We Soared; aka Epcot in a Day

So, hi there! Long time no see!

I could try to make excuses about not writing, but really we were simply out of town, so there was no writing during that time, and before that I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off getting ready to go out of town.

Woe is me. I know. I’ll just stop there.

Like last year, we went to Florida and on a Disney Cruise… and, like last year, it was fantastic.

disney181
That time, it was the Magic – this time, we sailed on the Dream.

Before we got there, however, we made a detour to Epcot in Walt Disney World (Nick’s and my favorite Disney park – and, we figured, a relatively easy one to “do” in only one day without running ourselves ragged). YOU KNOW YOU ARE EXCITED FOR A PLAY BY PLAY OF OUR VACATION. Get ready, folks.

Because I’m a bit of a Disney freak fanatic, I knew that we’d need to arrive early if we wanted to do our very favorite ride, Soarin’, without waiting in a ridiculously long line (we already had FastPasses for TestTrack but couldn’t double-book two “top tier” attractions, so Soarin’ had to be a walk-on). Good sports that they are (and not wanting to wait in an interminably long line; their mama didn’t raise no dummies), the rest of the fam agreed – and so we greeted the Epcot gates prior to the park even opening.

disney1
Oh, what a beautiful morning!
That’s Spaceship Earth peeking out behind us…

My evil plan thoughtful preparations worked: we walked right on Soarin’, and Nick and Ella even got to ride it again with hardly any wait at all. Score!

disney2
Truly the most perfect way to start a day…
By 45 minutes after the park opened, the wait for this ride was over an hour. THE EARLY BIRD GETS THE WORM, FOLKS. Or at least two no-wait rides.

When my three housemates had okayed my early morning plan, they’d done so in part because I’d promised that, once we’d finished with Soarin’, we’d be free to just wander the park and take things in at a leisurely pace – something we rarely, if ever, have the time to do when we actually visit WDW for any length of time. But this time, we did – ambling through The Land pavilion (where Soarin’ is housed), riding one of the other rides, spending a looong time at the aquarium tanks there (we’ve never taken that opportunity before; it was refreshing and lovely).

disney10
I love this photo of the girls and the sea turtle.

We rode rides when the mood struck. We had a relaxing breakfast. We shopped (picking up the Mickey ears that Nick thought were merely to surprise GranMary, who would be joining us for the cruise; they were – but the girls and I had a master plan to get him a special, surprise set of ears for his 40th birthday occurring two days later…).

At last, our TestTrack FastPass time arrived, so we headed over and were through with the line and the ride in less than twenty minutes.

disney14
Ready to ride!
disney17a
This is really a terrible shot – I snapped it with my phone off of a computer screen after the ride’s end – but I love it for Ella’s absolutely giddy face.

With our Future World dreams fulfilled, we grabbed a bit to eat at a couple of the pavilions in the World Showcase.  Eleanor was beyond thrilled to stand inside the phone booths at the United Kingdom pavilion… JUST LIKE IN HARRY POTTER OMG.

disney18
‘Ello, guv’na!
(Is that really a thing? Did I just offend all of Britain?)

She also insisted on shadowing me as I shopped in the UK pavilion specifically so she could listen to everyone’s accent (“They sound like they’re in the movies!”) and read the names of their hometowns (“That man is from Oxford! THAT’S WHERE EMMA WATSON IS FROM!!”). At last, hot and tired from walking, we walked back to our hotel, which – mercifully – was situated right outside of Epcot.

Truth be told, by late afternoon the pool was a bit chilly, but the girls loved splashing and running in the sand and Nick and I loved sitting idly beside the pool, beverages in hand.

disney24

Adding to our enjoyment was the moment when I checked my phone and discovered that it felt like 75* by the pool… and -21* back home. For those of you bad at The Math (like me), that’s nearly a 100 DEGREE DIFFERENCE, y’all. ONE. HUNDRED. DEGREES. We could not even wrap our brains around that absolute insanity, but we certainly appreciated our breezy, sunny afternoon by the pool, let me tell you.
disney20 disney21

That night, as planned, we headed back over to Epcot to take a tour around the world for dinner. This is one of Nick’s and my most cherished rituals – grabbing a bite to eat at the various “countries,” poking through the shops, trying the drinks. As people who have yet to truly travel the world but who would absolutely love to, there’s something wonderfully satisfying about Epcot’s World Showcase; we couldn’t wait to share it with the girls.

Alas, as we’d feared, they’re a bit young yet to really appreciate it (“Do we have to walk all the way to China? What’s so special about Norway? Can’t we just eat caramel corn at home?”), and by that time Ella had developed a killer headache (for which she refused to take any medication, so our sympathies largely went out the window; we are excellent parents), so it wasn’t really the blissful Around The World experience we’d hoped for.

disney32

Still, it was a beautiful night. We ate ourselves silly. The caramel corn really is that good. (And, best of all, Nick had a brilliant idea: to celebrate my 40th birthday this fall, he and I will come back to Epcot for a day to attend the annual Food and Wine festival – HOLLA!!) We went to bed exhausted, slightly cranky, but overall happy and extremely excited for the cruise to come.

(No, I won’t go into that part here; this post is long enough, don’t you think?
Besides, who doesn’t enjoy reading several blogs’ worth about someone else’s vacation?? Stay tuned…)

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Cheesy Souvenirs

Nick is going out of town again next week, which is always a little hard on the girls. He travels often enough that we can get into our own groove pretty easily, but they still miss him when he’s gone. One of the ways that Nick works to ease their sadness is to check in with them at least once a day, but more often twice – in the morning before school and at night before bed. He also tries to bring them back some sort of trinket or souvenir, which they can’t wait to get their hands on – even if it’s just a Washington D.C. pencil or a Welcome To Kansas City keychain.

When Nick and I went away to Puerto Rico, we knew that we’d be bringing back some kind of memento for Annie and Ella (in this case, little packages of cookies that we can’t find on the mainland and some cute seashell jewelry boxes that broke pretty much the moment we handed them over). In order to help us stay more connected to them while we were gone, we also knew that we’d be sending them photos of a figurine posing at many of our destinations.

Enter: Coqui.
IMG_7681
Remember back in July when I’d mentioned this little guy and told you I’d explain more later? Well, it took me 6 weeks, but here I am.

It all began three years ago when Nick and I went to Jamaica for three days to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. This was the first time I’d been away from the girls for more than a night and, honestly, I struggled. It wasn’t that Jamaica’s gorgeous beaches didn’t hold my attention or that my fabulous husband wasn’t good company, and it certainly wasn’t that the “free” rum drinks at our all-inclusive weren’t delicious; I just plain missed the kids. I didn’t want them with us – oh, no – but it took me a good 36 hours to relax and stop aching when I thought about them. (Ironically, having become accustomed to being away from the kids more often than I, Nick was able to settle in immediately… but 36 hours later, he began to get antsy and homesick. So we kind of met in between – and, man, were those middle four hours amazing!)

Calling home wasn’t easy (and even if it had been, I was adamant that I at least try to pull away), but we were able to use the wifi in the resort to send a few communications back and forth each day with our babysitters. It was the promise of these connections that caused me to pick up this little fella and decide to make him a part of our trip:

photo_2 (1)
He’s a little cross-eyed but rum will do that to a person cat…

We named him MoBay (after the local nickname for the Jamaican city of Montego Bay) and after texting our sitters a photo of him along with a caption – “Here’s MoBay the cat sitting by the pool!” (or something like that; it was three years ago, folks, so I’m exercising creative license) – we were told that Ella and Annie loved it, so we kept taking photos and sending them along once or twice a day. What began as a bit of whimsy wound up making the transition to Vacation/Enjoy Time With My Husband Mode much easier. I got a kick out of posing MoBay at various hotspots, knowing that the girls would be tickled and, even better, the hot sting of missing them began to dull as soon as I’d taken the photos. Win/win!

We brought MoBay home with us – after all of the photos, it was like meeting a celebrity – and he was promptly gnawed to a little pink nub by one of the dogs, ending his illustrious career… But the memories (and out-of-focus cell-phone photos) remain.

photo_1 (1)

Nick and I knew that, this trip, we would do the same – and so as soon as we left the hotel and began to explore Old San Juan, Nick hightailed it to a gift shop and returned with an itty bitty, glum-looking ceramic frog that we named Coqui (ko-KEY) after the native Puerto Rican amphibian.

pr76
We were starving, so Coqui’s first photo was beside food.

Our serious-faced green dude did, indeed, connect us to our girls, and I had a blast deciding where to take the pictures – but to my surprise I found that he didn’t ease the missing of them… because I didn’t really miss them. I thought of them, sure – a lot. But they were smile-inducing thoughts, never tinged with sadness. Whether that’s because they’re that much older, so I knew they’d be okay… or because I’m that much older, and I knew I’d be okay… or because we’ve had a little more practice being apart from one another… I’m not sure. But I do know that it was awfully damn fun hopping onto that airplane and being all, “LATER, DUDES!”

MIssing the girls or not, Nick and I loved placing Coqui in his photo spots. There were the obligatory This Is What We Ate Today pictures, of course…

pr43
Puerto Rico’s signature dish, mofongo. Deeeelishus. 
Is that a plantain in your dinner or are you just happy to see me?

pr74
 Fantabulous coffee at the delectable Caficultura.

pr49
Dessert following the best meal we’ve ever eaten, at Marmalade.

Coqui also joined us on all of our adventures, from ziplining…
pr36
Yes, I kept him in my pocket while we zipped.

pr37
Nick’s nod to Where’s Waldo… ¿Dónde está Coqui?

… to the bioluminescent bay…
pr77
It was pitch black (sort of critical for this excursion) plus also we were in kayaks and I had this waterproof case-thingy over my phone, so this was the best I could do.

… to the incredible forts and Old San Juan sights.
pr73
 Looking slightly pensive about having to board a plane in a few hours…

If we did it, Coqui was with us.
pr48
Perched atop our favorite restaurant’s sign.

pr75
Taking in a little native culture.

pr72
Chillaxing at the beach.

We knew that this trip would be good for us – getting away, spending time together, finding us among everything else that life throws our way – despite friends saying how difficult it would be for them to leave their own children. How could we do it? Wouldn’t we think about them constantly? Would we forbid all talk of the kids and focus solely on other things?

Ummm…. hell, no. If we did that, we’d have about five minutes’ worth of things to talk about; there’s only so much we can say about the situation in Ukraine and discussions about how much we’d love to redo the basement but can’t find the time/money usually end with at least one of us leaving the room. Okay, so this is an exaggeration (not about the basement but about not having anything besides the kids to discuss), but we absolutely talked about the girls; they pretty much dominated our conversations.

It was in a good way, though. When we visited the dungeon at the Castillo de San Cristobal, we remarked that the kids would love this place. As we walked the tiny streets of Old San Juan, we noted which stores the girls would have wanted to browse, but how grateful we were that they weren’t trudging around in the heat. We considered whether or not they would actually enjoy ziplining and if they were old and mature enough for the nighttime kayak adventure. We heaved sighs of relief that they didn’t join us on our epically failed coastal drive and clinked glasses blissfully noting that we were enjoying the best meal ever without small children who would not appreciate the food.

And, of course, there was Coqui and his photo series, which connected us with one another any time we wanted. Ella and Annie were everywhere – and, next time we visit Puerto Rico, we intend for them to actually come along – but that didn’t take anything away from our vacation. In many ways, talking about them as often as we did made it easier to unwind and relax because we weren’t trying so hard not to think about them. Coqui helped being apart be even more fun, in spite of his contemplative nature.

Because I hadn’t desperately missed the children, I expected that returning home to them wouldn’t be all that big of a deal – oh, look. We’re home. Here’s a seashell box that you can break. When Annie came running into our bedroom the morning we were back and threw her arms around me with a monstrous hug, however, my expectations took a backseat. When Ella then crept into the room – cautiously, so as not to wake us – and glimpsed me for the first time in four days, her face widened into a smile so broad, so deep, so joyful, I thought I might be knocked off my feet just by looking at it. To receive a smile like that from a kid who hand-holds but is not terribly effusive… well, that was just about the best part of the whole trip.

That is, until we introduced the girls to Rock Star Coqui… and this other colorful creature we’d found in one of the gift shops.
photo-79
This little guy really gets around the Caribbean…

We’ve pretty much been granted their blessing to go away any time we’d like.

Puerto Rico: A beautiful paradox

This whole Writing About Our Trip To Puerto Rico thing has me kind of stumped. On the one hand, I want to tell you about everything – all of it – in detail, both because it was wonderful enough to document it and also because maybe I’ll convince you to go – and oh, you should. It’s fabulous.

On the other hand, this isn’t really a travelogue kind of blog, and frankly, reading blow-by-blow accounts of peoples’ travels can get a bit tedious, even if you’re a read-about-travels kind of person.

I’ve been pondering this conundrum for the past few days, this contrast between two approaches – and, after going through my photos today, it finally struck me that it is precisely this contradiction that I want to write about. (Not my own personal narrative, but rather the island as a whole.)

The entire time we were in Puerto Rico, Nick and I marveled at how fascinating it was – the disparity between new and old, modern and antique, Puerto Rican and American, sleek and rundown.

We got off the plane and were immediately bowled over by the heat; I’ve been in some damn hot places, but Puerto Rico was a different kind of all-encompassing, steamy, can’t-escape-if-you-tried, walk-for-five-minutes-and-your-shirt’s-soaked-through hot. But it was also tropical and somehow fresh and reminded you that you weren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto, but that you’d spun your house and landed in a (muggy) little slice of paradise.

As we exited the main terminal to pick up the rental car, we expected to see “traditional” Puerto Rican scenes and sights and buildings…
pr8
I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m not sure what this is, but it’s in Old San Juan and it’s over 400 years old and it’s really, really cool.

… and were instead greeted by a Buffalo Wings restaurant.pr01
If we’d wanted wings, we could’ve traveled 60 miles to Buffalo instead of 1800 to Puerto Rico. IRONY, my friends.

Actually, that was a pretty good introduction to the juxtapositions we’d be seeing throughout the rest of our vacation. When we got to Old San Juan, we found ourselves driving down narrow, blue-bricked streets with rainbow buildings…
(Note: you can click on any of these to make them larger; the horizontal ones are especially small on the blog and are more interesting up-close)
pr11a

… but also past long-ago abandoned buildings…pr64

 

… often just steps away from one another.pr59
pr60
That’s not a potted plant – it’s a tree that’s grown out of the building.

 

Never before have I been in a place in the Western Hemisphere where the past and present mingle so cohesively – where orange cars are parked outside of centuries-old forts.pr2

The Castillo de San Cristóbal was one of the most magnificent creations I’ve had the privilege to visit, perched high atop the hillside, nobly guarding Old San Juan…pr27

… and the cruise ships and hotels just beyond its imposing fortress walls.
pr28a
Looking back out at the fort from our balcony – when I wasn’t busy terrifying other hotel guests – was pretty freakin’ rad.

Out some of the castillo‘s windows, the view of the city was so warmly old-meets-new inviting, we might as well have been in Tuscany.
pr22
(Or what I imagine Tuscany is like, having never been there. Work with me, y’all.)

Other vantages, at first glance, looked almost identically inviting…
pr16

… but, upon closer inspection, showed how the city is courting growth and decay simultaneously.
pr16a

The fort itself, like so much of Old San Juan, was insanely windy, which provided its own interesting dichotomy: crazy hot meets constant breeze = hotter than hades but also sometimes not hot.

At times while walking around the property, I thought I might actually melt into a puddle, Wicked Witch of the West style – but inside this gun turret (last used in World War II, how awesome is that), it was so dark and breezy, I was positively refreshed. 

Old San Juan proved to be an absolutely delightful city; we could easily have stayed there for the duration of our visit and been perfectly content. It is entirely walkable (although the hills are no joke; San Francisco is mildly bumpy compared to OSJ), taking you along those aforementioned blue-brick-lined streets and past shops, restaurants, memorials, historic sites, crumbling city walls, gleaming new buildings, tourist traps, and residential apartments. The diversity was both startling and fascinating.

One street was lined with gorgeous, enormous, well-tended planters in which lovely tropical flowers and plants were flourishing…pr11

… while another was so poorly maintained, with peeling paint off the bars surrounding the doorways, that I didn’t even realize the building was occupied until I spied the soccer ball on the stairs inside…
pr10

… while this one left no doubt that prosperity had long ago come and gone, despite the beautifully hopeful mural painted on the wall.
pr13

Sometimes, we found ourselves so deeply within the confines of the city, winding down tiny side streets and in and out of shops, that we could only assume that the ocean was nearby. Others, we stood right alongside the shoreline, palm trees and tile-roofed buildings meeting with blue-green water.
pr70


Similarly, these houses had completely unobstructed views of the ocean, a location that would make beach lovers green with envy…pr12

… until you noticed that they were falling apart, hole-y roofed, barely standing. It was sobering and curious and somehow lovely all at the same time.pr12a

 

This curious contrast was not only present economically in Old San Juan, but in virtually every other aspect of Puerto Rico (that we noticed, anyway. After 3.5 days there. We’re probably experts). Wide, inviting, breathtaking beaches were everywhere we turned, with water warm enough to fill a bathtub.pr41

Naturally, we stopped to enjoy the surf… but, paradoxically, also checked out the only skating rink in all of the Caribbean.
pr45

 

Driving around Puerto Rico was an adventure in diversity in and of itself. The streets in Old San Juan are relatively clearly denoted, once you know where to look for the street names…
pr9

… but all of the other roadways throughout the island were essentially unmarked, making for some rather difficult traversing (which might have tested our togetherness just a wee bit more than we’d intended, but whatever. We made it). We went ziplining in the rainforest at a place that was completely contemporary, safe, and wildly fun…pr36 DCIM100GOPRO

… but was accessible only by a potholed “road” that was technically two-lane but – like many Puerto Rican roads – was really barely wide enough for one car, ending at a collection of dilapidated, candy-colored buildings that apparently once belonged to the YMCA. It was otherworldly (and completely awesome).pr34
pr35

 

 

One evening, we were fortunate enough to happen upon a performance by a local music/dance group that showcased some native Taino songs and dances. They whirled and sang songs that were hundreds of years old…pr50

… while wearing store-bought clothing and – if you were three years old – sparkle shoes.pr54

Throughout our trip, we saw animals everywhere, from dogs looking at us out second-story windows in updated, crisp-clean city apartments…
pr3

… to wild chickens wandering aimlessly in and out of the driveways of barely-still-standing rural homes.
pr69

 

We explored buildings that had been constructed (or whose construction had begun) before the oldest structures in the United States even existed…pr25

… but we also ate dinner at the most state-of-the art, ultra-modern (ABSURDLY DELICIOUS) restaurants imaginable.
pr49

I’ve considered doing an entire entry just on this one meal, but I’ll never do it justice. Also, you’d be bored. And hungry. Suffice it to say it was magnificent.
This is dessert, which means espresso for us both, caramel corn creme brûlée with peanut brittle ice cream and Sparkling Frangelico for Nick and gluten-free organic carrot cake with some kind of ginger-flavored sorbet, plus a white wine from Hungary.
SOSOSOSOGOOD.

The juxtapositions weren’t unsettling, but they definitely made us realize we were in for more than just a simple vacation on a tropical island. There was a wonderful thread of cultural heritage that was woven into every city and location, but there was evidence of attempted growth all around us. Traditional Latin music blasted through car speakers as motorists navigated congested highways and itty bitty side streets with equal parts daring and insanity. English and Spanish were spoken almost interchangeably, a nod to their roots in Spain and their current status as a United States territory. Everyone we encountered was exceedingly friendly, but, strikingly, there were still bars on every window and door, from the cities to the suburbs.
pr71
Note the dog peeking out from the second story of this home, too.

Even the weather was inconsistent – sunny one moment, downpours the next, and then instantly sunny again. As we stopped for lunch in a beachfront restaurant along the western coast, we happened to notice a storm rolling in from the north. It’s not every day that you get to see a storm glide in across the ocean and swallow you up.
pr47

 

Our favorite, most incredible part of the visit – a kayak tour to a bioluminescent bay – couldn’t be documented, because it was pitch black and also glowing microorganisms don’t show up so well in iPhone videos (lame). It capped off a perfect day that we knew would be unbeatable; and indeed it was, with the following day being overwhelmingly disappointing as we got stuck in horrible, unpredictable traffic for seven hours (yes, really) and wound up missing out on the things we’d hoped to do and see. But that night, we ate the best meal of our lives (see above), and all was forgotten – contrasting experiences that bumped right into one another, ultimately creating something amazing.

And, in the end, that’s how we felt about Puerto Rico: that it was spectacular. Inconsistent, yes. Confusing, yes. Simultaneously beautiful and worn down, yes. Interesting, yes. Worth a return trip? Oh hell, yes.

Even before we’d left the island to make our way home, we were talking about going back and bringing the girls. It’s so accessible for us as Americans, both because it doesn’t require a passport and because the people and culture are so welcoming and affable. It felt familiar but foreign, expansive but contained, exciting but comfortable, relaxing but invigorating, crazy but chill. After 3.5 days, we felt like we’d really seen the island, but that there was still so much left to explore.

Which means that we’ll have to visit again.
Can’t wait!

pr33

Baby, Why Don’t We Go (Aka: Cruisin’ Part Deux)

And now, the thrilling conclusion to our Disney Cruise chronicles. I know you’re pumped!!

The first night, we sailed (is that the right term? Boated? Cruised? Went?) to Nassau in the Bahamas, where the ship docked for the day. Instead of disembarking (do you like my cool cruise lingo?), we opted to stay on board and take advantage of the ship’s offerings while everything was a little less crowded.dcl3
Nassau lighthouse that was just begging to have its picture taken. Hellllllllloooo, lighthouse!

We swam. We watched movies by the pool and got ice cream from the self-serve machine just for the hell of it. Twice. The girls went to the kids’ club. We tried the drinks of the day and went down this absolutely crazy water slide that sucked you through a tube and then swung out over the side of the ship. We ate more food. The girls went to the kids’ club. (Yes, I know I said that twice.) We explored the ship and got to know one of the bartenders and then ate more food. We saw shows and waved to the myriad Disney characters who were greeting ecstatic lines of kids. We donned bandanas and eye patches for pirate night. We ate more food. And we collapsed into our beds that night so fully exhausted, we could no longer keep our eyes open.

The following day, we arrived at Disney’s teeny private island, Castaway Cay (which is pronounced KEY; I know, it’s weird, but it’s a fact).dcl6
It really was small – that’s it in its entirety.

This time, we had no intention of remaining on the ship. As soon as we deposited our bags and towels on the gorgeous, pristine beach, we were off to our first adventure: petting, feeding, and snorkeling with stingrays. (I’d like to pretend we were stupid brave enough to do this with potentially dangerous stingrays, but these guys had had their stingers gently filed down so that they couldn’t harm us.)dcl11
Hungry, dude?

I’m not gonna lie… it was a little weird having these floppy, slippery beings suck the food out of your hand like an rabid vacuum (they don’t really have teeth, but their mouths are… knobby?). They were quite majestic, though, undulating and gliding through the water, so we soon got over our fears. Or, at least, Nick and I did; we couldn’t quite convince the girls to participate in the feeding. And, actually, Ella never quite worked up her courage to associate with the stingrays, period, but Annie was game to snorkel with them once the Hoover portion had concluded.

After our sixty minute sojourn was over, we donned our snorkel gear once more to explore the reef. Proving that her earlier trepidation was due to an extreme dislike of stingrays (who knew?), and not of snorkeling, Ella joined Nick in swimming as far out in the bay as was possible, ooohing and ahhing at the sunken ship (“Mom, I think Disney probably put that there… but it was still cool!”) and the many tropical fish.

Hunger soon got the best of us, so we eagerly piled our plates high at the BBQ buffet (more food!), listening to the sounds of the crab races that were being held only a few feet away. (I mean actual racing of crabs; Annie watched as the winning crab was crowned. It was pretty damn funny.) The rest of the afternoon was filled with highs (more snorkeling) and lows (a bicycle ride to “lookout point” that proved too arduous for Annie, who got partway before collapsing into a heap and declaring she needed to walk back. In the 85 degree Bahamian sun. Which I’d sworn not to complain about, given how freakin’ freezing it’s been at home, but which I might have cursed while hissing at Annie that she needed to get back on the bike and just pedal a little harder, for God’s sake. Absolutely my finest moment of the trip).

We splashed and swam. We ate and shopped. We snorkeled and played in the sand. We laughed and relaxed. And we promised, as soon as possible, that we’d take another cruise.
castaway cayA play area in the middle of the water? Why not! Yes, those are the girls, waving to us from the bouncy bridge on the right.

Everyone who’s gone on a Disney cruise can’t say enough about the ship’s staff – how welcoming they are, how friendly, how helpful, how gregarious. Although we’re terribly unoriginal here, we absolutely echo those statements: our cast members KICKED. ASS. We did not encounter a single employee – from the crews quite literally swabbing the decks to the performers to the waitstaff to the front desk people – who was anything shy of tremendous. Every single one – all of them! EVERY SINGLE ONE! – greeted us with a smile, whether it was at 7 a.m. or 1 a.m., whether there were screaming children all around or it was silent, whether it was the beginning or the end of their sixteen hour work day (I’m not kidding; these people work their butts off). In fact, not only did they greet us smiling, they seemed honestly happy to see us.

Our housekeeper even found the time to fold and twist our towels into adorable animal shapes every night when he turned down our covers, turned the sofa into a bunk bed, and laid out the chocolates and the following day’s itinerary. I know this is standard practice, but doing this for every room in his block has got to be tedious, man.

dcl5
Even “Bolt” got the sunglass treatment!

We had the same waitstaff for all of our sit-down meals (hi, Emilia from Italy and Ilham from Indonesia!), and every time they saw us, they made us feel like we made their nights. Ordering more than one appetizer? No problem. You’d like to trade this for that so your menu can be gluten-free tomorrow? We’ve got it. They used steak knives cut the girls’ meat so we could enjoy our own meals. They refilled our drinks without us asking. They chatted with us and answered our never-ending questions. “No” was never an option; “I’ll see what I can do!” was.

In fact, that seemed to be the mantra for the entire staff: we’ll see what we can do to make this trip incredible for you. Case in point… The very first afternoon, while I ordered myself the spiffy (alcoholic) drink of the day, I spied a super-cute Disney Cruise Line cup behind the bar that was emblazoned with Olaf the snowman and the Frozen logo. My BFF had requested Frozen paraphernalia for her daughter, and I’d struck out so far (apparently, the Frozen merchandise disappears as soon as it arrives ; the cast member at the Disney Store in Downtown Disney – the world’s largest Disney Store – told customers they were all sold out and their best bet would be to check online…!), so this was a find! But, seeing as the only way to procure the cup was to purchase the non-alcoholic drink of the day and my daughters were currently occupied (see above: kids’ club), I figured I’d just pick up the Frozen cup at a later time.

Naturally, I completely forgot about buying the cup until the very end of our very last night on the cruise. At 11:50 p.m., I asked our server – at an adults-only club on the third deck – if he knew whether or not they had any Frozen cups at the bar. His response: “Let me see what I can do!” After bringing us our drinks, he informed me that, no, they didn’t have those cups, but that the bar up at the pool might – and that he would check for me. And so he trekked up to the ninth deck at midnight (which was after the poolside bar had closed) to look for a damn kids’ Frozen cup… and returned five minutes later carrying this:

cruise cup
Yes, this is the actual cup, which means – no, I haven’t mailed it to my BFF yet.
Surprise, Evie!!

I don’t even know if he charged us for it.

The reason I do not know this is because we did not buy our drinks that night (not that round, anyway). Which brings me to to the very best part of our trip: free drinks!

No, no. I jest.
The drinks are most definitely not free.
But I am in the dark about whether or not we were charged for the cup.

See, we didn’t pay for those drinks because the best thing happened: we made friends. (Slow claps all around. I’ll wait.) But hold on – hear me out, because this is really spectacular.

Nick, Ella, Annie, and I went on this trip as a little foursome, and were very happy to do so. We didn’t plan on “meeting” people beyond folks to say hi to near the pool, and we certainly didn’t expect to make actual, for real friends. We did know that we’d be seated with the same people each night for our sit-down dinner (each table “rotates” through the full-service restaurants, retaining both the same diners and the same wait staff each night) and, secretly, we hoped that we wouldn’t hate these people. No, truly – Nick and I discovered after the fact that we each had our fingers very, very crossed that we didn’t despise the thought of sitting next to these people night after night; anything short of outright loathing would be a bonus.

Imagine our delight, then, when we arrived that first evening to discover that we’d be dining with four other folks — a mom and a dad (I’m going to call them Miss L and Mr. D), their daughter, J, and Miss L’s cousin’s daughter, S. Both L and S – who are best friends – are in third grade, just like Ella, and they hit it off immediately. Although we’d arranged the seating so Annie and Ella would be next to Nick and me, by the end of the meal, we’d switched places so that the four girls could be next to one another and yuk it up.

dcl10
Mom! Look who we found by the pool! Can we get more ice cream??

Disney is not stupid, y’all. It is exceedingly unlikely that we were coincidentally seated beside a family with two girls our own daughters’ ages. While that kind of engineering is great, there was no guarantee that it would manufacture actually liking one another; that was just wonderful serendipity. Nick and I were happy for the girls, but were even more surprised and tickled to learn how much we liked Miss L and Mr. D.

It started out gradually, as so many relationships do. As Nick and I fell into bed that first night, we remarked to one another how nice Miss L and Mr. D seemed. They were funny. They were smart. They were our age. They used correct grammar. They knew how to eat (and eat… and eat…). It seemed a good match; we assumed that dinner the following night wouldn’t suck.

When we found them by the pool the next day (see photo above), we were pleased to chat with them again as the girls ran off and terrorized the kiddie pools and slides. We further cemented our bond when Nick, Ella, Mr. D, his daughter J, and I went down the plunge-to-your-death-and-go-over-the-side-of-the-boat slide, leaving Miss L to watch Annie and her cousin’s daughter, S. I mean, when you’ve stared death in the face and left your child in someone else’s care, it’s hard to go back to casual again.

By that night, we were lingering just a little longer over dinner, and then splitting forces so that half of us saw the live “Villains Tonight” show (that would be Ella, satisfying her Maleficent fascination) while the other half attended a Frozen sing-along. By the next day at Castaway Cay, we found ourselves actively looking for Miss L, Mr. D, and the girls. By that night, we four adults had ditched the kids and were shouting out answers at a Music of the 80s Trivia contest and forming human pyramids on the floor to earn our team extra points. (I kid you not; Miss L and I got down on our hands and knees as Nick climbed on our backs and Mr. D – who is approximately 385 feet tall and might have a had a difficult time safely hopping aboard – gesticulated and called from behind.)

So, yeah. From strangers to human pyramids in just over 48 hours, because, hot damn, we really, really enjoyed these people’s company. (And also: alcohol. It amuses me that Miss L and Mr. D may think I always drink like this. Ah, well... Who am I to burst that bubble…) In only a few short days, they had become our dear, wonderful, true friends in that intense, we-shared-this-experience-together kind of way that’s typically reserved for retreats or summer camp. Or maybe prison.

As we docked again at Port Canaveral bright and early that third morning, we were not ready to leave – not the ship, not the weather, and especially not our newfound friends who were kind enough to buy the last round, which included the aforementioned Frozen cup (hence, why I don’t know whether or not we were ever charged for it).
ella annie cruise
Ella and Annie felt the same…

Alas, Disney frowns upon stowaways, so we had to disembark and make our journeys back home – us to New York and our new cruising family to Georgia. Not to worry, though; we were Facebook friends before we’d even left the port, and now regularly gripe to one another about how much we wish we were still on vacation. It’s good to have people who understand you.

IMG_7378
I’m the king of the world!

So, there you have it. To say that it was just the very most fantabulous vacation ever really doesn’t do it justice, so rather than continuing to search for super grown-up adjectives, I’ll simply say that it was perfect. Not just Mary Poppins’s practically perfect in every way; no, actually perfect. I can’t recommend a Disney cruise highly enough – and not just because I’m a Disney fanatic. It is joy and laughter and fun and memories and magic, pure and simple.

We will absolutely be going on another Disney cruise.
Along with these crazy people, of course.

Next time, I call the top of the pyramid.

dcl12

Come On, Pretty Mama! (Aka: All Aboard!)

* This began as a much longer post (if you can believe it), but I realized it’s so damn long, it’s probably best to split it into two parts. I know. The suspense is killing you. Check back tomorrow for the rest.*

I’ve been wanting to write about the cruise portion of our trip since – well, basically since we first set foot on the ship – but I simply haven’t had the time. To be honest, I don’t really have time now, but I’m going to write about it anyway because a) I promised I would, and I do hate to break a promise, b) I don’t want to forget any of the details, and c) if I write about it, I can finally stop being annoyed with myself for not doing so.

In any case, without further ado, let me tell you about our cruise:
It was incredible!!

The end.

Okay, okay. I’ll say a bit more. Nick and I had been toying with the idea of a cruise – specifically, a Disney cruise – for a couple of years now. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go because I didn’t know if our time and money should be spent getting the “Disney experience” outside of Disney World; I adore the parks so much, I thought perhaps I’d regret not going there instead. Nick was worried that we, as a family, might not enjoy going on a cruise – that it would be too confining, that there wouldn’t be enough to do, that (despite everyone’s assurance to the contrary) our girls wouldn’t like the kids’ club. When we found a truly unbeatable deal on a three-day cruise that aligned with the girls’ break, we felt the time was right to bite the bullet and go for it. Turns out, it’s one of the best decisions we’ve ever made (vacation-wise, anyway. I mean, it’s not quite the same as choosing a college or giving french vanilla lattes a try, but still – a great decision).
dcl7
The Disney Magic, as seen from Castaway Cay.

When we arrived at the Port Canaveral docks, we were absolutely astonished – and wildly impressed – by how streamlined and simple Disney had made the boarding process. Within minutes, we’d dropped off our luggage (which would appear outside of our stateroom a couple of hours later), checked in, had our photo taken, received our keys, and signed the girls up for the kids club. Within another half hour (during which there were loads of things to keep our attention), we were strolling onto the ship.
IMG_6307
Just prior to boarding, I asked the girls if they were excited to get on. This is how they responded.

Our first stop was a buffet, which was piled high with goodies (and the chef even made me a side of veggies to ensure they were gluten-free; holla!). Next up was a trip to the pool deck, where the girls frolicked to their hearts’ content and Nick and I discovered the wonder of the daily drink specials.
dcl1
At times, this pool, especially, was so crowded, you couldn’t really call it “swimming,” but the water was clean and warm and fun and NOT WINTERY.

Before the required safety demonstration (which was a lot like the ones on airlines but much more silent, in part because we weren’t all desensitized to them yet, and also because we’ve all seen Titanic. If I have to cling to a piece of wood for survival, I will, but I’d much rather use the life vest provided, thanks), we checked out the fabled kids clubs – in our case, the Oceaneer’s Club and Oceaneer’s Lab, which were set up for 3-12 year-olds.

Friends who’d gone on Disney cruises waxed rhapsodic about these mystical places; about how incredible they were; about how much there was to do; about how their children never wanted to leave. It’s not that we wanted to pawn the girls off – I mean, we hadn’t come all this way to dump them, and we’d chosen the very family-friendly Disney experience because we wanted to do things together as a family – but if there was really an awesomely exciting, safe place where the girls wanted to be and Nick and I could have some kid-free time… um, yeah. I WILL HAVE TWO FILLINGS. The moment we entered, the girls were in heaven. Ella gravitated immediately to the computer kiosk area which was set up with several programs for typing, writing, and creating little scenes with character speech bubbles.

kids club
No joke – she turned left and found these bays and was DONE.

I am not exaggerating when I say that she must have typed up – and printed off – at least a dozen of these over the course of our short trip. Sure, they wasted trees, but they gave her a creative outlet that she was very obviously craving (she doesn’t often type stories at home, but I’m thinking we’ll have to find a cool program that allows her to do so). Even more than that, though, they allowed us a fascinating peek inside her. It’s often like pulling teeth to garner a response that goes beyond “fine” or “good” or “not much” or (my favorite) “nothing” when asked how her day was or what she learned in school – so to be able to have this little window into her thoughts was a pretty fantastic thing.

Click larger to read her delightful verbal explosion.
ella cruise
Think she was enjoying herself??

Annie, on the other hand, was interested in just about everything else that the clubs had to offer. Jumping from beanbag chair to beanbag chair? She’s on it. Joining in on a group game? Count her in. Participating in a dance-a-thon? She’s your girl. Watching old-school Disney movies and cartoons in front of the many ginormous screens? Absolutely.
kids club2
Hula-hooping while watching ‘The Princess and the Frog’.

Annie also – unsurprisingly – was captivated by the craft and drawing spaces. We came home with numerous pipe cleaner creations and more than one (read: enough to fill a coloring book) illustration that she absolutely couldn’t bear to leave behind.
annie cruise
Is that… Elsa? From ‘Frozen’? Gee, such a shocker!

As predicted by our experienced friends (that sounds wrong, but I’m going with it), it was, indeed, hard to pull the girls away from the clubs. They certainly weren’t the only ones, either; on more than one occasion, I heard a parent explain to a child (who was being physically dragged away from the club entrance), “Because this is a big ship, and it’s silly to spend all of your time in one place!” And, really, who could blame them? Every single thing was geared toward their age group; it was brightly lit and colorful and engaging; there were loads of ever-changing activities, and the counselors were warm, charming, and seemed genuinely interested in being locked inside a small space in the middle of the Atlantic with dozens of overeager children.

Nick and I hadn’t given too much thought about what we’d do while the girls were in the club… But there was no shortage of options. Some times, we just lounged by the pool. Others, we participated in some of the ship’s many entertainment offerings (including attending a magic show that taught us how to do some magic tricks; we’re basically like Mrs. and Mrs. Copperfield now). The best part of the girls being in the kids club, though, was having the opportunity to just be together, the two of us. More to the point, we were together, the two of us, knowing that our children were not only safe and well-cared for but having a blast… while we got to imbibe the drinks of the day poolside or show-side (or, hell, in our stateroom) and have conversations about anything we wanted but nothing having to do with who fed the dogs or who was going to pick up someone from some class, or what was for dinner, or whether the repairs on the tiles in the shower really required a second opinion. See also: sunny and warm in the middle of the Atlantic.

In other words, it was the biggest win/win imaginable, and we were all having the time of our lives. DOESN’T GET MUCH BETTER THAN THAT, people.

* To be continued… soon… Which is good, because I haven’t even talked about the best part yet. No, really.

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.

universal3

universal2

universal1

universal5

IMG_6275

dtd5

dtd2

IMG_6286

dcl7

dcl1

dcl3

dcl4

dcl8

dcl13

dcl9

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.

New York… New York

When Ella turned eight, Nick promised her that he would take her on a business trip with him. He travels for work approximately five days a month, and Ella has long been asking just what he does on these trips; rather than continue to explain (“Meetings… a presentation… grabbing something cold from the lunch buffet… another presentation…”), he thought it would be fun to show her.

In reality, of course, it wouldn’t really work to have Ella attend any of Nick’s meetings and presentations (and lunch buffets), so we’d thought that he could take a short flight somewhere, meet some of our extended family, drop Ella off to spend the day with them, do his work stuff, pick Ella up once he was through, hang out with her wherever they were, chill in a hotel room overnight, and finally, fly home the following morning. Ella turned eight in December of 2012 – more than a year ago – but our 2013 was a bit… crazy… So the opportunity for the trip never materialized.

MBAs and new jobs and mourning and nutty schedules don’t really mean much to Ella, however, so she remained determined that such a trip would take place. At last, Nick decided that he needed to make good on his promise – and so, last weekend, a month after she turned nine, Ella joined Nick on a business trip to New York City.

With Ella and Daddy gone for just over twenty-four hours, that left Annie and me to hold down the fort. And, oh, did we ever hold down our damn fort.

Watching her walk to school and greet our beloved crossing guard – without her sister – was a little bittersweet…

special overnight a1
Oh, look: snow. Such an anomaly.

… But once we hit the new indoor trampoline place, all missing-of-sisters-and-daddies was soon forgotten.

special overnight a3
The kid’s got AIR.

special overnight a4
Oh, yeah. I got game.

special overnight a2
When you can’t play outside for ten days because of absurdly frigid temperatures, bouncing yourself into a frenzy is SENT FROM THE GODS, I tell you.

During the hour that we jumped, I think I lost 7 pounds in water weight: trampolining makes you sweat, man (and also maybe, um, lose liquid in other ways; those of you who have birthed a child and are over the age of 35 know what I’m talking about. The bathrooms in these places should come equipped with paper towels, tampons, and Depends).

Downstate, it was a little warmer, so our other halves were able to venture outside and explore the city. My dad and stepmom – Papa and Grand Meg – had met Nick and Ella that morning, then spent the day with her while Nick took care of work business.

special overnight e3
Enjoying a muffin the size of her head at Papa’s office.

special overnight e1
Taking the A train.
(Not literally. They did go uptown, though, so I suppose that was possible…)

Although the temperatures were doable, they weren’t exactly fun, so Papa and Grand Meg decided that the American Museum of Natural History would be a dandy indoor adventure. Later, when she told me about her day, Ella couldn’t stop talking about how incredible the museum was – wisely chosen, Papa and Grand Meg FTW!

special overnight e2
My big girl in action…

Perhaps spotting a sucker when they saw one (or, more accurately, realizing that a grandma and grandpa were enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime one-on-one day with their eldest granddaughter, and would do anything to celebrate the occasion), the museum employees convinced my dad to purchase a photo package, to Ella’s delight and my great amusement. Maybe it was the cold… Maybe it was giddiness from the crazy-early hour at which they all awoke… Or maybe it was just the joy of spending this special day together, but my normally reserved, easily-embarrased nine year-old struck silly poses and smiled with abandon, while my normally reserved, not-too-silly dad pretended to see a flying dinosaur over his left shoulder.

In short, these are some of my most favorite photos, ever.

special overnight e7
RAWR.

special overnight e6Oh, look. A pterodactyl.

special overnight e5 This is the one Ella liked best, in spite of the neckpiece growing out of her cheek.

Knowing, especially, that Ella and Nick would be dining in Manhattan splendor, I’d offered Annie the opportunity to go to any restaurant in the Rochester area, just the two of us…

Instead, she chose to cook me dinner at home.
Could I find out the menu in advance, so I could supplement the meal with additional ingredients? No. Could I help her prepare? No. Could I offer suggestions? WHY WAS I BEING SO DIFFICULT??

And that’s how, on a Friday night in January, I found myself being served gluten-free pasta with jarred pasta sauce (with a little cream added for extra flavor), “the fluffy parmesan from the green container”, and broccoli sautéed with soy sauce.

special overnight a5
You may notice that she changed her clothes after the trampoline place – partially because she was a sweaty mess, and partially because she needed to dress up in order to properly make me dinner. Duh.

special overnight a6
Cutesie poses make everything more delicious…

For dessert, I offered – again – to take her out. Would she care to grab a piece of cake somewhere? Go to a candy shop? Get some ice cream? Indulge in Starbucks?
Or, if she’d prefer to stay home, would she like to bake some brownies? Make a sundae? Create a milkshake?

After some serious eye-rolling and a hissed, “Mom! I’ve GOT this!”, Annie returned with dessert…

special overnight a7
Why, yes, that is a carefully-arranged plate containing two Trader Joe’s chocolate
crisps, one jellied candy, and four Advent chocolates.

I know. She spoils me.

Meanwhile, back in the Big Apple, a slightly different experience was being had. Seeing that Nick had Ella with him (and, therefore, trying to make a kid’s day), the front desk guy at the hotel surprised them with an upgrade to an absolutely ridiculous suite (it had one and a half bathrooms and a 70″  flatscreen television, if that’s any indication of what I mean by “ridiculous”).

special overnight e4
Also? Two bathrobes. Per person.

And an equally ridiculous view.

special overnight e8
That’s Ella posing by the window, for scale…

special overnight e9
Yeah. Not bad.

Post-dinner at a delicious steakhouse (name: The Strip House. That won’t look strange on Nick’s expense report. Especially because he took his daughter there), Nick convinced Ella to take a swing through China Town, where they tried their first – and last – bubble tea.

special overnight e10
Tapioca balls just sound… weird…

Having awakened at 4:15 that morning for their flight, Ella was positively bushed, and passed out in the second of her hotel robes before 9 p.m. Annie and I, on the other hand, were still going strong…

There were nails to be painted:
special overnight a8
I didn’t notice until now that the American Girl doll’s hand had slipped into this photo.
Both super creepy and oddly appropriate.

And much snuggling before the two of us crawled into my bed for the night:
special overnight a9
She doesn’t thrash around but does keep the bed warm. No complaints from the mama!

In the morning, I offered to do whatever Annie wanted for breakfast: head out to one of her favorite restaurants. Enjoy a hot, toasted bagel from Bruegger’s (we could even eat there instead of bringing it home – the luxury!). Snag a doughnut – or two! – from Dunkin’ Donuts.

Instead – say it with me – Annie wanted to stay home and fix me breakfast.

special overnight a10
What? Your seven year-old doesn’t routinely pipe out A (for, you know, Annie) and M (for MOTHASCRATCHA) pancakes and hearts and blobs circles over the wildly hot griddle?
Mine neither. Hence, why I am six inches away in this photo, to Annie’s great chagrin.

To my surprise, the pancakes were quite delicious (and a lovely departure from my usual breakfast of only fresh juice), and she and I had a delightful conversation while we devoured our meals.
special overnight a12

By the time Ella and Nick arrived home (where Nick rushed himself to Urgent Care for a wicked cough, poor fellow), the girls were more than ready to see one another. They played together nonstop all afternoon and into the night, and although they would never admit it out loud, it was absolutely clear that they had desperately missed each other.

New York is a pretty fascinating state. From subways to the museum to bubble teas in China Town, snowy walks to school to devilishly fun trampoline centers, it’s really got just about everything you could need. Or, at least, everything that we need.

Nick and I had been mildly concerned that Annie might have trouble with Ella going on this trip – missing school, getting to stay in a fancy hotel, seeing Grand Meg and Papa… But, not only was she not jealous, she was genuinely excited for Ella (with more than a little sister bothering thrown in for good measure).
girls' text
Conversation between the girls on Nick’s and my phones.
Such love…

Even more to my surprise, Annie wasn’t upset that Ella would be having fun in New York City – because she was having such a blast right here in Rochester. It’s hardly a mecca of entertainment and excitement, but between jumping on the trampolines, having the opportunity to take over meal prep and make it her own, painting her nails, and sleeping in Mommy and Daddy’s “big bed,” Annie was in absolute heaven.

As we were eating our dinner, Annie leaned over and said, “This has been an amazing day, Mama!” I had just started to agree with her when she interrupted me with a grin, saying, “And it’s not even over yet!”

Similarly, Eleanor had a total blast. From the museum to the steakhouse to the hotel room (where she could have happily spent the entire day; she and Nick both agreed was the most incredible room they’d ever seen), it was one big blur of happiness and fun — but the best part, by far, seemed to be sharing the day with her dad and especially her grandparents, just the three of them, something they haven’t had the opportunity to do in the seven years since Annie was born.

It seems that the feeling was mutual; Papa and Grand Meg were heading out of town themselves on Saturday morning, and arrived at the airport early (where Nick and Ella were waiting to board the plane back to Rochester) to savor a few extra minutes with their granddaughter. I know I just said it, but I mean it: we may not live close to our extended family, but that has not diminished the closeness of our relationships with them – and the time we do have together, whether it’s at a large family gathering or on a private day trip, is all the more special.

Both Ella and Annie agreed it was one of the best days of their lives. In turn, it was one of the best of Nick’s and mine. Having one-on-one time with your kiddo is so important, but can be so difficult – almost impossible, sometimes. Having an entire day of one-on-one time is priceless. I know that neither Nick nor I will forget this weekend with each of our girls; having Annie all to myself was really pretty damn fabulous.

Next year, when Annie turns eight and is able to join Nick on a trip, I’m sure they’ll have just as much of a blast. I, myself, am looking forward to a little one-on-one time with my big girl; now, we have some catching up to do.

I bet I can convince her to join me at a local restaurant. Or order pizza. Or just get a bagel.
If not, I know where the leftover Advent chocolates are stored, and I’m not afraid to get them.