Harry Potter, here we come!

Zach and I had been desperately wanting to see the Harry Potter attraction at Universal's Islands of Adventure.  Mike and Bailey had not.  So because of the cost of admission and the fact that Universal really isn't for little kids, we decided to split up on Monday.

Since Mike actually had a conference to go to, he went every morning, and we met up around lunch time.  On Monday morning, the kids and I met my mom at the Gaylord Palms hotel, where she works sometimes.  The hotel atriums are very cool, and the kids loved it there!

We texted this picture to Mike to see if he would think that Zach was actually out fishing without him.  He was not easily fooled.


After a nice snack with my mom, we headed out to the pool at the Yacht Club. 


Bailey really liked playing on the sandbar. 


And then, while Mike and Bailey stayed at the pool and enjoyed some ice-cream, Zach and I headed out for Harry Potter land.  I will say this - it was weird to leave the protective bubble of Disney World.  Disney creates such an alternate reality for you, especially when you stay at a Disney resort, that you forget there is a real world out there that's not perfect.

In any event, the conductor was waiting for us to take us to Hogwart's.




The Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride was incredible.  The castle was so detailed that we took the tour after we finished the ride, so we could slow down and really see things.



Then it was back to Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley shops.




And then, Ollivander's.  Zach had been talking about buying a wand at Ollivander's ever since we told him we were going to Florida.  They only let about 20 people in at a time, so we waited for about 20 minutes to see the wand demonstration.  It was so totally worth it!  Just like in the book, the wand chooses you.


Wand boxes from floor to ceiling.


And you could pick someone else's wand if you wanted to.


Zach received a wand of birch, tied to his date of birth, from a wizard in the shop.  I don't know that we would go back to Universal, but this was one of the coolest attractions I've ever visited.  Of course, if you don't know the books or the movies, it is completely lost on you. ;-)

After a cheap meal at Waffle House, we took the kids to the Ripley's Believe it or Not museum on International Drive, because Zach loves that stuff.  We went in thinking that it was such a tacky tourist attraction, but actually, we would probably go back.  Bailey started getting antsy after about an hour, but we could have stayed way longer.  We are such tourists!

Next up:  Magic Kingdom!

Animal Kingdom

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, we felt like it was safe to venture into the Disney parks, so we went to Animal Kingdom.  We had a character breakfast in the morning, and Animal Kingdom is a great park to arrive late, because you can definitely see the whole park in one day. 

I can't go to Disney World without planning what to see and in what general order.  When we haven't planned, we have ended up standing in long lines and becoming extremely pissed.  I tend to go overboard on stuff, so I had an app for my phone that I checked obsessively for line wait times, fast pass return times, sequence of rides, and show times the whole time we were there.  It was such a joy.  Sometimes I still check it now, just to see what's going on in Florida.  Seriously, we'll be driving to the store or something, and I'll yell out, "hey kids, the wait time for Mission Space is 18 minutes."  This makes me very happy.

But first - we were on a mission to see Goofy.  Not for the kids, but for Mike.  Yes, it's true.  The lines to see the characters in the parks can get long, so we decided to do a character breakfast at the Cape May Cafe, one of the restaurants in the Beach Club, which is connected to the Yacht Club.  Because I am insane, I had charts of which breakfasts had which characters and the ratio of characters to diners.

We were promised that Minnie, Donald, and Goofy would come to our table, and come they did!  It was awesome, and the waffles were shaped like Mickey.

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So then we took off for Animal Kingdom.  We had been there years ago but hadn't been back since.  It's pretty much the same!

We had our little plan, which consisted of Mike and Zach hightailing it over to Expedition Everest, but Zach got scared at the last minute, so Mike rode it twice by himself while the kids and I walked the Maharajah jungle trek. 

We saw It's Tough to be a Bug at the theater inside the Tree of Life, and it was fantastic!  Bailey freaked out a little when the 3D giant bugs came at her head, but then they turned into butterflies and all was good.


Mike almost threw up twice on Everest.


The jungle trek was super cool.  Zach and I thought there was a barrier between us and the huge bats, but we put our hands out and there was none.  Just us and giant bats.  And the tigers reminded me of our beagle, the laziest dog in the world.

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This was Di-Vine, the stilts lady.  She hangs out and pretends to be foliage until some poor unsuspecting tourist leans up against her, and then she starts moving, thereby causing much screaming by said tourist.


Because we came at a good time of year, we didn't have to get fast passes for any of the rides at this park.  And we didn't have to stand in line for more than a few minutes at any ride.  This made us oh so happy.  So we hopped on to Kilimanjaro Safaris, where the guy helping us into the ride was from Walton, Nebraska.  We talked Huskers.

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We had Mickey-shaped ice cream sandwiches.  I love room charge.


Bailey was accosted by a raccoon.


And we found more characters.

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We caught the mid-afternoon parade, which gave us a chance to sit, eat crackers, and play Angry Birds on our phones.

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There were characters all over the place!


And we got ears.  I am not in this picture, but I can tell you that my ears are zebra-striped.


After the parade, Mike and kids rode the Kali River Rapids while I facebooked took care of important business, since I didn't want to get soaked.  Then Mike and Bailey played in the Boneyard playground while Zach and I rode Dinosaur.  Great, great ride.  Way too scary for Bailey, so I'm glad she didn't go. 

We also toured Rafiki's Planet Watch, which is the veterinary and conservation area you reach by train.  Mike and I thought it was kind of boring, but the kids loved it!  Zach pulled us into this booth where you sat in the dark on comfy sofas and listened to a rainforest presentation.  It being the end of a long day, I took this opportunity to lay down on the sofa.  Apparently I fell asleep, because when the lights came on, I jumped in the air, shrieking.  Good times.

After the end of our day, we went to our dinner reservations at Boma, the African buffet restaurant at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  It was so fantastic, I can't even tell you.  Of all the places we ate, Boma had the most variety, and . . . alcohol in the deserts!  I love that place.  We also wandered around the Lodge and agreed that it would be a fabulous place to stay next time.  They give you night vision goggles so you can see the animals on the savanna come out after dark.  How cool is that?

Monday:  Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure!

Cocoa Beach

On our first day at Disney World, we did not go to Disney World.  We have been there enough to know that Thanksgiving weekend is super crowded at the parks, so on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, we decided to go to the beach and my mom's house instead.  So we took off for Cocoa Beach, Bailey's first trip to the ocean.

On the way there, we saw the Mars Rover launching from Cape Canaveral.


Since it was lunchtime, we stopped at our favorite restaurant, Lobster Shanty, where we got to eat on the deck by the bay.  My mom and I used to go to Lobster Shanty every Christmas vacation during my breaks from college and law school.


Mike and Bailey went to look at the dolphins while we waited for our food.


There was a red flag on the lifeguard tower because of rip currents, so we did not go too far out.


Then we went to the beach.  At first, the kids were like, "Mom, this water is not like the lakes we are used to."






There was also a lot of shell hunting and digging.


And at the end of the day, everyone was happy.


On the way back to the Yacht Club, we stopped by my mom's house for a visit and dinner, since Mike thinks she is the best cook in the world.  Ahem.  In fact, he has invited her to live with us if she would cook all of our food.  I think he's just sucking up to be the favorite son-in-law.

Sunday:  Animal Kingdom!




And we enter the South

So after having Thanksgiving dinner in Nashville, we continued on our journey to Disney World, which entailed a stop in Atlanta.


I really like Atlanta, and Mike and I talked about moving there once, but the humidity would kill me.  We always stop at the Target at the Mt. Zion exit (don't ask me why, but it's a tradition), so we did some Black Friday shopping there before continuing down the interstate.

The drive from Atlanta to Valdosta is boring with a capital B, but we saw some interesting sights.


And the kids had never seen a cotton field before.  One of the big deals about Georgia for us is pralines.  The first time we ever drove through, I mentioned to Mike that we had to stop at Stuckey's for pecans and pralines.  And he said, "What's Stuckey's?"  Oh my God.  Really?  But the minute he tasted a praline, he was hooked.  So as soon as we left Atlanta, he started asking when we were going to stop.  Seeing as he was driving me crazy with all this praline talk, we stopped in Perry.


I love this place.  They had samples all over the store.  And the Nebraska game was on.  So I stood in front of the television, watching my Huskers and eating praline samples.  Life is good.

Someone got a lot of stuff.


After all of this praline eating, we decided to stop for a healthy lunch at Subway in the cutest little town ever.  That's the best part about getting off the interstate, unless you end up being framed for robbing the Sack '0 Suds, like in My Cousin Vinny.

We had a Subway picnic under the super tall pine trees.


Then we wandered around and found stuff to mess around with.

We rang some sort of town bell.


Mailed letters.


And climbed on things.



We were a little giddy about Georgia at this point, so we decided we better leave.


We love the welcome centers that appear when you cross into new states.  At the Florida one, they have orange juice samples.  And so many brochures.  I love brochures.

And then all of a sudden, we were driving into Disney World.


I have never stayed in the World before, but I don't think I would ever do it any other way now.  It's just so convenient and special.  Mike's conference hotel was the Yacht Club, and it was fabulous.


It's on a lake across from the Boardwalk, so you can either walk to Epcot or take a boat at the lighthouse.  And there's a beach!  And they show Disney movies on the beach and night and make bonfires!

And there's a pirate ship that has a water slide.


Mike thought the lobby was stuffy.


But it had this train that Bailey had to look at, every time we either left or arrived.




And there's a gentleman named Woody who greets everyone.  Zach thought Woody was an admiral.


We went out the back doors of the hotel the night we got there, to check out the beach and the Boardwalk.  It was so pretty.




We ate a seafood dinner at the Cape May Cafe and headed to bed happy.  The kids became obsessed with Hidden Mickeys and found there everywhere in the hotel.

Next up, Cocoa Beach!

Meet the Griswolds

So this summer, Mike comes to me with this flyer for an anesthesia conference at Disney World in November.  He suggests that we take the kids, since a lot of it will be paid for through his education money at work.  I agree, and we promptly forget about it until November.

Once we got serious about the trip, I started planning, making reservations, buying tickets, all that good stuff.  And it occurred to us that Bailey might not want to fly.  As in Bailey might totally freak out on the jetway and there goes $1600 in airline tickets.  Since my parents have lived in Orlando for many years, I have made the drive there numerous times.  And so we decided to drive.

This is the part where we start singing the theme song to National Lampoon's Vacation.  Because we were the Griswolds, minus Christie Brinkley.  All we needed was the station wagon. 

We really like taking road trips, and this was no exception.  The kids were almost perfect, thanks to the DVD player, many Kidz Bop CDs, and headphones.  Oh, how I love those headphones.

Our first stop was St. Louis on Thanksgiving.  Look, kids, the Arch!


We wanted to show the kids the Arch, but on the way there, we ran into a Christmas parade just a few blocks away.  So of course we had to stop and watch it, because life moves pretty fast, and if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.  Thank you, Ferris Bueller.

We saw the World Series trophy.




Men in kilts.


More balloons.


Look, kids, the Arch!


Cool stuff.


Even more balloons.


Frosty the Snowman high-fived Bailey.




Look, kids, a tiny Arch!


More bands.


No, you can't have too many balloons.




On the way back to the parking garage,


Zach saw his first subway.


And then it was, let's get out of here and go to Disney World!


Look, kids, it's Nashville!



Fall roundup, part I

Dude.  I am so far behind.  After hearing Christmas music playing today at Target, I realized that I have not posted any of our fall pictures.  And we do a lot of stuff in the weeks preceding Halloween.  So here we go.

We have had a membership to Arbor Day Farm for many years, and we always head down there in the fall for apples.  The lady at the desk remembers us every time, and she greets us with, "It's the Hamiltons!" and a hug. 


We made hammocks in the nature classroom.


We played on the giant wooden marimbas.


We got lost in the corn maze, although we didn't call 911 like those morons in Massachusetts.  We just walked out.


We picked apples.


Lots of apples.  The orchard has a heritage orchard, where you can occasionally pick apples that are too delicate to be sold.  They have wonderful names, like Brown Snout and Bumble Bee Sweetning.  How can you compare Red Delicious to that?


We walked the interactive trail.  This songbird display has a recorder on it, and you are supposed to mimic the bird calls and then listen to them played back.  We did that exactly once.  Now our time at the display consists of the kids recording themselves shouting "butt", "poop", and "fart", and laughing hilariously when it plays back. 


We relaxed in the spider web.  A group of homeschoolers on a field trip came by after us, and they were the most polite children I have ever met.


And there's so much more.  There is a big treehouse, an education clubhouse, a discovery trail with a ride, many more exhibits, a greenhouse, an apple house, and a whole educational thing inside where a hologram talks to you and the sky storms overhead.  We love this place.

Then we headed out to our annual pumpkin patch extravaganza.  We go to Roca Berry Farm, which is the poor cousin to Vala's Pumpkin Patch in Gretna.  Everyone says how much they love Vala's, which is all fine and good for them, but I'm not interested in paying $50 just to get in and mingle with thousands of other people who also love Vala's.  We did Vala's for two years, until we realized that Roca was just down the road, that it was cheaper, and that it doesn't get as much traffic.  That being said, Roca has been a little rough around the edges for the past few years, but this year they cleaned up and added some new stuff.  And I had a Groupon to get us all in for $16.  Score!

We slid down the big castle slide.


Another corn maze.


There were bouncy houses.



Mike tried to pick up the racing pigs, just to see how heavy they were.


We posed.


A lot.




Then we found these bouncy pillow things.  I fell off and broke my finger.  Oops!




We went on a hayrack ride, and it rained like crazy on us.  But hey, there were pumpkins!





Then the farm dog found us and bonded with Bailey.


"Invitation in an egg", also known as "what was I thinking?"

So my friend and fellow attorney Stacey is having a baby, and we decided to give her a baby shower at work.  My other friend and fellow attorney Amber and I have these baby shower planning meetings, where Amber will say, "where should we have it?"  and I will say, "let's ask Stacey", and we consider that a successful meeting. 

I will digress for a moment and wax on about Amber and Stacey.  My favorite thing about Amber is that she emailed me one Thursday at about 10:30 a.m.  The email consisted of one word - "pancakes".  Amongst my work emails, this one stands out for obvious reasons.  My favorite thing about Stacey is that she goes along with my wacky schemes, including meeting with some Omaha attorneys at their offices instead of ours just so we could take advantage of their beverages. 

So anyway.  I was channeling Martha Stewart one day, and I saw these darling eggs on Pinterest.  They were blown out and they had paper inside them.  Pinterest gets me every time.  I had to make the eggs!  And as soon as Stacey announced her pregnancy, I had my chance.

But let me tell you what a fool I am.  I assume that when I see something on Pinterest, it truly represents the craft.  A lot of times, it doesn't.  A lot of times, those things are so photoshopped that Martha herself couldn't replicate them.

The eggs, my friends, are one of those things.

But here's what I came up with.  I had to make 11 of them.  I knew that I wanted to dye them blue, because Stacey is having a boy.  But it's not Easter.  So what will I dye them with?  Food coloring?  Meh, that's for amateurs!  I used red cabbage.


Yes, it's true.  Red cabbage boiled in water for 30 minutes not only makes your house smell like well, cabbage, but it produces a juice that will dye eggs blue.  Just throw in some salt and a teaspoon of vinegar, strain the water, let it cool, and then put the eggs in it for about an hour.

Then you must blow the eggs out.  So I took a safety pin and poked a hole in either end of each egg and blew those yolks out.  It took a long time.  In fact, it took two episopes of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills to get 11 eggs blown out.  

Then Bailey broke a couple, so I had to start the cabbage process all over again and make some more and blow those out.  This time, the Real Housewives of New Jersey was on.  Dude, those women are crazy.

So then I wrote a tiny little invitation, rolled it up into a scroll, and discovered that it wouldn't fit into the hole at the end of the egg.  So I took a nail and made the hole bigger until the scroll fit.  Then I tied a silver ribbon around and pinned the paper on that says "crack to open".  Alas, I couldn't find my circle punch for the paper, but these are just lawyers.  They don't know.


Put the whole shebang in a box.


Wrap the box in ribbon.


And do you know what happened when I took these boxes to work and passed them out?  No one wanted to crack the egg!  They all have them displayed on their desks.  Really, people?  Really?

Finally, co-workers Rhonda and Jim cracked theirs to show everyone else what was inside.  And then I sent an Outlook calendar invitation to everyone by email.  And then it occurred to me that I could have just done that to begin with.


Tae Kwon Do testing - a pictorial tour

Mike recently got promoted to green belt in Tae Kwon Do.  Zach and I sat out of testing because we wanted to let Mike catch up so we could all be green belts at the same time.  Because I wasn't testing, I was able to take photos like I wanted, rather than random stuff with the not-so-optimal camera in my phone.

So basically, this is how testing goes.  It lasts about five hours, and we are required to stay the whole time.  Everyone does their forms, starting with white belts and ending with black belts.  The forms are a series of punches, blocks, and kicks that demonstrate technique.  The patterns get more difficult as you progress in rank.  And you do everything in front of these mean-looking judges.


The big deal during this testing was that Nicole Swanson was testing for her fifth degree black belt.  Do you know how difficult it is to call her Mrs. Swanson, when I've known her as Nicole for years?

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She had to do three forms in a row, so I love this shot of her between number 2 and 3.  She's thinking, "God, just get me through this, and I promise I will be really nice to the Hamiltons in class from now on."

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After forms, we take a short break and then the black belts do demonstrations to sucker new people into starting Tae Kwon Do classes.  The rest of us really like this part, because it's super cool. 

There is board breaking.

Board breaking

Ana breaking

Mr swanson breaking

And this time around, there was cement breaking.  This got a huge crowd response.  Can you believe that in real life, he's an economist?

Cement breaking

And Mr. Vallabhbhai always does this jumping rolling scenario in conjunction with his board-breaking.  That's just him.  Can you believe that in real life, he's a CPA?

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So after the demonstrations, testing starts again, and we do one-steps and free sparring.  One-steps are techniques that show sparring but in a more controlled setting.

These are our friend Jeff and Owen, a father-son team, doing their high blue stuff.  It boggles my mind how bendy Owen is.

Koepke one steps

Okay, I'm just going to say that I love this manuever.

Holly headlock

Then the helmets come on and the sparring starts.

Black belt sparring

Orange belt sparring

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The black belts also have to do self-defense with weapons.  Okay, fake weapons.

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Except that's a real flashlight.

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Nicole had to spar three times.  I can't tell you how exhausting sparring is.  Trust me.  So to have to do it three times is crazy.

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The second round was two against one.

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And then she sparred Jason, otherwise known as Mr. Swanson.  Her husband.  Their daughter Sami said that it was an epic battle.  Mike and I always wonder what happens when they have arguments at home.

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And then everyone is finished.


And we get promotions a couple of weeks later.  Here's the thing.  Tae Kwon Do is full of regular people doing really interesting things.  Lots of families do it.  There are many siblings and parent-child combinations.  That's why we like it.  It's hard but challenging in a good way.  So now we are all working toward our high green belts!

Ten years of wedded bliss

We got married on September 10, 2001, in Hawaii.  It was the day before 9/11.  We didn't know about 9/11 until 9/12, because on 9/11, we were kayaking across Kealakekua Bay.  And we were staying in a totally isolated rental house without television or telephones. 

So on 9/12, we stopped to get ice-cream, and we wondered aloud why all of the civil defense speakers were on and why battleships were going to D.C. and why everyone on the island was freaked out about potentially not having any supplies delivered.  And why weren't the planes flying?  Was there some kind of airline strike?  The ice-cream man looked at us and said,"You don't know what happened?" 

And then he said, "Are you sure you want to know?"  Then he pulled out the newspaper from behind the counter and showed us a picture of the World Trade Center burning.  He started telling us this story about how a plane hit the World Trade Center.  Then he said that another plane hit another World Trade Center tower.  And then another hit the Pentagon.  At this point, I just wanted him to stop talking.  But he didn't.  The fourth plane hit the ground in Pennsylvania.  And then the towers fell.  But how could this be?  How could there be no more towers in New York?  In my mind, that wasn't possible.

I think this hit me harder than it did Mike, because he had never been out of the Midwest.  But we were talking about my town - Washington, DC.  And New York - I had just been there and walked through the basement of the towers to get to my favorite discount department store.  So as we drove south to the city of Volcano, I needed information.  I needed to stop and get a newspaper and I needed to have the radio on.  Mike just wanted to have a honeymoon and deal with it when we got back home.  But when and how would we get back?  The planes were grounded, and we were stuck on an island.  Actually, not a bad place to be stuck.

So we checked into the Four Seasons.  And we were able to leave the island as scheduled.  The flight back was surreal, because the air marshals weren't hiding themselves at that point.  No, they were standing right in front of everyone, basically saying, "hey, we are armed, and we are not kidding, so don't even think about pulling any funny stuff."  On the flight from Los Angeles to Omaha, we were on Midwest Express, which gave us all bottles of champagne to take with us, since the plane was virtually empty.  The flight attendants sat with us and just talked.

So as everyone is talking about the ten year anniversary of 9/11, I'm going to be thinking about the ten year anniversary of 9/10.  Our wedding day.  Totally freaking awesome, if I do say so myself.  And the ten years after that?  Two kids, school, cancer?  We have been through the proverbial wringer.  But we came through on the other side and there is no one else I would have wanted to share it all with than my wonderful husband.


Happy Labor Day!

And labor we did.  And by "we", I mean "Mike".

This is our foyer last week.


We were in the midst of changing over the laminate floor to tile.

Here it is today.


Pay no mind to the paper towels and Clorox wipes.  Mike changed out the baseboards and repainted everything too.  What a guy!  So now we are on to the kitchen, in our continuing effort to bring our house out of the 80's.  Not that the 80's were bad.  The music was awesome!  But the decor?  Not so much.

Also this past week, Bailey went to the dentist.


Poor kid.  I had many dental surgeries when I was a kid, and it looks like she's headed that way too.  She had a couple of teeth filed down to make room for others, and she had a cavity filled.

Bailey also went to yoga.  Isn't that funny?  It's a child's yoga class.  I love it!  It was suggested to us that she could use some help calming down, so once a week, we go to this class at the Y.


And then the Huskers played!  Whoop!  Football season has begun!  We spent the afternoon watching the game with our friends the Carlson's.  I thought it was adorable that Ella and Bailey both had the same glittery Husker shirt on.


That was Saturday.  On Sunday, Zach had his first communion.  Alas, I have no pictures.  But he thought it was cool.  His biggest worry was making sure he got the grape juice instead of the wine.  That afternoon, he went to a friend's birthday party and then on a long bike ride with our friends the Meyer's.  He was so tired that he asked to go to sleep at 7:30 last night.

And that's about all I have.  Thanks for reading!