M is for Must Do at the Magic Kingdom – a-to-z blog challenge

M A2Z-BADGE-0002014-small_zps8300775cI get asked, a lot, about vacationing at Walt Disney World.  Go figure.  Most people are pretty familiar with the Magic Kingdom, and many have a good idea of the things they want to do and see when they arrive.  But I have my own list of the things that make the Magic Kingdom just that much more magical to me!

Rope Drop – Arrive about 15 minutes before the scheduled opening time.  You’ll be treated to your first taste of old fashioned Disney.  Singing, dancing, and a train full of characters will greet you, as the Mayor of Main Street opens the theme park to welcome guests.  This is where the fun begins!

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Dapper Dans – I’m a sucker for a Barbershop Quartet.  My dad, believe it or not, used to make us go see Barbershop Quartet concerts, but they weren’t nearly as fun as standing on Main Street, USA listening to the Dapper Dans.  It’s a must do for me!

Haunted Mansion – Check out some of the really cool features OUTSIDE this awesome attraction.  Take the short detour to get a full tour of the cemetery just prior to going inside.  Don’t be afraid to touch – nothing will come out and grab you ;-)  Also, look for the wedding ring embedded in the ground – tossed from the window by Master Gracey’s betrothed.  Don’t forget to pay your respects at the pet cemetery as you leave.

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Kiss Goodnight – Who doesn’t like the warm fuzzy feeling of being tucked in at the end of a wonderful day, and getting that last kiss goodnight?  As the Magic Kingdom closes, take one last glance back at Cinderella Castle on your way out of the park.  The castle will be lit with lights and changing colors – a soft, warm kiss goodnight as you head back to your resort room to snuggle down to a good night’s sleep.

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L is for Last – a-to-z Blog Challenge

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It was the LAST thing I would have ever expected.  Days before my 40th birthday, having battled infertility much of my childbearing years, the sheer exhaustion I was feeling was dismissed as an impending bug.

Seeing the two happy pink lines on the home pregnancy test?  Yep, the LAST thing I would have guessed.  It was Labor Day weekend, ironically, and I called my doctor in a panic.  Having had so many miscarriages, I wanted to get right on a regiment IMMEDIATELY.  He hesitated, but told me to come in on Labor Day and we would talk.  I did.  We did.  And he agreed to try the protocol that I know helped bring me Eilis.

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And after spending 7 months hoping for the best, and another month in the hospital on complete bed rest, at 36 weeks, my LAST baby was born.

I’ve heard that they save the best for last.  I will never say that about my children – I love them all so much.  But this was the best last I have ever experienced.

Happy Birthday, Granuaile!

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K is for Knight in Shining Armor – a-to-z blog challenge

K A2Z-BADGE-0002014-small_zps8300775cKnights come in all shapes and sizes, and believe it or not, they don’t all wear those big, gaudy, tacky suits.

My sister is facing one of the most difficult experiences of her life in the next 24 hours.  But she is an amazing woman.  She is strong, she is brave, and she faces things head on.  And that’s why this excruciatingly painful day is coming now instead of months ago.  My sister is a true knight in shining armor, and she battled against a death sentence for her best buddy, Marlee, her 12 year old yellow Lab.

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She may not think at this moment that she won, but she did.  When vets were telling her it might be time to say goodbye, she Googled and web searched and found something that might help Marlee battle the cancer diagnosis she had been given.  She took Mar for laser treatments, fed her a healthy diet, and gave her every opportunity to live well beyond the number of days the vets thought would be possible – with a quality of life they could not have imagined.

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Marlee played, she got to enjoy another beach season and another snow season, she visited Dram’s house, where those bad for you foods get passed under the table as freely for granddogs as for grandchildren, and got cuddled by my kids, who love her almost as much as Meg does.  She got to go to sleep in her own bed and wake up to her favorite people, smells, and activities.  She got to wake up – way more mornings than she might have had she not been Megan’s dog.

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No, not all knights sit at round tables, carry battleaxes, and rust if they play out in the rain.  Some carry a wine glass, sit on the floor so they can cuddle better, and even the flow of tears that I know is falling tonight at Meg’s house will not cause her to rust.

She’s a true knight in shining armor – Marlee’s knight.  And I think, if I’m honest, Marlee might have been Megan’s a time or two, too.

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The Best Things I’ve Ever Eaten – Disney World Version

I periodically pour over the Disney World restaurant menus, always searching for new things I’d like to try, but I always have a list of my favorite things.  I’m sure you have a list of things you love, like Lou Mongello’s carrot cake cookie obsession from the Writer’s Stop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (I really try to love it, Lou, but it hurts my teeth to even think about it’s sweetness!) – and I want you to share it with me!  Here are some of my favorite things to eat at Walt Disney World:

Smokey Portobello Soup – Artist Point
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At Christmas time last year, our waiter accidentally brought a bowl of this smokey, rich, delicious soup to my mother-in-law, who doesn’t eat it.  The waiter offered to leave it on the table, but  my MIL told him to take it back, as we all already had our appetizers (most of which were the soup).  I thought my middle child would burst into tears, as she watched the creamy bowl of mushroom goodness being walked back to the kitchen.  It embodies the taste of a rustic home in the heart of winter, and the flavor will keep you warm your whole trip.

Bobotie – Boma

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Minced meat, spices, flavors of sweet and savory, all baked into an egg mixture – oh my goodness.  This very traditional South African dish is an explosion of flavors that leaves my mouth very happy.  It’s comfort food at its finest.

Kakigori – EPCOT

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It’s August.  In Florida.  Where there is only one way to describe the heat.  Hell-like.  I’ve always thought I could survive the depths of Hades, having done the “EPCOT death march” at the peak of summer.  The big difference?  There is no Kakigori in hell.  This absolutely heavenly refresher is shaved ice, with your choice of a variety of sweet syrup, much like a traditional snow cone.  There are two big differences between the Kakigori and the snow cone you might get at your local fair or carnival.  The ice in Kakigori is shaved so finely, you don’t get any of the big, chunky, brain freeze pieces you always get in a snow cone, and it doesn’t glue itself all together as it melts, as a snow cone sometimes does.  The other difference is the syrups.  These seem not as cloyingly sweet as some you might find for a snow cone, and the flavors are brighter – tangerine, melon, and strawberry – much closer to fresh fruit than the snow cone flavors.  I like to taste the rainbow – and dream of cooler days!

Braised Pork – Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom

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Let me tell you, my little Mouseketeers, this is one of the best bargains on Disney property.  Served only during lunch, the pork is cooked like a Coq Au Vin, which is a traditionally French dish made with chicken and red wine, simmered in a pot until tender and delicious.  This dish hits the tender and delicious part spot on, and the serving is a full and generous portion – especially since this is lunch!  You’ll get the wonderfully flavored pork, a healthy portion of mashed potatoes, a gravy filled with carrots, onions and mushrooms, and another side dish of green beans.  Easily a $30 entree at a sit down restaurant with fancy napkins and French waiters, go for a late lunch (no reservations required!!) and make this your dinner.  You’ll have room for a late night Dole Whip snack!

So what are some of your Disney favorites?

 

 

Magic Bands, FastPass+, ADRs, OH MY!

Remember, back in the day, when you could just show up at Walt Disney World, ride the rides, eat nice meals, have a great time, and go home?  Yeah, me neither.

For as long as I’ve been planning Walt Disney World vacations (approximately 7, 459 years), I’ve had to get up at the crack of dawn at some distant light year from the actual vacation to book a dining reservation at a restaurant for which I personally have no fondness, but I have deemed it an experience my children MUST have to prevent them from ending up in years of therapy for the mental cruelty they suffered at the hands of a negligent mother.

But as if that fun and excitement wasn’t enough to give you hives, there’s more!

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You have, no doubt, heard of the latest technology rolled out at the Disney theme parks.  The aptly named “Magic Bands” have debuted, and boy oh boy are they fun!  They come in pretty colors, you can add little charms to them, a cutie patootie frame around your Mickey head – what’s not to love?  They even have your name on them!  Adorable!

But the responsibility that comes as a Magic Band owner! While planning for a recent vacation, I spent the better part of my days trying to make sure everything for our upcoming vacation is going to be magical for my family.  I spent hours on the phone with Disney IT, when somethings weren’t working out right, and I went back into My Disney Experience dozens upon dozens of times, trying to make sure I wasn’t overlooking things.

And as the vacation date loomed, I didn’t feel ready.  For the first time, I was afraid our ability to navigate the park without stress was going to be impeded.  I worried that the FastPass+ selections I made were not really the ones my kids want.  I feared the kid who could easily ride Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster a half dozen times would be disappointed when I had to drag her away after one ride, not having the ability to snag FastPasses throughout the day.  It’s like the old fashioned ticket books!

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Well, I can say that the vacation wasn’t a total disaster, but it was super stressful.  My husband declared it “not fun” to have my head buried in my cell phone as we tried to make adjustments to our FastPass+ selections, made 60 days in advance, to accommodate our schedule.  My kids were disappointed I couldn’t snag extra FastPasses to come back to things like Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster or Toy Story.  And we did race through a meal or two in order to make sure we were able to run to our FastPass+ attractions before our time was up.

I am confident that in time, this will be an awesome system.  I loved, for example, not carrying a bag with me, because I didn’t have to store keys or passes or FastPasses.  I breezed right through the “No Bags” line like I’d done it a hundred times before.

But I did need a vacation from that vacation.  The stress of making sure we were where we needed to be so we could enjoy things killed some of the enjoyment.

Or maybe I’m not so good with the winds of change?

K is for Killer Bees – and Other Scary Things a-to-z blog challenge

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I cannot remember when I first heard of killer bees, but I know I was young – a little kid – and I was terrified.  I remember hearing that they were coming to the United States from wherever killer bees lived at the time, and I had visions of armies of bees, rowing tiny bee boats across great oceans to get to the shores of the US, where they would turn us all into zombies.  Scared spitless.

But killer bees are not the only thing that terrified me.  I sat through the movie The Exorcist and felt nothing.  The movie Carrie?  I couldn’t go to bed.  My bed and Bean’s bed were in the same room, and at the time, they were pushed together to make one giant bed.  I was convinced in my sleep that Carrie’s cold, dead hand would come up between the crack where my bed and Bean’s bed connected and kill me in my sleep.

I’m lucky after seeing the movie Jaws that I could even sit on a toilet.  I was never a huge fan of swimming in the ocean, but once I saw Jaws (which I did see, in the theater, six times), I was much more content to watch the waves roll from afar.  I still am.

As a grown up, the things I’m most afraid of involve my kids.  Terrified of bad things happening to them.  It’s an enormous fear when they start driving, when they go out on a bike ride, when they go into a school where someone else’s child may have a violent agenda.  Mom fears are the worst.

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But, I’m still afraid of Killer Bees.

J is for Jelly – a-to-z blog challenge

A2Z-BADGE-0002014-small_zps8300775cJMy family has some weird food tendencies.  The first weird food thing I can remember was my sister, Bean, who would skip tomato sauce on her pasta in favor of Russian dressing – which she also put on steak.  Blech.

Then there was Brighid, who for the first nine years of school took a peanut butter sandwich – no jelly – for lunch.  She wouldn’t eat lunch meat, and claimed a thermos didn’t keep things hot enough to eat by lunch time.  I thought her teachers would think I was a crummy parent, so one day I decided to switch it up and send her with cream cheese on crackers as her lunch.  She ate that for snack and then had chips and an apple for lunch.  Mother of the year went to someone else that year.

Eilis doesn’t like soup – unless it’s smokey portobello from Artist Point at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.

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Granuaile doesn’t eat potatoes, unless they are mashed.  No, you cannot bake them, take the “potato” out of the skin, and mash it – apparently, it tastes like dog turd sprinkled with used cat litter that way.

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But the weirdest food phenomena in my house is Jim and his jelly.  He has eaten jelly omelettes (not in my house, because I can’t make an omelette).  He likes his toast with butter and jelly.  And while we’re on the subject of butter – he puts butter and cream cheese on his bagels.

I’m not immune to flavor oddities – I like pretzels with my ice cream; cream cheese with my potato chips; and raisin gravy on ham (even though I hate raisins in every other way imaginable).

And I despise jelly.  Except on peanut butter.  But it has to be on the opposite side of the bread and spread thinly with the back of a spoon.

What are your weird food favorites?

 

I is for Itemizing – a-to-z blog challenge

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The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of itemizing is a bill.  Someone who wants me to pay something lays it all out there for me – food, dry cleaning, car repairs.  Itemizing is something I always associate with something negative.

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No more.  It’s time to itemize the good things.  We take so much for granted – like my husband taking me for a ride every morning to get a hot coffee, or my daughters who fill my cup at dinner time with ice and cold water.  I do take those things for granted – and I’m sure there’s a long list of other things I take for granted as well.

I’m going to start listing them – itemizing them – the list of the good things that happen to me every day.  I know that’s just what I’ll need to get through those bad days we all have once in a while, where it feels like nothing is going well.  I’ll pull out that itemized list and see – there’s more things going well than I think there are.

H is for Happy – a-to-z blog challenge 2014

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There is no better place to be in life than Happy.  When I was a kid, I had a very definite opinion of what Happy was, where I would be in order to find it, what my life circumstances would have to be for me to achieve it.

Looking back over the nearly 50 years that I’ve been here, I realize that Happy is less a place I have to work to get to – it just kind of happens.  And it hasn’t mattered whether there has been money in the bank.  It hasn’t mattered where we’ve lived.  It certainly hasn’t mattered that not everything was going my way.

I don’t know when I learned it, but I know that I’ve found happy in the strangest places.  It’s made me Happy that someone has struck up a conversation in a grocery store check out.  It made me Happy when Dr. Veitia sat next to me on a sofa in my hospital room a few years ago, when the infectious disease doctor wouldn’t even come into my room.  And as much pain as I was in and as sick as I was all three times, it made me Happy to bring all three of my daughters into this world.

Hearing my littlest beauty girl singing this song on the back seat of the car on the way to school?  That’s Happy.  And it’s when you realize that it honestly doesn’t take much to find Happy.  It really is the little things.

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G is for Granuaile – and the Reasons We Gave Our Kids Weird Names

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G (1)Naming a child is a very personal thing.  Regardless, you will find that this very personal choice is one of the few that you will make in life that is subject to so much comment and criticism.  Everyone has an opinion when it comes to babies, but when it comes to babies’ names, everyone thinks they are way better at picking than you are.

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None of our children has a typical name.  Brighid, so named because it means strength, and my 2 pound 10 ounce preemie seemed to need all she could get, could have been Bridget – which everyone would recognize.  But when you have a child so beautifully and uniquely yours, here to carry on your heritage and traditions, why not give her a name that reflects that?

Naming my children has given me an opportunity to show a love of my Irish heritage, and a love for some of the strongest women our family has seen.  Eilis, whose name I actually fell in love with while watching a documentary on conjoined twins, is named after my grandmothers, women who raised families, worked hard, and were in their own right strong and beautiful.  And Granuaile, whose middle name is Frances, bears the Gaelic name of Grace O’Malley, Ireland’s pirate queen, who changed the way women in Ireland were depicted.  Strength, courage, and devotion to her family were the traits of the original Granuaile, and traits of Granuaile’s other namesake, my sister Frances (Bean).

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I’ve had to explain often through the years why my kids have the names they do.  I never mind.  It’s an explanation I’m proud to give.  Just be prepared for a wee history lesson.

 

A day in the life of Anna Skamarakas