22 December 2008

surviving a vacation at home

Today is Day Three that we were not supposed to be at home. Remember that 6am flight Monday morning we were supposed to be on? Canceled yesterday at noon. Waking up this morning to mountains of snow and more coming down, I can understand why. Hopefully the weather will be clear enough to fly us out tomorrow. Otherwise we might miss Christmas, and here's how we feel about that:

(Those are sad faces, if it's not obvious.)

We haven't been home for Christmas since before James was born, and we haven't had this much snow in a couple of years, so we are trying to make the most of our unintended vacation and have as much fun as we can.

On Saturday we went sledding, and while we have no photos of the actual sledding, we have happy smiles of kids playing in the snow:

(I think we need a new camera; the color quality of our photos is going further and further downhill.)

When not playing outside, my kids have been spending a lot of time with video games. They're still hooked on Spore, and they got Lego Batman from my sister and her husband for Christmas, so it's hard to tear them away sometimes. Ordinarily I try to keep the video games to a minimum, but really, I can't bring myself to care lately. We're supposed to be with their grandparents right now. If video games make them a little less sad about that, so be it.

I've been baking a lot, because what's Christmas without baking? So we have pumpkin muffins and granola bars and peanut butter cups, and an apple strudel for breakfast this morning. The snow has been heavy enough to intimidate us from going to the grocery store (that and the thought of all the terrible drivers on the road) but it's amazing what you can make from odds and ends in the cupboards and the freezer.

The best, though, is the gingerbread house my friend Sara brought over yesterday. Here's what it's supposed to look like, per the package:

And here's how ours turned out:

When we opened the package, we found a lot of broken pieces that had to be repaired with frosting. Most of the little figures were broken as well, though the frosting couldn't glue them back together. So our happy holiday gingerbread house evolved into a sort of Christmas House of Horrors. The hunchback was the perpetrator (at least we think he/she/it is a hunchback -- a little hard to tell with these candy people): the little boy is strung up on the side of the house, and the little girl has been decapitated in the front yard. We contributed to the depravity by committing cannibalism once the house was finished.

Here's a close-up of the poor little girl.

So that's how we're filling our vacation days. Hopefully tomorrow we'll be off to the west coast, and hopefully we'll make it in time for Christmas. I'll keep you all updated.


20 December 2008

hahaha, did i say hiatus?

...because the Fates had other plans for us. Or maybe I should say Northwest Airlines had other plans. Alternate post title: air travel sucks, especially when there's no travel involved.

Today finds me at home with two wide-open days to fill, so I thought I'd use my new-found wealth of free time to blog about how I got all this extra time. Any of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook may have read my disgruntled updates yesterday, so now you can get the full story. I'll try to keep it brief, but no promises, because I might get ranty. Read the whole saga below the fold:

Friday, Dec. 19

3:30am: Alarm clock jolts us out of sleep

3:55am: Taxi arrives to take us to the airport

4:05am: Standing in line at Northwest check-in counter

4:20am: NW employees begin to arrive

4:30am: Check-in counter opens and we proceed to check in and check 3 large suitcases

5:00am: Checked in and through security, waiting at the gate

5:30am: Boarding begins for 6am flight to Detroit

6:00am: Airplane backs out of the gate to prepare for flight

Around this time, our pilot makes an announcement: the weather in Detroit isn't looking so good, and we may have to reroute to either Pittsburgh or Minneapolis. We cross our fingers for Minneapolis, since that's our layover between Detroit and Seattle. They are adding extra fuel to the plane in case we are rerouted.

5-10 minutes later, our pilot makes another announcement: the extra fuel has pushed our airplane over the weight limit and they are looking for nine volunteers to get off the plane. No one moves. Plane returns to the gate.

5 or so minutes later, flight crew makes an announcement: NW has another plane headed directly to Minneapolis, and anyone who gets off our plane can be rebooked on the Minneapolis flight. Greg goes to the front of the plane to speak to the NW representative.

Greg returns to me and the kids and says we can get off and go straight to Minneapolis on another flight instead of going through Detroit. We exit the plane with 5 other passengers who have the same plan.

7:00am: We are told at the ticket counter that the NW flight to Minneapolis that was used to lure us off the plane has no extra seats. We are issued travel vouchers and meal vouchers and rebooked on a 12:15pm flight to Detroit.

7:30am: Muffins, bagels and coffee at Dunkin' Donuts, courtesy of NW meal vouchers.

8:30am - 11am: We set up camp next to the children's play area. Kids run and jump and play while Greg and I amuse ourselves with the laptop and the Nintendo DS.

11am-ish: Head back to gate to check status of our new flight. Flight is delayed. Snow has started falling in earnest.

12pm-ish: Find a quiet, unoccupied gate to settle in and wait for flight status updates.

1pm-ish: Lunch at Subway courtesy of NW meal vouchers.

2pm - 5pm: Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Repeated flight delays. We are told that a flight headed to Rochester was rerouted to Syracuse, and our flight is dependent on that plane getting to Rochester from Syracuse. We also learn during this time period that our luggage has arrived in Seattle. Thankfully our toothbrushes are in our carry-on bags.

5:00pm: Another Detroit flight begins boarding. There are extra seats on this flight but the line of standby passengers is too long for us to get on board. At this point our 12:15pm flight is expected to leave at 7pm.

5:30pm: Detroit flight that has just boarded is now deboarding. I mention this because for the second time in one day, a NW flight is over the weight limit and passengers are asked to leave. This time, however, all passengers must exit the plane because one of the random passengers who was asked to get off refused and argued, and caused this flight to miss its window of opportunity to take off.

6:00pm: The same flight to Detroit begins reboarding.

6:30pm: The flight to Detroit is boarded, but by this time, so many passengers have missed their connecting flights and rebooked new flights for other days that there are 8 available seats.

Around this time, the flight crew is trying to determine how many more people they can take while staying within the weight limits. A pilot approaches us and asks if we are headed to Detroit; when we say yes he tells us he'd like to get us on the plane because our children would help keep the plane under the weight limit.

Then this pilot disappears and is never seen again.

The NW agent at the check-in counter begins letting standby passengers onto the flight. Greg inquires at the counter and we are told we can't get on this flight. The woman tells us that there is some feature of their computer system that won't allow her to change us to this flight, despite the fact that it's going to our destination and there are seats available, because we are still booked on the 12:15pm flight.

7:00pm: Flight to Detroit that we were not allowed to change to takes off. We are told that the plane we are waiting for from Syracuse is on its way and is expected to arrive at 7:30pm. We buy snacks to wait, still using vouchers. At least they were generous about that.

7:30pm: NW agent tells us that the plane from Syracuse is no longer listed as in the air, and our flight time has been moved back to 8:30pm. The kids are starting to get stir-crazy and continually ask when we're getting on the plane to go see Grandma and Papa.

8:00pm: At this point there are eight people left waiting: the four of us, a college student, and a couple with a 17-month old baby. We are all trying to get to Detroit to transfer on to other locations. I send NW a complaint through their website, detailing our saga.

8:30pm: We are informed that the plane we've been waiting for for over 8 hours has had a mechanical issue and our flight is canceled. We are all in tears of exhaustion, frustration and disappointment by this point.

9:00pm: We are rebooked for a Monday morning flight, 6am. We are told that there are no flights available on Saturday, and there is only one flight on Sunday, but it is already overbooked by 15 people, and there is another winter storm due on Sunday anyway. We are given additional travel vouchers. Evan asks if we're getting on the airplane now and I laugh and cry at the same time.

9:30pm: A friend picks us up at the airport to take us home.

10:00pm: We watch A Muppet Family Christmas while I make pasta for my starving children, who are too tired to eat more than a few bites despite how hungry they have been for the last couple of hours.

10:45pm: My children fall asleep, one on the couch and the other on the floor, and I carry them to bed.

11:00pm: Greg phones NW's Baggage Services to find out what is going to happen to our luggage. The employee he speaks with at first argues that our luggage can't be in Seattle, because it should have been taken off the flight when we got off the plane, despite the fact that more than one NW agent told us over the course of the day that our luggage was in Seattle. Then the customer service rep tells Greg that he will have to return to our airport to file a claim with the NW baggage office there. Greg, bless his little heart, argues with the woman for 5 minutes before she relents and checks the damn computer to find that yes, our bags are in Seattle and we can pick them up when we arrive there. Which will hopefully be on Monday.

Today we woke up late to a beautiful day, sunny, with fluffy white snow everywhere. We were dismayed to remember that our kids' boots and snow clothes are in our luggage, but luckily I found some slightly outgrown and some slightly too big items in the basement that will suffice for going sledding today. We have enough canned and frozen food to save us from having to go grocery shopping. We are planning to enjoy our extra two days of vacation even if we're not where we wish we were. We're just hoping that the snow that's expected on Sunday both here and in Seattle will be over by Monday morning so we can just get to our family for Christmas, damn it.

If you've made it to the end of this, thanks for indulging my self-pitying rant. I would advise you to steer clear of Northwest Airlines, but honestly, I don't trust that the others are that much better. The quality of our experiences with air travel has been steadily worsening over the last few years, regardless of which airline we're on. And they don't have to care, because we don't really have any choice.

Sigh. Hope everyone out there is having a better time than we are. And hopefully I won't have anything to blog about any time soon.


17 December 2008


Thought I should drop in on the ol' blog to say that I've been way too busy with holiday stuff (and a little bit busy with practicing my laziness) to think about writing any blog posts, and in two days we're leaving for a two-week vacation at Greg's parents' house. I expect that once we're there I'll still be busy with holiday stuff, as well as catching up with the family and playing Rock Band, to do any posting any time soon, so consider the Jungle to be on temporary hiatus.

I don't know whether I've officially mentioned it here, but I'm on Twitter now (see sidebar). I will probably Twitter while I'm away, since that doesn't require much time or effort or thought, so you can still check in here for my Twitter mini-updates, or follow me on the Twitter site if you're eager to know how lazy and/or indulgent I'm being over the holidays.

I hope the next couple of weeks are fun and happy and healthy for everyone, and I'll see you back here in January!


05 December 2008

friday photos: thanksgiving edition

I forgot to bring my camera to my mom's house for Thanksgiving, so I'm stealing some of my sister's photos to post. I spent a lot of time hogging her sweet camera, so it's pretty likely that I took these photos anyway. These are, by the way, photos of three of the things I was most thankful for over our Thanksgiving vacation.

James has been experimenting with a ponytail lately, and this is his samurai impression:

Those of you who know Greg will not be surprised when I say that he was the instigator of the frosting war paint:

Amazing turkey cupcakes that my sister and her husband bought.

Okay, so I'm kidding about cupcakes being one of the top three things I'm thankful for, but seriously, look at the detail on that frosting. That entire thing is edible, and extremely rich and delicious. And we all know that Thanksgiving is about cramming yourself full of desserts that singularly exceed your recommended daily intake of calories. Besides, it's not as easy to take photos of the things I'm truly thankful for: love, good health, prosperity, safe travels, family togetherness, and all that good intangible stuff.


04 December 2008

bankrupting ourselves with holiday travel

Okay, I mentioned in my last post that I wasn't going to complain about airfare prices, among other things, but this is less of a complaining post and more of a startled observation. With math.

Get Rich Slowly linked to an interesting site yesterday: Cost To Drive. You put in your starting point, destination, and what type of car you're driving, and it calculates your estimated fuel costs. The site finds the lowest prices for gas along the way, so it's really more of a minimum cost, but it's still fun to play with.

So this morning, as I was playing with the site, I dusted off the seldom-used math part of my brain and did some additional calculations. Because the site uses the lowest prices, I rounded up (waaaay up) to reflect potential fluctuations and the fact that one might not always find the lowest-priced gas around. I learned that, even with my rounding, our plane tickets for Christmas break cost more than five times the price of fuel for a drive across the country and back.

Then I figured that if we were to drive from New York to Washington, even if we were to stay in decent hotels and eat out, we could easily do the round trip for less than half of the price of our plane tickets. By driving, we save ourselves at least 4 days of travel (assuming that somehow we'd be able to drive pretty much non-stop), which means that we are spending at least $250 a day for those four extra days with Greg's family. Ouch. Not that they're not worth that, of course, but still. Ouch.


03 December 2008

three and a half

I have been feeling, shall we say, rather negative lately. I have been tempted to write posts complaining about the price of airfare, or the insurance annoyances we're having lately, or about James' various illnesses, but I thought I'd make an effort to be more positive and write a post instead about Evan, who is nearing 3 and a half years old, which is, despite its challenges, an endlessly amusing age for a child to be.

Evan talks pretty much all the time, narrating everything, and I've started writing down some of the funnier things he says. There are basically two categories of Evan-speak: the definitions, and the narration.

Some recent Evan definitions:

"Mom, remember when Dad’s taco was all fludged over? Fludged means that something’s dirty or yucky."

Evan: My nose hurts.
Me: What did you do to your nose?
Evan: Maybe I skicked it.
Me: What does “skicked” mean?
Evan: It means you hurt your nose, or maybe bonked it on a door.
Me: Did you bonk your nose on a door?
Evan: No.

Evan: I’m gonna whip-notize you. (while swinging his “whip” [i.e. the belt of his bathrobe] around.)
Me: Hypnotize me?
Evan: No, WHIPnotize.
Me: What does that mean?
Evan: It means someone is going to put a banana on your head. Or a fish.

Me: Who's hitting my stomach?
Evan: Oh, I thought that was a hitterang.
Me: A hitterang?
Evan: A hitterang means something you can hit.

And some classic narration:

[While jumping on the bed and practicing his moves in front of the mirror] "You know what this attack is called? Punch! Hit! Chop! I do the dance of punch! Hit! Chop! I do the dance about punch! Hit! Chop! And then I jump and then I punch! Hit! Chop! Jump! Hop! Punch! Hit! Chop! Whack! Jump!"

"Mmm. Goody. When I say goody, that means I like this dinner. Mmm, goody. Hot hot! When I say hot hot, that means I need a drink. Hot hot! [takes a drink] Soupy! When I take a drink I say soupy! [drinks] Soupy!"

He still has his moments as far as tantrums go, but he makes me laugh at least twice as often as he makes me cry, so I'll take it.