HARK… The Finish Line!

As I continue to tell the story of my first marathon experience, I am now onboard one of the Disney buses.  Runners who are staying at one of the Disney hotels have access to these buses which transport you to Epcot where the event begins.  Walking on the bus I smile at other runners and they smile back.  Some were talking animatedly to the person sitting next to them, some quietly reflective, and others had that dreamy look of anticipation on their faces similar to my own.

The marathon begins and ends in the Epcot parking lot.  As we arrive and the bus unloads, I start to walk in the same direction as thousands of other people.  It is now 4:00am.

I begin to shiver in spite of myself.  It is dark and cold.  I remember thinking why did I wear shorts?  Snapping out of my reflection zone, I look up and see more runners shuffling through the parking lot.  Taking a deep breath I say to myself, “Wow!”  The amount of people was extraordinary.

Making our way into the main area, loud music is pumping.  A live DJ blasts music old and new to motivate the runners.  The area is well-lit and there are pre-race refreshment stations, check-in bag locations, and rows upon rows of porta potties lining the side areas.  Approaching one of the many white tents which are organized and separated by the initials of your last name, I go check my bag.

A gracious woman in her 60’s wearing a bright smile on her face asks me if this was my first race.  After responding yes, I asked her whether this was her first time volunteering.  She responds, “Goodness no.  I have volunteered every year for the past 5 years.  I travel from Minnesota just to be here.”  We chatter briefly some more, and I thank her for being a wonderful addition to the event.

Walking out of the tent, one of the other volunteers standing outside the tent holds her hand up to me for a hi-five.  SLAP!  Another good luck is said.  My smile broadens.  Already feeling a deep sense of accomplishment for just being there, the hospitality of all of the volunteers and the runners made me feel very welcome.

There is just about a 1/2 mile walk (15-20 minutes) from the starting area to the corrals where runners are separated according to pace time.  Corral A, B, C, D, etc.  Now is a great time to use the porta potties one last time so you don’t have to stop soon into your race.  The lines appear to be a mile long, but you have to wait anyway so might as well take advantage of the time you have.  There are some who are jogging around already for warm up, but most sit on the cold concrete getting a good stretch.  This is exactly what I do as there would be plenty of time for warm up.

Large screens keep you aware of what is going on in the front at all times.  After what seemed like hours, it is announced that the race is about to begin! Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy come up to the stage to prep us for the big start.  Now the crowd is pumped!  I can feel the excitement rise up in the air.

The National Anthem is sung.  The goosebumps start to prickle my arms, and I feel my heart swell with anticipation.  My eyes water as other runners look at me and say, “Ready?”  I say back, “Oh yeah!”  The smiles abound.  The hopping up and down begins, and I join.  The music kicks up again and we jump up and down some more.  PUMPED!  If only to feel this wonderful energy I would do a thousand more of these.

The wheelchair starters and elite runners would lead the pack so they are the first to gear up.  The runners are pumping fists in the air and you hear woo hoo’s everywhere.  Mickey and the gang announce if we are ready.  Then suddenly it’s time.  A colorful and brilliant array of fireworks blast into the sky indicating the beginning of the race.  BOOM!  Corral by corral we move forward until it’s my turn.  BOOM!  I am off!

The exhilaration upon take off is like none other.  For some reason I can’t wipe the goofy smile away and find myself chuckling at the costumes some people have worn.  Princesses, pirates, and Disney characters everywhere.

I run, and run, and run some more.  People cheering to the left and to the right of me.  Strangers who have no idea who I am are cheering.  YOU CAN DO IT!  Irene Cara’s, “What a Feeling” song pops in my head and my legs pump on.  With each passing mile comes a new experience as a splash of a Disney character here and there wave us on.  I stop for a photo opportunity.  Quick hug from Mickey and Minnie and I’m off again.

Our first run through was Epcot.  It was still dark and my eyes glowed in wonder at the beauty of Spaceship Earth at night.  As we enter the World Showcase area, the lagoon is alit with beautiful lights.  Passing each country there is a thin line of people continuing to cheer us on.  Mulan and Mushu the Chinese dragon wave us on as we pass China.  Feeling the rhythm of my heart, the pavement beneath my feet, and my breath catching the cold air in and out of my lungs I feel free and joyous.

Mile 5 came up rather quickly I thought.  So excited was I that I was not paying attention to how fast I was going.  Too many distractions.  High school bands playing Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.”  Drumliners banging on their drums and trumpets blaring as they rocked to the theme from the movie Rocky.  Things were only getting better.

Approaching mile 10, I knew Cinderella’s castle was coming up.  The sun starts to slowly rise above the peaks of the castle in the horizon.  Cinderella, Prince Charming, Gus (the mouse), Drizella, and Anastasia are all there.  At this point, I wish my kids were here to see this.  Running through the castle I feel like a kid again and well up with tears of joy.  Ten miles down and another 16.2 to go.  I kept telling myself do not think of the miles, think of the accomplishment.

After the excitement of Cinderella’s castle the run becomes boring.  Entering mile 11-16 the steam in my chugger begins to fizzle.  A few onlookers catch my dejected look and hold up their hands to hi-five me.  The crowd grows thicker and I pick up a little again as I hear, “YOU CAN DO IT!”  However, I start to feel tingling on the bottom of my right foot.

Deciding to ignore it (big mistake), I close in on mile 16 and Animal Kingdom.  The Tree of Life appears and my interest peaks again.  Before the race, I was sure to sign up for runner’s tracking.  This means my husband will be able to receive texts with up-to-date information on my progress. He would know where I was and how long it was taking me.

Carrying my cell phone, which I was also using as my iPod and camera at the same time, my husband calls me and excitedly says, “Babe you are rocking!  At the rate you are going you will be at the finish line in no time.  I am on my way there now with the kids to meet you.  See you soon.  I love you and I am so proud!”  Until this point I was keeping a nice comfortable pace between 11:10 and 11:45.  However, when I stopped to talk to my husband and attempted to pick up my pace again, the tingling feeling in the bottom of my right foot turns into numbness.

Trudging on to mile 17, I am trying to deal with the numbness on my right foot.  Now I have to stop and stretch some more.  Taking off again I approach mile 18, and feel a shooting pain from the arch of my foot to my hip upon take off.  No choice now I stop again.  The feeling can be compared to that of when your leg falls asleep and then you get those weird electric jolts.

On the side of the road I stop by a row of porta potties and feel more pain.  I begin to cry not believing that my body is giving up.  Looking up at the bright blue sky I think how could it be possible that I would not finish having come this far.  A sweet young woman from Jamaica (as I found out during my conversation with her) stops to use one of the porta potties and stretches by me.  She asks me what is wrong.  I tell her how unbelievably disappointed I am that my body is giving out on me.  She says she feels terrible too and is struggling at this point not knowing herself if she was going to make it.  We both provide some support to each other.  She hugs me and I her and we wish each other luck.

Giving myself 8 minutes more of recovery time, I walk it out for a mile and a half.  Feeling better at mile 20, I pick it up again.  Convincing myself that there is no way I am giving up now, I started with a light jog and before long there was mile 23!  Another group of people pace alongside me.  A second moment of encouragement comes when a woman is pacing with her daughter next to me and says, “hey honey is this your first?”  After some conversation I learned that she was 65 years old and this was her 12th marathon!  Inspired by her story I carried on.

Mile 25 I am approached by a beautiful woman who looks like a model.  Tall and lean.  She begins a conversation with me asking if this was my first too.  At this point I am thinking (is first-time marathoner tattooed on my head?)  In speaking with her, she says that she is a marathon runner and she was taking this one very easy because she was six months pregnant.  This was the third moment of encouragement for me.

Incredulous I could not believe her.  Not only did she not look pregnant, but she was running a marathon pregnant!  She carried me through until the end with her stories of running.  We crossed the finish line together, I thanked her for keeping me company, wished her luck on her baby, and told her what an inspiration she was.  She replies, “So are you. There are not many who do this.  You should be proud.”

At the finish line, the tears flowed freely.  The crowd is thick now with loud cheering.  I hear the music again and announcers pushing us on, “You’re almost there!”  Approaching the finish line, I catch a glimpse of my family holding their handmade signs of encouragement in the air cheering me on.  I cry with abandon from the emotion of what I had just accomplished not knowing if I was going to finish.  Alas, I did.  HARK… THE FINISH LINE!

The power of people, encouragement, and the will to finish what I started was stronger that day than anything I could have imagined or was prepared for.  Collapsing in my family’s arms, they hug me tightly and say how very proud of me they are.  Later I found that I developed plantar fasciitis.  After this, I learned how to safely take care of my body so that this doesn’t happen again. Nevertheless, I happily made it to the finish line completing my first marathon!  Proof that anything is possible….



What’s wrong with me? How I ran my first marathon and finished!

 Adults are just grown up kids anyway.” – Walt Disney


One given day, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could run my first marathon before I get too old to try?”  Now being the goal oriented, I-can-do-anything-I-put-my-mind-to-person, I decided to just do it!

Once my mind was made up, the next thing left was to search for the right marathon for a beginner like me.  I took 2 months to search for just the right event that would cater to my new experience, and most of all make it fun.  Pouring over running forums, blogs, and Runner’s World Magazines, I discovered Walt Disney World’s Marathon Weekend.

Runner's World magazine, published by Rodale s...
Image via Wikipedia

After reading all of the special things they do, the fun that the runners experienced while running the event, and the magical feeling you get while running through Cinderella’s castle was enough to convince me to go for it.  Without pondering any further, I signed up and BAM it becomes a goal.

An even more glorious goal was to do one on my actual birthday.  I got my wish with the Disney Marathon!  I will attempt to explain in words what I felt the entire weekend.  This is a challenge because it is hard to describe the emotions felt and the feat I was about to accomplish.  Unbeknownst to me it would become one of the most exhilarating and difficult things I have done.

I wanted to celebrate my birthday Disney style so I scheduled many things to do throughout the weekend that would not only be enjoyable for me, but for my family as well.

Before running in any of the events scheduled for the big weekend, you must present yourself at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex to sign in and pick up your runner’s packet.  This is where you present your i.d., turn in your waivers, and pick up your bib number.  This makes it official. I was so excited at this point that I could hardly contain myself!  I remember thinking there is no turning back now.  I’ve picked up my number and now its full speed ahead.  Let the fun begin.

After bib number pick up, you walk across to the next building where Disney’s Health and Fitness Expo is held.  It is here that we pick up the rest of our packets consisting of a runner’s shirt, bag check-in tag (to be used during the marathon), Clif bars, and other advertising material.  The Expo was enjoyable and informational.  Anything you need for running they had to offer via many vendors.  They even had massage stations available and areas where they would tape up your knee and other achy body parts, if needed.  It was a cool event kicking off what turned out to be a spectacular weekend.

We spent an hour or so walking around the Expo, brought a few things, and then walked out.  Heading towards the back of the grounds of the Sports Complex, the kids were anticipating meeting some of their favorite Disney characters at the “Pasta in the Park Party.”  This is a paid event that consists of a party held from 6:30pm-8:30pm with a pasta style buffet dinner.

The event itself includes: Buffet pasta dinner and dessert, a live DJ, and Disney character appearances throughout the entire meal.

The menu offered consisted of: Mixed Greens with Lite Vinaigrette & Cucumber Yogurt Dressing, Herb Balsamic Potato Salad, Herb Roasted Chicken, Bowtie Pasta with Grilled Vegetables and Basil Pesto, Wheat Penne Pasta with Marinara Sauce, Parmesan Cheese, House-made Focaccia Bread with Butter, Whole Bananas, and Chocolate Brownies.  Food prepared for every runner’s delight.

We were seated in a round table under an oversized white tent where we awaited the arrival of Disney characters.  One by one they came: Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, Pluto, etc.  As we dined, the kids were able to get up and take pictures with each character, shake their hands and even whisper in their ear.  It was one on one time with the characters.  It felt more intimate than the appearances at the theme parks.  They gave the kids plenty of time to interact with them.  My kids were smiling ear to ear.

After dinner the kids ran loose around the grounds and grassy areas of the complex.  As we watched our kids run and play, my husband hugs me and asks me if I was ready, I looked up at him and told him ready as I’ll ever be.  He squeezed my arm and said he had no doubt that I would cross the finish line.  We got back to the hotel, changed into our swimming suits and swam in the heated pool.  Exhausted, we collapsed in bed around 11:00pm.

The next day, Saturday, was my birthday!  I had arranged a character breakfast as if I was turning 9 instead of 39.  Why not?  As Walt Disney has said, “Your dead if you aim only for kids. Adults are only kids grown up, anyway.”  I can be the biggest kid you’ll meet.  Having fun in life is what it’s about after all.

Our reservations for breakfast were at Disney’s Hollywood Studios Play ‘n Dine at Hollywood & Vine.  We had done many of the other character breakfasts in other parks before such as: Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort, and The Crystal Palace at the Magic Kingdom among others.  We decided to try something different.

I loved my buffet breakfast, especially my Mickey shaped waffles, and Disney character greetings for the kids.

One of the highlights was when Disney characters came to our table and sang Happy Birthday to me! I glowed and felt like a kid again.  Looking across the table I could see how much my kids were enjoying my reaction and joined in my glee.  My husband only smiled.  Our bellies were full and we were ready to hit the park, Hollywood Studios.  At this point I knew that I should probably go back to the hotel and get some rest because my running event was at 6:00am the next morning with a wake up call of 3:00am.  However, I didn’t want to spoil the fun and the time with my family.

We left Hollywood Studios around 9:00pm and went searching for a restaurant to have my pasta dinner before the big race.  One of the recommended prerequisites of running a full marathon is carb loading the night before a race.  Especially a 26.2 mile run.  We were surprised to find every single Italian restaurant around Lake Buena Vista full.  We were growing tired so we went back to the hotel and realized that our hotel was serving runner’s fuel.  It was here the whole time.  Phew!  A nice plate of penne pasta with marinara sauce it is. Thank you Disney’s All-Star Pop Century Resort!

Finally after carb loading, we retire to our room.  It is now 10:30pm.  I should probably be in bed by now right?  I only have to get up at 3:00am.  However, there is no rest for the weary and my beautiful family surprises me with a Mickey cake, flowers, and presents they arranged while I used the hotel room’s bathroom.  Yay!  But it is now almost midnight.  Knowing I still had to prepare my clothes, attach bib number to my shirt, etc. so I don’t wake everyone up at 3:00am, I couldn’t yet go to bed.

Exhausted after having walked all day at a Disney theme park, I hit the bed but cannot sleep.  Arg!  The nervous jitters hit me.  I stare up at the dark ceiling and begin to wonder, “What’s wrong with me? Am I crazy?  What makes me think I’m ever going to finish 26.2 miles on 1 hour’s sleep and having just walked a theme park all day?” I couldn’t shake the butterflies roaring in my stomach.  I felt my heart beating in my ears.  Getting up once again, I look at my bib number.  It is now 1:00am.  I know I have to sleep, but I cannot.

Going back to bed, I force myself to sleep.  I must have dozed off at some point because the next thing I know my phone alarm is going off.  It is now 3:00am.  Sitting up in bed all that I could muster was a heavy sigh, because NOW I’m tired.  The excitement gets the best of me and I jump up to get ready.

Ready to go, my husband opens his eyes as I kiss him on the forehead and whisper, “I’m ready to go.”  He kisses me and wishes me a great start confirming, “See you at the finish line beautiful.”  That gave me all of the zest and energy I needed.  I knew my family would greet me at the finish line so with a renewed zep in my step I took off downstairs and through the hotel lobby where the Disney buses were waiting outside to transport all of the runners to the starting line at Epcot.

The moments so far leading to the event were dreamy and everything Walt Disney would’ve wanted a grown up to feel in his domain.  Embarking on one of the biggest challenges of my life consumed me.  Wanting to capture the breadth of the experience, I will go into the details of marathon day in the next post.  Stay tuned…

“When you’re curious, you find lots of interesting things to do. And one thing it takes to accomplish something is courage.” – Walt Disney

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Marathon Mom (Part 1 – The Inspiration)

Many call it the bucket list.  That list of things you want to accomplish before you die.  I call mine “list of personal accomplishments.”  Once again my birthday is approaching.  Each year I search for challenges to celebrate a new year of life.

I have never been one to give myself birthday parties.  For example, I made sure to tell my parents that under no circumstances were they to give me a Quinceañera party.  A tradition in many Latin American countries symbolic of a girl transitioning from childhood to young womanhood or a Sweet “16” party.  Thankfully they listened.

I love to have parties for my children, but not for myself.  There is nothing wrong with having a party for yourself it’s just that I prefer a trip or an adventure instead.  The quest for searching mountains to climb or steep hills to fly down on roller blades with are representative of my spirit.  Challenges put a skip in my step.

If I had to think about where this need for adventure came from, I can say it was my grand imagination coupled with the admiration I felt for certain sports and sports figures.

As a young child in the 1970’s, the game of tennis won me over.  Memories of Billie Jean King win grand slam after grand slam was inspiring.  I remember asking my father for a tennis racket and practicing by myself sometimes using the wall as my partner in our apartment.  We didn’t have tennis courts available where I lived so this was as good as it got.  Unfortunately, it did not bode over well with my parents or the next door neighbor.

In the 1980’s Florence Griffith Joyner (Flo Jo) captured my attention.  Fascinated by her speed she reminded me of a gazelle on two legs.  I watched intently when she won her silver and gold medals in 1984 and 1988.  She inspired me to be a runner and I joined my school’s track team.  I could be like her one day I thought.



My interest then turned to gymnastics.  For example, I was glued to the television when Mary Lou Retton won America‘s first Olympic gymnastic gold medal.  At this time, I declared to my parents that I knew I wanted to be an Olympic gymnast.  I just knew!  I begged them to find me a gym to train because I was going be in the Olympics someday.  Moreover, I explained to them that this was very serious and that they would be sorry if they didn’t help me build my dream.

After many wind-knocked-out-of-me practices in my room using pillows as cushions, I quickly became discouraged.  Falling flat on my back for the umpteenth time attempting to master the back flip was no longer fun.

Then came my biggest passion of all… ICE SKATING!  It was instant love, and once again I approached my parents and professed that I wanted to be a famous ice skater.  My favorites were Dorothy HamillKatarina Witt, and Irina Slutskaya to name a few.

So serious was I to become a professional figure skater that my father believed me.  For a year, he would take me every single Sunday to my beloved roller skating rink in downtown New York City.  What was different this time?  I guess since I was older they believed me.





As you can imagine, I did not become a professional ice skater.  However, I became pretty good at it and was able to build fond memories with my father too.  Based on the pattern of my childhood memories, I was very much into sports and athleticism.

More importantly, all of these women taught me the power of believing in yourself and preparing mentally and physically for challenges above and beyond the norm.  Thinking back this is probably why I admired them.  The strength, agility, and determination was enough to inspire me to be all that I can be.

“Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.” – Thomas Merton
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My First Marathon – Training Day 39 (thetoughroad.wordpress.com)

The Final Destination and Arrival to the North Pole (IV of IV)

Onwards and forwards to our next stop, Washington, D.C.  Being a native New Yorker I have traveled to Washington, D.C. several times before.  However, it was welcoming during Christmas and even more so with my family.  We had never visited during this time before.  Once there, we walked around the city and enjoyed it through new eyes.  The National Christmas Tree surrounded by what is called the “Pathway of Peace” was one of the many sites we visited.  There are 56 decorated trees representing all 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia.  It looked especially beautiful in the evening when all of the Christmas lights could be appreciated.

As we continued to tour the city, we spent time in the surrounding areas of the White House.  One of the tours I wanted us to experience was the inside of the White House.  In order to be able to do this, there is a process to be followed.  You must submit a request through one’s Member of Congress six months in advance and no less than 21 days before travel.  Although I placed the request two months ahead of our travel time, it was denied.  There are limited spaces and the earlier the request the better.  Unfortunately, it was not granted but it will not deter me from trying again someday.  Lesson learned:  request far more in advance next time.

Another highlight on this leg of the trip was the National Monument.  If I had to put the feelings we experienced in words, it could be described as freedom because of the architecture and symbolism of each piece.  There is so much to learn when you travel beyond textbooks when visiting the places you read about.

Peaceful and serene are the other two words that come to mind.  On our way to see the Lincoln Memorial, the kids ran the length of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.  A rather long and rectangular pool located east of the Lincoln Memorial.  It is lined by walking paths and shady trees on both sides. Depending on where you are standing in the National Mall area, you can see the Washington Monument on one side and the Lincoln Memorial on the other.

It was quite a walk from the National Monument to the Lincoln Memorial.  Our kids were having such a wonderful time running the length of the reflecting pool that they didn’t mind the trek to the other side.  When we reached the footsteps of the Lincoln Memorial, I remember drawing a breath at the enormity of Abraham Lincoln’s statue.  It was impressive to say the least.

We sat on the steps for a while and took in the entire scene.  From this viewpoint you can see the reflecting pool and the National Monument in its entirety on the other side.  At night it was a spectacular view to witness.

Deciding to only spend a day in D.C., we saw and toured as much as we could and enjoyed the city’s lights at night.  With a day’s drive ahead of us left (8-9 hours) before reaching the North Pole, we knew we needed to reenergize for the long drive.  Calling it a night, we headed back to our hotel for a good night’s rest.

The next day we ate a large breakfast and left leisurely around 11am.  After a long drive, we arrived at our destination!

Overjoyed by our arrival, it didn’t matter that we just completed an 8 hour drive.  The North Pole, NY hosts what they call family yuletide weekends.  It includes 2 nights of lodging, 2 dinners per person, 2 breakfasts, and 2 days admission to Santa’s Workshop.  This is what we booked.

It was an experience of a lifetime, and one we wanted to do before the kids grew too old to enjoy.  However, having experienced it with them, I can say that you are never too old to enjoy such a magical time.  I observed the look on the faces of the parents in attendance, and can honestly say that they seem to be having just as much or more fun than the kids were.

Some more activities include:

  • The kids creating their own ornaments;
  • Visiting Mr. and Mrs. Santa in their own home;
  • Attended a Nativity Pageant;
  • Saw reindeer;
  • Story time, hot cocoa, and cookies with Santa; and
  • Enjoyed the rides including a steam train ride around the park.

Oh to be a kid again!  For young kids and the young at heart, this is definitely an event you want to experience someday.  The theme park has been around for decades and opened its doors in 1949. It is now considered one of the oldest theme parks around.

This is the end of our journey, and I wrote it with joy, love and fond memories, not to mention a big old smile on my face.  Sadly, Christmas is over but the memories remain.  My hope is for you to enjoy the tale as much as I did telling it here.  May all your Christmases be joyful!

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All Roads Lead to the North Pole (III of IV)

After getting some much needed rest and recovering from the wonderful experience in North Carolina, we head directly to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.

Once there we were immediately greeted by old traditions, 18th century taverns, and more holiday magic!  I could see my children’s eyes glisten as we were transported into another era.

Folks walked around in full 18th century regalia.  Ladies had their colonial gowns and wigs as well as the gentlemen in their coats, breeches (pants), and wigs.  It was refreshing to see them walk around the town maintaining full character down to the way they spoke!

As we entered different shops, we were welcomed by those that were at the ready to tell stories of old as in the days of George and Martha Washington.  The kids learned how to basket weave and even learned about the wigs that were worn during that era.

Some of the highlights included dining with Thomas Jefferson, hearing the story of A Christmas Carol told by a descendent of Charles Dickens, and sharing holiday tea with Christiana Campbell, proprietress of an 18th century tavern.  The caroling in the streets and the decorations on the old colonial homes kept our heads turning in awe the entire time.

There was much to see and experience. We stayed until the evening and witnessed folks dancing the jig by music played with antique instruments.  We strolled through firelit gardens and saw a puppet show.  We walked into the Peyton Randolph house an original structure built in 1715 and restored in 1938.  Our family took a tour of the home where the kids learned about slavery by observing reenactments of stories by actors.

We ended our evening in great celebration in true 18th century style with fire and drums!  Fireworks finished it off.

It was difficult to leave this place so we didn’t.  We decided to stay an extra day and had breakfast with Santa the next morning.  After breakfast we took one last stroll through the town and even took a carriage ride.  By noon we were ready to leave to embark on our next destination, Washington, D.C.

The most memorable piece of this journey was the feeling of being in another era.  It was as if we had arrived in a time capsule and this place existed outside the realm of our world.  That is how realistic it seemed.  More importantly, exposing my children to other traditions and cultures only empowered me to continue to search for more in a world as big as ours.

Crossing new horizons and exploring unknown places is both rewarding and inspirational proving that there is so much to see and do.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and when I am traveling I see nothing but beauty and adventure.  The next leg of our journey fast approaches as we close upon our final destination.  And away we go!

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Journey to the North Pole! (Part II of IV) (familyadventuresonline.com)

Adventures to the North Pole! (Part I of IV) (familyadventuresonline.com)

Journey to the North Pole! (Part II of IV)

Our journey to the North Pole continued to transport us into a memorable adventure my children will not soon forget.  Filled with imagination, the journey inspired my husband and I so much that we were able to delve into the recesses of our childhood fantasies and experience Christmas joy as if we were still children ourselves!

As I take you, the reader into our journey, my goal is for you to envision the special touch of quality time a road trip with just your family offers.  Not just an ordinary road trip, but one that embraces the spirit of Christmas like no other.  Although there was a planned itinerary, we were not prepared for the feelings of childhood glee we experienced on this trip.

In Part I of the journey, I listed the states we traveled through including: Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and North Pole, NY.  As I mentioned, Georgia was in the mix because the year we traveled up the East Coast my son was visiting college campuses.  One of the colleges inviting us to tour was in Georgia.  Being that it was close to Christmas, we decided to make it a trip complete with as many adventures as our car and feet could take us.


We spent two days in Georgia.  After touring the campuses, we took the opportunity to visit some sites such as the Georgia aquarium.  It is reported as being the largest aquarium in the world and in our opinion one of the nicest we have ever seen.  We spent at least an hour sitting on the floor staring at the massive tank you see pictured here.  It is worth the visit while in the Atlanta, Georgia area.  We’ve gone twice since this trip.

After spending most of the morning enjoying the aquarium, my family and I picked up lunch and decided to have a picnic at Centennial Olympic Park home of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games.  It was nicely nestled in the center of various attractions, including the aquarium, in the heart of Atlanta.  It was there that we took a break to sit and enjoy the beautiful sunny day.  My daughter was able to play for a while in the children’s playground located inside the park.

In the afternoon, we finished our day with a visit to the World of Coca-Cola located within the grounds of Centennial Park where the kids experienced the taste of Coca-Cola products from around the world.  Although this was not part of our Christmas inspired journey, we took advantage of the moment while there.  Then after two days spent in Georgia, we moved on to North Carolina.

North Carolina

As we made our way up the East Coast, the kids had no idea what was in store for them.  I carefully planned our very own Polar Express adventure in Bryson City, NC.  It was hard to contain my excitement, but the thought of their reaction kept me at bay.  At the Bryson City Train Depot, you board a train for  rides on the Polar Express which takes you on a visit to an old Appalachian Toymaker who tells holiday stories.  Also, there are shops that have one-of-a-kind arts and crafts, gifts, food and wine.   There are many other shops with Christmas decor.  The streets of Bryson City are decorated with holiday lights and the little town is glowing with Christmas spirit!

Once aboard the train, it makes its way through the Smokey Mountains on an unforgettable roundtrip journey to their version of the North Pole.  They encourage you to dress the kids in pajamas.  Passengers read along to the story of The Polar Express, you meet Santa, and are treated to hot cocoa and sugar cookies.  Santa rides with you on the return, and christmas carols are sung.  The scenic route of the smokey mountains alone are enough to get you out here to do this event.  The spectacular feeling of cuddling up with your children while reading this story was such a treat!

Since we only had 2 days in North Carolina, this was just about what we had time for.  However, we were able to be a part of a fantastic event, feel the cool crisp air of the Smokey Mountains and were surrounded by its natural beauty.  As I am sure there are many more wonderful things to do in North Carolina for Christmas, we agreed to come back another time to explore all North Carolina has to offer.  From the Smokey Mountains we make our way to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia where Christmas cheer is just as magical as it has been throughout our journey.  In the next part of the series, I will describe how you can be transported to an 18th century Christmas.  It felt as if we were in a production of a Christmas Carol while walking through the town just as Ebenezer Scrooge did centuries ago.

Remember it’s about how you perceive things.  If you allow yourself to relax and embrace with an open mind adventures unique to your family, you will enjoy yourself ten-fold.  Your perception becomes reality.  As I told my kids, imagine that our car is the sleigh Santa travels on every year as he stops town to town delivering gifts.  One of the best gifts we could give them beyond any material object was a chance to imagine themselves in special places with the people they love the most by their side.  Stay tuned!

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Adventures to the North Pole! (Part I of IV) (familyadventuresonline.com)

Five fabulous fall foliage train rides (cnn.com)

Five Great Christmas Movies For The Whole Family (forbes.com)

Adventures to the North Pole! (Part I of IV)

After Thanksgiving, the pressures of life temporarily had me in its grasp.  I’ve been working on the completion of my Ph.D. while balancing full-time employment and motherhood.  My posts ceased, but I’M BACK!  There is so much to say about Christmas with little time to do it in.  In the upcoming days I will get right to it.

In a four-part blog series I will share one of the best family trips we’ve ever taken.  My vivid imagination and CAN-DO attitude have created some of the most amazing experiences in travels for my family.  They are memorable and slowly coming true with the help of my special “adventurous trips to take in a lifetime” list.

One year we blocked a week and a half of vacation to fulfill our journey, roughly 1,600 miles away by vehicle.  Destination…. North Pole.   It wouldn’t be fun without adding a few stops and adventures along the way.


As a child,  I imagined going on a quest to find the North Pole and visit Santa beyond the department store.  The idea was to visit Santa right before he made it out on Christmas Eve to deliver presents, and make it back home in time to receive them.  I, for one, wanted to see the action.  With a lot of careful planning, mission accomplished!


One of my favorite movies to watch at Christmas is “The Polar Express.”  The first time I saw the movie was chaperoning for my youngest son’s 1st grade field trip, which is when The Polar Express debuted.  He is now 12-years-old. 

There are many other classic Christmas movies I enjoy more, but there was something magical and mesmerizing about this one.

After some thought, it triggered a great memory of the time I was a child and dreamed of actually traveling to the North Pole on a train.

Wishing to memorialize my ideas, I created a journal book with drawings of how I would get there, what I would want to encounter, and what the North Pole would look like once there.  For a long time I slept with the journal under my pillow and cherished it.

It was a mystical memory I had hoped to replicate someday in real life.  Interestingly enough, the mode of transportation was always a train (similar to The Polar Express).  After watching the movie with my son, I fondly remember leaving the theater with the biggest grin on my face.

Our journey to the North Pole started in South Florida, and involved the following stops:

The last stop was the North Pole’s location, in North Pole, NY located in the foothills of Whiteface Mountain, deep in the heart of the Adirondacks.  Therein lies the village of the North Pole, and Santa’s home!

With the exception of Georgia, we stopped at each of these states to catch a glimpse of Christmas and the beauty of what it holds in different parts of the United States.  At the time of this adventure, traveling up the East Coast was reasonable and within our means.

The next three entries will describe in detail the memories and adventures we created on our travels to the North Pole.  Although you may live in different parts of the world, I hope it inspires you to  find “your” North Pole journey.  Whether its traveling up the East Coast like my family did or creating a magical experience in your own backyard.  In a future post, I will also include great family ideas to recreate in your home without traveling as far as we did to find it.

When your children get older and you’re sitting around the table having Christmas dinner with them, imagine the joy it would bring to hear them say with smiles on their faces and a glint in their eyes, “Remember when_____.”  A shining moment just occurred when the realization that a memory rich in warmth can be a part of Christmas table chatter for all to share.

Don’t stray, and stay tuned for more of the adventurous journey of how we made it to:


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Wishes Come True and Could Happen to You!


The day before Thanksgiving my family and I usually watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.  The Peanuts gang always puts us in a good mood.

 “Thanksgiving is more than eating, Chuck…we should just be thankful for being together.” –Marcie  

As Marcie says, it is more than just eating.  Besides being thankful in each other’s presence, there is another exchange I enjoy sharing with guests.  It begins with believing in the power of positivity and what better time to focus on thinking positively than Thanksgiving.  Creating wishes and putting positive energy and faith so that wishes come true is a great way to end your year.  Giving hope and receiving hope is one way to build positive thinking.

Making wishes and believing in them with all of your heart can sometimes lead it to come true.  Since you already have everyone’s attention and all are in the greatest of moods, it is the perfect time to put positive energy and faith on high and make your wish.  The idea is to not only turn the flame up on the side dishes you’ll be cooking, but to turn up the flame of your heart’s desire that if accomplished could bring you great joy.

In the spirit of this idea, creating a wish box for your guests is a GREAT way to get them to get started on the power of sharing something they wish they could change in their lives or achieve in the near future.  Here’s how it works:

  • Purchase a box that has that special look to you (purchased mine at Marshall’s Department Store).  At a glance, it should appear special and bring a smile on your face when you look at it.  Chances are if you smile when you look at the box, your guests will too.  You can also create a box on your own if you wish to do so.  No limits here.

  • Using the left over multi-colored paper used to create the leaves on the Thanksgiving Tree, cut them into squares big enough for someone to write a simple sentence or word(s).
  • Have writing utensils (pens, pencils, markers, etc.) at the ready for your guests to use.
  • Demonstrate the box to your guests.
  • Describe the idea of the box you are holding.
  • Ask them to think of a wish they would like to see reality.  Make sure that they understand the wish has to be made with all of their heart and the belief that it will happen.
  • Add that the hope is to have them push themselves in the next year to see the wish come true.  Emphasis that they should make it something personal and realistic.  For example, winning the lottery may not be one of those.  (Then again you never know right?)  You want to make it a reachable goal/wish.
  • Once they have had a few moments to think about it, ask them to write it on one of the squares, fold it, and place them in the wish box.

The goal is to keep the wish in the box until the following Thanksgiving when it will be revealed during the gathering.  Hopefully, you are lucky enough to have the same guests return.  Each guest will have the opportunity to claim their wish and see if it came true.  If it did not, what could they have done differently.  Also, what if a guest has moved away or has alternative plans the following year.  A good idea would be to call them on Thanksgiving, wish them well, and say, “Remember that wish you wrote and placed in the wish box?  Let’s read it together and see if it came true.”  It is a wonderful conversation piece!

This is an amazing way to get people to strive towards something.  Without knowing it, they have just sealed a goal they can work for.  If done in the presence of family and friends, it may push them to accomplish the goal/wish even more.  Unlike some New Year’s resolutions which a lot of us do not keep, this is something that is doable, simple, and highly possible.  Chances are if you believe in yourself and the wishes you are making, claim/seal them before those you love or who care about you, they can come true and can certainly happen to you!

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Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Meal (amyswandering.wordpress.com)

The Gift That Gives Back (Part II of II)

Now that the historical piece in Part I is out-of-the-way, on to fun activities with the kiddies before Thanksgiving Day arrives!

As a child, I adored the story of “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein.   I must have read it dozens of times myself and to my kids.  It poses such a beautiful message.  I remember it most during the holidays, and the importance of giving back even when there is nothing left to give.  No matter the circumstances, that tree was there for the young man lucky enough to have befriended the tree.

As my kids say, “Sharing is Caring.”  Giving the gift that gives back is sharing positive thoughts that multiply within your family.  It branches out and becomes fruitful like the tree.  In keeping with the inspiration of The Giving Tree story, I have my family create a Thanksgiving tree.  Here is how we do it:

Apart from my three beautiful children, I am blessed with many nieces and nephews.  I use this to my advantage!  The weekend before Thanksgiving I have a sleepover where I invite all of them to join us.  Together with my children they make a total of 8 who participate ranging from the ages of 4 to 16 years old.

Before they come over, I am off to two of my favorite craft stores: Joann Fabric and Craft Store or A.C. Moore Arts and Crafts.  I purchase different color construction paper (usually in a large multi-colored pack), and two extra-large white poster paper to create the tree.  In addition to the paper you will need scissors, markers, and glue, of course.

The kids are very excited about spending time together.  They know they are going to create something personal and meaningful for their families and themselves.  I set up everything on our dining room table.  Usually I’ll prepare all of their favorite snacks so their bellies are full.  This encourages them to work comfortably and happily.

Before we begin, I say a small prayer and then I ask each of them what they are thankful for.  After they have each had a chance to say what that may be, we get to work.  A couple of them work on constructing the large tree, and others start to cut construction paper the shape of leaves.  The tree looks like this:

Once it is completed, we hang it on one wall and place the cut out leaves in a special basket so that when our family and guests come over on Thanksgiving Day the kids hand out a leaf to each guest and have them write what they are thankful for and paste it on the tree.  They are allowed to paste several things they are thankful for as I know there is usually more than one.  This makes our tree look nice and full!

There is a nice tradition we have before dinner.  All guests gather in the dining room where our Thanksgiving tree hangs.  We have them hold hands in a circle and say a special prayer together.  Usually, I say the prayer which I have carefully prepared and picked before my guests arrive.  At the end of the prayer, ask each guest to think of what they are thankful for and invite them to add to the prayer that was just said.  After they have a moment to think it through, the kids hand out the leaves and each guest has the opportunity to write and give thanks, and paste it on the tree the kids worked so hard to create.

For those who do not have as many family members, this can be started with your neighborhood kids or kids who are friends with your kids.  Invite them over or discuss with their parents to see who would be willing to host a day where the kids can work together on this prosocial activity.  They get to spend time together as friends.  Also, they have the opportunity to bring it back to their own families and lighten their Thanksgiving Day.  Maybe volunteer at a shelter and create it with those families who are not as fortunate as you are.  Bring smiles to those faces.

The warm feeling everyone receives while doing this is priceless.  The kids feel a sense of accomplishment having created something truly meaningful for everyone. This is why I love Thanksgiving so much, because we get the opportunity to see family and friends gathered in one place and simply state how thankful they are to each other, for each other, and for what they have in life already.  Herein lies the gift that gives back.  The hope is that everyone walks out the door not only with full bellies, but their hearts too.

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History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future. ~ Robert Penn Warren

In grade school we were taught all about the first Thanksgiving and were provided with visual images such as the one I have inserted above.  In a nutshell it was depicted as follows from “The American Tradition”:

After some exploring, the Pilgrims chose the land around Plymouth Harbor for their settlement.  Unfortunately, they had arrived in December and were not prepared for the New England winter.  However, they were aided by friendly Indians, who gave them food and showed them how to grow corn.  When warm weather came, the colonists planted, fished, hunted, and prepared themselves for the next winter.  After harvesting their first crop, they and their Indian friends celebrated the first Thanksgiving.  (James W. Loewen – Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything your American History Textbook Got Wrong)

Most of this is true, however, there were a lot more implications to this than meets the eye.  In fact, some of it is tragic and was not included in many of the texts when I was growing up (this has since changed).  There are those who refuse to celebrate, and groups that have deemed the day National Day of Mourning due to the many Indians that lost their lives at the hands of the Pilgrims.  The following link I am providing from the History Channel demonstrates a short and sweet explanation of the origin of Thanksgiving.  If you haven’t already, it is worth watching:


As further proof of debunking Thanksgiving and placing it in the myth category, there are hundreds of websites that “correct” the assumptions, origin, and misrepresentation of what Thanksgiving was really about.  Included in the related articles section are some websites which depict some of the assumptions and address the myths that is Thanksgiving.  Therefore, I will not go into it further here.

Why am I including this data?  I believe it is always important to know our history good or bad.  As Aristotle would say, “If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development.”  In doing so, we are accepting as a socially conscious society to not repeat history.  Then again there are those that say that history has a tendency to repeat itself.  I have seen where it can, but as a more evolved human race I also see where we are striving to make changes (call me an optimist).  I am aware that we are still struggling with some of the prejudices of long ago.  As an ever-changing society, many have chosen to remember the ‘then’ but to live in the ‘now’.  It is how we move forward.

Although I thought it important to preface this two-part blog entry with some historical information, my blog is an uplifting and inspirational one that could motivate anyone to take all of the things they have heard about this holiday, and work on making it about giving thanks for what you have, not for what was, or what remains to be.  This is how we make a conscious effort to teach our children the beauty of joining as a family and simply being thankful.

In an effort to not make this entry too long, I am adding a part II which will describe some of the amazing things you can do with your children to bring out the imagination within them and inspire you to inspire them to do better for the future of our society.  This is one way we can make an impact in their lives, and revolutionize a change in how we should celebrate each other as a people no matter what the occasion.

Besides, some history is written wrong.  Write your own history. One your children can be proud of, carry on to their own children, and their children’s children.  You see this is how we can stop “bad” history from repeating itself.  Make it as special as you possibly can.  It is the most valuable gift you can give when you pay it forward and it starts with our own families.

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