family · life · through my camera lens

2019

While I’m not starting new blog project until Jan, I wanted to post about the year. With one day left in 2019 it is a time to sit back and reflect.

This year we traveled on two Disney Cruises, traveled to Erie, PA  then Niagara, NY and spent Thanksgiving in DC. I love these trips. While it means lots of planning and some frustration with travel and changes, it is a time of family. I love when the four of us can unplug and do something different together. These vacations were very different in style, but they were chances for us to reconnect.

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Colby with Albert Einstein. Colby has always wanted to become a scientist and Einstein has always been someone he admired.Image may contain: 1 person, tree and outdoor

Blake reflecting on the stars of the WWII memorial. Blake enjoys history, especially American history. The fact that his shadow was cast on the word freedom and how solemn his face was at the time captured him perfectly.

The boys performed in High School Musical, Camp Rock, Peter Pan and Matilda. They have each seemed to find their space in the theater.  Blake is also now working on the TV crew at the middle school and Colby is singing in the chorus and all-star chorus in his school. I love that they have found places where they feel at ease. They love to sign, act and even work behind the scenes.

This year found Richard and I celebrating our 15th Anniversary. It is hard to believe we have been together over 16 years, I can’t imagine a day without being by his side. We just celebrated our 3rd Christmas here in PA.

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While this year found some drama in the fact that the boys learned that Santa is the Christmas spirit and not some magical man who brings you gifts (we told them at Easter actually), it brought about new traditions and experiences this holiday season. It was hard at times, but we each needed this year to adjust to the new magic of the holidays.

So now we wrap up the year. This was a year of unexpected. There were both positive and negative unexpected moments. Things that went right, and things that could have gone smoother. But none of these moments matter unless we realize that what matters most is who stands by our side in the good, the bad and the ugly moments of life. I always know that Richard will be at my side, and I his. But, now that the boys are getting older not only will we always be there for them, but now they are seeing that it is important to be there for each other and for us.

I hope that this next year and decade continues to bring about change. I hope we grow and thrive. I hope each of us learns to get up and dust ourselves off when things go wrong, and celebrate when things go well. Search… and you will find.

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family · life · through my camera lens

Niagara Falls part 2– final vacation post!

It seems crazy to me that a two day vacation took 4 blog posts, but hey I wanted to break it up into manageable bites for you.  (I tend to skim read when posts are really long)

So after we changed our shoes, and Colby changed his pants, from getting wet at the Cave of the Winds, we hopped on the trolley. The discovery passes we purchased included trolley passes for a day. We rode over to the other side of the falls and got in line for the Maid of the Mist. If you go to Niagara be prepared to wait in lines for a lot of the day…. oh and to walk a lot of stairs.

When you go to the Maid of the Mist you get a blue poncho and then board the boat.

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We were on the bottom floor (or first floor) of the boat. We decided this would be better since we could get a spot on the rail instead of being a few people deep up on the top level. It is crazy to see the people pushing and forcing their way closer to the rail.

On this ride, you get to go past the American and Horseshoe falls. We got SOAKED when we were close to the Horseshoe Falls. I wasn’t paying attention to the falls at one point because I was trying to prevent a man taking a selfie from backing into the boys more as he was already pushing against Colby. Then Blake bent down to do something and next thing I know… SPLASH a wave or some other kind of mass of water dumped all over us. Guess we should have brought our raincoats and other shoes for this part of the trip too. Richard took some photos with his cell phone (see yesterday’s story as to why we didn’t use the waterproof camera). The rainbows were really cool to see.

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After we were done with the Maid of the Mist… we were Done! It was already 5:30. We never did eat lunch. So, we decided to head to the hotel and go find somewhere to eat dinner.

We ended up in some dive bar that had decent reviews, but then we realized it was because it was on Buffalo’s wing trail… umm we didn’t order wings there. Oh well. After we drove to SUNY Buffalo (UB) which is where I went to grad school. I pointed out the building that I worked in, found the playground to the child care center that I worked at (yes that was two different jobs) and then drove by the dorm I stayed in. Blake kept asking questions about this and that and half of them I couldn’t answer. Granted I was only there for a year AND I did my full masters degree in a year while working 2 jobs on campus (and one at home) so I was a bit busy. They were shocked to hear I’d never been the football stadium.

The next day we got up and headed home.  Thanks for reading about our busy, fun and crazy weekend.

family · life · through my camera lens

Vacation part 3– Niagara Falls- part 1

The last two days I have shared our trip to Erie PA and now I’m sharing the Niagara Falls portion of the trip.

We got up slowly Saturday morning and headed out to Niagara Falls. This was another two hours on the road. We drove to Niagara Falls State Park. We parked on Goat Island and headed to get our tickets. We had purchased tickets on-line that got us into the Cave of the Winds, on the Maid of the Mist, trolley rides, into the Aquarium and more. These passes are good until October.

We went and got our time to go to the Cave of the Winds. Then while we waited for this, we went and checked out the American falls from the top. Image may contain: sky, bridge, outdoor, water and natureImage may contain: one or more people, sky, cloud, tree, child, outdoor, water and natureImage may contain: 1 person, standing, sky, child, bridge, outdoor and water

We decided to have ice creams since we had only snacked through lunch. While eating our ice creams we noticed a black squirrel. (no I did not take a photo of this, even thought LOTS of people were).

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We then headed to go grab our raincoats and change of shoes. They provide ponchos as Image may contain: outdoor, water and naturewell as sandals for the Cave of the Winds, but we knew we’d want more layers …. and as I predicted Colby and Richard wore their own shoes instead of the complimentary sandals. Why do you need these layers? See all the people in the yellow ponchos? That is where you walk for the Cave of the Winds. (this photo was taken on the maid of the mist.) There are very few photos taken from us walking on the Cave of the Winds. This is because I left my camera and phone in the car. Richard had his phone, but didn’t want to exposed to the amount of water you encounter and the water proof camera was MIA (we think it was lost at Waldameer… oops)

The cave of the winds was an actual cave that you could walk in and behind Bridal Veil Falls, but today you get to walk up five series of platforms to get closer and closer to the falls. The top deck is called the Hurricane Deck. The wind and amount of water falling at this level is significant. The boys had a blast getting closer and closer to the falls at this level. Colby was drenched when we left. Good thing we packed extra clothes.

family · life · through my camera lens

Erie Vacation post 2 Waldameer Park

Yesterday I started telling you about our quick vacation to Erie PA and Niagara Falls, NY. I felt like the post was getting too long, so I decided to break up our Erie part into two posts. It didn’t feel like we did as much as we did when I went back and tried to blog about it. I guess the fact that we were having fun and just sort of relaxing and doing our own thing made it feel less hectic?

After seeing the second lighthouse, we decided it was time to go to the amusement park. One cool thing is that on your way in and out of the state park, you drive UNDER part of one of the roller coasters. Blake thought this was the coolest thing and wanted to do it again, but we never had another reason to go back into the state park. So, it didn’t happen on this trip.

Waldameer Park & Water World is the fourth oldest amusement park in the PA and the 10th in the nation.  (Ok so I had to look it up… Lake Compounce in CT is the oldest in the US). We also learned that Waldameer is/was known as a trolley park. These were parks that were built on trolley lines to motivate people to use the lines on the weekends. (Coney Island was also a trolley park). … yes I’m a dork who looks up this kind of information (and not just to fill my blog posts, I knew about this before typing today).

The way Waldameer is set up, you can buy all day passes or purchase points. You do not have to pay to enter the park or to park for that matter. We decided to purchase all day passes, but just got the amusement park side. We already know we have to go back and do the water park. The boys weren’t happy we skipped it this time. The park is open May- September AND it didn’t open until 12:00. That part we found really strange. You can also enter and exit the park as often as you’d like since there was no charge for parking or admission. So we took advantage of this feature.

We went into the park and rode quite a few rides. There were a lot of classic amusement park rides here. The boys love going on many of these including the spider, scrambler, bumper cars and Music Express (a Matterhorn style ride).

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They also rode all the roller coasters.

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And the newer style rides

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We left the park to go check into our hotel, have dinner and then came back and stayed until the park closed.

As we were getting into the car, I realized that I’d lost my phone… eek! Luckily it was turned in at lost and found. Unfortunately we realized later in the trip that Richard probably lost his camera there as well. We stopped back on our way home to Pittsburgh on Sunday, but they didn’t have that in lost and found. Oops… guess we have to buy him a new water proof camera. (the missing camera made pictures on Saturday a bit more difficult, but more on that tomorrow)

 

 

family · life · through my camera lens

I’m back! Vacation post 1- Erie, PA part 1

Well this weekend we went on a quick jaunt for our last bit of summer. When we started talking about taking a weekend trip we went and brainstormed a few different places and decided that a trip up to Niagara Falls would be fun. I was the only one in the family who had been there before. It is one of those places that you just have to go to at least once. It was going to be a 3.5 hour drive. While it was totally do able in leg, we decided to stop in Erie on our way up.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, sky, cloud, shoes, child and outdoorErie PA is just about 2 hours straight up from where we live now. When Richard’s parents visited the last time, they took a detour and stopped in Erie. They mentioned the state park as well as an amusement park in the area. Since Hershey was also a possible location, we decided a side trip to an amusement park sounded perfect.

First we stopped off at Bicentennial tower. This was Image may contain: people standing and outdoorerected in 1996 and is 187 feet tall. On the lower level of they had a really cool mural that was visible on the upper level. I wonder if they are going to continue painting it or if it is complete? We spent  some time up here looking over the bay and reading about the area on the plaques they had located around the top of the tower. The boys were fascinated with 3 pictures/posters they had showing lakes Erie, Ontario and Michigan and the amount of ships which have sunk in each of the lakes. Image may contain: one or more people, ocean, sky, shoes, outdoor and water

Then we headed over to Presque Isle State Park. This park is on Lake Erie. We drove around and got out whenever one of us felt the need to go check out something a bit closer. We went and saw the Perry TowerImage may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people standing, sky, shoes and outdoor

We found a playground that we made almost all of natural materials. The boys had a blast. I said to Richard it would be nice to see more playgrounds made in this fashion instead of all from plastic.

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We then went to see the two lighthouses they have on the island. One is a listed on the historical society (the bottom picture). We did not go inside this lighthouse because you had to pay to go in. There was a long line and we have already taken the boys into a lighthouse similar to this (but I believe taller) in Key West. So we opted to just continue on with our day. Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, ocean, sky, child, shoes, outdoor and waterImage may contain: people standing, sky, cloud, tree, plant, shoes, outdoor and nature

 

 

family · life

last vacation post

Ok this is my last post about our cruise/Orlando trip. I had a few more things I wanted to share.

When we got our luggage delivered to our stateroom we noticed that the suitcase with Richard’s clothes had a broken wheel. By broken I mean the whole wheel, and the plastic that houses the wheel attachment, was broken off the suitcase. It was sitting on the floor where they had placed the suitcase upon delivery.

Richard and I went to guest services and talked to them about it. The told us to empty the suitcase and then let them know. They took the suitcase from our room and epoxied the plastic/wheel piece back onto the suitcase. This seemed to be a good solution.

When we got off the ship and were picking up our luggage, the wheel was GONE. It was broken off, but not the same way. The epoxy was still there, but the wheel itself was gone. We walked over to the information/help desk. The were very helpful. Originally they were going to help us submit a claim which would then possibly have Disney Cruise lines paying for the suitcase. But, a Disney employee looked at the suitcase and asked if we were going to fly soon. We told them we were flying in a few days. She said, ok what if I can give you a brand new suitcase that is about the same size, would that work? She went to the back room and came out with a suitcase that was around the same size, tags still on it. She had us repack the suitcase right there to make sure everything would fit.

Whenever we have had to deal with the help desks on the cruises they have gone above and beyond to make sure that everything was done to make things smooth.

After that, we went and boarded the Hertz bus to go get our rental car. We are Hertz gold members and this process is typically simple… not this time. There were two cruise ships that came in at the same time. Ok I get it, but still… The Hertz in Port Canaveral is tiny. There was maybe 30 cars and yet they seem to not be able to find any cars. There were people in the wrong lines. People who had booked the wrong size cars. People who booked the right size car, but it wasn’t available. It was a hot mess. We will not go back there for our next rental car.

We then went and visited some friends. The boys had a list of restaurants they wanted to eat at while we were back in Orlando. The first meal we had was Publix subs and popcorn chicken, for those who don’t know Publix is a grocery store. The friends we met up with that day thought we were crazy to pick up subs from Publix.

We enjoyed catching up with friends and family. We stopped by our house in Orlando and found it was for sale again. We then went and looked it up on-line and the new owners had gutted the main living space. Some of the changes I had said I wanted to do, some I thought were odd, but hey it wasn’t my home. We sold the house for full price the first day it was on the market… they have had it on the market since May, but it is a lot more expensive. I guess we priced it to sell and they are trying to at least make up what they put into it. I wish them the best selling it.

Ok I’ve shared enough about this trip. We love these cruises. This was our 5th and we’ve already booked cruise #6. If you ever have questions about these cruises, feel free to ask!

 

family · life · through my camera lens

Disney Cruise Day 4

This is my last post about the cruise! You can read the other three (here, here and here).

Before I tell you about day 4… I forgot one piece on day 3…. the Lion King! We saw the Lion King the day it opened. They had it showing in the theater where they put on their evening shows. This was so cool. Our family loves the lion king. There was a great balance of items from the original movie and plays as well as some new things. The cinematography that occurred in the making of this film was impressive as well.  (the picture below is one of the screens on the side of the stage, this is NOT where the movie was shown)No photo description available.

Ok…. back on track… onto day 4

On day 4 we woke up again to the docking process at Castaway Cay. This is Disney’s private island and in my opinion one of the best reasons to go on a Disney cruise. This was the first cruise that we took that went to Castaway two times.

We had to get up and moving as we had a 9am excursion… this time a jet ski eco tour. When we told the boys we were going to ride jet skis, Colby said.. I want to ride with Dad he will go fast. Mom is just going to putt around. Blake agreed with and they kept saying it every time we discussed the jet skis. Well, I started off going slow since we had to get used to the jet ski in the cove area. Then as soon as we headed out, I started jumping waves and keeping up with the guide. I was NOT putting around… sorry to disappoint you! We were the only people in the group which was nice because we could really open things up and move. We hit 43 m/h, It wasn’t much of an eco tour. We stopped at one of the barrier islands. This was nice because my hands needed a rest. Then we drove over near a coral reef and they talked about that. From there we drove back into the wind and were jumping major waves as we went to the far side of the cruise ship.

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we then went to In Da Shade which is a place where they have pool tables, basketball, checkers, chess, ping pong and other games under cover.  The boys wanted to try out pool.

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We then went and had lunch, again I had ribs and chicken… yum! Richard and Blake then went to Pelican Plunge. This is a water slide. You have to swim out to the slides and then back again. Blake did this even more times than Richard.

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Colby was content to just hang out in the water near the beach. The water here is soooo clear!

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This night we went to see Beauty and the Beast. We saw this show the last time we were on the Dream (back in January) and I would go again, and again and again! It is a Broadway style show with Broadway quality sets, singing and acting.

We headed back to our rooms and packed our suitcases. Blake went to Edge one last time and the rest of us just settled in for sleep. The next morning we woke up and headed to our last meal on the ship… breakfast at 8am.

I have a bit more to tell about the cruise adventure as well as our short jaunt to Orlando. So I guess you will get one last post from our vacation soon.

family · life · through my camera lens

Disney Cruise Day 3- Nassau

I started sharing info on our Disney cruise trip you can read about it here and here.

Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor and natureDay three found us waking up as we were getting ready to dock in Nassau. We looked went out on the balcony to watch the ship rotate around in order to back into the port. There was a rainbow. It was pretty cool because we could see the left side of the rainbow and then later we could see the right side.

We headed up to Cabanas to have breakfast. Then down 11 floors to get off the ship and go for a walk in Nassau. We decided to go a different direction than we have gone in the past. We went to the Queen’s Staircase and then to a fort.

The Queen’s Staircase is 66 steps carved out of limestone back in the 1700s. There is a waterfall next to the the staircase which was really pretty. It was also nice because it was a tropical area of the island and felt so much cooler there than the rest of our walk.

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We went back onto the ship to have some lunch and then spend time at the pools. We went on the AquaDuck. This is a water slide that goes around the deck of the ship. We then split up. The boys decided to hang out in the main pool and watch a movie. Richard and I went to the adult only areas.

We then went and watched Toy Story 4. I will say that I didn’t like this as much as I wanted to like it… I think they should have stopped at 3.

We had dinner in the same restaurant as we did on night 2. The menu was different. I had a short rib salad… yep you read that right. The dressing was yuck, but the ribs were yummy.

family · food · life · through my camera lens

Disney Cruise… day 2 (Castaway Cay)

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Our journey at sea continued as we woke up and watched the ship dock at Castaway Cay. Our room was on the stern…. we were on the backside of the ship which was really cool and was a fun place to watch the ship dock.

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After breakfast, which was a buffet where you can pretty much have anything you want to eat… and then some, we headed to the island. For this day on the island we went in street clothes, not bathing suits. We had to port adventures planned. First we were going bottom fishing. The boys have talked about going fishing from time to time and we decided this would be a fun way for them to try it.

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We boarded the boat with 3 other people and took off to the fishing grounds. The boys just loved being on the boat and feeling the wind blow over us as we traveled.

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When we arrived at the fishing grounds the captain gave instructions on how to proceed with fishing. Richard was on one side with Blake and I was on the other with Colby. The captain and his helper put the bait on and removed the fish, all of which made me a little more comfortable with the fishing plan. I was helping Colby reel in his first fish and the captain said “Momma… you’ve got to check your own rod, you’ve got a fish.” I hadn’t actually planned on fishing, but I figured if I showed Colby how to go through the process he’d be more comfortable. I did this and then ended up catching the most fish on the trip. At one point I caught 4 back to back all with the same bait. I even caught a fish that had a smaller fish in his mouth. Colby caught the biggest fish. Blake only caught 2 because he wasn’t patient enough to wait for the bait to get to the bottom and then leave it alone. Oh well… we had fun!

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Blake and I both got over heated on this boat and we were ready for some food and a lot more to drink. I had 5 cups to drink with lunch! the barbecue they have the island is the best! (Ok all the food on the cruise is good, but hey this is bbq!) I had ribs, chicken breast, tomato salad, cole slaw and fruit. I was good and did not have desert!

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After we were going to our next port adventure which was the glass bottom boat tour. This go cancelled due to lightning in the area the boat would take us. So we decided to go for bike rides instead. We have done this on almost every cruise we’ve taken. You can rent bikes and there is a trail that is just over 5k for you to ride. We love going to the lookout tower and then heading down another trail to a really cool spot near the beach where I like to take pictures. Image may contain: 1 person, standing, sky, child, outdoor and nature

We then headed back to the ship. After showers and changing we all headed off in different directions. The boys did some of the “Midship Detective” which sends you all over the ship to find clues and then went to Edge. Richard and I went lounge hopping. We spend most of the time in the Skyline Lounge. The back bar and surrounding wall changes sky lines between 5 cities. The music playing matches the city of the sky line. Also they have 3 signature drinks to match the sky lines. Later we headed to Pub 687 which is more of sport pub feel.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, ocean, sky, shoes, outdoor, water and natureWe met up with the boys again and went to see a magic show. This time it was a family show with the same magician, but it was larger illusions. They boys had a blast

We had dinner in Enchanted Garden. This is designed to be like the gardens are Versailles. The last time we sat in round tables that made you feel like you were on the tea cups. This time we had normal tables which made the restaurant feel more typical. But, the fun thing this night was Colby said he didn’t want anything for desert. The waiter said “So you want nothing?” ….

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family · life · through my camera lens

Disney Cruise Day 1

So, as I mentioned yesterday, we went on a four night Disney Cruise. Image may contain: 1 person, sunglasses, sky, cloud and outdoor

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing, ocean, sky, shoes, child, cloud, outdoor and waterWe traveled to Orlando on the 16th and stayed there that night. This let us get up and moving on our own schedule the day of the cruise. We went out to eat at Cheddars which we do not have here in Pittsburgh.

July 17th was our anniversary AND the first day of our cruise. What better way is there to celebrate our 15th anniversary??

We headed to the port and started our fun. When we first got on this ship we headed right up to deck 11 and lunch. We went and ate outside on the back deck, which turned out that we ate lunch right above our room.Image may contain: 1 person, child and closeup

We then went and checked the boys into Edge. This is the cruise’s tween club. They love this club because they can check themselves in and out of the club. There is a variety of technology, games and tons of activities perfect for the tween.

Image may contain: one or more peopleWe went to our room, dropped off our backpacks and headed out for the rest of the day. More wandering the ship, muster and then up to the sail away party. After that we went to see live action Aladdin. Normally I would tell you to go see all the night shows, but we have already seen the first night show twice, so we opted to go to the movie instead. Dinner the first night was in Animator’s Palate. This is the boys’ favorite restaurant. It is a Pixar themed restaurant. There are screens all around the restaurant and during dinner the characters from Finding Nemo travel around the screens. They have the moon fish making pictures and Crush talks to the diners.

We have a rule on the cruise ships…. always walk the stairs. This way you can eat dessert! This night we ordered 3 desserts… yep 3. Then a fourth was delivered to us as an anniversary treat. I ate the lemon dessert that reminded me of key lime pie, but it was lemon. Richard ate a peanut butter brownie sundae. The cheesecake and anniversary desserts we were ok, but not calorie worthy.

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After dinner, the boys went to Edge and Richard and I went and watched a magic show. It is fun now that they are older and can be off together. It gives Richard and I more and more time just the two of us. This allowed there to be a new balance of family together time and time in pairs.

Tune in tomorrow to learn about day 2…. Castaway day 1!