Florida 2011 – Trip Diary – Part 4

Posted in Travel on January 21st, 2012 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

(NOTE – This is part 4/4 of our family’s trip diary detailing our vacation to Orlando, FL taken a year ago now.  This last installment is quite late, but better late than never, I think!)

Friday, January 21 – Today our house seemed quite empty as our travel companions left and it was just Hubby, me and the kids.  We did enjoy a day of family time, beginning with breakfast at…  Sizzler.  Actually, I don’t remember where we ate breakfast.  To be honest, I put the Florida trip diary aside for the past few months and now I don’t remember where we ate breakfast.  I don’t remember all of the details of the day, but I have enough treasured vacation memories to know that it was an excellent day spent with my family.  We drove over to Downtown Disney to try something different for a change – we had never been there.  Downtown Disney has so much to see that we just walked around for a few hours and were entertained without having to spend money.  My personal favorite was the amazing Lego store where one can buy just about any type of Lego a heart desires.  You can buy the flat building platforms, bricks in any color of the rainbow, minifigs, and there was even a sort of Lego buffet – you can fill a container with all different types of pieces, any kinds you want: basic building blocks, doors, windows, steering wheels, joints, hinges, you name it.  There were stations with samples to play with, and I had to exercise some self-control to let the kids play instead of sitting there myself for hours on end.  Because this is Florida, there were Lego things to see outside too – little stations with ramps where you can build Lego vehicles and race them, as well as full scale Lego models of people, the London Bridge, and even a large Loch Ness monster in the lake:

It’s really a good thing for my family’s budget that there is not a Lego store within 100 miles of our house; I could go nuts in there!

We also went to the Rainforest Cafe and a few other stores and restaurants where they had really cool decor for the kids to see.  There was a restaurant with huge dinosaurs where we stopped to use the bathroom, and the kids even enjoyed the Little Miss Match shop (a company that sells socks in sets of 3 and none of them match.  The store has socks and lots of other stuff that little girls love to accessorize with).  It began to rain, so we got on a boat to cross the lagoon to get to the bus.  If you are on vacation in the Orlando area and you find yourself with an extra day or some downtime, then I recommend taking a spin on the Disney transportation – especially if you are over-budget on your trip because it’s all free.  A fair warning that Disney property is so large that riding the buses, boats and monorails can take up a significant part of your day, but it is a fun and FREE way to see the sights of Disney.  So we took a bus to the Grand Floridian hotel to catch the monorail, just for fun.  Parking at Downtown Disney is free, so we got on Disney grounds without even having to pay parking!  We did have to spend a good 45 minutes on the bus though, but by now it was pouring, so we didn’t mind too much.  Besides, Hubby surprised me on the bus when he presented me with a Severus Snape minifig that he had picked up as a surprise without me seeing when we were at the Lego store!!  I could not even tell him that Snape is my favorite Harry Potter character because he would have wanted to know why – I didn’t want to spoil the last Harry Potter movie for him when it wasn’t out yet at that time.

At the Grand Floridian, I had to take some kids to the bathroom, and while I was in there, Hubby got a last minute great deal on a character dinner for us!  So we enjoyed dinner with Cinderella, her prince, her step-sisters and her step-mother.  The food was wonderful, and the kids loved meeting the characters as they walked around to greet tables.  After that, we made our way back to our car, and we were exhausted…  I think we called it a night – I’m not really sure; it’s taken me so long to finish this trip diary that my memory has faded.  All I know is it was a really great day, and a super way to end a wonderful vacation – SO WISH we could go back this year!

Saturday, January 22, 2011 – On this day I know we began to make our way back to Ohio, but I don’t remember the details.  I think we had told the kids we were going to do some souvenir shopping, but we ran out of time and just wanted to hit the road.  Then we had an idea – there are Cracker Barrel restaurants lined up along the expressway all the way home, so we found one on the GPS and got there just before it closed.  Cracker Barrels have little stores in them, and the one we stopped at (in Georgia) had a great sale going on.  The kids were able to shop and had fun getting some great deals – it was a nice way to add a little more fun to our trip.  We arrived home very early Sunday morning, if I’m not mistaken, and probably slept all day and unpacked.  SUPER trip that made awesome memories – can’t wait to do it again someday, I hope!!

July 2011 (part 1)

Posted in family fun, Travel on July 30th, 2011 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The July 2011 page on my calendar has been filled since spring, so I knew we had a busy month ahead.  Organizing everything I had jammed into those little squares on the calender was going to be challenging enough, but then we were even able to add a few family mini-vacations to the mix!  It’s been a great summer so far despite the challenges of sometimes trying to be in 2 places at once, and I wanted to chronicle everything to enhance the wonderful memories we made as a family this summer – but be prepared; this will be quite the manifest when I’m finished!

June 30 and July 1 – We began the month with a last-minute trip to an indoor water park that’s an hour away.  After a sudden burst of cabin fever, my husband found a super internet deal that afforded us some much-loved family time.  The kids loved the indoor water park, and Christopher was old enough this time to go on some water slides which he found to be a blast!

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Best of all, the constant lower back pain that had been making me short of patience, irritable and tired all the time seemed to be remedied by my getting to sit in water for 2 days.  I should note for future reference also how interesting it was to pack different people for 3 different trips at the same time.  Simultaneously, I was packing 6 people for an overnight stay (with a separate bag for changing into street clothes from bathing suits, I might add), 1 little girl for a 4 day stay at camp, and also for a 3 day trip for 6 people.  It felt hectic at the time, but not unmanageable – due to the fact that my wonderful family did much of the work for and with me.  And you know what?  I don’t think we forgot anything!!

July 2, 3 – After the water park, we got a day of rest (and unpacking, re-packing, laundry) before we set out Sunday for the 4-hour drive to Nashville Indiana – with one small glitch:  Hubby had food poisoning.  He had to miss church to rejuvenate, and then we were off – well, after packing up the car and some other in-town odds n ends.

July 3-6 – We spent the 4th of July in Nashville – a yearly trip Hubby and I take with our 4 kids, my parents, my uncle, and my sister, her husband and their 2 kids – there were 13 of us staying in a large house in the middle of the Brown County woods.  It was a beautiful place, and we’re torn on where to choose to have next year’s gathering.  Last year, we had a beautiful house where each family had their own bedroom and bathroom.  The few downsides to this house (called The Oaks) was the large steep hill that led down to the pond and fire pit – it proved to be dangerous last year when someone took a nasty spill (but was uninjured), so we didn’t want to gamble with it this year when we have an adult who is practically incapacitated (me being 5.5 mos. pregnant).  Also, the kids have to be watched constantly down by that pond, so it was a nice break for the adults this year to not have to worry about who was going to take them down there.  Also, there wasn’t really any yard for the kids to play in at The Oaks.  There was a swingset, but really only the two 3-year-old boys were of the age to enjoy a swing set this year, and that leaves 4 other kids with no yard to run around in.  Both houses had pool tables inside and hot tubs outside (which became little swimming pools for the kids since we didn’t want to turn on the heat in 90° weather), and The Oaks had tons of dvds,  board games, and a foosball table, but then again, this year we brought our own dvds and games and the kids had TONS to do and were never bored.  Another plus to this year’s cabin vs. The Oaks: the large dining room table that fit almost everyone at the same time so we could enjoy meals together.  The Oaks had only a small breakfast nook that seated 4 people or about 6 kids, so the adults had to eat elsewhere.  Given these pros and cons of each cabin, it’s going to be a tough decision next year on where to stay!!
The kids’ favorite thing to do this year was to go down to the creek that ran around the property (this cabin was called “Ginley’s Gulch” for future reference).  There they would walk the creek, hunting for crawdads, geodes, and minnows, and they found quite a few of all of the above.  As I said, this property had a larger yard, and also 85 acres of forest, and in the future I would like to explore the gorgeous property more since I wasn’t quite feeling up to that this year.  I did enjoy walking down the cleared path into the forest though – there were many beautifiul butterflies, cool looking insects, and birds to see and hear.  And oh yeah!  I forgot to mention another huge plus of Ginley’s Gulch – the screened-in porch!  It had a ceiling fan, so it was a wonderful, mosquito-free place to spend our Brown County evenings together.  A great trip!!

July 6 – We arose at the crack of dawn to pack up the car and get the kids roused for the 4+ hour drive to Michigan to drop daughter #2 at camp.  We were all exhausted, and the kids slept much of the way.  We did stop in Fort Wayne for something to eat, and we finally tried a little cafe where we had always wanted to try their eggs benedict since reading an ad for them years ago.  The eggs benedict was a bust – sauce from a packet, don’t you know, but they did have one of my seasonal favorites that’s very hard to find in the northern part of the country where I live: fried green tomatoes.  And they were yummy!  We dropped Sammie off at camp just a little late, and we were excited for her after seeing what a great place Camp Selah is (Camp Selah is a Christian camp in Reading Michigan, and both of our kids who went had a SUPER time!)

July 7-9 – These next few days were a bit quiet without the whole brood together, and we fit in another family min-vacation: since Sammie had to be picked up in the morning in Michigan, we took the other 3 kids to the drive-in in Coldwater Michigan and spent the night there – lots of fun!  Saturday the 9th we picked up Sammie, and she said she had a good week during her first ever time at camp.

July 11 was the 3rd birthday of a very special little guy, and we took him out to dinner at the local Mexican restaurant where they sang to him, put a sombrero on him, and dabbed his nose with dessert.  I of course forgot my camera 🙁  but he liked it all the same.  It reminded me of last year when the staff at Bob Evans sang to him, and he dove into my shirt to hide – the year of experience helped him to enjoy the attention more this year.  And in the morning of little dude’s birthday, I had to drive Taylor to camp in one of the nastiest storms of the year.  We made it there without a problem, but the ride home was dicey with driving rain and wind.  I was glad I didn’t have any kids with me which would have made me nervous, and as you can tell I made it just fine – even if I did arrive sopping wet and very late to Bible study.  In the newspaper the next day, I saw a picture of a power line that fell into the road which turned out to be the same road I had been driving down during that storm.  Just goes to show you what kinds of things to look out for when driving during inclement weather in the middle of desolate farm country, and I feel blessed to have made it safely.

July 11-14 – So with our eldest away at camp, the week flew by…  even though we missed her (I especially missed having someone old enough to have a normal conversation with me during the day).  We had 3 days of doctor appointments (me and our youngest-for-now had his 3-year-checkup) and meetings, and then… freedom!

July 15 – Hubby and I met my mom in South Bend, and she took “the littles” (our family name for the younger kids in our family; in this case it meant our 3-year-old, 4-year-old, and 7-year-olds) to Grandma’s for a vacation – which left Hubby and I kidless for a whole day!  So Hubby took me to the Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend, and the amount of walking and the weather was perfect for me even while pregnant since it was just the two of us.  What a great idea as I was just starting to get zoo withdrawl!  After the zoo, we decided to take the scenic route home from South Bend and fell upon a perfect date purely by accident:  in Middlebury Indiana, there is an excellent Amish-style restaurant called Das Dutchman Essenhaus.  We were driving by on a day when they had a buffet, so we could sample many varieties of their very delicious food.  Even better, there were some Amish men offering carriage rides in the parking lot, so we took one!  It was so romantic, the grounds of the mini-resort were beautiful, the weather was perfect, and hearing the history of the grounds as told my our Amish guide was wonderful – best date day ever!!

(below is a picture of a horse and buggy like the one we drove in (ours was more of a carriage than a buggy).  I had to take the picture on the way home since I had forgotten my camera and couldn’t take any pictures while on the buggy ride!)

July 16 – This was the day we picked up our oldest from camp, and we got to hear every detail about her awesome week while driving from Michigan to Fort Wayne to see…  the new Harry Potter movie ON IMAX IN 3D!!  Yes, it was as cool as it sounds, and it was fun to take Taylor out for a fun day with only parents and no younger siblings – dinner was at Golden Corral, one of her favorite places since she loves steak.  I’m thankful that the awful nausea I felt earlier in the day did not persist through the movie, and the cause of it that day still perplexes me…  such is a mystery of pregnancy, I guess.

July 17-18 – The 3 of us tackled the huge project of cleaning out our spare room – what a mess!  I wish we had taken some “before” pictures, but the most important thing is that it got done, even if I felt like I was going to fall over in exhaustion by the end of it.  I’m so proud of Hubby for all the hard work he did for this project, and especially that it was his idea to tackle it earlier than we had scheduled – we began Saturday night after Fort Wayne rather than Sunday after church as we had planned.  But it looks GREAT, and as I’m writing this at the end of July, our family has gotten so much use out of it already.  We made it into a craft / hobby / school room, and it has a computer, Taylor’s new sewing machine (a present from Grandma), all kinds of paper, crayons, glue, etc, and all the many, many arts and crafts kits and supplies we had been saving (and losing) for the past 5 years.

(July manifest to be continued – need to give your eyes a break!  But first, here is a pic of a creative, cute fire hydrant in downtown South Bend Indiana I snapped while sitting at a stoplight – look for it near the silver van’s rear bumper)


Florida 2011 – Trip Diary – Part 3

Posted in Travel on April 25th, 2011 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday January 18 – We began the day  at Sizzler’s breakfast buffet, again.  If you are noticing a pattern, you won’t be surprised to see this in the diary for pretty much every day of the week.  The prices there were great ($3.99 per adult and kids were free!), the food wasn’t bad, and it left our group full enough to sustain us until mid-afternoon, which saved us a lot of money.  Today was Epcot day, and it was a great day – the sun finally came out, and the temp was in the low 70s.  We rode the usual favorites, and we got to take our daughter Disney on my favorite Epcot ride Soarin’ for the first time because she was finally tall enough – and she liked it!  Epcot has a World Showcase which is an area set up like different countries, so we took the ferry to Germany and walked to Japan for their delicious snow cones.  We walked around the lake through Morocco and Italy, and stopped in Norway and Mexico for their boat rides which are very cool.  Someday I would like to visit the countries in Epcot, sampling the ethnic foods as I go – but that’s more of a retirement plan since the kids would never go for that now!  Oh, and we ran into Stitch in America!

After the day at Epcot, we sent the little ones home with Grandma, and Hubby, Jamy and I attempted to find a good place to eat dinner, but to our surprise, there weren’t many good dinner choices left at 10pm, even in Orlando.  We ended up at Perkins – famished – and they were out of most everything I asked for.  I stomached the sandwich I got, which wasn’t very good, and Hubby was not too happy with his salad.  We did end up with a box of Eclairs to go, and those were pretty good  – well, what little of them we had anyway once the kids got a hold of them.  Our friend Derek arrived that night while we were sleeping, so our next day would see one more joining our group…

Wednesday January 19 – Breakfast at Sizzler (did you think I was exaggerating about eating there every day?), then on to the Magic Kingdom where we spent a fun-filled day.  We learned that there is an expansion planned and under construction to double the size of Fantasyland, so we are looking forward to seeing that on a future visit.  Splashwater Falls was undergoing maintenance (usually does in January when we go, but this is a small price to pay for ideal weather and low crowds  – BEST time to visit Orlando!!), but we enjoyed the classics like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (and little Disney liked this one, even though it is a roller coaster!), Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Hubby’s and my personal favorite that many others find to be lame,  The Carousel of Progress.  We skipped out on Space Mountain this time, mainly because the kids wouldn’t have liked it, and we don’t find that its long wait it worth it for a herky-jerky outdated roller coaster.  If you are into indoor roller coasters in the dark, I’ve always liked the Aerosmith one at Disney’s MGM, er, Hollywood Studios, although  we never find that park worth the time for a visit since there isn’t much there.  And King’s Island in Mason Ohio outside of Cincinnati has a SUPER dark coaster called Flight of Fear.  But back in Orlando, the People Mover ride in the Magic Kingdom, an elevated train-type ride that goes all around Tomorrowland, treated us to a one-of-a-kind glimpse inside Space Mountain – with the lights on!!  The People Mover travels into the Space Mountain building, but usually you can only see the glowing streaks of the ride trains as they zip past.  Because of a ride malfunction, the lights in the building were on, so we got an insider’s view of all the tracks and trains which was pretty cool!!  After the Magic Kingdom, Derek, Chris and I took the two oldest kids to Fun Spot to try the extreme go-karts, but it didn’t go over so well.  The oldest hated them, and she made me go putt-putt-putt all the way up the spiral and around the track – that was not fun; I’m more pedal-to-the-metal!  But we all took a spin on the bumper cars, and that was some great old-fashioned family fun that everyone was able to enjoy.

Thursday January 20 – Breakfast at Sizzler (every day – told ya!), then on to our second day at Universal, this time with Derek, although we lost one because by now, Jamy’s back pain was so bad that he had to stay in the rental house and relax all day.   Thankfully it did not rain this time, and we had a wonderful day.  It was a bit chilly, but we couldn’t resist the urge to ride Bluto’s Barges 3 (or was it 4?  I can’t remember) times in a row –  we were drenched!  Smarter ones in our group (Derek and Grandma) opted to stay out and stay dry, but those of us who got off soaked (and shivered) had a blast.  It’s a large round boat that’s propelled down a raging river of rapids; every time it dips, the riders on that side get drenched by a wave that cascades over the wall of the boat.  Then there are waterfalls and waterspouts – it’s so much fun to bond with the strangers in your boat as you take turns laughing over who gets soaked and who dodges the torrents of water – whether everyone speaks English or not, there is bonding in the boat!  Next it was on to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and I think I talked about this earlier in this diary – it’s amazing; that’s all I need to repeat.  We went on the Forbidden  Journey ride again, this time with Derek, and he really liked it.  Unfortunately, they decided that Sammie had shrunk an inch or two since Monday, and she no longer met the height requirement, so she had to wait in the child swap room – which is actually quite entertaining because they  have the old Harry Potter movies playing, and I had forgotten how young Harry Potter (actor Daniel Radcliffe) was when the movies began.
After Universal, we went to the McDonald’s largest Playplace where the kids had a blast.  Grandma stayed with them while Hubby, Derek and I went to the Titanic attraction I’ve always wanted to see.  Unfortunately, our adventure was a bit marred when Hubby was pulled over and ticketed for U-turn in a No U-turn intersection.  In our opinion, it should have been a warning  – clearly we were tourists, it was an honest mistake, he didn’t do  it when there was oncoming traffic present so no one was in direct danger, and of the 3 people in the car, not one of us saw the (supposed) no U-turn sign.  Personally, I think  Orlando should treat their tourists a little more like the guests that they are, especially considering how much money  the average tourist brings into their local economy.  Also, they seemed to milk us for every penny – the ticket itself was very expensive, and because we were from out of town, we couldn’t even show up to traffic court and contest the ticket, not to mention that when we returned home, we were bombarded with offers of traffic school via mail, which showed that they were looking for even more money by selling our info to these traffic schools so they could bombard us with ads.  A frustrating episode in our otherwise super vacation, but that’s enough – traffic ticket tangent over!
So back to the Titanic exhibit…  I’ve always wanted to see it, but it’s quite pricey, and we were always nervous about spending so much on trying something new that we didn’t even know would be worth the cost or not.  So enter Groupon – before we left, there was a Groupon for Titanic, and we got it.  It kind of obligated us to fitting this in since we already had tickets, but with the money we saved on Groupon, it was worth it.  And, we even made it on time, getting pulled over and all!  Upon entry, each visitor gets a little card with the name and info of a Titanic passenger, and one of the rooms at the end of the tour has a wall with all the names of the passengers on it.  The lights go down, and the names of the passengers who survived stay bold while the names of those who perished are hollow, so you can see if “your” passenger made it.  Mine survived, which I had guessed correctly because she had been a first class passenger.  Our tour guide (portraying the famous Titanic personality “Unsinkable” Molly Brown) was very knowledgeable about all things Titanic, but our friend Derek’s passenger card stumped her – the name on his card was half-solid, half-hollowed, so we don’t know if he made it through the ill-fated voyage or not.  But overall, it was a lot of fun, and a well spent hour or two.  I’ve always been  a Titanic buff (excluding the movie which I feel really commercialized, cheapened, and capitalized on the tragedy and the great loss of life involved – enough about that), so this museum was right up my alley.  There were re-creations to see and explore (a first class cabin, the deck, which they had even chilled to provide an example of the actual temperature that night, and the grand staircase, see picture below), as well as actual artifacts recovered from the bottom of the ocean, like dishes.  There was room after room of signs to read and pictures to look at, and as much as I don’t like the movie, they even had a few costumes and props from it which were interesting to see.  Among my favorite parts of the exhibit:  the hall of newspapers, which had newspaper editions reporting the disaster in 1912 from all over the country, complete with early 20th century advertisements and other news articles.
I also found this quite remarkable:  it was an ordinary cooler, and the exploration staff autographed it and put it down at the bottom of the ocean where the Titanic now lies.  I forgot how long it was there, but it’s not nearly as long as the remains of the ship have been there, and this is what the ocean pressure did to it:

Interesting as it may be, it is a sad representation of what will happen to the remains of the luxury liner itself.  Scientists estimate that it won’t last more than 50 additional years if people don’t find a way to salvage it and bring it up for study.

Hubby and I in front of the actual sized re-creation of the Titanic's Grand Staircase

After Titanic, we stopped at Dippin’ Dots, but it was our only taste of the delicious ice creamish treat for this trip, and I was SO disappointed to find out they discontinued my favorite flavor of Dippin’ Dots:  Root Beer Float.  🙁

Looking Forward To The Next One

Posted in Travel on March 26th, 2011 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Well, here we are only 2 months out from our last trip to Disney World, and I’m already wanting to go back.  That’s nothing new, it’s an awesome place, but I’m also reading about many changes taking place.  Ok, so I’m not exactly planning the next trip (step one would be how to fit our family of soon-to-be 7 into the minivan along with a week’s worth of luggage for a 20 hour drive), but articles like the following tempt me.  Especially  interesting: Disney’s $1 billion Next Generation project, which includes interactive line queues – they’re adding things like an interactive mystery experience to the line of the Haunted Mansion attraction.  And apparently they’ve already added interactive video games to Soarin’ and Space Mountain, none of which I had noticed on our last visit!  Maybe because we did the Fast Pass?  That reminds me, Disney is going to try a new concept as part of the Next Gen project: guests will be able to book their ride times for various attractions from their hotels or from home ahead of time, drastically reducing or even eliminating the need to wait in line (and to see all these brand spanking new queue attractions?).  Also something I missed this last time around: the new playground and interactive video games in the line for the Winnie the Pooh ride.  Now where would they have room for that, I wonder?  But no wonder that we didn’t notice these enhancements; that ride normally has an over 40 minute wait even in the down season, so we don’t usually indulge in it.

Lots of interesting changes and enhancements on the horizon, check them out for yourself.

Florida 2011 – Trip Diary – Part 2

Posted in Travel on March 3rd, 2011 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday January 16 – We drove over to Congo River mini golf to try to feed the gators they have there, which never works out because it’s usually too cold in January for the cold-blooded gators to care much about eating, and this time was no exception.  But we spent a long time just watching the gators and their habitat-mate turtles climbing around and over each other, getting in and out of the water – kind of like a free little zoo exhibit.  My kids are too little to enjoy or let us enjoy playing mini-golf, so we went to Sizzler for an all-you-can eat lunch buffet.  We spent the afternoon relaxing at the house so Hubby could watch the Chicago Bears game and the kids could swim, and we even took a dip ourselves at half-time.  For dinner, we went to Medieval Times, which is a dinner show – it is SO fun!!!  Everyone is seated around an arena, and the audience eats a Medieval-style feast while watching a show complete with horse, knights, and jousting.  You are assigned a seat in a certain color section (we were green – note the crown in the picture below), and you cheer on your color knight in the jousting and games  – it’s a blast!!

After watching the knights duke it out, Grandma took the kids back to the house and we took Jamy on the extreme go-karts at Fun Spot.  The track called The Vortex is wicked; you wind up and around 3 or 4 times until you reach the top, and it’s strange to be up so high in a go-kart.  But you don’t really have time to think about that, because there is a steep drop down, followed by a couple of hairpin /  bowl-like turns that you have to  navigate as driver of the kart!  Super fun, though not for everyone.  We thought this is what caused Jamy’s back injury that ended up plaguing his trip, but turns out it was something else.  And we took our daughters on these go-karts later in the week – with helmets of course –  and our oldest hated them and wouldn’t let me use the accelerator; it was SO frustrating!!  Our daredevil 6-year-old Sammie loved it though, and I found her to be a passenger more willing to go my speed – pedal to the metal!!

Monday January 17 – We ate breakfast at Sizzler at their breakfast buffet, and then headed out to Universal Studios as planned despite the dire forecast of rain all day, and the weathermen were not mistaken.  It was like a monsoon when we arrived, and scarcely let up all day.  Many of the rides at Universal are indoor, but Hubby and I did take a bit of a gamble (and lost) when we got in line for the new Rip Ride Rockit coaster.  They had to shut the ride down when they saw lightning, and wouldn’t you know it, we were first in line!  After investing that much time waiting, we really didn’t want to get out of line, but the kids were waiting with Grandma and Jamy, so we called them to see if they were ok and able to stay dry.  We waited probably about 20 minutes, and it was fun to try to read the different hand signals and procedures the staff was doing to see if we would get to ride soon or not.  Finally, they opened the coaster, and we were first –  test rats.  This coaster looks more intimidating than it is, mostly because the first lift is straight up, face pointed at the sky, your back is parallel to the ground.  Other than that, it’s a pretty lame coaster; the best thing about it is that you get to choose a song to listen to while you’re on it, and your song choice plays in the speakers behind your head.  I chose “Devil Went Down to Georgia” which made a very good coaster theme song, but the coaster was so tame that I was able to do some air-fiddling along to the song.  I heard Hubby beside me rocking out to Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, and that seemed like fun too, but I wasn’t about to wait in line again for this ride.  The other thing that stank about the Rip Rockit is the rain – riding a coaster in the rain is not a lot of fun.  The rain pelts your face; it hurts and you can’t see anything, so it takes a lot of the fun out of it.  And oh yeah, this is how soggy we looked when we were done riding:

Most of us made the best of the rain; after all, where we were from in Ohio the weather was sub-zero, so rainy 50’s still felt good to us.  Our oldest was not a happy camper, however, and she soon grew tired of walking around in the rain, even though Grandma splurged and bought the kids ponchos – I didn’t think to bring any, but maybe I will next time.  It never does the all-day-rain thing in Florida!  It usually rains or storms for less than an hour and then the sun comes back out so we were unprepared for the all day down-pour.  But seriously, how could Universal be anything but fun?  Even though the rain slowed us down a bit, we were still able to catch our first glimpse of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – it was very cool!!

Hogwarts castle was amazing, and I guess I must have misplaced the picture I made Hubby take of me in Hogsmeade, which was beautiful at night.  We got some Butterbeer, and it was yummier than the version we attempted at one of our game nights here in Ohio.  The Wizarding World has 3 rides, and we only had time to get on The Forbidden Journey on this day – that’s the one inside the castle.  While you wait in line, there is plenty to see – it looks like you are on the movie set except better because it doesn’t look like a set – it looks real!  The portraits move and talk, and there are 3D projections of Harry, Ron, and Hermione that look like real people.  As you wind around the corridors of the castle, you get to explore many scenes straight from the books and movies: Dumbledore’s office, Gryffindor common room – even the Sorting Hat makes an appearance!  And the ride itself is amazing!!  If you are a Harry Potter fan, this area is a must-see!!  Though we did have a slight oopsie – while trying to rush over to the Harry Potter World before the park closed, we skipped lunch, so now we were cold, wet, and hungry.  It would have been ok, except that once we snaked throughout the corridors of the Hogwarts castle, we learned that the Forbidden Journey ride was down.  After waiting in the dark hallway listening to the Sorting Hat give his spiel over and over and on empty stomachs, we had had it – especially grumpy oldest who, if you remember, was not happy with  the day at Universal in the rain to begin with.  Our torturous wait in the hallway of Hogwarts became so irritating that I wished my husband had bought the flaming wallet we had seen at the magic show – so we could throw it at the Sorting Hat, flames and all!  😉

We did finally get on the ride, and it was awesome, but my oldest neglected to try it –  she doesn’t like anything faster or more thrilling than the Scrambler.  As I said, the ride was amazing, so now we were all famished after a day at Universal.  But being budget-conscious we wanted to leave the parks before finding dinner, though I must confess: I was so hungry that the idea of the ‘whopper bar’ on Universal’s City Walk that had turned my stomach that very morning was actually sounding quite good after a day walking around in the rain!  We ended up at Denny’s, which is a place I hadn’t been to in probably over a decade, and while the food wasn’t great, it sufficed.

(to be continued in part 3)

 

Florida 2011 – Trip Diary – Part 1

Posted in Travel on March 1st, 2011 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday January 14 – We left our hometown about 4:40pm after loading the car, getting kids’ school stuff stashed for the week off, the gas tank filled up, and some snacks from the drive-thru for the kids.  I noted the dashboard temp at 20°F.  Around 8pm, we found a Goldstar Chili to stop at in Westchester, a suburb of Cincinnati – we love to stop for Cincy chili and coneys!  We took about an hour there, giving the little ones some time to run off some steam since there weren’t many people there that time of night.  Luckily we asked first and that’s how we learned that the McDonald’s Playland across the street had been removed – otherwise we would have taken 4 kids into the Playplace-shaped McDonald’s and had much disappointment to contend with.  Dinner went well, despite the waitress’ well-meaning attempt to reward our cute kids with balloons – helium balloons.  Really, lady?  4 helium balloons to add to the 6 people and the 6 people’s week’s worth of luggage in the mini-van about to trek 1000 miles?  So we managed to sneak out of the restaurant with only 2 balloons, and one popped right after we got on the expressway – thankfully it wasn’t too distracting to driver Hubby or we would have all been in trouble.  That last balloon made it all the way down to Florida with us, and it bopped around our rental house for the rest of the week until I “forgot” to pack it for the trip home.  After the Goldstar stop, the kids bedded down for the night, and they were all out by 10:30 – not bad, not bad at all!!  I had such a great time talking with Hubby and keeping him company as we drove down the country together that I didn’t want to go to bed, but I made myself try for some shut-eye around 2:30am.  I do really like the schedule we’ve made for these long drives to Florida, but there is just one downside – the most beautiful part of our trip, the winding drives through the breathtaking Tennessee mountains, is always done during the night when we cannot see anything outside but the lights of the towns in the valleys far below.  Hubby (and me) arrive in Florida tired, but the kids are well rested, and this is a way to break up the monotony of a 20+ hour car ride for those kids.

Saturday January 15 – We all woke up around 6:30am when we stopped for gas; I can’t remember where we were.  But the kids were in good moods, and the sunrise was beautiful.  Since the south was just coming out of a cold snap at this time, the air had an odd smell to it – a hard-to-describe tropical-climate-frozen-over kind of smell.  The kids awoke in wonderful moods, and we ate up all the miles we could until we began to get hungry for breakfast.  We decided to stop first for breakfast and then head to the beach since we had made the extra 90 minute jaunt over to the coast to visit while we were in the area.  We chose St. Augustine Florida since it’s coastal, and I had been there as a kid and kind of wanted to see it again.  But when we got off the expressway, there was no place for a family breakfast.  The Shoney’s that was on the roadside attraction sign had turned into a Chinese buffet, and even if we decided to stomach Chinese food for breakfast, they were not open at 8 in the morning.  So we headed east to the coast, and we found St. Augustine to be somewhat of a ghost town.  There were shuttered buildings and for lease signs everywhere; it was sad.  There seemed to be 2 sections to the city, however, and while the one section was full of shuttered attractions, empty storefronts and loiterers, the ‘original’ part of St. Augustine was bustling and beautiful.  Hoards of people were walking around the streets near the quaint shops, and we found our first glimpse of the ocean beyond the Castillo de San Marcos.  We weren’t able to stay long since everyone was starving and St. Augustine does not seem to have any family-type restaurants (mostly seafood and steak here), but we did get to glimpse some of the oldest city in the United States and marvel at the narrow streets as we tried to find our way out.  We got back on I-95 and exited miles south; near Palm Bay, I think – everyone was SO hungry at this point I wasn’t paying much attention to where we were, just that there was food nearby.  The Golden Corral here was excellent and satisfied our hunger pangs quite well.  And I have to  note how incredibly amazing those hungry, tired kid behaved!!!  All they wanted was to get to the beach, and they were SO hungry, but they were SO patient while we looked for food  – unbelievable!!  Next it was time to find a beach, so we drove east and found a nice place where we had been before.  It’s a minimal $2 toll to get over a bridge and to the coast, but well worth it since there is ample parking and shelters with bathrooms and showerheads to get the sand off.

We had a great time at the beach, even if it was cold (I think in the 50s – I’m writing this so long after it’s hard to remember!) and the locals were walking along the coastline wearing hats and gloves while we were wading.  The kids LOVED the beach, but we got cold and very tired since we were on minimal sleep, so we threw everyone into the car; most of the kids were half-dressed.  At this point, all we wanted to do was get to our rental house in Orlando, and we were so excited when we spotted Orlando’s familiar landmarks along the I-4 corridor.  But we had one stop to make – Downtown Disney to check how many Disney World tickets we had left – you can’t do this over the phone anymore.  Downtown Disney was MOBBED and we were a bit discouraged, but then again, we go through this every time we take a trip to Florida- we think it’s crowded down there, but everything ends up ok.  This year was quite crowded comparatively, so we asked a Disney cast member, and they summed  it up in one word, “Brazilians.”  After she said that, looking around, there were a lot of Brazilians, I guess because in January it’s their summer vacation since they are in the southern hemisphere.  But anyway, my husband was walking around Downtown Disney, trying to find our ticket info, and things had been so crazy when we dropped him off, that he got out of the car without his shoes (remember he was on 0 hours of sleep!).  So he’s walking around Downtown Disney, confused, shoeless, and smelling like the ocean – people are staring, some are laughing.  Then he realizes – his toenails are painted!!  He had promised our 6 year old a week before that if she was good about getting up and going to school in the morning for a whole week, she could paint Daddy’s toenails.  We and some random strangers had a good laugh about that.

We left Downtown Disney, and we were SO anxious to get to the house we made a beeline straight for it except for one problem  – we were an hour early for check-in.  So we headed back to the tourist area (Irlo Bronson Highway), and we looked for some timeshare presentations to sign up for.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that we  like to do timeshare presentations, but we’ve gotten great at saying no, and Hubby and I used to make little games we’d play (insert funny random word in the conversation, things like that) that would make the 2-3 hours fly by.  Plus they would feed you and pay you for your time, so we recovered some of our vacation expenses that way.  Little did we know that the Orlando vacation scene is changing – timeshare presentations are no longer a dime a dozen;  in fact, we never found one that paid enough to be worth our time.

So we’re trying to kill an hour before we could get to the house, and we make a stop at the gift shop when we realize that most of the kids are not even dressed.  So I open the back of the van, and everything that we had just haphazardly thrown in the back when we left the beach tumbles out – including our bag of collected seashells.  So I’m picking up the seashells from the parking lot, one by one, and since I was half asleep, I didn’t really notice what I was doing until I heard, “Uh, Mom…”  I look in my hand, and I had picked up a couple of someone’s old discarded cigarette butts!!  Having had barely any sleep, I lost it then, and I laughed with the kids until I cried.

We pulled ourselves together and made it back to the house, which was finally ready – YAY!!!  Hubby took the kids in the pool while I unloaded and unpacked – I was happy to do this chore without little ones underfoot, and their behavior on the long drive was so incredibly stellar that they deserved a swim.  In a couple of hours, some of our fellow vacationers arrived (my mom and our friend Jamiahsh), and we headed out for some stuffed Chicago style pizza at Giordano’s.  We have had the question, why go all the way to Florida to get Chicago-style pizza, but it was YUMMY and we had gotten a Groupon for it which saved us money.

After that, Hubby and I went out together while the kids stayed with Grandma and Jamy, but we didn’t do much  – we were still looking (in vain) for timeshare presentations to attend.  We went to  Old Town, which is an area in Orlando set up like an old-fashioned midway.  There are blocks of little shops – and bars, which were overflowing this Saturday night with intoxicated people- and carnival and thrill rides at either end of the strip of shops.  We normally have fun at Old Town, but I don’t think we will be going back on a Saturday night- definitely wasn’t for kids.

(continued in part 2, a more abbreviated version!)

A Different Sort Of Homecoming

Posted in Pets on February 4th, 2011 and tagged , , , ,

Before I publish my vacation diary, I would like to say a few words about some unexpected feelings I encountered upon returning home.  Ending a vacation is always a chore, and for an in-the-process-of-being-reformed-worrywart like me, it’s easy to get caught up in dreading the negatives that accompany getting back to normal life; ie, returning to a cold climate, laundry, unpacking, etc.  Thanks to my growing relationship with God, I’ve been learning to embrace positives more easily, and I could not be more grateful for the opportunity for such a wonderful vacation and for the fact that we made it there and back safely.

But when we did return home, the welcome committee seemed a bit small.  The greetings of family members left behind (read: pets) seemed to be missing something, and the house seemed more empty than I had remembered it.  Then it hit me:  this was the first homecoming we’ve had since our family dog passed away last year.

I had noticed it on vacation, and in Florida it was actually an unexpectedly freeing feeling to not worry about a loved one left behind.  Don’t get me wrong; I love the pets we still have, but no one will ever take Charity’s place.  I used to feel such a hole in my heart when we went on vacation and left her behind that it gave me an extra motivation to hurry home.  But this time, our homecoming celebration was short-lived: we greeted pets and they greeted us, and there was no one around to hold a grudge like Charity used to do when we left her behind.  No one was miffed about getting left behind, in fact, I wonder if the dogs even really noticed…

It’s been over a year since the last time I saw her, and I still miss her a lot.

Florida 2011

Posted in Travel on January 25th, 2011 and tagged , , , ,

Well, I’ve been back in town from a glorious family vacation to Florida for a few days now, and realistically, I guess I could say that I’m getting back on  track.  But catching up is going so slowly, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and like I’ll never be done.  But you know what?  With 4 small children in the house, I NEVER feel caught up on the to-dos, even when I don’t leave town, so what does it matter if I took a week and a half off?  It was great!  Eventually I’ll get around to posting an in-depth trip diary – these have come in such handy when I go back to find the name of a restaurant we visited or certain info about the trip; it’s fun for reminiscence purposes too.  For now, I will just post a small run-down of the 20-hour drive from Florida to Ohio which illustrates the dramatic temperature decrease we endured between the south and the north.  There will be more to come later, I promise, so please don’t forget about me and my little blog.

Sat Jan 22:
Orlando FL = 58 degrees at noon
GA / FL state line = 48 degrees at 5:20pm
Atlanta GA = 34 degrees at 10:15pm

Sun Jan 23:
Chattanooga, TN = 24 degrees at 12:30am
TN/KY border = 18 degrees at 2:45am
Van Wert/Paulding County borders, nw Ohio = NEGATIVE 8 degrees at 7:45am

BRRRrrrrrr!!!!!

FIVE MORE DAYS!!

Posted in Travel on January 9th, 2011 and tagged , ,

Only FIVE more days until we leave for a family vacation to warm sunny Florida!!  Making this one even better than most are extended family and friends that are able to meet us down there.  The kids (and us!!) could not be more excited!!!

I just have to figure out how to get 6 people and all the stuff that goes along with 2 adults and 4 kids into a mini-van and keep us sane for a  20+ hour car trip and one again on the way back…  Every time we take a big vacation I worry about it, every time it goes better than I could have imagined.  Not going to make that mistake this time; I am just SO appreciative and happy to be going!  Thank you God for blessing my family with such a fun opportunity for some togetherness!!!

Much work ahead of me this week, but the most fun kind of work: preparing-for-a-vacation work!!!

CAN’T WAIT!!!

Part 2 Of The Whew That Was The First Part Of July

Posted in Everyday Life on July 13th, 2010 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

So we pull into our driveway after our 4 hour drive back from Nashville Indiana (not going to waste time with a recap, these posts are long enough!  See my previous post if you want to know what I’m talking about), and my husband’s aunt’s truck is parked in front of our house.  We had agreed (or so I thought) to meet them  at their hotel (which was a safe distance of 10-15 miles away) for some dinner and swimming –  after just getting back from being out of town for a few days, which was preceded by constant activities for my family for the 4th of July, I wanted some time to make the house presentable.  Much to my dismay, that did not happen.  We pulled up to our house and see that their truck is there – I could not believe it.  Luckily, they were no where in sight, turns out they had gone shopping downtown.  So hubby and I bribed the kids to all go play together upstairs, we unpack the car as fast as we can, and we quickly run around the house doing some very fast spot-cleaning.  It worked out, but I get really stressed about stuff like that – it would have been better if they had just adhered to the original plan.

So they come over (they called first, so they get bonus points for that), and my mother-in-law mentions giving my aunt-in-law a tour of my house multple times.  Under normal circumstances, I would be more than happy to do so – personally, I love to see the different layouts of people’s houses, and I’m always excited to take a tour if one is offered.  But when I haven’t had the time to clean my house in a few weeks, I’m a bit apprehensive about giving my aunt-in-law (who has never seen the house) a tour…  but I think it’s about time I get over some of my hang-ups, so I oblige and give the tour through the dirty house –  and we all survived and came out alive.

After that, we went out to dinner and swimming at their hotel, and that was a lot of fun until we made the mistake of letting our little 2-year-old boy out of his floatie.  He began to run around and do other brave things, like get onto the pool ladder and act like he was going to jump in, all of which terrified me and compounded my exhaustion from the week before – so I had had enough; it was time to go.  The next day, we  left it up to our guests where to eat lunch, and they chose our local circa 1950’s diner, which has a cute atmosphere but I warned them that the food is not so great.  I hadn’t eaten there in probably about a year though, and my philly cheese steak sandwich wasn’t too bad, although it left me hungry.  After the diner, we decided to play tourist in our hometown some more and went on the “Lolly Trolley” at the Dum Dum factory – you know Dum Dums, and don’t try to tell me you didn’t save up your wrappers when you were little to send them in for various bits of Dum Dum treasure.

The Lolly Trolley was fun, much more fun than I had expected given the factory’s disclaimers of how we weren’t going to be able to see the kitchen where the candy is actually made.  We also spotted our good friends’ son on the job as he is an employee of the factory, so that was fun.  After our tour, we went swimming again in the hotel pool, and someone had a marvelous last minute idea for dinner – let’s go to Walmart, pick up some ingredients, and have my husband’s mother cook us dinner!  She is a brilliant cook, I might add.  So she made us come kind of delicious baked chicken breasts on a bed of croutons with swiss cheese on top, and the house smelled almost as good as dinner tasted…  until my son was left unattended for literally only 2 minutes, when he used that opportunity to produce one of the dirtiest diapers he’s ever had.  I will spare details, but let’s just say that the mess did not stay in his diaper (not an accident,  either), and the upstairs carpet was one of the victims of this disaster.  Luckily, Hubby is great at fast clean-ups, so he helped me quickly clean up the mess and our son before any additional guests arrived for our game night.

Game night with my mother-in-law was extra fun, even if she did sabotage herself in a game of Mafia by talking out loud and accidentally revealing her position – it just added to the fun for the rest of us.  We also played other game night favorites, and people stayed too late as usual – not that I ever mind because it was fun, as tired as I was on Saturday.

Saturday we took the family to the produce tent and the local pizza buffet for lunch, and then we just sat around the living room and chatted for the afternoon while my son napped, learning more about my husband’s cousins’ hobbies (his 16-year-old cousin is really into air-softing, something I hadn’t heard of, but I was glad to hear him provide a little more info – getting pictures in my email of this boy I’ve basically watched grow up wearing camouflage and brandishing a gun was a bit alarming, so I appreciated hearing the details about his sport).  They left for home a little after 4, leaving us just enough time to get to  a dear friend’s retirement party.  We were a tad late, but we overcompensated by staying way past the time the party was supposed to end and had a lot of fun meeting her family and celebrating her accomplishment.

Sunday was my little guy’s actual 2nd birthday, so we took him to the Mexican restaurant where the staff sang to the birthday boy, who was frightened by all the attention being paid to him and jumped out of his highchair, burying his face into Dad’s shoulder.  We returned home for a day of some much needed r and r, and here it is Tuesday, and I’m STILL recovering!  But in this family, busyness is the norm and while summer provides us a break from school, youth group, and other obligations, we always find plenty more to do – besides, would we be able to survive boredom?  I think not!!