Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Easter Weekend Cuteness

We had a lovely Easter weekend this year. On Saturday, we went to our city's Egg-stravaganza festivities. Alice and Ivy got to meet and take pictures with the Easter Bunny for the first time. The Easter Bunny seemed like he'd never actually met a human child before, either...
The real animals at the event actually had more personality than the Easter Bunny. 
The Friends of the Animal Shelter were there with their canine ambassador, a charismatic chihuahua named Selena. She had lots of fun playing with all the little kids who were after her ball. Baby bunny BeyoncĂ© was also there, hoping to find a forever home for Easter. Alice enjoyed meeting that little fluff ball a little more than the giant mute figurehead. 
Jon's parents had come up to visit for the day, so they and the girls had fun at the playground and wandering around the park before the egg hunt started.
That face! Those delicious chubby legs! And that adorable little toddler outfit! I've wanted to get the girls matching Saltwater Sandals for a long time now, and I figured Easter was a great excuse to get cute matching shoes. The classic style didn't fit Ivy's chubby baby feet, but I finally found a style that did (the Sea Wees - size 3). I can't handle how cute they are on those sweet toesies.
When it was time for the egg hunt, we lined up around the baseball field and waited for what felt like forever until everyone was ready to go. Ivy was ready for a nap and it was tough to keep her from running out to get a head start on the eggs. So we looked out of the fence and took a lot of photos and selfies...
And then it was time to go! I thought Alice would do a little better than the last time we went to the city egg hunt, when she was ten months old. But nope, she only got one egg. She found one early on and then pranced around amid the bedlam, looking slightly bewildered. Ivy actually got three, more or less on her own. Jon had brought a few eggs from home to plant on the field, in case neither girl was quick enough. As we were checking out the girls baskets, I casually dropped them under me and pretended to be surprised when I discovered them. Luckily, the ringers had way better candy...
And then we headed home so Ivy could have a nap and we could dye our own Easter Eggs. 
Ivy woke up just before Alice had finished the last of the three dozen, so she got to color a few, too!
On Sunday, the girls found their Easter baskets before breakfast and played with their trinkets all morning as we got polished up for church.
Matching Easter outfits: Alice, me, Ivy, Jon.
I made matching dresses for the girls and myself last year, and I did it again this year. I love the Geranium Dress pattern for the girls, and since I'm no longer pregnant or nursing, I decided to try Made By Rae's similar pattern for grownup ladies; the Washi Dress. I fell in love with this fabric I spied at Hawthorne Threads (Luxe In Bloom Cascade in Coral) and knew it would be perfect for Easter and summer. And when Jon complained that he always gets left out of the matching party, I decided to make him a bow tie as well! And I threw in a few matching bow barrettes for us girls, too!
We clipped some roses from our rosebush to decorate the cross at church. The girls were so cute with their little bud and bouquet.
I don't know that I've ever cried at an Easter service, or any church service for that matter, but I got a little teary during the sermon. Our pastor recounted moving statements of strong faith from the families of the shooting victims in Kansas City. His message was that the Easter story is not a theoretical lesson but an everyday promise that can bring us comfort, peace, and faith even in the hardest days. As a parent, this is a challenge for me, when I worry about my children's health and safety and future with every fiber of my being, when I empathize so strongly with other mothers' losses. But I do find peace in faith, and the hope that if I ever find myself grieving like the Kansas City victims' mother/daughter, I will have the strength to find comfort in this promise of new life. At the end of the service, members of the congregation were invited to join the choir to sing Handel's Messiah. Jon loves this piece and eagerly joined, and the already excellent choir gave us a truly joyful rendition, bolstered with the extra voices.

After the service, we collected our kids and they enjoyed an egg hunt on the lawn. Somehow, Alice was the only kid out there for a while, and she stuffed her little bag to the brim. Once some other kids showed up to a sparse hunt, I convinced Alice to hide a few for the younger kids to find again. And then she made me hold her bag, so when she wasn't looking, I tossed a few back...
A family photo, thanks to the good thinking of a friend!
At home, I got brunch in the oven and then we happened to notice that the Easter Bunny had hopped by our house and hidden all our eggs while we were at church. So Alice and Ivy blew through their third egg hunt. 
For brunch, I made a towering quiche with broccoli and caramelized onions, using a mishmash of recipes and techniques. My regular, perfect pie crust recipe works best with all Crisco but I thought I was out (I guess I wasn't?), so I used this recipe for an all-butter crust. It was a slightly unconventional preparation, but was super easy and the dough was so easy to work with and tasted amazing. There's no need to doubt a Thomas Keller recipe...
For dinner, we had tri-tip, asparagus, and scalloped potatoes (but with more cheese because, cheese!). And for dessert, I tried the World's Best Cake that's been sweeping the internet. 
And I have to say, meh. The ingredients are few, the preparation simple, the results impressive looking. But I can't get behind "World's Best." And no offense to Norway, but having been (and eaten) there, I can't say that they've got a sufficient handle on delicious cuisine that would qualify them to denote any dish the world's best. 

But we enjoyed two lovely Easter feasts to cap off a lovely weekend. I hope your Easter was full of family, feasts, and new life.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Planning a Disney World vacation with kids - The Next Level

Ok. So I wrote about the basics of how we plan our trips to Disney World and you got all excited and booked your trip. You have plane tickets, a hotel reservation, and you're ready to get there! But what will you do once you arrive? How should you plan your days with the kids? I'm so glad you asked, because we like to plan our days well before we go and maybe our strategy will work for you, too.

One of the criticisms of the MagicBands is that allowing you to plan so many things in advance takes the spontaneity out of your trip. Though I don't think that the MagicBand inherently pushes "over planning," so much as facilitates it for the chronic overplanners like myself. One visitor said "I don't want to pick what park I'm going to be in on a specific day in advance." If that's your philosophy as well, you should probably quit reading here and have a super, spontaneous vacation! Otherwise, proceed to the next level of planning.


There are so many parks and things to do and keep track of, we decided early on that it was best to gather all the info ahead of time instead of trying to figure it all out once you get to the resort. Actually, I used to fly by the seat of my pants, but then Jon converted me on our honeymoon and I've been a pretty maniacal planner on all our subsequent WDW trips. In fact, I think I've now officially surpassed him in planning mania...

On my first trip to Disney World (as an adult!), I went with friends and we met up with some of their family friends who took a WDW trip every year. I remember thinking they were crazy for having dining reservations ahead of time. But after that trip, I realized that WDW has way more shows, experiences, and destination restaurants than I'm used to at Disneyland and that it can definitely be necessary to plan ahead if there is anything in particular you want to do. Dining reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance, and the very popular restaurants often book up fairly immediately. Plus, after you've been to WDW once, you know what you really want to see and what you can probably skip.

On our flight to WDW for our honeymoon, Jon broke out an Excel spreadsheet of all the park hours and showtimes for the things he wanted to see. I made fun of him and then ate my humble pie as we consulted it constantly during our trip. And now that's totally how we roll.

+Make A Spreadsheet
I wish the My Disney Experience site let you view and plan your vacation the way we like to see it, but it only collects the reservations you make and lets you view by type or day, rather than giving an calendar overview of your whole trip as well as resort offerings during your stay (like park hours and entertainment). So for now, we do it ourselves, the old school way.

Once we know the dates of our trip, we make a spreadsheet with a column for each day of the trip and rows for each park at the bottom (these days, I'm loving Google Docs so I can share the spreadsheet with Jon and access it online). We also talk about where we want to eat. Who am I kidding, we talk about that constantly anyway...

As soon as the park hours are published, we put them in for every day of our trip, including any Extra Magic Hours which are exclusive to hotel guests (these are noted in parenthesis next to the regular park hours.) Then we can start planning how we'll spend our time each day.

Here's how the spreadsheet looks, with a column for each date and the parks at the bottom with their hours stretching across each date.

You can also see rows for AM, Lunch, PM, and Dinner. We've always found that we like to visit one park in the morning and end the day at another park. On our honeymoon, we ended up coming back to the hotel mid-day for a nap and a shower (the humidity, ugh!), and usually grabbed lunch in the quick-service food court there. On our trip with Alice, we planned to come back to the hotel for her mid-day nap and then walk over to Epcot for our afternoons and evenings. That plan worked great, except for the part where Alice refused to nap. We still enjoyed the downtime, though. This time, we're still planning to do two parks a day, but we'll skip the hotel interlude and just go straight from park to park. We'll take some rests throughout the day and the kids can nap in their strollers, if they need to (I can hear future-me laughing/crying as I type)!

Doing a different park in the morning and afternoon also lets us take advantage of both morning and evening magic hours in the same day, if available (no single park will offer both AM and PM magic hours on the same day). By checking the park hours, Extra Magic Hours, and entertainment schedule, you can best organize your visit and make sure that you don't miss anything you want to see. 

Since we don't stay at one park all day, we're pretty strategic in the way we plan our days and which parks we choose to visit when. 

+ Choosing Parks
Hollywood Studios is a fun park, but most of the attractions here are for the bigger and braver kids (Studio Backlot Tour! Rockin' Roller Coaster! Tower of Terror! Star Tours!). We opted to skip it last time because it's not super interesting for toddlers. Though Alice will likely grow tall enough by the time of our trip to allow her to ride a big chunk of the attractions with height requirements, she is not the bravest or most adventurous 40-inch-tall person. So, since we'll have two little ones on this trip, we're planning to spend our time at the other three parks. 

The Magic Kingdom needs no explanation. There is no shortage of magical experiences for every age. We typically devote three A.M./P.M. blocks there. We tend to focus on the things we can't do at Disneyland, or that have interesting differences, but we can't resist our favorites like small world, Peter Pan, Dumbo, etc. This time, it works out that we're planning to spend a morning and a full day here. And because of the way our trip sits over the weekend, we won't be able to see the Main Street Electrical Parade, castle show, and fireworks unless we squeeze in another extra evening chunk on our last night. It's ambitious, but I think it will be worth it.

Animal Kingdom is one of our favorite places to play. It is really a beautiful and amazing park with so many unique opportunities to experience and learn about animals. Disney has done an incredible job of designing the animal environments and enclosures to virtually disappear into the surroundings, so you feel intimately involved in your animal encounters. There is even a petting zoo, though it features less exotic breeds than you'll see elsewhere in the park (think goats, sheep, pigs, donkeys, cows).

We love to get to the Animal Kingdom first thing in the morning, and we definitely try to take advantage of any Extra Magic Hours during our stay, as the animals are more active early in the day and this park closes earlier than all the other parks. We also like to hit this first thing on our first play day, and generally like to plan one more morning during our stay. We find that we're usually able to accomplish a lot in one morning.

This park is incredibly kid friendly; whether you are baby-wearing, pushing a stroller, or holding hands with a preschooler, all will be able to enjoy the animals and the wonderfully themed environments and area entertainment. All ages are welcome on the Kilimanjaro Safaris as well, though it made me a little nervous to hold a squirmy toddler in my lap while we bounced around in an open vehicle with enormous wild animals literally an arm's reach away. I think I will make sure Ivy is attached to an adult via a baby carrier this time...

For kids under ten, The DinoLand U.S.A. area features The Bone Yard, an interactive play area themed like a fossil dig complete with a real dig site. We also love the shows at this park, including the Jammin' Jungle Parade, Finding Nemo - The Musical, Festival of the Lion King, the Flights of Wonder bird show, and all of the character meeting spots. Bigger and braver kids should not miss Expedition Everest and the Dinosaur ride. There are lots of great restaurants as well, we like the Flame Tree BBQ, Yak & Yeti Cafe, and the Tusker House (though we haven't been since it switched to Table Service).

Epcot is probably our very favorite place to play. We plan at least three blocks of time here, usually in the evening. Future World, the front half of the park with all the futuristic attractions and 1980s architecture, usually opens at 9am. The World Showcase doesn't open until 11am, though, which is the back half of the park around the lagoon, featuring pavilions for 11 different countries - Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, the United States, Japan, Morocco, France, UK, and Canada. So we tend to play somewhere else in the morning, and then head to Epcot in time for a 2pm reservation for a late lunch. The World Showcase pavilions have some really great restaurants, you can eat and drink your way around the lagoon all day (which is basically what the Food & Wine festival is!). Alice already likes a wide variety of cuisine, and I think she is going to have much more fun on this trip trying new foods and treats at each country.
We also love the area entertainment and character meeting spots in each pavilion. You can Aladdin and Jasmine in Morocco; Anna and Elsa in Norway; Belle, Aurora, and Marie (Alice's favorite!!) in France; Three Caballeros Donald in Mexico; Mary Poppins and Alice in the UK; Mulan in China, Snow White in Germany. There is a British Revolution band in the UK, acrobats in China and France, awesome Taiko drummers in Japan, mariachis in Mexico, a mime in Italy, a fife and drum corps and the Voices of Liberty a cappella group in the American Pavilion. You can pretty much guarantee that there will be something fun to watch while you eat your regional treat!
The pavilions also have Kidcot "fun stops" where kids can meet someone from the host country, learn to say 'hello' in their language, and do a coloring activity. On this trip, we'll definitely get Alice and Ivy an Epcot Passport, which each country will stamp for you as well. I know Alice will really enjoy that and it will give her a great little taste of world travel. Each pavilion also has great shops featuring all kinds of things from the host country, always including regional snacks. This is a fun place to let kids shop for souvenirs, and to find things to share with friends and everyone else back home (great gifts for house & pet sitters!).

So over the three blocks of time we spend at Epcot, we make sure we squeeze in all the Future World attractions that we love (Figment! Spaceship Earth! Ellen's Energy Adventure! Living with the Land! The Living Seas! Test Track!) and then we just work our way through all of the World Showcase pavilions and eat and drink all the yummy things. We also try to see the Illuminations fireworks show each night, if we can keep the kid(s) happy enough to stay out until the 9pm show time. 

Last Time/This Time
Last time, we did:
  • 2 AM blocks at Animal Kingdom
  • 3 blocks at Magic Kingdom (2 AM, 1 PM) 
  • 3 PM blocks at Epcot
This time, we're doing:
  • 2 AM blocks at Animal Kingdom (with 1 Extra Magic Hour)
  • 3 blocks at Magic Kingdom (1 Extra Magic Hour AM, 1 full day) + 1 bonus late-night block
  • 3 PM blocks at Epcot
  • 1 full day at the water park

+ Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRS)
The parks and resorts have a ton of really great places to eat, from fun snack counters, to excellent quick-service options, and amazing table-service restaurants. Dining reservations for the table service restaurants can be made up to 180 days in advance, and some of the most popular options book up very quickly. Most restaurants will still take walk-ups, but you may experience a considerable wait (which eats into play time, and does not work well for us with small, hungry children). You can make your ADRs on the My Disney Experience website, or at the WDW dining website, or by calling (407) WDW-DINE (939-3463).

I used to just eat whatever was nearby when meal-time hit, or planned our attraction route in the general direction of wherever sounded good to eat, but I soon realized that if I wanted any hope of enjoying some of the more exciting options, we'd better make reservations.

One table-service meal a day is about the right number for us, though table-service meals are still very time-efficient options. We like to have groceries in the room (we're getting them delivered this time), especially healthy breakfasts and snacks (and beer & wine!). We like to eat a light and healthy breakfast while we get ready in our room before heading to the parks. Once we're on the go, we might grab a breakfast pastry or treat that we can all share. We also like to get pastries from the boulangerie in Epcot's France Pavilion at the end of the night and take them back to our hotel to enjoy for a breakfast treat! We plan on a mid-morning lunchy-type snack as we play in the parks. We make our Epcot lunch reservations for 2pm, which is late, but gives us enough time to spend the morning at one park and get over to Epcot. We like to eat lunch at the table-service restaurants because they are less expensive than the dinner menus! Then we can eat a light dinner, or graze as we play.

This approach keeps us from spending too much of our days sitting down at restaurants, and lets us visit more eateries and taste more things while eating less quantity over all. It's also a lot cheaper than ordering three full meals a day for all four of us.
Last Time/This Time
With Alice, we ended up doing four sit-down meals at table-service restaurants during our park days. We canceled our fifth and last reservation, because we didn't think Alice would be able to keep it together but that was because her eating issues were preventing her from eating enough over the whole trip. These days, Alice is usually a very polite and pleasant dining companion and eats a great variety of food and cuisines. I think she'll enjoy eating at the different restaurant environments, instead of just relying on quick convenience food the whole time. Ivy loves eating just about everything and sits very nicely at the table, so I think we'll be able to enjoy more sit-down reservations on this trip.

This time, we have seven total reservations; 1 breakfast, 3 lunches, and 3 dinners. On two of the days, we have two reservations in the same day; a lunch and dinner, and breakfast and dinner. It seems like a lot of restaurant-ing, but I think that's because of the context of the parks. Any other vacation would be full of restaurant eating, but I think that I still tend to imagine a Disney vacation as mostly playing and eating on the go. I do think it will be nice to have some breaks built in to sit down and rest and relax and enjoy an interesting meal in an unusual environment. I love that Disney World restaurants all feel like a different experience. The menus and environments are so unique that you don't feel like you ate every meal in a different fast-food joint, even if you never sit down at a table-service restaurant.

For this trip, I am SO excited that we were able to make reservations at two of the most popular restaurants. They are both at the same park, so we ended up making both for the same day and will be spending a full day eating royal meals at the Magic Kingdom. We'll have breakfast that morning at Cinderella's Royal Table inside Cinderella's castle. Our reservation is for before the park opens, so we'll be able to enter the park before the day's guests and take pictures on Main Street and in front of the castle without a ton of people in the background. And that evening, we'll have dinner at the new Be Our Guest restaurant in the Beast's castle. I cannot wait, I am so very excited. We haven't told Alice about either of these restaurants or reservations, and I'm thinking of some fun ways to surprise her to add to the magic.

There are so many places to eat and we certainly haven't tried them all. Here are some of our favorite places to make ADRs, places we're excited to try on this trip, and spots we want to try some other time:

Animal Kingdom & Animal Kingdom Lodge

Sanaa - Indian/African cuisine, with animals grazing right outside the window. Best enjoyed before sunset, so you can actually see all the animal action (we did dinner here last time just as the sun went down, we're looking forward to lunch this time!).

Boma - An African buffet at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Delicious food with a higher price point, but no view of the animals. Worth the trip at least once, especially with older kids and/or adults.


Akershus Royal Banquet Hall - Though I've had enough Norwegian food to last me about a lifetime, this restaurant does a great princess character breakfast before the World Showcase opens. We're forgoing it this time, in favor of some other options, but I don't doubt that we'll be here on one of our next visits. Especially if Anna and Elsa ever start hosting!

Biergarten - An Oktoberfest-style buffet in the Germany pavilion. Communal tables with a polka band and giant beers. We had so much fun here last time, we can't wait to go back. We love it on the first day of our trip, to really kick off the vacation feeling.

Chefs de France - a French bistro-style restaurant in the France Pavilion. We're excited to eat here and give our little Francophile a taste of the Paris life.

Coral Reef Restaurant - A restaurant where every table has an aquarium view.

Le Cellier - A steakhouse in a wine cellar in the Canada Pavilion. Delicious beer cheese soup and pretzel bread!

The Garden Grill - This restaurant rotates, and characters come by your table while you eat. I ate here on my very first visit to WDW and thought it was so much fun. I think there are more exciting places to eat, but for a casual sit-down with high-impact, this is a good bet!

Magic Kingdom

Cinderella's Royal Table - A restaurant INSIDE Cinderella's Castle, the iconic centerpiece of the Magic Kingdom. Make your reservations as soon as the 180-day window allows. If you make a reservation before park opening, you will be able to enter before the day's crowds and will have a very rare opportunity to take photos on your way to the castle without anyone in the background.

Be Our Guest Restaurant - A restaurant inside the Beast's castle, with tables inside the iconic ballroom, the Rose Gallery, and the West Wing. You can walk through each dining room, as long as you don't disrupt anyone's meal! This is a quick-service restaurant for lunch (reservations not offered), but the wait times can be so long you may not make it inside. Make dinner reservations as soon as the 180 day window allows.

Hollywood Studios

50's Prime-Time Cafe - Just like eating in mom's kitchen, complete with character actor wait staff who you'll swear are just like your extended family.

Sci-Fi Dine-In Restaurant - You eat in a car parked at a drive-in! Especially for those of us too young to have grown up doing this regularly, and those who wish they still could, this is a super fun treat.

Downtown Disney

Raglan Road - A fun Irish pub, with live music and Irish dancers that kick up their heels right on top of the tables, at the top of the hour. Alice has been pretty into Irish dancing lately, and Jon and I always enjoy a good pub and a pint!

Other Resorts

Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show, Polynesian Resort - Disney's very own luau. We've never been because our kids are too young to make the late showtimes and high prices worthwhile, but I think it would be lots of fun to do when they're older.

'Ohana, Polynesian Resort - A fun character breakfast, and a Hawaiian-style feast at dinner. Jon's always wanted to go here and we want to look around the Polynesian, so we're planning to ride the resort monorail loop and walk around the Grand Floridian before strolling over to the Polynesian for dinner.

Artists Point, Fort Wilderness Lodge - We had a nice dinner here with our local family members on our last visit. I would definitely plan on a meal here if we were staying at this resort.

California Grille, Contemporary Resort - Largely regarded as one of the best restaurants on the property. A great option for a top-notch meal or a special occasion.

Chef Mickey's, Contemporary Resort - A fan favorite for character dining buffet breakfasts, with views of the monorail passing through the hotel.

Victoria & Albert's, Grand Floridian - I understand this meal can cost upwards of $500 with wine pairings, but gets rave reviews. If you are looking for something very fancy and memorable, for a romantic or special occasion, this would be a great spot. Arrange for a babysitter!

There are so many more, and this doesn't even cover any of the great quick-service and counter-service options. Read through all the options - but not when you're hungry! - and see what sounds fun to you and your family's appetites!

Once you've planned out your days and made your ADRs, I like to fill in our shared calendar (we use iCal) with all the park hours, our AM/PM blocks for each day, and our meal reservations. I also make an itinerary document with ALL of our travel information, including flights, hotel, ground transportation, etc. Even though Disney makes it easy to find a lot of this info in one place, I really like having a hard paper copy with me to travel, so that I can see everything at a glance, offline. I usually send copies of this to our family as well, so they know where we'll be and have all the details in case of any emergency.

I've gotten some ribbing for using this format for our family's personal travel, but I created it and used it in my professional capacity where I booked a fair amount of travel for my bosses and teams and now I just can't travel without it.

Here's what the template looks like. I just pop in all the relevant info and add as much detail as necessary.

If you'd like to use this template for your own personal travel itineraries, you can download a copy of the Excel file here

Now, we're really ready for our trip. Everything has been booked and reserved, and we just have to count the days until fun! Later, I'll share some of the ways that we help Alice get ready and excited for the trip, some ways that we make a little extra magic on our trips, and some things we do to try to make traveling with little kids a little bit easier.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

I can go the distance: 13.1 miles.

Last Saturday, Jon and I ran our first half-marathon. The longest we've ever run. Thirteen point one miles. And we finished.

One year ago - nearly exactly - I was still on maternity leave with Ivy, getting ready to go back to work and to get back to exercising. I convinced Jon to take up running with me, which meant that we were also going to drag the girls along and turn my hobby into a whole-family hobby.

I never would have believed you if you told me when Jon and I started running together that we would be running a half-marathon together just under one year later.

Back up to about a year before that, just before I got pregnant with Ivy. I had finally reached my goal weight (about fifteen years after I last weighed that little), and was running three miles a few times a week. I was just beginning to think about signing up for a 5k race and then I got pregnant, got nauseous, and stopped running. If you had told me then, when I was just pregnant with Ivy that within the next two years, I would stop running altogether, start again, and run thirteen miles in an official race, I'm sure I would have laughed right in your face.

But, that's exactly what happened.

Jon and I tried running together a couple of times before my maternity leave ended, but I was out of shape and my joints were still loose from pregnancy, and I hurt my knee. I gave it a rest for a bit, and then started up  again slowly on the treadmill at work. Meanwhile, while I was at work, Jon was taking the girls out running and starting his own training regimen. I was ridiculously busy and didn't make it onto the treadmill nearly as often as I wanted.

Last fall, when my hometown announced that it was hosting it's inaugural half-marathon race, I mentioned to Jon that it would be a fun and convenient first race experience, with a beautiful location for a run - except that the distance wasn't what I'd had in mind for my very first race! When the event opened registration, somehow Jon convinced me to sign up. And we did, super quick, to get the early-bird entry price. My brother claims that we pressured him into signing up, too, but somehow I feel like he and Jon were in cahoots, and I got roped in.

Once I started the stay-at-home mom gig, Jon and I got serious about training, running together 3-4 times a week. In early February, I realized that the 10K interval training we were doing was not going to get us ready in time and we switched to a 21K distance-training program. I was super nervous, because we already didn't really have as much time as we needed. The training program says it is intended for people who are already comfortable running 5K distances a few times a week. At that point, I was not even comfortable running a 5K distance one time! And we had to start the training program in the middle!! Did I say I was nervous? I was actually pretty terrified.

But we went for it. The first week of the new program, we had a 7 mile "long run," which was the longest either of us had ever run. It was awful. The next week was a 9 mile long run, which we did during our mini-break to Monterey.  That went much better than the 7-miler. The next week, we could only finish half of our scheduled 10 mile run. The week after, we did 11 miles and felt pretty good. We decided not to do another long run, because we were getting a little worn out. We planned to do a 6-mile run the next week, along with 4-mile training runs and then taper off for the two weeks before the race.

Instead, we succumbed to the upper respiratory infections we picked up in Monterey and from the tiny chairs in Alice's classroom during our parent/teacher conference. I had bronchitis and a double ear infection. Jon seriously injured a rib muscle from coughing. Instead of tapering, we were glued to the couch and bed, hacking up our lungs, and trying every prescribed and homeopathic remedy to heal ourselves before the race. We were scheduled to head up to Livermore on the Wednesday before the race, and as late as that Monday, Jon could barely stand upright and was pretty sure he wouldn't be able to run. I was feeling a bit better by then, and did my scheduled 2-mile taper run, and felt like I couldn't get enough oxygen through my phlegmy lungs. We were not encouraged, but we pressed on.

We were feeling a little better every day and on the Thursday before the race, we drove the whole course and picked a spot to do a one-mile practice run. We were both feeling surprisingly great, until my knee started hurting. Like, couldn't even finish the mile kind of hurting. I think because I'd been so sick and hadn't been doing the easy taper runs, my knees were tight and not in the groove. I cut my run short, afraid of injuring myself before the race, but then decided that trying to warm up better might give me a better shot at running on Saturday. So I took some slow strides and tried to adjust my form to let my knee get it's act together. And it did! I ran about a half-mile more and felt great by the time I finished.

And a little bit later, we picked up our bibs and shirts.

The next day, Friday, my sister and I helped Alice to make a couple of signs to hold up on the sidelines during the race.

And on Saturday morning, we got up at our regular ridiculous time, had breakfast, and got ready to run. We got there super early and snagged a sweet parking spot, and got some nice shots at the nearly empty starting line.

It was fun to see all the other runners, and their gear - I was totally shopping for leggings and belts! The energy was infectious but I was having flashbacks to high school swimming, trying not to get psyched out by how comfortable and capable everyone looked. I loved seeing all the different shapes and types of runners, and thinking, if all of these people can do this - and it's clearly not their first rodeo - then so can I. 

And then we were off! 
It was crazy trying to find a stride among all of those people, and trying to find a good path on the terrain. But I loved having extra things to pay attention to and changing scenery to look at, and I loved the spectators along the route - especially the kids and their signs and high-fives. We saw our kids and family right around the 3-mile mark, when we were still feeling pretty good and going strong. We could see their awesome sign from way up the street! We were so excited to give them drive by hugs and kisses and high-fives.

The run felt pretty good, though my legs felt a little bit heavy and tired. Miles 4 and 5 were through Sycamore Grove Park, which was lovely, but on a narrow and uneven trail, and with a short but steep incline. There were even a couple of bridges that were seriously bouncing with everyone running over, so much so that I actually got a little queasy bouncing over them myself. Mile 6 started to get a little bit tough, and then miles 7 and 8 had some big elevation changes, both short and steep and long and gradual. Those really gave us trouble. We walked more than we'd planned once we hit those inclines. 

Things were starting to get pretty painful during mile 9. Around mile 10 we tried to get back on our pace, taking a quick walking break at the mile and half-mile marks. We knew that we'd see our girls again during mile 11, and we didn't want to be slacking when they spotted us! Halfway through mile 11, we rounded a corner entering Robertson Park and spotted our family and their sign again. As soon as Alice saw us, she started running across the field to us as fast as she could with her arms open as wide as they can stretch. I love this photo so much.
Jon must've had more gas in the tank because he got to her first and caught her up.

I gave Alice a hug, and then she kept hugging my leg and saying "I love you I love you I love you!" And then she ran after us as we took off.

We had a tough time finishing mile 11, and mile 12 was even harder. I pretty much cried the whole time, mainly from endorphins and whatnot, though I was in a fair amount of pain as well. Three women passed us wearing signs for a friend who'd been killed by a drunk driver and I cried every time I caught sight of them. 

We struggled to finish mile 12, but once we rounded the corner to First Street, we were able to finish the last .1 stretch strong, hand in hand. 

It felt amazing to cross the finish line. And then we sat down in the middle of the street and cried a little bit... I only wish that Alice and Ivy had been able to see us finish, and that I'd been able to see them as we crossed, but they weren't able to get from mile 11 to the finish line fast enough. Next time!

Check out the RunLiv website, and watch for next year's registration! Here's the official course map and a link to the course I made in Map My Run, if you want to try it yourself!

After the race, we collected our medals and wine glass, and snagged our free donuts.
I was feeling pretty rough and lay down on the sidewalk for a while. Which felt better, until I had to try to stand up again. I don't know how everyone else was walking around and drinking wine!
But somehow I managed to stand up and take a finishers' photo with Jon and the beard in the pizza shirt my brother (who whipped us handily by at least 46 minutes).

I can definitely say that I wouldn't have signed up for this race if it weren't for Jon, but I'm sure I wouldn't have been able to do it without him either. Even though he apparently felt like he could barely keep up with me during our training, he always kept me from giving up on those runs, and it would have been so much harder for me finish the race without him running next to me. 

Without Jon and my brother, and their optimistic approach to the race, I would have waited to enter an event until I had trained to a point where I felt confident in my strength and stamina. Having a goal with a deadline is a great motivator, though. I adjusted my expectations that this wasn't going to be the kind of thing I wait to do until I can do it perfectly, like so many other things in my life. I was going to work hard, give it my all, have a good experience, and learn a lot - no matter what. And then I could put those gains to work improving myself for the next race.  I am so proud of all of us, of the training we did, and our performance, and the medals that we brought home. It was a great first experience and Jon and I are both looking forward to the next one, we're already thinking about what we might sign up for!

We didn't have much time to revel or even recover, because we had to get ready for a funeral. We took a quick Epsom salt soak, and then said our farewells to a truly wonderful woman who was like a grandmother to us and every young person in my church.

The next day, my brother had arranged for us to visit a local winery that was closed for tasting that day, so we packed a picnic and enjoyed a lovely and leisurely afternoon on their idyllic property. The scene was even complete with toys for the girls, a brood of chickens and roosters roaming about, and a super friendly dog. If you're doing any tasting in Livermore, definitely check out BoaVentura de Caires Winery!

The girls had a great time riding the tricycle and playing on the bocce ball court. Ivy loved throwing the heavy balls around. I'm glad none of them landed on any tiny toes...
Alice loves hammocks and spent a good deal of time in this one, with anyone who would push her. 
Alice is pretty stingy with the hammock and doesn't like to share with anyone, and for some reason Ivy pretty much hates swinging in the hammock (though she loves the swings and rocking chairs, go figure). But Jon was still able to get a quick cuddle with both of them.

And then we packed up our picnic and bid the chickens farewell. 

During our stay in Livermore, we also squeezed in a visit to the lovely library, where Alice and Minnie enjoyed a little computer preview of a few books. 
And Alice enjoyed MANY swings in my parents' hammock. She let me relax with her for a few minutes, until she kicked me out...
And a trip to a favorite fabric store, In Between Stitches, to pick out fabric for the baby/birthday quilt my mom is making for Ivy.

And just before we left, we were able to stop by the house of an old friend from high school (where I'd spent many, many hours of my high school life), and see her darling brand new baby before we left town and they jet-setted off to the exotic locale they call home these days. It was wonderful to see her after many years, and to meet her sweet little girl.

It was a great trip and we made lots of good memories, and we're glad to be healthy and back in the swing of things at home!