March 2013

Easter 2013

For Easter this year, Everett went on several egg hunts starting on Friday morning at church. Each child was allowed eight eggs. The second hunt was Saturday morning at Wilson, where we saw several neighbors who discovered that Melissa is pregnant. Each child was allowed six eggs.
That afternoon we made our annual bunny cake using a special secret Barber recipe.
The third hunt was in two parts on Easter morning. When we woke up we searched for eggs, then had a delicious Crockpot breakfast that Melissa put in the night before. Then we went to church, followed by an Easter egg scavenger hunt using a series of clues. Afterward we roughhoused for a while followed by lunch and nap. Around mid-afternoon Chris and Everett rode to Brian’s house, one of the Spokesmen, to try out a tagalong trailer bike. The timing was good because Brian was cleaning his basement and realized that his kids had outgrown it. At the same time, we are still struggling to get Everett to ride a bike. Everett took to it right away.

After that we cleaned up a bit and watched Star Wars and ate dinner. It was a good day, and we should have enough chocolate to feed us for the next few months.

Everett’s running commentary about his life and the world around him can be a lot to keep up with. Here are a few snippets from a short period of time around dinner one evening:

About a playdate with his close friend Mary: “We, literally, had such great time.”
About dinner: “This meat bite is shaped like Africa.”
During dinner: “Do you know what my super power is? I have see through vision.”
During playtime after dinner when we asked him a question about what he would like to do this weekend, which he contemplated while jumping on the bed and telling us that “Bouncing helps me think.”

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Today Chris felt the babies kick for the first time. It wasn’t a faint sensation. They were firm, strong kicks that Melissa has been noticing for some time, but Chris never seemed to have his hand on her belly at the right time. Everett thinks that the babies kick when they are roughhousing together. On a related subject, Everett recently informed us that his schoolteachers told the children that they must roughhouse with their daddies everyday.

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Off the Hook

Chris is not quite as expressive as Melissa, and we have slowly realized that Everett often reacts more to the emotional content of Chris’ communication than the semantic meaning. One recent example was about a week ago when Melissa and Chris were preparing to work all night on Sunday to prepare our taxes. A little while before dinner we got a phone call from our accountant saying that he had the flu and couldn’t meet with us the next morning. Chris threw his arms up in a victory sign and exclaimed “We are off the hook baby!!!” Everett thought this was hilarious and has been repeating it ever since then.

Yesterday (Saturday) was our first PAC car race at Y-tribe. To learn about this type of racing we tried using Google but didn’t really find anything, at least for model cars. This type of racing is most similar to pinewood derby, which has a long history with the Boy Scouts and which also seems very serious (to get an idea how serious this has become, try searching for pinewood derby in ebay). In contrast, PAC car racing appears to be the antithesis: the track is made of something similar to corrugated metal roofing material held up by scrap lumber; the release mechanism is a bunch of paint stirrers glued to a piece of wood that spins on a couple of drywall screws; the timing system for the race involved a dad who kneels over the finish line to see which car crossed first. In short, it’s just the kind of old-school experience we were hoping for. Everett wanted to make a car that resembled a cat. However, due to very limited time and motivation we didn’t entirely succeed. We went to Dan’s house two night before the race and cut a nose on the car, then Everett painted it, and then we glued eyes to the top. On the morning of the race Chris and Everett cleaned up the wheels and the axles and mounted them on the car.
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We didn’t win the race but it was a lot of fun. This is one of the first times that Everett became aware that trophies are given to the winners, and he really wants a trophy, so this might be good motivation for next year. A few photos of the race are in this gallery.

After the race we went to Culver’s for custard. On the way home Everett asked “Is it hard to be a parent?”
Chris replied “Sometimes, but it’s also a lot of fun.”
“Why is it hard? What’s fun about it?”
So Chris explained to Everett that parents have to make decisions that they think are best for their children, and this isn’t always easy. Also, discipline isn’t really fun for anybody but it is important and necessary. Next we talked about the fun things: spending time together, going on adventures, performing experiments, and of course roughhousing. Today Everett commented “Daddy, every time we are at Y-Tribe we are off the hook. Every other time we are on the hook.” Not exactly sure what it means to him to be off the hook, but he seems to love Y-Tribe so we think it’s a good thing.

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There are numerous experiments going on in our house. In fact, Everett sometimes says “I’m doing an experiment!” as a reason why he can’t do something less desirable like go to bed. Here are a few examples that are currently in progress.

First, he is making pixie dust

We think he got this idea from watching the movies Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure or Tinker Bell: Secret of the Wings. Tonight Everett and Chris were working on their PAC car for the Y-Tribe race this weekend (a PAC car is a variation on a pinewood derby). As soon as he saw the sawdust he caught some in a bowl and then added water, vinegar, oil, cotton balls and yellow food coloring.

Second, Everett and Melissa conducted an experiment to see how colored water mixes via capillary action.

At the start of the experiment the end cups had yellow and blue colored water, respectively, while the center cup had red food coloring. Cups 2 and 4 were empty, and paper towels were rolled up and used as bridges between adjacent cups. By the next morning the water level in all 5 cups was the same, and cups two and four were purple and orange, as might be expected from mixing their adjacent colors. Neat!

Third, Everett is soaking rubber balls to see if the colors dissolve in the water.

Nothing yet.

Fourth, he wants to see if the sea scallop puppet will make pearls.
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To test this he has soaked cotton balls in water, added a dollop of hand soap, rolled them into balls and put them into the scallop overnight. His verdict: successful!

Lastly, he has started collecting seeds from the fruit he eats, mainly apples and cantaloupe.

As soon as spring arrives he wants to “…plant them and then the sun will come and we will water them and some days will pass by and then we will get ladders our and pick our own apples. Won’t that be great?” Perhaps he is thinking of the time we did this picking figs in Ascona? In any case, it appears that we might have to wait a while for spring to arrive. The igloo that we built almost a month ago is still standing in the back yard.

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For our seventh anniversary we woke up to the first morning sun since we arrived. Another nice touch is that we had flowers in the room since the conference host, Roberto Eleopra, gave Melissa a bouquet of yellow mimosas for Women’s Day on Friday. We ate breakfast, rented a car and drove south toward Grado. This was one of the few times that Chris has driven in a foreign country – usually we walk, fly or take the train. Renting a car in Italy could be cause for additional concern – anyone who has read Bill Bryson’s books knows that he repeatedly curses whoever let Italians drive. However, he might have been referring more to the south than the north as we observed drivers who are about the same as we see at home.

The waiter at the restaurant last night had recommended that we stop in three towns which are all more or less in a row: Palmanova, Aquileia and Grado. We stopped first at Palmanova, an impressive star-shaped city with massive walls and open areas just beyond them. First task: figure out the parking situation. We learned that blue lines mean pay to park, white lines mean parking is free. We walked around the huge open-air market at the center of town for a while, then drove straight to Grado for a walk on the promenade overlooking the Adriatic. Then took a different way back and stopped at Aquilela, which is rich with Roman ruins. We hiked along the ruins to the basilica, took some pictures and then Chris ran back to get the car while Melissa rested. We got back to Udine about 4pm. Chris figured out how to buy gas and return the car while Melissa looked for gelato for the twinkies. We rested for a bit, and then went to dinner at Al Vecchio Stallo. This is a restaurant that Carrie and Armin told us about, and to be honest we can’t imagine how anyone would find it without a recommendation. It’s outside the pedestrian city center on a small quiet street, and from the sidewalk it’s not even clear that it’s a restaurant. The menu is handwritten in Italian with dozens of different options, and there seem to be many more that aren’t on the menu. Melissa had gnocchi followed by fried salami and onions with polenta. Chris had tortellini followed by frico and polenta. We don’t think frico is a cheese, rather it might be a way of cooking whatever cheese happens to be available. Perhaps the Italian equivalent of abatement.

The next morning we had our last hotel breakfast. Note: Italian bacon sometimes has bones in it, so make sure to pick them out before you eat. Otherwise you are faced with one of two awkward situations: you are either pulling bone fragments out of your mouth, or you are crunching bones in the presence of your breakfast companions. Neither of these are going to appear graceful.

Pictures from Udine and surrounding areas are here.

It was raining again during our trip back to the Venice airport. We checked in for our flight and sent our baggage ahead of us to Minneapolis, which meant we wouldn’t have it during our night in Amsterdam (19 hour layover). We flew into Amsterdam and went straight to the hotel on the airport grounds. Citizen M is a kind of retro yet space-aged cube that is a couple minute walk from the terminal. The room is the width of a king sized bed. The toilet and shower are both within glass cylinders in the room. There is all kinds multicolored, remote control mood lighting and funky music. Everett would love it!

After checking into the hotel we took the train to Amsterdam Centraal and then took the tram to Waterlooplein to visit a bike shop that was listed as a Bakfiets dealer. They didn’t really carry anything, but we had a nice talk with the mechanic and Melissa found a Bakfiets catalog that contained lots of things that, strangely, are not on the website. We then walked along Asmtel to another bike shop closeby, then then to de Sluyswacht. This is one of our favorite bars in the world. Chris had a Leffe Brun and Melissa had hot chocolate with whipped cream. We forgot that smoking seems to still be permitted in some bars and restaurants in the Netherlands, and after a while it got too smokey so we walked slowly to Brasserie Flo for our dinner reservations at 7pm (strangely, they even smoke in the bike shops, which Chris has never seen in his life). As we walked into the restaurant we were greeted by Aaron and his good friend Jeff! The restaurant had some trouble accommodating us for a table of four instead of two, but we sat at the bar for about 40 minutes and then had a delicious dinner and great conversation followed by profiteroles. Aaron and Jeff wanted to explore some more, so we said goodbye and took the tram and train back to the hotel.

For our flight the next morning, the information from the airline indicated that boarding would begin almost two hours before the flight. We have never heard of such a thing, and it’s unclear why anyone would want to spend any additional time on a overseas flight. We want to spend as little time at the airport as possible, but the curious thing about travel is that it’s very difficult to refine to a consistent, smooth system. The rules of travel seem dynamic, especially post 9/11. Life is also changing – we now have a child and two more on the way; Melissa’s pregnancy means that we need to dial things back a bit. Lastly, almost every country has different practices with regard to travel. In Schiphol you go through passport control to get into the airport, which is like a giant upscale mall. Passengers must go through security at each individual gate. I have never seen this before, or perhaps if I have then I forgot. This is the last flight we have planned for Melissa before she goes into third trimester travel lockdown, and we want to make the most of it, so we have been getting in every possible priority lane to get through security, checkin, boarding, etc. Female employees seem especially sensitive to pregnant women: we got several winks and nods and waves through the lines. We also note that the European countries we have visited are much more accommodating toward pregnant women and babies than we are accustomed to at home. For example, the trains in Austria have a special button set aside for parents with strollers.
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Pictures from Amsterdam are here.

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We left for Udine on Monday morning after taking Everett to school with Gabby and Granddaddy. We flew to JFK for a 5 hour layover and then to Venezia. Neither of us slept much during the flight. There was a young Mom sitting behind us who was traveling with a two year boy, and both of them were having a pretty rough time. The boy was in a carseat that put his feet in just the right position to kick the back of Chris’ seat. The strange thing is that Chris hardly noticed, in fact it was more comforting and familiar than anything else. However, the boy was crying intensely at times and we really felt for the Mom, as did many other passengers. Melissa and a couple other Moms offered to help her, but she was too far over the edge to accept it at that point.

A driver picked us up and delivered us to our hotel in Udine. We checked in, cleaned up a bit and then walked to Piazza San Giacomo for a pizza lunch. Then took a three hour nap, showered and relaxed before heading out for dinner around 8. It’s amazing how two days seem to evaporate in a fog of sleep deprivation when we travel to Europe.

This is an unusual trip in many ways: Everett is home instead of with us (school is now starting to interfere with his travel schedule); Chris has limited free time due to work commitments at the conference he is attending; Melissa is moving much slower than normal due to pregnancy. Her body continues to change rapidly. Her sense of smell is sharpened (she recently smelled onions from salsa on Chris’ breath from across the room), she takes frequent naps and she is becoming uncharacteristically absent minded. Her doctors and pregnancy books say the same thing about this stage: now is not the time for adventures, it is the time for resting and relaxing. This will be a different kind of trip than we have been on before. We have no big plans, and we don’t do anything quickly. Chris’ meeting took place from Thursday to Saturday. Carrie, Armin, Sophie and Anna came to visit us on Friday evening for the weekend. On Friday Chris attended a private tour of the Tiepolo exhibit at the art museum followed by a work-related dinner, while everyone else went had dinner at one a Carrie and Armin’s favorite restaurants. On Saturday we split up for the first half of the day: Chris went to his meeting; Carrie and Melissa went for a walk around town; Armin and the girls went to a museum. We met back up about 1pm and went to lunch, followed by some rest time and then all of us met at our hotel at about 5:30pm. On Saturday evening there was a big soccer match between the local team and Rome which was being played in Udine. For some reason the entire team came to our hotel a couple hours before the game. We were sitting in the hotel lobby with Carrie, Armin and their girls when the soccer team and their coaches walked through. We could see fans lined up on the street outside the hotel door, trying to get a glimpse. Note for the future: if you ever want to get into an event that is overrun with rabid soccer fans then a great ruse is to travel with children and a pregnant Mom who is knitting. That evening we walked around town and went to dinner at I Piombi. On Sunday we drove to Cividale for the morning, and then they had to head back home. It was great to see them and we are thankful that they made the trip down here for the weekend!

A few observations about the trip:

The Billa grocery store nearby is filled with large vase-shaped chocolates that have all kinds of treats and goodies inside. There are huge displays of them in the front and rear of the store and at the end of almost every isle. Perhaps something to do with Easter? They also have large, shrink-wrapped octopus in the refrigerated section. Chris was able to find a box of Pocket Coffee, a special treat that we have only ever seen in Europe. Melissa found some delicious yogurt.

The hotel, and to a lesser extent the town, smells like Jodi’s house, Chris’ maternal grandmother from Italy who lived in Washington DC until she died. Chris notes that he had the same sensation the time we traveled to Ascona Switzerland, which is just across the lake from Italy. Lastly, he has never made this observation in the south of Italy.

The key to our hotel room is attached to a large brass square with our room number on it. We think this serves three purposes: it makes the key more difficult to lose; it is inconvenient enough to carry that people are encouraged to drop their key off at the front desk when they leave the hotel; it is heavy enough to activate the spring-loaded power switch for our room. Like many European hotels, you have to use your key to turn on the electricity as soon as you enter your room. This is often in the form of putting your key card into a slot. At the Astoria we hang our large brass key from a hook. The downside of this arrangement is that when we leave our room, the electricity is turned off and none of our electronic devices get charged. Fortunately a body towel serves as a good substitute for the key.

There has been a lot of coverage in the news lately about celebrity hairstyles and babies (at least that’s what Chris has been told). He notes that Melissa decided to get bangs before Michelle Obama, and that she announced her pregnancy before Kate or Kim (Middleton or Kardashian). Fortunately the paparazzi doesn’t know where we are at the moment.

Note to Everett: Sophie and Anna seem to love Spooky Manor and Mystery Lighthouse as much as you do! They played it for a while on Saturday night and Sunday morning. Sophie said that she was thinking about Spooky Manor during the night. It’s an infectious game.

Udine does not seem to get a lot of American tourists, at least not at this time of year. We were pleasantly surprised to find few English translations or restaurant menus. One restaurant that we went to a couple times was I Piombi. The first time we went there Chris ordered Pizza and Melissa ordered salad. The second time Chris picked something random from the menu which turned out to be extremely delicious: polenta, fried pancetta, french fries and a piece of cheese. When they brought the plate out the shape of the cheese looked like a slice of bread, so we assumed it was cheese slices on toast. In fact, it was just a huge slice of toasted cheese! Delicious! Ironically, Chris ate this while engaged with the other adults in a conversation about a recent New York Times article on our diet in the US, and about the degree of personal responsibility that is needed to make good food choices. Chris promised to start making better choices as soon as this trip is over.

It rained for five days after we arrived. On Sunday the sun came out in the afternoon, so we walked up to the castle for the view and some fresh air.

Just when we thought we had conquered jet lag in the first 1-2 days it came back to bite us hard in days 3 and 4. Wednesday night was rough. We went to sleep around 11pm but both of us woke up around 3am and couldn’t get back to sleep for hours. We read for a while, played word games on the iPad, and Chris got some work done. We got back to sleep by around dawn. We planned on going to breakfast early but both of us slept until almost 11am, so we raced downstairs to get some coffee before breakfast closed. Afterward we got cleaned up and walked across town to the conference in the Centro Culturale Delle Grazie. We had lunch and met several people, then Melissa went back to the hotel while Chris stayed at the conference.

We don’t exactly have Internet access. It’s more like the intermitternet. It is incredibly slow and unreliable, which has made it a bit difficult to conduct things as we are accustomed to, and it makes us realize how dependent we are on our electronic devices.

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