A Not-So-Cynical Look At The 2009 Holiday Season

Posted in holidays on December 29th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I was thinking about our family’s 2009 holiday season, now come and almost gone already, and I was envisioning words to describe this wonderful season, despite the fact that this year ours was peppered with unpleasant familial dramatics.  But about a week ago, I made what was a conscious decision to pull myself up from the depths of despair I had fallen into after losing a beloved family member just one week before Christmas.  So, in my good humor, I chose 24 of the best words to describe my holiday season, each beginning with a different letter of the alphabet.  Here goes…

Avatar – Saw it and actually liked it, despite my typical sci-fi reluctance.  But I liked Avatar so much that I’m really hoping the timing and budget work out so that I can see it again in 3D at a more technologically savvy theater.

Big Family Christmas – We traveled to Illinois on Christmas Day and got to take part in a huge gathering of my husband’s large extended family.  His 92-year-old grandmother, who speaks with a thick east-coast Connecticut accent (and who smoked 3 packs of cigarettes a day from age 16 until age 70!) told many of her infamous stories that had everyone in stitches!  After hearing one of Monie’s stories, I could have used the words Blue Boob for B, but I will spare you those details…  😉

Christ Was Born – We went to a beautiful church service on Christmas Eve to celebrate and reflect upon the entire purpose of the Christmas holiday.

De…  There are two words that come to mind for this letter based upon certain recent events in my life, but I’m not going to go there; this is to be “A Not-So-Cynical Look…” blog post.  So here, D will stand for Dumbledore, since I’m almost halfway through my first Harry Potter book and lovin’ it!

Elf – My favorite holiday movie, and we actually had time to watch it this year!  It, unlike a few other favorite Christmas experiences, did not lose any magic this year.  I still felt that warm and fuzzy “Christmas Magic” feeling after I watched this movie – I’d pull it out more often, but it’s not the same unless it’s Christmas! 
“I love smiling; smiling’s my favorite!!”  – Buddy The Elf

Friends – We are so blessed to have such wonderful friends, and I can’t thank them enough for the things they did and just for being there during this bittersweet time.

Grandparents –  We were able to visit 3 of our grandparents this holiday season!  Even being in our 30’s, we have 3 surviving grandparents among my husband and I –  we were blessed to be able to spend time with all of them this year!

Homemade spaghetti – Best.  Christmas.  Gift.  EVER!!  My mother-in-law sent us home 4 huge frozen batches of her out-of-this-world spaghetti sauce!  AND a large bag of grated Asiago cheese.  AND…  something I’ll save for another letter…

Ice – Drove through plenty of it to reach IL and get back to Ohio on Christmas day.  Luckily, traffic was light and travel for us was smooth and safe.  The kids were good as gold and slept for the majority of both drives.

Jill – Screwed us over again!  This little story begins with Walmart.  Since this is “A Not-So-Cynical Look…”, I won’t go off about Walmart, but I will simply state the facts:  the pump in our windshield wiper cleaner fluid dispenser stopped working after the last time we got an oil change at Walmart.  We didn’t really need it until Christmas night, when we were driving past the city of Chicago, and apparently smog + snow = some sort of disgusting pollution paste.  So visibility is limited, and we still don’t know exactly what happened since we’ve driven this route dozens of times, but basically the express lanes on I-90 seemed to suddenly dissolve into city streets.  So now it’s 10:30 on Christmas night, and we’re wandering around in the city.  We can’t see out the back of the car since there’s tons of Christmas presents, and we can’t see out of the front of the car because of the pollution paste.  This is where Jill comes in – and she directs us straight back to I-90.  Only problem is, our van can’t just jump guardrails; we needed an entrance ramp, and Jill was only directing us to streets that crossed over the expressway and didn’t actually intersect with it.  So we crossed bridge after bridge, and we criss-crossed I-90 until one of those streets had an entrance ramp.  Then Jill freaked out and tried to get us off of the expressway again, but she got her power button pressed – we knew our way from there.

Kalachkies – I have a fun memory of a Christmas years ago when my forgetful Polish grandmother was sitting in her wheelchair, instructing my equally Polish uncle and myself how to make kalachkies, a usually delicious Polish cookie.  The end results were inedible and referred to as “hockey pucks”.  This year at Christmas, my husband’s cousin made homemade kalachkies – real ones, no hockey pucks, and they were delicious!  Thanks Lilly!

Late night drive – One night, we took the kids out in the car in their pajamas with some snacks, and we drove through the snowy countryside to a town  about 30 minutes away for a drive-thru lighted display that’s just wonderful.  Late night drive could also refer to my husband’s and my peaceful drive home (after the unscheduled tour of the city) while the kids were asleep all the way from Illinois to Ohio – nice.

Mashed Potatoes – My mother-in-law is a great cook!  I guess it’s been  awhile since the last time I had her mashed potatoes, because I  didn’t remember how they tasted.  But I told her the truth after Christmas dinner – they were the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever had!

Noodles – My mother-in-law’s spaghetti sauce also came with EIGHT pounds of whole wheat gourmet organic pasta!  I love whole wheat pasta – it actually tastes better, and you don’t get the pasta-stomachache / horrible stuffed feeling that can accompany pasta over-indulgence.

Onions – One of my favorite holiday dishes is creamed onions, and it was a nice surprise to see this dish on the Christmas buffet.  Fortunately for me, my husband can replicate the taste of his mother’s creamed onions –  yum!

P.A.S. – Pompous Ass Syndrome – my poor brother-in-law is a victim.  Enough Said.

Quiet – With 4 kids and Christmas celebrations spread out over 2 weeks, there really wasn’t much of this.

Revenge – My brother and sister-in-law gifted our kids 3 little gumball machines.  Cute, but not when you realize how many gumballs needed to be pried out of our candy-obsessed toddler’s little hands, for one thing.  Who would give little kids gumball machine gifts?  Wait, isn’t that what we got her 3 kids last year?!?  I’m all for re-gifting; I really think it’s a smart thing to do.  But maybe next year I’ll choose our Christmas gifts more carefully…

Snow – It’s been snowing on and off for a week and a half here in Ohio.  The Chicago area was unexpectedly blanketed with about a foot of snow on Saturday – thank goodness we left for Ohio on Friday night!

Turkey – We ate it and it was good.

U-Turn – see “J” – Jill the GPS.  Besides the time we were lost in Chicago, Jill caused us to make at least one other U-turn on this trip.

Vile – Odor in Gary Indiana – I don’t care what the Music Man had to say – Gary Indiana STINKS!  Literally!!!

Weather  – I was worried about it all week, but thankfully, it didn’t impede our journey in the slightest.

X-changing gifts –  Ok, that’s too generic?  What else could X stand for, the rating of Monie’s Blue Boob story?  We x-changed gifts many gifts, and that’s all I’m going to say.

Yellow Puppy – When our friends heard about our family’s heartbreak, they gifted us a gigantic (stuffed) dog.  This cute puppy’s headband wouldn’t even fit on my head, and she wears a sweater that could probably fit me – or at least all 4 of my kids in it together…  so cute and so thoughtful, and the kids LOVE her!

Zoo lights – With everything that was going on during this December, I’m so thankful that we were able to make it to  one of our favorite Christmas destinations this year –   the Toledo Zoo for their Lights Before Christmas displays.  Beautiful lights in a peaceful atmosphere, and if you get there early enough, you can see some zoo animals, which is probably my favorite thing to do in the whole world!

Hope you had a Merry Christmas, and best wishes for a great New Year!!!

Zoo Traveler

Posted in animals, Travel on January 26th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I really like to travel (NO FLYING THOUGH!), and we were fortunate enough to do lots of it – before we had so many little kids, of course.  We still try to make a yearly trip to Florida, especially while we can still fit the entire family in one car – something that soon won’t be easily accomplished as the kids grow older.  At each travel destination, I have to admit that my favorite tourist attraction is always the local zoo.  I made a list of all the zoos and/or wildlife parks I have visited, and I hope to add to it soon!  Here is the list by state, country, or territory, followed by the city in which it’s located.  An asterisk following the zoo means it no longer exists.  I put notes about some of the places in italics as sort of a guide in case you’re interested in visiting one of those particular attractions and want some info straight from a tourist’s mouth.

California:
Sea World San Diego
San Diego Zoo

Canada:
Bird Kingdom Niagara Falls Aviary, Niagara Falls, Ontario
Marineland, Niagara Falls, Ontario – this place is very cool.  You can hand-feed deer, Beluga Whales or even Orcas (Killer Whales).  You can throw food down to bears who beg and do tricks.  There are also a variety of amusement park rides for the whole family.  Look at me petting the Orca!

niagara-falls-6-04-032

Washington, DC
National Zoo

Florida:
Wooten’s Wilflife Park, Florida Everglades – a cool, family owned place where you can see animals on display; including alligators, crocodiles, and Florida panthers.  You can also hold and feed baby alligators!  I wonder if they still exist; their website hasn’t been updated since ’06!
Sea World, Orlando
Gatorland, Orlando
Animal Kingdom, Orlando

Idaho:
Zoo Boise, Boise

Illinois:

Brookfield Zoo, Brookfield – this is the zoo I grew up going to.  In the 80’s when I was a frequent visitor, they had many ‘celebrity’ animals, with interesting stories to match.
Shedd Aquarium, Chicago
Peoria Wildlife Park, Peoria
Cosley Zoo, Wheaton
Glen Oak Zoo, Peoria
Henson Robinson Zoo, Springfield
Miller Park Zoo, Bloomington – yuck, not one of my favorite places.  Their tiger exhibits consisted of teeny tiny cages, and they had a really scrawny, terrible looking tiger, at least in the late ’90’s when we lived in the area.  Hopefully they’ve cleaned the place up.
Scovill Zoo, Decatur

Indiana:
Ft Wayne Children’s Zoo – a perfectly sized zoo to visit with kids.  They have a wide variety of animals and some nice exhibits.  They just recently built a chair-lift type ride that will take you over the lion exhibit once it’s finished – cool and scary at the same time!
Potawatomi Zoo,  South Bend
Fun Spot, Angola

Michigan:
Binder Park, Battle Creek

Minnesota:
Minneapolis Zoo, Minneapolis

Missouri:
St Louis Zoo, St. Louis

Nebraska:
Henry Doorly Zoo, Omaha – I know they’ve since rebuilt it, but when I visited back in 2001-2002, they had a teeny-tiny exhibit for the gorillas, which made them none too happy.  I actually witnessed a huge male gorilla charge a kid and beat on the glass from his small exhibit – scary!
Henry Doorly safari park, Omaha
Folsom Children’s Zoo, Lincoln – a very nice little zoo located in the heart of Lincoln.  It’s so well-laid out that you can forget you’re in the middle of a capital city, and they have lots of animals in a variety of nice exhibits.

Ohio:

African Safari Wildlife Park, Port Clinton – I love this place!  You can feed deer, elands, huge buffalo and a variety of hoofed mammals from the comfort of your own vehicle.  In season, they have pig races, animals shows, and camel and pony rides for the little ones.
Akron Zoo, Akron – I was really impressed with the layout, exhibits, and the happiness of the animals – a very impressive little zoo!
Cincinnati Zoo, Cincinnati
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Cleveland
Columbus Zoo, Columbus – a zoo no one had heard about until my favorite celebrity, Jack Hanna got ahold of it and made it a world-reknown facility.  Huge zoo, and the only place to see my favorite animals, manatees in my home state of Ohio!
*Sea World Ohio, Aurora – we actually lived in Illinois at the time we visited here, but I’m glad we got to see it before they sold it to Six Flags, who sold it to Cedar Fair.  Any of the other Sea Worlds are quite a hike from IL or OH for that matter, especially for a non-flyer such as myself.
Toledo Zoo, Toledo

Pennsylvania:
Pittsburgh Zoo – very impressive zoo!  Lots of kid-friendly playgrounds and interactive areas. The polar bear habitat looked really cool – people go through a tunnel that the bears can swim over – but we didn’t see it since the bears weren’t in the pool.  I NEED a second look at this zoo and will definitely allow more time when I get back there!
ZOOAMERICA North American Wildlife Park, Hershey – We did not care for this zoo at all.  We visited in the late ’90’s, so maybe they’ve added more to it by now.  But at that time, they only had animals indigenous to North America, and let’s face it, those are easy to spot in most areas of the U.S.  And let’s face it, the real star tourist destination in Hershey is the chocolate factory!

South Dakota:
Great Plains Zoo and Museum, Sioux Falls – I visited here with my family when I was 15.  This place was amusing to us because attached to the zoo is the museum, which has many taxidermied specimans.  We joked that this zoo had more dead animals than live ones!
*Marineland, Rapid City – note the asterisk, this place doesn’t exist anymore, thank goodness.  When we visited in the summer of ’93, they had dolphins and sea lions held in such tiny cages and pools, it was sickening.  I haven’t been able to find much info on this place, but I’m sure they were shut down because of poor treatment of their animals.  I can only hope the animals found a better home.
Bear Country USA, Rapid City – a cool drive-thru bear habitat experience – keep those windows rolled up!!!  And check out the baby bear nursery – so adorable!

Wisconsin:
Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison
*Serpent Safari, Wisconsin Dells

GRAND TOTAL AS OF 2009:

41 animal-themed places in 2 countries, 13 states, 1 district…  and counting!