Tuesday, August 4, 2020

News and Notes: How is it August Edition

Seriously, how is it August already?  March, April, and May took forever, and yet June and July went by in an instant.  And of course they're the months you want to last longer.  Summer is flying by, which on one hand hopefully gets us closer to normalcy one of these months, but it also brings us closer to the multiple stresses of school starting.  

In the meantime, I suppose we have enough things to keep us busy.  Today the stump grinder finally came to finish off where we took our trees down.  Of course, it ended up being a way more invasive process than I thought, and now we have a lot of muddy cleanup and repair to do.  Tomorrow we get our kitchen window replaced.  It lost its seal a couple years ago, and some days the condensation makes it hard to see outside of one of the best windows in the house.  Then on Friday the driveway is getting resealed.  In the meantime, we're trying to figure out things with getting our bathroom worked on (along with fixing our water pressure regulator).  I keep dragging my feet, though.  I'm indecisive and trying to find the right sink and faucet is hard!  My next project after that will be the kitchen--new countertops, sink, faucet, paint, window treatments, backsplash, and maybe even a light fixture.  I've been obsessing over paint for the last week.  It will replace almost all of the dated wallpaper, except where the backsplash might go.  All four go nicely with the cabinets, but coordinating with the red in the adjacent dining room is harder.

I don't think this picture quite does them justice, but you get the idea.  The top and bottom ones are close to navy, but the top one is a bit bluer.

The top one is my favorite, the next one down is a bright blue like I've always loved but never had the guts to do, the next is bright but a bit more tame, and the bottom is maybe the best match for the red--but maybe a little less rich than the top one.  It's complicated.  I guess I'll keep these until I figure out the rest, to see if one or the other is better for countertops or tile?

As for the outside, all of my planted stuff is coming along nicely.  This was the first flower to pop out on my porch planter, which was a later addition.  

Now there are two more hot pink ones, plus a bunch more on the way!

This was a pretty new color in my backyard planters...

My garden is thriving--a bunch of cucumbers, handfuls of grape tomatoes, and finally two zucchini!  I can barely keep it all contained with fencing and stakes!  I also found this odd green bean.  I thought it was dying, but then I realized it was white with purple coloring!

When I broke it open, the beans were purple inside!

Magic beans?!

It appears to be an oddball--not sure if the plant kicked out a mutant or the wrong seed ended up in the packet, but it was fun to find!  Nice to have a full supply of produce around--and it made the cucumber salsa I made for a party this past weekend extra easy to decide on!

I also picked this bowl of blackberries from my mess of vines in the backyard!

In other news, my first week back to work was okay.  I got a few things done but it's definitely still hard to focus.  Hard to believe this is my new life for months to come.  I know other people are liking working from home, and it does have its perks, but it is so hard to focus and feel equipped to do everything I need to do.  It's hard.  I had a rough week otherwise due to another political tiff with my dad.  It got a little extreme but we worked it out, thankfully before this past weekend's baby shower for my cousin and his wife, who are expecting their first baby in September.  It was great to see a bunch of my family I haven't seen in months (probably since Christmas?), but gatherings, even outdoor ones, make me nervous.  I got invited to a bridal shower on Craig's side next month, and it's indoors so I'm not sure how I feel about that.  I'll probably go but mask as much as possible, at the risk of looking like a jerk, I suppose.

Of course, Jacob is venturing out into the world a bit himself.  He had his first real basketball game for the first time since March last Saturday.  Only one parent can go, and I was at the shower anyway, so I didn't see it.  He had a bit of a rough first half, and only ended up with three points, but they were pivotal points and helped his team force overtime.  They eventually won, which was great, but Jacob was definitely discouraged that things didn't go so well for him.  I'll be watching him this weekend while Craig goes to our niece and nephew's graduation party.  Let's hope things get easier and he stays safe.

My dad aside, the political stuff is really starting to weigh on me.  Masks are still oppressive to some, although here in Western New York, people seem to be using them and our numbers are staying manageable.  But if you see the complaints on social media it can make you crazy--mostly because we've seen it work here and there really isn't any other option to keep things controlled and since live relatively normal lives.  The school debate is exhausting because there are literally no good options.  An Indiana district had a positive test on the first day of school, apparently because a family didn't keep their previously tested kid home.  Stuff like that is the problem--people normally send kids to school sick as it is, let alone the risk of asymptomatic kids.  And while the relatively low death rate probably shouldn't deter school from starting, there are concerning studies about the percentage of people that end up with long-lasting health issues, and that's the stuff I personally don't want to mess with.  Not to mention quarantining for weeks, because I prefer to do my own shopping and leave the house if needed.  President Trump says ridiculous things on a daily basis, and the stakes are getting high as we get closer to the election.  I know each side thinks the other is disaster, and yet neither candidate is awesome, but I am choosing to hope for a more unified, kinder leader.  Protests continue in many cities, which were made more violent by the involvement of federal authorities, and now reportedly returned to peaceful after their departure (or did they?).  But it's hard to know if the non-peaceful protests were actually by misguided "true" protesters (even if just trying to make an anti-Fed point), or if they were being pushed forward by fringe groups and outsiders looking to make things worse.  Between news and science, it's hard to know what to believe right now because there's a study or new article that supports or refutes every single position.  And generally there's just enough truth in each of them to leave everyone unsure.  I'm just getting so exhausted by the extreme positions some people take, just to disassociate from the other side, and it only makes their side look crazier.  While I am by nature empathetic and tend to understand both sides (at least to some degree), it makes our current society exhausting because there is so much division and negativity that there is nearly no one to agree with fully.  Well, there seems to be a pocket of friends I totally get and agree with, but there is definitely not a candidate or party that matches.  So there are no great options and at this point I just can't get past the president's terrible handling of the pandemic and constant sowing of division.  I don't know how to explain it to my kids when they ask why the president does things like that.  And while the left does no favors to minimize division, we're just at a point where he can't effectively lead, simply because he has completely alienated so many.  A friend of mine made the metaphor the other day that if someone had the best possible plan but wrote it on a piece of paper, tied it to a brick, and threw it at your head, you probably wouldn't be any too eager to open up that piece of paper, read it, or subscribe to what it's saying, just because the means in which it was delivered and the questionable thought process of the person who did it would create a lot of concerns and doubts.  I really think that's where we are, and therefore his usefulness as a leader is almost non-existent.  Could there be good policy in there somewhere?  Sure, but it's pretty hard to see when everything surrounding it seems to indicate otherwise.  I'm just at a loss.

So, when all seems bleak, I'm still just trying to look for the beauty in life.  There was this stunning sunset last week...

On Sunday when I was driving to Wegmans, I was thinking about what a mess things are and how heavy things feel right now.  Driving is one of the few times I have right now where it's quiet and I can think without interruption, so lately that's where I most deeply ponder all that's happening now.  As I turned the corner toward the store, I saw this:

It started as a section, then grew to a half, then full.  If you look closely to the right, you can see a double rainbow above it.

It was so beautiful and the timing was so perfect with how down I was feeling that I just sat there and stared at it for a minute once I parked.  It was also fun to hear people outside catching their first glimpse of it!

As another week moves along, I am still struggling a bit.  I'm tired.  I shouldn't be after sleeping in for over four months, but I think the weight of everything--the pandemic, social struggles, politics, the stuck-in-the-house feeling, the school worries, the struggles with the boys, feeling unmotivated, and missing a "normal" summer of adventures--is all converging and starting to get to me.  Our daily existence is sort of exhausting right now, for the most random of reasons.  The Fortnite obsession in the house is really starting to frustrate me for so many reasons, including the fighting, the screaming, the interruption to normal life (hard to do dinner or bedtime on time when it's the middle of a game), and the way it has taken over all other normal behaviors.  Jacob still plays basketball a couple times a day, but the game tends to take over everything else, and that's how Craig and the boys spend most evenings now.  I should be thankful for the free time, but I'm a bit bothered by the change in habits--I can barely remember what evenings used to be like.  It's been a struggle for so many reasons.  It may just disappear one of these days.  I fantasize about it, in fact!

I'm hoping that some of the house progress will feel productive, and I'm still hoping we can figure out one more adventure before this month is over.  Of course, that's just one more thing to figure out...so let's see if I can add one more and still keep my sanity!

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Party Time!

Between social distancing and everyone else jumping the gun on getting parties on the calendar now that things are loosening up a bit, we weren't sure when we were going to be able to fit in Jacob's birthday party.  We wanted to do things safely, but we also didn't want it to be like a couple years ago when we couldn't fit in a celebration until October due to multiple other events and busy schedules.  It ended up that my beloved family reunion at the beach got canceled, which was a double bummer because the camp is up for sale and could close permanently as a result, and the cancellation meant we wouldn't even have a chance to say good-bye this year.  But the good news was that it opened up a weekend on our schedule, and after some checking with family, we settled on this past Sunday.  On the bright side, it meant I'd have my last furlough week available to plan, clean, and shop as needed.  The bad news is that it meant my last furlough week would be busy in some not-fun ways, but as always, it's worth it for the kids to have their special day.

One of our issues leading up to the party was that it looked to be a very hot day, and with our patio trees gone, there was very little shade to be found in our yard.  We decided it would be wise to get a canopy, but reviews seemed very hit or miss, and most were quite expensive.  I finally found one that I was happy with, both in quality and price.  It looked like our local Super Walmart had it, so I stopped by after my allergy shot one morning, and apparently someone had just bought the last one a few minutes earlier!  Then I tried to order one online through my parents' Walmart, only to have the order canceled, presumably because they ran out before the order was fulfilled.  Then I tried again with the next closest Walmart to them that supposedly had five left when I ordered, and once again, it got canceled.  By this point I just needed to get one, regardless of the price, so I found one that had good reviews and was about $10 more at Lowe's, which I was finally able to go pick up--and while I was there I picked up some paint chips for our future kitchen update and fell in love with a solid surface countertop made of recycled glass!  Another decision for another day, though...

Leading up to the party, we'd talked about the cake a bit, and after looking at some Pinterest pictures, Jacob was happy with the idea of a jersey cake.  Last week when I visited my parents, their Super Walmart had a box of Pillsbury gluten-free yellow cake.  I knew we liked the consistency of the Pillsbury Funfetti cake, so I figured the yellow would be good, too.  Normally I use Betty Crocker (always one yellow, one chocolate), which always behaves well and tastes great, but we get frustrated when the leftover cake gets a little dry and dense, to the point you almost need ice cream to eat it.  I'd been pondering trying something else, so I bought the Pillsbury one, figuring that I know Target sells a King Arthur gluten-free chocolate cake, and we had a good experience with that once, so that would be my chocolate layer. 

Well, when I went to Target late in the week, they were out of stock.  Ugh.  So on Saturday, we took a family trip down to Henrietta.  We stopped at Target and FedEx, then made the trip more tolerable for us all by picking up happy hour Freezes for Craig and me at Taco Bell and some Dilly Bars to go at Dairy Queen.  Luckily, Target had the cake mix and a seasoning I needed for my rib rub, and all was well.  However, when I went to bake the cake that evening, I opened up the box to find an open bag!  There was a layer of mix on the bottom of the box, but it was also leaking out of the cracks in the box, too.  I had no way to know if it was safe, fresh, or of the right quantity to bake properly, so I knew I couldn't use it.  I started the other cake layer while I was trying to figure out my next move--either go to Wegmans and get the mix I normally use, or go back to that Target 20 minutes away and exchange it.  Neither option thrilled me, and I felt bad sending Craig back out.

Nonetheless, I finally decided to just hop in the car and take care of it myself.  I just wanted it done and over with, so I drove down to Henrietta again, exchanged the mix, and came home.  I was in a pretty terrible mood by that point, but as I drove, the sunset got more and more beautiful.

I decided maybe God knew I needed to see this one, so the cake mix debacle was just a way to make sure it happened.  It sure was beautiful, and it helped.

I baked the cake that night and managed to get it layered up before bed, in addition to some other early food prep that I knew I'd want to avoid in the morning.  I had until 3pm to get things ready, but that time always goes so fast, and this was no exception.  Once I was up and dressed, I pretty much worked straight through on one thing or another, including a macaroni salad, but mostly it was the cake (again).  But look how it turned out!

I know Jacob is a Raptors fan and all, but he does have favorite players that have played elsewhere in the league and I think he sometimes likes different jerseys and colors.  He currently has an appreciation for the Knicks, and since we'd already done a couple Raptors cakes, I wasn't complaining about the color palette change--especially when I realized I could buy the blue frosting and the orange would work for the ball, too!  Of course, I had second thoughts once I tried to mix up the right orange color!  That was a bit of a challenge since it hung out in the peach realm for a while.  But I finally got it right! 

Jacob's face when he saw it done was pretty priceless.  He seemed genuinely surprised how cool it turned out.  We had a little debate previously on the striping on the sides (because the pic I used looked different from one Jacob knew of), but in the end I think it turned out pretty great.  And I got to use my ball cake pan again--I think that's four and counting now, though never with the full sphere!

The party ended up being a pretty small affair.  I didn't invite my extended family initially, although usually only one or two of them come anyway.  I figured with distancing, and not being sure of the weather (and not wanting a ton of people inside), and with family parties coming up the next two weekends, it may be overkill.  But then the weather was going to be nice, and over the course of the week Craig's brother's family had sports come up, so it was just going to be the grandparents and maybe my cousin Lori and her boyfriend, since she's Jacob's godmother and they live close.  I did send a last minute message to the aunts and uncles and one other cousin who has come in the past, but no luck.  In the end Lori and her man stopped in and it was fun to chat while food was cooking and my mom was in the pool with the kids.  But it was definitely a limited group, which I felt bad about because I know Jacob likes having his cousins here to play basketball.  Regardless, we feasted on Instant Pot ribs (my new fave shortcut meal), hot dogs, deviled egg mac salad, broccoli rice casserole, salad, and fruit.  Then it was time to dig into the cake!

Twelve candles is a lot!  I need to buy more for next year!

In the age of COVID, apparently blowing out candles is a no-no, so Jacob tried waving them out.

Then he tried clapping, also to no avail--until Grandpa came in with a better technique!

Now that Jacob's older, it appears that the fun stack of presents at parties is a thing of the past.  He got one present from Craig's parents a few weeks back, and had to wait until his party for the other one from them.  Besides that, it was just a couple cards with money!  Of course, he was no less happy!

Yes, another different team.  At least the name on the back of this one is a guy who played for the Raptors at one point!

In the end, it was a great day and I think Jacob appreciated the effort.  After everyone left, I did a bunch of cleanup before joining the boys for an evening swim.  It was definitely a tiring day but worth it to give Jacob the celebration he deserved--even if we were down a few family members. 

And with that, my summer of furloughs came to an end.  I'm now back to working at home for the foreseeable future.  I suppose it will be good to get back in the groove and try to find my new normal, but I will definitely miss the freedom of those five weeks off.  Now I need to navigate the challenges of keeping my focus while the kids are throwing multiple distractions my way.  It's currently involving way too much screen time for them (stupid Fortnite in particular), and me being jealous when they get to go in the pool.  Hard to believe in about six weeks the kids will be starting school--whatever that will look like.  Currently it's two days in school and three at home for Carter.  I'm nervous, but I'm hoping that the two days in school will be a good motivator for the three days he's home.  I think being at home this spring took him fully out of his element and he lost sight of what he was supposed to be doing and why.  But if he has that reminder twice a week, hopefully that will help keep him focused and appreciative of his home time the rest of the week.  I'd be lying if I wasn't nervous about him getting sick (or bringing something home to us), but I think it's a risk we need to take right now.  At least our local numbers are still low.  As for Jacob, we found out last night that he'll be starting school under a normal model, but obviously with a lot of new protocols, including masks and distancing.  He's pretty disappointed, mostly because going back to uniforms every day doesn't thrill him.  But the school confidently feels they can distance properly (whereas our district simply doesn't have the space), so normal it is.  Well, at least the house will be a little quieter come fall so I might be able to focus.  I don't know that Craig and I will know what to do with ourselves alone two days a week, but I'm looking forward to figuring it out!  I'm not looking forward to being more vulnerable to the virus, of course, but the free-for-all in this house is pretty exhausting right now.  A little more routine might do us all good.  But we still have a lot of weeks before we find out, so hopefully we can still find ways to embrace the rest of summer despite my work schedule and the gentle restart of basketball, which is happening this weekend!  More on that soon, I'm sure!

Friday, July 24, 2020

Watkins Glen

After multiple times visiting Letchworth, I've always enjoyed a certain style of "easy" hikes in nature.  Trying to get my family on board has always been a bit challenging, but I decided it was time to pull the "We're doing this because I say so" card to go visit a spot I've wanted to visit since seeing my parents' pictures years ago--Watkins Glen.  It's a bit of a hike (no pun intended) to get there, since it's deep in the Finger Lakes.  But since it was my last week off and we don't have much else going on this summer, it seemed like a good option.  Bonus points that we got a slightly cooler day (and avoided a few raindrops that weren't even in the forecast), but I'll admit that hiking while masked--even on a day in the 70s--is still a bit of a challenge.  Despite that, it was totally worth it.

The drive out was interesting.  The first part was the usual Thruway trip, but once we got off to the country roads, it was a rather scenic trip.  The town of Geneva (home of Hobart and William Smith Colleges) was adorable, and I wished we had a little more time to explore the town and the campus.  Beyond that, we saw winery after winery as we drove along Seneca Lake.  They probably only had a fraction of the business they normally would because of the coronavirus, but they were all so cute and I hope someday I get to visit some of them.  Watkins Glen itself was quite charming, as well, and we marveled at what it must be like during NASCAR race week (which isn't happening this year).  There were a decent number of tourists around despite all that's going on, so I can only imagine at a normal time, let alone race week.  

We parked in one lot briefly while we figured out where we needed to go, and ate a "picnic" lunch we brought with us in the van.  Eventually we headed out, complete with masks.  The first view on the way in was pretty impressive by itself...

Here's Carter with a model of the gorge...

The first stone bridge was visible right away, and we had to go into a little tunnel stairway to get there.

The view from above was pretty outstanding.  This was looking back out toward the entrance...

...and this was in the other direction!

I loved how twisty this waterfall looked from this angle.

We took a few steps forward and the area beyond the waterfall came into view.  Look at that skinny little crevice!

Up close, the rocks are so interesting and stunning.

There are 19 waterfalls along the Gorge Trail, and each one was more beautiful than the next.  

You could walk behind this one!

Jacob was oddly hesitant to walk there, though I'm not sure if he was more worried about his shoes or his hair!  Tweendom is weird.

Sorry the pic is a bit blurry, but you can tell by his body language here that Jacob wants to get no closer to the waterfall than he is.

It always amazed me how the views behind us were just as interesting as the views ahead of us.  It's such a skinny little gorge!

This suspension bridge was a little less charming than the stone bridges, and I think it made everyone envision the shaky, creepy bridges you usually see in movies like Indiana Jones.  I read later on that when the area flooded in 1935 and pretty much destroyed the park, the water was less than 10 feet below this bridge, which would have been a rise of 80 feet!  Crazy to imagine!  Anyway, remember this one for later.

I was fascinated by the "shelf" appearance of this waterfall.  I don't know if it is how shale erodes, or just something weird about this one, but it was neat. 

The rock formations and the waterfalls were other-worldly and truly peaceful.

The rock walls were soaring above us the whole time, sometimes with precariously hanging trees and roots.  Much of the time it was very enclosed, but once in a while it opened up like this.

Click to zoom and see the small waterfall here...

There were numerous stairways throughout the path, usually taking us up to another great view, waterfall, or bridge.  You can see the boys heading up one here, with yet another waterfall in the distance.

One of my favorite things was how so many of the waterfalls had pools like this under them.  They'd have these deeper, circular "hot tub" type ponds right below the waterfall, almost like the water had carved it out over the years.  I could almost picture people hopping in and hanging out!

Another bridge!

The area just beyond that bridge (or before it, if you're the water) was really cool.  The water wound through the rocks and came out into this pool.

Prior to that was a series of small waterfalls.  So pretty!

I believe this is called the Rainbow Falls, probably because the light shines in just right at some time of day to create a rainbow.  It's just a thin drizzle off the rocks from above, and this was another one you can walk behind.

Another picturesque bridge and waterfall were just beyond it.

Looking down from the bridge to the falls (on the left)...plus the cascading waterfalls and pools directly below...

Every new vista was more breathtaking.

The rocks were so amazing to see, with layer upon layer stacked so high.

Unfortunately, the trail was closed after the first mile, supposedly due to it being more difficult to social distance.  I do hope to go back someday, maybe in fall, when that section is open.  But we caught one more photo on the last bridge before heading back on the Indian Trail, since the Gorge Trail was one way.

The Indian Trail was decidedly less scenic, but it did have a few highlights.  Jacob liked this random rock on the side of the path...

Carter was fascinated by the tiny trickle of a stream that ran next to the path for a while.  He seemed to think that a rock or two would block the current, so he was attempting that here, to no avail.

In one section it appeared everyone left a stack of rocks behind.  There was a huge section full of stacks, and they continued down a wall along the path for a little bit, too.  There was a cute extended Indian family there having a blast contributing their own stacks.

Back closer to the entrance, we got to go on the suspension bridge I showed earlier.  I thought this view looked a little like those Escher drawings that have stairways and paths that defy logic and engineering.

This was the view on the other side, more of the very narrow gorge from very high up.

The rest of the walk back involved a LOT of stairs.  Even going down it was quite the workout.  We were definitely ready for a break by the time we got down all of those.  Back near the entrance, I ran back to look at something we missed when the path split to our trail, and caught this different view of the first bridge we were on, with a hint of the waterfall in the background.  

We were pretty hot despite it being very cloudy and not as warm that day, so we decided to walk down the street to an ice cream parlor I found in my gluten-free app the previous day.  Not only did they have gluten-free cones for Jacob, but they also had dairy-free options for Craig.  We all got something tasty and enjoyed it on the patio, happy to unmask and relax for a bit.  

At that point, we headed back to the van.  Jacob really wanted to stop at the outlet mall back near the Thruway because he's been dying to get to a Nike outlet, and we still had to get home in time for some basketball training that evening.  Here are a couple scenic views from the drive...

So many grapevines!  And the lake in the background!

From this angle it almost looked like we could drive into the lake.

Overall it was a pretty good day.  I neglected to mention that Carter slipped in mud early on, so we had to clean him up a bit, and Jacob was a little grumpy about a couple things, but for the most part the boys got along and it made for a very nice walk.  It was neat to see in person and I hope to make it back again someday, hopefully with a camera that does a better job capturing the details.  It was nice to sneak in another adventure before my furlough weeks come to an end.  I'm pretty bummed about being stuck at my desk for the rest of the summer, but hopefully we can take advantage of the weekends and evenings we have left before we start a very unique fall.