Friday, May 19, 2017

The Birthday that would never end.....

When we decided we were going to take our R&R over the first term break which falls in April, we told Clarissa, 'Oooh, this is exciting you can have two birthdays one in SC with Nana & Bajoo and your cousins there and one in Maryland with Grandma & Grandpa and your cousins there'. That was going to special! Two birthday parties with both grandparents....I thought I was going to get off easy.....what, why are you laughing?!?!? You know where this going......of course you do....and then Clarissa was all and then I can have a party when I get back in Suva with my friends and at school (oh boy....we're up to four parties now). Well then came the proverbial icing on the birthday cake..... our tickets got booked for our flights and we were flying back ON Clarissa's actual birthday....nothing says fun to a 7 year old like keeping your seatbelt fastened while you are seated for your whole birthday! Cue a couple extra celebrations of Clarissa's 7th trip around the Sun!

Yes....7! So my sister-in-law has an Etsy Shop (look closely you might catch our names/initials on some items). I requested her services for a custom shirt (primarily for those airplane rides on her birthday....maybe Clarissa could get a full can of sprite or something!!). I also ordered a bow because they were so cute and being in the south makes you want personalized (my not being from the south is obvious in the fact I can't tie a bow so it sits properly....).

Anywho, now that someone is all dressed up and ready for birthday party #1....let's go! Since most of her SC cousins are Mason's age. She picked something they would enjoy....bowling! She also invited her 'oldest best friend' (we are reading the Ella Diaries by Meredith Costain. It's an Australian Scholastic series, that is starting to be released stateside....anywho, Ella typically has BFFs for particular locations....she went on a cruise and had a cruise BFF aka CBFF.....which works well with our lifestyle!!). So we called this friend Clarissa's CharlestonBFF or CBFF.

Nice form gentlemen! The CBFF!

My kids obviously don't bowl very

After the second game. CBFF won the second game (and came in a close second the first game). One cousin was not too happy about being beat by a Clarissa just had a blast....I don't know why Mason was hiding behind the ball....

Afterwards, we went to Sesame for dinner....yum yum and yum! The fact they have black bean burgers on the menu makes my heart go pitter patter and the fact you can choose from multiple options for toppings (just as many as those meat eaters)....heaven! We brought in some cupcakes for the kids and sang to Clarissa after we had all eaten.

Sesame is a pretty small restaurant and I think nearly everyone looked over as we were singing. Surprisingly, Clarissa didn't go hide under the table like she has been known to do in the past....after dinner the kids went outside to play some cornhole (I didn't name the game)....and she said 'see you when we're are back in a year' to her CBFF (CBFF is only 6 months older....the height difference cracks me up!!).

Next up was a special lunch with Clarissa's other SC cousin who couldn't make it to the bowling party. Clarissa was okay with it, since it made it technically party Lunch at Chick-fil-A....nothing fancy...but okay. Unfortunately, we didn't get any pictures....but it was tasty!

Party #3 was once we arrived in Maryland with the other Grandparents and cousins. Since her cousins up there are younger than her, she opted for the age appropriate Chuck E. Cheese's. Since we are in the Lego VIP program (can't imagine why), I was checking out their website for info on free mini builds while we were stateside (can't beat free Lego's!)....and there just happened to be one on the same day we had planned to do her party! Score! Extra event with free Lego's to add to the fun (only drawback was it was at 9 am). So we started the day making a LegoFriends lemonade can tell who is most into the mini build...couldn't be bothered with pictures!

Once you finished the mini build, they gave you another little set (a Lego Friends sewing machine!!). Given it was Easter weekend, they also had Easter Lego eggs hidden around the store. If you found all 8, you also got a prize....the kids totally scored on that one! Next we headed down the road to Chuck E. Cheese's for pizza and

games....lots and lots of games!

Clarissa loved the jumping one....the higher she jumped the higher her character jumped in the game

Even the grown-ups played some! I played my all time favorite skee-ball to earn tickets for the birthday girl....

After Mason blew through all his 'play points' (they now have cards with your "tokens" on them), he helped push the pedals for the vertically challenged....

Clarissa is normally super shy around dressed up grown-up types....but she was super happy to see Chuck E. Cheese at her party! Even grabbed her cousin over for another photo....who is this child, have you seen my daughter?!?!?

I love this picture of the two them making an ID card.....I think they both made a handful each (they wanted one of each type!).

So her birthday party ended up being a bit of a 'progressive party', in that we moved one last time for our dessert. We went to Sweet Frog frozen yogurt...that way everyone could get something they like....(and we had not been in over a year!!). We made another spectacle of ourselves and sang to Clarissa in the shop. Luckily there was only one other family in there with us.

The employee working was super sweet and brought Clarissa out a pair of frog eye glasses and some coloring books/stickers for the little kids. The glasses totally rock!

As you can see they worked well for the happy 'it's my birthday face'. They also work perfectly with the annoyed 'can't you see I'm eating yogurt - back off' face.

As well as, the happy Grandpa face! Party # 3 is done!

So after we discovered we were flying back ON Clarissa's birthday and since she now plays with dolls and not drag them by their hair but is not so old that dolls just sit and collect dust. Richard and I decided our gift for Clarissa would be while in DC, we would take her to the American Girl store and she could pick out her doll. The AG store in DC is HUGE (2 stories!) and even has a cafe we could make a whole day of it!! When her grandparents asked what she wanted for a gift, she asked for a gift card or cash so that then she could buy accessories and other things from the AG store since we would be just getting her the our American Girl day was Celebration/Party #4!!!

We had done some research online beforehand (party planning???) and had decided on which doll she was going to get. Her doll needed to have brown hair with bangs like her. That was the most important thing. We had found one that had greenish eyes, so not quite a perfect match (Clarissa's eyes are more blueish gray like my dad's but on some days depending on the lighting they have a green tint to them). Per my email confirmation, the doll was in stock and all was good. Of course, she had to get matching glasses and she picked out some outfits and a hairbrush to buy with HER money.

I'd say the look more like sisters wouldn't She named her MaryAnn after both of her grandmothers. One of the Historical AG dolls, Melody has a recording studio. They had it out in the store. Clarissa played with this for a long time. MaryAnn is apparently a record producer.

I didn't make reservations for the Bistro (apparently you should do that beforehand), so we had to wait a bit for a table. When they call you, Clarissa had to pick up a "treat seat" (aka doll booster seat that attaches to the table) for her doll to sit in. They gave MaryAnn a tea cup and saucer (which she got to keep!!).

Clarissa then ordered lunch. She was telling me how rude it was to take a photo while they were eating lunch!

She decided to order the 'decorate your own cupcake' for dessert. It was the right decision. I think it was technically suppose to be one for you and one for your doll....but she ate both!

Not sure if she put on enough icing.....

If there is a will, there is a way to get all the icing in your mouth!

Once Richard got out of training, he was able to meet us at the I said...we spent the whole day at American Girl!! (actually when waiting for our turn in the Bistro we did walk down to the Lego store and Disney store for a little bit). Since there was cake, it totally counts as a Birthday Party #4 done!

Our next birthday celebration occurred on her actual birthday. Having been able to sneak into Target at one point sans kids, I was able to get her a birthday card (typically not easy to find overseas) which we gave to her prior to heading to the airport (ignore the face making tween in the background).

When boarding the plane to LAX, we had our first person acknowledge her birthday shirt (mental happy dance). Which on cue, Clarissa got super shy with all the attention. During the second drink service, the flight attendant who had noticed her shirt brought cookies on a plate with dry ice below it on second plate (probably leftovers from first class because the rest of us got It was pretty cool.....then a handful of flight attendants sang happy birthday to Clarissa. I think she liked it since she took a photo of her fogging cookie....Richard even gave United a little shout out for the extra nice thing they did (since it was just days after the infamous dragging incident).

As to be expected, when we checked in at Fiji Airways our passports were all checked to verify all traveler info (kids are not typically checked for domestic flights). So the check in agent saw it was Clarissa's birthday and put a special message on her boarding pass. That was pretty cool. 

As you saw the other day, Clarissa fell asleep before we boarded the plane. So even though due to the time change she ended up gaining three extra hours on her birthday, she couldn't power through and really enjoy them. Since there was a card, happy birthday sung, and a sweet treat consumed, we are calling this celebration/party #5 and it is done! When she woke in Fiji, due to flying over the international date line, it was two days after her birthday (at least we didn't skip her birthday....that would have been birthday for you this

Once back at school and getting a handle on the jet lag, I coordinated with Clarissa's teacher to pick a good day to bring in cupcakes for her class. The weekend before her celebration our banana tree that had a 12 hand bunch of bananas growing decide to ripen. So we had bananas galore! 

That is probably about a third of them. Her school is real big on morning tea time being 'sip and crunch' time (water and a crunchy....aka raw fruit/veggie snack) I asked Clarissa if she wanted to take some bananas in for her school party....she said yes! They were a hit....her teacher had said only one cupcake per person, but multiple kids came back and asked for another banana!! 

I totally cheated and used funfetti frosting but I don't think the kids minded....they were inhaled! Of course, not until they sung Happy Birthday to Clarissa....

...being American, she blew out the candle before they sang the Australian/New Zealand second verse (Happy Long Life to You)...let alone the 'Hip Hip Hip....Hooray' part....ooops. Party #6....done!

As the birthday festivities were finally wrapping up, Clarissa had her last party with her Suva friends. Party #7 celebrating her 7th Birthday....look how that worked out....perfect! So given Clarissa is into everything girlie, when looking around for ideas I found this little Spa Party kit for her and 3 friends....ooh perfect....if she's sold it would be a small party! When I said spa, she said yes! Now the hard part was deciding which 3 friends....she lucked out and all 3 could make it!

We divided the party into two parts. First, they made a bath bomb, sugar scrub, and fairy sparkle gel. We had that set up before everyone arrived.

The kit came with cute containers and molds and some supplies. It also used some household cooking supplies. They made bracelets and necklaces while everyone was arriving. Then we dove into bath bomb making....some worked better than others....but there was lots of giggling watching the duds bubble all over the place.....

After everything was made, I sent them out onto the porch for some fruit, veggie & pretzel snacks. Richard went out and took some pictures of them all being silly (mainly to control the chaos), as I switched out the table cloth and turned on some battery candles. Viola, it was spa time. I looked up at one point while doing this and all 4 girls were peeking in the window at was too funny. First up....mud masks with CUCUMBERS....real cucumbers!!!

There was so much giggling and I'm not sure what they expected but it was not how cold the cucumbers Next up, I let them give each other pedicures....much more fun then some mom painting their toes....

They also did glittery tattoos before it was cake time! Months ago, Clarissa had found a photo online of a three tier pink and white flower cake with a tiara on top and decided that's what she wanted. When we started talking about her party cake, she went and found the photo she had printed out and reminded me the number need to be a 7 and not the one on the photo. While not as grandiose as she may have hope, she loved it and her friends 'oohed and aahed' it. 

And just like that party #7 was done.....and finally the birthday that would never end.....was done!!!!!!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

R&R 2017...Part 2: DC & Maryland....

So now that Richard is tenured and has graduated to a mid-level officer, bidding on our next post will be a little different (more choices, less directed, more stressful...eek...can't wait). So prior to some training he had in DC, he scheduled a few consultation days to meet with a few people in person to talk bidding/posts, himself, why he should be chosen, as well as meeting with people within IRM in our region. Between a couple of those meetings and for lunch our first day, we met our friends that started training the same day we did (he was a generalist and Richard is a specialist). This picture is so's like playing spin the globe and stop it with your finger. They went to Tokyo, while we were in Tbilisi. Now we are posted in Suva, we met for lunch in DC, and about 24 hours after this was taken they arrived at their second post of Lima! Are you dizzy yet?

After Richard's last meeting that day, we met him at Main State (you know the place you see on the news sometimes that has all the flags in the background....the kids now get excited pointing out the flags of places we've been posted....they are in alphabetic order - Fiji and Georgia are very close to each other). We grabbed some cold beverages and then walked back to our hotel, which we had already dropped our luggage at. We passed the Einstein Memorial and stopped for a quick pic....

For our second night in DC, we opted to use our annual free night with our IHG credit card....our motto is 'go big or go home'...i.e. we get the nicest accommodations our free night will allow (we use it for something we wouldn't typically be willing to pay for...essentially we use it for a what would be above a splurge) we stayed at the The Willard....located at the prestigious 1401 Pennsylvania Ave (as you can see....way out of our normal price range!). Clarissa loved the fancy desk in our room!

Richard was meeting some of his classmates for happy hour and I had to meet my brother to pick up a booster seat (no need to rent one for the two days we needed one for our whole trip). So the kids and I picked up so dinner and headed his way. As soon as we got off the metro, he got a call (drawback of the life of your trusty medical field public servant) and we had to piddle around until he returned. We found some cherry blossom trees (score! Due to an early spring I was afraid we had missed them all) and

we saw a beautiful sunset waiting....the kids were so thrilled I hadn't let them bring their iDevices!!

The next morning, since with the fancier accommodations you don't get free breakfast, I walked down to the Starbucks a few blocks down from The Willard while Richard was getting ready (he had another meeting pretty early). I got this beautiful shot walking down the street....

After his meetings, we picked up a rental car and headed out to Maryland to visit my parents. On Saturday, we did another birthday celebration (as promised more to come on that soon). It was Easter on Sunday. I made the kids little Easter bags....quite portable as they folded flat for travel but could still hold a good bit of candy. Clarissa was super excited the Easter Bunny got the message to stop at my parents house (she left out some Hawaiian dolls my mom had to help guide EB though)!

Some people are morning people and others are!

We then headed over to my brother and his family's house for Easter lunch. She gets her expression making from

Being quiet while the littlest one is napping....hard stuff!

Traditional family photos before hunting of the was just torture seeing the egg on the tree right next to them and not being able to get it yet. It is funny to watch Clarissa and Caleb's expressions in photos get more and more excited knowing as soon as pictures are done...sugar rush can begin...

Little Bro and his in our Bula attire looking a little out of

Grandparents and all the 'anxious for candy' grandkids....

Richard standing guard so the youngest can learn the egg finding ropes.

All the kids found plenty of our favorite American chocolates. It was a real treat as the normal overseas hunts we have had the past few years have had very few chocolates (those melt in shipping) or some odd local varieties that we just haven't acquired a liking for. Afterwards, we headed back to Virginia to check into our lodging during Richard's training and pick up some groceries so we'd have something to eat for breakfast. The next morning, Mason had an early morning flight to visit his dad in Texas....after he boarded the plane, Clarissa and I were hanging out in the gate area waiting for his plane to back away when we saw something we'd never seen we took a picture to share it.....

I debated making it a Monday Moment....but then I couldn't comment on it....I mean first off...I didn't know the front windows of planes opened like that....second the plane front windows seem big in that he can climb out to wash it but also seems really tiny in that his arm can reach all the way across the front of said car window is bigger than that.....window to vehicle ratio is much smaller than I'd expect for such a huge vehicle....and to close on this topic....what the what?!?!?

With Mason off to Texas and Richard in training, Clarissa and I had a plethora of Mommy and me time! We did one last Stateside Target run, return the rental car, grab some errands! Then....I introduced her to

Spa Pedicures........uh oh....she might be enjoying this too much!!

The next day we took things a little slower. We meet up at a park with our first next door neighbors when lived in Georgia. They had two girls Clarissa's age. With us getting ready to bid (and subsequently move again), it was a great opportunity to remind her that moves aren't 'goodbyes' they are 'see you laters' and you never know when you will come across an old friend again (and added bonus of the morning was I got catch up with their mom). While I didn't take any of photos of the girls playing...Clarissa did climb this tree and nicely pose on our way out....

I won't tell you what we did on Wednesday.....yet, but I bet you can guess. On Thursday, Clarissa and I (and our newest family member, MaryAnn) decided to do something educational and took the metro to some museums.

We built a card person in the Spark!Lab in the American History museum and put skeletons together at the Natural History museum. 

Of course, we didn't forget to go check out the sparkling gems either!

Mason flew back late Thursday night (i.e. arrived at 11:40 pm). With all the metro construction and late night closures, I gave myself extra time to get to the airport. This was his first trip as an 'young traveler' vs 'unaccompanied minor'. According to Southwest's website I needed to allow for extra time to get a gate pass to meet him, I made it with plenty of time to spare! I ask the counter agent for my gate pass, she says hold on and we walk over and see that TSA has closed up for the night. She gets sassy with me and tells me I should have gotten here earlier if I wanted a gate pass. So I politely ask, how much earlier do I need to arrive, his flight doesn't arrive for another hour and 20 minutes? She looks at the reservation and current time, realizes I was more than early enough and gets much nicer and tells me, yeah I'm just out of luck for a flight arriving that late. So I sit and wait and wait and wait.......Mason calls me on his burner phone when he lands. I tell him what's he is being hot stuff calling me again when he was walking out....

Our last full day in DC, we met my sister-in-law, nephew, and niece at the Zoo (along with every field trip was great when they all left around 1:30....).

This was moments after the orangutan pooped on the sidewalk, while crossing over people....always entertaining!

Happy to have found the pig....

Playing in the T-Rex skull...

When you walk to the metro, between trains, and then to the can easily persuade mom to rent a stroller (she knows it can hold her heavy backpack and after a day of walking at the zoo she knows you still have to walk back to the metro and back to lodging....). So the more the merrier.....right?

So not sure if this was just a local snake just making its way across the park or if it was a snake from the reptile house that happened to escape....we didn't see any zoo employees come running to pick it maybe is just a local snake...

On our way back from the zoo, Mason had some money burning a hole in his pocket to spend at the Lego store. So we grabbed some dinner and he spent money. We then headed back to finish up some laundry and get all our luggage packed up! Sadly, R&R had come to an end. Saturday morning we caught a flight to LAX. Mason opted for the window seat, then later regretted it as apparently a famous YouTuber had the aisle seat and Richard was all 'Nope you aren't talking over me'. Here is Mason taking some selfies (pre-selfie with said unbeknownst YouTuber....not going to post that one since it wasn't confirmed). As you can see, I beautifully photobombed showing how unimpressed I was...

We had a relatively curtate 5.5 hour layover this time (it's all about perspective....). After we maneuvered our way over to the Tom Bradley International Terminal, we had some dinner until the Fiji Airways ticket counter opened so we could get our boarding passes. Richard enjoyed his last tall frosty American beer for a while. Once we finished our check in process (our luggage was checked all the way through, we just had to get boarding passes and they verified our carry on luggage was to their stringent specifications). We headed up to security, unfortunately, our global entry/TSA precheck does us no good here. Once through, we found our gate...we had a 11:30 pm departure (or 2:30 am DC time...what our bodies thought). Clarissa immediately made a bed and was out! Aaaah, to be a seven year old again! 

When it was time to board, I carried her on and buckled her in, I don't think she woke up. Once airborne, Mason snagged two seats a couple rows back and slept most the flight. Clarissa woke up about half way through, I gave her headphones and said watch a movie and tried to sleep a bit worked some. About 11.5 hours later we were back in Fiji! 

The sun was up by the time we were heading over to the domestic terminal. The new international terminal sign has a very retro look. Richard had some time to get a photo while we waited on our puddle jump across the island to Suva. It was a good R&R, everyone was sad to leave family and friends back stateside but also happy to be back home and to school/work. We've realized we have less than a year left in Fiji and need to plan our bucketlist trips soon because before you know it we will be going.....