Friday, July 19, 2013

We now interrupt your regularly scheduled summer

I wouldn't have given up the last weeks of May, first of June for anyone. Including Mother Nature. And she tried really hard.
May 20, the day before we left for Italy, I had a panicked call from the Oldest who was using someone else's phone, about 45 minutes before the end of school.

"Are you coming to get us?!"
"Not until after schools, why?"
"Have you checked the weather? There's a tornado in Newcastle and it's headed this way!" 10 miles away.

Superhero Mom mode, engage! Checking the weather, which by myphone app said it was only a thunderstorm, I then turned on the local news and the weather guys were going nuts. Just a few days prior, a tornado ripped thru a tiny town south of us. Living in "Tornado Alley" during the spring and summer is always eventful. But this year, we lived in a city that had been hit time after time, with devastating results. To make matters worse, we were without a storm shelter. Just the little area under the stairs we affectionately called the Harry Potter Closet.

Throwing the dog into the garage howling, just as the sirens started, I drove like a maniac to my children a mile away. It was the slowest mile EVER. I could see the storm building just southwest of us and the hail had already started. Rushing into the school, there were other parents and teachers hovering in the hallways, closets and tiny bathrooms with kids as this was the only safe place for them. Don't get me started on how asinine it is that Oklahoma schools don't have mandatory storm shelters! Demanding my kids come out, we covered our heads and ran for the car which was getting beat all to hell with hail.

On the drive back to the house, the kids were watching the tornado increasing in size. The stuff of nightmares. Stuffing them, the dog and every available pillow and blanket under the stairs, we waited with our bicycle helmets on. I'd been texting the Major who was trying his hardest to get home to us but didn't end up home until 5 hours later, when the power went out.

The E-F5 tornado that struck our town that day, a mile and a half passed our home, has been recorded as the worst in history. 20 people died, most of them children who were huddled in their school, like my boys had been, while the twister literally ground their school to a pulp around them. We heard the roar of it from our house, sounding very much like a freight train and could see it from our front windows after it had passed far enough east for us to get outside of the closet.

My last text from the Major was that he was along a road heading south as fast as possible. A road the tornado was headed straight toward. Thank God for social media as a FB notice later showed him safely to the south of the damaged area but streets and highways were now impassable. What a way to begin a honeymoon!!

We felt guilty leaving the next day as friends were trying to clean up the disaster. We donated everything we could from water and baby goods to money. It will take years before things are back to normal. Of course, we would be moving to the home of typhoons.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Summer of Love, part 2

Coming home from Italy was stunning. I wanted to move everyone I love there with me and stay for the rest of my life. I'd get the language books and CDs and become fluent and have the best prosciutto and pecorino Romano every day with fresh olive oil. But the summer needed to move on. We have lots to do in a few months!

With a only a few days to wash clothes and repack plus get the boys packed for the next adventure, I concentrated on the tasks at hand. Then it was OFF to DISNEYWORLD and Universal Studios!! The last time was five years ago when my dad was dying of cancer but some incredibly generous souls from church and friends had gathered enough funds to send Maman, Daddy-O, our family and my sisters and bro-in-law to that wonderful, magical playland. Daddy-O rode every ride he could because as he said, "I already know what will kill me. Might as well have fun!" The boys were very small, 2 and 6, and don't remember that much so the Major and I had promised them we would be taking them back. This would be our Kid Honeymoon, a way to solidify us as a family unit before our move across the ocean.

The boys were nervous getting on the airplane but they calmed down a bit after the ride started. We didn't get into Florida until late since we didn't leave until the afternoon and nerves were running high. Arewethereyet syndrome. We stayed at the Coronado Springs resort on property and it was well worth it. Early bird and late owl hours were available to us at any of the parks and we had incredible service. We spent three days at Universal Studios and four at Disney. Yay, military discounts! Only sad point of the trip was the Oldest hurting his ankle and having to be in a wheelchair for most of the trip, hobbling around. But bright spot meant we got to the front of the line!
Harry Potter ride at Universal was probably one of the best rides we've ever seen! This was in the waiting area and the pictures conversed with each other. Definitely try the Butter Beer. SOOO tasty.

Our hotel, Coronado Springs on it's own little lake. Great waterfall swimming pool too!

Jurassic Park! My dad would have loved this. The ride was fun and the kids got to explore the exhibits.

The Major got to be in a movie! This ride at Universal was set up to take people as actors, make the worst B-movie possible and act as a ride at the same time! Yours truly even got to add her scream of terror!

Most wonderful Lego Store! Giant store with every color, size and shape you can imagine at Downtown Disney Marketplace. Tubs were available to play on boards set up around the store. A barefoot parent's nightmare.

The best way to watch a Disney parade is from the shoulders of a strong man.

The amazing dining room of the new Beast's Castle. The windows were digitally mastered to look like falling snow. The cherubs on the ceiling were pics of actual babies of the engineers who built it. The trick to getting in there is walking up and asking if anyone dropped their reservation. We got in immediately and were even offered specials because of the Kid Honeymoon. Wonderful French cuisine. SOOO worth it.

We WOULD have to pick a trip during Star Wars Weekend. Thousands of extra visitors to Disney Hollywood Studios flock to the park to see reenactments, actors from the movies and animated series and dress up in costume. It's like ComicCon for LucasFreaks. We LOVED it. The boys went to Jedi training school and fought some of the Clone Wars characters! We have tons of pics of those. 

Much of the first part of the trip was spent in the rain as Hurricane Andrea hit Florida. That just meant shorter lines for us and cooler temperatures. We had umbrellas and ponchos and survived by running in the rain and laughing about it. :)

Of course, Star Wars Weekend participation included making our own droids! From left to right: Major's, mine, Youngest and Oldest. You could mix and match legs, heads, bodies, and hats! 

The light and fireworks shows at all the parks were just spectacular. We stayed to watch the Magic Kingdom show twice. It was that good. 

The T-Rex Cafe in Downtown Disney was booked for months out. On a whim after a very wet day, I walked up to the desk, asked if there was a table for four anywhere in the restaurant and we got in within 5 minutes! A-Maz-ING! Definitely try to get in here if you can. Every 15 minutes the entire place saw an asteroid shower and the animatronic dinosaurs all over the place roared! The food was awesome too!

Despite several years of working for Disney and visits to both DisneyWorld and Disneyland, this is the only time I've gotten a picture with the main character. We went to the Lilo and Stitch breakfast Luau at the Polynesian Resort.
Love the Mouse!

We closed out every park we went to every night. Which meant sometimes staying up until 2 am to see everything.

The Major loves us. :) Special package ready for us upon hotel entry. He put so much thought into it!

The trip was so much about the food too. Every day was centered around the places we would eat as well as the rides. This was the crabcakes at Captain Jack's. God, I was stuffed. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Viva l'Italia! - Summer of Love part One

What a whirlwind summer! We've been everywhere and doing everything to go on honeymoon, go on kid honeymoon, move to Okinawa, etc, and I've barely sat at the computer!

Italy now ranks as my Number ONE place to go. At once beautiful, serene, colorful, and passionate, it's no wonder it boasts as the most romantic country to visit. I had a little bit of a problem getting started thinking about Italy because in early May, after some stomach issues which have plagued me for most likely years, I had hernia surgery. I'll spare you the details but it's rather weird to feel your intestinal wall as bumps in your skin! Mesh is keeping it all in now, though backpacking thru Italy was rather difficult with the weight restriction of 10 lbs or less. Seeing the Major's oldest graduate in a small ceremony overlooking Rome, visiting sites I'd only dreamed about in my Latin classes, being waylaid by gypsies in train terminals. It was truly the most amazing and gorgeous honeymoon a girl could want. I can really only show you in pictures. And these don't even do it justice. All were taken with an Android cell phone and no editing by me. (Copyright.)
Our itinerary:
Rome for three days
Train to Ferrara for one day
Train to Venice for three
Train to Florence on the way back to Rome
A very happy featherann eating a snack before catching a train. I got good at
asking for items and paying for them. Though the Major speaking Italian helped.

The teaming Tiber River in Rome. It'd been warm and rainier than usual so the algae was up. But it made for such a beautiful picture! Our bus tour of the city was worth it.
One of my favorite shots of the Rialto Bridge in Venice. Off to the right of the bridge, where those poles are, is a little unused gondola stand. We had the most romantic picnic there with items we hand selected from the little grocery store topped off by a Chianti and chocolate. Magical!

Pigeons and seagulls were everywhere! This was a funky little light just outside of San Marco's Square in Venice.

The Pieta. What more could I say? I sobbed in a corner alone upon seeing it, so struck was I by it's simplicity and realism. As if Mary were indeed there in front of me, crying for her Son.

Property of
The romance of a gondola ride. Even better to see it cross under the windows of Marco Polo's house! I'll be enlarging this to hang in our home. Our ride was late at night so there was no one on the canal. Truly private and romantic beyond words. The Major outdid himself. 

Nothing to see here...but the POPE! Conducting a special service which we didn't know about as we climbed into the top of St. Peter's Basilica (you can go all the way to the top!) We were very surprised to see this while in the upper dome.

Darling little girls of Ferrara, a medieval and wonderful town with the best little bar around, XI Comandemento. Tell Tommy that Gonzo sends his love.  

Every little church we visited was ornate, beautiful and colorful. Truly works of art.

Florence was artsy and gorgeous and funky door knockers were on every house, each unique. I took 20 pics of them!

When in Italy, one MUST have authentic gelato. I ate my weight in it thruout the trip.

The Duomo, Florence. Ivory, Jade and pink marble covered every inch of this ancient church. Gorgeous!

One of the fashion capitols of the world so of COURSE I had to find shoes. These just happen to have removable lipstick too. Versatile!

By far MY favorite shot I took of our trip. It epitomizes everything about Italy I loved: the color, the vibrancy, the food, the romance. It was also my first view of Venice with the love of my life beside me. 

Thank You, Major. For loving me.