good. We were going strong for 10 DAYS! Then on Wednesday some thug had the nerve not only to start showing symptoms (poor guy) but to decide that he should now escape from quarantine, run across the city, infect his girlfriend, and expose 50 new contacts. Ugh. Looks like it's not over yet.
There are two Sierra Leonean med students, Chernoh and Ibrahim, who have been contracted to help our team with site assessments, trainings, etc. When we were out driving around yesterday I got to talking with them about football. Luckily, Dad had told me that the Champions League is going on, so I've been watching the games and have stuff to say ("Oh man, that Bayern Munich - Barcelona game was sooo good!"). Chernoh passionately loves Real Madrid, while Ibrahim proclaims Barcelona the best team in the world... so I found myself in a tight spot when they asked me who I support. "Well, I mostly just have individual players that I like to watch." "Then who is your favorite player?" I felt like their respect and friendship was riding on my answer. "Probably...Messi" I said. Ibrahim looked at me approvingly and said fervently, "May God bless you for that." and then all three of us got into a conversation about the many merits of the talented but humble soccer god that is Lionel Messi.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

This I Believe

Sarah Ashby
Sis. Abenroth
Eng. 106
12 May 2015
“This I believe”

I believe in sisters. Sisters can be the worst and the best. How are they the worst you ask? I will tell you. When you were younger having a room to yourself was probably unheard of. If you were in my family you didn’t even get your own bed; my two younger sisters and I shared a king-sized bed for most of my childhood. And because you had to share a room, if you had to go somewhere in the wee hours of the morning, 7:00 am or earlier, you had to get dressed in the dark, so your socks probably didn’t match. You most likely had to share a bathroom. I had to share mine with five others, sheesh. If you had more than one sister, like I did, your mom probably had to initiate some sort of quiet time. We actually had to read books and we couldn’t talk above a whisper.
Sisters can also bring on arguments (that of course weren’t your fault). There were two doozies in our family that I can remember. One was over chapstick. The other was about Barbie clothes. Someone wouldn’t give something back…ok, so that one was my fault, let’s move on.
It was on my 18th birthday when I thought sisters were the worst. My sisters thought it would be funny to make me do things I didn’t like in order to get my presents: walk across poky grass in my bare feet, eat raw onion, beets, egg yolk, and other things. I’ve tried to block that day from my memory.  If your own family is out to get you, what do you have left?
What you have left is why sisters are the best. If you are like me you have a built-in best friend. I have five best friends. We are there for each other anytime day or night, except when they live clear across the world, “Now let’s see, it’s 12:00 noon here. Thailand is three hours ahead of us, tomorrow night.” Then I might have to pick a different sister to call. But even if I called that groggy sister I know she would still be there for moral support.
They make me laugh. When we are all home for holidays or when we’re all at the beach together you might find me on the floor from laughing too hard. That might also be that the clock says 12:30 am, but we’ll say it’s because they know how to tell a good story.
Sisters will listen to you complain, at least mine will. I have a deal with one of my sisters: that when you want to complain but don’t actually want advice, the other person just listens. But if you want advice, they will give you that too. Sometimes they give it even if you don’t ask.
So as you can see having five sisters can have its downside but for the most part my sisters are my life. If something ever happened to one of them nothing would be the same. We laugh, we cry, we love. What more could you ask for? We are the Ashby girls.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Notes From A Rachel

Just wanted to send a quick update on the last couple of days. Things have gone about as smoothly as possible…but, for Sierra Leone, that still means complicated. Before I left Atlanta I got an email that said, “your flight is scheduled to land at 5:45pm; if all goes according to plan, you’ll get to the hotel around 11pm”. I would hate to think what would happen if things didn’t go according to plan! I expected standing in long lines at the airport without A/C for immigration and a mandatory Ebola screening. I even kind of expected the luggage madness (of the dozen CDC employees traveling with me, 3 of the people’s luggage was lost). What I didn’t expect was the “water taxi” journey that was a 45-minute long, high-speed, jerky, roller-coaster-of-a-speedboat ride that slammed into 6-foot waves all the way across the bay. After 24 hours of traveling, that is not something your brain or body wants! Wish I had been warned to take Dramamine and wear a neck brace.
Speaking of medicine I’m glad I’m taking anti-malarials: there are mosquitos everywhere, even inside my hotel room. The stat today was that if you don’t take prophylaxis your chances of getting malaria are 10-50%. Yikes! I’m more worried about forgetting to take a pill one day and getting bit than I am about Ebola. I’m also glad I decided to get the rabies vaccine series before I came, since I learned today that Sierra Leone has the highest stray dog population in all of Africa. However, there is no bat infestation, as far as I can tell. I’ve had enough of that.
The hotel is nice enough but the air is stale and it smells like bleu cheese. Throughout the day there have been about 10 power outages ranging from 30 seconds to 30 minutes, which can be inconvenient if you need to charge a phone or use a wifi router to send an email. It can also be quite concerning if it happens when you are getting into an elevator, as I found out for myself this morning – as I was walking into the elevator, it slammed shut behind me, jerked a bit, and then audibly turned off. Not something you want to happen anywhere, but much less when you are on your way to have your first meeting with your team lead in a country that isn’t well known for responding quickly to emergencies. After a minor freakout (mostly about how I was making a bad impression on my new boss) and right as I was about to try to jimmy open the doors with a bottle of bug repellant…the power came back on, the elevator reset, and it took me down to a secret basement floor that I shouldn’t have access to. A confused laundry worker and I stared at each other for a minute as I furiously kept pushing the lobby button until the elevator finally started moving again.
Speaking of electricity, I just tried to plug in my blow dryer and even though I used an adapter and was very careful about putting it on the right setting, I short circuited my whole room (and possibly the whole floor). Sorry, neighbors. My boss is right next door to me, too; hope he brought a headlamp, and no, I’m not going to tell him it was me. I’ve already made bad impressions.
I found out today that I’ll be staying in the capital almost the whole time, which is good because I’ll be at the hotel all the time (somewhat reliable wifi, hot shower, nice bed) and bad because I’ll be at the hotel all the time (boring, and smells like bleu cheese).
That’s all for now. So far there has been a lot less crying on this trip to west Africa than the last. A good sign.

Monday, April 20, 2015

April in Paris

Pretty much heaven. Crisp, hot-chocolate-inducing mornings. Cold breezes that made you pull your jacket tighter, followed by sunny blue-sky afternoons. Gypsies selling lilacs on the street. Sidewalks. History and art. Moderately interested children. Bread and cheese and chocolate. Grandparents.

Some particular memories:
- our first morning we were wide awake before 6am because of the time change. Rather than try to keep the kids quiet for sleeping grandparents, I bundled them up and we went down to the corner cafe for hot chocolate, which came as hot chocolate pudding in a mug with a small pitcher of steaming milk to mix in. The early morning feel, our first look at Paris, and stirring the hot foamy milk slooowly into the chocolate goo... delightful.

- Lucy bought a grapefruit at at street market all by herself, speaking French. We had to practice a bit before she went, because it turns out that 'grapefruit' in French is 'pamplemousse.'

- in true French form, we conceded defeat easily and often when it came to famous sights, backing out of lines for the towers of Notre Dame, the Eiffel tower tour, the Catacombes, and bailing on Utah beach in Normandy. (though we did go to Omaha beach and it made me want to cry.)

- We did go to the Louvre, which mostly entertained the kids by reminding them of a Studio C skit. I made a scavenger hunt for Theo that I think I should market (Find a mostly naked man. Find a mostly naked lady. Find a dead guy. Find a cat.).

- Lucy learned how to caramelize onions from her grandmother, and put in serious time with her grandfather looking at Foucalt's pendulum (which is very cool). Theo invented the sweater war (see below).

"I can't believe I'm THIS close to something THAT famous!"- Theo

There are no pictures of me in Paris. This almost looks like me, but you can tell it's Lucy- her legs are longer.
The stunning Saint Chappelle church.
Each one of those little glass panels is a story from the Bible.

Here you can see Lucy studiously examining the windows, and Theo working on his photo-bombing skills.

The kids called this Heaven Street. One night when we didn't want to choose, we ate Greek Salad, raspberries, Vietnamese spring rolls, french fries, a crepe, and ice cream cones for dinner.
Theo introduces Grandpa Martin to the joys of sweater wars, which pretty much consists of hitting each other repeatedly with sweaters.

Artie chokes 3 for a dollar.

We went to the glorious Mont St. Michel, a major site for Christian pilgrimages since the 8th century, and one of the most magical places I've ever been.

For starters, it had a real drawbridge. That had actually been used when the French held off a siege here for a year, because every morning the tide would come in and wash the attacking army's stuff away.
This place actually was what every Renaissance Fair is trying to be. Our guidebook said, "the main village street is awful- a garish tourist trap. But if it makes you feel any better, it's been exactly like that for a thousand years."
The story goes that Michael the Archangel appeared to the abbot and told him to build a giant building on that rock out in the sea. When the abbot was initially skeptical, St. Michael burned a hole in the abbot's head with his thumb and the man was convinced.

It was cool- it just seems to arise organically out of the rock.

At first they used nice little pillars, like these...
But when part of the building collapsed and tumbled into the sea, they got serious.

Chris and Theo
Theo got knighted. And photographed by Asians.

Monday, April 13, 2015

they're so spaced out

i was loading groceries into my car when i heard music and yelling coming from a man and a woman in the car next to me.  i couldn't help but over hear some choice words and conversation.  the woman was screaming at the man... lots of not nice things.  and the man was singing along to and increasing the volume of a very loud Bennie and the Jets.  
she would yell, "TURN THAT DOWN!!"
to which he would bang his head and look right at her and
yell/sing "BENNIE! (head bang)    BENNIE!".

 "WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR #$@%$ BREAKFAST?!?!", she would yell at him.


"DANG  IT!  (only she didn't say dang it)    WOULD YOU TURN THAT DOWN YOU  TURKEY (only she didn't say turkey)!!! WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR BREAKFAST!!??"

and he would look right at her and  sing at the top of his lungs,


she finally got out of the car and slammed the door and went into the store.

i chuckled about it all the way home, and told the kids.  now jack sings it full volume when ever he doesn't want to hear what i am saying.

 tim is thinking about using this tactic also..


I am the proud new owner of a fancy smartphone. At least it feels fancy to me, but that may be because I’ve never had the best of luck with cellphones. Although I’ve never broken a phone, I’ve had a long series of devices that have proved to be diseased and decrepit. I’ve only ever lost one, and even in that instance I believe the phone gods were working against me: while biking home after class one night in college my phone jumped out of my pocket and skittered across the ground at the perfect trajectory and speed to shoot it into a storm drain. By the time I brought Vivian back to help me try to retrieve it, that sucker was probably already in the Pacific Ocean.
One phone in particular was especially entertaining, though. It worked well for a while, but then one day the microphone completely stopped working. Since this was my third phone in as many months, I wasn’t thrilled about buying yet another, so I decided to hang onto it for a while. Inspired by my underhanded and thrifty sisters that discovered they could use the pay phone at Sierra High without putting in money by beeping their request to the person at home on the other end of the line, I decided to work out my own system of ‘beep-talk’. One beep meant positive, two meant negative, and multiple beeps indicated laughter. So my conversations went something like this:
Me: *silence*
Vivian: Hey Rach, you there?
Vivian: Are you going to be able to make it for dinner?
Vivian: Oh, too bad. Hey, remember that time my car battery died because we were using the headlights to look for your lost phone, so we recruited a bunch of frat boys to help us push-start it?
Vivian: “Hey boys, ever push-started a car before?” What a good pickup line!

Anyway. Yesterday I gave a Gospel Doctrine lesson using only my phone for access to scriptures, online quotes, and my notes on Google Docs, and then I came home and used it to video-chat with Mom, Beth and Sarah. My phone will also work to make calls and texts internationally, and I’m going to post this blog using my phone, just because I can. I know this is old-news technology for most people by now, but I can’t help but, how far I’ve come. It all seems too good to be true, and I’m just really hoping it doesn’t get abducted by a giant fruit bat in Sierra Leone and dropped in the Atlantic Ocean.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Hiring a surrogate

Last weekend I was a little sad that I didn’t get to be at home for Easter, especially since there are now a majority of sisters partying it up in California. But I decided that instead of spending the holiday alone, I’d invite myself to be a part of my friend Connie’s family in rural South Carolina for the weekend. This plan worked out splendidly because as it turns out, her family is essentially the southern version of ours - there are seven sisters who grew up rather unrestrained on sprawling country acreage, are still all close, love getting together for family dinners and singing around the piano, have rusty playground equipment and a metal building  in the backyard, and even have two cats that look exactly like Starbuck and Apollo. Perusing the family photo albums showed a lot of pictures of them as kids sporting only underwear and bad haircuts. In short order I had a herd of adopted nieces and nephews following me and asking me to swing them around, get in tickle fights, and catch frogs and tadpoles with them at the pond. Needless to say, I felt right at home. 

A lot of the similarities had distinct southern twangs to them, though. For example, the whole family went to a church that had the familial feel of Auberry Ward...but it was Southern Baptist, with a preacher that bellowed about judgment from God. Our grand Easter meal included collared greens, biscuits, grits, and fatback lima beans. The brothers-in-law had loaded handguns sticking out of the back of their slacks during the Easter family photo. 

Even though I’m from California and that means I am “essentially a Yankee”, her family seemed pretty willing to adopt me in. Her dad was especially fond of least, after I proved my countriness to him a couple ways. First, he came across me teaching some of the younger boys how make bird calls by whistling grass. His eyes reevaluated me and he said “huh. I thought you were a city girl.” Then nodded approvingly to me, and walked off. I’ve never been prouder. Second, I passed a true test of Southernness by playing gospel and country songs with him on the guitar all afternoon. In case you’re wondering how I know gospel and country songs - I don’t. When he invited me to play with him, we quickly realized he wasn’t going to know any of the few songs I know (Ever heard of Ben Harper? No? How about Iron & Wine?). So I told him to just start playing and I would try to follow along. He had this wonderful deep voice that drawled along while I picked my way through the chords I mimicked from him. Sometimes Connie and her sisters would sing or play along on the piano and I even got to mess around on a banjo and it was Afterward, Connie said that jam session secured my spot as her dad’s favorite guest.

So it was with dismay he reacted to the news that I am going to turn my back on the south and move back west. Couldn’t I just live with them and go to Augusta Medical College right down yonder? I demurred, and so he tried to figure out when I could at least come visit again. I told him that actually, I am only going to be in the south a few more weeks altogether, because I am going to Africa to help with the Ebola response. That was where he lost it. He threw his hands in the air and exclaimed, “WHAT!! You mean I’ve finally found someone to play the gee-tar with me and now I’m gonna LOSE ‘ER TO EBOLA?!?

Somehow it was the most endearing thing that anyone I’ve only known for two days has said to me, and hilarious to boot. After a weekend full of charm and hospitality from a family that felt so similar to my own, I toyed with the temptation of switching from western mountain garbage and going full southern country and staying with them forever. The dogwood trees and wisteria were in bloom around their property, they had a big porch with rocking chairs and a prime view for watching thunderstorms over the valley, and for heaven’s sake, the kids all called me ‘Miss Rachel’. It was the cutest. In the words of my southern friends, “If that don’t light yer fire, yer wood’s wet!”

But the land of farmers markets and recycling and mountains and my real family is calling me. And it will be nice not to have to worry that I might get shot by a gun going off accidentally at the dinner table. While it was entertaining to spend a holiday with our family’s southern doppelgänger, I guess I’ll keep y’all. It just might help if you teach your kids to speak in soft southern accents.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Joy ride at Trader Joe's

Last night Hal and I were waiting outside Trader Joe's for Gordon to finish paying, and bring out our wares.
I let Hal sit on one of those carts for handicapped and the elderly. Apparently it was powered up, and the key was in it, and turned to the on position. (I let him do this often at Save Mart, and those carts are never left on)
In about 1 second he had found the right button to drive it forward about 3 feet, and knock over an 8 foot tiki hut housing a trashcan.
I came out of shock in time to stop him and turn off the cart. Luckily the hut was unbroken, and I just had to right it again, and pick up some garbage.
But I was a little flustered when Gordon came out a couple minutes later. So embarrassing.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

a trip for the birds

jack - "hey!  HEY!  i see a BEAR!  look look! over there...  oh wait.  it's a duck.

colin - "you see that brown and red thing?  over there?  it HAS to be SOMETHING!"

one of many funny events that sent us giggling was when the boys were on the roof, as shown...

and when darcy suddenly braked to take a picture, eric slid into the car.

syd (while driving) - "and on your left, you will see a cowboy in his natural habitat, closing his fence.  oh and a rare sighting of  what we call "waving"!

i wanted to know what crop this was, 

and we stopped to take a picture to ask someone, when we realized that they would probably take one look at the picture and say something helpful like... "uh.. grass?"

then we went to a good little local ittalian place for some good food and saying what we liked about grandma mona.  then she recieved a free tiramisu for a treat.

it was lovely and nice, but we mostly brought the fun with us when we came and with us when we left!