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Archive for the ‘Vacation’ Category

Breckenridge Colorado Destination Review

Southwest Airlines got us to Denver twenty minutes earlier than expected, great, but what happened to family preboarding? You know, with the handicapped folks? I am one dad traveling with two ruddy wise-girl preschoolers, which could be considered a handicap. Forced to wait while the ‘A’ class boarded, I grumpily asked the mannequin-esque attendant, “What! No family preboarding! When did that change?” Unfrazzled, coolly she replied “A year or so ago” she probably had heard that complaint a billion times.
The flight was smooth, I came prepared with a feed bag of crunchy goodies, a fully charged laptop, a plethora of Barbie and Disney princess movies, (enough to last a on trip to the moon and back), dual headphones, and a half dozen fresh activity books for back up. The 737 preformed exceptional and the crew was professional.
A two hour flight plus a two hour drive somehow equals ten hours of travel with Olivia and Hailey. Although I can’t lay all the blame on my well traveled preschoolers, the travel time was extended by a small portion of my family that arrived a couple hours after our flight. In that couple hours, I rented a big blue Town and Country van, found a Subway to feed the kiddos and then we rendezvoused back at DIA’s passenger pickup with my oldest brother Sam along with his second daughter Samantha who is idolized by my dear second, we also met up with Zadie, (my dad). The six of us traveled in rush hour traffic via Big Blue (the Thrifty rental van), from DIA to our condo duplex in Breckenridge. The drive took twice as long as it should have because of an accident on highway 70 and once again my perception to sniff out potential meltdowns saved me from a most assured “are we there yet” headache. Anticipating a two hour drive (which turned into almost four), I packed a portable DVD player inside my carry-on, and installed it in Big Blue prior to our stint down 70.
Around seven thirty that evening we finally reached the 5000 square foot duplex/condo/house that my brother in law Alan had procured from an associate for the week. The condo was huge, four levels, five suites, six or so (lost count) bathrooms, a massive kitchen and three common areas. The only issue was the lack of beds. Eventually our party would hit fourteen and upon first inspection, the condo only housed seven complete bed sets. Down on the lowest level of the house was an entertaining room with a ping pong table and a basketball toss game. Also down there silently stood a pair of bunk-beds with no mattresses or covers and in a dark empty room was a broken iron bed frame without a box-spring or a mattress, very crime scenish. I made a sign for the big musty room, “Master Suite – Reserved for the Taxman Family” a little prank for my sister’s husband who had sent an email to my dad, my brothers and me stating a request for the master suite.
The lack of beds created a standoff right from the git-go. I have to rewind the story just a bit here; A few days before departure, any time the subject of our Breckenridge ski trip was brought-up, Hailey would say, “I want the blue room.” How do you explain to a four year old that, there may not be a “blue” room and I have no idea what the sleeping and bunking arrangements will be when fourteen family members crash for a week in an unknown place. So I told her that once we arrive there, she will get to pick where she wants to sleep and if there happens to be a blue room she can pick that room to sleep in. Well wouldn’t you know it, we arrived at our home away from home and of course there is a “blue room” in which my dad had just parked his bags. Hailey walked into the room, spied the blue roman shade covering the window and a blue comforter on the bed and gleefully shouted, “Daaadeee! A bluuue roooom!” She dragged her suitcase into the room, unzipped it, opened all the drawers of two humongous antiqued dressers and started unloading her clothes. My dad walks out of the bathroom and saw Hailey occupying what he thought was going to be his suite for the week and briefly attempted to stop her. “Hailey, I was going to stay in this room.”
“I said… I… get… the blue room!” she shouted over her shoulder as she feverishly emptied her suitcase.
I was standing in the doorway and my dad glanced over at me for support. Shrugging my shoulders, I sided with Hailey, “Well, she did call the blue room.” Thanks to Hailey, I didn’t get stuck on the couch or worse this annual ski trip and Olivia, Hailey and I shared a queen sized bed for the week, (‘shared’ is a stretch for a ‘family bed’ newbie) in the “blue room”.
Our first full day in Breck began early. Sam, Samantha and Zadie spent the day on the slopes, so Olivia, Hailey and I taxied them down to the lifts then parked Big Blue near Main Street. We spent the morning shopping for light weight ski apparel and to our dismay, children’s clothiers’ were scarce. The few kids’ shops we happened upon had nothing but heavy winter gear and we already had that stuff. We did find a cool toy store, Peak-A-Boo Toys that had a big ‘test the toy’ play area where we spent an hour playing and the kiddos talked me into some small stuffed animals. Then for lunch we found a great pizza place, Eric’s, with a decent video game room where we won more stuffed animals.
The town square was equipped with one of those towering bungee jumper trampoline things which Olivia and Hailey insisted upon at fifteen dollars each for a five minute jump-off. We milled around main for a couple more hours popping in and out of shops and stopped at all the sculptures for photo ops until it was time to meet-up with Zadie, Sam and Samantha.
That night I had a big surprise planed for Olivia and Hailey. Unannounced to them, cousin Mikey was in Breck on spring break. Mikey was there visiting cousins Chris and Glenda who live in Breck. (Chris is one of Aunt Linda’s sons, Glenda his wife). So we caught Mikey on his last day there and met up with him at one of Chris’s restaurants, the swanky, upscale Briar Rose. Olivia and Hailey were delighted to see Mikey and a bit confused, “we’re not in Houston, what are you doin’ in the mountains” Olivia said.
We visited with Chris for a while, unfortunately he had to work and we only hung out for a short time. Then Mikey walked us up and down Main Street trying to find Empire Burger, another restaurant operated by Chris. Oh and to throw even more relatives into the mix, my sister Rachel, her husband Alan along with Louis and Sadie had arrived in town that evening and joined us for dinner.
It was a long first day and I wanted to get to bed as soon as we got home from diner but Olivia, Hailey and Sadie had other plans. They were bouncing through the huge condo, showing off for the older cousins. I had the not so bright idea to set up the portable DVD in bed to lure them in, and calm them down, that was a mistake, because the girls expected that same routine every night thereafter. Also, the family bed thing was getting old quick, I don’t know how any parent can pull that off, arms and legs thrashing around like hungry baby pythons, finally, after the kiddos nodded off, I scooched down to the end of the bed and slept perpendicular with my feet and lower legs hanging off the edge. That is how I slept the rest of the week.
Day three (technically); Olivia, Hailey and Sadie played games and paper dolls the whole morning while Rach and I waited for the cable guy to come and hook up a modem, (don’t ask). Around noon Rach and I took the kiddos to the Stephen C West Ice Arena. Hailey’s first time on skates and she did great. It took her a while to get used to the ice but after four or five trips around the rink with the ‘walker’ thing and me holding her at the waist she ditched the support device and skated quite well just holding my hand. Olivia’s second time on skates and she did awesome. Maybe one or two laps pushing the orthopedic learning-to-skate devise and she was skating all by herself trying to keep up with Sadie who is a natural on ice. Olivia had a few falls but popped right back up and kept going without a wince. I’m not sure why, but damn that made me proud to see.
After ice skating we picked up Zadie who had S.O.S.ed us from the slopes, he had enough trying to keep up with Samantha. Rach and I dropped off the kiddos at the condo with Zadie and ran down to the convenient City Market grocery and loaded up two carts which was just in time for the arrival of Joe (my brother), Nathan (eighteen year old nephew), Shaina (Fourteen year old niece) and Danielle (Sam’s oldest daughter) completing our annual family ski trip tribe.
Day four; we actually skied. Olivia and Hailey attended the Breckenridge Ski and Ride School for the day. I got to ski with my dad, my brothers Sam and Joe, my brother in-law Alan, nephew’s Nathan and Louis, nieces Danielle, Samantha and Shaina. Rach stayed at the condo with Sadie who didn’t feel well.
Pausing the review for a quick rundown on nephew’s; Nathan, (and brother in law Alan for that matter) ya’ll didn’t stand a chance against me playing Risk. And Louis gets a gold medal for fastest hot dog eaten… in a hot dog eating contest of one. On to my nieces, Shaina forgot to pack boots… to the mountains. Samantha’s skies only point downhill… it’s sick. Danielle did something to the toilet in the teenager’s suite… Sadie…I’m not even sure where to start with her.
Day four resumed; perfect morning of skiing in Breckenridge, not too crowded, sunny, warm, groomed just right for my chump like ski style. Although toward the end of the day the warm weather caused the snow to become slushy. So before I needed to pick up the kiddos, my dad and I headed down early, to the coral, stop it, it’s not what you’re thinking, the coral is the pen where all the pre-scholars take their lessons. I was hoping for a chance to get some action photos and I was not disappointed.
That night we ordered in from Fatty’s Pizzeria and yes, I ordered way too much, but I was factoring in fourteen people and that was with four hungry teenagers and two Taxman boys (Alan and Louis). When calling in the order I asked about party catering options and Fatty’s hooked us up with a good price for an army sized scrumptious meal.
Day five; another almost five hundred dollar day of skiing. That was approximate cost per day to ski. That included lift tickets for Olivia, Hailey and Me, all our ski equipment plus helmets and lessons for kiddos. The crew was minus Alan this day, the conditions and my timid overly cautious skiing was much the same as the day before. My dad cut out after lunch and Louis and I bailed on the group early to find Olivia’s and Sadie’s ski group. I had Alan’s video recorder and wanted to get some footage of them going up a lift and skiing on the mountain for the first time. Miraculously, without GPS, or short wave radios, or walkie-talkies, or cell phones, or locator beacons we caught up with them at the bottom of the Quicksilver Lift, I’m guessing my D.A.D.A.R. was in operation that day. I got to ride up with Olivia and then recorded her, Sadie and Lou, the entire decent. I could tell that the Ski and Ride School had a good crew and did a fine job, the kiddos wanted to go another day, Louis was baited into a snow ball fight with Olivia’s and Sadie’s instigating in a playful way ski instructor and I didn’t have any problems refunding Sadie’s unused lift ticket.
Later in the afternoon the kiddos stayed at the condo with the Lord of the Flies older cousins in command, while Rach and I hit Main Street for some souvenir shopping, she had her R.A.C.H. on, finding the Mountain Sanctuary Spa within a stone’s throw of our parking space. Rach received some kinda hand rub massage thing, while I found some goodies for Kim.
Day six; opted-out on skiing and opted-in on sledding which I borrowed, stop it, I asked the neighbors If we could use their sleds. It snowed that day and it was cold. Danielle, Shaina, Olivia, Hailey and I found the designated Breck sledding hill at Carter Park. The snow was gusting hard and Hailey was fouler than the ominous storm overhead having real issues with doing anything that day particularly the steep climb to top of hill. The cold fresh powder was awesome and I couldn’t help from kicking myself for not skiing that day especially when Hailey had thrown herself face first into the frozen mess in a fit of uncontrollable rage. But eventually, I duno twenty minutes, she calmed down, hiked up the hill on her own and within one trip down the fairly nice sized hill she was over it. Spending the day sledding with the kiddos was worth every non penny spent.
The wet heavy snow was eating a frostbite hole right through Shaina’s high top Chucks, yea, no boots on a trip to the mountains so the sledding ended sooner than anyone wanted. We stopped at a crepe making shack called Crepes A La Cart on Main Street for lunch and it was incredible, the absolute best crepes anywhere. Unfortunately, the staff was alarmingly dispassionate and distracted with their own dramatic drug induced lives. How could I tell? The young self-mutilated crew of three seemed not to care about any customers who may overhear their conversation of possession, arrest, trial and all the crazy details, but damn those where the best crepes ever.
That night we all went out for dinner at the Breckenridge Brewery. While we were waiting for our table Hailey challenged everyone to an arm wrestling match. Well first, and this only took a half a second, Samantha pinned her older sister Danielle and after that, Hailey defeated anyone in our party who stuck their arm within her reach. The staff there was quick and put our table for fourteen together relatively fast. The food was ok but the freshly brewed beer was freaking great. The Avalanche’s came crashing down. I can still taste it, so fresh and tasty.
Day 7; a late return. Packed, cleaned and rechecked condo for any claimable items. Olivia, Hailey, my Dad and I had lunch at Eric’s again, the kiddos had to show Zadie the games. We had to find Olivia a Breckenridge photo album for her school assigned photo journal project so after lunch and games we patronized a few more of Breck’s multitude of shops until we had tracked down a couple photo albums at twenty a pop.
Our flight departure time was 8:00pm, Sam and Samantha had a later flight. We were going to meet them at the skier pick up in Big Blue and head to airport. The meet time was set at 3:30pm, but that didn’t happen. We waited, with no return calls until 4:30pm. “I thought it was at four thirty” Sam and Samantha grabbed their luggage out of Joe’s rental car and tucked it into Big Blue and then return their ski equipment. Thankfully there was no traffic and we rolled up to DIA Southwest Airlines curbside passenger drop off around 6:30pm. Where we stood for like twenty minutes waiting for two people in front of us for the super slow motion porter. And the night crew on this flight seemed a bit condescending. One of the male attendants made a remark about my kids being “asleep in no time at all”, hinting that I should convince them to fall asleep. Luckily, packed in the feed bag of goodies were a few mini chocolate bars and cookies. Two Disney movies, a steady stream of sugar and they were bouncing. They didn’t cause any trouble on the airplane but they were being a bit loud, not obnoxiously. Although, I didn’t hear “Thank you for flying Southwest” on the way out. Olivia and Hailey were plain goofy in the baggage claim area at our home town airport. Running up the going down side of the escalator, ridding on the baggage carousels and doing things I couldn’t see but I could hear in the women’s restroom. They weren’t completely out of control and because they had jumped though all the hoops the whole day without too much of my directive, I didn’t mind them having a little fun in the un-crowded airport capping off a great trip.
Side Note: this post was pulled from the buried father of the blog archives, we took this trip last spring and I can’t wait to get back to Breck or any mountain for that matter although it may take a year or two more to save up for it.

Road Trip

Is it a bad omen that National Lampoon’s Vacation aired the night before our family road trip? Clark Griswold I am not and Wally World was not our destination but we did travel across the country to visit Kim’s family in Texas and we did have several mishaps of the mechanical, physical and emotional varieties which I will get too.

Elizabeth Rose in MemphisThe first point of interest on our trip was Memphis Tennessee. We stayed two nights at the Comfort Inn Downtown. A decent hotel for the AAA discounted rate. The only complaint was that the elevator doors closed faster than a spring loaded mousetrap. To avoid injury Olivia and Hailey would swiftly enter the elevator before the doors fully opened without regard for people exiting. One decent amenity is a roof top pool which we cooled off in immediately following our arrival.

Hailey at fountains in MemphisMemphis offered loads to do with the kiddos. Beginning our day with a complimentary intercontinental breakfast we were up early ready to explore an unfamiliar city. A block away from our hotel, surrounded by Memphis’s tallest buildings in the business district is a water feature with dozens of dancing fountains. Olivia and Hailey decided to run the gantlet of water geysers and Kim and I were in no hurry, we had an hour to waste before heading over to the Peabody so we let them run wild. Kim walked back to the hotel to get towels and dry clothes. I supervised the unplanned splash off while moving Elizabeth Rose’s stroller back and forth her eyes and attention focused on big sisters getting crazy soaked. My thoughts were on the desolateness of an apparently empty city. Where are all the people in this town at nine in the morning? Sleeping off a Beale street hangover? For fifteen or twenty minutes we were the only people around. Empty electric trolley cars of every color timely whizzed by on the ninety second mark. Thousands of dark reflective windows with no hint of life behind. No cars on the street. Caution tape and orange highway cones blocking traffic near the trolley depot. No sound of birds. The Rapture? That’s what I thought, until a trickle of life sleepily found its way back into the streets. By tenish, dressy business people were walking about, the street vendors appeared and store front owners opened up shop. Olivia, Hailey and I popped into a market for a snack. We got grapes and drinks for our ride over to the Peabody.

Peabody Ducks in MemphisThe Peabody Ducks. What a production. Every day at eleven o’clock lead by a duck trainer/entertainer a flock of ducks that live in a penthouse suite ride a reserved elevator to the first floor and march down a child lined red carpet to a lavish fountain in the middle of a packed to capacity lobby in the famous Peabody hotel where they swim all day. The kiddos loved it. We hung out for a while, watching the ducks, discussing the book “John Philip Duck” by Patricia Polacco that chronicles the history of the Peabody ducks and then it was off to see the panda bears.

Memphis Zoo was doable for an afternoon activity. The panda’s were great to see, a bit smaller than I expected. When you think panda you just assume giant, right? The Zoo map was legible enough for both Hailey and Olivia to understand and they decided which animals were top priorities. We saw the hippos, the apes and the monkeys, the cats, the big stuff, we had lunch, we rode the carrousel, the kiddos acted like apes on the playground, all within a few hours and it was hot that day too. We had Elizabeth Rose stripped down to a dipper, a liquid shirt of sunscreen and a wide brim sun hat. By three o’clock the kids needed a break. Kim needed a break. I need a bed. We headed back to the Comfort Inn for a rest but the view of Mud Island from the window of our fourteenth floor room beckoned us to keep exploring.

Mud Island in MemphisThe breeze and the view from the one third mile bridge over to Mud Island was spectacular. We opted out on the monorail and walked it. One awesome feature is a scale model of the Mississippi River, that winds a half mile or so down an educational walkway to a mini lake Pontchartrain and eventually to the mini gulf of Mexico where Kim and I had a disagreement and misunderstanding about whether it was safe or wise to take Elizabeth out on a paddle boat. I was the apprehensive one and Elizabeth and Kim ended up shorelined on their birthday’s Elizabeth Rose five months and Kim thirty five. Of course I was right because these paddle boats were horrible. In fact they should have been called paddle rafts, flat, no seats, the rudder to the rear and tiny pedals. Olivia and Hailey took turns steering and pedaling, we spun around the mini gulf and we struggled to get back to the dock. I was vindicated, Kim didn’t talk to me the two mile walk back to the hotel parking garage where we slumped into the van and hit Beale Street to have dinner and beverages.

Beale Street, a surging current of booze carried in big plastic cups by double fisting party goers was not the best atmosphere for the kiddos so we kept it simple, had dinner and got out of there well before the hard core partying began. Although after that day, doing all of Memphis (minus the Elvis scene) in a single day, a few more frosties were tempting.

We left Memphis the next morning, our destination, Texarkana for a one night stay and in reference to the opening paragraph, the first mechanical malfunction occurred here as we were preparing the van for departure. The little thirteen inch TV/ VCR that we brought along for the girls to watch movies on during the drive would not power on. We made do by occupying ourselves on the drive though Arkansas playing road trip games, I Spy, Animal Guessing Game, a couple of made up on the spot games, we sang songs, listened to the kids CDs, snacked, pointed out interesting scenery like the cityscape of Little Rock and napped. Elizabeth Rose played with dangly toys attached to her safety seat, talked to the family, listened to music and napped.

Hampton Inn Texarkana was a good place to stay before forging on to Galveston which was the longest most grueling day of driving the entire trip. State Highway 59 had many little towns that while nice to see doubled our drive time with all the stops and slowdowns. Another problem on 59 was the lack of rest stops, three hundred miles and only one rest stop with facilities. We ended up stopping for breaks at gas stations which is fine but no place to let the kiddos run and I solved the lack of entertainment problem by playing DVDs from my laptop which eased the little ladies discomfort from being confined in the van for almost eight hours.

Our stay in Galveston was shortened by a mix of incidents between our whole family and Aunt Linda which I will get too. It was six in the evening when we got to Aunt Linda and Uncle Earl Lee’s house near west bay. Their place is nice, right on a channel with big deck and boat launch.  Friday night we toured the house, got settled in, setup the pack and play, I discovered that the canvas rooftop cargo carrier that I borrowed from my mom had shredded from the inside out, Kim made dinner, cleaned up, Olivia and Hailey scrubbed clean in a jacuzzi tub and we made ourselves comfortable.

Olivia, Hailey and Uncle Earl Lee on boatSaturday Uncle Earl Lee treated us to a boat ride and allowed Olivia and Hailey to take the wheel for a bit. It was both girls first experience on a boat, they were interested in all the water fowl and fish and buoys and markers and traps, they soaked it in. After a morning behind the house on the little dock by the water and a couple hours on the boat we rested up then I took Olivia and Hailey to the community pool. It was crowded with rowdies of all ages and Hailey inadvertently blew the roof off little cabana where the lifeguards slack with her genuine diving board performance. The girls like to jump off diving boards but I have to be relatively close and in the water to assist them if necessary. Hailey usually jumps off the board first and is always hesitant, “Count to three daddy!” I count to three. “No! Four! Count to four!” if the board is a spring board then this line continues to seven or eight. But in this instance it was not a spring board and Hailey inched toward the edge on four, when suddenly, every single pool attendee, little kids, big kids, women, teenagers, men, grandmas, the life guards, all joined together chanting “Jump! Jump! Jump!” Hailey momentarily admired the attention with a big smile then jumped in and surfaced to an eruption of applause.

Kayaking in West BaySunday, Father’s Day, Aunt Linda and Uncle Earl Lee hosted a party for the family. Cousin Sheri and Michael, Cousin Morgan, Cousin Mikey, Great Uncle Robby and Aunt Lori. When everyone arrived Olivia and Hailey were running around showing off getting a smidge riled up. Aunt Linda told them to calm down and they blew her off. Aunt Linda remarked about the uncontrolled children and I discreetly said something to both Olivia and Hailey in private as not to embarrass them in front of the family. They eventually calmed down and followed Mikey around for a while. He tossed a baiter net into the channel and caught a few dozen little bait fish, the girls were delighted, they scooped ‘em up from the deck and put the little fish in a bucket of water. With the live lures Mikey caught a couple catfish in the channel. Then Uncle Earl Lee and Mikey launched the Kayak and Mikey gave Olivia and Hailey rides. I could not resist the kayak, I tried it and remaining afloat was easy so after acclimating myself in the boat I gave Olivia and Hailey each a turn riding with me.  That is what I will remember from this year’s Fathers Day, taking them out on the Kayak. That was a gift worth the nine hundred mile drive and worth all the trouble to come.

Something was stewing inside Aunt Linda. Being ignored by rambunctious preschoolers, combine that with Texas heat, the wine, the party commotion and house guests that come in and rearranged everything, by four o’clock Aunt Linda stumbled, knocking into the patio door and needed help to her room so she could lie down. This happened during the kayak rides. Later in the evening about six o’clock after all the guests had left, except for cousin Morgan who was planning to spend a couple days with us, Aunt Linda came out of her room in a bad mood. Uncle Earl Lee was in the guest bed room that Olivia and Hailey were staying in dolling out tickles and I think the noise may have roused Aunt Linda. She then made comments about how horribly behaved our children are and insulted Kim’s mothering abilities. Kim didn’t like it and got in Aunt Linda’s face defending herself and the children. Morgan sobbed, reliving some horrible memory and prayed for Aunt Linda to stop. Uncle Earl Lee escorted Aunt Linda out on the patio and verbally let her have it.

Cousin Morgan called her mom Sheri who told her to pack-up all our shit and get out now. I found later in the trip that Cousin Sheri is right 99.9% of the time. We should have taken the advice, instead we decided to forgo the hour and a half drive and stay the rest of the night then head to Sheri and Michael’s house the following day. That was a mistake. Because round two was a couple hours later when Aunt Linda who had already apologized and retired for the night woke back up. I was on the couch in the living room reading a book. Kim was in spare bedroom with Olivia reading Junie B. Jones. Hailey, Elizabeth, Uncle Earl Lee and Morgan were out on the deck saying good night. Aunt Linda informs me she is going to fix up the couch for Morgan to sleep on. I let her know that Morgan decided to sleep in the spare room with Olivia and Hailey, something that was discussed hours ago.  She started screaming about not knowing what’s going on in her own home and stormed off looking for Kim. A carpet of F bombs and other words not intended for children boomed from the spare room and I had to go intervene. Now Aunt Linda insinuating that Kim and the rest of us are being disrespectful ungrateful house guest unknowing that Kim and Morgan cleaned the kitchen from the party even scrubbed the floors. I told Aunt Linda to stop with Kim and asked her as politely as possible what she wanted us to do. She didn’t have an answer and responded with incoherent accusations of ungratefulness. My efforts distracted her long enough for Kim to round up Morgan, the kiddos, the baby and start packing for our immediate departure. But Aunt Linda wasn’t through, her and Kim squared off again by the back patio door. I wasn’t sure who I was going to have to hold back. Verbal jabs tree sawing back and forth, instead of a tree standing between them stood Hailey with a grin on her face enjoying the confrontation. Morgan pleaded with her Nana to stop, effectually dousing the fire. It was nine thirty and by nine forty five we had the van and Morgan’s truck packed and ready to go.

The kiddos were confused. Where are we going? What happened? Why was Mommy crying? Why is mommy driving with Cousin Morgan? Why did Aunt Linda yell at Mommy? I was waiting to hear; what’s #$%$ mean? Olivia kept repeating, “I didn’t even get to finish my Junie B. book.” It took me a minute to realize that is when Aunt Linda started picking on Kim. I told Olivia not to worry and that none of what happened was her fault. She seemed relieved and immediately asked why Aunt Linda yelled at mommy. Well Sweetie. I paused, I wanted to be honest. And then Hailey summed it up perfectly, “She was being mean spirited!”

We arrived at Sheri and Michael’s house around eleven thirty feeling like evacuated refugees’ but Sheri and Michael were inviting and made us feel welcome. Olivia and Hailey got to sleep in Cousin Morgan’s room which was the equivalent of bunking up with their favorite Disney princess. Elizabeth Rose, Kim and I shared a comfy guest room.

Monday we drove back to Galveston, this time to go to the beach. Kim’s dad and his sister Debbie came with us and we had a blast. Elizabeth Rose stayed behind under the watchful eyes of Morgan. It was Olivia and Hailey’s first time at a real beach. They body surfed and tasted the salty water. They built creative sand castles and worked the abundant sands. They beach combed for shells and stuff. A few hours on the beach made the girls hungry and cranky so Kim’s dad took us to a pizza place and then we headed back to Sheri and Michaels.

Houston Zoo - Kim and Elizabeth RoseTuesday, Sheri took the day off from work and accompanied us to the Houston Zoo. The koala bears were our big game, elusive but we caught a glimpse of one sleeping in a tree. Ya’ll, I need to tell ya, Houston is hawt! A couple hours of walking around in the sweltering heat and humidity and we were done. Hailey and I crashed the neighborhood pool immediately following our return from the zoo. Later that evening we all went to Kim’s favorite restaurant, Fajita Willies and it was good. Mickey won each of the girls a stuffed animal from the arcade which are now the new can’t go anywhere without favorites. Late night, Michael, Mickey and me stayed up watching Hogan’s Heroes.

Wednesday day we hung out playing Nintendo Wii, resupplying necessities at Wal-Mart for the trip home and rested. I think Kim was getting homesick because she morphed into the laundry fairy, washing any article of clothing inside the house. Wii sports is awesome. Olivia beat every opponent she faced in bowling, one game scored 150 and Hailey beat into submission anyone that opposed her in boxing. Our bout, Hailey and I, ended in a controversial 2-1 split decision in Hailey’s favor.

Grandpa and Elizabeth RoseWednesday night we visited Kim’s dad. He made dinner for us. The girls chased after Mocha Jean. Elizabeth rolled around on a bed sheet. And then, surprise gifts for the girls. Elizabeth Rose got much needed summer clothes. Olivia and Hailey got a portable dual screen DVD player and My Little Pony DVD and Barbie DVD. Touchdown! The perfect gift for our three day journey home.

Thursday morning we left for Baton Rouge. A one night stay at the Sheraton Convention Center and the first part of our journey home. The Sheraton was the least accommodating of all. The online reservation for a room with two beds that I booked was not held for us and we squeezed into a king at a discounted rate plus free buffet breakfast for family.

Friday we drove north through Mississippi stopping for the evening a couple miles from the State line between Tenn. And Miss. at the Drury Inn. I like anyplace that gives three free drinks upon checking in. Kim and I cashed in two each on the happy hour promotion. Olivia and Hailey loved the indoor/outdoor swimming pool, they stayed up late to watch Hanna Montana for the first time, Kim and I enjoyed the two room suite.

Saturday we drove home. Stopped for our final rest stop picnic, Olivia and Hailey gave their last rest stop picnic bench table top song and dance performances.  The road trip was complete with a visit to the pool once we got home. That was our routine, drive six or so hours, check in and go swim. So many other little things happened along the way on this trip. Elizabeth Rose now called Chewie has her first tooth and also had her first accident by rolling off the bed in of all places Baton Rouge. It made me sick to my stomach but she was ok. Olivia lost her second tooth at Cousin Sheri’s. Hailey started a new nickname for Cousin Sheri, Cousin Cherry. Cousin Cherry and Hailey started trouble with an eight year old in the video game room at Fajita Willies.  Many important milestones reached; first time to the beach, first time on a boat, first real road trip, we all gained new skills.

The road trip was almost two weeks long, five nights in four different hotel rooms and several days staying with relatives, five states and two thousand two hundred twenty two miles driven. We enjoyed our company and my family remained a cohesive group throughout the entire vacation, something I am proud of, Olivia, Hailey, Elizabeth Rose and Kim amazed me.

Thank You to family in Texas, Thank You Cousin Cherry, Michael, Morgan and Mikey, Thank You Aunt Linda and Uncle Earl Lee, Thank you Grandpa, we had a great trip.

Texas

Originally posted on BabyCenter.com 09/27/07 

Kim’s Tree
Kim’s origins are rooted in Houston, her whole family lives there, except for Nana (Kim’s mom). Over due by three years for a visit, Cousin Morgan’s high school graduation was as good as any reason for us to fly down and check in on the family.

Kim booked five non-stop round trip tickets on southwest airlines for herself, Olivia, Hailey, Nana, me and thirteen pieces of luggage. Everything about the flight went smoothly, a quick take-off, hardly any turbulence and a flawless landing. It was Hailey’s first time on an airplane and she belted out a big “whoaaaa” during take off. The kiddos quietly occupied themselves by watching movies on my laptop, munching endlessly on a feed-bag of junk and crafting cards for all their relatives.

Olivia’s Carbon Footprint on Hailey
Departing from our airport at the curbside check Olivia held Hailey back from exploring into the five minute passenger drop off avenue, which is ridiculously close to the security kiosk, while Kim, Nana and I dug out our ID’s and e-conformations. Olivia involuntarily buddied-up with Hailey and they strode through the airport hand in hand on the way to the gate, rolling back packs in tow. At the security check, Olivia made sure Hailey took her shoes off, showed her how to place all her belonging in the plastic container and then how to send it through the scanner. She had Hailey line up for the metal detector and told her to go one at a time. One might think that Olivia has traveled via airplane a hundred plus times seeing her instructive behavior while jumping through all the hoops at the airport. The truth is, she has been on an airplane only two other times; recently to Utah with me for a ski trip and on our last family trip to Texas when she was ten months old.

Hailey has an adaptive learning style, partly kinesthetic and mostly visual. Sure, she has learned a few important rules from mom, dad and from an assortment of caregivers. Predominantly she parrots her older sister. For instance, at around eighteen months old, following Olivia’s lead, Hailey started using the potty. She didn’t hear one bit of direction on the finer points of using the potty from Kim nor me. She refused the training bucket thing, she wanted to be like her sister and use the Dora training seat on the ‘big’ toilet. She wouldn’t accept any help getting on the ‘big’ toilet, climbing on herself, even if it took her two or three attempts. And recently, through Olivia’s example; Hailey has ditched wearing night time pull-ups, refusing to put them on anymore. She is not even three, she can’t hold it throughout the night and she is unable to wake herself to use the potty. We try to rouse her before we go to sleep but she will not get out of bed. So, what do we do? You guessed it, we let her sleep in her own urine or until she calls for mommy or daddy to dry her off at three in the morning. Ok, that only happened once, then we bought a mattress pad and a plastic liner.

Houston Hobby
While Kim, Nana and I claimed our tower constructed from suitcases, Olivia showed Hailey how to sit on top of the luggage carousel and ride from one end of the baggage claim area to the other. Olivia helped Hailey on her inaugural journey via airplane without a fight and with little guidance from the adults. Is Olivia a good teacher or does she like to control Hailey? I’m not sure, but Hailey enjoys big sister’s constant instruction, care and attention.

Thirteen suitcases teetering high on a bag-cart slightly impaired my vision. Relying on sound recognition I blindly followed our entourage through Houston Hobby, squeezing by groups of people, through entryways, corridors and elevator doors, praying for the luggage not to topple.

We made it to the car rental shuttle depot without incident, the luggage held, next time I will pack a bungee cord to secure the bags to the cart. The shuttled bus snaked through the airport’s access roads as Olivia and Hailey bounced from seat to seat. A light drizzle started coming down as the shuttle pulled up to a light blue van. I had requested a Grand Caravan with two built-in five-point-harness child restraints, which was offered at no extra charge. I opened the van’s sliding door to find a standard bench seat, thanks Budget, not to worry I came prepared and quickly procured two booster seats, one from large rolling duffel and the other from my hockey bag. Thankfully the van had latch and with a snap we were sheltered from the rain and on our way to Aunt Linda’s and Uncle Earl Lee’s.

Day I
Aunt Linda and Uncle Earl Lee live in a gated community. Their home is condo-esque, with neighboring houses tightly squeezed together. The great thing about staying with Aunt Linda and Uncle Earle Lee is that they own the house directly across the quiet cul-de-sac from their home. So, we get our own place to spread out and enjoy.

After ‘moving in’ we were able to enjoy the rest of the day. Cousin Morgan brought us lunch and she played with the kiddos for a few hours. The isolated misting had blown over and the sun came out in time for us to check out the neighborhood pool until dinner. It was a long day, no naps, we tried to get the girls in bed early, eight o’clock, however there was a bit of confusion on exactly where Olivia and Hailey were going to sleep. First we tried the loft. They weren’t comfortable up there. I moved both their twin mattresses down to the living-room where they discovered that the loft was much better. Back up the stairs I obediently followed carrying both mattresses. We planned on a short story-time which ended-up running ten books long (every book they brought with them) and then they jumped from one mattress to the other for over an hour before finally crashing out after ten.

Day II
Grandpa
This is a tough subject. What do you say about the person who calls his daughter the day before her wedding to say that he can’t make it? Someone who has two granddaughters that he has not once come to visit. I could go on with a dirty laundry list but I must refrain. I don’t know the historic details between Grandpa and Nana (Kim’s mom), I’m sure it wasn’t pretty. I try not to pry, although when Kim was pregnant with Olivia, I attempted to dig a bit; Kim and I were looking through Nana’s dusty photo albums. The early 70’s pictures of Nana are out of character. Usually fun-loving and out-going these set of pictures represent a gloomy person. I questioned Kim about one particular unsmiling photo of Nana; pregnant with Kim, Nana’s arm loosely wrapped around Kim’s dad, the only photo I’ve seen of Nana and Grandpa together. Kim’s explanation, Nana was embarrassed by her adult braces.

Our first full day in Houston we had plans with grandpa, (minus Nana). I am cordial, respectful and optimistic when we are with Kim’s father. Warning flip-flop alert: He is actually an interesting person to hang around with. He’s comical, opinionated, a conversationalist, with a hint of chauvinism. He could be the perfect drinking or golfing buddy. He and his current girlfriend Helen took us to NASA’s Johnson Space Center. It was my idea. I’ve been to Houston one too many times without seeing what was to be the vehicle of Apollo 18, the Saturn V Rocket.

Space Center Houston
Space Center Houston is the visitors’ center at JSC and has a vibe of something between a spaceport hangar / mission control / science center. We were greeted by a massive floor to ceiling at least thirty feet tall play structure. ‘Kids Space Place’ enticed Olivia and Hailey, they spent close to an hour exploring the multilevel kid sized habit trail. They stopped at an air gun trench to launch plastic balls at unknown yet shocked and awed adversaries. They tested and re-tested a robotic arm controller several dozen times, and the three-story triple-cork-screw slide was so tempting Kim had to try it.

Next we checked out “Grossology” a (possibly traveling) hands-on exhibit trumpeting all that is slimy, stinky, and yucky. An interactive jeopardy-parodied quiz show was enlightening. Plenty of nasty bug stuff to examine. The cow intestinal tracking system was a bit too much information. It was the kind of stuff that makes a great conversation base with the kiddos.

We spent another hour hopping through the half dozen galleries of space related exhibits and then our little ladies became viciously hungry. Grandpa suggested a short ride down the road to Kemah Boardwalk a seaside amusement area with a couple good places to get lunch. Everyone was on board with that, however in that instant my dream of seeing the Saturn V disintegrated. So close and denied… Insert; ‘story of my life’ here.

Kemah Boardwalk
The kiddos hurried through lunch which was not much of a break for anyone then we headed to the funfair area. Olivia and Hailey experienced their first Farris Wheel ride and it was unbelievable. Labeled ‘Century Wheel’ although I don’t think it was 100 feet tall, the scene overlooked Clear Lake Shores off Galveston Bay. Olivia, Hailey and I were the only ones who opted to ride the wheel. It stopped at the top for a moment, the basket swayed with the wind and Olivia asked “Is that the Ocean down there?” How could I tell her it wasn’t?

Pump It Up
The day was far from over. We had bummed around the boardwalk for a little longer then took Grandpa and Helen home. Cousin Morgan reserved a free, hour long, private room for us at the Pump It Up where she was employed. They climbed, slid, jumped, and jousted non-stop for the entire hour. We like the bouncy type places and even I get into the action. Cousin Mikey challenged, eluded and embarrassed me on the mushroom topped jousting platform. The day was another action packed, no nap, up till ten o’clock night. I think Kim and I were asleep before the kiddos.

Kim with Olivia and Itty Bitty BankerDay III
The Toy Donkey Whisperer(s)
Not a toy donkey, a miniature donkey, a real one. Kim’s cousin Karen owns one and a horse with a bit of land too. Our whirlwind tour of the Texas family continued with a visit to Karen’s place. Uncle Earl Lee and Cousin Morgan (Earl Lee is Morgan’s grandfather) came along with us. Olivia and Hailey have ridden on small carnival horses a couple times at local fairs so they were merely semi-excited to ride the miniature donkey. Although once we got to the stable and acquainted with the animals they livened-up.

Olivia and Hailey felt comfortable on the miniature donkey named ‘Itty Bitty Banker’ but both didn’t like being on the fully grown equine. I can’t blame them. The beast was huge and a bit ornery. I was glad that Uncle Earl Lee and Cousin Morgan were close-by to assist when the kiddos took their brief turns ‘riding’ the steed.Hailey says “Whoa” with Uncle Earl Lee Standing by.

A cool swift moving rain shower passed over stranding us in the stable for a while. Itty Bitty Banker received the brushing of its life from Olivia and Hailey. They petted, preened and fussed over the mini donkey until a break in the rain gave us time to dash back to Karen’s office where we had parked. Itty Bitty Banker tailed Olivia and Hailey almost the whole length of the field and seemed sadden by the departure of its new friends.

Day IV
Graduation
Cousin Morgan’s high school class was close to five hundred students and she was selected by her peers to lead the state anthem during the opening ceremonies. The graduation proceeded swiftly, only two hours long, which was way past the kiddos stay in one place for too long limit. But they kept themselves busy by visiting all their relatives, first Chris and his wife Glenda, jumping to cousin Rob and his wife Lori, skipping to aunt Linda and uncle Earl Lee, bouncing to cousins Sherri and Michael (Morgan’s mom and dad), plowing through to cousin Karen and her mother Ann, bounding over to Nana and sneaking up on cousin Mikey.

After the graduation we all met for lunch. The restaurant we met at was a cross between petting zoo / play ground / eatery and it was fun. After our meal we went outside to play, pet the animals and see the peacocks (Hailey’s favorite animal). As soon as we settled into a huge sandbox it started to pour down rain. The sand pit was situated under a pavilion so we weren’t getting wet, but once again, we were stranded out in the rain. Sure the restaurant was a twenty yard dash away but we were dry and the kiddos were content with the situation so I put my arm around Kim and we waited it out.

That evening Morgan and her immediate family had one thousand parties to attend. We all went our separate ways for the night. Nana went to visit some old friends. Kim, the kiddos and I met-up with Grandpa, Helen and her youngest college aged daughter at the local Chucky Cheese for an evening of instant gratification.

Day V
Party
Cousin Morgan had a Family and Friends Graduation Party the following day and it was great visiting with everyone. Michael and Sheri opened up their home, providing yummy edibles. The family congregated out in the garage reminiscing, updating and gossiping about things I can’t pen. Olivia and Hailey nursed blue frosting cup cakes all party long leaving blue kiss marks on anyone willing to receive one.

Departure
It was sad to go, especially since we had to leave the party in its prime to catch our flight home. Morgan got upset when it was time to say goodbye to her little side kicks and I couldn’t thank uncle Earl Lee and aunt Linda enough for their gracious hospitality all while Kim sabotaged our tightly scheduled itinerary by lingering several ‘one last’ goodbyes to everyone.

Where was Nana? She stayed in bed sick at aunt Linda’s that day. Possibly a nasty stomach virus, she flew home the next day and didn’t feel well for a week after.

Vacation Termination
The ride to the airport rental car return depot was rainy and somber. The airport was surprisingly crowded but the kiddos didn’t act antsy. Olivia reminded Hailey to touch the outside of the plane near the entry hatch for good luck as we boarded. The typically bumpy ride back home from Houston was smooth.

Bubie (my mom) picked us up from the airport and was surprised by Nana’s absence. We were home and unpacked within an hour of touchdown. Olivia and Hailey were beat-up, speaking in tongues, spastically jabbing fists and feet at anything within a two foot radius, struggling to keep moving. No nap and insufficient sleep for five days, it was like watching the terminator in its final hour.

Our Little Secret
Is this a coincidence; our last three trips to Texas Kim has been (and currently is) pregnant? Kim and I sat on this secret the entire trip. Kim did an ept test the day before we left, she was one week late. A faded blue line appeared. She called her doctor to make an appointment which obviously she couldn’t see him until after our trip so we decided not to tell anyone. Besides, we like secrets.

Ski Patrol

Originally posted on BabyCenter.com  04/11/07

Zadie (my dad) plans a family ski vacation every spring. This year’s destination, Park City, Utah as it has been for the past four or five years. Absent in ’05 and ’06, due to the fact that ski trips and infants/toddlers don’t mix well, this marked the end of my longest stint away from the slopes since the age of fourteen when I first started skiing. I was dying to get back to the mountains. Skiing is therapeutic; speeding downhill from the top of a picturesque mountain, the only immediate concern is concentrating on each and every turn to find the best path.

The first and only mountain vacation for Kim was back in 2000, a scenic trip to Sun Valley Idaho’s Bald Mountain. By nature Kim is a beach bum and dislikes cold weather, but she trudged along with an open mind. Her first day she had a ski lesson on the beginner hill, she learned how to turn and stop, so I figured she could handle the easiest green run on the second day. I was wrong. We rode up two different quad-chair lifts to the summit, around 9000 feet and started down a gentle green ‘slow zone’ run. Right at the start of our slothful decent, Kim face-planted, going down harder than a giant sack of Idaho spuds and twisted her knee in the process. Quickly I slid over to her and I knew there was only one way she was going to get down the mountain. I drove her skis into the snow creating an upright criss-cross to alert ski patrol and within minutes Kim was assessed then carefully placed inside a safety sled. The ski patrol guy swiftly towed her down the remainder of the mountain, I skied close behind. She was finished skiing that day and perhaps forever. At the base lodge she found a soft arm chair and propped her twisted knee up near a raging fire where it was warm and relaxing.

I really wanted to go skiing this year. Kim did not. Hailey is still a bit too reckless for a trip to the mountains however Olivia is at the perfect age to learn how to ski. So, with Kim’s consent, I booked a flight for Olivia and me, planning a five night stay from Wednesday to the following Monday.

We flew Delta. I hate Delta. No pre boarding. No pre boarding? No wings for kids. Aside from that, I had called Delta’s customer service right after I purchased the tickets to find out if Olivia needed a seat restraint and the representative told me that she would need one. I was confused because I have heard different things about flying with children from other parents. I even looked the subject up on FAA’s website which was more confusing. Under two years (lap babies) no ticket required, over forty-four pounds no restraint necessary, between twenty and forty-four pounds was this grey area which I assumed would be left up to the airline to determine. So, at ten-thirty the night before the trip, Kim called Delta once again, (I was still packing) and the customer service rep told her that Olivia would not need a seat restraint.

Olivia has been on an airplane once before when she was ten months old, so flying was sort of a new experience for her. I could tell she was anxious to fly when she exclaimed “got to hurry dad” as I was forced to open my luggage and transfer three pounds of weight from one bag to another at the curbside check. She skipped along next to me through the busy airport rolling her princess backpack-carryon. She got a bit antsy waiting in the long line at the security check. “Why do we have to take our shoes off?” she asked. I told her that it was so all the travelers would feel safer and she gave me her confused ‘we’ll talk about that later’ look and I was glad she didn’t question the tight security any further. She was so excited when we got to the gate. I said, “Look there’s our plane.” She rushed to the window and pressed her face flat against the glass to see it.

Since there was no pre-boarding, Olivia and I waited until all the other passengers boarded. I figured, why rush to confine her to a seat for the three hour flight? We waited until the final boarding call was made to disembark. As we were walking through the jetway it started to shutter and then recoiled a bit away from the entrance to the airplane. It scared Olivia and she jumped into my arms, “I don’t want to go! I don’t want to get on the plane! I want to go home!”

I calmed her as best I could inside the jetway which bounced back to the entrance of the plane. “You’re scared and that’s ok sweetie.” I said something like that, “I always touch the side of the plane for good luck sweetie, try that it will make you feel better.” That statement was accurate because it is my personal preflight superstition. I place my palm on the outside of the plane as I enter. A connection between me and an uncertain faith in technology. By this time the characteristically pretty but unfriendly attendant was giving us the eye. I slowly proceeded through the entrance of the plane lugging my backpack, her backpack, my laptop and Olivia who was balling so loudly that the passengers at the back of the eighty-seat airplane were giving me sympathy looks. As we turned down the isle ready to make our way to the seats Olivia screamed, “Wait! I want to touch the plane!” And she did, just before the evil-eye stewardess closed the hatch.

After that, Olivia was great and enjoyed the flight without any complaints. A steady stream of lolly-pops, cherry licorice, computer games, markers, crayons, books and movies on my laptop kept her busy. “Look dad, everything is getting bigger again,” she said as we approached for a landing.

We took a forty-five minute shuttle ride from the airport to the lodge. Olivia’s first shuttle bus. She enjoyed the freedom of a booster seat rather than the five-point harness car seat. I was hoping she would take a little siesta during the shuttle however she was entranced by the mountain scenery and occupied in devouring half a pound of cherry licorice.

Zadie, my older brother Joe, his kids Nathan (sixteen) and Shaina (thirteen) flew in the day previous to our arrival. When we got to the lodge they were out skiing, so Olivia and I took a quick nap, the last nap for the remainder of the vacation.

Later that afternoon we took a bus from the lodge to Park City’s historic Main Street. Olivia’s first bus ride. She loved the bus, she could jump from seat to seat and she could pull the cord to alert the driver when to stop. Total freedom mixed with control. To Olivia’s delight, we ended up using the bus quite a bit on our vacation. Main Street is charmingly lined with t-shirt shops, art galleries, pro shops, spas and restaurants. I was specifically looking for a powder jacket and new gloves for Olivia which I was unsuccessful in finding. But I did rent some skis and boots for myself as well as a helmet for Olivia.

My older sister Rachel and her husband Alan along with their kids Louis (six) and Sadie (four) arrived late that Wednesday night. Olivia and I were already asleep when they checked in. The next day when we woke up, Olivia was excited to see Sadie and they fused together for the rest of the vacation. That morning we did more shopping and I found Olivia a new jacket and ski pants but no new gloves. She had to squeeze into her old ones which she could care less about. After lunch we went ice skating. Another first for Olivia. Unfortunately, she had some troubles, as I was renting my skates; she attempted to put her skates on by herself. Somehow she flipped over backward falling off the bench that she was sitting on and hit the back of her head hard on the cement floor. She cried for a while, I got her an ice pack, but when Sadie started skating Olivia collected herself and wanted to get on the ice. I had to try a few different skates on her because the figure skates were too narrow and she ended up in hockey skates which are not ideal for learning how to ice skate. She had a hard time just standing up on the ice and after one frustrating trip around the olympic-sized rink she was ready for a break. I got her a little bag of fruit snacks from a vending machine and she watched from the stands. Lou was also having difficulties keeping his feet underneath him and he really got fumed watching Sadie, his little sister, doing exceptionally well. It was also Sadie’s first time on skates and she did amazing, a natural. She was zooming all over the ice pretending to be a Disney Princess on ice. After her snack, Olivia wanted to lace-up her skates and give the ice another go and she did well the second time around. I was so proud of her.

Late Thursday night my other older brother Sam and his youngest daughter Samantha (fifteen) joined the vacation. They didn’t make it in until past midnight and they were up and out the door before anyone even woke up the next morning.

Olivia's First Day Skiing in Park City UtahFinally, on Friday we skied. We signed-up Lou, Sadie and Olivia for ski school. I wanted to make sure Olivia and Sadie got to be in the same class so I lied and said that Olivia was four years old. Actually that turned out to be a good thing because the three year old kids only got to go out skiing once in the morning for an hour as opposed to the four year olds who got to ski twice accumulating almost three hours of ski time. Another first for Olivia, skiing. They all had such a great time at ski school that we signed them up the following day as well.

Later that afternoon we hit the lodge’s outdoor heated pool and hot tub. There were a ton of other kids and parents poolside and some of the kids got a bit wound up running and diving ignoring the clearly painted warnings of no diving and no running. Their parents were oblivious or indifferent on vacation from parenting as well as from their normal lives. So of course Olivia wanted to run and dive too. Some rules are bendable but pool safety is high on my must-be-a-smart-parent list so I had to say something to Olivia about following the rules and this was another first for Olivia, she responded with “well everyone else is doing it.” A mantra I had used many times throughout my own childhood. However I stood firm, “you follow the rules or no swimming.” She tested me and we ended up having to leave the pool.

The two days that I skied, the conditions were abysmal. Mostly slush, the temperature on the mountain was in the fifties and by noon it was like skiing in Elmer’s. I skied like a chump too, taking no real risks, I kept envisioning myself getting hurt, ending up in a body cast and unable to take care of Olivia. So I worked on mechanics and told myself I needed to fine tune my form.

Olivia wanted to go back to ski school a third time. If the ski conditions would have been better I may have let her. But it was our last day of vacation and I wanted to spend the day with her. We ended up driving the Dodge Caravan that Joe rented into Salt Lake to visit the zoo. Rach and Sadie came along too and it ended up being the perfect day to go to a zoo, sunny and in the seventies. Salt Lake’s Hogle zoo is just the right size, we walked it in about three hours and there were plenty of animals to watch. One surprise, a Red Panda, it looked like a cross between a raccoon and a fox with a beautiful fire red coat. The map for the zoo was coherent enough that Olivia could follow it and I was stunned by her ability to conceptualize our movements though the park. She even plotted our course by which animals she and Sadie wanted to see.

The zoo experience ended with an hour long playground romp at Discovery Land, a corner of the zoo dedicated to children. There were a few slick hands-on type things, a bat cave, a snake slide, giant eggs that Olivia and Sadie could hatch from and some other play apparati. It was a great place to parent watch. Unlike local parks where most parents are stereotypically the same, this play area undoubtedly attracted all sorts. I couldn’t help myself from analytically observing other parents. For instance, a morbidly obese father who’s son (five or six) was passionately pretending to be eaten by an alligator sculpture. The boy was screaming and animating himself with exuberance only to be rebuked by his father for being to loud. The large stationary dad, unable to lift himself off the bench he was attached too, yelling from across the playground at his son to be quiet. Another thing I thought was funny; a curvy mom had her daughter on a leash. In itself not hilarious because I seriously considered one of those for Hailey, but this poor little two year old was strapped to her mother inside an enclosed play area while she was actively climbing, running, sliding, the mom being pulled along while holding a conversation on her cell phone. The parent observations were much more intriguing than watching the animals.

We departed early the next morning. Our shuttle picked us up at seven to take us to the airport. Olivia made her way though the airport like a seasoned traveler. I have yet another complaint about Delta. They had everyone board the airplane and then discovered a problem with the lavatories. We sat on the plane for over an hour before the problem was fixed and then it took an additional forty-five minutes to taxi into position for takeoff. The three hour flight turned into five and I only had about four hours worth of activities for Olivia to occupy herself with. She was getting extremely fidgety the last half hour. Pushing all the buttons, playing with the stow-away tray, kicking the seat in front of her standing in her seat staring at the passengers behind us and she kept getting up to use the restroom. Tiny airplane lavatories are definitely not designed for parent-child uses and both bathrooms were completely disgusting even by an old fraternity boy standard. Seriously, these things resembled port-a-potties at a drunken Oktoberfest.

One more spit at Delta, when Olivia’s brand new pink polka-dot bag came off the luggage carrousel I noticed that one of the plastic pieces which aligns the pull-along handle had been severed; now the bag wobbles and rolls lopsided.

The night we got home Olivia was completely exhausted and she fell asleep before eight o’clock in her bedroom on the hardwood floor. It took her a couple days to catch-up on the lack of sleep during our trip. Coincidently, the insufficient rest had manifested itself while we were in Park City in the shape of night terrors. Thankfully, the midnight screaming, sobbing and convulsing disappeared once we got home.

Olivia had an adventuresome trip chocked full with many first time experiences. There was one big first time for me as well and that was traveling solo with a child in tow. Transforming me from nonchalant explorer into must bring the wipes into the airplane lavatory and scour it clean. Changing me from ‘Uncle Hocky has a Death Wish’ a song my nieces and nephew made up years ago regarding my audacious skiing style, into better not go down that blue (intermediate) run, may get hurt. The other big first for me was being away from Hailey for more than a day. I missed Hailey and Kim. The entire time we were in Park City I felt that something was missing and even while preoccupied with all the fun and exciting activities it was not enough to fill that emptiness.

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