Rocky mountain high

We spent this past week in the Rocky Mountains and Denver. We flew out on Wednesday and spent time with Barry (my brother). Barry is a lawyer in Denver and cleared his schedule for our visit. He took us to the Denver museum of nature and science. The kids loved it as we all did. We ate lunch in Cherry Creek at the Cherry Cricket (best burgers in town).

We spent day 2 in Boulder. We took a tour of the CU campus. When we got to the football stadium, I thought it’d be neat to take my JD and Ellie out onto the field. We walked into one of the gates only to find that the whole place was gated up and locked. Dang. As we were sitting there contemplating our next move, a guy walked by us to enter a door marked “women’s restroom.” He stopped and looked over to us and said, “do you guys want to go see the field?” Of course we took him up on it. The women’s restroom was actually a hallway to the sports information office. From there we took a passageway through some back halls that took us out into the stadium. He gave us a tour of the place. As it turned out, this gentleman was an ex-player who played against gale sayers (KU great) and he’s now an assistant athletic director. Neat stuff.

We had a big go-cart race with Ellie and I destroying JD and Barry. They had us in the early going, but eventually Ellie and I made it around them and left them far behind to eat our dust. Just as you’d expect.

That evening, we drove up to Fort Collins and had dinner with my aunt and uncle and their kids (Pete, Barbie, Mallory, and Bridget). The next evening, we had dinner at my cousin’s, Laura, house. She is soon expecting twins with her husband, Joe. We also visited the Children’s museum and went swimming at Barry apartment complex — very nice facilities.

Early Saturday morning, we left for the Rockies — Estes Park. We arrived and spent time exploring the YMCA of the Rockies. We played miniature golf. We then went on a long horseback ride. Ellie was able to ride her own horse and was the first horse in the line. JD rode with Paula and chatted the whole time. At one point, Ellie’s horse started eating grass and Ellie had to pull back on the reigns and get the horse back on track by kicking her heels into the horse. She handled it like a champ.

Our cabin was a beautiful 3-bedroom cabin located about 1 mile up the mountain from the YMCA. It was secluded enough to feel like we were roughing it. No television; no internet — I’ll say that was roughing it. I woke up pretty early every morning (around 6 AM — we live in eastern standard time, so it wasn’t hard). On our last morning, I spotted a male and female deer. I used my telephoto lens and got some neat shots from our balcony. Speaking of our balcony . . . it had the most incredible view. Mountains all around and nothing to obstruct our view. Spectacular, to say the least.

On Sunday, we spent the WHOLE day in the Rocky Mountain National Park. We drove up Old Falls Road (1 way — up) to the top of Trail Ridge road and over the 12,000+ foot mountain. We ate lunch on Grand Lake. We spent mucho time stopping along they way to see marmots and elk and to hike and climb rocks and boulders. The kids loved climbing. We even spotted the most beautiful rainbow as we had a picnic in the park for dinner. After dinner, we found a rocky waterfall area and climbed once again. Fun, fun times.

Nobody wanted to fly home, but the fun had to end. We can’t wait to go back again and explore more hiking trails.

here’s a pic from high on a cliff in Rocky Mtn National Park (I am wearing my new contacts):

and a photo from a waterfall area down the side of a mountain:

July and summer

I wrote this on July 21, 2006, but it took me until now to get it uploaded. Sorry.

I’m in the airport in Kansas City where I’ve been for the past five hours. Not a bad thing as I’ve edited several thesis and read through documents from the conference in Lawrence I had the great pleasure of attending. I just amused myself by looking at photos of the kids that I’ve already seen a couple dozen times. They’re currently on the website and make me enormously happy every time I see them. Ellie and Josh (currently known as JD) are mugging for Sean’s camera and doing a darn good job of it too. I especially like the one in which they are resting on Ziggy. Ziggy is facing away from the camera, and Sean has captured the kids in expressions that we get to see so frequently that I forget how perfect they are.

We’ve been having an absolutely wonderful summer. We’ve been to the beach a couple of times. Ellie would be a beach bum if she could. She’s very comfortable in the water whereas JD stills stays pretty close to the shore. For the first trip we met my parents at South Haven. It’s a great town, particularly for kids. They have a large park directly across the street from public access to the beach. We had a picnic with my parents, played on the playground, then went over to the beach. We also snuck in some time to play a couple of games, a new favorite past time for our children. It was a glorious day.

On our last trip to the beach we went to one of our favorite towns, Saugatuck. We hiked through the dunes with our good friend Brett Godsey, who was visiting from Chicago. I’m sure his back was sore from having the kids hanging all over him, but at least they weren’t hanging on me – hee, hee! Ellie kept asking JD to come out into deeper water. I tend to think she knew he wouldn’t do it and so was asking in an effort to brag a bit. He got tired of the prodding, lost his temper, and through some sand at her. Ellie went a little crazy. She stood up in the water with fists clenched and yelled, “You want a piece of me!” I couldn’t believe it. I asked where she heard that saying, and she didn’t know nor did she know what it meant. I guess it just fit her level of anger, so she let it out.

The kids are taking tennis lessons through our parks and rec. JD is much more comfortable with a tennis racket than Ellie is, so things are pretty even. He has a great time and has recently asked to learn to play golf. I hope the interest continues because Sean and I both enjoy these activities too. JD is still my cuddle-buddy. He often has a hard time falling asleep and will ask me to come and “cuddle” with him for awhile at night. One night he kept calling me in for things like a drink of water, a trip to the bathroom, a special bathroom. The last time he was yelling, “Mom, I need you!” I went him to ask him what he needed and he asked, “When are you going to buy some Cheetos? I love Cheetos.” Another night I was laying with him explaining various techniques for falling asleep. He rolled over, put his head on my shoulder, and said, “Oh Mom….I love you.” I said, “Thanks Josh, what a sweet thing to say. I love you too.” To which he replied, “Yeah, sometimes when I say, ‘Oh Mom’ and I can’t remember what I was going to say, I just say, ‘I love you.’” “That’s alright Josh, I guess it beats, ‘I forgot what I was going to say.’”

Ellie is growing up. She reminds me of this on a regular basis. Some of the things I say are met with eye rolls from her. When I question her about this practice she informs that she does it because she is growing up. I have told her growing up doesn’t mean she can be rude, to which she counters with, “Well, it’s just that I know all of those things you are saying.”

She participated in a theater camp this summer and fell in love with the stage. After the first day I asked her what she thought. She said, “Mom it was awesome! I’m pretty sure I’m going to be a superstar.” Of course you are dear. I’m not sure how she’s going to split her time between being an actress and an environmental scientist, her latest career interest, but somehow she will do it I’m sure. We’ve had quite a few “plays” in our house this summer, and some of them have been really good.

Ellie’s also developed a taste for fashion. Gone are the days when I could pick up cute little outfits without her being there. If she doesn’t okay the purchase first, there’s a good chance I’ll be taking it back. Last week she told me she wanted cowboy boots for school shoes. I told her I needed to think about it, which I do. I’m working on the explanation for why cowboy boots are not a practical school shoe purchase.

Ellie turns six

This past two weeks have been quite exciting. Grandma and Grandpa Cook came for an extended visit before and after Easter. Grammy and Grandpa Mehochko also visited Easter weekend. I think this was the first time we’d had that many grandparents under our roof. When the whole gang was together, we spent that Saturday afternoon/evening celebrating Ellie’s 6th birthday. It’s hard to believe we were living in Lawrence, Kansas when she was born and we’ve been here ever since.

Grandma and Grandpa Cook stayed for a week and spent the whole time playing with the kids. Typically, we put Grandpa Cook to work fixing something around the house or doing some renovation, but this time I only had him help me replace a single light switch. The rest of the time, JD and Ellie kept him busy. The grandparents and the kids explored Meijer Gardens and the great outdoors as the weather was very nice for their visit. Fun times.

This past weekend, Ellie and Paula went to downtown Chicago to meet up with Grammy Mehochko and visit the American Girl store for a nice dinner and fun. Paula will have to write about that trip. I was lucky enough to stay home with Ziggy and JD. I’ll talk about our adventures soon.

Our remodeling project is still in process, but they are nearing completion. Hopefully the washer and dryer are put into place today so I can avoid another trip to the laundry mat, which has become my job for the past few months. I just figured out that I can drop the clothes off and they will wash and fold them and the cost was only about $2 more for about 7 loads ($18 versus $20). Why didn’t I discover that more quickly? Sheesh! ;~)

Finally, I have added some new photos from April. Click Photos above (or to the right) to view.

Circus circus

Okay, I have something against the circus from the get-go. I just can’t help but think about how cruel they must be to animals. But, I am getting ahead of myself. Every Tuesday and Thursday, a professor buddy of mine who has an office upstairs from me drops his daughter by (single dad) so she can walk to school with Ellie as they are in the same class. My friend has to teach an early class on those days. To say thanks, he bought us tickets to the circus last weekend. We all went together and Paula stayed home to clean up some of the mess the builders have created. We had much fun at the circus and I have added some new photos from the event and in the days around the circus. Click on Photos (top and right) to see the photos. Ellie rode the biggest pony they had and JD rode . . . well, he rode a bail of hay, but not very enthusiastically. Check out the photos and you’ll find one of him on the bail of hay.

Ellie surprised us the other day by writing her first book . . . without any help. You can see the photos I took of the pages in the same photo set that contains the circus shots. If you need help reading the words, I have a better version here for you to see a typed version as well. The fact that she can piece together sentences and create a whole story over various pages is something to behold. Very neato!

JD has been into counting lately. The other day he honestly counted to 229 before giving up. He knows that 300 comes after 299 and that next comes 400, 500, 600, 700, 800, and 900. He won’t start kindergarten for over a year, but there are kids in Ellie’s kindergarten class who can’t count beyond 20ish. JD is doing just swell.

Construction is coming along on the remodeling to our house. They should put up drywall tomorrow and then they’ll just have flooring and cabinents left along with painting. They put in the insulation today and that really caused everything to take shape. Looking good.

Today

Well, I am very sad to say that Nana Dinelli passed away today. My grandmother was 80 years old. The kids and I went down to see her this weekend. On Friday they were able to talk to her, tell her they loved her, and share some good stories. Today when I told them, they both said how happy they were that they got to see her and that they would never forget her. I have many, many wonderful memories of time spent with both my grandmother and grandfather including countless breakfasts and lunches at their house. (They weren’t big on dinners.) I know some of my cousins and even my siblings thought I was their favorite. I’m not entirely sure, but would have to say I was one of the top two or three. Seriously, they loved us all, and I’m feeling very grateful for every minute.

The kids and I have had some interesting discussions about life and death recently. Josh has no doubt that Nana is in heaven where God (whom he believes to be female) has restored her to her healthy self, and she is living large with Papa. Ellie on the other hand can’t get past her very logical mind. Her response to Josh’s explanation of life after to death was, “Well that would be really nice Josh, but I just don’t know how that happens.” I tried to explain “beliefs,” but as I said Ellie is currently operating in a very logical world. Stay tuned for more developments on that front.

When a loved one is lost, the opportunity to reflect on life and time spent together is such a gift! My mom discovered a little cardboard box in my grandparent’s house with a note on it that said, “Open with care.” Inside was a dried rose and note that read, “This rose comes from a bush planted by Papa Dinelli on the day Elizabeth Lancaster (better known as Ellie) was born. The bush was a Queen Elizabeth! 4-2000.” They were so cool!

Teaching Award

Grand Valley State University has 2 major teaching awards. Paula and I were each finalists for one of these awards this year. Becoming a finalist is quite an accomplishment and that means that you’ve already made it through the initial rounds of decision making.

The other day, the Dean called me to her office. Naturally, I started trying to figure out what I’d done wrong. I think I had a look of concern on my face when I walked in because the Dean’s first words were, “Do you know why you’re here? Don’t worry, it’s not bad.” Whew!

Come to find out, I had been selected as the winner of the award for innovative teaching — the Pew Teaching with Technology Award. Every full time and part time professor and/or instructor was eligible to win this award, which amounts to well over 1,000 people. What a terrific reward for the hard work I’ve put into teaching.

Being nominated meant that I had to develop a rather involved portfolio to help the awards committee make the best choice. Part of this portfolio included every student evaluation from the past couple of years.  I had to write a cover letter for every piece of evidence I included and I had to include many different aspects of my teaching. I had to include a few letters from students and a few letters from colleagues. I had to include samples of all of the innovative teaching that I do, etc. So, it feels good to be recognized after the hard work required just to get nominated . . . let alone the work that got me recognized in the first place. ;~).

And, Paula could still win her award since her awards committee is operating on a different schedule; however, the stipend for winning my award is higher than the one she would receive. I remind her of this often. Heh heh.

Hello world!

so, i moved the site over much more quickly than i anticipated. hooray for Sean, eh?

i am still going to be spending much time moving the website stories from the HTML pages (2000 – 2002-ish) to this new site, so that everything is located here. i have much work to do on the photo gallery i installed, but i really need to get photos uploaded first. i hope you like the new look and feel — i do want to play around with the color scheme for this site. figuring out how to change the colors is much, much more difficult than i imagined. feel free to explore things and also feel free to click the Comments link and give me some feedback. i would love to hear that people have found the site. i certainly hope this is the reemergence of thelancasters.net.

Changes on the horizon

we haven’t been good about updating stories on this site. truth be told, i don’t like the tools that i’ve set up here. i want to move everything to a new site and give us a new look. my problem is in trying to figure out the technology enough to export the stories and photos here and then import them into a new service. i’d prefer to make this site an official blog in looks and not just function (this was a blog before “blog” was a term online). i have been fiddling and will continue to do so when i have time. if all goes well, i hope to move in the next month. if i can do it, then i will implement a service so that Paula and i can write stories and send them to a hidden email account that will automatically post those emails as entries. stay tuned and cross your fingers.

Wild things

i recently bought tickets to the grand rapids ballet’s presentation of where the wild things are & also to the the firebird. the show was tonight and our whole family went to see the show. i purchased the best tickets i could get and that put us up near the stage in about row 4. fortunately, the people in the rows ahead of us didn’t show up so we had an unobstructed view of the ballet.

truth be told, i didn’t think our 4 and 5 year old would last, but they surprised me. further, we went to the late show that started at 7:30 so i figured we have at least one sleeping child before it was over. again, i was surprised. our kids just loved the ballet and they sat there and never complained and never lost interest. they clapped when the ballerinas and performers did amazing things and they laughed at the funny parts. it was an awesome experience.

on the way home, we stopped at yesterdogs:

digitalcity writes this about yesterdogs:

This ’50s-style hotdog joint, located in the heart of Eastown’s music and nightlife scene, proves that hotdogs can indeed be anything but ordinary. Yesterdog specializes in making quite possibly the tastiest, messiest, loaded-with-the goods’dogs you’ll ever chow on. One thing is for certain: you’ll never again take napkins for granted. The Yesterdog experience — and it is just that — also includes a neat interior featuring gads of early- and mid-20th century memorabilia, and a way to order food that’s especially entertaining when the post-bar crowd rolls in. Even watching the Yesterdog staff prepare hundreds of hotdogs in a matter of minutes during their busy periods is something of a spectacle. Truth is, there’s nothing ordinary about Yesterdog, and that’s a very good thing.

joshua was grossed out by the messy hotdogs, but ellie used her adventurous spirit to take a bite. normally, she just wants ketchup, but she tried one of the yesterdogs with relish, mustard and a little big of chili and said, “dad, i don’t ever want to eat hotdogs the old way ever again. from now on, this is the only kind of hotdog i want.”

terrific night out.

Miscellaneous notes

So, a few weeks ago we went to Illinois and Paula and I attended her 20 year high school reunion. What great fun that was. Last week, the Cook grandparents came and visited. We had a lot of fun. We didn’t do much, but we did get to spend a lot of time together and that’s the purpose of the visits like that. On the second day the grandparents were here, we decided to go out to eat. Ellie’s favorite restaurant is a place called Rose’s(we all like it quite a bit), so that’s what was selected. It’s here in East Grand Rapids and it’s right on the lake. Anyway, we headed to Roses and just happened to arrive on the first day that they decided to offer their famous squash soup. Yummy.

We recently had an extra garage built. It’s a detached 2-car garage that is 24′ x 24′. I love it. Paula will park in the old garage that is attached, but the other half of it will hold the snow blower and anything we need easy access to from the house. My new garage will be where I park and it will eventually hold a flatbed trailer and a workshop. Grandpa Cook helped me to get the garage interior finished and it looks terrific. We even managed to put up some pegboard for hanging stuff.

Paula and I have signed up to help in Ellie’s Kindergarden class every so often and my day was today. I got to work at the art station and the kids will shift from station to station around the room and work on various skills. I helped the kids make a jack-o-lantern mosaic thing. It was a great chance to see Ellie in her school environment and a great chance to learn the names and faces of her classmates. I’ll be back soon, but Paula gets to go next Tuesday. Speaking of Paula, she is now the co-director of our local Daisy scout troop. They had their first meeting tonight with 11 little gals. While they met, JD and I went to the library and to Jersey Junction, which is a dessert shop with a zillion choices. JD settled for the playdough ice cream and I had the frozen chocolate-covered fruit kabob. Mmmmm.

Ellie and JD’s cousins and Aunt Julie and Paula’s Parents will be arriving tomorrow for 2 days of fun. I have no clue what the plans are, but I have made Paula aware that KU basketball starts tomorrow and much of it is being broadcast on ESPNU with a small portion also being broadcast on ESPN’s main channel. I plan to watch as much of midnight madness as I can see. What a terrific time of year. And, the leaves are really starting to look great about this time. I think the peak is still about 1 1/2 weeks away, but many trees are hitting their stride now.

Well, that’s all for now. Cheers!

One day at a time

I love being a mom! Ellie started kindergarten a couple weeks ago. She seems to be enjoying it. She has made some friends, thinks her teacher is great, and has come to the conclusion that most boys are a little wild. She also started a different day care. Woodcliff is affiliated with our school district. On days Ellie needs to, she can get on a bus right outside of the kindergarten door and ride it to Woodcliff. The bus takes about 15 kids, many are her classmates, the roughly ten blocks. Fourteen of the fifteen kids are thrilled out of their minds that they get to ride a bus. Ellie is good old number 15. She has been very nervous about Woodcliff. She doesn’t know anyone. She has had a high level of anxiety over this to the point of tears. Every day that she goes to Woodcliff, she has cried. Every day I talk to her about what she’s nervous about. We talk about the other kids, the adults, the stuff they do. Every day it’s been the same thing. “Mommy, I’m really nervous about Woodcliff,” (tears starting). “Ellie, tell me exactly what makes you nervous,” Then we go through everything.
Today, no nervousness. She did it. She was fine about going to Woodcliff. She talked about who she was going to play with and how much fun computer time was yesterday. Whohoo!!! We got over that hump. Here’s the best part from my perspective. I try to have lunch with Ellie a couple times a week. Tonight, I told her I couldn’t have lunch with her tomorrow because I had a meeting at 11:30 and then another one at 12:00, and I added, “I hate meetings.” Ellie said, “Well Mom, what do you hate about meetings. I’m asking that because when I was nervous about school we talked about what made me nervous it helped me, so now I can help you not hate meetings so much. So, mom, tell what you hate the most.” I told her that I didn’t like how people just talked and talked. She asked me if I ever talked. I told that her that sometimes I said a few words. She said, “Mom, I think at the next meeting you should talk and talk and talk and just let other people say a few words. Then they will know how you feel.” Not bad advice for a kindergartener. I’m so lucky!

JD’s birthday is coming up. He’s going to be four. I hope that means he won’t stop saying breafkist instead of breakfast, Gammy instead of Grammy, Ewwie instead of Ellie and on and on. Sean and I just love the very sound of his voice. I also hope this doesn’t mean he’ll stop being my cuddle buddy. JD has gone from an infant who hated to be rocked to a high contact kid who loves to cuddle. Go figure. He has become very outgoing and social things I never thought I would say about JD. Tonight he got his haircut. I couldn’t help but stare at this little kid sitting in the chair chatting up a storm with the hairdresser. Two years ago he would have probably kicked and screamed to get out of there.
I love the way JD comes running out of the bathroom after having brushed his teeth. He gets this huge, huge smile on his face and says, “are they shining?” It’s so darned cute. Or the way he slumps his shoulders down and sulks away when he doesn’t get what he wants. Or, the best, whenever he hears someone say a naughty word he says, “Awww, you just said *&^%.” Very clever JD.
Oh, how I don’t want these kids to grow up! Lately I have been reminding myself every day to take it one day at a time. Savor every held hand, smudged face, silly sibling argument. Just enjoy it all right here, right now. One day at a time.

Pump boys and dinettes

wow! 2 stories in one week. in fact, i had to mention 2 stories in one week because without doing so would have meant the vast majority of you wouldn’t have even looked below this entry to see the other new entry.

anyway, this is about pump boys and dinettes and that’s where i am going with this story. paula’s mom and dad came up for a few days this weekend. paula had them bring some nice clothes to see a show, but that’s all paula’s dad new. the show ended up being her father’s favorite musical — pump boys and dinettes.

the whole family went to see the show. it was playing in the spectrum theater in downtown grand rapids. i figured we were in trouble when i was walking JD and Ellie in and noticed that they were the only kids below 21 in the crowd. i also worried that the show started close to their bedtime. but, my fears were not realized. the kids loved it.

the show took place in a gas station and a diner that were adjacent. and, at one point in the show, the waitresses asked if anyone in the audience wanted to come up for some fresh homemade pie and coffee. before you knew it, Ellie was on her way up with paula following closely behind. and, seeing Ellie go meant that JD was on his way up there as well with grandpa following closely behind. the 4 of the them took up one of the two table and actually ate on stage in the diner as the musical went on around them. it was awesome to see the kids eating and watching and just thoroughly enjoying themselves. after a number or two, they let the guests return to their seats and i could see the huge smiles on the faces of the people in the crowd. the kids did just great.

when the show was over, JD looked over to me and yelled, “I LOVED THAT SHOW!!!” we all did.