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It's been a while since I've taken a moment to put down thoughts here.

I'm working in air conditioning for the first time in my professional career. If you've never tried to squeeze education into young minds which are contained in over-heated young bodies, you really can't possibly understand the jubilation with which I have greeted the past month. You know what, though? Kids are complaining of being cold, now.

My class this year is very challenging. I'm working on improving myself in several areas in order to meet the challenge positively. The administration has been very supportive of me, and I'm learning a good bit from them. Other teachers (ESL, SPED, Title 1) come in from time to time, and I can see potential for my room to be an amazing place for getting a good education. (Potential, you'll remember, is a big word that means "hasn't done squat yet").

I've been sleeping much better, lately, and I'm pretty sure that this has a lot to do with my lack of posting. I'm pretty much ok with that, though. It's been a years of firsts. This summer was the first time I've been able to take my daughters on vacation. I was talking about that earlier; what an amazing experience that was for me and (I hope) them. I also recognize Leah for being instrumental for so many of the good things going on in my life right now.

Tonight's joke comes courtesy of Mike Smith:

Three guys were sitting around on lunch break, and the discussion wandered to the topic of what each would like people to say when standing over his casket at his funeral.

Bob said, "I'd like people to look down at my body and say something about what a dedicated father and husband I was, and how I took such good care of my mom there at the end."

Larry said, "I think I'd like people to look down at my body and mention what a good Christian man I was, how the church was so important to me and that I worked hard to improve the lives of others through charity and mission work."

Edgar mused for a moment, and then said, "I think what I'd really like people to say is 'OH MY GOD, I THINK HE'S MOVING!!'"
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They're so...organic, I guess. Conversations, I mean. They sort of start when you aren't looking, and then, all of a sudden, you're in the middle of A Conversation.

Ours started out as a mere seedling of talking; a minor exchange of a small packet of information. Leah mentioned something about being "strategic" in the way she does things. I related a story about a man I worked with fifteen years ago, who had gotten in some sort of legal issue, and had been represented by his wife (who was an attorney). In the story, he'd been amazed and a little frightened of the creature that had been his wife as it carved the opposition into little whimpering bits of perjury and falsehood. He'd said something like, "I had NO IDEA that she was THAT good of a lawyer."

So, Leah had described her bit of strategicness (a term which is now a word, because I have so said), and I was really impressed, and said that it would be a terrifying thing to be on her bad side, because her ability to manipulate the puppet strings behind the scenes and to ask pointed questions to which she already knows the answers in order to milk more information out of someone is nothing short of the stuff of really intense lawyerin' movies.

She didn't like that word, manipulative. She said, "I prefer to think of myself as a strategic planner." I opined that this was a matter of semantics. "Assertive Woman" and "Pushy Broad" are different only in which side of the argument you're losing. She said, "what are you trying to say?"

This isn't a time to panic. As I have made a life out of explaining what I actually meant compared to what came out of my mouth, I really wasn't worried. We were still bantering. Sort of. I quickly stated that I was only giving her thanks and praise, and then, made a lateral skip to a bit I'd heard a comedienne deliver on The Bob and Tom Show. In the bit, she talked about how different terms for women seem to be in the form of adjective noun. Got your real estate license? You're a smart cookie. Drink fancy cocktails from a long-stemmed glass? You're a classy lady. Put on a mini-skirt and heels for a night on the town and you're a hot mamma. Turn an ugly guy down at the bar and you're a dyke bitch.

Thank god I married a strategic planner.
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As I walked through the grocery recently, my eye was drawn to a bag which said it contained "gourmet specialty potato medley". There were yellow-skinned potatoes, pink-skinned potatoes, and purple-skinned potatoes. I was intrigued. So, I purchased, and after a few days of looking at them whenever I walked through the kitchen, I decided that oven-roasted would be a nice way to present these so that all the colors would be appreciated.

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So, I diced 'em up. Half around the equator, then flat side down and quarter, making eight round-bottomed pyramids from each potato. I quartered and sliced an onion, and sliced up several cloves of garlic, which I added to the pan. I poured extra-virgin olive oil over them, sprinkled with rosemary and sage, ground some pepper and a little big of coarse sea salt, and put them in a cold oven. I set the oven for 400F, and when it chimed that it had reached that temperature, I reduced heat to 325F, so as not to scorch the extra-virgin olive oil.

The result was beautiful.

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While the potatoes were in the oven, I made some sauce for the chicken breasts I was going to put on the grill.

1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup apricot preserves
1/4 cup soy sauce
1T brown sugar
1T unfiltered apple cider vinegar
a good squirt of ReaLemon
a good squirt of ReaLime

This is modified from a recipe I found in a magazine in the teachers lounge at Skiles Test Elementary, where I did my student teaching.

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Chicken goes on the grill with high indirect heat (450F) for 6 minutes, turns, gets painted with sauce. Heat goes to low indirect (325F to 350F), and turns more sauce every four minutes for a total of about 24 minutes.

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In my opinion, broccoli should be cooked al dente, just to the point that it's still a bit crunchy. Leah and Nathan like it smooshy, but since I'm cooking, I try for something in-between. It usually ends up closer to what I like, though. Turned out looking nice, though!

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That's just steamed for a few minutes. Too much longer, and nutrients start to leach out. You're losing money, that way! You PAID for those nutrients!!

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Plated up, with the good paper towels.
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Have you ever watched one of those shows on Discovery Channel where they're observing primates in the wild? There's a voice-over with a pretentious British or Australian accent, saying something like "Pasha moves closer to Geet-Geet, and starts grooming her fur, looking for irritating dust mites which can be irritating, like tiny dust mites that irritate..." You've seen them, I know.

Have you ever noticed, though, how nice it is to have someone scratch your back? Give you a back rub? Massage your feet? Wash your hair? I mean, you can help someone carry garbage out, and they'll really appreciate it, but nothing like the gratitude and enjoyment they'll get from you scratching their back. You've been there, I know. "Hey, c'mere, scratch my back...no, to the right...higher...AHHHhhh! Oh my GAWD that feels good! MMMM!" It's non-sexual touching but it just feels so good! And we crave it. And you can't just scratch one little spot, either; the rest of the back starts to get jealous and you'll end up scratching your nails down to the cuticle before they'll let you stop.

Leah's back itches. A lot. You'll notice that I have no fingernails, as well.

How is it, then, that we live in this supersonic age, and still crave physical contact? Maybe we aren't so far removed from the savannahs and forests as we think. We're surrounded by devices that are like what I used to call "something from the year 2000!" back about twenty-five years ago. Even in 2011, calling a device "like something from the year 2000!" just makes it sound as if it were from a fantastically distant future, to me. I have this iPhone that could change diapers if I gave it opposable thumbs. I can access any information in the world from the palm of my hand. It's way, WAY better than a Tri-Corder from The Original Series. In 1966, Gene Roddenberry had no idea that stuff like this would ever come about; it was still more than a quarter-century until that "year 2000" benchmark. Even with that, we still rub feet together in the sand at the beach. We still snuggle close on the couch, hold hands in the park, brush arms in the movie theater. Contact with each other still trumps technological wonders.

Have you ever washed your wife's hair, in the shower? If you haven't, all I can say is that it is an act of love and attention that is physical contact, grooming, and intimacy all wrapped up in a timeless moment of caring. To have someone relax their head into your hand while you massage their scalp is nothing short of amazing. There's always time for racy stuff later; the shampooing is a connection with our dusty distant ancestors, and a connection with a spouse, and a connection with the infinite in some way, I think.

If I may quote Forrest Gump, "And that's all I have to say about that!"
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I mentioned Our Best Bites, a food blog, recently. It's well-written, funny, has fantastic pictures, and the two bloggers actually respond to emails personally. I get a daily recipe email from them. Every day, I open the email, say something like oooo...gotta make THAT soon...and then archive the file. Today (ok, yesterday), I decided that this cycle had to stop. I'd earmarked a recipe from a few weeks ago as "must make", and showed it to Leah. I made her read the whole thing, and she ooohed and aaahed and laughed and then looked at me with those all-encompassing eyes and said, "Lou, you have GOT to make these". So, I did.

First, the photo essay and directions are much better on the site, so here's the link to Mississippi Mud Brownies. Also, I wasn't very organized in my thinking or I'd have done a much better job with my own photos. Anyway, let's join the show already in progress:

I keep forgetting to cut these photo-intensive posts )
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I've had a really fun birthday, today. I didn't take a whole lot of pictures, because I was driving, and looking at museum exhibits.

We drove the hour and forty-five minutes from Indianapolis, Indiana, to Dayton, Ohio, to the National Museum of the USAF at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. It's been one of my favorite museums since I was young, and it has only improved with age as the collection continues to grow. You can walk around almost all the airplanes. You can walk under a few airplanes and see into bomb bays and the like. You can walk through a section of B-29 from the cockpit back through the bomb bay area. You can climb a ladder and look into the cockpit of the Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II, which is my favorite airplane EV-errr. It's a get-in-there-and-get-dirty airplane, designed to mince enemy tanks up into razor blades, and it does a right fine job of it. A half-second burst from its 30mm Gatling gun is overkill for most tanks. Depleted Uranium armor-piercing ammunition will do that, I guess. Have a look:




One of the hallways is a miniature memorial to the holocaust. Rather than just show gruesome photos and assorted memorabilia, the museum has acquired personal items and collected stories from people from around the Dayton, Ohio area.

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The things in this area of the museum belong to the families of the children who might be walking through there on a field trip. There is a dryness in my soul for the whole business, and I took no pictures out of respect for those who suffered the atrocities. I attended a Jewish wedding some 20 years ago and heard someone describe the blue numbers tattooed on his arm as a "birthmark", and recalling the flat tone with which is said those words still gives me a chill.

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There's an IMAX theater at the museum, and we saw one of the three rotating films being shown. This follows a young F-15 pilot during Operation Red Flag, a combat training exercise which is held in the Nevada desert for two weeks. Aerial footage is incredible, especially when you hear the tower say, *crackle*you are cleared for unrestricted climb to flight level 250*crackle* and the guy stands the plane on its tail and you are looking past him straight down at the rapidly receding ground as he goes from the ground to 25,000 feet in less than a minute.

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At the entrance to the museum is a sculpture depicting a flight of four F-22 Raptors, with the wingman pulling up and out of formation so that his spot will be empty and the other three can form the "Missing Man" formation. It's a way to honor a fallen comrade, and it's an awesome thing to see fly over.

We had dinner at BW-3s, and played the wireless trivia game (Buzztime) on the tvs as we ate. I love trivia games, and won the two or three games we had time to play while we were there, competing against other people in the place who were also playing.

When we got home, Grandmother came over with a birthday present for me:

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A rotisserie for my grill! Many chickens shall be sacrificed to the gods of tastiness and experimental sauces upon the Altar of Propane, I can tell you! I took this picture about five minutes after I opened the gift. I got all the parts out of the box and went right out onto my porch and installed it in the dark. I'd have headed to the supermarket for a chicken tonight, but I'd be the only one eating at at three in the morning when it was ready to serve. I'm not certain if it will be tomorrow or Friday that I'll get a chicken on there, but it'll be soon. Next will be a pork loin with a garlic-butter baste. Hmm...if I collect drippings from that, I could add citrus and make a tropical glaze of some sort...

It's been a really nice birthday. Spending time with my family, seeing pieces of history, listening to the voices of the past, and writing to you, all work together to fit into a great day.
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I'm awake now after sleeping for three hours. Somehow that just doesn't seem fair.

Day Seven: Went to the beach, ate, went to the pool. Yeah, yeah, I know, that isn't enough detail. Ok. Here goes:

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When we got to the beach, a dad had already finished this pyramid. Pretty amazing, if you ask me. He used a part of one of his kids' toys to make flat edges after pounding the sand firm. Like all good things, though, its existence is only a fleeting thing. A marauding baby grunted and puffed and finally climbed his way up the side to where he could reach and smash the point at the top.

click for the rest of the story )
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As of this time in the evening, I have been without any sort of foot covering for more than twenty-four hours. No shoes or sandals or socks. I haven't been barefoot this long for longer than I can remember.

I wish wish wish I had a little tiny video camera in a corner of the room to capture breakfast conversation. There was a lengthy discussion about the varied merits of "Special K Red Berry" breakfast cereal. Nathan doesn't like "red berries" and so it was suggested that he go ahead and pour a bowl cereal and then simply give his red berries to Clayton, who was the one who wanted Special K Red Berry cereal to begin with. We then proposed that we have this cereal at home, and he could save up all the red berries and then take them over to Clayton's house, so that Clayton would have Double Berry Special K Red Berry cereal.

There was a discussion about the vanilla yogurt that Maddie was eating, in which it was noted that "vanilla" was not, in fact, listed as an ingredient. The closest thing was "natural flavor". Clayton's yogurt had some chemical name which was followed by, in parentheses, "a preservative". I explained this as a sort of embalming fluid for foods, which rapidly degenerated into a conversation about the shelf-life of Twinkie Snack Cakes. We determined that if you were to eat nothing but Twinkies, you should probably pump yourself full of enough preservatives to be able to live forever.

We had some hard-boiled eggs, chilled in the fridge overnight. I glanced over, and Maddie was rolling hers gently on the plate to crack the shell, whispering "crushhh...crushhhh...crushhhhh...". It was creepy and glorious and filled me with pride all at the same time. If I may borrow from Captain Malcom Reynolds, "Morbid and creepifyin' I got no problem with."

Grandmother took the van and went to a store which has supplies for beachy-type fun. She returned with four boogie-board things.

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Pretty neat, eh? Kids were already at the beach when she returned, so she and I carried them down to the beach where they were met with a lot of excitement.

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Four kids paddled out into the surf to begin trying to ride the waves. Fortunately, the waves were somewhat more tame than previous days.

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Still, washing ashore is a splashy mess. Maddie's first attempt was successful (by our standards, anyway). I didn't get a pic of the grin right after she wiped her eyes clear, and I wish I had.

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Macy took a few runs, as well, grinning the same. Nathan and Clayton tended to sort of float right at the edge of where the waves broke, bobbing up and down and having a conversation in that undecipherable language peculiar to twelve-year-old boys. I used to know it, but can't speak it very well anymore.

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I think this is Maddie swooshing into shore; for certain it's her walking out of the water.

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I like the way this one of Macy turned out. If we could just keep stray walkers off our beach, I'd have a clear shot!

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There were a lot more dead fish, today. One pic of a dead fish ought to just about do it, right?

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I realized that, what with me taking all the pics with my iPhone, there aren't any pics of ME. So, I took one. With my iPhone. I AM smiling, dammit.

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Since I've married Leah, I've been amazed at how my daughters and I have been welcomed into the family and treated with such love and acceptance. Here, Grandmother is putting more sunscreen on Maddie, because that's what grandmothers do. If you haven't become part of a blended family, I can't properly describe how warm this makes my heart feel.

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I think it was mostly Maddie and Clayton who wanted to dig a pit. A side of it caved in, so Clayton created an armchair for himself. It really is a huge pit. Such industry! Now, if we could only harness this energy, we could power the world!

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Macy found a beensy little dead fishie that was just too cute of a corpse to not include. I forget what they named this one.

We came back up to the condo, had lunch, and watched X-Men Origins: Wolverine. That's some fun shoot-em-up blow-em-up cinema, right there. I want to know more about what the brothers did between wars; were they soldiers of fortune, or did they find some sort of nine-to-five until the next conflict? I want to know how they got along from boyhood and running from home until adulthood.

Kids were getting set up on computers and other electronic devices after the movie, so I rounded them up and headed them out for some more fun. Maddie and Leah and Grandmother went back to the beach. The boys and Macy and I went to the pool.

Dinner was disorganized. I ended up pulling a meal out of thin air, though, and everyone seemed to like it well enough. Let's see: seven people, two polish sausages and three chicken breast halves. The sausages went into a gallon ziplock with a little bit of barbecue sauce. The chicken breasts I butterflied, and the six pieces went into another gallon ziplock with some extra-virgin olive oil and the juice of one lemon. I also cut some zest off about a quarter of a lemon and minced it with the santoku knife and threw that in there, too. I then prepped carrots, green onions, and mushrooms for salads, and put water on the stove to heat while I to the meat outside in search of a grill.

I think I mentioned that the grills on the grounds are basically the same model Weber grill that I have at home, only connected directly to a gas line rather than a tank. Sadly, only three of the six visible grills seemed to be in working order. I finally found one, and got set up. The chicken breasts got fresh-ground pepper and fresh-ground sea salt, and went on the middle of the grill with only the side burners on (cooking with indirect heat is one of my favorite ways to keep things from catching fire). The sausages went on the top rack, and I listened to tunes while the smells from under the hood started to become very pleasant.

After dinner, I was starting to nurse what was working on being a migraine. I got that "ice pick behind the eyeball" feeling and went to stretch out on the bed for a bit. Grandmother ran to the store again and came back with little flashlights for everyone. We grabbed buckets and shovels and headed to the beach to catch some of those mole crabs we'd seen last night. Those little buggers are fast, and you have to sort of dig them out of the sand right as the wave recedes from the shore. We caught a couple, and I gave two to some little girls who weren't having any luck catching their own. They thanked me, and I told them that it was part of special training that sixth grade teachers get. I think they may have believed me!

I had to smear Leah with about half a squeeze bottle of aloe gel. I think that one of the spray cans of sunscreen was really low when I did that part of her body, and by the time she wanted to apply more sunscreen, she was already burned.

It's after midnight already, and I smell like dead fish and dieing seaweed. If you'll excuse me, I believe I'll have a shower before I crawl into bed beside my bride.
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Breakfast was nice. We've accumulated enough foods that we were able to pretty much graze from the fridge.

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I ate cold leftover pork loin.
images and vacation narration )
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Nathan and Clayton mugging for the camera at our lunch/dinner stop on the first day.. We are in the gift store part of Cracker Barrel. Nathan looks like he's actually had that much coffee. Either that, or we allowed him to come into the restaurant without his helmet if he promised to be a good boy.

cut for lots of pics )
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First thing this morning, I had a roast beef sandwich, and then headed to the little airport a few miles away to pick up Grandmother. We stopped at Publix on the way back to the condo, and got a few more groceries. She'd already had a full day of traveling at that point!

Back at the condo, we geared up and got sunscreened and headed for the beach. Our umbrellas were in the front row, this time, which was really nice. Leah had sent the kids on ahead, with a caution to go in only wading until we adults arrived. When we adults arrived, they all had wet hair, which (if I remember correctly; and I do) indicates more depth than wading. The riot act was read, with a promise of consequences which would be most unvacationy if simple directions weren't followed again.

Macy had brought down her new $4 pink raft. We adults got ourselves settled, and I headed for the surf line with the pink raft. I got out several yards, about chest deep, and managed to get a leg over the thing, and paddled like a madman as a wave crested behind me. The raft accelerated and I went hurtling toward the beach. The kids all (naturally) wanted a go, so we got Nathan up there, I helped steady him for the wave, and he washed up grinning insanely. Next was Maddie's turn, and I helped steady the raft again. The wave hit and threw us both forward. I felt a hard BUMP on the back of my head and felt that buzzing you get from a hard hit in the head. I somehow knew that it had been Maddie's head, and when I came up from the surf, she was kneeling at the beach, eyes wide in fright and blood streaming from her nose. I felt that terror that parents know all too well at seeing my child injured, and knowing that I'd been part of her pain. I walked her up to our stand of umbrellas, got her seated, and Grandmother had a look at her. Grandmother is a nurse, so we had out own medical professional right there with us. No break, thank god. We sat in the shade for a good while, and then headed up to the condo to rest during the middle of the day.

Clayton had requested hot dogs for his meal of choice. The water park area has Weber Genesis grills almost identical to mine at home, several of them around the pool area (several yards back from the water). They're plumbed into a gas line so you don't have to worry about tanks. None were in use, so I fired one up and stood in the sun and listened to my iPhone while the dogs cooked up nicely. I brought those back up, and found that Leah had cut up the melon and pineapple I'd bought earlier, and that the only thing missing from the table was hot dogs! We ate, cleaned up, and I prepped the pork loin I'd bought this morning by rubbing it with olive oil, and laying a mosaic of little discs of sliced garlic on top, then coating with fresh-ground pepper and sea salt. This went into an oven pre-heated to 400F, which I promptly turned down to 175F. That's just a little higher than what the USDA recommends as an internal temp for correctly done pork. You leave it in there for several hours, and it'll be perfect when you take it out. I bumped it to 225 for a while, knowing that we didn't have that many hours.

Everyone took some down time, and then we headed back toward the beach around 4:30. I began a sand castle, which soon became a sand Sacrificial Temple to Zod. I had three of the four towers, a central ziggurat, and four walls with three watch towers on each, when it was time to head back inside. Rather, I went inside, and everyone else went to the pool.

The condo had an aroma of roasting garlic and meat that I can only imagine one would compare to what heaven's kitchens smell like. I quartered potatoes and peeled the last clove of garlic, and put that on to boil.

I make mashed potatoes the way I like them, and that's without apology for the ingredients. I did limit myself, though, to only half a stick of butter and only half a brick of cream cheese. A little half-and-half to thin out the mixture, and healthy doses of fresh-ground pepper and sea salt, and the side dish was done. I pulled the pork loin out of the oven, and moved it to a platter to rest while I chopped carrots, green onions, and mushrooms to add to the salads. Each person got only what he or she wanted in the salad. I like the bag of mixed herb salad, but everyone else likes just baby spinach. I made sure of what each person wanted, and that's exactly what was served for each bowl of salad.

Leah baked some Nestle's pre-formed chocolate chip cookies, and everyone had a scoop of ice cream on top of a hot cookie. (no I didn't have one). We'd thought we were going to watch a DVD, but the boys started watching goofy youtube videos, and Maddie came over to watch my working on my planets on Lacuna Expanse. She decided it looked cool, so I set her up to start an empire. Clayton was interested, too, so we got him set up, and the two of them talked back and forth as they worked through the tutorial to start building a world.

Now, the condo is quiet, the kids are asleep, and I'm about done for the day, myself.
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The king-sized bed in this place? It's-a verrah nize (/french knight).

We decided that getting on the beach was more important than a big breakfast, and so we gathered towels and swimsuits, sprayed on sunscreen, and headed toward the three umbrellas and six chairs we've reserved for the week.

Nathan and Clayton immediately upended a bucket of sand and began excavating a complicated moat system. The girls headed for the surf line and began trying to ride waves in, bodysurfing. The waves weren't really big enough, and they needed to work on timing, but they had a great time. I got several good pics that I'll have to get loaded in a separate post.

As the sun got higher in the sky, cheeks and shoulders started to get pink, and we headed back inside to cool off and have lunch. As people got out of swimsuits, they found tons of algae in places where no algae should ever be. It looks like the showers are going to get cleaned every time we come back up from the beach!

For lunch, I made breakfast. I brought only one piece of cookware from home, and it is my large cast-iron skillet. Bacon went in there first. I cut the bacon in half, making shorter pieces which I can turn to get done more evenly. It annoys me to have bacon that's crispy in the middle and basically still raw on the outsides, so this is an easy fix. While the bacon was cooking, I sliced potatoes. Ok, I brought my santoku knife, which is another bit of cookware, but that's it. As thin as I could get them, and then reshape the slices into a potato shape to cut down the middle, and then again to make quarter-disks of potato. When the bacon was done, I poured out most of the grease into a bowl, and put the 'taters in there. They got a good stir, and I diced up some garlic and onion, got those in there, too, and prepped for an omelet station. I had diced ham, green (spring) onions, mushrooms, and colby-jack cheese. The omelet-sized pan available here in the condo is stainless steel. I did the best I could with bacon grease to lube the pan, but still ended up making mostly scrambled eggs. I had to get the pan under hot water and a scrubby sponge after each omelet. Pilsbury cinnamon rolls went in the oven, and we ate as the food came up.

After some more relaxing, we headed down to the pool area, found a place to stash our stuff, and hopped in. After an hour or so in there, we went back down to the beach, where our umbrellas and chairs were waiting for us. Another hour, and back to the condo, around 6.

There were some things we hadn't thought of for yesterday's run to Publix, so we wrote a new list and Macy and I headed to the store. Leah and I had decided that she could get something special for going with me to help me, and when I asked her what she'd like (expecting some sort of food) she said, "the pink raft by the door." Since it was $4, I added it to the cart and we checked out.

Back at the condo, I started making dinner. Diced garlic and put it in a saucepan with a half-stick of butter to warm, then diced chicken breasts and got them in the cast-iron skillet, and trimmed up broccoli crowns and got them in a pot with just enough water to get them to come out looking like steamed rather than boiled. Angel-hair pasta went in another pot once the water boiled. When the garlic looked right, I poured in a pint of half-and-half and brought that up to a simmer, then added the back of six-cheese blend and stirred it in. Sliced whole-grain bread went under the broiler, and once it was just a bit toasty, I rub/grated each piece with a piece of garlic, and then dressed each piece with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil with ground pepper and salt. Everything plated up nicely, and we enjoyed recapping the day and laughing about the silly things that families laugh about.

All four kids are having a great time, I'm having a great time, Leah's having a great time, and we still have several more days of great time ahead! Even with the driving, this is the coolest vacation I can remember since I was little and we drove in my mom's VW van to Hershey, Pennsylvania. I wonder if there's just something magical about taking a VW van full of a family to somewhere that makes it so good? I remember we took the middle seat out of Mom's van and put down sleeping bags, and sat cross-legged on the floor and played Monopoly and cards while my parents took turns driving. On this trip, everyone was strapped in, but they still took turns doing different activities.

Grandmother's flight was canceled, so I'll pick her up in the morning at the little local airport rather than this evening. I think she'll add a nice little something extra to our little band of relaxers and diggers and body-surfers.
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Awoke this morning and headed to the hotel lobby for the hot breakfast buffet which was included with the price of the room. Usually it's runny eggs, dry biscuits, filmed-over gravy, stale cereal, watery milk, oily coffee. THIS place had an omelet station run by a woman who seemed to have eight arms. She kept three omelets running in a one-woman assembly line. She'd finish one, plate it, and slide the other two pans to the right, starting a new one on the far left. She just kept moving, smiling, saying good morning to everyone. It was a really nice start to the day! The rest of the buffet had the above-mentioned items, but the eggs were good, the biscuits fresh, the gravy steaming, the cereal crispy, the milk sealed in individual cartons, and the coffee practically sparkled.

Filled up the van at a Costco (so much cheaper!) nearby, and got back on the interstate. I punched up the cruise control and we cruised along happily until we reached Birmingham. Birmingham was backed up like an old truck driver who only eats cheese. We slowly grunted, strained, and rocked back and forth until we finally emerged on the far side, exhausted. Fortunately, there was a Starbucks to save us. I downloaded this week's free song while we were there. Leah needed a beach towel, so we crossed the street to a Bed, Bath, and Beyond. The kids and I stayed in the car while Leah's "just be a minute" trip into the store started to stretch into another ice age. Just before we had to start worrying about glaciers scraping Alabama into the Gulf of Mexico, she came out, and we got back on the road.

We picked numbers, and Maddie got to choose where to have lunch. I was whispering "c'mon! Chick-Fil-A!" in my head, but she wanted Subway. So, after a foot-long double-roast beef provolone spinach tomato cucumber pickle salt and pepper olive oil on whole wheat later, we pulled across the parking lot to drive through Dairy Queen (Fairy Queer, we used to call it...) and everyone got a mini Blizzard. Not me, of course, since it's generally considered bad form to go into a diabetic coma while driving a van full of people at highway speeds.

The GPS took us off the Interstate and onto a two-lane highway. Several miles along, and a restroom break was suggested, rather urgently. The first place I found looked like the sort of structure that homeless people refuse to sleep in. That's where we went. I decided that, bladder or not, I wasn't going in. I did my "check-in" on Foursquare (because I'm a nerd like that, and don't deny that you have your own nerd stuff, so there) and the place wasn't even listed! There was a spot called "The middle of effin' nowhere" with the address listed as "near some field". I think that pretty well sums up the sort of place I'm talking about.

This being the second day of six hours of driving, I was impressed with how well the kids got along. They took turns with the wireless headphones, listening to satellite radio or whatever. I got a power inverter so that they were able to plug in laptops and watch movies or play games if they wanted.

We finally arrived at the Waterscape Resort. It's on Okaloosa Island, near Ft. Walton Beach. The building is basically a large U shape, with a waterpark in the middle. The two "arms" of the U reach toward the beach and the Gulf of Mexico. You can float in the Lazy River in clean pool water, or you can go play on the beach. After we unloaded the car, Leah took the kids down to the beach while I drove back a mile or so to a grocery store, to stock up on what we'd need for food (this is a condo with a full kitchen).

Apparently, every resort on this little island rents from Saturday to Saturday. The grocery store was more crowded than...uh...well, it was really really crowded. I stood in the line at the deli counter for (no shit, really) thirty-five minutes to get sandwich meat. The store had whole shelves bare of stuff, from where people had come in today and bought a metric shit-ton of Poptarts or cubic meters of potato or corn chips.

The only things stocked in the condo are salt and pepper. There were two packets of dishwasher soap, a little yellow sponge, cookware and utensils, plates and cups. Everything else needed gettin'. Sandwiches? Meat, yeah, but also mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, bread, cheese. Dishwasher detergent, sand buckets with shovels, sunscreen, extra beach towels, sunglasses for Leah who forgot hers, milk, fruit, yogurt, potatoes, onions, garlic, bacon, eggs, pre-made cookie dough, Pilsbury cinnamon rolls; you get the idea. I had a full cart.

I was hoping to make my homemade alfredo sauce, with chicken and broccoli and angel-hair pasta, but it was 10 local time when I got home. That's 11 home time, and kids were tired. We had a (nearly) midnight sandwich snack dinner, and everyone headed for bed.

Leah and I get the master bedroom. Nathan and Clayton are in an alcove with bunk beds. Maddie and Macy are on the pull-out couch. Grandmother (Leah's mom) will be in the other bedroom when she arrives tomorrow night.

Each kid will get the chance to choose what I'll make for a meal this week. Publix (the grocery store) is walking distance if you're walking for exercise, but probably not if you're bringing groceries back, so that's really close. As soon as I got back here, we started noticing things we'd forgotten to put on the list before, so there's at least one more trip there in store for me.

My wife is breathing in an even, slightly snor-ish fashion. The sound is making my eyes heavy.

Good night.

Dinner/date

Jun. 8th, 2011 01:55 am
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Leah and I did our customary "where do you wanna eat?" "I dunno, where do you wanna eat?" dance. We ended up picking a place called "Puccini's Smiling Teeth" which serves Italian food. We went to the location in Fishers. I had an amazing salad, and some kind of low-carb chicken thing which had a sauce and was covered in melted cheese and just the right amount of bacon. The iced tea was really good, and we both made yummy sounds while we ate. The server guy was amazing, and we left feeling like we need to go back there soon. We "met friends for coffee and conversation" and then headed for The Chatham Tap where a friend's band was playing. We got there a little after nine and stayed a little after ten. I'm amazed at how good those guys sound, especially since they're all just middle-aged guys playing for fun. At least, that's the impression you get from watching them. Our friend, Randy the bass player, was barefoot, as was the guitar/singer guy. Only the drummer was wearing shoes on stage. They really looked like they'd be rocking out in somebody's living room, but were cool hanging out with us looking at them while they played. They were just...relaxed, I guess. Comfortable with being onstage without being attention whores. Leah's mom was watching Nathan, so we left in order to be home by 10:30. All in all, it made for a really very pleasant evening.
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So, we had the master bathroom gutted, dried out, and then found we had a small leak in one of the pipes which would require fixing before we put everything back together again. So, we hired our favorite plumber to come in to do the work. He's been here enough this year that he'll probably be in our Christmas card picture for 2011. He'll be the bald guy with the round glasses and the new Ferrari that we've paid for.

Anyway, he came to fix the pipe. Part of the procedure involves finding the leak, as you might have already surmised. Our house, I probably mentioned in the previous entry, is built on a concrete slab, which means the the plumbing was put in place first, and then concrete was poured over it. The Plumber, who now has full refrigerator privileges in this house, needed delicately removed a small area of concrete, for which he used a jackhammer.

Now, I'm a fan of jackhammers. I, in a fashion similar to many men of my age, love POWER TOOLS. In fact, I love them so much that I must pronounce these two words pah-err tyuulz in order to properly express the giddiness I feel. I practically flit and twirl in that little fenced power tool nursery, where proud papas stand around and gaze lovingly and point and whisper "that'n's mahn, o'er there," before picking up a shiny new cordless drill and tenderly placing it in the shopping cart. My point, and I do have one, is that the dude was totally gonna JACKHAMMER my house!! It's frikkin awesome! All of it, I mean, except the part where my bathroom is torn to hell and I have to navigate a Marine Corps Obstacle Course of laundry baskets and vanity drawers in order to get to the potty that's still in there.

I can see I've lost my focus a bit. Sort of got carried away by the fact that this was an electric jackhammer with a solid plastic case of matching "tear that shit up" red. Mr. P (that's the plumber) began his task, and somehow, despite the precision of his delicate instrument, managed to barely nick the side of the leaking pipe. Alas, alack, O Woe, this caused the small leak to become a large one, and rapidly re-soaked the area which had been dried out by the turbofan jet engines last week.

P-diddy-daddio sprinted through the house (I'm picturing a sort of hunched over waddle, as he was wearing protective knee pads, and you can't run in those things)(although, he was a Marine; those guys can move pretty good regardless) to where the water shut-off is, and shut off the water.

While all this is happening, Leah and I are enjoying a nice coffee at Starbucks and generally enjoying each others company. We decided we'd head back to the house to see how PipeBoy was doing before going to get a very late breakfast and do some grocery shopping.

I walked back to say "hi," and noticed rather quickly that the carpet had that "no longer dry" color to it, and got to hear all about the little "oopsy". By this time, the rest of the concrete had been removed, pea gravel from under the slab dug out, the pipes repaired, and Captain Fix-a-Leak is getting ready to back-fill the gravel and pour fresh concrete. He apologized profusely again, backing out of the house while bowing his forehead to the floor and performing at least one full salaam in supplication.

Leah called the insurance company, and then the people who are taking care of the damage from the first flood. Leah and the receptionist are probably going to be exchanging greeting cards and recipes any day now; at least on this side of the phone, it sounds like Leah is talking to her BFF. Christine, or Christy, or whatever, sent the guys back out, and they have set up the nuclear-powered de-humidifier unit, and three General-Electric turbo-fan jet engines, in hopes of getting the place re-dried. They said they'll be back in two days to check on things. In the meantime, there's a constant whoosh of white noise that has just the hint of a high-pitched whine to it. The cats are scared to come back to this part of the house, so the litter box is in the entry-way. If you stop by to visit, please take a moment to sift out any chunks as you go past. The kitties will appreciate it, and so will I.

I swear, it's like Christmas here!

No, really. With all this going on, we haven't taken the tree down. At this point, I'm afraid to flip through channels on tv, for fear that a glimpse of a beach volleyball tournament would be enough hotness to spark it into flame. At least there's still enough moisture in the carpet to put it out quickly, I guess.
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I read "The Night Before Christmas" to the kids before they went to bed. When I got to the part where Santa says, "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night", Nathan said, "Uh, don't you mean Merry Christmas?" I explained that in England, where the poem had been written, they wished each other a Happy, rather than Merry Christmas. He said, "Well, Merry Christmas sounds better." As there is no point in arguing with someone who is about to turn twelve in February, is tired, and is planning to wake up in about twenty minutes to proclaim that it is Christmas Morning, I simply stated that this was what they said in England where the poem had been written more than 150 years ago.trimmed for your bandwidth )
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I'm typing (as is often the case) from the floor of my bedroom. As is also often the case, Mr. Clydiecat (Clyde, the cat) is assisting. By "assisting" I mean "resting his chin on top of my left hand so that it's more difficult to type". Still, during the daylight hours, he's more likely to try eat the hand, so at least I get to have some time with him when he's calm and wants to be on a lap. He also has a tendency to want to eviscerate the world, so this is actually nice.

A day, it has been. Nathan left yesterday afternoon to go visit grandparents out of town, so Leah and I had a weekend to "have a weekend". Those of you with children understand completely. Those of you without, simply cannot. This morning, we got up early, went to the gym, and then Starbucks. We came home, changed clothes, and I drove Leah to school at University of Indianapolis, where we had lunch in the Schwitzer Student Center. Leah went to class while I got out the laptop to engage in some much-needed wasting of time. It isn't often that you get to be fanboi to your own family. I should note that Clyde has apparently been under the Christmas tree to get a drink, as there is a stiff patch of fur on his left eyebrow that smells like evergreen sap. As we were getting ready to leave, Nathan's grandfather called and mentioned that the weather was looking ominous, according to the Weather Channel, and after some discussion, we headed toward Kentucky and Nathan, rather than Carmel, and a movie. We met at Exit 9 and headed back north. Retrograde Mercury, anyone?

Nathan's grandparents had given him some cash for Christmas, and after some discussion, he had decided what he wanted, and we surprised him by going straight to The Game Preserve instead of going straight to dinner and Game Preserving another day. He bought the Beginner's Dungeons and Dragons kit, and a set of "urban camouflage" dice. He's so excited to play the game that he can barely contain himself. I've promised that I'll serve as Dungeon Master if he wants to bring friends over. In the morning, at an hour FAR earlier than I'm sure I'll like, I've agreed to help him start rolling up some characters, and see if we can start a game between the two of us.

School is hard, right now. I have several kids whose parents I will need to meet with soon, to discuss possible retention. For whatever reason, these kids just haven't put forward the effort needed. I've said from the beginning, that if a kid is actually trying, I'll work with the grades. I can't do anything for someone who won't even put forth the effort. We can all see the dog peeing on their legs, but they still insist that it's raining.

The Clydiecat has decided to curl up next to the laptop, and has stopped "helping" me type. It's nice to have him here. He and his sister, Bonnie, were strays that I ended up adopting, and they've done a lot to keep me sane over the last two years. There's something about having cats in the house that makes it more of a home to me. I like dogs, and all, but I haven't yet had a relationship with one that makes me feel as warm inside as I do with my cats. I suppose there are "dog people" who feel exactly the same way.

And, with that, I think I'm ready to head back to bed. Leah is making soft sleeping sounds, and even Clyde has started little purring cat snores, both of which are making my eyelids heavy.

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