Lions and tigers and bears and more: The Wild Animal Sanctuary

The Wild Animal Sanctuary

In January of 2014, I published a movie review of the film LION ARK, which I saw as part of the 2013 STARZ Denver Film Festival. The riveting documentary tells the true story of the dogged efforts of Animal Defenders International and other compassionate folks as they rescued twenty-five African lions from deplorable, inhumane conditions in Bolivian circuses and transported them across the world to a safe haven in Colorado.

I found the feat and the film heartbreaking, humbling, inspiring, amazing. I was doubly delighted by the fact the forever home where the egregiously mistreated animals would now roam was mere hours north of me. It warmed my heart that my forever home state was now their forever home, despite the assumption I'd never actually meet my big-cat neighbors.

Fast forward to June of 2017, just a few weeks ago. I was invited to attend a Nissan event highlighting the fun and feisty Nissan Rogue Sport. The day would include time to go wild at the wheel of the crossover vehicle as well as the opportunity to witness the truly wild at The Wild Animal Sanctuary located 30 miles northeast of Denver. I immediately...

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Denver must-do: Water World water park

Water World Denver

Last week when middle daughter Megan and I discussed the fun my husband, Brianna, Patrick, James and I had at Water World in Denver the day before — courtesy free passes from the park to experience "unlimited fun in the sun" — desert-dwelling Megan told me how much she loves Water World. Her pronouncement was based on our (limited) family visits to the massive water park near downtown Denver when she was a kid and visits she made with friends as a teen.

"Preston loves it, too," she said. Which surprised me. Because Preston never lived near Denver and Water World as Megan did growing up. He grew up in another state, in fact.

"Oh, yeah," Megan said. "Preston and his family used to go to Water World all the time when he was a kid. They loved it."

The Water World love from out-of-staters confirmed for me that Water World is indeed a must-see Denver attraction not only for folks who live in Colorado but for visitors from afar, as well.

And how could the massive outdoor play area — a Denver icon since 1979 — not be...

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Friday field trip: MacDonald's Ranch

My awesome friend and fellow grandma blogger Connie from Family Home and Life lives surprisingly close to my grandsons. So when I needed suggestions of things to do in the region during my recent visit with Bubby and Mac, Connie was clearly the one to ask.

She came through with flying colors, giving me ideas and links galore. One in particular was a sure-fire hit. That was MacDonald's Ranch.

MacDonald's Ranch offers an old-fashioned ranch experience for kids of all ages. There's no shortage of fun—though this mountain mama did feel there certainly was a shortage of shade to keep her from that blazing desert sun, a scorcher even this late in the year.

Despite the heat, Megan, the boys, PawDad and I visited MacDonald's Ranch one day last week while Preston slaved away at work. The fun began the moment we walked through the gate, as old-time farm equipment, hay bales and more immediately captured Mac's and Bubby's attention.

First up of the big attractions: a horseride for Bubby, on a horse far bigger than the one he rode last time we visited a ranch.

Next up was the petting zoo, where Bubby and Mac hand fed baby goats and their parents, admired peacocks, and pet the miniature horses...but not the donkeys (thankfully). Gramma and PawDad led the boys through the pens as Mommy cringed, shuddered, and refused to roam among the animals.

Megan did volunteer to go through the hay maze with Bubby, though. After a bit of wandering and misturns, Bubby decided the best way to get done with the maze was to scale the walls and go out through the in door.

The pumpkin patch was the primary reason for visiting MacDonald's Ranch, and Bubby's goal was to get the best. pumpkin. ever. With the patch about a mile from the main area, though, a hay ride to the patch was required—a bonus if ever there was one.

After the short hayride, the plentiful pumpkin patch beckoned. Mac and Bubby were off and searching in no time. With so, so many pumpkins, making the final decision on which to claim as their own was a tough one, narrowed down only by the requirement that they must be able to carry on their own whichever pumpkin they wanted to take home.

They tested the weights of several here and there. Once the choice was made, both boys proudly carried their spoils on the hayride back. From there, it was time for lunch with Daddy, time to show him the ever-so-perfect pumpkins his ever-so-perfect pumpkin pickers chose.

Bubby did come away with the best. pumpkin. ever. As did Mac.

'Twas a perfect autumn outing indeed.

Interested in visiting MacDonald's Ranch? Find details here:

MacDonald's Ranch • 26540 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, AZ 85255 • (480) 585-0239

Today's question:

Where do you typically get your pumpkins for Halloween time?

Friday field trip: The Airplane Restaurant

Not too long ago, during one of my visits to see my grandsons in the desert, Bubby shared with me one of those Bubbyism moments I love so much. We were out on his patio, and he was grilling up some "dinner" for me on his play barbecue grill. On the menu were sausages—which bore an uncanny resemblance to a couple of Matchbox vehicles pretending, for Bubby's sake, to be sausages.

"Take which one you want, Gramma," Bubby said as he held out a bowl of trucks, er, sausages. "There's cheese sausage and plain sausage."

My consideration of which sausage to take must have seemed to Bubby as if I were questioning the options. "That's the plain one," Bubby told me, "Not like a plane up in the sky, Gramma. Plain like nothin' on it."

I, of course, happily chose the plain sausage—which turned out to be infinitely better than plane sausage might have been.

Incidentally, when Bubby and Mac visited in June, we did have plane food. And I do mean plane, like a plane in the sky, not plain like nothing on it. For we ate dinner one night at The Airplane Restaurant (also known as Solo's).

My photo to the right is kind of crummy, as it was an afterthought taken on my phone as we left the restaurant. It does show, though, that The Airplane Restaurant is exactly that: an airplane that's a restaurant. The establishment features a genuine, formerly in service plane—a fully intact Boeing KC-97 tanker—built into a restaurant. Or, more accurately, I think, the restaurant is built around the plane.

Which Bubby thought was pretty darn cool.

The restaurant offers seating for forty-two within the actual plane, with far more seating in the attached building. Unfortunately for us, someone had reserved the entire plane portion for a child's party the night we visited, but they were kind enough to allow Bubby and me to take a quick tour of the plane while we waited for our meal.

The best part of that mini tour, naturally, was the cockpit. Bubby did get a little shy when we toured it, though, as the partygoers filled the tiny space. He was reluctant to pretend to be a pilot, to mess with the dials and such that I just know he was itching to touch.

One especially chatty little party gal was determined to find out Bubby's name, age, what he thought of the place, and if he came there often. Which Bubby found a tad disconcerting. So he gave her limited info...then clammed up and made it clear he wanted only to return to our table.

Even though our table wasn't inside the actual plane, it still had some nifty features that impressed Bubby and the rest of us. We sat right by the part of the restaurant that features the wing—propeller and all. Which Bubby thought was pretty darn cool, too.

Of course, we had to take the obligatory "Bubby's holding up the plane!" shot, which Bubby got a kick out of.

Well, until his arms grew tired.

There was far more to look at than just the propeller. Model airplanes, airplane pictures, plus aviation artifacts and memorabilia decorate the interior of The Airplane Restaurant, from top to bottom and in every corner. Even the table tops are emblazoned with maps and aviation charts.

The menus are printed on newsprint and include airplane trivia, black-and-white photos, and a brief history of the Boeing KC-97 and the Wright Brothers. Being a menu and all, there's also tons of options from which to choose, many of which have aviation-themed names (Flying Chicken Florentine, Air Tower Nachos, Rueben von Crashed) and more. There's pastas, ribs and steaks, seafood, chicken, burgers and other sandwiches, plus full bar options ("Jet Fuels").

The kids menu has numerous kid friendly foods, such as chicken fingers, grilled cheese, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and more. I'm not exactly sure what age is considered "kids", but the options even include top sirloin, baby back ribs, and deep friend shrimp. The kids menu itself provides plenty of space for coloring and an option for leaving the artwork at the restaurant for them to display a while then mail to the artist when artwork is swapped out at the end of each quarter. Bubby allowed Gramma to keep his artwork—which remains on my fridge to this day, as Gramma doesn't believe in changing her art displays quarterly.

Despite the extensive offerings on the kids menu, the food wasn't all that big of a deal for Bubby. The KC-97 and the numerous model airplanes hanging from the ceiling were the real attraction for a four-year-old boy. Mac wasn't all that impressed by the food or the airplanes. Having turned one year old just weeks before our visit, planes and propellers simply weren't his thing. Yet.


We'll have to eat at The Airplane Restaurant next time the boys visit. In fact, I think we'll reserve the plane portion of the restaurant next time we go, so both boys can twist and turn and fly the friendly skies as long as their imaginations take them there.

Or at least until dessert is served.

Interested in visiting The Airplane Restaurant? Find details here:

The Airplane Restaurant • 1665 N. Newport Road, Colorado Springs, CO 80916 • (719) 570-7656

Today's question:

When did you last eat plane food (like a plane up in the sky, not just plain food!)?

Friday field trip: IT'Z Family Food & Fun

Bubby is a big fan of the pizza and game room restaurants, the kind featuring food and fun geared to the younger set. One such center Bubby doesn't have in his home state is IT'Z Family Food & Fun. So while he and Mac visited Gramma and PawDad earlier this summer, we chose to visit IT'Z rather than the local location of the chain he frequents at home.

It's unfortunate there isn't an IT'Z location in Bubby's state as it is now his very most favorite of the pizza/gaming centers. In fact, Bubby loved IT'Z so much that when he received a child's digital camera from Aunt B days after our afternoon at IT'Z, we had to make a special stop at the center just so Bubby could capture a picture of the awesome spot on his camera, to remind him of the fun place he loved when he returned home.

And there's plenty to love at IT'Z. First off was the food. Pan after pan of varied pizzas—Bubby's favorite food in the world. Plus, there was an extensive salad bar, a pasta bar with mac & cheese for Mac, and a dessert bar featuring not the usual soft-serve ice cream but three different kinds of slushies (which Bubby had), crispy bars (which Mac had), and other goodies more likely to please an adult palate (like the cherry cobbler I had).

Bubby and Mac enjoyed their pre-gaming lunch in the brightly colored dining area, which had one big-screen TV plus a couple smaller ones, all playing the Cartoon Network. I'm not sure if it was the eating in front of a humongous TV or a testament to the quality of the pizza, but Bubby ate three whole pieces of pizza—quite a feat for a finicky kid who typically announces "My belly's full" after just a few bites of anything, including his fave food pizza. Good stuff, for sure.

The good stuff continued with what took place in the game room, where we took our time spending the $15 worth of tokens on the game card we purchased with the meals. There were plenty of rides for little ones on up to big ones (a few rides Bubby wasn't tall enough to ride), games for little ones on up to big ones, plus a soft play area with slides and a bouncy house and more, there was no shortage of fun for Bubby and Mac to choose from.


IT'Z was a fantastic deal, costing around $30 total for the unlimited food and drinks and fun for Bubby, Mac, PawDad and me. We spent nearly three hours at IT'Z, making the cost per hour of fun one of the best bargains I've come across.

Turns out IT'Z can be an even better bargain on Tuesdays, when they offer $2.99 all-you-can-eat buffets and $.99 drinks. Considering how great the pizza was—and that you can choose to enter only the dining room and forego the gaming room—I have a feeling PawDad and I will be visiting there without grandkids on a Tuesday sometime in the near future.

In addition to the fun and value IT'Z offers, they seem to be a caring company that makes a positive difference in the community. When the Waldo Canyon Fire displaced thousands of Colorado Springs residents and burned nearly 350 homes, IT'Z offered a completely free evening of fun for all those affected by the fire. I have no doubt those kiddos and their parents appreciated the diversion and enjoyed IT'Z just as much as Bubby and Mac did.

Interested in visiting IT'Z Family Food & Fun? Find details on locations—in Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado—on the IT'Z website.

Today's question:

Which would you be most happy to fill your plate from—a pizza bar, a salad bar, or a dessert bar?

Friday field trip: Play Area at Focus on the Family Welcome Center

I'm not a follower or affiliate of Focus on the Family. Fortunately, you need not be either of those to enjoy the free kid's play area in the ministry's Welcome Center in Colorado Springs. Everyone is welcome, regardless of one's religious or spiritual beliefs—and there's no proselytizing of even the slightest degree. Here, the focus really is on fun, and it's a great way for kids to burn off some energy in a clean, cool environment.

On Bubby and Mac's most recent stay with Gramma, they got to visit the play area not just once, but twice, thanks to a playdate there with Megan's long-time friend Amy just a couple days after they spent an afternoon there with Gramma, PawDad and Aunt B.

The list of things to do at the Welcome Center's play area is long (see below). For Bubby, though, the fun typically begins with a climb aboard the airplane.  

Mac likes to stay busy crawling through the numerous tunnels throughout the place. 

There's a Narnia Adventure room to explore—with the entrance being, naturally, through a wardrobe.

Refreshment from the Whit's End Soda Shoppe capped off our recent afternoon adventure.

In between the airplane and the ice cream, there was no shortage of fun for Bubby and Mac.

At ages one and four, my grandsons most enjoy the colorful Camp-What-A-Nut room, designed with safety in mind and specifically for kids through age four. There are plenty of options, though, for kids of all ages, including:

• Kid's Korner climbing structure featuring the A-Bend-A-Go three-story corkscrew slide. Riders must be at least 43 ½ inches tall and no taller than 5'9" so Bubby has yet to try this one. We begged but the ride operator stood firm in adhering to the policy.

• The Discovery Emporium, featuring a puppet stage and reading area.

• Two birthday party rooms with bright murals painted on the walls. The room with the firetruck and more on the walls was empty when we visited, so Mac and Bubby enjoyed some free roaming and dancing in the festive space.

• The KYDS Radio room where kids can record their own voices on an Adventures in Odyssey episode and take home the complimentary CD.

Interested in visiting the Play Area at Focus on the Family? Find details here:

Focus on the Family Welcome Center • 8685 Explorer Dr., Colorado Springs, CO 80920

Today's question:

What fun do you have planned for the weekend?

Friday field trip: Children's Museum of Phoenix

On the final day of my recent stay with Bubby and Baby Mac, we went to the Children's Museum of Phoenix. The museum is located less than 10 minutes from the airport, so it was a great way to end the visit—and gave us a spot to play in case my flight was delayed.

The Children's Museum of Phoenix is three floors of fun and one of Bubby's favorite places to play. It was Baby Mac's first time there, and he found plenty of fun himself.

We started on the top floor, with the plan to work our way down. The "Noodle Forest" is the highlight there and something Bubby couldn't wait to show Gramma. Right outside the forest is a paint-with-water activity that proved Baby Mac to be a passionate artist.

It was just the beginning of my last few delight-filled hours with my grandsons:


Other exhibits on the third floor include a shopping market, ice cream cart, a "Texture Cafe" for making meals with various materials, a "Grand Ballroom" where you can see the chain reaction from beginning to end, make-believe pickle and pencil cars, and much, much more. It's easy to see why the third floor is Bubby's floor of choice.

The second floor features a "Building Big" room for making forts of all shapes and sizes, a trike wash, and an art studio with ongoing projects (Bubby made a pretty butterfly and helped paint a purple rocket).

On the first (atrium) floor, the main attraction is the Schuff-Perini Climber, a climbing gym like you've never seen before. It's visible from all floors, and I climbed with Bubby all the way to the a dress and thankful it was a rather slow day so Gramma could take her time. The first floor also has a Whoosh! machine of connected tubes where kids can feed nylon scarves through and watch them fly—one of Baby Mac's favorite exhibits, along with the many "Baby Zone" play areas throughout the museum.

The atrium wall is lined with a stunning display of CDs hanging from top to bottom. A museum worker told me children from around the area, including a school for homeless children, wrote wishes on the CDs to be hung on the wall at the museum's opening about four years ago. She said the wishes are touching and sometimes heartbreaking to read, everything from "I want an iPod" to "I want my daddy to come home."

Our visit to the museum was exhilerating—and exhausting. Bubby and Baby Mac were sound asleep in their car seats by the time we made it to the airport, just minutes after leaving the museum. When Megan dropped me off at the departure curb, I opened Bubby's door to give him a farewell kiss; with eyes still closed, he mumbled, "I love you...send me mail." Totally zonked-out Baby Mac got a kiss, Megan got a hug, and Gramma headed for home.

The Children's Museum of Phoenix was a great way to end my visit to the desert. We just might have to make pre-flight visits there a farewell tradition.

Interested in taking a similar field trip? Find details here:

Children's Museum of Phoenix • 215 N. 7th Street, Phoenix, AZ 85034 • (602) 253-0501

(If you want to see the full pictures from our visit or see them more slowly, feel free to take a look in my Brag Book.)

Today's question:

If you were asked to write a wish on a CD like those in the stunning display at the Children's Museum of Phoenix, what would today's wish be?

Friday field trip: Denver Downtown Aquarium

As previously mentioned, we visited the Denver Downtown Aquarium during Bubby and Baby Mac's Christmas holiday visit. Here are some of the highlights:

As we were leaving, the caricaturist at the exit approached us to ask if Bubby could pose for him, for free, in hopes of drawing some attention and business for the vendor. Now, thanks to the unexpected kindness of that talented stranger, I can clearly mark the exact moment my grandson made the transformation from Politely Posing Bubby... 

into none other than Super Hero Bubby... 

Interested in taking a similar field trip? Find details here:

Denver Downtown Aquarium • 700 Water Street, Denver, CO 80211 • (303) 561-4450

Today's question:

If you could be any water-living creature, what would you like to be?

Imagine that

Life in the desert—where Bubby and Baby Mac live—is a wee bit different from life in the mountains—where I live and where Bubby and Baby Mac's mommy grew up. For one thing, it's often too hot in the desert in the summer time for kiddos to play outside. Seriously too hot. As in Extreme Heat Warnings from the National Weather Service hot.

That certainly doesn't mean, though, that there's no fun to be had.

When temps get too hot and high in the desert, folks simply take the fun indoors. They forego sizzling playgrounds and descend upon indoor play areas instead. Air-conditioned play areas.

One of Bubby's favorite indoor play centers is called Imagination Avenue. We visited last week, and he certainly exercised his imagination while there.

He imagined himself as a policeman, a fireman, a doctor, a grocery shopper.  

He also baked cookies and cupcakes, worked puzzles, played school. And he built houses and boxes and a tunnel for taking a break from the workout.

With so much to do and the myriad imaginative options to explore, the fact we couldn't play outside no longer mattered one single bit. Not to Bubby, not to Megan, not to me.

Not even to Baby Mac.

Imagine that!

Today's question:

What is your favorite indoor activity on hot summer days?