Saturday, July 31, 2010

Monumental Stroll

In my many years of visiting Buffalo, I have frequently driven past Forest Lawn Cemetery and admired it from afar. While I know Clare has also noticed it before, on this visit she took a keen interest. Perhaps it's spending so much time with her history buff grandparents, possibly it's due to all of the American Girl books she's been reading, or maybe she's just in an inquisitive state of mind these days. Whatever the cause, when Donna proposed that the two of them make a morning of exploring the cemetery, she eagerly accepted. (It was extra special that this would be an adventure for just the two of them.)

Forest Lawn is among the oldest and largest Victorian burial grounds in the country, so there was quite a bit to see. From the sounds of it, they had a terrific time. Donna shared with me this amusing anecdote: Whenever Clare would leave a monument, she would reverently say, with sweeping arms, "Rest in peace." Occasionally she would even leave a dandelion behind.

Donna also had the good idea of making rubbings from the faces of some of the gravestones, which Clare proudly produced for me upon their return. I thoroughly enjoyed my alone time this morning (Danny was off on an adventure with Grandpa to Fort Erie: Guns! Cannons!), but I'll admit to being a tad envious of this expedition and might just have to add it to my own agenda one of these days.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

That's My Girl

I like to blame it on pregnancy, but if I'm being honest I know that it's really just my impatient self. Whatever the cause, I have been particularly short-tempered and even exasperated with Clare lately. As marvelous as our California excursions always are, the exhaustion of the time change and keeping up with the cousins often interferes with who I prefer to think of as the "regular" Clare. The one I know to be sweet, thoughtful, and obedient, not to mention carefree and happy.

Since we returned from California, Clare has been on a reading frenzy. She had little time to read on that trip, so it appears that she is making up for it. She whipped through quite a few books during our week at home, which I attributed to needing some time to rest. However, since we arrived in Buffalo she has been on a literary tear. She decided within about an hour of depositing her suitcase in "her" room here at Grandma and Grandpa's house that she would read through all of Aunt Karen's old American Girl books, in order. (These books are housed on a shelf in the room set aside for Clare during her visits.) We have now been in Buffalo approximately 48 hours, and she is on her seventh book. Just to clarify, these are chapter books of more than 50 pages each. Best of all, whenever she emerges from these reading jaunts, she is my Regular Clare.

This morning, while Danny and Donna went on a bug expedition of some sort at a local natural preserve, Clare and I decided to take our books and walk to Tim Horton's, a local coffee/donut shop. It was so delightful. We chatted amiably throughout the walk, mostly about the American Girls. Clare has a lot of questions about their individual chronologies and where they fit in with each other. We then sat and read peacefully. I was immersed in a novel wherein, right now, the character is visiting Italy. Something about the story makes me ache to travel abroad, and as I was reading I really felt as though I were in Venice. Clare drew me out of my reverie with a question about Pioneer America, and from the question it was clear that while I was visiting Italy, she was on a historical trek through the Midwest. How wonderful that we can travel together in this way.

On Safari

We were in Buffalo for less than 24 hours before we set off for foreign lands. Canada, to be exact, which is, surprisingly, the location of African Lion Safari. Donna first proposed this excursion a few weeks ago, and when I mentioned it to the kids they were very excited. I think several episodes of "Big Cat Diary" and viewings of "The Lion King" were behind this enthusiasm.

I would say it lived up to their hopes, too. We opted to take the tour bus through the six reserves, rather than our own vehicle, and once the baboons started hopping all over the cars (our bus included), this choice made a lot of sense.

The kids got a big kick out of seeing the animals up so close. The ostrich pecking at our window was particularly amusing. It was also fascinating to all of us to watch rhinos, zebras, and giraffes walk among the cars as if it were perfectly natural.

After the tour and lunch, we headed over to the Misumu Bay Wet Play area - kudos to Donna for advising me to pack their swimsuits. It was a warm, sunny afternoon, and Clare and Danny spent well over an hour here. It was very reminiscent of the watering holes we saw the rhinos, elephants and bison lounging in, although the kids were more exuberant.

We'll cross the border again to visit the Wards at their beach house, so stay tuned for more Canadian adventures!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Limb Liberation

Today we happily bid adieu to Clare's cast, as well as the fabulously helpful, but nevertheless cumbersome, "oven mitt." While I think she was truly looking forward to getting rid of the cast and resuming the ability to scratch her arm, it was obvious that Clare had some concern regarding the removal by saw. While I vaguely remembered it not being a big deal with Danny's cast, that was long enough ago that I didn't have a detailed recollection and thus wasn't very useful answering her questions.

Fortunately, they got us rolling quickly, and once the nurse started Clare realized it wasn't a big deal and would most likely not chop off her arm. There was mild disappointment when she was warned, and then discovered, that her arm would still be sore for a bit. She's slowly getting used to having her arm free again, though, and I suspect she'll be back to normal very soon.

While she was happy to have the cast off, nothing quite compared with her reunion with Elise. We decided that having lunch and spending the afternoon with Elise would be the best way to celebrate getting rid of the cast. The girls haven't seen each other for almost four weeks, and from the moment Elise got in the car Clare has been happier than I've seen in a while. True friends!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Santa Cruz

We ended our tour out west by heading up to San Jose to visit the Needhams. During our time the kids played a lot of Legos, and laughed at Danny's Indiana Jones role-playing, among other things. One day we also headed to Santa Cruz, where we explored the Seymour Marine Discovery Center. (Sadly they did not give us a discount.)

From there we enjoyed a delicious lunch at a restaurant on the pier, followed by a trip to the beach. This was a picture-perfect day for the beach, so Sara and I felt vindicated from our excursion to Oceanside the previous week.

Both Clare and Danny spent all of their time in or along the water. This wasn't surprising for Clare, who always loves the water. But it was new for Danny. He remained along the shoreline, but spent almost two hours running along it and letting the waves lap his feet, exclaiming, "Isn't the water fun? Come join the party!"

We are now home from our 18-day jaunt, recuperating. We have exactly one week before we hit the road for Buffalo, which the kids are already looking forward to. As am I, though I must admit I'm enjoying my own home in the interim!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Legoland Revisited

My children are not perfect. I worry that they are spoiled, and ungrateful, and in general are given far too much. The same thing could be said about me, too. Such is the life when we are fortunate enough to afford most everything we could want, let alone need. I spend more time thinking about these things during the summer, when we are living lives of leisure and luxury gallivanting all over the country. A visit to a theme park really brings this home, too. The tickets are outrageous, the snacks ridiculous in both cost and nutritional value, and the gift shops are everywhere you turn.

But then I consider that I spent eight hours at Legoland with my kids yesterday, and enjoyed (almost) every minute of it. I figure that while I should probably rein in our lifestyle in certain places, yesterday was a worthwhile indulgence. They had a blast, so I did, too. I spent much of the day thinking ahead to our upcoming trip to Disney World in October and knowing that they are ready to have the times of their lives.

We were joined by the Lyons ladies for most of the day (until they had to leave for Kelsey's piano lesson). Despite being outnumbered by girls, this foursome worked out very well.

Not surprisingly, Danny was very excited to see anything Star Wars related. Legoland is filled with hundreds of figures like this, constructed entirely out of Legos, and they never fail to impress me.

We experienced several new (to us) rides on this visit, including Splash Battle, a pirate-themed boat ride wherein each rider gets his/her own water-shooting canon. Danny asked to go on this again immediately after it was over, surprise, surprise.

Clare surprised me by wanting to go, and then enjoying, this Kid Power Tower ride. She and Colleen rode together and pulled themselves up with this rope, which then drops them back down (though not too quickly). In fact, this was one of three rides that we repeated later in the day. On the second trip, as the Lyons were gone by then, Clare convinced Danny to go with her (he had refused the first time). I found it hilarious that he sat and watched his one-armed sister negotiate the entire ride.

One consistent from our previous visit to Legoland was the popularity of The Royal Joust. Danny informed me that it was his favorite ride, and Clare opted to ride it twice as well.

Being the weak-minded parent that I am, no visit to Legoland is complete for us without a stop in the gift store. Danny found some knights, and Clare chose this architectural set of the Sears Tower (I know it's the Willis Tower now, but the box still says Sears Tower). The set indicated it was for ages 10+, but I figured Tim would have fun putting it together with her. Which probably would have been the case, but when we got home she put it together in less than 15 minutes.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Brisk Day at the Beach

Despite the chilly temps, we figured we needed to make a trip to the beach. We regretted it almost from the beginning, although eventually the kids found their stride and before we knew it, two hours had passed. The girls even braved the ocean for quite some time, while the rest of us (Danny included) stayed huddled in beach towels on our chairs. Danny informed me that he'll go in the ocean when he's seven. I suspect if it had been a warm day, age wouldn't have had much to do with it, but whatever. He stayed quiet, so I was able to visit with Jen and Sara with Heidi.

Clare continues to carry on through our summer activities despite the cast. The "oven mitt," as we have to taken to calling her cast cover, has been the best $39 I ever spent. As she stood in the waves, she repeatedly raised her arms over the water, so it looked as though she was commanding the sea with it.

Of course, as we drove inland and into Fallbrook it was suddenly a gloriously sunny afternoon. Murphy's Law. The kids spent the remainder of the afternoon and evening soaking up some rays and getting rid of the chill. By bedtime they were cozy and content.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

'Is It 'Dangered?'

So far, the weather during our visit to San Diego has been a bit cooler than we expected. We decided, though, that it was perfect for a trip to the San Diego Zoo, and even convinced Grammy to go. It was refreshing not to be concerned with slathering sunscreen every hour nor jostling hoards of tourists.

The animals didn't disappoint, either. Among our favorites were the meerkats, the lions (whom we saw enjoying a decadent snack), and the polar bears (one was particularly amusing, lounging on his back, chomping on carrots and occasionally itching an evident scratch on his shoulder).

As part of its conservation awareness, the zoo posts the level of endangerment on each of the animal's signs. For example, the meerkat is "not threatened," while the lion is "vulnerable." The scale ranges up to "endangered," "critically endangered," and finally "extinct in the wild." From the beginning, this was a topic of conversation among the kids. So much so that we would no sooner approach a new animal than Danny would immediately ask, "Is it 'dangered?" This was spoken with genuine concern, and was always met with relief when the answer was no. (Unfortunately, that was not often the answer. Visiting the zoo can be sort of depressing, if you give it too much thought.)

Our visit was a cheerful one, though, and fairly tiring - you don't get to be a world-renowned zoo for lack of size. Danny lamented that we didn't see ALL the animals, but we certainly saw a lot of them. And we still came home with our baby goat (ask Danny).

Timon,The Random Chihuahua

We always make a lot of plans for our visits to Grammy and Grampy. But when the cousins are involved, it seems the unexpected moments are often the most memorable. The arrival, and departure, of Timon the chihuahua is a perfect example.

We first noticed the little guy romping around the yard early in the afternoon. He had a collar, and we figured he was on the loose but would find his way home soon. By evening he was still lingering, and the threat of coyotes was a concern. It took a while, but he eventually worked his way into the house - and the kids' (and Sara's) hearts.

Between bites of turkey and some fresh water, Timon (so named due to his resemblance to the meerkcat from "The Lion King") explored the house and then made the rounds between Katy's, Nicki's and Sara's laps, much to their delight. Clare and Danny were also fascinated, and would pet him, but they definitely kept more of a distance than their dog-crazy cousins. (Plus, we were watching "The Return of the Jedi," so Danny had more pressing interests.) We discovered that despite his collar, he did not have a tag, so Grammy made calls around the neighborhood, to no avail. By bedtime we decided the garage was the best place for him to spend the night, safe from coyotes as well as Grammy's carpet.

The next morning a plan was in place: Animal control would pick the dog up, ideally while the rest of us were at the zoo. The kids had a fun morning of playing with Timon, gave him a fond farewell, and headed out. Well, the best laid plans, right? We arrived home from the zoo around 4 p.m. to find that Timon was still with us. This made for a bittersweet reunion between the kids and the dog, who spent the next hour with him and their vivid imaginations of what horrors could become him if no one claimed him. In fact, when animal control did arrive, Danny asked him point blank, "Are you going to kill him?"

As Timon left, the kids spent the next hour loudly grieving their sweet puppy. When Danny wandered in to tell me the dog had left and that he was sad about it, I suggested that maybe they could all watch a show to take their minds off of it. Danny declined and ran off, saying, "I"m going to go cry with the girls."

We have assured them all that a dog as beloved in less than 24 hours is surely treausred by a family that is looking for him and will be joyfully reunited with him very soon. (Animal control mentioned that the Fourth of July tends to spook a lot of dogs away from home.) One day hopefully Katy will agree...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


As far as Danny is concerned, neither Hollywood nor the North Pole has anything on Cottonwood Falls, Kansas. We discovered this a few nights ago when we attended our first-ever rodeo. Danny came face-to-face with a real cowboy, one that just happens to be a relative. The sight put him in a state of awe, which is something Tim and I will remember for a long time.

It was no surprise that Danny was excited to go to the rodeo, as were the rest of the kids. I also figured that Danny would be fairly enthusiastic to meet Adrian, my cousin the cowboy. But when we first saw him ride up on horseback, Danny was speechless with awe. He tentatively stretched out his hand to touch greatness, and the horse, and eventually answered some of Adrian's questions - in the shyest voice I've ever heard Danny use.

After a few of his events, Adrian had time to hang with us in the bleachers, where Danny screwed up his courage enough to sit by him and then spontaneously hug him. I also overheard him proclaim, "I want to grow up to be a cowboy, too!" This was all in between more adoring gazes. It was so precious, and Adrian was the most gracious recipient. (The above photo shows Danny with his hero and his hero's son, Paxton, who literally gave Danny the shirt off his back. Hence the almost-matching rodeo shirts.)

We lucked out and had a positively beautiful evening, especially considering it was July in Kansas. As a result, we stayed for the whole evening, primarily so that the kids could get their promised horseback rides when it was over. Needless to say, this was a big hit.

As much as Danny enjoyed the rodeo, I think Clare was equally engaged. While she doesn't share the same appreciation forf cowboys, she was extremely focused on the events themselves and asked several questions to make sure she got the details right for each one. (Thanks for your patient responses, Abbey!) Tim and I couldn't help giggling at her enthusiasm, but it also gave me a bit of insight into what she's like as a student.

All in all it was a fun and new experience, and one that I suspect we will repeat at some point. Giddyap!