Sunday, December 11, 2011

Disney Yacht Club Review

Yes, we went to Disney World again. And it was oh so needed. It was planned a couple months ago as a "babymoon" - a time for Jon (and Lilly) and I to hang out in our current family status and to relax prior to baby coming this April. We went to WDW when I was 20 weeks pregnant with Lilly as well, almost 6 years ago, and thought it would bring us good luck.

After the last two weeks of November, the trip turned from "nice relaxing vacation that we don't totally need" to "oh my goodness I need a vacation." Plus, with all Lilly's hospital stuff it was nice reassuring her: "When we get through this, we're going to Disney World."

It was, as always, a wonderful vacation. Instead of getting into all the specifics- going to wait until I've uploaded and organized all the pictures - I'm going to first review our hotel, the Yacht Club.

Background: We've stayed at most Disney resorts. Pre-Lilly, I've stayed at the Contemporary, Grand Floridian, Boardwalk Villas, Old Key West, Swan/Dolphin, Wilderness Lodge, Fort Wilderness, Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans Riverside, and All Star Sports. (Yikes!) On our babymoon when I was pregnant with Lilly, we stayed at Wilderness Lodge and loved it - it was the end of January and it just feels so warm that time of year.

Since Lilly, we've stayed at Port Orleans Riverside (12 months), Saratoga Springs and Port Orleans French Quarter (20 months), Coronado (3rd birthday), Bay Lake (3 1/2), Polynesian (4th birthday), Polynesian (1 night before 5K race; the rest off property), Animal Kingdom Villas and 1 night at All Star Movies (4 1/2), and Polynesian (almost 5). It sounds ridiculous, right?

I love Polynesian - for its location and its atmosphere (I never liked it prior to actually vising the South Pacific/Fiji/New Zealand and now think it is amazing). But, I wanted to try something new. Grand Floridian was on my "potential" list - if it had a deep discount. I could be persuaded into Contemporary although not on my "must do" yet. Wilderness Lodge was high on my list since we stayed there when pregnant with Lilly and I love it, plus not too far from Magic Kingdom, but discounted rooms never were available. Animal Kingdom Lodge was available, but since we had just stayed at the AK Villas, I wanted to try something new. Coronado would have been a fine option, but it wasn't available, and in the winter I'd rather be in a traditional "hotel" style hotel, without having to be outside to get to different parts. And if we were doing a moderate this time, I'd rather be at Coronado than the Port Orleans' hotels and Caribbean Beach (just because I love Coronado, the other mods are definitely good), so we ruled them out. All Star was definitely not bad the times we've tried it, but when you do actually spend time in the room - like we were planning on doing on this somewhat relaxing trip - I'd rather be in a little nicer room. And for a "babymoon" kind of trip, I pictured a ton of walking the way we did 6 years ago, and while Saratoga Springs and Old Key West rooms are so nice, I'd rather be somewhere walkable to the parks. Boardwalk was a maybe, but for the same price, Yacht/Beach sounded better because of the pool.

We've wanted to stay at one of the hotels in the Boardwalk area for awhile now. So when I received a 35 percent off code, and looked to see what was available, Yacht Club popped out. Beach Club was available occasionally when I looked, but only club level rooms, which was more than we wanted for this vacation. So, I took a leap of faith and booked Yacht. And then I did some research.

And I got nervous. Everything I read talked about how far it is from things, how there isn't easy access to food. How it's great - for couples - but stuffy for families. How the pool is in fact amazing, but it would be too cold to use it, and Lilly would be too young to appreciate the slides anyway. But we were locked in, and I figured we'd give it a try.

It was amazing. Loved it. Might be Jon's favorite Disney resort.

I'll begin at the beginning. We woke up at 4:30 for our early 7 am flight and arrived in Orlando at 9 am. Love getting there early - we're exhausted at first but there are no lines for Magical Express and we have the whole day ahead of us. Lilly was in a great enthusiastic vacation mood - which is normal for her. Girl loves to travel. I got nervous when the Magical Express stopped at 3 or 4 other hotels first, dropping off tons of families to bustling hotels, and then we got to our resort.

Only 2 other people were still on the bus with us, and they got off with us. The front of the resort was totally dead. People were not coming and going, it was like a ghost town. I was nervous! A guy who worked there immediately came up to us before we even got inside, and asked our name. He walked us inside directly to the counter and, thanks go online check in, got everything for us in less than a minute. And - at 10 am - our room was ready! So, the fact that they weren't all that busy definitely worked in our favor. So far, all was good.

We got to our room and it was a beautiful water view room. Two queen size beds, a bathroom with a double sink, desk and sitting area. We overlooked the boardwalk on the first floor, it was a beautiful view. So far, all was good again.

Lilly ended up feeling sick the first couple days of the vacation, but it was so easy staying at the Yacht Club. We walked to Beaches and Cream to have an early lunch, but when Lilly didn't feel good, Jon walked back with her and we all took a nap.

It was really easy to walk to the Dolphin (they have a great spa there) and Boardwalk, and we were connected to the Beach Club. We easily walked to Epcot and it's only a slightly longer walk to Hollywood Studios. Buses to Magic Kingdom were fast (never more than a 5-10 minute wait, but we were lucky), and this time we skipped Animal Kingdom since we were only there for a short trip.

Regarding my food concerns, each morning the bar off the lobby has coffee, fruit, and baked goods set up for purchase, so we didn't have any problems finding something perfect for our family in the morning. The Beach Club next store has a quick service dining location, if we wanted something more, but we didn't - bagels, muffins, bananas, coffee, and milk were exactly what we wanted. We usually ate in the parks for lunch or dinner, and one night when we had a late lunch, we walked to the Boardwalk for a easy snack for dinner.

On my concerns that the Yacht Club was stuffy - it was and it wasn't. The atmosphere was more formal than the Beach Club and the other resorts, but it was absolutely kid friendly - the rooms, the cast members, the hotel generally has the Disney quality that we love - but at the same time, I felt that there were less families here than at other resorts, so it was nice to feel like we were at a quieter resort. They had a great TV setup in the lobby - they have this at all the resorts - but the kid sized chairs were better than any I had seen elsewhere, and Lilly loved hanging out there watching Mickey cartoons for a few minutes at the end of a long day. During the day - not sure what the hours were, but usually around 2 or 3 when we'd be walking by coming in from the parks, there was ice water and glasses for a couple hours (good tasting water, not Florida water) for guests to grab a cup, which was a nice touch. There is a nice store with the typical Disney merchandise and essentials.

The pool was nice, but we didn't get to use it very much as Lilly was sick and the weather was a little chilly, but in better circumstances it would be ideal - the water slides, a pool with sand on the bottom, lots of things to do. There were also events all day near the pool - kids activities, dance parties, etc, which we didn't do this time but would be nice to look into next time. Also each night there was a bon fire on the beach, and later a movie shown on the beach. It really is a nice resort - much more going on than I had anticipated, having previously only just walked in the lobby or passing it on the boardwalk.

The cast members were very helpful as well. My parents came down for one night and they easily printed out room keys for them just for the day/night. When Lilly was sick, we weren't sure if it would turn into something worse, and they gave us a bunch of brochures for nearby medical facilities, some with free transportation.

And speaking of free: free wireless internet in the rooms. Perfect. And probably more storage than anywhere we've stayed before, we all totally unpacked with room to spare. And the tv was so easy to use, Lilly was an expert by day 2. Beds - and bedding - were more comfortable than ever.

I couldn't "rate" any of the Disney hotels because I love them all, they all have their strengths and weaknesses, and I feel like at different times and for different people, different hotels are better for an individual trip. But I would recommend the Yacht Club to both couples and families. It was actually nice being able to walk to two parks and not wait for transportation or have to fold a stroller, so in that respect it was better than the monorail or other hotels, and I got tons of Disney World walking, which was good for my pregnant body. (I think we walked about 10 miles each day!)

The problem is, where do we stay next time? Next time being probably a year away, give or take, so once we meet this baby we might have a different list of criteria - but I'm thinking a 1 bedroom at one of the villas might be perfect.

Let me know if there are any questions regarding Yacht Club or any of the other Disney hotels!

The end of November

The last half of November was crazy. Jon's schedule is always nuts, of course - being gone from 4:30 am until after 10 pm is not unusual these days, unfortunately, but he loves what he does and he's building a good practice - and reputation - so it is what it is. My work was busy as well in October and November (it's based on publishing schedules, so with my new temp status, some months are busy for me and some months I can completely take off). Plus, Jon was traveling for work right around the time that Lilly got croup. And bronchitis. And pneumonia. Mixed with her asthma. I was with her 24/7 - while still getting work done - making sure she was taking a dozen medications, giving her breathing treatments, etc. And we were in a minor car accident, randomly rear ended at a stopped light. And then Jon came home, just in time for Lilly to go in the hospital, needing oxygen for 3 days. We came home the Tuesday 2 days before Thanksgiving, and I spent Wednesday at home with her all day while Jon worked. As he put her to bed that evening, I suddenly had excruciating pain and we quickly dropped her off at the neighbor's house at 10 at night before going to the ER. Turns out, I had a kidney stone - and yes, they are more painful than labor - and Lilly was a 9 lb 8.4 oz baby! We were released from the hospital at 6 am Thanksgiving morning, in time to be exhausted without sleep, Lilly still recovering from her illnesses, and canceled our Thanksgiving plans in order to rest. Jon hit Whole Foods at 3 pm on Thanksgiving afternoon and luckily they were stocked with everything you'd need for a full traditional meal, ready to reheat. And luckily, Lilly and I had decorated the house for Thanksgiving so it was actually nice to be home, although it wasn't our original plans.

Two sickies - you can still see my hospital bracelets on from the night before.
Lulu and a fancy Thanksgiving cup of milk.
Let me add, that even with Lilly totally under the weather, she was amazing. She hated the meds but was such a big girl about taking them. She was in great moods the whole time, although exhausted and weak and had a fever of 103 for 3 of the days. She hated the ER experience, hated the IV and everything, but once we settled in at the hospital she was such a good girl; she knows how to make the best of every situation. All her friends at school made her cards and video messages (she has an amazing teacher).

So that's where we were the last half of November. December gets much, much better as you'll see in the next post...

Monday, November 14, 2011

When in Rome, or NYC, or wherever Lilly goes

It continues to blow me away how many life experiences Lilly has. We spent the weekend in New York City and New Jersey visiting family. Being back in Manhattan again was like coming home to Lilly - which is so funny to me. She's totally at home, hailing taxi's, seeing Broadway shows like it's no big deal, eating sweets at Dylan's Candy Bar at 10 o clock at night. The usual, for this little girl.

And then seeing her interact with her newborn baby cousin in New Jersey - loving him and feeding him and holding him and singing to him and telling him stories: "Hi baby. My mommy is beautiful and my daddy is a doctor. The end."

And going through two 5 hour car trips in a 48 hour weekend like it's no big deal; we didn't even bring snacks or drinks for her in the car. She played her iPad, listened to music, napped a bit, just a laid back little girl.

And then this morning, asked me: "Can I go on a ride with daddy?" And funny that I can respond: "Yes Lilly, we're going to Disney World in 3 weeks. Is that ok?" And a sigh from her, as she's thinking "I'd rather go today!" (Spoiled girl.)

And instead of hitting her favorite theme park, we drove to school. She happily greeted her friends, got in line (cutting in between her two favorite boys), and marched downstairs.

I've never met a kid (or adult!) with more adaptability, resilience, life experiences. Seeing her face in New York City Saturday night at almost 11 PM - glowing, excited to be there, huge smile as she took in the hustle and bustle, as still thinks of it as "home" - was so funny to see. Getting back last night, and being so excited to be in her DC "home" as she ate cantaloupe and cheese and crackers for dinner while we watched Lion King, then took a bath and went to bed. Ready and excited for her next adventure - and totally knowing it won't be too long before we go away again, this time on an airplane, her favorite mode of transportation.

We partially created this world for her, this normalcy in the excitement and adventures of life. But this is what she loves, what she thrives on. I certainly can't handle moving again, or handle new surprises around each corner, but she's ready and willing to do anything.

We keep looking at our pictures from our European adventure this summer, and I am blown away - not just by the places we went and the fun times we had - I mean, those were expected, planned in our itinerary. But what surprises me is how happy Lilly is everywhere. How much she ate up each experience, how she looked so at home in each foreign city. She is the epitome of a "When in Rome" kind of girl.

Her passion for life is one of the coolest things about my girl. And again, I am brought back to the false reality that 5-6 years ago I was thinking: "If my daughter has Down syndrome, will we be limited? Will we be tied down? Will life be hard?" The hardest thing is actually keeping up with her. She certainly has more energy, more drive, for endurance than her mommy. Thank God for that.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Monday morning

Typical Monday morning. The cleaning ladies were here (thank goodness; we have a tight budget but with both Jon and I working, it's one of those things that I can justify twice a month), so after dropping Lilly off at school, I had to be out of the house for the morning.

For the past 3 months I've felt nauseous, and am just now feeling like eating normal foods again. (Not that its stopped me from gaining 10 pounds in the first trimester, of course.) So, my grocery list was huge with all kinds of foods for recipes that we'd try out, now that I can stand the smell of food in my kitchen again. At first I stopped by Target - but found out they didn't have a Starbucks - so I quickly bought Lilly 6 pairs of socks and made my way to Harris Teeter.

Got my peppermint mocha (yes, the doctor said I can have one caffeine each day- although I wish I hadn't wasted it on that drink - next time, I'll stick to a regular mocha or plain coffee), and started walking down the aisles. I literally needed everything, and it was nice to shop for once without feeling like I'd get sick. I was debating the pros and cons between the store brand of fruit cocktail versus the name brand (the store brand doesn't have cherries, but it's cheaper, by the way) when I heard it.

This song makes me cry every time I hear it. And it came over the loudspeaker right after Cee Lo's "forget you" (which Lilly knows every word to, I'm not sure if I'm proud to say). The song was Natalie Merchant's "Wonder." It is such a beautiful song, and it just makes me emotional - and so proud - of Lilly.

It has lyrics like...

People see me
I'm a challenge to your balance
I'm over your heads
How I confound you and astound you
To know I must be one of the wonders
Of god's own creation
And as far as you can see you can offer me
No explanation

Oh, I believe
Fate smiled and destiny
Laughed as she came to my cradle
Know this child will be able
Laughed as she came to my mother
Know this child will not suffer
Laughed as my body she lifted
Know this child will be gifted
With love, with patience and with faith
She'll make her way

It just hits me. I made my way to the bathroom in the back of the store, and burst into tears. Not sad tears, but just emotional tears because Lilly is so amazing and I am so proud of her. The words: "Know this child will be able" and "With love with patience and with faith, she'll make her way" - She is gifted, she is able, she will make her way, and she has already. Lilly is a wonder, as all children are, I guess, but moreso because she faces challenges that other kids don't and she overcomes them so graciously. It's astounds me that so many people don't see the amazingness of people with Down syndrome - and other disabilities - when I know firsthand how much we can learn from them, how much they enrich our lives, how blessed they are. Lilly truly makes the world a better place, just by being in it.

Song ended, meltdown over, and I left the bathroom like nothing happened and continued shopping. Doesn't everyone cry in the bathroom over cheesy grocery store music?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What's next

The cat's out of the bag, or the bun's in the oven, or whatever the expression should be. Lilly is expecting a little brother or sister, to be born in April.

We are overjoyed, and I am terrified, of course - we were thisclose to being done with everything dependent. Lilly's probably more independent that me and Jon at this point, so now we're hitting the "reset" button and going back to babyhood (along with miss independent preschooler??). Life will be different, I'm sure, and crazy at times, but welcoming this new baby into our lives will be amazing. Right?

Lilly will be a great big sister. She's been talking to my belly every night: "Hi baby. It's Lilly. I'm with mommy and daddy. Ok? Love you, baby. Ok, bye."

The other day, she said she needed to show baby something. I said ok, and she pulled out a pamphlet. Of a 5 star resort in Cancun (we get tons of junk mail that Lilly goes through). Lilly showed my belly button (the baby) the pictures of Mexico, the ocean, the beautiful resort, kids laughing, parents holding frozen drinks, and asked if baby wanted to go.

And I swear, I thought right then: "OMG, Lilly's right. We've never taken her to Mexico. We should go right after the baby's born."

And then, I thought to myself: "Are you kidding me? Stop it with the travel planning!" And I quickly dropped the idea... or, at least, placed it on the top shelf of my mind with the "someday we'll do it" plans.

It's weird, when Lilly was born, and we found out she had Down syndrome, one of my strongest thoughts was, this will not limit her. She will do everything she wants to do. She will be exposed to every experience, because she can. 5 years later, Lilly has done and seen more than most people I know. She's accomplished more and worked harder.

That's the weird thing, when I think about this next child. To have a child that doesn't have to struggle, but also won't know how to work as hard. To have a child who does things easily, but doesn't make the same impact on the world. I'm not trying to short change the child - I'm sure he or she will be amazing. But it's just such a difference than what we're used to. But that will not limit our family. We'll have two precious kids, with all their strengths and weaknesses. Maybe our next child won't have the magic of Lilly, but I know he or she will accomplish so much in whatever they take on - and who knows, maybe their inspiration will be their big sister.

I look forward mostly to seeing their relationship. To see Lilly "mommy" the baby when it's little, to see her teach the toddler as it grows, to watch them develop a friendship, a strong bond that will surely surpass even what we've built with Lilly. To watch our kids love each other and become true playmates and friends.

Will we slow down? Will we stop showing Lilly everything and giving Lilly (almost) everything? No. She still deserves to do everything under the moon, just because she can. Because she is not limited, by chromosomes or stereotypes. But our next child, they will do and see it all along with her.

Just today, I saw an article about the Great Wall of China. And it asked, how many of you have a goal to see this at some point in your life? And, I swear, I immediately thought: "Wow! I've never thought about it before, but we should definitely take the kids there in a few years!"

And this, from someone who has declared that she is sick and tired of traveling... But for my kid(s), the sky's the limit.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Hard work

The thing that is so impressive to me about Lilly is what a hard worker she is. Often times she has to work much harder - sometimes 10 times harder - than other people to learn the same exact things - but the thing is, she does learn it. It amazes me. Her work ethic is so strong. Because things don't come easy, she's never scared of anything new. She looks at new challenges and meets them. She doesn't ever see something and say: "I can't do that" and many times she doesn't even look at us and say "How do I do that?" Instead, she has this internal drive and motivation that she says: "Let me figure out how to do that. And let me practice and give it my all until I get it perfect." She notices everything going on around her, more than the average person, and wants to know everything, learn everything, do everything, experience everything. And most importantly, she wants to do it with a smile on her face (most of the time). When I grow up, I want to be just like Lilly.

Earlier, we went to Target. Just me and my girl, after a fun Halloween party with the little girls in her class. And after going to church, out for bagels, and swimming with daddy this morning. This little girl was kind of exhausted. But she was in a fantastic mood. We parked like a gamillion miles away, but she laughed literally the whole walk to the store - joking around with me, saying the funniest things. She knew exactly what we needed in the store, got a cart, and pushed it around. She helped me pick out what we needed, put everything in the cart, and pushed it back to the front. She patiently stood in a long line, having the best time ever. She loaded everything on the conveyer, paid for it, and took the two big heavy bags, one on each arm, and walked the gamillion miles back to the car, carrying them the whole way, while they were clearly super heavy for her. She never complained, never asked for help (although I offered), was just so proud of herself. We got to the car, and she loaded it up all by herself, got in and put on her own seatbelt, and when we got home she brought it all inside, without any help. No prompting on anything.

I tell her all the time how strong she is, how proud I am, what a hard worker she is. She is so independent, and wants to be. Honestly, I think she could have done the whole thing by herself without me even with her - she is so capable.

Trust me, I worry about everything. But I don't worry about Lilly. She is ready to meet every challenge. I think of Jon and I, and how so many things came easy to us, and how it made us - in some ways - lazy. I don't think I studied much until law school - I didn't need to- and if things were hard, I quit - cross country, tennis, horsebackriding, etc. Lilly doesn't have a quitting instinct in her. Give her a challenge and she'll show you how to beat it, and look beautiful while she does it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Random Odds and Ends

I think I've had writer's block for the past month; or maybe it's been that we've been so busy there hasn't been time to type out something creative or take pictures. So instead, here's a list of random thoughts in my head:

  1. Lilly is amazing. Every day with her is still like waking up on Christmas morning. I feel, in some ways, that our time together is like a "honeymoon" that we - hopefully - will never grow out of. She is funny, smart, intuitive, beautiful, sweet, and keeps me on my toes. I am so proud of my little 5 year old ray of sunshine.
  2. Therefore is still bothers me so much every single day that doctors are still giving out such a negative impression of Down syndrome, that expectant moms are so terrified of such a wonderful potential gift, that the world is still filled with depressing stereotypes when the reality is so much better. People: do not be afraid of kids like my Lilly. She is such a blessing, such a joy. Down syndrome is like Lilly's favorite Sesame Street book: "The Monster at the End of the Book" by Grover - the whole time he's terrified of turning the page to find a horrible scary monster, and he gets to the end and finds - himself. Nothing to be scared of after all.
  3. I am so sick of traveling. This from someone who - in the past year - has gone to Disney World twice, Atlanta about 10 times, tons of little day trips here and there, and a 2 week cruise through the Mediterranean. I feel like I just want to be still for a while and really settle in and enjoy life, instead of being on the run.
  4. That being said, we just booked a trip to Disney World in early December. And I think we're driving to Charlottesville this weekend. And probably a trip to see my sister in New Jersey in November. And I'm fighting - resisting - a trip to Atlanta at Christmas (while still researching airfares daily). It's a sickness, I think.
  5. I love working, and I love staying at home. I took most of August and September off work, while Lilly settled into school. Now I'm back working and I love it - I love what I do, I love being busy, I love the accomplishment of finishing projects, and planning and starting new ones. I feel lucky that I have the flexibility that I have - but I still feel like when I'm not working I should be, and when I am working, I'm letting the family down by not being available to cook, do laundry, be more involved with Lilly after school...
  6. Jon's job is so super busy. Which is good - lots of referrals, lots of good cases, lots of positive proof of his efforts. But it's bad for Miss Lilly who literally doesn't see him during the week - except in the middle of the night, which she's now waking up to call him in so she can spend a few minutes of daddy daughter time. Hopefully he'll get slightly less busy soon, and she'll start sleeping through the night again.
  7. We saw the Disney on Ice: Dare to Dream show last weekend. It was *amazing* and not just because I - I mean, Lilly - love princesses. It had a Princess and the Frog, Cinderella, and Tangled theme, with all the Disney princesses coming out at the end, and it was really great to watch. The ice skating/dancing was good as usual, but the tricks of flying through the air on fabric was very cool. A+ (for those of you with little kids)
  8. It keeps hitting me how hard the past 9 years have been with constant moving and transitions. We are truly exhausted from it. And it's hard that our family and best friends are still so far away from us. And, although we make the effort to visit as often as possible, we're still given guilt trips - not coming to visit enough, not making enough of an effort when we're in town, etc - even though travel is often not reciprocated to see us. Besides being completely exhausting to fly in for random weekends, weddings, holidays, showers, events, it is so expensive as well, and it's extra hard when our effort is not appreciated.
  9. Lilly is so smart. I love watching her brain work - how she learns things, how she is so proud of herself. I've been telling her a lot lately how smart she is - and she just gets so happy - because it motivates her to try even harder. I couldn't be more proud of my little girl.
  10. I'm in a food rut. I'm sick of cooking (it doesn't help that I'm working more now so there's less time), nothing sounds good to me, I don't love grocery shopping; it's all so tiring. I need meals to be delivered. (By the way, Lilly made an excellent eggplant parmesan the other day, and she also baked peanut butter Hershey kiss cookies. If I can train her a little more - and get her a visa - she can cook and do the shopping for me.)
  11. We still have so much to unpack. And, I'm proud that I made about 15 photo albums of Lilly's first few years, but I still have to do the past year and a half of albums, which is overwhelming. Not thinking about those things for now.
  12. We don't go outside as much as we should lately - first it was the mosquito's - they've been horrible this year and L is allergic - but also we're so tired at the end of the day. When Lilly gets home from school, she just wants to relax and hang out.
  13. I really miss All My Children. I feel like there's a void in my life without the Pine Valley characters and their drama.
  14. I'm loving: Andy Cohen and Watch What Happens Live. He is so funny and down to earth, wish his show was on every night.
  15. Best guilty splurge: the cleaning ladies who come every other week. Best feeling ever is working all day, or chaperoning a class field trip, or running errands around town, and coming up to a super clean spotless house that I didn't make any effort to help with. Even when Lilly walks in on those every-other-Mondays, she looks around and says: "Wow, this looks nice!"
Alright that's my random list of things. Hopefully I'll get back in the routine of blogging the normal stuff again, along with pictures of my Lilly.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Settling In

Lilly started school less than a month ago, and she loves it. She's doing well. She's making friends, doing her work, learning, playing, socializing. She's saying the pledge of allegiance (or at least putting her hand on her heart and mouthing words), and she's praying and doing the sign of the cross like an expert. The moms are friendly, the kids are excited to see Lilly, and Lilly is so happy to be part of a nice class, in a nice school.

I am so relieved. Since Lilly was so little, I imagined her educational future. I didn't picture special education, although people pushed us towards it. I didn't picture a large public school scenario. I pictured a small school, loving environment, religious education, with her peers. And that's where she is, and I'm so happy for it. I feel like God has led us to this place, and in just a couple short weeks, she is thriving. I look forward to seeing how the rest of her year goes.

So we're settling into the school routine, and continuing to unpack (it's a large process - unpacking boxes from NYC, Charlottesville, childhood, and some even from our year in New Zealand), and getting used to living in Bethesda. We found a cute diner the other night with organic and local healthy ingredients, that I think we might visit quite a lot in the future. Lilly is an expert at going to the movies and the pool with her daddy, and we still bake a couple times a week.

After Europe in July, and a week in Atlanta in August, and a weekend back in Atlanta (just me) for a wedding two weeks ago, I swore I didn't want to travel again for a long time. We really do need the time to settle in here, and the past few years of living like vagabonds. Yet - the more we settle, the more I think about where we're headed next. So, we just booked a trip for the three of us to Atlanta to meet our new niece, born to Jon's sister last week. And Disney World keeps tempting me with special pin code offers which I really should ignore...

Thursday, September 1, 2011

1st day jitters

Most of the time, being Lilly's mom is the coolest thing ever. Because she is probably the most perfect (for me) made daughter. When I filled out her pre-K questionnaire form the other day, of Lilly's interests, I feel like I was filling out a "" survey for myself.

What does Lilly like? Dancing (both hip hop and ballet), Broadway, cooking, reading, traveling, building sandcastles, swimming, playing with Barbies, singing, anything Disney, putting on makeup...

Are all kids mini-me's of their parents? Or are only-children more prone to do exactly as mom does? Or is Lilly just a perfect little kid?

But occasionally, every once in awhile, there is a down side. It's not the fact that Lilly occasionally has selective hearing when I'm telling her what to do, and that she'd rather do what she wants, her way, in her time. That's frustrating - but again, I'm the same way. Jon figured out a long time ago that telling me what to do or how to do it or when to do it, is not the best marriage plan. So that's just one of those tedious parts of parenting that we all deal with.

The thing that actually is hard though - every now and then - are the new situations. Not because Lilly doesn't blow me away every time she tries something new; I'm continuously impressed at her efforts and wonder if there's a point where we've moved too many times or started too many schools or camps, or if a vacation might put her over the edge on what she's ok with.

But it's that, when we get into a new situation, I - as her mom - get terrified that she'll be prejudged on what her skills are. That teachers, parents, people generally, may look at her and think "oh, that little girl who can't do this or that" or "that family, bless their hearts" or "yikes, this child is going to be very high maintenance."

Once people get to know Lilly, they realize she's just a normal kid - with strengths and weaknesses, good and bad (but mostly great). That she can kind of hold her own in a group, and she might be a better dancer than some of the girls, and she definitely knows her pop culture as well as any tween. And if she doesn't talk as much - at first - it's because she's shy and not that she can't talk, and if you can't understand some of what she's saying, maybe you should listen a little harder - my girl speaks with her voice, her hands (signing), and most importantly, her eyes and she certainly isn't quiet about letting her opinion known - if you give her a chance to tell you.

But sometimes, once in a while, if someone looks at her and sees something not as positive, Lilly picks up on it intuitively. It's amazing, because she is a mirror to your impression of her - I swear if you look at her thinking negative things, Lilly won't make eye contact and acts like she doesn't know anything. But, for example, if you look at her and see how beautiful she is - inside and out - she will start to radiate charm and beauty, and might even start performing a song and dance.

So it's hard, with these new situations. I never know where people are coming from. If they are open to just seeing Lilly for who she is - which is most often the case. Or the opposite, and then Lilly might have a negative reaction right back.

Starting school today, I was terrified. This school is perfect on paper, of course, but nothing can be that good, right? It's pre-K, but at a school through 8th grade so the expectations are high for the kids - it's not preschool or daycare anymore. And it's a Catholic school, so I really am hoping that the faith that I've practiced for the past 30 years - that guided me to this school as a positive foundation for Lilly's education - and the fact that Lilly says the cutest "sign of the cross" you've ever seen - would lead us to a great start. But it seemed too good to be true, so last night I lay in bed all night long thinking of everything that could go wrong today - how prejudiced the teachers might be, how mean the kids might be, how overwhelming the school routine. It even crossed my mind that she'd go missing at school, and we'd never see her again.

And, thank goodness, my imagination was the worst of it. The day went fine. Lilly liked the morning prayer and pledge of allegience and announcements in the gym with the rest of the school. Then the pre-K kids walked downstairs to their class. Lilly was nervous, of course, but aside from extra hugs - and hiding under a table for 10 minutes - she did fine. Her teacher is wonderful, the parents are so nice, and the kids seem really sweet. And I think it'll only get better, as Lilly starts to get the rhythm of the routines. The academics won't be too difficult, her amazing teachers last year gave her a great head start. This year will be to focus on the routine of being a typical kid in a Catholic school, and prepare her just a little more for Kindergarten.

After school, we went to the back to school picnic. Again, I watched the students of all ages being fun loving and sweet and a few girls, probably in 4th grade or so, asked Lilly to do dance routines and gymnastics with them, before they pushed her on the swings. We met another mom of a girl with DS who goes to the school, and talked to Lilly's really nice teacher for awhile. Then, Lilly danced to her favorite Black Eyed Peas and Pink songs with the rest of the kids before we headed back home.

So now, at almost 11 at night, for the first time today, I am just now finally taking my first deep breath since yesterday. My face has broken out from the stress and anticipation, and I nervous-ate all day long, including half a box of Lucky Charms for lunch and a veggie burger at 10 pm. But Lilly was happy. The day was long but good. Tomorrow is scary again, but we all know what to expect. Lilly is in a happy and healthy environment, and I can't wait to watch her take over the world.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Day 11: Happy Birthday from Corsica.

All I wanted for my 30th birthday was to lie on a beach in Europe and soak in the sun and build sand castles. It was so perfect that our cruise stopped in Corsica where the beaches were supposed to be gorgeous, and we planned the whole day based on doing nothing but relaxing.

I woke up that morning and it was raining. It didn't rain the entire cruise except that one day, and it didn't stop until we pulled away from Corsica. All day long. So, we made the most of it.

The beach was out - it was such a dark and dreary day - and so we just decided to walk around town for awhile. We stopped to get our obligatory espresso drinks and milk (today in a wine glass, of course). We loved exploring the town, and it would have been perfect if the weather was halfway decent. Around noon, we got back on the boat. Jon picked up sandwiches on the way and they were delicious - he got me a "Napoli" pressed sandwich (tomato and mozzarella) - to continue the streak of eating "pizza" in each city along the way - and Lilly ate half of it!

Lilly napped during the afternoon, while I went to the spa for a blow dry, mini facial, and mani and pedi. Then, at 6, Lilly went to the kids club while Jon and I went to dinner at Palo. The food - and the service - and the wine - were all great. It was the only dinner the entire cruise that we didn't spend with Lilly, and it was nice having grown up conversation especially after so many interesting days. Lilly enjoyed the kids club, they bring food down to them at dinner time and she was in a good mood when we picked her up.

Afterwards, just as I started to feel a little homesick for not talking to any family or friends on my birthday, we ran into our friends from dinner and after seeing the show together, threw all the kids in the kids club and went to the piano bar.
I may have chugged a beer in a contest right before this picture was taken, but I definitely did not win.

It was a fun - and unique - birthday that I'll never forget.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Day 10: La Spezia, Santa Margherita, and Portofino

This was another Disney excursion day. You see, what happened was, I was reading In Touch or Us Weekly a couple weeks before the cruise. And Leonardo Di Caprio was in Portofino with Blake Lively. And while it's not like I'm a huge Leo fan (I'm not not a Leo fan - but it's not like I'm obsessed with him or anything) but I am a fan of Lilly doing what the stars do, going where they go. If Portofino is good enough for Leo, certainly my 5 year old daughter should check it out. Right?

So, we booked the excursion that left from La Spezia and went to Santa Margherita and Portofino. We met up with our tour group as Chip, Dale and Minnie were taking pictures...

The history lesson we got (slightly different from the one in Rome) was based on celebrities. Clark Gable used to hang out in this area. Perfect. (Lilly is not obsessed with Gone with the Wind yet but she has an appreciation.) And many other celebrities, from the 1940's until present. In fact, when we got back, we realized we were there at the same time as Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas. (We were also in Malta a week or two after Brad and Angelina. Of course.) Anyways, it was a nice day to walk around these two cities, appreciate their beauty, and see how the rich people vacation.

Would I pick this excursion again? Probably not, only because for us I think we needed a down day after Rome, and La Spezia actually had a lot to offer, from the glimpse we got - on the water (not sure if there's a beach), playgrounds, restaurants. But, would I recommend this excursion? Yes. A lot of people did Pisa or Florence this day, and I think this was a good alternative to those areas. It was beautiful and calm and exactly what you'd think the area would be. I loved it.

Lilly in the middle of town in Santa Margherita

On a carousel. No playground in town, but a horsie ride is just as good.

The beach - we didn't bring bathing suits (we should have) but we didn't have a ton of time either - we hung out on the beach for a half hour before meeting up with our group for a "pizza party." Which was all you can eat, but not nearly as good as the pizza in Naples - which was not to say it was bad pizza, but after Naples it's hard to eat any pizza. But a nice lunch either way, and the restaurant had a play area for kids which was minimal but nice.

Lilly listening to her ipod in Portofino.

We had a private ferry that took us to Portofino from Santa Margherita.

Behind Lilly and I is a castle that we walked up a gazillion steps to get to, because Lilly likes castles. She walked every step and it was exhausting for all of us! When we got there, we were so close to the castle that Lilly didn't appreciate it was a castle - she just saw a stone building - so we hiked another thousand steps down and when we got to the center of the city, Lilly was excited that she could see a castle far in the distance. *Sigh.*

Lilly drinking whiskey - I mean, milk. We stopped for gelato in Portofino before heading back.

And finally, Pirate night on the cruise ship. Mommy went to bed at 10 but Lilly and Jon stayed up late.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Day 9: When in Rome

Thus far, we had appreciated the natural beauty of the island nation of Malta. We had gone to the Sicilian countryside. We had eaten the best pizza on earth. And, it was time to delve into the most amazing historic experience.

The ancient Roman times are fascinating, and I couldn't wait to be there. See it. Experience the places that were so advanced for their time. You don't fully appreciate Rome until you're there, in the middle of it.

The Disney excursions looked both overwhelming and underinclusive and expensive. Not their fault; it's impossible to see the highlights of Rome in one day, and doing it on a large tour bus didn't seem to be the right thing for us. We wanted the flexibility of being able to do things at our own pace if necessary. And we wanted to zip in and zip out without waiting for 87 other people to be done using the restroom.

We chose a private tour guide, Stefano's Rome Tours (affiliated with Rome Cabs). The company gets great reviews on, and they were easy to work with to set things up. To reduce the cost, we found another family on our cruise that also had young kids so we could split it in half. It worked out perfectly, and I'd highly recommend them.

We woke up early, and I popped two Excedrin Migraine, while I drank my coffee and we scarfed down bagels and fruit in the room. Jon also went up to the buffet for crackers and cheese, to bring with us. We met the other family and walked off the boat around 8 am. Our driver was right there with a sign with my name on it - it couldn't be easier. We got in his van, and spent an hour or so driving to Rome.

First stop was the Colosseum. The coolest thing about the history of Rome - is watching it through Lilly's eyes. Seeing her, at 5 years old, kind of know that this is important. Explaining to her what she's looking at. And her being genuinely interested in what she's seeing. Here she is when we got out at the Colosseum, taking pictures.

And sweet Lilly in front:

As we walked in, I explained to her where she was going - to a really old place where they used to have events, kind of like when you go to baseball games with daddy, or a Broadway show. And, when she held her ticket to get in, she told me that we were going to a Hannah Montana concert. Then she changed her mind and told me it was Mamma Mia.

Lilly Lou sitting on stones that are 2000 years old. Craziness.
Lilly's camera skills hard at work: otherwise there would be no pictures of just mommy and daddy.

Lilly, touching history.
Of course, before we left she not only performed an Annie Medley but also Mary Poppins' Step in Time. My opinion is, if Lilly had lived when the Romans did a couple centuries ago, she would totally have performed on that stage in the Colosseum.

Next we went to the Forum and walked around through a few buildings. Lilly found this "stage" and performed her dance class "Gummy Bear" routine. (Of course.)

Next stop, the Pantheon. Lilly danced with Minnie Mouse, performing "I don't need anything but you" from Annie.

And outside she switched to "Maybe" from Annie.

Then we went to the Trevi Fountain, where we all threw in coins to ensure that we'd be back to Rome. Lilly apparently loves Rome so much that she threw in almost every coin in Jon's wallet. First the picture that Lilly took of us...

I'd like to stop here to say what an amazing tour guide we had that day. Each place we went, he dropped us off right in front. A month before, they told us to get tickets to the Vatican and Colosseum in advance, so we wouldn't wait in line. When we got to the Colosseum, he walked us right to the front with our tickets and got us in, no problems. He would tell us what time to meet him after each place - 20 minutes for this, 40 minutes for that - and it was always the right amount of time. He'd be waiting exactly where he said, and gave good directions on where to go. He gave tons of history while driving around, and knew the answers to all our questions, whether it was history or coffee. He took short cuts throughout Rome, and went places that tour buses definitely can't go (and won't fit!). We definitely didn't walk very far all day because of all his tricks.

Next stop: lunch. Our guide took us to an Italian restaurant near the Vatican, and I don't know what it was called. I do know that it wasn't touristy - it seemed pretty authentic - it was relatively inexpensive, and the food was delicious. He walked us in, where they had a table reserved for our group - no waiting. Perfect, again.

The pasta in Rome was amazing. Not as amazing as my pizza experience the day before, but definitely the best pasta I've ever had. And the best mozzarella. Wow the food was exactly what Italian food should be.

Lilly liked the pasta...

We had each ordered beers with lunch, which hit the spot but were also leaving us a little drowsy for the coolest part of Rome (in my Catholic opinion)...

The Vatican
Lilly with the Sistine Chapel behind her.
Our driver had arranged in advance for a Vatican tour guide to show us around for 2 hours - definitely money well spent. She was an expert on everything there. She showed us so much in a short amount of time, and wove us in and around it all with no problem, even though we had Lilly in a stroller. (She fell asleep right after we entered the Vatican museums. Or, she peacefully took in each exhibit.) I was surprised how cool the Vatican is - so much rich history and religion, it was fascinating. And without a personal tour guide, I think we would have missed a lot of it - especially having the kids there - she gave us everything we needed to know and everywhere we needed to go. We went through the museums, the Sistine Chapel, a gazillion stairs (noteworthy because of the sleeping child), and finally into St Peter's, where Lilly woke up.
Afterwards, we had gelato and the driver drove us back to the port.

Overall it was an amazing day. Jon says it was his favorite day of the trip - we accomplished so much in a small amount of time. Reading history books is one thing, and seeing it come alive before you is just so interesting.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Day 8: Naples

A couple port days under out belt: the first touring a half day on our own, and the second doing an all day excursion. It was time to slow it down - and not just for pacing reasons. But, because it was the day I've been waiting months - years, actually - to experience.

Almost everyone from our cruise went to Pompeii, to see the ancient ruins which I hear are magnificent. Or, if they've already done so, they tour Herculaneum or go to Capri or Sorrento for the day. All totally valid choices. And we've been warned time and again how dangerous Naples is - a city that is too busy, too crazy, too dirty. But I had my eye on the prize. I wouldn't classify myself as a pizza conosier exactly, but I've tasted it from all over. I've had the best of Chicago. I've discovered good pizza joints in Atlanta. I created my own in New Zealand (and found one - just one - decent pizzeria in Auckland). In Charlottesville we've tasted it all and had a few favorites. And in New York City, the mecca of good US pizza, we tried it all - watching Food Network shows about the best local pizzas, asking around, and eating as much as we could wherever we could.

So in Naples, neither history nor beauty would make me turn my back - er, stomach - from what they say is the best pizza in the world. We'd tackle the crazy dirty dangerous city for the best pizza of my life.

We woke up this morning, in no rush. I think this was the morning after we were out late with our cruise friends doing a grown up scavenger hunt, while the kids were in the kids club until midnight or so. But we had no plans that morning so Lilly slept in until 9:30. We again got coffee first thing. I can't remember exactly but I know we didn't eat anything and I'm pretty sure Lilly didn't end up eating anything either. When you're about to have the best pizza ever, you want to be hungry, so we skipped breakfast.

We got off the boat around 10:30 am, thinking the pizza place would be open at 11 or 11:30. We carried nothing with us - because everyone had terrified us so much about Naples. I took off my diamond engagement ring, just leaving my small wedding band. We didn't bring our camera, just Lilly's inexpensive one. Jon carried just enough money for food in his front pocket, and his hand never left it. No backpack, nothing else. We dressed down - I don't think I wore makeup, and we all wore tshirts and jeans. Lilly wore boyish looking pants, didn't want her to stand out as being too cute (it's hard!). Seriously, people had freaked us out and I was nervous but nothing would stop me from the pizza.

We got off the boat and found a map at the entrance to the port. We had directions that we printed out but they weren't that helpful, but we figured out where we were going. For anyone who needs help in the future: when you get off the cruise ship in the port, you'll see a castle looking thing a couple blocks away towards the diagonal left. If you walk a couple blocks more diagonally, you'll get to a square. Right near there is the pizzeria of choice: Pizzeria Brandi. We got there a little after 11 (it's just a 10 minute walk if you know where you're going) and we found out they didn't open until 12:30 on Sunday. So, we decided to kill time and walk around. We found a big open square a block away - and church bells were ringing. It was beautiful.

I started to realize my impression of Naples was wrong. Sure, maybe it's dirty or unfriendly or dangerous, but remember, we're coming from a year off New York City. It looked clean and nice to us. And with nothing of value on us - besides Lilly - we felt perfectly safe. It was Sunday morning, so maybe it was a little quieter than normal, but we totally loved the city.

We stopped at a nearby cafe on the corner for a cup of coffee. The staff was a little rude at first - which made us homesick for NYC - but after we ordered our drinks, they got a lot nicer. We ordered in Italian as the server spoke no English - but a few minutes back we realized he had just pretended not to speak/understand English, as he asked us in perfect English: "So, were are you from? New York City? I love NYC."
The best coffee of Jon's life. And, Lilly was happy because a waitress gave her two little drink umbrellas.

Afterwards we went for a walk down a tree lined street nearby. Naples was so pretty!
Here are Jon and Lilly outside Pizzeria Brandi (in the background) as we waited for it to open.
And walking down a side street. I think it's a pedestrian street without cars, but motorcycles could ride down it. And, for those who warned us about it being scary to cross streets because of the crazy traffic: it wasn't bad at all. Again, it was a Sunday, but our NY savvy and confidence prepared us for crossing the streets. If we hadn't come from a big crazy city then perhaps Naples would feel slightly overwhelming - but it seriously wasn't as bad as NYC in any aspect, in my opinion.

And the most important moment of the trip: the Margherita pizza. I had a certain thought in my head about how delicious it would be, imagined what it would taste like. And let me say: it was even more incredible than I had imagined. Not only best pizza of my life, but the best meal of my life hands down. And in my top 10 experiences of my life, up there with giving birth to Lilly and marrying Jon. Oh my goodness amazingness.
Jon and I each ordered our own pizza - which were huge - and ate the entire thing. Lilly had a slice but she ate bread after that, which made us happy because we didn't want to share. And FYI, the pizza is served whole, not in slices. Apparently the traditional way of eating it is to fold it in half and in half again and just take big bites. Or, tear it and eat it. We cut some of it, and just devoured the rest. It was the best tasting thing ever.

The rest of the meal at Brandi was good as well - the server super attentive, a big basket of bread, a delicious salad, sparkling water and bottled water (the sparkling water was probably the best I'd ever had as well), and Jon had a delicious beer. Every single person in the restaurant each ordered a whole Margherita pizza per person, it was funny to watch - they all know how amazing it is. Anyways, amazing meal for the family. Totally didn't let me down at all.

And after, we got Gelato from a street cafe. Lilly loved it.

Our day in Naples was wonderful - probably (arguably) the favorite of our trip. It was laid back and relaxing, Naples was pretty and charming, the food was insane, and it was just a nice family day. The rest of the day was spent napping (Lilly), doing laundry (me), I think an hour in the kids club before dinner (Lilly), and a nice dinner with our friends including local Limoncello and wine that we bought in Naples. Next stop: Rome.