Thursday, October 16, 2014

it's because I love you

Dear Son, 
We skipped the bus and I drove you to school this morning because it was drizzling. I figured I'd spare you from starting the day wet because I could. Still, you were wiping the wetness from your cheeks as I slowed for the 20 mph school zone sign. I saw resolve move across your boyish face, possibly hating me, denying your part in the morning's case of the missing library books.
"It hurts me more than it hurts you" rang in my head when my lips said, "I love you, pal." as you hopped out of the van wordlessly for the first time ever.
As tempting as it is for me to put your library books in your backpack for you the night before or scurry around trying to find them in the minutes before we need to be out the door, I can't. I won't.
Because I perceive my job as your mother to help you become a successful individual without me, I won't swoop in to save you from making mistakes. Mistakes give first-born overachievers like you and me a crushing, pit-of-the-stomach ache. Feeling that ache, taking the fall after the trip is what compels us to change. I won't rob you of that, son.

I'm writing this letter to you because the first thing I did after school drop-off was locate your library books in our house. Now they stare back at me, tempting me to deliver them to you to spare you the humiliation of unpreparedness that awaits you this afternoon. I've even argued with myself that your tears this morning were enough to teach you the lesson, but I know better, because I've given in to that notion the last few times and here we are again, lesson, unlearned.

I understand our Heavenly Father far better in these moments when I'm withholding my power to save you from pain because I see the value in you walking through it. The truth is, what's more important than shielding you from hardship is giving you the tools and support to come through it a better person.

Remember when we were talking about superheroes? Remember when you said, "I'm noticing each of them has their own thing; like Superman has kryptonite and Batman has his parents' death. And the superheros overcome the bad with good."? We talked about Jesus. We talked about what sets us apart is how we respond to bad things. We can be hurt or sad or angry, but decide to do the right thing. And Jesus helps us become more like Him, closer to who He created us to be through the tough stuff.

Nobody wants you to reach your potential more than I do. I think you can soar, son! But more importantly, I want you to choose to soar; to rise above, even when it's hard. I don't want you to be stunned to discover that it takes hard work and dedication to be successful. We won't fool you into thinking someone will be there to make up the difference every time you don't have enough. How can you learn the importance of carefully discerning who gets a piece, unless you experience a broken heart? 

I remember the first time you got hurt. Ever. I'd checked you into the childcare at our gym in Texas and joined a Step aerobics class. It was good for both of us, I convinced myself. When they greeted me with a clipboard & waiver to sign because another child bit your chubby, little baby arm, it took great restraint not to scoop you up and take you back to our house forever, safe from the cruel world that bites despite our best efforts.

And for the last eight years, I've been balancing when to let you in on the realities of this world and when to protect your innocence.
I'm careful not to give you more than you can handle. And equally as careful not to give you less.
When I'm there to spare you, it's because I love you. 
And when I'm not, it's because I love you too. 

Devotedly,
Mom

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Lately...

Lately...
...I haven't changed a diaper all month! For the first time in 8 years, diapers and wipes aren't part of my day! The proverbial, "when they're ready, they're ready" certainly applies here. I learned my lesson with the first 2 kids, trying when they showed interest at 18m and 2 and frustrated when it wasn't until 3 that they "got it". I started to wonder if she'd ever be diaper-free. Alas, she is potty-trained and accident free! More latte money for me.

...I'm pinching myself over how dreamy it is to spend the day with my 3 year old. Should I admit how...dare I say, easy this is? She gets lost in creative play, hardly noticing I've been ticking away at the to-do list. She's content to cuddle up with a stack of books on my lap. She's a gem! This is quite a timely gift!

...I'm learning how to accept what is, what will be, what I cannot change. 

I'm discovering I suck at being helpless and out of control. Especially when it comes to people I care about deeply.

...I never miss a spinning class! Nothing keeps me pushing through high resistance like the blast of "I've got my mind made up and I can't let go...I'll be running til the love runs out"! (Listen to Love Runs Out here: One Republic) I pick a bike in the front for extra accountability not to slack.

...I'm putting eye cream on nightly, sunscreen on the back of my hands, and exfoliating in the shower regularly. 

...My Craigslist search for a Vitamix under $300 is futile. Zulily has reconditioned models for $299 & FS, but it's too risky for me. 

...His books are ultra inspiring! And he's an alumnus of my alma mater, so I'm looking forward to reading, Mark Batterson's latest,  All In.

...This new product seems too good to be true, but every time I've gone to grab it, the colors aren't my fave. Anybody else try it?

...Downton Abbey has been the perfect indulgence after the kids are in bed and Dan is off studying. As with the best novels, I miss the characters now that I'm all caught up. Fingers-crossed January's season will be better than the last one.

...My son will casually mention an obscure story from the Bible he's been reading far too late into the night. The Action Bible is the perfect gift for a comic book loving boy in your life.

...My friends have been thoughtfully reaching out to me during this transition and typically just when I need the boost. Thank you!

...My 5 year-old throws her head back as she slides across our floor, whining "I miss daddy! I wish it was me and daddy."  I'm committed to finding the balance between acknowledging her ache in his absence and encouraging her to focus on the joy to be had even without him. It's enlightening to see yourself in your children, isn't it?

...I nearly declined the chance for a night out with my husband because my hair and makeup weren't done. Free childcare because my dad was visiting and a night out with my favorite person, and I almost refused because I didn't like how I looked! Someone slap me. Thankfully, I came to my senses.

...I'm praying for the grace to live this way:
"Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. 
Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.  
Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other...
Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying...
Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep."
Romans 12:9,12,14 &15









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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Welcome back, school!

While I'm rejecting pumpkins & colored leaves suggesting Summer give way to Fall, I could go around hugging the school staff for opening the doors to my kids this week. If you come over, I can perform the back-to-school jingle & choreography that sprang up spontaneously on the first morning as I plunked ice packs into lunches. We are ready!
Their clean sneakers and pressed pants and combed hair reflect the fresh start and lofty ambitions of this new year. My 5 year old is ready for Kindergarten; her maturity matches her zeal this time around. It was more emotional to walk my son into his 3rd grade classroom. Next year is his last in Elementary school. How can that be? 
Just when their absence starts feeling strange, I'm thankful for smiling faces bounding toward me from the school bus at the end of the day.

The peppy girl in the previous post crawled her way to this week. It felt like the end of my first 10K: adrenaline drained and my playlist lost it's power, but quitting wasn't an option. I crossed the finish line but not in any picturesque form.
It turns out there's no easing into MD school. For the first few weeks, I barely saw my husband. He is out of bed before me and in bed after me. He's studying or in class for all but a couple of hours he's committed to eating dinner together & putting the kids to bed. He says it's like drinking from a fire hose. He loves it! I'm genuinely happy for him. But that doesn't make adjusting much easier. And neither does reading the schedule and hearing testimonials from previous students as to the rigor of the program. Living it out ourselves is so much different. We had a number of spirit-crushing moments.
We're compiling quite the list things to be grateful for as well.
He passed his first exam and we celebrated with a couple of days together, taking deep breaths and exchanging knowing glances.
We're going to make it through.
We signed up for this dang race-we're going to pace ourselves, find our stride around each bend, capitalize on surges of adrenaline, and enjoy as much of it as possible.

I'm praying & believing these words for my children. I'm trusting them, myself.

The Lord is faithful;
He will strengthen you
and guard you from the Evil One...
May the Lord lead your hearts into 
a full understanding and expression of the love of God
and the patient endurance that comes from Christ...
May the Lord of peace himself
give you his peace at all times
in every situation.
2 Thess. 3: 3, 5, 16



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Friday, August 15, 2014

My life got flipped, turned upside down

Rap it with me:
"Now this is a story all about how
My life got flipped turned upside down
And I'd like to take a minute just sit right there
I'll tell you how I became the..
."

wife of a Medical School student!

Yep. We jumped off a cliff! My husband quit a solid job in the name of scratching the proverbial itch that hasn't gone away in over 10 years. (God, I dread how American & spoiled that phrase sounds.) Instead of going to MD school in 2002, when he was accepted, he pursued a career as a professor, and earned his PhD. Last year, he was accepted into the MD school here in NY! After pouring over spreadsheets and compound interest calculations, playing Devil's advocate, seeking wise counsel, buying in to The Meaning of Marriage, we decided to take the jump.
I wasn't going to say anything here on the blog. My lips have been sealed on this very personal & weighty process in real life as well, only sharing with a handful of supportive friends/family, for whom I'm grateful. The thing is, I think I'm going to need to blog about the long, challenging road ahead. Writing is cathartic for me. Miracles have happened to get us to this point and I'm certain they'll continue, and I want a record. I'm choosing to publish over paper journal because I found so little positive chatter online from other MD school wives and I'm hoping to provide it in the most honest way.

One week down & here are 10 things I've learned:
1. Moms of MD students can be insufferable in their pride. The pursed lips, the tone of voice, the cardigan uniform-if it's any indication of the wives I will encounter, Lawd help me!
2.  With 3 kids and a mortgage, and my SAHM-status, my husband is quite the unconventional student. At the white coat ceremony last week, he was mistaken a few times for faculty (which is tricky, because technically he is faculty, but in the PT Dept., and only until next month).
>Side note: This brings me to the most common question: "Isn't he already a Dr.?" Well, yes, he has a PhD. He is now earning an MD.
He has to earn the MD just as any other student, regardless of his experience teaching similar course content.
3. Female MD students make me nervous. They're obviously tenacious and a tad too pretty for my preference.
4. If loving what he's doing was the goal, we've reached it already. He is practically giddy.
5. I'm going to need to get a life. Something I'm giddy over. And housekeeping ain't it. 
6. Since we're certainly staying here for 4 years, I'll need to get some local girlfriends. Like yesterday.
7. Spinning classes are a savior! Between the break from my children and the endorphins, it's golden hour.
8. I'm back to drinking coffee after a long break from the habit. I typically only drink 1/2 a mug and soy creamer is a must, but I need the comfort of the cup to ease my jitters.
9. My husband has been preoccupied since classes began Monday morning. Will this be the new normal for the next 8 years?
10. Pretending that nothing has changed, for the sake of keeping the kids from unnecessary anxiety or the sake of convincing myself we'll be alright isn't the healthiest approach. There's a balance to be discovered and it will be worth finding.
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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Col 3:12 | Chalkboard Art

I created this chalkboard art to hang in my laundry room because months ago, in the thick of "it"-you know "it" the tough, testing times of life-I felt that God pointed me toward this verse in Colossians 3:12
"Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience."
It gets harder:
"Make allowance for each other's faults, and forgive any one who offends you."

Ahhhh!!! So, hard. The last thing you want to do when you've been offended and mistreated is to make allowances for the other's faults. They're wrong! Faults are wrong. Being offended is offensive! Aren't I justified to be angry, and to point out such wrongs for them to address. Make allowances? And forgive? What?! How!?
I knew God put it in my heart. I knew He wanted me to make it my habit. I knew He would help me, since these virtues are not in me naturally.

First, I started out in the small, but still tough, instances around our house, making allowances for annoying things that make me feel taken for granted (hello! can nobody else put back what they get out?) Before long, my new convictions were tested in bigger, more painful circumstances.

Amazed by how God helped me to clothe myself in such virtues, I was certain my heavenly Father had put this in my heart. In a podcast on Christian's Happiness, Tim Keller talked about terrible things happening to Christians and God using such suffering to make us more like Him. The truth fell on me like rain: through my suffering, He was patiently, grinding me (because "molding" sounds pretty & the process is so ugly) into His image. 

This week greeted me with a mess of a situation. My heart is breaking, my resolve to follow God's mandate to respond in humility and grace has been tested.
With a lump in my throat, I cried out to God with, "it's not making a bit of a difference! I'm doing this, as you say, and it's not changing them a bit. It's not changing any of these situations."
And a still, small voice spoke to my heart:
"It's not meant to change them. It's meant to change you.
It's not meant to alter the situation. It's meant to alter your reaction."

And therein lies some harsh truth about following God's Word: we do it because He commanded it, because we love Him. We don't obey because it will pay in the end, & not because we can take pride in having such virtues, but simply, because He asked it of us. (Again, made clear to me through a Tim Keller podcast, A Promise of Hope

God, make my virtues true, with motivations to honor You, become like You and not for my gain or pride. Help me. In the thick of it. I need You. Amen.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Port Orleans Riverside Review | Disney World room for 5

I've got a Walt Disney World resort recommendation for you. The Port Orleans Riverside may be our new favorite! (Let's face it, there are so many to fall in love with, but this is a gem). It's a Moderate resort, which means it has sit-down dining & a waterslide/hot tub, that the Values do not, but dining isn't as special, & it's a notch down in amenities compared to the Deluxe resorts.
If you're looking to accommodate a party of 5, this resort offers queen beds (not all Moderates do) & a murphy bed. It doesn't pop up on the official Disney list of resorts for 5 or more, likely because one of you has to be small enough for a murphy bed (love-seat size).
Port Orleans Riverside was perfect for our family. It's a sprawling resort, but you can certainly request a room in a building closer to the main drag and there are bus depots scattered for convenience getting out in the World.
Separated into 2 sections: Magnolia Bend & Alligator Bayou, each with an entirely different motif taken from Louisiana. The Magnolia Bend is just lovely, with rooms situated in plantation homes and white-columned archways over pools, offering Royal Rooms for the princess lover. 
We'd have chosen that side, but we needed use of the murphy beds only available in the Alligator Bayou to accommodate our party of 5. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it over in this section, being that I'm not particularly the Bayou-type. It's lush green pathways were a welcome retreat from the hustle of the parks.

The pools wowed us! The waterslide, the hot tub, the wading pool for little ones at Old Man Island was hard to leave. A playground, with nightly campfires for roasting s'mores is near this pool. Movies under the stars are shown on a big screen here too.
We scored major "fun parents" points when we jumped into the pool, just outside of our room, in the dark-way past bedtime. With smaller quiet pools to choose from and hammocks tucked away throughout the resort, you could certainly choose PO Riverside for an adult trip to WDW.
Horse-drawn carriages add such charm! Complimentary boat transport is available between this and the sister resort, PO French Quarter (where you are welcome to enjoy all amenities), and Downtown Disney. Grabbing beignets for breakfast at French Quarter, or a night out at Downtown Disney is easy from the Riverside.
A few notes on dining at Port Orleans:  
Create-your-own pasta (& create-your-own salad) were our favorite Quick Service options. Choose a protein, pasta, sauce, and other add-ins from a list and they cook it in front of you! We loved the shrimp, pesto, mushroom & broccoli combination. The portion is large enough to share between 2 adults or we shared 1 between our 3 kids (ages 3 to 8).
Lunch & Dinner QS meals come with a dessert & a N/A drink, & we often used the dessert & drink (various bottled choices) for "breakfast in the room" items that we stored in our fridge. (Photos & another review here)
Snack credit choices:
Hot fudge sundaes were a hit! Crumb cake was yummy, (basic cookies, brownies & cupcakes are here too.)
3 beignets at PO French Quarter, sister resort within walking distance, also accessible by boat.
Yeehaa  Bob is a fan favorite entertainer here at River Roost lounge, though we never had time to see him. Boatwrights Dining Hall gets buzz as being an overlooked spot for Table Service among the resorts, also didn't have time to dine here.
Beignet & nighttime photos: disney.com, all others: detailgalblog.com

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Magic Kingdom touring plan | 1 & 2 day Itinerary | Magic Kingdom Dining

Let's talk about Magic Kingdom! From the moment you step onto Main Street, you're transported to well, a magical kingdom. It's everything you're imagining when you set your sights on a Disney vacation. There's always something new, yet what enchanted you the last time you visited is as wonderful as you remember it.
This is the most overwhelming park to create a plan for touring. I'm happy to share what works wonderfully for us.

Below, you'll find recommended touring plans for both 1 and 2 days in Magic Kingdom (MK). We devote 2 full days to MK, which allows us to take most of it in at a moderate pace. I prefer to begin and end our trip with MK.   
2 days, with the itinerary below, allows us to fit in everything on our wishlist including thrill rides, under 10-type rides, parades, night time shows, etc. You could certainly spend 1 day & hit many attractions if you eliminate: under 10 rides, roller coasters, parades, or character meeting.

Key planning points: 
  • Fastpass+ allows us not to have to arrive early & still be able to enjoy popular attractions without waiting. (What is Fastpass+? Click here). Rider Switch Pass will allow you to ride height-restrictive rides, if your party includes someone that doesn't meet the requirements (toddler/baby) and it works along with Fastpass+. Your kids could ride twice with no wait, & one adult doesn't have to miss out. (More on Rider Switch Pass here
  • Arrive for Rope Drop (Magic Kingdom Welcome Show) to maximize the time before the crowds arrive on at least one of the days.
  • We use Character Dining for meeting characters, so you won't find that built into our plans.
The new Festival of Fantasy parade was spectacular enough that we made time for it each day, same for Celebrate the Magic & Wishes fireworks at the end of the night. We also set aside 45min-1 hour prior to the parade/show to secure a good spot-taking turns using restrooms or grabbing snacks during this time.

Fantasyland Favorites
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is the newest. Go there 1st, if you wish to ride w/out FP+. Requires 38" & Rider Switch Pass is available, so if your party includes littles, get your pass & ride Pooh or the Carousel while older ones ride the Mine Train, then switch or save it for later that day. 
Enchanted Tales with Belle is an interactive storytelling with Belle, herself. Each participant (they accommodate all willing kids) gets a moment alone (& photo opp) with Belle. The duration is long, so it's not the best option when packing-in attractions during early hours. FP+ is recommended after 10:30.
*All ages: Peter Pan, Little Mermaid Under the Sea, (indoor. a fun trip through each story)
Dumbo has a fun playground indoors that can be played on whether you are riding or not.
*The Barnstormer (35") (next to Dumbo) is a small roller-coaster younger ones can ride, but surprisingly thrilling for all. Casey's splash pad, with no line is across from this, especially great for younger ones. These 3 are good for a mixed ages group, but could be skipped entirely, if you're interested in packing in more thrilling rides.  
Especially appealing to under 10: 
Pooh (indoor. trip through Pooh's imagination. the line may be more fun than the ride) & Carousel
It's a Small World (a classic. a boat ride featuring the children of the world. a nice rest.)
Tea Cups (classic)
Mickey's Philharmagic: a silly 3D concert. Great when it's raining or hot, typically low waits.

Haunted Mansion (frightening & silly at the same time, parents of younger kids, beware). It is close to It's A Small World, just beyond Rapunzel's village (restrooms) so it can be planned along with Fantasyland attractions.

Frontierland Favorites:
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (40")
Splash Mountain (40") A covered playground near the exit for little ones
Meet Woody & Jessie here

Adventureland Favorites:
Pirates of the Caribbean. Creepy-ish boat ride that inspired the movie. Fun souvenir shop.
Tinkerbell meeting & another fairy (we met a spunky, Vidia)

Tomorrowland Favorites:
Buzzlightyear Space Ranger Spin: all ages, interactive shooting game to defeat Zurg
Monster's Inc Laugh Floor: indoor, interactive comedy show. great escape from rain or heat. Typically lower waits
Space Mountain: not a favorite, but a classic.
Tomorrowland Speedway: exciting for younger ones to drive!

Parades: 
The new Festival of Fantasy parade is spectacular!
Celebrate the Magic projection of Disney movies on the castle; it's exceptional! If 2 showings are available, choose the 2nd because it's far less crowded & transportation to the resorts is too. 
Wishes fireworks show over the castle. Also spectacular!
Move it! Shake it! Celebrate it! Street Party. If you're walking near Main St. it will be hard to resist the enthusiasm & opportunity to dance beside your favorite characters, including Woody & Jessie

Recommended 2-day tour of Magic Kingdom:
(Scroll down for a 1 day plan)
Day 1: Magic Kingdom
2 hrs prior to opening: Wake up call in room (put it on speaker or hold to your child's ear (it was Olaf in May '14!)
{eat breakfast in room/en route}
Bus by 1hr 15min before park opening. (bus from Moderate & Value Resorts. Deluxe resorts on the Monorail require less time)

Rope Drop (called Magic Kingdom Welcome Show on MDE). The fanfare begins 15 min prior to opening and ends with Mickey and friends (currently including Elsa & Anna) arriving to welcome you & finally, officially opening the park. We arrive 1 hour before park opening & hang out with one eye on the train station and the other eye on the entrance.
Park Opening: Head directly to Fantasyland.
Depending on how much you want to fit in before the masses begin arriving at 11am, stop for a photo in front of the castle & maybe Starbucks on Main St.
Choose 5-7 rides in Fantasyland to ride.
Hit Seven Dwarfs Mine Train 1st, Winnie the Pooh, Ariel (Under the Sea)

Barnstormer (35"),  Dumbo
Tea Cups & Carousel
Meet Rapunzel at Fairytale Hall
Meet Ariel in her Grotto, if you don't plan to dine at Akershus at Epcot.
(Mickey's Philharmagic, It's A Small World, and Enchanted Tales with Belle are not a good use for this time because they are longer in duration.)

QS Lunch: Be Our Guest (beast's castle) when it opens (10:30-11am). (how to get a FastPass+ for this here

12:00-1:00: FastPass+ Enchanted Tales with Belle (next to Be Our Guest) an interactive storytelling with Belle. A personal favorite; I've teared up each time my son was chosen to dance with her.
1:00-2:00: FastPass+ Peter Pan's Flight. A fantasy ride that appeals to all ages.
*Check the kiosk nearby for Bonus Fastpass+ for after the parade*

2pm: Get a good spot for Festival of Fantasy Parade. Send at least a couple people from your party to secure a spot. Check with cast members to be sure you're in a spot that won't get blocked off.
3pm: Festival of Fantasy Parade

Grab a snack during the parade or when it's over if you want to hold off on dinner.
Use your bonus FastPass+ 
Longer, indoor attractions at this time of day are always a plus (Mickey's Philharmagic, It's A Small World). 

Dinner (recommendations below)

Certain attractions have extra nighttime appeal: Haunted Mansion, a stroll through Rapunzel's village (restrooms) when the lanterns are lit are nice options, Dumbo gives a nice view of the castle all lit up. 

If you are finished in Fantasyland, & feeling ambitious, try getting Bonus Fastpass+ (or short standby waits) for rides in Tomorrowland like, Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin, Monster's Inc Laugh floor, or Indy Speedway.

The Electrical Parade is a classic & fun for the littles, but not a can't-miss. If you want to sit awhile, sit en route. If not, hit the rides while crowds are tied up watching it.

1hr prior to start: Secure a spot for Celebrate the Magic and Wishes. The best spot is central Main St. between the end of the shops (Casey's & Plaza Ice Cream Parlour) and the Partners statue. There's a tad bit of an incline in the street so you can see well.

Day 2: Magic Kingdom
Revise this itinerary based on Day 1-add repeats, remove attractions you've done.
(Rope Drop/MK Welcome Show: optional & if so, hit Tomorrowland first OR add your Fantasyland favorites from Day 1)

Arrive: depends on how much you want to fit in before the crowds without FP+
Adventureland
Pirates of the Caribbean

Frontierland:
11am Fastpass+ Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
12pm Fastpass + Splash Mountain

1-2pm: Lunch: Pecos Bill or Turkey Legs (cart) Frontierland

2pm: Get a spot for the parade, if you want to watch again
3pm: Festival of Fantasy Parade
IF NOT PARADE again, you may want to choose an earlier Fastpass+ or
try the Jungle Cruise (Adventureland) or Meet a character that you won't be meeting at Character Dining while crowds are busy at the parade.

Tomorrowland
4pm Fastpass+ Space Mountain (44")
Check standby lines or retrieve Bonus Fastpass+ for:
Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin
Monster's Inc Laugh Floor
Tomorrowland Speedway (32")
(We aren't fans of Stitch's Great Escape or the Astro Orbiter)

If you skipped the Festival of Fantasy Parade today, you may be up for the Move it! Shake it! Celebrate it! street party or dancing with The Incredibles in Tomorrowland.

7ish: Dinner
Try for Bonus Fastpass+ or buy souvenirs

45min-1 hr prior to show: secure the best spot for the Celebrate the Magic & Wishes show
After the show, let the crowds rush out. Grab ice cream at the Parlour or a hot dog at Casey's. Wait until 30 minutes after the park closes for the very special Kiss Goodnight on the castle. You'll be glad you did. You'll feel like you're not supposed to be there, but it's allowed. You'll feel like an insider. You'll cry because you don't want to go home tomorrow!

If you only have 1 day for Magic Kingdom:
-->Arrive for Rope Drop (30 min before park opening). 
Head straight to Fantasyland (after your castle-with-nobody-around photo) & ride as much as you can before 10:30am. (We fit in 5-7 rides when it opens at 9am because there's no wait)
Hit Seven Dwarfs Mine Train 1st.

Note: Enchanted Tales with Belle, Mickey's Philharmagic, It's a Small World, & Haunted Mansion (Liberty Square) take more time than the others, so I don't suggest trying to fit them in unless you have extra time before lunch.

QS Lunch: Be Our Guest (beast's castle) when it opens (10:30-11am). (how to get a FastPass+ for this here)  

12pm: FastPass+ for Enchanted Tales with Belle after lunch 
(No Beast or Belle? Finish Fantasyland by 11am. Ride Haunted Mansion & head to Frontierland for lunch. Reserve FP+ for Splash & Big Thunder Mountains. FP+ Space Mt.)
3pm: The Festival of Fantasy parade is spectacular. Get there 45min-1hr prior for the best spot. Skip entirely if you'd rather hit more attractions, as standby lines are shorter when crowds are at parades.
Head to Frontierland through Liberty Square:
4: FP+ Splash Mt.
5: FP+ Big Thunder Mt. Railroad
Hit Pirates of the Caribbean (Adventureland) on the way to Tomorrowland
Try getting a Bonus Fastpass+ for Space Mt, Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, Monster's Laugh Floor, or the Speedway all in Tomorrowland.  
Electrical Parade is a classic and okay, if you want to sit. Bring glow sticks for the young ones. 
Don't miss Celebrate the Magic & Wishes nightly shows

Magic Kingdom Dining
If your heart is set on eating dinner in the Beast's castle (Be Our Guest), you'll want to set your alarm for 6am EST on the 180th day before your arrival to try scoring an ADR (Advanced Dining Reservation) online. Cinderella's Royal Table (inside the castle) is another hot ticket. If you're using the Dining Plan, it requires 2 TS credits, which isn't a prudent way to use them.
Generally, the TS options aren't as delicious as elsewhere in WDW, so we choose to use QS for both Lunch & Dinner.

Breakfast: 
We eat in room/en route. I bring Larabars & Kids' Cliff bars, tortillas & Justin's PB pouches, bananas, & fruit pouches from home. 
Starbucks is on Main Street, if you want to take the time to grab something there.
Gaston's Tavern (Fantasyland): cinnamon rolls (1 Snack credit)
Lunch pick: Be Our Guest (Beast's castle) Fantasyland
At lunch, the food is tasty & requires 1 QS credit. (My kids get Croque Monsieur sauce on the side & the Pork is another favorite. The "Grey Stuff" cupcake is a dessert option.

We got a FastPass for lunch at 11:30am here using this website & our 12 digit confirmation # (found in Magical Express confirmation) around 30 days prior. It does not count as 1 of your 3 FastPass+. Disney will not confirm this, & it doesn't show up in MDE, we confirmed our FastPass when the restaurant opened, figuring we'd get in line if needed. It worked!

Dinner:
Quick Service:
Pecos Bill (Adventureland) is usually where we land because some of our party love Turkey Legs, available in a cart nearby and we appreciate the ample toppings bar for hamburgers and salad.
Cosmic Rays (Tommorrowland) is typical American fare in a great location in you're hungry after the parade for an early dinner or coming from Fantasyland or Tomorrowland. The 1/2 chicken & ribs plate is big enough to split.
Try Columbia Harbour House (Liberty Square) for seafood
Hit Casey's on Main Street for hot dogs 

Table Service:
Crystal Palace: if you have a Pooh & friends fan among you, this is a decent buffet meal.
Liberty Tavern: I've heard decent reviews from this place, but never eaten there myself. It's early American food served family-style in a colonial environment.

*Note: You are an easy (air conditioned) monorail ride from delicious meals at Deluxe resorts such as Grand Floridian, Contemporary,  Polynesian (my favorite). You could certainly choose to take a break from the park and eat at one of them, just be sure to leave time to get a good spot for Celebrate the Magic & Wishes.

Snacks:
Plaza Ice Cream Parlour (Main Street) & Storybook Treats (Fantasyland) for "homemade" cookie sundaes & ice cream treats.
Dole Whip or Dole Whip Float at Aloha Isle (Adventureland
LaFou's brew or a Cinnamon roll at Gaston's Tavern (Fantasyland)
Mickey-shaped Ice Cream Bars (where else?!)

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Disney World touring guide | Disney World Itinerary


So you're going to Disney World! You've chosen a date, a resort, now where to start? (If you still need help with dates & resorts, click over to this post.)
If you're anywhere near 180 days before arrival, you'll want to secure Advanced Dining Reservations for Table Service restaurants. If Be Our Guest (the Beast's castle) for dinner or Chef Mickey's, to meet the Fab 5 is on your wishlist, you'll want to book those immediately at 180 days-same goes for O'Hana and Cinderella's Royal Table (dining inside the castle). You may choose to secure dining prior to drafting your itinerary, especially if you're closer than 180 days prior to your arrival. (For more on Dining plan & recommendations, read this Disney Dining post.)

How many park days should I buy?
First, you are not required to officially designate which park you'll spend your days in when you buy your Magic Your Way package. You'll only determine which parks you'll visit for your own planning-Fastpass+, dining reservations, etc.
Review the parks & determine what in each park appeals to your party. Without little ones, park-hopping is a nice option, especially if the main attraction to you is thrill-rides. With little ones, we do not park-hop.

With the typical 7 days/6 nights, and 4 theme parks to explore, a 4 day park pass with 1 day off mid-week and each travel day for resort pool time or strolling Downtown Disney works. A day off mid-week to recover from the over-stimulation of the parks at the resort pool is recommended.
Magic Kingdom is very large & jam-packed with attractions, we give it 2 days.
If 7d/6n is your set time-frame, consider skipping a theme park to have 1 day off mid-week OR planning the 1 park that has the fewest appealing attractions for mid-week, so that you can arrive later/leave earlier. Fastpass+ makes it possible to arrive later & still experience popular attractions, that otherwise would require hours waiting in line or early arrival to acquire a Fastpass.

Which parks, which days?
1. Consult the online crowd calendars that break down by park or check for special events at parks that affect crowds. Apart from special events, Extra Magic Hours draws large crowds to a park.
EMH aren't necessary for us (regular park hours are early enough to take advantage of early hours without masses & parks stay open late enough for us.) It's more valuable to us to choose the park that has had EMH the day prior because typically that park is less crowded the day after EMH.

2. Use your time wisely. 
Don't waste time in stand-by lines by securing a Fastpass+ for high-voulme attractions. {more on FastPass+ here}. Don't waste time in line to meet characters that you can meet while you eat. Character dining is included in Dining Plan and most require 1 TS credit. The food is varied & tasty, the characters come to your table in an orderly fashion, and the castmembers entertain the kids while you eat.

Sample Itinerary (including Dining credit recommendations)

Here's what works for us to visit all 4 parks, giving Magic Kingdom 2 days. The resort pool is a big draw for us and the time off has helped to ward off whining and exhaustion from the vigor & stimulation of parks days.
Bump up the typical 7d/6n to 9d/8n (Magic Kingdom in 2 days, 1 day each for the other 3, plus 2 days off between.)
Buy a 5 day pass. (In May 2014, we took advantage of a promotion giving 1 park day, per person for FREE, when you bought at least a 4 day pass)
*This is a rough outline for the trip, I'll post individual park plans in separate posts. 
 
Day 1: Travel Day. Aim to arrive before noon.
We take Magical Express from the airport to our resort. Since we don't need to bother with baggage claim, we pack swim suits in our carry-on and wear pool-appropriate footwear on the airplane, which allows us to go straight to the pool after checking in.
Besides swimming and exploring the resort, we book an experience-type dinner reservation at a WDW resort. Our choice is O'hana, at the Polynesian because it's delicious and welcoming. Meet Mickey & his friends by booking dinner at Chef Mickey's at the Contemporary Resort. Bonus: by utilizing WDW transportation for dining at resorts on the monorail (Polynesian, Contemporary, Grand Floridian) you'll get glimpses of Magic Kingdom on your 1st night, which adds to the excitement.
QS Lunch, TS Dinner

Day 2: Magic Kingdom.
Early morning for Rope Drop. Late night for Celebrate the Magic & Wishes fireworks.
Day devoted to Fantasyland & Festival of Fantasy Parade.
Breakfast in room/en route (typically meal bar or fruit brought from home)
QS Lunch in the Beast's castle 
QS Dinner: Pecos Bill (hamburgers, salads with ample toppings bar), Turkey legs (cart) in Frontierland. Cosmic Rays (American) in Tomorrowland (near Fantasyland). Columbia Harbour House (seafood)
Snack: Cookie sundaes & strawberry shortcake, other ice cream sundaes at Plaza Ice Cream Parlour or Storybook Treats. Dole Whip at Aloha Isle (Adventureland). Cinnamon Roll at Gaston's Tavern (can serve as breakfast). Main St. Confectionery.

Day 3: Animal Kingdom.
TS Breakfast or Lunch: Character Dining at Tusker House: Mickey, Goofy, Donald & Daisy.
QS Dinner Flame Tree BBQ.
OR late (after park close) TS dinner at Boma in Animal Kingdom Lodge (quick bus ride from the park, depending on where you're staying, likely 2-step transportation back to resort or taxi service).

Day 4: Day off
No wake-up call, Resort pool, Downtown Disney (DD),  Resort/DD dining.
QS Lunch. TS Dinner. 
Resort QS dining notes: Large Pizza requires 2 QS at resort. If your resort offers create-your-own pasta or c-y-o salad, it's large enough to share. We have combined salad/pizza or pasta/salad to feed our family of 5. Snack credits can be used for sides (fries, etc.). QS Lunch & QS Dinner include dessert (which can be fruit, yogurt saved for breakfast another day) & drink. Deluxe resorts offer some of the best dessert/snack options at WDW.

Day 5: Hollywood Studios.
TS Breakfast or Lunch: Character Dining at Hollywood & Vine (Sofia 1st, Doc McStuffins, Jake & Handy Manny).
QS dinner: Turkey legs option.
Snack: "Homemade" cookie sundaes at Scoops. Cupcakes at Starring Rolls

Day 6: Epcot.
TS Breakfast Character Dining at Akershus Storybook Princess Dining (Belle, Ariel, Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty) currently includes a 8x10 & 4x6 photos of your party with Belle.
TS Dinner. Somewhere in the World Showcase. Consider an 8pm reservation at a place with views of Illuminations. Eat inside a pyramid in Mexico, Fish & chips in England, or hibachi-style at Teppan Edo (Japan). Le Cellier serves the tastiest steak, though requires 2 TS credits (which isn't a prudent way to use them b/c it doesn't cost twice as much as 1 TS)
Snack: Arguably the best place to use your snack credits in the World Showcase. Napolean cake in France, School Bread in Norway, Gelato in Italy, cupcakes throughout, and Dole Whip near Canada.

Day 7: Day off-no wake-up call, Resort pool, Downtown Disney (DD), try Resort/Dd dining
(QS Lunch. TS Dinner)

Day 8: Magic Kingdom. (QS Lunch & QS Dinner)
Rope Drop-optional, if you don't have Fastpass+ for high priority attractions left on your list.
Otherwise, sleep in (a bit) if you need & book Fastpass+ beginning at 11am.
Adventureland (Pirates of the Caribbean)
Frontierland (Big Thunder Mt & Splash Mt).
Tomorrowland (Space Mt., Buzz Lightyear)
Celebrate the Magic & Wishes night-time spectacular
Stay for the "Kiss Goodnight" on the castle. Let the crowds rush toward transit, stick around Main St. until after the park closes. It's a special moment that happens about 30 minutes after closing. 

Day 9: See ya real soon! (Use remaining QS/TS/Snack)
Pack bags for Magical Express and check-in for return flight at resort. Get last-minute souvenirs (Downtown Disney has the largest Disney store & requires no admission), use up remaining dining credits, swim or enjoy the pool. Magical Express will typically pick up 3 hours prior to departure.

More Disney World Tips & Tricks:




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Monday, June 2, 2014

Dinner with a side of Ray Lamontagne

My husband is practical about everything, well except this.
He spends exactly $0 on himself outside of the very occasional cup of coffee. I beg him to buy lunch on long work days. I convince him he needs this shirt I scored at Marshall's or that pair of replacement shoes after years of wear. So, when the occasion for a gift comes around it typically becomes the suitable time to deliver what I've been noticing he needs.
There's wisdom in taking note of how one gives love to learn how best they receive it. Since his gifts to me are almost always indulgent, with what I love considered above budget, I try to use that formula in giving to him. Which is especially hard because he loves to save money!
I've had a few killer gift ideas that aren't entirely practical thanks to tips from friends and the help of Pinterest. 

There's something about our stage of life that makes impractical feel romantic. Not too much happens around here on a whim. Spreadsheets and compound interest calculations are made as regularly as school lunches it seems.
When I saw that Ray Lamontagne was playing in an open-air amphitheater in a Finger Lakes town nearby, I grabbed 2 of the Best Seats Available in a flash. They were the perfect birthday gift for my husband.
This weekend was his birthday and my purchase made it past his watchful eyes on our bankroll. My super-awesome brother & sister agreed to keep our kids and that's all he knew as we headed down Route 20 last night. Promptly, as we began our drive (without kids!), I cued Trouble on the radio-not unusual, so it wasn't a clue.
"Are you going to tell me where we're going?" began and he kept guessing.
Naturally, driving through wine country, he guessed. "A winery? We're going to a winery; aren't we? NO! A brewery! Are we?" "A cooking class? Oh, we're dong a cooking class at a winery. Is that it?"
Um...no but now, after all of those ideas, I'm afraid my idea is inferior. 
That's the thing about letting them guess, isn't it? You subject yourself to a list of what they'd really like to receive.
We stopped in Skaneatelas for dinner at the Sherwood Inn, because we love the interior and when the weather is nice, you can sit beside opened windows and see the lake. The food is delicious too. Strolling here, sans kids after a nice meal would have been decadent enough for my husband, but Ray Lamontagne awaits!
The easy, breezy venue, with food trucks, craft beer, and local wines was the perfect backdrop for Ray's music. Jason Isbell & the Belle Brigade opened (seriously, good music). Ray, well, he is just a pleasing blend of raw & raspy.

He's not a showman and his newest, Supernova is quite a departure from the moody music that drew us in, but we enjoyed the whole show.
The birthday surprise, the whole evening was idyllically, impractical.
Sometimes a little whimsy is good for the soul.

Ray fan?
Listen to NPRs Fresh Air interview with Ray regarding Supernova: here.
Boston Globe's feature on the fellow with the upright mustache, I mean, bass: here.
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Sunday, May 4, 2014

screen time well spent

"We shall not cease from exploration 
And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time"
T.S. Eliot 

If you find yourself standing at the Redbox, add Oscar-nominated, Philomena to your cart. I was drawn in almost immediately by this moving film, based the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by journalist, Martin Sixsmith. It's both tragic and beautiful.

And if you haven't already happened upon Call the Midwife, Season 3 is now airing on PBS. Season 1 remains my favorite, a natural start. It's engaging and charming and so many friends are gushing over it, I don't want you to be left out!

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Family Fun in Central NY


Spring Break at home, in Central NY, has been a good one thanks, to warmer weather. Like bats out of a cage, my kids get dressed (a tad too summery) and out the door riding bikes before 9am with the neighbor kids. I'm pleased as punch to have the windows opened and parkas packed.
Midweek we had a wet snow day so we took advantage of our membership at The National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY.


If you're ever within a couple of hours of the Museum, and have kids of any age, make the trip-it will not disappoint. Hours and hours of imaginative play await behind every corridor. See more photos on Instagram
 
Work up an appetite for dinner at cult-favorite, Dinosaur BBQ just a minute away in an old railroad station overlooking the Genessee River. It's noisy and the portions are gargantuan. The perpetual line of people waiting tells all.

We also took advantage of a Groupon (still available today) for bowling. A few weeks ago we went on a date and I couldn't help imagining my kids would go wild for the flashing lights and music, and they sure did. It was a party from the start, when we didn't leave the house until after dinner and were at the bowling alley at 10pm!
Our 2 y/o was mystified by the atmosphere in the bowling alley and promptly put on her sunglasses and did a dance on the lane. Try the Groupon or check your local lanes for specially priced days (I noticed $2 Tuesdays). 
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Monday, April 21, 2014

gifts from the Father

I've always loved the idea of my husband surprising me one day with "pack your bags, we're going away, your mom's coming to watch the kids."
And that just happened to me!
The timing couldn't have been better.
I found out earlier than he wanted, in the most uncanny way-which is typical. Since, I can be hard to please particular about travel planning, I was blown away that he'd arranged it all!
view from Terrace Room The Roger Hotel
In the past, we enjoyed The Roger Hotel, so naturally, he booked it again. I had a conundrum because I'd been eyeing The Benjamin hotel (they have a pillow menu!). Also, I prefer to try out different hotels in a city with abundant options, like NYC.
I felt God urging me to just leave it. I have a reputation for returning gifts, which sends the message of "why try?" to my husband. And get a grip, don't I always wish he'd do something like this? Honestly, I was still tempted. But truly, it felt like my Father telling me "leave it."

First, I should tell you: we're wrestling with a big decision right now. For over a year now, we've analyzed every aspect, sought counsel, and spreadsheeted that sucker to death. Still, there are things we can't control and many what ifs bouncing around in our minds. The theme of our conversations leading up to this trip can be summed up with "Will God provide?"

The night before we left we got a call from our hotel. They had overbooked and wanted to set us up at..wait for it...The Benjamin hotel! What?! Of the thousands of hotels in NYC! Of all the other reservations, they chose ours. At first, it was annoying to Dan, until I filled him in on the back story.
the benjamin hotel
Part of the deal was heading over to the original hotel for the last night. Which ended up being a complimentary night at The Roger Hotel, in an upgraded terrace room with a view of the Empire State building! Guess what else? Because my husband had some business in the city, one night was all we were responsible to pay for and it was now free of charge!
the roger hotel
Blessing after blessing continued through our trip. I'll spare you the stories but I have to include this one: we won the Wicked lottery!
One night, we went down to the Gershwin Theater box office hoping we'd luck out & get discounted seats. No luck. But we discovered the lottery. Have you heard of this? Enter your name 2 1/2 hrs before show time (entries taken until 118min before show time, bring cash & ID) and 2 hours before show time they draw 13 names for the FRONT ROW SEATS, at $30 each!
 It was crowded & I couldn't believe when they called my name! My name (or #) is never called, anywhere. We had the most incredible experience, close enough to touch Elphie & Galinda (silent Gah). This musical is simply sensational! If you haven't seen it, do yourself the favor. I'd say best seats are 5 rows back from the stage, but it's set up so that any seat will be great. Try the lottery!

I felt like I was flying around the city (until my blisters reminded me I wasn't)! Our Heavenly Father was going before us, granting us favor, blessing us in ways only we could appreciate were from Him. We just kept looking at one another, no words necessary, acknowledging God's blessings. Furthermore, the message wasn't lost on us: He will provide for the unforeseen, for things beyond our control. God is with us.
"Every good gift bestowed, every perfect gift received comes to us from above, courtesy of the Father of lights. He is consistent. He won’t change His mind or play tricks in the shadows." James 1:17 (the VOICE)
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Saturday, April 19, 2014

I think I misunderstood following Jesus

Can I tell you something? I think I misunderstood being a Christian all these years.
I have believed in Jesus and come to love, trust, & obey Him-even as much as heading to Bible college to train for a life of sharing the Gospel.
Then the tragic event at Newtown occured in 2012. It rocked me. The God I know could have stopped that murderer from taking young, innocent lives at Sandy Hook elementary school. And He didn't. Can I still love and trust God?

Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not naive to the tragedies in this fallen world that my good, just God has not prevented. My heart-strings have been pulled by horrific accounts of injustice: sex slavery, natural disasters, & 9/11. I know of martyrdom and persecution endured by Christians. I know believers that have prayed to be spared and instead, endured pain & loss. Christian friends have buried babies and I lost one myself.

But something about having a 1st grader, trusting God to protect him as he sits in his classroom and runs on the playground changed everything for me.
What if it were Carter? Shot and killed at school on Friday.
But, no, that won't happen because the Bible promises to protect and bless the lives of those that love Jesus and obey His commands.
Right?
I read and re-read such promises. I couldn't find any reason not to believe them & further, believe they were for me.
But suffering and blessing seem mutually exclusive.
What was I believing then? Why was I following Jesus?
And this began a quest to get it right. Not only for myself but for those I'm sharing Jesus with, namely, my kids.

Consider Easter, the unfathomable beating and humiliation Christ endured on the cross was all part of God's plan, and not a result of His own sin. What is the glorious resurrection without the cross? 
Take a quick look at this:
After Jesus died and was buried, there's this exchange, in Luke 24:
13 Picture this:...
Two other disciples (not of the eleven) are traveling the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. As they walk along, they talk back and forth about all that has transpired during recent days.  While they’re talking, discussing, and conversing, Jesus catches up to them and begins walking with them,  but for some reason they don’t recognize Him.
Jesus: You two seem deeply engrossed in conversation. What are you talking about as you walk along this road?
They stop walking and just stand there, looking sad.  One of them...speaks up.
Cleopas: You must be the only visitor in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about what’s been going on over the last few days.
Jesus: What are you talking about?
Two Disciples: It’s all about the man named Jesus of Nazareth. He was a mighty prophet who did amazing miracles and preached powerful messages in the sight of God and everyone around. Our chief priests and authorities handed Him over to be executed—crucified, in fact.

We had been hoping that He was the One—you know, the One who would liberate all Israel and bring God’s promises..
Jesus:  Come on, men! Why are you being so foolish? Why are your hearts so sluggish when it comes to believing what the prophets have been saying all along? Didn’t it have to be this way? Didn’t the Anointed One have to experience these sufferings in order to come into His glory?'
Here's what strikes me, you tell me if it also strikes you:
1. He was standing with them & they didn't even recognize Him.
2. He was the One they'd hoped He would be but He didn't redeem them the way they'd imagined He would. So they discounted it.
~
Now, I understand that following Jesus doesn't preclude us from suffering and pain.
I love Jesus for Jesus. 
I obey His commands because I love him. (more on this here)
I believe every good & perfect gift comes from the Father.
I believe He makes all things work together for the good of those who love him.
I believe he gives and he takes away.
I embrace trials, because the testing of my faith produces perseverance.
When I meet hardships and experience pain, while believing and following Jesus, He is there even if I don't recognize Him.
He is the One I hope He will be.
"We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help." Heb 4:15-16 (MSG)
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