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Friday, August 21, 2015

Passport Party

One night we were given the choice to attend either the Passport Party or the Duct Tape Ball. We were a bit tired of loud music and DJ's (and we had not had time to construct duct tape costumes before we came, due to the packing/remodeling craziness). The costumes we glimpsed on campus were pretty impressive though. Check out this team's fun theme:

We headed to the other side of campus where the Passport Party was happening. It was a cultural celebration to recognize the different countries participating at Global Finals.

Set up throughout a field were different stations representing each country. There were various activities to do or places to take fun pictures, and each booth would stamp your passport.

We had so much fun exploring and playing all night. And of course there was mountains of food sampling cuisines from around the world to enjoy. There was music and dancing, playing, and of course, pin trading all night.

We were the first ones at the gate when they opened the festivities, so we ran as fast as we could across the field to catch this shot before the crowds pressed in too close and made photography difficult.

Global Finals- Food, Fun, and Opening Ceremonies

Global Finals was a bit like being on a cruise ship, minus the seasickness.

There was So. Much. Food. Everyday we had an open buffet for every meal. There were dozens of delicious choices offering up tempting smells. Between the meals there were endless treats- coolers full of ice cream, crates of iced soda, and every evening party had tables and tables of desserts.

The Buddy Team meet-up had pastries right after breakfast. The movie party had catered pizzas, movie treats, eclairs, candy, and more ice cream. The Passport party had endless tables full of food from around the world. Fish and chips. Nachos. Italian bread and marinara dip. Sushi. Baklava. Tandoori chicken. BBQ Chicken. I can't even remember all the choices they had. (And this was served right after dinner!) My goodness, we were always full. I think we must have gained some weight that week.

(All-you-can-eat sushi? Yes, please!)

There were parties every night and plenty of fun activities to do all day long. The pool was open every day and our kids loved chilling out there during the hot and humid afternoons. They spent hours and hours playing in the pool, swimming until the pool closed at 10 PM. Our dorm was across the street from the pool, so it was a quick, easy walk home at night.

 Several courtyards were stocked with dozens of inflatable houses, water slides, human hamster balls, obstacle courses, and more. Most nights there were dance parties with DJs, famous singing groups, and other entertainers.....we went to a couple of those but the children lost interest after 30 minutes or so. The music was very loud and not our preferred style of entertainment.

We were lucky to be selected as part of the Buddy Team program, where we were paired with an international team for some events. The morning meet-and-greet was where we met each other and exchanged gifts that represented our home state. Our buddy team was from Ontario, and it was such fun to get to know them! We brought chips and Texan pineapple-jalapeno salsa to share, and gifts of shark tooth necklaces from the Texas beach, longhorn-shaped cookie cutters, and Texas-themed drink cozies. Our friends gifted us with maple candy, Canadian-themed mugs and waterbottles, and moose-themed gifts.

The opening ceremonies was a delight, somehow we were given the tickets to front row seats along the floor! We weren't sure who was in charge of seating assignments, but we were so delighted to be up close to all the action.

What a treat that was in such a large arena.

The Parade of Nations showcased the participating countries in grand display. We enjoyed giving every team high fives and cheers as they paraded past. They particularly liked high-fiving the astronauts from NASA.

The music and energy were such fun, and we cheered our little hearts out. Each time a state or country was announced, the participants from that area would stand and cheer loudly. Texas had around 3,000 participants, while other areas averaged around 100 or 200 participants. When Texas was announced in the parade, the roar was positively deafening.

Matthew was also featured in a live interview for television, which he thought was very cool.

We were treated to various live entertainment from singers and silk dancers, and Buzz Aldrin did a speech to encourage kids to pursue more STEM-based learning. (It was rather odd- he acted like he was drunk, and the presentation was quite awkward. The CEO of DI kept trying to wrap things up and get Buzz offstage, but Buzz would have none of it and monopolized the evening for much longer than he was supposed to. It was a total PR fail for Disney (who hosts Global Finals), but of course the details of that never made it into any articles in the Global Finals papers that were being printed daily.)

At the close of the ceremonies there was a spectacular confetti drop. It lasted for several magical minutes. The children really enjoyed catching the individual pieces out of the air or playing with the drifts of confetti covering the floor.

Matthew even made a 'confetti angel' on the ground!

After the Opening Ceremonies were done, there was a party on the floor of the stadium. Everyone was mingling and taking pictures with students from other countries. It was such a fun and friendly interaction, and it brought back so many memories of my childhood, when I participated in the International Fold Dance Festival each summer. I loved it that my children were able to experience something like this!

(Matthew's in a stage of life where he thinks it is 'uncool' to smile in pictures. It's rare that I can coax a smile from him when I'm holding a sad!)

What a memorable day it was! I could see why people would want to attend Global Finals as tourists even if they weren't participating in the DI program. It's such fun!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Global Finals part 1- goodbye to a painting, a gun fight, pin trading

Our trip to Global Finals was so memorable! May was a very crazy month for us though. We were fundraising for Global Finals, packing to move cross-country (Nathan had landed a new job in Utah), selling most of our belongings while putting the rest in storage, and remodeling our house so we could list it on the market. My days were mostly spent painting walls, refinishing cabinets, tackling mountains of paperwork for our competition, and packing.

We were blessed with a somewhat amazing event- our house sold before we even listed it on the market! It was such a blessing in many ways- we didn't have to invest any more money to stage the house or have the uncertainty of spending a summer waiting for a buyer. In other ways it was a bit of a shock- we didn't have time to do our wishlist items on our Texas bucket list. There were so many things our family had planned on doing and unique places to visit before we said our final goodbye.

Nathan had already moved to Utah to begin his new job, so things were a bit crazy as I prepped for our move and our cross-country trip without him. I was rather worried about child care arrangements since Daniel and Joseph couldn't come with us to Tennessee. I was blessed with a kind friend who offered to watch over them during our trip, and in gratitude I let her pick one of my paintings as a thank you gift. She loved my painting of The Gleaners, because it was a painting close to her heart. Her 'home' temple in Arizona had a large rendition of The Gleaners, so it held special meaning for her. It was sad to say goodbye to a painting I loved so dearly....but I felt so indebted to her for rescuing me out of a tricky problem that I was happy there was a way I could show my gratitude.

Our trip north was interesting- when we passed through Waco we saw hundreds (literally hundreds) of men handcuffed and lined up on a curb surrounded by several dozens of police officers. Police cars were everywhere, and we wondered what the event was. The next morning in our hotel the news channels and newspapers were flooded with headlines of a violent gun fight in Waco between rival biker gangs. Over 200 people were wounded. We drove through a bit of history without even knowing it! I was grateful we were safe and oblivious to the dangerous event that was happening around us at the time.

After two long days of driving, we arrived in Knoxville. Teams were assigned housing in the college dorms and every city hotel. There were over 20,000 people in town for this competition, so the city was packed with people from around the world. What a thrill it was to be there!

From the moment we arrived, there were fun things to do and plenty of food to enjoy. Matthew and I really loved racing in the human hamster balls...I've always wanted to try them out! Every day the courtyards were filled with inflatable games of various sorts.

The most fun part of the week was pin trading, which was a bit surprising. I had expected the pin trading to be a somewhat minor part of the week. I was wrong. Even with all the games, rides, parties, food, and other activities, pin trading was the top attraction no matter where we were on campus. From the minute we set foot on campus, kids were whipping out their pin collections and bartering.

Foreign students didn't always know English, but they always knew enough English to ask, "Do you have pins? Want to trade?" It was such a great ice-breaker for the kids to help them start talking with each other.

Throughout the week people traded at every opportune moment. The tables, lawns, and walkways were always lined with rows of people 'setting up shop' as they spread out their pin towels or pin binders and started bartering. We traded on the bus, in the halls of our dorm (Brazilian teams were housed next door to us!), at the pool, during meals, and I even saw girls trading in the bathrooms with their pins spread out on the counter tops! Most pin-trading locations were WAY too packed with thousands of people, so I couldn't get any decent photos. I did catch these scenes when the kids 'set up shop' on a quieter stretch of sidewalk  or bit of empty table during lunch.

Everyone had a 'trading towel' and a 'brag towel'. The trading towel was filled with pins they were willing to get rid off, and the brag towel had the completed sets of their favorite pins.

It was like a game. Most pins came in sets of 3-8 pieces. If you liked a particular set, the day would be spent hunting for the missing pieces you needed to complete a collection. It was such fun to finally locate your missing pins. Then began the bartering. What were you willing to lose in order to get the pin  you wanted? It was all very friendly and positive and not competitive in nature. Kids were always so excited to make good trades, and there were just as many adults trading, too.

There were so many thousands of pins to choose from, there was always something to please everyone. I loved seeing the designs from other countries.

One of my favorite pins is from a Guatemala team. Instead of conventional metal pins, they traded gorgeous beaded animal pins. These teenage boys were pleased when we exclaimed how beautiful the pins were. They told us their mothers had spent days creating these complex animals by hand. What a treasure!

Sarah really wanted some of my South Korea sets, so she spent a day hunting down some of the missing pieces I needed. (And she found the rare and elusive characters to complete my Wizard of Oz set- hurray!) I really wanted one of Matthew's frogs to complete my own frog collection, so I searched for the zombie pieces he was collecting. We'd complete a set, then often discover something we liked better and swap it out for something new.

I discovered that many people come to Global Finals as tourists just to trade pins. They ignored all the events of the week and just spent all day trading under huge pavilions. Adults and teenagers stayed up until 3 AM each night hanging out in the courtyard trading, talking, making music together, and dancing. It was SUCH fun.

Some teenagers began a game one night around midnight. It was called the Pin Up Challenge. The object of the game was to start with a really ugly, seemingly worthless pin, then trade it up for something slightly better. Then trade that pin again for something slightly better. Keep doing this for an hour or so, then compare with the other players and see who upgraded to the best pin overall. It was such fun! I played this with 15 free pins that had been handed out for free at the movie-in-the-park event one day. I was surprised that this game netted me some of my best pins of the week!

What a fun week-long game of bartering it was! The pins made the neatest souvenirs.

Oh! I almost forgot! During one of our bus rides, we were chatting with the girls in front of us. They were from  Louisiana. We found out that one girl lived on the Air Force base, and was surprisingly next door neighbors with Nana and Grandpa Kingsley! What a small world! We traded a pin with her so we could have the Texas Kingsleys give Nana and Grandpa a pin we collected in Tennessee from their Louisiana neighbor. What were the odds we'd meet someone with a connection to our lives? Such fun! And of course we had to take a picture to record our encounter.