Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ups and downs in the mile-high city

Our trip to Denver was a reminder to me that no matter how much I plan, there will be moments when things fall apart. Luke throwing a tantrum on a filthy museum floor, Eleanor teething late at night in a hotel room, Luke throwing up in the backseat without an extra pair of pants. Do each of these episodes represent personal failures as a parent? As a trip-planner? As a sleep-habit former? As a disciplinarian? I have so much to learn in all of these areas, but enjoying a trip with our terrific twosome, especially one when Erik is occupied with work, requires embracing an imperfect experience. Moving on from each spectacular disaster with optimism, while remaining watchful for the critical evacuation moment. Leaving before our team status goes to red.

The trip also reinforced what I already knew to be true. My Luke is a home-body, at least for now. Each morning when I was ready to go, Luke and I would both be at our wit’s end after a string of reprimands because the only ‘toys’ that he found interesting in our hotel room were off-limits (the phone, hairdryer, and his sister). So I would think, finally, we can go somewhere fun and Luke and I can have some positive interaction, and Ellie can take her morning nap in the car. But each time I told Luke about the fun place we were going (dinosaur skeletons, a stream to splash in, trains, etc.) he would reply in a panic, “No Mommy! Luke stay Luke’s room! Stay Luke’s room!” No matter the enticement, he always preferred to stay in the hotel room.

So once I made peace with Luke’s lack of enthusiasm and the likelihood of a few disaster moments, we enjoyed a number of fun Denver outings. Our home-away-from-home was the Denver Botanic Gardens. We visited several times, making a habit of al fresco lunches overlooking the lily pond.

No high chairs there, so Ellie’s strap-on baby seat was just the ticket.

These lunches may have been the highlight of my time in Denver sans Erik. The food was well-priced and tasty, the ambiance very relaxed, and the garden views were lovely! My one cell phone pic doesn’t do it justice.

Their kids’ garden was so much fun. Both kids loved splashing around in the man-made wading stream. Luke enjoyed watching their little wooden boats bump over rocks, disappear under the footbridge, and pop out on the other side. It was a nice family destination after Erik’s conference since it stays open until 9 pm. Plus on hot August afternoons, their garage parking kept our car delightfully cool. I bought an individual membership for myself on our first visit, and got my money’s worth over the course of the trip. Now I’m wondering if we could make it back for their Corn Maze, Blossoms of Light, or summer concerts before it expires!

The Denver Children’s Museum was probably Luke’s trip highlight. He was awed by the genuine fire truck that they had inside for kids to climb on, and enjoyed their train room and toddler zone. They even had an area called ‘the pond’ geared toward babies Eleanor’s age! A guaranteed hit with the preschool set.

We had to stop in at the Museum of Nature and Science since our Explora membership got us in for free. Once inside, I wished we could have stayed for longer since they had much more to see than I’d imagined for Luke’s age. But it was quite crowded with adults which made it a little difficult for him to experience. Better to plan this one for a weekday?

On our way up to Denver we stopped at the Pueblo Zoo to break up the drive. It wasn’t a particularly impressive zoo, but it was a pleasant stop and our ABQ Zoo membership got us in at half-price. They had some darling gibbon monkeys swinging around and a fantastic lion exhibit. Watch out Luke, don’t pet him!

Ella-belle was less impressed by the lions, but she did love getting out of the car seat and being held.

We saved the Mount Evans Scenic Byway for Erik’s day off. What a spectacular treasure it was! But I’m running out of kiddo nap time so I’ll save that day for its own post.

There were many enticing Denver destinations we didn’t visit, but as a solo parent with a home-body Luke-boy, choosing a few winners and repeating the Gardens several times seemed to maximize our fun and minimize the chaos. I wonder when Erik’s next business trip to Denver is?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Daring for Denver

The prospect was equal parts dreamy and diabolical. I couldn’t ignore the appeal of a four-star hotel, scores of child-friendly attractions, a little more time with Erik, and no extra costs. But the challenge was sobering: six consecutive nights in a standard hotel room with our children. If you ever saw an episode of the daily Nap Wars in our home, your palms would be sweaty at the prospect of no keep to fall back to and much-reduced sound insulation from neighbors.

For years, Luke has reigned as my arch-enemy in these battles, but just lately he’s become a tiny bit more cooperative. Just in time for Eleanor’s emergence as a menacing foe on the napping battlefield.

Eventually, the Hyatt, hubby, and mile-high city won out and we’re all planning to join Erik on his upcoming Denver business trip. I’m hoping for the best on the sleeping front, while plotting defensive strategies. Does ‘toddler in the closet, baby in the bathtub’ sound promising?

I’ve also given thought to our tactical equipment. Luke’s outgrown the pack ‘n play and I wasn’t sure we’d be able to fit it in the car for Eleanor, so I started researching other sleeping options. We have a few upcoming trips to hotels and campgrounds, so I was willing to make a little investment for child sleeping equipment that packs up small and will last for a while. For those of you who may face similar objectives, I report my new sleeping arsenal at the end of this post.

Here’s hoping that our two new child travel beds spend many hours holding sweetly sleeping children. After all, our last trip to Denver was decidedly dreamy. Erik and I were on our honeymoon!

Our new zzzzz-makers:

I considered the Graco Travel Lite crib, but decided that Eleanor would outgrow it too quickly. I also thought about the PeaPod Travel Bed, which is a less expensive option and well-reviewed. But some reviews mention that you have to zip up the side after putting a baby down to prevent her from rolling out, and the zipper is a little noisy. So the PeaPod was a no-go for our light-sleeping, quick-rolling princess. The Baby Bjorn travel crib looked great but was too pricey and a little bulky.

So that left the P&T Traveller. Reviewers noted that it’s hard to set up and take down, but I’m counting on Erik’s tent skills to take care of that. I’m also hoping that his expert setup skills can protect us from the durability issues that a few reviewers experienced. I love the way it folds up to the size of a large purse and only weighs 7 pounds (less than my purse). And it’s longer and narrower than a pack ‘n play, so it can fit a child up to age 3. The size plus the sturdy construction would allow us to use it for Luke on nights that we can get a hotel crib for Eleanor. When I was able to find it for $100 on an ebay auction, the deal was sealed!

For Luke I wanted a toddler air mattress. These are smaller and tougher than a regular twin air mattress, and they have bumpers on the sides to prevent a child from rolling out. I might have preferred this one but it was on the more expensive side. So, for $59, I ordered the Aerobed version and think it should work for Luke through most of elementary school. The reviews for it were so glowing that I might want to swap Luke for it if our queen-size camping air mattress keeps on leaking air. I’m sure Erik would love to have Luke’s feet massage his back overnight!AeroBed Kids Bed. Authorized AeroBed Reseller.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

7 months with the Ellacub

More and more our little girl fills our home with babbling jabber. At first her coos were hardly conscious, then they were experiments with sound, and now it seems like they are expressions in a peculiar language all her own. At the dining table, bath time, bedtime and playtime, more and more she seems like another shining kiddo adding to the activity!

Recent Milestones

She’s become a very stable sitter. She can even go from lying on her stomach to sitting up with ease. She also pulls herself up in the crib or on a toy until she’s upright on her knees, surveying the scene. On the floor she constantly pushes up to her hands and knees. She can crawl backward from this position, but she is considerably frustrated by the fact that she can only crawl forward the tiniest bit. This girl longs for mobility!

Recently she’s begun making little popping sounds by opening and closing her mouth. We make a game out of it by doing it back and forth to each other. She also enjoys peek-a-boo games and riding beside Luke in the Costco shopping cart double child seat!


Her favorite toys are Luke’s favorite toys! In particular, she likes his black Duplo fire hose. If Erik’s watching them and Luke takes that away from Eleanor, I always rush in thinking she was hurt because she cries with such anguish.

She loves solid food. Three times a day, during each of our meals, she clamors for it and then relishes a little bowlful, or often two. She’s so enthusiastic that it can be hard to tell which items are her favorites, but perhaps sweet potatoes and avocadoes rank near the top?

Sibling Report

You may think that we already have a ridiculous number of variants on Eleanor’s name. But we have to report Luke’s very own version. According to Luke, her name is ‘Eldor’. Erik thinks it may be elvish.

Luke is such an affectionate brother. It’s precious to see him give her spontaneous hugs throughout the day. And she laughs and gurgles with glee each time. But what starts as tender can veer toward traumatic quickly. So vigilance is crucial to prevent the klunk of a seated Ella being pushed over onto the floor!

Now that Eleanor responds to Luke more, he is much more frequently drawn to play with her. I love to see that, but their play hasn’t yet decreased the effort that either child requires. It only adds. At this point, Luke and Eleanor can both safely play by themselves separately while I keep tabs nearby. But Ella whines unless she’s playing near her big brother, and Luke likes to get reactions from Eleanor (especially when I’m not giving him attention). And so they inevitably end up playing side-by-side – thus requiring constant active supervision. Even to leave them for a moment would risk Ella getting hurt. When is it that two children bring economies of scale?


Eleanor usually takes two naps a day, and I’ve been doing better at getting both kids to nap at the same time in the afternoon. I cherish the little dose of afternoon peace and productivity this gives me!

We also finally are consistent at getting them both to go down for the night in the same room. We put Ella down first and then do Luke’s bedtime routine out in the living room. Very conscientiously, he tells us ‘shhh!’ as we approach the bedroom door. But that doesn’t mean he’s quiet once he lies down. Still, he’s become more mindful of his noise levels and only occasionally do we need to rush in with consequences because he’s climbed into his was-sleeping now-screaming sister’s crib. Smile 

For all her tough I-can-take-on-a-toddler spirit, Eleanor is still a sweet cuddlebug. When Erik comes home or I pick her up from the church nursery, she lays her head down on our shoulders to say she missed us. What could be sweeter than this little girl?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Dashing off to Maine

It was hard to improve upon our lovely week at Erik’s parents’ lake cottage. But wait, there’s more! The grandparents watched our kiddos for a night while Erik and I zipped over to the southern Maine coast for a romantic retreat.

It only took an hour and a half to drive to the shore, so we had plenty of time for a little sightseeing. Our first stop was Perkins Cove in Ogunquit. We enjoyed lunch with views out over the water. Perkins Cove was once a small fishing community but during our visit it was rather crowded with souvenir shops and tourists looking for parking spots. But don’t be deterred by the parking sharks! Marginal Way, a gorgeous ocean walk, departs from the Cove and it’s not to be missed.

We took so many photos of the craggy rocks, jutting bluffs, and deep blue vistas that we had to hurry back to our car when the parking time ran out and didn’t get to finish the 1.5 mile-long path. We’ll have to go back for that, and also to check out the hiking trails at nearby Mount Agamenticus and the acclaimed collections at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art.

Next, we drove down to ‘The Yorks’. Reading about the three little seaside towns grouped there, I decided that ‘York Harbor’ would be our best bet, and we loved it! We parked on the street right in front of a lush, well-kept beachside park, the Hartley Mason Reserve. We followed its verdant path down to a small uncrowded beach nestled between two rocky stretches of coastline. After wading a little, we took the slightly overgrown Cliff Path that looked over water, taking in more dramatic views of huge spray-splashed rocks on one side and incredible mansions on the other. We walked back to our car on the road, and after wading in the water one last time, we regretfully left this well-kept secret of a town.

By then dusk was approaching and we wanted to make it to the Nubble Lighthouse for the most photogenic lighting. Nubble is touted as being one of the most photographed lighthouses in the world, and of course Erik wanted to snap some pics of his own.

We have dozens of lighthouse landscapes now, but here it is in the background of the only photo-op of the two of us from the trip.

Then we enjoyed some tasty fish and chips from a food stand on the point, taking in the picture-perfect views. After drinking in one last look, we drove up to our hotel in Kennebunkport. We checked in and took an evening stroll through the quaint little town, getting ice cream and peeking in a few interesting shops.

The next day, we headed to nearby Cape Porpoise for another offshore lighthouse, Breakwater Light I think it was. The damp, foggy air added to the lighthouse’s mystique, but it also made for fuzzy pictures.

It felt as if we’d slipped back in time as we watched a fleet of small fishing boats bringing in their catch with simple equipment. We took a walk through the tidal pools toward Goose Rocks Beach, passing a family who had found all sorts of little crabs and creatures. I’d love to go back and explore that area further with better footwear for the sticky soils!

After Cape Porpoise’s rugged, rustic beauty, we stopped at St. Ann’s for a much more refined vantage on the sea. The church was not only beautiful but also reverent with Scripture inscribed on wooden plaques and recorded in stained glass windows. What a peaceful spot to pray and reflect!

After lingering at the church, it was getting to be time to relieve the stalwart grandparents. But there was still one critical ingredient missing from our trip. Lobster of course! We weren’t brave enough to order one whole, so instead we savored bowls of scrumptious lobster chowder in Kennebunkport before our drive back. Yum!

We love the easy access to so many beautiful destinations from Erik’s parents’ new house. And even better is the first-rate babysitting available there! I’ve never been to Acadia NP on the northern Maine coast, and Portland looks fun too. Over the years ahead, we’re hoping to make good use of the Maine travel guide that now sits on our bookshelf. Thank you Grandma and Grandpa for allowing us to take such a perfect little getaway!

(Click here for more photos.)