Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"New" Zoo Review

I have discovered over the years that perhaps the best way to keep things happy at home is to leave your abode. Pack a lunch, load up the minivan, and take a day trip. Don’t forget the kids! I always find it quite refreshing to have a day outdoors away from all of the screens that have taken over our lives.
I love the way that the true Minnesotans refer to this zoo as the “New Zoo” although it must be nearly 30 years old as opposed to the aging Como Park Zoo in St. Paul. Our last visit to the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley was four years ago. After our visit this weekend, I’m asking myself why I haven’t returned sooner. My rule of thumb for any large attraction is arrive before noon to beat the crowds. It also helped that it was a cloudy and a bit blustery day. Our longest line of the day was the ticket line to get into the zoo. It made us contemplate ponying up the $125 for a season pass just to use the extremely short “Members Only” line.
Once we made it through the gate we made a mad dash over to the Shark Feeding. We really didn’t need to rush as this was a bit of a let down. The kid were expecting a typical “feeding frenzy” of sharks, fish, bloody carcasses, chaos in the tank, etc. Instead it was very tame and organized with the typical environmental chatter of “save the oceans” echoing in the background. 
Enough of that . . . time to see some fierce grizzly bears at the Russia’s Grizzly Coast exhibit. The bears, along with the wild boars and leopards, didn’t look too fierce as they were happily enjoying their mid-day nap. (We did return later in the afternoon when they were much more active.) The only somewhat active animals that morning were the hyper-by-nature prairie dogs. By now, the kids were STARVING so we decided to take in the new Africa! exhibit that had just opened that morning. We enjoyed our lunch surrounded by African animals that can survive in our chilly Minnesota summer. Lots of ostriches and zebras with the odd flocks of Canadian geese thrown in.
By early afternoon, the sun along with throngs of people had come out. After visiting the Family Farm and walking the Northern Trail, we still had hours to kill before our I-MAX movie started. We were left to walk through the Tropics Trail and the Minnesota Trail. I’ve always liked the Tropics Trail as it is tropical and warm with an abundance of birds, orchids, and small creatures. The gibbons put on a spectacular show complete with acrobatics and mating calls. We ushered the kids away from the amorous gibbons before they actually completed the act! A quick walk through the Minnesota trail did help me correctly identify the creature I’d encountered on the bike path last month--a river otter!
Our last stop was the I-MAX theater to view the new Ben Stiller movie: At the Museum: The Smithsonian. By this time, everyone was ready for 90 minutes of sitting down entertainment. And how can you go wrong with an I-MAX movie?
I was very pleased with this trip to the zoo as it was by far my easiest zoo excursion in over a decade. I wasn’t pregnant like so many other women visiting the zoo that day. I didn’t have to push a stroller or wagon while hefting a large backpack with food and supplies on my back. No one tried to scale any fences or attempt to crawl into any animal cages. They sell Caribou Coffee! Best of all, everyone was potty trained. (Although my 6-year old son does still have the fascination with public toilets as he visited every one he possibly could find.) 
I’ll not let four years lapse between visits and may return this summer for one of the Music in the Zoo concerts. For more information on the Minnesota Zoo visit 

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Court Oversteps in Teen's Chemotherapy Refusal

Just how far will the government go to ensure the health and well being of a New Ulm, Minnesota teen? In the case of thirteen year-old Daniel Hauser and his mother Colleen, all the way to California and back to Minnesota while involving not only the Minnesota courts but the FBI, federal customs, and other state law enforcement agencies.
This case involves teenager Daniel Hauser who is suffering from a form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma which is usually successfully treated by rounds of chemotherapy. After the first round of chemo, Daniel’s parents, Colleen and Anthony Hauser, refused additional chemo treatments based partially on religious objections and decided along with Daniel to seek alternative treatments for his cancer. Last week’s court order, which mandated Daniel return back to the hospital for traditional chemotherapy, prompted the teen and his mother to flee bound for Mexico in search of alternative cancer treatments. A federal arrest warrant was put out for Daniel’s mother. However, the Hausers returned home to Minnesota yesterday to a distorted future and Daniel in the care of the state of Minnesota. A court order still requires Daniel to resume chemotherapy which will give him a 90% chance of survival versus certain death within 5 years.
My problem with this whole case lies with the involvement of the court system. Daniel and his parents decided to refuse additional chemotherapy and try alternative therapies that are more in line with their religious views. Let’s put aside the religion element for a moment. I believe it is not right for the government to override the decision of the parents by labeling it “child endangerment.” 
Undoubtedly, the Hausers know that their son has a form of cancer that is curable via chemotherapy. They also are aware of the risks of deciding not to pursue additional chemotherapy treatments. Daniel also made up his own mind about refusing chemo.  Then add in that the treatments go against their religion.
Personally, I think that it is crazy to refuse chemotherapy treatment for a child diagnosed with cancer. Especially when the chemo will eventually treat the cancer and give the child a chance at a normal life. Do I think that it is up to the government to make this decision for me? Resoundingly NO!
If a Brown County Minnesota judge can force a child to undergo chemotherapy against his parent’s wishes and religious beliefs, who is to say that “big brother” won’t be interfering in your life or mine over an issue the government deems as reckless or endangerment?
 Let the Hauser’s decision be their own. They will ultimately have to live with the consequences.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Laundry Day (and night, and the next day...)

If you’re like me, most days you feel like all that you ever do is the laundry. And more laundry. A truly tedious chore. Luckily I have my children to thank for livening up the laundry routine by never bothering to empty their pockets. I seem to find something new in there at least once a week. 
Today it sounded like there were rocks in the dryer. Sure enough. I found a good-sized chunk of quartz that someone had collected along with a bunch of stray pebbles from the baseball dugout. Nestled in with all of the fluff was the remnants of my daughter’s toe tape from her pointe ballet class where she must tape each toe. She has great difficulty locating a trash can and must just leave it in her tights.
I do consider myself a mother who is trying to teach her brood personal responsibility and the importance of cleaning up after themselves. But my pleas for emptying out their pockets fall on deaf ears.
Over the past couple of years, many a treasure and random odd object has ended up in the bottom of the washer or dryer. Here are some of my favorites.
Dried up, peanut butter sandwich crusts. The remnants of a child’s lunch shoved into their pants pocket made it all the way to the folding process before I found them.
Hair barrettes, dog treats, and golf tees. These seem to appear weekly. The hair clips and golf tees I can understand, but the poor dog is not getting his fair share of the treats!
An iPod Shuffle. My daughter was distraught, but she did learn a valuable lesson and never leaves it in her pocket anymore. We let it dry out for a few weeks, charged it up, and amazingly it still works perfectly. Although we did not have the same luck when she dropped her Nintendo DS into the toilet. Please don’t even ask how that one happened as I’ve never gotten a straight answer out of her.
Stuffed animals and Legos. You would think I would notice a stuffed animal heading into the washing machine but no. Those Webkinz don’t dry out very well either. As for the Legos, I think they are multiplying in my house as they turn up everywhere including in the laundry.
Diamonds. They must get banged around while I’m doing laundry and mysteriously end up in the bottom of the washing machine. I’m pleased to say that I have recovered each dislodged diamond.
Small bottle of Elmer’s Glue. Again I have no idea who left the glue in their pocket, but thank God the cap stayed on. My question is why was someone walking around with a bottle of glue in their pocket in the first place?!
Lots of money. Those bills come out of the dryer all nice and crisp. The coins are all shiny and new! My oldest son says it reminds him of the money washing shrine he visited in Kamakura, Japan. Not quite the same. I’ve started keeping any stray money I find as my tip.
As for the ironing, don’t ask as it just keeps growing in the basket on my closet floor.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Boss Doesn't Disappoint

Last night Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band put on an amazing performance at St. Paul’s Excel Energy Center. With no opening act, he caught us off-guard, and we had to run for our seats as not to miss a minute of the show. 
Now, I’m not a huge Bruce Springsteen fan but as far as I’m concerned, he’s a legend in his own time and one of those artists who I’ve always wanted to see perform live. My husband would be the Springsteen die-hard so he was right at home with all of the other committed fans who packed the Excel. 
I only really recognized about a quarter of the songs he played but what an amazing performer for someone who is pushing 60! His voice is just as powerful as it was back in the 80s. He had the crowd on their feet and singing at the top of their lungs to “Born to Run” and again to “Rosalita” as part of his hour-long encore after playing a nearly 2-hour set. 
When he broke into “Waiting on a Sunny Day” the memories came rushing back. I’m particularly partial to that 2002 album “The Rising.” It reminds me of driving around Maine during a weeklong stay on Great Pond in August of 2002. The album had just come out and we played it all the way from Boston up to Augusta, Maine in a rented Chevy Blazer. It was so hot. There was no air conditioning in our house. I was pregnant. Need I say more. It brings back happy memories of an incredibly fun week with friends who are just like family. But I digress, he did play three songs off of “The Rising” which made the night perfect for me. That and when someone in the audience gave him a Green Bay Packers cheesehead. Gotta love those Packer’s fans!
If you get the chance, see The Boss live in concert as he puts his heart and soul into his music.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Yard Sale (Part II)

Having survived the past two days of hanging out in my driveway, I must admit that I feel like I’ve truly lived the yard sale experience. I lucked out on the weather as it was sunny and warm both days which meant lots and lots of shoppers on the cul de sac.
I decided not to just hang out and sell my possessions but to turn this into a study of human nature. I learned a few things:

People will buy used boy’s underwear if the price is right.
The cheapest people make the biggest mess of your stuff by pulling it all out, dropping    it, and then complaining the most about the high prices. After insulting me and trying to barter, they left empty=handed.
Bringing out a cute dog and tying him on his lead to the tree in the front yard helps sales pick up. Stop and pet the dog. Take a minute and look around for a bargain.
80s tunes playing in the background didn’t really help sales, but the new U2 album boosted sales all day today!
Serious garage sale goers WILL run over your small child with their car while they speed through the neighborhood peering into garages and yards. Keep those kids off the street when there are garage sales in progress!
This is probably a terrible thing to do but I did it as an experiment to see what people would really buy. No one touched the gorgeous (worn once) red velvet Laura Ashley little girl’s dress priced at $25. But someone did buy an old and clearly worn pillow for $1. Just for fun, I tried to sell my nasty (and quite ugly), worn-out white Aerosoles sandals. Not even a glance until I dropped the price to 25 cents. (One woman actually picked them up and mulled buying them!)
Would I do this all again? Maybe in a few years when I’ve accumulated enough junk. For the moment though, it is worth it for the huge wad of cash and the extra space I now have in the house. Also I did enjoy having a day where the most difficult thing I had to do was attempt to stay awake while sitting in my lawn chair basking in the brilliant May sunshine.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Yard Sale 101 (Part I)

Here in Minnesota the start of Spring means a few things: no more ice fishing, a brown landscape slowly replaced by green, people running around in shorts when it’s 40 outside, and garage sales! Having lived on the East Coast (where I had my last sale), I call them yard sales whereas here in Minnesota they are garage sales. Perhaps in Minnesota it’s colder and rainier so everything must be moved into the garage??! Anyway, I’m preparing for my sunny day yard sale that starts bright and early tomorrow morning.
Now, I’m not taking this very seriously as I’ve just started pulling stuff out into the garage to put outside tomorrow. I noticed over the weekend that the more serious and seasoned garage sale families already had tables set up and stuff loaded on top of them. Neatly I might add. They probably even have signs made up.
That did get me a bit motivated to sort through some bins and closets. While pricing my items, I turned on a DVD of old 80s videos and spent most of my time watching those instead. (How can you pass up vintage Tears for Fears, the Culture Club, and Duran Duran!) Then today I shored up the sprouting peony bushes, watered my pansies, helped out in the Kindergarten class, now I’m writing this article. You can see what I mean. This is not my thing.
Those of you who know me know that I detest yard sales. So why in the world is Elastigirl having a yard sale! Two reasons: first to reclaim the spare room in the basement that has become the graveyard for long forgotten toys. Secondly to buy flowers for my window boxes. It’s a tough economy but I love my flowers and won’t give them up.
So wish me luck. I’ll be filling you in on how my first Minnesota yard sale goes. Now how to hide all of the kid’s toys I’m selling before the decide they want to keep them . . .

Monday, May 4, 2009

Minnesota Wild

What’s not to love about taking the dog on a morning walk after you get the kids on the bus? Especially on a beautiful Spring morning after a particularly long and cold winter. 
But what do you do when you hear an animal cutting through the weeds and down an embankment headed right towards you? Well, today it was breathe a sigh of relief, step back, and watch as a sleek brown otter lumbers down the hill on his way to the pond. I’ve never seen an otter in the wild, only in the zoo, and here was a good sized one working his way down the bike path. He did have to work at it until he dove into the murky pond water and swam away from me.
Suburbia isn’t so bad when you are surrounded by all of Minnesota’s finest lakes and wetlands teeming with wildlife. The otter encounter this morning gave me a brief chance to pause and experience the beauty that surrounds my life.