Category: trips

it begins and ends with a mouse

Our kids have seen their share of this beautiful country. They were still in diapers when we started traveling on a “steel horse,” and KK was barely a month old for her first plane ride. They’ve done mountains and prairies and of course, the ocean. They have considered at least 5 cities home, or a home away from home.

And don’t even get them started on Disney World, thank you.

Because we have a share in the Disney Vacation Club, KK and Randa have been to WDW an obnoxious number of times in their short lives. Their Daddy and I have fed their addiction happily. After all, the time share allows us to stay in amazing places for relatively low prices, and once you buy an annual pass and stretch it across several trips, and it’s never the same twice and…

Yes. But even so, the trip we were to make last week just didn’t make sense right now. Tickets are expensive and so is eating with Princesses… so we decided to postpone and do something different.

We did something totally different.

After a very specific internet search, we found a place that was affordable, simple, scenic, and would allow us to give the girls a first time experience we’d all been craving: a real horseback ride.

Our 3 nights and 2.5 days at Sunburst Stables flew by quickly, but were filled with big breakfasts, many animals to play with, snuggly movie time on the couch, books to read, NO CELLS OR INTERNET, feeding peacocks on the front porch, a total of 12 fish caught, laughing as we explored LAKE BURTON, and one unforgettable trail ride.

On our last night there, after the girls were already asleep in their sweet loft bedroom and Rod and I were re-watching a favorite movie (Dan In Real Life), we discovered a little friend scurrying through the kitchen.

A mouse.

I never saw him save for a blur, but I’m going to call him Mickey. It was good for us to discover a different kind of magic together.

IMG_3758Time to feed the peacocks!

KK's first fishKK’s first fish

Randa's first fishRanda’s first fish

their first cowboyMichael… their first time meeting a real cowboy :)


IMG_3760Take multimedia away, and your children might just spend an entire evening pretending to be Avengers and seeing how big they could make their hair…

Beautiful Lake Burton!

IMG_3681Just a swingin’

I absolutely fell in love with Dixie the Wonderful Stable Dog

IMG_3714For those of you who know Rod’s song… yes, the whole time they were doing thing,
I was singing, “I’m going fishin’ with the Fisher of Men…”

IMG_3677These little piggies…

IMG_3725The trail ride took us right past our cabin, aptly named “Horse Whisper.”

IMG_3683They’re better at conversation than at checkers… #lifeskills

IMG_3707One of these goats peed on me…

I will never, ever forget riding with her for the first time. Our horse was named Bo. He was a little stubborn and a lot of fun, just like his riders!

Their horse was named Nemo… surefooted and gorgeous like his riders.

Loved everything about our time together!

IMG_3726 IMG_3743

IMG_3737IMG_3719There are a few views that rival that of the ocean…

a million miles of memories

We have now been home in South Carolina as long as we were home in south of Chicago.

My heart still very much lives in 2 places, but rather than feel angsty about it, I have grown to just feel grateful.

IMG_0251Uncle Rodsnuggly cousinsbig cousin!chatting with GrammaMaggie is a big girl nowmartha & meAuntie Gina & ChloeRod and Jenna Leethe next generation of potential mischief makersBFFs!Ah, Aurelios!lifersBFFs, at one of my favorite places in the world!Papa's girlsHappy Birthday Sean!nephewS!my brother & his princessanother generation

And because it will forever reverberate whenever I return:

“I went as far as I could, I tried to find a new face
There isn’t one of these lines that I would erase
I lived a million miles of memories on that road…
t doesn’t matter where you are, it doesn’t matter where you go
If it’s a million miles away or just a mile up the road
Take it in, take it with you when you go,
who says you can’t go home?”

little bits of magic

Tomorrow, I will post about a big decision I’ve recently made.

For today, I want to showcase the ones who are most affected by that decision: my girlies. Our getaway last week was fabulous… fun, relaxing, inexpensive (ask me how), and quality. We caught up with some great friends at our favorite place in the world. These are a few of my favorite moments:

KK and Daddy in the Pooh queue.

Randa on the carousel with her prince.

Posing at ‘our Disney home.’

Yaaaaaaay Goofy!

They had so much fun with their godbrother Zach. They walked together holding hands everywhere they went :) This was taken at Fantasmic, our favorite WDW show (and least favorite queue).

And this is Zach during his Jedi training… one of the cutest and funniest little things I have ever seen!



During our traditional final meal at Casey’s Corner (this time it was 2 hot dog meals to share as well as desserts from my new favorite: Main Street Bakery. Holy yum!), the girls enjoyed the great view

Upon our final exit last Friday, a great Photo Pass photographer made a little extra magic with us.

Hope you all have some bits of magic in your day!

Top 10 Disney World (& Universal Studios) Moments: Part 2

I have spent my “Disney” time the past few days working on our photo book. Miranda’s dear pal in class was at WDW the same week we were and has already brought her photo book for show and share time, so the pressure is on.

Here we continue with this visit’s great moments~

*Miranda Becomes a Pin Trader
We initially bought the girls “pin starter kits” just because… they are classically gaudy princess lanyards with 4 or 5 generic pins on them. We have added to them on each subsequent trip to the park, with nary a thought for what is rare or unique or whatever; mostly, the girls pick out characters they like.

During one of Miranda’s times of whining (I think we were waiting for a few people to come out of the bathroom), I suggested she could go and trade a pin with a Cast Member. Paige took her and…score! Turns out Randa knows how to trade up. She traded 2 of the generic pins and another slightly more special one for better ones, and of course, wanted to do more. And I had a realization: what a great way for your kids to get “new things” at WDW without you having to spend any additional money!

*Resort Mugs
We have used the Disney Dining Plan during our last several trips there, and loved it. Honestly, we might take a break after this trip. We’ve fallen in love with a few of the restaurants, but one can only do so many character meals before…meh. Also, it’s clear that like pretty much every other establishment in this econonmy, the quality is not what it used to be. And finally, the price has now risen to an extent that it’s easy to see getting the dining plan really is an act of convenience and the only thing you save much money on are free desserts that you might not eat anyhow. So…we’ll see.

One new perk of the dining plan that we greatly enjoyed, however, was the inclusion of the Resort Mugs. These little plastic puppies hold hot or cold beverages, have lids, and can be refilled limitless times at your resort during your stay. (If you play the system, you can fill them at other resorts, too, but we didn’t visit any others this time around). Since we were just a walk across the breezeway from the beverage stations, we filled ours nearly every night and morning, and now that we’re home, they are great on-the-go cups. Score! (see? Miranda loved hers.)

*You mean there’s another theme park?
Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure
I admit: though this was my 8th lifetime trip to Orlando, I have never been to Sea World, Busch Gardens, Gator Land…and I don’t care. I have been to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure on three other trips, but it had been awhile, and Paige, Rod, and I had to get to The World Of Harry Potter. Thanks to the sadly-now-defunct Chase Rewards program, we were able to get free tickets for all of us to go.

We’d heard the day before that there had been a one hour wait just to get into the Harry section of the park! So even though we were in vacation mode, we got ourselves together and were at Universal by its 9am open. Mom and Dad took the little girls to the Shrek show and the Woody Woodpecker Coaster, and we worked Hogesmeade like it was our job. We enjoyed a less than one hour wait through the cue line known as HOGWARTS, rode the indescribable Forbidden Journey of Harry Potter (followed by the rethemed and still fun Dragon Challenge), and gulped a delicious butterbeer. Well done, Universal. WELL done!

We returned later with the rest of the family for another round (Forbidden Journey in the single rider line, my new favorite thing), Dragon Challenge again, and more butterbeer. Ah…

It was fun for the kids, too. They rode the iconic E.T. ride, did everything in Seuss Land, and loved Spider-Man, which is still a wonderful attraction. The Hulk Coaster might very well still be my favorite, though I have to say… after 8 total thrill rides that day, I was feeling the 35 years I had celebrated the day before!

*Impromptu Character Moments
I eluded to this in my last post, but all the character meet and greets (we do a lot of them) can get pretty predictable. In fact, I have to really coach Miranda that it’s ok to talk to the characters and not just pose and smile for the camera. This time, along with our introductions to Tinkerbell and Rapunzel, two moments stuck out for me.

One was when Kaity saw Buzz and Woody. Mind you, she met them twice on our last trip, but she’s possibly become a more obsessed fan since then. She was bearing a Toy Story shirt, and Woody made a big deal of pointing to himself and Buzz and then their images on the shirt. After much hugging and posing, we started to walk away, but my little tough/shy-when-convenient girl turned around, inched closer to Buzz, look up, and finally moved in for once last hug. There’s no photo of it. This mama was way too busy feeling the magic of that moment.

At the Chef Mickey breakfast, I found myself feeling a little blah about the whole thing. We didn’t have a great table, the food wasn’t as jaw-droppingly wonderful as last time (first world problems, I know), and the character stuff was just perfunctory. It was the morning of our last day and I thought maybe the kids were just over it. And then, Mickey happened.

After his meet, greet, pose with the girls, during which he analyzed their fairly full breakfast plates, he returned to our table no less than 4 times to check on Miranda’s progress. It was hysterical, especially because we could tell she was getting aggravated but didn’t dare want to be mad at Mickey. Yay Cast Members,  for those little extra moments.

Though repeat theme park experiences run the risk of becoming same-old, there are a few pieces of our “Disney life” that we hold dear.
~ we begin and end at Magic Kingdom
~ Our first ride always seems to be Pirates of the Caribbean
~We have to have dinner at Liberty Tree Tavern. This was introduced to us by Doug and Amy, and is non-negotiable and wonderful.
~We have to do the pictures in front of the castle and “the big ball.” No use arguing with me, k?












~No matter how little we buy, we have to spend a little time shopping at the Emporium, which is about the most obnoxious Disney store in the world… and I love it!
~We have to eat hot dogs and/or nachos from Casey’s Corner (passed on from Aunt Jen), in front of the castle, before we leave the park.

Several of these hot dogs ended up coming all the way home to Myrtle Beach with us, but it’s the tradition that counts… the tiring days, the pseudo-panic over what we might miss if we don’t HURRY-GET-FAST-PASSES!, the jumping up and down, the feeling of kiddie magic, the overeating, the overplaying, the window shopping, the fireworks-wishing, the castle ooh-and-ahhing. I love it all… and when we are there together, it is ours.