Wednesday, November 29, 2017

All the Thanks and Givings

[Written Monday night around midnight before I realized I never uploaded Thanksgiving pictures from my phone to my computer and couldn't handle the task at 11:58. Last night involved margaritas and a tree lighting ceremony and I just couldn't do it then either. So the journey to actually publishing this post most reflects much of the post itself.]

I have an alarming-feeling amount of things to do. I was at joint witness interview with the FBI today where I'm not allowed to take notes and since I get fidgety when I can't move my hands I listened while writing out personal and work to do lists. I used multiple pages of my notebook. After missing a week of work for Disney and then having a partial week for Thanksgiving (including a day lost to another witness interview; a helpful interview, but a full day out of the office nonetheless), and then being sick at home on Friday, I have SO MUCH TO DO AT WORK. So much. I have eight cases right now. The all need something. Like my children, but there are 8 of them and I'm a single parent without childcare. I'm taking testimony in one next week and I need like four weeks to prepare for it. So there's that.

On the personal side I decided I should make photo books of our Disney trip because I have 500 pictures (culled down from the original 1200; the Disney Memory Maker pass is worth all the dollars) and it was a unique and special week in our lives and I think the kids would enjoy it. But they're huge projects. After 3 sick days on the couch post-Thanksgiving, I've made Landon's, am working on Claire's, and still need to start on Cora's. As long as I'm doing this nonsense I want them to be able to open them by Christmas and we leave for Colorado on the 23rd. I was also feeling stressed about using Cyber Monday to finish my Christmas shopping, but I just did that now. It's 10:30 p.m. and I haven't done anything else with my post-kids-in-bed-free-time, but my Christmas shopping is 95% complete for all the people in my life and that feels good.

And I decorated the house for Christmas this weekend. Since I didn't leave the house for 3 days, I wanted it to be festive. And I like to enjoy it as much as possible before we head out of town for the actual holiday. Cora calls it "our Christmas house" and it's delightful.

I ordered our Christmas cards on Saturday and updated our Christmas address labels yesterday, so that's just a shipping notice and one family project night away from completion.

I actually feel calmer for having typed that. Holidays-wise we're in a good place. Work-wise I remain overwhelmed. I did buy something for our group's white elephant party, so I can check that off. Basically, if I can do it via Amazon, I'm on it. If it requires reviewing 10,000 documents and preparing an outline, I'm going to have to get back to you after a few more pointless stress dreams.

I also very much want to finish my Disney recaps. I don't know if anyone is still reading along about our endless trip (we just did so! much! every! day!) but I adored that trip and know I will want to rehash it one day when I can't sleep at 2 a.m. I also have a draft "Disney Thoughts" post with just random things I was surprised by, planned for, didn't plan for, recommend, don't recommend. Totally not a true and detailed planning post (go talk to our amazing and free Disney planner for that), but more for packing, general planning, etc., that I need to finish because it's what I will send friends when they ask me about this later. And I just have thoughts and clearly enjoy typing them out and sharing them with the world.

But then Thanksgiving happened and we hosted my parents and brother and that was very fun and busy- I worked until Wednesday afternoon, cooked up a meal on Thursday, and then they left early Friday morning and I decided to get sick and wore the same sweat pants for 3 days while feverishly (literally) photo booking and not ever wearing a bra. It was a glamorous time. Cora did her usual morning, "Mommy you're so beautiful" and by Sunday morning I had to admit to myself it was a lie.

But Thanksgiving was fun!

My parents are still dealing with Harvey clean-up and rebuilding. So much has happened since then it's hard to remember that Houston is still struggling. People are still not in their homes. My mom's school situation is still terrible. The house now has walls, as of this week it has floors, the builder is working to match the missing lower cabinets to the still-in-place upper ones. There will be painting. Eventually it will look as it did early this year when they so proudly showed it off to us, but right now they're still in their 1-bedroom apartment, going to work and stopping by the house every evening to make decisions and check on the progress. It's still hard. It's still financially draining. It's still a lot. The holidays are not helping. They're good sports about it, but we were supposed to spend Thanksgiving there and after moving last Christmas, they were supposed to be hosting all of us for Christmas this year but instead we'll all be heading to Colorado to borrow a friend's generously loaned-out vacation home. So as with all of this, they're lucky in so many ways, but it still sucks and it's still hard and the overwhelming days of late August are not just washed away.

But Thanksgiving was fun. My children completely exhausted my brother by making him play tag and four-square and more tag and basketball and scootering and I don't even know what else because I was cooking.

He's fit, but he's not 3-kids-fit. I told him it's the latest workout craze. He fell asleep at noon on the couch.

Our meal was good, though I was dissatisfied with my turkey.

I was not dissatisfied with the homemade chex mix I made 3 times in 2 days (and then again on Sunday). I'm completely obsessed and can't believe I'd never made it before.

My parents are not loungers, so post-dinner found us playing hop scotch (after googling the rules) and basketball and probably more tag after dinner.

We decorated the tree later that night. They won't be putting up a tree this year, so I wanted to include them. Plus I just love looking at a sparkling tree.

The kids got their new Christmas pj's, another tradition I started by accident a few years ago and now the kids 100% love and expect.

Here, Claire and Cora had just told Landon he could be their dog.

Girls run the world and also this house.

Oh we also joined the 20th century and bought a 2nd TV to put in the main room of our house! I'd been flirting with the idea and decided to buy one when I was shopping with my mom on Wednesday night (TV's are SO much cheaper than they were when we bought our other one in 2007; like 1/4 as much, it's crazy) to give my dad and brother a project to mount and wire it on Thursday morning. They always need a project and I thought it would take some time but they had it done in like 20 minutes.

I have mixed feelings about it. I have no interest in changing our "no TV during the week" rule for the kids, but it's nice to be able to cozy up to a Christmas movie on a lazy Sunday afternoon and still be in the center of the house to do kitchen things (like sneak more chex mix) without feeling like I'm as far from the kids as possible. Plus they're really bad at filling me in on missed plot lines.

Getting a second TV also reminded us we've been meaning to cancel cable because we never watch it. So in one day we both embraced TV and rejected it and then didn't turn on either TV for the next two days because my Cyber Monday shopping required so much concentration.

In other areas, I'm delighted by Prince Harry's engagement to Meghan Markle. The Go Fug Yourself Royals Roundup is the best part of my Friday (besides the fact it's a Friday) and I feel like all my Regency Romance novel reading has made me an expert in all things royal. I enjoy the heck out of all of it.

I ordered three pairs of new snow boots and hope that one will fit. It's my early Christmas gift from myself and I'm very excited. The ones I purchased at Wal-mart for $15 in Steamboat Springs 3 years ago made my feet freeze into tiny blocks of ice when we went skiing in January, so I'm upping my game. We go to Colorado a lot, it occasionally snows in Dallas, I should have snow shoes. Or so I told myself as I pressed checkout.

I also need a new hair straightener. I hate my current one but used it for 3 years anyway because I felt bad about spending $80. I'm willing to spend another $80-100 but I would like to have one that seriously straightens curly/frizzy hair and that also won't explode in fire like the 3 reviews in a row I read for one of the Chis sold at Ulta. I welcome your recommendations.

Disney posts coming up as soon as I finish our Disney photo books. And sleep a little. It's midnight and I still need to read a bit. I hope you all had wonderful Thanksgivings, or at least some really good wine and snacks!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Disney Days 4 and 5: Epcot and Animal Kingdom, with a bonus visit to Magical Kingdom

This won't be fair to either Epcot or Animal Kingdom, both of which we enjoyed very much (Animal Kingdom in particular which we LOVED), but I still have another MK day (my favorite!) and our trip to Clearwater Beach and we've been back for days and I have to work every day this week except Thanksgiving because Disney and Hurricane Harvey clean-up took all my vacation leave and my parents and brother are coming here (because of Harvey again, we were supposed to go there) and things are SO BUSY at work it's killing me and I was shopping at Central Market last night and felt comforted by how many other people were clearly doing their Thanksgiving shopping after work along with me. But we're super excited they're coming and it'll be a lovely day, even if they have to rush back for house stuff and I have to go back to work on Friday.

But before we can talk about Thanksgiving, we have to back to last week when everything was magical and decorated for Christmas! It's been a weird holiday season so far.

Day 4 was Epcot! Somewhat like Hollywood Studios, we'd heard mixed reviews on Epcot for little kids, but it is the only park where you can meet Anna and Elsa and several of the other princesses and we'd already decided we wanted to do everything, so off we went. And we really loved it!

Since we walked to Magic Kingdom every day, Epcot was our only experience with the monorail. The kids loved it and James had one of his rare childhood flashbacks (he went to Disney a lot growing up but has like ZERO memories of doing anything and was absolutely no help in planning the trip or trying to remember if the kids would like a certain ride). We got the park before it opened (high fives all around), went through bag check, and headed straight over to Soarin, a ride our planner recommended with a very short wait right then.

We LOVED Soarin.

I wish we could have done it again. You fly all over the world and it feels very real.

From there we did Turtle Talk with Crush, the Finding Nemo ride, and the Aquarium. The kids loved them all and the aquarium was surprisingly cool.

Cora spent a while "freezing" the fish in her Elsa gown. That child loves to stay in character.

We finally pulled the kids out of the aquarium and took a ferry across the lake to Italy for our very tasty pizza/pasta lunch a Via Nappoli. The pizza was amazing and this was probably the only time a Table Service meal left James full and he was very happy for the rest of the day.

We wandered around some of the countries in the world showcase. Epcot has by far the best snacks - I got a crepe in France and James got sushi in Japan. We made our way to Norway to meet Anna and Elsa and ride their ride. At this point Cora had met about a dozen princesses and chatted away with all of them, but when she met Anna and Elsa, she got completely star struck.

Elsa was trying to get the kids to make ice and the big kids were good-naturedly following along, and Cora is just standing their beaming.

One silent awkwardly long hug later and we moved on to Anna and Cora just had this look on her face like she couldn't believe this was happening. Anna tried to twirl with her but Cora still couldn't process words.

Even Claire got in to it. Elsa was the only princess she ever wore (twice; for Halloween two years in a row but never once on a day in between) and she didn't even need Cora to be excited about meeting two of her favorite characters. Cora just stood there unable to believe this was actually happening.

We exited their cute little meet-and-greet house and Cora turned to me, totally bewildered, and said, "Mom! I just did not even talk to them?!" I think she maybe blacked out for a minute while we were in there.

Their ride was really cute- mostly animatronics from the movie, but some of the best I've ever seen and surprisingly non-creepy. You're in a boat moving along the water and while there's a little dip in the end, it in no way justified the ridiculous face I'm making in this picture.

I just really love rides you guys.

We had a Fastpass for Spaceship Earth which was cool. It's not really a ride, more of a journey, but it was fun to be inside the giant golf ball we'd been staring at all day. Landon had been wanting to do Test Track, so we wandered over there even though the line was too long, but once there we discovered there's a single rider line with a 5 minute wait! I prepped Claire that she wouldn't be able to sit next to me, but she was game and we ran in. 3 minutes later, we were on the track! And the nice boys we rode with switched seats so Claire and I ended up together after all!

Landon did the single rider line twice more (5 minutes! it was our best Epcot hack of the day) and then James and the big kids wanted to explore more of the countries while Cora just wanted to talk with more princesses. We'd met most of them at our awesome crazy party night on Sunday, but talking with princesses is pretty special, so I was happy to head to Morocco with her to meet Jasmine again.

Jasmine was wonderful. Here Cora is telling her that she just doesn't have a Jasmine dress. (She's now getting one for Christmas.)

We wandered to France to wait for Aurora and Belle, both repeats, both totally delightful the second time. The big kids finished up Japan with James and headed over. I told them they could keep exploring, but they stuck around. I think both because they did a little bit enjoy chatting with the princesses and also because the magic of watching Cora chat with a princess is about the greatest thing ever.

Landon asked Belle her favorite book. #TweenFlirting

(For the curious, she "just couldn't choose a favorite," but now that she lives in Beast's castle, she "gets to pick a new one every night!")

It was getting late and we still had to eat dinner before heading back out to Magic Kingdom to watch the Happily Ever After Fireworks show from our VIP seats, so we said goodbye to another new favorite park, boarded the monorail and headed "home to our new house" as Cora dubbed it for a quick meal.

We headed back out an hour later to Magic Kingdom to find that one MILLION people were in Magic Kingdom to watch the fireworks so it was a madhouse. We slowly slowly pushed our way through Main Street, trying to get to the spot in front of the castle our Disney guest experience friend had told us to sit. It was slow and frustrating and we got separated a few times, but finally found a place that looked right. Our name was on the list and under the rope we went to watch the most spectacular fireworks show I have ever seen in my life. Twenty minutes of lasers and lights and music and animation and fireworks.

The show debuted in May of this year and while we saw it from our hotel one night, there is nothing like sitting in front of the castle and watching the projections and lasers and everything else. Even James kept saying "Whoah" under his breath over and over throughout. The kids LOVED IT and I wished we had another non-party night to get to watch it again. So great. We got to bed late, with a sleeping Elsa tucked in her stroller on the walk home.

~ ~ ~

Animal Kingdom!!! They day Landon had been looking forward since the night we told them we were going to Disney World. We were up early and at the park not too long after opening and Landon had two near meltdowns within minutes. Excitement + tween emotions are not always a winning combo. We had a chat about making this the day I knew he wanted it to be, and he was mostly stable. It's like a tightrope with that one.

But we were HERE! I'd seen pictures of the giant Tree of Life a million times, but had no idea exactly HOW GIANT it was (14 stories tall) and how incredibly intricate and detailed it was with over 300 animals carved into the trunk and branches. I just found that linked article and am so bummed we didn't know about the secret tunnel.

We immediately abandoned any attempt to ride the new Pandora "Flight of Passage" ride with its already 2-hour wait (!!) and watched the "It's Tough to Be a Bug" show inside the tree (super cute) and then headed to Dinoland to ride rides.

The DINOSAUR jeep ride was rough and fun and of course, Cora loved it, along with both big kids. James was a little green.

Cora's heart was broken when she couldn't do the Primeval Whirl and there were many tears while Landon, Claire, and I rode it 3 times in 10 minutes (no line!). She rallied for the TriceraTop Spin and James watched us do it all.

We headed to the Pandora section next for our Na'vi River Journey ride. That section is just spectacular. We could have wandered around there for hours.

The scale and color and detail is truly fantastic.

The Na'vi River Journey ride was incredibly beautiful and detailed, but I think I would have been disappointed if I'd waited in the 90 minute regular line. It was perfect for a 10 minute FastPass though!

We walked to Africa for our safari ride. Landon was SO EXCITED about this and it was just great. We saw a ton of animals, our guide was great, and we learned a lot! (It's hard to surprise Landon with new animal facts.)

Our lunch was at Tusker House in Harambe. It's a character buffet with a long wait (even though it's reservation only) and high prices (don't look; just pretend the dining plan was a great discount), but we really liked the food and meeting Mickey, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy.

The downside to a character meal is that in half your pictures someone has food in her mouth. (Cora.)

Landon nearly exploded when we told him to try a food that wasn't mini corn dogs, but soon discovered the fried hummus was delicious (like WE TOLD HIM IT WOULD BE my god). I'm not a big meats or curries person, but there was a roasted vegetable cous cous salad that was so good I ate my weight in it. All in all we were full and happy when we left.

We tried to see the Lion King show after our meal, but the 2:00 was canceled so we headed to Asia for Expedition Everest, possibly our FAVORITE ride of the whole trip.

best picture of Claire ever

I rode with the big kids. James rode with the big kids. I used Cora's FastPass and rode alone. I hate that Cora was too short, she would have loved it. So fun and fast and high and a surprise jaunt of riding backwards... it's a really great roller coaster.

We finally caught the Lion King show which was as wonderful as promised. Landon has a lot of inspiration to work on in his tumbling class and the kids were just captivated by every part of it - dancing, fire eating, gymnastics and tumbling... it's a great show.

We wandered around the zoo paths which are all wonderful (we love a good zoo) with very informative and interesting guides to chat about the animals along the way. From there we felt we owed Cora a few more rides, so we headed back to Dinoland for more TriceraTop Spin. The big kids did a few more rounds on the Primeval Whirl and then we all went to the giant playground. By now it was 5:30 and much of the park closing. We flirted with staying for the nighttime show, but Friday was our last day at Disney and we wanted to use Extra Magic Hours for Magic Kingdom at 7 a.m. and our room had to be packed and checked out before that, so we boarded the bus and headed home.

Landon says Animal Kingdom was BY FAR his favorite park, Claire ties it with Magic Kingdom, and Cora loved it despite its lack of princesses. If we ever went back to Disney, we'd definitely like to spend more time there. It's so different from the others and so special on its own merits.

Five days down in Florida, two to go!