Saturday, May 31, 2014

Theme Parks Break Down

 So many of you have messaged me and asked questions over the years about our theme park obsession, what are the must do's, how do you do it, how do you afford it, and much more.  So I am going to attempt to answer those questions!!  :)  This may take a while.....

I am going to link back to an earlier blog post on Theme Park Tips
 See the hidden Mickey??  ;)

So let's start with the fact that my love and Jason's love for theme parks started young!  My parents would take us to Six Flags, Adventureland (Iowa), Silver Dollar City and we would ride rides like pros.  My dad didn't do rides so he held all our stuff and since we had 3 kiddos and my mom it was the "perfect 4" to ride rides.

That love continued throughout my growing up and altogether I have been to over 20 different theme parks :).  I am not sure how may my hubby has visited, but he too loved theme parks- of course there aren't quite as many in England. 
 We loved visiting Florida because here it is obviously the theme park capitol.  Since we also had family here it was the perfect match!  When we decided to move the thought of having family, theme parks, and beaches was pretty much a done deal.  :) 

So with that being said here in Florida we have been to Sea World, Busch Gardens, Aquatica, and Adventure Island (which are all a part of the same company- with Aquatica and Adventure Island being water parks). 
Then there is LEGOLAND which I don't feel like I am an expert in because we have only been there once. 
Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure are then paired together as well.  They also have an area much like Downtown Disney where there is lots of fun shopping, eating, and entertainment too!  It is at the entry area to their parks. 
Then you have Disney which has 4 main parks with lots of water parks (we haven't been to any of their water parks), and of course Down town Disney. 
 So what are the advantages of each park? 

 Busch Gardens at least here in Florida is definitely a contender easily for the best all round roller coasters!  They have variety of intensity, with plenty of them being intense enough for roller coaster fanatics.  The Florida location has an extensive animal component- think everything possible and more from a zoo.  They even have a place where you can see animal surgeries being done.

Sea World has all the fun water animals doing cute family friendly shows.  Although they have rides you can have plenty of fun even if you don't enjoy rides.  There is so much to learn and be a part of with the animals and plenty of experts who share knowledge.  So if you have a child who loves to ask questions they have lots of answers.  You can pet things like sting rays and dolphins!  AND you can do close encounters with some of those animals through special programs. 

Aquatica and Adventure Island- both have plenty to do for those who love water slides from the very intense to the beginner and plenty of wave fun for everyone.  Of course Aquatica being a newer park has all the extra bells and whistles!  And a clear tube slide where you pass by fish. 

Disadvantage- for our family anyway is that these parks do NOT allow sandwiches.  Snacks yes, water sure, but NO sandwich looking things at all!!!  So if you want to eat your own food- you have to leave the park.  :(  BOOOOO HISSSS!!!!  And yes they will make you take it back to your car if found out.  Although you can be extremely sneaky maybe more so if you only have a few people. 
They also have fast passes you have to pay extra for. 

Advantage- Decent priced refillable cups!  Typically a dollar refill for a 24 oz cup!!! 
You can always fill up with free tap water at any time! 
Food is pretty reasonable for a theme park. 
They have Sesame Street area as well as fun shows for children and kid rides sprinkled throughout the parks.  Some on purpose next to "older child/adult rides" which is nice. 

Universal Studios and Islands of Adventures-  Great movie theming fun!!!  Some decent thrill rides- definitely enough to try to give Busch a run for their money, but Busch still wins on that part.  The Harry Potter area is huge and very well done.  Our family isn't into Harry Potter, but the ride is amazing and the effects are sweet!  They have added a Transformers ride and a connectional "Harry Potter train" to the parks since the last time we went.

I think the funny part is our kiddos have not watched most of the movies in the theme parks and it didn't seem to matter.  The theming is that well done.  For younger kiddos there is the Dr. Seuss area in Universal Studios as well as a Curious George at Islands of Adventure.  Curious George area includes a HUGE water play area!!  Which our whole family loved!!!

Disadvantage- I would say if you aren't into movies- this park is not for you.  However- we liked it but probably because we are just into theme parks :).  You have to pay a lot for fast passes. 

Advantage- you can bring any food you want into the parks!  They just can't be in a massive cooler or a "hard sided" cooler.  You can bring your own drinks- pop etc. as well.
They too have decently priced drinks cups and refill prices.  The only bad thing is the lids constantly came off easily and as you can imagine in our family made a lot of spills. 
They do have their "downtown" area right at the entry between parks.  So if you want food or shopping different than the park has to offer you only come out the gates and there are choices galore!!!! 
Also both parks are literally next door to each other.  So although there is a walk (although now you can ride the Harry Potter train) it isn't far when you are trekking in theme parks anyway. 
They have hotels that are owned by Universal and you do get extra hours at the parks as well as easy transport to and from parks. 

LEGOLAND - ok if you have kiddos that LOVE Legos GO!!!!!!  Most rides are very kid friendly with little intensity.  There are whole areas all over the park dedicated to imagination and building and creating!!!!  Cypress Gardens (if anyone remembers what that is) is a part of the park.  So if you are feeling overwhelmed by the theme park- go to the gardens area.  Very well manicured and beautiful!!!  Again, I am no expert because we only have gone once. 

Advantages- they too allow food :).  They are very kid friendly.  It is amazing to see all the lego scenes, and they have homeschool prices that are very very very cheap!!!  Which is how we afforded to go without season tickets. 

Disadvantages- they are a newer park and are starting out so it isn't quite like going to the other theme parks.  You can do all of it in one day.  Which is only a disadvantage because to me I can't imagine having a season pass because we typically go weekly. 

Walt Disney World has 4 main parks- Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Magic Kingdom.  You can go anywhere in these parks and find children and adults dressed as Disney characters :).  Complete with mouse ears of every shape, size, color, and character.  They have tons of shows throughout the day and night that are AMAZING!  Let's face it Disney is a place that anyone who has watched even a few movies or just read fairy tales can relate to.  They have princesses galore and can make little girls dreams come true.  The parades are simply amazing and the crazy part is that the lights parade at night is the same it has always been- no for real the same music and floats! 

Advantages- Everyone has access to fast passes (I believe unless you just have a one day pass?) with NO extra cost!! 
They allow any amount of food and drinks in the parks :) SWEET!
IMMACULENT - cleanliness, manicured, and kept up with the best!!!  One of the reasons they attract people from around the world. 
If you get a great deal or splurge- they have a million hotels to choose from.  If you stay in them you get extra hour of Disney fun with no "outsiders" there at the park. 
Almost every single ride in all 4 parks can be ridden by anyone 40" with very few exceptions!!
Staff- what can I say they do things right and their staff are EXCELLENT!!! 
If you have family members with special needs they are amazing!!
Variety, Variety, Variety!  You can park hop, visit all the different lands in every park and still not have done "everything" even with a season pass. 
With some exceptions- they have entertainment on almost every single ride for your children to do while you wait!!  Of course you can always have a competition to see if any of your family can spot all of the hidden Mickeys too.  What is a hidden Mickey?  At every ride- in line or in the ride, and throughout the park there are "Mickey heads" to be spotted.  Some are more obvious, but many are very tricky.  Find them all!!  Again- there are websites and books about this too ;)

Disadvantages- It can easily become very overwhelming because the parks are HUGE! 
EXPENSIVE to say the least.  Food, drinks, and tickets.  **You can still ask for free ice water at any food place that has a "tap" :).
They are busy most of the year comparatively to the other parks which have a lot more distinct busy and non busy seasons. 
There are many many tips and tricks- get books read up, read blogs (probably not mine I am more of a basics person), etc. and there are even dvd's about how to go to Disney.  However, those can also be overwhelming. 
Going to Magic Kingdom takes a while- because you can't park next to the park.  So be prepared.....
If you have a special needs person with you in a wheelchair- you can only have 6 people go with them on a ride or sit together.  However, we have argued that point because we are one family.  Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't. 
 How do you do it??  He he he he.... ummm....that is a great question!  If you were a fly on the wall on the morning of our Theme Park Days this is what you would see.  Believe me we must enjoy theme parks to do this!
1- We are up early!  Typically 6am sometimes earlier.  We are there before the gates open most of the time because we want to take advantage of the "slower" morning hours. 
2-  Usually hair is already done, but if not - quick styles only.
3-  We literally bring in our double stroller and our wheelchair (which has a back pack thing on it).  Everything is packed that morning and set in the back of our 15 passenger ready to get out and roll  on into the parks. 
4- YES we have matching shirts most of the time.  I am probably more relaxed when we are going to Busch Gardens during the "slower season" because we have been there literally hundreds of times over the years. 
5-  We have a checklist :)  - water shoes (depending on theme park), lunch meat and cheese sandwiches, peanuts/crackers, snacks for the whole day- depending on the park and how long we will be there we take plenty of variety (cheese sticks, gogurts, raisins, mini candy bars, gummies, fruits, etc.), bagels and cream cheese or pb and j for evening meal.  A gallon of water, koolaid, sometimes a special treat of Sprite or Fanta.  Rain ponchos/garbage bags to cover the stroller, plastic plates, drink cups, phones, keys, tickets (magic bands for Disney), camera, medicine- headaches, etc.  (although now we have started using oils), diaper bag, spare clothes for babes, food for Michael, more snacks, sunglasses/hats, wallet, and an attitude of we are going to have a fun family day out!!! 
***Maybe one day I will take a picture of this crazy scene because it is pretty interesting ;).  Yes I do pre pack some things the night before!!!! 
How do you afford it?  This is a hard question to answer because it depends on your finances, how you save money, how you spend money, and what you enjoy doing.  For us we love doing things that create memories.  Whether it is going to local, state, and national parks which we also love!  Whether it is eating out, or playing in the yard, or swimming together, playing games together, reading together, etc.  There are millions of things you can do together. My advice pick what you like and do it. 
 We do vacations.  They may sometimes be extremely simplistic and very low cost or sometimes we splurge a bit more and do some things that are more expensive.  It is something we love doing together.  They aren't for everyone.  Some people enjoy staying at home more. 

For us doing theme parks is our fun passion.  It is something we have always loved.  We save and we go often making the money spent pretty much very little per visit.  Even our Disney week day Florida resident passes aren't that expensive when you use it as much as we do ;).  There are always things some families prefer to do over others.  We rarely eat out- as in ever.  We just don't unless it is just Jason and I. 
That was information overload, but are there other questions you want to know?  Please ask away!  I will try my best :)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Jonathan's Adoption Day and Sarah's 10th Birthday!!! Get away....and much more!!!

 Jonathan's 5th Adoption Day way on May 4th!!  Wow am I behind or what??  Ummm....yes well who can resist this face??  He is one cute little guy and man from that first referral picture we were hooked!!!!
 Happy Adoption Day!!!!!!  This little guy is full of surprises!  He is a practical joker and has the best giggle!  He loves snuggles, wrestling with his big brothers, swimming, anything having to do with Batman or Ninjago (not even sure how to spell it- you know that Lego things). 
 Those eyes!!!! 
 Doesn't get any cuter than our little Ethiopian sweetheart!!!!  He had a great day and loved his presents. 
 So on Jonathan's Adoption Day we went out to Dairy Queen....knowing that we were away the weekend before, and on Sarah's Birthday we were going to Disney.  So we decided to let everyone pick a treat and share the time :).  Gotta do what works. 
 I think Sarah and Jonathan loved the idea!!!  :)  So a fun time was had by all!
 Boys hanging out! 
 Daddy and his girls....
 My and little mister!!!  OH SO SOME AMAZING UPDATES with Michael.  And yes I need to be doing more posts because I definitely have a lot to say...just have some schedule changes that haven't allowed me to post! 

So back to the AMAZING MICHAEL!!!  He can now drink through a straw!!!!!  WAHOOOO!!!!!
ANNNDDDDD.......drum roll please.........he is feeding himself!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  So to understand how huge this is- Michael has never really held onto anything.  Part of that is sensory thing, but also his CP etc.  So he is now holding his spoon- enough so that he is scooping and feeding himself!!!!  Now of course he is a toddler and it is messy, and sometimes we help him "get the food" scooping motion down, but THIS IS SOOO HUGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

Proud mommy moments :)
 And this young lady- turned 10!!!!!!!  Happy Birthday Sarah!!! 
 She got a nerf bow!!!  :) 
 So much fun because Sarah is really maturing and we love to see her personality develop.  She loves to sing and is very good!  She loves reading, playing with her sisters, and drawing and making notes.  Which I thoroughly enjoy!!!

 My sweetie!!!  She also is becoming quite the care taker and loves helping out with Michael.  I love seeing her work with him and love on him.  You can often find her reading to him or working on his walking.  This seriously warms my heart!!!
 Now this was our getaway weekend- the very first weekend of May!!  Whew a looonnnggg time ago now.  But like I said I dropped off the grid due to Joanna needing extra time with us at night.  Along with the fact I have been doing more home studies, and have had a lot going on with my clients with Christian Adoption Consultant- which is AMAZING!!!  (2 babies born just this week!!)

Oh and I have been sick.  :(  Which has not bee much fun at all!!  Over a week ago now I was diagnosed with kidney infection, but the medications they have given me really haven't helped.  I have however been using oils- which have definitely helped the pain.  They aren't sure now if that is it or if it is something else.  So we will see!!! 
 This was our room for the weekend.....nice!!!  Our bathroom was HUGE!!!  Our whole family could have fit in there and not touched each other!!!  CRAZY!!!  We stayed at the Waldorf Astoria- which is right next to Disney. 
 It was gorgeous!!!!!!!!!!!!  We left Friday- got back Sunday.
 The only bad part- it was raining all of Friday and Saturday :/, but we just dealt with it because hey at least we got some time away!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  It was nice to recharge and connect!!!!!
 Hey, just buy a rain poncho from Disney and get over it!!  So after the huge down pours right around lunch we went to the Magic Kingdom. 
 Saturday since it was raining again we went to Downtown Disney. 
 We had lunch at Planet Hollywood! 
 It's always fun to look around to see everything :).
 Aren't we cute? 
 Just me and Mr. Potato.....
 Who recognizes these toys??  Yep- I am old. 
 Drinks were on the house- he he he ....of course they were non alcoholic.....
 View out our front window. 
 Sunday before heading home we played a round of miniature golf at Disney. 
 Of course that day it was beautiful and sunny!!
 It was so fun there and because we have Florida residents weekday passes- we god 1/2 price!!  Sweet!!!
We definitely enjoyed our weekend!!!  THANKFUL for Joe and Lisa for looking after the kiddos for us too!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  LOVE having those who love your children and willing to travel several hours to help you out and give you a break!  HUGE GIFT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

To my mom

 So yesterday someone posted in their FB feed what are your favorite memories of your mother.  Which caused some things to immediately come to my mind, but there is just sooo much more!!  My mother is me really.  She and I not only look a lot alike, we sound alike, and well we have a lot of the same personality too! 
 Favorite memories......

Seeing her daily reading her Bible and doing devotions at our kitchen table.  She inspires me!  Her dedication to the Lord is something for me to continue to strive for.  I want that closeness, that dedication, and yearning that I saw in her! 
 When I was 8 and had cancer I was in the hospital for months after the surgery for radiation.  Of course if you have ever lived a "hospital life" you know you hurry up and wait.  My mom would always have her Bible.  She found things to be thankful for and would share many scriptures with me.

There were so many people praying for our family, for me, for complete healing- my mom never took that for granted and praised God for the support and love of family, friends, and complete strangers that loved our family!!!

Oh and of course she found time to do math problems and other homework with me as we waited too!  Silly me I thought the old "chalk boards" in the patient rooms were for enjoyment?  ;) Or for catching up on all the school I was missing!!! 
 My mom LOVED pictures!!!!  Think I get that from her???  :)  Doesn't have to be a perfect picture just something that reminds you of someone, the feelings you share, the love you share, the fun you have.  She literally has stacks and stacks of photo albums!!  She always said if there was a fire those photos would be the one thing besides obviously family she would want to get out of the house!!

**Thank the Lord for digital pics now!!!  ;)

She cooked out of necessity.  She loved to bake cookies and breads!  Yep- that's me!! 
 She hugs and kisses lots!
Never hesitates to tell you I love you!
She can strike up a conversation with anyone! 
She would spend many hours of her time helping the neighbor kiddos who didn't have stable families, or just had parents that both worked a lot- homework help and love on the side!!
She also would visit and care for my dad's parents and sooo many other people in nursing homes or in their own homes!  Taking them to doctor's appointments, to get their hair done, or whatever.  
She couldn't "give" a spelling test to save her life.  Her pronunciations were ummm......interesting ;).
She loves life!! She doesn't hold back!!
 She loves playing with the grandkids!  Games, reading, talking, walking, etc.
She PRAYS fervently for our whole family!!!  For the work we do with other families, for the children needing homes, for those that have been placed in new homes, for adoptive and birth families we work with!!

She is interested in others and wants to know how she can pray for them! 
 One time she stood up to embarrass me and started doing a cheer on her own in the stands.  (I was a cheerleader).  Didn't work because I stood up next to her and cheered alongside her ;).  Two peas in a pod.

Except we did have a time of a few years where it was hard.  Really hard.  It was mostly to do with my stubbornness meeting her stubbornness.... what can I say the apple didn't fall far from the tree! 
 She loved riding rides at the theme parks!!!  YES!!!! (Not as much anymore, but sometimes she surprises me). 
She was there at every concert, audition, basketball game, musical, marching band performance, honor band, All State honor band, etc.  AND believe me there were many many many many of them!  She is my ongoing cheerleader throughout life!!
Every time we have phoned to say- we feel God calling us to -------- she is there praying and cheering us on!!!  Never once called us crazy to our face ;).  She just loves us and cares for us no matter what! 
 She loves to find the good in everything.  I love that about her!!!
 She loves to laugh....and yes our laugh is the same too :)! 
 People gave Jason a hard time saying- you want to know what Dawn will be like as she gets older?  Just look at her mom.  It's true!  I pray I can be that person.  The loving, compassionate, dedicated to God, example in my life that I couldn't imagine my life without!!! 
 She won't probably see this post.... because one of the differences between us, besides the fact that I tend to pronounce things better than her, is that she doesn't have a computer.  She doesn't even like the thought of them.  Which is fine.  Because I LOVE HER!! 
MOM- I know you know this, but I COULDN'T LOVE YOU ANY MORE THAN I DO!!!  You gave me the gift of life, but so much more!  You gave me and have continued showing me a faith in Jesus that is amazing!  I appreciate all your love, your great example of a loving mother and wife, your dedication to our family, and your deep love of our Lord and Savior!!!

HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY MOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!