Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Birthday Celebration For The Whole Family

I can't tell you how many times we heard from the kids, "this is the BEST birthday celebration EVER!!!" And it really was quite fun. A month or so ago, I thought about celebrating 32 years of my life by sharing it with the family. And it was so worth it. I decided this would be our destination:We got there by traveling a little over 100 miles down the road to this rather important location in America's history. But we didn't come here to celebrate America's history (this time).
We came to America's beginnings to stay the night of my birthday here:

There's about a dozen of these in the country. And it was a beautiful setting. Everything inside is geared towards pure family fun.
This isn't the typical front desk of your average hotel. Everything about the Great Wolf Lodge was magical for the kids. And we didn't even experience everything it had to offer. We'll be going back again and staying a little longer next time.
They have themed suites throughout the lodge. We chose the Kids Den so they could enjoy a little privacy. Surprisingly, it only took them about 5 minutes to argue and agree on who got to sleep where. Top bunks are fun but bottom bunks come with windows. Everybody wins.
Every night at 8 o'clock the lobby comes to life. There's a little show at the great clock tower and it concludes with "snow" falling from the ceiling.
The kids were entranced. Some of the adults were, too!
After the show, everybody found a seat by the fireplace to enjoy a bedtime story. Wiley, the lodge's mascot, came out to play with the kids.
And Wiley stuck around after the story for a photo op. All of our kids were drawn to him and they became instant friends.
This is the rest of the fireplace (or at least most of it)! The place was HUGE! I can only imagine what the kids thought.
And then after the bedtime story for the kids, James brought a book to read just for me. He had waited all day long to read this Dr. Suess book to me. And I enjoyed every page!
The icing on the cake for everyone was the indoor water park. There was a larger-than-life bucket at the top of the coolest tree house ever that dropped 1,000 gallons of water every 5 minutes. Whether you were in the wave pool, or lazy river, or pool, or slides...when the bell went off people stopped what they were doing to watch. Some were brave enough to go under the water fall.
I guess it goes without saying, but it doesn't matter where you are in this water're going to get wet. There were many times I was minding my own business when I got soaked without warning. There is water EVERYWHERE. But when it's 84 degrees year-round, the water feels great!

For a little while in the morning, we had the place to ourselves. There were a lot of other people, but there is so much to do that it felt like we were the only ones in the park. As it got later in the day, more and more people were enjoying the activities. All the kids especially liked the wave pool. You knew the waves were coming after you heard the wolves howling.
It took a little while, but this toddler area helped Peter and Luke warm up to all the water. There was lots to play with and they could walk anywhere safely. If someone was at the bottom of the orange slides, they were even brave enough to tackle those.

Eliza enjoyed most of the water park from the safety of her stroller. The rushing water throughout the park made the perfect white she slept most of the time.
This park isn't just for little kids. It's for big kids, too! And Mark graduated into the big kids category so Dad had a companion on the bigger rides. There were five slides that you went down using inner tubes - single or double. And three of those rides used circular or clover-shaped rafts that seated 4-6 people. The only "big" person slide you see in the picture below is the blue one. The others are on the 3rd or 4th levels of that same stairwell and immediately go outside, twisting and turning until you eventually make it back inside for a big splash at the end. Mark was very brave (and it was probably better that we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into). The first slide was fast and fun--a good exhilaration. Mark cackled the whole way down. So we went to get Anya so she could enjoy it, too. Then we went on a slide that used a huge raft that seated 4-6 people. There were grips to hold onto. I don't think I've ever seen Mark's eyes get that big. And I'll admit, there were a few times I thought the raft was going to flip over on us. But THEN...there was the "Howlin' Tornado" that I'll share with you in a few pictures.
There were slides that Anya and James could go down on their own. I think they each went down a dozen times before I could convince them to do something else for a little bit. It was fun to watch them enjoy themselves so much. Here's Anya bracing for the splash.
As soon as they got off the slide, they jumped out and started the ascent back up to the top.
Within a minute or so, I would see James reappear.
Had I seen this outside the lodge, I would NOT have taken Mark on the "Howlin' Tornado." Does this look like a "slide" to you?!?!? This is as close to bungee jumping that I ever want to get. My first clue should have been the reaction of the group in front of me. The lifeguard pushed their raft down the gigantic hole. Within about 15 seconds, I heard men shrieking like little girls being scared at camp. But Mark was with me...and he was eager to go down the slide. I kind of knew what to expect. I had read the sign at the top of the stairs and it mentioned you needed to be in good health...with a healthy heart. But that's what they say about every ride, right? And I read about the warning that there would be sudden drops. Again, no big deal, right? There were sudden drops in some of the other slides we had gone on. It's all good fun. So Mark and I got settled in to the clover-shaped raft with seats for 4. We sat across from each other. We began our descent down the yellow tube that was probably about 10 feet in diameter. As we went around a curve, I knew the "sudden drop" was coming because the tube essentially "ended" up ahead. But this drop wasn't a little dip in the slide. It was a literal vertical drop of I don't know how many feet. All I know is that neither Mark nor I could scream because we were both choking on water. And I wanted to throw up--I've never been a fan of the rides where you go up really high only to come down and then go back up. Those rides have always done a number on my stomach. Time stood still. This tube of about 10 feet in diameter just opened up to a 4 story tall building in diameter and I had no idea if the "slide" would ever end. I kind of want to ride it again next time we go just so I can look around a little more while I'm going down. But we only went once. And the whole way down I was literally praying that our lives wouldn't end. I was still shaking when we made it back to Karen. What a rush!
To calm our nerves, Mark begged me to let him try out the "Wipeout" ride. This is a ride you want to make sure your bathing suit is securely tied on. Before I could even get the camera ready, Mark already experienced a wipe out. So this is the best shot I could get. After he fell off the body board, the water shot him back up to the lifeguard.

So when Anya decided to follow after her big brother, I flipped the camera to video mode. And I'm glad I did (but don't tell Anya I put this video on the blog). Although she'll never try this ride again, at least she can tell you that it will go better if you hold onto the body board instead of putting your hands in the air.

So this is how I celebrated my 32nd birthday. I can't believe how quickly the two days of fun went by. We did so much...yet there was so much more we could have done. Next time we'll spend a few more days. Maybe this will become a traditional birthday celebration for Dad while we live here in Virginia.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Anya Elizabeth

January 9, 2010 was a big day for Anya. It began with her first piano recital. (And she did FANTASTIC!) There is a video of her first song at the end of this post. It was a recital unlike any I've attended before. There were kids and adults playing the piano, guitar, banjo, saxophone, clarinet, violin, drums, trumpet, and probably a few other instruments I'm forgetting. They played as soloists and in groups. It was quality entertainment. And it was a joy to see Anya perform so well.After the recital, we ran over to the church for her baptism. Yep...she turned 8. And what a wonderful service her baptism was. We had family there...which is really all that matters.

After her baptism, we returned home to celebrate her birthday.
Glen (Karen's brother) and Cheryl and their family were there with us. They've gotta be one of the best families EVER. They're solid, good people...and our kids LOVE hanging out with them (the "big" kids really like hanging out with them, too).
And this is how the day ended. Anya loves having one-on-one conversations with her baby sister, Eliza. It's really cute how much they adore each other.
Here is Anya playing in her first recital:

Happy Birthday, Anya! Thanks for sharing this special day with us! :)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

Remember Anya's pictures in the previous post? I'll give you two words regarding Anya's hairstyle: Aunt Laurel.
If you need an Aunt Laurel for your next photo shoot, I can hook you up. :)

Thanks, Aunt Laurel!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Look Who's Turning 8!

It's a picture overload, but when they're this cute I suppose it's ok to have too many. I had no idea one could experience peer pressure from an aunt and grandmother. :)

Anya turns 8 tomorrow. Since our kids don't attend public school, we get professional pictures at designated milestone birthdays. Eight years is one of those. We'll have more pictures of tomorrow's festivities (Pinewood Derby, piano recital, baptism, birthday party...could tomorrow BE any busier?). In the mean time, here are a few of Anya's 8-year pictures.

And seriously, people, we have more pictures than we know what to do with. Karen fired me from taking our kids to future photo shoots once I shared with her how many pictures I brought home. And I had worked so hard for that status...

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Marriage, Ribs, and Christmas

Yes, I've been known to be random.

1) For those blogger readers out there who don't comment, I have heard from enough of you to warrant a clarification on the last post. It was not my intention to compare my horrific driving experience in two feet of snow to the last 10 years of marriage. I happened to share that story coincidentally on our 10 year anniversary and both fit into the concept of a "journey." That's the only similarity. I should have elaborated a bit more on the past 10 years since I mentioned it in the same post. If I must compare, I would say my marriage has been a like walk on the beach with an eternal sunset for the backdrop. End of story. :)

2) If you have been trying to eat healthy and have reason to pat yourself on the back, don't go and eat a full rack of ribs at Chili's when you get the chance. Don't do it. They were delicious...but I paid for it about 6 hours later.

3) Grandparents have been asking for some Christmas pictures. I guess the pajamas weren't good enough.

Here is Anya sharing Christmas with a sister for the first time.
Mark was a great example for how a gentleman should not act. He dug around under that Christmas tree and only pulled out his presents. :)
Luke is infatuated with balls. If you want Luke to be your friend, simply give him a ball. If you look inside this inflatable device, you'll notice it's a ball paradise. Pay attention to where the balls are...I'll test you at the end of this post.
I think 6 year olds are the perfect age for Christmas. Or maybe it's just that James has a very expressive face. You can see the smile in his eyes.
Brothers. Mark and James were very methodical about how they opened their presents. After going through their stockings, they moved into their preparation of attack stage. It was a very serious discussion.

Without meaning to, we have a traditional 4 year old gift. Peter was the recipient this year. Our kids love the Leapster. Mark still pulls himself away from the Wii and DS to play his Leapster (when he can pry it out of Luke's hands).
Ok. Here's the test. Remember where the balls were? Yep. No more. I think this is something only veteran parents can handle. Because the balls were all over the first floor before long. And Peter and Luke turned the base of the fire truck into their personal lounge chair.