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Friday, October 24, 2014

Our Disney Land Adventures

Disney Land is fantastic.
For us, at our stage with our still-young crew, it hits a sweet spot.


First of all, for a fraction of the Disney World Deluxe Hotel price, you can stay ACROSS THE STREET from Disney Land, and walk into the park in the morning. We stayed at the Howard Johnson across the street from the main gate, and we strolled up to the park entrance for the opening, stress and bus free. We might as well have been staying at the Cozy Cone.


We spent two days in Disney Land, giving us one day for each park. We easily could have stayed longer! We tackled California Adventure first, because we were so excited to visit Radiator Springs. We felt like we were in the movie, everything looked so realistic. 

 
The Cars Racer ride was at the end of the street and was definitely worth a Fast Pass.  Our best choice would have been to send one member of the group to get a Fast Pass first thing in the park, while the others explore Cars Land for a few minutes.  In the end, we had a great ride.  What a blessing, Buddy Bear was juuuuust tall enough to make the 38" cut. He was so crushed for a moment when he thought I wasn't tall enough to go through. It was certainly a highlight of the trip, and it remains the ride that we talk about the most.


Of course, along with the Racers ride, there were plenty of other wonderful attractions in Cars Land.   We loved riding those crazy tractors...


...and we made a stop at Luigi's Casa Della Tires for a twisty and turning good time.


Of course, you can eat a Flo's, which we didn't do, but we enjoyed the view from the gas pumps.  There is also a cute playground and photo op spots with Lightning and Mater.


From Cars Land, we walked next door to A Bug's Life, where we met flick and rode a bunch of rides that were perfect for our younger crew. 


The littlest ladies watched the bumper bugs from the sidelines.


We also loved the Toy Story ride, which is very similar to the one in Disney World.  We love shooting with blasters! It was definitely worth the wait.


Paradise Pier really did look like paradise the day we were there.  We loved walking around the Pier, both during the day and night.  T and I got to do the roller coaster several times, coming back at night once the kids were in bed.  I think it was the best roller coaster I have ever ridden.  We really enjoyed the other rides along the pier walk.


We ate dinner at Wine Country Trattoria, a worthy splurge, not only because the food is great, but because we were right in front of the parade route and also because FastPasses to the evening World of Color light show were included.  We loved waving to all the Pixar friends right before our meal.  Disney parades are my favorite.


T and I went back for World of Color after the kids were in bed.  I wish they could have stayed awake for it, but we'll save that for another trip.  World of Color was truly impressive.


Our second day at the parks was devoted to Disney Land.  It is right across the plaza from California Adventure!  While we have never considered paying for Park Hopper tickets in Disney World, given the young age and slow moving speed of our crew, the option seems more plausible for Disney Land. The parks are so close together, we could conceivably enjoy parts of both in one day.


Walking into Disney Land, we noticed so many similarities to the Magic Kingdom. But, the two parks are actually more different than I expected.  Certainly, they are not carbon copies.   The Land was decked out for Halloween, and impressive decorations were everywhere.  We particularly enjoyed watching the carmel apple making window at the bakery. Yum:


We enjoyed plenty of princess moments, including watching the very creative Tangled show with front row seats for the kids, a walk-through tour of Sleeping Beauty's castle, and a stop by Anna and Elsa's Frozen Boutique.


There were also highlights for the boys, including a visit to Autopia to ride the cars, and a submarine trip with Nemo.

We enjoyed the new experience of Toon Town, which feels like you've walked into Mickey's neighborhood.  The roller coaster was just right for the older kids.  J-Bear and I found a super-fun play spot in Goofy's "House" where she could run around, climb and explore with other tots.


Of course, we had to take the Small World cruise. No trip with Papa or me would be complete without Small World.


Even though we were close enough to our hotels to go back for naps in the afternoon, we never did.  The littlest ones snoozed in the backpacks for an hour or two each afternoon, but otherwise held out really well.  As you can imagine, we slept well at night after such long days of walking, riding and exploring.


We finished our day new Pooh's Thoughtful Spot, and I thought this was a perfect picture to capture the fun of our Disney Land trip.  It was such a sweet experience because we were all together, exploring and enjoying it together, which was pretty impressive for a group of fifteen.


Disney Land is a re-do for us if we are ever blessed with the chance.  It is charming and manageable, even for a crew of our ages and size.  What a spectacular way to start our California adventure!

Happily Ever,
Queen B

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How to prepare for a 10 day trip to California with kids

How do you prepare for a 10 day trip with eight kids under the age of seven,
a trip that will cover over 800 miles,
and span several different climate zones?

Start in the book section of your favorite store (or library).
  We brought lots of books with us on our trip, knowing that we would have lots of long drives.
We also stocked up on squeezable fruit pouches, trail mixes and Go Picnic meals, to ensure
that we didn't have to resort to fast food for EVERY meal.



Sleep when you can.
Too bad, T and I were up until all hours of the night before our super-early departure flight.
Oh, well!  A few winks on the plane and an early night to bed the first night hit the spot.
Be sure to sleep when the babies are sleeping!



When in doubt, take the shuttle!
From the LA airport, we took the Magic Express shuttle to DisneyLand instead of renting our car.
A few days later, we picked up our rental car in Anaheim, not the airport, for a substantial discount.
Shuttle bus plus less hassle, less expensive car rental = happy parents and kids :)


Start vacation with a nice, big meal.
Across the street from Disney Land is a great restaurant called Mimi's Cafe
We could have happily eaten every meal of our vacation there.  
The food was excellent and so was the service, even for a party of 15 with 8 kids!
For breakfast, I recommend the oatmeal, for brunch the veggie omelet and for dinner the
tomato basil soup and any of their salads.  The kids options were healthful and yummy too. 


Hit the pool first.
No matter what is across the street (ahem, Disney Land), when our kids check into a hotel, the first thing they want to do is jump in the pool.  This vacation, we wisely and happily said "yes!"
We stayed at the Howard Johnson across from Disney Land, and there is a wonderful splash pad pirate pool.  Our kids could have played there all day.  The weather was gorgeous, and there was no need to fight the lines right away.  Better to relax and wait for the morning.  Had we thought of it, however, we would have gone to buy our park passes that night ahead of time.  We hadn't purchased them ahead of time, and we could have just walked across the street to the park to get them while the evening lines were short.  Oh well.  If that was our worst mistake, we were doing pretty well.



Happily Ever,
Queen B

Sunday, October 19, 2014

California Adventure

Things have been rather quiet around here because we have been on an adventure:  a ten day California adventure.  

When I was younger, traveling was synonymous with vacation.  Now that I am older, traveling can take many forms: vacation, family trip, pilgrimage, business excursion, adventure.  Upon returning from California, we have been asked by many people, "how was the trip?"  I have responded in each case, this was an adventure.  Although the trip was not necessarily relaxing, it was a wonderful, rejuvenating, even exhilarating adventure.  We were all sad it was over.  We had looked forward to CA for so long.  We had enjoyed our adventures so much.

So just what was involved on this epic journey?  We enjoyed too much to cram it all into one blog post.  DisneyLand, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yosemite, and Carmel all made the trip.  I'll start at the very beginning, which is a very good place to start......

Happily Ever,
Queen B

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Overheard in the House, October 2014

Buddy Bear: "Daddy, can we watch a movie?
T: "You know we don't watch movies on Sunday mornings, Buddy Bear."
Buddy Bear: "Daddy, daddy, just for PRACTICE."


Overheard on the hike to the top of Morrow Rock, which overlooks the Sequoia National Park:
"Daddy, this is better than the scariest ride in DisneyLand."
~E-Bear


"I am so hot I feel like a chicken nugget on a griddle."
~G-Bear, asking us to turn on the A/C during a long car ride.

Overheard on the hiking trail:
Buddy Bear: "Mommy, I wish I were a worm"
Me: "Why do you want to be a worm?"
Buddy Bear: "So I can crawl into that tiny hole."
Pause
Buddy Bear: "Actually, Mommy, I want to be a giant bear."
Me: "Why do you want to be a giant bear?"
Buddy Bear: "So that I can run down this mountain path really fast."
Pause
Buddy Bear: "Actually, Mommy, I want to be a golden knight."
Me:  "Why do you want to be a golden knight?"
Buddy Bear: "So I can have the golden treasure!"


J-Bear:  "Mooooooooooooaaaaaahhhhhh!"
Me: "J-Bear, if you would like more, you need to say please."
J-Bear, grinning and showing her big, white teeth: "EEEeeeeeeeeee?"


Overheard during Ranger Story Hour at the majestic Ahwanee Hotel in Yosemite National Park:
Ranger storyteller: "Now, who knows what you should do if you see a bear?"
Ecologist Child #1: "Make yourself look really big to frighten it away!"
Future-ranger Child #2: "Bang pots and pans and yell to scare it away!"
Buddy Bear: "SHOOT IT!"


Overheard at the breakfast table the morning after returning from California:
Me: "G-Bear, what is wrong, sweetie?"
G-Bear: "I feel like I am going to cry, I miss my cousins so much."
Me: "Me too, sweetie, me too."


Overheard when T invited Buddy Bear to go with him to cover the last football game of the season:
Me: "Buddy Bear, you can only go with Daddy if you promise to be very obedient and follow all of his instructions."
Buddy Bear: "Okay, okay, don't worry, Mommy, I am INSTRUCTION MAN!"


Happily Ever,
Queen B

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Afternoon at the Arboretum

The Minnesota Arboretum is a truly gorgeous retreat.  Last weekend, we took GG with us to explore the Arboretum for a day.  We loved it so much, we left with a membership!

T took a picture of us all stopping by the fish pond to take in the gorgeous view:


What a relaxing place.


So serene.


The arboretum herb garden was filled with monarchs.


We were all so excited to have the chance to explore:


 At the Learning Center, J-Bear had a great time playing on the outdoor stage.  By the way, where is J-Bear?


Oh, THERE she is!



We also took time to explore the corn pit (a giant pit filled with corn kernels), the hedge maze and the three mile drive.  Afterwards, we stocked up on apples at the Apple House.  Yum!  We're set for fall.

Happily Ever,
Queen B



Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Early Fall Moments, 2014

There have already been so many special moments for us this fall.

As of October 1st, T, my brother and I are owners of this lovely piece of property:


We were able to get up to the cabin one last time with MoMo and Papa before the boats came out of the water.  The weekend was a gem.  I love sharing moments like this with my growing Bears:


We've harvested most of our garden to beat the frosty nighttime temperatures.  Our potatoes plants were our favorite this year:


From one sprouting spring potato, we ended up with 6 plants and 2 baskets of potatoes!  


Cuttings from our window box vines have made a great centerpiece in the dining room,


as have the flowers from my overgrown oregano:


Our tomatoes didn't quite get enough sun this year to make red tomatoes, but after a week by the windowsill, several of our heirlooms turned lovely autumn shades:


We tried tomatillos for the first time this year and raised a HUGE plant!  Next year, I'll give it even more sun to ensure a bumper crop.  The tomatillos are fun for the kids.  The flowers and budding fruits are gorgeous on the vines.


Finally, we're getting ready for a family wedding next weekend.  All the Bears will be in the wedding.  These two look ready, don't they?


Happily Ever,
Queen B

Sunday, October 5, 2014

First week of October Feasts

The first week of October is filled with wonderful Feast Days.  The celebratory gauntlet begins on September 29th with the Feast of the Archangels, followed by the Feast of St. Jerome (who translated the Bible into Latin), the Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, the Feast of the Guardian Angels, and the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.   Thank goodness, because I have been feeling ready for a Feast Day.  Church holidays seem like a distant memory this time of year, and Advent still feels a long way off.  What is more, discouraging news and tragic happenings seem to be everywhere in the news.  Thank goodness for the ministry of the Church: although we are called to daily sacrifice and cross-bearing, we can almost always find a good feast to celebrate.
I am a big fan of both St. Therese and St. Francis, but because I couldn't make special celebrations happen everyday during our busy week, we planned to celebrate the Feast of the Archangels and Feast of the Guardian Angels on Saturday at home together as a family.   Below are five reasons and five ways to consider celebrating these Angelic Feasts, either sometime this week or in the years to come.
Five Reasons to Celebrate the Feasts of the Arch and Guardian Angels:
Number 5:  Who doesn’t love a celebration?   Like I said, I feel ready for a little celebrating.  Around Oct 1st, the newness of school has worn off, dark Halloween decorations seem to be popping up everywhere, major liturgical holidays feel far away and I could use a little boost of positive energy to face daily discouraging news.  Plus, my kids don’t need much convincing to join in a celebration, and Feast Days are a wonderful way to teach them truths about our Faith.
Number 4:  Begin a season of celebrating the Heavenly Hosts.  At the end of the month, we’ll celebrate All Saints and All Souls days.  The feasts celebrating the Arch and Guardian Angels help set the stage for acknowledging and thanking God for the Heavenly Hosts, the great Cloud of Witnesses.  As we plunge through the last few weeks of Ordinary Time, we have these chances to direct our attention Heavenward and gain strength to carry our daily crosses.
Number 3:  There is real evil in the world.  As much as our society  may mock this idea at times, let’s not forget that the Devil is real and so is evil.  Our Holy Father recently called on the Faithful to weep over the tragedies in Iraq and Syria. On the Feast of the Archangels, the Holy Father spoke of the ongoing battle between the Devil and mankind and called on us to pray to the angels charged to defend us.  Even secular author Camille Paglia wrote in Time this week about the failure of American campuses to comprehend the existence of real evil.  When Camille Paglia’s message begins to echo Pope Francis, something is afoot.  I want to help my young children appreciate that the Devil and evil are real, even though the world around them may seem safe.  Celebrating our celestial defenders gives me an opportunity to do just that.

Number 2: We have real heroes to celebrate. All of my kids love a good superhero.  Plus, with the Halloween season fast approaching, characters of all kinds are receiving increased scrutiny and attention as my kids search for the perfect costume.  The Angelic Feasts are a great way to bring angels to the forefront of my kid’s attention and imagination, for they are, as this great article pointed out, the real superheroes of our Universe.  Already this week, after my husband and I described the Archangels to our children, my sons have been running around with capes and swords, declaring themselves the “Angel Protectors” of our family.  These feasts, along with the approaching Feast of All Saints, give us the opportunity to teach our kids the truth about super-powers, heroism, and real heroes that we can look up to and pray to for protection.
Number 1:  God’s love for us is Great.  The heavenly host of angels points to the majesty and awesomeness of our God. The fact that He would send any of these celestial beings to our aid points to his boundless love for us. The angels serve Christ by serving us, always pointing us toward Him.

Five Ways to Make the Celebration Special:
I used rainbow carrots for our glazed carrot recipe.  Delicious.
Number 5: Treats make a party.  Angelfood cake, a traditional Scottish St. Micheal Bannock for breakfast, or cookies cut with that Christmas angel cookie cutter would all suffice.  We hosted a big breakfast with MoMo and Papa.  Our menu included a St. Michael Bannock with whipped cream, Angelfood smoothie (T's favorite from our days near SmoothieKing in Alabama), bacon and eggs, and glazed carrots, a traditional Scottish food for this feast day.

Number 4: Heavenly host decorations.  Our dress-up swords and shields on the table along with printed classical artwork of archangels and guardian angels made great, simple decorations.  My hope over the course of the month is to make a “Heavenly Hosts” wall in our dining room, beginning with angel artwork this week, adding artwork depicting the saints leading up to All Saints Day and pictures of our deceased loved ones in time for All Souls day.  Over the course of the next month, the decorations will hopefully draw our hearts heavenward and inspire some additional prayers.
Our Heavenly Host wall for the months of October and November.  We'll add saints for All Saints Day and family members throughout the month of November in honor of All Souls Day.

Number 3: Prayers for the long haul.  Speaking of prayers, I am thankful that these feast days give me the opportunity to learn a few new prayers, specifically the Prayer to St. Michael and the Prayer to the Guardian Angel.  G-Bear learned a Guardian Angel prayer herself and taught it to the rest of us at breakfast, which was a real treat.  These are prayers we need in our daily arsenal.
St. Michael carrot spears for the kids, and cards with our Angel prayers.  

Number 2: Stories of victory.  The Bible is filled with stories of angels visiting and aiding God’s people.  These feasts are a great time to get out these stories and share them together.  An angel was with Daniel in the lions den and with Shadrach, Meshach and Abendnego in the fiery furnace.  Angels announced Christ’s birth, were at the empty tomb to tell the women that Jesus was risen, attended to Jesus after his forty days in the desert, and of course, Gabriel appeared to Mary at the Annunciation and later to Joseph in a dream.
Our place cards at breakfast, from Catholic Icing

Number 1: An activity for the day: For our younger children, a craft was our big activity of the day.  We made this angel craft from Catholic Icing together, something my kids can hang on their wall as a reminder for the day.  We also made the above angel cut-outs from here at Catholic Icing to serve as place cards at our feast table.  In future years, I may challenge myself and my kids to find another way to remember our Guardian Angel throughout the day.  Saint Jose Maria Escriva was especially known for his recourse to Guardian Angels and I have heard it said that he would often pause in doorways and briefly gesture as a way of acknowledging and inviting his Guardian Angel to go first through the door.  Whether we pause to thank God for our Guardian Angel in a doorway, pray the Angelus three times during the day, or choose some other special remembrance, these activities are all intended to draw our hearts closer to our Lord.

My greatest prayer, as we celebrate feast days like this together, is that God might bless us with a deeper love and trust in Him.  Jesus, may your angels draw us ever closer to you!

Happily Ever,
Queen B

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Encouraging the Family

"Today more than ever, we need witnesses who live out the Gospel of the family to the fullest and with joy, and who show the world that it is a beautiful and fascinating way of life, a source of happiness for spouses and children. Here there is enormous scope for the prophetic mission of our laity. In the lives of Christian couples today it takes the courage of prophets, the courage to stand up to the dominant culture."
~Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko
President of the Pontifical Council of the Laity
October 4, 2014

The Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family is about to begin.  Let's pray for the Light and Encouragement of Christ to guide the Bishops and His Church.


Happily Ever,
Queen B

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Little Girl at the Piano


Look who we find at the piano, playing away, hoping to be just like her big sister.

Sweet J-Bear, we love you.

Happily Ever,
Queen B

Monday, September 29, 2014

Our Tour of the St. Paul Classic Bike Tour

A few weeks ago, we joined over 6,000 bikers for the St. Paul Classic Bike Tour through the neighborhoods of St. Paul.  The Tour is easily one of the highlights of our month, a perfect capstone to our big summer of biking.

The Tour is not a race, but a ride, through the lovely River Road and Summit Ave vistas of St. Paul.  There are 15, 30 and 45-mile loops.  This year, as novices, we wisely choose the 15-mile loop option.  This was wise for another reason: G-Bear and E-Bear decided to bike their own bikes for the Tour!  We weren't sure if they would be able to bike the whole way, so I pulled our Chariot Carrier behind my bike just in case and T had room to spare on the Mundo.  But, to the great credit of E-Bear and G-Bear, they persevered.

The weather for the tour was spectacular this year.  We enjoyed two rest stops along the way, complete with live music, fresh fruit, drinks, pastries and cookies to ensure we were well nourished for our ride.  We invited another family of good friends to join us, which meant that we were all motivated by friendly conversation and camaraderie to finish the trek.

G-Bear riding the River Road during the St. Paul Classic

As a family of six with four kids and two riders ages seven and under, we received a lot of attention and positive feedback.  G-Bear and E-Bear were the youngest kids biking that we saw, but with the right motivation the ride was definitely doable for them.  Many kids could be seen tagging along in trailers or in peanut seats.  We only saw our Mundo, but hopefully we will see more in the future. The Tour was a wonderful family event, and the Yuba makes the ride so easy with kids.  We can't rave enough about our bike investment.

Our crew and friends at the end of the Classic

We finished the tour around noon, for a grand time of just under three hours.  Then, with tired legs and hungry tummies, we hosted lunch in our backyard with our friends.  What a perfect way to welcome the coming fall and celebrate a wonderful summer!  Classic, we'll see you next year.

Happily Ever,
Queen B