My annual review is posted here.
Every year, our lovely ballerina, Megan, performs in The Nutcracker with Idaho Regional Ballet. This year was her final year, as she is graduating next spring and will be off to college. So I was not going to miss this final performance. Additionally, Steven was the Nutcracker Prince, so that was a double delight.
A few months earlier, Robin asked me to come up to Boise the week before the show, since I was not working, and Ken was going to be out of town on business. I loved the idea, but as I started thinking about what to do with Hanna if I was going to be gone for 10 or 12 days, I thought, “Maybe I’ll take my motor home!” I thought I could make a four day camping trip of the journey north, and then rent a space in the RV park near Robin and Ken’s. Then I’d journey back home for four days. Cozy and fun, huh?
Well, the weatherman did not like the idea, and each time I checked the forecast, Boise and Eagle were slated for colder and colder temps and more and more snow. When the forecast showed 13° two nights that week, I knew it would not be a good idea to take my Minnie up there. So just a few days before I planned to leave, Carrie and Nathan agreed to keep Hanna for me, and I started packing my car. I made the drive in two days, stopping at a hotel in SLC for the night. The roads were great from Phoenix to Twin Falls, then I hit a snow storm that lasted about 50 miles, but I pushed on and made it into Eagle around 2:00 p.m. the second day.
Robin, as usual, was busy finishing up more costumes for the ballet and I got to help a little bit. She praised my careful tiny stitches and perfectly placed crystals, and told me I was hired to join her volunteer team of seamstresses. LOL, if only…
Ken’s parents arrived a few nights later and his sister and niece (Tami and Annika) flew in the day after that. We had a wonderful time catching up, enjoying great food, watching the snow fall, and of course, going to see the spectacular Nutcracker performance. Robin and Ken were gracious hosts, finding space for all of us to sleep, and showing us the property they have purchased where they plan to build their new home next year.
I made my way home with only ten days left to do all my Christmas shopping and preparations, but once again, I enjoyed the glory of retirement by shopping during the weekdays, baking and decorating, and sewing up a storm in my free time. Every cookie was frosted and every gift was wrapped and ready with time to spare.
And oh my, the ballet! Megan was the Russian soloist, one of the party mothers, and a snowflake in the Snow scene. Robin had made new party mom costumes, and a new Russian costume this year, and they were spectacular. Megan danced beautifully, and it made us all well up with tears to watch her. Steven, as the Nutcracker Prince, looked suave and handsome. Enjoy a few photos below.
In the finale clip below, Megan is the Russian soloist (appearing right after the Chinese dancer).
Our special girl Lauren is 16 years old! When she was diagnosed with Sanfilippo Syndrome 12 years ago, we didn’t know what her future would be. Statistics said her life expectancy was around 14 years. But with modern medical technology and lots of divine intervention, she received an umbilical cord stem cell transplant at age four. Her doctor says it has stopped the progression of her disease and has contributed to extending her life. So this milestone was a celebration, as well as an opportunity to lavish our love on this young lady.
Family members came from all over the country to help us celebrate. Many of them were directly involved with raising funds for Lauren’s transplant, and have also contributed to the work of Lauren’s Institute For Education, so it was an honor to have them here to see the far-reaching results of that support and generosity. Robin and Steven came from Boise (Megan was deep into Nutcracker rehearsals and Ken had to work, so were unable to make the trip). Richard & Dianna and Daryl & Gisele were there. Carrie’s mother was well enough to come to the party. Many close friends attended, and all of Lauren’s therapists and providers were there. But the one person who beamed the most was our darling, Lauren. She had such a good day, and seemed to enjoy every moment, smiling at everyone, giggling at the music, and even dancing with her daddy.
Here are a few photos to remember the occasion.
A couple weeks later, the staff and parents of Lauren’s Institute held a “Thank You” event to honor Brian, Carrie and Lauren for all the wonderful ways they have blessed the special needs community by opening the center ten years ago. It was an emotional and beautiful get together with hundreds of special needs families whose lives have been changed because of Lauren.
When my saguaro cactus was destroyed last year, I didn’t get enough compensation from my insurance company to replace it, and neither did I want to. I decided to go with a less expensive option, and added a few small cactus plants myself, as a temporary upgrade. But this year, I heard from the City of Mesa court that the guy who ran into my yard was being prosecuted and I could file for victim restitution through the city prosecution office. The case hasn’t come to trial yet, and I may not see my money, but I decided to proceed with more landscaping upgrades anyway.
I hired a professional crew to do the work and made sure that they included excavation of my driveway so I can (FINALLY!) get my RV out of the back yard. They added some additional cactus plants and refilled the gravel. Here is the finished look:
I had more extensive work done in the back yard. The existing grass had gone to weeds and the Sissoo tree had grown so tall, it was partially blocking my solar panels. Besides that, the roots were very shallow, the tree was leaning and was at risk of falling.
Boy, did it look bare out there, then! I had to negotiate with the landscaper about adding a few small plants along the west wall until I can plant another tree later this fall. (The tree guy said I should wait until cooler weather.)
I had them remove about half the grass area, add a second brick border and fill it in with matching rock, and then sod the remaining grass patch. (Hanna needs a place to poop!) Here’s the finished yard.
*The second picture was taken a couple days after the first one and the grass is working to take hold and green up, but the landscapers will babysit it and guarantee it for the first month, so I assume it will be lush and pretty by August.
Incidentally, Daryl helped install a security camera system a couple weeks ago, and yesterday morning I spied a stray cat leaving a calling card on my brand new grass!
It’s finally here! I am officially retired! Today was my final “work day”, although just between you and me, I didn’t do ANY work today. Instead, I spent the morning packing final things from my office and sending farewell greetings and thank you notes to my co-workers for all the cards, gifts and good wishes they had poured on me. Then at 11:15, I had a phone exit interview with HR in Santa Clara, CA and went over my termination paper work. Everything took about 10 minutes and I was done. I walked around to say good-bye to my team, handed my laptop and badge to my manager and he walked me out the door. Home by 12:30.
On my way home, a car was driving below the speed limit in front of me. I started to pull around it, but then caught myself and said, “What’s the hurry?” I want that to be my mantra for the next ~30 years. I was slightly annoyed to drive through so many school zones! I never go out after I have arrived at the office at 7:00 until I head home at 4:00, so I have not had to deal with those much. I guess I’ll be looking for routes that are not near schools on weekdays from now on, in case I forget my new mantra.
I’ve outlined my very loose and flexible plans on my RV blog, so take a look over there if you’re wondering when my first trip will be.
And now, I think I’ll go take a nap!
I went to Orlando last week with Carrie and the two boys. We stayed in a condo just a couple of miles from Universal Studios on Brian and Carrie’s time share, and Brian used his frequent flyer miles to buy all four of our tickets. I paid for the rental car and parking at Universal and Walt Disney World all week; it was the least I could do for an otherwise free trip to Florida!
I had heard about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando, and being a Harry Potter fan, I was very excited about visiting. Universal is split into two parks: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Really, it’s just a way to get more of your money, as you have to pay for admission into each park, or upgrade your daily ticket to a “park hopper”. There is a HP World in both parks and the Hogwarts Express runs between them. London and Diagon Alley resides in Universal Studios, and Hogwarts and Hogsmeade is in Islands of Adventure. Of course, you have to buy a park hopper ticket to ride the train. We splurged for the park hoppers, and got the whole experience.
The London area is very obvious and easy to get to in the park, but the entry into Diagon Alley is well hidden, and the staff is no help in getting you there. They play the part of muggles, and claim to know nothing about Diagon Alley or Platform 9 3/4. But if you follow the crowd, you’ll find it easy enough. The moment you walk through the brick maze entrance, you are suddenly in the midst of the magical land. It’s amazingly well done, with many details from the books and movies incorporated into the village.
The boys visited Olivander’s Wand shop and got an magical wand. It has a chip inside and interacts with dozens of spots throughout both villages, as you cast spells, charms and hexes on unsuspecting animatronics.
We visited Knockturn Alley and Gringotts Bank, where there is a dragon perched atop the building that blows fire from time to time. You never know when it’s going to happen, because she is alive after all and does it whenever she wants to, according to a cast member outside a store.
We ate one dinner in the Leaky Cauldron and had a mug of butter beer (non-alcoholic). We also bought candy at Honeydukes to bring home.
Our favorite rides were Escape from Gringotts, the Forbidden Journey at Hogwarts, the Flight of the Hippogriff, and the Hogwarts Express. Nathan loved the Dragon Challenge, a wild roller coaster with 3 or 4 upside down loops. Universal has done an amazing job on their 4D rides. It’s hard to explain, but it’s sort of like riding a coaster cart through several 3D theater scenes. We agreed Disney needs to step up their technology, and we won’t be surprised if the new rides at Star Wars Land will incorporate this 4D style.
Harry Potter is not the only featured attraction at Universal. There are many other land themes throughout the 2 parks, including Jurassic Park, Marvel Spiderman and Transformers, Poseidon, Dr Suess, Cartoons, Simpsons, Minions, and more, and we took them all in, some of them twice.
My last trip to Walt Disney World was in 2011, so it was a lot of fun to get reacquainted with the parks and ride Snow White’s Mine Train, a new attraction since my last visit. We spent three days at Universal, and four days at Walt Disney World, We had already purchased 3-day WDW park hoppers, but traded them in for 4-day one park tickets, and agreed it was actually a better way to see the “World”. Hopping from park to park takes a lot of time and energy out of your day.
It was a really fun trip. I am a big fan of Disney and theme parks and this was a great diversion from my short-timer’s disease at work. Once I came back, I started my 4 week countdown to retirement!