Thursday, October 30, 2008

Weather update

So after a few too many days of the weather looking like this...

(Yes, that's snow. It always snows before Halloween, at least in Cleveland.)

... the weather broke today and it was in the upper 40s, which meant that our neighbors were raking leaves in their sweatshirts and the kids were running around in shirtsleeves. We're all wackos around here.

Especially me, since my response to the "warm" sunny weather was to ... clean the basement. Yeah, that makes sense.

Well, actually it kinda does, because I was planning to clear as much space as I could so that Liza could have a small indoor playground once the weather turns nasty for good. We've got the little plastic slide, and I think I should be able to locate the rafters in the ceiling of the basement so I can put in anchors for a swing or trapeze. It will be tight, but I think it will work. Heck, by February she'll be so desperate that anything will be acceptable, so my standards aren't high.

Anyway, after a solid hour of trying to clean out the Black Hole Closet Under The Basement Stairs, I was trying to keep Liza entertained and out of trouble. Look, it's Mommy's wedding dress! Let's open the box to make sure the mice didn't get into it! Look, it's Mommy's trombone! Let's open it so you can take a look at it! Heck, let's take a break and play for a while, shall we?

I'm fairly certain that it hasn't been out of it's case since we moved ... to Kentucky ... in 2003. Yes, I know I suck. It was fun to haul it out for a while, though, and Liza was duly impressed.

You can see where this is going, right?

You should have seen the look on her face (and mine, too, probably) when she managed to produce a tone on the first try. It's not like it's hard or anything, but come on, she's 3 1/2 years old. The mouthpiece takes up half of her face, for god's sake!

I'm not claiming she's a prodigy or anything - sort of sounded like a hippo in heat, to be honest with you.

But come on, how cute is that? My little Bone Babe in Training ...

Saturday, October 25, 2008


If you go to the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus an hour early, you're allowed to go down onto the floor to check out some of the acts and costumes up close. Last year Liza wanted nothing to do with it, but this year she practically ran down to the floor when we got to the arena.
It wasn't quite so crowded this year - we got there earlier - and she's a lot better in crowds this year than she was last year. She sucked it up, if only to be able to see the "sparkly ladies" up close. She loved being able to see someone on the lyra right in front of her.
In fact, she was so transfixed that she didn't notice when one of the stiltwalkers came over and was watching over her shoulder. The crowd loved it, but Liza had to be poked before she realized he was there. I was prepared for her to lose it and spend the rest of the circus screaming in a corner, but she just sort of burrowed into the top of Jason's head, and the stilt walker went off to pick on some other kid.

One reason I wanted Liza to go down to the pre-show was so she could see the costumes up close, and this year we even managed to get her to try one on (with me) and pose with one of the performers.

What we were thinking: Me: God, this thing weighs like 10 pounds. Liza: Who the hell is that guy and why is he smiling like a maniac?

My favorite moment with Liza was during intermission when she and I were heading out of the seating area in search of a bathroom. I asked her how she was liking the circus, and she said it was good, but it was too short. "But we're just at intermission, sweetie, when the performers can take a break and we can go to the bathroom. There's more circus coming once we get back to our seats." The look of wonder and dawning realization and excitement on her face when she learned there was more! circus! more circus! was priceless.

I have to say that the tour that came through town this year (Over the Top) wasn't nearly as good as the one from last year (Bellobration). It's much smaller - one ring instead of three - but that's not it. For one thing, the whole theme of the show this year was the ringmaster and one of the clowns fighting over who got to wear the ringmaster hat and be in charge, and it just wasn't funny after the first, oh, two minutes. There were some acts that weren't hitting quite right during the performance we saw (the dogs missed more frisbees than they caught, the tiny horses spent half of their show just sort of milling around), and the segment about the Queen of the Clouds just flat-out sucked.

But ... the "motorcycles in a metal sphere" act was sooooo much better than any other one I've seen (seven guys? how is that even possible?), and there was this cool Chinese acrobatic act that had them swinging around on poles and jumping from pole to pole (reminded me of the old Pitfall! game), which was really cool and not like anything I'd seen before. Plus the elephants were awesome ... they were doing tricks I've never seen elephants do before (one elephant climbing over another prone elephant before sitting upright on the prone one, walking in a sort of 15-foot-tall conga line on their back legs). And holy crap, those guys on the bouncy innertube things - can we get one of those to use in our backyard? No?

So I know if I had a choice to go see Bellobration vs Over the Top, I'd take Bello any day. But if it was Over the Top vs nothing, I guess the good outweighed the bad.

We didn't get the DVD, though.

Special Event Overload

First, there was the birthday party, which Liza absolutely loved but which left her wired for about, oh, three days.

Next came Boo at the Zoo, where Liza's favorite activity was watching the ladies dressed up like ghosts playing cellos.

Then there was observation day at her dance class.

And today we're going to the circus.

Somebody hand me a Tylenol and a caffeinated beverage, please - this parenting stuff is hard work.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008



My daughter is sitting downstairs by the front door, wrapped birthday present in hand, waiting to go to her first-ever birthday party that's just for the kids. She's so excited she's vibrating.

Only problem?

The party doesn't start until 12:15.

If anyone hears some screaming from NE Ohio around 2:30, that'll be the sugar rush letdown from the party. It's gonna be an ugly, ugly afternoon.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Okay, we all know my daughter is a little, um, unique. She comes up with the oddest ways to use toys ... like using her Duplo blocks to make flat designs rather than buildings or people or cars or whatever. And using her paints to make formless blobs because she likes the feeling of the painting and doesn't care what it looks like when she's done.

But the latest craze is flowers. Everything is a flower. Train tracks, tinker toys, lego creations, pop-ons, random pipe cleaners, the spinning wheels from her marble run, popsicle sticks, plastic buttons, knitting needles, pieces of soap ... if it's laying around the house, chances are, she's decided it's a flower.

And not only a flower, a talking flower with a backstory and dialogue. I can't use the spinners when I build her marble run, for example, because "the rest of the flower family would be really sad if the mommy flower had to go away, even if she came back later on." She won't play with dolls, doesn't give stuffed animals a second glance, and only wants to use her dollhouse so she can move around the furniture, but the pretend shrubbery she's got in the dining room are living full, rich lives.

Add to that her new fascination for making up her own words, and I end up having to clutch sweaty "bouquets" of plastic-button "pisswiss" flowers until she tells me I'm allowed to put them down ... because heaven help you if you fail to appreciate the wonder that is her floral creation.

And don't get me started on how earlier this summer her imaginary "friends" wouldn't let her play with them because she wasn't wearing the right color of dress. Nothing like being jilted by people you made up in your head to show your strong sense of self-esteem.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Pimpin' my homies

The Cleveland Handmade etsy team has an orange-and-black challenge going, with voting continuing until Sunday, October 26, so stop by the site and pick your favorite. Sign up for the mailing list at the same time, and you're entered to win a gift certificate good at any of the participating shops. Just in time for holiday shopping!

Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes, I do have an entry - the Halloween Hexagons quilt. Go forth and vote for me!

Down by the river, fall 2008

Well, the trees haven't hit the peak they did last year, but I'm still getting some good shots down by the river.

Notice I left out the shots Liza took to illustrate how muddy I got when I slipped on the muck at the edge and sort of, um, fell in the river? Yeah, I'll let you know if I ever get the slime off of my jeans.

Final words

Two things I forgot to include in the Really Too Detailed trip descriptions:

Jason, to Liza sometime during the day, after she had developed the habit of mining for gold every evening before falling asleep:
"Get your finger out of your nose - you need to save something for bedtime."

Liza, admiring the lead pipe handrail that was bolted to the wall inside one of the cliff dwellings:
"Look, Mom! I see an Indian towel bar!"

Friday, October 17, 2008

Day 6: Colorado Springs

Last day of sightseeing - good thing, too, since I had to delete some of the duplicate photos from my camera's memory card so I'd have room for photos from this day.

First off we went back to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, where we rode the skyride that takes you over the zoo but won't let you actually into the zoo. Luckily, it's pay once and ride until the stamp wears off of your hand, so we could let Liza ride it over and over and over again. I don't know which she liked better, the skyride or the climbing gym at the top.

She told us the last one was practice for her swaypole act, which she was obsessing over after watching a circus video approximately 400 times that week.

After lunch we stopped to admire a grasshopper that was hanging out in the parking lot near our car. Liza REALLY admired it.

I need to photoshop some tire tracks on her back and use this as our Christmas card :)

After lunch we went to the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, which are very well-preserved Anasazi houses from 700 years ago. Even 700 years ago, private parking was a perk:

The cliff dwellings were really cool, especially because they're pretty much all accessible and there aren't any "no touching" signs anywhere. Liza could run, crawl, creep, peek, and explore to her heart's content. And the doors were sized just right for her:After getting our clothes covered in indelible red dust (I've got the t-shirt stains to prove it), we headed for the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Research Center. The locals were happy to invite us to dinner:Liza was less than thrilled with looking at all the real fossils and recreated models, but she loved the kids' activity area. Here she is, showing off one of the new varieties of dinosaur she discovered that day:Dinosaur freak that I am, I had a good time looking at the models and recreations, checking out some of the newer varieties that weren't known when I was in my heyday (second grade). And every so often I'd giggle about the fact that all these dinosaur fossils were displayed on a surface covered with rubber mulch made from petrochemicals. Nothing like displaying the fake dinosaurs on top of what's left of the real dinosaurs, right?

Day Five: Denver area

Okay, I have no photos from this day, so I have very little idea what we actually did. I remember killing time in a parking lot while Liza slept and Jason went to the bookstore, and I remember eating lunch at Gunther Toody's (which is not as nostalgic as it claims to be, but the waitress was willing to listen to Liza babble on and on and on and on, so we left a good tip). And I remember we went to a suburban recreation center so we could go swimming. The rec center pool was nice - a zero-depth entry kids' pool that topped out at about 2' deep, so Liza could sort of scoot around on her arms and practice kicking without us having to support her ... and a slide that went to the kids' pool, and a waterslide into the adult pool, and a rope swing that dumped you into a deep pool with windows in the side so the people in the adult pool could see you land underwater. We were there for about 3 hours, and eventually we had to basically drag Liza out kicking and screaming while promising that we might think about going back there the next day.

We thought about it, and decided no, still had other stuff to do. Sorry, kid.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Retroactively proactive

Okay, so rather than wait a few more months for my thyroid to explode (ha! there's a mental picture!) and probably forget to get the followup work done, I did some detective work this morning and managed to find the info on when and where I got the original scan done. Hooray for overly organized packrat tendencies!

One phone call this morning, and the original scan should be beeping and whirring its way to my doctor right now. I love when the folks at the hospital consider my privacy rights protected by requiring a witnessed speakerphone assertion that yes, I am the patient, and yes, you can fax the results to my new doctor, y'all.

So now we can see how much better/worse it's gotten in the last three years, at least, without the chance that I'll forget to go back.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

eerily similar

What I wrote October 14, 2005:
I got the results from the ultrasound today - I have a nodule on my left thyroid lobe. AKA see, I'm not crazy, I'm actually sick.
The nurse said the hospital usually recommends waiting six months and doing another thyroid ultrasound then to see whether it's still there or has grown, but my doctor usually wants to go ahead and do the nuclear scan to get a better picture of where we stand now. I asked whether they can do the nuclear scan if I'm breastfeeding, and they said no. So what they recommend is that I wait to do that until I'm closer to wanting to wean Liza, and in the meantime I should come in again in a month or so and get the blood test done again so they can monitor my hormone levels.

I found that e-mail to Jason a couple months ago as I was searching my archives for something completely unrelated.

I had completely forgotten about this whole thing, about the freaky easy post-partum weight loss (breastfeeding helps, but it doesn't explain losing 30 pounds while sucking down Sonic milkshakes every day) and the hair loss, the blood tests and the ultrasound and the freaking out because they sort of wanted me to stop breastfeeding Liza so I could have the nuclear scan (which would have made me and my breastmilk radioactive for several days, and I wouldn't have been able to go near her - or probably be in the same house as her - for that time). And the possibility that I'd have to nuke my thyroid and take synthetic thyroid hormones for the rest of my life. Realistically, I knew it wasn't the end of the world - some of my friends have had the same thing, and they're doing fine, feeling much healthier than they ever did when their thyroids were actually "working," but it still freaked me out.

I remember now that my follow-up bloodwork showed my TSH levels were back in the range considered normal, and I never went back for the second ultrasound to see if the nodule got any larger. Completely forgot to, what with the depression and the moving and all that.

Then I found the e-mail, and I happened to be going to the doctor soon to get my prescriptions refilled anyway, so I brought up with him the fact that I might have some sort of hideous thyroid malady that's been festering for the past three years. Well, actually I said, um, do I need to get the ultrasound still if the symptoms are gone? Because my days of losing weight while drinking milkshakes are sadly past.

Last week I finally got around to having the test run - yay, I love the feel of lubricating gel on my throat - and I wasn't thrilled when I asked the technician, "So, I don't have any aliens living in there or anything, right?" and she said, "Your doctor will have the results in a few days," without even cracking a smile.

What I found out October 15, 2008:
I got the results from the ultrasound today - I have nodules on my left thyroid lobe. Since I don't have the actual results from 2005, they want me to wait a few months and get the test done again to see whether they grow.

Ah, well, at least nobody has mentioned irradiating vital parts of my body (yet).

Oh, and for anyone who's interested in what this is all about, there's tons of info here:
thyroid nodules:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Day 4: Garden of the Gods, Pike's Peak

Remember my great-grandmother's photo in front of Balanced Rock?
Well, the donkeys are long gone, but the rock is still there, and so was I.

Yes, it's the same rock - it's just fiendishly difficult to try to get the same angle as the older photo. Seems the photographer back at the turn of (last) century didn't have to compete with roads, RVs, and other tourists to get a clear shot.

After we took the photo that was sort of the whole point of the trip, everything else that day was sort of gravy. We decided to see if we could cajole Liza into doing the shortest hike we could find in the park, which was less than 1/2 a mile on a paved trail that's handicapped accessible. Even with the altitude difference, there was no reason she couldn't handle it.

Except that when we got there and parked the car and told her the plan, she started singing a particularly tuneful rendition of "I want to go hoooooome, I'm sick of looking at all these rocks." Honest to god, that's a word-for-word transcription of the lyrics. It was too funny. I gave her a piece of sample candy and pushed her bodily in front of me down the trail.

Once we spotted a bunny near the trail, things got easier, and we ended up doing a longer loop - and she managed most of it from someplace other than on my shoulders. She even did some rock climbing.

After all that exercise we treated ourselves to lunch at McDonalds, which we ate in between pushing Liza on the swings at a local playground. Hint: when looking for a playground in a strange town, the smaller the park, the more likely it is to have good play equipment. The bigger parks are usually mostly ball fields.

Anyway, after lunch we had to decide whether to visit a cliff dwelling, a cave, or Pike's Peak. The weather was so picture-perfect that we decided to drive up the mountain. We grabbed our water bottles (to prevent altitude sickness) and started up.

The drive really is every bit as pretty as the guidebooks claim, with the aspens turning color and the road switchbacking and the trees getting stunted and petering out altogether above a certain altitude.

Liza didn't even make it to the toll booth at the entrance to the drive before she conked out ... which meant that while Jason and I swigged down a liter of water on the way up, she had nothing, and was therefore a bit on the irritable side when we woke her up at the top. Hell, who am I kidding? She's always irritable when she wakes up. This time she was irritable, disoriented, cold, and quite frankly pissed off about the entire situation.

I spent about 20 minutes getting her to stop crying, and Jason wandered around taking gorgeous photos of the summit. I know he's the one who took this photo, because the only snow I saw was a patch the size of the palm of my hand that was near the boulder I was sitting on to rock Liza out of her funk.

Eventually Liza was won over by the promise of a lollypop (sigh) and the view of the cloud shadows on the plains down below. She even stopped sniveling long enough to immortalize the day that Jason decided to wear shorts when it was 39 degrees on the top of the mountain. Okay, he didn't exactly know we were planning to do the summit that day, but still - leave a pair of jeans in the car, dude. At least we all remembered our jackets :)

Since we've been home from vacation, Liza has been asked at least 1,500 times what her favorite part of the trip was. Almost every single time, her answer has been "going to the top of the mountain and seeing the cloud shadows and driving down on the twisty road." She loved the descent, giggling maniacally and urging Jason to go faster around the turns. At some point we told her that if we fell off the edge of the road, we wouldn't stop until we ended up at the bottom of the mountain somewhere near Garden of the Gods, and from then on she wanted Jason to go slower! Go slower!

When we crossed the bridge over the reservoir you saw in the earlier photo, we talked about how people like to go fishing in that lake, and Liza said she'd like to fish there, too.

G: What would you do if you caught a fish?
L: I would make a fish pancake.
G: How would you do that?
L: I would smash the fish and stab the fish and cut it with cookie cutters and put sprinkles inside to make it taste good.

Um, yeah. Might have listened to that Nate the Great ("I, Nate the Great, looooove pancakes.") audiobook a few too many times on this trip.

We stopped at an IHOP on the way back to Denver for dinner that night. There were no fish pancakes on the menu, but it was the first time all vacation that Liza was relatively well-behaved and hungry for dinner. Might have had something to do with the ratio of chocolate-to-pancake on her plate, but by then I could have cared less.

Also - pumpkin pancakes? Should be served all year.

I love it when I find things out on my own

Okay, sometimes the old Google search doesn't give good results, like when you're looking for fish that can walk. However, if you poke around enough and can be specific enough, usually you can find what you're looking for.

Case in point: The weird berries Liza found today during our walk near the river. They were on a bush, but the foliage looked like grape leaves. And the berries ... well, they were obviously just starting to ripen, and they were, well, not exactly grape-like.

Yes, they do look exactly like various flavors of Jelly Belly candies.

After about five minutes of searching, I was about ready to throw in the towel and ask K's mom and/or brother for help with the ID, but my last search (berries pink blue purple with spots) I hit paydirt - Liza found a porcelain berry bush, otherwise known as Ampelopsis brevipedunculata.

I felt totally smart that the description of the plant specifically says that it looks like some varieties of native grapes - go, me! Shame it's classified as an invasive species, or I'd be tempted to see how it would do in the cave that passes for our back yard.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Day 3: Downtown Denver

First stop of the day (after the rock selection in front of the hotel) was Hammond's Candies, a local manufacturer of mostly hard candies and lollipops. Liza was relatively well-behaved until she caught sight of the five-pound lolly on display, and she heard there was a gift store ... it was all downhill from there. She wasn't so bad, though, that she didn't bring home a souvenir.
She bugged us for three days straight to eat this thing, which I declared off-limits until the plane ride home. On the way out we tried using lollipops instead of water to help her pop her ears, in hopes that it would lead to fewer bathroom trips on the plane. It did, but we ended up with a kid who was pretty much vibrating by the time we got to Denver, so I wasn't sure I wanted to try it again on the way home. I needn't have worried, though - she's forgotten all about the giant lollipop that is now safely stashed in the back of one kitchen cupboard, ostensibly waiting to make an appearance in her Christmas stocking.
Our next stop was the inventively named Downtown Aquarium, which we had to visit based solely on the irony factor.

Yes, the aquarium is run by a company that specializes in seafood restaurants. We made all the obligatory comments about "you'd better behave, fish, or you'll be lunch," and how the signs identifying the exhibits should suggest wine pairings to go with each species.

Snide remarks aside, it was a nice aquarium. Yes, it's unabashedly commercial, and it's not huge, but it's still got some really nice exhibits, things I haven't seen anywhere else. Liza's favorite activity was petting the rays (yawn), and my favorite exhibit was this weird unidentified fish that used the front spines from its fins to walk along the bottom of the tank like a lobster.

It was seriously freaky, and if anyone can identify the species or common name for me, I'd be much obliged - this exhibit wasn't labeled very well.

We entered the aquarium at the same time as another family whose son was about Liza's age, and she immediately decided he was her best friend in the whole world. They palled around together for most of the visit - Jason and I joked around that we should share itineraries with that family for the rest of the trip so we could capitalize on this again, since we didn't have to do squat to entertain either preschooler for most of the visit.

One thing that Liza started doing here was asking Jason what things were called, and if he didn't know, she'd say, "Let's ask my mom. She knows." It's nice that she has such confidence in my taxonomy skills ... and I wasn't even tempted to make up answers just to reinforce the belief. Well, not that often, at least.

We had lunch at the aquarium, where the restaurant fronts onto a special tank and they schedule the fish feedings to occur at lunch and dinnertime. I can highly recommend their fish tacos - very refreshing! And suspiciously fresh ... hmm ...

Later that day we drove to Cherry Creek State Park, which centers around a reservoir on the outskirts of Denver. Our luck with the weather was holding that day, and it was probably 80 degrees and sunny when we got there in the late afternoon. We hadn't planned on this stop, so none of us had swimsuits or towels with us, but that didn't stop certain people from splashing around ... then going skinny-dipping.

The swimming beach had the oddest consistency of sand. It was sand on the top couple of inches, but underneath and interspersed with it was some kind of fine silty soil, so the sand packed really tightly and held together much better than you'd expect. There was a huge sandpile next to the playground, and the top layer was so hard the kids had to use shovels to break through - fingers weren't doing them any good. And someone had dug big holes in the side of the hill - caves, almost, and they weren't collapsing, even when you walked near them. Odd.

That didn't stop Liza from making friends with the little girl who had thought to bring sand toys, though, or the two other kids who showed up around dinner time.

Once we managed to pry Liza away from her newest best friends, we went to Thai Pepper 2 for dinner. When we started the trip, we decided to avoid fast food and national chain restaurants as much as we could, so it was fate when we happened to drive past this storefront in a stripmall by the park. This was easily the best meal we had the entire week - everything was achingly fresh and perfectly seasoned, the portions were huge (we both had sufficient leftovers to use as dinner later in the week), and the servers were very friendly and accommodating. They were happy to prepare a special unsauced version of a dish for Liza, and they patiently listened to her 20-minute monologue about what she had done that day and how awesome her red shoes were. It probably helped that we were the only customers at the time, but still - they rocked!

Know what also rocked? The big fish at the aquarium that you couldn't see behind the kids in the earlier photo, so here it is with just one kid for scale:

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Parenthack - more puke bucket innovations!

Remember the puke bucket? Yeah, it's been in pretty frequent use around here since I got The Call from Liza's preschool yesterday. You know, the one when you find out that your daughter has managed to decorate the entire hallway with vomit, despite showing no signs of illness when you dropped her off an hour earlier ...

Anyhow, since I was home alone (and I care more about the carpets in this house than I did about the wood floors at the house in Kentucky), I decided I needed to try to manage the cleanup a little better than I did last time she was ill. It was just annoying that by the time she got finished puking, I comforted her and got her cleaned up, and I got the trashcan clean, she was pretty much ready to puke again.

The solution: plastic grocery bags. I lined the puke bucket with four or five of them, and then when she got sick I could just clean her up, throw the paper towels in the bag, and throw the soiled bag in the trash - and there was a clean one waiting in the can, all ready to go. Total cleanup time: about 15 seconds, and Liza never had to be without the bucket.

The only caveat is that you need to check the bags for holes BEFORE you use them in the bucket, especially if you have to carry them any distance to get to the trashcan. The alternative is just too gross to discuss.

Oh, and here's an actual conversation between me and my daughter today.

Me: "So, did I do an okay job helping you yesterday when you were sick?"
Liza: "Mommy, you're really smart about the puke bucket."
Me: "You mean, I've got good technique?"
Liza: "You were smart about the puke and the germs didn't get on me or the couch or the floor or the cat or you. That was really cool."

Now, if I can just convince her that hyperventilating does NOT make your body stop wanting to puke, I'll be fine. The sound of her wheezing (on purpose) her way around the house, followed by the gagging and retching ... ugh, it's going to take weeks to get that out of my head.

Colorado, Day 2: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Seven Falls

Side note for today - Is it really necessary to have a Chipotle restaurant located every 15 feet throughout the entire state? I mean, I like a good burrito and all, but daaaaaamn, there's a lot of them here.

All right, now that I've finished that, let's move on to one of the top things I was looking forward to on this trip: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Located on the side of a mountain in Colorado Springs, this zoo is insanely attractive and would be worth the trip, even if it didn't have it's main attraction, which is ... giraffe feeding.

I mean, how cool is that? $1 for three giraffe crackers, which I have a sneaking suspicion are just the high-fiber crackers I used to eat when I was doing the Adkin's diet a few years ago. I could have dropped some serious coin there, had Jason not held my purse hostage in the stroller. Spoilsport.

They have like 20 giraffes in the herd, too, so every morning there's a stampede of spindly legs as they leave their pens and head for the exhibit. It's too cute for words, so I won't even bother.

The rest of the exhibits are really nice, especially for a zoo that's in a somewhat remote location (and that I had never heard of before getting the Colorado tourism catalog). And with the mountainside location (which makes every single exhibit uphill from wherever you are), both the visitors and the inhabitants have a pretty good view.

We got lucky that the animals were very active on the day we visited, and pretty much everything was open except for the carousel (Liza was heartbroken). We discovered that after feeding the giraffes, spending $1 for a popsicle stick with a blob of birdseed glued on to feed to the budgies just wasn't that exciting.

Also discovered why you don't want to get on the bad side of a baboon.

We also decided that Liza's wordless howling every evening is eerily close to the howling of certain gibbons, which has provided us with endless opportunities for mocking her quietly in a way she doesn't quite understand yet.

After we had visited pretty much everything at the zoo, we headed for Seven Falls, a privately owned attraction that lets you see a waterfall that has seven rather unimpressive stages. There's an elevator up to a viewing platform that's across the way and about halfway up the falls, which is where I found this shot:

There's also a set of stairs that goes up to the top of the falls, where there's some hiking trails and a lookout point. Liza and I made it halfway up, and I was game to go up to the top, but she wussed out on us (read: started wailing at the top of her lungs), so she and I headed back down the stairs. They weren't steep at all ... yeah, right.

One of my proudest accomplishments on this vacation was getting her to walk down that entire flight of stairs (holding my hand and the railing - I'm not stupid, just lazy and somewhat reckless). Then we fed the (stocked) trout in the stream while Jason poked around up top, taking shots of a bewildering variety of warning signs. Falling rocks, lightning, bears, pointed sticks - you name it.

Colorado, Day 1: Red Rocks

Every morning began the same way: Liza had to choose which of the landscape rocks outside our hotel room she wanted to bring with us in the car. Good way to kill five minutes while we loaded up with snacks and extra clothes and emergency potties and more maps than most AAA offices carry.

Our first destination was Red Rocks, which had the dual benefits of opening early and being open on a Sunday. Nothing like a 2-hour time difference to make travel fun with a preschooler ... ever try to entertain a 3-year-old quietly at 5am? Let's just say that she might have watched few more DVDs on vacation than she usually does at home. Like, 4,000 more. Thank god for portable DVD players (and Blue's Clues, and the Ringling Brothers circus video, and the cheesy 1980s televised ballet version of The Nutcracker). Liza was able to point out to us exactly why it's called "Red Rocks." She's smart, that one. For the uninitiated, Red Rocks isn't just a geologic attraction, it's also a concert venue. And, apparently, on Sunday mornings it's a popular place for personal trainers to drag their clients to put them through hellish routines on the bleacher-style seats that face the stage. I had to do some interesting framing and cropping to avoid photographing the packs of insanely fit yuppies that were scattered throughout the venue. Liza, meanwhile, was enjoying her moment in the spotlight.

It was cold, and the altitude was a bit of a factor, especially when Liza decided that her legs were tired and had to be carried ALL THE WAY BACK UP TO THE CAR. We took the scenic route so we'd have some breaks in between the 14,000 stairs we had to climb to get to the car. Got a nice, if somewhat hazy, view of Denver in the distance.

One of the things I found surprising about Denver was that it isn't actually IN the mountains, it's just NEAR the mountains. It's a mile high, yes, but that's thanks to the high plains, not because it's perched atop some scenic mount. Denver's pretty flat until you get 20 minutes west of town, at which point it begins to look appropriately Rocky.
Back in Denver we managed to locate a playground where we could kill time until Casa Bonita opened for lunch. Here she is, sliding down the first tube-style slide she's willingly used in about two years.

And how to describe Casa Bonita? Let's see, it's a (relatively bad) Mexican restaurant in a strip mall, and it happens to have a 30-foot-tall waterfall with cliff diver shows every 15 minutes. It is so unusual that they actually made a South Park episode that centered on it. Did I mention the mariachi band? The guy in the gorilla suit? The grottos and caves? How about the all-you-can-eat sopaipillas?
Liza loved it, except for the part where the sheriff and the outlaw exchanged (cap) gunfire, which she deemed too loud. Otherwise, she was dancing to the band, ignoring her overpriced food, and standing slack-jawed in amazement whenever the diver climbed up the cliff near our table. We had a chance to see him up close when we were leaving, when we were watching from the pool level and he swam over at the end of the show, and Liza was so entranced that she actually talked to him, rather than hiding and clamming up like she usually does. I can't blame her - he was sorta hot.