Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Disneyworld & Hurricane Irma

In September we were lucky enough to be taken to Disneyworld by my incredible dad, along with my sisters and brother and their families. It was an absolutely phenomenal experience. We had so much fun and such a great time with all of the family. I am not exaggerating when I say that Ellie and Zelda have mentioned it almost every day since we went (almost six months ago now!). 

Before we went, we (especially my sister Alyse) spent months planning, choosing which hotel to stay at, which park to go to on what day, where to eat, etc. Alyse made reservations at all the restaurants for us, reserved fast passes for us, and more.

And then, just before we came to Florida, Hurricane Irma began to loom large over the region. And four days after we got there, she hit.

All of our plans were entirely altered. All of the parks were closed for two days, and our hotels were on lockdown. Because the airport was closed, Jason's flight home (he had only been planning to be there for about half the trip, because of work) was canceled and had to be pushed back. The rest of us decided to extend our trip for two days to make up for the two days spent in the hotel, and to use the full number of park passes that my dad had already purchased.

Some of the parks were still operating on a limited level even after they reopened (Animal Kingdom in particular had tons of tree branches down all over the park), so the order that we had planned to go to the parks had to be rearranged. Since the fast pass and restaurant reservations were date-specific, they all had to be rearranged, too. (While a pain, this did open up some opportunities for us, which I'll explain later!)

The whole thing was a wild ride and really just an absolute blast. This post will have the pictures from our first day (which was all traveling) and the days that we were trapped in the hotel during the hurricane.

I flew with the three girls by myself to Orlando, as Jason had to work and then join us later in the week. Here we are on the shuttle from the parking lot to the airport; the girls thought it was a crazy experience to be in a car without carseats:

Ellie and Zelda were great on the airplane, Susie was...not. But we made it there! After we landed we took an airport zippy monorail thingy over to the main concourse, where we got our bags and made our way to the Disney buses. The bus ride to our hotel was about 45 minutes long, and then we were there!

We stayed at Kidani Village, which was awesome. The girls and I were the first out of everybody to arrive, so we rested in the room for a couple hours and then explored the hotel. We came downstairs just in time for a drum lesson, which we really enjoyed.

And here are the pictures from the days we had to stay at the hotel due to the hurricane. Since our hotel (Kidani Village) and another hotel (the Animal Kingdom Lodge) are literally right next door to each other, we were allowed to travel between hotels during the day time, before the hurricane winds picked up on Sunday and after they died down on Monday.

It was actually quite cozy and fun being there in the hotel with all our extended family the night that the hurricane passed over us. Our hotel rooms were full to bursting (Tanner {my sister's husband} had driven up from Miami to join us for the weekend, and brought his cousin, who didn't have a safe place to stay in Miami during the storm), and we all bunkered down as the rain got heavier and the wind got louder and louder and louder.

When we woke up the next morning, we could see from right outside our windows that a lot of tree branches and whole big trees had come down all around the hotel.

Back inside the hotel, Minnie and Mickey spent lots of time with us, coloring with the girls downstairs in the activity room:

And in the (much) larger lobby of the Animal Kingdom Lodge they had lots of activities set up. Coloring pages, board games, giant jenga, giant connect four, face painting, dancing, and more.

Ellie met Rafiki:

And Zelda got her face painted:

The girls also played for a long time with all the stuffed animals in the gift shop. Unsurprisingly, this ended up with each girl begging, and getting, to pick one to take home.

(As you can see from the change of clothes, we went there on both hurricane days.)

Meanwhile back at the hotel room, Susie was rampaging around and cuddling with Grandpa.

When they were hanging out back in the rooms, too, Zelda and Ezra watched lots of Disney movies. I love these pictures of them together watching some "scary" movie (probably 101 Dalmations, haha).

So even the days that a hurricane hit us at Disneyworld were fun. :)

Thursday, February 1, 2018

We made it

Last year I wasn't really good at keeping up with the blog and this year I want to be better. The thing that often prevents me from posting is pictures (the most recent ones aren't uploaded to the computer), so I'm going to go ahead and start doing posts without pictures so that I can at least write down what we're doing. I'll still post photos when I can, but this way I'll be able to post more.

We're here in North Carolina. We arrived just over one week ago on January 24, and spent the first night in our house on the 25th. We live on a funnily-named street in a funnily-named town, and updating our address over the phone with utility companies and schools and everything has required quite a lot of spelling-out and explaining to make sure they get it right. But we like both the neighborhood and the town, so it's worth it.

The house that we're renting is nice; Ellie and Zelda are incredibly excited that it has stairs and a second story. To them, we have very definitely moved up in world. I personally prefer living in single-story houses, but I guess the exercise will be good for my legs. The laundry room is upstairs with the bedrooms, so that's awesome.

Our cat Charlie didn't like the three-day drive here (the third day, he meowed pretty much non-stop until we got here), but he actually really likes our new house. Most of the house is carpeted, which he seems to prefer, and he's been exploring just everything since we arrived. He loves the sliding glass windows of the back door. He goes there several times a day and sits looking out at the backyard.

Ellie had her first day at her new school on Tuesday. She likes her teacher and her class, and I like the school in general. It seems like a great little school.

Sorry that this update is so choppy-sounding, but I just wanted to let you all know that we made it here safe and sound, and are settling in well!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Goodbye, 2017

Onward and upward!

I love the chance that the New Year affords for us to reflect on the past year and plan for the new one. This year is somewhat unique in that, for us, 2017 = Houston, Texas and 2018 will = Raleigh, North Carolina. We moved to Houston on New Year's weekend at the end of 2016 in order for Jason to begin his year-long fellowship at Texas Children's Hospital. That fellowship will conclude just two weeks from now, and we will be moving back to North Carolina at the end of the month where he will be starting his new job.

Overall, 2017 has been a very challenging year for me and honestly, I'm looking forward to moving into 2018 and back to North Carolina. At the same time, 2017 has been filled with many blessings.

Without a doubt, the best part of 2017 has been the people. All the wonderful people we've met and friends that we've made in our ward (church congregation), and living close to Jason's sister's family. I am so grateful for all of them - for their friendship and support and just everything. I love them and when I think about what the best part of living in Houston has been, I think of all their faces.

One person I am especially grateful for is my friend Brittany, whom we live just a block away from. I remember during just our first or second week here when we were at the neighborhood playground, she walked up and introduced herself and said that she thought we went to church together - and she was right! Our children are very close in age, and they quickly became good friends and have loved playing together all year long. Brittany has helped me in so many ways this year and with so many different things, and I just don't think it's a coincidence that the house we rented was so close to her. Their family has been a great blessing to ours.

And we have loved being close to Jason's sister Tiffany and her family.  The girls always want to go to their "crazy cousins'" house and are so happy whenever we get to see them. We have loved loved loved being able to see their family so much.

We've also been able to do a lot of fun things this year. We had a pass to the Houston Zoo, and went about once a month. In the spring we went strawberry picking and in the fall we went to the pumpkin patch. We were visited by different grandparents over the course of the year. In September we went to Disneyworld with my family, which was a blast. (And which I still want to post the pictures of!) Even Hurricane Harvey was fun in its own way. Playing in multiple feet of water covering the streets of your neighborhood is a unique experience.

Challenge-wise, 2017 was, in many ways, exactly what I expected it to be.

I was expecting it to be hard. It was hard. Jason's fellowship required him to work a minimum of sixty hours a week. For the first eight months of the year, that meant that I was home with three children, ages 5 and under, by myself all day. And kids that age are demanding. 

For those months I tried to get out of the house with them every single day. Staying home all day was easier in the mornings, because everyone could stay in their pajamas and I could get some stuff done, but it was magnitudes of difficulty harder in the afternoon and evening, when all of the girls' pent-up energy came out in whining and melt-downs.

Getting out of the house was harder in the moment, because I had to get each of the three girls and myself ready to go out (meaning take off their pajamas, put on their new pants and shirts and shoes, change diapers, make them use the potty, brush teeth and hair) as well as pack up anything we might need (snacks, diapers, wipes, extra outfits), buckle all three girls in to their car seats, drive to wherever we were going, unbuckle all three girls from their car seats, either: 1. get them to safely walk through the parking lot into whatever building  or playground we were going to (if we went to the library or gym or park) or 2. unload the big stroller from the car, unfold it and set it up, buckle Susie into it and load the other girls on, and push them around for hours (if we were going to the zoo), make sure everyone behaves while we're in public, feed them snacks, take them potty when needed, get everyone back to the car, buckle all three girls back into their car seats, fold up and load the big stroller, drive home, unbuckle all three girls from their car seats, take care of their needs as soon as we walk in the door (because often at this point Susie needed to be put down for a nap and the other girls needed snacks and help with the potty).

But I'm serious when I say that going out every day really was preferable to staying home, because the girls' behavior in the late afternoon was so much better.

Our weekly schedule for much of the year included 3 or 4 trips to the gym, library story time, our church playgroup, and once-a-week mother's co-op preschool. We went to the zoo about once a month.

Like I said, I expected this year to be hard, but it was hard in ways I haven't quite experienced before. Watching two girls while Jason went to school and did his rotations in North Carolina was hard, but it wasn't anything like watching three girls while Jason worked a much more demanding schedule here in Texas.

And something that was much more challenging this year than in the past was Ellie's anxiety. Backing up: Several years ago I developed generalized anxiety disorder, and after probably four-ish years of being able to keep it under control with just cognitive behavioral therapy, I began taking medication (Zoloft) for it at the end of 2015. Since then I've had to adjust the dosage of the medication up and down a little at different periods, but the medication has brought my anxiety level down to a normal, functioning level so that I feel and function like I used to do. (Oh, and side-note - I also have ADHD, and have since I was a little kid.)

Ellie's only six years old, but already for a couple years she's shown various signs of possibly having ADHD or anxiety problems, and we've been keeping an eye on it. This year, her anxiety really came out in a lot of ways. She fixated on things that worried her and would keep asking about them over and over, she had perfectionistic tendencies when it came to art (to the point where she'd have a panicked melt-down if she did something she didn't mean to {like used the "wrong" color on some part of her picture} or she wouldn't even start an art project at preschool or the library because she was afraid of "messing up"), and worst, she'd have extreme mood swings and panic attacks if something didn't go exactly like she was expecting it to.

It was tough. It was really tough having patience through it all. (Meaning, I didn't have patience through it all. I ran out of patience a lot of times, which I'd subsequently feel guilty about, because I know that anxiety isn't rational and I can't expect a six-year-old with anxiety to be rational about it, but it would be just so darn exasperating to deal with after a while.)

We got Ellie a referral to a therapist and she saw her for a couple months, but it was totally ineffective and after some different talks with the therapist we realized that we she wasn't really CBT-based, so we stopped. That was in the summer, and we decided to wait and see how Ellie did with school before trying anything else.

School has definitely helped Ellie with some of her different anxiety things. I've seen a huge difference in her approach to art - she is now much more okay with making mistakes, which is awesome. That was a huge road block for her before. I love every messy, scribbled picture she does now - I know she has the ability to color inside the lines, but I'm glad that she doesn't feel that she has to.

School's also been great for Ellie just because she's able to socialize with kids her own age for a huge part of the day, she gets to get out of the house, she gets physical exercise, she gets mental exercise, everything. It's been really good for her. She still has anxieties, but the anxious moments where we have to sit and work them out with her have been much fewer than before.

She is such a smart, good kid, and I have just really felt inadequate as her mom this year. That's been hard.

And the final thing that was hard for me in 2017 was (ironically, considering how much we were out of the house) feeling cooped up. In North Carolina, our house was on a half acre of land and each of our next-door neighbor's houses was a good deal away (twenty feet in one direction, probably fifty or sixty feet on the other side). We had windows looking out every direction and tons of light in our house.

Here, we're in the Houston suburbs, and there are so. many. houses. and they're all close together. Each of our neighbors's houses is probably only ten feet away, and all the windows on the sides of our house look straight into the windows on the sides of their houses. Plus, the front of our house is always super dark because of an awkward entryway layout with no windows.

With the front of our house being very dark and the middle of our house being semi-dark since the neighbors' houses block our light, it's felt like living in a tunnel or a cave where the only bright area is in the back of our house, in our family room and kitchen.

Luckily, because of the weird angles of the backyards on our street (we live in a cul-de-sac), our backyard touches two other backyards, which both touch a main street. So, we don't have any direct back neighbors and we also don't touch the street, and our backyard feels like big and open. That is great, and I have been grateful for it. We can see the big, open sky from our backyard. But when you look down, you can see across the street...and probably thirty or so houses' roofs all lined up back to back to back. There's just too many people. It's been very, very hard for me to adjust to living in the suburbs after living in a semi-rural way in North Carolina. I've loved having all the stores so close to us, but I'm willing for them to be farther away for us to have more space again, and I'm happy that's where we're heading.

Looking forward with hope and optimism

I'm grateful for this year, for the experiences that we've had and for the friends that we've made.