Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Week in Anaheim

This last week we went to Anaheim to go to Disneyland and California Adventure Land. For family members that receive a weekly e-mail from me, much of what I write here will sound a lot like our weekly family e-mail. For those who don't receive our weekly e-mails, I'll try to spare you some of the details.

With a five-year-old daughter, a three-year-old daughter, and a fourteen-month-old son, you can imagine some of the challenges the trip posed for us. Fortunately, we were able to play Disney movies in our van as we made the seven-and-a-half-hour trip (it was actually a couple hours longer due to some stops we had to make and some heavy traffic as we neared our destination). Additionally, we had to walk about a mile to get to the park. Two of the kids generally rode in our double stroller, while the other often rode on my shoulders.

After checking into our hotel on the afternoon of Memorial Day, we made the walk to Disneyland, where we finally revealed the destination to our children. While it was a great surprise for them, we aren't sure what is better--the surprise or letting them know well in advance so the anticipation builds up. What do you think?

We had a great time meeting Disney characters throughout the week and getting their signatures and pictures. The longest line we waited in all week was the one to meet different Disney princesses (An hour and a half). While Debs waited in line, I took the kids to the It's a Small World ride and then I switched places with her. We were fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. We were visiting with Mulan when Princess Aurora came to take her place, so the girls got to see four princesses instead of three.

Since Gabs was the only one tall enough of our kids to go on several of the rides, we used Bells' ticket to get an extra Fastpass to allow us to skip the long lines. That way either Debs or I could go with her on some of the rides while the other took Bells and Erik to more suitable rides for their age. Gabs would literally skip from one ride to the next, and was constantly talking. Both Debs and I were glad to finally get the chance to give our children some one-on-one quality time. It was like Christmas every day for an entire week.

There was one ride at Disneyland that Gabs couldn't ride, since she didn't meet the height requirements. It was the Indiana Jones Adventure ride. Debs rode it by herself, while I took the kids to another ride, and then I rode on it. Halfway into the ride, the truck in front of use broke down. Consequently, we sat in our truck, unable to unbuckle, for half an hour. They finally escorted us out on foot, giving us a Fastpass good for any ride in the park for up to six people. While I enjoyed the part of the ride that I was able to do, I realized that it was not nearly as fun as when I rode with my daughter or family. Both Debs and I enjoyed seeing our kids' excitement much more than the rides themselves.

As for how we afforded to make such a trip on such a small budget, Debs found a great five-day deal for a hotel and park-hopper passes that included a $50 gift card. In addition to the things we bought with the gift card, she also brought Disney games and toys that she had found on clearance during the last year. To further help a budget strapped family, she started experimenting with recipes she found online for our rice cooker. Yes, rice cookers can cook a lot more than just rice.

On Saturday, after checking out of our hotel, we went to Huntington Beach for a little more than an hour, so our children could see the ocean for the first time and collect seashells.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Kindergarten Graduation

This week Gabs graduated from Kindergarten. Her class put on a great program with several songs and dances that were absolutely adorable. Afterward we got to watch a slide show of the year in review. It's amazing how much she has grown in the last eight or nine months. It's also amazing how much she has grown since she was born nearly six years ago. It seems that from here on out, our lives will be marked by a series of milestones leading to the day that our kids will be all grown up and moving out of the house . . ., but we're going to enjoy experiencing each of those milestones with our children! We are grateful to be so blessed!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Developing Our Talents

Anyone that knows our oldest daughter, Gabs, knows that she loves to make cards for other people. Often she will make drawings for them, or she will cut the paper out in some shape and write something on it. In the past that has meant that our envelopes or colored paper have mysteriously disappeared whenever she got the urge to make cards.

This last week Gabs decided she wanted to cut out heart shapes.
Bells, her younger sister, naturally wants to do everything her big sister does, so she also wielded a pair of scissors and started cutting. The result...well, anyone that remembers being young knows that for some reason or other it just seems impossible to learn how to cut out or draw a perfectly-shaped heart or star. Completely frustrated with her attempts to make a heart, Bells burst into tears and sought solace in her mother's shoulder. After receiving the much-needed comfort, she went back to the drawing board and devised a new design. A little while later she had a card for Debs and myself, which she hand delivered. She proudly announced that she had made us each a pair of panties. She had found a design that she could master.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Fieldtrip to the Zoo

Last Friday I had the privilege of going with my daughter's class on a field trip to the Reid Park Zoo here in Tucson. Along with another parent, I had the responsibility to keep track of three kids, including my daughter, while we were at the zoo. Each of the kids had to carry their own water bottle throughout the day, while we tried to remind them to take frequent drinks in weather that climbed to 102° Fahrenheit. Yes, this is Tucson, but no, it isn't supposed to be that hot yet.
From about 8:30 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. we were outside in the heat. After we finished looking at the animals at the zoo, we went to a nearby park, ate lunch, and then played an array of games. The kids did gunnysack races (in pillowcases), three-legged races, freeze tag, etc. They also tossed water balloons back and forth to see how far they could toss them without them falling to the ground and bursting.
The teacher planned several activities throughout the day that would get the kids wet and help them to cool down. As they were finishing up with the balloon toss, the parents got to chase the kids and pour water on them or get them with the remaining water balloons.
I don't know how the kids did it, but they never seemed to slow down, despite the heat. They just kept running. I was tired and hot, and I even got to sit in the shade during several of the activities.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tucson Bike Fest

For three years I have been biking to school, making a trip of over four miles each way. For a while I rode a Scattante street bike, but realized I wasn't getting much of a workout on it. It was almost like I was cheating. Consequently, I decided to get the cheapest Walmart bike I could find. We found one that had been banged up a good bit and was marked down to $35. It served me well for almost a year and a half until one night some brazen thief came and took it off my front porch. The one day I got careless and failed to lock it up after parking it on the porch was the day someone came and stole it. But this is Tucson, I should have suspected that. As a result, I woke up to a slight sound--usually nothing but an alarm clock will wake me up, just ask my wife. I instantly remembered I hadn't locked up my bike, so I quickly looked out the window and saw it was gone. The next instant I was running down the road in sandals after a white mini van that was speeding away down our normally quiet street, but I was too slow to get a license plate. I take a little comfort in knowing that one of the brake pads was missing, the other three were worn to a frazzle, and the wheels had been wobbly from the time I bought it. But they probably still managed to get $10 or so out of it to help pay for their next drug fix.

I spent the next few days trying to find a similar bike that would give me a good workout and that would be within my price range. I got lucky after calling around to several local stores. Once again I found a bike for under $40. Like the one before it, it has served me well for some time now, and also like the one before it, I need to change its break pads. While most drivers are quite courteous to bicyclists here in Tucson, some force you to make abrupt stops. On one occasion, not very long after we moved here, I started riding my bike through an intersection after the light turned green. As I was nearing the middle of the road, I heard brakes screeching for what seemed like an eternity. I was lucky to get to the middle of the road before a pickup truck slammed into the car that had been beside me at the light but that had started out a little slower. The two vehicles slid right behind me and took out a sign posted on the center median. That experience along with two or three others has made me ride with more caution, and perhaps, use the brakes more than I need to.

Fast forward to the end of March 2009. As I was waiting at a stoplight near the University of Arizona, I noticed a plastic container with brochures announcing the Tucson Bike Fest, a month-long drive to get people to stop driving and start cycling to work or school. I grabbed a brochure and two or three times a week I entered all the times I rode my bike to work and school during the month of April. The organizers of the event along with the numerous sponsors had various events throughout the city, including an occasional bike station where cyclist could stop and grab a quick breakfast, a t-shirt, a bike bell, etc. During the second week of April, I won a water bottle from Ajo Bikes in the weekly drawing. In addition to prizes, the camaraderie of the event, and the opportunity to talk to new people, I also got to see some of the benefits to biking that I had kind of overlooked. For the month of April, this is the data I received after entering online all my trips to school on my bike. I'm not sure how the cost in savings was calculated, but I'm sure I saved at least that much after factoring in gas, wear and tear to a vehicle, and a very pricey parking permit at the university.

Your estimated cost savings is $76

Vehicle Miles Saved
Transit 0
Walk 0

Pollution Reduction
Reduction in carbon monoxide:

3.85 lbs.
Reduction in oxides of nitrogen:

0.56 lbs.
Reduction in organic compounds:

0.41 lbs.

Greenhouse Gas Reduction
Reduction in carbon dioxide (and other gasses):

160.26 lbs.

On the fourth of May I received a phone call from an employee of the city of Tucson informing me that I had won one of the two grand prizes, a $540 Trek Allant donated by Trek Bicycles of Tucson. I went and picked it up today and was treated to some of the best service I have ever had at a cycling store. Not only did the store throw in a few bells and whistles such as front and rear lights, a bike bell, and an insulated bag to go on the back rack, but they also took the time to answer other annoying questions from someone who knows very little about bikes aside from the basic tire changes and a foray or two at replacing the bearings in the bottom bracket. I rode the bike home from the Trek store and enjoyed one of the smoothest rides I've had in a long time. The only setback was that whenever I stopped, I had to remember that I was no longer riding a woman's bike (the last two bikes we found below $40 were women's bikes).

Anyway, I offer a heartfelt thanks to the many sponsors of the Tucson Bike Fest for a fun and eventful month.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

An Eventful Few Weeks

My comprehensive doctoral exams are finally over! In fact, I finished them nearly two weeks ago. For the first time in years I have been able to relax a little at the end of the semester instead of pushing myself to the edge of my sanity for the final month of the semester.

A few weeks ago a good friend of ours gave us four tickets to go watch a NASCAR race at the Phoenix International Raceway. Due to a couple of accidents on the interstate, we arrived late, and having never been to a NASCAR race, we didn't have earplugs. For those of you who have gone to a NASCAR event, you're probably saying "amateurs"! We were fortunate to have ladies all around us scrambling through their purses racing to be the first to give us earplugs for our three kids. We all enjoyed the opportunity to watch it live, even if it was quite the hassle packing everything up at the last minute when we learned that we had tickets. As for my favorite part of the race--we didn't get to see any spectacular wreck or anything, so I would have to say my favorite part was after a minor wreck when the caution car finally pulled off the track and all the cars started racing again. With all the cars passing close together, the air filled with the multiplied sound of all the cars passing close together.

If I could do it again, I would take earplugs and I would put the movie Cars in our portable DVD player for the kids to watch on the way to the track.
Two days after our trip to the racetrack, our family enjoyed an evening at the Pima County Fair. Last year marked our first time at the fair here, and like our NASCAR experience, we were novices. We paid full price for the rides, and as a result, our kids only got to go on a few of them. This time we bought tickets in advance, so every ride was marked down considerably. As a result, we spent a very full and fun evening at the fair for a reasonable price.

Having grown up on a farm, one of my favorite parts of the fair was going through the barns to look at the animals. It reminded me of the good old days of raising lambs in 4-H and taking them to the fair. At the same time, it's nice to see and even smell farm animals again after living for years in the city. One of these days we're going to escape the city (at least to a certain degree) and actually have a yard with some room to move around!

Who can pass up the chance to ride in the teacups?
Even the goats are willing to pose with passersby.
This kind girl pulled her chicken out of its cage with an apparent full-awareness of what a treat it is for "cityfolk" to pet chickens.
For those who have not seen our barnyard, well here it is.
Debs got to watch our mischievous son during our ride on the ferris wheel. Both he and the girls loved looking down at the lights of the fair. In fact, we couldn't get Bells to take her eyes off the lights. She turned her head for the picture, but her eyes remained fixed on the lights.The girls loved the rides, and Gabs grew just enough during the last year to be able to go on some of the bigger rides. It's tough to top the experience of taking your kids to the county fair and watching their faces light up with each new adventure.

So having gone twice, what will I change for next year? We'll probably listen to some Chris LeDoux (i.e. County Fair and The Ride) as we drive to the fair, and we'll get a friend to watch the kids while I ride the ferris wheel with Debs.

This last Friday and Saturday, Gabs lost her first two teeth. Each night the Tooth Fairy left her eighty cents in shiny new coins. After losing her second tooth, she told us how she was planning on catching the Tooth Fairy that night. She was so tired, however, that the Tooth Fairy had little trouble retrieving the small tooth from under her pillow and replacing it with a few coins.

On Sunday evening, Grandma Hansen called to speak with Debs, but Gabs got to the phone first, which resulted in a ten minute play-by-play of losing her teeth and getting money from the Tooth Fairy. Don't ask me how you can talk about something like that for ten minutes, but if you're interested in hearing the story, you can call and talk with Gabs--I'm sure Grandma Hansen could tell you all about it now also. If I understand right, Grandma Hansen finally asked to speak with Debs, but when Gabs went to give her the phone, she saw a wonderful opportunity, which she conveyed to her grandma over the phone, "Well it looks like Mom is changing Erik's diaper, so shouldn't I just talk to Grandpa instead?" From what Debs tells me, Gabs then proceeded to tell the story about her teeth to Grandpa.

How lucky can two parents get to have such adorable children!?