Saturday, July 31, 2010

Brush with fame

Sometimes I think my son is more closely related to my sister than to me.

Many years ago, while at the State Fair, my sister was approached by then-Governor Rudy Perpich, who asked if she'd like to have her picture taken with him. Lisa, not recognizing him, looked at him oddly and responded, "Why?"

AJ may have just topped her.

We were at the mall Friday, finally getting Sydney's 3-year pictures taken. We'd seen an ad in the paper that Minnesota Wild player Cal Clutterbuck was going to be signing autographs at the AT&T store at about the same time. We figured AJ would get a kick out of meeting him, so when we finished with Sydney's photo session, we headed over there.

AJ approached the table and immediately his eyes were drawn to the souvenir hockey masks, which the hockey player signed for him. One of the store employees then asked AJ, "Would you like to have your picture taken with him?"

To which, AJ responded, "Not really."

As you can see, he posed anyway. When we got home, I googled Cal Clutterbuck's name, and so was able to show AJ some photos of him playing hockey. Now AJ thinks it's pretty cool that he met him.

Of course we then had to head downstairs to play hockey. When you have a cool new mask, what else could you possibly want to do?

As a marketer, I have to say that whoever organized today's autograph session ought to be fired. This was supposed to be a great publicity moment for AT&T, not to mention the Minnesota Wild. Page back up and look at the souvenir photo. Do you see anything that says AT&T or Minnesota Wild? Why wouldn't you have the player in a jersey? And why wouldn't you have a nice banner in the background? No wonder AJ didn't recognize the significance of the guy.

Friday, July 30, 2010


Picture yourself in this situation.

You just finished a particularly hectic day at work - 10 long hours, most of which were spent putting out a last-minute fire involving a client other than your own, but you have to pitch in because the people who normally work on this account are on vacation.

You're finally in your car driving home, only to find yourself stuck in a horrible traffic jam created by a combination of road construction and the influx of 100,000 people (that's an official estimate from the police dept.) who have come to see the tall ships that paraded into Duluth's harbor earlier in the day.

You call home to explain why you're running late. And that's when your beloved spouse delivers five magical words:

"We have a new pet."

WHAT?!?!? (Take a deep breath.) What, what, what?!?!?

"His name is Jack," Jeff continued. "The kids brought him home from daycare."

Did someone bring stray kittens to daycare? My mind raced with horrible possibilities. No, that couldn't be it. Daycare wouldn't have allowed that, and Jeff certainly wouldn't have agreed to bring another cat into our house.

Did they get a class pet that we're going to be caring for this weekend?

A fish. For some reason my over-worked mind started bracing itself for the news that we may now own a fish.

Alas, my fears were for nothing. Jeff finally revealed Jack's identity.

"He's a caterpillar."

Of course he is. I could have guessed that. (Never in a million years would my frazzled brain have come up with such a simple answer.)

Jack now resides in an Play-doh cup on our porch. Thankfully he was still alive when AJ checked on him this morning.

AJ was quite excited to see chunks of leaf that seem to be missing. "Look!" AJ exclaimed, "He ate part of his bed."

Now let's just all hope that Jack doesn't turn out to be an army worm. At least, based on where he's located, we can be fairly certain he won't be reproducing.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Seaweed monsters

Back to vacation stories...

I had no idea our trip to New York would involve so much water. We enjoyed surprisingly warm swimming pools at each of the hotels we stayed in, toured Marine Land and saw Niagara Falls. Once we reached Rochester, we spent an afternoon at a local pool, and later in the week headed to Cayuga Lake, part of the Finger Lakes region, where Jennie's family has a cottage.

The cottage (here in the midwest, we'd say cabin) is stocked with all sorts of fun toys. The newest addition, which apparently was just added before we arrived, is an absolutely huge floating... thing. It's anchored down so it doesn't float away. The center area is like a trampoline, and it has a slide and other attachments for the kids to climb on.

Also in the water, a highly mature adult and floating globs of seaweed. You can probably guess what turned out to be more entertaining. Meet the seaweed monster:

The raft became the staging area for the kids who gleefully gathered what had been thrown at them, and lobbed it right back.

Even Sydney got in on the action.

Jeff did such a good job making it a game that the kids forgot that normally when they feel seaweed they just say "ewwww." Now they look at it and think "ammo!"

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fairytales do come true

Once upon a time, there was a dashing young knight who loved to joust. He had plastic swords, foam swords, long swords and sabers. A pirate sword from Disney World, a Viking sword from Epcot, a knight sword from Mackinaw City, even a pointy, hand-me-down dualing sword from his next door neighbor. Sir AJ would often ask his parents, the king and queen, to sword fight with him. They frequently did, but never for long enough to satisfy their enthusiastic heir.

One day, the young knight found a new battle partner. A lovely young princess who agreed to a joust. And so they called the king and queen out onto the royal deck to watch as they put on a show.

This was so much fun for the knight and princess, and such a welcome break for the king and queen, that they repeated the show the next night.

The costumes changed a bit, for how could a princess possibly wear the same gown two days in a row. Also, the knight changed his head gear, and the princess needed a new sword (or perhaps a new squire to do a better job picking up the weaponry when the joust is complete.) Finally they took their places and then, on cue, galloped and hopped toward each other with swords drawn.

The young knight was very, very happy. He had a jousting partner. He had an audience. What more could he ever possibly want?
Alas, the princess was a clever one, and soon her ulterior motive became clear. Following the joust, she expected the knight to join her in a dance. (So THAT'S why she exchanged the princess gown for a ballerina dress.)
Thankfully, the young knight decided to humor the young princess, and so he granted her a dance. It really wasn't so bad. He still had his audience after all.

As for the king and queen, their reaction was a cross between amazement and amusement. The joust and dance were quite hillarious to watch. Meanwhile it was quite shocking to see the two cooperating with each other so well for so long. The royal couple was more than happy to cheer them on and encourage them.
And so they all lived happily ever after.
Until it was bedtime.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Superior Swimming

I told the kids to remember this day always (Sunday), because it's quite possible they will never feel the water in Lake Superior this warm again. And they almost certainly won't see their mother spending this much time in our usually frigid inland sea.

While I don't know the official water temperature, it was reported last week that the hot summer has warmed the lake about a month ahead of schedule. Combine that with Sunday's 85-degree weather, and suddenly the beach was the place to be.

Sydney started out a bit cautiously, preferring to play on the shore with some of the sandbox toys we'd brought with us. AJ, meanwhile, couldn't wait to jump in.

Jeff and I took turns – one in the water, the other by our towels and beach bag. We went to the public beach at the end of Park Point. Along with about three million other people.

Sydney did ultimately join the rest of us in the water, but apparently the camera had been stashed away by then. She even got to the point of starting splashing wars, giggling and squealing when we'd splash her back.

Of course, AJ remains the king splash monster. Sometimes on purpose, other times unintentionally.

As I posted on Facebook that day, if there's a more perfect way to spend an afternoon, I can't think of what it is.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Field of dreams

The New York branch of our family seems to prefer soccer, lacrosse, water skiing and snow boarding, but that doesn't mean they weren't game to join us in a bit of baseball.

We killed some time one afternoon at a local field, armed with a wiffle ball and bat.

Some needed a little more help than others. I'm sure we can blame that on the pitching. (I overheard Jeff joking with a friend recently that the trick is to try and throw the ball to actuall hit the bat.)

Did I mention there was a playground between the parking lot and the baseball field. You can bet our trip back to the car involved a not-so-brief stop.
(Actually, Sydney and I had already spent a significant amount of time here while the bigger kids had been playing ball.)

This stepping bridge gave Sydney more trouble than anything else at the playground. Based on where the hand-holds are, and the distance between steps, I'm assuming it's designed for someone taller. But she wasn't going to let that stop her. We went back and forth more times than I can count.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Big time play

Has it really already been a week since we left New York?

Here are some more photos from our visit to the children's museum in Rochester. The miniature Wegman's grocery store was a lot of fun: Sydney got to push around a cart, pick out what to "buy" and then go check-out, with Ellie as the helpful cashier.

After that we had to re-shelve the items back where we found them, and suddenly the exhibit wasn't so interesting to Sydney any more. Imagine that!

We caught up to the rest of the group at the next exhibit, a mini-theatre. AJ and Ellie had fun trying on costumes, ultimately settling on just vests before dancing across the stage.

Meanwhile, there were lots of fun things to do behind the scenes, controlling the lights, camera and sound effects.

The giant carousel was fun. Of course the kids couldn't sit near each other, making it impossible to get a group shot.

My favorite exhibit was fairytale land, which included the giant's playroom from Jack and the Beanstalk. Cinderella's pumpkin coach was also there, as was a kitchen, though I forget what story it was supposed to be from. Here's a shocker: AJ was whistling when I took this photo.
A play boat was another treat, with the kids having fun in the crew's sleeping quarters.

We lucked out during our visit. While we were inside, a big rainstorm passed over, the only significant rain we had the entire time we were in New York.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Busted at bedtime

At bedtime last night, Sydney gave me crystal clear proof we've read Dora Saves the Crystal Kingdom far, far too many times.

As we settled onto her bed, she pointed to the book she'd selected and asked, "Is this your favorite story, Mommy?"

"No, it's not my favorite," I answered honestly.

Sydney looked stunned. She pointed to Dora's World Adventure. "Is this your favorite story?"

"No," I answered again.

"Do you like Diego?" she asked, clearly searching for common ground.

"I like Dora and Diego," I said. "They're just not my favorite."

Either that answer satisfied her, or she just wanted to get going with the bedtime story, because she turned her attention back to Dora Saves the Crystal Kingdom.

Because it was late, and because I really am quite sick of the story, I attempted to speed things along by paraphrasing and abbreviating. We were several pages into it when Sydney interrupted me, "No, Mom. That's not how it goes."

"What?" I asked.

She corrected me, "It says, 'Once upon a time a mean Octopus dumped garbage all over the Mermaid Kingdom. Luckily, a mermaid named Mariana found a magic crown so she could wish all the garbage away.'"

My turn to look stunned! She had just recited almost perfectly one of the longer pages word-for-word.

I told her she was exactly right, and proceeded to read the story much more carefully. Every so often, I'd pause to see if she could finish the rest of the sentence. Note to self: the next time you read the story, which will probably be tonight, wait until after page 12 to start paraphrasing. She doesn't have it quite memorized that far back.

Another note: come Christmas program time, if she's okay standing in front of crowds, I have no doubt she could memorize a line or two.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Soccer - New York style

One of the perks of having an uncle and aunt who help coach youth soccer, is that when they have practice on a night that you happen to be visiting them, they let you sneak onto the team.

I do believe AJ was exposed to more cultural diversity during that one hour, than he will experience in his next 12 years in Esko.

So what if was wearing borrowed (from Ben) shin guards and t-shirt, plus regular tennis shoes, AJ had a ball running around the field with his cousins and the rest of their "team". I use that term loosely because the program is set up so that the kids aren't really on a team. Each practice, everyone shows up, each coach takes the 10 kids closest to them, and off they go. The first half hour is spent running fun drills like "sharks and minnows," during which the kids run around and chase each other.

And then they switched to a different game: frogs and flies, during which the kids... run around and chase each other (with the added element of kicking the ball at each other.)

The second half hour is spent with the team divided in two, playing a game against each other. Of course, by then, most of the kids' attention spans were shot. It was much more fun to wrestle with cousins.

Overall, AJ did a really good job. He ran hard and chased after the ball rather than planting himself by the goal. Aunt Jennie told us he's a natural. This was a great warm-up for his own soccer season, which starts (I believe) next week.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ring - Ring - Ring

I really love where we live: it's a quiet street in a fairly rural area. From a kid's perspective, too, it's a pretty good place to grow up. Though they now know there's something lacking:

An ice cream truck. During our visit to Rochester, I recognized the ring, ring, ring of the truck from a couple blocks away. Knowing this would be a unique experience for them, I couldn't let it just pass by. It's a summer time tradition. It's the kind of memory all kids should have. It's a bit of Americana. It's ice cream on a hot summer night!

So we gathered the kids and Jeff attempted to let each of them choose a treat. There were about a dozen different options, and seven kids total (eight if you count me.) I think my kids were simply in awe of the opportunity. A truck pulls up and sells you ice cream. How cool is that?!?

I think the neighbors thought I was a little strange for getting so excited, until I explained why I considered this to be a special moment. Ultimately, they recognized the fun, too, running for their camera to get a photo also.

So I don't forget, the kids are: top row - AJ, Sydney and Ben. Bottom row: Acadia, Ellie and Zollie. The girls sitting with Ellie live next door. Acadia, we learned, is just two weeks older than Sydney. We bought a treat for another neighbor boy also, though he had to run home before the photo was taken. That was an interesting moment. The boy is an Orthodox Jew, which means he had to make sure his treat was kosher. Something else we probably won't ever experience in our neighborhood.
Clearly, as I expected, the night was a memorable one. The next morning, we could hear a truck horn honking down the street. AJ looked at me hopefully, "Is that the ice cream truck?"
Now that they've had the experience, I can go back to loving everything about where we live. Including the fact that we don't have to deal with ice cream trucks and the whining that would no doubt result, "Can we please get something?"

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Obviously I knew that Niagara Falls had a lot of water. But I had no idea it had water like this!

MarineLand is like a small Sea World, though I give them credit for developing shows and exhibits that set them apart. For instance, the stars of MarineLand seems to be the dolphins. That was clearly evident when we allowed each of the kids to pick out one souvenir. And they all picked the same thing.

The whale exhibits were also fun. They were set up in a way that allowed us to get surprisingly close. (Is that due to a difference in liability insurance costs in Canada versus the U.S., I wonder?) The Killer Whales swam in a large pool with only a 3-foot wall around the edge, so we could look right over at them.
The calmer Beluga Whales were in a similar exhibit, where kids could touch and feed them. Sydney was quite excited about the opportunity initially. Afterall, as she repeatedly told me, "Diego saves Beluga whales!"
Alas, when it came time to get up close to the big guy/gal, she wanted nothing to do with it. Not a problem! Her protective big brother was more than willing to take her turn. What a guy!

AJ informed me later that the whales felt like rubber.

One of the funniest moments came right at the beginning. All of the kids were beyond excited as they ran toward the entrance. I was with Sydney in the rear and could see, as they got closer to the ticket counter, that - almost in unison - Jeff grabbed AJ and Scott grabbed Ben. I assumed the two dads were giving the boys a "settle down" sort of instruction. No. The two dads had caught sight of the ticket prices, which showed kids four and younger were free, while five-year-olds were $32.95. Just as I caught up to them, I overheard AJ exclaim to Ben, "They want us to be four!"

Thankfully, AJ's still young enough to just find this oddly amusing, rather than a reason to question everything we've tried to teach him about the importance of honesty.


We've found ourselves almost back where we started. We're in Mackinaw City and plan to head out to the Island today. We'll stay here again tonight before loading up the kids for one more long car ride.

And then vacation is over. Back to reality. Back to work on Tuesday morning.


Hard to believe it was nine days ago that we set out. We stopped in Mackinaw that first day to let the kids run around and to give Jeff a break from driving. Note that I did not say our brief stop gave Jeff a chance to rest. The kids kept him busy. After all, there were cannons in the park, so of course AJ needed Daddy to be a soldier. (I believe if you click on the photo, it will enlarge so you can see the look on AJ's face as he orders Jeff to fire the cannon.)

Next we headed into the Mackinaw Crossings shopping area. We switched kids and AJ and I headed in search of "the knight store," so he could find a replacement sword for the one he bought here (and subsequently broke) on our last visit.

There were some musicians performing on a small stage in the center of the Crossings. When I looked back, I noticed another performer had been inspired by their music.

We spent a little time on the playground. It was interesting to watch AJ. He was three the last time we were here. And while he doesn't really remember much from that last visit, I could tell he was experiencing flashes of deja vu.

Of course we couldn't leave without stopping for ice cream. I know that Mackinaw is famous for its fudge, but I just don't find rich chocolate to be all that appealing when it's 85+ degrees. Mix that famous fudge into ice cream, however, and now we're onto something!

Mmmm... ice cream. Ahhh... vacation.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The casual Super Heroes

Such masters of disguise! AJ and Ellie look so relaxed as they scale
this skyscraper at the children's museum, you'd almost think they were
just laying down for a photo that was turned sideways.

But we all know they'd be ready for action at a moment's notice.
Right? Right?

Forces of evil, beware. These cousins are coming after you. And
they're quite a team. At the playground, AJ informed me that he and
Ellie were pretending they were married. Of course I'll be sure to
remind them in years to come of their efforts to be a super couple.
Won't they love that?!?