Sunday, April 21, 2013

No. 5: Go Cross Country Skiing

Without a doubt, this was one of the funnest before thirty experiences we have had to date.  Jennive and I have been cross country skiing before, so this was nothing new.  The true point of our list isn't to do thirty new things we've never done before, though many of them are.  It is simply a list of experiences we want to have with each other before we turn thirty.  Some of our experiences we had before creating the list were so good, we wanted to relive them again.

Jennive and I were both introduced to cross country skiing as children.  We don't own skis, so we aren't professionals by any means, but we aren't novices either.  I would classify our collective experience as intermediate.  For this before thirty experience, we selected Harriman State Park in eastern Idaho as our destination.

The day was mostly clear, though a bit cold for March.  We started off slow on a trail following the Henrys Fork of the Snake River.  We stopped often taking pictures, talking, and relaxing.  We followed the river for a short distance and then broke off to the main trail.  The trails were all pre-groomed; so we just set our skis in the tracks and shuffled our feet.  We went as far north as the Railroad Ranch before heading back.  It wasn't a far or difficult distance.  It was just right!

There was a little bit of wildlife out and about.  We saw several trumpeter swans in the river and flying overhead.  There were also geese and ducks out on the water.  We saw a few fox and muskrat tracks down by the river.  Incidentally we didn't see any wolves, which is a good thing, because forgot my miniature glass bottles and tape at home...!

In all we were out on the trail for a little more than two hours.  Our time together was well spent.  We enjoyed breathing the fresh air and hearing the silence of nothing.  I am a big fan of the Idaho State song.  In it is a perfect description of how I feel each time we visit: "the majestic forest where nature abounds...where ideals can be realized...a legacy we'll always prize".  The beauty of this remote area of the world is surreal.  I am grateful to have experienced the majesty of this landscape every day growing up.

Post Script: As a child, I was fortunate to live four houses away from my grandparents.  I have many many memories of my Grandpa Hawkes.  We did so much together.  Among my favorite experiences is cross country skiing into The Place.  The Place was what grandpa called an area of land he owned hidden among the dry farms in southeastern Idaho near the Teton Mountain Range.  The old wood skis we used weren't anything special.  They were kind of a crude introductory compared to the clamor of equipment available at stores now.  But it wasn't about the skis, or even skiing for that matter.  Looking back, it was about the time we spent together.  Grandpa taught me so much about life on those short trips.  A few years ago Jennive and I were invited to go dog sledding with him.  We went and created one of our fonder memories of time we spent together.  Below is a photo of Grandpa Hawkes, my uncle, and his son dog sledding with grandpa.

No. 2: Go On A Cruise (without the kids!)

The airplane slowly rolled down the pavement.  It was preparing to leave.  Many on board were connecting with family.  Some were conducting business.  Ours was simply for three nights of uninterrupted sleep!

This was our first experience flying into Long Beach, California.  It’s a small airport.  Mostly outdoors.  Very well organized.  We immediately boarded a bus to take us to the cruise ship.  Our impression was an overwhelming feeling of the first time jitters.  We had more questions than answers.  Could this vessel really be our home for the next three nights?  Where will we go while on board?  What will we do?  Who will we meet?  All questions were answered soon enough.

Coddled among hundreds of others disembarking from the United States towards our bordering friends in Mexico, we were ready to go.  While in Salt Lake City we were bundled in coats, which soon were packed away.  Spring and summer cannot come soon enough.  As we flew away from home our nerves settle.  It’s not easy to leave children, although in capable hands, for any amount of time.

We boarded the boat early Friday afternoon.  Once on board we checked into our room.  We were on the Riviera Deck, (4th floor).  Our room was comfortable and convenient, enough space for sleeping, which is all we needed.  Soon enough we found the buffet lunch.  We sat aft, which is a unique enough word.  My vocabulary was not built for cruising.  I learned that quickly.  The food was a refreshing start to our stress free weekend.  Quite honestly, refreshing was how I would describe almost everything we did.  From sleeping to laughing, eating to…well eating, we soaked in the replenishing culture of the ship.

After a lengthy safety orientation, Jennive and I went to the front of the ship to watch the disembarkation from the mainland.  Two hours of standing and waiting later, we decided to go eat dinner.  Eventually, after resolving whatever technical difficulty the ship was having, we departed.  Years later we will all forget that the week before a cruise ship was stranded at sea...without working power...for five days.  Imagine our nerves as we sat at port, two hours delayed.

That night we slept A LOT!!  The rocking of the boat was like a mother rocks a child.  A full nights rest was our rejuvenating start to the weekend.

Saturday we ported in Ensenada, Mexico.  We toured the countryside, first through the city, and then north to a small hotel and cantina.  Our server provided chips, guacamole, and a very well prepared bowl of salsa.  One of the locals sang a romantic melody as we ate.  Soon we made our way to the beach.  The coastline was beautiful.  The sand was glistening in the sun (appropriately named as the Gold Coast).  We soaked our feet in the ocean and picked out sea shells for the kids.

After our tour we stopped downtown to shop, barter, and sightsee.  It was a great time.  The city of Ensenada was full of small trinket shops which lined both sides of popular streets.  It was not hard to see the level of poverty the locals lived in as the vendors begged and bartered.  Part of me enjoyed haggling.  The part of me that is cheap.  However, part of me did not enjoy this experience.  It was evident these people were poor.  Mothers would exploit their poverty by sitting with a small child or infant cradled in their lap, an empty cup held out for spare change.  “Por favor” has a new meaning to me now.

While in the city we enjoyed a coke from Oxxo and a smoothie from McDonalds.  That reminded me of the time we ate at Burger King in Madrid, Spain.  Ironic, huh?!  We were able to purchase fun clothing for our children, a new wallet for me, and some new sandals for Jennive.  Proof of our visit, nothing more.

Later that afternoon we took a horse carriage ride back to the boat.  We were ready for a nap.  Fortunately, the Big Bang Theory was playing on television.  So instead, we watched hours of reruns.  Who wouldn’t, right?  That night we enjoyed a formal dinner.  Jennive was complemented by everyone we greeted.  In fact, as we walked into the restaurant, I counted several people checking her out.  That’s right, I married a hottie!!!

The night was fun.  After dinner, we went to a comedy sketch.  Small world, we were greeted by a couple we had met earlier in the day while at McDonalds.  Even smaller world, they used to live in Utah and attend Brigham Young University.  The comedians were funny.  Their sketches could use some work.  They relied too heavily on race jokes.  None the less, they put on a good show for the night.

Sunday was a day at sea.  We slept comfortably and were fortunate to start the day with a couples massage.  Though, it was more of a couples lay-down-and-have-massage-oil-rubbed-all-over-your-body…there wasn’t much massaging.  Trust me, I know, my wife is a massage therapist!  The music was nice though.
It craftily disguised the thumping from the over used running track above.  Our massage was cut short by, well I’m not really sure.  I think they just wanted to cut it short.  So $300 later, we still have very stressed necks/backs/feet…

The remainder of Sunday we spent eating, relaxing, and eating more.  We dressed up again for dinner.  It was fun to celebrate our 9 Year Wedding Anniversary as we dined.  The kind servers sang “Happy Anniversary To You” to the tune of “Happy Birthday to You” as we ate our dessert.  Good times!  It reminded us of the Christmas Story duck dinner.  Frarararara, rara, ra, ra.  Later that night we went back for some more laughing at the comedy show.  I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.  A great way to end the night.

After a final night of continued sleep, we woke up, ate breakfast, and got the hell out of there.  It was time to go home!  We missed our kiddos.  Funny enough (and even smallest world!!) we saw a group of old classmates preparing to board the ship as we were leaving.  Then it was off to the airport, our nerves settling again.

Post Script: Nine years ago, Jennive and I committed to live and love for time (and a year later for all eternity).  Over the years we have grown and developed in mutual responsibility by creating and expanding our family.  Our love and devotion to each other parallels the love and nurturing we extend to our children.  We are very blessed to have experienced so much growth to our individual characters.  Our children teach us every day.  Their laughs lift our spirits.  Their cries tear our hearts.  We are blessed to have their smiles fill our home.  In September, we look forward to receiving one more blessing.

No. 15: Visit SoCal

Sunny SoCal.  We had been planning this field trip for some time.  After all the fun we had in San Francisco, we couldn't wait to get back to California.

Our trip started off with an ice storm here in Utah.  The storm was so bad we were close to pulling the plug on the entire event.  Instead, we decided to chance it and go.  We left in the early afternoon on a Thursday and made it to St. George in a reasonable amount of time.

Early Friday morning we were up and out the door.  We drove the entire day and made it to our hotel in San Diego just after dark.  Our original plan was to go to the beach that afternoon.  I had been tracking the weather prior to leaving, but our plan was foiled when a cold front moved in the day we arrived.  Unlike the record sun and warm weather from the week before, it was cloudy, cold, and rainy, so we scratched the beach idea.

Friday night we went out to eat at a Chinese restaurant.  It was really, really good food.  Mason and I ordered a seafood dinner.  Jennive and Madi ordered a pork lo mein.  We all shared and enjoyed some fine Asian dining!  Mason loved eating all of the seafood (including squid).

The hotel we stayed at was rated highly on the web.  It was also very inexpensive.  Surprisingly, it was a huge let down when we got there.  We didn't see any cockroaches running around, but our ten month old found an old ranch sauce packet while crawling on the floor.  It was very unique.  Most of the grunge and funny smells we were willing to look past.  The kids didn't notice anything at all.  To them, all they cared about was that they were on a vacation!!

Saturday we were up really early. Then it was off to Sea World.  The weather was cold for San Diego, but warm for us.  It was partly rainy, but mostly sunny.  There was hardly anyone there all day long!

We started off with some fun kid rides.  Mason and Madi had a blast!!  Soon it was off to watch the dolphins play, and then we went to pet the stingrays.  Burke loved petting the stingrays so much that he tried to jump in several times.  It was hilarious!!

We spent the entire day at Sea World.  The kids were able to see up close, and in some cases even touch, a variety of sea animals.  We went to dolphin/bird show and got splashed.  We also went to the whale show.  The kids loved every minute.  Overall, we all had lots of fun eating and playing.  The food highlight was a funnel cake we ate topped with ice cream and strawberries.

After our fun day at Sea World, we ventured out on the town for some authentic Mexican Food.  It took us a while, but we found a highly reviewed place just down the street from our hotel.  The service wasn't very good, but the food was really good.  Of course Mason and I got another sea food plate and devoured as much as we could.  Jennive and Madi had some pollo y arroz.  It was tasty.  We had so much food that we boxed up the left overs and ate it again the next night.

Our final day in SoCal was spent at the San Diego Zoo.  I was so excited to take the kids to the zoo.  Mason and Madi have loved going to zoo's so much we bought a season pass to our local Hogle Zoo here in Utah.  We go as often as we can (we even went for Christmas earlier this year).

Our day at the San Diego Zoo started out similar to Sea World.  There were very few people so we were able to go anywhere we wanted without huge crowds.  We saw a lot of animals and plants.  I didn't realize the Zoo was as much of a botanical garden as it was a zoo.  The amount of plant life they have is amazing.

Some of the zoo was under construction, so we were not able to see everything.  Some of the highlights were going on the parks Sky Ride, seeing the hippos, pandas, and elephants, and sharing an ice cream cone.  I think it would be really fun to visit the Zoo's second park called the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.  We went to a safari park at Disney's Animal Kingdom, so if San Diego is anything like Disney, it would be worth the trip back.

The next morning we woke up early and left for home.  After all of the fun we were ready to get home and back to life.  Another fun family blitz vacation was a success.  We had a lot of fun creating memories and experiences together.

Post Script: Please indulge my soapbox rant for a moment. The Zoo was a big letdown.  This over priced not-for-profit tourist trap gets two thumbs down from me.  Even Melman would have been disappointed.  Everywhere we turned we were informed of how humans as a species are driving animals to extinction.  Their over attempt at guilting each visitor into conservation activism is simply sad.  Even the animals with no endangerment threat are portrayed as two steps from extinction by humans.  The cherry on top was when we got onto one of the parks many over used, noisy, double-decker, gas guzzling, air polluting, diesel fueled buses which operate all day throughout the park.  For a place that should be operated by biological conservationists, it sure didn't feel like it.  No thanks, we'll stick with the Hogle Zoo here in Utah.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

No. 3: Visit A Beach (With The Kids)

Daniel has finally given me the opportunity to write one of these blog entries.  This one is about our before thirty visit to the beach with the kids.  If you know me, this is going to be short and sweet.

Just recently I had a client who went on and on about the freedom in her life for not having children.  How she and her husband can go where they want, see what they want, do what they want and not have to worry about children at home, or having to take care of them.  I just smiled and nodded (because I was hoping for a big tip), but in my mind I felt so sorry for her that she had not yet experienced the world through the open eyes of a child.

Daniel and I have both visited beaches at times in our lives.  We even had the opportunity of living next to a beach in Hawaii for three months.  The reason we put this one on our list wasn't for us, it was for our kids.  We live in landlocked Utah.  And we don’t often get the chance to visit any water, let alone a beach.  So when we pulled up to Ocean Beach, (we know incredibly original name), the excitement and anticipation in our van was palpable.  The doors were literally bursting open with little Mason, Madi, and Burke wanting to get out there and see the sand, surf, and sun. 

Although we've been to several different beaches, seeing this beach with our kids, exploring each seashell, each seaweed, each wave, and each grain of sand was entirely new.  This was one of our favorite before thirties as a family, and we look forward to experiencing it again with our kids.

Friday, November 23, 2012

No. 26: Run Across The Golden Gate Bridge

How poetic the American Dream.  That one day you, me, our children, their children; we could all live without inequality.  The city of San Francisco embodies this credo.  Our short experience among 0.011% of the world's population was eye opening.  One worth writing about.

The first time I saw the Golden Gate Bridge I was 19 years old.  I remember looking at it through the rear view mirror of our work truck as we drove away from Fisherman's Wharf.  Now, almost a decade later, I was able to look at it from a completely different perspective.  I am grateful this new experience was shared with my family.

A few years ago Jennive and I started running as a way to exercise.  We have been hooked on running ever since.  Every few months we try to race together.  Mostly 5 kilometer races.  We have even run a few 10 kilometer races.  I have completed a few half marathons with Jennive and the kids cheering me on; however, we have never been able to run one together.  Coincidentally there was a half marathon in San Francisco that met our before thirty criteria of running across the Golden Gate Bridge.  So we signed up for the US Half Marathon San Francisco.  To run together.

We decided to make this a family event.  It was a hard decision which we weren't entirely sure about.  Though, looking back I am glad we did.  Our children love to learn.  We try to teach them about the world through hands on experiences.  They are young and may not remember each place we take them, or the words we say, but I am positive they will remember the lessons we teach them.

Our adventure started out on a Friday morning, bright and early.  Since we were taking the kids, we decided to drive the 765 miles from our house to San Francisco.  It took us 12.5 hours to get there.  Jennive and I have always loved driving together.  It's very relaxing and a great opportunity for us to catch up on all the things we want to talk about.  The kids did well too.  It was a learning experience for us all.

The night we arrived we stayed downtown in a time share.  The building was an old hotel built two years after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fires that destroyed almost all of the cities structures.  We went to a local pizza restaurant for a real meal after eating junk food all day.  It was a different experience than we were used to.  Our first encounter with the significant lack of children in the city...

The next morning we woke up and headed out for breakfast.  We found a crepe cafe and ate the best crepes I've ever had.  Again, where were all the kids?

That day we went on a city tour which ended at Fisherman's Wharf.  We were able to eat some local crabs.  The kids loved crab more than the cheesy noodle meal we ordered for them.  After that we headed to pick up our race-day packets.  That night we decided to stay in a different hotel down in South San Francisco.  Then we would be out of the hustle and bustle of downtown.

Sunday morning we woke up early and headed to the race.  I was a little worried we would have problems entering the race with our three kids.  The race had a no stroller policy, which when I checked with one of the race representatives at the packet pick up, they were unwilling to waive.  No matter, I wasn't really asking for permission anyway.  When we got to the parking garage near the starting line we unloaded and prepared the two jogging strollers.  Many of the race participants driving past lit up with smiles when they saw our kids.  That helped put my mind at ease about pushing them through the race.  Besides, who wouldn't smile after seeing our kids?  They are dang cute!

The race started a little after 7:00am.  There were 5,000 people at the starting line...and three kids.  Jennive and I stayed out of the way and cheered on all the US Half Marathon San Francisco runners as they started.  After almost everyone went past I gave Jennive my shirt with my race bib so she could run across the starting line and activate our race chips.  It was fun for the kids to cheer her on too.  We started out running up a hill.  It wasn't bad, just the races way of saying "remember, you're in San Francisco!".  After that, the race had a few ups and downs, pun intended.  But the highlight was our purpose.  The Golden Gate Bridge.

The morning of the race I was worried we wouldn't be able to fully enjoy the scenery of San Francisco.  From what I read, the bay had a tendency to be foggy with low visibility.  That wouldn't work for us.  Luckily, the day was warm (about 74 degrees) and no fog.  It was perfect.

After ho-humming around for the first five miles, stopping every ten minutes to appease the kids, we made it to the Golden Gate Bridge.  The bridge was very loud.  You could hardly hear over the rush of six lanes of traffic.  Every once in a while I could hear the kids crying or yelling for me.  We would stop, I would try to calm them, and then we would move on.  It was a unique experience.  The fast cold wind added a unsettling perspective to the vertigo of looking over the edge.  It's as if the suspension cables were really there to hold the bridge from flying away.

We finally made it across the bridge.  When we reached the North Vista Point we were beat.  Tired, fatigued, and ready to give up.  It was difficult.  We didn't want to be there anymore than the kids.  But we pushed through.  We got back on the trail and headed slowly toward the finish.  We complained, we went through the motions, but we just kept moving forward.  One foot in front of the other.  Some runners hit a wall.  When the body requires a shift in energy source.  We were there.  Yet we were only half way through the race.  Sounds about like life, huh?

Finally, we finished the race.  We felt accomplished.  We were glad we had not given up half way through the race.  A short taxi ride back to the city would have been far less difficult than sticking with it.  It would have also been far less rewarding.  The finishers medals hang high in our home.  The custom racing bibs that say "30*B*4*30" have more importance to us than any other race we've been in.  We completed our first half marathon together!!!  The US Half Marathon in San Francisco ended up being the perfect race for us.

Later that day we ate at IHOP.  Our tradition after completing a race.  Pancakes taste ten times better after running all morning!  After that we headed out for some more fun.  We thought to make the day a Super Sunday.  One where we could cross off three of our before thirty goals.  Our first goal of the day was completed.  Run the US Half Marathon San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge.

The second goal of our Super Sunday was No. 8: See a Redwood Tree.  We drove the forty-five minutes north of San Francisco to Muir Woods.  It's a local redwood forest remotely discovered far from the Redwood National Forest.  Unfortunately, after running 13.1 miles that morning we had no desire to walk the two miles of backed up traffic to get there.  Apparently everyone else thought they would go on a family outing too.  We'll try again for this before thirty sometime next year.

The third goal of our Super Sunday was No. 3: Visit A Beach (With The Kids).  We did, and it was tons of fun.  We'll write about it in a separate blog post.

That night we went back to our hotel.  I drove around and found some authentic Chinese food.  Why would we go all the way to San Francisco and not eat Chinese food, right?  It was the best Chinese food I've ever had (well, not really)!

The next morning we woke up bright and early.  We loaded up the car and started back home.  A long drive to end a short weekend in San Francisco.  Certainly one of our favorite blitz vacations ever.

I love steel.  To me, it's an inspiring portrait of strength and dedication.  The iconic Chrysopylae, with it's 83,000 tons of structural steel and 1.2 million rivets, is a mural of the great American work ethic.  An ethic I am determined to teach my children.

Monday, November 19, 2012

No. 30: Ride A Bike From One Childhood Home to Another (Rexburg to St. Anthony, Idaho)

You might think there isn't a whole lot to write about riding a bike 15 miles.  But then again, this is us we are talking about...

Jennive and I are experts at creating fun memories.  Or at least in our own minds!  We decided for this before thirty experience we would do more than simply ride a bike down the country road.  Instead, we put together a list of places we loved most about Home as we began our lives together.  Here is our adventure:

First we made an itinerary.  After all, we are list people.  We identified each place we would stop along our way.

Our day started out at 7:30am at the Maxfield home.  It was a little chilly, so we bundled up with sweaters and gloves.  Then we hopped on our bikes and were ready to go.

Stop No. 1: Maxfield Home - Jennive grew up in Rexburg, Idaho.  I hear a lot of fun stories about her childhood.  Maxfield's moved into the home when Jennive was 5 years old.  She started and finished school there.  Luckily we did this before thirty when we did.  Since the bike ride, the Maxfield's sold their home!

Stop No. 2: Our First Home - Jennive's and I lived at 387 Airport Road #40 for the first two years of our marriage.  It was a cozy little two bedroom single wide mobile home.  Undoubtedly one of the best investments we ever made.

Stop No. 3: Wedding Chapel -  Jennive and I were married on March 12, 2004 in this church just down the road from where Jennive grew up.  In fact, this is the same church Jennive attended when she was a child.  Ironically, when we were first married we attended church there as well.  For those of you unfamiliar with Rexburg, Idaho, that's a pretty big coincidence considering there are about 100 different churches in the city.

Stop No. 4: Porter Park - I remember when Jennive and I were dating we would eat a lot of snow cones from Sno Shack.  One particular day I bought some lottery tickets and snow cones and took them to the water slide (since demolished and replaced with the sprinkle park you see in the picture) where Jennive was life guarding.

Stop No. 5: Brigham Young University-Idaho Horticulture Gardens - This is where I asked Jennive to marry me.  It was December 13, 2003.  I remember it was freezing cold.  She said yes...

Stop No. 6: Gringos Mexican Restaurant - Okay, nothing against this place because we practically ate there every time we went out to eat, but after we finished riding our bikes we tried out a new Mexican restaurant in St. Anthony.  All I have to say is, wow.  Gringos has been replaced...

Stop No. 7: Maverik - Traveling all the way to Idaho would not be complete without lottery tickets!!  We stocked up on food and tickets before we left Rexburg on the country roads to St. Anthony.  Jennive won $15...

Stop No. 8: The Bench - This used to be the gathering place for our friends before we would head out for a night of fun.  Many, many good memories were started at this bench.  Funny thing, someone (I honestly don't know who) carved "Danno's Bench" in the seat a decade ago.  It's still there if you look closely.

Stop No. 9: The Roxy - One of my favorite things about St. Anthony is The Roxy.  Now because they reclaimed its original purpose as a one screen movie theater.  But when Jennive and I were younger, this used to be the location for many local band concerts.  Carleen, you know what I mean?

Stop No. 10: Miller Home - I will always remember the day we moved into this home as a child.  Many good memories.  I love my family.

It's said that home is where the heart is.  Certainly for Jennive and me our hearts have and always will be in southeastern Idaho.  We have very fond memories of our childhood and early marriage years living there.  I can only think to describe it as that feeling you get when you have been on vacation and are ready to go home.  Then when you get home you feel peaceful and warm inside.  That's what it's like for us when we go to Idaho.

Idaho, we certainly love every nook and rill.

Friday, October 5, 2012

No. 20: Eat a Florida Orange in Florida

"Nants ingonyama bagithi baba, sithi uhhmm ingonyama".  Walt Disney once said “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

We were lucky enough to open a new door and experience Walt’s path to complete our before thirty goal of eating an orange in Florida.

Earlier this year we were given a very unique opportunity.  As circumstances would have it, a room became available with our time share exchange at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Kidani Villas for September.  Of course, this was a door we had to open!  We have been to Disney World a few (four) times before, but this was going to be different.  Like okapis, elands, and gazelles different.

With our destination set, our room booked, we only had a few things left to do.  Over the summer months we booked our flights ($262 round trip direct from Salt Lake City... incredible deal...I know!!), bought our park tickets, and started an itinerary.  We had everything planned out.  What park we were going to, what day we were going, and more importantly, where we were eating.  For this trip we wanted to experience all of the great dining Disney World has to offer.  After all, the entire purpose for this trip was to eat an orange, right?!  So to satisfy our hunger, we signed up for the Disney Dining Plan, which is basically pre-paying for your food.  We took full advantage and were not disappointed!

The DDP works like this: you pick a plan, pay for it, make reservations at specific restaurants, and then you eat tons and tons of really good food.  That’s exactly what we did.  To make it special for all of us, we each got to choose one place we really, really wanted to go to. 

Burke was too young to choose where to eat, so we chose for him.  We ate at The Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom, which is a Winnie the Pooh and Friends character dining.  A character dining is when actual real life Disney characters visit you at your table while you eat.  They take pictures, sign autographs, and basically make your kids feel like they are the luckiest kids in the world.  Even though Burke is only six months old, he was all smiles J

Madilyn is two.  She loves princesses.  Her favorite princess is Belle from Beauty and the Beast.  Unfortunately, the Be Our Guest restaurant at Magic Kingdom is still under construction so we were unable to go there.  Instead we ate at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall at EPCOT.  Madi loved it!  She got to take a special picture with Belle and meet all of the other princesses.  She even went on a princess parade with Ariel around the restaurant.  The food was Norwegian.  Even though they had a phenomenal breakfast platter full of eggs, sausage, and potatoes, we were good sports and made our best attempts at being Vikings.  We can now say we have had raw salmon, caper, peppered mackerel, and tomato herring for breakfast!!

As a side note, we decided to take the princess experience for Madi a step further.  On our first day in the parks we had breakfast at Cinderella's Royal Table which is located in the iconic castle of Magic Kingdom.  To make the experience extra magical, the servers address guest as “the Royal Family” and use titles like m’lady and m’lord.  They give the princesses magic wands and the princes swords.  Madi and Mason took their souvenirs everywhere they went for the rest of the trip.

Mason turned four years old on the trip.  As part of his birthday celebration we had a big family dinner at T-Rex: A Prehistoric Family restaurant located at Downtown Disney.  
By this time on our trip we were all exhausted.  It was the last night before we flew back home.  We were running on fumes.  Or at least the grownups were...  The kids however had plenty of energy.  From the moment we stepped out of the rain and into the restaurant, Mason, Madi, and cousins could not stop having fun!  I think they would still be digging for dinosaur bones in the kids waiting area if we hadn’t stopped them when our table was ready.  The best part of this experience wasn’t the cave-like dining area that changed colors between blue and red as dinosaurs became interactive, or the sixteen inch tall slushy drinks each of the kids practically inhaled, it was definitely the volcano birthday cake they brought out for Mason and Grandma Maxfield.  What a great way to celebrate the conclusion of our magical escape.

Another choice of Mason’s was the classic Hollywood & Vine restaurant in Hollywood Studios.  This was a character dining with Jake (of the Neverland Pirates), Special Agent Oso, Handy Manny, and June (who I mistakenly thought was Dora the Explorer…not Disney…my bad).  Mason dressed up in his pirate costume to make the experience authentic.  He even danced with Special Agent Oso during the interactive sing-along.

If you know Jennive, then you know she loves fish.  Even though Nemo’s friends council us that “fish are friends not food”, the Coral Reef Restaurant in EPCOT has been on her list of to-do’s ever since she found out you eat with underwater views of dolphins, turtles, sharks, and what seems to be an infinite number of other fish in a 5.7 million gallon salt-water tank.  For starters we ate crab cakes, crispy-fried shrimp, and creamy lobster soup.  Jennive’s white fish dinner was almost as good as my steak (yeah, I know…why go to a fish joint if you are going to order a steak…it won’t happen again!).  My favorite part of this experience was watching Mason and Madi stare at the fish.  The world is so much more spectacular through their eyes.  Jennive’s second choice was Kouzzina by Cat Cora at the Boardwalk Area.  We have a mutual appreciation for the cooks of The Food Network.  Unfortunately, we got on the wrong bus to go to the restaurant.  By the time we realized where we were, it was too late for our reservation.  We ended up settling for a quick stop with some orange juice, a muffin, and some grapes.  Hopefully someday we will get to appreciate Cat’s amazing Mediterranean inspired menu.

My choice wasn’t a hard guess.  We eat at the Biergarten Restaurant at EPCOT every time we visit.  The Biergarten is a German themed restaurant with killer food and entertainment.  Jennive and I have listed vacationing to Germany as one of our before thirty goals.  I can hardly wait!!  My second choice was the Flame Tree Barbeque at Animal Kingdom.  It’s no Jiko (the five star restaurant at our hotel), but it’s a classic we enjoy every time we go to Animal Kingdom.

Since this was a food themed vacation it’s probably important to list all of the other places we ate at.  We watch Mickey’s “Boo-to-You” Halloween Parade from our dining table at Tony's Town Square Restaurant.  Mason gave Donald a high five and Madi freaked out (in a good way) when she saw Daisy at Tusker House Restaurant.  We had by far the best service and ate what I would call some of the best tasting food ever, at Jiko – The Cooking Place.  We couldn’t get enough Africa inspired food at the buffet of Boma–Flavors of Africa.  We never ran out of ketchup at Whispering Canyon CafĂ©.  Mason, Madi, and Burke were all complimented by other guests for their manners at the five star restaurant Citricos.  And lastly, the best beef and broccoli I’ve ever had at the Yak & Yeti Restaurant.  In all, the food was great.  We definitely had our fill (pun intended).

On to other fun activities and memorable events, our room being at the top of the list.  When we booked our vacation we were able to get a Savanna View room.  Only it’s not just a “room”.  It’s almost a house.  There was a full size kitchen, a huge master bedroom and master bathroom, a second bathroom, and a dinning/living area.  The room was African themed.  
The dining table even had giraffe legs as the legs of the table.  The bathroom had sunset imprinted tiles with trees and animals.  Disney went all out on the room!  In all, the best part was of course the savanna view.  What this means is that from the balcony of our room we could watch various African animals grazing or being playful.  Now I want to go on safari to Africa.

We were also able to get tickets to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.  Mason was Woody, Madi was Jessie, and Burke was supposed to be Bullseye, but we couldn’t get the costume to work, so instead he was Mickey Mouse!
They were all adorable.  Jennive and I didn’t take costumes so we put on our workout cloths and went as “runners”.  Included with the party was plenty of trick-or-treating.  The kids made a haul!  I also want to share an experience we had on the bus ride to the party.  If you have never had the opportunity to talk with our son Mason you need to.  For twenty minutes on the bus he carried a conversation with a fifty-something-year-old adult he had never met before.  They talked about all kinds of things you would never think a child would even care about.  As the couple got off the bus they complimented Mason and were surprised to learn his age.  I am proud of you Mason!  You will touch so many hearts in your life.

The fireworks show was pretty cool too.

The weather was uncooperative at times.  It didn’t really bother us any since Jennive and I had just spent a week in the rain of Alaska.  Warm rain in Florida is much better!  That said, the first day we were in Magic Kingdom everyone ran for cover when it started to rain.  Everyone except Mason, Madi and me.  Instead we played.  Everyone watch from their cover as we ran in the courtyard enjoying the coolness the rain brought to the hot day.  We played tag, Simon says, and puddle splashing.  It was good to let loose and enjoy life just like the kids inherently know how.

 The rain also meant we spent a lot of time indoors.  It can’t be all fun and games, right?  Indoors there were a lot of rides and plays.  One of the many plays we went to was Beauty and the Beast.  This was a live twenty minute production with dancers, singers, and lots of movement.  Madi was captivated.  At the beginning of play there are three Gaston admirers trying to get his attention.  Madi looked over at them and said “oh, they’re beautiful” in her cute two year old voice.  She is such a precious girl.  We love our Madilyn.

Burke, our youngest, really grew up on this trip.  While it’s hard to customize any vacation for a six month old, we did our best with Disney.  Burke was a trooper.  Almost anything we did, he did.  He experienced most of the week from a tummy pouch.  You would not believe the looks he got from girls.  What a womanizer already!  I’m sure his squishy cheeks and chunky legs were too much for any girl to ignore!

Every time we have visited WDW we have taken a picture in this exact location.  
Happy memories J

Thank you Maxfield’s (Bob & Jo Anne) and Brett, Melissa, and kids (McKinley, Annabelle, & Gavin) for sharing this experience with us.  

We were fortunate enough to have a great time as a family.  One we will never forget.

We hope to return again someday.  After all, Walt Disney put it best when he said “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

"Now it’s time to say goodbye to all our company, M-I-C, see you real soon, K-E-Y, why? because we like you, M-O-U-S-E!"

Oh yes, and the orange was delicious!!