Craving Dole Whip

Disney & museum obsessed, homeschooling mom of 3, parenting to focus on experiences, not possessions. Sharing Disney tips, educational adventures and 'been-there-done-that' reviews. Constantly craving Dole Whip.


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The Delicious Firefly Grill in Effingham, Illinois

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I live in Texas.

Serendipity lead me to find the BEST restaurant in Illinois by complete happy (mouthwatering) accident.

And, within the last 10 months, I have eaten there three times!

Are you road tripping through Illinois?  Add this unbelievable restaurant to your must-visit, travel agenda.

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In July of 2016, my husband and I made a quick and unexpected road trip from Chicago to Houston.  No pre-planning, color-coded itineraries, museum stops or kids…just me and my husband on the open road, in a hurry to get home to Texas.

We left Chicago around 4:00 p.m. and decided to drive until we were too tired to continue.  As we made our way along I-94 and then I-57 S, I saw a billboard advertising a farm-to-table restaurant.  I Goggled the name (Yea! for the internet and cell phones and the all-mighty Google) and my husband and I agreed we would stop there for dinner.  (We do not eat fast food and we were THRILLED to have a fresh dining option!)

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Instantly, we knew we stumbled upon something special.  The rustic, natural wood, relaxing front porch, and open, outdoor seating welcomes guests, especially weary travelers looking for the perfect meal and an opportunity to unwind.

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As soon as we pulled into the parking lot, I spotted the beautiful garden to the right of the main building.  In all of it’s summer glory, it was magnificent!  Farm-to-table…with the farm right there!

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The menu…the fresh food…the garden…the ambiance…

We ordered several appetizers, two entrees and two desserts.  Yes, it was just the two of us…we like to indulge once in awhile.  No judging.  Of course, this was long before I started this blog.  I took pictures of the land and building, but unfortunately, the AMAZING food was completely devoured without being photographed.

My husband and I took our time enjoying everything the Firefly Grill offered.  We were in no hurry to get back on the road. Blissfully satisfied and in a complete food coma, we reserved a hotel room right in Effingham that evening.

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Lucky for you, my son lives in Chicago and my family took a return road trip to Illinois in May of 2017.  Firefly Grill was placed at the top of the must-do, color-coded itinerary–TWO stops in fact–one on the way into Chicago and the other, on the way back home to Texas.

***When your all-time FAVORITE restaurant is 886 miles from your front door, you gotta make a BIG effort to eat as much and as often as humanly possible.  No judging.

And the good news:  This time, I took pictures of EVERYTHING.  You are welcome.

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The Firefly Grill delivers a fresh, farm-to-table, sustainable and environmentally responsible menu that changes often and reflects seasonal availability.  The commitment to conscious dining is reflected not only in their food, but also in the abundant reclaimed barn woods, recycled steel, composting practices, thoughtful irrigation from the on-site pond and an unwavering dedication to using non-chemical gardening practices.

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Using a simple philosophy, “Source the best ingredients possible and stay out of their way”, Chef Niall creates uncomplicated, distinctive, and original dishes in an expedition style kitchen.

The main dining room is modern casual, with dark chocolate wood floors, comfortable leather seating, cool cobalt blue glassware, single bulb pendant lighting and a full bar.

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Billowing drapery and a warm, gentle color scheme creates a home-like and welcoming setting.

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Large plate glass windows and doors showcase a relaxing and peaceful outdoor setting, tempting visitors to dine alfresco, if the weather permits.  My family and I ate on the charming patio during all of our visits.

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Outdoor tables provide casual and comfortable seating, with several cushioned couches, woven chairs and cooling ceiling fans.  The porch offers a rustic and relaxing environment, where guests enjoy the tranquil views.

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The side patio faces a large grassy knoll, highlighting one graceful, willow-like tree.

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As the patio wraps around, tables and sofas sit above the banks of the peaceful Kristie Lake.

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YES!  Enormous and beautiful orange and black fish swim around in the lake!

The environment and the ambiance are reason enough to visit this amazing restaurant.  It is a breathtaking oasis with a family-friendly, peaceful and relaxing vibe, full of environmentally responsible actions.

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However, it is the simple, fresh, locally sourced and sensational food that impressed my family the most and stamped Firefly Grill with the honor of being my new favorite restaurant, even if it is 886 miles from my house.

Firefly Grill offers diners a diverse menu showcasing ingredients, vegetables and herbs grown onsite.  The restaurant combines great food with a peaceful location.  It is the perfect farm-to-table example of what fresh and responsible dining should be and could be in our country.

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Because meals are prepared when ordered, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan and allergen-friendly requests are welcomed and easily created.  Every staff member we encountered was knowledgeable, helpful and attentive, producing a professional team and family community within the restaurant.

Below are several pictures of the yummy menu when we visited in May of 2017.  Remember friends, this is a farm-to-table restaurant with a focus on serving seasonal, available and responsibly sourced food, so this menu will change as often as needed and that is what makes this place so incredible!

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The menu boasts all kinds of delectable options:  soups, salads, small plates, pizzas, sandwiches, entrees, sides, desserts, coffees, after dinner drinks, as well as beer and wine.

Honestly, we wanted to try it all!

So what did we eat?  No judging…remember?

During one visit, I ordered the Firefly Garden Salad, which was full of crispy mixed greens (from the onsite garden!), tiny sprigs of dill, roasted red and gold beets, a crunchy and tangy goat cheese croquette, all lightly tossed with white balsamic.  Bright, fresh, and delicious!

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I ordered the Wedge Salad during our second visit.  It was a perfectly portioned plate of crisp iceberg lettuce, a sprinkle of Applewood smoked bacon, green chives, soft bleu cheese crumbles and a drizzle of creamy dressing.  Traditionally, this salad also comes with fresh red tomatoes, but I ordered without.

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My daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed the fried morel mushrooms (which are only available for a limited time) served with chili lime aioli and a zesty dill ranch.  It was the BEST ranch dip I have EVER tasted.

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As you can see, I practically licked the ranch bowl.  Maybe I did…maybe I didn’t…there is no proof…

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My husband ordered the Fish-n-Chips–fresh and crispy pieces of Atlantic cod, bold Guinness Stout, malt vinegar, served with firefly tartar sauce and French fries.  He loved the fish and the tartar sauce was divine.  I finished off his fries by dousing them in malt vinegar and dredging through the tangy tartar.  (My mouth is watering as I type this sentence!)

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Below is a picture of the Cave-Aged Gruyere Burger, served with red onion jam, boursin, delicious gruyere, a Portobello mushroom, and crunchy homemade onion rings.  Full of savory flavors, original and tempting!

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The Portobello Veggie Burger was the perfect option for my vegetarian daughter–a large Portobello mushroom, green pesto, juicy tomato, topped with micro-greens and chevre boursin, all served on a grilled bun with French fries.

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Firefly Fish Tacos were accompanied by a sweet chili slaw, pineapple pico de gallo, fresh sliced vegetables, all scooped into grilled flour tortillas and presented along side several appetizing sauces.  My daughter’s favorite component?  The fresh and tangy pineapple pico de gallo!

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We ordered the Beer Cheese & Pretzels as an appetizer during both of our May visits.  Yes, it was marvelous!  Yes, it was delicious!  Yes, I wish I was eating it right now!  Warm, house-made beer cheese, house-made pretzel bites, grilled to crispy perfection (but still soft and chewy on the inside), sprinkled with flaky snowflakes of salt…pure heaven.

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I love Brussels sprouts.  If I see them on a menu, I always place my order.  Below is a picture of the Brussels served at Firefly Grill:  fresh Brussel sprouts, tossed with bacon and shallots.  To be 100% transparent and honest, this dish was a little bland for my inappropriate and excessive love of sprouts, but I rarely expect perfection, so all is forgiven.  These were ordered as a side dish.

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My husband devoured the Firefly Steak Burger which is prepared with bacon, caramelized onion and mornay, all topped with a local sunny side up egg and presented on a chewy pretzel bun.

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I know what you are thinking–“There is NO WAY these people left any room to try the desserts…bummer!”

But, fear not my little friends!  When we indulge, we GO BIG OR GO HOME!  No quitters here.

So, on to desserts!

Try the Chocolate Valrhona Cake if it is available during your visit.  The yummy chocolatey dessert blends layers of valrhona cake and milk chocolate mousse into a splendid confection, presented with craters of caramel sauce and usually served with house-made espresso ice cream.  I switched it up and chose to order my cake with salted caramel ice cream instead.  (PS–How cute is this wooden plate?!? Not only did I love this dessert, but I LOVED the plate.  I did not EAT the plate…I just appreciate the pleasing aesthetic feeling that it brought to the party.)

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I also recommend the amazing and seasonal firefly ice cream.  Nothing beats a fresh, in-house made, creamy frozen dessert.  There were 5 or 6 flavors to choose from and the salted caramel was my favorite.  I ordered it during both of our May visits.

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Firefly Signature Shooters combine delightful and manageable portions of yummy desserts–a perfect way to quiet a sweet tooth after an enjoyable meal.

These sweet options include Caramel Cookie with dulce de leche and oreo filling, s’mores with spiced pound cake, cheesecake with strawberry preserves, butterscotch pudding with a chocolate crumble and a passion fruit mousse.

My daughter ordered the chocolate espresso, featuring espresso soaked devils food cake, a chocolate cremeux and topped with a dark chocolate crumble.

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espresso soaked lady fingers assemble a perfectly indulgent dessert, hugged between
house-made toffee and fluffy whipped cream.

 

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The Firefly Grill delivers.  It delivers on freshness, flavor, ambiance, service and originality.  In the open, American heartland, this restaurant brings sustainable, farm-to-table food to diners seeking seasonal, responsible and modern cuisine.

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Executive Chef Niall Diarmid Campbell II and his wife, General Manager Kristie, met in Puerto Rico and through an interesting turn of events, the couple opened Firefly Grill in 2006, in Effingham, Illinois.  Together, they have created an outstanding restaurant with the “feel of coming home” in the heart of the Midwest.

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The Firefly Grill is located at 1810 Avenue of Mid America, Effingham, Illinois, 62401.  The peaceful location creates a beautiful backdrop for weddings, private parties, dinners and events.

For more information, a list of food sources and farms, and current hours of operation, please visit their website at www.ffgrill.com or call (217) 342-2002.

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Want to learn all about my favorite museum in Houston, Texas?  Click here.

My fav museum in Oklahoma?  Glad you asked…click here!

I have a few favorites in Florida, too!  Check them out here and here.

Don’t worry…I have some favorites in Illinois…I will write those reviews ASAP.

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Morian Hall of Paleontology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science

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Ranked as one of the most-visited museums in North America, The Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) showcases a plethora of traveling educational exhibits and features an impressive assembly of permanent collections, worthy of topping any must-see lists for Houston, Texas.

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Permanent exhibitions include a comprehensive Farish Hall of Texas Wildlife, an extraordinary Hall of Ancient Egypt and the stunning Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals, just to name a few.

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With 30,000 square feet of modern, clean lines, chalky white alcoves and chronological classifications, The Morian Hall of Paleontology houses the extraordinary and one of the most monumental permanent collections found inside the HMNS.

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World-renowned paleontologist and author, Robert T. Bakker, Ph.D., curates the substantial exhibit.  The collection walks visitors through prehistoric eras and human evolution, presenting predators and prey in active, natural poses.

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450 exquisite fossils and authentic replicas narrate the story of the flora and fauna that dominated our Earth for 200 million years.

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Descriptive and informative labels, comprehensive explanations and epoch timelines guide museum visitors through thought-provoking and educational displays.

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Several realistic-looking representations portray early humanoids and Neanderthals.

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The Morian Hall of Paleontology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science presents a thorough and breathtaking view into a prehistoric and extinct world brimming with unusual biology, enormous dinosaurs, massive tress and an ever-changing environment.

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Put this museum and specifically, the Morian Hall of Paleontology, on your “Things to do in Houston” list.

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The Houston Museum of Natural Science is located at 5555 Hermann Park Drive, Houston, Texas, 77030.

Hours of operation:

Monday-Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

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Ticket pricing for all permanent exhibits and collections:

Adults–$25

Children ages 3-11–$15

Seniors ages 62+–$15

College students with ID–$15

Military with ID–$8

Members are always free.

Parking is available in the museum parking garage.

Parking for non-members–$20

Parking for members–$5

Discounts, Groupons and CityPass cards are sometimes available.

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Dining options while at the museum:

McDonald’s is in the museum’s Grand Entry Hall and several restaurants exist within walking distance.  I recommend the MFA Café, located inside the Museum of Fine Arts, just a few blocks from the Museum of Natural Science.

Visit www.hmns.org or call 713-639-4629 to purchase tickets and for more information.

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Do you love museums?

Click here to read about my favorite museum in Oklahoma.

Click here to read about the Salvador Dali museum in Florida.

Traveling to Houston soon?  Check out Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios, currently performing in Houston, Texas.  Click here to read a full review of the amazing show!

 


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44 years and 1 day

Yesterday, I turned 44 years and one day old.  I wrote a blog post (read it here!) all about my birthday and what my actual day looked liked, but I woke up this morning with more to share.  So, what did 44 years and 1 day bring?

On Thursday, I woke up at 6:30 a.m. as a 44 year and 1 day old woman.  Constantly, for the last 24 years and 21 days, at least one person calls me “mom”, meaning I happily put my desires on the back burner…a deliberate, daily action for more than half my life.

So, I’m up at 6:30 a.m. to begin my day because Tuesdays and Thursdays are college days.  Not for me…I graduated with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in 1997.  Tu/Th means college classes for my 11 and 13-year-old daughters.  Read 5 reasons why we homeschool here.

In true modern-life fashion, the first thing I reach for in the morning is my phone.  About 3 months ago, I finally started to flip my ringer off at night.  Since my son left for college in 2011, I worry about him constantly and always keep the phone on my nightstand, ringer on full-blast.  Now that the ringer is off at night, I check the phone first thing, just incase.  Full disclosure:  He graduated from college in 2015 and I still have my phone on vibrate (just incase).  Baby steps, people.  Baby steps.

I typically spend 10 ish minutes looking through Facebook, maybe Twitter, and seldomly Instagram.  Come on, I am 44.  Facebook is my jam.

A friend sent me a Facebook message asking about the mesh laundry baskets we use to protect, raise and house our monarch caterpillars.  I wanted to verbally describe the containers, but felt a picture would be better.  In my pj’s and clunky old-lady Vionic house-shoes (plantar fasciitis, remember?), I went to the garage to grab an empty habitat for an outdoor photo shoot.  I took the pic, put the basket back into the garage and stepped down onto the drive way.

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Well…I sort of “stepped down”.  The clunky house-shoe on my right foot slipped off as I stepped down from the garage doorway.  I twisted my ankle and fell directly on my rear, jarring my spine from my tailbone to my skull on the not-so-shock-absorbent concrete.  Of course, I used my left hand to brace myself, which in reality, only added to the list of injuries.  I laid on the driveway for a few minutes, accessing all damage, and laughing/crying at my old lady self…so thankful we live in the country, where neighbors are few and far between.

Besides my pride and ego, the other injuries are minor, mostly bruising and sore muscles.

Gingerly, I returned to the house, made oatmeal and negotiated two peace treaties between the conflicting ideals of my two daughters–at least I was not naked this time.  It’s a miracle.

On April 21, my family made the excruciating decision to help our beloved 13 year-old family dog cross the rainbow bridge.  A cloud of sadness and emptiness lingers over our house and hearts these days.  It has been tough on everyone.  For me, added misery stems from her absence in my daily routines.

Having a dog is like having another child.  Her needs always came before my own.  If she needed to go out and I needed to pee, I always took her first.  In fact, most mornings, I walked her outside before I barely opened my eyes and I always served her breakfast before I fed my children or myself.

As I was getting dressed, her absence overwhelmed me and I cried.  Cried in the shower, cried brushing my teeth, cried until it was time to leave for school.  I miss her.

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Part of my daily routine is calling my husband while I drive to the first college campus.  (My girls take classes at two different campuses this semester.) (And, since you might not know me personally, I use my car’s Bluetooth just to be safe.  I never speed and I never text while driving.)  I am a rule follower.

The phone call is a quick opportunity to check in with my man while my daughters are plugged in and watching a DVD in the car.  Movies create a much-needed quick escape for my girls from their very active brains.  What do they watch?  Well…let me just say, my daughters display an eclectic taste when it comes to films.  I am going to walk out to my car (slowly and carefully) and take a pic of the movies just for your viewing pleasure.  Here you go:

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Yes, all of these movies are currently in my car and yes, we spend a lot of money on DVD’s.  Someone should set up a GoFundMe account.

So, back to the chitty-chat with my husband.  He always asks about my morning first–even if I protest and ask about his day, he refuses to answer until I share my stuff.  I gave an overview of everyone’s morning emotions and a recap of my graceful, old lady fall and waited for his summation.

He starts by causally mentioning his name made the Colonel promotion list–a SUPER big deal.  We have waited AND waited AND waited for this amazing news.  As I am giddy with excitement and congratulations, I bounce in my driver’s seat (as much as humanly possible) and proceed to twerk my neck and back even more than the morning’s tumble on the concrete.  Damn this 44 year and 1 day old body.

Seriously, my husband is so humble.  Green Berets are called “The Quiet Professionals” for a reason.  He is a rock star, but he keeps it a secret.

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LOL.  I am just kidding.  That is not my husband.  This is a picture of my daughter at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  I wanted to throw a little Disney love into this post.  Who needs more Disney in their life?  This girl.  Yes, me.  Duh.

THIS is my man, leaving for deployment in 2010.

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He is an amazing soldier and an amazing husband.

If I made the rank of Colonel, it would be the first thing I blurted out when I answered a call.  But, not my husband…he is always more concerned and interested in what I have going on in my world.  I am a lucky gal.

First college stop every Tuesday and Thursday is yoga class for my 11 year-old.  I am happy to report it is not an easy, blow-off course.  Though the focus is yoga and health, the professor spends a lot of time lecturing about yoga philosophy, morals, ethics, and practices.  My daughter continues to learn about Hindi culture, vegetarianism and historical traditions.

During yoga, my 13 year-old and I sit at tables outside of the classroom–she works on geometry, French or marine biology while I answer emails, make calls or write blog posts for you guys.  After yoga, my daughter changes into regular clothing and we drive to the next campus.

Yesterday, however, she realized she forgot her regular bra and reacted with a full, emotional meltdown in the women’s restroom.  Have you read about my life with profoundly gifted kids?  Click here.

I calmly suggested the sports bra was sufficient, but she shot that down pretty quick.  Next, I offered a switch–she could wear my bra and I would gladly wear the sports bra…anything to minimize her anxiety.  Apparently, the thought of wearing her mom’s bra was mortifying enough to make the wearing of the sports bra acceptable.  That is a parenting win, my friends.

We drove to the next college campus, where my 13 year-old takes Acting I and my 11 year-old attends two different ASL classes.  I create a home base–what I call our “nest”–and I sit there for the next 9 hours while my daughters come and go to the rest of their classes.  I read, watch entirely too many Netflix shows and I do research for this blog.  Yea Wi-Fi.

On campus, the Deaf and ASL interpreting college students were interacting with visiting Deaf junior high students.  One of the professors introduced my daughter and the students asked a lot of questions.  She confidently signed and communicated with several of the kids, which was exciting because these students were her age.  That NEVER happens.

One fascinating facet of Deaf culture is sign names.  A Deaf person MUST give the sign name to a hearing person.  Until a sign name is given, names are finger-spelled using the ASL alphabet.  My daughter has studied American Sign Language for 6 years and has waited 6 years, hoping someday to receive her sign name from a Deaf individual.

The sign name is an act of acceptance into the Deaf culture.

I was writing a blog post when my daughter RAN up to our nest, all out of breath, and almost cried as she told me that a Deaf student bestowed her a sign name.  It was the best day of her life!

Through happy tears, I watched my daughter walk into her Visual and Gestural Communications class with a sign name.  It was like she was a new person.

For Christmas, I gave my daughters tickets to see Alton Brown Live:  Eat Your Science.  When I purchased the tickets, we thought my husband would be in Qatar, so I only bought three.  Life is funny sometimes, right?  Plans change constantly around here.

So, we skipped my 11 year-old’s last class (Yes, she told the professor in advance.) and we met my husband for dinner before the show.  My husband loves Alton Brown and since he is not in Qatar, I gave him the chance to take our daughters on a date.  I REALLY wanted to go, but I was thrilled to give up my ticket for my awesome husband.

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Alton Brown is so cool, isn’t he?

After dinner, my husband took our daughters to see Alton Brown Live and I started the long drive home.  I made a last minute decision to visit my fabulous sister because Google Maps sent me right by her house.

I love spending quality time with my sister, my nephew and one of my nieces.  (The other one was out for the evening…bummer!)

They gave me some super awesome birthday presents, like this Haunted Mansion (my all-time favorite Disney ride!!!) plate.

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And, I got this adorable dress to wear during my next Walt Disney World vacation!

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I am sooooooo excited!!!

Last May, I was diagnosed with skin cancer.  Ugh.  Too many years using baby oil in the sun and too many trips to the tanning bed in my teens and 20’s…use sunscreen my friends.

Anyway, I had some fun basal cell carcinoma removed from my shoulder and the scar is YUCK-Y.  I call it “my third nipple”, which my husband hates, but I think it’s funny–it is a sick way of coping…

My 4 year old nephew (He is the love of my life!) told me to take off my jacket, revealing my shoulder because I was wearing a tank top underneath.  He immediately started asking questions about my scar and poking it with his finger.  He said it looked like gum and I could not stop laughing.

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I guess calling it “gum” is better than “my third nipple”.  lol.

This is my nephew.  I could look at his precious face all day long.

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It was dark by the time I arrived home and I immediately felt the absence of our Pepper Dog.  Last night marked the first time I was home alone without her.  The house was too quiet and too empty.  I could not stop thinking about her.

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I decided a melatonin made the best nighttime snack and I snuggled into bed, watching a few episodes of “Scrubs”.

At 11:30 p.m., my husband (a new Colonel) and daughters (one with a sign name) finally came through the door, exhausted from a long day of school and Alton Brown.

I feel asleep with sore muscles and tight joints from the morning’s fall, but I have this chunk of gum on my shoulder and it kind of makes me laugh.

Here’s to being 44 years and 1 day old.


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What Does 44 Look Like?

So…yesterday was my 44th birthday.  Quite honestly, I can NOT believe I just typed that sentence.  It’s a bit surreal.  In some ways, I totally feel every bit of 44.  At other times, I sit in complete amazement at how quickly my 20’s and 30’s faded.

Each year represents an evolving season and 44 looks different on different people.  What does turning 44 look like for me?

Well…for my actual birth DAY, my super thoughtful, youngest daughter (age 11) made (from scratch) vegan and gluten-free pancakes and chocolate dipped strawberries for breakfast in bed.  The pancakes were inedible (for real), but the strawberries were super fresh and juicy.  She knew the pancakes missed the mark, so thankfully, I was off the hook.

My two daughters got dressed and I took a shower.  I handled 3 separate sister-sibling arguments before I put on clothing.  Everyone sees me naked.  Yea 44.

I took my middle child to the orthodontist to get a poky wire clipped.  Our monthly payment for braces costs more than my husband’s car payment.  And, the payment plan continues for 28 months.  Yea 44.

After the orthodontist, I drove to a podiatrist appointment, where I learned a severe case of plantar fasciitis and a large bone spur is causing my constant and excruciating heel pain.  Awesome.  Yea 44.

My girls read Harry Potter books in the waiting room while I was in the examination and x-ray room for over an hour.

Side note:  As a homeschooling momma, my daughters go everywhere with me–haircuts, errands, gynecologist, mammograms, dentist, podiatrist, etc., etc.  I am NEVER alone.  Christmas shopping would be non-existent without Amazon.  Click here to read 5 reasons why we homeschool.

As for the Harry Potter reading:  My girls are VERY late to the Harry Potter craze.  At 11 and 13, they show absolutely no interest.  The 11 year old HATES fiction and thinks it is silly to read something that is not true.

But, after our most recent Disney vacation, my husband and I decided a trip to Universal Studios would not happen until their brother’s old Harry Potter books were cracked open…hence, the new-found interest.  That’s a parenting win, folks.  Yea 44.

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The podiatrist wanted to administer a steroid injection in my heel.  I asked about the pain involved with the procedure, the steroids, and alternative solutions.  (I don’t like excessive meds or chemicals in my body.)

She asked if I had children.  I said, “Yes, three.”  She then proceeded to tell me that if I could endure childbirth, I could endure the needle in my foot.

NOPE…Not interested in going through the same level of pain as childbirth (or anything compared to such) on my birthday.  Plus, it’s a no-go on the steroids.  I declined the injection.

I don’t think the doctor was very happy.

But, I no longer make decisions based on what other people think.  Yea 44.

I walked out of the doctor’s office and took my two daughters to lunch.

We chose a quaint, but popular tearoom because of the delicious, fluffy homemade bread and fantastic desserts.  (It was my birthday, after all.)  Plus, the restaurant is less than a mile from the podiatrist and my daughters love the food.

I ordered a salad with blue cheese dressing on the side (a BIG treat for me).  It was utterly divine.  I also ate a super yummy veggie sandwich with spinach, avocado and sprouts.  For dessert, I chose warm peach cobbler a la mode.  Cobbler of any kind is my fav.  DELICIOUS.

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My daughters and I stopped at Marshall’s and did a little shopping because my son’s girlfriend is graduating from law school in May and we need dresses.  A cute bag and a few tops made it home…but we were unsuccessful in the dress department.  My 13 year old daughter said I was too old to wear the one possibility.  Awesome.  Yea 44.

Once we returned home, my girls started school, while I worked on laundry.  A sweet friend sent me a reminder text–she needed something I stored in our safe.  Two days before, I stuck a reminder sticky note on my mirror, but I forgot, of course–soooooo thankful for friends and reminder texts.  Yea 44.

As I dug in the safe, I came across my most prized possession.

In 1998, I took my son to the mall to get pictures taken–that’s what we did back in the day–long before beautiful outdoor location family photographers and cell phones with fancy cameras existed.

While I chose the pictures I wanted to purchase, my son (age 5) was getting restless.  From my purse, I hurriedly gave him a random receipt and a pen so he could doodle and be occupied for a minute.  He handed me this:

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“I love you Mommy so much that I want to squ (squeeze) the juice out of you.”

(He ran out of room for the E-E-Z-E.  lol.)

This piece of paper is my favorite thing.  Swaddled within a tiny pocket in my wallet for many years, I eventually placed it in a plastic baggie and tucked it inside a fireproof container.  A burglar would certainly be disappointed with the contents of our safe since it is full of memories and photographs.  Not money.  Like not a dime.  Yea 44.

The contents of that safe represent what we value as a family–ultrasound videos, pregnancy journals, thousands of photographs of our children, military medals and awards, birth certificates and our marriage license–our family treasures.  Yea 44.

Click here to read everything about my unusual family.

After reminiscing for an hour or so, I returned to the mountain of laundry.

I watched “Scrubs” on Netflix and drank some unsweet iced tea (my fav) as I sat on the bed and tackled the clothing.  Yea 44.

My sweet husband came home from work a little early with my favorite tofu spring rolls from my fav Vietnamese restaurant, a ton of fresh berries (my fav) and a box of Milk Duds (my fav candy).  My stomach was already “iffy” from the dairy indulgence at lunch and I didn’t want to add to the madness, so I skipped the candy.  Yea 44.

My birthday gift this year, you ask?  A ton of milkweed plants.  My daughters and I are passionately involved in providing food and habitats for the monarch butterfly migration through south Texas and my awesome husband bought all of this for our garden.  He is the best.

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My 13 year old daughter participated in a scheduled, 1.5 hour-long web meeting with her college French professor from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.. so we planned to stay home.

I put on my comfy PJ’s, finished the laundry and ate my spring rolls while sitting in bed and catching up with my husband’s daily events.  We binge-watched several more ‘Scrubs” episodes until it was time to call it a night.  Yea 44.

Throughout the day, I received sooooooooooooo many texts, calls, and Facebook birthday messages!  I felt like the luckiest woman on Earth.  The BEST day to be on social media is always your birthday, right?!?

I even opened my “real” mailbox to find a birthday card from one of my most treasured, lifelong friends–we met in 3rd grade.  How very lucky I am to still have her in my life!  Yea 44.

As I was closing my eyes to finally rest, I noticed an unfamiliar glow of light coming from the classroom.

Side note:  Our 11 year old sleeps on the floor of our homeschool classroom–it’s been 2 years now.  Yes, she has a bedroom and yes, she has a delightful bed and yes, she chooses to sleep on the hardwood floor.  Click here to read about my life with profoundly gifted children.

From my side of the bed, I can always see her little pile of blankets.   I asked her where the light was coming from and she said she was reading Harry Potter with a book light.  (This is the daughter that believes there is no benefit to reading fiction.)

She wanted to know what happens next in the story.

I smiled and told her she could read for as long as she wanted.  Then, I fell asleep.

Yea 44.

 

 


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Kurios–Cirque du Soleil’s Cabinet of Curiosities Experience

In Renaissance Europe, cabinets of curiosities or ‘cabinets of wonder’ were collections of uncategorized, unusual, interesting and rather odd objects.  Curiosities could include anything from undefined bones, seashells, taxidermy, and pebbles to crystals, egg shells, dried leaves, flowers, insect specimens, trinkets, artifacts and art.  (Sounds like my youngest daughter’s bedroom)

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Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios is a dream-like cabinet of wonder, brimming with steampunk-themed objects, puzzling characters, marvelous performances and breathtaking environments, all brought to life by the hands of a brilliant inventor.

This is a review of our entire Kurios Cabinet Des Curiosites experience.

My daughters and I attended the Kurios performance in Houston, Texas, at the Sam Houston Race Park on April 9, 2017, at 1:30 p.m.  It was our first time to see a Cirque du Soleil show.

Several days before the performance, I received a very detailed email from Cirque du Soleil with information about the venue and directions. (Thank you Cirque du Soleil!)

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Parking was $12.00, which I felt was too high, and only cash was accepted, though there was an ATM outside the parking lot.  Three parking lot attendants collected parking fees and several other attendants directed traffic to control the flow to the parking spaces.  The process was quick and organized.

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The Grand Chapiteau

 

 

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We walked from the car to the main entrance and went through the bag check security point.  The officers checked my bag and my daughter’s purse.  I always appreciate extra security and safety.

 

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Our first Cirque du Soleil show!

The energy and intrigue began as soon as we stepped inside the yellow and blue striped big top tents.

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Concessions selling popcorn, bottled water and snacks were on the right and Cirque Du Soleil merchandise booths were on our left.

A few props and photo opportunities were placed throughout the main tent.  Stringed lights lit the area, but the layout was very confusing and crowded.

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We walked through the main tent and back out into the blazing sun and walked into a second tent marked with the numbers of the even sections.

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A few portable bathrooms labeled for men, women, unisex and families were posted between the other yellow and blue striped tents.  The bathrooms were clean, though tiny.  The sinks provided non-potable water, soap and paper towels for hand washing.  There was a wheelchair accessible ramp on one of the units.

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After we used the restroom, we were directed to go into the tent entrance with the door number from our tickets, which was 8.

Each numbered door had an entrance that looked like the below picture, with outdoor benches and trash cans.  The doors were clearly marked.

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A friendly usher helped us find our seats, which were in section 104, row D, seats 24, 25 and 26.  I paid $136.00 total for each ticket.

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There was a bridge traversing the stage that guests could walk across before the show began and my youngest daughter was thrilled to go across and catch a glimpse of some backstage props.  While the seats were filling up, several performers entertained the early birds with quick skits and shenanigans.

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Once the lights dimmed, photography and video recording was not allowed.

 

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This is the last picture I took before the show began.

Kurios was approximately 2 hours long, with a 25 minute intermission.

The mesmerizing experience started with a show defining vignette–a grey-haired man in a white lab coat appeared to be laboriously working to accomplish something very important.  Several unusual mechanical robots and wacky inventions were littered across the stage.

At first, I could not figure out if the man was a frustrated science professor, evil genius, or brilliant inventor. I kept looking around for clues.

Centered in the middle of the stage, the inventor worked diligently and with urgency to tether and link an enormous chair to poles.  Simulated sounds of electricity traveling through the cables made it clear that something was about to happen.

Immediately, everything transformed into a surrealist perspective of reality and the captivating performances began.

Full of energy, surprise, intrigue and amazement, each segment took the traditional expectation of a ‘circus’ and injected hypnotic, thought-provoking shock and wonder scenes, creating a memorable and extraordinary experience.

A gigantic mechanical hand formed the base for a beautifully fluid contortion act, where the women’s interesting costumes resembled blue-ringed octopi and electric eels.

Rola Bola’s baffling aviator-themed balancing act was breathtaking and fearless.

 

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A precise and skilled violin master played music while a talented woman sang beautifully during the entire show.

Multiple inventive and ingenious acrobatic performances captivated my daughters.

Our favorite was the trampoline AcroNet acrobats, which tumbled, flipped, flew and spun through the air as if they were aquatic creatures gliding through the tranquil ocean.

A woman gracefully sailed above the stage, while performing dazzling maneuvers around a bicycle.  Two talented men used large straps to swoop and zoom high above the awestruck audience.

The most marvelous and almost confusing moment was when we realized there was an actual dinner party with an elaborately set table, food and guests, mirrored in a parallel universe high above the stage and sinking down from the ceiling.  The spellbinding moment still repeats over and over again in my mind’s eye.

The actors filmed a bizarre and unconventional ‘movie’ using only their hands as the main characters.  I loved it!

A traveling steam train transporting passengers parked right in the middle of the stage, unloading all kinds of unexpected, Victorian-era characters.  The constant movement and captivating interactions between the actors produced a multi-sensory experience.

During the entire Kurios show, I was reminded of the puzzling and bewildered feeling one experiences when attending a Blue Man Group performance.  My daughters and I took what we saw on stage and processed the images for several days.  I appreciate a puzzling experience that challenges perception and forces unconscious thoughts about existence and reality.

We missed about 40% of one act because our view was blocked by stage props and the performance solely faced the centermost seats.  However, it was a quick scene with a man pretending to be a cat on a couch.  Though frustrating, we did not allow it to erase any magic from the entire experience.

Our biggest complaint was the actual ‘big top’ venue–it was so very hot during the entire performance, I actually saw an audience member collapse.  People were sweating profusely and constantly fanning themselves.  It was absolutely miserable.  Unfortunately, the heat was distracting and certainly aggravating.

After the performance, my daughters and I went to dinner and drank an obscene amount of ice water.

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Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios was an alluring, steampunk-inspired, dazzling show with gripping and entertaining performances by amazingly talented people.  It is family-friendly and completely appropriate for all ages.

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Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios experience can be seen in Houston, Texas, until May 21, 2017.

Shows are held inside the Grand Chapiteau at the Sam Houston Race Park, 7575 North Sam Houston Parkway West, Houston, Texas, 77064.

Tickets can be purchased online here.

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Interested in other amazing surrealism experiences?  Click here to read all about the Salvador Dali museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Are you curious about homeschooling?  Click here to read 5 reasons why we chose to homeschool our profoundly gifted daughters.


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Best Disney Restaurants for Kids Ages 5 and Under

OH!  Disney Dining…you keep us coming back for more and more and more!

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With 7 Disney trips under their belts, my kids have eaten at a ton of WDW restaurants, ranging from simple snacks to quick counter service to almost every character meal to fine dining at Victoria & Albert’s.  They have seen and eaten it all–and at all ages–from 8 months to 23 years old!

Disney does a great job of creating themed restaurants to serve all guests, kids and kids-at-heart.  Though almost all Walt Disney World restaurants offer a kid’s menu, some are obviously more geared towards the younger visitors.

My daughters and I chose the BEST kid restaurants based on kid-centered theming, characters, fun environments and kid-friendly (not just kid’s menu) food.

 

These are the BEST of the BEST table service restaurants for kids ages 5 and under.

For a list every character meal inside the Walt Disney World theme parks, click here.

Put these table service restaurants on your ‘Must-Do’ list!

Magic Kingdom:

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The Crystal Palace–Read all details and a review here

Cinderella’s Royal Table

Be Our Guest Restaurant–Read all details and a review here and avoid the West Wing dining room if your child is afraid of the dark, simulated thunder and lightening.

Tony’s Town Square Restaurant

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Epcot:

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Akershus Royal Banquet Hall

Garden Grill Restaurant

 

Hollywood Studios:

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Hollywood & Vine

50’s Prime Time Café–Read all of the details and a review here.

 

Animal Kingdom:

Tusker House Restaurant

 

Disney Springs:

Rainforest Café–Avoid if your child is frightened by simulated thunder and loud noises.

T-REX–Avoid if your child is frightened by loud noises and large dinosaurs that move.

 

Resorts:

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1900 Park Fare–Read all details and a review here

Chef Mickey’s–Read all details and a review here

‘Ohana

Cape May Cafe

Whispering Canyon Café

 

Click here to learn all about the 2017 Disney Dining Plan.

Click here to learn how to plan a Walt Disney World vacation like a pro!

Click here to read about our favorite Disney buffet!

 

 

 

 


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The Dali Museum

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Salvador Dali is arguably the most famous surrealist painter of all time.  He was born in Figueres, Spain in 1904, and hosted his first solo art show in Barcelona by the age of twenty-one.

His original, striking and dream-like images can be alarming, intriguing and thought provoking all at once.  Creating unconventional art in all kinds of mediums, Dali’s work conveys complex symbolism through paintings, drawings, film, sculptures, and photography.

By the time of his death in January of 1989, Salvador Dali reigned as the world’s most eccentric, flamboyant, and prominent member of the surrealism movement.  To this day, his peculiar work is celebrated by many and recognized by most.

In Florida, there is a breathtaking building showcasing the extraordinary work of this cutting-edge artist in a museum solely dedicated to his legacy.

Welcome to The Dali Museum.

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Located in the beautiful and charming city of St. Petersburg, The Dali Museum displays over 2,000 pieces of Salvador Dali’s creative artwork, including 96 oil paintings, sketches, sculptures, photographs and personal documents.

The building alone is unusual, innovative and dramatic, hinting at the surreal and imaginative contents inside.  A large, cubist-inspired concrete entrance with a calming water feature opens to a stunning glass paneled ceiling and a winding, ribbon-like spiral staircase.

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It is simply breathtaking.

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The Dali Museum exhibits the life work of Salvador Dali in a series of open rooms with floating walls.  Visitors can view Dali’s early impressionistic style and walk through the many series of his constantly evolving artistic themes.

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Admission includes a free-audio guide and public tours.  My daughters, ages 10 and 11, were given an interactive worksheet and treasure hunt which they greatly enjoyed.

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Dali’s slightly strange images are masterfully realistic, but placed into unrealistic settings, sometimes posing more questions than answers.

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The gifted visionary expressed himself in an entertainingly bizarre and outlandish manner, which visitors can perceive through many personal photographs.

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Though Salvador Dali is most famous for his expressive surrealist paintings, the brilliant artist also created three-dimensional supernatural sculptures.

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The whimsical and playful gardens, located on the grounds of the Dali museum, are just as alluring as his influential artwork.

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The Dali Wish Tree was a highlight of our outdoor exploration.

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My daughters tied wishes to the flowing strands, connecting their thoughts and hopes to other visitors.  It was a very peaceful experience.

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Dali’s artistic influence can be found not only in the architecture and design of this sublime museum, but obviously in the furniture, as well.

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Café Gala is a modern and appetizing café located inside the Dali Museum.  Named for Salvador Dali’s wife, the innovative café serves a culinary experience through Spanish-inspired tapas, small plates, soups and salads.

The café can be found on the first floor of the museum and paid admission is not required for guests who only wish to dine.

There are several indoor and outdoor tables with seating in the Avant-Garden patio and garden.

Try the mushroom and bacon Lardoon skewers, fried artichokes, serrano ham and Manchego croquettes, or the chilled tomato and cucumber soup.

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There is also a large, funky and eclectic gift shop full of interesting Dali-inspired and art-themed items:  perfume, umbrellas, t-shirts, jewelry, kitchenware, toys and mustache stickers.

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Our entire family enjoyed our Dali Museum experience.  Before we arrived in Florida, my daughters completed a full unit study focusing on surrealism and several surrealist artists, including Dali.  Visiting the museum and seeing his work in person brought the entire curriculum to life.  The Dali Museum was more spectacular than we imagined.

Museum admission prices are as follows:

FREE–Ages 5 and younger

$10.00–Ages 6-12

$17.00–Students ages 13-17

$17.00–Students ages 18+ with ID

$22.00–Firefighters, educators, military and police with ID

$22.00–Seniors ages 65+

$24.00–Ages 18-64

Members receive unlimited free admission.  Membership for an individual is $60 and family membership is $100.

Admission includes entrance into all museum galleries, a free audio guide and public tours.  The museum regularly hosts additional, non-permanent exhibits.

Visitors can download a Dali app and use their own earbuds for the audio tour, if preferred.

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The museum is open 7 days a week and only closes on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and during the St. Petersburg Grand Prix.

Museum hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Thursday.  Thursday hours are 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

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Onsite parking is available for $10.00.  Museum members park for free.

The Dali Museum is located at One Dali Blvd., St. Petersburg, Florida, 33701.  The main phone number is 727-823-3767.  Visit their website for more information at www.thedali.org.

Did you know that Salvador Dali and Walt Disney created a film together called “Destino”?

Click here to check out the book detailing the friendship and artwork shared by these two innovative geniuses.

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The Chihuly Collection at the Morean Arts Center is another amazing museum in St. Petersburg, FL.  Click here to read all about it!

Do you love blown glass artwork?  Ever want to create your own?  Click here to learn all about a super cool glass blowing experience in St. Petersburg, FL.

Curious about homeschooling?  Click here to read the top 5 reasons we homeschool our profoundly gifted daughters.