Florida 2011 – Trip Diary – Part 4

Posted in Travel on January 21st, 2012 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

(NOTE – This is part 4/4 of our family’s trip diary detailing our vacation to Orlando, FL taken a year ago now.  This last installment is quite late, but better late than never, I think!)

Friday, January 21 – Today our house seemed quite empty as our travel companions left and it was just Hubby, me and the kids.  We did enjoy a day of family time, beginning with breakfast at…  Sizzler.  Actually, I don’t remember where we ate breakfast.  To be honest, I put the Florida trip diary aside for the past few months and now I don’t remember where we ate breakfast.  I don’t remember all of the details of the day, but I have enough treasured vacation memories to know that it was an excellent day spent with my family.  We drove over to Downtown Disney to try something different for a change – we had never been there.  Downtown Disney has so much to see that we just walked around for a few hours and were entertained without having to spend money.  My personal favorite was the amazing Lego store where one can buy just about any type of Lego a heart desires.  You can buy the flat building platforms, bricks in any color of the rainbow, minifigs, and there was even a sort of Lego buffet – you can fill a container with all different types of pieces, any kinds you want: basic building blocks, doors, windows, steering wheels, joints, hinges, you name it.  There were stations with samples to play with, and I had to exercise some self-control to let the kids play instead of sitting there myself for hours on end.  Because this is Florida, there were Lego things to see outside too – little stations with ramps where you can build Lego vehicles and race them, as well as full scale Lego models of people, the London Bridge, and even a large Loch Ness monster in the lake:

It’s really a good thing for my family’s budget that there is not a Lego store within 100 miles of our house; I could go nuts in there!

We also went to the Rainforest Cafe and a few other stores and restaurants where they had really cool decor for the kids to see.  There was a restaurant with huge dinosaurs where we stopped to use the bathroom, and the kids even enjoyed the Little Miss Match shop (a company that sells socks in sets of 3 and none of them match.  The store has socks and lots of other stuff that little girls love to accessorize with).  It began to rain, so we got on a boat to cross the lagoon to get to the bus.  If you are on vacation in the Orlando area and you find yourself with an extra day or some downtime, then I recommend taking a spin on the Disney transportation – especially if you are over-budget on your trip because it’s all free.  A fair warning that Disney property is so large that riding the buses, boats and monorails can take up a significant part of your day, but it is a fun and FREE way to see the sights of Disney.  So we took a bus to the Grand Floridian hotel to catch the monorail, just for fun.  Parking at Downtown Disney is free, so we got on Disney grounds without even having to pay parking!  We did have to spend a good 45 minutes on the bus though, but by now it was pouring, so we didn’t mind too much.  Besides, Hubby surprised me on the bus when he presented me with a Severus Snape minifig that he had picked up as a surprise without me seeing when we were at the Lego store!!  I could not even tell him that Snape is my favorite Harry Potter character because he would have wanted to know why – I didn’t want to spoil the last Harry Potter movie for him when it wasn’t out yet at that time.

At the Grand Floridian, I had to take some kids to the bathroom, and while I was in there, Hubby got a last minute great deal on a character dinner for us!  So we enjoyed dinner with Cinderella, her prince, her step-sisters and her step-mother.  The food was wonderful, and the kids loved meeting the characters as they walked around to greet tables.  After that, we made our way back to our car, and we were exhausted…  I think we called it a night – I’m not really sure; it’s taken me so long to finish this trip diary that my memory has faded.  All I know is it was a really great day, and a super way to end a wonderful vacation – SO WISH we could go back this year!

Saturday, January 22, 2011 – On this day I know we began to make our way back to Ohio, but I don’t remember the details.  I think we had told the kids we were going to do some souvenir shopping, but we ran out of time and just wanted to hit the road.  Then we had an idea – there are Cracker Barrel restaurants lined up along the expressway all the way home, so we found one on the GPS and got there just before it closed.  Cracker Barrels have little stores in them, and the one we stopped at (in Georgia) had a great sale going on.  The kids were able to shop and had fun getting some great deals – it was a nice way to add a little more fun to our trip.  We arrived home very early Sunday morning, if I’m not mistaken, and probably slept all day and unpacked.  SUPER trip that made awesome memories – can’t wait to do it again someday, I hope!!

Disney World Fairy Tales (Not Quite)

Posted in Travel on August 18th, 2010 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I came across a really fun article awhile ago called:  Confessions Of A Disney Cast Member.  The article was written by a guy who spent 5 summers working at the Walt Disney World resort as a Disney cast member.  If you’re like me and a frequent visitor to  the Magic Kingdom, then you will appreciate the following not-so-tall-tales.  Even if you’ve never been to WDW, the following stories are fun to read.  Among the entertaining stories he has to share:

Excuse me man, are you pregnant?
What’s more terrifying than the 38-foot drop on Disney’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad? Having to ask women in line if they’re pregnant. It’s for their own safety, but forget a woman scorned—hell hath no fury like a woman who’s been mistaken for being pregnant. Once, when I was in training, I watched a coworker approach a larger female park visitor and ask, “Excuse me, ma’am, but are you pregnant?” “Pregnant!?!” the woman screamed, her voice turning heads at the happiest place on earth. “No! What are you saying? Do I look fat to you?!” She turned to her friend and screamed some more: “They think I look fat. Let’s get out of here!”  I was so traumatized by that incident I crafted a plan to avoid offending anyone. Whenever I spotted a “suspect,” I asked everybody in the vicinity—including teenage boys and women in their 70s—if they were with child. If the woman I suspected was actually pregnant, she left the ride quickly. If she wasn’t, she just thought I was working a gag.

I sure am Randy today.
Disney made the “first name” name tag famous, but the tag doesn’t always match the person wearing it. One day, as I was steering the raft to Tom Sawyer Island, my name tag dropped into the river, forcing me to get a new one. There wasn’t a single “Robert” left, so until a replacement could be made, I pretended to be “Randy,” a name that amused visitors from the U.K. to no end. Elderly English ladies lined up to have their picture taken with me. One screamed when she saw me, grabbed her friend, and yelled, “Is that really your name?” Being a good Disney cast member, I lied and said yes. The friend said, “You know, we love a good randy man back home.” But lady, even I’m not that good a cast member.

To get onstage, dress the part.
A few attractions choose audience volunteers to be part of the show, but the selection process is far from random. Typically, you need to be a certain gender, size, and age for each of the different roles. You might even need to be wearing a specific item of clothing. On my off days from work, I used to go over to Universal Studios, and I would get picked all the time to play “Mother” in the old Alfred Hitchcock show. They needed a guy my height and weight who happened to be wearing the same type of plain white tennis shoes I always wore. Also helpful for getting picked: cuteness and enthusiasm. Curious kids who ask nicely and look excited often get extra attention, along with thrilling perks like riding up front and introducing shows.

Stroller relocation program
Disney’s a family place, but the people who work there come to loathe strollers. It’s part of a cast member’s job to keep strollers in nice, orderly lines and to make sure they’re only left in designated areas. But park visitors keep their strollers in an appalling condition, loaded up with dirty diapers, rotting bottles of milk, and half-eaten PB&J sandwiches. Others see no problem with parking their strollers right in front of an attraction’s exit or entrance. Sometimes thoughtless individuals like this incur the wrath of the stroller police, and their precious Bugaboos and Maclarens are intentionally relocated to a place “far, far away”—at the very back of the area cordoned off for strollers.

Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of (confiscated) rum
On special Grad Nites, when Disney hosts loads of freshly graduated high school kids, the park puts extra staffers inside Pirates of the Caribbean and other rides as lookouts to monitor less-than-legal activities. Our focus was mostly on what the kids were consuming. Booze, cigarettes—you name it, and a Disney cast member has confiscated it from a 17-year-old at one time or another. One clever kid, forced to hand over his bottle, noted the irony of getting busted in the middle of a ride that celebrates a drunken pirate orgy. “Hey, don’t the pirates have enough?” he asked. “They need mine, too?”

Please keep your happiness to yourself.
This attraction has been camera monitored for your safety. That’s the spiel Disney broadcasts over its loudspeakers for many rides. But the cameras are also meant to protect you from yourself. One night, while most parkgoers were watching the fireworks display, a couple strolled over to Pirates of the Caribbean, where I was working. They not only had a boat to themselves, but empty boats all around them. The real fireworks display, it turned out, was visible on the security cameras to all of us working that night. Let’s just say the show the couple put on wasn’t exactly G-rated.

If you enjoyed the above stories, you might want to read the article in its entirety here, along with other theme park insider info.

Zoo Snoozin’ – Part 2 – And Then Some

Posted in Everyday Life on May 6th, 2010 and tagged , , , , , ,

Bright and early at 7am last Friday at the Toledo Zoo, we were gently awakened by one of our guides (or not-so-gently awakened at 5am by the screaming parrots if you were in the Michigan group sleeping in Nature’s Neighborhood) after hitting the pillows at 1am just hours earlier.  No problem, what better motivation could I have to get out of bed than already being IN the zoo?  We got dressed and packed up our gear and headed to the Carnivore Cafe for a generous breakfast of bagels, cereal, yogurt, applesauce, juice, and coffee (thank goodness for that, and I chugged two cups for fuel).  Oh yeah, if you’re not a regular reader and  happened upon this post unintentionally, then you probably don’t know that I’m talking about the Zoo Snooze my daughters and I went to last week –  see installment one here.

After breakfast, we headed over to the gorilla exhibit, but we got stopped halfway there because there was mis-communication – we were supposed to be at the primate exhibit instead.  So we did an about-face, and headed over to the primates to watch them play with our tubes we had made the night before.  THEN we headed over to the gorilla exhibit, and we had to take the long way since they were re-doing the sidewalk between the primate and gorilla exhibits.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Toledo Zoo, there is A LOT of walking.  Not as much walking between exhibits as other zoos, such as Brookfield Zoo near Chicago, but still a lot of walking.  As frequent visitors to the Toledo Zoo, we’ve found ways of cutting down the mileage, especially when pushing the double stroller.  But on the second day of the Zoo Snooze, we were all over the place.  And I loved it.  It was a nice day.  My kids were tired, but I was rarin’ to go, so I didn’t even mind any of the detours.  So  we watched the gorillas play and tussle over their enrichment treats, and we listened to the gorilla keeper tell us about their personalities.  The gorilla troupe of Toledo holds a special place in my heart – their silverback (male gorilla leader) Kwisha, was born at Brookfield Zoo in 1988 – right about the time when I was a frequent visitor there as a child.  I remember ogling the gorillas and especially the babies in the (then) new Tropic World exhibit, and it’s quite probable that I admired Kwisha (who is the youngest and last son of Samson, a famous Brookfield silverback) way back when he was a gorilla tot.

After the gorillas, we had to walk across the zoo to the elephant exhibit (the long way, remember, because of the construction) to watch Louie play with  our enrichment treats.  Louie is the zoo’s baby elephant – well, not so much anymore…  he was celebrating his 7th birthday last week when we were there.  I have a video of Louie popping our treat bags into his mouth – whole thing, bag and all without even opening it – but I put that in my previous post, so refer to the link above if you’d like to see it.  And then it was time for the Zoo Snooze to end, and the gates to open and let the real visitors come into  the zoo.

So we hiked back to the car, and we got many a strange look from regular zoo-goers who were wondering why we were carrying sleeping bags and backpacks and pillows.  We stashed our stuff and spent some time in the gift shop, which is not normally something I do on zoo trips, but it was a nice change of pace.  Besides, I was missing my little ones so much, and I had that zoo membership card burning a hole in my pocket – I just had to buy them something.  At this point, it was starting to get rather warm outside, and my kids were exhausted.  The rest of the group was going quite well, but my kids kept asking if we had to go back into the zoo.  Keep in mind that we come often, so they were old hats at the zoo who were extremely tired.  I patiently explained that we were going to do whatever the people who we were riding with were going to do, and that was that.  As it was though, everyone was exhausted and the people we rode with seemed to be asking us for permission to not go back into the zoo.  FINE with us!  I explained – not because I had had enough of the zoo – that would never happen, no matter how little sleep I’d had…  but I wanted to  be on their schedule, plus I had the potential for two very tired and crabby kids on my hands AND a trip to Illinois scheduled for the next day.  We ended up staying on the side of the zoo where our car was parked (Toledo Zoo straddles the Anthony Wayne Trail – a major thoroughfare, and the zoo has a walkway above it.  But it requires a lot of walking to get from side to side, and most of the exhibits are located on the opposite side of the parking lot), so stayed on the one side and still got to see the Polar Bears, Wolves (who were passed out because of the heat), giraffes, and zebras.  And then it was time to go.

During the entire Zoo Snooze, I had planned on  napping the whole way home, but I found myself having an intriguing conversation with our drivers instead.  We arrived home about 5pm, and I unpacked and then I re-packed for the trip to Illinois the next day and made up some lost time with my little ones.  By the end of the night, I was seeing things and not making much sense because I was so tired, but it was well worth it!

We awoke bright and early Saturday morning and left at 8am headed for Chicago, and wouldn’t you know it – a traffic snarl.  It was too early for the kids to nap, and they were awesome in the car – at least until  we hit stop and go traffic just outside the Loop.  An hour and 4 miles later (yes, you read that right – it took us an hour to go four miles!), we discovered the reason for our delay –  a bridge had begun to crumble, so  they had to close down 2 lanes to repair it, which left all the traffic to merge into ONE lane.  Ah, Chicago traffic, don’t you love it?  NOT!!!

The kids were pretty great during all of this, as was I for running on fumes – I think I was still high off my Zoo Snooze.  They did start to lose it a little, but luckily I had some powdered donuts packed, so between those and the Veggie Tales dvds I put into the car’s player, we managed to not kill each other.  We arrived at my mother-in-law’s house 55 minutes late, even after Jill the GPS had predicted us getting there an hour early all morning.  This would have been fine, except that my mother-in-law had previous plans, so we got to see her for a whopping 15-minute-hi-goodbye-here’s-this-here’s-that-I-love-you-hug-kiss-goodbye session while my husband’s sister and brother-in-law managed to avoid us completely…  long story, there’s bad blood there, but I thought we were over it by now.  Guess not.  Whatever.  We moved on to a local Chicago beef place (NOTE to non-Chicagoans – just because you call it Chicago Beef, a French Dip IS NOT CHICAGO BEEF no matter how hard you try!!)  where we shared great food and even better conversation with a friend from way back, Derek – SO glad he called us and that the traffic jam didn’t ruin this part of our trip!

Our next stop was my Grandpa’s nursing home, and that was awesome.  It’s pretty much on the way from my husband’s family’s house to my family’s house, and I wouldn’t dream of going to Illinois without seeing him, especially since my grandparents do not travel and have never been to our home in Ohio.  Going to Hellinois Illinois is the only way I can see them and so every time I’m in the area, I make sure to stop by and let our kids have a  visit with their great-grandparents.  My little boy, who will be 2 in July, had a special buddy in my grandmother; it was really sweet, and I don’t even know why.  But we were there for over an hour, and the whole time, he kept saying “Grandma!  Grandma!”  making sure that she was doing everything right along side him.  My grandpa made me a bet – will the Chicago Cubs (my team – he is a St. Louis Cardinals fan) or the Chicago Bears (a football team, also a favorite of his and my husband’s, for that matter) win their respective championship first –  World Series or Superbowl?  Stay tuned to find out…  😉

Next it was on to my sister’s house, where there was a birthday party for my nephews who both have April birthdays -they turned 2 and 7 this year.  It was a great party; a wonderful chance to see family; immediate and also my sister’s in-laws who are very nice and interesting people to chat with.  My sister’s nephew is my oldest daughter’s age (10), and he has been interested in the weather since he was about 3 years old.  His hero is Tom Skilling, a local Chicago WGN weatherman, one whom I’ve always liked also.  Tom always teaches about the weather and its systems and patterns rather than just simply forecasting it.  But anyway, my sister’s nephew has his own weekly weather newsletter that  he writes and send electronically himself, so I put myself on his mailing list.  When I got the newsletter this week, I was impressed – just as I was when talking to the little guy and being dwarfed by his weather knowledge.  As is usual, my kids had such a wonderful time with their cousins that they hid when it was time to leave, and we had to dig them out, this time out from under my sister’s bed.  I’m done with being embarrassed about this; especially since my sister dug up some memories of us hiding from our parents while playing with our cousins!  I don’t remember this, but I’ll take her word for it…

Anyway, time got away from us, and we left my sister’s house at 9pm –  which was 10pm Ohio time.  Arrived home at 2:30 in the morning and had two crazy dogs and some kids to  put to bed, and we begrudgingly gave up our church dreams for Sunday.  But lo and behold,  we were all up and ready for church on Sunday, so we went, and almost one busy week later, I’m still catching up on sleep as I write this, no surprise there.  But thanks for reading my rambling, and may this Mother’s Day find you blessed, happy, and healthy – hope you have a good one!!

I’m Still Alive!

Posted in holidays, Travel on July 5th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , ,

Don’t count me out!  I know I haven’t been blogging as much as I used to; it’s because I’ve been all over the place this summer!  I am just swamped, but in a great way!  The girls were with their Grandma for the past week, so I used the opportunity to finish up some old blog drafts and post them.  I haven’t really had the chance to sit down and write up my many recent adventures, so hopefully time will allow for that in the next few weeks – it’s been totally awesome, and I can’t wait to share everything with you!  But until I have time for more blogging, please bear with me and check back often for updates!  I hope everyone had an awesome 4th of July weekend – happy birthday America!  THANKS FOR READING!

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:

ny-trip-march-20-23-2009-102

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 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:

ny-trip-march-20-23-2009-005

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!

This Town’s Got Talent AND Faith

Posted in Everyday Life on January 19th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I already wrote about our 3D movie-going experience in my previous post, so I will skip that part of the weekend here, but I neglected to mention the cool restaurant we found because I didn’t want to enlarge an already lengthy post…

Friday night after seeing My Bloody Valentine 3D in Maumee Ohio, a suburb of Toledo, we noticed a restaurant across the street called Nick’s Cafe who advertises breakfast all day.  My husband and I are both Eggs Benedict connoisseurs – we really appreciate a great-tasting serving of Eggs Benedict, which is a breakfast dish consisting of English Muffin halves topped with Canadian bacon, poached eggs, and a layer of Hollandaise sauce.  In our pre-parenthood days, we explored the country and sampled various versions of the dish along the way to our traveler’s goals; whether they were destinations of business or pleasure.  A requirement of great Eggs Benedict is homemade Hollandaise sauce, and by ‘homemade’, we (unlike many of the restaurants we tried) don’t mean mixed up in the kitchen from a package.  You need a double boiler to make it, and good Hollandaise sauce has nothing to do with a powder or a package.  In all of our travels, we never found anything that even compares to the Hollandaise sauce at Uptown Cafe in downtown Arlington Heights, Illinois.  We’ve visited numerous restaurants in our quest, and we’ve called some of them ahead of time, but even if you ask if their Hollandaise sauce is homemade, many will say yes, even if we don’t agree on the definition of homemade.  Such was the case Friday night at Nick’s Cafe in Maumee, Ohio.  They said their hollandaise sauce was homemade on the phone, but oddly, when we arrived, they wouldn’t let us taste a sample.  That was a first!  Of the dozens of restaurants we’ve visited in search of the perfect Eggs Benedict, no restaurant had ever denied us a sample!  On Friday night, my husband bravely ordered the Eggs Benedict at Nick’s Cafe without trying the Hollandaise sauce ahead of time, and disappointingly, it was of the non-homemade, out-of-the-package variety.  He did say that the Canadian bacon on the Eggs Benedict was great, but it unfortunately cannot rescue the dish if it uses packaged Hollandaise.  So negative Eggs Benedict experience aside, the reason I would highly recommend this place is for their Mediterranean cuisine.  And regular readers of my blog (and of those email forward all-about-you quizzes) know that this is my favorite type of food, therefore I am a huge critic.  But Nick’s Place in Maumee has excellent gyros, Tzatziki sauce, and Greek salads.  Gyros are only good when they’re off the spit and even then, it’s easy for them to taste too salty.  Not the case at Nick’s Place; if you like Mediterranean food, I highly recommend their gyros and Greek salads – incredible.

But I must move on to Saturday afternoon, when we took our kids to see the movie, Hotel for Dogs.  I’ve been waiting for this movie for months, which is probably why we didn’t want to cancel our planned outing there on Saturday even though Kid #1 went off her rocker.  Seriously, the kid went berserk and I was really tempted to give her “the talk”, especially after I noticed a pimple on her cheek… (well, one of ‘the talks’ anyway – the one about womanly bodily changes – she’s 9 years old and I would rather we talk about puberty stuff before it happens to her).  But anyway, she’d probably be mortified if she knew I was posting this on the internet (what are mothers for?), so I better get off this tangent…  After the episode Saturday morning, our oldest really didn’t deserve to go to the movie, but it’s difficult in a large family to not ‘let the bad apple spoil the bunch’.  Our younger girls had been very good all morning, so why keep them (or me!) from going to the movie?  Our oldest was punished for the tantrum by having to go without a Kid’s Pack (popcorn, pop, and candy) at the movies, and to her credit, she was mature about the consequences of her actions.  However, soon after our arrival at the movie theater, the tide changed and our 2-year-old became the problem.  I don’t know why we keep trying to take a 2-year-old to the movie theater, but every time, it’s regrettable.  Actually, it’s been this way since even months before she turned two…  I guess we keep hoping that one of these times, she’ll actually settle down enough to enjoy an entire movie without driving anyone crazy.  So anyway, I’m trying to keep our 6-month-old busy and quiet while attempting to watch Hotel For Dogs and not disturb our neighbors, and my husband is busy with our handful of a 4-year-old, so next thing we know, our two-year-old is drinking my Mountain Dew.  Of course she loves it, but even before the Mountain Dew she’s had a sugar-infused Kid’s Pack, and now she’s practically bouncing off the walls.  She smiles and announces in a loud voice, “I take clothes off!“, so now I’m trying to put my son back in his car seat so I can stop his sister from stripping off her clothes right there in the movie theater…  Too late.  She is down to her diaper by the time I get both hands free, so my husband covers her with a coat.  For some reason, she’s willing to wear nothing but a coat and a diaper in the movie theater, and somehow we make it through the rest of the movie without having to leave.  So as for Hotel For Dogs, I liked it (I think – I actually didn’t see much of it)…  it’s a cute, predictable fun movie, and if you’re a dog lover, there’s plenty of canine eye candy.

Following the movie, I went to a local talent show based upon the popular “American Idol” TV show.  Some great friends graciously stayed with the kids, and my husband also stayed home to catch up on the work he missed last week during the 2-hour-school delay and the school closing we have on Friday and Monday.  He works from home, and it’s all I can do to keep the two little ones out of his hair every day – add the older two to the mix and all Hell breaks loose – any chance of getting anything productive done flies out the window.  So, a strange occurrence at the talent show – me, myself, and I for a change.  I did attend with friends, but it’s not like I would bother Carol next to me with my philosophies on music or the tone of one’s voice; that would be something to make my husband endure.  And it was bizarre to simply sit back and listen and watch the show…  For those hours, I had absolutely not one thing else to do besides enjoy the show…  such a change of pace for me and much appreciated.  Not that I would want to experience that all the time, but it was very nice for one night…

Adding to the relaxation for me was the spiritual tone of the evening.  I had known the event would be sponsered by a local church, but I didn’t realize that we, the audience,  would be praying to both open and to close the show; as well as the fact that the majority of the acts were religion-themed.  As I said, for me, it was refreshing and relaxing, but I think they should properly advertise such a theme if they do this again next year.  Less open-minded people may have been displeased.  My dear friend and the entire reason I was a part of this concert experience in the first place, performed wonderfully and I was pleasantly surprised to be able to pick out her voice from the rest of the delightful group with whom she performed.  Despite my best efforts to vote for them, however, they didn’t win the competition, and the top prizes went to a drama group from the church who sponsered the event (!), a very talented violinist, and a well-known local talent who is only a Junior in high school but who has already been a vocalist with the Toledo Opera going on her 3rd year.  Besides seeing and hearing my friend perform, my favorite part of the evening was when a boy who was part of the drama group that won burst into tears.  Their skit was acted out to music, and it portrayed a young girl being bullyed by ‘temptations’ but ultimately triumphing over sins and choosing Jesus.  The group got a standing ovation after they performed and because they were from the church that sponsored the event, it was no surprise when they won first prize in the competition, but the kid asked the crowd, “I just want to know that everyone was moved – was everyone moved?”  There was applause and verbal affirmations, and the next thing I knew, the kid had burst into tears and it slightly reminded me of  the movie Leap of Faith…  But it was sweet and real, and I was glad to be a part of it.  Even though the talent show did a poor job of advertising the theme of the show; thereby the religion kind of snuck up on its patrons, it was a welcome and calming change of pace – at least for this member of the audience.  And even though I wasn’t aware that I needed it, the evening restored my faith while proving to me yet again what a great place it is in Northwest Ohio to raise kids – we have so much talent and so many opportunites here for our youth!

Windy City White House

Posted in Travel on November 13th, 2008 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“Windy City White House” is more of a reference to our visit to the Windy City rather than a blog post about the recent election – it’s over and done with, and although I won’t talk much about the outcome, I am happy to not have to hear about it on the news anymore.  While in Illinois, my mother-in-law kept talking about what huge news it is that Obama was elected and how his pick for Chief-of-Staff, Rahm Emanuel is a fellow Chicagoan – making it a ‘Windy City White House’.

But back to our family – it’s my blog, after all.  We scheduled an early Christmas with our family in Illinois this past weekend (the early Christmas theme is something that seems popular with tangents.org bloggers), and overall, it was great.  There are a few reasons we decided to do things this way – 1) We’re sick of the hustle and bustle of opening our presents from Santa and then rushing off to Illinois on Christmas Day  – add to that having the flu during this trip twice and UGH.  Best to travel before flu season.  2) My daughter was off school Friday for parent/teacher conferences 3) We wanted to beat the rush and other travelers.  Overall, it was a really great decision, although the trip was last minute, and so we did forget a few of the presents which we’ll now have to send.  We left Ohio on Friday morning and after a bit of traffic-sitting (of course), we got to my grandparents house about 40 minutes past schedule.  But no matter, they’re fully aware of the traffic problems plaguing their area.  We were treated to a delicious lunch of my grandma’s sloppy joes (love ’em), and the girls got to open presents.  My grandpa gets tired really quickly, and so we didn’t stay too long there, and then it was on to our hotel.  My husband uses hotwire.com and got us a suite at the Sheraton for $49 – a nice price for the area.  When we pulled up to our hotel, we were pleased to see it was the same hotel where we spent our wedding night – that was a nice surprise.  My mom and my sister brought her two boys over for some swimming, and we all had a blast even though their indoor pool was chilly.  Luckily, I had thought to turn up our room’s thermostat so when we got back to the room we didn’t freeze, although it was quite crowded trying to get 10 hungry people changed out of bathing suits and trying to order pizza at the same time.  It was a suite, but it was probably the smallest suite I have ever seen, and we had 6 little kids and 4 adults in there.  My mother and sister wisely decided that they couldn’t wait for the time it would take to get pizza, and they got something to eat on the way home.  That was a good idea because my mom had to get up early the next day and didn’t want to be out too late.  They know their area well enough to realize that pizza delivery on a Friday night would take over an hour – and they were right.  My poor kids were starving and I had to raid my diaper bag.  I found a little bag of oyster crackers and two small bags of peanuts, so I divied everything up 3 ways (Survivor-style) and it quieted them a little until the pizza came.  Overall, the kids were kind of spastic all day, especially my oldest for some reason…  My husband blames the tension of the Chicagoland area, but then again, he hates it as much as I do.  We love seeing family, just wish we could visit them somewhere else!

Saturday morning we were up bright and early to meet my mother-in-law for breakfast at Uptown Cafe in Arlington Heights – the place has the best eggs benedict in the nation.  And I know this because way back when, before we had all these kids, my husband and I used to travel constantly, and one of the things we would look for was good hollandaise sauce.  We never found any that came close to Uptown Cafe’s.  And the owners remember us – we used to go there a lot when we lived in the area; I was pregnant with my first daughter.  They are surprised every time they see us because we usually have a new baby or two.  After breakfast, we went back to my mother-in-law’s house, and I felt badly for dropping in on my husband’s sister and her family without any notice.  This is one of the details that was overlooked in the last minute planning.  But it was ok; I didn’t have my gifts for their 3 kids, so I’ll have to send them.  But our kids had lots of fun playing together, and it’s important to me that my kids know their extended family, especially since a lot of hatchets have been buried over the years on this side of the family.

Next, it was time to see our good friend, the author of the sublife blog on tangents.org.  It was great to see him, especially on his own turf, but he’s right in his blog – there really wasn’t much time for chatting.  The kids wouldn’t have allowed us to just sit and talk peacefully, and we wanted to take them somewhere fun, so we went to an overflowing Chuck E. Cheese.  After waiting in line to park, I realized that I hadn’t seen our camera since I took a picture of the kids on the luggage rack at the hotel that morning.  Sound familiar?  Yes, I have terrible luck with digital cameras.  And worse, this one was not mine – I had borrowed it from Jamiahsh for the trip, so I was sick about losing it.  Luckily for me, it turned up when we got home though – YAY!  I was especially upset because I knew that I had put it in my diaper bag – I really thought someone had taken it.  Pessimistic of me, you’d think, except that we did have our tokens stolen from our table at Chuck E. Cheese with my husband less than 5 feet away.  Takes all kinds to steal game tokens from little kids, doesn’t it….  at least they didn’t also steal my digital camera.  We got lunch at a Vienna Beef hot dog place in Arlington Heights called Jimmy’s – highly recommended you get real Chicago-style beef sandwiches and ‘dogs if you’re in the area – YUM!

The ride home was uneventful – the kids slept most of the way, thank goodness.  We did manage to stop and get me my crave case of White Castles, and so our car reeked of steamed onions – thank goodness we weren’t pulled over or we may have gotten a ticket for disturbing the peace.  Maybe I wouldn’t have stopped if I’d known what White Castles would do to a 2-year-old’s diaper.  I tried to deliver some to my friend Carol who graciously pet sits for us, but for some reason, she neglected to pick them up.  My husband says that not everyone likes White Castles.  We picked up the slyders (as White Castles are known) in Dolton, Illinois; not the best area, but it just off the expressway so we made it unscathed.  Ironically, something made me talk about Dolton just before the stop; I was telling my husband how it’s gotten to be a really bad area and that I knew a family that had left there in the ’80’s because it was getting so bad, so imagine it now.  Then we saw a sign that said “Dolton Bowl” right across the street from the White Castle, and we laughed at the irony.  But overall, a nice trip, especially considering the area where we had to take it.  One positive thing I will say about the area is that they have excellent food.

Three quarters of my kids on the luggage cart: 

Vacation Diary – Chapter Four

Posted in Travel on November 3rd, 2008 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, October 22 – Breakfast at Golden Corral – best omlette I’ve had in a long time.  Then it was off to the Magic Kingdom where our group got separated.  It was ironic because they make an announcement on the monorail on the way over to the Magic Kingdom about picking a meeting place in case your party gets separated, and during that announcement, I had a feeling we should probably do that.  We ended up finding everyone but not at the meeting place we had desigated.  The Monsters Inc. show is funny as always, and my husband was chosen again to participate, this time playing “Sully”.  We skipped Space Mountain this time around because the line was long and by the time we remembered to get fast passes, we were ready to leave Tomorrowland.  I also skipped one of my favorites, Peter Pan’s Flight, but it was well worth it to get my husband a wheelchair so he could get off his extremely painful infected toe.  Besides, the girls still got to ride it with our friend, Jamiahsh.  Splash Mountain was fun, although the recent updates the ride incurred saw the song on it changed from the extremely catchy “Zippidy Doo-Dah” to something else I don’t even remember.  That’s 0/2 for me liking the rides they’ve updated this trip, if you’re keeping track.

And this is the second Florida trip where both my husband and I saw a strange and unidentified creature.  We’re not crazy, but both times we both saw the same things.  This time, it was a black figure running across the road which was actually a bridge over another road.  When it got to the edge of the bridge, the black shape just kept going – which means it was airborne.  I didn’t see it “running” really; to me it was a black oval traveling across the road – I couldn’t make out any legs.  My husband, who has better eyesight than I, saw something running and then flying.  Either way, none of this describes any animal I’m familiar with, especially one who is native to the United States.  And since I’m on the subject, I will describe our first unidentified creature encounter.  It was a few years ago on our way down to Florida, somewhere in the wilderness of Georgia in the middle of the night.  I saw something sitting by the side of the road, and then it opened and flapped a LARGE pair of wings and flew a short distance upwards onto a low branch in a tree.  It’s wingspan was huge – a diameter of a full grown man at least, 6 feet or more.  This sighting was witnessed by my husband also, and we call it “Batman”.  I’ve looked up various birds and the largest I’ve found is a condor, but this creature seemed even larger and its body was bigger and shaped less like a bird’s body.  Mysteries as yet unsolved…

Well, anyway, talking about the strange creature on Wednesday night disoriented us, and after we got out of Disney World’s huge tangle of roads, we went to the Boston Lobster Feast where at least one kid stayed passed out.  Because we had 3 of the 4 kids asleep by the time we got back to the condo, Chris and I decided to take our night out that had been scheduled (and cancelled due to kid neediness) for the previous two nights.  We went over to the Fun Spot, a newer amusement park next to Old Town.  We went on an extreme ride – check this out:

 

It actually was much more mild than it looks – and no, that’s not us in the picture.  The ride was kind of lame, really…  Conversely, two of the 4 go-cart tracks at Fun Spot are wicked, simply put.  And I’m not exaggerating when I say that someone might be killed on those tracks.  Unfortunately, I had to witness a little girl speed out of control and hit the wall at a high rate of speed.  I think she was alright; she was conscious at least, but she was very scared, and it was terrifying to witness.  The one track starts by winding up a ramp, and then when you’re at the top, the track drops off so suddenly that I’m sure a cart could get some air if one was on a suicide mission and wanted to try it.  So your cart picks up speed down this steep hill, and before the track even levels out, there’s a hairpin turn – looks like you’re driving in a bowl – followed by another downward slope.  I can’t believe they let kids drive the course, and I shudder to think what careless, invincible (so they think) teenage boys would do with a go-cart on that track – especially a whole pack of them driving it together.  But for us adults, it was lots of fun, although I prefer something much more mild in a go-cart – the things have no padding!  Another course they had there was very small but it had a lot of sharp turns, and it reminded me of a live version of Mario Kart – without the fake gift boxes and shell weapons, of course 😉

Here is a picture of crazy go-cart course – it doesn’t even show the “32 degree banked bowl”, just the “shear drop”:

 

Vacation Diary – Chapter One

Posted in Travel on October 28th, 2008 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Because Disney World and the Orlando area in Florida are our favorite places to vacation, we make it a point to go as often as we possibly can.  The last few trips we’ve made, I’ve been careful to keep a trip diary – a notebook log of things we do as well as hints that might help us make the next journey.  Each trip to FL sees me taking a notebook for our trip diary, and I write about various things in it, depending how much downtime I have to write while the kids are sleeping.  Here is an excerpt from the diary for this trip:

FRIDAY OCT 17, 2008 – Left town about 5:30pm.  Unfortunately, our local Burger King we decided to get for dinner took about 30 minutes!  Kids were rambunctious, so we stopped at a McDonald’s Playland in downstate Ohio, wondering how we were ever going to make it the remaining 1,000 miles and back again (at least I was!).  The good news is, the Playland seemed to tire out the kids and they fell asleep.  They woke around midnight, but a trip into the gas station seemed to comfort Disney (almost 2 year old) and the kids slept until about 8 am Sat morning.
SAT OCT 18, 2008 – We stopped at another McD’s Playland to blow off some steam, but it was raining, so their outdoor playplace was closed.  The kids handled it well.  This was north of coastal Brunswick, GA, so we made pretty good time the night before – thanks to sleepless driver Chris!  Since the weather was nice, when we saw a sign around Jacksonville, FL that the beach was only 4 miles away, we decided to stop.  We had a great time, and the kids had lots of fun wading in the ocean and collecting seashells.  After that, it was on to Orlando, and we stopped and picked up the key for our condo rental when we got there.  We then made it to the condo – which was over 10 miles away, much to our surprise – where our faithful driver promptly crashed leaving me to facilitate the activities of 4 well-rested kids.  But no problem, I was glad to do it.  After all, I had been afforded a nice nap in the car on the way down, a luxury my husband didn’t get.  Of course, I’m a person who does best with 8-10 hours of sleep, not that I ever get close to that, but still…  So I’m doing my best to summon all the patience I have so I can watch the kids who would not let me nap, and I ended up taking the younger two to Walgreens with me to get some supplies.  The place we stayed in was very nice, but it didn’t come with anything – no soap, shampoo, paper towels, beverages…  for a family of 6 staying for a week, these were necessities I would need at the local Walgreens.  I killed some time there, got lost on the way back, and by the time I had unloaded kids and groceries, my husband was rested and ready for some fun.  We went to Golden Corral for dinner…  delicious.  Reminder for those of you who live in urban areas – we’re not used to a variety when it comes to eating out.  So, when we eat out, even at major chain restaurants, we appreciate them in a way we never did when they were available constantly. 

SUN OCT 19 – slept in, had lunch at Golden Corral.  Read my post about the previous night’s activities if you don’t understand why we had two meals in a row with Golden Corral.  I would say the lunch is even better then the dinner.  So then we went to Old Town, which is a row of shops fashioned like an old fashioned Main Street – there’s even a general store where they sell little glass bottles of Pepsi for 50¢.  When we first started going to Old Town 10 years ago, those little bottles were a quarter, but I’m not complaining – there’s something about the glass bottle that makes that Pepsi taste extra good.  Maybe it’s the thirst quenching reflief it provides after walking around in the Florida heat, or maybe it’s the always much needed caffeine boost – whatever the reason, that little bottle always hits the spot.  The Main St. part of Old Town is about 4-5 blocks long, and at each end, there are carnival rides.  The roller coaster is jerky but fun, and I went on the swinging boat ride which was scarier than it looked!  My fearless daughter, who always wants to try the big rides but isn’t tall enough yet, was shaken enough on the swinging boat ride that she cried.  We sat on the end, which I knew would be more thrilling than the middle, but I didn’t realize how much more mild the middle would be until I rode there with our friend Jamiahsh.  We had lots of fun at Old Town and kinda lost track of time.  We wouldn’t have been late for the dinner show Arabian Nights if we hadn’t left the tickets back at the condo…  oops.  We had to walk around in the dark and missed the first few minutes of the show.  At least they let my husband in, who let us out at the door and had to park the car.  The worker in the parking lot told him to give all the tickets to me, but when my husband tried to get in, they gave him a hard time without a ticket!  Thank goodness he was able to get in and also find us in the dark.  Arabian Nights is a great show.  Think Medieval Times (if you’ve been there) without the chivalrous games.  Well, there is a chariot race, but there are more acrobatics and horse dancing – the horses are gorgeous.  My husband calls it Medieval Times for girls, and all us girls in the family love it.  My husband was able to get a good deal on tickets online, so the show cost less than a regular dinner!  And their food is really good.  It’s served with all-you-can-drink pop, which backfired a little bit because in the dark with the show going on, it was difficult to notice that our 2-year-old Disney was drinking A LOT of pop.  So next thing I know, she’s walking around, and she starts going up the stairs and tells me she’ll be right back.  I said, no, Disney let’s stay in our seats, and then she YELLED at me – “I’LL BE RIGHT BACK!”.  It wasn’t a really angry outburst, but if you know sweet little Disney, it was so out of character for her that it was hilarious.  She was all hepped up on sugar and pop.  So there’s our first 2 days in Florida.  We started Monday off with a time share presentation – ugh – so I’ll take that as my cue to stop posting for now.  This post is long enough, wouldn’t you say?