Friday, November 17, 2017

Pumpkin Carving 2016

Sheesh!  Thanksgiving is just around the corner and I still have pictures from Halloween I need to post.  I guess this is why the holiday season always seems to fly past so quickly.  There are lots of traditions to fit into just at two month span!

We started doing family pumpkin carving when Abby was teeny tiny.  When the kids we smaller we just gave them paint and let them scribble all over the pumpkins but this year, we went with real carving.  Ryan let Abby draw the faces on each of the pumpkins and then he and I did the actual carving.

I was gone getting Hazel when the pumpkin scooping happened so I'm not sure if Abby actually helped with that messy piece or not!  Isn't our little family of pumpkins cute??

Monday, October 30, 2017


Maybe 2 years ago right after Christmas, we took Abby (and Hazel, she was a tiny baby) to Disney on Ice in Rockford...little did I know, that was the beginning of a trip to Disney for us.  I was so surprised at how excited Abby was to see the characters, especially Mickey!  She was about 3 and a half years old and before seeing Disney on Ice, I'd have said we were going to wait until the girls were older before hauling the whole family to Disney.  But, we saw the Disney magic right before our eyes!! And it was at that moment, that we started thinking about when we should take these little peanuts to the most magical place on earth.  HA!

Fast forward to last fall when we started planning a trip to Disney with the entire family in tow.  We booked rooms at my parents timeshare and started looking at flights.  Originally the plan was that my parents, Ryan's parents and Erin would all join us.  Life has been a little crazy in 2017 and for a long list of reasons, Dan and Ellyn decided to stay back so we had a group of 5 adults all waiting excitedly to see the girls experience Disney for the first time.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself here, we had lots of firsts on this trip...and the first, first is taking a PLANE!!

Abby flew with us to New York when she was about 8 months old, but this was the first time she'd actually remember and boy, oh boy, was she excited.  We scored second row seats (all 6 of us across the second row) and they were awesome!  We flew Frontier and I'd totally recommend it for anyone looking to book.  We bought an upgraded ticket package that allowed us to check bags for free, pick any seats in the plane and reschedule our flights which was a life saver on this trip!

We flew out EARLY EARLY EARLY on Saturday morning which made for a long, nap free day, but also allowed us to get into Florida before noon and gave us much of the day to get ourselves settled, get groceries and spend some time relaxing at the pool in prep for our first day at the parks!

Let me start by saying Disney was BUSY and HOT!  When we scheduled the trip for early October I was sure we'd have cooler weather and fewer crowds but boy was I wrong.  With it being a Sunday AND Columbus Day weekend, the crowds were out in droves.  Literally guys, even the dumbest rides had an hour long wait.  I mean, I'm talking Tea Cups, It's A Small World...everything.  An hour long wait!  Luckily we had a secret weapon!  Ryan's friend Lauren and her son, Seth, tagged along with us at the part on Sunday and her advice was priceless!

About a week before we left, I gave her my login to my FastPasses and gave her full reign to plan our our day.  Best decision I've ever made....literally!  I'm not going to bore you with the ins and outs of how we managed to get around the park and scam our way onto rides using FastPasses, but if you care or or going to Disney someday soon, call me!  I've got a ton of info to share!  Long story short, we waited it two "real lines" early on in the day and then, from that point on, we rode with FastPasses for the entire rest of the day and it was amazing!

Erin flew in SUPER early Sunday morning, just in time to join us at the park.  Though, I have a feeling she instantly regretted her choice of pants for the day.  Guys, it was SO HOT.  I'm talking like 90 degrees and humid.  Disney did a great job of giving you just enough air conditioning right when you needed it though.  You'd be thinking there was no way you could go on, and then, you'd turn the corner of the line and there would be a cool, air conditioned room or in a dark underground room where you could get away from the sun.

We all had favorite's from the day.  For me, I think it was what Dad and I keep calling Run Away Coal Train (I think it's really called Big Thunder Mountain??)...oh oh oh, or Haunted Mansion, I loved that one!  For Abby, I think her favorite was either seeing Mickey or riding Seven Dwarfs, she really really liked the roller coasters.  For Hazel, her favorite was Pooh.  It was one of the last rides we did for the day and she was so sweet as we walked out of the line.  "I loved that one Mommy, that was my favorite!".  My Dad and I both get pretty motion sick so we spent lots of time hanging with Hazel while others went on rides...and we were fine with that!  The only thing worse than a hot park with long lines is a hot park, with long lines AND feeling sick!

Look at sweet Hazel clutching her Sully doll.  Dad bought that for her from one of the toy stands and she was immediately in love with him.  She wouldn't go anywhere without him for the rest of the entire trip!  This photo cracks me up...or rather, Erin's comment "Erin and Ryan, effectively ruining pictures since the early 80's".  Man I love these people!

We finished our day at the park with seeing Mickey and I don't think we could have had a better ending.  It's a LONG story how we ended up with FastPasses to see Mickey, but my girl Lauren got us in and while the real line wait time was around 2.5 hours, we were in and out in less than 30 minutes.  If there is one thing I think everyone should do while at Disney, I might say it's this one.  The way it's set up is so nice.  You are in the room, alone, with Mickey and your group.  Mickey interacts with the kids, you can snap as many photos as you want and they DO NOT rush you along.  We had a big group and did pictures in a ton of different configurations...but they were so sweet and did not rush us.  Even the photographer offered to take pictures for us with our own cameras...not just his, which you'd need to purchase.  On this, I have to say, "good job, Disney!"...great job!

Abby was pretty tentative with Mickey, especially at first, but Seth was NOT and that definitely helped Abby feel more confident.  Seth gave Mickey literally the longest, sweetest hugs I've ever was clear he was seeing an idol!  Hazel on the other hand....she was not interested!  That is until she touched his ear!  That may have been the highlight of the whole visit for her.  You can see it, two pictures down.  Someone caught the exact moment that she felt brave enough to stick out her little hand and brush his ear.  I'm sure it's technically not allowed but she shrieked for joy when she did it and she talked about it non-stop for days.  Definitely a memory I won't forget!

We got really lucky with the weather at Magic Kingdom.  The forecast threatened rain for days before and we were sure we were going to get down poured on as we walked in to see Mickey, but we actually made it the entire day without a single rain drop and got all the way out of the park before the rain hit.  I was a little disappointed, I really really wanted to stay for the parade and fireworks but if I'm honest, we were all exhausted...and the kids were done for the day.  There didn't seem to be much point in dragging it out to the point that people were miserable, so we called it a day after about 9 hours at the parks.  I don't regret the decision, not one bit.  It'll just be something we have to do the next time we go!

Monday, the day after Magic Kingdom, we opted for a low key pool day.  The girls needed naps and the adults needed beverages!!  But, Tuesday, we got our park walking shoes back on and headed to the Animal Kingdom.  Guys, this place was awesome!  It was far less crowded than Magic guess is partly because it was a Tuesday and partly because Magic Kingdom is probably ALWAYS packed.  But, I'm glad we did things in the order we did them.  After the crazy of Magic Kingdom, it was nice to have a slightly slower pace.

What's really neat is that the Animal Kingdom really is a lot like a zoo.  There are tons of exhibits that are just walking trails through the different countries where you can see animals, plants etc without waiting in real lines.  There are lots of ways to explore without riding rides.  That being said, there are only about maybe 10-15 real "rides" at this park...nothing like Magic Kingdom.

Somehow I was lucky enough to score one of the most sought after FastPasses, for a 3D simulation ride in Pandora, the newest area of the park, built to resemble Pandora from the movie Avatar.  The real line wait times for this ride are nearly 3 hours long at points and Ryan, Erin and my Mom got to ride it twice, in under and hour.  Mom even want so far as to say it was the best ride she's been on in her entire life!!  Dad and I, feeling nauseous just watching the stupid Dumbo ride, clearly decided to sit that one out.  Oh well!

We had FastPasses to another popular ride, the Safari tour, which was really cool as well.  As you can imagine, animals have a mind of their own, so there are no guarantees about what you'll see what you ride, but we were lucky and were able to see some really cool animals pretty close up.  The giraffe was probably one of the neatest....she was so close I bet we could have reached out to touch her. 

We also got to see Mickey (and Minnie!) again which was really fun as well.  Abby wasn't scared at all this second time around and she was so proud when Minnie noticed she had a little Minnie necklace on and jumped for joy and hugged Abby when she saw it.  It was really sweet...and I'll say it again, Disney really does do a nice job with these character interactions.  We were impressed!

Similar to Magic Kingdom, there came a point in the day when we were all tired and ready to go home so we called it a day and went back to the hotel for dinner.  Wednesday was Erin's last day in Florida and we'd originally planned to do a day at the beach but we opted for another hotel day at the pool instead. 

The hotel we stayed at was really nice and they had a lot of things for the little kids to do.  There were zero entry pools with splash pads, planned activites throughout the day, an indoor play place and lots of things for families to do.  Ryan even rented this cute little boat to take Abby out on.  Originally we'd though they were paddle boats but he was happy to learn that they included a motor (and room for the cooler backpack).

We started both girls in swim lessons at the first of the year, figuring with the pool right off our back deck it was time to make sure they were safe and excited about swimming.  It's seriously been some of the best money we've spent on activities for the girls.  Both kids are totally confident and excited about swimming and it totally showed at the pool.  Abby's able to swim almost from one side to the other (with a little help) and Hazel isn't too far behind!

Thursday we decided to venture to the beach even though the weather was questionable.  We opted to go to the Atlantic side even though we knew it would be rougher waters.  The drive is only about an hour long to the Atlantic vs. over 2 to the Gulf so we figured since we were only going for a day trip that we'd take the shorter drive and deal with the rougher waters.  As you can tell from the picture below, the water was CRAZYTOWN!  Partly because its the Atlantic but mostly because of all the tropical activity happening down there this time of year.  The good news is that the kids LOVED the beach, which bodes well for our trip to the Outer Banks next year. 

The girls loved playing in the sand and in the waves as they splashed up on shore.  We didn't do any swimming because of the rough water but we had a great time regardless and we're super pumped to do a full beach vacation next year with my parents, Joey/Andy and the entire Ritterbusch clan! 

We spent our final day, Friday, at the pool and packing up.  We flew out at like 5:30 Friday night which meant we had most of the day to enjoy the hotel and the pools.  I think it's safe to say that this picture of Hazel pretty much captures how we all felt after this whirlwind trip.  We were gone for 6 days, which isn't any too short, but for some reason, we were all exhausted when we got and adults alike!  I think the heat and the busy park days took a lot out of us but we wouldn't have changed a thing!!  I can't wait til we do it all again in a few years when the girls are both a bit older.

Monday, October 23, 2017

1 Family x 12 (October)

**SPOILER ALERT** We went to Disney and it was awesome!  More on that in another post, but for now...our October family photo.

Monday, September 25, 2017

1 Family x 12 (September)

We had a crazy weekend.....the bookends were NOT awesome but the middle...the middle part was perfect.  So, for now, we're going to focus on that middle like the frosting in the Oreo.  It's the only part that REALLY matters anyways.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Ritterbusch Family Camping Trip

A few weeks ago my parents decided to join the family of camper owners!!!  They bought a great little hard sided camper that's slightly smaller but significantly nicer and newer than ours!  We've been toying with the idea of a camper upgrade for next year and hanging out in theirs this weekend sealed the deal for me!

So, since they had a new camper, and we all wanted to check it out, we planned a last minute family camping trip to the Mississippi Palisades this past weekend.  The location worked out great...about half way for all three of the families and just over a 2 hour drive for us.  We've been doing a LOT of camping and traveling this summer (we always do!) so having a shorter than normal drive was such a nice treat.  We should probably camp there more often.  The camp ground was pretty empty on Friday night but filled in a little more on Saturday but we had a great set of sites, near the end of a road so the kids would walk/play/run between our sites and we weren't too worried about them being in the way.

Joey and Andy came out on Saturday early afternoon after Kayden's soccer game and we spent the afternoon lounging by the campers and just relaxing.  We'd planned to hike, but it was HOT and we quickly lost most of the motivation to carry the kids around on our backs so we opted for the easier route of driving to the lookouts,taking the quick hike out to the areas where you could see and then jumping back in the cars to see the next one.  HA!  We were lazy, that's for sure.

Mom had a cute little fall project for the girls, making squirrels, which they loved. And she planned an amazing charcuterie tray for the adults.  Guys, believe me when I tell you, it was so good!  Mom, I'll be wanting one of those whenever we come home (hint hint)!  That's the problem with being good at something, then everyone wants you to do it over and over again.

We ate too much, drank too much and had a great time.  As one does, when camping.  We can't wait to do more family trips now that we're all sleeping in beds off the ground, with air conditioning and all the modern amenities of home. HA!  Some of you are probably thinking, why don't you just stay at home then?!  But, the truth is, there's something about camping that forces you to put your phones down, sit by the fire and just talk with the people you are with.  We had a great time and we can't wait to make more memories like this one!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Abby's 5th Birthday

Another birthday (and party) in the books!!  This year was a big one...Abby turned 5 meaning its off to kindergarten.  I keep thinking Abby will want to do a fun little kid party with all her friends from daycare and school but when I tried to schedule her a chocolate making party in downtown Huntley she let me know that she had other plans.

In fact, she had very specific plans.  She told me all she wanted for her birthday this year was "to have all her friends and family at our house for a pool party, and for Auntie to make her a cake with her WHOLE name on it....and to have a pinata".

So, basically she wanted to repeat every party we've ever done for her with a few minor tweaks...specifically cake related.  Last year Erin went to a cake decorating class the morning of Abby's party so she decided to decorate the practice cake she made with an "A" for Abby's party.  Well, I'm sorry to say it Erin, but I think you've started a 'thing" now.  Get those cake making skills ready for a yearly birthday cake.

The theme this year was Ninja Turtles which was actually a strong contender for LAST years party but Dory won last year.  I was pretty sure Trolls would win the theme for this year but those turtles have staying power.  Ellyn got Abby her birthday cupcake (another tradition that Abby loves) and it was decorated with a cute ninja turtle to match the theme.  I didn't get a good picture of it unfortunately, but you can sort of see it in the cake pictures above.

The kids loved the pinata and Kayden and Parker were the big hitters this year (we weren't surprised!).  I think Parker was the one to actually crack it open, though a few of the kids got some good swings in to help.

Abby's favorite part of the entire party is the Birthday song.  It's not even presents...though that's probably a pretty close second.  She just loves looking around at everyone there while they sign and takes it all in.  She's the sweetest little girl!

All in all, we had another successful party!  Somehow we always luck out with great weather for these family parties. I'm sure I just jinx'd it for next year.  Thanks to everyone who made the drive, we know Marengo isn't close for most of you...but Abby loves seeing everyone and we're so thankful for all the love you show our kiddos!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

1 Family x 12 (August)

Want to know what's great about this picture?  It's almost EXACTLY the same picture we took last year when we were Cousins Camping (see here).  The only difference...the kids are older and I look skinnier so I'll take it!!!