Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Eight Months Old

At some point in the last couple weeks, time finally caught up with me and it smacked me right between the eyes:  where the heck has the time gone?!  How are we here, 
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already?!
But here we are, indeed, and things continue to be really, really good.  Ruby is happy and silly and growing and exploring and sometimes you can just see the wheels churning in that beautiful blonde head.  She is a joy and has each of us wrapped around her little finger.
Her eating and sleeping schedule have both remained pretty much the same.  Meals and bottles and naps are all routine – but this girl is becoming quite a foodie!  We probably need to be introducing those finger foods, like pronto, as this girl is grabbing and wanting everything we bring to our mouths.  So that’ll be the big task of the upcoming month.  She now chows down on the baby puffs cereal pieces that she previously was unsure about, and she’ll gobble down four containers of baby food daily.  
I thought for sure she’d be crawling before now, but I suppose I’ll instead celebrate not having to baby proof the house for another day.  She is able to push herself up onto all fours and will rock forward and back, but she just can’t quite get those appendages moving forward yet.  And I walked into her room just the other day to get her from her nap, and she was sitting up in bed.  Time to lower the mattress!!  
Other milestones this month: her first 4th of July and her first family vacation!
Her favorites:  her soft pink blanket for sleeping and screeching matches with her brothers.
She is a gem.  But you already knew that. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Vander Waals Come Home from Cincinnati

While our original plan was to spend an extra day galavanting around Cincinnati, we decided to cut vacation a day short and head home on Sunday morning.  This was the perfect decision for us - seven full days away from home is plenty, and we were all pretty spent from all of the walking and here and there and extra stimulation from the week.  But because I’m thorough, and like to look into these sorts of things, the IKEA that resides just north of Cincinnati in West Chester was calling my name.
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Thankfully, the boys did amazingly well.  All three of them. :)  Brad put both of them in a shopping cart and cruised through the market place as this girl and I searched for my short list of items.
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We weren’t in the store for more than an hour and a half (which included a bottle break for Ruby) and I was able to find almost everything on my “to look at” list.  I came home with several picture frames and a few wall shelves - and let’s be honest - I could’ve come home with a lot more!
There were a lot of awesome moments during our week away.  There were also a handful of not-so-awesome moments.  All in all, we saw a lot, walked a lot, spent a lot of time together, and enjoyed a lot.  Although tired and a bit weary…I can’t wait to do it all again next summer.
Brad’s voice isn’t heard a lot (or at all) here on the blog, so I’ll share here what he shared on Facebook shortly after we returned home:
Home from our family vacation and here are a few of my observations, in no particular order.
1. We are not a warm weather family; has anyone invented an air conditioned shirt yet? And actually it will need to have a heater also for when the kids are cold in restaurants.
3. The Great Wolf Lodge’s Lazy River is the unlaziest river ever
4. Boys of 5 and 7 would rather play with a touch screen display that talks about monkeys than actually watch the monkeys right next to it.
2. Boys of 5 and 7 do not comprehend the true value of stuffing yourself at the FREE hotel breakfast before a day out.
5. Going down a family water slide backwards and being able to see your boys happy faces is pretty priceless! (well not completely priceless otherwise I suppose we would still be there but you know what I mean)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Vander Waals Go to Cincinnati {Newport Aquarium}

For Saturday, our last day of vacation, we planned a visit to the Newport Aquarium.  It is a highly rated attraction and hits the top 10 “must see” list for the area, so it was a must-do for our little trip.  We took it easy in the morning, taking our time getting ready and allowing Ruby her mid-morning nap, before we headed out for the 11am opening at the aquarium.
I’ll just go ahead and preface this post by saying that Drew was in.a.mood.  Not sure if he was tired (probably), sick of vacation (perhaps), ready to head home (likely) but that kid was unsatisfiable our entire time there.  Kind of a buzz kill, I gotta say, but the rest of us enjoyed it (as much as we could) despite big brother’s mood.
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We saw a dive show, where we learned about Shark Rays and their buddy, Denver, a large sea turtle.
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It was very blue in there.
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Bravo, a 650 pound Galapagos tortoise.
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We were able to touch a few different animals, including this shark, some starfish, and a tortoise or two.
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We didn’t make it to the penguins soon enough to see the Penguin Parade.  They were so fun to watch as we passed by, though…bummed we missed out on their program.
There was a ton to see here at the aquarium.  Thousands of fish and sharks and other underwater friends (duh) but also an entire section full of reptiles and oh-my-word do you know how many different kinds of frogs there are?!?!  
The Vander Waal family rating of the Newport Aquarium: 4.5 stars.  I would’ve liked to have seen an octopus. :)
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She had fun.  And she luuuuvvvssss her daddy. 
We had a mid-afternoon lunch here
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because we hadn’t yet eaten at Culvers on this vacation and goodness, if we can go to Culvers because it’s the second Tuesday of the month, we certainly can go to Culvers because we’re on vacation!
We were back to our hotel around 4 that afternoon to nap
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and enjoy our last night in the pool.  The boys finished out their last night of vacation with video games and snacks in bed.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Vander Waals Go to Cincinnati {a day of rest & the Cincinnati Museum Center}

One activity that was on our “to do” list for Cincinnati was taking the kids to the Duke Energy Children’s Museum.  We’ve been to a couple in the past, and they’ve been really fun and interactive and entertaining.  As we were researching for our trip, we found that the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal (which is where the Children’s Museum, the Museum and Natural Science & History, and the Cincinnati History Museum are all housed) offers free Fridays once a month during designated hours.  As fate would have it, the Friday we were planning to be in Cincinnati was one such Friday, and from 4:00-7:00pm we would receive free admission to all three museums.
Free is good, so we opted for the later hours and used the beginning of our day to take it easy.
We decided to explore a bit in the shopping district near our hotel, and made the Half Price Books store our first stop.  I love that our kids love books, to be read to, and that Drew loves to read himself.  They soaked it up.  They each picked out three books to buy and we barely got back into the van before they had their noses buried in between the pages.
We spent the next couple hours mall walking, clearance rank browsing, and eating at the mall food court.  By about 1:30, Brad and I were beginning to wonder what we were going to do for the next few hours until we could make our way to the museums.  
Chuck E. Cheese, to the rescue.
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I didn’t know that there was anything worse than the McDonald’s Playplace…but Chuck E.  He’s it.  We’ve been to the one in our area twice, and it is every bit the stereotypical parent’s nightmare that everyone says it is.  It’s loud and busy and way too overstimulating.  But look at those boys.  They love it.  Considering their love for video games and, well, being overstimulated, they were all in when we pulled into the parking lot.  And they should be.  They’re kids.  Anything for the kids. :)
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Brad encouraged them to find the games that they enjoyed playing and not to just play for tickets.  The prizes are cheap anyway so he wanted to be sure they were playing for have a good time, not just playing to win a mini frisbee or a pencil top eraser at the end.  They stuck to this SnoCross racing game for the better part of our time there.  And I’ll admit it - it was kinda fun to watch ‘em.
The Vander Waal family rating of Chuck E. Cheese: five stars!  That’s the boys’ rating.  My rating:  meh.  
We made it the Museum Center just before 4:00, got our free tickets and map, and made our way to the lower level to visit the Duke Energy Children’s Museum.
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So, a couple of things.
1) When advertised as free, everyone will come.  It was super busy.  Expected, of course, but sobusy it was hard to really interact and enjoy each display.
2) Of the three or four Children’s Museums we’ve been to, this one wasn’t great.  The exhibits were just okay.  The coolest, and most fun, was The Woods, which was a giant tree house to explore, but everything else wasn’t that fantastic.
3) Super poor picture quality because it was dark in the lower level, and very few pictures because we had a hard time finding space to take many photos.  
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Because it was all free, we also hopped over to the Museum of Natural Science & History and saw a few fun things there - namely, we got to walk through a replica of an actual limestone cave, as well as an ice cave that simulated the last glacier in the Ohio Valley.  Both very cool, and probably the highlight of our entire visit.
So we cruised through both museums at a decent pace (in part because it was busy and also because it just didn’t seem to capture the boys’ interest and therefore — w.h.i.n.i.n.g).
The Vander Waal family rating of the Cincinnati Museum Center: 2.5 stars.  Its biggest redeeming value was that it was free; I fear we may have been disappointed with our money spent if we would have paid for admission.  But our disappointment also likely lies in the fact that it was so, so busybecause it was free.  Win/Lose with that one.  There were some cool things to see/do, but like I said, certainly doesn’t rank as high compared to other children’s museums we’ve been to.  
We scooted out of there and made it to dinner around 7:00 before heading back to the hotel to cash in for the night.
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These three.  Love the memories - even the whiny ones - we’re making together.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Vander Waals Go to Cincinnati {Reds Baseball}

I’m fairly certain that (at least in Brad’s mind) our entire vacation was planned around the Reds/Cubs baseball game scheduled for 1:00 on Thursday afternoon.  Both Brad and I enjoy taking in a game every now and again, and it’s something that we hope our entire family enjoys doing together throughout the years to come.  Definitely a must for a Vander Waal family vacation.
After we had all gotten ready for the day and had breakfast (we enjoyed our hotel’s full continental breakfast every morning), we spent about an hour and a half in our hotel room just relaxing and fiddling about.  This allowed Ruby to eat her second breakfast and have a quick snooze before we needed to head out for the game.  Thankfully we had made a plan for parking so we’d avoid last summer’s Detroit disaster.  Brad dropped the kids and me off within two blocks and then parked and walked the remaining six blocks.  We were off to a great start.
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Unfortunately, it was a warm, warm day.  And there’s not much for shade when you’re sitting high in the upper deck behind home plate.  It’s a great view of the field, but it’s just really really warm.  Really warm.
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Fortunately, we had purchased one of those water spray bottles with a fan contraption for a hot day like this.  Unfortunately, we only bought one.  Sharing is hard when you’re hot.
The highlight of the game, no doubt, was when one of the special event coordinators arrived in our section, and asked the woman sitting next to me if she wanted to participate in one of the mid-inning jumbo-tron games.  She said yes (who wouldn’t??) and the camera man and MC arrived in the middle of the third.
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Long story short - we were on the Jumbo-tron!
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And the girl won the contest, winning our entire row free chili and cheese dogs!  Too bad they weren’t that good, but free food - at a baseball game - nonetheless!
From that point on, Ruby and I pretty much spent the remainder of the game in the shaded concourse, where a slight breeze kept me cool as she napped all wrapped up in her Moby.  Reed came down for quite a while as well, and Drew did the best he could in his seat by Brad, but man, we were all hot.  After seven innings, it was time to call it quits.
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The Vander Waal family rating of a Cincinnati Reds baseball game: two and a half stars.  It was just hot.  Drew is getting old enough to ask questions about the game, and wanting to learn all that’s happening, but it was tough for Reed to sit still for that long, and it’s hard to see from so far away for little eyes to keep track of the game.  As for me, it’s a little rough to manage a baby in the small space allowed in those stadium seats.  And did I mention it was hot???  BUT Brad got to see the Cubs and that was nice for him. :)
And, of course, because Brad dropped us off, we all had to walk the full distance back to the van.  Thankfully, along the way, was a Wendy’s, so we all cooled off with Frostys and air conditioning before making it back to the van.
We gave the boys some time to relax with their video games back in our hotel room, before heading out to the Olive Garden for dinner.  Brad took the boys down to the hotel pool when we returned while Ruby napped and I organized some things in our room.  The boys were pretty wiped out after our day in the sun, so we bathed and were to bed by about 8:30.  Vacation is good…but vacation is tiring! 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Vander Waals Go to Cincinnati {the Zoo & Build-a-Bear}

The energy exerted and the fun had at Great Wolf Lodge on Monday and Tuesday caught up with our oldest child on Wednesday morning.  Drew is our earliest riser, usually up on or before 6:30 in the morning.  Imagine our surprise when not only did he sleep in, not only was he the last to wake, but he didn’t wake up until 8:45 Wednesday morning!  Even amidst the madness that is a family of five in a smallish hotel room!  This is completely unheard of when he’s in the comfort of his own home and bed and pillow…I don’t think the kid has ever slept in that long!  It was obviously much needed.
On the agenda, at some point during our week, was a visit to the zoo.  The biggest debate was which zoo (Toledo, Columbus, Cincinnati) and what day.  Originally we had planned to go to the Columbus Zoo on our way back home at the end of the week.  Brad had seen on Good Morning America that the zoo had recently opened a new Africa exhibit, which included feeding and riding on a variety of the animals.  It sounded pretty sweet, so sure, that would be fun.  Deciding on that plan, though, meant that we had an extra day during the week with nothing planned. So, long story short — we changed the plan.  Upon further research of both the zoos (all three Ohio zoos are ranked in the top five in the nation — any of them would be great to visit) and the weather (Wednesday was looking to be the coolest of the week), we decided to stay in town, use up our unplanned extra day, and visit the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens.
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Be forewarned: lots of animal pictures below!  It might be a bit boring.  If you’ve seen one gorilla, you’ve seen them all, amiright???  Feel free to bypass and go straight to the bottom of this post.  As I was looking through these pictures, though, it brought vivid memories to mind of our day, and I couldn’t help but over-share.   
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We happened to be in the right place at the right time to catch the Wings of Wonder show in the early afternoon.  When it was all said and done, I voted it, by far, the best animal exhibit show I have ever seen (not that I’ve seen a ton, but I’ve been to a zoo or two!).  It was informative and entertaining and there were so many birds.
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There were perches located throughout the open-air auditorium and the zookeepers had several of the birds fly just overhead throughout the audience.  This guy came and perched right by us.
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This beautiful bald eagle flew down from that cage you can see up in the bush.  We had the perfect view to see her beautiful wings soar.
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The show was so colorful!  It was funny and interesting and perfect zoo entertainment for both us and the boys!
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ICEE break.  While the weather was the most comfortable of the week, it was still warm, especially with the bright sunshine all day.  It made the walking a bit painful at times for the boys, but I think it was worth it to them in the long run (although they may be a lot older before they realize it).  I’m fairly certain this zoo had every animal possible - I can see why it’s in the top five!
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The orangutan.  My personal favorite.  I could watch these guys all day. 
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We took a few other breaks to rest our feet and to feed Ruby.  At our last pit stop of the day, the boys took off to ride the zoo train while Ruby and I rested in the shade and air conditioning of one of the food buildings.
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We spent just a couple minutes at the end of the day in the Children’s Zoo.  They had a small play area, and the boys plopped down here.  They were pretty wiped out.
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The Vander Waal family rating of the Cincinnati Zoo: five stars!  We had a lot of less-than-five star moments, due to the heat and all the walking, but the zoo itself is really, really great.  Interactive and interesting, with tons of different exhibits and animal features.  The huge variety of animals and beautiful gardens and greenery make this place worthwhile, for sure.
At some point earlier in the summer, I had promised the boys we’d make a visit to Build-a-Bear while we were on vacation (thank you, Cincinnati, for helping me out with this one!)  The boys had been fighting over one of Drew’s stuffed animals that he had gotten there a few years ago, so like any good negotiator, I decided we’d just have to get another one (I’m learning to pick my battles).  So after dinner at Red Robin (my favorite restaurant which we don’t have up in our neck of the woods, so yeah, we were eating there while we had the chance) we headed into the shopping district near our hotel to build some bears.
Turned out we built a dog and a bunny, but whatever.
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I was happily surprised to find that Drew hadn’t outgrown Build-a-Bear; he was as interested and excited about it as the few other times we’ve gone when he was younger.  And it’s really a great souvenir option for vacation, too.
The Vander Waal family rating of Build-a-Bear: five stars!
It was another good day, friends.  Vacation is good.