Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Redneck Way of Life

Prior to the Twentieth Century, families' travel accommodations were with friends and family.  Consequently, vacations were always social affairs.  Families on holiday headed to their relatives' homes and stayed for days to eat, drink and be merry at their cousins' expense, which was okay because the cousin would vacation at the other's home soon enough.  Visits were paid regularly.  In England, most upperclass folks weekended at ancestral estates or if their family's money had dried up, they made sure to befriend those still in the black.  Most English travelers only stayed in hotels when going abroad or outside the country.  Nothing was thought of extending invitations to overnight guests.

In this day and age, at least in America, you're lucky to get invited inside someone's home for a cup of coffee or glass of wine, much less dinner; overnight guests are unheard of.  As women joined the workforce and more homes became single parent establishments-juggling many responsibilities, families get home and collapse.  The last thing on their mind is entertaining guests.  Which is why it has been so enlightening and refreshing to have stayed in other people's homes for two weeks.

Wyatt and Clay in a "friendly" game of tether ball.
After hosting the Reece family to a weekend party on Fripp Island in May, they returned the invitation by welcoming us into their 1820's historic home in Lexington, Georgia for the Fourth of July holiday.  It felt like we had traveled back to an earlier time when people sipped tea on front porches while lazily discussing the weather.  [Remember when people entertained for entertainment instead of sitting in front of the television?  Home entertainment should refer to talking, laughing and generally enjoying the company of friends and family, not a system of electronics.  Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now.]

We spent three restful days cooking, conversing and commiserating about kids and jobs (or the lack there of...) with Greg Reece (aka Redneck GReece) and his lovely wife, Evelyn, while the kids chased dogs or played tetherball.   As good guests, we brought the fixings for our first evening meal since Redneck and Evelyn had worked all the day we arrived.  Fresh Atlantic shrimp, corn, potatoes and andouille sausage brought the low country a little inland.  We had been craving this in Scotland so we got our foodie fix and played good guests at the same time.

Historic Lexington, Georgia is the county seat of Oglethorpe County and takes about five minutes to see by car; it is not a big town.  Luckily, we had the time to walk around and meet some of the fine folks who live there.  One lady who owns and operates a quaint consignment and antiques shop in downtown Lexington has rejuvenated this small town by bringing together musicians and farmers at an evening Farmer's Market and jam session.  The two Gregs ventured down to check out the music and purchased some grass-fed beef for our Fourth of July cookout.  Evelyn and I took a turn through the next door cemetery of the oldest Presbyterian church in North Georgia.  The graveyard had many beautiful monuments including the grave sites of two former Georgia governors.  Walking through, I recognized many county names among the dead: Lumpkin, Hall, and Cobb.  Across from the church was the first Presbyterian seminary in Georgia founded in the early 1800s.  Thanks to the work of people like the Reeces, historic buildings have been saved in this tiny neck of the woods.

Georgia Peach Sangria
We spent the Fourth of July in All-American splendor: eating, drinking and being merry. The guys grilled while the girls mixed peach sangrias.  The kids played games and ate themselves sick.  That evening, we all enjoyed Evelyn's homemade pimento cheese and chicken salad sandwiches as we watched the spectacular display of dueling fireworks from the city of Athens and the Athens Country Club.  Competition was alive and well in Clarke County.

Redneck at Work
Our third and final night (remembering Ben's adage) was spent separate once more.  Redneck was recording a new album and asked for my Greg to join in.  At Rick Fowler's Studio, the boys were joined by the musical talents of Glenn Reece (Redneck and Evelyn's son) on drums, Greg Veale (founding member of the Normaltown Flyers) on bass, and Rick Fowler (Fortnox and the Rick Fowler Band guitarist) on lead guitar.  My Greg played piano and some percussion by performing a crucial burp for the song, "The Y Chromosome." I'm not sure where Greg's burping came in, but rest assured, he nailed it.  Redneck's tongue-in-cheek Americana musical style was captured perfectly in his new original song honoring baseball fans, "He kissed her on the strikes, and She kissed him on the balls."  You'll have to buy the album to hear the rest.

While the musicians got creative, the ladies toured local historic spots.  Evelyn is the director of the Athens Welcome Center, which operates four historic homes in the Athens area.  She gave us a backstage tour of two of the lovely homes including the Athens Art Center.  I had the privilege of touring homes in Beaufort County, South Carolina with Evelyn in the spring and was amazed at how much fun it was to tour a home with a historic preservation expert.  She pointed out details I would have missed.  I loved combining old homes and learning history; it made the past come to life.  After our tours, we sat on her front porch swing during a wicked thunderstorm.  While the lightning raged, we enjoyed a little wine and gossip- two of Southern ladies' favorite things from way back.

I'm so thankful for this year in many ways and for many reasons, but the most memorable moments have been the ones we shared with friends.  Thank you, Reece Family, for sharing your Redneck way of life.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

American Pride

After an amazing night of sleep in a real bed, our family loaded the family truckster with more boxes for our impending move home and left Fripp Island once again for our next stop: Redneck GReece's home in Lexington, Georgia where we would be spending the Fourth of July.  Driving the country roads of western South Carolina and eastern Georgia, we discussed our favorite things about America.    After living as expatriates for over a month, we had a new perspective on our country.  We understand why the United States of America has the largest number of immigrants- accounting for over twenty percent of all immigration in the world.  The USA has over three times more immigrants than the second highest, Russia, and over five times more than the UK.  America has been an immigrant's dream for hundreds of years and is still number one because it offers the best standard of living and career opportunities to its people, even newcomers.

To celebrate our nation's birthday, we created 
The Brooks Family's Top Ten Reasons to Live in America:

10.  Garbage Disposals
It may sound small, but these babies sure make cleaning up after three meals for a family of five easier.  (Not one place we stayed in the UK had one.)

9.  Diverse Environments
While the UK was beautiful, it does not offer the diverse climates and geography of America.  From the desolate deserts to the plentiful plains, and from the majestic mountains to the colorful coasts, America has diversity in spades.

8.  Convenience
You can get most anything you want at anytime in the US.  The reason America is the largest importing nation in the world is we sell more than any other nation.  We also sell it at anytime.  (It surprised us that most stores closed by 6 p.m. in the UK.)

7.  Standard of Living
We have a higher standard of living at a lower cost than many nations.  Ranked 7th in the 2010 Quality of Life Index, the US is touted for its diversity, affordability, convenience and efficiency. (Which I thought was pretty cool since we made our list before I researched this blog.)

6.  Music
The UK may have given us the Beatles, but WE gave the Beatles: Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Little Richard.  America birthed jazz, blues, gospel, country, rock-n-roll, rap, hip-hop and pop music.  I believe music is America's greatest export. 

5.  Disney World
Another great US export, there's a Disneyland in Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong and a new one planned for Shanghai, but the "real deal" is on most travelers'  bucket lists.  Nothing compares to the original in California and the grandest of them all: the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.  (We're actually considering moving to Florida because Georgia isn't close enough.)

4.  Opportunity
One of America's most famous immigrants, Albert Einstein, said, "All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual."  He came to America seeking opportunities prohibited in Nazi Germany.  America thrives on its opportunity.  By combining ingenuity and hard work, an individual may achieve anything in America.  Rags to Riches stories are not just fairy tales in our country.

3.  Entertainment
Italy may know pleasure and India may be the more sensual, and Great Britain may have more literary brilliance, but nobody entertains like America.  From Hollywood to New York City, America cranks out movies, television, video games, youtube videos and computer apps faster and better than anyone.  Don't believe me?  Google it.

2. Creativity
United States citizens hold more international patents than any other nation.  We also hold the title for more independent inventors applying for patents.   These are facts I cling to as I worry about our nation's future.  As a teacher and parent, I believe our government is failing its people with its lack of proper support for public education.  With slashed budgets, our schools are in crisis and teachers and students are left to fend for themselves.  We have gone from a nation that churned out leaders to  one that settles for "meets standards."  There is nothing more thoroughly approved than mediocrity.

1.  Optimism
We are not a perfect nation (see above), but we strive to "form a more perfect union."  We never claim to get it all right.  From our founding documents, we have been instilled with optimism.  Thomas Jefferson stated it as fact in the Declaration of Independence that we are "created equal and endowed by our creator certain inalienable rights that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  If that's not optimistic, I don't know what is.  Americans have a can-do attitude even in the worst of times.  After a crippling Depression, we faced the tyranny of Germany and Japan.  The British were magnificent as they implored their citizens to "Keep Calm and Carry On."  But we were more optimistic as we succinctly shouted, "We Can Do It!"  

I call it rationalizing, but I think it is my optimistic approach to life that gets me through each day.  I am excited about returning home after our miraculous year even though I am unemployed.  Thanks to more budget cuts in education, classroom sizes have increased (again) to a new high of 34 students to one teacher.  There are not enough teaching positions for the currently employed instructors yet alone one who quit to take a field trip year with her family.   "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." -Winston Churchill (British citizen, but American in spirit.)  Ever the optimist, I am looking at my joblessness as an opportunity to be creative and try my hand at a new occupation.  Thank Heaven, I live in the land of opportunity!
My copy of my new book just arrived.
Hopefully, I have more in me!

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Ambien Way

As I stepped out into the darkness of the night from the stifling closeness of the car, I had two things on my mind: Greg Brooks and a place to sleep.  I am paraphrasing the opening line of one of my favorite books because in the course of one day I became an Outsider, greasy hair and all.  The longest night of this year wasn't December 21st. It wasn't the night I fought off ghosts in Helensburgh, Scotland. It wasn't even the night I waited up for Greg to come home from drinking with new Scottish buds. It was the night the kids and I spent in the family truckster on Fripp Island, only ten feet from our beach house, but as homeless as it gets.  I could blame exhaustion or the aftereffects of Ambien (I have an argument for both), but the truth was my old pal, indecision, had returned. 

I had arranged a place for us to rest our heads for thirty-eight nights in a row without a hitch, but I slipped on July 1st.  My original plan was to leave Disney World around noon and drive toward Savannah where we would spend Sunday night in a cheap motel before returning to Fripp Island.  After picking up our dog, Ginger, at the Dempsey's Farm, we were to spend Monday night with our next-door neighbors so we could catch up with them and pick up some personal items stored at our rental house to take back home.  The flaw in the plan came when Emma cried to see Ginger and Greg was invited to jam in the Dempsey's Juke Joint.  Suddenly, we were headed straight for the Beaufort area.  

This is where I didn't think things through... Instead of calling a friend, neighbor or hotel about sleeping arrangements for one night as Greg suggested, I said, "We'll decide what to do when we get there.  Let's just get there."  Going with the flow is great unless there's a waterfall ahead.  

The elation of the reunion between kids and dog delayed any decision for at least an hour after arriving around 6:30 p.m.  (The Dempsey family had loved our dog for over a month and I can't express our gratitude.  What a treat for a dog to stay on a farm!)  After dinner, the kids played games and Greg played music.  I stood-by in complete indecision.  Where should we go?  Back to Beaufort to look for a pet-friendly motel or call our neighbors about arriving one night early?  Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock.  I had nothing.  My mind was mush and felt like the day we arrived in Inverness, Scotland after three consecutive nights of adjusting to Greenwich Mean time with the help of Ambien, a sedative/hypnotic my doctor had prescribed for insomnia.  How could such a tiny pill wreck so much havoc?  After the long train ride, I got lost in my mind and couldn't understand what the Scot was saying over the phone about which bus to take for Drumnadrochit.  Then, I was almost ran over twice as I wheeled my cumbersome luggage across the cobblestone streets.  My brain couldn't grasp simple directions nor remember "Look right, left, right" when crossing the street.  It was not a good feeling.    

Around eight o'clock, I texted our neighbors, Mary and Steve and waited.  I heard nothing.  I called their home and cell numbers around 8:30. I got no answer.  I listened to the live music and visited with friends while another hour went by...  I was so tired that I just wanted to go to our own home on Fripp, but it was rented.  (Darn, the need of income!)  When I glanced at the clock again, it was almost 10 o'clock!  

I gathered the kids and pup.  Greg, still juking, wanted to play music longer and assured me that he would sleep on a fellow musician's couch and not to worry about him.  He was so happy to be playing the drums and guitar again that I didn't argue.  Pulling out of the farm as lightning lit up a live oak like a Christmas tree, I had to commit: turn left and head to Beaufort or turn right and head to Fripp.  I turned right.

Driving over the one lane bridge that some jerk painted a yellow line down the middle*, I realized I hadn't been behind the wheel for over a month.  Luckily, I met no cars and managed to handle the bumps and bounces of Hunting Island without hitting a deer or raccoon.  As we crossed the Fripp Island bridge, the rain began to fall.  I was so relieved to pull into our neighbor's drive that I didn't care there were no lights on inside.  I ran through the rain to the front porch and rang the doorbell, then knocked, but got no answer.  I stood, undercover, staring at my home next door and could feel my own warm, dry bed under my body.  I closed my eyes and imagined curling up under my duvet and drifting off to sleep... Again, I weighed my options: drive this huge, loaded down vehicle back over four islands in the rain to find a dog-friendly motel at midnight with three exhausted kids OR sleep in my neighbor's driveway on a private, gated island 10 feet from property I own and 50 feet from a bathroom and pool where we could relax first thing in the morning? Well, what would you have done?  

Climbing back into the family truckster, dripping wet, I smiled at the kids just as thunder boomed overhead.  "How would y'all like to adventure sleep tonight?"

I saw panic strike my youngest's face as she said, "Are Mr. Steve and Miss Mary not here?  Where are we going to sleep?"

I tried to sell my rationalized decision.  "When I was a kid, we used to go camping all the time.  but almost every time we went, it would rain.  Then, our tent would start leaking and we always ended up sleeping in the car.  It was fun!  We called it adventure sleeping."  My kids stared at me like I'd grown two heads, but I continued,  "Look, we all have our own pillows and blankets.  Let's watch Harry Potter on my laptop while it's storming and go to sleep.  I'll bet Mr. Steve will pull up any minute and invite us inside, but if he doesn't, just think of the laugh Miss Mary will get when she hears we slept in her driveway!"  Finally, Emma smiled at the thought of Mary laughing at our silly predicament. 

Snug as a bug in a car on the driveway...
Anabel claimed the third row seat while Emma and Ginger shared the middle row.  Wyatt and I reclined our bucket seats back and I placed the laptop playing, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone on the console between us.  By the time Hagrid announced, "You're a wizard, Harry," my three children and one dog were sound asleep.  I twisted and turned in my seat, listening to the storm and the movie, and stared at my house.  It amazed me how one day of indecision can affect my outlook on life. Greg and I had navigated the British rail system, flown from Los Angeles to London, and driven thousands of miles across North America, but the one word that haunted me that night was FAILURE. I have difficulty with negative nighttime thoughts in a snug bed; As the steering wheel gouged into my side, I was racked with contrary judgements of my every move.  

The main thought that plagued my mind was: What would Greg say when he learned about this?  Suddenly, I was no longer indecisive.  Greg must never learn of this night's debacle; I would never hear the end of it, if he did.  I passed well over an hour thinking how to convince the kids not to mention this episode to anyone, especially their dad, without asking them to outright lie about it.

The rain stopped around one in the morning.  The kids were still snoozing while Ginger and I took a bathroom break.  I let myself into the deserted Cabana Club with my Fripp Club member card and stretched out on a lounge chair as a rain drop hit my head and my phone buzzed.  It was a text from Greg:

"Hey.  I'm iny way there're." (Damn it!  I couldn't hide my folly if he showed up!)

"What?  Don't come here."

"Tom is bringing me there."

In total panic... "No!"

"What? Eth?"  I think his fingers grew bigger with each beer.  Drunk or not, the jig was up.  I decided to come clean:

"Kids asleep in car.  Steve not here.  Go to Tom's."


"I'll get you in the a.m."

"Call me."

So I called him and explained my night of poor decision-making.  Surprisingly, he wasn't mad; just a little embarrassed.  He had bragged on what a seasoned traveler I was and how, thanks to my great planning, we had seamlessly traversed all of Great Britain.  In less than one day, I had gone from the bonus high of organizing a free Disney trip to homeless and sleeping in the car in someone's driveway.  This was definitely a humbling evening.  

After five more sleepless hours and one more bathroom break, I figured it was time for breakfast and started the car.  The kids soon roused and we headed to pick up Greg and grab a good southern breakfast.  Staying awake all night really made me hungry!  By seven, we were tucked into the Blackstone Cafe in historic Beaufort with our mouths watering from the smell of bacon and the thought of creamy, buttery grits.  As I placed my napkin in my lap, I realized my wedding rings were not on my finger.  I vaguely remembered taking them off sometime during the night and stuffing them in my pocket. (Thank you, Humidity, for the swollen fingers!)  Reaching in my pocket, I felt my wedding band, but no solitaire.  My mind raced and my appetite vanished.  Where could my diamond be?  Not wanting to alarm Greg, or ruin his returned good humor about last night, I shuffled my food around my plate while everyone else ate and bided my time.  

I created a diversion when we reached the car by letting Ginger out.  (Nothing like a loose dog in a downtown area to buy you some time.)  My stealth search of the car revealed no ring.  There were only two places I had visited where the ring could be: the Cabana Club's bathroom or the lounge chair.  I drove like a mad woman on no sleep (not a stretch) for the nineteen miles back to Fripp.  Greg kept asking me what was wrong and I just blamed exhaustion.  How could I tell him that my stupid decision had caused me to lose my engagement ring that once belonged to his mother?

Pulling back into Steve's driveway, I faked an upset stomach and ran the 50 feet to the Cabana Club.  I shamelessly crawled the bathroom floor.  Nothing, but germs.  When I went to check the lounge chair, the pool crew was cleaning the area so I told them my story.  The kind lady-in-charge promised they would keep an eye out and assured me they were an honest bunch.  Fighting tears, I returned to the car to retrace my steps, but felt it was hopeless.  My mind was foggy, but I closed my eyes and tried to picture the moment I had removed my rings.  I climbed into the car and reclined the seat as I had the night before... I put my hand in my pocket, pretended something slipped, and reached into the seat crevasse behind me and... pulled out my diamond ring!  Greg and the kids found me beside the car on my hands and knees thanking God for His protection as in the old adage, God protects fools and children.  Most assuredly, I was a fool that night.  

The ironic part of the whole fiasco was: our neighbor's door was unlocked the whole time!  This year has been about our family turning doorknobs on other planets, but I never thought to try the one next door.  Steve had unexpectedly slept at his son's house due to the storm, but came home early to prepare for our and his grandkids' arrival.  He smiled as he asked me, "Why didn't you just open the door?"   Everyone, especially Mary, got a belly laugh at my expense, but I didn't mind.  I had my ring, my family and a great story.  What more could a person want?

Neighbor's Driveway where we slept.
Can you spot our yellow house next door?

*Thank you, Bill, for the use of your perfect description of the Harbor Island Bridge.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Disney's Epcot- The World in a Nutshell

Disney exhaustion crept into our room while we slept leaving swollen feet, creaks in our bones and sleep in our eyes that water couldn't wash away.  We paid more than ninety bucks each for our long day at the Magic Kingdom.  We paid in blisters, bruises and general crankiness from lack of sleep.  After a couple of short tempered comments between the kids, I rallied the troops, "We're at Disney World!  This is our last day here!  We'll have plenty of time to sleep tonight and the night after that...  Let's not ruin the wonderful place by being in a bad mood.  Let's go have some fun at Epcot!"  One of the greatest qualities about our children is that usually if we reason with them - take the time to explain the situation or the whys about something- they are with us.  As we bustle along through life, I sometimes forget this and just drag them behind me without explaining things to them.  Our constant companionship this year has taught me the benefits of stopping and explaining to our kids.

With a new outlook on our last day, we marched out of our room and headed for the Epcot bus. (Another benefit of staying at a Disney Resort is the transport system.  Once you check-in you need not drive again until check-out.  Disney's buses and trains will take you anywhere you need to be.)  

Epcot was one of Walt Disney's last projects and held many of his hopes and dreams for the future.  EPCOT stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.  Disney essentially wanted a permanent world's fair that showcased all the latest in technology and science along with introducing people to cultures from around the world.  Perusing a map of Epcot as we walked in the gates, I could see he succeeded: Divided into two main sections, Future World and World Showcase, a walk around the entire park took us from learning of our human past in the giant iconic center globe, to understanding the world of energy with Ellen Degeneras and Bill Nye the Science Guy, to innovations in technology with hands-on experiments for kids to try.  

Crossing over the lagoon to the World Showcase area we entered our southern neighbor, Mexico.  Our stomachs began to rumble as we passed stand after stand of each country's authentic food- Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy.  We sampled a little taste in each country: an egg roll and tea in China, a frankfurter, kraut and beer in Germany.  By the time we made it to America's replica of Independence Hall at the center of the lagoon, we were really hungry and headed for the Japanese counter service.  Each country in the world showcase has at least two restaurants: one formal, table service and one counter service.  Both serve fantastic food, but the table service will be more expensive but refined, quiet, and relaxing- greatly needed after a day of walking the park.  I always make a reservation for one table service meal while at Disney so that our family is guaranteed one hour of air-conditioned rest, but we were saving that for later in the evening.  We had a fantastic lunch at Japan's counter service restaurant enjoying sushi, teriyaki chicken and some kind of udon pie with onions and a delicious plum sauce.  

When I was a child the world showcase area had little to offer children.  My brother and I would walk through and listen to our parents oooh and aaahhh over the recreations of places they had traveled in Europe or North America.  We would quickly discover that there were no rides (Norway's Maelstrom wasn't there yet), get bored, and want to go back to Future World, or better yet, the Magic Kingdom.

Luckily, Disney's Imagineers stepped in and created activities for the kids to have fun and learn about the different cultures in world showcase at the same time.  Kidcot, geared for kids ages 3-10, are stops within each country that kids have to locate and get a stamp on Mickey's travel bear,  Duffy, whom they are given at the first Kidcot Fun Stop.  There are also arts and crafts from that country to tryout and a place to sit and talk to someone from another culture.  Kidcots are usually located in a corner of the gift shop so parents can shop while the kids craft.

Kidcots are fun, but the greatest activity Epcot created to engage children within the countries is Agent P's Secret Missions.  Formerly, Kim Possible Missions, the new missions of Phineas and Ferb's Perry the Platypus take children of all ages around one country searching for clues to end Doctor Doofenschmirtz's evil plan.  Speaking as a big kid myself, these are the coolest things to help kids have fun exploring the different nations.  The Imagineers incorporated monuments or icons from each country to help the kids learn while saving the world.

"Karl! He works the camera!
Karl! He knows what all these buttons do!
Our kids picked up their first mission at a little cart stand outside of Germany.  They scanned our park ticket and handed us a cell phone.  Opening the phone, we were greeted by Major Monogram telling us about our mission, then Karl took over to direct us to our first assignment: finding a particular building in Germany.  Our kids were in hot pursuit.  Greg and I relaxed outside on the not too crowded nor too hot day and watched the kids run from spot to spot in Germany only to stop, look, listen and then run searching for the next German artifact.  These missions were phenomenal ways to engage the kids by using teamwork and critical thinking skill to solve a problem.  Having taught critical thinking skills for fifteen years and just published a book with the Critical Thinking Company, I felt qualified to recognize a wonderful, educational activity.  Great Work, Disney!  Our kids came back to us laughing about having thwarted Doofenschmirtz once again...and they got to see a woman chasing him around a coo-coo clock!  Before these missions, our kids had an "intense, burning indifference" to Epcot much like Dr. Doofenschmirz's feelings toward Christmas, but now it is their second favorite park.

After successfully completing another mission in Japan, it was time to head to Soarin' to use our fast pass tickets I had snagged upon entering the park.  Soarin', in the Land section of Future World, is a high flying simulated ride over California.  While tons of fun, there is always a long line.  I highly recommend getting fast passes for this as soon as you get to the park.  While in the Land, we also rode the Through the Land.  This boat ride took us through different regions of the world and showed how farmers plant and grow food for our world.  The ride ends with a trip through the experimental greenhouses of Disney's scientists.  You can see pumpkins growing in the air, tomatoes growing on trees, hydroponic systems and sand used for soil.  The ride was a great learning experience for our kids to see ways food go from farm to table.  Most of the food grown in the greenhouses were used in the Land's restaurant, The Garden Grill.

We enjoyed visiting Nemo and Friends in the Sea and checked out Figment in the Land of Imagination, but I experienced my first Disney disappointment in Imagination's theater.  For some unfathomable reason, Disney brought back Michael Jackson's ridiculous short film, Captain Eo.  It is supposed to be in the future in some outer space world, but it is so stuck in the Eighties it is painful to watch.  In the interest of full disclosure, I am from the Eighties.  I still love big hair, spandex and rock music.  I even like synchronized dancing, but this went beyond my tolerance limits.  Michael Jackson's bad acting while screaming at bad special effects' creatures put me over the edge.  I hate to admit it, but I got my girls and left.  We didn't want to miss meeting Belle in France to see Michael Jackson grab his crotch to romance an alien princess.  Sorry, Michael, wherever you are.

Happily in France, we sipped wine and sampled pastries while the kids completed another Agent P mission.  We sauntered down to Great Britain to hear great British music and laughed at the scaled down version of London.  We decided Disney needed to add more fake dirt and coal dust to make it look more authentic.

We ended our evening with a delicious authentic Mexican meal at the San Angel Hacienda inside the giant Mayan temple.  If the Mayan predictions of the world ending in 2012 come true, our family could not have spent our final months any better.  We toasted to our last night at Disney, to the end of our incredible family sabbatical and finally, to our return home.  All was well...