Monday, January 19, 2009

The White Stuff

We have plenty of it. Snow that is. Another big storm yesterday - church was cancelled again. It wasn't near as nice without Nate here to bless the sacrament for us. I was supposed to have a full day of meetings in Lowell beginning at 7:30 am for their ward conference. I had decided at the last minute not to take the children because they all had colds and both Jonas and Grace had coughed so hard they threw up in the previous 12 hours. I was SO glad that I didn't, because the roads were HORRIBLE. I was sliding around even in my big SUV with 4-wheel drive. Just as I was exiting the freeway in Lowell I got a call that everything was cancelled. So I turned around and headed back home. We had one of our meetings that afternoon via conference call. It was a productive meeting, but I am afraid that I still haven't mastered appropriate conference call etiquette - I always talk too much. I need eye contact and nonverbal signals people!

The boys are loving the snow. They have been making trails for their sleds and snowboards in the yard all day. I was even able to successfully plow the driveway alone! This was my second attempt at using the snowblower alone. My first attempt was about three years ago and it did not end well for anyone but the Sears repairman!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Catch-up post #2 - Uncle Bennybuddy returns from Kyrgyzstan / The ice storm!

Ben flew into New York City on December 9. We were supposed to pick him up there and spend a couple of days in the city (one of my favorite places), but Nate ended up spending that week participating in an Executive Education program at Yale. It was a great opportunity, but bad timing. So, Ben spent his first night back in America with a friend in New York and then took the crazy China bus up to Boston. The younger 3 and I picked him up at South Station around 1:00. Isaac was so excited to see him! He had prayed every single day for Ben to "come home safely" and had been faithfully counting down the days to his arrival. He talked nonstop the whole way home, and Ben and I finally gave up on having any real conversation.

Ben spent the night with us that night, and then as soon as Samuel got on the bus the next morning I took Ben down to Lora's house. When we got there Lora took us to the neatest grocery store. It is an Armenian grocery store in Watertown (at least I'm pretty sure that we were still in Watertown, it may have been Cambridge). It was called Russo's or something like that. It was really cool. More fresh produce than I have ever seen anywhere - every variety of EVERYTHING and so brightly colored and really FRESH. Decent prices too. They also had all kinds of unique Armenian treats, and huge cheese counter (which Nate is excited to visit some day), a fantastic looking bakery, etc. Lora is in a little bit of trouble for waiting this long to share this information with us! But, it was really neat. We got some great produce and also some delectable gingerbread boys dipped in dark chocolate (Isaac's choice). They also had "chocolate oranges" there, which we like to put in stockings. I had seen orange and raspberry before, but they had orange, mint, almond and toffee. I got one of each and boy were they good (we just finished the last of them!)

We let Ben spend the rest of Thursday and Friday in Boston with Lora. Thursday night is when the big ice storm hit. Our power went out around 8:00 that night. The kids were already asleep, and our modem has a battery back-up so I was able to use the phone and Internet for a while to talk to Nate and do some Amazon shopping. I was sure that when we woke up it would be back on. However, we woke up to no power and the battery back-up had died, so we had no contact with the outside world (I lost my cell phone on November 13th and didn't replace it until January, and our home phone is voiceoverIP, so even the old cheap handset didn't work). I just kept thinking that surely the power would come back soon - it really didn't look that bad outside - so I didn't make the effort to go somewhere to call Nate. Sam and I sat out in the car and listened to the radio long enough to confirm that school was indeed cancelled, gave the children a quick lesson about never opening the refrigerator or any doors when the power is out, and opened all of the curtains and blinds to let the light in.

We proceeded to have the most AMAZING day. Samuel and Isaac were so creative in coming up with fun things to do with no power. They read stories, built castles, played with toys that hadn't been used for ages, etc. I couldn't talk on the phone or check my email, and we didn't even turn the laptop on because I wanted to conserve the battery. We ate peanut butter and jelly and I managed to clean my whole house, and fold and put away every stitch of laundry (fortunately I had washed it all the day before - what a blessing!). I couldn't vacuum or run the dishwasher, and we had no hot water for showers or cleaning, but every single thing in the whole house was put right where it belonged, the guest room and office were perfectly ready for guests, and it was such a calm, quiet, peaceful day. Around 4:30 it was starting to get dark and we were getting a little bit restless. We had already planned to head down to Boston to attend Lora's Christmas Concert (with her Relief Society) and to pick up Ben and Nate (he was taking the train into Boston). I also figured that Nate was probably concerned about the fact that he wouldn't have been able to reach us all day (he did know the power had gone out the night before, so I wasn't too concerned). We stopped at a gas station so that I could use the pay phone to call Nate and Lora (I can't remember the last time I used a pay phone!). We got some dinner at the McDonald's drive-thru and headed down.

Poor little Isaac experienced his first headache that night. He was just so sweet about it - but I really felt bad for him. We had gone to Lora's house to change into our nice clothes for the concert (the kids looked so cute in their Christmas sweaters and dress - I should have taken pictures). As we were getting out coats on he told me that his head hurt, and he was just being really still and quiet (not normal for him). I was holding his hand on the way out to the car and he looked up at me with a tear rolling down his face and said "my head REALLY hurts." By the time we left the house he was sobbing. I was trying to explain to him how crying makes it worse (I have vivid memories of my Dad trying to explain the same thing to me - I have always had frequent headaches - and KNOWING that he was right but still feeling unable to stop crying!) I didn't have any children's Tylenol, so we stopped at a Star Market and Ben stayed in the car with the little ones while Sam and I ran in. They only had liquid - which I knew he would NOT take, so I had to ask the pharmacist if I could give him a Tylenol Jr. dissolvable - even though he is only 4 - she said yes, thank goodness! He usually doesn't mind the chewables, but he was so distraught and worked up that he wouldn't take it. I had to hold my hand over his mouth until it dissolved. Horrible - but it worked. By the time we got to the concert he was calm and sleepy - I carried him in and he was fine the rest of the night.

Oh - I forgot to mention the BEST part of the power outage! That morning I had remembered that these ice storms (or for us about ANY kind of storm) can be accompanied by flooding in our basement. We sit right on the water table so any kind of big downpour or melting and we get water. Luckily, we installed a sump pump a couple of years ago and haven't had any problems since - but, sump pumps need ELECTRICITY!!! So, I checked first thing and we did have a little puddle forming around the pump. I picked up anything on the floor that was electronic or could be harmed by water, and hoped for the best. An hour later I went down to check on it and there was an inch of standing water in the whole basement. I didn't know what to do. We had purchased a generator at a garage sale right after we bought the house, but it had turned out to be worth less than the cost to fix it, and we hadn't gotten around to buying a new one. I did try to run an extension cord from the pump to my car - but it just wasn't powerful enough to run it (I was nervous about doing it - what with all of the water and not knowing if I was going to hurt the car. I gave Sam a little lecture about electrocution, made him keep all the kids on the other end of the house, and told him to run to the neighbor's house and call 911 if I was unconscious :) Everything was fine, but I probably spooked him a little!)

Anyway, by the time we all got home that night (with Nate and Ben now) there was a full 4 inches of water in the basement. We built a fire in the fireplace and went to sleep not exactly sure what to do about it. Ruth and Andrew arrived for a short visit before they flew to London the next day and we felt AWFUL that not only was it cold but we couldn't even offer them a hot shower! They were good sports about it and we went to the mall for breakfast and to let the kids run around and play. That morning Nate went to our next door neighbor and asked if he would mind if we plugged our pump into his generator for a little while. We couldn't believe we hadn't thought of it before! He was super helpful and willing - he is a great neighbor - and an hour later the water was all gone. After dropping the Gough's off at the Boston airport Nate went and bought a generator that day (we were really lucky to find one pretty easily - he only had to wait for a couple of hours. There were people driving for hours or standing in line all day to try to get one. Every store was out and you had to get on a list and camp out until the next shipment arrived, it was crazy.)

The kids and Ben and I picked up Martha from the airport, went grocery shopping, and picked up pizza to eat in front of the fire at home. I put the kids to bed under mountains of blankets (the house was really getting cold by the third day) but Nate was home soon with the generator and suddenly we had heat, hot water, and about half of the lights and outlets (still no dishwasher, stove/oven or washer/dryer but the refrigerator worked so we were in great shape). Luckily the previous owners had wired the house for the generator, so we just had to plug it in and switch things over.

We had a great evening playing cards in front of the fire and making cobbler in the dutch oven. We went to church the next day and had a great meeting - only a few people in the ward had power but most everyone had a generator. It was great to see everyone coming together to help each other. the big concern becomes pipes freezing - so even if someone has a warm place to go stay they can't just leave their homes without heat. So, some people were swapping generators hack and forth to avoid that. As far as I know everyone made it through without major damage. Our power came back on Monday, but some people in our ward went another full week without power! There were power lines and even poles down EVERYWHERE it was really crazy.

The rest of Ben's visit is a little bit of a blur to me now - I know that he and Martha went to Boston on Monday and that he left on Thursday. We were so sad to have him leave and know that we won't see him again until April. He is so great with the kids and we just loved having him live with us over the summer. However, saying goodbye was made a little easier by the arrival of Grandma Cherie, Grandpa Kirk and UNCLE JOEY the next morning (it was supposed to be the same day, but they got stuck in DC overnight). Christmas officially began with their arrival, and we had a wonderful two weeks filled with family, baking, shopping, presents and lots of fun!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Catch-up post #1 - Thanksgiving

Best quote of the week ...

Just after crossing the bridge from Canada
Samuel: "What's that smell"
Nathan and I simultaneously: "Detroit"

Honestly though, we enjoyed Detroit. We didn't go downtown really, and so I can't say that it doesn't deserve its reputation, but we had a great time. We drove out the Saturday before Thanksgiving. I would have preferred to leave on Friday right after school, but Samuel was really excited about attending the Basketball Jamboree on Saturday morning (they have the High School team come and teach the younger kids all of the rules of basketball and get them all excited about the season). So, he went to that and then we got on the road at about 11:30 AM.

The trip went well- we love road trips. There were a few minor issues. One is that we really need a new car. I still LOVE my Explorer, and it is running great and still looks fine, but we have just outgrown it. We added a third row a few years ago, so we have 8 seat belts, but now that we have four kids we HAVE to use all three rows to fit us all, and that leaves very little luggage space. So, it was pretty crowded. Nate really wants to trade it in on a minivan. I'm almost sold, but not quite.

We also had a really annoying 15 minutes in Buffalo, NY. First I got a speeding ticket (well deserved, but certainly undesirable). Then, we pulled off for gas and I nursed the baby, after which he promptly threw up ALL over me and my seat. So, then I'm stripping him down and washing him off with wipes and Nate is rummaging through luggage looking for clothes for him and keeps opening the doors and it is FREEZING (poor naked baby!) Also, I've got to say that judging from the 10 minutes we spent there Buffalo is one weird place.

Luckily, once he was in warm clothes and back in his seat the baby went to sleep for the rest of the drive. We had a little bit of fun as we neared the Canadian border. The fastest way from our house in New Hampshire to Ruth's house in Detroit is to cut through Canada for a couple of hours. I am never quite sure which way the GPS will lead us, so I printed off the directions for the way we wanted to go before we left. This was good, because when it came time to leave the I-90 and head up to the border the GPS was saying to stay on I-90. So, we turned off anyway and figured that it would soon adjust the route. So, for the next 30 minutes or so it would tell us to get off every single exit (to turn around). The time to reach the destination kept getting longer and longer. We were just laughing at the poor thing, and fully expecting it to finally get the hint that we were NOT turning around. Nate wondered if it didn't have a map of Canada, but I was sure that it would. However, as soon as we got on the bridge it said, "You have left the map." For the next couple of hours we did not exist. I guess that is what you get for buying a cheap GPS :) (luckily, most of our driving is in the good old USA, and it works great here).

Ruth and Andrew and their children were so welcoming and we had a wonderful stay there. We played Wii, shopped, and enjoyed a marvelous Thanksgiving dinner. Other than the disastrous pumpkin pie (stay away from organic canned pumpkin) it was so delicious. It was great to do all of the cooking together and then not have to stress about having everything done at a certain time or cleaning up and getting ready for company. It was just us.

We were so inspired by the cute playroom that they had set up in their unfinished basement that we left a day earlier determined to finish a playroom in our basement. Work on that is ongoing (more to come), but the kids keep reminding us to make it "cool like Noah's!" We also fell in love with Benjamin's high chair, and sweet Andrew braved the crowds on Black Friday AM to score us a great deal on one (and to get his wife a totally sweet Christmas surprise). Thanks again, Andrew! Ruth and I originally had big plans to go Black Friday shopping (I have never done it), but we bailed (sleep is good too - and cheaper).

All in all it was a marvelous Thanksgiving - and it was wonderful to spend it with family. It is funny that we think that a 13-hour drive is "living close to each other" but for us it is. The other day Sam pointed out that they came here in October, we went there in November, and they came here in December, so he wanted to know which day in January we were going to Michigan! Unfortunately that isn't in the cards, but we do plan to go for winter break (the last week in February). So get ready Goughs - here we come again! And thank you for hosting such a wonderful Thanksgiving!

(Ruth, did you take pictures? I can't remember. If you did will you send them to me? Thanks!)

A few pics

I am notoriously bad about taking and/or posting pictures. But here are a few (mostly courtesy of my 7-year-old who has a nicer camera than me and actually takes pictures!)

A princess with a power tool. Classic Grace. Her mother loves and nurtures her feminine side, and she loves anything princess - but, let's face it, she is growing up in a house full of boys. She loves to wrestle, play with trucks and balls, and even use tools. (At least the tool matches her dress!)

In Christmas PJs, freshly opened on Christmas Eve. The ones in red are my kids (me with my penchant for everything-matching), and the other three are my sister Ruth's children. They were a fun bunch on Christmas morning.

Samuel as a shepherd in the nativity. Not the best quality photo (that's what you get when I'm behind the camera), but I just can't get over how old he is getting. He will be turning 8 and getting baptized in August. Wow.

Jonas' first haircut. In the sink at home. Dad wielding the clippers. He didn't mind it too much, and I was shocked at how much hair came off - he didn't seem to have much, but the mullet had to go. I am also still getting used to how much older he looks. He isn't a baby anymore. He has been my "baby" for longer than any of the others - I think because he retained his small size and fragility (due mostly to being sick for so long).

This is part of our backyard, blanketed in snow after one of the first snowfalls. It is beautiful and peaceful, and I sure love the way that winter LOOKS (I just don't like the way it FEELS. Bbbbbbrrrrrrrrrrrr!)

"The time has come" the walrus said

I have been patiently waiting for that magical day, free from any commitments or distractions, when I would sit and update every last detail of the past two months. I give up.

Actually - that day came last Sunday. What was supposed to be a long day chock full of meetings became 24 hours snuggled up at home watching the snow blanket New Hampshire. Everything, even our regular church meeting, was cancelled. But, instead of updating my blog I snuggled my kids, watched "The Testaments," had our own church meeting, made cookies (and ate most of them myself) and spent a large part of the day doing a large jigsaw puzzle (which Nathan declared to be a colossal waste of time, but I relished - how often do I have time to do that? Pretty much never. It was bliss.)

So, I am going to try to jump back on the bandwagon little by little. I certainly want to go back and record a little bit about the past two months, but I also don't want my "need" to do that to continue to stop me from posting new stuff.

As a reminder to myself, I would like to post about:
1. Thanksgiving
2. A visit from Uncle "Bennybuddy"
3. Finishing the basement
4. Family and Christmas!!!
5. New York City at Christmas!!!

We are all doing well. Nathan leaves tomorrow to escort his Grandfather to the inauguration. He will be gone for 8 days and 7 nights, which I am not looking forward to, but it will be a neat experience for him. Jonas turned 1 earlier this month (I will post photos - we actually took some!) and he has managed to climb back up onto the growth chart (up to 3% hooray!), but he still can't swallow any solid food, so he is seeing an ENT specialist later this month and having an evaluation for speech/swallow therapy.

I have had company or Nathan home everyday since Dec. 12, literally a whole month now, so tomorrow will be a big adjustment. In some ways it will be good to be back to my own routine, but I will be lonely. Luckily, Nate's sister Lora is going to come hang out with us this weekend, and help with the kids during my Sunday meetings.

We had a wonderful 2008 and look forward to a great 2009. We have some big goals, and hopefully if we aim for the sun we will at least hit the stars, right?

Here are the birthday photos:

He really enjoyed his presents. Thank you Grandmas!

He LOVED the candle!

"What am I supposed to do with this??"

"Aahhh, now I see! This is great!"

Grace displaying her blue tongue (from all of the blue dye in the frosting of the not-at-all-homemade cake I bought at the grocery store)