A couple days after we returned from our wonderful vacation, we had a brief rain shower. Well, more of a deluge, really. Small town sewers and over an inch of rain in less than an hour produces instant lakefront property.

our street flooded

Adding to that fun is the fact our van really doesn't like starting when it's wet. Sadly this has happened enough times that I have perfected my mechanic-cringing technique of knowing exactly when to flood the engine at a certain sounding splutter to get it roaring to life.

The girls were thrilled because it was the day they got to travel to a friend's farm for the day. They know these days are numbered, as the cold weather is quickly approaching and school is getting into full swing. Here's Nora with a chicken:

Nora with a chicken

Anna with "her" beloved rabbit, Calico:

Anna and Calico

Rosa with "Dotty"

Rosa with a rabbit

Nora with farm-dog Toby:

Nora with Toby the dog

And Nora with a cat:

Nora with a cat

Interesting true fact: Our friend keeps her favorite cats inside so the eagles don't get them. A family of bald eagles has been in the area for several years now, and she has seen them pick off her outdoor cats. We often see the majestic birds on the side of the road on the way to her house. I can attest to another of their favorite dishes: roadkill-a-la-racoon.

One of my favorite landmarks on the way to the farm is what I call the rooster tree. It regally sits in the middle of a corn field. (proof I don't just see faces in things around me, I also see chickens...)

a tree that looks like a rooster

Don't worry, though. I still see faces that make me smile...

a slice of pizza with a face

We discovered a new side of Alex when he got himself a Batman cape at a thrift store. (The kids all thought Batman was funny in The Lego Movie.) He wore it all day, throwing out puns left and right. (Let's wing it. That's a bat pun.) I love engaging in witty banter, so it was a real bonding experience for me as a mom. As a bonus, Ella totally listened and obeyed everything Batman told her to do.

Alex as Batman

Random babbling of this page: every Amazon order now comes with a bonus cat.

our cat Nit-Wit in a box from Amazon

Have fun removing the cat from the box, however.

After a couple of weeks of homeschooling, I was itching to be outdoors more. The kids were wishing we were back on vacation. So we decided to find a public wilderness area, load up the s-more making gear, and hit the trails. I am thrilled the kids are catching my wander-lust bug! Our first go was at Collinwood Regional Park. Corbin was a bit bummed that we spent over two hours wandering the trails before starting up a campfire, but he endured with the help of his walking stick.

Corbin with a big stick

The trails wound around small lakes and ponds. The chorus of the many frogs kept us company.

close up of a pond

The kids took a break to throw some small rocks in the lake, of course. (I am not sure if this is a weird quirk with our kiddos or if all children have an irresistible urge to fling things into water...)

Corbin throwing a large rock

The woods sported some rather impressive trees, especially some old gnarled up oaks like this one Anna is modeling:

Anna in a tree cavity

I think this tree is in love... probably not with whatever made this hole, however:

a hole in a tree that is heart shaped

Random benches in random spots make for random photo opportunities.

the girls on a bench

Dead trees are actually very beneficial for a forest. This one went a step further and got all decked out with vines full of colorful berries.

a dead tree with a vine full of berries on it

The frogs might slip away, but the poor toads are way to easy to grab for my gang. Don't worry, we only subscribe to the catch and quickly release philosophy.

a toad

Nora spotted a cicada skin. (What's a cicada, you ask? Check out Alex's cicada page to find out.)

a cicada skin

Note to self: When climbing a tree and Lee innocently says he'll hold the camera for me be prepared to have to stop to pose for a picture.

Shannon in a tree

Due to a rather wet summer the woods are full of all sorts cool and odd looking mushrooms, so when we first spotted little specked balls on the forest floor, we assumed that they were some type of fungi. Upon further research, however, it turn out they are actually the product of the gall wasp.

gall of a gall wasp

Rosa spotted a woolly bear caterpillar and Nora and Anna spent some time getting to know their new little friend.

woolly bear caterpillar

Meanwhile, Corbin and Rosa found a clearing and decided to cloud watch while waiting for us to catch up.

Corbin and Rosa cloud watching

We came upon some old vehicles the forest has mostly reclaimed. Here's the girls "riding" in one:

the girls on the frame of a car

The girls are finally getting comfortable with leaving the trail from time to time. Here they followed Corbin to a pond to listen to the frogs (and catch a couple, too.)

the kids by some water

A dragonfly landed on Corbin and didn't want to leave. The poor guy's wings were pretty beat up. He finally managed to fly off, though.

a dragonfly

As sunset approached, the woods started it's shift change: the nocturnal critters started to stir, while the daytime critters wound down for the day. Bees crawled all over the wildflowers, the coolness stunting their desire to fly.

a bee

The girls' woolly friend seemed oblivious to the temperatures rapid drop. It roamed all over Anna, her warm skin no doubt contributing to it's vigor.

the caterpillar on Anna

Realizing it needed time to find a home for the night, Anna reluctantly said goodbye and set it back among the grasses.

Wanting to watch the sun set, we headed back to the campground area. The kids had a romp on the playground while we got the campfire going.

Corbin and Nora on the swings

This playground is not for little kiddies, but that didn't stop Ella from clamoring all over it.

Ella on the playground

(Funny how I don't panic when she falls while climbing trees, but I feel like I am going to have a heart attack when she is on top of a eight foot tall climbing wall and slips.)

With sunset imminent, we roasted our s'mores and quickly devoured the evidence.

roasting s'mores

This time, though, the moonrise in the east stole the show.

the moon

(while editing these pictures, GIMP's auto color levels did this to the above photo, which Corbin and Nora thought looked way cooler than the actual photo:)

the moon with black sky instead of blue

Anyhow... about that sunset: isn't it awesome how we always seem to find beaches facing west?

the sunset and the beach

I love this photo of Rosa watching the setting sun.

Rosa watching the sunset

Nora wrote messages in the sand until we couldn't see anymore, then we headed for home.

Nora writing in the sand

Corbin's big news: he got a Lamborghini Sesto Elemento!

Corbin's remote controlled car

He loves driving it around... (gee, he doesn't even have a driver's license yet! What kind of car did you think he would get?)

Corbin with the remote

Speaking of Corbin, he has been begging to go back to Nickelodeon Universe since the boys were last there. Before I realized what was occurring, his dad had caved in and they had their plans. I figured we might as well make it a family thing and came up with an itinerary for the rest of us.

We left the boys at Nickelodeon Universe for the day. It was a mid-week school day, so they pretty much had the place to themselves. When we returned to pick the boys up that afternoon Caleb mentioned the manager was following them around all morning and told them he got a kick out of them. My motherly worry was activated when Caleb also mentioned he took pictures of them with his camera.
(I had an instant flashback of when we were stalked a couple years back. Hey, we aren't that famous!)

Once I saw the pictures the rides' auto cameras took I realized why the manager was amused. Here's Corbin posing for the camera:

Corbin in a pose on a coaster

Caleb and Alex:

Caleb and Alex

Why did Alex look so bored in that last picture? I think this coaster is more his style:

the boys on the SpongeBob coaster

Caleb isn't so found of being dropped straight down and being flipped upside-down, however. So his brothers went back to going on the relatively tamer coaster with him.

Corbin sleeping on the ride

Caleb with his groove back:

Caleb on the coaster

What is amazing with Alex is his ability to look right at the camera as he is zooming by:

Alex looking right at ya

Here's Alex and Corbin back on the SpongeBob coaster:

Alex and Corbin on the ride

Not sure what took place here...

Alex posing and Caleb laughing

but it seems Corbin didn't get the joke.

mad Corbin

The only thing that comes to mind here is rock, paper, scissors: the take no prisoners addition:

all three boys

Here's Alex from that last shot:

Alex and Caleb decided to act like Lego Batman, which comically had the effect of making it look like they are sneezing:

Alex looking like he's sneezing

Here's Caleb's left-handed version:

Caleb as Batman

Corbin? He'll just stick to being himself.

Corbin flexing his muscles

They did go on lots of other rides. Here's Alex and Caleb on the log chute ride. (I think this docked-up photo Nickelodeon Universe gives of the ride is hilarious.)

Alex and Caleb on the log ride

Corbin got stuck with a screaming little kid on his log. Needless to say, I don't think he was exactly comforting the kid.

mad Corbin

Some final pictures of the coaster crew: Alex,

Alex on the coaster


Caleb on the coaster

and Corbin:

Corbin on the coaster

To say Corbin loves the SpongeBob coaster is a bit of an understatement. Here is a short slideshow of just some of his times riding it that day:

Slide: of

Meanwhile, while the boys were posing for photos, the rest of us went to the Minnesota Children's Museum. They had a Thomas the Tank exhibit there for a couple more weeks, and I knew Ella would love it. (She is a Thomas the Tank Engine fan.)
Unlike the empty mall, however, the place was stuffed full of toddlers. I think little ones under three feet tall outnumbered the rest of us twenty to one. Ella's reaction? Scream and cry and not let me put her down. Sigh.

The other girls had fun, at any rate. Here's Anna in the dog house:

Anna in a dog house

Nora, Rosa, and Anna trying out for the Village People:

the girls in costumes

I think Nora's sisters would all agree with this:

Nora with a sign that says boss

We all know what Nora does when she sees a chalkboard:

Nora with her chalkboard creation

Here's Anna trying out the crane:

Anna at the controls

Nora and Rosa found a mirror prism where they could see tons of themselves from every angle. What do they do? Dance.

Nora and Rosa dancing

Ella finally decided it was safe to explore by the time we got to the Thomas the Tank Engine exhibit.
Nora and I get a kick out of the character Sir Topham Hatt. Nora loves saying "Hello Hatty!" as a greeting, which she got from the movie Thomas and the Magic Railroad. (Click here to hear Junior say it in the movie.) So here is Nora with Sir Topham Hatt:

Nora and Sir Topham Hatt

Anna and Rosa are pretty indifferent to Thomas and company, so they amused themselves by molesting the various characters there.

Rosa and Anna with a character

Ella was very busy. Her solution to the swarms of toddlers was simple: get to higher ground. Here she is on Percy the train:

Ella on Percy

And on Thomas:

Ella on Thomas

I thought it a pretty clever solution, and would have joined her myself except for the fact that the security personnel didn't seem to appreciate her abilities. She didn't understand why she couldn't keep clamoring up, so when the security guard glared at me for the umpteenth time, we took our leave of the exhibit. So the whole reason we came was pretty much over in five minutes.

Oh well. The girls still enjoyed the other exhibits. Here's Nora as a fox and Anna as a rabbit (of course):

Nora and Anna in costumes

Even Ella enjoyed being an ant in the giant ant hill. Why no picture? Most times if Ella even thinks I am getting my camera ready to catch her in action she covers her face and flees.

Here's Anna deep in a tunnel:

Anna with an ant

Anna with an otter friend:

Anna with a stuffed otter

Nora as a turtle:

Nora in a shell

And Anna and her buddy as the same turtle:

Anna as a turtle

Nora played music on a piano on the rooftop exhibit:

Nora playing the piano

Once we had explored every exhibit we ate lunch. Nora was brave enough to do some self face-painting, so here is a yellow whiskered Nora with Rosa in the cafeteria:

Nora and Rosa

I had brought some bunny cookies for Anna. Needless to say she was thrilled they were called Annie's.

Anna with the cookies

One last pose at the Children's Museum with the Snoopy statue there:

the girls with the Snoopy statue

and we were off to rendezvous with the boys at the mall. We were just in time to watch stunt man Corbin try out the Air Bender for the first time. Here he is waiting for liftoff:

Corbin on the ride

Sure, he's all smiles for the camera, but here is what he looked like off camera. A bit nervous staring 70 feet up?

Corbin looking up

Here he is at the top:

Corbin on the ride

The verdict? He loved it so much he went right back on it again!

Much to his dismay, though, it was time to leave the mall and continue on to our final stop of the day: the Como Zoo

Rosa got one last pose with Sponge Bob on the way out:

Rosa and Sponge Bob

It occurred to us once we arrived that we have never actually been at the zoo during the summer. We didn't even realize they had flamingos and ducks.


Not sure who's aping who here:

Corbin and a gorilla statue

The monkeys seem strangely attracted to Corbin.

Corbin with a bunch of monkeys

The zoo had two zebra foals. We oohed and awed over them for quite a while.

a baby zebra

Caleb was impressed by the regal ostrich and her nest of eggs.

an ostrich and her nest

The tiger seemed to be posing just for us.

a tiger

I thought this little tree frog was pretty cool.

a rainforest tree frog

Anna once again posed on the zebra statue.

Anna on a zebra statue

Even though it was a rather cold day, we walked through the Japanese garden.

the girls on a bridge

I think I would like one of these in our backyard.

a view of the garden

What do the girls find there? You'll never guess...

a toad

We traversed the conservatory to warm up. I spent some time with my favorite plant there.

cocoa tree

The smell in the conservatory is absolutely intoxicating. These little beauties are just one of the contributing factors:

an orchid

I envy people who can look up and see this on a daily basis:

a palm frond

Rosa with her namesake:

Rosa with a rose

Do you know what smelling lilies does to your sniffer? Nora obviously didn't.

Nora with pollen on her nose

A view of the best smelling room:

the flower room

One last photo: in the fern room:

Caleb was thrilled to find ostrich eggs for sale in the shop there. He also got himself a shark tooth necklace. Here he is sporting both:

Caleb with an ostrich egg

Thus concludes our last of summer adventures. Next stop: glorious autumn!

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