A Trip to the Zoo (Hunger Games Style)

I never used to be good around children. You could say that, in a manner of speaking, I never understood the purpose of them. They would always cry, scream, kick, make messes and generally be sticky. Obviously my views changed as I got older and somehow acquired two of the little things, but even with two kids I never really felt that comfortable with other people’s kids. Somewhere along the line that all changed.

Case in point, today I volunteered to be a chaperone for my oldest son’s class field trip to the zoo. I was a bit nervous when I filled out the form, since I generally feel a little weird managing a bunch of other children. Full grown people are easier to manage; kids have a weird super power to look through your soul. I was reassured when my wife told me “it will probably just be our son”. She was wrong. But it ended up being okay in the end, and was actually quite fun.

When I arrived at the zoo parking lot I was surprised to see buses from nearly every school system in the county. I’m trying not to exaggerate, but there had to have been at least two million elementary kids waiting to get into the zoo. It was mass chaos.

After I finally found the group from my son’s school (after a few awkward exchanges with teachers from random schools), I was paired with my boy (woo!) and one of his classmates. WHEW! Just one other kid! Then I was tapped on the shoulder… and asked to take another kid. Crap. Thankfully it was a kid I already knew from my neighborhood. This was actually going to be easy!

We started our zoo journey by heading to the Africa area. For this particular zoo, it requires a three minute drive on a zebra-colored tram, or a 10 minute walk up a hill. The line for the tram was about 30 minutes long and I had three jumpy kids next to me. Time to walk!

It was a good idea for the first few minutes. Then the “kid pains” started. “I’m hungry”. “My legs hurt”. “A snake just bit me!!!!”. I heard it all. We continued our trek, though, sure of ourselves that the journey would be worth it. Up the hill we walked, slowly but surely. The sun rising ever further, the heat penetrating our flesh. It was like something out of a movie about the Donner Party. I knew, at one point, we would turn to cannibalism.

At last we made it to the top of the hill. Africa was within our grasp! That’s when I remembered… we had another five minute walk to get to any of the frickin’ animals! So we continued our walk. This time it was at least downhill, so no more complaints about legs hurting.

We made our way to the zebras. Ooo. Ahhh. Zebras. Next was my son’s favorite: the giraffes! He was so excited, knowing they were just within a few short steps. We could see them in the distance, we were so close! And then we saw the line. It was only about five miles long. Five miles filled with elementary kids all wanting to see the giraffes. Ugh.

Thankfully the wait wasn’t as long as I had expected and we were soon there with the long neck’d creatures. “Can we feed them,” I was asked. “Yes,” I replied, “yes we can”. I bought five pieces of lettuce for $6. Yes, $6 for fucking lettuce. I could buy three heads of lettuce at the local market for that. But hey, they probably washed it with this special liquid called “water”, so it was worth ever dime.

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The domesticated giraffe thrives on specially washed, $6 lettuce leaves

Please bear in mind that I had five pieces of lettuce. For three kids. As an adult I understand the math, but three kids and five pieces of lettuce just doesn’t compute. I gave each child one (okay, one kid got two somehow, but I stole it back). Three fifths of my $6 disappeared down a giraffe’s throat faster than I could cough *ripoff*. Two pieces left. Three kids. Shit.

I tried to explain that I had to split up the lettuce between the three of them, but they wanted none of it. All three kids started pawing at me, trying to grasp the lettuce from my hands. I shifted away from them, trying to protect the rest of my giraffe investment. It was so crowded that I accidentally ran into another random child. He tripped and fell over the edge of the fence. It’s okay, the giraffe broke his fall.

Finally I was able to convince the three children that we could split the lettuce. It disappeared in a heartbeat, where they then asked for more. No, I said, I didn’t bring enough gold bars to pay for more frickin’ lettuce.

We continued our journey downhill. I clearly remember there being a bird cage coming soon, and some kind of new lion exhibit they’re building. Well, there should have been. Damn thing was closed, which meant the way through was closed. We had to turn back. We had to go back uphill. Through the crowd of kids, one of whom I already accidentally dropped into the giraffe enclosure. This is going to turn into the Hunger Games if I’m not careful.

Thankfully we made it back without incident, even though it was uphill the whole way. We exited the path and made our way to the return tram line… which was a mile long again. Lunch was in 20 minutes. Dammit.

The walk back was all downhill this time, which you would think would be easier. It started off easy enough, but then the slope got steeper. One of the kids lost their footing and fell, then started rolling down the gravel road. When I finally got to the child, I’ll admit it could have been better. Their nose was broken, arms scraped up, cuts all over the face. I wiped the dirt off their face, which made it look better.

I’ll admit I was a bit panicked, but as we approached the lunch area I found my relief: the face painting booth! After a quick application of a Red Panda face, you couldn’t even tell. The limp was a bit harder to hide, but I passed it off as exhaustion.

Our trip was pretty uneventful after lunch. There was some suspicion when Red Panda spit out a tooth, but they’re in kindergarten, they’re always losing teeth! Not usually their adult teeth, but whatever, those are minor details.

We saw this awesome peacock after lunch. Big and bright-white, with its feathers in full force. It was so lovely and majestic, a true representation of the beauty of nature. Until Red Panda face started chasing after it, teeth missing and limping from what I presume is a sprained ankle.

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An awesome peacock, unaware of a crazed child about to chase it

At the end of our day I promised my son he could get a fidget spinner from the gift shop. He’s been talking about it for the past few weeks and swears that he can get them from the zoo. I secretly knew the truth: why would the zoo sell spinners?!? But I let him live in his delusion, getting my letdown speech ready for when they didn’t have them.

They had them. Shit. And I had two other kids who would be heart broken without getting something, too. Double shit. And things at the zoo gift shop are not cheap. Ugh, why did I do this again?!?

We got the damn spinners. One for each kid. And yes, one for me too. What can I say, I’m a sucker for kids now. Mostly mine, but also their friends. Within limits. I just hope it distracts from what the parents see when they wipe away the Red Panda face.

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Fidget Spinners, the bane of teachers everywhere. I just bought three for some kindergartners…

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Pumpkins and Pokers

One of the biggest challenges in being a father is meeting the expectations of our children. Last year my oldest son really wanted to grow pumpkins in our garden, and being the loving dad that I am, I planted some seeds and put them into my new pop-up greenhouse. Things were going great; the seeds sprouted, the tiny vines were growing, my son was very excited.

Then the wind came…

We get terrible winds in our neighborhood. On one occasion the wind blew so hard that it knocked the shelf in my greenhouse down to the ground. All of the things I was planting, including my little man’s pumpkins, crashed down and were destroyed. We made up for it by getting some partially-grown mini-pumpkins, but still, our from-seed pumpkins were lost.

This year I got smarter about it and setup my greenhouse in a completely different way. Laying a paver stone floor, I split the troublesome shelf into smaller shelves and moved them away from the sides of the greenhouse. Take that, wind!!

I planted all new pumpkins in little pots and put them into my new secure greenhouse. They started growing, they were doing even better than last year, and our son was even more excited.

Then the frost came…

Apparently I had the plants out in the greenhouse too soon. Or, much to my wife’s disagreement, I needed to have a small greenhouse heater to keep the temperature higher than that of your average ice cube (if you agree with me, please comment and tell my wife that the Opining Penguin Greenhouse 2018 needs a heater!). Either way, all of the little green things I planted, those that were doing so wonderfully well hours earlier, had died.

I did all I could to bring them back. Extra watering. Fertilizer. Mouth-to-stem. In the end they were gone. RIP, plants.

But this year, I refused to buy half-grown plants (except for the tomatoes, I gave in on that one). This year, nature would not beat me! I resolved to win the battle of the pumpkins!

I planted all new seeds in a few of those biodegradable pots. Three little pumpkin seeds all neatly tucked in dirt. Not wanting to rely on my it-likes-to-kill-my-plants greenhouse, I put the potted seeds into my upstairs office space. I pulled back the curtains, cranked the heat, and shut the door. The next day: LIFE.

I let the little guys sit back in the office and chill for a few days and let them grow their little hearts out. Over the weekend I moved them from their warm office suite to the great outdoors. Admittedly I’ve been fearful of how they would survive, but thankfully, after a year and a half of trying, we have ourselves a baby pumpkin!! Yes, it’s only a couple of leaves with its seed pod dangling off of it, but still it’s progress.

 

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Our lovely little baby pumpkin plant

So here’s hoping it all goes well. There’s no frost in the future so these things should live! And my son will be oh-so-happy to finally have a pumpkin that we can grow together and carve when the time comes. Assuming I don’t accidentally kill the thing before then.

Speaking of my son, my wife found the perfect toy that she instantly regretted buying for him. It’s a “pointer”, basically a small Mickey Mouse-looking hand on a stick with the pointer finger sticking out. Apparently it hurts when jabbed into your abdomen. She’ll be okay, the swelling’s going down and she’s able to eat solid foods again.

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Beware the finger…

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Of Lawn Mowing and Panera

Mowing the lawn sucks. There, now you know my feelings on the green stuff that grows in front of our house. Don’t get me wrong, I love looking at a freshly mowed lawn, and the smell is what I spend half the winter looking forward to. But the actual act of mowing is a pain in the ass. So guess what I did when I got home today?

I guess it wouldn’t suck so bad if the bagger on our mower would actually work. Every time I mow, I have this great hope that when I’m done, the bags on the back of my expensive piece of machinery will actually be full of lush, recently cut blades of green awesomeness. Every time I’m disappointed and left raking.

After some extensive research (okay, Googling) while in the bathroom at work, I found a few things to fix the overpriced machine. So I went home excited today, quickly pulling out my mower when I got home. I put it on the mower lift, dug my hand underneath the deck and began peeling away the years of caked on grass. I couldn’t feel the grass with my gloves on, so I took them off and promptly started cutting up my hands on the blade. Through the blood and dirt I got most of the deck cleared away. I pried the bagger attachment back onto the deck and cried out in victory. For some reason the neighbors immediately went inside and closed their windows. I pulled the mower off the lift, engaged the blade and…

Damn thing still doesn’t pick up any grass. On the plus side, my Lillies are looking fantastic!

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A long afternoon of mowing lawns does make one hungry. My wife bought Panera and we used their awesome delivery service. If you haven’t used it before, you should try it out. Just don’t think it’s going to be delivered on time. Or warm.

Here’s how it works. You open their app, find what you want to eat. Find something else you may want to eat, because what you really want is “Not Available at this Time”. You enter your credit card number and submit your order. A few minutes later, you get a call saying “I’m sorry, that brownie your husband wanted after a long day of work and mowing/weed whacking the lawn is not available at this time. Can I interest you in a raisin soy cookie?”. You then get an e-mail saying your food will be at your door between 6:35 and 6:45 (it’s about 6:00 when you place the order). As an added bonus, you can now be notified when your food is on its way. Yaay!!

And then the wait begins… It gets closer to the time the food is supposed to get to your home and you still haven’t heard anything. You obsessively look at your phone, just knowing that eventually the text will come through. It’s 6:47. They’re two minutes late. 6:50. What the hell?

Finally, the text comes! Your delivery is on its way! The food has left the restaurant. It’s in a car and you can track it. Thank you, Panera app!

So you track your food. Only seven minutes until it arrives. Hell yes, only 12 minutes later than it was supposed to get there (at the latest). You’re giddy. You check the driver’s progress… as they drive the opposite direction from your home. The time, which originally said seven minutes, is now 15 minutes. What. The actual. Fuck.

The obsession is greater. You’re watching the map more intensely, watching the little Panera package driving further away from our home. You stare at it, willing it to move closer. Eventually the package starts driving the correct way… and then turns down a completely different side road. ARGH! The time ticks away. Back down to seven minutes. Finally three minutes… and zero! Your food is here, the app tells you. Two minutes later, the doorbell rings. The driver is apologetic. Your family is hungry. It’s been over an hour since you ordered your food. The restaurant is only two miles down the damn road.

Whatever, I made my own thing for dinner. Who’s up for some good old fashioned Mac & Cheese with seasoned pork?!?

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Mac & Cheese, ground pork marinated in Worcestershire sauce and ground black pepper

I’d do one of those “Mmmm Delicious” videos, but let’s face it, this is a blog that makes no money and I have two kids, so there’s no time-lapse camera rig in my future.

My food was great, the kids were eventually happy, we choked down our raisin soy cookies and all was right with the world. I even read my oldest son one of his newer books. He loved it, because Fly Guy is awesome. He loved it so much that, as we went to sleep, he gently said “Daddy, I want mommy. I’m afraid of fires”. Ahh yes, another winning bedtime for dad!

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Fly Guy is an awesome series. Highly recommend for kids!

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Just hit 70k

It’s the simple things in life that amuse me. That’s probably why, when I turned on my car this afternoon, I spent the next five minutes trying to get this picture:

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Yes, I spent five minutes trying to get a picture of my odometer. To be fair, the lighting was terrible and all you could see was the glare of the sun. I had to skillfully put my hand over the lens of my phone’s camera, which blocked the light but resulted in my sticking my ass out the car door like a complete jackass. What’s worse is that, when I sat in my car, I found that having closed the door took care of my lighting issue altogether. Dammit. Hopefully the others in the parking ramp got a good view.

What matters is that I have finally hit 70,000 miles in my car. I should probably get an oil change at one point, but that’s for another day. My favorite part of the whole thing is that we decided to buy our car rather than lease because we thought we would put too many miles on the thing. After six years I’ve come to one truth… We could have leased, had the perfect amount of miles, and probably saved a hundred bucks a month. ARGH!!

Anyway, on a positive note, my family enjoyed the meal I made for them this evening. My youngest loved it so much that he shared it with the table. And the chair. The floor, too. Pretty sure the dog got a good helping. My oldest, on the other hand, decided to bring his up for a second helping. Mmmm, lovely.

At least I’m ending the night on a high note. A Wild Cherry slushy from an unnamed gas station (yes, you can see the name in the picture, blah blah blah) and watching last night’s episode of Nat Geo’s Genius.

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Wild Cherry: The only way to fly…

I’ve got to be honest, Einstein may have been a genius, but he could be something of a dick when it came to his wife. Maybe that’s just because I’m a more awesome husband. And father. Sure I suck at math and my best scientific experiment was accidentally growing a pair of eyes on an old block of cheese, but still… #Awesome.

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Bringing Joy to our Home

There’s a certain joy I get in life by playing with my kids. Equally so, there’s a great deal of joy to be had by terrorizing my poor wife.

Take today, for example. My loving wife was getting ready for her yearly awards ceremony and had her clothes draped over the door. While she was in the bathroom, I stealthily crept up to her clothes and hid a small rubber snake in the collar, tucked under one of her scarves. Running to one of the other rooms, I waited for the eventual carnage.

The thing to understand about my wife is that she has this natural instinct to know when I’m doing something stupid. She then takes her time getting to whatever trap I’ve set for her. Needless to say, it took about 10 minutes for the “AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!”, followed quickly by “you son of a…”.

My boys absolutely loved it and couldn’t stop laughing, while my wife was clutching a paper bag in her hand, breathing heavily. The next 20 minutes were spent with the boys chasing her with their stuffed animal snakes and trying to continually scare her.

Sure, it got old after a while, but once she finds the next hidden snake it’s going to be funny as hell. Unless she screams so loud she wakes the neighborhood, that might make for a tricky night…

On another note, I have a new Facebook page to share with the world. Come find and like my page https://www.facebook.com/OpiningPenguin!

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