Sunday, December 30, 2007


Today we were scheduled to fly home. But when we got to the airport we told them we'd be willing to give up our seats if the flight was oversold. It was! So, not only do we get an additional day playing here in Michigan, we each get a voucher for a free trip on United, PLUS they rescheduled us tomorrow in first class! How cool is that?!

Since Soren joined our family our travels have been slightly more challenging. Not only do we have one less income, but we also need to buy one additional plane ticket wherever we go. So whenever we fly now, we volunteer to be bumped just in case we can get free tickets. The most amazing part of all of this is that we are on the trip here on free tickets! And we got those tickets because we had been bumped another time. So, this is the third time on a trip to Michigan that we end up with free tickets. Free tickets on free tickets on free tickets. That is the way to travel!

Who knows...maybe we'll be able to get bumped tomorrow too...

Friday, December 28, 2007

A Fabulous Week

We've had such a fantastic week here in Michigan. But not really much to blog about. A listing of all we've done this week would be something like:

* Luke and Soren had a great time playing with their new Christmas toys.
* Luke and Soren really had fun playing at Luke's house.
* Luke and Soren had fun chasing each other in the new Thomas the Train tent.
* Luke and Soren loved going to the Children's museum.

See what I mean? Lots of fun, just not riveting reading. The snow had mostly gone away but today it seems to be coming back full force. Fortunately, not blizzard force this time. Just snowy. So tomorrow we do hope to be able to go out in Granpa's sleigh.

Tonight Peter and I are going to go out *gasp* just the two of us...Grandma is going to watch Soren. Hurrah!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Monday, December 24, 2007

Winter Wonderland

Well, I suppose we would have been disappointed had we arrived in Michigan to find it only cloudy and chilly. No need to worry though - we certainly weren't disappointed. The last time we came to Michigan in the winter we decided that from then on it would only be summer visits. Easier air travel, fun at the beach, riding the horses, fishing in Grandpa's pond...a never ending parade of delights. But this year with our free travel vouchers (thanks to voluntarily giving up our seats on a previous overbooked airplane) it seemed that the opportunity to travel for free during the most expensive time of year and spend Christmas with Grandpa, Grandma and the rest of our family was just too good to pass up.

We approached our trip out here with an attitude that it was going to be a long day...but that we'd make it fun. Oh, and what a long day it was. We actually made it out of Portland relatively on time but upon landing in Chicago it became obvious that the weather would be a factor there. 4 hours later - made up of consecutive 15-minute delays - we were finally on board. Then another hour waiting in the plane...first for luggage, then for de-icing, then for who knows what, maybe the pilots called for take-out pizza.

Upon arrival in Michigan we found an airport completely without power. They drove a stair truck out to our plane and we climbed down the icy steps and bolted through the blizzard across the pavement to get into the building. The very dark building. They had to unload all the luggage by hand so we waited another hour or so for that. Then they handed it out in the airport.

Much of the drive to Grandpa's house was in white-out conditions. But thanks to Grandpas' decades of Michigan driving we made it safely, if slowly, to his warm house where to Soren's delight Grandma was waiting.

The storm was raging when I tucked Soren in to bed. His bedroom was on the western side of the house. The wind was fierce. After I tucked him in he called me back to the room, crying. He demanded "shut the window, mama!" It was so noisy that he was sure that the window must be open.

This morning though we all awoke to a calm, quiet winter landscape. Blessed to be with our family in a very white Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Gingerbread House Update

As intriguing as it was to consider following Natalie's advice to stuff our gingerbread house with illegal fireworks and detonate it (taking care not to burn our hands) we just couldn't resist the siren call of all that sugar.


p.s. It was very yummy.

Another Tradition: Christmas Light Touring

Last night we tried on another Christmas tradition. We drove to one of the best light display neighborhoods in the area to see all the decorations. We each had a mug of hot cocoa to sip while we drove through. Soren insisted that I sing Christmas songs the entire time. Since he doesn't allow me to sing the same song twice, I had to dig pretty deep to remember the words to a lot of them. Peter was pretty good at pulling out random Christmas songs that no one really knows the words to (Good King Wenceslaus, anyone?) so I will admit to a slight bit of improvisation. Still, I think it was an impressive performance (and Soren certainly agrees). Soren only got mad when I improvised with his name because he is quite certain that he is not in any Christmas carols.

He wouldn't take his eyes off the flashing train long enough to look at the camera:


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Another Tagging...

I've been tagged again, this time by my friend Kendell...but I'm thinking that since this is the Soren Gazette I should answer these questions from his perspective:

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? Soren says: bags are no fun at all. I like ripping paper.

2. Real tree or Artificial? Soren says: What is artificial? (Amy interupts: actually we decorate one of our house plants! It is a 10 foot Norfolk pine so it fits the bill quite well. Well, until if fell on my head Sunday night...)

3. When do you put up the tree? Soren says: huh? You mean, not all people have their Christmas tree in the house all the time?

4. When do you take the tree down? Soren says: huh?

5. Do you like eggnog? Soren says: No, eggnog is gross, no matter how much daddy tries to convice me otherwise.

6. Favorite gift received as a child? Soren says: Ah, so hard to remember that far back, but my favorite present ever was this little Fisher Price car that I can ride. My dad chose it for me for my very first Christmas. Mom thought it would be just another piece of junk sitting around the house but I proved her wrong and I've been playing with it faithfully for two years.

7. Do you have a nativity scene? Soren says: You betcha. But we don't have any sheep or angels.

8. Hardest person to buy for? Soren says: Everyone since I usually want to buy presents only for myself.

9. Easiest person to buy for? Soren says: Me.

10. Mail or email Christmas cards? Soren says: Mail, of course. I like looking at all the cards with pictures of people that I know.

11.Worst Christmas gift you ever received? Soren says: huh?

12. Favorite Christmas Movie? Soren says: I've never seen a Christmas movie. My parents are clearly stunting my cultural development.

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? Soren says: As soon as my mom starts dragging me to the stores.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? Soren says: isn't recycling a good thing?

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Soren says: My gingerbread house was pretty tasty.

16. Clear lights or colored on the tree? Soren says: I like all lights.

17. Favorite Christmas song? Soren says: Whatever my mom will sing for me. I'm pretty sure she makes up a lot of the words though.

18. Travel at Christmas or stay home? Soren says: travel. Last year we went to Grandpa and Grandma U, this year it is Grandpa and Grandma P. They both live in snowy places too - so that is fun!

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer? Soren says: Of course. I might not be able to list the names that you might be thinking of. But could I name them? Sure! I think they should be called Blueberry, San Diego, Cement, Banana Peel...

20. Angel on the tree top or a star? Soren says: I can't see that high up.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? Soren says: As soon as I can convince my parents.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of year? Soren says: waiting.

23. Favorite ornament theme or color? Soren says: trains, trains, trains!

24. What do you want for Christmas this year? Soren says: This may come as a surprise, but I really like trains.

I'm tagging Amanda, Katie M., and Amy in South Dakota!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Fantasy vs. Reality

Peter and Soren went up to visit some friends of ours in Bellingham. Peter's been planning this for awhile (it was a ski trip), and honestly I knew the time would come when he and Soren would start taking to the road while I'm working. Actually, I'm sort of surprised that it has taken 2 1/2 years before it happened. But still, I have to say that I wasn't really excited about it. I really love to see them every day!

As the time drew closer though I started thinking about the possibility of all this free time that I was going to have. For me, other than the lack of sleep, the loss of free time has been the hardest part of motherhood. So the idea of having 4 days with only myself to please grew more appealing. I could go shopping! Take long leisurely baths! Get a pedicure! Lay on the couch and read magazines! Go to the movies! So many possibilities.

Well, now here we are on the last day of all my free time...and what have I accomplished? I did do quite a bit of aimless shopping on Sunday. That was fun. Soren is a good shopping partner but we don't just browse too much. I went in to a bunch of stores that I'd never even been in before. But since then I've gone in to work early and stayed at work late every day. Is this what I did with my free time when I was childless? I've accomplished a lot..but still it didn't turn out quite as blissfully relaxing as I anticipated.

They are on their way home now. I'm excited to see them. Maybe I'll take that long leisurely bath after Soren goes to bed tonight...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Soren's LEAST Favorite Things

1. Bedtime. Actually, this is a pretty new thing. He used to be so mellow about going to bed. I'd announce that it was bedtime and we'd happily embark on our routine. But lately he's become hugely resistant to going to bed. He just wants to stay up and keep playing. We had two stories come out of this new aversion. The first was when he decided to run away from me so that I couldn't put him to bed (that is really cute the first two times...) and he was running full speed and took a corner way too fast trying to evade me. He crashed full speed into the door frame. Peter came running from the other room because the crash was so loud. Poor little guy. The other story was last week when he kept announcing "I AM NOT GOING TO BED ANY MORE!" I do really try not to laugh out loud when he's being so serious. But I have to say that was a tough battle watching him insist on never going to bed again.
2. Leaving the library. We go to the library for story time every Saturday. After story time he plays in the playroom there. He's started throwing fits when we leave now...even though we are leaving to do one of his favorite things - Starbucks!
3. Waiting to eat his pancakes until he's eaten some eggs. On family breakfast day he gets pancakes, scrambled eggs and sausage. He loves pancakes! He'd eat a mountain of only pancakes if he'd have his way - especially now that he has discovered syrup. So we make him eat a few eggs first.
4. Loud noises. He hates loud sudden noises, but also noisy environments in general. We were at a big Christmas party last weeked with lots of people cheering and clapping and he wanted to go in the other room because it was too noisy.
5. Bad smells. I swear he's inherited his father's sense of smell. Between the two of them "eww, what's that smell?" is probably one of the more common phrases in our household. And not only when I'm cooking!
6. Peter and I talking too much when I get home from work. Soren really wants my undivided attention when I come home. He'll tell us to "stop talking!" if he feels like he's not getting enough mommy time.
7. Anyone other than me putting him to bed. He's fine having an occasional babysitter (and actually, I should have put Zoe on his list of favorite things) but there is something special about bedtime that he really only likes to have me do.
8. Children who don't talk to him. He understands that babies can't talk, but he is completely bewildered when other children either don't talk very much or ignore all the questions he sends their way.
9. Cookie Monster. Not sure what is going on there, but he's suddenly decided that Cookie Monster is very scary. He'll run out of the room if Cookie Monster ever comes on TV.
10. Blowing his nose. Oh how I wish he'd let me use that little bulb syringe to clean out his stuffy nose!

This list was actually much harder to come up with than the list of his favorite things. He's a pretty mellow, happy kid.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Soren's Favorite Things

I'm stealing this idea from my friend Katie's blog. Here are Soren's 10 favorite things:

1. Me. (I realize this is only likely to last a short I at least have another 10 years or so though?)
2. Thomas the Tank Engine and all his friends. And by that I mean James, Percy, Henry, Gorden, Cranky, Diesel, Diesel 10, Murdoch, Emily, Annie, Clarabelle, Butch, Byron, Trevor, Terrence, Skarlooey, Duncan, Salty, Bertie, and countless other little trains that I am constantly stepping on because they are spread across our family room floor.
3. Starbucks. Complete with Horizon's organic chocolate milk and a bagel with cream cheese.
4. "The playground". Which means any playground.
5. Bubbles at the Children's museum.
6. Teddy Grahams.
7. Playing with other children. Doesn't happen nearly enough.
8. Reading books. Clearly he didn't get this from a stranger...this kid loves to read!
9. Working outside with Dad.
10. Helping. He insists on helping with everything and heaven help me if I try to put on make-up/set the table/make oatmeal/open the car door/get the newpaper/turn off the bathroom light/or close the refrigerator without his help!

Coming soon: Soren's least favorite things.

Friday, December 07, 2007


The other night I went into Soren's room before I went to bed to be sure he was covered up. This is the position I found him in. He was completely sound asleep.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

What a Difference a Year Makes!

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a long time might remember last year's Santa debacle. I didn't really know if it would be better this year or not. I mean, you have to admit Santa could be a pretty scary guy - so huge! so red! so hidden behind a beard! and always wanting people to sit on his lap!

We've been talking about Santa for awhile this year and Soren was really excited to go see him. We talked about how it would happen...that Soren would sit on his lap and talk to him and tell him what he wants for Christmas.

We got a chance to visit Santa last weekend. Soren brought a cookie for Santa. This Santa was really awesome, very warm and gentle. Soren adored him. Check out the look on Soren's face - he's totally tuned into Santa.

I sure love Christmas.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Not To Be Trusted...

I've been doing quite a bit of my Christmas shopping online this year. I told Peter that some of his gifts would be coming in the mail and that under no circumstances was he allowed to open any of the packages that might come while I was at work.

Yesterday, I came home to find an Amazon box partially ripped open on the living room to some incriminating evidence - a can opener.

Peter claims that it was Soren, not him, who was behind the box opening. In fact, he took video to prove it. (Note: Stephen Colbert's face smiling out from the cover of the book - no hiding which book I ordered!)

I say that the video was started too late to fully exonerate Peter. So, no one is off the hook yet! ;-)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

We Made a Gingerbread House!

Last night Soren and I made a gingerbread house. Well, mostly he asked if he could eat the frosting and candy.


This is the first time we've ever made one. One question: what happens next? Am I just supposed to let it get all dried out and yucky? Or is there supposed to be some occasion for eating it?

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Cold Day on the Oregon Coast

Last weekend we took advantage of the non-rainy weather and headed out to the Coast. We went to Neskowin, one of our favorite spots. Unfortunately we were still pretty stuffed from the holiday gorging so we didn't get to stop at the charming Hawk Creek Cafe for pizza. But we did enjoy walking along the beach. It was cold (hence Soren bundled in a down coat) but bright and sunny. And the waves were huge! I love the Oregon coast!




Thursday, November 29, 2007

He Looks Like Me!

Since Soren was born there was always the question about whether he looked more like me or Peter. Most people say Peter. In fact, Peter is known to frequently ask total strangers - waitresses, checkout clerks, gas station attendants - two questions. The first question is "Isn't he (Soren) cute?" To which people, of course, always say yes. (I mean how can you say no when a proud daddy says something like that?) Then the second question is "And don't you think he looks just like me?"

But honestly, I don't quite see that Soren looks just like Peter. But I don't see that he looks like me either.

At long last, the question has been scientifically settled!

One small note: I did have to try about 468 different photo combinations in order to get these results. Shhh, no one needs to know that though, right? Oh, what's up with the fact that he only looks like me when I use a photo with his face smeared in jam?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Where Does Jesus Live?

When we were setting up the Christmas decorations on Friday (another tradition currently being test-driven: decorating the day after Thanksgiving) I pulled out our Nativity set and as we were setting it up Soren and I talked about each of the characters. Earlier in the week I had picked up a "story of Christmas" kind of book, so I took this opportunity to pull it out for the first time. We sat down and went through the story. He really liked it ("The angels have beautiful dresses.") but he got confused on the whole gift giving idea. The book says that we give gifts at Christmas because it is Jesus' birthday. He's been to birthday parties before and is pretty clear that the birthday person gets the gifts...not all the other people.

It was so much fun to watch his little mind working out the details. His biggest concern was where Jesus lives. (Obviously, we need to get there to bring him presents). I had a hard time answering that one "in your heart" felt too abstract for a 2 year old, and "in heaven" was a bit off.

It was a special moment deliberately introducing him to something so integral to our culture - the story of Jesus. Most stories like this are just part of something that we feel like we've always known. But there actually is a first time we really hear them.

We have yet to tackle how Santa Claus fits into the whole story (since he doesn't.) The whole Santa thing is pretty interesting. For the past few years Peter and I have discussed whether or not to "do the whole Santa thing" with Soren. Peter clearly remembers finding out that Santa wasn't real and feeling so misled. So we had talked about not really perpetuating that story. But the thing is, that Santa is real! I saw him at the mall just this weekend! It is interesting to see how I have just jumped into the "if you are good, maybe Santa will bring you that present" mind set. Oh well, I guess you can't be so deliberate about every little thing...hopefully he'll get a good therapist someday to get over it when he finds out that Santa isn't real.

As a sidenote, can I say that there are some really lousy Christmas books on the market? Most of the stories are too full of non-kid language but one of the books had all the characters looking like children. How confusing would that be? "Mom, is Mary 7 years old?"

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Christmas Traditions

I think I've mentioned before here that we've been working on coming up with some meaningful Christmas traditions. Peter and I actually disagree a bit on how traditions happen. He says that they sort of evolve over time, which I suppose is true. But the planner in me isn't really content just seeing what sorts of Christmas traditions develop in our house. So I've come up with a list of traditions that we're trying out. I've been working on this list pretty much since Soren was born, but now that he's really getting into the whole idea of Christmas it seems more important.

One of the traditions we're trying is building up Jesus' bed. I pulled the straw out of the manger and from now until Christmas Soren gets a small piece of yarn everytime he is helpful, kind or does something nice.

Here is Jesus' manger today:


I'll keep you updated throughout the month on how comfortable Baby Jesus is!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving was terrific. We had Peter's parents, brother, nieces and sister plus my mom and sister all over for the big day. Soren doesn't see his 4-year old cousin Hailey very often. And he has another friend named Bailey. So he kept calling Hailey "Bailey". She was not very happy with that situation.

When we were saying the prayer before our scrumptious feast, Soren got a chance to do his normal prayer which as I've mentioned here before is simply a litany of all he's thankful for. Here's how it went this time:

Soren: Thank you for our food. Thank you for Grandma. Thank you for potatoes. Thank you for Bailey...
Meanwhile at the other end of the table you can hear "He called me Bailey again! My name is not Bailey."
Uncle Garth (whispering): Shhhhh, it is ok, don't worry about it.
Soren: Thank you for Grandpa. Thank you for milk...
Hailey: But I don't like it when he calls me Bailey! I am not Bailey!
Uncle Garth (whispering): Shhhhh...
Soren: Thank you for family. Amen.

But the most hilarious part is that later that night we heard Hailey reprimanding Soren. She said "Carson, my name is not Bailey!" Yep, that's right, she kept calling him Carson. Perhaps these kids need to get together more often?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Why We Love Satsumas

We love Satsuma oranges. They are easy to peel and very tasty...

But mostly, we love them because they come in a really great box.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Psychedelic Snacks

So here's a conversation that I hesitate even to tell for fear that someone is going to call child protective services!

Me: Hey Soren, do you want to make some brownies?
Soren: OK! I want to make hash brownies!
Me (oblivious): Ok, go get up on your stool.
Soren: We're making hash brownies! I want to make hash brownies! Let's make hash brownies!
Me (still oblivious): Ok, you pour this into the bowl.
Soren: I'm making hash brownies!


Me (sort of catching on): What did you say? Hash brownies? These aren't hash brownies, these are just brownies. What are you talking about?
Soren (sits quietly for awhile, then): Can I take a bite of the hash brownies?

I swear I am so far out of the whole drug culture that I didn't even register what he was saying...anyone else though would probably have noticed that a two-year old is asking mommy for some the brownies. Oy. The worst part is that he learned all about hash brownies on our family breakfast days...when Peter orders hash browns!

So, I was wrong I won't follow up the two-year-old-plays-with-life-endangering-scissors video with juggling chain saws. We've branched into making psychedelic brownies instead!


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Today Soren Told His First Story...

"The sun came up. It got stuck. The sun told the cars to go. The sun was very hungry. It didn't have any arms. It didn't eat raspberries. It ate clouds."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

More Funny Soren Sayings...

1. We've been potty training for a while now. We'd been using incentives to reward activities on the potty. Small prizes (an M&M, or teddy graham) if he pees on the potty and a bigger prize for when he poops. He's clearly figured out that pooping is great. He now has lots of grand plans for all he's going to acquire from upcoming bowel movements. Most of them include Thomas the Train characters. "I'm going to poop for James! Then I'm going to poop for Gordon! Then I'll poop for Henry!" Our living room is already a mess with train pieces all over the place. Would it be wrong for a mother to wish some constipation on her son?

2. Peter: Soren, the clock says it is nap time.
Soren: The clock in the other room says it is time to play!

3. Peter was teasing Soren the other day by blowing on him whenever he looked away.
Soren: Dad, don't blow on me. I'm not bacon.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sitting With Scissors

Ah yes, the truth comes out about how we pass our time in our household. Next weeekend: juggling chainsaws.

Lessons learned:
1. A child-safe scissors is on the list of things to pick up ASAP.
2. Things look more dangerous on video than they do in real life. I swear, when we were doing this it seemed harmless. But when I watch the video I'm like "er, who let's a 2 year old play around with a sharp and pointy scissors?!"
3. Activities seem fine while you are doing them, but when you picture them as a newspaper headline you rethink it. Child, 2, Runs Amok with Scissors as Mother Watches
4. Maybe it is time to put another log on the woodstove when my son needs to wear a fleece hat inside the house!

(Note for those of you on dial up or otherwise unable to see the video - don't worry, nothing bad actually happened!)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Joy of Christmas

So, I've been thinking about holiday traditions lately and decided that I wanted to help Soren get excited about giving presents for Christmas. Often it seems that people try elimiate the focus on gifts altogether when creating a "meaningful" holiday, but I like the giving aspect of Christmas, so I hope to focus on that in our house. But it appears that we have a ways to go...

Me: Soren, did you know that Christmas is coming soon?
Soren: (blank stare)
Me: And we can get presents for people. Won't that be fun?
Soren: (blank stare)
Me: We can get a present for daddy. What do you think he'd like?
Soren: And a present for me?
Me: Well, it is really fun to *give* people presents. It makes them happy. Wouldn't it be fun to give daddy a present?
Soren: No, you give daddy a present. And get a present for me!

Sigh. I guess it isn't surprising that a two year old is thinking about himself first...but I do hope to he can eventually find the fun of giving this season. I'll keep ya posted.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Gastric Bypass, Anyone?

As promised here are the sumo videos...

This first video shows me "wrestling" my sister Christine (I'm in the red, uh, thong?):

And this one shows Peter attacking me! Is kicking allowed in sumo wrestling? I have to say that it was actually scary to wrestle him...I knew that for sure I was going to get smashed!

This was so much fun! I have one video that I took of Peter wrestling our friend Alan, and you can't really hear much over the sound of me squealing and gasping for breath because I was laughing so hard as I watched them. Too funny!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Taking the Stomach Stretch Quite Literally!

This weekend we hosted our annual Pre-Holiday Stomach Stretch. It is an annual event that we started 12 years ago when we realized that we wanted to spend time with our friends over the holidays but that things were always too busy at that time of year. We now get together before any of the holiday craziness starts...and we begin conditioning our stomachs for the feasting holidays coming soon.

This year we rented sumo suits for the party. My stomach is hurting today, not from too much eating (ok, that might be part of it) but from laughing so hysterically. I have two videos that I'll post, but for now here are a few of the photos.

Peter and me (before he attacked me!):
Amy and Peter - Sumo!

After Peter shoved me down the hill:
Crashed - Amy and Peter, sumo

Does this hairstyle make me look fat?
Does this hairstyle make me look fat?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Happy Halloween!

For the past few weeks people have been asking me about our Halloween plans. And I haven't really been too excited about it. We happened to have a bee costume at home and so we planned to let him wear that to the party at the toddler time class that he attends with Peter on Wednesdays. But other than that, I just didn't get too excited about Halloween for a two year old. I mean, does he really need the candy? Will he really be able to get excited about it? So, we didn't even really talk about it at home.

Man, I was wrong!

Yesterday the neighbors called because they wanted Soren to stop by for a Halloween present. People really don't trick or treat in our neighborhood since we live so far out, but they wanted him to come over. When I got home Peter had Soren all dressed up in his bee costume, with coordinating (pure coincidence) rain boots. It was so stinkin' cute!!! I couldn't believe it. And he was beside himself with excitement to get over to Zoe's house so that he could say "trick or treat".

It was so much fun going to that neighbor's house that we went over to the other neighbor. He still doesn't understand that Halloween is all about the candy...he just likes to say "Trick or treat" and tell them "Happy Halloween."

Now, I'm already excited about Halloween for next year!



Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Some Train-related Photos

We took quite a few train journies on our trip. The longest one was about 4 hours though, so they were all fairly easy trips. Soren like imagining which Thomas character was pulling the our train. Was it Diesel? Maevis? Gordon?

trains (5)


trains2 (6)

trains2 (2)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Big Head

We came across this sculpture in the Old Town Square in Krakow, Poland. I thought it make a really cool photo if Soren would climb in and look out through the eye...but he wanted no part in climbing in that thing! After awhile though he warmed up enough to at least dare to touch it!

krakow (5)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Need to Expand Soren's Vocabulary

Well, yesterday I discovered the limits of Soren's fantastic vocabulary. This week I'm going to work on teaching him "urgent" and "emergency". Here's the story.

I was cleaning the garage and while we were out there he wanted to play in the car. Since that usually entails hitting the power door locks within three seconds of getting in the vehicle I thought I was being very clever by opening the back door so that I'd be able to reach through when he was ready to come out. So he climbs in and, as expected, locks the doors immediately. He went along happily playing and eventually announces "I want to come out,Mom."

So, I go to reach through the back door and realize that the door has closed just enough to look slightly ajar but still be locked. No big deal, I could just run in and grab my keys but I decided to try to see how well Soren could follow directions. So I started telling him how to hit the unlock button. I pointed toward the button and told him to push it. "Push that button, no up just a, over that, a little bit higher..." Let me tell you, two year olds aren't into subtle movements. Each time I had him change positions he'd move his hand to an entirely different section of the door.

Eventually he did manage to unlock the door. "Put your finger on the button, and push the part with no words" were the instructions that finally got him there. So, the door is unlocked. I open the door to retrieve him and he announces....

"I peed!"

Sure enough, there was pee all on the front seat. If only he'd told me that it was an emergency, I could have just let him out quickly. Poor guy - trying to follow complex directions and not pee. Sigh.

Poor Sick Little Guy

Now that we are home we can go through our photos...seeing Soren's hospital photos lets me see that he really was visibly sick. Can't you just see it in his eyes in this photo?

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Friday, October 26, 2007

The pigeons! First of several posts with pictures from our trip...

As I mentioned, Soren just loved chasing the pigeons wherever we went in Europe. I have to say that Osweicim in Poland wins the award for having the laziest pigeons ever - I was actually worried that Soren was going to step on them. And he was a bit isn't quite as much fun to chase something when it doesn't run away!

These photos are from Krakow. Much more energetic pigeons!

krakow pigeons (24)

krakow pigeons (18)

krakow pigeons (15)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

We're home!

Well, sitting on the computer at 2 a.m. is a good indication that we are home - and a bit jet lagged. We made it home Monday night around 11 p.m. It was a long, but uneventful trip home. We lucked out and had two young girls sit behind us on the Vienna - DC flight. They loved to play with Soren and were a huge help in passing the 9.5 hour flight with ease. Then we pretty much crashed out on the flight to Portland. Well, Soren and I crashed out. The lady behind Peter asked him not to recline his seat and since she was fairly elderly, he graciously complied. But that meant he couldn't sleep. Poor guy. Well, at least he got to see the latest Harry Potter film.

We enjoyed the remainder of the trip once we left the hospital, but we didn't have much Internet access so I didn't get to update the blog. Here are some of the highlights:

* We did get released as expected from the hospital. My observation on the "do-it-yourself" care proved true to the very end. The doctor stopped by and asked how I thought Soren was doing. I told her that I thought he was much improved. She asked if I wanted to be released. I told her yes...and she said ok. She never even touched him! Granted, she had been observing his cough and she had the nurse's notes from the night before, but in the US the doctors certainly would have at leasted pulled out the stethoscope.

* We've decided that we must have committed some grievous crime against the Motherland or were somehow otherwise unworthy, because we really just weren't able to get to Peter's Grandparent's village. After the hospital stint killed our first plan to get to the village, we came up with an alternative plan. When we got to Slovakia we rented a car intending to take a day to drive up there. That wasn't easy. But after lots of work and lots of assistance from the staff at our hotel we tracked down a rental car. But when got up bright and early the next day we discovered that the ground was covered with snow! Aargh! Since the snow was accumulating at our low elevation, we were really concerned about how much worse it would be driving up into the small mountain roads. So, in the end we decided against it and returned our rental car without ever driving it!

* We stopped off at Trencin on the way back to Bratislava. It broke up the train journey for us and gave us a chance to visit the beautiful Trencin castle. The castle itself wasn't the beautiful part - the views from the top of the tower were incredible though and gave a bird's eye view of the lovely city and surrounding hills. I'll post pictures (once I sort through the 500 photos that I took!)

* When the plane landed in Washington DC Soren's first words were "We landed! Let's go to Starbucks!" Oy, what have I done to this child? (By the way, there was a starbucks with in 50 feet of clearing US immigration. And yes, we did go. Soren recognizes the Starbucks logo and he was so excited to get his favorite Starbucks milk. There is no way I could have gotten him past the place.)

* If a Starbucks addiction weren't bad enough, Soren learned one other thing while we were gone that really astounded me. While were out for dinner with Joe on our final night in town, Soren picked up a small wooden skewer that had come in the meat of my meal. He inserted it carefully between his first two fingers and then brought it up to his mouth. I couldn't believe my eyes. Could this be a coincidence? I got Peter's attention and we sat and watched Soren for a few minutes. Sure enough, he'd put the skewer up to his mouth and then deliberately pull it away and adjust it between his fingers. I asked Soren what he was doing - his response: "smoking". Aargh! As I mentioned everyone everywhere seemed to smoke on this trip, but I had no idea that he had been watching them so closely. I think that to make up for this we'll have to spend our next few vacations in prime Mormon vacation spots. (Ok, you LDS friends of mine, I'm going to need some vacation tips!)

We really did have a great trip. We're happy to be home now though. I'll post some pictures in the coming days.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

On the mend...

Thanks so much to everyone for all the well wishes. It was nice to hear from so many of you. Soren is still in the hospital - staying for the third night tonight - but I think that speaks more for the tendency here to hospitalize kids for longer than we do rather than any indication that he's very sick. He has been running a slight fever (100.2 degrees) intermittantly and so they suggested that he stay another night. The croup seems to be under control so they've stopped the nebulizer treatments. But his cough still sounds really tough. It is really dry. They started antibiotics today and he's getting cough medicine too.

We've been in contact with our insurance company to be sure that we'll have all our ducks in a row to get reimbursed for this hospital expense. It looks like they will cover it. We'll need to pay here and then submit the paperwork when we return. They gave us some specific requirements that we need to have in the paperwork, but it isn't anything too unusual. Today while I was working with the doctor (here the doctors talk about billing stuff, rather than other admin people like in the US) I asked if she could give us an esimate or even a ballpark of what the cost would be. I haven't asked (suppose I should) but it seems really unlikely that they'll take Visa, so we'll need to pull out enough money at the ATM to pay the bill. With a $300/day ATM limit we needed to know how many days we'd need to max out the card. She agreed to work up our bill for us so that we could plan. The total bill for a three night hospital stay is going to be under $400!

While it is sad to see Soren sick and disappointing to not be able to go freely about our travels, we are still meeting lots of great people and definitely learning about new cultures and customs! Some random observations:

* As I mentioned before, they seem to hospitalize kids (and maybe adults too, but we haven't experienced that) much more liberally than we do at home. Since we have the windows into all the other rooms we can watch all the other patients and families. Most of them don't seem very sick. The boy next to us has also been getting breathing treatments, but otherwise he seems completely healthy. And he's been here for at least three nights. Another mother who speaks English said her son has been here since Monday. He had a rash that was a reaction to a topical medicine but the doctor wanted him hospitalized in case it was something else. The two babies next to us seem totally fine, I can't see any signs at all that either of them are sick. I know that I am missing much of the story since I can't talk to most of them, but it still is clear that there aren't life-threatening illnesses that are keeping them in the hospital.

* They do bring three meals a day to the room. Breakfast is usually two pieces of white bread with an enormous slab of butter and jam (with no visible fruit content!), today was some sort of rice-like oetmeal. Lunch is full meal - today it was a chicken leg, mashed potatoes, and mashed beets. Dinner was two pieces of white bread, the requisite butter slab, and a hot dog.

* They have showers and a kitchen we can use.

* There is a playroom for the children. That seemed a bit strange for us at first since presumably a large percentage of the kids would have contagious diseases, right? We resisted going at first until 1) we tried to contain an energetic two year old locked in a room all day, and 2) we noticed that most of the other kids don't seem very sick. So now, we've been letting him go down to play for awhile and then coming back and washing his hands like crazy. In typical Soren style, he's making lots of friends. He's also seemed to come to terms that none of them can talk to him.

* There isn't soap anywhere. We find that fairly disconcerting considering this should be a fairly clean enviroment, but as we look around we see that most of the other families have brought their own and have it set up next to the sink in their room. We carry Purell with us while traveling so we had that for the first day until Peter ran out to buy some. In our US hospital the nurses wash their hands upon entering and exiting the room. Definitely not the case here.

* This is a lot more do-it-yourself care. Yesterday the nurse dropped off the nebulizer and said "10 minutes" and then left the room. Fortunately, it was easy to figure out. Then tonight she handed me a thermometer and started to leave. I had no idea which button to push on the digital thermometer so I had to ask for some help on that one. They also will pretty much leave us alone if there isn't a problem. While it is nice that Soren can get uninterupted sleep, it is up to me to let the nurse know if there is a problem.

* No one smokes in the hospital. While that may seem overly obvious, it isn't here. It seems that everyone smokes here. We've started calling the "no smoking" section in restaurants the "low smoking" area instead. Because plenty of people smoke in the no smoking section. At first my American indignence was raised, but then when I noticed that there were ashtrays on the no smoking tables, I realized that this was expected. As usual when we don't understand something, we make up a story about it. Our theory is that in the smoking section, if you don't chain smoke you will be kicked out of the restaurant. If you'd only like an occasional cigarette then you head to the no smoking area. ;-)

We are hoping that he'll be discharged tomorrow. Depending on what time that happens, we will likely leave town. Our plans aren't totally set yet, but at this point it doesn't look like we will visit Peter's grandparent's hometown. That is just a bit more rural than we are willing to go right now. I think we'll stay a bit more mainstream just to know that we can have access to medical care in case Soren doesn't continue improving.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Darn croup.

Well, last night we used our planned route to the hospital. As is usual with croup, Soren's breathing got more labored during the night. He was still able to sleep but since it seemed to be getting worse, we decided to take him in. I'm glad we did. We had a doctor who spoke some English and he admitted Soren.

Foreign hospitals are always a bit scary since we really don't know exactly what is going on. But the quality of care seems quite high. Much more low-tech than we have at home, but much more "care" oriented. For example, the nurse came into the room many times during the night to feel if Soren had a fever and to listen to his breathing. In the US our experience has been that the nurses simply have a list of chores to complete - take temperature at a certain hour, check blood pressure, measure urine output etc. etc. etc. Nothing against our nurses, our system just seems to need to get so much work out of them in their shift that there really isn't time for hands on care and attention. This was far less invasive and, in my opinion, better suited to letting Soren get the rest he needed. He's been getting nebulizer breathing treatments which seem to be improving things.

We are in a private room. The interesting thing though is that instead of walls between the rooms it is all windows. We can see all the other children and their mothers from our room. Soren has enjoyed waving and blowing kisses at them all. He's such a trooper for a sick guy - he's still really social and wants to be helpful to the doctors so he sits still, breaths like they tell him too, sticks out his tongues so they can see his throat. And always tells them thank you when they leave. He's such a sweetie.

The doctor today speaks very clear English and confirmed that he has croup. She suggested it would be best to stay another night, which actually is a relief for me. Knowing that it gets worse at night means that if we were discharged I'd spend another sleepless night wondering if we needed to go back to the hospital. Now we know that he can get the care he needs if things get worse again tonight. Since we've been down this path before we know that it us usually two bad nights but then things improve pretty quickly. Hopefully that will be the case again this time.

Monday, October 15, 2007

More from Poland

Soren has croup. He and I have both been fighting a cold since the beginning of our trip and his took a turn for the worse last night. We've been watching for it since his colds do tend to turn into croup, but last night the recognizable barking cough started. Fortunately, we are in an ideal location with the cold mountain air for him to recuperate. He's as happy and chipper as ever, but his cough sounds sad. We have a balcony in our room and we bundled him up a few times during the night to take him out to let him breath in the cold air. That helps almost immediately. So I hope he's on the mend soon.

Just in case it gets worse, we explored our doctor/hospital options this morning. We are about two blocks away from the hospital so if things don't improve, or get worse during the night (as croup tends to do) we've already planned our route to the hospital.

While we were wandering around looking for the hospital we ran into the helicopter rescue team getting ready to do a training exercise. Soren, of course, wanted to go for a ride on the helicopter and as we stood around looking at it, one of the team members came to tell us we could come take a look if we'd like to. He was a Polish doctor who spends half his time as an anethesiologist and the rest of his time as a rescue team doctor. Pretty amazing job! He was really nice, spoke great English and told us about the rescue work they do. Since this is a very popular hiking and skiing area they are called upon to rescue skiiers, hikers and climbers from all sorts of situations.

We're mostly having a slow and lazy day today. We have a great room in our log cabin hostel, so Soren played with his cars and then went down to watch some Sesame Street in the community lounge, or rather he watched SesamStrasse since it is on satellite from Germany. We ventured out for out trip to find the hospital and then had a lovely lunch (I've finally figured out how to get some non-brown foods!) before coming back for afternoon nap time.

We are planning the next leg of our journey. We are currently about 12 miles away - as the crow flies - from Zuberec, the hometown of Peter's grandparents before they immigrated to Canada so we are trying to figure out how to get there. It isn't so straightforward since we need to cross the border from Poland to Slovakia to get there, but the girls in our hostel have been helpful and seem optimistic that we can piece together a few local busses to get there. We're hoping to try on Wednesday. We'll spend today and tomorrow yet just relaxing in this lovely mountain scenery and letting Soren recover.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

More Poland

We really liked Krakow. While Prague is the "it" city in Eastern europe, we liked Krakow just as much and thought it had as much to offer. The main square in the old town, like Prague, was really the highlight. And again like Prague, it had a beautiful old castle overlooking the city. We really enjoyed it.

We left Krakow this morning. There was certainly more to see and do there, but we are feeling a bit citied-out. We've seen enough of the churches, temples and stunning buildings. We were ready for getting a bit back to nature.

We took a two-hour bus trip south to the Polish resort town of Zakopane. It is a major hiking and ski resort area. Kind of a Polish Beaver Creek, or Squaw Valley with a bustling main tourist town but surrounded by the mountains. There is snow in the mountains and the town itself is much cooler than any place we've been to so far. Our balcony has a thermometer on it, and this afternoon - in the sun - it was about 74 degrees! Nice! But that was in the direct sun. I'm sure it is 30 degrees colder than that right now. No skiing yet though.

This area of Poland is famous for a particular wooden style of house. We are staying in a hostel in that design. Very log cabin-like. Nice atmosphere.

Traveling with a two year old

I don't suppose the notes for this trip would be complete without mentioning some of the intricacies of traveling with a two-year old. It certainly isn't the same as our pre-kid days, but it comes with many new joys too.

We've made a point of trying to try to time our longer trips between cities during Soren's nap times. This accomplishes two things: it allows him a quiet place to take a nap (on me) and keeps us from having to occupy him during the entire journey. When we aren't traveling we make a point of going back to the room during nap time. And then one of us stays in the room with him while the other one goes out to do some exploring.

Until only a day or two ago, Soren's vocabulary seemed to have been dramatically limited by the trip. He was concentrating all his effort on three main sentences:

* Where are we?
* How did we get here?
* Where are we going?

Poor guy. I don't think he ever really understood any of the answers.

Then two days ago he asked me a new question, "Mama, what's English?" Seems he noticed that I often asked people "do you speak English?" and he wanted to know what was going on. He's been a bit bewildered why children don't talk to him when he tries to play with them on the playground (another change from pre-kid days is that we seek out playgrounds whereever we go). So we've been explaining that they don't speak English. He knows how to say hi ("ahoy") in Slovak/Czech and has been using that a lot.

Yesterday we ran into a little boy in the grocery store. When we left, Soren waved to him and the boy waved back. Soren exclaimed, "he speaks English!" I guess he's happy with any form of communication.

Last night in Krakow we were in a restaurant with a bunch of Canadian students. I told Soren that they probably spoke English. Here's the conversation:

Soren (approaching a very pretty blonde student): Do you speak English?
Student: Yes. I'm from Canada.
Soren: I go to Canada.
Girl: You do?
Soren: Yes, I go there in a big airplane!
Girl: Where are you from?
Soren: Oregon.

He had a very nice time talking to all the girls at the table. I think he was finally relieved that he could talk to people!

He was pretty much potty trained before we came here, but I think we've regressed on that a bit. Probably more our doing, than Soren's. It is just easier to put a diaper on him than having to worry about finding a suitable place for him to pee all the time. We obviously aren't the only ones wtih this problem as we've seen many parents helping their small child pee in the bushes/street/gutter.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Poland now...

Well, this hostel has an English style keyboard on the computer, so we're off to a better start. But now my Blogger software is all in Polish, so I need to rely on my memory to be sure that I hit all the right buttons!

We're in Krakow now. Arrived today. We're staying in a hostel, which is definitely a step down from where we've been staying and not terribly comfortable. But the place we had reserved turned out to be double-booked, and we didn't feel like searching further. So I think we'll sleep here tonight and look for somewhere new in the morning.

So, let's see since we last heard from our heroes (that's us) here's what has been happening:

We left Prague and took a three hour train trip to the eastern Czech Republic to a town called Olomouc. It is a lovely town with a few amazing sites but mostly just a place where people live rather than a major tourist attraction. I think that is the kind of place we like most. We found a lovely hotel and enjoyed wandering around. Peter's plant radar went off and we ended up in a botanical garden. It was a nice break from looking at churches, castles and other man-made structures as lovely as those all have been.

Yesterday we took a train to Osweicim in Poland. Auschwitz is the Germanized version of that town's name and the home of the concentration camp. Getting there was a bit of an adventure. Our train was delayed and when we got to town it was dark, raining, and the information center and money changing places were both closed. We asked at the ticket window for directions to our intended hotel, and she told us that it was closed down! Hm, we weren't sure what to do. We had no Polish money, our guidebook didn't include a map of the town. The obvious option would be to jump in a taxi and ask the driver to take us to a hotel, but historically we've found taxi drivers to be the most dubious characters around and so we usually avoid them.

We stopped in a small restaurant/snack shack and asked there if they knew a hotel. They didn't speak any English, but spoke German. With my one year of high school German I was pretty much left staring at them and saying that we were tired (reminiscent of the time Peter got Malaria in Laos and all I could tell the doctor who spoke French was that my boyfriend had a head ache and fever). I think we probably looked pretty pathetic, because in the end they drove Peter to a hotel and then came back to pick me up (they had a two seater car, seemingly the standard here, so we couldn't all fit in one trip). I did understand the general plan and that they'd be back for me in about 10 minutes. Sure enough, they came right back and whisked Soren and me to our waiting (and very nice) hotel. It happens to us so often that complete strangers jump to our help when we need it. For us this is such a special part of traveling and was such a nice welcome to Poland.

We did Auschwitz in shifts today. It just isn't the type of place to bring Soren. So I went this morning and then when I returned Peter did his tour. Hard to know what to say of the place. I think anything I'd say would either be melodramitc or trite. But I guess I can make three main comments:

1) It was a cold and foggy morning. I was cold. The irony wasn't lost on me. To feel a chill through my jacket and cashmere sweater really felt like I was being ridiculous. But it also was a reminder of how darn cold it must have been there so undernourished, overworked, and poorly clothed.

2) In all the holocaust memorials we've been too they show piles of personal belongings left by the murdered people. Piles of shoes, suitcases, glasses, hairbrushes. It is such a poignant reminder of the fact that so many people, individual people, were killed there. But this one had an particularly haunting room. A collection of human hair. They had thousands of pounds of it. They had shaved the heads of the dead and used the hair to make cloth.

3) This is the first time that I've been to a holocaust memorial since becoming a mother. The stories of the children were really more than I could bear this time. I truly can't really talk about it, or even allow myself to imagine those stories without really crying. Such horrors.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Greetings from the Prague Cyber Laundromat

Hi all, this is going to be a painful post, I fear. Not that anything bad has happened, it is just that I am typing this on a Czech keyboard. The y and z keys are in different locations, I can§t figure how to make commas, apostrophes, exclamation points or parenthis. So I do hope you§ll forgive a post full of typos. Already I§ve use more than my fair share of the backspace key just to get this far.

I§m parked at the Prague Cyber Laundromat while Soren, and likely Peter, is napping. Time to clean our clothes and take care of email and things at the same time.

Prague has been really great so far. It certainly lives up to all the hype. Beautiful, ancient and PACKED with tourists. I mean really, really packed. Shew. But there is a reason, or many reasons they are here. Prague truly is spectacular.

Dang, I had no idea just how often I used that y key. I have had to backspace every one in this post thus far to change it from a z to a y. Sigh.

...Brief pause to transfer my laundry to the dryer...

Ok, so more about our trip. Prague has a reputation for being one of the more expensive locations in Europe for accomodation. We ran out of money within three hours of arriving here! ....hey! I found the exclamation point! Though I do wish I could have put that in parenthesis.... Not literally out of money but all our Czech cash was gone in three hours. When we arrived at the train station we went to a cash machine and took out the maximum allowed. About...dang, I can§t find the numbers on this keyboard either...three hundred dollars. And having to pay for accomodation up front, plus buy our transportation passes and pick up a few groceries we burned through it all pretty quickly. Fortunately, this meant we were pretty well set up for the next few days. And we could go back to the cash machine the next day.

We had scouted a few possible hotels and hostels in our guidebooks and had planned to go check them out. But it is fairly common practice for international trains, which are likely to carry foreigners in need of rooms, to be met by touts trying to drum up business for their small hotel or private accomodation. So we were approached by this guy who has studio apartments available. He took us there and it was a total score. We have a small studio apartment complete with kitchen for about sixty five dollars a night. That would be a good deal in the US, but here in expensive Europe it feels like we won the lottery!

We§ve been eating breakfast and lunch in the apartment, food from the grocery store, and then eating out at night. Oh, I should probably comment on the food. It is brown and white. Occasionally there is something beige just to mix it up a bit, but generally they don§t branch out into other colors of the spectrum. Lots of saucy meat and dumplings or potatoes. Peter really likes it alot. I have admit that I§m missing vegetables though. Unless you count cabbage, I§m not sure we§ve had many veggies since we arrived. We splashed out and went to KFC for lunch today where I got a SALAD! Yippee! The food is good, very hearty, and I think we§d describe it a home cooking style, but I§m developing a real hankering for more colors!

Today we visited the Prague Castle which is perched on a hill overlooking Prague. I§m not sure if the castle itself or the views were more amazing. Actually amazing is a word that Soren has learned while we§ve been here. Clearly, he§s been hearing us say it a lot.

Oh, and I was wrong in my post the other day. I thought that trains were going to replace pigeons as Soren§s favorite European sight. Not a chance! He loves chasing them all over the town squares. They usually run rather than fly away, seemingly underestimating his conviction in catching them. But once he§s chased an individual bird around the square three times or so, it will usually fly up to a toddlerless perch. Then he moves on to the next bird...

Ah, looks like the laundry is finishing. Time to fold. I think we are leaving Prague tomorrow. And honestly, I§m not sure where we are going. The town I wanted to visit is proving to have some complicated connections which could make the journey a challenge with Soren. So, I think I§ve found an alternative stop on the route to Krakow, Poland. Auschwitz is short trip from Krakow and we are hoping to make it there. Probably by the weekend.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The best photo so far...

I've shot about 130 pictures so far...lovely shots of the old city and Devin castle. But I have to say that so far, this one is my favorite. When we went to the grocery store, we picked up a few things that Joe might need at the house. Toilet, paper for example. Peter got a good laugh over the name of the toilet paper. But we laughed even harder when Miska translated the packaging for us. It really is for the aid and prevention of hemorhoids!

Hemo Roll

Devin Castle

We had a fabulous day yesterday. We took a bus to Devin, a small town just outside Bratislava. We first went to the grocery store to pick up some picnic supplies. It was so terrific to have Joe and Mishka (Joe's Slovak girlfriend) to guide us there. They chose a bunch of classic Slovak snacks. We had a picnic at the base of Devin castle.

Devin castle is a lovely Sunday-afternoon kind of setting. It was full of locals enjoying the sunny afternoon. Picnicing, riding bikes or rollerblading, and even taking canoes down a small offshoot of the Danube river.

Picnic at Devin castle

We were having such a nice time relaxing and snacking that we didn't pay too much attention to the time and by the time we actually got to the castle itself we found that it had just closed. Mishka jumped in and had a gentle conversation with the guard at the gate. Well, we assume he was some sort of guard. She asked if there was any way we could get in since we had come so far to see this castle. He hemmed and hawed and told her that if we came back in 20 minutes after all the people had left he would see what he could do.

We went stopped at a small pub with a playground (interesting concept, don't you think? Pubs with playgrounds?) to while away the time. After 20 minutes we went back to the gate. Mishka again had a brief conversation with him and he opened the gate for us. We paid a small "entrance fee" (about $8 for all of us) and then went in to enjoy the deserted castle in the setting sun. Amazing to be all alone in such a spectacular setting.

Devin castle

So far I've found the Slovaks to be a bit inscrutable. An unusual number of them on our flight offered to help us find the airport bus to Bratislava. So they've been very friendly. But they don't seem to smile very much, or make eye contact when you are out on the streets. So while Mishka was talking with the castle guard, I was watching his facial expressions. He didn't smile, or even frown, but his face remained entirely passive during the conversation. So as we walked away I asked Mishka about him? Was he kind? Was he angry? She just replied, "Oh, he was completely drunk."

Miska and Joe at Devin castle

I have to say that while we really enjoyed our time in the castle, we were all wondering if the drunk guard would remember to stay to let us out. We had visions of furthering our castle adventure and story with the ending "...and then we had to sleep in the castle because the drunk guard forgot to let us out..." But in the end he was there, and we went back to Bratislave to enjoy our first night of jet lag-free sleeping.

Today we are off to Prague...

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Welcome to Bratislava

We're here! Our flights and connections were uneventful and we're now happily settled in Bratislava, Slovakia. We lucked out and were able to get a bulkhead seat on the trans-Atlantic flight which meant we could use a bassinett for Soren's nap. He's getting a bit big for that and it required just a bit of cramming to stuff him into it, but still it was a cosy way for him to nap on the flight. (Cosy often equals crammed doesn't it?)

This photo catches the essence of how it feels after such a long journey, don't you think? Spaced out!

Arriving in Vienna, we grabbed a bus directly from the airport to Bratislava. It deposited us at the bus station from which we planned to call Peter's brother, Joe. It is funny how simple things can often be so complicated while traveling. And it actually reminded me why traveling really isn't for everyone. Being confused is so often part of the equation.

We were carrying waaaaaay more luggage than normal since we were bringing Joe some of the items he missed most from the US. A gallon of Mrs. Butterworth and 10 lbs of corn flour, for example. So, we rolled off the chasing Soren and poor Peter schlepping most of our belongings.

The trick about arriving in a bus station is that those aren't generally the most well-equipped for foreigners like us who don't speak a word of Slovak. All we had to do was make one call and we'd be whisked away. But, ah, making that call...

First, we needed Slovak money. In Vienna we picked up some Euros but they don't use that in Slovakia. So, Peter waited with the bags while Soren and I scouted a cash machine. That found and money received, we next located a phone. But this was going to require a phone card and then some understanding of just how many digits of Joe's number we had to put in the phone now that we were in the same city instead of dialing it from the US. It all seems so simple now, but add 16 hours of flying and general discombobulation that accompanies such a big time change and it gets a bit more complex. We tried a variety of options and got nowhere.

Finally, we resorted to one of our well-tested travel tricks. One of us parks at a cafe with all our stuff and the other goes out to take care of business unencumbered. So with Soren, Mrs. Butterworth and I hanging out in the bus station cafeteria, Peter went out to figure out how to make a phone call. He was gone long enough for Soren and I to have a nice meal. He negotiated the complex world of the telephone and Joe soon arrived to take us to his apartment.

It has been such a comfortable way to acclimatize. We took a good nap and then went for a slow walk around the neighborhood last night. Being in an apartment meant that while we were up with jet lag in the wee hours of the night we could go into another room if one of us was able to successfully get to sleep.

The Mrs Butterworth payoff:
Mrs Butterworth

Peter slept in a bit this morning and Soren and I walked down to the train station. Last year when we were in Croatia, I think chasing pigeons was the highlight for Soren. This year, it will undoubtedly be the trains. He's already started naming them all. "That's Thomas...there's James...that one is Mavis..." The world of Thomas the Tank Engine comes to life here.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

We're packed!

Our bags are packed, we're ready to go (anyone remember the song?) ...'cuz we're leaving on a jet plane, don't know when we'll be back again (actually we do, but it is so much more romantic to stick with the lyrics...)

Anyway, we are all packed. I'm sure that at this very moment Peter and Soren are diligently doing the last minute tidying up that will make the house so much more pleasant to come home to. Well, either that or they are trying to find a matching pair of any of Soren's shoes.

Our flight is tomorrow morning. We fly via Washington DC and then on to Vienna. 5 hours, a few hours of layover, then another 8 hours or so. Still a bit stymied on what to do with a toddler locked in the plane for so long. I guess we'll find out. We've actually found that flying gets more complicated as he gets older. When he was really little he slept for much of the flight, but then as he got more and more mobile he just wants to be mobile! And I just haven't succeeded in getting him interested in the crossword puzzles yet... Ah well, he actually is a great traveller so I'm sure we'll be just fine.

Watch this space. We plan to update it as much as possible while we're on the road.

Monday, October 01, 2007

My little fashionista

Clearly Soren is way ahead on the fashion curve. He's moved past the droopy baggy jeans with boxer shorts exposed at the his own little fashion trend. As much as I welcome branching off into brave new fashions, I do have to admit that I hope this is one trend that stays only with him.


It is the t-shirt tucked into his underwear that really sets him apart from the crowd, don't you think?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Today's conversation

Me: Wow, look how curly your hair is.
Soren: And blonde, I have blonde hair. Do you have blonde hair?
Me: Yes, I do.
Soren: We both have blonde hair. (Thoughtful pause...) Who blonded it?

Could it be he's already noticing my darker roots? ;-)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fresh Grape Juice - Yum!

Well, my hopes of creating a fascinating cohesive video of our weekend exploits has come to naught as my video editing software and video camera aren't wanting to play nicely together. Ah, technology. Anyway we can overcome that small obstacle and do it a bit more low tech with a play-by-play.

This year Peter's garden is bursting with wonderful Concord grapes. They are new plants, so this is the first year we've been able to enjoy them. This weekend, Soren and I decided we'd make some grape juice.

Step 1: Harvesting the grapes

Step 2: Rinsing them off

Step 3: Rinsing of the feet.

After thinking about it, it seems like a good ol' grape stomping event would logically follow. But alas, we missed that part.
Step 4: Cleaning the grapes and picking them from the stems.

Step 5: Mashing!

Step 6: Testing! Yum. Good stuff.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A two year old riding a bike?

Ok, so mostly this site is dedicated to all the amazing things that Soren does every day. Undoubtedly, his fans from all over the world are checking in regularly just to see what he's been up to. Well, we're going to take a very brief respite from Soren news just to share an incredible video of Luke, Soren's cousin.

Luke turned two in August. He got a two-wheeled, pedal-free bike for his birthday. At first he didn't really know what to do with it. Mostly he just walked a little bit while pushing it. His dad had to coax him to keep trying. Well, that is certainly ancient history! It is so amazing (and just a tad bit scary!) to see how fast he can get going on that thing. He's two and he can balance and steer a two-wheeled bike already! How cool is that?!

Monday, September 17, 2007

The latest Soren sayings...

Some random funny Soren sayings:
"Listen up!" I have no idea where he got that one. I don't think Peter or I say it, but when Soren wants my attention he's been saying it. Pretty cheeky, but I have to admit it makes me laugh.

"Can you go a little faster please?" He says this again and again as I push the car cart around the grocery store. People were totally cracking up to see the speed demon in aisles.

And a conversation as we were walking to see the neighbor's goats:
Soren: ...and we'll see the spider web and the spider. But we don't eat spiders.
Me: You're right, they wouldn't be very delicious.
Soren: We eat fish. They're very tasty. But we don't eat their tail or their face. Those are too crunchy. (ever since he saw Peter cleaning fish (a.k.a. "taking their face off" he's known that we don't eat fish faces.)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fishing with Grandpa

Another of the thousands of fun things to do at Grandpa and Grandma's in Michigan is fishing. Strictly catch and release (or, more accurately, catch and release and catch again and release again, and catch yet again and release yet again...since the pond is small and each fish has probably been caught often enough to be named and have a thorough personality profile). Soren really had a great time with Grandpa this time.



Finding "the hot spot":

Friday, September 14, 2007

Mackinac Island

While we were in Michigan we also took some time and drove up North to visit Mackinac Island. Normally we stay pretty close to Holland (where my dad lives) so while Peter has been to Michigan many times, he really hasn't seen much of the state. So we're making an effort to to fix that.

For those of you not from the MidWest, you may not have heard of Mackinac Island. It is a small island located between the lower and upper Michigan pennisulas. The most intriguing thing about the island, and probably what secured it as a prime Michigan tourist destination, is that no cars are allowed. All transportation is via foot, horse & buggy, or bicycle. Oh, and the second thing that makes it worth visiting (and it is a very close second place!) is that they make the best fudge! The tourist brochures say that they sell 10,000 pounds a day. Wow, and after seeing how much the people in front of me in the lines were ordering...I believe it!

We stayed at a small B&B, the Bogan Lane Inn. Lovely. Lots of antiques. (And may I point out that we didn't permanently damage any of them). Here's Peter and Soren on a bike in front of the B&B:


We rented a tandem bike and rode around the island - twice! It is only an 8 mile trip. So the first night we just rode around, had a small picnic on the beach. The next day we rode around again, but this time we stopped off at all the nature trails, view points and other sites.



Here's a photo of one of the horse teams that was taking a tour around the island. Aren't they beautiful?!


Next time we visit we want to spend sometime downtown Chicago. Poor Peter has a really nasty impression of that town since all we ever see there are the areas around the airports and those are far from the most fabulous spots in Chicago!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Flyin' high

The flights on our Michigan trip were the first time we've flown since Soren turned two, i.e., the first time we've actually had to pay for seats for him. But you'll see he made himself pretty comfortable.


We also rented a DVD player for the longer legs of the flight. Now that is awesome! Makes it much easier than trying to figure out how to entertain a two year old in two square feet!


But you'll see that he didn't rely entirely on electronic entertainment...


We managed to get ourselves bumped on one of our return flights. Yes, that did mean that we had to endure a bit more waiting around in airports but the reward - three free roundtrip tickets! - were more than adequate compensation. Now we're working on planning when we can use those tickets to get back to Michigan!

Doesn't he look like a seasoned traveller?


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

We're back from our wonderful Michigan vacation!

Wow, what a trip. I swear heading to Michigan is better than Disneyland for Soren (and, to be honest. for us too!) Never a dull minute. Horses, tractors, fishing, new toys, the much fun. I went a bit crazy with the camera and took 250 photos in a week! So, rather than load them all in one day, I'll post some of the individual stories separately.

I suppose the most obvious place to start is with the horses. Soren has always liked them, but this time he was more excited than ever.


How cute that Luke and Soren can fit together in the saddle!



Dear little Max (full name, which is bigger than he is, is Sir Maximillian Highlands - isn't that a hoot?!) is so much fun. He's so tiny that he almost seems as much like a dog as he does a horse. Especially when he trots after you in hopes of getting some carrots.