Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Summer 2016 Vacay - Stop 1, Part 2 (Lego your money)

After a full, fun day at Sea World on Friday, we spent an equally full, fun day at Legoland on Saturday.

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Once again, we were joined by our good friend, Michelle, and her family.  The eleven of us had a great day roaming around the park and trying to ride as many rides as possible.

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A highlight of the day for Charlie, was when we spotted this boat ride. This has always been one of his favorites. (Look how LITTLE the kids are in those pictures, they can't even see above the fence!) The ride itself isn't that interesting, but spectators have the opportunity to squirt riders as they make their way around the course.

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Charlie gave the kids pointers for how they could line up on all four of the water canyons and get people wet for the entire 100 feet that they were in sight by keeping one rider in their sights.

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Because the range of the canons is only 90 degrees, he carefully instructed them how one sprays from 0 to 90 degrees; another picks up from 91 to 180 degrees; another from 181 to 270 degrees, and another from 271 to 360 degrees.

You know, plus or minus.

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As for the poor people on the boat, sure - they TRIED to fire back and defend themselves, but within a matter of seconds it was evident there wasn't much they could do except duck.

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Charlie tried to keep a straight face during the whole thing, and talk out of the side of his mouth, because he didn't want the people in the boat to know that a grown man was tormenting them.  When people would stare at him, he'd point to the children as if it was ALL THEM.

Some things never change. 

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Right around the time he completed maximum saturation of this guy who was covered from neck to calf in menacing tattoos, and turned around to glare in our general direction - giving us the first sensation that we might actually incur physical harm for all of our watery fun, we made haste for the Lego Racetrack.

BEEP BEEP!

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Legoland really WAS fun, but I remember enjoying it so much more when we lived in San Diego and were annual members.  Back in the day, we could just drop in on a mid-morning in say, February, and have the whole park to ourselves.

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It's just not the same experience when you fork out almost $100 per person on tickets and then have to wait for 30 minutes or more to get on a ride that lasts less than a minute.

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Because I'm all for getting the most out of our investment, we were at the park from nearly the moment it opened, until the moment it closed.

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William with William.  Our William was nicknamed Shakespeare by his third grade teacher because of his love and talent for writing.

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Elizabeth with Elizabeth.  Somewhere, I have a picture of Elizabeth when she was infant, held by my sister Elizabeth, posing in front of Queen Lego Elizabeth.  I'll need to track that down at some point.

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I'm so glad Michelle and her family were with us to squeeze every last ounce of fun out of the day. They were just as committed to stay and get their full money's worth as we were.

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When we think back on this day, I'm hopeful confident we won't think about the money spent or the crowds endured, but the awesome time with our family and friends.  There was so much laughter and excitement.

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And that's what it's all about.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Summer 2016 Vacay - Stop 1, Part 1 (San Di ... oh no!)

I'm going to try very hard to do something that I've promised myself I would do for the past few months: I am going to update my blog.   Please understand that any lack of routine updating has nothing to do with desire, and everything to do with children who insist on staying up as late as they possibly can, and in doing so, completely decimate any energy I have to write.

Tonight, I held firm and have forced our children go to bed before 10:00 ... which given that it's 1) Summer and 2) The Olympics are on TV, makes me feel like I, myself, have won the all-around Gold.

I'll start my musings with the trip that our family recently took, the incredible 5,000-mile adventure that spanned three weeks and afforded us the opportunity to visit friends and family, and on our way home - took us through five states and five national parks, in five short days.   In a word ... this vacation despite all odds, was epic.  And it will require more than one blog post, but we've got to start somewhere, so here's Post Number One.

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Three weeks ago, almost to the day, we left Texas and drove to San Diego, California.

This was the first time our entire family has been to California since we moved away - six years ago - and it was a huge event for us.  So huge that we failed to make any reservations for our visit to San Diego because we were under the solid impression that we'd be staying with friends during our visit. Friends who had told us a couple months ago, "Please, come stay with us!"  and then less than two weeks before our visit said, "Bummer we'll miss you ... we'll be out of town!" 

Womp!

This was an excellent reminder of Rule #1: Don't have any expectations.

And Rule #2: Roll with it, and always possess the ability to be self-sufficient.

Upon learning that we had no place to stay in San Diego, our first thought was that we'd make it an adventure and camp.  But then we researched campsites and quickly learned that unlike 20 years ago when we could just show up and secure a campsite anywhere, with the overwhelming population boom, people now-a-days make reservations months in advance.  And so it is, there wasn't a single campsite available in San Diego.

So we looked in to renting an RV for our entire trip.  That seemed like an EXCELLENT idea, until we realized that in addition to the rental rate of approximately $200 a day which didn't seem too bad, we'd also be charged for mileage which can range anywhere from $0.35/mile to $0.99/mile. Also, gas costs are approximately 2X what we'd pay for our minivan (20 miles per gallon versus a dismal 10 miles per gallon - on the downhill).

Imagine us whipping out the calculator, tallying it all up.  And wow, you know what?   

Since we'd be driving 5,000 miles .... if we're going to spend $10,000 on a vacation for our family, it better include the Eiffel Tower and London Bridge.

(And not the Lego-sized variety.) (More on that later.)

So there we are trying to figure out where we'll stay in San Diego and because I read something about a certain number of campsites being held aside and available on a "first-come, first-serve" (FCFS) basis, decided that we'd just take our chances and GO FOR IT.

Because that's how we roll. 

And thus therefore to we left Texas with no destination, other than San Diego in sight.  Because we drove 800 miles a day, and gained a whopping two hours (moving from Central Standard Time to Pacific Standard Time) we arrived in San Diego by Friday mornig and drove straight to the campsite in Encinitas which had touted FCFS availability.  

Alas! Even though we arrived at 8:00 AM, there were NO campsites available, and even if there had been, we wouldn't have felt comfortable staying there because it looked like a homeless encampment.  Tents, one on top of another, with tarps and towels and undergarments strewn along a fence that bordered the road, people sitting around in lounge chairs drinking beer as the sun rose.   Our adventurous children were only slightly less dismayed by the sight than we were, so we pressed on.

It turns out that all of the other FCFS campsites were also booked because apparently, people camp out, over night and are there at daybreak to secure their campsite location.  So rather than linger and lament our loss over camping, we immediately turned our sights to Sea World and decided we'd resolve the whole "where we'll lay our head issue" after a day or visiting with Shamu and riding the Manta.   And so it is, after the fireworks concluded at Sea World - at 10:30 on a Friday night, we attempted to reserve a hotel for our little brood in San Diego.  And guess what?

AT 10:30 PM ON A FRIDAY SUMMER NIGHT: THERE WERE NO HOTELS IN SAN DIEGO. 

Who knew?!?!

Everything was booked for miles and miles. And miles.  What a watershed moment for us to realize that good old San Diego was a mega-destination hot spot on a summer weekend.  So we began calling upon various friends at 11:00 PM - pleading on their answering machines that they let us camp in their front yards.  It was the height of pitifulness with a tinge of irresponsibility because parents really should have a solid plan for where their children will sleep at night.

Then again, I genuinely think these "on the fly" experiences give the children invaluable lessons in life such as perseverance and grit. Also, the importance of PLANNING.

In light of the grim circumstances, things came together as they always seem to do.  Yes, regardless of how bad it might appear, the sun SHALL rise again.   We found an overpriced hotel room in San Diego, despite all odds. And it was just down the road from Legoland, which was highly convenient, because we'd be visiting that park the very next day.

Here are the photos to recap our first day....

GPS screenshot, we've just driven 1,500 miles and are almost in San Diego with NO idea where we'll be staying for the next few days.  My adventuresome spirit says, "Boo-Yah ... Bring It!" Charlie's much more conservative spirit says, "Good God Almighty.  Pass The Tums." 

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Stop 1: Sea World.  My how they've grown.

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Henry, doing his best to summon his beluga.

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The dolphin show that inspired all of our children to pursue studies in Marine Biology.

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Happiness. With absolutely no hint of concern regarding "where, pray tell, will we sleep tonight?"

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The graceful sting ray.

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Charlie in the front seat on "The Manta" a totally awesome, hold on to your HATS roller coaster that we rode no less than eight times.  Woot!

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One of my BFFs, Michelle, with two of her three kids riding with us on Ship Wreck Rapids. Michelle went to Graduate School with Charlie and I in San Diego, and just so happens to work for the same company as me.  She and her family currently live less than 10 minutes away from us in Texas, and our children are similarly aged.  Her sweet daughter is 12 months older than the triplets, and her adorable son was born the same month and year as Henry.  They were vacationing in San Diego at the same time as us, and we met up for the day at Sea World and had a such a blast.    

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Best brother ever.

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Best siblings ever.

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One of the amazing shows that we watched ... these two were unbelievable and inspired Charlie and I to learn the trapeze.

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This guy, also part of the Cirque de la Mer show totally blew our minds when he flew 30 feet out of the water on his water jet boots. Turns out, you can rent these things?!

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Incredible trapeze artists in the front, water-booted rocket man in the back ...

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At which point, we begin to contemplate: no, seriously ... where will we sleep tonight? 

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Michelle, who is a much better planner than me, had secured a little bungalow for her family right on the beach and invited us to come stay at her place.  Thankfully, it wasn't necessary. But there's no doubt, everyone needs to have a friend like Michelle.

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(And a pair of jet rocket water boots, if at all possible.)

Saturday, August 06, 2016

the copper anniversary

We're currently on Day 10 of an amazing three-week road trip that has taken us through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and the length of the California coast.  Our trip home will take us through Nevada and Utah - and we're hoping at least five national parks. This is a photo of the kids, overlooking the Pacific Ocean along scenic California Route 1.   (If you haven't driven this highway before, you absolutely must.) 

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This trip has been perfect - we've had beautiful weather and seen an abundance of good friends and family almost every step of the way.   Today, we're with Charlie's awesome siblings hiking through redwood forests, and touring vineyards in Sonoma County.  We can't think of a better way to spend our 22nd wedding anniversary!


Monday, July 18, 2016

boys (almost) only weekend

So while the girls are in South Carolina with my mom for two weeks, doing all kinds of girl things - like getting manicures and pedicures ...

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We've been having a great time with the boys.  We've been watching a lot of superhero movies, and this weekend, we went to the batting cages.

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Watching Charlie up at bat, took me back to the day 25 years ago, when I first played softball with him on the Gneiss Guys intramural Geology Club softball team.

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He could tater it now, just like he tater'd it back then.  Swoon! 

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Then we went on the Go-Karts.  Charlie drove with Henry as his passenger, while I was William's passenger.  "This should be fun!" I naively thought as I hopped in to the Go-Kart with my son who has never driven anything in his life, except for his little John Deere tractor that went 0.5 MPH down a steep hill.

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But then the Go-Kart started to move and William was swerving all over the course and unintentionally cutting people off, and after he t-boned in to the guardrail, I grabbed the wheel and steered us back to safety.   I'd never really considered the terror that awaits me as our children all learn to drive (at approximately the same time), until that moment on the Go-Kart track.  Meanwhile, William was telling me how much his hands hurt from gripping the wheel for dear life, and what's with all the crazy drivers - several of whom were driving with their cell phones out, videoing the course?!   I'm smiling because he's just told me that he doesn't want to get his license until he's 30.

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We concluded our afternoon of fun on the bumper boats.  From a distance, it seemed like it was a pretty mild little ride, float around in an inner tube powered by a tiny motor - bump in to each other - there's a little squirter on front that may or may not get each other wet.

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Oh, what little did we know! 

The ride starts and because I was the first released from the dock, I got in to a position where I could immediately open fire directly on Charlie and he got so soaked, he couldn't even see out of his glasses.

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I was off-limits for a few seconds while I snapped off these pictures, and then I, too, was fair game and proceeded to get drenched.  But not as drenched as our boys, who kept finding themselves trapped - at just the right impact distance - between their two parents.

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We had so much fun, all of us laughing like mad, water dripping off our faces as we stood in our puddles contemplating if we should cancel our dinner reservation, or just bring a roll of paper towels with us in to the restaurant?

(We opted to pick up a pizza and go home to watch Iron Man.)

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I was talking with some colleagues today, all of whom have toddler daughters.  My message was that as wonderful as little girls are ... there's a special place in this world (and in my heart) for little boys who after a weekend of watching superhero movies with you, doesn't think twice about going out on bumper boats...

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Dressed up as Clark Kent.  (Swoon again!)

Saturday, July 09, 2016

r-e-s-p-e-c-t ... find out what it means to me

Four weeks ago yesterday, my mom and Aunt Grace flew in to Texas.

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They were with us for a weekend, and then we flew to Puerto Rico for a week, with Elizabeth (more on this later...).

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My Aunt Grace flew home the following week, and my mother stayed for three weeks to help me with the children, while Charlie and William were away at Boy Scout camp in Colorado (more on this later...).

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We have had a wonderful time together, and I'm so, so hopeful that Mom will consider making a move to Texas to live near us (more on this later, too).

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This afternoon, the seven of us drove to Houston to meet up with a good friend.  Our friend is a brilliant single mother whose equally brilliant 8-year old son threw an out of control temper tantrum while we were out at lunch.  He wanted ice cream and his mother wasn't going to get it for him at that moment, because the line at the ice cream stand was at least 20 people long.  So this amazing little child threw a fit and punched his mother, and pushed his mother, and tried to yank her pocketbook out of her hands so he could get to her wallet.

My mother was with us and for the first 60 seconds or so, we tried to ignore the behavior - looking the other way and talking to each other while hoping that the mother had it under control and would stop her son. But she didn't.

Instead, she put her arms out to her sides and leaning back in her chair, said to him, "Stop! You must stop!  You're in time out, sit down next to me and stop!" 

He sat down. But He Didn't Stop.  He kept throwing himself backwards in to her, with tears streaming down his cheeks as he sobbed, "I want it! I want it!"  

Our four kids were stunned.  Not at any time in recent memory, have they been exposed to a fit like this.  And my mother, unable to contain herself, finally leaned across the table and asked our friend, "Good heavens! What are you going to do about this? This is terrible!"  And the overwhelmed mother said, "I, I ... I honestly don't know what to do about this!"

Taking that as my cue (rightfully or wrongfully - I haven't yet decided), I leaned in and loudly said to the little boy, who wouldn't make eye contact with anyone,  "Did you happen to notice how Henry is missing his front teeth?" He ignored me as he rocked back and forth, slamming in to his mother.   I continued with my voice raising slightly, "I'll bet you think its because his teeth fell out on their own.  Can you believe that I actually knocked his teeth out?! Me!! His MOTHER!" 

That caught his attention.

He stopped thrashing and looked at me uneasily.

"Of course it was a terrible accident," I continued.  "But I can tell you right now that I wouldn't put up with your behavior - not for a second!  Who do you think you are sitting here throwing a fit like this, in public? You are too smart of a child to be behaving this terribly!"  My voice raised even more as I pointed my finger to an empty chair at the next table and said, "You get up and you go sit over there and knock it off right this instant.  Don't you say another word."  

He sized me up, surely wondering what I'd do next, but quickly retreated to the table next to us, when I squinted my eyes at him and engaged my maternal laser beams.

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Meanwhile, my mother was talking to his mother and saying, "You cannot tolerate this kind of behavior! This is abuse! He is abusing you! And you need to get this under control immediately because it's only going to get worse as he gets older!"  

I nodded in agreement and added,  "Listen.  It's up to you.  You have to teach him what is acceptable - and what isn't.  THIS is not acceptable behavior and can not be tolerated, if it is - you'll be on course to raise a monster."  Then I diverted my stare back to the gasping boy who was sitting with his tear-streaked face looking down at his lap and asked, "Who is in charge around here?  Are you in charge?!" He shook his head no.  So I asked, "Then tell me, who is in charge?" And he quickly pointed his finger at his mother.

"That's right," I said. "Your mother is in charge. She is the boss ... and don't you disrespect your mother like that again.  Your mother is a QUEEN and you will treat her as such. Got it?"  He quickly nodded yes.

We finished our lunch and as we were walking out, with the little boy was now acting like an angel - my mother and I both said to his mother,  "Please, don't ever let him do that again. You've got to nip that in the bud and not let him get away with that behavior.  It doesn't matter where you are, you make him mind you!" 

His mother seemed extremely grateful for the intercession, but she might have been mortified that we interfered. Who knows?  All I know is that at minimum, he won't act like that around us again.

But it got me to thinking ... respect isn't something that just happens, it's something that is taught and those teachings begin at home.   "These days" it really seems that there is a fundamental lack of respect in our society, and in our world.  Has it always been like this? Or does it just seem worse in recent years with live-stream technology that feeds the media beasts?

I'll need to write more about that later, too.  Much like I'm unable to keep my mouth closed with severely misbehaving children, so too am I able to stifle opinions on things like politics, promiscuity on college campuses, and simmering racial tensions in this country.

Our house is very quiet for the next two weeks, so hopefully, I'll have some time to sit, reflect, and write.

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Mom flew back to South Carolina tonight with our extremely well-behaved Carolyn and Elizabeth. This is the first time they have ever left home without us, but I know that next to ours - they are in the absolute best possible  hands.  My mother and Aunt Grace will love them - and make sure that they stay in line.

Or else! 

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(Just about everything I know about parenting ... I've learned from those two.)

Monday, July 04, 2016

... and then he was nine

Today, this little one turned nine-years-old:

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The intense feelings, I can't quite explain.  But if had to, it'd be some kind of cross between joy and longing, elation and melancholy. Predominantly, excitement and extreme gratitude for having him in our lives.

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(With a heavy dash of wishing that all of 'em would stop growing up so darn fast.)