Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Weekend Getaway

This past weekend, Jon and I managed to get away for our very first weekend alone since Alice was born, thanks to a little help from both of our parents.

My parents very generously gave us gift certificate to the LA Phil for our 4th anniversary, just after we found out I was pregnant with Alice. We've been hanging on to it for the last two+ years, waiting for our schedule to align with something we wanted to see, which finally happened on Saturday night. We got our tickets and Jon's parents kindly agreed to come play with Alice for the evening. And then Jon and I had a moment of inspiration; what if they stayed all weekend and we just disappeared for a night or two? And luckily, Alice's grandma and grandpa were quick to agree to so much playtime!

I let myself entertain a few wild dreams of luxury hotels on the beach but luckily, my good sense outweighs my good taste and Jon's more practical suggestion won out. So on Friday night, after I got home from work, we visited with Jon's parents for a bit while I fed Alice her second dinner and tucked her into bed. Then Jon and I got in the car together (alone!), drove across town and checked into a room on the 14th floor. We dropped off our bag before walking down the street for some pizza and beer. Because we're fancy like that.

Racer 5 IPA. It hit the spot.
And the next morning? We slept until we were ready to wake, ate breakfast in bed and stayed there until we felt like getting up. And I know you're picturing a gourmet breakfast on an elaborate tray, but it was really leftover pizza (please see: we're fancy like that).

So while this was happening at home...
waking up to Grandma & Grandpa, taking the dogs for a walk (or vice versa?)
reading a story to Grandpa and the dogs.
... Jon and I were doing this:
We were laying down. Without having a toddler climbing all over us, or having to leap up and chase said toddler. We read our books, splashed around in the pool, and then fell asleep in the sun. When the breeze got too chilly, we went back to our room and read some more until our eyelids grew too heavy and then we slept some more until it was time to get dressed. Magical. And that was all BEFORE we headed downtown for an honest-to-goodness grownup date night.

I'd been trying to decide where to dine before the concert and was less than excited about the options around the Disney hall. I resorted to virtually walking around the neighborhood via Google Maps and came across something quite nearby, but when I tried to find the menu I found instead that the restaurant was out of business. It was a happy accident though because a new (non-Patina Group) venture opened in the same space just a few weeks earlier and had exactly the kinds of offerings I was looking for! 
The Blue Cow Kitchen & Bar is nestled at the feet of skyscrapers just two blocks from the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and one building away from MoCa. The photo above was taken from just outside the restaurant's front door.
Standing below the sign pictured above, with your back to the door, the lovely patio is on your right with the skyscrapers overhead.
view of interior, from my seat
We wanted plenty of time for a leisurely meal and drinks before the concert, so I made our reservation for 5pm right when they begin serving dinner. They weren't completely open for business when we arrived, but we were happy to stand at the bar for a few minutes and admire the space while we sampled their house-made lemonade (yummm) and a few different beers. I loved the vibe inside; the textures (modern wood paneling) and touchpoints (chalkboard signage, light fixtures made from industrial-sized stand mixer attachments) felt totally a la mode without being too trendy.
to my right, from my vantage point on this comfy be-pillowed banquette
The staff were all super friendly and attentive and hospitable, and very understanding as I drooled all over the menu. I committed us to both dessert options before Jon even made it to the table and as soon as he hit his seat, he ordered the "Baked-Then-Fried Potatoes" without hesitation. The potatoes were so wonderful that I was disappointed we hadn't ordered another appetizer. Luckily for me, one of the plaid-clad waitresses appeared as if by magic with an order of "Root Chips'n'Dips," compliments of the chef. Apparently, Chef wasn't satisfied with the way our entrées were being prepared and apologized for the delay via an appetizer. I accepted Chef's apology in full, especially because the delay wasn't that long and the root chips were delicious. The gesture was much appreciated, though, and definitely encouraged my repeat business.

Jon thoroughly enjoyed his french dip, and I was pretty delighted by my "Mendo Steak Sandwich," and particularly liked the pickled veggie garnishes. We segued into dessert with a cocktail before our actual dessert and they mixed our "Root 'Beer' Float" into two glasses. With Zaya rum, Straffe Hendrick Quadruple Ale, Art in the Age Root Liqueur, and sasparilla whipped cream, it was definitely a root beer float for grownups, though I would have liked another heaping spoonful of the whipped cream. Or maybe even just a spoon and the whipped cream...

After our dessert cocktail appetizer, it was time for the icing on the cake. Literally, all over the cake. When I made our reservation, I was concerned about the dessert situation because the menu doesn't list any sweets whatsoever. I was encouraged by the Yelp reviewers that mentioned gooey butter cake, and the hostess confirmed that it's a daily offering. It turns out I needn't have worried about being sent to bed without any dessert.

We assured our waitress we still wanted to try any and all available treats. Out came the daily special - coconut ice cream sandwiched between two cookie-shaped brownies and then rolled in caramel corn - followed by Grandma's Gooey Butter Cake, served with a generous puddle of sweet and tangy icing (sauce? crème fraîche?).  Though I've heard of gooey butter cake before, the only other variety that we've tried was in Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream. And if you asked me to choose, I think I'd just have to tell you to put your hands together...

We also made sure to order caffeine so we wouldn't drift into a happy food coma during the concert. I was pleased to finally try Intelligentsia coffee and even more pleased that I didn't have to do it surrounded by pretense... 

It was lovely to linger over a meal without having to juggle another fork, or intercept the condiments, or gather up wayward crayons. And it was wonderful to do it in such a refreshingly great venue. I was impressed with the menu; the quality, flavors, preparation and presentation of our dishes; the service, ambience, and location. The prices and value were right on the money. The only disappointment of the night was that the place didn't fill up before we left. I hope they got busier that night and I hope they stay in business because I'll definitely go back anytime I'm downtown. I recommend that you do the same!

After our meal, full and happy, we trotted back to the concert hall in time to browse through the lovely store, sip another coffee, and find our seats.
angles and curves
After a quick phone call home to reassure us that Alice wasn't missing us at all, it was time to settle in for the concert. We saw Charles Dutoit conduct Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments, Debussy's La Mer, and Prokofiev's Suite from Romeo and Juliet

I wasn't familiar with any of the pieces but it was one of the most enjoyable programs I've experienced. Though, halfway through the Symphonies, I decided that I need a little bit more emotional connection than it was offering. I laughed when I read the program notes at intermission:

"[The Symphonies of Wind Instruments] is not meant 'to please' an audience or rouse its passions. I had hoped, however, that it would appeal to those in whom a purely musical receptivity outweighed the desire to satisfy emotional cravings."
- Igor Stravinsky, An Autobiography

Though I think I do have considerable musical receptivity, I guess it does not outweigh my desire for emotional satisfaction. Hopefully Stravinsky won't think any less of me for that...

I also read the program notes for La Mer during intermission, after the piece was played, and was surprised to read that Debussy did not care to be considered a musical impressionist. He felt music '"can represent all the variations of color and light in one go" whereas painting was limited to capturing just one moment.' I think La Mer makes a strong argument in his favor, but I wouldn't say that precludes him from being considered an Impressionist. On the contrary, La Mer delivered one of the strongest impressions of specific time, place and sensation than any other piece of music I've heard.

I won't pretend to write an insightful review, but even without prior knowledge of Debussy's music or intent, I completely understood his depiction of the sea. I was able to discern the calm of pre-dawn and the gently growing glow of sunrise. I could practically taste the fresh, salty breeze that keeps the gulls aloft as they circle and freewheel above the waves. I could feel the splashes of foam exploding against the rocks and then I dipped below the surface where sea dust sparkles in rays of light filtered through swirling bubbles. The final tempestuous movement is ushered in on the tails of a shiver of sharks. Throughout, the double basses are the undulating currents of the deep, dark depths and then the timpani and cymbals become roiling storm clouds that turn the musician's bows into the sharp peaks of a million angry whitecaps before reconciling again into the calm, rolling expanse of another day, another tide. It was exhilarating and I would love to hear it again with my toes buried in the sand, watching waves lap at the shore. 

The Suite from Romeo and Juliet was also wonderful, full of the drama and emotion that I appreciate. Though I've never seen the ballet, I'm certainly familiar with the story and could see the action and drama unfolding, perfectly described by each note. 

It was one of the most enjoyable live programs I've attended, I was so glad Jon insisted on it. The whole evening was just one of the nicest I've had in a long time, certainly one of the best dates we've ever had.

We made it to bed at a relatively reasonable hour, and slept until we woke up naturally. Such a luxury. But it was foggy and we missed our little munchkin so we got dressed, packed up our little suitcase and headed home, rested, refreshed, and rejuvenated. It's amazing what two good sleep-ins will do for a person! We hope to solicit help from our parents to make date nights a monthly occurrence, and maybe try to get away for a night or two at least once a year (if not twice!). We want to give our parents more Alice time and want to give ourselves more time to connect as a couple and do the grownup things that keep us sane and interesting. We'll see what we can come up with next!

Have you had any great dates lately? Enjoyed any wonderful music? Have anything planned for this special, extra day of the year? Back in our footloose and fancy free days, I wouldn't have been able to resist heading to Disneyland tonight for One More Disney Day. If you live near Disneyland or WDW, you should take advantage of all the overnight fun. There's nothing quite like seeing the sun rise over a Disney castle. If you were really adventurous, you could even visit both parks in the same leap day and see TWO sunrises over TWO different castles! I wonder if anyone will try that...

Anyway, I hope you all had a lovely weekend and have another lovely one coming up. Happy leap day!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bay Area Babies

We took advantage of the long, holiday weekend to head up to Livermore with nothing on our agenda except some very serious baby play dates.

We hit the road (late) in the six o'clock hour on Saturday morning which worked out well. Alice was cheerful and cooperative and we only had to brake for coffee and a quick potty/snack pit-stop. 
Alice totally digs sitting in the big seats. We're parked, obviously.
As we hoped, Alice had enough day left in her once we arrived for a long visit with our good friends.
Alice and Eli had a lot of fun playing together, or at least near each other. And we all had a lot of fun watching them be cute - the two of them together can paralyze unsuspecting onlookers with their cuteness. Eli totally went in for a kiss (at our urging), but he was a bit too forward for Alice who backed into Jon's chest and glued herself there.

can you believe him?
Aw, she's wearing his sweater... And those hats!!

They took a (super romantic) wagon ride when we all went for a nature walk around the old dairy grounds. We had forgotten to bring most of Alice's accoutrements, but Eli was kind enough to share his sweater and cup. Eli was a wonderful tour guide, pointing out all the local wildlife and flora to his little lady friend.
there's some...
and there's some...
over there?
yes, right over there!

Alice was pretty obsessed with the wagon, opening and closing the little door and climbing in and out. At some point I had to forcibly remove her from it, kicking and screaming, because Eli was saying "my turn, come on" and dragging her away. I think this sweet hug was captured before Alice hogged his toy:

They had fun playing in the leaves and picking up golf balls that had strayed from the driving range next door. Alice could not get over the piles and piles of balls and ran around pointing to each one "ball, ball, ball, ball, ball..."

a ball!
stashing a ball in the storage compartment.
fun with sticks!
We had also forgotten to bring Alice's food over to their house, but Eli was kind enough to share his dinner and our picky eater surprised us all by chowing down on a turkey and cheese sandwich.
eating a sandwich. like, whoa. I was ecstatic.
Alice had also surprised us earlier by devouring some appetizers of chips filled with cheese dip, and then surprised herself when she bent over too forcefully and lost a bit of her lunch. No photos of that... 

After dinner, Alice and Eli enjoyed a little "art time," and Alice got to color with markers for the very first time. She was pretty fascinated, mainly with the lids, and got a little cranky about getting ink all over her hands. Let it be known that I'm officially the worst mom ever because I completely forgot to bring home Alice's very first marker masterpiece. Ugh.

By 6pm, Alice was up way past her bedtime and though Eli usually stays up a bit later, he hadn't napped and was flagging a bit as well. Alice taught Eli how to play her new favorite game, and they had a rousing round of "nigh-nigh" on their little cushions.

Our visit with Eli and his parents was an extra bonus for our weekend because the main reason for our trip was to meet another best friend's newborn son. Soren was born on Valentine's Day and was only five days old when we made his acquaintance on Sunday. I was so excited I could hardly sleep the night before. Because, I mean:

I love how this photo totally looks like I'm trying to pretend he's Alice's new sibling...
a perfect baby with his beautiful mama.
As excited as I was to meet and hold this fresh little bundle, I was almost more excited to see my dear friends as new parents. It was so wonderful to see them with their new son. My own initiation into motherhood certainly felt miraculous, but the miracle really touches me when I see people I love becoming and being such amazing moms. Motherhood (and fatherhood) is a truly indescribable state of existence and I love watching them experience it and knowing that we understand it for each other now and have each other to lean on. I don't think I could feel nearly as strong and successful in my role as a mother if I didn't have other mothers to share the knowledge and the burden of this terribly powerful love.

We had a wonderful visit with the new bundle (and his parents) and I scored a nice, long cuddle nap. Alice was getting a bit restless and perhaps a bit jealous that another baby was monopolizing my attention, so we left everyone to get some rest before Alice threw an unsalvageable tantrum and headed to our second destination of the day/weekend:
These are, no joke, the best pancakes we've ever had. This is a local, sticky table institution for good reason. We've been trying to get back since our first visit in 2010 and were looking forward to it almost as much as seeing our friends (I'm only exaggerating a little bit). Jon and I each ordered a full stack (five pancakes) since I knew I'd have to share with Alice, but my sister went for the more conservative short stack. The waitress practically did a double take, asked if we were sure, and told us she'd never had an order like that. I didn't quite know what to make of her reaction. What do other people order at a pancake house?? Anyway, I did share with Alice and I only ate a short stack's worth, but I'd rather have too many pancakes than two few! We also ordered one scrambled egg and a side of sausage for Alice and were totally bowled over and overjoyed when she actually ATE them!
sorry for sharing a photo of a gross toddler plate, I was just too excited.
Tired, happy, and stuffed full of pancakes, we headed back to the East Bay. My dad was sweeping the patio when we got home and Alice was thrilled to join him in a shared favorite activity. 
they sweep.

We spent the rest of the afternoon watching videos of Alice (she's such a narcissist), cooking, eating, drinking, and playing board games. 
Auntie Shantje teaches Alice to crochet
It was a wonderful weekend, full of friends, family and love, and I left with a brimming heart and renewed spirit. I love being with family and hanging out with my friends and their children. I love seeing our kids interact. I love seeing my friends being the great parents they are, and watching and learning how they're doing it. I just wish we all lived closer so we could do it more often.

What did YOU do over the long weekend? Eat any pancakes? Visit any sticky spoon joints? Seen any cute kids, lately? 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Disney World Vacation: Playing (part the rest)

Tuesday, January 24th: 

Before our second day in the parks, I decided to get up early to go for a run around Crescent Lake. I've clearly crossed some kind of line into crazy town, because I was unnaturally excited and looking forward to my run all night long (I woke up at 2am and was disappointed that it wasn't time to get up yet). I snuck out just before the sun rose and did a few laps. I was afraid I'd be all alone but there were quite a few other crazy runners out there. 
sunrise over Crescent Lake.
We walked over to EPCOT for Early Magic Hours and headed straight to Future World. We had to park our stroller in order to visit The Land Pavilion and while marveling at what an operation stroller parking has become - especially at WDW, where they actually have parking attendants - we had a good laugh at the critters who've learned that strollers are absolute treasure troves of snacks. There were squirrels hopping all over every stroller in the rows upon rows of parked vehicles. They were snatching snacks and crumbs from the trays and the seats, and digging around in the baskets, pulling treats out from under jackets, and from inside backpacks and diaper bags. So funny.
he will never go hungry.
We rode Living With The Land, which is really interesting and inspiring. Some day, I want to do the behind the scenes tour of the attraction and get a better look at all the things they grow and how they do it all. Alice was not as interested and she started giving us the "all done" hands about halfway through the boat ride. Sorry, kid!
Spaceship Earth: morning, noon, afternoon.
Alice enjoyed riding The Seas with Nemo & Friends, and then watching the dolphins and manatees and fish in the pavilion displays. We wanted to ride Ellen's Energy Adventure, because that weird ride is one of our very favorites, but we chickened out after the pre-show. We were afraid that we wouldn't be able to keep Alice captive AND entertained for 37 minutes in the dark with loud dinosaurs, even if she could run up and down the enormous ride vehicle. But we couldn't resist taking a traditional photo out in front of the attraction. We took one on our honeymoon, and another when we visited in 2008, and just had to add one from this trip. Here's the full set:
September 2005, April 2008, January 2012

We decided to Journey Into Imagination With Figment instead and it was a winning choice. Alice loved it, and though the loud explosion at the end sent her into momentary shock that I feared would dissolve into tears, she got over it without any drama. 

My very first recollection is from a trip to WDW when I was three-ish. I clearly remember sitting on my dad's shoulders, picking out a Figment stuffed animal. So of course, after the ride, we let Alice choose her very own Figment. I kept him dry while Jon and Alice played in the jumping water outside. On our way back to the hotel for our customary nap, we stopped by the France Pavilion to pick up some pastries. While Alice rested, Jon and I enjoyed a delicious chocolate mousse, strawberry tart, and Napoleon with some Layer Cake Shiraz. Yum. 
After we refreshed, we walked back to EPCOT for our lunch reservation at the Canada Pavilion's Le Cellier Steakhouse. We had to try the famous pretzel bread (amazing) and Canadian cheddar cheese soup (so good!!), and shared the maple creme brûlée for dessert (truly divine). We kept Alice entertained by letting her master her newfound straw-sucking skills on a berry smoothie. She approved. After lunch, we sat down on a curb to wait for a good friend and Alice fed Figment a snack of leaves and flowers.
We didn't have to wait too long before our friend showed up and she was just tickled to meet another little Alice.
They had a nice little chat about weeds and whatnot... nice that our Alice didn't want to say goodbye.

We stopped by the American Adventure Pavilion to see the Spirit of America Fife and Drum Corps. Alice was equally captivated by the drums as by the seagulls swooping around over the show.
We went inside to hear the Voices of Liberty but Alice didn't make it all the way through their set. She and I went outside to play with the birds so Jon could finish enjoying. Alice is really into birds and ducks right now and luckily, there are plenty of them hanging around!
having a chat with a lovely duck couple.
We wandered through the China Pavilion before deciding that our feet needed a bit more R&R, so we headed back to the hotel for a quick dip in the pool and an early bedtime. We hung out in our room and had a nutritious dinner of goldfish and ice cream while watching hotel TV. Ah, vacation.

Wednesday, January 25th

We planned another "free" day in the middle of our stay. We'd strategically packed only half of the clothes and diapers we needed for the week, intending to do laundry on our free day while lounging about the hotel. We slept in, and then planned to throw our clothes in before starting our recreational activities. Unfortunately, most of the hotel's laundry machines were broken. After thirty minutes of problem-solving, the manager advised that we pop over to the Disney Vacation Club Villas to use their laundry facility. So we did, and instead of Jon soaking up some alone time in the room while I took Alice for a run, he enjoyed some time to himself in the laundry room while waiting for a machine to become available. 

After Alice and I did a few laps around the lake, we returned to help Jon load up the washing machines. Then we strolled down the Boardwalk to pick up some breakfast and lunch before heading to the pool. 

Alice had a great time playing in the sand again. When Jon went to change the laundry, I built her a bunch of sand castles. We retired to our lounge chairs to eat our sandwiches and were soon joined by a duck couple looking for a handout. The ducks were not at all shy and were actually making us a little nervous with how close and forward they were getting. They gobbled up any crumbs that fell at our feet and I kept trying to shoo them away with my towel. Alice thought the whole thing was hilarious and couldn't decide whether it was more fun to throw crumbs or shoo them away.

ducks & giggles from Growing Up Senge on Vimeo.

After our customary afternoon nap, we headed over to the Wilderness Lodge to meet Jon's uncle, aunt, cousin and her beau. We checked out the pool and the geyser (which did not oblige with an eruption). Alice had a grand time running over the bridge that spanned the bubbling stream inside the lobby. It was definitely the thing for little kids to do, at one point it was practically a stampede.
We enjoyed a really nice meal at Artist Point and great company, of course. It was great to see Jon's family and to have some adult interaction even if all we did was talk about Alice. We're looking forward to seeing all the Senges again at an upcoming reunion weekend.

We still managed to hit our ridiculously early vacation bedtime but Alice woke and cried a bit at 1:30am. We all fell back asleep, but she kept crying on and off, and then cried a bunch more around 2am. I got up to get her but she was just laying in her bed, crying, and didn't make any move to get out of bed. I unzipped her little tent flap and rubbed her back, and then she tried to zip it back up again. But she kept crying, so I had to figure something out. We all got up and scrambled for an emergency snack. Alice ate a squeeze pouch and some goldfish and while she was snacking, pointed at the goldfish on the front of the bag, saying and signing "fish." It sounds more like "fshhhhhhhhhh..." 

Thursday, January 26th:

We got to the Magic Kingdom right at 8am for Early Magic Hours. We took some photos at the entrance and at the castle, and then headed straight to Fantasyland.
Look, the castle! ignore that crane in the background, I didn't have time to Photoshop it out...
Since the carousel is the first thing you see after walking through the castle, there was no way Alice would let us pass without riding it. She really, really enjoys carousels, despite the ambivalent expression the photo below.
She learned to make the sign and sound for horse but she just points to her head and makes this hilarious "uhhhhh-huhhh-huhhh" sound instead of "nayyyyy." She made sure to say horse any time the carousel was in sight for the rest of the day.

We rode Peter Pan, which she enjoyed, and it's a small world, which she LOVED. She said "wow, WOW... wow, WOW" through the entire ride. She pointed at all the suns and made the gesture for sun that goes along with her favorite Raffi song, Mr. Sun. She pointed out every circle or sphere and said "ba!" and made signs for all the animals she knows - including fish, frog, monkey, horse (for anything remotely resembling a horse), elephant, and kitty.

We tried to enjoy the Hall of Presidents, since we hadn't yet seen animatronic Barack Obama. Alice was super tired and frantic and I tried to keep her in the seat by letting her play with my little purse. She busied herself by removing all of my credit cards and personal effects and then stuffing them under her legs. I had to try and catch anything before it hit the ground, lest it roll under the seats all the way to the front of the theater. After the show, we walked all around Tomorrowland, trying to coax her into a stroller nap while we deliberated our plans for the evening and the next day. We took a break from our nap efforts to ride the PeopleMover, which Alice really enjoyed. 

We decided to stick it out at the Magic Kingdom so we could see the night-time entertainment. We put Alice back in her stroller and parked her in a quiet corner to let her cry it out. After 10-15 minutes of snot-nosed sobbing (not being mean here, her nose had been dripping since we got to Orlando), she finally passed out with her face on her stroller tray. She then jerked upright and sat straight up with her head hanging back before falling over backwards, and then finally over sideways until she was laying down properly. I sat and watched this painful process couldn't believe that some people's kids just close their eyes and drift pleasantly off to sleep whenever they're tired.

We didn't want to move the stroller and risk waking her, so Jon and I took turns sitting with her while the other went out to forage for chicken strips and corn dogs and such. On one of my watches, I almost lost my mind when Jack Sparrow and his really loud pirate compatriot came out to engage everyone in a bunch of shouting and sword fighting about twenty feet away from our quiet corner. Luckily, Alice didn't even flinch. 
On Jon's last foraging trip, he brought back a Mickey balloon for Alice. She really has a thing for balloons and makes sure to tell us whenever there is one in within sight. She was understandably thrilled to wake up and find a balloon of her very own. After her nap, we explored Adventureland. Alice really wanted to ride Aladdin's Magic Carpets, but there was no way she'd make it through the long line in the sun so we visited the Enchanted Tiki Room instead and enjoyed the newly restored "classic" version of the attraction.

While we waited for our fast pass reservation for the Jungle Cruise, we let Alice play with her balloon and had a little photo shoot.
i promise she had more fun than it looks like in these photos
Alice liked all the animals on the Jungle Cruise, saying "kitty" when we saw the tiger and signing "elephant" for about every pachyderm in the pool.
Jon's cousin and beau joined us and we spent the rest of the evening wrapping up everything else Alice didn't know she wanted to do; the Country Bear Jamboree, Haunted Mansion, Snow White's Scary Adventure, the carousel (again), and dinner at Pecos Bill's, of course. Alice wasn't super happy about sitting to wait for the fireworks but settled down for Wishes and the very cool castle show The Magic, The Memories and You. After the shows, we waited for the crowds to disperse a bit and then fought our way through the store aisles. We picked out a Mickey Mouse to match the Minnie we picked up on Alice's first visit to Disneyland. You should have seen her face when Jon put Mickey in the stroller and carried her off for a diaper change. Tragedy and comedy, indeed.
so, so tired.
Despite the three obnoxious tween boys sitting next to us on the bus, Alice passed out hardcore on the ride home. I carried her, still asleep, all the way from the bus to our bed, and even stopped to take a photo in the lobby. I can't stress enough that this. never. happens. Clearly, we just don't tire her out enough...
it's just not a disney vacation until you're passed out with a mickey mouse plush and balloon in the hotel lobby.

Friday, January 27th:

On our last morning, we jammed over to the Animal Kingdom for one last hurrah, mainly so we could ride Expedition Everest. We took turns feeding Alice while the other ran straight on the expedition via the single rider line. We both rode twice in a row, until we couldn't ignore the signs that we're getting too old for that and should stop before we made ourselves sick. On Jon's last ride, I pushed Alice through the exit gift shop and got a little too close to the stuffed animal display. She picked up a huge yeti plush that our suitcase did not have room for, so we swapped it for this smaller snow leopard. Because, how could we resist? I call it the "yeti kitty," Alice calls it "yeh-yee." 
We swung by the tigers one more time so Alice could see the kitties, and actually saw two tigers sitting upright with open eyes. What a rare treat! The other one was sleeping, of course.
Yawning, and watching.
We stopped by Camp Minnie-Mickey so Alice could say hello to some of her favorite friends. We didn't count on making friends with the young fellow waiting in front of us. Chad was totally enamored with Alice, patting her head and her kitty. I got to practice my French and was again reminded that I can only barely converse with a child. I completely forgot to ask Chad how old he was or where he was from. He impressed us by counting to ten in English, and his father (grandfather?) complimented my accent. Chad asked if Jon spoke French and I had to answer "non, il ne parle pas du tout!" Chad asked if Alice spoke English and I told him, "comme un bebe!" 
I think he wanted to take her home.
The wait was worth it; Alice LOVED meeting Mickey and Minnie. It could be my imagination, but I think they especially liked meeting her, too. Alice made sure to give Pluto plenty of kisses...
Mid-kiss face.
We headed back for our nap session wherein Jon and I worked on finishing off our adult beverages and snacks, since we did not anticipate having room in our suitcases to ferry uneaten snacks back home. This is a good representation of most of our nap hours:
And then we walked back to EPCOT for one last whirl around the World Showcase, and stopped for a little cuddle with a princess:
Alice thought Princess Aurora was pretty great; I think the feeling was mutual.
We picked up some sushi and teriyaki and caught some awesome Taiko drumming at the Japan Pavilion. Alice ate some goldfish sushi, and practiced using her chopsticks, too!
We caught Illuminations once more, this time from behind a tree somewhere near Canada. Even though there were Extra Magic Hours until 12pm that night, we didn't last long after that. We stopped by the France Pavilion to pick up a few souvenirs and a few pastries, and then bid farewell to EPCOT and walked home one last time.

Saturday, January 28th:

We let Alice be our alarm clock again and lingered over our pastries before we got our day underway. We had plenty of time until check out, and I needed every minute to wrangle our belongings back into a portable configuration. Alice was a huge help in undoing whatever I'd just done, whining and crying the whole time. We walked out of our room mere moments before the deadline and practically ran down the poor housekeeper who seemed to be waiting to give us the boot.

We hopped on a bus over to Downtown Disney for one last rendezvous with Jon's uncle, aunt, and cousin. It was a really rejuvenating highlight in an otherwise draining day. After lunch, we bussed back to the hotel and let Alice run around until it was time to catch our shuttle back to the airport. Alice was getting tired and fussy even before we got on the bus, and it was all I could do to contain her for the thirty minute ride.

Once through airport security, we encouraged her to run, jump, and otherwise wear herself out. Any parent knows this strategy runs a fine line between running down the energy reserves and jacking a kid up on cortisol. Alice was pretty jacked up by the time we boarded the plane. We buckled her into her seat and took off, trying to keep her happy and/or distracted. She hadn't slept since 8am that morning and was desperate to sleep but is amazingly uncooperative when it comes to sleeping anywhere but her own bed. So my worst nightmare came true and I became the jackass on the airplane who lets her kid cry for twenty minutes while scrunching down in her seat with her fingers in her ears.

I wanted to make an announcement over the PA. "This is going to suck for twenty minutes, but I promise she'll fall asleep." The stewardess came over with a snack and a toy, but there was nothing I could do for Alice. Playing with her, distracting her, taking her out of the seat would only prolong the crying. Sure enough, twenty minutes later, she was passed-outsies. And then I put my head down and sobbed (silently) for a good twenty minutes. When the stewardess came around again, I ordered a half-bottle of wine to go with the chocolate bar we imported from the EPCOT UK Pavilion. That helped, as did the kind words from the woman across the aisle. But still, it was rough.

Alice slept for about two hours and woke with about three hours left in the flight. Awesome. Luckily, I knew just the trick. I turned on Winnie the Pooh (a particular favorite of ours) and let Alice watch it twice.
Totally engrossed, even without the sound. A shot of her credit, via Virgin America's in-flight entertainment.
After waiting for what felt like an eternity for the carousel to spit out our luggage, and slogging our way through traffic on the 110, we finally made it home. It took a few rough days for Alice to recover from all that fun and for us to recover from vacation with a toddler. 

We're working to gather our thoughts on visiting WDW with a toddler, and will post some specific tidbits soon. In the meantime, we're looking forward to another weekend on the road and then checking into a hotel for a weekend while Alice stays at home with grandparents. We literally need a vacation from our vacation. But the photos are worth it and the memories are priceless!