July 31, 2012

Reintegration Update

It's been a while since I really wrote about reintegration but it's been on my mind a lot the last couple of days. My best friend is about to go through her husband's first deployment and I've recently written a post for a deployment series that should come out end of August/September-ish. I'll link up when the series begins. I'm really looking forward to reading everyone else's experiences with deployment. 

I'd like to say I haven't written about reintegration in a while because it's been a cake walk and hasn't been on my mind at all but that's not really the case. It hasn't been bad, it just hasn't been easy. First, I didn't know how to write about it and in many ways, I still don't. Then, there's some stuff I just can't write about...at least not yet. Nothing to do with my relationship with my husband or his relationship with our children...those relationships have remained strong and are growing. Just Joshua's transition from active duty, full-time, war-zone Army life to a civilian job where 99% of the people don't get it and have no interest in educating themselves about military life isn't easy.

Joshua's not the only one from his deployment to struggle with the drastic change to civilian life. I've learned more about PTSD and I've realized that I had, at least on some level, stereotyped "those" people. Whenever I heard those four letters I used to think of emotionally wounded, violent men who beat their wives. Now, I know people with PTSD. They're good men.

As for Joshua specifically, he's doing really well. He's going back to the VA in a couple days for his knee-he injured it while he was deployed and has been on a running profile (I'm probably not wording that correctly and he'll say something if he reads this but basically his knee is jacked up and he can't run like he would like to) which has been super annoying for him because he says I'm "making [him] fat." To which I say, "I only make the yummy meals, you decide how much of it to eat." 

Meanwhile, our Princess has him wrapped around her finger like he never missed a day. The Boy is still very much a Daddy's boy and has really grown since Joshua returned. His verbal skills have improved and although he sometimes struggles with separation anxiety, it's generally not too bad. I'm hopeful that with a little more family time, any remnant anxiety will fade away.

 By the way, if you're facing a deployment of your own with a little one at home, we HIGHLY recommend the Sesame St DVD Talk, Listen, Connect: Deployments, Homecomings and Changes. It set us up for success with the boy. You can get it from Military One Source and it's often handed out at pre-deployment yellow ribbon events. Just keep in mind there are two DVDs. Deployment/Homecomings are two chapters on one DVD and Changes is the other DVD. I've heard (read: I'm a wuss and haven't had the emotional fortitude to find out for myself) that the Changes DVD is to be used to help explain the situation in pre-school terms if your service member comes home injured. Don't mix the two up! Also, you may want to pre-view the Deployment chapter alone so you can ball your eyes out before you watch it with your children.

As for Joshua and I, we're scheduled to go to a Strong Bonds seminar next month and although I think we're both a little nervous about it-we've never done a marriage retreat and anything led by the Army tends to keep me a bit guarded, I think it should be fun. We've had good friends go through it with nothing but positive things to say. 

I guess that's the update...we're still truckin' along. It's not always easy. It's often frustrating. But we're learning what our new normal is and so far, it's not too bad.

July 29, 2012

Choosing Sides

Recently, an old friend got divorced. I've known him for over a dozen years. We met in high school when we were in Boy Scouts together-yes, I was in Boy Scouts-it was a co-ed division called Venture Crew. We went back-packing, rock-climbing and just had a great time. We didn't care about merit badges or even proper Boy Scout uniforms, we just loved to be outside and be active. My friend was always the big teddy bear of the group. When we graduated, I lost touch with him and most everyone I went to high school with. My early college years were spent searching for who I was and who I wanted to become. Once life started to settle down, I began reconnecting with some of my old high school friends, thanks in part to facebook. I was able to reconnect with my teddy bear friend, meet his wife and introduce them both to my husband. I was heart broken to watch as they went through painful infertility issues but encouraged by the strength of their marriage and over the moon when they got pregnant and the pregnancy was healthy. They had gone through multiple miscarriages and it seemed to bond them together forever but I guess forever didn't last. 


With their miracle baby just a couple years old, they got divorced this spring. Between the Army and the fact that they live several hours from us, we hadn't been able to visit them in over a year and a half. Our friendship had slipped to an online-only type of friendship so when I saw my friend's wife's relationship status change to "divorced," I was in shock. I didn't know what to think. I love my teddy bear friend but I had also grown to love his wife. 


Immediately, I decided I was going to be neutral. I was going to be Switzerland. I loved them both and secretly hoped they would work it out. However, I was also prepared to accept and even befriend new loves for each of them down the road but down the road came much sooner than I expected. What felt like moments after their divorce was finalized, my old friend was engaged to someone else. I know what his first wife believes happened with their marriage but I also know there's two sides to every story and a marriage doesn't fall apart because of just one person's failings. That being said, when I look at facebook photos and see him sitting with his new fiance and her daughter, my heart breaks. I can't help but remember him with his first wife and their baby girl.


I always hated when people would talk about "choosing sides" in a divorce but I guess I kind of get it now. It's not that I want to choose a side. It's that I don't know if I'll ever be able to look at my friend the same way again. The only thing in my life that I can equate it to is being pregnant when a friend is having a miscarriage or visa versa. I want to be happy that my old friend is happy and seems to have found someone he loves but I'm heart broken for his first wife, their daughter and the life that they had together.


July 27, 2012

La-la-land & Olympics

Let me first say that I'm medicated so if there's more grammatical errors than usual, my apologies.

Why am I medicated? 

Because I'm a loser and jacked up my neck a few days ago. I tried to just suck it up and wait for it to get better. I'm kind of a man like that. I hate taking medicine and I hate going to the doctor...going 3-5 times a week at the end of each of my pregnancies burned me out on waiting rooms, not to mention all the poking and prodding. But, the pain was too much so I went in this morning and after an initial exam and a couple x-rays, I was told I have too much stress. Really? You don't think. A mother of two with a husband just back from deployment? No. Never. Apparently, my neck muscles have been spasm-ing and have pushed my spine to the point where it's supposed to curve one direction and it's actually curving the other way. Yeah. Great. The doctor told me that if I had taken a muscle relaxer and limited my physical activity when it first started hurting, it probably wouldn't have gotten as bad as it did but I didn't because I'm a mom...and I'm nursing and I hate the idea of taking anything so now instead of ibuprofen, I've got two prescriptions...one for daytime and one at night. The daytime one isn't supposed to make you loopy but I am seriously in loopy-land. I was going to take the kids to the library this afternoon but operating a motor vehicle seems like a bad idea right now...so I'm blogging because that's not dangerous while medicated. Ha. I'm curious to see what the nighttime one will do to me. 

Anyway, all loopiness and neck aches aside, we've had fun gearing up for the Olympics...by we I mean me and the boy (he's learning about all sorts of new-to-him sports) and Joshua who has had a great time making fun of me. It's kind of what he does best. Last night I started a spreadsheet timeline listing all the events I don't want to miss. Yes. I recognize that I'm not normal. I'm good with it. I'm just excited because for the first time ever all the events are being live-broadcast via the internet so I can watch the archery, the synchronized diving and all the other events that my darling husband couldn't care less about. He mocks my Olympic enthusiasm but him mocking me is nothing new...one of his favorite things to do is purposely mix up Star Trek and Star Wars references just to get under my nerd skin. 

Ok. Loopy pills are taking over. Good thing the kids are napping. I think I'll join them.

July 24, 2012

10 Money-Saving Disney World Tips


When most people think of a Disney World vacation, they see dollar signs. It's true that although it's not the most budget-friendly vacation destination, you can still go without breaking the bank. Here's some of our favorite ways to save money! Hope it helps!

1- PLAN AHEAD.

The sooner you can start planning your Disney vacation, the more you'll save...and not just money. You'll save your sanity if you know what you're getting into before you arrive. We always book our resort stay over six months out and almost never know what sort of discount we will get but because we book so early, we can wait and adjust our reservations as needed. We stay informed and keep our eyes out for new discounts. The most popular are Disney's Free Dining Promotion, room-only discounts coupled with 3rd party discounted tickets (which I'll cover below), AAA discounts and Disney's Military Discounts. We do the numbers and based on how many people are going, how many rooms we'll need and what we want to do while we're there, we find the best discount for our family and add it to our existing reservation BUT we are always aware that Disney isn't a charity and there's always a very real possibility that we'll have to pay the full price we are quoted when we book...thankfully, that has yet to happen.

*When you book a room or resort package (room with tickets and/or dining) you're only required (currently) to put a $200 deposit down. The remainder is due 45 days before your arrival.

2- GO DURING A VALUE SEASON.

At Disney World, not all days are equal. Peak season weekend nights can cost you almost twice as much as the same room would cost you on a weekday night in the value season. Also, some of the special dining experiences that have a set price will also go up in the busier times of year...not to mention the crowd levels!

Value season is generally considered...
January (after New Year's) UNTIL just before President's Day week in February
The week AFTER Labor Day (the later in the week, generally the better the crowds) until the week before Thanksgiving
The week AFTER Thanksgiving weekend until around mid-December

Clearly, if you have children who attend school, you'll need to decide how willing you are to pull them out and for how long.


3- STAY ON PROPERTY.

Granted, even the most economical Disney Value Resorts will cost you at least $84 a night (a weeknight during a value season) which is more than you might be able to find off-property but by staying on-property, you save yourself the hassle of having to take a taxi, rent a car or bring your own (which will cost you $14 a day to park). In fact, if you fly in, Disney will pick you up at the airport and take you straight to your resort for free with their Magical Express service. A couple weeks before your vacation, you'll get luggage tags in the mail. You put them on your checked bags at your home airport and you don't even have to lift a finger for them again until they magically arrive in your room a couple hours after you check-in.

*Be sure to pack at least a full days worth of clothing including swim wear in your carry-on so you don't end up waiting for your checked bags to arrive before you can go to the parks or go swimming

Before someone comments that other hotels/resorts offer airport pick-up, drop-off and transportation to and from the parks, let us just say this...they may offer the service, but Disney has it perfected. The wait time for Disney transportation is ALWAYS significantly better than non-Disney-owned resorts. For more information about staying on-property vs staying off-property (with particular emphasis on the military resort Shades of Green) go HERE.

Lastly when it comes to staying on-property, by doing so, you are eligible for Disney's Dining Plan which brings us to tip #4...


4- FOOD.

 You have to eat and Disney's Dining Plan offers resort guests the chance to basically pre-pay for meals at discounted rates, generally saving you (if you were to order exactly the same food out of pocket) around 15% but more than the money savings, it's a convenience issue. You pre-pay it and don't have to think twice about how much to bring for food-except to remember to budget for tips which are not included. But the big savings with the Dining Plan comes when Disney offers it as a free package inclusion. It can save you a TON of money...in fact, this fall our family will be at Disney World for 8 days and we will save nearly $1000 just on food because we were able to get free dining as a package inclusion. 

If, you decide NOT to stay on property-as some people do because they have timeshares or extra large families, there's still ways to save on dining at Disney World. You can choose to only eat at counter service restaurants (fast food style but generally higher quality food...all of the parks and resorts have counter service options) rather than the more expensive sit-down restaurants. Or, you can can limit your sit-down meals to a few special experiences and bring food from home. Even though we almost always opt for the dining plan, we also like to bring breakfast bars. We use them both in the morning at the resort and in the parks as pick-me-ups for the kiddos.

*Keep in mind that children under 3 not only get FREE park admission, they also are permitted to eat off their parent's plates at all Disney restaurants so be sure to look into the various buffet restaurants.

5- TICKETS.

The tickets are not cheap. There's no way around it and they seem to get more and more expensive each year but there are discounts offered. However, even at full price, the longer you stay, the less you'll pay per day...for example...
An adult (10 years and up) ticket (without park hopping or water park options added) will cost $89 but if you were to stay for 7 days, it's only $288 which averages out to be about $41 a day. If you stay for 10 days, it goes down to less than $32 a day.
But who wants to pay full price so let's talk discounts. First, we're a military family so we need to mention the Military Discount on Tickets. For only $138 you can get four days of  park hopping tickets. Unfortunately, the current promotion ends at the end of September. It is expected that Disney will release another military discount but no word on if it will be the same discount just extended or a whole other offer. We will update when we hear more. If you're not a military family, there are still discounts available...Mousesavers and Undercover Tourists (our personal favorite) are two of the most popular websites that offer discounted tickets.

*Discounted tickets generally include a minimum of 3 days

If you don't get your tickets either directly from Disney, from your local military ITT or MWR office, or from one of the two sites I posted here, be sure to do your research. There are scammers out there and it would be heart breaking to think you're buying official Disney Park tickets only find out once you're in Orlando that you've been scammed.

6- Y.E.S. PROGRAM.

Technically this falls under the tickets category but it's really cool and deserves it's own spot on the list. This one is a little complicated but it can save you a ton of money and is PERFECT for homeschooling groups or large families that might not otherwise be able to go. Basically, Disney has a year-round amazing education program called the Youth Education Series or Y.E.S. for short. Within the program, children from Kindergarten through 12th grade can choose between Physical Science, Natural Science, Arts and Humanities and Leadership & Career programs. Students become theme park scientist learning physics by holding beakers of water while riding a roller coaster to see the effects or step behind the scenes of La Nuba by Cirque Du Solei to learn what it takes to run a Broadway-caliber show.

The different program options are amazing in and of themselves but the best part is that when you enroll your child/children in a Y.E.S. program, your entire family is eligible for deeply discounted tickets.

For the best, most up-to-date information call 1-877-WD-YOUTH. 

7- SUBSTITUTIONS.

With Disney, just about anything you can dream up is possible but not everything you can dream up is necessarily in the budget. As amazing as it is to have dinner INSIDE the castle at Cinderella's Royal Table, at a minimum of $65 for adults and $40 for children (more depending on the season), it can be too expensive for many families. Instead, go to Akershus in the Norway pavilion of Epcot and have and equally delightful Princess dinner (usually attended by Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Belle and Ariel...among others but it changes often enough that there's no way to know ahead of time) for as little as $42 for adults and $23 for children.

Another popular Princess attraction is the Bibbidy Boppidy Boutique but even the most basic package starts at over $50. If you can swing it, we REALLY recommend it, but not all families can and if you have more than one little princess, the total can really start to add up. Instead, consider taking your little princess to The Pirate's League for a Pirate Princess makeover starting around $30. If that's still too much for you, there's always the Harmony Barber Shop on Main St. Boys and girls of all ages can get colored hair gel (in some really fun designs) and glitter for only $7 (plus tip). We've had kiddos do all of the above and honestly had just as great of a time getting the glitter/hair gel treatment at Harmony Barber Shop as they had at the Bibbidy Boppidy Boutique.

*Whether you're wanting to do the Bibbidy Boppidy Boutique (407-WDW-STYLE), the Pirate's League (407-WDW-CREW) OR Harmony Barber Shop (407-WDW-PLAY), be sure to call ahead and make a reservation...you may be able to just walk into the Harmony Barber Shop (doubtful you can on the other two) but you'll end up waiting as it's a popular stop for "first hair cuts."

8- BRING IT, DON'T BUY IT.

In addition to some of our favorite snacks, there's a couple other things you can bring from home to save money...

Costumes-whether your little one is going to the Bibbidy Boppidy Boutique, the Pirate's League or just wants to dress up to meet Mickey and the gang, Disney costumes are not cheap. In fact, with accessories, it's not uncommon to pay well over $100 for one child's costume. Meanwhile, we bought fabric last night ($12) and plan to make new Peter Pan and Tinkerbell costumes. Even if you're not sewing-inclined, hop on ebay or amazon and save yourself a ton of money.

Light Up Toys-while you wait for one of the theme park fireworks to begin, Disney cast members will be there to sell your child every single light up toy known to man and at a minimum of $15 a piece, it can add up. Save yourself some money...or even just the headache of having to say no at Disney World (gasp! what parent would do that?!).

Disney Pinspin trading is more popular than ever...particularly in Epcot and sometimes parents go assuming that their child (or they) won't be interested, which leaves them with few options in the parks if they're wrong. Spend $20 on ebay and save yourself $100.

Weather Gear-whether it's a stroller fan or rain pancho, Disney will happily sell it to you but it won't be cheap. Bring them from home and save money.

*Disney does NOT sell stroller rain covers! Unless you plan to rent from a 3rd party which does off stroller covers, you will NEED to bring your own...it's Florida. It rains. A lot.

9- SOUVENIRS.

Granted, there's some souvenirs you just have to have from the parks but for your kids' second grade teacher's assistant, there's no reason to spend buckets of money to bring home something special. If you have a car...your own or rented...you can go less than ten minutes from most Disney Resorts to the local super Walmart and get loads of Florida/Disney merchandise (Disney...but not specifically Disney Parks) for pennies on the dollar. Also nearby are a couple of very popular Disney Outlet Stores which do carry official Disney Parks Merchandise. 

If you don't have a vehicle with you, you can still get a nice souvenir for not a lot of money. In fact, you can use your Disney Dining Plan snack credits to buy cute little boxes of Minnie's Cookies, giant Lollipops and other fun things...we like to do this with extra snack credits at the end of a vacation for our children's friends. 

10. BUDGET. BUDGET. BUDGET.

The best way to save money at Disney World is to set a budget and stick to it. It's easy to get carried away in the magic of it all and spend $50 here $100 there and it adds up. Instead of charging souvenirs and restaurant tips back to your room, load up some Disney Gift Cards (available at your local Disney Store) or online before you go on your vacation and use those to stay within your budget. 

Disney World is a blast. It's called the Happiest Place on Earth for good reason. It manages to set you apart from the rest of the chaos of the world and transports you to a simpler time. No matter what your budget is, you can have a magical time.



July 20, 2012

Friday Fun

In all the insanity of birthday fun, t-ball games and the Army doing what the Army does best...jack with plans, I haven't been able to post any of my new sewing accomplishments in a while so here's the latest...


Initially I planned on printing out a pattern I found on pinterest...



But then Murphy's Law struck and our printer died so I just eye-balled it and drafted my own pattern using the boy's large sketch pad. I'm happy with how it turned out on top but the skirt could be better...I'll just have to work on my skirt drafting skills.

*To give the skirt a more cupcake appearance, there's a teal pettiskirt under the skirt which I purchased for almost nothing at Halo Heaven. It's an awesome site a friend told me about...only downside is shipping is $10 unless you spend $20-then it's free! Also, their stock has been kinda low for a while when it comes to pettiskirts so if you see one you like, I recommend you grab it while you can.

Hope you have a great weekend!!!

July 19, 2012

Overwhelmed? Start your Disney World planning HERE!


You've decided to go to Disney World...now what?

Where do you start? How much will it cost? When should you go? Where do you buy tickets? There's more than just the Magic Kingdom??? 

The questions can be overwhelming and it's probably one reason so many people end up not going at all. They think it sounds like a good idea but then someone like me tells them to start planning and that restaurant and special extras can book up six months out, suddenly Disney-phobia sets in.

Relax. You can do this. It can be complicated but you just have to take it one decision at a time. 

Let's get started with a quick overview for those just starting out with planning their very first (or first in a long time) vacation...

There are four theme parks and two water parks...

Magic Kingdom is the original and has Cinderella's Castle. If this is your first time planning, Magic Kingdom is probably the theme park you're thinking about when you think Disney World.

Epcot connects to Magic Kingdom via monorail and was the second park built. For years it wasn't considered very kid-friendly and it still caters to adults (eat and drink your way around the world) but has certainly grown to be a favorite for many kids with attractions like Turtle Talk with Crush where kids actually do get to talk with Crush and he talks back.

Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM Studios) is probably the park that is the most balanced between what kids and what adults want. There's stunt shows and thrill rides but also Disney Jr characters and a Woody and Buzz Lightyear meet and greet spot.

Animal Kingdom is a double-edged sword. It's awesome but it will ruin your ability to just go to your local zoo and have a good time. The Kilimanjaro Safari is worth the price of admission alone but there's also Expedition Everest-a roller coaster that will have you running to the single-rider line over and over (thereby skipping the regular line which can get pretty long even in the slowest of seasons).

Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon are Disney's two water parks and each offers a lot for those that are so inclined. If you have very small children and want to do a water park, we recommend Typhoon Lagoon as Blizzard Beach has more of the high-adventure type water coasters. Typhoon Lagoon does, however, give you the opportunity to swim with sharks...yup, sharks. We've done it a few times and it's a blast. Just be sure to bring your underwater camera (the Kodak Sport C123 works great).

Now that you're excited about where you're going, let's talk about all those planning decisions you have to make..

First you should decide when you want to go. Most people ask us "what's the best time of year to go?" which generally translates into "when are the crowds the lowest, the temperatures the best and the prices the cheapest?"


Crowd levels-

Historically, the lowest crowd levels are...

January (just after New Years) to President's Day in February 

*tip-all US national holidays are times that will be much busier as both locals and families from around the nation who don't want to pull their kids from school will opt for these times

September (the week following Labor Day) to the week BEFORE Thanksgiving

*tip-if you opt to go in late September/October keep in mind that Magic Kingdom will close early at least twice a week for Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party and Epcot will be MUCH busier-especially at night because of the annual Food and Wine Festival 

The week AFTER Thanksgiving to mid-December

*tip-this time can really be hit or miss, there's Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party in Magic Kingdom and the Candlelight Processional in Epcot BUT it's a great time to go with pretty low crowds if you're wanting to see the parks decorated for the holidays

Moderate crowd levels...

The week of Thanksgiving

*tip-the crowds may not be as packed at the peak season where you're just sardines in a can but moderate crowd levels can still be overwhelming and if you plan to have a nice Thanksgiving meal, you MUST call 407-WDW-DINE 180 days in advance at 0700 est. Disney restaurants-especially American themed restaurants like Liberty Tree Tavern and the popular Character meals like Cinderella's Castle will book up first and fast!

Late April through early June (with the exception of Memorial Day which falls into the peak season)

Highest crowd levels (aka insanity...at least 90 minute wait times for most attractions)...

President's week in February

Mid-March until late April

Memorial Day Weekend

About the second week of June through Labor Day

Thanksgiving Day Weekend

Christmas Eve through New Year's

*tip-New Year's Eve is the single busiest day of the year. The parks often reach capacity and shut down the front gates mid-day. Go during any of these peak times only if you must, you don't want to see our family or you're just a big fan of waiting two hours for a 60-second ride.

It may go without saying but resort stays are cheapest during the seasons with the lowest crowds and highest during the peak seasons. Check out our break down of the resorts by clicking on one of the resort links on the left. We've included a general idea of what to expect to spend. As for temperature, that's all up to you. We prefer early fall because we still get that summer feeling without melting into the pavement.


Second, figure out your budget. Someone asked us yesterday if they're family of four can go to Disney World for less than $10,000. I choked a little when I heard the question because as many times as we've been and even though we've gone for as long as 15 days and have always stayed on Disney property, we've never spent anywhere near that much. In fact, I'll level with you. The most we've spent from our front door to Disney and back is less than $5,000. Granted, we're on a budget and we are vigilant about seeking out the best deals. My husband is in the military and I'm a stay-at-home mom-it goes without saying that we have to be wise about what we spend and where it goes. Can you go and spend $10,000? Absolutely. Do you need to? No. However, if you'd like to, I have a few ideas of what you can do to make it an amazing time...and if you decided to take me along, I'd be ok with that too...just throwing that out there. Once you know your budget, you can start on the third decision you have to make...

Where will you stay? We always recommend staying at a Disney-owned resort on property but you can check out your options with our comparison of on-property/off-property and even Shades of Green (for all our military friends and family) for more details.

Next, where do you buy your tickets/package? I know people who ONLY use a travel agent because they're afraid they'll make a mistake on their own...understandable but stay informed because more than once, we've known about a discount someone qualified for but didn't receive because their travel agent either didn't know about it or didn't bother to do the work to get them the discount. If you want to plan it on your own...as I suspect since you're here...keep in mind some of the biggest discounts...free dining, room-only discounts, and Disney's Military discounts CANNOT be purchased or added to a reservation online. You MUST call into the reservation center at 407-WDW-7675. In fact, if you call that number and ask them, they'll help you start your planning and the great thing with Disney is that when you're ready to book your vacation, you only need a $200 deposit. The rest of your package is due 45 days before you check-in so you can make monthly payments or save up and pay it all off at once...just be sure to book as soon as you can so rooms fill up fast. If you're looking for just tickets...for example, you've decided staying on property just isn't for your family, and you don't qualify for the greatly discounted military tickets, check out websites like Undercover Tourist for discounted tickets. However, generally speaking, you'll only find discounted tickets when you purchase a minimum of three of four days worth of tickets. 

Lastly, if you have children...especially small children, be sure to take a little more time and do some extra planning-particularly check out the height restrictions. Also, click on our Bibbidy Boppidy Boutique and Pirate's League pages for the fun extras to add to your trip.

As always, if you have any questions, email me by clicking on the profile (where it has my name), I'm happy to help.

July 17, 2012

O-N-E

We did it! Tomorrow is the girl's first birthday! We have managed (assuming nothing happens between NOW and midnight) to keep our little daredevil princess alive for the first year. We opted to not do a big 1st birthday party for several reasons but mostly because we wanted to just have time as a family of four. It's something we were unable to do when she was born because of the deployment so last weekend (Wednesday birthdays are the worst!) we had a Princess Day. I took some 1 year photos...


And afterwards, we took the kids to get lunch at a local, whole-in-the-wall, super yummy BBQ place. Don't try telling our Princess that BBQ isn't very Princess-like...she LOVES it!

Lunch was great and as a treat to both kids, we took a trip over to the Disney Store where our sweet, selfless little man wanted to spend ALL his birthday money on presents for the girl. We allowed him to buy a couple little things for her but encouraged him to save his money or buy something for himself.

Love. That. Boy!

Sunday night we came home and had cake. Our little ladybug birthday princess started out slow. After ripping a piece off the cake and trying to put it back together, she slowly tasted it...the slow didn't last and it wasn't long before she was face-first in the cake...








July 13, 2012

Friday Fun

This week has been a rough a one but it's been a good reminder that time with our kids is so short and I'm taking advantage of every moment. This is the crazy fun princess that I wake up to every day...




Last night I asked her for a kiss before bedtime and she shook her head and said "no!" I was a little disappointed but at the same time, her independence makes me smile. She's not going to be an easy child to raise but she's going to be a beautifully independent, strong woman one day. And, just for the record, I did get a kiss blown to me for the first time just a few minutes after she said no so it all balanced out. She does her own thing in her own time (reason #37 why I'm grateful we've decided to homeschool...pretty sure she'd be "that" kid in class).

As for the boy, he had another T-ball game last night that went great. His buddy who has been struggling with the whole idea of "team" sports, really did great and with the exception of our boy running from his spot at third toward the dugout while yelling at the top of his lungs that his sister was all alone (Joshua and I were both in the outfield with his team) it was a good night. For the record, we did not leave the girl unattended. She was sitting with a friend. I managed to grab the boy mid-run and carry him back to third while explaining that his sister wasn't actually alone and he didn't need to rescue her. It's always an adventure with kids and I'm loving it.

July 12, 2012

Blink of An Eye

This week has been a lesson in how fast and dramatically life can change, or end.


My 27 year old cousin, Nathan, is in a neuro ICU in Colorado after a mountain biking accident. We don't know really what happened because he was biking alone but he was found...not sure even how long he was down before he was found...on a trail he'd ridden a hundred times before. It took some time to get word to his parents because when his cell phone was discovered, they didn't know who to call. They ended up getting in touch with his ex-girlfriend who was able to track down his fiance who took it from there. He was wearing a helmet but had a head injury on the left side. Either he hit right at the edge of his helmet or his helmet hit so hard it pushed into his head. Initial reports were not good. He had a brain bleed, was put on a vent and has a broken clavicle but no one really knew anything in the beginning. Three days later, he's having some issues with short-term memory loss...he knows the year, the season and recognizes people but he's having to be restrained because they took the vent out and cannot keep him as deeply sedated so he's waking up without knowing where he's at and  why he's there. Every time they tell him what happened, he calms down pretty quickly but it's clear that patience is going to be one of his biggest hurdles. Ironically, and I guess thankfully, his fiance is finishing up her final semester in occupational therapy and from all reports has done an amazing job staying on top of everything while still very lovingly caring for Nathan. They're starting to look at inpatient rehab facilities but it's unclear how long rehab will take. Although we didn't spend much time together as children-we lived on opposite sides of the country before the facebook era, he's my cousin and I'm so thankful that he was wearing a helmet and has a good prognosis.


I had already planned on writing a post about Nathan and it probably would have been a bit more preachy when it comes to encouraging people to wear helmets because to be honest, I doubt he'd still be alive if it weren't for his helmet but I woke up this morning to read a status update on facebook that stopped me.


Sometimes, it doesn't matter how safe you are, accidents still happen. Last night, my dear friend's two year old princess was pulled out of a pool by her older brother. She was limp and incoherent in his arms. By the grace of God, life came back to her and she began breathing. That little girl, her parents' and siblings' lives will forever be changed. All the little things in their life have disappeared and just about everything in comparison to their children is a little thing.


I'm holding my children just a little bit tighter today and taking the time to remember the little moments like this morning when our boy sat in bed with me and our princess and made up an elephant song for her. I loved that moment and I'll hold onto that moment because we are not promised forever. We're not even promised tomorrow.


July 9, 2012

Magic Kingdom Overview with Tips


When people think of Disney World, the first thought is generally of Magic Kingdom. It is the iconic first theme park of the Disney World Resort. The history of Magic Kingdom could take up an entire post (or several posts) in and of itself but today we're just going to focus on some of our must-do current attractions and extras.

Oftentimes considered Disney's most child-friendly theme park, Magic Kingdom still has a lot to offer adult visitors; although, it should be noted that Magic Kingdom is the only dry park. All three of the other parks and all of Disney's hotel resorts are happy to pour you an alcoholic beverage but the strongest thing you'll drink at Magic Kingdom is a Dole Whip. 
(photo credit: disneyinsidertips.com)

Magic Kingdom is designed much like a wagon wheel with the impressive Cinderella Castle at the center of the theme park and various "lands" extending out from there. Circling the entire park is the Walt Disney Railroad. You enter the park by crossing under the Main Street Station. On the left you'll find the Harmony Barber Shop where many little ones have had their first hair cuts (less than $20 plus tip) and older brothers and sisters and some moms and dads have had colored hair gel (about $7) used to make some super fun designs.
*tip: Remember to call and book your appointment at the Harmony Barber Shop because although they take walk-ins, you'll spend valuable park time waiting your turn.


Across the way on the right side of Main St is the Town Square Theater which is where you can find Mickey in a magic show...or you can meet the Princesses who are temporarily set up there while much of Fantasyland is under construction during the largest expansion in Magic Kingdom history. They're building the Beast's Castle from Beauty and the Beast-complete with a new Be Our Guest Restaurant, doubling the Dumbo attraction and adding a new meet and greet Princess Fairytale Hall, among other additions.

Anyway, as you walk down Main St, the quaint shops entice you inside where you're able to buy just about any Disney souvenir, candy, baked good or old fashioned ice cream your heart could ever desire. One of our favorite things is to stop just before the Castle at Casey's Corner and grab a hot dog (all beef, just fyi), cotton candy and watch a few old school black and white Mickey Mouse Cartoons while cooling off in the air conditioning.

Of course, at the end of Main Street is the Castle. It makes for a great photo op but it's more than that. It also houses the Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique (aka just about every little girl's dream).

Before you get to the Castle, there are five streets that turn off. The first two on the left merge and direct visitors to Adventureland where you can take a ride with some shady characters on the classic Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. Another favorite is the Jungle Cruise, where, if you like corny jokes, you're in great company. Our must-do in Adventureland is most definitely the Pirate's League. The prices are more than reasonable and it's a blast for boys and girls. 
*tip: advanced reservations are a MUST for Pirate's League

If you turn on the last street on the left, you'll find yourself winding your way through the Liberty Square area-home to the ever-popular Haunted Mansion (another must-do) and ending up in Frontierland which in our house is a big favorite. Frontierland is home to two of the most iconic Disney attractions...not to mention our favorite rides! The Wild Wild West is brought to life with Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Runaway Railroad.

If instead of taking one of the roads to the left, you take the first right off Main St, you'll find yourself in Tomorrowland. Tomorrowland is an ever-changing image of what tomorrow may bring. Today, when you go to Tomorrowland, you're presented with the opportunity to battle aliens in Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. It's certainly a must-do-especially if your family is like ours and you enjoy some healthy competition. If you're looking for some down time, go straight to the Monster's Inc Laugh Floor and be prepared to be "that guy."
*tip: have a joke of your own in mind when you visit Mike Wazowski...while waiting for the theater doors to open, you'll be presented with the opportunity to text your very own joke and if you're lucky, it'll be used in the show
Tomorrowland's big attraction is Space Mountain. It's also the attraction in Magic Kingdom with the tallest height requirement
*tip: be sure to measure and remeasure your little ones before your trip-knowing what they can and cannot do will be a life-saver!

*tip: keep your eyes open in all the parks for little bits of extra magic...in Magic Kingdom you might find "water painters" like the one shown above or you might even find a trash can rolling down the street chatting with park guests

The second star on the right....wait, wrong navigation...the second street on the right from Main Street will lead you to the dividing line between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland which as we said earlier is undergoing a pretty massive explansion which, when completed, will almost double Fantasyland. All the classic kiddie attractions are there...Prince Charming's Carrousel, Dumbo, It's A Small World and the Mad Tea Party Cups.
Just because Fantasyland is home to so many of the kiddie classics, don't let it stop you from visiting if you're kid-free and not really feeling the Tea Cups. Mickey's PhilharMagic is an amazing 3D experience and one of the best attractions at Magic Kingdom regardless of your age. 

Magic Kingdom has other great attractions, restaurants and more shopping opportunities than you could ever manage in a trip but the most important thing to remember is to just have a great time. Pick what you think will be the most fun for you and your group and make those the priority. Anything else is just icing on the cake.



July 5, 2012

Freedom Isn't Free


I hope everyone had a happy and safe 4th of July. I really wanted to write about our plans but in addition to splashing in the kids' pool, taking some holiday pics and grilling steaks, we spent the night eating and blowing things up with some Army friends as a surprise birthday/4th of July party with some of the guys Joshua deployed with. 



It was good to get together especially because the birthday boy (aka Hopper) is a guy whom Joshua hasn't seen since Hopper was seriously injured and air-lifted out. He and his wife have been in my prayers for months. I know that they've both struggled with the injury but they're really an inspiration in strength. Our nation's birth and growth continue because of the sacrifices of men and women like Hopper and their families. 

July 3, 2012

Adventure Is Out There! Part 2

Our adventure in El Paso continued after the gun range (and a taco break) when we hopped in the truck and drove out to White Sands for some Sand Dune Sledding. 

Sounds awesome, right?!

It was pretty cool but it was also a lot of work to get back up the sand dunes and it's really not like snow sledding at all. 

(it was awesome to get away from the kids, just the two of us...first time in almost 3 years)




(pigtails were helpful to keep my hair out of my face until they tried to kill me...this pic wasn't moments before "the incident" where my pigtail got caught under the sled and made me wipe out...graceful, as always)


The rest of our time in El Paso was spent playing games...I'm now just a little bit obsessed with dominoes...eating and just hanging out. The boys cleaned the guns while JG and I played with our nails.

We stayed in El Paso until just about the last possible moment. We got to my parents' house (which is about three hours from our place) at 0200. They had to leave for the airport at 0400...they're in Belize for two weeks (must be rough). We stayed at their house until both Joshua and I had enough sleep to get back on the road which took a while because the kids woke up way too early and we ended up taking shifts napping. We managed to pick up the dog from a local farm where he goes while we're out of town and get home with enough time in the afternoon for the kids to lay down while I got some laundry going...exciting stuff. But we were still in a rush because the boy had his first t-ball game that night.

(the boy in the 1st inning...he hit...he ran...unfortunately, he ran to the pitcher's mound before he ran to first base...thankfully, in the second inning he managed to run the correct direction and even scored)

(it was sort of a David vs Goliath situation...except that Goliath won...the other team was clearly older and much more experienced than our kiddos but they had a great time)

(in the 2nd inning, our boy was the catcher...isn't he just the cutest little thing!)

Have I mentioned that we had a whirlwind week and a half?! Because we did and even after the t-ball game, it wasn't over. We got home and repacked the suitcase for an overnight yellow ribbon event about an hour and a half from where we live. Thankfully, this time around it wasn't death by power point and a few of the speakers seemed to really have the attention of the audience which when you're talking about a few hundred soldiers who were made to attend and spouses who were only trying to be supportive, it's no small thing to keep their attention. It was good to hang out with some of the guys Joshua deployed with and having a couple free hotel rooms for the night (one for the kids and one for us-adjoining of course) didn't suck but I'm glad to be home. Other than going out for the 4th, I plan to stay home for nice stretch, if only to recover from the last two weeks.

I hope everyone has a happy and safe Independence Day. Let's celebrate our nation's freedom by blowing a piece of it away...it's the American way.

July 2, 2012

Adventure Is Out There! Part 1

I'm back.

Mostly.

We're home but it's been a crazy week and a half and I have a ton to do to catch up so don't expect to see me online much over the next few days. Just thought I'd drop a line to show off some pics and tell you what we've been up to...or at least start to...

It started with the boy's birthday Saturday the 23rd. We spent the day kind of low key just as a family doing basically whatever the boy wanted. We had popsicles for breakfast, flew some kites and saw Brave in the local theater. It was a great day. Sunday was the big bowling birthday party day. There were lots of friends and family there but the most important thing to us was that our little man had a great time.

(SO EXCITED!)

(it helped the ball to go faster if you yelled "GO BALL GO!)

(you have no idea how much coercion it took to get this picture...he's 4 now, pictures are a waste of time in his mind when there's so many other things he could be doing)

(the boy and one of his favorite friends...he will do ANYTHING she tells him to)

(the party was over).

As soon as the party ended, the kids loaded up in my parent's truck and Joshua and I took off for a date night. It was great. We went out to eat, did some shopping and made it home in time to get to bed early because the next morning we were up HOURS before the crack of dawn to hit the road and visit our best friends in El Paso (you might recognize JG from Me and My SoldierMan). It was a blast! They're the kind of friends you can do just about anything or even nothing with and still have a great time. We didn't have a lot of time but the time we spent there was great. We went out to eat a few times. We hit the gun range...

(Joshua shooting his buddy's rifle)

(JG shooting her husband's rifle)

(me shooting SoldierMan's .22...LOVED IT!)

(me and my favorite gun...it's the .40 Joshua bought me for Valentine's Day a couple years ago...nothin' says love like a semi-automatic Smith & Wesson)

(Joshua and SoldierMan...I only wish we all lived closer)

Going to the range...regardless of what state we're in, is just something we love to do and going with friends like JG and SoldierMan make it that much more fun. We did more fun things in El Paso, came home and continued the adventure but I'll write about the rest tomorrow...this post is getting too long and my to do list is threatening to yell at me howler-style.