Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Urban Babies Wear Black

When Ellie was born, we bought a funny board book called "Urban Babies Wear Black". Each page has a different yuppie-baby thing: urban babies jog, urban babies do yoga, urban babies drink latte... It's this last one that caught our minds when we took Ellie out this week. She was happily spooning the froth off my coffee drink when I looked at Markus and quoted, "Urban babies drink latte." Immediately, our cheerful little myna bird grinned and shouted, "LATTE!" How many 20 month olds have that in their vocab banks, I ask you.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Dipe Squad on the move

The Dipe Squad is back in The Hague, but we took a little time for R&R between Ocean Springs and Holland. Over our past few visits to the DC area, Markus has started to realize the beauty of Virginia, but he still hadn't seen much of it. To remedy this and our desperate need for a mental break from all stressful topics (job, house, moves, etc.), we reserved a few nights' stay at the Big Meadows Lodge in Shenandoah National Park just about halfway along Skyline Drive. If you haven't done this, you really should! Shenandoah is absolutely beautiful! It is the most popular in the fall for the leaf-peepers, but we had gorgeous weather in May and the trails were relatively empty of hikers, making it easier to see wildlife (so many deer!) and enjoy the abundant wildflowers in bloom.

We brought the baby hiking backpack to carry Ellie along the trails, but we forgot to clear this with Ellie first. She was not a fan. As it turned out, we did only one hike: Rapidan Camp. Thankfully, it turned out to be the best choice, as we were the only ones there and received a private tour at our destination! Prepare yourself for a little history lesson, folks!

Rapidan Camp was the private retreat of Herbert Hoover, America's 31st president who was in the White House from 1929 to 1933. Herbert Hoover was the first full-time president. The 30 presidents before him took 3-4 months off in the summer like Congress and they returned to their homes during that time. Hoover decided that wouldn't do during the Depression years, but he did require occasional time away from Washington. He sent out one of his men to find a spot that met some very specific requirements: it had to be within 100 miles of Washington, it had to have great fishing and it had to be above 2500 feet to escape the worst humidity and mosquitos. A site was found in what was to eventually become Shenandoah National Park. Hoover bought over 100 acres with his own money, but 150 Marines cleared the spot and the roads to it and built a camp with several cabins for guests, cabinet members, and important visitors, as well as other buildings including a mess hall, a "town hall" (where games were played and everyone could meet to chat), an office to request items from the Filipino servants who had been reassigned from the mothballed presidental yacht...

Rapidan Camp is located at the headwaters of the Rapidan River, and Hoover apparently was so eager to get fishing that he would often be in the river with his rod and reel without changing out of his suit and tie straight from the drive from Washington. When Roosevelt was elected, Hoover offered Rapidan Camp to him, but Roosevelt didn't like the spot. He found a different place and named it "Shangrilah"...a name that was later changed to "Camp David". So there you have it. Rapidan Camp--a fairly humble and quite cozy cabin in the woods--was the first "Camp David." Be prepared to be quizzed later.

Ellie handled the trek to and from Rapidan Camp with minimal complaints, but she made it clear that repeating such hikes would not be advisable. The next day, we drove instead to Luray Caverns (the largest cave system on the Eastern Shore) and then on to Monticello (home of Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States) and Charlottesville.

During this trip, we purchased a National Parks Passport for Ellie, and we're starting to collect some good stamps. She's been to Mount Vernon and Monticello, on the Appalacian Trail (though just for a dozen yards or so), and in Shenandoah. She's also been to Great Falls National Park, though we didn't get a stamp yet. We're so happy to have the opportunities to visit these wonderful places. The US truly has an amazing national parks system, and we love to take advantage of it!

On the way out, we stayed one last night with Mimi, whom Ellie was THRILLED to see! That part of our stay went way too fast, so we hope we'll be able to plan a real vacation with Mimi sometime in the fall. For now, we need to recover from jetlag and unpack the massive amounts of luggage we always seem to take with us.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

New Week, New Pics

Plugging along! The house is starting to resemble a house! Yes, folks, we now have walls. The sheetrock is up and finished. It's amazing what difference that made in my sanity. Now, we can really see how the many small changes we tacked onto the repairs are making a big impact. The house really will be beautiful, if it's ever done (which I'm starting to believe may happen this year, possibly in the next several weeks). With Markus here to party with Ellie this week, I was able to accomplish many of my tasks towards house completion, including (drum roll please) purchasing kitchen cabinets! For those of you who've heard too much about the house, you know I had a complete kitchen worked up with Home Depot which didn't come through for a myriad of reasons. Happy am I to have found all of the cabinets for the kitchen in stock now at a local warehouse for half the price! Score! The countertops will also be half the price when they are ordered post-cabinet install. Given the increasingly loud vacuum-sucking sound of money from our wallets by this house, we are thrilled to not only get a deal but get it NOW. This philosophy has resulted in all the lighting fixtures and flooring being purchased and ready to go this week as well. The search for perfection is over; the acceptance of acceptable look, good price and immediately available is here.
One unexpected bonus of being here is my new appreciation of my contractor's situation. While I have no idea (and really no confidence) that he works hard while I'm gone, he does work very hard when I'm here...but his people don't necessarily do the same. I was witness to the day his drywall finishers skipped a day of work to penalize him for using another crew to hang drywall since they were going too slowly. I have been witness to multiple useless days on behalf of his siding hangers. They show up at 10, are gone for lunch by 11 and can be gone for hours with no explanation...and I've been here to see him call them repeatedly and eventually hire others. The fact is construction people down here are tired. They have been working all day every day since Katrina for homeowners who all (like me) want their home done yesterday. There is always too much work to finish and take a break, and there will always be someone at their backs unsatisfied with the pace. At this point, many of them work with the philosophy that they will find other work at any time if they get they don't always care about what they do or when they do it. Of course it's not everybody, but for those who are wearing out, I can't say that I blame them.

Despite our little triumphs and larger epiphanies, the house remains a big strain on our nerves. On Wednesday, we celebrated a belated Mother's Day with a day off in New Orleans. It was the first time since Katrina that both of us felt like outside visitors instead of visiting what felt like home. The city has changed without us, but it was still nice to wander in the familiar, eat in the beloved spots, and see dear friends. Markus treated Jennifer to a massage at a lovely day spa and a necklace from New Orleans designer Mignon Faget. Spoiled rotten and oh-so-happy!

New Orleans cityscape from the Mississippi River ferry

dear friends Elio and Irina

Ellie has been very patient with all of this house madness, particularly now that Markus can play with her while Jennifer runs errands and gets fiesty. She is completely loved and is enjoying her playtime at the park, the beach, and in Mary's yard. Her vocabulary is exploding with new words every day, and she is a busy bee.

helping with the yardwork

two swingers

And finally, for those of you who have never been here, here's a look at why we are putting ourselves through this. This is the view from our new-and-improved back porch.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Pics of the week

House nowhere near finished, but check out that beautiful blue sky!

Happy bunny on the playground. This week's favorite word: "SLIDE!"

Local wildlife presents King of the Cat Food Pile

Quote of the Day

"Everybody got their bye-bye pee-pees?"

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The House

Ellie and I are back in Mississippi to deal with THE HOUSE (dum dum DUM!). Although the agreed deadline had completion sometime in mid-April, the house is NOT FINISHED. The house is not close to finished. The house has no finished walls (it was and is gutted). This is a bad thing, especially when you come down for the purpose of installing a kitchen (walls are required for this) and flooring (also good to have walls first) and finding renters (again, walls handy). The good news is that the porch expansion looks AMAZING, and the other improvements we made alongside the repairs are making a big difference. The house is going to be beautiful, if and when it is ever finished. The bad news is that the contractor and his crew seem to enjoy the porch as much as we do, and they have set up a comfy lawn chair surrounded by evidence of much cigarette smoking. Given that I am a staunch non-smoker and even more importantly the fact that the house is all BARE WOOD and insulation, I am not amused. I may have to invite an alligator or two out of the bayou to help me deal with this problem.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Auntie Awesome

This weekend, we visited Auntie Awesome and marveled over her amazing array of jewelry. Of course, Ellie HAD to try it on...and the more, the better!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Fun at the festival

And you think you had an exciting Saturday! When is the last time you remembered to bring your mouth harp and a back-up dancer to a party?

And yes, I took this little video. Mimi was going wild at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival as only a knitter could, so Ellie and I settled ourselves down in front of the stage for some live entertainment. This little segment was during the break of the band whose instruments included a washtub bass, a washboard and cans rhythm section, a fiddle, and a harmonica. Ellie LOVED it!

Thursday, May 03, 2007


Ellie and Jennifer are stateside! Right now, we're in Virginia visiting the Mimi, and we're having soooo much fun! Ellie is crazy about her Mimi, so she's doing her adorable best to be cute every second for extra love and attention (as if that were necessary!). Her vocabulary is undergoing a mini-explosion. She says new words every day, and she tries to repeat almost every word she hears. Just in the past few days, she's started saying "geese", "cool", "rice", "slide", "apple", and so many others she just attempts. So far, almost all of her words are English, expect of course the ever-popular "nein", and one of her favorite vegetables: "mais" (corn). This week, she's added "ei" (egg) when she watches her favorite movie, "The Ugly Duckling" (which we downloaded here after repeated requests for "SWAN!"). It will be another week before Markus can join us, but we are already looking forward to it! We miss him so much, and Ellie is starting to notice that the workday that must be keeping him away is getting a bit too long.