Thursday, August 20, 2015

How can it be?

If you’re a real-life friend of mine, you know that 14 days ago, my brothers and I found my dad, who’d been convinced he could sleep off his sickness the night before, was no longer alive. Since that horrific moment, what feels like 10 foot waves crash over me; waves of despair, disbelief, and unanswered questions. I steady myself a bit with comforting truth and joyous memories before another wave crushes me. Such is grief, I suppose. I’m new here.

While I’m waking up haunted by my wonderings of his last hours, one thing, I know for sure: he left this world and woke up to heaven. I knew it the moment I leaned, aghast, over his body in the funeral home. He wasn’t there. It was his body, yes, but he was absent from his body. 
Oh God! It stings even to write those words now.
Standing there, someone asked me if he was in heaven. 
Yes. Unequivocally, yes.
Because I believe what the Bible says is true, this I have as an anchor in a treacherous storm.

The temptation to believe he earned God’s favor through his devotion and godly living did not beset my dad. He trusted in God’s grace as a free gift, unearned.
“God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
He famously claimed that God knew his heart. He relied on the work of Christ’s shed blood on the cross to make his heart pure before God.
“We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.” (Romans 3:22)
When we emptied his apartment, we found one of many notebooks, where, for as long as I can remember, he copied the Psalms and the words of Jesus in the gospels. He identified most with David, a man after God’s own heart, simultaneously plagued by oppression and guilt. We searched page-by-page of dad’s Bible, where he’d marked the tortured cries out to God for rescue & strength, and proclamations of God as his hope, his salvation.

We are familiar with his habit to come to church, hit up the altar, and leave (early!).
And because it was his only hope, he came “boldly to the throne of grace, that {he’d} obtain mercy, and find grace to help {him} in {his} time of need”. (Hebrews 4:16)

Throughout the Bible, it is their faith that saves the people Jesus encounters. In the final moments before His death on the cross, Jesus spoke to two criminals hanging on crosses beside Him. One challenged Him to prove he was the Messiah. He’d only believe if Jesus proved it to him, by enhancing his life, saving him from certain death.
The other criminal believed Jesus was as He proclaimed, his hope for eternity in heaven.
And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)
 “If you openly declare that Jesus is the Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
Does this free gift of grace serve as an excuse to reject godly living?
Paul writes: “By shifting our focus from what we do to what God does, don’t we cancel out all our careful keeping of the rules and ways God commanded? Not at all. What happens, in fact, is that by putting that entire way of life in its proper place, we confirm it.” Roman 3:31 (MSG)

Before Jesus was crucified he told his disciples, “If you love me, obey my commandments.” (John 14:15)

We obey Jesus because we love him. We love him because He first loved us.

In Luke 15, Jesus uses a story of two sons to illustrate such undeserved grace. Perhaps, like my dad, you identify with the prodigal son, who was met with extraordinary compassion when he returned to his father after sinning against him. Maybe you identify with the other son, who resented such grace, because of his life-long devotion to his father. Jesus includes both in the story for a purpose. Whether it’s shame (how could he accept me?) or pride (I don’t need his grace), it threatens to keep us from the Father, in heaven.

I’m so grateful to know that my dad was convinced of his need for a Savior and believed Jesus to be that Savior.
While it doesn't change that I miss him so terribly it staggers me unexpectedly. When I can hardly settle on not seeing his grin or hearing his voice again, this assurance steadies my heart from spiraling. It provides comfort when I am desperately wishing I could have said good-bye. It gives me hope. Perhaps it will do so for you too.

Jesus said, before He went to heaven:
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home…And you know the way to where I am going…
(John 14:1 & 4)
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Monday, June 29, 2015

On courage and compassion

Hey friend,
Let's talk. If you're like me, you love Jesus and believe His word, and have decided to follow His word because you love Him. While I've refrained from writing them out in full, I've noted many scriptural references for you to do your own digging, which of course, I suggest.

We stretch our arms wide, sing out loud in the safety of our cathedrals, declaring "He makes us brave!", "calls us out upon the water" and we welcome Him to "lead us where our trust is without borders".
This is it!
This is what we've been waiting for!
The willing among us, will summon our Divine courage to "Be alert. Be firm in the Christian faith. Be courageous and strong. Do everything with love". (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)

Let's talk about the after-after we've stood firmly and spoken the Truth with boldness & grace. 
After we've taken our opportunity to present a case, based on our beliefs. (Col. 4:5&6)
After the choice is made against our better judgement.
After the verdict rules against what we hold sacred.
Let's talk about how to proceed when we're left to continue living-raising our families, conducting business, living in peace with our neighbors, respecting those in authority over us.

As I searched the scriptures for guidance on living in a world, increasingly divergent from His principles, I found a recurring theme: Love! Love! Love!
Here are 5 things in particular I believe are worth noting.
1. Jesus is concerned that His followers love each other.
"Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples". John 13:35

Struggle to align yourself with Christian counterparts, because of their conduct? I get it. Perhaps, go to them with your concerns, but don't get trapped in judgement. Instead for the sake of living in peace & unity, forgive and make allowances for each other's faults. (Eph 4:2)
What's so radical about loving those that sit in your living room, with a warm mug of coffee, conversation dripping with agreement with everything you say and do? (Luke 6:32 & 33)
Concentrate on aligning yourself with Christ. Align yourself with the Bible. Resist the temptation to tear other believers down or attack their methods. It's simply wasted energy and tarnishes the image of Christ, as represented in His church.

2. Jesus is concerned that His followers show love toward their enemies-people against them. 
"“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you...Do good to them...Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for He is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked". (Luke 6:35 NLT)
Vehemently opposing the choices of a person doesn't require you to turn your back on them.

3. Jesus warns against judging, instead be compassionate.
"You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back to you". (Luke 6:36-37 NLT)

And if you find yourself particularly tempted toward pride, Paul reminds us our right-standing is not of ourselves, so we can't boast!
"God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it." (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT)

4. Jesus cares how we make our case for the Truth.
Our answers should be well-informed, wise, prepared. Which is opposite of an emotionally-charged, off-the-cuff defense. Belligerence is not the tone a Christ-follower should use

Be prepared to give answers with respect & gentleness. (1 Peter 3: 15& 16)
Conduct yourself with wisdom & let your speech be graceful. (Col 4:5-6)

Don't be misled. All this gentleness & love talk doesn't constitute weakness & wavering. The scriptures read: "be firm!" "be strong!" "be brave!" suggesting the contrary. I'm a first-born, Italian girl from NY so you can pretty much bet I have strong opinions, that I embrace passionately. 

5. Jesus predicts rejection
Will some be offended? Yes. 
Will some hate you? Yes. (John 15:18 & 19)
This is a call for the brave! It takes courage to stand for Truth when it is not tolerant or popular.
The fruits of the spirit: love, kindness, gentleness, patience, self-control should govern our behavior as we navigate uncomfortable situations.

Jesus is the originator of freedom of choice. As Creator, He gave humans free will. He's not afraid of it. It doesn't put a crimp in His plan. His plan is to demonstrate radical love that will draw men to choose Him.
Don't waste your time convincing someone to adopt your Christian morals before they are convinced to love Jesus. 
It is because we love Him, we obey him. The message of the Gospel is foolishness to those who are not believers.
Morality alone is not the concern of a Christian.

Peter wraps it up nicely, I'd say:
"Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor." 
1 Peter 2: 17

So I guess, we can start there, huh?! What are your thoughts?
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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

See ya Real Soon! Disney World Reveal Ideas

How are you going to tell your kids you're going to Disney World?
Whether it's a once-in-a-lifetime trip or you've visited before, something this special deserves a ceremonious unveiling and can help build anticipation.

Let me take this moment to share a few links to the entire Disney World Planning Series:
Disney World Planning Guide (Choosing a time, resort, etc.)
Disney World Tips & Tricks for Making the Most of the Magic (10 Best Tips, incl. Fastpass+ info.)
Disney Dining Tips (Dining Plan, ADR Recommendations) 
Disney with a Baby/Toddler (including packing list)
Packing for Disney (including ways to save $ & time)
Disney World Touring Guide (which parks when, how many days)
Magic Kingdom Touring Guide (1 day & 2 day plans)
Port Orleans Riverside Review (Room for 5)

Now, here's 2 of my favorite way to reveal:
The iconic "WE'RE GOING TO DISNEY WORLD" Day-Of surprise.
We surprised our kids on the morning we left & it was quite memorable.
This method obviously requires major restraint & effort. We had to get to the mailbox before they did when Magic Bands & Magical Express packages arrived and often conceal mailings with wording that would have revealed the secret. We also had to pack the entire family & stow the evidence completely in secret.
Here's how we revealed the surprise:
We went about the morning routine: dressed for school, packing lunches, and eating breakfast. I had packed three shoe boxes (1 for each kid) with Disney paraphernalia as clues: glow sticks, sunglasses, water bottle, Disney trinkets, Disney apparel, placing the most obvious: the autograph book (purchased at Disney Store) & trading pins (purchased on prior trips & from Amazon) on the bottom. On the top of each box I pasted a word & together it spelled out: We're Going To. 
While they were sitting at the island for breakfast, my husband casually asked them what they wanted to do today. School, was the natural reaction, because they suspected nothing. "But if you could choose, what would you do today?" Funny enough my son whispered, "Go to Disney World" into his youngest sister's ear to get her to say it out loud. And we told them we have an idea & gave them each a box.
Dancing & jumping for joy erupted! I'd even had a Disney station playing on Pandora through the whole thing, (that was pretty typical for us) and turned it up for celebrating the surprise! We showed them the Magic Bands, in an official box (which were still in the testing phase at this point) and they further added to the excitement.

One word of caution for a day-of surprise, depending on the age of your child, you may not want to pull a bait & switch-i.e.: say, "We're going to grandmas house" & then instead pull up at the airport & surprise them with Disney. Children have been known to cry over the overwhelming change.

A Countdown Chain
As much as I enjoyed the once-in-a-lifetime type thrill of surprising them on the morning we were leaving, I missed the build up of anticipation we've shared prior to other trips. I enjoy pouring over details with them, getting books from the library, and watching You Tube videos of attractions.
We made a countdown chain that sat with a plush Sorcerer Mickey & a box of Magic Bands to reveal another trip. Clues led them to a room that had this all set up. It was a thrill! 
The countdown chain (an idea I found on Pinterest, but unsure of original designer) was super easy to make. I free-handed Mickey ears on black construction paper & folded them to make the Mickey link, and pasted white circles (made with a hole punch) on the red link to represent his pants.
On the inside of each link I wrote a detail about our trip to reveal little by little each day & build anticipation.
I have to say, this is the most enjoyable reveal for me. I felt my little kids (under 5) were overwhelmed by the "day of" reveal. Decide how long of a countdown is appropriate for your kids', depending on their ages. Three weeks is plenty long enough for us; 21 links in our chain looks like a lifetime to 5 year-old!
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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. 


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Wednesday, September 10, 2014


...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:, all others:

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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: experiences geared for younger or older than your group, same goes for character meetings aimed at gender (princesses, for example).

Key planning points: 
  • Fastpass+ allows us 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 much of that built into our plans. With the exception of Anna & Elsa, who are only available to meet here.
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
Meet Anna & Elsa: FP+ (if this is a MUST, you MUST secure the FP+ 60 days prior (or 30, if staying off-site)
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!

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 (at Disney resorts, put it on speaker or hold to your child's ear (it was Beymax in March '15)
{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). Offsite guests, adjust & plan driving/parking accordingly.

Rope Drop (called Magic Kingdom Welcome Show on MDE). The fanfare begins 15 min prior to opening and ends with Mickey and many friends (currently including Elsa & Anna) arriving to welcome you & finally, officially opening the park. We arrive no less than 45min prior.
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). Now taking reservations for lunch.

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.
4pm: FP+ Meet Anna & Elsa or book one of the Mountains or the Mine Train for after the parade
Longer, indoor attractions at this time of day are always a nice retreat from the sun (Mickey's Philharmagic, It's A Small World, Haunted Mansion). 

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+
Pirates of the Caribbean

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.

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.

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!

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.

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?" 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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