Saturday, January 7, 2012

Where we are at...

Behind in the blogging...

Goes without saying.  I have a long list of half written posts needing photos, and photo collages needing words.  I am working on getting them finished, and have a cunning plan that involves back dating posts (is that possible?) so that (eventually) they will all be posted in the right order, at about the time they happened.  Watch this space!

Moving to Ghana...

Yes!  Finally we have the official stuff sorted.  Since the new school year was just starting when that happened, we decided to let the kids get started, and then move in time for the beginning of the new school year in Ghana.  The past couple of months have been busy and at times stressful, getting ready for our move, but we are all excited that the wait is over and we are finally moving.  It has been a long year!

Edinburgh, Scotland....

Turns out there was a five week break between the end of American school (for winter break) and the start of the new school year in Ghana (with most people in our new 'village' gone on their home leave at this time).  To help fill in some time we decided to get off the plane in London and have been having a bit of an explore, with some time in London, some time in the countryside, and the past few days in Scotland.  There has been some pretty awful weather about the place but we have managed to avoid it all.  Fingers crossed that good weather luck holds out for a few more days!

And now it is time to go and pack up our bags.  After a few days in Edinburgh we are back on the road again tomorrow, with a few days to make our way to the airport.  A Welsh detour is the plan!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Snow Day!

I love how on mornings when there is even the remotest possibility that it may have snowed in the night that the kids run to the window to check. No matter how little snow they may see, they immediately start wondering if it might be a snow day* (school cancelled due to inclement weather conditions - much preferred to a delayed start, when you still have to go to school, you just get to start an hour later), and then making plans for what they might do instead of going to school that day.

The plans always, always involve going outside into that snow day* weather, 
to play in the snow.
Much safer than going to school :)

And yes, today was a snow day*


Halloween time again!  After being away last week on our fall break trip, Peter leaving for Ghana yesterday, and it of course Halloween being a school day this year...  we were not feeling so well prepared!  We had completely forgotten about carving our pumpkins (thank goodness we had Bridie's little fieldtrip pumpkins, and a bigger one that she had used at school for all sorts of pumpkin related investigations, and that had been sitting out on our balcony since!)  I thought the kids might be a bit disappointed, but of course I had forgotten that when it comes down to it, pumpkins aren't nearly as important as stuff you can actually eat!  I did manage to make some creepy snacks for when they got home from school that day (nothing like some tasty monster fingers for when you are really feeling hungry!)  
Of course creating those monster fingers also proved to be creating a monster for myself, as the kids of course were excited to see what creepy snack I would have for them the next day (and the next!) and started putting in requests!  Thankfully the eyes weren't too difficult to make  for the next day (choc chip cookies with just the one choc chip for the pupil!) followed by guts and brains on toast (spaghetti or egg mix depending on the body part).  
By Thursday I was out of ideas, and so we repeated the guts and brains by popular request, and thankfully by Friday the novelty was wearing off (and they had been well and truly distracted from lack of jack-o-lanterns!)  Next year I will be better prepared for a spooky old week of disgustingness!

Meanwhile, back to the real business at hand.  Trick or treat!  This year Bridie decided she wanted to dress as a witch, Campbell was Darth Vader, and Hayden wasn't sure what he wanted to be, and ended up combining the cape thing from last year, and his mask from New Orleans.

 We met up with some of our apartment neighbours, and visited a nearby neighbourhood (with actual houses!) to see what we could see.  Some people really do go to a lot of trouble to decorate their houses, and their were a couple of places that Bridie just was not interested in going near (mostly the ones with motion sensor decorations that moved or made a noise when you approached!)  This was the same neighbourhood that the boys had visited for trick or treating last year and it is just a few minutes walk away for us, but it was funny to see the carloads of people driving up to fill their candy buckets.  The neighbourhood's reputation as being generous with the candy, has obviously spread far and wide!
 The kids were definitely pleased with their loot!  The next order of business was of course the inspection and sorting of candy.  And then the trading began!

This year the school had organised a collection of unwanted/excess candy to 'send to the troops' and all the children had been invited to participate.  I was so very impressed to see Campbell bag up most of his candy to donate (and not just the candy he didn't like!)

The next day the candy trading continued, and will do for the next few days too no doubt, until they are reduced to just the stuff that nobody wanted anyway!  Thankfully the associated sugar rush (and fall!) wasn't too bad though, but I still think it is a good thing that Halloween only happens once a year!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Jazz, Blues and BBQs (our Fall Break Adventure)

One of the good things about not being in Ghana yet, is that with the fall break holiday approaching we got to plan one more adventure here in America.  Campbell was over his disappointment not to have gone to Costa Rica in the spring (still not sure what inspired that!) and was happy to go with the flow, as was Hayden.  Bridie voted for Hawaii, but we decided that to see all that we wanted to see (like an erupting volcano!) we would need to go to more than one island, and between the school field trips before the break (that the kids just didn't want to miss), and the trip to Ghana that Peter had to make at the end of the fall break, we wouldn't have enough time for Hawaii.  Next on the list was Oregon/Washington.  There is so much we want to see there, but alas, much of it would be weather dependent, and we weren't convinced that the Pacific northwest weather would cooperate with our travel plans.  So that idea was scratched too, and we decided instead to go south.  And east.  And made plans for a Mississippi River road trip - something for everyone with music, food, some civil war history, and a few more new states to cross off our list :)  

The plan was to fly to St Louis where we would pick up our rental car, and then zigzag our way south to New Orleans, before flying back to Denver.  Our soundtrack for this trip included some jazz, some blues, some Elvis, and Bridie's favourite - 'Walking in Memphis' by Marc Cohn (she requested that song a LOT!)  We had also borrowed The Adventures of Tom Sawyer on audiobook from the library, and that was fun to listen to (in a very non PC kind of way!)

And then it was time to hit the road.  (more fall break posts coming!)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Lots of School Fieldtrip Fun

It has been a busy time for school fieldtrips lately (and oh my goodness, how much noise can a busload of children make?!)  First up was the second grade trip to the zoo.  The children have been learning about different types of habitat, so our aim for the day was to find animals who would live in those different habitats (if they didn't live in the zoo that is).  I was happy to go along and help out, and Campbell and I were joined by three of his classmates as we explored the zoo and admired the different animals.  Of course, each child had a different animal that they especially wanted to see, so we had a very busy morning walking briskly from one to the next (we really walked a few miles!) with a quick sit down for a picnic lunch while we watched the wolves.  As always the bears were a favourite too (here is Campbell comparing his hand to a bears paw, and struggling to keep his eyes open in the bright sun!)

It has to be said though that this little baby stole the show today.  So cute! the kids would have been happy to stand and watch it for ages longer, but none of us fancied the idea of having to walk back to school if we missed the bus!  It was a fun and busy day, with a noisy ride back to school, and I went home feeling very thankful for headache medicine!

A couple of days later it was Bridie's turn for a school outing.  The kindergarten class visited a 'farm' - although I am not sure if it was actually a working farm, or more of a petting zoo with a big pumpkin patch.   Obviously at this time of the year that is how it is set up (along with a couple of fun mazes) and by the looks of all the school buses arriving it is a popular place for a visit! Bridie was especially taken with the rabbit she got to pat, and the kittens (can we have one Mum?!)  All the kids were given a bag with a couple of little pumpkins to take home with them too, so they were all very happy about that.

It was the first time our school had been there though, and I hadn't been expecting to have to travel for an hour on the bus to get there (it was north of Boulder) and then of course another hour back.  Thankfully, the kindergarten kids were not quite as noisy as those second graders had been (and in fact, several of the kids fell asleep on the way home, and I am sure a few of the adults were tempted!) 

Next up it was Campbell's turn again - this time a walk in the state park looking for signs of autumn.  I think they had originally planned to have this trip a little earlier in the year, when there were a few more signs of autumn around, but it had been delayed for whatever reason.  By now the leaves had well and truly changed colour and fallen, but the kids were still happy to be out on a walk, and Campbell was delighted to find seeds from the Yucca plants that grow wild in the park.  We also saw some lovely fat prairie dogs (who were no doubt wondering where all the kids had come from!) but by the time I got the camera out and turned on, they had decided they didn't want an audience and they disappeared back down their holes.

Meanwhile, over at the middle school Hayden was busy working, working, working.  He did get to have a bit of fun though on a fieldtrip of his own.  For music class they went downtown to see an orchestra perform, followed by lunch out at a restaurant.  I am sure it was the first fieldtrip any of them have been on where they were required to dress so smartly for it!  No photos to show, but Hayden reported that they all had a lovely time - I think in part because they got to have a break from all that work (although he still had to make up the work missed in his other classes when he got back!) 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Green Patrick the Second

When Campbell was a baby we got him a 'green patrick' dog, just like the red one that Hayden had.  He was a little indifferent to it for the next few years (he never really seemed to be fussed with any stuffed animals for more than a few days) but around the time we moved to Denver, green Patrick became a much loved, very good friend to Campbell.  So well loved that poor green patrick was starting to look a little worse for wear, and the occasional sneaky swims I gave him in the washing machine were starting to feel more like attempted murder.  Thankfully we found a place online where we could order a new green patrick.  It had to be sent from Hong Kong, so it took several weeks, and I hadn't told Campbell he was coming, so when the box arrived today addressed to him he really had no idea what it might be.

This is what happens when a boy opens a mystery box and discovers a much loved new green patrick inside:
Happy day!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Time for a Culture Fix!

One of the things that Hayden is especially enjoying about middle school is that for his music subject (orchestra) he gets to learn the violin again.  He had a few months of lessons last year, but was disappointed to have to stop when we thought we were moving.  Now he is getting back into it, and I have to say, learning it at school is much easier on the family taxi driver than when he was having twice a week evening lessons last year!  One of the things the teacher recommended was that if the children had the opportunity to see an orchestra perform, they should take it (and in fact, they can get 'extra credit' for doing so!)  She especially recommended going along to see the high school orchestra perform, as they are one of the best in the state, and it is always very inspiring for children to see other children perform at such a high level.  Early last week Hayden came home with the news that there would be a concert this week, and could we go. Not entirely sure what we were headed to, we decided that Bridie and Campbell would stay home with Daddy, and Hayden and I would go to the concert.  

It was the first time we had visited the high school, and as soon as we walked into the Fine Arts Theater we were impressed.  It was huge, and very professionally set up (and I think probably more impressive than almost all of the other theatres - movie or otherwise, that we had been to before). The fact that it had a name like that (not just 'the Theater') suggested that there was more than one!  The stage was most definitely set, and our expectations were high!  As it turned out we were not disappointed.  We were entertained by not one, but two fantastically talented orchestras, and Hayden came away from the evening feeling very inspired and motivated to practice that violin!

Our culture fix didn't end there!  For the past few weeks when the kids get home from school we have been listening to all kinds of music while they eat their after school snack.  I was really impressed the other day when Campbell and Bridie both recognised the music - 'hey this is from the Nutcracker!'  That got them talking about when we had gone to the ballet, and how much they had enjoyed it, and could we please go to the ballet again?  Would you like to go again?  YES!  Luckily for them we had just had an email from the Colorado Ballet announcing that they were performing Swan Lake, and we decided to go.  Peter did joke that since moving to Denver he has seen more ballet than rugby but he kindly indulged us!  It was good that we had an idea of what to expect this time, although we should have read the story of Swan Lake before going, as in the beginning it was sometimes a bit difficult to figure out what was happening.  We had forgotten about the little 'subtitle' screens that each seat back has (they had been turned off when the ballet started, and we were so engrossed we hadn't even noticed). We remembered during the intermission, so the second part of the performance it was much easier to follow - when we couldn't figure it out ourselves we could cheat and read the subtitles!   As with last time, Bridie was especially mesmerized by the performance, and wouldn't have minded bringing home a few of the costumes for her dress up box.  The boys also enjoyed it, and the good news for Hayden was that with a live orchestra performing the music, this counted as more extra credit for his orchestra class!  

And then we were off home again (to try to find some rugby on the telly!)

Friday, September 30, 2011

Autumn Again

Autumn officially began at 3.05am last Friday (September 23), but it has to be said, one week in and the temperature has been more summer than autumn.  The leaves are changing colour though, and Colorado really does do a beautiful job of autumn.  Last weekend we went for a drive in the mountains to see the colours, and stopped for a picnic lunch and some exploring at Echo Lake.  It was amazing how many other people had had the same idea.  Exploring in the mountains is obviously the thing to do at this time of year!

The boys are pleased that the temperature is still high, because it means the snakes are still out and about.  A couple of weeks ago, while Bridie was at a birthday party, we went to the park, and in about the first minute of the snake hunt Hayden had found two little snakes, and he and Campbell spent the next hour being entertained by them.  Campbell has always been interested to see the snakes before, but quickly moves back to the playground.  This was the first time he had really spent a lot of time holding the snake, and he was rather pleased about it.   

The kids have all settled in well to the back to school routine.   Bridie is loving being a school girl (and getting to ride the bus!)  Having spent a lot of time at the school over the past few years, and knowing lots of the staff already, she wasn't the least bit nervous about it, and insisted on riding the bus to school on the first day.  She has her kindergarten (NZ year one) class in the afternoons, and in the morning she goes to the kindy enrichment program.  There are two other children from her preschool class that go to the same elementary school.  She was very excited on the first day to discover one of them is also in the morning KEP class, but she is in a different afternoon kindy class.  This is the same friend who has lived in NZ, spent most of the summer there, 'talks just like Bridie' - according to the kids who don't have hybrid accents, and even look alike - no wonder the other kids (and sometimes teachers) get them mixed up sometimes!  Her other preschool friend has the same kindy teacher, but he is in the morning class, with KEP in the afternoon.  They do get to see each other at lunch time and recess though (and actually share a cubby for Kindergarten).  I think she was a little sad that they weren't all in the same class but has quickly made new friends.  She has the same kindy teacher that Campbell had, which she was very happy about.  We had been worried that she might be getting tired, but she shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon!   We signed her up for the introductory Taekwondo classes that are held each Friday at school (the same introductory course that the boys did) and she is loving it, and looking forward to testing for her yellow belt in a couple of months.  Definitely a happy time for Miss Bridie!  Campbell is enjoying his second grade class (and has been reunited with some kindy friends back in the same class once more, so is happy about that!) He always has lots to tell and share with us when he gets home.  Meanwhile over at Middle School, Hayden has settled in well. The first week or so I think he was a little overwhelmed by the size of the place, and the number of students (1500) but is happy enough about it all now, and has made lots of new friends.  His biggest challenge (not a new one!) is keeping himself organised.  Not misplacing his ID card would be a good start (thank goodness it is usually in the pocket of yesterdays pants!)

And in other news, it was fitness festival time again.  We enjoyed taking part last year, and this year Bridie was excited because she got to join in too.  After keeping a record of their physical activity over the summer, and going to school early to walk/run laps of the track in the couple of weeks leading up to the festival day, the kids had easily done their marathon equivalent.  We decided this year we would join in the fun of the five km walk/run (last year we had entered the mile event and it was over too soon!)  Just quietly, Bridie may have had a little bit of help along the way, but the boys did a great job, running much of it (and dragging Mum along with them!)  They were very proud of their medals at the end  (but it still seems strange to finish up a fitness festival with a feast of samples from local restaurants - delicious though!)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Smells Like...

New Zealand!

Although, if I had to describe the smell of New Zealand,
I am not sure that it would have been this. 

Nevermind, when we are missing home it is good to know that the smell of a New Zealand Spring is just a spray of air freshener away
(or dish washing liquid, or dish washer powder!)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Canon City and the Royal Gorge

One of the good things about school starting towards the end of August, is that the first weekend of September is Labor Weekend - and after two weeks of school we were ready for a holiday (!)  We decided to make the most of the opportunity, and do some more exploring of southern Colorado.

Our first stop was in Canon City - also known as the prison capital of Colorado.  Yes, there are a lot of prisons in the area, of all shapes, sizes and security levels (minimum to supermax).  there are nine state and four federal prisons and penitentiaries in the area, including what is considered to be the most secure facility in the federal system.  We were not interested in visiting any of them!  What we were interested in though, was a visit to the Colorado Prison Museum in Canon City.  The first thing we did when we got there was have a picnic lunch in the carpark.  The museum is right next door to the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility, and I do believe this was our first time ever eating our lunch while being watched by prison guards!  Lunch over, it was time to go and check out the museum. 

There was a lot of interesting stuff to see including displays showing what life had been like for the inmates, and samples of some of the arts and crafts projects inmates had made (very impressive stuff!) and some slightly scary stuff too (amazing the different weapons and tools that those prisoners could make, and what they had used to make them!)  The kids had been given a challenge while they looked around the various exhibits - to discover what the motorbikes were made from, and report back to the ladies at the front desk.  Having checked out all the exhibits once, and then twice, and having still not seen any motorbikes let alone discovered what they were made from, we were pleased to finally notice some stairs leading down to a lower level, and even more pleased to then find the display of motorbikes that had been made by prisoners.  And what had they been made from?  Popsicle sticks, cardboard, wooden swab sticks, leather scraps, paper clips, coloured thread, permanent marker and floor wax!  The kids were very impressed (if you enlarge the photo you may be able to see why), and worked as a team to memorize the list of materials used, and report back.  They were very pleased with the miniature handcuffs they all got as their reward. 

Probably the creepiest thing that we saw was the gas chamber that was out on the lawn at the front of the museum, right beside the entrance gate.  This is an actual gas chamber, in which eight people were executed, and even though it of course nolonger functioning (it was moved to this location as part of the museum), it is still not the kind of thing you would want to go into - even if they didn't have the caution tape across the door to keep you out!

On that sombre note, it was time to carry on to our next destination of the day - the Royal Gorge Park.  It turned out we weren't the only people to have this idea and we ended up having to park in the overflow park of the overflow park of the main carpark!  The walk back wasn't too long though, and the kids were kept entertained looking for shiny rocks along the recently cleared track. 

We had heard impressive things about the Royal Gorge, and we had also heard that it was an expensive day out.  Right on both counts!  The Royal Gorge is an amazing sight, and the engineering feats really are impressive, but all the extra stuff - the mule rides, the petting zoo, the adrenalin adventures, the endless food stall/touristy stuff/random entertainment seems to be all about parting people from their money, and completely detracts from the natural and engineering wonders.  Kind of like if they moved Disneyland to the Grand Canyon (but on a smaller scale!) Yuck.  We decided to avoid the carnival parts as best we could (and keep at least some of our money in our pockets!)

The first thing we did was ride the incline railway 1500 feet down to the Arkansas River at the canyon floor. Campbell is not so very keen on heights, so was feeling a little nervous, but once we were moving he was fine.  I have to say, the crush and balance on the steps waiting to get in and out of the 'carriage' was probably the worst bit - visions of human dominoes!

The incline railway was built in 1931. It travels up and down about five minutes each way, at a 45 degree angle, and is apparently one of the steepest in the world.  I think you notice it more too, because the canyon is deep and narrow (only up to 50 feet wide at the bottom).  It's a nice smooth ride though, and the way the carriages are set up, you can pretty much only see straight out in front of you (or if you are shorter, probably just the back of the person in the row in front!) so it is kind of like an outdoor elevator!

 When we got to the bottom, we admired the view back up to the top of the canyon, and the Royal Gorge Suspension Bridge that crosses the canyon (it looked so small from down there!) checked out the river as it rushed by, and then tried to get a photo of the tiny humming birds at the feeders.  Wow do they flap their wings fast! (blurry in the photo AND in real life).  There isn't really much more to do at the bottom of the gorge, so it wasn't long before we were headed back up in the incline railway.

Back at the top we decided to walk across the bridge.  First the facts - it was built in 1929 at a cost of $350,000 (it would cost more than $18 million today)  It is apparently one of the highest suspension bridges in the world at 956 feet high (291m), with an amazing view over the canyon and surrounding area.  It is 1270 feet long (384m), and 18 feet (5m) wide. 
Wide enough for cars and pedestrians, although we thought that while it is technically wide enough for cars and pedestrians, it would have been much nicer to have one or the other, as it was a pain trying to have a nice leisurely stroll and admire the view, and to have to keep getting out of the way of cars.  No doubt the drivers were getting annoyed too, with having to slow down when they got stuck behind a group of pedestrians! 
While Campbell stuck close to the middle as much as possible, it was good to know that the bridge wouldn't be falling down any time soon.  Each cable contains 2100 strands of #9 galvanised wire (weighing 300 ton per cable).  The view from the bridge was as impressive as the view up from the canyon floor had been (and what a long way down that was!)

(can you see the blue rafts on the river?)

The kids noticed that some of the gaps between the planks were wider than others, and decided to have a closer look.  Momentarily forgetting where he was, even Campbell was excited to look.

And what could they see? 
Why, more of those little blue rafts of course!

When we reached the other side of the bridge, we watched a short movie about the history of the area (and of course a generous sprinkling of advertising for all those extra money grabbing activities at the 'park'!)  We had planned then to take the aerial tram back across the gorge, but decided the queue was way too long (that was obviously where all those people from all those cars had ended up!) and we walked back across the bridge instead. 

After that it was time to head back towards Denver, with just a couple of stops along the way - for a yummy mexican dinner, and (a separate stop!) to have a closer look at a pet cemetery we had noticed on the way down.  Sad, but also nice to see a place for all those much loved pets (although we made sure to just have a quick stop and get out of their before it got dark!)

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