Rest in Peace, Max Dauernheim

We first met Max at an adoption event at a pet store in DC. I don't even remember why we were downtown, or why we decided to stop in to this particular pet store on this particular day. But there we were, and there we met the little fur ball that has been a big part of our lives for the past 14 years.
Max was, quite literally, the runt of the litter. While the other puppies were barking and jumping to get attention from all of the onlookers, Max was just standing there and waiting for someone to notice him. We picked him up, and it was like he knew we were meant for him. He was quiet and patient and at some point, we knew.
After the Partnership for Animal Welfare approved our adoption, Max came home to our little apartment in Falls Church. He lived in the kitchen and a cardboard box as he was being potty trained, and I came home from work every day at lunchtime to let him out for some play time.
He was always a smart dog. Before we had human children, Max was passing obedience tests with flying colors, and became a "therapy dog," visiting nursing homes with us and bringing smiles to the faces of all the residents. Max even won a silver medal at one of the local dog festivals for running the bases with me.
The years rolled on and we had two human kids, and Max was a great companion for them too. He was never a great watchdog, he never stuck his head out of the car window, and he wasn't the most enthusiastic fetcher of tennis balls. But feeding Max and taking him for walks became chores for the kids, and so in his way, he taught them responsibility.
Last week, Max suddenly got sick. He wasn't able to eat anything, and when we took him to the vet, it was clear that something was wrong with his liver. The vet did what they could for a couple of days, and eventually we took him home. It looked for a while like he might be okay: he was eating some food and drinking some water, and the jaundice in his eyes was receding. Unfortunately, he took another turn for the worse and he pretty much gave up on eating. Over his last few days, we did our best to keep him comfortable and surrounded by the people who loved him.
Max died today. He was 14 years old. Rest in peace, buddy.

Halloween 2010

Hey, it's not even a month late, give me a break! Anyway, on with the pictures!

As usual, we headed to the zoo the week before Halloween for "Boo at the Zoo." Even Lisa got into the act.

The kids tried out what it was like to sleep like the gorillas.

The next week, Evan had his Halloween parade at school.

Everyone's favorite, scooping pumpkin guts!

The finished product. Gotta love the Potato Head pumpkins.

Time for trick-or-treating with Evan's buddy Bridger.

Candy, mmmm....

Ditto.

Tough guys. Bridger was actually shaking, he was flexing so hard.

And our little Irish dancer.
That's another Halloween. Look for pictures from Evan's birthday coming soon!

Our New Family Pastime

Our new iPhones have opened up a new activity for our family: geocaching! From the official site description: Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online. So far, I'm up just over 50 finds, and Ellie and Evan are right there with me with 26.
This past weekend, we all went out to Ellanor Lawrence Park for a little geocaching hunt. There were several caches hidden in the park within a reasonable hiking distance from each other. We ended up hiking a total of 4.3 miles over the course of about 4 hours, and we found 9 geocaches! The kids did great too, even during the "bushwhacking" through the deeper grass and tripping over fallen tree limbs.
One of the goals of every geocacher is to get an FTF: "first to find." When a new geocache is hidden, an alert goes out to users notifying them, and the race is on. Usually, in our area, new caches are found within a couple of hours. Sunday morning, I got the word that TWO new caches were hidden in McLean, not far from us. I was still tired from the previous day's hike, so I decided to have breakfast and wait a little while to see if anyone would stake a claim. Sure enough, one of the two was found fairly quickly. But the other one, a "multi" cache with more than one thing to find, was still out there at 10, 11, 12 o'clock! So the kids piled into the cars, and off we went.
When we got to the first part, we saw the standard brick wall sign welcoming us to a subdivision. We searched around that wall, knowing that the hider would not have intruded on the plants nearby, but still unable to find anything. Finally, we sat down in the shade of some nearby trees to cool off (it was getting up near 100 degrees, again!). We stared at the back of that wall for a while until Evan finally said, "Daddy, I think it's a magnet." Something clicked in my brain, and I flashed to something I had seen on the Spy Museum's geocaching page. Sure enough, the message was hidden in a rusty magnetic bolt, which perfectly matched the rusty electrical box it was stuck to.
We dashed over to the next stage, knowing we had a chance for a FTF, since no one had logged it yet. This part was much easier to find. One of the key things to look for in the woods when searching for a geocache is a UPS: "unnatural pile of sticks." We saw it immediately, and took the box out. The box held a reward for us as the first ones to find the cache, what a nice surprise!

We signed our names to the log book, posted our story online, and headed home for a celebratory Slurpee which was well earned on a searing hot July day!

Trying Canning

We're trying something new around the DC D's household: canning!

It's something we've been thinking about doing for a while, but never really had the guts to try to figure it out. We figured that with CSA season quickly approaching, we had better start learning. With that, we bought about 5 pounds of strawberries from Whole Foods, got some jars and lids from the hardware store, and set about cooking up some strawberry preserves.

Jars cleaned and ready.

Strawberries ready.

Pot ready.

The strawberries sat in the sugar most of the day, and then we cooked them and let them sit overnight.

The following morning, we had to heat them back up and get them in the jars.

The jars being sanitized.

Filled jars sitting in the water cooling down.

The finished product. 2 pounds of strawberries gave us 3 half-pint jars of preserves. The recipe said we should have gotten 4, but even our second batch came up short of that. Now that we've gotten practice, we're ready for the gobs of tomatoes and everything else to come this summer.

We Bought a Madsen

Yesterday was my birthday. Lisa and I agreed a few weeks ago that our gift to each other (her birthday is April 24th) would be the long coveted Madsen bucket bike. The bikes sell directly from Madsen for $1299, plus $150 shipping. They also sell "dinged" models for $999 plus shipping. I looked around a little bit on the internet, and found a guy on Craigslist selling one in Philadelphia for $900. Then finally I discovered Cycle 9 in North Carolina, which had the Madsen on closeout for only $770! The only catch was that the price was only good in their retail store, in Carrboro, NC. Road trip!
Ellie was sick over the weekend with strep throat, and yesterday, she was still recovering, so she wasn't going to school anyway, so she decided to join me.

Four hours in a car (at least), thank goodness for portable DVD players!
We left a little before 6am, and Ellie slept for the first hour and a half. We only stopped for a drive-thru McD's breakfast and one bathroom break, and just over four hours later, we had arrived.

The Cycle 9 bike shop!
By now, my Twitter followers were confused. Where the heck were we? Some random building in North Carolina? Huh? Luckily, the bike shop guy knew exactly why I was there.
"Hi, I'm Brian, and I'm here to test ride the..."
"Madsen bike! Right, let me get that set up for ya."
Service with a smile, gotta love it! He unlocked the bike, pumped up the tires, and we were ready to ride.

Ellie in the bucket, and me in the saddle.
Having a giant bucket with a kid in the back of your bike takes some getting used to, but overall, it's just a bike. You just have to be sure to leave yourself plenty of room to slow down and to make wide turns. It's a much more upright ride than I'm used to, but it isn't exactly built for speed. Ellie took some pictures along the way.


The flowers were blooming down in NC. A few times, we literally drove through pollen fog! Thick stuff.

Passing the dog walker. The bike even has a little bell. "On your left!"

A view from inside the bucket, of the inside of the bucket.
We told the bike guy we'd take it. Then came the big surprise: the slightly used floor model was priced even lower than $770. Try $500! So, for driving down to North Carolina, we saved about $950 over a brand new bike shipped to us. Crazy? Like a fox!
We popped into the little coffee shop next door for a snack while they fixed up the seat belts and got the bike ready to go.

Smoothies at the coffee shop. It was just getting hot out around this time.


It took a little help from Ellie to keep the handlebars straight, but the bike just fits in the back of the van, as long as Evan's seat is taken out.

Confirmed: the bucket can hold a case of beer. (New Belgium beer is unavailable in Virginia, so of course, I had to buy myself a birthday present of four six-packs.) Throw some ice in there, instant portable party!
It took a while longer to drive back home, thanks in part to idiotic Washington traffic (which apparently extends all the way down around Fredericksburg). But, we arrived home 11 hours after we left with our new family bike.

Lisa goes for a test ride. I probably should have showed her how to shift before she took off.

A really bad blurry picture of the two kids in the bucket. We're going to have to train them on not wiggling around too much and throwing off the balance!
So there you have it. That's how I spent my birthday. Ellie and I actually had a good time driving down there together, and we got an awesome deal on the bike. (Seriously, if you live in North Carolina, go to Cycle 9, they are awesome!) We'll be sure to post many more pictures over the summer of our Madsen exploits.

(You can view all the pictures from the road trip on my Picasa web site.)

Snowmageddon!

Seriously, this is getting ridiculous. I barely have the time to put up pictures from the last snowstorm, and we're ready to get another one today! Sheesh! At any rate, enjoy these ones, and you can check out all the photos on our Picasa web album, including some videos that I wasn't sure how to embed.

So it begins. I got to work early so that I could leave and make it home before anyone got too crazy on the roads. Turned out it wasn't too crazy, unless you were at the grocery store.

And there's the minivan once the snow really got going.

Poor Saint Francis, buried again.

Our ruler only measured between 16-20 inches, depending on the spot, which I think is less than the December snow. The difference is that this one came mostly overnight, so I had to shovel it all at once, rather than a couple of inches at a time.

That pile at the end of the driveway will be seen again. That's how big it was after clearing just the very end of the driveway, about two shovels width worth of snow. It is as tall as me now.

Eventually the snow drove us back indoors, where we made a cardboard fort.

Scenes from the backyard.

Evan tried to help out a little bit, but ended up throwing the snow on himself more than anything.

At the sledding hill. The sled paths were good, but getting back up was a slog.

One of the cul de sacs near the school had been plowed, and the neighborhood kids made good use of the gigantic mountains of snow.

Where's Brian?

Building this awesome snow fort, that's where! All that snow I piled up from shoveling the driveway was the perfect starting point for tunneling out a huge snow fort. Our whole family could fit in there, but hopefully we won't need to.

Well, that's about all I have for now. The next snowstorm should be here in about two hours. Oh the humanity!

Farewell, Tai Shan

On Saturday, we headed out in the unexpected Snowpocalypse to bid farewell to the National Zoo's four-year-old panda, Tai Shan, aka "Butterstick." We first met him way back in December of 2005, and we've been back several times since then. The zoo's arrangement with China allowed for any babies to stay for two years, but we were lucky enough to keep Tai Shan for four. But all good things must come to an end, and Tai Shan will be heading back to China on his own personalized FedEx plane on Thursday. Saturday was the day the zoo picked for the official farewell celebration, brought to you in part, by Land O' Lakes, a fitting tribute to our Butterstick.

The snow was just beginning.

Ellie, Claire (Ellie's friend) and I waited in the snow (while Evan and Lisa were in a zoo class about monkeys) for the official opening of the farewell celebration. Why?

Giant stuffed panda! Free!

Tai Shan checks out his farewell "cake" and knocks it over trying to reach the apple on top, much to the delight of the onlookers. Alas, due to the snow, the zoo closed early, and we packed the frozen kids back into the van for the traffic-choked hour and a half drive home. Goodbye, Butterstick! We'll miss you!

Christmas 2009

Well, it's February, so what better time to relive Christmas 2009? Hey, I'm working on getting pictures up more quickly, give me a break!

The striped kids, ready to open presents on Christmas Eve!

Let the carnage begin!

Evan only got a toy motorcycle on Christmas Eve, Santa brought his "real" red motorcycle for Christmas. Ellie was happier than this picture indicates to get Barbies, and also got to bring home Mom's old Barbie clothes collection.

Evan checking out the tires on his motorcycle.

Ellie putting together her Playmobil fairy garden. Oh, the tiny pieces, how I loathe thee!

Up at Greenfield Village for their holiday nights, including a quick spin in the Model T.

Who's the weirdo? The guy with the crazy mask and getup, or the guy with the kid on his shoulders?

We were very glad there were bonfires scattered around the village. It was an extremely cold night!

On the way to the hockey game, Evan clutches to his favorite presents: hockey sticks, and his "trolley truck," a VW bus.

Having fun at the hockey game. Evan got a real hockey puck, and a toy zamboni! And best of all, MSU won 10-1!

Scenes from our annual Chuck E Cheese New Year's party.

Watching the ball come down in New York.

Confirmation, via the clock on the wall in the background, that the kids did in fact stay up until midnight.

Ireland 2009, Part Five: Dublin

The last stop on our long and winding trip through Ireland was Dublin. It was a long drive from Bushmills, but we made it there just in time for tea again.

Evan enjoyed eating the jam straight with a spoon.

And Ellie had a cookie as big as her head!
It was a bit of an adjustment going from the countryside to a big city, but at least I wasn't driving any more. We had trouble figuring out the bus system, so we ended up walking and taking the tram most places.

The Spire of Dublin, with requisite dudes wearing pint glass ads for a restaurant walking in the foreground.

St. Stephen's Green, which also had a cool playground.

This is who I want to be when I grow up (minus the pipe). The old dude reading his newspaper at the pub with a pint.

Zebras? Of course, at the zoo! (and giraffes, and hippos, and lions, etc)

We learned about the Dublin of the Vikings at Dublinia.

All the modes of transportation that kept Evan's attention: double decker buses, trams, and most importantly, the street sweeper! We seriously had to buy him his own toy street sweeper after this trip.

A few other scenes from Dublin: Bewley's tea shop, MaGuire's master brewers, Leo Burdock's fish and chips, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Christchurch Cathedral.

And finally, the great pilgrimage.

I found the memorabilia section fascinating. (The rest of the tour was Disney-fied: mostly TV demonstrations, no views of "real" brewing.) The Guinness harp, various can designs, the Guinness toucan.

The kids admiring the view from the Gravity Bar at the top of the Guinness Storehouse.

The pint at the top of the Gravity Bar. Perfect.
I hope you all enjoyed the recap of our whirlwind tour of Ireland, and sorry it took so long in arriving. Now I just have to get around to those Christmas pictures. I'll have something up by summer, hopefully.

Ireland 2009, Part Four: The North, Continued

Continuing our drive northward, we left Donegal behind and headed to Inishowen. Along the way, we stopped at Glenveagh National Park, site of a quite beautiful castle, even if the guy who built it wasn't so nice.

The castle, and its pool, which used to be heated.

Lisa was ready to move in to the master gardener's cottage.

Just a small fraction of the gardens at Glenveagh.
We continued on for our quick one night at the fancy Carlton Redcastle hotel (with indoor pool!), and then took the Foyle ferry over to the North.

The sea was decidedly calmer in this area.

After a quick stop at Mussenden Temple (built right on the cliff's edge, of course), it was on to the Giant's Causeway. We took the little train that ran from Bushmill's to the Causeway, and Evan had a blast, of course.

Shane, the engine. Not Thomas.

The visitor center for the Causeway is at the top of the hill, and of course they have shuttle bus to take you to the big deal. We decided to walk down instead and take in the scenery.

The Giant's Causeway is this crazy formation of volcanic basalt columns. The tops of the columns look like giant steps leading down from the cliffs, and were formed 50-60 million years ago by ancient volcanic eruptions. Crazy.

Climbing up the columns.

For some reason, I thought there would be a way down on this side. Not so much.

I had to leave Ellie at the top and lead them down one at a time. It was steep!

The next day we took a tour of the Bushmills Distillery. They didn't allow pictures inside, so this is all you get. After a side trip to a seaside playground and some ice cream, we headed out to Cushendall, a well known fairy stomping ground.

Ellie wore her fairy shirt at tea time to get in the mood.

This double rainbow was just one of seven we saw that day. Something was definitely afoot.

Near the ruins of Layd Church, Ellie discovered...

the fairies had left her a gift of special fairy dust! She was pretty excited.
We got a little lost in Glenariff Forest Park on the way back to our B&B, but eventually made it back after a long and scenic side trip. Next, it was on to our last stop, Dublin!

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