The Best Place on Earth

October 29, 2013 at 6:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Ah, Disney. Ah, Florida. Ah…wait, it’s 91 degrees? The whole week we’re there? Whatever…it’s still the best place on earth.

IMG_2320James and I spent a blessedly kid-free week at Disney, getting some extra mileage out of those season passes, staying at the very posh Dolphin resort, and eating our way around the world at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. And Liam spent a mostly wonderful week with my parents in Kansas City. (Aside from catching a monster cold and infecting the whole tribe, he had a great time.) We drove up from Wichita Tuesday night amid unseasonably cold rain.

IMG_2332I’m not gonna lie. When our plane landed Wednesday night in Orlando, my body did a double take when we stepped outside of the airport. Was it always so humid here? It’s funny how you acclimatize to your surroundings – I remember my mother asking me the same thing when she and my dad came to Florida last February. After a couple of 90-degree days, though, it didn’t feel so abysmally hot and sticky. It also helped that when I checked my weather app while standing in the hot sun, it said freezing drizzle for Wichita. I’ll take hot and sticky any day.

How did we ever survive before apps? On our way to our hotel I consulted my Disney World app and discovered that Epcot was having “Magic Hours” until 11 that night. Normally the park would close at 9, which was just about when we’d be arriving at the hotel. We were going to get a jump start on the food and wine fun! It was all we could talk about in the cab. We hurriedly ditched our stuff in our room on the 18th Floor (resort view, way up in the top of the triangle. Quite nice.) and practically ran to the Epcot gate. But, boo, all the booths for the festival were closed, so we had to console ourselves with Grand Marnier slushies from a regular kiosk in France. We briefly considered riding Soarin’ with its 30 minute wait time, but I was totally beat from flying. Besides, we had plenty of time to ride the big rides. Famous last words…

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Thursday we spent the whole day at Epcot sampling wares from around the lagoon. Our goal: to acquire a stamp from every pavilion in our passport. And at the rate we were going, it wouldn’t take long to fulfill. We had a few duds: the Mango-Habanero Margarita from Mexico was an unsurprisingly odd combination (top photo), and the Singapore Sling left us reeling. Perhaps we should have known when we overheard one of the booth employees describing it as, “Very fruity…and very Ginny.” Gin breath on every sip, yikes! But we did have a few hits. I was partial to Brazil’s frozen Caipirinha, which was a bit like a frozen margarita, but much better than Mexico’s offering. James loved Japan’s Green Tea Colada (middle photo), and I couldn’t help laughing when they put an IMG_2334umbrella in it. James likes such girly drinks! On a lark I tried the Frozen Dragonberry Colada from the Refreshment Port, and it was hands down my favorite drink of the festival. And, of course, we had to sample our perennial favorites, Apple Ice Wine from Canada and Honey Mead from Ireland. Food-wise we think this year was even better than last year. On my list of new favorites were the Grass-Fed Beef Sliders with Monterey Jack and Hot Sweet Pickles from the Florida booth (I ate one almost every night!), the Kimchi Dog with Spicy Mustard from South Korea, the Griddled Greek Cheese with Pistachio and Honey from Greece, and the Escargot at France. James was all about dessert, going bananas for Australia’s Pavlova, a Meringue with berries and vanilla custard. He had, like, five of them. The lines for Test Track and Soarin’ stayed super long all day and night, so we took a ride through Space Ship Earth. And stupid me thought I’d give Mission Space another go. Even the super easy green level made me queasy. And, of course, we couldn’t leave without posing in silly hats!

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Friday we beat the heat with my friend Calli at Sea World. James and I hadn’t seen the new Antarctica exhibit. It was fun, and freezing! But the penguins were super cute, as always. Calli rode my favorite coaster, Manta, with me while James bided his time with the dolphins. We saw our favorites, the sea turtles and manatees, and enjoyed another blessedly cool exhibit in the Arctic. I tried to talk James into going on the big water ride, but of course he wasn’t havin’ it. I think our very wet ride on the Dudley Doo Right at Universal Studio ruined all water rides for him.

Saturday, with aching feet, we trod to Animal Kingdom in the morning so we could ride the Expedition Everest. James had never been on it, and I was thrilled he actually agreed to ride a coaster with me. Then it was off to Magic Kingdom to ride Space Mountain and Jungle Cruise. And by evening, when it was dark and spooky, we hopped on the Haunted Mansion ride. I’m sure we did more, in fact, I think we even managed to squeeze in a siesta at our hotel room, which we’d been doing every day to avoid the height of the afternoon heat. And we stayed at Magic Kingdom until 11, almost drunkenly staggering back to our room, despite having not had a drink (the only day we didn’t!)

Sunday, suffering from theme-park fatigue, I was grateful that my friend Mandy had agreed to meet me at the pool in the late morning. She brought her daughter Nicole with her, and we had a blast getting bossed around by a pint-size three-year-old. James came down at lunch and ate at the pool-side restaurant with us. Very relaxing. Rejuvenated, after sundown we headed over to Epcot to chip away at the passport. Wait times at Test Track and Soarin’ were still stupidly high, so we got drunk instead. Whee!

IMG_2351Up early on Monday, we took the boat over to Hollywood Studios and raced over to the Toy Story Mania ride for the fast pass. Thirty minutes after opening, they were nearly out. We managed to snag one for 5-6 PM. Sheesh! We killed time doing some of our favorites: The Great Movie Ride, the Backlot Tour, and Star Tours. We stumbled across a history of Disney exhibit that we’d never seen before, and what a hidden gem! All about Walt Disney’s life, his career, and the building of the theme parks. And even though we’d promised ourselves we wouldn’t come home with a bunch of souvenirs, James bought two T-shirts and I left with this awesome (and kinda creepy) Yoda back pack. Initially we bought it for Liam, but it’s way too big. Oh well.

Tuesday morning I got up super early, taking advantage of Epcot’s early morning “Magic Hours”, and raced to the Soarin’ fast pass line. I thought I was being such a good little wifey, getting him a pass while James slept in. But, foiled! I could get a fast pass for me, but not for James, since he hadn’t entered the park with me. Disney and their rules! The wait time for the ride was only 10 minutes, so I went ahead and rode it. And I had just enough time to come back for our much-needed couple’s massages at 10. They were spa-licious! (Though, perhaps not quite as good as we’d expected considering the price. Boo.) And since it was our last day, and since we’d already finished our passport, we stood in a 40 minute line for Test Track and a 70 minute line for Soarin’. Not ideal, but worth it. Oh, and I convinced James to see Captain EO with me. It’s so delightfully cheesy. James thought it was lame. But what does he know? George Lucas, droids, aliens, space travel, AND Michael Jackson in the 80s?! What’s not to love?

And then our vacation came to an end. Despite our excitement about leaving Liam with my parents, we talked about him incessantly every day. Liam seemed to have a nice time there, not once asking when we were coming home until Tuesday. Poor kid came down with a horrible cold/flu on Sunday, and it made the rounds at mom and Jill’s house. But he did manage a trip to Union Station and a Trunk or Treat at Evie’s school, and he got a ton of cousin time. So I don’t feel too guilty leaving him behind. Besides, we fully intend to bring him back when he’s older. And with any luck I’ll be able to coax him on the rides that James is too chicken to ride. Here’s hoping.     

Last week in Florida

May 3, 2013 at 10:07 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Lest you think we’ve been idle since Jill left, here’s what we’ve been doing all week before the big cross-country drive. Saturday night Brooke came for one last babysitting gig and James and I headed to Magic Kingdom for our reservation at the new Be Our Guest restaurant. We had to make them three months in advance. The setting was spectacular, just like the ballroom in Beauty and the Beast. We ate in a little room off to the side, the West Wing, complete with destroyed portrait and the rose in its glass case. It even shed petals! Beast would walk through the room every hour or so, and he even leaned down and waved to me. After dinner I begged James to stay for the fireworks, which were pretty underwhelming, and then we got stuck in the crowd all trying to get out. Oh well.

Monday I crossed off the last of the big rides on my list when I met Calli at Animal Kingdom for a morning at Disney sans kids. I kick myself for not doing these with her all year! This is only the second time we’ve met up after we dropped our kids off at school, and it was so much fun! We got soaked on Kali River Rapids, got terribly dizzy on the Primeval Whirl (and there were so few people in line, we got to go twice!), then redeemed our fast pass for the Expedition Everest. What a fun ride! At the recommendation of another patron, we waited to ride in the first car. At one point you hit the end of the track on a precipice, then start going backwards. Very thrilling in the front car! Much of the ride was in the dark, which is what I love about Space Mountain. The yeti made an appearance, though not as scary as I’d hoped. But still a very fun ride, and one I hope to coax James on when we’re back in October. Calli and I ended our day with cocktails and lunch at Yak and Yeti. I’m so going to miss these mom-only play dates!

Feeling a little guilty about how much fun I had with Liam while he was in school, I took him over to Nicole’s house to play after I picked him up. Her grandparents were there, and after many tries, we got a great photo of all of us. Mandy thoughtfully bought us a frame, and I’ve already got the print displayed with our other photos. This will have to go on the mantel in our new place in Kansas. We’re going to miss Nicole and Mandy, too! I invited them over on Sunday to raid the fridge, so we’ll have one last play date before we go.

I couldn’t leave Orlando without one more stop at my favorite burger joint, Pine 22. So after getting the oil changed and giving the car a much needed wash and detail, we headed downtown for my favorite burger and Liam’s favorite fries. I built my own burger with smoked gouda, applewood bacon, seared onions, shredded lettuce, roasted garlic aioli, and mayo on a toasted bun. Wow, that description makes me wish I was going there again today! After lunch Liam and I went to Lake Eola to feed to swans, ducks, turtles, geese, and other water foal. The playground was almost empty for some reason, so we stayed there until late in the afternoon. Liam was so funny, playing quietly on his own. This little boy approached him and asked if he’d play with him. Liam just matter-of-factly said “No” and went about his business.

Wednesday after school we met James at his office for the last time, then headed to another of my favorite Orlando eateries, High Tide Harry’s, for dinner. They have scrumptious hush puppies with cinnamon butter, and fried okra as a side dish. We have leftovers in the fridge…I think I know what I’m having for lunch today!

Thursday was the last possibly day we could go to Disney, so despite the 90% rain forecast, I took Liam to Epcot. There was one last playground we hadn’t played on, and there was one last food offering at the Germany pavilion I hadn’t gotten to try when James and I went last Saturday. The rain cleared up a bit once we got there, so I picked up the meatloaf sandwich and a beer, and Liam and I found a table by the lagoon under an umbrella. I know, meatloaf sandwich doesn’t sound that great, but with the mustard sauce and fried onions, it was to die for. Brisket, collard greens and jalapeno cornbread at The Smokehouse was even better. And I couldn’t leave without sampling our favorite drink from the France pavilion, a Vie Va Rose Slushy. By mid-afternoon I was feeling pretty good. Liam played in his favorite hedge maze in the England section. But, sadly, all the playgrounds were closed because of the rain. So instead we tried an indoor game Calli had told me about that her kids had loved. It had to do with saving money, and you got to carry a piggy bank to various stations to play the game. Liam loved it so much he wanted to play it twice. Big hit! Afterward I took Liam on the monorail one last time. We intended to pop over to Magic Kingdom to run around on Tom Sawyer’s Island, but by then the rain storm really picked up, so we headed back to Epcot to meet James for more dining at the Pavilions. Another meatloaf sandwich hit the spot.

Now it’s time to get down to business. Clean the house. Organize things for the movers. Make a pile for Goodwill. Somehow I’m going to squeeze in a hair appointment, a night out at the Wine Room and Bosphorous Restaurant in Winter Park with Mandy and Calli, and brunch at Stoneybrook Country Club with Maggie on Sunday. And because I’m completely insane, I’m taking Liam to the pirate museum in St. Augustine on our way out of town on Monday. James is staying in Orlando to oversee all the packing and loading. I just have to squeeze every ounce of fun out of Florida before we move to Kansas.

They Came, They Saw, They Coughed

March 5, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Mom and Dad set off on their first big post-retirement trip this month, heading down to Florida to stay with us a week. Along the way they stopped in Memphis, tried to stop in Gatlinburg (apparently it’s a huge Valentine’s weekend hot spot, and traffic was so bad they had to bypass it), saw the Biltmore in Ashville, NC, took a slight detour up to Cincinnati to settle grandma’s estate, stopped off in Atlanta for a night, then finally made it down to Orlando. Along the way they saw some of the coldest temperatures they’d seen all winter, accompanied by some snow. But down here in sunny Florida, they were greeted with highs in the 70s and 80s.

Unfortunately, Liam brought home The Plague right before they arrived. Thursday I took Liam to the doctor and the prognosis wasn’t good: strep and pink eye. James and I weren’t feeling so hot, either. So all of my plans for early in their trip went out the window. Instead we took a leisurely stroll through Ft. Christmas, let Liam run around on the playground, and explored some of the old homesteads.

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DSCN0055On Saturday we had planned an entire day at Epcot, and Liam was going to stay home with the sitter. We had made reservations at Le Cellier three months in advance. But James was starting to come down with the crud, and I was starting to feel better, so James stayed home with Liam while I took my parents around Epcot for the day. We rode some of the tamer rides, then I got up the nerve to attempt the milder version of Mission Space. Dad loved it! And so did I! After that it was easy to convince them to try Test Track, a ride that’s been closed for the past year and one I’d been wanting to ride since I moved here. Just enough thrill for my retired parents! Dad almost lost his hat, lol.

Then we met James and Liam for dinner at Le Cellier, which didn’t disappoint. Though I wish James and I had been feeling better. It’s no fun eating with a cold. After dinner, mom, dad and I redeemed our Fast Passes at Soarin’, which they absolutely loved! I giggled as I could hear mom next to me gasping as we soared down over the ocean. It really does feel like you’re going to get your feet wet. Then we rode Spaceship Earth with Liam and James right before they left the park. And got some pretty sunset photos of the big ball.

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Only then did poor mom and dad realize we’d only seen about half of Epcot. We spent the rest of the night walking around the World Showcase. All the countries look so beautiful at night, so I think mom enjoyed it despite her aching feet. We found a nice place to rest and enjoy the fireworks display at the end of the night. Very spectacular, and right up dad’s alley.

By Monday my cold took a turn for the worst, so mom and dad took Liam to the Science Center while I went to the doctor. Liam and mom lasted about 10 minutes in the Star Wars exhibit, so they left dad to read every sign and watch every video like I had done a few weeks before without Liam. Liam knew all his favorite spots – the orange grove, the tornado and earthquake room. Dad volunteered for the wind machine and apparently put on quite a show for some other patrons. Much to my surprise, they even got Liam to sit through the 3D movie about tornadoes. Perhaps I have a future weather nut on my hands. Fitting that we’re moving back to Tornado Alley, then.

By Wednesday I felt well enough for a little adventure, so we took Liam to this mini-golf place by my house I’d been wanting to try. They boasted live gators. Teeny tiny live gators, but I won’t quibble. I wasn’t sure how Liam would do, but he absolutely loved it. The smallest club was just his size, and he would position the ball about 2 inches from the hole and hit it in. The course had a lot of interesting twists and turns, and Liam had a great time dropping his ball in the first hole to see where it came out on the next green. We’ll definitely be going back soon.

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After a quick lunch at home, we ventured out to Clearwater Beach for dinner and sunset watching. It was a cold day, only about 65, and windy, so not terribly pleasant near the shore. But we got some great views from the restaurant.

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DSCN0112Thursday, left with a stomach-wrenching cough but determined to enjoy the day at Kennedy we had planned for months, I drove with dad over to the space center first thing. Mom took Liam to preschool that day, and he seemed to be on the mend. Dad and I had a fabulous time walking through the rocket garden, taking a simulated ride of the space shuttle (very cool!), and checking out all of the artifacts from the early days of space flight. We had lunch with an astronaut, in which Jon McBride regaled us with all the tales of space flight. He took questions at the end, and of course all the kids wanted to know how they used the bathroom. He showed us a slide and said, no joke, they have to practice this just like everything else. Complete with camera in a place no one wants to see a camera. In the middle of the presentation mom called. Apparently Liam laid his head down and fell asleep at lunch, and they sent him home for the day. Poor kiddo!

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DSCN0135I was feeling pretty lousy myself, but the cough drops kept the worst of it at bay through our two-hour tour of the launch pad. We saw the enormous Vehicle Assembly Building and launch pad 39A, where they launched most of the Apollo and Space Shuttle missions. We caught it right between space programs, so we got a rare glimpse of the facility. Soon Space X will be launching commercial flights there, and it’ll be closed to the public again. Our tour guide was fantastic, and we got lots of geeky photos. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the Apollo/Mercury museum, totally in awe of the size of the Saturn V rocket. We also saw some of the original Mission Control equipment, and relived the harrowing experience of the first moon landing in a stage and video show. Regretfully we couldn’t squeeze in the two IMAX shows about Hubble and the Space Station. But it still felt like a very full day, and we two space geeks left very satisfied. Dad was my very own tour guide through the rocket garden and museum. It was amusing to him, I’m sure, that I always pictured him as a little kid watching the moon landing. He was actually an adult, away at the Technical Institute in Kansas City, watching it on his TV in his own apartment.

Friday morning we got up bright and early to see the Falcon 9 rocket launch at 10. Liam seemed better and mom was coming down with the crud, despite copious doses of Zicam both mom and dad were taking, so we took Liam along with us. As usual he was both cute and a pain in the ass, complaining that he didn’t want to go to the beach and get dirty, but sitting quietly in his chair once we got him out of the car. The launch was a little underwhelming, but still cool to see. I think the photos do it a little more justice than the video.

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Liam just couldn’t stop talking about the rocket, so afterward we headed to the Astronaut Hall of Fame, promising him we’d get him a rocket in the gift shop. But, after playing on some of the exhibits, we discovered the gift shop had been shut down. So of course he cried. The ticket agent told us we could park for $10 and go to the gift shop at the main center. Ummm, I don’t think so. But Liam got over it, as all four year olds do.

Saturday we took them to our favorite restaurant in Winter Park, Bosphorous. It was a cold, blustery day (for Florida, anyway), and they seated us by the door, so the lunch wasn’t as pleasant as I’d hoped. Plus I think we were all feeling the crud by then. But we took home lots of yummy leftovers that I’m still enjoying this week.

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Sunday Mom and Dad posed for one last photo with Liam. In all the down time, Liam took walks around the neighborhood with his scooter, showing grandma and grandpa the play ground, and he spent many an hour playing trains with grandpa in the play room. We had planned to travel up to St. Augustine together to see the fort and the pirate museum, but with all of us feeling so sick and the weather staying stubbornly cold and windy, we decided to stay home. Mom and dad spent a blustery day in St. Augustine, skipping the fort in favor of the Lightner Museum and a drive around town to see the oldest house and the oldest neighborhood in America. St. Augustine is celebrating its 500th anniversary this year, and it being the beginning of spring break, the streets were notably crowded. Probably best that Liam and I skipped it. Today they should be sight-seeing in Baton Rouge, then on to the Clinton Presidential Library tomorrow in Little Rock, AR. And then home. A long trip, with an unfortunately cold thrown in, but  a good one, I hope.

James is negotiating his starting date for the Wichita job in the next week or two, and if things go accordingly, we’ll be seeing mom and dad again very soon. It was so great to see Liam really bonding with his grandparents, more now than I think he’s ever done before. Usually we have to share them with Evie and Milo, or Liam spends most of the time clinging to me. But this time he firmly told James and I to “go away” so he could play with them. I’m looking forward to him really getting to know his grandparents for the next couple of years at least.

Play Date at Disney World

February 2, 2013 at 10:52 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Friday morning Liam and I set out for Magic Kingdom to meet my friend Calli and her two-year-old son Witt for a morning with The Mouse. Usually Liam and I go solo on these excursions, so I was happy to have company along with us. We met at the entrance to the monorail, and we discovered the boys had matching agendas. First, ride the monorail, then ride the steam engine inside the park. Done, and done. All the while Witt was exclaiming, “Train! Train!” Liam was a little more reserved, but no less thrilled to be on the locomotive.

We hopped off at Frontierland with every intention of taking the ferry raft to Tom Sawyer’s island. But hunger for lunch prevailed, so we set off for Gaston’s Tavern in the new Beauty and the Beast section of the park. We settled for a light meal of hummus and veggies, which was only so-so, but the LeFou’s Brew in my Gaston souvenir mug put a smile on my face. It’s essentially frozen apple juice with a marshmellowy foam, much like Universal’s Butter Beer. Definitely worth a try if you haven’t been over to the new Fantasyland yet.

The line at Gaston’s was stupidly slow, so by the time we finished with lunch, we didn’t have much time for rides before Calli had to go pick up her other kids at school. We passed on Dumbo (40 minutes) and the race cars (also 40 minutes), and headed for the People Mover, which always has a short line. Liam knows why…because it’s laaaaame. He said as much in a whiny, four-year-old tantrum, so we decided to bid adieu to our friends and head back to the race cars. I was sad to see Calli go…Disney is so much more fun with another mom along. I think next time we’ll try bringing lunch so we don’t waste so much time in line getting food. And once I switch Liam to Monday-Wed-Fri preschool, Calli and I may try meeting up at Seaworld and Disney sans kids. She’s an avid roller coaster fan, too. I can’t wait!

Last time I took Liam to the race track he cried when he couldn’t steer very well, so this time he insisted I do all the driving. He even waited patiently in the 40-minute line. Amazing how much difference 4 months can make in a child’s temperament! He loved the racing this time around. Although he was quick to point out as we passed The Barnstormer that he WOULD NOT like to go on the roller coaster again. Not until he’s five, he says. (An aside: Searching back through my blog, I can’t believe I never wrote about how I traumatized my three-year-old. Back in the fall I took Liam on the The Barnstormer, a new kiddie coaster, and he absolutely hated it. He started crying before we even crested the hill because he bumped his head on the seat. You can imagine the absolute terror that ensued for the rest of the short ride. At the end of the ride I pulled my pathetically whimpering son out of the seat, feeling like a very Bad Mother. James even warned me the first time we saw that coaster and I saw Liam was tall enough to ride it. He didn’t think Liam would like it. As we left, I said, “I guess daddy was right, you didn’t like that roller coaster.” Sheesh, famous last words. Month later he’s still remind me, “Daddy was right, Mommy. I didn’t like that ride.” Funny enough, now he loves talking about it. How the roller coaster goes, “Up up up, then straight back down. Then sideways, then up, then down.” All with little hand motions.)

Since it was just Liam and me for the rest of the afternoon, I let him decide where we went next. To my surprise, he wanted to ride the carousel. He even let me ride behind him on the horse instead of standing next to him, which helped my motion sickness considerably. Next up, he asked for the Tea Cups. On the way we passed the Winnie-the-Pooh ride, which we’ve never tried. After playing in Pooh’s little house for a bit, I tried to convince him to try the ride. But Tea Cups won out. Maybe next time.

Heading back to Tom Sawyer’s Island, which was part of the original plan, Liam said he wanted to go home. But I promised him he was going to like Tom Sawyer’s Island. I’ve never been, but James said it was full of trails, caves, and forts. Right up Liam’s alley. And was he ever right! Liam delighted in picking which way to go, traversing the trails, going over bridges, exploring the windmill, climbing all over the fort, shooting rifles in the towers, and even braving the dark through the old mine. I had a hard time convincing him to get back on the raft to go home! He especially loved this little playground.

I loved the island, too, because it was away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the park. It really felt like we were on the Mississippi river, exploring the setting of Tom Sawyer’s story in Missouri. Everything else at Disney seems so contrived to me, so fake. And I guess this was, too. But for just a little bit, I was fooled. It still amazes me that we’ve been going to Disney for over a year and I’m still discovering parts of the parks I’ve never seen before. I think we could live here for years and still find more to explore, both inside and outside of Disney. But years are not in the cards. Even months are iffy. So I’m going to do my best to see as much as I can this spring. It’ll help that we’ve got so many visitors coming: my parents at the end of February, Brady and Devin in March, and Jill in April. I still have roller coasters to cross off my list (hopefully with Calli’s help!), and groupons I bought to non-Disney attractions I need to use. And the weather is so nice here, I’m sure I’ll get it done. Just like I did in DC before we left. And in New York. Sometimes I feel like a professional tourist!

Grandpa’s January Visit

January 24, 2013 at 12:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Grandpa Bob couldn’t wait to leave the bitter cold of Illinois and visit us down here in sunny Florida. And Liam couldn’t wait to see him, either. He had lots of new toys to show him (most of which grandpa had bought him, lol), including his new guitar and scooter. He also took the Big Wheel for a spin, though still not using the pedals. Oh well.

IMG_1475On Saturday we decided to try a new Cajun place we’d heard about, Tibby’s New Orleans Kitchen. Holy cow, was it good! We’re always disappointed in the gumbo at Cajun restaurants, but theirs was almost as good as the stuff we make at home. James’ crawfish etoufee was decent, but I decided to order their specialty, Andouille sausage and shrimp on cheddar grits with a red wine sauce. Which was absolutely fantastic! We’re definitely adding this to our list of favorite Orlando restaurants.

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On Sunday we headed to Animal Kingdom to see the lions, tigers, and slushies. Pictured above, Liam and grandpa are waiting outside James’ favorite food stand to get a yummy slushy. Just across the way was the Yak & Yeti, and now that I’ve tried it two times, I can safely say it meets my approval for good Disney dining. We took grandpa on the Safari, took the train to the petting zoo, and finally caught the Finding Nemo musical. That last was a bust – crappy seats, and Liam kept wanting to leave – but the rest was lots of fun.

Tuesday we dropped Liam off at school and spent the afternoon outlet mall shopping. I took a slight solo detour to the nearby JCPenney’s in Kissemee and finally found some jeans that fit. That seems to be the only place I can find jeans short enough for me. For lunch we tried a new Indian place we’d heard good things about, Saffron. Instead of a buffet, they offered a lunch plate that included Naan, appetizer, soup, and dessert. It came out on a perfect little rectangular plate with dividers. The food was great, and I think we’ll be coming back here to try dinner sometime. Another to add to the list!

Wednesday we decided to give Disney another shot, this time at Hollywood Studios. I shouldn’t be surprised, but after a year of season passes, we’re still finding parts of the park we’ve never seen. This time it was the Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground, which Liam absolutely loved! They had all these tunnels and slides and caves, and it made you feel like a tiny insect crawling along all the tall blades of grass and candy wrappers. Very cute.

We had lunch at the Sci Fi Drive In, where we sat in a car in front of a big screen and watched clips of old black and white sci fi flicks and cartoons. There was some sort of problem with the kitchen, so our food took a really long time. But Liam didn’t mind sucking down most of James’ milkshake and bouncing on the car seats. Best of all, to make up for the inconvenience, our server brought us a fast pass that we could use on any ride at any time. So we got to bypass the 90-minute wait for the Toy Story Midway Mania ride, which I’ve been wanting to try since we moved here. It was really fun, though I don’t think Liam cared for it much. But at least it was something he could ride.

Of course, we can’t leave Hollywood Studios without seeing the Cars show. Liam couldn’t get enough of Lightening McQueen, of course. He insisted that I shoot some video this time so he can watch it later. You can hear Liam saying, “That thing’s on FIRE!” In fact, I think he mentions fire in every single video I shot, lol. Here’s a good shot of the finale. Enjoy!

Fantasy Land Sneak Peek

November 8, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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IMG_1297Tuesday night, amid all the election hubbub, I drove out to Magic Kingdom for a late night sneak peek of the new section of Fantasy Land, set to open to the public December 6. I was a little dismayed to see they were letting everyone in at the gate, and my passholder wristband simply entitled me to jump the long lines. But the crowds inside weren’t too much trouble, so it was still fun.

I couldn’t resist a cheesy photo with Arial. Liam never wants to get his pictures with the princesses, so I’d never actually spoke with one. She was adorable, asking me about my “satchel” and how many thingabobs I could fit in it. Then she complimented me on my “goggles” before we posed for our photo op. She really stayed in character, that one! I noticed she had this little nude top attached to her shells so she was more covered than she looks in this photo. This little girl in front of me in line was dressed up like Arial, sparkles in her hair, clutching an Arial doll. I bet she was ecstatic to meet her. They brought us in one by one, so I never got to see.

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Due to some problems with their dress rehearsal, the Little Mermaid show was closed. So I missed all the singing and dancing fish and mermaids. Oh well. Erik’s castle was quite spectacular to look at, all lit up at night.

Off to meet Belle next! Instead of the standard meet and greet, they set up a little show where audience members were cast in parts to reenact how Belle and the Beast fell in love. The kids were so cute, especially the little girl Liam’s age they chose to play the Beast. They donned a little red cape on her and instructed her to roar. So freaking adorable. A very life-like Lumere narrated the show, and the whole set up was pretty impressive.

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IMG_1310My photos of the Beast’s castle don’t do it justice. Lots of waterfalls and gargoyles greet you at the entrance. Inside, a line of suits of armor carry on a conversation, and we got to take a peek into the dining room of the new restaurant. It features a huge window at one end that showed cascading snow showers. Apparently it will change with the season. The set up for food service was interesting, too – it looked like you ordered your food on a touch screen, then you sat down with a number and they’d bring you the food. Hopefully James and I will get a chance to try it. The food didn’t look that amazing, but I’d still try it for the view.

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Around the corner was a silly statue of Gaston, and he had his own tavern. I wasn’t particularly hungry, but I spied some delicious looking sweet cakes, and they had several beers on tap.

Still under construction was a section devoted to meeting all of the fairy tale princesses, and a new Snow White ride. I’m bummed I wasn’t able to score tickets during the day, though the new castles did look pretty awesome at night. I’m hoping Liam and James will get a chance to see this in the coming months. We’ll see!

Election Day…at preschool

November 6, 2012 at 11:08 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Today when I dropped Liam off at preschool, I saw they had a voting booth set up inside a play house. The kids were voting between the dolphins and the lions, and they’d get an “I voted” sticker when they came out. So cute! Liam, of course, didn’t want to participate while I was there. But perhaps Miss Denise can talk him into it. He still whined that he didn’t want to let me go, but when I handed him over to his teacher, he was all grins. We’re gettin’ there.

I had a little chat with the school’s director last week, and she told me Liam is well above average in math and verbal skills. She asked if we’d consider switching him to three days a week. We’re having a parent-teacher conference in a couple of months, so I think I’ll wait until then to decide. Another option is to put him in all five days for fewer hours per day. But I’m bummed that might ruin some of our outing days to Disney or the beach. Next fall he’ll be starting VPK, which will be half days every day. I’d kind of like to hold on to the time I’ve got with him while I can. Can you believe this kid is gonna be four in a couple months? I can’t.

Saturday James and I made our third trip (my fourth trip!) to Epcot Food and Wine, and after careful planning, we got stamps from every pavilion in our passport! Sweet! Our Disney passes expire tomorrow, and tonight I’m headed to Magic Kingdom for a special sneak preview of the new Fantasy Land addition, which features Beauty and the Beast and the Little Mermaid. I think James is going to sit this one out…apparently work was atrocious yesterday, and he’s suffering from theme park overload. Unless he miraculously hears that he got the Denver job, I think I’ll be going on my own.

Still no word on Denver. And it’s not looking good – it seems like they should have notified the selected candidate by now, but you never know! Until he gets the official rejection notice, we’re still holding out hope. In the meantime, he’s made the list for a job at the regional office in Orlando, and he’s pretty confident he’ll get an interview. Crossing my fingers that one comes through if Denver doesn’t. 

Weekend Visitors

October 9, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Oh, how we love having visitors! This weekend it was my college friend Tori and her boyfriend Josh. Our fun began on Friday with Legoland, about an hour and a half drive from here. Liam kept us all entertained in the car: “Does Josh want an M&M? (No) Does mommy want an M&M? (No) Do I want an M&M? (Daddy: No) Yes I do!!”

Then it was on to Lego madness! James stayed with Liam while the rest of us rode the big coasters. My favorite was the wooden Dinosaur coaster, though none of them were that thrilling. Liam went on a little train ride with James, and we all went on a little boat ride to cool off. It’s still so hot here, even in October!

After lunch we took a stroll through the botanical garden, which was part of the original Cypress Gardens park from 75 years ago. A most impressive old banyan tree stood in the center of the gardens. My favorite part of the park was Miniland USA, an entire village of famous landmarks constructed entirely of legos. You can see I mostly took pictures of those.

The day proved hot and long, so we decided to continue on to Clearwater for a couple hours at the beach. We hit the beach at the perfect time to get a good parking spot and see the sunset. It was cloudy, so not as impressive as Siesta Key. But the sand and surf are always nice on the gulf side, and we had a nice time in the water. For dinner we took our friends to what has become our favorite dinner spot in Clearwater, Columbia Restaurant, for some delish Cuban fare. A mid-evening downpour left us thankful our seating outside was furthest from the water.

Saturday we got a sitter so all of the grownups could enjoy a day at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. We rode all of the big rides. My favorite hands down was The Hulk, which surprised us all with a short trip up a hill and then a sudden launch from inside the tunnel. Whee, indeed. By the time we’d made it around to the Harry Potter side, the Forbidden Journey broomstick ride with its circling seats and video screens left me a bit woozy. But it was still fun. Then we decided to hit the Dragon Challenge before lunch. I wish I hadn’t. But everyone else enjoyed it. Perhaps I’ll try that one first next time.

Butterbeers at the Three Broomsticks were delish, as were the Cornish Pasties. Tori and Josh both bought wands from Ollivanders. Tori picked out Ginny Weasley’s beautiful wand, and of course Josh had to get Dumbledore’s Elderwand.

As the afternoon wore on, we decided it was time to get wet. So on to the thrilling Jurassic Park ride, and the only ride I got to try last time. And while we were at it, we gave the Dudley Do Right log ride a try. Um, not so great. Don’t get me wrong, it was actually quite fun. But it was also quite wet, and with the sun going down, we were getting kind of cold. Who’s idea was this, anyways?! Oh, right. Mine. Josh escaped most of the wetness by sitting in the back…until the very end when a malicious bystander paid a dollar to hose us down as we passed under the pedestrian bridge. I was in the front…and the last to dry off. More on that later.

We headed to dinner at the Hard Rock Café, and after enjoying my burger but not enjoying my moist predicament, I broke down and bought a sweatshirt. A white one. More on that later, too.

Then we sent James home to relieve the babysitter while Tori, Josh and I headed to Halloween Horror Nights. We paid extra to attend this event, and it was a total bust. We stood in line for hours and only saw two haunted houses. The line for the Walking Dead house was almost two hours, and as we stood there playing word games (Six Degrees of celebrity separation kept us busy), I realized my butt was finally dry. Huzzah! But both houses took less than 5 minutes to walk through…hardly worth the time in line. There were other events there, too – a Penn and Teller show and a Bill & Ted show, but after standing in all those lines, we were ready to go home by midnight. The only redeeming quality from this evening were the random walking zombies and vampires that were scaring the crowds as they walked through the park. Because of my nifty new white sweatshirt, I got the brunt of it. Hilarious!

We finished our whirlwind weekend at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival on Sunday. James stayed home with Liam while the rest of us partook. And partake we did! My favorites were the shrimp tacos at the Mexico booth and the Mongolian beef at the Chinese booth, which was also “taco-esque.” Japan gave us the most bang for our buck. While Canada stiffed us with a thimbleful of ice wine for $5, we received a healthy pour of Sake and a huge spicy Tuna roll from the Japan booth. We stayed for the fireworks, which were spectacular! James and I plan to come back at least a couple more times while the festival is running, and I can’t wait. So much good food, and only so much room in my tummy!    

Magic Kingdom Friday

August 24, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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James had the day off, so we decided to spend the day at Magic Kingdom. It was hot, but reasonably less crowded than the last time we were there during spring break. I’m sure it helped that school has already started for most people, including here in Orange County. We started in Adventureland with the Swiss Family Robinson’s Treehouse, which had been under construction the last couple of times we were there. Liam insisted on being carried the whole time, but he did enjoy steering the captain’s wheel.

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I enjoyed the view. And the breeze in the shade. Next stop, the Jungle Cruise, where we saw animatronic hippos, lions, rhinos, monkeys, and (gasp!) headhunters! I was afraid the whole thing would be pretty cheeseball…and it was. But to hear Liam gasp, “Look, it’s a lion!”, and then have the tour guide whisper confidently, “Awww, look, the lions are watching over that zebra while it takes a nap,” made the ride a lot more fun.

After refreshing ourselves with drinks and churros in Frontierland, we made our way to Fantasyland to check out the Teacups. Liam kept motioning his hands, “Those cups go round and round and round!”

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This kid is just like his daddy. He loves those spinny rides! And he’s actually smiling in this picture. Amazing!

We noticed that they’d finally reopened the Flying Dumbos ride, and upon closer inspection, there were now two of them running together. They’d also redesigned the waiting in line experience: instead of standing in a hot line for half an hour, we came inside a big play space where the kids could run around. They gave each party a pager, and when it was your turn to stand in line again, it lit up. Very cool! Liam didn’t want to play that much, but it was still nice to just sit and relax on the bleachers (meant to look like a circus tent). They had all of these nets and tunnels up in the ceiling, and I wondered how some parents of older children would convince them to come back down when their pagers went off. I guess no system is perfect. Needless to say, Liam dug the Flying Dumbos.

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By this point Liam was saying, “Let’s go home,” after every place we stopped. We had one last ride before we left, one that James remembered fondly from his youth: The Peter Pan ride. Liam was a little afraid of the dark, and he’s not very familiar with Peter Pan. But James and I enjoyed flying over old London and Neverland. And I think by the end, Liam enjoyed it, too. Or maybe he was happy to be getting off. After a snooze in the car, Liam woke up refreshed, wanting to watch Dumbo because, “I rode on him at Disney World!” Fair enough.

Now that fall is almost here, we’re going to take a lot more of these outings to Disney. Our passes expire in November, and there’s no sense renewing them unless we know we’re staying. And it’s looking more and more likely we’re leaving. Wah, we’re leaving the greatest place on Earth! Or so the brochure says. Want to stay!

Disney Date Night…with Liam

June 3, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Three months ago I reserved us a table at Le Cellier Steakhouse in Epcot Center, table for three, just in case. I arranged with our babysitter a month in advance, and James and I had planned to spend the whole day at Epcot riding rides, chowing on some awesome steak, and staying for the fireworks show at closing. But, alas, that plan wasn’t in the cards.

First the sitter called in sick. Then, in the intervening three months, work has gotten hellacious for James. So at 5:30, when we all piled in the car to drive to Disney, I had a grumpy husband in the passenger seat and a whining toddler in the back. I didn’t even mind that we hadn’t gotten to spend the whole day at Epcot – it was 93 degrees and sunny, so perhaps that was for the best – but, dammit, I wanted to enjoy my dinner!

As if by magic, once we rolled Liam’s stroller past the big Epcot ball, our moods elevated. Liam cried out, “I see the big ball mommy!” and “Look, it’s the monorail!” It was manageably warm, and the crowds weren’t too bad. We killed a little time taking Liam through the hedge maze in the English pavilion, and the running around did him some good. It did them both some good. Though James perked up the most when his appetizer arrived: Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup made with Moosehead beer and “Nueske’s” Bacon. Whatever that means. It was delicious, especially when dipped with big loaves of pretzel bread. Liam happily munched on the bread offerings, downing two cups of chocolate milk in the process.

My steak arrived, the “Le Cellier” Mushroom Filet Mignon, AAA Canadian Beef Tenderloin with Wild Mushroom Risotto, and it was. To. Die. For. Seriously, the best steak I’ve ever eaten. Even in Kansas City, land of steaks and barbecue. It was better than J. Gilberts. It was better than Pierponts, even, and comparably priced. We ordered a salmon fillet, carrots, and french fries for Liam off the kid’s menu (three guesses which item he actually ate), and even his fries were superb. I might have helped him out a little with those.

Paired with the recommended pinot noir, I contentedly wolfed down my meat while my dainty hubby ate half of his overcooked (IMHO) New York strip. (Overcooked to his liking, mind you. These chefs know how to cook steak!). Stuffed to the gills, I couldn’t leave without trying dessert, so we decided to split the Maple Crème Brulee. James ordered a glass of the Neige Apple – an ice apple wine – and our server graciously poured us each a tiny glass. He even came over with a bottle and told us all about the tour he went on in Quebec. Fascinating that they actually pick the apples when they’re frozen on the tree.

I had dreaded taking Liam along for dinner, but he turned out to be a well-behaved, if not entertaining, dinner guest. He stayed in his seat, asking if we were in “the cave,” which I guess James had told him because Liam probably didn’t know what a cellar was. He talked and talked and talked and talked, making James and I laugh at times with his innocent observations. After finishing his chocolate milk, he said, “Mommy, I really sucked that down!” Something I tell him all the time. When I told him we’d ask our waiter for another one, I could see him looking around, and a few minutes later he loudly shouted, pointing, “Is that our guy?” Sure enough, it was. Half the time I can’t even remember what our server looks like. What a smart boy. Of course we had to sit through the usual banter: Does daddy have a pee pee? Does mommy have a pee pee? Does our waiter have a pee pee? Potty training has made him genitally obsessed. Not once did he cry, whine, or insist we leave. The only time he got out of his seat was the check out what daddy was putting in the “to-go” box. Then he happily returned to his seat and waited for us to pay the bill.

After dinner we walked around the Canada pavilion a bit, admiring the big waterfall. James didn’t want to stay the extra 30 minutes for the fireworks, but I figured we’d have plenty of other opportunities to see them another time. We’re already planning another Epcot date day (or two!) during the Food and Wine Festival. Our waiter said they serve that cheddar cheese soup at their booth, and we’ll be the first in line, for sure.  

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