Geekamama


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No! Sleep! Till–oh heck, I don’t know when

This was supposed to be written yesterday, but I was exhausted. My husband is out of town for a couple of days, and I’m finding I need an awful lot of energy to keep up with the very active Toddler Force One.

It doesn’t help that we had three days this past workweek where we had to get up much earlier than usual. By Friday afternoon I was already in sleep debt. After I got Kiddo tucked in that night, I went straight to bed myself. Usually on weekends, my husband and I sleep in until Kiddo wakes up, and then alternate taking showers while the other plays with Kiddo. Yesterday, though, I didn’t get that shower until my sister came over that afternoon. Oh, and this morning? Forget that extra hour of sleep that usually comes with the switch back to Standard Time. Someone in this house didn’t get the memo.

We’ve had plenty of afternoons and evenings where Kiddo and I were on our own while my husband worked. And I often take care of Kiddo myself every weekday morning. I figured I had this weekend in the bag. Turns out, without the ability to get away for just five or ten minutes, it’s more of a challenge than I expected.

This morning when I woke up (or more accurately, was woken up) I thought, I don’t know how single parents do it. Do they have more strictly scheduled days? Are they better at squeezing in housework while their child entertains herself? I don’t think I could ever really know unless I had to live through that myself–something I hope never happens–and not just for a weekend, but day in and day out, managing child and household and job, very likely having to sacrifice personal time and interests to do it. I have new respect for anyone in that position.

Before my husband left, we made a picture calendar for the days he would be gone. It shows who’s home each day and what we’re doing that day, whether it’s school or a visit from Kiddo’s aunt, or watching football. The idea was that Kiddo could cross off each day and understand how long it would be until Dad comes home. Honestly though? I’m not quite sure which of us is counting the days more eagerly.


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Otterly adorable

Last night was Halloween, and as tradition dictates, we dressed Kiddo up and sheparded him around to collect candy. Not for him, of course; he’s still young enough that we limit the amount of straight-up sugar that he gets. That three-quarters of a pound that he picked up will mostly be consumed by Mom and Dad. I don’t think he’ll mind, though. Heck, I don’t think he’ll even notice.

Halloween around here is different from what I remember as a kid. I had the stereotypical small-town experience, dressing up in a costume roomy enough to fit over my winter coat and going door to door with my friends and someone’s parent. In the Seattle area, it seems like most of the trick-or-treating happens indoors. Kids still go door to door, but it’s office door to office door. I’m not sure whether this is due to increasing parental paranoia or just a nod to the often-unfriendly weather.

We took Kiddo around in my husband’s office building at Microsoft. The weekend before, I’d coaxed him into trying on his costume by telling him that if he wore it, people would give him candy. Frankly, I don’t know whether he understood what this “candy” meant, but he thought it sounded good enough to give it a shot. And once he discovered his tail and the whiskers tickling his forehead, he was sold. 

At first, Kiddo wasn’t quite sure how trick-or-treating worked , but he learned quickly. Then he really had fun wandering around the halls with his little pumpkin, stopping occasionally to make sure the whiskers on his hood were still there. His selectiveness surprised me. He’d skip three or four offices, and then take two treats from the same bowl–often the same kind that he’d passed up just minutes before. I was happy to see that he picked up a couple Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, one of my favorites. Less pleased to discover the banana Laffy Taffy when I was sorting the candy later. Someone’s going to have to take care of that one, and I’m officially declaring Not It.

It’s too bad the otter costume won’t fit next year, because he’s so cute and snuggly in it. Next year he’ll probably want more of a say in what he wears, and before long he’ll be running through the halls snagging something from every bowl, whether he likes it or not. And we’ll be doing our traditional parental duty, rationing out his stash only one or two pieces a night , and hoping he doesn’t notice how certain kinds mysteriously vanish from his collection. Butterfingers? No, I don’t think you got any of those this year, sweetie…


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The beauty in unplanning

When we started planning the Glacier National Park portion of our vacation, I was a little bit at a loss. It had been more than 30 years since I’d been there, and I didn’t have any good ideas about where the best places to stay would be, or what the must-see sights were. From what I could tell, the things to do were 1) hike, 2) drive Going-To-The-Sun road, and 3) admire lovely scenery.

Based on this information, I made a plan. We’d arrive Monday afternoon, early enough to do a short hike. Tuesday would be more hiking, Wednesday would be driving the pass, and Thursday we’d make our departure for Bozeman.

That plan didn’t even make it through Monday. First of all, I underestimated the time it would take us to get out of our hotel that morning. I’d also forgotten about the time change between Idaho (where we stayed the first night) and Montana, so what was a three-hour drive turned into four hours on the clock. We had to make a couple unscheduled stops – first, to top off the oil in the car, and second, to load up on fresh cherries. By the time we arrived at our hotel and home for the next couple nights, it was already around 5 p.m.

Tuesday did start out according to plan. Armed with a list of day hikes that we’d gotten at the hotel, we set off for the park. We found a trail that led to a waterfall, and we also walked the Avenue of the Cedars, a short enough and flat enough trail that we let Kiddo run instead of loading him into our carrier.

In fact, we had such a good time that as we came to the end of the walk, I said, “I wish we were doing more hiking tomorrow instead of driving over the pass.”

“We could do that,” my husband said. And there went my plan for Wednesday. Rather than driving over the pass, we’d do some more day hikes, and then on Thursday we’d start our drive to Bozeman via Going-to-the-Sun road, exit the park on the east side, and proceed from there.

Wednesday morning we picked out a couple more day hikes around the lake, and drove to the park. And were thwarted by Kiddo before we even got to the first one, because he fell asleep just as we entered the park. To preserve the boy’s naptime, my husband suggested we continue up the road for a bit, then come back.

By the time we found a scenic pullout, we were well on the way up Going-to-the-Sun road. And that was when we made what turned out to be the pivotal decision for the day. Why not continue on to the visitor center at the top of Logan Pass, and hike around there? Well heck, why not?

And as we continued, I found out what it is about Glacier National Park that brings people back year after year. The scenery was breathtaking. I was snapping pictures out the window every mile. My husband, on the other hand, had to pay more attention to the winding road hanging off the side of the mountain. “Tomorrow I’m driving this, so you can gawk,” I said.

     

But the day was just getting started. At the visitor center, a ranger showed us two hikes we could do: one to Hidden Lake overlook, and another that made its way along the mountain wall we’d just climbed. We opted for the lake, since it had a definite endpoint.

That hike is one I’m going to remember for a long, long time. Glacier had had more snow than usual this past winter. Even though it was summer down in the valleys, snow fields remained up top. The hike to the lake is a boardwalk path, but even so, a good part of our 1.5-mile trek out there was covered in snow. Like most of the other hikers, the three of us we were wearing shorts and t-shirts (and sunscreen. Lots of sunscreen.) But that wasn’t a problem – it was 68 degrees outside, and all that high-altitude climbing kept us warm.

We let Kiddo walk for a while, even through the snow. Then we loaded him onto my back and kept walking.

    

We crossed the Continental Divide shortly before the overlook. We also met up with half a dozen mountains goats along the way.

It was a gorgeous day, sun shining, snow glistening, mountains towering above us. And we wouldn’t have experienced it if we hadn’t spontaneously added an extra day of hiking; if Kiddo hadn’t been napping at an inconvenient time; if we hadn’t missed our intended turnaround spot and ended up halfway up the mountain.

Organizing is one of my personal strengths. I thrive on plans on checklists. But this trip reminded me that sometimes the best plan is the one where you throw the schedule out the window.


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Road trip or bust!

Who on earth would be crazy enough to plan a two-week road trip–14 consecutive days–with a just-turned-2 toddler?

Oh, right. That would be me.

In my defense, parts of the trip had been in the works well before there was a Kiddo to complicate the plans. But after years of postponing and rescheduling, I finally said, Enough. It’s happening. We’re going to make it work. And amazingly, it not only worked, but turned out to be one of the best vacations we’ve taken as a family.

Our itinerary took us first to Glacier National Park, in the northwest corner of Montana. We then headed south to my hometown, Bozeman, and while there, split our time between the annual Sweet Pea Festival and my 20-year high school reunion.  The following week, my parents, sisters, and I (plus husbands and kids, of course) visited Yellowstone National Park, a couple hours south of Bozeman.

So what inspired this grand tour? Nostalgia, initially. When I was a kid, there were two things my family did on a regular basis: visit Yellowstone at least once a year, and spend Sweet Pea weekend hanging out at the park where the festival was always held. In fall 2008, I was driving on a road that reminded me of Yellowstone, and got the idea that we should take another family trip to the park and revisit some of our favorite sights. And why not schedule it adjoining Sweet Pea, and check off two things at once?

The family was on board; we set our sights on summer 2009 so that we’d have time to schedule time off from work. And then my sister and I both got pregnant about three months apart. Making that trip with months-old babies wouldn’t work out well, we all agreed. In spring 2009, we postponed the trip to the following year.

But a few months later, before I’d gotten around to booking lodging in the park, my husband’s family stepped in with their own plans for an big family August 2010 trip. They’d already picked dates and made hotel reservations when I learned about it. Our little family could have made both trips happen, but it would have meant taking more than three weeks off work, and taking a cross-country flight right after completing a two-day drive back from Montana–and all that with a one-year-old. I was informed that our Yellowstone trip would have to be postponed yet another year.

I’ll confess that I didn’t concede this as gracefully as I could have. I’d been making these plans for a year and had postponed it once already. Now I had to wait not one but two more years? Even now I can still feel some of the ire that was bubbling back then. I reluctantly agreed, but defiantly hammered my stake into the ground: August 2011 was MINE.

Whatever, people said. After all, that was almost two years away. Who knows (and who cares) what we’d be doing then?

I knew. I cared. I started making plans. At first, it was just going to be Sweet Pea and Yellowstone, in some order. Then I remembered that my husband and I had talked about visiting Glacier Park, and that it could be doable even with a young kid. I decided we could fit a Glacier visit into whichever week we weren’t going to Yellowstone. Finally, after that was settled, my high school classmates decided to follow local tradition and schedule our reunion to coincide with Sweet Pea weekend.

It was a lot to cram into two weeks. It was especially a lot considering that by the time the vacation happened, we’d have a two-year-old who needed regular snacks and naps and attention. We were worried he’d protest being cooped up in the car for hours of driving, and that he wouldn’t sleep well in unfamiliar hotel rooms. We knew his little legs didn’t have the stamina to keep up with us on hikes and geyser tours, so we’d need to make accommodations.

However, I’m an organizer at heart, and I was already in the mindset that we were going to make this trip happen, come hell or high snowpack. We found some great tools and techniques that helped make things go more smoothly (more to come on these), we built in downtime for naps, and we kept an open mind toward adjusting the schedule on the fly if needed.

And in the end, it was all worth it. We saw amazing sights that we’d never seen before, revisited others that I’d grown up with, brushed elbows with mountain goats, and spent rare time with family and friends. Would I change anything? Oh sure, looking back there were a few tweaks that could have been made, but nothing major. Would I do it again? Unquestionably.


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Road Trip, by the numbers

Days traveling: 14
Miles traveled: About 2,200
States visited: 4
National Parks visited: 2

Nights sleeping in hotel rooms: 8
Days traveling from one point to another: 6
Mountain passes crossed: 8 (Snoqualmie, Fourth of July, Lookout, Logan, Bozeman, Craig, Dunraven, Homestake)
Continental Divide crossings: 13 (including 2 on foot, as well as one crossing of the Northern Divide)
Highest point of elevation visited: 8,878 feet

Miles hiked in Glacier National Park: About 5.5
Geyser basins visited in Yellowstone National Park: 7
Waterfalls visited in both parks: 3, plus a handful seen from the car window

High school classmates revisited: About 70!
Facebook friends added: 10
Tater pigs eaten: 2
Miles walked early in the morning pushing a stroller: 3.1
Parades viewed: 1

High temperature on departure day: 71 F
Average high temp in Whitefish and Glacier Park on days 2-5: 86 F
Average high temp in Bozeman on days 6-9 and 13: 82 F
Average high temp at Old Faithful on days 10-13: 73 F
High temperature on return day: 70 F

Longest day of driving: Technically Day 14 (Missoula to Seattle) but Day 5 (Whitefish to Bozeman by way of Logan Pass) certainly felt like it.
Cows counted: Uncountable
Toddler meltdowns while driving: Only 2!

Suntan acquired: Yes (but not as much as the guys)
Freckles acquired: Many
Spectacular vistas viewed: Definitely
High school reunion survived: Yep!
Blog posts likely to come out of this trip: At least 3

Overall assessment: A++, would trip again


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Making memories

Last Sunday, after spending most of the afternoon at Pike Place Market, we stopped at Marymoor Park on the way home. Pike Place Market is nifty for taller people, but not so exciting when you’re strapped into a stroller. Kiddo had been very patient though, and he deserved some fun time for himself.

The park was the emptiest I’ve ever seen it. The playground itself was deserted. Granted, it was a holiday weekend, it was close to dinner time, and there were ominous-looking rain clouds not far away. But none of that mattered to our boy. He was thrilled that he could play on all the slides and ride on the little rocking tractor to his heart’s content, without needing to take turns or watch out for bigger kids. He’d pause at the top of a slide and sign “More?” and we would tell him, of course you can slide some more! We let him lead, and just followed him from slide to rocker to bigger slide to swing, letting him choose what he wanted to do next.

When it was time to leave we borrowed a trick and pointed to the small berm surrounding the concert stage, about halfway between the playground and the parking lot.  “Look at that hill! Want to run up the hill?” I asked Kiddo, and of course he did.  Off he ran, glee bubbling out of him, with all the speed his little not-quite-two-year-old legs could produce.

As we followed, I asked my husband, “Do you remember anything from when you were two?”

“No,” he said.

“Neither do I,” I replied.

After some thought, he was able to remember a big event that happened shortly before his brother was born, which would have been a couple months before my husband’s second birthday. And I remember the house my family lived in, and meeting another child who turned out to be one of my longest friends. But neither of us could remember much beyond that of those early years. I’m certain that we had afternoons like this one, where there was so much joy in getting to do whatever he wanted, for a little while. We must have had those moments of awe, discovering the secrets of the world that would become everyday facts just a few years later. I’m sure we had many, many moments of delight in learning and repeating new words and phrases, or tasting fresh raspberries for the first time. But memories laid down at this age often don’t stick around into adulthood; it’s not until children develop the ability to put events in chronological order that long-term memories start forming, and most children don’t develop that ability until around age 3 or 4.

In a way, it makes sense. A toddler’s brain is still developing, soaking up all kinds of details and bits of trivia. Mom’s shoes go in the closet; Dad’s glasses go on his face. But the part of their brain that controls emotions (and emotional outbursts) is still very immature. Or to put it more simply: it’s hard being a toddler! Frustrations abound because you don’t understand why you can’t do something, because your limited language skills make it hard to explain what you want, or simply because you’re overwhelmed and stressed dealing with the influx of new data, and you don’t have the mental maturity to cope with it. Who would want to carry the memories of those chaotic times around for the rest of their life? Perhaps the delay in developing long-term memory is a blessing in disguise.

But as the memories of the difficult times fade, they take with them most of the memories of the joyful times too. I saw Kiddo beaming with delight that afternoon and got a lump in my throat thinking that he probably won’t remember these moments. Pictures and video capture the physical activities and the words that were spoken, but his feelings and emotions can only be reconstructed, not retained.

I didn’t take pictures on Sunday afternoon. I wanted to take in the full experience of the fun we were having, of him playing and us watching him play. The little boy grown big may not remember this one afternoon out of so many others–but his father and I will.


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Quest: successful!

Last saturday afternoon we decided to check out the KidsQuest Children’s Museum in the Factoria Mall.  It was a lot of fun, even for someone as young as our Kiddo.  While many of the exhibits are geared toward children ages 6 to 10, there are still plenty of things for smaller kids to do.

There’s a central play area called the Backyard that’s designed for children ages 0 to 3.  They have a big train table set up…

… and a slide shaped like a giant green plant.

Near the train table is a miniature kitchen.  Naturally, Kiddo gravitated toward the orange foods and dishes.

Then he went to another part of the Backyard and had fun flipping light switches on and off like he does at home.

We spent some time looking at–and through–the fish tank.  On the other side of the tank there’s a small area set up with stools, mirrors, and makeup for face painting.

After that we left the Backyard and headed to the Waterworks area.  We spent almost all of the rest of our time there playing in the Central Stream, in the Waterworks area.

He carried that orange ball around with him for the rest of the time that we were at KidsQuest, and wailed when I had to take it away.  Sorry Kiddo!  He also soaked his shirt, and I’d forgotten to bring an extra one along so I had to run out and buy him one.  I bet the OshKosh B’Gosh store across the walkway gets a lot of business from museum visitors.

It was a lot of fun, and something I plan to recommend to my local friends.  I’m sure we’ll be back many times.  I’m even mulling over the idea of having his next birthday party there–that central area for small children is a nice selling point, and there are other exhibits that would appeal to older kids as well.


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The penny finally drops

I was standing in line at the grocery store one night recently when Dennis DeYoung’s “Desert Moon” started playing. That album has the dubious honor of being the very first album I ever bought with my own money, at the tender age of 12. I brought it home and popped it in the tape deck of the living room stereo, and then went into the kitchen with my mom and tried to act all nonchalant, oh, we’re just listening to some music that I picked out, no big deal, not going to act like it’s important to me that anyone likes my musical tastes… I don’t remember anymore how my mom actually did react to it–I think I was trying hard not to see her reaction because I didn’t want to know if she disapproved.

For most of my growing-up years, the primary motivator behind my choices was whether Other People would approve of them.  I was a chunky kid with brains, glasses, and braces. I didn’t know how to do my hair or makeup and I had no sense of style.  Junior high girls can be some of the most insecure creatures on this planet, and often the only way we know how to build ourselves up is to pull down others.  We do things that make no sense to adults because we think those actions will make us look cooler to the boys we want to impress and the girls we want to surpass.

In my struggle to not be at the bottom of the social ladder, I had this idea that anything and everything I did during non-school hours was going to get back to the popular kids and give them fodder for talking behind my back.  It wasn’t supposed to be cool to have a close family life, so I tried to push it away.  I scowled in family photos, and I sequestered myself away from my parents and sisters rather than risk someone catching me actually having fun with them.  Heaven forbid!  I’d be ostracized forever.

Yet, at the same time that I wanted my classmates to approve of me, I also wanted my parents to approve of me, and that was a tricky tightrope to walk. I wanted to be the kid who could come home and talk with her mom about what happened in school and what this boy said and what it all meant.  But I always felt awkward doing so, because what if she thought my worries were dumb?  So I damped it down, tried to pretend it was No Big Thing, just something I was casually wondering about.  Even now I sometimes reflexively hold back a bit when talking about my life, because it’s crushing to be told that something you’re passionate about is stupid, or worse, uninteresting.

With the birth of my son, it was as if the lens through which I viewed my childhood was twisted ninety degrees. I gazed adoringly at my tiny newborn, thinking Oh my god, this little boy is less than a day old and I already love him so much that I can’t believe my heart can actually hold all that love.

Followed by Oh my god, THIS is how my mother feels about ME!

And then Oh my god, I was such a little shit!

I used to cringe when I looked back at my younger years because of all the ridiculous things I did. Now I cringe as I look back and realize how I unintentionally hurt people.

When I was in fifth grade, my mom made a maroon blazer for me to wear for school picture day. She bought the pattern and the fabric and stayed up late nights sewing it.  The night before pictures, the blazer wasn’t quite finished when I went to bed, but when I woke up, it was hanging on my bedroom door.  What were my first words?  Not “Yay, Mom, you finshed it, thank you!”  They were  “…but it doesn’t have any buttons on it.”

Someday I’m going to get my own time machine, and one of the first things I’m going to do is jump back to ten-year-old me and smack myself upside the head.

I don’t know where that blazer is now, but I might dig up one of the old school pictures and keep it on my dresser as a reminder.  Because one day, I’ll be on the other side of that conversation.  I’ll be the mom who just wants to make sure that her child is doing OK. He’ll be the one balancing peer approval with parental approval and unthinkingly saying things that hurt my feelings.

We are the product of our accumulated experiences, and if I hadn’t had all the twists and turns that I did, I wouldn’t be who I am today.  I like the person I’ve become, but I wish there was a way I could tell fifth-grade or eighth-grade or eleventh-grade me to worry less about what my classmates thought.  It’s OK to love and be loved by your family.  They’ll keep doing it, even if it’s uncool, so you might as well love them back.


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Back away from the bubble wrap

One thing that’s been really hard for me as a new parent is trying not to be overprotective of my Precious Little Angelkins.  He’s still a little unstable on his feet, he’s young enough that he doesn’t really know how to share or play cooperatively with other kids, and all his emotions are right there on the surface barely under control.  All developmentally normal for a one-year-old, but something that seems ripe for disaster when slightly older kids get into the mix.

The first time we visited the play area at the mall, I followed Kiddo around, teetering between wanting to protect him from danger and wanting him to explore at his own pace.  To me it felt like the older kids were running around with no regard for smaller or slower kids.  I was sure he’d get pushed or trampled or picked on, or worse.  But none of that happened.  Sure, he got bumped a couple times, and he fell down once or twice, and I did have to assert when it was our turn on the slide.  I had a few moments of alarm, but Kiddo?  He had a great time.  He couldn’t wait to go back.

I had similar feelings of trepidation as we prepared for a week with relatives in California.  We would be spending most of our time at the home of Kiddo’s three older cousins, and all I could picture was a four-year-old and a pair of two-year-olds zooming around excitedly, not realizing that Kiddo wasn’t as agile as them, not understanding that he doesn’t understand all the social niceties yet.

Boy, was I mistaken!  There were only a couple incidents where a parent had to step in, and in general all the kids got along well and had fun together.  Kiddo was happy to toddle around after them and play with all their toys, and they were great about sharing them.  I’d definitely underestimated how the interactions would go.

Being around the older kids helped both Kiddo and I learn some new things.  He learned how to get up on his feet all by himself, he picked up several new words, and he’s gotten much better at eating with a spoon.  I discovered that reading bedtime stories is even more fun when the recipient can talk about the pictures with you, and that you never get too big for snuggles (thank goodness!)  And I might have learned to relax a bit and tone down the hovering.

My niece and nephews are living proof that kids can and do survive the falls and pushes and knocks on the head.  They’re also a reminder to me that the majority of the world really isn’t out to harm my little boy.  I may not be ready for total free-range motherhood, but I can at least stop trying to cushion every blow and smooth out every anticipated frustration.

         


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New shoes

This weekend was the first in months when we didn’t have anything planned.  However, Kiddo’s shoes were worn through at the toes, and my husband had been awake all night dealing with work problems, so we decided to have a Mom-Kid day at the mall and give my husband a chance to get caught up on his sleep.

Our first stop was Stride Rite where we picked up two new pairs: one for indoor wear, and one pair that is a little sturdier and more waterproof.

After that, Kiddo and I went to McDonald’s for his first-ever Happy Meal.  The place was crowded with families (it was Saturday, after all) so rather than fight for a highchair, we took a small booth in the back and sat together on the bench.  It was easier to put his nuggets and fries next to him on the seat.  By the way, the cut on his forehead is healing up nicely.

Kiddo was so sleepy during lunch that I thought he was going to nod off in the stroller.  But he perked up afterward–maybe he just needed the food–so we went upstairs to the Kids’ Cove.  This was our first time in a public playspace and I wasn’t quite sure of the proper parent etiquette.  So I just followed Kiddo around, trying to not be too overprotective but also trying to keep him from getting too run down by the bigger kids.

 

We took a break and went downstairs for a snack, and to wait for my husband to arrive.  Once we were reunited, we went back upstairs to check out the play place again.

 

Before long, we could see that Kiddo was drooping, so we bundled him into the stroller and did some shopping, hoping he’d fall asleep.  It didn’t take long.

We ended the day with dinner at Matt’s Rotisserie in Redmond Town Center.  While we were there, a bunch of cars from the local exotics club were driving through.  One of the organizers told us it was for a music video.  It was pretty neat watching them all pass by below us.