Friday, February 27, 2015

The Tooth Fairy Returneth

When I picked up Annika from school yesterday, she was about to come out of her skin with excitement because her wiggly tooth was barely hanging on. Funny how that happens when you keep poking at it!

The funny thing to me is she was a little disappointed that Eric wasn't the one who picked her up yesterday because loose teeth and pulling teeth are his realm in our family. (I think she hoped he'd pull it out right there in the classroom!)

As soon as we were home, Annika bolted upstairs to find Eric so she could share her exciting "my tooth is ready to be pulled" news with him. We had to convince her to actually take off her backpack and coat before pulling the tooth.

The first few attempts of Eric trying to pulling it out with dental floss failed (darn you, waxed floss!), so I decided to up the ante and get him some embroidery floss to use instead. He was able to cinch the embroidery floss against the tooth and after a swift tug, out came Annika's 7th tooth! 

Of course, we put the tooth in her tooth pillow and Annika insisted on drawing a picture for the Tooth Fairy. We talked her out of leaving a snack for the Tooth Fairy. (To her credit, she was being very kind thinking that the Tooth Fairy would be hungry after all of the nighttime tooth-collecting flying that must go on each night!)

This morning, Annika was greeted with a shiny dollar coin and a lovely note from the Tooth Fairy. She was all smiles and could hardly wait to get to school to share her exciting news with everyone she knows.

Bye bye, 7th tooth!

February 2015 Daring Bakers' Challenge: Siopao

This month, we were challenged to bake siopao, which are yeast-based Asian buns that can be filled with savory or sweet fillings.

Considering how crazy this month has been with our Disney cruise and post-vacation return to real life, I opted to go as easy as possible with this challenge and went the sweet route. Making the dough was a snap, which I greatly appreciated! I filled some of the bung with strawberry jam, some with chocolate, and some with peanut butter and chocolate. All went swimmingly until the final rise... that's when I should have stuck with my gut instinct. The instructions said to cover the buns with plastic wrap and let them rise for an hour. I knew I should have sprinkled a little flour on the top of each bun before putting the plastic wrap on them. Naturally, after an hour, when I removed the plastic wrap, it stuck a bit to the buns and caused them to rip in places. I tried to patch the holes as best as I could, but to no avail. The fillings oozed out during the baking process and left us with barely filled buns. On an up note, the flavors all worked nicely... there was just that the bun to filling ratio was off due to the escaped fillings. Oh well!! It was still a great opportunity to try something new. :)

Fillings overboard!

Finished siopao .... definitely needed more fillings!

The February Daring Bakers’ challenge is hosted by Julie of One-Wall Kitchen. She challenged us to an easy, simple filled bun using no-knead dough

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Disney Cruise: Part 7

Our last full day on the cruise was a bit different than anticipated.

On Friday morning, the ship docked at Castaway Cay, which is Disney's private island in the Bahamas. We did our usual port-day morning routine of sunblock, water bottles, and a quick breakfast before waiting for the ship's doors to open. We made a bee line for the family beach with the hope of securing some lounge chairs for our crew. Fortunately, that scheme paid off and we found four chairs right under a palm tree (hello, Caribbean!) and set up camp.

Once again, we were greeted with a lovely, sunny, warm day. Unfortunately, Annika's cold was keeping her from feeling as fun-filled as she otherwise would feel, and Conor was following suit. We donned our snorkel gear and made our way to the water. Fairly quickly, we also realized the water wasn't as warm as we anticipated... and Annika didn't like the taste of salt water!

Conor getting geared up

Annika raring to go

Conor and me ready to take the plunge

Annika snorkeling

Heading back to shore

We opted to cut our losses. Eric and the kids headed back to the beach while I abandoned them for a little "me time" in the water. I tootled around for a bit and happily discovered lots of fish and many artificial reefs. I also found the Mickey statue, the sunken submarine, a boat anchor, and a sunken fishing boat.
A fish
(Glad I pointed that out for you, huh??)

Not quite sure what this is/was

A stripy fish

More fish!

A winch?

Underwater Mickey

LOTS of fish

The Fantasy, as seen from the middle of the lagoon

Fishing boat

Submarine's tail

A stripy fish and the submarine

My snorkeling selfie

By the time I convinced myself that I was being unfair leaving my three family members alone for so long, I made my way back to the beach, only to find both kids on their lounge chairs shivering. Eric and I gave each other that knowing look and opted to cut our losses and head back to the ship. Along the way, we did stop for a few more character photos with Pluto, Chip and Dale, and Mickey Mouse, but didn't dally too much.

Over the last few days of the trip, Annika sounded more and more congested, and by Friday night, she hit the proverbial wall. She and Eric hunkered down in our cabin while Conor and I made our way to the restaurant to meet our dining companions for our last onboard dinner. Our two servers (Gavin and Dennis) were very sweet and expressed sincere concern that "their princess" wasn't feeling well.

Friday night was spent packing up all of our belongings so they could be outside of our stateroom by 10 PM and picked up by the crew for off loading the next morning. It was a tight squeeze, but we got everything in a suitcase and ready to roll!

On Saturday morning, we woke up painfully early to dress, collect our remaining bags, and get to the restaurant for our 6:45 breakfast call. Fortunately, we saw Gavin and Dennis at breakfast, which wasn't the case any other day, so everyone was able to say a proper goodbye to our wonderful servers before we left the ship for the last time.

After we finished breakfast, we said our goodbyes to Sara, Adam, and Jackson and headed our separate ways. We then ran into them, again, in line leaving the ship, so said our "for reals" goodbyes. We then ran into them again in the customs line. After weaving our way through customs together, we said our goodbyes and eventually got on our bus to our hotel in the airport. As we were slogging through the airport and passed the rather large fountain outside of the hotel, Annika shouted, "There's Jackson!" I was just about to tell her that it was just a little boy who resembled him, but alas, she was completely right. there they were AGAIN! We were just not meant to part company as early as we thought! The Colvins were waiting for their flight's boarding time, and decided to kill some time at the fountain. Our hotel room wasn't ready when we arrived, so we wound up killing time at the fountain with them. The kids had another fun (impromptu) play date in the airport for about 45 minutes, until, finally, our room was ready and we were able to quickly drop our gear before heading out to meet our friend Kris and her husband for lunch nearby.

Our friend Kris moved to Florida many moons ago and it was such a treat to see her there while we were in Orlando. We caught up and got to know her husband, Ron, a bit. So much fun!!!

After lunch, Kris and Ron took Eric and Annika (who was feeling beyond miserable) back to our hotel. Conor and I walked across the street to a Walgreens so I could stock up on cold meds for Annika (I used up my travels medicine stash while on the ship!), and then got a Lyft car to take us back to the hotel. The rest of the day was spent taking naps (Eric and Annika), redistributing our packed items so none of the suitcases was over 50 pounds, visiting the airport's lovely aquarium, grabbing a quick dinner in the food court, and getting ourselves to bed in preparation for, yet another, early morning.

Our flight home was uneventful (woo hoo), aside from Annika's ears hurting her during landing (boo!). After retrieving our car from the MasterPark people, we made our way home and began the transition back to real life... complete with grocery shopping and laundry. Hello, reality! :)

Disney Cruise: Part 6

I'd like to take a moment and pause so I can quickly recap one of the uniquely Disney aspects of our cruise ... the characters!

Like everything else on the cruise, the character visits were a well-oiled a machine. From the time we were waiting in the terminal to the last night on the ship, there were ample opportunities to have photos taken with the various Disney characters. Some needed tickets to see (free, but assigned times helped with crowd control) but most were more of a free for all opportunity. We simply lined up, waited our turn, gave the photographer our room key (so they know which room the kids were associated with... making it easier to ensure the photos were on our disc at the end of the cruise), said "cheese", and went on our merry way. We didn't get to all of the character appearances, but did make it to quite a few... just the right amount to feel like we got plenty of photos but not so much that we felt like we stood in photo lines for our entire cruise.

The kids with Pluto before we boarded the ship

The kids with Doc McStuffins

The kids with Jake from Jake and the Neverland Pirates

The kids with Sofia from Sofia the First

The kids with Tinkerbell

The kids with Anna and Elsa from Frozen

The Olsons with Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean
The kids with Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean

The Olsons with Pirate Minnie

The kids with Pirate Minnie

The kids with Princess Minnie

The kids with Pluto on Castaway Cay

The kids with Chip and Dale on Castaway Cay

Conor with Mickey on Castaway Cay

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Disney Cruise: Part 5

The day after we were in St. Thomas, we found ourselves in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Fortunately, the ship docked bow first, so we weren't awakened to the previous day's shaking and rumbling.

The Fantasy in port in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Just like the day before, we slathered ourselves in sunscreen, filled our water bottles, ate a quick breakfast, and headed off of the ship. Even more so than the day before, we were slapped with a wall of heat as soon as we stepped off of the ship. My poor family had practically turned into three little puddles before we reached the end of the dock.

The main attraction in San Juan that we wanted to see was an old fort (built in the 1500s) called Castillo de San Cristóbal. Fortunately for us, we docked in Old San Juan, which meant the fort was just a few blocks from the dock.

We kept our meandering to a minimum because of the heat, so did our best to make a beeline from the dock to the fort. Because the fort is up on a bit of a hill, it is rather easy to navigate to... lucky for us! We walked through a little pavilion and along some really neat streets to get to the fort; we also gratefully found some shade along the way.

Arturo Somohano Portela (conductor, musician) statue in Old San Juan

Annika, Eric, and Conor cooling off by a fountain in the shade

Enjoying the shade

Christopher Columbus statue in Old San Juan

Before long, we found ourselves staring up at one of the rather impressive and ominous outer walls of the fort. The sheer thickness of the walls is enough to stop you in your tracks and appreciate how hard it must have been to (a) build the fort and (b) try to invade such a structure. We were able to poke around in most of the fort, including the barracks, dungeon, powder room, lookout areas, and more. Most of the rooms are empty, but one of the barracks rooms does have items like bed and clothing to show what the living conditions were like for the soldiers back in the day.

Prior to going to the fort, Eric and I wondered how long the fort would keep the kids' attention, but that a moot point. The kids loved exploring the fort. I also appreciated that there were plenty of outdoor areas that were basically large lawns that allowed the kids to stretch out a bit and burn off some of their energy. It was really fun to hear the kids ask to explore new rooms and discover things that caught their eye... most often, a beautiful view out of a window or a doorway that lead to another room.

Annika on a wall in Castillo de San Cristóbal

Annika and Conor on a wall in Castillo de San Cristóbal

Annika and Conor exploring Castillo de San Cristóbal

Annika and Eric off to discover more of Castillo de San Cristóbal

Conor found some much-appreciated shade in Castillo de San Cristóbal

View from Castillo de San Cristóbal toward San Juan

Annika on a wall in Castillo de San Cristóbal
Conor, Meredith, and Annika(Castillo de San Cristóbal)
Conor, Eric, and Annika(Castillo de San Cristóbal)

One of the Castillo de San Cristóbal lookout towers

This drawing is on the Castillo de San Cristóbaldungeon wall and is believed to have been drawn
by a ship captain awaiting execution 
Annika and Conor looking out from the
Castillo de San Cristóbal powder room
Plaque in the Castillo de San Cristóbal
powder room

Conor and Annika with a Spanish Musketeer

Conor walking toward a lookout

The kids really had a (cannon) ball exploring the fort
 We really lucked out with the day we were in town because once per month, the fort has reenactment actors on hand in full costume to answer question, and they happened to be there the day that we were. We saw a "soldier" in the barracks, as well as the soldiers in the photo below. They were wonderful about answering questions and informing the tourists about the fort and life back in the 1500s.
The kids with some reenactment soldiers

After exploring Castillo de San Cristóbal, we initially planned on exploring another fort that is about a mile away, but the shuttle runs every 30-ish minutes (again, island time) and with the kids on the verge of overheating, we opted to cut our losses and head back to the ship to cool off in the pools and have a little R&R before gearing up for Pirate Night on the ship. Arrrg!

One thing Disney does right is Pirate Night. The crew members are in costume to the hilt and many of the guests are decked out (to some degree) in pirate garb. 

Because Annika had a special thing a few days before (getting her hair braided), we made an appointment for Conor to get "pirated" in the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique on Pirate Night. He could choose between looking like Captain Hook, Blackbeard the Pirate, and Jack Sparrow; he opted for the Captain Hook look and, I have to say, looked marvelous once all was said and done. After his makeup was applied, he even had to take a pirate oath. It was a riot!

Conor being made up like Captain Hook

Arrrg, matey!

Conor taking his pirate oath
 After Conor's appointment, we had a few photos taken with Captain Jack Sparrow (from The Pirates of the Caribbean movies) and Pirate Minnie.

The Olsons and Captain Jack Sparrow

The kids and Captain Jack

Annika was a bit disappointed that she was wearing a "boy" pirate costume (that's what I could find after Halloween), but put on a happy face. Eric and I decided to surprise her with a "girl" pirate costume while we were waiting in line for photos with Minnie Mouse. Sometimes it is the little things that make a difference to a person, and this was one of the times we opted to go all out. Annika was thrilled with her new costume!

The kids and their new cruise friend Hannah

The kids and their ship friends: Hannah,Abby and Connor
(Quite the motley crew of pirates!)

Pirate Minnie and the Olsons

Our cute little pirates with Pirate Minnie
Once the photos ops were taken care of, we headed to our assigned restaurant and enjoyed a fun pirate-themed dinner with the Colvins. After such a busy day, it felt great to sit down, enjoy a lovely meal with fun people, and catch our breath for a bit. Also, knowing that a sea day was to follow, we knew that we'd have a bit less hustle and bustle, which was just about perfect!

The Olsons at Pirate Night dinner

The Olsons and the Colvins (our wonderful dinner companions!)