Archive for March, 2009

The Haunting In Connecticut

Posted in Movies on March 31st, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , ,

We saw The Haunting in Connecticut at the movie theater for date night (after refusing pizza from “Carlos Zambrano” at the mall pizza shop – seriously, the guy looks just like the famously hot-headed Chicago Cubs pitcher!) and the movie made for a pretty good ghost story.  I had heard it was based upon a true story, but after seeing it, here is my guess on what about the movie is true:  a teenage boy has cancer, his family rents a house (a former mortuary) near the hospital where he is receiving treatments, and they had strange happenings while staying there; probably due to stress or lack of sleep or even just plain exaggerations but not hauntings, is my guess.  This is the basic plot of the movie, but I left out many events that could not have possibly happened in real life and would also be considered spoilers, so I will not go into details.  I will say that the movie opens with all kinds of vintage photographs of deceased people – I know this because of my friend who attended a lecture on the subject.  I had wanted to go with her, but we found out about it last minute and I relunctantly had to pass.  But my friend went and came back with all kinds of interesting info which is how I knew what the pictures were that opened the movie.  For instance, many people back then (the movie takes place in the 80’s, but the pictures were from the early 1900’s) didn’t have their photograph taken often, so when a loved one passed away, they would get their family portrait taken with the deceased – better late than never, I guess?  Not only that, sometimes they would pose as if the person was still alive – kind of morbid by our standards today, but then again, things are very different and taking pictures is so much more common; it’s difficult to imagine past attitudes about this.

But The Haunting in Connecticut is a very entertaining, edge-of-your seat nailbiter with plenty of startles.  To its credit, it’s scary and creepy without the gore.  Worth checking out, if you like that sort of thing, but not one of my favorites – it did give me some ideas for a haunted house though…  Now if I can just remember them until 2010 when we actually have the time to DO the haunted house…

Monsters VS Aliens

Posted in Movies on March 31st, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , ,

We took the kids to see the Pixar movie Monsters VS Aliens last Sunday after church.  The good news is, we didn’t end up with any nude children running around the theater (see a previous post of mine; I forget which one, but I think this happened more than once so take your pick – we haven’t been to the movies in months, and now you know why!).  The bad news is that I didn’t think this movie lived up to the hype.  But I couldn’t be sure; I didn’t get to see much of it.  It seemed to me like they showed all the funny parts in the previews, but then again, once you read what I was doing instead of watching the movie, you’ll see why I could be wrong…

Our family now takes up an entire row at the movie theater.  Our oldest starting pouting because she was stuck on the inside and complained that she couldn’t see.  To her credit, she got over it right away and ended up being the one kid of the four who actually stayed awake for the entire movie.  The movie was about to start, and I felt something pelt my back – HARD.  I turned to my husband and said, “I think someone just threw something at me, intentionally because it was hard and it hurt!”.  He said, “It probably was intentional – turn  around and see who it is!”  Duh – why didn’t I think of that?  I’m not the type to want to draw attention, so I figured it was some poor kid who was going to get in trouble if I turned around or something…  so I turned around and saw some game-nighters grinning at us.  “Good thing you finally turned around, ” they said, “we were almost out of Junior Mints!”  Haha –  that was funny, and I learned my lesson, if you get pelted in the back at the movie theater, you should turn around to see who would actually throw candy at the movie theater – you might be surprised to find out it’s NOT  kids!

The lights dimmed, the previews came on, and my son dirtied his diaper.  By the time I got back from changing him, I had already missed a preview – my husband and I love the previews.  Oh well, better than missing the movie, I thought…  little did I know we would be missing that too.  So my son, who is 8 months old and just starting to crawl, didn’t want to sit still for a movie.  He was happy munching on things, but he was pretty rambunctious when I was holding him.  So I spent most of the movie trying to calm him down and keep him busy.  My 2-year-old daughter, who is usually the problem (and the nudist) at the movies, actually fell asleep.  My husband went to put her in her seat to sleep so we could enjoy the movie, and there was a horrible gushing sound followed by gasps from the people behind us.  Apparently, my husband’s pop had gotten knocked over, and wouldn’t you know it, it was almost full and of course it poured directly into the lady’s purse who was sitting behind us.  OOPS!  How can you possibly apologize for something like that, especially while trying to be quiet so others can watch the movie?  All the commotion of course woke up my daughter, so now we had her to deal with again.  Not more than 20 minutes later, my son made a lightening-fast grab for my drink, and I didn’t catch him in time, so SPLOSH – another one bites the dust.  At least this time it was in MY diaper bag and not the woman’s behind me again – that would have been lawsuit-worthy!  But now we were drinkless, had 2 rambunctious kids, and were only about halfway through the movie!

Well, we made it through, my 2 youngest daughters fell asleep before the movie was over, and my son was out about 10 minutes before it ended – he waited long enough to keep me from seeing the movie, and long enough to wake up when we left and screw up his nap cycle.  But I guess I  learned yet again that my kids are too little to go to the movies – at least all 4 at one time.  And the lady behind us didn’t say anything when she left, thank goodness.  But I wouldn’t take my word for it that Monsters VS Aliens isn’t anything special – I didn’t see most of it!

New York Trip Diary Volume 6 – The World Trade Center Chapter

Posted in Current Events on March 30th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , ,

NEW YORK TRIP – MARCH 20-23, 2009 – TAYLOR: 9 yrs, SAMMIE: 4 yrs, DISNEY: 2½ yrs, CHRISTOPHER: 8 mos

(continued from previous posts)

Sunday, March 22 – I already blogged about this day, but I had skipped the part about us visiting the World Trade Center site (aka Ground Zero) because it just didn’t seem to belong in a happy family’s trip diary.  So consider this your warning; the following post will be emotionally heavy!

On the way there, I was just in visitor mode – on a mission to just get there.  I didn’t really stop to think about how emotional and how gut-wrenching the experience would be.  I’m very glad we went, but man, was it emotionally taxing, to say the least.  The site itself is a pit in the earth – not even a hole, they’re already begun building new buildings, so really it just looks like a construction site, though if you look carefully, you can see that one piece of equipment has a hook painted like an American flag (click on the pic to make it bigger – actually I don’t know that you can see the flag-painted hook in this one, sorry!):

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There are fences all around, and it’s difficult to even see past them until you go into the World Financial Center and look out a window and down into the site (click on any of my pics to make them bigger):

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On the way to the site, we passed (yet another) street vendor, and this time, they were selling commemorative books about the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  We flipped through the books, and they actually seemed  interesting, so we bit and we bought.  Those ended up being a great purchase though, because they contain some pictures of the catastrophe that I haven’t even seen on the internet.  One of the pictures in the books is of  a cemetery located only a block or two from Ground Zero.  The picture was taken on September 11, 2001, and the cemetery is covered in an inches-thick layer of ash and debris.  We passed that same cemetery on our way to Ground Zero, and it was eerie to see what it looked like on that day.  Across the street from Ground Zero, there is a statue of a business man with a briefcase; I guess it’s supposed to symb0lize the “every man” quality of the victims, I don’t know, but there it was and here it is:

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Also across the street from the site is a fire station, Ladder 10, which was heavily damaged by the attacks and collapsing skyscrapers – it actually served as a rest station for many wounded firefighters that fateful day, I later found out.  The station has a memorial on the side, but we (regretfully) didn’t stop long enough to take a picture.  But the garage was open, and there was a firefighter who was more than happy to let our kids climb up on the fire engine, and he graciously posed with a picture of them – what a great guy!  I wonder if he was with Ladder 10 during 2001 and how many of his friends were lost?

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And then there was the museum.  I was worried the kids would be bored, but they said it would only take 30-45 minutes to get through, and I can’t be happier we went.  First of all, the kids were not bored in  the slightest.  They enjoyed looking at the memorabilia: the damaged items, the kids drawings of support, and even the wall of “Missing” posters that victims’ loved ones had posted after the attacks.  I figured September 11, 2001 is a day my kids should learn about, so why not start now?  We did spare a few details, though, like the one about how people were responsible for all of it.  If they had asked, I wouldn’t have lied, but we just told them that planes crashed into the buildings.  After we were almost through the museum, our almost 5-year-old asked me a question I’ll never forget.  She said, “Mom, can God put people back together?”  I hugged her and explained that sometimes people get to go live with God, and that was good enough for her at that moment.

At least one thing I found cool about the museum is that they had a section about what Muslim-Americans went through after 9/11: the discrimination, the victimization, and the violence. 

One thing I somehow didn’t get a picture of from the museum was some silverware from the restaurant at the top of one of the towers – the spoon had a hole burned directly through it.

Here are some pictures of other things they had in the museum:

ny-trip-march-20-23-2009-063Above is a picture of an airplane window from one of the planes that hit the twin towers.  Below is a picture of what was once an elevator plate labeling a floor in the Trade Center:

ny-trip-march-20-23-2009-065And below is a picture of some items that they found in the debris pile,a stuffed lamb they used to sell in the Trade Center – searchers who found him said “If he could be spared, why couldn’t the people?”  Also pictured are someone’s car keys, IDs, and most eerie, a brochure from a meeting being held in the “Windows on the World” restaurant in the top of the building – note the dates say September 9-11, 2001.  The thing on the right is just a melted mass of metal, concrete, and whatever else:

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If you’re going to New York, I highly recommend visiting the Ground Zero museum.  I don’t know the exact name of it, but it’s on Liberty Street across from Ground Zero.  Bring tissues, but if you forget, they have some on the walls, and I was grateful for that.  It was a very emotional experience, but I was fine until I saw a letter in a child’s scrawl dated 4/2000, before the attacks.  The letter began, “My hero is my daddy because he is a fireman…”  The letter was written by a kid who lost his dad on 9/11, and that’s when I lost it.

I can’t imagine what those people went through, especially after seeing what happened to some of the objects that were once a part of the World Trade Center.  A very humbling experience; one I will never forget…

God Bless the victims of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 and their families left behind…

Some Things I Should Clear Up…

Posted in Everyday Life on March 30th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Whenever I take a road trip, I find myself wondering about random things.  Since I don’t have access to the internet while I’m on vacation to look up these random things, I make a list to look up when I return home.  Here is some of my look-up list from the trip to New York we just took:

– Are there bears in Pennsylvania?  YES!  I was wondering this as we were driving through their beautiful wooded hills, but I was still surprised to learn that there are black bears (who aren’t always black) in PA.  In fact, bears can be found in 50 of PA’s 67 counties!

– Where did the airplane land in the Hudson River a few months ago?  As I was looking at the Hudson from our hotel room, I was wondering if we were viewing the very spot (or crossing it on the ferry) where the plane landed.  I found that it was just north of where we were.  We probably would have seen it happen from our room; definitely from the boardwalk behind the hotel, and definitely if we had been on the ferry.

– What was that story about the chicken who lived for many years without his head?  I don’t know how this one came up in conversation, but it did, so here are the details as printed in wikipedia.com:   On Monday, September 10, 1945 at 6:45AM PST, farmer Lloyd Olsen of Fruita, Colorado, had his mother-in-law around for supper and was sent out to the yard by his wife to bring back a chicken. Olsen failed to completely decapitate the five-and-a-half month old bird named Mike. The axe missed the jugular vein, leaving one ear and most of the brain stem intact.  On the first night after the decapitation Mike slept with his severed head under his wing.  Despite Olsen’s botched handiwork, Mike was still able to balance on a perch and walk clumsily; he even attempted to preen and crow, although he could do neither. After the bird did not die, a surprised Mr. Olsen decided to continue to care permanently for Mike, feeding him a mixture of milk and water via an eyedropper; he was also fed small grains of corn. Mike occasionally choked on his own mucus, which the Olsen family would clear using a syringe.  When used to his new and unusual center of mass, Mike could easily get himself to the highest perches without falling. His crowing, though, was less impressive and consisted of a gurgling sound made in his throat, leaving him unable to crow at dawn. Mike also spent his time preening and attempting to peck for food with his neck.  Being headless did not keep Mike from putting on weight; at the time of his partial beheading he weighed two and a half pounds, but at the time of his death this had increased to nearly eight pounds.  In March 1947, at a motel in Phoenix on a stopover while traveling back home from tour, Mike started choking in the middle of the night. As the Olsens had inadvertently left their feeding and cleaning syringes at the sideshow the day before, they were unable to save Mike. Lloyd Olsen claimed that he had sold the bird off, resulting in stories of Mike still touring the country as late as 1949.  Post mortem, it was determined that the axe blade had missed the carotid artery and a clot had prevented Mike from bleeding to death. Although most of his head was severed, most of his brain stem and one ear was left on his body. Since basic functions (breathing, heart-rate, etc) as well as most of a chicken’s reflex actions are controlled by the brain stem, Mike was able to remain quite healthy. Other sources, including the Guinness Book of World Records, say that the chicken’s severed esophagus passage could not take in enough air properly to be able to breathe; and therefore choked to death in the motel. So Mike the headless chicken lived for about 18 months without a head.

– Kent State Massacre – We saw lots of signs for Kent Stae on the trip, and we decided there must be a few campuses.  We were wondering where the massacre happened, what year, how many people were killed, and what happened to the murderer.  Kent State happened in Kent, Ohio (a little bit outside of Cleveland and Akron – so that was the same Kent State University we saw signs for).  4 students were killed and 9 wounded, some paralyzed for life.  But what makes this massacre significant is that the students were shot by the Ohio National Guard – not a lone gunman gone crazy.  The 3 adults in the car decided that if Kent State would have happened in more recent times, it would not be nearly as historically significant because sadly, there are many more of these types of massacres nowadays.  However, I don’t think any of us realized that it was the National Guard doing the shooting – which I should have; I remember studying this is Sociology class, but apparently the knowledge didn’t stick…

– Murder in Small Town X – Do you remember this reality show?  It was basically like a reality show of a murder mystery; there were actors, witnesses and victims.  I thought it sounded cool, but I didn’t watch it when it aired even though I wanted to.  I was in the middle of moving out of the state I grew up in for the first time and busy with my first 2-year-old.  The show was cancelled, but what was significant about it was this:  The final episode aired on September 4, 2001 – exactly one week before the infamous terroist attack on the US – 9/11.  And the last contestant standing, the guy who won the jeep and the $250,000 prize, Angel Juarbe, was a firefighter from New York who perished in the attacks one week after the final episode of the show aired.

– What the heck does “poppy” mean?  In a bizarre episode I  forgot to put in my trip diary, my husband pulled up to a full serve gas pump in  New Jersey without realizing it.  The attendant came out and tried to take the nozzle away from my husband, who said, “I already swiped my card.” – he had no  idea what this guy was doing since he didn’t know he was in full serve.  The attendant snapped, “Stop asking so many questions!” and proceeded to pump the gas and kept calling my bewildered (and very tired) husband “poppy” and “boss”.  As we pulled away from the gas station, we noticed we had in fact been in the full serve area, but that still didn’t clear up the mystery of all the alleged questions my husband asked and what the heck poppy means.  I remembered an episode of Cops I had seen where a perp kept calling the cop “poppy”, and the cop was getting extremely irritated.  “Stop calling me Poppy!”, he said, to which the perp replied, “I’m sorry poppy”  and it kept going on and on like that until the cop finally charged the guy with something and hauled him off to jail, probably because they guy really just couldn’t help himself from saying “Poppy”.  So what does it mean?  When I looked it up, all I found was stuff about flowers and something about a nickname for a grandpa (sorry Hon!).  But I tried changing the spelling, because it seemed like the guy was speaking spanish, so I tried to spell it in Spanish, and I came up with Papi.  When I looked that up, I was scared about the results – it was one of those wiki-answers places, so here is a direct quote:  “To me, papi means: Daddy, Baby, My Love….you say it to the boyfriends, husbands, and sons…if you are in a committed relationship. If you are single, then to a man you have an interest in getting to know alot better.”  Giggling, I read this quote to my husband, and his eyes got really wide and he insisted that I do further research on the subject.  I don’t have a lot of time on my hands for this kind of stuff, so I found the fact that different cultures have different meaning for Hispanic terms, and apparently it’s common for Dominicans to call other males “papi”.  But it seemed to be condescending when the attendant was saying it, and I’m not sure I even have the correct spelling of papi.  Anyone want to offer any help on this?  Any spanish-speakers out there?  Mary, you love a good mystery, I hear 😉

Well, anyway, that’s about everything on the list, or all I have time to put into a blog post, anyway.  I hope you learned something, least of all the randomness 3 adults talk about on a very long road trip when the kids are asleep!  Some day, I will probably have internet right there in the car with me to look up these things.  In fact, I will probably be blogging on the road trip – let’s just hope I’m not the one driving!

Knowing I Love You Man

Posted in Movies on March 30th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , ,

I’m going to take a break  from my New York Trip Diary to write up a few movies.  All I have left is the World Trade Center site post anyway, so that’s just one thing on a trip of hundreds!  Besides, writing up these 2 movies should be easy, since I don’t have much to say about either one…

Last week for date night, we saw Knowing, a movie we had been looking forward to.  Not that we’re Nicolas Cage fans (quite the opposite actually); the movie just looked intriguing.  It’s about a guy whose son gets a piece of paper with hundreds of numbers on it which was buried in a time capsule for fifty years.  After some investigation (and A LOT of liquor!), Nicholas Cage discovers that the numbers correspond to the dates, places, and the number of fatalities that would occur during certain calamities – they have all occurred already; except for the 3 left on the list.  And that’s about it.  Cage’s acting was no better than usual (why did I think this would be one of his better movies?  Can you tell he is Francis Ford Coppola’s nephew?), and I don’t want to spoil the ending for you, but I found it cheesy and actually kind of dumb.  I was entertained, but barely, and I did doze a tad during this one, although the action sequences awoke me with a start.  Feeling unsatisfied after this movie, we decided to make it a double feature and sneaked into I Love You Man – no, I’m kidding, we went back to the cashier and paid for the movie legitimately – besides, we needed a refill on our pop and popcorn, though the latter was quite regretful.

I Love You Man looked like kind of a dumb comedy, but we’ve been appreciating the actor Paul Rudd lately (he is SO funny in Role Models and Friends reruns), so we decided to check it out.  What we got was kind of a dumb comedy, but actually not as bad as I thought.  It wasn’t entirely predictable, and there were some funny moments that they actually hadn’t spoiled in the movie’s trailers.  If you like silly comedies and Paul Rudd, check it out.  It’s not nearly as funny as Role Models, but it is much less crude.

New York Trip Diary Volume 5

Posted in Travel on March 28th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

NEW YORK TRIP – MARCH 20-23, 2009 – TAYLOR: 9 yrs, SAMMIE: 4 yrs, DISNEY: 2½ yrs, CHRISTOPHER: 8 mos

(continued from previous posts)

Monday, March 23 – We left the hotel for the Pittsburgh Zoo and promptly got lost.  Many cities are situated on just one river, but some bank alongside 2 or 3 rivers, and that’s where Pittsburgh lost me and we, in turn, got lost.  Multiple rivers and all those hills – I have lots of trouble navigating my way through hills and mountains for some reason – probably because if you miss a turn, you can’t just go a block and correct yourself because there’s hills in the way.  And Pittsburgh was also not lacking in what had become our nemesis (besides the ever-elusive Waterways bus) on this trip – construction zones.  And we already talked about how Jill the GPS doesn’t do detours.  Lost as we were, we again got lucky and didn’t wind up in any bad neighborhoods, but we did have to go without breakfast and almost without lunch.  We stopped at a random police station for directions, and they were very nice (though they have some of the funkiest accents I’ve ever heard there in Pittsburgh – what IS that?), but the directions were very complicated, probably because of the rivers and hills to drive around, and we got lost again.  Finally we found the zoo, and we picked up lunch at a little food stand on the river across from the zoo, and we refrained from making good on our threats to throw Jill the GPS in the river.  Except now we were down to only getting to spend 2 hours at the zoo before they closed.

The Pittsburgh Zoo is nestled within some steep hills – like all the zoos we visited on this trip – and you had to take an elevator to get up the main hill and into the zoo.  Once inside, we were very impressed.  I’m having trouble deciding which zoo I like better between Pittsburgh and Akron – Cleveland is not even on the same level as the other two.  Pittsburgh has a thriving elephant herd – 2 calves born just weeks apart last July!  Baby elephants are somewhat rare and difficult to come by in zoos – if a zoo can actually get elephants to breed (and I know the baby in Toledo was conceived via artificial insemination, so breeding might be somewhat difficult), they still have to  wait through an extremely long gestation period (almost 2 years!) before seeing if they have a healthy calf.  So the fact that Pittsburgh has 2 elephant calves that were born in the same month last year (also the same month as our baby boy!) is nothing short of amazing.

The Pittsburgh Zoo has an awesome aquarium with 3 types of penguin and a huge seahorse tank – next to manatees, seahorses are my favorite animal, and I have never before seen such a nice habitat for them or such huge seahorses!  Also in the aquarium is an area where you can pet stingrays, and there’s even a tunnel that runs underneath their pool that kids can crawl through and come up in the middle of the pool.  Here is a picture of my daughter after she crawled through the tunnel:

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And speaking of tunnels, Pittsburgh Zoo has a tunnel that goes under their polar bear pool!  How cool is that?  We didn’t actually see it because we were there near closing time, and the bears were pacing by the door to go in for the night – we knew they wouldn’t be swimming any more that day, so we skipped the tunnel.  But I must go back some day to see that, and also to spend more time in this awesome zoo – ok, I guess I just decided that I like Pittsburgh just a little bit more than Akron, but it was a tough call!  Too bad Pittsburgh is almost 5 hours away, or I’d return in a heartbeat!  And I forgot to mention how many fun things they have to kids to do, even beyond seeing the animals.  They had a totally awesome looking playground, but we didn’t go on that one because we weren’t sure we’d have enough time.  When we got to the end of the zoo, there was another playground, so we let them play on that until closing time.  Our 2-year-old got “stuck” at the top of the playground – she was too scared to go down the slide and refused to come back out through the tunnels.  I was worried that we’d get locked in the zoo like a couple of college kids I read about in Jack Hanna’s hilarious book, My Wild Life – they got locked in the dark reptile house, where they could hear things splashing around all night!  After we got my daughter to come down off the playground (thanks to her big sister who lured her away), the sea lions were putting on a little show right in the front of the underwater viewing window – which reminds me, we had also gotten to see an impromptu sea lion show earlier in the day – the zookeepers were training them and rewarding them with fish, it was really  cool to watch!

On the way home, we stopped in Elyria, Ohio for dinner at a Golden Corral (always delicious) where my husband was a victim of racial discrimination by the steak griller, and we found what must be the last non-Super Walmart left in the world.  Trying to save room in the car, we had neglected to pack enough diapers for our two children who still wear them, and we had to break into the new packs of diapers right there in the Walmart to change a double poopie from the baby and his big sister!  It was interesting to be in a Walmart without groceries where the employees were actually preparing to close the store for the night – almost like time travel, but if I  traveled in time, the last place I’d go is Walmart!

So anyway, now we had only 2 hours left of the drive home, and it passed uneventfully – the kids slept.  We got home sweet home at about midnight, and the kids were really excited to see their pets and their room – they had trouble getting back to sleep.  The pets were happy to see us, and my thanks goes to our great friend Carol who kept the pets healthy and happy during our absence.  I was really surprised to see how big the rats got in just a few days though, Carol, what did you feed them?!?  🙂

So, I had an amazing adventure with wonderful people.  And this is the end of my diary.  Well, not really, I will have one more entry to go back to the World Trade Center site visit, but I’m waiting for the right time to blog about that – it was a very moving experience.  So thanks for reading, and I hope you had fun and maybe even learned a little something about places you may or may not want to visit some day!

New York Trip Diary Volume 4

Posted in Travel on March 27th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , ,

NEW YORK TRIP – MARCH 20-23, 2009 – TAYLOR: 9 yrs, SAMMIE: 4 yrs, DISNEY: 2½ yrs, CHRISTOPHER: 8 mos

(continued from previous posts)

Sunday, March 22 – Learning from our mistake the previous day, we decided to eat breakfast in the room, and it was much less expensive, we had plenty of room, and we didn’t have to worry about the kids disturbing anyone.  After breakfast, we headed to the city again, even though we were all kind of sick of it at that point.  But when I had heard that we’d be going to New York, the top site to see on my list was the World Trade Center site.  So even though we were sick of the commute to the city and searching for buses, we headed out to see Ground Zero.  We caught another bus tour, but this one was “hop on, hop off”, meaning you could get off at any of the stops, unlike the bus tour we had taken the night before.  But in New York city traffic, we still ended up being on the bus for about an hour, much to the kids’ dismay since they were starting to find the bus tours boring.  But 3/4 of the kids took a nap (and hubby too!), which left me and Jamy to listen (and giggle) at the tour guide – a very hyper Asian woman with a very thick accent.  She was very informative (when we could understand her, of course), but she would interject between her touring tidbits with concerns she had about the traffic – at one point she talked (nicely) to another bus, telling it we were there first and not to hit us.  Another time, a man boarded the bus who was selling water and popcorn, and she felt the need to tell us, “this is not a movie theater”.  Duh.

Anyway, we arrived at Ground Zero, but I think I’m going to do a separate post on that experience – it really was mind-blowing.

We left the Trade Center site and went into the World Financial Center – a beautiful building where people were very nice and gave us detailed directions about how to get to the ferry without using the famous New York grunt n’ gesture.  The best news is that we weren’t going to have to take a Waterways bus!  Seems the ferry came right over to the financial district – YAY!  On the way to the river, we found some gelato to buy in the financial center.  Gelato is a type of Italian ice cream handmade on the spot, and it is incredible.  I had trouble deciding on just 3 flavors, but I chose well: cookie dough, pistachio, and raspberry.  They were all delicious, but the raspberry was especially amazing.  For those of you who know me, you will be shocked to learn that I like gelato even more than I like Dippin’ Dots – that is how good it is!

So we made our way to the riverfront, and when we got to the ferry station, it was closed.  Honestly, you’d think that at least 1 of the 5 or more people who had given us directions would have known this, but I guess not.  And I don’t think they were playing a trick on us because unlike the grunt n’ gesture-ers, they were really nice – I think they just genuinely didn’t know.  So here we were again.  Stuck in New York with no Waterways bus to be found.  My husband was very smart when he read the fine print on the Waterways card we had that said Waterways buses would stop at any city bus stop on a Waterways route, so all we had to do was find one of those.  We asked some not-so-friendly construction workers, who  said that there were NO city bus stops on the entire street we were on.  So we used the map on the Waterways card, and we went a few blocks this way and a few blocks that way, and we found a city bus stop which we thought was on a Waterways route…  Unfortunately the only way to check if we were right was to sit and wait for a bus that might never come, but lo and behold, there was another Waterways bus, and my husband again jumped in front of it while we quickly scooped up all the kids before the driver changed his mind.  We were really getting the hang of this now, but that was our last Waterways bus, thank goodness!  Here is a picture of our 8-month-old’s ET impression – Manny Jamy was the lucky baby-wearer since my back never would have tolerated it all day and we wanted to leave my husband open for our clingy 2-year-old:

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We got back to the hotel which is where we had left our car, and my husband used their Wi-Fi to find us a hotel in Pittsburgh.  We were having such a good time that we figured we’d extend the trip a little and make one more zoo stop.  The only problem is, we didn’t make it to our Pittsburgh hotel until 3 in the morning due to a 2 hour stop at Houlihan’s for dinner!  Why diid it take so long?  We were kind of a large party, and the place was mobbed.  Add in 2 poopie diapers and a bathroom full of drunks, and well, you do the math.  Some guy stopped on his way to the bar to gush over the baby, and while he was doing that, his girlfriend took a nasty spill up the bar stairs, glass (already empty, of course) flying out of her hand and everything.  Instead of trying to get up, she just lay there, probably because she was so drunk (she wasn’t hurt; I saw her later and she was fine), and her equally drunk boyfriend didn’t even notice all of this.  So I said, “Is she ok?” and when he turned to look, I fled with the baby.  Interesting experience, but one that makes me even more thankful for home sweet home  – we never have those kinds of crowds in our restaurants!  Like I said, we got to our Pittsburgh hotel about 3 in the morning, and we had kids who didn’t want to go back to sleep.  But we finally got them down, and we got a few hours of shut-eye before it was time to get up and add a new zoo to my list!

New York Trip Diary Volume 3

Posted in Travel on March 26th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

NEW YORK TRIP – MARCH 20-23, 2009 – TAYLOR: 9 yrs, SAMMIE: 4 yrs, DISNEY: 2½ yrs, CHRISTOPHER: 8 mos

(continued from previous posts)

Saturday, March 21 – We awoke about 8:30, which seemed early since we had arrived at our hotel late the night before and the kids stayed up for a little bit even after we arrived.  So we went down to the hotel’s restaurant to get breakfast, which was a mistake.  I had thought it’d be cheaper to eat in the restaurant rather than get room service, and I had also thought we’d be cramped trying to eat in the room.  But down at the restaurant, our kids went nuts, and continued to do so while it took about an hour for the food to come.  And this was a nice restaurant – not a friendly mom n pop place where they actually like and tolerate kids like we’re used to back home.  They did have pretty good hollandaise sauce for their eggs benedict, but my enjoyment of it was severely compromised due to the stress of the kids.  Our server kept walking by and mumbling things, and I’ll admit that our 8 month old son does make a mess when he eats, but don’t they all?  We cleaned up the best we could, but that didn’t stop the server from “stealing” our change.  That’s right, when we paid the bill, the included 14% gratuity apparently wasn’t enough for him because he failed to bring the change back.  Rather than try to track down Mr. Rude (we are SO not in Kansas anymore!), my husband took up the issue with the front desk.

Next it was time for the business meeting (the reason we came, I guess), and so Manny Jamy took the kids down to the pool while hubby and I met with the clients.  Except they were late, and while we were waiting, I began to have doubts about the baby and I being disruptive to the meeting, so I took him back to our room to put on his bathing suit so he could join his sisters in  the pool.  Just as I arrived, so did Manny Jamy with the rest of the kids, and we decided to take them for a walk outside instead.  Our hotel was on the New Jersey side, and offered a postcard view of the New York skyline:

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Even though I had never been there before, it seemed to me that there was indeed a gaping hole where the twin towers used to stand, and Jamy who had been there before confirmed this.  We watched many a garbage barge sail by, and I was surprised to find that the sea gulls in New York are quite bashful – I guess I’m used to the ones at Sea World and Marineland Canada where they’ll just swoop down and swipe the fish you buy to feed the dolphins and whales.  But it was a nice day, and our hotel offered a nice little pocket of solstice tucked away from the frenzied traffic of the city.  I wanted to kill as much time down there as possible since we were short on room in the car and my packing of toys for the hotel room had to be limited.  But my oldest was tired – she fell asleep on a bench outside – and her little brother started losing it because he also needed a nap so badly.  So we went back up to the room to wait for my husband’s meeting to be over.  Manny Jamy was nice enough to watch  the two middle girls so  that I could catch a nap with my oldest and the baby, and it was MUCH needed and MUCH appreciated.  Our 2 year old fell asleep as well, which was a good thing, but I was disappointed I couldn’t take her to be shown off to the clients when my husband called – she is awfully cute!  So anyway, I went down to meet the clients, and they were extremely nice.    They have a baby who was born just 9 days before my son, and she was really adorable!  I was disappointed – if I had known they had brought the baby, I would have stayed at the meeting and let the babies play together!  Oh, well, at this point, I was just glad to be done with work and ecstatic to be well-rested so that we could go to the city and have SOME FUN!

Because we were on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, every time we wanted to go into the city, we had to wait for our hotel shuttle to take us to the ferry station, then wait for the ferry to take us across the river, and then board a Waterway bus (different from a city bus, as we later learned) to take us to our destination in the city.  Not a big deal, but by the end of the trip, it had gotten a little tiresome to add that much traveling time to get where we wanted to go.  So anyway, Saturday night, we ventured into the city to take a bus tour on one of those double-decker, open-topped buses.  On the way to the tour bus stop, we weaved our way through the massive crowd that is the Manhattan theater district on a Saturday night.  We did have a few celebrity sightings; including the actor Morgan Freeman:

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though Mr. Freeman did have the personality of a candle, as Jamy pointed out.  We also saw multiple Statues of Liberty walking around, but a few of them were getting into trouble with the police.  Now that’s something you don’t see everyday – a Statue of Liberty getting arrested – too bad I didn’t get my camera ready in time to take a picture, that would have been one for the scrapbook!  We also saw Bugs Bunny, Elmo, 2 Cookie Monsters, a walking sandwich, a naked cowboy (don’t ask), and Batman.  Except I don’t think it was the real Batman unless he’s always been African American – besides, the real Batman would have been fighting crime in Gotham City, not posing for pictures on the streets of New York.  Here is one of the Cookie Monsters – look carefully and you can see Elmo to the right:

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We got suckered by some street vendors and sampled their wares of smoked meat, hot dogs, and art.  My husband bought a caricature of our oldest daughter and a sign with our youngest daughter’s name in caligraphy, but walking around with those souvenirs was like writing “suckers” on our foreheads – we got hit up for everything after that, from purses to sunglasses to comedy show tickets.  Actually, we kind of got “had” again- when my husband bought the $5 sign for our daughter, the artist started putting a frame on it, which would have upped the price to $20.  My husband kept saying, “no frame, no frame!” but all of a sudden, the artist no longer spoke English, so he went ahead and framed it and charged us $20.  My husband did not pay him the full $20, but I know it was still more than the $5 it was supposed to have cost – oh well, you only visit New York once, at least in our case – I won’t go back, at least not with little kids!

So then we boarded our tour bus, and that was really neat, informative, and offered gorgeous views of the city at night.

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Ok, the picture obviously doesn’t do it justice, but here is my 2-year-old daughter seeing her first skyscraper:

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It was kind of chilly, and we tried moving down to the first floor of the bus, but the view did not compare with what we could see on the top, so we ended up moving upstairs again.  The city was gorgeous at night, but when we went over the Manhattan Bridge, it was so high up, it was kind of freaky!  Being on the top of the bus and looking down, you couldn’t even see the road, just the water below, and I couldn’t help but think how easy it would be to just leap over the side…  not that I would do that of course, I’m just saying.

After the bus tour, we tried to find the Waterways bus – the one that would go back to the ferry station, but we had some trouble.  We ended up sitting on  a street corner for about two hours.  We stopped a passing taxi, figuring we’d just pay the expense just to get us and the kids off the streets of New York, but we couldn’t even all fit in one taxi.  I was strongly against the idea of splitting up in any way, shape or form, so our next idea was to stop a passing horse and carriage.  While asking the very friendly Irish driver directions to the ferry bus, his horse took a gi-normous leak right there on the street, but at least the girls were momentarily entertained.  We declined the $70 horse and buggy ride, and finally the Waterways bus arrived – my husband practically jumped in front of it to stop it since the previous one had passed us by, but it worked – the bus actually picked us up!

Overall, an interesting night in New York.  And it’s not like I expected people to be overly nice.  I certainly didn’t expect it to be like my hometown, where you can’t walk down the street without strangers saying hi and you can’t walk around with kids at night without people offering you a lift.  But it was still an adjustment – every time we’d ask how to get to the Waterways bus, people would just point off in a general direction and grunt, even police.  And it was amazing to me how a family with 4 small children could set up camp on a street corner for 2 hours without one soul taking notice – I swear, we could have moved there and no one would have known nor cared.  By the end of it all, I can’t believe how sick of Times Square I was…  Oh, and I forgot to mention, while we were searching for the Waterways bus, we came across a small deli that was actually recommended  to us by our tour bus driver – Z Deli.  The place had amazing falafel and gyro sandwiches!  And their prices were reasonable, especially for New York City – no, reasonable is not even the word for them.  I’m talking $.99 slices of pizza, and the huge gyro sandwich was only $3.99!  Its only shortcoming was the lack of places to sit, but the guys who run the place went out of their way to accommodate us (in anti-New York style, it seems), letting us dine at their “internet cafe” area.

So after the “miracle bus” picked us up, took us to the ferry station, and we rode the ferry and picked up the hotel shuttle, it was very late and we were exhausted.  It exhausts me just to type out the story, as it probably exhausts the reader to absorb my excruciating details, so now’s a good time to cut this volume short – more later…

New York Trip Diary Volume 2

Posted in Travel on March 25th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

NEW YORK TRIP – MARCH 20-23, 2009 – TAYLOR: 9 yrs, SAMMIE: 4 yrs, DISNEY: 2½ yrs, CHRISTOPHER: 8 mos

(continued from a previous post)

Friday March 20 (cont’d) – We arrived at the Akron Zoo about 2pm, which was right on schedule pretty much, although it would have been nice to have more time to explore the wonderful zoo that awaited us.  From what I saw, Akron looked like a dumpy little city with a beautiful little zoo.  All of the exhibits seemed to be of newer construction, and the animals seemed really active and happy.  The Akron Zoo has many unique animals in their collection; including the super rare Sumatran Tiger, (most people are used to seeing Bengals, also called Siberian tigers as those are the ones frequently exhibited at zoos) and the Sumatran tiger was roaring when we saw him.  They also have 2 types of animals that I was looking forward to seeing – the hyacinth macaw and the capybara (largest rodent on earth) – but both species were off exhibit waiting for warmer weather.  No problem, we had seen capybaras at the Cleveland Zoo earlier in the day, and I have a macaw at home, not a rare hyacinth, but a macaw just the same.  Akron has a Malayan sun bear, the type of bear that was the inspiration to A. A. Milne for his Winnie the Pooh stories, and these are also not commonly on exhibit in zoos.  When we stopped for lunch, we were pleased to find that the cafe is attached to a building with a Galapagos tortoise habitat, a komodo dragon exhibit, a really cool marmoset environment (a little marmoset – it’s a small primate, if you don’t know – came running up to the glass when he saw us with our nacho container and started licking the glass!), and an awesome jellyfish exhibit.  Before Friday I had only seen one type of jellyfish – moon jellies – but the Akron Zoo has several different kinds on display.  My  favorite were the bulbous blue blubber jellies.  Here is the marmoset trying to taste our nachos through the glass while my daughter is in the middle of a blink:

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And next is a picture of the komodo dragon; I couldn’t resist posting it.  These things are incredibly ferocious and huge.  Once they claw (and look at those claws!) or bite their prey (and I’m talking prey as large as water buffalo), they hang around until the animal succumbs to the 28 varieties of deadly bacteria the komodo has in its saliva and then devour it.  Sharon Stone and her husband Phil Bronstein have something to say about the danger of komodos after one bit off his toes during a behind the scenes visit.  You can’t really tell from the picture, but this thing was almost 10 feet long!

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The Akron Zoo is a place for great family fun.  The girls got to be penguins:

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and measure their wing spans:

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Even though their baby brother didn’t quite make it long enough to see all of the animals and activities Akron had to offer:

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Another cool experience we had at Akron was hearing the bald eagles chirping.  I always kind of assumed they would have big voices to match their size, but their tweeting was really cute!  Overall, we had a wonderful day zoo-hopping.  After our visit to Akron, it was time to head for our hotel in New Jersey.  The ride was uneventful; the kids got some sleep and so did I.  The traffic in New Jersey was absolutely horrible, which we totally expected, but what we didn’t expect was all the detours.  There were police and road construction everywhere, which amounted to a ton of traffic, especially for one in the morning.  It was a bit stressful, but we did it, and kudos to my wonderful husband who kept his cool and guided us through the many detours for which Jill the GPS couldn’t compensate.  But who needs Jill?  We made it without getting lost!  And as we were walking down the hall to room 913 to turn in for the evening, I turned to Jamy our great friend and traveling Manny (man who’s a nanny in case you missed my first diary installment) and said, “At least we’re not staying in room 911 for our trip to New York.”  He showed me his key, which did say 911 – oops.  Thankfully it was just a coincidence, not an omen:

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And here is a parting shot of our family outside the Akron Zoo from earlier in the day – stayed tuned for Trip Diary Volume 3!

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New York Trip Diary Volume 1

Posted in animals, Travel on March 24th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When my family travels, I like to take notes and make a diary of our activities.  I figure it will be fun to read later when the kids are grown up and will also bring back many memories that might otherwise be forgotten.  Now that I’m keeping a blog, I decided to just keep the trip diaries in my blog; that way I don’t have to write them twice and they’re automatically saved for us in cyberspace.  Last weekend, my husband had to go to New York on business, so we decided to make it a family trip and take the kids along.  Here is a log of our activities:

NEW YORK TRIP – MARCH 20-23, 2009 – TAYLOR: 9 yrs, SAMMIE: 4 yrs, DISNEY: 2½ yrs, CHRISTOPHER: 8 mos

Friday, March 20 – We left the house bright and early, only twenty minutes past our goal of 8 am.  Disney and Christopher had kept us up until 2:30 in the morning the night before, so we were dragging a little, but they slept in so at least we could tie up loose ends without them.  Sammie and Taylor were big helps in the morning!  The kids were very good in the car even though Christopher got a little crabby toward the end of the first leg.
We arrived at the Cleveland Zoo 11ish – not my favorite zoo.  I’m not one to complain about any zoo, but Cleveland had lots of walking to see a small amount of animals.  I think part of the problem was that they were undergoing a lot of construction, so that made for more walking around the construction areas and also to some animals being off exhibit.  They have koalas, but one was sick and the other was sleeping.  I’m glad I got to see it anyway though since seeing koalas is a rare experience at zoos, but now I know why many zoos don’t have them – they sleep 20 hours per day!  Cleveland Zoo also has lots of steep hills, which was a “bear” (pun intended, wink wink) when pushing a double stroller, but luckily for me, that was my husband’s problem.  As we were walking past the zoo’s hospital, an employee told us to come inside because a baboon was about to have a physical.  This is a really cool feature of this zoo – they have glass walls in their examination rooms so that zoo visitors can watch animals’ procedures.  Unfortunately, the baboon was not cooperative, and they couldn’t get it sedated so we didn’t get to see it.  We waited for about an hour, but we really wanted to fit in Akron Zoo in the same day as well, so we decided not to wait any longer.  Here are my girls waiting for the baboon’s physical:

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Cleveland Zoo also has a cool rainforest exhibit which normally costs extra admission, but our Toledo Zoo membership got us into ALL THREE zoos we visited on this trip for FREE!!!  What a bargain AND an extra special Valentine’s Day gift from my husband that keeps on giving!  The rainforest exhibit had a cool 2-story monkey/squirrel exhibit, and a really nice view of a swimming gharial (a crocodillian with a long slender snout).  But overall, the animal habitats were lacking.  Thank goodness they are building new ones, but I wish they were building one for the giraffes.  There were probably more than 10 giraffes confined to a tiny indoor room – at least it was only their winter quarters, so once it gets warm, they can go back outside and have room to roam.  Hmmm…  maybe when I’m done with this trip diary, I’ll have to  develop a zoo rating system – that would be fun.  Then I’d have an excuse to visit even more zoos, and re-visit some of the old ones!

ny-trip-march-20-23-2009-001Here are the kids in front of the lion exhibit at Cleveland – then it was on to the Akron Zoo.

“Just Akron, cold beer, and poor poor thing for 2 weeks?”  you ask?  Well, not for two weeks, we were only there for about 2 hours, but I wanted to throw in that line from the stage play Harvey (and later, the movie starring James Stewart) that was running through my head for the two hours.  Stay tuned for Akron!