Month: July 2014

Memories of Mom #27

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Dearest Emi and Ava,

Before we get too far past the Independence Day holiday and our Disney trip, I wanted to share another little tidbit with you about your mom.

What do these two things have in common you ask?

Fireworks! Big ones! And lots of them!

Your mom loved watching fireworks shows!

Interestingly, we were never really good at our own fireworks displays. I would buy them each year and they were fun for what they were, but when we were done we both felt it was a little anti-climactic.

Last year (2013), I remember us lighting them off in the lower yard. I had carefully picked out what I thought were some bigger more exciting ones. But upon setting them off, your mom gave them an initial “ooooooo” of excitement and intrigue followed by a “that’s it?” when the firework was short lived.

So, I guess I will have to continue to work on that one. In fact, we can do that together. 🙂

What really got her excited though were big orchestrated shows! Her favorites were the Disney fireworks over Cinderella’s castle and the Fireworks at the Crosses at Cross Church.

Your mom was always looking for “optimal viewing” of the fireworks and in 2013, when we went to Disneyworld your mom researched and found the perfect spot! Right behind Cinderella’s castle and the carousel you can position yourself to be in between the launching points of the fireworks, which means the show goes on all around you.


I remember the first time you all saw this – your heads just kept craning around as they were everywhere. The look on your faces when they came from a new direction was priceless! Your mom and I would just smile at each other because we knew you were so excited! Plus we were kind of excited too! 😉

20140731-220128-79288942.jpg20140731-220128-79288613.jpgThis was the same place we stood this year when we went to Disneyworld. And you all were just as much fun to watch.

Fireworks at the Crosses is a completely different and equally awesome experience!! The show is absolutely amazing because we see it very up close and personal and it seems to go on forever. There is no “that’s it?” question when it’s done – ever. You leave in shock and awe of what you just saw.

Your mom loved this show and I loved just holding her hand and watching it with her. I loved watching her reaction to the show! Her smiles at pretty fireworks or flinch from a loud boom followed by a giggle. We would exchange ooooos and aaahhhhhs over different combinations of fireworks. So much fun!!

It didn’t hurt that Fireworks at the Crosses was at our church so we were also surrounded by our awesome church family which made the atmosphere that much more fun!

I’m sure that for the rest of my life I will always think of your mom when I see an awesome fireworks display. Luckily, it seems that you two have the fireworks bug like your mom, which I am very thankful for!

I hope that when you have your families one day you will pass this fireworks bug on to them and tell your kids how much your mom loved them!

I love you both dearly!!






Memories of Mom #26

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Dearest Emi and Ava,

BYOAM - 2014
BYOAM – 2014

This weekend was our 2nd annual BYOAM at the Jackson House!

You may remember that BYOAM means – Bring Your Own Air Mattress, because we have mass family staying with us here over the weekend.  Air mattresses – everywhere!

What you may not know is that your mom was one of the founders of the BYOAM.  In fact, she used to tell me this was the exact reason we bought this house in Hanover, because she (we) wanted a place where family could gather and  just laugh and have a great time together.  And this house does exactly that for us!

Family was always very important to your mom.  She loved all kinds of get-togethers and they were always top of mind for her.   And we are fortunate to have some pretty awesome family!

Last year, the BYOAM had 19 people…..this year?  28!

And Year 2 has not disappointed!  Lots of great food!  Great laughs!  New family members!  and GREAT TIMES!

I pulled out one of the photos we took from last year’s event that had your mom in it and will put it in the slide slow below.  It was great to see her smiling again alongside all of us.  I wish she was here with us.  Just like many of our family has expressed to me this weekend.  I can see her smile.  But I also know she is smiling now. 🙂

I hope that we do this for years in to the future, but regardless, as you two grow up and start families of your own one day – hold your family close.  Appreciate them.  Enjoy them.  Laugh with them.  Love them.    …..and if they leave their mobile phone unlocked and unattended – snap a funny photo of yourself and save it as their screensaver. (see below)

I love you both dearly!


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Missing You Today

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IMG_9798My Dearest April,

Four months ago today you went away to be with our Savior.

The girls are doing well and we’re managing, but it’s not the same without you.

For some strange reason, this month has been harder than the first three.  And I don’t know why.

I miss you so dearly and so deeply that when I think of you I can’t help but become overwhelmed with emotion.  Before I know it, there are tears streaming down my cheeks.

It seems to be random things too that trigger it.

The other day, while taking the girls somewhere, I looked up in the rear view mirror and saw an Acadia like yours behind me.  I couldn’t make out the woman’s face, but she had a build like yours.  Face like yours.  Outfit like yours.  Sunglasses like yours.  Hair like yours.  It immediately brought back memories of you driving behind me as we were out and about heading in different directions to pick up the girls or take them somewhere.

I strained harder to see who was in the car behind me – hoping (desperately wishing) it was you again. But I couldn’t make out her face.  And it was all I could do to keep some level of composure in front of the girls.  I was thankful I was wearing sunglasses and they were wrapped up in their iPhones.

It definitely isn’t getting easier.

Like I told you on your last day with us, we’ll be okay.  I’ll be okay.  We will manage.  It just doesn’t diminish the extreme desire to still have you here with us.

The title of the post is ‘Missing You Today’, but the fact is, I miss you every day.

I still love you.


A Vacation Letter

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Photo Jul 01, 5 39 49 PMMy Dearest April,

The girls and I just returned from vacation.  It’s the first vacation that we’ve taken apart from you.

You were missed.  Deeply.

I can only imagine that you know or are aware of everything I’m writing, but one of the things I missed most was being able to share each moment with you.  Laughing at something silly we just saw or plotting together to do things that would bring joy to our girls.  Or even without words, to just look in to your eyes and smile because I know that we’re thinking the same thing.  I missed that. A lot.

Photo Jun 29, 3 22 34 PMBut don’t worry.  Our trip wasn’t filled with sorrow.

In fact, it was filled with incredible joy and great times!  Lots of laughing, smiling, and giggling.

I know that’s what you would have wanted and expected from us.

Our trip took us on another Disney World adventure!

I know you know this because it’s the trip that you booked us last year, which made it very special for us. It’s the trip we discussed at length in the back half of 2013 and early this year.  It’s also the one that you told us you wanted us to go on anyway if you weren’t here.  I never would have imagined that would happen.

You were always so good at trip planning.  So good at researching and getting in to the details.  So good at ensuring that everything was thought of.

Having returned from this trip now, I can tell you how bad I am at these things.  Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t lose a child, get one hurt (badly), or miss out on anything that we should have seen.  It just wasn’t near as smooth as when you did it.  But I’m learning.

Emi (11) and Ava (6) were excited to take cousin Destiny (12) with us.  I’m not sure what I was thinking trying to corral 3 girls on this trip, but I know that taking Des in your place was your suggestion and desire.  And she was so appreciative!  She really is a sweetheart.

Photo Jun 27, 9 50 24 AMThe girls did pretty well together looking after each other.  A little “competing sister stuff” from time to time, but overall they did fantastically.  I didn’t have to crack the whip too much.  😉

The flight there was relatively uneventful, other than almost missing our initial flight out.  We probably should have either arrived earlier or not taken such an early flight (6:15am).  There was some guy in line ahead of us that was having a loud and very animated “spat” with the ticket agent. I think it ended up causing lots of people to miss their flights, but we ran and made it there as they were boarding and off we went!

Everything was pretty smooth sailing as we arrived in Orlando and then took the Magical Express to the hotel.  The room was ready when we arrived and OH WOW!  You didn’t disappoint with the room you booked us!  A one bedroom suite in the new DVC villas at the Grand Floridian.  It was nothing short of awesome!

I took the king bed (although Emi and Ava took turns sleeping in it with me), while Des and one of the girls would sleep on the pullout couch OR on the secret pullout.  What is that you ask?  It was another single bed that folded out from the television entertainment center.  It reminded me of the secret top bunk foldout on the Disney cruises.  It gave us plenty of sleeping space.

One thing I learned quickly though was ONE BATHROOM is not enough when it comes to three girls.  Even at these ages.  They take FOREVER to get ready!

Photo Jun 27, 2 45 10 PMThe room had a nice lake view and we could see Space Mountain in the distance, which made the girls giddy.  We also had a good view of the water show on the lake in the evenings and about ½ of the fireworks show over Cinderella’s castle (which is ok, because we got to see it live and up close).

One of the first things I didn’t calculate though was that in using the Magical Express, our luggage wouldn’t get to the room until up to 5 hours after we arrived.  That was bad because it meant we couldn’t change clothes before heading in to the park.  And it was hot.  And I was wearing black.

It also means that I didn’t have any of the 3 bottles of sunscreen I so thoughtfully bought ahead of time and packed.  No, instead I had to buy another $18 bottle of sunscreen at the park.

But the girls were not deterred by travel clothes or my lack of preparation.  They were chomping at the bit to get in to the park!

You would be proud because before we left, I gave them the rules speech.  Take care of each other.  Hydrate. Stick together.  Hydrate. Don’t lose your phones or wrist bands.   Hydrate. Oh…and hydrate.  Did I mention it was hot?

Photo Jun 27, 7 12 04 PMWe took the monorail over to the Magic Kingdom, which you would have thought was its own ride because of how excited the girls were to be on it.

We arrived at the park and literally made it about 30 feet past where they scan your tickets (now scan your wrist bands) when Emi grabs me and says, “Dad, I don’t feel good.”  I looked down and she was white as a ghost.  Her eyes started to roll and she was going limp.

I grabbed her and found the nearest cast member and asked where the first aid station was.  She took me to the “town hall” info center right inside and to the left of the main entrance.  The staff there took us to a back room and they called the paramedics.  They came and checked her out.  She recovered pretty quickly and best I can tell excitement + not enough water + cool environment to hot environment = Emi nearly passing out.  She checked out fine and after getting some water and cool air was ready to go again.

How did I know she was okay?  Her sarcasm returned in full force.  Especially when her little sister said, “Dad – you told us to hydrate.  I did. Emily didn’t.”   So another fail point for me – telling them to hydrate but not ensuring that they did.  Trust me that didn’t happen again!

The Disney staff was absolutely awesome and even brought each of the girls a stuffed Daisy Duck and bottle of water.  Although I didn’t get my own Daisy Duck, I was very impressed with their attentiveness and care!

We were full steam ahead in the park after that and the girls absolutely made the most of a half day in the park.

Photo Jun 29, 12 37 37 PMIt was fun to see that all of the girls are like you and I, they LOVE thrill rides!  Favorites for the total trip included Space Mountain, Expedition Everest, the new 7 Dwarf’s Mine roller coaster, Tower of Terror, and of course – the Aerosmith Rockin’ Roller Coaster!

They were courageous and brave as they’d toss their hands up in the air and scream at the top of their lungs during the ride.  You would have loved to see their faces afterwards.  They had those same wide-eyed goofy-grin looks that showed us they had a blast on the ride!  As soon as we would get off teh ride, they would shout, “Let’s go again!”

This was Destiny’s and Ava’s first go at Space Mountain and they loved it!  In fact, Ava was finally tall enough to ride several rides, which she was completely thrilled about!  She is a little daredevil!  I wish you were there to see it in person.  It would have brought a smile to your face like it did mine.

Photo Jun 27, 7 16 19 PMOne of the things from Day One that stood out above all others was a beautiful double rainbow over Cinderella’s castle. God is amazing with his design of nature and when he chooses to show it.  It told us that you were all watching out over us.

That night for dinner, we ate at Narcoossee’s at the Grand Floridian.  It’s the same restaurant that you and I ate at when we honeymooned here.  I had the steak and lobster again and couldn’t help but think about you and how I talked you in to trying lobster for the first time.  Haha!  Your face was priceless.  Just like when we were there together 12 years ago, our table looked over the lake and the girls and I watched the fireworks show above Cinderella’s castle.  So many great memories babe.

The next day took us to Hollywood Studios, which was really where they were wanting to go.  As soon as we arrived, we headed straight for the Rockin’ Roller Coaster.  Emi and Des went on it by themselves a couple times, which allowed Ava and I to slide over to Tower of Terror, which is where she wanted to go.

Photo Jun 30, 3 49 46 PMAva seriously put some adults to shame with her courage. While waiting in line, one couple was freaking out and said, “Are you really going to let her go on this?” to me (referencing Ava).  Ava promptly responded, “It’s not scary.  I’m going to put my hands in the air too.”  They responded with, “It’s not scary?”  Ava said, “No”, but then paused and said, “Well there is that one part…”, which freaked that couple out even more.  Ava then winked at me and I knew she knew what she was doing.  She is just like us.

Ava and I rode Tower of Terror a total of 7 times that day.  And she was a pro each time!  Emi and Des only rode it a measly 5 times, but had 3 runs at the Rockin’ Roller Coaster.  Having been to Disney a few times, I often forget to look at the rides and experiences through the eyes of a child.  While I was quick to skip past a ride (like the Great Movie Ride) because I thought it was boring, they stoppd me and wanted to go on those and found them fascinating.  I had to slow down and let them soak it all in.  It was a good learning for me.

We got to eat at the Sci-Fi Theatre Drive In, which we wanted to eat at last year, but didn’t because we didn’t have a reservation.  I remembered this time and made sure to book us dining reservations early this time.  I’m learning.  The older girls loved it, but Ava didn’t like the 1950’s black and white sci-fi flicks.  They “creeped her out”.

When we got back to the hotel that night, they wanted to go swimming at the hotel – so I obliged.  The Grand Floridian has a neat new pool that has a really cool water slide and a kid’s play area that Ava loved.  We spent more time swimming this trip than on any other vacation that I can remember.

Photo Jun 29, 3 48 09 PMThe next day took us back for a full day at the Magic Kingdom!  And what was up first?  You guessed it – Space Mountain.  We went several times during the “early extra hour”.  We spent most of our day riding rides.  We didn’t do as many character visits as we did in years past – but when we did, Emi and Des were also quick to snap “selfies” with each of the characters, which makes for some funny pics.

We also did something new called Memory Maker, which was $200 (because I didn’t buy it early), but gives us all of the photos take in the park by one of their photographers or the ones snapped on the rides.  We took full advantage of this and had 150 pictures in total. Totally worth it.

We found ourselves plotting what funny face or pose we were going to do on the rides since we now got to keep those pics.

The girls got really excited when they saw the Teacup line was only 10 minutes long.  We jumped on board and Emi wanted one of the “fast teacups” and all of them wanted to go as fast as we could.  So as soon as the ride started, I wound that thing up and we were flying.  Then I started taking a video of the girls.  You should have seen their faces.  Emi, the queen of thrill seeking, was visibly getting dizzy.  It was hilarious!

Photo Jun 29, 9 05 40 PMMy favorite part of this day at Magic Kingdom was standing in the center of the fireworks show.  Do you remember that photo we took of Ava after one of the shows on our last cruise where the bubbles were falling from the sky and she had that look of amazement on her face?  Well, that same look was on her face when the fireworks were going off all around her!  And Emi and Des had these huge grins!  That moment made the trip absolutely worth it.

By this time in the trip, I think I was becoming pretty confident in my ability to handle things.  My braids and pony tails seemed to stay in place longer, I was taking the right things in to the park, and there were no further major medical emergencies.

I think you would have really liked the new My Disney Experience App for the iPhone.  I remember how much you used it last time.  Well, it’s way better now.  I used it to assign/change fast passes, determine wait times, to find locations, look at menus, etc.  Pretty cool.

Photo Jun 30, 1 38 43 PMDay 4 took us to the Animal Kingdom.  Two wordsExpedition Everest.  Oh my!  The girls and I LOVED this ride.  We went on it again and again and again!  I know you and I loved this one!  Remember that part when you started going backwards in the dark and it made it feel like you went upside down?  I remember your laugh and scream the first time it happened to you and I heard it out of Ava. It made me think I was with you again.  Your girls are so much like you.

One of my favorite pictures of you is on the Kali Rapids ride.  I have one of you before you got soaked with Emi and one immediately after you got soaked.  You were laughing so hard.  The girls loved this ride too.  And we figured out that whoever is going backwards right before you hit the water is the one that will get drenched.  And it seemed to happen to me every time we went down.  The girls laughed and giggled and thought it was the best time!  I got many dry-then-wet pics.

Photo Jun 30, 5 00 30 PMWe ate at Rainforest Café – which we’ve done several times as a family.  But the best part was our traditional dessert.  A volcano!

Afterwards we were back at the hotel swimming for a couple hours more!  These girls certainly didn’t have a lack of energy.  Where is this energy when I need them to clean the house?

Our last day in the parks found us at Epcot.  Not the most exciting of the parks from a ride standpoint, but the girls found it fascinating nonetheless.  This was their first time on Soarin’, which was pretty cool.  Ava exclaimed – “Wow!!!” as we were flying over the beautiful scenery.

They loved Mission: Space.  We went on it several times and not on the kinder, gentler version either. We went on the thrilling version, which meant more G-forces.  We changed up roles each time we went.  They also enjoyed the Test Track and Emi and Des had a great time in the Innoventions area on the Sum of All Thrills ride.

Photo Jul 01, 11 17 59 AMFor lunch, we ate at Elsa’s Castle (in Norway).  And this was a very special lunch. This is the one you told me to book – and I did.  However, to be honest, I forgot about why it was special until we arrived.  And we were all in for a surprise because it was a highly coveted princess character lunch.

The girls were greeted by Belle as we walked in and snapped photo with her (Emi got her selfie too). Then as we dined, they were able to talk and get photos with Ariel, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Snow White.  It was fantastic.  Thank you for planning this for our girls.

After a full day at Epcot, where did we head back to?  The pool at the hotel.  I’m thinking these girls are really mermaids.

Our travel day (Wednesday) was actually a sleep in day at the hotel – which we all needed!  And then it was off to the airport and on our way home.

Photo Jul 01, 11 45 07 AMIt was nice to arrive at your parents’ house last night and rest from our vacation.  While I’ve been writing you this letter, the girls have been in deep slumber this morning.

Some things I learned about our girls on this trip – Emi is completely fearless when it comes to riding rides.  She always has been, but this trip took it a step forward and she was very calculated in wanting to be in the most thrilling ride location – very front or back of the roller coaster with hands in the air.  She also really cares and looks out for her little sister –  I saw it when she was helping guide Ava through the crowds making sure that no one ran in to her.

Ava has the most stamina of any of us. As we crisscrossed the park her little legs not only took more steps than any of us, but she kept up incredibly well.  She too is a thrill seeker and isn’t afraid of anything.  She is also highly independent – which I think she learned from her big sister – and clearly articulated her own thoughts about what we should do during this trip.  And best of all, when we decided to do something else, she was pretty accepting.

Photo Jun 29, 4 20 17 PMMore importantly though – all three girls looked after each other really well.  They were good sisters and cousins.  It was enough that would have made you very proud of all of them.  My favorite pic of the trip is to the right.

As for me, it was great to see the smiles on the three girls’ faces and to see them really enjoy themselves.  There were lots of mentions of you during the trip and lots of reminiscing about great memories.   And many more great memories made!

I will admit that I found my mind wandering at times when I’d see a young blonde mother trying to herd her two little girls.  I was reminded of you.  Then I would hear you say, “You need to pay attention.”, which not only brought me back to reality, but also made me smile.

All in all – it was a great vacation.  The only thing that would have made it better was having you there with us in person.

Thank you for booking it for us.  And thank you for encouraging us to still go on it.   I have a lot to learn still, but I’m getting there.  I know you were watching. J

I love you April!