Better Late Than Never

So even though Labor Day was last week, how about I share some pics from our long weekend with you? Yes? Okay. We decided to go to St. Louis for the holiday weekend as a kind of mini getaway before we have kids and it’s a lot more difficult to get away together. Much thanks to Stephen’s parents for watching Bailey while we were gone. Fortunately she is loved greatly by both my and Stephen’s parents, and if they love our dog, we have no doubt they’ll love our baby even more. 🙂

Stephen scored a pretty good deal on a hotel for us on Priceline, and we stayed at the Hyatt Regency at the Arch.

We could see the arch from our room!

We ended up having TWO rooms at the hotel due to some unfortunate circumstances I won’t get into here, but our second room was a junior suite and super nice, so it worked out okay.

Before we checked into our hotel, we stopped by the St. Louis Zoo. Even though it took over an HOUR just to get to a place where we could park our car, we enjoyed our time there. We saw a very cute sea lion show:

We attempted to take a picture of ourselves without cutting out some portion of one of our heads. As always, we were somewhat successful.

We also saw these Wild Somali A*ses (I promise that really is their name, but I’m throwing in the asterisk so as not to steer perverts here), who were posed so oddly that we couldn’t resist taking a picture.

Saturday night we walked down to the nearest MetroLink station and went to Union Station, which just so happens to house the hotel where we stayed on our last trip in May 2008. I was also delighted to find that the Hogwarts Express sign was still there, so of course I had to take a picture. Check out the difference between me now and me then!

Erin circa May 2008

Erin circa Sept. 2010 (and pregnant, too!)

Our hotel had a Starbucks in it, so Stephen had his first taste of Starbucks! Neither of us drinks coffee, but I used to frequent Starbucks quite a bit for the white chocolate mochas and the frappuccinos. Stephen had decided before our trip that it was time he sampled something, so he tried the vanilla latte and thought it was okay but not great. I got a decaf nonfat Java Chip Frappuccino, which is delicious and which I used to have FAR too often in grad school (and you better believe I got the full fat variety back then), but he didn’t love that either. We went back on Monday morning, and he thoroughly enjoyed his hot chocolate (no coffee in that, haha) while I had my white chocolate mocha. Yum!

Sunday was the big event of our trip–seeing a Cardinals game at Busch Stadium! But before that, we had to make a stop by THE St. Louis landmark-the Arch. Stephen is quite dwarfed by it in this picture.

After some sightseeing in the wonderfully cool, breezy air, it was off to the Stadium, which was also within walking distance. I had been to the old stadium once before many years ago but didn’t care a lick about baseball at that time. I still don’t care a ton about baseball, but I love the way my husband loves the Cardinals, and I was excited to experience a live game with him. Plus, ballparks have great food! 🙂 We had seats behind third base, and we had a really good view of the whole field!

Fortunately for us, the Cardinals actually managed to win a game, which is a rarity these days. It was a really fun game, and I’m so glad we got to go.

For our last outing, we took the MetroLink once again out to the Delmar Loop area and had dinner at Pi Pizzeria. We ordered the thin crust with pepperoni and extra fresh mozzarella, and it was very different from other pizzas I’ve had but completely delicious. (Sorry, I didn’t take a picture!)

Monday we stopped by Stephen’s parents for a quick visit and lunch at Subway, and after a very brief visit with Stephen’s grandma, it was back to Jackson for us. It was a very quick trip, but I’m glad we were able to get away and spend some time together.

Now, I must know: what is the best trip you’ve ever been on?

I Left My Heart in Orlando: Highlights of the Trip, Part 2

If you missed part one, find it here. Now we get to the cream of the crop, the events that absolutely made the whole trip the unforgettable vacation that it was. I would go back tomorrow, I loved everything so much.

3. Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals: The Cavaliers vs. The Magic. I know, you’re probably thinking, “One of Erin’s trip highlights involves a sporting event? Who is this blogger and what have you done with the real Erin?” But honestly, we had so much fun at this game! Our seats were in the very top row, but really, it didn’t seem like we were up that high! Check it out:

Everyone at the game got a free shirt, thunder sticks, and a “GO Magic” poster. Stephen and I screamed and cheered so much I’m amazed we didn’t lose our voices. To make it even better, the Magic won, 99-89! I’m so glad Stephen got to see them play in a conference finals game; he’s followed the team for a long time, and it made a great birthday experience for him. And I am now a true Magic fun, able to recite the major players AND their numbers. Craziness!

2. The dolphin show, “Blue Horizons,” at SeaWorld. We saw the show 4 times. In 3 days. To say that we loved it would be an understatement. The dolphins were absolutely breathtakingly graceful, beautiful, and awe-inspiring. For example, check out these pictures:

How can you not love that?? I have to confess that the first time we saw the show, I actually got teary-eyed. The show itself supposedly has some sort of storyline, but even after watching it 4 times, we couldn’t tell you what it is. It’s definitely a bit on the cheesy side, but I could have seen it a dozen more times and been happy.

Here’s a video clip of part of the show. It’s a little erratic because it was hard to keep up with everything going on, but it gives you an idea of some of the greatness of the show.

1. The Dolphin Spotlight Tour. We took this behind-the-scenes tour at SeaWorld on Monday of our trip, and it was by far the best experience. Our tour guide showed us several behind-the-scenes areas in the park, where they keep different kinds of marine life that have been rescued from the wild and are being rehabilitated. We got to see backstage at the dolphin show where the dolphins rest, and we saw got to hear from one of the trainers about how she got her job and what it requires (superior swimming and diving skills, love of animals, performance abilities, and several other things that I do not possess, unfortunately). The best of all, however, was seeing the dolphins up close. Our tour guide separated our group of about 16 into groups of 4 or so, and we were assigned to a trainer and a group of dolphins. Meet our dolphins, Ajax and Jag:

I think one of the things that makes dolphins so lovable is their ability to connect with humans. When I look at one, I feel like I can see a personality, a glint of mischief or a twinkle of kindness. And even though I got to swim with a dolphin about 5 years ago, I loved seeing these dolphins up close, and being able to touch them and interact with them was thrilling for me. Dolphins are just fantastic, fascinating animals!

And there you have it! In no way does this capture everything we did (and for that you are probably grateful), but it’s a good overall snapshot. I was so sad to leave, and on the last day I said a tearful goodbye to SeaWorld:

And even though it was sad to leave, I was comforted by this one fact: I am SO going back. 🙂

A few honorable mentions that didn’t make the list but are worth noting:
1. Kraken, a roller coaster at SeaWorld. I rode this twice and loved it both times. It seemed both fast and also a long ride all at the same time. It is not the newest coaster at SeaWorld, but I enjoyed it the most.
2. The mime at the Sea Lion and Otter Theater. This guy came out before the sea lion and otter shows and entertained the crowd, and he was really funny. Part of the reason we saw the shows twice was so we could see him again.
3. Riding Journey to Atlantis with no wait! Journey to Atlantis is a water ride, so naturally the line was quite long since it was hot and humid. We were on our way to try and squeeze the ride in before a show when a woman stopped us and asked if we liked water rides. We told her we were about to go ride Journey to Atlantis, and she gave us a pass that she had gotten earlier that would let us go to the front of the line. It had rained earlier in the day and so SeaWorld had given those in line for that ride a pass to come back later but she wasn’t going to use it, so we got to bypass the line and rode it right away! I was glad we didn’t have to wait, too, because it really wasn’t a terribly exciting ride.

*To see many more pictures of the trip, visit these facebook photo albums:

The Stuff that Dreams Are Made of, Part 1
The Stuff that Dreams Are Made of, Part 2
All About the Dolphins

I Left My Heart in Orlando: Trip Highlights, Part 1

So here’s the deal. I have been trying for several days to write a blog entry about our trip to SeaWorld, but no matter what I do, it ends up being ridiculously long. I decided that instead of boring you all with my rapturous, minute-by-minute account, I would just hit the highlights and provide you with some accompanying video and pictures. (And be nice: this is the first time I’ve made any videos for the blog!) But even that ended up being ridiculously long, so I give you the first of two installments detailing the best parts of our trip, building up to the number one event.

Here’s a video taken right before we ventured out to SeaWorld for the first time. We even walked there on the first day! (It was only 1.5 miles from our hotel. However, Saturday was the only day we walked there. We did enough walking in the park itself!).

The forgotten tickets that resulted in our lack of sleep on Friday night were the tickets to see the Orlando Magic play in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals. I realized around 10:00 p.m. on Friday night that I had left them in Jackson, so Stephen and I left Memphis (where we were staying with my parents for the night) and drove back to Jackson to get them. We got in bed that night around 1:30 and got up around 5:45. Nice.

Now that you’re finished laughing at my silliness, without further ado, the highlights of our trip to Orlando:

7. The Shark and Penguin Encounters at SeaWorld. SeaWorld had several different exhibits that allowed you to view marine animals, and these were two of my favorites. The Shark Encounter involved walking in a glass tube, where sharks and other fish swam all around you, and it was really cool. We liked the Penguin Encounter surprisingly not because of the penguins but because of a little, until then unknown to us animal called the puffin. The penguins and puffins were in separate habitats, and perhaps we just caught the penguins at an “off time,” but the puffins were far more entertaining. They are small little fellows that fluff their feathers and are fairly active, and their actions were just oddly charming. It was hard to get a picture of them because of the glass, but here’s a few attempts at capturing the sharks and puffins:

6. The sea lion and otter shows, “Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island” and “Sea Lions Tonight!” Both of these shows were hilarious and entertaining, and we loved watching the sea lions and their antics.

5. Animal Kingdom safari and shows. We went to Animal Kingdom on Stephen’s birthday (Hooray for free birthday admission!). I had been to Disney before, but Animal Kingdom didn’t even exist the last time I had gone, and both of us were curious about the park. Obviously, it was very crowded, and the lines were long, but we were able to see two shows, The Lion King show and Finding Nemo: The Musical. The Lion King show was a showcase of several songs from the film and featured lots of colorful costumes and some audience interaction. The Finding Nemo musical was basically an abridged version of the movie with songs added in, and it was thoroughly entertaining and my favorite. Here are some pictures from that day:

4. Shamu. Shamu is obviously the face of SeaWorld, so of course we went to see the shows in which he’s featured: Shamu: Believe and Shamu Rocks (a . I have to say that I was a bit underwhelmed with the Believe show after seeing everything in the dolphin show, as there just wasn’t as much that seemed special about it, and it was even cheesier than the dolphin show (which you will read more about later), which says a lot. However, seeing a massive killer whale leap effortlessly into the air is definitely an awesome sight, and the night show ended up being superior to the day show, in my opinion. Both shows were so much better than watching Free Willy. Which I did when I was in middle school. A LOT.

Stay tuned for the top 3!

Milestones and Marine Adventures

I’m back from the paper-grading wasteland! I’ve actually been done grading papers since Thursday, but I rather enjoyed the bloggy break.

While I was gone from the blogging world, I hit another weight loss milestone: 70 pounds lost! Woohoo! That is a lot of weight, and I am so proud of how far I’ve come. Sunday at church a woman whom I’ve talked to on several occasions asked me if I was new at church. Turns out she didn’t recognize me. She said, “You’re not even the same person!” That is true in a lot of different ways, I suppose. The old me didn’t care about being healthy or exercising. The old me felt miserable in her body but helpless to change it. The old me hated shopping for clothes. The old me couldn’t run up the stairs without getting winded, much less run a 5k. It’s amazing the difference 16 months can make!

This Saturday morning, my husband and I are leaving to go to Orlando, Florida for vacation. I am so excited! We are going to visit the one place besides Italy that I have wanted to go to for a long time: SeaWorld! I have loved dolphins and other marine life since I was a child, so obviously SeaWorld is a dream destination for me. We got a great deal at this hotel, and our stay includes passes to SeaWorld and its water park, Aquatica, for the length of our stay, so we will definitely go to SeaWorld at least twice! We’re also planning to visit Animal Kingdom because Stephen gets in free on his birthday. And in an exciting, last minute turn of events, we’re going to see the Orlando Magic play in Game 1 of the NBA finals (it is the finals right, honey?) against the Cleveland Cavaliers! The Magic are Stephen’s favorite pro team, and we couldn’t pass up the chance to see them play in a championship game when we were going to be in the city at the same time.

So with the exception of my soon-to-be jobless state, things are good. (And if you hear of anyone who’s hiring, let me know!)