April 20, 2013

Jason's 38th Birthday

Jason just "logged" another birthday, bringing his grand total to 38.  I don't know if I was not ready to exert the energy to come up with any ideas or if I was just feeling particularly lazy, but leading up to the day, I kept asking him what he wanted for his birthday or how he wanted to celebrate.  He offered very little in the way of party planning suggestions, but he did tell me that he wanted German pancakes with buttermilk syrup for his breakfast.

Well, up until three days before Jason's birthday, I was at a complete loss for what to give him or even what sort of cake to make.  I turned my attention to the internet, looking for ideas for gifts for men.  Most were power-tool related, so I decided I'd use that as a starting point.  I knew he needed a new cordless drill (I had used his recently, and it was on its deathbed).  I was also pretty sure our children had destroyed every decent tape measure he owned by playing with them, so I thought that a new one of those would be nice, too.  After I left the Home Depot with items that were all a bright and cheery yellow, I was struck with the inspiration to go monochromatic.  I created a spread of gifts and treats in hues of gold, to be displayed for Jason to come home from work to discover. It turned out to be a great last-minute surprise since I didn't have to wrap anything.  The final touch was a lemon-flavored ombre cake and a birthday greeting that referenced an inside joke that Jason and I have that originated from way back when we were dating.

It all came together so nicely, you would have thought I put weeks worth of thought and effort into it.  I do feel that the color of choice seemed perfectly appropriate, not because yellow is Jason's favorite color, but because it is mine, and I guess you could say Jason is my favorite person, too!

After Jason arrived home from work and got a glimpse of his "loot," he and I went on a date that evening to Malawi's Pizza and had a lovely time. 

When we arrived home, he was treated to the sweetest chorus of Happy Birthday (courtesy of our children) before we all ate a slice of cake with ice-cream.  We may have eaten some golden Oreo cookies as well.

Happy Birthday, Jason!

This post authored by Amber

April 16, 2013


I really wish I was able to help in my children's classrooms more.  Since I really can't commit to be a frequent and consistent help in the classrooms, I at least try to sign up to help with one party or field trip event for each teacher.  For Spencer, I signed up to help chaperone a field trip to Harward Farms. It turned out to be a wonderfully educational experience sponsored by USU Extension Services and it involved the 4H organization and farmers from surrounding communities. (I look forward to signing up for this field trip when Garrett is in second grade.)

When we arrived, Spencer grabbed a bucket on the front row and watched as the entire group was able to witness a sheep shearing.

After, each class was organized into groups that rotated through a number of different stations.  They would listen to a presentation that lasted about three minutes or so before a large horn would sound, and the groups would move to the next location. I think there were around twenty stations in all.

We moved in and out of barns and trailers and learned about the farming process of grains, chickens, pigs, beef, dairy, mink, bee keeping, etc.  They also discussed things like farm safety, hand washing and germ prevention, and the latest government nutrition guidelines (MyPlate.gov).

Although the weather was quite cold and rainy, the field trip was a wonderful activity to be a part of, although we were relieved to climb into the heated bus when it was all said and done.

This post authored by Amber

April 15, 2013

"And The Oscar Goes To..."

I volunteered to help with Art City Elementary School's Teacher Appreciation Week and was given the assignment of decorating the faculty room and outside doors of the school.  This was a fun and refreshing change from doing mostly donation collections the year before, and who wouldn't love working with a theme like "Our Teachers are Stars!"

I guess the PTA had done a similar theme in the past because in the closet there were decorations and props like movie set clipboards, film cans, and reel cameras.  I was also more than grateful to reuse the centerpiece cans that were made for last year's decorations.  I only added the yellow tissue paper and one (of the many found in the closet) Oscar-like plastic trophy.  Throw in some large stars cut out of butcher paper, and it's SHOWTIME! 

On one of the afternoons during the week, the PTA provided the teachers and staff with a snack bar.  We fired up the faculty popcorn machine and set up a concession stand, too.  I thought it was a really cute touch.

Now here's where my plans got a little carried away.  I envisioned, as part of the decorations, a wall of "Now Showing" movie posters, each encased in their own light-up frames.  In theory, it was a super-awesome idea.  In practice, it was...well, okay.  I had taken foam poster-board and cut it into the frames that had an 8.5 x 11 inch opening, allowing for me to put in a picture of a movie poster that had been Photoshopped to include faces of faculty members.  All along the edges of the frames, I punched holes and pushed white Christmas lights through.  My mistake was in keeping the lights strands between the four frames connected.    The posters looked really cool when they were lit up, but halfway through the week, one of the strands burned out and it ended up looking a little "ghetto."  But, here they are all lit up (you can see how they were hanging on the wall in the picture of the entire room above):

And finally, I would like to "show and tell" about my large, mural artworks.  As it turns out, all of those Saturday mornings as a child watching Bob Ross paint "happy little trees" finally paid off, though for me, it was "happy little clouds and bushes."  I was really stoked about how the Hollywood sign turned out, with its three-dimensional quality given by the letters cut out of foam board.  I'm pretty sure I was feeling inspired by my recent California trip.

I had carefully pre-measured all of the doors and and bulletin boards so I could cut the paper to size and paint everything at home.  I think my family was relieved when I got all of these decorations off of the living room floor and out of the house.  I was relieved that when I assembled them, they looked like I had hoped they would.  I was particularly excited about the subtlety in colors and design that made the front door look like an inviting and unmistakable introduction of the week's theme to all who entered the school.

"That's a wrap!"

This post authored by Amber

April 6, 2013


What can I say?  We love Disneyland. But, then again, who doesn't?  So when Jason proposed that we visit there for a second year in a row during spring break to squeeze in one last trip while Ella was still free, I was was whole-heartedly on board with that idea. We didn't hear any arguments from our children, either.

We've now visited the parks quite a few times with our family, and we feel we've got things pretty well figured out.  Even though we have gone at times when crowds have swelled and the season is at a peak, we have really managed to maneuver and plan our days in a way that completely maximizes our visit's potential. This visit was no exception, and you will soon see that we had a fabulous time.
Hanging Out at the Hotel

One of the biggest contributors to the success of our vacation planning has been due to our travel agency of choice, Get Away Today.  We were able effortlessly secure a ticket package with one of our favorite hotels, the Del Sol Inn.  The reason we like staying at this hotel is because it is directly across the street from the park main entrance--that is critical for bringing children back in the afternoon for naptime.  It's tucked behind a Denny's restaurant, it offers a free continental-style breakfast, and it is economically friendly.  Those all add to the reasons we like it. The children will tell you that it is the best because it has a pool and hot tub. (Don't tell them that pretty much all the hotels have a pool and hot tub, though.)

 Coupon Redemption

We informed our children that we were going to Disneyland by giving them gift certificates for Valentine's day (you can read that story here).  Of course, I had to take a picture of each child in front of the ride that was featured on their individual certificates. 

Gettin' Our Kicks on Route 66

When we were at Disneyland a year ago, the California Adventure park was overtaken by construction walls that boarded-up the attraction of Cars Land that was set to be unveiled two months after our visit.  Nearly a year has passed, and all the hype surrounding the new attraction has definitely not worn off. We were quick to discover why this area of the park was populated in a way that would rival the 3:00 p.m. crowds of Adventureland.  The place is absolutely amazing, and the new rides were so fun.  Fortunately, we researched to learn where to look for the end of the fast pass line for Radiator Springs Racers and made sure someone was in that line as the rest of the family lined up to wait for the park to open.  By using fast passes and rider-switch passes, we managed to get on that ride multiple times and never had to wait more than thirty minutes. (Although, I don't think people waiting in the 3+ hour line were disappointed, because the ride is really that cool--I'm just glad I wasn't in that line!)

I've got to hand it to the Disney Imagineers. They effectively brought the scenes of an animated film to life in a way that was awe-inspiring.  The attention to detail is so precise in the development of Cars Land that it takes your breath away the moment you turn the corner and find yourself staring down Route 66, taking in the real-life scenery of Radiator Springs.  Oh, and to see the place at night in all its neon glory, is nothing  less than spectacular.  We loved it.

 Main Street Parade

Just as you pass through the tunnels that open onto Main Street in Disneyland, there is a raised area for the flagpole, some flowerbeds, and a few walkways.  We discovered that this was an awesome spot for the parade. It allowed us to see all of the floats coming straight on before they turned for the profile view.  The fact that we were on the front row didn't hurt any, either.  Our family really does enjoy watching this parade, even if they don't look too thrilled to sit and wait for it to begin. Here's why we like it so much:

Fantasy Faire

Ella didn't realize it, but she did a lot of waiting around while her brothers were off riding "the big rides." Certainly she was entitled to a moment when everyone would accommodate her for her special Disneyland experience.  Who knew it would turn out to be something that everyone would get so much enjoyment from?

When we discovered (via the app, Mousewait) that the line time for the Fantasy Faire was only 15 minutes long, we hurriedly slapped that poofy, pink princess dress on Ella and high-tailed it over to the palace so she could enjoy a "meet and greet"  with the likes of Princess Aurora, Ariel, and Cinderella. It was so sweet to see how excited her older brothers were for her.  The whole family was anticipating witnessing Ella's reactions to meeting the princesses, and she put on quite a performance--as did the princesses.

It was completely amusing to watch the interaction between Ella and the characters.  Ariel was, by far, the most memorable in how she responded to Ella.  She also left quite an impression on Ella, too. To this day, Ella demonstrates a preference for that particular Disney character.

 Third Time's a Charm - Jedi Training

Brevin really, REALLY wanted to participate in Jedi Training.  He and Spencer had done it twice before and the experience had certainly been a favorite highlight from our past Disneyland visits.  We finally acknowledged his request on our final day at the park.  While I had hoped that Spencer and Garrett would also be selected from the crowd to "learn the ways of the force" I was relived that, since only one of my children was selected, it was Brevin.  He had wanted it so badly, and we watched as he faced Darth Maul in what Jason and I believe may have been their final battle.

After Darth Vader and Darth Maul had been "banished" from the stage area and the Jedi training certificates had been handed out, something unusual occurred. The crowds dispersed at the completion of the show, but some of the stage performers lingered in the area (they'd never done that before), including the man who had been the Jedi trainer and the female assistant that helped with the lightsaber duels with Darth Maul. They were the same individuals who had been a part of the show for each of the three times my children had been selected as participants, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to approach them, shake their hands, and express my deepest felt gratitude for the part they played in making my children's dreams come true. Just look at how happy they made my child:

  Feeding Time

Just as we have discovered rides and events at the park that we make certain not to miss, we have found a few "must have" eating experiences there, too.  My favorite indulgence has become buying a bag of  beignets from Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen Express in Downtown Disney. We like to make a meal of a hand-dipped corn dog from the Little Red Wagon on Main Street. I also love to pick up a Dole Whip whenever we visit, but I get just as much satisfaction from telling a handful of people at the end of the ridiculously long line for the frosty treat that they can go into the waiting area of the Tiki Room to find another serving area on the opposite side of the shack where they will find a line that never has more than five or six people in it. I'm all about finding ways to beat the crowds. 

Of course, this year we had to try the fare at Flo's V8 in Cars Land.  Jason and I had the BBQ pork loin dinner, and it was good enough that we chose it for an entree a second time later in the week.  We also tried some of the snack items at the Cozy Cone like the chili cone queso and the ice cream cones. Yummy stuff.

 Downtown Disney for Souvenirs

Our children seem to have made it a tradition to pick up a souvenir from the Lego store in Downtown Disney.  I really couldn't argue with allowing them to fill a plastic container with Legos of choice for only $15.  Brevin and Spencer each decided to fill two. We now have a Lego collection worth envying.  Jason and I replaced our old Lego Star Wars key chain characters while we were in the store, as well.  Only Ella opted to get something a little more traditionally Disney.  She picked out a plush Sulley doll and a set of Little Mermaid figurines.  I fell in love with a reverse-able plush princess doll that converts from Aurora to Ariel with a flip of the dress, so it should come as no surprise that I felt Ella needed that one as well.  Jason and I purchased a light-up pirate pistol that Garrett had been eying, and we saved it to give to him for his birthday. We also picked up a 2013 souvenir magnet.

Meeting & Greeting the Disney Characters

Between enjoying rides and shows, we love to catch an opportunity to interact with Disney characters and take a few pictures with them.  Some of these encounters were spontaneous, when a character just popped out right in front of us.  Most, however, came from careful planning and staking out a spot where we knew we would see new characters every 15 minutes.  In the same area where we watched the parade, there are some park benches that face the gates from where the cast members emerge.  As soon as the gates swung open and a new character came out, we would run to greet them and were often first in line for a picture.  This served as a wonderful activity for Garrett and Ella to pass the time while Brevin and Spencer went on bigger rides with Dad.

This had to be one of my favorite moments of the trip: Ella hugged Mickey and would not release him. When I tried to turn her around to hurry and take a picture so the next in line could get a turn, Mickey shooed me away and kept on hugging her. Then he made a gesture so as to say, "I want to put her in my pocket, and take her home with me," (the cast member assisting with the line helped with the translation of the body language).

As we left the park on our final night in Disneyland, we passed the employee gates just as Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto, and Goofy all walked out. So which one do we try to chase down first? There was a moment of confusion as my little family split in all directions, each trying to get a chance to see their favorites. We did, however, manage to get one final family photo with the beloved Mickey Mouse.  Well, Walt Disney did say, "...it was all started with a mouse."  It seems only appropriate that it would all end that way, too.

 You've Gotta Admit.  This is Pretty Awesome!

Garrett was really excited because he was tall enough to go on The Hollywood Tower of Terror. I was really excited because I had a four-year-old who was brave enough to go on The Hollywood Tower of Terror. We even got front row seats for the ride. He handled it well, but afterwards he said he didn't think he'd go on it again because it was "a little bit scary."  I decided he deserved some cotton candy after taking on that ride.

Park Nightlife

The World of Color and the Disneyland fireworks shows are always delightful.  Perhaps one of these years we'll take in Fantasmic as well, but two late nights at the park was about our limit, especially after a long day of amusement.  Our children sure slept well at night, though.

 What We'll Remember Most

After our trips to Disneyland, I always ask what my family remembers most and what their favorite rides were.  Here are the responses I got about our most recent trip:

Ella- Monsters Inc., Winnie the Pooh, Heimlich's Chew-Chew Train, Francis' Ladybug Boogie, and the Little Mermaid

Garrett- Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, Goofy's Flight School and the Haunted Mansion

Spencer- Indiana Jones, Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, Luigi's Flying Tires, Pirates of the Caribbean, Radiator Springs Racers, and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

Brevin- Star Tours, Screamin', and Radiator Springs Racers

Amber- Radiator Springs Racers, Hollywood Tower of Terror, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Peter Pan

Jason- Splash Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean

Oh, and of course I will always remember how we asked a rough-looking, tattooed biker-man to take a family picture for us.  He broke into laughter when he saw Garrett's expression.  He offered to take another one for us, but we declined.  This photo is GOLDEN!

This post Authored by Amber