VIP Squared

Posted in Travel on July 24th, 2010 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Every year, my husband and I are very lucky to get a week-long break from being busy parents of 4 kids when Grandma takes the kids to her house for a week.  For the past two years during this vacation, we traveled downstate to King’s Island, an amusement park near Cincinnati.  King’s Island offers a VIP Tour, which means that for 9 hours, you get your own personal park employee to lead you around the park and to the front of all the park rides of your choosing, even holding your stuff if you really want him to!  In case you’re interested, a VIP Tour at King’s Island also includes an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet, unlimited fountain drinks all day, a ride photo, an ice cream cone, a behind-the-scenes tour of The Beast, and $25 in park souvenir money – which can be spent on carnival style games, buying more food (if you need it after the buffet!), or in the park’s gift shops.  While it may seem expensive up front, if you do the math, the VIP Tour ends up being a great deal all things considered, and we highly recommend it; especially if you’re a coaster enthusiast!

Being able to walk to the front of any ride line of one’s choosing is really cool – it’s hard to imagine, until  you ride coaster after coaster without pause!

We began our day on The Beast (only because the Diamondback was not functioning, but luckily our fears of it being broken for the entire day were dispelled and they were able to fix it before long).  The Beast is an almost 5-minute long journey into the desolate forests of southern Ohio on a wooden roller coaster!  As we learned from our behind the scenes tour (included with the VIP Tour as I said), prior to its unveiling in 1979, The Beast was built on-site and follows closely the terrain upon which it is built.  It was not pre-ordered and shipped to the park in segments like many modern roller coasters.

The Beast follows its native land's terrain and disappears into a tunnel at the bottom of its first drop

After riding The Beast twice in a row (almost 10 minutes worth of roller coasters right there!!), we moved on to the Vortex, an old-school steel roller coaster with more than a few high speed inversions.  I had printed out my blog post I had written about the VIP Tour a year before, and it served as a helpful guide for this year.  And I have to say, everything was much more enjoyable this year – last year I had written in my blog that I didn’t like the Vortex much and that the Backlot Stunt Coaster was lame, but this year both rides were much more fun than I had remembered – perhaps because I knew what to expect from the park, and so the element of surprise was minimized.  I’m a person who likes to know what to expect rather than to be completely taken by surprise – I have 4 little kids, so I have enough surprises throughout my average day, thank you 😉

But whatever the case, whichever the reason, this year’s VIP Tour was even more fun than last year’s!  All of the rides we rode were better than I had remembered they were, and the Whitewater Canyon water ride was even more fun when riding with friends!  Of course, I think it helped that this year’s temperature was almost 90º instead of the unseasonal 70º we had during last year’s tour – getting soaked last year left us near frozen!  And I learned a little bit from last year’s tour – no blisters from walking around in wet shoes for me!  I brought a little bag and put a change of shoes in it.  As much as it may have annoyed my co-VIPs (but then again, I was the only gal in a group of men), I changed into my flip-flops every time we got on a water ride.  Not only did I save my feet from blistering, but I got to order our guide to carry my shoes around the park!  Ok, so I actually felt pretty badly making the poor guy carry my shoes around, but it was kind of like being a queen for a day, and –  carrying our stuff was his job after all…

The Diamondback Roller Coaster

Being led around the park by a guide all day, slipping in front of the ‘regular guests’ to get to the front of the lines (and picking whatever spot you choose on all the rides!  Note to self for next year:  front car on The Beast rocks, back row on the Diamondback is sweet, and the back is ideal and technically the front for Firehawk…) gave us plenty of time for ‘extras’ in the park: things we don’t normally do in theme parks, usually for lack of time like souvenir shopping, playing games and seeing shows.  The show we chose to see this year – and it’s strange, I know, that I keep promising myself a theater break but still I continue to find myself in a theater audience – was called ‘Too Much TV’, and it was actually pretty fun!  It began with a ‘host’ who went around the audience asking for them to ‘name that tune’ as different tv show theme songs were played.  I thought I would be good at this kind of thing, but apparently my brain had been scrambled upon one (ok, a dozen) too many roller coasters earlier in the day because I couldn’t get any of the answers correct.  But it’s ok, I didn’t raise my hand too high- unlike a fellow VIP who was called upon, but he answered correctly and won himself a Too Much TV button – way to  go!  Despite a fleeting regret in the beginning of the show (am I really watching yet another stage show?!?), I did enjoy myself.  I recognized 100% of the show titles and about 80% of the lyrics since I used to be a huge tv fan and had watched many of the shows when I was a kid (many in reruns; I’m not THAT old!)  The show included 6 dancer-singers, and it began with TV shows from the 50’s – 60’s (a few of these I watched like Patty Duke and Mary Tyler Moore – um, in reruns of course 😉 while the rest I just knew the themes since they were very famous like the Andy Griffith Show) and continued to shows from the 70s (3’s Company, Brady Bunch, Partridge Family, etc), 80’s-90’s (Full House, Perfect Strangers,  Growing Pains, Friends, etc).  LOTS of fun, especially for a former TV junkie like myself.  The singers / dancers were pretty good, and I have to say that one of the highlights of the show  was that during the Brady Bunch theme, they showed clips from the episode where the Brady’s actually visit King’s Island!!  I had totally forgotten that episode (I used to be a huge Brady Bunch fan; I watched it every day in syndication after school, and I had the book / episode guide written by Mr. Greg Brady (Barry Williams) himself – I used to check off the episodes I had seen – ahem, NERD!!), but anyway, I will have to dig it up on youtube.com or somewhere and watch it again now!!

Miraculously, the rain held off until minutes after our guide was dismissed for the day –  we had been watching the storms move in all day the day before our tour, hoping it wouldn’t affect our trip.  We had promised our guide an email depicting our thoughts on what riding The Beast was like in the dark, but as I said, it began to rain, and we were forced to take a break.  That’s when we realized just how tired we really were – too tired to wait for the rain to stop and the rides to re-open, so we’ll have to experience The Beast at night next year.  And I could not be looking forward to it more!!

On the way home, we found a White Castle (don’t have them way up here in the bufu northwestern corner of Ohio), or at least that’s what the sign said.  But the White Castle location was connected to a gas station, and the sliders did not taste quite the same…  I thought they were just old until I brought some home and re-heated them, and they STILL were a bit off…  hmmm….  Normally these things reheat really well, and I’m sorry to tell the White Castle newbie in our group that he still hasn’t really tried an authentic slider.  They hit the spot at the time and had we taken the time to stop anywhere else, we would have gotten home even later than the 1 am-ish that we did and would have been even more exhausted.  My bodily soreness from being beat up by various coasters all day was less than last year, but it also lasted a day or two longer than I remember.  Oh well, more to tweak for next year!  Maybe I will bring TWO pairs of shoes for Mr. Guide to carry around for me, haha!

And one final note…  We have a running joke with a member of our group – we went to Disney World with him almost two years ago, and it seemed that every ride which he rode stalled; including rides that didn’t usually stall.  At King’s Island, only one ride stalled while we were on it, but we got stuck in what I am sure is the most precarious position in which a person can get stuck at that park – flat on our backs, under the great blue sky on the Firehawk.  Here is a picture of how we were stuck; note that these people are in the station, which would have been better since there were people around to help.  We were stuck flat on our backs outside of the station for about 10-15 minutes, and I couldn’t help but notice how sympathetic the ride operator seemed during her announcements directing us to stay calm.

Also noticeable were the extremely red faces and disoriented nature of our fellow riders who were finally returned to an upright position and allowed to leave the ride with us.  For the record, our park guide happened to be on the Firehawk with us (on the VIP Tour, you can also make your guide go on rides!) and said that he had never seen it stuck like that before.  So yeah, while we were only stuck on a ride once during our day, what a place to be stuck!!!

And surely I don’t want to leave you with a bad impression of the Firehawk, nor of King’s Island, so here are some fun youtube videos from other riders:

Firehawk (you lie on your back and then are flipped after the lift onto your stomach.  Like Superman, you fly thru a series of loops, inversions, and open track):

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Next, not one of my favorite rides at King’s Island, though still fun, the joy in Invertigo is watching the person’s face who is sitting across from you.  Ride with a friend sitting across from you, and experience the g-forces backwards first.  Then watch your friend’s face as they experience the same thing backwards you just did – It’s priceless!!

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And now for my favorites, The Beast (start watching at a minute and ten seconds into the video for the real action):

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And the Diamondback:

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All this watching the POV cams on the coasters makes me want to do it all over again…   But unfortunately I have to wait…
So until next year…

…And Back Again

Posted in Everyday Life, Travel on May 4th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

(continued from the previous post – To Hellinois…)

So FINALLY, after yet another GPS debacle orchestrated by Jill (might be time to change the persona of the GPS again and fire Jill!) we arrived in Aurora, and it’s the first time I’ve seen my parents’ dogs in years.  Loopy is looking a little bit gray in the muzzle, but also much slimmer since last time I saw her.  And Happy… well, Happy is herself, I guess – hyper and happy to see my kids, I wouldn’t expect any less!  We visited with my mom  for a little while, and then it was off to lunch, which my husband and I had carefully orchestrated.  My mom was nice enough to watch our girls so that we could enjoy a little time out with just the baby, and after all that driving + the morning’s (more than) two hour tantrum, boy, did we need some time to ourselves!  So we went to Sweet Tomatoes – a restaurant that specializes in an ultra-fresh salad buffet, my husband’s favorite, and I don’t think he was disappointed!  They also have 6 kinds of soup and 3 kinds fresh hand-tossed pasta – YUM!  We drove around for a few minutes after lunch searching for a dollar store or two – next to zoos and cuisine, “exotic” dollar stores are my favorite things to see while in different areas,  but we couldn’t find one, so we went to a Petland instead.  So I put aside my opinions that Petland is a leading trader in  puppy mill pups, and we went for a visit.  And this Petland had LOTS of animals with very nice habitats.  They did have a huge bunch of puppies though, and almost all of their “getting to know you” puppy rooms were taken (let me just vent real quick by saying – why can’t more people consider shelter dogs so we can reduce the amount of homeless pets in the country!!!)  And I asked the staff members a few questions – some to learn things but most to test their knowledge on subjects – and they passed.  They no longer sell seahorses  because they require ultra-clean water and exceptionally large tanks.  I was glad to see that Petland was no longer putting the lives of seahorses in jeopardy just to make a quick buck, but they lost me when they offered to order me some – oh well.  There were the cutest little Robinsky hamsters – about the size of a silver dollar – and they were in constant motion.  They are so fast that they kept flipping each other over in the hamster wheel and making each other go upside down!  They were adorable, but how anyone could handle having such a busy pet is beyond me – you couldn’t even pick them up since they were so fast!  Here is a picture of someone who actually got one of these things in their hand:

roblovski-hamster

So then it was on to my nephew’s first birthday party – he is only 2½ months older than my son, and the two of them together were SO cute!  My son is on the left, birthday boy on the right:

ryans-first-bday-5-2-09-004

The party was lots of fun, and it was nice getting to spend time with my family and my sister’s in-laws, who we don’t see very often.  We had to leave a little bit early to try to get on the road at a decent hour, but before we left, my kids did a good job of trashing my sister’s house.  One of them clogged the toilet, one of them crumbled their birthday cake all over the floor (requiring my brother-in-law to haul out his Shop-Vac!), and one of them had too much cake and ice cream and spit up all over Grandma and the floor.  I bet they’re glad we don’t come over very often!  Just kidding, I’m sure it was understood that with 8 kids at one party, something was bound to get messed up – but why did all the messes have to be traced back to my kids?

After the party, I dropped my husband off at a Walgreens for some clearance shopping – his favorite! – cuz I wanted to stop by White Castle and get a case of slyders to bring home.  White Castle is an institution in Chicagoland, and one of the things I miss that we don’t have here.  For those of you who aren’t familiar, slyders are what locals call the little hamburgers that White Castle sells – the secret to the awesome flavor is steamed onions.  My hubby must love me a lot to put up with the smell of steamed onions for the 4 hour drive home!  And no, the frozen ones they sell at Walmart are not the same as the ones you can buy at the restaurants – which is why I try to bring home a case every time I go!  But on Sunday, I kept getting behind slow drivers (what happened to the drivers in Illinois?  I swear, during this trip I was the most aggressive driver I ran into, what’s happened to all the a**holes that used to be on the road over there?  Could it be the red-light cameras?), and then they took forever at White Castle.  And what do I do?  I drive off with only my drinks, forgetting my cheeseburgers.  So I get back in line, and of course I’m behind the slowest lady in the world – I was in line for 20 minutes, just to get food I had forgotten!  By the time I got back to Walgreens, my husband was ready to put out an APB on our van.  And of course the baby cried the whole time because he was tired and wanted his bottle, and I couldn’t reach the spot in the car where he had thrown it.  So I was flustered by the time we finally started for home.  Luckily for me, we achieved a quadruple pass out though, so the drive home was peaceful.  We got home around 1 am, and much to our surprise, our pet sitter and great friend Carol was still in our house!  The kids started to wake up, so we rudely hushed Carol and brought the crying kids upstairs.  Luckily we only had one straggler who stayed up for a little while, and I apologized to Carol for my rudeness (and my stench of coming off a 4-hour drive sitting next to steamed onions with baby spit-up on me).  We were more than happy to share the White Castle bounty, and my husband drove poor Carol home since her car had died and she was trapped at our house – I felt badly getting in so late!  I was so tired that I forgot to call my mom to tell her we made it safely – I don’t think that’s ever happened, oops!

Sunday we somehow got up for church, and we got to see some people get baptized which was a neat experience.  The sermon was about Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, which interested me because I don’t have much religious background and didn’t know the story.  But I learned some useful tools that I think might help me during this ultra-trying time that Samantha has been putting us through lately.  After church, they had a program they call KidStuff – they have it twice a year – and Sunday’s KidStuff was about obedience – perfect!  Just the message we need to drill into our kids’ heads lately!  It was a really cute skit about how it’s important to be obedient, and I thought it was very well done.  There was lots of physical comedy for the kids, goofy characters, an air horn (kids love noisy things!), and they stressed the importance of obedience repeatedly.  And, they gave us an orange “O” to put on our fridge to remind the kids about being obedient!  I was so excited to get home and apply these lessons to real life!  But alas, after the pizza lunch at church for KidStuff, Sammie had to rub it in how much she DIDN’T learn from the skit – our friend is a professional photographer and met us at the park to get some Spring pics of the kids.  But our family picture is minus one – Sammie refused to participate in the picture taking.  Even seeing a robin’s nest up close didn’t soften her enough to be cooperative.  So all my hopes about her learning something, even a little bit, from the obedience skit flew out the window.  But the baby robin was adorable – there were two eggs and one that had hatched, couldn’t have been more than a day old.  I’ve never seen one so little, it barely had any feathers or baby bird peach fuzz!  Awww!

Overall, a great weekend.  I call it Hellinois, but I’m (half) joking.  You couldn’t pay me to live there, but there are worse places we could have to visit!  I think we might be going back sometime soon for a very exciting, awesomely fun event – more on that later!!!

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: 

Pinata Pilgrimage

Posted in Kids, Uncategorized on April 14th, 2008 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I didn’t blog all weekend because we made a few-hundred-miles trek to the Chicago suburbs for my nephew’s 5th birthday party.  We stuffed ourselves silly over there because as much as we love where we live, the restaurant choice can grow kind of boring.  So, being in a different area had us stopping for food every chance we got, but by the end of the weekend, we were a wee bit regretful…  I think that midnight case of White Castles are what did us in.  Since there aren’t any White Castles near us, we had to stock up and buy a whole case since they reheat pretty well.  We stopped there on the way out of the area, and then we had to smell them all the way home – yuck.  They taste good but don’t smell so great, especially when it’s time for bed…  So, as you can see, we did fit in a bit of culture on our trip.  For those who aren’t familiar with White Castle, it’s a fast food chain found in the midwest that specializes in mini-hamburgers, also known as “sliders”.  They aren’t just mini-hamburgers, though, they’re steam-grilled, and they have a very unique taste…  not to mention an, ahem, interesting side effect when you feed them to pets and small children.  I will not elaborate; let’s just say that my kids really like them, but the next day our noses were paying for it.

We also found time to stop at an ethnic grocery store for something my husband has been looking for called Halva, which is a Middle Eastern dessert.  I had never tried it before, and I really like to try ethnic foods, so we picked some up.  It is pretty good!  The halva we got was actually from Macedonia, and though it tastes nothing like it, I would best describe its texture as that of the ‘astronaut’ ice cream.  You know, the freeze dried ice cream that they sell at space museums?

And to round out our cultural experience, my nephew had a pinata at his birthday party.  Pardon my spelling it wrong, I can’t find the special n with the tilday over it they use in the spanish alphabet.  So in my blog, it will be known as a pinata.  Just in case you are not familiar with what a pinata entails, check out Wikipedia’s explanation:  

A succession of blindfolded, stick-wielding children try to break the piñata in order to collect the sweets (traditionally fruit, such as sugarcane) and/or toys inside of it. It has been used for hundreds of years to celebrate special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas and Easter.

Seems that Wikipedia figured out how to do the tilday…  but anyway, yes you read that right – blindfolded, stick-wielding children!  Actually, it’s customary to use a baseball bat instead of a stick, yet oddly enough, I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a pinata party where a parent didn’t have to step in and break it open themselves – this one being no exception.  It went pretty well, though we did almost have a casualty – my nephew took his first whack at the pinata, and his dad had not cleared the area, so CRACK went the bat against the cell phone he was wearing…  but I guess all was well, especially since someone had talked them out of their original plan: giving a bunch of 5-year-olds an aluminum bat with which to whack at the pinata.  Thank goodness for the insight!  If you get a chance, you should check out the pinata scene in the movie Parenthood, it’s hilarious…  the kids at the party lose interest after not being able to get it open, so the scene cuts to Steve Martin beating the heck out of the thing as it lays on the floor.  Nothing like that at my nephew’s party, in fact, his pinata opened rather easily.  And when it did break open, there wasn’t the usual melee either…  the kids were actually quite orderly in picking up the pinata “guts”.  I was a little worried because the last time I was at a birthday party with a pinata, the kids all piled in a heap on top of each other, and the kid at the bottom ended up with a bloody lip.

So, overall, great weekend, even if it lacked sleep – lots of driving and we didn’t get home until 3:30 in the morning!  And I have a few weeks to decide whether or not we will be brave enough to attempt a pinata at my daughter’s 4th birthday party…  maybe that will be enough time for her to forget that her cousin had one…

One thing is for sure, if we have a pinata, we will not have an aluminum bat on the premises!