Tuesday, September 4, 2007

September 2007 Posts

5:32 AM 9/4/2007

Good Morning! We survived the holiday weekend. That may catch you by surprise had you witnessed us over the weekend. The kiddos went absolutely nuts and, once again, I find myself somewhat paranoid and quite sure that they are planning something. I smell coup in the air. I know it. They are positioning themselves to overthrow the parental government and taking over for good. There is very definitely something in the air and I think that is the problem. It has been rainy nearly everyday and we have not had a chance to properly exercise the kiddos. Yesterday we even resorted to walking them through the mall to wear them out. Although that seems to be a pretty good method to get the wind out of their sails it also has the byproduct of being quite expensive. Thankfully it was a sale weekend and we made out on some fabulous deals on fall clothes. All in all the kiddos did survive the weekend and they seemed to have a pretty good time even given the limited resources.

Today will be back to reality. The kiddos all go back to school and I will be back to a mountain of work. I can not believe the pile of projects that has accumulated on my plate. I guess the great news is that there are a bunch of great things going on. I am still working diligently on putting together the Golf for Life Cup. It seems that everyday brings more things to do. It will be nice to get this under my belt. There are also many other things going on at the same time. It is almost Lunch for Life season again and there is a ton of work to do there as well. This year we are totally redesigning the site and adding more fun and features for the families that participate. Most importantly I am working on a slew of research projects that are all important and on the horizon. I have spent nearly a year trying to get some new trials moved forward and I think we are finally at a place where we can pull the trigger on several new clinical trials. Finally, there are several of us that are looking at answering some important antibody questions once and for all. For this I am luckily even getting to put on a researcher hat and getting to participate in the design and execution of the study - talk about hands on! With all of this research on the horizon there is a mountain to do with the NANT's trial review board. All in all, it is a very busy time professionally and that is all good. The busier I am the more work that is being done on neuroblastoma and for that I can not complain.

My rest from my purpii will be full of purpose.

5:06 AM 9/5/2007

I don't know what is going on at either school this year but it must be something heinous. I have not figured out who the culprit is but I am pretty sure there must be a dealer at both schools. In short, I think someone is hopping up my kids on sugar. I have visions of kids in back alleys trading toys for sugar cubes. The other day I even found one of the kids walking around with a little Ziploc baggy filled with sugar cubes. I am telling you. It is the new scourge of preschool and kindergarten and the new crack for kids. It is sugar and it is taking control. The next thing we know they will be doing lines of pixie sticks and fun dip. I am telling you, if we as parents do not rise up now we will forever be at their mercy. I experienced it first hand last night.

I noticed something a little funny yesterday afternoon when I brought them home. There was way too much laughter in the back of the car. They were all getting along and as great as that seems in the moment that is always a precursor of things to come. I was nervous and watched them closely in my rear view mirror. The bulk of it started when we got home. There was lots of chaos with kids running everywhere. That is really no different than normal but the fact that they were so darn happy made me leery from the very beginning. The silliness was growing by the second and we had just minutes before Dee Dee and Grammy where to arrive. This was Grammy's last night in town and we were all going out to dinner.

With every passing minute the silliness continued to grow until finally I knew we were truly in for it. They had reached the level I had feared all afternoon. Now they were doing strange things and they had lost complete control. They would not sit still at the restaurant. They were giggling uncontrollably and squirming in every direction. At one point I think Graham even managed to stick a few fries up his nose. Reprimands were useless. Even my best material stuck only for a moment only to be quickly flung by the wayside. There was no decorum. This was total chaos. I would like to say it got better but Graham truly never recovered. He was always completely out of his gourd and most of what we said went one ear and straight out the other. In fact, later at night he insisted I tuck him in - under the bed. It was clear he was still hopped up on the good stuff and there was no getting through. Our last night with Grammy and I had dumb, dumber, and dumberer in their full glory. This was the price of the Sugar Wars.

Don't let this happen to your kids.

Sugar sucks the energy out of purpose. It is the kryptonite of Super Dad.

4:48 AM 9/6/2007

Last night we were sitting on our bed upstairs (all five of us - it is quite a scene). At the end of the week there is always a contest amongst the kids to see who can memorize Sydney's bible verse from school first. You see, on Monday of every week Sydney's kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Lewis, sends home a bible verse. It becomes our job to ensure that Sydney memorizes it before Friday where she will be tested, all by her lonesome, in front of the class. To be honest, I am absolutely amazed that they do this in kindergarten. It seems somewhat advanced to me but I am still awed by squeezable ketchup. What do I really know anyway?

To make a short story even longer, we were all sitting on the bed shouting the verse to get it to sink into the brains of the little ones. We attempt to make the verse stick to their prepubescent brains by making the process as fun as possible. There is lots of shouting, inflection, and arms waving about as we try to be as descriptive and as memorable as we possibly can be. We then begin testing them. That is all fine and dandy but, to really get it to stick and to get them trying as hard as possible, we always incentivize. Last night the incentive was gummy bears.

Lynley first asked the question of the group, "If you can say the whole verse out loud, how many gummy bears do you want?" Graham chimed in with "I want two!" Sydney said "I want three!" And no dunganlet group project would be complete, if not without little Ainsley Eames who chimed in with "I want too many!" She was completed serious. There isn't a time that we hand out candy where she doesn't try to swipe more than her fair share. It seems like every time the candy jar is opened, she digs in with both hands trying to hoard every morsel for her very own. This is usually always followed by a reprimand from her mother "Ainsley! Put that back. That is too many." So, I guess you can say that it is only natural that the exact amount of candy that she always wants is too many.

Oddly enough that is the exact same number of purpii I wanted.

6:11 AM 9/7/2007

Well, well, well. Our first yellow sticker of the year. Sure enough, when I picked Sydney up at school yesterday, her take home folder was emblazoned with a yellow sticker. There wasn't a note but there were a few words scribbled along side the bad behavior sticker. Apparently Sydney was not paying attention during circle time and, worse yet, she also got caught playing in the bathroom. When I asked Sydney what happened she thought she got in trouble because she accidentally busted the lip of one of the other kids on the playground. That sounded like a complete accident but what was bothersome to me was that she had no idea of what she did wrong. For Sydney, this is a common problem. She has difficulty figuring out what she did wrong. She completely understands that she got in trouble. What she can't put together is why? That is the unfortunate part because she nearly always gets in trouble for the exact same reason. She doesn't listen. It is that simple.

If I am being completely honest, I have a pretty good idea of where this psychosis came from. If I remember correctly, I knew everything there was to know in the world at the age of six. After all, that is how I became so brilliant. Absolute genius starts at a very young age. Of course, from Sydney's perspective I am not really all that clever. Furthermore, I am quite certain that if she ever did accept the fact that I was once as brilliant as she, one would also have to assume that I developed a very serious leak at some point. That is the only thing that could possibly explain how I could know so little now. Although funny, this is exactly the point. Sydney does not listen because she thinks she knows better and she thinks she knows when the rules should apply to her and when they should not. Therefore, if she is doing some that she thinks is fine and she feels is reasonable to do then it can't possibly be wrong, even if she was told not to do it in the first place. Don't tell her mother but I married someone with the exact same perspective.

None the less, my next game is to figure out how to make this sink in for Sydney. As it stands, she still has no concept of what she did wrong. She knows her teacher "thinks" she did something wrong. She knows her parents have punished her for believing her teacher. She has even gone so far as to promise not to it ever again. The problem remains. She still thinks she is in trouble because she accidentally bumped into someone on the playground.

She just doesn't listen:)

It seems my purpose thinks it has its own purpose.

5:40 AM 9/10/2007

Good Morning! I am happy to report that Sydney survived Friday at School. In fact, she even received two blue stickers and a smiley face. She apologized to her teacher and did her best to make amends. I think it has finally soaked into her brain that she received a yellow sticker because she chose not to listen. Time will be the true sign of whether it made its way into her gray matter.

The weekend was pretty interesting. Sydney's teacher Mrs. Lewis sent us home with plenty of homework. As it turns out this was Sydney's weekend to keep Betty Bear. As far as I can tell, Betty Bear is a way for kindergarten teachers to teach parents how to be more responsible and efficient with their already overburdened schedules. None the less, we took on our weekend project with a smile. All joking aside I really have not been able to figure out what the purpose of this project was. I am sure there is someone out there in internet land that can let me know what we were supposed to instill in Sydney with this little project because I am clueless.

The task was for us to take care of a large (3 foot) stuffed bear for the weekend. We were apparently supposed to take pictures of it participating in activities and write a little story in Betty's journal about the various things that we had done together. So, we did just that. On Friday evening I lugged the huge bear with us to Joe T. Garcia's for dinner with the Robertsons. We took pictures of Betty Bear "eating" dinner and listening to the Mariachi band. Later that night I lugged it back home and we took pictures of Betty Bear with the kids as we got them all ready for bed. It was somewhat of a nuisance so it ended up sleeping in the rocking chair in our bedroom.

On Saturday, Betty watched us play in the pool in the morning and then we took her with us to a party that Sydney's class had over at one of the other parent's houses. Betty Bear spent most of her time in the house watching college football while we watched the kids swim in the pool. Ironically, this led to a rather embarrassing moment. Apparently Sydney has been stealing my Golf for Life Cup materials and giving them to all of her classmates. Furthermore, she has told them to tell their parents to come to our golf tournament. Although I thought this was a pretty clever guerilla marketing technique and I was appreciative of her efforts to help her daddy, it did lead to a few uncomfortable moments. Many of my discussions with other fathers at the party led to "oh, so that was you" which left me feeling less than comfortable. Regardless, who knows, maybe we will get lucky and they will decide to play.

On a side note I finally realized that I had typed the wrong email address when I originally told everyone about the golf tournament. I am still looking to fill spots for volunteers, golfers, and sponsors. I would appreciate any and all help. The tournament will be on Monday, October 8th, at Mira Vista Golf Club. I don't want to overstep my bounds but I have worked pretty hard on this tournament and I can tell you that, in all due modesty, that it will be the greatest charity golf tournament in the history of the world. Yes, I know, that is a tall order to fill but, I have truly set my standards high. This will be like no other. More information about the tournament can be found at http://www.GolfForLifeCup.org and if you have absolutely any questions you can email me at mdungan@LunchForLife.org or call me at (817)846-6085. Additionally, even if you don't play golf, the after party will be something special. We will be having an incredible dinner and auction. We have even booked a live band. You might even get to see a group down on the eighteenth green try and make a shot for $1,000,000.00. Tickets are available on the website. Remember the purpose of all of this is to raise money for neuroblastoma research but that does not mean we can't have an incredible time. Please consider joining us.

Wow, I got off track. Sorry for the commercial interruption but it is important or I would have not bothered to mention it - back to Betty Bear.

After an hour or so of swimming and a cook out we finally peeled Betty Bear off of the couch and away from the Texas A&M game to take some pictures with kids around the pool. On Sunday we were finally fed up with Betty Bear's unappreciative attitude. I tried putting her to work on the laundry with me but she just got in the way. I also took her with us to the grocery store but she seemed content to stay in the car. I was sure someone was going to call the cops when we left her in the car. Regardless, after it was all said and done, Lynley and I were responsible for printing out all of the pictures and writing the story of Betty Bear's weekend at the Dungan's. Sydney participated a bit on the discussion but seemed happier just to sit at the kitchen table and read her books.

In the end, I still find myself confused. I have no idea of what we, Sydney included, were supposed to get out of this activity. Don't get me wrong. I tried to make this a learning experience. I just could not find much and I still feel as though this was busy work. Am I missing the point? Am I missing the purpose?

Because I have a lot of purpose you know.

6:28 AM 9/11/2007

Good Morning! This will be a relatively short update as I had a late night last night. I was on a conference call until about 9:30 last night, worked a bit after that and then, for some reason, the kids thought it a good idea to wake up about every hour or so. Graham has been going through a rash of bedwetting lately. It seems as though he is making it through only about half of the nights. I am not too terribly concerned about it. From what I understand it is a stage that kiddos can go through. It has, however, put my laundry skills to the test. It seems as though the loads never stop. The good news is that I am getting really good at folding fitted sheets.

Sydney came home yesterday with a plethora of stars, smileys, check pluses, and blue stickers. Sydney went out of her way to be an incredibly good little girl and she was rewarded in spades. As I have written many times before, it is important to me that we instill a sense of thinking of others before we think of ourselves. This is a difficult concept to instill in children six and under but, every once in a while, we get a indication that our lessons are not going unnoticed. One of the reasons Sydney received so many special commendations yesterday is because she was doing just that. She was thinking of others before herself. On one occasion she helped another student clean up their work area after she had cleaned her own. On another occasion she stopped in the hall on her way out to the playground after another child had spilled the contents of their pencil case all over the hallway. On yet another occasion she used one of her cherished Band-Aids (she keeps spares) to put on the scrape of another child.

While I know none of this is life changing and I know it isn't as glamorous as making the winning touchdown in the big game or getting an A on the big test ,this is one of her more meaningful accomplishments this year. We are making a good person. In my grade book that is an A+ and it makes my heart happy.

I am proud of my purpose.

6:04 AM 9/12/2007

Good Morning! I hope all is well. There is nothing much to report today. The kids are all doing fairly well. This afternoon both Sydney and Ainsley have doctor's appointments. One of the lingering issues that we have had with Sydney, spanning the last 3 sets of scans, is continued congestion. It has been so much so that this is one of the items that is routinely mentioned on the reports from her CT scans. This issue has also prevented her from being tested for new hearing aids. We can't seem to keep the congestion, infection, and gunk out of her head long enough to get her ears tested in a manner suitable for what she needs done. We are of the opinion that we need to get this dealt with once and for all. So, we will begin the process today of not only getting something to clear it up again but also beginning the process of hopefully getting it to go away for good. As I have explained to Sydney, it is a bad case of buggers on the brain. She, by the way, is not very appreciative of that description but Graham finds it to be a perfect explanation.

Other than that there is little excitement around the house. I am still working hard on putting this golf tournament together. It will be a great time but there is a lot of competition for golfers at this time of year. In the metroplex alone I am competing with 6 other golf tournaments that I know of and I am sure there are many more. I am sure these other tournaments are important as well but, from my perspective, the GolfForLifeCup is the most important so I will have to work hard to get the word out. The good news is that just about all of the details have been worked out. It will be an incredibly good time and a memorable tournament. I just have to get people into the door and to take a risk on a inaugural golf tournament to see how truly incredible it will be. I think once we have completed this first tournament everyone will want to be a part of next year's festivities.

The kiddos have been busy as well. They spent most of last night out in the playhouse planning their next coup. The had an incredible time together swinging on the swing set, racing down the slide, and climbing all over the two story contraption. Lynley and I were not invited to participate. In fact, we were asked not to. I am glad they are having so much fun without us but it left Lynley and I a little disappointed that they were not in need of us.

Well I had best be off. Today will be jam packed with details.

I still need my purpose even if it thinks it does not need me.

6:15 AM 9/13/2007

Yesterday was not what it turned out to be. In fact, I was just left with a huge knot in my stomach. At about 2:30 pm we picked up the kiddos and took them to Dr. Debbie's for good measure. You may remember from yesterday's journal entry that I had planned on taking Sydney and Ainsley to the doctor. Well, actually, we were taking Graham and Sydney. That should give you an idea of how unconcerned I was about Graham. I knew we were taking Sydney because of congestions issues and I though we were taking Ainsley for some of the same issues. We wanted to get them checked out before we headed out of town next week. The last thing we wanted was sick kids on a Disney Cruise. Well, regardless, I was wrong. Lynley wanted to talk to Dr. Debbie about Graham. She wanted to get his leg pains checked out. Neither of us were particularly concerned and pretty much always wrote them off as growing pains. We just wanted to be sure that it wasn't anything more sinister. So, there you have it, sniffles and growing pains. No big deal, right?

Sydney was the first to get the once over. As Dr. Debbie gave her a careful examination, she played 20 questions with us. One of the things that came out of this was the fact that Sydney had some significant belly pain throughout the day. She had complained on the way to school. I filed it in the back of my mind as I do with most pains but did not get alarmed as I generally like to see some recurrence before I get by daddy feathers ruffled. (I have trained myself, otherwise I would be more of a mental case) As it turns out, the painful episodes continued throughout the day. Dr. Debbie felt her belly and although she said she did not feel anything "tumorish," she did feel something in the bowel. This could be constipation which was our first thought but it could also be something else. The next thing I knew we were checking her urine and had marching orders for an abdominal x-ray at Cooks. The urine came back quickly and apparently there were some white blood cells in the urine which is a potential sign of infection. This was eerie. This is exactly how IT all began. This could be nothing. It could be everything. I did not sleep last night.

As if all of that was not bad enough, Graham was up next. Dr. Debbie gave him the once over as well. She bent Graham in twenty different directions and checked all of his joints. Graham just sat there and giggled. We then talked about his latest rash of bedwetting. That was about the extent of it. The next thing I knew she was flipping him over and looking for skin defects on his spine. She did not find any hairy patches, fatty lumps, birthmarks or dimples. She gave his entire backside a good once over. The next thing I knew Graham had orders for several labs and 4 different views of his legs and spine. So, have you figured it out? Leg pain, bladder control, looking for abnormalities of the spine. Dr. Debbie is trying to rule out Spina Bifida. We went in with growing pains and now we are trying to rule out Spina Bifida. Not what I was looking for.

Well we hustled out of Dr. Debbie's and made our way to Cook's. The kids were all spectacular for their labs and x-rays and by about 5:20 pm we were back on our way home. Now we wait.

Purpose give me strength.

4:59 AM 9/14/2007

I will tell you. After an utterly incomplete night of rest and a full day of waiting I was not particularly sane. I guess that is why, when Dr. Debbie called yesterday afternoon, I found such great humor in the fact that Sydney was completely full of poo and my son was a bed wetter with "growing pains." I could not stop laughing. Odd reaction, I know. But I can't tell you the last time I felt such utter and complete joy. I was like a school girl and I could not stop giggling. It felt so good. I think everyone was feeling the same way. When we would tell others the news they all got a huge smile and, for some unknown reason, they all had the same thing to say "Sydney is full of sh#@. Just like her father!" Yeah, ha, ha. I was too excited and giddy to give much care or to point out that I did not believe that particular trait was hereditary. I was just so happy and thankful. An all too familiar weight was once again lifted off of my chest and I could breath again. I know it was the many prayers that so many people lifted us up with. Thank you.

All of the tests are not in yet but it does look good. Sydney is severely constipated and there is a substantial amount of stool in her bowels. She is jam packed. We have started flooding her with apple juice and Miralax. Hopefully, we can get her cleaned out before our departure. I doubt she would be as happy as I to share this simple fact with the world but I am happy to announce that we have already made some progress. She had her first bowel movement late last night and we scored some relief. I am sure that we still have quite a ways to go but I was happy to see progress - a big pile of it.

Graham's tests were only partially back but I am happy to report that they were able to rule out spina bifida. Many people wrote and asked "Spina bifida? I though only infants got spina bifida?" While that is generally true for many of the most severe forms of Spina Bifida that we hear the most about, there are other forms as well. The form that we were concerned about for Graham was spina bifida occulta. It is far less severe than the other forms and is usually manageable and can, on occasion, be corrected by surgery. Although the damage to nerves cannot be reversed the effects can be dealt with fairly effectively. Now, I am not a doctor and my knowledge just comes from a few hours of reading so take it with a grain of salt. They say that this form of spina bifida actually effects 5 to 10 percent of the population. This is one of the mildest forms of spina bifida although the degree of disability can vary depending upon the location of the lesion. In occulta there is no opening of the back, but the outer part of some of the vertebrae are not completely closed. The split in the vertebrae is so small that the spinal cord does not protrude. Many people with the mildest form of this type of spina bifida do not even know they have it, or symptoms do not appear until later in life. People with spina bifida occulta may suffer from a tethered cord (diastematomyelia), when the spinal cord gets trapped below the affected level of the growing spine. This may cause neurological problems of the legs and bladder, hence, the reason we were concerned. Although this would be the "good" form to have there is still no cure for nerve damage due to spina bifida. Many are plagued with lifelong numbness, pain in the back or legs, weakness in the legs, gradual deformities, and bladder and bowel problems. The great news for us is, although this is very fascinating, it is not a problem for Graham.

We are still waiting on a few of Graham's other tests. I know we are lacking the interpretation of the x-rays from his legs. I don't know why these were not read at the same time. If I was even the slightest bit more paranoid I could surely come up with all kinds of worries but, for the moment, I will be content to just wait them out. Hopefully, we will hear something today. Other than that report this will most likely be the last entry that you see from me before we get back from our Disney Cruise. I may be wrong but I don't think that they will have internet access. Until then, I am sure we will be creating some wonderful Dungan twerp memories to share.

Thank you for the prayers.

I am off to my purpii.

4:51 AM 9/21/2007

Home, sweet home. We made our way back to Fort Worth late yesterday. By the time we got home we were all completely and utterly exhausted but filled with tremendous memories of our Disney cruise. My mind is still fluttering in amazement. In short, I can begin by saying our trip was nothing short of magical.

This was not only the first Disney Cruise for the kids, it was also a first for us parent types. Although Lynley and I have both been to various Disney parks before we had never experienced one of their cruises. So, for us, this was an incredible first as well. Now, I should start by saying a have been lucky enough to live a fairly priveleged life. I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth but I have been lucky enough to travel as a child to some incredibly posh places. I have stayed at a few hotels that are considered some of the world's best. I tell you this, not to brag but to frame the rest of what I tell you into perspective. For me, this Disney cruise was perhaps the best vacation that I have ever taken. It was first class and I don't think I have ever been taken care of so well. From the person that turned down our beds at night to the guy mopping the floors at 4:00 AM everyone was at the height of courteousness and helpfulness. I felt like a movie star. In fact, the only even moderately questionable experience was the food and even that was not bad. It was just ordinary. I felt like I was eating at Bennigan's. It wasn't bad. It wasn't great. It was just there. Especially when compared to the level of service and the entire aura of the ship the food was glaringly lacking. It just did not stand up to the rest of the experience. With all of that being said, I still have to rank this up there as one of the greatest trips of my life and I will be surprised if I ever take another vacation that does not have the Disney stamp of approval. It was just that incredible.

But really, who cares what I think. Isn't Disney about what the kids want? Well, I will certainly be glad to share but even though my kids had an incredible and unforgettable trip I still believe that I had the best time of all. Over the next few days I will try and share all of those memories so that we never forget them. For starters, here is a picture from our first afternoon on board.

Disney has purpose too and it was us. More on Monday!

5:22 AM 9/24/2007

Okay, so you will have to bear with me. This is how I look at it. It is Monday, just 4 days since we returned home from our vacation on the Disney Cruise. I have already forgotten details. It is time that I sit down and capture everything from memory so that it doesn't just float away. It was an incredible trip and one that I would like to remember forever - not just for the kids, but for myself as well.

I alluded to the fact on Monday that the Disney experience was wonderful. I think part of the reason for this is that they do such a good job of dealing with travel anxiety. For many of their guests these trips are the very first of their kind and for others much has changed since there last excursion. It is only natural to worry about what comes next. Will my luggage really arrive? Which bus do I get on? What forms do I need to fill out? How do I get the kids registered in activities? As I sit back and think about it, many of these questions were reeling through my mind. Yes, I am anal but that is not the point. Focusing on these items took away from my enjoyment. This is what Disney did so well. From the earliest moments of our vacation they were already answering our questions. I really wish we had something like this for neuroblastoma. Think about it. Some one to take you through it with your family. Someone to answer questions and give you hope. I will have to take some time to figure that out but for now. Let's get to the memory banks.

The Dungan five were up early for their trip to Orlando - 4:30 to be exact. We had a 7:30 AM flight. All of the packing had been completed the day before and this morning was just about getting the sleepy little curmudgeons out of bed and dressed for their journey. They were all tired. For a crew that normally gets up about 5:00 AM on a normal Saturday or Sunday, you would think this would be easy. But no, whenever we need them to get up at a certain time they are always difficult to peel out of bed. It is one of the weirdest phenomenons I have experienced. It is some kind of clever parent torture. Regardless, after some juice and proper prodding we had them all up, dressed, and dapperly coifed. DeeDee was nice enough to provide our transfer service to the airport. She arrived at about 5:30 AM if my memory serves correctly. I had already packed the bags into the Texas Cadillac. We loaded up and we were off. Our journey had began.

Almost immediately we were into Disney mode. We had a stack of documents with specific instructions. The first was to place some stickers on our luggage. After checking them at the curb this would be the last time we would have to think about our luggage until it magically appeared in our stateroom on the ship. Think about it - traveling without having to juggle five bags of luggage with 3 scrambling twerps, a stroller, and a handful of carry-ons. Yes, my wife is the terminal over packer. In fact, had I wanted to. I could still be living out of my suitcase and could probably do so throughout the month of October with a few extra pair of underwear to spare. Regardless, this was living the life After traveling back and forth to New York with the family I can't tell you how awesomely handy this little feature of our trip was.

On the plane the kiddos were perfect. They are such fine travelers I hardly ever worry anymore. In fact, I even got to take a moment to myself to read the American Way magazine and come away with some great ideas about Lunch for Life. Yes, I got bonus ideas on a vacation. How awesome is that? The kiddos sat and colored and jabbered to one another. They had great fun and Sydney even made friends with another little girl sitting behind her. Yes, she is one of THOSE kids. She loves to make friends on the air plane and usually does fairly successfully. I have no idea where she gets this overtly social behavior from.

Once we arrived in Orlando we got out our trusty map. As I mentioned earlier. we did not have to worry about luggage so we simply made our way to the 'B' side of the airport. We then scuffled down a couple levels of escalators and made our way to the Disney section of the airport. This is where our journey was truly beginning. It took a while to figure out which line we had to make our way through but after asking a question of one of the many friendly people there dawning the red Disney uniforms we quickly made our way through registration and to the next line. As a quick travel trip for the little ones, I have a nugget for you. Whenever we are in a public place like an airport where waiting is involved I always bring some treats with me. I then use contests to win the treats. One of my favorites for waiting is the touching game. I pick some inanimate object and tell them all to hold it. Whoever holds it the longest wins the prize. I can usually get them to stay in the same place for 10 or 15 minutes which is a huge accomplishment if you have ever traveled with 3 kiddos 6 and below.

After about 15 minutes of waiting in bus line 10 it was finally our turn to make our way out to the bus. We gave our carry-on luggage and stroller to the driver to place under the coach and made our way onto the bus. It was plush. I can't really remember being on a nicer bus. There were video monitors ever 3 or 4 rows of seats and the bus itself looked like we were the first that had ever been on it. Is was spic and span. I would have continued to assume that this was a brand new bus had I not seen several in the exact same condition. As we boarded there were already Mickey Mouse cartoons playing. Every few minutes our tour director/bus driver would step aboard and give us an update on what to expect. Not long after that we were on our way. We had about a 50 minute ride before we reached our destination. During our trip we watched a video which explained everything that we would need to know to get onto the ship. We learned exactly everything we would need to know and exactly which order it would happen. We even got to see Mickey and Minnie go through the process in real life. By the time we arrived, any travel anxiety that we once had was gone and we simply went through the motions. I filled out the forms and the forms and registered our stay. I received our special cards (key to the world cards) that would become our key and cash for the next five days. We also registered the kids and received their arm bracelets and a beeper for us just in case they we were ever needed by one of our children.

The next thing I knew we were embarking. Just like in the Love Boat, we made our way up the bridge and onto the boat. It was really happening. Perhaps tomorrow we can start the cruise.

I learned a lot from Disney. They have purpose too.

5:13 AM 9/25/2007

Needless to say the kids eyes were about as big as they could get. I always notice the eyes of both kids and parents in Disney's commercials. The expressions on their faces when they step into the world of Disney is truly priceless. It is a look of awe and it was written all over our faces. Once we had all gathered at the top of the bridge they announced our names as we made it aboard. "Welcome the Dungan Family!" thundered across the entry way. To our left where two magnificent stairways that had a Disney greeter (cast member) on nearly every step, and as we made our way further into the room we were greeted with applause and finally our personal greeter. She walked with us through the large hall and updated us on our personal schedule. We learned that our room would be ready in roughly 30 minutes and that we could enjoy our lunch while waiting. She escorted us down a hallway towards one of the restaurants.

I was not ten feet down this hallway when I was greeted with the tallest mug of beer I had ever seen. For those that don't know me well that is quite a statement. Fact is, I like beer, just about any kind of beer. Warm beer, cold beer, dark beer, light beer, you name it. Beer is my friend so it was only appropriate that I indulged just a little bit. The next thing I knew I had three kids, a wife, and a nice cold mug of beer. Life was good.

The next stop down the hallway was the wine table. Now, if I like beer, Lynley loves the grape and this was our opportunity to purchase our wine list for our dinners. It was only fair that we purchased one of the wine packages for her now that I had a nice cold beer in my hand. They did plan this well didn't they. So, the next thing I know we had purchased a wine package. Now, of course, this isn't that yummy fresh stuff that we usually get out of the box at home. This wine was the old stuff. It came in bottles. It did not even have a screw top. This was the kind of stale old wine that came with a cork. I guess you get what you pay for:) Wow, twenty feet from the entrance and we had already lined the parents up. Was this a Disney Cruise or a cruise for parents? Regardless, we finally made our way down the length of the hallway.

At the end we were greeted by another couple of cast members who invited us into one of the many the restaurants on this deck. At the door we were handed antiseptic wipes. This would have been a little strange had it not been for the video that we had watched on the bus on our way over. We have all heard of sick cruise ships. It seems almost every year their is a story of some cruise ship where everyone gets sick. Well, Disney has gone to extreme efforts to ensure that they never run into this problem and they have worked closely with several organizations to ensure the safety of their passengers. For this reason, dispensers were placed at the front of each restaurant and throughout the ship for us to scrub up before entering. This prevents the spread of infection or any other contaminates. To a family that has been through the world of cancer this is a handy little feature and did not strike us as out of the norm. This seemed so natural but I guess foreign to those that were not used to this level of disinfection. I was pleased to see their commitment to cleanliness.

The restaurant was Caribbean themed. There were bright colors everywhere and a large buffet was centered in the front of the room. From the middle of the room where we sat we could see out both sides of the ship. The kids eyes were still large round circles and I was still reeling from behind the frostiness of my frothy friend. We had arrived. This was vacation.

Now if you are going to have great points to any vacation you also have to have low points. You must realize that this is all relative. I have said many times that this cruise was absolutely spectacular. However, if I had to pick an area that was my least favorite it would have to be the dining. This is not to say that the dining wasn't good. It was good food. It just wasn't great and when you compare it to the level of everything else on the ship it left me looking for more. Again, it wasn't bad. To me it was like Bennigan's. It was good, not great, and not particularly memorable. It certainly is not something that I would tell my friends about. I have always heard that cruise food was so spectacular. I was expecting Del Frisco's. What I received was Bennigan's. Again, not bad. Just not what I was anticipating and when you compare it to the level of service and everything else about our cruise experience it appeared to be lacking. Wow, am I a snob or what? Shame on me.

Regardless, the kids snarfed down lunch and were ready to begin exploring before I had even sat down to enjoy my prime rib slivers, salmon, bake potato, and salad. The kids were ecstatic and now a few hours beyond their nap. We made our way quickly up the elevator and to our stateroom on the 8th floor. For better or worse our stateroom was pretty close to the elevators. This might be a problem for many but not for us. In our entire trip I never heard any traffic outside of our stateroom and I was never bothered by any noise whatsoever. Our room was cruise ship small but I never felt cramped. In fact, I have felt far more cramped in the Ronald or in a hotel that I ever did in our stateroom. It was cleverly designed and, to be honest, I am pretty sure that I had more room to do the things a family of five needs to do than I ever have in a single room. I never felt cramped and I don't think anyone else did either. The room was plush with enough room to sleep five comfortably. There was a queen bed and a couch which flipped out into a single sleeper. Above that was a bunk that flipped down from the ceiling to sleep another. In the far corner there was another bed which could be pulled from the wall. We never even used that one. The room also came equipped with two bathrooms. Each had a sink and one housed the toilet while the other housed the tub and shower. In the main room there was a roomy closet and enough drawer storage to suit our needs (keep in mind my description of our luggage.) Finally, there was a television, a mini fridge, and enough cubbies and cabinets to keep our hearts happy. There was also a curtain in the middle of the room that could be drawn to separate the bed area from the living area. Finally, if all of that was not enough space, we also had a veranda that could seat two and allow enough room for 3 rugrats to mill around comfortably. It was not the Taj Mahal but it was perhaps the best designed space I had ever been in. I has fascinated by the clever architecture. The kids were enamored with the bunk beds. Lynley just thought that we all had too much sugar at lunch.

We decided to go exploring. Although we could not hear it from our room the deck above was where the party was happening. This part of the ship includes three pools; one for children, one for families, and one for adults only. It also includes two restaurants and several bars and fast food areas. Sydney favorite part of this floor was the self serve ice cream bar and the self serve drink bar. By the end of her time on the ship she will have mastered these two parts of the ship. Up on deck nine we also found the water slide, the ships giant television, an arcade, a basketball court and enough ping pong tables and shuffleboard courts to keep everyone busy. It was truly spectacular. I will have to coerce the pictures from Lynley to show you. It was incredible. While we were up on deck Goofy's Pool had been covered with a retractable dance floor and a party was getting ready to take place.

Yikes, there I go again running out of time. There is so much to remember and so little time.

Until tomorrow when purpose will raise its head again.

5:57 AM 9/26/2007

At about this time we were approaching 4:00 PM. This is important to note because at 4:30 PM the entire ship had to participate in an evacuation drill. We made our way back to the stateroom and began the process of of getting all of the kids outfitted in life preservers. The funny thing about this exercise is that, with three rugrats to bundle up in large rectangle life preservers, it seemed pretty clear that it was going to be tough to get them all on before they could take them off again. This was one of those episodes from the 3 Stooges. I would put a life preserver on Ainsley and then begin the process of putting it on Graham. By the time I got it on Graham, Ainsley had removed hers and hid it under the bed. I would then start helping Sydney put hers on and Graham was taking his off. It would have been pretty funny to watch. Regardless, we eventually had them all outfitted and began the process of making it down the stairs to deck 3 where we were gathering for the life boats. The only problem with this was (a) we were going down 5 flights of stairs with (b) a 2 year old, a three year old, and a 5 year old and (c) only one of them could walk due to the bulkiness of the life preservers. This was complicated by the fact the Graham refused to be carried and wanted to "do it myself!" Somehow, after being passed by just about the entire ship, we eventually made it to deck 3 and our evacuation point. I might also note that it was pretty humid and roughly 90 degrees. Oh, this was super. As we sat and listened to the direction of the Captain; Larry, Moe, and Curly decided to play bumper twerps in their life preservers. Here I was being a perfectly well behaved Dad, standing quietly in my line and my little curmudgeons were bumping each other all over the deck. I took this opportunity to very loudly point out that those misbehaving kids were not my own. That earned a dirty look from Lynley and some smiles and jeers from the crowd. Apparently they had seen me walk in with them. After a few minutes of draining all of the sweat from our bodies, they dismissed us back to our stateroom. They asked that we keep the life preservers on until we got back to our room. We made it up the first flight of stairs in about five minutes. After that off they came and the kids happily jaunted up the next four flights.

By the time we made it back to our stateroom our luggage had arrived. We also met the cast member that would be taking care of our stateroom. He introduced himself and gave us the lay of the land. He addressed the kids and very nonchalantly asked the kids about some of their favorite things - colors, etc. After getting the official grand tour it was decided that I would take the kids up to the party on deck 9 while Lynley quietly unpacked the bags. By the time we got up there the party was in full force. There was loud music and everyone was dancing around Goofy's pool where the dance floor had been place over the pool. There was cast members dancing all over the stage and they were even dispersed throughout the crowd. The kids were in awe. So much so, I could not really tell whether they were having any fun at all. Ainsley was dancing wildly with her arms in the air and her eyes focused on her feet. Sydney sat clapping on my shoulders and Graham just stood there with his mouth wide open attracting flies.

On stage there were many introductions. We were meeting all of the ships crew and there were even some special surprises with some character appearances. Goofy and his son Max even made it on deck. It was not long before Lynley joined us and we all danced together. It was quickly encroaching on 5:30 which was our time for dinner. Before the party was over we made our way back to the stateroom to change. We had not noticed with all of the commotion but looking out on the veranda on our stateroom we noticed that the ship was already moving and we were making our way out to the open sea. People lined the shores and waved as we headed out. The kids took a few minutes to wave and yell goodbye to all of those that had gathered on the shoreline. It was not long before we were in open water.

Our first dinner was at Triton's which was the fanciest of the 3 restaurants that we would be grazing at. Tonight we would meet our serving team who would be following us from restaurant to restaurant for the remainder of our stay. Rowena was our head server from the Philippines and Alex was our assistant server from somewhere in South America. They would do an excellent job ensuring that we got exactly what we wanted whenever we wanted it. As with everything we had experienced before, our servers were outstanding and always willing to take a minute to entertain the kids. They were full of magic tricks and all kinds of little entertainment gambits. I was amazed.

As I have mentioned previously the food was okay. It was not spectacular but it certainly was not substandard. The first night I would order one of the fish dishes. It was good but not memorable enough for me to tell you what it was. The kids had there own menu and enjoyed a cheese pizza, hot dog, and macaroni and cheese. They could not have been happier their choices.

After dinner we made it up back up to our stateroom to change before spending about an hour or so swimming in the Mickey Mouse Pool. At about 8:00 we made our way back to the room were we found all of our beds turned down. However, they weren't just turned down. Sydney's yellow (favorite color) blanket was draped across her bunk which had magically appeared from the ceiling. Her stuffed kitten (favorite animal) was tucked in cozily. On the bunk below, Graham's blanket, a Superman (favorite super hero) pillow case, had been placed on his pillow. On the center of our bed we found a cozy little space architected especially for Ainsley draped with her pink blanket. On the foot of the bed was a large towel sculpture of a snake with Lynley's glasses sitting over it's eyes. This was my first time seeing such incredible towel origami but I understand that it is somewhat of a trademark for Disney stays. I was blown away. Just like everything else I had experienced so far this was starting out as the best vacation I had ever had - with or without the kids.

We giggled ourselves to sleep.

I tell you this was purpose of a different kind.

4:51 AM 9/27/2008

Good Morning! That was how I felt when we woke up the next morning. We had already arrived in Nassau, our first destination. Lynley and I were both up well before dawn trying to plan out our next day. One of the great features of the Disney cruise was the Personal Navigator. The Personal Navigator is an itinerary of all of the activities that are scheduled for a particular day on and off the ship. Although there is plenty of information to be found on the pages there is also a "TV guide" schedule of the day. In this way, you have access to every 30 minutes of the day and you know exactly what is happening. Furthermore the activities are further divided by their age appropriateness. After ogling the pages for a few minutes we tried to isolate the activities that would be appropriate for the entire family. Unfortunately, we were somewhat limited by Ainsley and Graham's age. Many of the activities that we thought they would enjoy they were simply to young for. There would be no swimming with the dolphins, for example. In the end we chose to take a trip on a glass bottom boat a bit later in the day. This was an excursion at about 10:30 AM. There were also several activities planned on Paradise island, the home of Atlantis and the rich and famous. Here there were hundreds of things to do but unfortunately we would have had to commit an entire day. We wanted to visit the aquarium but in order to do it we would have had to skip the kids naps. Furthermore, being our first day we wanted to stay close to the ship. Ironically there were still some pretty neat activities scheduled for the kids on the boat. There was an opportunity for them to make a hat with Peter Pan and another opportunity to learn to draw a picture of Mickey Mouse from the mouse himself. In short, for the kids it looked like the activities onboard might be even more fun than the activities in Nassau and Paradise island. Nassau is known for its shopping which we knew would probably not appeal to the kiddos. In fact, there had been classes on board the day before about how to shop for jewelry on the island. This morning the class was even being replayed on the television in the room. There was also a channel which did an excellent job of explaining all of the different excursions. In the end, we decided to try a bit of it all.

It was not long before everyone in our room was up and milling about. The kids were excited to begin the day. Everyone took a shower and we were off to have some fun. We began the morning with breakfast in one of the restaurants on deck 3. They seated us next to the window where we had a first class few outside the ship. There was a large breakfast buffet with just about everything you could think of. For the most part the kids were far too excited to eat but that did now stop Lynley or I. We stuffed our gullets and then made our way out of the restaurant.

Our first stop was the excursion desk to get tickets for our excursions. We had about an hour and a half to kill before our glass bottom boat excursion began. The kid areas had some fun activities planned so we elected to try out the babysitting services and kid activities for a bit. Unfortunately, all of the kids were going to be separated. Ainsley was only 2, so she was delegated to the nursery. Graham was part of the group made up of 3 and 4 year olds that would be making hats with Peter Pan, and Sydney was part of the 5 - 7 year olds that would be drawing Mickey Mouse. Believe it or not, Sydney is the one that was having the difficulty being split up. Both Ainsley and Graham went without even a care. In the end, Sydney refused to be separated from Graham and she ultimately spent the morning with the 3 and 4 year olds. Regardless, we thought it was worth a shot to see how they enjoyed these services. In the meantime Lynley and I, complete with our beeper, bolted from the ship and enjoyed a bit of Nassau.

The main strip was less than a ten minute walk from our state room. Lynley and I made a quick round of the shops. There was Cartier, Coach, Fendi, you name it. I could see that this was going nowhere good fast so I cleverly navigated us down an alley of shops with knickknacks such as t-shirts, homemade "shell" animals, and other gimmicky overpriced crap. Realizing that Lynley was making her way through this alleyway way to quickly I ducked into one of the last shops to buy a hat. There we met the store owner who took great enjoyment in talking to us. In fact, she really did not want us to leave. In the end we simply ran out of time and had to make a beeline back to the ship. It took about 15 minutes to make our way back through customs and onto the boat were we found the kids about ready for their parent's again. We made the rounds and herded them back off of the ship. It was time for our glass bottom boat tour.

The glass bottom boat tour was actually pretty interesting. As we left the harbor we had the opportunity to pass Paradise Island and in doing so we got to see all of the houses of the rich and famous. My memory escapes me now, but I do recall seeing Charlie Chaplin's, Oprah's, Nicolas Cage's, Michael Jordan's, and Tiger Wood's mansions on the shore. There were many others but I have slept since. The island is small and marked by two prominent features. The first is Atlantis. The resort simply towers over everything else and is noted for a bridge which connects the two towers. The bridge is actually an 8 bedroom suite for the rich and famous. The other distinctive feature of the island is its golf course which take up much of the inland property. In all actuality I appreciated the tour of Paradise island a bit more than our little excursion to the reef. We did see a sunken ship and a slew of parrot fish and yellow tail but it wasn't nearly as exciting as I had hoped. Regardless, it was nice to get out as a family and have some fun.

Once we arrived back at port it was time for the kiddos to have a nap. I put Graham and Ainsley down and then Sydney and I went on a little adventure. After that she would do the same with her mother. Later that afternoon we would spend our time swimming on board and having a nice and relaxing time. That night we would eat dinner at onboard at the Animator's Palate. This is one of those restaurants that is hard to believe without seeing. At first, it seems ordinary enough. The most distinctive features is that everything, from floor to ceiling is black and white. Even the Cast Members (wait staff) were dressed from head to toe in black and white. In fact, in the beginning it is only the patrons, us flamboyant vacationers, that have any color whatsoever. As the evening goes on, however, the color begins to appear. At first you see it in the lights on the ceilings. Then the pictures on the wall magically transform from black and white to true color until, at about the time of dessert, the room makes its complete transformation. From floor to ceiling the room is flooded in color. Even the wait staffs clothes have changed from black and white to Technicolor. The kids eyes lit in amazement. Once again, the food was okay. The show was incredible.

After dinner we made our way back up to the room for a quick change into our suits. We then headed up to deck nine for another evening swim. We spend a little over an hour having an after dinner cocktail and watching the kids swim around Mickey Mouse's head. It was the perfect cap to a complete day. When we arrived back to our room it was with the same astonishment as the day before. Our stateroom attendant had gone out of his way to impress and personalize our stay. This night we found an Origami elephant on our bed and chocolates for the kids who needed the sugar about as bad as Lynley thinks we need another kiddo.

At this point in our vacation I had forgotten. My purpose was enjoying my family and all of the stress and worry had left my mind. I wasn't thinking about my golf tournament, cancer, or work. I was oblivious and it was a surprise change. I don't remember not feeling the pressures of life before. It was wonderful. It was purpose.

5:31 AM 9/28/2007

The next morning the Dungan five would wake up to thunder and one of the most beautiful rainbows I have every seen in my life. Rainbows over the ocean are quite a site and sometimes, if you are at just the right angle, you can see the entire rainbow in all of its glory. While, yes, this is quite beautiful it also leads to a slew of questions for those between the ages of 2 and 6. Most notably, I was having difficulty explaining away the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We could see both sides of the darn thing and it was clear that there was no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and there was certainly no leprechauns guarding it. I don't think leprechauns can float and we did not see any Irish looking boats on the horizon either. The kids loved the rainbow but it was clear that Sydney was disappointed by the lack of gold. She was clearly hoping to score big so that she could buy out the Disney store downstairs. Even though the excitement over the pot of gold was drained right out of her I had a wonderful time watching the rainbow and the rain clouds move in and out as Sydney sat out my lap out on the veranda. We snuggled. It was completely peaceful. I loved it.

Later that morning and after a thorough scrubbing of our stinky rugrats we made our way down to Triton's for a gourmet breakfast. We watched out the window as the ship tried to make port at Castaway Cay but it was clear that the weather had other plans. The tides had shifted and we missed our first attempt. We would spend the next hour repositioning ourselves for another attempt. In the meantime we ordered breakfast and talked as we waited for our steaming hot sustenance to arrive. As soon as the food arrived, piping hot I might add, like clockwork the terminal poopinator uttered those words that guaranteed another cold meal for Daddy. "Daddy, I have to go potty!" One of the great things about eating at home is that Graham doesn't seem to do this and, if he does, the restroom is right around the corner. In a restaurant, however, if the boy needs to go to the restroom he requires an escort. That means me. For some reason, no matter what restaurant we are eating at the boy has programmed himself to have an intense desire to poo the moment my dinner arrives. Ironically it does not happen when his food arrives. There are many times his food is served before Lynley and I are served. But, it might as well be written in stone, the moment my food arrives the boy has to go and if he doesn't, in his words, he will die.

So, what do you do? Well, I will tell you what you do. You grumble. You suck it up. And, you take the boy to the restroom. Graham also somehow knows exactly how long it takes for by meal to get cold. If it is something that can't be ruined by sitting out for five or ten minutes then he is as quick as can be. However, if I am having something that can really be ruined by sitting out, like French fries or eggs, you can bet that I am in for about fifteen minutes of standing outside his stall in the bathroom. Sure enough, after much grumblings and "Are you done yets?" and "My dear God, son, how much pooh can you haves?" we finally made our way back to the table where everyone had finished, the boat was docked, and my ham and cheese omelet had died of a combination of hyperthermia and old age. Thankfully, our dear server, who found great humor in my trials and tribulations, had put in another order for a piping hot omelet. Within minutes I was eating an actual warm meal for the first time since I had arrived. Perhaps this is the reason I had such a bad attitude about the food. I wonder if a filet mignon or pecan encrusted salmon filet are actually supposed to be served warm. hmmm.

Well, crud, here I went writing for an hour and I haven't even gotten through breakfast on day three. I guess there will be more purpose to come next week.

P.S. Don't forget the golf tournament coming up in just over a week. Make sure you sign up today at http://www.GolfForLifeCup.org.

Thankfully purpose does not seem to run on hot meals.

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