Come play in my world for awhile!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Attack of the Killer Porcupines

After breakfast today I noticed a brown blob near the hose of the pool sweep, and it remained there throughout the day. To date, my frame of reference for animals in the pool has primarily been frog and snake, so I didn't really think twice about the blob. Additionally, our pool sweep lost it's foam "tail" a few days ago, and the tail keeps coming off and floating around the pool. I just assumed the tail was trapped in a loop of the hose and went about my business.

I picked the kids up from school, and we went through the usual routine: snack, homework, tell me about your day. It is hotter than blazes here so the minute we had worked through the routine tasks the kids were clamoring to get into the pool. It is way too hot to sit down there if you aren't wet, so I was working on getting changed, but of course, I was slower than the kids in my preparations. I told them they could head down without me and hang out on the tanning shelf until I got down there. This is fairly standard procedure for us so I was instantly alarmed when I heard frantic screaming coming from the pool.

As a mother you can differentiate between various screams and cries. It starts when the children are newborns and you learn to differentiate the plaintive wail of a tired child from the lusty cries of one who is hungry. By the time they are elementary school aged the source of the emotion is different. Our personal top three are: 1) the whiny cry generated when a sister has pestered you to the end of your sanity or you are so tired and overwhelmed that you have lost your ability to cope, 2) the panicked, frantic cry that comes when someone is legitimately hurt, and 3) the ear splitting scream that comes when they are sincerely scared to death. As a mom you can gauge by the scream how to react. Emily was the source of the screaming, and the noise fell solidly into category three.

I was only half into my bathing suit when the hullabaloo started. My irritation at the screaming quickly turned to panic when I realized that was a #3 scream. I ran for the door as I wiggled the rest of the way into my swimsuit only to catch the strap of my suit on the door handle, and get myself yanked backwards into the door. I have a nice bruise to commemorate that moment of grace under pressure. At this point my mind is whirling with possibilities because now there is more screaming. I quickly come to the conclusion that there must be a snake in the pool again, and started mentally berating myself for having sent the children down there without having checked the pool and the skimmer. By the time I reached the pool I was convinced that I would find a serpent of monstrous proportions and that it had probably already eaten at least one of the kids. As I rounded the corner I was already yelling, "What, what is everyone okay?" The kids were standing at the side of the pool and stopped screaming the minute that I got down there. And that made me mad. I had just hopelessly stretched my bathing suit, run down two flights of wooden steps at a less than safe speed, and conjured completely irrational scenarios of doom and gloom in my head. At this point I was thinking that there better be a serpent in the pool because if the serpent didn't eat them then I would as punishment for scaring me like that.

My heart was still thudding in my chest as I looked around the pool to try and assess what had started this ridiculousness. I noticed the brown blob, and again, assumed it was the tail of the pool sweep. This assessment took all of maybe 20 seconds but as the adrenaline rapidly subsided I was quickly passing mad and heading straight for furious. Emily astutely picked up on the wisps of smoke beginning to beginning to curl from my ears and finally offered, "Look mommy! Look! There is a baby porcupine in the pool and he is going to shoot us with his spiny quills! Don't come any closer!! It is not safe"

You've got to be kidding me.

At this point, the commotion had summoned Rachel who was watching from the upstairs deck area, and she hollers down, "Seriously! A porcupine! Cool. Don't touch it 'til I get down there with my camera." So here is an initial shot of the porcupine. Can you see him? He looks like a serious threat to a person's health and well being, wouldn't you say?

Here's a closer shot. And it's a vole, not a porcupine.

Abby noticed that the critter was shaking, and told me to watch out. She said she was pretty sure that they shake like that right before they shoot out all of their poisonous quills. I think they shake like that when they have been marooned for 10 hours on a pool hose and deranged humans are standing around screaming like idiots.

We fished the sad, shaking, little cutie out with the leaf skimmer, carried him down by the creek and sent him on his way. I guess we can add another entry to the list of critters who have visited the yard!

On the Road Again!

It felt as though we had just gotten off the plane from Montana when we embarked upon our next trip to visit my parents. This year's trip to Canada was a new adventure. Since moving to the East Coast we are technically close enough to drive. And with airline tickets in the neighborhood of $700 a pop we decided that a 17 hour drive couldn't be that bad, right? And it actually wasn't! We managed to motor our way to the cottage, and made the whole trek in one day. Between portable DVD players, and Nintendo DS the kids were actually pretty quiet. Pat and I, on the other hand, covered every topic from foreign policy to retirement planning. We don't need to talk again for at least a month -- there's nothing left!

This year's trip was quicker than usual. A typical trip involves an abundance of lounging around with some quick day trips thrown in for variety and topped with a bit of water skiing for adrenaline's sake. Because year round school creates a truncated summer we really had to cram everything in to get it all done. So instead of 2+ weeks we had 6 days. You really need more time to enjoy the true experience! Next year we are going to do something different. I have no idea what, but it has to be different. We returned from Canada late this past Saturday (and yes, we did that massive drive in one day again. If I never get in my minivan again I would be okay with it.), and the girls started school on Monday. Exhausting.

We did a lot of kayaking this year. The girls are all accomplished enough now that they can pilot their own boat. This makes things exponentially more enjoyable! But kayaking is hard work... in fact you don't know how hard it is until you find yourself at the end of the day looking like this...

We did a lot of tubing, because the water wasn't good for water-skiing. Either that or I am a big wimp. Probably a little of both since I didn't even get in the tube this year! There was a fair amount of wind which creates choppy water. My rule of thumb is if there are white caps on the water it is too rough to ski. So the kids contented themselves with the tube and, if I do say so myself, they've pretty much mastered it. Tubing doesn't require a whole lot of skill, but you can steer the tube by shifting your weight and playing off the turns of the boat. Once you start to maneuver and jump waves it achieves oh-my-gosh-I'm-going-to-die-thrills even though it lacks finesse. This year the kids totally got it and spent their time jumping the boat's wake rather than passively being towed. It was great fun to watch.

This is how it starts...

...and this is how it ends!

For those of you not intimately familiar with my parent's cottage, let me fill in some gaps. My grandparents bought the cottage 60+ years ago. At one point there was a sturdy boat dock leading off the front of the property. Unfortunately, a solid surface dock in Canada isn't the best idea. The lake freezes in the winter and when the ice shifts your dock shifts with it. As a child I can vaguely remember when the dock was in one piece, but it is a distant memory. Somewhere along the line everyone gave up on keeping the dock in one piece. Now we have an elongated pile of rubble. This is bad if you want to dock a boat, but amazing if you are a kid. I truly don't understand the extent of the appeal. Rationally I can see that there are frogs and fish and birds and geese and sunsets to die for right off the dock. Some of these critters can even be caught with a butterfly net while standing on the rocks gazing at the sunset. My kids love the "rocky dock." They spend hours out there communing with nature. The down side is that the rocky dock takes payment in the form of children's skin. No other form of payment is acceptable. Looking at this picture you can see how payment is collected. Three of my children had to start the school year in flip-flops (which is against dress code) because their feet were too torn up to be put into regular shoes. She actually wasn't falling in this picture - just running like a maniac. But you can totally see how payment is collected nonetheless!

In return for payment this is what the dock offers
every evening. It is still a steep price, but you get what you pay for, right?

I love this place.....

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


So we just returned from a whirlwind month. We finished the school year and immediately hopped on a plane, and headed for Montana. We hiked and fished, but mostly we ate ice cream cones. Over the years Pat's father has become a veritable connoisseur of ice cream cones. He knows all of the best spots, and we hit every one of them at least once! We covered a lot of ground on this trip. We were able to make it out to see Great Grandma Jones in Sydney, and still find time to visit Red Lodge and the Beartooth mountains.


We hiked in an area called Woodbine, which is one of my most favorite areas in Montana. Usually the water is moving quickly, but this year was unprecedented. There was an abundance of snow this winter, and no appreciable Spring. When the summer arrived hot and fast it yielded a mass of snow melt. The result is this rushing, gushing, tumultuous flow. I was actually nervous walking with the kids. The path runs right to the edge of all that water, and I could just picture someone slipping. Obviously no one did, but I know the kids were tired of me hollering, "Stay to the SIDE!" at 30 second intervals. The only saving grace was that all that pounding water makes a significant ruckus! I don't think they could even hear me half the time.
Red Lodge
You really can't do a trip to Montana without including Red Lodge. The scenery is gorgeous, and the town itself is old and quaint and steeped in history. If you go over the 4th of July there are two must-see's: the parade and the rodeo. The parade is totally fun. There are lots of horses, and floats, and of course, plenty of candy thrown into the crowds. The best part, though, is the crowd! It's small! No one has to get there early to do stakeout!

After the parade concluded, a sign advertising "Indian Tacos" caught my eye. We were able to enjoy authentic Indian Tacos made by an American Indian. She was kneading the dough balls and frying them on the spot to make flat bread. You can top the flat bread with any number of items, and voila! Indian Tacos. And yes, they are really yummy.

My next memory after the tacos is ice cream. I know we walked around Red Lodge, but I think I was engulfed in a food haze. My next memory is eating one of those ice cream cones that I mentioned earlier. Actually, I am holding two cones. I don't think I ate them both.

We also got some lake fishing in before we left. Abby caught the first one, and by the end of the day she was handling the fish with a bit more enthusiasm!
Red Lodge Home of Champions Rodeo
I am actually not a huge rodeo fan. I'll admit that it is fascinating to watch, but it seems a bit mean spirited. Any time you have to strap a tight belt around an animal's private parts as incentive to participate I feel as though things have gone too far. I mostly keep that to myself, though, as that is a minority opinion for sure.

However, I'll still admit to loving some aspects. First, of all I love the history. If you are willing to blur the edges of reality a little bit (you kind of have to selectively delete from your mental imagery the private planes that take off from the dirt runway throughout the event to whisk the cowboys off to the next rodeo competition) it is almost as if you have stepped back in time to the Old West. The cowboys are just as tough and leathery and stoic as you would imagine. The events haven't evolved at lightning speed with the rest of the world. It's a little snippet of the past.

Another thing I love is an event called Mutton Busting. This almost defies description, but it basically involves convincing a child to jump onto the back of a sheep and hang on for dear life. Whoever stays on the longest wins. There is no pain inflicted upon the animal and the kids don't seem to get hurt, which makes me happy, but the real fun is the combination of little kids and energetic barn animals. I have seen a sheep leap into the air (with a child attached, of course!) as if it were a reindeer on Christmas Eve, a child rider who actually slid until he was riding while hanging on to the sheep's belly and only let go when the sheep sat down in exhaustion, and one child who walked up and kicked his father in the shins at the end of his ride yelling, "Doggone it Dad why'd 'ya have to make me go and do that!"

But the best part by far is the menu! I'll give the cowboy burger two thumbs up -- they are really delicious --but the real star is the 6-pack of beer. I didn't order one, but where else can you go and find a 6-pack of Budweiser on the menu?!

Before the rodeo the kids were also able to participate in a barrel racing competition (on stick-horses, of course). It was cute, and helped the kids understand the nuances of the competition. Emily and Hannah are on deck for their race.

All the kids did their best to blend in with the cowboys and cowgirls!

Sydney, MTOriginally we had planned a tour through Yellowstone, but in the 11th hour we opted to do a road trip out to visit Great Grandma Jones. I think this was the highlight of my trip. There really isn't anything to speak of in Sydney, MT. Except Grandma! She is worth the trip in and of herself. She is 94, and still living on her own. Listening to the stories as she took us through photo albums was fun, but her sweet sense of humor is what gets me every time. My only regret is that we didn't drive down the road a few miles to North Dakota -- just to say we did it!

Until Next Year!

As always, Montana was an adventure. As the children get older it only gets better. I'm already looking forward to the next trip, although it is good to let some time elapse getween get-togethers so that I can shed the weight I inevitably accumulate. I'll end this post with the picture below. Hannah read the sign and said, "Brats?! Do they sell kids here when they are bad?!" Apparently, I need to work more on her German heritage

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Where in the world is Kathy Belinski?!

I didn't realize so many of you were actually reading my blog! I've been getting emails from people asking if all is okay... because I haven't been writing :) That makes me happy.

So the answer to the question is: Montana -- with no internet access. That isn't how it was supposed to work, though. I meticulously packed my laptop, and my USB cables so that I could share pictures and stories. Well, I got there, opened up my laptop, and discovered that I had crashed the hard disk. Turns out that grinding noise my computer was making was probably a harbinger of imminent demise. Go figure.

So, now that I am home I thought I'd put on my thinking cap, and fix the stupid computer. I think it is doable (quit with the laughing). I just need to boot the computer from the start-up CD, and not from the hard drive so that it can sort of self-correct. Those of you who are familiar with my skill set know that I am a power end user. And that is all. I don't fix stuff. So I went on-line and googled the error codes, and actually formulated a plan of attack. I was feeling pretty good about myself, until I opened my meticulously organized files to discover that the folder with all the "stuff" (manuals, start up disk) for my laptop is EMPTY. Sheesh. I won't even get into the fact that the folder was empty. That just does not happen. My organizational habits are one of the cornerstones of my personality. I literally don't even know where to start my search.

So I'm kinda stalled.

Friday, July 11, 2008

School's Out!

So the girls are finally out of school! What a landmark year this has been for our family. For the first time ever I had all of my girls at one school, and attending on the same schedule. I had a hard time at the beginning of the year. I fully realized that my "babies" were now kindergarteners. My heart broke a little as I schlepped them off that first day.

Those that know me well are aware that my identity has been altered since having kids. Like most moms, I live for my kids. That is why I am laughing as I prepare to type this next sentence (and no, I haven't opened any wine yet. But thanks for the thought!). I am so stinking relieved that school is over. Yes, yes, I am amazed that my kids are now 5th, 3rd and 1st graders, and of course, I mourn the passage of another year. But on a much larger scale I am just thanking my lucky stars that the year wrapped up before I lost another stitch of sanity.

As it turns out, the last few weeks of school are loaded with mommy booby traps. It starts slowly with a request for cupcakes here and another request to organize the class pizza party, followed by another request.... and it ends with a BANG! The combination of hosting end of year swim parties, attending school award/graduation ceremonies, chauffering to riding lessons/swim meets/baseball games, and knotting a couple hundred water balloons (just for kicks) nearly got the better of me. It certainly got the better of the index finger on my right hand. It is still healing after I peeled a couple layers of skin off during my water balloon knotting marathon.

I guess I was fooled into over estimating my capacity by that fact that I had never before had all four kids in school with different teachers and synchronized schedules. As I foolishly agreed to the the various requests I never saw the chaos that would ultimately result. There was no epic moment of convergence; no mental breakdown; no comic moment. I only hope that next time around I see the traps before I step into them!

This is Abby with her teacher. Notice the cute t-shirt she is wearing? That was my idea. I gave a bunch of kindergarteners Sharpies and fabric paint and helped them create a souvenir of their kindergarten experience by making a huge fingerprint "flower" on each other's shirts. Sounds innocent enough, but kids + paint (rarely) = a tidy outcome. Sigh.

Abby again. This time I was the lunch mom. The kids were ridiculously wound up that day.

Here is Emily graduating from kindergarten. Remember those cute shirts I helped Abby make? Well, if you have twins you have to do it twice. Emily's class shirts weren't dry enough to put them on yet. It was that close.