Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cardinals go to Disney: Day 1

By K.J. Cardinal

The Cardinal Blog has been silent for nearly two years, which makes me a little sad, but this week is one of those instances that just demands some action. We are taking the kids to Disney for the first time.

Anna has been waiting patiently for seven years for us to make this trip. We've always told her that she needed to wait until Leo was five-years-old before we'd be making the trip to the Magic Kingdom. So, when we surprised her with the news two months ago, with Leo still being four, her reaction was absolute perfection and one of my happiest moments as a parent.

I just absolutely love this girl...

We flew nonstop out of Worcester and had a great travel day getting down here. It was just the second time flying for both kids, but the first one that Leo will actually remember as he was just two when we went to St. Thomas. Worcester Airport couldn't be smaller or more convenient. Zero lines, super nice TSA officers and no hassle whatsoever. It was a breeze.

Anyway, day one was relatively quiet. We landed around 2 p.m., snagged our rental car and headed to check-in at our hotel for the week. We traded in some timeshare points to stay at Westgate Lake Resorts. The place is OK. Nothing too fancy and rather dated, but we won't be spending much time in the room, so it really doesn't matter all that much... the important fact is that it is only about 15 minutes from Disney.

After checking in, the kids took a quick dip in one of the seven pools at the resort and we went to get dinner at this nice little sushi place we found on Yelp called Mikado Sushi. I highly recommend it as we got a big boat and it was probably the second-best sushi I've ever had and it wasn't all that expensive. Anna never ceases to amaze me when it comes to eating. She absolutely hammered the sushi... we had to remind her that it would be nice if she could "share" some of the salmon with us... Angie got one piece.

After dinner, we stumbled upon another gem for dessert... Private Island Ice Cream Company. This place is located in a little plaza across from Gatorland and they make their ice cream right in front of you, using liquid nitrogen. I'd never seen this done before and the ice cream had a real rustic, homemade feel to it. It was cool...

We then headed back to the hotel and just hung out in our room for a few hours and tried to get as much sleep as we could. We were all very excited for Disney day one... Magic Kingdom.

We woke the kids up around 6:30 a.m. and arrived to Disney around 7:30 a.m. We parked and took the tram over to the monorail terminal. You could cut the tension with a knife as the kids' anticipation level was at an all-time high. As we approached the area to take the monorail over, Anna asked if we could take the ferry over instead. We thought it was going to be a little chilly, but we were all up for it. We decided to snag a couple coffees and hot chocolates to warm us up if it was chilly. As we walked over to the coffee stand, Leo was jumping/running/skipping and tripped, fell and scraped up his knee pretty good. We hadn't even made it into Magic Kingdom and we had a crying, slightly bleeding little boy on our hands. Not a great start to the day, but Leo responded like a champion.

The ferry ride wasn't that cold after all, as it goes pretty slow, and we were at the gates before we knew it.

Angie has put a lot of work in trying to figure out the best plan of attack for Disney, but having "planned" vacations, really isn't entirely our speed. She booked our three fast past trips for the day and a dress up experience for the kids, but other than that, we wanted to shoot from the hip, go with the flow and react to what the kids wanted to do. It turned out to be the perfect plan for us.

As we entered, we saw that we could go meet Mickey Mouse, so what better way to start off our Disney experience, then by meeting the big guy himself. The kids seemed a little tentative and unsure about the whole ordeal when they first laid eyes on him and as we were meeting him, but once we walked out of the room, they were both beyond excited about it all. I got a little video of the meet and greet. Mickey tried to stonewall me with a handshake, but I had to go in for a hug... c'mon Mick, you're killing me.

We walked around, letting the kids soak in all that is magical about this place. We hit up rides like It's a Small World (had to do this first because, let's face it, this ride pretty much sucks in comparison to everything else Disney has to offer, but it's a staple and we had to do it), the haunted house, the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse and more early on, but the first big highlight of our day came at The Pirates League where Angie scheduled the kids to get made up like a pirate and a mermaid.

This whole experience was friggin cool. The makeup artists play the bit up big time as if they're straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean and the kids ate it up big time. Leo was the cutest little Jake the pirate you could ever imagine, but I was absolutely speechless as Anna sat in the chair and was getting all done up. This picture pretty much makes me want to burst out into tears...

One thing I wasn't really expecting was the reaction the kids would get as we walked around Magic Kingdom all day. People were absolutely in love with it. We had fun shocking people that we'd talk to by taking Leo's hat off to reveal his super short, blonde hair. Definitely not what people were expecting.

After The Pirates League experience, we took a quick break for the kids to snag some ice cream and Anna had to FaceTime with Meme and Aunt Kate to show off her makeup. It's an awesome world we live in where you can video chat with your grandmother and aunt from Disney so they can really feel like part of the experience. A GREAT idea by Anna. The way kids think these days is awesome... but I digress... We were off to Splash Mountain. The kids were absolutely wired. Leo enjoyed Splash Mountain just a little...

Priceless. The pirate costume just puts his normal cuteness over the top and the fact that he had to check his makeup had me dying.

We hit up a few more attractions and then decided around 5:30 p.m. that we were going to leave for a bit, go snag some dinner, take a nap at the hotel and return to the Magic Kingdom for the fireworks.

So we hit up an awesome Mexican joint called Chuys that Angie found on Yelp (definitely a go-to app for foodie travelers). It was just what the doctor ordered. We were able to get out of the sun and get into some air conditioning for a while and we all caught a second wind. For the kids, it was because they got dough balls to play with and we had a balloon artist come by our table, but for Angie and I, it was because of the $5 margaritas. Anyway, we had one of the most fun meals of our lives. Just being silly with the kids and each other and we rallied... BIG TIME!

I got the crazy idea to just head right back to Magic Kingdom and saying heck with the hotel and naps. Everyone was on board... and pumped! So, us crazy folks were headed right back into the lion's den.

As an aside, my only slight hesitation about this plan was that we didn't have a stroller and weren't planning on renting one. At like 11:30 a.m., Leo asked if we could go back to the hotel because his legs were tired. I thought I was in for a long day of carrying the 50+ pound behemoth, but he was a champion. Rides on the shoulder were periodic throughout the day, but  he forged ahead like a champ.

Anyway, we got back to Disney around 7:30 p.m. and we were ready for round two. We got the kids some light up toys and we hunkered down for the fireworks show. Leo was being Mr. Sociable... chatting it up with other kids, talking shop about light up toys and made the 30 minute wait fly by. Anna was taking it all in, like she usually does, and couldn't wait for the show to start.

The kids were blown away by the light show on Cinderella's castle... and I have to admit, I was too. Just such an amazing idea that's executed to perfection and has everyone in attendance feeling like a kid again. It truly is a magical place in that regard.

Immediately after the fireworks, Angie had set us up with a fast pass for the new Seven Dwarfs roller coaster. It was just what we all needed as we were a little sluggish after standing around for the fireworks and waiting for everyone to clear out so we could make our way to the ride. The Seven D coaster was awesome. My favorite of the day. Not sure if it was because it was night time and roller coasters at night are always better, or if the ride is just THAT good, but either way, we all caught our THIRD wind and were ready for more.

We hit up a few more attractions, including the Monsters Inc. Laugh Factory that had us all in stitches, and finally decided to leave the park around 11:30 p.m. On the walk out, Leo summed it up the day perfectly as he was on my shoulders walking down Main Street and said, "Dad, today was the best day of my life."

Hard to argue with that statement, bud. Thanks Walt.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Boston Strong

By K.J. Cardinal

When I started The Cardinal Blog back in 2007, I did so for two reasons. First, to keep my mother updated with the latest happenings of her grand daughter and, secondly, to document the important events of my kids' lives through my eyes. What happened on Monday in Boston is without a doubt one of the most important events of Anna and Leo's lives, so I feel obligated to document it... not only was Boston attacked, but sports was attacked.

Those of you that know me well, know that only my family defines me more than Boston and sports.

Boston is a city that I lived in for nearly a decade and Angie affectionately refers to Boston as "Kim-City". Sure, I was raised in Farmington, but I really grew up in Boston. I became a man in Boston.

I went to Northeastern for five years (just a few blocks from the finish line), got my first real job in Boston, met my wife in Boston and later proposed to her on the Boston Common Bridge and started my business in Boston. I know Boston. I love Boston. And, Boston is truly ingrained in the person that I am today.

As much as Boston has been a part of me for the past 15 years, sports has been there my entire life. From rooting on the Tigers in The Den and watching the Celts with my dad as a kid to working in sports information for eight years and then owning my own business that is based on video production of sports, it's safe to say that I don't know someone that is more submersed in sports than I am. Not only is it my biggest hobby and passion, but also my career and what pays the bills for me and my family.

So, to think that both Boston and sports were attacked on Monday really cuts deeps for me.

Marathon Monday is without a doubt the greatest day of the year to be in the city of Boston. I have said this for years and I hope with all my heart that it continues to be that. I clearly feel this way because it combines two of the greatest things in the world – Boston and sports – and it's really unexplainable unless you have been in town to experience leaving a Sox victory and spilling out into Kenmore Square as runners of the world's greatest marathon pass by. A truly euphoric feeling that can't be duplicated.

My heart is full of sorrow for the families of the victims of this senseless tragedy because they were just trying to enjoy something that will forever be a rite of passage for my kids – Boston and sports.

All I know is that no one does this to Boston... no one does this to sports. The city of Boston and the world of sports will certainly rebound stronger than ever after the cowards that pulled off this senseless act are found and I can't wait for the day when Anna and Leo are old enough to stand by my side to experience Marathon Monday... and hopefully THAT will be one of the most important events of all of our lives.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Puddle jumping

By K.J. Cardinal

Pretty much wrapped up the 2012 Father of the Year award the other day when I asked Leo if he wanted to go for a walk to play in the puddles. I could've offered him a bag full of candy and I think he would've turned it down for the opportunity to wreak havoc in the puddles.

Couldn't get much footage of him as I feared the overspray from a splash, but this should do the trick...

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

By K.J. Cardinal

For the first time in nearly a decade we were able to enjoy Thanksgiving up in Farmington. I seriously can't remember the last time I was able to eat my mom's cooking and spend the day with my family on turkey day. It was Angie's first time up in Farmtown and, obviously, the kids as well. As expected, it didn't disappoint.

I consider myself a very, very lucky person with countless things to be thankful for, but this year more than any other, I am thankful for the health of my family... especially my mom.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Feeling like a Patriot

By Angie Cardinal

This afternoon was a special treat for the kids and me...Anna and Leo's first trip to Gillette Stadium for a special "Healthy Kids Summit" event the YMCA put on. I had no idea we were in for so much fun when I registered a month ago. The pictures I took tell most of the story:

The kids were put on the red team, which won the nutrition and fitness trivia. Aunt Kate may have had something to do with Anna's knowledge of these topics.
Leo taking a break from a game of Tag to appease mommy's need to get a shot of him standing on the Pats logo on the 50 yrd line.

She loves to pose.

Patrick Chung, call me if you want to plan a play date in the off-season maybe. 

...and she's OUT.

To cap off the event, we had snacks in the Putnam Club, which is one of the swank lounges above the stadium seats with a gorgeous view of the field. I should inform you two of the volunteers approached us, separately, to let me know Patrick Chung pointed Leo out as his favorite kid. Did I post the above picture on his Facebook page? Yes. Yes I did.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Balloon fun

By K.J. Cardinal

Just a little balloon fun with Leo.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Birthday party bliss

By K.J. Cardinal

We officially celebrated Anna's birthday yesterday and what a perfect day it was.

Angie orchestrated a great time for all, which was highlighted by a trip to Berlin Farms for apple picking... and a legit baked potato bar... talk about epic.

Special thanks to everyone for making the trip over and for the awesome gifts that Anna received. Here are a pair of videos from the day... enjoy!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Anna turns five

By K.J. Cardinal

At 5:47 p.m. tonight, my little girl will officially turn five years old. Where on earth has the time gone?!

It seems as if it was just yesterday that I was holding Anna in my arms at the hospital as Manny hit a walk-off homerun to win game two of the 2007 ALDS against the Angels. A lot has changed in five years... not just for the Red Sox, but also for us.

Anna has endured her share of unique experiences in her five short years on this earth and those experiences have really helped mold her into quite an interesting little kid. She has spent a year with her dad as a stay-at-home father (arguably the most amazing time of my life), two years at day care and two years and counting with Angie as a stay-at-home mom. She has welcomed a little brother into this world and she has also had to watch her big sister move away to college. Like I said, she's had quite a journey.

Anyone that knows her, can attest to the fact that Anna's not your typical five-year-old. She's the master of the iPad. The ring-leader for shenanigans. An affectionate Cardinal. A well-versed movie critic. Queen of her Squinkies. A passionate Portagee. And always a relentless, beaming ball of energy.

I think that Aunt Kate may have put it best when she told me a few months back that "Anna has street smarts". I think that might be a good way to describe Anna.

For instance, say we "accidentally" left Anna at a playground a few towns over... pure hypothetical of course. I'd bet money that not only would she find a way to get a lift home from a new friend she made, but she'd probably swindle a trip to the Red Box and a stop at the McDonald's drive thru out of her new friend before setting up their next playdate and finding her way back home. She just has that way about her.

I feel confident that we are raising a little girl that will someday turn into a feisty, athletic young lady that is passionate in all that she does and compassionate to everyone along the way. Oh yeah, and it will probably drive her father insane with how ridiculously beautiful she will be... oh boy.

But, for now, I want to try to focus on 'the now' with Anna because I know that my days are numbered with her as my little girl. So, excuse me while I do my best to try and enjoy the amazing little girl that we are so blessed to have in our lives.

Happy Birthday, Anna. There is nothing greater in my world than you.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Pizza with Leo

By K.J. Cardinal

It's no secret that there are a lot of things about being a parent that I enjoy, but nothing is better than the little things... especially with Leo.

With Anna turning five in less than a week, my kids seem to be growing up wildly fast and it's the little things like this that I know I will look back on someday and miss so much.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Freddy F*$! Face

By K.J. Cardinal

Leo asks Aunt Kate if he can watch a little Freddy "Frog" Face...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Blog is running on fumes

By K.J. Cardinal

Well, it's no surprise to anyone, but I have to admit that the blog is running on absolute fumes lately... I just never get around to updating it. But, the good news is that photos and videos still keep getting posted somewhere, they just usually don't make their way to a full-out blog post.

So, if you need a fix of my kids, your best bet is to check them out on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or instagram. Enjoy...


Friday, June 15, 2012

Belly flop

By K.J. Cardinal

Leo perfects the belly flop while Anna picks her wedge. My kids are so classy.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Doane's Falls & Royalston Falls

By K.J. Cardinal

Anna & Leo at Doane's Falls
Well, my quest to find more outdoor adventures for our family to enjoy recently took us to Royalston, Mass. where we hiked to Doane's Falls and Royalston Falls. It was the first real hike that we have done with the kids and overall I think it was a runaway success.

A little obvious caveat first... when hiking to "falls" there are going to be more potentially dangerous scenarios than hiking a mountain, but there is also more to keep the kids interested in, so the risk was worth the reward for us... by that, I mean, no one fell in.

Doane's Falls
Anyway, Doane's Falls is an absolutely perfect spot to take your kids for their first hike. When you park your car, you can hear the rushing water and only have to walk a few feet before you can see the falls. Anna was immediately psyched to be there. We took about 10 steps and she says, "this is awesome, daddy!"... mission accomplished.

So, Leo was strapped on my back in the MacPac that we have and Angie had a backpack with essentials and off we went. It's only about a half mile hike to get to a nice picnic spot where you can view the lower falls. The kids had a blast here as they could sit down on some of the log benches to eat and run around a bit as it offers quite an open area that is actually handicap accessible from a different access point than how we entered.

Self-timer family photo... nice of Leo to stop eating 

Mommy & Anna at Royalston Falls
After lunch, we made the short hike back to the car and drove to Royalston Falls for our second trip of the day.

Now that the cupcake hike was out of the way, we actually had to work a little bit to get to Royalston Falls. First, I had to navigate the XTerra down a pretty treacherous road until we could not drive any further. We put it in park and hiked a few miles to the falls.

Here is where Anna really shined. She hiked the whole way all by herself and only asked to stop to take a break once or twice... which was about as many times as I had to ask for a break as Leo + the MacPac filled with food = about 50 pounds and a solid workout for me. We actually let Anna lead the way and she was happy as a clam.

Royalston Falls
When we reached the falls, it definitely wasn't as big as Doane's Falls, but more of a natural wonder than I think any of us were expecting. In the middle of the woods was a small, meandering river that plummeted probably a good 150 feet into this gorge.

The pictures I took really can't do the Royalston Falls justice as it's tough to gage the height and power of the falls, but it's definitely a worthwhile hike if you're ever so inclined.

Both Royalston Falls and Doane's Falls are managed by The Trustees of Reservations, which also manages Spirit Falls that is in Royalston as well. We didn't have time to hit that up, but if we venture back someday, we will go earlier in the morning and try to hit up all three.

Daddy & Leo at Royalston Falls
Overall, we had a great time and will definitely be making some more hikes with the kids. I have a few places identified that are great swimming holes, so hopefully this summer we can get the chance to try something else new with the kids.

Also, I'd like to take a minute to thank Greg Parsons, author of New England Waterfalls for his assistance. I stumbled across his book at REI the other day with the kids, but got dragged away when fatherly-duties came calling. Anyway, I came across his email address online and figured I'd drop him a note to see if he had any thoughts or recommendations on the falls. Graciously, he emailed me the three pages out of his book on all three falls in Royalston. I will be purchasing his book the next time I'm at REI, that's for sure. Thanks Greg!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Playoff fever

By K.J. Cardinal

Man, I think I'm coming down with a major case of playoff fever and the only prescription is more from the Captain. Green 18!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Playground fun

By K.J. Cardinal

Best buds... at times.
On Sunday, Angie and I took the kids to the Haskell Field playground in Sudbury.

It's without a doubt the best playground in the area that we've come across and the kids absolutely love it.

The playground is divided into different sections for different age groups, so it has something for everyone. Leo obviously migrates towards whatever his big sister is doing, rather than the more age-appropriate things for him, so that keeps us on our toes for sure.

Anna is turning into a pretty athletic little kid. She was dominating this spider web-like climbing structure.

When we got there, she went right over to it as she knew it was right up her alley, but she was a little unsure on how to attack the thing. I tried to coach her through it, but it's just something that she was going to have to figure out on her own... and that she did.

About five minutes later, she had made her way to the top for the first time and was the proudest kid in the world. She couldn't wait to do it again... and again... and again. After her first successful voyage, she was flying up the thing without any hesitation.

So intense.

Leo is getting there too. He wants to do everything Anna does, which has disaster written all over it, but luckily crisis was averted.

I was kind of shocked that he wasn't all about this huge sandbox area that they have. It's filled with trucks, shovels, buckets, rakes, etc. Just seemed to be right in his wheelhouse to me.

But instead, he was more interested in following Anna and walking around with a small stick and banging it on things. His pronounciation isn't quite there yet on stick, so he calls it a "dick". I NEED to get footage of this.

Anyway, of course, I just follow him around and ask him "whaddaya got, Leo?"... just to see him show me the stick and say "dick". I know, I know, 12-year-old humor, but it still cracks me up every time... kinda like when you ask him to say kitty.

Hungry hungry hippo.
Overall, just a fun activity with the kids. The whole playground is covered with that soft composite rubber flooring stuff, so it's somewhat a stress free environment for parents too... it's always great when you don't have to worry about your kid cracking their skull open on the pavement. If you live in the area, definitely hit it up someday, it definitely won't disappoint.

Friday, April 27, 2012

April Vacation 2012

By K.J. Cardinal

Sapphire Beach (St. Thomas, USVI)
This is without a doubt the most amount of time I've ever spent on one single post for The Cardinal Blog, and I guess it's only fitting because it's the first real vacation we've taken to an exotic destination since I launched the blog back in 2007. Needless to say, the vacation was a long-time coming and it didn't disappoint for a second.

I don't blame you if you don't read this entire post, but I had to do it so we will always be able to look back on what an amazing week we had. So, if you're not interested in the daily run down of our trip, then just be sure to scroll through to see the pics and most importantly the videos. Definitely some really cool stuff. Anyway, here goes...

Sunday, April 15: Coney Island

By flying out of JFK instead of Logan, we were able to save over $200/ticket on our direct flights to St. Thomas. This was obviously a no-brainer, which meant we would head down to NYC the day before our flights to enjoy a day at Coney Island.

Sad way to start the trip... a sniper took out all three kids on the Merritt Parkway.

The only thing I really knew about Coney Island was that it annually plays host to the Nathan's hot dog eating contest... and quite frankly (pun intended) that was really all that Leo and I needed to know about the place.

We arrived around 11:30 a.m. and were able to get free on-street parking as it was pretty early for a spring beach crowd. [As an aside, Sunday trips to NY will be in our future as free on-street parking and a late-awaking city was a treat.]

This dog didn't stand a chance.
First things first, we did what every red-blooded American should do immediately when they get to Coney Island... and that's grab a hot dog from Nathan's.

Nathan's (Coney Island)
The hot dog's didn't disappoint, but the cheese fries were a surprise hit with the ladies and I was pretty psyched to get a 32 ounce draft beer in a paper cup. Kinda made me feel like I was sneaking beers in a movie theatre and pouring them into an empty soda cup... not that I'd ever do that, of course.

After fueling up, we ventured over to Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, located directly on the boardwalk. I was rather surprised by the number of rides, especially for little kids, which were right in Anna's wheelhouse. We bought a bunch of tickets and off we went.

Sammy can't contain her excitement.
Leo was enjoying his time on my back in the MacPac, which meant that Anna could really dominate some rides. For the first of a million times on our vacation, Sammy proved to be the MVP of the trip as she hopped on the whales with Anna to get the festivities started.

Anna was in her glory as she bounced from ride to ride. First the whales, then the dragon coaster, then the train and the ducks with Leo and so on and so forth.

Photo op on the Wonder Wheel.
She really showed how she's getting older and more daring with ride selection. First, Anna opted to go on the big Wonder Wheel with Sammy and I. This isn't your traditional Ferris Wheel. Sure it goes super high, around in a circle, but the cart that we were in was on this free-flowing track that enabled the cart to roll and swing and sway while way up in the air. It was pretty scary for Anna, but she was unfazed by it all.

Deno's Free Fall.
After the Wonder Wheel, Anna mustered up the courage to go on Deno's Free Fall. This was a kids' version of the Tower of Terror, but still went pretty high and was the maiden voyage for Anna on a ride that "really got my belly" as she told me.

The very first "fall" that the ride took, caused Anna to have a brief look of panic on her face, but that quickly turned to elation as she loved the ride so much that she wanted to "do it again" immediately after the first run ended.

There's nothing in the world quite like seeing the look of pure joy on your child's face. Anna always lets her emotions show (for better or worse) and when it's for the better, her energetic personality just infects everyone around her.

Watching her on the Free Fall was not only a treat for us, but for all the other park-goers as well. I mean, her screams did tend to draw some attention...

This is one of my favorite photos that I've ever taken. I really outdid myself.
While Coney Island on a Sunday in April didn't have much more to offer than hot dogs and the amusement parks, the place was pretty cool and the kids definitely enjoyed themselves.

We piled back in the Xterra and headed to check into our hotel. After checking in, Sammy and I did some solid research on Yelp! and came across a dinner and dessert destination.

For dinner, we headed to Flushing and visited this Chinese joint called Sifu Chio. It was amazing. Without a doubt one of the best hole in the wall restaurants I've ever been to. For dessert, we hit up a place Sammy had heard of called Max and Mina's for ice cream. They didn't have as many off-the-wall flavors as we had hoped for, but they made a killer Black Raspberry that definitely rivaled Lone Oak... which is saying something.

We decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel as we had a 8 a.m. flight in the morning. Overall a fun, but relatively low-key, low-stress way to start our vacation. Now, off to paradise...

Monday, April 16: JFK to Paradise

Gratuitous tourist photo #1. 
My 5:30 a.m. alarm came VERY early as we had to shower and pack up the car to head to JFK Long Term Parking. The kids were somewhat out of it initially, but the talks of taking a shuttle bus and an airplane definitely put a little pep in their step.

Leo & Pluto just chillin.
I was a little worried about the process of getting the kids through the airport and security, but Angie had picked up this luggage cart that we strapped Leo's car seat to and he was perfectly content just cruising through the whole process.

Angie really made a big push for 2012 Mother of the Year as she had prepared and pulled out all the stops for the first flight of Anna and Leo's lives.

Fully charged iPhones, iPads, MacBooks. Snacks. Toys. Candy. Gum. Lollipops. You name it, she had it. And boy-oh-boy, did it work like a charm. The kids were good as gold on the four-hour direct flight.

Flying in style.
Of course Anna didn't nap, and therefore wouldn't let me nap, but she was pretty psyched to have a window seat with her plethora of goodies, including noise-cancelling headphones and Puss and Boots.

Daddy was extra happy as the credit card machine on the airplane wasn't functioning properly so this meant that food and drinks were on the house. This type of stuff never happens... well, not to me at least.

As the plane was landing, Anna couldn't have been any cuter. She was looking out the window excitedly and was giving pretty loud commentary to every thought that was running through her head. The plane would dip with a little turbulence, and she'd giggle and say "it tickles my tummy". Then as we got close to the ground, she said, "This is cool... I'm a little scared... but it's OK." Her inner monologue was coming out of her mouth and everyone within ear shot was in hysterics.

I so wish that I had video footage of that. It was priceless.

We landed in 84 degree weather and vacation was officially on. Adam had warned us to be patient as everyone operates on "island time" and that was apparent the minute we tried to get our rental car. It was a rather lengthy process and the kids had so much pent up excitement and energy that the time from baggage claim to lunch seemed like an eternity.

Anyway, we got our white Ford Fusion from Budget and grabbed some lunch in Charlotte Amalie at the Fat Turtle. The waterfront restaurant was a great starter as not only was the service and food great, but the waitress was throwing some food scraps in the water feed the fish and it was quite a spectacle. Baracudas and other tropical fish came out to feast, while crabs and iguanas on the rocks were basking in the sun.

Needless to say, we were all psyched to be in the Caribbean and couldn't wait to hit the beach.

View from the living room balcony.
Before we did that though, we had to go check into our condo for the week. We stayed at the Elysian Resort in Cowpet Bay. We found one of Nancy's Condos through VRBO.com and the place was awesome.

Two bedrooms. Three baths. Open concept kitchen, dining room, living room. Ceiling fans and ACs in all rooms. Three separate balconies... one off of each bedroom and the living room. A wine rack stocked with wine and alcohol?!?! It was amazing... better than advertised.

We headed down to the beach at Cowpet Bay, less than 100 yards away, and then hit up the amazing Elysian Resort pool.

Cowpet Bay (St. Thomas, USVI)
Cowpet Bay was calm waters and completely empty in the late afternoon when we first ventured there, which was a pleasant surprise. A solid beach for the kids, but an average beach for the Caribbean.

Now, the pool on the other hand was spectacular. I knew the kids would love the pool, but I didn't realize how much I would love it as well. Every day we'd hit up a beach or two in the morning and then come back to the hotel to regroup, hit the pool, have dinner and then go night swimming.

There is this grotto area in the pool that has two entrances with little waterfalls over each. The kids were in love. We spent countless hours by the pool and ended up being a HUGE hit of the trip... as you can see...

She can sleep anywhere.
Day one in St. Thomas was so perfect that I didn't want it to come to an end. So, we went all out and hit up the fancy resort restaurant to treat ourselves to a high class dinner.

Delicious food, a friendly server, live steel drums playing in the background, open air seating. It was heavenly. Anna felt so comfortable in fact, she put her head on my lap and fell asleep :)

Our first day in the islands was complete and I couldn't wait for more.

Tuesday, April 17: Coki Beach

Morning cartoons.
The sound of waves on the beach was a blessing to wake up to each morning. Just a perfect way to start the day... well that and having Leo come into bed to snuggle and watch a morning cartoon... couldn't get any better for Angie and I.

Our plan of attack was to get up early in the morning each day as the kids are definitely at their best before the late afternoon. So, we had breakfast and were out the door around 9 a.m. with Coki Beach as our destination.

Anna was convinced she'd catch him.
Coki Beach is the home of Coral World Sea Park, so it's kind of touristy, but I thought it had a cool local vibe to it. We didn't visit Coral World, but rather went to the opposite end of the beach and got a prime spot next to the rocks.

Friendly local vendors coming by to offer up lounge chairs, drinks, food, etc. wasn't entirely what I was expecting out of St. Thomas, but I also surprisingly didn't mind it... actually, I enjoyed it.

Snugglin' on the beach.
The kids explored the rocks, experienced snorkeling for the first time (on their cool snorkel rafts), Anna tried to catch a pelican, I had a bucket or two of beers, Sammy lounged in the sun, Angie enjoyed some local smoothies and the Caribbean jerk chicken for lunch was legit. Coki had a little bit of something for everyone.

Leo had a good time, but little did we know that he had some major chaffing going on with his swim shorts and inner thighs. It was a slight problem that left him a little gun shy with the salt water for the next day, but he battled back and finished strong.

We left Coki and headed back to the Elysian for more pool action and a much more casual dinner... pizza.

Angie and I decided that Wednesday would be our day in St. John... so early to bed and early to rise was once again the plan.

Wednesday, April 18: St. John

I think I must've been pretty excited to go to St. John because I woke up around 5 a.m. and started packing up things for our day trip. We decided to take the car ferry over and it turned out to be a great plan.

By taking the car ferry, we could really explore the island faster and cheaper in one day and also got to experience some kamikaze driving. After the quick 15-minute ferry ride over, we hit the roads for Trunk Bay.

Along the way, I had to stop to capture this amazing view...

St. John (USVI)
Our early departure from St. Thomas meant an early 8:45 a.m. arrival at Trunk Bay... or as I like to call it... Paradise.

There were only probably a dozen other people on the beach for the first two hours we were there and it was my favorite two hours of the trip.

Trunk Bay (St. John, USVI)
Just a picture perfect setting. Pristine sandy beaches. Impossibly blue water. Green mountain ranges.

The waves were strong enough to knock me over if I was sitting chest-deep in water, but the sand was so soft, with no rocks at all, that Anna and I must've spent hours letting the waves have their way with us.

We positioned ourselves in the shade of a big tree that the kids ended up playing under and the whole time there was just something that I will never forget.

Anna lovin' life at Miss Lucy's.
After a long morning of playing on the beach, we took a drive and had lunch at this cool local restaurant, Miss Lucy's. It was kinda pricey for lunch and super slow service, but I'd eat there everyday for the rest of my life and be perfectly content.

It's right on the water in a rocky cove and the property that abuts the parking lot is full of goats. So, the long wait for lunch didn't seem so bad as the kids took turns roaming the area and enjoyed their smoothies at our table in the shade.

After lunch, we drove around to check out the other beaches. Angie and I were plotting our return trip already :)

Words simply can't do the scenery on St. John justice. I am so glad that we took a day trip over there and I will be dreaming about a return trip there until the day when we are fortunate enough to go back.

Our day in St. John was perfect.

Thursday, April 19: Magen's Bay & Sapphire Beach

Our last full day on St. Thomas started with a long trip up to Magen's Bay.

Magen's Bay (St. Thomas, USVI)
I'm not sure if Trunk Bay left me with high expectations, but I was less than impressed with Magen's Bay. It was touristy and crowded and didn't offer much in the way of snorkeling or waves and I was just bored.

We stayed only a few hours before deciding to head out to find another spot.

[As an aside, that's the beauty of the Virgin Islands. If you are bored with a beach or if it's overrun with people, you can simply pack up shop and drive 15 minutes to another amazing location... which we did.]

We ended up at Sapphire Beach and it was awesome... definitely my favorite beach on St. Thomas that we visited.

Sapphire Beach (St. Thomas, USVI)

Sapphire had everything that I was looking for and it was a great way to cap off our last beach of the trip.

After a late afternoon at the beach (we clearly didn't want our vacation to end), we headed back to the resort for dinner.

I was completely exhausted after dinner, but Anna, the Energizer bunny, wanted to go night swimming one last time. I knew that my dad would've taken me on the last day of vacation, so I took one for the team and took Anna out for one last dip.

I'm so glad that I did because we were the only ones in the pool and we had a moment that I will never forget. This was our conversation...
Me: So, did you have fun on our trip to St. Thomas and St. John? 
Anna: Yeah, dad. Thanks so much for taking me to cool places.
Me: Awww. You're welcome, Anna. Isn't it great here?
Anna: Yeah, but not as great as you, Daddy.
I can't make stuff like that up and it seriously caught me so off guard that I got all teary-eyed. It was without a doubt the perfect thing to say at the perfect time. Anna has the biggest heart of any kid I've ever met and I'm so glad she's mine :)

The entire trip she didn't nap once. She'd dose off for 10 minutes or so when we were in the car, but never a full blown nap. She was an absolute warrior and had a great week.

Leo continued to steal the show everywhere we went... just be being himself. The locals absolutely loved him. From our server at the Fat Turtle to the parking attendant at Coki Beach to our server at the nice restaurant at the resort, Leo had everyone eating out of his hand and made me smile at every turn... like he always does.

It was also so special to be able to take Sammy on an awesome trip for the final high school vacation. We ask a lot out of Sammy, so it was great to be able to reward her for doing well in school and being  a great big sister to Anna and Leo.

Lastly, the person that deserved this trip more than the rest of us combined was Angie. As a stay-at-home mom for nearly a year, Angie is the glue that keeps our family running and she needed a break. Sure we had the kids along with us, so it wasn't a break from them, but we prefer to do things together anyway. The change of scenery couldn't have been any better and the kids were great, so I know the vacation was special for her.

On Friday, we flew back to JFK and drove home to Hudson. Nothing too eventful.

Well, that's our trip in a very, very long story. Anyway, here's a video of our travels. Enjoy...

Kamikaze driving in St. John

By K.J. Cardinal

During our vacation in the Caribbean, we took the car ferry out of Red Hook in St. Thomas to Cruz Bay in St. John. The five of us all piled into our white Ford Fusion rental and took the quick 15-minute trip over to the neighboring island.

In St. Thomas you drive on the left side of the road but the steering wheel is still on the left side of the car like in the States. I was surprised that it didn't take any effort at all to adjust to driving on the left.

Sure, the first time on-coming traffic came at us and it was in the right lane, I thought I was going to kill my entire family. But, rest-assured I didn't and it was pretty much smooth sailing from then on in St. Thomas.

But, when we went to St. John it's a completely different story. You still drive on the left and the steering wheel is still on the left, but it's a much less developed island and the roads are unbelievably winding and narrow. The scenery was breathtaking, but driving was without a doubt scary as hell.

Being dumb tourists, we were just navigating the islands off of the Google maps app on Angie's phone and while it always got us to where we wanted to go, while on St. John it took us on Route 108... which apparently is an "un-driveable" road. I was honestly worried that we were going to bottom out so bad that we'd rip the exhaust off the rental or get stuck in the middle of nowhere.

We miraculously managed to get the Fusion through this road and survived the journey.

A few miles after we got back onto the normal paved, windy, narrow roads, we made our way back to Cruz Bay and had to go through a rotary... on the left side of the road.

Now that kinda blew my mind. Thank god there were cars in front of me, allowing me to just go with the traffic, otherwise I might've had to pull over to think about that one for a second.

Anyway, I obviously did what anyone would expect in this situation... I strapped a camera to the front of the rental and got the drive on video.

A few things to note:

• As if the windy, narrow, unpaved roads weren't enough, you randomly encounter donkeys and goats in the middle of the road to contest with as well.

• And, I sped up the video in portions to avoid making a 10-minute video... plus it adds more excitement to the 5-10 MPH snails pace I was on at times.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Leo mans the GoPro

By K.J. Cardinal

Well, I have begun sifting through all the video footage from our April Vacation in the US Virgin Islands and came across this gem. Leo got ahold of my GoPro camera, managed to push record and began shooting. Cheeeeeese!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Meet Harvey Polgreen

By K.J. Cardinal

Anna and Leo were treated with a special guest today as Adam stopped by with their new dog Harvey.

He's a rescue dog from Alabama and, as you can see, one of the cutest dogs of all-time. He's a beagle, maltese mix and was perfectly behaved while he was here.

Not surprising to anyone that knows her, Adam's daughter Katie is in her glory with him and feels like the luckiest lady on the planet.

I'm nervous for the day when Anna bats those eye lashes at me and asks for a dog. Don't get me wrong, I love dogs, I just don't see myself as a dog owner... just yet. Maybe someday. But, until then hopefully we can get some QT with Harvey to fill the void.

PS: Don't worry Bauer, Anna wasn't cheating on you with another dog... you'll always be her best friend.