Thursday, March 31, 2011

#10 Thing to Do in Dallas with Kids

First, D Magazine totally stole my idea, but I was totally original and I did it first and I added "with Kids!" So, my #10 Thing to Do in Dallas with Kids is go to the Dallas Arboretum. It is gorgeous! Right now it is Dallas Blooms and they have some fairy castles that the kids really enjoyed running to and exploring. My children were wonderful models, ahem, well, maybe not so much. They would not look at the camera! They loved running all around, rolling on the grass, and exploring.


Disneyworld in detail

Our trip to Disneyworld was wonderful! We had a great time and are trying to convince ourselves that we saved money by going when Lee was there for a conference. I took 560 photos and Madeleine took 50 with her camera! My pointers for anyone who is going in the future are:

1. rent a stroller from Orlando Stroller (or Magic Stroller) if you think that your kids will have trouble walking all day (my kids are 3 and 6). I rented the city double stroller and am so glad that I did. We also loved staying at the yacht club where we were on the boardwalk and could walk to Epcot and ride the boat to Hollywood studios.

2. Get to the parks when they open. Get a fastpass when you can. Get a parkhopper. Use the wonderful internet resources that tell you which parks are crowded on what days.

3. I ordered the free Disneyworld DVD from their website and when Madeleine said that she didn't want to do any of the roller coasters, I listened. The DVD was a great introduction to the kids about the park.


Here is what we did:
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Survived a 2 hour plane trip by myself with two kids. The kids did great. Arrive at 4 pm and take free Magical Express Bus (which was awesome!) from airport to hotel. Everett fell asleep on me on the bus. The kids ask to go swimming in the wonderful pool area at the Yacht Club hotel. Lee surprises us at the pool at 6 pm and we get ready for Magic Kingdom. On our way to the bus, I asked the hotel about the stroller I had rented the night previously from Orlando Stroller. They said that it was not there. So, I replied to my confirmation email saying that the stroller was not there. At Magic Kingdom we were hoping to eat dinner and watch the parade and fireworks. It was drizzling as we got off the bus at Magic Kingdom at about 7 pm and just as we gave them our ticket card, the rain began to come so hard it was raining sideways! Even though we had ponchos in our hotel room, Lee bought ponchos for $7 each! As we walked in the driving rain, Madeleine was sobbing asking that we go back to the hotel. We continued on, and stopped at Casey's Corner on Main Street for hotdogs. Once the kids had eaten and a stranger had shared their cotton candy, the kids seemed happier. During this time, I checked my email and saw that the stroller company had emailed (at 8 pm!) saying that the stroller was delivered to the hotel that morning under the name I asked for, my maiden name. I had thought I was so smart because everyone would have the name Smith on their stroller, so I would use my maiden name. However, I did not share this tidbit with the hotel staff and they had not found the stroller because I had not told them the correct name. I was annoyed at myself but so glad because if we had the stroller it would have gotten soaked in the rain. Even though I thought of the episode as the stroller debacle, it all worked out.

Due to the rain the parade was canceled, so since the rain had stopped we decided to check out some rides. The crowds had vanished so we walked onto Monsters, Inc Laugh Floor where they show people from the audience. Madeleine was Boo from the movie and Lee was shown as buying everyone in the audience churros. Luckily, no one asked Lee to buy a churro. Then we walked onto the Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, and loved it so much we rode it three times before we heard the fireworks begin. I later learned how lucky we were to walk right onto the Buzz Lightyear ride because it is normally very busy. When we heard the fireworks, we ran towards Cinderella's castle and enjoyed the fireworks though Everett was not interested at all. Madeleine said that she was so glad that we stayed and kept saying over and over again that this was her first time to see fireworks. I can not remember if this really was her first time to see fireworks or not. They extended the hours for Magic Kingdom one more hour, and said that in 30 minutes they would show a video projection thing on the castle. So, we got ice cream at the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor and watched a really cool Let the Memories Begin show on the castle. It is apparently new for 2011 which is the 40th Anniversary of Disneyworld and was very unique. On the bus back to our hotel Everett fell asleep on Lee. We were all asleep by 10:30 pm.


Thursday, March 10, 2011
Lee had to go to his Conference. Lee left the hotel room at 7 am, and since the kids were still sleeping I kept sleeping too. We did not wake up until 10 am!!! I picked up the stroller from the hotel asking for it under my maiden name. The websites had indicated Animal Kingdom was the least crowded park today, so the kids and I took a bus. We saw the first Festival of the Lion King show which was very well done. Then we bought an autograph book for Madeleine. Each page had a photo holder and also a place for the characters to sign. We got a fastpass for the Kilimanjaro safari and then took the train to Rafiki's planet watch because Madeleine wanted to see Pocohantas and that is where she hangs out. As we arrived, we were told she had just left and would return in 2 hours! Jiminy Cricket was coming out, but the kids were not at all interested in him. At Rafiki's planet watch there is a conservation station with animals to touch and learn about and a petting zoo. Madeleine and Everett pet every animal there, then we learned about snakes and we all touched the snake. We saw Rafiki and we waited to take a picture with him and then people were lining up for Pocohantas. Madeleine took her picture with Pocohantas, we took the train back, and had a very enjoyable safari ride where we saw all kinds of animals. I loved the male lion atop pride rock who was very photogenic. The Animal Kingdom 3:45 pm parade was the best parade of our entire trip. We took the bus back to our room, the kids swam in the pool, and then we rode the bus to downtown Disney. We had a princess and knight appointment at the Bibbity Boppity Boutique and they were running about 45 minutes behind so we wandered all around the huge Disney store in downtown Disney. We had a lot of fun looking at everything that was for sale. I said that the kids could each buy one thing, so Madeleine picked out princess flip flops and Everett picked out a pirate sword. As we came back to the boutique, I saw Carla Badgett! Carla was at my church growing up and we were in youth group and choir together. Carla is now a United Methodist pastor in Beaumont and had brought her two children to Disneyworld. I thought it was so funny that two United Methodist pastors had missed Ash Wednesday which was the previous day and were instead at Disneyworld!

The kids were well tended to at the boutique and Madeleine loved her fake hair and make-up. Everett's hair was spiked and filled with confetti, but since they gave him a play shield and sword he was in heaven. After everyone looked all fancy, I attempted to pay the very large bill. I had brought my room key which had our tickets to Disneyworld on them and worked as a credit card. I did not bring my driver's license or another credit card. Somehow I had demagnetized the magic Disney card and it would not work! After about 45 minutes of the helpful boutique people calling our hotel, everything was finally resolved. However, we were not going to make any parades that evening (I had hoped to go to Hollywood Studios Fantasmic which is just on select evenings). We went back to the hotel, found Lee at the restaurant, showed off the new hairdos, and the kids fell asleep very quickly by 10 pm.

Friday, March 11, 2011
We were up at 7 am. Why you ask? Well, Madeleine wanted to do Jedi Training at Hollywood Studios where 15 kids are in each show and fight one-on-one with Darth Vader. I had been told to get to the park as soon as it opened and run to the sign up area. I had told Madeleine we would do it the first day in case she was not one of the lucky few, so that we could try again the next day. We were planning on taking the boat to Hollywood Studios, so I pushed the stroller around the Boardwalk and Madeleine said that her feet were too cold in her new princess flip flops. So we went up to the room and when we went downstairs again, Madeleine discovered that she had left her sunglasses in the room. We went up to the room a second time, and then walked to the boat. The boat was very fun and quick and I was so glad that I did not have to fold up the stroller but instead was able to park the stroller in the back of the boat. We got to Hollywood Studios 10 minutes after it opened and ran to the Jedi Training sign-up. There was a long line and we waited about 35 minutes. Madeleine was in the 2 pm show! Lee was meeting us at lunch time, so it was perfect. We then walked quickly to the Toy Story Midway Mania ride to get fastpasses. We got them at 9:45 am and we were scheduled to return at 4:45 pm! They ran out of fastpasses for the ride by 10:30 am. I only had 3 fastpasses but a nice employee told me that if a majority of your party had fastpasses, then everyone in your party could get in the fastpass line. Yeah, Lee could go with us when he came and not have to wait 2 hours which is what the wait time was!

The kids and I watched the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show, waited in line to get Handy Manny's autograph (even though we were having lunch with him, Everett had to talk to Handy Manny right then). Everett loved the Disney Junior - Live on Stage show, and they even had Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Everett's new favorite show. Lee arrived and after a quick family photograph with Pooh and Piglet, we went for our character lunch at Hollywood and Vine with Handy Manny, Oso, June, and Leo. The buffet was good, but the dancing and one-on-one time with the characters was even better. Everett said his lunch with Handy Manny was the highlight of his trip. It was then time for Madeleine's Jedi Training show, and while she was getting some instruction, Lee, Everett and I got our picture with Darth Vader and a Storm Trooper! Madeleine did great in the Jedi Training show, and danced her way around Darth Vader. It was the highlight of her trip. We enjoyed the Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun Parade a lot as we saw lots of the kids' favorite characters from the movies. We then went inside the Magic of Disney Animation to rest in the air conditioning and to wait in line for Hollywood Studios Mickey Mouse, and Mr. and Mrs. Incredible. As we walked to the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt 4 pm show, Everett fell asleep in the stroller and as I carried him into the stadium seating he continued to sleep. He continued to sleep during the loud, but pretty cool stunt show and only at the end did he wake up. As we walked to the Beauty and the Beast live show, Lee put Everett on his shoulders so Everett could see Lighting McQueen and Towmater. The Beauty and the Beast show was very well done and it was nice to sit in the shade of the pavilion and rest. We then went to the best ride at Disneyworld (in our opinion) Toy Story Midway Mania and were sad that the wait was 2 hours long to do it again. We took the boat back to our hotel and had a snack dinner of Lee's leftover Conference lunch, chips, candy, and an apple. We then walked (I was so thankful for the stroller!) to Epcot to see the 9 pm Illuminations show. There were magic hours at Epcot for those staying at a Disney resort, so as we walked around Epcot Everett fell asleep and Madeleine and I rode Journey into your Imagination with Figment. It is my favorite Epcot ride. We did have to show our room key to get on the Figment ride to prove that we were resort guests. We tried to get on the Test Track which I had heard was crazy busy, but there was a long line. I observed that there were many teenagers for magic hours, so I noted that during the next magic hours we should only do things that no teenager wants to do. We slid Everett into bed and Madeleine was quickly asleep. The only regret of the day is that the kids did not swim.

Saturday, March 12, 2011
Our first full day with Lee! YEAH to 2 parents! I dragged myself out of bed at 6:15 am because we could not be late for our princess breakfast reservation at 8:30 am! The breakfast food at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Norway was delicious, great eggs, fresh fruit, and salami. It was delicious, but the set-price meal had a huge bill. We noted that the breakfast bill was more than our entire food bill for the previous day. However, the meal and experience was one of the trip highlights. We walked to Future World at Epcot and got a fastpass for Test Track. At Mission Space we got a Rider Switch Pass. If there are 2 parents and only 1 child who can ride the ride (because of height restrictions) and 1 parent has to stay with the other child, you can get a rider switch pass. It lets you get in the fastpass line without a fastpass. Madeleine did the green milder mission with Lee and when it was my turn with her she wanted to try the orange more intense journey. It was a flight simulator and at the end I felt very ill. Madeleine wanted to go to the bathroom, and when she came out of the stall she informed me that she needed to throw up. So, she turned around, I held her fake princess hair out of her face, and she calmly threw up. She was very calm, cool, and collected about it! We got a Soarin fast pass but could not get on the ride for 4 more hours. We went to the Seas with Nemo and Friends and laughed during Turtle Talk with Crush. We went to the Innoventions area and played with all of the interactive games. We learned about saving at the Piggy Bank game and filmed ourselves in a video game. We had lunch at the Coral Reef Restaurant with wonderful views of the fish and turtles. We went on the Living the Land ride that I remember from when I was a kid. We went back to do more Innoventions and Lee showed us the Raytheon Sum of all Thrills ride. Everett was too short to do it, but Lee and Madeleine designed their own video game and then had a simulator take them on it. Everett and I played a safety game and made paper. When we were all ready to leave, we could not remember where the stroller was. There is stroller parking everywhere, and we just could not remember which one we had used. We finally found it, and then went to Club Cool where you can drink different Coca Cola products from around the world. Madeleine loved it and the free aspect of it was very appealing. Madeleine decided her stomach was not up to the Test Track, so while Lee went to ride it alone, I took the kids to see the butterflies. Epcot was having its annual flower festival and the displays were gorgeous. The butterfly house was fun, and we looked at the very long line to meet Tinkerbell but Madeleine decided against it. We went over to the Land to watch the Circle of Life movie. The movie was very loud, but it was nice to be inside. Lee called us and the Test Track ride was broken but luckily he was not yet on it! So, we met Lee at Soarin and after a little encouragement, Madeleine said she was willing to try it. Everett was too short, so I entertained him for 30 minutes with my iPhone. Apparently, Soarin makes you feel like you are hang-gliding. Even though Madeleine and Lee loved the ride, I decided against seeing it with Madeleine because it had taken them 30 minutes in the line and we were ready for the hotel pool. We swam for 30 minutes, and the kids enjoyed more of Lee's Conference treats. This time it was chocolate covered Mickey Mouse rice krispies! We rode the bus to Magic Kingdom for the electrical parade and then went back to the hotel to get some pizza and brownies for dinner on the Boardwalk. We were able to see the Epcot fireworks from the Boardwalk and on our walk back to the hotel Everett fell asleep.

Sunday, March 13, 2011
Daylight savings day! I was determined to get to Magic Kingdom when it opened. Of course, the hotel bus was late and we got to Magic Kingdom 10 minutes after it opened, but probably because of Daylight Savings (we lost an hour) the park was not yet crowded. We quickly went to Fantasyland where most of the kid favorite rides are. We got a fastpass for Peter Pan's flight and received a Bonus fastpass for Mickey's PhilharMagic that we did not end up using. We waited 5 minutes for the Dumbo ride, walked onto the Mad Tea Party teacups, and waited 5 minutes for the Tomorrowland Indy Speedway. Lee and I both let the kids drive and it was a very bumpy ride. I realized while I took Madeleine's picture that in 10 years she will be legal to drive! We tried to see the characters from Tangled, but apparently the characters had not realized it was Daylight Savings and there were not ready for autographs. We decided to see if Woody and Jessie were ready for autographs in Frontierland, and on our way we walked right onto the Magic Carpets of Aladdin ride. Woody and Jessie were nowhere, but we found Cowboy Mickey and Cowgirl Minnie. We got fastpasses for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad because Madeleine said that her stomach was much better today. We rode the Pirates of the Caribbean while we waited for the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad fastpass time. While Lee and Madeleine rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Everett played in the shaded playground nearby. Madeleine loved her roller coaster ride! We went to ride the classic It's a Small World and Madeleine had lots of questions about which countries were being represented. It would be nice if they had signs. We loved Peter Pan's flight, and then watched a Pirate class taught by Captain Jack Sparrow! Everett and Madeleine both took the pirate pledge. We walked back to Frontierland to see if we could get Woody and Jessie's autograph but the line was 45 minutes long. So, Madeleine and Lee rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad again while I got a picture of Everett in front of Woody and Jessie. I only need to learn how to photoshop the other people out of the photograph. Everett and I then explored Tom Sawyer Island. Everett loved the shaky bridges, and I loved the shade. We saw the Dream Along with Mickey show in front of Cinderella's castle, and were very impressed with our lunch at Cosmic Rays. It was healthy food (grilled chicken, yogurt for the kids), and there were monitors at each door to make sure that you were in the correct line. It was a well-oiled machine and I was most impressed with the grilled onions and mushrooms for my chicken sandwich. We watched the Hall of Presidents which was not too impressive for the kids, but I loved it because I remembered going when I was younger. We watched the parade at 3 pm, and then headed back for the hotel. We swam from 4-6 pm! We had a great time in the sand, in the lazy river, and eating a 3 scoop hot fudge sundae. There was a huge twisty slide and Everett wanted to ride in my lap. Unfortunately, we had to go down one at a time. The lifeguard told me to go first, and Everett seemed willing so he followed me down. I caught him at the bottom, and it was okay but we only did it once. A little too scary for my blood. We made sand castles, and after we all cleaned up we had pizza on the Boardwalk and took the boat to Hollywood Studios. We arrived 20 minutes before the Fantasmic show and were told it was at capacity! We walked around, and since Madeleine was up for it, we decided to wait for the next show in 1 1/2 hours. Everett fell asleep in the stroller and we waited in the Fantasmic line for a good hour. When we were finally able to get in, I was amazed to see a huge amount of bleachers that I estimated sat 10,000 people. The 9:30 pm show was almost full as well! Everett slept on me, but woke up during the show. It was an okay show, but I probably would not wait 1 1/2 hours again. Madeleine really enjoyed it though. We were back at the hotel by 10:30, but it took the kids a while to get settled, we started packing, and were not asleep until 11:30 pm.

Monday, March 14, 2011
Animal Kingdom had extra magic hours at 8 am for resort guests, so we were on the bus for Animal Kingdom at 7:20 am. I was amazed at how many people were there! It felt incredibly crowded and it was only resort guests! I made a bad decision and instead of heading for the Kilimanjaro Safari, I told Lee to head to DinoLand. Madeleine and Lee headed for the DINOSAUR ride that Everett was too short for. Everett and I were the first riders for the TriceraTop Spin which was just like the Dumbo ride and Magic Carpet ride at Magic Kingdom. The nice worker let us stay on the ride for 7 trips, many of which we were the only riders. Madeleine and Lee said that the DINOSAUR ride was terrifying with dinosaurs jumping out at them. At the end you could see a picture that they had taken of each car and both Lee and Madeleine were crouched down. DinoLand was deserted and I was regretting my decision to not head straight for the Safari, so we got Everett some apple juice which he quickly drank while we headed for the Safari on the other end of the park. On our way Lee got fastpasses for Expedition Everest but Madeleine heard people screaming and was not too sure about it. We waited about 20 minutes for the Safari and enjoyed ourselves again. We then walked in the Maharajah Jungle Trek to see the komodo dragons. They were right near the entrance and Madeleine was ready to leave after we saw them. So, we headed back to Expedition Everest and Lee had to give away our fastpasses because Madeleine was not at all interested. We headed back to DinoLand for the Boneyard. The kids were in heaven and could have spent all day there. There were slides, a big playground, and a shaded fossil dig. We walked by the Discovery Island tree, took the bus back to the hotel, and finished our packing. We gave all of our luggage to the hotel desk and walked to Epcot to see the countries. We loved how Madeleine called it Epacot. We walked through the United Kingdom and Canada, got fastpasses for the Norway maelstrom ride and went to Mexico for our lunch reservations. After our meal Lee and Madeleine rode the maelstrom while Everett fell asleep in the stroller in front of China. Madeleine decided she wanted to get Jasmine and Aladdin's autograph so we headed for Morocco and waited 30 minutes. We walked back to the hotel, turned in our stroller, got on our Magical Express bus back to the airport, and headed back to Dallas on our 7 pm flight. Lee had loaded Toy Story 3 on the iPad, but after an hour the iPad ran out of battery. The kids were pretty restless for the last hour and lucky Lee was 10 rows behind us. We made it though, and the kids fell asleep in the car on the drive home.

Next time we go to Disneyworld:
More time & eating in countries at Epcot
ride a Sedgway at Epcot
character meal at the Contemporary
Hoop-dee-do review
pirates league for Everett where he transforms into a pirate
breakfast at Cinderella's castle
go to the Lego store in downtown Disney

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Japan

I lived in Japan for one year, from 1996-1997 and LOVED it. I was an English teacher with the JET Program, the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. The people were so kind, and everything was so different from Texas, and I learned a lot!

The first American death has been recorded in Japan, a JET teacher. I was at Disneyworld when the earthquake and tsunami happened, so it sort of seemed distant to me. Watching this 60 minute story about Japan made everything seem real.

I lived in Ibaraki prefecture, in Yasatomachi, which is on the other side of the mountain from Tsukuba, the science city. Ibaraki is about 4 hours southwest of Sendai by car. I taught at 4 junior high schools, and I rode my bike to them just like the American teacher who died. I loved my year in Japan. I made great friends, and loved the culture and the beauty of Japan. If you want to learn more about the experience of teaching English in Japan, read this excellent book by Bruce Feiler. I kept up with a few Japanese friends via email for a few years but have lost touch.

I did experience earthquakes while I lived in Japan and they were terrifying because I had never experienced any in my Texas life. Apparently, Ibaraki has had many earthquakes and aftershocks.

You can learn about what the United Methodist Church is doing in Japan right now and donate all at the same time. May we continue to lift up to God all those affected in Japan.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

#9 Thing to Do in Dallas with Kids

Go to the children's center at the downtown library. I know, I know, I already posted about how wonderful the Dallas Public Library is, but the downtown children's center was recently remodeled and it is amazing.

First, I appreciate the opportunity to talk about homelessness when we visit the downtown library. Many of the folks inside and outside the library appear a bit haggard. There are always lots of questions about why they look the way that they do, why they smell, etc. I am so glad that there is a place where all are welcome to come inside, to rest and to relax.

Second, the entire second floor is only open to children. Even the bathrooms are children sized! To come to the second floor you must have a child with you. There are always at least 3 library employees and I always feel very safe.

Third, there are so many more books and movies at the downtown branch. The renovations increased the size of the children's center to 16,500 square feet with 125,000 books, audiobooks, CDs and DVDs. There are also 6 computers with screens that are bigger than our TV at home. When we went to the children's library yesterday, the computers were filled with children with headphones on playing educational games.

There are also 10 iPads!!! with different educational apps on them. There are also lots of storytimes, puppet shows, and hands-on projects. Yesterday, Madeleine attended an art class where she learned about abstract art. There are also magnetic and chalk walls and a discovery wall that is a 14X14 floor flat screen wall that has a real-time tele-presence but we have not been able to see it in action yet.

#8 Thing to Do in Dallas with Kids

Go to the American Girl store, play with everything in the store, and do not purchase a thing. When the American Girl store opened in Dallas, I took Madeleine and I was amazed that the kids were invited to play with everything in the store. For every item that you can purchase there is one outside of the box, at kid-level, that they are welcome to touch and play with.

When I asked Madeleine what she wanted to do during spring break, her first response was, "Go to the American Doll store" (that is what she calls it). Each time before we enter the store, I make very clear that I am not going to purchase anything. I tell her that she can play with anything in the store, for an hour, and then we are going to leave. Mommy is not going to buy anything. I am amazed when I make this clear from the beginning, there is no whining or pleading for me to buy this or buy that.

Then, we always go to the 3rd floor playground at the Galleria Mall and walk to see the ice skaters.

Disneyworld - our favorite things

Everett's favorite thing:
having lunch with Handy Manny



Madeleine's favorite thing: (video below)
Jedi training at Hollywood Studios where she fought one on one with Darth Vader

video



Lee and Kerry's favorite things:



riding in the tea cups as a family

having Everett fall asleep on us, and realizing that this might not happen ever again...


and watching the kids have such a great time

Disneyworld was magical, or as Lee liked to say magically expensive. It was a wonderful family vacation.

Monday, March 7, 2011

An update in photos

We have been busy going to soccer practices, soccer games, gymnastics, piano, swimming class, work, school, and planning for our trip to Disneyworld! Seriously, the trip to Disneyworld has required much internet planning! So, here are some photos that I have taken lately...

the kids playing on some dry erase boards that we have...

Everett in his Dr. Seuss hat that he made at school...

And debuting Madeleine's photo taking skills. These were taken yesterday at our church's chili cook-off!

the chili was good! There were 10 entries!


And these were good, but super sweet. I had seen them on this blog and wanted to try them out!

We'll post next week with our Disney photos and Disney tips!