Celebrating After Loss

On March 16, it will be four months since Dad died…a third of a year without him already. It’s gone by so quickly.

On March 14, Sarah will celebrate her sixth birthday. Her first without her grandpa. So far, I haven’t had any major milestones without him (other than a holiday where I was just kind of numb and hoping to make it to the new year for the “fresh start” it often brings). This birthday celebration has had worried me. Dad loved celebrations, and it was always a time we knew he would be there, even if it meant rushing from a job site he was working on.

Every year since Sarah turned two, our family has celebrated her birthday with a trip to the Disneyland Resort. It’s always been at least me, John, her Auntie, Grammie, and Grandpa (for at least part of the day). This year, it was a challenge to pick a day that everyone could go together.

With March 6 being one of only a handful of days that Sarah could go, we chose that date and whoever could make it, could make it. Sarah and I made the trip alone yesterday.

We often go to Disneyland with just the two of us, so that part didn’t bother me, but this was a special trip – her birthday trip – and it had always involved others.

My worries and fears that this year’s would be so different in a negative way turned out to be completely unfounded. We had one of the best days at Disneyland that we’ve had in a very long time.

None of the cast members we encountered yesterday knew what had happened in our lives over the last six months nor the history of our special visit that day, but we encountered the most amazing people who showered us with one magical moment after another. A day I was so worried would be a disappointment instead turned into a day filled with wonderful memories that left our hearts overflowing.

As many of you know, Sarah likes to dress up, or cosplay, when visiting Disneyland, including some of the cast member outfits. One we made last year was a replica of the cast members who assist with the Jr. Chef show that goes on during the Food & Wine Festival. It’s a fun show where the kids get to “make” cookies – “Magical Oatmeal Raisin Cookies” to be exact – with Chef Lilly and Goofy. This show was the highlight of the Festival for Sarah last year, so we were excited to hear it would be returning, and we could use the costume again.

Sarah was a little saddened at first because the friends she had made last year weren’t working yesterday, but she soon made new friends, especially when they saw her outfit was just like theirs. The cast members helped her color her chef’s hat and talked with her about her birthday. They let her add the raisins to the cookie mix since that’s her favorite part. She got a “shout-out” from Chef Lilly on stage, acknowledging her outfit. She got TWO cookies after the show (it was the last one of the day and the cast members had extras). We spent almost three hours in the area and Sarah left beaming ear to ear, saying she was having “the best birthday celebration ever!”

On our way to the Wilderness Adventure play area, we stopped by one of the Info kiosks to get Sarah’s Disney birthday button. In true Sarah fashion, she stroke up a conversation with the woman, telling her all about her Jr. Chef experience that day and about her plans for her birthday dinner later that night (I had made reservations at Blue Bayou, a place she had never been, but had wanted to go).

The woman asked if I had our tickets. I was kind of puzzled for a moment as I handed her my phone with our barcodes. She asked Sarah what her favorite ride was. “Thunder Mountain.” She scanned our passes and added an anytime FastPass. She then asked me what my favorite ride was. My favorite is Space Mountain, but Sarah doesn’t like the dark. Instead I chose the Matterhorn, where “Chewy’s friends live.” (Hey, you do what you can to get her to not be scared of the Yeti’s inside!). She scanned our passes again, adding a second FassPass to ride the Matterhorn. She then gave Sarah her button and wished her a “Happy Birthday” and we were on our way.

I had no plans to ride anything that day unless Sarah requested it – and was willing to wait. Rides in the afternoon/evening at Disneyland aren’t exactly known for their short wait times. Now, Sarah would be able to ride TWO of her favorite rides before we had to check in for our dinner reservation. Again as we exited each ride, “this is the best birthday celebration ever.”

Earlier in the day, I had asked Sarah what she wanted to wear to dinner at The Blue Bayou. She insisted on “fancy dresses” for both of us. We packed dresses and comfortable dress shoes that we changed into just before our reservation time.

I knew that a visit to Blue Bayou would not be complete without sitting at a table along the water’s edge where the boats embarked for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. It meant a little bit of a longer wait, but not much, thankfully.

When our name was called, Sarah excitedly followed the hostess and climbed into her chair, immediately leaning over the railing waving at the boats passing us by. Yep, it was again, “the best birthday celebration ever!”

We ordered our drinks and since it was a special dinner, I ordered her a Louisiana Lemonade, which is lemonade, Sprite, with flavors of raspberry and mango – served with a glow cube. Her eyes lit up when the server brought out our drinks and set it down in front of her. Not only was she so excited to have soda for the first time, but her drink glowed! “Best birthday celebration ever!” as she sipped her drink watching the boats floating by.

Dinner was amazing. She had mac and cheese. I had the rack of lamb. Then came time for dessert. Having had two cookies from Jr. Chef earlier in the day and two cups of sugary soda with dinner, I had planned to skip dessert since we try to keep her sugar intake minimal most day. Our server arrived at the side of our table with a Mickey Mouse shaped chocolate mousse dessert surrounded by Mickey shaped sprinkles and a birthday candle burning in the middle. They didn’t sing, but she was still over the moon excited to blow out the candle and eat the dessert (interestingly, she only had one bite of it because she was full).

As we finished our dinner and packed up the leftover dessert to take home, Sarah came over, climbed into my lap, and gave me a “squeezy hug” like only she can. “Best Birthday Celebration Ever, Momma.”

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June 24

This is a semi-staged photograph and I’m less than thrilled with the coloring, but I just LOVE their expressions.  We were taking some photos for some brochures we’re doing for some fall events and I let them just talk and laugh as I snapped photos. This is my favorite (though unusable for a brochure) because it’s so authentic!

June 23

Remember those flowers from a week or so ago?  The ones from my sister’s bathroom?  Well, I think they’re worth another look because I think they look just as beautiful in this stage as they do in full bloom!

June 22

We are on summer break from Tuesday morning Bible Study, but decided to surprise the ladies with a special game day get together.  I shot this image while they were worshipping at the beginning of the morning.  They were singing “His Banner Over Me is Love.”

June 21

I know you’ve all met Jillian before, but she’s just so dang cute and photogenic that I had to use this picture of her for today.  I normally don’t like photos that utilize flash, but this one isn’t too bad!

June 20

Happy Father’s Day to all you dad’s out there!  In honor of MY dad, I had to include his photo for today.  He loves watching TV and movies.  This photo is him sitting in his chair (no one else is allowed to sit in it when he’s there – John’s jealous and can’t want to have his “man of the house” recliner) enthralled in something on the TV.