Family Vacations & Staycations

I had hoped to get a post up last night detailing how I make my double layer pumpkin cheesecake, which is Tadd’s favorite thing ever and something I usually make several times between Halloween and Thanksgiving.  However, my work Thanksgiving potluck was canceled (bummer!), so I no longer had a reason to make it, and I have been so busy getting ready for my mother-in-law’s visit that I needed one less thing on my plate anyways.  So that post will have to wait for another time.

But I CAN talk about how excited I am that my mother-in-law Peggy is coming to visit tonight!  I know people often complain about their mothers-in-law, but I really lucked out with mine.  She is sweet and easygoing, and we always manage have fun and make some fantastic memories when we are together.  We take turns each year having her and occasionally some of Tadd’s other family members visit us here in Orlando, and going to visit them in Tennessee.  But no matter where we are, we always try to do new and interesting things to make each trip memorable.

Several years ago, she and Keith came to visit us during this same time of year and we spent 3 whole days touring the Disney parks, doing all of the special events for the holidays.  It was exhausting, but fun!

Check out Keith's long hair!

The following year, in the springtime, right around my birthday, we visited Tennessee.  On that trip we took a side trip to Pigeon Forge and visited Dollywood!  And the following day, we got a tiny taste of Gatlinburg (which I kind of fell in love with).  We also went to The Lost Sea, which is an underground lake in a cave in Sweetwater, TN.

Peggy, Keith, Tadd, and Tadd's uncle shooting water guns at innocent passers-by on the River Battle ride in Dollywood.

The following year, Peggy, Keith, and Tadd’s two uncles came to visit around Halloween time.  We rented a cabin at Fort Wilderness and spent four lovely days at Walt Disney World, doing Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival.  We all LOVED the cabin and had an amazing time!

This was the deck of our cabin. I cannot say enough good things about the cabins at Ft. Wilderness! If you are coming to Disney with a family larger than 4, this is the way to go!

Yes, we wore matching shirts to Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party! They each had a different character in a Halloween costume on them. Mine was Minnie dressed as a witch!

We were planning on going to visit Tennessee for Thanksgiving the following year, but we bought our house and closed on November 16, almost exactly two years ago!  So we were busy moving/unpacking/painting and all that fun stuff.  So Peggy, her boyfriend, and Keith drove down for a very brief trip over Thanksgiving weekend.  There wasn’t much time for sightseeing that year, but it was nice to at least have the holiday together and to get to show them our new house.

Last year, it was finally our turn to go up to Tennessee to visit, and we decided to go the 2nd week in October in the hopes of seeing some fall color in the mountains.  We spent part of the week renting a cabin in Gatlinburg, which was just amazing.  We used Mountain Laurel Chalets to rent our cabin and couldn’t have been happier.  If you are interested in a mountain vacation, you need to check out this property management company!  We stayed at the Lucky D Lodge, which was inexpensive and SO roomy and nice!  We did a lot of fun stuff, including a chair lift to the top of Crockett Mountain, touring the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, visiting the Gatlinburg craft fair, and a beautiful ride through Smoky Mountain National Park.

You can see a lot of the beautiful mountain pics we took from that trip in this post.

We have a lot of fun stuff planned for this year’s family visit, which starts tonight!  Tadd and I both have the next week off of work, so we are psyched to get through the work day so we can start celebrating!  I can’t wait to just relax and have fun spending time together and making some more memories as a family.

Let the staycation begin!

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Miscellaneous thoughts….

I think I am going to do away with the Weekend Update.  If something exciting or interesting happens during the weekend, I am sure I will blog about it (like our trip yesterday to the Orlando Farmer’s Market!).  No one cares about the boring, tedious details of my weekend!

However, I did have some general thoughts and bits of news from my life that I wanted to share.

click for source

First of all, my brother-in-law Keith, is flying back to Tennessee tomorrow.  Unfortunately he hasn’t changed as much as we had hoped and was unable to put forth enough effort to start a life for himself here in Orlando.  We are disappointed, but at least we can say we have done everything possible to help him become an independent adult.  Some people just can’t be helped, especially if they are convinced that everything negative happening to them is either someone else’s fault or bad luck.  He won’t change until he is mature enough to understand that it is his own faults that have created this reality for him.  Sure, bad luck and setbacks can happen to anyone.  But if you don’t have the self awareness and drive to recognize and learn from your own mistakes, or even just to have the desire to better yourself and become more self-sufficient, you will never achieve anything.  I feel like he is sitting around waiting for success to fall into his lap, or waiting for someone to take his hand and lead him to success.  We all know that means he will be waiting a long long time, and I’m not sure how long the people in his life will put up with that, because my limit (and Tadd’s too) on that has been reached.  He has lived his adult life thus far based on accepting kindness and favors from others.  He is way too content on being dependent on other people.  Now it is time for him to man up and live his life for himself.  Unfortunately after living with him for 2 months, I know that something big will need to happen for him to wake up.  My hope is that it is joining the military and not something negative.  Only time will tell.

Model we are considering: Brother XL2600i

In happier news, Tadd and I would like to purchase either a sewing machine or a juicer soon.  I’m sure eventually we will get both, but I really don’t want to spend the money to get two large ticket items at the same time.  Right now I am leaning more towards getting a sewing machine first!  Believe it or not, Tadd isn’t too shabby at sewing…He’s actually better than I am.  Right now anyways (I plan on practicing a lot!).  Lots of sewing-machine-related projects flying through my head now…

Also, I am starting to get excited for my upcoming trip to New England!  I leave 2 weeks from Thursday, which kind of startled me when I realized it was that close.  My parents, brother, and I are flying into Boston, staying one night to visit friends & family, then 2 nights in Vermont for a wedding, then one additional night in the Boston area for more family time.  It will be jam-packed and busy, busy, busy, but it will be good to go back and see people I haven’t seen in years.  It has been way too long.  Tadd is staying home for this trip and I will miss him, but at least the kitties will be able to keep him company.  And he’ll have plenty of time to work on his own new blog (which I hope to be able share with you soon!).

Weekend Update

Friday night was very much like the previous Friday night.  Very low key.  We had grilled brats with spicy mustard and pierogies for dinner, and  I mixed up a small pitcher of simple rum punch (light rum, orange juice, and a little grenadine) for Tadd and I to share, and we watched some TV and vegged a bit.  By 10:30 I was sleepy and went to bed (pathetic, huh?).

Kodak Moment: Tadd teaching Keith how to tie a tie.

Saturday morning, we started to work on the powder room a bit, but ran into the aforementioned snag, when Tadd accidentally tried to install the toilet paper holder over a stud.  Then we took Keith to a job interview in the early afternoon.  While he was busy with that, Tadd and I headed over to check out the lighting clearance at Lowes.  Unfortunately, the one light we liked (which was originally $80, marked down to $20!) was sold out.  Early bird gets the worm, indeed.  Luckily Tadd was able to pick up a stud finder while we were there, to prevent future problems with the powder room, so the trip wasn’t totally wasted.

As we were checking out, Keith texted Tadd to say his interview was done.  The place he interviewed for is a new place which doesn’t actually open for another month or so.  So unfortunately the current interviews are more of a screening process and he wouldn’t start actually working for awhile yet.  He thinks it went well, though, and they stated he would get a call back in 2 weeks for a 2nd interview.  Who knows if Keith will still be around then, but aside from that it sounds promising.  He has 2 more interviews this week with 2 other companies.  Because things seemed to go well for him, and he really made the effort to prepare for this interview, we decided to treat Keith to lunch at Tijuana Flats, where he promptly told us that the only Mexican (errr..Tex/Mex, really) food he had ever had was Taco Bell!  The kid continues to amaze me with the stuff he hasn’t heard of, tried, or experienced.  Tijuana Flats was a big hit with him.

We headed home to relax for awhile before Tadd and I left Keith behind to meet up with another couple down at Disney World on Saturday night.  Read about our lovely evening here if you haven’t already!

Sunday morning, we were on a mission to spend some quality time at our local IKEA store, which I am sure most of you know is always an epic event.  We started with breakfast, because you always need to fuel up before a jaunt through any IKEA, which can sometimes last several hours, because it literally goes on and on, seemingly without end.  Only $8 total for 2 large breakfasts (bacon, eggs, french toast sticks, and hash browns), a couple small pastries, and 3 coffees.  Bargain!

The only things I knew for sure I wanted to get here were my 2 $9 porch planters, which we did get.  But I also wanted to browse around for a couple of furniture pieces to buy sometime in the near future.  I want some kind of shelf/hutch type of piece for the living room, and I wanted to look at buffets for the dining room.  I already pretty much know which buffet I want, which matches my dining room set (I know, it’s bad to go too matchy, but I love this furniture line!):

LEKSVIK Sideboard, $225

And this is what we are looking at for the living room, but we would get glass doors to go over the shelves (for an extra $50).  Still not sure if we want to get it in white or black…

SMÅDAL Bookcase with drawer, white $99.00

AND…Now I find myself wanting to swap out our cheapie little entryway table/shelf with something prettier (and with more storage!) like this:

EDLAND Chest with 2 drawers, gray $199.00

Anyways, by the time we got to the art/decor/candles/garden/patio portion of our trek through IKEA, Tadd had just about had it with my slow, careful meandering and Keith was complaining that his feet hurt.  So I relented and we rushed through the last part of the store, grabbed the planters in the gardening section, and got in line to check out.

Once we finally got to the car, Tadd softened a bit and graciously suggested that we check out what looked like a fairly large Dollar Tree in a shopping plaza near IKEA.  I love Dollar Tree!  Especially the big ones…the location closest to my house is tiny, so I love any opportunity to check out other locations.  While we were there, I finally (FINALLY!) bought the supplies to make those $2 hurricane candle holders that were so popular in the DIY blog world last winter.  Once I get the right kind of adhesive for the project, I will show you exactly what I mean.  Super easy and very cute.  It’s like something straight out of Pottery Barn, but it will only cost you $2 to make with very little effort or skill.  So stay tuned for that!

After shopping, we came home and the boys started priming the vanity cabinets.  One coat of primer is as far as we got, but it’s a start!  We pretty much relaxed the rest of the day and enjoyed what little was left of the weekend.

Weekend Update

Another weekend has passed us by.  This one didn’t go exactly like we had planned, but I think we still had a good time.

Friday night Tadd picked up Chinese food on his way home from work.  We enjoyed a quiet night at home catching up on TV and went to bed fairly early.   It was an exhausting and very stressful week for me at work, so I was grateful to have an evening to just relax.

By Saturday morning I had just about had it with Keith’s shaggy hair, so we decided to drop him off to get himself a haircut while we purchased the mirror for the powder room from Hobby Lobby next door.

Shaggy Keith before haircut.

Not-so-shaggy Keith, post-haircut. Much better!

Just ONE aisle of fall stuff at Hobby Lobby!

We ended up getting a lot of odds and ends at Hobby Lobby.  Aside from the $70 mirror that was 50% off (we paid $35!), I got a beautiful basket that works perfectly as a magazine rack for the powder room, originally $40 on clearance for $8, some 4th of July decor (which I will try to  show you in another post later tonight) for 30% off, and my very first piece of fall decor for this year.  I got this really pretty bunch of faux bright orange tall grass, with little yellow/orange thistle-looking doodads on the ends.  Sounds weird, but it’s really cool looking; very striking.  I need to find a pretty black vase to put them in.  I also want to find some little sparkly bats or ghosts I can wire in and amongst the grasses.  If it ends up as pretty as it looks in my head, it will be the perfect touch for my Halloween decor!

Yes, I was more than thrilled to see that Hobby Lobby already has their fall stuff out in full force.  They had two aisles and several display areas FULL of wonderful, glorious fall decor!  My favorites were the glass pumpkins and gourds…and all the owl stuff.  I have a little thing for owls, you see.  Can you tell I am already tired of the oppressive Florida summer???  I love fall…it’s my favorite time of year!  Anything to remember that these 95F days and horrific humidity and violent thunderstorms will not last forever (although sometimes it feels like they will).  I understand that you people who live in colder climates probably think I am insane, but if you lived in Florida and had to deal with 7 (plus!) months of this weather, you would understand.

Stuck in the coffee shop. Check out the storm RAGING outside the window behind us.

Case in point…Saturday night, we had a lovely evening planned.  It was a night I had been looking forward to for weeks!  One of our favorite animal rescue organizations (Pet Rescue By Judy, in case you were wondering), was participating in a food truck pod and pet adopt-a-thon in downtown Avalon Park.  It was at night, so the weather potentially wouldn’t be so ridiculously disgustingly hot, and would have been a great evening of hanging out with some adorable puppies and trying all kinds of different foods from Orlando’s uber-trendy food trucks.  The event was from 6-10pm, and we were meeting  several friends in front of coffee shop down the street from where the event was to take place around 7, because I thought it would still be too hot to enjoy ourselves if we got there right at 6.  Unfortunately, just as we all met up, a HUGE storm rolled in and we had to take refuge inside the coffee shop until the worst of the storm passed.  It was so bad that the patio chairs and tables that were out in front of the coffee shop were literally blowing down the street.  By the time it was even safe to attempt to exit the coffee shop, it was still raining and there were still strikes of lightning.  It was obvious that the event had been cut short and we were going to be forced to figure out a plan B.

Luckily it just so happens that one of our favorite sushi places was just a few doors down, and we were all hungry, so we gathered our umbrellas and ran down the street for dinner.  We followed that up with a few beers at an establishment called Fifty Brews, which is one of those bars with a zillion different types of beers.  The boys played (indoor) cornhole and pool, and everyone had a good time.  So all in all, we were successful in salvaging the evening.  But I admit that I am really bummed that the event was rained out.  It would have been a really fun night for a really great cause.  I am hoping they can reschedule for a night with better weather.

Sunday we took Keith out for breakfast and really tried to impress upon him that his time with us is starting to dwindle.  He has not yet been successful in his job hunt and we are concerned that he just isn’t getting the direness of his situation.  He says he gets it, but I don’t think he REALLY gets it.  I really feel like his best option at this point is to join the military.  At age 20 he has very little work experience and very little proof of any employable skills.  The military would open up a whole world of new opportunities that he would never have working a minimum wage job here in Orlando and trying to make it on his own from scratch.  He has 2 weeks left with us to find a job before he ends up on a plane back to Tennessee.  I just hope he uses this time wisely.  I also hope something happens to shake him out of his delusions.  He seems so content to float through life accepting help and relying completely on the kindness of others to get him through.  I know he WANTS to get a job, but I also think in the back of his mind, he believes that if he fails, someone will provide help for him or give him another chance, and he can prolong growing up even longer.  Anyways…We had a very frank discussion with him over breakfast.  Not sure it helped any, but we will see.

In the afternoon, into the evening, we went to my parents’ house to celebrate Father’s Day.  My grandparents and both siblings were there, and we spent time in/by the pool and ate a delicious meal.  Was a lovely time, as usual with my family.  I swear, I am a lucky girl to have the family I do.  We always have such a good time together.

Most of the family enjoying the pool.

Fathers Day 2

Tadd, Keith, and my brother Ryan...Brotherly love...

Fathers Day 3

Tadd mid-dive.

By the time we got home, it was after 7, and my weekend was over.  So sad…Back to the stress of work.  Blah.

Weekend Update

As much as I loved my crazy busy life over the past 6 months, I must say I am really kind of loving the slower pace of these past few weekends.  I honestly didn’t do anything fancy, but it was still great.

Friday night, we met some friends at Mellow Mushroom for trivia night.  This is one of our favorite things to do on a Friday night and it’s always a good time.  If you have never been to Mellow Mushroom, you need to go.  And if you live anywhere near East Orlando, you have to go to trivia night hosted by Mellow Mike on Friday nights.  Delicious food, great beer, and fun trivia where you have the potential to win delicious food and great beer.  We usually get the Magical Mystery Tour pizza, which is portobello & button mushrooms, jalapenos, spinach, and feta; but since we had Keith with us and he isn’t too keen on some of those ingredients, we decided to get the Red Skin Potato Pie.  It’s very thinly sliced red skinned potatoes, bacon (which we got on half because I don’t like bacon…weird, I know), carmelized onions, cheddar & mozzerella,  with a thin swirl of sour cream/ranch sauce.  SO much less healthy than the Magical Mystery Tour, but still very delicious.  For beer I had an OBP and a Great White Wheat.  We didn’t win trivia, but still had a great time.

Derby Dan

Derby Dan in our backyard.

Saturday we woke up with the plan to get started on the powder room.  Before we headed out to Lowes, we looked out the backyard and saw that our horse neighbor, Derby Dan, had stopped by for a visit.  Our property backs up to a cattle ranch, so we see all kinds of animals in our backyard.  Derby Dan is our favorite.  He loves people and will come right up to the fence if he sees you.  This was Keith’s first experience meeting Derby Dan and they took to each other right away.  Keith was petting and loving on him, which of course made me tease Keith and call him the horse whisperer.  But it also made me think that Keith might truly have a talent with animals.  He absolutely adores our cats.  And dare I say it, that as awkward as he can be around humans sometimes, he is NEVER awkward around animals.  It’s like he’s a different person.  I have suggested that he look into the steps to become a vet tech or something in the veterinary world, but I am starting to believe more than ever that he could really have a talent in dealing with animals.  We are going to a pet rescue event next Saturday night and I told Tadd we should see about getting him some volunteer hours.  If he isn’t working, the least he could do is volunteer.  It will be some good experience for his resume too.

Tadd painting the powder room.

Sneak preview of the wall color!

The rest of Saturday was spent running to Lowes and working on the powder room.  We got everything taped off and covered, then painted the first coat.  By that time, it was getting close to time for Tadd and Keith to leave for some plans they had made for that night, so we stopped and ate a quick dinner.  I ended up just hanging out by myself for a quiet evening at home.

Sunday morning Tadd and I made another quick trip to Lowes before he tackled the 2nd coat of paint.  We ended up having to patch some additional holes, so waiting for the spackle to dry kind of messed up our plans to get more done.

We also convinced Keith to try his hand at blogging and helped him set up his first blog.  I thought it would be a good idea to have him do something constructive during his spare time…maybe even something that he could point potential employers to, so he can at least show that he does something quasi-intelligent on his own.  We’ll see what happens with that.

We made soup & grilled cheese (with bacon for the boys…blech!) for dinner and then I spent more time relaxing, playing on my laptop, and working on my lovely blog.  Thus ends another thrilling weekend in my life…

Weekend Update

My weekend definitely wasn’t long enough.

Friday night was nothing special.  Happy hour with a coworker where we had a much-needed vent-fest.  Then Tadd and I stayed in, cleaned the house a bit, ate Subway subs, and watched The Soup.

Saturday we got our day started bright and early, relaxed a bit, then ran some errands.  Tadd got a much needed haircut!  He always looks so handsome after getting it cut.  We got some super secret birthday supplies for the surprise party later on.

We also had brunch at Keke’s Breakfast Cafe, which I found to be good, but overpriced.  Tadd got the eggs benedict (because if a menu has eggs benedict, he orders eggs benedict…period), which he declared is the third best he has ever had.  In case you were curious, first place is Carnival Cruise Line’s eggs benedict (which he has enjoyed on 2 different ships), second is White Wolf Cafe, and now demoted to fourth place is First Watch.  I had a turkey, tomato, and cheese panini and french fries.  Mine was good, but unremarkable.  What WAS remarkable was the fact that the little kid sitting in the booth behind me bounced continually in his seat for our ENTIRE meal.  So annoying…

Fun with the birthday girl!

Saturday night I was a key player in a surprise party that went off without a hitch, mostly because the birthday girl actively suggested that we go to the very place where the party was already planned to be held, even though she had no idea other people were already congregating there to surprise her.  The plan was to take her to a girls only dinner with me and another friend, while everyone else gathered at a nearby bar.  I was supposed to casually suggest that we go to the bar for drinks after dinner to keep the evening going, but it turned out I didn’t have to.  Imagine her shock when she entered the bar and saw several more friends waiting to surprise her!  We laughed when her initial reaction was: “But this was MY idea! How did you know?”  Ha ha ha!  After that, it was a nice, relaxing, and fun evening for everyone.  I was just relieved that everything went so smoothly.

Brothers, reunited!

Also Saturday night is when my brother in law Keith arrived from Tennessee.  So far so good with that.  Sunday, he and Tadd were very productive…They worked on the car together, did some grocery shopping, and worked on the lawn a bit.  He has already applied to one job and should be applying to several more today while Tadd and I are at work.  Fingers crossed that he finds something very quickly so he can start his road to independence.  While the boys stayed busy, I mostly relaxed.  Played a little Sims 3, watched TV, cleaned the kitchen a bit, and made spaghetti for dinner.  Much to my surprise Keith actually complimented my cooking and thanked me for dinner!  He is definitely on his best behavior right now, which is very refreshing to see.  It truly does seem like he wants to do the right things now.  Of course, yesterday was only day 1.  Let’s see how this lasts when the newness and excitement have worn off.  But so far I am optimistic.

Of birthdays and brothers-in-law…

Well, it has been quite a week here at the Sunshine household.  Not too many actual events going on, but a lot of preparation happening for the monumental weekend ahead.

One of my favorite pics of Tadd with his brother.

So, the day is finally upon us…My 20 year old brother-in-law Keith arrives from Tennessee tonight and will be staying with us indefinitely until he either 1. Finds a job and is able to live properly on his own here in Orlando or 2. Breaks one of the rules set up for him at the onset of this whole trial period and finds himself on a plane heading back to Tennessee to a life of who knows what.  We are hoping for the former, of course.  I just hope he realizes the opportunity he is being given to start a new life for himself here in Orlando and doesn’t squander it.  I wish the best for the kid, but there is only so much you can do for someone before it becomes enabling.  I really want him to be independent and successful.  I don’t think he realizes that the good stuff in life takes work.  Hard work.  I really hope Tadd and I can instill some time management, goal-setting, and other life skills in him during his time with us.  From what my mother-in-law reports to us, I think he finally gets that this really is the last chance he will be given.  If he screws this up, he will truly be out in the world completely on his own.  It would be hard, but as I stated above, there is only so much you can do for someone to help them in their own life.  At some point, he has to step up.  If we keep holding his hand through life forever and cleaning up his messes for him, it doesn’t end up helping in the long run.  We do not intend to enable him.  We just want to set him up for success and to give him a little push so he can start learning to take control of his own life.

Today is ALSO a big day because I am also celebrating the birthday of a very dear friend, and we will be going to Bananas Modern American Diner!  I have been wanting to try this place for awhile.  It looks like so much fun!  Totally unhealthy, but it’s one of my bestie’s birthdays, so calories don’t count, right?  Right?  I hope they make her do something really embarrassing because it’s her birthday.  Like dance on a table or something.  Because it seems like that kind of a place.  I guess we will find out…

Anyways, first thing is first..I have some errands to run, Tadd needs a haircut, and we need to finish getting the house in order for Keith’s arrival.