Saturday, March 29, 2014

Family Spring Break in Florida 1 - Universal Studios

It's been a few days since we stepped off the plane from our whimsical family trip to Florida this past week and back into reality. Admittedly, I am still in a magical daze and want that feeling to linger a little while longer. We had so much fun and are still in awe by the amount of walking (wheeling for me) and activities we fit in six days. Our journey varied from day to day, mostly with general plans for the day and lots of vacation flexibility and FUN! Just the way we like it. I meant to write each day, but was so tired by the end of each day, so I'll break up our activities into various posts.

Hiccups and Relaxation
Our trip had a little rocky start. Upon our arrival in Orlando, I learned that my wheelchair had been damaged when I struggled to push myself around. The axel of one of my wheels was bent, leaving my chair wobbly and difficult to wheel around. The wheelchair damage wasn't the first by airline travel, but it was the worst. I was a bit frustrated because it felt like someone had carelessly thrown my chair around which is basically like reckless care of my legs. Fortunately, the person in charge of damaged goods for my airline was so kind and helpful, which made this hiccup that much more bearable. I appreciated him so much. We arranged to meet with a local vendor and get things squared away that day. Unfortunately, the parts weren't going to make it to Orlando in time, so I would have to spend the rest of our trip in a crummy wheelchair. No fun.

But there were plenty of blessings to look forward to during the rest of our trip. For one, we stayed at my Brazilian friend, Thaise's family vacation home, so we had a very spacious home all to ourselves for the week. That was reason enough to be happy and so grateful. It was better than any hotel we've ever stayed at before. The house had a large window that overlooked a beautiful lake and gave full view of sunrise. There were plenty of rooms on each of the three floors and a well-equipped kitchen to prepare meals and save some moolah. The main floor was perfectly wheelchair accessible with wide doors, tons of space, a humungous bed, walk-in closet -- it's almost like it was made for me! Little Holly loved the pool on the bottom floor which she took advantage of almost every day.




We planned out some meals but made sure to hit up Checkers for dinner one night, which we were thrilled about because there are no fully loaded fries in Utah. We watched "Frozen," which for the rest of the trip AJ just kept singing the line, "Do you want a snowman," without knowing the rest of the words. Funny man. We also made a trip to Wal Mart for some goods for the week. It felt like I was in mini-Brazil with all the Portuguese I heard -- I was in heaven. There were so much traffic and crazy in Orlando because the theme parks are such a huge tourist destination.

Harry Potter, Butter Beer and Wetness
We got three-day passes to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, where there was a buy 2-days get the third free deal. We packed some snacks and plenty of water headed over to the Islands of Adventure. On the way in, a man approached me and asked why I was in a wheelchair (happens a lot) so I told him about my accident. He then gave me a little charm from his country and told me in Spanish that is symbolizes healing.

Our first stop was Harry Potter World which my little sister was so excited about. This is my third time here, and whether it's January, March, or June, Hogsmead is always jammed pack with visitors. It may be because I'm in a wheelchair, but I was feeling a bit claustrophobic because there were people packed in everywhere, but luckily I made it passed that. We absolutely loved the Dragon Challenge ride, although I was worried that my shoes would fall off the whole time because it was going so fast and there were so many loops and twists. Fun!

We waited in the massive line for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, which I absolutely loved. The squirting large spider was probably my favorite, but then again I don't have arachnophobia like my husband does. To get to my special seat for wheelchairs, I had to go through a secret entrance that is obviously not equipped for traffic, but always seems to be a problem. It was still worth the wait though. We opted out of waiting in line for the wand shop and walked around Hogsmead, got our pictures with the train conductor who was Scottish (love my Scots) and had delicious butter beer approved by J.K. Rowling herself.

Boston got tons of attention from admirers all throughout the park. They kept commenting on his luscious full head of hair and baby sunglasses (he loves them!), it was too cute to handle.



Holly's swimmer's heart dragged AJ and me to the wettest of rides, Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges, and Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls. AJ, who was the most reluctant got the brunt of the wetness on each ride but took it really well. What a trooper! I hadn't ridden these rides before so the anticipation was the worst part for me. Some of the older rides were not wheelchair accessible like the Ripsaw Falls with logs that were physically impossible for me to get into, so my husband had to carry me into them. It's times like these that make me so grateful to have help because it really makes my disability more manageable in an able world. I thought I wouldn't mind getting wet, but I was definitely ready for home afterwards after being drenched with water. If you go these rides, wear a swimming suit or bring a change of clothes. There were human drying machines available for $5 but I certainly didn't want to pay for that. It was a good thing we saved the wet rides for the end and were able to stay until the park closed. That was enough to keep Holly's heart content...until the next day.

Sleepy Baby, Long Lines, and Hard Rock
The humidity hit baby the worst since day one. He was so tired as we pushed him around in his umbrella stroller [from Wal Mart] so we he slept a lot. It was a little worrisome because he wasn't eating as much, which meant dehydration. So we did our best to keep him in cool shady areas, apply lots of sunscreen, and keep him awake, which he wasn't too happy about. We didn't get to do any rides with baby at Universal because the noises startled him and made him cry from the get go, yes, even the Shrek ride. We'll just have to wait until he gets a bit bigger :) In the line for Shrek, I discovered another perk of being in a wheelchair. Baby had a poopxplosion and we were able to change baby's diaper right on my lap, with a blanket over me of course :)




There were tons of people at Universal Studios this day, which may be a combination of Spring Break and the weekend. That meant long, long wait time for rides so we didn't cover as much as we wanted. But it was OK because we still had another day to make up for it. The trick is to get to the parks a lot earlier in the morning when other people were still asleep.

Of course we had to hit up the World's Largest Hard Rock for some awesome burgers and fries and special rock and roll memorabilia. This was the first Hard Rock we'd ever been to together and AJ celebrated his 25th birthday here while we on our honeymoon, so it holds a special place in our heart. Ever since, we've tried to  hit up every Hard Rock in the major cities we visit including the ones in Europe. We learned from our waiter that the memorabilia here constantly change because it is the perfect testing ground for new products with ever-changing visitors. This time around, I ordered the local legendary which comes with mac and cheese and bacon on the burger. It was super hardy and surprisingly delicious. I loved it and would definitely order it again!

Well, that's it for now about our trip to Florida. If you have any questions about tips on wheelchair access or family activities at these theme parks, please contact me. More to come on our Spring Break in Orlando beyond Universal Studios. This post was happily shared on  photo 0b596c19-7bb3-4256-89d4-2ff3932da329_zpse9b1cc3f.jpg

Monday, March 17, 2014

Irish {Guinness} Beef Stew

Happy St. Patrick's Day! I love this day because of the numerous interesting things that are associated with it. But mainly because I love all things Irish. What a delightfully interesting culture. When we were in Dublin last year, we had dinner one night at a little pub called O'Reily's (such a typical name) and AJ ordered Guinness beef stew. We're not drinkers so this was the closest we were getting to trying Guinness, which was mandatory because Ireland is the home of Guinness. Well to our surprise, it turned out to be the best stew either of us have ever had. So this year, we decided to try our hand at making a similar stew by getting the recipe off of the Guinness Storehouse website for our St. Patrick's day celebration. We were pleased to find it came out really close to the one in Dublin and that everyone loved the stew. It's definitely a recipe we'll use again and again even when it's not St. Patrick's Day! I hope you'll enjoy this recipe as much as we did. Let me know what you think!




Serves 6
Cook time: 1 1/2 hours

400 ml of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout
2 lbs. diced beef (look stew meat)
2 medium onion, diced
2 carrot, diced
2 celery, diced
2 large, parsnip, diced
9 cups of thick beef stock
Garnish with fresh thyme and rosemary (optional)

Instructions

  1. Stir fry the beef until all brown.
  2. Add the vegetables and cook till tender.
  3. Pour the GUINNESS® and reduce by half (let the heat evaporate the liquid).
  4. Add the beef stock and herbs and simmer very slowly for between an hour and an hour and a half. It takes a while.
  5. Serve with the champ potato (mashed potatoes with spring onions) and garlic bread. YUM!





Look to this day

Look to this day, for it is life, the very life of life.

In its brief course lie all the realities and truths of existence;
the joy of growth, the splendor of action, the glory of power.

For yesterday is but a memory,
and tomorrow is only a vision;

but today well lived makes every yesterday a memory of happiness
and every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore, to this day.

-ancient Sanskrit poem

Yesterday is connected today as today is connected to tomorrow. However, the most important day is today as it the product of yesterday and the determinant of tomorrow. Be careful because with the blink of an eye, that day is gone and we can't have it back so make today count. Today, I changed up my life a little. I worried less about checking things off of my to-do list (ugh…too many things) and focused more on the little moments that matter most throughout the day. You know, the moments that we get to spend with people we love to build our relationship with them.

Today, I held on a little bit longer to my darling baby boy, basked him in extra love, gave him a few extra kisses, and play with him until he fell asleep. Each moment with my son today is a chance to leave an imprint on his little mind. It is a quick fleeting moment to let him know how much he is undoubtedly loved.. He may not fully understand what is going on right now, but I believe he can feel all of the love from smiles and touch (there is such power with touch). Now is the opportunity for me to build a relationship with him for tomorrow.



Today, I focused on holding meaningful conversations with my husband and parents. I caught up on their thoughts, feelings, accomplishments, and goals to keep communication fresh and open. We shared stories and laughter, which make these moments so memorable. My husband, baby and I went on a Sunday stroll and enjoyed the beautiful warm weather around the neighborhood.  We talked about lots of different things. We got excited about our upcoming trip in a few days. My favorite conversation was about the goals we have together because they are so simple yet spectacular :) mainly surrounding travel.

Today, I read a letter from my brother who is on a church mission in Cambodia about the things he and his companion are experiencing in their services. We write back and forth every Sunday. I internalized his words. I was sad when he expressed his struggles and happy to hear success and learning. I sent more love and positive energy his way to let him know that I care so much about him.

Lastly, AJ and I made a goal this year to improve relationships with friends and build new ones. On Friday, we went on a double date with some friends from college days, Rebekah and Anthony to grab frozen yogurt (the cool flavors and toppings are to die for!) and played Taboo and Heads Up (such hilarious games!). It was a memorable time to say the least.


In doing all of this, I realized how much these relationships mean to me. They make me feel so grateful that Heavenly Father has put all of these amazing people in my path. Out of the millions of people out there, our paths were chosen to have serendipitously crossed. I don't know where we're all headed next, but we're better people for having known each other now. It's amazing how He knows me so well as to provide just the right people to share these tender moments with. I believe that my relationship with my Heavenly Father through prayer and choices I make daily allow me this opportunity to have great relationships with others. And for that, I am truly grateful.

This quote reminded me that each day on this earth is a finite gift from Heavenly Father specifically granted for us to become better people. We must focus on what matters most to us and treat it like so. For me, the most cherished treasures in my life are my Heavenly Father, my family and my friends. With that said, it's pertinent that I work on these relationships as best I can. Each day spent with them is another opportunity to grow and love them even more. They are instrumental in building my yesterday of memories and tomorrow of visions. Furthermore, look to the beauty of the beauty around you, look to the blessings you been granted, look to what makes you happy. You'll find the results are countless. I hope that you find what matters most to you and treasure them today.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Boston's Half Birthday

Our dear, cheerful little boy turned 6 months old today. We had a day of epic celebration (baby-style) and basking him in extra love and kisses. It may seem menial that a human being has passed 6 months of life, but this is our little being that has endured 6 whole months with us crazy folks. He has developed and grown so much in this time, and brought immense joy to our lives with a smile that radiates through his entire face and completely lights up our home. He is the sunshine in our lives -- the one we look forward to kissing, hugging, playing with, and comforting every single day. He made us first time parents and gave us the opportunity to grow and understand the meaning of true love and sacrifice (oh those sleepless nights). We are indeed proud parents of this darling "menino" who rolls over, does baby yoga while eating, smiles sweetly in his sleep, eats baby carrots and bananas like a big boy, raises his arms to let us know he wants us, excitedly stomps his feet against everything, and rubs his little hands against our faces as he's going to sleep. Because of him, we enjoy a completely different level of fulfillment and happiness. We are so grateful for this little bundle of joy and are loving every moment of being his parents (yes, even the fussy, I'm-so-tired times).
Boston adores playing with this party favor Daddy brought home
Aren't children such blessings? What do you do to celebrate half birthdays?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Baby's First Road Trip: 10 essentials to keep baby happy

There are great benefits to road trips. Aside from the unparalleled scenery and sense of accomplishment from enduring hours in the car [with other people], we could overpack our car with just about our whole closet to ensure baby was comfortable (Yes, I was that mother). I was glad we didn't jump right into getting a baby and all of our belongings through airport security and then hopping on a plane. This road trip to Vegas helped us introduce baby to long trips and ease our way into traveling with a baby (very different from when it was just the two of us). Another reason to love road trips with a baby is that there was bound to be a convenience store not too far away should we have needed something. Obviously every child is different, and as their parent you'll know what your child's needs are, but here are some of the essentials that really made the trip easier with our baby: 

  1. diapers (average 10 a day) and plenty of wipes for hands, face, toys, binkies, public changing tables, etc.
  2. comfortable clothes that are easy to take off for changes and maybe a pair of comfy cute clothes for possible photo shoots, and warm clothes for inclement weather.
  3. blankets (about 3) for comfort in the carseat, to lie on in bed, and in case you need to change baby in public places that don't provide a clean changing station.
  4. burp cloths - they come in handy so many times throughout the day, especially because our little one is an excessive drooler (he may be headed towards teething).
  5. binkies (about 4)- these are life savers. We've tried a few but our baby only uses these Avent soothies. We need lots because we lose them all the time.
  6. milk [and a canister of formula in case I didn't produce enough milk, and bottles to keep them in]
  7. first aid/grooming kit (just in case) including children's tylenol and thermometer
  8. various toys (~5 to switch out every 20 mins or so to keep baby interested)- Baby Einstein Bendy BallFireflyBright Starts Take Along Carrier Toy Bar (not too many musical toys because it might have driven us crazy), etc.
  9. books (~5 to switch out)- We love Nursery Rhymes, Rainbow Fish, Good Night Moon, Green Eggs and Ham, and the Very Hungry Caterpillar.
  10. Graco Fast Action Click Connect- quick and easy to assemble and take on our trip down the strip. The carseat is comfortable for baby so he could sleep on the way, and the stroller is sturdy and easy to pull up and open. The wheels are bigger and easily take on lips and gravel.
**We co-sleep with baby so we didn't need a travel bed, and had him in a carseat when dining at restaurants.
We loaded up the Jeep (which was admittedly in a state of disaster) and were on our way to Vegas. I ended up riding in the back with Boston to care for and entertain him. I was grateful that Boston slept almost the whole way through (without the assistance of NyQuil! jk) as the car motion generally makes kids sleepy. The only real pain was pumping in a moving car but I'll take that over fussy baby anytime! Overall, it was a great first road trip with our little traveler (Read about it here). Can't wait to take on the next one!

What are some things that keep your little one happy during a road trip?

Baby's First Road Trip: Down the Vegas Strip

When talking about our future children, one of the things AJ and I looked forward to was being able to go on adventures and explore new places as a family. That being said, at 2 and 1/2 months old, we took our little Boston on his first long road trip to Las Vegas (about a 6 and 1/2 hours drive south of Orem). It probably wasn't the ideal road trip destination for a baby but it was a nice half way point for my mother, who was coming from California to meet her first grandson for the first time. Plus, this trip would be my mother's first time to Las Vegas which is pretty exciting because to be honest, she needs to get out more. We were excited that this would be a new adventure for my mother, and you know how much we love adventures!

Because we packed some essentials, we had a successful ride down with baby (see list here). Honestly, we were a bit worried about how it would be to travel with baby for the first time on a long car ride. We prepared for all sorts of situations (as best as we could), but were thankful for the outcome of a peaceful and cheerful baby. The motion of the car kept him well-rested. Sweet baby...

The first stop in Vegas was our hotel. We stayed at La Quinta near the airport, which was perfectly wheelchair accessible. (Be sure to book ahead of time over the phone instead of online to ensure you get an accessible room). We unloaded our belongings and headed over to the airport to pick my mom up. Once my mom laid her eyes on Boston, it was love at first sight. For the rest of the trip, she was there to tend to his every need, wish, and desire. My mother's love knew no boundaries. It was cute yet overwhelming at times. It led to a few interesting experiences like these:

In the middle of the night, when Boston woke up and got fussy, I would get up to take care of him (like I normally do). Well my mom, with whom we were sharing a room with, would wake up as well, take him from me, rock and feed him until he went back to sleep  even when we had things under control. But the story gets better. Every time Boston started crying while she was napping, she would wake up frantically, look around for Boston, and roll out of bed like the Beverly Hill Ninja and come grab him from our arms. It was SO FUNNY to see. We really did have things under control, Mom, but thanks for the assist! haha. And baby? He was as cute and comfortable as can be. He was such a good sleeper through the night and a happy camper as we traveled. Although, there were several times while en route around Vegas where he was fussy because of a messy diaper or it was mum mum time (frustrating while driving). We almost stopped a few times, but persisted. So prepare by feeding and changing baby before the car ride, especially for longer trips.
Our adventures in Vegas began with visiting the Filipino shops and outlets and ended with a trip down the Strip (that was about all we could physically handle, haha). We parked at Treasure Island  and began our way down the Strip towards the Bellagio (I dream of a weekend getaway here someday with AJ. It's so extravagant and classy -- just how I envision a Great Gatsby party to be).  There were lots of things to see along the way like buskers (street performers/artists for tips), musicians, spray paint artists, shops (M&M World), etc. But that's expected because this is Vegas, which is much bigger than little Orem, UT. 
The frigid November wind down the Strip was so strong that baby uncomfortable and fussy (he really hates the cold) even as bundled up as he was. So we hid him using our Carseat Canopy cover and stroller hood. We didn't get to show him all the cool stuff, but there's always next time. Thank goodness we had our Graco Fast Action Click Connect. It was easy to pull out of the car, click baby's carseat to and smoothly get around everywhere. The big wheels are made for jogging and they allowed us to easily maneuver and get over curbs and the tons of people on the Strip. He really enjoys it and so do we.  We also checked out the volcano water show at the Mirage along the way. I think my mom liked the Strip but it might have been more comfortable if she had appropriate walking gear. I would definitely recommend sneakers.

I love going through the Bellagio's lobby to see the colorful blown glass covering the ceiling, Fiori di Como. There are always different exhibits at the Bellagio in their conservatory and botanical gardens. They are different artistic take on events like Halloween. This one was packed with large glowing pumpkins and talking trees. It was an eerie but vibrant walk through which might have been a bit better if there weren't so many people packed into the area. I felt like I had to rush to get through faster, which is usually the case because I don't want to run over too many people's feet or have them fall atop of me because they weren't looking. We made it out alive and it was nice nonetheless.
We ended our night with water show is always exciting to see with all the cool shooting effects and I love the music accompaniment. It's always nice to end on this musical note.
On the walk back, I wanted my mom to know how cool it was that she was walking on the Strip because it's iconic of Vegas. She responded with, "Oh Strip, is that where people are dancing around naked." It was SO FUNNY!!! I had to make sure I corrected her so she didn't go back to Fresno with the wrong idea, and maybe she would realize why her friends made funny faces when she said she went to the strip, or to avoid using the word "strip" in a sentence all together. 

Overall, it was a pleasant trip for our family. I definitely recommend overpreparing for travel with baby (check the weather ahead of time and pack accordingly). Bring a stroller to the Strip for sure. It's worth lugging it around in the car as opposed to lugging baby on the long trek down the Strip. And please bring comfortable walking shoes.