Clarissa Day in Boston

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In the fall, we decided that we wanted to attend at least one day of PAX East 2020. Held in Boston at the end of winter, we had not been since Tim won tickets when I was pregnant with Clarissa in 2013.

Eight hours plus stops is a long time to drive with a five month old so we decided to stop halfway in New Jersey. We had lunch at Shady Maple on our way through Pennsylvania. Then we spent the night with Tim’s Aunt Paula.

We deemed Friday Clarissa Day and did several activities that we knew Clarissa would enjoy. The high was in the 30s for the day and very windy, so we put Tiffany in her snowsuit every time we went outside.

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We went online to LAZ Parking and reserved a parking spot at the Dock Square Garage. We then walked a couple of blocks to the New England Aquarium where the Northern Fur Sealswere outside. This guy was asleep but the rest were awake and ready to greet us.

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The aquarium was good. But we have seen better ones in Asia. There was a live presentation at the coral reef at the top. We did see a lot of different tanks that were clean and vibrant.

Clarissa was able to touch a sea star, sea urchin, hermit crab, horse shoe crab, and oyster upstairs. She also got pretty wet touching some sting rays. The sharks never came by for her to pet. She wasn’t super impressed with the gift shop so she did not buy anything there.

We chose our particular parking garage because Hard Rock Cafe was on the first floor. We ate there for lunch. The service was okay but the food was great.

Next we headed to Assembly Row to check out Legoland Discovery Center. We have been to the Tokyo location, but Clarissa was two and doesn’t remember. There was free public parking for up to three hours so we decided to do that.

I was impressed that Clarissa chose to do a ride. She enjoyed it so much that she did it twice, once with Mommy and once with Daddy. She liked the VR roller coaster as well. I think we all enjoyed seeing the major sights in Boston as a Lego city. Clarissa and I took a class while Tiffany napped in the stroller and made a Lego panda. We also made Lego race cars and actually raced them on a track. There were a couple of play places and also a big clock where every half hour a dragon would pop out and sing “Rock Around the Clock.” Clarissa really enjoyed that and would dance every time.

We contemplated visiting Carlo’s Bakery on our drive but saw some interesting reviews and decided to skip it. Instead we headed to Mike’s Pastry which is supposed to have the best desserts in Boston. We had them pack a box for us of like 15 different things that we wanted to try. It will take us a week to eat it all, but they have all been pretty good so far. I’m not sure that it’s the best dessert that I’ve ever tasted. But if you want pastries in Boston, I would check out one of their locations.

We ate at Legal on the Mystic for dinner. Clarissa had a cheese pizza but Tim and I enjoyed some excellent seafood.

We ended the day at Burlington Mall. Clarissa has been wanting to try Build-A-Bear and so we decided that vacation was the perfect time to check it out. There was a sale of buy one, get one for $10 so Clarissa ended up with both Toothless and Luna. The girl that worked there was great with Clarissa. She got to help stuff her dragons, kissed the heart that went inside them, and give them their first bath.

When your vacation turns into a history lesson

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We went to Virginia Beach for Christmas for the first time in six years. It is the first Christmas with relatives that Clarissa will remember.

We were there five days so we had some time for exploration. On Thursday, we headed to Fort Story to see the lighthouses. The general public can get on base by showing ID and getting a visitor pass for your car. Tim’s work ID got us on base without all of the extra steps.

Our first stop was to see the Cape Henry cross. When the settlers first arrived in Virginia in 1607, they planted a cross on the beach before heading to Jamestown. There is also a statue for French Admiral de Grasse who was very helpful during the Revolutionary War. We also went to the lookout to see the beach.

Next, we walked over to the “new” Cape Henry lighthouse which was built in 1881 and is still functional today. Across the street is the “old” Cape Henry lighthouse, which you can actually climb. There is an admission cost and you have to be 42 inches tall. You are not allowed to carry children up the 192 steps.

Clarissa really enjoyed our little field trip. Be careful where you step though. We all ended up with small brambles on our pants and shoes, probably from walking through the grass.

On Friday, we headed to Colonial Williamsburg. Tim and I wanted to see it decorated for Christmas and we were honestly disappointed in that regard. But Clarissa really enjoyed seeing the old houses.

The Governor’s Palace had a garden and a maze that Clarissa really enjoyed. She also enjoyed seeing the kitchen. You can only see the main part of the house on a tour, but after five minutes of waiting, Tiffany was losing it so we had to keep moving.

We headed to the art museums because there was an advertised craft event. We did not last there either as Clarissa was bored with the craft. She liked the art museum though. It was fun to see the old furniture and animals.

Veterans and their families can get in to Colonial Williamsburg for half off admission and active duty families can get in free once per year. Another perk to this kind of ticket is the Liberty Lounge. The information lady told us it was kind of like a USO. There were chairs to sit down (and nurse the baby), a bathroom, and hot drinks (coffee, tea, or hot cocoa). It was a blue house next to the Millery.

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Veteran’s Day Fun

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I appreciate that there is a federal holiday to celebrate my husband. Tim served in the Air Force for four years as active duty and has worked for the Department of Defense as either a contractor or federal employee almost every job since.

His first choice for his free lunch today was Texas Roadhouse. But when we got there, there weren’t any parking spots and the line to get in was outside. We headed to Buffalo Wild Wings instead for his free wings and fries. We were all pretty happy with our meal.

Our next stop was Fair Oaks Mall. We had never been before but I saw on Facebook that veterans and their entire family could have free entry to the Children’s Science Center. I am so glad we decided to check it out.

There were several different exhibits and stations. In one room, Tim and Clarissa were able to create a hovercraft, make slime music, and play with Legos. There was a room for children 5 and under that had a large fish tank, life size light bright, fort building, and books. A different room had a place to learn about wind turbines and forces. We really enjoyed all three of those rooms.

Then there was an announcement that the kids could learn about animals and watch the staff clean an animal tank. Clarissa and some other children could get really close to an axolotl. The staff were really great and talked about fresh water vs salt water tanks. They explained adaptations and talked to the kids for about 20 minutes.

The last part of the museum was science experiments. There were three to choose from and you are allowed to do all 3 if you want to. Clarissa chose to do two of them. She learned about acids and bases with putty and also studied some rocks.

In the science experiment room, there are a few more fish tanks. Clarissa enjoyed the seahorses, lobster, and hermit crab. Before we left, a staff member asked Clarissa if she wanted to see some land animals. She invited her to get closer and she was able to see snakes, a lizard, cock roaches, and a scorpion. The staff member was very knowledgeable and answered all of Clarissa’s questions.

After we finished at the science center, we decided to check out the mall. Santa is already there, and while we don’t usually do Santa, they had a really cool display. Clarissa was able to make a badge that allowed her in to elf training. The staff members walked her through and she got to see how tall she is, and dance in a virtual elf costume. She got to press buttons and choose Santa’s route and load the sleigh. There was even snow! Then, her badge let her have a visit with Santa. It’s genius really because the badge puts her name on the screen so that Santa knows her name. Clarissa really enjoyed it.

At the end of our mall visit, we decided on Coldstone for some ice cream before we headed home.

Clarissa’s last adventure as an only child

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The Wednesday before Tiffany’s due date, Clarissa and I went on one last adventure. We were up early to drive Daddy to work so I decided that we should go somewhere before my ob appointment. We decided on Hidden Pond Nature Center in Springfield. It was Clarissa’s favorite so far as she has asked to go back at least 5 times in the past month.

We arrived about the time the visitor center opened at 10. Clarissa was not interested in the animals just yet when she saw the huge playground near the parking lot. She was the oldest kid there since it was a school day but she didn’t mind. She played there for an hour before we headed to the visitor center.

The visitor center was small but nice. There was a restroom, small play area for babies and toddlers, as well as several small reptiles to look at. Clarissa really enjoyed looking at the turtles, snakes, and frogs. Her favorite part was probably touching the snakeskin.

We then headed outside for a nature walk. There were plenty of insects and birds among the plants. The pond was great too with several turtles. Clarissa enjoyed looking out on the pond from the dock. She made up some rather loud songs and even made a new friend.

After the pond, we spent some time on a nature trail with our new friends before heading back to the playground. We finished our adventure at McDonald’s for a happy meal before my last ob appointment.

Huntley Meadows Park

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One of the problems of moving to a new area in the summer, is that sometimes it’s too hot to explore. We had planned to visit Huntley Meadows Park a few times, but never got around to it until the weather started to cool down in September.

The park was really nice. There is a visitor’s center with displays of plants and animals that are in the park. There is a gift shop as well as some classrooms as well. We are going to have to go back another time to check out some of the homeschool classes this fall. The visitor’s center is closed on Tuesdays but there is a portapotty in the parking lot.

We had a great time on the trails. We walked on the boardwalk (dogs and bikes are not allowed on the boardwalk) and then through the woods as well. The whole thing took less than an hour to walk through and it is mostly flat other than the overlook that has steps. It is perfect for families with small children. There is another side to the park with a different entrance that has a trail as well, but we didn’t get over there on this trip.

Clarissa’s birthday museum adventure

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Every time we take Tim to work, we see the Washington Monument in the distance. Clarissa gets really excited and points and shouts, “Look! It’s the tall tower!” When we asked her what she wanted to do for her birthday adventure she said she wanted to see the Dinosaur Museum and the Tall Tower.

Her adventure day was rainy. And we told her that we could go and see the outside of the Tall Tower but the inside would not be open until next month. So she decided that we could skip the Washington Monument this time and go back in the fall so we could see the whole thing.

We started the day by taking the same bus that Tim takes to work every morning. Then we took the metro into Washington DC. Our first stop was the National Air and Space Museum. Clarissa loved it. She thought the space shuttles were amazing and she enjoyed the kid exhibits that taught about friction and flight. She was even able to climb into a cockpit and pretend to fly an airplane. Some of the exhibits in the kid section were out of order and they are renovating the museum right now, so we will probably need to go back again to see everything.

We crossed the National Mall and saw the Capital Building on one side and the Washington Monument on the other, so she did get to see the Tall Tower from a distance.

Next, we headed to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Clarissa was able to see her dinosaurs. But she also really liked both the mammal and bird exhibits to see real animals instead of just bones. She was really excited about the dioramas in the fossil section as well. We didn’t head upstairs to see the bugs because we were getting hungry, so I’m sure we’ll be back.

We went to Hard Rock Cafe for lunch. All three of us enjoy the food there so we knew it would be a good choice.

After lunch, Clarissa asked for one more museum. We decided to the try the International Spy Museum. I’m not going to lie. This museum is pricey. Clarissa was free because she was 6 but the adult prices are over $20, even with a discount. Clarissa loved it, so I guess it was worth it. But Tim and I would have preferred to go by ourselves to really enjoy the experience.

When you go into the museum, the staff hands you a lanyard that you scan into the computer. The computer gives you a secret identity. Then, they usher you into a room to watch a movie about being a spy before releasing you into the general museum. There were a few computers to get clues and work on your mission. However, it was a really crowded, rainy, Friday in the summer, so we couldn’t get near the computers. The exhibits were very informative, but Clarissa blew through them because it required a lot of reading and she just isn’t there yet. So we looked at some pictures and spy stuff, but didn’t really get the full experience.

The next floor wasn’t quite as crowded, so we did a little bit with the computers and reviewed some clues. Clarissa was excited to find her clue and scan her lanyard. The exhibits were very informative and had video as well as text on the walls. I think this museum is geared toward tweens/teens and adults. Clarissa wasn’t afraid of anything at the museum, but I think she would have gotten way more out of it if she was older.

After the third museum, the pregnant lady was pretty tired, so we headed back. We took the metro back to the Pentagon and then the bus back home. On the walk home she said, “This was the best day ever!”

We wanted to watch a spy movie but couldn’t think of one that was really appropriate for Clarissa (other than Bolt which she’s seen a hundred times) so we ended up watching some White Collar. She was really into it after the museum so we’ll have to find a spy movie for her.

A Pennsylvania Adventure

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We decided that it would be easier to visit Pennsylvania before Tiffany was born than to try to come to the big family Thanksgiving meal with a two month old. We knew we wanted to stop somewhere along the way to break up the trip. Tim had not had a meal at Shady Maple since before he went into the Air Force, so we decided to stop there for lunch as our halfway point.

I saw a billboard on the way that said that Shady Maple Smorgasbord was the largest buffet in America. I believe it. The building itself was huge. There was plenty of food. You stand in line and they seat you. The waitress asks if you have eaten there before and explains the four different grill stations as well as the salad, dessert, and drinks. Then you get to go through the line and serve yourself. You leave dirty dishes on the table and get new ones each time you go through the line.

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We all really enjoyed our lunch. Clarissa said we should go back to eat there again. There is a set price for breakfast and lunch. Dinner is a different price each night of the week because there is a different special. Clarissa was half price because she is 5.

There were several other attractions nearby. The Shady Maple also has a Farmer’s Market, a Gift Shop, and a General Store. We went to the gift shop which is located under the Smorgasbord. It was huge! There were so many different items for sale. There was a huge toy section, pop culture pictures (think Beatles and Star Trek), Christmas items, and a large selection of personalized items. As usual, there was nothing that said either Clarissa or Suzanne. But there were several items available for Tim and Tiffany. I couldn’t talk Tim into buying this mug though.

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After lunch we headed to Tim’s parents house. We hung out with them for a bit before we all headed to his aunt’s house for dinner and some pool time. There was also a birthday dessert for Tim and Clarissa.

On Saturday, we went to Knoebels. Most of Tim’s extended family (including himself) have spent many summers working at Knoebels as lifeguards and in food service. So it is kind of like a part of family history to be able to go there. Parking and admission to the park are free. Then, you pay for food, rides, and games. Veterans and active duty service members can get a free book of $20 ride tickets by showing your military ID or DD214.

At first, Clarissa wasn’t super excited about any of the rides. She did some of the games that require quarters like using an excavator or driving a car. She got excited about the trains so we rode the train twice. She was also really excited about the bounce house and the hand cars. The food was good and the prices weren’t awful for an amusement park.

After Knoebels, we took Clarissa to play at Fort Discovery in Sunbury. It was a wonderful playground and she would have stayed all day if we let her. It is located right next to a community center and baseball field, so there are bathrooms and parking available.

Next, we headed to Shikellamy State Park. Tim and I actually got engaged at this park ten years ago. He had originally planned to take me to the overlook to propose, but the road was still closed for the winter so he had to settle for the marina. We went to the overlook for the first time Saturday. The views were beautiful. And you can see the marina from the overlook so that was fun to be able to point out the spot to Clarissa.

On Sunday, we headed home a different way so that we could stop by Clarksburg Premium Outlets near Gaithersburg, MD. I read that there was a STEAM Fair that day so we thought Clarissa would enjoy the festivities. There were a few fun events and the shopping was decent too. We got some decent deals at Motherhood Maternity and Columbia.

Another nature center adventure

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In Korea, if they were going to cut the water off at the apartment for some reason, they might tell you the day before. Or an hour before. Or they may just shut the water off…At our new place, they have shut the water off twice for repairs. But they always give about a week’s notice and say the water will be off from 9-5, when it’s really only off from 9-12.

We needed an adventure day for the planned water outage on Thursday. I planned trips to two different libraries to return and pick up requested books. We had a few errands to run and I had an ob appointment in the afternoon. But we had this glorious three hour window to work with.

Clarissa and I decided to check out Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale. The parking lot is rather small, though there does appear to be some street parking about a half mile down the road. It was also really easy to find in Waze. There is a large brown sign right as you get off the highway as well that points you in the correct direction.

The Nature Center looks like it is in the middle of the woods. There is a butterfly garden sign as you walk to the building. We didn’t see any butterflies though.

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The outside of the building was really cool. It had several different birds and animals and their wingspan. The largest was a  Quatzalcoatalus (a type of dinosaur) and the smallest was a humming bird. Clarissa really enjoyed measuring her arms to see which animals she was bigger than or smaller than.

Inside the Nature Center itself were several small live animals (snakes, frogs, and turtles). There were also several stuffed birds and mammals around the room as well as interactive displays. Clarissa’s favorite was either feeling the mammal fur or the microscope slides of the insect parts. She really did enjoy the entire thing.

I thought this whale vertebrae was pretty cool. Clarissa was amazed that one back bone could be so big.

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After we looked around the Nature Center, Clarissa was able to choose a prize. We had a coupon from completing the summer reading coupon that said you could pick a prize at the nature center. She chose a plastic bug (they also had spider rings and magnifying glasses).

We brought a picnic lunch and went exploring for a place to eat. There was a playground on the property, but it honestly looked pretty old and dirty. There was also a place with benches for a campfire area. We also found picnic benches really close to the Nature Center. But we ended up eating near the pond and play area behind the Nature Center. Clarissa enjoyed climbing on things and looking at the water.

After lunch, Clarissa had a choice between walking on one of the nature trails and playing with the toys inside the Nature Center. She chose the toys. She spent about a half hour playing with costumes and puppets. We also noticed some educational toys at the end with puzzles and stories.

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Clarissa said this Nature Center was better than the other one we went to and says we should come back a lot. I informed her that there are about ten of these within a half hour of our house so we need to check out the other ones before she can really choose a favorite. Hidden Oaks is only about twenty minutes from our house, so I’m sure we’ll be back at some point anyway.

The Nature Center is open from 10-5 during the week (except they are closed on Tuesdays) and from 12-5 on the weekend.

We couldn’t wait until Christmas

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We came to Virginia Beach for a visit Memorial Day weekend. It was nice to travel as a family, especially since Tim had not been to Virginia Beach in four years. We said goodbye and planned to return for Christmas. But after our weekend trip, Clarissa and I still felt like there were other things that we wanted to do before Christmas.

Last week, Clarissa and I took the train from Alexandria to Norfolk to visit my family again. We had a great trip.

On Monday, Grammy, Clarissa, and I went to the Virginia Beach oceanfront. There was a parking lot next to the 31st street garage that charged $10 to park all day and was practically empty when we arrived about 11.

We almost didn’t go because it was so hot outside and I didn’t think that Clarissa would last long. But Clarissa had the time of her life in the water. We taught her how to jump over the waves, though it required some assistance from Mommy or Grammy when we went deeper. But she loved it and never wanted to leave.

On Monday evening, my best friend and my mom threw a baby shower at my parents’ house. It was fun to see some out of town relatives and a few close friends. Clarissa had a great time with one of her best friends as well (a perk to your friends having daughters of similar ages).

Tuesday we got to play some with my niece and then met my friend and her daughter at the Norfolk Botanical Garden. It was super hot and humid outside but we had a wonderful time. We took the tram to the children’s garden and the girls played in the splash pad there. There were bathrooms nearby as well as a yurt that had a changing room.

Once they were sufficiently wet, we explored the different sections of the children’s garden. There were several sections, each with a different continent. Each continent had indigenous plants as well as a scavenger hunt where you could search for 1-3 of the animals listed. There was a paper near the bathroom that explains the scavenger hunt. When you find the animal cut out, you stamp your paper with the stamp provided at each continent. When you finish, there is a tent with a worker who will give you a prize. You get to plant a seed in a biodegradable cup and bring it home to plant at your house. The girls really enjoyed that activity.

There was also an alphabet garden that showed plants that started with different letters. Several had signs that said “please touch” which was a pleasant surprise. Most of them were herbs and plants that smelled good.

We then walked to the butterfly garden and butterfly house. There was also a butterfly maze but it was almost 100 degrees outside so we skipped it.

The butterfly house was not at all what I expected, but it was great. It was not air conditioned as it was pretty open with mesh around it, almost like a green house. There were plants inside as well as caterpillars, butterflies, and a mother/son volunteer team who were wonderful! They helped the girls hold a butterfly and explained things about butterfly life cycles. We learned a lot and really enjoyed it. If you live in Hampton Roads, she recommended a Monarch Butterfly Tag and Release event in September. She said come to the early morning session though because it is very crowded by afternoon.

Tuesday evening two of my aunts came to dinner. We had a great visit with them. Clarissa had a blast learning to play “telephone.”

On Wednesday, Clarissa got to play with the sprinkler and the hose at my parents’ house. She had a great time getting all wet.

Wednesday night, I got to have a dinner date with Shannon at our favorite Mexican restaurant.

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Thursday was more low key. We spent the day with my parents and my niece watching movies and playing games. Thursday night, Pappy got out his guitar and Clarissa got to dance around. So many memories of my childhood were spent dancing around that living room so I am glad Clarissa was able to experience that too.

We took the train home on Friday and had a rather uneventful ride. We made sure not to sit in the quiet car this time so it was more enjoyable.

Taking an Amtrak train

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Since moving to Northern Virginia, we have maintained our one car lifestyle. The big difference is that in South Korea, Tim had the car most of the time to get to work and Clarissa and I took public transportation. Here, Tim takes the bus to work and Clarissa and I keep the car during the day.

Clarissa and I went to Virginia Beach this week to visit my family. We didn’t want Tim to be stranded without a car all week so we took the train. It was pretty easy to go online and book tickets. The train is pretty cheap too. It only cost $138 total round trip for the two of us.

If you are taking the train from Alexandria, there is hardly any parking. There are a few spots you can pay for and two spots for 30 minute parking. The station does have a bathroom but there isn’t a screen to tell you where to go. You can sit inside or outside. A few minutes before the train arrives there will be an announcement on the loudspeaker that tells you the train number and where the train is going.

There are not assigned seats. You simply pay for a reserved seat in either business class or coach. Then when the train comes, you find an open seat and sit there. You are responsible for your luggage. But the conductor did carry mine up the steps for me. There are racks at the front of each car or above your seats to place your luggage or carry on. Once the train starts moving, the conductor will come by and scan your electronic ticket and put a piece of paper above your seat so that they know when you are supposed to get off the train.

Apparently there is something called a quiet car on an Amtrak train. Often it is the train right behind business class but it can be located anywhere on the train. If you choose to sit in the quiet car, you have to be quiet the whole time. No talking on your cell phone and no using electronic devices without headphones. I didn’t see any signs about this when we sat down but we were informed by another passenger that we were sitting in the quiet car and so we had a quieter trip than I anticipated. There are small blue signs on the ceiling as you enter and exit the car but I didn’t see them until later when I was actually looking for them.

There is a cafe car on the train that sells food. You can buy things like personal pan cheese pizza ($7), hotdogs ($3.50), chips ($2.50), candy ($3), and drinks. The prices are not awful but definitely more than you would pay at the grocery store. You are allowed to bring your own food and drink on the train but they cannot refrigerate or heat up food for you that is not bought in the cafe car.

There is also a restroom in each train car. They are a decent size and fairly clean as well. Our train starts in Boston and goes all the way to Norfolk. We got on in Alexandria so someone must clean the train as they go because I thought it was clean for our entire trip.

Not all of the train doors open at each stop. You have to listen to the announcement to figure out which car to go to. There is also an announcement at each stop that will tell you the current stop, the next stop, and how many minutes until you arrive at the next stop.

Will we ride Amtrak again? Absolutely. You can eat, chat, and go to the bathroom whenever you want and it doesn’t add time to your trip. We will just make sure we do not sit in the quiet car. Though I will say that Clarissa did very well. The same passenger that was upset with us in the beginning walked by as he exited the train and said, “Your daughter is very well behaved.”

National Cathedral

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We met up for Thai food with some old friends for lunch. After lunch, we decided to check out the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

We bought Clarissa a camera for her birthday so she was really excited to use it for this trip. She kept saying, “This is so beautiful!” and “I’m so glad I have my own camera so I can take pictures of whatever I want.”

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Tim and I had been to the National Cathedral before, but it was before Clarissa was born. It was also before the earthquake in 2011 so it cost more to get in now and I felt like the atmosphere was completely different. Adults pay $12 and children (ages 5-17) pay $8. Parking was really expensive too, so it would have been better to take the metro.

The cathedral itself is beautiful with the stained glass windows and arched architecture inside. Clarissa kept saying, “Wow!”

There were several different chapels located inside. One of them looked like it was set up for a wedding. There is a lego build right now where you can pay for some lego pieces and help to build a model of the National Cathedral. The proceeds go toward the restoration project from the damage of the 2011 earthquake. The girls thought it was really cool. The volunteer said that when finished it would be the largest amateur build with instructions.

We also walked around outside and saw the gardens. There were bunnies, butterflies, bugs, and fish around as well.

The gift shop was surprising. It already had Christmas trees set up with nativity sets (in July). They were also selling Buddha statues and coexist stickers, which doesn’t make sense to me in a church. It felt more like a museum to me.

It is worth going if you like looking at pretty architecture or are looking for more of an indoor activity to get out of the weather. But it wasn’t a super spiritual experience.

Our first visit to the National Zoo

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In May, the National Zoo had a special on annual memberships. If you bought a membership in May, you would get two free months free so your membership would go until July 31, 2020 instead of May 31. Admission to the National Zoo is free, so at first I questioned why a family would need to pay for a membership.

Then I read about the zoo. The zoo is located between two metro stops. But each metro stop is about a half mile walk uphill to the zoo, where you will do a lot of walking anyway. There is parking at the zoo but it costs $25 for the day. So if you leave in the DC metro area and plan to go to the zoo at least three times in the calendar year, you break even with parking alone in addition to the discounts you receive for food and gift shops inside the zoo.

Clarissa loves animals. If you meet her in person she will tell you, “I love all animals, ocean animals, and bugs infinity.” The zoo is about twenty minutes from our house so I figure, even with baby Tiffany coming, we’ll go to the zoo at least three times this year. Today was our first trip to the National Zoo.

I had read that although there are five different parking lots for the zoo, and they fill up by  10 AM, so you want to get to the zoo early. We arrived about 8:45 since it is a holiday weekend and we thought it would be crowded. The parking lot was pretty empty at that time. We parked in lot D so we were walking up hill in the morning and walking downhill at the end when we were tired.

The website says that the zoo grounds open at 8 AM and the exhibits open at 9 AM. We arrived about 8:45 so by the time we walked into the zoo and went to the bathroom it was almost 9:00. There was a worker at the entrance selling memberships and giving kids dinosaur hats. The barn animals are at that entrance as well as a bumble bee playground so there is plenty to see right there. You are allowed to touch the cows, donkeys, alpacas, and goats, but they weren’t close enough to reach on our visit. Clarissa still enjoyed seeing them.

The first building we passed was Amazonia. It was a few minutes after 9, but that building didn’t open until 10, so we kept going. We walked through the American animals and got to see sea lions, a grey wolf, and an American otter. We even got to watch them feed and talk about a harp seal.

When we got to the top of the hill, the elephants were not outside so we kept walking. At the top of another hill we saw the Elephant Community Center and went inside. We finally got to see elephants and learn some things with the interactive exhibits.

At that point, we had been outside less than an hour but had been walking up hill on a very humid day with no breeze. Clarissa was asking to go to the gift shop (she earned a treat this week) and go home. We walked to the visitor center after 10 AM only to discover that the gift shops don’t open until 11.

We walked down the hill and stopped by the small mammal house to see the Fennec Fox she was so excited about. We all really enjoyed the animals and that the building was air conditoned. I convinced Clarissa to walk by the pandas and cheetahs since it was on the way back to the car. But neither one was outside because it was too hot out. We did however find all six of the animatronic dinosaurs, so she was excited about that.

We left by 10:30 and the parking lot was almost full so I do recommend arriving early if you are planning to park. But if you want to buy anything at the gift shop, you need to stay past 11.

While the National Zoo is a great zoo, we will do things differently on our next visit in order to enjoy it better. First of all, we will wait until the fall when kids are back in school. Then it won’t be as crowded and we can probably arrive closer to 10 AM. All of the buildings and gift shops will be open if we come a little later. The lower temperatures will also mean that most of the animals should be outside so that we can actually see them.

After the zoo, we headed to Doodlehopper 4 Kids in Falls Church for Clarissa to pick out her stuffed animal. I didn’t take pictures since we were just in there for a stuffed animal. But I will say that it looks like a great toy store. There were plenty of stuffed animals, puppets, educational toys, books, and costumes. I know we will be back.

Then we headed to lunch in Fairfax at a place called Masala Wok, which was recommended by one of Tim’s friends from work. There are Indian dishes as well as other Asian noodle and rice dishes. Tim and I really enjoyed our food. Clarissa just ordered naan, but was quite content with hers as well. We even got to watch part of one of the Cricket World Series games. I don’t think I have ever watched cricket before. It was interesting.

Happy Third Trimester to me!

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Today marks the beginning of the third trimester in Tiffany’s pregnancy. In some ways, I am so ready to meet her. And in other ways, I am glad she has a few months before she joins us. I think I would feel more ready if our furniture from Korea was in our current house. Soon enough. With about twelve weeks to go, the house will be ready in plenty of time for her arrival.

At Clarissa’s twenty week ultrasound, they had a few concerns. There was a small hole in her heart and she had a “bright bowel.” They had concerns about things like Down Syndrome and Cystic Fibrosis. This was terrifying for a first time mom, but the blessing in it was that they sent me to EVMS (the local medical school) for further testing and ultrasounds. I got to see extra clear pictures of Clarissa at 22 weeks and 28 weeks and then another set at 35 weeks. By 22 weeks, the heart in her heart had closed and by 28 weeks her bowels were fine. She just wasn’t “ready” at the earlier ultrasound times.

With Tiffany, the ultrasound schedule has been completely different. While we were in Korea, they did an ultrasound at every appointment. We have been looking at things like her brain, spine, and liver since the beginning. We left Korea at about 20 weeks so they didn’t get to my anatomy scan before we left. My only ultrasound at my American doctor was at 24 weeks and I had to ask for that since I missed the 20 week anatomy scan that most people get. Her ultrasound showed that everything was fine, so that was the only ultrasound my ob plans to do this pregnancy.

On the one hand, I was glad for this. Tiffany is healthy. There are no concerns. On the other hand, I was sad. I got to see clear pictures of Clarissa’s face all the time. And we still had not really seen a great picture of Tiffany’s face. We decided that we would go to a special place that specializes in 4d elective ultrasounds. We went to InfantSeeHD in Fairfax.

Maria, our ultrasound tech was wonderful! She was super excited to see our baby. She had me move around in different positions so that we could see more. Tiffany had one of her feet in her face pretty much the entire time, but Maria was able to move around so that we could see her whole face anyway. She also said that Tiffany already has a full head of hair. We also got to watch Tiffany practice sucking on the placenta.

I’m not going to lie. There was a little bit of sticker shock when we saw the price for the ultrasound packages. Because there were concerns with Clarissa, insurance paid for all of her extra ultrasounds so I had no concept about how much these things normally cost. But we did get a full video recording of the thirty minute session and 84 still images on a jump drive.

Then, I wanted to celebrate. So we decided to check out Happy Tart, a gluten free bakery, in Falls Church. We parked in the garage for Pearson Square and it was really easy to find. The prices were reasonable for gluten free treats. Cookies and macaroons were $1.75. Cupcakes were $4.50 each. They also had bags of English muffins and drinks for sale. Clarissa loved her cookie. Tim and I thought the cupcakes were delicious. We will definitely be back!

Then we finished our evening with dinner in Shirlington. Since it was my choice, I chose Guapo’s for a Mexican dinner. I pretty much always love my Mexican food. The impressive part was that Tim enjoyed his dinner too.

Settling in to life in America (reverse culture shock)

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In some ways, life in America is like our life in South Korea. Tim goes to work during the day. Clarissa and I are home with Mittens. Homeschool is back in session. We think we found a church to attend. Tim’s days off are for exploring. We are still a one car family.

But in some ways, life is very different. Sometimes I think the transition from America to Korea was easier than the transition from Korea to America. I wonder if it’s because of the differences or if it’s because we were looking forward to moving to Korea for so long that it made things easier?

Before moving to Alexandria, I had only ever lived in Hampton Roads or South Korea. In Korea, most families are only there one to three years. So everyone is either new, or remembers what it is like to be new and attempts to help new people. We don’t live near military housing here, so there isn’t an influx of new people all the time that need to get plugged in (at least not the way it was in Korea). So when Clarissa and I go to a new place, people don’t seem eager to include us or invite us in to their group. The exception to this being our wonderful neighbors.

I consider Hampton Roads to be pretty conservative socially. It wasn’t quite southern with the large military population, but there were definitely likeminded people around. Before we left, the LGBT stuff wasn’t a big thing. Gay marriage wasn’t legal in most states before we left. Four years later, and in Northern Virginia, it is definitely more liberal. (Granted we arrived right at the beginning of Pride Month, so this may not be how things normally are?) But, Clarissa and I have had some interesting conversations about cashiers and why they are dressed like a girl but definitely look like a man or why we see men kissing each other at a restaurant.

I think it was also pretty common in Hampton Roads for moms to stay home with their kids, especially when they are younger. There were working moms too. My mom worked weekends when I was a kid. In my neighborhood, it seems pretty common for both parents to work though. When Clarissa and I go to the park, most of the kids her age have nannies from foreign countries. Or the moms that are there all have kids in private school uniforms and are hanging out together. I am having a hard time finding stay at home moms here. I am sure they exist. I just haven’t found them yet. When I looked online, it says that there were 91 elementary school aged kids in Alexandria who are homeschooled this school year. So these families do exist, but they aren’t a large percentage of the population.

The other thing that I am getting used to is having a car. We had one car in Korea, but Tim had it most of the time because he was working. Now when Clarissa asks if we can go somewhere that requires driving, it takes me a minute to remember that I am the one with the car and we don’t have to wait for Daddy to get home or for the weekend to go to the park or the library. It is also weird to be able to get the errands done during the week so that we can actually do fun things on the weekend.

The supply situation in South Korea was interesting on base. Many items from the commissary or PX came by boat, so if something was out, it might take a month to get it in. Then if there was an embargo on something, like poultry, you just had to go off base for the Korean version because the commissary just wan’t going to carry it. Amazon was the fastest way to ship things and it was great to get your item in a week, if you found a seller who would ship to an APO address. Here, I can go to multiple locations of the same store if I want to. But so far, most of the items that I want are in stock the day that I go shopping. Amazon is so fast. When we left, prime was definitely 2-3 days. But most things, if we order before midnight, will be delivered to our house the next day.

We have a great library system here. Because of our location, we are actually eligible for the library in a few different cities. In Korea, the army libraries were all connected on the same system, so I could request up to 5 books at a time from a different library. But because they were all in different cities on the peninsula, it might take 3-4 weeks to get the book I want. Here, the books are all located in the same city, so I can request multiple books from a different library, and it will be at the library that I want to pick it up in a day or two. We are also allowed to request like 20 books at a time!

The air quality here is amazing. In Korea, the air quality continually got worse while we were there. I don’t remember it being as much of a problem when we lived in Daegu. But in Pyeongtaek, especially the last year that we were there, the air quality was a problem. It would be  over 200 for weeks straight (healthy is 0-50). We often had to wear a mask outside so that we wouldn’t get a headache or sore throat from the air. I think in the five weeks we have been in Virginia, the air quality has only been over 50 once and it was 68 that day. The air quality this morning was 4.

Clarissa’s personality has been a little more outgoing here than in South Korea. She said to me the other day, “I can be more chatty here because everyone speaks American!” She has no problem walking up to a kid on the playground and asking if they want to play with her. At lunch the other day, she even asked if we could sit with a little girl and her mom because they were about the same age. She never would have done that in Korea, even on base. She still doesn’t like big groups of people though. The first playground we went to, I thought looked really cool, but there were a ton of kids there and she asked to leave about ten minutes later in favor of a less crowded playground.

I’m not that in to beaches…

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Clarissa and I had not been to Virginia Beach in two years. Tim had not been back since we moved to Korea four years ago so we decided that we would all visit for Memorial Day weekend.

My goals for the weekend were pretty simple. I wanted to see my family, my best friend, and my dog. Tim wanted to visit some of his favorite restaurants. Clarissa was just along for the ride.

We drove down on Saturday morning and made decent time. We got to see my parents, as well as my sister and her family. I was able to hold my 8 month old niece for the first time. We were having so much fun that Clarissa didn’t want to leave to see Josie (the dog we rehomed before we moved to Korea).

Tim did get to have dinner at his favorite Japanese restaurant. While it was fine, it wasn’t the amazing quality that we expected.

After Clarissa went to bed, Tim and I tried to decide what to do on Sunday morning. We originally thought we would go to the beach, but forgot that the water was only 60 degrees this time of year. So we came up with a few options. When Clarissa woke up in the morning, I asked her what she wanted to do.

“What do you want to do today Clarissa?”
“I don’t know”
“We could go to the beach”
“Ya let’s go to the beach!”
“Or there is a petting zoo”
“I’m not that into beaches…”

So we opted to go to Hunt Club Farm. We had a great time and the price was great. Entry was $6 per person but they had a buy one get one free deal for the holiday weekend. You could buy animal feed for $5, bird feed for $1 (but we had a coupon for free bird food), and pony rides were $5.

 

They also had special deals where you could buy a season pass to come all summer to the petting farm. If we still lived in Hampton Roads, we totally would buy the season passes. Though I will tell you that it is better to put the animal feed in your hand instead of just holding out the cup of feed to the animals. The llama totally stole the cup out of my hand, ate the rest of the food, and tossed my cup. The worker said that sometimes they have signs up, but the llama takes them down. Apparently, “he is 15 years old so it is too late to change his bad habits.”

Hunt Club Farm also has a country store. You can buy ice cream, cold drinks, homemade preserves, stuffed animals, and plants, among other things. Clarissa talked us into buying her a stuffed chicken because “I don’t have a chicken yet!” I am excited to try the pumpkin butter and strawberry preserves as well. The ice cream was also delicious. Though Clarissa was adamant that she wanted cheetos instead.

We stopped by Josie’s house on the way back to Grammy and Pappy’s. Josie is 9 years old now so she has mellowed a bit. But she is still a wonderful, playful dog. Clarissa had a great time playing with Josie and the hose.

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We had more playtime with my parents and then had dinner with my sister and her family at Tim’s favorite Thai restaurant. The menu changed so his favorite meal that he has been looking forward to for four years wasn’t available anymore. Again, the food was fine, but not what we were expecting.

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I finished the evening with a visit from my best friend. And then we went back to our hotel. We left early Monday morning and definitely beat the traffic. It took less than 3 hours!

Ah life with a car

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When we moved to South Korea in 2015, we didn’t bring a car with us at all. My 14 year old car got totaled the day we got the official offer. And Tim’s car had recalls on it like every other month. So we ditched the cars and thought we would do public transportation in Korea. And we did, for the first year.

There is a one car rule in South Korea for Americans. In Daegu, it is pretty easy to get a second car approved if you live off post. At Camp Humphreys, it was harder. So while we bought a car in January 2016, Tim had it most of the time because he was working. I could use it after work or on weekends. But for play dates and events during the week, Clarissa and I either got a ride from a friend or took the bus somewhere. It wasn’t a big deal in Daegu because there were like 1,000 different busses and a subway system. Plus all of our friends had two cars. Pyeongtaek was harder because the one bus only went one way to AK Plaza and most of my friends were stranded without a car during the day as well.

During our time in Pyeongtaek, Clarissa would always say things like “I can’t wait until we move to America because we will have two vehicles!” So when we found out we were moving to Washington DC area I had to disappoint Clarissa and tell her that we would still be a one car family. However, she is happy about it because instead of Daddy taking the car to work and us taking the bus everywhere, Tim takes the bus to work and we get to keep the car for the day. I forgot how nice it is to have a car and be able to run errands during the week or just to be able to go on a random adventure because we feel like it.

So on Wednesday, Clarissa and I went on an adventure. We decided to check out Jerome “Buddie” Ford Nature Center in Alexandria. It was an easy ten minute drive from our house. At first I thought I missed it because it is attached to an elementary school building. We really enjoyed it and plan to go back!

There are several small animals in tanks and aquariums inside. Clarissa got to see snakes, lizards, bugs, turtles, and birds. There were also cool things to look at under a microscope and a different magnifier. We saw most of those things in about twenty minutes.

Then, Clarissa went to the play area. There is a puppet stage, puppets, stuffed animals, plastic toys, and plenty of books to read. We stayed there for almost an hour. Clarissa would have stayed longer if I let her.

Next to the Nature Center is an entrance to Dora Kelley Nature Park. From the parking lot, take some stairs through the trees down to a paved path by a small river. Clarissa kept saying, “Are we in the woods?” We could hear animals and bugs but didn’t see many in person. Clarissa really enjoyed walking around and “being in nature.” There were a few different paths that you could take and there are multiple entrances so if you go to the right one and stay on the paved path, it would actually be stroller friendly. The entrance we went to is not because there were at least 25 tall steps to go down to get to the path.

On our way home we stopped by the shopping center near our new house to check it out. We had lunch at Duck Donuts which was new to us. And then we found some fun things at Michaels to work on until the rest of our stuff comes. There is even a small kid store called Robcyns that has clothes, educational toys, and books. Clarissa has been asking for a stuffed snake for about a month and we finally found one here! We also checked out Fresh Market for the first time which reminds me of a smaller version of Whole Foods.

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Pennsylvania visit

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Apparently I acquired many things in Virginia because when I tried to check in my suitcase, it was 20 pounds over the weight limit. Oops. Mom is going to mail some to me instead. 

Clarissa did well on the flight to Philadelphia. She was again disappointed at the lack of TV. But I gave her a new activity book so she was fine. 

After the flight, a lady stopped me to ask how old Clarissa was and then asked me how to keep a toddler happy on a long flight. I wrote a post on that once so I need to go back and update it. 

On Wednesday, Clarissa, Omi, and I went to the Bloomsburg Children’s Museum. It only cost $6.50 per person for admission and it was excellent. We stayed two hours, but we would have stayed longer if it wasn’t closing time. 

There were two floors of interactive exhibits. The top floor was more geared toward preschool and lower elementary aged kids. There were life size dioramas of animals that live in Pennsylvania. There were even models of the animal homes. Some animals had crafts as well.  They had several matching games, a huge bird’s nest with bird costumes to wear, an Eastern Woodlands Indian longhouse, live turtles, giant teeth, cars with a race track, a boat, and a play house. 

The bottom floor was geared toward elementary and middle school kids. They had some dress up clothes, food pyramid activities, ancient Egypt, a one room school house, a coal mine, and dinosaurs. 

On Thursday we had lunch at the park where Tim and I were engaged. We didn’t get all the way to the marina because Clarissa was distracted by the playground. 

We went to the thrift store in the afternoon to get Clarissa some snow boots and snow pants. I was excited because we found both as well as black boots, brown boots, and some skirts for me. On the way home we spent some time with uncle Matt and aunt Anne. 

On Friday, we woke up to snow. Clarissa was so excited that she really wouldn’t eat her breakfast. Once outside, we tried to make a snowman and taught Clarissa how to have a snowball fight. 

We even went sledding which I had never done before. 

It was fun to walk around the yard and see how different things look in the snow. 

We spent the evening at Aunt Anne’s for a family dinner and a play date with her granddaughters. When it was time to say goodbye Clarissa went from “but I like it here” to “I want to go back to my homeland for Daddy to hold me for real (instead of Skype).” 

Saturday was one of my favorite days. Omi put in an old Sunday school music cassette tape and Clarissa loved it! She spent at least an hour dancing around the room. Then she spent a few hours playing Legos with Pop before making some jewelry with Omi. 

After dinner we went to Aunt Anne’s for a Jordan Essentials party and a play date for Clarissa. 

Sunday morning, Omi opened her birthday presents. Then we headed south to meet Tim’s kindergarten teacher who always sends Clarissa presents for holidays. We headed to Philadelphia to meet up with some other aunts and uncles before we headed to the airport. 

When we moved to Korea, we flew through JFK and had to change terminals and go through security again. I assumed it was because we switched airlines… We had to do that again this round. I was so glad we had a long layover because the trek between terminals and security took over two hours. 

We were able to Skype Tim before our flight. The flight wasn’t full so they changed our seats to give us our own row of 4. Clarissa fell asleep within 20 minutes and slept about 8 hours. Due to the increased space, I actually slept 4 hours on the plane, which never happens. 

We are on our train to Daegu now. Clarissa and I are so excited to see Tim. 

Visiting the homeland 

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Last summer, Tim and I were watching DVDs from Devoted and I knew that I wanted to come home and go to the conference in person for 2017. Two years is a long time to keep Clarissa away from the grandparents anyway.

The obstacle was paying for the flights. But I got around that by signing up for two airline credit cards. The sign on bonuses gave us enough points to pay for my and Clarissa’s flights. While we definitely saved money this way, I don’t necessarily recommend this method. The flight times were not what I would have chosen.

We took the train from Daegu to Incheon Airport in Seoul. Thankfully we made a new friend on the train which made getting on and off the train with a stroller, suitcase, and 3 year old so much easier. Plus we had a friend to eat dinner with at the airport. They had a cool play area to teach about an emergency water landing.

We had an overnight layover in Dallas so we booked a hotel. Jet lag is always interesting and Clarissa slept about 6 hours on the flight so we only slept from about 9pm – 1245 am.

We had chickfila at the Dallas airport and then flew to Philadelphia. Clarissa was disappointed that there wasn’t a TV on the plane but she did very well.

She fell asleep on the next flight before we got to the runway. We were second in line to take off when they closed the Philadelphia airport. I was glad that Clarissa slept because the plane shook a lot during the storm. I think she would have been scared. Plus it was fun to have her snuggle/sleep on me. She is so tall now that she doesn’t really fit easily anymore.

By the time we arrived in Norfolk, she had been asleep 5.5 hours so she was ready to play. That made for some fun playtime with Grammy and Pappy before bed. She eventually kicked me out of the bed at 4am because she wanted Grammy instead.

Sunday was fun. My sister and her husband came over to celebrate my dad’s birthday. Clarissa was so tired that she fell asleep sitting up while playing behind the couch at 4pm and slept until 6am the next morning.

On Monday we headed to the Virginia Aquarium. It was pretty cool in that most of the plant and animal life is indigenous to Virginia. There are two buildings with a pretty cool nature walk in between. Clarissa loved it. Then we checked some things off my bucket list with trips to the Full Cup, chickfila, and Target. Clarissa tried to play in a fountain outside and was very confused when we explained that in America, you are not allowed to play in fountains like in Korea.

On Tuesday, we headed to the Virginia Zoo. Apparently there is a storytime every Tuesday at 11am called Zoo Tales. It was pretty cool. They read two books and Clarissa was able to touch a leopard gecko. I think if we still lived in Norfolk, we would attend regularly.

After the zoo, we went to the Book Exchange for some free books and then headed back to my parents’ house to see my two aunts that came to town. Clarissa took a little nap so she lasted until 5pm that day.

Wednesday one of my girlfriends drove up from Raleigh. We went to Mt Trashmore for a walk and then had a girls group reunion with some other friends at Plaza Azteca and Starbucks. I randomly ran into one of my Kentucky girls and then had dinner with another family from KPC.

By Thursday Clarissa started asking when we would return to her homeland (Korea) to see Daddy for real (instead of Skype). She asked that question every day for the rest of the trip.

On Thursday morning, we had a visit from another friend before we went swimming with Pappy. Clarissa really enjoyed the pool. Bow Creek Rec Center has a great kiddy pool with fountains and floats. It is also wheelchair accessible. You can pay for a day pass if you are not a member of the rec center.

Thursday night was the first time I drove this trip. It took me a few minutes to realize that I was not in Korea and therefore reasonably safe while driving before I enjoyed driving by myself while listening to the radio. I really enjoyed hearing Darlene Zschech speak for the first night of Devoted.

Friday was a full day of the the conference. As always worship was amazing and the teaching was great. In person is way better than just watching on DVDs.

During the break on Friday afternoon, I came home to see my brother in law’s sister and meet her baby. Clarissa had a great time playing with her.

Friday Clarissa also had a party with my parents. We have been in Korea for her last two birthdays so they wanted to have a Clarissa celebration.

Saturday was the last day of Devoted and I was able to visit Josie during the break. I think she remembered me and she let me sit next to her and pet her.

Saturday night we visited with an aunt and uncle that had come to see us. We also watched Hidden Figures which was an excellent movie.

Sunday morning we went to church with my parents. Clarissa looked sad during worship and when I asked her about it she said, “I want to dance.” She danced for a few songs before she got tired and fell asleep.

Then we had lunch with my family. Mom and I watched the latest Anne of Green Gables movie. It had different actors so we didn’t like it as much.

On Monday, Clarissa was invited to try a gymnastics class at the Little Gym. She absolutely loved it. She did a decent job of following directions too. The parents were even invited to participate in the last ten minutes of the class.

After class we headed to Norfolk to have lunch with Joe’s mom and grandma. Then I had a fun visit with another of my Kentucky girls and had dinner at Bangkok Garden with Shannon.

Tuesday morning we started the trek to see Tim’s parents in Pennsylvania.

Pearl Harbor and the trek home

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Friday morning,  Clarissa and I headed to Pearl Harbor.  Parking was free but packed, so we ended up parking at the marina instead.  I read that strollers weren’t allowed in most areas,  so Clarissa had to walk I carried Clarissa most of the day.  Halfway through the parking lots there was a sign that said no bags or purses so we had to bring our diaper bag back to the car.

I saw plenty of strollers in the parts we visited (the free parts) so I could have brought the stroller. Oh well. Clarissa likes to cuddle anyway. I thought the memorials, models, and exhibits were interesting. Clarissa especially enjoyed the torpedoes, big guns, submarine, and the models of boats and planes in the museum.

Next, we headed to Ford Island to check out the Pacific Aviation Museum. You need a military ID to enter the museum because Ford Island is an active Navy base. You can take a guided tour of the museum but it’s cheaper to just walk through yourself. Clarissa and I both enjoyed walking through two different hangars and observing all of the different kinds of planes. She seemed especially interested in the model of the Battle of Midway. I thought it was interesting to see the differences in the planes over time as well as from different countries.

Clarissa was disappointed that she was not allowed to climb into the cockpit of each plane. There was also a flight simulator, but she was too young for that. I learned that George H W Bush was the youngest naval pilot during World War 2.

We had another play date with our friends before heading back to the hotel. Once Tim finished work we headed back to the mall for Teppanyaki. The food was good but very expensive. The service wasn’t great. We opted to skip the fireworks at the hotel and instead visit Best Buy and Whole Foods on our last night in Hawaii.

I think that if we were living the United States right now, the trip would have looked a little different because we wouldn’t have spent as much time shopping. Two years in Korea leaves us with a list of things we miss being able to buy. This trip was also different than we expected because of the hours Tim had to work. Usually, he has more free time to explore. If we had known his work schedule ahead of time, we probably would have added a day or two to the trip. I am also really pleased with our decision to get a rental car this trip instead of relying on public transportation like we usually do. Clarissa and I would have had a completely different experience if we had to rely on the bus system. Though we would have only put my name on the rental car. Tim didn’t drive much and we paid a lot more for the second person.

Saturday was another long travel day. We lost a day because of the International Date Line and came home late Sunday night. Also, for some reason the flight from Honolulu to  Japan was three hours longer (planned) on the way back. It was a much bumpier ride so it must have something to do with the wind currents.

Honolulu Airport had a really friendly staff. The prices at the airport were more expensive than anywhere else I have seen. We played at a new play area at Narita Airport in Japan. Clarissa really enjoys the play areas at that airport.

We decided that we would leave our heavy winter coats in the car and just bring sweatshirts on the journey because we didn’t want to have to carry them to Hawaii. We were hot most of the way to Hawaii so we left our sweatshirts in our checked bags for the flights home. We landed in Daegu at about 9pm and it was about 27 degrees outside. They parked the plane far away and we had to wait outside for a bus to take us to the terminal. Thankfully, we gate checked the stroller this round so Clarissa could sleep in the stroller instead of having to carry her through immigration and customs. We ran to the car since we were so cold. Parking was ridiculously expensive. We had to park in the International Lot instead of long term parking, so it might be cheaper that way. Next time, I think we will have a friend bring us to the bus station. That way we can pay $10 per person for the bus instead of the 115,000 won ($97) we paid for airport parking.

A Terrific Thursday in Waikiki 

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For the first time ever,  Clarissa wanted to wear panties to leave the house.  That made me a little nervous since she has definitely been in a diaper the whole week. 

We met up with a friend that I used to dance with at church.  We are both moms now and were excited to meet each other’s daughters. 

As we were driving to meet them,  Clarissa said,  “We are going to z-zero-zero. That spells zoo.”  We spent the rest of the drive discussing the difference between the letter o and the number zero. 

We went to the Honolulu Zoo.  There are kiosks to pre – pay for parking.  It only costs $1 per hour,  but it is best to overpay.  They will ticket you for being late. Admission to the zoo is reasonable as well. Military adults pay $4,  children are $4.

It is a decent size zoo. Clarissa didn’t want me to bring the stroller.  I was thankful when I saw that my friend brought her wagon for the girls. 

There was a neat display with two volunteers who were explaining about different animal skulls.  Apparently an elephant gets a new set of teeth four times in his life.  The last set has teeth the size and weight of a brick!  The giraffe mouth was interesting too because they have a front set of teeth and a back set.  

There were several different sections of the zoo.  One section had African animals.  There was a bird sanctuary.  The playground was really nice.  There was also a small petting zoo.  

 We had fun swinging on the banyan trees before we left.  We hung out at the car a bit too so that we could keep playing but not get a ticket for being over our time. It was so hard to say goodbye. While we were waiting,  Clarissa decided that she needed to drive the car and climbed over the back seat and front seat to buckle herself in! 

After we got back to the hotel,  Clarissa and I headed to the beach.  Along the way,  Clarissa started picking up leaves.  She did not want anyone to step on them. 

She picked up a few shells in the sand.  Then I explained the rules for swimming at the beach.  She started walking to the water and freaked out when the tide came in so we went to the pool instead. 

Tim got off on time today so that we could go to the Hale Koa Luau. It was such a cool experience.  There was like a happy hour first where they also had some experiences.  There was a guy talking about climbing coconut trees,  someone giving ukulele lessons,  and you could make a flower bracelet as well. 

Then,  we were ushered to our seats for dinner.  It was delicious.  I tried the traditional poi.  It tasted kind of sour.  

The entertainment portion was excellent.  The cast did dances from several islands including Hawaii,  Tahiti,  Samoa,  and New Zealand.  There was also a fire dancer. 

I appreciated that they took the time at the end to honor veterans in the audience for each war and also each branch of service.  The finale was special as the host asked anyone who had lost a friend in battle to stand and hold a candle as he sang “I am proud to be an American.” I highly recommend the luau. 

Pineapple and the beach 

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Today was the earliest Clarissa woke up on her own,  at 10:30. We headed to the Dole Plantation.  It was about a 45 minute drive and I can only listen to “Elsa music”  for so long.  But I had some great realizations during my drive. 

 I was thankful that we listened to advice from several friends and rented a car.  It made my life so much easier to just put Clarissa in her carseat and let waze direct us than to wait for a bus and try to navigate an island that I know very little about.  Also,  I think that by the end of the week,  I will have driven more in Hawaii than in the last two years in Korea.  I also think it’s special that we are staying in Waikiki.  My grandparents met in Hawaii and actually honeymooned in Waikiki so this place is part of my history.  Though I know it looked radically different in the 1940s! 

Then drive was pretty.  I didn’t take pictures obviously since I was the one driving.  We passed several military bases.  I didn’t realize that there were so many here.  At one point the sky was so dark,  I thought for sure it would storm but it didn’t. 

The parking lot was only half full. There is a massive gift shop the size of a department store.  There are ladies that tell you to choose a piece of paper to see if you win a pearl and give you a coupon.  Clarissa enjoyed picking the papers but I didn’t buy any jewelry. 

The Dole Plantation has three paid attractions.  The pineapple express is a 22 minute narrated train ride around the plantation.  You get to see where they harvest all of their crops and listen to some Hawaiian music along the way.  

Each pineapple plant is used to harvest three different pineapples over about 45 months.  

I did not realize that Dole had such a variety of foods.  They grow pineapple,  bananas,  cacoa,  coffee,  sugar cane, coconut,  and macadamia nuts on this plantation. 

After our train ride we walked down a path to get to the Botanical Garden there.  Along the way we paid for bird seed and fed the birds.  Clarissa was also very excited about a rooster and his “girlfriend.” I was interested in how far we were from other places.  It was almost the same distance to Seoul as it was to New York City.  We really are about halfway home this week. 

The Botanical Garden was beautiful.  It was paved so it was stroller friendly.  It wasn’t huge but Clarissa and I enjoyed it.  There is a mound on one side where you can see some harvesting machines and a mountain in the distance.  Clarissa had fun exploring.  It was hard to convince her to leave. 

They also claim to have the world’s largest Maze.  Clarissa wasn’t interested so we skipped it.  You can pay for each attraction individually or pay for a combination of the things you want to do.  You can do all three for less than $20.

We headed to the gift shop to try the pineapple whip. There was some sticker shock at first because the smallest one was $5.50 plus tax.  But it was a very large serving and we both enjoyed it.  They sold more substantial food as well. 

We walked through the gift shop for about 20 minutes because there was so much to see.  We ended up with two more souvenir pennies.  There was a kiosk where a man would tell you how to say your name in Hawaiian and what it meant.  He also sold leather bracelets that could be engraved with your name.  Clarissa got her English name in pink and I got mine in green. 

We had planned a palace and a museum as well this afternoon but traffic was bad and Clarissa was tired so we just came back to the hotel.  

The original plan was to have dinner with Tim’s work friends and it was already 4:00 so my goal was to avoid the pool.  We did some reading and coloring so it worked for about an hour.  Then I convinced her that the playground was an acceptable substitute. 

But then the sun started setting over the beach and it was beautiful so I needed to get closer to take pictures… Clarissa had a great time playing in the sand and the water.  She was so much messier than if I had just taken her to the pool.  

Some teenage girls walked by and they thought that Clarissa was adorable and offered to take our picture.  Then I had to convince Clarissa that it was time to go.  We did shower off on the way so it didn’t take as long to clean her up as I thought. I think she will request the beach over the pool tomorrow. 

Dinner with friends was rescheduled for Friday and we decided to eat at one of the hotel restaurants.  We ended up at Bibas for some Italian food.  I had my first adult beverage in a restaurant since Clarissa was born.  It was called a rainbow.  It was pretty and actually tasted good too. 

Fun day with friends 

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Two of my church friends from Virginia Beach currently live in Hawaii. We got to have a play date with one of them this morning at the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center

There are several awesome exhibits on two floors.  The first floor has real life things for kids to play with.  You can dress up on stage,  run the spotlight for the stage,  be a news person,  or a camera person.  There is also a restaurant to make food,  a bank,  fire station,  recycling center,  a construction area, and auto shop.  One room is even set up with body parts.  For example you can go inside a giant mouth and brush teeth or walk through a stomach. 

The second floor has rooms for several different countries.  You can play dress up and see what kind of food they eat or what the houses look like.  They have India,  Portugal,  Philippines,  China,  Japan,  and Korea,  as well as Hawaii.  There are books in each room so Clarissa wanted to read.  The cool thing was that the book in Hawaii was about a monk seal and we watched a training session with a monk seal yesterday at the aquarium. 

I definitely recommend the museum.  With my military discount it was $10 each (normally 12). The kids played well together.  Clarissa tried to get in their van when it was time to leave.  It was so good for my heart to see someone from home and just catch up. 

On the way home Clarissa and I went to the US Army History Museum Hawaii.  Any history buff will love it.  There was a section about how Hawaiians helped in each of the wars in the 20th century.  There were rooms about weapons and people.  One room was about World War 1, another about World War 2,  the Korean War, and  Vietnam.  I don’t remember if they talked about the Gulf Wars. 

There is a wonderful gift shop.  I was able to find some neat things for the veterans in my life.  

After the museum,  we made some more friends at the pool.  When Tim got back,  we headed to the mall for dinner.  We ate at Islands Fine Burgers and Fries.  The food was great.  I was so hungry that I forgot to take pictures… 

Change of plans 

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Tim had to leave for work at 630 this morning.  Meanwhile,  at 11 I tried to wake Clarissa up.  I said,  “Don’t you want to ride the pineapple train today?”  She said,  “Yes but I want to sleep a little bit longer,” rolled over,  and went back to sleep.  Jetlag always hits her the hardest.  Going to bed at midnight didn’t help,  I am sure.  

The Dole Pineapple Plantation is the farthest thing I am planning to do without Tim,  so we need to leave earlier in the day.  I decided to catch up on some reading and let Clarissa sleep so we can have a fun time with friends tomorrow. 

She did finally wake up about noon.  We spent some time playing with her new Hawaii Legos and then she said she had to bring her Gigi books to read to the fish at the aquarium. 

We drove to the Waikiki Aquarium and found a space in the very small lot.  The aquarium was small but fun.  With my military ID admission was only $8 (normally 12)  and Clarissa was free.  There were several small tanks and one large one.  

Yesterday’s submarine ride saw several of the same fish,  but due to the water depth,  we didn’t see the colors.  It was nice to see the colorful fish and coral today.  I also really liked that each tank had a small platform for kids to stand on to see better. 

Outside was a volunteer with sea urchins and hermit crabs you could learn about and touch.  Also,  there was a sea lion. Clarissa was very excited to make a souvioneer coin.  For 51 cents you could squish a penny.  There were 7 designs to choose from. One side had an animal and the other side said Waikiki Aquarium.  Clarissa chose a shark,  a clown fish,  and a sea lion. 
As we were finishing our coins there was an announcement that there was a training session for the sea lion.  We decided to check it out.  Clarissa really enjoyed it.  We ended up standing next to a family from Korea.  They definitely looked at us strangely when we greeted them in Hangeul.  Clarissa was very excited,  “Mommy they speak Korean!” 

After the aquarium,  we decided to check out the Army History Museum.  I forgot that they are closed on Monday.  But we had a picnic lunch on a bench and enjoyed looking at the war machines outside. 

We decided to go back to the hotel and head to the pool until Tim got back home from work.  Clarissa made a friend and we got to watch the sunset from the pool.  It was beautiful.  The pictures on my phone do not do the colors justice. 

We headed back to the mall for dinner.  They have a large food court so we were each able to get what we wanted. Clarissa had her French fries,  Tim had Chinese,  and I had Mexican (the closest I’ve had to my favorite in almost two years). 

Let the Hawaii adventures begin! 

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Jetlag is interesting.  Yesterday,  my goal was to make it to 7pm. We were in bed by 6.  Clarissa was awake and starving by 11 so we all snacked and read until about 1.  I woke up about 745 and decided that I should actually get up for the day  to have some quiet time before Tim and Clarissa woke up…I had to wake them up at 11 so we had time to eat for our scheduled submarine adventure. 

The pier for Atlantis Submarines is attached to our hotel’s beach.  I didn’t plan it that way,  but it definitely made life easier.  

We checked in for our tour and they took our family picture.  The pictures ended up being good so we paid the expensive fee for them. 

First,  we boarded a boat. We had to watch the coast guard safety video before the boat could launch.  Then we were allowed on the top deck to see the awesome scenery on the way to our submarine. 

It was pretty cool to watch the submarine come up.  Clarissa did climb the ladder by herself to the submarine.  The windows were very large and the views were clear.  Apparently the deeper underwater you go,  the less the colors show.  Red looks brown.  Yellow was vibrant.  But most things looked blue,  black,  and gray.  Apparently when National Geographic comes to take pictures,  they have to use huge lights so that you can actually see the colors of the fish. 

Waikiki is a man made beach so 30 years ago there weren’t many fish.  Atlantis built a few different structures to attract fish and populate this area. They also have a sunken ship and two planes down there. 

The submarine ride was about an hour and had a live English narration.  They also had headsets so that you could hear the tour in Japanese,  Chinese,  or Spanish. It was interesting and informative.  We were able to see many fish but also a shark,  two turtles,  and sting rays.  We went down to 113 feet,  which is apparently rare for most people to do in their lifetime. We all really enjoyed it. 

Tim had a meeting after our tour so Clarissa and I headed to the pool for about an hour.  We then headed to the mall to see the rest of the stores and have dinner. 

We ended up at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.  It is based on the movie Forest Gump. The service was great. They have two license plates on your table.  The red one lets the servers know that you need something. 

The food was delicious.  There were many things to choose from.  We may eat there again later in the week.  Tim chose a lemonade in a suvioneer cup that had color changing lights on the bottom. 

Clarissa fell asleep on the drive to Target.  I was very excited to be able to visit Target. Though I must admit that this one had several empty shelves which surprised me.  Island life probably means less frequent deliveries. 

Also at checkout my cashier asked me if I needed to purchase a reusable bag.  I have not been to Target in two years so I don’t know if that is a normal Target thing or just a Hawaiian thing.  I have not seen a single plastic bag on the island. 

Ask and you shall receive 

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About Thanksgiving,  I shifted my prayer focus. I was really convicted that I pray a lot,  but don’t focus enough on prayers for my own family. I also felt like God specifically told me to ask Tim what he wanted me to pray about.  

The first thing he asked me to pray for was a job that he loves in a location that we will all enjoy.  About a week later,  he found out that they were planning to send him TDY to Hawaii for a week.  Though we did not originally plan to visit Hawaii on our tour in Korea,  we decided that Clarissa and I should join him for his trip. 

We usually take a taxi to the bus station and then take the airport limousine bus to the Gimhae Airport in Busan.  But it can be very frustrating because the taxis can usually only fit one suitcase in the trunk so we end up with the stroller in the front seat and a suitcase squished in the back seat with the three of us in the back.  We thought we would try driving this time and just leave the car at the airport. 

Saturday morning at breakfast,  I specifically prayed that we would have a good travel day and make our flights.  We left a little later than we wanted to,  but weren’t worried.  We would arrive to the airport about 12:30 which would still give us time to check in to our flight, grab lunch,  and go through security. 

When we arrived at the long term parking lot,  the attendant wouldn’t let us in.  The lot was full.  So we drove past the domestic parking lot which had a long line.  We then found the international parking lot and waited in line for 45 minutes before we could get in to the parking lot.  

We then had to drag 3 suitcases,  a stroller, car seat,  and Clarissa through the parking lot and airport to check in.  When we got to the check in counters, there was not a sign for our airline.  I looked at the board and saw that Korean Air had a flight to Tokyo the same time as ours so we decided to go there.  

The attendant said that we were in the wrong place,  told us where to go,  and sent someone from Japan Airlines to help us.  Two very frazzled ladies came to check us in at 135 for our 205 flight.  They were very nice and said that if we ran,  we could make it.  Thankfully,  there was not a line at security or immigration and we made it to the gate as they were finishing the boarding process. 

As we were boarding the plane,  I remembered that I had specifically prayed that we would make our flight.  We don’t usually miss our flights so that was an interesting thing for me to ask for.  But God totally delivered.  There was definitely an hour where we were frustrated and stressed.  And we thought we would never drive to the airport again.  But the customer service was great and we made it.  We may drive again,  we just need to leave earlier. 

On the breezeway,  Clarissa started crying and said that she was afraid to fly and didn’t want to get on the plane.  We thought that was strange since she usually loves vacation.  But once we got her settled in to her seat and started a movie,  she was happy.  They even brought her a present.  She picked out a letter A with a propeller.  

As usual,  Japan Airlines food did not disappoint.  They served a wonderful lunch with eel,  crab, fruit, and ongeri.  Plus there was yogurt,  mochi, and a chocolate. 

We had almost three hours in the Narita airport. We walked through a few stores.  Then Tim grabbed some food while Clarissa and I headed to the playground.  

This time,  Clarissa was very excited to board the plane.  She immediately wanted to wear her new pink slippers and get her movie started. 

We were all pretty tired by the time we boarded the plane for our 655 flight.  I was hopeful that we would all get some sleep.  We almost did until they turned on the lights for dinner.  

But by the time they turned them back off,  we had all caught a second wind. Clarissa actually lasted until the last 30 minutes of the flight before she fell asleep. It doesn’t seem like a huge deal for a 6.5 hour flight until you consider that we landed about 630am Hawaii time and 130 am Korea time. 

Since Clarissa was asleep,  I had to carry her through customs and immigration.  I was never so excited to see a stroller than when we arrived in baggage claim.  (The only time I didn’t gate check my stroller was the first trip she refused to walk through the airport.  Usually she walks and/or runs and we push an empty stroller.) 

After picking up our rental car,  we decided to head to Walmart since we had several hours before we could check in to our hotel. The only problem was that we didn’t have a GPS and we still needed to buy sim cards for our phones.  So we followed signs for Waikiki and eventually stopped to ask for directions.  

There was a Starbucks attached to Walmart.  We pushed a sleeping Clarissa in her stroller.  Tim got his usual chai tea latte and I ordered a pumpkin spice latte,  which I ended up dumping down the drain in Walmart.  I don’t know why I didn’t know that a latte contains coffee?  I thought it would taste like pumpkin… 

Walmart was pleasant.  It was nice to be able to find things that I needed at a good price in sizes that I understand for a change. 

The Ala Moana Center is a large mall near Walmart and we headed there about the time they opened at 930.  We went to t-mobile to buy sim cards for our phones.  It was hilarious because in Korea,  Tim’s phone is superior to mine.  But my phone was quick to accept the new sim card.  Tim and our t-mobile lady had to mess with his for over 30 minutes to work and even now,  mine is better. 

The mall was very nice and open. The shops were connected over four levels. The walkways were outside so there was a nice breeze. We were too tired to visit everything we wanted,  so we will probably go back another day this week. 

Clarissa slept through the entire shopping excursion until I put her in her car seat for the hotel l.  At that point she had been asleep for 6 hours so she was set. 

We checked into Hale Koa and set up our room.  Then Clarissa and I left to eat lunch and explore while Tim rested and took a shower. There are three pools,  a garden,  playground,  and a beach.  We have so many things we can do without leaving the hotel grounds. 

After we returned,  we showered and spent some time planning our Sunday.  We were all in bed by 6pm.  Jetlag… 

First Pennsylvania Christmas

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Tim and I just celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. We have spent many Thanksgivings in Pennsylvania, but this was our first Christmas there.

The drive seemed longer than normal with Clarissa in the car. Though she did very well! She slept a couple of hours each way and seemed content until it was dark outside. On the way, she talked to Omi and Pop on the phone. That seemed to help. Then, she got to look at some Kindle books on my phone. I have never been so thankful for my smartphone!

Clarissa’s sleep was hit or miss. But, all things considered, I think this was our best trip to Pennsylvania ever.

We arrived on Christmas Eve. The tradition is that you get to open one present. Clarissa opened her very first present. It took her a little while to figure out how to do it.

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(She discovered one of Tim’s hats from his Air Force days and pretty much wore it all weekend.) Omi and Pop gave her what they called “her first smartphone.” She loved it! It lights up, counts, and sings. She started running through the house with it.

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She wanted Omi to read her bedtime stories that night.

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Christmas was fun. Gramam came over for the day. Clarissa’s favorite present was definitely an Elmo that is as big as she is. He sings, hugs (which freaked her out at first), talks, and snores. He even says “Hey! Elmo’s upside down,” and clears his throat when she is playing too rough. She really enjoyed the toy, even though we have yet to watch Sesame Street together.

If I ever get around to posting a video, you will see how Clarissa’s face lights up and she starts dancing whenever Elmo sings.

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She was so tired that evening that she fell asleep in the kitchen while Omi and I were talking (which has not happened in like a year)!
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The day after Christmas, Tim and I got the to have a little date. After dinner we all went to see some trains. I was picturing a few trains with Santa or something. But it was really cool. It filled a room bigger than my house and showed several towns. I was able to see a model of a coal mine and the river where we became engaged.

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Clarissa really enjoyed when the trains went by.

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Then we went to a baseball field with Christmas lights. They even had live reindeer! Clarissa loved it.

On Saturday, Clarissa got to play outside with Daddy and Pop before we went to the family Christmas party.

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We ate a lot of great food this weekend. Lots of dessert! Best of all, I didn’t really have to cook or clean all weekend!

It was hard to say goodbye on Sunday morning. But hopefully we will see them again soon.

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