January 27, 2008

Geocaching

GeocachingWe went geocaching for the first time ever yesterday. Ever tried it? We just used our TomTom - the GPS NavSat we use to find places driving around in our car. I guess there are more compact devices, but it worked fine. We got in a couple of hours of good family walking, fresh air and sunshine. It was cold and windy but there was blue sky.

Our first hunting choice was a nano-cache, meaning a really, really small container. This one was only about as big as my thumbnail. Maybe not too smart to start with one that hard, and we almost gave up, after 15 minutes of searching around the coordinates. But at the last moment, David spotted it. Then suddenly the decoded clue made perfect sense, of course. We gingerly opened up the tiny case and unrollled the miniscule scroll to add our initials and the date.

We embarked on our 2nd cache-hunt, and chose a much longer walk this time, through Chobham Common. It was a multi-step cache, and after some hiking we found the first "virtual" cache, which gave us clues to the final location. However, after a long walk, when we finally found ourselves at the proper coordinates, we could not find the large plastic container advertised. We had brought along some small gifts to leave in the box and everything, but it just did not appear. So that was pretty depressing. We went out for an early dinner.

David and I are keen on trying again elsewhere, but the kids were kind of non-plussed. Anti-climactic. Oh well. There are a ton of caches within a ten-minute drive of our house (plus some walking around). I am sure David and I (at least) will look for more. Maybe on a date.

If you want to try this outdoor hide and seek anywhere in the world, you can find the coordinates to caches near you online. Also, a list of what to bring:
- GPS device of some sort
- print-out of cache clues
- paper for decoding stuff
- pencil
- compass (I wish we'd had this so we didn't have to keep debating which direction was southwest)
- tweezers for magnetic microcaches
- small toys or books or knickknacks you don't need anymore, to leave behind
- snack & water especially if kids with you might need some fuel

January 27, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 21, 2008

Quizzes: Geek, Geography, Spelling, Colors...

41% Geek(David says he scored 89% ;-) I do love my own personal geek boyfriend husband)

76(very fun for me; I ran out of time)

46(harder than I thought)


21(I thought I would get ZERO on this one, but in the end I figured out I do know a few things - the rest I guessed after warming up to the test)

15(what can I say, I don't know why I took this one)

$5175.00The Cadaver Calculator - Find out how much your body is worth.(hmmmm; my grandmother always said her body would be great for science since she took such good care of it with no alcohol and no smoking)

I Scored a 100%!
(I do love spelling; I always pick Word Worm category in Cranium whenever possible)

JustSayHi - Science Quiz
(I thought I was going to fail this one, but all's well that ends well; my son happens to be in 8th grade at the moment, and I am enjoying remembering about the periodic table with him as he memorizes symbols)

Hat tip to Jon Reid, who is only 75% Geek.

I still think the best one was the countries one. Let me know in the comments if you decide to try any of these - I'd love to see your results.

January 21, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 15, 2008

Soggy

EnglandblueskyjanuaryIt's been very wet here lately. We have a little lake on our stone patio. There are moats around the planted areas of the garden. But there was a sunny afternoon recently, and the sky was so blue I had to take a picture of the January azure.

In tidbits of news, yesterday I had 15 ladies at my house from 11:30am until 3pm playing bridge, at 4 card tables. People had to bring tables and chairs, and I just shoved all my furniture to the side in the living room and dining room, and we squeezed in. It was fun. I played awfully since I was so distracted trying to make sure everyone had the coffees and teas they wanted, etc. But I am glad I was able to host. It's my first time. Makes me appreciate all the hospitality I have enjoyed at others' homes. All the ladies are so nice.

We made crêpes again on Sunday, and as usual everyone loved it. For the main course: ham, cheese, fresh basil, tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, crème fraîche, and sliced potatoes. For dessert: pears and nutella for Jason and Katherine, or peanut butter and nutella for Emily! David did his traditional Crêpe Grand Marnier Flambée for his dessert course and it looked like it was going to burn up the wooden utensils, but they emerged unscathed. I think the kids will remember dad's fun pyrotechnics. Speaking of pyrotechnics, today I cut and cauterized Emily's too-long shoelaces with a match...kind of fun, too.
CrepecolorfulCrepeflambee

January 15, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving Wreath

LatenovemberyellowfoliageThe day after Thanksgiving was a cold, crisp, blue-skied one (hence the decision to wash the car that day; see previous post for that fiasco). Usually, around here, the times it is cold enough to snow are the times when there are no clouds to keep the heat in, and therefore no precipitation. My eyes played tricks on me that night, when I could have sworn that the backyard vegetation was mantled with a dusting of snow. But no, it was just bathed in wan moonlight shining out of the clear sky.

Earlier in the evening, as it was a Friday night (plus David had worked at home), we were finally able to indulge in our first family dinner of the week. Since David and I had had that nice Italian lunch date together, we weren't too hungry. We agreed on leftover homemade macaroni & cheese, revived with extra non-fat milk and parmesan and baked this time, accompanied by fresh green-leaf lettuce, tomatoes and honey-mustard dressing. Most of us enjoyed some mushroom ravioli too.
ThanksgivingcardwreathWe were all so happy it was the beginning of the weekend that we were inspired to do our real "Thanksgiving" at last. We were planning to play cards together, so we had two decks of cards at hand. We took two cards away from each deck, leaving a total of 100 cards in stacks in the middle of the round table. Then it was a free-for-all, 100 things flying out of our mouths that we were each thankful to God for, with a card turned over for each precious person or thing or spiritual benefit such as forgiveness...and at the end we had unintentionally created a Thanksgiving Card Wreath. :-) Jason was thankful for giving thanks, because it made us realize how many wonderful blessings we have, whether human, material, or intangible.

Then we were done with our meal, and we played several rounds of bridge. On one hand Emily had 22 points and I had 10 as her partner. We settled on 3 No Trump, and Emily played the hand - she took all the tricks, so 7NT would have been more appropriate! Another Grand Slam missed! Well, she's gaining experience. Not an aggressive bidder yet. David and I are thankful we have reached the stage of parenting where we have a built-in foursome for bridge. It's a fun family activity which also stimulates our brains.

And now that it's Saturday, time for some work on the Christmas letter and greeting cards...have a relaxing day!

November 24, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 18, 2007

Bridge, Flourless Chocolate Cake, and Jamming

At a few minutes to four this afternoon, the doorbell rang and a married couple my husband had never met arrived to play bridge with us. I'd never met the husband either - he's British, married to an American, whom he met in Alaska, where she's from. I've been playing bridge with her for a year, through the American Women of Berkshire and Surrey club.

FlourlesschocolatecakeSince my friend is gluten-intolerant, David was inspired to make two yummy snacks which were gluten-free:

Flourless Chocolate Cake from Epicurious .com (Bon Appétit's website)

and

Spiced Pecans (with sugar, butter, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and vanilla)

Everyone was happy with the results.

We played 14 hands of bridge and I had a great time. One hand David and I bid a small slam and ended up taking all the tricks. Rats, a grand slam missed! Lots of fun, though.

After our guests left (with their daughter, who is the same age and grade as Emily, and who kept Emily happily busy the whole time), David asked Jason if he wanted to jam for a while: David on bass guitar, Jason on drums! This is the first time they have played together (David just recently got the transformer he needed to make his amp work here in Europe!), and the boys graciously invited me to join them with vocals. I was honored and excited. We gathered in Jason's room, where the drums are, and had a fabulous time with worship songs. Our most successful one ended up being the first one we tried - "In the Hands of a Mighty God," by Lynnae McElroy, a friend of a friend in California:

Your grace is sufficient, Your love everlasting
You're good with Your blessings
And You're all for me

In the hands of a mighty God I am resting
You will prevail and I will trust You
Your love for me is unending
I love you so

And where can I go, You're always there
You're my protection
I have nothing to fear...

It has a great tune, but unfortunately it doesn't seem to have made it anywhere onto the internet, so we'll just have to record it some day to share it with you (ha ha). Thank you, Lynnae, for writing such a wonderful song, and Dave C. for introducing us to it.

After some pizza at our local joint, between rain drops, and one more hand of bridge with our kids, it was bedtime for the younger folks.

Thank You, God, for a lovely weekend. Thank You for knowing we need breaks and for providing them.

November 18, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 19, 2007

Having Fun in Virginia

15 days after my husband's suitcase did not go with him to Copenhagen, instead staying at Heathrow, British Airways decided we could have it back, and delivered it to our house. We weren't there, but thankfully a neighbor took it for us. Phew, that would have been sad for them to take it back again after all that waiting and wondering.

He can now shave again with his electric razor. He can use his own cord to charge his laptop. And we have possession again of the sentimental suitcase that his father gave to me early on in our relationship as a special gift. Yay, prayers answered.

Meanwhile, I am frolicking in Virginia with my mother. The kids are so happy to be here at Grandma's house, perhaps partly because it is a constant in their lives, while their own home keeps changing so radically (from California to France to England). So far in the past two days, we've played Bridge, O'Hell (more politely named Up and Down the River), Hide and Seek, homemade scattergories, Feudal Wars (card game), I Doubt It, and Homas. Homas is apparently actually the brand name of the board we have for a game called "Sjoelbak" (pronounced "shul-bac") and is played mainly in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany). In Germany it is called Jakkolo; in France: Billard Hollandais; in England: Dutch Shuffleboard. Funny to find this out online, because I've never heard it called anything but Homas, and never seen a board for it anywhere but at my parents' house. It's fun. You push wooden discs down a wooden board and try to get them into four slots at the end, in equal proportion, for points.

Tomorrow I hope to start work on a scrapbook of my (late) Dad's stuff: photos, magazine articles about him (he was interviewed about the software industry back in the early '90s), awards, various memories...my mom has a ton of stuff here at her house that she needs organized (he died 12 years ago; it's time to get this stuff sorted out and into an easier format for enjoyment).

I miss you, David! Enjoy your razor and everything else. Can't wait to be with you again.

July 19, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 02, 2007

Mürren: Wildflowers and Tarzan

HoteledelweissviewKnewfavoriteflowerAfter we left Zürich, we headed for the mountains in our rental car. I was thrilled to drive right by Lucerne, Interlaken, and the turnoff for Grindelwald - celebrated placenames, whether just to me or to the world. We also witnessed deer, cows, horses, sheep, swans, ducks, coots, and ostriches and camels (??) along the way. There were a plethora of tunnels of various lengths and teal blue lakes aplenty. We parked in Lauterbrünnen and took a cable car and then a train to get way up into the little virtually car-free high alpine village of Mürren.

Mürren is special to me as a place my parents took me hiking as a child, with my brothers. The funny thing is, nothing looked in the slightest bit familiar. I didn't remember a THING except the village name and the fact that I had a great time there seeing truly breath-taking scenery. I wasn't disappointed on this revisit, let me tell you. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. Great raclette and rösti, too (melted cheese over boiled potatoes; Swiss version of thinly sliced hash browns).

Our hotel window opened out on the deep, wide gorge, with a massive, solid, vertical, gray rock face on the other side, rising to the heavens and sometimes shrouded in puffy clouds which hid the glaciers further away. At one point we saw a rainbow over the glacier. Waterfalls cascaded down the rock face. Way down below, the river was rushing through the valley and sending its rapid, watery echoes up to us.

SpacetrolleyalpsRopeswingThe first day we took the kids up the mountain on the Children's Adventure Trail. Our 12-year-old didn't like the young sound of this trail name at first. However, David firmly led us onwards through the steep wildflower meadows and along the edge of the conifer stands, across the eager brooks and past anthills until we reached the goal: an alpine space trolley. This amused our whole family for the next 30 minutes as we screamed our way amongst the trees at least five times each. The ride had an enormous rebound at the end. Each time David and I were persuaded our legs were going to slam into a nearby tree, but the builders had calculated it perfectly.

We thought the space trolley was the crowning glory of the hike, until David called over from the other side of a little mound, and we joined him to find a big see-saw made out of a tree trunk, a log bridge high over a stream, a wooden hut accessible via a precarious plank, and a majorly scary Tarzan-ish rope swing downhill. David tried the rope swing first and in mid-swing he thought he'd made a serious mistake and was going to crash full-tilt into the wooden hut and die. Once again, the builders had it planned out to a tee, and we each barely missed slamming into any obstacles. To get on the rope swing, we had to climb up onto a platform and be handed the rope, which just reached, but not far enough to be able to sit on the rope knots. We had to hold on really tightly, screw up our courage, and jump onto the rope knots, while knowing it was too late to get out of the crazy stunt. I very nearly didn't participate. It took me a good 20 seconds to decide to go, and I almost let one of the kids go before me, but knew if I delayed that I wouldn't ever do it. It was the sort of experience that made each of us scream (much louder and longer and with more earnestness than the space trolley) the whole way over and on the swing back as well. And it made us come back for more - about five rounds each on this one as well. We loved having the whole place to ourselves, as it was a dreary, drizzling day and we were all geared up in hooded raincoats. It was dry enough under the trees, though. We scrambled into the hut to eat homemade peanut butter cookies, Toblerones and water protected from the rain.

HomemadealpinebridgeJdchess
On the way back to the hotel, we built a successful stone dam/bridge in order to cross a freezing, rushing stream. It took us half an hour of eager teamwork and got our eight hands all muddy and cold, but was a ton of fun and will be a great memory for me. Back in the village, David and Jason played giant chess outside in the rain, and at one point there were up to eight other tourists watching them.

June 2, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 29, 2006

International Bridge

Monday I spent the whole day grocery shopping, tidying, cleaning, laundering, ironing, baking, cooking, and getting the gutters cleaned, and Tuesday it was time to play!

I got in 9 hands of bridge with the American Women of Berkshire and Surrey, about 15 minutes each. I was declarer only once, dummy twice, and defense six times. In one round, I was dealt what's called a Yarborough: zero points and not even one ten: my four highest cards were two nines, an eight and a seven. Not too exciting to play! The odds of being dealt a Yarborough are apparently 1827 to 1. See this math page about the odds of getting really weird bridge hands. If you REALLY like bridge and logic (Mom), try these short Bridge puzzles.

Helene, the bridge teacher-type person in attendance, seemed to have X-ray vision...she always knew what cards everyone had. Very impressive, and a super-helpful tutor. After she had to leave early, the other learner ladies and I surreptitiously started playing O'Hell instead of bridge, and managed (I think) rounds from 10 cards down to 1 without the two other bridge tables noticing. Bridge is all-consuming, you know. To be safe, we called out "1 No Trump" every once in a while.

During the delicious lunch break, I heard the names of so many countries bandied about that I decided to take a survey of where all the ladies had lived. Combining the life experience of the 12 of us, we had lived in 19-22 countries, depending how you count them:

Argentina
Bahrain
Brunei
China (mainland and Hong Kong)
Egypt
France
Oman
Peru
Qatar
Singapore
South Africa
Spain
Switzerland
Thailand
The Netherlands
UK (England and Scotland)
United Arab Emirates (including Abu Dhabi and Dubai)
USA
Viet Nam

One woman had lived in 8 countries! Talk about moving around! I was happy to contribute two unique countries to the mix (France and Switzerland). What a fun place this is to live.

November 29, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 26, 2006

Finally Roast Bird

On Saturday, we finally had our proper Thanksgiving meal (see my last post for why): Roast poultry, mashed potatoes, gravy, mashed sweet potatoes, peas, carrot-Boursin purée, and fresh granary baguette (whole-grain). It was collaboratively-made and delicious. I say "poultry" because it was roast chicken, not the traditional turkey, since we are a small family.

After all tummies were pleasantly filled with good things, we held game negotiations. Have you heard of Pit and Compatibility? We did not play those... but as a means of deciding which game to play (we have tons), we played two games, homemade versions of the two aforementioned ones!

I cut up strips of paper with the names of 12 games written on them (a full set for each of us), and we scrambled them up and dealt them out, 12 strips per person. Then we had to trade semi-blindly until we all had a set of 12 unique strips. That was the Pit impersonation, except backwards (in Pit you're supposed to end up with your cards being all the same, not all different). Then we each proceeded to rank our strips in order from most desirable game to play to least. This was the Compatibility part. Unbelievably and potentially distressingly, the four of us weren't compatible enough to agree on a game to play (though we had several groups of two within everyone's top five, there was only one game with three votes, and not even one single choice that appeared in everyone's top five!).

Would you believe that was enough for us and we ended up playing "everyone put at least ten items in the dishwasher" (I did 25) and David went to take a nap? He was tired out after all that cooking (he was responsible for the roast chicken, the mashed potatoes and the gravy, while I did the vegetables). Then I played "scrub 21 items by hand" (partly since the dishwasher was full) while Emily played "get five more items dirty making freshly whipped cream" and we finished up with "eat some yummy homemade pumpkin pie while getting 11 more items dirty."

However, later on, my dear husband proposed a round of Boggle just to me, and I eagerly accepted. Before we knew it, we were all four playing it. For purposes of fairness, all four people got differing amounts of time to find words: 5 minutes, 4 minutes, 3 minutes, and 1 minute 20 seconds. Just about right! Just discovered one can play Boggle online live with other people. Fun!

I continue to love Saturdays.

November 26, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 26, 2006

44 Flavors of Fun

In my last post, I suggested that my brother's family and ours had played 20 kinds of games and had 10 other kinds of fun in the past five days of their visit. That would be 30. Then I remembered something I forgot, which would make it (like Baskin Robbins ice cream) 31 Flavors of Fun. However, that was only a very brief stop, because then I was reminded of several other things that we had already enjoyed, and THEN, we proceeded to add several more today.

Here are the activities I missed from before:
- telephone (the whispering in people's ears around the table and seeing how garbled the message gets game)
- 20 Questions
- make up a story by each successive person adding a sentence
- climbing on enormous rocks by the sea
- throwing rocks at a pylon in the sea, trying to hit the wood, then trying to land a rock on top of the pylon
- racing one at a time down a rocky hill to a bridge and back up the hill, being timed
- football in the back yard (mostly mudball)

Then today we added:
- Bohnanza (a fun bean card trading game)
- walking an hour and 20 minutes around Virginia Water Lake (David, Mark and Katherine striding fast)
- Tailball (both with the tailball and with a regular ball, which seemed to work better)
- catch with a whiffle ball in the front yard
- whiffle baseball
- hangman (the two girls upstairs on Emily's whiteboard easel)
- Quoridor (thanks once again, KFB! Now that has been a long-lasting gift)

Which brings the total to 44 Flavors of Fun. After one more day of this, we'll all have to collapse - the fun guests on the plane ride home, and us in our beds!

October 26, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack