Sunday, October 29, 2006

Whatever happened to. . .

. . . that hanging pumpkin?

With Halloween just two days away, it was time to cut the hanging pumpkin down from the dogwood tree that had been its home most of the summer.

Here's the pumpkin, with Tristan and a Heatblast Metamorfigure, for scale

The pumpkin weighed 15.4 pounds!

Here it is in all its glory. You can still see the imprint that its mesh bag support system left on it.
Hanging Pumpkin UnhungHanging Pumpkin Unhung Hosted on Zooomr

After the holidays, I think this (and the other pumpkins) will be buried somewhere in the backyard, just to see what might grow next year. . .
Saturday, October 28, 2006

Party Time. Excellent

Today we had Tristan's birthday party at Wheels Fun Center in Duhram. Specifically, the roller skating rink.

Tristan had seven guests, and Zoe had one.

The party started with 45 minutes of roller skating
This was Tristan's probably third time skating. He's definitely improving.

Zoe's really coming along.
We had to get the wheels loosened so she could go faster. I see rollerblades in her future.

After 45 minutes of working up an appetite, it was time for Durham roller-rink pizza. You can imagine how delicious that was, I'm sure.
(Eva (Max's sister) Zoe, Ellie, Max, Sophie, Tristan, and with their backs to the camera, Albert, Andrew, Conrad and Matthew.)

Zoe brought her friend Ellie.
And with Tristan, as always, is his partner in crime, Sophie.

After the food and birthday cake, it was more skating for an additional hour.

I think all those kids are going to sleep well tonight.
Friday, October 27, 2006

Soccer, Week 9

"The night was dark and asinine. . . . "

Actually, the weather was ridiculous. It had probably rained more than an inch during the day, and it hadn't let up at all by the 7:30 game time. We were dressed in our full rain gear, and didn't even bother bringing the camera for fear of wrecking it. The only reason the league didn't cancel (I think) is because this is the last weekend of the season, and the festival/tournament starts next weekend. They really needed to get the season wrapped up.

So a grand total of 6 of the 10 Strikers showed up to play the last-place, winless Phoenix. Three Phoenix-es showed up, so the Strikers won by forfeit. (I think you need 6 to play). But since we were there, the coach decided to have a scrimmage. Tristan and Ben joined the Phoenix to make it a little more even, and they played for about 15 minutes.

Tristan kicked off, and within 10 seconds put it in the Striker's goal. Where was this kind of play the rest of the season? Zoe got pretty agressive, since she spent most of her time taking on her brother. . . something she's quite comfortable with. Tristan later scored another goal, but the "Phoenix+" lost 3-2 in fake play.

We're still waiting on the final standings, but right now it looks like the Strikers finished 6th of 10.

Next week, the festival/tournament. Four games in one day. Should be interesting.
Thursday, October 26, 2006

East meets West in U.S. schools

This was in the International Herald Tribune the other day. It's about the Dual-Language Chinese program that Tristan and Zoe are enrolled in at their (and Jennifer's) school

East meets West in U.S. schools
By Edward B. Fiske International Herald Tribune

Published: October 16, 2006

CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina Paris Buedel is a typical American 8-year-old who is into basketball, piano lessons and Lego. And, oh yes, he spends half of each school day speaking Mandarin.

Paris is enrolled in a "dual immersion" program at the Glenwood Elementary School here in which the pupils - half native Chinese, half English speakers - do their lessons in two languages. The program is indicative of one of the fastest-growing curriculum trends in U.S. schools: the study of Chinese.

"Americans are used to hearing about people in other countries learning English. Now we're seeing the opposite trend," said Michael Levine, executive director of the Asia Society, which promotes international content in U.S. schools. "Parents and students are deciding that, since more people speak Mandarin than any other language, it might be a useful skill to have."

"We appreciate the importance of China in the global economy and the notion that our son's knowing Chinese may give him a leg up later in life," said Paris's mother, Janet Walters. "Every morning while reading the newspapers we can point to articles about China, culturally, politically and economically. China is everywhere."

Because interest in Chinese language and culture has taken off in the past few years, accurate statistics are hard to come by. A 2002 study at Princeton University put the number at 24,000 students in Grades 7 to 12, but, according to Levine, the current figure is certainly much larger.

This autumn the College Board initiated a new advanced placement curriculum and exam in Chinese language and literature. Thomas Matts, who supervises the program, estimated that possibly as many as 300 secondary schools were already in a position to offer the program. "We haven't seen such interest in a particular subject since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik and people got interested in Russian and physics," he said.

Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, reported that the number of students in two- and four-year college courses studying Chinese rose by 20 percent between 1998 and 2002, to slightly more than 33,000. "Now that the pipeline is active at the high school level, we expect many more students to be enrolling in advanced courses," she said. She estimated that results of a new study now under way will show further increases of 25 to 50 percent.

The most ambitious program can be found in Chicago, where more than 5,000 students, virtually all of them native English speakers, are studying Chinese in 17 elementary and 10 high schools. The program, which began in 1999 in response to pressure from a group of parents, has been heavily promoted by Mayor Richard Daley and now has a waiting list of schools seeking to participate. "I think there will be two languages in this world," the mayor said. "There will Chinese and English."

Large programs can also be found in the suburbs of Washington, and other cities with cosmopolitan populations.

The program at Glenwood, which involves 116 of the school's 460 pupils, began six years ago when a group of parents put pressure on the local school district to begin teaching Chinese. Chapel Hill is a university town, site of the flagship campus of the University of North Carolina, and a substantial number of Chinese families work at the university or in nearby Research Triangle Park. Some of the English-speaking pupils are Chinese who were adopted as infants by American families.

The program began accepting 24 students each year into kindergarten, and the first cohort has now reached Grade 4. Each class is taught jointly by two teachers, one Chinese-speaking and the other English-speaking, who divide the curriculum. Students are admitted by lottery and there is a waiting list, Amy Rickard, the principal, said.

Teachers say they tend to use Chinese for concrete topics like geometry or science, and English for more abstract concepts. "It's relatively easy to deliver science in a second language," said Longzhi Lund, who teaches first grade. "It is hands-on and has a foundation vocabulary."

The biggest obstacle to expanding Chinese instruction in U.S. schools is finding qualified teachers. Robert Davis, manager of the Chicago program, said that he searched the Internet and even traveled in May to Shanghai, a sister city to Chicago, to recruit teachers for two-year stints. He said that the problem had been complicated by the federal No Child Left Behind legislation, which requires all teachers to be certified. "Illinois has no certificates for language teachers," he said. "So we had to work with the state to get one started."

Finding teaching materials is another bottleneck. Lund said that she and her teaching partner had to develop them from scratch. "We can't use materials from China because the curriculums are not aligned," she said. "So we download materials from the Internet and paste Chinese characters over English words in books."

Proponents of more study of Chinese in U.S. schools are finding an active ally in the Chinese government, which helped underwrite the Chicago program and new advanced Placement exam and has a new agreement with the College Board to build Chinese language programs in 2,000 public schools over the next five years. The U.S. Department of Education and the Ministry of Education in Beijing have cooperated to create Chengo, an online games- based program for beginning Chinese.

Walters said that Chinese parents at Glenwood were supportive of her son's study of their language. "We call them up for help with homework," she said.

She said that Paris viewed spending half of his day operating in Mandarin as quite normal for an 8-year old American boy. "He expects to use his Chinese language skills someday to run a Lego factory in China."
Sunday, October 22, 2006

Presbyterian Camping

Mebane Presbyterian Church has a long, proud history of family camping trips, so when we heard about this trip to Grandfather Mountain, in the Appalachians in western North Carolina, we jumped at the chance to go.

The Traveling Roths love camping. Well, at least Jennifer and I do. We got engaged while camping north of Dahlonega, Georgia in 1994. Our niece Kayley was born while we were camping at Dockery Lake (North Georgia, again) in 1996. Coincidentally, Tristan was born while Andy and Shelley were camping. So we have street cred.

Tristan and Zoe did not enjoy camping. They've only gone tent camping twice in their life. Once in 2002 at Kerr Lake, NC (on a weekend when we all were anxiously awaiting the arrival of our nephew, Alex) where the continuous rain caused us to cut our trip to only one day. The second time was on the beach in South Carolina where a summer thunderstorm that T&Z claim was a "hurricane" was so powerful, the two of them had to stay by themselves in the tent in the midst of it all, just to weigh it down.

So Friday afternoon, we made the drive to Seven Devils, NC, about 10 miles south of Boone, and a few miles north of Grandfather Mountain. It was a surprisingly quick trip. We found the group site, and several other families were there and in various stages of setup. We were quickly losing the light, so we huried to get our tent pitched, and remember how to light the lantern, and didn't have time for pictures.

There were about seven families there. We had an excellent campfire, and several camp stoves. The chili was ready, and so were a bunch of hot dogs, cocoa, and hot chocolate. The kids quickly found their friends, and went off to do kid stuff; build a fort, throw crabapples at a wasps nest, get wet, etc.

Jennifer and I have decent camping gear, but the kids didn't. We had rented sleeping bags for them at REI, but it wasn't until I went to pick them up that I found out how overpriced the rentals were. We cancelled that, and I bought two new bags at Wal-Mart for ~$40 each. A 20 degree "King Sized" (which here just means rectangular, and heavy) and a 0 degree mummy. Buying the new bags was still $30 cheaper then renting bags and thermarests for them.

We setup our AeroBed in the tent, and got everybody arranged in our 8' x 8' space. Jennifer, Zoe, and I laying across the width of the bed, and Tristan on the ridge rest and blankets at the bottom. After not too long, Jennifer decided that her claustrophobia was a little too intense, or in tents, so she moved to the truck. The kids were out in no time; Zoe in the King Sized bag, and Tristan in the mummy. My mummy bag, which is rated for 15 degrees, I think left me a little chilly, despite my layers. But it wasn't too bad, so we got a decent night's sleep.

When we woke up, there was frost everywhere. My thermometer said 30.9 degrees (Fahrenheit). The views were spectacular though.

A panoramic of the campsite, stitched-together from five smaller pictures.
Pano Grandfather MountainPano Grandfather Mountain Hosted on Zooomr

Jennifer with the mountains behind her.

Breakfast cooking.
After a delicious breakfast of bacon, sausage, eggs, and grits, we split off to do whatever we felt like doing for the day. We headed down to Linville Caverns. We didn't know anything about the place, but it was on the map we got from the campground, so it was worth a look.

It was a nice, smaller cave, and other than Jennifer and her aforementioned claustrophobia issues, it was a pretty cool tour.
From there, we tried to check out Linville Falls, another place we found on our complementary map, but there were way too many people with the same idea, so with no place to park, we had to move on.

On the way, we saw several Christmas tree farms. With North Carolina within 500 miles of half the US population, it's no surprise that the state is ranked second in the nation in number of trees produced, supplying over 19% of the real Christmas trees in the US. Goodness grows in North Carolina.
The next stop was the Wooly Worm Festival in Banner Elk. For those not in the know, a "Wooly Worm" is what I grew up calling a wooly-bear caterpillar. Tomato, tomato. There are races throughout the day, and tons of crafts and food vendors, entertainment, and some rides. Unfortunately, they charge an admission fee, but we were curious enough to pay it. While we were in the ticket queue, the couple in front of us asked Tristan if he'd like their Wooly Worms. After confirming that he wasn't going to just squish them, they handed him a coffee cup with two caterpillars in them.
Tristan's pretty good with pets, and he's been taking very good care of the caterpillars. But it was now 2:30, and we hadn't had lunch yet, so we made avail of the various vendors.

A "Philly" Steak and cheese
Followed by a "Meat Gyro"
(this was damn disappointing, by the way)

And for dessert, something a little different, beignet bites
The whole festival thing would've been more entertaining had we not just been to the State Fair a week earlier.

A fortuitous missed-turn later, we found ourselves at the top of Beech Mountain. There's actually a ski slope at the top, and some really choice real estate. It looks like a good place for the kids to learn to ski or snowboard.
Five o'clock was fast approaching, and we needed to purchase some food, for the dinner was BYOM. We got some ribeye steaks, mushrooms, and onions at the Food Dog, and made it back to the campground just in time for the golden hour and more photography.

Meal prep had begun in earnest, once again. Tim had arrived during the day, and had become the de facto fire master. The meal was Bring Your Own Meat, with the community accompaniments of green beans, hot bread, and jacket potatoes, so there was plenty of prep work.
After dinner, campfires are good for
  1. heat
  2. light
  3. dessert
It was S'mores time, once again.

Here's Jennifer and others preparing marshmallows and dough boys

Here's Zoe getting S'more instruction from an older camper, Emma Troxler

And Zoe enjoying the fruits of her labor
The next morning, although not being nearly as cold, was a little rainy. That's okay, for all there was to do was eat and pack up.

Connor Waters and Zoe, the youngest boy and girl, respectively, on the trip were old pros by now.
And Zoe and I took a few minutes to get just a little more hickory-smoked before heading back to Mebane
It was a great trip, and we can't wait to go again. I think Tristan and Zoe's opinions on camping have been very favorably altered by this trip.
Friday, October 20, 2006

Soccer, Week 8

The Strikers won again, this time 5-1 vs. Fury.

I'd be more excited about this were it not for the fact that Tristan and Zoe didn't play because we were away camping. It's great that their team did well, but a little unnerving that is was despite (or because of) T and Z not being there. The team has moved up to 6th place in their division.

The final regular season game is against the 0-7 Sharks. Tristan and Zoe will be there. We'll see how that goes, and then the tournament.
Thursday, October 19, 2006

Soccer, Week 7, Thursday Night Lights

Hold on. This one doesn't end the way you think it does.

Thursday night was the make-up game for Tuesday's rainout of a game that was probably rescheduled from some other time. I can't keep up anymore. Anyway, the game didn't start until 7:30, and with no sunlight left in the sky, the photography was tricky, but the soccer was solid.

The Strikers defeated the Sharks, 4-2. The first two goals were scored by Cameron.

Tristan scored the third.

Here's Tristan having his number recorded by the official.

Julia, their new star keeper, scored the fourth goal (while Jake was playing keeper). Here's Zoe watching on appreciatively.

The Strikers next match is Friday night vs. Fury

Moving to Zoomr

Andy told me about a cool new photo sharing site called Zooomr and here's a picture of mine you'll find there.

Children of PhillyChildren of Philly Hosted on Zooomr
Sunday, October 15, 2006

North Carolina State Fair: A Day in Food Pictures, Part 2

Interspersed with all this food was plenty of walking, and plenty of rides and sideshows and the occasional "game of chance" for the kids. So it's not like the fair was just a food orgy. All this food was shared by all of us, and spread out over six hours or so. Not that I'm making any pretention that this wasn't a boatload of generally unhealthy food. Eating was not all we did.

Having a keen eye for the unusual, the sign saying "Barbecue Sundae" jumped out at me. For $5, I would need to find out what that was. Oma was really curious, wondering if this involved ice cream. After having seen the Mashed Potato Martini last year, I was pretty sure what was involved.
It was a sundae cup with a layer of pork on the bottom, a layer of baked beans in the middle, and a layer of cole slaw on top. (3. Variety Meats, 10. Roasted/Smoked, and maybe 9. Ethinc, if you consider Southern an ethnicity) Kind of like those one-bowl meals at KFC. It was pretty good, but left no efficient way to sauce the meat. It was carb-friendly, as if that mattered. No ice cream was involved.

We were resting near the stand of the aforementioned Mashed Potato Martini, where we had bought Deep Fried Banana Pudding Bites last year, and noticed a new menu item, Deep Fried Pina Colada. This guy gets top marks for creativity in my book. Of course, we had to try that too. And it was, in my opinion, the best thing we had all day.
Deep-fried pinapple wedges covered in powdered sugar, served with a coconut pudding dipping sauce. (2. Fried Sweet, 5. Sugar, Sugar, Sugar) This one we may have to try to recreate at home.

With that being said, we moved on to sausage. German sausage that is. Bratwurst. (3. Variety Meats, 7. Baked, 10. Roasted/Smoked) Why is it that you always see Italian sausage and Polish sausage (both of which are wonderful in their own right), but too rarely see German sausage? Well, we stood up for our German heritage. Actually Jennifer (who is the only Traveling Roth without German heritage) requested the Brat. Conversely, I bought the ribbon fries to stand up for her (and T & Z's) Irish heritage, since we couldn't find:
  • Irish sausage
  • Shamrock Shakes
  • Whisky
In between the brat and the ribbon fries, Opa acquired an Onion Blossom (1. Fried Savory)
After the ribbon fries, Oma acquired a traditional, old-school funnel cake (2. Fried Sweet), once again calling back to our Pennsylvania Deutsch heritage.
That was it for the food, other than some allegedly fresh-squeezed lemonade. Besides, it was starting to get really crowded, and we needed to burn the rest of our ride tickets and get out of there and get home.

After all, it was almost dinner time.
Saturday, October 14, 2006

North Carolina State Fair: A Day in Food Pictures, Part 1

The North Carolina State Fair is a regular event for the Traveling Roths since 2001 when we first came to the state. There's something there for everyone, from the contests, to the animal judging, to the concerts, to the rides, to the games, to the food. For us it's all about the animal judging. There's nothing like a good cow show. Yeah, right. It's the food, of course.

So here's a summary of the day, in food. I've designated 10 Fair Food Categories over the years (with help from others), and now pay attention to how many we can attain. The categories, in no particular order, are:
  1. Fried Savory
  2. Fried Sweet
  3. Variety Meats
  4. con Queso
  5. Sugar, Sugar, Sugar
  6. Fundraiser
  7. Baked
  8. Food-on-a-Stick
  9. Ethnic
  10. Roasted/Smoked
Could we hit them all, let's see.

We started by parking at the SAS Soccer Park in Cary, avoiding the parking nightmare caused by the NC State football game. Good thing the Wolf Pack plays at such a small stadium. We took a CAT bus for $4 a piece round trip ($2 for seniors, Oma and Opa.) The day was absolutely gorgeous, with deep blue skies, dry air, and a little chill. Some years it's ridiculously hot at fair time, and that's miserable. Being on the cool side is definitely preferable.

Entering the fair near the permanent buildings, the place was surprisingly uncrowded. This would change once NC State's little football game ended, but for now it was nice. Since it was still fairly early (before noon), a biscuit was in order.

First stop, the restaurant of St. Paul's Christian Church, where Andy and Shelley used to attend. Andy had the distinct misfortune to work in the restaurant on one of those hot years. That must have sucked. But anyway, at St. Paul's, ham biscuits are only a breakfast item, so down the street we went to Cary UMC church. We got ham biscuits (a Southern treat) for Jennifer, one for Tristan, and a sausage biscuit for Zoe. (3. Variety Meats, 7. Baked, 6. Fundraiser)
The next stop was for a London Broil sandwich. I found out about these from Shelley the first year we went to the fair. They have become a staple. (3. Variety Meats, 4. con Queso, 7. Baked)
The kids started spending their 48 ride tickets each, with the occasional pause for refreshment. They spent their own money on ice cream. Raspberry vanilla for Tristan, and Oreo for Zoe. (5. Sugar, sugar, sugar) We went into one of the permanet buildings to see what was afoot. It turns out rocky road fudge was afoot. (5. Sugar, sugar, sugar, 6. Fundraiser)It was also a little gritty. Down the aisle was a candy stand called "Davey's . . . . ." Despite the errant "e" in his name, his stuff looked cool. Jennifer got a really tarted-up candy apple, with stuff like white chocolate, cinnamon, and walnuts. (5. Sugar, Sugar, Sugar, 8. Food-on-a-Stick)

We also sampled a couple other things that were not photographed, including spicy hot peanuts for Opa (10. Roasted/Smoked), and maple cotton candy.

Back outside, we made for the area near where the grandstand field used to be, for some Wisconsin Fried Cheese (1. Fried Savory, 4. con Queso). I chose the jalapeno cheddar, with jalapeno ranch dippin' sauce, and some jalapeno iced tea. Just kidding about the tea. It was regular brewed tea from a nearby fried dough merchant.
to be continued. . . .
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