VOLTA Cirque du Soleil {giveaway closed}

For a long time, La Nouba was the closest Cirque du Soleil show to my home, at less than a 2 hour drive. La Nouba was in a theater custom-designed and built for Cirque du Soleil on December 23, 1998, at Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando. 

The first time I saw the show it was on a date with my husband and it was a total surprise. He splurged on tickets and a hotel – I think it was an anniversary gift. The second time I saw it, we brought the kids and we were all already Cirque fans by then. We’ve seen Cirque du Soleil shows in other Florida cities, New Orleans and Las Vegas.

cirque bmx bike actLa Nouba ended its 19-year run on New Years Eve 2017, and rumor has it the show will be replaced by a new Cirque show eventually. But don’t fret – if you are in the Tampa Bay area and miss the theatrical and athletic excitement, Cirque is bringing its 41st original production, a new touring show, under the big top at the TAMPA GREYHOUND TRACK STARTING FEBRUARY 14, 2018!

The new Cirque show is called VOLTA. In literature, volta refers to a point of dramatic change. VOLTA the show is a story of transformation. It is about being true to oneself, fulfilling one’s true potential, and the power of the group to make that possible. You know, finding your true self by finding your TRIBE.

The show has a modern, youthful feel with elements of rope skipping, roller skating, BMX, parkour, acrobatics and so much more. What I’ve heard so far about it is:

“Volta contained all of the signature elements I’ve grown to enjoy: elaborate costumes, interesting themes and storylines, creative choreography, dramatic lighting and music, and (of course) mesmerizing acts with elements of humor and surprise that keep you enchanted. I enjoyed the cast interacting with the audience and the creative props and stunts.

The passion shines through every single artist, so amazing!! The wardrobe was soooo cool too! Totally blown away! One of my favorite shows I’ve seen by them!

Exciting and creative acts with plenty of audio and visual stimulation for you to enjoy. Definitely worth seeing.

It was fast paced, exciting and the costumes were amazing! I’ve seen many Cirque du Soleil shows but this one was really special! Go!”

VOLTA will be presented under the Big Top at the Tampa Greyhound Track February 14 – March 18, 2018. I’ll be there on opening night and will be back to blog all about it.

Cirque Club members can purchase tickets for these performances online at www.cirquedusoleil.com/volta. General public tickets are also on sale now by visiting www.cirquedusoleil.com/volta or calling 1-877-9CIRQUE (1-877-924-7783). Tickets start at $37. Or you can enter to win free tickets below!!

Thanks to my relationship with Tampa Bay Bloggers and Cirque du Soleil, I have a wonderful giveaway to offer to my readers – a pack of 4 tickets to see VOLTA in Tampa! #sponsored #ad The tickets may be used any Tuesday through Thursday the weeks of February 20 or 27. 

To be entered for a chance to win, find the VOLTA photo on my instagram account @rafdarrow. Follow the account and leave a comment on the VOLTA photo (from last week) letting me know your favorite thing about Cirque du Soleil. The giveaway will end at 9pm EST Feb 12, 2018. One winner will be randomly chosen and announced/tagged in the comments on Instagram on Feb 13.

Good luck and enjoy the show!

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Packing for Hurricane Irma

hurricane irma floridaWhen Hurricane Irma took a turn towards Tampa Bay on September 9, 2017, she was tracking right over my house. Eventually the area I live in was under a mandatory evacuation, meaning if we were in trouble emergency responders would not come help. Brian was worried about storm surge (high waters flooding into the house) and I was worried about wind damage, so we left. Here’s what I brought with me:

  • Food – A rolling cooler and 2 zip-up coolers filled with food and water from my fridge and freezer. I dumped ice in the cooler and turned off my ice maker. I also bought non-perishables that were not complete junk food (except for two dark chocolate bars), like canned chicken, boxed coconut milk, granola, nuts, raisins, peanut butter and cans of soup.
  • Clothes – I took a large, rolling duffle bag and dumped most of my socks and underwear into it. Then I added a bunch of casual clothes, one cuter outfit, warm PJs, barely there PJs, an old pair of sneakers in case I came home to a mess, a pair of flip flops, and a swim suit because I am a weirdo. I brought one long sleeve tech shirt in case it was steaming hot (it was) and bugs were biting (they weren’t.) Then I took a second suitcase and put a bunch of work clothes in it and put it up high in closet in case water went everywhere in my house. I also took my shoes off the floor of my closet and threw them in a shopping bag and put them up high in a closet.
  • Toiletries from my bathroom in full sizes in case we were gone a long time. Shampoo, hair product, face wash, deodorant, a razor, perfume, sunscreen, bug repellent, eyeliner and lipstick. Then stuff to do my nails because I knew we’d be sitting around bored at some point.
  • Eye care: Glasses, sunglasses, contacts, eye drops.
  • First aid kit + extra ibuprofen
  • A foam roller and yoga mat
  • Keys to everything around my house
  • Laptops, chargers, iPad, phone, little backup battery packs
  • Medical paperwork my kids need to have on hand, passports, birth certificates
  • Journal and pen
  • 2 books
  • Headlamps
  • Rubber gloves for post-storm cleanup
  • Alaska: along with cat food, litter, litter box, treats, toys, leash, cat carrier & id tag
  • Zip drive of family photos and DVDs of my kids when they were little and my wedding. I took 2 actual photos – one my kids when they were little and one from my honeymoon.I also put our photo albums in a large Rubbermaid tub but I left that in our safe room at home. (The guest room has no window.)
  • A special heart necklace Brian gave me years ago that I didn’t remove for days so I knew for sure it was not lost. I also packed some of my good jewelry and threw that in my suitcase
  • My alarm clock that has a sound machine on it
  • A battery powered radio
  • Our pillows to sleep better
  • Some sentimental stuff my kids asked me to grab, like baby blankies and favorite stuffed animals
  • Raincoat and umbrella
  • Homeowners insurance policy
  • Sports bottles full of cold water for the road
  • $500 cash

I put bikes in the shed, tarped a sofa by an old window that I was worried about, and sandbagged our outside doors. I took some favorite paintings off the wall and some breakable lamps and put them all in the safe room on the bed. I did not store anything in my washing machine or dishwasher. I left a cup of ice with a penny on top in both freezers (that way if I came home and the penny had sunk I would know at some point the freezer defrosted. That turned out to be fruitless because my power was off for a few days anyway.) I filled both car tanks with gas.

All of this, along with Brian’s gear didn’t fill my minivan, and we were safe with friends for about 48 hours. We came home to find our house and roof in one piece, our fence in three pieces (oops), and no electricity for about 60 hours. All in all, we were blessed and lucky! #Floridastrong

raffi in a headlamp

Wearing a headlamp to finish reading “The Nightingale”

friends during hurricane irma

Hiding in a closet under the stairs during a tornado that Irma brought

Disney joke

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Planning My Day at the Fair

Although I live minutes from Tampa, Florida, I have never been to the Florida State Fair. My kids have gone when invited by different friends over the years, and in fact DD2 went this year already, but I plan to go this Sunday for the first time. I’ve been looking at friends photos and social media posts, as well as the Florida State Fair website, and I’ve begun planning my day.

Photo by Rachel Barrett

What’s funny is I have a blogger friend who shared all there is to share about the food at the fair. Meanwhile my daughter has photos of animals, and my boss had photos of rides. My friend Carter said not to miss Cracker Country. I guess everyone has their reason for going and their favorite part of the day and Fairgrounds. Some moms of littles will probably wait in line for Peppa Pig or meeting the Shopkins! I’m curious to see what my favorite part will be. I think it will be taking photos of rides and lights at night.

Littles can get washable glitter tattoos at the Fair. (Really big kids can too!)

I already know one friend I am going with will totally be food-focused. While another said she can NOT miss the giraffes.

Giraffes??

Yep, every day at the fair you can join Twigs the Giraffe and other amazing exotic animals up close in the Giraffic Park Exotic Menagerie. (Ha!) Feed a giraffe and get a close-up look at a llama. When I think about animals at a fair, my mind goes to Charlotte’s Web – and the cows and pigs – and Templeton singing “A Fair is a Veritable Schmorgasboard-orgasboard-orgasboard.” Don’t worry, you can see those at the Fair too!

Friends of mine making furry friends at the Fair

DD2 tested her bravery at the Fair

You know what sounds cool to me? India Fest. I really enjoy music and dance with Indian influences, and I wonder if a couple of the kids I know from school will be performing. I haven’t heard about that from anyone yet.

The Florida State Fair is packed with rides — it’s the largest Midway in America and includes the famous Mighty Mouse. I guess it really does belong only an hour from Walt Disney World… If you love to spin around while being spun around, I hear the Zipper is the way to go.

Photo by Rachel Barrett

Because I’m a little tardy to the State Fair party, the people have already voted on the best food at the fair. The People’s Choice Award goes to The Best Around for their Fried Cheesy Enchilada Funnel Cake created by Kevin McGrath and team (not pictured here). It’s a corn meal funnel cake batter mixed with enchilada spices, poured through a funnel and deep fried. it’s then topped with queso and ground chorizo. I’m not sure I’ll be trying that. My daughter said the hamburger that has 2 heart-shaped donuts as the bun was tasty (shown). My boss tried – but later regretted – the fried Oreos.

Thanks to Outdoorsy Diva for her Fair tips and sharing some photos. Thanks to Tampa Bay Bloggers for helping me get tickets. I’m looking forward to my day at the Florida State Fair with Tia. I hope to see y’all a the fair!

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Meal Planning for the Week

Brian and I try to find time every Sunday to grocery shop together. First, we compare calendars to find out who will be home for dinner on which nights, then we come up with our menu and ingredients lists, and then we shop. We do the bulk of our shopping at Target with a Red Card to save 5%. For out-of-the-ordinary items, better produce and better meats, we go to Publix a few doors down.

This week, our meals are:

  • Sunday night (2 adults) – We had chicken breasts we had purchased the week before and not used, so we figured they’d better get eaten soon. I made Rachel Schultz’s WORLD’S BEST CHICKEN. The mustard flavor is rounded out by the other ingredients, it’s always juicy if you cook it 10 minutes less than she recommends, and you don’t have to marinade this in advance! Brian wanted brown rice, which we had leftover in the fridge, and I roasted broccoli too. I’ll make 3 breasts for the 2 of us so I have one left for lunch one day this week.
  • Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 5.46.22 PMMonday (party of 4) – the girls requested turkey burgers, which usually means I make the patties and Brian does the grilling. We had leftover buns in the freezer I defrosted. I pre-made a side of roasted vegetables and couscous in a huge bowl Sunday so I could have it for lunch at work too. The “kids” snuck some wasabi ginger kettle cooked Lays chips in the cart too.
  • Tuesday (party of 4) – chicken thighs in an Asian soy/peanut sauce with sugar snap peas and brown rice.
  • Wednesday (2 adults, because the girls are leaving town to go check out a colllege) – salmon, probably pan seared. This recipe sounds great!
  • Thursday (2 adults) – Pizza, because I’ll be working that night so fast is best
  • Friday (2 adults) – Cuban sandwiches in our panini press.

I hope you find time to meal plan as well. It saves money, calories, time and aggravation.

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Flying over Leeds Castle

wendycourse3

Get in the trees!

When our family ventured to London last June, we researched fun things to do with TEENS beforehand. Traveling with older teenagers is not like traveling with tiny children – but they aren’t quite like traveling with a set of contemporaries either.

adventure-GoApefamilyOne of the fun adventures my husband stumbled across online was Go Ape, a tree-top adventure that lets you “get in touch with your inner Tarzan.”

Their course includes a high ropes course adventure with a zip line at the end of each challenge. Our family had done a ropes course at Dollywood, but certainly not in treetops near a castle! And it did not include ziplining. (After only three years, Dollywood removed the two-acre Adventure Mountain multi-level rope course, so don’t go looking for it now…)

While at Dollywood, I found myself gripping the ropes tighter than I thought I would, getting a little stressed about falling despite the harness and safety wire. It was still an enjoyable trip, though, so when Brian recommended taking a train to Kent for the day and trying the Go Ape course, followed by a castle tour and hedge maze large enough to actually get a little lost in, we were all really excited about it.

On the train from London to Kent you can read, nap, chat, and enjoy views like these!

On the train from London to Kent you can read, nap, chat, and enjoy views like these!

We prepped by reading their website. The text and photos promised breathtaking views of the beautiful area surrounding Leeds Castle (near Maidstone), and “obstacles that will get the hairs on the back of neck bristling”. It also said the high ropes courses were approximately 40 feet above the forest floor and zip wires were over 800 feet in length – and my favorite part “leap off our Tarzan Swing and tackle our crossings whilst enjoying some of Britain’s most breathtaking scenery“.

Gorgeous castle grounds

Gorgeous castle grounds

raffi apeAlso thanks to the website, we knew how to get there, how early to arrive before our scheduled flight time, and what to wear – something you don’t mind getting grubby that covers your stomach and an emergency rain jacket. Appropriate close-toed footwear with soles with good grips – no sandals or slip-off shoes. Long hair should be tied back. And they recommended gloves, so I grabbed a pair of those $1 stretchy Target gloves for each of us. (I was the only one who wore them. I thought they were to avoid rope burn, but they were really to prepare for bad weather – and we had GORGEOUS weather!)

You can bring scaredy-cat friends who don’t want to participate to enjoy the forest grounds and take photos for you. You can also bring little ones: the Tree Top Junior Adventure includes up to an hour of exploring the tree tops for 6 – 12 year olds to enjoy.

We arrived right on time, locked up our belongings, signed insurance waivers, and got fit into our safety harnesses.

Brian steps into his safety harness

Brian steps into his safety harness

An adventure begins with a safety briefing. There was a group of teens there celebrating a friend’s birthday, and we had our safety talk together. That was nice, because you could see the information repeated a few times so it would sink in despite your excitement.

Then there are a couple of easy obstacles to try near the start, so the safety person can make sure you are doing them correctly, and so someone can back out if they are too uncomfortable.

Then you are led by signs through the forest from obstacle to obstacle, climbing at the start of each one, and meeting the ground after each one with a fun zipline down!

My daughter ascending to an obstacle

My daughter ascending to an obstacle

All of us enjoying the course

All of us enjoying the course

DD1 gets ready to zipline down!

DD1 gets ready to zipline down!

DD2 wanted me to take photos and videos of her throughout the course, but my hands were shakey from the height and from gripping so hard, and I was worried I would drop her iPhone! That didn’t stop her from making her own videos and taking selfies up high in the treetops without fear.

teen happy on ropes course

At one point my nervousness got the best of me. I ziplined down to the ground and took photos for a few minutes, and then finished up the course with the rest of the family. I just needed to feel solid ground for a few minutes, and my daughters applauded me when I stuck with it and climbed back up! #gotMyBack

Here are some more visuals of our tree-top Go Ape adventure:

teen on Go Ape ropes course

“I’m so glad we did this instead of Harry Potter, mom!”

wendyselfiefamily

Aliceropescourse

familyfinishedcourseGoApe

At the end we all received certificates of completion, as a memento to the fun you just survived. Just a short walk from the course is Leeds Castle, known as the Queen’s Castle and “the loveliest castle in the world“, where we planned to have a picnic lunch.

Enjoying the walk to the castle

My family walking to Leeds Castle on a gorgeous summer day in the UK

With peacocks roaming and sheep wandering, you’ll feel like you’ve gotten away from it all! I loved much of the art inside the castle as well.

castle1 IMG_2333 castlegrounds3 IMG_2336 castlegrounds IMG_2331

Outside the castle an animal show geared towards young children was going on. We went into the hedge maze while many of the other guests are occupied. It’s NOT an easy maze.

hedgemazepanoramic

couple in hedge maze near leeds castle

The maze ends in the center, where you take steps down to an underground grotto!

Grotto near Leeds castle

In the grotto

On our way back to the meet the shuttle to our train, we spotted pre-wedding photos happening on the castle grounds. The castle was closing as the wedding caterer arrived.

wedding at leeds castle, kent, uk

This was certainly one of the best days of our London vacation in the summer of 2015! We had active time and passive time, we worked individually and as a team, we got exercise and enjoyed the amazing beauty around us. If you take a family trip nearby, I recommend a day trip to Kent, Leeds Castle and the GoApe treetop zipline adventure for sure!

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