Traveling With Kids – San Diego 2014 – Top 10 list #1

10 things I thought I would never say on this trip

This may not come as a shock to anyone who has kids, but you end up saying some of the oddest things. Things you probably wouldn’t say at work, at church or over a cup of tea with your grandma.

That’s part of the joy of kids. You just never know what they’ll inspire you to say…
1)      The pooing will start now. Who’s first?

2)      Let go off your wiener, please, I know you have to go to the bathroom.

3)      Stop hugging the ketchup bottle.

IMG_36914)      Ok, go kill some ants, just don’t whack each other with the sticks.

5)      After the youngest said, “I just peed all over myself.” You wouldn’t be the first.

6)      Stop twerking your brother.

7)      Complaining about it will not make it go any faster.

IMG_02738)      Stop making faces at the gorillas.

9)      No zerbering your brother in the security line

10)   No, Prettiest-girl-in-the-world, I’m exhausted, I just want to sleep.

Next up, the 10 things everyone should bring on a vacation to make it the most awesome, epic, stress-less vacation of all time.

What things have you said to your kids or said on a vacation with kids?


Traveling With Kids – Leaving San Diego – Plane Truths

The Plane Truth

plane at nightYou’d think riding in a small, confined space with a whole bunch of strangers would be a great place for lots and lots of good stories. Death matches. Cannibalism. Screaming babies. But the ride down to San Diego was pretty uneventful.

The ride back, however, offered some great writing material. I had the youngest sitting to one side. A pretty, university girl on the other side. The youngest was busy trying to defeat some Mario villain. The girl on the other side was texting with such speed that I think her fingers were going back in time.

But behind me a little girl, somewhere between the ages of 3 and 12 (I can’t tell ages) was having quite the meltdown. Seems she wanted to sit with auntie Suzie. The conversation went something like this.

“I WANT to sit with auntie Suzie!”

“You can’t, that seat is taken.”

“NO! I! Want! To Sit! With auntie Suzie.” Like yelling it louder would make it happen.

“I’m sorry the seat beside her is taken.”

“I!!!! WANT!!!! TO!!! SIT!!! WITH!!!AUNTIE!!!! SUZIE!!!!!” Honestly, the exclamation marks do not do this little girl’s word’s justice. There really is no way to describe how much she really, really, really wanted to be with her auntie Suzie.

Now I could write the same thing again and again and again cuz that was pretty much the conversation. For about 10 minutes. I kideth you not.

Even the youngest looked up at me and rolled his eyes. I think he’d had enough of women for a while.

Then the mom finally said, “I can’t do anything about it, sweetie.”

To which the little girl snarked, “I don’t know if you know the meaning of anything, but sitting there doing nothing is not it!” I imagined her arms were folded and she was looking at her mom like her mom was a 2 year old.

The mom shut that down quickly with a few sharp words of her own.

I looked at the youngest playing his 3DS quietly and poked him in the arm, whispering, “Dude, you’re awesome!” And he was. For the entire flight, his fold-out table full of candy and chips.

For me, the ride back was absolutely wonderful. I was exhausted and the youngest was happy to play, then chat about the airplane or what boss he’d just defeated, or ask why the little girl behind him was so angry?

The university student asked if we could all switch so she could chat with her friend. They youngest thought this was awesome since he would get a window seat. But being on the aisle, now, she and her friend were chatted up by, well, for lack of a better description, an older guy. Late 30s. Maybe 40. Tanned. Trying to look a lot younger than he was.

Me, I don’t have to try. I DO look younger. It’s the great advantage of being ID’d in bars until I was 40.

Now, it wasn’t so much that he talked to them, I’ve heard people talk to other people on the plane all the time, it was the way he did it. Aggressive-like, yet awkward.

It’s hard to pull off. He had a whole flapping line-up of red flags.

Apparently he’d bought them pizza. Paying it forward, he said. Apparently they did not remember him. Hey, they were girls in their early 20s. I doubt they put too much thought to an old guy shoving pizza at them.

He wasn’t happy that he wasn’t remembered. He made a joke of it, then a bit later, another joke, then later, again with the joke. It pissed him off. That much was clear. It was like he thought that he had bought their time or interest or whatever with a pizza.

I wondered if they could see that.

I’m sure my friend, Sheila would have something to say about this.

But there were more creepy, red flags … he didn’t listen to what they said, or to their tones, or to their body language, the last two things pretty clearing saying that he should move on. Go back to his wife and kids. But he had no interest in reading the signs. He wanted to know where they lived, what they did, blah, blah, blah. The guy just oozed yuckiness.

Finally he left and they tittered as young girls will do as soon as he was out of earshot. They whispered something about him I couldn’t hear, then went back to talking about how one girl was like pretty, you know, even really pretty, but she was tall and not in a tall pretty way, but in a tall way that took away her pretty like that girl they’d seen earlier, by the pool who had a great face, but her hair was totally all wrong and …

When we landed I said, hey, it’s none of my business, but keep an eye out for that guy you talked to. Something’s off.

She said, totally. I think she knew.

Other than that, though, nothing went wrong. I couldn’t really write on that wee little table and I was bored with phone games, so I mostly just kicked the back of the guy’s seat in front of me and listened to the youngest explain why having a bigger 3DS than his brother made him a better player. A few seats up, the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world sat, looking tired but still beautiful. The oldest sat beside her, quietly playing on his own 3DS.

IMG_3912We’d had such a great adventure together.

But it was time to go home.





Traveling With Kids – San Diego – Airport Accidents

Saturday – Airport

IMG_3900 (800x600)First hurdle. The weigh in.

We HAD to make weight, but unlike MMA fighters, we couldn’t toss the bags in the sauna for a few hours to cut the excess. We had to do this old-school. Sort and Throw.

If you recall, we began with a ruthless slaughter of all the liquids and aerosols . That saved about 40lbs. It’s all stuff we’d purchased here so no big loss.  Here you can get a jumbo-hulk-sized tube of toothpaste for $1. And gun for the same price. Sadly, the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world wouldn’t let me get a gun. Not even a short-barreled AR-15 with a folding stock. So, yeah, no need to pack that.

However as much as we threw away, we made sure to pack ALL the boys’ toys. If we got home and found they were missing a sock, the weatherman predicts 0% chance to tears. But miss packing President Business, and watch out. Hurricane warning. Tsunami warning.

IMG_3366The biggest worry was the large bag. It was made in a day where the airlines didn’t care what size bag you had. It was made in a day where they didn’t steal 3” from your leg room to fit in a few more seats. It was made in a day when stewardesses all looked like models and didn’t threaten to have you thrown off the flight if you asked for a foot massage.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I can’t tell if a bag is 40lbs or 45 lbs by lifting it. However, the oldest nearly blew out an eyeball lifting it, so we could be in trouble. As we lumbered with the bags towards the counter, I was ready to do some repacking.

To our delight, there was no one at the counter. Now, being me, in the old days, I would have waited until someone came, then checked the bags. But this is Joe 2.0 and it ain’t always about the rules, yo, so I took the heavy bag and weighed it on their scale. Sure enough, it was over by about 10lbs.

No worries. We redistributed all our stuff in minutes and weighed the bag, again. 39.9lbs.

Perfect. The boy nearly teetered over backwards with all the extra weight we’d stuffed into their packs, but we’d done it.

airportA coffee later, we checked in. No problems. Then we retired to the waiting area. Planes roared towards the sky. Passengers rushed to and fro most looking seriously late for something. Not us, though. We were in no rush.

Which was good because the boys looked exhausted. But despite that, they were in good spirits (which is to say, they were not hitting each other with their backpacks or complaining about how uncomfortable the seats were or demanding unreasonable things like the airport have video games stations.)

The worst that happened was the oldest managed to spill milk over everything. At home, you spill a glass of milk and the counter or table gets wet. In an airport waiting lounge, fate dictates that it get spilled on everyone, and the seats and the bags. In fact, I’m pretty sure the milk volume tripled the moment it left the cup.

Ah well. Easy enough to clean up.

While the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world sponged milk from my crotch, someone fell in love with the youngest. She was an adorable little thing. Maybe 18 months? I dunno. Young, anyway, and walking, but not much beyond that. Red hair. Pale skin. White dress. Puffy bunny in her arms. She laid her eyes on the youngest and stopped running. She looked at him for a long, long moment, like she had seen a god, then went running back to her parents giggling.

She must have run back to see the youngest about 20 times. Each time she would stop, look deeply into his blue eyes, giggle a bit, maybe fidget, maybe hop from foot to foot, then run back, again.

IMG_3908I think the youngest will have to get used to that. He’s got blond hair and blue-blue eyes and looks like trouble. He’ll have no problem with women. Ever.

At 7, though, he just thought the little girl was annoying. He wanted the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world to make his paramour go away. But his mom was enjoying this far, far too much to send that little girl away.

“Oh, look! Here’s your girlfriend, again.”


“I think she wants to kiss you.”


“Why don’t you go over and say hi.”

“I’m never speaking to you, again, mommy.”

I have to say, it was massively entertaining. The more the youngest tried to ignore the little girl, the more she wanted him to notice her. There’s a life lesson there, if anyone was paying attention. Right now the oldest is the master of ignoring girls and it’s driving them nuts. Will he ever realize the power of aloofness balanced off with good looks? Will his brother?

I suspect one will totally realize it in time.

Eventually, though, we had to board the plane. I think if that little girl had any say in it, she would have sat on the youngest’s lap. If the youngest would have had any say in it, she would have been left behind.

But we got on the plane, the youngest sitting with me, the oldest with the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world. The trip was nearly over.

All we had to do was get home.

Traveling With Kids – San Diego – Balboa Museum of Nature

The Last Museum

IMG_3854 (600x800)The youngest said, as we drove to the airport, that museums were not that interesting because, you know, he kinda knew about everything that was in it.

I dunno if that was really true, but for the two boys, the museum of Nature was a completely different experience.

IMG_2292 (598x800)Both loved that when they walked in there was a dinosaur looming inside, looking like it was running from them. That drew them in. The wanted a closer look. Then they saw a big globe they could play with. That pulled them into the museum further. Then, out of no where, as they rounded a corner, a huge shark looked like it was leaping out of the water towards them.

And the museum had them hooked.

The youngest, after staring up in awe at the shark, ran off to play with things that could be played with. He moved continents. He made mountains rise out of the sea. He tore the Baja Peninsula from California. He plunged the globe in and out of darkness. Like a cruel and somewhat bored god.

The oldest inspected the displays, stopping at ones he knew a little about, talking to us about them, asking questions that we couldn’t possibly hope to answer. “So, if I could ride a shark and I could breathe underwater and I could control the shark with my mind, could I defeat Godzilla?”

Ok, he didn’t ask if he could defeat Godzilla, but he did want to ride that shark and control minds and had some tough questions to answer (unless you were a dinologist or whatever they’re called.)

For him, the museum fired up his imagination.

And isn’t that great?

I dunno if he actually learned any hard facts. But it got him thinking.

We moved from the dinosaurs upwards, checking out bones and peaking into the pirate exhibit that cost way too much to actually go into. It’s funny sometimes that I’ll spend thousands of dollars on a flight and hotel and balk at $30 a person to see pirates, but there it is.

IMG_3882 (800x450)The boys lost interest in paintings hung on the upper floors, but the youngest found a huge chalkboard where kids had written their profound thoughts and drawn smiley faces and stickmen. He grabbed an eraser and erased them all. To be fair, he likes to clean.

IMG_3881 (600x800)While he scrubbed chalk from the chalkboard, his brother examined tiny skulls. I could see his mind working. I could almost hear his imagination catching fire. Nothing like a skull the size of my pinkie fingernail to keep the attention of an 11 year old.

We saw more dinosaur exhibits, the youngest sifting through dirt to find bones,IMG_3897 the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world joking that it was nice for the dinosaurs to have colored bones so we knew what went where. The oldest gave her that look that I usually get.

But with time running out, we still had one last thing to do – See an IMAX film on dinosaurs. In hindsight, we chose poorly. We should have seen the show on sharks but both boys said they knew everything about sharks, and said it in that “duh, hello, bored,” tone. So, yeah, dinosaurs it was.

The graphics were good, the story kinda neat, but I think the boys were done for the day. A week of touring had finally caught up with them. They looked like they would fall asleep.

IMG_3875The museum wasn’t a complete disaster,IMG_3889 (600x800) don’t get me wrong. The oldest’s mind was expanded just a little bit that day, and the youngest got to touch, poke, rattle a ton of displays. They both got to climb on an elephant and the oldest found the red-eyed bird that had been following him the whole trip.

But hey, by the late afternoon, they were tired, they wanted to get home, they wanted to sleep in their own beds, play a little terraria and have enough face cloths to wash their faces.

IMG_3856 (800x600)So, we left the museum, Balboa Park, the city of San Diego and headed off to the airport.

Two tired boys?

In an airport?

What could go wrong?

Traveling With Kids – San Diego – Balboa Park and The Best Two Museums Ever

Model Behavior

It was morning. Balboa Park. Our last great adventure in San Diego.

We were off to see two of the best museums ever! One was a model train museum. One was a museum, I kid you not, that had sharks, dinosaurs and freaking pirates.

How could this fail?

IMG_3809 (800x600)When we arrived, the sun was out. It was almost hot. The park was full of people, including a group of Chinese protestors protesting something bad China had done (which could be a whole ton of things.) There was an organ recital planned for later in the afternoon. Popcorn was being popped. The smell of hot dogs and onions filled the air.

It looked to be a great day.

But the boys didn’t take to the first museum.  Nope.  Not at all.

IMG_3814 (600x800)

The oldest simply didn’t seem to care for all the models, not even when we found out that many of the dioramas built were completely to scale and were accurate representations of actual towns and times.

The youngest seemed keen at first. Until he learned he couldn’t actually go and play with the trains. It was the last straw, I think. Not playing with the lions had been a pretty big blow to him, but not being able to race the trains off the tracks and have them smash into buildings and people, well, that was too much.

Worse, he found out he couldn’t even touch the trains and no one was going to give him a free one.

So, for him, even when he got to press a button that made a small kiddie train filled with Mario brother figures go whoo-whoo, he was happy when we moved on.

For the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world, I think looking at the all work that went into making some of the amazing model train sets was pretty impressive, but she would have rather done something a little more interesting. Like poking herself in the eye with a fork. Or watching paint dry while waiting on the phone for an actual person at Shaw Cable to talk to her.

But for me, oh wow.

IMG_2287 (800x598)Now, I’m not a train guy. I played with model trains when I was younger and both my brother and I made some pretty extensive tracks. N gauge in case anyone cares or knows what that is. But the running of the trains on the tracks never had much appeal to me. The appeal was in creating worlds, making mountains, putting little shoppers next to little shops, finding the perfect stop-sign for a road crossing, and building a magnificent tree from sticks, glue and moss we pulled off of rocks.

So, to see what really talented people could create was simply a wow moment. Forget the whales that could leap over each other or the dolphins that would write Shakespeare, this was truly cool stuff. The hours and hours and hours each set must have taken was mind blowing.

It’s why I liked the lego store. It’s why I still like to make models (or did when I had free time.) I love that you could build something from nothing. Maybe it’s why I write. Same thing. From nothing, something cool. I’m sure there’s a latin phrase for that.

IMG_3819 (800x600)The buildings were perfect, the mountains soared, the hill rolled with grass. I found little mountain climbers on one set, stuck half way up, I found a dog being chased by his owner in a field. I found a car accident where people had stopped to render aid. I found a man putting up a store closed sign.

I hunted for those little ‘easter eggs’ like a little kid.

But for everyone else, it wasn’t quite the same thrill.

IMG_3839 (800x600) IMG_3837 (600x800)So we left and had a lunch of hot dogs. I could even eat one without my teeth hurting like mad. It made my day. The youngest wanted to eat 20. He was full after one. The oldest wanted to know if we could get those exact hot dogs at home. They were that good.

But before we could head off to see a museum filled with sharks, dinos, and freaking pirates, we had to do something for the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world. She had been a saint while we lego’d or went on splashie rides or went all googlie-eyed over model trains. So, we went to the small amphitheater and sat in the shade and listened to an organ being organized. Ha. Get it. Organized.

IMG_3845 (800x600)The musician played beautifully, but there was only so much the boys could take. Sitting still, listening to music, letting the sun warm their skin, well, that is just not something they could not do for long.

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IMG_2289 (598x800)So, we listened to one song, then had to head off.

Next stop, the most awesome museum in the world.

Traveling With Kids – San Diego – The Last Morning Adventures

Packing Problems or Leaving It All Behind

We still had 2 great challenges to overcome in the morning. 3 if you include getting the boys up, getting their faces washed, their teeth brushed and into some form of clothes. Then it was off to one last big adventure.

face clothsThe first challenge was the ongoing battle with the hotel staff over face cloths.

Every day since the day we arrived, we ran out of face cloths. Hey, do the math. 4 people, 4 showers, morning face washings and, at some point, spot scrubbing of ketchup, blood or jam off of body parts…

The 2 they left us were just not enough.

So every night I would phone down and ask for more face cloths.

Now maybe this is a weird language thing. Maybe the americans call them wash cloths, or face wash-washies or gun cloths, but every time I ordered some, I just never knew what I would get. Or, to be fair, with my braces on, they may have heard ‘faith clouds’ or ‘fade gloss’ or something like that.

One time a nice maid delivered about 10 small towels. One time, despite asking for 6, one was sent up. Another time, a harried-looking janitor gave me an armful of them (and the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world was not convinced they were that clean.) One time when we came back, we found that they had taken all of them away. All.

It was then that I began to suspect something was up. Like the maids who polished the floor to a slippery shine in order to kill me in Mazatlán, I think the maids got a good giggle over the whole face cloth thing. “Let’s see what they do when we give them small towels? They are Canadian, yes? I bet $2 they don’t say a thing.” “Ok, we didn’t’ give them anything? Everyone place their bets when they’ll notice.” “Omg, you should have seen his face when I gave him one.”

That’s ok. It took a few tries sometimes, but we got our face cloths in the end. And the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world being kind and empathetic, refused to believe my stories about the maid conspiracy and when we finally departed, she left them a nice tip for all the hard work they did on our behalf.

It’s something I would never have even thought about.

Nor did the boys either.

It’s why we need the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world with us. She is simply a nicer person.

So second problem: If anyone remembers about 400 posts ago, I mentioned Allegiant Airlines had a pretty strict baggage policy. Their biggest bag can only weigh 40lbs, but L+W+D can be an astounding 80”. I’m pretty sure if we cellophaned up the youngest, he would be qualify, but apparently they have restrictions against shipping children in the baggage compartment. Their other bags are, 9x14x22 for carry-on, and 15x7x16 for personal bags.

If we failed to meet those specs, the fines were hefty. A billion dollars or something like that.

When we left on the flight here, we barely made the limit and since then, we’d spent a whole week buying seaworld shirts, boxes of lego, rubber frogs, maps, suntan lotion, zoo cups, video games, bandages, and something stuffed in a yellow bag (And that was just my stuff!)

So we knew this trip back was going to have a lot more stuff. But, to be fair, we knew this was going to be a problem, so the night before, we went out to Target (the last ‘t’ is silent in Canada).  We bought another carry-on and then paid an extra $40 or something to add it to our Allegiant Baggage total.

IMG_3795 (800x600)However, as we packed in the morning, it became apparent that the extra bag would not be enough. We stuffed the boys’s small backpacks full of clothes and heavier things. Sure this would double their body weight but everyone was taking one for the team at this point.

We then threw out all the HBA (in my old business, that was health and beauty aids), including all the hotel shampoos and lotions and mouthwash I’d stolen over the week. We sat on the bags to make sure we could zip them shut. Then we lifted them up and did our best to eye-ball their weight (or arm-ball them?).

My best guess was the big bag weighed about 200 lbs. The others seemed fine even if the boys bags looked like airbags ready to explode.

So we repacked, and repacked, again, balancing out the weight as best we could. But the only way we’d know for sure if we were over-weight would be at the terminal (and I knew for a fact, I would be over-weight… too many hamburgers and chilli-fries.)

IMG_3797 (800x600)If we were over, though, I had a plan. I could wear about 6 pairs of underwear, two shirts, and probably stuff a couple of socks down my pants. I offered to do the latter anyway, but the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world didn’t warm to the idea.  The boys could wear extra clothes and stuff lego in their pants. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world could fill her purse with sweaters, zoo cups and extra bras.

We had this.

So, with nothing left to pack, with the room cleaned up, the vital air freshener left in the bathroom for others to use, the used face-cloths stacked neatly, if somewhat damply, on the side of the tub, we gave the room one last tour, then left.

IMG_3798 (600x800)The youngest – being in charge of elevator button pushing on this trip –  pressed the down button one last time.

Then we settled up and IMG_3799 (800x600)lugged our luggage to the car. I have no idea how I fit it all in the trunk, but I did. Even the oldest looked impressed. The youngest said he could have done it faster.

As the sun came out, bright and glorious, we drove off to Balboa Park to see one museum for the boys and one for, well, let’s say it was the boys, too (but really, it was for me.)

The only issue now was would we all have enough energy to do Balboa or would the 6 days of non-stop tripping take its toll on us?



Traveling With Kids – San Diego – Last Morning

Sunday – Am

It’s the last day and I’m up and out a 7:30 to get the writing caught up. I couldn’t escape without the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world knowing. Mommy hearing strikes again.

We have a plan for the last day. Our flight does not leave until 7, so we have a few last opportunities for adventure.

Rain’s falling outside. It’s a bit on the chilly side. I’m writing at my spot, the Doubletree Hotel lobby. Right by the coffee. Mmmmm cofeee.

This time I’ve got better hair. This time there isn’t a choir practicing. Or the staff gathering. Knots of regular teenagers are busy grabbing coffees and looking all GTA surly.

gangstersThere’s a fashion choice down here you don’t see where we live. Sunglasses. Long white shirt (t-shirt, wife beater, whatever), beige shorts, very long, white socks pulled nearly up to the knees. Sandals. Bandana optional.

It’s a barrio look, but this group is NOT latino. The group is… actually, I have no idea. Southeast Asian for sure. Wide faces, broad noses, black hair, dark eyes. Thai or Vietnamese or Chinese? Malaysian, maybe?

gangstaI have no idea, but a good number of kids are milling around and trying to look menacing. Especially the girls. They have different clothes from the boys (duh), but holy heck, do they look mean. They glare at each other, arms crossed, frowns on their foreheads. Most have tattoos. Even the boys seem to avoid the larger groups of girls. Hell, I would, too.

A knot of boys walk by me with a side-to-side swagger, sunglasses hanging from their ears around their chins. At least their pants are pulled up. They’re not threatening or nasty in any way, it’s just their look. I’m sure they take their vitamins and call their grandmothers on the weekend, but let me tell you, all of them had mastered the don’t-f*-with-me posture.

Finally they file out, and I’m alone, and it’s quiet again.

Quiet’s not something I’ve had a lot of on this trip. Maybe not for a long time now. I understand now why the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world hides in the bathroom sometimes. It’s quiet there. I understand why those times when we are alone, in bed together, the boys asleep, the house silent, I understand why they are magical.

However, I don’t want to take away from the very thing I want to write about. It’s a tough balance when traveling. The need to record the experiences vs, well, the experiences.

I want to be there, to be present, and to help make the vacation something special. If I’m just on my laptop the whole time, sure my writing gets caught up, but my relationship would suffer, my connection to the boys and the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world would less.

And that connection, that relationship matters to me a lot.

So it’s back upstairs I go.

And hope that we haven’t tried to go a bridge too far with the boys today.



Traveling With Kids – San Diego – Catching Fire

Hunger Games Before Bed

catching fireCatching Fire’s a pretty good movie, but is it a good movie for a 7 and 11 year old? Will it be too scary, or too mature? Is there more than can be learned from that movie, or will the boys just want to shoot other children with arrows?

But hey, they’d seen The Hunger Games and didn’t get any nightmares, so I thought, why not? It’s a little deeper movie than they’re used to, I mean, there aren’t any big-eyed Japanese animations or stretchy dogs, but it could also be a little disturbing. It’s a pretty dark movie and people die. Good people.

IMG_3794So we decided to stay in, order pizza (I swear they could have pizza every day) and watch the movie.

The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world gave me that look that says, I hope you know what we’re doing. I’m not sure if that look was for the garlic cheese bread I’d ordered with the pizza or the movie, but either way, if the boys were up in the middle of the night, it wouldn’t be good.

katnissSo we watched it all the way through. There are so many things that worked in this movie and, being a wanna-be story-teller, I want to point out all the great things the writers do. How they chose which character to kill and how they made sure that you’d care that they died. How they made a douchie character multidimensional by showing us someone he loves, or by having the villain care about something too, something other than just power, how they use lighting for mood, and how brilliant Jennifer Lawrence is as an actor.

But that’s a little much for them right now. Instead, I gleefully answer questions when they come up… like why did they kill the old man? They are shocked and horrified when this happens.

“He gave a symbol of defiance,” I tell them.

“What’s defiance?”

cathing fire saluteThe Prettiest-girl-in-the-world is wicked fast with an explanation. “He’s refusing to obey.”

“That three-fingered salute is like giving the people in- charge the finger,” I add in my typically clueless fashion. Did they even know what giving the finger is? And if they didn’t, how am I going to explain THAT to them?

Apparently they do. Apparently mommy gives that gesture to some drivers. So they ask, “But why, why was the old man defiant?”

Me – “Because he and all the others are forced to live terrible lives and they see Katniss as a symbol of defiance. And to salute her, they give her a 3 fingered salute, the salute of her district.”

“Why do they have such horrible lives?” the oldest asks.

“They don’t have any food. The are cold. They don’t have any hope that their lives will get better. At least until Katniss appears.”

More questions follow and I love that they are asking them. I want to show them movies that make them think. I want to take them to places in the world that gives them new experiences. I want to get them away from a world of youtube clips and mods in minecraft and into the real world of history and people and architecture and art and food and moral dilemmas.

Lofty goals, for sure. I mean, right now, it’s a huge success if they agree to try a Mexican fish stick, but I’ll keep at it.

presidentIn the end, the movie succeeds. They hate the president, and it’s interesting that they hate the person and not the system created.

I get a chance to talk to them more about that. I think the movie does a great job of personifying the government, the capital, in one person. And that, of course, makes it easier for good to triumph.

I do not tell them that good rarely defeats a system. At least in 2 hours. Good can defeat a villain, though, I tell them. It’s a good thing for them to believe, even if it’s something that isn’t always true.

But hope in the movie is powerful. Sacrifice is powerful. Love is powerful. Standing up for what you believe in is powerful.

And I think they understood that.

My only fear is that we’ll get the three fingers next time we tell them they have to eat their broccoli.



Traveling With Kids – San Diego – Seaport Village

The Best Place To Eat?

seaportThat was the question. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world txted Schemennis and he recommended Seaport Village, a totally redone (by the Disney people) collection of shops, parks, and restaurants.

So we waited for the next tour bus to arrive, barely squeezed on and headed off to Seaport Village. The sun was still out, the weather glorious but it seemed like all of San Diego had decided to drive out to Seaport Village. The roads were stuffed like an overstuffed pastry. At least that’s what I thought at the moment. Yes, we were all starving.

We drove by the Cheesecake Factory, (but not THE Cheesecake Factory where Big Bang Penny works), and declared THAT was where we would eat. However, when the bus dropped us off to load about a billion people back on to it, we realized the CCF was a bit of a walk. So, with a few more recommendations, we marched into the village.

Only to have a ‘squirrel’ moment.

IMG_3736 (800x600) (2)Like the dog from the movie, ‘Up’, the moment we saw a big crowd watching a girl play with fire, well, we had to stop. We just HAD to stop. And not only was she playing with fire, but was juggling flaming torches while balancing on supports balancing on a chairs!

While the youngest found a seat on the grass and watched with wide eyes and an open mouth, the rest of us maneuvered so that we could see and not block anyone from seeing. Yes, we are Canadian and we think of those things.

The performer was pretty entertaining, but I watched the crowd as much as her. Little kids, despite being able to play super-duper-Mario-Spaz-brothers-deluxe in HD-3D still found live entertainment compelling. They laughed nervously, worry on their little faces,  when she got a little girl in the audiance to throw knives at her. They cheered IMG_3739 (600x800) (2)when she caught them. They gasped when she dropped one and looked to their parents to see how they should react.

It reminded me how important it is to get the boys out and into the world. Watching Sponge Bob or Adventure Time may be amusing, but there are other things out there, other experiences that don’t have to involve rollercoasters or 942’ long aircraft carriers.

After it was over, the youngest told us he could do that.

The oldest, by now on the verge of starving to death, was keen to make sure she was paid for her troubles. He and his brother made their way through the crowds to deposit money in her hat. It was a point of pride for him and it led to a very cool discussion about business while we walked to find food.

IMG_3909 (600x800) (2)The youngest wanted to start a business where people paid him not the be loud or jump on the furniture or hit them. I thought it was a pretty viable option.

But the oldest’s ideas stunned me. He knew about marketing, about target audiences, about product quality and price points. He talked specifically about the pedi-cab drivers. You have to look presentable, he said, and look like you’re having fun, like you’re enjoying it. Maybe offer not to charge a family for children. Maybe have some water. And know where people would be and where they’d be tired and if it was a hot day, he could probably charge more, and have some sort of shade and …

Good lord, it was amazing. He said he’d get enough money to buy a second cab, then a third, then a hotel (ok, that was a bit of a leap, but still, you have to admire the ambition) and then he would get two hotels and retire to some place warm when mom wouldn’t have to work and where he and his brother could play video games all day long.

There’s some deep thinking going on in that boy’s head and it was so cool to see it leak out a bit.

But we eventually found food, a burger place recommended by Schmennis. All the seats in the little square were full so we had to ask if we could share. IMG_3746 (600x800) (2)Awkward to do for shy Canadians, but I found a couple just leaving and we plopped our bottoms down. Ohhh, so nice.

We ate amazing burgers and fries, the youngest trying to drink two drinks at once, the oldest keeping an eye out for fry-stealing birds and the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world glad to be sitting down so her feet could rest.

But the day was far from over.


Traveling With Kids – San Diego – USS Midway

Inside the Belly Of the Beast

IMG_0552 (800x600) (2)Would the USS Midway be fun for anyone but me?

In a text message, Schmennis joked – “Tell the oldest this is a ‘no fun’ area and all personnel caught having fun will be keelhauled. No smiles. None. There’s a morale suppression squad on board and they’re very good at their job.”


The USS Midway is HUGE. It’s hard to believe how huge it is until you walk onto the lower hanger deck (and this is nowhere near the biggest aircraft carrier.) It’s awe-inspiring to see such an amazing feat of engineering. That so much metal could actually float amazes me.  Wooden ships I get. But 64,000 tons of steel made into a ship that’s 972 feet long… come-on, that’s impressive.

It is, however, still shorter than the Empire State, the oldest proudly declares. I ask if the Empire State can float? No. Can the Empire State launch an airstrike that can destroy an entire navy? No. Then my aircraft carrier defeats your building, ha!

There was so much to see and do on board. WW2 vintage planes to look at. Ejection seats to sit in. Stories about epic battles to be read. Cockpits to climb into and stare out at the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world, fun facts to be IMG_0554 (800x600) (2)recited to anyone who was near me, jets on the upper deck to gawk at, a tour of the lower deck to go on, and, of course, a flight sim.

For the youngest to have the best time, he needs to be able to touch things, climb on things, climb into things, climb under things, photo-bomb people and be shout instead of talking quietly.

He could do all those here. He must have gone into every cockpit there was.  He even strafed his mom once and, like most boys, he did a pretty good machine gun sound. Apparently mommy was invading his island. I’m pretty sure he also dropped bombs on her, too, but his explosion sounds were less convincing.

IMG_2261 (598x800)The oldest, from the moment he entered the hanger deck, wanted to go on the flight sim.

“Can we go on the flight sim, now?” “What about now?” “How much longer until we can go on the flight sim?” And all of this while we stood in the ticket line.

He was clearly in violation of Schmennis’ ‘no fun’ zone rules, but he loved his sim experience in the Air and Space Museum and this one promised to be even better. Why? He could shoot other planes down. None of this ‘driving into houses’ for sport, this was full-on combat against the Japanese hordes in WW2 (I want to say he flew a Hellcat, but don’t quote me.)

So we climbed in, I assumed the role of gunner, which was not terrible realistic as the Hellcat was a single seat fighter, but whatever. We roared off a jungle airstrip and engaged the enemy. He swerved and dove and rolled as I tried to keep an eye on where enemy planes were and shoot them down.  He laughed and cheered and shouted insults at the enemy.

In the end, we shot down exactly 0 Zeros. 0.

And we got shot down, mostly by other Hellcats, about a dozen times.

As I stumbled out and towards the deck tour, I felt sick to my stomach. It wasn’t from trying to kill other people, that never bothers me, but from his aerial acrobatics. Now understand, I don’t ever get airsick, I don’t get car sick, I don’t get seasick and I can watch any movie in IMAX and not want to throw up afterwards.

But trying to keep an eye on the enemy planes while the oldest spun in wildly erratic (let’s say defensive) maneuvers, it was more than my brain could take. It took me a few moments to get over being queasy.

IMG_3730 (600x800) (2)On the tour of the crew decks, we all had a different experience. Amazingly, it was the youngest who wanted to listen to all of the audio information about the crew and their quarters, about the galleys and messes and elevators and birthing compartments (I know, odd name), and laundry areas  and… well, a lot of stuff.

The rest of us were happy to cherry pick the information.

IMG_3728 (600x800) (2)IMG_3726 (800x600) (2) Me, I loved ‘experiencing’ the ship. The thick IMG_3727 (600x800) (2)paint coated on the walls and floor. The smell of cloves in the dentist’s office. The snaking mass of wires overhead. The signs on the metals walls. The lingering odor of oil and metal and paint and lino. The small space set aside for each sailor. The wooden walls in the captain’s quarters. The solid metal doors that could be sealed to stop flooding or fire from spreading. The horror of being trapped if those doors were shut.

I loved that we had to duck so as to not bang our heads on the hatches. I loved that we also had to lift out feet as well  or trip. It kept me alert. I super loved no one banged their head until the very end. I loved walking up and down the steep, steep stairways and looking down elevator shafts and reading the funny plaques in the Chief Petty Officer’s Mess (they claim, with some justification, that they actually run the ship.) And I loved that there were dozens and dozens of old veterans onboard to answer questions, tell stories and thank us for coming.

IMG_0564 (600x800)But it was a long tour, self-guided, and even though we only got to see a small % of the actual space, it gave us all an idea of what life would be like.

The oldest vowed he would never join the navy. Too claustrophobic. He would, in a second, join the air force if they let him fly planes. The youngest would have gladly joined the navy if he was made captain.

And if they let him play on the elevator and load big shells. I didn’t have to heart to tell them they would also require that he get up on time and keep his room clean.

But the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world couldn’t shake the bad feeling she got on the lower decks. She got a bad feeling in the infirmary. She got a similar feeling in the coliseum in Rome. An unsettling feeling of death and pain.

I find it amazing she is so connected to the world that she can feel such things. I barely feel the world unless I’m hit in the face by a tree branch or trip on a  grass-covered hole.

IMG_2269 (800x599)But by the time we were done with the tour, people were hangry and that was not good, there was still the upper deck and all the shiny jets to see.  An F-14 Tomcat, A-4Skyhawk, F/A-18 Hornet, A8 Crusader, F-4 Phantom, A-6 Intruder (though I had to look up what the A-6 was called), an E-2 Hawkeye, an A-7 Corsair and a bunch of helicopters that I didn’t know the names of.

IMG_0574 (800x600) (2)IMG_2272 (800x598) (2)So, while the boys climbed in and out of another cockpit, while the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world caught a bit of sun, I ran around the flight deck looking at the planes, taking a quick picture, reading the call-signs painted on the sides, and trying to catch a bit of the cool lecture giving by an old F-4 pilot who’d fought over Hanoi.

Oh, I would have loved to spend a MUCH longer time there, but hangries trump planes so we headed off in search of food, leaving the planes and the history behind.

More adventures awaited.



Traveling With Kids – San Diego – Doubletree Hotel Free Time

Only 2 Days Left

How do you find time to write?

It’s been a huge challenge for me on this trip. HUGE.

Enjoying-Life-Quotes-One-day-your-life-will-flash-before-your-eyes.-Make-sure-its-worth-watchingI want to be present for the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world and the boys so that means quality time with them comes first. I have to. It’s the whole point of the trip.

Plus, there’s demand for the computer. Last night it was to plan the hop-on-hop-off-San-Diego-walk-San-Diego-learn-about-San-Diego-tour.

So it’s not easy getting time to write.

Being me, I had to come up with a plan.

The trick is, the only thing that I can give up is something I love so very, very dearly.


Being me, I weigh the pros and cons.


  • losing sleep allows me to write
  • I often wake up earlier than the boys and the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world.


  • Lack of sleep will make me even more stupid than I am (as an example, I wrote ‘lake of sleep’ on my first attempt.)
  • Lack of sleep leads to grumpiness, though hungry-Joe is still the surest route to that particular state.
  • I can’t write in the room without waking someone up
  • I am never my best in the morning. I peak at about 2:12 each day. I’m awesome for about 16 minutes, then it’s downhill from there.

But one pro outweighs the cons. I need to write.

So, at 6am, I shuffle out of bed as quietly as the most quiet mouse on the face of the planet.

Of course I wake up the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world. She has mommy hearing.

I whisper to her that I’m going downstairs to write. I think she kinda understands, but for a mom, giving up any sleep, any time must seem like insanity.

Downstairs in the lobby, I find a small table with a plug. I get a coffee. I sit down to write. My bum sinks deep into the chair. Too deep for me to use the table, so I put the laptop on my knees. It’s very warm. Sleepy warm.

Yikes!!!! Looks like a river of hair between two forests of tangles
Yikes!!!! Looks like a river of hair between two forests of tangles

My hair is a mess (thanks elevator mirror for showing me that!). I don’t dare go back upstairs, make the key beep in the swiper-thingee, creak the door open, try to prevent it from booming shut, then add get to my hair so I look awesome, no, no, that would surely wake-up the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world and I desperately want her to sleep in a bit.

So, I go into the lobby looking like Wolverine, which is an awesome look on Hugh Jackman, but a spooky-ass, weird look on me. Dishes clatter behind me from the restaurant opening up. Guests squeak by on rubber-soled shoes. I can smell bacon and toast.

The staff gather at a table beside me. All latinos. 5 men. 1 women. All well-dressed from the night shift. They laugh and drink coffee and talk about the teenage choir that kept them all busy last night. Teenagers! the only lady laughs with exasperation. It’s an easy laugh, like something she’s used to doing. She’s not pretty, but all the men sit around her paying attention to her. She has that kind of energy.

Then a choir comes down. Fresh-faced kids. Long dresses. Suits. They gather in knots and practice singing.

It may be one of the loveliest sounds I’ve heard.

I’m reminded what I see and hear when I get up and out of my room.

Yup, this is the perfect spot.

IMG_3720 (800x600)I’d forgotten about all the other pros and cons.

Time to write.



Traveling With Kids – San Diego – Unexpected Moments

Seizing the Moments

No pictures. This is not about pictures.

The more I’m around children, the more I realize you have to jump on the moments when they occur. Teachable moments. Connecting moments. Emotional moments.

Last night, the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world spent a good half hour talking to her boys about a very serious subject.

I don’t get to have these moments, yet. Maybe I never will. It’s a trust issue, I think. It’s not something that they feel comfortable talking to me about but I hope that one day they will. Until then, I do what I do. I observe. I listen. I learn.

After a protracted battle to get them to bed, they wanted to know about a very painful subject. Suicide. I have no idea why.

A part of it was wanting to stay up, I think. Both the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world and I know that. But it’s also a topic that’s a lot more important than Pokemon or Adventure Time. So it’s not something to ignore or put off. If the boys want to talk about this, time is made.

For the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world, this is a very personal subject. She lost someone very, very dear to her and that pain, that loss has never gone away. As much as we can intellectualize these occurrences in our life, the simple truth is that they scar us.

But she talks to the boys about it.  Why someone would do that? they want to know. They want details. Even how. How did he do it?

I’ve never had the courage to ask her that question. I didn’t want to cause any more pain.

But the boys ask.

And the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world tells them. I know she’s tearing up. It’s hard not to. But she never shies from hard things. Never.

They ask if some does that, do they still go to heaven? They love the idea of heaven, even if they aren’t particularly religious.

I know some people believe no. I like to think we all make it there, though my concept of heaven is less clouds and angels and more about being with the ones they loved and lost. I told the boys that when they asked me once if I believed in heaven.

She tells them that yes, we all go to heaven. In some form or another. She believes she’ll see him again.

I think that comforts the boys. They were silent for a while. Thinking, perhaps.

They quiet down.

And she leaves them, returning to bed.

I feel a little guilty for listening. Like I’m stealing their moment.

But it’s a moment for me, too.

Traveling With Kids – San Diego – Supper Surprises


Breaking Bread

Ok, so the boys love Denny’s.

It’s safe comfort food.

Plus, they get to choose stuff. They love to choose stuff.

The funny thing is, though, they always choose the same thing with some very minor variations. Hamburger and fries. Chicken strips and fries. For the youngest, pizza, please. With fries.

God help them if they’re faced with Mexican food or Thai food or fruit.

Dinner at Red Lobster
Dinner at Red Lobster

Yet, this trip they’ve been brave enough to get out of their comfort zone a bit. Faced with no pizza or hamburger choices, they tried fish sticks, Mexican style. One ate a hamburger WITH cheese on it. The other ate fries WITHOUT ketchup. Both tried hash browns. One spit back a spoonful of applesauce like it was steaming poo, but hey, he did try it. The same one ate a corn dog until he found out it was not covered in cheese then suddenly found it uneatable.

But that’s all new stuff for them, and I have to say, it’s always entertaining for me. Like me trying tripe for the first time. (I think I spit it back, too.)

Being me, I want to talk over supper. But I’ve yet to get them talking much.

Not Denny's. We were discussing Terraria at this point.
Not Denny’s. We were discussing Terraria at this point.

I come at them again and again. Today I asked about the zoo. What animals did they like? Hate? Did you like the bus ride? Did you see when I caught on fire and ran around naked screaming?

I usually get a shrug or a single word answer.

We did get to talk a bit about the elephants, again. That was cool. We talked about if they were abused at the zoo or not, if the enclosure was big enough, if they were well treated. I was in the minority thinking that they were, but it was a good discussion.

However, every so often, just to make sure I’m not ever understanding what’s going on, something like this pops up out of nowhere.

The oldest looks up from his glass of milk after a very brief discussion on his turn as navigator.  “Mommy, is all of this training for being an adult?”

It’s a laser-like observation. I sit bolt up.

“Yes, it is,” she replies.

He nods. Gets a very serious look on his face.

Then returns to his milk.

I try to expand on the subject, but he’s moved on and I come to realize that I’m pretty much talking to myself.

I go back to my fries. But despite what I may think sometimes, they’re watching, learning, observing and, I hope growing (and not just taller.)

IMG_3551So neither the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world nor I are deterred. We’ll continue to get the boys to try new foods, have new adventures, venture their opinions and maybe, just maybe, talk about their feelings one day.

It’s all training for being an adult.

And not just for them. For me as well.

Traveling With Kids – San Diego – Undisclosed Location

Meeting the Mysterious Man

There is a lot that I cannot talk about. National security could be compromised. Names have been changed. Locations disguised. I have signed secrecy agreements.

schmennisBut we finally were able to connect with agent Schmennis. Not his real name. Ex-ninja, ex-navy-seal, ex-delta, ex-Canadian, (his real career cannot be identified), he was our hidden guide to San Diego, texting us with places to go, things to see, kid-friendly locations to eat.

But he was also one of the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world’s oldest friends. Someone she would talk to over her fence. Someone she hadn’t seen in years. Would his face still be the same or would the government have performed reconstruction to hide his identity?

IMG_0538 (800x600)We met him at an abandoned merry-go-round on the fringe of Balboa Park. I suspect it was a undisclosed missile silo, but I can’t talk any more about it. A homeless guy wandered up, filled up his bottle with water from the drinking fountain, but I wasn’t fooled. We were being checked out by the NSCIA.

IMG_3689 (800x800)Then Schmennis arrived. Turns out, no reconstructive surgery. He was the same guy, only a little older, and taking on his toughest assignment to date. Raising 5 kids. 5!!!!!!

Ok, so 2 are nearly doing me in. 2. He has 5, two of which are young twins still in diapers. Forget about his missions to mars or his secret deep-sea dives to Atlantis, this was his greatest challenge. He told stories like hauling the twins out of the dishwasher while one of them tried to eat pebbles off the sidewalk and the other one squirmed in his arms like a an agitated cattapiller, and all I could think was wow.

How do parents do it?

While we caught up with him, his two older boys played with ours. I’m constantly amazed that when left to their own devices, when free from iphones that play angry birds, that the boys can make their own fun. This time, it was excavating an ant hill. Not, perhaps, the most friendly thing to do to ants, (and they had just come from the zoo so you would have thought they would be all over not harming living things), but whatever… Ants.

They dug with sticks, they made plans, they laughed and goofed around, sometimes running around the tree that the ants had made their home (why? I have no idea. I think sometimes young boys just need to run. No reason.)

However, the oldest girl, (not much younger than our oldest) wanted nothing to do with ants and digging and running around. She told her dad how bored she was. A LOT. But Schmennis, having survived nuclear war in an alternate dimension didn’t give in to her desire for him to make it all better. He told her to find something to do.

It’s a skill I have yet to master. I’m still all about the problem solving. “Joe, I’m bored.” “Ah, ok, let’s try stuffing your brother into the dryer and see what happens.” I’m still not good at saying, figure it out yourself. It’s something I’m gonna have to learn.

I have to say I liked Schmennis. Like a North Korean guard on a watchtower, he managed to keep an eye on all his wards. None of them got run over by a very small train that goes around Balboa Park, none were killed by the angry ants and with the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world’s help, none of the twins actually swallowed anything toxic or boulder-like.

IMG_3718 (600x800)It was a neat thing to do on what would have otherwise been non-stop touristing. It was good for the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world to catch up with her friend and squish some babies. (You cannot believe how she lights up, how beautiful she is when holding a little one.) It was good for the boys to get a chance to be, well, boys.

And, it was good for me to realize that not having to look after 5 children is a freaking godsend. (shhh. Joe. You can’t say ‘freaking’.)

Now, what to do for food?

Traveling With Kids – San Diego Zoo – A Bus With A View

IMG_0522 (800x600)We’d found the place where they loaded the human cattle on to the tour bus. We chose to wait for another bus to arrive (to get a better seat), but it was so worth it. The boys got to be at the front of the bus AND on the top level (of course).

However, as we rode around (and during the whole day), it began to dawn on me that I have become Calvin’s dad.

calvinYou just never know what you’ll get if you ask me a question. Oh, you’ll get an answer, that’s guaranteed, but that answer may not always be correct.

“Joe, what happened to the dinosaurs?”

“They made Jurrasic Park 6 and that didn’t do so well, so they kinda died off.”



“Joe, can I have a monkey?”

“No, I used to be a monkey and people got mad at me for pooping  in public all the time.”



“Joe, what’s your favourite zoo animal?”




“Do you think the elephants are happy?”

“Well, they don’t have a choir group, but they’re not shooting at us, so I think so.”



“Did you have animals back when you were growing up?”

“Nope, the internet invented them.”


“Joe will I die if I get bit by scorpions?”

“The band or the bug?”



There were a lot of questions at the zoo. Sometimes I think the boys are just keying up easy ones for me to see what I’ll say. And you know what, I’m ok with that.

However, on the tour bus, we listened to the guide who seemed to know slightly more than I did (but not as much as the youngest did, at least according to him.)

IMG_3666 (800x600) IMG_3679 (800x600) IMG_3675 (800x600)We saw a lot of what we’d seen. Elephants. Camels. Condors. We saw the lions we missed. The tigers. We saw bears and hippos and hyenas. We nearly ran over people who walked in front of the bus. Twice. You’d think people would see a hulking, green double decker bearing down on them, a tourguide shouting on the loudspeaker, excuse me, please, step to one side, but you’d be surprised.

But, after hours and hours of animals, by the time the bus reached the end, we were done. At least with the animals.

Next up, a meeting with the mysterious Schmennis. And his merry band of little Schmennisesses.