Saturday, December 11, 2010

Merry Christmas 2010

A change this year... an online Christmas letter from us! We have had a busy year, as everyone with kids does.

Z will be 8 at the end of the month. Eight?!? It's almost heartbreaking how quickly time flies. He is in 2nd grade, in the top study groups, and gets nearly all excellent marks (the exception being handwriting... that's probably my fault). He is also in his 4th year of piano and played soccer again this past spring. Z has also taken an interest in football this year, thanks to the Madden Wii game, and wants to play for the New England Patriots when he grows up (at other times, he has mentioned being a mechanic... we've told him, as long as he goes to college, he can do whatever he wants. :) ).

B just started kindergarten at Our Lady of Lourdes. Heather LOVES having the big kids in the same place this year... SO much less running around! B is already reading a year ahead of other kids her age and seems to love school. She is in Girl Scouts as a Daisy and would be more than happy to sell you cookies next month! She also played soccer this spring for this first time and was a scoring machine... she has no fear! On the opposite end of the spectrum, she is an artist and would draw/craft all day long given the opportunity.

A continues to be happiest in the afternoons when the big kids are back with us. At 1, she is finally learning to sleep in her own bed and just started really walking in the past couple of weeks. She loves music but is also content to play with a magazine that we are done with, flipping through it carefully and then tearing it up when she's finished (repurposing at its best!). We can't wait for her to really start talking!

The whole family celebrated Joey and Heather's 10th wedding anniversary with a weekend in Cape Hatteras.

Heather gets involved in everything possible because she can't say "no". She is the chair of the Pastoral Council, organizer of the Mom's Group, and a member of the baptism committee at church and room parent and volunteer at school. She is still keeping up with the kids' memories through scrapbooking and is even having four layouts published in a magazine that comes out tomorrow! Her mom is off work on Thursdays and Fridays, and she enjoys spending lots of time with her then.

Joey is still happily working at CSC - it's been 10 years now with the same employer! He coached BOTH Z and B in soccer this year, which meant two nights of practice a week and two games on Saturdays from the end of March to the beginning of June.

You can see the posts prior to this for all of the details on our vacation. We went to the West Coast and drove from San Francisco to Seattle over a 9 day span in June. This was the first year that we've had sickness accompany our travels. I guess we should be grateful? :)

We hope that 2011 is a blessed year for you and your family. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

J's Road Sign Mania - Washington

J's Road Sign Mania - Oregon

J's Road Sign Mania - California

The Joys of Airline Travel - June 17, 2010

Nothing like getting up at 3AM Pacific to get to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, return the rental minivan, check in at the ticket counter, and go through security with 3 kids to catch a 6AM flight to Dallas. We had it all set up so nicely - leave early from Seattle, have a roughly a 2 hour layover in Dallas, and arrive in Richmond just in time for dinner at 6PM Eastern time. We boarded the plane in Seattle at 5:30AM. 6AM rolled around and the plane sat. At about 6:15, the pilot announced on the intercom that there was a maintenance issue with the plane involving the co-pilot's instruments and that was a "no go". Nothing like hearing the words "maintenance issue" on an airplane. Regardless, the pilot said that maintenance was working on the problem and that they would get us in the air as soon as possible. Another 15 minutes passed and still no resolution to the problem. The pilot than said that they would shut down all the power on the plane and it would be dark for 30 seconds and once they turned it on, hopefully the instruments would reset. Fixing a plane is apparently like fixing a computer or DirecTv - just shut it down and restart and everything will be okay. Well, that didn't work and the pilot said that the part that they needed to fix the instruments wasn't local (kind of ironic considering that this was a Boeing plane and the Boeing factory was a couple miles up the road in Seattle from the airport) - it would have to be flown in from Los Angeles and that the new takeoff time would be 12:30PM Pacific. As for now, the plane would be taken out of commission, we would have to pick up our luggage at the baggage carousel, and they recommended that we all try to find new flights at the ticket counter we started at earlier in the morning. H and A went to the ticket counter while J, Z, and B went to get the luggage. We're happy to report that our luggage was not lost on the flight from Seattle to Seattle. J, Z, and B then rode the escalator with all of the luggage back up towards the ticket counter and were greeted by a Hawaiian Airlines employee who asked us "Are you going to Hawaii?" J replied "I wish" - quite a kick in the backside to an already suspect morning. We all then met up in the ticket counter line which naturally was very long and wrapped around the corner. We had no idea if we would actually be able to get out of Seattle that day. We were thinking of possibly trying to land in DC or even Baltimore just to get closer to home. Well, we really lucked out - kudos to the extremely helpful American representative who got us on an 11:45 AM flight to Chicago landing at 5:30PM Central and a connection to Richmond leaving at 6:45 PM Central and landing at 9:55PM Eastern. On both flights, we still obtained seats together, which was amazing considering we were getting tickets the day of the flight. After our 2nd go-round through security with 3 kids, we sat at the gate and waited for the new flight. The highlight of those 3 hours waiting was watching Z and B ride the moving walkways parallel to where we were all sitting. It was extremely entertaining watching them walk in the opposite direction of the moving walkway. Sure, they almost ran over some people, but no one actually fell.

As we were waiting in line to board plane #2, we heard a lady next in line behind us tell a friend of hers, "I'm not going to shake your hand because I'm sick and I don't want to infect everyone." Fantastic! Because there's no way we could get infected (1) in a confined space such as an airplane or (2) standing right in front of her in line with her breathing around us. Once the new plane took off from Seattle headed for Chicago, we all breathed a little easier. We landed in Chicago about a hour before the flight left for Richmond - not a ton of time for a huge airport like O'Hare. We made it to our gate 15 minutes before the scheduled takeoff. Then they changed the gate and pushed back the takeoff time 10 minutes. Then they pushed it back another 10 minutes to 7:05PM Central. Airports just don't respect mid-major cities like Richmond. Fortunately, that was the last takeoff time change and we boarded around 6:40PM Central. This was a very interesting plane. It was small and probably was flown in World War I. Items that we stowed under the seats or put in the overhead bins on earlier flights (booster seats for Z and B, backpack) wouldn't fit in either the overhead bins or under the seats so they had to be "valeted" with the rest of the luggage. There were 2 seats on one side and one on the other. H, A, and B sat in row 3 on one side, Z sat in row 3 on the other side, and J sat in row 2 on the only side - the other side was the flight attendant's closet. We were glad that we ended up switching planes in Chicago instead of Dallas because it was awesome seeing the Chicago skyline again (Sears Tower, John Hancock Tower, etc) as the plane started out from O'Hare. We loved going to Chicago in 2007. The highlight of this flight was during the safety presentation as we were taking off. The flight attendant started reading from his card and the intercom stopped working. Unfazed, he kept reading although no one could hear him including J in row 2, a few feet away from him. It was a good flight home and had the added bonus of landing over Richmond just as fireworks were going off at the Diamond at the end of the Squirrels game. It was really cool seeing fireworks from a plane - it was a neat finish to a very, very long day.

Seattle: June 14-16, 2010

- Started the first day in Washington by driving out to Mt. St. Helens. It was very cloudy and when we got within 15 miles of the closest view of the volcano (3000 feet up), it got so foggy that you couldn’t see the road much less the volcano so we turned around. We stopped at the Forest Learning Center were you could see lava flows in the valley below so it wasn’t a total loss.
- Lunch with H’s friend, Jamie, in Lacey (near Olympia) at a pizza place that had a much better buffet than Cici’s.
- Once we arrived in Seattle, we went up to the quintessential Seattle landmark, the Space Needle (B referred to it numerous times as the Space Shuttle). 5PM in the afternoon is a great time to go up to the top. Lines were short and it wasn’t crowded at the top. The views of Seattle from the top were outstanding.
- J enjoyed a smoked salmon chowder for dinner at the Southcenter mall food court near our hotel.
- J & H started the coffee tour of Seattle with a vanilla latte from Seattle’s Best Coffee at the mall after dinner. More coffee stops to come.
- Also after dinner at the mall, J purchased 2 hats (Seattle Mariners and Seattle Sounders FC) at Lids. J encountered a very determined clerk who was desperate to get him to have something embroidered on his hats. She suggested an embroidered Space Needle on the Mariners hat. Ah yes, just like the players have on their hats. J passed.
- J swam with Z and B in the indoor pool at the hotel. First indoor pool of the trip. Believe it or not, the SF hotel pool was outdoors. J can’t imagine that anyone would ever want to use it considering the temperature stays around 60-65 most of the time.
- J and H finished the first night watching local Seattle news where they had video of a Seattle policeman punching a jaywalker in the face after she initially pushed him during an arrest. We have no problem with the policeman's reaction ... people need to respect authority. The best part of this story was that it occurred on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd - isn't it ironic. This story blew up nationally the next day.
- More fun Seattle local news stuff - they had temperatures and conditions for areas around Seattle on a crawl on the side of the TV screen. Most of them said temperatures in the 50s and cloudy. The best one though was for Snoqualmie Pass where it said 35 degrees and mixed precipation (in June!)
- Day 2 in Seattle started with B saying her stomach hurt. Maybe Z did have a virus? H stayed with B and A in the hotel room where B tried to sleep off the pain. H suggested that J take Z to the Museum of Flight for the morning which was nearby.
- J and Z really enjoyed the Museum of Flight. Lots of planes to see, interactive kid exhibits which Z loved such as flying a Blue Angels plane and a flight simulator where you tried to land a Space Shuttle (Z crashed his)
- Coolest part of the museum was walking through a Concorde and an old Air Force One plane used in the 1970s. There was a typewriter in Air Force One. J asked Z what it was. He had never seen one of those and guessed that it was a copier.
- We got back to the hotel around 12PM and B met us in the lobby jumping up and down and smiling. H, B, and A were in the café when they saw us arrive. H was drinking Tully’s coffee (2nd stop on the coffee tour). We were very glad to see B feeling better.
- We all then went to Pike Place Market – home of the 1st Starbucks coffee house and place where guys in overalls throw fish. J really wanted to see guys throw fish and he was not disappointed. At one market stand, fishmen threw a number of fish long distance to customers who routinely dropped them. One of the fish throwers also liked to use colorful language as he cursed walking past us as we were eating lunch. Fortunately, Z and B didn’t hear it.
- After lunch, J paid an exorbitant $2 for a 5 piece bubble gum pack to put our used gum on the “gum wall” at the market. Kind of gross and unsanitary but our used gum is now immortalized on the wall.
- We got doughnuts afterwards (erasing the Voodoo Doughnut experience) from a stand where the vendor put on a show for us throwing 1 of our dozen doughnuts high into the air and catching it in the bag where the remaining donuts were. Very impressive.
- Next stop was the original Starbucks. H got a caramel frappucino and a 1st Starbucks commemorative mug and J got a caramel macchiato. The barista took our order, wrote the kind of drink we ordered on the cups, and threw the cups across to the barista making the drinks. J was impressed and tipped the barista for his performance. Memo to local baristas, if you want a tip, you must throw the cups to another barista.
- The overall theme of Pike Place Market was “if you throw it, they will come.”
- We then went back to the Space Needle area (called Seattle Center) to let Z and B go on a couple of rides at the Fun Forest Amusement Park next to the Space Needle. The rides were “state fairish” in nature which scared H. Z and B picked a roller coaster and a boat ride that spun. We told them 2 rides was all because we had other things to do. B, of course, wanted to ride more and begged and pleaded with us to get what she wanted. We said no so she fussed through both the Seattle Monorail and the Experience Music Project.
- B’s best outburst came in an interactive area where you could jam on various instruments in different rooms. When you went into a room, you had 10 minutes to play the featured instrument. We went in a drum room. B got mad because we were all in the room. She wanted to be the only one in the room which was clearly not going to happen. She screamed for the 1st 3 minutes while not letting anyone play the drums. Finally, we were able to wrestle a drumstick away from her and J, H, and Z played while B melted down. The long trip had finally taken its toll on poor B.
- Overnight, H had horrible stomach issues and threw up most of the night. J felt so bad for her. Z had to have a virus that went to B briefly and crushed H. Either that or food poisoning.
- H stayed in the room all day to rest and hopefully feel better. Early on in the day, it was questionable that we would able to come home the next day.
- J took Z, B, and A to the nearby Southcenter Mall for their 1st Webkinz each of the trip. Z got a baby penguin, B got a spotted seal, and A got a rooster.
- To close out the sightseeing portion of the trip, J took Z and B on a Washington State Ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island and back to get great views of the Seattle skyline. We sat inside for the trip to Bainbridge Island. We were right in the front so we could still see the skyline through the windows. B wanted to go outside, Z didn’t want to, of course. J decided to compromise (not a win-win-win) and told Z that we would go outside on the return trip. He was reluctant at first but after we enjoyed a snack of Sun Chips in the ferry snack café area, he agreed to go outside. It turned out to be a win-win-win as we all loved being outside on the way back to Seattle.
- When J, Z, and B arrived back at the hotel around 7PM, the 2-day Ashley Furniture job fair in a hotel ballroom was winding down with the sweet sounds of that "Everybody Clap Your Hands" song blaring. That's one wild job fair.
- As the day progressed, H started to feel slightly better and we packed our things for the extremely early 6AM flight the next morning to start the return trip home.

Portland: June 12-13, 2010

- US 199 from Crescent City to the Oregon border was very pretty but very curvy
- Z’s stomach started to bother him again, we stopped for him to throw up outside of the car but he couldn’t.
- In Cave Junction, Oregon, J found Caves Pharmacy and went inside looking for a remedy for Z. These were the nicest, most helpful employees and pharmacists ever. They were convinced after J's explanation of how Z was feeling that it was motion sickness caused by US 101 & US 199. They recommended this motion sickness medicine for kids and also advised that we needed to go to Multnomah Falls, we were planning on another waterfall on the way up to Portland.
- We decided to drive straight to Portland instead based on the pharmacy’s ringing endorsement and check out Multnomah Falls the next day on the way to the Mt. Hood Railroad in Hood River
- The medicine worked, Z’s stomach returned to normal on the drive up to Portland (Hooray!)
- Oregon is like New Jersey in that you can’t pump your own gas (that is probably the only similar thing between Oregon and New Jersey)
- Took in a Portland Beavers AAA baseball game Saturday night at PGE Park, this minor league stadium was awesome compared to the Diamond, there was hardly anyone at the game though which J thought was weird for a Saturday night. All three kids were given Beavers gloves at the gate.
- J got us lost driving back from the stadium to the hotel, one way streets and various bridges over the Willamette River (stadium was on the west side of the river and our hotel was on the east side of the river) got him majorly confused
- 0% sales tax (yea!)
- Caves Pharmacy employees were correct – Multnomah Falls was breathtaking, highlight of the trip thus far. It’s the second tallest year-round waterfall in the U.S. at 620 feet in height. We wanted to go the full mile up but thought that would be difficult with A and with slippery walkways, so we only went to the bridge 0.2 miles up. Z and B still got wet, though, which thrilled them.
- The fish in the river that the falls dump into were trying to swim upstream, so we watched them go nowhere for a few minutes.
- Mt. Hood Railroad – probably the biggest disappointment thus far. It’s too bad. That was the one activity that J was looking forward to the most. You couldn’t see Mt. Hood that well from inside the train. The 30 minute stop in Odell was worthless. It was a 1 street town of hopelessness. The tour guide trumped a Mexican restaurant and a “cookie lady” who sat under a tree. Oh by the way, you could only see the top of Mt. Hood from Odell. The most amusing thing on the train ride was some guy’s fashion sense. He had a blue T-shirt tucked in to his green colored shorts. T-shirts tucked into shorts look weird enough but mixing in green shorts was something to see.
- Town of Hood River where the train originated though was very cute
- Tried to get donuts at the critically acclaimed Voodoo Doughnut but the line was very long and the names of the donuts were not kid appropriate.

Sonoma Valley/Redwoods/Crescent City: June 11-12, 2010

- Drove through Sonoma County (Wine Country), stopped at Kunde Family Estate to get CA wine and take a tour of their wine cave, old guy from MA kept asking ridiculous questions to our guide such as “where’s the Smothers Brothers winery?”
- Cave had thousands of barrels and cave had a wonderful wine aroma, cave also would have been a great place to play hide and seek. On the back wall, you could also see the layers of rock that had formed over many thousands of years, which fascinated Z.
- Drove on Avenue of the Giants to see CA redwood trees, so tall and so thick at the bottom, it was a sunny day but it fairly dark in the woods because of all the trees. It was fun to watch Z and B climbing in, around, and through the trees. Even A sat on a redwood!
- Nature called for J on the drive and with no available bathrooms close by, J “watered” a redwood which was hilarious for Z and B
- US 101 in No Cal is very curvy, this will become a big problem later
- Dinner at McDonald’s in Fortuna was lame, punk middle schoolers loitering, Z’s stomach started to bother him
- About 40 miles from Crescent City, Z threw up in the car, not fun for anyone. H gladly left the bag by the side of the road. She hated littering, but there was no chance that was going back in the car.
- Arrived in Crescent City around 10PM (11 hours after we left SF) and promptly went to bed
- We went to the coastline the next morning, very rocky coast, Pacific Ocean was pretty (much different from the Atlantic)
- We also took a few minutes to take A's 8 month pictures by the ocean.
- In addition to being rocky, there was a lot of broken wood around and Z got a splinter which H removed after considerable whining from Z. H deemed this part of the trip “Mommy cleans up Z’s messes”.

San Francisco June 9-10, 2010

- A’s 1st big vacation (yeah!)
- Our first stop was the Crookedest Street. H drove this time because J did 6 years ago
- Next: Golden Gate Bridge (fun fact - the color of the bridge is International Orange)
- Dinner at a California institution – In & Out Burger which B referred to the next day as Out-N-Burger
- Then we went to Pier 39 to celebrate the return of the sea lions and to ride the carousel
- We started next morning going to the Aquarium of the Bay – kids got Burger King crown-like shark hats. There was a cool walk-through tube exhibit showing life in the SF bay (included lots of starfish and even sharks).
- Next, we went on a Bay Cruise. Every SF tour tries to get you to buy additional tours once you leave the tour you are on. We were taken under the GG bridge and around Alcatraz Island (who knew it wasn’t just one building, as it looks from shore?).
- We enjoyed lunch at a place called Wipeout Bar & Grill - "Good night and big balls."
- Kids got free sourdough bread shaped like turtles at Boudin Bread Factory just for telling the breadmaker that they liked the turtle shapes best (they had many other animal shapes as well)
- Coit Tower – scariest, oldest elevator ever (but not smallest), place to buy tickets was a gift shop that could have been on the show Hoarders, great views from top of the tower
- Ghirardelli Soda Fountain offered incredibly overpriced sundaes but you could see how they made chocolate, which was incredibly cool to H and the kids. J could have cared less.
- B spent much of the first 2 days wanting to go home, then some random guy in a store on a street in Fisherman’s Wharf gave her a flower balloon which made her happy
- Then it popped and she screamed all through the cable car line and ride that she wanted another balloon. J wanted to scream at the banjo player serenading everyone in line singing such classics as Pop Goes the Weasel while begging for money
- 9.5% sales tax, ouch!