Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Happy Fall, Y'all!

Pre-game view from our seats
Me and some random Vikings fan
Since when is THIS football arena food? Yum!
What? No shots of Tequila in the arena?!
And the theme of making Minnesota home continues.  And the strategy? Making friends, exploring the region, continuing old traditions in our new city and basically moving on.  Hmmmm..... "moving on".  For the longest time I had struggled with that concept.  Somewhere deep down inside of me I had an inkling of a notion that "moving on" would somehow move me further away from a lifetime's worth of friends back in Buffalo.  Somehow "moving on" would make them feel as though they are not as special to me.  Somehow "moving on", coupled with our geographical distance would contribute to us loosing our connection with each other.  I have finally realized that true friends make efforts to keep in touch and true friends pick up where they left off even if months pass between moments shared.  As I slowly get better at letting go and moving on, I slowly find more and more that I enjoy about the Twin Cities.

Whoa, Mr Viking man! Let me run my fingers thru your beard!
I love them so much!
Pumpkin #1
Pumpkin #2
On Thursday night, David and I went to the Vikings game.  We were able to score 4 tickets.  We invited our new "Minnesota friends" Kim & Ken to join us.  (Kim was actually our realtor and helped us find our house here in MN.)  I must say, it felt great to get out and socialize!!  The seats at the game were pretty awesome seats.  It was a pretty cold night so I was glad that the stadium has a dome.  Our tickets for the evening also came with tickets for admission to the Gridiron Club.  Hmmmm....how to explain the Gridiron Club???  Well, for WNYers, compare it to a much smaller scale version of First Niagara Arena's Harbor Club.  It is "smaller scale" because fewer people can get in at any given game.  The tickets to the Gridiron Club also include all you can eat & drink.  When I heard that, I had just assumed "stadium food". Noooo.....there was everything from sushi to carving stations to bananas foster and more.  There was also an open bar and retro video games (Ms PacMan, Galaga, Donkey Kong, etc) that you could play for free.  Way Cool!! 

Our purchases
Pumpkin guts!!
Since David had to leave on Sunday for business travel and so we had to make the most of our Saturday and cram in a family "weekend" into one day.  Since the clock is ticking away to Halloween time, we needed to do the pumpkin carving thing.  We took a little ride into Stillwater, MN to a small pumpkin patch, Axdahl's.  After passing through (several times) the *small* haystack maze which was pitch black and landed us in the barn's silo we had to examine and touch what seemed like every single pumpkin on the farm.  After such a decision process, I am not sure how we ended up with one of our two pumpkins having a small spot that was starting to rot out. Oh well....good thing Halloween isn't that far away.

Pumpkin carver in training
Jonathan added his Nuk to the seeds for good measure
Mama and Jonathan working hard
Madeline was beyond excited about carving the pumpkins.  She was so excited that she wanted to do the physical knife carving by herself.  Ummmmm.....No!  Yet, both she and Jonathan had fun getting messy by taking the guts out from the pumpkins.  Our pumpkins are not the most ornate but when you are up against dinner time with two little kids you tend to hurry along the process!  Pumpkins purchased - check! Pumpkins carved - check! Pumpkin seeds roasted - check! Dinner served - check! Kids to bed....woo hoo, check!  We survived.  Unfortunately, David was off first thing in the morning for a business trip.

Our finished products - Boo!
Entrance to Minnesota Zoo
The kids were having a riot in the leaves!
Happy Fall, y'all!
David has some spurts of business travel which always makes "mom duty" more difficult.  It is what is it is and it comes with the territory that is David's job.  However, I greatly dislike the occasions that David's travel requires him being gone over any part of the weekend.  Weekends are our family's special time and so weekend travel pretty much just stinks!  I decided to find something fun to do with the kids on Sunday to fill the void of David not being with us.  The Minnesota Zoo is located about 25 miles away from us.  We purchased a family membership to the Zoo back in May.  I decided that this was a perfect occasion to once again put that membership to good use. I don't know that I ever went to a zoo off-season before but I must say that I really enjoyed it.  The last time I went to the zoo it was well over 90 degrees with high humidity.  Sunday's visit was much more comfortable and much less crowded.  We also seemed to hit a lot of the animals at the right time as we were able to see them feed the penguins, fruit bats and komodo dragon.

My goal Sunday was to tire the kids out so that I could get them to bed at a decent time.  Between the zoo and outdoor play in the leaves when we arrived at home I would say mission accomplished!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Road Trip to Indiana

Mama-Dirtyfoot at the wheel.....Watch Out!
This picture does not do the fall colors justice.
Our first pit stop - somewhere in Wisconsin
Minnesota has an annual "Education Minnesota Professional Conference" the third Thursday and Friday in October.  This conference was formally known as the Minnesota Education Association Conference thus giving name to what Minnesotans still refer to as MEA weekend.  The purpose for these days off of school is to allow teachers, statewide, to attend its conference.  For parents and students it is an opportunity to plan a long weekend.  For what David refers to as the "Minnesota holiday", the local news was even covering the crowds at the airport for the school year getaway opportunity.  For last year's MEA, our family had moved to Minnesota less than a month prior to this long weekend.  We had no idea what MEA was and so we could not plan accordingly.  This year, we decided to take advantage of the long weekend and head to Michigan City, Indiana (an hour east of Chicago) to visit David's parents.

Anyone with kids knows how daunting a long road trip can be when the kids are in tow.  Luckily, Madeline is a little easier to travel with these days.  As long as she has paper and markers for drawing, a steady stream of DVD movies and occasional snacks, Madeline is good to go.  On our trip *to* Minnesota for our move, Jonathan was 8 weeks old and he slept almost the entire way.  Those days are gone and Jonathan is much more high maintenance.  David and I are not the "drive through the night" kind of people and so we do our best to time things as best as we can, have toys, snacks, occasional stops and prayers for long naps!


Grandpa is ready for bed and the kids are ready to party all night.
David showing Dad the photo album he made for Mom
At breakfast the next morning.  Getting a picture of both kids looking at the camera is next to impossible
Our trip to Indiana is about 450 miles.  Jonathan is not liking his car seat these days....I don't blame him - the safety regulations now require children to ride facing the rear until they are 2 years old.  When we got on the road, Jonathan fell asleep for a bit.  We took advantage of the first hour and a half as best as we could but when Jonathan woke up he was screaming and not having any part of any toys I offered.  I figured it was time for the kids to eat but could not bare the thought of stopping an hour and a half into the trip.  Thankfully I prepared some lunches for the road so that we would have more flexibility in our travel stops.  I crawled in the back and sat on the floor in between the two kids.  As I assisted Jonathan with his drive time lunch, we all ate as we chugged along.  Lunch was done and not long after that Jonathan decided he was *done* with the travel.  Good time for a pit stop.  In pre-kid years a pit stop was just that - do your business and go.  Now, these stops require more time.  Aside from having to walk our dog, Sobaka, who was also on this trip, the strategy is to let the kids stretch and tire them out as best as you can.  As you can see in the video above, David was doing his best in that department.  In fact, he did a great job - Jonathan was content when we first got into the car and soon after fell asleep for another nap.  We were able to continue on a few more hours and made our next stop a dinner stop at an "Interstate Oasis".  Both Jonathan and Madeline were able to run around as we sorted out everyone's dinner orders - Madeline & I for Chinese, David for pizza and Jonathan for a McDonald's Happy Meal.  We were now sufficiently fueled, rested from travel and ready to make the last leg of the trip.

Madeline and Grandma playing with the animal figurines as Jonathan looks on
Out to lunch - an Indiana guilty pleasure...not exactly Ted's
It was probably around 9pm when we pulled into David's dad's house.  That doesn't seem too bad - a late start out of Minnesota, two fairly long stops while on the road and we still managed to arrive in about 9 hours.  Yet, 9pm is late for the kids and they then got a second wind because they have been cooped up in the car.  Obviously it was also late for David's dad because when we arrived he was already in his PJ's.....and here comes my three ring circus, ready to party all night.  Thankfully the kids' "second wind" only lasted long enough for David and I to unpack the car, get the trundle day bed (David and me), cot (Madeline) and port-a-crib (Jonathan) ready and get Sobaka settled in as well.  The kids were excited to see Grandpa.  Madeline talked non-stop about adventures on the road and Jonathan kept handing Grandpa a book for Grandpa to read to him.

Jonathan found a spot to hang out while visiting Grandma
During our stays in Indiana, we make several trips a day to visit David's mom.  David's mom has been in a nursing home since she had a stroke.  Certainly David's mom is happy to see us and the kids but I can say that the kids also tend to brighten up many of the other residents as well.  Madeline and Grandma have their own routine when we visit.  Somewhere along the way Grandma received a small envelope of animal figurines.  Madeline grabs that as soon as she walks in the door and wants to play with Grandma.  If it isn't the animal figurines it is the few stuffed animals that decorate Grandma's room that she wants to play with.  We wondered how Jonathan would do on this visit since he is now very mobile and into *everything*.  Luckily, Jonathan was good about staying in Grandma's part of her room and didn't destruct too much.  Jonathan was actually quite content with playing with Grandma's wheelchair.  In fact, he discovered the the foot rest on the wheel chair made an excellent Jonathan-sized chair.

Working on making dinner
We try to get out to Indiana as often as possible.  However with an 8 hour (+) drive for us, school schedules, David's work travel, etc we are not able to get there as often as we would like.  Yes, we visit regularly but despite our trips, the fact that David's mom no longer has access to a computer like she used to (she loved to follow this blog) or long phone conversations (speech was effected), Grandma misses out on following a lot of our daily lives as she would have under normal circumstances.  David decided to compile a large photo album of pictures of the kids and us showing things that we've been up to over the past year.  Also, I decided to pack the kids Halloween costumes so that the kids could show off for Grandma.

Aunt Carolyn got Madeline a bunch of dress-up stuff.  Jonathan is trying to figure out what the heck is on Madeline's face!
Jonathan and Aunt Carolyn playing with the maracas from Aunt Carolyn
Jonathan off to see Grandma in his airplane
Rapunzel and Pilot Griggs ready to show off costumes for Grandma. The pumpkin bucket is Grandma's Halloween treats.
Additionally, since David's mom's stroke, David's dad hates eating dinner at home because he doesn't like eating by himself.  Most nights, he goes to the hospital where he volunteers (not where mom is) and a group of seniors meet for dinner there at the cafeteria.  Also he and David's sister, Carolyn, go out to eat at least once a week.  Although this solves the problem of eating alone, it does not offer a home cooked meal and so I try to cook something up when we visit.  David's dad is not a fancy eater, a very "old school" meat and potatoes kind of guy.  And usually at dinner time David's sister, Carolyn, comes over to eat, allowing us time to visit with her as well.  Friday night I made a lasagna, Caesar salad and bread & butter and Saturday's dinner was ribs, potatoes au gratin, broccoli, cauliflower, and corn bread.  Our final visit of the day to David's mom was always after dinner.  We headed over with the kids and when the kids hit their limit and it was time for bed, I headed back to David's dad's house so that I could start nite-nite routines and David stayed on to visit his mom, driving back with David's dad.

Our travel pit stop on the way home
I love watching Madeline and Jonathan play together...
When we travel we always "land with a splat" and so gathering up all our stuff, kids gear and toys is no small feat.  It is amazing that we were able to get up, showered, have all the bedding disassembled, kids fed breakfast, sandwiches for the road made & packed and all the kid (and dog) gear gathered AND have us pulling out of the driveway by 10am!  After a last quick visit to Grandma, we were on our way back to Minnesota by 11am.  Thankfully, the way home went much more smoothly!  Jonathan's morning nap in the car started as soon as we left and was nice and long.  We actually were able to make it halfway (Madison, WI) before our first stop.  We opted to try one long stop and so we gassed up, walked the dog and had our lunch at a Hardees that had a small outdoor playground.  When the kids were finishing their lunches I walked Sobaka and when the kids were done eating, I took them outside to play while David went to gas up the car.  We were able to kill many birds with one stone.  With the packed sandwiched still in the car, I was able to pull out the second meal when the natives became restless.  Our one well timed and well executed stop got us through until we arrived home - in record time, 7.5 hours!

....especially when they are having so much fun!
It is always nice to get away but it is always the best feeling to come back home.  You could tell that the kids were content to be back in their own surroundings while the first night sleeping in my own bed after a trip is always the best.  Although David has some upcoming business travel, it is time for the kids and me to hunker down at home until after Christmas.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Oktoberfest And Fall Fun

The Klub Haus - location of Oktoberfest
Madeline's face painting
The Bean Bag Toss
Last weekend was another fun-filled weekend of exploring.  As I previously mentioned in one of my prior posts, we had hoped to attend an Oktoberfest.  We chose not to attend an Oktoberfest earlier in the month but instead opted for a smaller fest this past weekend.  Saturday was a rainy day, but despite the weather we decided to head out to the St. Paul 12th Annual Oktoberfest.  Despite the fact that "St.Paul" was in the title of the festival, don't let that fool you.  The Oktoberfest wasn't exactly a city-wide huge fest, but rather a smaller festival.  Despite the small venue, the Oktoberfest was nicely attended. (I am noticing that this is more typical of the festivals here....unlike, WNY's Italian Fest, Peach Fest, Taste of Buffalo, etc). 

German Dancers
The Klub Haus was a hall of sorts.  On the 2nd floor they had set up some games for kids as well as some vendor tables.  I do have to say that this particular area of the festival was pretty lame, however the kids didn't seem to care.  Madeline was happy to get her face painted.  The face painting was actually sort of hysterical.  The girl who was doing the painting was concentrating so much on her "masterpiece".  She had actually started the face painting, stopped, cleaned of the paint and restarted.  The face painter was working in such a way that you would think she was painting the Mona Lisa.  Finally, the face painter was done with Madeline's face.  Two small lines near Madeline's eye.  Ummm....okay.  While we were all waiting for Madeline's face painting, Jonathan was happy to fling some bean bags around and I was thrilled that there was a Pampered Chef consultant there so I was able to replenish my supply of my favorite item, the mini-serving spatula.  On the lower floor of the hall there were a few more vendors as well as some food concessions.

Outside of the Klub Haus was a large tent.  There was German music, German dancers, beer sales and more food sales.  There was a nice crowd, however one thing that would've made the festival better would've been the encouragement of dancing by festival goers.  The entertainment was more for show vs participation, with the dance floor filled with demonstrations.  The encouragement of participation would've kicked up the festival a notch.

Dachshund Racing
The crowd participation, however was focused in a couple events that were scheduled outside of the tent. There were Dachshund (wiener dogs) races and bed races.  The crowd, albeit a fairly small crowd, was fun loving, good sports.  The Dachshunds competed in a straight-line race and hurdle race with the proud pet owners showering their pooches with kisses at the finish line.  The bed races (see video below) were groups of people that competed in a timed run of the group pushing a decorated bed down the street.  Ummm.....okay, whatever - but what a fun activity, and fun to watch too!

Madeline has one volume - LOUD!
David & Madeline waiting for Regatta
On Sunday, we headed to Stillwater, MN.  Stillwater is a pretty city on the St. Croix River.  For a mini geography lesson, the St. Croix River defines the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Stillwater sits on the St. Croix and its downtown area is adorable, with lots of little shops and cafes.  Stillwater's Harvest Fest was held on the river.  Following the pattern I have noticed in the festivals here, the Stillwater Harvest Fest had much potential.  It was a nice, family friendly festival.  The setting of the river on such a beautiful fall day was enjoyable yet, there were a few little tweaks that I would change if I were the event's organizer.

Pumpkin Regatta
Fish Pond
We arrived at the festival just in time to watch the regatta.  Here, a handful of participants competed in a race along the St. Croix River in a *huge* pumpkin.  After the good sported competition, we grabbed lunch at one of the food vendors.  We sat in one of the nearby tents to eat our (very late) lunch.  In the tent was a "Fishing Pond" for the kids and there was also a band playing live music.  After eating lunch, Madeline's "fishing" and allowing Jonathan to burn off some steam we decided to check out the area with various crafters and vendors. 

My little pumpkins
Let's hope they don't grow up fighting like cats & dogs!
Madeline look across the St. Croix at Wisconsin
Trying to bribe gulls to come back
We had arrived at the festival later in the day and had intended to stay until their pumpkin drop at 5pm (a HUGE pumpkin lifted with a crane and splattered down ala New Years Eve style).  We were leisurely with our visit but there just wasn't enough for us to do to stay that long.  So constructive criticism #1, a tighter schedule of events would encourage festival goers to stay longer to partake in each of the festival's events.  While we were lallygagging out of the festival we had the kids burn off some energy by running around in the grassy area along the river.  We saw a few sea gulls....and that struck me because I rarely see sea gulls in the parking lots of the shopping centers near my house.  Unlike the groups of gulls that would invade a Target, Tops or Wegmans lot back home, the "parking lot bird" here is the Canadian Goose.  And so, where I normally couldn't be bothered with a gull, that afternoon I had a soft spot for them and so we took a moment to feed the handful of gulls some of Jonathan's Goldfish Crackers.

As we headed across a huge lawn area, on our walk back to our car, David and I noticed a river-side bar/restaurant that was packed with people.  And here is constructive criticism #2.  If the tent area of the festival was moved into the large grass area that David & I had walked across (closer to the bar), the festival might even draw from some of those patrons.  Either that or move the festival up the road and make it more of a street festival, thus encouraging festival goers to meander in and out of the shops, possibly boosting sales in the shops.  Yet, all in all, although the festival could benefit from a few tweaks, the festival itself was pleasant.

Woo Hoo....how exciting, a flour mill historic site - Ha!
On the ride home, Jonathan fell asleep and Madeline was content to draw in her notebook.  Consequently, David and I decided to wander aimlessly and discover a new back way to get home.  We saw a couple road markers alerting us of a historic site ahead.  For the heck of it, we pulled in  to see a marker for a former flour mill.  What I found very interesting was the amount of care taken to alerting people of the relatively trivial historic site.  Not only was the marker well kept but there was a little pull-up parking lot that was well kept in addition to the road signage indicating that the site was nearing.  Sorry to say this but I am pretty sure that if a similar site was located in NY it would be buried over in weeds.

I enjoyed a wonderful weekend of exploring with the family.  I had a great time....too much fun, however, because I have been struggling to catch up on all my chores during the week.  Oh well, you know what they say, "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy"......or puts Mama in the loony bin!

Friday, October 12, 2012

A "Baby J" Kind Of Day

Blue's Skidoo Ride
On the Blue's Skidoo ride
When I found out I was pregnant, the first I did was pray for a healthy baby.  I prayed for that often.  Many times, tagged on the end of the prayer was a "Oh, by the way, God, if I could possibly add *one* more request, please, let this kid have David's temperament".  My dear Madeline is often times very close to my own personality and often gives me a run for my money.  I am thankful everyday that my prayers were answered.  Jonathan was born a healthy little guy AND he is usually just like his papa, a laid-back, easy going, kid.

Vroom Vroom!
I realize I am spoiled very much by this (on both accounts - David & Jonathan) and I try to show my appreciation as often as possible.  Because Jonathan is still in the "little dude" status, he is often dragged around town running errands with me, shopping 'til his mama drops or hanging out in his stroller as Madeline does more big kid things such as bounce houses and roller coasters.  Most recently, I had Jonathan cruising the Mall of America for a few consecutive days.  This, in itself is not the issue but every time we got off the elevator from where we parked, Jonathan would spy the mall's Sea Life Aquarium. Since we now have an annual pass to the aquarium it is often part of our mall routine to do a quick run through of the aquarium to say hello to the fishies.  Our last few visits to the mall did not involve the aquarium trip, however I did notice Jonathan reaching for the sign and pointing to the aquarium's elevator that takes one to the aquarium entrance.  I had decided it was Jonathan's time to have a "Baby J" kind of day.

Hello fishies!
Earlier in the week, we were coming off of a couple "Mama's Night Out"s  and David had also left to travel to Orlando for work.  The stage and its mood was set for a perfect, quiet Mother-Son morning.  After getting Madeline on the school bus, Jonathan and I headed over to the Mall of America.  Okay....I'll admit, I did do a little bit of shopping for a MUCH needed pair of shoes for my aching feet, but once that was accomplished, it was Jonathan fun time.  We headed to the Mall's Nickelodeon Universe.  Like I said, Jonathan normally sits back while Madeline rides rides.  This time I decided that Jonathan was big enough to partake (I might have shot myself in the foot with this as next time I go to the mall, Jonathan will remember the fun and I'll have TWO kids to purchase ride tickets for).  Together we rode a Blue's Clues ride, the merry-go-round and a car ride (which gave a surprisingly quick spin around the corners of the "track"). 

Lunch time!
It really is amazing how many tourists are in the mall.  Yes, I guess I can still almost (but not technically) count myself as one of them.  Those same tourists must think "why bother" when I am whizzing through the initial and ending sections of the aquarium.  Going as often as we do, we head straight for the tunnels.  This day was no different and Jonathan and I spent a good half hour watching the sharks, turtles, sting rays, etc. zoom alongside us and above us.  I love watching Jonathan watching the fish and seeing all the underwater activity.

My happy "Baby J"
After the few morning adventures, Jonathan and I headed home just in time to enjoy lunch together before being shuffled off to bed for his afternoon nap.  Because of the demands of Jonathan, I try to spend regular Mama/Madeline time together yet, until this particular morning I didn't realize that although I spend a lot of "alone time" with Jonathan, it is often in the midst of errands, household chores, etc.  This truly undivided attention was so enjoyable.  Memo: Dust bunnies are welcomed to grow in my house, my babies (both of them) are growing too quickly.  It is time to stock pile these tender moments.  They will be my company in my eventual empty nest.  (Although David says, "So will your dust bunnies, Mama")