Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Concert Review: Jewel

In the summer of 1997 I was driving through the desert at night with some friends listening to the radio while they slept. A song came on the radio that completely wrecked my life. The woman’s voice was unique and brilliant. The song was haunting and beautiful. It took me three days to figure out that the song was Foolish Games by Jewel. I’ve been hooked ever since.

My bride took me to see Jewel at the Rose State Performing Arts Theater in Oklahoma City on June 15, 2010 as a Father’s Day present. Best Father’s Day present ever.

Radney Foster was the opening artist and he was good but I didn’t really know much about him and he wasn’t so much my style. He was more straight country. Apparently Keith Urban records a lot of his songs.

Then they revealed an artistically encased video screen that would show images throughout the night as Jewel sang. The screen and lighting made a visually appealing compliment to her music.

The entire evening of the Starlight Café Acoustic Tour was nothing but Jewel and her guitar. It was my first time to see Jewel live. I would love to see her with a full band some time but I did not feel like anything was lacking. When you listen to Jewel what more do you need than that incredible voice that I first heard in the desert?

When she first came out and began to sing I was blown away by her voice. It is always nice to hear someone sing live and learn they sound as good or better than they do on their recordings. I think Jewel may sound even better live. I thought many times throughout the show that her pitch is so good I bet she records her songs in one take. Of course, being an artist I’m sure she records them over and over although she doesn’t need to.

She performed many of her hits including Down So Long, Life Uncommon, Hands, Who Will Save Your Soul, You Were Meant For Me, and yes, Foolish Games ,which was stunning all these years later. She also performed some of her songs that have done well for her and I love that some lesser fans may not be aware of like Stephenville, TX and Standing Still. She performed cult fan faves like Rosey & Mick and Do You Want To Catch A Cold With Me?.

Of course, she performed several songs from her new album, Sweet and Wild. She sang Ten, What You Are and Satisfied. Unlike many artists shows when people are bored through the new stuff, the audience response was strong on her new songs. And for good reason. The songs she chose for the night were excellent as is the entire album.

Jewel is an excellent storyteller and mixes humor with her heartwarming stories about her life and family. She performed an unrecorded song about her father and grandmother called My Father’s Daughter while pictures of her family played in the background. She also sang a song she wrote that afternoon about Oklahoma City. The highlight was a line about how Oklahomans hate Texans and the crowd went wild.

It would have been nice if we could have had a recording of the night like the other shows on her tour but for some reason the Rose State Performing Arts Center would not allow the show to be recorded. Every other city on the tour let Jewel record and sell her own shows but not Oklahoma City. Way to go geniuses. The only blemish on an otherwise perfect evening.

The last thing I have to mention is what an amazing guitar player Jewel is. I have always concentrated on her voice but last night I was extremely impressed with the fact that she is an excellent guitarist. Many singer/songwriters are adequate to accompany themselves. Jewel is accomplished and skilled.

Thanks to my bride for taking me to the concert and thanks to Jewel for being who she is. And what she is “is beautiful, and strong enough, and bright enough.”


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Tour Oklahoma: Sequoyah's Cabin 08/09/09

Sequoyah’s Cabin is a national landmark celebrating the home of the famed Cherokee known for inventing the Cherokee alphabet.

We had not planned to visit it but on the way to Brushy Lake State Park near Sallisaw, OK we saw signs for it and decided to stop by. After visiting Brushy Lake we went there and it was closed. Bummer.

It looked like a very nice place but we needed to get home. Maybe next time.

Tour Oklahoma: Brushy Lake State Park 08/09/09

When we first arrived we saw the sign to turn in. As usual we stopped and took a picture of the sign and then turned in. Then we thought we had done something wrong because we kept driving and saw private homes for quite a while. We even passed Reagan Road along the way so we took a picture of the sign for Reagan. Finally, we arrived at the actual entrance to the park.

This was a very small park that was just for camping. There were no trails or anything. If you were camping and there to enjoy the lake I’m sure you could have a great time.

However, we had spent the whole weekend at Lake Tenkiller and were just checking this park off our list on the way home so we did a quick drive through and were on our way out in about five minutes.

Nothing to see folks, move along.

However, on the way back through Sallisaw, I did take a picture of an old OTASCO sign. OTASCO (Oklahoma Tire and Supply Company) is a now out of business company that used to have stores all over Oklahoma and even into some other states. I used to work at one in OKC when I was about 18. I sold appliances. That's when I decided I didn't want to be in sales. Nothing against OTASCO. I just didn't like sales. Before that I worked at Kinney Shoes! Yes, I am a Certified Shoe Counselor.

Tour Oklahoma: Cherokee Landing State Park 08/08/09

Saturday morning we got up and ate breakfast and then drove to Cherokee Landing State Park. This park is at the north end of Lake Tenkiller and is really just a park full of places to camp.

There isn’t really much to do unless you are camping or brought your own boat. But the park was very nice. It still had the view of Lake Tenkiller which is gorgeous.

We did a drive through. Got out and took a couple pictures and left. That was all there really was to do since we weren’t staying there.

Tour Oklahoma: Tenkiller State Park 08/07/09

After Jennifer’s MRI was postponed, she and Judy made it to the lake house in Black Gum and we finally joined up with them while worried about being infested with ticks (see Greenleaf).

We unloaded, showered and finally went to the marina to their boat. As they started it up the battery was dead. Some friendly folks helped us charge it and we finally got going.

After all of the events we had all been through throughout the day we all kept laughing about our comedy of errors.

But then the fun began. We had a great time tubing, skiing, and swimming. The boys were having a blast. Jennifer had a devilishly good time trying to cause me pain so I didn’t ride too much.

The scenery at Lake Tenkiller is beautiful. The water is pretty blue for a lake in Oklahoma and everywhere you look it is simply gorgeous.

We had fun on the lake until dark and then went to the house, showered and crashed.

The next day we had planned on going to several State Parks near Tenkiller. However, the kids had so much fun the day before that I decided to be Dad of the Year and let them enjoy more time at the lake. We visited Cherokee Landing State Park Saturday morning and then spent the rest of the day back at Tenkiller with Jennifer and her son, Noah, who had now joined us, and Judy.

We had another great day. The water was more choppy which made the tubing more exciting.

After hanging out on the lake all afternoon we rode four wheelers for a couple hours. The boys had a blast doing that. Then we ate dinner at Big Daddy’s restaurant “on the Dam Highway.” It was pretty good.

Then we went back to the lake house and cooked S’mores outside on the fire and had a great time just talking. Everyone was exhausted and we finally went to bed.

The next morning we had a great breakfast together and then we packed up and left for Brushy Lake State Park.

We can’t say thanks enough to the Ashford’s for a great weekend. They have a wonderful place with a beautiful view and we had a great time just being with them.

Tour Oklahoma: Greenleaf State Park 08/07/09

Our plan for the weekend was to make our base at the lake house of our friends the Ashford’s (Jennifer and her mom Judy) and visit six more Oklahoma State Parks near Lake Tenkiller.

Jennifer had to get an MRI that morning on her leg (note the HIPAA violation) so we were going to go ahead of them and visit Greenleaf State Park and then meet them at the lake house in Black Gum, OK and then on to their boat at Pine Cove Marina at Lake Tenkiller.

We made it to Greenleaf State Park and were impressed. It is a large, nice park with a lot to offer. We wanted to see the cabins because they were built back during the Roosevelt administration through the WPA and by German POW’s. We drove through the park and looked at the cabins. Not much to look at. Just basic cabins. But it was interesting knowing their history.
Then we drove through more of the park and looked at the lake and the "Cabin Near The Lake." It all looked very nice.

Then we decided to hike along the trail. It is a huge trail that the sign near it says takes twelve hours if you hike the entire trail. Uh…yeah, that’s not gonna happen. But we did want to do a little hiking so we started along the trail and had a nice time. The weather wasn’t too hot because it was mostly shady. Once we turned around and headed back it was starting to heat up though. We finally made it back and got in the van and were about to leave the park.

And that’s when it happened.

Reagan yelled, “Aaaagghh! I’m covered in tiny spiders!”

He jumped out of the van and Tina started helping him get them off. I noticed I had them on me too. In fact, we all did. Apparently, we picked them up on the hike. They were really tiny. About the size of a pen dot. Hundreds of them.

We pulled over to a bathroom and had to change clothes and rinse off and realized they weren’t spiders…but ticks!

We left the park looking forward to getting to the lake house. Tina called our doctor to see if we were going to die. They thought we would live but told us what to do and what to watch for.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tour Oklahoma: Little Sahara State Park 07/24/09

I was stunned the day before when I suggested we go to Little Sahara and Tina agreed. There is really not much to do there other than ride ATV’s and she is not really into letting the kids risk their lives.

When we pulled up alongside Little Sahara State Park and she saw the giant sand dunes she said, “Ohhhh, I think I made a mistake!” It was very cute and funny.

We ate lunch at the only café in Waynoka, OK then went across the street to rent a dune buggy from Stewarts. If you don’t bring your own vehicle they are the only place in town to get one. They rent four wheelers, dune buggies and the whatever-we-rented that we called a dune buggy. You’ll just have to look at it in the pictures.

The kids were disappointed that they had a firm rule that you have to be 16 or older to drive any of their vehicles. It didn’t bother us. The rule makes sense and we abided by it. They are very serious about the safety of their riders and the safety of their vehicles and are very thorough in explaining everything. Some might think they are overboard but I didn’t think so. Off-roading is dangerous business and they took it seriously. Plan on taking 30 minutes to an hour to get your vehicle depending on how many of you there are and what all you are getting.

Once we were all set we headed practically across the street to the north entrance of the park. Then we took turns riding around in the sand dunes. I had never done anything like that before and it was a blast!

I go to drive a lot because everyone wanted to ride with me. Tammy also drove her girls a lot. Haley was the only one who rode with both of us. She said we were equally terrifying, we just had different styles. We both got lost a couple times also.

I cannot recommend this experience enough. Everybody should do this. We want to go back again and either rent more four wheelers and dune buggies or take our own and spend some more time doing it again. (Well, I’m not sure Tina wants to do it again but the rest of us do!)

Then we took the dune buggy back to Stewarts. It was really interesting how different their personality was once you brought their vehicle back safely and you were safe. They were not unfriendly before but they were extremely friendly afterwards.

Then we headed home exhausted and ate pizza in Watonga on the way. It was a great trip with great memories.

Tour Oklahoma: Boiling Springs State Park 07/24/09

Since this part of our trip was not planned we got up and went to Wal-Mart in Woodward to get a few supplies. Mainly toothbrushes, and water since we were going to Little Sahara later in the day.

Then we went to Boiling Springs State Park just outside of Woodward. When we pulled in it looked from the park map like the main spring was right behind the park office. We parked and went in the office to be sure.

The lady in the office was very nice and explained that there were several spring throughout the park but the one behind the office was the biggest one and the others were often covered with grass and brush.

We were very excited to see this “boiling spring.” (I had several conversations the night before explaining to everyone that there would in fact be a boiling spring, thus, the name of the park.)

We walked around behind the office and followed a little side walk. There was a sign pointing the way to the River Trail but nothing saying anything about where the spring was.

There was something that looked like a picnic pavilion behind the office and away from the trail and the kids ran over to it. It looked odd because there was a rectangle cinderblock structure in the middle about waist high. Some of the kids started saying “I think this is it!” Others were saying, “There’s nothing here! It’s just water.”

When we all got there we looked in and there was a few feet of water and three little holes bubbling up water at the bottom. It was weird because it was all surround with cinder block and the bottom was concrete except for right where the holes were where there was sand.

It finally dawned on us that this was it. It was a major letdown. Everyone started laughing. After reading the sign on the pavilion about it we decided to walk the River Trail.

Once we did we realized that there was a small shallow creek running along the trail for a bit that was fed from up the hill by the “boiling spring.” That made it slightly more impressive. But only slightly.

The trail was not very impressive either. It was the least interesting of any of the trails we had seen in any of the parks so far.

Suddenly, Reagan said, “There’s a deer!”

I think everyone saw it except Tammy and Lexie.

We finally arrived at the end of the trail. Reagan said, “All these trails are the same. They end at a river where there is a tree that has fallen down like that one.”

I actually think that was the first trail we had been on that ended at a river but the kids wanted to get to Little Sahara so we walked back to the cars and left Boiling Springs behind.

Tour Oklahoma: Alabaster Caverns State Park 07/23/09

Last year we heard about the Selman Bat Watch near Alabaster Caverns State Park (Freedom, OK). We wanted to go see it but learned you have to have a reservation and they “sell out” (though free) almost immediately so you have to plan way ahead. This year we registered on the first day we could and got right in on the day we wanted.

We also scheduled a cave tour ($8 adults, $5 children) for everyone but me. I’m way too claustrophobic. I really wanted to see the tour and was worried it wouldn’t be so bad. After seeing the pictures I’m glad I didn’t do the tour.

When we first arrived we checked in at the office and they were able to get us in on an earlier tour. Everyone took the tour while I read a book in the shade. It was starting to get hot outside. They were cool in the cave.

Everyone loved the cave tour. I bought a couple Frisbees in the gift shop and we threw the Frisbees around for a little while once they were finished. Then we went on an unplanned hike.

Then we decided to go eat. There is a café in the park that was pretty good although it was packed and took a very long time. Thankfully, we had plenty of time to spare and we were inside out of the heat.

Then we went to meet up for the bat tour. Our tour guide started out the orientation by doing the Echolocation Dance. Then they told some interesting facts and passed some snakes and spiders around (in cages).

Then we loaded up in Woodward Public School busses and drove to the site (outside of the park) where we would watch the bats fly out of the caves. They told us some more info about the bats. The tour guide was very knowledgeable. Then right on cue about half a million mommy bats came flying out of the cave in formation.

It was very cool. It is hard to describe. It was a little less exciting than I thought it would be, yet it was also extremely cool to see. We all thought they would be a little closer and more of a swarm. However, we were glad to see it. And they really were pretty close.

After a short break in the activity, the baby bats came flying out. There was no formation to their flight and they were closer to us yet still not a swarm. Over the course of the night probably another half a million or more would come out. They were so sporadic though it never felt like you were being overwhelmed.

We packed up in the busses and headed back to Alabaster Caverns. It was almost 10 pm.

We had decided earlier to go ahead and stay over the next day and see two more parks so we drove to Woodward and got a hotel. That’s about as rustic as we get. We’re not really “campers.” Maybe we will be before this state park experience is all over.

Tour Oklahoma: Great Salt Plains State Park 07/23/09

I had been working and had done no planning on this trip at all. Tina and Tammy planned everything. I drove our van with the boys and followed Tina who rode with Tammy and the girls. We left early and headed towards Jet, Oklahoma to the Great Salt Plains.

I was stunned when we drove up. It looked like a beach with an ocean. It was incredible. Tina and Chase had been there a few years ago on a school field trip.

I thought we were at an Oklahoma State Park until later in the day. I would have checked it off our list. Actually we were at a National Wildlife Refuge.

According to information on their website:

The refuge's namesake is designated as the "largest such saline flat in the central lowlands of North America." The 10,000 acre salt flat is only a third of the refuge land; The 32,000 acre refuge is complete with open water, wetlands, prairies, woodlands and farm fields.

An estimated 30,000 visitors were at the area annually to dig for the selenite crystal with its unique hour glass inclusion. This is the only known site where these crystals are found. The selenite crystal is designated as the Oklahoma State Crystal.

The weather was beautiful and not too hot. Everyone started digging for crystals and was having a great time. I refrained from getting dirty and appointed myself videographer. (I couldn’t get the equipment all salty!)

Reagan didn’t eat much for breakfast and after leaning over and digging for about twenty minutes he stood up and then passed out. Tina freaked out a little. I, however, remained calm, cool and collected as I am trained by the Red Cross in CPR and First Aid. (You should be too!) We got him to the van, cooled off and fed and he was fine and went back to digging for more crystals.

We left and headed to a place Tammy knew of in Jet where everyone could shower before we ate lunch. As we turned in to “the place to shower” I saw the Great Salt Plains State Park sign and realized we were just now entering the state park!

“Where had we been?” I asked everyone.

They thought I was crazy that I didn’t realize we hadn’t been at the state park. Everyone showered while I went around and took a few pictures of the park. We didn’t have time to hike any trails but we did take a few pictures near the dam. Yes, we took “dam pictures.”

We headed off to find someplace to eat and that was the end of our trip to Great Salt Plains State Park. I’m sure the park was more beautiful than we got to experience.

The National Wildlife Refuge is something everyone should see at least once. I’m not sure how long I could hang out there digging for crystals but Tammy and her girls have been there four times and love it.

More State Parks

We planned a quick trip to go see the Selman Bat Watch at Alabaster Caverns along with our friend Tammy and her daughters Haley and Lexie. What started out as seeing one park turned into four!

At the last minute Tina and Tammy decided to leave earlier and see the Great Salt Plains on the same day as the bat watch. Later that evening we spontaneously decided to spend the night in Woodward and stay the next day and see Boiling Springs and Little Sahara. We had a great couple of days blazing through four parks.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Great Wolf Lodge

Summer 2009 we went to Great Wolf Lodge. Tina's notes are below the slide show.

Monday, June 15, 2009

We planned to leave home around 8:00 a.m. in order to arrive at Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine, Texas by 11:00 a.m. We left OKC around 10:00 a.m. and arrived at the Great Wolf Lodge around 1:15 p.m. (including stopping one time for a restroom break and one more time for lunch).

We were able to check into our room early, as soon as we arrived. Check-in was supposed to be 4:00 p.m. We changed clothes and went to the water park. Inside there are five huge slides. The tornado and the green slide are the most fun! There is also a wave pool, a lazy river, Fort Mackenzie, which is a four-story tree house water fort, and two swimming pools that only go up to 3 feet deep. Outside there are two slides and the water only goes up to 3 feet deep.

We stayed at the water park until 6:00 p.m. then we ate dinner. We ate at the Pizza Hut inside the Lodge. It was yummy. Then, David went to get his massage we had purchased for him for Father’s Day. Chase, Reagan, and I went back to swim for a couple of hours. We also used the hot tub. It is both inside and outside. It felt wonderful. It wasn’t too hot. It was just right. Then, we all meet in the room around 8:00 and watched the Pink Panther 2.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

We went to the Loose Moose Cottage, located in the Lodge, for the breakfast buffet. The breakfast was really good. There was a large variety to choose from. After breakfast, we purchased the MagiQuest game for Reagan. This game is an interactive game. The goal is to find certain items within the Lodge to complete the quest. It is kind of like a treasure hunt. It is pretty fun. All the kids seemed to be having fun playing it. It takes several hours to complete. We all four went around the hotel for a little while so Reagan could get started. Then, we went swimming. We ate lunch at the indoor snack shop in the water park. It was a little expensive and not that great. But, the advantage was that we did not have to dry off, change clothes and leave the Lodge.

After lunch, we swam some more. Around 5:00 we changed clothes and drove down the street a few miles to the find something to eat. We ended up at the Love and War in Texas restaurant. The chicken fried chicken was delicious! That is what Chase and I had. David was eating healthy so he had chicken fajitas plus a couple bites of my chicken fried chicken. Reagan had the kid’s steak. He really liked it. David had read in a magazine that the original Dr. Pepper bottling company was in Dublin, Texas. He asked the waitress if they had it there at their restaurant. They did. David ordered one for me. It is still made with Imperial Pure Cane sugar. It tasted a little different than what I am used to but, it was fairly close. David, Chase, and Reagan also tried it. They really could not tell a difference either.

After our yummy dinner, we went back to the Great Wolf Lodge. Chase did not feel well so he lay down and rested. David stayed with him while Reagan and I did some more MagiQuest. Reagan and I returned around 8:30. David took Reagan to complete some more tasks. I fell asleep at 9:45 p.m, which is when David and Reagan returned. David, Chase and Reagan watched T.V. for a while then went to sleep.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

We slept in. I slept until 8:00 a.m. David, Chase, and Reagan woke up around 9 or 9:30 ish. We went to the breakfast buffet again. We had purchased the breakfast buffet when we reserved the room. This saved us approximately $12 per day. After breakfast, Reagan and I went to play a little more MagiQuest while Chase and David packed their stuff. Then, we all took the luggage down just before 11:00 a.m. so we could check-out.

While David and I checked out and loaded the van, Chase took Reagan to complete some more MagiQuest tasks. He did not get to do everything because we ran out of time. We should have started the first day we were there. He was able to complete all of the first round of tasks.

Then we all met in the lobby and went swimming some more. Chase and I rode the slides. Then, I joined David and Reagan in the lazy river. We stayed in there a long time. Chase joined us for a few minutes then we all went to the hot tub. We went outside for a little while, then back to the hot tub, then David and I dried off while Chase and Reagan went to Fort Mackenzie for a few minutes. Then we all changed clothes so we could go eat lunch. I think it was around 1:30.

We drove down the street to the Whataburger (that was Reagan’s request) and ate lunch. Then, we went to the Grapevine Mills Mall. We shopped for about an hour. I found some really cool Nike football cleats on sale for $30 for Chase. I was excited. Chase spent some of his birthday money. Then, we went to the movie theater there at the mall and watched Land of the Lost.

After the movie we drove for a while. Chase and Reagan wanted to eat at the Wiener Schnitzel we had seen on a previous trip through Texas. We found the little building but unfortunately it had closed one year before. So, we went to the Black Eyed Pea we had gone to last year.

Then, we drove home. We got home around 11:30 p.m.

Thursday we relaxed, got our air conditioner fixed and Chase and I went to Wal-Mart for groceries.

Friday we went swimming. Then, went to McDonald’s for lunch.

NYC & Philly

Tina and Chase went on a school trip back in 2008. I am just now getting around to posting Tina's notes about it. The story is below the slide show.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Chase and I went on the school’s Learning Enrichment Accelerated Program (I think) field trip. The kids in LEAP are the only kids that are ever allowed to go out of state over night. That includes the high school seniors. So, it is a privilege to be allowed to go on this exciting, educational trip.

Chase and I, along with 9 other adults and 21 other students left Oklahoma City at 4:40 p.m. We arrived at 11:00 p.m. after getting the rental bus. We arrived at the Embassy Suites, checked in and got settled in and fell asleep around 3:00 am.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

We (the entire group) left the hotel for the Franklin Institute around 9:30. The Franklin Institute is similar to the Omniplex in OKC except it is larger, there is more to do. The food was expensive and not very good. We did see a movie at the I-Max inside the Franklin Institute called Sea Monsters. It was about pre-historic dinosaurs. It was fairly interesting. That was my favorite activity at the Franklin Institute. I was ready to leave when it was time to go. We left around 4:00 p.m. Chase was shaking his pedometer to add steps, which he should not be doing. Wearing the pedometer is a requirement. He has a lot of homework to do on this trip, things like logging miles driven, gallons per mile, gasoline prices, writing paragraphs, essays, and sentences, etc.

We do not have to do anything tonight except get to our hotel, eat dinner and probably swim. Tomorrow we go to New York! I am excited about that!

When we arrived at Homewood Suites, we were told we would not be able to use the pool. They did have a jacuzzi with lukewarm water. We did not do much that evening and I think we were able to go to bed fairly early.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wednesday at 8:00 a.m. we took a bus to the Port Authority (approximately a 45 minute ride in a bus standing in the middle isle). The bus driver pulled in, he let about 10 of our guys out of the bus. This included Chase and Kyle along with the 8th grade boys and dads. The bus driver stopped me and he said he just needs to move up a little. I think, oh okay. I did not understand that would mean we could be separated but it did. My group of people went downstairs with Mrs. Benda. The other group apparently went upstairs. Our cell phones were not working very well since we were in the basement. We finally were able to reach one of the other parents in the other group and reunite.

Then, we walked several blocks to get our hop on hop off passes (near 48th & Broadway, I believe). Chase almost got ran over by a Taxi driver. Being in New York is just like what you see on TV. New Yorkers WILL run you over if you do not get out of their way. We waited in line for the tour bus to pick us up. We got on the bus in Time Square, we were on the tour bus for about 1 hour. I cannot remember anything we drove by (my notes were written Thursday evening after an incredibly exhausting day).

When we got off of the bus tour we went to the Empire State building. We paid $10 per person to move ahead in line and see a movie (approximately 10 minutes about New York). It was similar to the Star Wars ride at MGM (Magical Gas Making according to Reagan). It was fun. Then we went up to the 80th floor of the Empire State building. Then, we walked quickly up 6 more flights of stairs to the top. I thought I would be scared to death because I am afraid of heights, but instead I was too concerned about losing my kids. You can pay $15 more to go up to the 102nd floor observatory. Chase wanted to but we did not have time. The group was ready to go back down. I was able to get some really good photos on top of the Empire State building.

Then, when split up and went our separate ways. The 6th graders did decide to stick together again on this day. We all walked across the street and purchased hot dogs and drinks from the street vendor. (2 hot dogs, 2 Gatorades for $10.) The hot dogs were good.

We shopped at a couple of shops very quickly. This is when I purchased 8 t-shirts for $10. Two or three of them ended up having holes in them. But, that is still a pretty good deal. Then, we hopped on the hop on hop off bus and went to Little Italy the trip took approximately 45 minutes to an hour. We barely had time to sit down to eat pizza. We ate quickly. The pizza slices were large. We only ordered 2 large pizzas, 1 pepperoni, 1 cheese. With drinks for 13 people. It only cost $60. Chase and several others from our group purchased sorbet from a street vendor. It is similar to ice cream. I took a small bite of Chase’s. It was strawberry. He liked it okay, but I did not. Then, we walked back to get on the tour bus. We waited for a tour bus for a long time. We were worried about missing our group for our 6:00 night bus tour. Going to a few shops, eating the pizza and sorbet took us 4 hours. Most of that time was on the tour bus or waiting for a tour bus.

The night tour bus trip was about 2 hours. We got on around 7 pm. It took us through Brooklyn and Manhattan. We drove past Seinfeld’s Diner. It was between 22nd and 23rd on 3rd in New York City right before we got off the tour bus. Chase was helping me remember some of this stuff. I said the tour was mildly entertaining. He said, “No.” Plus, it was very cold. The weather was in the 60’s during the day and dropped at night.

When, we got finished with the night tour around 9 p.m. we headed back to the hotel. Chase and Kyle were hungry and quickly purchased a shish-ka-bob. They think it was chicken. They said it was good. $4 each.

We walked a few blocks back to the Port Authority, rode bus to hotel, walked right behind the hotel to a Panera Bread. It was our only option. Then, back to our rooms. We got to bed around midnight because we had to be packed and ready to leave the next morning, Thursday, at 7:30 a.m.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

We went to the Port Authority, then walked a few blocks to a subway station. We purchase tickets (cards to swipe). I think it cost $2.05 per person. Then, we got on the subway during rush hour. I hated the subway. People packed in like sardines, yuck! One Dad had his wallet stolen. He had his hand on his wallet almost the entire time. But, the pick pocket got it anyway. No talking to any body on the subway. Hold your money and your loved ones close!

We had taken the subway to see the Statue of Liberty. We stood in line for approx. 1.5 hours, from 10:20 to 12:05. The ferry ride was about 10 minutes. We got to the Island at 12:15. We only had 30 minutes to take pictures, use the bathroom and look around because the ferry to take us to Ellis Island left at 1:00. We missed it because not everyone was back in time to take it. There is a museum at Ellis Island (I believe it is the one in the Hitched with Will Smith and Kevin James where the girl sees her family members name on the list of immigrants coming to America). Since we missed that ferry we decided to go back to New York (meaning back to where we got on the ferry, where the subways ended.) We got back on the subway to go back to the Port Authority, to buy a bus ticket, to take us back to the hotel to get the vans. Hallelujah! It was really cool to see the Statue of Liberty. I was able to get some good pictures.

We left the hotel around 4 p.m. (I think) to drive to Lancaster, PA. We arrived in Lancaster at 7:45 the traffic was bad when we left Philadelphia.

We had reservations to eat at the Amish restaurant for 6 p.m. Obviously, we missed our reservation but they were kind enough to stay open for us. Thank goodness. We were all starving. Many of us had gone back into our hotel before we left to get a snack for the ride to Lancaster. I’m glad Chase and I did.

Anyway, the Amish restaurant wasn’t very Amish. Chase says it looked like Swadley’s, which cracks me up because basically he is correct. We might have more of an Amish experience if we had arrived on time. I am not sure, though. The food was pretty good. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. We had fried chicken, bow tie noodles (very good), carrots (soaked in butter), rolls, and for dessert we had apple cobbler or we could have an Amish desert. I forgot the name of it. I had the apple cobbler. It was okay.

From the Lancaster, PA, we drove about 1 hour to Grantville, to the Hampton Inn. We all went to sleep. I think it was around 11:30 p.m.

Friday, May 2, 2008

We went to the Hershey Museum first. Then, we went to Hershey Park. Chase, Kyle, and I hung out by ourselves. We ate pizza for lunch. Chase and Kyle both won prizes for throwing the football through a hole. Chase won 2 footballs. Kyle won 2 bears but the guy let him trade up to an eagle for free for one of the bears (he just offered – we did not ask). I thought that was nice of him. When it got a little warmer around 4 ish Chase and Kyle rode the Tidal Force water ride. They were soaked from head to toe. Then, they stood on the bridge where the water rushes over it. They told me to go with them because if you stand by the plexiglass, you won’t get wet but it looks really cool to see the water rushing right at you. I went with them. They were right. It was really cool! The day we went was the first day the amusement park was open. It was not crowded at all. We barely had to wait in line all day. And, the weather was perfect! It was so much fun!

We went back to the Hershey Museum to pick up our chocolate Hershey’s kisses that we had put together in the gear boxes. We also rode a 10 minute ride that explained how the chocolate is made. The boys tossed Chase’s football around while we waited for the other group to arrive. We left the park around 6:30 p.m. and drove back to Philadelphia to the same Embassy Suites hotel we had stayed at on Monday night. We stopped to eat dinner at the Ruby Tuesday right across the street. They had a paid police office on duty (interesting). Then, we went back to the hotel and to bed.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

We left the hotel around 10:30 a.m. (I was probably awake by 7:00 a.m. again). We drove to Historic Philadelphia. We broke up into groups and went where we wanted. All the sites and museums were closer that I first realized. Several of us went to The City Tavern. We ate lunch there. We had a salad, a turkey pot pie and apple cobbler. The food was very good. The water was not. The food was served in pewter dishes. They gave us a deal on the meal since there were 15 of us. It cost $12.95 plus tax per person. Normally, I think it would have been $14.95 plus tax per person plus tip.

The coolest part of the meal was that the Tavern is where Washington, Jefferson, and the other founders of our country gathered together to eat dinner and discuss their plans to break away from England.

I left my back pack upstairs while we ate. Fortunately, I needed a Kleenex before we finished and was able to go upstairs to retrieve it. I can not believe I did that. I had my travel pouch with my money, my camera, and the backpack, plus I was having to prod Kyle to get up to stay with the group. (I had to do this the entire trip. I wished I had a cattle prod to use on him and Chase, especially in New York!)

After lunch, we walked back to see Carpenter’s Hall and the Military Museum. Carpenter Hall was pretty cool. The military museum was closed. It was only open from 3-5 p.m. that day. So we went to Independence Hall, then looked at a couple of statues then back to Independence Hall. We had a tour scheduled for 3:00. We were supposed to meet at 2:45 so we waited for everyone else. The tour was 30 minutes long. It was cool also. The tour guide gave us the history info for 15 minutes in one room then we went in to see the Hall. There was a court room. The guide was standing in an iron stand thing. He said that is where the prisoners “stood trial.” Which is why we call it “standing trial” today. Then we turned around and went into another room. The room where the Constitution was drafted (I think). After that we split into smaller groups again. We went and took pictures at the Liberty Bell.

Then we found a vendor on the street that sold Philly cheese steaks. We all three bought one. They were really big (1 foot long). We got the Philly cheese steak, l large Gatorade and a 3 small cookies for $9.95 each. They were really yummy! Then, we went to ride the carriage ride. Our guide was Angie; her horse’s name was Tom. The carriage ride was fun and relaxing. The 40 minute ride cost $40 plus $5 tip. The guide showed us some historical stuff and the cemetery that is in the movie National Treasure and some historical stuff. It was much smaller in real life.

Then, we met the rest of the group again at 6:00 p.m. We drove to the mall. Half of the group went shopping the other half of us went to the movies to see Iron Man.

After the movie, we drove back to our hotel. We arrived around 11:00 p.m David sent Chase and me some cookies. That was very sweet of him! There were some not-so-nice looking people walking around in the lobby. Jackson’s dad, Mr. Sharp, who is a police officer, suggested we all stay in our rooms. I, of course, thought that was a great idea. Mr. Sharp mentioned that he did not think the security guard on duty would be much help if we needed him. Chase and I joked about that later. We agreed with Mr. Sharp. The security officer was about 5 foot 0 inches tall and he looked like he was 80 years old.

Also, that night, in the middle of the night, I could have sworn something crawled across me, like a mouse or something. I grabbed my cell phone to use it as a light. I did not find anything. I made myself NOT think about it so I could go back to sleep.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

We loaded up the vans and left for the airport around 10:15 a.m. When we arrived in Detroit, we had approximately 30 minutes to get to our next gate. The kids had to use the bathroom, of course. We were literally running to our next gate to catch our flight home. It was a long way away.

I was so happy to get home!!

Things I learned on the trip:

Eat when you have the chance.
Use the bathroom when you are near one.
Don’t count on staying on schedule (everything takes longer with 32 people).
Always request to have your own map (if there are maps available).
Always take your ipod for nights you can not sleep.
You will learn interesting facts about the kids your kid goes to school with.
You will miss your husband and youngest child as much as you thought you would.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Chase Wins The Game!

So Chase's 7th grade basketball team (in the purple) is playing Newcastle. They get the ball with 35 seeconds or so and the score tied and Chase makes (what we thought was) the winning shot until a Newcastle kid goes down and hits a three.

Then we call time out with 7 seconds. Chase gets the ball. He shoots...he scores. We win!


Thursday, December 25, 2008

A McLaughlin Christmas

I just wanted to say (again) Merry Christmas to everyone. I feel so blessed this year.

I have a wonderful family, a great job, great health (relatively speaking) and life is good.

The picture of Tina and me is downtown OKC at the Botanical Gardens this last Sunday night. The picture of the boys was taken a week ago by our friend Amber. We did a whole session as a Christmas present for Tina. She loved the pix. The kids are growing so fast.

We had a great Christmas Eve with our whole family last night then did the candlelight service at church. This morning we opened presents and had breakfast. Then went to the movies (a tradition-Bedtime Stories was better than we thought it would be). Then had lunch (great pizza at the theater-an Xmas tradition). Then came home and Tina and I had a nap. Then we went to Ihop (another Xmas tradition).

Then we came home and watched Christmas Story (tradition) and played a couple hours of Monopoly. And now we sleep.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.


Saturday, August 2, 2008

Tour Oklahoma: Roman Nose State Park 08/02/08

We picked one of the hottest days of the year to visit Roman Nose State Park. But we went fairly early and there is a lot of shade on the hiking trails so it wasn't too miserable.

Story below the slideshow.

After leaving a little later than planned (don't we always) we finally passed Watonga (which the kids love saying) and arrived at Roman Nose. This park is much larger than Red Rock Canyon and I was not at all sure where to go. We always print the maps from the park websites but they never make sense until after you have gone through the park.

When we first pulled in there was a golf tournament going on and I pulled over to the pro shop to find out about which trails were the best. A very nice gentleman met us in the parking lot and gave us great tips so we were off to our adventure.

These hiking trails aren't named like they are at Red Rock. We first went to the trail next to the General Store and Lake Boecher. As soon as you start you can go to the right or left. First we went left. We hiked around a bit and I was not as impressed as I was at Red Rock. Then the kids went down this little dip that Tina and I weren't planning on going down. Then they said they found a small waterfall so we followed them down. We were glad we did.

After following that trail a bit further we decided to go back to the fork and go the other direction. It was much shadier (thankfully) but did not have much to look at. At one point though the trail broke off in three directions. We took a cute picture of Tina and the boys pointing in all three directions. We followed a couple of the directions for a bit but these trails were not that impressive either. I don't mean for this to sound like we didn't have fun. We did. It just was not as great as Red Rock for us.

We then went back to the car and went further down to a trail at the end of the road by Lake Watonga. It was really starting to get hot and this trail was mostly right out in the sun and not much to look at. We met a couple coming back from the trail who said the scenery didn't change much and there were snakes further down. So we decided to go back. The boys did decide to climb a pretty good sized hill. Chase took pictures of Tina and me from the top of it. Wow, I look fat even from up there.

Then we drove to the other end of the park to the Three Springs Trail area. We had heard that this was really nice. Tina had packed a lunch for us (pb&j rocks!) and we were going to eat at a picnic area then hike. At my brilliant suggestion we parked under a shade tree and ate in the air-conditioned car. I am brilliant.

Then we went down to the Big Spring. We were SO glad we did this. This was the highlight of the trip for us. It was very pretty. The spring was cool to look at and the area was very shady. The boys loved climbing around down there as well.

After this it was about 100 degrees and the boys were begging us to go swimming so we agreed. The pool at Roman Nose is much bigger than at Red Rock but the scenery is not as good. We had a blast in the pool though and the water felt great in the heat. We swam for about an hour and headed home.

There is a lot to do at Roman Nose that we didn't have time for. You can camp, fish, RV (yes, I make that a verb), golf, mini-golf, ride horses, go boating, paddle boats, etc. But we were definitely finished for the day. It was hot and we are still newbies at the state park experience.

During the debrief on the ride home everyone agreed we had a great time but Red Rock slightly edged out Roman Nose for our tastes and experience. Your mileage may vary.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Tour Oklahoma: Red Rock Canyon 07/12/08

Tina and I decided to take the boys to do a little wilderness hiking. Well, as wilderness as we get. We are indoor people.

So we took a trip to Red Rock Canyon State Park near Hinton, OK. Reagan had been there on a school field trip and wanted to go back.

Full story below the slide show.

We left Bethany around 9 am and after a traffic jam on I-40 got to RRC around 10 am. The weather was beautiful given it was mid-July.

We hit the Rough Horsetail Nature Trail first and had a blast! It was shady, scenic and fascinating. There were some very interesting plants that apparently are what turned into coal 30 million years ago.

Then we went to the other end of the park to the California Road Nature Trail. This is what I remember from the one time I was there as a kid. This is why the place is called RED Rock. On the way we stopped at a canyon wall across from a pond and the boys enjoyed yelling at the wall and listening to the echo.

We then made the short trek up the trail. It was starting to get a little warm but was not bad. TIP: Do this trail early and do the shady trail when it is hotter.

After this we went to some random area where Tina and the boys climbed around a bit and saw what they swear were ten million grandaddy long leg spiders. I sat in the air-conditioned car. I told you were were inside people!

Then we went to the concession stand and paid $20 for lunch which we bought from the sweetest little lady in the world. But I'm not sure she could hear very well. And they were out of cheeseburgers. Out of cheeseburgers? So Tina and I ate bbq. Reagan had a corndog and Chase ate a chilidog. We hadn't really planned on eating there but we stayed because we were having a good time.

By now it was Noon. The public pool opens at Noon at there was nobody there. We had brought the swimsuits just in case. It was a great idea because we went swimming for about an hour and 15 minutes and had the pool almost to ourselves. This cost $13 and the scenery was great while swimming. Very relaxing.

I, the indoor person, had an idea while swimming. Why don't we as a family spend the next few years before the kids graduate and visit all the state parks in Oklahoma? It would be a great way for the kids to see the state and we could spend time together and create memories. So I asked the nine year old lifeguard how many state parks there were and he was sure there were at least two.

So when we got home I looked it up and there are 50! So we have lots of traveling to do but we are pretty excited about our mission. We think we can probably pull this off. We'll see how it goes.

After swimming I bought the boys snowcones. $4.

The whole trip cost $37 plus gas. The memories and fun were priceless!

Next stop? I think we'll try Roman Nose.


Out of Order

No the site isnt out of order but I will be posting about our recent adventures out of order.

Just fyi.

Monday, June 11, 2007

More Info

Start reading this blog from the bottom up.

Feel free to leave comments and questions.

Attraction Rankings

Our family each ranked each attraction on a scale from 1 to 10. These will be listed in order of: David, Tina, Chase, Reagan. If someone didn't ride it it will be listed as x.

Magic Kingdom

Space Mountain (10,9,10,9)
Indy Speedway (6,6,6,6)
Buzz Lightyear Spin (8,9,8,9)
Astro Orbiter (5,5,7,6)
Great Stitch Escape (5,5,5,6)
Splash Mountain (7,6,6,x)
Thunder Mountain (10,10,10,x)
Aladdin Magic Carpet (6,6,6,7)
Pirates-Carribean (7,8,8,10)
Tea Cups (8,10,9,10)
Flying Dumbo (6,6,6,7)
Swiss Family Robinson (x,7,8,8)


Star Tours (8,7,7,10)
Muppets 3D (6,5,4,5)
Great Movie Ride (4,5,7,5)
Rockin' Roller Coaster (10,10,10,x)
Tower of Terror (8,x,9,x)
Indiana Jones Stunt Show (5,2,7,8)


Soarin' (9,8,8,8)
Test Track (8,8,9,10)
Mission Space (9,9,9,10)
Maelstrom (0,2,1,5)

Animal Kingdom

Everest (9,8,9,x)
Khali River Rapids (7,8,7,10+)
Primeval Whirl (10,9,9,9)
Triceratop Spin (6,6,6,7)

Cocoa Beach (10,10,10,10+)
Shuttle Launch (9,6,8,5)

The All Star Sports Resort

Day Five

We only had half a day back at MGM (which Reagan says means Magical Gas Making). So we went straight to the Rockin' Roller Coaster. Then we got a Fastpass to ride it again and got in line for the Tower of Terror which Chase and dad rode.

Then we went and had our early sit down lunch at 50's Prime Time Cafe. Very cool retro vibe with decent food and very fun waiters and waitresses who forced you to eat your veggies, use proper manners and so forth.

Then we went back and rode Rockin' Roller Coaster again. Because of RS, Chase got to ride this six times!

We then went and rode Star Tours again. Finally, we saw the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular which was pretty good.

We caught the bus back to the hotel and jumped on the shuttle to the airport. Our plane was an hour late so we went ahead and had dinner at the airport Burger King. Fortunately, we had a long layover in Dallas so we didn't miss our connecting flight home.

We arrived at Casa de McLaughlin at Midnight and went straight to bed.

Vacation over. Recovery begins. Paid cash for whole trip. Woohoo!

Day Four

This morning we got up early for an 8 am Breakfastasaurus character breakfast with Mickey, Donald, Pluto and Goofy. It was pretty good food but the characters were the great.

Then we went and rode Mount Everest. Chase go to ride 2x because of RS. Then we rode the Khali River Rapids. You will get wet. But it was worth it.

Then we went to a kids area called Dino-rama. We rode a ride called Primeval-whirl. We absolutely loved this ride! After that we rode the Triceratop Spin (same thing as Dumbo and Aladdin). Then we rode the Primeval-whirl again and left the park around noon or so. This was really all we wanted to do at this park. We thought about doing the Safari tram but we wanted to go ahead and get to the beach.

Somene asked me on a flight home what shows we enjoyed. We didn't really do any shows. We're more "ride people."

So we went back to the hotel and ate lunch. Then we headed out for Cocoa Beach. While there we had a blast. This was definitely daddy's favorite part of the whole vacation. I could stand in the water and be virtually weightless which felt great on my aching feet. I also just generally love the beach.

We had planned for months to come on this day. What we didn't know until earlier in the week was that there was goint to be a space shuttle launch from Cape Canaveral just two miles away at 7:30 pm. So we got to see a real live launch of Atlantis which was very cool. You could see the flames shooting out and it was very loud as it went up.

We then ate Pizza Hut in Cocoa Beach. They had the absolutely most disgusting bathrooms I have ever seen.

Then it took an unbelievable 4 HOURS to drive the 52 miles back to Orlando. There is one main highway back and we found out later that something like 100,000 people had gone to see the shuttle launch. I believe it because we were driving 10 miles an hour with everyone of them. The worst traffic I have ever been in. It was brutal.

The cool thing though was this was a really great family time. We laughed and sang and had a blast. We got what our family calls "road happy." This is where you are so tired that normal things are hysterical. We also learned that Reagan thought the Bon Jovi song started out as "Shockalaha, and your to blame, baby you give love a bad nay!"

We had considered going back to Magic Kingdom for a couple hours for Extra Magic Hours but since we didn't get back til' Midnight we just went to bed.

Day Three

As planned, we slept in and sauntered in to Epcot around Noon. It was hot and the place was packed. We went to get a Test Track Fastpass but the signs said the fastpasses for all the good rides (about three at Epcot) were all getting really late already. So we decided instead to go across the park and get a Soarin' Fastpass instead. This turned out to be a great move.

We then ate a Quick Service lunch at Seasons. NIGHTMARE! Again, the food was great but the service was a nightmare. We were packed in like sardines and the lines were screwed up because the manager was telling people to line up one way and the order-takers were telling people to do the exact opposite which was causing mass confusion.

Then we went and got in line for the Test Track. The line had gone down considerably. We were pretty lucky like this all week. In the whole week we never waited in line more than 40 minutes for anything. Most of the time we only had to wait 15-20 minutes. We kept lucking out on ride lines. (The bus lines were another story!)

We enjoyed Test Track and then went and rode Mission: Space which was really cool. We then headed to the World Showcase where you walk thru all the countries. When we got to Norway there is a ride called the Maelstrom. Do not ever waste your time on this waste of real estate.

We then strolled thru some more countries on the the way to Alfredo's where we checked in a little early for dinner. OK-this place was fantastic and delicious! You will absolutely have the best lasagna in your life if you try it. My solemn promise. Tina tried mine and agreed. She had the Fettuccine Alfredo which was also very good.

On our way out of Italy we happened upon a street showing of "Romeo and Edna" which was really funny. Our family doesn't usually enjoy stuff like that but we all agreed it was funny.

We then went thru the rest of the nations on our way to Soarin'. That was a great way to end our day at Epcot. It is a fantastic ride.

Then we went and spent a bunch of money on souvenirs and went back to the hotel around 7 pm. We did everything we wanted to at Epcot so we went to the hotel to relax and then went to bed.

Day Two

Daddy got up early and picked up the rental car. We didn't need it because if you stay at a Disney resort they transport you around on buses, monorails, and boats for free. But we were planning to go to Cocoa Beach on Friday so we went ahead and got one with our package.

We then hopped our first shuttle bus. They run every 15 minutes and we missed every single bus each way all week by about 30 seconds except for our very last bus on Saturday.

We got to the Magic Kingdom by opening time. At some of the rides you have two options. Stand in line or get a Fastpass and come back at a certain time frame (one hour window) and go thru a special line and get right to the front with hardly any wait. We went straight to Space Mountain and got a Fastpass.

Then we went and ride the Indy Speedway race cars which was fun. Then we rode the Buzz Lightyear Spin two times in a row. That was a blast! We all loved it. Then we rode the Astro Orbiter and then it was time for Space Mountain. Space Mountain was probably our second favorite ride all week.

[Oh yeah-David & Tina had been to Disney before but it was the first time for the boys.]

Then we went and saw/rode Stitch's Great Escape. Started out horrible and then ended up mildly entertaining.

We then got a Fastpass for Splash Mountain and had lunch at Pecos Bills.

OK-Disney's Dining Plan is great. You have a certain number of credits that you can use and not have to pay any money for food during your trip because it is prepaid and saves you about 40%. You get a "Quick Service Meal" each day where you stand in line and get your food then sit down and eat, and a "Table Service Meal" where it is more like a regular restaurant. You also can have snacks included which we did and mainly used just to get water. If you go in the plan you will seriously have access to more food than you can physically eat.

The gripe I have with the plan is that the Quick Service places like Pecos Bills' have great food but horrendous service and lines. Very very very frustrating and stressful.

We then went and rode Thunder Mountain. Chase got to ride it two times in a row because we did a Rider Switch since Reagan didn't want to ride it. It was really good.

Then we went and rode Splash Mountain. Chase rode twice due to Rider Switch (RS). It was ok. Sometimes the best feature of the ride is that you get to sit down for a while in a cool place. This was the case with Splash Mtn.

About this time of the afternoon it started raining off and on all day.

We then went and rode the Aladdin Magic Carpet ride, then Pirates of the Caribbean. Then back to the Magic Carpet ride then it was time for dinner.

We did a table service meal at Crystal Palace. It is a Character Dinner and buffet. A Character meal is where there are certain Disney characters who come around to each table for pictures and autographs.

Even though we had reservations we got in about 20 minutes late. The food was really good though. We go to meet Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet. Pooh was there but we were ready to leave by then and the kids didn't really care.

We then rode the Tea Cups which was great. We spun it so fast Tina almost threw up. we then rode Dumbo. The kids and Tina then did the Swiss Family Robinson thing while dad rested his feet. It started to pour rain about this time.

We had done about all we wanted to and knew we were going to have a short day on Saturday at MGM so we decided to take advantage of the Extra Magic Hours at MGM.

We hopped a tram to MGM. It was closing time at the park except for those staying at Disney Resorts and it was pouring rain so people were leaving the park in droves.

We were able to go do Star Tours, the 3D Muppet Show, the Great Movie Ride, and the Rockin' Roller Coaster with virtually no lines at all.

Star Tours was pretty cool. The Muppets and the Movie Ride were ok. The best thing was that they were inside out of the rain.

The highlight of all was the Aerosmith Rockin' Roller Coaster. This ride really does rock!!! It was our favorite all week! Daddy even got an Aerosmith Rockin Roller Coaster t-shirt.

Then we headed for the hotel. We went from 9 am to Midnight on Day One. We were so unbelievably tired and exhausted. It was a brutal day but we were able to do everything we wanted.

Daddy then took some pain pills, anti-inflammatory pills and we all went to sleep. Very quickly.

Day One

We spent the morning doing some last minute packing and getting an early lunch on the way to the airport.

The airport experience went fine except they hurried us through and we realized at the gate that although we checked four bags, they gave us receipts for two of our bags and two of someone elses bags who was going to Chicago. we didn't know if they tagged two of our bags wrong or if they just gave us the wrong tickets. They didn't know either when we asked.

So we departed for Florida not knowing what bags we would have when we go there. By the way-if you stay at a Disney resort, they have Disney Magical Express. They will shuttle you to and from the airport. Also, when you arrive they will pick up your bags and deliver them to your room. When you depart, you can check in for your flight and check your luggage at the hotel instead of the airport. This was one of my favorite features of the whole trip.

The kids enjoyed their first airplane flights and we arrived in Orlando around 7 pm and got to our room around 8 pm. The All Star resort rooms are fairly inexpensive and very small. Think Motel 6 but much, much cleaner.

So we ate dinner in the hotel food court. Quesadillas and chicken strips were both great. Then we went swimming.

By the time we got back to the room, all four of our bags had magically appeared! We were very happy and went to bed looking forward to our day at Magic Kingdom.

How To Plan Your Big Vacation

Last year we went to Padre Island and Sea World and other attractions in San Antonio. I enjoyed Padre, but not so much all the walking at Sea World. So we decided to do something more relaxing this year.....Disney World.

Yeah, I know.

Disney World (WDW) now has four main theme parks as well as a couple water parks. They also have hotel resorts right on the property so we had a lot of planning and decision making to do.

STEP ONE-Book Vacation

Research. I checked all the prices for tickets at the parks, hotels, flights, food, etc. This would cost a medium fortune. I don't think we can do this.

Then I went to the Disney site and checked out some of their vacation packages. I was able to book 5 days, All Star Sports Disney resort, Park Hopper tickets, Disney Dining Plan and airline tickets for all four of us for a small fortune, so I booked it.

We're going to Disney World!

STEP TWO-Rebook Vacation

My wife was reading one night and looked at me and asked the magic question, "When is Gay Days at Disney?"

Well, there are 365 days a year. It just so happens that Gay Days at Disney was during the exact same days we would be there. I don't care if gay people go to Disney. I don't even care if they have Gay Days. But I don't need to explain to my 8 and 11 year old sons all the stuff in these pictures. [Warning: Explicit Photos]

So we decided to move the vacation to one week later. So I called the Disney travel agent and said I needed to move the vacation. She asked why. When I told her (very nicely) she got upset and acted like I was a bigot. She then hung up on me. I called a second time and got an even more belligerent agent. She told me that gay people were just another ethnic group. I asked her what country they were from and she hung up on me too.

Finally, after the third call I was able to change my vacation dates. The agent then told me that it would only raise the price of our vacation by $3000. The price was the same except for the flights so I spent an hour and a half trying different flight combinations, we were able to pull it off for $400 more although now we are losing almost a full day due to a later flight on departure day and an earlier flight on our return day. But....

....we're going to Disney World!!!

STEP THREE - Plan and Pack

The hardest part of this whole vacation was figuring out what everybody in the family wanted to do and how to get it all in and figuring out what to pack. Have you flown lately? Geeez!

The best thing I found was the intercot website. If Disney's website was half as informative it would be wonderful. No Disney vacationer can afford not to utilize intercot!

Finally...we're going to Disney World!