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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Cutting Some Slack 

It looks like I should cut the Daily Star some slack for not updating during the storm. In an article at Editor & Publisher (Katrina Makes Strange Bedfellows at Baton Rouge Paper), AP New Orleans Bureau Chief Charlotte Porter said they had relocated to the Star for the storm, but "As the storm passed over Hammond, we lost power, then the phones went out and the water started coming through the roof."

The Star's website today says:
The Daily Star has resumed publication today Wednesday. Aug. 31, 2005. Tuesday marked for the first time in memorey that the newspaper was not able to be published due to natural disaster. Hurricane Katrine left the newspaper plant without power, phones, or net service. The paper itself is being printed at an alternative location pending the restoration of power.
Now if they would just follow the lead of Times-Picayune and the Mobile Register and open up the PDF edition to everyone ...

Good News 

I just talked to my dad a moment ago. Hammond is doing a good job of clearing fallen trees/debis from the streets, and there are a lot of Entergy trucks in the area waiting to head into New Orleans. Since they can't get any closer to the city for a little while yet, he said, they are expected to try to clean up the power lines they can reach on the North Shore. Big, big, big sigh.

Tired of Rumors 

I'm having a lot of trouble staying focused these past few days. On 9/11, when the rumors were swirling out of control and I could see the smoke from the Pentagon and hear the boom of fighter jets in the air, at least I was able to go — along with hundreds of other people — to a blood donation center. Even though they ran out of blood bags and I was asked to come back in a week or two, at least it was something small that I could do.

Monday, yesterday, this morning ... it's all just calling into the affected area only to get "out of service" or "all circuits are busy" messages, if that much; surfing Flickr, the forums at NOLA.com, Metroblogging: New Orleans, WDSU's Internet feed, etc. It's driving me crazy that the Daily Star, Tangipahoa Sheriff's Office, and other sites nearer my folks have no information up.

I know my folks are okay, but not being able to get first-hand information is getting to me. I hear things third/fourth hand and one moment it sounds like things are okay, the next is sounds like there's real trouble. Earlier yesterday, I got a reply to a post on the NOLA boards that the independent living place where my grandmother lives is fine; a few hours later, my brother calls with word that my grandmother had been told to evacuate and had made it to Hammond.

I ended up last night leaving a message with the insurance company (my folks and I have coverage through the same company), knowing that privacy rules would keep them from being able to tell me anything, but asking if they could put a note in my dad's file to see if they could pass a message from him to my and/or my brother in case he hadn't been able to reach us yet. (I guess I am thinking that if the insurance company has someone going in on the ground, and phone lines/cell sites remain down that maybe a message could get out that way.)

As it stands, here's a list of relief efforts (scroll down a little) if anyone wants to figure out where to make a donation.

UPDATE

(Things are changing before I can hit post.) My brother just called; he's talked to my dad. They're okay. My grandmother and her brother are in Hammond with them and are fine, although they're all working on arranging to get them moved up to Alexandria where my aunt and some of her family evacuated to. Big sigh of relief, although a lot of questions remain ... I hope others out there are also getting good news as this whole situation progresses.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

It'll Always Be New Orleans ... 

From the Times-Picayune Breaking News Weblog:
Two men surviving on generator power in the Lake Terrace neighborhood near the Lake Pontchartrain levee still had a dry house, but they were eyeing the rising water in the yard nervously. They were planning to head back out to the levee to retrieve a vast stash of beer, champagne and hard liquor they found washed onto the levee.
Still no word from anyone back home; I kept getting "all circuits busy" or "your call could not get through" messages last night. Hopefully some of the phonelines/cellsites will be back up today. I'm sure everyone is okay, but it be nice to hear something.

[ASIDE: One thing I hadn't really thought about: A lot of friends and family have moved away from South Louisiana, but still have 985 or 504 area code cell phones. While those phones could connect to local cell sites in Phoenix, Atlanta, or wherever, calls placed to them had to be routed through storm-damaged areas ... and thus couldn't get through.]

I talked to my brother in Atlanta last night, and he and his family were in the basement waiting out a tornado warning. They were getting some pretty good activity from the far bands of Katrina. I think we're supposed to get some activity later today, although the bulk of things should be well to the west of D.C.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Monday Night Gerunds 

Stealing an idea from MC at Running*Cooking*Writing, here's an attempt to catch up on what's been going on with Celeste ...

Sleeping ... I didn't say anything earlier because I dinna want to jinx things, but since it's only happened once now, I guess it doesn't hurt to say that Celeste slept through the night last week. One night, Thursday, actually. She was knackered after being up late the night before, and Evelin called me that morning around 10:30 to say that Celeste was asleep. She just couldn't take it any more and had to have a nap — she didn't even mind that her blankie was in the wash, she just wanted to sleep. And she did for about two-and-a-half hours. Later in the afternoon, she and I had about 15 minutes of quiet time (she spied her blankie on the coach where it was laying with other laundry in various stages of folding, cruised over, grabbed it, and snugged down into it, so I though she might want a nap, turned out she didn't, but she humored me for a little while), and she was in bed by 6:15 p.m.

She woke about 8:00 p.m. — I think because she was too hot in her footie pyjamas (her room was warmer than usual because we'd turned off the AC to take advantage of the couple of nice days we were having, but her windows were closed because of street/neighbor noise) — but then slept straight through to 6:00 a.m. the next day. Evelin and I were up a dozen times to check to make sure she was okay, and I ended up going downstairs to do some work around 4:00 a.m., but we were so psyched that she made it through the night. Since then, she's continued to wake up at least once a night and last night, she was bad enough to end up coming to our bed around 1:30 a.m.

My addled brain's logic was that she'd had a rough night the night before, which was similar to what had happened our second-to-last night in Montana; at the hotel, the bringing-her-to-our-bed trick worked, and I thought maybe that eighth tooth was coming in so the close proximity would help. It didn't make much difference. She did eventually go to sleep, but was up by 5:30 a.m. I tried explaining to her, in German, that she needed to sleep for one more hour. (I thought if I said it in German, no matter how ungrammatical I might be, she might stay quiet for a while trying to figure out what I'd said/meant.) It didn't work.

Talking ... She is getting more verbal bits out, working on m and n phonemes to go with her d, b, and g sounds. She also seems to have a specific "word" for book, similar to her Dɑɑ for "dog."

Signing ... Celeste definitely gets a lot of what we say and at least a few of the signs, although the only one we can say she consistently makes is MILK (and usually that is only when she first wakes up or after her bath). Still, she had done MORE a few times, and she recognizes WATER (I'll make the sign and/or say the word and she turns to look for her cup), EAT, and, I think, BATH. We're also using words for various foods — CHEESE, APPLE, SWEET POTATO, CEREAL — and are trying to introduce CHANGE and DIAPER. I thought I caught her signing CHEESE last week (and she was very happy to get a piece of cheese), but it could have been a coincidence.

Sipping ... She's graduated from a sippy cup to a cup with a straw, and she's getting better and better about controlling how much she sucks up. Evelin figured out Celeste was ready for a straw when she was letting her play with a sports bottle and noticed that she wasn't just gnawing on the straw, Celeste was sucking up water and spitting all over herself and the bed.

Walking ... Celeste is getting better with her balance and confidence, although she really doesn't like to let go of my/Evelin's fingers. We've been doing some practice where Evelin and I sit with our feet touching and try to convince Celeste to walk from one of us to the other. Sometimes she does it willingly; other times she will get to the no man's land between us and start to fall backwards. Still, her favorite is to hold on to some fingers and to lead us around the house. And if she's hungry, she'll lead us straight to her highchair, let go, and start banging on the foot rest on the chair.

Cruising ... While her walking is still mostly assisted, Celeste is doing a lot of cruising, taking herself up and down the couch, along her crib bars, and other various grabby places in the house. She's starting to mix in a few new tricks, too. Last night, I put her down with her back to the couch to try to encourage her to walk toward me, but she turned herself around to cruise along the couch instead.

Falling ... Of course, with the walking comes a bit of falling, including a nasty head vs. armoire moment last week that, I think, traumatized me more than her. For the most part, she recovers pretty well from the occasional fall, but they do, understandably, make her a bit more clingy and unwilling to try to walk by herself for the next few hours.

Eating ... And then there are things that probably best expressed with a picture. Blueberries With Dinner Blueberries — even frozen ones straight from the freezer to the mouth — are very, very good.

Beyond blueberries, Celeste continues to be adventuresome with her eating. While in Montana, she tried black olives for the first time, and I promised her good Καλαμάτας olives when we got back to D.C. The texture is a little hard for her to deal with, but she's snarfed them up each time I've offered them to her; sometimes they just get chewed for a while and then spat out, but she still is quick to pick up an olive slice from among a bunch of peas.

An Ill Wind Blows 

Last year, when New Orleans was threatened two or three times by hurricanes (and people even evacuated for Ivan), I never thought the city would end up in a bad situation. I don't know why — especially given my safe perch in D.C., a thousand miles away — but I just didn't feel it. But with Katrina, ever since it crossed Florida and started building in the Gulf, I didn't like it. Maybe it's because I'm using RSS feeds to get every update NOAA puts out. Maybe it's because the way Katrina seemed to blow up so quickly, just like Camille, and the way it was tracking, again, just like Camille.

I was only two months old when Camille hit Pass Christian, and we were up in D.C. at that point in time, but I remember growing up seeing damage from Camille whenever we went across the lake to Bay St. Louis where my grandparents and other family had houses. My aunt and uncle had pictures of the damage Camille caused hanging in their (rebuilt) house, and when we would go picking blackberries, there were concrete slabs underneath some of the bramble patches where someone just decided not to rebuilt.

As a kid, I remember a few good storms — one that blew away our rabbit hutch and my and my brother’s rabbits; another that knocked down several big pines in the backyard (my dad made us a neat fort out of some of those); another where there wasn't official word as to whether or not school was closed so my mom drove us to school only to find a tree across the entrance to the school parking lot — but for the most part there was maybe a power failure, some flooding or at least really high water in the ditches and streets, but never anything too bad, at least for us (I did have some friends who had water (and snakes) in their homes with more than one or two storms).

Last night, Evelin had to practically pull me away from the computer as I was watching the tracking and the radar and the updates and googling other storms for historical comparisons.

I talked to my mom and pretty much all my family that is in New Orleans decided to evacuate, except my grandmother (who e-mailed that she figured that even if they did have flooding — and you can see over the levee into the river from her balcony — that it wouldn't get up to the eighth floor) and one cousin (who is an auxiliary deputy with Jefferson Parish and would have to work as part of the public safety response).

My folks are north of Lake Pontchartrain and therefore aren't in the danger that New Orleans is, but this morning they had an old oak slip and clip the back of the house. I talked to my mom early this morning and it sounds like the house is going to need a bit of work, although it could have been a lot worse. My dad and the neighbor got some tarps up to help keep some water out, and they moved the furniture and other stuff out of the damaged area, but it sounds like the foundation took some damage and the AC unit was flattened. And the bulk of the rains have yet to arrive, so there could be further damage yet to come.

Right now, it looks like the rains are picking up and Katrina continues to churn to the southeast of the city. Maybe it will cross the sound and go into Pass Christian the way Camille did, or maybe it will stay west and do more damage to New Orleans. In either case, as it heads up the Tennessee and Ohio River valleys, it's going to continue to dump water into the Mississippi watershed, which won't make any post-storm recovery easier.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

A Bear Without a Name 

I feel really bad about it, but I have only done two panda watches since Celeste was born. Since the last watch, Mei Xiang has had her cub, and I've still been too busy to sign up for a shift — I'd also feel a bit guilty about taking a panda watch shift now since I've been out of it for so long and it would feel like I'm just doing it to get a peak at the little guy. [For those at home, Animal Planet's webcam seems to be easier to connect to than the zoo's.]

In any case, the tradition is that a cub isn't named until it reaches 100 days, and, under the panda loan agreement, Chinese officials get to vet the name before it is bestowed. Given that, the zoo has set up a web poll where people can vote on the little guy's name.

They only have pinyin versions of the names being polled, so I've tried to suss out the true Chinese versions:Of course, the best name, as DCist has noted, would be 黄油条 Huángyóu Tiáo (butterstick), since when a panda is born it is about the size of a stick of butter.

*I do wonder about saying that 华盛 means "China Washington." 华 does mean "China" or "Chinese" in some contexts and 华盛顿 Huá Shèng Dùn is the phonetic rendering of "Washington," so I guess you could see a form of China Washington in 华盛, but it seems like a stretch to me ... and by the same token 盛华 is an even bigger stretch.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Once Again ... 

Another chapter in the ongoing saga of the "summer in which [I] damage [myself] in many and various ways"¹:

Last night, before Evelin went to bed, she closed the baby gate to the kitchen, just in case Celeste figured out how to escape her crib, walk, navigate the stairs, and otherwise find herself tempted by all the dangers the kitchen offers. She also brought her water bottle to the bottom of the stairs and asked me to fill it up before I came up for the night.

Well, after shutting off the last of the downstairs lights, I kicked the water bottle on my way upstairs, which reminded me that I needed to fill that for her. Rather than turning on the lights, I trusted my nightvision to navigate me through the living and dining rooms to the kitchen ... and straight into the baby gate.

It wasn't latched, but it stayed in place enough to send me tumbling head over heels into the kitchen with a rather loud bang and an interjection or two that, thankfully, Celeste did not hear because she was asleep. Nothing was bleeding, but I did tweak something in my hamstring. Sigh.

Monday, August 22, 2005

P³ Progress 

Between the weather, travel, and doing other things, it's been a while since anything has been done on the Pond–Patio Project (a.k.a. P³). Well, this morning, a giant leap forward was made — we finally got someone out to clean away two truckloads of rocks, railroad ties, rebar, assorted pond and yard waste, etc. The cost was more than I might have liked, but it was about the same as if we'd had a tip dropped off in front of the house and we did the loading, and I doubt I/we could have moved everything out in the 45 minutes it took the guys we hired.


The mesa to the left of the photo is what remains of the old patio [here's an old picture from an early stage of the P³ showing some of the trash and patio frame] and there are six or seven intractable pipes and two buried railroad ties still in place, but I'm willing to work around those for the moment and if I do eventually get them out, it will be a small enough amount of trash to get the city to take it (albeit maybe over the course of a month).

The next step is to see what we can do about knocking the mesa down a little more and using that dirt to fill in/grade some of the lower areas in the upper portion of the backyard. A lot of that has already been done, but the loss of the trash pile makes evident a few areas that need attention (and makes it easier to maneuver a wheelbarrow).

We also are near the point where we can break out some graph paper and lay a hose or two on the ground to try to figure out how/where we'd like the planned deck/patio replacement to end up going. Considering we didn't really have a schedule, I'd still say we are behind schedule, but we are probably moving more quickly than I would have though we might. Will there be something built by winter? I don't know, but it feels more likely than it was a week ago.

Garden Update

While cutting the ogräs on Saturday, I noticed a few specs of red on the raspberry bushes. Another crop is setting and ripening. I managed to find three good ones (one for each of us — Celeste ended up spitting hers out) and a handful of potential berries that will hopefully be ready to eat in a week or so.

Not that we've been paying the best of attention to it, but the garden is looking pretty rough. The cucumbers (along with the hanging flower baskets on the front porch) died while we were in Montana. The only tomatoes that are growing are self-seeders that sprouted from last year's fallen fruit, and none of them are to the fruiting stage yet. The carrots look like they're doing well, although they seem to have choked out the leeks. The parsley and chives are doing well, and the mint patch is struggling with the raspberry patch for supremacy of the hillock.

The garlic we harvested back in June and July, but the toes are a lot smaller than the previous generation. I think part of that is because when we though to save some of the old ones for planting it was only the smaller cloves that were left — I don't know if it was a matter of the variety or the specific genes of that bulb, but it seems we planted small ones and got smaller ones. We've already picked up a few bulbs at the farmers market that we are planning to save to plant come October.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Bloggity Goodness 

I've been using Bloglines to read RSS-enabled blogs for a while now, which has probably contributed to my slacking in posting, but has expanded by blogroll beyond what is in the sidebar in the left-hand frame.

Among those blogs totally worth a read but not represented at left are:

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Eaten Alive by Mosquitoes 

I am so going to catch West Nile. Over the past two summers, we've really let the yard go a bit wild. Last year, while pregnant, Evelin wasn't much in the mood to be out in the hot sun gardening; this year, well, it's hotter and more humid than normal and the mosquitoes would drain every last drop of blood from Celeste in a matter of minutes.

Since we seem to have been running crazy more weekends than not this summer, that or it's been raining, it's been a little while since I cut the ogräs that passes for grass in our yard. The front yard looked a little unruly, but the backyard was off the hook. All was going well until I got into the backyard when, all of the sudden, the mower stopped. It's electric and I thought I might have cut the cord (again), but it turned out we had a neighborhoodwide power failure.

Waiting for things to right themselves, I did a bit of weeding near the back fenceline. When Evelin hollered out the window that the power was back on, I stepped out of the bed to find a dozen mosquitoes happily feasting on my legs. About half of them were too sluggish to fly away before I swatted them.

I tend to hate to use insect repellant, sunscreen, etc. Basically, I'm stupid or something, and I don’t like the way that stuff feels. Evelin had no sympathy for me or my itching.

Is Rice a Finger Food?

The week before we went to Montana, Evelin and I thought about trying to go out for dinner with Celeste, but it didn't work out in terms of when we would get to Samantha's (our favorite Salvadorian place and where Celeste was almost born) and when Celeste started fading.

So, this morning, we talked about trying to go for an early dinner there. We headed out at 4:30 p.m. and Celeste started yawning in the car, which worried us, but we persevered and ended up having a very nice meal.

We brought along some food for Celeste and also fed her off our plates. She tried the black beans, rice, pinto beans, a bit of pupusa de queso, some corn chips, and assorted vegetables Evelin picked out of her sopa de pollo. The pinto beans and pupusa went over well, along with the rice and black beans. The vegetables were offered a bit late in the meal, so she ended up throwing more of those than not, and the corn chips were chewed but not with much gusto.

The funniest bit was, after feeding her some rice with a spoon, Evelin decided to just put some rice on the table in front of Celeste and to let her feed herself. Celeste looked at the rice and leaned over to try to put in her mouth without using her hands. She soon figured out that this bit of rice wouldn't jump into her mouth the way the spoon-fed stuff did and dug in with both hands.

Looking at the floor and table around us, I think for the near future, when we go out Evelin and I need to adopt a policy of tipping at least 25% to help cover the clean up costs.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Daddy–Daughter Day! 

Today was a first. Evelin had a one-day conference up in Pennsylvania (the same meeting as last year's Schtadtleit mit die Amischen adventure), so I took the day off from work and hung with Celeste. While I've been doing the two-afternoons-a-week thing since January, and other stray parts of days here and there, this was the first time Celeste and I have had a full waking-to-sleeping day alone.

Celeste's waking time coördinated well enough for her to get in her breakfast nursing before Evelin had to leave, but the rest of the day was up to me. To placate several friends at work, I'd agreed to bring Celeste in around 9:00 a.m. It worked out pretty well in that I remembered to bring some toys and her diaper bag. The only problem was that I forgot she usually has yoghurt, oatmeal, and some fruit (usually applesauce) around 9:00 a.m. ... and I forgot to bring food with us. I realized about half way through the commute.

While it did yield some tongue-clucking from mothers/grandmothers at the office, things worked out. Celeste and I just ran to Trader Joe's (it's across the street from my office and opened just as we were getting there) and picked up a four-pack of applesauce with berries, a small full-fat ΦΑΓΕ yoghurt, and bag of mini-bagels.

She ended up eating her breakfast in front of an audience that ranged at any given moment from three to six people, wowing them with her ability to push away the applesauce and to demand more yoghurt.

After some walking around the office to visit various people, she sat in while the marketing director and I tried to sort out some changes for the 2006 media kit. (My publisher in Italy had some changes that we we're immediately sure how to accommodate.) For the most part Celeste was pretty good, until she pulled over some files, started gnawing on a videotape, and spit water on the floor a few times.

We didn't end up getting home until later than expected, and I had to fight to keep Celeste awake. As soon as we got home, she hit the crib and was out for about an hour and a quarter. The rest of the afternoon went pretty well, but that short nap caught up with her.

Also, since she wanted sleep more than anything else, she missed her normal pre-nap dose of milk, saving it for when she woke. That meant she didn't have her (solid) lunch until around 3:45 p.m. (after we got back from making groceries), and by 4:30 p.m. she was hugging her stuffed lamb and leaning over like she wanted to go to sleep.

As we were headed from Whole Foods to Giant, Evelin called to say her meeting was breaking up early, so I was working to keep Celeste moving through the afternoon. Plus, if I'd let her go to sleep at 4:30 p.m., she'd have thought it was a nap and would have ended up staying up way too late.

In the end, she headed to the bath around 5:30 p.m., and Evelin walked in the door pretty soon thereafter. Celeste got to nurse instead of having a bottle before going to bed, which was probably a good thing, giving her her normal sleep cues.

Thinking of sleep, Evelin and I are back to trying to get her onto a better schedule/sleeping through the night or at least only waking up once. We'd been doing pretty good with her, but a fever, teething, and Montana really messed her sleep up. Since we got back on Monday night, Celeste has been waking as much as seven times a night, so starting Thursday night, we're working on letting Celeste try to self-soothe some, especially early in the evening, and I am going to be the first responder during the night. (If she sees Evelin overnight, she thinks it's time to nurse, even if she just nursed an hour ago.) Last night she did pretty good — she did need to nurse at 2:00 a.m., but otherwise she either managed to get herself back to sleep within five minutes or I was able to calm her to sleep.

Of course, since I just blogged this, we're probably in for a rough night.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

VoIP and Wiring 

After way too long of a wait, it seems that our old phone number has been transferred over to our Vonage VoIP service. I haven't received official word from Vonage that the local number portability request has gone through, but dialing our number now rings the phone attached to the Vonage line and not the normal phones.

Of course, to add to my confusion, the normal phones still work, at least for placing out going calls. This could be because we haven't been cleared to cancel our Verizon local service yet, or maybe something with the changeover is screwed up.

Once I'm sure the Vonage line will keep ringing, I am supposed to be able to just run the telephone line from the phone adaptor to any nearby jack and it will connect the VoIP service to all the jacks in the house. But, before I do that, I need to disconnect the outside PSTN line from the house so that there's no chance of damage to the VoIP gear.

It should be a simple task: Go to the outside interface box, unplug the plugs, and voilà — no signal. Expect our house is wired stupidly. Even with everything unplugged from the interface box, I still get a signal. Next I try tracing the lines and find one that runs inside and looks like a likely culprit. I figure if I rewire those I can set up something that will isolate the inside wiring without making it too difficult to reconnect to the PSTN line when we move or if we decide to give up on VoIP.

I disconnect things and ... nothing, the phone still works. I go so far as to cut the red lines (figuring the red and green lines were still twisted together, so maybe that was making the circuit) ... and the phone still works. At this point, I decide to reconnect things in the rat's nest style typical of this house's phone wiring. Maybe in the morning or daylight I'll be better able to discover what goes where (and maybe by then I'll find out whether or not the number has been fully transferred).

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Montana Adventure 

While we were out there and on the Billings–Denver flight home, I roughed out some of my blog entries for the trip on my Palm. They're up and in place now, back on the days the events happened. This may violate some informal truth-in-blogging rules in that it's not as immediate as a blog might otherwise be, but it's my little corner of cyberspace and I think this makes for a more coherent travelogue, so whatever.One other thing not noted elsewhere, a while I ago, I blogged about winning 1-liter Diet Cokes. I drink a fair number of 20-ounce Diet Cokes, and around here the odds of winning a free 1 liter are 1 in 12, which were the odds I saw when I first encountered the promotion in California back in February.

Out in Montana it was 1 in 4 (I came home with four winning caps). In Wyoming, it was 1 in 8 (no winners). In Denver, it was 1 in 6 (1 winning cap). I guess it's the local bottler who decides how generous they want to be, or maybe a regional Coca-Cola authority decides. Anyway, while I thought it was weird, I will enjoy my 5 liters of Diet Coke and let 7-Eleven sort out the details.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

More About Montana Later But ... 

My town publishes a crime report from the city police each week on its LISTSERV. The final item on today's edition:
08-13-05 THEFT, [...]: at approximately 9:30 a.m., an unknown suspect stole several boxes of Rogaine from a drug store in this area.
It doesn't say, but I'm guessing they're looking for someone with a receding hairline.

Two More Down 


33 states (including DC) down; 18 states and 4 territories to go
(Map via World66)

We're back from a whirlwind long weekend in Montana and Wyoming. Celeste suddenly has seven teeth and her schedule is so far out the window that ... uhm, I can't think of a clever metaphor. We're all very tired. More later.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Montana: Day 4 

Our last day in Montana started off with a little confusion. I was certain our flight left at 12:30 p.m., but looking at the itinerary I printed out before we left, it clearly said UA1209 left at 1:25 p.m. It didn't really make that much of a difference, we still needed to check out by 11:00 a.m. and to return the rental car.

We ended up having a big breakfast at the hotel with Evelin's parents, sister, and aunt and uncle. Her brother and G--- had already slipped away to Yellowstone. M--- (the sister) and J--- and C--- (the aunt and uncle) were headed that way after breakfast, while R--- and M--- (Evelin's parents) were still making up their mind where they were going next (they ended up heading to Glacier). We were pretty much the only ones who were headed back East so soon after the wedding.

Originally, we'd hoped to take a longer vacation around the wedding, but the planning fell apart early and we decided to only do the four days (Friday to Monday). Still, it turned out to be a trip that exceeded our expectations: When we bought the plane tickets, we figured we'd get to Pictograph Cave State Park and maybe Little Bighorn Battlefield, but Yellowstone would probably be right out. We also figured we'd only get in one new state, not two. It was a little frustrating to be within 45 minutes of the Idaho border, but it's for the best that we didn't add that mad dash to Saturday.

We finished packing while Celeste had a post-breakfast nap, and then checked out with a bit of time to kill. We considered making a quick trip to Zoo Montana or to Action Farm Toys, but instead went with an almost-guaranteed-to-please visit to the swings at South Park.

She enjoyed that for a little while, then we piled back into the car and drove around downtown a little, looking for bighorns, before we realized we were getting a little hungry. It was getting close to noon, so we decided to just dump the car, head to the airport, and get something to eat there.

Returning the car went well, but the shuttle to the airport ran into a roadblock just as it crested the butte. Apparently, Dick Cheney was flying in for a fundraiser for Sen. Conrad Burns and the airport had to be shut down for an hour and the main road in blocked off. Suddenly the discrepancy between what I remembered booking for our flight out and the itinerary made sense ...

Evelin made a comment about it was good to get Cheney out of D.C. and one of the other passengers picked up on it with another snide comment. Celeste started crying, and I told her that it wasn't really true that Dick Cheney eats babies; the driver also tried to reassure her, saying he was wrong, it wasn't really Cheney who was flying in. That did seem to work, and she calmed down.

After managing to get to the check-in counter just ahead of a large 4-H contingent, we headed across the parking lot to visit the Peter Yegen, Jr. Yellowstone County Museum. It was chockablock with memorabilia — from Native American beadwork to farming implements to an old telephone switchboard to stuffed animal heads. Celeste's favorite though was a stuffed two-headed calf. She kept walking back over to it and staring and laughing. I don't think we have to worry, but we did buy her a postcard of the calf/calves before heading back into the airport to see what food we could find.

The flight from Billings to Denver was the only leg of our journey where we couldn't all three sit together; Evelin and Celeste were on one side of the aisle (17A and 17B) and I was at the opposite window (17F). In between us were a woman traveling alone (17C) and a woman with a 2-year-old and a 14-month-old on her lap (17D and 17E). The 2-year-old was cute; she kept asking me "Where you going?" because, her mother said, she'd discovered that it was question that tended to get people to talk to her. For much of the 90-minute flight, she kept trying to crawl over me to look out the window or otherwise squirm around in her seat. It didn't bother me, which I think the mother appreciated, especially when I pointed out that my daughter was over in 17A.

In Denver, we had a longer layover than the first time, and Celeste spent a good bit of her time walking around to go see various people. Evelin got to do most of the hand-holding for that, because she sent me off in search of some sandwiches for dinner. I ended up at ¡Qué Bueno!'s sister airport-food place, Itza Wrap! Itza Bowl!, and got Evelin a grilled turkey-broccoli-cheddar wrap and another rice-and-bean burrito for myself. Celeste did not have any of either, sparing herself another accidental encounter with a jalapeño.

The big surprise in Denver, after I got back with the food, was that Celeste had cut another bottom tooth. It's her seventh tooth, and it really explained why she'd had such a rough time the night before. We thought some teething might be going on (and we suspect an eighth tooth will be making an appearance soon), but actually seeing a new one in her mouth caught us both by surprise.

Celeste Aboard UA1190 DEN to BWICeleste managed to sleep for the first 90 minutes or so of the flight, but the rest of the way home was a bit touch-and-go at times. She would stay occupied with one toy or book for a little while, but quickly wanted to throw it away. Even a copy of Hemispheres, ripped in half so that she could better manipulate it, only kept her attention for so long. We did let her out of her seat a few times — to walk down the aisle, to look over the seat at the people behind us, etc. — and we managed to make it to Baltimore without a meltdown.

The plane landed a little before 10:00 p.m., and Evelin and I split up to help speed our way home. She and Celeste got the luggage; I went with our carry-on bags to the satellite parking lot to pick up the T.R.U.C.K. I worried that it would be hard for Evelin to wrestle the carseat/Go-Go Kidz thing along with our two bags, but it really speeds things up if we don't have to wait for the luggage and then wait for the parking shuttle. As it was, Evelin and Celeste made it to the curb with our bags just as I was pulling out of satellite parking; it probably got us home at least 20 minutes earlier than we otherwise would have made it.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Montana: Day 3 

Sunday evening was the wedding, so we had some time during the day to see sights or otherwise kill time. While Evelin's parents and siblings headed into Billings to wander around downtown, we headed out to Pictograph Cave State Park. Driving over the butte to Bitter Creek Valley, we passed a big tower farm on the rimrocks overlooking the city; we also had a good look across the valley to the butte that's home to the airport.

The caves were pretty neat, although the pictographs were hard to see. It was a short paved trail up the butte to three indentions/caves, only one of which had cave paintings. The rest of the walk highlighted the natural and archaeological history of the site. Celeste did a little walking on the trail, but had a much easier time going downhill than uphill.

Afterwards, we decided to grab a quick lunch before Celeste's nap. We headed into Billings to the Montana Brewing Company, the local brewpub. It was pretty tasty: I had a white pizza (which Celeste stole some mushrooms and artichokes from) and Evelin had a burger. The sampler of their beers had a mix of the good (the Fatbelly Amber and Scotch Ale) and the bad (the Huckleberry Hefeweiße).

Apparently, huckleberries are quite popular in the Rocky Mountain West. They were available in everything from candies to jam to syrup to hefeweiße, but we never saw any plain huckleberries. I asked our waitress at the brewpub, and she said she didn't think she'd ever had a plain huckleberry, but products made with an extract or concentrate. It seems they have a very short season and aren't really cultivated domestically; people have to harvest them in the wild. In any case, some of the huckleberry candies were good, but huckleberry hefeweiße is a definite no.

While we were finishing up our lunch, G--- and G--- (Evelin's brother and his girlfriend) wandered down the street. We called them over and chatted for a while. Celeste was a little wary of her uncle, but she really seems to like his girlfriend. As we left and headed to our respective cars, we passed a few of the Bighorn Magic sculptures [gallery]. I know it's not high art or anything, but I still like the trend of temporary public art installations like this.

The afternoon was spent with a good nap for all three of us and then Evelin and Celeste gave the hotel swimming pool a try. Evelin's been meaning to take Celeste to the pool all summer, but just hasn't had the chance. It turns out Celeste liked the water. She didn't try to swim off on her own or anything, but she did some splashing and kicking, and she enjoyed watching the older kids running and splashing around the pool.

After cleaning up, we got ready for the wedding, arriving at the church in Laurel a little early. We got to see some of Evelin's family that we hadn't yet run into, and Celeste enjoyed herself walking around from person to person to person. She didn't want to be picked up by anyone else, but she like having Evelin's or my hands to hold on to while exploring.

We started the ceremony with Celeste in the chapel, but she started to get restless, so Evelin ran her out to the nursery. About half-way through the ceremony, I switched off with Evelin so that she could see the rest of the wedding. Celeste probably would have been fine in the nursery with the babysitter and two other kids, but we're overprotective or something ...

During the reception, Celeste continued her walking around, which was endlessly fascinating to some of the 4- and 5-year-olds who were there, too. She also danced a little with her grandfather. We ended up cutting out fairly early in hopes of getting her to bed before she was too overtired, but it ended up being a rough night with her waking almost hourly.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Montana: Day 2 

We made it to Yellowstone today, and not just to the border or some easy to get to spot from Billings — we went all the way to Old Faithful, saw an eruption, and went back to Billings. I highly suggest others take more time and not spend over 11 hours in the car to make this trip.

My in-laws made it out to Billings late Friday night (the whole reason for this trip was a wedding on Sunday — there were some 20 people from Evelin's branch of the family coming out from various East Coast points), so we met up with them and tried to figure out what we wanted to do that day. After a bit of talking (and an inopportune nap on Celeste's part), we headed off to Yellowstone around 10:00 a.m.

We were making good time when we stopped in Red Lodge for some film and to visit the Montana Candy Emporium. As we got back on the road headed for the Northeast Entrance via the Beartooth Highway, we quickly discovered that the road is washed out about 12 miles past Red Lodge. (The Billings Gazette had a good article on the engineering going into the reconstruction on page 1 of Sunday's paper, a day too late for us.)

Looking at the detour route, what that would mean for when we'd get there, and where Old Faithful is in the park, we decided to try to limit the detour to two-and-a-half hours by going through Cody, Wyoming. We didn't stop at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center or the Buffalo Bill Dam (although both look worth a visit), but we did take a short diaper-changing break along the Shoshone River above the reservoir.

We made it to the east entrance of Yellowstone around 2:30 p.m., which is about what we expected given the change in route, and struck out for Old Faithful only to discover that the road from the east entrance to the lake is also under heavy construction. It could have been a lot worse, but it did slow us down.

Celeste at Lake YellowstoneAfter a stop at Lake Yellowstone, we made it to Old Faithful [NPS webcam] not too long after an eruption and with about 45 minutes to wait for the next one. Celeste was doing a lot of walking holding on to fingers at this point, enjoying being out of her carseat immensely up to the point where she slipped and fell hitting her head. It turned out to be a really good forehead bruise and a small cut, but she was okay after Evelin and M--- (my mother in law) took her into the lodge to wash off. We next walked around Geyser Hill and saw a few little eruptions/events up there before heading back down to get a spot to watch the eruption.

It was pretty cool (even though I was one of many watching things at least partially through a viewfinder), although there were a few false starts before the full eruption hit. I got some pictures so when Celeste is 10 and says she wants to see Old Faithful, I can tell her "You've already seen it."

After the eruption we got back on the road (Celeste was less than thrilled to see her carseat again) and headed to the north entrance. We figured the quickest way back to Billings would be to head out through Gardenier, Montana, and to pick up I-90 at Livingston.

I'm sure part of it was because we were just driving the main roads, but we didn't see too much wildlife in the park: a few mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), some white-tail deer (Odocoileus virginianus), two elk/wapiti (Cervus elaphus) resting in a marshy area, and a few cranes of somesort, maybe sandhills (Grus canadensis). I think we also saw a pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana) or two, but I'm not 100% certain of that.

Celeste woke soon after we left the park (actually while we were circling back around so that M--- could get a photo of the old north gate), so we stopped at the Park Street Grill & Café in Gardiner for dinner. The food was really good, Celeste had a good time, and I got to try a Trout Slayer ale and a Teton Ale. The Trout Slayer was little lighter, but I liked the Teton a lot.

Everyone was too full for dessert, so we headed back on the road, making it home with no incidents. We did, however, see some pretty good fireworks as we were passing near Big Timber or Columbus or somewhere. We finally made it back to the hotel around 11:00 p.m.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Montana: Day 1 

In less than a year, Celeste has managed to visit 14 states, including the District of Columbia. Today, she bagged numbers 13 (Montana) and 14 (Wyoming); it was also the first time Evelin or I had been to either state, too.

Another first for Celeste today — jalapeño. That was an accident.

We had a very early flight from BWI, 6:00 a.m., which meant leaving the house at 3:45 a.m. Celeste wasn't sure what to make of being awoken (it's usually her job to wake us at such hours), but she was game for the adventure.

Celeste in Her Britax/Go-Go Kidz Combo at BILTo make the airport easier, we picked up a Go-Go Kidz wheelie thing, which turned her Britax carseat into a stroller of sorts. It couldn't wheel down the aisle to our cattlecar seating, but it did work well in the airports.

Celeste did really well on the BWI to Denver flight, sleeping about an hour and otherwise playing nice and quietly. On the Denver to Billings flight, however, she was hungry. Evelin and I had grabbed burritos at ¡Qué Bueno! during our layover, but they started boarding before we could eat them, so, while the plane was loading and taxiing, I started feeding Celeste part of mine. I tried to be careful and to give her only bites of the rice, black beans, and guacamole, along with the occasional bit of onion and/or tomato from the mild salsa, she apparently she got something with heat.

She just started bawling, but still wanted food, and it took me a moment to figure out what the issue might be. At first I thought she hit a bit that was too hot (Fahrenheit/Celsius hot, not Scoville hot), but water, even though she gulped it, dinna help. I figured it out when I licked off the spoon before starting a jar of Gerber Tender Harvest Tropical Fruit Blend babyfood; there was quite a bit of spice.

I think what happened is that although I asked for mild salsa, the burrito maker started to splash the spicy/hot salsa on the tortilla. I guess some of that worked its way into a bit I fed Celeste. It took almost the whole jar of tropical fruit to cool her tongue.

[ASIDE: Is a term comparable to barista for a person who makes burritos? If I were coining one, I'd probably go with burristo, but that probably is an unfortunate slang expression or something ...]

After getting to Billings, picking up the rental car (a Hyundai Sonata) and making a quick stop at Target for diaper (we figured it made more sense to buy a pack out there rather than pack a brick in our bags), we headed to the hotel ... and Celeste promptly fell asleep about three minutes from the hotel parking lot. We tried to move her into the room without waking her, but no luck, so after an hour or so of trying to get her to nap again, we headed out to start seeing Montana.

Our goal was fairly modest, Pictograph Cave State Park, just the other side of the Yellowstone River from Billings. It was about 5 miles from our hotel ... and Celeste fell asleep before we got there. Apparently, she can sleep in the car ... when exhausted.

So we decided to just keep driving. We stayed on I-90 an headed south through the Crow Reservation, past Little Bighorn and into Wyoming. Celeste woke up when we took the exit for Ranchester, about 15 miles inside of Wyoming. We'd seen a billboard for a dinosaur museum (turns out it was closed for the season), and we figured we'd better start heading north at some point.

After a quick snack, we turned back to the Crow Reservation to visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield and to see the site of Custer's Last Stand. It was really interesting to see the sweep of the land, which seems almost unchanged since the 1870s, and to figure where the various skirmishers were during the battle. It was also really easy to see why that one hill is where Custer and his men ended up (and met their end). The nearby Indian Memorial was an interesting counterpoint to the older memorials for the U.S. Calvary.

Back at the hotel, Celeste went down for the night, and I headed out to find us something for dinner. At first I thought I might find a grocery store or something else with a salad bar, but after about an hour of driving around, not being inspired by Taco John’s or Del Taco or Burger King or anything else I found, I ended up at the Conoco station next to the hotel, buying some apples, cheese, and other knosh along with a Moose Drool brown ale for myself. It was pretty tasty.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Babies Dig Risotto 

Maybe I shouldn't generalize too much here, but Celeste at least is one baby who seems to dig risotto. When you stop and think about it, that shouldn't be surprising: rice, cheese, gooey, creamy — what's not to like?

She's had bits of my standard risi e bisi risotto before, and she enjoyed the leftovers of the zucchini-porcini risotto I made last week. So I decided to start making some batches of risotto specifically for Celeste.

Part of this was because we had a block of Cascadian Farms frozen winter squash that I picked up a while ago thinking we could break off pieces to feed Celeste. She never really went for it (and, honestly, it wasn't as good as the homemade butternut squash purée that she had been getting, so I don't blame her), but something needed to be done with it. I'd made a pumpkin risotto a while back, so I started thinking ...

Squash and Garbanzo RisottoSauté the onions in olive oil until translucent, add the rice toss to coat with oil. Add the garam masala and water and stir until mostly absorbed. Add in the stock, thawed squash and garbanzo beans and stir. Bring to a boil and lock down the pressure cooker. Cook for 8 minutes at low pressure. Release pressure and stir in ricotta.

Evelin and Celeste both liked it (Evelin compared it to pumpkin soup) and, since we froze about half of it, we'll see how it reheats over the coming week or two. The garam masala I used is a North Indian style with heavy notes of cinnamon. I don't think a hotter South Indian one would work as well, but maybe some scallions or fresh parsley would be a nice addition.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Why Is It ... 

... a mandolin (and, just to be clear, I ain't talkin' about bluegrass ...) can seem so dull when it's having trouble slicing an onion or a potato, yet it suddenly gets quite sharp when it meets a finger or two?

Let's just say that tonight's gratin wasn't quite vegetarian, nor was it quite cannibalism.

Ga Ga for Garbanzos 

Considering how much Celeste likes hummus, I shouldn't have been surprised, but she really chowed down on some garbanzo beans (straight out of the can) this afternoon. I sat down to feed her after the dishwasher was delivered and sent back (more about that in a moment), and she was on the peckish side. She started off with a bit of risotto, followed by some parsnips and applesauce, blueberries*, watermelon*, banana bread, cucumber*, mango*, and veggie burger (*not her favorites ... today), but was still acting hungry, so, fishing around for options, I opened a can of garbanzos. She took to them like candy, popping them into her mouth as quickly as I could slip the skin off the beans.

When she seemed done, I look away her bib and tray and, while I was turning to put those things on the kitchen counter, I heard a wet *blaurgh* sound. She'd leaned over the front of the chair and puked up about a teaspoon of water and garbanzos. It's a milestone because it's the first time she's really thrown up (as opposed to spitting up); it was also funny because I quickly cleaned up the mess (such as it was) and she proceeded to lean over to try to make that noise again ...

Another milestone for today: She was walking holding only one of my hands. She prefers to hold two hands/fingers, but she was able to take controlled steps with only one hand.

Dishwasher Scratch and Dent

So if I'm buying a scratch-and-dent dishwasher, I'm cool with whatever damage it may have, but when the guys were about to unload it off the truck, they asked me to come and look at things first. Celeste and I went out and, lo and behold, the front panel of the dishwasher is creased/dinged/dented. After talking it over (and the delivery guys blaming Sears's warehousing practices), I decided to refuse delivery.

Calling up Sears.com customer support, I find out it's going to take about three weeks before a dishwasher will be available for delivery — which seems pretty excessive to me. But, to add insult to injury, after I authorize a redelivery date, I go to see what they say about stock and the price on the unit has dropped $50.00.

Thankfully, they have a price protection guarantee and were pretty polite about crediting me back the difference, but it was still a bit of a kick. I decided to go with Sears for this because of the percent back Celeste will get in her 521 account via Upromise, but I'm beginning to wonder if it was worth the hassle. Hopefully delivery number two will occur more quickly than anticipated and there won't be any damage ...

Monday, August 01, 2005

Living Off the Earth 

Today was one of those days when I left for the office before Celeste awoke and dinna get home until after she was back in bed. I might see her if she has a crying fit in the next hour or two, but otherwise it'll be tomorrow afternoon. My Tuesday/Thursday afternoons with her help make amends for days like today — I hope.

Anyway, since I don't have any tales from the day that won't get me dooced, I'll relay what Evelin called me about this afternoon. She and Celeste went into the garden to pick cucumbers. We've been a little lax in making sure we check the vines each day, and some of the cucumbers have grown large enough to be confused for spaghetti squash. She culled the giant/bad ones and picked the one good one and handed it to Celeste, who almost immediately started eating it.

When they got back inside, Celeste refused to give it up and proceeded to gnaw a goodly bit of the gourd away. (And, surprisingly, a good amount of that ended up in her stomach, not just all over her clothes.)

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