Saturday, March 18, 2017

Happy Birthday to Luke!

Our baby is 3! It's hard to believe the amount of changes that have occurred in the past year. The biggest being the improvement in speech. Luke went from barely understandable to a fluent child. He talks all the time in well-thought out sentences and we can generally understand every word (not always, but usually). The other big change is probably being potty trained. It is so nice not to have any kids in diapers. Well, we still put him in a diaper at night. And, he wears a pull-up when we do car drives longer than an hour or so, since he is still working on giving us advance notice of when he has to go.  But, overall, I would say he is potty trained and he was super easy to get to this point, which was a huge relief.

Some things that haven't changed--he still loves, loves, loves to play catch. He also loves soccer, basketball and even golf. Basically, anything with a ball is right up his alley. He enjoys doing puzzles and loves story time at the library, especially ring-a-round-the-rosie and the bubbles they blow at the end. He is clever and says silly things that make us all laugh. The other day, the mom of one of Kara's friends was commenting on how her daughter's white coat had turned gray. Luke was passing by and said, "well, that's just terrible" to her and kept walking. Luke hears everything!

When you ask him to do something he doesn't want to, generally he will consent with an "oh, fine," in a slightly irritated voice. I had no idea where this came from until I heard myself say it, then I noticed it was something Kara did as well. Apple and tree and all that. Another humorous phrase Luke uses is, "it's too heavy." He uses that whenever he doesn't want to do something. I think it started out innocent enough. Someone asked Luke to put a toy away and he said that it was too heavy.  Since it got him out of doing the chore, he started using that excuse for everything. "I can't put my plate away, it's too heavy!" or "I don't want to eat my broccoli, it's too heavy!" It was pretty funny at first...

He loves to talk about his favorite part of the day, which up until our trip to Florida was always, "going to Six Flags." Since Florida, he has amended that to, "Six Flags Studios," which is what he calls Universal. After he tells us that, he always waits for us to ask his favorite ride (and, if we don't ask, he will remind us to ask him), which varies between the Cat and the Hat and the Hippogriff Roller Coaster.

I think he is very smart. He can count objects up to about 10 with accuracy and he has recognized all letters and numbers (up to 10) for several months. Actually, I have no idea whether that is smart, or right where he should be, but I am going to go with smart, because I want to (of course, he hasn't picked up that the rest of us only name something we did on the day in question when answering "favorite part of the day," but, whatever).

He has a sweet personality, although we are starting to see glimpses of the tyrannical toddler years. He has hit his siblings a few times when they haven't caved to his demands, but cries like the injured party when timeout is imposed. Fortunately, I have never seen him be aggressive toward anyone outside the family and he is an excellent sharer and turn-taker, which we appreciate. He is actually pretty patient for a brand-new 3-year-old. His siblings are great with him. He is still everyone's favorite and they go out of their way to make him happy. They are (almost) always willing to play with him and they treat him sweetly and in return, he loves and adores them.

We didn't plan a party for Luke. We had our big trip a couple of weeks ago, so we decided to keep it simple and take him to the zoo. But, he has been to a few parties lately and I thought he might want something more, so I sent out a quick e-mail invite to the parents of the littles in our neighborhood and got a good crowd to come over and play, sing, and enjoy a cupcake on his big day. It was completely last minute, but the weather was nice and we managed to wrangle up about 10 kids, which was nice. Then, one of our friends (and neighbors) stayed for dinner, which was Luke's requested "noodles" (Luke's favorite food is Pasta Roni Fettucine Alfredo, for his birthday, we let him eat to his heart's content, not forcing him to choke down any chicken or vegetables with it). Luke opened his presents and we watched Moana and ate popcorn. It was a fun day! Oh, Luke also got to be birthday leader at school. I am not exactly sure what that entails. But, I know they made him a birthday banner and we sent in cupcakes and he was very excited about all of that. So, for a kid with no party, he was pretty celebrated. As for gifts, I think his favorite are his Magic Tracks.

At "school"
Looks like a party, right?


Today (Saturday) we took an ill-fated trip to the zoo. It was tough to get everyone in the car and as we were doing our metro card check, we realized we couldn't find the cards. We turned around and spent about 15 minutes searching for them, only to discover they were right where they were supposed to be (and where we had both looked). We took the metro in and tried a new stop, which didn't require switching lines. It was a super easy, downhill walk, but I REALLY had to use the restroom. I seriously can't remember being that uncomfortable since a long bus ride to the Tokyo airport when I was pregnant with Jack and Anna. Then, the ill-fated finale struck and Luke got sick at lunch and threw up on Thomas. Then, he (they, would be more accurate) just wanted to get home. Of course, home was not an easy distance away. By the time we did get home, Luke's fever was at 101.6. I don't know what's wrong with him, but it doesn't appear to be a stomach issue (I actually think the throwing up was more of a choking reflex, since he said his stomach was fine and he wanted to keep eating).  Of course, that distinction didn't help Thomas. But, on the plus side, the weather was really nice and it was good to be outside and using the new metro stop was easy and only resulted in a slightly longer walk than the usual metro stop.

The only picture I took all day. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Thoughts on Gender Equality and Decency in General

Once again, it is time for a blog that gets out some thoughts that have been battering around in my head for the past few weeks.

Recently, a scandal erupted when a Facebook page was discovered that had made a game out of sharing illicit photos of female Marines. The contributors to the page were current and former Marines. The photos were often obtained without knowledge and were universally shared without consent. The comments were degrading and disturbing. Several of the photos included the names of the females and where they could be found. More than one of the featured women now lives in fear. The people who reported the page received death threats for their act of decency.

This came at a time when the subject of gender equality has been on my mind. In order to remain a lawyer in good standing, I must complete credits of continuing legal education. One of the credits I opted to take discussed the results of a recent survey of female bar members. The survey showed that women felt they were treated differently than their male colleagues. They discussed subtle ways that they felt marginalized, such as being referred to as honey or sweetheart. There were comments about how they were assumed to be the secretary and off-color jokes. Most of the women reported not knowing how to deal with such remarks. Lastly, just this week, a lawyer friend of mine made a comment on Facebook about how she received an e-mail from opposing counsel that started with "Hey Beautiful." I am realizing how truly pervasive this problem is. Rather than it being a few small, rotten apples, there are bushels of bruised fruit.

All of this has made me reflect on my own experiences and my thoughts regarding societal decency. I can remember being a new Navy lawyer, fresh out of law school and attending training at the Naval Justice School. Thomas was using the restroom and I was waiting outside the door for him. Two young enlisted Marines walked by and looked at me before going into the restroom. I didn't think much about it until Thomas came out a minute later. He told me that one of the Marines had commented in surprise that they they were going to have salute me and then made a comment about me "looking good." At the time, I was actually flattered that two young men had looked at me and found me attractive. But, now, I wonder why they didn't see me as an Officer first, or even a lawyer. Why was it surprising that they would have to salute me as someone superior in their chain of command? And, why was my initial reaction to be flattered? Obviously, they saw my looks and gender as my primary attributes and as a 26-year-old, I didn't even realize there was something wrong with that. (To Thomas' credit, he did.)

I was so disappointed to read about the Marine photo sharing. It genuinely made me feel sick. These women have volunteered to risk their lives alongside their brothers in uniform and this is the treatment they receive? It was a large group, made up of thousands of people. And, only a small fraction felt the need to report the misconduct and then that small group was threatened and harassed. I am embarrassed by the number of times I failed to respond appropriately as a woman in in a primarily male environment. There were many, many educational opportunities that I let pass by, in order to get along, or to not be the one with "no sense of humor." Certainly, nothing as egregious as what has made the news recently, but small instances where perhaps I could have helped someone see things differently.

I don't know where the fault lies. But, I am tired of hearing about discrimination in all its forms. We, as a society need to do better. I am thankful to be married to a man who respects people of all races, genders and religions and I wish this for everyone. So, as I write this to my children, I ask my daughters to know that they deserve to be seen for who they are and what they contribute, not for how they look. I ask that my sons and daughters always look beyond the superficial and regard people as individuals. And, I vow for myself to do better. To not be the silent individual, sitting quietly and fearful of standing up for what I know is right.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Final Vacation Post

On Friday, we packed up the car and headed to our final day at Universal. Elizabeth had to register for classes at 8 and we needed to load the car, so it was a much later start. We didn't get into the park until close to 10 and that hour lost makes a huge difference. I am a huge proponent of being at a theme park when the ropes drop. You can get so much done in the first hour, but sometimes it just isn't possible. We rode a couple of rides and then spent some time in Diagon Alley, before taking the Hogwarts Express to IOA.  Luke was pretty unhappy by this time. We had lunch and he could see the Seuss area across the water and all he wanted was to go ride the carousel. We didn't think it was fair to make him wait in another line, just to sit in the Kid Swap Room (nice, though they may be). So, Thomas took him to the Seuss area, while the rest decided to do a final ride on The Forbidden Journey.

After we rode, it was 3 and time for us to leave. We had figured we were going to either leave sometime before 3:30 or wait until after 6, to try and avoid traffic. It was sad to say goodbye to Elizabeth and Marta, but we were on the road at 3:20. We hit a good amount of traffic in Orlando and then again in Jacksonville, but it wasn't too terrible. Everyone was tired and Luke was extremely cranky. He fell asleep about 10 minutes after we got in the car and slept for close to 2 hours. We stopped at a Publix in Georgia, right after crossing the state line and got food for dinner (around 7:30). A couple of of hours later, we stopped at a rest area and put Luke into his pajamas. That was a good signal for him and he fell asleep shortly thereafter and was out for the rest of the drive. Thomas took over the driving and drove the rest of the way home. We stopped one more time for gas, around 12:30 and pulled into our driveway at 4:30. Everyone was happy to climb into their beds for a few more hours of sleep.

Thomas liked driving through the night. It definitely had its plusses, mainly that Luke slept for the vast majority of the drive and we didn't have to worry about entertaining him. There was little traffic and the older kids dozed throughout the night, eliminating the arguing we sometimes are forced to endure. However, it also means that we have to stay up all night. Of course, I could go to sleep, but I feel like I should stay awake to help Thomas stay awake. And, we were really tired when we got home. We slept until about 8:30 and then took a nap when Luke did at 1:30. We slept a full night last night, and I still feel a bit worn out. I am sure it doesn't help that coming off of vacation, we are tired anyway. We could have stayed in Florida and driven home Saturday night, but we like at least one full day at home before we get back to work/school.

Overall, it was a great trip. We accomplished everything we wanted to: family time, theme parks, and baseball. The kids were well-behaved and got along nicely. It is wonderful that we have people willing to let the 6 of us invade their homes on just a few days notice and we are very appreciative. This trip definitely would not have been possible without free lodging. We hope to make this a yearly tradition and I am already thinking about our trip next year, which can hopefully coincide with Spring Break (but, I will never again visit any type of theme park over Spring Break, see last year's blog with our Busch Gardens trip if this isn't self-explanatory). I think it is important for the kids to spend time with extended family and it is nice for me as well. If we can tie it into Spring Training, well, then that's a win for everyone.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Vacation Days 6 & 7

Our trip in Florida is winding to a close. In fact, this will be the last early morning blog I write. It has been a great trip, but it will be nice to get back home. I am not looking forward to the drive, but it is a small price to pay.

Wednesday was almost an exact repeat of Monday. Except, Thomas took Anna to the baseball game. He went to 3 games, one with each of the "big" kids. Jack was the best at following the game, but the girls were good company and he had fun with each of them. He and Anna also made it onto the scoreboard during the playing of YMCA. I told him to try and get a picture if it happened again, but he said they were too busy dancing to worry about it. He and his messed up priorities obviously don't care about my blog

It was a beautiful day for a game!
While they were at the game, the other kids wanted to go back to the same park, which is about 20 minutes from my Dad's house. When we were about 5 minutes away, I asked Luke if he was still awake, since it was close to nap time and he hadn't slept well the day before. He responded with an enthusiastic "yes!". When we were about 4 minutes away, I heard soft snoring coming from the back seat. He was out! I waited in the car with him, while my dad watched Jack and Kara on the playground. It was 90 degrees out (hot, even by Florida standards, for this time of year), so we only let them play for an hour. Luke slept the whole time. He woke up as we were pulling into my Dad's driveway and he was NOT happy. Fortunately, I was able to smooth over the situation with some ice cream. That night, I went to dinner with my dad, brother and sister. We missed my oldest brother, who lives in Virginia, and of course, my mom. We had a nice dinner and managed to (mostly) stay away from politics. Kevin drove me home and he and I had a good chat. I forget how much I enjoy his company. We don't talk as often as we should, but I am hoping we can do better.

Thursday we were back to Six Flags Universal, as Luke likes to call it. This time, we started at Universal Studios. The rides were great. Between the 7 of us, I think we went on every ride the two parks have to offer. Kara was brave and tried everything she was tall enough for, except the large roller coasters. Much to my surprise, she liked it all! She even said she might be ready for Splash Mountain the next time we go to Disney World!

No trip is complete without a photo in front of the iconic Universal Globe.

Waiting for Men in Black, I took this from the Kid Swap room.

On the other side of the coin, it was frustrating for Luke to not be able to ride many things. With each Kid Swap room, he grew more and more frustrated. Fortunately, we found an amazing kid's area where he had an absolute blast. It was tucked back into a corner near ET. There was a kid's roller coaster, which Luke proclaimed "scary" and did not like and a little water park area, where we did not let them play. Fortunately, there was also Fievel's Playground, which was awesome! Huge nets and tunnels and lots of slides. We let them play for close to an hour and everyone was happy again.

The line for Gringotts was the only long one, but we decided to wait. I am so glad we did because it was incredible! And, the line itself was pretty cool. I really felt like we were in Gringotts!

Montage of a sleeping Luke as we made our way through the bank.

We were done at Universal by about 2, so we headed over to Islands of Adventure, taking the awesome Hogwarts Express, via Platform 9 3/4 of course. We stayed there riding until the park closed at 7. Our last visit will be today (Friday), and we plan to do mostly the Harry Potter areas and see some of the shows at Universal.

Now that we have ridden all the rides, we asked everyone what their favorite ride was at each park and which one wins overall. Every one of us had a really hard time choosing, since there are so many amazing rides. But, here were the answers (IOA=Islands of Adventure, US=Universal Studios, O=Overall):

Anna--IOA: Forbidden Journey; US: Minion Ride; O: Forbidden Journey
Jack--IOA: Forbidden Journey; US: Escape From Gringotts; O: Forbidden Journey
Kara--IOA: Transformers; US: Forbidden Journey; O: Forbidden Journey
Luke--IOA: Cat in the Hat; US: Fieveal's Play Area
Kori--IOA: Kong; US: Gringotts; Overall: Gringotts
Thomas--IOA: Forbidden Journey; US: Revenge of the Mummy O: Mummy

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Islands of Adventure!

Yesterday was our much-anticipated first day at Universal. We left the house around 7:15. Our timing was perfect. We got there around 8:20, but it is a long walk to the front gate. By the time we exchanged our ticket vouchers and used the restrooms, it was 8:50. They dropped the ropes at 8:52 and we were off! We headed straight to the Harry Potter area (along with everyone else I think). Our first ride was a children's roller coaster--Flight of the Hippogriff. The line had Hagrid's cottage, which was cute and the view of Hogwart's castle was amazing. Kara was nervous to go on the Hippogriff, but she pushed through. Luke rode too and said he loved it!

Hagrid's Hut was in the line next to the Hippogriff. Our first ride (and picture) of the day!
Then, we went to the main attraction of the day--The Forbidden Journey inside the castle. I don't want to give any spoilers, but it was pretty awesome. Even the line was fun. There were talking pictures and Dumbledore's Office and at one point, Ron accidentally made it snow! Kara didn't want to ride and Luke was too short, so we did a kid swap. As a sidenote, Universal is amazing with kid swaps, so much better than Disney. They let everyone go through the line together, then the people not riding wait in a nice air-conditioned room, generally with a television showing something based on the theme of the ride. Then, they let the person who was waiting ride with someone else in the party, so they don't have to go alone. It was great, and we used it on many rides.

Right before our first ride on The Hidden Journey
 Since the lines were still short, we decided that Thomas and I would take Kara and Luke on Hippogriff while Elizabeth, Jack and Anna did Forbidden Journey again. Even though it is a short line, it takes a while and we were able to ride the small coaster 4 more times. During this time, we watched an evolution of Kara. The first time, Thomas had to keep his arm around her the whole time. Then, during the second ride, she let me remove my arm for the second half. The third ride was arm free. And, on the fourth ride, she actually put her arms up in the air! She still doesn't like the big drop of roller coasters, but this was a great way to boost her ride confidence. After that, she was much more willing to try other rides.

Can you see Kara, all huddled in next to Thomas? Not by her 5th ride!

Standing proudly in front of the marker for the ride.

We got a frozen butterbeer (so, so, SO good!) and waited while Elizabeth and Jack rode the dueling dragons roller coaster (it has a new name, but I can't remember what it is). From there, we headed to Jurassic Park, but not before posing for one more picture.

So, so good.

One final picture on our way out of "town"

The main ride in Jurassic Park was closed, but the kids did the Ptyradon Flyers. The kids wanted to stay and play in the play area, but we wouldn't let them stay and play yet, too many rides to do first! We did Kong, which I thought was amazing. The lines for Spiderman and Hulk were really long. It was now shortly after 12, which is when everything peeks, so we headed to Seuessville, where the lines were pretty much walk-on. We did everything there twice, and bought bakery snacks. Then, headed back to the big rides. Thomas, Elizabeth and Jack rode the Hulk Coaster, while I took the others on a teacup type ride. Unfortunately, Thomas banged his head pretty hard during the take-off on Hulk. I felt terrible for him. He had a severe headache the rest of the day and couldn't ride anything. He also had blurry vision for a couple of hours. I think that stupid ride gave him a concussion!

Luke on the CaroSeussel

So Seussy
Thomas sat with Luke while Elizabeth and I took the kids on the water raft ride. We got completely soaked. We could have jumped into a pool fully clothed for the same effect. It was fun, but I wouldn't do it again unless I had a change of clothes. Then, Jack wanted to ride the other water ride (kind of like Splash Mountain). Thomas took everyone else to play in the Jurassic Park play area while we did that (see, we made good on our promise to return). We met up with them there and everyone played for a bit longer.

Kara was feeling brave and wanted to try the Harry Potter ride, so we went back that way, stopping for a late lunch. She tried it and she loved it! I was proud of her for stepping outside her comfort zone. By now, it was 5 and the park closed at 6, so we took the Hogwarts Express to Universal, which was open until 8. The train was amazing, it had a virtual screen, but I won't give anything else away. Islands of Adventure had Hogwarts and Hogsmeade, which were incredible, but Diagon Alley at Universal was like nothing I'd ever seen. They weren't kidding when they said it was a totally immersive experience. Our first stop was Ollivander's. They do a short presentation with the wand maker (who looked like a wizened wizard, with his long white beard and robes). Anna was chosen as his subject. Like in the book, she tried a wand and a spell. The first two wands did not work the way they should, but then the last wand chose her. He handed it to her and the wind whooshed and the lights glowed and well, you just knew. Of course, we had to buy it and two more for the other kids. It was an expensive stop, but we had told the kids they had $50 for souvenirs for the trip, which was just enough for an interactive wand (Kara chose a non-interactive, so she has a bit left). Then, we explored some more and the kids tried some spells with the interactive wands, and were nice enough to share with Kara so she could cast spells too.

Practicing with her new wand

My favorite picture of the day, outside 12 Grimmauld Place
We did not ride the Gringotts ride, we will save that for Thursday, but we spent a while in Diagon Alley, including the dark area of Knockturn Alley. We then left Diagon and saw more a bit more of Universal. We rode The Simpsons Ride, which everyone who rode, except Jack, thought was awful. It was in the old space for Back to the Future and it felt old. The ride was very choppy and rumbly. It is hard to describe, but I wouldn't recommend it. Luke was too small, so Thomas took him on a cute ride outside. We all rode ET, then decided to call it a day. It was 7:30 and we were tired. We had walked almost 10 miles (9.94 according to my fitbit). They had a Mardi Gras parade going on, so we walked along the route, catching beads on our way to the exit. We made it to the car around 7:45 and were home less than an hour later. It was nice to finally drive along I-4 with no traffic.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Family Days

Sunday was a pretty relaxed day. We went to the Circle B Ranch and did a 2.5 mile hike. We saw lots of amazing birds, including a bald eagle, several turtles, one snake, and many alligators. The herons were nesting and way up in the trees, we even saw a little baby heron peek it's head out. Kim, Dave, JD and Amanda joined us. Unfortunately, our kids were kind of grouchy. Kara especially did not enjoy the hike. We had told them we would get some ice cream if they didn't complain, but that was a fail by everyone. Well, Jack didn't complain, but he kept fighting with Anna, so we disqualified him on that front.

Climbing trees is always more fun with your cousins!

We recreated the photo we took last year. I actually think everyone looks pretty similar (2017 is on the bottom). Also, I dropped my sunglasses in the lake after taking them off to pose for this shot!

After the hike, we headed to Grandpa's house. We had an early dinner, with my dad, Maggie, Kim and her family and my brother, Kevin. It was nice to see everyone. Maggie brought a surprise cookie cake so we could do an early celebration of my dad's 75th birthday. We engaged in some political discussion, which fortunately stopped just before things turned ugly ;) We also took the kids to the little miniature golf area in his community, which they love.

Happy  75th!
Monday, we had a relaxed morning and had the kids spend some time on homework. Around 11, we headed to my dad's house. Then, we did another split day. This time, Thomas took Jack to see the Tigers take on the Braves. My dad and I took the girls and Luke to the most amazing park. We had gone a few years ago when Thomas was deployed and I never forgot about it. So, when we were searching for something to do today, I knew it would be perfect and it did not disappoint! I will let the pictures speak for themselves (and, these legitimately don't even cover half of what is there).

They actually have a map detailing each awesome area!
Each area would have been a nice playground on its own.

This swing was pretty awesome.

Balancing act...

Slides built into the mountains you can climb. 

Create your own river, than follow it's path down the "mountain"

Or, maybe you would rather unearth some fossils?
Thomas and Jack had a great time at the game. Although, they left in the 8th inning when the score was 6-2 Braves. Then, in the last inning, the Tigers came back to win 11-4! So, they wish they had stayed. But, they still had fun. And, they made it onto the Jumbo Tron! They were dancing and having a good time while YMCA was playing and suddenly, there they were. So exciting, I wish I could have seen it.

We had pizza for dinner and are trying to get everyone calmed down and ready for a good nights sleep, since tomorrow is our first day at Universal Studios.

Since this is such a short post (well, it was before I added pictures), I will go off on yet another tangent. Being in Florida is a good reminder for me of how quickly time passes. There are so many memories here that are fresh in my mind, as if they could have happened weeks ago, rather than decades. Honestly, it makes me a bit sad. I vividly recall being a child, then a teen, then a young adult just starting her first "grown-up" job in this town. The area has changed a lot. The people I love are getting older, which obviously means I am getting older. Most days, I don't feel much different than I did back then. Even that park I wrote about earlier, I went back to look for pictures and realized the last time we were there was almost 5 years ago. In my mind, it was much more recent. Yet, Kara was hardly older than Luke! How can the days be so long and the years so short? Of course, the other big reminder of the cruelty of time is that my mother is no longer here to greet me when we visit. Marta's house is in the same neighborhood where I lived as a teenager. It is sometimes sad to drive by my old house and to remember my life inside. I wish I could go back and talk to myself. To remind young Kori to enjoy the things that really matter and to help her learn not to worry about the rest. To hug and sit with my mother and have a real conversation. But, since I can't, I will have to remind myself now to enjoy all the people I have in my life, since it is truly the relationships that matter. My husband, my children, my extended family and my close friends. To enjoy the days I have with them, because in another blink, 5 more years will be gone and who knows what will go with it?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Florida Aquarium or Detroit Tigers, a House Divided (and, a car seat tangent)

For Day 2, we split up. Thomas and Kara went to a baseball game and everyone else went to the Florida Aquarium. Since I was with the Aquarium folks, we will start there.

I had never been to the Florida Aquarium. It is in Tampa, right next to cruise port. There were 8 of us present, me, Jack, Anna, Luke, Marta, Elizabeth, JD & Amanda. We couldn't all fit in the van (we took the middle seat out of the second row) so we moved car seats to Elizabeth's Excursion, which comfortably sat everyone. However, the car was made just before mandatory latch was instituted and we couldn't get Luke's car seat to work rear-facing with the belt. So, we turned him around. Luke is just 3 weeks away from being 3, but we still have him rear-facing (I had a long diatribe on my car seat safety views, but have moved it to the bottom of the post). But, it was fun to be able to turn around and see his smiling face.

I really wanted to just climb onboard!
We left around 9:45 and picked up JD and Amanda. The kids were thrilled to see their cousins and picked up right where they left off a year ago. Now that they are a bit older, it is nice that they remember everyone between visits. There is no warm-up period for the older kids with their Florida family and friends! The drive took about an hour, during which we convinced Anna to play the quiet game. I can't remember the last time I went to the downtown Tampa area, it might have been July 2004 when we took the Florida Bar Exam. It was fun to be there again, under happier circumstances.

The Aquarium was nice. They had a Florida wetlands (indoor) trail, which was pretty cool. We saw lots of interesting birds, reptiles and even some mammals. We listened to an informative talk about invasive species, after which, the kids got to touch an invasive frog (unlike native Florida frogs, he has poisonous glands that make his natural predators few). We saw lots of beautiful fish, and even a few sharks. My favorite exhibit was probably the sea dragon area, but I didn't get any pictures. They had several interactive touch experiences, including large sting rays, horeshoe crabs, coral catsharks, urchins and mollusks.  We had lunch there and everyone had a good time.

My two Hollywood Herons, with a Florida heron in the background. Can you find him?

Sweet cousins

That ray is actual size of some mega ray
After the Aquarium, we walked down on the pier and saw an old WWII supply ship, but we decided not to do the tour, since it was getting kind of late.

Elizabeth has been working for a large animal vet this summer (she is planning on vet school herself) and had to take care of the vet's animals this weekend.  We drove there from the aquarium so the kids could see the animals and help her. The vet has a pretty nice set-up, she lives on a large property and has several horses, hunting dogs and pet dogs, along with a pretty log cabin with several outbuildings.

Anna was in charge of filling the water buckets

JD with the horses
Meanwhile, Kara and Thomas were enjoying some awesome seats at the newly renovated Joker Marchant Stadium. By both accounts, it was an amazing game. At one point, the Tigers hit 3 home runs in a row! Then, the pitcher hit Miguel Cabrera and was thrown from the game as the crowd booed from the stands. The final score was 11-4 and it was the best game Kara had ever been to! They had hot dogs and ice cream and walked around the stadium. Kara even got to pick out a souvenir (a necklace) from the gift shop.

After all that excitement, I went to Panera with my sister while Thomas managed the kids. We had a good visit. It is always nice to spend time together and you can have a much better conversation in person than you can over the phone (although, we will take what we can get!).

Here is my car seat tangent:

Most people have subjects that they feel more strongly about than the general public and for us, one of those issues is car safety. The older three kids still use boosters and will until they are at least 4'9"; we never let them sit in the front, even on short drives to school; and we are going to try and keep Luke rear facing until the age of 4 (our original goal was 3, but after reading more safety studies, we feel like we should try and get him closer to 4). To most, that seems incredibly excessive, but it works for us and I know that he is significantly safer this way (just look to the Swedes!). But, for this trip, he got to be forward facing. He was very excited for the first 30ish minutes of the drive, then started to get irritated that he couldn't see the people in the back seat. Based on my observations:

1. He is more comfortable rear-facing, I know lots of people wonder where kids put their legs, but he didn't know what to do with them just hanging down in front of him. Rear-facing, he either crosses them, lets them go perpendicular with the seat, or, throws them over the seat back, using the top of the seat like a foot rest (we took off the head rest to give him a better view). Forward facing, he just kept kicking my seat, which maybe he liked better, actually :)

2. The view is fine either way. He can see what we see as we see when forward-facing, but he can see all his siblings and has a clear view out the back rear-facing.

3. It was much nicer for me to have him forward-facing. He was easier to buckle, see and interact with. I liked looking back and seeing his sweet face and not the bulky back of the car seat. But, alas, for now, it is not meant to be and we have already reinstalled the seat in the van rear-facing.

He could get used to this...but, he won't. At least not for another year(ish).