Thursday, August 30, 2007

Visiting Montana

In mid-August, Elise and I spent a week visiting my folks, the Schmiedeskamp grandparents, in Thompson Falls, MT. It was a fabulous trip, and because I've taken so long to get it blogged I'm probably going to forget some of the most important parts. I hope not, because like I said it was a fabulous trip and I'm really looking forward to going back again soon.

Andy took us to the airport, and helped us marshal our stuff at check-in, took Elise for her last San Jose potty stop for awhile, and waved goodbye at the security checkpoint. I made a note to myself to plan this better next time around so that he could be on vacation and come too. At any rate, we had no trouble with the flights. I was nervous that, given past experience, Elise would be pretty freaked out at takeoff and landing but she wasn't. At least not badly. We'd been talking about it for awhile, and I recommend the movie Shae by Air. (Though to be fair, it misses mentioning turbulence altogether.)

When we arrived in Spokane, we were pretty well done with airplanes. It took a good while for us to meander from the gate back to the free world beyond the security checkpoint. Mom & Dad were waiting at the bottom of the ramp for us, and when Elise saw them she broke into a run. "Gwamma Sauw, Gwampa Kawuw!" she hollered, throwing her arms around Grandpa when she got to him. It was pretty fun to see her 1)pick them out of a crowd 2)so excited to see them.

It's about 3 hours from Spokane to Thompson Falls, and generally takes longer when one makes stops to borrow telescopes, purchase fabric, acquire huckleberry smoothies and the like. But it was a good ride. In spite of the fact that we arrived at my folks' house past Elise's bedtime, she was in great spirits. Grandpa went outside to talk to Dima the Incontinent Wunderdachshund, and then let him in to meet us. It's hard to tell who was most excited. The game of run-as-fast-as-you-can-around-the-sofa lasted until both parties were thoroughly worn out, though. Elise got lots of puppy kisses.

Unfortunately, the Chippy Creek fire put a damper on my astronomical designs. I'd hoped to get in some great observing and even borrowed a telescope from a really nice guy in Coeur d'Alene for that purpose. But the skies were just too smoky for any night time visibility. In fact, our first full day in town was so smoky that we stayed indoors after a quick trip to the local library. To give some impression of how bad the smoke was in the valley, check out the following pictures:

This one is of deer in the yard at dusk. Note the mountains on the other side of the valley. (That's the dark part above the trees, Midwestern readers...)

Now, here's the view from this same window when it was extra smoky. Where have all the mountains gone? Spooky.

Lucky for us, the wind shifted and we lost a lot of the smoke for the rest of our visit. One day, Elise got to both practice archery with Grandpa and go kayaking with him on the reservoir. The archery lesson ended when deer wandered into the area and Elise didn't want to be close to them. The kayaking began when someone accidentally loosed about a dozen crab apples into the reservoir when they were launching their boat and Elise wanted to go pick them up. Before the apple collecting mission presented itself, Elise wanted no part of the kayak. Go figure. Maybe Grandpa will leave a comment here as to whether he ever got all of the crab apples out of his kayak.

And then, before we knew it, the week was over. We spent our final night in a hotel in Coeur d'Alene in order to 1)return the borrowed telescope and 2)not have to drive a huge distance before our flights the next day. It was a wonderful, relaxing trip and I hope we get to visit again soon. Maybe not during fire season. But soon.

Some things I learned about myself on this trip:

5) I find small-town gossip to be even more fast-paced and interesting than FARK
4) I am capable of paying $9 for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at a restaurant and waiting an hour and a half for it. But only once, and only because it had fresh strawberries sliced in it.
3) Big freight trains are even noisier than el trains, but I like the sound of them way better.
2) I can strike up a monologue at passing deer with ease, and they seem more interested in what I have to say than the people I meet on the street.
1) I really like spending time with my parents and seeing my daughter spend time with them.

I wish I'd taken more pictures on this trip. We had so much fun it was hard to remember to take out the camera. When we returned home, Andy was amazed by how much Elise had grown up. She's more confident, more dexterous, and has an even better sense of humor. It was a good vacation, and I hope we can have another one like that again soon. Thanks, Mom & Dad!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Golden Year in the Golden State

It's a little zany to realize that we Steingruebls have been in sunny Silicon Valley for an entire year. On August 14, 2006 we got on an airplane in Chicago and in a mere four hours we were in San Jose. Wow! A year!! We've done it!

A year ago, we were working hard not to feel sorry for ourselves and mostly succeeding. The hunt for the perfect job had taken longer than imagined. My suddenly necessary hernia repair turned out to be more painful than my previous three abdominal surgeries combined, and recovery was slow and agonizing. Chicago was hot and sticky. We'd been living in temporary accommodations for 4 months, and were getting tired of not feeling settled. It wasn't the worst summer imaginable by any stretch, but it was certainly more difficult than we were used to.

And then, bright and early on August 14th, we got on an airplane. (With no liquids and no familiar food for Elise-the terrorists and the TSA had conspired earlier that week to give us one last challenge.) In a mere 4 hours, we were in San Jose, our new home. One more month in temporary housing and we were finally home. (Insert Dora style dance here: "We did it! We did it! We did it, yeah! Lo hicimos"...)

In the past year, we've mostly got used to the higher prices of everything. Food and housing are just so much more expensive in the Bay Area than they were in the midwest. But, enough trips to the grocery store, enough electronic rent payments set up automatically through the bank and these things begin to fade. We still haven't wrapped our heads around some of the peculiarities of California driving. We're spending more time outside. Andy loves his job. I've found my social niche. Elise loves school.

We miss our Chicago friends, but we love our San Jose climate. We miss the el, but Andy's commute is pretty good anyway. This was a tough move, but looking back after a year, we think it was a good one, and we're glad we came.

Astronomers at Coyote Lake:

Cooking together-pancake gourmets:

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ah, Dora

Remember what I wrote earlier today about the internet being an infinite timesink? Yeah, it continues when I should be packing.

We've been watching a lot of Dora around here lately, and I have to say that this SNL parody is excellent. Wouldn't have Elise watch it, but this is why the internet is still plugged in after she's in bed at night.

Wasting Time

The internet is a fabulous thing, it really is. But there are so many things one can do to waste vast quantities of time. For example, design your own Lego person. Or watch movies on YouTube. Or read endless numbers of blogs. Plus, there's the whole world of Wikipedia. I really don't have time for this stuff, but wow is it fun...

Elise and I are getting ready to visit the Schmiedeskamp grandparents in Montana later this week. We fly out bright and early on Wednesday morning, so that should be fun. Two airplanes and 3 hours in the car. I'm assuming that if we give Elise a little time to run around outside after all of that she's going to sleep like a brick.

Anyway, our job this afternoon is to pack. We are going to choose which suitcase to bring, and start figuring out clothing options. Should be fun! This morning, Elise made a present for Grandma Char and Grandpa Karl, so we'll be sure to pack that as well. We also have to find room for some astronomy stuff (mostly eyepieces and star charts). My plan is to stick to one bag-I hope that works out okay. :)

There's not much to report here, otherwise. Right when we get back, we will have fun houseguests and the weekend will be dedicated to seeing the sights and spending some quantity time at the San Francisco Jug Band Festival. The evening events Saturday and Sunday promise to be historic/fantastic! (Should you be in the area and desirous of attending.)

Okay, I've let Elise have a full hour asleep in her bed for a nap-a rare treat and I should not let it go longer. Watch this space for exciting pictures of our travels!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Delightful Children

This morning, I stopped at Panera for a bit of a snack after dropping Elise off at preschool. This is not my usual thing, but I was famished (in spite of breakfast at home) so there I was.

I chose a table right next to this lovely mom and her three incredibly handsome little boys, the youngest of whom was about Elise's age. The four of them made a delightful tableau. And as I eavesdropped on their civilized conversation, I began to hate them. Especially the mom. How in the world does she get to have the perfect little family? I'm jealous!

And then I looked over at the table. The 4-year-old was crawling around under the table, while the oldest was wearing his flip-flops on his hands and tapping them on his own rosy little cheeks. I couldn't see what the third was doing, but his feet were on the wall of the booth and his food wasn't really eaten. As I finished my snack, I could hear the screaming all the way to and from the bathroom and some sort of statement about "You're having some issues today. Let's see if you can pull it together."

So I smiled and quietly reminded myself that I'm not the only one who has "days." And then I felt really sorry for the beautiful lady as she tried to herd her hoarde out of the restaurant with some level of decorum.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

"Next Blog"

Occasionally, I feel like I could be wasting just a little more time on my computer, and I come here and start clicking the "Next Blog" button at the top to see where it takes me. Lately, there's been an explosion of porn which confuses me. How do my ramblings about our family goings-on lead to pictures of naked ladies? (So very interesting that it's never naked men...) The interweb moves in mysterious ways.

Luckily, not all "Next Blog"clicks lead to yuck. I recently stumbled on this one, and have been enjoying living vicariously through this marvelous gal. Today's post is awesome. Anyone for starting a laughing club?

I've also started tuning in to the Colbert Report of an evening, and saw an interview I really liked. The thing that worries me is that one could potentially use the very cool persuasive games idea for evil rather than good. It's coming, I'm sure, but for now I like it.

Bed Update

Oh yeah, the new bed is awesome. I hope it lasts. For a looong time.

Elise likes this new bed too. The lady at the store says we need to run laps up and down the middle of it weekly to keep a bulge from forming as we break it in. Translated for our family, that means Elise has license to jump. I thought she was going to explode from the joy of it yesterday. She didn't, but it was a close call.

I'm well-rested for the first time in, well, a month or so. The wonders of a good mattress...

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Our New Bed

For those of you who haven't been forced to endure the trauma lately, mattress shopping can be brutal. We still cringe regularly when we think of our last experience over 6 years ago when some cretin on a sales floor asked us, "So, what's it gonna take to get you into a new bed tonight?" He looked so surprised when we recoiled in horror and beat a hasty retreat. Our neighbor Lisa (this from long, long ago) recommended a store where we could shop in peace, and we thought our slumber was assured for a good 10 years.

Maybe a mattress isn't actually meant to last a full decade. At least not in its original level of comfort. My suspicion is that five months of storage and a cross-country move didn't do much for the longevity of ours. At any rate, the durned thing started going downhill and has been picking up speed. We tried rotating. We tried new pillows. We tried the mattress topper thing we usually reserve for guests and the airbed. None of these things helped.

I don't think we're excessively picky about beds, but the wrong one can do a serious number on us. Things had got to the point where Andy and I both wake up more tired in the mornings than when we go to bed at night. Hmmmmm... Every possible combination of windows, fans, a/c, blankets had been tried and today I got desperate.

Enter the people at Sleep Train. It's one of the big local chains, and I was leery just because I didn't want to run into another used car salesman. As it happens, they had exactly the sort of bed we wanted for entirely too much money and we bought it. Same day delivery. A mild discount and some free sheets for various feel-good reasons. A sales manager who actually seemed to know a lot about what she was selling, and was interested in finding out what we wanted and helping us weigh our options. Classy. As were the nice gentlemen who took away the old bed and brought the new one this afternoon.

In a few short moments, we're off to give this wonder of a bed a try. Wish us luck! Or maybe just some good sleep for a change.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Deadly Parenting

My new favorite "news" outlet is FARK. All kinds of good stuff there, and one need never brave the crummy looking new CNN interface.

At any rate, FARK pointed me to a great article about kid media. We pretty much stay away from theaters with Elise for the reasons this guy gives. Too much violence. Too much inanity. Too much potty humor. Too many vapid princesses.

Read the article and tell me what you think! (Yes, I'm fishing for more comments, I love it when y'all tell me what you think of this stuff.)

Our Weekend-Ups and Downs

It's been a good week, Gentle Reader. The Steingruebls have been busy and having piles of fun, more or less. The weekends tend to be most exciting because we're all home, so that's the stuff of which I write. Otherwise, you're stuck reading about how many loads of laundry I've done but not folded, how often I run the dishwasher, and endless speculation about why Roomba sometimes gets hopelessly lost on its way back to its home base.

Saturday was a classic up-and-down day in the great Steingruebl tradition. Elise woke happy and fun, and she and Andy had an absolutely fantastic morning at the park. I napped. It was awesome.

Then came the afternoon, and a big birthday party. The son of one of Andy's colleagues turned 5, and Elise was thrilled to help pick and wrap the present. Unfortunately, she was tired and completely overstimulated by 2pm, and the party atmosphere didn't help matters at all. We left with much kicking and screaming before the cake was cut. Nobody was very happy. For me, it went a bit beyond frustration and into momentary blind panic because when I picked Elise up at one point, I felt a terrible gut-wrenching pain reminiscent of last summer. I'm not so tender today, but I've also been very careful to do nothing that might prove aggravating.

Following the afternoon of doom, Andy sent me off stargazing to collect myself, and it was a good move. The seeing was horrible (very misty and lots of atmospheric interference) but the company was fabulous. Larry, a guy I'd met previously, gave me some pointers on better collimation which was particularly helpful. Lou showed me the "ET cluster" which some people mistakenly call the Owl Cluster, and that was fun. Adolfo started paying attention to how to find stuff instead of just using his telescope's navigational computer. A very good night.

Then, Sunday morning, we got up a little later than intended and drove to Palo Alto to pick up Cousin Geetha. From there, we headed for Muir Woods and had a fabulous time. Whoever thought to put numbered signs along the path must have had us in mind. Elise's only motivation for continuing up the path seemed to be finding the next sign. At one point, she sprinted up the path yelling, "Run, run as fast as you can, you can't catch me I'm the gingerbread man." With it being a "designated quiet day" in the woods, this didn't go over well, but she eventually got good at reminding us to use our quiet voices. The trees were lovely, and we even saw some wildlife! One little brown bird with a long pointy beak hopped its way up the bark of one redwood. And, two deer stood about 10 feet from the path, nibbling plants. The only thing to really mar the experience was the shuttle bus ride back to the parking lot. The driver was apparently trying to keep his racing credentials current, and practicing with the bus on the winding, narrow, bumpy road. We are all slowly starting to lose that attractive green tinge we picked up.

After a hearty lunch at the Dipsea, we headed over to see the Breindels before our marathon 2 hour drive back south. (It took FORTY FIVE MINUTES to clear San Francisco. And we don't go up there more often because?...)

We were tired but it felt great to be home. Elise fell asleep pretty early, and so did we. Not bad for an up and down weekend!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Added Features

I've been less blogtastic of late, and am going to go ahead and blame it on the phases of the moon. (No need for me to take responsibility for my own actions, right? It's just a blog? Hmmmm...) With the waning moon and the new moon coming up, a girl's thoughts turn to star charts and planning out what to see on the next night out to a dark sky site.

Before I do that though, I thought I'd take a minute to add some nifty things to the family blog. For starters, Blogger has made it easy for me to add a poll to the front page of this baby, so I did. The news that Fisher Price had to recall a bazillion toys due to lead really annoyed me so the current poll is lead-based. (But safe-I tested it.)

I'll get around to posting something about lead and children here soon, but in the mean time this is one of the few things that get me all worried so please help me sleep and check out your kids' toys to see if they match up with any of the current flurry of recalls. The biggies are Thomas, Fisher Price and any of the generic store-brand wooden toys Target was selling for awhile at the end of their toy sections. You could melt 'em all down and make bird shot for Dick Cheney's next hunting excursion. If you're worried, the hardware store sells lead test-kits for not too much money. If you're beyond worried, you can impound anything with red paint until you've had a chance to test it.

I've also added links to blogs I like to read. Most of that was done a few weeks ago, but I added few recently that I think people might enjoy. The Bent Objects guy was featured by Blogger recently, and I really like his stuff.

And now I can sleep! Hope you're well. :)

A Day Out With Thomas

The problem with highly anticipated events is that you have to get tickets months in advance. I'm not saying it was foolish to get tickets to take a ride on Thomas at the Roaring Camp Railway, but had we done it six months ago it probably would have been more exciting. Not only has Elise drawn a clear line between "real" and "pretend" but lately she's much more into Dora and playing with the neighborhood dogs at the park.

That said, it was a fun-ish time. Big crowds, but we got there early enough that it wasn't a complete zoo. Yay! And, strangely enough, the giant herds of young persons and their parents never really turned ugly-people were genuinely out for a good time and that gave the whole place a great vibe. I had intended to pack a picnic lunch, but due to one thing and another we ended up standing in an interminable line for overpriced mediocre food. Lines are hard, as are noisy steam engines. Luckily, Thomas is a big fake (don't tell the kids!) so he's quiet and not at all scary. I'm not sure why they had to have a guy in a costume to look like Sir Topham Hatt (aka The Fat Controller), but he was pretty much Elise's favorite attraction.

To prove that our camera is NOT broken, here are some of the pictures from the day!