Fall at the Farm… In Pictures

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When my dear friend Tamara told me she and my brother were heading to Grandma Mary’s farm over Columbus Day weekend, we jumped at the chance to meet them halfway (well, two-thirds of the way) between here and Chicago.  I haven’t seen my brother Mike in a year and a half and since then, he and Tamara – one of my best friends and Finny’s godmother – started dating and are now living together.  I’ve been asked by a few people if I’m weirded out by this whole ordeal, and I never have been.  Mostly because it’s really none of my business what other consenting adults do, but also because I have loved these two people dearly forever; why would I not be happy if they were happy?

Turns out, these two are made for one another.  How did I never see this sooner??

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When my grandmother got wind of our little adventure, she was thrilled to have both Mike and I (and accompanying stowaways) at the farm at once.  Oh, did we plan our whole trip before we even asked Grandma if we could come?  Yeah… That would be Tamara and I…

The drive to Iowa is just under twelve hours from Colorado Springs, and the trip out there was mercifully uneventful.  We arrived around eleven at night (after losing an hour and leaving late in the morning) and Grandma Mary was waiting up for us.  The kids both woke up and Finny was wired with excitement over finally reaching the farm.  By midnight, they were tucked in and asleep and by one, the rest of us were dozing.

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Saturday turned out to be a gorgeous fall day; the sky was bright and clear and it was warm enough to go out without a coat.  Nathan had one objective for the day…  Teaching Finn how to shoot the BB gun.

Finny developed into a spectacular shot over the course of the day.  While the boys were shooting, Alice and Grandma took to moving plants into the greenhouse and picking flowers around the yard.  I can’t believe there is only about seventy years between these gorgeous ladies. :)IMG_0628

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After lunch, we decorated cupcakes….

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And went for a spin on the swing…

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Nathan and I headed into town for a few supplies.  The kids were in bed by eight, and at eight forty-five, Finn bounded down the stairs to announce, “Dad won’t get out of my bed.  He’s keeping me awake.”

Nathan had gone into the kids’ rooms to make sure they piped down and went to sleep.  He was snoring so loudly that Finn couldn’t sleep.  I coaxed him into our bed and Grandma and I waited for Mike and Tamara to arrive.

They arrived after ten thirty and we kept poor Grandma up chatting until one once again.  By the time the kids were up, she was already awake and getting breakfast ready.  We all got ready for church and headed into town.  I think the last time I was in church might have been when we were staying with Grandma two years ago…  Yikes.  The kids were super well-behaved and Grandma got to “show us off” (her words, not mine) to the congregation.

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After the boys went back out to shoot the BB gun again, we brought lunch out to them and got started picking apples.  Two and a half bushels later, we had cleared what was left of the red apples and barely made a dent in the green ones.  I ended up carting sixty pounds of apples back to Colorado and have been making apple sauce, apple pies and apple chips since we’ve been home.

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And we hunted for frogs down at the pond. Tam was (far and away) the most excited.

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And we hunted for frogs down at the pond.  Tam was (far and away) the most excited.

While Tam, the kids and I were nestled in the apple trees, the Nathan and Mike were shooting the heavy artillery.  We let Finn fire the rifle once, and Nathan had me shoot the shotgun a few times.  Holy crap, that thing can kick.  As it was, I was a much better shot with the rifle.

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And this might be the most Iowa photo of all time…

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We waited until Tamara had arrived in Iowa before hitting the pumpkin farm.  Since we’ve been kids, this girl LOVES herself a good pumpkin patch.  Case in point…

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And if I was to try to describe my brother to anyone, I might just have them look at this photo.  It is Mike, being Mike in the most Mike way possible.  Rolling around in a trough full of corn kernels.  We are of the same blood, him and me.

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We visited my grandfather’s grave before we tucked in for the evening.  There was a few tears, a few smiles and more laughs than should be appropriate in a cemetery.  We reminisced about the photo someone had snapped at the funeral of Mike furiously gesturing to his crotch.  What you should be asking is why on earth someone is taking candids at a funeral and NOT why my brother was in such a position… And why I was standing next to him laughing my ass off…  Maybe Mike and I really need a lesson in appropriate manners.  Sheesh.

It was sad to leave the next day.  Other than getting a flat tire just as we crossed over into Colorado, the trip was equally uneventful as the way out there.  And it just might have been the first time I wasn’t terribly excited to sleep in my own bed.

The Golden (um, actually RED) Arches

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After leaving Zion National Park, resting up at a hotel in Richfield, Utah and getting back on the road, we beelined it for Arches National Park.

Between Richfield and Arches, we wound through a stretch of I-70 that looked pretty nondescript on the map.  It was actually pretty neat; though we drove through it on the way to Disneyland, most of it was after dark.  We managed to stop at the Black Dragon Canyon Overlook while we headed west; it was dusk and Nathan was aching to see what Eagle Canyon and Ghost Rock looked like during the day.

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On the trip back east, Nathan broke out his GoPro and we snapped away.  In various stages of undress.  Hey; the kids had a complete outfit between them.  And we were literally in the middle of nowhere, so neither Nathan or I much cared.

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Had I been a person with lesser morals; I would have stolen as much flagstone that I could fit in the car.  There was tons of it; everywhere, and it was begging me  to vacation in Colorado Springs.

Once we had filled our bellies with Wendy’s in Moab, we drove through the front gate of Arches.  It is immediately amazing; we wound up the switchbacks until we were happily nestled in its red sandstone towers.  Nathan and I were drooling; oohing and ahhing at everything around us.  The kids didn’t even want to get out of the car.

Whose children are these?  They sure aren’t ours.

Finally, we managed to get Finny out to snap a few pics.

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We headed deeper into the park to check out The Windows and Double Arch.  There were scads of people hiking The Windows Trail and only a few on their way to Double Arch.  Double Arch it was.

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The kids climbed and scrambled up the formations until I couldn’t take it any longer…  And as more people arrived behind us, my stress levels skyrocketed as I imagined them falling, too.

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I never had a fear of heights; but the last few years I’ve suddenly become a nervous wreck anytime I see someone, anyone, getting too close to the edge of their possible demise.

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We gathered the brood as my heart started to pound from the seemingly parentless children dangling their legs over the back of Double Arch (which Nathan made sure to let me know was a sheer plummet to more rocks below).

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The trail back was short, though I made sure the kids and I were downing plenty of water.  I was not going to be waving at any vinyl decals of dogs like I had a Zion.

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We stopped at the visitor center on our way out…  Where Alice fell deeply, madly in love.

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“But I WANT him, I want him, I want him, please, please, please!!”  She has all the making of Veruca Salt, that one.

“Alice, let go of the goat.  We’re leaving.”

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Finn was a little more partial to the bronze crows.

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And that was the end of our journey.  We piled back into the truck and spent the last seven hours of our trip home a little bummed out that it was all over.  All the castles, canyons, waterfalls, arches, mountains, princesses, pixie dust, mice and bronze goats were on the road behind us as we made our way back to reality.

The Zion King

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Ahhh…. Hiking and climbing in the hot sun.  The perfect nightcap to three days in Disneyland.  …Right?

We climbed back into the car for the first time in four days right after walking out of the gate at Disneyland.  We planned on getting as far as we could before Nathan and I pooped out.  We made it out of California (a relief after battling CA drivers and their cars on the way to LA), past Las Vegas (but not after my most uncomfortable moment as a parent while shamefully dragging my kids through a casino as quickly as humanly possible) and into Utah.  For as much as Disneyland was for the kids (read: me), the trip back was for Nathan.

Which is as much as a consolation prize as that sounds.

Never in our lives have we lived in a place that is in such close proximity to so many National Parks; and good ones at that.   We have more than a handful of them on our list, and this trip was slated to check off two; Zion National Park being one of them.  You probably have seen pictures of it before; its famed Narrows are amazingly breathtaking and out-of-this-world gorgeous.  Or so I’ve heard.

We have every intention of hiking The Narrows once the kids get a bit bigger; and Angels Landing is on Nathan’s docket.  But for now, when the kids are small, we tend to stick to the easier and less dangerous trails.  This trip marked a milestone; where I had the realization that Finn really needs to be walking the whole time.  We have a backpack that he’s been viewing much of our hiking trips from.  I know he is perfectly able-bodied to walk, but our reasons for using it this far into his young life are pretty selfish.

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Sure, it is nice to teach your kid to behave and listen on the trail.  But it is NICER to be able to strap him in and enjoy it for yourself.  He’s too big for it; I know.  And I’m hell-bent on him not riding in it any longer.  Go ahead and judge.  There are some things I just don’t care if people think I’m parenting incorrectly… And the backpack is one of those things.  But the time has come.  Now it is just about getting Nathan on board as well…

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We hiked the Emerald Pools trail up to the middle pools.  It was pretty well-traveled (which was a bit of a bummer), but once we settled in for a snack next to one of the pools, it was all forgotten.  Most folks turned back at the lower pools and we had relative peace and quiet while we noshed on Pop Tarts.

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After we got into areas where Nathan could contain his overprotective side, we were nearly back to the Zion National Park Lodge.

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We checked out the tadpoles in the stream… (While balancing on one leg)

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Just in front of the Lodge, an enormous tree shades an even bigger lawn.  All of us were starving and we headed inside to have our first sit-down meal of our entire trip.  Naturally, we smelled (and ate) like livestock.  But everyone was happy.

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Alice had a hard time containing her excitement; it was the first time where both kids had room to run and play without either of their parents trying to keep them from getting lost in a crowd or plummeting to their deaths.  All four of us were pretty happy, come to think about it.

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After having absolutely nothing to do but run and scream for nearly an hour, we packed up the kids and headed back to the visitors center.  After getting a couple of little souvenirs, we headed back to the car.  The moment I realized I probably should have drunk more water was when I caught myself waving to a dog in an RV…  Which I immediately realized was only a sticker of a dog.  One of my prouder moments.

After driving through to the other end of the park, we wisely decided to crash at a hotel for the night.  One with hot showers, soft beds and an endless supply of drinking water.

Next stop…  Arches National Park.

 

 

Faith, Trust, (a reasonably large sum of money) and Pixie Dust – Disneyland Part 2

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Our second day at Disneyland was a bit of a rough start.  Little people didn’t get quite enough sleep.  Coffee was not consumed early enough.  Hoards of people flocked to the gates an hour early for Disneyland’s early opening.  We were among them.  We were dragging… Quite a bit.

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Alice (very appropriately) snatched up a shiny red apple from the breakfast spread at the hotel.  Today was a day that I had been looking forward to for weeks; we had reservations to dine with the princesses at Ariel’s Grotto.  I brought along Alice’s Snow White dress for the occasion.  About two weeks before we left, I had a moment of extreme, dorkheimer clarity where I resolved to match the little lady.  No, I wasn’t going to wear the same dress…  I was just going to be “inspired” by Alice’s outfit.  Brace yourselves for the onslaught of nerdyness…

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Seriously, if a grown woman can’t dress up as Snow White at Disneyland, the world is a very unfair place.  I was later asked by a perky girl in her early twenties if I was “Disneybounding as Snow White, cause that is, like, so. SO. CUTE.”  Now I know that dressing in a regular outfit “inspired” by a Disney character isn’t just, like, a thing, and, like, so. SO. CUTE, but it has a name; Disneybounding.  And after it was brought to my attention, I realized there were scads of people doing the very same type of thing I was.  And all of them were a decade younger than me.  Even when I don’t even know it, I’m trying too hard.

Not pictured: Finn... Who was pouting in the corner, refusing to take a pic with Mickey.  Again.

Not pictured: Finn… Who was pouting in the corner, refusing to take a pic with Mickey. Again.

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Before we got around to having breakfast (at 9:30, which is damn near lunch time when you wake up at the ass crack of dawn to dress as Disney characters), we caved to Finn’s ever-increasing insistence that he go on The Tower of Terror.  It is aptly named; you get on an elevator in a run-down, haunted, cursed hotel only to shot up 130 feet and shot back down.  Again.  And again.  And again.  Normally, this kinda thing is my jam, but when you involve your naive five-year-old, the momma bear instict kicks in.

We tried talking him out of it.  I made him watch a Youtube video of the ride (which only made him more intent on going).  We resorted to begging, pleading and swearing that it was the scariest ride in the park (it is).  At the end of it all, we decided that the only way to get him to understand how scary it really is was to let him have his way and go on the ride.  He’d learn the hard way.

I gave him every opportunity to back out; all the way up to getting in the actual elevator.  He insisted.  And after buckling in, I realized all this time I had worried about it FOR HIM, I had forgotten just how scary it was going to be FOR ME.  We got in, I got the camera rolling, wrapped my arm around Finny and then started to panic.  But only on the inside.  A few seconds later, I was panicking on the outside, too.

And it was ugly.  Like, nostril-flaring, chin-quivering, ugly-faced crying UGLY.  Wanna see?  Yes.  Yes, you do.

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And it only got worse…

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All the while, Finn never made a peep.  Big eyes, one hand clutched to me and the other one in his mouth.  He was braver than I.  And when we got off, he was peachy.  My leg was shaking like a Nokia on vibrate.  Finn wanted to go again.

“Mom.  MOM.  I forgot to scream!  I was so brave that I didn’t even scream.  We have to go on it again! “

Just in case you want to listen to me completely lose my shit, here is a minute of video.  Of me screaming.  And Finn’s eyes as big as saucers.  My dad will totally watch it.  And that’s probably all.  Sidebar; this is the worst I have ever looked on camera.  And the one screaming the loudest and the longest?  Yeah… That’d be me.

Right after Tower of Terror, we headed over to breakfast.  Where Alice was decidedly in hog heaven.

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Princess after princess came and went.  Alice was too excited to care much about her food.  I was too excited to care about how much it was costing us since we were saving hours of waiting in line to get autographs and pictures with Alice’s celebrities.

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The only one she couldn’t quite warm up to was Belle (I think it was the giant dress), but Finn was quite smitten.  Cue the blushing.

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Sadly, Tiana was nowhere to be found.  Alice was pretty let down about that, but when we told her we’d get to meet Rapunzel the next day, she leveled off.

And finally; mercifully, Nathan got some coffee in his system.

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It’s good to be king.

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We headed to Cars Land to use our passes at the Radiator Springs Racers.  This is the newest and (what seems to be) the most popular attraction in the whole park.  Since Alice was too small to ride, Nathan and Finn went first, followed by me flying solo.  Trying to explain the Fastpass system, baby swap and wait times to a five-year-old that so desperately wants to ride again sent Finny into a frenzy…  He threw a monumental tantrum.  Nathan ushered me on my way and Finn booked after me, darting through the crowds faster than a dad with a toddler could chase after him.  By the time I met back up with them, Finn and Alice were both (still) bawling and we beelined it for the park’s exit.

Once the kids had napped, they were in much better spirits.  By that time, it was Nathan and I’s turn to have our own tantrums.  It came to a head on our walk to McDonald’s.  Nathan resolved to take Alice in one direction while Finn and I went in another.  We managed to hold it together for a meal.  After Finn remarked that “Daddy isn’t going to leave with Alice; it’s all just a joke,” we both had calmed down, parental guilt weighing on our shoulders.  Honestly, there really isn’t much a handful of carbs and a box of McNuggets can’t fix when you’re on vacation.

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Poof.  Everything was perfect again.

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We took in Mickey and Minnie’s houses over at Toon Town…

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And I managed to snap two of the most adorable pics of Nathan and the kids that night.  Sure, they might not be in focus, but to me; they’re perfect.

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Knowing we still had a third day to conquer, we headed back to the hotel around ten and hoped for a better start the following day.

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After riding everything we’d missed in Fantasyland, Adventureland and taking in Big Thunder Mountain, we rafted over to The Pirate’s Lair.  To me, it will always be Tom Sawyer Island.  There weren’t many people over there; we explored the caves, bridges and the island’s bathrooms in relative peace.

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Just before we made our final stop of the day, we scarfed down Dole Whips outside the Tiki Room.  Then we settled in to watch the story of Tangled at The Royal Theatre.  Man, Disney puts the Renaissance Fairs to shame.  It was hilarious and the kids both enjoyed themselves.

After the show, Rapunzel and Flynn Rider came out to meet us.  Alice was shy.  And hey; Flynn Rider made me blush, too.

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And that's not even him doing "the smolder."

And that’s not even him doing “the smolder.”

The kids were tiring out and we made the wise choice to head on out before things got ugly.  Sadly (though not as sadly as when I leave Disney World), we bid Disneyland adieu.  And made it our life’s mission to make it to Vegas before nightfall.

Success?  Yes.  Two happy kids.  Two exhausted but happy parents.  And totally worth that reasonably large sum of money.

And for those of you still standing, please hold on to the handrails throughout our journey and check out Part 1 of our Disneyland adventure.  And please stand clear of the doors.

 

Faith, Trust, (a reasonably large sum of money) and Pixie Dust – Disneyland Part 1

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Brilliant Plan:  Roadtrip!  Colorado to Southern California.  Two days in the car. Sixteen hours of drive time. Two kids. Concoct biggest surprise said children have had in their short lives.

Chalk this one up to “seemed like a good idea at the time.”

By all accounts, the actual trip was awesome.  The little people were relatively well behaved, Nathan and I were in good spirits (most of the time), and we only realized that the air conditioning in our road trip car was non functional once we reached the desert.  Nice.  Yeah, and we had to replace a set of tires in the middle of nowhere, Alice face planted at Walmart and just barely escaped without stitches in her lip… And that massive surprise was kind of a bust.  But other than that; good times.  Good times.

We headed straight out to Disneyland in complete secret.  Finn thought we were just out for another camping trip while I was busy sneaking autograph books, Mickey ears and Disney pins into my suitcase.  We planned on walking him into Downtown Disney, seeing how long it would take him to notice where we were and then blow the top off the whole charade.  In my mind, I pictured Finn bursting into heaving sobs of joy; hugging and kissing his parents and showering them with gratitude…  Kinda like this kid whose mom reunited him with his best friend after three years of separation.  I seem to have forgotten that my life is not a movie.  And Finn is five.

As we walked, Finny began to notice the signs for Disneyland.  And the monorail.  And when he saw crowds of people walking back to their hotels carrying Disney bags, we thought the cover was blown…

“Wow.  All those people must have just gone on vacation to Disney.  That is really weird.  Look at their bags,” Finn remarked as yet another monorail passed overhead.  And still, completely oblivious.

We sat him down, asked him where he thought he was and braced ourselves for an onslaught of gratitude.  Instead, we got a, “Oh.  That’s cool.”

By the time we were on our way to the actual park the next morning; enthusiasm seemed to pick up.  Finn’s never been to Disneyland (but has been to Disney World), so he knew what was in store, but also knew that there were things in California that he’d never seen in Florida… The Matterhorn.  Cars Land.  Monsters, Inc.  And he knew he was now tall enough to go on Tower of Terror.

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Once we were tucked away into the confines of the Happiest Place on Earth, it was an all-out scramble for Finn to get on as many rides as he could.  We took in the Matterhorn, Dumbo, the Storybook Land Canal Boats and the carousel while all anyone else seemed to care about was scrambling for a place in the two hour line to see Anna and Elsa.  Spoiler:  I have better ideas on how to spend 120 minutes.  We skipped it.

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Alice got her own Mickey ears while Finny and I went on the Matterhorn.  I felt like she was officially inducted into the family.  Sure, she’s two-and-a-half.  And our own flesh and blood.  But now she BELONGS.

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Finn is crazy for the Haunted Mansion…  The video game version, that is.  When we got to the real thing, he was ready to be done.  “Why do they have to make this place so scary???” he pleaded.  All the while, I was hoping that the whole ordeal would scare him enough that he wouldn’t want to try The Tower of Terror.  So far, no success after visiting the 999 happy haunts.  No matter his fear, he was still hell bent on flinging himself (and me) down a thirteen story elevator shaft.

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We stopped for lunch just after riding Winnie the Pooh (best lemon and honey cupcake EVER!!) and headed back to to hotel for a nap soon after.  Both kids crashed hard…  And Nathan and I had one of those moments where we almost cried we were so happy.

Well… I did.

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“Do you want to go back to Disneyland?” I asked as soon as the kids woke up.

“YES!”

For once, they agree on something.

“But what about breakfast?” Finny asked, a slight panic in his voice.

“Finn.  It is still the same day.”  This child is NOT accustomed to taking naps in the middle of the day.

Later that evening, we headed over to California Adventure to check out Cars Land.   It really was a sight to behold; Finn and Alice thought it was “really, really, cool” with all the rock formations from the movie.  Nathan and I rolled our eyes since they had zero interest in the real rock formations we had spent hours driving through the day before.  The rides were surprisingly a kick in the pants; I figured bumper cars, spinning tractors and a street that looked exactly like Radiator Springs would be pretty standard faire, but it was awesome.

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While waiting in line for Luigi’s Flying Tires, Alice decided she must braid my hair (just as the two teenage girls were doing in front of us).  She’s got a ways to go before we send her to beauty school.

Alice’s favorite ride of the day was the bumper cars in A Bug’s Land…  Those were exactly as much fun as I remember bumper cars being.  Only slower.  But the kids got to drive, and neither one of them noticed the lame-ness.

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We finished off the night with World of Color (a light and water show) and another trip down the main drag in Radiator Springs.  Every Disney vacation we take, without fail, Nathan always manages to get oddly overexcited about some beverage container…  We have a collection of light up mugs, blinking ice cubes and glowing Buzz Lightyear drink clips awkwardly shoved into the cabinets.  This time, it was the construction cone mug. (By the way, Nathan is not happy with me putting this “stupid picture” of him on Facebook or here.)

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By the time we stumbled back to the hotel that night, we were all cashed.  And still had two more days to go…  On our second day, I managed to showcase my complete lack of coolness – three times – on an epic scale.  One of them involved completely rocking out to “Jump” by Cyprus Hill (a staple of my junior high days) at the Mad T Party… So much so that Finn asked what the hell I was doing.  And that is the tame one.

You’ll just have to wait to see the other two.

See ya real soon!

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