I’ve Gone International!

When our family boarded Disney’s Fantasy for our cruise a few weeks ago, Jay immediately stopped at the concierge to clarify some details of our vacation while the girls and I walked around the lobby. A few minutes later he came up to me with the biggest grin on his face, telling me that I was going to think he was the most awesome guy in the world.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 5.21.18 PMIn his hand was a ticket for a 5K run on Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas. He’d overheard someone else asking for them, so he asked for one for me too. I was so happy I cried. And I’m totally serious when I say that – tears actually welled up in my eyes. When Jay handed me that ticket, I was elated. It meant that I could be a part of another Disney-related running event! And the best part was that the ticket was completely free! We were told that it was just a “fun run,” meaning that official times wouldn’t be recorded. But that wasn’t a problem for me since I’m never really worried about my running time anyway.

photo 4We had to start the run early, so I got ready that morning and headed to The Tube, one of the adult lounges on the ship where they arranged groups for disembarkation. When I checked in they handed me a bib (I may have clapped like a giddy schoolgirl), then went over the route the run would follow on the island before we all headed off the ship.  Once we were on the island it was just a short 5-10 minute walk to the starting line.

photo 1It was all about as laid-back as it could get. The crew member who walked us to the starting line told us to wait there while he biked up ahead to set up a water station. Then another crew member came, told us where to put our stuff (there was a big bin near the starting line), and showed us the time clock so that we could keep track of our own time. Then he said, “GO!” and started the clock. And we were off!

Backstory – At some point while planning out our day on the island, Jay and I realized that we had a potentially major problem. We had booked a nonrefundable jetski excursion on the island for 10a. Since the race started at 9a – and I’d been mega-psyched about it all week – we were a bit freaked out that this free run would end up costing us money if we missed our excursion. Because I’d taken a running hiatus all summer and had only recently started back up, I’d been running close to a 15-minute mile. As soon as I finished the 5K I would need to change into my swimsuit and get to the other side of the island where the jetskis were located, meaning that unless I ran the whole thing in 40 minutes we wouldn’t be able to hit the waves at 10a. *Lesson learned: If you plan to run this 5K, don’t book anything too close to the time you expect to finish!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo with all this in mind I pushed myself not to go fast, but just to maintain a steady pace. The route took us down a short road, then through the bike trail (more like a road than a trail), down to Serenity Bay, the adults-only beach. Then it went back through the bike trail again to the road that led back to the start/finish line.  I was completely blown away when I got to the finish line and saw that my time was just a few seconds over 30 minutes – as far as I can remember that’s the best time I’ve ever achieved at an organized race! Needless to say, we had no trouble making it to the jetskis in time. :)

So what was my absolute favorite thing about this 5K?

photo 2It’s not my completely and awesomely supportive husband (love you baby!). It’s not the unexpected medal I received either (even though this wasn’t an “official” runDisney event, Disney just totally rocks and still provided every single participant with a Castaway Cay medal upon crossing the finish line).

No, my favorite thing about this race is the fact that I can now say that I’ve run a 5K in another country. I love being able to say that I’ve gone international!

Happy, happy, international me. :)

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The Newlywed Game

In an attempt to avoid date nights that after 12 years together seemed to evolve into Order-Takeout-and-Sit-on-the-Couch-While-Watching-Dumb-TV-Shows, Jay and I have begun to implement regular at-home Date Nights that focus on being together and connecting with each other. We weren’t sure if it was going to work out… after all, old habits die hard. But the first one we tried was so successful (we created our bucket lists together), we decided to give it another go. And this time, it was my turn to come up with the conversation-inducing activity.

photo 2I hit up Pinterest for fun date night ideas, and stumbled across a free printable for The Newlywed Game, courtesy of the Dating Divas (I highly suggest you check out their site – www.thedatingdivas.com). I realize that being married for 12 years pretty much disqualifies us for the TV show version, so I though this might be a fun alternative.

The game is pretty simple: Each spouse gets 10 cards (pink for me, blue for Jay), and each card has a question on it asking how we think our spouse would answer. For example, one of Jay’s cards said, “If your wife could have unlimited access to any store, which store would she choose?” We each also had a larger card, numbered 1-10, where we could write our predicted answers. (I had numbered the back of the cards so we would know which question corresponded to which answer. Obviously, Jay wrote Tiffany & Co. as the answer to that one. :)

We sat in silence for the beginning of dinner as we wrote down our answers, then as soon as we finished we dove into both our meal and our game. We discussed keeping score, but in the end decided that was a bad idea since it would be all too easy to be offended if we hadn’t guessed correctly.

photo 1Some of the questions were super easy to answer: “What would your husband say is his favorite TV show?” (Survivor). Some were ridiculously hard: “What was your wife wearing on your first date?” (Unanswerable, since we disagree on what was our official first date). And some were just to hard to only give one answer to: “What would your wife say is the nicest thing you did for her this week?” (Toss up: he made the bed and surprised me with a frozen coke).

A few of the cards were romantic in nature, asking about who made the first move (me) and where we had our first kiss (my mom’s van). It was fun to see how much we remembered and how many of our answers were correct – I think if we had kept score it would have been pretty even!

photo 3What we loved about this game was it forced us to think and talk about things that would most likely have never come up in a normal conversation. We realized things we didn’t know about each other (my chili isn’t his favorite meal and he didn’t realize how important my hair straightener really is to me). We discovered that some things haven’t changed in 12 years (his dream to design a roller coaster). But most of all, we connected. <3

Our Vacation Voyage

We just got back from a Disney cruise.
Best. Vacation. Ever.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It was actually our second cruise with Disney, and even though our first was over six years ago (Emily was only 18 months old), this last trip was every bit as magical as we remembered the first one to be.

We sailed on the ship Fantasy, one of the two larger ships in a fleet of four. The ship was gorgeous, full of beautifully intricate mosaics, glass elevators, ornate decor, and Swarovski crystal chandeliers. And, in true Disney-style, also full of magical surprises hidden throughout the ship, like paintings that came alive and interactive dining experiences – not to mention running into iconic Disney characters while walking around the ship.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur trip covered the Western Carribbean, and stopped in Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Falmouth, and Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island.  At each stop our family disembarked the ship and enjoyed a different adventure.

We explored ancient Mayan ruins…

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…and even did a little jetskiing.

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This trip was amazing, and we feel like a big part of that was due to us having sailed on Disney Cruise Lines (DCL) before. Knowing what to expect gave us more time to enjoy ourselves the way we wanted to enjoy ourselves… which we found wasn’t always the way everyone else wanted to spend their vacation. We spent less time on this trip wishing we had planned and prepared better, and instead enjoyed the trip as though we were habitual cruisers – which we are definitely not.

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I’m planning to write a few Disney cruise-related posts in the near future, in the hopes that it might help anyone else about to embark on their first DCL experience feel better prepared too. And hopefully it will help me remember what we did to make this one such a success!

See ya real soon! :)

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It Ain’t Always Pinks & Glitter

Sugar and spice and everything nice,
that’s what little girls are made of.
Snips and snails and puppy dog tails,
that’s what little boys are made of.

This mentality drives me absolutely bonkers. Whenever I see this: #boys… or #lifewithgirls… or #itsaboyslife, I get a little peeved, because I know I’m about to see some little girl in a tutu or some little boy covered in mud. I can’t stand the implication that life with boys is the total opposite of life with girls – and especially the implication that life with girls is a piece of cake in comparison. It hasn’t been my experience at all, and from the parents I’ve talked to about it, it hasn’t been their experience either.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPlease don’t misunderstand – I was a teacher for 9 years. I’ve seen the differences between male and female children, and I’m well aware that the major stereotypes are true. The differences in the way boys and girls play, interact with each other, approach their schoolwork, and show affection are all obvious if you’ve spent any amount of time with a group of kids.

The problem for me is that while the broad stereotypes ring true, I’ve found that in almost every single application of #lifewithboys could easily be changed to #lifewithgirls. At least, this is the case in my house. Legos in the dryer? #lifewithgirls. Preferring to run around naked? #girls. Throwing a complete tantrum in the middle of the parking lot over not riding in the Home Depot car cart? #thismomistiredofthegirldramaovercars. In my opinion, none of it has anything to do with having boys or girls, but everything to do with having kids.

IMG_9445I recently read a blog post that caused me to vent a while to my best friend (a mom of 3 boys who totally gets me on this topic). The post was about things moms of boys must be prepared to deal with, and covered things like messy bathrooms during bath time, daredevil acts, and playing with unexposed body parts. As I read the list I realized that almost every one of those items was something I’ve also experienced (most on a regular basis), and – gasp – I have daughters.

IMG_0837Curious, I searched the internet for blog posts or articles on raising girls to see what “difficulties” we might face, and to see if any of them were truly unique to girls. I almost gagged on what I found: be prepared to cuddle a lot. Be aware that she might want to “borrow” your things at a young age. Be ready for her to do well in school. Be warned that you might get jealous of the attention her daddy gives her. Be prepared to buy her stuff she doesn’t need.

Seriously? Could none of these also apply to boys?

IMG_6586Let me be clear here. It ain’t all pinks and glitter with girls – at least, not in our house. My daughters love to tell jokes about pee and poo. They spend afternoons digging in the mud for earthworms. Emily wanted hermit crabs, not a fluffy bunny. Julia has been launching herself off of our sofa onto the tile since she was about a year old without a drop of fear or without learning any caution, despite the repeated injuries. Both girls are constantly sweaty and dirty. Their favorite colors are blue and green. Legos turn up in my dryer all the time, and although we’ve got our fair share of girly toys we’ve also got matchbox cars, a train set, and squirt guns. And I wouldn’t want them any other way.

IMG_5328I am so proud that my girls don’t fit into a mold or an antiquated saying. They’ll wrestle on the floor just as quickly as they’ll dance to a Tinkerbell song. They might let you paint their nails, but they’ll ask for black polish before asking for pink. Sure, they dress up and enjoy their coloring books, but to imply that a wet bathroom floor is something to expect when you have boys is ludicrous. Barbies can splash just as much as toy sharks. Trust me.

IMG_6031I had originally planned to write my own post titled “What to Expect when Raising Girls,” full of things like how you should be prepared to spend 20 minutes getting their braids just right, only to have them rip them out 2 minutes after you finish… how half your income will be spent at Claire’s on things that will go perfectly with their outfits, only to have them insist on wearing their ghastly orange Halloween bow all year… and the long discussion on why girls have to sit to go potty but boys get to stand. But I realized that writing that post would make me a hypocrite.

IMG_1152I’m not sure why moms of girls tend to focus on how dainty their girls are, while moms of boys lean towards sharing their sons’ more energetic behaviors. I guess I’d just love to see less #lifewithboys or #lifewithgirls and more #lifewithkids. Or maybe this momma is just asking for an understanding that many of these day-to-day things could apply to both.

Rant over.  I’ve got to strip my girls out of their pink and purple outfits so they can give the bathroom floor a bubble bath with their Barbies.

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Tadpoles in the Kitchen

A few months ago the girls and I walked down the canal in our backyard to toss some moldy bread in the water – I hate throwing it out when I know that someone might enjoy it! We stood at the edge of the bank, tossed our bread in, and then noticed some wiggly little black tadpoles swimming among the grass.

IMG_6878So I did what any crazy mom would do – I went in the house, grabbed a large plastic food container and a ladle from my kitchen, climbed down to the water’s edge, and scooped up a bunch of the squirmy little guys.

IMG_6875The girls loved it. They sat at their pint-sized backyard table for a good 15 minutes just watching the tadpoles swim around in their new home – which was obviously more restrictive, but was also 100% predator-free. :)

IMG_6873The pollywog habitat sat on my kitchen counter for a few weeks, and we checked in on them every few days to see if their metamorphosis had begun. It wasn’t long before we noticed that a few of them had started sprouting arms and legs.

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Their tails started shrinking away, and we placed a large rock in the center of the container for them to climb out on as they started developing lungs and becoming air-breathers.

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These particular frogs are pretty teeny, and also pretty fragile. We did suffer some losses, and by the time we had to dispose of our third tadpole corpse we decided it was time to let them all go, no matter what stage of life they were in. We released the ones that had completed their “change of life,” and dumped the rest back into the canal.

IMG_7661I hope these are the memories my girls hold onto, that this is one of the experiences that they will one day try to give to their own children, all the while telling them how “cool” Grandma (me) is, and about the time I nearly slid into the canal while using kitchen utensils to catch pollywogs in the backyard. And then I hope they do the exact same thing for their children. :)

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Legos on the Go – A Super Easy DIY Project

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I’ve talked a bit about my family’s love of Legos. We’ve done free builds at the Lego store, used them to help teach Julia her colors, and even built a mini replica of Emily’s room. We just love Legos. And as far as I’m concerned, the next best thing to playing with Legos is giving them away as a gift. Legos are one of my favorite gifts to give – they easily cover both “fun” and “educational” categories, making them an ideal choice to purchase for kids of just about any age.

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When I signed up for Pinterest (you can follow me on Pinterest here), one of the first things I saw that I truly wanted to make myself was a Lego box – a wooden, handled, case that you could store Legos in. On the top was a Lego “plate,” a flat board with Lego pegs to stick the Legos on, making this an ideal box to bring in the car for road trips or even for spending a rainy afternoon at Grandma’s house. I tried a few craft stores, and eventually found a suitable box at Hobby Lobby.

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The Lego box is super easy to make.

  1. Paint – I used acrylic paint to cover the entire box, both on the outside and the inside, being sure to let it dry thoroughly before closing or turning it over. I opted to add a little dashed-line detail around some of the edges for interest, but you could easily add little flowers, bubbles, hearts, wavy lines, chevrons… you get the idea.
  2. Seal – Once I had the box fully painted and dried I sprayed three coats of acrylic sealer (matte) over every painted surface to help prevent the paint from being scratched off.
  3. Glue – After the sealer dried (no longer tacky), I hot-glued the Lego plate to the top, taking care to center it on the lid.
  4. Fill – We used some random larger blocks Emily had in her bin that she wasn’t using. Since our first Lego box recipient was a pre-schooler, he was just outgrowing Duplos and we didn’t want to buy a set with small pieces. It would be fun though to include a small boxed set though!

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As I mentioned, my first Lego box was for a sweet friend’s little boy, Will, who had just celebrated a birthday (he and my brother are birthday twins!). Since his family was also days away from moving away, it seemed like the perfect gift for the upcoming long drive to their new home. I was thrilled when he sat right down and started playing. :) His mom later reported that it had indeed proven to be a great road trip toy. Success!

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I’ve since made one more Lego box, this time for my best friend’s son (who funny enough is Emily’s birthday twin). Although he’s 8 and too cool to say it himself, the word on the street is that he’s pretty happy with it too. :D

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I’m hoping to make one for each of the girls as a Christmas gift. It should be fun to paint them in more girly colors and add some of those hearts and flowers!

Floating Down the Ichetucknee

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I have not seen the world. I’m not well travelled. I know there are amazing sights; wonders of the world created by both God and man. There are things I’d definitely love to see, places I’d love to go. But out of all the places I have been, Ichetucknee Springs is among my favorites.

DSCF5546I like to think of it as nature’s lazy river. You know, like those attractions at water parks where you fight to get an inner tube, walk down a ramp to a man-made river crowded with people trying to exit, then climb on your tube and float around the park in a circle, squashed up next to tubes holding other people, trying not to bump into their legs or kick them in the head. At some point you get tired of kids splashing water on you, tired of scraping your feet on the concrete bottom, and tired of the sun beating on your head. It’s a lot like that. Except without the crowds, concrete, lack of shade, and repeated goofy structures like whales squirting water in your face. No, Ichetucknee is pure heaven. I love lazy rivers (even at water parks), and there’s just no topping this.

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Like Rainbow Springs, Ichetucknee is a spring-fed river, which gives it a fairly strong current. You can bring your own rafts or rent them (there are many places along the way to the river that rent them out), but rafts/tubes are required. When I was a kid I remember swimming in it, but now in order to help protect the wildlife the park discourages swimming and/or walking on the bottom to preserve the grass on the riverbed, which the animals need to survive.

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This was another part of the same trip I took with my friend and her kids, and my parents were able to join us for this activity too, which was great since my dad knew how to get there. :) My parents had enough rafts for all of us, and I had brought a small fishy raft for Julia, so we blew everything up when we got there and headed down to the tram that would take us down to the river.

DSCF5440We carried our rafts down to the dock and climbed in – no easy feat with the current, cold water, and small children that we didn’t want drifting down the river without us. My dad had some rope, so we linked our rafts together so we wouldn’t get too separated.   Once we were in our rafts and settled in though, aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh.

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The girls had never been before, and they loved it. I hadn’t been in ages, and it still held the same magic for me that I remember feeling when I was just a kid.

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The water is cold and clear. The trees are lush and full. Turtles are abundant. And you just float away. Just don’t get too relaxed and close your eyes… you might crash into a half-submerged log or a rock wall or a random tree trunk. But honestly, why would you want to miss a second of the ride? I promise, it’s a major improvement over eye-squirting whales. :)

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I Hope the Stories Never End

Now that Emily has finished reading Harry Potter, she’s back to her old ways of reading multiple books at once.

Currently, she’s reading:

  • Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends
  • Happy Birthday, Bad Kitty
  • Emily Windsnap and the Monster From the Deep

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But even though her current reading list is longer than mine, even though she’s 8 years old, and even though I still get teased by a friend for it, Emily and I still love reading together a few nights a week.  Neither of us think that she’s too old to snuggle up under a blanket together with a good book while I read it aloud – crazy voices and all. As a teacher I love that it gives her an opportunity to hear me read with expression, but as a mom I love that it gives us something to bond over.

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One of our favorites that we’ve read together was Charlotte’s Web, a book that my first grade teacher read aloud to the class.  It was wonderful sharing something I’d fallen in love with as a child, and we had fun laughing at the characters and talking about how amazing it would be to see a word written in a spider’s web. When we got to the last line of the book, Emily and I had a good, long cry together.  She loved it so much that we dove right into another classic by E.B. White, The Trumpet of the Swan. It too became a fast favorite.

This time though, we’ve set our sights higher.  We’ve decided to dig into one of my other all-time favorite books, The Neverending Story. We had a crazy rainy day here not too long ago, and while looking for a new movie to watch we stumbled across the film version of the book on Amazon Prime. Something told me she’d love the story as much as I did as a kid, and I was totally right. After the movie was over I told her that it was based on a book, and I pulled it out of the cabinet.  Her eyes bulged.

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The Neverending Story is a book unlike any I’ve ever read, not just because of the unbelievable imagination and storytelling behind it, but also because instead of being typewritten in black or gray ink, this book’s text is printed in green and red. If you are unfamiliar with the story, it’s about a little boy, Bastian, who reads a book called The Neverending Story.  The book is printed in two colors to represent the parts of the story that focus on Bastian (red), and what Bastian is reading in his book (green).

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In addition to this unique feature, it also handles chapters differently.  In addition to giving each chapter a number and title, the first word in each chapter also begins with a different letter of the alphabet – starting with “A” and running all the way through “Z,” for a total of 26 chapters. For example, in the photo below the chapter starts off talking about Xayide, one of the many characters in the book. The only pictures in the book are illustrated around that chapter’s letter in the same red and green ink the text is printed in, and features key elements contained in that chapter.

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The book is pure magic, and I’m excited to dive into it with my book-loving daughter. But the real magic is those special moments we share over books like this. Those are the real never-ending stories, for those moments will be cherished forever in my heart. I know one day they will end, but for now I’ll hold on tightly. <3

Summer Lovin’

This summer was hands down one of the BEST I’ve ever had in my life.  And that’s not just because I can’t remember most of my summers and two of them involved newborn babies.  No, this summer just totally kicked tushie.  And I feel like a huge part of that is due to the fun checklist we made as soon as school let out. Get ready for a photo overload!

photo-1We did it ALL.  Every last bit of it. Sure, we were scrambling about near the end to ensure that every last item was completed, but that only helped to keep up from moping about the last week, waiting for the school year to start. Some things were pretty easy to check off because they already happen regularly, like going to church, eating lunch, and hunting for bugs in the backyard.  Other things were bound to happen anyway, such as Emily’s bug-themed birthday party, sleepovers at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house, getting ice cream, and of course, getting frozen cokes. We also did loads of arts & crafts projects – check out these groovy tie-dye shirts we made!

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We did other artsy-type projects that were on the list too – we painted, made sun catchers out of pony beads, created jewelry, and even dabbled in architecture when we tried to make buildings using marshmallows and toothpicks. Julia gave up and ate them when we weren’t looking. :D

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Our list included trips to Ocala (where we also crossed off swimming in a natural spring), a visit to Dinosaur World, and a stay at the Nickelodeon Studios Hotel.

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And of course there were other highlights, like water park playdates…

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…trips to the library…

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…board games…

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…fireworks shows…

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…trips to the pet store (one of the girls’ favorite things to do)…

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…and beach days, too!

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The last thing we checked off on our chart was a trip to the movies.  We managed to squeeze in a movie at a local theater the last week of summer break.  Whew!
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Looking back through these pictures makes me so overwhelmed with joy at the wonderful memories our family created this summer. Granted, many of the items on the checklist were things that were already on the calendar, but there many more unplanned activities than planned. It wasn’t always easy to find time to do some of the things we wanted to do, but it definitely kept us from staying inside everyday watching movies because it was too hot or rainy to go anywhere. 

We had ourselves a BLAST! And we will definitely be making another checklist next summer!

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Another Visit to Rainbow Springs

IMG_0639I realize I’ve written about Rainbow Springs before, but I cannot begin to describe how much I love this place. We always stop off there when visiting my parents, and I promise I’ve fought off the urge to blog about it every time we go. But this trip was special, since it was Julia’s first time getting in the water with us – so it totally warranted its own post.

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This time we were travelling with my friend and her two kids, and it really made the whole experience more fun – mainly because none of them had been there before and weren’t exactly thrilled at the idea of jumping in the cold water.

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Emily and my friend’s daughter jumped right in and swam around using their noodles. Both girls are strong swimmers, but its so deep that you can’t put your feet down anywhere in the spring. Julia had a new swim vest, and I tried getting her to go in, but she’d step down, get her feet wet, then immediately turn around and climb back out. Eventually I just jumped in, swam back to her, grabbed her arm, and dragged her in. She hated it at first, but as she got used to the water she was less disagreeable. Sometimes you just gotta show tough love. ;)

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My friend had brought a water camera with her, so we were able to get some really great pictures of ourselves underwater. I’d never had an underwater photo taken before!  My nose bubbles crack me up. Emily looks like she should get a job at Weeki Wachee.

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At some point the kids started jumping off the dock, and we were able to capture some great shots of that too. Julia even gave it a try twice, although she insisted I had my foot on the ladder before she’d leap into my arms.

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I know I’ve recommended it before, but if you ever find yourself in Central Florida, be sure to make a detour to see Rainbow Springs – it’s a swimming experience like no other!

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PS – My entomologist daughter wanted me to add this photo she had my friend take of dragonflies mating at Rainbow Springs.  You’re welcome.

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Although now that I think about it, my last post on Rainbow Springs also ended with an insect photo.  I’m just glad these didn’t sting anyone! :D