Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Little Christmas Miracle

It's been a busy couple weeks.  Most evenings are spent Christmas browsing online or just trying to keep up with life in general, and I've officially restarted my horrible holiday habit of staying up until midnight every single night, even though I have the best of intentions to go to bed earlier all the time.  I'll get into that in another post.  This one is about something that I can only describe as a Christmas miracle.

Thursday morning was a bad one.  Recently we've been struggling with Jacob, almost as much as ever.  He's been very disrespectful, unwilling to listen, and rather short-tempered.  Mind you, most of these interactions take place first thing in the morning or in the evening--both of which happen to be when his medicine is out of his system.  It's evident that it makes a huge difference, but recently it's just seemed like things have gotten worse.  His behavior off the medicine seems much more erratic and purposefully annoying.  The worst part is that he's completely out of control when he's like that, in that no amount of yelling or physical intervention really reaches him.  It's like he's so wrapped up in the moment that he just can't break out of it.  It's exhausting.  And Thursday was just another day of that frustration, I suppose, but that much arguing first thing in the morning isn't good for anyone.  I went to work sad and completely spent.  If I didn't have a ton of work to do and had my computer home with me, I probably would have just stayed home to cry it out and move on.  

But I had work to do, so I fought tears all morning.  My only saving grace (ironically) was that I could leave a little after 2pm because I had to pick Jacob up for a 3pm therapy appointment.  That appointment was actually one of the major points of contention that morning, as he was insisting he didn't want to go.  He refused to go to school because we were making him go, in fact, and he droned on about how it's boring and doesn't help anything.  To which I responded, as always, that 1) if he could get his behavior under control, we wouldn't have to go there; and 2) if he actually tried actively participating and sharing with his therapist, it might actually do some good to go there.  I conceded that maybe he was right--that it wasn't worth our time to go because he didn't want to make good use of it.  Despite his ultimatum, obviously he had to go to school--and presumably along the two minute ride he got quite the talking-to from Craig.

Since Craig had work commitments, it was up to me to pick him up.  And, to his credit, the minute we were walking out of the school, he was apologizing to me.  Our conversation on the way was pleasant, and our session ended up being pretty productive for a change.  Our therapist outlined each of our concerns, and then we talked about possible solutions.  We talked about Nerf gun wars, Jacob helping Carter play Wii, me emailing his teacher about some school issues, and focusing on giving Jacob a daily evening dose of his ADHD medicine to keep him more even-keel at night.  Since many of our problems have been happening then, suddenly it seemed like it was really worth a shot.

Last time we talked to Jacob's doctor, she had actually suggested a second dose later in the day.  We have leftover short-acting medicine from before he went to the long-acting stuff (we had just refilled), and she mentioned that if we could pull it off, a dose of that wouldn't hurt.  We had asked about how it might impact bedtime, but she explained that because it keeps him on a more even-keel and he's not ramping up like he does as the medicine wears off, it actually might be easier to fall asleep.  And sure enough, with a couple test runs we'd done, he'd been fine.  The afterschool program can't give medicine, so we'd been hesitant since we don't get home until 6pm, but with as bad as things got in these last couple weeks, suddenly it seemed like our only hope.  

And while I had high hopes, I still have concerns.  I worry about whether keeping him medicated most of the time is bad.  Will it be worse if he's off it for some reason?  I wonder if it's a problem that he won't have much time to "practice" controlling his behavior.  But it's been so bad lately that I feel like we need this break to get ourselves back to a place where we love and trust each other again.  When every moment is an argument or a criticism, it makes it hard to look at someone with love, or even want to be near them.  That's about where we'd gotten to lately, and it's such a terrible feeling.  I didn't even realize until yesterday how bad it had gotten, or how badly we needed to heal...and I certainly already knew we had problems.  Bad ones.

Jacob admitted to the therapist that he can tell the difference when the medicine wears off, and that his friends seem to like him better when he's on it.  That was a little hard to hear, but there's no doubt it was a game-changer all around when he started it at school.  And no joke, Jacob can be a really cool kid when he's on it.  When he's not, it's an endless stream of obnoxious behavior, rude talk, annoying noises, and impulsive decisions.  It's exhausting and miserable to deal with every day.  We don't get to see the medicated side very much, but given how good it is at school, it seemed like the better option despite the concerns.

As we were leaving the therapist, Jacob specifically mentioned that he wanted his pill.  He could tell (as could I) that it was wearing off.  We had Craig's birthday dinner that night (a day late because he had to work the previous night), so we knew we had to do it.  Instead of our usual Red Robin, Craig picked Outback, probably because he knew Jacob has really wanted to go back since our original lobster night.  Jacob even went out and got an Outback gift card with his birthday money so he could get lobster again!  When we got there, he and I decided to split this great platter that included one lobster tail, two shrimp skewers, two crab cakes (on a separate plate because of the gluten), and two sides.  He picked broccoli, and I did a salad.  He was so excited to try shrimp!

It ended up being really great for us, and we were both stuffed!  It was so good, though!  And he loved the shrimp!

Lobster!  And yes, he insisted on dressing up for dinner...and yes, the hair is out of control.  Stay tuned...

So, that night was amazing.  We even had a coupon for a free dessert so we got the gluten-free Chocolate Thunder from Down Under, and everyone was happy.  He was great for the rest of the night, and considering how horrible I felt that morning, to go to bed at peace was so nice.

Craig was busy again Friday night, but despite having both kids with me it became our mission to get Jacob's hair cut.  It had been a long time coming and we'd been discussing the style for a while, as he wanted to do something a little different.  The cut went well, and it makes him seem like such a big kid, even with just how he was deciding with the stylist what he wanted!  Things were going so well that we even survived a trip to Five Below for some Christmas scouting.  

Everything went so well that by bedtime I couldn't help but take this picture...
Is this even the same kid?!
Today (well, yesterday) was mostly a continuation of the good stuff.  He had a gorgeous goal in his game, and we had a good time at the Knighthawks' game.  Of course, it came after the kids (well, Carter) broke the Christmas tree and a few random moments of wondering just how well the medicine was working.  It was also an awful day for Carter all around (he was grumpy about everything).  But it was still a hundred times better than usual and I'm so grateful for 48 hours of what I think normal life is like.  Having time to fall back in love with Jacob and see the good in him has been hugely helpful, not just for my attitude but for him learning to trust me again.  When all he gets from me is negative (and I swear, I really try not to let it be that way, but it can be a constant onslaught of unacceptable behavior a lot of the time), it's no wonder he can't take any of my feedback as constructive criticism.

I really, truly hope this sticks because we need it so badly.  I love this kid so much and I need to make this better.  Maybe this is our chance.  Maybe it's not, but I will make the most of my Christmas miracle while I can.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

News and Notes, Post-Thanksgiving Edition

I don't have much to report after our Thanksgiving weekend, but I figured an update was in order anyway.  As a whole, we had a nice four/five-day weekend.  Things went pretty well overall and I really can't complain.  Of course, the kids were a challenge as usual, but that's pretty much par for the course here, so I try to keep that out of consideration as much as I can.

Craig and Jacob were off on Wednesday.  They had a quiet day at home.  I got out of work at 2pm and rushed home so I could start baking my apple pie and figure out how to make some stuffing for Jacob.  I had gotten a head start with making gluten-free croutons the night before, but I was trying to find a recipe that didn't have thyme in it (because he doesn't like it) or sage (which I actually didn't have in my spice cabinet), and it was a little challenging.  Anyway, the pie making went surprisingly smoothly.  The stuffing ended up fine as well, though I don't think Jacob loved it.  I have to think about how to improve it for next time, or maybe he just won't care.  But at least I made the effort!  I wrapped up last minute packing while Craig picked up Carter from daycare.  We headed out and picked up dinner for the kids on the way.  Craig and I were headed to a bar in Buffalo after we dropped the kids off with my parents, and we figured we'd be too tempted to resist some wings and other fried stuff there, so we passed on dinner with the kids.  Craig's family was getting together to drink to the memory of his Uncle Mike who passed away far too young three years ago.  Drop-off went fine and the kids were pretty good for my parents, and we had a great time catching up with Craig's family.

We went to church with my parents on Thanksgiving morning, and I got to see my friend Heather, just one day after her birthday, which was nice.  The kids were pretty well behaved, other than Jacob being super eager for church to be over so we could be closer to eating and seeing his cousins (and eating again).  Carter went up to the front of church for the children's message, and when the woman doing it asked what everyone was thankful for, eventually Carter offered up "Friends," but then added "Electronics" right after.  Ah, yes.  Priorities.  Have I mentioned he really likes mobile device games right now?  Everyone laughed, and so did we, but I'm guessing our parenting awards aren't showing up anytime soon!

We had a lovely lunch with my parents and my Uncle Ron and his girlfriend.  Carter is not a huge fan of Thanksgiving but did eat some turkey, peas, and rolls.  Everyone liked my apple pie, and we had some nice conversation, and soon it was time to pack up and head off to Craig's family.

Jacob had a blast with his cousins, as usual, and Carter did his best to fit in where he could.  We ate a ton as usual, though I really did try hard to limit my appetizer consumption so I didn't feel completely gross by the end.  I probably made up for it with wine, but while I was very full, it was manageable...and worth it!  The food was just really good and there was so much of it!  We finally made it back to Craig's parents' sometime after 10pm.  Jacob slept over with his cousins, and the three of us went to bed pretty quickly.  We slept pretty late (funny what happens when our early riser isn't around!), and eventually got ourselves moving in time to pick up Jacob, grab some lunch on our way out of town, and head home.  I had a long weekend of cleaning and decorating ahead, so I was eager to get there.

The good news is that it was a warm-ish, sunny day.  It was a bit breezy, but when we got home I decided right then and there to get out the trimmer and do some trimming I'd been meaning to do for a while.  That led to me finally tearing out the dead remains of the coneflowers in our front flower bed, and trying to rake up what was left--along with any leaves--before finally heading back in to tackle the house work.  I had to get the kids to clean up their remaining battlefield in the living room, vacuum, move some furniture, vacuum again, and finally move a bit more furniture before the living room was ready for the tree.  I put that up Friday night, undecorated, just so that part of our living room made sense again and I felt like something was done!  I also had a lot of dishes to do after my last minute flurry of cooking on Wednesday, and all of the fall stuff had to get taken down and put away.  In addition, part of the living room cleanup included stripping out a few toys from our shelves that have, at long last, been outgrown (sob!).  I took out the batteries and packed them away in the basement.  Among them were the favorite baby laptop toys that Carter loved, a bus toy Jacob got for his first birthday, and a few others.  It was time.  We don't have as much toy storage during Christmas, and we'll probably get plenty to replace them anyway.  I feel like there's still more to go, and more to rotate at least, but the toys were one of the few things that I didn't get to this weekend.  I did some on Monday, but there's still more to be done!

Nice end to the busy day on Friday!

On Saturday we had to get up relatively early because Craig was working the Knighthawks kiosk at the mall, and we were all going to go.  The boys and I walked around and did some browsing while Craig worked.  We stopped at the Lego Store so Jacob could make some minifigures he had earned through some deal he had with Craig, and all things considered they were pretty good. 

Eventually we got back to Craig, had some lunch, and headed out.  We headed back home and I spent the rest of the day putting up decorations.  The boys rotated between TV, electronic devices, and their battlefield that had now moved to the basement.  I was somehow able to get everything but some window clings put in place, which was pretty impressive.

Sunday we got up and went to church, and then decided that since it was a cold, dreary day, we'd go to the cheap theater and see the Lego Ninjago movie.  Our second-run theater closed a while back and we were really bummed that we had lost our access to cheap movies prior to the DVD release.  Fortunately, a few months back a new company reopened the theater, this time with those amazing recliner seats.  This was my first opportunity to experience them, and yes, they're really comfy.  The move was good--just enough adult humor, and plenty to keep the kids laughing, too!  We came home, I whipped up some dinner, and spent most of the evening decorating the Christmas tree...and I actually got it done!  I can't remember the last time I was done decorating (save for a couple extra details that aren't vital) by the end of Thanksgiving weekend!  I was determined to get it done because the chaos that results from having bins hanging out in the living room isn't great, and I know that stretching things over weeknights not only makes everything take so much longer, but it prevents me from getting to other evening projects during the week, like list-making and online shopping.

Speaking of list-making, I am having a heck of a time getting lists together for everyone in my house.  I have my shopping list ready to populate, but there's pretty much nothing on it yet.  I can't even figure out what to get my kids, let alone tell other people what to get them.  Between two sets of grandparents, two uncles, and my extended family exchange, there just isn't enough to go around.  Normally I have a long list for the kids, but this year I feel like they truly have too much.  Their interests are becoming more narrow, and while there are always a few ideas, sometimes it feels like I have to be really specific to ensure it's something they'll like and not something they already have.  I feel like very specific requests can come off as greedy or entitled, but in the end--as much as I'd like to teach them to be happy with every gift they receive--I'd rather ensure it will be loved and used as much as the gifter would like.  Part of me would like to opt out of everything, but what fun is that for the kids?  You only get so many kid Christmases, and it's tough to say, "Hey, you used to get presents at this party, but you're not going to anymore."  We'll just have to figure it out.  I don't even have my usual trusty list of random kitchen items or gift cards that I normally have in mind for me this time of year.  I think there's just been too much else going on, and material stuff just sort of pales in comparison to some of the heartache that's been happening lately.  I keep trying to think of experiences instead for the kids, but I'm not quite sure about that stuff either since their interests are different and our time alone with each of them is limited.  We have about four weeks to figure all of this out, but I'm already feeling a little overwhelmed...and clearly I'm also not sticking to my wish to get to bed on time so I don't exhaust myself over the next month.  I'm still not 100% after my back-to-back viruses, with a lingering cough and some congestion, so every little bit is necessary to get healthy sooner rather than later...but I'm already failing.  Sigh.  Maybe one of these years I'll get it together. 

Time for bed now, though...tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Hope Lost

Yesterday I had an appointment with a new Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor.  I'd been to one before, a couple times, in fact.  Once was the first time I investigated my lack of smell and taste, and the other was to dig a bit further into some of the symptoms that seemed to be reflux-related.  After finally getting on allergy shots and getting the CT scan done of my sinuses, the allergist recommended I see another ENT.  He would be able to read my CT scan and really dig into what might be happening.  I knew the appointment probably wouldn't go well, but I honestly didn't expect it to go the way it did.

The beginning was fine.  I went over my history, he looked in my nose, and finally explained my CT scan in depth.  But then he had me do a smell test.  It turned out to be 40 scratch-and-sniff questions--a series of four booklets with 10 questions each.  I had to use a pencil to scratch a rectangle, smell it, then choose one of four scents.  Even if I didn't know, I had to answer.  Do you have any idea how demoralizing it is to have to guess on 40 questions in a row?  To have to sniff something multiple times, hoping for just the slightest moment of clarity, only to smell nothing?  By the middle of the second book I was practically in tears.  Why?  I don't know.  After more than seven years of knowing I wasn't smelling, it just felt very "official" to know that I couldn't smell anything.  Ironically, I guessed right on 13 questions, but it was still abundantly clear that something is very wrong.

After that, the doctor told me that based on what he sees in my CT scan, he would not expect the level of smell loss that he's seeing.  In addition, if it was, the prednisone I had taken previously should have been sufficient to reduce the swelling to the point that I should have recovered some smell, and since that didn't happen, most likely this is not related to any sinus inflammation.  Most likely it was a virus that came in and damaged the nerves, and it's most likely permanent.

I asked if there was anything else I could try.  He talked about olfactory training, which is a new thing involving essential oils that I had heard about not long ago.  He doesn't really buy into the theory--and I guess I don't either.  He talked about a guy in Washington, D.C., one that I correctly guessed is affiliated with the Smell and Taste Clinic that I've come across in my many Google exploits since this started.  He figures the guy is a quack, as he doesn't understand why--if he really did have some amazing method to fix these problems--he hasn't shared that with the world.  Again, I sort of figured as much, but it just checked another long-shot off the list.  I asked about things I had read about chiropractic treatments and acupuncture, but he referred back to the diagram he'd showed me of where the olfactory bulb is that holds the nerves that make smell possible, and didn't see how either of those treatments could impact that area.

So, I guess that's that, then.

Even though nothing had really changed when I walked out of that office, it took everything I had not to break down right then and there.  Thanking the doctor, paying my co-pay at the desk, walking to my car, driving to a work errand I had to do on my way back, and even walking into the office to my desk and running into a co-worker...every moment was a struggle to not start sobbing.  It felt pretty stupid given that my condition was no better or worse, but then I realized why.  That appointment stole the last glimmers of hope I had to fix this problem.  I never realized how impactful even a tiny bit of hope can be.  The feeling of it being gone was horrible.  It was so deflating.  Still is, though I'm slowly recovering to normal operating levels, I guess, just because I have to.

I'm not quite sure where to go from here.  I mean, I guess there will always be prayer and the hope that someday God will just have me miraculously wake up and be able to smell, but any practical option I had was pretty much shot down right then and there.  Mentally, I'm not sure I can ever really stop trying.  I guess now when I try something, I'll have a much lower expectation of it working.  Nothing is supposed to work, so I can try it, but I need to keep my expectations in, really in check.  I can keep Googling in the event something new crops up.  I can still try a chiropractor or acupuncture, as there are other things both of those things might address anyway, but I guess I have to figure out at what point feeling like I have to do something will outweigh the financial wastefulness.  I read a first-hand account by a patient of that "quack" in D.C., and there was a drug that specifically seemed to help him.  I have no idea if I will ever find a doctor that would prescribe it, but I guess it's something to keep in mind.  With every failure things might get just a little more depressing, though, so I have to take that into consideration, too.

It was not a good day.  Today was better.  The reality of this is never really going to be okay, but it could be worse.  The extra destruction of my sliver of hope was a tough blow to take on top of it.  But I'm alive and otherwise mostly healthy.  I have two kids, a husband, a home, a job, and a great family that supports me.  Things aren't perfect and this diminishes the daily joys a bit, but I'm still very blessed.  I still have to hope that someday a miracle will happen, but I just can't count on it anymore.  I guess I just have to embrace the fact that stinky people don't bother me and my kids can't gross me out.  Always a bright side, right?

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Middle - Part 2

After Fort McHenry, we headed back into the city.  We needed to find a place to eat an early dinner so we'd be able to get into the National Aquarium when half-price entry started at 5pm.  We'd only had some cold pizza in the van for lunch when we arrived at Fort McHenry, and I'm sure we snacked a bit in transit, but we knew that when we got down to the Inner Harbor, we'd have our choice of gluten-free-friendly places.  We could eat early, go to the aquarium, and maybe snack later if needed.

Aside from the ridiculously expensive parking close to the Inner Harbor, things actually turned out pretty well considering we didn't do much planning ahead.  Our parking ramp was within reasonable walking distance, and we ran into a Chick-Fil-A pretty quickly.  We also later figured out Chipotle was nearby, as was a Five Guys...and we didn't know yet that we'd have Chick-Fil-A the next day, so this seemed like a prime opportunity.  And it was delicious as usual!  Again, I can't wait until ours is done, because their customer service is so good and it is a little healthier than Jacob's standard fast food options. 

It was a very cold, windy day, but when we finished eating and walked outside, you couldn't help but want to explore.  There was a lot to see!
Coast Guard ship

Large Barnes & Noble next to a Hard Rock Cafe and other restaurants, all in an old power plant

Ice rink

USS Constellation, a Civil War-era ship

Looking across an inlet at the aquarium...note the cool dragon paddle boats in the foreground.

If you looked closely at the picture above, you'll see this ship and the one below.

A submarine!

Looking back toward the USS Constellation as the sun sets

Part of the September 11th Memorial outside the World Trade Center
We were planning on taking advantage of the half price Friday night promotion at the aquarium.  When we got to there to buy tickets, we found out that the first available time slot was 5:45.  Ugh.  That was my bad.  I didn't dig into it far enough to realize I could have bought them online ahead.  I probably would have been too nervous to do that, though, as I was concerned that something about the day wouldn't go as planned.  I just assumed we had to wait until 5pm to buy them.  Darn.  The good news was that the aquarium was actually open later than I thought...not that we wanted a late night because we had an hour drive ahead of us and what we thought was going to be an early morning.  But at least we knew we'd still have plenty of time to explore.

So, with 45 minutes to kill, we kept walking and headed for the Barnes & Noble to keep warm.
Cool foot bridge, and to the right you can see the pedestrian bridge from one wing of the aquarium to the other.

Another side of the aquarium

A view from the foot bridge
The Barnes & Noble was very large, on a couple stories, and the coolest part is that the smokestacks went all the way up through, from the floor (where they had cave-like tunnels cut in them, creating little nooks) all the way up and out.
Looking up one of the smokestacks
We killed time looking at books, and I had to snap a picture (pardon the reflection) when I saw the sunset out the window.

Finally it was time to head back over to the aquarium.  It had already been a long day, and the last time we did an aquarium at the end of a long day, during our trip to Toronto, it was a disaster, but I was hopeful we'd make it through.

There was a cool waterfall just inside that I didn't have a chance to take a picture of (too much rushing, too many people), but after that, our first stop was this giant set of jaws!

The centerpiece of the main building was this giant tank that covered much of the bottom floor of main exhibit space, and it was visible from all the way up.  There were lots of fish to watch, but we enjoyed the small sharks, the giant sting ray, and a sea turtle, which was SO much bigger than I ever expected it to be.
The sting ray had to be close to four feet across.  Huge!

This video will give you a better idea of the size and the activity in the tank.  You can see the sting ray, too. 

We were fascinated by the giant sea turtle and checked the tank for him constantly when we'd go up another level and still be able to look down.
Notice he only has one front fin.  Hard to judge his size from this shot, though.

I tried to zoom out in this video so you could get an idea of his size.  I never imagined sea turtles were this big.  I can barely guess, but I had to assume if I laid down next to him, I wouldn't have him by much.

I kept trying to capture this giant whale skeleton that was suspended above everything, but the lighting made it tough.  This is the best I could get.

The boys really enjoyed this game where you moved your magnifying glass over the screen and were given things to find in the "sand". 

There was a touch tank for stingrays and horseshoe crabs nearby, and Jacob just grazed one.  Then we got to touch a tank full of jellyfish.  Jacob and I both did it!  It felt odd, basically like jelly!  The bummer about aquariums is that they don't photograph particularly well, so there was a bunch that we saw that isn't really worth sharing here.  But these two came out well...

Some sort of spiny sea creature and a tiny fish

Saltwater fish are so colorful!
We had a blast watching some birds in a different exhibit.  There was one bird that flipped through the water like crazy that totally cracked us up.  This puffin was almost as silly...

We saw turtles that kept trying to stack themselves (and not for THAT reason, although we saw some of that, too)...

And this cool but creepy snake...

While we were in the rainforest section, Jacob was up on a deck platform looking at something, when a good-sized bird sort of cornered him!  It only took him about 10 seconds to find a way to get around it, but we couldn't help but laugh!

There was a huge multi-level shark tank that had a series of ramps to walk down, and when we got to the bottom we were under the main tank that we saw originally.  We even got to see the sea turtle from below!  By this point we were all starting to tire out, but we still had a couple more things to check out!

We walked pretty quickly through "Australia" and then headed over to the other building, across the pedestrian bridge we saw earlier.  First stop there was the dolphins.  The shows seemed to be done for the day, but the dolphins were still swimming.  It's hard to get a good picture of them, but this was the best I got...
Maybe this will work better?

Then we moved into my favorite spot--the jellyfish!  This gorgeous jellyfish sculpture was hanging from the ceiling...

There were all sorts of jellyfish!  My favorite!

So pretty, from the dots on the top to the little blue bits on the bottom of the one on the bottom left

And in case you need a (short) moment of zen, here you go...

These were so delicate!

This tank was amazing...I've never seen brown ones!  The blue ones were cool, too!

Here's a another look...

This one was pretty impressive...

As was this one...

I just liked how this shot turned out...

These reminded me of the ones they had in Toronto that changed color with the lighting.  
And with that, we were done.  With sore feet and tired boys, we walked back to the car and started the hour-long journey to our next hotel.  It was another very dark trip, particularly once we got past the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.  This tournament was really in the middle of nowhere and our hotel was even worse!  It was funny going through there later in the trip during the day and seeing how many things we didn't even know were there!  Both boys napped before we got there, and we had a bit of an earlier night than the previous one since Carter actually went to sleep quickly.
All in all, it was a great day.  The boys had their moments but they were relatively well behaved compared to most "vacation" days we've had in the past couple years.  We got a lot accomplished with minimal complaints, and everything went according to plan.  I'd say the day was a success, and it made the very long trip totally worth it!
Getting back to reality was a bit rough after two very cold days of lacrosse and the long drive home, but we made it through the week and suddenly we're less than a week away from Thanksgiving!  Three-day week, here we come!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Middle - Part 1

So, when I left off on the Baltimore part of the trip in my last post, we had to leave the hotel in Harrisburg rather early, around 7:30 or 7:45.  Our goal was to make the 10am tour at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where the Baltimore Orioles play.  It's normally less than a 90 minute drive, but with it being rush hour and us not being particularly clear on parking or how long it might take to get tickets, we wanted to leave some wiggle room.  In the end, the trip was very smooth, nearly no rush hour traffic!  We arrived by 9:30, parked in a lot near the stadium, and braved the bitter cold to walk over to where we needed to get tickets.  It was probably in the 40s that day, but there was a stiff breeze that made outside time less than enjoyable.

As we started our walk, this was the far end of the warehouse that is in right field at the park, the one that famously held the numbers that counted up Cal Ripken, Jr.'s consecutive game streak.

Eventually we found our way to the ticket counter, and then we had to wait out on Eutaw St., which is a pedestrian street that runs between the stadium and the warehouse that's open to the public except when there's a game. 

From there, you could access a restaurant and the team store, and see the back of the scoreboard.

Eventually our tour started, and our guide was a nice older man that seemed to be living the dream by working for the team in some sort of ticketing/fan experience role.  He gave us a ton of history of the ballpark (and its predecessor), then started walking us through the park.  We saw this gorgeous patio with statues of the Orioles' greats, which is also open to the public most of the time.

Cal Ripken, Jr.

We got to see the field from the back end, just above the bullpens.
Interesting fun fact: The green wall on the far left of the picture is a nod to Fenway Park's Green Monster, and the ivy on the wall to the right of that is a tribute to Wrigley Field's outfield wall.

The white above the seats behind home plate is actually the weatherproofed press box.

We visited the club level, saw the cool themed lounges that line the inside halls there, and visited a luxury suite.  From there you could see the wonderfully restored train station at the far end of the warehouse.

We also visited the production facilities (ahhh, brought back memories) and the press box, which was actually a bit more rudimentary than I expected given how amazing the rest of the facility was.  But you can't beat the press box view:

Then, we got the even more exciting chance to go down to the field and hang out in the home dugout!  It was such a cool feeling to be down there.
View from the front rail of the dugout

The boys on the warning track...and yes, it was cold.

In the dugout

Soon it was time to end the tour and head back toward the warehouse.  I liked this view of the scoreboard, warehouse, patio area, and the foul pole, which is an original from the old Memorial Stadium.
Funny note--see those little flagpoles on the patio?  They're all cushioned, just in case someone's running to catch a home run and doesn't look where they're going!

Back on Eutaw St., our guide pointed out little plaques for every home run ball that's been hit out there.  Interestingly, only one has ever been able to hit the warehouse--mostly because of wind currents--and it was only during the All-Star Game's Home Run Derby, courtesy of Ken Griffey, Jr.  We wandered around looking for favorite teams or players, like this one from Jacob's current team of choice, the now-defunct Montreal Expos.

Before we visited the team store, we went to another stadium area that's open to the public.  There was a statue of Babe Ruth, who was born in Baltimore, not far from the stadium, in fact.

Nearby were statues of all of the retired numbers, and both kids got their pictures next to significant ones...
For his age, of course!

Not his age...but his lacrosse number!
We visited the store and were quite disappointed to find out that the only stuffed mascot (as is usually our first choice, for whatever reason) was $35!  No thanks.  Carter desperately tried to find a souvenir...

And at the last minute he settled on one of those popper toys where the ball (in this case a little foam baseball) goes in the mouth (in this case, of the mascot) and you squeeze the belly to make it pop out.  It's pretty funny and it made him very happy to find something.

We walked back to our car to head to activity #2.  Along the way we saw a double-amputee marathoner passing through, as well as a cool war memorial.  Just across the parking lot was another stadium, M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens.  It actually looked even better when we passed by at night, when the upper seats were lit purple!

Our next stop was Fort McHenry, which was just a short way outside of downtown.  After our trip to Old Fort Niagara, we were eager to see another historical fort.  Fort McHenry, of course, is known as the home of the Star-Spangled Banner.
Francis Scott Key, spyglass in hand that he used to see the flag, and a version of the flag with 15 stars and stripes
The main building had a movie about how the Star-Spangled Banner came to be, and some artifacts, like this cannon.

Eventually we followed a tour group outside, but it was freezing and the kids' patience only went so far, so we alternated between doing our own thing and hopping back on the tour at times.  This was the view just outside the fort as we listened to the guide.
The flag was much smaller than usual that day because of the wind, but that was the position of the flag when Francis Scott Key saw it and wrote the anthem.
The view from the fort of the Patapsco River was beautiful.  And because this is all ultimately connected to the ocean, there were some really impressive ships in the water.

I could not get over the size of this freighter.  I don't think this picture does it justice, but it was so tall!

Before heading into the fort, we checked out the cannons.  This one was huge, over 8,500 pounds according to the impression around the opening on the end.  Although this fort was most famous for the War of 1812, this was a Civil War era cannon (again, per the impression) and the fort was used through WWII.

Ready to be sheltered from the wind, we walked to the front of the fort itself...

Just inside, there was a tiny stairway with a very low ceiling.  It led into a "bombproof" shelter.  It was basically a large bricked-in room with only small air holes going the long way through the brick to the outside.  Funny little spot, and the boys got a kick out of Carter being the perfect size for the stairs!

Inside the fort, it was much more modest than what we saw at Fort Niagara.  Just a few buildings, most of which looked like this--two story wooden buildings with porches.

We stopped into any open door as we walked, which mostly led to different historical accounts--artifacts, articles about the history of the fort, or even one set up like barracks, full of bunk beds and a fireplace. 
Looking back toward the entrance at the famous flag
I recognized one building from its shape after seeing something similar at Fort Niagara, the spot where they kept the ammunition.  This one was considerably smaller, though, and not as cool and creepy!  But this one did have the interesting history of being hit by a bomb that didn't explode.  It collapsed the roof but never set the ammunition on fire, which would have destroyed the entire fort.

One building had this statue and an interactive screen map, and I guess Jacob was helping him plan!  The detail on the statue was cool, right down to his epaulets, which were coiled wire to look like fringe.

We saw the flag-keepers quarters and another ammunition storage space, and then we decided it was time to walk back to the main building, let the boys look around the shop (of course) and head out.  Jacob got one inexpensive cannon to add to his army guys at home, and that was it for the fort!  It may not have been as impressive as Fort Niagara, though it may be more lively in better weather, but we were happy we went. 

This post seems to be long enough for now, but the day was only half over!  Stay tuned for part 2 of our fabulous day in Baltimore!