So Many Reflections: Nebraska, Valentine’s Day, Shepard’s 8th Birthday, and Florida!

I am SO behind, you guys! I’m behind on blog posts for sure. No weekly reflections or intentions in the last three weeks! And so much has happened! I’m also crazy behind on doll making and keeping my customers happy. It’s been a great month, but I’m just about ready to drop, when I feel like I should be rip roaring ready to get back to regular life now that all the travel and parties are behind me. I’m hoping maybe I’ll feel a little bit better if I can get out some quick reflections on everything that’s happened this month. I’ll try to keep it relatively concise! We’ll see how it goes. 🙂

Omaha, Nebraska

One of the things I gave Greg for Christmas were tickets to see his favorite band, Guster, play with the Omaha Symphony. I figured we could make it a fun date night with the added bonus of staying with my brother and his family and seeing their new digs. The entire trip was weather dependent and we didn’t even decide if we were officially going and if the boys were coming with us until a few days before.

Hudson was napping when we got there and was super shy when he woke up, but he warmed up quickly. He LOVED pushing around our suitcase!

Timmy made us some burgers and chicken for dinner and then Greg and I headed over to the symphony hall for the concert. I was amazed to see that Omaha has $3 event parking directly across the street! $3! We weren’t allowed to take photos during the concert, so no pics, but it was really great. Probably the most subdued Guster concert I’ve been to since we actually had to sit down (hooray!). But it was fantastic.

We spent Saturday morning playing with Hudson. Such a cutie!

We went to the Omaha Zoo for our Saturday outing. It was so amazing! We didn’t even look to see if there were animals outside (it was FREEZING), but there were so many unique indoor exhibits that we had plenty to keep us busy.

Grandma wanted a good picture of her grandsons. My boys loved hanging out with their cousin!

We went to this place called Charred for dinner. It was seriously one of the best restaurant meals I’ve ever had. Everything was amazing. I want to go back.

Back at the house we had a mini birthday celebration for Shepard since they wouldn’t be able to come for the party this year. The nerf gun ended up being a lot more powerful than anyone expected!

Finished the night with an awesome ice cream birthday cake. It was such a fun day!

Sunday? NOT fun. We woke up to unexpected snowfalls for our drive back home. We wanted to make a pretty early start out and even though the roads out the window weren’t plowed, I just assumed the highways would have been fine. Um, not true. It was HORRIBLE. Probably the worst driving conditions Greg has ever been in. Our seven to eight hour drive was closer to twelve, in total completely tense silence. I did the last two hours of the trip in freezing rain with a windshield that kept freezing solid. Maybe one of the worst days ever. But, I’m still glad we went and made some fun memories with Hudson!

Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day was pretty low key this year, stuck between two big vacations and a lot of birthday festivities for Shepard. I was feeling pretty frazzled by everything and determined to try and focus on just resting and having a good day. We started the morning with some good old canned cinnamon rolls.

Trying to get the boys to wear non-character shirts with red in them was like pulling teeth! I had to threaten Shepard with taking away his birthday presents to get him to cooperate. But hey, I got three mostly real smiles!

Annie’s Valentine gift was going to the dog park for the first time in almost two weeks. She was SO excited!

I gifted myself this beautiful Pyrrha necklace. I’ve been in love with their wax seal stamped talisman necklaces for years. I don’t remember seeing the writer one in the past and it immediately jumped out as being the one I needed.

I spent the rest of the morning reading and then I met Laura for coffee in the afternoon to catch up on some friend time. After school I made Valentine hot cocoa for the kids. I really just wanted to get some extra use out of my Valentine mugs!

We had a very easy dinner of heart shaped pastas and garlic bread and candy for dessert.

Shepard and I finished the night by making edible brownie batter cookie dough for his school birthday treat. I was so exhausted by this point and thrilled that one batch made exactly how much we needed. I don’t think I could have handled another batch!

On Friday after school we celebrated Shepard’s birthday with just the four of us. Still three days early, but I didn’t want to lug anything extra to Florida or make him wait until a few days afterward to open.

We had lava cakes for his dessert. He technically wanted them for Valentine’s Day, but then I would have had to think of another dessert for this night! It all worked out fine.


On Saturday we went to Florida! Fortunately the weather cooperated on this trip and we had no problems getting to the airport with enough time to each lunch and get on the plane.

We took an uber to the hotel and spent Saturday night hanging out in our huge courtyard. It felt so great to get out of Wisconsin winter! The boys LOVED the outdoor hot tub. We got the easiest meal we could for dinner – a pizza and chicken tenders from the on site Italian restaurant.

We were up early and raring to go on Sunday morning! The hotel had a shuttle service to Universal every day, but you had to sign up for it the night before and spots were limited. We managed to get on it the same time every morning, though. On the first day, the guys were hyped up and ready for Harry Potter World!

First stop was Ollivanders to pick out their wands. We watched a little presentation with a smaller group of people and then we were released into the massively packed shop to find the wands they wanted.

Caden picked out Dumbledore’s wand and Shepard picked Ivy’s. The cool thing about the wands is that they’re interactive with a lot of various spots around Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. It was too busy the second and third day, but they loved casting spells around that first morning!

Sunday was really just a lot of waiting around. After wands our main objective was going on the Escape to Gringotts virtual rollercoaster ride. It ended up being a two hour long wait, which is really just way too long. And then it ended up being a lot scarier than we expected. Caden was basically traumatized by it. We also tried all the types of butterbeer they offered. I think my favorite was the regular cold, but not frozen variety. Afterward we stood in another long line to ride the Hogwarts Express which was pretty cool. We had lunch at a diner in Universal – mostly because it was the first indoor air conditioned place we could find. Funny how quickly you adapt to the new climate and suddenly can’t wait for the opposite kind of relief you’ve been wanting all winter!

The one downside to our hotel is that it was basically surrounded by highways and without a car and six people requiring larger ubers, it was pretty difficult to do anything except go between the parks and the hotel. But Greg remembered services like UberEats exist (oh, to have something like that in Columbus!), so we ordered some easy Mexican food and ate it next to the fire for a late dinner. Simple, easy, delicious.

Monday was officially Shepard’s 8th birthday! The night before we happened to see these giant donuts at a gift shop, so we picked up two of them for his birthday breakfast. And of course we ate out in the courtyard! That courtyard really was amazing. We also had a Starbucks on site and made between one and four stops in there a day!

We started in Hogsmeade on Monday, which I think was even more cool than Diagon Alley, but it filled up with people faster. Shepard convinced Grandma to buy him a Gryffindor necklace for his birthday present.

Hogwarts! It looked so awesome from the outside, but unfortunately, you could only see the inside if you stood in line for the Forbidden Journey virtual roller coaster. Caden and I had no interest in riding, but we wanted to see inside the castle, so we stood in line with them. It was a pretty fast wait this time.

Then we had some more butterbeer inside Three Broomsticks, the location Caden really wanted to visit. And then a family picture (I think our only one) with Hogwarts as we crossed the bridge into the Jurassic Park area of Islands of Adventure.

Most of the Jurassic Park things were inside of a building. We got to watch a baby dinosaur hatch and the boys had their DNA tested to make their own species of dinosaurs on a machine. Afterward we stopped to watch one of the water rides and the boys (on purpose) and Greg (on accident) proceeded to get completely soaked from the splashes. They thought it was so much fun until they realized it meant being wet for the rest of the day! This is the point I stopped taking pictures because Shepard flipped a switch and was being pretty terrible for the next few hours. A very entitled, demanding, and selfish birthday boy! Though to be fair, he also had caught a cold by this point which definitely wasn’t helping how he felt. Plus not enough sleep and absolutely no healthy food in his body.

The plan for his birthday lunch was to take an uber to a restaurant outside of Disney called Chicken Guy. It was the ONE THING I really wanted to do on this trip, but nobody seemed to understand why. Alas, it did not happen, even though I still think it would have been awesome. Shepard kept refusing to go to a restaurant at all, demanding we just go back to the hotel and order food, because isn’t that the most logical solution, even though we were literally walking past hundreds of amazing restaurants?! Greg and Cindy finally settled him down with more Starbucks and eventually we ate at like a food court in the City Walk area where we could all get our own meals. Shepard had Burger King chicken fries. Then we went back to the hotel for the rest of the afternoon.

There was a TGIFriday’s across the street from the hotel (I originally ruled out eating there because I don’t like eating at places we could just as easily have at home when I’m on vacation). But Shepard was very excited to eat somewhere we could walk to, so that is what we did! It was a really nice end to his special day.

Tuesday – another breakfast from Starbucks. That definitely got expensive! 🙂 Though by Tuesday I was also buying bananas for everybody, so at least we were getting a bit of healthy stuff into our bodies. I was also only drinking teas or cold brews, so I didn’t feel like total crap!

We realized with a constant supply of gum from Grandpa, Caden was actually really well behaved on this trip. He definitely had some times when he purposely was getting on Shepard’s nerves, but for the most part – he was great. SO much better than I was expecting from him.

I think Tuesday was my favorite day because we had already seen the things we really wanted to see, so we had more time to check out the quieter areas of the parks. Greg really wanted to go on the Spiderman ride, so he went in that direction and the rest of us went into Seussland. We had opportunity to go on a few more rides there, walked through Jurassic Park again, and finished at a Men in Black ride, which turned out to be my favorite one because it was just FUN – no scariness.

One last ride on Hogwarts Express – and the only time it was just the six of us in the car. Shepard was pretty cranky again because his feet hurt.

He just refused to walk at one point. Even though it started out the coldest, I think Tuesday was the hottest day. We were all dragging by lunchtime. We ended up just going into the first large restaurant we could find. It was delicious! And Shepard said that of his nine chicken tender meals of the trip, that was his favorite.

This is the view from our hotel room. The pool was huge and the boys practically had it to themselves the whole time! They loved the splash pad in the middle and we all enjoyed the big hot tub. The hotel itself (Double Tree Hilton Entrance to Universal) was perfect for us.

One more cold brew! We realized way too late into the trip that on the other side of our hotel there was actually a string of restaurants and a Walgreen’s, so our final dinner was at a local place called Miller’s Ale House. Then we stopped at Walgreen’s to pick up some snacks and Benadryl for Shepard. He perked up a lot after giving him meds. I wish we had found some days earlier.

On Wednesday we headed back. We had a few hours in the morning to enjoy the last warm Florida morning. Then we had a lot of time at the airport to grab lunch and wander around. Despite there being storms all across the country, we somehow managed to get to Atlanta for our layover, and back home, without a single delay. We finished the trip with a quick stop at Burger King for Shepard to have his final chicken tenders meal. Overall, it was a really great trip! It definitely went better than I expected it to. Kids make things so unpredictable, but they handled everything like champs. I’m so glad we were able to make these memories with them and their grandparents!

Family Birthday Party

And that brings me to today! We were able to skip a friend birthday party this year with everything else going on, but still wanted to have a small family party for those that were able to come. I caught Shepard’s cold a few days ago and have not been feeling the greatest, but we kept everything very low key and it turned out great.

Shepard became OBSESSED with GoPros in Florida and forced someone to look at them with him every time we crossed a technology store. There were a lot of technology stores in the airports. Anyway, with a last minute heads up, my parents gave him an (unofficial) GoPro of his own. He’s in love with it and has been using it ever since he opened it.

We had hot sandwich sliders, Chinese salad, chips and salsa and guacamole, and fruit for lunch with peanut butter bars for dessert. He had to videotape us while we sang to him.

I think Annie really missed Grandma, even though it had only been a few days since she came back home! They’re best friends now, I guess!! We got some final pictures and then everyone went home. It was a good day!

And that’s it!! I will try to never wait so long to write again and never write such a huge wordy photo heavy post. If you made it to the end – congrats and thank you. 🙂

Author: Amy Noe

I'm a maker, a writer, a reader, a wife, and a mom. I love pursuing my creative passions!

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