Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 in review

Returned from Beirut
Jannah-Rae turned four

Left Morocco
Yousef turned One

Winter lived on
Became a cancer patient caretaker
Bought a membership to the Maryland Science Center

Traveled to Seattle
Jannah-Rae got her first hair cut
Yousef got his first haircut at a barber shop

Reunited with Jeff
Bought a new car
Jeff turned forty four

Lived out of a hotel
Jeff started a new job
Stood for outdoor photos with my Mom for Eid el Fitr

Relocated to the suburbs of Maryland
Jannah-Rae started swimming lessons
Celebrated ten years of marriage
Jannah-Rae went on her first pony ride

Yousef celebrated 18 months on Earth
Went to Charlottesville
Yousef went to his first baseball game
Visited a fruit picking farm
Mom became a US citizen on August 14th
I turned 37
JR started pre-k
Grandma came to visit
Jannah-Rae adopted the American Girl doll cleaning project
Celebrated Halloween "our way"
We celebrated Eid el Adha
Dad became a US citizen on October 16th
Went to NY sans kids
Yousef got weaned
We hosted the family Thanksgiving
Shopped Black Friday

Celebrated the holidays in Virginia Beach
Heralded the new year in Arlington

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

VA Beach - Last Day

Suddenly it was check-out day. Saturday, December 27th came quickly. We had been having such a wonderful stay that we lost track of time, although I could see the tell-tale signs of the days spent away from home through the dwindling clean clothes in the drawers.

I woke up at my usual early hour and took in the sights and sounds one last time. There is certainly something soothing to the sound of the waves and astounding about the sun rising from, rather than setting in, the ocean. JR must have sensed the inevitable and was next to get up. She sat looking out the window at the sea and asked how soon we can go out. "As soon as you are done with your breakfast," I responded. But of course with Yousef's waking up, soon got delayed into later. After coffee from the cafe, last few bites of oatmeal from the paper cup, several runs to the car for coats, back to the room for hats, and a bathroom stop, we headed out the hotel back door onto the boardwalk.

We had our little bag of stale break with us so our first stop was feeding the sea gulls. But while the sea gulls were ecstatic with us, Yousef was not as happy about them!

We decided, then, to build a sand castle. It turned out to be a number of sand towers standing together!

So we moved on to the cement sand castle built as an attraction on the board walk and JR and Yousef attempted to restore it to its original sandy state by moving the surrounding sand onto the construct.

Ten thirty was getting close, so it was time to say goodbye to the beach. As we were walking back to finish packing, JR calls out, "here is Yousef's choo-choo!" pointing to the plus toy in the window. It was stuck behind the couch and must have gotten there yesterday at breakfast. I was not even aware we were missing a toy, so to have found it before too late was a blessing. JR is a great observer and a wonderful helper and this was extra proof that she is always looking out for her little brother. "I can get it," she remarked upon our entrance and she proudly presented it back to Yousef. 

Back in the room and while the parents packed, the kids found the monkey bars! Climbing on the luggage cart apparently is a lot of fun, although JR did not appreciate her hair getting stuck on the hooks. 

We left town shortly after eleven heading towards one last adventure. Little did we know, though, that much more than an adventure was waiting for us!

When we had booked our mini-vacation we chose to return on Saturday to beat the holiday traffic. "Everyone will be coming back on Sunday," we had declared, so a Saturday drive would be a smart idea. It turned out to be a rather misinformed decision, and I found myself looking back to our first visit to VA Beach and wishing we had done this year what we did then.

In 2010 North America was hit by a massive snow storm that closed businesses and roads, caused power outages and massive destruction, and brought life to a complete stop for a while. Virginia Beach was not spared and got near 14 inches of snow. I remember looking out our window and seeing nothing but white. We were stranded miles away from home, with nothing to eat but the leftovers in the fridge. That year, we had to extend our stay at the hotel by another day in the hopes that the roads would be plowed. Even the hotel staff had to remain on site and were given rooms for the night. The cafe had little to feed us, but coffee was a plenty.

And while the weather this year was nowhere near a storm with temperatures hovering in the 50's and 60's, part of me wished, as we slowly made our way through the masses of cars on the freeway, that we had nevertheless extended our stay. For a brief moment that morning, and wanting to stretch the enjoyment even more, I had contemplated extending our stay into Sunday, and yet I chose not to act on the idea. Everything has to come to an end, I told myself, and moved forward with the departure.

For hours we sat in the car, inching our way towards Maryland. We took the back roads; those were overwhelmed, too. Luckily we had had our fill of sightseeing and food having visited at the Virginia Air and Space Museum (more on that in another post) and lunched at Jason's Deli before hitting traffic so we weren't in a too bad of a shape. And with the kids crashed in their car seats from fatigue it was a long while before I got impatient with the long drive and ready to arrive. And arrive we finally did, though not at our house! We called it a day at 6:30 that evening at my parent's apartment in Arlington.

Nauticus and the Battleship Wisconsin

On our third day in VA Beach we decided to do something "touristy." With our ASCT affiliation we had a few choices to pick from: Children's Museum of Virginia, Science Museum of Virginia, Virginia Discovery Museum, Virginia Living Museum, to name some. Distance and originality were the two determining factors that day so we decided on Nauticus and the Battleship Wisconsin.

One Waterside Drive in Norfolk was a mere twenty five minute drive from the hotel. It was another sunny and warm winter day so we left our coats in the room. After enjoying our complimentary breakfast at the hotel and dealing with one minor meltdown it was time to head out. Our plan was to arrive as the museum opened and head back in time for lunch. We arrived shortly before they opened and stayed way longer than our originally planned ninety minutes. As a matter of fact, had the kids not gotten hungry we would have stayed well past our third hour.

After purchasing your tickets, or in our case getting free admittance, you rode rode a rolling carpet up to the start of the exhibit, on the third floor. You went through a tunnel designed to make you feel like you are travelling under the sea. Then, the kids commence their fun.

After getting into a tug boat and sailing the miniature sea, JR and Yousef got into the command room.

They played with coals, 

recruited navy officers, 

helped clean the bottom of the ocean,

and watched an IMAX 3-D movie about coral reefs. The movie itself was breathtaking with life like images of creatures unseen ever before by us. When Yousef got tired of the dark it was time to leave the movie although more remained to be seen. 

There were what Yousef thought were trains: "choo-choo," he kept saying and I wondered what he was referring to since we couldn't be further away from trains at this time in our lives! 

There was the battle-ship size kitchen equipment, 

And the creatures of the sea,

Jannah-Rae got to touch a hermit crab, which pinched her,

and would have been able to feel a benthic shark native to Australia had her arm been a little longer. Although disappointed at the missed opportunity, JR nonetheless delighted in the mention of Australia proceeding to tell the biologist about her Khalto (maternal aunt) Dania who lives there. 

After navigating the many rooms, we headed outside to the Battleship Wisconsin. It was like stepping onto a giant. To say that ship was a humongous is a doing it a disservice. Impressive is a better word.  

We walked up and down the decks peering into windows,

surveying our surroundings,

 and reading posted signs.

We ended our trip that day with a quick pass through the Naval Museum where uniforms, torpedoes and naval mines were on display.

The museum was certainly kid friendly with lots of hands-on displays and play areas. The kids had a blast walking and exploring and we enjoyed being able to immerse in exhibits without crowds floating all around. Soon it was time to leave. Checking my watch, we had been there two and a half hours and we could have certainly stayed much longer. I remember balking at the suggestion of the receptionist to allow four hours to tour it but now clearly understand why. We plan on visiting again the next time we are in Virginia Beach.

You can read about Day 1 and Day 2 of our trip here and here.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Beach - Day 2

Day two at the beach had a perfect start. We awoke to a beautiful sunrise and an enveloping silence on Christmas Day. The sun was slowly making its way in from behind the water while a ship was making its way out to sea.

The clouds were tinted pink.

Only the sound of the waves crashing on the shore and the calls of the seagulls could be heard.

Down below our eleventh floor balcony the birds gathered on the sand in search of sustenance, while a couple wrote their daughter a Christmas message on the sand.

In our room, JR was asking to go out. Few places were open. And so it was Pocahontas for breakfast and Starbucks for coffee. The day was still young with many hours ahead. We headed back to the beach.

This time, however, JR did not want to collect shells and sand; she wanted to play with it.

She built a sand castle.

Climbed up and down a sand hill. 

And inspected her surroundings.

Yousef had learned his lesson about the waves and approached them with caution.

Chose to slide down the sand hill, 

and pick shells instead.

The beach was followed by lunch at one of the handful of restaurants open that morning. An Asian buffet of steamed mussels, clams, and crab legs, sushi, and hibachi, was concluded with marshmallows dowsed in the chocolate fountain.

Needless to say after all the chocolate neither kids napped that afternoon. I, on the other hand was exhausted and craving a coffee. Yet desperate as I was there was no coffee to be found; everything was closed and the Starbucks we had been to that morning for coffee was a car drive away. But instead of attempting to nap which I knew was only going to result in frustration, I took the kids out on the boardwalk.

Down further from our hotel we spotted a playground. A playground on the beach; that was a win!

After we had soaked up the sun, I convinced the kids to return to the hotel to soak in the hot tub and cool pool. They agreed. We started back. From the window I saw some people gathered by the cafe chatting holding coffee cups. There also was someone behind the counter serving them. Could it be what I thought it was! Did they decide to have pity on us coffee addicts and open the cafe? There was only one way to find out!

Yes, it turned out, they were offering coffee, any coffee, for free!!! And fruit, and juice, and cookies, and muffins. It was their way to say Merry Christmas, and I, for one, appreciated it. My grande mocha never tasted so good.
Once done with our treats, we headed to the elevatros. There on the check-in counter, we had a surprise. Somehow I had been selected guest of the day, and was offered a free Starbucks drink as a treat. And while they had spelled my name wrong, JR still recognized it and actually walked up to the front desk to ask them to fix it. Two free coffees in one day, jackpot! Now my spirits were up! 

Jacuzzi, pool and bubble bath later it was time for bed. The kids had quick cooking oatmeal for dinner, Jeff and I had burgers from Sonic and the day was done. Our bones were beyond tired and rest was much needed. The kids shared their double bed and slumbered peacefully until Yousef woke up in the middle of the night asking for me.

We had had a wonderful day at the beach, and looked forward to two more.