Monday, June 29, 2009

My Latest Moral Dilemma

The Orem Owlz are a minor league baseball team that play in the Utah Valley University stadium. This is the university I attend, and which I pay handsomely every year for a parking permit. (Pay attention, that's the important part.)

The Owlz charge $4 to park in the parking lot closest to the stadium. At Saturday's game I was feeling cheap, and decided to park in the next parking lot over, which requires a university parking permit to park in. I felt guilty for not paying to park. On the other hand, by parking in the farther lot, I freed up space for someone else to park closer. Plus, I pay $80 a year to be able to park in that parking lot, regardless of what school services I'm employing. But this is $4 less that the Owlz receive - if everyone did this, they'd have to raise ticket prices or something to make up the shortage.

So that's my latest moral dilemma, which comes complete with a poll for you to vote. As always, I'd love to hear opinions in the comments section. Is it wrong to park in a non-Owlz-sanctioned parking lot when I attend an Owlz game?

The Reject

Here are some words I never thought I'd say: I know exactly how the American Idol rejects feel. You know the people I'm talking about - the auditioners that are absolutely convinced that they are the next American Idol, but turn out to be a tone-deaf spectacle only put through to the judges to appease America's need for public humiliation. It's not the humiliation I empathize with; it's the way that contestant never saw it coming, the stunned look on their face, the disbelieving shock that they, of all people, were getting turned down.

It's the hubris being shattered, the arrogant self-confidence eroding like quicksand, that I understand today.

I applied for a freelance writing job today. The job is for a company that writes how-to articles for popular websites. It doesn't pay very much per article, but I have a friend who works for them and it's turned out pretty well for her - she brings in some extra money while gaining some writing experience and gets to write on topics that she chooses. She told me that she writes one or two a night while watching tv. Surely I could do something like that, right? After all, I've written over 200 blog entries, and even if you take out the ones that are my gratuitous whining, there's still a few that are moderately well written. I do well on all of my papers at school. I could do this. If my friend can write these articles WHILE WATCHING TV - how hard could it be?

Apparently, I'll never know, because I was rejected. I sent in my application, along with my resume and two writing samples. I sent my two favorite blogs I've ever written: Public Service
and a heavily edited version of I Am That Mother. And I was completely convinced that I had this thing in the bag. I never, ever considered that I might not even be hired - I was already counting my money and deciding how to spend it. This is American Idol-level hubris if I ever saw it, and clearly, I was in need of a smackdown.

Two hours after I sent in my application, I received this reply:

Dear Emily,

Thank you for submitting your Writer application to _____ Studios. At this time, we do not have any assignments for you that fit our needs.

And that was it. I was stunned. This wasn't even in the realm of possibility in my mind. They say pride goeth before the fall, and let me add - the bigger the pride, the harder the fall. I sped through several of the stages of grief, all at the same time. Denial: Wait, did they just reject me? There must have been some mistake! Anger: But they barely even had time to look at my articles - that's not fair! Bargaining: Maybe I could ask them for another chance. Maybe I could send them some new, better articles. I could write one for free just to show them I've got what it takes. Depression: (I didn't have any comments for this part, just picture me, curled up in a ball on my bed.) Acceptance: Well, if they didn't want me, that's okay, I'll turn this into a learning opportunity and won't make the same mistake next time. Plus, I'll write a blog about it.

If nothing else, this proves that I'm not ready to write professionally. I don't have a very thick skin when it comes to my writing being criticized. It's hard not to take rejection personally, especially since they were rejecting me, personally. That's a skill that I'm going to have to develop alongside my writing skills. I listened to a writer's podcast last week that said the older and more well-read you are, the harder it is to begin writing, because you are so aware of how bad you are in the beginning, and it might stop you from writing. Young writers don't know how bad they are, and therefore they keep writing and getting better without those inhibitions.

I'm going to be okay. I'm still writing, after all, and maybe that can be my rallying point - They may not want to hire me, but they can't keep me from writing! So melodramatic, it warms my heart. At some point, I'll be able to shrug off piles of rejections; by tomorrow this will be ancient history, an amusing anecdote that I can replay during my Nobel Prize For Literature speech. But not today - today I need encouragement, consolation, and possibly some ice cream.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Day Of (no) Rest

This might make me sound like a horrible person. I know that I feel like a horrible person when I think about this topic, so I'm hoping my guilt somehow mitigates the damage. But here's my deep, dark secret: I really dislike Sundays.

I know. For a person who considers herself to be quite religious, who reads my scriptures pretty much daily, who prays on a frequent basis, who follows the rules, and above all actually BELIEVES what I profess to believe, having a bad attitude about the one day of the week set apart for worship makes me a bad worshipper.

It's not church itself that makes the day painful. In fact, I enjoy church. I love our congregation; the people are down-to-earth, not judgmental or gossipy, they not only claim to love one another, they back it up with their actions. I feel nothing but support and encouragement from these wonderful people, even when my kid is chucking Hot Wheels cars at them during Sacrament Meeting. Okay, so that hour of church is kind of stressful, but overall I leave church with a feeling of having learned, having been uplifted, and I am ready to face the week with renewed energy and love for God and my fellowmen.

If we came home from church at, say, 8 p.m. and went right to bed, maybe I could indeed keep this great spirit about me the rest of the week. Instead, we go from heaven on earth to, well, earth. It's not hell, but it's certainly some kind of non-heavenly place. The goal, as I see it, is to have a peaceful day as a family, a day where we "rest from our labors" and spend time doing things that we might neglect during the busyness of the rest of the week.

We did pretty good today, for a while. I made grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup, a Mudgett family tradition, and the kids all played for a while. Darcey went down for a nap (hooray!) and so does Ryan. Then I hear a THWACK! followed by an animal scream. It's Noah, who had been hit with the business end of a lightsaber, and you don't need to be Obi-Wan Kenobi to know how much that hurt. I completely lost it, and when I found Zack (hiding behind the recliner) I shouted at him to go up to his room, then I threw the Star Wars toys back in the box with much vigor.

I felt horrible for yelling at him, and for throwing the toys in the box, and in general losing my temper. Was it not two hours ago in church that I was learning about patience in adversity? Where was my patience? Gone. Here was the first chance for me to put into practice what's been preached, and I blew it. I left church ready to be a new, better person, and here I am, the same old crappy person I was on Saturday.

What I'm counting on is hope, good intentions, repentance, and mercy. I truly, 100% believe that God is a merciful judge, and that He sees how badly I want to do the right thing. I have a vast amount of faith and hope that He sees that I'm trying hard, that I don't want to ruin my kids by yelling at them, that I'm attempting to honor the Sabbath even though it's hard. The God I believe in loves me and doesn't see me as a failure for losing it today, or for losing it every day. He sees me as a work in progress, and loves me no matter what.

I also have faith that one day my kids will grow up, and I won't have to be the referee of lightsaber duels anymore. I also won't get to laugh at Zack telling Noah, "Don't shoot at Jesus!" (A framed picture, not the real person.) Here's my proposed Ten Commandments of Sunday to get me through the next few years. Feel free to suggest your own commandments in the comments - these kids might need more than ten.

Ten Commandments For Sunday
1. Thou shalt not hit thy siblings.
2. Thou shalt not fight with, scream at, threaten, or taunt thy siblings. Or thy children.
3. Thou shalt not say "He started it!"
4. Thou shalt not follow thy sibling around thy house, repeating every word he says, until he hits thou in the gut. Thou deserved it.
5. Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother, and allow them to take a nap.
6. Thou shalt not squeal like a little girl, unless thou art a little girl.
7. Thou shalt not take thy monkey business into the backyard, where all of our neighbors will know exactly how unruly thou art on the Sabbath. Thou shalt keep up appearances.
8. Thou shalt not wake the napping baby, unless thou wants to watch her as thine punishment.
9. Thou shalt think of others, and when thou asketh to make cookies, remember to take some to thy neighbors. Thou shalt visit the sick, unless they art contagious, in which case thou shalt ding-dong-ditch them with the above-mentioned cookies.
10. Thou shalt not say any of these words: Stop it, shut up, that's mine, ow!, why???, that's my seat, get off, there's nothing to eat, what's for dinner? I don't want that.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Dreams And Dead Celebrities

There's an old wives' tale that says death always comes in threes, and this week has seen the celebrity-death trifecta of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson. I feel the worst for Farrah - Ed McMahon died days ago, so he got his moment in the spotlight, but with MJ dying within hours of Farrah, she really got hosed, publicity-wise. (In the Deseret News, MJ got the front page, plus two more pages, Farrah got a mention on A5.) I'm reflecting on the various ways to go, and which I'd prefer: succumbing to old age, long lingering illness, or sudden death at a young age.

I would imagine that either of the first two options (old age, lingering illness) would be preferable to sudden death. Sudden death would probably be the least painful way to go, but I'd run the risk of leaving without saying goodbye. Sudden death also seems so much more traumatic to the dead person's loved ones. I'd take additional personal pain to avoid giving my family additional pain when I die.

Some would say that as long as you live each day to the fullest, then you can die with no regrets. It's a great sentiment and all, but I know I'm not living each day to the fullest. Unless "the fullest" includes sitting on the couch and reading internet news stories, I think I'm missing the mark. I'm not out there doing anything bad, I'm not racking up sins on my eternal scorecard (or at least, not major ones), but I'm also not reaching, striving, accomplishing, or any of those other active verbs that would indicate I'm doing something with my time.

This point was driven home for me a few weeks ago when we saw the movie, "Up."

***Warning: Major Spoiler Alert!***

The movie starts with a montage of a happy young couple who meet, fall in love, get married, and spend their lives together. Ellie has this dream of adventure, and they make plans to go to Paradise Falls one day. But every day passes and regular life gets in the way of achieving those dreams - the money they were saving has to be used on a new roof, for example. Eventually, Ellie gets sick and Carl, realizing that they've waited too long, buys plane tickets, but it's too late - she is too sick to go, and eventually passes away. It is his regret that causes Carl to attach balloons to his house and fly away - if she couldn't get there in her life, at least her house could.

I sobbed through this entire movie. I'm sure that wasn't Pixar's intent, but Ellie's unfulfilled dreams struck me to the bone. I felt such pain for her - to have something she wanted her entire life, since she was a young child, and to not achieve it due to stupid life things, like house repairs and medical bills. They didn't magically have more money later in life, but when Carl saw that time was running out, he must have scraped the money together somehow. Why couldn't he have done that earlier? Were her dreams not as important to him, and it wasn't until she was dying that he finally clued in? Watching him suffer, alone, with his regrets kept my tears flowing.

Whether I die from old age, or after a long, lingering illness, or a sudden heart attack at 50, I don't want to die without fulfilling my dreams. If I died today, I'd know that I've spent the last 12 years doing the right thing with my time - raising my children. But I'd be sad to know that I never saw the pyramids, or helped AIDS orphans in Africa, or walked on the Great Wall of China. Or even Mount Rushmore, for pete's sake. The world is such an amazing place - I want to see all of it, experience all of the amazing things that the world has to offer.

Beyond that, I want to leave a mark. I want, to quote Gwendolyn Brooks, to "add my few grains to the sandbox of human knowledge." Or this quote, same source: "I just love to move the ball forward, even if it's only a millimeter, in the great human quest to figure it all out." I want to contribute something - I want to leave the world a better place than I found it. I feel like I have a purpose, a calling to Do Something, and I don't want to be done in this life without doing it.

I did not marry Carl. Ryan, although he was against me writing this blog for fear that I'd be too depressing, is fully supportive of me and my dreams. We had a long discussion after we saw the movie, and one of the things he said was that he doesn't have grandiose dreams like I do, so when our kids are older, he'd follow me and my dreams. So that's a "yes" to graduate school, or living in a foreign country, or whatever I come up with. Maybe even a trip to Mount Rushmore.

Until then, I'm going to focus on living today more fully. However I die, I want people to say, "The world is better for her having lived in it" or "She lived a full life" or even just "She will be missed." As long as they don't say, "She died? Bummer. Did you hear about Michael Jackson?" That would be a good way to go.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Happiness Is...

It's 7:55 a.m. and I just changed my facebook status to say "Emily Simmons is happy." There was no particular reason for being happy - mostly it was a comment on not being UNhappy, I guess. But when I was asked why I was happy, I naturally had to analyze my feelings. Here are some things that are making me happy today.

1. Only Zack and Darcey are awake with me, and until one second ago, they were both playing quietly downstairs. I love a quiet house.

2. My new Comcast internet is so fast I feel like I'm in a downloading race car, instead of the downloading tugboat I was in with Qwest. It makes me giddy.

3. There's no yelling. (Or there wasn't, anyway. There is now, and it's definitely dinging my happiness.) I love when the people around me are happy.

4. The weather here is rainy and overcast, and I love it. Even raining, Utah is drier than Florida. I can walk outside and have other thoughts in my head other than, "Man, is it hot! How do people survive this heat?!" I don't feel the desire to coat my entire body in anti-perspirant. I had no idea how much I loved Utah until we left it.

5. The boys have swim lessons today, which means I have a mandatory two hours of sitting on a lounge chair, reading a book while Darcey plays on the swingset near the pool. I fought against 2 hours of swim lessons, but now I'm seeing this as a fantastic break. I love forced relaxation!

6. The painful parts of the trip are disappearing from memory already, and the great parts are rising to the surface. I'm remembering the Taco Bell drive-thru at 10 p.m. with Brad, Noah, and Darcey laughing like maniacs in the backseat. Blowing bubbles while we waited for Festival of the Lion King. When someone asks me how my trip was, I think about all the good things, and less of the bad. I love selective memories.

7. I went out to dinner with some friends last night. I hadn't seen them in a long time, and spending time talking to them was rejuvenating. Friends keep me grounded; help me keep things in perspective. I love having good friends!

Overall, I'm feeling peaceful, and peaceful makes me happy. I'm not feeling rushed or stressed about anything. I've got some obligations, but they aren't overwhelming. The only thing that worries me is not knowing how to hang on to this peaceful, happy feeling. But I'm trying not to focus on that, either, and just appreciate this moment for what it is. I love being happy.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Day 8 - The Worst Travel Day Ever?

I don't know if I can call it the worst travel day ever, since the day is not even half over yet, but there's a good chance I'm calling it right.  Any travel day that starts at 5 a.m. and still doesn't get you to the airport in time for your flight is a bad travel day, in my mind.

Five o'clock rolls around and Ryan and I pop out of bed.  Well, I pop, Ryan needs five minutes of prodding before he fully wakes up.  Same with Brad and Noah - I'm shaking them, poking them, talking to them, even yanking covers off them before they wake up.  With all that, every few minutes I find Noah back in his bed - that boy really wanted to keep sleeping.  Didn't we all. 

I swear we all went as fast as we could, getting out the door.  We had packed the night before, so we threw clothes on, had a slice or two of cold pizza for breakfast, rushed through everything, but didn't end up leaving until six.  Bad, bad news.  Thirty minutes to the Hertz return area, 10 to pay $4.39 a gallon to fill the tank, 20 for the shuttle to the airport put us at the check-in kiosk at exactly 7:00.  Which, for a 7:30 flight, is too late.  I knew we'd be late while we were driving, but I kept praying that the flight would be delayed or some miracle would make the security line non-existent.  Hey, the Amazing Race squeezes contestants onto planes at the last minute all the time - I don't see why they can't do the same for a family of six with two strollers, five carry-ons, and a car seat.  

I hate to say it, but when each employee told me that we couldn't make our flight, I started crying.  It wasn't that I wanted to be home so desperately (although I AM wanting to be home, more every minute) but I was upset by the failure of our day to work.  I was upset by the waste of it - if we were going to pay to reschedule our flight, why didn't I do it the day before, and arrange for a reasonable departure instead of the insane one I couldn't make?  I was super upset about the change fee - $60 per ticket.  It's completely ridiculous to be leaving from a week's vacation in Disney World and say I can't afford $360, but to be honest, we just went on a week's vacation in Disney World - their motto is not "The Cheapest Place On Earth."  If I had an extra $360 laying around, I could have come up with plenty of more fun ways to use it than trading our free, direct flight for a 4 hour layover in Cincinnati.  

I think the crying garnered me some sympathy, but not a reduced price, dang it.  We ended up on a flight that left at 8:00 and we still barely made it.  The kids are testy because they are so tired; Darcey and I are the only ones who didn't sleep a wink on the plane (Darcey caused my wakefulness, of course).  I tried to lay down in the airport, but Darcey decided to keep me awake by pulling on my eyelashes.  I am not joking about that - she pulled my eyelashes.  Trying relaxing enough to sleep on the floor of the airport when you've got potential blindness hanging over your head.

I paid for wi-fi access, ostensibly so that Ryan can send some work emails that needed to be done today, but also so I could whine to you, my friends, or at least to you, the lurkers, who may not comment on my blogs but at least lend me a listening ear.  I only have 3 hours on my laptop battery, my ipod is out of juice, and I don't have power cords for either (which is what happens when you rush).  We've got the portable dvd player and cord, and we've set up camp at our gate, having taken over a good three rows with assorted junk, spilled pretzels, toys, lollipops on the ground, etc.  Every few minutes Zack provokes a random sibling and all eyes are on us while they scream at each other, until I can calm everyone down.  

The next time I think going on vacation would be a great way to escape from our boring life, make me read this.  It'll remind me that vacations are regular life under a microscope.  Minor problems are full-blown public crises.  It's worth it, but only in hindsight, when the pain of travel days and other miseries are forgotten in favor of the good memories.  

That's it for now.  I'll keep you posted.

Update - The gods of travel and technology have smiled on me - when I threw my charger in a suitcase, it turned out to be Zack's carry-on suitcase.  So I have power, and the magic of the internet for another 1.5 hours, plus I will have power so Darcey can watch movies on the plane.  Oh, and Darcey stepped in Noah's ketchup and smeared it all over the floor.  That's okay, it wasn't so clean before, either. 

Monday, June 15, 2009

Day 6 - Disney's Hollywood Studios

The first half of this day was the best I've had so far - the second half, not so much.

Today was the final day of Disney's Star Wars Weekends, and Ryan, obviously, was excited to go.  Noah also had Star Wars Weekend high on his list, but mostly so he could get a Star Wars related trinket from the gift shops.  (Insert massive eye rolling.)  However, with a big event like this, the crowds tend to be insane.  Hollywood Studios is a smaller park as well, so the crowds are concentrated.  I prefer my crowds to be more diluted, so with Ryan's blessing, I stayed home with Darcey and planned to meet up with them later.

The boys had a good time, or so they tell me.  Hot, yes, crowded, yes, but also full of Star Wars character sightings.  Zack got to participate in the Jedi Training Academy, where he was taught lightsaber techniques and fought Darth Maul.  He got a certificate afterwards and a Tooth Tunes toothbrush that plays the Star Wars theme song while he brushes.  So watch out, neighborhood kids - I'm bringing home a certified, Jedi-trained lightsaber professional with the cleanest teeth ever!  There is going to be crying in the cul-de-sac when we get home!

Meanwhile, I was thoroughly enjoying some time to myself.  I love my family, I really do, but I am the kind of person that needs alone time.  I adore that we get to go on vacations and create memories as a family - I think it's incredibly important, and I'm counting on these good memories to paper over some of the less happy family moments.  But we had been going on 113 hours of family togetherness, and it was time for a break.  I did some cleaning, laundry, and wrote my blog entry, then put Darcey down for a nap in a big girl bed.  When I knew she was asleep and not just playing in Noah's suitcase, I went in the pool and hung out there, listening to my ipod and relaxing.  Aha!  This is what relaxing means on a vacation!  I actually relaxed, for several hours in a row!  Granted, no kids are around, so I still don't know how to relax with five other people in my personal space.  But hey!  This was one of my goals, and mission accomplished!

When Darcey woke up, it was time to head to the park to meet up with the guys.  Here is where my life turned into a series of unfortunate events.  I must say I'm glad I went into this half of the day fully rested and relaxed, otherwise there would have been tears.  

First off, I hit Target to pick up pin lanyards and pins for Brad and Noah.  Brad discovered pin trading the day before and he decided he wanted in on the action.  Any employee with pins is willing to trade, so there are scads of pins for him to examine, mull over, and swap.  It's like buying something new with no actual money trading hands.  And the pins/lanyards were cheaper at Target.  Since it was dinner time, I picked up several cold sandwiches and wraps to bring to the family.  I thought I'd spend $20 and save $30 doing it this way, with the only inconvenience being that I had to schlep one more heavy bag through the park. 

I got to the parking lot of Hollywood Studios and got Darcey in the stroller, the backpack on my back, and the food bag in my hand, and headed for the tram, where I unloaded the bag, backpack, and Darcey, and folded the stroller.  It is such a production!  Once seated, I realized I had left my cell phone in the car, which was the only way I could contact Ryan.  Shoot.  By now the tram was about to leave, so I quickly threw the stroller out of the tram, opened it up, and turned back to get the now-crying Darcey, who does not want to get out of the train.  And that's when I realize that my shoelace is caught in the stroller mechanism.  I drag the stroller, attached to my shoe, back to the tram, pick up Darcey and drop her in.  Then I yank Darcey and the stroller closer to the tram to grab the bags.  Naturally, the entire tram is watching this, probably assuming this is the show that goes along with the ride.  I gather everything as fast as I can so the tram can leave and shuffle over behind the yellow line, where I finally free my footwear from the stroller.  I had to laugh, even then, at how ridiculous I looked and what an embarrassing situation that was.  

Round two of the tram went smoothly, and I met up with Ryan at the gate.  Zack, who had been angelic the whole time without me, took this opportunity to start crying and whining about everything that had ever gone wrong for him.  Ryan said he was probably hungry, so good thing I had brought dinner, right?  Wrong.  You can lead a family to the dinner table, but you can't make them eat.  I should know that by now, but still I was completely ticked off that no one would eat a single thing I brought.  Well, they ate the Doritos.  But a perfectly normal looking turkey sandwich?  Nope, nothing doing.  I had five different things for them to choose from, and Ryan was the only one who ate.  Ryan claimed that they had a late lunch so they weren't hungry.  I know, I take this too personally, both at home and on vacation.  Just more proof that you can't run away from your problems.  But I was irritated that instead of saving $30, I wasted $20 on an uneaten dinner.  

We did The Great Movie Ride and then watch Journey To Narnia, which completely let us down because there was no actual journey involved.  We stood in a room and watched a 10 minute condensed version of "Prince Caspian."  Darcey was whining because she had a soggy diaper, so instead of letting her bother everyone during the show, I went into a back corner and changed her on the floor.  Which led to me getting a lecture on how I can't do that, it's not safe to change her on the dirty floor, I really can't ever do that again, and on and on.  I felt horrible, not because I changed her diaper on the floor but because I was getting reprimanded.  The guy doesn't realize that she is FourthChild, which means I would change her diaper just about anywhere you can think of.  The guy kept saying how dirty the floor was and I don't know what kind of germs there are.  That's the completely wrong argument for me - if he had said they don't want her dirty diaper on the floor, I would have agreed immediately.  But frankly, I know exactly what kind of germs are on the floor and given the fact that Darcey is likely to lick the floor if I'm not quick enough to stop her, a quick diaper change is certainly not going to do any real damage.

Next, the boys wanted to go on Tower of Terror.  Zack opts out, because spooky haunted hotel theme is too much for him, so I keep the two littles.  Zack's still iffy, mood-wise, so I decide to get some ice cream while we wait.  In line, Zack hits Darcey, and while I'm telling him that he can't hit Darcey, he hits ME.  Well, that's it, I absolutely cannot buy ice cream for him now.  I grab his hand and pull him out of the line, whereupon he immediately starts screaming and crying, full volume.  This time, instead of being the ride show, I get to be the parade.  I think every person in the whole place could hear him screaming, "I WANT ICE CREAM!" over and over.  I basically dragged him down the street, looking for an out-of-the-way place for him to have his tantrum without it being on display and bothering the entire park.  Disney should make time-out corners for tantruming kids - Zack's not the first one to lose it.  And I'm not the first parent to want to say, "I'll buy you an ice cream if you would shut up!"  But I didn't say that, although I wanted to.  I sat him on a low brick wall and walked 10 feet away to give him some space.  His tirade continued, not just about ice cream but about how maligned he is in his life, how he never wants to talk to me again - I kind of wanted to record his exact words and match them to what he says to me ten years from now.  

Eventually, he calmed down and was able to apologize for hitting us.  Ryan showed up then and we headed to Star Tours per my request, even though they had done it already.  Brad and Noah went in with me.  I put my camera under my seat, but either I missed the mesh bag or the bag had a hole in it, because my camera was not there when the ride ended.  Brad had it under his seat instead.  Which means that it did some bouncing around during the ride.  I should have just thrown it in the wash with my cell phone, because it's the same amount of dead now.  I'm completely ticked off - the camera had been on a strap around my neck, and would have been perfectly safe if I had not listened to the instructions to put it under my seat.  I'm hoping I can have it fixed when I get home.  So for those of you keeping track at home, the unexpected expenses now include:  plumber's bill for deodorant in the toilet, new cell phone, camera repair.

It's a really, really good thing I had taken the morning off.  Zack had one more tantrum in him, when Noah bought his trinket - a dog bone shaped dog tag with his name engraved on it.  Notice the lack of Star Wars theme.  It was not the most fun evening for me, and I should have just stayed at home.  But all of the painful/embarrassing things would have depressed me on another day, and today I was able to let most of it roll off my back.  

For our final day, Monday, we plan to have a pool day, then pack, clean, eat dinner, and head to Magic Kingdom in the evening.  I'm glad we went on this trip, but I'll be glad when it's over.  Having this much "fun" is hard work!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Day 5 - More Epcot

Yesterday's Epcot excursion whet our appetites for more Epcot today, and Epcot didn't let us down.  There was tons to do, and Epcot has cemented its place as my favorite Disney park.   

Here are the things Epcot did right:

1.  Air conditioning.  Yes, I know, beating a dead horse on this one, but it makes a huge difference to be able to get in out of the heat.  Whatever money they saved at Animal Kingdom by making the whole park an authentic third world country, I hope it's worth it.

2.  World Showcase.  It's a cool concept, to be able to "visit" a bunch of different countries, and I liked seeing the difference in architectural styles.  It didn't take my breath away like seeing these countries in person - there's a difference between actual old buildings and simulated old buildings.  I don't want to sound like a snob, but I prefer actual old buildings.  Still, walking into the United Kingdom reminded me of York, and France really looked like France.  Too clean, though - no soot on the buildings.  

3.  Unique souvenir opportunities.  Because of all the different countries, you can find lots of interesting trinkets.  Ryan bought me an Eiffel Tower, and I picked up a "Delicious Disney Desserts" cookbook from a French cooking store for my cookbook collection.

 4.  Tons of ride/shows.  I don't mean rides AND shows, I mean shows where you ride something to watch.  For some reason, sticking us in a simulated jeep, clam-mobile, doom buggy, or just a theater on wheels will keep my kids' interest no matter how boring the show.  They've learned about where energy comes from, how to grow crops, taken visual tours of Norway, and on and on.  As long as we're moving, even if it's 3 mph, Darcey thinks it's a train and all the kids are enthralled.  That's another idea for church - can we put the pews on a track?  Or just have the entire seating area of the chapel swivel around the room?  The Carousel of Sacrament Meeting?

5.  Some very cool rides.  I love Soarin' (which is also known as Soarin Over California in Disneyland).  The kids liked Test Track and we all liked Mission: Space.  Although that is basically it for non-educational rides, which led to quite a bit of whining later in the day when all they wanted to do was go on a ride.  Brad and Noah liked Spaceship Earth enough to do it twice (there was no line) even though it was quite educational - there were nifty gadgets to play with, which made up for all the learning, I suppose.

Complaints?  Disney is pretty heavy-handed with the whole environmental message.  It's not that I don't support the concept of being environmentally friendly, per se, and a organization as huge as Disney certainly should do what it can to reduce its impact on the environment.  The thing that pushed me over the edge was not the paper straws that keep dissolving while we drink (ewww) but the Circle of Life movie in Epcot.  Simba (from The Lion King) taught Timon and Pumba how humans are not living with respect for the land because we do all these evil things like drive cars and fly airplanes and use electricity.  It had a montage of all the horrible things that humans do, like cutting down trees and mining for coal, building big power plants and the worst evil of all, the Hoover Dam.  Which is slightly ironic because in Ellen's Energy Adventure it taught us (at 3 mph) that hydroelectric power is clean and renewable, two high priorities for the environmental crowd.  

I don't know, maybe I'm too cynical, but the message came across as "humans are bad!  they should live more like us animals, in harmony with the earth!"  Animals don't love the land any more than humans do - the only reason they haven't destroyed the earth the way humans have is that they haven't figured out how to yet.  If beavers had the technology to turn their dams into a power source AND a tourist attraction, you bet your bippy they would have done it.  Then we could watch movies all about the rich, evil beavers who are taking over the earth with their hydroelectric monopoly.  

Since they care so much about energy, Disney should get into the power plant business.  I'd love to see a nuclear reactor with gigantic mouse ears on top, and a tram ride through the cooling system with audio-animatronic workers in haz-mat suits guiding guests through the magical world of nuclear fusion.  Picture a version of "it's a small world" ride except instead of boats, you ride clouds of radiation from Chernobyl and follow its path through Eastern Europe.  Disney definitely is lacking in Eastern Europe attractions, in my opinion.  The ride spits you out into the gift shop where you can buy t-shirts that have a modified, Mickey-fied, nuclear symbol on them. Then you can eat at the restaurant, which is actually a fall-out shelter!  Oh yeah, this is one area that is just screaming for Disney to come in and make it fun.  

I don't know why I have to come up with all the good ideas around here.  

Back to the current Disney park - overall, I liked it.  I didn't spend much time at all in the World Showcase - it's mostly restaurants and gift shops.  When you take kids into a combo like that you run the risk of total insanity from being begged to death.  They have a cool new activity for the kids, where they are given a cell phone and a secret spy mission from the tv show Kim Possible.  The mission takes you on a tour of one country, which is great to explore that area in some detail (and it gets parents to follow their kids into gift shops that they might have skipped otherwise, those tricky tricky Disney folks!)  We only did one country this way - we would have liked to do more, but we were running short on time yet again and needed to get back across to Future World.  

We ended up at the park entrance right at 9:00 and beat the crowd out of the parking lot.  My biggest time saving tip would be to leave the park during the final fireworks/laser show/whatever because when all 30,000 people are trying to leave at once, it takes eternity.  Maybe after Disney perfects nuclear fusion and rids the world of pollution they can turn their considerable resources into figuring out an evening schedule that doesn't cause a massive bottleneck at the exit.   Or they could build Disneyland Jerusalem and solve the Middle East crisis, too.  Honestly, I have too many good ideas for one blog.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Day 4 - Epcot

Hindsight is always 20/20, and today my hindsight tells me we should have switched our touring strategy with the Animal Kingdom day.  Yesterday we got to the park by 11:30 and wanted to die from heat exhaustion.  We wanted to learn from that experience and decided to get to Epcot after the heat and crowds were over.  When got to Epcot at 4 p.m., we found that almost everything we wanted to do was indoors.  I've been kicking myself for so many hours that it's starting to really hurt.  

Since we were planning a late start, today ended up being mostly a pool day for the kids.  I have to say, it's been absolutely fabulous to have the pool connected to the living room.  The boys got in at 9 in the morning and didn't get out until about 3, and still were asking to swim again after we got home tonight.  We had been advised to stay on Disney property by a well-traveled friend, but I have to say that the pool has made it worth the inconvenience of being off property.  I can't say enough good things about renting this townhouse.

I took a trip to the local Target to stock up on groceries, bottled water, swim goggles for the boys, etc.  I also bought a cheap umbrella stroller for Zack - he is 1000 times less whiny now that he's not walking.  Although in true childlike form, he had the audacity to complain that the foot rest on the new stroller was hurting his feet.  Yes, the child who was carted around all day like a king in a chariot was complaining that his feet hurt.  I'm sorry, sir, does your bottom hurt from sitting all day, too?  

Darcey found a Mickey Mouse doll at Target that she loved playing with.  I had to buy it for her, not only because she made it clap its hands and dance, but also because I found her chewing on its foot in the cereal aisle.  This Target knows its market - it has an entire section devoted to Disney merchandise and park survival items, such as the water bottle fans that were an outrageous $16 each at the park but only $6 here.  I bought 3 for the boys and proceeded to watch Brad spray himself in the face for five hours straight, lapping up the water as it came out of the bottle like a deranged puppy.  But it made him incredibly happy, and that's what this trip is about, right?

After my store trip, I made lunch for the family then watched Darcey destroy the house.  While I was cleaning up her spilled juice on the table, she was writing on the glass doors with peanut butter.  Which led to her dumping a bag of cereal on the couch, and later throwing grapes randomly around the room.  This all happened in the time period when she would normally be taking a nap, so I'm attributing her behavior to some kind of slap-happy, so-tired-she's-wired kind of mood.  Whatever the cause, it nearly drove me to the very edge of sanity.  I always get extra cranky when I have to be a parent instead of a person enjoying a vacation; doing the dishes and the laundry and cleaning up other people's messes (people who asked me IN ALL SERIOUSNESS why they had to clean the house when it doesn't belong to them - because living in filth for a week is apparently just fine with them), while said people are cavorting in the pool and waiting for their lunch to be carried out to them.   I've realized, not happily, that moms don't get to go on vacation, they just get to be moms with different scenery.

Epcot, when we finally got there, was great.  Yes, it's the largest of the Disney parks so yes, there's a lot of walking, but once you get where you're going, everything is inside which means... AIR CONDITIONING!!  Maybe Disney is closer to the Orlando dome idea than I thought!  We did Mission: Space (the non-spinning version for me, spinning for the rest of the fam) and I really enjoyed it.  Too short - I could have done several more minutes of that ride.  Ryan and the boys did Test Track.  We saw Living With The Land and Ellen's Energy Adventure shows.  The kids amaze me with their attention span - all four of them sat quietly and watched all of the energy show, which was 45 minutes long!  Maybe if church were done with audio-animatronics, they'd sit through that a lot better, too.

While Darcey and I waited for Test Track to be done, I let her play in a splash area.  I had learned from Animal Kingdom, when she played in some dirt and got absolutely filthy, to bring a change of clothes, so I didn't mind if she got wet.  Streams of water popped out of the ground and most of the kids were jumping around and splashing each other.  Darcey, however, decided to test the limits of her digestive system by drinking the water out of the puddles.  Gross!!  I kept stopping her, but then it just turned into a game, so I dragged her away to her stroller to get changed.  Which is when I discovered that the pj's apparently did not make it into my backpack.  Sigh.  

It didn't seem like a lot of rides, but it sure ate up our time in a flash.  We headed back to World Showcase to grab a spot for IllumiNations, the fireworks/laser show.  While Ryan held down the pavement for 30 minutes, I took the kids to a show called Impressions de France.  IllumiNations was good - we had a decent spot right on the lake and near the exit, but there was a banner that happened to be just exactly positioned to cover where the spinning globe thingy stopped.  Three feet to the left and we would have been perfect - in fact, Zack's view from his stroller was perfect, but by the time we realized that we couldn't see, there were people 4 deep behind us.  So I'm guessing that cool stuff happens on the spinning globe thing, but I wouldn't know.  That's okay - we were right above a little pavilion where a wedding reception was taking place, and that was fun to watch, too.  

Saturday's plan is Epcot again, although I want to do all the shows in Future World that we haven't seen yet, and Ryan wants to explore World Showcase.  We might have to spend three days here, which is just fine because, as I may have mentioned before, AIR CONDITIONING!! 

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Day 3 - Animal Kingdom

Whoever came up with the concept of fire and brimstone was obviously well acquainted with Florida weather.  Good gravy, is it hot here!!  It's like the Sun is so enchanted by Walt Disney World that it skooches its orbit closer to Florida, just to be near the Happiest Place On Earth.  I find it slightly ironic that one year ago we were in Switzerland with a broken heater and I was so frozen I thought I'd be the next Ice Woman.  I was pretty sure National Geographic was on their way to film my discovery and unthawing for their next special.  Today I'm wondering what the boiling point of blood is, because I think we're getting close.

I don't want to turn this blog into all the miserable aspects of being out of my comfort zone, because at the end of the day I'd rather be miserable and on vacation than comfortable at home and still, quite possibly, miserable.  But today was almost ruined by the sweltering, high 90's heat.  We recovered, but it was touch and go for a while.  Keep reading, because we learned from today, so it won't be a complaint-fest.  Hopefully.

Animal Kingdom is only open until 7 p.m., so our goal was to get there bright and early to beat the crowds.  This is what every tour book ever printed will tell you - go early, get the big name rides done while there are less people in the park and before the sun is beating down on your head like a gigantic laser beam from an alien planet.  What the tour books don't know is that we are not bright and early people.  We are dull and tardy people.  I know that, but for some reason I overlook this fact every single time I plan a vacation.   Despite the tenor of some of my more depressing blog posts, I am essentially an optimist, and I tend to plan the best case scenario:  waking up, racing to the car to get the day started, everyone full of enthusiasm for what the new day has in store.  This doesn't happen at home; why should I expect it to happen when we aren't sleeping in our own beds, skipping meals and naps, and watching hours  of the Disney Channel? 

Regardless, I did expect to wake up bright and early today, but when the alarm clock went off (I know - alarm clocks on vacation!!  I'm a moron!!)  Ryan all but begged to be allowed to sleep in, and I was so tired I said yes.  We eventually headed out at around 11 a.m., thinking we'd hit the shows and larger-capacity rides (thus shorter lines) and then do the more popular rides in the later afternoon.

Good theory, bad reality.  We completely underestimated what the sun would feel like at noon.  As soon as we got there we were looking for somewhere to sit out the heat, which is not exactly conducive to standing in lines for 70 minutes or hiking back and forth across the park in search of fast passes.  By 12:45, we had taken shelter in a restaurant.  I was all for going home for two hours and coming back around 3:00, when early birds would be heading home and the park would be emptier.  (Our house is closest to Animal Kingdom, so this was realistic.)  Ryan preferred to stay since some fast passes were ready to be used and we could finally do a ride or two.  We also rented a stroller for Zack, who was doing more whining than walking, and this proved to be the best investment ever.  

This was when things started turning around.  We did Kilimanjaro Safari, which was a Jungle Cruise type ride in jeeps instead of a boat, and without the punny narration.  I missed the puns, or at least, the attempt at humor.  Oh, and it had real live animals instead of fake ones.   We took a round-trip ride on a train headed to a petting zoo (we didn't get off).  Then we watched The Festival of the Lion King, which was absolutely the best Disney show I've seen.  It was part Lion King The Musical and part circus, totally over-the-top and fantastic.  When we got out, the parade had ended and the mass exodus had begun.  We walked right into the 3D show "It's Tough To Be A Bug" which scared the pants off Darcey.  We went to Dinosaur, which Ryan took the boys on while Darcey and I got a snack.  

By that time it was 5:30 and the only things left to do were of the roller coaster variety, so I went home with Darcey.  We rented two small cars for the same price as one minivan, so we had to take advantage of that flexibility at some point.  (Plus, we had to make it worth paying double parking fees every day!)  I came home, gave Darcey a bath, and did several loads of laundry.  Being the overachiever that I am, I even washed the clothes I had been wearing today, forgetting that my cell phone was in my pocket.  I realized about 5 minutes into the wash, but it's a front loader, so the door was locked and I couldn't confirm my suspicions for half an hour.  Naturally, it's completely water-logged.  Which seems to be a fitting demise in a state as damp as Florida.

The boys are in the pool, and I'm relaxing on the couch with a headache, probably from dehydration.  It's nearly impossible to drink enough water here - I'm sweating so much that I can feel drops rolling down my back constantly, and the tap water tastes like reclaimed sewage.  Seriously, the water tastes so bad that someone might want to see if Cuba is poisoning the city's water supply.  I've resorted to using the Kool-Aid singles in our water bottles when we refill them at the park, but I know we aren't drinking enough.  I don't think I'll come back to Florida in the summer until Disney builds a giant bubble over the entire city of Orlando and air conditions the whole thing.  Those people are geniuses - I'm sure if they could charge extra for it, they'd figure it out.

On tomorrow's schedule:  Epcot.  We plan to roll in about 3 p.m.  We'll let the early birds catch the worms - we prefer churros, anyways.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Day 2 - Magic Kingdom

I'm behind already, so here's day 2.  I'll work on day 1 when I have time.

Today we had to recover from last night's late night, so we used the morning to get stuff done.  I went grocery shopping, then did a load of laundry.  We took the kids to the big pool (as opposed to the tiny, private pool in our unit).  I attempted to give Darcey a nap, but she has learned how to climb out of the crib, and so far is refusing to nap.  What she doesn't know is how hard this week might be for a tired girl, and I'm thinking at some point she'll cave.

By 4:00 we were out the door for another half-day at the Magic Kingdom.  Today is Zack's birthday, and this proved to be quite lucky for us.  Disney is doing a promotion where you get in free on your birthday, but since we already have multi-day tickets, they offered us either a gift card for $63 (the cost of a child's ticket) or Fastpasses to 6 rides of our choosing, for the whole family.  Hmmmm, this was a tough call.  Walk onto 6 of the most popular rides in the park, or buy souvenirs for the kids?  The woman at the Will Call counter could tell I was having a hard time deciding, maybe because I kept saying, "Give me the fast passes.  No wait!!  Give me the gift card.  Wait!  Maybe the fast passes..."  Finally, my indecisiveness was an asset - the woman gave me the $63 gift card and three fast passes for the family.  Best of both worlds!!  I love Disney for allowing their employees to do great things like this for customers.

It was miserably hot and humid.  Before we even got on the first ride, Darcey's face was red from heat and the kids looked like wilted lettuce, all droopy and soggy and rotten.  We did the Tiki Room first, to stay out of the heat.  I have to say, I prefer the old Tiki Room to the new-and-improved version.  The new version is trying too hard to be hip, and the old Tiki Room was funky and classic.  Plus, they don't even sing the entire Tiki Room song (In the tiki tiki tiki tiki tiki room...).  But air conditioning for 8 minutes, we'll take whatever they're serving.

Next was Splash Mountain again, as it is Brad's current favorite.  We also did Pirates - Darcey was pretty nervous the whole time, but she never cried, not even once.  I prefer this Pirates because it only has one very, very minor drop.  Disneyland's version is much scarier for a non-rides person.  Jungle Cruise was good, corny as usual.  We ate dinner at Pecos Bill's Something Something Place (obviously I can't remember the name of it) where Noah saw the total for the family's meal and was outraged.  Good!  Let's hope he remembers that the next time he wants a $4 churro or something.  

We saw the Country Bear Jamboree, which Darcey loved - she clapped along to all the songs, even the ones that didn't really invite clapping.  Haunted Mansion continues to terrify Zack, and is scaring his sister just as much, but it's not nearly as gory as the Haunted Manor in Disneyland Paris.  We headed to Fantasyland for Winnie the Pooh, to lighten the mood a little bit.  Then a quick dash to the front of the line for Peter Pan.  At that point, we only had 20 minutes before the park closed, and Noah wanted to go to Tomorrowland to watch Monsters Inc's Laugh Floor show, which was laugh out loud funny.  So we made that our last stop, and got out of there right at 10 p.m., in time for the fireworks, which we saw yesterday.

It took us two hours from that point to get home.  Honestly, that's a ridiculous amount of time.  Here's how the time was spent:
Zack wants to look in a Tomorrowland gift shop.  We take a final bathroom break.  Noah wants to look in a Main Street gift shop.  He can't find anything to buy, but really really wants to buy something.  Zack finds the thing he wants, amazingly it's the same thing he didn't want to buy at the original Tomorrowland gift shop.  Darcey needs a diaper change.  Brad has to go to the bathroom.  Noah looks in another gift shop.  Then another one.  We finally make it out of the park (Noah is sullen and pouting now) and head to the ferry to get to the tram to get to our car.  We decide the monorail line is moving faster, so head to monorail.  No monorail shows up for five minutes, dang it.  Take the monorail to the TTC, where we catch the tram to Pluto.  Wake Darcey up for the tram ride.  Leave the parking lot, but get on the 192 the wrong direction.  Turn around, make it home without further incident, with two kids asleep in the back seat.  

I want to expound on the torture that is humidity and also make a list of the things I've seen here that I haven't seen since I lived in Maryland.  (Dunkin' Donuts, Ponderosa, Edy's Ice Cream)  But I am wiped out and we are trying to get up early for Animal Kingdom tomorrow.  

And this is me trying to be relaxed!

Day 1 - The Best Travel Day Ever

Brad declared this the best travel day ever, and I tend to agree.  The travel itself was as uncomfortable as ever, but instead of dwelling on that part of the day, we regrouped and turned the day into a productive success.  

As far as travel crises go, I prefer mine to be minor and over early in the day, so as to give us time to recover.  Today's crisis happened when we woke up at 6:45 to find that the toilet wasn't flushing quickly anymore.  At about the same time, I realized that my deodorant was no longer on the sink, waiting to be packed.  Yes, somehow my deodorant got flushed down the toilet.  Fortunately, I had back-up deodorant, and the plumber's bill can wait until we get back.

We got to the airport with perfect timing - not too early but not too close to take-off as to cause me undo stress.  The flight went reasonably well - the woman in the seat in front of Darcey was just leaving her 7 month old grandbaby, so she imagined that her back was being kicked by a child she loved.  (Really, she was very forgiving.)  Darcey only threw one tantrum and it was resolved when I turned on a slideshow of photos on my laptop.  We picked up our two rental cars (because it was the same price as one minivan, and it gives us extra flexibility, we hope) and got to our townhouse without getting lost.

The townhouse we are renting is great.  It's 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms and has its own pool.  The pool is small, but perfect for a single family.  When the boys saw it, any thoughts of Disney World attractions went right out of their heads.  They love this pool.  I love that the kids aren't all crammed into one room with us - six people in a 325 square foot hotel room is never fun.  The only bummer is that Darcey has chosen this vacation to learn how climb out of a crib.  It's just a portable crib, so it's not an unheard of feat for a newly minted two year old.  But she refuses to nap, and that makes things frustrating.

After a fast food dinner and a swim in the pool, we made our evening plans.  We have 6 full days available for Disney touring, but a seven day pass was the same price, and you know me.  A free day at Disney?  I was not going to pass that up, even if I couldn't use it.  As luck would have it, the Magic Kingdom happened to be open until 12 a.m.  Since we were still on Utah time, that would only be 10 p.m. and with our free extra day, it was like a bonus day we weren't expecting.  AND to make it all even better, when we got there at 9 p.m., they let us park for free!  I love a good deal!

The park in the evening was great.  We walked into a wall of people watching the early parade, but skirted them and made our way to Tomorrowland.  We rode Buzz Lightyear and Ryan took the boys on Astro Orbiters.  We watched the Carousel of Progress while we waited for some fast passes to take effect, which was entirely too boring for the kids, but they sat through it without complaining.  Then we headed to Frontierland/Adventureland - they are right next to each other, and I can't tell which ride is in which area.  Ryan and the boys did Pirates, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain, which Brad absolutely loved.  I did a lot of standing around and waiting for them, which I don't love so much, but since I don't do any fast/scary/intense rides, it's my fate to wait.  Darcey and I happened to be at a street crossing ahead of the last parade and a worker announced last call for crossing the street.  I couldn't decide which side of the street I wanted to be on, so I just stood there as he drew a rope across the street right in front of me.  Which all of a sudden put me in a front row seat for the parade!  Lucky lucky lucky!  Darcey and I parked ourselves on the ground and watched the floats and characters pass by not 10 feet in front of us.  Awesome.

When it was over, we found the boys and made our way to the exit.  The kids were getting hungry, so we stopped at an ice cream parlor on Main Street for some cones.  Since we started our day with a minor crisis, it was only fitting that we end with an equally minor, though funnier, crisis.  I was walking with Zack and Brad down the street, heading for a bathroom, when I hear Zack let out this primal shriek followed by screaming and sobbing.  I turned to see that he had ice cream smashed on his face from his forehead down to his mouth, and the remains of a broken cone all over the ground.  This is what happened:  he wasn't looking where he was walking, and he walked cone-first into a garbage can, which smashed the ice cream all over his face before hitting the ground.  He was absolutely inconsolable over losing the cone, so much so that he wasn't even mad at me for laughing.  I only wish I had taken a picture of his face, dripping with ice cream - it's exactly how it would look in a cartoon.  

I tried to comfort him as we sped to the bathroom, telling him that we'd get another ice cream just as soon as we got out, but he was miserable.  I could hear him in the men's bathroom, wailing, and I felt bad because I knew that he was two minutes away from getting another ice cream cone, but he wouldn't trust me and be okay with it.  I saw something of a spiritual application here - how often are we inconsolable over the smashed ice cream cones in our life, when God is watching us, begging us to believe that in just a little bit there will be a brand-new ice cream cone waiting for us.  How often do I lack faith, thinking that my lost cone was the only thing that would ever make me happy, and now it's gone?  As I stood outside the bathroom, listening to my little boy crying because he was so distraught, I promised to remember this lesson, so that next time I'm experiencing my smashed ice cream cone moment, I will believe that my Heavenly parent is going to make it all better.  Okay, sermon over.

Disney customer service rocks just as much as they claim.  All I had to do was walk back in the ice cream parlor, tell the cashier that my son had dropped his cone, and she waved me to the front to get a new one for free.  In five minutes, Zack was happily licking his new cone, and we headed out.  We got back to our house at 2 a.m., and the kids were amazing for being awake so long.  It was a very long day, but they were troopers the whole time, and we were able to turn a typically miserable travel day into a vacation day.  Brad said this was the best travel day we've ever had, and I'm inclined to agree.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Ghost of Vacations Past

Tomorrow's the big day - we head out for a week at Walt Disney World, a.k.a. The Happiest Place On Earth.  I'm hoping they can still call it that by the time we leave.  I ought to be more stressed out, but I'm not.  Maybe last week's emotional flip-out got everything out of my system, leaving me primed for nothing but optimism and positiveness.  Now that I've settled on my reading list for the trip, (3 audiobooks, 2 audio short stories, 1 hardback) I can start to think about the rest of the planning.

I'm enjoying the relative peacefulness that this pre-trip period has been.  It was so much harder last year, prepping for 3 weeks abroad.  This trip feels so easy in comparison I think I could prepare in my sleep.  The great thing about traveling with some regularity (even if it's yearly) is that you learn from each trip.  Here's some stuff we've learned that I'm applying to our trip tomorrow.

1.  Less is more.  Really.  Ryan's been converted to packing as lightly as possible, since he was usually the one to manhandle the suitcases onto and off of trains with approximately 15 seconds before the train pulled out, abandoning him or our belongings in Nefferfargen, Germany.  We have a washer and dryer in the townhouse we're renting, so we are only taking two additional changes of clothing.  And as little else as possible.

2.  Since you can't prepare for every possibility, don't even try.  When I'm packing, I tend to run through every scenario and pack exactly what we'd need to counteract it.  What if Darcey and Brad get a cold?  I'll pack children's AND adult cold medicine.  What if Zack loses his blankie?  I'll bring a back-up blankie.  I'll bring the sling for when the stroller is inconvenient and the leash for when the sling lets me down.  Dress clothes in case we go to church.  Play clothes in case we go to somewhere dirty.  A set of scriptures for everyone in case this is the week that we finally start reading as a family every night.  Floss, because I might be inclined to floss.  Nail polish remover.  Extra batteries (or a charger) for every electronic gadget ever invented.  Umbrellas.  Shoes for every possible occasion.  Gum, candy, lollipops, granola bars, apples, sandwiches, string cheese, goldfish crackers.  It takes a strong constitution to say Yes, I might find a moment on this trip when having a dressy casual sweater would be handy, but if that moment ever comes, I'll just wing it.  

3.  Delegate.  Brad and Noah have done 100% of their own packing, both for the trip and for their travel day entertainment needs.  All three boys will be responsible for carrying their own bags at all times, so Ryan and I will be slightly less pack-mulish than normal.  Plus, they can't complain to me that I forgot to pack something that they absolutely can't live without and will therefore punish me until they either get home and retrieve said treasure or forget about it because the flight attendant just offered them peanuts.

4.  Schedule some relaxation time.  I don't do relaxing vacations.  I don't know if I ever have.  I come from serious touristing stock, and I can't ignore the inner voice that is screaming at me not to close my eyes for one second because I might miss something.  The thing is, there's plenty of downtime on a vacation, and I'm trying to approach this trip with less of a "to-do list" mentality and more of a "see what we see" attitude.  I'm telling myself that whatever gets skipped because we need a day off will be done next time.  (Even though next time is probably many, many years from now.)  Although I don't know how well that will work - I still feel a little sickish that we didn't go to Versailles last year.  But hey!  Disney and Versailles are both not going anywhere!  If we take a break occasionally, we'll enjoy what we do see a lot more.

5.  It's going to cost way more money than I'm planning, and that's okay.  The cost of fun on a vacation can be astronomical, but the cost of avoiding fun in favor of saving money, well, that's just ridiculously painful.  I am packing lunches and snacks, putting a leash on the kids' trinket money, but if the thing that is stopping us from having a good time is a $3 sucker, well, I'm buying the sucker.  

6.  Let go of the obsessive things.  For example, I can't leave home with the house messy, because I have this fear that we'll all die in a fiery crash and all of my friends and loved ones will come to clear out our house and see EXACTLY how bad a housekeeper I am.  It's like wearing clean underwear in case you get in a car accident, except on a grander scale.  My house is mostly clean, at least the parts that guests see, but if I'm dead and someone has to clear out all of the junk I've accumulated on my side of the bed, I'm just sure it's going to tarnish your image of me.  I don't want you to know that I don't always bother to make sure used Kleenex makes it into the trash can, or see the massive pile of clothes meant for D.I. that is piled on my closet floor.   So, just in case of the whole fiery-crash scenario, please don't clean out my house until after the eulogy.  

7.  Keep doing what works.  I'm packing lots of small diversions that hopefully will buy us some sanity while we wait at the airport or stand in line for a ride.  I'm planning on blogging daily, because not only did that relieve stress but it helps me remember the trip more clearly.  Which in turn relieves the stress that comes with forgetting all of the great stuff we've done.  Mostly, I want this trip to be fun for everyone in the family, so that we'll all be looking forward to the next trip.  I love that traveling is what our family does - we don't have a ton of traditions, but vacations is definitely one of them.  So I'm looking to chalk this trip up under the "success" column, and if nothing else, get some great memories out of it.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Less Melodrama, More Funny

It has come to my attention that the last two posts have been entirely too depressing.  As a result, I vow to be at least 50% funnier in my next blog.  And to thank you for giving me another chance, here's today's amusing anecdote:

Zack and two of his friends were overheard having an argument about who was nicer.  "I'm nicer!"  "No, I'm nicer!"  Zack takes his open palm, whacks one of the kids in the chest and shouts, "I'm the nice one!"

We leave Tuesday for Walt Disney World, a magical land where children are always delighted, parents are always energetic, and everyone is the nice one.  My blog next week is guaranteed to be so upbeat and cheerful, it will be the blog version of "It's A Small World."  Only it won't get stuck in your head.  

Thursday, June 4, 2009

How Crappy Was My Day

I have tried so hard today to come up with a positive attitude, but it's over.  I can't even try anymore.  This day started off in the toilet and has never gotten out. Right now it's 10:00 p.m. and Darcey's still awake.  That one fact alone should represent just how crappy this day was, and all I can hope for is that the day won't get any worse before I fall asleep in an hour.  I'm not banking on it.

I'm stressed right now because we're leaving for our Disney World vacation in five days, but in two days we're in charge of the ward activity.  It doesn't seem to matter that everything for both events is pretty much under control - assignments have been made and followed-up on, vacation plans are taken care of.  But it's still there, the stress, lurking underneath the surface.  As soon as any minor thing brushes past me, KA-BOOM!!  I explode like something out of Die Hard and the family has to run for cover.

So here's a small list of the things that made me angry today.  (And literally angry - I could feel a headache coming on from clenching my teeth so hard.)

infomercials during kids' shows
2 ice cube trays with one ice cube each
ungrateful children
touching raw meat
bra straps keep falling off my shoulders
crumbs on the floor
anything packed in oil
cleaning up after other people
listening to kids fight
non-napping babies
credit card thieves
wasting food
being interrupted
the five love languages
slow internet connections
crappy toys that break immediately

And this was just during lunch!  I thought maybe writing down all of the things that were bothering me would help me let go of the frustration, but apparently it did not work.  What I desperately needed today was friend time, but I was busy all day and the one friend that I generally call to say "I'm losing it and depending on you to restore my sanity" is out of town.  Come to think of it, I've had very little sanity since she left - maybe the two are related??  Anyhow, I need to branch out, develop a larger network of people who can prevent me from wallowing in my ragepool for as long as I did today.  Be warned, potential friends, it might be you!

I thought I was safe after the three boys went to bed.  Zack both kicked and hit me in protest for going to bed, yet in a moment of supreme self-control I did not strangle him or tell him that bad little boys who hit their mommies get eaten by monsters.  (Not that I would ever DREAM of doing something like that.)  Brad and Noah both huffed off into their room, completely disgusted by the horribly mean parents they have.  I was not prepared for the amount of pouty/sulky/teenage-girl behavior I would get out of boys, but man, it is there.

Noah was mad at me today because I wouldn't let him skip his swim lesson in order to avoid being late to a birthday party.  Plus, I didn't put his bag of clothes in the car.  And I didn't remind him to wear shoes.  Really?  I need to remind an 8 year old boy to wear shoes when going somewhere in the car?  Maybe the Lord needs to rethink his age of accountability, because apparently 8 is not old enough to even dress properly without help, let alone discern good and evil.  

Brad was mad for all sorts of reasons.  1) We did not go to the movies like we promised because he was out swimming with his friends when we were supposed to go.  2) We made his friends go home at 9:15 p.m.  3) We exist.  We were put on this earth to make his life miserable, and we're doing a bang-up job of it.  Just wait until tomorrow, when I tell him that he has to clean his room before he can play with his friends - he's going to HATE me.

I am desperately in need of one of those days when parenting is rewarding, so I remember why I had four children instead of a cat and a big savings account.

The straw that broke this camel's back came when I finally, finally got all of the kids, including non-sleeping Darcey, into bed and settled down to watch yesterday's So You Think You Can Dance.  I spent 5 hours downloading it from the internet.  It's pretty much the only show I watch during the summer, and I've been anticipating some "me" time with the show all day long.  You can imagine my dismay, then, when I realized that I HAD DOWNLOADED LAST WEEK'S EPISODE!  Of course I've seen that one already!  I sat there and was ready to cry - in fact, I'm feeling weepy right now thinking about it.

This has just been a waste of a day.  Yes, I got two lessons done for one of my online classes, I did my visiting teaching, and I cleaned the house today.  But I haven't even mentioned the fact that while Darcey was busy not napping this afternoon she decided to rip her mattress apart.  And it's 10:40 p.m. and she's crying.  And I'm on the verge of joining her.  The only thing I can tell myself is that tomorrow is going to be excellent in comparison.  See, the optimist still shines through, just a tiny bit. 

Update - It's 10:55 and my glasses just broke.  I need to go to bed while life is still worth waking up for.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I've Been Ripped Off!

My brother Tim arrived last night from England, and tomorrow I get the privilege of delivering him to the Missionary Training Center, where he will study for 2 months before heading to Santiago, Chile, to serve a mission for our church.  Because he lives in England, he did all of his pre-mission shopping with me in America a couple of months ago.  I thought it was so cool to get to prepare Tim for his mission, and then to cap it off, I would get to be the one taking him to the MTC.  They have a big room where the missionaries and their parents gather, maybe there's a couple of hymns sung or the MTC president says a few words, and then it's time for good-byes.  Tim and I are mature, so we wouldn't get all weepy and stuff; in fact, Tim thought it would be funny to stage a fake fight while everyone else is crying on their mommies' shoulders.

Then I woke up this morning and my dream of an MTC send-off went up in smoke.  On the front page of the Deseret News was this article, detailing the NEW drop-off procedures, effective today.  No longer the long good-byes; in fact, I'm not even welcome inside the building any longer.  The new policy is mandatory curb-side drop-offs.  Curb-side drop-offs!  Holy cow, even a pizza gets delivered with more attention! 

All this because of the swine flu.  I guess they're worried about this weekly influx of potentially contagious people all gathered in one room where they might spread their contagion through their weeping and wailing.  I suppose it's a valid point - there doesn't seem to be a better disease incubator than collecting thousands of people from all over the country, mixing them together for a few weeks, and then sprinkling them all over the globe to spread their message of peace along with their germs.   

Tim doesn't care about the new curbside drop-off policy one bit.  Ryan concurred - new missionaries are chomping at the bit to get started with this mission thing already, and even thirty more minutes of theatrics is just delaying what they are there for.  But, as I explained in a very gentle and loving manner to Tim, this isn't about you!!  It's a show for the parents, who are sending off their most precious possessions for two long years and is it too much to ask that they get some spiritual pay-off for their investment?  Some proof that this is a clean, safe environment with responsible adults that are going to take good care of our children?  

I know, I know - Emily, where is your faith?  Don't worry, I've got plenty of faith.  I've got buckets of faith, bushels and wheelbarrows full of it - I'm not really worried that they won't take care of my brother.  But it would have been nice, you know, to have a tiny little bit of pomp involved in dropping him off.  A smidgen of ceremony, a wee bit of formality for such a big occasion.  It's two years, after all, and it would be nice to have a slightly more impressive send-off.  Instead, I'm going to make him hop out while the car's still moving, and I'll chuck his suitcase after him.  Maybe I'll just hire a taxi, no reason for me to even be there, right?  

This is probably good practice for someone in the helicopter generation of parenting to get used to letting kids do things on their own.  But couldn't they have started next week, for next week's helicopter parents?  It seems incredibly bad timing that this change happens one lousy day before I got to take my brother, who I actually love, and see him embark on a life-changing experience.   I thought it was awesome that I got to be the one to do that with him.  Even though there's a 14 year age difference between us, we're pretty close, and I'm going to miss him.  It's hard to let someone go for such a long time, especially knowing how hard and challenging it's going to be.  

Oh, well.  What's done is done, and the less emotional side of me can see the logic of less pomp and more efficiency.  Maybe by the time one of my actual children goes on a mission, when swine flu is just the punchline of a joke, they'll have changed back and I'll get to enter the building with my boy.  But in the meantime, I have to make sure Tim is all packed.  It's a long walk to Provo, and he's going to have to get started soon if he's going to get there on time.