Sunday, January 16, 2011

Am I on the "nice" list?

Christmas gets more fun each year the kids get older. Alyssa is really into it now - everything from the advent calendar to putting out cookies for Santa. She wrote her Christmas list herself and when she went to visit Santa she was actually nervous about whether she would be on the "nice" or "naughty" list!  But Santa told her she had been a good girl this year and that she was on the "nice" list, and after that she was walking about three feet off the ground. It was so cute. I can't believe any parent would skip the whole Santa myth. I tell my friends "it's getting a month of good behavior for free."  Christmas morning came three days later and I've got her reaction all on video for you:

A few days prior she sang in church as part of the preschoolers choir, which also had the 5th/6th grade bell choir accompanying (and Grandma on the piano!). I was very proud of her. Being on stage with everyone watching sure seems like a recipe for "statue" Alyssa. But she sang every word! Watch:

This has been her favorite song ever since. I think we've heard it during 50% of our car rides at full volume for the last 3 weeks. It's not really sweet or endearing anymore (to me). Ahh kids...what was cute once is often not so cute the 629th time. Am I right?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hide and seek

Oh my gosh...they are just too cute sometimes. Evan has watched me play hide and seek with Alyssa about a million times and he got the hang of it. He's only 1 1/2 years old but just from repitition he has picked up numbers 1-15 (except 11 of course...that tricky #11). Have a look - it still makes me smile, even after the 20th time watching it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Weekend in Chicago

Eric and Alicia have been inviting us to Chicago for over a year now. I should probably apologize to them since we've never made it happen...until now! The weekend before Thanksgiving with kids in tow, we hit the road and arrived in the windy city at about 3pm. Our hosts were still busy at work so we delayed an hour or so at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

We saw flamingos, lots of things with antlers, a few empty cages. But the gorillas were definitely the hit of the show. I assure you Alyssa was more enthusiastic than this photo would lead you to believe.

There was a 500 lb silverback gorilla that was very active and we followed him around his habitat until eventually he went inside.

The kids tried his handprints on for size. Much larger than you might think!

There was also a cute farm / barn area at the side of the zoo. We saw cows and a piggy. Evan started oinking for the first time! There was a neat kid's area with several hands-on demonstrations of farm "stuff." The John Deer in the middle of the room was cool - and it was hard to pry Evan out of there when we were ready to go.

Eric and Alicia's apartment is really cute and they've picked a nice, quiet area of Lincoln Park with a gate and a courtyard. They have a really neat service where you can pick the groceries you want online and the grocery store will bag and deliver them to you for $6! I really wish I had that...  Anyway, that night we tucked the kids in their office on the floor and we inflated a bed in the living room to sleep on.  It was cozy! The next day we visited Omama in Elmhurst. Evan did his usual thing and repeatedly asked for candles to be lit so he could blow them out. Omama obliged!

She provided us with a little spread of snacks and we enjoyed ourselves for a couple hours. That afternoon we took the train downtown to Navy Pier to visit the Children's Museum. 
Lots to do! A cool room where you put on rain coats and let loose with all sorts of fun water stations.

A dinosaur "dig" in a pit of shredded rubber bits:

There was "Kids Town" - complete with gocery store, cars, gas pumps, and a sewer system you can crawl around in.  
We pretty well exhausted them...but we weren't done yet. We walked about half a mile back towards town to get to a restaurant right off the Miracle Mile.

They must have been deep in conversation because I couldn't get anyone's attention for a photo - except Alyssa! Thanks for smiling hun.

The parade down Miracle Mile was underway and we threw ourselves deep into the crowd as we could. Alas, I fear only the kids on Eric's and my shoulders had any sort of show worth seeing. I really couldn't see any floats over other people's heads.

We packed ourselves onto a train to ride back to Eric and Alicia's place. It was quite a busy day, and I didn't even mention that it started at 8am with a 1 1/2 hour visit to urgent care to get Alyssa some antibiotics. That night kids went down without a peep (nice!) and we sat around a fire and just talked. Alicia kept the wine coming until a little after midnight when it was time to call it quits. The next morning we visited their church and had a great lunch that Alicia had prepared for us (wink ;). Then it was the long drive back to Midland.

Thanks Eric and Alicia - we had a really good time with you. We are looking forward to Christmas!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

It's Fall in Michigan

I have a love/hate relationship with Fall. I absolutely love the four or five days of color, the cider, donuts, pies, and candles. Pretty much everything else is a bummer. The gray, the cold, the raking, and cleaning out gutters all seem to persist much longer than the benefits. An appropriately balanced blog post would show probably 30% photos from the first category 70% from the latter. But that sure seems like a waste of free online storage space. Plus, I don't take that many pictures of blah stuff. So here is just the good stuff - and consider yourself duly informed that life is only about 30% as pretty as depicted herein.

I am pretty confident my kids enjoy the raking far more than we do. And the truth is, I enjoy it more when they are enjoying it.

But one can only work on the yard for so long. Then it's time to head out. There is an apple orchard in Freeland - Lehman's - that has a neat outdoor play area. It looks like they used common farm items to make a playground. There is a neat petting zoo on the side as well. We usually go to Bayne's but this year why not mix it up a little?

We really had fun that day. We also went back to Grandma's Pumpkin Patch. I don't know if it's becoming a tradition or what but this is the second year in a row where we met the DeRuyter's there on a Sunday afternoon in October. This place is cute too, perhaps busier and pricier, but still fun. While Alyssa was climbing on the tractors...

...Evan was riding in the cow train.

Here is the only photo I have that proves the DeRuyter's were there:

This photo cracks me up. Evan wasn't quite prepared for the raw speed this innocent-looking slide offered. I think I broke his fall with my right foot about 1/10 of a second after I snapped this photo:
There is this indoor watering trough (empty) with about a dozen baby chicks peeping around. The kids love to visit this every year but it's so hard for me to get good photos of it.

If you scroll waaaay back in time you will find a blog post last year of me and Evan standing in front of the fire pit. Here is the 2010 edition of the same photo:

Well that's all. Sign us off, MB!


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Weekend in Charleston

Lindsey was getting married on 10-10-2010 and she stood in our wedding, so we flew to Charlseton, SC to see her wedding. I would say we don't normally travel to weddings, but this was sort of a last(ish) minute decision and we thought it would be fun to get away for the weekend. So we redeemed airline miles and Pricelined a downtown hotel.

It was a white-knuckle flight for the first jump to DTW. MaryBeth hasn't flown in a couple years and anxiety was running high. But she impressed me and got things turned around and by out 3rd leg it was no big deal, like she'd been flying for years.

We pulled up to our hotel and while MB was enjoying the lobby's fine furniture, the front desk was telling me they were over-booked and had no rooms left. I was upset, tired, and hungry as we got back in the rental to drive across downtown to a Mariott Extended Stay. Not quite a fancy as we hoped, but a room nonetheless. No bar or restaurant was open, just a mini convenience store selling microwave food. So while I promised MB five-star downtown treatment, here we were two-star, outskirts of town, eating microwave pasta.

I can laugh now, but at the time I was fuming. Anyway, 5 minutes on the phone with Priceline and we got a 50% refund. I would definitely book with them again. The next morning we drove back into downtown and shopped all morning. Very neat experience - there was a loooong arts and crafts type market with hand-crafted wares and then just two blocks away was a ritzy rodeo drive-type stretch with Louis Vuiton type stores.

We had lunch at this seafood restaurant with lots!

The wedding was at a tea plantation 20 minutes south of Charleston. I've never seen a tea plantation, so if you haven't either, here you are:

That night the original hotel downtown put us in their 5th floor suite since they felt bad about the previous night's problems. The next morning during breakfast we received a call from Delta Airlines that our 12:00pm flight home was overbooked and they would be willing to give us vouchers if we would wait for the 4:40pm flight that had only two connections instead of three. We took it, and then spent the day seeing some more touristy sites in Charleston. We visited the Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon, which sits upon the old wall that used to fortify Charles Town from attack. It was fascinating to learn about the first colonists signing the first declaration of independence (treason!) right there in that room.

In the afternoon we visited the USS Yorktown, an out-of-service aircraft carrier, and the USS Clamagore, a WWII submarine. I would say the submarine was more impressive - I can't even fathom living onboard. It was strange - the boat was so cramped I had to duck the whole time I was on board, yet it went on for compartment after compartment and felt huge at the same time.

By a stroke of luck, we found a BBQ place "Sticky Fingers" and it reminded me a LOT of our favorite BBQ place back in Toledo "Shorty's." The food was really great and the parking attendant at Patriot's Point gave us coupons for free peach cobbler desert, one of MB's favorites.

It was a packed 3 days but I had a really great time. I'd do it again in a heartbeat with you! -Chris