Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Happiest Place on Earth: Day One

A perfect day at MK

Two weeks before school was out the Professor throws out the idea of a surprise trip to Disney World. Knowing that this would most likely be the only time we would go, I was torn. Do I turn him down and hold out for a longer more planned trip or do I jump on the offer knowing that the Professor's Disney World Willingness Window could slam shut at any moment, never to open again? Well, I decided to embrace spontaneity. And thanks to to my friends who are DW fanatics experts, I was given great advice that made our trip wonderful. For not only was it spontaneous, it was also short. We only spent two full days in Disney Parks. What parks would we chose? Which days would we go to which parks? How would we get to every thing we wanted to see? Could I satisfy my Disney itch with this 2 day scratch? Could I keep this a surprise from the kids for a whole two weeks? Yes, I had two weeks to plan the ultimate two day Disney World vacation on a budget. The pressure was on.

After much gnashing of financial teeth, we decided to stay off Disney Property. Yes, it had been my dream to stay on property to so we would have an a full Disney experience. But the reality was the only option that was really affordable were the value resorts. Their rooms boast two double beds. That would have contributed to our DW nightmares. Settling the kids down and then keeping them up with Mama's snoring was not what we wanted to happen. But I found a great affordable off property hotel. The Holiday Inn Resort Lake Buena Vista. What sold me on it was that they offered kid suites for a remarkably reasonable price. The parents had their own king size bed and in a separate little nook the kids had a bunk bed.
I'd like to say no arguing occurred over where to sleep but I'd be lying. But we all had good nights sleep for a reasonable price. Plus, the hotel had a very nice pool and the kids ate free at the fine dining establishment, Applebee's. It was a ten minute drive to the parks so we took an afternoon swim break both days. I was worried we'd miss out on something but it really renewed our energy for the rest of the visits to the parks. The kids didn't even complain about leaving the parks.
Pool breaks in the afternoon were a must

So we started our adventure by taking the kids out of school one day before school ended for Summer break. I had made Disney World Journals with free pages from The Mouse for Less website and planned to give them to them when we told them. We secretly packed the car and got them up early and told them we were going on a trip. Lots of questions ensued. Expecting this, we had hints prepared until we crossed the Florida state line. Then at the welcome rest stop we stopped to rest and reveal the surprise. I had glorious visions of the kids being gleefully surprised and bluebirds landing on everyone's shoulders to carry us to Disney the rest of the way. Reality had other plans.

It was about an eight hour drive. And the excitement about going to Disney fueled us the rest of the way. When we checked into the hotel we were pleasantly surprised about the accommodations and the amenities. However, we decided to get a taste of Disney World for free and headed over to Downtown Disney. It was a great way to ramp up the excitement for all things Disney. Since it is mostly like an outdoor mall it was all I could do not to shop like crazy. But I knew we'd have lots of opportunities to buy lots of crap souvenirs over the next two days.

We loved the Lego store. Yes, that is all made from Legos. And I'm telling you, this one was one of the simple displays. Fantastic!

I had bought both the kids lanyards before we left hoping they would jump on the pin collecting boat. The Disney Pins are an inexpensive way to have souvenirs of your visit with feeling like you are breaking the bank. When the kids went into the pin shop they were on board!

Speaking of being on board, we hopped aboard one of the ferries that go to the resorts to check out what we were missing. We decided to hop off at the Port Orleans Resort. How is it that Disney can go over the top and yet it doesn't feel like it's over the top?

We headed back to the hotel, had a swim and set the alarm clock. We wanted to get to Epcot before it opened. Having used Ridemax to plan our time in both parks we were set to go. Ridemax was recommended to us by a very highly organized friend and it was worth every penny. Ridemax is a computer software program designed to help you create custom wait-time-reducing itinerary for Walt Disney World. But first we had to pick up the tickets which I had purchased on line. Even that had surprises. Disney buttons for everyone! Anna's birthday was in two weeks so she had a button with her name announcing it was her birthday. Every employees cast member (every one plays a role in the magic at DW) that came into contact with her wished her a "Happy Birthday, Princess Anna". She was in six year old girl heaven. Gavin got a "It's my first trip to Disney" pin to wear. Both kids were welcomed by so many cast members. We loved it. So once we had the tickets we were off to Test Track. Ridemax instructed us exactly when and where to wait to get onto this ride. While waiting we had our first sighting...Minnie!

Anna got a hug and she was hooked. She wanted more. "When can I see her again, Mama?"

Waiting for Epcot to open...Anna got a hug from Minnie.

The cast members started us off in a count down to opening the park. It was quite exciting! And sooner than you could say, "Gentleman, start your engines", we were in our car at Test Track. Which we all loved. Upon leaving the ride we grabbed "fast passes" just in case we had time to do it again. In fact, Ridemax worked so well we did everything we wanted to do and more!

Test Track here we come!

Flickr is storing many photos of us trying to do all kinds of things to the Epcot Ball. Here's my personal favorite. Imagine me saying in my evil villain voice, "I vill crush you!"

I will crush Epcot...crush it.

The kids wanted to meet characters so we started the stroll of the countries where we could take in sights and the kids might have sightings of real cast members. You see we gave them each a generic baseball cap for the characters to sign when they met them. This got Gavin's competition juices stirring. He was bound and determined to fill that hat up with signatures even if it meant meeting princesses. Epcot has a venue where you can meet lots of characters at air conditioning. We thought that was ideal...until we saw the wait.

Character Spot...wait seemed too long...ended up doing it later in the day

Back to strolling the countries. But we also took a break to swim and when we came back after dinner the line for the character spot was manageable. Now we have a whole lot of memories, signatures and fun to remember.

Disney Characters

We had a great time at Epcot. It was a good first day choice.
Family at Epcot

After finding a good spot to watch the fireworks we sat on a bench, had some wicked expensive ice cream and people watched. It was a beautiful evening.

Epcot at night...before the fireworks.

After the fireworks we headed back to the hotel to crash. Anna was so darn tired she announced she didn't want to go to the Magic Kingdom the next day. The Professor reminded her that the Haunted Mansion was there and we had to see that. She perked up and said "Fine but I won't stay for the fireworks!" We didn't argue with her at that point. Little did we know she would stick to her guns.

The Happiest Place on Earth: Day OneSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Where Did Spring Go?

We have been busy here on Maple Street.
Shall I catch you up?
How about a snap shot of the last few months?

First off on this snap shot journey is Gavin's first science fair. He received a 2nd Place Ribbon for his project: "Whose Mouth is cleaner: A Dog's or a Human's? Rest easy humans...we win.
Gavin's 1st Science Fair

Then on March 15th Anna had a fight with the storm door and the storm door won. Twelve stitches and a very embarrassed little girl resulted. We've taken to saying she was riding her unicorn through a glitter storm and that's how she got those wicked cool scars.

Storm Door Stitches

The local Army Reserve Unit does a Fall and Spring Fun Run. Gavin has run them every year since being here. Anna started last Fall and questioned, "Why do they call this a fun run if it isn't any fun?" Well, she decided to run this Spring too and came in first in her class...being the only one in her class.

Gavin came in second this time. But the real story is that he gave his second place medal to a classmate of his who ran but came in last. He thought he deserved something too. This classmate gets teased by some of the kids at school for being overweight but he was out there running; giving it his best. At school on Monday morning, Gavin brought in his medal and gave it to his friend at recess.


Gavin played on a Spring soccer league in Greenville this past spring. It was a step up from YMCA soccer. It is a joy seeing him do something he loves. I wish I could have gotten better pictures but then Mama would need a better camera. Hmmm...I see a valid argument for an upgrade here.

CESA Spring Soccer 2011

I had the delight of being the PTO president for Clinton Elementary this year. During teacher appreciation week, in early May, we did many things for our teachers. One event that was a lot of fun was our "Chalk It Up to Our Teachers". We chalked up the sidewalks around the school with messages of thanks for all they do.

Chalk it up to Our Teachers...

Anna had her Spring recital. Her violin lessons continued and so did her improvement. We hoped to get her in a Suzuki Camp this Summer but it didn't turn out to be possible. We continue to love Miss Nancy.

And, of course, every Spring another group of seniors graduate. It's always fun to attend the end of the graduation ceremony at Presbyterian College. It's not every day you get to hear the bagpipes play.

IMG_2569 - Version 2

And finally, on Mother's Day I flew to Birmingham, Alabama to be a part of a team of co-workers who were deployed to support USPS employees impacted by the tornadoes that tore through that state the at end of April. While we were there for one week we worked with over 1,000 postal workers all over the state. One picture ( this one taken in Tuscaloosa) does not even begin to describe the destruction and devastation these people experienced AND are still experiencing to this day. Assistance and help are still needed.

We seemed to move toward Summer vacation at full speed after a very busy Spring. Summer unofficially begins in South Carolina in May. Flip flops and sunscreen are required. And we welcomed it with a surprise trip to the "happiest place on earth". But that is another story.
Where Did Spring Go?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Summer of Six

Our baby is six.
How can that be?

She insisted on writing her own invitations.
Such a big girl...sniff, sniff.
Anna's 6th bday

Her request for a party was simple. A texas sheet cake with horses all over it.

A pinata.
If you remember her 5th birthday you know how I feel about pinatas.

No living rainbow colored horses were killed at this birthday party
the crime scene...pobre pinata.

Pink and Orange Decorations.

Classic tissue paper pom poms.
Love 'em.

And girlfriends.

We all sang "Happy Birthday" and made it official. She is now six years old...sniff, sniff.
The Summer of SixSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend