Friday, October 31, 2014


Last night our Girl Scout friends and siblings gathered at a nearby rope challenge course and spent three hours up in the trees climbing, swinging, balancing, zipping, and soaring.  The night before, I thought the kids might not really want to go up.  But we got there with all their friends and pretty soon they were harnessed up and swinging through the trees.  Sure, there were squeals and screams--especially when they thought they spotted a raccoon--but everybody had a good time.  Three hours of adventure, in the chilly fall air, lit by twinkling fairy lights and the bonfire around which all the adults clustered.  When they came down for a bit, they grabbed a picnic dinner--Mama brought us some lovely soups and stayed to watch--and went back up, taking different courses.  At the end, they all relived their accomplishments over s'mores.  Repeatedly, Bud and Sis agreed that it was one of the most wonderful days of their lives.  (And all we parents agreed it was such a skill builder and confidence booster!)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Tour season is almost done.  One more tour; one more school visit (with two lectures.)  Then it's November and we're done with tours til almost May.  Whew.  I'm ready.  With tours in May, then wrapping up school in June, summer and summer camp, going back to school, getting ready for tours, and then tours in October, the time from May to October is a whirlwind.  Makes November to April, even with all the holidays and snowy weather so much easier.

Less than 48 hours . . . .

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


After seeing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, about Jacob, Joseph, and happenings in Genesis, etc., Bud asked, "So, Mom, is there a book?"


After hearing the song, "All about the Bass," about the size of your booty, that does nonetheless compare bass to treble albeit metaphorically, Bud said, "So, what instrument does the singer play?"

 'Cos, you know, she's talking about treble clef and bass clef.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Do You Hear the Penguins Sing?

It has been a remarkable summer for the Penguin and Bunny Theater Troupe.  They have presented, under the direction of Bud, both The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, with a very short run of The Battle of the Penguins and Bunnies and selections from Wicked.    The performances take place in our living room, in front of the blue backdrop of Bud's comforter.  For Les Miz, Bud was especially creative with the sets, utilizing small wooden chairs in different positions for the barricade, bridge, sewers, and "Master of the House" tavern. The boat on the lake from Phantom, in "Music of the Night" (my favorite scene), was used here as the death cart.  (The mirror scene in Phantom was also great.)   Mama loved Smeak as the flag bearer in "One Day More," while I loved the little groundhog as Eponine.  Tango, who appeared as the Phantom, is Valjean here.  We look forward to the next production, though there do not seem to be plans in the works for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

The Penguin and Bunny Theater Troupe

Marius and Cosette sing a duet, with Eponine below

"One Day More," with Smeak waving the red flag

Our Trip Down the Rabbit Hole

I love the fall--the colors, the temperatures, the activities, the foods.  And this weekend we went on one of our favorite fall outings:  a visit to the Fairy Houses of the Florence Griswold museum followed by lunch at PizzaWorks, with its good food (great marinara!  inventive pizzas!  that scrumptious Derby pie!) and model trains.  And this time, Ma and Gong joined us.

The faerie house theme was Alice in Wonderland, Steampunk'd.  So, the familiar White Rabbit, Cheshire Cat, Caterpillar, and Queen of Hearts, plus gears, gogs, keys, watches, brass, and leather.  It was a beautiful fall day, though a tad on the windy side there along the river.  Still, we had a wonderful time.

I think this was Mama's favorite--the Rabbit Hole re-envisioned as a broken pipe.

The "Eat Me" cake, in the beginning of the story.

I always like the doors and window, these in my favorite installation place under the big tree.

School children made a hundred or more small, ceramic tea party tables which wound between, and through, the trees.

You could actually peer inside this one, to see a garden of metal flowers, all lit by a solar light.  This was the kids' favorite.

A view through the barn doors as we enjoyed cider, hot chocolate, chips, and brownies.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cat-Trap Meme

So, you might have seen the meme floating around FB about the way to catch a cat.  Namely, you draw or create a circle on the floor--tape, rope, whatever--and the cat will sit in it, regardless of the fact that there is no actual object they're sitting in.  The explanation is that cats like small spaces, even suggested ones.

And so, I tried it.  With a stuffed snake.  And then a drawing on a posterboard.

Yes, I had a lot of time on my hands; I was home with a cold, drinking fluids, resting, and making chicken soup (I'm much better today.)

And the cats mocked me.

Until I caught one.

And the other cat mocked this one.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Damned Onions

What is it about our cat Albus that leads him to onions?

Onions, which you might not know, are very toxic to cats.  (Along with poinsettias and lilies and garlic and chocolate.)

He is fine.

But for the umpteenth time, he got hold of some onion skin that I had inadvertently left out (this time from cleaning out the veggie bin and forgetting his passion for onion skins.)  I heard the onion roll off the table from upstairs but didn't know that was it.  I found the abandoned but wet onion about 15 minutes later.

And had to call the ASPCA poison control yet again.   (888) 426-4435

Yep, I've called them about onion-eating before.

But I never know what the weight of the cat to amount of the onion ratio is.

Here we go, for next time:  in our 7 1/2 lb cat there is only danger after ingesting 1/4 oz (about the weight of one US quarter.)  That's actually a lot of papery onion skin.  Before that quarter ounce, there might be some upset stomach--we watch for vomiting and take food away for an hour; more than twice warrants another call to the hotline.  More than that quarter ounce might affect red blood cells, but even then there can be transfusions and other support.  (And they told me this time that onion skin vs. the onion flesh really isn't different in toxicity.)

But they don't expect him to be ill.

And he hasn't been any of those other times (I figure it's happened about 1 a year or so for his seven years.)

Still, stressful.

Makes me want to ban those damned onions.

Thank heavens for that ASPCA hotline though, just in case.

Picture This

We have a routine in our family now, when it comes to taking photos, especially of the kids together.  They pose nicely, sometimes even close enough to touch, if and only if I let them do a silly one, too.

Which usually means they pretend to pummel each other.

Here they are, waiting for the bus on picture day:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Thoughts and Prayers

For our friend on her birthday
On a friend's loss of her mother

And another friend who lost her mother (above the doodle, it says "May memories bring you . . . ."

And for a friend whose mother has a terminal illness

Mug Shot

Bud's new cartoon character, called, I think, Mugs.  He's even done a few comic strips.  


Sunday Photos

Lovely day for a drive in Connecticut.

Saturday Photos

Saturday was a beautiful New England autumn day.  We started it off with our usual kung fu/ice skating.  Then we went to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  It was . . . as corny as it's supposed to be, but with two leads who aren't really Broadway singers.  But we had fun.  

Then we headed to the orchards, once the rain stopped.  But the clouds and light made for great ambiance.  

And then we went for Tibetan, one of our favorite restaurants.  


Last-Weekend Photos

Here are some photos to and from Comic Con last weekend.  

The brick building on 38th where the carriage horses live. So sad. I'm for the ban.

SMAUG!  This was one of our favorite booths.  We bought some mini-Hobbit houses.  Bud posed with a cosplay Gandalf.
LOVED some of the t-shirts.  Here, fan girl.  
A t-shirt for Sis.
These made me laugh.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


We came to our senses and did not take in the two senior cats.


Their current owner is pursuing other options and we're only a last resort.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Historic Hell

UPDATE:  Why does it always rain on field trip days?  I think of the seven or so days of tours we've had, it's rained 6 times!!  This means damp kids (because they walk over, money being too short for a bus), lunch inside (oh, the smell of bologna sandwiches on a wet day!  It's like wet dog.), and no outdoor activities, so they don't get the full historic house experience AND are restless and extra noisy.  Do we have to make up the deficit in our annual rainfall in October???

Okay, it's not that bad.  But we have been having a few glitches with the historic house tours this season.  Volunteer shortage is always a challenge and this year is no different, but we're filling in the slots and I'll end up doing about half of them.  Almost a chance for me to wear all my different costume pieces!  (Though, if it doesn't cool off, I'll be wearing my vest instead of my bodices and one skirt instead of two!)

But there have been other things.  The biggest challenge has been our new activity:  making butter.  We talk about prepping for the winter and storing the harvest because there were green grocers. per se.  We used to string apple slices on string and hang them in the fireplace, talking about pie for breakfast and lunch and dinner so that Americans were called "pie eaters," but this year we're making butter.  Kid are fascinated to learn than a.) butter was not available all year long because cows don't naturally produce milk all year b.)  butter was salted to preserve it because there was no refrigeration (butter is still salted as a preservative--buy unsalted; it's fresher.)  c.) butter isn't naturally golden yellow, though it does have a faint yellow hue when it separates--real gold color is obtained using marigold petals and d.) YOU can make butter yourself.

Except it hasn't been working.  In theory, you shake heavy cream (not half and half or, heaven forbid, any low-fat project--you need the fat) in a container with some kind of agitator; this mimics the old-fashioned butter churn with the plunger-stick.   We started with glass jars with screw-top lids and marbles.  I even tested it with the kiddos--voila, butter in less than five minutes.  But on the very first day of tours, in the first class, the bottom of a glass jar just sheared right off, spraying cream, but luckily not glass, everywhere.  I guess there was a flaw in the glass, though I expect better of Ball jars.

Better safe than sorry, we switched to screw-top Ziploc snack containers, the kind in which my kids take apples to school.  But the plastic can't stand up to the use--perhaps it's the marble or the dice (or sometimes the Lego) hitting the plastic, but small cracks appeared in every single container, even on the first go-round.  I even bought a second round of containers, but, still, leakage.

We were going to go back to jars today, but there were two kids with dairy allergies so we returned to stringing apples.  Besides, the class was 45 minutes late, and apples are faster.  Still, the kids are fascinated by the butter and we'll return to that tomorrow.

But the late classes these last two days has been another headache.  Docents have to trim the tour, sometimes by as much as 45 minutes!  That's hard on the fly.  Especially after the kids have been inside all day and are noisy and restless (they go to another museum before us)--with the wet weather, they can't eat outside before the tour or play outside afterwards. (Today, one of the teachers had just given up, wouldn't even try to quieten the kids.) This causes chaos.

Especially with cream flying everywhere.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sing Me a River

It's hard to explain Comic Con if you don't already know what it is.  And judging by recent conversations, many people I know don't.  The easiest way to describe it is as a geek convention.  Because, while it started as a comic book fans' gathering, it now encompasses many fandoms:  science fiction (Doctor Who, Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, etc.), fantasy (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Princess Bride, Disney, etc.), anime (Miyazaki, Sailor Moon, Pokemon), other cartoons (TMNT, My Little Pony, etc.), video/computer games (Zelda, World of Warcraft, Dragon Ball Z, etc.) and other popular culture (Sherlock and Elementary, etc etc etc.)  Plus, of course, all the comic book superheroes, like Batman, Superman, and the like.

You can see that we firmly fall into several of the fandoms and so we were excited to attend the convention.  We weren't planning on going to any of the panels--interviews and discussions with the creative teams behind the above, including actors, artists, writers, designers, etc.--because they are much in demand with long lines waiting to enter.

But we did sign up for one photo session:  the kids had their picture taken with River Song of Doctor Who, aka Alex Kingston (whom you probably know from her years on ER.)  They were over the moon!  We hung back while they went up to her and told her she was awesome.  And she said they were awesome back!  Sis even noted later that the actress was wearing an outfit--with a map of London, we think--that River would have worn.  So, even though the encounter lasted less than a minute, I think the memory will last a lifetime.   Mama and I opted out of the photo, wanting it to be the kids' moment, though we like Kingston a lot.  We try to remind the kids that actors are just doing a job--that the characters aren't them, that they are real people with positive characteristics and also flaws, that they are paid to do what they do; we don't want the line between fiction and reality to blur, for them to think they "know" the actors.  Still I get it.  I loved Princess Leia and by extension Carrie Fisher and would've gone nuts if I'd met her.  We connect with characters in movies and tv and therefore with the actors who play them.  We are touched by them and we think the actors are special; we want to meet them to express how much they and their characters mean to us and also to feel special ourselves by connecting even briefly with them.  And that's fine when you're nine years old, I think, but perhaps a little odd when taken to extremes by adults.  Sure, I can fangirl on my own quite a bit, but I'm not sure I'd feel right actually acting on it. . . which is why we didn't go to Gillian Anderson's autograph sessions or the photo session with the cast of Star Trek:  The Next Generation.  Besides, it doesn't always pay to meet an ideal.  But it certainly worked for the kids, and us by extension, who watched Doctor Who tonight and kept repeating, "we met her!"  Thank you, Ms. Kingston!

We spent the rest of the day wandering, shopping (truly I expected better shopping), interacting with other fans, and admiring all the costumes.  I didn't know most of the computer games or anime, but I noticed lots of Doctor Who costumes.  Also Star Trek and Star Wars.  One of the best was a Stormtrooper "on vacation" in a Hawaiian shirt!  Also, Princess Leia, a great Xena, a man wearing a homemade cardboard Millennium Falcon, a minion, and so many others.  The kids posed with lookalikes of Gandalf, a Dalek, Smaug the dragon, the penguins of Madagascar, and others.  Because it was family day, there was no cleavage and only one very obvious Brazilian wax.  Interestingly, we saw no brutish behavior, even with alcohol on premises.  Very well behaved, our geeks.  We got a few things, t-shirts mainly, and mainly just walked around for 7 hours.

Thankfully, Mama had done lots of research about surviving Comic Con, so we knew to:

  • Bring our own food--deli meats, cheeses, bread, chips, cookies--so as not to stand in line for expensive junk;
  • Bring our own water bottles to refill at the water fountains (see above);
  • Not carry anything extraneous because the day is long and things can get lost;
  • Bring a bag to put purchases and freebies in.
We were tired, but we had a great time.  I think we'd definitely go again, maybe with some panels this time.  And maybe by then, we'll have added a few more fandoms to our list . . .but I doubt it will ever match the excitement of our first Con.  And meeting River Song!!!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Do You Hear the People Sing?

Yep, we're singing . . . "One Day More," "Master of the House," "I Dreamed a Dream," "On My Own," "Who am I?," "Bring Him Home," "Red and Black."

But not "Castle on a Cloud"--none of us like that song.  And we all laughed when Madam Thernardier mocked it!

We went to see Les Miserables on Broadway this weekend.  And it was fabulous!!!  It is Mama's favorite show, one she was quite taken with as a teenager.  She's seen it in the theater several times--even once in French in Montreal!--and owns numerous recordings (including French, Dutch, and now Spanish.)  She can't abide the movie because it rejects the usual theater conventions (and has mediocre singers.)  In fact, she wasn't sure she wanted to see the new production because, among other things, it didn't have the iconic revolving stage.

But I talked her into it, saying this might be the only chance the kids have, for years, to see her all-time favorite musical.  And even if it's not as great as the original production, at least it's not, ahem, the film.  And she relented, out of curiosity and desire.

And while she did miss the revolving stage and bemoaned the slimmer production values, she did like the show and was especially gratified that the kids loved it, too.  We had spent the week prepping them--playing the concerts on tv, summarizing the characters and plots, and prepping them about the sex (prostitutes, penis-size jokes) and violence (almost everybody dies.)  We even said, that on the off-chance they got lost by it all, to just enjoy the music and the production and not worry about who's who and what's what.

No worries, there.  They followed it all and even noticed a few minor changes from the concerts (like who sings the line about the Captain wearing his shoes.)  And we were all impressed by Ramin Karimloo, who played Valjean.  (We knew him from the Phantom 25th anniversary concert and also as Enjolras in the Les Mis 25th concert.)  Such a strong yet tender voice.  We also really liked Will Swenson as Javert.  And Nikki James as Eponine.  Really, they were all good.  And I liked the gritty realism of the costumes and sets and even the lighting; but then, the show has always had a serious dark side.  And it took all my powers not to sob outloud at my favorite line, "to love another person is to see the face of God."  I'm tearing up just thinking about it.

Whew.  After the show, we went for our traditional post-theater snack at Junior's--cheesecakes, egg cream soda, and cel-ray soda.  We didn't stagedoor because it was a matinee and many of the performers don't appear.

We stayed in Union Square this trip, far from the bed bugs in Times Square.  The kids liked the neighborhood--Forbidden  Planet, the Strand bookstore, Max Brenner chocolate restaurant.  Even the Whole Foods was more interesting than ours!  And we had a great view of the park and also the World Trade Center/Freedom Tower (I don't know what we're supposed to call it, but I don't really like FT), glittering in the distance.  Oh, the noise, though.  Even six stories up, we heard loud drunk people and car horns all night, much worse than Times Square.  But still, no bed bugs (yet.  We took all the precautions and are boiling everything here at home.)

And the next day was Comic Con, but that's a separate post . . . .

Friday, October 10, 2014

Cat Attack

The cats KNOW what's up.

A co-worker of Mama's needs to relocate his old cats (two 14-year-old 10-pounders, one black and one with stripes) and has no takers.

Except maybe us.

We're considering it.  We've checked with a pet-foster-parent friend, a friend who has taken in a lot of other older cats, the internet, and even the vet.  We've discussed it together and have even polled the kids (because being in on major family decision-making is a good exercise.)  We're mainly concerned about the stress on either our cats or the older ones; we have the space and the work is just about the same as far as food and litter box goes.  We'll decide this weekend.

But our cats just know.

I'm guessing they've learned to understand English and know what we're considering.

Just now, when I got home from my historic house tour, they both met me at the door midday.  And then Albus followed me upstairs, gave me a "head poom" (formerly a head bonk; see the French pattycake cats video for context), and then fetched his toy mouse.  We played fetch a few times.

And there have been other incidents of following us around and meowing and wanting extra attention.  For instance, last night, Albus buried his face in his box of toys and waited for us to play with him.  Then he and Hermione jumped around for half an hour.

 In fact, Albus is purring in my arms right now.  And Hermione did the same thing this morning.

They know and I think they don't want roommates.  I'm only guessing--they haven't learned to SPEAK English yet.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Best Bus Stop in the World

This is our first year of having company at our school bus stop.  And the kids love it!  There is one girl in their class and one little girl in first grade, both of whom live up and around the corner.  We didn't really know them well before this but had been on a waving basis with the mom of the little girl.

And now the bus stop is their favorite time of the day.  They play soccer or basketball, chalk up the driveway, walk across the rock wall, run around the house, and play on the swing set.  There is lots of squealing.  And smiles.  At least until I yell, "Bus!" as it rounds the corner.  (I can always hear the brakes in advance.)  After school isn't quite as much fun--they all quickly separate, but the three older ones sometimes reconvene after homework.

The little girl's grandparents (it started with one set, now it's the other; both visit for a long time, from China) bring her every morning, sometimes one, sometimes both, and often with her little sister.  Her grandparents only speak Mandarin, so I get to practice my "ni hao" and "tsi jian" each day.

It's so much fun that the girl in their class has been arriving earlier and earlier.  Yesterday she was 23 minutes early!  And she might have been even earlier--we noticed her peeking through the window watching and waiting, which she did perched atop a lawn chair she'd dragged to the window.  Yes, a little stalking-ish.

But the kids are thrilled.  There's no dawdling in the mornings now.  And they're making friends.

Can't wait until there's snow!!!  (Though, that might be a little messy BEFORE school.)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Experimenting with pre-printed pages from our old mandala coloring book.  Would be better in ink, I think.  Also tried lots of new patterns.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


I'm so caught up in my doodle practice.  Call it doodles or Zentangles or Zendoodles (those latter two being copyrighted, of course), but I'm not following a specific method--I don't cut the specified sized paper, nor work in pencil and then outline in a fancy pen. Nor am I trying to meditate formally, though drawing does produce its own kind of flow (my boss in Chicago loved Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.) I do receive lots of inspiration from the different books, though--the idea of focusing on a person as a prayer (from Praying in  Color), the use of "strings" inside a special shape (Zen Doodle: Tons of Tangles ), the use of interlocking symmetrical, interlocking shapes (Zen Mandalas), and all the different patterns (One Zentangle a Day and Zentangle Untangled.)  And I have some great ideas--I'm going to use some of my cookie cutters to get good outer shapes, like bunnies, penguins, snowpeople, lighthouses, cats, etc.  Mama says I need a compass to get more circular circles; I'd never pass Giotto's perfect-circle test.  

Last week, I even did some doodling with our Girl Scout troop.  Using the handouts of Lindsay Ostrom, we filled in a trefoil.  Some girls did color; some girls did monochromatic.  Some were very linear; others more curvaceous.  There were words, names, and sayings.  And they spent a good 20 minutes on it!  Even the art teacher liked the handouts and trefoils.  (She has the 6th-graders do these great self-portraits with different patterns coming out of the head as hair.)

I was never a doodler in school; I was an obsessive note-taker and always fully-listened to the teacher.  Even now, I only doodle as a main activity, not while multitasking (like on the phone or at church, though I've considered the latter.)  Perhaps I'm getting out my inner child now.  Below are some of my recent attempts (prayers for people, with their names in the middle, excluded), in both my journal and my sketchbook: