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Jolly Holidays, Saturday

So, we sleep a little bit later than usual this morning, and no one is really anxious to get up and moving, since we were up so late last night. Grace bounced from bed to bed until Jim finally put her down, asleep, with Eilis on the fold out sofa.  Jim’s mom has to work later today at a holiday function in their community, so we don’t make any real plans to go anywhere or do anything, other than run out for coffee.  We spend quite a bit of time on the phone and online with British Airways, but the end result – all of our travel reservations for next summer are made!  We got a pretty good deal by booking with the British Airways credit card.  We had to buy upgraded seats (not REAL upgrades, like first class, but upgrades like two across instead of 3), but it was a buy one ticket, get a companion ticket for free deal, so it worked out to be the same price – a few dollars less – than paying for all 7 of us.  We were able to book the odd ticket as a regular coach fare, but then with the frequent flier miles we got from booking the rest of the tickets, we got a free upgrade on the 7th seat, so we’re all together.  London won’t know what hit them when this crew arrives!!

We had a delicious dinner of roast beef, and then after dinner, Russell took us all out on the golf cart to see the holiday lights.  I was surprised how many people were really decked out for Christmas.  I had figured that since it was an over 55 community, there would be a percentage of people not even home over the holidays, since they were traveling to visit their children or grandchildren; and then I figured there is a percentage of homes not occupied for whatever reason.  Add into that however many people don’t celebrate Christmas or might be too old or not up to decorating, and I really assumed there would be way more un-decorated houses.  And some of the people really go all out!  Dot and Russ had one of the best decorated – the kids could have stood outside for hours watching all the things they have outside!

I headed to bed early – around 10 PM – and left Jim out with the girls.  I don’t think they stayed up much later though – they were just as tired as I was. 

Jolly Holidays, 2007 Arrival in Orlando

After a flight where Granuaile has kicked the hell out of the seat in front of her enough times that the person sitting in it has relocated; my bag took a tumble, spilling all of the important contents out onto the floor, which then slid down to the back of the plane; and losing the SeaWorld passes when a flight attendant finds then, assumes they are trash, and tosses them, we have arrived safely in Orlando, very late at night. We are supposed to be in at around 11:30, we make it in around 11:50, so not too bad considering the weather across the country is reported to be terrible.

We head to the car rental counter after collecting our bags, and we get the keys to our shiny new car that won’t hold the four of us, let alone all of the luggage we’ve brought. Okay, back to the counter. Keys to a new car in hand, we set out to find it. And there, in the far end of the parking garage, is the shiny new Lincoln MKZ car that won’t hold all the luggage we’ve brought. I’m going to stay here at the car, Grace straped into her seat, Eilis waiting to doze off, bags scattered all over, while Jim walks back to the counter to exchange the car again. Finally, he pulls up with a Jeep Liberty – a car that will barely and uncomfortably hold the four of us and all of the luggage we’ve brought!

The kids are transferred to the new car, we are packed in like sardines in a can, and we are headed to Poinciana to Jim’s mother’s for the weekend. We get on the road, hopefully headed the right way, when we hear, “I wanna burger. Eilis, do you wanna burger?” Eilis says no. “Come on, Eilis, you wanna burger. You wanna chock-it milk? I wanna chock-it milk.” And there we are, at nearly 1 AM, trying to find a burger and chock-it milk for Granuaile.

After a pit stop at Burger King, sorting out the order, opening the happy meal toys, passing out the drinks, we are back on the road to Poinciana. I tell Jim he should call his mother and explain why we’re running so late. He doesn’t have the phone number. I don’t have the phone number. Brighid has the phone number programmed into her cell phone. Brighid is in New Jersey, sleeping soundly in her bed. Jim calls the cell. No answer. He calls the home phone. No answer. I tell him Ann is probably sound asleep and has no idea in the middle of the night where the phone is. He calls it again. I was right. Ann answers and finds Brighid, who is going to call her grandparents and tell them where we are.

Finally, sometime around 2 AM, we are there, the bags are in, and we are fighting with Granuaile to go to sleep. I fall asleep around 3, and Jim sometime after that. The first day of our vacation promises to be a drowsy one tomorrow.

Jolly Holidays 2007 – Day 1 airport fun

Arriving at the airport shortly before 5:30, we check our bags curbside, put the baby in the stroller, and we head inside. I check Jim’s flight schedule and see that he’s delayed, and instead of arriving at 6:45, he won’t be here until 7:30. I can’t wait that long to feed the kids, so we go to the really nice food court area and get them a hot dog. As we grab our dinner, the girls see Santa. Yep, the man himself has a nice throne set up at Philly International, and a friendly – although disorganized – helper is taking complimentary Polaroid pictures of anyone interested. I figure Granuaile will never get closer than a football field length to the man, but Eilis might want to go see him. I start walking over in that direction, and Gracie BOLTS – like she has been shot out of a cannon – into Santa’s unsuspecting legs and clings on for dear life. Her happy little eyes plead with him to forgive the entire year of transgressions and focus only on her adorable little self, hugging his legs as if her very life depended on it. The “helper” is ooohhhhing and aaaahhhing over how adorable this is and how cute this is and oh my gosh Santa, don’t you think this is the sweetest thing ever?? Santa has apparently NOT been doing a bustling business here at the airport, and they are really hoping my kids agree to get their pictures taken – as if there’s any way NOT to take their pictures at this point. So we get a quick picture, and we go back to the food court to eat the dinner and wait for the picture to develop.

Following dinner, we find me a latte (ewwww – Java and Jazz, skip it next time), and head out to the gate to wait for Jim and our flight. No. We’d better not. It’s way too early. We browse the mall, turning Eilis down at every store for all of the things she claims we need, want, and gotta have. After 30 minutes or so of telling them “no” every 23 seconds, we are going to the gate. I will not suffer this torture alone – let them bother the other passengers waiting for a nice, peaceful vacation in Orlando.

We head over to the gate, and the girls are excitedly watching the planes come in and out. Granuaile, who has never been here before, claims every plane as her own, and shouts, “I SEE IT!!” every time red, yellow, green, blue, or any other color lights go by, followed by “I READY!” It’s so cute. 14,296 times. So cute. Really. It must be, because I’m noticing people moving away from us, and I imagine the cuteness must just be too much for them. Especially when she starts going right up to people, as they are reading, talking on their cell phones, and working on their computers, bending her head so that her face is right in their face, to tell them that she is going on the plane see it there it is outside that’s her plane and she’s ready to go are you ready to go are you going on plane to Disney World and see Mickey Mouse and Goopy (that’s how she says it) and stay in the hotel…I check my watch. Where the heck is Jim??

So then they make an announcement that they have to change our gate because there is a flight leaving to Tampa at the same time ours is leaving to Orlando, and the Tampa flight has arrived early, and ours has not arrived. We now move from gate B15 to C27 – a long walk. Eilis is complaining because her feet hurt. She elected not to wear socks with her boots, and I give her a thick pair of mine (all I had handy), and they are bunched up in the boots. We get to the other gate, and now I am praying for Jim to arrive. There are no TV screens here to tell me his flight status, so I ask the guy at the podium, who tells me there are no flights coming in from Milwaukee. Oh. This can’t be good. I’m getting a little freaked out, wondering if I should get on the plane or not, and quickly decide that I’d better just get on the plane and hope for the best. I take the kids to the bathroom, change the baby, and as I’m heading back, Jim calls.  WHEW.  He has landed and just has to wait for the shuttle to our terminal.  Thank goodness!  In no time, he is meeting us at the gate we have been moved to, and we are boarding the plane.

I Ready!!

It’s Always Sunny in Milwaukee

Oh, wait, the name of that show is Philadelphia – and now I know why they didn’t pick Milwaukee. We are just getting back from our trip out to enjoy cooler summer temperatures and the Milwaukee Irish Fest. It will likely take us until the NEXT Irish fest next August to dry out. It rained pretty much from the time we got there until the time we left. e got in a visit to Irish Fest on Friday night, but being optimistic about having the whole weekend to spend there, we left as they closed up the children’s activities. We arrived bright and early the next morning and volunteered for the 5K run to benefit the Arthritis Foundation, and that gained us free access to the festival. Guess when the rain started? As soon as we stepped inside the festival gates. We did a few of the kids’ things under the tent, but we couldn’t take them on the playgrounds or anything. We visited the Celtic Canines booth, where Granuaile got up close and personal with a few of Rosie’s Midwestern relatives. We were joined there by Brighid and Eilis, who had stopped to do a craft project at one of the kids’ stations, and we left the damp doggies to go grab some lunch. The rain was beginning to fall heavier, so even though there were tons of things to do, it was too cool and too wet to stay.

We went back to the hotel with the two little kids, and Brighid made the decision to stay and see some of the bands she had come all this way to see. Over the course of the weekend, she got to see Gaelic Storm, the Tossers, Enter the Haggis, and a few others. She had a great time, regardless of the Irish Mist that fell the entire weekend.

On Sunday, Jim and I took a ride out to Racine, WI to look at a new housing development of “Arts and Crafts” style houses. They were so cute!! They are styled after the old Sears build it yourself Craftsman homes, and had the touches that those homes frequently featured – like built ins!! After our trip out to Racine, we went back to the hotel and waited for my friend Beth to arrive from Indiana. We had such a nice visit with her! She phoned from her hotel when she arrived, and Brighid and I ran out to meet her. We came back to downtown and headed to Mo’s Irish Pub for dinner. The food there is good, and the portions generous, but this is Irish weekend, and the place was packed with loud, rowdy Irishmen/women. To make matters worse, Mo’s was running a shuttle to and from the festival grounds, so every few minutes, a person would announce over the loud speaker that they were getting ready to depart for the fare grounds. When the waitress blew us off by not offering dessert, we took ourselves across the street to Mo’s other fine establishment – Mocha. We got some coffees and desserts there, but better than that, we got to sit and chat for a while! It was so nice to talk girly stuff and not have to worry about the little girls interfering.

Monday was the day Beth was leaving, so we got up fairly early and Jim went to work while I got the girls ready to go pick up Beth. We came back downtown to the Milwaukee Public Market, where we both spent a good bit of money on the delicious offerings of the market. Eilis ate half her weight in free samples of cheese curds, so I picked up two flavors of the cheese curds and a few of the beef sticks that Jim purchased for them a few days before. They really loved those. We also picked up a couple of other snacky type things to enjoy during the rest of our week here.

From there, we went back to Beth’s hotel to pick up her car, and we headed to the Jelly Belly factory store!! Woohoo!! We waited a few minutes in line, and we were soon boarding the Jelly Belly express train through a tour of the warehouse. They don’t actually make Jelly Bellys or any other candy here, so the train took us around the warehouse, stopping at various video screens, where we could see how Jelly Bellys were made somewhere else. But not here, or anywhere near here. Shut up and ride the train.

Okay, so now came the BEST part of the whole trip, and the point at which Eilis decided this was the BEST DAY OF HER LIFE. The Jelly Belly express drops you off at the entrance to, wait for it, you know where I’m going with this, don’t you, the Jelly Belly Factory Store! We all got off the train and filed past one of the Jolly Jelly Belly train conductors (don’t get too close to the piercings in her nose, kids, and yes, she colors her hair blue to match the Jelly Bellys), who handed us each a sample pack of the tiny precious Jelly Bellys, and then we walk through the door to the Jelly Belly fantasy land. Walls lined with every imaginable flavor of jelly bean in the land, as well as mountains of other candies made by the Jelly Belly people. They have a snack bar, but since we snacked on stromboli in the car earlier, we were not too anxious to grab a snack. They also have a sample bar, where you can try a free sample of any of the candies that they keep in the store.

The biggest bargain of the day was the Belly Flops! We got a bag for Megan and a bag of Hodgepodge flops for the kids. They are 2 pound bags of either the jelly beans or the mixed candies, bargain priced, that didn’t turn out quite right for some reason, and they don’t sell them as Jelly Bellys. And the best part was they had small bags of belly flops in sugar free! It was a nice afternoon, we bought way too much candy for people who aren’t supposed to eat it, but the kids snacked all the way back to the hotel.

And I learned a valuable lesson. Sugar free is not my friend. I bought the sugar free flops and some sugar free chocolate covered raisins. They were all REALLY good, but I got such terrible stomach cramps from the malitol they use as a sweetener that I ended up throwing away the leftovers the next day to avoid being tempted by them.

On Tuesday, we headed to the outlet mall in Brookfield. We got there around 11 and did some fall/winter clothes shopping for each of the girls. They had some good stores there, including Gymboree, Children’s Place, Old Navy, the Gap, etc. I got some GREAT bargains for Eilis, and was so tempted to get Halloween costumes, but resisted since it’s so early. Everyone was getting pretty darn hungry by about 2, so we packed up in the car and headed off to find food. Hi-Way Harry’s was the only restaurant that looked like a sit down place in the immediate area, so we wandered in. We felt a little under dressed, as most of the people here looked like business people on lunch breaks, in jackets and ties and skirts, but they were friendly and seated us right away near the stone fireplace.

We had a nice lunch, and then headed back to Milwaukee. Granuaile slept a little in the car on the way back, and we left most of the bags in the car when we got back to the hotel. I ran down to the mall, where they had a produce stand, and got a couple of things to go with dinner, and Jim was home after a little while. We all ate a little something and hit the gym, then went back and watched TV until bedtime.

Remember that rain it’s been doing? Yeah, today too. I got the kids up and dressed and we headed for the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, which was such a huge hit on the last trip. Well, it is MOBBED – probably because it’s raining outside – and the kids can barely get close to any of the activities. We make our way through a few things for about an hour, and then the power in the museum goes out. One of the museum workers is wandering through the building, telling people they will try to stay open, but there is no air conditioning, and the only exhibits you can really play on are the ones that are on the outside walls of the museum, where at least the outside light is coming in. Because it’s already packed in here when we have the full run of the museum, we decide not to take a chance on finding an activity when we are all herded into a small space, so we are going to head out. A few other families are also heading out, and as we reach the elevator, the people getting off warn us not to get on because they have been stuck in there for 15 minutes, not moving. There is a door next to the elevators that leads to the stairs, so we opt for that escape plan. Well, we got all the way downstairs, only to find that the door is locked. We hike back up the two flights of stairs only to find out that the door we entered the stairwell through does not have a door knob on this side, so we have no way to open it. We stand there a few minutes, knocking; with Eilis begging in the most dramatic of voices for someone to PLEASE OH PLEASE help us. Finally, a man and his children who are leaving the still darkened museum let us in. He has pushed the elevator button, and it appears to be working, so we hop on and hope for the best. We are soon making our way through the dark parking garage to find our car, and we pull out – free parking today because the power is out and they have no way to know how long you’ve been in there!! – Not sure what to do with ourselves. If we go back to the hotel and there is no power there, we’ll be bored and sweating. We decide to go find someplace for lunch that’s away from this downtown part of town.

As we drive away from downtown Milwaukee, we realize that there are indeed unsavory parts of town, and we don’t want to be in them. Because I suck at directions, I don’t want to veer too far off of the main roads through the city because I fear we will never find our way back. We finally end up deciding to head back and just go to Mo’s Irish Pub again. Well, Brighid decided that. When we get back, I just can’t bring myself to go to Mo’s again, so I make them walk a few blocks and we find the Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery. It’s right on the water, it smells good, and we can have a table in about 5 minutes.

The service here, as it seems to be in all of the Milwaukee restaurants we’ve tried, is super friendly. We browse the lengthy menu, and Eilis settles on a make it yourself pizza; Granuaile is going to have macaroni and cheese; I order the Cobb Salad, and Brighid gets smoked salmon fish and chips. The fries that come with the fish and chips are delicious, but she is not an immediate fan of the smoke salmon fried. I guess if you’re used to the white fish – cod or halibut – the denser, fattier salmon is a bit of a departure that takes some adjustment. She ate one good sized piece from the generous helping, but does not wish to take the rest back to the room with us. Eilis has a ball putting her pizza together. They bring out a ready to fill pizza crust, cheese, sauce, and pepperoni, and Eilis did a great job building her pie. My Cobb salad, unlike the traditional, is not chopped. The salad is good, the usual chicken has been substituted with smoked turkey that tastes really good, and I enjoy the bit I can eat of it. And really, for Gracie, how could you mess up Mac and cheese?

With the break in the rain a welcome relief, we walk back to the hotel and veg out again until dinner. We eat, go to the gym, and relax back in the room until bedtime.

If It’s Wednesday, This Must Be Athens

Wednesday, May 30th – we can sleep in today!  Yay!  It’s the first time the whole trip, and Brighid is snoring away.  The sun shines in at 5:30 AM, and when I wake up, outside my window is a group of scruffy looking men doing something nautical. 

EPCOT Candlelight Processional

If you are spending any part of your holiday season in Disney World, this is a not to be missed event that will have you wishing you could come back to Disney every year at Christmas time.  This is a very popular, celebrity hosted event, and there are two ways to get in to see it.  Anyone who purchases a ticket (any ticket – annual pass, seasonal pass, park hopper, single day ticket) into EPCOT center, can go to see one of the three nightly performances that takes place from the day after Thanksgiving up until the day before New Year’s Eve.  There is no extra charge to go and see this spectacular holiday event.  HOWEVER…

Disney sells what are called Candlelight Processional Dining Packages.  These packages include your dinner at one of the participating restaurants and reserved general seating for one of the three shows.  The packages are sold at three different price levels, depending on the restaurant you choose.  For example, Tier I is about $30 per adult (not including tax or gratuity), and you are limited to the Garden Grill restaurant or the Biergarten.  Tier II is about $39, and includes restaurants like the San Angel Inn and the Rose and Crown Pub.  Tier III, the most expensive at about $46 per adult, includes the most restaurants.  With that package, you can dine at Chefs de France, the Coral Reef, and Le Cellier, and a few others.  The meal includes an appetizer, an entree and a dessert.  Alcoholic beverages are not included, and park admission is still required – this price does not include your admission to EPCOT. 

With the package, you will be able to enter the American Gardens theater, and everyone who has purchased a package is escorted in first.  There are no reserved seats, just the guarantee that you will have a seat in the theater.  As the line of package purchasers begins to dwindle, they then allow those people who have not purchased packages to file in to the theater.  People line up at least 30 minutes prior to the start of each show to get standby seating, and closer to Christmas, I have seen people waiting an hour or more.  You are NOT guaranteed a seat if you do not purchase the dinner package.  If you have your heart set on seeing a particular celebrity perform this event, I HIGHLY recommend the package.

The show itself is a 150 member choir, providing the music that weaves together a retelling of the story of Christmas.  The story is told by a celebrity narrator, and in the past, the narrators have included Gary Sinise (Forrest Gump, CSI:NY); James Caviezel (Passion of the Christ); Rita Moreno (Broadway); and other stars of stage, screen, TV and music.  The music is beautiful, the story is, of course, beautiful, and the experience is one of the best for your money at Disney World. 

If you plan on doing a dinner package, book it as soon as possible once the packages are available.  They do sell out, as the restaurants book up quickly.  You DO need to make an advanced dining reservation when you purchase the package.

And look for the CD of the Candlelight Processional when you leave.  We find ourselves listening to it at all times of the year!