NC and DC, late Feb-early March, 2015, Part 1

What were we thinking?

I had planned this trip a little haphazardly and allotted for snow, but we were going South for pete’s sake, and I certainly didn’t plan on a blizzard!  The day before we left, there was a 75-car pileup on route 95, the road we take most of the way, due to snow and ice.  Chapel Hill schools had been closed for most of the previous two weeks due to snow. On top of all that, our friends were moving house so even more chaos than usual was guaranteed.  But, as I kept texting Dr. Mama, hell or high water- we were going!

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Carolina sunset as we rolled into town, Fiercely & sisters selfie in the car

Chapel Hill and the Fabulous Family

North Carolina was melting. Prior to our arrival, there had been an unusual amount of snow and the accompanying panic this entails in the South. It was warmer the day we landed, and there were rivers of melted snow everywhere. Dr. Mama was feeling the effects of over two weeks of homebound children, enforced homeschooling if you will, and happy as we came into town.  She had been packing for six weeks, having some painting/minor repairs done in both houses, managing five kids, two cats and the dog, and working at her job as an ER pediatrician.  Dr. Papa and his father Mr. F were on hand when we arrived to the ‘old’ house.


My kids immediately settled into the snowbound vibe in the big, nearly empty house.  There was a snowy yard, 3 pets, lots of echoing rooms, exciting snacks, a functioning screen for movies, a giant bathtub, and, of course, nine kids, aged 4-14.


Cozy does not begin to describe the scene.  Cozy with a big bunch of crazy!  Anyway, that was the old house.  The second day, we moved many boxes to the new house.  We were a fearsome crew, what with the motivated under-tens who were paid for their work loading the van, the formidable septuagenarian Mr. F, Drs. Mama and Papa, and yours truly who has gypsy wanderlust in the blood and a related love of moving.  No joke, I love moving, even if its not me moving.  I love the change in spaces, the physical work and the camraderie, the getting rid of stuff, the new perspective – its hard for me to believe I haven’t personally moved for almost 8 years!  So I get vicarious pleasure from helping other people move.  But I digress.  This was a long day of moving boxes, many to the third floor of the new house where the play room and one bedroom are located.

Many props to Mr. F, an Irish-born font of unstoppable energy.  He is of a rapidly disappearing class of person who has probably worked from sunup to sundown since he could walk and, despite some slowing down and minor problems in his 71-year-old knees, worked harder and longer than any of us.  Fortified by his daily breakfast of a customized oatmeal-root-herb concoction, the man moved boxes, hung framed art, assembled furniture, attached light fixtures, installed a cat door, and did I don’t know what else all day.  Dr. Mama had to make frequent runs to the store for various projects to keep him busy “or else he would start doing things that don’t need to be done” like altering the cabinetry.  I wish I had a good picture of him, but I was too shy to get one, plus he doesn’t slow down much!


Dinner for 13 in the new house!  There is Mr. F in the big white Irish wool sweater sitting with his back to us at the counter. Lacking a dining room table, we ate on the floor “like most of the people in the world” as Dr Mama correctly pointed out!

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moving van!  Unpacking and playing! 

The new neighborhood was very walkable with the kids’ grade school and a small shopping center a few blocks away as well as a paved trail that connects to other trails in the Chapel Hill area.  When the rain stopped and we were at the new house, we took a walk around the area.

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Above – neighborhood and nearby creek. Below – I took these when I went for a run on the path called (I think) Fan Branch Trail. Amazing, well-maintained trail with bridges, tunnels, and signage similar to a highway but for bikes/joggers/etc.

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Museum of Life and Science, Durham

The Fabulous kids did go to school one day, so I took the Fantastics to this museum.  I have written about it before here and here.  The weather was not too great and we really only went to the main building this time, but with the changing exhibits there was still a lot to see at this cool place.

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Interacting with media – “catching” projected images and making music by running around

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Learning about salt at the lab, witchy sisters at a cauldron at a weather exhibit

So we spent a lot of time in both houses, doing various moving-related things and also just hanging out.  We hated to say goodbye, but they were getting back to their routine after many snow days and a move, and we were headed to the nation’s capitol and, more importantly, LW and Lincoln of DC fame.  We learned of Winter Storm Thor as we were headed into it.  What happened next? Stay tuned, tripsters!


Belated Panto update, general updates, and SNOW! Jan 2014

Panto debuted to raves!

The panto of last month went really well.  It was a take on Robin Hood written by Fiercely, Mr Fantastic, and another crazy father-daughter homeschool dynamo.  Robin Hood and her Merry Girls charmed their audiences with sword fighting, cross-dressing, slapstick, and the mysterious, hooded, evil S.N.L.S. – who turned out to be the formidable Sheriff of Nottingham’s Little Sister.  All of the Fantastics, save yours truly who had to go to work during most rehearsals, did very well onstage and I did help a little with the scenery and costumes so we can all be proud.

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clockwise from top left: swordfighting SNLS in black and Fiercely behind in silver, Cleverly at Right and the twins on knees with brooms, dancing in front of a tree at a faire, and the chorus singing (Fiercely, L of center in green tunic + hat, Really in front of her)

Snow on the East Coast

Yes!  It is wonderful, almost a real winter around here, or completely miserable depending on who you talk to.  We have taken full advantage of the cold and snow, going out sledding and staying in cooking and baking.


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Downhill Skiing

We also have gone several times skiing as a homeschool group to avail ourselves of the superb deal for school groups at a ski resort around here.  Ten people minimum and for $25 per person they give us rentals, lift tickets, lessons, and LUNCH!  They even let you snowboard and ski the same day if you want.  It is worth looking around for deals like that for such an expensive sport.  I myself had not skied in over 15 years until we went on a deal like this last year.

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I gave it a try, so did Mr Fantastic.  This snowsport seems to have developed over the 15+ years I was off the slopes, and it looks so darn fun.  I know people my age who enjoy it, so I thought why not?  Well, for starters, people say it takes about three times as long to get comfortable snowboarding compared with downhill skiing.  I always thought downhill skiing was a challenge and I was kind of proud I can do it, but it looks a downright cinch next to snowboarding.  Guided by a surfer dude instructor half my age, I went down the baby hill, the one you walk back up in your skis/snowboard, five times.  Each time I was scared just looking down that minuscule, snowy grade as toddlers around me whooshed down, carefree.  I fell backwards and hit my head so that my hat and glasses flew off, not once but three times.  Once I fell forward, and once I didn’t fall at all.  Fiercely, 13 and pointing at her own helmeted head, opined that maybe I should wear head protection.  After maybe 40 minutes, I gave in to the twins who wanted to ski and needed a parent.  It was my out, I’m not gonna lie.  Mr Fantastic soldiered on but said he was ready to burn the snowboard after another hour or so.  That said, we both want to give it another try.   Brave? Stupid?  Discuss.


OMG the refinance went through TODAY!!  We started back in October and after abundant snafus and several almost-dealbreakers, we got a bunch of checks today.  Unfortunately, all but one are to our creditors.  The upside is that we have been eschewing the credit cards for several months at this point and hopefully can stay on target to budget for RTW 2015.  Or at least Not Losing our House 2014.

RTW update

Unlike yours truly, Mr Fantastic is a bit of a reluctant traveler.   These days, he is so happy teaching physics, hosting games nights at our house, planning events with the homeschool teens, teaching a model airplane class to the younger homeschoolers, managing his properties, and getting involved in neighborhood issues such as new businesses and plans for vacant lots.  Planning to leave for two years makes him a bit nervous.  We had a big talk a few weeks ago during which he realized that a one-year RTW trip felt better to him, ideally two one-year trips spaced a couple of years apart. While I worry about budgeting – two trips are sure to be more expensive than one longer trip – I have to admit the benefits are many.  Easier re-integration for us and the kids after just one year away, less issues with the houses being rented out and managing from afar, time between trips to better plan the second one, and Mr Fantastic’s comfort level.  So, my next planning will be about how to organize our time for 12 months rather than 24.  From my research so far, the main factor affecting the trip is how we get from place to place, such as cruise from Vancouver to Tokyo vs. fly or cruise to Europe to begin and how to go from there.  Crossing oceans is a big expense and will determine how and where we go.  Stay tuned!

NE Ohio, Jan 2014

Over the river and through the wood we went, in a glorious blizzard, to see my parents and celebrate the holidays as well as my dad’s 73rd birthday.  I love snow, I don’t even mind driving in it in Ohio since the drivers and road crews are used to it and no one freaks out.  The 8-hour road trip with my offspring is another story.  I won’t dwell on the gory details but you can imagine the quarrels that can erupt in a car of four sisters and limited entertainment options – tragically, the car has no DVD player and only Fiercely has any type of device-an ipod touch.  Sometimes I mediate, sometimes I yell, and sometimes I check out and listen to Ira Glass on my headphones.  Occasionally they are quiet and content.

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Mama!! She bit me!!! I did NOT!!  Are we there yet??

For reasons beyond the scope of this blog, mostly regarding marital harmony, Mr. Fantastic does not join us on most trips to see my parents.   Poor Mr. Fantastic, all alone with none of our offspring… and me stuck in a car with them for a day each way. sigh.  But we did have a great time once we got there.

The Snow Belt of Lake County and Lake-effect Snow are well known in this area.  Apparently, we have it in common with parts of Japan and Russia.  It has to do with air movement and the taking up of moisture over large bodies of water.  Whatever the reason, the snowfall in this part of Ohio is vastly greater than surrounding areas, and we were there during a fierce winter storm- yay!

Neighborhood snow

The grandparents’ back yard was untouched snowy bliss.  I could sit around and eat Xmas leftovers after the long drive while the kids ran around out back unsupervised-  all hail the suburbs!!

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Truly, Really, Fiercely, Cleverly in the backyard

And then there is the sledding hill at the subdivision’s park.  Now, I wouldn’t trade our big-city park with its vibrancy – farmer’s market, dogs, festivals, litter, chess players, unending basketball, homeless people, Shakespeare-in-the-park, strollers, food trucks, etc – for the sterile Ohio suburbs, but the suburban sled hill is pretty excellent, and, let’s face it, much snowier.  My Dad even joined us!

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that’s my Dad, 73, in purple at bottom left!

I insisted that the kids come cross country skiing one day.  They invited two kids who are neighbors of my parents and off we went.  Again, the Lake Metroparks system did me right.  Rentals are $5 per hour, $3 for kids, and the 2nd hour is even less.  You can even have the skis, poles, and boots for the whole day and go to another location if you like for only $15, or $9 for kids – all day!!  Using the trails is free.  It’s like they want you to get out there and enjoy, so different from the East Coast where I don’t even know where we could do this.

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Clockwise from upper L: the kids skiing, all 6 kids in front of the lodge, all of us in front of the lodge’s woodstove, taxidermied squirrel on ceiling of lodge!

There are miles of trails and I actually went back alone the next day to explore further – you know, with 6 less bladders and 36 fewer skis/shoes/poles to deal with – and had a great time.  The trails are lit at night.  The lodge was way more crowded since it was a weekend day and I had taken the kids on a weekday, but there are enough trails that I found it easy to break away from the crowd.  Cross country skiing in my opinion compares favorably with downhill skiing in that is it safer, easier to learn, the equipment is more comfortable, and it costs less.  It is also less invasive on a natural place – there are no noisy ski lifts, just the soft hush of the forest.

Penitentary Glen

We were here in the summer, and now there were different activities.  The kids played the Wild Days of Winter Game, an indoor life-sized board game that featured vintage toys from previous decades as well as facts on winter ecology.  I couldn’t persuade them to try snowshoeing with me, so I went myself.  It was ok that day and the trails were beautiful in the snow and ice.  I’m glad I tried it, but I ended up bagging it for more xc-skiing at Chapin instead.

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selfie w/snowshoes, more snowshoes, snowy forest, icy river – so beautiful!!

Apples and the Trip Home

My Dad took me to Sage’s Apple Orchard, a darling, family-owned fruit farm with amazing apples.  We got large bags of Cameos, not as sweet as Gala the kids love and which are too sweet for me.  We packed them and all our gear to head East into another blizzard.  This one on a day where school was cancelled in NE Ohio, mainly due to the bitter cold.  I heard a radio announcer explain that frost bite was likely in under 10 minutes on exposed skin that day.  I scraped the car, blasted the heat, counted 4 kids, said goodbye to the grandparents, and drove back into the snowstorm.  After a few hours, the skies cleared and snow stopped.  We had left the Snow Belt of Lake County, until next time.


Getting the tree, December 2013

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We were having a pastoral tree cutting experience this year, dammit.  I was tired of going to the guy on the corner with missing teeth and a cash operation of questionable legitimacy.  We would enjoy the loaner saws, tractor ride, bonfire, and country scenery of the cut-your-own business at the agrotainment farm just 16.5 miles away.  And so we went.  It even snowed!!

We took the hay ride, found the tree, cut it down and enjoyed the bonfire.  The kids were cold but in good spirits.  The people around us, and there were many looking for traditional tree-cutting jolliness on that snowy Sunday, shivered and laughed and created family memories whether the surly teens liked it or not.  It continued to snow.

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the gang at the bonfire and Fiercely, in beloved Robin Hood hat for the panto, moving the tree, above.  The kid in orange is a friend of Fiercely’s

Having spent many winters in Ohio, and relying on public transit for work, snow driving does not overly concern me as it does the typical denizen of the East Coast.  I was to feel otherwise during the return 16.5 miles.  Tree on car, we headed back home.  We got out of the farm parking lot and joined a long line of cars trying to get up a small hill.

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Where were the plows and the salt trucks?  Where were the good Ohioans with their kitty litter and shovels in the trunk of the rusted ‘beater’ car they use all winter?  Sadly, they were nowhere to be found and, shamefully, I myself had neglected the habit over the years.  It appeared no one knew the snow would be this bad.  Mr. Fantastic, living up to his name as always, got out and helped push cars.  A few other hardy souls did the same.  It took about an hour and we were at last able to scale the tiny summit.  We went a few miles and got stuck again at an intersection of a small town.  Again with the lack of preparedness, again with Mr Fantastic saving the day for stranded motorists.  After about 3 hours of this, we found our way to our neighborhood and ironically passed the tree guy on the corner.  His trees looked pretty good, but this year we cut our own!!!!