Stuff Families (with kids) On Vacation Say

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There’s something about traveling – especially to a place that caters to families – that tends to bring us all together… in a fashion, anyway. Last week, after returning Fenwick for Advanced Training, we headed down to Florida for a Disney Cruise followed by a day at Universal Studios.  Both adventures were generally excellent — and both reinforced something that we’ve been telling our girls for years:

Families are families. We say the same stuff.

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Don’t all Caribbean pirates drink smoothies in light-up cups?

This realization/reinforcement started a good number of years ago, while visiting Disney World, when we heard another family utter one of the parental phrases that Nick and I use in our own house (I honestly can’t remember which phrase it was, but imagine something along the lines of “Leave your sister alone” or “I don’t like your tone” or “We don’t put glitter on the dog” [wait – is that just our family?]).

The moment our girls heard these words, their heads whipped toward us with incredulity. “Wait. You mean other families say that too?” Which led to our asserting that Families are families. We say the same stuff.

This was especially true at theme parks (big and small) and family-friendly destinations – from the Rainforest Cafe to the Mall of America to baseball stadiums. These phrases seem to coalesce and crystalize in places like Florida, where half of the state is dedicated to families riding roller coasters and taking photos with adults in animal costumes.

The more we paid attention, the more we noticed the same basic admonishments and sentences being uttered over and over again. Race didn’t matter; we saw people of every skin tone saying these things. There was no religious divide; we heard families wearing crucifixes, hijabs, and yarmulkes making these statements. Different cultures meant different accents (or languages), but the basic gist remained the same. Socio-economic status, age, sexual orientation, family size, political bent, and milk-or-dark-chocolate preference similarly played no role.

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We got to Diagon Alley early enough to see it nearly empty in the morning…

IMG_6861… and then found ourselves amongst the final visitors that night, too, so we saw it nearly empty again. Quite magical, indeed!

After listening long enough, we decided to start keeping track of what we heard. Eventually, the items on the list began to repeat… So we figured we’d conducted enough of a social experiment to share our findings with y’all.

If you and your family take a vacation – whether it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity or a staycation – one of the adults in your group is all but certain to speak (or yell. Or hiss. Or growl) at least one of these phrases during your sojourn.

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And so, without further ado (and in no particular order), we bring you:
Stuff Families (with kids) On Vacation Say

  1. “You’ve got to watch where you’re going.”
  2. “If you don’t knock it off, we’ll leave and you’ll have to walk home.”
  3. “You really don’t have your sunglasses? REALLY? Okay, fine. No. We’ll wait.
  4. “You’re not allowed to touch him and he’s not allowed to touch you.”
  5. “That is not a toy.”
  6. “If you don’t stop, we’ll go right back to the hotel.”
  7. “We didn’t come all this way just to sit in our hotel room.”
  8. “What do you say?”
  9. “Don’t touch that.”
  10. “Do you see any other little girls behaving this way?”
  11. “Hands to selves.”
  12. “This is your last warning.”
  13. “We are just looking. We aren’t buying anything.”
  14. “We already bought you three things yesterday.”
  15. “Do you have any idea how much that costs?”
  16. “When it’s your own money, then you can buy one.”
  17. Excuse. Me.”
  18. “Do they sell alcohol in here?”
  19. “Don’t hang on that.”

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    I’m just now noticing Nick’s left hand on Ella’s arm… probably to separate her and Annie and prevent them from destroying the statue.
    Why, yes, I did come in first in the Disney music trivia contest – and, yes, I did choose to wear my Winner medallion to dinner. Thank you for noticing.

  20. “Sit down.”
  21. “Get up!”
  22. “Just keep walking.”
  23. “Please be still!”
  24. “You need to move!”
  25. “One… Two…” (Alternately: “Un… deux…”, “Uno… dos…” and “Eins… zwei…”)
  26. “Don’t eat that.”
  27. “You need to take at least three more bites.”
  28. “There’s a trash can right over there.
  29. “Can you hold it?”
  30. “You just went.”
  31. “Why didn’t you think of that before we got in line?”
  32. NOW.
  33. “Where’s the bar?”
  34. “Leave. Him. Alone.”
  35. “Be quiet.”
  36. “How many times do I have to tell you?”
  37. “I’m not going to say it again.”
  38. “I know. Everyone is hot.
  39. “This is the Happiest Place On Earth! WE SHOULD BE HAPPY!”

 

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Ahhh, vacations with kids. SO RELAXING.

By the time we all get home, though, and the luggage is put away and the clothes are in the wash and we’ve bathed ourselves in Purell and we’re finally kicking back with a glass or a cup, you can bet at least one adult can be found saying…

40. Can’t wait to do it again.

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The Big Four-Oh

If you’re a 39 year-old heterosexual American male considering how to ring in your 40th birthday, doing so aboard a Disney Cruise probably isn’t at the top of your list. But that’s exactly where Nick found himself after we booked our cruise and then realized that his big day fell smack dab in the middle of the trip.

Given that our choices were to embrace it or ignore it, we chose to go with the former – and by “embrace it” I mean that Nick worked on not being bummed that he would turn forty while trapped with surrounded by gazillions of screaming, hyped-up children and adults either taking advantage of the poolside bar by 10 a.m. or dressed in life-size princess and pirate costumes. Meanwhile, the girls and I worked on coming up with as many ways as possible to draw attention to Nick and let everyone within a five mile radius know that it was his birthday.

We’re sweet like that.
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Nick had refused to open any birthday-related paraphernalia prior to his actual birth date, citing bad luck (umm, okay?), so we knew we’d either have to wait until we returned to give him his “real” birthday presents or we’d have to bring them with us. Given that we were already lugging several suitcases, that we planned to purchase more than a few souvenirs and gifts for family and friends, and that our stateroom – while lovely – wasn’t exactly palatial, we decided to give him the bulk of his presents back home… but that just meant we could go overboard* with the “fun” (read: embarrassing) stuff on the cruise.

* see what I did there?

The preparations began weeks before our sail date. I thought it might be neat to surprise Nick with some snacks, beverages, etc., in our stateroom, but I didn’t want to haul all of that stuff with me. I’d read about an awesome company that crafts custom-made gift baskets for folks in the Port Canaveral area; it seemed perfect, but unfortunately, Disney no longer allows off-site companies to deliver directly to their ships. Long story short (you’re welcome), after several weeks of phone calls and emails between that company, our taxi company, and myself — all without Nick’s knowledge — the gift basket lady met us at the entrance to the cruise terminal parking lot, our driver slyly pulled over and took the “delivery” into the front seat, and the porters quietly loaded the basket in with all of our other luggage, to be hidden away until the next morning. THAT’S what I’m talking about!

Nick’s sister, Emi, and her husband, Matt, had also sent a surprise wine and cheese platter to our room – but because of the whole “bad luck” thing, I knew I’d need to keep the goods out of sight until the following day. It was easy enough for me to enter our stateroom before anyone else (Nick was busy waiting in the interminable line to get a ticket so that Annie could meet Anna and Elsa), and it was easy enough to stash the wine and wine glasses in a cupboard… But the cheese plate a) would not fit in our tiny fridge and b) was super fresh and would have been, um, poisonous inedible if I’d tucked it away in a drawer or something… So, after conferring with Annie and Ella, we all dug right into lovely cheese plate that had been given to us by Disney as a way of thanking us for being repeat cruisers. (This was slightly less far-fetched than it sounds because there actually was a thank-you-for-going-on-your-second-cruise tote bag from Disney awaiting us on the bed.) Nick was skeptical (“They do this for everyone? Fresh cheese? Isn’t that kind of expensive?”), but with no one to say any differently, he had no choice but to buy into it.

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Not a bad way to start the trip!

When Nick awoke the next morning (aka HIS BIRTHDAY), we presented him with our contraband gift basket, Emi and Matt’s bottle of wine, and the real story behind why “Disney” had given us a lovely cheese platter. The basket was a huge hit – Nick and the girls had Milano cookies right there at 7:30 a.m. – but we were just getting started.
disney51 Also inside: the beach toys Ella used during our “adventure” on Castaway Cay.

First, I presented Nick with… the shirts (found here; Etsy is a mystical place, you guys). There were four matching ones for Annie, Ella, GranMary, and me, but Nick had his own… special… version.
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In case you can’t see them, our shirts say “This Girl Loves The Disney Dream” and Nick’s says “This Guy Turns 40 Today!”. VERY CLASSY.
Also, I’m just noticing now that Annie’s blue ears look like… my boobs. Very, VERY classy.

After putting them on, we headed up to breakfast — but not before stopping to admire our stateroom door, which looked slightly different than it had when I’d snuck out the night before to decorate it. (The doors are metal, meaning you can stick magnets on them. Many cruisers go all out with door decorations; it’s like an informal competition or a strange, impromptu art show.) The custom magnet (found here) was awesome, but even more fun was the white board – because as the day went on, fellow passengers left Nick birthday messages.
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This is the “after” shot, taken upon returning to our room at bedtime…

As we arrived at breakfast, I pulled out our next birthday treat… our Mickey ears. Nick had known that I’d purchased ears while we were in Epcot — it had been his suggestion, actually, to get some embroidered so that GranMary could have her own, personalized pair — but he didn’t know that I’d snuck in a different order for his ears.
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GranMary… Emily… Annie… Ella… 40 and Awesome!

Our big plans for the day began shortly after breakfast: while researching things to do in Nassau, we had decided upon a “dolphin excursion,” something that’s been on Nick’s bucket list for as long as he could remember. We were excited, but didn’t really know what to expect; the thirty minute boat ride over to Blue Lagoon was beautiful, but the girls were growing restless and Nick and I shot one another This Had Better Be Worth It looks.
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Upon our arrival, we sat through a brief – and interesting – information session about dolphins, dolphin conservation, etc. Following the session, we were split into groups and sent out onto the docks to meet with our instructor/trainer and the dolphins. Our small group consisted of us and another family; they went first, allowing us to see just what we were getting into.

There was no doubt about it: this was going to be incredible.

When it was our turn, we could hardly wait to scramble down the ladder and onto the submerged platform where we’d hang out with the dolphins. The first group had warned us that the water was cold; still, we were unprepared for just how chilly it would be. There was no time to ease in, however, because “our” dolphin – Missy – was being instructed to pose for a photo with us… so we gathered our courage, bent our knees, held our breaths, and smiled.
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Notice how the girls’ shoulders are up to their ears because there was no way they were ready to get that wet yet…

Missy – short for Miss Merlin – was fifteen years old, a nursing mama, blind in one eye, and just the absolute coolest, most fascinating animal I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. The trainer working with her was sarcastic and bold and more than willing to embarrass us in order to get a laugh; we liked her immediately.

I don’t quite know how to describe the excursion. I could tell you what it entailed: we – each of us, one at a time – got to hug Missy, dance with her (holding onto her front flippers and bobbing around together), run our hands along her back and head and belly (dolphins are unbelievably soft – there is little to compare her to that would make any sense because it’s a wholly unique feeling), kiss her (which may sound weird but which was SO VERY COOL), feed her (Nick was cajoled into feeding her by dangling a dead fish from his teeth – for real, yo), and sing with her (“Happy Birthday,” of course). We watched as she leapt into the air, doused us with water (at the trainer’s mischievous instruction), disappeared for a moment or two to check on her baby (who was hanging out in a separate, protected area so Missy could visit), scooted backward along the top of the water using only her flukes, blew bubbles under the surface, and made myriad crazy and amusing (to us humans) noises.
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What I can’t put into words is the sheer joy, awe, and delight that coursed through all of us during the 15 minutes we spent with Missy. It was something that transcended happy and blissful and slid into a kind of euphoria – but contained, special, magic. We felt it; it was almost an out of body experience, except we were so incredibly present.

Near the end of our visit, the trainer told us to wait a moment – and, at her hidden command, the dolphin swam out of sight. The trainer explained to Nick that Missy would be bringing him something to commemorate his big day, and when she returned he had to take it – but if it was alive (!!), he’d need to put it back. A moment later, Missy resurfaced and swam to Nick holding something in her teeth. Stunned, Nick giddily took it from her; it was a rock (which, thank God, is not alive), collected from the bottom of the lagoon.

To put it another way, a dolphin specifically selected a gift for Nick and then gave it to him. NICK GOT A 40th BIRTHDAY PRESENT FROM A DOLPHIN.
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When we returned home, he ordered a plastic box from Amazon in which to store/display his gift. I am not even kidding.

There was lots of other stuff to do at Blue Lagoon – sea lion greeting, dolphin watching, a gorgeous Bahamian beach with inflatables on the water – but, agreeing that our experience with Missy couldn’t possibly be topped, we chose to simply head back to the ship.

It felt as though we didn’t touch the ground for hours. We ate lunch and got ice cream; the girls swam and rode the water slide; Ella got her hair braided all fancy-like; Nick and I relaxed and enjoyed the Drink of the Day. He was on such a high, he even proudly posed with the girls’ and my last gift of the day: a towel that my aunt had embroidered for him, loudly declaring his age. (The rest of his presents awaited him at home.)
disney94This is maybe the softest towel in existence. I’ve totally stolen it for myself even though I AM NOWHERE NEAR 40, ahem.

I’d been informed that, at dinner, our waitstaff would present Nick with some kind of birthday treat; since he doesn’t really like dessert (or any sweets, for that matter; I KNOW), I decided not to order him a cake (see also: fridge too small to store leftover cake). It turned out perfectly.

Disney is nothing if not enthusiastic, especially when it comes to celebrations, and birthdays are certainly something to be celebrated. As such, when I stopped by the front desk the night before, the concierge eagerly forked over “I’m Celebrating” buttons for GranMary, the girls, and me as well as an “It’s My Birthday!” button for Nick. Those drew us some attention, but it was really the shirt that turned people’s heads. Nick insisted on wearing it all day (until dinner), explaining that it was the only day he could get away with it. I’d chuckled when I found it online, giggled when it arrived in the mail, laughed out loud when he actually put it on… but seeing other guests and cast members take notice of it, do a double take, and then stop to say, “Happy Birthday, man!” all day long was pretty much the most amusing best thing ever.

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Speaking of cool things…

After dinner, GranMary presented Nick with his final gift: a clever and funny reworking of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” (complete with mouse ears and dancing grandchildren); it was a delightful capper on a pretty damned terrific day. When we got back to the room, we discovered that our attendant had folded our bath towels in the shape of a birthday cake.
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Do you think they keep the ribbon on hand, just in case?

If you’d asked Nick what he envisioned doing on the day he turned 40, I doubt that he’d have described the day that he wound up having. Still, he was a tremendously good sport about everything – and, by the end, even he had to admit that as far as birthdays go, it wasn’t really so bad… In fact, it was pretty freakin’ great. We were in the Bahamas. It was a perfect, sunny day. He got some dorky fun swag, including a present from a dolphin.

He even got to check an item off his bucket list.
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This photo makes me ridiculously happy.

At the very least, I hope there’s no doubt in his mind that he is pretty freakin’ adored by the rest of us. (Adored… and seen as fodder for embarrassment.)

But hey – you only turn 40 once. Might as well kick back with a Yellow Bird, soak in the sun, kiss a dolphin, and look out onto the incredible horizon stretching before you – in every possible way.
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Awesome, indeed.

 

 

 

 

Bahama Drama

Remember when said that I’d tell the story of how I got hypothermia – in the Bahamas, of all places? Well, then I went and described visiting the homeless shelters, and after that there is really no appropriate segue into something as absurd – or unrelated – as Bahamian hypothermia, so I figure I’ll just go from the sublime to the ridiculous and run with it.

I do so like to keep people on their toes.

When we signed up for this cruise, one of the things we were most excited for was the day that the ship would be spending at Disney’s island, Castaway Cay (sounds like “key”). Hence, when Ella opened the curtain to our stateroom on the morning we landed and announced, “Wow – it’s really cloudy. Actually, it looks like it’s… raining…?”, it was not exactly welcome news. We slid open the door to the balcony just far enough to confirm two things: 1) it was most definitely raining and 2) it was most definitely not warm by Caribbean standards.

The forecast called for occasional showers, so we decided to take our chances (that we’d find some dry pockets in the afternoon) and head to the island after the original siege was over. As we’d hoped, the ship virtually emptied out as other sea-farers disembarked. Having the place to ourselves, we shuffleboarded… We explored… We watched Ella and Annie as they delighted in riding the water slide four times in a row with absolutely no line… We thanked our lucky stars that they were tall enough to ride without an adult because it was really freakin’ windy and there was no way we could brave the slides even once without being chilled to the bone.

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Note the rather ominous-looking clouds in the background…

Soon, the wind was accompanied by rain. When the thunder rumbled, the lifeguards hustled everyone out of the pools (to our relief; even fully clothed, we were cold); the folks at Castaway Cay had similarly been ushered out of the water and away from the shoreline. Knowing that we’d soon be joined by – literally – thousands of wet, grouchy beach-goers, we made a beeline for the buffet.

Nothing says “relaxed vacation” like stampeding for the all-you-can-eat shrimp!

By the time we’d finished eating, the rain had mostly stopped. Seeing that the beaches were virtually empty, and seeing as how we’d been looking so forward to our day on the island, Nick and I told the girls that we were going to brave the elements, take our chances, and see what adventure awaited us ashore; they – and GranMary – were welcome to join us. Annie, having become entranced with the ship’s virtual, interactive detective game, opted to stay behind and solve another mystery with GranMary while Ella chose to come with Nick and me.

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As we exited the gangplank (I have no idea if that’s actually what it’s called but it sounds way cooler like that), we passed wet towels that were piled at least six feet high on wheeled carts, cast off as people had boarded the boat and ditched their unnecessary gear. It became apparent the island was, indeed, all but empty the moment we boarded the tram and were the only passengers on it. Soon, we were standing on the beach, ready to do what we’d come here for: snorkeling.

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See? Empty. Emmmmp-teeee.

Or, at least, that’s what Nick – and, more importantly, Ella – had come here for. Nick has loved snorkeling since he was a kid. Ella took an immediate shine to it when she tried it last year and had been itching to go again ever since. I, on the other hand, distinctly dislike snorkeling… but I decided to be a good sport and join them, if only to say that I’d done it.

When Nick picked up the snorkeling gear, he requested some towels and was given… two. Thankfully, we’d thought to bring one with us, so we had three to go ’round. Although it was no longer raining, the wind was still racing; at maybe 65*, I was chilly before I’d even stepped foot in the water, but I hoped that the shallow reef would be warm enough to feel comfortable.
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Thumbs up! Let’s do this!

As I hesitantly waded in, the water felt… okay. Certainly warmer than the air, but hardly balmy. Nick and Ella swam farther out and it became difficult for me to locate their bobbing heads on the horizon, so I decided that if I actually wanted to catch up with them so we could say we’d officially snorkeled together, I’d better get going, no matter how chilly I felt.

You guys. I am just not meant for snorkeling. There’s not one specific thing that bothers me; it’s everything about it. I do get the “Oh, look – beautiful fish!” appeal, but really, I can do that at an aquarium. Or the fish tank in our living room.

Eventually, I made my way over to Nick and Ella, motioning to them so that they’d see it was me – Hey! We’re snorkeling together! Isn’t this great! MEMORIES! – but then quickly reversed course and slogged through the swelling currents back to shore. In order to try to ease the flipper-induced pain in my feet and ankles, I briefly kicked while floating on my back; it did hurt a little less, but it was also much colder than facing downward, so I turned facedown again after only a couple of minutes. Those minutes were enough to chill me from the inside out, however — by the time I (finally) schlepped ashore, I couldn’t stop shivering.

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We pretty much had the lagoon to ourselves…

Given that we possessed only one towel for each of us, I was hesitant to dry myself off just yet (I KNOW, I know). I had no idea how long Nick and Ella would be snorkeling, and if Ella wanted to do something else in the water afterward, I was determined to join her and not be a spoilsport, shivering or not; it seemed prudent, therefore, to keep my towel dry so I wouldn’t have to wrap myself in something soggy later on.

A mistake, in hindsight? Hell yes.
BUT I WAS TRYING TO BE A GOOD MOM, PEOPLE. Surely that earns me some points.

I did understand that I needed to get dry and that just standing around, freezing, was pretty stupid – plus, the shivering was becoming almost violent, not to mention a nuisance – so I hobbled off in search of more towels… only to be told by more than one cast member that there were no dry towels left. NOT ONE SINGLE DRY TOWEL ON THE ENTIRE ISLAND (hence the mountains of wet towels by the gangplank), unless we wanted to purchase one as a souvenir (which, given that I’d already brought an extra towel from home for Nick’s birthday, seemed dumb).

Another thing I don’t like about snorkeling is getting sand all up in my business, so I decided that, at the very least, I could take a warm shower and try to simultaneously clean out my business and raise my body temperature. Turns out the only shower available was outside, with no temperature gauge – so although I did rid my bathing suit of sand, and although the water was warmer than the air, I didn’t exactly get nice and toasty. And I was still soaking wet.

For the record: electric hand dryers do a piss poor job of drying off your entire body.

By the time I limped my way back to our lounge chairs (see: shivering), Nick and Ella were coming out of the water (THANK YOU SWEET BABY JESUS) but I could barely carry on a conversation with them – my jaw felt so heavy, almost numb from all of the chattering.

“Why on earth didn’t you dry off, babe??” Nick – understandably – wanted to know. When I explained that I had tried to warm up but that I was saving my towel in case Ella wanted to do anything more in the water, she piped up that, no, she was cold too, so no more water activities for her… or any of us. ENOUGH WITH THIS WET RIDICULOUSNESS. While changing into dry clothes, I was relieved to see that I was no longer shivering*, but I was growing annoyed at my increasing inability to speak clearly.

* Later, I learned that stopping shivering is actually a sign that your body is shutting down unnecessary motions in order to save energy. So efficient! Go, me!

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Since we’d brought sand toys with us, Ella’s one other request – aside from snorkeling -was to build a sandcastle. Wish granted!

Our favorite gift shop was on the way back to the tram, so we ducked inside for a few minutes to do some shopping. As we sorted through the I Love Castaway Cay! paraphernalia, the oddest thing happened: I began to lose feeling in my fingers. First, my pinkies went entirely numb; that numbness gradually crept into my ring fingers and then to the base of my middle fingers.

Now, I’ve gotten cold hands before. More accurately, I get cold hands all the freakin’ time; Annie and Ella laugh at how my hands are almost always like blocks of ice. Despite living in Snowland, USA, I have yet to find single pair of gloves or mittens that actually keeps me from losing feeling in my fingers, so I am more than familiar with the stinging, painful stages of early frostbite.

This numbness was entirely different; I’d never felt anything like it before, as though each finger could be pierced with something sharp and I wouldn’t even notice. I wiggled them around, clenched and unclenched my fists, but the bizarre numbness only continued to grow. When we’d finished shopping (side note: we bought a towel. I AM NOT KIDDING), I stopped Nick and slurred, “This is going to sound like I’m being overdramatic, but I’m losing feeling in my fingers and I can’t figure out why.”

He looked at me with a combination of WTF and That’s Not Good, suggesting I go to the restroom to try and warm them up under some hot water. I heeded his advice but it was no use – they remained feeling-less. As I told him about my lack of success, it became apparent that my mouth was becoming as numb as my fingers. My tongue felt heavy, my lips felt the way they do when I’m having an allergic reaction (thick and uncomfortable), and I was slurring my speech as though I’d downed several Mai Tais too many or just had a shot of novocaine (in other words: very sexy).

“This is just so weird,” I lamented. “It’s like I’m having an allergic reaction. I don’t think I ate anything unusual, though… Maybe I got stung by a rogue jellyfish?” Obviously, my head was working as slowly as my fingers.

Thankfully, Nick could still think clearly, so after a moment of consideration he postulated, “Um… actually, I think you’ve got the beginnings of hypothermia.”

This seemed preposterous, given that we were on a tropical island in the middle of the Caribbean, but Nick went on. “Somehow, snorkeling and the wind and then not getting warm afterward really messed up your core temperature, so now your body is removing heat from your extremities – like your fingers and your mouth – so it has enough to keep the rest of you going.”

The more I thought about it, about how different the numbness in my fingers felt than it ever had before, about the uncontrollable shivering, about my heavy jaw and sloppy speech, the more it appeared that Nick was probably right. Guess someone’s been paying attention to the Discovery Channel!

“Well, what the heck do I do about that??”

“I think we should get you back onto the ship as quickly as possible and then have you take a shower until you warm up.”

All in favor? AYE.

After running to catch the tram (have you ever tried to run while you’re tingly and numb? Very, very weird), we made a hasty return to our stateroom… But not before I whipped out my phone to take a group selfie, because there is always time for selfies.

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Now that I’m a bit more sane, I guess my lips do look kind of blue…

Once in the shower, it took a good ten minutes for my fingers and jaw to return to normal; it was actually kind of interesting, because I could feel the warmth spreading from the inside out, one little bit at a time, like lava. Not wanting to take any chances, I pulled on every layer I’d brought and hopped under the bed covers for the rest of the hour until dinner; Nick and Ella had ordered hot chocolate from the room service menu, which absolutely sped my recovery.

Upon returning home, I Googled hypothermia and found the following:

Mild hypothermia

Signs and symptoms of mild hypothermia include:
– Shivering
– Dizziness
– Hunger
– Nausea
– Faster breathing
– Trouble speaking
– Slight confusion
– Lack of coordination
– Fatigue
– Increased heart rate

Shivering? Check. Dizziness? Check. Trouble speaking? Slight confusion? Lack of coordination? Fatigue? Check check check check. 

No, I didn’t take my temperature, nor did I visit the ship’s doctor, so I can’t be 100% certain that it was hypothermia… But people? It was hypothermia.

So, it wasn’t quite the “adventure” on Castaway Cay that we’d envisioned, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it – especially because it makes me ridiculously badass… or an incredible wuss. At the very least, it makes an excellent ice breaker or Two Truths And A Lie factoid. I GOT HYPOTHERMIA. IN THE FRICKIN’ BAHAMAS. Not everyone can say that.

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I do realize that writing this is a bit outlandish, considering my last post. I’m just going to get this out of the way, then. YES, it is CRAZY that we live in a world where some of us cannot afford rent or food while others have so much “extra” money, they have fabulous vacations on cruises and islands and seeing Big Ben and the Great Barrier Reef. AND THEN those of us who have vacationed come home and gripe about the parts of our vacations that were less than stellar. “What were you doing last week? Struggling to keep your home? That really, really sucks. Oh, us? We were at Disney’s private island. It was cold, though, so I can totally relate – I mean, sometimes life hands you lemons.”

CRAZINESS.

Does that mean that we should never take vacations if we can afford them? No, I don’t think so. Does it mean that we can never complain about disappointments that we encounter on said vacations? Nah, especially if you do it with humor and grace.

With that said, I do think that perspective and gratitude go a helluva long way. You can bemoan life’s little hiccups – even while sipping a daiquiri on a beach in Hawaii – while still being tremendously grateful that you’re on that beach, period.
Even if you get hypothermia while you’re there.

 

Won’t you let me take you on a sea cruise?

After our stopover in Epcot, we were totally stoked to depart on the cruise. GranMary met us at the hotel and we traveled from Orlando to Port Canaveral together, all set for the adventure to begin.

Annie had decided that she wanted to meet (and get autographs from ) as many characters as possible – and so, knowing that we’d have a slight wait at at the terminal, we took full advantage of the opportunity to get a little personal time with Goofy.

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GranMary defined the term “good sport” for the entirety of the trip.

We’d elected to get a room with a balcony (actually, by the time we booked this cruise, all rooms except those with balconies were sold out, so it wasn’t much of an “election” but still…). While it’s hardly an essential, we did enjoy being able to hear the ocean and feel the temperature (something that came in quite handy by the end of our trip).

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Not quire sure why, but I love this photo.

Nick turned 40 on the second day of the cruise and, as part of the celebration, he requested that we do the meet-the dolphin excursion at the Blue Lagoon while in Nassau, Bahamas. It was, hands down, one of the most incredible experiences any of us has ever had (more on that soon…).

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It looks as though we’re shrugging in response to a question, but really, the water was just freakin’ cold. 

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Thumb war battles on the ferry back from Blue Lagoon.
Why was GranMary the one who got roped into declaring thumb wars? See: GOOD SPORT.

For the remainder of the trip, we simply enjoyed what Disney had to offer – and it was a lot. (I won’t go into everything [you’re welcome], although you can feel free to read a bit more about it here and here.)

We shuffleboarded (is that a verb? If not, it is now)…
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GranMary and I lost, but we put up a good fight, I assure you.

We took in numerous ship-board activities…
disney164Cheering babies on during the fastest crawler race.
I’m not kidding.
It was an absolute hoot.

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Watching movies while swimming? Yes, please.

We – um, Annie – met characters. And characters. And more characters.
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Captain Jack Sparrow took his role very seriously.

It was pretty damn great.

When we returned from last year’s cruise, we said that it was the best vacation ever. And it was. Hence, as excitement mounted for our cruise this year, Nick and I were careful to remind Ella and Annie (and ourselves) that this would be different. Not bad, not at all – but different. It was basically going to be impossible to top, or even match, last year’s experience.

Turns out? We were right.
And you know that? That’s okay.

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Something that was way better on this ship: the AquaDuck water slide, which encircles the entire upper decks of the ship. Seriously awesome.disney120 disney128
Doing their best princess waves as they passed by…

See, last year, we neeeeeeded that vacation. We’d lost Bill the previous summer and were still emotionally exhausted; I’d started a new job; the girls both took on additional activities which made it hard to find our legs beneath us as our schedules became absolutely nutty; and our winter had started off with ridiculously cold temperatures, meaning that even I – who adore snow and chilly days – was desperate to get warm.

This year, it’s different. We still miss Bill very much, of course – and talk about him often, with tears coming at unexpected times – but the pain is not quite so raw, the roller coaster a little more rounded and not quite so exhausting. My job has remained steady and Nick’s has changed for the better. We’ve grown accustomed to swimming and soccer and after-school craziness – which doesn’t make it less crazy, but makes it unsurprising, so we’re steadier on our feet (although our white boards are used just as often, thank you very much).

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The mixology class did not necessarily make us steadier on our feet, but it was absolutely delicious.

And the weather… well. January started off just fine, even nicely. We Rochesterians commented to one another that this was a good winter — not frigid like last year, no huge snowstorms, just a good, even, steady, sunnier-than-usual winter. At least we’re not Boston, hahaha, amIright??

AND THEN CAME FEBRUARY. February, with piles and piles and FREAKING PILES of snow. February, which is already the second-coldest on record (and which, with single-digit temperatures forecasted this week, might become the coldest on record). February, which may be the shortest month of the year but OMG IT SEEMS LIKE IT WILL NEVER END.

If February had come before January, I would have been dragging my frozen butt on that airplane just as maniacally as I’d done last year. But because it hadn’t – because our winter had started off nicely and evenly – none of us was absolutely out of our minds to get someplace warm. (After being home with historically low temperatures, however, we might just storm the airport and try to stow away.)

Which, as luck would have it, was a good thing because this delightful cold front slid right down the eastern coast of the USA, meaning Florida and The Bahamas? Not so warm. Record setting cold in Orlando, as a matter of fact! I even got mild hypothermia while at Castaway Cay!! (There are two exclamation points there which makes it seem like I’m jesting or laughing, but in all seriousness… hypothermia. But that’s another story…)

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In addition to being chilly, it was also more than a little overcast and stormy on the day we landed at Castaway Cay…

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… which basically meant that we had the snorkeling area to ourselves.

So, the weather was a definite bummer. While we were tremendously grateful to be, you know, on vacation – I won’t go whining about it or anything – it was still a bit of a letdown to miss out on the activities we’d planned (plus, being cold in the Bahamas just feels wrong, yo!). Additionally, high seas and choppy conditions caused most of us, but Ella and me in particular, to become quite seasick – something we hadn’t experienced at all on our previous cruise.

And you know those storied kids clubs that I raved about last year and that the girls couldn’t wait to visit again?? The ones where Ella spent nearly all of her time using the computer bays to write elaborate stories and create digital cartoon thingies? Well, it seems that not all Disney kids clubs are created equal; the ones on this ship didn’t offer the same computer programs (apparently, because our other ship – the Disney Magic – had recently been retrofitted and revamped, they updated their kids club technology). Which meant that Ella didn’t really want to spend time in the clubs. Which… was not awesome.

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Also not awesome? The line to meet Elsa and Anna.
I do love how Anna has her hands on her hips, though. Very method.

As such – with the weather, the seasickness, and the change in the clubs – this trip had some hiccups, whereas last year’s had none. (We didn’t help ourselves by going to Epcot for a day this year and not Universal; when you’ve walked a mile in Harry Potter‘s shoes, almost nothing else can live up to that hype.) It’s difficult – impossible, really – to compete with perfection.

Thankfully, we didn’t need to enter that competition because we didn’t need this vacation in the same way we did a year ago. It could just be exactly what it was – fantastic.

If anything, the bumps in the road (the waves on the sea? How far can I stretch this metaphor?) showed us that last year wasn’t just a fluke: we really do love Disney cruises, even when things don’t always go as planned. It was particularly neat to be able to share this year’s experience with GranMary – to laugh with her while we watched the girls zoom in and out of the pools, to stifle groans as we waited in line to meet the princesses (GranMary helps the time pass by much more quickly!), to see her come waaaay out of her comfort zone time and time again (let’s just say that dressing as a pirate and kissing a dolphin on the lips are not usually part of GranMary’s routine), to watch as she and Ella and Annie sang and hugged and took in every moment of vacation and joy and fun.IMG_2305
Although she is very convincing here, I can assure you that Mary does not typically “arrr!” like a pirate.

As I sit here listening to the dripping of the icicles inside our front door (no, for real, inside the door; when all of this begins its meltdown [because, for the love of all things holy, IT MUST MELT AT SOME POINT, right??] it’s not going to be pretty), squinting as the sunlight reflects off the feet of snow in the backyard (but at least it’s sunny!!), the memories of our trip seem that much sweeter.

Even without this doozy of a winter, however, the trip would stand on its own. How fantastically lucky we were to have taken it!

 

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Pirate night, me hearties!

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Is it bigger than a bread box?

Recently, Annie and I (and occasionally Nick) have been playing epic rounds of Disney Hedbanz, which is just like regular Hedbanz except with only Disney characters. Or things. There are sometimes things and those are really hard (like the rose from Beauty and the Beast, the pumpkin coach from Cinderella, etc. HOW DO YOU GUESS THAT YOU’RE A POISON APPLE??).

The object of the game is to determine what character is pictured on your headband (which you cannot see, because it’s, you know, on your head) by asking questions about it – essentially Twenty Questions, except the number of questions isn’t limited; you can ask as many as you want until the sand runs out of the hourglass. Or, in Annie’s and my case, you can ask questions for all of eternity, because it’s exceedingly rare that one of us gets the answer right our first go-round, so we decided that you can just keep asking questions about the same character when it’s your turn again until you finally get it right or become so frustrated, you debate lighting the card on fire, and give up instead.

Playing Hedbanz can be challenging, period, but it is made especially so when you’re playing with someone who is of a different generation than you. Or who does not recognize half of the characters. Or who says “Maaaybe?” when you ask if your character is a boy. Very helpful.

It certainly keeps the mystery alive, because you never know how each round will go. To wit:

When Annie had Eeyore…
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“Am I sad?”
Yes.
“Am I grumpy?”
Yes.
“Am I the sad and grumpy guy from Winnie the Pooh who’s always sad and grumpy?”
Yes. All you need is his name.
“I need his NAME? Come on, what kind of game is this?”

When I was Captain Hook…
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Am I a bad guy?
“Yes, mom. Ohhh, yes.”
Do I have a beard?
“Ummmm… Nope.”
You hesitated.
“I was just thinking!”
So I don’t have a beard?
“No! I just said that!”
Hmmm. All of the villains I’m thinking of have beards.
“Then you’re not really thinking very hard.”

When Annie was Tinker Bell…
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“Am I a boy?”
No.
“Am I a girl?”
Yes.
“Am I a person?”
Well… You’re kind of a person.”
“Am I an animal?”
No.
“I can’t be kind of a person.”
Actually, you can. You’re also something else.
“SOMETHING ELSE? I don’t even know what that means, ‘something else’.”
That’s why you need to keep asking questions.
“Man, you’re really tiring my hands here.”
I don’t think that phrase means what you think it means, either.

When Annie was Squirt…
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I’m not sure you’ll know this character’s name, but that’s okay. If you can just tell me about him, I’ll count it.
“Great, mom. You’re giving me characters I don’t even know.”
I didn’t say you don’t know him. You just might not know his name.
“So, he’s from Nemo?”
Yes.
“But he’s not a fish?”
Nope.
“And he’s not a frog?”
Nope.
“There’s nothing else in all of Nemo!”
I beg to differ. We saw a character like him in Disney World.
“Walking around??”
No. On one of the rides. Or, to be more specific, on one of the attractions.
“WAIT. I know! Am I a turtle?”
Yes!
“Am I related to CHUCK THE TURTLE??”
I think you mean Crush.
“Whatever. You said names don’t count.”

When I was Prince Naveen…
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Am I a boy?
“Yes, mommy.”
Am I human?
“Not right now.”
Um… Okay. Am I an animal?
“Yes.”
Am I furry?
“NO! Not at all, Mom!”
Could you fit me in your pocket?
“You could. I mean, it would be kind of disgusting, but you could.”

When Annie was Simba…
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“So, let’s reveal. I’m a boy.”
Yes.
“I’m an animal.”
Yes. And I think you meant ‘let’s review’ instead of ‘let’s reveal.’
“What? You’re revealing the answers, aren’t you?”
Fair point. Carry on.
“I sing songs.”
Yes.
“I’m the main character in a movie.”
Yes.
“My name is actually THE TITLE of the movie.”
Yes.
“And I’m a lion.”
Yes.
“So… I’m a lion. I’m a boy. I sing. My name is the title of the movie… 
Nope. Can’t think of anything. Can you help me out here?”
Actually, at this point, I think you’re beyond help.

They say that the family that plays together stays together, but in our case, I think the phrase is more like, The family who survives a dozen rounds of Hedbanz together earns a beer and a Xanax.
That is, when I stop laughing long enough to look for the bottles.

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“Am I an animal?”
Yes.
“Can I fly?”
No.
“Can I swim?”
Yes.
“Am I blue?”
Yes.
“Am I another color, too?”
Yes.
“Am I yellow?”
Yes.
“I KNOW! AM I DORY??”
No.
“What? I HAVE to be Dory.”
Nope.
“I don’t think you know how to play this game!”
Time’s up.

It’ll do magic, believe it or not

One week ago, we’d just attended the mandatory lifeboat information session and were watching Mickey and crew shimmy across the deck stage as we were about to depart Port Canaveral for the Bahamas.

Right now, we’ve just come from visiting Jambi at the vet (she’s in heat, and is required to be boarded so she doesn’t get knocked up; CCI frowns on that), it’s 16 degrees out, and we’re about to have sloppy joes for dinner.

Am I asking for sympathy? Oh, hell no. FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS, people.

Okay, so they’re not even problems. And saying that I miss being on vacation makes me sound like a special kind of asshole.

But I do. I miss being on vacation. (Special, that’s me.)
I miss the entire trip, which was just… absolute magic. (And, no, not just because that was the name of the ship.) For the first time in maybe ever, every single minute of our vacation was just as we’d hoped it would be. It took us away from the cold and the snow and the exhausting grind of daily life and into something otherworldly, where only joy and simple happiness existed.

Bibbidi Bobbidi BOOYAH.

Nick’s travel schedule can take its toll on everyone, but one of the bonuses is that he racks up crazy amounts of hotel points. To make the trip more affordable, we’d chosen to use some points to stay at a hotel in Orlando that was near both Downtown Disney and Universal. The hotel itself was great, with several fun pools and condo-style units that you could buy into as part of a timeshare (not for us, but thanks) that featured kitchenettes and washer/dryers that Ella found endlessly fascinating. “We could do our laundry if we wanted. We can even wash dishes. This is the best hotel room EVER.” (Which is really something, considering the palatial estate she and Nick stayed in last month…)

But even greater than the building was the sense of relaxation we all experienced the moment we got off the plane. Okay, that and the weather. We rolled down our windows just because we could (and, would you look at that, the windows didn’t freeze open!) and continually marveled at how fantastically warm we all were.

IMG_6268 Just 24 hours earlier, we’d been standing on water

Although we had reservations for dinner the following night, we’d decided to wing it that first night – assuming that, with the ridiculous plethora of restaurants at our fingertips, we would have no trouble finding a place to eat. And, in fact, that might have been true had I not blithely looked at the map on my cell phone and told Nick to take a left, thus bringing us to the front gate of SeaWorld at 6 p.m.

Y’all, Shamu himself couldn’t have found a table.

After passing a Red Lobster and several sushi joints (I wish I were kidding), we began to get hungry enough to consider consuming the seats of the rental car, and drove blindly into the only not-completely-packed strip mall we could find, swearing that we’d eat at the very first place that presented itself to us. Which was… Hooters.

And also some Margarita-ville-esque restaurant across the lot, where we managed to score ourselves a table before the onslaught of SeaWorld refugees arrived a few minutes later. The next morning (after drying our bathing suits in the dryer right in our hotel room, holla!), we were up bright and early to make it to Universal for the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

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The girls marveling at the (warm!) sunrise outside our balcony.

We’ve been fortunate enough to visit Orlando several times in the past few years, and each time we have ardently avoided Harry and the gang. In part this was because we’re so devoted to All Things Disney, we didn’t want to take time away from The Happiest Place on Earth – but it was also because we didn’t want to take the girls there before we thought they could really appreciate it. I mean, it’s an amusement park devoted to magical things, so we knew they’d enjoy it, but until they were really familiar with Harry and his world, we didn’t think they’d truly get the park.

Since Ella bleeds Gryffindor crimson, we knew that the time was right for her to visit. Having not yet read the books, Annie is unfamiliar with all things Harry – but given that we wanted to arrive a day ahead of our cruise’s departure anyway (to ensure we didn’t miss getting onboard, not that that ever happens *cough*), we thought we’d give it a go, anyway. And so this trip was for them – to show them Harry’s world, brought to life. To share in their enjoyment of the park. To witness their jaw-dropping amazement. I mean, yeah, I knew it would be cool, but I really felt that this was about the girls.

Until we walked through the gates of Hogsmeade and I began to cry.

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It was… incredible. Perfect. Just as I’d imagined it would be. You guys, we were STANDING IN THE MIDDLE OF HOGSMEADE. Muggles. IN HOGSMEADE!

And it only got better. We went inside Hogwarts – HOGWARTS!! – and flew around and watched a Quidditch match.

hogwarts1 Imposing, no?

We tried pumpkin juice and butter beer.

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A wee bit sweet for Nick’s and my liking, the Ella and Annie drank that shit up.

We saw Buckbeak and rode a silly roller coaster, followed by the best roller coaster I’ve ever been on in my life (except Nick and I had to ride it one at a time because the girls are not tall enough yet and it took me, like, two hours to be able to walk a straight line again after I got off). We browsed shops – quills! Potions! Exploding snaps! Cauldrons! Chocolate frogs!  – and gaped at the absolutely exquisite detail that was put into every aspect of the park.

universal6 There’s even bird poop in the owlery!

I think all of us could have spent the afternoon browsing the shops and pretending we had British accents, but by eleven o’clock the park was so crowded it was hard to move, and instead of feeling nostalgic and awe-struck, we became angry and who’s-touching-me?, so we decided to get some lunch and head back to the hotel for the afternoon.

Whenever we go to the Disney parks, we (very purposely) follow a fairly tight schedule. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but to be able to just relax and go with the flow was novel and pretty freakin’ fantastic. The girls spent hours in the pool while Nick – to his surprise and delight – discovered that the poolside bar was showing the Women’s USA/Canada gold medal game.

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Yes, of course he brought his jersey along. Duh.

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And yes, the final score was a major bummer (if you were rooting for the USA), but it was still pretty righteous to watch the game while the girls frolicked about in the pool and I drank a mai tai.

Our last hurrah before heading to Port Canaveral in the morning was a session for each of the girls at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique in Downtown Disney. I’d wondered if Ella was a bit too old for such girly frivolity… But I shouldn’t have worried.

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She was so pleased with herself, I was willing to ignore the use of my arch nemesis, superfine glitter.

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So her hair is a little bit 80s diva meets Belle meets beauty pageant star meets trailer park. ‘What? I am happy for you, sweetie. Of course I love it! Why wouldn’t I love it?”

Annie was absolutely tickled.
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Put ’em together, and what have you got?
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Homecoming queens gone sparklingly awry…

They wore their ‘dos onto the cruise the next day, which meant that our official family photo was taken with them looking like this, which subsequently meant that every time we picked the girls up from the kids’ club, their pageant-greatness was flashed on the screen for all to see. Awesome.

For dinner, we ate at a Downtown Disney spot (sorry, Hooters) that had paper tablecloths, and Annie promptly took to filling up her entire space. She drew coasters for her glasses, napkins for her silverware, and a little bit of everything in between.

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If you click on the drawing to make it larger, you can see also: “home” (with the person dressed in winter gear amongst fields of snow) and “here” (with the person dressed in short sleeves under a bright sun). Have I mentioned that it was warm??

I like all of the crazy things she drew, but my favorite part is the “I love my family” that she added, not because she was coerced or writing an assignment for school or asking for a pony, but because we were all having such a genuinely rockin’, kickass, wonderful time, she kinda couldn’t keep it to herself anymore.

I get it, kid. I really do.

Re-entry has been hard (see: it’s cold here), but just looking back on these pictures makes me smile. Do I realize how damn lucky we were to have gone, period, much less to have had such a magnificent trip? You bet I do, and I am ridiculously grateful that we could make it happen.

And to think… I haven’t even gotten to the cruise yet.
But that’s another story.

Let’s get away from it all

If we took a holiday…
Took some time to celebrate…
Just one day out of life
It would be (it would be), it would be so nice.
– “Holiday”

Thanks, Madonna, for so eloquently summing up our recent vacation experience.

In my last post, I’d told you that we were heading out of town and I’d fill you in soon – today seems to be a good place to start.

We needed this holiday. No; I mean, we neeeeeeded this holiday. The months (years?) leading up to Bill’s death were not exactly easy. As anyone who’s lost someone important to them – especially to a disease like cancer – knows, it’s emotional whiplash. You can’t figure out which end is up, you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, you’re constantly on edge, every phone call is tinged with anticipation, you literally make yourself sick with worry, and then there’s the damn sadness that’s hovering around. It. Is. Exhausting.

Couple that with our completely insane autumn and winter, with work changes and school changes and after-school activities and work travel and birthdays and holidays and and and OMG MOST OF THIS IS GOOD STUFF BUT IT DOESN’T MAKE IT LESS TIRING. We needed a break. We needed to well and truly get away, just the four of us, to do something fantastical and new and inspiring and really freakin’ fun.

Nick and I had been toying with the idea of a Disney cruise for a couple of years. When we found an unbeatable deal on a three-day cruise to the Bahamas that perfectly aligned with the girls’ February break, we jumped on it – and then added a day at Universal to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, plus a trip to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique in Downtown Disney just to really gild the lily.

We don’t take family vacations very often – we travel a helluva lot, but the vast majority of that is to visit family (which, while great, isn’t always a “vacation” in the truest sense of the word) – and on the rare occasions when we’ve done so, “escaping the cold” hasn’t really been among our priorities. As a foursome, we live for winter, and the snow in Rochester is right up our alley, so I’ve never had a longing to go somewhere warm before spring finally blooms. Even this year with our endlessly, unusually cold days, I was excited to get away, but I didn’t think I was excited to be someplace warm… until we were surrounded by the Orlando heat and humidity, deliciously blanketing us with tropical bliss, and suddenly there was nowhere else I wanted to be. WARM WARM WARM. Amen.

Our trip is now complete, and… well… I can’t quite find the words (nor the time) to adequately describe how utterly incredible it was, nor how much it meant to all of us, at least not today. And so I’ll show you a few photos instead, to give you a glimpse into pure, unadulterated joy.

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There’s lots more to say – and I will, in the coming days – but for now, these will suffice.

While we were on the trip, it was as though time stood still; every minute was both magically extended and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it quick, as though we’d been transported to another dimension. We are now firmly back to reality. When we landed last night, it was 18 degrees, and we had to shovel fresh snow off the driveway this morning. Today, it feels almost as though our six-day sojourn never happened, a very bizarre space/time continuum.

But it did happen. And it was so totes amazeballs.

Just six days out of life… and they were so so SO SO SO SO ridiculously nice.