Friday, June 24, 2011

{more} swim lessons, sans griping

Feeling a bit sheepish here about my little rant about swim lessons week yesterday. Obviously there are many worse ways to spend a June afternoon. Like cleaning up cow manure without a proper shovel while listening to the book-on-tape version of the Internal Revenue Code and getting pecked by hens. But it's Friday, and the kids have made incredible progress on the swimming front this week, so things are looking up. See, this doesn't look so bad . . .

Waiting for swim lessons to start

Elizabeth has finally gotten over the hump, and after three summers of lessons, she is now a swimmer.

And I'll be darned if little Caroline isn't already swimming herself. It never ceases to amaze me how different kids are, and how they all have their own unique talents and gifts.

The kids get to do a more extensive show for parents today, and I remembered to bring my real camera along in the hopes of capturing some of it. After the lessons, we have a popsicle party, and trust me, nobody will be partying down with those popsicles quite like the moms!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

swim lessons & mom griping

This is the week of summer I've been dreading the most. I am so exhausted by the prospect of getting through each day that I can't even talk it over with David at night -- it's like living it is bad enough, I can't compound that by also talking about it (writing, on the other hand, is cathartic!). And the sad thing is that any words I use to explain why I knew it would be (and it is) just awful won't do its awfulness justice.

The kids all have different things going on in the mornings, and they are taking swim lessons in the afternoons. This is Jacob's and Elizabeth's third year, and Caroline's first. Jacob is already a strong swimmer, but loves this teacher and wanted to take lessons again, so we signed him up for a strokes class. Elizabeth is *thisclose* to making the breakthrough to true swimmer, so she's in an advanced beginner class. Caroline is a beginner, of course.

The teacher has been teaching swimming in her backyard for almost 20 years. When we were looking to sign the kids up for swimming lesson a few years ago, the same name kept coming up again and again from people in my many different worlds. And she lives up to her hype. She's a high school math teacher, so she has the teaching gene -- she's that perfect combination of patient, firm, and nurturing -- and she knows how to teach kids to swim. And the kids adore her.

So the problem is not the swim lessons, insofar as the actual swim lessons are concerned, but the logistics of managing three hours of back-to-back-to-back swim lessons for three kids (two of whom are not actually in a lesson at any given time) at a house without a bathroom (of course she has a bathroom in her house, I assume, but would YOU want 100 wet children trekking through your house every week?). That means a whole lot of driving back and forth to a bathroom at a nearby park; wrestling with wet swimsuits and halfway compliant girls during the numerous potty trips, running back and forth to Publix or the gas station for snacks and/or just to kill time while the older kids are in their lesson; waiting out thunderstorms in the hot pool house; and generally enduring three hours a day managing two bored/whiney kids while the third is in his/her lesson, while sweating and swatting mosquitos. See, I know that words just don't convey the magnitude of its awfulness. It sounds like "Gee Cathy, so you're telling me you are spending a bunch of time this week DRIVING and WAITING?! Better get used to it, sister, as this is pretty much 75% of parenting children of a certain age!" I know, I KNOW. But trust me, I can drive and wait all day long with the best of them with a smile on my face and a positive, can-do attitude, but this is so so so much worse than the average driving and waiting experience. The only people who truly understand are the other swim lesson moms. Thankfully, it's a good bunch this year and they are more than happy to sit and complain with me!

But it's all worth it when I see my baby jumping into the pool and swimming under water!

She is SOOOOOO proud of herself!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bedtime Procrastination

as implemented by cowgirl/ladybug/ballerina Caroline.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Slip Slidin' Away

Saturday, June 18, 2011

disney: final day

The last day of vacation is always kind of depressing, but we had a full schedule planned on our last day, so there wasn't really any time to mope. After Jacob went to an Indy car race here in town a couple of months ago -- and scored the autographs of some of the drivers -- he became quite the autograph hound, sending autograph requests (along with self-addressed stamped envelopes!) to the Indy drivers' racing teams, the Star Wars production company, etc. So when he found out that there was a chance to get (1) autographs of (2) Star Wars characters, during Star Wars weekends, well, it was all just too good to be true.

Unfortunately, to be assured of getting an autograph, you needed a fastpass, and to get a fastpass, you had to start lining up at the crack of dawn. But there was no way we could miss what to Jacob was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So we decided that David and Jacob would walk to Hollywood Studios to line up in the morning, and I'd stay back at the hotel with the girls and start packing and getting ready to check out.

David and Jacob started their walk over to Studios around 6:00 a.m. I was able to get some live reports from the field:

Apparently there were massive crowds of (mostly adult) Star Wars fanatics forming five different lines for each of the five Star Wars actors who were making appearances that day. Boba Fett and a Storm Trooper patrolled the roof:

After some hemming and hawing, Jacob finally decided that he wanted meet Boba Fett and (the voice of) Obi-Wan Kenobi. After a couple of hours of waiting, Jacob and David emerged with two coveted fastpasses which ensured him of his autographs.

His first fastpass time was at 10-something, so it didn't really make sense for them to come back to the hotel. Studios ended up opening the park early (but didn't advertise this to the public) so Jacob and David enjoyed a solid hour of riding the most popular attractions at Studios with no wait time. Jacob took the opportunity to ride his first loop coaster:

Jacob rides a loop coaster at age 8, and here I am 38 and I STILL have yet to ride a loop coaster (but I'm really okay with that).

After three rides on the Rockin' Roller Coaster and another trip to the Tower of Terror, it was time to meet James Arnold Taylor, the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi (and Plo Koon, and an evil spy droid, and Johnny Test, and the new Fred Flinstone -- this guy is a serious voice actor with an impressive resume):

This guy was great. Jacob said that he would start talking to Jacob in a normal voice, then he'd switch to his Obi-Wan voice, then flip through Jacob's Star Wars encyclopedia (he signed Jacob's book at every character he'd played) and would use his voice for those characters; then he'd suddenly break into his Johnny Test voice, and ended with "Yabba Dabba Do!" in his Fred Flinstone voice. David said that the guy seemed really happy to actually be meeting a kid for a change.

The boys made it back to the hotel right at 11, our check out time. We had our bags held for the afternoon while we walked over to Epcot. We had already seen most of what we wanted to see there, so we had no specific agenda other than to get lunch and walk around for a bit. David and Jacob would have to go back to Studios for a 2-something autograph session.

We started out with a great lunch in the Biergarten Restaurant in Germany. I know that David appreciated a nice cold beer after the miles and miles of walking he had already done so far that day in the name of Star Wars.

David and Caroline danced to the oompa music provided by the lederhosen-clad musicians:

After lunch the boys basically had to start the long walk back to Studios. The girls and I visited with some princesses.

Elizabeth hugging Snow White:

Snow White asking about Naked Baby Doll:

Girls & Snow White:

The girls then set out on another Kim Possible mission, this one in Norway. Here they are receiving their mission:

Reading up on the next mission:

The best part had to be when they received instructions to go up to the cast member working Maelstrom and say "Vikings are all the rage!" Elizabeth delivered the line with great feeling. Right on cue, the Norwegian cast member replied with a hearty "Yes they are!" and handed her a card that provided clues for her next mission.

Meanwhile, the boys were over at Studios meeting Jeremy Bulloch, a.k.a. Boba Fett:

We met up again in Epcot, and I think that everyone was fully and totally spent by then. It was time to work our way back and start the trip home. But not before making some phone calls in England:

When we got back into the hotel, the kids and I sat down and watched some old Mickey Mouse cartoons while David worked on getting the car packed. Our plan was to drive a few hours that night and finish the trip home the next day. When the valets brought the car up, we noticed our flatter-than-flat front left tire. And there aren't tons of tire shops open in Orlando after 5:00 on Saturday, go figure. We finally located a Pep Boys that was open, so David took off to deal with that, and I took the kids outside to hang out for a couple of hours. At first, things were tense (there may or may not have been dramatic declarations that "our vacation is RUINED!!!" by one or more of my children), but I pointed out that things could be worse, and they could be sitting in a hot waiting room at Pep Boys flipping through three year old copies of Car & Driver instead of eating burgers at Hurricane Hana's while overlooking the lagoon. Eventually, food and some rest drove out the demons, and the kids ended up having a {bonus!} ball playing on the beach.

You can count on Disney to stock their beaches with a nice supply of baby ducklings:

And bunnies, for that matter:

I couldn't get these kids off the beach to look for David (he had a dead cell phone, so he couldn't call me when he was back). After their sand aversion at the beach last year, this gave us hope for next year's beach vacation.

What started out as a major nuisance turned into the perfect way to end our vacation (at least for the four of us not at Pep Boys):

These posts have been almost as tiring as the trip itself (and almost as much fun). I really wanted to get all of this down before the memories started to fade. I hope that there will be many other fun Disney trips with our family, but I will always remember this one -- our first Disney trip with all three kids -- as the best.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

disney: magic kingdom 2.0

Our main objectives for our second day in the Magic Kingdom were to hit some of the attractions that we missed on our first day, and to make it to the Main Street Electrical Parade (my childhood favorite) at night. In order for that to happen, we knew we'd have to take a break and go back to the hotel for a stretch in the middle of the day.

A lot of what we missed on day 1 was over in the Adventureland/Frontierland side of the park, so we headed that way after breakfast.

We hit one of my all-time favorites:

Cap'n Jacob:

As the old saying goes . . .


This one was a little scary for the girls, so we made up for it by meeting more royalty:

Then Elizabeth wanted to try Splash Mountain again. I had washed my hands of Splash Mountain after The Incident, so I left that entirely up to David. He got in line with Jacob and Elizabeth, and Caroline and I settled into a viewing spot. I got this one of the gang at the beginning of the ride.

You can see that Elizabeth is none too happy. I was really glad that I was where I was and David was where he was!

I then took approximately 150 pictures of boats splashing down the mountain in an effort to capture my gang. I missed exactly ONE BOAT while leaning over to help Caroline with something, and since I did not think that I saw David and the kids plunging in any of the other pictures, I assumed that they must have been on that one boat that I missed. So imagine my delight when I went through the pictures and saw that I did indeed capture them. Ready, squint hard:

Elizabeth is burrowed into David's lap, so you can't really see her. After they were done, she ran up to me bubbling about how AWESOME Splash Mountain was and how much she loved it. One thing is certain: she either loved it or hated it.

But Elizabeth left no ambiguity about the next one -- she hated, and I mean hated, the Haunted Mansion. It is one of my Disney favorites, and I really remember it being more campy than scary. As we worked our way up to the Haunted House, she kept saying she didn't want to do it, but we kept telling her that they weren't scary ghosts, they were Scooby Doo-like ghosts. And that it is my all-time favorite ride! Caroline played the haunted piano:

And we read the tombstones:

Once we were on the ride, and I put myself in the shoes of a 6 year old who didn't want to ride it, I felt really bad. It would definitely scare a 6 year old who was expecting to be scared. As we were walking out, she wiped a tear away and cried "that is the worst all-time favorite ride ever!!" Mother of the Year moment right there. Caroline, oddly, didn't mind this one (of course, put a giant Goofy in a Hawaiian shirt in the haunted dining room and we'd have a different story).

We made it up to Elizabeth by cashing in our fastpasses at the Jungle Cruise, which she picked as the one attraction she really wanted to do today. Nothing like some bathing animatronic elephants to make everything better:

We hit some other parts of the park next.


Okay, we didn't actually go on Dumbo. It is by far the most frustrating ride in WDW. It's kind of a classic, but it's pretty small, so the line is always very long, and it's 100% in the hot sun (we're talking old school Disney attraction here) for a 90 second ride. We enjoyed the Triceratops Spin in Animal Kingdom and Aladdin's Magic Carpet Ride in Adventure land several times -- these are essentially Dumbo. Except they're not Dumbo to a small child. We probably should have gotten on Dumbo straight from our breakfast. But we didn't, so we settled for this picture in front of Dumbo instead. The great news is that Disney is redoing parts of Fantasyland, and by next year, there will be a new and improved Dumbo! The artistic renderings look incredible:

A large bigtop (read: covered, not in the hot sun) with numerous interactive exhibits will funnel into twin Dumbo rides. It should dramatically improve the Dumbo experience. I love the classics as much as the next person, but the existing Dumbo simply can't accomodate the crowds the way that he could in the 70s.

J made a futile attempt to pull the sword from the stone:

More castle shots!

We headed to Tomorrowland for a bit:

And while we were there, we ran into Push, the Talking Trash Can {you can watch Push in action here}. Caroline felt like the thing to do upon happening on a talking Trash Can was to stick her head inside - that's my girl.

We decided to leave the park for a few hours to rest and go swimming, and then come back later for the Electrical Parade. David and Jacob had gone to get fastpasses for later, and we planned to meet at the main entrance, but we got caught in afternoon parade (something about Wishes or Dreaming, I think) on the way out.

We could see David and Jacob stuck on the other side of the sidewalk:

I suppose if you can't get where you want to be, it might as well be because of a Disney parade.

After spending a couple of hours in the pool, we cleaned up and headed back to the Magic Kingdom. I was hoping to get some twilight pictures in front of the castle. Jacob was hoping not to pose for twilight pictures in front of the castle, but to use his fastpass for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad immediately (can you tell?):

We decided to get some hot dogs for dinner and stake out a viewing spot on Main Street for the Electrical Parade:

And then proceeded to be delighted by the lights spectacle:

After the parade Jacob and I watched the fireworks while riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad -- possibly the highlight of the trip! We made our way back to the hotel tired, but happy tired.