Saturday, July 26, 2014

Honoring My Ancestors

A few brief generations ago, some of my ancestors watched their relatives starve to death in Ireland. They ate grass until their lips turned green and watched nourishment travel along country roads, guarded by soldiers, in route to England. There was no hope for them on that island, none at all.

So, the most ambitious and ingenious of my ancestors envisioned a better life and refused to accept the idea that their children had no future. The crowded onto hellish ships and came to the United States. For all I know, my ancestors may have been some of the Irish who smuggled themselves into the country illegally. It would hardly surprise me if that was the case.

Life wasn’t easy here. Prejudice against Irish immigrants abounded. According to a number of sources, the Chicago Post wrote: "The Irish fill our prisons, our poor houses...Scratch a convict or a pauper, and the chances are that you tickle the skin of an Irish Catholic. Putting them on a boat and sending them home would end crime in this country." My relatives ended up living as sharecroppers in Texas to achieve some sense of independence and freedom. It was hardly a life I, in my suburban comfort, would consider independent and free. And yet it paved the way for me to enjoy all I have today.

Long before my Irish ancestors came to the United States, some of my other ancestors were quite comfortably ensconced on this continent and had been here since (it seemed) time began. As the Europeans arrived, my Cherokee ancestors stood out among Native Americans by doing their best to adapt to the New World thrust upon them. Many adopted European-style clothing and Sequoyah even created (or documented, depending upon your point of view) the Cherokee alphabet. I see these ancestors as flexible and intelligent as they tried their very best to survive in this foreign culture that was suddenly in their backyards.
My great-great grandmother

In the end, all their efforts to assimilate failed (their skin, after all, was dark and they couldn’t hide who they really were). Members of my family were part of the Trail of Tears and, as the story goes, my great-great grandmother was the sole survivor of her immediate family. She was a child or young teen at the time, she found a white husband (of the McCourt clan, whose family were refugees from Ireland) and began to build a life as a white woman.

I know very little about my ancestors other than the stories passed down to me, but I know they had courage and strength as they faced prejudice and tried to create a good life for their children in a world that was often harsh and disdainful towards them. I’m proud of my heritage and I refuse to bring dishonor to my ancestors by failing to empathize with people who are following in the footsteps of my family.

Immigrants continue to see our country as a land of hope and many know that their children will only have a future if they risk everything to start a new life. Wouldn't we all do the same for our own children?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Day 6 - June 12th, Last full day (*sniff*) - back to EPCOT

[Note to my readers: It was extraordinarily hard for me to write this final post for my trip report...sort of like leaving my happy place all over again! But...I powered through and did it…]’s the deal peeps...since we closed out MK the night before, I wasn’t going to make my family rope drop EPCOT again on our last day. To be fair, what I really cared about were the countries (I love the countries!!) although everyone else was sure excited about re-riding Spaceship Earth (did I mention it’s a big hit with my kids), Soarin’ and Test Track. I switched out our top tier FP to Soarin’ for our last day because we knew we’d be perfectly happy doing Test Track as single riders.

Oh - I Bounded as Village Belle and hoped to get my picture with her but no such luck - the line was too long. At least David snapped my picture as Belle in France!

On June 12th I learned that the second time was definitely NOT the charm for me when it came to Mission: Space (orange, not green). I was a little dizzy after riding it the June 8th, but I felt downright DRUNK on the 12th (and no...I hadn’t had anything to drink...YET). I felt so icky that I skipped the Spaceship Earth FP time because even that didn’t sound fun to me and I decided I would much rather wander around the countries. There were rain showers off and on all day and the weather felt great.

Although I didn’t get to wander the countries as much as I’d prefer, at least we got quite a few family pictures. Sorry but I'm posting four of them here. makes me happy to remember!

David insisted that the kids get a “hanging-flower-pot-on-the-head” picture and found a spot where he could get both of them at once. Score!

As usual...we took plenty of bunny pictures…

And enjoyed the birds who joined us for lunch when we munched on fish and chips.

Tidbits and appreciations from our second day in EPCOT:

- The caramel store in Germany, people...OMG!! The line was longer than some ride lines but who cares? You get to soak up the amazing smells the whole time.

- Take time to enjoy the gardens and flowers. I won’t post a million pictures of them but I will mention that our whole family remembered the miniature train garden in Germany and couldn’t wait to see it again. I felt a bit like Sheldon Cooper when I got annoyed that not only was the train not moving, but one of them was on it’s side. It’s still pretty cool - but they need to hire Sheldon to come in and spruce it up a bit.

- I insisted that my family join me for the a capella singers at the American Experience then watch the movie. I’m so glad I did that, even though that meant they had to practically run all the way to Spaceship Earth and all the way back to make it in time. (It’s good for them...we were eating a ton of food.)

- My son, who loves history just like I do, walked out of the American Experience saying “That was AWESOME!!!” So nice to have a kid who gets into history with me.

- My daughter went up to one of the singers after the show and complimented her. My daughter was just chosen for varsity choir herself and we had a great conversation with this amazing soprano. We learned that one of the singers there has been there from the very beginning!

- I used one of my last sets of little stickers for a very good purpose. In Morocco, I hunted for Jasmine and asked a CM who told me that Jasmine and Aladdin were just finishing up a visit but if I wanted to get in line behind “this sweet girl and her mom” we could wait for the next visit (to start in an hour). The little girl looked blue to have just missed out but she was determined to meet Jasmine! (Who can blame her, really??) I wasn’t going to wait, but I wanted to give her some pixie dust so I gave her a bag of stickers and a glow stick (a.k.a. magic wand). She looked a lot happier after that! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - those gifts for random kiddos were the best $10 I’ve ever spent on a vacation!

- I HIGHLY RECOMMEND counter service in Morocco. Not only was the food delicious, but the building itself is intricately carved - so beautiful. I truly wish we’d had hours to spend in Morocco. This is just a tiny section of the ceiling…

- In some ways, I was a little bit frustrated by this day because I wanted a LOT more time in the countries. There were shows I wanted to see (at least we caught the last 2 songs by Off Kilter!) and more atmosphere I wanted to soak in. If it had been a solo trip, I think I would’ve stayed until they shoved me out the door. As it was, we left on the earlier side (to be fair, we had to wake up at an ungodly hour for our flight back) but at least we got a photopass picture with Olaf as we left - woot!!!!

There’s not much to say about our last day except that we had to be down at the Magic Express place by 5 for our 8:00 a.m. flight. I was impressed. They were able to check our bags for us at the hotel (even that early) and those babies showed up in Austin like a charm.

If anyone is going back to the World in the next year and has room for me in your suitcase, I’m in! Thanks for reading along and I hope all of you get to your happy place with your family (wherever that may be!) very soon.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Day 5 - June 11th Part 3 (Animal Kingdom Lodge and closing up Magic Kingdom)

When I last updated you, my family was reunited after the ER adventure. Our ADR for Boma was at 6 but I wanted us to have some time to enjoy looking around the resort a bit, so I insisted that everyone get ready so we could get to Animal Kingdom Lodge by at least 5. Grabbing a cab was the best plan and very affordable.

As soon as we walked into the lobby at AKL, I was just overwhelmed with the African art everywhere, the enormously tall thatched ceiling, and the window overlooking the savannah. It did NOT disappoint.

We went out the back door to look at animals and had to laugh a bit because right before we headed out, there were 3 older kids considering going outside but they said “It’s too hot out there.” After they left, Kathryn observed that they were obviously not from Texas because it felt great to us. It was humid, and you could tell it was getting ready to rain, but with the overcast skies and the nice breeze - we really liked it!

Someday I want to stay here so I can look out my window and see the animals. Someday….

We met some very nice young men from Botswana who worked at AKL, had a great conversation, and they took our family picture.

It started to rain and it was time to go in for dinner. We made our way to Boma and were seated immediately in the PERFECT location. It’s a noisy restaurant, but our table was off in a little alcove with lots of windows. Especially with the rain coming down outside, it was a very nice atmosphere. I look really happy, don't I? I had a Long Island Iced Tea.
'Nuff said, right?

Boma was on my list of things I wanted to do for two reasons: first, I’d always wanted to visit AKL and second, I’d heard the food was great. Many people who wrote reviews of it were particularly blown away by the soups. The continuous stream of compliments about the soups fascinated me so we started there.

Whoa. I have no idea how they make such delicious soups, people. The Nigerian fish stew made my tastebuds sing. Needless to say, I think this restaurant will always be on my list although my husband rightfully pointed out that we would not have enjoyed it as much if we’d been in the middle of the noisy dining room. Maybe not….but I would stand in a long line in Texas heat just to get some of that fish stew again. I can only guess that the Soup Nazi in Seinfeld must have made soup like this for people to put up with his abuse. I would totally be willing to be yelled at ("No soup for you!!") to get more of that stew. No kidding!

At the end of the meal, while the rest of the family waited for the bill, I went upstairs to the bar and asked for a glass of any African wine that I couldn’t easily find in the states. The nice bartender provided me with a glass of this and I was not disappointed.

After that we went outside again and I sat in a rocking chair, finishing my wine while David and the kids looked at some interesting snails on the foliage. I was slowing us down a bit, everyone was eager to get back to the MK and attack it with everything we had, but I needed that glass of wine and enjoyed every last drop of it!

Once I was properly wined up, we made our way to the buses and went back to the Magic Kingdom. We all stayed in our matching shirts because we didn’t have any family photopass pictures from today. It was time to change that! I told my husband how much I loved the special Disney balloons-inside-balloons and he got a nice picture for me.

Ok - a good trip reporter would be able to tell you exactly what time we arrived, exactly what rides we rode, etc. But...I’m not a good trip reporter. Too bad for you. ;)

Before Dennis and I left the park that morning, we’d changed our Space Mountain FPs because our whole family wasn’t together. Sadly, the only time available was pretty late - like at 9:30 at night. Or maybe it was even 10:30. I forget - but it was late. That was still our 3rd FP so I wasn’t able to take advantage of the “get a 4th FP, then a 5th FP” plan at MK as I originally planned.

We were, however, able to repeat a number of pictures from our trip 5 years before - such as this lovely one of my husband wearing the hanging flowers as a hat.

One of my goals will be to figure out how to do some sort of fun art thing with all our re-do see how we’ve changed in 5 years!

When we got to the Magic Kingdom after dinner, I think the first thing we did was wait in the Under the Sea line for an annoyingly long time. Over and over, I’d read tons of comments about how if the sign said the line was 20 minutes, it was probably just 10 minutes. This ride wasn’t high on my list but I figured, what the heck - the line will be short. IT WAS NOT SHORT. The time was understated and then the ride itself kept stopping. Although I didn’t time it, if I had to guess I think the whole experience at the Ariel ride sucked up the first hour of our time back at Magic Kingdom. Luckily, it was a cute ride and there was an ADORABLE little baby in the clam shell right behind me and Kathryn. No problem, really!

Then we enjoyed some of the other charming sections of New Fantasyland like the gorgeous Tangled bathrooms (I know that sounds weird if you don’t know what I’m talking about but I'm actually ok with you thinking I'm a freak for taking pictures of the inside of bathrooms because they are JUST THAT FABULOUS.)

We were finally able to walk through the Castle together and David took this picture of me in front of the amazingly gorgeous mosaic. (Heaven...I'm in heaven just remembering it...)

We rode Dumbo and it was very nice because the sun was just setting as we were up in the air.

In case you’re curious, it’s very much worth it to get a few lovely sunset castle pictures with your family when you see those PhotoPass photographers…so STOP and get those pictures. Trust me!

Once it was dark, we went to Gaston’s Tavern where we ordered a LaFou’s brew (way too sweet for us) and a cinnamon roll. Then David insisted that Kathryn take our picture like this. Yay for embarrassing your kids at Disney World!!

It was getting dark so I wanted us to head over to Adventureland so we could enjoy the Jungle Cruise at night and hopefully Pirates of the Caribbean as well. As we went by Peter Pan and It’s A Small World, we were able to ride both of those without much of a wait at all. As we came out of IASW, we heard the fireworks and although I tried to rush my family (I had this list of rides I wanted us to try to knock out before 1 a.m.), they smartly insisted that we stay right where we were so we could watch the fireworks.

It was cool, people. My family was TOTALLY RIGHT for telling me to chill out and watch the fireworks. We were near IASM and some of the fireworks were over our castle to our right and some were further back, to our left. Pretty cool. Of course, it's difficult to tell from this photo but I'll try to incorporate the video into our big trip video and hopefully that will give you the feel. If you don't like crowds, it's a cool option!

In Adventureland, Jungle Cruise was a walk on and so corny of course. Pirates of the Caribbean was also a walk on at that time of night. After that it was time for our Space Mountain FastPasses - yea!!!

We were all very excited because, of course, Dennis learned he loved roller coasters on this trip and Kathryn was looking forward to the ride. Too bad the SM cars don’t fit 4 people - my picture didn’t show up at first on PhotoPass but I’d taken the wise advice of many on the advice forums and taken a cell phone photo so I knew my PhotoPass number and they were able to track it down for me. Dennis loved the ride but Kathryn did not like it at all. She said she felt like she was about to fall out all the time and I can see what she means - the walls are rather low on those cars!

I knew my son was very much looking forward to a spin on Carousel of Progress and it surprised me to learn my daughter was as we rode that. And I will spare you the argument I got into with the rest of my family (it was them against me) because after the ride stopped three or four different times and started replaying the last scene for (I believe) the third time, I joined others who arose and tried to exit out of impatience. The very young teen boys running the ride hollered at us over the loudspeaker saying it was our fault the ride was stopped.


I was not happy (we had rides to do before 1 a.m.) but my family told me I should have been much more obedient and remained in my seat.

I’m such a rebel. Luckily - I was able to access my inner rebel on Buzz because there was no line at all. Kathryn’s gun didn’t work AT ALL and the confused look on her face contrasted with her father’s intent look cracks me up.

My family was ready to start heading out. I was a little bummed we didn’t make it to Monster’s Laugh Factory, but that’s ok...we planned to find ice cream. As we got close to the front I asked if they’d do “one more thing” for me and we rode the carousel - all of us had big smiles.

As I was soaking in the carousel, I noticed the insane line for Elsa and Anna (even at 12:40 a.m.!) but wondered about seeing Cinderella and Rapunzel. They were listed as 20 minutes but I asked the CM - is it really 20 minutes? She shook her head. We followed the line around (passing all the Elsa/Anna people on the other side of the rope) and walked right in. Oh, I”m so glad we did! One of the best parts of the whole experience was the 2 year old boy behind us who told Cinderella “I just saw your CASTLE!!!” It was great.

And I hugged princesses! (They both asked us what our secret was for 21 years of marriage and we told both of them that the kids were our secret to success.)

As we left, we picked up a couple of ice cream sundaes (yum) and my only regret about that is that by the time we got to the front of the park, it was past 1 a.m. so my last minute idea to meet Tinkerbell didn’t work. Oh, well….next time!

We were all very tired, but what a day! We truly did so many rides together at MK (especially considering the fact two of us were at the ER for a few hours, we had a nap, then dinner at AKL). It turned out to be a wonderful MK day, although I’d love to have so many more days there very soon!