Thursday, November 29, 2007

"Winter Lights" at the state park

The night after we put our outside Christmas lights up, we drove down to Seneca Creek State Park to see their annual "Winter Lights" display.  It's about 3.5 miles of all sorts of Christmas lights of animals, candy canes, penguins, bears, toys, and more. Many displays are animated. We hadn't been there before, but it was really neat.  It reminded me of the time or two Titi Toni, I think, took me to see a particular neighborhood in Florida that put on a large Christmas light display.

The girls, of course, loved it.  In fact, we were only halfway through the park when Anna started crying behind me. We asked what was wrong, and she said, "I don't want to go home!"  We assured her there were still lots more lights to see before we had to go home, and then we promised we would come back to see them again another night.

We got some pictures of many, but certainly not all, of the displays. They're in the photo gallery under Day-to-Day, 2007 Fall, Winter Lights.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Movie trailer magic

I was watching some of my cousin Christopher's videos on YouTube, and there were a couple links to a some "recut" movie trailers that I found pretty funny.  They reminded me of the time Beth & I went on a date to see The Story of Us, which from the trailer looked like a romantic comedy but turned out to be mostly fighting and yelling and divorce and then more fighting.

A movie trailer can make a movie look like anything but what it really is. Beth can't even be within earshot of the music in a horror movie and not have nightmares, but based on these movie trailers, I would say she'd want to go see The Shining (a horror movie) rather than Mary Poppins (a children's movie).

By the way, I am really curious to see what Christopher decides to do when he's all grown up. I think he has a lot of potential to work in film, and he's also a very talented musician. He's almost done with high school, which is crazy to me. Maybe to get Beth to watch my scary movies, I should get him to recut all the trailers as romantic comedies…

Friday, November 23, 2007

Christmas lights

Today we put up our outside Christmas lights.  It was a chilly 40-something degrees and very blustery.  But the girls still came out with me to play while I worked on the lights.  They played with a ball, ran on the porch and in the yard, and they also drew on the porch with (according to Anna) "sidewalk chalkolate." Cara didn't last as long as Anna did outside - it was too cold.

There's something about Christmas lights that just makes you feel good.  Mom just emailed me, in fact, reminiscing about our Thanksgiving tradition of our big dinner, followed by decorating our Christmas tree. That was always a fun time, and we'd pull out the little ornaments we made when we were very little, or little ornaments with our handprints, and put them on the tree. Then we'd all lie beneath the tree and watch the lights blink. It was so disappointing when I learned that our tree wasn't as big as I remembered it being when I was little.

But anyway, Anna loves the lights. They're all net lights, which don't look great in the day if you're really looking, but they look really nice at light.  Our lights consist of three bushes at the left, center, and right of the house draped in blue lights, trimmed on the ground by white lights. After it got dark, we took them outside and put the girls in front of the bushes, then I flipped the switch, to two little gasps of amazement. Anna wanted to just look at and run around the lights until she got too cold again.  She's already looking forward to putting up the Christmas tree so she can play underneath it.  Maybe we'll do that tomorrow.  Hopefully we'll survive the season with Cara's curious fingers and a tree full of fun things to touch!

Thursday, November 8, 2007


During the week that we were in Florida, it pretty much rained or was threatening to rain most of the week.  The best chance of having a dry day was the Thursday & Friday before we left, so on Thursday we took the girls to SeaWorld.  I remember visiting SeaWorld when I was very little and really enjoying it.  We were pretty sure the girls would enjoy it, since they both love animals (seeing the fish tank at Rainforest Cafe in Downtown Disney the day before was their favorite thing), and there would be a lot of animals there that they hadn't necessarily seen before.  It really was a big hit!

As we were making our way into the park on the first day, we saw a bunch of pink flamingos, then some big sea turtles and other birds that like to stick close to water.  No, I have no idea what kind of birds they are.  But apparently there are some native Florida birds (i.e., not owned by SeaWorld) that hang around and try to snatch any fish you try to feed the animals.  One even tore into a bag of trail mix that was in our stroller while we were in a show - we discovered the evidence afterwards.

Stringray Lagoon

After the flamingos and turtles, we visited the stingrays.  It's a giant, shallow pool full of stingrays. There were some huge ones in there.  You can pet the stingrays as they swim by - they feel like wet mushrooms. Anna said she wanted to pet one, but then changed her mind when she had a chance. Beth chose not to pet them, either. You can buy trays of little fish to feed the stingrays, so I got a tray.  You're supposed to hold the fish in the water so the rays swim over your hand and suck the fish out.  So I did that while Anna watched.  Then she actually tried to feed them, too - she dropped the fish into the water, basically, but I was impressed that she even touched and picked up the fish.

Dolphin Cove

From there, we went to the dolphin cove.  In hindsight, we should have gotten in line to feed the dolphins on Thursday, but we didn't, and the line was way too long on Friday when we went back (you get a 2nd visit free with your tickets). That would have given us a better chance to get to pet the dolphins, too.  But we just stood by the edge and watched the dolphins swim by, play, and jump. Anna got startled a couple times when all of a sudden a dolphin would come out of the water right in front of us unexpectedly, but she still liked watching them and trying to pet them.

Pets Ahoy!

SeaWorld's shows are actually pretty good. I remember loving them as a kid, but I still enjoyed them going back this time. The first show we went to was one where cats, dogs, ducks, other birds, and a pig are doing all kinds of scripted things on a stage.  I know I do it no justice with that description, but it was very cute and very well produced.  For example, one of the props is a hot dog cart, and a dog runs up and cranks the handle, causing a door to open, and 5 or 6 weiner dogs run out.  It was definitely the girls' favorite show - they had big smiles on their faces and clapped all through the show. Of course, I couldn't get a good picture in there.

Penguin Encounter

From the pets show, we went to the penguin encounter.  It's basically a large, enclosed area that is really, really cold inside, with a big glass front where you can see penguins both on "land" and rocks and underwater.  There's a slow-moving walkway that you stand on while you observe.  There were lots of penguins standing, jumping in the water, zooming through the water, looking at you through the glass…

This was Anna's absolute favorite exhibit.  She wanted to go back to see the penguins again and again.  Since she loved it so much, we got her a stuffed penguin, and her famed kitty and blankets were rejected when we got back to the car.  She even slept with penguin instead of kitty that night.  We wondered if maybe the penguin would be the "new" kitty - and for a day or two, it was, but as much as she loves penguin, she eventually remembered kitty, and now holds both of them all the time.

Pacific Point Preserve

We then went to the area that held the seals and sea lions.  This is another exhibit where you can buy trays of fish to toss to the animals, which are in a very large pool with rocky cliffs to climb on, on the other side of a glass fence.  I got some fish, and the sea lions definitely knew when someone had food, because they would all swim as close as they could and even prop themselves up on the barrier and ask for it.  Anna wanted to try feeding the sea lions, but these fish were much bigger than the ones for the stingrays (that is, much slimier, too), so Anna quickly changed her mind, but enjoyed watching.

Shark Encounter

We then went to the shark encounter - a very cool exhibit where you literally walk through the tank of fish & sharks, looking up and around through very thick plastic.  There is semi-creepy music playing, as if something's going to get you. When you first walk in, you're looking at a variety of fish, amongst some rock formations with many holes for moray eels to hide.  Here, Anna told me that she was scared of the holes. Who knows what lurked inside - maybe the giant dead lizard from our villa!  I told her not to look at the holes.

Next in the exhibit was a tank holding a lot of scorpion fish, other tropical fish, and an unusual-looking stingray that had purple spots all over it. Across from that was a tank full of pretty large barracuda.  Anna and Cara referred to them as the "cookie monster fish."  Anna really liked watching the barracuda for some reason. Then we saw a tank full of sea dragons, which I found pretty amazing.  They're just like sea horses, only they have lots of appendages sticking out of them that look like leaves - and it really hides them. You have to look kind of hard to see all of them among the real plants.

Next was the main attraction, the moving walkway through the shark tank. Very cool!  As you approach the tunnel, you walk past several sets of shark jaws.  Anna wanted me to walk as far away from the jaws as I could. In the tunnel, both Anna and Cara stared and pointed at all the sharks.  For some reason, Anna kept saying to me, "It's not scary! It's not scary, daddy!"  I would point out a shark to her - "look, there's one!" and she'd respond, "Yeah! And it's not scary!"  I don't know if she was reassuring herself that it wasn't scary, or if she was so relieved to be away from the holes that she really didn't find it scary!

Horses, whales, and walruses

SeaWorld is owned by Anheuser-Busch, so they had a stable with several of their clydesdale horses.  They really are pretty large horses.  After seeing the clydesdales, we went to the Wild Arctic exhibit, where we saw beluga whales, a polar bear, and a 2 walruses.  We got a better look at the walruses swimming underwater on the lower level - they were HUGE.  The picture we got doesn't really give you a feel for how big they were.

Whale & Dolphin Show

We then went to see another show involving lots of dolphins, false killer whales, some acrobats, high divers, and birds.  This was a very good show - Beth & I's favorite.  It of course had the dolphins and whales jumping and flipping, and it was cool seeing two dolphins push a trainer along the surface of the pool by his feet.  But the coolest move was when a trainer was being pushed by his feet underwater by two dolphins, while simultaneously twirling him around and around as they pushed him.


Manatee Rescue

After a quick meal and Shamu cookie which turns parts of Anna's face black, we went to the manatee exhibit.  Very fat animals that don't do much but swim slowly through the water and maybe sleep at the bottom of their lake for 20 minutes at a time before they get a breath.  This turned out to be Cara's favorite exhibit.  Both girls referred to the animals as "Barbara Manatee," because there's a Veggie Tales silly song where Larry the Cucumber is watching a soap opera about a Barbara Manatee.  We got Cara a stuffed manatee, which she loves to carry around, calling it "Matee!"


The last thing we did at SeaWorld the first day was see the killer whale show.  It was 5:30 by this time, and Cara finally gave up and fell asleep on mommy.  The show didn't go as smoothly or as quickly as usual, because apparently the killer whales that were performing decided they were done halfway through the show, and the trainers eventually had to get them to go back to their holding area and get some different killer whales to finish the show.  The whales really threw the trainers high into the air in this show.

The weather cooperated with us perfectly that day - it only rained (and rained hard) twice, and both times it did, we were sitting in the stadiums watching a show, so we never got wet.

Back for more

Since your 2nd visit is free and Friday was a sunny, we went back the next day.  Anna squealed "Yeaaaaaaah!!!" when we asked if she wanted to see the dog & cat show again.  She, of course, wanted to see the penguins again, and again.  And although she wanted to see the sharks again, she did tell me before we even got there that she didn't want to see the holes.

We saw the sea otter show, the dog & cat show, and wanted to catch the whale & dolphin show again.  I got a little video of the whale & dolphin show - the girls still really enjoyed it, but were clearly much more tired than the previous day, so Anna, while she's clapping, isn't smiling like she was the first day. I should have taken the video when she had her big smile on. Oh well.

As we were leaving the park, I got a little bag of gummy bears and gummy gators, which you can see below was very popular with the girls. Cara again couldn't stay awake in the car on the way to Titi Toni's and took a power nap with her manatee.

I think the girls had big fun at SeaWorld, and even though we didn't make it to Disney's Magic Kingdom this time, I think it may have worked out better.  We don't think the girls would have like standing an hour in lines for a ride - especially the 2nd day.  Anna may have done OK with the TVs and cartoons I hear they have playing as you wait, but Cara definitely wouldn't have been able to stay still that long several times in the day.  We'll come back when they're bigger - it wasn't our last trip to Orlando!

All our SeaWorld pictures and videos are in our photo gallery, under Vacations and Trips, 2007 Family Reunion, Seaworld.

Poor Cara

Today, Beth switched preschool carpooling times with another mom. So instead of Beth dropping off Anna and another girl at preschool then the other mom picking them up, today the other mom came to pick Anna up from our house.  Beth told me that when Anna was saying "Bye, mom!" and heading out the door to school, Cara started crying and begging for Anna to come back.  I guess she loves her big sister.

And also, at the dinner table today, Anna said that when we were done we could go to Titi Toni's house. I reminded her about how long the car ride was and how Titi Toni is far away, but Anna seemed like she didn't mind the car ride as long as we could see Titi Toni! Maybe she also misses the warm weather - the low tonight here in Maryland is 29.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Te Llegó La Parranda

I thought at least one of my aunts would appreciate this. Beth was out running errands this morning, and I started playing some Spanish Christmas music.  When the first song came on, Cara started dancing on the couch, and Anna started wiggling her behind, then started running around the coffee table. Then, while Anna was running and wiggling to the music, she yelled, "Just like Titi Edna!!"  She was also carrying many of her Disney buddies, and saying "Come on, guys!"

Not only that, but when a couple more songs went by, Anna said, "Umm.. how about…. Edna song?"  It took a try or two to figure out which song it was, but it turned out to be Te Llegó La Parranda - the official Titi Edna song!

Video of Anna and Cara "Dancing" to the Titi Edna song after coming home from the reunion.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Back from Orlando

We're back from our family reunion to Orlando, after another 14-hour drive, which we did over two days (I'll post a separate entry about our visit to SeaWorld).  The girls did really great in the car - of course, having the DVD players helps a ton. Anna loved the Angelina Ballerina mouse video that Titi Toni gave her - if it was up to her, she would have watched it over and over the entire trip, but we had to interject and give Cara a turn to watch Bob & Larry (Veggie Tales) or Curious George. Beth would probably have liked the trip better if Cara hadn't repeatedly thrown her blanket or manatee on the floor where no one could reach, then cry for it until someone (i.e., the non-driving adult) bent all over the place trying to get to it.

Neither girl slept in the car on the way down, even when we kept the DVD players off to try to lull them to sleep (which only resulted in an hour of Anna whining about wanting to watch Curious George in space and Cara yelling).  On the way back, though, each one fell asleep, right after being really cranky. They were tired.

It was really hard to leave - that's the worst part about vacation in general, but I think it's even harder when you're spending time with loved ones that you don't get to see often. It had been about three years, I think, since my side of the family got together in Orlando. Just like that time, I really didn't want to leave and was pretty sad for the first part of our trip. I hope we'll be able to get together again before another three years pass by.

For the record, Titi Edna's blitz wins (including her alleged, unbelievably high score of 36) were disqualified when Christopher discovered she had been playing with a non-standard deck of cards. This left me, again, as the blitz champion for the week. Winning the lowest score was Nicky, playing under the influence of NyQuil, with a final score of 1, with Abuela close behind wielding a score of either 4 or 5.  I hope we find that score sheet at our next reunion.

Thank you, Titi Toni, Uncle Curt, and family, for opening up your home to let us all eat and play together. What a fantastic location and beautiful backyard on the lake!  Thank you, Abuela, Titi Edna, and dad for making the trip out there to spend time with us. We love you and hope to see you all again soon!

Dave, Beth, Anna (the big one), and Cara (the little one/the other one)