Friday, December 24, 2010

Vacation Day 5 - Part II

We spent the last half of day 5 at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center at Balboa Park. Like any hands-on science center there was lots to do, and we had fun.

Although many of the exhibits were similar to other centers, there was one round, big room on the second floor with nothing but thousands of Keva planks, to build and to destroy.

Bridgette enjoyed building small towers and then knocking them down. She also liked walking on top of piles of planks. I took video of her walking circles around Jeff, but it's long so I didn't include it here.

We were very pleased to see her test-walking an uneven surface. If you'll recall (we certainly do), she took her first tentative "baby" steps only a few months ago. She's not quite caught up to her age-group, but we're happy to see her experiment.

This was perhaps our favorite exhibit -- a giant rotating turn-table with variously sized discs to throw, spin, roll across it, illustrating the Coriolis Effect. It was endlessly entertaining, kind of mesmerizing... like fire. I would like to build one in our basement. The video below is dark, so I included this photo as well.

We spent hours and hours here, finishing up at the center's closing time with a meal that cost too much and was pretty gross. Bridgette didn't take a nap on this particular day, an experiment to see if she would sleep better through the night in our little shared hotel room. I don't remember if it worked.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Vacation Day 5 - Part I

Since it was still raining on Day 5, we headed back to Balboa Park to hit the San Diego Air & Space Museum and the Science Center.

Here are my favorite photos from the Air & Space Museum. Two of them are counted in my list of favorite photos from our entire vacation. I'll note** them.

Of course I will. I note everything.

Note 1: Bridgette cried for 1.5 hours straight when we arrived. We don't know why. We almost left in utter frustration but were glad we didn't. After she was finished crying, she flipped her happy-switch, and we enjoyed the rest of the day.

Note 2: This is Bridgette flying a plane. She is holding the joystick, and the plane is moving around in the wind tunnel in front of her.

Note 3: You can see the wind blowing her hair as she concentrates on flying.

Note 4**: This is one of my FAVORITE photos of Bridgette.

Note 5: No Air & Space Museum is complete without a hands-on Bernoulli Effect display. This was Bridgette's introduction to the principle, and this series of photos makes me chuckle.

Sub-note 1: OK, so I put the ball here.

Sub-note 2: OOOOOOOOOOooooooooh!

Sub-note 3: WHOAH-HO-HO!

Sub-note 4: WOW!

Sub-note 5: "Uh! Uh! Hep!"

Sub-sub-note 1: Translation of sub-note 5 -- "I am SO MAD! It won't come DOWN! I can't reach it! MOM! I CAN'T REACH IT!"

Note 6: Not unusual in our world-of-sizing to have one-sized too big...

Note 6, con't: ... one-sized just right, and one-sized too small.

Note 7**: This is also one of my favorite photos of all time. I wish we had used it as our Christmas card photo.

Note 8: I have no idea who this kid is. Bridgette had been flying her airplane for a while, and right as she decided to get out, this little boy came over and fastened a helmet on her head. She didn't seem to mind, so we let him. It was one of those odd, funny moments.

Note 9: We took a short off-world detour and bounced on the moon.

Note 10: Too big.

Note 11: Too small.

Note 12: Just right.

Note 13: Among planes, this is probably my favorite. The birds you hear in the video are either ravens or crows, birds not being my specialty, and they matched the Blackbird nicely - how apropos.

Note 14: For people who like to read stuff.

Note 15: For people who want to see the Blackbird from another vantage point.

Note 16: One of Bridgette's newly-learned words / activities and a common request in parking lots. "Mom? SPLASH!"

So, I left a lot of photos out, but I should make a special note that -- oh wait...

Special Note 1: At the museum, there was a black Cobra Attack Helicopter mounted and hanging from the glass of the inner-atrium. It was mounted nose-down at a slight left-angle and it's blades were spinning, both top and rear rotors. It was loaded with unarmed (I assume) rockets, but the effect was chilling. I couldn't help being a little freaked out by it actually.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Vacation Day 4

If you're wondering what happened to days 1-3, they were 1) drive to Las Vegas, 2) attend the Popovich Pet Theater, and 3) drive to San Diego.

We are not drive-without-stopping-get-there-as-fast-as-possible travelers.

Here is what San Diego looked like the first two days we were there. Sure, it's perhaps not the weather for which we hoped, but compared to the snow back home, we were still grateful.

This was the view from our hotel on Hotel Circle. That's our car.

Man, this is riveting stuff.

So, we were really glad to arrive the evening of November 19th, but let's just say that our hotel was not the quietest. It wasn't the worst, but it was old, and the ceiling/floor joists weren't supporting a lot of noise-dampening insulation -- possibly just some thin carpet and a sheet of 1/4-inch plywood.

Assigned to the second floor, that meant neighbors to three sides but also neighbors above. That was the clincher. The family above us must have arrived around 1AM. I can totally understand the need for their kids to run around and jump off of furniture after a long drive. But, Jeff and I being light sleepers, we were kind of up all night too. We hadn't slept well at Circus-Circus either because of Bri's diapering needs.

We finally called security (yep -- we were THOSE people), and the family above us settled down. All was well for at LEAST 3 hours before the family next to us (cute family, very excited about life, must have been 20 of them) woke up raring to go.

By then, we were pretty grumpy. We called the front desk and asked for a new room on the third floor. They were great and relocated us immediately. We spent most of the morning switching our stuff to the new room (did I mention we had just moved houses? half our vacation stuff was packed in plastic bags and cardboard boxes -- we looked like hobos) and finally headed out about the time we should have been coming back for naps.

Our first San Diego stop was the Museum of Man. That was possibly the hardest outing of the whole trip. I still liked the museum itself, and if I'm coming across as complaining, don't worry. Life got better as the days progressed.

I'd been buying San Diego deals from GroupOn all year, and one of the two-for-one tickets I picked up was for the Museum of Man at Balboa Park. Since it was a rainy day, a museum seemed the way to go. We weren't the only ones who thought this, so parking was a bit of a beast, but we found a spot and hurried in.

It was a beautiful hearkening back to my former life as an anthropologist: Mayan replicas with placards explaining hieroglyphics, ancient sports and ritual blood-letting, displays on evolution (oh Lucy! how I've MISSED you!), a special exhibit on the culture of games (for heaven's sake! we anthropologists really DO have special dispensation to study ANYTHING we like!), the Egyptian rooms (mummies and gods and what do you know? more hieroglyphics!), pottery (well, I'm supposed to love it, but I could do without the pottery), weapons (glorious weapons), etc.

So why, amidst this anthropological love-fest, do I have cause to complain?

Well, Bridgette was ... I really can't explain it. But it was hard. She refused to be set down, and I was tired and grouchy, so carrying her all day was taxing. She was tired and grouchy too, and her grouchiness presented with a constant, deliberate, and excessively loud whine. Add to this that she was more "off" her digestion than usual, and there was only one restroom on the bottom floor, so I was regularly -- no, something stronger than regularly -- PERPETUALLY hiking it up and down the stairs to change her diaper.

After 45 minutes, we started changing her wherever we were, no matter what anybody thought. In the corner, in a cave, on a bench, on a gorilla. That eased the burden a bit. Then a lady noticed Bridgette's long belly scar and asked about her. Oddly, that helped me a lot to have someone recognize that things might be difficult for us for a reason. Then Bridgette took a catnap on my shoulder. Cute little bug. That seemed to help her a lot.

Fortunately, all those things occurred right before I went to my favorite display. The special exhibit was called "Strange Bones" and was the main reason I wanted to visit the museum.

During my undergraduate degree, I took one physical anthropology class and loved it so much I would have changed tracks had my university had a physical / biological option. As it was, of the four potential anthropology tracks available in the world, my university supported two, cultural and archaeology.

After much deliberation, I chose cultural anthropology. Lately I've seriously considered going back to school yet again to complete a PhD, this time in physical anthropology, with the intent of becoming a forensic anthropologist. Although a lot of forensic anthropologists team up with criminologists to work on homicide / suicide / missing persons cases, I think I would keep my current emergency management bent and work on body recovery and identification after a large-scale event, DMORT-style. I know it sounds grim, but there's a psychological need for loved-ones to have something to bury, some piece of body to which they can say goodbye. Too often post-disaster, bodies are bagged without recognition or are even put in mass graves. If it was my family, I would want someone out there trying to figure out if that was my husband or my baby, so I could "have" them back and perform what I consider to be proper rites.

OK - so explanation mostly over, the last exhibit I saw was "Strange Bones." It was awesome!

Back in my undergraduate physical anthropology class, we were given whole skulls, craniums, or even boxes of skeletal shards, and we had to figure out sex, age, "race," and cause of death. I was really, really good at it.

In the museum's exhibit, I got to see examples of human bones that I'd never witnessed before. The bones revealed the ossified results of various diseases, fractures, malformations, and cultural modifications. There were side-by-side examples of bones from children of different ages as well as bones from similarly-sized animals. You could see the markings of tendons and ligaments.

It was truly fascinating and sometimes quite frightening. Ever hear of osteomyelitis? They had samples of bone marked by chronic osteomyelitis that made me shudder for whoever's life was affected.

But perhaps the coolest part of the experience was when Bridgette suddenly woke. She had been slung over my shoulder, her blanket wrapped around her head. Instead of stirring gradually, she shot up and yanked the blanket off. We were in the middle of glass cases full of skeletons, and I was a little concerned she would find them scary.

I shouldn't have been concerned. As my daughter, I'm not sure which of us liked the exhibit more. She immediately began pointing and saying, "Oo-OOO-ooh! Mom! Look!" It was fantastic explaining the bones to her. She seemed to appreciate them as much or more than all the anthropology students taking notes around us.

So that night we ate at a restaurant near our hotel called "Kelly's Steakhouse." You'll never guess why we went there...

I may take a lot of photos, but I'm not the only one. See?

At the steakhouse, Bridgette ate nothing but ketchup. No wait! It was A-1 sauce. So when we returned to the hotel, she loaded up on an entire bag of potato chips. Mmm...

Tomorrow... more rain! More museums! Until then, I hope you sleep at least as well as we did that night on the THIRD floor.

Making Up for Lost/Sick Time

I never did finish our vacation posts, and now we're only a few days off of Christmas. Now that we're mostly over another round of illness, let's see how many entries I can mass-produce between now and Saturday.

We loaded up and left town on November 17, only a couple of weeks after moving homes. We hadn't unpacked more than our essentials before we were repacking them into suitcases.

First stop, Las Vegas.

We don't love Las Vegas, but we feel there are a handful of fun shows worth seeing. We made special plans to stay an extra day to see the Popovich Comedy Pet Theater.

Having never traveled to Las Vegas with a 2-year-old, we arranged to stay at "Circus-Circus" which touts itself as a family-friendly hotel. It might be too, if your children don't wake up and want to get going before 11AM. If they do, you might as well stay elsewhere. We wish we had.

All the "kid-friendly" attractions were routed through the casino. We were hunted down by the security guards who told us it was "illegal" for Bridgette to touch the slot-machines. Uh-huh. The hotel's solution for roping off the kid-attractions until 11AM while expecting a toddler not to touch the slot machines that blink and flash and make lots of cool noises? We were to stay neatly on a specific strip of carpet BETWEEN all the slot machines for two hours.

I repeat.


Here is Bridgette enjoying a family-friendly attraction that didn't open until 11AM. Amazing isn't it? No doubt you're saying to yourself, "Cool. We have one of those at our Wal-Mart." Ah! But when you drive 6 hours to ride one... ok, ok. You're so right. It's still the same as the one at Wal-Mart.

This one merry-go-round was all we were able to do before nap time. Excellent. Totally a family-friendly hotel.

After a nap that began around... oh, 11:30AM... we did in fact go to Gregory Popovich's show at the V Theater. It was really great. At the end of our whole vacation, Jeff counted it as one of his favorite activities. Bridgette loved it too. She laughed and laughed. She was entertained, and she entertained others. It was worth it.

Here we are in front of the theater after the show.

If you look carefully at the photo above, you will notice that a section of my blue jeans are especially blue. That's because Bridgette was recovering from a terrible illness. During those two weeks between moving and the start of our vacation, Bridgette got really sick. I blogged about it. We spent a late night at the ER at Primary Children's and had to endure IV treatments at home. We weren't sure we were going to be able to travel at all.

As she improved, we made the decision to travel, but the first five days were quite trying. Bridgette's viral enteritis and total shut-down turned into a complete physical loss of bowel control. Although she was "healthy," she had painful diarrhea that seemed never to end. What with long hours of car travel and being away from home, it wasn't easy on anyone.

Unlike Utah, Nevada and California seem to think diaper changes are a woman's domain, so the only baby changing stations were in the women's restrooms. That meant we (me and Bridgette) were visiting them every 5-15 minutes. Jeff was sad not to share the burden, but he didn't have much choice.

Things did improve. As the week went on we were down to 4-5 poopy diaper changes a day. That many changes would ruffle a lot of parental feathers, but we were giddy. By comparison, it was cause to rejoice.

So, this being day 2, our diapering woes were still an issue. In the middle of the Popovich Pet Comedy Theater, my leg became suddenly warm. Fortunately it was just urine. (To make up for the previous week, Bridgette was drinking like a camel.) We were on the front row, so I managed a slick and modest change with her standing on her feet in front of me. I will never forget the look in Jeff's eyes when he leaned over and said, "THAT was impressive." Such a small compliment, but so much love.

After the show, we went to a restaurant next door to the theater. They specialized in burgers, so of course I got crab cakes. Appropriately, Jeff got a gigantic burger dripping in trimmings. Bridgette ate ketchup. She had a few fries on the side.

I can count Bridgette's food choices for the entire week on one hand: ketchup, potato chips (2 huge bags), honey-roasted peanuts (three big jars), shredded wheat (1 full cereal box), and fries.

Tell me that girl won't break a few hearts someday! (Forget her darling face, it's those ketchup lips that attract the boys...)

Back at the hotel. Jeff used our "free" arcade tickets to shoot some hoops (an activity that is also free at your local park). He gave me first shots, and I made them and won a teddy bear. Bridgette was so cute and cranky that some random person gave her a teddy bear too.

We slept there another night and then we were off to San Diego! We got a long look at the terrain because the traffic headed south out of Las Vegas was squeezed down to one lane for a while. That meant a two-hour traffic jam (where we were rear-ended actually, but there was no damage -- it was so slow I jumped out of the car on I-15 to check).

Considering her sore bum, Bridgette was an excellent traveler. She didn't complain a bit until the end of the drive when traffic was backed-up again in California. It was slow enough we had to get off at every exit to change her diaper.

Second stop (and next blog), San Diego!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Personal (Puppy) Appeal

If any of you are considering a Christmas puppy, PLEASE, consider this little guy!

I've done a LOT of rescuing in my days, and I know a lot about dogs. This little sweetheart is next to perfect.

I found him wandering around our church building Sunday. I've done my best to find his owner, but given that he has a collar and no tags, I fear his "people" may have let him go on purpose. I can't IMAGINE why -- except that he's a puppy, and puppies do puppy things...

He is 4-6 months old. He has bright white teeth, soft puppy fur, soft puppy pads on his paws, and -- lest you feel deceived -- will grow into a wonderful, loyal large-breed dog. He is primarily black labrador retriever. And guess what! He already LOVES to retrieve!

I posted him on KSL Classifieds -- but Christmas-time is "puppy season," and I'm afraid a gorgeous rescue like him will be overlooked for all the new purebred puppies out there.

From my point of view, I think this guy is at the PERFECT age. He is young enough to train easily (older rescues are trainable but it's much harder), young enough to still have some "puppy" behavior left in him, but old enough not to be a puppy for long.

Anyone who has had a puppy knows they start young! They wee in the house, jump on you, and chew your shoes. It all sounds very cute, but some people are not cut out for it. This little guy still has some of those behaviors, but he'll be outgrowing them very shortly... the PERFECT time to adopt.

Having rescued over one-hundred dogs, I can tell you, this one is a KEEPER. I would absolutely keep him myself, but since I already have two wonderful rescued dogs, I really have to find him a new home.

He's currently living in my backyard. I'm caring for him as best I can, but it's going to snow soon. I want to find him a home before he gets too cold.

We let him come in last night for a few minutes to warm up, and guess who fell in love with him? Yep! Bridgette! She likes our dogs, but she followed this guy around like none-other. And he was so gentle with her.

He's going to make someone the perfect dog. PLEASE help me find that someone!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

She Did What???

Bridgette began the church Christmas party the way we expected -- screaming when we tried to set her down, screaming and turning away to hide her face when anyone tried to talk to her.

After some delicious food, she warmed up a bit, meandering away from us for a moment then returning to say hello.

Gradually feeling more confident, it wasn't long before she was running about exploring with no concern for her "missing" parents.

Part-way through a musical program, she found a couple of young ladies to whom she took a liking. When these same young ladies headed up to the stage to sing a Christmas carol with the other youth, Bridgette climbed (crawled) up the stairs to be with them.

She'd been copy-catting them for 5 minutes straight, so we figured she would stand next to them, apprentice-style.

We were incorrect.

When the director raised her hands to lead the youth choir, Bridgette stepped out front, raised her hands too, and shouted, "Ready!"

Please... enjoy the video.

She's a little small, but you'll pick her out anyway for she is mighty in spirit.

For those of you thinking how adorable and funny and wonderful this is... well, you're not alone. At least half the audience was smiling and laughing and loving it.

For those of you thinking we're terrible parents and that this is entirely inappropriate... don't worry, half the audience agreed with you too.

Jeff and I are split. We agree we may very well be terrible parents, but we also think she is pretty adorable.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Festival of Trees 2010

The time has come for everyone in Utah to pack up and spend a morning, afternoon or evening at Festival of Trees at the South Town Expo Center in Sandy, Utah!

Public viewing runs from today, December 1st, to this Saturday, December 4th.

Festival of Trees was started 40 years ago as a fundraiser for Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City, the same place Bridgette had both her life-saving surgeries. We still take her there when she falls prey to serious illness and requires IVs, blood tests, stool tests, x-rays, or other specific treatment.

People donate large decorated trees with matching paraphernalia, small decorated trees, wreaths, centerpieces, quilts, gingerbread houses, and sweets. Most items were auctioned off at a fancy gala last night. Anything not bought at auction is available for purchase throughout the week.

Every penny of profit from auctioned items, purchased items, and ticket sales goes to help people pay their medical bills. The Festival doesn't always release precise numbers, but the funds raised are normally over $1 million, sometimes close to $2 million. That's just a drop in the bucket compared to what PCMC itself spends in order to be sure every child who needs it gets treatment.

Ticket prices are $5 for adults, $3 for children 2 and over, and $4 for senior citizens. Tickets are discounted if you purchase them at any Zions Bank.

Besides trees and displays, there are all day performances by community dance and music groups on two stages located at opposite sides of the Expo Center.

They also have a "Small Fry" gift shop designed for a kid's budget, arts and crafts tables, face painting, and new this year, the experience of being inside a giant bubble. In addition, there's a special 40th Anniversary cookbook available for purchase.

Santa loves Festival of Trees and pretty much hangs out there in a place called "Santa Land" until the festival is over.

We donated another tree this year, Aisle J (for Johnson) Space 8 (for the year Bridgette was born, '08). It's called "Sugar & Spice" and was a lot of fun (and work) to plan and set-up. I won't be able to take my family to see it until Saturday, so I won't know if it sold until then. I hope it did!

Bridgette and her tree were chosen as the story highlighted in the festival's press release this year: I don't get the papers, so I'm not sure if the local news agencies ran her story.

Below are a few photos from Decorating Day. (They were taken with a little camera that didn't have focus or lighting options, so I'll take my Canon on Saturday and take a bunch more.)

Just like last year, we had a great experience. We really enjoyed talking to our neighboring tree donors to learn their stories too.

My sister-in-law Heidi set-up with me, and I really appreciated her assistance. It took all day, and if I'd been there alone, I know I couldn't have completed by the time they kicked us out. We were there to the last minute as it was!

Thanks to everyone else who helped out in any way! Some of you donated funds or items, let us borrow the van for transport (thanks Ma & Pa Johnson!), helped make or wire ornaments, sew the treeskirt/tablecloth, reinforce the tree, or offered other types of service that allowed me to focus on the tree when there was so much else going on in our lives.

It may not be obvious from these photos, but down on the tree skirt by the photo, there is a small pile of useful cooking tools -- mixing bowls, muffin tins, whisk, knife, lots of candy molds, melting chocolates, a gingerbread house kit, etc.

On the left of the photo piled on and under the table are cooking foods -- flours, sugars, pie fillings, evaporated and condensed milk, candies, chocolates, spices, and for lazy people like me, cake and brownie mixes.

There's also a plate of cookies on the table for Santa and a plate of carrots for his reindeer.

While we were setting up, a little boy wandered over with his father and said, "Oh Dad! That's the teddy bear I've ALWAYS wanted!" He didn't say it in a whiny, spoiled voice but rather in the voice of a child in awe -- kind of breathy. It was adorable and made my day.

The baby bear is in some pink Christmas preemie pajamas. We couldn't (or didn't have time) to prop open the bedtime storybook the parent bear was supposed to be reading, so it's tucked under his arm.

This was the photo we put on display. We also filled out a card with Bridgette's story that goes to the person who (I hope!) purchases our display. Everything in the display goes to the purchaser -- right down to the photo of Bridgette, the brown felt we put down as "carpet," and the extra fuses for the tree lights.