Wild, Wonderful West Virginia

I kissed Beth when I saw the “Wild and Wonderful West Virginia” billboard early Monday afternoon. I don’t remember how it got started but we have a tradition of kissing when we cross state lines. We’ve been doing it since college.

Fifteen minutes later we’d arrived at Beth’s parents’ house. Sometime during Noah and Andrea’s joyous and noisy reunion, she declared herself his “wild, wonderful YaYa.” (Both kids call her YaYa because when Noah was a toddler she sent us a picture of herself in a talking picture frame singing “I love you, yeah, yeah.” She’s been YaYa ever since. We found out later that YaYa is Greek for Grandma, which made it seem even more appropriate, even though none of us is Greek.)

When I referred to our visit as a “four-day” one later that evening, both Noah and Andrea howled in protest. They thought we were staying a week! I backpedaled as best I could. It was three full days and two half-days (Monday afternoon to Friday afternoon). That could be four or five days depending on how you count them. But Beth said a week! Apparently she meant a work week. No matter how you count the days, here are some of the highlights of our abbreviated week in the Mountain State:

Top Ten Wild and Wonderful Moments:
(In chronological order. I tried, but I couldn’t rank them.)

10 Sail Naked
Shortly after we arrived, Andrea presented both kids with gifts from her recent trip to Italy. They both got colored pencils in cups with little Pinocchio figures perched on them. June called them “Pokios” and claimed ownership of both. June got two sundresses—a flowered one from Italy and a pink, green and white striped one Andrea sewed for her. Noah got a shirt from Sorrento with the alphabet in nautical flags and a secret message spelled in flags underneath. Andrea had not thought to decode it before she bought it but Beth was curious and did so at once. It said “Sail Naked” in English.

9 Invasion of the Fire Aunts
Beth’s aunts Carole and Jenny came over to visit later Monday afternoon. “It’s the aunts!” Beth said when she say them coming in.

“It’s the red aunts,” Noah joked because Jenny was wearing a red tank top.

“The fire aunts!” Jenny joked back. For the rest of their visit, all through the games of Scrabble Jr. and Mancala she played with Noah, Jenny referred to herself frequently as a fire aunt.

8 Salamanders, and Frogs and Birds! Oh my!
Tuesday morning we visited the Nature Center at Oglebay Park (http://www.oglebay-resort.com/activities.htm). Noah painted a ceramic salamander in shades of blue, green and pink and we left it to be fired in the kiln. June enjoyed scattering nature-themed books, puzzle pieces and stuffed animals all around the room. Noah noticed a small stage and he and Beth put on an impromptu play. It was a little thin on plot: I remember one of the characters was a frog, but not much else. The sound effects, however, were first-rate. There were buttons on the other side of the room you could push to hear different kinds of birdsong and Noah kept working birds into the story so he could go push the buttons.

7 Over the Rainbow
Among the treasures in the kids’ gift bags were two packages of 3D sidewalk chalk. When you put on the enclosed glasses, the different colors appear to hover at varying heights above the sidewalk. Each piece of chalk had a high-flying color on one end and a low-lying one on the other.

On Tuesday afternoon, we tried them out. Noah drew geometric shapes. June scribbled. I wrote the letters of the kids’ names in alternating high and low colors. I noticed the pink in Noah’s name seemed to float higher than the yellow in June’s. Noah got an idea and decided to draw a rainbow so we could see exactly where each color lay. He drew the top arc pink since it seemed to be the highest color, then he filled the rest in—orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. Sure enough, each arc was a step below the one before. It was a wild effect.

6 Uncle Johnny Goes to Outer Space
Johnny came down from Columbus later Tuesday afternoon. He and Noah were immediately immersed in games of Club Penguin, Mancala and Mad Libs, which they played in English and Spanish. Noah commented approvingly on Johnny’s Spanish. When Andrea, Beth, June and I went to an outdoor concert in the park that evening, Noah elected to stay home with Johnny. When we came home, we found them in the sky chairs on the porch, pretending to be on an outer space adventure. Noah was impatient with our suggestions that it was time to get ready for bed because he was in outer space and how could he get ready for bed in outer space?

5 Baby, You Can Drive My Car
Wednesday was a fairly lazy, low-key day. For June the wildest part was probably our trip to the supermarket to buy ingredients for the homemade strawberry frozen yogurt we were going to make that night. (We have a new ice cream maker and brought it with us.) The reason for her enthusiasm was the shopping carts they have at Kroger’s. They come with toddler-sized cars attached to the front. June was in heaven, except whenever we stopped to pick out an item and the car stopped moving. “The wagon stopped!” she’d cry.

4 A Hot Date
Beth and I had a date on Thursday. We left the house at 8:45. (8:45 a.m. What were you thinking, that we’d have a date at night like regular people? No, this former night owl now goes to bed at 9:30 so evening dates are a thing of the past.) We got in the car and listened to music of our own choosing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mermaid_Avenue) and drove to a Fiestaware outlet (http://www.hlchina.com/). We bought four small bowls, a mug and two ramekins. “I just like to say the word ramekin,” Beth confessed. I tell you, we really know how to party hearty. On the way home we listened to more music of our own choosing (http://www.cduniverse.com/search/xx/music/pid/1389010/a/Greatest+Hits.htm) and stopped for crepes. We started with vegetable crepes and split a nutella and cherry dessert crepe. Oh, the sheer hedonism.

3 The Dragon’s Breath
During June’s nap on Thursday, Andrea, Beth and Noah went shopping for fabric for the pajamas Andrea was going to make for Noah. He wanted “something royal” and was hoping for a pattern with crowns on it. We warned him this might be hard to find and indeed, there was no crown fabric to be had at the store. However, there was one with dragons and flames that captivated Noah. For reasons known only to himself, he decided it would be better for a pillowcase than pajamas. When they got back and he showed me the fabric he pretended to be a fierce dragon blowing fire at me. Feeling his teeth graze my hand, I said, “Don’t bite me!”

He pulled back but commented, “A real dragon would have bitten.” Good thing he’s not a real dragon.

2 West Virginia Catechism
On Thursday evening we had Chinese takeout for dinner out on the patio, before Beth gave her dad his late Father’s Day and early birthday presents. As we ate, Andrea asked Noah what he would say if someone asked him about West Virginia. He wasn’t sure so she gave him three choices: A) It’s a beautiful state; B) It’s Wild and Wonderful; C) It’s Almost Heaven.

1 Happy Birthday, West Virginia!
“Well, that was too short,” Beth said as we pulled out of her parents’ driveway on Friday afternoon. We were driving home on the first official day of summer and on West Virginia Day, the 145th anniversary of West Virginia’s secession from Virginia during the Civil war (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Virginia_Day). It’s a big deal; if you know where to go there are a lot of places you can get free birthday cake. Last year we were driving in West Virginia on West Virginia Day and we got some at rest stop. However, when we stopped at one this year, they were just giving away pretzels and off-brand chocolate sandwich cookies. It was a bit disappointing, the sort of fare you’d expect when you give blood. Despite the lack of cake, I’d like to wish West Virginia a very happy birthday.

In his West Virginia Day speech, U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller said:

“When people think of West Virginia, their thoughts turn to our mountains, our rolling green hills and rivers. It’s a place of immense natural beauty and scenic wonders. Still others may think of our most abundant natural resource, coal, or even our steel. And, every fall, many college sports fans turn their thoughts to our incredible football teams…
West Virginia, without question, is all of these things. But what truly sets us apart from other places is our people. West Virginians are the hardest working, nicest people you’ll ever have the chance to meet. They’re the reason that so many people choose to come back again and again to our state. They’re real people who possess an abundant spirit of hope, optimism and authenticity. More than anything else, they are the heart and soul of our great state.”

I can’t speak for all the people of the state, but I would like to thank YaYa, Grandpa, the Fire Aunts, and Uncle Johnny. They baked for us (oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies, brownies and baked macaroni and cheese!) played endless games with Noah, read piles of books to both kids, took the kids on outings and stayed with them while we went out. Any trip with small kids is wild, but Beth’s family made this one truly wonderful.