Time Flies When You’re Raising Kids

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You hear it all the time.  You might have even said it yourself a time or two, especially if you’re a mom.  But time really flies when you’re raising kids.  They grow up so fast, that you turn around from throwing the last diaper in the trash and they are wearing a cap and gown, graduating from eighth grade.

That’s where we are in my house.

Christening

Christening

 

Most of you know my Eilis story.  After trying for 10 years and experiencing four miscarriages, a psychic told me I was pregnant.  Yep, a New Orleans street psychic.  We had tried and tried again with fertility medication, and had failure and loss after failure and loss.  I think before we left for that cross country vacation, we had pretty much decided we were done trying.  Nothing good was coming from it.  And there I was, in New Orleans, sitting across from a pixie-like psychic, asking the question about whether we’d ever have another child.  The smile that came across her face was one you normally see on the face of someone in handcuffs as they are about to declare their innocence for a mass murder spree due to reasons of insanity, but I so wanted to believe her when she said, “It’s already taken care of.”

A little more than a year later, we celebrated Eilis’ first birthday with a Mardi Gras party.

Eilis' Mardi Gras Birthday

Eilis’ Mardi Gras Birthday

 

I love all of my children, and I believe I love them all equally, but Eilis is truly different.  The other two are huggy, kissy kind of kids.  Eilis makes you work for it.  She doesn’t just pass out hugs and kisses at whim – you know you deserved it if you get an Eilis hug.  Her laugh, which I always thought was contagious when she was a baby, is absolutely infectious now.  Maybe it’s because she’s a teenager and I don’t hear it as often, but my whole body feels happy when Eilis is laughing.

Eilis Smile

She has always stood up for what she believed – whether it was demanding a blue crayon when her preschool teacher told her she didn’t need it for a fall picture or when she was making dinner for families at the Ronald McDonald House.  She has and always will make a difference in this world, not just in my life, but in the lives of those around her.

Eilis is my miracle baby – the one I prayed for, longed for, and cried for.  She continues to amaze me, impress me, and astonish me simply by the fact that I gave birth to this incredible person.

Eili007 - What a dream

I’m so proud of her every day, but as I get ready to watch her get her certificate for graduating eighth grade, I am even more proud.  She has overcome bullying, survived middle child syndrome, and blossomed into the most amazing human being.  I can’t wait to see where she takes this incredible life.

8th Grade Danc

8th Grade Danc

Not Knowing You Hit the Lottery Until You Lose the Ticket

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One of the things I’ve learned as a writer in this social media world is that the title of your blog should always tell the reader what they’re in for.  Y’all, you have no idea.  But I so truly feel today that I hit the biggest lottery in the world and was totally ignorant about the victory until I lost the ticket.

My dad was sick for a long time, and when the end came, he was in hospice.  People came in and out to see him, and through much of it, I waited in the small waiting room across the hall from his room.  I wanted all of the people that knew him had a chance to say their goodbyes, but it gave me the unique opportunity to hear their conversations as they went in and out of his room.  People loved my dad.  He was well respected, would be desperately missed by more than just us, and I heard time and again as friends and family drifted in and out of that room what a great man my dad was.

My dad the day I got married

My dad the day I got married

The same types of conversations were had at his funeral.  People approached me and talked about what a great man my dad was.  When you’re a kid, you always think you’re dad is a great man, but hearing how much he impacted the lives of others gave me a whole new perspective on just what an incredible guy he was.

My mom’s passing was much more unexpected than my dad’s.  Because she was on life support, there really wasn’t an opportunity for anyone to go in and tell her goodbye.  On her last day, when they roused her enough for us to talk to her, we were able to tell her how much we loved her, but the same opportunity wasn’t afforded to any of her friends.

My amazing mom

My amazing mom

She didn’t want a funeral.  My mom felt like she would be saving us the pain of having to greet people at a time I think she believed should be private.  But this afternoon, I had a chance to be around people my mom worked with.  “She was good people.” “You’re mom was awesome.” “Anna was the best.”  They couldn’t say enough good things about her.  My mom was loved, respected by the people she supervised, and as one of her coworkers told me through his tears, she was an amazing and incredible friend.

I loved my parents.  I knew we were lucky to have them, but I didn’t know how lucky we were.  It was both a moment of tremendous pride and incredible sadness to hear how beloved my mom and dad were to those people I didn’t know very well.

I wish I’d found that lottery ticket.  I had a treasure way greater than I ever imagined.

50s Prime Time Cafe – Disney Dining Review

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Imagine walking into your Mom’s kitchen back in the 1950s.  You’re probably being told to set the table, while the smell of Mom’s pot roast swirls around you.  Dad may be sitting in his chair in the living room, watching Father Knows Best on the black and white TV.  Then Mom yells, “Kids, come and eat!”, and the family gathers around the laminate topped table with the chrome chairs to dig in to the delicious meal Mom has slaved over all day.  This is the same thing you’ll experience at 50s Prime Time Cafe at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Entrance to 50s Prime Time Cafe at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Entrance to 50s Prime Time Cafe at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Whether you enter into the lounge area – where you’ll find a full bar and some retro furniture to relax in while you wait for your table – or through the main entrance, you are transported to that era when life was as simple, families ate dinner together, and the food was made with love and home in mind.  All the servers here are your relatives, and you’ll find some are like the mean older sister, bossing you around, telling you to set the table; others are the helpful younger brother, reminding you to keep your elbows off the table so you don’t get in trouble with Mom.

Dining room, featuring black and white TV

Dining room, featuring black and white TV

The menu is heavy on American comfort food favorites.  A tender and delicious pot roast, swimming in a gravy with carrots and celery, accompanied by creamy mashed potatoes; a crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside homestyle fried chicken; even meatloaf the way you remember it – sliced thick, covered with gravy, and with a healthy helping of mashed potatoes on the side.  This is not gourmet cuisine, it’s comfort cuisine, and it’s done absolutely perfectly.

Mom's Pot Roast

Mom’s Pot Roast

Menu favorites include the peanut butter and jelly milkshake – a creamy and cold blend of your two favorite childhood flavors, served in an old fashioned milkshake glass with the extra on the side.  Beer battered onion rings are a crispy and delicious throw back to 50s diner food, and a great way to start your meal.  And if you can’t choose among the flashback entree favorites, try the sample platter that gives you a taste of the meatloaf, fried chicken, and pot roast.  There is even a daily blue plate special that can offer a delicious menu alternative to the traditional favorites.

Meatloaf

Meatloaf

This is a must do meal for our family each time we visit Walt Disney World.  They do accept the Disney Dining Plan, and your meal here is one table service entitlement.  The restaurant also participates with Tables in Wonderland.

Daily Blue Plate Special of shrimp and grits

Daily Blue Plate Special of shrimp and grits

 

Redesigned Disney Store Brings Renewed Magic to Lehigh Valley Mall

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You would have thought you were at Walt Disney World, with lines that wrapped around the entire upper level of the Lehigh Valley Mall in Whitehall, PA this morning as the Disney Store opened a newly redesigned Disney Store that promised to bring renewed magic to the shopping experience at the mall. I wound my way through the Anna and Elsa worthy line to the front of the store, where I was greeted by Meliss, the District Manager. She took me on a tour of the magic guests to the store are in for – and believe me, there’s more than just a good sale to be found!

Walk Through Castle for Your Little Princess

Walk Through Castle for Your Little Princess

You’ll find a beautiful blue Pixie Dust Trail that leads straight through the store to every corner of Mickey merchandise – and you’ll find more than just the Main Mouse himself.  Whole sections are dedicated to Star Wars and the Marvels Avengers merchandise, which is a great addition to a normally more princess-centric shopping experience.

Great Star Wars Section

Great Star Wars Section

Magical Tree

Magical Tree

There are magical trees scattered throughout the store.  Magical, because when you look close at the beautiful leaves, you might catch a glimpse of your favorite Disney character.  Look away, and when you look back, you might find another.  Each tree features at least six fabled favorites.

Peek-a-Boo! Which Characters do you see?

Peek-a-Boo! Which Characters do you see?

Area shoppers can look forward to a full schedule of events taking place in the store, especially the new Disney Store Theater and Storytelling Neighborhood.  A peaceful gazebo covers an area where kids can watch Disney stories on the little screen, or do some hands on activities at the table.  Look for store parades and special events coming soon inside the store.

Storytelling Neighborhood

Storytelling Neighborhood

My favorite part of the whole experience, though, is the nod to the local community.  The skyline mural that runs around the entire perimeter of the store is a collection of photographs of local landmarks, including the Troxell-Steckel House and the Geiger Covered Bridge.  You’ll have to look closely, but when you do, you’re rewarded with a glimpse of your Disney favorites – shadows among the local scenery.

Geiger Covered Bridge in Whitehall, PA

Geiger Covered Bridge in Whitehall, PA

I loved this new interactive shopping experience.  It was hard to know which way to look first – at the amazing array of Disney themed merchandise or the incredible details throughout the store.  It’s safe to say that when you journey down that pixie dust trail, Disney has created magical moments for guests of all ages!

Tables in Wonderland – Helping Make Disney Dining Affordable

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As a long time Walt Disney World annual passholder and a DVC member, I admit to feelings of jealousy when fellow travelers gobbled up offers of free dining at Walt Disney World.  With minimum ticket purchases and minimum night stays, this great way to save money at Walt Disney World always left a bad taste in my mouth.  But for those of us who come with tickets and accommodatios already covered, there is an alternative.  Tables in Wonderland has been helping to make Disney dining affordable for those of us who aren’t eligible for the free dining promotion.

TIW

Tables in Wonderland is only available to Florida residents, annual passholders, and Disney Vacation Club members.  “Boasting a buffet of benefits”, the card offers a discount of 20% on meals at participating Walt Disney World restaurants.  The list of restaurants is extensive, featuring resort dining, theme park dining, and even locations in Downtown Disney.  Primarily accepted at table service dining locations, you will find a handful of counter service meals available, especially where there isn’t a table service option (value resort food courts, for example, are participants).

The card costs $125 for Florida residents, $100 for DVC members and annual passholders, so it doesn’t take many table service meals to hit the break even point.  With my family of five (plus one), one really nice meal at a place like California Grill can make the card worth the purchase.  You get a full year of benefits, and the perks include complimentary valet parking at resorts and complimentary theme park parking (before 5 PM, there is a three hour maximum).  Even better, Tables in Wonderland offers the discount on your entire meal – including alcoholic beverages!  Many of the resort hotel lounges are covered under the plan.

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So if you are looking for ways to make Disney dining more affordable on your next visit, consider making the Tables in Wonderland purchase.  Enjoy the cuisine you’ve come to love while keeping a little cabbage in your pocket!

 

Bridesmaids – Beautiful on a Budget

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The time has come for the most difficult task of your wedding. You have to approach the people you love the most and ask them to spend hundreds of dollars on your wedding, with the biggest chunk going to a dress they will likely Never. Wear. Again. You want your bridesmaids to be beautiful, but your idea of beautiful might be their idea of breaking the budget. How do you have beautiful and happy bridesmaids in your wedding? Keep an eye on a realistic budget for EVERY member of your bridal party and consider borrowing (or renting) your bridesmaid dresses.

Would you be caught dead in this? Don't let your bridesmaids!

Would you be caught dead in this? Don’t let your bridesmaids!

Renting formal wear has always been an option for men, but is becoming increasingly popular for women as well. Many women are familiar with Rent the Runway which rents out designer gowns for a fraction of their purchase price. The shop carries bridesmaid appropriate gowns and dresses, and you’ll find Monique Lhullier, Halston, and Badgley Mischka among the available designers. An $850 Badgley Mischka rents for about $100 on the site.

Weddington Way is another bridesmaid dress rental option. They keep things simple, offering only six different styles in six different colors, but a dress that normally retails for $150 can be rented for half that price and returned after the wedding. It won’t even take up precious room in your closet.

Another option to keep your bridesmaid budget in mind is to choose a color instead of a gown. If you tell your bridesmaids your color is navy blue, they can then purchase a dress that suits your wedding vision, their body type, and their budget. It allows them to shop at the mall or look for discounts that might not be available at your local bridal salon.

No.  Just no.  Not on any budget.

No. Just no. Not on any budget.

Also consider the re-wearability factor of the bridesmaid dresses you choose. Someone who just can’t rationalize spending $200 or $300 on a gown for one day might be able to see the value in paying that same price for a dress that they can wear out to a club, on a cruise, or to another nice affair. Choose something in a practical fabric without a lot of embellishment that can be dressed up or down for another function.

It’s such an honor to be asked to be in someone’s wedding. It means that you cherish them in your life and want them to be a big part of one of the most important days of your life. Make sure the experience doesn’t cause them any unnecessary stress. Beauty on a budget is possible – even for a bridesmaid.

How Important is a Wedding Theme?

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So much planning goes into your wedding, and for many brides, the visions they have come together easily with a theme.  But how important is a wedding theme?  Do you want your guests to walk into a winter wonderland, or are you more of a Halloween scream fest couple?

Rainbow Themed Wedding

Rainbow Themed Wedding

Whether or not you have a theme, you can still have a perfect wedding.  For some people, however, coordinating everything under one umbrella makes it easier to choose things like colors for flowers and bridesmaids, favors, centerpieces, even invitations.  When everything has to “go together”, it can back you into selections based solely on the theme you’ve chosen.  If fall is your theme, you are probably not going to have neon pink gerber daisies in your bouquets.  If you want a literary theme, you can opt for a pile of vintage books as your centerpieces.  It can be easier to wade through the thousands of wedding invitation options if you can hone in on just one type – nautical themed, Disney themed (you knew I was working that in here somewhere), puppy themed, or even just themed around your favorite color.

Wedding with a Movie Theme

Wedding with a Movie Theme

At the end of the day, however, having a theme isn’t crucial.  It allows you to go with what you love.  If neon pink gerber daisies are your signature flower, use them liberally – even if it is October.  Create your wedding around things you think are beautiful, even if they don’t necessarily go with each other.

Color based wedding theme

Color based wedding theme

Wedding 101: The Beginning – Guest Lists

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Your freshly manicured fingers are happily showing off the conflict free diamond, chosen with every ounce of love a human being can hold in their heart after making the jeweler painstakingly show him every one of the 2000 rings in the case. What’s next? The Guest Lists! This is where it all begins (and that conflict free thing is likely to end).

It’s hard to know what to tackle first when it comes to wedding planning, but a big part of many of the decisions you’ll be making has to do with the number of people you want to invite. While many churches will have plenty of seating and room to accommodate most size guest lists, if you plan to have your ceremony in other locations, you may have to consider space limitations. Some locations have unlimited space for an outdoor ceremony, but if inclement weather forces your services indoors, you might have to contend with tight quarters.

You will also need to know how many guests you plan to invite when you consider the type of wedding you’ll have. If you have always dreamed of the fanciest of affairs, a multi-course seated meal, live music, specialty lighting – the whole enchilada – but you are working with a tight budget, you may have to put a strict limit on the number of guests you can invite. When you’ve made your preliminary list and realize you couldn’t possibly cut anyone, you may have to amend the vision of your wedding so that you can afford a larger crowd.

Invitation Flow Chart

Invitation Flow Chart

Whatever plans you make from the time the ring is shimmering in the sunshine as you wave it to passing strangers, you will have to give serious thought to the number of wedding guests you plan to invite.

The first list is your rough draft. Be liberal. Go ahead and put down the name of that kid that sat behind you in third grade and poked you in the back with his R2D2 pencil. It’s better to begin with everyone you can think of so you don’t risk forgetting anyone. You’ll also want to have both sides of the family compile a list. You may think you’ve added everyone you need, then your mother will remind you of her great Aunt Sally who you may not have seen since you spit strained peas on her in infancy. Both the bride’s family and the groom family should be asked to make a list.

Once the preliminary list is made, go back over it with a more careful eye. His ex? Scratched. Paulie Pencil Poker? Outta there. Aunt Sally? She never liked you after that pea incident. She’s gone. You may have family on the list that you HAVE to invite, but you know they likely will be unable to attend. Make a note next to those invitees.

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The number of guests will influence almost everything else you plan for your wedding. Start your planning here to help things progress much more smoothly from this point out.

Gay Days at Walt Disney World

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Just like Christmas, Easter, and the day my house is 100% totally clean, an annual event takes place at Walt Disney World.  If you haven’t been to the theme parks the first week in June, you may not have ever heard of this event, and even if you have, you may not have been totally clued in.  The first weekend in June every year for the past 25 years is Gay Days at Disney.  This is not a Disney sponsored event, however, the theme parks welcome thousands of people from the LGBT community, and it may impact your vacation.

There are many events taking place in the Orlando area during Gay Days, so you won’t see all of those tens of thousands of people storming the theme park.  Guests who are with the group visit the parks on specific days – June 4th at Disney’s Animal Kingdom; June 5th at Disney’s Hollywood Studios; June 6th at the Magic Kingdom; and rounding out the weekend fun is a visit to EPCOT on June 7th.  Many guests, especially on Saturday, will don red shirts, and you may notice groups posing for photos and lining Main Street for the parade.

I’ve had many people ask me what they should be prepared for – as if visiting the theme parks the same weekend as Gay Days is the same as hunkering down during hurricane season.  Lines may be a little bit longer, so use FastPass+ when you can.  Restaurants may be a bit busier.  Plan to eat earlier or later than the normal dining times.

And the biggest question I get – How do I explain this to my kids?

Ummm, what?

What is there to explain?  Love comes in all colors and forms – your kids should know that.  Will they see parents holding hands with each other? Yes.  Might they see families having fun?  I hope so.  Are there going to be naked orgies in the castle forecourt?  Seriously, that is a question.

Not all families look like yours – and you might find that out if you are visiting Walt Disney World during Gay Days.  If you aren’t ready for your children to know that, shame on you.

For more information on Gay Days, visit http://www.gaydays.com/

 

If People Come in All Sizes, So Should Women’s Shoes

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When Eilis was about seven, as a plus sized kid, she saw some t-shirts and dresses she fell in love with while we were walking through a store.  They were in the size an average seven year old might have been in – size 4 – 6x – but that was too small for Eilis.  The clothes she wanted had Barbie on them, and unfortunately, clothes in sizes that fit her didn’t have Barbies on them.  It was tough enough to find clothes in her size that wouldn’t cut too low on her chest or slit too high on her thigh.  Kids clothes weren’t made for my kid.  I was so sad for her.

Eilis is now 14.  She is also 5’10” tall with size almost 14 in women’s shoes feet.  Except, they don’t make most women’s shoes in a size 14.  I can find shoes when I have to by ordering them from a specialty store (most of which charge an enormous premium – really?  How much more material are you giving me that the shoes are $50 more a pair?).

We’ve been pretty lucky hitting stores like Journeys or Zumiez, where we’ve been able to snag Toms or Vans with a print that’s not too masculine or a solid that could work for a man or a woman.  Today, we hit a brick wall.  All the patterned shoes were definitely “guy” shoes, except one pair that she loved that they don’t make in her size.  We went online to find a pair of Toms or Vans copycats in extended sizes for women, but we didn’t find anything she liked in that search either.  She finally found a pair of shoes that were perfect – pastel background, hibiscus flowers in bright pink – perfect for a girl for summer.  Oh, but wait.  Hiding in the hibiscus flowers was – wait for it – Yoda.  Not what she was expecting.

Vans

Please, shoe people of the world, make shoes that fit everyone.  You wouldn’t have to make too many in these extended sizes, because apparently NO ONE else on the planet has this problem, or it would already be addressed.

I am, once again, sad for her.  But more than that, I’m mad.  Once again, our cookie cutter, one size fits all world is leaving my child in the dust.  I hate when that happens.