Thursday, July 31, 2008

Road Trip: Day 6

Today we had the sad task of bidding Sandy farewell and embarking on the next leg of our journey. We arose at 5:30 A.M. (4:30 our time!) to pack the vehicle, have some cereal for brekkie, and say our "thank you"s and "goodbye"s (and for me to take photos of every room of Sandy's house--it's a Moberg thing). Sandy was a great hostess, and we all had a terrific time with her. No surprise: tears on the driveway and in the van as we backed out, waved farewell, and drove away.

Sandy peeks into the van to say goodbye to the ladies while I finish snapping pics of Sandy's home. Let the waterworks begin!

We bought gas, aired up the tires, got some frou-frou coffees, and then left Omaha for Ames, IA for a brief visit with our friends Mary Jo (my former boss) and Lucinda (her daughter). We got there around 10:00 A.M., and immediately the girls were thick as thieves, hugging and talking and playing and getting into their swimming suits. We went to the outdoor swimming pool in Mary Jo and Lucinda's complex, and the girls swam while the adults visited. Later Mary Jo made us a delicious dinner of chili dogs (using a spicy meat recipe that she remembered Suzanna's having really liked), sweet corn on the cob (it was Iowa, after all!), pita chips and hummus (Susan paid close attention to the recipe), and homemade cinnamon ice cream with fresh strawberries and cantaloupe. It was great to see Mary Jo again, and the girls loved the opportunity to reconnect with Lucinda, too. (More waterworks when we had to say goodbye . . .)

Lucinda (on the pink raft) and the girls frolic in the pool.

We told Mary Jo and Lucinda about the girls' recent trip to Build-a-Bear Workshop, and they shared that they had done a similar thing recently, only with dolls. Here are all the ladies with their own creations!

Mary Jo and I (not in that order)

While snapping the pics above, Susan discovered that we had gone through another memory card for our digital camera! So, having already filled a 512 MB card and a 1 GB card in the past few days, we headed to Target and bought another 1 GB card, which we hope will last us the remainder of this trip! I was recently in Ames for a conference and was impressed by the campus, so I gave Susan and the girls a driving tour of Iowa State University to show them the layout, the impressive buildings, and some locations of note (Mary Jo's office, the library, the horse corral amongst the classroom buildings!, etc.). Then we were back on the road by midafternoon for St. Paul, MN and a destination there that had us all very excited!

At about 6:00 P.M., we arrived at the Science Museum of Minnesota to see its current Star Wars exhibit. This spring we introduced our girls to the world of Star Wars by watching all six movies with them, so when Susan found out about this exhibit at the Science Museum, she knew it would be a treat for us all. The building itself is incredible: about a decade old, something like six stories (or more? I don't even know), overlooking the Mississippi River, both permanent and termporary exhibits, an IMAX theater, and science-related surprises on every floor, including a staircase that plays music as pedestrians walk up or down it--a different musical note for each tread of the stairs!

Views of the Mississippi River from the Science Museum of Minnesota.

We started with an IMAX movie: Special Effects: Anything Can Happen. The giant domed screen lowered slowly in front of us like the visor of a helmet, an effect almost as cool as the movie itself! Afterward we entered the Star Wars exhibit, whose tagline is "Where Science Meets Imagination." Thus, not only were there many models of spaceships and aliens and costumes from the movies, but there were also informative videos and interactive educational displays intended to show the differences between the science and the fiction in the science fiction of the movies.

We saw a movie on robots (what the robots in the movies can do vs. what today's robots are capable of) and rode a Millennium Falcon simulator (and learned about the reaches of our own universe and the identified universes beyond ours); we built our own robots (teaching us how to let a robot's function determine its construction--inspired by R2-D2) and magnetic levitation trains (teaching us how modern high-speed train engineers use magnetism to propel trains--inspired by the levitation of Luke Skywalker's landspeeder); and we played a game in which we chose robotic enhancements for ourselves (teaching us to consider the possible positive and negative impact of integrating technology into the human body, ranging from pacemakers to memory-enhancing computer chips in the brain--inspired by the part-human, part-machinery character Darth Vader). Perhaps needless to say, there were many photo opps for the photo-happy Mobergs, some of which follow:

The girls are mimicking the poses of the Stormtroopers behind them. Notice that Suzanna and Hillary are holding imaginary lightsabers. Daddy's so proud!

Inspired by Luke's landspeeder, this feature gives riders a chance to operate a hovercraft and feel what it's like to travel on a burst of air. Here's Suzanna trying to maneuver around the circular arena. Her face shows that it wasn't easy to negotiate that thing and its rear-blowing fan (which provided the thrust forward).

Faithful readers already know that I am often told that I resemble Ewan McGregor, who plays Obi-Wan Kenobi (thus one of my nicknames: Obi-Wan Kevmobi). Here I pose with my own mimed lightsaber in front of Ewan's Obi-Wan costume.

The museum closed at 11:30 P.M., and we were there to the bitter end, checking out the educational exhibits on health, human anatomy, and dinosaurs. What a great place! We could have spent hours and hours more there had they been willing to stay open for us!

Hillary examined my eyes at this station in the human anatomy exhibit.

Remember the girls' pose with an animatronic triceratops at the Omaha Children's Museum? Here they are with the real McCoy!

We are headed tomorrow to the Wisconsin lake home of Susan's aunt and uncle who live in Mendota Heights, MN. They offered to let us spend tonight at their home in The Cities so that we wouldn't have to drive into the wee hours of the morning, and we happily accepted! First we found our way from the Science Museum to their house, and then we drove around to look for someplace nearby to eat (we still hadn't had supper, and it was nearing midnight). No luck. So we went back to their house, where Susan raided their kitchen and made us tuna melts on bagels and heated vegetable soup for our meal. Gotta get to bed -- it's gonna be another early morning tomorrow!

P.S. Read my sister's version of today!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Road Trip: Day 5

Sandy was right; Panera Bread does make a delicious bagel! That was our breakfast today before Sandy and Susan walked to a nearby craft store for some mid-morning shopping. I persuaded Sandy to make egg cakes (Swedish pancakes) for dinner, and we gobbled them down rapidly and happily. Then we all smeared ourselves in sunscreen and went to the water park for the afternoon!

Fun-Plex offers both amusement rides and a huge water park. We opted to do just the water park, but that kept us occupied all afternoon long. We made numerous trips up the steps and then down the water slides; we made numerous laps around the lazy river; and we survived numerous tsunami in the wave pool (see photos here). What a terrific time!

Suzanna blasting down one of the slides

Abigail at the end of a trip down a slide

Hillary going all aerodynamic!

Sandy and Suzanna recover from a trip down a slide together! This is the pool at the base of the two water slides.

The girls and I rendezvous in the waiting pool after shooting down the slides.

Hillary and Susan enjoy the serenity of the lazy river.

While Suzanna rides the lazy river via my back, Abigail leads us both along by the flotation device's handle.

Hillary and I shared an inner tube in the wave pool, and it was all I could do to keep the two of us afloat in it as we were buffeted by wave after wave from the pool's "motion ocean" device. Throughout it all, Suzanna clutched a bar at the side of the pool designed to enable one to stay in place in the pool while still enjoying the rides up and down each wave. Abigail, meanwhile, swam to and fro like an otter, seemingly oblivious to the violently undulating water, making her way over to me to say hello before swimming over to join Suzanna for a while at the bar and then heading off elsewhere to explore, her blonde head bobbing up and down all the while.

Before we left for the water park this afternoon, Sandy had put barbecued ribs into the crock pot for supper, so just imagine the rich and wonderful aroma that greeted us when we entered her house after swimming! What a fantastic supper.

We had a relaxing final evening together (we head off to our next destination tomorrow morning). Everybody showered up; Susan did some laundry; the girls played a computer game on Sandy's computer; and we all avoided mentioning how sad it's gonna be to have to say goodbye to Sandy tomorrow.

Before supper, we had a tasty appetizer: multigrain crackers spread with cream cheese and topped with Tastefully Simple's pomegranate chipotle sauce on top. Here's Hillary demonstrating how to eat it, I guess!

P.S. Ready my sister's version of today!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Road Trip: Day 4

It was another fun and busy day for the Mobergs in Omaha. After some tasty eggs, bacon, and toast for brekkie, we went to the Omaha Children's Museum, where we spent several hours exploring all the exhibits and activities with the girls.

Funny story: Sandy subscribes to the Tioga Tribune, our "hometown" newspaper, and has several issues lying around her house. I browsed them and saw a feature within them: subscribers are encouraged to take photos of themselves in far-flung places holding up a copy of the Tribune and then to send in the pics to the newspaper. We grabbed a copy and posed with it in front of a sign that would make clear where in the world we were, and Sandy intends to send it to the paper. Does it matter that she subscribes to it but we don't?

Just had to have Sandy pose beneath this sign outside the museum. The "splish-splash garden" is a series of water jets in the sidewalk that can be activated and then played in on a hot summer day.

The featured exhibit today was DinO!saurs, involving animatronic replicas of several of the beasts along with informative displays and activities. Here the girls compare their feet with the footprint of a prehistoric creature.

Hillary, Abigail, and Suzanna are mimicking the triceratops behind them (notice how Suzanna is providing the third horn for Abigail; sisters are always there for one another).

They were told, "Assume your fiercest dinosaur pose."

A large section of the museum is given over to the Super Gravitron, a several-rooms-large system of tubes, machines, and plastic balls that teaches kids about pneumatic, hydraulic, and mechanical forces. For this part of the Super Gravitron, a child sits on the chair and places one of the plastic balls (the blue thing to Hillary's right) over an air tube to seal the air flow and cause the chair to rise (notice her feet up off the floor; when she removed the ball, the air flow resumed, and the chair floated back down to the floor).

At this station of the Super Gravitron, a child inserts plastic balls in the PVC pipe opening (to Abigail's right) and then uses the yellow wheel to control the auger inside the clear tube to move the balls up and into the next section of the machine. (All the balls eventually make their way to a clear bin in the ceiling of the central room, and all the children gather there to wait for the bin to fill up and then dump its contents all over them and the floor! Then they scoop up as many balls as they can hold and head off for another section of the Super Gravitron.)

The tube in front of Suzanna is a portal for a stream of air in which she balanced the green and yellow balls. So long as she placed them carefully, they stayed in place (albeit wobbily) until she chose to remove them. (She discovered, though, that two balls was the maximum she could get to stay in the air stream; not enough air got around the first two to suspend the third one, and it inevitably fell.)

The girls took advantage of a demonstration and experiment in the science lab. A gentleman in a lab coat had these supplies laid out and instructed the children how to use the rubber banded popsicle sticks to pick up the random items from the tray and place them in the bowl. One pair of sticks was banded near the middle; the other was banded near the end. The point was to decide how the size of a bird's beak (wide-opening jaw vs. narrow-opening jaw) affects the kinds and amounts of food that it can eat. (Stopwatches were provided, too, so that each child could control for time in the experiment: how much "food" can each "bird" pick up and put into the bowl in the same amount of time?)

Abigail conducting her experiment.

One of the museum's permanent exhibits is its Imagination Playground, one section of which is Rainbow Farm. Here the girls pose amongst the (oversized plastic and metal) corn.

Another section of Imagination Playground is Little Market, a faux grocery store with shelves stocked with cans, plastic fruits and vegetables, and other toy food arranged as it would be in a real grocery store. As new kids approach the market, they're free to grab a cart and go shopping or to grab an employee apron and start working. Here's Suzanna in her apron weighing produce. Later she willingly started restocking shelves, replacing the food toys that others had taken off as customers but then just left behind at the counter. We saw several kids, in fact, doing the same: putting on aprons, looking around for employee-ish chores to do, and then doing them as though it were really their job!

Here's Abigail scanning bar codes on cans and containers at the register in the check-out lane. (But where is her apron?! Imposter!)

Hillary put herself in charge of the bakery. She looks almost as though she's defending the bread against potential pastry pilferers!

As you can probably tell, the museum was a very good time. Sandy then drove us around downtown Omaha to see some of the sights. We ate dinner at Delice European Bakery, where we ordered just a few items and then shared them (it was a late meal, and we wanted to save room for supper): ricotta pie, tarragon chicken salad croissant, and a mushroom tart--all delicious. Afterward we spied a MaggieMoo's ice cream shoppe and treated ourselves to dessert. I discovered their Better Batter ice cream flavor--a creamy base with yellow cake mix in it. It tastes like licking the bowl when baking a cake, only better. Then we spent some time walking around, browsing the shops, and--of course--posing for photos:


On our way back to her house, Sandy pointed out highlights around Omaha along our route. We made a stop at Panera Bread to pick up bagels for tomorrow's breakfast (Sandy assures us that they're the best bagels; I ordered a cinnamon crunch bagel, which has cinnamon and vanilla chips in the dough and a cinnamon and sugar shell on the outside). We stopped by a mall, too, to do some shopping: Susan and Sandy took advantage of sales at Bath and Body Works for pretty-smelling soaps and body sprays; I found a tripod for our Flip Ultra at Sears; and we spied Build-a-Bear Workshop and just had to go check it out.

It's a stuff-it-yourself teddy bear store, and the girls were eager to see what it was all about. It was difficult not to notice their eager wide eyes, so Susan and I asked them if they'd like to build their own bears as a souvenir from this trip, and they were unanimous in jumping up and down and replying, "Yes, please!!!" The employee was great with the girls, walking them through the process of choosing an empty bear (from several available styles), operating the bear-stuffing machine, selecting a satin heart and preparing it (making a wish on it, whispering to it, kissing it, etc.) before slipping it inside the bear and then stitching it up, fluffing and dressing the bear, and using a computer station to name the bear and print out its birth certificate. Once we got to Sandy's, we persuaded the girls to leave their Build-a-Bears in the vehicle so as not to tempt to teeth and claws of Sandy's kitties, and the girls agreed . . . but they had to go out to the garage and spend some time saying goodnight to the bears before they themselves could turn in for the night. Sweet!

Here they are making a wish while clutching each bear's heart, getting ready to tuck the heart inside the bear's stuffing and stitch it up.

Suzanna and Coda

Abigail and Banana

Hillary and Sophie

We did some quick grocery shopping for supper and then got back to Sandy's. The girls were handy and watered Sandy's plants while supper was being prepared. Sandy made us a Mexican dish with chicken that's kind of a cross between enchilladas and burritos (enchillitos? burrilladas?). And, of course, there was glorified rice (Mexico meets Scandinavia). Tomorrow: water park!

P.S. Read my sister's version of today!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Road Trip: Day 3

Our foray into Fontenelle Forest yesterday filled our camera's 512 MB memory card, so Sandy took us to SuperTarget today to get a 1 GB memory card for our day at the zoo! We felt it safest to assume that today would be another unbearable day weather-wise, as humid and sweltering as yesterday was, and we planned our day accordingly: get to the zoo early, see as many of the outdoor exhibits as possible before the day really started cooking, see a movie in their IMAX theater in the middle of the day to take a break from the heat, and spend the remainder of the hot afternoon seeing all the indoor animals. As it turned out, the day wasn't so bad--hot, yes, in the afternoon, but mostly breezy and certainly not as humid and sticky as yesterday.

And the zoo was phenomenal! It's Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, and it seems that whenever I tell someone that I have a sister who lives in Omaha, he/she says, "Oh, they've got a great zoo." Sandy took us here one winter to see the Christmas light displays that the zoo always puts up, but today was our first time actually spending our time just observing the animals. There are lots of 'em to see! Here are some (oh, Faithful Reader, there are so, so many more photos, should you have the interest and time) of the sights from the morning:

We never pass up an opportunity to pose! Here are Sandy, Suzanna, Hillary, and Abigail on a sculpture of lions just inside the entrance to the zoo.

okapi

reticulated giraffe

More posing, this time upon a cute butterfly bench.

Grevy's zebra

bongo

cheetah

More posing, this time on a rhinoceros statue.

birds (I don't know what kind, but they surely are pretty)

More posing, this time on a komodo dragon sculpture.

These are hundreds of koi in a feeding frenzy beneath the bridge over the lagoon! Visitors can purchase food to feed these Japanese carp, and, boy, do the fish ever know it! It was amazing to drop a few pellets of fish food in the water and watch the pisces swarm wherever the food hit the water.

There was a food stand just across the bridge over the lagoon, so we ate dinner there and had some tasty items, including delicious barbecued beef sandwiches followed by ice cream cones for dessert--perfect on a hot summer day. Here are some of the things we saw in the afternoon:

white rhinoceros

African elephant

scimitar-horned oryx

More posing, this time with the Desert Dome visible in the background--here are Suzanna, Susan, Abigail, Sandy, and Hillary.

flamingo (compare)

silverback gorilla

western lowland gorilla

We cooled off during the 2:00 P.M. showing of Wild Ocean 3D: Where Africa Meets the Sea in the Lozier IMAX Theater. It's an interesting movie about marine life off the coast of South Africa, and it's an awesome viewing experience to see it not only in 3D (thus the attractive glasses above) but also on the gigantic IMAX screen with its impressive sound system! However, after many hours walking around outdoors on a hot summer day, it was very nappy in the cool, dark theater, and we had to keep poking one another to make sure everybody saw at least most of the movie!

Bornean orangutan (dig those cheeks!)

There: our Christmas card photo is taken care of!

Siberian tiger

puma

African lion

Amur leopard

Indochinese tiger

white tiger

polar bear

jaguar

Malayan tiger

penguins

shark (which we saw from a tunnel going under/through the aquarium!)

butterfly

hairy desert scorpion

More posing, this time while traversing a rope bridge in the rain forest exhibit (that's Abigail and Hillary, by the way).

Burmese python

Malayan tapir

Nile soft-shell turtle

hippopotamus

"You called?" (I'm looking out at the rain forest from behind a waterfall--pretty.)

The lovely Moberg ladies on an outlook near a waterfall in the rain forest: Suzanna, Abigail, Susan, and Hillary.

Daddy's turn (but on a different outlook).

We ended the day where we started: posing (of course) on the lion sculpture at the entrance to the zoo. This time, Susan and I stood in for Sandy.

When we got to Sandy's house, we were more than ready to scarf down some tasty leftovers (including her glorified rice--just like Mom used to make!). Later Sandy got the girls into the kitchen to bake chocolate chip cookies with her! That was a tasty evening treat. They got to watch 102 Dalmatians while the adults visited. It was another great day in Omaha!

Um, how much help was Hillary?

P.S. Read my sister's version of today!