Tuesday, August 31, 2010

First day of school

Sunday we went to the Topeka Zoo. One of Meghan's former coworkers gave us a tour of the whole zoo, including many behind the scenes areas. We got up close to the adorable baby hippo. I got to pet and feed mama hippo and had some good photo ops. In case you were wondering, hippos feel like rubber. That was one of my favorite zoo experiences of my life! We also got to see their baby giraffe up close. The tour was great, but the kids were exhausted and acting like zombies. They weren't complaining or whining or anything, just wandering around with blank faces. There was no joy. I wore them completely out with 8 hours at the Omaha Zoo.

We then went to a really cool animal sculpture playground across from the zoo. It had many sculptures the kids could climb and play on. We didn't stay too long because it was 95F, but that perked the kids up quite a bit. We stopped at a really cool toy store and a Target before eating lunch at (blech!) CiCi's Pizza and heading home around 2pm. I had no idea if I'd be able to make the entire drive, but the kids were ready to go home. We stopped at a rest area where Kaylin roller skated and Logan and I played catch. We stopped for dinner and then made a final stop at the Meijer store in Springfield for gas and walking around to wake me up. We finally made it home ~10:30pm. I was the zombie yesterday. I was almost too exhausted to move :) The kids were up early and running around all day. Kaylin complained that we didn't have anything "fun" planned for the last day of summer vacation. Ummmm...

Tuesday was the first day of school. Everyone had new haircuts and new shoes and new backpacks full of supplies. Both kids woke up early and got ready without complaining or fighting. Kaylin's school starts at 7:30am and Logan's doesn't start until 9. That means Logan has to go to morning latchkey, but their schools are very close so I can drop off Kaylin and then take Logan before heading to work. I was planning on having Kaylin take the morning bus, but getting her out the door at 7:15 is going to be hard enough. I can't imagine the fights that would accompany her having to be completely ready and at the bus stop at 6:40am! Not worth it! Especially since I always left at 7:25 last year to drop them off at latchkey.

I didn't get a lot of information, but both kids had a good first day. Kaylin was disappointed she didn't get a locker assignment because she was unable to open her padlock. It was discovered too late in the 2 1/2 hour day that her padlock was defective and the teacher couldn't even open it. She got a working padlock on Wednesday and is thrilled to have her first locker. Even if it is one of the stupid smaller ones. Logan appeared happy with his teacher and classmates. Today is the first full day of school with lunch and latchkey and "real" switching classes for Kaylin. Last night's homework was all about ME filling out emergency cards and personality profiles and after school stuff. Ugh!

I was dreading having Kaylin and Logan at different schools, but it seems like it will work out ok. At least until the fundraisers start...

And finally, and very off topic, we got to see the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile at Hy-Vee on Tuesday! It was the kids' first time seeing the Wienermobile. I was disappointed they weren't giving out wiener whistles or selling Wienermobile stuff, but seeing it and getting our picture taken was good enough :)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo

Yes indeedy, this place was everything I hoped and more. What an awesome day! We arrived at 9am, left at 5pm and still didn't see quite everything. I'm trying hard to remember if I've spent 8 hours at a zoo before? Maybe Sea World or Disney's Animal Kingdom, but if so, it was due to shows and rides, not 8 hours of animal exhibits. We did see a 45 minute Imax movie (Bugs! in 3-D) and ride the Sky Tram one way because our legs were so tired. Otherwise, we hoofed it the entire time. And no one complained because the place was so awesome...

Since babies are my favorite, I'll start with them. A tiger cub, an orange baby langur, a tiny sea lion pup and a pair of adorable fossa pups. The fossa pups were being hand raised in the nursery and we happened to see them at a time they were being bottle fed and then allowed to run around and explore the room. It looked like about the most fun job ever, wrestling the squirmy little things while they nipped hands and wiggled around to escape. Too cute! The sea lion was the smallest I've seen and beyond adorable. I always love tiger cubs and who doesn't love a bright orange baby monkey?

The exhibits were all new to me, but new to the zoo was the Madagascar exhibit. It. Was. Amazing. First, we walked through a huge outdoor walkthrough with red and black and white ruffed lemurs free to jump on the visitor boardwalk. They did! I have several photos of the kids within touching distance of lemurs who just sat there. They also had large outdoor enclosures for ring-tailed lemurs and sifakas (those lemurs who leap sideways on the ground.) The indoor building housed zillions more lemurs, many birds, reptiles and amphibians native only to Madagascar and my favorite animal of the day- aye-ayes! Aye-ayes are creepy-looking, shaggy lemurs with a weird skeletal finger on each hand and are considered an omen of evil or bad luck when seen by the native tribal people. They're incredibly cool and only housed in 3 US zoos. I can't remember for sure if this was the first time I've seen them, but I'm positive this was the first time I've seen them well. I didn't get any photos because they are nocturnal and their exhibit was very dark, but they were running all over the exhibit and came close to the glass many times. We even got to see their weird fingers. Google them and look at photos! They're awesome!

The rainforest and desert dome were mindblowing. The cat building was HUGE, with the most cats I've ever seen at one facility. I'm not usually crazy about great apes, but the gorillas had a tiny baby who was riding on mom's back and then scampering all over the place. I spent more time watching gorillas than I ever have before. The aquarium was cool, but way too crowded. The butterfly building was pretty great. We all enjoyed riding the sky ride directly over the rhinos and the lake full of koi. The whole zoo was fantastic.

We set out from the zoo and drove directly to Topeka. That wasn't exactly intentional, there just wasn't ANYTHING between Omaha and Topeka! It was shocking! About an hour into our drive we happened upon a small town that had a Pizza Hut. It was maybe the size of Eureka, Il and was by far the biggest town right on the highway. There was another small town with a Super 8 motel about 30 miles out of Topeka, but I thought since we were so close already, I'd like to get 20 miles closer. Nope. Topeka doesn't have suburbs! At least not to the north. We had to go all the way into town to find a hotel. Oh, and the dink town we stopped at to eat at the Pizza Hut didn't have cell phone reception!

Today we're going to Topeka Zoo to see the baby hippo and giraffe. It appears to be a fairly small zoo so I'm thinking maybe two hours instead of eight. The kids both have bad colds so I don't think we'll stop at Kansas City Zoo. We'll see. I have no idea if we'll drive all the way home tonight or find something else to do and come home Monday. Again, we'll see :)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Vacation meant to be spent alone

My title means nothing. My last two titles were Go-Go's lyrics to their song Vacation so I'm continuing for my own pleasure. I'm having a blast with the kids and don't actually want to be alone.

We left home Friday morning at 8am, hit no real traffic and only minor road construction and following a quick lunch and gas stop, pulled into Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines around noon. I had been expecting a small zoo that would give us a nice break from the car ride. I wasn't expecting much, but was pleasantly surprised. We loved the place! We fed ducks, baby swans and zillions of koi at the pond. The koi were so thick around the feeding area they looked like you could walk across them. We happened upon a tiger when she was being very playful and jumping on the windows and interacting with the kids. We played with the tiger for probably 20 minutes before another family came and I made the kids leave so the other kids could have a turn. They had a budgie feeding area with nearly 300 parakeets. You couldn't even go inside unless you bought a stick of food for a buck. We spent another 30 minutes covered in birds. The zoo had some great exhibits (NINE ostriches!) and we had a great time.

We drove on toward Omaha. I had expected to stop in Council Bluffs, but had no idea how big it was. I was confused by the sudden multi-lane highways and no hotel/gas/restaurant signs. Suddenly we were over the bridge in Nebraska and I saw the dome that could be nothing other than the Henry Doorly Zoo Desert Dome! It was "rush hour" so I exited just to get my bearings and found a Comfort Suites that's actually called the Comfort Suites at the Zoo. Indoor pool and breakfast? Check. Perfect! I can see the zoo structures from the parking lot. It will be a 2 minute drive this morning.

The kids swam for a good hour. So far everything's gone well. Now I just need to somehow pass the next 2 1/2 hours before zoo time. This is the number 1 zoo I've wanted to visit the past 15 years! I've always thought we'd do a train trip to Denver "next year" and make a stop in Omaha so I just never made the drive. I'm crazy-excited! I just read about a new sea lion pup and a tiger cub that are on exhibit. I hope this place lives up to at least some of my expectations :)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Vacation had to get away

Well, I'm at the halfway point of my vacation and so far it has been excellent! Last night was Kaylin's middle school orientation. She got to go around and find her new classrooms, meet most of her teachers and see some of her friends. Her main homeroom teacher was not there because she was becoming a grandma, but she got to go into the classroom anyway and then ate ice cream and ran around the gym with Zoe. I was hoping they'd get their locker assignments so I know what to send with her next Tuesday, but that didn't happen. She had a great time and the evening eased some of her nerves about starting a new school, so it was worth putting off leaving for Omaha until today.

I am so glad we're leaving today! Yesterday was just a revolving door of neighbor kids in and out, in and out, making huge messes in the house and yard, taking apart the Lego garbage truck I slaved over on Monday, eating my food and making smart alecky comments about my hair. I wish they would go back to Poland for a few more months.

On Tuesday and Wednesday my friend Meghan and I went to Cincinnati. We had been talking about visiting the zoo for months. Then we both read a book that mentioned something called the Creation Museum. We checked out their website and knew immediately we wanted to go there. Millions and millions of dollars were spent to build this museum dedicated to Creationism and we were terribly curious what it could possibly contain. We left very early Tuesday morning so we could arrive in time to attend a lecture on "The Importance of Genesis." The lecture was given by a molecular biology professor and the theme was that our children are leaving church in droves because they are not getting answers to their questions about earth age, dinosaurs, etc. Rather than answers, they're hearing "Nice children don't ask those questions" or "Just believe in Jesus, that doesn't matter." This group did an extensive study with 1000 young adults who had been brought up regularly attending church and asked many questions regarding why they stopped attending, etc. Their conclusion was that the frustration with having so many unanswered questions snowballed from questioning belief in 6 day creation or Noah's flood, to questioning belief in the entire Bible. Their answer to this problem was to educate the parents/pastors/Sunday School teachers in Genesis and Creationism so they could give valid answers to kids' questions. The museum was basically built as a tool to aid the adults (as well as older kids) in learning the history found in Genesis and therefore having answers to questions posed.

The museum was amazingly well done. The exhibits were beautiful and the grounds were even more beautiful. The book I read compared the animated robot dinosaurs to Disney quality and I would have to agree. The beginning galleries were filled with signs and graphics showing Biblical interpretation vs. Man's (scientific) interpretation of everything from 6 Day Creation vs. Big Bang Theory to how the Grand Canyon was formed. Then there were scenes of Adam and Eve in the Garden with all kinds of animals including dinosaurs. Before Adam's sin, man and all animals were herbivores and all got along, after, food became scarce and animals were forced to eat each other and man was forced to use animal skins as clothing. This entire area was very heavy on dinosaurs and man living harmoniously. The next area dealt with Noah's flood and had many ark scenes with dinosaurs being loaded on the ramp up to the ark or on the ground. Finally, there was a large display of dinosaurs with "Young Earth" explanations of extinction and fossils.

Outside, the grounds were a beautiful bot garden with lots of water features and a trail that led to an odd petting zoo filled with hybrid animals to show that God created "kinds" of animals. The zorse and zonkey (horse/zebra and donkey/zebra) were proof that horses, donkeys and zebras were all of the horse "kind" as they can all interbreed. My conclusion of the museum as a whole was that they started with the question "Why are our children leaving church?" and used the answers they were given to work all of the "problem areas" into following the book of Genesis. (Oh, and the founder and CEO Ken Ham really loves dinosaurs.) The whole thing (museum, their version of Creation, dinosaur and man coexisting happily) seemed contrived to provide a generic answer to important questions. It seemed more like they forced their ideas to fit Biblically than that their ideas were actually taken from the Bible. They took a very important and valid issue and drove it straight into Wack-a-Doo Land. The "evidence" in this museum will never turn any atheists! I won't even get into the gross inaccuracies on many of their signs... Overall, I'm glad I went once. It was incredibly interesting and made me think of things I've never considered before. However, I won't go back.

Our second day was spent at Cincinnati Zoo and was one of the best zoo days ever! We started out with a behind the scenes tour of black and Indian rhinos, okapi and zebras. We then moved on to a tour of the small cat house. Meghan's very interested in small cats and if she could have her pick of any keeper job in the country it would be this building. It was incredibly cool to get to see ALL of the cats. We also got to see 3 of the 4 tiger cubs (now a year old) in their quarantine area waiting to be sent out to other zoos. Our final behind the scenes tour was of the Sumatran rhinos. Cincinnati is the only zoo in the USA exhibiting these rhinos so it was amazing for two rhino keepers to get up close to these guys! We had plenty of time to tour the rest of the zoo on our own and got to see some amazing stuff. That was the third time in 6 months I went to the Cincinnati Zoo and I could go back again tomorrow. I think it's my favorite zoo I've visited. I will see if Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo lives up to Cincinnati!

Meghan and I literally bounced with excitement the whole way home. It was a fantastic "weekend" and I doubt we could have had a better time.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Vacation all I ever wanted

Yeeeee!!! It's early the first morning of my nine day vacation from work. I'm about bouncing with excitement looking ahead at all the things I have planned, potentially planned and just the possibilities that go along with having so much time off. And then I laugh at myself because I know from experience I'll likely be sitting in this exact spot a week from now wondering where the time went and if I can actually accomplish going through every toy and piece of clothing in the house and shampooing the carpet and getting a haircut and, and.... In one day? Nope, it won't happen! But it will be ok because we will have had a great week anyway. I hope. That is definitely the plan!

So far, every day is booked. Today Kaylin is getting together with her friend Zoe. Following the most awkward phone conversation EVER that involved having to call Zoe back because Kaylin was completely covered in slime (fortunately she was outside) and then Kaylin running inside and handing me the phone to work out the details. I assumed I would talk to Zoe's mother, but no, this was apparently a learning tool so I had to talk to the excessively shy Zoe while she questioned both me and her mother. I was so eager to end the call, I'm honestly not sure whether Zoe is coming here to play or just to pick up Kaylin and go back to her house. I don't care. Getting off the phone was worth the uncertainty!

Tuesday and Wednesday I'm going to Cincinnati with a friend from work. We have some behind-the-scenes tours scheduled at the zoo. The kids will be with my parents. Thursday is Kaylin's orientation at her new middle school. Friday through Monday the kids and I are heading to the zoo in Omaha and I have no idea what else. We may drive down to the Topeka Zoo because they have a newborn hippo calf I'd LOVE to see! We also might drive up to Sioux Falls for no other reason than I've never been to South Dakota. Or do something else entirely... We shall see. School starts Tuesday the 31st, but it's only for a couple of hours. That will be the day I try to accomplish 60 hours of housework in 3 hours and will feel sad for 5 minutes over my lack of accomplishment.

My diet change is going well. I was feeling discouraged by my upcoming vacation time (and having to eat on the road for 5 or 6 days) so I broke down and weighed myself. I planned to not weigh myself for at least a month, but following two weeks of no fast food, no frozen prepared dinners and lots and lots of fruits and vegetables, I lost 5 pounds! That was eating 5-6 times a day and definitely NOT starving myself in any way, just not eating crap. I don't doubt this week will be a setback- there just won't be much choice in food at zoos and on the road. I plan to take along a lot of healthy stuff for snacking and just fill in with the best possible choices in junk when I have to.

My new fun thing to do is try the "diet" items on restaurant menus. Carlos O'Kelley's = awesome chicken enchiladas in fat-free tortillas with rice. Yum! Bob Evans = boring omelet that doesn't even come close to being as good as the ones I make at home. Bartonville Family Restaurant = possibly the most hilarious dining experience ever. I ordered from the "diet" section of the menu and got the California fruit plate. It came with a gigantic bowl of soup, bread and butter and a cracker basket. I ordered the BLT soup, thinking despite the bacon, it was probably tomato based. Wrong! It was cream based and the quantity was huge! A large soup bowl filled to the rim. Then the entree... According to the menu, I was supposed to get peaches, pears and pineapple with cottage cheese and a piece of raisin toast. I received a giant platter with a mound of cottage cheese in the middle. "Growing" up from the cottage cheese was one of those tree-looking celery stalks decorated with rings of black olives. The canned fruit was sectioned around the tree/cottage cheese mountain, placed on top of lettuce greens and divided by triangles of toast. Peaches, pears and pineapple (all in heavy syrup) as well as Mandarin oranges and strawberry pie filling. The waitress was trying hard not to laugh while delivering this work of art, but burst into laughter at my reaction. It was the most amazing presentation of canned goods EVER! Colleen took my picture and I'll post it if I can ever figure out how to post a pic from my phone. I'll have to guess that not many people who come to this diner with giant booths to accomodate 350 pound men order off of the diet menu!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fatty McFat

Yawwwnnnnnnn. That's pretty much the week we've had. Baseball and swimming lessons are over for the year, the neighbor kids are home from Poland and are over all the time. The kids finished their last week of Camp Zone yesterday and will go to one final week of camp at the Riverplex next week. They're excited because their two favorite counselors are also going to the Riverplex camp. I'm not excited because camp drop-off and pick-up are a much bigger pain when they're not right in front of my work. Oh well, only one week.

School's starting a week later than usual this year because of some major construction projects at many schools. This is a good idea because last year the construction at my kids' school wasn't finished and Kaylin spent a week having classes in the library. The unexpected late start left us with no camp the final week before school starts, so I'm taking the week off work and hanging out with the kids. Gene needs his remaining time off to take off with the kids at Christmas break, so he'll be working.

I've been thinking about this time off all summer. Oh, the projects I put off because I could get them done during my week off! Now the time is actually almost here and I'm booking it solid to be out of town. It turns out that the thought of staying home all week babysitting the neighbor kids and watching them mess up my house and yard and drink all my juice boxes isn't that appealing. Who woulda thunk? Instead, I'm planning a two-day trip to Cincinnati with a friend, a trip to Omaha with the kids, and if I can somehow swing it, an overnight with Gene and the kids to Starved Rock. I really just want to get out of here and do something fun. And yes, the kids are VERY excited about going to Nebraska. Seriously. Except Kaylin wants to drive on to Wyoming. For real. I'd do it if we had enough time!

The other night I weighed myself for the first time in at least 18 months. Let's just say I wasn't happy. My feet have been so bad for most of this time that I stopped exercising. Most of the time I was in so much pain after work I'd come home and plop in my chair, unable to do anything else. I couldn't stand (literally and figuratively) to cook so I started eating easy, boxed crap and take-out. I slowly transitioned from a mostly healthy diet to basically nothing but junk. Even my packed lunches at work were stuff like frozen egg rolls that I could pack in about 10 seconds. I have a very physical job and I'm on my feet literally all day, but that can't make up for McDonalds several times a week and microwavable junk the rest of the time.

My feet are still too bad to walk or run for exercise. Biking makes them cramp horribly and isn't worth it. My left foot is bothering me enough that I'm going in for a cortisone injection Monday. But sheesh, are my feet not healing because I'm not stretching/icing/wearing orthotics enough or is it because I'm now so overweight? It's definitely time to do something! I started a new "whole foods" diet last Saturday. I'm taking it in baby steps, but plunged right in with two definite rules- no packaged frozen foods and no fast foods. Well, I am eating pre-cooked frozen chicken breast, turkey meatballs and soy sausage as well as frozen veggies. Just no TV dinners or egg rolls or Eggo waffles. I also need to stop drinking so much Diet Pepsi and start drinking more water. My plan is to transition from soda to bottled green tea to mostly water. I love the green tea so that transition shouldn't be an issue, but the caffeine withdrawal of switching from tea to water scares me to death.

A week on the MUCH better diet (I'm not "dieting" I'm changing my whole way of eating, or my "diet") has already shown good results. I don't plan to weigh myself again for a long time, but the difference in energy is amazing. I had three late nights at work this week. Normally, that would mean a Friday of exhaustion and needing to spend the entire day resting. This Friday I was fine. I got a bunch of housework done and felt good. I've been sleeping better and longer the past few nights. I just feel better. My next step is to find exercise (not swimming!!!) that I can do without using my feet. Email me if you have any suggestions!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Mother of Five

Oh, sigh. The neighbors are back from 2 1/2 months in Poland and the most tranquil summer of my recent existence. I went out for the paper yesterday morning and saw their van in the driveway. Obviously, the van didn't take them to Poland, but it's been gone the entire time. I was sort of overwhelmed with sadness. It has been WONDERFUL to spend my evenings with only my children. It has been WONDERFUL to say "Let's go to ___" on any given Saturday and my kids eagerly jump in the car rather than whining about staying at home and playing with the neighbors. Or whining about hurrying home so they can play with the neighbors. Yee Haw, the neighbor kids who constantly touch me and talk to me and invade my house and bang on my bathroom door. The kids who ALWAYS want to know what I'm doing on my computer even though 99% of the time I'm reading blogs with no pictures or emailing or googling "foot stretches." That one time in a thousand I'm actually playing Webkinz or looking at Lego sets they're ready and eager to spring onto my lap or pile into my chair. Ugh.

Lest you think I'm cruel and evil keeping my kids away from other children, let me state for the record that they spent every weekday of the summer at a day camp filled with children. The whole camp went swimming, to movies, fishing, to playgrounds, to the fountain, bowling, I could list on and on... All of the above with friends five days a week. Then they had baseball and/or swimming lessons most nights. Again, plenty of evening fun with other kids. Plus, Kaylin had occasional weekend time with the girl at the end of the street. Their summer has been packed with fun! They've also been fighting much less and getting along better overall because they don't have boys vs girls every night and all weekend.

Last night we pulled into the driveway and the neighbor kids were in their driveway saying goodbye to their grandma. Grandma looked HORRIFIED as my kids leaped out of the car and went screaming toward her beloved grandchildren. She hopped in her car and sped off. The kids hugged and shrieked and were thrilled to see each other after such a long break. They spent the next two hours running in and out of both houses, screaming with joy. The Chicken Dance was blared on the stereo while 5 kids and a dog ran around the pool table over and over, shrieking and barking. Shoes were lost and found and lost again. Cats were stepped on. Juice boxes were consumed at an alarming rate. I anticipate a repeat tonight and then every night until there is a foot of snow on the ground and it's dark at 4:30pm. Oh, my head...