Monday, August 20, 2012

Chattanooga: Aquarium, Fireworks, and Choo-Choo

We attended church outside of New Orleans and then embarked on another big day of driving.  We were in five states in one day: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee.  And may I state for the record that it is absolutely amazingly dull that stretch of I-59 is?  As far as I could tell from the freeway, Mississippi and Alabama are largely unpopulated.  (And may I also say that when we drove through Baton Rouge a few days earlier I pulled out the Garth Brooks?  Oh, yeah!)  Here is Natalie in her road trip tent:
Super cozy!  She refuses to nap at home anymore, but she did a lot of napping in her car tent, for which we were all grateful.

Chattanooga was lots of fun.  I chose it as a place to stop for a few days on our route because there were lots of fun things to do there with kids.  Our first stop was the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway:
 The website says: "Known as “America’s Most Amazing Mile,” The Incline’s trolley-style cars climb through the natural beauty surrounding historic Lookout Mountain at a breathtaking 72.7% grade – straight up!"  It was a really fun ride.  When we sat down in the car at the bottom, we were reclined.  By the time we got to the top we were sliding out of our seats! Here is a look at the tracks--you can see the station at the top:
The view from the top of Lookout Mountain was fantastic.  We walked to Point Park, site of a key Civil War battle.  The mountain is so steep that the soldiers had a hard time loading the cannons--the cannon balls kept rolling back out!  Here we are at Point Park, the Tennessee River below us:
Next we visited the Tennessee Aquarium, possibly the best I have ever been to.  There are two separate buildings, the Ocean Experience and the River Experience, and in each one you rode an escalator to the top floor and worked your way down.  The exhibits were beautiful and interactive, lots of fun for kids.  I was sure I would prefer the Ocean Experience, but the River Experience was even better.  Our favorite part was a touch tank where we could pet sturgeon--we'd never done that before!  Here we are touching stingrays on the top floor of the Ocean Experience.  One guy whom we named Flappy passed us over and over again so we could touch his slimy back.  Natalie could have stayed there all day:
 Ella and Nat got up close and personal with some huge lobsters:
The next day we had an unexpected extra day in Chattanooga due to massive power outtages in Virgina, where we were headed (more on that to come) so Greg ran the trails up to the top of Lookout Mountain (and acquired a tick, which he discovered on his leg while we were driving the next day--I'll spare you that picture) while the girls and I got very lost following a faulty map to the Chattanooga Zoo, which we did eventually find.  (Oh, did we giggle as we drove around in hopeless circles.)  The zoo pamphlet propaganda made me laugh:

"Imagine a zoo that's specially designed to bring the animals up close to you.  Imagine a zoo where you have time to notice the subtleties of animal behavior, instead of being pushed along by an impatient crowd.  Imagine an exciting and diverse zoo that's still easy to navigate with strollers...or little legs.  That's the new Chattanooga Zoo!"

Translation: "This is the tiniest zoo you have ever been to."

Still, it was nice.  We especially like the peacocks that were kind enough to strut their stuff for us:

For some reason Chattanooga celebrated The 4th of July on the 3rd (this seems to be all the rage these days--last year Centerville, Utah celebrated on the 2nd.) so we got to take part.  We had yummy Greek food downtown, then walked across the 122-year-old Walnut Street pedestrian bridge to Coolidge Park.  Here we are on the bridge, crossing the Tennessee River:
On the river's edge at Coolidge Park we rode a beautiful vintage carousel and played in an interactive fountain, then settled down on the grass to enjoy live music, eat sno-cones, and watch the fireworks.  It was a relaxed, family-friendly event on a beautiful night, and it is now the 4th that all future 4ths will have to live up to.  I loved being together as a family, celebrating our love for our country.  Here are Ella and Nat on the grass, celebrating in style:

New Orleans: Streetcars, Mansions, and Beignets

At the end June, as soon as swim team was over, we packed the minivan (food, Play-Doh, craft supplies, and many, many movies) and headed out on a 16-day epic road trip to Virginia and back.  I had been looking forward to and planning this trip for months--it was our reward for making it through the first year of teaching Seminary, and I had so much fun choosing routes, researching hotels, deciding which zoos to visit, etc.  It was a great trip.  I had been yearning to take a family road trip for years, to see parts of our country that we had never seen, but our kids weren't ready yet.  And while Natalie is still on the small side (After listening to her whine nonstop as we walked around New Orleans, I bought a cheap umbrella stroller at K-Mart for her to ride in.  Best $17 we spent the whole trip.) both girls did really well.  I absolutely loved having two weeks of adventures together.

So, on a Friday morning we drove almost 10 hours from San Antonio to...

New Orleans!  Oh, my.  I love New Orleans.  I had wanted to go there for many, many years, but was intimidated by the city's rather risque reputation.  I wasn't sure it would be a good place to take our kids, but after reading a great online article about things to do with kids in The Big Easy, I decided we should go.  I am SO glad we did!  I loved that it looked exactly like I had imagined it, and like no other place I had ever been.  The French Quarter was fantastic, but wait--I'm getting ahead of myself.  First we took a walk around the Garden District, where the houses look like this:
Amazing!  Mansion after mansion, with the lush hanging plants and the wrought iron balconies.  I loved it.  Natalie and Ella liked the hitching posts:
Our hotel (chosen because the room had a loft with two twin beds reached by a spiral staircase) was two blocks from the streetcar, and we rode the St. Charles Avenue streetcar from end to end, marveling at the elaborate mansions all along the way.  The drivers were shockingly surly, but we loved riding the clanky old streetcars:
Okay, NOW we can talk about the French Quarter.  The beignets at Cafe du Monde were soooo good.  The cafe was jammed with people, so we waited in the take-out line for our tasty treats.  All they serve is coffee and beignets, which are basically square donuts dredged in powdered sugar, hot and crunchy and chewy and sweet.  Eating beignets at Cafe du Monde was the quintessential New Orleans experience, and we loved it:
Right next to Cafe du Monde were stairs that led to the top of the levee.  This was the view from the top:
I could have stared at that view of the St. Louis Cathedral all day, because it is so famous and I was right there!  Behind us was the Mississippi River, wide and green.  Jackson Square is the open area in front of the church, and it is full of vendors selling their "art", street performers, and fortune tellers--it was really amusing to walk by and hear someone having their fortune read.  I'm talking crystal balls, the whole nine yards.  Natalie decided at one point to take a rest on the Square:
And here we are in the French Quarter.  We avoided Bourbon Street, which really is rather unsavory, full of XXX and bars, but there is SO much more to the French Quarter than Bourbon Street.  It is definitely old and crumbly in places, and you have to watch your step because the sidewalks are wonky, but it is jam-packed with charm.  Keep in mind that we were there mostly during the day, but I never felt unsafe, and everything was pretty clean.  Old, but clean.  And oh my goodness, so hot, but I loved it:

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Ella Turns 9

Ella is really into Legos, so she had a Lego birthday party.  Here's the invitation:
All the Lego party ideas that I found online were for boys' parties, so I adapted some ideas and made others up on my own.  I did copy this garland from someone else:
Then I left it up for several weeks because I wanted to enjoy it a little longer.  (And because I am lazy, I admit it.)  We played games--guess how many Legos in the jar, memory with matching Legos hidden under cups, and that game where you bring out a tray of stuff, study itm take it away, and try to remember everything that was on it.  I made cupcakes instead of a cake because, well, I love cupcakes, and also because all the homemade Lego cakes I saw online were horrible.

I also made Lego minifigure pudding pops using the super cool popsicle mold Jake and Lora brought us from Legoland.  Good times.  Happy Birthday, Ella!


WARNING: This post contains graphic photos of a naked foot.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

So I have been in bed forever.  I am surprised that my Netflix account doesn't sigh and say, "You AGAIN, Katie Willden?" every time I log on.  I've read a few books.  Meh.  I have gotten quite a bit of Seminary prep done, which is good considering I had been putting it off all summer knowing I was going to be bedridden in August, anyway.  I caught up on several months worth of Cake Wrecks posts--that was pretty fun, actually.  I could use some more Olympics action, but unfortunately that's all over.  (What was your favorite London moment?  Discuss.)  So I figure since I am stuck in bed and Netflix and I are on a break, maybe I should catch up the blog before school starts in a week and it becomes all New Testament, all the time.  So here goes.

We took an excellent vacation in July (more on that to come).  So much fun.  Upon arriving home I immediately got back into the biking to the pool and swimming laps routine I had been enjoying all summer, and in a moment of virtuous good-for-me energy I decided to add on some resistance training in order to counteract all of the vacation calories.  One morning as I was doing step-ups at the bottom of our stairs, I came down on my right foot very badly, heard something pop, and collapsed on the floor.  I spent a couple of minutes rolling around in agony, then when I could talk I called Greg and gasped out something like, "Hurt foot.  On floor.  Come home now."  He came home, eased off my shoe, and assessed the situation.  When he said I should probably try to stand on it, I started to cry because it hurt so much just laying there.  Went to the foot doctor (lately I see him more often than I do most of my family members), x-rays were inconclusive, but an MRI later showed that the foot was not broken but badly sprained.  Here's the first gross foot shot:
The writing on the foot is where the foot doctor poked me and made me cry.  I cried a lot that day.  The irony of the whole situation is that when I sprained the foot, I already had an appointment to have surgery on the same foot three weeks later.  I had already been planning on being out of commission, but I was planning on having three more weeks of biking, swimming, and, you know, walking around without pain.  I was bummed.

BUT...  The good news is that my mom got here a few days before the surgery to stay for three whole weeks, to take care of Ella and Nat so I could convalesce.  Yay!  The morning after she arrived, I was downstairs enjoying my Frosted Mini Wheats when I heard a thump, some crying, and my mom saying, "Go put some Neosporin on it." (Incidentally, that's what she probably would have told me to do about my foot as I was rolling around on the floor--she's very big on the healing properties of Neosporin.)  So Ella came downstairs and I inspected what I assumed was a trifling injury.  She had turned around and run into the edge of a door, and she was a bit bloody around the eyebrow.  I was wondering where the Neosporin was when she rubbed her eyes and the wound gaped open.  Oh!  Suddenly I was very calmly calling all the nurses I know, one of whom said to just take her to urgent care, which I did.  Three stitches later, here we were:
(Actually, I took that picture yesterday.  For a couple of days after the injury she had a pretty nice shiner.)

And two days later I had surgery!  Fun for all.  I had a chevron bunionectomy, which was almost as fun as it sounds.  Actually, the surgery itself was fine.  The conversations between the nurses and the anesthesiologist were like a comedy routine, and the drugs worked like a dream.  It was all unbelievably easy until an hour after I got home, when I became horribly sick.  Dang those drugs, lulling me into a sense of health and happiness.  I got over it, only to have a horrible psychedelic nightmare that made me think that maybe the narcotics (Codeine) I had been taking for pain weren't such a good idea.

Since then, I have been taking it easy.  The foot generally doesn't feel too bad unless I walk on it, which I try not to do.  When the bandages were removed at my post-op appointment, this is what was revealed:
I'm kind of in awe of how gross it looks, but it also does not look like I have a bunion anymore, which is good.  And I'll be back in the pool in a couple weeks, so look out Missy Franklin!  (Not really.  I am almost a foot shorter than her, probably many pounds heavier, and literally old enough to be her mother.  But boy, can she backstroke!)