Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Happy Birthday Eion

Eion turned eight yesterday. For some reason, it really hit home when he told me Sunday, "This is the last day we'll have a seven year old in the house." Which, seeing as he is the youngest, we can pretty much say about every birthday. But it made me think.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, I didn't have long to dwell on the issue as he woke up Monday with a fever. Thank goodness I had invited over another family for Eion's birthday dinner and cake the night before. We wouldn't want to keep this illness to ourselves.

Despite being ill on his birthday, E was pretty happy. After all, he got to watch Minecraft videos all day without any pestering from me to read.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

And This Past Week...

Went by entirely too fast. First off, we have braces for Morrigan.

Said braces were accompanied by complaints of pain, inability to eat and parental cruelty. $6,000 well spent.

After what has been a wonderfully mild winter, we finally had a big snow storm on Thursday. With the threat of snow looming, school was released two hours early. It is a good thing too. By the time Morrigan would have arrived home, there is no way I would have been out driving, even in a Suburban. (My years of snow driving being so far behind me that I don't even attempt it anymore.)

With sixish inches of snow falling over a few hours, the conditions were right for some night sledding!

I had checked everyone's snow gear that morning and made haste to Kmart for all that we lacked. We were ready for snowy fun.

When Tim arrived home, I wondered why, after I had shoveled the driveway twice, he was parking in the street. That would be the large fallen tree branch blocking the driveway.

Tyler was on hand to help move it.

By the next morning, all the snow had stopped and the streets were approaching clear. We also had no power.

In an unrelated move, we had booked a weekend at The Greenbrier. Our plans had originally been to leave directly after school. A rapidly cooling house and cancelled school moved our departure up a few hours.

Several other families from Roanoke were also there, making it a fun, big group getaway. The only down note for me was that the cold I had felt coming on all week decided Friday was the day to fully manifest itself. So you'll note there are no pictures of me and my red nose and chapped lips. That being said, it was way better to be there and sick as opposed to here, in the cold and powerless, and be sick.

The first order of business was swimming.

There hadn't been much pool time for us since summer so the whole family was happy to get wet. They probably would have swam all night but knew that 4pm was afternoon tea.

An event we didn't miss once and at which my children consumed an obscene number of cookies. I housed as much hot tea as I could hoping it would ease my cold.

Each night we would have cocktail hour in someone's room before heading out to dinner.

Why yes, all these boys will be at dinner!

There were looks of horror all around 
as they seated a table of ten children.

Ice skating was a favorite, especially with Maggie.

That's free hot chocolate with those $16 skates.

Eion also showed initial enthusiasm but faded soon thereafter, having had seconds of expensive fun. Eventually, he had a better time with some help from Dad.

After the kids went to bed, the casino called. I think there was almost universal loss of money - not our group's best effort at the tables. But the scene was fun and lively!

Tim, Morrigan, and I also went on the bunker tour. For thirty years, prior to 1992, the bunker beneath the hotel, designed to protect the members of the House and Senate in case of a nuclear attack, was a secret. After having been outed by a reporter, it was decommissioned and is available for tours. It was something I had wanted to do for years and it didn't disappoint.

No one really wanted to leave, but the power was back on and our long weekend was over. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Funeral For a Friend

Today the kids attended their first funeral, the father of one of my best friends. Normally, I don't know if I would have taken the kids but we have spent so much time over the years with Ann and her extended family, they're approaching family to us too. I felt like we all should be there.

Seeing as we were en route to a funeral, the subject of death did come up.

Children: What if you died?
Me: Well you’d have a party of course.
Children: A party?
Me: Because I wouldn’t want you to be sad. You should be happy I’m in heaven. [For those who might argue the alternative outcome, we’ll save that discussion for another day.]
Children: Ooh! We’ll have bacon! And beer!

And the planning session for my wake had begun.

Eion: Will we burn you at the party?
Maggie: Yes, it will be just like when they cremated Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi. We can set it up in the backyard.

Morrigan: We can dress her as Darth Vader!
Maggie: But make it a pink Darth Vader costume.
Eion: Everyone should wear pink since it is Mommy’s favorite color.
Morrigan: Even the boys?
Eion: Pink is an everybody color.
Maggie: We’ll need a keg and some beef.
Morrigan: There should definitely be a reading from World War Z.
Maggie: After that we can watch Dr. Who. Probably a weeping angels episode. Mom, which is your favorite one?

It was not lost on me that my wake bore more than a passing resemblance to Comicon. (Ann's brother said he wanted to make sure he received an invitation.) Before we started casting Ewoks for the after party, I indicated that I was planning on being around for quite some time which, while spoiling their fete du mort, was also (hopefully) somewhat reassuring. 

Death is such an incredibly hard subject. I appreciated that we had the chance to discuss that we were going to support our friends when they were grieving, to celebrate Mr. B's life and reflect on all the people he had touched, including us. As Eion said on the way home, "He was a really good man and I'll miss him."

Thursday, January 10, 2013

So Was There More Than the Ship?

Ah yes, so much more. The days at sea were really our least favorite. Maybe we didn't properly embrace the cruise lifestyle, but I was kind of bored. Luckily, four of the cruise days were excursion days. The first of which was...

Roatan, Honduras

We had arranged a snorkeling trip. The kids had never been snorkeling and we had only gone one disastrous time in Jamaica many moons ago. (It involved murky waters absent of fish, gripping on a speaker to keep from getting thrown from the boat and rum punch which was largely kool-aid. We call it Death Boat to this day.) Clearly, we were hoping for better. 

Underwater Maggie

Happily, it was much better. We were picked up at the dock by our personal driver for the day. He took us to Half Moon Bay where we and another family set out to snorkel. Tim, Morrigan and I did great. Maggie did pretty well but was having some technical difficulties with the mask. Eion? He largely enjoyed the boat with the Mom from the other family, who could not swim.

There were massive beautiful coral formations in super clear water. The pictures really don't do it justice. Fish were everywhere. It was awesome.

After we were through, we went to the West End beach club which had the kind of blue water I had always assumed travel brochures enhanced with Photoshop.

And fish - everywhere. You could just look down in the water in which you were standing and they were swarming you. Very, very cool.

Our next destination was Belize.

I heard the snorkeling in Belize was the best but really wanted to go cave tubing and this was the only place we could. 

We drove, well, our guide drove, to a national park at which the caves were located. On the way, he told us about the history of the area and Belize in general. Once we arrive, we had about a half hour walk through the rain forest, which was not as interesting as one might think. 

Especially lugging tubes. (Or in Tim's case, two tubes since Morrigan bailed out on it.)

But it was all worth it when we arrived at the start of our float, which was beautiful. 

From here, we entered the caves. In many places, the only light was the small lanterns we were given. And the small lanterns of the five bazillion other people there, of course.

It was excellent. Though if I had the chance, I would go back when there were fewer people there. But such is the way of cruise ships - we all show up at once.

After we finished at the caves, we went to a lovely local open-air restaurant for lunch (and beer. Our bus load of people were very enthusiastic about the beer.)

The third stop was Costa Maya, Mexico. Now, this is a place that seems to have been created as a cruise ship stop. There really is very little to do outside shopping for crappy resin souvenirs made in China. Luckily, Tim had researched heavily and decided that at this destination, we should visit the one authentic thing there, the Mayan ruins at Chacchoben. 

Our friends who had gone there the previous year recommended The Native Source tours and we were not disappointed. Our guide was Mayan and had actually grown up on the site of the ruins. (No kidding!) I am a sucker for historical tourism anyway so this was a real treat. 

During the bus ride out, he essentially gave us a history lesson on the area and the history of the Mayan people interspersed with how life was there during his lifetime. Not to mention, a detailed description of the Mayan calendar and why everyone (except the Mayans) thought the world was going to end last December.) I could have spent days with this guy.

Luckily for Eion, who was bored out of his mind, we were only there a few hours. 

On the way back to the port, we stopped at one of the many pineapple stands and bought the super sweet local pineapple, which they dusted with chili powder. OMG - it was delicious! So good that I gathered all the leftover powder I could get my hands on and brought it home.

In spite of having the least going on, it was one of my favorite stops.

Last port of call, Cozumel, Mexico

We had left this day open, not sure if we would all be burned out from busy days and late nights. We planned to explore the city (or at least the tourist area) and get in adventures. By the time I heard one of the restaurateurs call me an asshole (in Spanish, one of the few words I happen to know) for not coming in to eat (it was 10am) we decided we needed a plan.

Snorkeling it was! We found a boat that took us to three different stops. All the kids got out and tried it and all loved it. This might have been the highlight of the trip, knowing that we could take them all out snorkeling again. Morrigan, the most indoor of girls, much like her mother, was really the most enthusiastic but all loved it. Once Eion got the hang of breathing, he was tough to slow down.

After, we went to La Mission for lunch. It was cheesy, complete with a mariachi band, but had some great food. I couldn't help but buy this picture.

Sombreros provided for the gringos, naturally.

A little bit of shopping and we were done! Overall, it was a great vacation. I'd recommend it to anyone.

And now back to the regular, less photogenic, programming.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Most Popular Guy on the Ship

The first night on the ship, you pass under a bridge. And while you know that the ship will fit, they've done this before, it sure doesn't look like it. So we took all the kids up to the front of the ship on deck 13 to witness it. 

Pretty cool, huh? Not to Eion.

He was not impressed and wanted to leave the family tout de suite. We had decided earlier that when confined to the ship, we were completely free-ranging. The kids had their room cards, unlimited food and soda, and they were released to go anywhere they wanted. Despite my lingering fears he would be lost forever in the bowels of the ship, we let him leave, largely because he was being a little asshole.

I stressed but when we returned to our rooms, he was there waiting and duly impressed with himself. Eion's independent streak was apparent throughout the cruise as witnessed by his absence from this family photo:

And this one:

Matter of fact, we have zero pictures of everyone together on the ship. So, you ask, what the hell was E doing alone on the ship? The answer: meeting and befriending the entire ship, staff and fellow cruisers alike.

Behold. The most popular guy on the ship.

The realization of exactly how friendly he was with everyone came to us slowly. We saw that at the pool, he was happy to get in the hot tub with any combination of guests and chat them up but we didn't know, at first, that this was his mode all day. Until....

At breakfast the second morning we are walking through the Garden Cafe (read: cafeteria) and some fully grown man calls out "Hey Eion!" It seemed strange but we didn't think much of it until Maggie said they were out exploring and ran into a group of teenagers who hailed E by name and commented amongst themselves as they walked away, "He is just the cutest little boy!"

Soon it was all the time - a boy passing by us at dinner New Year's Eve, the greeters at the restaurants - it appeared he had met everyone. The best was when we were on a shore excursion and a group of senior citizens asked us to take a picture. Sure, I said, would you mind taking ours as well? I started to introduce the family and they interrupted me, "Oh we already know Eion. He told us all about how you live on the 4th floor and have two rooms attached by a doorway. He got an xbox for Christmas." You don't say.

The worst was when we came back to the room one night after dinner, having been left sometime earlier by E, and as we approached the room, our Indonesian housekeeper called out, concerned, "Did you know he was down here?" When you have loosened your parenting to the point that the third worlders are questioning you, it may be time to re-evaluate. Or not. Eion seemed quite happy watching him fold towels into different animals.

But this was exactly how the entire trip went. But I have to say, he was memorable. For one, there aren't many seven year olds running loose. And when he went to get dessert, he generally was running, waving both hands over his head in excitement. 

It may not have been with us, but he had a great trip.

[Tomorrow, shore excursions!]

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Let's Start With the Ship

Part One: We're all going to die anyway

On the first day on ship, they have a mandatory safety drill for all the passengers. You are assigned a meeting area based on your room number where you go in case of an emergency to await further instructions. Because our two adjoining cabins fell into separate "teams," Morrigan and I were L2 while Mags, Eion and Tim were L3.

Morrigan and I had a rather boring time at L2, largely waiting for it to be over. L3 on the other hand....

Eion regaled the adults at his table with tales of Christmas and told them that if he were to die, he wanted to have his xbox with him. "I don't know why we're doing this anyway." he told a vacationing couple.  "If there is a problem, we're all going to die anyway." Way to stay positive Eion.

It was only later we discovered these:

We didn't know what they were but figured 1) they were called survival suits, they must be better than not survival suits and 2) if there were only 24 of them, they must be good. The duration of the trip was spent deciding which team, L2 or L3 would make it to them first and routine defections from team to team based on who had the better odds that day. 

For the record, both L2 and L3 survived.

Part Two: Bad Boys

We were located in what can best be described as steerage. Look at the ship. See those wee little portholes in the bottom? That's us, deck four. 

On the steerage deck the first day, we found a line that was consistently 20+ people long. It was there for a few hours and appeared to be a luggage claim area. We assumed that these were bags which had lost their tags or had not made it to the proper cabin for some other reason.

A thirty something man joined us in the elevator, having acquired his bags. I commented that it was terrible they lost so many bags. "Oh no," he laughed, "that's the bad boy line. If you are caught smuggling alcohol on board, they confiscate it and you get your bags there." 

Before leaving on the cruise, we researched Norwegian's alcohol policy and trolled some cruise advice sites regarding the liquor situation. Wanting to sell you overpriced drinks, the ship didn't allow you to come with a personal bar. One rather uptight site said it wasn't worth the bother. Imagine, they wrote, your embarrassment when the other vacationers discover you were in violation of the rules. Your shame as your contraband is taken from you. 

Let me tell you, if you were ashamed, you'd be the only one. It seemed, based on the demographics of the bad boy line, that people of all ages were want-to-be pirates. My favorite was this guy:

That's his wife with the cane catching up to him.

Fortunately, we had taken the advice of another site which recommended a product called Rum Runners. They are plastic bladders specially designed to transport alcohol and be undetectable to security scanners. Worked like a charm.

Cuba libres all 'round for steerage!

[Tune in for tomorrow's adventure: Eion - the ship's most popular guy.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Happy New Year!

So it got a little busy there at the end of 2012 - hence the absence here. The short of it is that my parents came for Christmas, Tim worked a pile of nights and then we lit off to Florida for a week long cruise! Seeing, however, as we are talking about me, there is a long of it as well, which is likely to be doled out over several posts as quickly as I can get them written since I am also attending to mountains of laundry and holiday aftermath.

Christmas was excellent with all children (and adults) happy. Tim had to work nights starting on the 25th but we were lucky enough to have him around on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.

Eion with his xbox shaped gift.

There was general excitement for all the gifts, including Eion when he opened a package containing a shirt and pants and excitedly exclaimed, "Clothes!" before quickly casting them aside and looking for more lego and video games. 

We (read: Tim) had the foresight to realize we should set up the xbox, which took way longer than anticipated, and Maggie's iPod touch in advance. It was a HUGE add to have both those items ready to roll upon opening. I was a bit worried that Morrigan would feel slighted as she hadn't asked for anything large but she was quite happy with all her clever t-shirts (someone needs to explain this moustache thing to me) and other treats.

Then there was no rest as I started to get ready for the cruise as soon as all the festivities were done. Tim worked Friday (the 28th) all night and we drove to his parents' house in Florida early the morning of the 29th. It was a long, long day but we got to spend the evening with Doug and Nancy and were ready to leave for the boat out of Tampa the following morning. 

But after a full day today of cleaning up Christmas decorations and unpacking, I'm about beat. The cruise will have to wait for tomorrow!