How Long Can You Look at Something Cute?

I have volunteered my services in the near future to watching the newborn of a pair of friends for around three months. So Melissa came up with the great idea to have a little staycation with the four of us before things got hectic with our schedules. I loved the idea and it has certainly given me a great number of things to write about so you can expect several upcoming posts that are Idaho-specific, but hold some universal ideas. I hope you enjoy!

One of the best things I have ever done in life is nothing. I mean that, I really do. To this day, Melissa and I will talk about the time we took a full week off from our jobs and barely left the house. It was not a sexy thing, I can assure you. We ordered in lots of food, we barely wore anything outside the realm of pajamas, and our activities were almost exclusive to TV and computer games. Part of what I loved about that week was how little effort we put into any of it. It seems like most vacations are so stressful. You worry about getting things in your life to a point where you can leave for however long. Then, you worry about making sure you bring everything you need. Then, you worry about filling your days with new and exciting things that you wouldn’t normally experience. Then, you worry about making sure everything you’ve brought is making the return trip home. Finally, you worry about getting everything back to normal. Vacations can be a real nightmare. That’s why I love staycations, and Melissa and I were having those before it was even a word.

So as I mentioned there is probably going to be a write-up for each of the three major activities we took part in during our week, and I should add that a staycation with two little ones is a lot different than the ones with just the two of us. Kids really do change everything, including your definition of “relaxing.” This, the first in the series of three stops is for Zoo Boise.

You can check out their website at http://www.zooboise.org/ .

So let’s get the little stuff out of the way. A zoo can be a great day trip destination for the family. Zoo Boise is very conveniently located just inside the downtown limits, which is a quick and easy 20 minute drive from our house. The price was fantastic at $7/adult and both the boys (3 and under price range) were free. So at $14 to go in, that seemed more than fair. The animals were as fun to look at as you could expect and the zoo itself was clean and easy to navigate. There’s even a food place with very reasonable prices, but I have never tried the food and can’t speak to the taste or quality of any of it.

That being said…

Every time I go to our zoo, I leave in a pretty sad state. This most recent trip, like all the others, gave the wink of what was to come from the moment we drove into the parking lot. Zoo Boise is located at the most eastern side of a park. It’s one of those very simple, but very beautiful parks that is basically a well maintained lot of grass and shade trees. I love it, and can’t wait for the boys to be old enough to sit and have a picnic lunch there without running away every possible moment. What does that have to do with the zoo? Parking! Here’s the kicker, I don’t even mean that it creates a parking problem, but the city has placed two-hour parking limit signs for almost every spot near the zoo. Really though, that’s only an issue if you’re going to be at the zoo for more than two hours (more on that in a moment), and to be honest, I’m not sure how strictly that policy is enforced.

For our visit, we wanted to be there when the gates opened. Our plan was to go from open (9am) till about noon at which point we could leave and grab lunch at one of our favorite little spots in the downtown area. We thought it was a pretty solid plan. We were a little late (surprise) and ended up getting inside closer to 9:15. Here’s where I started to get a little…cranky. As we entered (a mere 15 minutes after they opened) we noticed a great deal of people inside the various animal exhibits cleaning things up. So strolling down an uncrowded zoo, we found that it was pretty easy to move from sight to sight since there were no actual animals to look at. Lucky for us, moving along so quickly allowed us to catch up to the guy using a blower to get dirt off the walkway. I’ve mentioned before that I’m from Florida – Land of Theme Parks. I don’t understand why basic clean up couldn’t be done prior to the opening time. I feel like we interrupted the workers, similar to when I’ve just mopped and William must run across the floor at that moment. It was a big turn-off, and seriously, why open the park at a time that you’ve specifically put all the animals out of sight? I can look at empty cages at Petsmart, even online!

We brought our double stroller to avoid the rental prices, which led to yet another issue. Every theme/amusement/aquatic/zoo park I’ve ever been to was more or less a circle. As I said, it was easy to get around the zoo without the use of the map (possibly due to the small overall size), but I like to think of Zoo Boise as more of an “E” that has been laid down flat. As you enter, you have three choices of direction but for anyone with wheels, they all dead end somewhere. It stopped bothering us at some point and just became laughable. We’d walk a little ways and get cut off by a locked gate or stairs and be forced to turn around. Easy to navigate, but equally as annoying.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment was the zoo itself, and this sadly gets echoed for a number activities locally. Here in Idaho, the grand scale just isn’t that grand. I still love when local people complain about “traffic.” It’s pretty cute. The big announcements just aren’t that big, and it’s due in no small part to the small number of people really willing to help fund these types of projects. I love the parks systems here, but some are very underwhelming when you compare them to others that are a five minute drive away. Likewise, the zoo has a great selection of animals, but they feel presented in a way that I find myself in a constant state of “ready for the next one.” I didn’t feel drawn in by the exhibits and many have such a small viewing area that as a family of four with a big double stroller, you are either blocked from any sort of view or boxed in by the mass of people trying to find a way to look around you. Not to mention that since the viewing areas are so small, you pretty much get all the view you ever will, in about 5 seconds. It becomes as interesting as going online to look at photos of the animals. Cute yes, but how long can you look at something cute? Going very slowly through everything, stopping at various exhibits multiple times and an extra special trip back through everything to actually see the animals once the cleaning crews were done, we were still done in around an hour. We used the second hour of our parking time to let William run around in the park.

In summation, we had a good time but it was one of those moments where you must ask yourself, “how long do I need to be here to get my money’s worth?” Perhaps the two-hour parking is enough for anyone. I just couldn’t help but leave with a little pit in my stomach thinking it could have been better. It’s unfair to expect a huge, expensive beast of a zoo in this area but I can’t help but wonder if it’s out of the question to want a little more. Yes, we had a nice time, but I’ve been to hockey games where I had a nice time…and my team lost.  Fun and disappointing don’t always travel separately.

I’ll add: We’ll go back. Of course we will, what are the zoo options around here? The price is still good enough to not feel bad about an hour visit. Also, like any zoo, they do great things for conservation and animals in general. I’m happy to support good programs, but it will take some amazing change before I feel real desire to go back.

It doesn’t have to be a zoo, but it’s always a good idea to send money to the places you really want to do well. Our little staycation has certainly shown me that Boise has a lot to offer, but without help from donations it’s never going to be a draw that makes people want to visit this amazing place.

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The Daddy Meck will make ya, Jump! Jump!

When I was young, I was a big fan of places like Chuck E. Cheese’s and Showbiz Pizza. Of course it had nothing to do with the pizza served, but there’s something amazing about walking into a place like that and trying to take in all the sights, sounds, colors, and smells. Heck, I still get a little twitch of excitement when I see a row of skee ball tracks. I like skee ball.

As I got a bit older, arcades became my biggest draw. Thinking back to those days I remember spending a great deal of time trying to persuade my mom to let me go to the arcades that inhabited every mall around. Were we really at the mall that often? We must have gone enough to make those memories pretty vivid.

By the time I hit middle school there was a whole new level of play place in the world. Huge warehouse sized buildings filled with “safe” playground style equipment that you could pay a small price and play on for the entire day. Great value for parents, but in the end it was just a large version of all the McDonald’s or Burger King playgrounds. I went a few times to those places, and they were okay, but there’s only so many times I’m willing to jump into a ball pit that smells like pee.

Kids have it easy today.

Almost two years ago, I started to hear a little buzz about a new breed of place for kids to play. A place where the always popular bounce houses were brought inside and combined with room-sized trampolines. I can’t speak for every child in the world, but I know I had my share of dreams involving a mansion that had one room where the entire floor was a trampoline. Someday.

Locally, we have Jump Time Idaho, and I could not be more pleased with our visit.

The continuous challenge for us as parents with young children, is finding a place where we can let our guard down a little. This is where Jump Time Idaho delivers, and I mean that in no small way. Sometimes we have trouble taking the boys to places because we’re worried about what they might break or if might be remotely child safe. So I ask you, what could be more safe than an place where falling is part of the fun?

We took the boys to the area called Jump Time Junior, a special section for children seven and under. At ages three and one, the grand total for full day (without leaving) access was three dollars. THREE! I can hardly comment on customer service as once inside there was little responsibility for them, however, at one point a large inflatable slide began to lose air and once notified the staff had everything fixed up in minutes. That works for me.

Within the Jump Time Junior section there was a very large trampoline area with room for plenty of kids, a very cool foam pit, several inflatable bounce houses and slides, as well as a few plastic play things which was a great way for the kids to break up the bouncing with something familiar. Pretty brilliant idea on their part.

It’s hard to put into words the pure joy for both William and Carter as they ran through the different areas jumping instead of walking and bumping into countless other children, all with a smile. Yeah, yeah, so they still need work with their socialization, but Jump Time Idaho is the type of place where real progress can happen. It was truly amazing for Melissa and I to not need to hover over them, especially Carter. I really can’t name another place (that isn’t our house) where I’ve ever felt so comfortable keeping my distance from Carter, it’s a pretty special feeling. Well worth three dollars.

I would like to mention one last thing, and you’re going to want to lean in close for this…psst…it isn’t just for kids. I don’t side-step the facts: I’m really out of shape, but seriously, for eight to nine dollars an hour (depends on the day) I would love to spend some time perfecting a sweet backflip. My plan is to wink in mid-air at the ladies like Lightening McQueen.

From their website, “Jump Time promotes a safe and fun environment while providing great exercise for the whole family” and I couldn’t say it better. So thank you Jump Time Idaho, for being exactly that.

Look for indoor trampoline parks near you! I even found this place which has locations all across the country. Indoor activities have certainly changed since I was young, but I’ll gladly take the foam pit over the foam-flavored pizza.

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The Dad Life Goes Aquatic

The last big stop on our staycation was the Boise Aquarium.

Before I get into this, I’d like to reiterate a point I made in my post talking about our trip to Zoo Boise. The Boise Aquarium has been in the works for quite some time, and financially it’s been nothing but an uphill battle. There have been countless fundraisers and pleas for donations to the public, and in all honesty I’m really happy for the people involved that this dream has become a reality. Sadly though, lots of people who insist that Boise is the type of city deserving of high quality, tourist-drawing destinations are the same people who won’t do anything to help bring these places into the area. When Melissa and I decided we wanted kids we didn’t just complain to the city, we took action. So we’re faced with this issue. It’s great that we have an aquarium, but you can’t do much without proper support and funding. I feel bad to some extent, but my point is that I understand their situation and I did keep that in mind during our trip there.

So just like my Zoo Boise post, this story got interesting right as we entered the parking lot. I’m really going to try throughout this post to not be overly mean, but the aquarium is located right by our local mall, across the street from a Sheriff’s office, and shares a strip mall with two bail bond places and a mattress place. Seriously. That was the location that people scouted and haggled over. Architects spent days drawing up detailed plans that had been discussed with the aquarium staff to ensure things were laid out in a specific way. Construction workers spent weeks building the inside, sculpting the fake rocks to make the fish feel comfortable when they were added, and adding giant filtration systems so that fish that don’t even exist yet would someday be added and be able to survive in the water they use. I just don’t understand what drew them to that spot. Maybe it was close to someone’s house.

Next comes the price. I’ve said several times that for us, we live by the idea that ticket costs for our family only need to be justified by the ability to get our money’s worth out of the visit. I hope that makes sense to other people. Fourteen dollars for an hour long trip to the zoo is not too bad. For the aquarium, prices were $9 each for Melissa and I, $6 for William (12 and under pricing) and Carter was free (2 and under pricing). $24, and ya know, that’s really not expensive. The problem for me was what we got out of that $24, and it really didn’t seem like much.

So, the inside. Right off that bat it was pretty clear that they were fishing (PUN!) for a certain audience. When you walk into this very warehouse style area you are instantly greeted by a large open-top tank filled with all the familiar fish from “Finding Nemo.” Okay, ha ha, I see what you did there. It kept both boys in total amazement for what felt like a while, but we found it a challenge to keep up with William. The large tank was made as a feeding area. For an additional three dollars you could get food to feed certain fish, and the tank was very low to the ground to help with that. Low enough, you might say, to entice a very excited toddler to jump in and swim with his favorite fish in the world. So we found ourselves in deep water (PUN!) trying to battle between moving on to the other tanks and William so desperate to stay and jump in with “Nemo.”

With such a grand entrance, it was unfortunate that most of the tanks within the aquarium walls are no bigger than anything you’d buy for your own home, and more than a few house the famous clown fish. There was another larger tank filled with small sharks and sting rays, another area that we found difficult to get William to leave. We found that even though it was not exactly crowded within the aquarium, the sharks and rays tank was the most interesting thing and was therefore quickly overwhelming for the boys. There was actually a really neat area for starfish made out of an old boat, but while Melissa and I thought it was interesting, the boys did not.

The two bigger tanks held the attention of the majority of the people, the majority of the time, and why shouldn’t they? The alternatives just couldn’t compete. There was also an octopus, a few reptiles, and a new puffin area, but none of them could pull people away from the two bigger tanks. There was also, according to their website, supposed to be a loggerhead turtle which was nowhere to be found. They are also trying to raise money for a 130,000 gallon tank to be filled with sharks and rays that people will swim with, as well as a seal at some point. Honestly, I can’t imagine where that is going to fit because at a normal walking pace I could go from start to finish in two minutes. Considering the adult price is two dollars more than the zoo, that hardly seems worth it, someday perhaps. They don’t seem to be using the right bait (PUN!) to get people in the door.

How about something positive…

A very unexpected, very cool thing happened as we were milling around the exit area trying to decide how many times we should go back to the beginning and start the process over to make the trip worth it. There is a sort of learning area at the end with lots of books and a desk are where kids can color in books that have fish that surprisingly were not clown fish. As I was making a mental note that the last fish tank held lion fish, meaning we start with “Finding Nemo” and end with “Deuce Bigalow” a staff member rounded up kids who might have been there as a group, and read them all one of the books. I really liked that moment.

So will we be going back? Again, like the zoo we don’t really have options for this type of entertainment. When the boys are a bit older and understand they can’t just jump in with the fish it will be easier, of course it will also be more expensive when we have to pay for Carter. As the aquarium continues to ask for money and have fundraisers it is possible that things make great forward strides. Till then, we watch “Finding Nemo” all the time and we can get our fill of clown fish that way.

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Art to Adorable

In a long list of things we needed to finalize in Florida before we moved to Idaho, I was told very sternly to get into my father’s attic and clean out several boxes of random items that had been kept from my childhood. There was an endless pile of drawings from all throughout my life. Melissa insisted I keep a few from my high school art classes, but did not object to getting rid of my detailed blueprints for a spaceship. One unfortunate side effect of divorce, something the psychiatrists won’t tell you, is that your childhood scribbles and memorabilia tends to split up as well. While that’s all perfectly sensible, parents seem to go through a stage in life where hanging on to a picture of an unidentifiable blue mass is no longer important. So after feeling I’d seen the last odd box containing an MC Hammer concert ticket at my dad’s house, I was a little frustrated to start the process over with a steady line of packages sent from my mom.

There was some element of fun in looking through all the drawings and school projects, most of which I had long forgotten. Still, I was not compelled at all to keep any of it and most ended up in the trash. I meant no offense to my parents by it, I’m sure at some point those things held meaning, but I couldn’t help but think how long that stuff sat around waiting to be thrown away. I just barely want to show the boys the stuff Melissa made me keep, let alone proclaim, “Yes! Daddy was the one who drew…that.”

We have one art project that William did adorning our refrigerator door. He wanted to decorate a cake like daddy does, isn’t that sweet? So we found a cake picture from a coloring book and he went nuts with it. Outside of that, the boys are not at an age yet where they’ve attempted to actually draw anything.

I got to thinking a little bit, and I don’t want this to come across as insensitive. I was wondering how long you need to keep something on the fridge before it’s acceptable to take it down. Not that I’m saying parents ever get bored with seeing the artistic stages of their children displayed, but seriously, you have to run out of space eventually right? I’m sure not everyone is like us, but we keep a great deal of information on our refrigerator because it is a major focal point. Keeping things like important phone numbers, any number of reminders, or just a nice simple family photo takes up valuable real estate. Of course there’s the technology to consider as well. Undoubtedly Apple will come out with the iFridge because we’ve all been there in the moment when you realize that you can’t check facebook while opening the door and getting all the breakfast necessities out for the kiddos. I’m pretty excited. Likely we’ll be able to store billions of their pictures in some kind of app, but there’s nothing quite as personal as seeing the drawing in real life.

That’s what I thought anyway…

Till I saw a feature on one of my favorite websites promoting a company called “Child’s Own Studio” and if you’re like me, you’ll be blown away at what they do. Clearly companies like this have been around for some time, which is sad because I have plenty of friends with kids but I’ve never seen them mention this type of service. I think this is the type of thing parents love! I looked through a mountain of drawings I had done over my life and felt no spark of attachment, but I think having the one stuffed toy based on a drawing by me, that was special to my parents, would certainly be a bit of a treasured item. Needless to say it would be one of those items that the boys are not allowed to touch until they understand how to not destroy everything.

I became very excited by the prospect of turning artwork into something the boys could hold, sleep next to, and find comfort with. Sadly, with the amazing gallery must have come popularity as described on the studio’s contact page saying they are working their way through a backlog of orders and are therefore not accepting new orders at this time. So perhaps even more awesome of Child’s Own, they have provided a list of alternative places where you can find this type of service. That’s if you’re not willing to wait I assume.

I am so very fascinated with this so please, if you have used a place like this before or you, like me, are intrigued and go forth to have a toy made, leave a comment! Let myself and all the readers know how your experience was, and by all means send me a picture of the finished product!

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