Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Did you hear that? It's the sound of a huge sigh of relief--two actually. Edward has been skillfully steered away from the monstrosity he expected Santa to produce for him.

Sunday night while lying with Ed as he settled to sleep, John got him talking about being excited to go back to school to see his friends. This led to Edward admitting that he doesn't always understand what his friends are talking about because many have video games that he's not familiar with. I'm surprised that the HUGE light bulb that went on over John's head didn't jar Ed from his pre-sleep.

John waited a few beats and then Edward said, "Will you get me one of those?" John advised that he could put it on his Christmas or birthday wish list. "OK, I'll ask Santa...oh, wait. I'm already asking Santa for my big snowman. Well, maybe I'll ask Grandma and Grandpa." Ha! Nice try, kid. John let him know that this type of gift was more than he could ask for from someone else, but suggested that he could change his request to Santa if he wanted to.

Then he bolted downstairs to work with me on a plan to infiltrate Edward's subconscious.

Turned out, there really wasn't any plotting necessary. All John had to do was ask this morning at breakfast, "Hey, Edward, do you think maybe you'd want to build your own snowman, and I'll help you, and then you can ask Santa for a DS?" (a hand-held video game toy)

"Yeah!!! Can we start right now."

Well, no. We're not getting into snowless snowman construction at 7:30 on a school morning. But we're looking ahead to some weekend construction.

In the meantime, John has found some info online on papier mache, specifically, how to create a giant jack-o-lantern (oversize garbage bag stuffed with newspaper,) which, if not decorated for Halloween, might make the perfect bottom snowball for a snowman large enough to climb into.

John and I actually spent the two hours we had free while my parents took the boys to their hotel to swim on Saturday afternoon wandering around three different hardware/home improvement stores seeking inspiration. We came up with a few possibilities, but it still was going to be a Herculean effort, and there was no telling whether, in the end, our vision would match Edward's. We were afraid of putting in all the time, effort, and expense of making this thing and having him come down on Christmas morning and wail, "That's not what I meant!"

Oh, and he did bust me on the "Santa doesn't do electronic toys" comment regarding the snowman, but we decided that because the DS is so common (apparently every one of his friends has one) that Santa could figure it out. "Or," says Edward. "He could just go to the store and buy one." Yeah, that Santa...always looking for the easy way out.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I mentioned in the Halloween post that Edward (and to a lesser degree) Daniel fashioned their own Halloween costumes from various amalgamations of their dress-up inventory. In some cases they had to fashion accessories or other authenticity-related items from scraps of paper or ribbon. I loved this creativity and vision. I loved that they did not involve me except to ask for more tape (I finally just gave them their own roll--you would have thought it was pure gold.)

Last week we got to meet up with some friends from out of town just before they left to head back home. They brought a gift for the boys--a science kit with a series of experiments starting with acids/bases and working up to creating a volcano. After an initial disappointment that we couldn't just get right to exploding a volcano, the boys and John set about systematically working through the experiments. They (all) were captivated.

I love this. I really do. I love the curiosity, the delight, the questioning, the quest to find the answer, the imagination. It is truly wonderful to observe, and I know it will serve them well going forward.

However, it may not serve ME very well come Christmas. You see, with all this imagination and inventiveness, Edward has come up with a very specific and complex request for Santa this year. He will not be deterred by our assurance that no such item exists in this world, because "Well, Santa's elves can just make it in the workshop."


The item is a toy snowman, large enough for a child to climb into and hide/play in. This snowman will have a hinged door in the back through which the child may crawl as well as a hinged top hat which the child may doff from inside the snowman, standing on a stool. This is slightly scaled back based on my informing him (out of self defense!) that Santa does not do electronic toys (though he could totally bust me on this since last year's haul included walkie talkies.) The original imagined prototype had interior buttons that the child could push to automate the hat-doffing and/or arm waving, and/or snowman talking.

So now, I throw myself on the mercy of the blog and BEG for ideas of how to pull this off. Keep in mind that this is a boy who cut out a paper star and taped it to his shirt to become a sheriff and who willingly, excitedly accepted a dry-cleaner hanger bent into an arc with a string tied from end to end as a bow with "arrows" being the removable cardboard bottom of said hanger. That is to say, it does not have to be a masterful work of art. But it must be big, it must be white and it must have a hinged top hat. And it must be in our living room on Christmas morning.

Last year's Santa test was a breeze compared to this.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

This year's Halloween can be summed up in a single word: overload. We started with trick-or-treat at my office on Friday afternoon, followed immediately by two community Halloween events/parties for the kids. For this occasion, we had a pirate and a cowboy.

As mentioned in the previous post, the next two nights included trick-or-treat events in Wisconsin. We took Monday off, but were back at it Tuesday with pumpkin carving with Grandma and Grandpa. It had been many years since they last participated in this form of artistry, which was good, because it meant they'd forgotten (suppressed the memory of?) how messy and disgusting it is. But I was SO glad for their help. My kitchen was a big mess, but without their support we might have had to cordon it off as a biohazard. They were also good at watching for little eager-to-help fingers getting to close to my carving knife.

We ended up with two relatively respectable attempts to carve the images they saw in their creative minds. I was not up to the challenge of eyebrows, mustaches and beards, but they were satisfied to sketch these in with a Sharpie.
Note that Edward's has glasses
Later that night, John finally returned, fell into an exhausted but grateful-to-be-in-his-own-bed sleep and was thus able to power through the entire next day at work followed by an hour and 20 minutes of neighborhood trick-or-treating. 
A vampire and a ninja
It was the longest we've ever been out and the farthest from home we've ever ventured on this night. We went with some friends who live on the next block down the hill. Our customary routes really only intersected on our block, so we ended up covering the majority of both our individual routes, which resulted in a mammoth candy intake.
A lesson in sorting and early graphing
And all of this was preceded by costume parades at both boys' schools (Daniel's at 1:30; Edward's at 2. Not as tight a schedule as it may seem given that Daniel's parade lasted about 15 seconds.)
Check out the policeman behind  Snow White
 Edward's costume was perfect for school as he was able to wear it all day and just add the hat and glasses when it was time for the parade. He was very happy to stay out of the chaos that was the bathroom changing area (even if he was a little disappointed that not everyone knew who he was. Do you?)
 After school, the PTO put on a Halloween party/dance for the kids. I was lucky to be assigned to the clean-up brigade, so Daniel and I stayed away until the last 15 minutes or so.

So, to sum up, we went trick-or-treating four times. The kids each wore four different costumes over the course of the extended celebration (Daniel: pirate, ninja, knight, policeman; Edward: cowboy, ninja, Waldo, vampire.) But they put together all of their own costumes from pieces in our dress-up collection. The only thing I had to buy was the Waldo hat and that involved a five-minute Amazon.com search and two clicks to purchase--pretty much exactly the energy I wish to expend on this particular celebration.

I mentioned that the boys and I took a trip to Milwaukee while John was away. We had SO much fun and it really helped distract us from the disappointment of John not coming home as scheduled. It was the weekend before Halloween and plenty of seasonal fun to be had. We arrived mid-afternoon on Saturday (had to delay our departure from Iowa City until after Edward's final soccer game of the season.) After an early dinner, we headed out to the Milwaukee County Zoo for "Boo at the Zoo."

Same as above, but closer and no flash

This is a pretty representative photo of the evening--dashing from exhibit to exhibit in search of animals (a few were not sleeping) and trick-or-treats.

This is not a great picture of the kids (except Maggie!) but check out that pumpkin sculpture behind them. It was an undersea theme and yes, that is an octopus carved from a pumpkin.

There were also some more traditional jack-o-lanterns and plenty of festive spirit. A great night out and not even too cold!

The next day we met for Mass and the boys were very impressed with Uncle Chris's musical skillz. Which is not to say that they were extremely well-behaved, but what can you do? Chris stayed at church to get some work done and Ann and I took the kids to Discovery World, which we'd first visited during our brief stop-over last December. It's a great science/exploration museum for kids of all ages. We liked it so much we got a membership (reciprocal benefits will give us free entry to a number of other museums in our travels.)

The power of levers!
After that, it was home for some down time watching a movie while waiting to trick-or-treat.
 Yes, you read that right, a second big night of trick-or-treating, courtesy of a weird Wisconsin tradition of holding the event on the Sunday before Halloween. This time around, Ed stuck with his ninja costume and Daniel switched to a knight. Maggie was a bookworm, Katherine a witch and Abby a zebra.

We collected treats for a few blocks and then came home to lay by a nice cozy fire.

The boys and I went back to the hotel for a swim in a warm, but surprisingly deep pool. Even the shallow end only gave Daniel enough room for a few steps before it went over his head. They're both passable swimmers, but it made me quite nervous being the only adult.

We fell into an exhausted sleep, blissfully unaware that in a few hours travel chaos would ensue. The next morning, as I was on the phone with the travel agent, the boys impressed the Denny's waitress by inhaling their pancake/bacon/sausage breakfasts in about 5 minutes flat. From there it was on to the Betty Brinn Children's Museum for a morning of play with Aunt Karen who joined us from Cedarburg. The kids had a blast--here are a few examples from the 50 states exhibit.

Building the St. Louis Arch

Using foot power to make the geyser gush (loud!)

Riding a burro in the Grand Canyon (hope to visit for real someday!)
It wasn't until after three hours at the museum and an hour at lunch that the travel agent was final able to confirm John's ticket home for the next day. At one point, it looked like he'd only be able to get as far as Chicago, so I started thinking maybe we'd head to my parents' house (they were in AZ) for the night and then wait to pick up John the next day. That would have meant a late night for all, so I'm glad it didn't come to that.

We headed back to Iowa City (listening to the first Harry Potter book as we drove) and spent one more night and day on our own.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

At school drop off one morning, Daniel noticed another mom who had some purple streaks in her hair. (Kind of underneath in the back, so not screamingly obvious, but definitely not remnants of a costume.)

D: Mom, why does she have purple hair?
M: Well, I guess she likes it that way.
D: She used dye to make her hair purple. Why don't you?
M: Well, purple hair's not really my thing.
D: inspecting me more closely "I see you used some white dye in your hair on the sides."
(Hello, cut and color, please!?)
M: That's actually not dye. When you get older your hair starts to turn white. You know like Gram and PopPop and Grandma and Grandpa?
D: But Daddy's older than you. Why doesn't he have white hair?
M: (did not say) "because it's totally unfair!" (did say) "Because his hair is blond like yours and it's hard to see the white mixed in.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

The Saturday before John left for his trip, we spent the afternoon at Bloomsbury Farm, a farm full of fun fall activities that we first visited last fall. Check out the six-inch height difference from last year:

But the big rocker is still super sized

They've added a zip line this year (which we did not attempt) and some of the old favorites were moved around, but we still found all the old stand-bys: tire horses, big tube slide, enormous inflated pillow,  rope spider web, goats to feed, hay to jump in and a fun house to navigate (some of us more than once; some of us more than four times!)

An anxious flier, John decided that simple Dramamine would not suffice for his long trans-Atlantic flights and talked to his doctor, who prescribed the anti-anxiety drug Ativan (a drug we hadn't thought much about since Will's time in the NICU.) The doctor advised taking one before his trip just to make sure he didn't have any negative reaction. Since he didn't fill the prescription until Friday, that didn't leave much time for experimenting. However, it worked out in John's favor, as he found the whole Bloomsbury experience much more tolerable with his chemical friend. Maybe he'll hold one in reserve for next year.

So I've alluded in the past few posts to John's big trip. Some of you were able to follow the ups and downs via Facebook, but here's the lowdown.

Late in the summer, he received an invitation from the city of Krakow, Poland to come for a literary conference the last weekend in October. They would pay his travel expenses, and those of the representatives from all the other Cities of Literature, who were also invited. Krakow would like to join the Creative Cities Network and thought they might gain some insight by inviting the current members to participate in this regional conference.

Expenses-paid trip to Europe? Why, yes please! And since it's a little silly to fly all the way to Poland just for a two-and-a-half day conference, why don't you go early and spend two days in Edinburgh, the first City of Literature? Good plan! (Too bad the boys' schedules, our house construction, and of course, finances, prevented me from joining him!)

It turned out to be kind of a complicated itinerary with arriving in Edinburgh but departing from Krakow so John enlisted the assistance of a travel agent. (This detail is important later.) He ended up with a United/Lufthansa ticket from Cedar Rapids to O'Hare to Duesseldorf to Edinburgh; return ticket Krakow-Duesseldorf-O'Hare-Cedar Rapids. He bought a one-way ticket on Ireland's RyanAir from Edinburgh to Krakow.

As luck (and Murphy's Law) would have it, a tremendous thunderstorm rolled through Eastern Iowa headed toward Chicago the between 7 and 8 a.m. the day of John's departure. His flight was not until 1 p.m. though, and as we left Iowa City for the airport at 11:30 a.m. it was still listed as "on time." By the time we got to the airport and I kissed John good-bye at noon, however, it had been canceled. There was no way to fly to Chicago in time for the Europe-bound flight. As I was on my way back to Iowa City (for a much anticipated haircut!) John called to say he was stranded so I turned around to go back and get him. (Poor sad, shaggy hair!)

I waited in the "cell phone lot" for about 45 minutes while he worked with United and then Delta to try to get himself re-booked for the same day, later flights. We left with a new ticket, this time on Delta, departing at 6:30 that evening. (And to chalk one up in the "good luck" column, my stylist had a rare same-day opening due to another cancellation and was able to get me in after all--woo hoo!)

The boys were surprised, though basically unfazed, to see John after school despite having said good-bye to him for the week at school drop-off.

In the late afternoon, we all headed back to the Cedar Rapids airport, where this time, we parked and went in with him to ensure he was checked in and ready to fly before we left. This took a while and there was still some uncertainty about whether he'd have enough time to make his connection in Detroit. As we waited and the dinner hour approached, the boys were getting antsy and complaining that they were hungry. As there is limited food service in the Cedar Rapids airport and I actually had dinner at home, I tried to buy some time with a trip to the vending machine. If you ask them about Dad's trip to Edinburgh, I can almost guarantee they'll start with, "We got to eat POP TARTS at the airport!" Two bucks and two strawberry pop-tarts later, they were in seventh heaven.

Once the ticket agents assured us that John was booked through with time to connect, the boys and I said good-bye again and headed for home (and dinner!) About 15 minutes later, my phone rang. You guessed it: John's flight to Detroit had just been delayed, now leaving no way for him to connect in Detroit. As I was in the geographic middle of the route from the airport to our house with two very hungry and increasingly tired boys, we had to call for back-ups. John's parents hopped in the car to head to Cedar Rapids to pick him up. They ended up becoming quite familiar with the cell phone lot as it took about an hour to find a route for John the next day.

He came home extremely frustrated and demoralized, but somehow exhausted enough for a solid night's sleep, waking the next morning refreshed and ready to try again. This time he refused to let me drive him, saying the (very cheap) long-term parking rate was well worth not screwing up my entire day again. He got out on a Cedar Rapids-O'Hare-Newark-Edinburgh route with only a slight hiccup at O'Hare. So he lost one day of his Edinburgh time, but never fear, he would regain it in Krakow.

Edinburgh photos

Krakow photos

For you see, in all the re-ticketing, it seems no one had bothered to re-confirm his return route, so when he showed up at the Krakow airport the following Monday, having had an excellent trip, but fully ready to return to the loving embrace of his family back in Iowa, the gate agents said they had no record of his arrival and therefore no authorization to clear his departure. He was, once again, stranded. Six hours ahead of his sleeping U.S. advocates. And Hurricane Sandy was bearing down on the East coast, closing airports, canceling flights, and causing mass re-booking for those with travel plans in or through New York, Washington D.C. and other Eastern hubs.

He went back and forth among United, Lufthansa, and Delta to determine who was responsible for the screw up and they all pointed a finger at one another. Delta finally at least conceded enough to issue a new return ticket, but not until Friday (it was currently Monday.) Once again demoralized, he left the airport to wait and see whether his travel agent could improve upon that plan once he opened for business at 8 a.m. Central Time.

I was first alerted to the situation by text message at 4:30 a.m. Normally I wouldn't receive such a message until I woke up as I'm not in the habit of sleeping with my cell phone, but I was in a Milwaukee hotel room with the boys as we decided to distract ourselves from Dad's long trip by visiting my sister and her family.

Nothing I could do until 8, but as soon as I could I was on the phone to the travel agent, who was shocked to hear what had happened. His read on John's travel record showed no reason he should have been denied in Krakow. (As of this writing, it has still not been determined fully, why and how this happened.) He stared working the various routes to try to find empty seats on flights the next day. By 1 p.m. our time, he'd found and booked a ticket from Krakow-Munich-O'Hare-Cedar Rapids, arriving home at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, one day later than originally scheduled.

John's Krakow hosts were quite solicitous, arranging another night in the same hotel, and promising to set up additional meetings if he were in fact stuck there all week. In the end, he did get out the next day and flew the   entire route without a single delay, arriving back at home (though he hardly recognized it!) by 11:15 and falling, exhausted, but happy into his own bed. He reports that other than the air travel nightmares, the trip was a huge success. (To quote my father, "Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how'd you like the show?") However, I doubt he'll be eager to stamp his passport again anytime soon.