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It really was a lovely trip to the Lowcountry – adventures and photos and stories that I want to share, memories I want to revel in.

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But right now, all I can manage is a teaser.

With just these few days left of break, I need – I want – to focus on other things. Bill-paying, yard-raking, grocery-getting, Easter shopping (kind of forgot that Sunday is Easter; oops), suitcase-unpacking, email-answering, house-cleaning, phone call-making… Okay, those are more needs than wants.

What I want to focus on is this:
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Not necessarily the swimming part (although it was remarkably refreshing), but the kid part. I’m already feeling the same stress start to creep in that was present before we left (which is particularly annoying, given that we just got back and you’d think my brain would suffer relaxation-lag, like jet-lag), that overwhelming sense of too-much-not-enough-time… but I am deliberately trying to ignore it, to push it away, because I want to spend the rest of this time enjoying my girls, really enjoying them.

The food will be purchased. The errands will be run. The yard will… well, I’m not sure there. Easter will happen. Everything will get done.

Or it won’t.

Either way, there are pancakes to be made and an all-girls grocery run to be had, and then I don’t know, but I am looking forward to it.
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It’s still spring break, and I want to enjoy every day of it.
I’ll be back next week…

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).
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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.