Every fall Jason plays a series of concerts at Dollywood park in Pigeon Forge with Guy Penrod. Everyone brings their families and we have a big time exploring the amusement park, watching concerts, exploring the Great Smoky Mountains and eating lots of yummy food. If you know anything about my experience of pregnancy so far you know I was most excited about the food! Ali was most excited about the rides and the concerts. She’s a huge fan of her Daddy and of Guy. We went to one of the three concerts each of the three days and spent the rest of the time playing, eating and sleeping. Ali took a nap in the van each afternoon (praise the Lord!) and we even snuck in a little time to swim in the hotel pool one evening. One of the biggest highlights for me was getting to meet up with my foster mama friend Nicole who lives in nearby Knoxville. We were able to get some extra tickets for her and her girls for the park one day. Her youngest is the same age as Ali. The girls hit it off and danced together through a concert (Guy even came off stage to talk to them during the concert, which Ali is still talking about!) and rode all of the kiddie rides together. I can’t show photos of her face or share her name but I did get lots of photos of them together. Ali’s favorite ride was the little roller coaster that she called “the pretend train.” As always it was a wonderful time and I came home completely exhausted.
The real reason I didn’t write any blog posts for 2 weeks is because we left for vacation a couple days after Firefly left and there was a lot to catch up on at home and work when we got back. Jason and I love to vacation in Naples, Florida. I think we’ve gone 4 times in the past 5 years. This was the first time Ali has been there, though. She’s been to the beach before but this time she was old enough to really enjoy it and play in the sand and water. She’s a little fish and the Gulf in South Florida is warm, clear and gentle. We stayed in Foxfire Country Club in a condo that happened to have a bunch of really cool mid-century modern teak furniture. The pool was warm and we usually had it all to ourselves. Ali did awesome on the 12-14 hour car ride both ways. She’s a pro traveler. We used our DVD player for the first time. On the way to Florida she watched Frozen 4.5 times! Once there we saw so much native wildlife, mostly found by or spotted by Jason. He caught 5 large 9-point starfish out in the ocean. He also found 2 live sand dollars. We released all of them after admiring them. We also saw dolphins, manatees, sting rays (I stepped on one that didn’t have a tail. Phew!) and tons of little lizards in the wild. We visited the Everglades Wonder Garden and saw captive alligators, parrots, macaws, turtles and tortoises, butterflies, flamingos and lots of other birds and reptiles. We ate so much good seafood, saw gorgeous sunsets and had lots of time to play and have fun together as a family of three. We had our vacation planned long before Firefly joined our family but God must have known that it’s timing would perfect for our family to escape the painful realities at home and reset.
Ready for the photo overload?
We took Ali up to Erie to visit the place we grew up, met, fell in love, got married and started our lives as a couple. We had the special opportunity to introduce her to her great-grandmother who she is named after. We were also blessed to spend time with other family and friends that we rarely get to see. My mom traveled up and back with us but stayed with her sister’s family for the weekend.
The 9 hour drive was 11 hrs one way and 12 hrs the other way with a potty training toddler sick with a cold, road construction and traffic jams. But, all-in-all, she’s a great traveler. We got bored a few times.
Jason’s and my first apartment was the second story of this house. It was so drafty the first winter (our last winter in PA!) that we almost froze to death.
I love that we could see Lake Erie from so many places as we were driving around.
The house I grew up in from age 9 (when we moved to Erie) until I got married at 18. Too many memories to list them all here but lots of pictures before school dances, Jason picking me up for dates, our first kiss, him asking my dad for permission to marry me, the garage sale before we moved where we sold off all our snow shovels, boots and salt bags.
Asbury Woods Nature Center
I used to volunteer at this nature center on Saturday mornings taking care of the animals. It’s changed so much it was hardly recognizable–in a good way.
I have so many wonderful memories in these woods, exploring and biking with my best friend Michele when we were kids. It was special to walk through the trails with my family this time. These woods are one of my top two places I miss in Erie. I wish we could have hiked all the way to Buttermilk Falls but it didn’t work out this time.
The Grandfather Tree. Red Oak est. 150 years old.
Honey stick! My elementary school was right across the street so we took field trips to this nature center often and always bought a $0.25 honey stick on the way out.
Ali with her cousin Aiden at Cheddars.
Connie’s Ice Cream – we all got their turtle ice cream – best turtle ice cream in the world, I say.
One of my best friends from high school, Chrissy, prepared an amazing picnic lunch for us to eat at the beach (with Wegmans food and Art’s cookies!) This is Ali with Kaitlyn.
Another one of my best friends from high school, Sarah
This beach is the number one place I miss in Erie. So many memories here with family, friends, Jason…playing in the sand, sun tanning, picnics and birthday parties, gorgeous sunsets.
The water was too cold for our little Nashville girl’s feet
Approximately where Jason asked me to marry him and I said yes…11 years ago!
I’m so thankful that I got to see these women and watch our daughters play together on the same beach we spent so much time at when we were kids. Sarah and Jessica, me and Ali, Chrissy and Kaitlyn.
Froyo with these two, who refused to pose for my photo… Dave and Emily!
We drove past the house were Jason lived as a little boy on Poplar Street.
Look a dirt road! We also drove past the house were Jason lived in middle school and high school our in Wattsburg but couldn’t get a good look at it through the brush.
While we were out of town kid-free Jason and I had to find places for Ali and Buzz to stay, of course. Ali was easy. My parents were willing. Since we lived with them for 10 months last year and Ali goes there all the time, it was a pretty easy transition for her. We did a lot of FaceTime and sending photos and videos back and forth, which helped a lot. I’m so thankful for technology!
Buzz was a little trickier. It was too much to ask anyone to watch both kiddos together (I totally understand!) so we needed to find another home for Buzz to stay. Our new family case worker was awesome about sending out an email and locating a family that was willing and available. The other family’s case worker sent their contact info with a little note “heart in the right place” next to their names. I can’t tell you how much peace of mind that gave me! I talked to his respite foster mama at length before the trip and sent her a detailed list of his routine and likes/dislikes. They were grateful for all the info and I was thrilled that they cared enough to ask in advance about his favorite foods, books, activities, etc. She sent me reports and some photos during our trip reporting that he was doing great and such a sweet boy. She also kept in touch with Buzz’s mom through texts, pictures and videos lik we usually do. Buzz’s mom and I both hated for his sake that he had to be away from our home for 9 days, but it went as good, if not better, than we could have hoped for. It was a little rocky transitioning back to our house the first day. It was hard to interpret his emotions…sad, confused, scared…but I’m not exactly sure why. We did our best to explain to him everything that was happening and what to expect next. By the next day, he was pretty much back to his usual self. It sounds like he didn’t talk much at their house but he came back with some new words and expressions, and it’s been fun to hear what he learned: “that way!” “wait!” with his hand held out, “oh ok.”
I had planned to have an extra day of staycation when we got home before returning to the work/daycare routine but we ended up with 2 days (because Jason opted to drive through the night!) I’m really glad we had that time to transition back to a family of four again. Both of our kids caregivers did ALL of their laundry before pick up so I only had 3 loads to do when we got home, rather than 4 or 5. Thank you, thank you!
I looked at tacky over-priced Key West souveniers for the kids at several shops and just couldn’t bring myself to do it. We stopped at IKEA in Orlando on our way home and I picked out a big stuffed animal for each of them…or in Ali’s case a stuffed vegetable. She loves broccoli so I thought it would be funny to get her a big stuffed broccoli. There’s a video of her showing off Miss Bocki on my Instagram feed. Buzz loves dogs so his toy was an easy choice, too. He acted completely uninterested in it while we were still at his respite house but then fell asleep holding it on our drive home and has slept with it every nap and night since then. I asked him if dog has a name and he said “Woof Woof.”
We got a few things for ourselves, too. Some of it won’t appear until future posts when it’s assembled and/or photographed. These were easy, though. New towels, bath rug and shower curtain for the hall bathroom:
I had planned to schedule a bunch of posts for this week but with Jason and Buzz sick last week and the holiday, time just got away from me. So know you get to know: Jason and I are in Florida this week. Since before Buzz arrived (at the beginning of May) we had been planning a getaway to celebrate our 10th Anniversary. We’re not big on celebrating milestones with “stuff” like cards or gifts but we always set aside some time for a dinner date. We did that this year too and it was painfully clear that 2 hours away from the toddlers was not enough time to catch up, and definitely not enough time to rest and relax.
A kid-less vacation was what we needed. Four days into our vacation and we already feel like its been SO refreshing! We had dinner at the Columbia in Sarasota, spent the weekend in Naples, Fl (our favorite) and this morning we’re heading to Key West – somewhere new to us.
My mama always told me that the best gift you can give your kids is to love your spouse well.
The week before last, we snuck off for a week of family vacation in Emerald Isle, NC. My parents rented a beach house and invited us, my siblings, their spouses and their kids to join them. Here are my awesome, generous parents:
It’s a rare occasion to have us all together, especially for such a long stretch. The house arrangement couldn’t have been better for 6 month old, 9 month old and 1 year old – we were close enough to the beach to come and go at our own pace and the house had a small pool in the back, perfect for floating around in while babies were napping.
We celebrated Precious’ first birthday while we were there and I’ll write a separate post about the party. One of her gifts was a red wagon from my parents. It will be great for trips back and forth from their house to our new house, just down the road. We decided to bring it along to the beach for walks to the ice cream shop and evening strolls on the beach.
The view from the back patio where we spent a lot of time:
I did a really bad job of documenting the adults on vacation (surprise, surprise) so the rest of my photos are centered around the little kiddos. Grandma with my 6-month old nephew Eli:
My 9-month-old niece Iris playing with Precious on the deck:
Somebody got pictures of all three babies together. We also attempted some self-timer portraits of all of us together. Eventually I’ll track those photos down… Here are some shots of Precious exploring the beach. She didn’t mind crawling on the flat sand but the ocean was a little scary:
Hmm, what’s this? Looks like cinnamon…
Doesn’t taste good!
I have a policy about not telling the internet world when we’re out of town so I don’t write much on Twitter during vacation. I did think about tweeting a lot though. Here’s what I would have said:
9/5/11 3:30pm We’re off to Naples! Or at least as far as we can drive tonight.
9/5/11 6:23pm Shared a delicious pot roast dinner at Cracker Barrel. Their service is so fast and good, cheap food, too.
9/5/11 6:59pm Cracker Barrel has more billboards than any other single company in the country. I learned that in an advertising class.
9/6/11 12:05am Cozy home away from home: air mattress in the back of the silver bullet. Yes, that’s right. We’re not paying for a motel to sleep for a few hours.
9/6/11 5:30am The sun is not up yet but we’re wide away thanks to the parking lot cleaner guy and his leaf blower. Back in the Wal-Mart to use the bathroom then we’re off to find a Starbucks.
9/6/11 1:22pm We arrived at our hotel in Naples. I drove the last 2 of 14 hours. Gotta do my part.
9/6/11 1:35pm It’s sunny and humid and beautiful. Straight to the beach we go.
9/6/11 4:47pm Complete relaxation this afternoon. No walking along the beach. No playing in the ocean. Just sitting and absorbing. Peace.
9/6/11 7:04pm Amazingly delicious and HUGE dinner at Cracklin’ Jack’s tonight. Fried Grouper was outta this world. It would have taken us hours to eat all this food. #vittles
9/7/11 We both got our ocean fix today. I got to ride waves and float around in the warm, sparkly salt water while Jason got to play beach explorer and found shells, sand dollars and crabs. I found some half-buried sunglasses.
9/7/11 8:10pm Dinner tonight was a surprise… the most we’ve ever paid for a meal. Surprise! Yelp has just $$ by this restaurant where it definitely should have been $$$. Cloyde’s was super, though. No complaints.
9/7/118:12pm I got the Chilean Sea Bass which was good but Jason got the surf and turf. The filet mignon was ahhmazing.
9/7/11 8:15pm “This filet mignon is so moist and soft it’s like cake. Meat cake.” – me
9/7/11 9:36pm We drove around looking for a good ice cream place and ended up back at the hotel ice cream less. Walked in and out of Reginas because we didn’t have cash. #getacreditcardmachine #youarelosingbusiness
9/18/11 9:04am Best Western Naples has a lovely poolside continental breakfast. We’re surrounded by palm trees, flowers and cute little lizards.
9/8/11 9:45am Checking out the Collier County free museum today. Mostly interested in the native plant garden.
9/8/11 12:11pm There are so many beautiful, modest mid-century modern ranches in Naples. It’s a shame they keep getting bulldozed to build beach mansions.
9/8/11 2:45pm Saw a blackish fin pop up in the water about a 100 yds from me. Moment of panic. Then I saw another fin and realized it was 2 dolphins. #relief #sharkavoidance
9/8/11 4:32pm It was supposed to rain all day but it ended up not raining at all. Another perfect beach day for the one who loves the water and the one who loves the shore.
9/8/11 9:01pm Tasty dinner at Grouper and Chips tonight. Not as good as Cracklin’ Jack’s but cheaper. Sat outside in the romantic neon glow of the OPEN sign.
9/8/11 9:03pm Stopped at Dairy Queen for ice cream just before a storm broke out. We were slightly disturbed by the sight of this shirtless man.
9/9/11 11:11am Hit around 10 thrift and antique stores today and nada. All gaudy, beach condo junk. The Emporium has a few exceptions. Thought seriously about a set of 4 dining chairs (only one w arms) for $350 but passed.
9/9/11 1:43pm Lunch at a delightful British restaurant downtown on 5th St. in Naples called the Jolly Cricket. Filet mignon sliders were awesome.
9/9/11 1:45pm We’re off to Disney World!
9/9/11 5:22pm Checked in to Disney’s Contemporary Resort after being interrogated by the nazi border patrol parking attendant. “Why are you here?”
9/9/11 5:45pm I think this is my favorite hotel room ever!
9/9/11 6:00pm It’s pouring. I’m not going out there.
9/9/11 6:30pm Rain is letting up so we’re hopping on the monorail into Magic Kingdom to meet up with our Disney rep. Ish who will get me up close to all the stages for photos.
9/9/11 1:00am Damp and exhausted but we had fun. Bands I photographed: Francesca Battistelli, Group 1 Crew (awesome stage show!) and Matthew West.
9/10/11 1:05am We also rode It’s A Small World and a handful of other Magic Kingdom attractions.
9/10/11 10:23am Happy Birthday to my sister-in-law Ginger! I hope it’s a great day!
9/10/11 5:15pm Resting at the Contemporary after a long day at Epcot. I think Mission: SPACE is definitely one of my favorites so far.
9/10/11 7:00pm Took the walking trail into Magic Kingdom this time. The plan tonight: Sanctus Real, rides, Kutless, TobyMac, rides.
9/10/11 11:55pm Got soaked in the front row of Splash Mountain. The line was too long for Space Mountain so we gave up. Another fun but exhausting day!
9/11/11 11:30am Today’s agenda: Animal Kingdom and then Hollywood Studios.
9/11/11 3:15pm A Bug’s Life 3D show is definitely another fav! Also the Africa Safari was pretty cool. Heading to Hollywood Studios now.
9/11/11 6:10pm We enjoyed the Star Wars 3D ride so much we went on it twice. Also my roller coaster hating husband LOVED the Rock n Roller Coaster! #adrenalinerush
9/11/11 9:30pm We’re all Disney’d out. Strange, beautiful lightning cloud on our way out. Lightning keeps repeatedly lighting up inside this cloud column…flashes and bolts.
9/11/11 10:55pm Watching the fireworks over Magic Kingdom in my pjs from our balcony at the Contemporary. Perfect end to our Disney World adventure. #ilovefireworks
Jason and I had a lovely week away in Florida. We spent the first part of last week in Naples, one of our favorite towns. Then the past weekend was spent in Disney World. I’ll share more about our trip (and other happenings) once I dig myself out of all these piles of email and laundry and find time to buy groceries. Priorities, you know.
Not much to report from the ranch this week because we’ve been on vacation in Naples, Florida! Jason and I had a great week with our dear friends Laren and Jeremy. Jason’s great grandfather lived in Naples and he has wonderful memories of visiting there as a boy. He’s been wanting to go back there for years and we finally made it. It’s a really beautiful little beach town that apparently had a housing boom in the 1950s-70s. More on that later. Today, here are some fun vacation pictures.
Dinner at Kelly’s on our first night
Jeremy and Laren are great travel buddies!
Ice cream at Regina’s
Jason is picking up real estate catalogs … are we too young to own a second home at the beach?
Mini golf at Coral Cay
Jason won. He said he can’t remember a time when he didn’t win a mini golf game!
Leading the processional to the beach
When Jason was a boy he remembers finding hermit crabs and starfish and sand dollars and beautiful seashells in Naples. He turned into a little boy again as he was exploring the shoreline. He’s so cute!
Two conch shells with … clams/mussels/conches? inside
We admired them for a while and then Jason tossed them back out to sea.
Some girl found this starfish and shared it with us. It was neat to flip it over and watch it flip itself back.
Waves aren’t very big in Naples. Just calm, clear and warm.
Jason and I wanted a picture to show how clear the water was but I’m not sure if you can really tell here.
We’re already planning our next trip back to Naples!