Wednesday, March 31, 2010


What to do? What to do? I'm trying to write about all the fun we had on vacation while the memories are still fresh. But at the same time, my kids aren't taking a vacation from all the cute things they say and do. Which means I'm getting behind. For instance, this story would have made a lot more sense last Sunday.

That's because Sunday marked two weeks since we got to swim and splash and play in the pool by Grandpa and Grandma's soon-to-be old house in Naples. That was the day their neighbor told us he could tell we were from Minnesota. I joked that our pasty white skin must have given us away. Without missing a beat he answered, "Yeah, that too."

The main way he knew we were tourists was the fact we were swimming when the weather was - by Florida standards - far too cold.

Imagine what he would have thought of how we spent our Sunday afternoon just two weeks later. We put on our swimsuits and hit the water. It was the perfect way to relax and soak up the sun. Did I mention the temperature was only in the upper 40s?

No matter. The water temperature was 102 degrees. I'd just finished a 4-mile run, so for my out-of-shape legs, this was heaven.
The kids managed to track down their various toy sharks, whales and dolphins, which was no easy task. Some were in their bathtub. Others were in the tub in our bathroom. Still others had to be dug from the sandbox after weathering the winter outdoors. I've noticed these creatures of the deep have become a lot more interesting to the kids since our trip to Sea World.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Ha-ha-ha-llelujah. He-he-he-he saved me. Now I've got the joy of the Lord!

Happy Holy Week! (Is that an appropriate greeting to share?)

This story could alternately be titled "Mother knows best." You'll soon see why.

It started a week ago Sunday. AJ came home from Sunday School saying he needed to sing a song in church and he didn't want to. I confirmed with a friend who's a Sunday School teacher that - for Palm Sunday - they wanted the kids to process into the sanctuary waving palm branches.

I let it go at the time, thinking AJ was just being cranky for some reason. But come Sunday, he still insisted he didn't want to do it. Why? (Get ready for a laugh.) Because he's too shy, he told me.

I didn't really believe him and so pushed hard for him to join his friends in line. He continued to say no. I finally played the guilt trip card and told him I really wanted him to do it - would he please do it for me?

That worked enough to get him to walk with me to the back of the church where the other kids were gathered. Once he had a palm branch in hand, he seemed to be doing okay, so I left him there... though not before Sydney managed to snag a palm branch for herself. How lucky!

When it came time for the kids to march in, I readied my phone to take a picture. Alas, there was no good photo opportunity to be had. AJ and several other boys somehow managed to get two palm branches, so he walked down the aisle with one on either side of his face. It kind of reminded me of my reporter days, trying to get video of suspects leaving court while they would try to cover their face with file folders and anything else they might have in their possession.

Finally the kids made it to the front where they lined up and sang three more songs. AJ's voice could be clearly heard throughout, so his "shyness" wasn't due to not knowing the words.

Next, the pastor called any other kids in the sanctuary to come forward for the children's sermon. That was all the encouragement Sydney needed. Clutching her palm branch firmly in her hand, she raised it above her head and galloped down the aisle. There's nothing like an enthusiastic little girl with bouncy pigtails to make an entire congregation chuckle. We could hear the laughs and "awwwws" like a wave, starting from the back of the church as she made her way forward.

The children's sermon passed uneventfully. AJ said something that made us all laugh, but I guess I've gotten so immune to his comments that I don't even remember what it was.

Later that day, back at home, I caught AJ singing some of the songs and making some of the hand gestures. I couldn't resist:

"So are you glad you sang with your friends in church today?"


How did I know that would happen?

Monday, March 29, 2010

A penny for your thoughts

Lessons about money can be so painful. Especially when you're only two.

The Dolphin Resort features a large fountain in the lobby. Every time we walked by it, AJ asked if we had some money he could throw into it, so he could make a wish. Our second or third night there, I happened to have two pennies with me, so I gave one to each child. AJ quickly tossed his into the fountain. His copycat sister then did the same.

It was when we turned to leave that the tears started. Sydney apparently didn't realize that once she threw her coin, it was gone for good. She stood at the fountain and sobbed and sobbed, even stomping her foot at one point.

As I dragged her to catch up to Jeff and AJ, who were holding the elevator for us, Jeff looked confused as to why Sydney was crying. I joked, "Sydney apparently wishes she had her penny back."
For whatever reason, this struck AJ as one of the funniest things he ever heard. For the rest of the vacation, and even now, more than two weeks later, he starts laughing out of the blue and then says, "Remember how Sydney wished she had her penny back?"
Even Sydney now giggles about it, most likely because she knows it makes her brother laugh, "Member? I wish my penny back."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A bicycle built for four

They look so relaxing and fun... when other groups are pedaling them. We couldn't resist renting a surrey for an evening ride around the man-made lake next to our resort at Disney.

It wouldn't have been bad, if we didn't have to steer around the crowds, or try to keep two kids busy. AJ did well. We gave him the all important job of ringing the bell to alert pedestrians that we were about to run them down.

"Bell!" was all the encouragement he needed. And often he didn't even need that. He just liked ringing the bell.

Sydney also wanted something to do. Unfortunately, the only other jobs are steering, peddaling and braking, none of which she could do. She wasn't content to simply to sit next to AJ in the front seat. Nor did she want to sit between Jeff and I in the back. She wanted to help. So after a bit of seat shifting, we finally figured out the best solution. Not a perfect solution, but the best we could come up with:

With Sydney sitting on my leg, she could reach the steering wheel and spin it to her heart's content. It's a dummy steering wheel. Only the one on Jeff's side actually works. So that meant Jeff was in charge of steering and braking. He and I together provided the pedal power. What made it challenging is that with Sydney sitting on my leg, I had to lift an extra 33 pounds every other pedal. Jeff tried to reason that also meant I had the benefit of an extra 33 pounds of force with each rotation. Yeah, whatever. All I know is it gave my thighs a much harder workout than the 30-minute jog I'd done earlier in the evening.

At least it made me feel slightly less guilty as I made the most of an all-you-can-eat crab boil/seafood buffet as we ate dinner right after the ride was done.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

3 dimensions, 4 senses

I'd suggest a poll to determine which of us looks least silly in our 3-D glasses, but I'm afraid the vote tally would not end in my favor. Consider the contestants:

Okay... maybe I'd at least beat Jeff, but the odds are stacked against me in any "cute" competition with my kids.
We donned the glasses in preparation for Mickey's PhilharMagic show. Of course, once we put them on, the intercom announced we shouldn't wear them until we were safely in our seats. The movie not only was in 3-D, but also 4-S, as in four senses. Not only were we seeing and hearing it, but at times you could smell certain scents related to the Disney princesses that were on screen, and when Donald Duck fell into a pool of water, we all get splashed.
Sydney was not fond of that. The rest of us thought it was pretty cool. Even if we did look ridiculous.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Who wants to be a pirate?

Is he squinting because of the sun? Or because he's questioning whether he really wants to join a pirate crew, even as he's taking a supposed oath?

At Disney's Magic Kingdom, AJ jumped at the chance to go on stage with Captain Jackson Sparrow. (Yes, I know his first name is Jack, but that's what AJ's been saying. He has a friend name Jackson, and apparently can't get passed that.)

AJ excitedly accepted the certificate and proudly held it high along with the other kids, swearing allegiance to the pirate crew. What 5-year-old wouldn't? He was being offered something free... from a pirate he's seen on TV.

But clearly AJ had doubts. Later that night, back at the hotel, AJ worriedly confessed, "I don't want to be a pirate. I want to be in our family."

We assured him it was just a show, and that he was stuck with our family forever. (Whether he wants to be or not.) That calmed him down, and so once again he likes to sing what's actually a song from Peter Pan, not Pirates of the Carribean:

Yo ho, whaddaya know?
A pirate's life for me.

Hey, hey, whaddaya say?
A pirate's life for me.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Something's missing

I think AJ experienced a significant milestone yesterday. Unfortunately, the most obvious piece of evidence has been lost. Literally. But compare AJ's smile, specifically the small gap just left of center in his bottom row of teeth, here:

Versus what it looked like nine days earlier in this rollercoaster shot from Sea World. (If you really want to look, click on the photo to enlarge it.)

AJ's been saying his tooth was loose, but he hasn't been overly obsessive about wiggling it, and I never actually wiggled it myself. Then yesterday, on the way home from Kids Korner, AJ told Jeff that his tooth had fallen out, but he didn't know where it was.
Regardless, a significant event has now occurred. The tooth fairy made her maiden visit to our house last night.
We left a note for her under AJ's pillow explaining that the tooth was really lost. One of my mom-friends suggested AJ could draw a picture of the tooth on the note. AJ thought this was a good idea, so he ran and grabbed the note from under the pillow, got a pen, then stood and stared at the paper for a few seconds before asking, "Um, Mom, can you do it?"
We also finally got to put to use the cool tooth case (I don't know what else to call it) that Grandpa Bill and Grandma Jo gave AJ for his baptism almost five years ago.
A quick poll of my Facebook friends revealed that $1 is the going-rate for teeth these days. One friend mentioned that her son particularly appreciated it when the tooth fairy left four quarters instead of a dollar. Hmmm... sounds like a certain 5-year-old I know.
When AJ awakes in a few minutes, he's going to find that case filled with four quarters, plus a note wishing him luck with his new tooth, and a reminder to brush every day.
Hopefully the next time she visits, there will be a baby tooth to show for it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Talk about a triple treat! On Sunday we got to go to a birthday party for our friend Lily. And it was such a nice day that we got to run around outside. And there was pinata!

Sydney wasn't much of a threat to the candy-filled circle, but with Daddy's help she happily took her turn.

In the end, after numerous children "wounded" the pinata just enough to knock out one or two pieces of candy, without fully breaking it open, Lily's Mommy tipped it upside down. Thus began the candy rush. Followed by the sugar rush.

Of course AJ could never be satisfied with the handful of treats he'd already gathered from the ground. He had to go back to the source, just to be sure there was nothing more.

To be fair, I would have done the same thing. So I guess you could say he comes by it honestly!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Where the wild things are

What could possibly cause Sydney to look so serious? To keep her hands planted so firmly on Mommy's and Daddy's legs?

She may talk a good game about being an animal rescuer like her favorite character Diego (is it sacrilegious to mention a Nickelodeon character while writing about a visit to a Disney theme park?), and she may ask to read Diego's Safari Rescue over and over again. But put her on a pretend safari ride where she can see real animals, relatively up close, and suddenly she's a little tense.

The Kilimanjaro Safari was easily my favorite part of our visit to the Animal Kingdom. Sure, the driver's script about searching for poachers and saving a baby elephant was silly (though Sydney found it captivating), but it's just plain cool to see so many magnificent animals lounging or roaming around.

How can you not be in awe at the sight of a couple elephants? Especially when you learn that the one on the right is pregnant?

I also appreciated the large amount of space, and the cleanliness of the space these animals called home.

The only other time I've seen a hippopotamus was at the zoo in Budapest. It was a fairly small cage with a disgustingly dirty, indoor pool of water. Granted, I don't think hippos mind the mud, but I've got to believe this wide open park-like setting is a healthier environment.

Take a good look AJ. This one's just a tad bigger than the ones on your Hungry, Hungry Hippos game.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Dino Rides

"I went on a dinosaur ride!"

That's what Sydney will tell you every time she sees these photos:

She's not too fond of rides that put her in the dark, which we quickly learned the next day at Magic Kingdom, but let her twirl around or go up and down and she'll happily yell, "Wheeeeeee!"

The TriceraTop Spin ride was also a hit with AJ...

...unlike another ride at Animal Kingdom.

To put it kindly, "Dinosaur," was not so well received. I misinterpreted the 40" height requirement as an indication it'd be okay for younger children. Wrong. And so while Sydney and I enjoyed another twirl with the Triceratops, AJ and Daddy took a wild ride through the dark with giant beasts popping out 'round various curves. I hope Jeff enjoyed the ride with his son, because it sounds like it just might have been a once in a lifetime experience. As they exited the ride, AJ declared, "Never, ever again!"

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Still adjusting

I know. I know. I've got to get past making comparisons between what we were doing however many hours/days/weeks ago while on vacation versus what we're doing now at home. But Saturday was such a stark contrast I just can't help myself.

Last Saturday, my little pirate was on the beach in Hollywood, Florida. Chasing waves. Searching for shells.

In a word, it was glorious.

Fast forward one week and AJ instead was dodging bleachers in search of a stray hockey puck. In a cold ice arena.

I liked last week soooooooo much better! And based on his expression, I think AJ did too.

Jeff played in a law enforcement hockey tournament this weekend in Superior. And while AJ was thrilled that the ref let him keep the puck that he found, it was nowhere near as exciting as finding a "real" shark tooth (rock).
AJ did manage to give one of the other teams in the tournament a good laugh. I'm not sure where they were from, but the team's jerseys said USA on the front. AJ walked up to one of the older players and announced, "Hey, I saw you on TV!"
The man looked confused, until AJ very matter-of-factly stated, "But Canada beat you."
If ever there were an Olympic competition for imaginations, AJ would take home the gold.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

New digs

It's official. We have a new place to stay and play the next time we travel to Florida. Here's a peak inside the living room of Grandpa David and Grandma Elouise's new winter home.

We got to tour it while we were visiting last week. But it was just yesterday that they closed on the sale. After a decade of renting, they now own. The excited e-mail arrived with the subject line in all caps, "IT'S FINAL! IT'S ALL OURS NOW".

I suspect this will make their relaxing winters a tad more labor intensive. Consider the above shot the "before" picture. My Mom already is making plans to gut and replace the garden, and my Dad is talking about painting.
This will also give them reason to watch hurricane paths a little more closely. I'm very happy for them. This is something they've wanted for a very long time.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Swing into spring

I'm taking a vacation from trip memoirs today. (Trust me, I have enough Florida photos to blog for another month.) Our return home hasn't been all bad.

We've had temperatures in the upper 50s and low 60s the last two days. And with daylight savings time now in effect, we've got at least an hour of daylight after dinner to be outside enjoying those temperatures. What better way to do that than a trip to a playground?

Thankfully, this park in Cloquet was relatively dry and uses wood chips around the base of the playground, so we didn't get too muddy. These photos were taken between 7-7:15 p.m. It's so nice when spring gives us an unexpected sneak peek.

Alas, a peek is all it was apparently. The next few days, according to the forecast, will only reach the 30s. But we'll still have that extra daylight! (I'm trying to look on the bright side.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fowl ball!

Our first day at Disney, we visited Animal Kingdom. For AJ, the highlight wasn't the rides or the "Safari" trip. No, my little entertainer loved the shows. In particular, he liked the bird show.

It was about as cheesy of a script as you can imagine. A lost "tour guide" stumbles onto the stage in search of his missing tour group. The man just so happens to be terrified of birds, and so the rest of the show is devoted to teaching him why he doesn't need to be afraid. AJ found the entire story to be absolutely hysterical, especially when a bird returned the tour guide's flag, which it had taken earlier in the show, and now there were "bird droppings" on it. Oh my goodness! Slapstick comedy and poop all in the same show! What could be funnier to a five year old?

AJ was quite disappointed that he didn't get called on stage as a volunteer. (That's what happens when you arrive late and can't sit close enough to the front for the performers to see you.) But he was still a very active participant. What's he doing in the photo below?

Holding out his finger in hopes that the bald eagle would come over and land on it.

I don't think it'd be quite a big enough perch. But a kid can dream, right?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Restful vacation

Sydney's favorite character at Disney World (and by favorite, I mean the costumed figure she was least afraid of) was Minnie Mouse. But it was Sleeping Beauty that she imitated most often. For instance on the car ride from the Orlando airport to our hotel:

Or at Buca for dinner two nights later:

(She did the same thing at IHOP two nights later.) Or how 'bout the car ride from the airport back to our house?

Visits to theme parks and beaches meant nap times were thrown all out of whack, but our super traveler sure didn't mind. She'd go and go and go until she just couldn't go anymore. Sweet dreams!

Cold reality

Is there anything more harsh, more abrupt than to end a vacation with a flight home? It makes the transition between paradise and reality so impossibly short.

Forty-eight hours ago, we were collecting sea shells and dodging salty waves on the beach of Marco Island.

Twenty-four hours ago we were watching Shamu splash the people silly enough to sit in the front rows of the main arena at Sea World in Orlando.

And now we are back home. Snow is still in our front yard. Chunks of ice are floating down the very swollen river behind our house. It's time to get ready to resume our normal life.

Jeff and Sydney have decided the best way to prepare is to take a nap. We had to leave the hotel by 4 a.m. to return our rental car and catch our flight home.

AJ chose to go to pre-school rather than take a nap. He's crushed that we couldn't find his "shark's tooth" (really an oddly shaped rock) to show his class. He had it on the plane, but I haven't seen it since. Hopefully when Daddy awakes, he'll know of its fate.

This leaves me with a 2-hour block of time until I have to pick up AJ. My choices are to nap, clean, unpack, start making phone calls for a free-lance project that arrived in my inbox while we were away, or go jogging. I am choosing to go for a run. It's certainly not what I want to do most. However, after briefly reviewing the beach photos and how my thighs appear in those photos, I've decided it's what I need to do most.

Reality is not my friend today.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Greedy for green

One of the sad things about vacation coming to a close is saying
goodbye to the gorgeous and lush trees and flowers we saw everywhere
we went. It's going to be at least two months before we have green
surroundings (not to mention 70-degree temperatures like this) at home.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Having a "sword-a" good time

Greetings from the not-so-sunny sunshine state! This is my first
experience blogging from my phone, which is a necessity for a
cheapskates like me who refuses to pay the $10/day fee that Disney
would have charged me to have Internet access in our room. (They tried
to spin it that they were offering a deal, lumping their most popular
extras like phone calls and bottled water all together in one package
deal. Whatever!)

Anyway... So if this works, you should be seeing a picture of the kids
swordfighting with a fellow we found at Epcot. Let's see how this
turns out!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Carry on

Should I be surprised? AJ is, afterall, a boy. That particular gender isn't necessarily known for its ability to pack luggage.

Sunday night as I tried to pack, clean, write a note for the housesitter and finish up one final work assignment that we'll need to drop off at the office on our way to the airport, AJ repeatedly got in the way, wanting to play his Sponge Bob memory game. To give him something to do, I handed him his Spiderman backpack. Normally used for school, it will double nicely as his carry on during our flight. I told him to fill it with whatever toys he wanted to bring on the trip.

The first thing he grabbed? His very big, very loud, battery-powered Star Wars Storm Trooper helmet.

"No!" was the immediate response in unison from Mommy and Daddy.

"How about your new dragon book and the knights we bought at Target today?" I suggested helpfully.

"Sure," he responded casually as he went back to digging through the toy box.

I just can't wait to see how the airport screeners will react when they see the pirate hat, foam sword and knight hood he squeezed in there. There's nothing else.

Thank goodness for the games I've loaded onto my iPhone. I suspect AJ will be asking to play with it within ... oh... about four minutes after take off.

Vacation dreams II

Boy... if sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 40s gets these two this excited, imagine how happy they'll be when the white background is sand, not snow, and the thermometer climbs 25-30 degrees higher.

Our weather has been absolutely gorgeous this week. The asphalt driveway, which has been snow/ice-packed since the Christmas blizzard, grew from "just peeking through" status to almost completely revealed. The shoulder on the side of the road where I jog has grown at least a foot wider. The ice on the river is starting to crack. And, oh yes, the hockey rinked closed down just in time for me to not have to work my final shift in the concession stand. Woohoo!

Even better than that, through all this melting snow, our basement has remained dry. Unfortunately, a new spot on the house found a way to leak: our kitchen window. This is a window that's completely sheltered by our porch, so how water could find its way there had us baffled. Until I stepped outside and looked up.

One of the dormers in our roof is almost straight up from the kitchen window. Jeff climbed up to investigate and discovered an ice dam. He cleared it out, which eliminated the problem. But then he decided to ensure no future problems while we're away. That meant shoveling and even chipping ice out the gutters.

What do you want to bet there's someone in my family looking forward to vacation even more than the kids?