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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

 

Could It Be Magic

One of our favorite summer hangouts is Silverwood Theme Park, which is about fifteen minutes up the road. With our season passes, we frequently go for an afternoon to ride the rollercoasters, splash in the wave pool, or just see a show.

I'm a sucker for a good magic show, and the one at Silverwood has never disappointed. For years it was performed by Nick Norton, son of the park's owner. He had the training and showmanship to pull off the big tricks quite well. Nick grew restless this past year and decided to try his hand at the film and TV industry. His replacement, a young man from Texas named Johnny Magic, lasted only a short time this summer before falling ill and returning home.

Suddenly, Norton is back on stage at Silverwood, but he shouldn't worry about leaving again because there's a young magician named Kenneth K. who has been filling in on days off. Kenneth, just 20 years old, was a backstage tech on the show who found himself in the right place at the right time and now appears poised to take over the production full-time.

He's a little rough around the edges, but he puts on an entertaining show. My kids and I have seen him perform twice in the past few weeks. His rendition of the old torn newspaper trick was brilliant. We all think he has what it takes to do well in the competitive world of magic.

Most interesting to us is that he was homeschooled his entire life. In fact, it was at a homeschool group that he first discovered his talent for entertaining people when the other kids asked him to do a few tricks that he'd been practicing. From there he began performing table magic in restaurants and street magic at various malls around Spokane, Washington. It wasn't long before he found his lucky break at Silverwood.

If you find yourself at Silverwood on a Thursday this summer, take a break from the water slides and wooden coasters to check out the up-and-coming Kenneth K. at the Theater of Illusion. It's fun to see a homeschooler succeeding at his dreams.


Monday, July 30, 2007

 

In A Big Country

We met a family that moved from New Jersey to Idaho.

They sold their house back east a year ago and only just arrived in the Pacific Northwest.

What took so long?

They spent the past twelve months traveling all over the United States in their camper, visiting historic sites, national parks, and museums. Along the way, their three children received one heck of an education!

It's very tempting... Would you take a year to explore this great country with your kids?


Saturday, July 28, 2007

 

Weekend Whatnot

Our garden gnome finally has a name! From a list of your suggestions, my kids and I picked our favorites, and we ended up with three different names. I told them to pick their second favorite, and we all chose the same one - Nigel the Gnome. Thanks to the lucky winner, MarmiteToasty. Your Paul McCartney CD is on its way. The three runners-up were Stickwick, Uncle Albert, and "Naughty, Naughty Gnome."

Parents will laugh at Planet Saturday, a wonderfully illustrated monthly comic about parenthood from the perspective of a very involved dad.

I'm witty and thought-provoking? Mommy Dearest must've been thinking of someone else when she chose me for a Blogger Reflection Award. But seriously, it's nice to receive compliments such as these in a world where stay-at-home dads usually don't get such recognition. In the next few weeks I will pass this award on to a few bloggers who are a source of encouragement to me.

My memory is playing tricks on me, but it seems that about two-and-a-half years ago I had an email discussion with a marketing firm in Spokane about several photos that I had posted on Flickr. That's how my gondola picture ended up in a Silver Mountain tourist brochure. I'm told there's a billboard just east of Wallace on I-90 that has another one of my photos on it! We're getting a bunch of free family passes in lieu of actual money.

Of course, a video iPod would've been a nice payment. Maybe I can win one, like Dan at All That Comes With It did. And it only cost him $318.55. Some people have all the luck.

Have a great weekend!


Cruising Lake Coeur d'Alene on our giant yacht.


Friday, July 27, 2007

 

Bikes and Cars

I see traveling with my family as a time to create new memories together. Our recent road trip to Montana was certainly filled with one amazing experience after another. My kids saw so many new things, and their world became a little bit bigger.

It also became a little bit sadder. One of the memories we made was incredibly tragic.

On the last day of our trip, just outside of Kalispell, we came upon a horrible accident involving a teenage boy on his bike. He had tried to beat the traffic across a busy highway, and was hit by a truck whose driver had no time to react.

I also had no time to react. My kids saw it all. The mangled bike, the bloody body, the sobbing witnesses. My son saw the worst of it from his side of the car. As we drove by, he quietly said, "Daddy, I don't think that boy was wearing a helmet."

Turns out he wasn't. But it wouldn't have done the boy any good, as bike helmets don't offer any protection against a car going 65mph.

No, the lesson my kids learned is that bikes and cars don't mix. We'll never know why that boy thought he could cross four lanes of highway. The arrogance of youth, perhaps. Or maybe he just never learned that you don't take chances with your life when the odds are stacked against you.

I don't have to tell my kids to put on their helmet anymore. It's automatic. They know that a helmet will help protect their head if they should tumble off their bike. But they also know that it's what's inside their head that will protect them from the other dangers of the road.

They're listening much more closely when I teach them the rules of the road now. They've seen what happens when you don't have that knowledge, or when you choose to ignore it.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

 

A Familiar Family

Strangers have been picking up my wife and kids at local hotels.

Really!

We were visiting relatives at a hotel here in town and I picked up a bunch of brochures advertising things to do and see in North Idaho.

I looked down at the one for Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg, and noticed that the lovely little family picking huckleberries under the gondola looked very familiar!

This is what happens when you put your photos on Flickr.



Monday, July 23, 2007

 

Walking With Dinosaurs



We spent Saturday afternoon walking with dinosaurs. Actually, we just sat in our seats and watched. The only walking we did was to the concession stand.

The award-winning BBC TV series is now a live extravaganza. It began its two-year North American tour this month in Tacoma, Washington, with a second stop across the state in nearby Spokane.

I wasn't expecting much. I figured it would be a fun time for the kids, while I would be mildly entertained. Boy, was I wrong. The show was an incredible combination of puppetry, robotics, lights, sound, and, most importantly, education. We were all dazzled by the pageantry of realistic life-sized dinosaurs stomping and stalking around the beautifully designed stage. Most impressive was the 43-foot Brachiosaurus protecting its slightly smaller baby from the fearsome Allosaurus. The crowd-pleaser was, of course, the Tyrannosaurus Rex, which steals the last quarter of the show.

Our tour guide, who was the only one really walking with the creatures, provided a lively and informative narration. He was like the best college lecturer you could possibly imagine. It's easy to learn new things when the information is delivered with such exuberance.

If you have a chance to see this show, don't miss it! With two years to roam the continent, there's a good chance the dinosaurs are coming to a city near you.



Sunday, July 22, 2007

 

Ubiquitous

"You book what us?"

I taught my son a new word. Ubiquitous, meaning being or seeming to be everywhere at the same time.

Everywhere we turn, there's Harry. At the store, on the news, in the comics, in restaurant conversations.

It's been really easy reading through my blog feed subscriptions lately, as most of the posts seem to be about nothing but Harry Potter. Skip, skip, skip, skip...

My kids have never been interested in the series. My son stays away from the fantasy genre, preferring more realistic mysteries and adventures, like The Hardy Boys or The Boxcar Children. If you tell him a book has wizards and demons in it, he won't touch it. I've never read Harry Potter either, pretty much for the same reasons.

All the hype has taken its toll, however. I think my son started to believe he was missing out on something. Yesterday he actually showed a glimmer of interest in J.K. Rowling's literary phenomenon by saying, "Maybe I'll look at the first book, if I have time."

I figure if he reads it, maybe I will read it too.

Sometimes you just can't fight popular culture.


Friday, July 20, 2007

 

Eric Herman - Snail's Pace

Eric Herman, one of our favorite kids' musicians, has released a lovely new collection of mellow pop music that is just perfect for getting your kids to wind down at the end of the day. Eric's previous three CDs showed off his goofy sense of humor, but he always reserved a few songs on each disc for a lullaby or ballad. On Snail's Pace, he brings together those tracks, with a few remixed and re-recorded, and gives us four completely new ones.

It's always a tricky thing when an artist re-records a popular song, but Eric's new rendition of his classic "The Elephant Song" out-cutes the original by featuring his two little girls as the helpful audience. The family influence is everywhere on this CD, with wife Roseann writing and producing, and now the kids doing vocals and even designing the cover art.

The new song that really stands out is "Scat Cat," a jazzy, finger-snapping tune about a prowling feline. My kids like just about any song about cats, but this one definitely delivers something out of the ordinary. Other new tracks include "Nightlight," "For The Beauty of the Earth," and a pretty rendition of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

The main appeal of this collection of old and new songs is it's smooth and calming flow. Parents will definitely appreciate having 40 minutes of quiet pop music to get little ones ready for bed.

Snail's Pace gets a huge recommendation from my family. Visit Eric Herman's website to listen to tracks and purchase the CD.

If you're in the Seattle area, Eric is performing all around the Puget Sound over the next three weeks. Check his touring schedule for specific locations. He puts on a great show.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

 

Summer's Half Over

I heard my first "I'm bored" yesterday from the kids.

I reminded them that the summer is half over and they better get busy enjoying it.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

 

Empty Shelves

I'm totally re-thinking the whole concept of maintaining a movie library in my home.

In my childhood I remember thinking how great it would be to actually own a personal 16mm film version of Star Wars, as one family I knew did. When videotapes hit the market, my dream came true and I became an out-of-control home taper, building up a vast library of movies and shows. Basically, whatever was showing on HBO or Showtime. Heck, I even recorded D.C. Cab.

It slowly dawned on me that I would never have the time to rewatch most of these films. But I persisted, because I was still smitten with the idea of actually owning them. And besides, if I did have a spare evening to watch Local Hero or Real Genius, the tapes were right there on my shelf, instant entertainment!

When DVDs hit the market, it was love at first sight. Now I could have pristine copies of these movies, with surround sound, director's commentaries, and bonus features. And they took up less space than VHS video cassettes! It didn't take long for my precious video collection to find its way to a garage sale table.

Fast forward to today. I see the writing on the wall and it says "Digital video downloading and subscription streaming." That's what's coming. In fact, it's already here. We've been using the new Watch Now feature through Netflix, which allows subscribers to instantly view any of the 5,000 (and growing) movies and TV shows currently offered. It was so easy, and addictive, to watch the entire seasons 1 and 2 of The Office without having to wait for a disc to come through the mail.

This technology is still in its infancy, but I can already predict how successful it's going to be in the future. More than that, however, I can see that my youthful dream of a movie library is quickly coming true. It's just that the collection won't be in my home, and it will be bigger than I ever could've imagined.

Now what will I do with all the empty space on my shelves?


Monday, July 16, 2007

 

Every Day Is A Winding Road



Here's the final chapter of our Big Sky Family Vacation. The last two days were very similar... A lot of time in the car. But it was a good kind of driving - the winding back roads, scenic byway, "are you sure we're going the right way?" kind of driving.

The morning of Day Three found us... Say it with me, "Swimming in the pool!" at Fairmont Hot Springs one last time. After three nights at Fairmont, we left very wrinkly, a little bit tanned, and overall very pleased with the place. I pointed the car southwest and drove into the Pioneer Mountains, looking for a place that was recommended to us by a curator at Montana Tech's Mineral Museum.

Crystal Park is one of the most unique places I've ever visited. High up in the mountains, it's 220 acres of National Forest Service land that is specifically set aside for rockhounding. The park is packed with a limitless supply of quartz crystals. And they're easy to find if you just sit down and start digging.



We picked a shady spot among the pines and immediately started finding treasure. Clear, cloudy, gray, smoky, purple. Crystals of all shapes and sizes were turning up with every scoop of dirt. I think we all got a touch of "gem fever" right there and then, but we kept it light and fun. After several hours of excavation, each of us had several dozen crystals to take home as souvenirs.



From there, we continued driving along the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway, taking in the scenery and appreciating the fact that we saw absolutely nobody for about twenty miles. Which meant I could pull over quite often to take pictures. At least until the kids started rolling their eyes and bellyaching about it. "Oh great, Daddy's taking another picture of a tree."



We made our way through the historic town of Anaconda, but didn't stop because we were heading straight onto another looping backroads byway, the Pintler Scenic Route, a 63-mile drive to Drummond. Along the way we stopped in Phillipsburg, another historic mining town (there are a lot of them in Montana), where we stopped for ice cream at the Doe Brothers Ice Cream shop. We also tried to drive the five miles up to the ghost town of Granite, but the steep dirt road was ridiculously washed out and I chickened out.

At Drummond we picked up I-90 and drove to Missoula, where we checked into the wonderful Wingate Inn, with its indoor water park. What's that? You're asking, "Didn't you have enough sliding and pool play at the Fairmont Resort?" Oh no, you can never have enough of that when you're on vacation. At least, that's what my kids say. And when they saw the words "Indoor Water Park" on the hotel sign, all of the complaints of a long day in the car turned into words of loving praise for their best. daddy. ever.

My plan for Day Four was to explore the college town of Missoula, but that all went out the window when a lifeguard at the hotel told us we should head north to see Flathead Lake (sorry, Missoula, maybe next time). So, instead of an easy 3-hour drive home on the Interstate, we took the winding back roads, scenic byway, "are you sure we're going the right way?", 7-hour route through Kalispell, Libby, Troy, and Bonner's Ferry.

I'm glad we did. It's beautiful country up there, and we saw many an interesting sight along the way. Flathead Lake turned out to be big and gorgeous, but my main thought was, "Yeah, well, I've got one of those down the street from my house." Lakes don't impress me so much anymore. We didn't make many stops, but just enjoyed the changing scenery outside our windows.



Outside of Kalispell we spotted two deer struggling across the mudflats. One of them finally got across, then went back to see what was taking his friend so long. Further down the road, near Libby, we stopped at Kootenai Falls for a few hours and hiked down to the river to cross the swinging bridge. A good way to end our family vacation in Montana (actually, our very last stop was in Bonner's Ferry to get huckleberry shakes at Zip's). We explored a huge chunk of Western Montana and now have some great ideas for future trips to the Big Sky state. There's so much to see in our country, and you don't have to go very far to find some fun and breathtaking places. You just have to get started down that winding road and see what turns up.



Saturday, July 14, 2007

 

Going Underground



Day Two of our family vacation in Western Montana found us spending the morning in the Fairmont Hot Springs pool. It was good to just relax in the water and watch the kids swim and play.

We took a break for lunch and headed about an hour east of the resort to Lewis & Clark Caverns, Montana's first state park, and one of the largest limestone caverns in the Northwest. I wasn't sure what to expect, having only learned of the place the day before. It turned out to be a fun and memorable trip through some truly spectacular caves.



The facilities are first-rate, with easy access to the trailhead, a large visitor's center, restrooms, cafeteria, and gift shop. Guided tours, at $5 per person, begin about every twenty minutes. We were lucky to get an awesome guide named Jacob, who would've been right at home on Disneyland's Jungle Cruise with his quick wit and confident manner. My son still laughs uncontrollably at the joke about Romeo, Juliet, and a wheelchair. Don't ask, you'll have to take the tour.



I have to confess that the 3/4-mile uphill hike to the entrance of the caverns nearly did us all in. Even the kids were huffing and puffing up that trail. But at least we beat the middle-aged smoking couple from Arizona! Jacob waited patiently for everyone to arrive before going over a few rules. Once inside, the 90-minute walk/climb/stoop was relatively easy for everyone. The constant 50-degree temperature definitely helped.



You might not want to tour these caverns if you're claustrophobic. There were three or four extremely tight spots where I had to twist myself into odd shapes to pass through. At one point you have to sit down and slide about ten feet to get to the next chamber. The kids loved watching me awkwardly squat and shuffle on my bottom (good thing I had the camera). The caverns are well lit, and they are in the process of switching to a new LED light system that will improve the visual impact of the limestone formations. The trail is extremely safe, with concrete platforms and steps, and steel handrails, all courtesy of the CCC.

I think I may finally know the difference between stalactites, which hang from the ceiling, and stalagmites, which are built up from the floor. There are thousands of them, in every kind of strange configuration, spread throughout the caverns.



It was more than a pleasant surprise to discover the Lewis & Clark Caverns. The kids loved twisting and turning through the caverns, not knowing what was coming next. That's sort of how our entire Montana trip went... I didn't have it all planned out. We made our decisions at the spur of the moment, relying on recommendations, brochures, and road signs to figure out what to do next.

At the end of the afternoon we were back in the pool, thinking about the strange and wonderful world hidden underground, and wondering what surprise Day Three of our trip would hold in store for us. It turned out to be crystal clear.



Thursday, July 12, 2007

 

Big Sky Family Vacation



I've lived in Idaho for twenty years now, and I just couldn't keep ignoring the siren song coming from next door. "Come visit Montana! We have mines and rivers and, um, a really big sky!"

So we packed up the family van and hit the road for four days of fun in Western Montana. Our base of operations for the first three days was Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, which is about fifteen minutes outside of Butte, in the Southwestern part of the state.



I wanted to have a place we could come back to for swimming and relaxation after a day of exploration. Fairmont was actually so much fun that we ended up cutting back on our sight-seeing just so the kids could splash and slide.

The resort itself is extremely family-friendly. Very casual and relaxed atmosphere. There's virtually nothing around it for miles, and the isolation is calming, especially when you're floating in the hot pool staring out at distant mountains across the prairie.

As you can see from the picture above, there is one large warm pool (temperature around 95F) with a tube slide, plus a smaller hot pool (temperature around 105F). They have the same configuration (minus the slide) inside if you don't want to be in the sun all day. The rooms at the resort are nice, nothing spectacular, but at least they were very clean and comfortable. The food is excellent. Best prime rib I've had in a long time. The food has to be good, because it's your only option for miles around.



On our first day after arriving at Fairmont we decided to drive into the city of Butte to see a bit of mining history. I've always been curious about this copper boomtown that was once one of the richest cities in the United States. In the early part of the 20th century, Butte's population hovered near 100,000. Back then, a third of all copper produced in the US came from Butte. The good times are gone now, and the old city is an empty, depressing place. I thought it would be fun to go into Butte's historic uptown district to have lunch, but the only two family-friendly restaurants were closed. On a Saturday at noon. If we'd needed a drink, no problem. There were plenty of bars... Two or three on every corner. We walked around for awhile, admiring the buildings, then drove to a newer part of the city for lunch at the Mackenzie River Pizza Company, a Montana-based chain of restaurants that I highly recommend.



After lunch, we drove up to see the Berkeley Pit, a huge hole in the ground that was once the largest truck-operated open pit copper mine in the US. After the mines shut down in the 1980s, the 900-foot deep, mile-wide hole filled with toxic water, making it the largest pit lake in the country. It's also extremely polluted and dangerous. My son was in awe of the place.

Oh, one piece of advice if you visit the Berkeley Pit. Don't call it The Butt-Hole, because your kids will repeat that phrase all day long.



From the Pit, we drove back through Uptown Butte to the campus of Montana Tech, where we toured their excellent Mineral Museum. They have over 1500 mineral specimens from all over the world. Our favorites were a 400-pound quartz crystal called "Big Daddy" and a massive geode that you can see in the picture above (notice my daughter's finger poking through a hole in the back).

This place really impressed my kids. My son has always been something of a rock hound, but the museum opened up his eyes to the amazing variety of minerals that exist in the world. The curator handed out some very nice mineral samples to whet my son's appetite for geology.



Next we were going to head down the street to the World Museum of Mining, but the clouds unleashed a torrential downpour upon us as we left the campus. It was quickly decided to call it a day and head back to the pools at Fairmont.

And that brings us to the end of Day One of our Big Sky vacation. Did you really read all of that? Next up, Day Two will find us hiking deep underground.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

 

Road Trip!



We've been away... The road was calling to us.

More later.


Thursday, July 05, 2007

 

A Helping Hand



"I'll help you down, Daddy. Don't be scared."


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

 

Freedom



Yesterday my kids saw that the 4th of July is about more than just fireworks and barbecues. We attended a ceremonial flag-raising in our town. The flag was sent to Idaho by a local soldier currently serving in Iraq, while the hoisting of the colors was carried out by two veterans and a recent Purple Heart recipient, Sgt. Jacob Kammer.

On the occasion of this country's 231st birthday, it's good to remember that freedom isn't free. The flag, the fireworks, even the hot dogs and watermelon, are privileges that we should not take for granted.

I want my kids to understand how good they have it here, and what a long, hard road this country has traveled to arrive at this point in our history. The United States is far from perfect, but it's a great place to live and grow.

While watching an American flag being raised over a quiet courtyard may not be as exciting as an explosive fireworks display, it's certainly a lot more meaningful.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

 

Finally!

Look what my daughter learned to do yesterday...



And I'm figuring out how to use my video editing software.

We're bothing learning new things!


Monday, July 02, 2007

 

The Wanderer

There's an 8-year-old girl in our neighborhood who is a wanderer. She roams the streets with almost total freedom from parental supervision. Everyone around here knows her name because at one point or another she's appeared in their garage or knocked on their door looking for kids to play with.

During the summer, she's out of her house early in the morning and doesn't have to be back home until bedtime. I have no idea what she eats for lunch and dinner. Maybe neighbors set food out for her, like you would for a stray cat.

When we're at home, my own kids play in the house, the backyard, and the park across the street, but I always know where they are and what they're doing. They don't just wander the streets looking for someone, anyone, to be their friends. In fact, I don't know of any other young children who spend the bulk of their summer days left to their own devices.

Is it just me, or do you think it's wrong that an 8-year-old girl has been given such a high level of independence?