Thursday, December 31, 2009

Day 2 Chicago

I booked the hotel room for one more night and following a free hot breakfast we headed to Navy Pier. Kaylin really, really wanted to do some maze thing she found in a brochure. Ugh. After our wait at the Sears Tower I was nervous about how busy Navy Pier would be. It wasn't bad at all. I found out that the Chicago Children's Museum was on the reciprocal list for our Lakeview Museum membership so we flashed our card and got in free. We hadn't been there in several years and I was sort of surprised to find that little had changed. Gene and Logan spent a very long time constructing a Sears Tower out of precut and drilled pieces of wood while Kaylin built a chair and I sat on a bench and balanced my checkbook and deleted old photos from my camera and watched some guy fish. We then spent a short time checking out the old exhibits and realizing our days of Children's Museums are more or less over. I would never pay to take the kids to this place again. Not nearly enough for their age group. It is all about toddlers and preschoolers.

The food court tables were packed so we took our lunch up to the Crystal Gardens (or whatever that room of fountains and palm trees is called) and found a table no problem. We ate and relaxed and the kids played and ran around. We all wanted to go back to the awesome Lego store so we grabbed a cab and headed back to Michigan Avenue. This time we were more focused on the boxed sets (rather than filling cups with Pick-a-Brick) and I found some amazing clearance deals on some cool sets. Kaylin did the build your own minifigs while Logan and I shopped the sales and picked out the best stuff. We left happy and satisfied and I'm pretty sure we will somehow manage to NOT go back today! Although they did have the new Toy Story Legos and I still have Christmas money... But seriously, that is probably my favorite store ever!

We then walked several blocks to the Hershey store. That was Logan's brochure find and the thing he really wanted to do. They had this thing called the "factory tour" where for $15 we got a paper "factory worker" hat (like a Steak and Shake hat) a photo ID badge with a lanyard and a bucket of assorted chocolate from this machine the kids had to turn several cranks that made noises and turned on lights before chocolates poured out of the machine to fill the bucket. It was pricey, but soooo worth it for Chocolate Boy. I didn't think he'd take off his ID badge to sleep last night! Kaylin had the choice of her own "factory tour" or doing the maze when we got back to Navy Pier. She chose the maze.

We headed back to Navy Pier via the longest route the cab driver could formulate (eye roll) and Gene and Kaylin headed for the maze. I had read some really negative reviews about this attraction (ridiculously overpriced and very short.) Plus, it was loud and dark. Logan probably would have enjoyed it, but we convinced him otherwise. Logan and I paid for parking and got ice cream. We found a free Chicago map and plotted our course back to the hotel. Kaylin loved her maze. I didn't get too many details. Whatever, time to head back to the hotel and play with Legos! We played with Legos, swam for an hour, ate dinner and played with Legos. It was a good day.

The plan for today is the Field Museum (again free with our Lakeview membership) and then head home. I think today's New Year's Eve. I can't remember for sure :) Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Gene and the kids are off work/school for two weeks and I took three extra days off this week so we decided to hit the road. We discussed many options, but the thing that remained constant was that Logan wanted to go to the Sears Tower Sky Deck. He talked about it nonstop. Yeah, he didn't care if we went to St. Louis or Indianapolis or Wisconsin Dells... As long as we went to the Sears Tower first. (And yes, I KNOW it's the Willis Tower now, but would anyone actually know what I was talking about?)

So Monday night after work I did laundry and packed. Tuesday morning I finished packing and got everyone up early, hoping to leave around 7. Hah. We did manage to pull out of the driveway at about 7:40, BUT we still had to get gas, shop the gas station for the perfect road snacks, stop at the ATM and run through the McDonald's drive-thru. We started on the road for real a few minutes after 8. Traffic was excellent. We hit a minor slow-down right outside of the city, but were parked and walking into the Sears Tower at 10:45am. The line for the Sky Deck was HUGE. We waited maybe 20 minutes just to get into the elevator to take us down to the level where we could buy tickets. We then waited another 30 minutes to get through security, another 10 to buy tickets, another 15 to get into the movie and then another 20 to get on the elevator to the Sky Deck. Ok, I'm not adding all my times together, but it was around 12:30pm when we finally arrived at our destination.

I have to admit, it was So. Cool. I was surprised because I'm usually not a fan of heights, but this didn't bother me at all! I can even remember other trips when it did bother me. Logan held it together for a while, but by the time we made it over to the new glass boxes he was freaking out and begging to go down. There was no way I was going to spend fifty bucks and all that waiting time to skip those boxes! We had Logan stand far back while the other three of us waited our turn to stand in a box and look straight down over the city. It was a thrill for sure! By this time we were all starving and Logan was about 10 seconds from a meltdown so we got in yet another line to go down. Fortunately, the down line was very short :) We filled our bellies with pizza and then Logan wanted to go back to the gift shop. Uh, ok. He actually spent $13 of his own money to buy a mini Sears Tower replica. He calls it his trophy. I think in his mind he earned this trophy for bravery on his terrifying adventure. Funny how the whole Sears Tower thing was HIS idea! He immediately changed the whole experience in his mind and it is now one of the best things he's ever done.

We left the tower and started walking aimlessly up the street, trying to decide where we should go and whether we should take a cab and how we would go about getting a cab when we ran into a La Quinta. Hey, La Quintas are usually cheap and clean! And we can see the Sears Tower from our hotel! We booked a room and found they have an indoor pool. Bonus! The kids are happy, the rate is acceptable. Actually, I think it's cheaper than we've paid for the La Quinta in Schaumburg. Yippee, we found a hotel.

We walked back to the Sears Tower parking deck and got our bags (We would have paid $36 to move our car two blocks for the night) and settled into our room. We headed back out after an hour or so and found that getting a cab in Chicago is rather effortless. Our next destination was the giant Lego store on Michigan Avenue. The kids and I spent a good hour packing cups full of "pick a brick" Legos. We also found an awesome set of 30 minifigs that came with bikes, dogs, skateboards, ATVs and tons of other accessories. That is one fun store! I kind of want to go back today and do the build your own minifigs thing. Probably won't happen.

Gene and I had never shopped on Michigan Avenue before, so we thought we'd check out Water Tower Place. Yawn. We're just not shoppers. Or hip or fashionable. Or at all interested in ANY of the stores at that mall! Or ANY of the non-Lego stores on the way to the mall. We did check out the American Girl store. Kaylin was very impressed and expressed interest in getting a doll some day. Honestly, she was way more thrilled with the Lego store. I think the bulk of her American Girl interest was because she was surrounded with gorgeous displays and crowds of other girls drooling over the dolls. I told her to research which doll she wants and if she really wants one I'll bring her back for her birthday. Her perfect acceptance of that offer further cemented my notion that she's really not terribly interested in the dolls. They are very nice, though.

We grabbed another cab back to the hotel. I told Gene that what I wanted "for Christmas" was for him to go pick up some food and then take the kids swimming while I relaxed in the room. He did! I played with Legos and dinked around on Facebook. Today we're either going to Navy Pier or the Field Museum. I'm considering booking another night at this hotel so we can do both. The kids love being in the city. It's supposed to snow today so I really don't want to drive several more hours north. I want to go to Racine to visit my old zebras at the zoo, but that trip will have to wait until another time. Oh, and Logan found a brochure in the hotel lobby for a Hershey store on Michigan Avenue. The brochure has a coupon for a FREE Hershey bar! Hmmmmm. Twenty bucks for cab rides to the Hershey store for a free candy bar or a buck at the Walgreens down the street? We shall see...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas 2009

Before Brady-dog crashed and burned on Christmas Day, we did have an excellent Christmas Eve. I had to work from 7am-10:30am. The plan was to let the kids open their (two) presents from Santa while I was at work (they were Wii games so I figured I'd see them play PLENTY of times...) and then open everything else as soon as I got home. Well, both kids were up and raring to open presents at 6am so we let them.

By the time I got home a little before 11am, the bulk of the paper and box mess was cleaned up. I was able to jump right in the shower and was in my pajamas, ready to hunker down and play for the rest of the day by 11:30. It was such a fun day! No neighbor kids, no obligations. Just the four of us playing Super Mario Bros and Mario Kart on Wii, playing SpongeBob Uno and Slamwich. Building Lego sets and playing with Bakugan and fairy dolls. Drinking hot chocolate with lots of whipped cream and eating Pringles and candy and donuts. The only thing that would have made the day more perfect would have been if I hadn't had to work.

I got Logan a giant Hershey's Kiss. He had it almost 3/4 gone by the time I got home from work! I thought for sure he'd spend the afternoon clutching his stomach and vomiting, but it didn't happen. I guess Gene was too busy frantically cleaning bits of wrapping paper and packaging to notice his kid was consuming a pound of chocolate :) Oh well, it's Christmas!

Christmas morning both kids woke up sick. Kaylin had a slight fever, a horrible cold and a sore throat. Logan just had a nasty cold. We ended up staying home from church. Gene's family only gets together once a year on Christmas, so he really wanted us all to go. I was pretty reluctant to take Kaylin around his cousin's kids. Then when we discovered Brady was in such bad shape, that made the decision. I stayed home with Kaylin and Gene and Logan went to the party. It was too bad since Kaylin loves playing with these (2nd?) cousins, but she was pretty miserable. We played video games and Blokus and I stayed in my Christmas Eve pajamas until I had to leave for the vet the next morning. I usually can't tolerate that much relaxation and need to leave the house regularly, but I have to admit it was a wonderful couple of days of down time. Other than the dying dog, it was a pretty great Christmas.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Brady had been doing fairly well for months. He could no longer jump. Playing fetch or going for walks for exercise were out of the question. But he was eating well and maintaining weight. He was playing with the kids and the neighbor dogs. He was happy in his old age.

Yesterday morning I noticed Brady's food bowl was still full. Weird. I took him the big bone treat I got him for Christmas. He raised his head a bit, sniffed the treat and turned away. Very weird. I cleaned up the extra toys and food and candy and brought him into the house. He wobbled and fell. He got back up and peed all over the carpet. Weirdest of all. This dog would burst before he peed in the house! By evening he couldn't get up and was only moving enough to scoot himself out of his urine. He refused to eat or drink anything so I couldn't even give him an arthritis pain pill. Still, he was happy to be petted and the kids and I showered him with attention.

This morning he wasn't moving around at all. I tried using a towel under his belly to support his hind legs while we walked, but his front legs were so wobbly Gene and I had to carry him part of the way to the van. He lay on his dog bed in the back of the van and didn't move the whole way to the vet's office. One of the vets carried him into the clinic where they had a room all set up and ready. He was euthanized quickly and painlessly. The vet hit his vein on the first try and Brady was gone in seconds.

Brady was almost 13 1/2. That's pretty old for a shepherd. Especially one that had sooooo many health issues as a puppy and young dog. I can't count how many times I wondered if Brady would make it to age ten. Amazing.

Kaylin and Logan were pretty upset. Logan can't quite wrap his brain around euthanasia or even death. Kaylin at least understood the death part. Both kids want another dog someday. Kaylin only wants a dog with one floppy ear and one partially sticking up ear like Brady. Um, that could be tough to find.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Vacation

Today's the first day of the kids' Christmas break. Friday is my normal day off so I'm home with them today and then Gene is off with them for the next two weeks. I took three extra days off the week of New Year's so we plan to go away for at least a couple of days and of course have no idea what we'll do. Logan very much wants to go up in the Sears Tower so that's a definite possibility. Today the kids just wanted to hang around home and play with the neighbor kids. Little Girl had school today, but Little and Littlest Boys were over most of the day.

Logan wanted to play hide-and-seek. I was doing the puzzles in the paper and not paying much attention to the game until I realized the three boys were taking FOREVER to find Kaylin. Even though Kaylin kept yelling out hints to where she was hiding... Her yelling was obviously coming from the kitchen, but the boys kept running to both ends of the house, outside and even into the garage. They did this over and over and over. I was finally laughing so hard that Kaylin noticed and asked what was so funny? I told her I couldn't believe how terrible Logan was at hide-and-seek. I would have figured the younger boys (2 and 4) wouldn't be fantastic, but Logan is seven. I thought it was hilarious that he couldn't figure out where Kaylin was by listening to where her voice was coming from. They played round after round and nobody could ever find Kaylin without her yelling or bumping around. Ridiculous.

The kids are now making a gingerbread house. It was one of those projects that sounded more fun than it actually is. The royal icing is sticky and gross. The candy isn't staying on the house. Cementing the house together was a two hour process. Kaylin's having a tough time with the thick icing in the dispenser bag. I'm trying to stay out of it :) Hopefully next year they'll agree to decorating cookies instead. At least they're working together without fighting!

It's been a crazy week at the zoo with moving hay and adjusting to new schedules and getting ready for the two holiday weeks. Our Christmas party was Tuesday night. We had it at the new zoo lodge and it turned out to be a good time with only zoo people and no worrying about bothering other customers at a restaurant. I wrote and sung my customary spoof song and received a brand new Easy Bake Oven at our white elephant gift exchange. I'm saving it and giving it to Kaylin for Christmas. She's going to flip! I told her there was NO WAY I was spending that kind of money for a toy oven when she could use the real thing. I'm pretty sure she'll be able to make the mixes all by herself and will be really happy.

Sigh. The gingerbread house just collapsed. Better do some damage control.

Friday, December 11, 2009

School (eye roll)

Huh. Where is the time going? It's December 11th and I haven't taken a Christmas card photo of the kids, much less had cards made and sent out. I'm a slacker! Wow. I just did the two weeks math :)

This week I got a notice in the mail that Kaylin has been selected to test to get into the gifted middle school next year. I suppose this should make me feel all smug and proud and I should be returning the enclosed form and scheduling her testing and maybe even paying some tutor to prepare her so she has a better shot of getting into the bestest school in the district. All I can say is THANK GOODNESS I have a friend who sent her child there and gave me some insight as to how they operate! They expect all of their students to fit the stereotypical mold of geeky bookworm, sitting in perfect concentration and self-driven to work hard and accomplish much. Non-conformist free thinkers are not appreciated. This school would be a horrible fit for Kaylin!

I don't even have a clue how she will keep up with the homework from "regular" middle school. She hates homework and is so easily distracted she can take hours to complete a 5 minute worksheet. If she has a sharp pencil and paper she needs to draw something, not solve math problems. She will spend hours writing and illustrating books, but will take hours to write a one paragraph essay about what she wants for Christmas. She reads all the time, but can't handle required reading from a textbook. I dread middle school and all of the horrible, closed-minded teachers Kaylin will likely encounter. Ugh. I hated junior high so much. I don't know how to prevent Kaylin from reliving my nightmare with idiot teachers and pointless work. Kaylin seems a lot more optimistic than I've ever been. Hopefully a few good teachers will be all she needs.

Changing subjects, I couldn't sleep the other night. I was bored with the computer and don't like the book I'm trying to read, so I spent some time watching the cats. They were playing hide-and-seek and play fighting on and around the pool table. The pool table is normally covered with toys and games, but Gene and the kids cleaned it off so they could actually play pool. Tiger jumped onto the table and accidentally knocked a ball into a pocket. He was shocked. That gave me the idea to teach the cats to play pool. I put all the balls on the table and started rolling them around, occasionally knocking a ball into a pocket. Tiger caught on quickly and in minutes went from batting balls around to intentionally moving the balls to the pockets. It was hilarious! Simon watched from the computer desk. Before I went back to bed I put all the balls on the table again. Only two were still out in the morning. I put them all out again and all were in pockets when I got home from work. Hee hee. Kitty enrichment. I bet Simon tried it out the second Tiger went away.

Friday, December 4, 2009


When it comes to material possessions, I'd say I'm low maintenance. I'm far from a minimalist, but I honestly don't care about "stuff." Clothes bore me to tears. I have no interest in home decor. I own two pieces of jewelry valued well under $100. I'm considering replacing my 13-yr-old car sometime in the next year, not because of the rust or broken bumper, but because of the weird noises it makes and the fact I feel uncomfortable driving it anywhere out of town. I love my new laptop, but it is a basic model. I am completely satisfied with my outdated point and shoot camera and my years-old iPod.

I like to spend my money on vacations. My motto is "Experiences, not things." And by experiences, I mean FUN ones with maybe a little education on the side. Wisconsin Dells comes to mind. Watching Logan's face as he plummeted down the water slide or getting caught up in Kaylin's excitement as she flicked her wand at a treasure chest that "magically" opened... That is the good stuff! Playing in the giant ball pit at City Museum in St. Louis, watching a single-file line of adorable otters at the Indy Zoo, seeing dozens of wild manatees in Florida, Disney World! Even little things like our membership to the small museum in town bring plenty of fun times. Then there are free things like hiking in the woods and finding deer and turkeys or throwing rocks in the river and poking dead fish with sticks. Even spending time playing with the cats provides endless entertainment. This is the stuff I love and live for!

So, when Gene wants to spend a wad of cash on electronic items I consider ostentatious and completely unnecessary, I balk. I question his values and judgment because they aren't the same as mine. With his last purchase I even questioned his sanity. But wait, who on earth am I to play all holier-than-thou??? I don't care about TVs and stereos and musical equipment because I DON'T CARE about them. Just because a new TV isn't important to ME doesn't mean it's not important to HIM. Gene loves watching football and baseball and racing. It's not like he wastes any more time watching sports than I do dinking around on the internet. Reading blogs and forums and writing emails is my therapy and sanity saver. Watching sports is his. Gene also loves electronics and technology. For me a TV is a TV is a TV. For Gene it will be so much more...

I guess the bottom line is that I need to lighten up and accept that my husband has (gasp) different interests than I do. He's not putting us into debt with his purchase. The kids will love the new TV and even I am looking forward to playing Wii on a big screen. So Gene-Gene, I publicly apologize for going off on you. Enjoy your new TV!