Friday, June 24, 2016

Florida 2016, Disney Day 1, Epcot!

Our trip started on a Monday evening, after ballet classes were over. We hit the road around 7pm and rolled into a hotel in Louisiana around 12:30am. I wouldn't recommend it! The next day was a full day of driving from Walker, Louisiana to Orlando, Florida.

We left the La Quinta on Tuesday around 6:45am and got to our hotel in Orlando around 7:00pm. That gave us a couple hours to check out the resort (Wyndham Bonnet Creek), do some swimming, order some dinner, and some of the kids went back to the room to try to watch the fireworks at Epcot (not a great view). We went to bed around 10pm and woke early, grabbed some breakfast snacks at the hotel store, and got to Epcot a little after 8am for their 9am opening!

Here's the resort. The hotel is towards the right, surrounded by the vacation condo towers. There were about 5 pools, some with lazy rivers, some with slides, and one with a big pirate ship! Wish we had more time to enjoy the resort!

We got in line around 8:20 and they opened the park gates around 8:45. Steven and the 4 oldest kids went straight to Test Track, while I took Katie to look around.

We all dressed in our Aggie gear!

She'd been so excited about meeting Mickie and Minnie, but wasn't so sure once we actually got up close!

We did find a playground that was shaded and just her size!

This time of year was the Epcot Flower and Garden festival. Beautiful flowers everywhere!

And even a little butterfly pavilion!

After the big kids did Test Track and Mission Space, and we all went to Turtle Talk and checked out The Seas.

We ate lunch at Sunshine Seasons food court in The Land area (where we were sad to miss Soarin' this year; it was under construction). We did get to see a neat 4D Pixar film festival.

As the hot afternoon came upon us, we headed off to the world showcase section of Epcot. We enjoyed the boat ride in Mexico and watched a 360 degree film in China. I think this world showcase section of Epcot might be best suited for evening, when the heat isn't so bad (it wasn't open in the morning).

Thomas was wiped out and got a nice afternoon siesta!


The kids enjoyed watching a little train exhibit.

Daddy had been craving ice cream and I read that the best was in France. The line was long but it was good! Around this time we also watched a movie in the America section, although I think a few of us took a little nap :)

Wish we could've gotten some of these sweet French treats!

We started heading back towards the front to ride Spaceship Earth and let the big kids go on Test Track again.  A few times.

Somebody was getting a little cranky!

By the phone booths in the UK.

The evening came quickly and it was time to go find a spot to watch the firework show! We were the last people allowed in to grab food at the Liberty Inn (counter service in America of the world showcase), and we set up camp to watch the show!

Katie looks peaceful in the photo below, but I think that was the first burst before she started hysterically crying. She did NOT like the firework shows!

We hiked back to the front and even got to witness and photograph an engagement!

It was a fun day in Epcot! We were able to take it slow, and we really enjoyed the rides in the Future World section. I'd been looking forward to checking out all the countries in the World Showcase, but honestly it was so hot and there wasn't really a whole lot to see that was indoors. The Norway ride was closed and the kids were tired of the films. But we liked the Mexico boat ride and the aquariums in The Seas. We had a great time overall and definitely went to bed looking forward to our final Disney day at Magic Kingdom the next morning!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Planning our Big Family Florida Road Trip

In May we took our first big road trip as a family.  Our nephew was getting married in Fort Lauderdale on Memorial Day weekend, and we decided that on this trip we would drive and hit another family favorite on the way...Disney World! The problem with a late-May vacation was that it fell right around the time where baseball was ending, swim meets were beginning, and the dance recital was days away. So our timing was limited, but we made the most of the time we had.

Due to our time and budget constraints, we opted for just two days (three nights) at Disney World and  two nights in Fort Lauderdale. We waited until the last minute to make all the reservations, but thankfully it worked out! We went ahead and chose the Fort Lauderdale hotel where the wedding would be held. And I found a great deal on VRBO for the Disney resort about 2 weeks ahead of the trip. We stayed at the Wyndham Bonnet Creek, which is a resort for vacation club condo owners. We booked through a travel agency and got a 2 bedroom condo with full kitchen and 2 full bathrooms, cheaper than we would have paid for a budget hotel with suites like Homewood or Staybridge. The resort had about 6 pools, restaurants, and all kinds of activities we didn't even get to check out on our short visit. It wasn't quite like staying on Disney property, but it worked well for our needs this time. The other overnights on our trip were at a LaQuinta and two Homewood Suites hotels, since we had hotel points to use.

The biggest purchase we made before the trip was a new car! With a baby on the way, growing kids, parents nearby, and the need to be able to carpool more with friends who also have big families, we opted for a used Nissan NV 12-passenger van. It was nice to be able to spread out on the road trip. We packed a cooler and lots of snacks, and really just ate dinner on the road the first night and lunch on the road the 2nd day, plus quite a few stops on the way home. We had space for a suitcase for each person, a giant duffel bag for shoes, and two strollers. I was glad we brought both the regular stroller and the smaller Maclaren umbrella stroller. It was nice to have both at Disney. We could park one centrally if we didn't need it, but then pick it up when both the 2yr old and 5yr old needed a nap!

We bought our Disney tickets through the resort just a few days before the trip. Thankfully we were still able to secure some Fast Passes for the rides, although not for the most popular ones. We decided to try to arrive about an hour before opening time both days and then go straight to those popular rides as soon as they opened (which was about 15mins early both days). This allowed the kids and Steven to ride Test Track, the 7 Dwarves Mine Train, Splash Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain before the lines were too long. We ate at counter-service restaurants, which allowed us to make the most of the short time we had there, without "wasting" time at sit-down restaurants. We stayed until both parks closed and definitely got to enjoy two full days, one at Epcot and one at Magic Kingdom.

Our time at the wedding resort was also full and a little crazy. Steven Sr. and Thomas were both in the wedding, so they had commitments both Friday and Saturday afternoons/evenings. We also visited with my cousin and her family for lunch on Saturday, and a high school friend came for a quick visit on Saturday afternoon. It also rained on Saturday until about 3pm. Needless to say, there was not a lot of time to enjoy the resort or the beach! We had a few visits to the pool and two 20-min trips down to the beach. But we did get to enjoy a fabulous wedding and some great time with family!

So, would I do it again? The road trip was hard, especially since we left around 7pm (after ballet class) the first night, driving until almost 1am with a couple kids who were feeling carsick. The rest of our drives were during daylight hours and were not as hard. But it was a lot of driving without a lot of time to settle down and enjoy one place. We stayed at five different hotels during an 8-night trip! So I hope that road trips in the future will allow us a little more time to stop and enjoy one spot, but I'm still grateful we were able to take this trip and see as many fun things and people as we did! More photos to come as I upload pics from each day of the trip....

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Baby Update, "Behold I make all things new."

What a fun week, getting showered with congratulations and prayers on Facebook, Instagram, and here on the blog! Every baby is such a blessing, and I'm truly grateful that others can share this joy with us. I know some large families don't always get a positive response when they share about a new pregnancy, but in our case I don't think I've heard one negative comment. That is a gift to us and to this baby who is already loved so very much.

This pregnancy started much different than the others. In fact, it took me awhile to believe that I was actually pregnant and not miscarrying. I told some close friends that I'd miscarried because I thought that's what had happened. We told the children we weren't sure if the baby would make it, and they helped us to be hopeful and trust in God's goodness.

Each new week I'm amazed to have made it this far. I'm now 14 weeks and the internet tells me that the baby is about 3 1/2 inches, the size of a lemon! He or she can make faces and suck a thumb (which baby was trying to do on the ultrasound). My doctor appointments have spaced out after the initial visits and scans which were happening weekly. My energy has not returned, and I'm afraid the scorching Texas heat is only going to make me feel worse as the summer months pass by! I started our neighborhood water aerobics class this week, and we've been spending a lot of time at the pool, both for swim team practice and for cooling off with an evening dip in the water! In most cases, I tend to get on an exercise and health kick a few months before getting pregnant, but this time I'm afraid I never got to that point, thinking we'd be unlikely to conceive so soon. Oh well, I'll definitely have my work cut out for me in 2017!

We've mostly recovered from the trip to Florida and the activities of the past weeks (baseball tournaments, swim meets, and dance recitals!). We don't have a lot scheduled for the summer, so that feels good. Before I start loading the photos from the past few weeks, I wanted to share a reflection I wrote when I was newly pregnant and took the girls and two friends on an overnight trip to Corpus Christi. We've had several friends going through difficult losses the past year, which has made it an emotional time. May God continue to grant healing and peace to those who are grieving, and may He give hope to us all as we face each new day....

April 23, 2016...Tonight I lie in a dark hotel room, surrounded by five sleeping girls, three of them mine and the others friends. Two of them are actually young ladies now, and two are on the cusp of leaving girlhood behind. The last lies next to me, and newly weaned, no longer needs my body to nourish and support her through the day and night. She will soon be a little girl, leaving babyhood behind. 
One of the girls here just lost a sibling. At halfway along in her pregnancy, her mother had to say goodbye to a much-wanted little boy. These children will not play with that new baby this fall; this mother will not have her own baby to hold. One of the girls lost her mother. Two photos haunt me from the nightstand beside me: one of a joyful mother with her toddler and one with her little girl on her birthday. No longer can this mother take her daughter on a girls' weekend or to the ballet. She can't plan her birthday party or kiss her goodnight. I still cannot wrap my mind around the fact that someone so full of life could now be gone. 
And here am I, with new life inside me. A little heart that just started beating. Tomorrow I will find out for certain. But God knows we need beauty from these ashes. Here visiting this town where I spent a difficult three years, waiting on the Lord to bring us back home and to grant our family the stability we so desired. Tonight I watched the ballet company where my girls found joy and friendship. Tomorrow we will visit the church home that sustained us during our stay here. We will see faces of joy, new little smiling baby faces, and faces of others who are in the midst of turmoil. We will give a proper goodbye to a place where we left without knowing for sure we weren't coming back. 
Our first stop here in Corpus Christi was the cemetery next to the home where we first moved. The girls visited the grave of a friend's little boy gone too soon in a tragic accident. My heart hurts and my tears burn for these suffering families. I never knew loss like I've known it since being a mother and watching others face tragedy like this.
But God is the author of life. He continually provides what we need and covers us in His grace through whatever trials we face. He will sustain us. He will make sure that these families have all that they need to find peace and perseverance during these great trials. He will help us find beauty and joy as the fruits of pain and suffering. He will make up for all that is lacking in our prayer, our faith, our works. 
And how fitting that this is tomorrow's second reading at mass (Rev 21:1-5a). It gives me peace and hope during this emotional time...

Then I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth.
The former heaven and the former earth had passed away,
and the sea was no more.
I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race.
He will dwell with them and they will be his people
and God himself will always be with them as their God.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes,
and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain,
for the old order has passed away.”
The One who sat on the throne said,
“Behold, I make all things new.”

Tuesday, June 07, 2016


Our newest little love, 13 weeks!

Baby gave us some scares in the beginning, but so far after 5 ultrasound scans, hormone supplements, lots of OB visits and bloodwork, all appears to be normal! Thanks be to God for the gift of new life! 

Due date is around December 9th, but he/she will probably make an appearance by late November with my c-section history (this will be #6). We hope to find out the gender in late July, and so far I've felt pretty good, just extra tired and a little queasy. Glad to be leaving the first trimester behind!

I hope to start sharing photos here of our recent Florida road trip. One thing that always seems to happen...we plan a vacation including a Disney visit...and I end up pregnant by the time the trip comes around! This was the THIRD time I was pregnant at Disney! But I'll take a new baby over roller coasters any day :)

Friday, June 03, 2016

Swim Team 2016

Steven Joseph and Thomas are doing the neighborhood swim team this year. This is Steven's 3rd year to swim (1st year was in Corpus Christi), and Thomas' 1st! We are very proud of both the boys, especially Thomas who was barely swimming at the beginning of the season. He made his first swim across the pool on the Thursday before the practice meet, just in time! Here are some photos of the practice meet and first regular season meet...

Little sis eating her breakfast of champions!

Thomas gearing up for his first (and only) event at the practice meet!

We are so proud of our precious neighbor, Lauren!

The photo is fuzzy, but I think this was my favorite moment of the season, with everyone cheering her on and congratulating her for making it across!

Steven's turn

Best buddies

1st real season meet!

There was a problem with the diving blocks, so the jumped off the side this time.

Leaping Lauren!

Katie loves her Lala!

Loving their snacks from Nene and Papa!

Mama didn't make the 2nd season meet, since it was the day of the baseball championship. We missed the 3rd meet while we were in Florida, and the 4th meet is on the day of the girls' ballet recital, so I probably won't make that one either. Looking forward to the last home meet next weekend!
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