Spilling Some Tea

Whose family doesn’t have drama? Some dark secrets you want to keep hidden? Some unsavory activity someone is guilty of? Or just some normal every day crap that gets stirred up by the family instigator?

Our family is no different.

Some of you who know us personally don’t even know that my husband has two brothers. He stopped talking to them when his father died and some stuff got stirred up. His father’s will, which had been on the kitchen table with other documents, mysteriously went missing. His sister-in-law beseiged us with requests to split everything three ways, despite what the will indicated; requests to do what “daddy” wanted (she’d never personally met the man), and requests for a copy of the death certificate – before we’d even had the funeral. Niether of his brothers wanted to see his dad, so we took care of the viewing and cremation ourselves. The week of the funeral, where we hosted his one brother and sister-in-law in our house, ended with his brother telling me I was fat, and me, in true South Philly fashion, yelling out the front door as he was walking away – for all the neighbors to hear – that his wife was a bitch, and at least I could lose weight. For any of you who have referred to me as “Sweet Anna” at any time, this was not my finest hour.

Jim and his brothers were not particularly close. I didn’t even meet this one brother until we had been married 10 years. I’m not sure why it took that long. He lives in California, we’ve always been on the east coast. We invited them to come stay with us for a family event when we lived in South Florida, and they came, spent two days with us, then left for Key West. His wife called me from Key West and begged to come back to stay with us, because she didn’t like Key West and guys were hitting on her husband. They came back to Weston, stayed another couple of days, then went to Orlando to visit Jim’s mother. I only saw them one other time outside of the funeral in the 30+ years Jim and I have been together. We stayed one night at their house in California. They gave us a nice dinner, let us sleep in an unheated water bed, and we took them to brunch the next morning in Sacramento before we left to continue our cross country trip. It was pleasant, but not comfortable, and I was so glad to be on my way away.

Jim’s mother never fostered any kind of friendship among the brothers. At times, although I have no concrete proof, she drove wedges between them. His brother Robert married after Jim and I did. The two were talking on the phone in one of their rare phone conversations through the years, and Jim asked Robert about the wedding he was going to have. He told us that he was having just a quick trip to Nevada because their mother wasn’t paying for their wedding like she had paid for ours. Except she didn’t pay for ours – Jim and I did. We told all of our parents we’d pay for our immediate family, aunts, and uncles, and if they wanted to go further with guests – like their friends – they would pay for the extra people. She did have some of her friends there, that she did pay for, but that didn’t mean she paid for the whole wedding, like she told Robert she had.

This brother also seemed like “the golden child” from my perspective. Although his mother, on multiple occasions, referred to her sons as “the cheat, the sneak, and the liar,” it always seemed like Robert was favored over the other two. He seemed more well liked by his aunts, he was invited to things we were never invited to, and he just seemed he had a much closer relationship with his mother’s family than we did, despite being so far away from everyone. I won’t say he did everything right. I remember his wife calling us one Christmas after we had hosted them at our place during their Key West debaucle saying she had sent what she thought was a lovely gift to Jim’s mother, only to have her send it back, broken, with a note that said she didn’t want it. She vowed never to talk to Jim’s mother again – but quickly changed her tune when probate issues arose around Jim’s father’s death and she needed to rally troops to her side. I guess the wind blew in many directions.

Another thing that has always bothered me about this brother is that before Jim and I were married, shortly after we moved in together, he told Jim not to marry me. He didn’t think I was a good fit for Jim for a number of reasons, and he had no trouble at all telling Jim we shouldn’t get married.

So, when we inadvertently found out over the weekend that this brother was now divorced, I have to admit that I did a little internal happy dance. I don’t ever like to see anyone go through difficult times, but knowing the heartache this brother has caused me through the years – even in his absence from our lives – made me praise the Lords of Karmic Retribution just a little bit.

I spent almost 30 years with a mother-in-law I could never make happy. If I did what she wanted, it wasn’t good enough. If I didn’t do what she wanted, I wasn’t good enough. If I didn’t do things she thought I should do but that never entered my mind, I was awful. And whether it was her influence or not, I never felt I could measure up to standards Jim’s brother (this one in particular) expected Jim to reach. I feel like a horrible human being, but his divorce sparked joy in my heart.

I’ve never been more proud to be married to my husband than I was after this news. Although communication between Jim and this brother was rare, it seemed that those communications were filled with messages of negativity and disapproval of the life Jim chose. Yet here we are, 31 years into our relationship, three children and one and a half grandchildren in, living in a small home in Bellmawr that is filled with more love than money. And when I heard this news, as horrible as it makes me as a human being, it made me feel rich. It made me feel triumphant. It made me feel overwhelmingly blessed that despite messages from his brother, Jim hung in with me and made US work.

And wow. I’m so grateful that this brother – and Jim’s mother – continually challenged Jim with their negativity. I have so benefitted from him continually climbing out of the pool of adversity they wanted to keep him in. He’s been determined from day one to prove them wrong, and it’s proven to me that he would go to the ends of the earth for us.

Storybook Dining at Artist Point With Snow White – A Review

After booking a last minute trip during spring break with my daughter and grandson, I was certain we’d never score a reservation for the new Storybook Dining at Artist Point with Snow White. I was honestly stunned that not only did I snag a reservation, but I was able to change it three separate times to accommodate our ever changing schedule. This, perhaps, should have been a sign of things to come. This is one story that doesn’t necessarily have a fairytale ending.

We arrived for our 5:50 dining reservation about 20 minutes early, and when we checked in, we were told we’d be seated about the time of our reservation. By 5:45, we were already comfortable at our table, gazing around at the beautiful surroundings. It does look like they’ve taken you into the woods, where you would expect to find the Seven Dwarfs’ cottage. It’s rustic and woodsy, but still bright and inviting. We loved the vibe.

Trees at Storybook Dining

The grown up menus are encased in a rustic looking leather portfolio. It evokes a feeling of nature, and you could well imagine this is the type of “book” cover that might have been on one of the little tables next to Snow White’s bed. Love.

Adult menu at Storybook Dining

Our waiter comes over and informs us that in about five minutes, Snow White will appear from a door at the far end of the dining room, and she will be followed soon after by Dopey and Doc. He then gestures towards the Evil Queen, who is standing in front of a large scale book, and says that once the bill is paid, we can get in line to have photos taken with her on the way out. It seems like a fun way to end the evening.

Dinner here is a prix fixe menu, about $55 for adults, depending on when you go. The table is served three different appetizers, each guest chooses an entree, and then the table is served three different desserts. I’ve never been in love with a restaurant that doesn’t really let me choose which options I’d like to eat, so I take this with a grain of salt and hope for the best.

The shared appetizers and desserts are served on a really adorable yet surprisingly annoying Lazy Susan that resembles a branch of a tree with three large leaves. The plates are placed atop the leaves. This is totally cute, until you realize that the child you are there to photograph is on the opposite side of this giant Leafy Susan thing, and you cannot get a good photograph of him no matter how you angle yourself. You pretty much have to get up to take any photos around this thing. This is not a bad thing, it’s just not nearly as convenient as pointing the camera across the table to get a great photo at eye level with the little guy. When I tried to move the Lazy Leafy Susan thing, the base of it was sooooo sticky, it sort of grossed me out for any food that might come into contact with it, but I also learned that it’s darned heavy. It wishes not to be moved. I ended up pushing it ever so slightly out of my way so I could at least interact with my grandson during the meal.

Lazy Susan at Storybook Dining

So now let’s get to the food.

Appetizers included a butternut squash soup, served in tiny cauldrons, with a caramel/marshmellowy lollipop that was meant to be melted into the soup as you stirred. Except in our case, the soup wasn’t hot, so the marshmellow didn’t melt and sort of sat as a too sweet lump in the middle of the soup. The soup was sweet already, and a huge hit with Calder, who easily ate up both my cauldron and Brighid’s.

Next up was a Hunter’s Pie – a small, flaky pastry dough surrounding some sort of ground meat. I learned online later that the meat is chicken, however, we didn’t get that from the taste of it. It comes with an accompaniment of a stone fruit jam. The pastry dough is delicious and a beautiful, flaky, golden brown. The chicken inside is tough and a bit chewy. It looks like a meatball, although the flavor is a bit bland and nondescript. The stone fruit jam was slightly sweet, and it added much needed flavor to the chicken, although because the chicken was so bland, it overpowered it a bit.

Storybook appetizer selection

Finally, there is Wicked Shrimp Cocktail. I’m not sure where they catch the shrimp in the heart of the forest, so it’s a bit odd to see a shrimp cocktail among the appetizers. There is one shrimp per person at the table, and it is in a jar with miso, soy, Thai chili, and greens. This one was too spicy for me – heavy on the Thai chili. I just didn’t like the taste of this at all. My daughter also dismissed it after the first bite, and while her tolerance for spicy food is way greater than mine, it just didn’t taste good.

There is a decent selection of entrees, with something for every palate – seafood, beef, chicken, and even a vegetarian option. The waiter highly recommended the prime rib and the veal shank, so we went with those. The veal was fork tender, served over a celery root mash. It was a little awkward eating, in a bowl, but because the meat was so tender, it didn’t really require much in the way of cutting. The prime rib was okay. It really could have used more seasoning, but the “popover” (a Yorkshire pudding type of accompaniment) was quite yummy, and the horseradish mashed potatoes, while powerful in flavor themselves, were almost necessary to add a bit of taste to the beef.

Desserts here are also served as a trio – small, individual sized portions for everyone at the table. The desserts were a small, gooseberry pie topped with meringue; the Miner’s treasure – which was sort of like a cupcake in a jar type of thing with layers of sponge cake and buttercream frosting; and a poison apple – which was a white chocolate apple mousse with a tart center. The Miner’s Treasure was – to put it mildly – awful. It was a way too sweet dessert, with what tasted like stale spongecake and a thick, gritty frosting. There were chunks of something in the cake, but we each only took one bite before passing on it, so I’m not sure it added anything (internet research tells me they are chocolate bits). The gooseberry pie was a pleasant little dessert, with a tart filling. It’s not anything I would order if I could choose from a menu, but it was okay.

Miner's Treasure
Gooseberry tart

The star here is the poison apple. It’s light, just slightly tart, and a nice blend of dessert flavors. Again, I don’t think it’s something I’d order if I saw it on a menu of options, but when not being given choices, it was the best of the bunch.

Poison apple dessert

The meal ends with the waiter bringing over a small, smoking chest. The contents of the chest are the Hunter’s Gifts to the Queen. If you know the story, the huntsman was supposed to bring back Snow White’s heart, and inside the chest you’ll find a chocolate heart for each guest at the table, surrounded by cracked maple popcorn. I would have happily given up the entire dessert portion of the meal for a small bowl of the popcorn. I want to say up front – it had a slightly stale texture to it – but that is my favorite way to eat a caramel corn type of popcorn. This was sweet, with a hint of salt, and slightly chewy. Between Brighid and I, we got seven pieces of popcorn, and I was so glad she opted out of her share.

The Hunter's Gift

Because Brighid is pregnant, she couldn’t enjoy any of the specialty cocktails, so she instead got the Transformation Potion – a lemonade with a shot of blue stuff on the side that changed the color of the lemonade to a beautiful purple. It came with a blue lollipop spoon. I opted for the Enchanted Apple specialty cocktail. Slightly sweet, slightly tart, with a sugar rim around the glass. Tasty.

Enchanted apple cocktail

Overall, this is not a meal we’d repeat – although with a new granddaughter on the way, we may have to at some point. The character interaction with the baby was absolutely wonderful.

Calder and Dopey

For that alone, if there were options to choose your meal on this menu, we’d come back. But if you’re paying close to $60 a person for a meal and not enjoying either your appetizer or your dessert, you lose a lot of the value in a character meal. I’d rather pay for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party, where you often find the Seven Dwarfs, and know we are getting something for the money we are going to enjoy.

Calder and Grumpy

Oh – and we did not get to see the Evil Queen. By the end of the meal, the line was pretty long, the baby was done sitting still, and both Brighid and I needed to visit the restroom. I’d suggest not waiting until the end of your meal, as our waiter advised. There are periods of lull while you wait between courses and characters that might be a better time to meet with her.

Calder and Snow White

On a scale of 1-5, we have this meal at about a 2.5. Great characters, nice entrees, but the rest of the meal was majorly disappointing.

When You’re the Mom

Mommy and Granuaile

Life is a whole new ballgame when you realize you’re the mom.

I’m not talking about physically having children who refer to you by the name Mom. This is bigger. This is the time in your life when your children are having children, and they call you and want to talk about grown ass things.

My mom was the mom for a very long time – and man, she was so good at it. We talked every day on the phone – okay, we talked several times a day on the phone. She was the person I talked to when I didn’t know what else to do, when I knew what to do but lacked the confidence to do it, or knew what to do and didn’t want to do it. And the reason she was so good is because she wasn’t tactful. She wasn’t subtle. There was no sugar coating anything.

“Mom, should I go through with the gastric bypass?” “Well how else are you gonna not be so fat?”

“Mom, Jim wants to move to Florida.” “Well don’t listen to him, he’s an asshole.”

“Mom, Eilis just wrote with green Sharpie marker all over the white rug in the living room.” “Oh my God, she’s such a little bitch! That’s why I love her. Bring her here for a sleepover.”

See – she had an answer to all the world’s problems. And she did it almost full time, sitting at her kitchen table, wearing a nightgown, and until her later years, chain smoking cigarettes.

But here’s the thing, My mom died in 2014. And not that you’re ever “good” with that – because you never, ever truly are good after your mom dies – but life moved along and things happened, and you go from every minute of missing her and barely functioning to every day missing her and faking it until you make it. Then you realize – you’re the fucking MOM. And there’s so much pressure to do it right, to get it right, to be the kind of mom your mom was. You are the MOM.

Your child calls you every day – or you call her – at least once. And you talk about the things the MOM is supposed to have the answers to. I should know things like how to put a baby to sleep so that he isn’t poking his little head up every two hours, giving some gut wrenching cry, and manipulating his mom into bringing him into bed with them. I should know whether my daughter made the right decision with the college she picked. I should know why my child still has clean clothes to put on when I haven’t seen her put dirty clothes in the laundry room in a month.

But I don’t. I don’t have all of the answers my mom had, and I don’t know where to get them. And I’m a mush – I’m wishy washy. While I have moments of blunt brilliance, I mostly try to figure out what I think my kids want to hear, or what I think will do them the most good to hear, and I say those things – not the things the MOM would say.

At some point, I don’t know if the MOM wisdom just comes to you, or if I have to realize that I’ll never be as good at this game as my mom was.

But can anyone ever be?

If You Pray

FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a sign, signifying hundreds of thousands of federal employees who won’t be receiving their paychecks as a result of the partial government shutdown, during a “Rally to End the Shutdown” in Washington, U.S., Jan. 10, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

I try so hard not to be divisively political. I know there are people who are very passionate about their political beliefs, and in keeping with my life’s goal of avoiding confrontation, my attitude toward most things political is a resounding Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

But if you pray, now is seriously the time to do it. I don’t care who you voted for in the last presidential election – we have to live with it and deal with it as a country. But there are people – probably right in your very neighborhood – who need your prayers. And so much more.

Who are these people? People who were relying on the paycheck they didn’t get yesterday to pay off Christmas. Families who burned through all the holiday abundance of delicious foods and now face bare pantries and no income. Children whose parents have to pay their spring baseball dues, senior class trips, field trips, and their dance class fees – something taken for granted in many households – when suddenly, the money isn’t there to cover it.

And what’s worse – these people are working. These people are going to be scraping together change from the sofa cushions to put gas in their cars to go to a job where they put in their 40 hours a week for NOTHING.

Pray, my friends. And rally. Just like the holiday season, where you generously donated non-perishable foods to food pantries – do it now. So many government workers – those who have been furloughed and those who show up every day to do their job – are going to need a resource to get food for their families. If you know someone who is facing going without the very basics through absolutely no fault of their own, take them a meal. Better yet, invite them to dinner, and pack up the leftovers for them to take home. It’s an hour where they can talk to someone about what’s going on for them and their families, plus they can maybe get two meals out of it for their kids.

You know how it’s such an awesome feeling to pay it forward in the Starbucks drive through line? Imagine how awesome you’ll feel helping someone cover their electric bill, their phone bill, a tuition payment for their children, or even helping towards rent or a mortgage.

I love that locally, many of the museums are giving federal employees free admission for them and their families, but what about other businesses? Half price meals? Discounted school supplies? How about donations of toilet paper, cleaning supplies, personal hygiene items?

We all come together in times of tragedy. We rallied on 9/11 to support the families. We rallied when Houston flooded in Hurricane Irma. Our nation’s people come together and we lift each other up and see each other through some of the worst times.

We are in some of the worst times. Gather together, my friends. And pray.

2018 Year in Review

 

When I was a newer mom, I always sent perfectly drafted letters tucked into Christmas cards that I spent hours choosing, just so they were the most perfect holiday cards I could find. As an older mom, I know now that the holidays – Christmas especially – are never quite as perfect as the picture on the Christmas card or in the carefully worded holiday letter. So this year, I am posting our 2018 Year in Review – the real one. The one without kids who should have already been declared saints by the Pope. The one without the people who are so overwhelmingly happy you want to know what drugs and how powerful they have to be to get that level of happy-citement. Here is the Skamarakas Family Year in Review – warts and all.

January 1st – 

I got a call from my stepdad. He’d been battling cancer for nearly two years, but had only begun intensive treatment at the start of the holiday season. He was having trouble breathing and wanted me to come over and wait with him while I called for an ambulance.

I arrived about 25 minutes later, and found him sitting, panting for breath, on the sofa. He was surrounded by his two best buds – John and Ron. All three had Crown Royal and Ginger-ale poured into tall glasses on the coffee table. Had I known it would be the last time he’d be in that house, I would have taken the picture. It summed up his life so perfectly. He enjoyed a good Crown and Ginger, loved being with his friends, and lived and loved in that house for more than 40 years. It was, in retrospect, poetic.

He fought hard to live for the first week of the New Year, but by the start of the second week, he was tired. On January 12th, my sister and I went into an early morning meeting to admit him into hospice care. He died just a couple of hours later, and about half an hour after he died, a woman came into the room to have a serious talk with us about transferring him to the hospice care building. With him, dead in the bed. No, I mean obviously dead – like his eyes half open and his mouth agape. She stared at him in the bed on and off as she explained the process to us of moving him before my sister, God love her, finally looked the woman in the eye and said in not quite an indoor voice, “HE’S DEAD.” Add this to your list of party games if you are ever hosting hospice care people for an event – it was HYSTERICAL. I mean it – first time we laughed in two weeks.

 

March – After weeks and months of trying to get the house ready to sell, cleaned up and cleaned out (oh my God, my sister and brother-in-law were amazing in making sure this task was completed), we got some heavy rain, and the basement flooded. Faced with repairs in the $10,000 range, my friend Joy and the next door neighbor helped us clean up the downstairs, we hired someone to clean out the gutters, and voila – dry as a bone. The house sold for more than we expected, but in the unexpected financial gain, we lost our childhood home. For my sister Meg, it was the only home she’d known growing up. Closing was a day filled with stress and tears, but then there was a great celebration of Bob’s life. Friends and family gathered one last time in his honor, drinks flowed, food was plentiful – it was the kind of party he and my mom always threw. He would have loved it. Okay, well, he would’ve hated the fact that he was the dead guy, and he probably would’ve sat in a chair in the corner with his drink and not really talked to anyone that didn’t come to him first, but yeah, he would’ve loved it.

 

June 8th –

Who would have thought, just a couple of months after going through some of the most difficult moments in our lives, we would be so joyful? Calder James Tracy, our very first grandbaby, arrived after more than 24 hours of labor. He was healthy, mom and dad were happy, and he was absolutely perfect – every tiny inch of him. He was – and is – the silver lining to a dark cloud kinda year. And boy oh boy was I glad he arrived early. We had a vacation planned over 4th of July, and I couldn’t cancel – and didn’t want to miss Calder’s arrival. He is such a cooperative little guy. 

 

Summer Vacation – It was the best. Part Disney World and part cruise, we were with some truly terrific people who brought the best out in our kids. The girls tried new things, thanks to this great family, and had fantastic experiences. I love those guys. 

 

August – We moved home. Oh, did I forget to mention? Our house has been under construction since December of LAST year, and the initial contractor caused so much damage to our home, we had to vacate it in order for a new contractor to come in and make the repairs to the house was habitable again. To anyone who has ever thought it would be awesome to live in a hotel with daily housekeeping services, shut your face. It’s awful, it’s crowded, and you miss your dogs, who have also had to relocate to their trainer’s house through the process. With litigation pending, I can’t say much other than some people suck.

 

Fall – Jim got his Bar exam results – HE PASSED!! We were so freaking proud of him. But in the midst of his academic success came much struggle for my girls. Which college would Eilis choose? Which high school would Granuaile choose. They don’t warn you there are tears involved with these big decisions – not just on the part of the hormonal teenagers. Both have made their decisions, gotten fantastic scholarships, and can continue on a path of empowerment and enrichment. All three of my daughters inspire me. #GirlPower

 

Thanksgiving – It’s the first one where we’ve all been apart. I’ll never do it this way again. But, having said that, Granuaile and I had the most amazing time at Walt Disney World, seeing sights and doing things we haven’t done before. The other two girls have had mother-daughter trips, but Granuaile had not. It was great to be away with her, enjoy our favorite place, and get to connect on some things – school being the biggest – we had been kinda putting off. 

 

Winter – After a whirlwind trip to Walt Disney World for Calder’s First Haircut, we settled in for the holidays. Law school exams were done, shopping, well, is it ever really done? Wrapping – well, if you count leaving crap in the shipping bag it came in “wrapping”, then yeah, it was done. We woke up Christmas morning at Brighid and Brent’s house, seeing Calder open his gifts and play with his new stuff. I’m not gonna lie – this is the first year in a LONG time we haven’t been at Disney for the holidays. And being home right now, thinking of the people we no longer have here to celebrate with, makes it a little sad. But there is nothing that can replace the experience of the baby’s first Christmas, and I’m so glad Brighid and Brent allowed us to share in the day.

 

What’s next? Well, Jim is awaiting his New York State Bar exam results, and he takes Pennsylvania in February. In 2019, the Skamarakas house will get a little quieter as Eilis gets ready to head off to college. Granuaile becomes a high schooler later in the year, and Brighid and Brent have big plans for the coming year, starting with a vacation to Napa in January. We are scheduled to go to court in February against the shady contractor that messed up our house – please say a prayer the jury sees clearly what was done here and how bad it truly was. I’ll be plugging away at law school – Lord help me – and practicing my grandmom game as often as I can.

 

Thank you, to friends and family who have shared our sorrow and our celebrations this year. You are only as good as the people who surround you, and we have been so very fortunate, more than I can even express, to have some truly amazing, incredible people in our lives.

 

My New Year’s Resolutions:

Have more fun

Have more parties

Cry less

Celebrate more

Oh yeah, and if I could lose a few pounds – well, that’d be awesome.

 

There it is – our year, in review. The good, the not so good, and the downright ugly. But through all things, you learn and you grow.

 

May you be blessed with love in the coming New Year. If you have that, you have it all.

She Sings in the Shower

I have a 12 year old daughter. She is the youngest of my three girls – my last “tween” year, my last middle schooler, my last whiff of innocence.

She sings in the shower.  It may not seem like a big deal, but very soon, the music she listens to will become “deep” and have meaning beyond what my naive heart thinks she should understand.  But the music in the shower is still light and fun and Bieber-y.

She spends thirty minutes in the shower, depleting the hot water supply in the house, and may still come out without the top of her head wet.  I frequently send her back to wash her hair, brush her teeth, pick up her dirty clothes.  It won’t be long until she’s showering with purpose.  She’ll want to apply makeup to that clean little face.  She’ll want her thick, beautiful hair to be the shiny envy of her friends.  She’ll want to smell good to catch the nose of someone she likes.  The room – well, if experience is any indication, it will have dirty clothes strewn about for at least an abundance of years to come.

I’m already seeing things that accompany the teen years.  The “I’ll just have yogurt for dinner” attempts to control what she perceives to be a paunch.  The trials and tribulations of painting fingernails that I still imagine as so tiny, the brush barely fits on them.  Debating whether she looks better tucked or untucked.

It moves so fast, it makes your head spin.  Moms tell you all the time to hug your babies, appreciate the peas that get raspberried all over you when you try to feed them, don’t be in a rush for the walking and talking and the independence.  Believe them.  Sniff their tiny heads a little longer, snuggle when they have the sniffles, read one more bedtime story.

Listen when they sing in the shower.

Walt Disney World Gender Reveal

Disneyland

He or She

Remember gender reveals back in the day? Mom is in labor, and several hours later, a certified medical professional yelled out in the delivery room, “It’s a ….!”? Well gender reveals have come a long way.  With Promposals, engagement ring scavenger hunts, and pop up weddings, it’s no wonder people are looking for new and unique ways to announce the gender of their baby to be. If a babymoon is in your plans (oh yeah, that’s a thing now, too), why not do your Gender Reveal at Walt Disney World?

Who Does What?

A gender reveal at Walt Disney World doesn’t have to be something the parents already know.  You can enlist the help of cast members, characters, or even other theme park guests.  If the gender reveal at Disney World is a surprise for mom and dad, the planning begins at home.  Have your doctor put the gender of your baby-to-be in an envelope.  Then, keep the envelope sealed until the perfect time!

You can plan who you may want to enlist to help you once you get to the parks.  Maybe give the envelope to a waiter, who can plate it with dessert. Ask a Photopass Photographer to open the reveal envelope while taking your picture in front of Cinderella Castle during the Happily Ever After fireworks display.  If it’s written big enough, he can catch it in a photo, but if not, he can certainly capture your reaction to finding out if you’re adding a Mickey or a Minnie to your family.

I even know of a couple who enlisted the help of a theme park guest.  They handed the friendly stranger the envelope with the gender information, then gave them the money to purchase a baby outfit in either blue or pink.  The couple then opened the bag in front of a Photopass Photographer to find out the gender of baby to be!

Gender Reveal
Purchase a t-shirt

When Mom and Dad Are in the Know

If the gender is already known by the parents, you have other options. You won’t need to grab help, and if plans change, you can be more flexible.  You may want to make larger signage at home that you can use on camera.  Take some time to plan a perfect place, think about what characters might be appropriate to help you share the news, or even arrange for a professional photography session.  That will give you a professional camera operator and some of the most beautiful backdrops at Walt Disney World.

Great Ideas if Mom and Dad Know

Disney baby clothes are super cute.  You’ll find gender specific clothing in many of the shops throughout Walt Disney World. Your gender reveal might involve purchasing a boy or girl baby outfit.  Hold it up to Mommy’s baby bump, and caption a picture with It’s a Boy or It’s a Girl!  You could also stand next to a character and have them hold a tiny pink or blue onesie or a handcrafted sign revealing your big news.

Another great option is the famous Mickey ears.  You can have them embroidered with the name you’ve already chosen, if you know it and want to share.  On the other hand, you can just have Boy or Girl embroidered on the baby sized ears.  Also available are pink or blue baby mouse ears, and they work perfectly!

Disneyland
Photo Courtesy of Courtney Bautista

A Disneyland Gender Reveal Photo

I have also seen parents to be with Disney balloons – Mickey heads for boys, princesses for girls.  Also available are the clear balloons with the brightly colored Mickey ears inside.  You might find the color you need in one of those.

Some couples make a garland to string across themselves and a character, others grab tiny baby shoes in pink or blue and place them at various spots around Walt Disney World and make a photo collage to announce the baby’s gender.  One of the cutest photos I’ve seen is one on Main Street, USA, with Cinderella Castle behind them, and the parents blowing pink “pixie dust” into the air.  I get teary just remembering it!

Pixie Dust

There are stuffed animals in pink and blue, or just use a Mickey or Minnie to let the secret out.  Something else fun to do is to have a Cast Member write on a pin that says you are celebrating your baby boy or girl, then take a picture of the pin.

In the word’s of Walt Disney, “If you can dream it, you can do it!”, and a gender reveal at Walt Disney World is one of the most magical ways to share the happiest news you ever get to share!

Disney’s Pandora – The World of Avatar Review – Good, Better, Best

Navi people

Navi people
Na’vi River Journey

It’s usually the good, the bad, and the ugly.  But with Disney’s Pandora – The World of Avatar, themed after the almost decade old movie Avatar by James Cameron, it’s all about the good, better, and best.  And there is quite a lot to say about each.

The Good

The new section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is not even open, but every cast member we encountered greeted us in the Na’vi language, the spoken tongue of the aliens from Pandora.  They immerse you in the experience that transports you to this wonderland.  The colorful blue of their costumes call to mind the beautiful blue shade of the native Na’vi people, and they all already love working in this part of the Disney Imagineared world.

beverages at Pandora
Night blossom and Mo’ara Margarita from Pongu Pongu

Also in the good list are the frozen beverages available at Pongu Pongu (Na’vi for Party Party).  A special bioluminescent “ice cube” is available for the drinks if you purchase them in the souvenir cup, but you can buy them without the added magic.  We sampled the non-alcoholic Night Blossom, a frozen limeade with layers of desert pear and apple topped with passion fruit boba balls.  Although tasty, this is really, really sweet.  After two sips, I needed a big drink of water to cleanse my palate.  But it was a hit with Granuaile. This walk up stand also has a couple of ales and a delicious dessert called Pongu Lumpia – a pineapple cream cheese spring roll.  Think fried pineapple cheesecake.  What’s not to love.  Very good.

The Better

There are two attractions in Disney’s Pandora.  The first one is the Na’vi River Journey. This boat ride is a slow drift through the Valley of Mo’ara as you search for the Shaman of Songs. The attraction is visually stunning. Most noteworthy here is the use of bioluminescence, the glowing soft colored light you see throughout your ride.  Because the background is dark, the blues, pinks, and purples that prevail magically pop and wrap you in the warm glow. Being compared to It’s a Small World, the ride is definitely gentle and family friendly, but the technology kicks it up to a level Walt Disney couldn’t dare dream.

Na'vi River Journey
Almost dandelioin-like in its beauty

Na'vi River
The view above you on the Na’vi River Journey

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More scenery from the Na’vi River Journey

The one counter service dining location inside Pandora will be Satu’li Canteen, and everything was good.  One of the better options on our tray was the blueberry cream cheese mousse. Highlighting the colors of Pandora and the Na’vi people, this light and delectable dessert pairs a passion fruit curd with sweet cream cheese and bold blueberries. It is light, fruity, pretty, and fun.

dessert at Satu'li
Blueberry Cream Cheese Mousse

A quick nod here to the other souvenir cup, offered at the Satu’li Canteen.  According to Granuaile, the Na’vi Flute Cup is awesome, but the Pandora Sunrise beverage inside, not so much.  It’s a blend of fruit juices with Powerade melon drink over ice.  Granuaile thinks the drink was weird, although I’m sure the Powerade was a good choice for a 90+ degree day.  So, the cup earns a better, the drink – well, maybe ask for the cup with a soda.

The Best

Everything out there so far about the brand new thrill ride, Flight of Passage, is true.  It is beyond amazing.  I was anxious going into this attraction, which I’ll talk about shortly, but I have never experienced a theme park attraction like this anywhere. When I tell you I wanted to cry when I got off, I mean it most sincerely. There was such a feeling of exhiliration, as you dive through the valley, over the river, and then glide through the beautiful Mo’ara Valley.

It’s not that the ride ended that made me sad, it was just the rush of emotion, the scents, the visual beauty – it was a lot to take in.  I should have followed Granuaile up the hill for a second trip, but that will have to wait for the next trip.  Think Soarin’ on steroids. You are there, in Pandora, on the back of a banshee that has been specially chosen for you, and it is amazing.

They didn’t allow photos inside the actual attraction, but the Imaginears really pushed the limits with the queue as well.  Stunning and spectacular from the get go.

Na'vi wall art
Wall art – visible throughout the attraction

Hank in the Tank
Flight of Passage queue takes you into the lab

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Really authentic looking lab

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Banshee Skull in Flight of Passage queue

The Delicious

One of the best counter service meals I’ve ever had was at Satu’li Canteen. This “mess hall” themed restaurant features actually pretty healthy choices, and while we only sampled one of the Create Your Own Satu’li Bowls, it was delicious.  The bowls give you the option to choose your own protein, a base, and a sauce, so you can really make what you want.  I opted for the chopped wood-grilled chicken as my protein, then based on reviews of other preview visitors, selected the red and sweet potato hash.  I went with the creamy herb dressing over top.

Chicken bowl
Satu’li Canteen Create Your Own Bowl

The boba balls on top were yogurt, and they are definitely a theme at Pandora.  The chicken was tender and delicious, but Oh. My. Yum. The hash was incredible. Sweet, savory, and a forkful of comfort, I could eat this all day long.  Also on the dish was a crunchy vegetable slaw, which balanced the sweet and creamy potatoes.

The Spectacular

I would venture to guess most of the people visiting Pandora have never seen the Avatar movie. Although it would help to be familiar with the amazing scenery from the film, you will still be impressed with the themeing in Pandora.

beautiful colors
Some of hte foliage at Pandora

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Pandora Waterfalls

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Overview of Pandora

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Floating Islands of Pandora

And then there’s the opportunity to adopt a banshee.  More than anything, Granuaile looked forward to this, and she was not disappointed.  The thing hasn’t come off of her shoulder since we bought it.  Definitely a purchase to consider carefully with a $50 price tag, it’s cool.

banshee pandora
Adopting a Banshee

The Not So Good

While I came out of Disney’s Pandora wearing lapis colored glasses, I was not completely blinded to the drawbacks.  The issues guests are having fitting on to the Flight of Passage attraction are real.  Even though I felt prepared and hoped I would fit, I went in there about ready to pee myself with worry. I was the largest one in my group of 16 going in, and I was already dreading the embarassment of being asked to leave.  Although working out well for me, the attraction is designed so that not only weight, but height and width of your calves could impact your ability to enjoy the attraction.

Aside from the “fit” of the ride, the walk up there might be a bit of a journey in itself. A cast member told me the queue was built to accommodate a six hour wait time – so the walk up there is LONG.  And uphill.  And then there are steps at the end to climb to get to the ride (and come down from when you are through).  This is not a Mount Everest climb, but if you are out of shape (like me), you can get out of breath.

The Wrap Up

You need to go.

 

This is Us – The Big Season Finale That Wasn’t

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I was right there with you. This is Us, big season finale, the biggest question that loomed almost the entire season would be answered.  But it wasn’t.  This is Us pulled off the Big Season Finale that Wasn’t.

Or was it?

RUN AND AVERT YOUR GAZE IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW HOW THE THIS IS US SEASON FINALE – OR ANY OTHER EPISODE – WENT! THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!!

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This Is Us

The Big Lead-In

We know from several episodes this season that the family patriarch of the Pearson clan does not have a neatly tied up, happy ending on the horizon.  We got the hint of it when Rebecca turned up at a family event with Miguel, Jack’s best friend.  There were other glimpses – a quick flashback to Papa Pearson’s funeral, with The Big Three seemingly in their late teens; an urn that watches the ballgame with Kate; Randall and his dad visiting that place where the family scattered Jack’s ashes; and Kate’s declaration that she is the cause of Papa Pearson’s untimely demise.

With all this big lead-in, I think we felt entitled to our answer.  We wanted to see the car crash and burn from Jack’s alcoholic road trip.  My mind quickly raced to Ben beating Jack, his rival for Rebecca’s affections, into a bloody, unrecognizable pulp.  He would end up in the hospital, and we would have to wait until next season to see that he didn’t survive.  Kate implied she was to blame for his death, so part of me thought he would come into the house after running away from Rebecca, and maybe Kate would accidentally shoot the unexpected intruder that turned out to be her dad.  Oh, I hashed this bitch out.  There was not a way this season was going to end that I hadn’t already figured out.

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Jack Before Rebecca

Boom, There it Is

But then, where I least expected it, was the Big Season Finale.  We were so hell bent on this season finale answering the question about how Jack dies that we didn’t see it coming.  The cliffhanger. The set up for next season – maybe for the unfortunate passing of Jack Pearson.

Where do they go from here?

That’s the cliffhanger.  We weren’t watching and they slipped it right in on us.  Every eye was on Jack’s every moment, waiting for his last breath to finally be revealed, and like David Copperfield’s most skillfully executed illusion, boom, there was the cliffhanger.

What happens next for Jack and Rebecca?

People, she KICKED HIM OUT!! Is it over for them?  Does he move in with Miguel, leaving the door open for Miguel to move in on the Pearson clan?  There have been hints that the triplets don’t have the warm fuzzies for Miguel – is this why? Does Jack continue to drink?

And then, when those of us that weren’t stunned by the lack of Jack’s death collected our thoughts and turned them back to the living, breathing Papa Pearson, he gives the speech of the season. He professes his love for Rebecca and his wish that their children be told the truth about the state of the marriage.  He professes his love and his devotion to this marriage, Rebecca says nothing, and then it’s done.  And we’re left with this cliffhanger – is it over?

But Wait, There’s More

And if that wasn’t enough of a cliffhanger for you, there were mini baby cliffhangers.  Does Kevin leave his newly rekindled relationship to audition for Ron Howard, or does he stop short of getting on the plane, realizing this is what killed that relationship the first time around.  Will Randall’s wife agree to adopting a baby? And why does Randall want to adopt?  Is it to honor his father(s), to fill a gap left by his bio dad’s passing, or is it because he was entangled in establishing his career when his daughters were born, and now is his chance to nurture a new baby?  And what about Kate, who is seemingly ready to pick up the mic her mom dropped?  What does her decision to try a career in singing mean to her relationship with Toby?  Or her mom?

Jack and Rebecca fight
The most realistic TV fight I’ve ever seen

No Who Shot JR

I think we were looking for – maybe hoping for – a Who Shot JR? moment.  Television has so conditioned us to see Negan with the barbed wire bat, listen for it to hit someone in the head, and then spend six months in a mix of stunned silence and angry anticipation.  But this is a skillfully written, brilliantly acted, thoroughly engaging story.  Our love for this show comes from the real life shit it deals with.  The fight between Jack and Rebecca last night was the most authentic I have ever seen on television.  There was no his line, her line, his line, her line back and forth.  It was knock down, talk over, drowned out the other person real life argument.  Why would we watch something so artfully realistic presented, then expect Jack’s car to blow up as he drove away?

It was brilliant, the story fantastic, the authenticity unquestionable.  This is why we keep coming back to This is Us.

The Right Way to Celebrate an Anniversary

Anniversary Picture

Is there a right way to celebrate your wedding anniversary?  I think most people would say there is.  Some fancy a romantic dinner at a favorite restaurant. Others would say a quiet movie without the kids. There would even be those who would take in a sporting event, do couples pottery, or see a show.

What is the right way to celebrate an anniversary?  I’ll tell you.

March 9, 1991
Second National Bank

For Better or Worse

We spent our anniversary more worse than better.  Both kids are sick. One insisted on going to the theater to perform her duties as assistant stage director. I bundled myself up, despite the mid-50 degree temperatures, took her for tea and breakfast, and got her to the theater.  My poor husband woke up this morning still sitting at his desk chair.  His crazy wife stripped the bed yesterday with the intention of letting it air out. Eventually, it was to be covered with fresh sheets. Except I fell asleep. And the bed wasn’t made.  And Jim had no place to sleep, because the other sick kid had taken over the sofa.  We had no sooner both gotten home and found comfortable positions, when our drama queen kid called in tears to be picked up.  She was too sick to go on.  No rest for the weary.  But the right way to celebrate an anniversary is immersed in the life we created in our 26 years together.  And so we did.

For Richer or Poorer

Emotions of the mother of the bride
For Better or Worse

Financially, it was a good day. That’s the right way to celebrate an anniversary.  We know the bills are all paid, there’s food in the fridge, and the car that always requires a major repair as soon as a big check comes in has just had all four tires replaced and brake work done.  But we also have multiple bank accounts, and at one point, my husband had to ask if I needed more than $175 before the weekend, because the one account we don’t have daily access to is where our most recent deposits went.  So while I know we’re good, I also know I have to watch my pennies on this, my anniversary.

In Sickness and In Health

Yes, well, here is where we really prove we know how to celebrate an anniversary.  Jim has spent MONTHS preparing to be part of a mock trial competition team.  Because of his vision problems, things that other competitors probably were able to do in a reasonable period of time have taken Jim triple the time.  He has sacrificed weekends with his family, dinners out with friends, events we wanted to or should have attended.  Then last weekend, I got sick.  It wasn’t just “sick” – it’s sick.  Fevers, chills, aches, unable to breathe from the chest pain of the cough, gastrointestinal distress – I have had it all this week.  And because he tended to every need this week, Jim caught it.

And today, when he was supposed to leave with his team to compete, he was too sick to go.  He has fever, chills, aches, and is unable to catch his breath from the cough.

He hasn’t blamed me once, although when the delirium from the high fever begins to dissipate, he may, but he has accepted this as part of being a couple. I’ll never lose the guilty feeling.

That’s the right way to celebrate an anniversary – not making things that go wrong the other person’s fault.

I Will Love and Honor You, All The Days of My Life

Sick as he is, my husband made sure I had a wonderful anniversary dinner.  He arranged for take away from our favorite Italian restaurant, complete with a delicious dessert.  We ate quietly, because when we talk we cough. He’s in shorts and a t-shirt.  I’m in sweats, zipped up to my neck. Today is day two without a shower for me. Yet he sits by me, not commenting on the lack of makeup or combed hair.  His olfactory senses are surely challenged by the cold, but still, no mention of my lack of “freshness”.  We are older, fatter, balder. We are parents to three children, all of whom are closer to leaving us empty nesters withe very breath we take.

Anniversary Picture
26 Years

There are arguments, that’s for sure.  But there is always love in this house.  Even when we don’t see eye to eye, we honor each other’s voices, trying never to squelch the other.  Well, at least not permanently.

This is where I want to be, all the days of my life. Oh, it may not be this home, this state, this country.  I hope it will not be still in these sweats, hacking lungs up.  But I want to always be where this love is.  I hope he does, too.

And with that feeling in your heart, my friends, is the right way to celebrate an anniversary.