Holiday Happenings

So here are a few of the things that happened in December...

Girl Scout Ornament Workshop

Violet's Girl Scout troop took part in an ornament making workshop. The whole event was run by older Girl Scouts. I'm always so impressed when we attend these events. The idea that Violet is a part of an organization that encouraged girls to take on challenges and be leaders... it's cool! The troop is great this year - cookie season is ramping up and the girls are saving up for an overnight cabin camp-out at an official Girl Scout camp. 

One of my family goals this December was to do a faithful job following the advent calendar. I'd say we completed at least 75 percent of the activities! One night the activity was to make hot chocolate and go look at Christmas lights!

Taking our hot chocolate on the road!

Another great part of this winter break has been watching the girls play together. Violet can be so creative and inspire Annie to all sorts of imaginative games. They rigged a Halloween candy bucket on a rope and dropped it over the side of the stairs as a makeshift basket. They use that to play some game called "invention" that I haven't quite figured out the point of yet... Other favorite toys and games include legos (Violet is quite the master builder) and their Hatchimals. When I can tear them away from technology, that is.

Sweet girls!

Elf Violet!
I was blessed to be able to go to Violet's Christmas party at school this year. One of the great ironies of being a teacher is that while my own child is just a few steps away, that doesn't make it any easier to actually do classroom things with her. But pulling the strings to find a substitute for a few minutes was worth the effort.

Merry Christmas from First Grade!


Winter Wonderland

Backyard golf course view.

Early Saturday morning, I threw a jacket over my PJs, pulled on my rain boots, and set off into the pristine stillness. It rarely snows here in Georgia. It never snows this early in the season. And who knows if we'll see snow again. So I was intent on capturing my favorite version of a snow day - that early morning calm. Violet came with me, but I made her promise not to talk, ha! We must have gotten at least 3-4 inches of snow and it continued to drift down as we trekked up to the golf course and around to the front of the house. 

The rest of the day was filled with crossing stuff off the holiday to-do list, like wrapping books for all my first graders and doing a little spray painting and hot gluing to finish up the gifts the students are giving their families. We also had time for homemade pizza (Matt is becoming a master at making dough in our new stand mixer) and family movie night (Elf! One of the best!). The snow started melting once the sun came up, although there is still plenty on the ground. What a perfect weekend to enjoy our winter wonderland!

Our backyard.


All is Calm. All is White.
We love our new dark gray house color, even more so in the snow!

Snow (Half) Day!

You know how the weather guys are always making a big deal about "potential" snow here in the South, and then it never amount to anything? They will claim a weather situation is on the way, the news hypes it up, everyone rushes out to buy their usual bread and milk, school closings start scrolling on the television, and then it all amounts to nothing and everyone on social media starts making fun of us for overreacting once again?

Well, when the murmurings of potential snow started cropping up earlier this week, no one really paid attention to it. Even the official email to school staff on Thursday was "you might want to consider being potentially prepared for possibly moving into our weather plan" but was followed with a "we're definitely not cancelling school though so don't get excited about anything" (paraphrasing entirely my own). However, not one to hedge my bets, I did suggest to the students that they put a spoon under their pillow and wear their PJs backwards. You know, just in case.

Friday morning, I checked outside and sure enough, it was just rain. Recess rolls around and still, just rain. Not ten minutes later, my phone blows up - look outside! Snow! I immediately called for silence in the room and then whispered to my little friends, "Get your jackets, it's snowing!" 

Bumped into Violet on the playground, enjoying the snow!
We got the official email from the county, saying "yes, there's snow but nothing is sticking and the roads aren't freezing so we're in this for the long haul and good luck trying to accomplish anything vital with your kiddos today." The kids enjoyed a snowy ten minutes before we headed to the cafeteria. My students have just all made it to the table and a new message comes blaring over the radio... The powers that be have changed their minds and we're having an Early Release. Whoo hoo!

Although there was a slight problem. Legally we have to feed all our students lunch. And during a regular early release schedule, everyone will already have their lunches picked up by 11. Now it was almost 11 and lunch was just starting! The cafeteria had basically one hour to feed over 1100 students. God bless those women. Then teachers started scrambling to call parents, figuring out transportation for all the kids scheduled for afterschool activities. God bless our admin. I must have had eight people stop by my room, making sure I had heard back from everyone, making sure we were good to go.

Since the day was a wash, I threw in the towel and went for broke, passing out the elf hats I'd bought for all my students to get us in the holiday spirit, as if they needed any help! We wrote letters to Santa, asking questions about life at the North Pole. We packed up and loaded buses in the quickest dismissal I've ever seen, then proceeded to hunker down and wait until buses reported back so we could leave as well.

Loading up and heading home in the snow!

Someone was excited for her snow day!

By the time we left the school, snow was starting to stick.

Talk about perfect timing. Friday is the perfect time to have snow - we had the rest of the day to enjoy it without a) having to deal with online learning and b) having to worry about going in the next day. Instead the girls got to run around outside, start building a snow wall (whatever that is!) and I got an extra three hours in my day. And let me tell you what a gift that is! In those three hours, I managed to get all my papers graded and school work done, I got to enjoy coffee with my husband, I felt relaxed enough to enjoy decorating the gingerbread house with the girls, I made a batch of cookies to share, I even started wrapping presents! We had dinner with the neighbors in a snowy repeat of our very first neighbor dinner together, now almost eight years ago. And the snow just kept falling! I've never seen snowflakes so huge and wet. And due to the fact that no one had really hyped this weather event, no one had really expected it to actually come through, made it feel all the more magical.

My snow bunnies!

Nice job, ladies!


(Half) Marathon Man

The runners about to head to the starting line. It was just a little chilly.

This spring, Matt signed me up for the Peachtree Road Race. The day after I found out I'd been lottery-issued a race number, I laced up my sneakers and hit the road to start training. Remember? Then there was the actual running of the World's Largest 10k back in July. Well, the oddest thing happened after that race. I just... kept running. Turns out, I kind of like it. It's really good exercise.

But I'm the kind of person that always does better with a goal. I thrive on New Year's Resolutions. I enjoy a good to-do list. So after upping my mileage to seven miles, eight... I started thinking. Would a half marathon be in the realm of possibility for me? Matt signed up for the Atlanta Thanksgiving Day Half Marathon and I casually mentioned to my brother that he should run it too. Then he upped the ante by throwing the challenge right back at me. The idea was already in the back of my mind, but once again, I knew I would need someone next to me pounding the pavement. It's all well and good to say Lukas, Matt and I would run the Half together, but "together" would pretty much only go as far as the starting line, then those two would leave me in the dust.

So I took a leap and put it out on Facebook... anyone want to run a half marathon with me? Lo and behold, I quickly got a reply. It turns out my friend Kelly was looking for a reason to kick up her training. Suddenly it was game on! The long runs slowly increased - nine miles, ten... I got myself some fancy new award-winning running shoes, Matt ordered me some running gloves. The morning I ran 10 miles in 42-degree weather and still felt able to function afterwards, that's when I finally figured this might all actually happen! That week Kelly finished her 10-mile training run and our pace was only five seconds apart. I was hopeful that I wouldn't slow her down too much!

My running buddy. (Thanks for the official photo, Atlanta Track Club!)
Thanksgiving morning, we were up at 4:30. We picked up Kelly and Lukas and headed downtown. It was dark. And cold. Although the cool thing about this race is that as you heat up and discard layers, the race officials collect the old clothing, clean it and donate it all to the Atlanta Mission for the homeless. Anyway, we hung around the portable heaters, waiting for the race to start, trying to keep from freezing. Finally it was time to take our places. Matt headed up front to Wave A. Lukas was just a few steps behind him. And I had taken a leap of faith and signed up for the two hour pace team to get myself into Wave B with Kelly. The music blared, the announcers were pumping us up, the sky was brightening with every minute. I had this crazy moment of anxiety as we started walking towards the starting line. This was it. My knees had been acting up the last two weeks, I hadn't gotten in the runs I'd wanted to, I didn't want to let Kelly down. I had less fear of not finishing (I figured I could make it to the end) and more fear of how I would make it there. It was almost exactly eight months since I first laced up my running shoes back in March.

Moving towards the starting line!
And then we started running. And my muscle memory took over. The familiar songs came through my earbuds, my legs started pumping without me telling them what to do. The miles just started ticking away and my brain just ignored the fact that I'd repeating this motion for two hours. Now and then we'd pass the cheering spectators, little kids holding inspiring signs like "you can do this!" that made me tear up a little - I was oddly emotional during the run. Part of me couldn't believe this was happening while my body just kind of did its thing like it was no big deal. Kelly and I were step in step the whole way, taking on the hills (which were nothing compared the roads I've been training on) and keeping the two hour pace team in sight. When I crossed the 10 mile marker and took one more step I turned to Kelly and announced that I was now officially running more than I ever had before. The familiar music kept pounding in my ears and my legs just kept going.

It was key having a running buddy by my side. Kelly definitely kept up the pace for me and since she showed no inclination of wanting to slow down or take a walk break, I didn't either, something I probably would have done had I been by myself. Using the same music that I'd been training with for the last few months also helped - my legs had a Pavlovian reaction to the tunes. By mile 11 and a half, my knees were starting to hurt and I was just ready to get to the finish line. We hit a patch of dull pavement sparsely populated by spectators and it was time to put down down my head, watch my feet churning over the pavement, and just grit my teeth and go. By mile 12 I was getting texts from people at the finish line. Finally we rounded a corner and saw the end in sight. Kelly took off, determined to get ahead of the two hour pace team. I started drifting left when I got a text from Virginia saying she and Chitra had formed a cheering section for us just across the finish line.

We did it!

And just like that, it was done! Goal accomplished! It was an amazing feeling, coupled with a sweet medal and bragging rights, made all the sweeter for being greeted by so much family at the end. Who would had thought I'd one day run a half marathon. Who would have thought I'd even want to! The official time came in - 13.1 miles in two hours and two seconds. I'll be honest, that was way better than I thought it would be! I'd been telling people my goal was just to get to the finish line. But to do it in two hours... I must really be a runner!

When I showed my students, they were all "You won?!" and I did nothing to change that impression. I DID win!

The cheering squad!
So now that I have my half marathon bling, what do I do now? Keep running? Take a break? Sign up for another race? Kelly wants to train for a full marathon but I'm not sure I'm quite there yet. Perhaps the Triple Peach (10k, 10-Mile, Half-Marathon) next year? Who knows... All I know is, I just keep lacing up those running shoes.


Girl Scout Campout

Our backyard camp site.

Violet is once more in Girl Scouts this year, and I'm once again co-leader of the troop. Although really I'm more of an assistant to the leader. Honestly I'm just the second adult needed to make things official. Our fearless leader Julie pretty much runs the show and I just do what she tells me!

This year our Brownies are working on an outdoor journey that involves hiking and camping. Our first foray into camping was to have a backyard campout in October. The majority of the troop had never slept overnight in a tent before and we figured this was a good was to ease into things. There were ten girls and three adults spread over three tents and I'm proud to say we all survived the night!

Ready for s'mores!

The tents were up by the time the girls arrived, but they were in charge of setting up their own sleeping bags and supplies. We had a fire safety lesson before making s'mores and having a round of joke-telling and camp songs. And mercifully, everyone feel asleep! It was definitely not the most restful night as I drifted in and out of sleep, but the fact that no one bailed and demanded to sleep inside or go home makes it a win in my book!

Someone had fun!
The next morning the girls were responsible for serving their own breakfast (just fruit and granola bars... we weren't about to get fancy!) and breaking down the camp site. Then we all went home and took a nap! (Well, the adults did!) Our next goal is cabin camping!

Our fearless leaders leads the closing circle.

Camping success!


Disney Cruise - Day at Sea

Our last day aboard the Disney Dream was our day at sea. We started by heading to the movie theater to watch Moana. Hey, when awake at 8:30 a.m. you might as well take advantage! While there, we ran into one of the girls from our dinner table, Mia. I invited her to sit with us since she was there alone, and once the movie was done, the girls decided to hit up kids club together since it had started raining. I went back to the room while Matt decided to go for a run, but as soon as I noticed the rain was gone, I grabbed the girls and told Mia to meet us at the pool! Soon her dad and sister joined us, and the girls took off. They rode the Aqua Duck again, hopped in and out of the pools and hot tubs, got themselves ice cream, and basically had the run of the deck. It was fun to watch Violet finally have the confidence to spread her wings a bit and run around with her new friend, and it was nice for me to let her go, knowing there wasn't really that much trouble she could get into. We went to eat at Cabanas and snagged an outdoor table at the very aft of the ship, which was a very relaxing way to eat, shady and full of fresh air. There were plenty of other huge ships on the water to watch as well.

We forced the girls back to the room to shower and change, then sent them right back to kids club with their new friends, because Matt and I had a date for a martini tasting! There were about 20 of us there, and we got to hear the history of the martini, taste various types, and I even got to head behind the bar to mix up a batch of Sour Apple martinis. Fun fact - as long as it's served in a martini glass, it's pretty much a martini. Other fun fact - the more ingredients it takes to make, the more I'm going to like my martini! While we were there, I got a text through the ship's onboard messaging service informing me that Annie had fallen asleep in kids club... win!

Martini time!
The theme for the evening was (optional) formal night, so I put the girls in cute matching dresses I had bought just for the cruise. Before we went to the final show of the cruise - Disney Believe - Matt and Violet went to the Mid-Ship Detective Agency and started solving the mystery of the missing puppies. The game involved using a QR code to activate various "paintings" around the ship, which would come alive and supply clues once you completed a challenge. Of course, this being Disney, the game, graphics, clues, all of it were pretty impressive!

Ready to watch Believe! (I cried. So good.)

Solving the case!

The picture came alive!

Activating the next clue!

One last stop at the Pumpkin Tree.
 Then we were off to our last dinner, right where we began it all, at the Enchanted Garden. Annie fell asleep again! This girl just couldn't hang! But it was nice chatting to the family we'd gotten to know over the course of our sailing and relieve all the great memories. The next morning, we returned to the same restaurant for breakfast and to say goodbye to our great serving team. I'm not going to lie, I cried a little again, just thinking about what a great trip it had been, how everything had worked out, how relaxed we'd gotten, how now they were kicking me off this beautiful boat to face the reality of report cards and parent-teacher conferences... One thing is for sure. This is not our last Disney Cruise!
We had a great time!

Disney Cruise - Castaway Cay

We're always cruising with a balcony from now on.

One of the most-anticipated parts of our itinerary was the stop at Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas. We had been warned the night before by the cruise director Trent that rain was in the forecast, but with a little faith, luck, and pixie dust (and a good rain dance) we could hopefully still have a great day on the island. Matt and I were planning to run the Castaway Cay 5K race on the island, so we were some of the first to exit the ship. We dropped the girls off at the island kids club and headed for the starting line with, I don't know, say 100 other passengers. What followed was one of the hottest runs I've ever experienced! The race took us along a paved path cut through the island's greenery and then along the runway to the adults only beach, and back.

Running selfies... harder than you'd think! But look at that finisher's medal!
When we were finished (under 30 minutes, might I add!) we staked out some beach chairs under an umbrella and headed to grab the girls. As luck would have it, we spotted Mickey on the way! There were only a handful of people waiting to meet him, so I told the girls it was now or never! See how overcast the sky was? I said a quick prayer that we'd make the most of our time on the island so even if it rained, it wouldn't be a disappointment. And it never rained! The clouds dissipated and it ended up being a beautiful day!

Meeting Mickey!

Christmas card!

Finally at the beach!

The beach was great! There were plenty of chairs and umbrellas, life vests for anyone that needed one, two restaurants serving up lunch of various BBQ options, even the unlimited soda and ice cream machines turned up! Basically the ship's staff get off the boat, run the island, and then pack it all up at the end of the day. It's quite an endeavor! Matt and Violet went on the Pelican Plunge, a rather swift waterslide that drops you right into the ocean while Annie and I explored. After lunch we happened to park it near another family from our county (the running joke was that everyone on the ship was from one of three counties in Atlanta on fall break) and when they headed back to the Dream, they left us their floats that we took to the water. The beach never felt too crowded and like I mentioned, the weather ended up great. Annie even fell asleep in a beach chair for a much needed nap!

Just look at that water! Talk about no filter needed!

We returned to the ship for Pirate Night! Everyone showered and dressed, then we took the girls to the club while we got a much needed cup of "real" coffee from the onboard cafe. We met up with the kids in D Lounge to watch a family pirate game show, where Annie got picked to help swab the deck in a relay race - she had to push a mop and bucket around. I continued to be amazed at the people working the kids clubs - this was no simple babysitting service. They were always engaged the kids, finding things to play with them, interacting with them. It's no wonder the girls were so willing to return time and time again! After another early dinner via room service, we took the kids up to the pool deck to watch the pirate dance party, where Captain Hook attempted to take over the ship but was thwarted by Mickey and his brave crew!

Yo ho, yo ho!

Violet with her class pet, Alfred, who got to spend the week with us. She had to take pictures and write in a journal all about Alfred's adventures... something tells me this might be the highlight of his year!

One of our Fish Extender gifts was this perfect pirate eye patch.

Look at those scalawags!

Thanks to Annie's beachside nap, she finally managed to stay awake through dinner, ha! During dinner, our girls and the girls from the family that shared our table hatched a plot to go to kids club before the fireworks, and we were happy to let them. Matt and I walked around the outside of the ship on Deck 4, trying to work off our enormous dinner. We grabbed the girls around 10:30 and brought them back to our room so we could watch the fireworks from our balcony. (Pro tip - get a room on the starboard (right) side if you want an excellent view of Castaway Cay and the fireworks!) And so we went to bed, already sad that the next day would be our last on this beautiful Dream.

Goodbye Castaway Cay!

Disney Cruise - Nassau

Breakfast of champions.

Just like Mr. Goodluck had promised, we woke up to beautiful calm seas. Our early-rising girls were quickly dressed and ready for action, so we were some of the first upstairs at Cabanas, the buffet on the pool deck. We ate and headed forward, hoping to watch the ship pull into our first port of call, Nassau, Bahamas! It was amazing to watch our huge ship aim for a slot between the breakers and slide into the port, then stop and spin in order to back into its parking space. Impressive! (Although apparently on the sailing after ours, something went wrong and the Dream bumped the dock on the way in, causing quite a bit of cosmetic damage! Oops!)

Contemplating life with coffee. (Spoiler alert - the coffee was meh.)

A windy sunrise!

Passing the lighthouse pulling into port.

Waiting for the pools to open.
We had already decided to stay on board in Nassau. The idea is that the ship will empty out and you'll have the place to yourselves, although more and more people are opting to skip Nassau excursions and I honestly couldn't tell a difference with the crowds. (Although side note, it never really felt that crowded on board. There were a few moments of craziness but for the most part, it wasn't unusual to be the only people waiting for an elevator or walking down the hallway.) Since we were already on the top deck, the girls took a quick paddle around the pools (there is a deeper one and a small kiddie Mickey pool) and then we decided to check out Goofy's Sports Deck and play some mini golf.

Hole in one?

Violet's new thing is making a peace sign in every picture!

Goofy Golfing Girls
Then it was time to quickly get dressed for our Frozen Meet and Greet! While there were always plenty of Disney characters and princesses around in the atrium, the girls were never interested in standing in line to meet anyone. But the Frozen princesses could only be accessed via (free) pre-booked tickets that gave you a specific time to show up. The princesses had a few minutes to talk to each visitor (our girls had a conversation about how sisters take care of each other) and then Anna suggested they all hold hands and make a "sister chain" for the picture. So cute! Violet is already skeptical - she informed me she knows that the characters are just people dressed up.

The sister chain!
We took the kids to kids club to play and then Matt and I checked out the ship's fitness area and hit the treadmills for a bit. It decided to pour buckets at this point of the day, so it's just as well the kids were at the club. We showered and decided to find something grown up to do while they were occupied. There was trivia happening at one of the pubs, and even though we showed up four questions late (and even though these were the most random trivia questions ever) we ended up winning, ha! The prize - two Disney Cruise Line luggage tags and bragging rights! Then it was time to get ready for our Halloween on the High Seas trick-or-treating party! We returned to the room, ordered the girls an early dinner through room service and got everyone showered. We were really hoping Annie would nap but no dice.

Let's get some candy!
Due to the previous rain showers, the trick-or-treating was moved from the pool deck to the atrium, and this was the only time I really felt overwhelmed by crowds. It was almost impossible to get through the hallways as everyone tried to get to the candy stations. But based on the candy haul the girls made, it was worth it! The kids were way more interested in their candy than the dancing characters inside. Then it was time to sail away!
We escaped the crowds for a few minutes!

So. Many. People.

"Moana" watching the Dream pull out of Nassau from our balcony.

A rainbow!
We headed to our show - a magic show this time - in the Walt Disney Theater, and then I decided to try a new tactic for dinner. Since Annie didn't take a nap, I'd just have to caffeine them up! So we headed to the pool deck (home of the free soda machines) and let them drink their fill while we watched the sunset. At this point, we were sailing on smooth seas, and I was so relieved that we weren't experiencing the wild rocking from the night before.

Ocean sunset!

Drink up, me heartys, yo ho!

The pool deck, so pretty at night!
Well, despite my best efforts, Annie could still not make it through dinner. Our wonderful serving team (you have the same waiters the whole trip, they rotate to all the different dining rooms with you) were so sweet and brought out extra tableclothes to serve as blankets. They also cut up the girls' food for them. Hello service! We ate at Animator's Palette, a very cool restaurant filled with giant tv screens that showed various Disney characters. Crush the Turtle from Finding Nemo showed up on ours and proceeded to have a personal conversation with Violet, asking her for her name (and when she was too shy to answer, he asked me!) and where she was from. We made it through dessert and then headed for bed, knowing that the next day we'd be heading to our private Disney island!

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