legoland brick or treat

We just got back from a cross country road trip and, nevertheless, all Ethan could think about was Brick or Treat at Legoland Florida (his favorite place on Earth). For weeks he has been drawing the way he imagined Brick or Treat, hoping he would get a chance to meet Lego Frankstein or Lego Mummy along the way. Finally, the day we here and we woke up bright and early to drive up to Central Florida for Brick or Treat! The spooky little decorations were everywhere, which is always my personal favorite part of Legoland -- the attention to detail. Wherever you looked, there was some Halloween flair thrown in -- even in Miniland!

Upon entry, we were given a great guide to the event which included meeting times and locations for all of the Halloween Lego characters. I loved that each character was offered a few times, making it nearly impossible to miss the photo op that Ethan had been looking so forward to.

Of course, one of the best parts about Brick or Treat was the Trick or Treat Trail! The set up was super cool, but this mama's hat is off to Legoland for keeping the line moving so quickly. Everything went so smoothly that it was effortless to walk through the super spooky trick or treat trail despite the long line. Legoland is awesome that way. Each kid was given a special bag at the start of the trail and then got to walk through the trail, admiring the spooky set-up and trick or treating from the themed houses along the way.

Legoland closed off an amazing evening with a fabulous interactive fireworks show by the lake. The kids got to listen to a spooky story about a pirate and watch an incredible fireworks show -- complete with special viewing glasses that made the fireworks look like Lego bricks! Brick or Treat is a must visit event for little Lego fans. We are so grateful for the extra dose of magic it gave us this Halloween!

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2017 albuquerque balloon fiesta

As I said yesterday, we've been back from our cross-country roadtrip to Albuquerque for a week now. We saw so many wonderful sights in New Mexico, the land of enchantment after all, as well as along the way...but the thing everyone asks about is the Balloon Fiesta. And for good reason: it's absolutely magical. This is our second year attending the Balloon Fiesta and I can truly say it's one of those things that never gets old. Year after year, you will still be able to find magic in every bit of the fiesta. Our favorite part is watching the sun rise over the mountains and feeling the chilly New Mexico temperatures (which Pinon coffee and hot cocoa accompanies perfectly) while the balloons get ready to take off for mass ascension. It is absolutely surreal to watch them slowly take off into the sky, floating over the mountains.

There are so many beautiful hot air balloons but our favorites are always the special shapes. This year Ethan's favorite was a rocket ship balloon as well as a penguin named Tall Steve. Carmen really loved the pink elephant balloon which was so bright and beautiful! It's always fun to pick out the usual favorites each year as well as discover new and unique balloons that we didn't see the previous year.

This year, in addition to a beautiful morning mass ascension, we also visited the Balloon Fiesta for a nighttime Glowdeo. It turns out that watching the sun go down behind the mountains is just as magical as watching the sun rise. The kids loved being able to sit in the field and have dinner, watching the balloonists get ready for the Glowdeo up close and personal. While the balloons don't fly in the evening, watching the Glowdeo is every bit as magical.

The Glowdeo kicks off with an incredible laser light show followed by a fabulous fireworks show.

No matter where you live or how many times you've been before, the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is worth seeing. As beautiful as it is photographed and on TV (so many of our South Floridian pals were watching the fiesta on the news!), it's even more incredible in person. It's a bucket list must-do for sure.

Check out The Balloon Fiesta website for event details, scheduling and to get planning your trip!

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our visit to the birmingham zoo

Last year, we only briefly passed through Birmingham on our way to New Mexico and it was enough to get me to fall in love. This year, we knew we wanted to spend a couple of days exploring beautiful Birmingham, including taking a trip to the Birmingham Zoo. We are huge fans of our local zoo, The Palm Beach Zoo, where we've been members for close to five years by now. It's always hard to imagine being impressed by another zoo the way we are with our home zoo, but the Birmingham Zoo did not disappoint. The zoo contained so much open space and so much green space. Not only did we get to walk around and explore all the zoo had to offer, but there were places to run and enjoy the fall weather. Everything was so green and beautiful!

The zoo had a lot of interactive exhibits that let you get up close to the animals, including goats and other farm animals, lorikeets and (my kids favorite) giraffes! The giraffe feeding was such a unique and cool experience. Carmen wasn't sure what to make of the giraffe, but Ethan loved it -- especially seeing the giraffes long tongues!

The Birmingham Zoo had a lot of really cool animal residents different from the ones at our zoo, including some super adorable red pandas. (I think Carmen and I loved the red pandas most of all.) Each exhibit had a ton of information to share about each animal who resided in it and the animals all had a lot of room to play, climb and explore. Many of the exhibits contained indoor and outdoor viewing areas, too. The zoo housed all kinds of unique animals, from bumble bee dart frogs to red river hogs and everything in between.

Ethan's favorite part of our zoo is the zoo train and carousel, which the Birmingham Zoo also had, much to his delight. The zoo train actually went around a great portion of the zoo and had a great pirate theme to get the kids into the Halloween spirit.

As we left the zoo, Ethan declared that even though Birmingham was just a stop on the way to our destination, it would make an amazing place to just visit on its own. I completely agree. There are so many wonderful things to see and do around Birmingham with kids and the zoo is definitely a must on that list. The zoo is perfect for adults and children alike -- anyone who appreciates nature and the amazing animals we are lucky to share this planet with.

Visit https://www.birminghamzoo.com to plan your visit!

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the great 2017 roadtrip (or -- destination: albuquerque)

I have a lot of catching up to do. We got back into town last weekend from our two week cross-country roadtrip to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the annual balloon fiesta. Everyone has a "happy place," or a place that puts them at peace and makes them feel like they're just home. For us, that place is Albuquerque. Now that Ethan is in school, I knew my days of heading out west in October for the Balloon Fiesta were numbered, so this trip was even more meaningful as it doubled as a final hurrah. A couple of months before our trip, I had the idea to renew our vows in Albuquerque to give ourselves a new anniversary and a fresh start in the place that we love so, so very much. My husband was on board and the planning began -- hush hush, of course -- a surprise to most everyone except us and our photographer. But, I'll save these details for another post.

We drove across the country to reach our destination. A lot of people ask "why?" or "how?" when they find out we're driving but can I confess something for a minute? I love these cross country family drives so much. There's nothing that can compare to just being together in the car, talking about thoughts and sights and music. Ethan occupies himself with crayons, paper and chapter books but I was admittedly a little nervous about how Carmen would do. With the help of some snacks, sticker books and crayons, she handled the trip like a boss. Our very first stop was in beautiful Birmingham, Alabama where we stayed for two nights to soak up more of the city we fell in love with as we passed through on our last trip. Our hotel was a short walk from Railroad Park, which is just this incredible green space and community park that simply can't compare to anything I've seen here in South Florida.

On our first full day in Birmingham, we got the chance to visit the Birmingham Zoo. I'll give the zoo it's own post for sure, which it definitely deserves. After leaving Birmingham, we drove straight into Oklahoma City which was our second place to stop. We were met there with terrible weather but the rain stopped just long enough for the kids to get to explore a real farm (another luxury to us South Floridians).

From Oklahoma City, we drove into Albuquerque to the same wonderful Airbnb rental we stayed in last year. We spent the next few days at the Balloon Fiesta, having our super secret surprise vow renewal, trying out every local coffee shop in Albuquerque, enjoying the beauty of the city and venturing out to the White Sands National Monument as well as Tent Rocks to do some exploring. New Mexico isn't called the land of enchantment for nothing, please believe.

We came back last Sunday and have been swirling around with the chaos that is coming home from such a trip: laundry and cleaning and schoolwork and Halloween parties (oh, the Halloween parties) so this update has taken me longer to get up than I would have liked. But over the next couple of days, I'll break down more details about our trip including some roadtrippin' with kids tips as well as a quick guide to New Mexico with kids.

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My oldest child came home from school with a permission slip for his first ever field trip. "I don't want to go," he says, "because you're supposed to get on a bus without a parent. I want to go if you take me." The weight of this field trip with it's taunting permission slip that sits on my table unfilled out (as there's no way I'm putting my Kindergartener on a bus and sending him off on a field trip without me) -- well, it's crushing. I stop thinking about it just long enough to watch my 18-month old pull a stack of paper onto the floor, following it up with an avalanche of crayons that never made their way back into the container in which they were supposed to be put back into yesterday. My youngest is more independent than my oldest ever was, even now at eighteen months when she'd rather eat ice-cream with her fingers than ask me for help with the spoon that keeps getting stuck in the thick, white scoops of vanilla Ben & Jerry's. My oldest remains more attached still, just slightly seeking out enough independence to give me anxiety in that "what do you MEAN you don't need me to walk you all the way into your classroom?" kind of way. My oldest would sit and paint for hours, even as a toddler, but my youngest will humor me with a fifteen second crayon drawing before moving on to color the floor or walls or whatever is closest by. I'd say they're a perfect balance but maybe only if you replace the word balance with chaos and throw in a lot of love and laughter and high-pitched shrieking because that's apparently my toddler's favorite tone to speak in lately.

Still, the bassinet that I carefully picked out when my Kindergartner was an embryo inside my uterus sits in the garage. I've humored my husband that I'm going to sell it, listing it for way more than it's worth and acting surprised when no one bites. We could use the space in the garage, of course, and I'm sure there are new parents out there who could use a bassinet but I cannot part with it. For most other mothers, this often means "we don't know if we're finished having babies yet." It's probably the hottest topic of playground conversation: how to know if you're done having kids while surveying other moms to figure out who still has reproduction on the table. The thing is this: we're done having babies. We're done having babies because life told me I had no choice but to be done having babies, whether from my womb or someone else's. The extra room I always said we would have a closet built into to turn it into a bedroom will forever remain some mixture of a playroom, Lego workshop and Room To Keep Clutter. We'll never get to pluck any of the baby names we've stuffed up into our brains and see them in print on another birth certificate. We'll never get to decide who gets to make the bottle and feed the baby at 2 a.m. and soon, before we know it, I'm sure, we will never buy another box of diapers.

I've been thinking about this a lot: the lasts. When did it become the norm for my oldest to walk alongside the grocery store cart and not ask to ride? When was the last time he sat in the cart, balloon in one hand and cookie in the other? When was the last time he wore a diaper, even? The lasts all blend together underneath the mess of the chaotic days and eventually you adjust to the sleep deprivation and you just sort of accept the new normals as they come. I'm there now, facing my issues of permission slips and field trips and open houses while juggling a toddler's dance classes and gym classes and no-longer-monthly well-visits. Never will I ever bottle feed a baby again, or have that moment where I get to see my baby for the first time and think this is it, here you are. Never will I ever get to sit through another mommy and me class with infants sprawled across blankets as tired new moms discuss milestones and how much (or how little) sleep they got the night before. That phase of my life is over, even if by no choice of my own, and as much as this phase of life is beautiful and wonderful and perfect, I will always be able to feel the ache.

I will forever miss the normalcy that was robbed from me when my baby wouldn't make it. I will miss the children we never got to have, the ones I had in mind when I insisted upon bench seating for our larger than life dining room table when we were just twenty-one years old. And, I know, one day I will look back and miss -- with the same dreadful ache -- the Kindergarten years, the toddler years, the high-pitched dance parties to DMX and Andrew McMahon in my living room while dinner burns in the oven. I will miss permission slips and field trips being my biggest worries. I will miss having to clean crayon off of the walls and the floor and the mirror and the side of my car (I'm still not sure how that happened). The ache will be there, buried underneath the memories from this phase of life, too. I put a lot of stock into being present in the moment but I'm realizing each day just how very valuable memories themselves are.

Onward. With the unbelievable joy, the laughter, the chaos and the aches that become a part of you -- onward. Because that is the greatest gift life can give you.

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hurricane days

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, schools are closed in our county through Monday. Ethan was devastated to hear the news, wishing instead that he could be back at school with his classmates and his teacher and having specials ("I didn't even get the full week of art class!"). He was excited to turn in the sentences he'd written at home and he wanted to return The Polar Express and check out a new book at the school library. He is a serious Kindergartener now, of course, and I think he feels a little frustrated for this bump in his sweet, enjoyable Kindergartener day. A break in routine is hard for kids, which I know. He was finally into this wonderful groove at a new school and making new friends and, bam, hurricane. Selfishly, though, I am loving having both kids home. It would be a little more interesting if things were open -- like the zoo, museums or even the parks, which are all closed save for one -- but we're doing the best with what we've got.

It's hot out. Everything is closed, the traffic lights are out and a bubblebath is basically the best idea for fun around here these days. Carmen, however, is loving having her brother home and despite his deep concern for being out of Kindergarten all week, I think Ethan might be having fun, too. In so many ways, he is like me: a planner, down to the last detail. He makes lists and schedules and spontaneity kind of freaks him out. All that said, I'm pretty proud of him and how he's gone with the flow on our post-hurricane week at home.

Carmen has been waking up early, seeking out her brother from the moment her eyes open (usually hours before his). The bond that they have is unbreakable and, if nothing else, it gives me a little bit of peace as a mother. I'm enjoying this week of downtime and sibling bonding and making our own fun out of backyard treasure hunts and finger paint projects. I always think of how long I believed Ethan would never get to be a big brother and then now, here he is, being the big brother dreams are made of. That feeling is one I've gotten to carry close to my heart all week, and it's been the peace my days are rooted in.

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To my children:

I will love you every one of your days. The bad ones, when your heart aches and you haven't showered in days and your hair is matted and sweaty and unkempt. The good ones, when you land that new job or win that trophy or any of life's little victories that make you beam in the wonder that is your worth. I will love you for these and for all of the days in between: the mundane, routine days of wake and dress and school and bedtime and repeat. I will love you when you fail, when you falter, when you make mistakes that in hindsight you knew were mistakes all along. I will love you through all of these things because I have breathed in your wonder, because you are my children, because there is nothing in life more incredible to me than you.

You both have needed me to feed you and hold you and rock you to sleep and help you learn to sit and walk and read; for so many years, I have been so very needed by you. It has been me who holds the power to kiss away your boo-boos, to hold your hand when you visit someplace new; it has been me who gives you the bravery to sleep in your room at night when it seems too dark. You have needed me for so long that some days I feel depleted from being needed so much, the fullness of every moment of every day stinging at my eyelids until they simply must close. This being needed fulfills me and fuels me as well. Motherhood is complex and intricate because it matters more in my life than anything else in the world. You, my children, matter more in my life than anything else in the world. But one day you will not need me as much and I know this to be true, even if it's a truth so very far from my current reality.

When you look back on me, your mother, I hope you see strength. I hope you remember someone who never settled or made excuses. I hope you remember me as having fight in me that I struggle to find most days but know is there. I know it's there because of you. I've never felt particularly strong and I cower more than I stand up for myself in most situations but all I need to do better is remembering that you're watching me and that, as intimidating as it may be, I am the example you base your entire lives around.

When you are grown up, in the days when you don't need me quite so much anymore, I hope you are who you are because of your childhood and that that is a good thing. I hope you are happy and free and proud of your truest selves because of your childhood and the roots I gave you, the dreams I helped you form and the wings I insisted you soar with. I hope you are the strong, well-rounded, kind souls as adults that you are now as children because of your childhood, not in spite of it.

Tonight you both sleep soundly, the hum of your sound machines permeating from underneath your bedroom doors into the quiet of the living room. Tonight I hope you both dream with every bit of your imagination and heart. I hope you wake with not a care in the world and know -- truly know -- your worth as people. I hope you never question your talent or beauty or intelligence or grit or that you have what it takes to move mountains. May you wear that confidence and love in the same places I wear my own scars of insecurity. May your smiles always beam as bright as they do now, your eyes twinkling glimmers of hope into a world that feels dull more often than not. May you always run to me the way you do now, falling perfectly into my arms and knowing my embrace will hold you even when you're adults who are bigger than I am. I hope you go to sleep each night knowing that you are perfect the way you are, that you are unique gifts to this world and that we as a society are better for the dreams and kindness that you bring forward into this world. May you know that mistakes are worth making and that your stumbles give way to stepping stones that will take you to places greater than you could have ever imagined, but places that I've always known were meant for you. You have amazed me, both of you, since the days when you slept swaddled in my arms and slept for three hour stretches. You have amazed me since the day I became fortunate enough to be your mother and it is my greatest wish that you never stop amazing yourselves.

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Hurricane Irma made her way slowly through Florida over the last couple of days. For us here in Southeast Florida, her impact wasn't as scary as originally predicted. At the very last minute, she veered west and we were spared of most damages short of downed trees and light poles. When we still expected the storm to hit as a category 4 or 5, we packed up the kids, the pets and our valuables and headed to my parents house about ten minutes down the road.

Packing up your stuff is hard. Deciding what to take and what to leave is tricky when there's a good probability you'll return to ruins, or close enough to it to forever scar your children. I spent most of the days leading up to the storm packing up the kids rooms and worrying they would return home to floods and debris. Ethan decided all he needed was his teddy bear, a ball he won at Monster Golf and a box of graham sticks. For a child prone to anxiety and worry, I was surprisingly pleased with how carefree he remained through the entire ordeal, even going to sleep without mentioning the wind that was howling outside the window.

We came back home to no damage and we still had our power on. The west coast of Florida, the Keys and the Caribbean weren't so lucky. My heart breaks for all of those who have returned home to ruins, who have lost their loved ones or their belongings in this horrible storm. I've heard a lot of people complaining about no power or superficial water damage or even branches that have dinged up a car on the driveway, but we were spared. We are lucky. And over the next couple of days when everyone's yards have been raked and the uprooted trees have been removed, it's our job to help others who weren't as lucky in Irma's aftermath. Onward, South Florida.

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unicorn bark

Both kids are sick, it's a long weekend and we are holed up in the house trying not to spread germs or drive each other totally nuts. Unlike during the week when I make myself crazy trying to get something that resembles dinner on the table so that everyone gets to bed at a reasonable hour (hello, school days), I now have some more time to try out recipes. As it turns out, I still loathe cooking even with all of the time in the world to properly measure out ingredients without worrying someone will fill up on veggie straws in the meantime. But the silver lining in it all is I had some more time to figure out the fun stuff, like snacks I can make for the kids since snack time is their favorite meal time, duh.

I made this unicorn bark without using any food coloring, just fruits. It was easy and fun -- except for the whole waiting-for-it-to-freeze part, which my six year old let me know was ruining his afternoon.

You'll need:

Yogurt (I used Stonyfield's organic vanilla yogurt)
Fruit (I did blueberries for the purple, strawberries for the pink and peaches for the orange)
Sprinkles for the topping (well, you don't need this, but I kind of think sparkles and glitter when it comes to unicorns)

I colored the yogurt by adding 2/3c of yogurt along with the fruit in the food processor. 2/3c yogurt + 1 handful blueberries, puree, pour into a bowl. 2/3c yogurt + 1 handful strawberries, puree, pour into a bowl, and so on. I added fruit until I got my desired shade of colors.

Add each color yogurt one heaping spoonful at a time onto a cookie tin lined with parchment paper. Don't forget to add some plain vanilla yogurt for the white! Once your colors have all been added, use a knife or a toothpick to pull the colors together and marble them, a little.

Add your sprinkles on top! If you want.

Cover the tray in plastic wrap and pop it into the freezer for a while. Ours took about 40 minutes to get fully frozen. Once frozen, break the bark into serving-size pieces.

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