Seattle-themed Photobomb!

I’ve done a bunch of things in Seattle that resulted in me taking lots of pictures. The albums are up with the photos, and you should totes check them out:

  • Views of Seattle – I went to a party for International TableTop Day at the Columbia Tower Club, which is a private club at the top of the tallest building in Seattle. The views distracted me from gaming, though I did manage to play Ticket To Ride twice and Cards Against Humanity for an hour or so. Mt. Baker, which is only visible for like 10% of the year from Seattle, made an appearance, and I got lots of photos of Mt. Rainier, too.
  • Olympic Sculpture Park – There’s a terrific sculpture park right along the bay. Last weekend, I darted around there and took some pictures. (Duffy came along, too!)
  • Woodland Park Zoo – This is now my “home zoo.” A new friend took me on a tour. I only took a few photos, but I got some really good ones in the mix, particularly of the new lion cubs and the jaguar (who just became a mom a few days ago!).

FWIW, I’m rapidly deciding that Seattle may well be the most naturally beautiful place I’ve ever lived. Charleston was historic. New Orleans was lovely and gothic. Chicago remains, in my opinion, the most beautiful city in the world. But, Seattle is green and surrounded by mountains and water. The weather is faboo for a paleskinned freak like me, and the rain keeps everything clean and shiny. I’m sure it’ll become humdrum soon enough, but for now, I tear up every time I’m driving around and just round a bend and bam, there’s a mountain in the distance.

Edited to add: There’s also some new ones of Pancake in his gallery.

Yet Another Cruise…

A few days before our RCI cruise, DH discovered that he’d have to return to home early for a work opportunity. So, he planned to get off on the morning of our last port, Cozumel. This itinerary was as follows:

  • Day 1 – Depart New Orleans
  • Day 2 – Sea Day
  • Day 3 – Sea Day
  • Day 4 – Falmouth, Jamaica
  • Day 5 – Georgetown, Grand Cayman
  • Day 6 – Cozumel, Mexico
  • Day 7 – Sea Day
  • Day 8 – Arrive New Orleans

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I’d been to each of the ports at least once. I’d been to Cozumel three times. So, especially since we had a junior suite, we had decided in advance that we’d skip touring for the most part. We did want to go to Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica. I hadn’t gone the last time we were there, and it was DH’s first visit to Jamaica altogether. We did DRF via a ship excursion that was $79 each. It was pricey but a dear friend whose family lives in Jamaica had consulted with her folks and told us it was our best option. Some of our dinner friends tried to just grab a cab at the port, but they had no luck. It seems like RCI just basically bought and built up Falmouth such that it would be their port. The cruise people are basically stuck using RCI’s services because nothing else is made available.

It was roughly an hour to ride the bus to the falls. The chatter from the tour guide was largely uninteresting. But, once we got to the falls, she seemed to give us good advice and got us into the queue for a river guide safely. As we were walking down the boardwalk to the base of the falls, I chickened out mainly because the idea of stepping wrong and falling into water was not appealing to me. Plus, it turns out that you can really get great views of the falls and go in the water from the boardwalk along the falls, so I was like, why bother climbing the thing with this big annoying group of people when I can just hop into the water where I want and stroll along at my leisure? DH had fun, though, and the tour guides were really great. They even took pictures of us together at one of the big pools.

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The falls themselves were quite pretty and very cool and refreshing. DH climbed all the way up.

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After the falls, we had to walk through the really annoying and pushy souvenir sellers to get back to the bus. We were the first to get back. On the way back to the ship, they stopped at a bar/restaurant. Normally those stops annoy me since their main purpose is to strand you somewhere that you’ll be bored enough to spend money, but this bar had free wi-fi, so we got a drink each and dived into email and social networking.

The other port stops were mainly non-eventful. I had decided to get Andrew presents from each port as his Christmas gift from us, so most of our activity was around going into town and finding some nifty and largely useless trinket to get for him. We did have lots of fun on the ship though. Having two sea days up front meant that we got to experience the ship fully right away.

We played bridge on the first day, and we were pleasantly surprised to have enough people for three full tables of bridge, with some kibitzers. One other pair was even close to our age! The card and game room on the Navigator was adjacent to a room that was for general purpose but often got used for tot/toddler play sessions. On the first sea day, they had the divider between the rooms opened up. Lots of bridge and other game players complained, because there was noise from toddler play (kid songs, random drum banging, kids shaking rattle toys). It was really ill-planned and yet the staff seemed totally caught off-guard that it would bug us, like they always do this and we were the first people ever on a cruise to complain. When we went to play bridge the next day, DH eventually just took charge and closed the airwall between the rooms himself. He received applause from the game players.

The second sea day was a formal night. We had a late dinner seating, so we spent some time swimming and such right before dinner, while half the ship was off eating. I was already at the adult pool, but DH had run a few errands first. On his way out to meet me, he passed a family in their fancy duds for dinner. The young son in the family looked at DH in his swim trunks and tee and then plaintively whined to his mom, “Moo-oom! I thought you said it was FORMAL night!” Hee.

We had so much free time that we spent time on the balcony one evening coming up with actuary jokes. 🙂 We also went to a martini mixology class and tasting. At the end of the “class” (which mostly consisted of us being handed taster ‘tinis), each person got to make their own customized ‘tini for judging, and you got to take a full ‘tini of your custom blend. There were over forty people there, so there were lots of combinations, even though we had *very* limited ingredients to choose from (no flavored vodkas, e.g.). I ended up making a ‘tini of vodka with a splash of butterscotch schnapps and a couple of splashes of key lime syrup. It tasted like a lime cooler cookie, and I was quite proud of it. I was even more proud when it won the contest! The prize was a free ‘tini from the bar and also getting to be the martini of the day on the last night of the cruise.

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For DH getting off in Cozumel, he had to send off a bunch of info to the cruise line in advance, specifically he had to speak with the emergency travel department before the cruise to get approval for the early departure. On the Cozumel day, he had to go to a conference room on the ship right before they made port so that he could clear Mexico customs. Everyone who is leaving the ship for good goes through a specialized customs area, including employees and contractors. It was more likely to have bag searches and close attention than a normal customs entry. You, of course, have to have a passport, and you get a temporary visa. The customs agents also told DH that he owed a tourist fee (~$25), but they don’t have the ability to collect it there. They said he’d be asked for it at the airport. When DH got to the Cozumel airport, he asked United about it, and United collected the fee from him. If he hadn’t asked, though, he’s pretty sure no one would have ever cared about it. The Cozumel airport was really small, and DH says he breezed through check-in and security there. We made port at 9am and his flight left at noon, and he had no trouble making the flight. (Of course, keep in mind that he has status on United, so he can use the premier lanes where applicable.)

I was told by a cruise ship employee on the day after Cozumel that 80+ people got left behind, accidentally, at that port. We were over an hour behind in untying from the port (and thus hauled ship-ass on our last sea day). The weather that day in Cozumel was really windy, and I wouldn’t be shocked if the ferry from mainland Mexico (which a lot of cruisers take over from/to Cozumel in order to visit the ruins and eco-parks over there) was canceled or delayed. When B* and I were touring from Cozumel and took that ferry, I had us get on one way earlier than we needed to for specifically that reason. (I had read that the ferry is frequently canceled or delayed for stormy weather.) Anyways, we saw one boat bring a couple of latecomers to the ship from the dock, and there were people who came onto the ship a good 45 minutes late. (I could see the dock from my balcony.) I don’t know if it’s true that so many people got left. The person I talked to implied that both us and the other RCI ship in that port lost a lot of people, and that Carnival’s ship had missing people, too. That supports my ferry hypothesis, but it still seems like a lot of people to be abandoned.

After my cruise, I spent some time in NOLA. I visited the Audubon Insectarium. They had lots of holiday things in the bug aquariums. It turns out the praying mantis, ironically, is Jewish!

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I also went to see The Hobbit with Andrew, and we had comped dinner at the casino. The steak at the Besh steakhouse was one of the best steaks I’ve had anywhere. Sadly, as I was in the beginnings of the cold I have now, I had hardly any appetite. 🙁

Flying out the next day was uneventful. My PT cruise was iced up when I got to it in Milwaukee. Even my Agent P antenna ornament had icicles hanging off its bill!

Cheetah Tales and Hipster Whispers

Last night, B* and I attended a benefit dinner for the Cheetah Conservation Fund. I had gotten an invitation as a result of a donation I made back when I ran the Cheetah 5K (my first 5K after starting my half-marathon training plan). It was held downtown, in a very nice law office that overlooks the river, and one of the things we got to do while there is meet a cheetah, pictured above. We also met Dr. Marker, who is the founder and director of the CCF. She works in Namibia to help educate farmers on ways that they can protect their livestock without having to hunt or kill the cheetah population.

It was very nice, and B* and I enjoyed the experience immensely. We listened to the cheetah purring contentedly as he was adored by all of us. He was a bit restless during the photo session, but this particular cheetah is in training to become an ambassador cheetah, meaning one that will do educational programs and do media appearances. We were like a beta test. 🙂

After we finished at the benefit (where, really, I felt very adored…it was nice), B* and I decided to see if there was a show we could go see. We initially were thinking ComedySportz, but we Googled and found a Super Mario themed burlesque show that intrigued us. The same theatre also had a similar offering themed on Star Wars that was showing a bit earlier, so we decided to give that a try. After a bit of a drive, we parked not far from the theatre entrance, at which point B* had to pay the meter. The meter was still operating for another 40 minutes, and each 15 minute period was a quarter. Neither of us had change, but the paybox took credit. B* used his card, with some grumbling about having to pay for five minutes, and we joked about the credit card having to be authorized for 65 cents. But then, with near perfect timing, the paybox declined the card. 🙂 It was just a glitch, but it cracked us up thoroughly.

While B* put the pay ticket in the windshield, I went to the box office to get our tickets. We were an hour early, and they had a show in progress already. They had signs up to keep quiet, so as I walked in, I closed the door carefully, and I whispered, “I’d like–”

“SHHHHH! Show in progress!”

I almost laughed. I was already whispering. I couldn’t go any lower. (B* later suggested that I should have said my next lowest level is “vibrate” and started buzzing at the guy.) So I walked over to the counter and tried to be even quieter. “Could I please get tickets to–”

The hipster in charge interrupted with a loud whisper, “Could you speak up?”

I can’t please these people! 🙂 After all of that, I learned that both shows were already sold out. D’oh! And after B* paid 65 cents for parking! So, we bailed and went back to our original plan of ComedySportz, which was funny as usual. I got home way later than I should have, especially since I had to wake up this morning to do the Corn Maze 5K (which went well, despite ominous weather). B* and I will definitely be doing that burlesque show at some point in the future. They seem to do a geeky series of them, so we imagine we’ll be able to do it in good time.

Brookfield Zoo (PhotoPost)

Greg, DH, and I went to the Brookfield Zoo on Saturday. Below are some of the better photos I took during the trip.

There was a baby frog in the poison dart frog exhibit. It was so cute!
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This horned lizard posed very nicely for me.
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Dory and Nemo just keep swimming.
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A bunch o fish:
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This lion is the king of the zoo, and it’s a tough job. No wonder he had to have a lion-sized yawn!

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You can see the rest of the photos at this link: BrookfieldZoo-2011-04.

I also grabbed some video during the Dolphin Show:

40 Seconds in Iowa (or 4 States, 3 Days)

DH and I are currently sitting at OMA waiting for our flight home. (Editor’s note: this was true at the time of writing this, but it’s being posted over a day later) We spent this past weekend in Kansas City, mostly on the Missouri side. Astute readers will note that Kansas City is quite far from Omaha (OMA). DH had a coupon to cash at the casino in Council Bluffs, IA, just across the river from Omaha, NE. So, we flew into OMA, rented a car, drove to Council Bluffs, and then drove three hours to Kansas City.

The Nebraska/Iowa border is interesting. Generally, it follows the Missouri river. However, there’s a little nub of Iowa that sticks into Nebraska. It surrounds Carter Lake. Carter Lake was once part of the river, but a flood in the 19th century changed the course of the river. As the agreement that created the border pre-dated the change of the river, Iowa retained the rights to the land even though it was west of the river. Because of this flood and resulting border dispute, when you drive from OMA into Omaha proper, you pass through Iowa for around forty seconds.

View Larger Map

Driving down to Kansas City was surprisingly enjoyable. We had a Mazda 5 as our rental car. It’s a 4 door hatchback but with sliding rear doors (like a mini-van) instead of traditional doors. We were basically driving the state line, too, which is kind of neat. The interstate is straight and long, but the land nearby is alternately flat and hilly. Also, for most of the way, you can see trains running in the distance on either side of the interstate. (We estimate that taking us from Kansas City to Omaha is probably worth 2M.) We saw a very unique multi-colored house on the side of a hill, and we saw a herd of black cows.

The Harrah’s in Kansas City is right on the river, as it’s a riverboat casino. The hotel was quite nice. We were in a sizeable suite, and a welcome basket filled with fruit, crackers, cheese (eew), and candy bars was waiting for us in the room. We had some brief troubles with the TVs that the maintenance guys were able to resolve, but otherwise, the room was fine. It was a long walk from the hotel to the casino (via an indoor walkway, thank goodness), but there were a few games for us to play briefly. We had dinner at the buffet (Seven Stars players get one free meal at the buffet every day). DH went to play poker, and I watched Dinner for Schmucks in the room (free PPV movies are another Seven Stars benefit). Dinner for Schmucks was quite good. I think it suffered from an overzealous studio. The marketing tried to make it out to be a comedy, which it isn’t. The title is also unfortunate. None of the characters ever call it a dinner for schmucks; it is called the dinner for winners or the dinner for idiots, depending on the context. I don’t know why they chose to re-title it, but it’s a ridiculous change. The movie itself was actually touching, despite some cliché elements. The humor is the kind of non-obvious, awkward shame humor that The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm have in spades. As trite as the ending is, it is quite interesting seeing how it all gets there.

I also spent some time on the web. Via a feminist blog, I recently discovered a site called kink.com. It is NSFW, of course, and go at your own discretion, as you may learn more about me and my interests than you care to know. At any rate, I haven’t joined or paid anything for it, but there are tons of free video snippets that are great fuel for the kinky imagination. I’m not normally a fan of video porn, but I found most of that site’s content to be interesting at worst and incredibly hot at best, appealing to the best (worst?) of my voyeuristic tendencies. DH found the site frustrating, though…he needs more than a snippet for porn to be effective. He tends to use xhamster and redtube. I also did some kinky shopping, but it’s so hard to buy things over the web. While it’s cheaper than my local store, sizes and shapes and textures matter so much, and it’s impossible to gauge those things through a website.

The next morning, I had a meeting with my team for the BSG. Our private label gamble in the previous year didn’t pay off, so the company lost money, though we held market share. The good news is that there are now two teams worse than us…so that’s something! 🙂

After my meeting (and DH’s 10 mile run…outside…in the cold…because he’s INSANE), we decided to go touristing. Part of our trip from the casino included a shopping spree, so we had reason to seek out a mall. I also wanted to visit a few places. Specifically, we headed for Swope Park, which is a landmark of importance to Heinlein fans. I insisted that DH and I make out while there, in commemoration. But, before that, we got stuck in the elevator for around ten minutes. As my (currently in beta) phone only had a hit-and-miss connection, this was not fun. I used the time to take some pictures of DH using various filters on my camera:
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Swope Park also happens to be the site of the Kansas City Zoo, so we spent a few hours there. Most of the zoo is closed for the winter, but the polar bear and the river otters were thrilled with the chilly weather.
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The polar bear was doing laps, including Olympic-quality push-off turns, and the river otters were enjoying their extra slippery (due to ice) slide into their pool.

We also went to the indoor areas for the snakes, frogs, and meerkats.
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This little spider monkey was totally fascinated by my shoes. He later jumped on command for DH. DH would hold his hand at a certain height and the monkey would jump to his hand.
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Finally, we walked around a trail to see the kangaroos. The kangaroos at this zoo have no fence between them and people. In the snow, we could see kangaroo prints coming from their area into the people paths. I have no idea how this is a workable system, but it is absolutely how it was. My picture is from a distant vantage point, but there was a spot where I could have easily walked less than ten feet to the kangaroo. I’m sure he wouldn’t have stayed still while I walked over, but there was nothing between me and him but snow.
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The end of the trail went through the petting zoo area, which, at this time of the year, is primarily populated by sheep. The sheep were standing right on top of the people path. After a moment of contemplation of how to proceed, DH shrugged and walked toward the sheep. As one might expect, I suppose, the sheep moved…DH became an unintentional shepherd! It was like the video game, Sheep…they just moved away and into their pen. So, DH successfully completed the sheep roadblock, and we proceeded back to the warm buildings of the zoo.
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We also saw camels in snow…and how often does that happen?
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After the zoo, we drove to Kansas. Most of Kansas City is in Missouri. We tried to discover how or why this is the case, but we couldn’t get a clear answer. It seems like Kansas City was named after the Kansa Indians that originally populated the area, and that there were actually two different settlements (one in MO, one in KS) with the same name. They eventually merged as the Missouri Kansas City grew across the border. I’m curious though what caused the Missouri city to grow faster than the Kansas city. Did Missouri implement tax breaks that encouraged growth just to spite Kansas? Or, did some natural occurrence cause one city to have better resources? For that question, I couldn’t find a satisfactory answer.

We saw the Prairie Village monument (a statue of prairie people) and decided that would suffice as making our visit to Kansas count. We also stopped at a Sonic for a Limeade (yay!). We drove through the shopping district of Kansas City, but the stores were not to my liking. So, we drove back to the casino and watched Tangled. I thought Tangled was decent. I liked the music in Princess and the Frog better, but I liked the storyline in Tangled better.
We used up the last of our food comps for the weekend on a lavish dinner at the steakhouse, which included escargot, the best damn steak I’ve ever had (a strip that was so tender, it felt like a filet), a lobster tail, and a dessert of Jack Daniels chocolate pecan pie. We also enjoyed a variety of ‘tinis. The casino has a dance club, but the tunes were not to my liking, so we ended up heading back to the room to relax and eventually sleep.

Our drive back to Omaha was largely uneventful. We listened to podcasts and chatted about house things. 🙂 But mostly, we had a fun weekend.

PhotoPost: Milwaukee Zoo

Here are some of my favorites from today:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI started the day by visiting my frogs. 🙂
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis Grizzly Bear stretched while napping, and we all thought he was going to roll off the edge! (He didn’t.)
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Prairie Dogs were having a pumpkin party for all the peacocks. 😉
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis Bengal Tiger Looks like Pancake when he’s having a solid nap…
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI got several great shots of the Amur Tiger family that lives at the zoo. This is the mother of the family; she has two male cubs that live in the exhibit. Fun fact: When the Amur tigers are inside, the hyenas are outside and vice versa! They use the same exhibit spaces for both and just swap them out periodically. The mixed scents provide enrichment for both groups.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Jaguar was startled from her nap and looked straight at me. Lovely!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis Red-Tailed Hawk was the only creature left outside in the main family farm zone of cages. He (she?) seemed so despondent. I was several feet away from the cage, using my telephoto to blur the cage out for this shot. Despite the distance, it still scared the beejeezus out of me when the hawk, after hearing me click this photo, flew straight at me, claws extended. He landed on the cage and looked at me curiously. We had a little chat. I think (s)he was just lonely.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhere’s mah coffay?!? 🙂

You can view the rest of the pictures in the gallery: MilwaukeeZoo-2010-11. (I got the best shots of any trip I’ve done so far, so it’s really worth the look!)

Zoo-per Birthday

My birthday party this year was held at the Milwaukee Zoo. I’m a Naturalist-level contributor to the Milwaukee Zoo, which entitles me to a VIP behind-the-scenes tour of the zoo facilities for myself and several friends. I used that as the main activity for my birthday this year. The tour was, in a word, awesome. We got to see a giant turtle eat a banana. We also watched a fruit bat suck all the juice out of a grape, spitting out a raisin. I kid you not…it was a raisin. I want all my raisins to be created by bats from now on! We saw all the big fridges full of food for various animals. We also got to see the stalls for hoofstock, and we got really really close to an addax. It was huge, and it was so amazing to see how it watched us. It had such caution and fear in its eyes. The addax moved lightly, like a bird, despite being a huge horse-like animal. We also saw a tapir that was being kept indoors due to sunburn!

Afterward, DH treated us all to dinner at the Potawatomi buffet. It was a really fun day, and I’m so glad I got to share it with my friends. 🙂

Three random photos from the Zoo-per Birthday:
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The Wrong Reasons

From a Missouri news story, originally read at GamePolitics:

“There is no reason an adult should have this game,” says Andy Anderson, Mid-Missouri Internet Crimes Task Force.

Anderson says adults playing “animal crossing” and similar games are likely doing it for the wrong reasons.

Really? I haven’t played AC yet, but I want to play it. I also, as y’all know, play Webkinz, a game targeted at kids. I’m one of at least thirty adults I know of who do. Oh, and by the way, I have no, zero, zip interest in doing anything “wrong” with kids. Andy Anderson needs a reality check.

(By the way, it’s also worth noting that in Animal Crossing for Wii, as in ALL Wii games, you have to have both parties exchange friend codes before you can play together online. You can see mine in the sidebar at right or on the About Me page. That is, just because you have my friend code means nothing. I don’t see that you have my friend code, and I don’t see that you added me unless I also have your friend code and have inputted it. That’s not some arcane privacy setting; that’s how Wii works. On top of that necessary 2-way exchange, AC has a separate code that must be exchanged and set correctly by both parties, and you have to both be online at the same time *and* accept a chat session to be able to freely speak. In short, there’s no way for a predator to target a kid playing Animal Crossing or any Wii game without some serious effort on the part of the kid, not to mention a huge lack of oversight by the parents, considering that parental controls can block every single step in the process if desired.)

Webkinz Glitch of Sadness

All of my frogs are at health 70, happiness 90, hunger 44 or 50. 🙁 This is a glitch that is going around on Webkinz. Responses from Ganz have ranged from stating vehemently that it’s a new feature to saying it’s a glitch and not to spend money fixing it until they’ve corrected it. You can read more on the status at WebkinzInsider’s article on the issue.

I’m just sad. I want to fix my frogs, but I don’t want to waste the KinzCash if it’s not needed. 🙁

Sore throat

I have a sore throat today. Possible causes:
* Woo-ing at the top of my lungs for Eddie Izzard on Thursday night with dear friend L
* Speaking loudly to dear friends A&E, who were visiting from New Orleans, to have my voice heard over the boat engine on our architectural river tour in downtown
* Belting out tunes on our brand new copy of Rock Band with our dear friend, K, until the wee hours last night/this morning (Hey, dreadpirateains, are you ready to rock???)

It’s been a good weekend. 🙂 During Eddie Izzard’s show, he mentioned that a plague of frogs is not actually a plague; it’s just a lot of frogs. To commemorate this observation, I’ve named my newest frog Eddie. He’s a Lil’Kinz Frog that my DH got for me as a surprise. Neither Eddie nor Henri (tie-dye frog) have been officially adopted online yet. I’m spacing out my adoptions so that my account stays active longer.

Free Webkinz

So, in honor of the Webkinz anniversary, many stores are giving away a free Webkinz with a $10 purchase. However, the webkinz are limited to the assortment shown here. I already have the frog that is shown there, and it’s hard enough not confusing between my two tree frogs, so I’m putting a general call out if anyone wants one of the free ones, let me know, and I’ll make sure to get it.

My addiction is sad. 🙂

Hooray for the plague!

My passover plague is complete! 🙂 Kawazu, my girl tree frog, and Hera, my frog, joined the plague today, making it complete.

Here’s the plague sitting around the welcome table:
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They all had their favorite foods as part of the welcome party. 🙂 Then, everyone headed over to the control room, where they are plotting for world domination:

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Hera has some interesting ideas for Tunisia. But, after a hard day’s work, it’s time for a nap, so they all retired to their customized beds for the night:

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