Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The craziness that is home leave....

So I have a little backtracking to do. Due to TC Keni, we arrived stateside a day earlier than expected....so it gave us a day with no doctor appointments to go car shopping! Import restrictions into Qatar do not allow cars older than five years old and the Prius was ten....so luckily we were able to sell it in Suva. Off we headed to the dealership, Richard had been talking with Ron at Hudson Nissan in North Charleston for a few weeks now. Since we were hoping to pick up a used car, when we arrived at the dealership Ron had them all lined up for us to check out. Sadly, some of the 'newer used' ones had just sold over the weekend. When we started the number fun, it obviously got less fun. We were looking at cars that were three years old, so if our next post had an age import restriction we would be in the exact same place again in three years. Since there is less wiggle room on price negotiation on used cars, it ended up working out to get a new car for just a little more dough....which should get us through two posts!! Fingers crossed. The next day....we started the doctor appointment marathon!


Eye exams, dental cleanings, dermatology skin checks (we had been in the tropics for 2.5 years.....) and well checks all around (plus a few specialist appointments thrown in here and there). Richard's allergist was pretty wowed by the fact that even though he is allergic to cats (as is my Mother-in-Law), Isa Lei doesn't cause either of their allergies to act up....it must be some sort of lack of dander/oil missing in this little South Pacific cat. Speaking of, even Isa wasn't immune to doctor appointments....lol. Given Fiji is a rabies free country she had never had her rabies vaccination...so getting her that was at the top of our to-do list also! We managed to squeeze in some cousin time after they got out of school at Starbuck's.....Clarissa looks so tiny compared to all her middle school cousins!


I started watching it first and it's funny, then Mason got pulled in, and given how funny it is soon Richard was on board. We love The Goldberg's....with middle school age kids too, it is actually a great "conversation starter" oddly enough. Richard and I get to reminisce about growing up in the 80's as it follows the lead character in his childhood. The lead character is navigating life in middle school (and now high school as the series has been renewed after several seasons) and it does an awesome job about highlighting all the stages of awkward everyone went through. It reminds us of similar situations (which we tell Mason about) and helps kids realize they are totally normally as they awkwardly fumble through this stage of life. The show is loosely based on real life events - which will be shown on old video highlight clips at the end....all in all the show is hilarious!! I highly recommend it to anyone with a tween/teen to watch as a family! Anywho, one of the actors in the show, Hayley Orrantia, was on tour in Charleston several evenings after we arrived. What better way to get over jet lag then go to a concert?!? So Richard and I went (even though we aren't big country music fans).


She performed a number of covers mixed in with several original songs she had written herself. Richard and I had the chance to do a meet and greet with her. We got a poster signed for Mason and his friend....but I also had her sign a picture for me with a 'catch phrase' from the show. She laughed pretty hard when I said it, she said it was a mean thing for her to write but funny.


She also couldn't believe we'd just spent 2 days flying in from Fiji....she said she gets 'cabin fever' on a tour bus. Though, now you know where Mason got the Hayley Orrantia backpack he was happily posing with under The Goldberg's sign at Hollywood Studios on our Disney trip!


Once we had our plane tickets back stateside booked for our departure from Fiji. I turned alerts back on for Groupon....time for discount deals!! There was a deal for carriage tours in downtown Charleston. Mason had gone when he was younger, but Clarissa had never been. Also, we figured it would be a good 'history lesson' during their looooonnnngg summer break!


I also got a groupon for this new fun alternative to the bottles'n'brushes type evening. It is called Plant Nite. I took my mother-in-law for an early Mother's Day evening. Essentially, we met at a restaurant and ordered drinks and food while construction little terrariums. Given we can't take plants with us, my dad was the lucky recipient of my terrarium (I managed to keep mine alive for a month!!).


We hosted a little drop-in get together for friends....with so little time, it seriously wears on you to try and run and around see everyone. We provided some drinks and snacks (can you guess we missed fresh berries and mozzarella cheese in Fiji?!?), we also picked up a giant platter of chick-fil-a nuggets, and my in-laws kindly let us use their house. It was so great to see everyone who came and catch up with everything going on. It was so great I didn't get a single picture!!


I also had a chance to dabble in to my past life!! I did my master's degree on the bottlenose dolphins in Charleston that live out along the coast. One of my former co-workers, who is the executive director of Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network, organized a Dolphin Count event...and it happened to be when I was in town!! I was a station volunteer, meaning I was leading the dolphin survey at our location, answering Q&A from participants, engaging the public, etc. It was a great way to get the public aware of the dolphin population in the area (if they know they care) and it was good for my soul. We lucked out and had a sighting during every time block! I even got a photo of dolphin drive-by between counts! It did make me miss the clear water of Fiji though!!


After returning from our Disney trip, we had a couple days to relax before Richard and I had a week of training in DC. Given we both had to be in training, we opted to let Clarissa remain in Charleston and get some one-on-one time with the Grandparents. We had a great chance to break in our new car as we drove it to DC, then after training I drove back to Charleston, had a couple days to relax, then I drove Clarissa, Isa and myself back up to DC before Mason flew in from Texas....as he's still a minor and needs someone to pick him up at the airport......busy, busy, busy. I think Clarissa thoroughly enjoyed her 'center of attention' time! She went strawberry picking.


She also learned how to deal with daily Starbucks runs! Double chocolatey chip fraps do the trick!


As Richard was already in training, that official concludes the home leave portion of our time in the States.....so that's where I will wrap up this post! I will continue with the fun we had in the DC area while Richard was expanding his knowledge on all things computer related in my next post!!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

M-I-C-K-E-Y B-I-R-T-H D-A-Y

So a drawback to our lifestyle is of course the moving and leaving friends (the glass half full to that is by the time they are grown the kids will have friends scattered all over the world)! So what were we to do when PCSing less than two weeks before somebody's April birthday? I didn't have time to have a party a month early before we packed out and the school term break began. Back stateside, schools were in session and though her oldest friend lives in Charleston...birthday party of 2 doesn't exactly scream eight year old celebration. So we planned the most magical surprise possible! Heading to the Disney's Magical Kingdom for the hopefully the best birthday ever!

Clarissa had only been to Disney once before....when she was just over a year old....so we were fairly confident she didn't really remember it and we wanted to squeeze a trip in before she was completely out of the princess phase. That first trip she was in totally into Minnie Mouse!


So we attempted to keep the trip a surprise but given we were living out suitcases, in order to pack some suitcases for a trip was going to be tricky without her asking questions (and someone kept letting it slip...not mentioning any names...). So we told her about two days before....she was excited!!

We had planned to go for two days but ended up getting a good deal on a three day pass, so we got up crazy early and hit the road. We managed to stay focused and made it to our hotel around 1:00 pm! We had decided to go all out and stay on property!! We had booked rooms at Disney's Art of Animation Resort. It was pretty awesome, but I'll talk about that later. We checked in, left our car at the front, and hopped on the first shuttle to Hollywood Studios. Since it was somewhat of a bonus day due to the deal we got on our passes, we opted to just spend a half day at a smaller park.


We also decided to get the Memory Maker package where you get free downloads of all the photos you want. So anytime you see a park employee with a camera you have them take your photo. We totally took advantage of that, which ended up being a good thing. We had brought a small mirrorless camera (not sure what the abbreviation is for this...lens are interchangeable but it is more compact and does not have a view finder) with us. Some how in all the moves this summer, living with just the laptop, then getting our UAB, and thinking I backed up all the photos, I managed to lose the photos....seriously gone! I have even tried downloading disk scan software that finds deleted files....I found photos from last summer, but not the MIA Disney trip photos. It is a real mystery and I have spent many hours looking for them (another reason this post is four months after the event). So luckily, between the Memory photos and iPhone photos we have most of the trip documented.


So at Hollywood Studios, we ended up going with the divide and conquer method. We did the FastPass sign up beforehand and knew we all wouldn't enjoy the same things. So Clarissa and I went one way while Mason and Richard went another. Clarissa and I went to the Frozen-Sing-a-Long (uh, super fun), saw Olaf (Clarissa was being shy, so Olaf mimicked what she did...I apparently thought it was funny), and saw the Voyage of the Little Mermaid.


While Mason and Richard went on the Indiana Jones Stunt Show and Rock'n'Roller Coaster.


In the middle of that, all of us ended up watching parts of some storm trooper show. We weren't watching it together either...I have no clue where they were standing! We both took photos...but here is the shot Richard took as mine is MIA....


We ended up meeting up for dinner at 'The Commissary' which had signs for most of the ABC (aka Disney affiliate company) shows. Mason had his Hayley Orrantia backpack (coming in another post) who plays Erica on the Goldbergs.....so of course we had to take a photo!


We visited the muppet area of the park and had a chance to take a magic shots (aka something "magical" is added in when editing before they upload it....so we had to wait to find out what we were shocked to see).


After we had dinner, we all had a fast pass for the Star Wars Adventure simulation...on our way in we past some movie prop thing that goes phew-phew! We were really surprised at how much Star Wars hype there is right now! So many people decked out in Star Wars clothing/gear and all the things they were selling! After the Star Wars ride, we headed back to the hotel. We still had to unload the car and we planned to be at Magic Kingdom first thing the next morning!


The great thing about staying on the property was once the kids were getting settled in bed, Richard and I headed to the front to find out what time the shuttle started running to the park in the morning. We also picked up Clarissa's special 'It's my Birthday' button. We grabbed a few things to eat breakfast in our room the next morning. Before we headed to the park, my in-laws who had driven down later the previous day had brought the cookie cake I had picked up to our room. Clarissa hadn't seen it or anything! So we sang Happy Birthday and had a piece of cookie before starting off to the park. Sadly....no photos of our cake with a candle. Luckily, being easily amused, I had taken a photo when someone ate the funniest piece of the cookie cake! So here is what I have of the cake!


We made it to the park, past bag screening, and into the gate a little before it opened! We couldn't of timed it better!! We were able to walk up Main Street but all the side sections with rides were closed.


Luckily, Ricard and I had downloaded the park app (so we could add more Fast Passes as we used the ones we'd pre-booked). With the memory maker, it almost immediately uploaded a preview photo to the app. So we were able to quickly remind Mason not to stick his tongue out in the photos! Gone are the days of my youth, when we had to wait a week to see how a photo turned out!!


So we booked two special things at the Magic Kingdom for Clarissa's birthday. The first was a princess breakfast INSIDE CINDERELLA'S CASTLE!!! We opted to do a girl's breakfast as we could not get a table for six. Sadly, all the photos with Snow White, Belle, Aurora, Jasmine, etc are MIA....luckily being it was Cinderella's castle and all. Guests got to have a special photo with Cinderella! I just love how Clarissa is holding her hand up just like Cinderella is in the first photo!


The next few hours were pretty uneventful....riding rides, eating snacks, passing the castle only the girls had been in....

We also happened upon Ariel's castle! Another photo-op here.


With the Birthday Girl getting the magic shot!


Mid-afternoon or so, my in-laws decided to head back for a little rest break (they got a great photo on their way out), Mason and Richard went to ride Space Mountain some more, while Clarissa had a very important appointment at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique!! 


When Richard and I first began conspiring to do this trip, the appointment at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique was the very first thing I booked!! Before we had park tickets, hotel reservations, our PCS tickets back to the states....lol...anything! Given she doesn't really like being the total center of attention, we went with the 'basic' package - which was plenty! First, her 'Fairy Godmother-in-Training' started with her hair.


Clarissa choose to have her hair done in a bun with a tiara! Another FGiT came by and did her nails and put on some eyeshadow and lipgloss. She was upgraded from just a Birthday Button to a Birthday Princess Button (and got the fabulous sash). She was sprinkled with pixie dust for a little extra sparkle.


All this is done with her back to a mirror. I think the photographers must know that pixie dust sprinkling is the magic moment. So they have the camera ready and focused for the big reveal! Her expression is priceless!


She also got to view her new fabulous up-do from behind. She also got a little sack backpack where they put everything they had used (her comb, nail polish, make-up, etc) and gave it to her. She loved that! She went for a private photo session. Oddly enough she wanted mommy in the photo too.....it was her birthday, so I obliged!


After her make over was done, we headed to her favorite ride at the park....the Tomorrowland Speedway. While standing in line, another park guest asked where her princess dress was (in my backpack btw....snuck all the way from Fiji too!). Clarissa replied, "I'm 8, I'm too old for princess dresses. I only dress up for special occasions like Halloween now". Well...there you have it! 8 going on 18!


Mason and Richard were in the stands cheering on Clarissa's driving!


We pre-booked the character dinner that evening. The only characters walking around were Winnie the Pooh folk....while we did snap photos with them all neither kid was ever a big Pooh fan. After we finished dinner, we snagged some spots for fireworks show. The fireworks show was pretty amazing! At some point during the show, Clarissa whispered to Richard that this was her best birthday ever! Mission accomplished!

Lucky for us, being resort guests, that night was extra Magic Hours at the park! It was open until midnight (I think the fireworks show was at 9:00). So Clarissa was determined to get the most out of her birthday and kept on trucking (the in-laws headed back to the hotel to rest up for the next day). We rode a couple more rides, got caught in a rain downpour, and had no wait to meet Tiana and Rapunzel....so why not! Mason played along in hopes of Clarissa joining in the photo...it didn't work!


Clarissa even hid! Rapunzel said the funniest thing, "you are being just like my chameleon, Pascal, he likes to hide too!"


After several loops on the Merry-go-Round....we were all beat! We made it until about 11:00! We had the pro's take (and magic-ify) a lovely we are exhausted castle photo! (Note: the bun is still in full force).


The next morning, we didn't sleep in too terribly late. We had our last park day (we choose Epcot). I had never heard of/nor planned the trip because of this...but every spring Epcot puts on a huge Flower and Garden festival. The biggest part of the festival is a display of over 100 topiaries of different Disney characters...changing characters every year.


We rode the Finding Nemo ride. Mason is still a big fan of the tank gang! Little Mason by Gill, Big Mason by Bloat! A tad taller now, but reaching for Bloat both times....how funny!



We told Clarissa about the time when we brought Mason (and Mommy) to Disney for the first time. The day we came to Epcot, Richard and I dove in the Finding Nemo tank! Due to the "dive experience", I really hadn't seen much of Epcot myself either. Since Clarissa was now 8, we didn't really bother standing in line to meet characters either (such a time saver!!). We had a fast pass for Test Track but if you opted to ride as a single rider the line was short so Mason went multiple times (and totally hammed it up for the camera as you saw on Monday!). Those cracked me up so much. Here's the rest of us on test track....for some reason Clarissa, Ann, and I missed the camera!


After lunch, we made our way over to World Showcase. We stopped to take our photo by the beautiful butterfly topiary. Oddly, there wasn't a park photographer there, so we had to do the swap photo where someone is MIA....so this was probably the second of third shot (nobody looks like they are getting annoyed or anything...lol). We were taking our sweet time, as no one was in this spot before we walked up. Then we see a group waiting for us to finish up. When we are picking up our bags, we see a couple go stand in front of the butterfly....and then the guy kneels down to propose....Clarissa loved it!! She's all about love stories and happy endings!


We visited Canada and found some interesting looking totem pole pieces!!


Having partied hard on her birthday into the wee hours of the night, somebody conked out and took a nap!! 


Richard, Mason, and Jim continued on around the world to sample beers and be told one must behave and listen to their mum and dad by Mary Poppins!


After her power nap, Clarissa was recharged and ready to go! We found these little tiny trees that were 200+ years old!!


We got a lovely photo of the the girls, in front of Bay Lake!


We found the coveted Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs topiaries!!!



When we made it to Norway, so we had to partake in the the much hyped 'Adventure to Arendelle' and visit the Royal Sommerhus. The waits were surprisingly not too bad! Clarissa ducked down on the "scary" dramatic photo part.....and she can't be seen....I just look funny being dramatic for her..lol.


Anna was super funny when she was signing Clarissa's autograph book. We had picked up a banana paper notebook in Fiji. So we had told Anna her book was from the Fiji Islands where we had been living. Anna responded that she once knew a guy from the Southern Isles....had we heard the story?  Lol!!!


After meeting Anna, we then met her other sister. Maybe you've heard of her...Elsa?


We found the Anna & Elsa topiaries outside....based on her expression, I think Clarissa is over the whole topiary thing!


Norway and Mexico are neighbors in the world showcase?!? As luck would have it, we timed it perfectly as we had a dinner reservation at the Mexican restaurant. So we reunited with everyone else and had dinner. After dinner we decided we were all done for the day, we got our much desired souvenirs, and then headed back to the resort. As we were heading out, the sun was starting to set and we had some beautiful colors on the Spaceship Earth geosphere.


The next morning, we took our time checking out. If we had to change one thing this trip we would have added another day to just spend time at our resort. Richard and I both think a rest day after our late night at Disney and before the day at Epcot would have been nice for everyone! 


We chose the Little Mermaid room obviously! There are four room themes (Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo, Cars, and Lion King) and each hotel block is decorated for that section. In our room, the comforter even had bubbles in the shape of mickey heads. There a multiple pools (we only used the Little Mermaid pool at our end of the resort)....but the pools are all huge! We were able to easily book our room, but then had trouble getting my in-laws room booked (couldn't figure out why). So we used my former neighbor/bunco playing compadre to help us! Meredith was able to get that all straightened out, help with meal bookings, fast passes, etc....you need help with anything Disney Vacation related....she's your gal! Check out her webpage!! BTW, who doesn't love a conga line!


After we checked out, we dropped Mason with his dad and step-mom (she has family in Orlando). It was a bit odd after years of plane 'drop-offs' to see them in person. Mason has proudly passed another adult in the family in height...it's not just me! While Richard and I were dropping Mason off; Ann and Jim took Clarissa to pick out her birthday gift from them....a trip to the American Girl Store in Orlando!! After the exhausting task of shopping, we had a lunch reservation to fuel up before the long drive back to Charleston. 


All in all, I think the trip was out of this world! Afterwards, Clarissa has made several comments about it being the best birthday ever! (Uh-oh......we have set the bar too high.....).