Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: A Year in Review

I have a bunch of Christmas related posts to get up, but I figure that is going to take me until April anyway, so I might as well do our annual wrap-up.  Like usual, it was a crazy year.  New jobs, new schools, new house, new lots of things.  I am very much looking forward to 2013 being a little calmer.  Maybe a lot calmer.

At any rate:

January: Louis is sick for pretty much the entire month.  He forgets how to sleep.  It does not seem to phase him and he keeps on going from baby to toddler in what seems like a nano-second.  We find as many parks around us as possible because it is 75 degrees in Texas.  Norah gets frustrated by the fact that Lou now actually moves and takes her stuff, but starts to come up with all of the ways that she can make him do her bidding.  Norah is increasingly interested in all things reading and writing but won't let anyone help her figure it out.  We start house hunting in earnest.

February: Lou starts to walk and takes about 10 headers a day.  He continues to suffer from back to back ear infections.  GG and Aunt Vanessa come to visit and I am completely incapacitated from kid cooties.  BVZ works a lot and I start going into the office several days a week.  Louis turns ONE and has a great Hungry Caterpillar birthday.  Most weekends are spent looking at houses.  We get frustrated because we aren't finding what we want for what we want to spend.

March:  Lou goes to the ENT and his hearing is just fine.  The doctor recommends a steroid and then ear tubes if the medication does not work.  The steroid is a wonder drug and for the first time in over six months, Lou goes for a week without being sick.  We start to think there is a light at the end of the cootie tunnel.  He gets his first haircut and his baby curls are gone forever.  Norah continues to be awesome, despite the fact that she refers to a character from a book as a 'butt hole' while on a play date.

April: We make an offer on a house and it gets outright rejected.  I do some internet sleuthing and find out the sellers are moving to Australia.  We wait two weeks and offer again, this time it's accepted.  Louis becomes a toddler nightmare and starts to throw tantrums the size of Australia.  BVZ and I consider getting divorced just so that we each only have to spend half our time with him.  Norah continues to be cute and funny, but suffers for weeks from bad stomach aches.  She is diagnosed with celiac disease and eating as we know it changes forever.

May:  Norah has a dance recital and I kill a giant Texas centipede in the bath tub.  BVZ works a lot.  I pack a lot.  Ruby, her mom, and baby Ella come and visit for five days--pretty much the best five days of Norah's life.

June:  We move into our new house.  We host Norah's birthday party approximately 48 hours after the movers leave.  I stop blogging because of all the moving.  BVZ gets a movie screen and projector installed in the media room--pretty much the best day of his life.  Norah turns FOUR and starts a new school.

July: It gets very, very hot in Texas.  I give up on unpacking.  GG and Aunt Vanessa come for Fourth of July.  We spend a lot of time in the pool.  Norah gets over her fear and starts to love the pool.  We swim after Lou goes to bed because swim diapers are the worst thing ever invented.  Lou gets a stomach virus and barfs all over his new room.

August:  I start working a lot more and things get a little crazy.  Okay, a lot crazy.  We almost burn down the new house.  I start a new cooking club here in Austin.  Louis becomes more and more physically agile every day and gets into trouble every five minutes or so.  Norah has pneumonia (unbeknownst to us).  She recovers and starts a new dance class.  Norah officially starts pre-K and Louis starts school two days a week.  Shockingly he bites no one and becomes the darling of all the teachers and staff.

September:  Both kids start soccer.  Lou is a natural.  Norah tries really hard and is a great listener.  Norah becomes obsessed with chapter books and will have nothing to do with anything else.  I work like a crazy person.  So does BVZ. I travel alone to Santa Barbara for the weekend.  I get to see favorite friends and celebrate a big birthday.  And pee by myself.

October: Norah develops some severe separation anxiety that coincides with me working a lot.  We give up and let her sleep with us (an on-going battle).  Even though Lou won't eat, his brain continues to grow and he has a vocabulary explosion.  We celebrate Halloween with lots of gluten free candy and scary decorations.  BVZ and I work a lot.

November: I file my first habeas application in Texas.  It's a big deal.  At the exact same time, BVZ has a hearing in Dallas.  Bubby basically saves our asses.  We celebrate by taking an awesome trip to Disneyland.  We win best parents of the year by surprising Norah with a visit at Disneyland from Ruby.  She may never recover.  GG and Aunt Vanessa fly out for Thanksgiving and VZ Christmas.

December: Things slow down.  Lou learns to communicate like an actual human being.  Overnight he stops being an asshole and becomes the best toddler there ever was.  We spend an inordinate amount of time enjoying holiday lights.  Grandpa Gene comes to Texas and celebrates Christmas with us.

We are settling in.  2013 promises to bring big things--professional milestones for both BVZ and myself, the end of baby jail, and... kindergarten.  I hope there is a vacation thrown in there somewhere and some spectacular birthday celebrations (hint, hint).

Cheers to the end of one chapter and the beginning of something new!

Sunday, December 30, 2012


Lou's school had a Christmas program a few weeks ago.  He's a little hard to see (red shirt, front row) and the program itself is not that interesting because he was a deer-in-headlights.  He didn't even shake his jingle bells.  The reason to watch, however, is to hear Reid yelling for his cousin from the audience.  Makes me laugh every time.


Like a lot of people, we have an Elf on the Shelf.  We have had it for a couple of years and each holiday season Norah gets more and more into it.  The idea is simple--an elf comes to your house on December 1 (or in our case, December 7 when I finally found it in a still-packed box in the spare room), checks you out during the day, and then travels back to the North Pole at night and reports your good (or bad) behavior to Santa.  In the morning, your elf is supposed to be in a different place to show you that he or she did in fact leave and report back to Santa that night.  Norah named our elf two years ago when he arrived at our house, hence why his name is "Elfie."

Some parents up the ante and have their Elf set up in funny, naughty or precarious positions in the morning.  With the proliferation of ideas on Facebook and Pinterest, I have seen elves drinking from beer bottles, noshing on a bag of marshmallows, fishing for goldfish crackers in the sink, etc.  It's all very cute and I admire their tenacity.  My kids, however, are lucky that Elfie just shows up in a different place every morning.  On more nights than I would like to admit I woke in a cold sweat at 2:00 am, elbowing BVZ in the ribs and whispering, "did you remember to move that f'ing elf?"  

The very first thing Norah would say upon waking every single morning was, "let's go find the elf." She threatened on many occasions to report my bad behavior to the elf.  She would have long conversations with the elf in which she would express her desire for a gluten free make up kit and ask the elf to ask Santa what kind of cookies he preferred. 

It's a sweet tradition and the twinkle in Norah's eye (and eventually Louis's, I imagine) is worth the 2:00 am cold sweats, no questions asked.  

Everything's Bigger in Texas

We live in a great neighborhood and people go all out with holiday decorations.  Our neighborhood has saved my ass many nights this past month when the kids were melting down post-dinner but it was not quite bedtime.  Because it was still 70+ degrees, I would take them on a long walk to look at all the lights, and then wham.  It would be bath and bedtime and my sanity would remain somewhat intact.

People don't mess around here and we have seen some of the most elaborately lit houses in town.  There are a few places that set their light show to music and this one in particular became a huge hit.  I think we visited this house about 15 times over the month of December.  I am surprised we didn't get asked to contribute to the electricity bill.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

I know, I know, we are three days away from Christmas.  But I could not miss out on the opportunity to post this gem from turkey day.

GG and Aunt Vanessa blew into Austin for the holiday and brought their usual spirit, merriment, and bottles of Chardonnay.  Our new tradition is to celebrate a VZ Christmas the day after Thanksgiving, which Norah thinks is the coolest thing ever.  I don't disagree.  Along with being fun and generous, GG and Aunt Vanessa spent the better part of their vacation watching Disney movies, chasing a toddler, and playing twelve-thousand card games with a preschooler.  That's love, people.  Love.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


I have written and then deleted about ten different posts regarding my feelings on the Sandy Hook tragedy.  Written because what happened matters, those kids matter.  Deleted because I do not really have anything to say that hasn't already been said.  And I don't want to offend or piss anyone off (despite the millions of tears I have spilled for the victims, remember my actual job is as an advocate for the perpetrator of these types of horrible crimes).  But mostly I don't want to just write something trite and self-serving, something all about me and how much I love my kids.  But that is exactly what I have been thinking about most.  How much I love my kids.  And my niece and nephews.  And my friends' kids.  And if anything like this happened to any of them, life as I know it would cease to exist.

Years ago I heard a story from a man who spent a lot of time working with women in a federal correctional facility (it might have been at a work conference, it might have been on NPR...I can't remember).  Anyway, this guy said that when it was visiting day at the prison and the women would get to see and hold their children, they spent a significant amount of time smelling their kids.  Sitting and smelling.  Breathing in the scent of their kids, taking it with them.  I have thought about that story lots over the past four and a half years, especially while spending many a night with a sick or sleepless kid.  Smelling them.  Breathing in their scent.  Taking it with me.  I have done an inordinate amount of smelling Norah and Louis over the past several days, my face nestled in their necks.

Norah is salty sweet.  She smells a lot like shampoo and a little like sweaty kid.  A little like strawberry yogurt and a lot like cinnamon chex.  Lou is sweetly salt.  He smells a lot like the lotion I put on his eczema spots and a little like shampoo.  A little like dirt and a lot like ketchup.  I pretty much can't get enough of either one of them.  And while it sounds so cliched, so banal...I want to hold on to every bit of them, suffocate myself with their scent.

My kids know nothing of what happened at Sandy Hook.  Louis has no comprehension of anything beyond his world of Cheerios and fire trucks.  Although Norah obviously understands a reality outside of her immediate wants and needs, she is still far too young to be able to process what happened in any meaningful way.  Allowing her access to any information about the shootings would do nothing but invite terror and trauma. In the days following the tragedy, there has been a lot of discussion regarding how to talk to kids about scary things that happen in the world.  I have seen this quote from Fred Rogers all over the place:

"When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in the time of disaster, I remember my mother's words and am comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers--so many caring people in the world."

I think the sentiment is important.  That there is a common thread that connects us as human beings.  We understand and empathize with suffering.  We do not want our fellow man to suffer.  We search out those who will help to alleviate the suffering.  While it is certainly a concept I want my kids to understand when the time is right, I do not think it can stop there.

We failed those kids in Connecticut, those families, that community.  Thoughts and prayers and acts of kindness are important, but at the end of the day we have to make the necessary changes to do better.  We have failed to implement effective and safe control of firearms.  We have failed to provide effective and safe mental health care and treatment for the most susceptible and dangerous of our citizens.  We have failed to provide a community that recognizes the needs of the most vulnerable and equips our parents, teachers, and fellow citizens with tools by which to actually do something.  We have failed to be real helpers.

It is not enough to just seek out the helpers.  I think I am a helper.  (I know some may disagree, but at the end of the day my hope is that I can not only help my clients, but also help others to see the world in not such a black and white kind of way.  I promise you, there is no such thing as pure good or pure evil).  I want my kids to understand that they have a responsibility to be helpers too.  To understand that the world is complex and sometimes scary, but they have been given the tools to make a significant difference in our social consciousness, and they have an obligation to use them.  I do not know what form this will take--obviously that will be up to them--but I only hope that will be actively engaged in a professional or personal life that gives back, that seeks to alleviate suffering, that tries to make the world a safer place to be.

Until then I will do whatever I can to stop the madness from happening again.  I have written my congressman, I have donated to the Sandy Hook school support fund.  I will never forget those young and precious lives.  I will advocate loudly for reform and participate in the process any way that I can.  I will tell teachers how much I appreciate them.  I will do my job and I will do it well.  And I will smell my kids.  Every day.  Again and again.  And again.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Santa Baby

Pictures with Santa are more fun (and way cheaper) when you bring a cousin.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Louis at 21 Months

Lou has been a tough kid to live with for the past couple of months.  For whatever reason, growing pains I suppose, he went through a period of not sleeping well (ie, waking up multiple times a night) and I am convinced it effected every other part of his life.  His sleep was crap, so his eating was crap, and his mood a lot of the time was shockingly--crap.

I am happy to report (knock on wood) that I think he's finally moved past whatever was bugging him. We've seen quite the transformation in the past several weeks and not only is he logging a solid 12+ hours every night, but he's an all around happier kid.  We haven't done anything differently, whatever he did he did on his own.  Some wayward teeth finally made their way into his mouth, so maybe that's it.  He's also had quite a language explosion as of late, so I imagine the increased ability to communicate has contributed to his mellowing out a bit.  Tantrums are few and far between (again, knock on wood) and the kisses are plentiful.  

Lou has never shown a strong preference for me.  (Norah, on the other hand, would climb back in my uterus most days if given the option).  I mean, he's likes me just fine but other people were just as successful at soothing Lou when he was a baby as me--he has always responded really well to BVZ and Bubby (especially Bubby)--and that hasn't really changed as he's gotten older.  But along with this improved disposition has come a newly discovered fondness for me.  He's all over me.  ALL OVER ME.  And I love it.  

A few things about Lou right now that I want to remember:

He is very, very particular about food and how it is served.  He has a limited palate and will pretty much only eat chicken, noodles, avocado, cheese, and beans.  Oh, and hot dogs.  He will, however, eat any kind of bread/carb product ever made.  Strangely enough, he will eat broccoli by the handful and loves it either cooked or frozen solid.  He also really enjoys whipped cream sprayed directly into his mouth.  We figured out that he takes a really long time to eat and sometimes likes to take a break before he's actually done with a meal.  This is pretty much exactly what BVZ does.  (It takes me 4.5 seconds to eat dinner.  BVZ will often take over an hour).  Lou's ability to tell me when he's actually "all done" has changed everything.  

He is still a string bean.  He is barely cracking 23 lbs, which is at like the 5th percentile for weight.  He is still well above average for height.  Clothes that fit are hard to find, and he usually ends up in 12 month pants that look like high waters.  

He knows the color green and likes to point it out frequently.  Everything else he thinks is purple.  He can identify most animals (and their sounds) by name, including the zebra and flamingo on the wall of his classroom at school.  Speaking of school, he totally digs it.  The teachers love him and think he's a flirt.  He hasn't bitten anyone.  We've gotten glowing reports with only two exceptions--one afternoon he took a header into a train table and another day he refused to give up the rock he was carrying around. In his mouth.  He's very, very mischievous and will do naughty things only when he knows I am looking.  Like carry rocks around in his mouth.  Or drink a bucketful of soapy bathwater.

He can identify all of his body parts and likes to point them out.  His butt is his favorite.  We are making absolutely no headway on the potty training front--he refuses to even look at the little potty.  He  will tell me when he's pooped, but only if I ask.  He still thinks cutting the cheese is hilarious.  He eats broccoli every day.  He cuts a lot of cheese.  

He still loves all things train, car, truck, and construction.  School buses and garbage trucks are by far his favorite.  He's incredibly agile and physical.  I think he'd probably be a really good gymnast.  There is a lot of running and a lot of jumping.  He isn't the climber that I feared he would be, but there's still time.  He loves music and dances a lot.  He is starting to be interested in puzzles and games.  He is mostly interested in destroying puzzles and games that Norah is working on.  The holiday lights currently up around the neighborhood are rocking his world. 

He still gets sick a lot.  He is currently finishing up another round of antibiotics for another sinus and ear infection.  I don't think we are going to do tubes anytime soon, unless it gets a lot worse.  His hearing hasn't been affected and the ear infections aren't delaying his language at all--two things which are major considerations.  When he turns two we are going to experiment with having him go dairy free to see if that helps.  I am not willing to give up the major source of fat in his diet right now, but in a few months I am hoping that will be a realistic option.

He has always liked books but would never sit through story after story like Norah would.  Lately though he will demand book after book after book, especially at bedtime.  10 Little Ladybugs is his favorite, as is anything with a truck on the cover.  He still really likes Norah.  He is very physical with her and pushes her around a lot.  She's finally started to push back a bit.  She is so bossy with him and he's finally started to push a bit back on her.  The other day she was making him mad and he finally just yelled, "Nany, SIT DOWN."  She was so surprised she actually sat down.  

He's really fun right now.  I hope it lasts. 

(This is his school picture.  The cuteness kills me.)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Disneyland 2012

The last vacation we went on was to Maui in the late summer of 2010.  That was when Norah was barely two and Lou was just a fetus.  The only other time Lou had even been on a plane was when we moved to Texas when he was six months old.  When he couldn't walk or talk.  You know, the good old days.

A few months ago I got it in my head that we should go to Disneyland, that we NEEDED to go to Disneyland while Norah would still be taken in by all the magic.  We are definitely not Disney people.  Sure, I dig the movies and all, but I hate the sun, I hate waiting in line, and I mostly hate the general public.  Which is why I figured my plan would best go down on a random weekend in November.

We had a great time.  A really, really great time.  That being said, I have no intention of going back anytime soon.  Probably not for at least 6 or 7 years.  Definitely not until both kids can 1) take themselves to the bathroom, 2) clear the height requirement on all the good rides, and 3) carry their own shit (snacks, jackets, tickets, etc.).  All things considered, there were remarkably few melt-downs (myself included), a tremendous amount of good sleep, and a whole lot of GVZ memories.  

(As an aside, every picture that I took was with my iphone.  I didn't even bother bringing the real camera and I don't regret it for a second.  I really, really suck as a DSLR owner because I am afraid of breaking it and am annoyed even with the thought of schlepping it around.  I didn't miss having it at all and while I don't have the best pictures, I feel like I wasn't preoccupied by getting good photos all of the time.  There were tons of photographers all over the park that took lots of shots for us and I need to log in to our account to check them out.  There may even be an elusive family shot in there somewhere.)

Getting to Disneyland from Northern California is a breeze.  Getting there from Austin is not.  There are no direct flights to John Wayne, which is by far the closest airport to Anaheim.  It's really annoying how few direct flight there are out of Austin.  Almost everything has to fly out of either Dallas or Houston, which means that you take a 45 minute flight and then wait in the airport for 2+ hours before finally getting on a flight that will actually take you somewhere.  

We figured that since we hadn't been on vacation in a while (and who knows when we will go again), we would splurge and stay at the fancy Grand Californian.  I have some thoughts on the hotel, namely that it is perfectly nice and very close to the park, but at the end of the day, obscenely expensive.  Ultimately I don't think it was worth the cost.  There are a lot of perks you get from staying on one of the Disney properties (like early entrance to the parks), but you get that with both the Disneyland Hotel and the Paradise Pier, and both are significantly less expensive.  Still spendy, but not quite the same level of ridiculousness.  We got a hotel and park ticket package, which I am not sure really saved us any money in the long run, but we did get a deal on the vouchers for the bus that went from the airport to the hotel.  I will take an extra $30 any place I can get it.

Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself.  We had a quickie flight to Houston and then a two hour layover.  Louis watched airplanes and trucks out the window the entire time and Norah did her stretches.  The second leg of the flight was over three hours.  Although Lou is not yet two we did get him his own seat (best decision ever), and they were both easily occupied with snacks and the ipad (okay, really the best decision ever).  

We took the Disneyland Resort Express bus to the hotel, which was uneventful.  There were television screens in the bus and I made the mistake of telling Norah that I thought they would be playing Disney movies.  The screens stayed dark the entire time and every 15 seconds she asked, "are they starting yet?  ARE THEY STARTING YET?"

We checked into our room, got settled and walked around the property a bit.  We had a three day pass to the park, so we didn't go in that first day.  We wandered around the Downtown Disney district and bought Norah a bag of kettle corn.  Which she used as a torture device.

There is a lego store in Downtown Disney that has some very impressive lego statutes.  I attempted to get a picture of BVZ and Norah in front of Belle and Beast and this was the best that I got.  Next you see the little arm chairs that were set up in the lobby of the Grand Californian in front of a television that ran a constant loop of old school Disney cartoons.  Norah was obsessed.  She begged to sit there every time we walked by and one night told me that it would be her dream come true if I would sit down with her.  I really, really, really thought that there was a decent chance that my ass would actually get stuck in the chair.  I am happy to report that it did not (but it was close).  The final photo is one of the pools.  The pools looked really nice and there were some fun water slides but we never had the time or inclination to get in.  

GG drove down and met us for dinner the first night.  And then bought Norah a giant Minnie Mouse.  Hey, it's what Grandmas are for.

Every room came equipped with a pack and play, which was really nice.  The first night we put him in it Lou freaked his freak out and I thought we were done for.  But after that first night, he napped either there or in the stroller every day and slept in it all night, every night.  He slept really well.  Clearly the key is to wear him out as much as humanly possible.  

This is what a four year old looks like on her way to Disneyland for the first time.  Oh, the anticipation.

Now normally I am beyond obsessive when it comes to planning trips, but I had a HUGE deadline at work just a week before and so everything I did was kind of last minute.  Which explains why I failed to pay attention to which days were early entrance hours to the park (which we got because we were staying at the fancy schmance hotel).  Friday was early entrance to California Adventures, but we were spending the day at the Magic Kingdom because RUBY(!) was meeting us there.  Oh yes, that's right.  Ruby was meeting us there and neither she or Norah had any idea.  It was a plan that M and I concocted months ago and we kept it a surprise from both of them (hardest thing ever).

Anyway, Ruby and M were flying down Friday morning but we weren't sure what time they would actually get there, so we had a room service breakfast and went ahead and made our way to California Adventures.  The big draw there right now is the new Cars Land but we didn't want to take our chances getting caught in a big line because we needed to get to the Magic Kingdom as soon as I got the word that the eagle had landed.  Instead we went on Ariel's Undersea Adventure which was a big hit.

And then walked over to Cars Land just to check it out.  There were no lines for anything except the big Radiator Springs Racers ride, so we went on something that looked to be a lot like the teacups, but in a Mater tractor.  Neither Norah nor Lou much liked it.  They weren't scared, but it was a little too fast and spun them around too much.  

They both loved, however, the Bug's Land (from the movie A Bug's Life) area of the park.  It's geared towards really little kids (Lou is a really little kid and Norah is a huge chicken), so they were both thrilled.  The entire area is designed to make you feel as though you are a teeny tiny bug, with big plants, giant pieces of trash, etc.  There is Flik's Flyers, which is just like the Dumbo ride except you ride in a box of animal crackers; Heimlich Chew Chew Train, which is a caterpillar train that does absolutely nothing except go through tunnels designed to look like pieces of food; and Francis's Ladybug Boogie, which is again, just like the teacups but in a ladybug.  (There was another ride we would do the next day that was a disaster...but that's yet to come).  There's also a splash pad and an alcove that show a movie about bugs, neither of which we did.

I got a text from M that she and Ruby had landed at John Wayne, so we immediately went to the Magic Kingdom.  When you cross from one park to another you have to wait in line at the main entrance, which is kind of a drag.  I was surprised they didn't have a special entrance for those who were park hopping, especially given how much they charge for a park hopper ticket.  It wasn't an issue that morning because the lines were basically non-existent, but it was certainly an issue later that weekend.  

All of the holiday decorations were out, which were lovely. I was kind of worried that it would look as though Disneyland vomited Christmas, but I was pleasantly surprised that things were tasteful and toned down.  There's an enormous tree as you come down Main Street and lots of festive touches on the storefronts.  Sleeping Beauty's castle is lit up at night to look like it is covered in blue ice and pink and purple sparkles.  

We were meeting M and Ruby at the carousel, so we decided to do the Fantasyland rides while we waited for them to get there.  My family went to Disneyland several times when I was a kid, and my most profound memories are definitely of Fantasyland.  It's still really cool, but man it's kitschy.  I am a little surprised there haven't been more updates, but I suppose the retro nature is still part of the appeal.  It was still relatively early on Friday morning and we walked on every ride.  I think we waited about two minutes for Dumbo.  We did Dumbo twice, the Teacups, Alice in Wonderland (which was my favorite as a kid), and Pinocchio.  We attempted to do Snow White but had to make an early exit because Norah got scared of the crow.  Really, she's a HUGE chicken.  

My stomach was in knots all morning waiting for the big reunion.  I compulsively checked my phone and tried to calm down.  My plan had been to go to the Mad Hatters hat shop to get Norah Minnie ears and then suggest we get some for Ruby as well to send to her.  She was picking out the ears she wanted and with no prompting from me asked if we could get a pair for Ruby too.  I couldn't have planned it better.  I got the text from M that they were approaching Sleeping Beauty's castle, so we hung around there for a minute.  Norah was getting impatient and wanted to go on another ride so I pretended that I saw Ariel and told Norah she was over by the carousel.  She ran over there and I caught sight of Ruby and M first.  I leaned down and told Norah that Disneyland was a magical place and her special wish had just come true.  She turned around and saw Ruby, started screaming RUBY! and ran over and basically tackled her.  I am not sure that Ruby had any idea what had happened until I pried them apart and Ruby could see who was hugging her.  (I have a video of it that I will put up in a separate post).  I still tear up thinking about it.  It was awesome.

They were so, so, so happy to see each other.

After the initial shock (so like 30 seconds later), they were hand in hand and racing off to see stuff.  I thought being there together might trip them up a bit, or even freak them out a little, but it was as though they had never been apart.  The only moment was when Norah whispered to me in a line, "am I dreaming??" but otherwise it was like, of course Ruby is here.  Why wouldn't Ruby be here?

We did a lot of the rides in Fantasyland, including walking through Sleeping Beauty's castle (which Norah did NOT like), Peter Pan, Dumbo, the Storybook Land canal boats, It's a Small World, and the meet and greet with Merida.  Lou loved It's a Small World, which was decked out for the holidays.

Toon Town was a big hit.  One of my very favorite things about Ruby is how bold she is and how brave she makes Norah.  The kid has no fear.  Norah wanted NOTHING to do with any of the characters in costume (she liked to see them and would waive from afar, but no way was she going up to any of them), but with Ruby by her side she was willing to hug just about anything.  They tore around Toon Town and even rode the roller coaster (again, no way would Norah have even considered it if Ruby had not have been there).  Louis was mildly obsessed with the stationary cars and firetrucks that he could climb in.

I was also really happy to see how much they still like each other.  We talk on FaceTime as often as we can and they have seen each other for long visits twice since we've lived in Texas, but a teeny part of me worried that there was still a chance they would find they no longer enjoyed each other's company.  Even that tiny fear was for naught.  Thick as thieves, those two.

Lou passed out for a while and we walked around some of the other lands.  We did the Haunted Mansion, which was redone in a Nightmare Before Christmas motif.  I was a little worried about Norah because she had a lot of apprehension about the ride, but I figured it would be okay because 1) she loves the movie Nightmare Before Christmas, and 2) Ruby was there.  She was okay and there were no tears, but she definitely did not like it.  I think her eyes stayed closed the entire time.  Louis on the other hand LOVED it.  No surprise there.

We did Pirates of the Caribbean next, which I anticipated would go over the same way, but the exact opposite occurred.  Norah loved it and declared it her favorite ride of all time.  I thought maybe she was just saying that for Ruby's behalf, but sure enough, it remained her favorite for the rest of our time there.  I think we rode it four or five times.  Ruby announced just as we were about to get on the boat that Pirates of the Caribbean was her dad's favorite movie.  M confirmed that while A has seen the Pirates of the Caribbean, it is not in fact his favorite movie.  However, for the rest of the vacation and since being home, any and every time someone mentions the Pirates of the Caribbean, Norah says, "you know, Ruby's dad's favorite movie."

We did Tarzan's tree house (which I distinctly remember as being the Swiss Family Robinson tree house when I was a kid), and took a much needed ice cream break.

We made it around to Tomorrow land for dinner, the Buzz Lightyear ride, and the Astro Orbitor, which is like Dumbo but in a rocket.  We also caught the evening parade, which was Christmas themed.  I don't ever love anything that involves a big crush of people trying to see the same thing, but I am glad we saw it.  There were a lot of dancing princesses.  If you look closely you can see Norah and Ruby grooving.

By that time Brian and Lou were tapped out so they went back to our hotel room.  M and I took the girls on Autopia (the cars) and the rockets one more time.  I think they also did Dumbo again and maybe something else that I am forgetting.  M and Ruby were staying at the Paradise Pier, so we walked to their hotel room to watch the World of Color show.  They were on the 14th floor so we had a great view of the water show.  There is a channel you can put the television on and it plays the music from the show so you can follow along.  

The girls could have cared less about the water show, which was totally fine.  Instead they jumped on the beds, wrestled each other, and generally had a punch-drunk fabulous time.  M and I ordered them a dessert from room service (and a bottle of wine for ourselves) and let them have at it (the dessert, not the wine).  Norah got to spend quality time with her BFF and I got to do the same with mine.  It was a win-win for everyone.  The girls were practically delirious by the time I dragged Norah back to our room.  Which was perfect because there were no tears and/or dramatic good-byes.  Norah actually fell asleep in my arms on the walk, which hasn't happened in oh, four years.  

I was a little worried what would happen the next morning when we got ready for our day and Ruby wasn't there (she and M had a leisurely morning to themselves and then flew back home), but Norah was surprisingly okay about the whole thing.  There were a few times she told me that she wished Ruby could see something and she got sad and quiet once and told me that she wished Ruby could always be with her (sob), but for the most part she was a total trooper and our reunion plan was nothing but a smashing success.

My poor planning continued Saturday morning.  We were booked for the Princess breakfast at California Adventures at 9:20, but the extra magic hour was at the Magic Kingdom.  Everyone was up and ready early enough that we decided to take advantage of the extra time. 

We went immediately to the submarine ride, which historically has a long wait time and walked right on.  When I was a kid it was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but has now been reinvented with a Finding Nemo theme.  It was fine and the kids liked it, but I would have been really pissed if we had waited in a long line for it.  There are very few things I would be willing to wait in a long line for, and this was definitely not one of them.

We got through the submarine ride so quickly, we still had some time to kill before breakfast.  The submarine is right by Autopia and so I suggested that BVZ take Norah on it because she had really enjoyed it when I took her the night before.  I don't know if she was just tired or still reeling from Ruby, but we experienced our one and only epic Norah melt-down of the entire vacation.  Apparently, Norah decided that she wanted to press the pedal to make the car go.  This was despite the fact that she couldn't actually REACH the pedal.  She lost her ever loving mind when she figured out that her plan wasn't going to work.  BVZ said it was the longest four minutes of his life.  Lou and I were watching from the sidelines and could see when their car first pulled out of the gate  Lou announced, "Na Na car stuck."  Oh. yes it was.  She was so beside herself when they came off the ride that I had to just sit her down by herself and let her work the tears out.  It took her longer to recover than we are used to and I finally had to tell her to either get it together or I was going to have to call Ariel and tell her we couldn't make it to breakfast.  She got it together.  

Ariel's Grotto is in California Adventures, so we crossed parks yet again.  It's quite a racket, and really expensive, but it was one of our most highly anticipated events of the trip.  You check in and get ushered downstairs where you wait to meet Ariel.  Norah told her, "thank you for inviting me to your house."  Ha.

Breakfast is served family style and although we had to wait a bit because of the gluten factor, there was a ton of food.  Both kids actually ate really well, and I was grateful for that princess miracle.

In addition to Ariel, there were four princesses that made their way into the dining room and walked around visiting all the tables.  There were the standard Cinderella, Belle, Aurora, and Snow White.  Norah was stoked to meet them all and had no hesitation is talking to them and accepting hugs.  I would have liked to see a little diversity (would it kill them to throw in a Tiana?) but Norah was happy and really that's all that mattered.

Parts of California Adventure were still relatively deserted (maybe because everyone was still over at the Magic Kingdom?) so we took advantage of no lines at the Paradise Pier rides.  We went on the Golden Zephyr and Norah did the Jumpin' Jellyfish several times.  We somehow missed the Toy Story ride, which is a bummer.  Lou appreciated the ability to run around sans big crowds and was instantly drawn to puddles and drains every time.  BVZ wanted to make him a shirt that said, "my parents paid a shit ton of money to bring me to Disneyland and all I did was lick a drain."

We also did all of the rides in A Bug's Land again.  This time Norah and I did the Tuck and Roll Drive 'Em Buggies, which were just bumper cars.  Again, she wanted to press the pedal and drive and while she could reach this time, she wasn't coordinated enough to make it work and started to lose her shit.  I am not quite as accommodating to freak outs and BVZ is and so she got over it much more quickly.    There may or may not have been a threat involved. 

This was our favorite ride--Flik's Flyers (in the photo it's obviously on the ground).

We went back to the hotel and napped for a while and then told Norah she could pick what to do next and she begged for Pirates of the Caribbean, so we schlepped back to the Magic Kingdom and rode it twice.  By this time, the crowds were a little more intense, but I don't think we waited more than about 10 minutes to get on.  We also did the Jungle Cruise which both kids thought were hilarious.  Lou calls crocodiles "Crockas" which pretty much sounds like "cock" when he screams it 40 times in a row.  I thought that was hilarious.  

We also rode the Disneyland Express Railroad for Louis.  He was into it.

The castle at night really was pretty spectacular.  We went on a few more rides in Fantasyland, but the crowds were getting bigger and lines were getting longer, so we mostly just walked around in lower traffic areas enjoying the sights. 

It's a Small World was decked out.  It was really, really cool and the kids were beside themselves with elation.  Both BVZ and I had a moment of, 'these are the moments in parenthood that make all the shitty parts seem not so shitty.'  It was probably the longest line we waited in (well over 30 minutes), but was easily my favorite part of the whole trip.  Everyone was in a great mood and just really happy to be there together.  

This is how Lou spent the entire ride.  Standing up, holding on to the bar and ready to jump in the water the second we weren't looking (we were always looking).

After the ride is when we noticed that things had really started to get crowded.  I wasn't surprised--it was Saturday night after all, but it was a stark contrast from what we had enjoyed just the day before.  Upon the advice of several friends, we took Louis's stroller and then rented one for Norah on Saturday.  It was the best $15 I ever spent.  It was invaluable during the times she was not only tired, but when the crowds got really bad and we needed to move through them quickly.  After the Small World ride we went to collect our rental stroller and it was gone.  I was so bummed.  I would like to think that it was an honest mistake and not just some jackhole too lazy to find his own stroller (when you rent it you print your last name in big letters on a card at the top), but the end result was the same--we were without.  When and if a stroller mishap happens, you can just show your receipt and get a replacement, but the replacement kiosk was REALLY far away and there was no way we were going to walk all of the way across the park just to get another stroller for the few hours we had left that night.

Norah picked some of her favorite rides to go on again--including Dumbo for the umpteenth time and the King Arthur Carousel.  

We staked out a good spot to watch the fireworks which were short and spectacular.  My kind of show.  Louis slept right through the whole thing.

Sunday morning was the early magic hour at California Adventures again and we knew if we were going to get to the Radiator Springs Racers ride it was now or never.  The height requirement was 40 inches, so Lou had to sit out.  I didn't know this existed, but several people told me about the existence of the 'baby swap pass' which allowed Norah and I do wait in line and do the ride and then BVZ got to take Norah to do it again, but they didn't have to wait in the line again.  Which was awesome because even though we went there first thing it was already really crowded.  Norah and I waited about a half hour but by the time we were done and BVZ could go, the line had easily grown to two hours.  Without the baby swap pass he would not have been able to go on the Racers ride and that would have been too bad because it was incredibly cool.  

Based on the Cars movie, you ride in a full sized race car with five other people.  You get taken through an interior part that mimics scenes from the movie, and then you go outside where your car pulls up alongside another car and there is a high speed race.  It was an awful lot like a roller coaster at the end and I thought Norah would flip out for sure but she loved it.  It was by far one of the best amusement park rides I have ever been on. 

While Norah and BVZ took their turn, Lou and I wandered around the life sized replica of Radiator Springs (from the movie).  It seemed as though no detail was overlooked.  Cars Land is really impressive and I am so glad we decided to brave the crowds to check it out. 

Norah wanted to go back AGAIN to A Bug's Land and we did all of those rides yet again.  We also did the Monster's Inc. ride in the Hollywood section of the park which I thought was incredibly lame. 

I think we probably did the Ariel ride again and then took another turn on all of the appropriate Paradise Pier attractions.  This is the Jumpin' Jellyfish.  

The crowds were surprisingly light and so we let Lou out of the stroller.  He immediately screamed, "Na na...RUN!" and they took off.

Because it was the last day we told Norah we could go back to the Magic Kingdom and ride anything she wanted to ride one last time.  We went on the Storybook boats, I nixed Dumbo (way too long of a wait), and Pirates several times.  We also went back to Toon Town, but it was really, really, really crowded.  It was also the only day we had much sun.  On both Friday and Saturday there was a ton of cloud cover with even a few sprinkles.  Cloud cover makes things so much more enjoyable.  Sun makes things so much less enjoyable.  

Lou fell asleep in the stroller, so I stayed with him while Norah and BVZ went on the Winnie the Pooh ride.  It was "dumb" by Norah's standards and "super lame" by BVZ's.  They had fun together, though. When Louis woke up he demanded "french fry" and so I got him some sweet potato fries to cram into his mouth.

We all needed a break by that point so we headed back to the hotel for a breather.  Before we even got to California, I had told Norah that she would be allowed to pick out one souvenir.  She could have whatever she wanted, but she could only have one thing and she had to wait until the last day to get it.  She could look at whatever she wanted, but she could not ask for anything beyond her one present.  The very first day we were there, in one of the stores in Downtown Disney, she saw the Sleeping Beauty castle that came with a whole bunch of figurines.  It was huge.  She wouldn't even look at anything else the entire time.  We went back to look at the castle again and BVZ told her she could get it but that we couldn't take it with us and it would have to be shipped.  She hemmed and hawed and asked for 'alone time' to 'really, really, think about it' and ultimately decided that she wanted a souvenir she could play with that night and take on the plane so she decided on Little Mermaid polly pocket set instead.  I told her that if she chose the polly pocket set she was giving up any claim to the castle and I didn't want to hear about any regrets.  True to her word she was thrilled with the polly pockets and has played with him every single day.  The castle hasn't been mentioned once.  That's my girl.

Lou loved, loved, loved playing in the curtains.

Sunday evening we had an early dinner and then headed back out to California Adventures to watch the World of Color show up close.  The kids were pretty tapped out by that point.  Lou slept through it and Norah nodded off multiple times as well (she was in a rented stroller).  The show was neat but could have been a pass for me.  We got back to the hotel and they passed out and BVZ and I packed for our very early morning flight.

We took the Disneyland Express bus back and really cut it close because the driver was late, then circled back to pick up more people once we were already on our way, and then got stuck in traffic.  It was stressful at the time but nice that we didn't have much time to kill at the airport.  We flew back through Phoenix, so the flights were about two hours each.  I wouldn't want to do it every day, but for the most part it was fine.

So, from someone with no Disney experience (save the advice from friends) and no intention of going back anytime soon, here are my final thoughts:

1.  If possible, stay at a Disney property because the proximity and perks are nice, but go with the Paradise Pier.

2.  Take your own snacks.  I brought a ton of food because of Norah's celiac disease but no one even batted an eye when I lugged a backpack full of my own snacks in every day (and they do search your bag).

3.  Bring or rent a stroller, even for a four year old.  She's skinny, but got really heavy, really fast.  Even when she wasn't tired it was useful for navigating through crowds.  The rental is $15 a day and totally worth it.  

4.  Go during the week.  Friday during the day was awesome, but the weekend felt really, really crowded to me.  I would imagine at this time of year, mid-week would be a breeze.  The parks do close early during the week on the off-season, but my kids were DONE by about 8:00 every night, so that would have been fine.  

5.  Do a better job at organizing your days than I did so that you are not going back and forth between the different parks multiple times a day.  Pay attention to the extra magic hour if you stay at a Disney property. On Saturday and Sunday we had to wait in a long and hot line to get into the park even though we had been in the other park since early that morning. 

6.  Let your kids watch as many Disney cartoons in the room as possible.  It fries their brains a bit and makes them much more docile and agreeable.  

7.  An obvious one--know your own kid.  I read a lot online in the week before we left and lots of people suggested booking a character breakfast so your kid gets to see a lot of the characters in one spot.  I went back and forth about doing that but ultimately decided not to because the meals are incredibly expensive (and my kids eat like birds), and Norah was pretty much terrified of anyone in a costume.  We didn't even get her an autograph book because I suspected (and was right) that she would have no part of going up to anyone in a costume.  She was into the princesses only because "they look human people."  I don't blame her.

8.  Use that baby pass if you have a kid too small to ride a good ride.  We knew about the baby pass only from M and Cam (a Disney expert)--they don't advertise it.  There was only one ride we used it on, but if you have a little one and are doing the bigger, more exciting rides, it could really come in handy.

9.  We had three day park hopper tickets, but could have easily gotten away with two day tickets.  It was nice to have the luxury of taking our time and not stressing if a line was too long (and agreeing to just do it later), but we could have done what we wanted to do in a shorter amount of time.  That being said, we did not do a lot of the rides that Norah was tall enough to do, because again, she's a huge chicken.

That's officially the longest post in the history of the universe.  Disneyland was awesome.  I am glad we went.  My kids are fun.  BVZ is patient.  Memories were made.

Mission accomplished.