Thursday, July 27, 2006

Escape To the Zoo

Like everyone else in SoCal, the heat is killing us. It’s been 112 here, and our vintage apartment only has an in-wall AC unit, so our bedroom has been averaging 83 or so. Not the end of the world for me, but it is hell on Jeff who lives in his own personal summer anyway. Add to this the sudden influx of high humidity, and we feel like we’re back in China. Ugh. At least we have been fortunate enough to continue to have power.

Saturday, however, was truly miserable. It was inching towards 115 and the dark clouds were rolling in. We’d already spent a couple hours in the pool, and while the Monkey Princess was due for a nap, we knew we’d all be sick of sitting in the living room coloring by 5pm. What to do?? Thanks to the wonder of the internet, I discovered that it was only 85 in San Diego, and only 45% humidity- compared to home that sounded downright pleasant! Hey the SD Zoo is open until 9pm in the summer- and look at that- we have annual passes! Quick everyone- to the car!
The drive down was easy, Ten fell asleep around Temecula, and we could actually feel the windows getting cooler as we got further south. We got good parking, and the 85ish temperature felt really nice…it was warm, but not oppressive like it was at home. We discovered that the zoo has a full line up of things to keep you entertained after dark, beginning with a giraffe feeding at 5pm.

Tenley fed a giraffe at the Living Desert last September, but she was just a year old, and I was the only one with her so there was no one to get pictures. This seemed like a good opportunity to see if she was still as fascinated with them, and maybe get a picture. We trekked over to the giraffe enclosure and Jeff & Tenley got in line for the feeding. It’s a nice, polite, well organized feeding: everyone gets their own turn and you can take pictures, and a zoo photographer takes pictures as well. Tenley started getting rather antsy in line until she saw the long necks and heads through the trees and then the excited pointing and bouncing began. When it was their turn, Jeff paid $5 for 3 giraffe cookies, and they went up to the gates to see the big guys. Tenley’s whole face lit up, and she happily took a cookie and held it out to the nearest of the 3 giraffes, who stuck out a long, agile, gray tongue and took the biscuit from her. This was followed by giggling and the immediate offer of a second biscuit to giraffe #2. She happily teased the poor animal (allowing me time to get a picture) who finally wrapped his tongue around it and yanked it out of her hand. Cue excited giggling. Jeff steered her to giraffe #3 and Tenley held out the cookie, but the much larger and older giraffe #2 was too quick and got that one too. Tenley waved and said bye-bye to the giraffes, and as far as I was concerned the whole trip was worth it for the ear splitting grin on her face as her dad carried her out of the enclosure.

We then traipsed back across the park to the Children’s Zoo before it closed so Ten could pet the goats, sheep and miniature horses. She was very excited about Elmo the mini horse, and baaa’d loudly at all the sheep. The most exciting thing though was getting to was her hands in the Tenley sized sink when we were done. The kid loves to wash her hands- what can I say??

Next we decided it was time to go see the polar bears which are, of course, on the complete opposite side of the park. So Jeff felt we should make the most of our Passes and use the Skyfari for free. Now, I am afraid of heights, but skyways don’t usually bother me. So here we have the Irrational Mommy Moment of the Day: I wasn’t afraid for me, but I was deathly afraid that Tenley was going to manage to take a header out of the cab and fall to her death in the Gorilla Tropics. Ok, the cab had 2 bars above the top rim of the bucket, but I made Jeff wrap his arms around her waist anyway. It was all I could do to keep from lunging across the cab and grabbing the waist of her pants and the scruff of her neck. Totally irrational, I know. But my heart was pounding the whole time and I was really only happy when she was sitting down. Repeat irrational freak-out on return trip after viewing polar bears who were dead asleep.

At that point I wanted to sit somewhere a little closer to terra firma so we snagged front row center seats for the Wild Connections show. This turned out to be good, and bad. The good part is that the animals are right there up close and personal and up close animals hold Ten’s attention. The bad part was that the first animal was a North American Gray Wolf (they’re endangered)… and as far as Tenley was concerned, that was a big fluffy dog. She just could not understand why we would not let her go pet the doggy! He was only 3 feet away and she already had her hand out stretched for him to smell. It didn’t help that his best buddy who comes to the show with him was a real dog. I didn’t learn too much about the wolf because we were busy wrestling with the irate toddler- a wild animal not to be taken lightly. As fascinating as the wolf was to look at (and much larger than either Jeff or I expected him to be) we were grateful when it was time for he and his Irish Setter mix buddy to go bye-bye. The next animal went much better: a sea lion. Yep, one of those big guys Ten saw snoozing on the docks in San Francisco. He was huge and totally adorable. Tenley stared at him in wide eyed wonder with her mouth hanging open. She seemed a trifle unsure of him, but when he clapped or nodded so did she; and when he ambled off the stage she pointed after him and said “Mooore???”

After the show we went and had a snack over by the Koalas and trotted down to see the Pandas before we called it a day. Tenley sat in the back seat telling us all about her trip the whole way home. Jeff and I sat in the front feeling the windows getting warmer and warmer to the touch and chatting with my Mom on the cell phone about the huge thunderstorm and 2 earthquakes they had while we were gone. It sounded very apocalyptic, and we were glad to say we had missed it because we belonged in the zoo.

The “It’s A Small World After All” moment of the day: We’re standing there looking at these cow like things, and standing next to us is a nice lady who looks Asian, but not Chinese and her daughter who looked to be around Tenley’s age and very Chinese- in fact she looked quite a bit like Ten. We got talking, and finally I asked as to her daughter’s heritage, which was indeed Chinese. I smiled at the mom and said, “… but you’re not…” She smiled and said no, she was Thai and her daughter was adopted. We inquired as to which province her cutie was from. “Guangdong!” she told us. How funny- our daughter is from Guangdong too! Really? Which orphanage she asked? “Yang Xi” we said. She got a slightly confused look. Was it about 4 hours outside of Guangzhou? Was Mrs. Qiu the director? Yes to both! Oh my God, our girls were from the same orphanage. Turns out they were USAA Group 101 who went right ahead of us, so the girls were there at the same time. Oddly enough, the girls seemed to know that too. It’s so bizarre to see them meet their China Sisters and how they instinctively seem to know each other. It was a great moment, and I’m continually amazed at how the red thread continues to connect us.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Tenley Does Art

Back at the end of March, I comitted Jeff and I to get soaked for 60 something a month for Tenley to go to Gymboree. This is really an excuse to watch your kid climb around on an ever-changing indoor playground with other kids while you sing silly little songs that will get stuck in your head and try vainly to reinforce the concept of the day (such as "over" & "under") and basic life concepts that are lost on almost 2 year olds such as sharing and taking turns.

I have no idea if it has given Tenley any better grasp of "stop & go", "up & down" and "through"; but she really loves having interaction with other kids of the same age range every week and it wears her out so she takes a good nap. The best thing I have gotten out of Gymboree is Kim & Jaxon. I'm so excited to have a stay-at-home-mommy friend, and Jax & Ten are only a couple of months apart, so they play together really well and genuinely seem to like each other. It also helps to have someone else in the same trench to discuss your child's general craziness with and discover that no, your kid is not weird, they're all like that.

Occasionally, Gymboree tries to see if it can bleed us for more cash in the name of enriching our children. Sometimes it's with "Gymbucks", ($25 off of a $50 or more purchase- one Gymbuck for every month you schuck out the 60 something), and sometimes it's with free class previews. As willingly as Mowgli went to Kaa in the Jungle Book, Kim and I were seduced by getting to try 4 of the art or music classes for free, and optimistically signed Tenley & Jaxon up for 2 art classes.

This last Thursday was art class #1. The theme was Gymbo the Clown's Birthday! Now despite the fact that clowns give me the willies, I dutifully dressed my kid in mismatched clothes and took her to Gymboree for her first art class. Here's how it went down:

Tenley & Jaxon were excited to be there until they realized that they weren't going to get to climb all over the play equipment.
They were on the mats, but there were no bubbles and no parachute. They became suspicious.
Escape attempt #1 was led by Tenley as she discovered an opening between the canopy cordoning off the art area and the gym.
Playdough was brought out, and it was interesting, but they didn't see why we wanted them to do something more with it (like cut out shapes) - they were fine with googing it in their fingers and trying to eat it.
Our first art project was making a birthday hat for the kids to wear. Tenley did really well at picking out different colored pieces of paper for the edge of the hat, and even let me help her glue them on! She did have to be stopped from trying to use the gluestick as lipgloss.
Jaxon hates hats, and as soon as he realized that Kim was going to try to put that thing on his head, he organized escape attempt #2 out the gap in the canopy on the other side.
Both kids did a great job at helping clean up by stacking the art trays and putting the crayons away- we were so proud!

Then Gymbo the Clown came out (some poor girl in the clown outfit you see above) and we sang happy birthday and began our next activity: decorating cupcakes. Oh no. I had visions of Tenley frosting me, Jaxon and the walls. It was with great trepidation that I took a popsicle stick and got a glob of frosting on it and handed it to her. She proceeded to surprise me by carefully attempting to frost her cupcake with great focus and a very delicate hand. I helped her a little at the end, and it was actually a pretty good job for a 22 month old with a small wooden stick! Then it got ugly. It began with the staff giving each kid a little pile of sprinkles in their hand to decorate their cupcake. Tenley threw hers in the air like confetti and began dancing around on them, grinding them into the crevices of the mats. Then it was time to eat the cupcake, and there was a small meltdown about handing me the cupcake to get the paper off of it, but that was cut off when she snatched the naked treat back and began stuffing chuncks of it into her mouth. I asked if she would share with me, and she did: providing I only took a small bite from the cupcake still in her hand- a large bite or attempting to hold the cupcake were met with that horrible shrill "no, no, no, no, nooooo!" kids her age make. Eventually she finished and immediately looked at me and said "Moooore?!?" Um, no.

Gymbo painted their faces. Jaxon ran right over when he was done to give me a huge bear-hug and plant his now red cheek on my white shirt. Hey, that's what bleach is for- the hug was worth it.
We said goodbye to Gymbo, and began art project #2: making Gymbo's face out of pre-cut construction paper. Ok, Kim & I made Gymbo's face because Jaxon & Tenley had no interest what-so-ever and were busy jumping and rolling around on the mats. By the time we were hanging our masterpieces, the kids had escaped and were happily climbing on the gym equipment.

Wow. So maybe art class for the 20 something month set was not such a good idea. We chatted with the leader after class about next week's lesson, and our kids attention span (or lack therof), and whether we needed to skip out on that. She shocked us by telling us that both kids did really well, and that their attention span was great for their age considering it was their first class! She went on to explain that it usually takes 3 or 4 sessions for them to really get into it and stop playing "prision break". Who knew?

So next week we will wear our pj's and attend the "slumber party" where we will draw the night sky on black paper with colored chalk to show contrast. Should be a hoot.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

...Because 1 Corn Dog is Never Enough...

...Kim and I decided to take Jaxon & Ten to the OC Fair again.

It was a "normal" day for Jaxon who is typically an early riser, but poor Tenley was torn from the gentle arms of sleep at 7am so we could have breakfast with Aunty Meg before we crept behind the Orange Curtain to see the animals.

We had grand plans: leave at 9, be at the fair when it opened at 10, see animals, pet animals, eat fair food (which is it's own food group), let kids play in giant sandbox, ride cheesy kiddie carnival rides, escape before the traffic became unbearable. Well, it didn't quite work like that. First, I was a complete blockhead and when I looked on the website I remembered that the Fair opened at 10- which it does- on Saturday & Sunday. It was Wednesday. Oops, that meant it didn't open until noon, so we had 2 hours to kill. Fortunately there was an Ikea right down the street, and since we don't have one near by it seemed like the perfect escape.

I'd say the kids had almost as good a time at the Ikea as they did at the fair. We spun them around in the shopping carts, and they went bananas jumping on a bed that Tenley seemed to like. Then we got to the kids section where they ran amok jumping on "Skon" an air element with a cover, and crawled around in this tube thing that went into a pop-up igloo tent, between trying out various table & chairs. For our part, Kim and I got a few things like a step stool for Tenely and a new bookshelf for Jaxon. Kim also bought Ten & Jaxon "Mula"s which is the Ikea version of those wood things with the coated wires with beads on them that kids like to play with. Jeff put Ten's together and she had a fine time dragging it all over the living room and showing it to the cats and forcing us to hold it on our laps while she played with it.

We had a great time once the Fair opened. It was uncrowded enough to let the kids loose to run around without worrying that they'd get trampled or lost. We trotted them over to see the animals and they seemed happy with the sheep and goats, but once again it was the chickens and the rabbits that they were just delighted with. They kept trying to stick their little fingers in the cages because bunny lips & noses tickle when they check you out, but we kept having to yank their little hands back because they just didn't understand that their fingers looked like carrots.

It was apparent at that moment that Kim was wasting away and that it was time for Fair food! Jaxon had just had his very first corn dog the week prior, so we headed to the Hot Dog on a Stick. Both the kids gave the finger to the corn dogs and we ended up eating theirs as well as ours. They had no time to eat because they were busy running round & round the picnic tables playing keep-away with Tenley's sippy cup which had the strawberry lemonade in it. They did stop occasionally to dance along with the line dancing seniors on the Heritage Stage.

By the time we had done a lap through the commercial building the kids were toast. They both passed out on the way to the sandbox, so we cruised around for awhile and checked out the rest of the Fair. Jaxon eventually came to but Ten wasn't budging, so we called it a day.

It was a good time, and I'm looking forward to LA County in September!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Fair, Weather & Friends

Here's my future Auto Show Model proudly showing off Pixar "Cars" #95 sponsored by Rust-eze at the AT&T booth at the Fair.
So since the temperature has started hitting the triple digits, our air conditioning decided to break. Now, for those of you who are not familliar with our humble abode, it's a huge apartment that falls in the category of "vintage". I suspect the original air conditioning was 4 open/10mph WsW, but our poor little wall unit looks like it could be from the Regan era, and on Friday it cheerfully started leaking water out the front and directly into the wall socket to which it is plugged in. We were alerted to this phenominon by the "bzzt" sound and arcing coming from the outlet, so we wisely cut the power to that location.

Despite 2 box fans, 4 ceiling fans, and 2 window fans by mid morning Sunday it was starting to smell like BBQ'd cat. So when Doug & Tina called to say they had lost their minds and were taking James to the Orange County Fair in Costa Mesa, I lost no time in convincing Jeff that we should definately join them. I was actually surprised at Jeff's reluctance: we used to live about 6 blocks from the fairgrounds and I thought surely he would remember that CM is usually about 10 degrees cooler than the Inland Valley. Truthfully, I think the hell of spending 8+ hours working at Disneyland on Saturday in the blazing heat and humidity was still fresh in his mind, but he was a trooper and agreed to go.

Fortunately, my memory was good- it was only in the mid 80's, and despite being opening weekend it wasn't even all that crowded! The OC Far is a much longer and slower process with little ones and a stroller, but we still saw everything and had a good time.

We hit the Commercial building and picked up a few items, and then we went to the Community building and Tenley picked up a few firemen. After we tore her away from the dashing men in uniform and their chalkboard tables, Daddy took her to see the stuffed animals (like coyote & bobcat) at the Wildlife Conservation booth, while Doug & I answered trivia questions and spun the "wheel of morality" at the County of Orange Health Care Agency to get chip clips and coloring books for the kids.

Hot Dog on a Stick detained us briefly on our way to see the animals. Then Tenley detained us with the animals. She loves animals. She usually doesen't identify them by name, but rather by the sound they make. So as we approached one of the show rings, she began mooing and pointing excitedly at the cows & their owners who were having a little meet & greet with the fair guests. She grinned from ear to ear as she rubbed a steer's nose, felt his ears and rubbed his shiny black neck that looked like velvet. James promptly stuck his hand up a cow's nose. Then it was on to the "baaa"s where Ten was completely entranced as they led this sheep in and began shearing it. I thought the noise from the clippers would frighten her, but it didn't, and I didn't my best to explain that the sheep was just getting a haircut. The poor sheep kept looking around and bleating unhappily, and Tenley would smile and bleat back at it. Then we went for a quick wander through the cages of poultry and bunnies. Well, it started out as a quick wander but Tenley was determined to touch a chicken and a bunny and as soon as we would finish a row of plain white chickens, she woulld smile at me and say "Mooore??" as she pointed to the next row. I guess the chickens did it for her- go figure.

Speaking of chickens, we decided it was time to eat some, so we trooped off and got these massive fajita plates and Jeff and James had chicken fingers with some of the worst fries on the planet. Tenley was still full from the corndog and gave the finger to all of it except Jeff & I's Diet Pepsis.

After our meal, we headed over to the kids carnival and I bought some ride tickets so we could take a spin in these hot air balloon things (think hanging tilt a whirl) and ride the killer bees that are the Fair equivalent of Dumbo. She was too short to ride anything by herself, but next year I think I'll have to get her a wristband because she should be tall enough to go on a good number of them.

The petting zoo was right next to the kids carnival, and I cheerfully schucked out $2 for an ice cream cone of feed so we could be accosted by pushy goats. This years growth and learning to walk made a huge difference where the petting zoo was concerned- Ten was confident and happily ran from animal to animal patting their heads and giving them hugs. I showed her how to hold the feed in her flat hand and she was delighted when she was mobbed by 2 pygmy goats and a deer who ate the feed and then licked her to death. She gave half of the cone to the wallabies and the other half to a greedy llama. She finally agreed to leave after a goat came up and bleated in her ear unexpectedly.

We got ice cream cones and watched the Peking Acrobats, and then stopped at the Hyundai booth to take the Hyundai Challenge to find out what kind of drivers we were and win Starbucks and In-N-Out gift cards. At that point it was 7 something and we were beat. We changed the kids one last time, and called it a day. I guess Ten was pretty beat too- she fell dead asleep before we even got to the car.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

1st 4th At Home in the USA

Like good Americans, we celebrated our country's 230th birthday by overeating and blowing things up. Which is alot better than last year, which we spent getting Tenley's medical exams and US Visa so we could come home from China.

With the exception of last year, we attend "Bombs Over Azusa" annually at Doug & Tina's house. It's a great location because the largely Mexican neighborhood prides itself on bringing totally illegal fireworks back from Mexico and Arizona and setting them off. Consequently, you get to watch the legal explosives that you & everyone else on the street are setting off and the bottle rockets, Roman candles, M80's, and commercial grade mortars from the surrounding neighborhood. The city council talked of bringing back the fireworks show at Citrus College, but it was vetoed on the grounds that it couldn't compete with the "show" that goes on over on D&T's street.

Doug & Tina brought in chips, salsa & guacomole from La Tolteca (super yummy!) and BBQ chicken & ribs from the local bar b que. Jeff & Tina got into a rib eating contest and I'm amazed they had any room for the huge fruit salad Doug's sisters brought or the evil pound cake I made.

Tenley and James were the floor show (as usual) and happily unloaded the bookshelf, were hypnotized by Elmo, and had complete meltdowns over whose turn it was to ride the tricycle. For the first time, Tenley exploited their 4 month age difference and James' new walking skills by being the bully and we were forced to speak rather sharply with her about sharing and that it wasn't nice to knock James down and take his toys. ...and eventually we hid the tryke in the garage.

We all trotted out to the front yard as night fell to watch the show and set off our own stock of small fountains, flowers, sparklers and snakes (which we have dubbed "Flaming Turds" because that's exactly what they look like). The pack Doug & Tina bought had some good larger fountains, and much to our surprise, Tenley and James weren't bothered at all by the ones that whistled or made loud pops. James fell asleep by 9 and Ten was fine until a) she fell down & skinned her knee, and b) she discovered that we really weren't going to let her run in the street and dance around under the lit firework like it was a sprinkler - then she pitched a fit.

We called it a night at 10 when Tenley was beyond wiped out and we had run out of things to blow up. The Tenster passed out in Duarte, and we watched other revelers still shooting off moarters well passed 10:30.

It was a great night, and it was so much fun watching Tenley cry "pretty! more!" as she watched the cascading showers of brightly colored sparks in the night sky. Her first 4th of July as an American girl a success.

** Note: despite how much she's grown in the last year, Tenley still fit into her 4th of July dress from '05. Here she is having a little lunch with Jeff last year at the medical clinic on Shaimain Island before her Visa appt. & swearing in.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

12 Months of Tenley

When I was growing up, I would listen to adults talk about us kids and someone would always say "they just grow up so fast". I always took issue with those people because it seemed to me that it was taking me forever to grow up and be old enough to stay up late/wear make-up/ date/drive/drink/etc.
Then I grew up and wished I could go back to the days of having no responsibilities/ no bills/my 23 year old body/ etc.
Now I have my own daughter and I finally get the "they just grow up so fast". For proof, here is 1 picture of Tenley from each month of the last year- it's really amazing how much she's changed.
And Mom, I'm sorry I was in such a hurry to wear turquoise metallic eyeshadow and frosted pink lipstick. I get it now.
June 2005
Only 1 tooth and a shaved hairline!

July 2005

3 teeth, 60 year old man hair

August 2005

September 2005

1 year old, 4 teeth, a little more hair

October 2005

Don King hair, almost walking

November 2005

4 1/2 teeth...hey! Where'd the chubby cheeks go??

December 2005

5 teeth, despairing of hair ever growing

January 2006

Oh look! Hair!

February 2006

6 teeth...and enough hair for the Instant Martian 'do!

March 2006

7 teeth! ...but her baby face is starting to dissappear....

April 2006

Still 7 teeth, sides are filling in, and the beginnings of bangs!

May 2006

11 Teeth- with 2 more on the way

Hair is hitting shoulders!

"Baby" has been completely replaced by "toddler"

June 2006

Full set of choppers except for the 2 yr molars

Enough hair for a pony tail behind each ear

Oh wow. Well for the record (and as a guide for you waiting families who might be curious), we're into size 5 shoes (but her feet are so narrow it's a challenge to find sandals that fit), she still fits rompers and dresses from this time last year, and she's still in a size 3 diaper, but has recently started to become aware of when she's wet, so I may have to look for XXS Pull-Ups this year. Hopefully by the time I do this next June there will be a full set of healthy baby teeth and enough hair for real pony tails! ....and possibly underwear.