Sunday, July 31, 2011

The true personality emerges

Remember how I used to describe Gus as a calm and mellow puppy? He sure had me fooled!

It's been a week since our newest "baby" joined the family. A week of often-interrupted sleep and constant surveillance of a puppy who's not yet house-trained.

Who me?

In his time with us, Gus has gained a pound and a half, growing from nine pounds to 10.5. He desperately wants to be the alpha-male to someone, and I fear it will be Sydney. The rest of us are perfectly comfortable putting him in his place when he misbehaves, but Sydney squeals and freezes, allowing him to nip some more. Today we convinced her it's okay to swat at his nose and yell "back off buster," so I'm hopeful she'll "out-attitude" him yet.

I've often said there's a reason God made puppies and babies so cute. It's so we don't strangle them in frustration.

Gus has definitely grown more comfortable in his new home. That's a mixed blessing. His new-found confidence also means he's more curious and interested in exploring. 

He's also more aggressive, gnawing on anything and anyone he can wrap his jaws around: table legs, toes and - when all else fails - his own tail.

The breeder had described Gus as a real spitfire. It so conflicted with the quiet puppy we brought home, I figured she must tell that line everyone.

The breeder was right.

He's quick to come running for praise after going to the bathroom outside. (Hopefully the neighbors haven't heard my enthusiastic cheers, "Good job, Gus. That's how the big guys do it.") But he's equally independent. When he wants to sleep, he wants to be left alone. He'll happily lay next to you, just as long as he's not touching you.

And like all puppies, Gus has a total inability to pace himself. He'll run around the backyard like a mad dog, nipping at our feet and doing everything he can think of to goad us into playing with him. And then, just like that he plops flat and falls asleep.

Gus is going to be featured in the next issue of Living North. I just finished writing the article today, ending it with, "He's no Maggie. But he's an awesome Gus."

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sophisticated travelers

Chicago is a great place to visit, but I sure wouldn't want to live there. For one thing, I like having a car and being able to drive - without being stuck in gridlock at any given hour of the day or having to spend ridiculous amounts of money each time I need to park ($42/night at our hotel, $21 for the first hour at a museum).

Thankfully, I was tipped off before the trip to park in the long-term lot at Midway airport ($9/night), from which we (i.e. Jeff) could take the "L" back downtown to our hotel.

The kids adapted quite well to public transportation. In fact, it became part of the vacation adventure. Here's their first taxi ride:

I lost count of how many times AJ commented, "look at that skyscraper." The kids quickly developed a rating system for each taxi, judging the air conditioning and whether or not it had a TV (though it only played a news channel.)

Most of the drivers ignored us, tuning us out with headphones or talking on their phone via an ear piece. But one driver found my children to be highly entertaining. As I recall, the exchange between Sydney and AJ went something like this.

Sydney: "AJ, when I get married, will you be my husband?"

AJ: "Sydney, I would go to jail for that!"

Perhaps a non English speaking driver wouldn't have been so bad.

For our trip to Wrigley Field, we took the "L".

Nowhere have I been able to figure out how this combination train/subway got its nickname. My first guess was it was an abbreviation for ELevated train. Or maybe it's because the main section under downtown is known as the Loop. Apparently no one else wonders about these things, because even a web page dedicated to the history of the L's development doesn't explain.

My curiosities aside, the kids had mixed reactions to the L. Sydney wasn't too wild about it. Too many stairs involved to climb underground and later work our way back to the surface. The ticket/turn style process was interesting to them, and once seats opened up for them to sit, they enjoyed the ride much more. But overall, AJ liked the elevated portions of the trip much more than the subway segments.

One last fun traveling story that has nothing to do with public transportation. AJ obviously listens to us as we interact with other hotel guests. At a hotel in Madison on our way home, when the elevator door opened for us, AJ looked at the three men already inside and asked, "Excuse me, is this going up?"

The men had been speaking in another language, I'm guessing it was Russian, but they stopped and nodded. At the next floor, two of the men got off, but the third remained. He smiled at AJ and asked in a thick accent, "What is your name?"

AJ seemed almost stumped as to how to answer, and then it became clear it was because he was already thinking ahead to a question he wanted to ask the man in return. I braced myself for an embarrassing scene as AJ at last responded, "I'm Alex. Did you know, um, that you, um, look like Frank Sinatra?"

The man (who really didn't look like Frank Sinatra other than perhaps his hairstyle) smiled and said something about wishing he could sing like him. Thankfully it was only a few more seconds before we reached our floor. Thankfully, we will likely never see the man, or the Chicago taxi driver, ever again.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Chicago Juggler

For AJ, it was a dream come true. My little ham got called out of the audience and, for a few brief moments, got to go up on stage during a live performance.

While visiting Navy Pier last week, we happened to catch "The Chicago Juggler". When the guy asked for volunteers, AJ's arm shot up, as did the arms of dozens of other kids. But it was AJ he chose. Here's a look at the entertainer and his enthusiastic volunteer. (Note: the video is broken into two segments. The second part picks up where the first leaves off. All together they're about three minutes long.)

AJ's no stranger to balloon swords, but a balloon belt to hold a sword... that was pretty exciting. Alas, the balloon belt didn't survive the seatbelt during the taxi ride back to the hotel. AJ was so disappointed. Despite that, at bedtime when I asked him what was the best part of his day (a day filled with swimming, a trip to the Children's Museum and the rides at Navy Pier), I really wasn't  too surprised when he said his favorite thing was getting to help the juggler.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Hot time at Wrigley Field

Holy swelteringly miserable experience!

Who'd have thought back in early spring when we reserved our tickets to catch a baseball game at the legendary Wrigley Field, that the particular game we selected would happen to fall on a 95-degree day?
That's our luck! And since we had already paid for the tickets, we decided to sweat it out for as long as we could stand it. (Jenny wisely stayed behind at the hotel with baby Jimmy.) 

We took the "L" from our hotel to the field. Once we reached the stadium, we started climbing to find our seats. And climbing. And climbing. And climbing. One long ramp after another we climbed until at last we reached our seats which were, by my estimation, about 12 rows above the nose bleed section. Just two rows separated us from the back fence. 

At least though, we were in the shade. And we were at Wrigley Field.

The kids sat quietly in their seats for... oh... about 45 seconds... before asking when they could get treats. Wanting water and/or ice cream myself, and freely admitting I couldn't have cared less about a game between two teams I don't follow, I agreed to walk with the kids back down ramp after ramp in search of refreshments.

All too soon we were back in our seats with cotton candy and malt cups. That kept the kids busy and happy for another inning or two, and then the questions started about getting souvenirs. This time the guys agreed to chaperon.

When they came back, you couldn't have asked for a more obvious example of the difference between boys and girls. The kids weaved their way down our row to their seats, excitedly showing off their loot. Sydney had picked a small pink stuffed bear (a Cub, don't you know?) and Ellie had chosen a pink baseball cap. And what did AJ and Ben each get?

Oh, goody! Because who wouldn't want a giant foam bear paw.

Ultimately we lasted until the top of the seventh inning, and then we couldn't stand the heat any longer.

To our credit, we seemed to last about six innings longer than the Cubs did. The final score was a nail biter... they lost to Philadelphia by something like 9-1. And based on how many people we saw wearing Cubs t-shirts on the ride back downtown, we clearly weren't the only attendees who snuck out early.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A hot time in the old town...

We didn't need Mrs. O'Leary or her cow and lantern to experience scorching conditions last week in the Windy City. Wednesday (hard to believe it was already a week ago) was the hottest day. Not realizing that the temperature had already hit the 90s by mid-morning, we hailed a cab and headed to Millenium Park.

There we discovered a mix of arts, culture and family activities, all of which were overshadowed by just how miserably hot and humid it was.

A very large tent was set up which at least got us out of the sun. Inside, we found all sorts of things to do, including hula hoops... 

... and bean bag toss games.

For AJ, the second best part was discovering a giant fan. (How hot was it? They closed down the tent about a half hour after we left because of the excessive heat.)

This was topped only by the craft table sponsored by the Chicago History Museum. As he worked on creating a "flaming Mrs. O'Leary pencil", he started talking with one of the museum employees. If it hadn't been for the 20-year gap in their ages, I would suggest AJ had found his soul mate. He asked her what her favorite war was. She chose "Am Rev," which I'm assuming is history buff shorthand for the American Revolution. She then turned the tables on AJ, asking him who was his favorite general. AJ sat stumped for a moment before answering George Washington. She then told AJ all about her favorite general. The last name was LaFayette, I believe. AJ was fascinated as she summarized a biography she'd just finished reading. (It's not a coincidence that on our last day, instead of visiting the planned science museum, we instead went to the Chicago History Museum.)

Eventually we dragged AJ away and walked to the landmark "Big Bean".

At least it was relatively cool walking under it. Of course I had to get a picture of my "Sydney Bean" standing in front of the Big Bean.

For the kids, this modern art sculpture simply couldn't compete with the make-shift sprinkler set up a short distance away. Urban relief from the heat!

Nearby in the park was an ampitheater, and despite the heat, an orchestra was performing a mid-day concert. Sydney took advantage of the music and sprinkler to perform her version of a water ballet.

Around and around she twirled as the cooling water rained down, accompanied by upbeat orchestra music. Certainly not something she'd likely have a chance to do back home!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Roll the cute puppy video

Anyone who's worked as a news producer can tell you: when there's a problem with the show, cute puppy video can save the day. Planned live shot fails leaving gaping hole in your news cast? Roll the cute puppy video. Satellite feed goes down causing you to miss a story? Roll the cute puppy video.

It's a lesson that's stuck with me. No time to blog about your recent trip to Chicago because you're too busy watching a not-yet-house-trained-dog? Roll the cute puppy video.

Gus, meet your reflection.

What else did we learn during his first full day in our family? Gus does not like leashes, does not like his kennel and has a long way to go to be house-trained. Good thing he's so cute.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Vacation was great fun, and I certainly have more pictures and stories to share in the coming days. But the trip will forever be remembered as the one we couldn't wait to end. As good as it was, we had a very special event to look forward to upon our return home.

Welcome, Gustav the Golden! (a.k.a. Gus)

We'd been planning to pick him up Monday evening, but realized the only one who wouldn't be excited to get Gus early is the cat, and she doesn't get to vote. So we cleaned and puppy-proofed the house as much as possible, set up the kennel, and then set off to welcome the newest member of our family.

Gus actually seemed to remember us. When we arrived, a bunch of puppies gathered at the gate. The breeder worked her way in and set about with her scanner, which can read the microchip implanted in each puppy, identifying who belongs to whom. The puppies turned their attention to her, following her across the kennel. All except one who remained at the gate staring at us.

As she scanned puppy after puppy unsuccessfully, she commented that she'd put a blue collar on our dog. I looked down and sure enough, the puppy whose focus never wavered from us was the one with a blue collar. It was as if he knew we were there for him.

At seven weeks and one day, Gus weighs nine pounds. For a puppy, he's actually pretty mellow. He loves to snuggle, and hasn't nipped too many times. House-training could prove to be a challenge. Whenever we take him outside he tends to just lay down. (We made it five hours before the first accident, and at least it was on the wood floor, not carpet.)

AJ has been incredibly attentive and helpful. We've talked about how much work it is to train a puppy, and he's taking the responsibility seriously. He's done a good job keeping an eye on Gus in the house, and has sat outside with him more than I have. The breeder warned AJ to not encourage Gus to chase him, because soon Gus will be big enough to unintentionally cause injury. And so AJ has reminded Sydney of that several times. 

The breeder's adult son was there when we picked up Gus, and gave us quite the compliment. As we were preparing to leave, he said he could tell Gus would be well-trained and cared for, based on how well-behaved AJ and Sydney were. (I told him our previous dog deserved some of the credit, because it was on her that we first practiced our parenting skills.) 

Meanwhile, the breeder made a comment that gave me chills. Not knowing our previous dog's name, she said they'd nicknamed Gus "Maggie-man." Apparently the mother dog's sister was named Maggie, and Gus bears a striking resemblance to her.

For all of Gus' sweetness, he is still a puppy. Ironically, his favorite toy isn't any of the dog toys (some new, some hand-me-downs from Maggie), but rather it's a red sand castle building form he snagged from the sandbox. 

He's a special little guy who soon will grow to be a special big guy. Which is only appropriate because in just a few short hours he's grown to fill a very big space in our hearts.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Navy Pier

What a ride! We visited Navy Pier Tuesday. AJ looked at me with a sort of confused excitement on his face, asking, "It's a carnival?"

There weren't a lot of rides, but what was there had the perfect level of thrill-factor for these elementary-aged dare devils. I forget what this one was called, but it became Sydney's favorite. She dubbed it the "up and down" ride because it lifted the kids up in the air, then dropped them down.

Of course, we couldn't skip the legendary ferris wheel. Boys in one car, girls in the other as we slowly rotated upward until we were 150 feet in the air.

The view would have been magnificent, had it not been foggy by the time we reached the top. Had this been Duluth, the fog would have been an indication of cooler by the lake conditions. But no such luck here. It was hot and muggy no matter where we were.

Here's another perspective showing just how big the ferris wheel is. Pay attention to the swing ride in the fore ground. It was AJ's favorite.

AJ's gone on this kind of ride numerous other times. This one went the fastest by far! He had kind of a funny look on his face while the ride was in motion, but once he landed he was totally cool!

Poor Sydney... or maybe not. The swing ride represented almost a rite of passage for her. Last year, at Marine Land, all the other kids had been able to ride a relatively tame version of the swing. But Sydney had been too short. There'd been lots of tears as we'd told her that the next year she'd probably be big enough.

So this year was her big chance, and suddenly, the sight of the fast moving swings left her more than a bit terrified.

The ride included a few double-wide seats, so we suggested several combinations: Daddy could sit next to Sydney. No. Ellie could sit next to Sydney. Still, no. Finally I offered to ride with her. At last, a nod. With Mommy by her side, she felt brave. And then we reached the gate. And were denied. You have to be 42 inches tall to ride.

I suspect Sydney wasn't entirely disappointed. So instead, we found a ride she could do on her own.

Boy, was she proud. She strutted up to the carousel and made a big deal of picking which horse would be just right. She then made sure to wave at me each time she came round. (Except for the time she discovered a mirror on the interior and was so busy waving at herself that she missed me.)

The other attraction they simply couldn't pass up was mini-golf.

It quickly became apparent that AJ and Ben share a competitive spirit, battling for bragging rights as they moved from hole to hole. Sadly for Sydney, she seems to have inherited her mother's talent (or lack there of) for golf.

Still, it was a good experience for Sydney to watch and try to mimic her cousins and brother. Three years ago, she fine-tuned her ability to walk while trying to keep up with the rest of the Kazel kids. During this year's vacation, she's grown far more comfortable in the swimming pool and has been far more likely to walk (instead of asking to ride in the stroller.) Normally I'd say it's positive peer pressure, but on this day... get ready for the pun... it was positive pier pressure.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cousin reunion

It's like this every year. AJ and Sydney meet up with cousins Ellie and Ben, and you'd never know it'd been a year since they saw each other last. The kids just naturally connect.

In their first 24 hours together, they've spent a significant amount of time bonding in the hotel swimming pool. Also today, we visited the Shedd Aquarium.

I've been wanting to visit the Shedd for a decade, ever since my days working at the Great Lakes Aquarium. And it didn't disappoint.

The kids enjoyed the "camp site" set up in one of the freshwater exhibits. It included a canoe, camp stove and tent.

For Sydney, the highlight was the penguin exhibit. She and Ellie went down the slide over and over again. Ellie donned a penguin costume and went down on her belly. Sydney tried it, too, but ultimately decided she preferred to waddle down slide.

AJ and Ben, meanwhile, found the "secret" tunnel, which they determined wasn't for penguins, but rather for abominable snowmen. It's amazing how alike these two have become. 

At one point, I saw Ben crawling on a wall and thought, "that looks like something AJ would do." Sure enough, seconds later, there was AJ - crawling after him.

For AJ, the best part of the Shedd was the pretend submarine. AJ fancied himself the captain and  happily barked out orders to his crew.

Notice something ironic about the story so far? The kids' three favorite things at the Shedd Aquarium had nothing to do with fish. It was the hands-on activities that rated highest with them.

Maybe if the fish had been more attractive than the big guy in the background, the kids would have been more enthralled by them. Incidentally, I may never set foot in a river again for fear of something that size brushing about against my legs.

It wasn't until later in the day when I realized that, due to nap times and lack of walking ability, a certain key individual had been omitted from all the group photos. We couldn't let that happen! So without further ado, here he is... Jimmy D!

The joke has been, because of his blonde hair, he looks more like his cousins than his siblings. 

Jimmy is an incredibly mellow and happy guy, equal parts fascinated by and content with all the new people who are so happy to hold him.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Finally... vacation

Thank goodness for swimming pools. Otherwise the highlight of our first day of vacation might have been the giant cow that stood in front of the Cheese Chalet, across the street from our hotel.

It's not  that this was a bad cow sculpture, by any means. But had this been the only thing for me to write about, then I'd have been forced to make jokes about cheeseheads, which just might have offended several cheesehead friends of mine who read this blog.
So all in all, it's a good thing that a few hours after posing with the giant cow, Sydney experienced a breakthrough moment in the swimming pool.

"Look, Mom! I'm swimming!"

Granted she was wearing a life jacket, but this was the first time we were able to pry her fingers from our arms and leave her to paddle around the pool.

It was a smaller pool and the water was fairly warm. Translation: the kids would have swam all night if we'd let them.

Sydney was immensely proud of herself. We were almost as excited as she was. For the first time ever, Jeff and I were able to sit in a hotel whirlpool together and watch the kids play together in the pool. Vacations from this point forward will become more and relaxing.

At this rate, by the end of this week - with access to a pool each day - she just may turn into a mermaid.