Jan 4, 2015: Staycation, Part Deux

Greetings from the end of staycation week #2! (Sniff, sniff…went by too quickly!) This week was decidedly more successful than the first week we were all off, when Sam was sick so we pretty much just waited for him to feel better.

We kicked off Week #2 with a visit to Grandma Diane. We got to exchange Christmas gifts with her, and my sister dropped off their gifts, too. (Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see her…next time!) The big hits with the boys were Sam’s train set (from Auntie Lynnie and family) and Theo’s karaoke machine (from Grandma). Both boys are obsessed with the train set, and they’ve been having many karaoke concerts for us. Chris has also taken over the karaoke machine on several occasions to announce Theo’s chores to him—he turns up the echo and booms, “Theo, it’s time to go clean up your room! Please sort your shirts and your pants into two piles now!” Theo doesn’t find this nearly as amusing as we do. 😉

Grandma Diane also introduced us to my new obsession: SmashBurger. We eat a fair number of burgers when we go out because: (1) we all like burgers and fries, (2) they generally don’t break the bank, (3) it’s easy for us to order a bunless one and keep Theo gluten-free, and (4) Sam is obsessed with fries (he now actually points out restaurants when we drive by and yells, “Ies! Ies! Ies!”—or “fries,” in translated-speak). Oh my goodness, that’s a delicious burger! We don’t have SmashBurger near us, but I plan to seek them out whenever we’re in a place that has them. Mmmmm!

As a matter of fact, we went to the Winchester Mystery House on Tuesday, and I discovered that San Jose has a SmashBurger. So guess where we had lunch? 🙂

Funny thing about the Winchester Mystery House: I grew up probably about seven miles from it. I spent 18 years living that close to it, and I always wanted to tour it but never did. So recently, Sam’s Early Intervention program hosted a fundraising auction. I wanted to bid on something to support the program, but many of the items were things we definitely wouldn’t be able to afford—vacations and such. But then I spied tickets for the Winchester Mystery House, so I bid on those…and won! And so, on Tuesday we decided to put our tickets to use.

What a neat tour! Theo and I went on it; Chris and Sam attempted to, but Sam was crabby, and Chris had to flee outside with him before the tour even started. Oh well—he said they had fun exploring the grounds anyway, so all was not lost. Chris actually toured it when he was a kid, so he was happy to let Theo and I go on the tour together while he tended to Sam. (Funny thing is, there was another toddler on our tour who whined through the entire thing. So Chris and Sam could’ve stayed and wouldn’t actually have been out of place!)

Theo’s been really into old things lately, so he loved the tour. Well, the first half hour, anyway. He got bored during the second half hour, but he hung in there—and I considered it quite a success that a six-year-old boy was able to keep his attention for even half of an adult tour!

I always thought the Winchester Mystery House was supposed to be a spooky tour, but it really isn’t. There is some mention of possible hauntings and spirits, but mostly the tour just covered the eccentricities of the architecture. And the house is truly gorgeous—weird, but gorgeous. Some of the stained-glass windows are breathtaking!

In case you aren’t familiar with the house, here’s the short story: Sarah Winchester, of Winchester gun fortune, bought an eight-room farmhouse after her husband and baby daughter died unexpectedly (in unrelated circumstances). And then she had her laborers continue to build on the house nonstop, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for the next 38 years! Yes, you’re reading that right. The generally accepted story about why is that she strongly believed in ghosts and the spirit world, and she thought that the spirits were telling her that if she ever stopped building onto the house, she would die. So she continued building until her death. Now, the house has something like 40 bedrooms, over a hundred rooms in general, etc. And some of the architecture makes no sense: There are doors that open into walls, staircases leading into ceilings, and so on. It makes for a quirky, fascinating house. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed inside, but we did get a picture of the outside. 🙂

Monday and Wednesday, we stayed close to home, doing things like putting new tires on the van and the Porpoise (our pet name for Chris’s obnoxiously squealing car). Chris was rather dismayed that the Porpoise didn’t get stolen out of the tire-store lot, given that we had to leave it an extra day because the store had to close for a power outage. (We had a big windstorm that knocked out a lot of power in the area.) Alas, the Porpoise was right there waiting when we picked it up, much to Chris’s chagrin. (Amusing side story: Chris has a habit of leaving the Porpoise unlocked in the driveway, and I always get after him about this, saying that someone is going to break into it. A couple of weeks ago, someone did break into it, and I said, “See? You thought I was just a nag, but I told you it was going to get broken into if you didn’t lock the door!” He retorted, “I’ll admit you were right on that…but you have to admit that I was right when I said there was nothing in it worth stealing. They didn’t even take the radio!” Harrumph. I suppose he is right. But still!)

But anyway, by Thursday, the van had lovely new tires, and we were ready to hit the road for Monterey! You remember I was cranky last week about all of our Christmas/birthday plans turning to poop? I decided we’d remedy this by taking a quick overnight, just the four of us. I found a good hotel rate at an Embassy Suites in Monterey, and off we went!

We’ve been meaning to take the boys to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for some time, but it’s a long drive for us (2 ½ hours each way with no traffic…increased exponentially during traffic times), and it’s quite expensive. So, we decided that would be our treat for the messed-up Christmas/birthday plans. And what fun we had! On Thursday we drove down via Casa de Fruita, an old fruit stand that has been a stopping place for people driving between southern California and the Bay Area for many, many years. It’s out kind of in the middle of nowhere, but it’s not far out of the way if you’re trying to get from our house to Monterey. And it’s good kitschy fun for the boys. Casa de Fruita spawned all kinds of other places on their property: Casa de Deli, Casa de Restaurant, Casa de Wine, Casa de Sweets, Casa de Burrito, etc. And they have a rickety old playground, a train ride that takes you around the property (complete with lots of rusty old farm equipment that Theo is fascinated by), a double-decker carousel, a long-forgotten little zoo that now has only a few peacocks and lots of ducks, and a big pond. At the moment, both boys are enamored of trains, so we figured they’d like the train ride. And Sam loves ducks, so we knew he’d like the duckies.

So, we got some sandwiches at Casa de Deli, ate them outside, and then got tickets for the train ride. The minute Sam saw the train, he started shouting “Choo choo!!” and signing train, and he would not be diverted from staring at the train. He was wide-eyed on the ride, which was fun. And then after we got off, we did the carousel. It was the first time Sam remembers being on a carousel (he was on one when he was much younger, but I’m sure he doesn’t remember), and at first he was unsure. I said, “Isn’t this fun?” and he said, “No!” But once it started going around, he was smiling and bouncing on his horse, and when it finished he was giggling like crazy. I asked him if he liked it, and he said, “Esss!” (That’s how he says yes.) And of course, the ducks were a big draw for him, too.

As it turns out, the other big draw for him was…dried peaches. Casa de Fruita has tons of fresh and dried fruits, so Chris bought some dried peaches and dried apricots for us to snack on. In the car after we left, Sam kept whining and pointing at the bag of peaches. As you know, he is really resistant to eating for us, so our usual way of handling it is offering him anything he shows any interest in, even knowing that he’ll turn it down. So, I said, “Oh, you want a peach? Here you go!” and handed him a dried peach half. Seriously, 99 percent of the time he hands things back to us and says, “No!” This time, he put the peach in his mouth, sucked on it, and said, “Mmmm!” And then proceeded to eat the whole thing, while I fretted about whether he was going to choke! Chris said, “Why did you give it to him if you thought he would choke?” and I said, “Because he never takes food from me! Ever! He turns me down every time! I was just bluffing!” Yeah, he called me on it. Though for the record, he ate the peach and two more and didn’t choke at all. Evidently he’s a pro at dried fruit. On the way home, he ate a dozen apricots and didn’t choke, either. That made for a fun diaper, given that dried apricots have about the same effect as prunes. 😉

We got to Monterey in the late afternoon and took the boys to Dennis the Menace Park, which is huge and awesome. It was cold but clear and gorgeous, and we enjoyed the views of the bay while the boys played. Sam is fearless on the slides—he always wants to go on the very highest ones, which reminds me very much of another little blondie I know well. And that other little blondie was obsessed with the very long wobbly bridge, which is so wobbly that neither Chris nor I could stay on it for very long! (Kids seem to love it, though—it was very popular! Made my stomach turn, so better them than me….)

Then we got some dinner and headed to the hotel. Theo, as you know, loves hotels, so he was in heaven—especially when I pointed it out to him, as it’s a 12-story hotel among mostly smaller buildings in the area, so it really stands out. It was a nice enough hotel, but nothing terribly fancy—but to Theo, it was like a palace. He loved it.

We got a good deal on the room, but there was one issue: We normally get a two-bedroom suite, and this hotel offered only one-bedroom suites. I figured that would be fine for one night, but it was…not my best idea, shall we say. 😉

Normally, when we get a two-bedroom suite, Theo gets one bedroom, Sam and I take the other bedroom, and Chris either takes the second bed in my room or takes the pull-out sofa. (Chris is a horribly restless sleeper who twitches and shakes the bed all night. I am a terrible insomniac who is kept up by this, so we long ago learned that separate beds are a marriage-saver!) This setup works very well—Theo enjoys having his own room, and no one else is kept awake by him. But we had tired him out well on Thursday, so I figured we could just put Theo, me, and Sam in the one bedroom and give Chris the pull-out sofa in the main room.

The night started well enough: Theo has been dying to share a room with Sam pretty much since Sam was born, and we’ve never allowed it because we don’t trust his judgment yet. (He likes to give Sam toys in the crib and such, and he doesn’t understand when things are chokable or may be dangerous in a crib with a sleeping baby.) In this case, we let them share the room because I’d be in there, too. So we set up Sam’s Pack-n-Play, got Theo tucked into bed and Sam put down, and we retreated into the main room, leaving the door open so we could listen to the goings-on.

Theo, always one to try to stall bedtime, emerged after about 10 minutes and announced, “Guys, I’m really sorry to tell you this, but I’m trying to get to sleep, and Sam’s being annoying.” Turns out Sam was scratching the walls of the Pack-n-Play, which he does when going to sleep—and which a certain other blondie used to do when he was a baby. Recognizing this as a bedtime-avoidance tactic, we told him to ignore Sam, who would undoubtedly be asleep in minutes, and go back to bed. He did, and both boys were soon out like a light. Chris and I managed to stay up for an hour but then crashed—me in the second bed in the bedroom, and Chris on the ridiculously uncomfortable sleeper sofa. (Seriously, it felt like lying straight on the springs! But he has an easy time sleeping, so he didn’t much mind.)

Ever the insomniac, I laid awake in the bedroom from 10:30 until 1am, trying to rest. I finally drifted off sometime after 1…and then awoke at 1:40 to Theo standing next to my bed and saying, “Mom, I need to know what time it is.” I resisted the urge to strangle him (kidding…sort of…) and said, “It’s 1:40. Go back to bed.” He climbed back in his bed and proceeded to talk to me in a normal volume of voice. After several admonishments to be quiet and not wake his brother, he finally stopped talking when I said, “If you don’t stop talking right now and lie quietly in your bed, we will not go to hotels anymore!”

I drifted back off to sleep…until 2:30, when a small figure was standing by my bed cheerfully announcing, “Gee, Mom, that talking-to you gave me got me another hour of sleep!” “Why did you wake me to tell me this?” I demanded in a whisper. “I don’t know!” he said cheerfully, in a normal volume of voice. I repeated the warning about not waking his brother and said, “You see how I’m lying here silently, not talking? That’s what you need to do!” He agreed…and the silence was interrupted only a few times when he talked to his monkey.

I drifted back to sleep…until 30 minutes later, when I woke to find the room filled with light. I thought it was morning (that is, reasonable morning, not 3:00am), but no—evidently Theo had gone pee and turned on all of the lights in the bedroom and hallway, then climbed back into bed without turning them off. Miraculously, Sam snoozed on….

I admonished him again, turned them all off, and climbed back into bed, willing myself not to want to take him down to the lobby with a sign saying, “Sold to the highest bidder.”

I got woken up a few more times between 3:00 and 6:45, when I finally told him he could go wake Chris. I honestly think he was probably awake all night from 1:40am on, because he must’ve woken me up at least six times, and Chris told me the next morning that he had woken him a few times, too.

And thus, Chris had a lot of caffeine, I informed him that he would be doing the driving, since I had barely slept (at least Chris got to sleep the 10:30pm to 2:00am stretch!), and we informed Theo that we will not be sharing a hotel room with him again in the future. Two-bedroom suites are a must from now on. Good grief….

Anyway, determined not to let crummy sleep spoil our day, we met our friend at the aquarium at 9, and she got us in with her member guest passes. Unfortunately, her kids were sick, so she couldn’t stay…but she saved us $80 in admission, and we got to have a very short visit with her, so that was great! Next time, hopefully we’ll get to see her for longer.

The aquarium is really lovely—I can see why the admission prices are so high. It’s very well done, and there are a lot of wonderful exhibits. It tends to be very busy, so we decided to do the divide-and-conquer strategy where we each take a kid and resolve to meet up as a family later. I took Sam, who was actually feeling rather contrary. He seemed to be enjoying himself a lot, but just wanted to say “no!” to everything. It’s his favorite word to practice. 😉 He stared wide-eyed at the jellyfish, for example, and I’d say, “Sam, let me lift you up so you can see the jellies better” and he would reply, “NO!” Little stinker is lucky he’s so cute. 😉 He really did seem to enjoy the exhibits, though, and the one thing he did not proclaim “no!” about were the sea birds exhibits. He loved the penguins and the puffins—he thought both were ducks, and he kept saying, “Glack, glack, glack!” at them.

After about an hour, we ran across Chris and Theo, and Chris took the little contrarian to the dining area to eat a snack while I took over with Theo. Theo wanted to see the Great White Shark presentation, so we went to that, and it was fascinating. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a research institution and is actually the only such facility to have successfully had Great White Sharks in captivity and released them back into the wild—and in fact, they’ve done it six times already! So the presentation on their research was fascinating. Theo was actually really into it, too.

My favorite part of the aquarium is the sea otters, and Theo and I got to see them at feeding time. So cute!! The staff give them their food in little toys that the otters have to smack into hard surfaces to gain access to the food—to simulate how they obtain and eat their food in the wild. (They eat shellfish and crack it on coral or rocks or other hard surfaces to crack the shells open.) It was a lot of fun to watch them determinedly working at getting their food out!

It was a gorgeous day in Monterey, and we had thought to stay a bit longer and enjoy the glorious weather, but both boys were tired after the aquarium (and the crappy night of sleep for one, ahem!), so we headed home. It was a quick trip down there, but a lovely one.

I mentioned earlier that both boys are into trains lately. Given that, on Saturday we decided to try to do one last staycation-type activity, and I Googled something like “trains kids bay area.” That popped up an option we had never heard of: the Western Railway Museum. It’s located about 30 miles from us, out in the middle of nowhere, and we had never heard of it. But it looked promising, so we decided to go. And what fun it was! They’re devoted to electric trains, and the museum has a lot of old electric trains on display in a big old car house. You can walk amongst the trains and even climb on some of them, and you can take rides on a couple of the running trains. We took a 15-minute ride on a 1911 electric train, and then an hour-long ride on a 1903 electric train. So neat! The presentations were interesting, and the boys loved the trains. Also, because the museum is kind of out in the middle of nowhere, it wasn’t very crowded. There were several groups of elderly train enthusiasts there that I get the sense are regulars, and then there were a couple of families with young kids. But overall, it was really relaxed and uncrowded, which works great for us—easy to keep an eye on the boys, and it doesn’t overwhelm Theo. Sam was in his glory, toddling around and yelling, “Choo choo!”

It’s kind of funny: Sam has just naturally gravitated toward trucks and trains, which a lot of boys do at this age. Theo didn’t do that nearly as much—he had a phase when he was two where he liked cars, but he was never as much of a “car guy” as a lot of boys are. But now that he’s closing in on age 7, he’s suddenly developed a great interest in trains. He’s been watching two train cartoons that are actually meant for much younger kids (Chuggington and Thomas the Tank Engine), but he loves them…and Sam does too, which isn’t surprising, given that they’re geared to around his age.

On one hand, we worry a bit about Theo watching stuff that’s for much younger kids: Will his friends make fun of him if he’s talking about Thomas the Train, saying that’s for “babies”? But on the other hand, he doesn’t seem to be able to handle typical programming that kids his age are watching. We’ve had very bad luck with things like Scooby-Doo, Garfield, and the Disney movie “Sleeping Beauty,” even. We haven’t even attempted Star Wars, knowing that if he can’t handle the themes and such in Scooby-Doo, he’s definitely not ready for Star Wars. Things geared to his age just seem to send him into kind of a frenzy, and he doesn’t seem to know how to deal with the themes and such in them. So we finally decided to just let him go with Thomas and Chuggington, assuming that he’ll eventually outgrow them and grow into something else. The thing we’ve come to realize about Theo is that even though he’s mature well beyond his years in many intellectual areas, he’s actually quite immature in some social and emotional areas. This isn’t unusual for kids who are gifted or on the autism spectrum, so I suppose it’s no surprise, really. And at the moment, it just means that we happen to have two kids who both enjoy the same train shows….

Speaking of movies, on Sunday Theo and I had a mommy-son date to go see Big Hero 6. Chris wanted to watch the Cowboys in the playoff game, and I truly hate football with a passion, so I gamely volunteered to leave the house and take Theo to the movies while Chris kept Sam. (Sam was due to be napping then and is pretty amiable about keeping himself occupied anyway.) What a great movie! Honestly, I liked Big Hero 6 better than Frozen. I liked Frozen, don’t get me wrong—but I thought Big Hero 6 was actually more fun and funnier. I also liked the message in it—to treat people with kindness even when you’re angry. We had a great time—the movie was funny and kept Theo’s interest for the entire time, and I really enjoyed it, too. I highly recommend it, even if you don’t have kids with you—it’s really cute and funny!

And so wraps up our staycation. Tomorrow it’s back to school for Theo and back to work for Chris. Sam has one more day off before he starts back to EI and I start back to work. (Not that I really have much work at the moment, but I’m sure I’ll find something.)

Before I close, let me say that if you missed it, I had a blog post earlier this week about a topic that infuriated me. Click here to read it. In short, it’s about “eliminating” Down syndrome.

And just for fun, here’s a story about awesome Sam that just reminds me of how capable he is: This morning, I was getting ready to shower, and Sam was playing with his blue radio. It’s a little MP3 player that was Theo’s when he was little, and it’s preprogrammed with about 20 songs. Sam loves it, as did Theo when he was little.

The radio has Play, Pause, and Skip buttons on the front, and Sam already knows to push the green button to make it play. But it also has a very small switch on the back that can be moved from On to Hold to Off. If it’s on Hold or Off, the buttons on the front don’t work.

So the music stopped, and Sam held it up to me and whined. I said, “Well, push the green button!” He pushed the green button, and when nothing happened, he held it up to me. Normally I just flip the switch on the back and hand it back to him, but this time I had a contact lens on my finger, waiting to go in my eye, so I was kind of busy. “You need to flip the switch on the back,” I said, not at all expecting that he would know what I was talking about or how to do it.

Well, I underestimated him. Without missing a beat, he flipped the radio over, slid the switch over two places to the correct position, then turned it back over and pressed the green button, filling the room with music. And then he looked at me like, “Duh, Mom. Why have you been doing that for me? Of course I was able to do it myself.”

I need to stop underestimating him, clearly! I know he’s capable, and yet I’m used to Theo, who had a lot more trouble following directions. It’s not that Theo couldn’t understand directions; it’s that he would get so easily frustrated that he’d shriek and be unable to settle down and follow the directions. So I’m used to a toddler who requires me to step in and do something for him. This having a toddler who actually listens to and follows directions? All new to me. It’s going to be a learning curve for me to stop underestimating him and start realizing just how incredibly capable he is. 🙂

Until next week, then…enjoy your January!

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