Monthly Archives: February 2020

Basketball Brotherhood

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After a successful first semester cyber schooling with 21st Century Cyber Charter School, Braden was ready to add some extra-curricular activities to the mix. He loves cyber school but misses athletics. He approached me asking me to search out a team he could join.

Through our friendship with the McCready family, we were connected with Plants and Pillars. This local homeschool co-op offers sports in addition to other enrichment opportunities. I had heard positive feedback from the McCready’s son, Micah, about the Plants and Pillars team and reached out to learn more. In speaking with the coach I thought it was just what we were looking for. Braden started practicing with the team in December and was welcomed by the other boys immediately. It was evident that this was Christian based athletics, as just as much emphasis was placed on character growth as skills growth. Braden was amazed at how different this team functioned in comparison to some public school athletic teams he had played for. He commented on the comaraderie, the inclusion, the support and encouragement within the team. Rather than tearing each other down to climb higher, they followed a model of lifting others so that each could rise higher.

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It was such a wonderful experience for Braden and in his search to find teammates, he found a great group of friends. The season lasted until February when they made it into the second round of play-offs.

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February 13th was Senior Night, which was extra special night for Braden as one of the five senior players. The night began with the seniors being recognized at the start of the game.

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Each senior was called to the court with their parents and a brief bio was read about the players’ future plans.

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Then our seniors stepped onto the court as the starters for the game.

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Braden headed to center court for tipoff.

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It was an exciting game…one of many throughout the season,

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But what really made the night special was stepping onto the court with our son and celebrating how far he has come and how far he will go!

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You are going places, kid!~

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Ozzie is 16…wait, what?!

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As hard as it is to believe, Ozzie is now 16 years old. It is hard to wrap my brain around that fact. In my mind he is forever that awkwardly skinny ten-year-old boy with the chipped front tooth and quick smile. It has been quite the journey for Ozzie to reach this milestone age…

A journey that has been anything but smooth or easy. He has fought hard to get to his today, overcoming a mountain of obstacles along the way…

And we have been part of that climb for the last six years.

I have always felt that one of the greatest gifts God gives us is the inability to see what is coming. He knows what is around the next corner and He graciously protects us from that knowledge until we are capable of facing it. It is a good thing He does. Just consider all of the amazing blessings we would willingly decline if presented with the journey we would have to take to earn those rewards. Instead, He shines the light just far enough ahead for us to feel comfortable taking the next step. Step by step He equips us for the next challenge by placing people in our life to teach us and strengthen us for the next challenge. He builds in us muscles of patience, strength, endurance, fortitude and faith as we tip-toe our way through life, walking just past the edge of where the light shines.

Step by step we move forward, uncertain of our progress until one day we look back and are blown away by how far we have traveled.

It is journey of faithful discipleship that often involves two steps back for every one step forward. It is a journey of faith that is accompanied by tears and tantrums, as we ask God, “Why?” There is a reason that discipleship is referred to as a “walk.” There is nothing passive about Christ’s invitation to “Come, Follow Me.”  It is an invitation to move intentionally. We must make a choice daily to put one foot in front of the other. To not plant ourselves in the middle of the Road to Damascus, but rather to continue shuffling forward even through the weariness of the walk.

This journey of opening our hearts to the hurting has been a deliberate choice and an intentional walk. This does not mean it has always been smooth. Most days are more hard than easy, but most days are also more joyful than jarring.

How grateful I am that when God placed me on this staircase He only showed me the first few steps. I am afraid that had He revealed the entire staircase looming ahead, I would have be paralyzed by the enormity of the climb. He knew that, so He lovingly revealed just enough for me to step forward in faith. He knew the view from the top was a view I wouldn’t want to miss. And he knew that the invitation to climb would be transformative in my own personal growth.

Here we are years later, still climbing, still wheezing from the effort, but enjoying a vista that only can be seen with the effort of a steep climb.

This weekend was one of those moments when I took a break from the climb to simply soak up the view and appreciate the gift that this journey gives. This weekend we celebrated our son. We gave thanks for this monumental birthday and God’s hand in getting him here. We celebrated the healing and the hope and the dreams we have for his tomorrows. Our son is 16-years-old and he got to celebrate the anniversary of his birth into the world surrounded by family that loves him.

Ozzie’s birthday plans had to be adjusted slightly from our original plans. Concerned for his ability to navigate the emotions of the weekend effectively, his therapist felt a day pass, rather than a weekend pass, was a better fit for his big day. Ozzie was disappointed  as he was hoping to attend the International Auto Show in Pittsburgh, but this momma had something even better in the works. I wasn’t going to allow that news to ruin my boy’s 16th birthday, so plans were made to make our Plan B better than his Plan A.

Ozzie’s newest obsession is model trains. I say “obsession” with great love, because Ozzie is a kid that doesn’t pursue any interest or hobby casually. He is an “all in” sort of kid, and his love of model railroads is no different. It is a newly developed hobby but he is already an “expert!” He has researched this hobby extensively, checked out library books, subscribed to model railroader magazine and spoke extensively with model railroad enthusiasts. After spending hours researching the different model options, and sketching out possible designs, he is ready to start building.

His vision is to fill our basement with raised tables and miles of track, a dream we explained we would approach slowly and deliberately after he asked Toby to pick up 30 sheets of plywood from Home Depot so that he can begin building.

Instead, the first purchase we decided on was some track and a few cars, and we decided that would be his birthday gift from us. Rather than shop for his birthday gift online, we decided to make part of his gift the experience of shopping for his gift, and he got to do that at a model train convention that was being held in New York.

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When looking for something fun to do in Erie last weekend, my research led me to information about a huge model railroad convention being held an hour away in western New York. We couldn’t wait to surprise Ozzie with the news of his birthday plans. I knew he was going to be over-the-moon excited…

And he didn’t disappoint!

Molly, Rusty, Tyler and I headed north on his big day to celebrate the big 1-6 with Oz. Braden wasn’t in a place emotionally that he could handle the visit so Toby stayed home with him while the rest of us ventured north. We picked up Ozzie, surprised him with his traditional birthday cupcake and birthday song in the parking lot and then started driving. When we arrived at our chosen destination Ozzie was still puzzled as to our plans.

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That is, until we walked in and he saw what was inside the convention center. Stretching before him were booth after booth of model railroad displays.

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Some were advertising local clubs, others were selling their wares, but all offered what Ozzie was looking for: information!

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He spent three hours canvasing the place, asking questions, and lovingly fondling the miniature trains…

Examining them with his eye for detail and carrying on a running narrative of each item’s history and details.

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When he found out he had the $50.00 we were going to spend on his birthday gift to spend on the starting pieces of his set, he was ecstatic.  We then re-circled the convention center for the fourth time, this time with Ozzie viewing each display through the lens of a shopper with money to burn.

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The other kids were grateful that the convention also offer antique toys for sale, as it offered a break from all the train displays that held zero appeal for the other kids.  It was fun looking at toys from the 1940’s-1980’s. Memories rushed forth as we stumbled across iconic toys from my own childhood.

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Eventually Ozzie made his choices. He used his money to buy three train cars and a bundle of track. If I was really a good momma I’d be able to tell you what train cars he bought and what scale he decided on. But alas, I am not that good. All I know is that two train cars were blue and one was yellow. Next time you see Ozzie, be sure to ask him about his model railroad purchases and he will give you all the details!

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It was an unconventional birthday celebration (as Ozzie’s usually are) but it was a perfect 16th birthday celebration for Ozzie who declared this birthday celebration the “Best One Yet!”

Happy Birthday, Ozzie. We love you!

 

A Super Sunday

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February 2nd was a SUPER Sunday, spent with super friends watching the Super Bowl.

This is tradition that has been enjoyed for 18 years. On the first Super Bowl we spent with the Mackay family, we arrived with toddlers in tow. Now we find ourselves surrounded by teenagers and adult children.

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This annual tradition is one we look forward to, having only missed 3 years in our 18 year run..one year for sick kids on our end, one year when their family was sick, and last year when we were at Disney World for Super Bowl weekend.

The Mackays are near and dear friends that we don’t see nearly enough! Our friendship was born from MOPS meetings and grew deeper through homeschooling, AWANAS, and scrapbooking retreats. When we moved to the country our proximity made regular gatherings less frequent, a reality which only made our annual gathering at their home for Super Bowl Sunday all the more cherished.

With the Mackays we enjoy a special sort of friendship that dosen’t falter or fall apart when contact isn’t as frequent as one would like. Our friendship with their family picks up easily and effortlessly when we reunite, as though no time has passed at all. In fact the only tale tell sign of the passing of time is added inches on our boys and the addition of new grey hairs on the heads of the parents…

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Grey hairs that have been well earned!

It is not coincidental that our grey hairs multiply at a matching rate to the inches grown by our children!

This year we had two new faces at our annual Super Bowl party.

Becky and Jeff graciously extended their invitation to include the newlyweds, so Grace was joined by Zach for this year’s Super Bowl party.

This year was also Braden’s first Super Bowl party at the Mackay’s house since last year we were in Orlando. It was a great game to kick off his participation in this family tradition, as this year his team was playing in the Super Bowl. Braden is a Kansas City Chiefs fan…a fandom that is enthusiastically expressed through the décor of his bedroom. To see his team headed to the Super Bowl was thrilling for Braden who was now even more emotionally invested in the outcome of the game.

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We arrived at the Mackays with a enough time to catch up before kick-off.

The evening was spent enjoying yummy food, laughing with friends, and cheering the Chiefs to victory. (At least most of us were!)

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It was another wonderful Super Bowl party with amazing friends. God knew just what He was doing when he had our paths cross with this amazing family. They are treasured friends and have been amazing blessings in our lives for almost two decades.

Here’s to lifelong friends…

May we treasure them for the gift they are!

 

Dragon Slayer

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Currently our family is navigating some unique challenges that have escalated the struggles of some of our kiddos. The struggles stem from a quest to support one of our adopted sons as he seeks justice against the demons that haunt his past… monsters who stole the innocence of his childhood and left scars that will linger for a lifetime. It is a quest to slay the dragons who have kept captive the childhood that could have been, had evil not reigned supreme. This journey of redemption is not ours. It is a quest that can only be taken by the knight called to fight, but as the family of that one, we have come along side him and are supporting and loving him through the greatest battle he will ever face,

As he fights for the life of that little boy who was too afraid to fight for himself.

As a mom, all I want is to take up arms and defend my son from the monsters under his bed, both the ones that have currently moved in, as well as those that have lingered just beyond reach for over a decade. I want to make it all go away and make everything better. I want to patch the cracks that come from beautiful spirits being broken by the evil of the world, and protect those I love most from the hurts of those who were entrusted with their care and chose selfishness over selflessness. I want to mount my white horse and charge my way across the earth, slaying the dragons that haunt and hurt, and protect my children from having to step onto the battlefields themselves…

But I can’t.

And that is the hardest part of watching pieces of your heart walk around, outside your body.

Part of loving someone through the pains of mortality, is accepting the fact that you don’t have the power to protect them from the stains of sin…whether theirs or the stains left on their souls by the sins of others.

It is a horrible heaviness to carry, but we as a family have committed to carry that weight for the sake of those we love. We can’t remove the burdens in each other’s lives. This is especially true of the uniquely debilitating burdens carried by our children that have walked through the hell of childhood trauma. All we can do is press in beside them and shore them up to shoulder the burden they are carrying. We can’t remove that burden, but we can strengthen their ability to carry it by sharing our strength with them.

This is the journey we find ourselves walking as a family. It is horrible, and hard, and heartbreaking, and in the midst of it all we must continue navigating life as though the world isn’t crumbling under our feet. Sometimes I feel as though I am hovering outside my body looking in, observing the circus of my reality in disconnected wonder. I move through the motions of living…fixing meals, doing laundry, writing papers, meeting deadlines, doing my calling, running kids to appointments, all while a stock pot of past trauma simmers on the back of the stove, threatening to boil over and create a bigger mess if I don’t keep it in check. It is all a bit surreal. So, we go through the motions, keep showing up, continually building a life around the important anchors of daily life, and trying to create moments of childhood magic, all while watching that boiling pot.

Those watching our life play out from the outside might falsely assume that because we don’t expose the wounds, that the wounds aren’t there. Trust me, they are there, and we live with the effects of those wounds on a daily basis…

Just as you do.

It is a poignant reminder of the frailty of life and the presence of pain that everyone bears in this fallen world.

We are surrounded by fellow dragon-slayers.

Each person you meet is fighting a secret battle, unseen by most.

May we come up alongside those we love as they fight off the dragons that threaten to destroy.

May we all be a little kinder,

And a little more compassionate.

May those around us feel our support and unconditional love.

As our fellow dragon-slayers battle the darkenss of the world, let our light shine forth, offering a promise of  hope that love will always overcome.

Always!

 

 

 

Molly’s Mission News

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Last fall Molly called us and confirmed news that we anticipated would be coming shortly…

Our sweet girl had prayerfully decided to answer God’s call and devote 18 months of her life to His service as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Her papers were submitted the week before Christmas and her call came February 5th.

On Tuesday morning she received the text that her mission call was ready to be accessed via the missionary portal, and there she would find the letter from the First Presidency of the church informing her of where she would be sent to serve and when she would leave.

Due to situations beyond our control, she opted to wait until Wednesday evening to open her mission call. This allowed everyone to be available and allowed us the time to prepare everyone for the emotions they might feel upon facing Molly’s departure for 18 months.

The 24 hour delay also allowed us to amp up the hype and allow others to join in on the anticipation of wondering where in the world Miss Molly would go. By making it a competition we were able to lessen the struggle for our sons that were already mourning the “loss” of another sister (this one to a mission rather than marriage) and make it a game of guessing where the Lord would be sending Molly.

We posted two maps on the wall…

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A world map and a United States map,

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And let everyone lock in their guesses.

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“Where in the World would Molly be going?!”

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The promise of a prize for the correct guess spurred on friendly competition, helping to make the evening celebratory rather than sad for the boys.

Others locked in their votes as well, as friends and family across the country posted their guesses on social media. We added each guess to our map, and the guesses kept rolling in until the big reveal at 7:00.

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We arrived home from equine therapy minutes before we were to go live on Facebook. Grace and Zach were already there, ready to support Molly and celebrate her exciting news.

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At 7:00 she opened the missionary portal and began reading…

We waited with bated breath as Molly revealed where she would be serving as a full time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Drumroll, please…

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Salt Lake City, Utah in the Salt Lake City South mission!!

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And she reports to the Missionary Training Center on April 1st.

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Which means I have exactly 47 days with my sweet Molly before she spreads her wings once again and soars. She will be an amazing missionary! Her capacity for love and selfless service will serve those in the Salt Lake City South mission well.

Change is hard, especially for my sons who associate change with trauma and loss. We are working hard to emotionally prepare everyone for the adjustment of Molly’s absence, while also preparing Molly for the experience of a lifetime. These are the moments we prepare our children for. We invest everything in the hopes they will grow into good and Godly people who love others and faithfully follow God’s leading in their lives, even when that leading takes them down unknown paths. I pray my children will all grow into people that humbly and courageously say, “Send me, Lord. I will go and do what You command,” wherever that may be.

Miss Molly, you fill our hearts with joy. I know you will be an amazing missionary and that your life story and the struggles you have had to navigate will be a source of strength for many. The light you exude will draw others to Christ. Thank you for your example and your faithfulness.

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We love you!

Swimming With Pigs

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The final stop to our five days cruise was Nassau, the capital city of the Bahamas. This was the excursion we were all most looking forward to!

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We woke that morning to sunshine and blue skies, excited for the day ahead.

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After breakfast we disembarked and walked a few blocks to Senor Frogs, where we would be meeting our tour guide to catch a 30 minute boat ride to the island where our excursion was taking place.

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Our walk through Nassau was stimulating, with the sights and smells of the island filling our senses as locals called out to passing tourists, hoping to hock their wares and services.

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We arrived at Senior Frogs and settled in for a long wait as we became intimately acquainted with the concept of “island time.” 45 minutes later our guide strolled in, unconcerned by her tardiness,  and we headed to the dock to load onto our transport boat.

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It was filled to capacity and the rocking of the waves left us all wondering if this 3-hour-tour would turn into a life of coconut phones and Gilligan’s follies…

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But we arrived at our destination no worse for wear, and with plenty of time to participate in our scheduled excursion.

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Our plans for the day: Swimming with pigs!

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Yes, you read that right. In the Bahamas you can swim with pigs, and that is just what we planned to do on our last day of vacation!

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After signing safety waivers and being briefed on the guidelines of our interactions with the pigs, we were set free to love on some swimming swine.

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We were given bags of apples to feed the pigs as we splashed in the water with them.

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It was one of those once in a lifetime experiences that I was thrilled to share with my family. I mean, how many people have the opportunity to swim in the turquoise blue of the Caribbean with pink pigs coated in sunscreen.

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It was just too cool!!

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After our time with the pigs, we headed to the boat that would take us back to Nassau. There we had two hours to stroll through the streets before having to re-board our cruise ship.

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Everyone was eager to check out the Straw Market,

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A collection of local vendors all situated in a warehouse, selling their trinkets and treasures to tourists.

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The kids quickly learned the art of negotiation as they bargained for the best deals, finding joy in the game of haggling. They were all wanting to get the best bang for their buck with the last of their souvenir money, and everyone walked away from the Straw Market with Bahamian treasures to remember the trip by.

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Tyler opted to spend the last of his dough on a conch shell that had been turned into a horn with the removal of its tip.

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It was just the sort of treasure that appeals to Tyler. Once Toby showed him how to make it “sing the song of the sea,” Tyler couldn’t be stopped.

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He loved the noise he could create and we had to make a deal that he could play it until we boarded the ship but then it would be put away until we arrived home.

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I was afraid that left unchecked, a fellow passenger might not be able to resist pushing Tyler and his shell overboard!

Nassau was a perfect ending to an amazing trip. It is hard to believe it was only a week-long vacation. It felt as though we had been gone from home for a month.

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(I’m sure this extended retelling of the trip is making you all feel that way as well!)

But it was just what we needed. We returned home to find life escalated as we stepped into the fire of some particularly trying challenges unfolding on the horizon. It was a gift to be able to pull together as a family and fortify our walls before stepping into the fire. God knew just what he was doing when He prompted the plan for this year’s Christmas gifts, and I am forever grateful for the healing, connection, and fortification that time away from home offered our troops.

Thank you for tuning into to the most drawn-out recounting of a vacation, EVER!

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programing.

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Fun in Freeport

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We arrived at Freeport ready to soak up the local culture and the Caribbean sun of the Bahamas. We decided to spend our day at Taino Beach Resort. This resort was located across the island and required a 30 minute taxi ride to get there. As we rode across the island we got a first hand look at the destruction caused by Hurricane Dorian last fall. That hurricane was the most intense tropical cyclone on record to strike the Bahamas, and is regarded as the worst natural disaster in the country’s history. The results were evident in the abandoned businesses and broken buildings along the way. The resort where we would be spending the day was also still recovering from the damage caused, and had only recently reopened its doors two weeks prior.

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We arrived at the resort, checked into the front desk, and headed to the pool to get settled in for the day. We had the entire resort to ourselves.

The pool area was comprised of a water slide, a lazy river that circled the slide, a hot tub, and hammocks…

Everything needed  enjoy a lazy day of lounging!

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The water in the pool (and in the ocean) was chillier than usual due to the same cold front that caused our ocean detour the day before,

But that didn’t deter the boys from taking advantage of the fun the resort offered.

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They slid and splashed, breaking from the cold to soak in the hot tub when the chill got to be too much.

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It was a lovely morning filled with soaking up the sun,

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relaxing in the hot tub,

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catching up on our beach reads,

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and napping.

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Gracie was especially in need of some ZZZs after choppy seas kept her up most of the night.

When everyone started getting hungry we made our way to a beachfront café where we enjoyed sandwiches and fries while overlooking to ocean.

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The food was great but the company was even better!

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After lunch we meandered over to the beach to play in the waves.

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The water was cold but most ventured in anyway.

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It was a beautiful beach and we all enjoyed soaking up the natural beauty,

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And photographing the views…

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Before leaving the resort to catch our taxi back to the ship, we enjoyed a family game of volleyball. It was a highlight of the entire vacation for me as I played and belly laughed with my favorite people on earth.

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We all got pretty competitive with the result being a nose dive to the sand in effort to bring home the win!

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At 3:30 we caught a taxi to the dock where the kids had just enough time to do a little souvenir shopping before we headed back out to sea.

It was another beautiful day in the Caribbean!

 

 

Stormy Seas

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On Friday we woke up ready for a day of sun and sand on Cassaway Cay, the private island owned by Norwegian Cruise line. We met up with the kids at breakfast, gathering on the top deck to eat our breakfast. Everyone was busily lathering up in preparation for our trip to the island on small transport tenders, when an announcement was made over the load speakers. Due to an incoming cold front that would case chopping conditions, it was deemed unsafe to transport guests to and from the island on the small boats.

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This port would have to be bypassed.

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Although disappointed at the lost opportunity to snorkel, our crew quickly rallied, embracing the adventure of a day at sea and a full day of fun on the ship.

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We headed back to our rooms to change out of our swimsuits, take some motion sickness meds in preparation for some choppy seas, and grab the new daily newsletter that listed the day’s “at sea” activities.

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The ship offered hourly activities throughout the ship, including: classes, games, movies, trivia competitions, poolside parties, athletic competitions and live shows.

Knowing we had a free day ahead of us, Braden headed straight to the basketball court where he participated in a free thrown competition and a three-on-three competition,

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And Tyler headed to the teen lounge to enjoy a full day of fun planned activities with the teen councilors and his new friends.

The cruise ship adjusted its course and began skirting its way around the storm on the way to our next port. While we traveled, the rest of the family enjoyed a full day of fun, taking advantage of many of the offered activities.

Documented below is a pictorial of our day of fun at sea:

The kids headed to the library to play board games,

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And then attended a few classes together, including a napkin folding class.

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At dinner they showed off their newly acquired skills!

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We also all enjoyed the ice carving demonstration offered poolside in the afternoon. It was amazing watching the ice artist race against the Caribbean sun to carve a block of ice into a swan before it melted away.

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The middle of the day was spent poolside, as everyone enjoyed the luxury of unlimited ice cream cones and many free hours to read or nap in the sun.

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In the afternoon we met up in the lounge to participate in a trivia game as a family. The game host displayed childhood photos of celebrities and we had to write down who we thought they were. Zach and I were particularly adept and brought home a second place win for our team.

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Before dinner we took part in the Deal or No Deal live show offered on board. Some were more actively involved then others. Braden and Tyler were the loudest voices in the audience as they shouted to the contestant the case they felt should be opened next. You would have though it was their money on the line with how emotionally involved they were in the outcome. Their commentary was more entertaining than the show itself!

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That night we enjoyed another amazing dinner and a fantastic comedy show.

It wasn’t the day we planned, but it ended us being a lot of fun. After all, who can complain about life making waves when you are riding them out on a cruise ship in the Caribbean.

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Exploring Key West

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We woke Thursday morning to find ourselves docked in Key West.

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With a day full of sightseeing ahead of us, we ate a quick breakfast and prepared to disembark. We walked off the ship, ready to explore the city of Key West, the first stop on our five day cruise.

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Key West is an island city in the Straits of Florida. The city lies at the southernmost end of U.S. Route 1, the longest north–south road in the United States.

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Key West is the southernmost city in the contiguous United States and the westernmost island connected by highway in the Florida Keys.

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The island is about 4 miles long and 1 mile wide, with a total land area of 4.2 square miles. Duval Street, its main street, is 1.1 miles in length in its 14-block-long crossing from the Gulf of Mexico to the Straits of Florida and the Atlantic Ocean. Key West is about 95 miles north of Cuba at their closest points.

The island is popular for its eccentric, wild and laid-back vibe that is highly inviting to most cruise passengers. So popular is the island that it has provided seasonal homes to notable figures such as the 33rd president and one of the world’s most prolific writers.

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With the exception of Toby, the rest of us had never visited this southernmost Floridian city. Toby had visited Key West as a teenager, and had fond memories of the area. We were excited to take in the sites and learn more about this unique city. We decided that the best excursion to accomplish this was a city-wide scavenger hunt. We thought it would be a great way to learn about the area in a fun and engaging way.

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We walked to the starting location of the scavenger hunt and logged onto the website that began our hunt.

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By using a cell phone, we were given clues to follow and puzzles to decode that led us on a three hour foot race around the island.

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We had to seek out monuments and places of interest by relying on general knowledge, problem solving, keen observation and by utilizing the knowledge of the locals.

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It was a blast, and we were a pretty great team.

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It helped that we had a myriad of strengths between our team members, with some serving as the navigators, some were especially good at the puzzles that had to be decoded, while other’s had a strong knowledge of US history that we could tap into.

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Then there were our extroverts who boldly approached anyone and everyone to help weigh in on the questions we were seeking answers to.

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As we moved around the island, seeking out the next clue at the next location we learned much about the island’s history and soaking in its unique culture.

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Combining 19th-century history with its vast tropical charms, Key West is a haven for adventurers and historians alike.

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Its unique beauty mashes together brightly colored picturesque colonial houses with lush tropical gardens.

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Its narrow streets are lined with vintage shops, eateries, and watering holes. The coastline as well is breathtaking and is graced by the azure waters of the Atlantic and Gulf stream that boards the island on either side.

And then there are the chickens…

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Can we talk about the chickens?! They wander the streets like they own the place, something I found charming but that Gracie found terrifying.

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They are her greatest phobia. But like them or not, they are definitely part of the Key West ambiance!

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As we walked around Key West, the scavenger hunt clues led us to the following fascinating locations:

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If mystery is your thrill, visit Key West Cemetery to learn the interesting part of the town’s former times. The gravestones of fallen soldiers and townsfolk go into depth about the life and death of the individual. Epitaphs like “I told you I was sick” among others can be traced in this location, making it a twisted but interesting fun thing to explore. Here we had to seek out certain tombstones then add up the combined years of life to unlock our next clue.

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Key West, Florida, has a wild nightlife. One of its most iconic bars includes Sloppy Joes. Sloppy Joe is an old vintage bar that brags of Ernest Hemmingway as a longtime patron. Here we had to figure out whose picture was on the wooden sign out front. (It was Earnest Hemmingway.)

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Then we headed over to the Hemmingway House, an 1851 Spanish colonial building that hosted one of the world’s greatest writers of all time. The most intriguing thing about this home is that the famous writer lived here for almost a decade.

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The house is located in a picturesque, lush, peaceful environment and is easy to see why Ernest Hemmingway was inspired to write some of his masterpieces here.

Another home that required our attention was the Little White House. This home was originally a naval station’s command headquarters during World War 1 and World War 2. Harry Truman, the 33rd US president, called this house, home for several winters. Truman visited Florida 11 times and used to reside in this little white house. Our mission at this location was to figure out what other U.S. presidents had visited the Little White House.

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Our hunt led us to another iconic location. This one however was not historical but rather culinary.

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Kermit’s Key Lime Pie Shoppe is one of these popular restaurant destinations and has been for over 27 years. Being a signature dessert for Key West, Florida, Key Lime Pie is a taste visitors don’t want to miss!

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We entered Kermits with the mission of solving the riddle asking us to name the ingredients in a key lime pie, but ended up doing some shopping and spending time loving on Pirate, the shop dog.

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We continued our hunt, seeking out 20 different locations by answering 20 different clues, to win the hunt…Woo hoo!

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We ended up returning to Kermit’s at the end of our hunt to indulge in one of their famous Key Lime Pies.

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We just couldn’t leave the Keys without tasting their most iconic dishes. It was AMAZING! Best Key Lime Pie I have ever eaten!

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We were done at 2:00 and had until 4:00 before we had to be back on the cruise ship. We debated as to what to do with our remaining time. Tyler and Braden were eager to get back on the ship so they could get in the pool and cool off. That sounded good to Zach too, so he took the boys back to the ship.

Toby expressed a desire to revisit an attraction that left an impression on him as a teenage boy: Mel Fisher’s Treasures.

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There is a well-known treasure hunter called Mel Fisher, who made the discovery of “Atocha” the sunken vessels.

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Nuestra Señora de Atocha (Spanish: Our Lady of Atocha) was a Spanish treasure galleon and the most widely-known vessel of a fleet of ships that sank in a hurricane off the Florida Keys in 1622. At the time of her sinking, Nuestra Señora de Atocha was heavily laden with copper, silver, gold, tobacco, gems, and indigo from Spanish ports at Cartagena and Porto Bello in New Granada (present-day Colombia and Panama, respectively) and Havana, bound for Spain. 

Beginning in 1969, American treasure hunters Mel Fisher, Finley Ricard and a team of sub-contractors, funded by investors and others in a joint venture, searched the sea bed for Nuestra Señora de Atocha for sixteen and a half years. In 1980, Fisher had earlier recovered portions of the wrecked cargo of the sister ship Santa Margarita. He also proposed the idea to several other potential helpers, who were discouraged by the fact that this dangerous professional diving job would be paid at minimum wage unless the ship could be found. The Nuestra Señora de Atocha wreck and its mother lode of silver, gold and emeralds was finally discovered in July 1985. 

The treasure is on display at Mel Fisher’s Treasures, a place Toby was eager to visit again, so he and Grace headed to the treasure museum for a daddy/daughter date.

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One of my bucket list items was a visit to Southernmost Point Monument. It was a 25 minute walk from the port, but despite the hot and humid weather, we thought it was worth the hike!

After all, how else do you let the rest of the world know you have been to Key West? One must take a photo of onesself at the Southernmost Point Monument. This monument is a giant buoy built in the ’80s to represent the southernmost point of the United States.

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Molly and Rusty opted to join me. We enjoyed our stroll, then patiently waited in line for our chance to snap one of these iconic photos.

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We returned to the ship with 30 minutes to spare.

It was a beautiful day in a beautiful city. I fell in love with Key West and hope to return again for a visit someday!

All Aboard!

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After two days of play in Miami the day had finally arrived to board our cruise ship.

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We were booked for a five day cruise to the Bahamas aboard Norwegian Sky. Everyone was pumped up and eager to get to the Port of Miami where we would be boarding the ship, but before we could start phase two of our adventure, we had to take care of some business. Namely, returning our rental car to the airport.

So, at 10:30 am Toby dropped the seven of us off at the port with all our bags and left to drop off the car. We knew that it would take Toby an hour or two to drop off the car and catch a taxi back to the port to join us, so we planned accordingly. We found a spot of ground where we could set up camp, and pulled out the games Rusty had packed in his bag.

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We kept ourselves entertained for almost two hours with endless rounds of miniature UNO and LRC. While we played we enjoyed people watching, as guests from the last cruise disembarked and the new guests lined up to go through security.

When Toby arrived we gathered up our gear and joined the throngs of other vacationers in line. After wending our way through security and check-in, we found a bank of chairs in the massive waiting room where travelers are held until the ship is ready to open its doors to the next group of guests.

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We didn’t have to wait long before our group was called to come aboard. As we walked up the gangway to the ship, everyone got their first glimpse of what would be their home away from home for the next five days. Despite how impressive the cruise ships appear from a distance, nothing really prepares you for the enormity of those “floating cities” until you are stepping aboard.

For Rusty, Molly, Braden and Tyler…all first time cruisers…the impact was even greater.

We boarded the cruise ship sporting our new t-shirts, “Cruise Squad 2020.”

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We were ready to get this vacation started!

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We began by snaking our way to the top deck where a buffet of food was waiting.

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It was the kids’ first glimpse into the unending smorgasbord of food that would be enjoyed over the next five days. Everyone made a plate and we found tables outside where we could soak up the sun and take in the view while feasting.

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All the kids were blown away by the vast variety and quantity of food that was available at no cost, 24 hours a day.

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They had a hard time believing this was reality. When we confirmed that this was indeed the case, Rusty looked at us with awe, asking, “You mean I can come up here anytime I want and get a plate of fries?”

We nodded our affirmation, “Yep!”

He thought he had died and gone to heaven, and he wasn’t alone! All the kids were enamored by the unending ice cream station, pizza shop, crepe station and the endless desserts offered in between their Hobbit meal schedule of eight meals a day.

After everyone was feeling full, fat, and sassy, we headed out to explore the ship. The individual guest rooms were still being cleaned from the guests that had disembarked hours earlier, but we were allowed to explore the common areas of the ship. We walked around, acquainting ourselves with the layout of the ship, and taking note of the many areas we wanted to return to over the next five days.

We wandered from floor to floor checking out the many attractions scattered across the ship including: stores, restaurants, nightclubs, theaters, arcades, spas and even libraries on the ship.

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While we wandered we stopped at Entourage, the teen club, to sign Tyler up.

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This hang out is equipped with activities for guests ages 13-17 to enjoy. As we looked over the activity schedule Tyler expressed a desire to join the teen club, despite the fact he would be on his own. The other two boys were too old to join him, so while they spent the week taking part in other activities throughout the ship, Tyler took full advantage of the awesome activities planned by the teen staff.

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He made friends and spent many hours a day away from the family, hanging out with other teen guests on the cruise.

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It was such a great opportunity for Tyler to step outside his comfort zone and he loved the freedom of coming and going at will, hanging out with peers.

This was also nice for Toby and I, as we were able to enjoy periods of non-parenting relaxation.

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After touring the interior of the ship we headed back to the top deck where newly arrived guests were congregating around the pool where live music was playing in preparation for our sail away celebration.

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Braden migrated to the basketball courts, an area where he would spend MANY hours over the next five days!

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He and Tyler shot baskets while the rest of us headed to the shuffleboard area to play…

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Soon after we had enjoyed a few competitive games of this classic shipboard game…

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an announcement was made that guests could now access their guest rooms. We headed to the 7th floor where Rusty and Braden were sharing a room,

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Molly and Tyler were roommates,

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And Grace and Zach were shacked up.

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Our room, which had been booked in the same hallway as the kids, had been upgraded to a window suite on the 10th floor. What a lovely surprise!

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At 5:00 we left the port and headed to sea.

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After the mandatory lifeboat drill we were free to begin enjoying the ship.

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Our evening began with dinner in the formal dinner where we enjoyed an AMAZING dinner…one of many over the next week.

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We were seated by the window were we got to watch the sun sink behind the ocean as we ate.

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At each meal in the formal dinning room we were given menus to peruse.

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Guests could pick out an appetizer, main course and dessert.

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Some items on the menu were staples but many changed from night to night and it was always fun to see what new fare was being offered that evening!

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The food was UNBELIEVABLE…both a feast for the taste buds, as well as for the eyes. I couldn’t resist documenting our plates all week in pictures. I could make a foodie scrapbook with all the pictures I took of our meals. Is it sad that I have more photos on my camera of the food I ate then of myself?! I couldn’t help it. The presentation was so appealing.

After dinner we headed to the first show of the evening.

As the week went on we fell into a sort of daily schedule that included meeting for breakfast every morning at 8:00 am where we went over the day and the excursions we would be doing as a family, and then again at 5:30 for dinner in the formal dinning room. This allowed us to have set “connection times” as a family, while allowing for individual activities apart from each other during other times of the day. Usually at dinner we would look over the evening schedule of activities and take note of what events everyone wanted to attend, pairing off accordingly. For many of the bigger evening shows we would all meet up and sit together in the theater. On that first night we all went together to two, back-to-back interactive game shows where we competed as a family against other teams.

One was a “Family Feud” type game show where we had to guess the most popular responses to certain questions. Braden was our team’s runner, racing to make sure we weren’t the last team to submit an answer. It was so much fun!

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The next game show was “Name that Tune.” The crowd was split into two groups that competed against each other by being the first to name the song played by the band, and secondly by have team members finish singing the words to the song. Grace and Molly killed it with their Mama Mia knowledge, but we all ended up pitching in, pushing our team to victory.

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It was an awesome start to what would be an incredible week.

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Day two: We would be headed back into port.

Key West, here we come!