Saturday, August 30, 2014

Fort Townsend State Park

I've been excited for our second camping trip since I reserved the site back in early June. I was looking up our Burke Museum membership and seeing where else we could get in for free with the membership. The one place is way over in eastern Washington and I knew there'd be no way we'd make it over that far. But the other place is the Marine Science Center in Port Townsend, just a couple hours away. Then I noticed that it's located in a state park (Fort Worden) and decided to see if we could camp near there. Fort Worden didn't seem likely since you can make reservations up to a year in advance, but Fort Townsend is just 15 minutes away. It was all booked up for the weekends through the summer, but we decided to check out mid-week and found a nice, large site available for the 27th-29th.

One of the fun things about this trip was that the driving is split by a ferry ride. About 30 minutes to the ferry and 45 minutes after the ferry. I was a little nervous about this - first time taking a car on the ferry. But our timing worked out pretty well. The whole process was easy and we ended up waiting about 30 minutes before loading onto the ferry. The boys loved the ferry ride and only regretted that it wasn't longer (it's about 20 minutes). Some of us ate yogurt on the ferry.

Our huge campsite. We could've fit our tent plus a couple smaller tents on the site if we'd wanted to. I kinda liked having a huge site.

Malcolm really wanted to help put up the tent, but since Daddy wasn't letting him hammer in the stakes, he decided he could hammer some wood instead.

Gareth was excited for a fire and marshmallows (as was Malcolm; he was constantly asking to see/play/make fire and for "smasmellows") and scary stories. Most of the stories weren't actually scary, but Ryan managed to succeed in scaring Gareth with a couple of them. Unlike me, Gareth seems to enjoy being scared, so he kept asking for more.

Gareth's really into making silly faces for the camera.

Malcolm hanging out either before or after our short hike. We kept the hike less than a mile since Malcolm is very into being carried right now. He'll walk for a few minutes and then run back to me saying, "I'll carry you! I'll carry you!", which, unfortunately, doesn't mean he's going to carry me. Gareth could not, for the life of him, remember that there was a big rock right here and kept falling over it.

Dirty face! It was smudged in dirt pretty much the entire time. A dirty face adds to the cuteness when you're camping.

More silly face.

Marine Science Center. They didn't have many sea stars to touch because of sea star wasting, which some of their scientists are helping to research and determine the cause(s) of. But there were a few you could touch, which Malcolm was a huge fan of.

Gareth loved looking at the plankton sample in the microscope:

Another building housed the orca exhibit and this whale head that you could touch to feel the baleen.

Orca skeleton

The boys loved touching the tube worms and the anemones. The tube worms pop back into their tubes fi you touch them, which the boys found hilarious.

Back at camp, working on a s'more

Ready to head home late Friday morning. We tried to pack up the tent before the rain hit. We didn't quite make it, but luckily it was just a sprinkling, not a downpour. Gareth was sad that we couldn't stay longer and has asked for a longer trip next time around. Cute Mal with his dirty face. Gareth biting his hand for some reason?

I tried out a couple new recipes on this trip, chicken noodle soup and honey-rosemary lamb sandwiches, both of which were good and will stick around in our camping food repertoire. Ryan still didn't sleep well on this trip, despite the much improved conditions, so we're going to look into other sleeping options for him so that he can enjoy our trips more. Other than that I think we can say that this camping trip was far more pleasant than our previous one. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Gram's Visit

We've spent the past ten days enjoying a visit from my mom, or as the kids call her, Gram. Our house (and our family) has been grateful for how clean she's helped us keep it (sweeping every day! dishes done after every meal! laundry folded! toys picked up!). Not that we don't try, but somehow between kids and school and work and music some of those items are rare occurrences. The kids have been thrilled because you can always use more adult attention. Gareth's been thrilled to get obscene amounts of video game time, playing on Gram's tablet at every opportunity. When we insisted he not do video games he usually opted for her Kindle, reading through another Diary of a Wimpy Kid and the first of the Oz books as well as part of the second.

Unfortunately, I'm not much of a picture-taker, so we didn't take many pictures. But we did fit in many fun things. We went to Pike's Place Market and bought way more than we intended, making the trip back with the kids and a stroller and all our items on a crowded bus rather entertaining (after the fact - more embarrassing/difficult in the moment).

We went to Theo Chocolate and sampled/bought treats, including chocolate covered marshmallows. That prompted my mom to make homemade marshmallows. The coconut covered were the best, chocolate was good, and powdered sugar was just way too sweet.

We took a trip to the science center with some friends of ours, allowing us to use our guest passes that we almost never use.

Gram convinced and helped me to hang pictures. She bought a couple prints for us at the market to go in the kitchen. We still have tons of wall space to fill (we have lots of big, empty walls here) and we need to get some updated family photos done (we don't have any with Malcolm - they're expensive around here!), but it makes a difference to have at least a few things up.

Note the random paper stuff Gareth had previously hung. New pieces up: clay mask made in pre-K days, a picture I took in my photography class, and a print of Starry Night which Gareth specifically asked to have in his room.

Horrible lighting, sorry. These were taken when Gareth was about 3.5. We really need to get some new family photos; it seems a little odd to me to have old ones around and not new ones, especially since we have none with Malcolm included. 

The prints my mom bought us.

How they fit into the kitchen overall. 

Print from a PEI vacation as a kid

Lovely crocheted piece someone gave to us for our wedding

This is another one I took, hung in our bedroom across from the side of our bed.

She also helped me pick out a duvet cover for our old comforter which, while still totally functional, was getting really boring and faded as well as not so nice looking after our stay in mildewy Indiana (no amount of cleaning can eliminate the rusty looking stains living in that home caused). I was really drawn to bold, dark colors, but the paint in our room is a dark green. The room is pretty small and I wasn't willing to spend a fortune on a duvet cover. Most of the ones we found in my price range had too much dark color, not enough white to balance it. Even with the white it may not have worked well with the dark walls. So instead I opted for a lighter cover and we got some accent pillows to provide the pop of color I was wanting. Though, of course, as soon as we started looking at pillows I was laughing internally the whole time, knowing Ryan would bring up this rant as soon as I came home. (He did!) And, in all honesty, I have to agree with the rant. The overpriced pillows will serve no purpose. They will spend most of their time off of the bed in all likelihood. We might lie back on them occasionally when the bed is made, but probably not all that often. But I couldn't think how else to get the bright colors I was wanting without making our room seem ridiculously tiny. And they look really good with the duvet.

The boys helped my mom pick apples from our tree, which we turned into an apple-blueberry crisp (the apples are usually too tart for adults to eat plain, though the boys love them). We went to a friend's birthday party where the boys got to bring home superhero capes/masks. Here's a blurry SuperMal:

We also fit in a trip to Pioneer Square so she could buy some glass pieces for her bookshelves. And spent a day at Golden Gardens. This morning before she left we snuck in a trip to the Locks to check out the salmon. We had a friend of Gareth's with us, so it was a bit interesting trying to squeeze two boosters and a car seat in the back seat of our car. Thinking we'd play on the grounds a bit, I'd brought some frisbees with us. Unfortunately, we were there early enough that the grass was still quite wet with dew. And there were lots of geese around that had left lots of poop all over the grass. So we opted against playing on the grounds. Instead we went home and played there for a bit while Gram finished preparing to go and then went out to lunch before driving her to the airport. I took the boys to Golden Gardens again after we got home, where Malcolm loved the big kid slide (a huge deal, because he can be extremely hesitant toward playground equipment).

Gareth cried several times today because he was so sad to see Gram (and her tablet) go. Malcolm, of course, had no idea she was leaving, so he was less affected. And he fell asleep on the way to the airport, so he didn't even get to see her leave. It took him the whole trip home and a trip to Golden Gardens before he realized she was gone and asked, "Ere's Gam?".

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Houma's House

I hoped to go to a clarinet choir concert on Friday morning at 9, but was so exhausted from the day before that I soon realized I wouldn't make it. A little disappointing, but I decided that the concert the night before was also a good note to end my conference experience on. I took my time Friday morning getting up and going. By 10 I was ready to check out and head off for a little more sightseeing before heading to the airport.

I knew there were a few others flying back on the same flight, so I invited one of them along to check out a plantation with me. We headed off to Houma's House and got there around 11. We wandered the gardens a bit and saw some really cool plants before the tour started at 11:30.

A 500 year old Oak

The home from the back, where you primarily see the original structure (reddish) that the French traders built after "purchasing" (swindling) the land from the Houmas.

Houma's House was a big sugar cane plantation and has passed through a lot of owners. The current owner lives there in a couple of the rooms and is putting a lot of work into the site. A previous owner had torn down a lot of the structures, including where the slaves would have lived. So the tour didn't include much about that aspect of the property, but our guide told us the owner is planning on adding that perspective soon. Previous owners had also torn out a lot of the plaster and wood moldings, which the current owner has had redone. It sounds like it's been a bit of a job to track down anything that belonged to any of the previous owners. As such, many items are simply antiques from the era and representative of what would have been found/used in the home.

A zither

Remnants of the original china made for the home

John Burnside's card table (he loved to gamble)

This used to be a floating staircase, but ended up attached to walls when indoor plumbing was added

The few oaks that remain leading to the main entrance

The oaks were very impressive - a couple are between 500 and 600 years old. The moss hanging from them is fascinating (but can also add a degree of creepiness to the place). Once the alley of oaks leading to the front door would have gone all the way to the Mississippi, but a levy has since been built, meaning that just a few of the trees are left and the view of the river is blocked by the levy. Apparently having a tunnel created by the trees was not only impressive looking but also useful for channeling a breeze into the house and could cool the house by as much as 10 degrees.

One cool fact about the house is that the movie Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte was filmed there. If you haven't seen it, you should, though I don't know why I'm recommending it as it totally creeped me out. She stayed in Houmas while filming and gave some memorabilia to the owners as a result.

After the tour we enjoyed lunch in the cafe on the grounds - there is also at least one other restaurant (apparently really fancy) on the grounds as well. One of the early owners had china made in France especially for the home. There are a few pieces of that original china remaining, and the new owner had replica china made for use in all four of his restaurants. Then we wandered the grounds a bit more.

We also climbed the levy to look out over the Mississippi.

View of Houmas from the levy

Afterward it was back to the cars for the drive to the airport. There were some other sights it would've been nice to see while in the area, but for 3.5 days, I think I did a great job managing both sightseeing and the conference. It was a thoroughly enjoyable break from real life and so much fun to get to know the other members of the clarinet choir better.

Friday, August 8, 2014

New Orleans

Friday morning I checked out the vendors again while friends were at a festival choir rehearsal, this time with the intent of trying some A clarinets. A bit of sticker shock when I realized how significantly prices have increased in the past several years. A new A now costs about $4500 and my Bb that I bought in college for $3500 would now cost about $6000. Yikes! I need a new A, but quickly decided I'd be looking in the used category for a "new" one. Luckily, I found Lohff and Pfeiffer, a company based in Amsterdam (just opened an office in Bloomington, IN) that overhauls new clarinets from the factory, but also used clarinets. They'll be in Seattle in the fall, so I'm hoping I can find something good then for a more palatable price.

As soon as my friends were done rehearsing, we met up at the hotel and prepared to set out for New Orleans. Unfortunately we'd be missing some awesome recitals/lectures at the conference that day, but with it being unlikely I'll ever be in Louisiana again I decided a day trip to New Orleans was a must.

We spent about 5 hours exploring the French Quarter. We made sure to climb up a levy to see the Mississippi and some boats. Then we were off to Cafe du Monde for beignets. Apparently the coffee with chicory is amazing as well, but just smelling coffee makes me sick and it was waaaay too hot and sticky for any kind of warm drink anyway. I opted for fresh-squeezed orange juice instead. One order of beignets is 3 beignets. There were four of us and we certainly didn't all need 3 beignets, so we shared 2 plates between us. They were delicious and I certainly could have eaten 3, but I think my body would've hated me.

After our beignets it was off to the French Market, with lots of stops for pictures along the way. Many beautiful old buildings with wrought iron everywhere. At one point there was a kid with a sousaphone walking behind us. He eventually met up with a couple drummers and trombonists and a sax player and they wandered from street to street (we kept running across them) playing. We also happened to be there the weekend of the Satchmo Festival, so there were several events occurring for that. We wandered the whole market, I found a book to buy for the boys, The Beignet That Almost Got Away, and then we headed for Bourbon Street.

One end of Bourbon Street is primarily residential - though as cute as the houses are, I'm positive I wouldn't want to live there. Too much noise, too much crime, and I'd bet that the insanity from the other end of Bourbon St. occasionally bleeds down into the residential end. We slowly worked our way down to the more crowded end of the street.

While interesting to walk down in late afternoon, this is not the kind of place I'd want to be in the evening, especially on a weekend. We were there Friday around 4. Most people were still sober, though you could tell some were definitely there to party and were likely planning on getting plastered. There were several strip clubs with employees standing at the doors. Loud music from the night clubs (not jazz, unfortunately) and lots and lots of people already. There are a couple of swanky looking hotels in the midst of all this, and it was usually at those corners that the cop cars were lined up, ready to go should any trouble break out that evening. Maybe it isn't as bad as I was getting the impression it would be, but that kind of environment with tons of people just isn't my thing. Interesting to see once, but not the kind of place I go for fun.

We were all pretty tired out by this point and totally missed the biggest reason we were walking down this street - Preservation Hall. It's off of Bourbon Street, in the middle of a block, and in our exhaustion we failed to look down all the side streets. After making it down Bourbon St, we headed back to the car and drove back into the insanity in order to find Preservation Hall. There were more cops on hand by this time (no trouble yet, though). I guess I could see myself heading back there to attend a show at Preservation Hall, but I'd probably opt for middle of the week in the hopes of the area being less crowded/noisy/generally insane. Once we found the hall we headed out of the French Quarter. We made a brief stop at Armstrong Park and then ended up in the Garden District (it looks like all the wealthy people live here) for dinner and then headed back to Baton Rouge, hoping to make it in time for the evening chamber music concert.

This is pretty much the group we kept seeing playing in the streets - just with young kids instead of adults

Charles "Buddy" Bolden

Louis Armstrong

On our way out of New Orleans we saw this on the side of a hotel and had snap a picture:

A Selmer, not a Buffet

We made it to the concert just in time and got to enjoy some more beautiful playing. They were all wonderful performances, but I especially enjoyed Jon Manasse's performance of Crusell. Even more impressive than the clarinetists was the string quartet. They accompanied pretty much everyone who was playing a quintet or anything needing strings throughout the conference. So they accompanied everyone at this concert, our director when he played Tuthill, Sean Osborne for the Mozart, and several others. Basically, they learned a lot of music, rehearsed it all (one one-hour rehearsal each) with the clarinetists and performed it all superbly. But this concert was particularly taxing. It started at 8pm and finished around 11:30. You could tell they were all exhausted by the time they made it to the last piece (the Mozart), but they still performed beautifully. I could barely keep my eyes open for the Mozart after our long day in New Orleans and crashed into bed once back at the hotel, after talking with Ryan a bit and getting my bag packed.