Set in Stone – Summer Roadtrip 2012 is Finally Taking Shape!

Stone may not necessarily be the right word.  We have established a game plan, booked hotels, and projected where we’ll be when as we journey to Seattle to board the Disney Wonder for our cruise to Alaska!

The plan going out –

Leave June 21st – well, at least some of us.  Brighid and Eilis are going to fly out later due to work obligations (in Brighid’s case) and obligations not to have to endure a four day road trip with her crazy parents (Eilis’ case).  The plan has us leaving at some outrageous hour of the morning – like before Starbucks is even open.  Who does that?  We’ll drive like lunatics and end the first day in Racine, WI.

Day 2 – This is an interesting day.  North Dakota is our ultimate destination.  Did you know there really was a North Dakota?  Apparently, very few hotel chains knew.  We originally booked a Marriott in Fargo, but when Jim realized we wouldn’t be completely bleary eyed by the time we hit Fargo, he decided to bump us ahead to Bismarck.  Kelly Inn, Bismarck, ND – here we come!

Day 3 – Ummm, did I mention we want to be in Seattle in only four days?  By this day, I anticipate nerves will be fried.

After another wake up call at NoOneShouldBeUpThisEarlyUnlessTheyAreGoingToMakeTheDoughnuts o’clock will give us time to get to Missoula, Montana by just after dinner.  If we arrive earlier, we’ll do something touristy.  Is there anything to see in Missoula, MT?

Day 4 – My well rested, well relaxed older children will be arriving in Seattle around 10:30 AM.  We don’t expect to arrive until closer to dinner time.  I’ll probably take the time when we get there to do laundry, because everyone who has spent four straight days in a car wants to do laundry.

Of course, this plan is subject to change.  Well, except the doing laundry part.

I’m so glad our first day of the cruise is at sea.  My behind will be so sore, I won’t be able to sit up to see anything!

Walt Disney World – It’s the Little Things

It’s a pretty big expense when you start to add up the cost of going with your family on a Walt Disney World vacation.  Once you run the numbers for hotels, transportation, theme park passes, and meals, you’re probably thinking the air in your lungs that you breathe while you’re at the Magic Kingdom is the most expensive souvenir you can afford!

Not so.  This is, of course, a theme park built on a mouse; overrun with dwarves; and with the incessant beat of “It’s a Small World” acting as the soundtrack.  That seems to indicate quite a fondness for the little thing.

So when your kids are looking all around at the gift shops, souvenir kiosks, and merchandise markets, fear not.  You won’t have to say no to every souvenir they find!  Steer them in the direction of these fabulous finds – souvenirs that won’t break the budget, cause Dad to keel over, take up too much room in the luggage that has to go home – oh, and that might inspire a love and a lifelong collection!

VINYLMATION:  Well in reach of the range Grandmom might slip into an envelope for the kids to take on their trip (around $10 – $15), these are currently all the rage.  Shaped like The Mouse, but created to be almost anything but, kids seem to love these things – but adults will hunt you down and murderize you for one they need to complete their collection.  You’ll find Vinylmations that are themed on Disney villains, occupations, theme park treats, Muppets, and even the theme parks themselves.  Some are just differently colored, others are a total surprise until you get the package home and open it up.  Best of all, they’ll fit easily into carry-on luggage!

PINS:  Do you remember Chicken Man?  He’s Everywhere!  He’s Everywhere!  So are the pins at Walt Disney World.  You can find pins that start in the $7 price range and go up from there, but talk about something for everyone – and everything!  There are pins that commemorate seasons, events, attractions, characters – you name it, there’s a pin for it.  Pin trading became so popular, that Walt Disney World cast members are often seen wandering the parks with their own collection, so you can stop them and trade with them as you go through the theme parks.  For a relatively small chunk of your souvenir budget, you can buy a pin starter kit, which usually includes a lanyard to put your pins on and four pins – two each of two different pins – one to keep and one to trade.  Some starter sets are geared more toward girls (princesses), some toward boys (Cars), but there are several gender neutral sets, and kids love them.  This is definitely a lifelong hobby you can get your kids started with for less than $20.

BACKPACK CLIPS:  Currently the souvenir du jour in my house, these also come in all shapes and sizes!  They are pretty self explanatory – they are clips that you can attach to your backpack, and hanging from the clip you’ll find a character or something Disney-fied.  Some are plush (Duffy the bear), some are icons (Minnie hat, hands, and skirt), some are hard rubber.  You can clip them to your backpack, handbag, diaper bag, lanyard, or even (with some of the smaller ones) onto a zipper.  These sweetly priced souvenirs can be had from about $7.

PRESSED PENNIES:  Probably the best souvenir for moms and dads who want to spend the last few dollars of their vacation money on the important stuff – like getting home.  And you know that weight limit your airline imposes on your suitcase?  This is no more than pocket change – literally!

For the bargain basement price of only 51 cents, you’ll get this great souvenir – and you’ll find them throughout the theme parks.  Collect them all!  These smooshed, mashed, squashed pennies commemorate your visit to various parts of the Walt Disney World theme park, and if your kids are seriously loving them, for less than $10 more than the cost of the pressed penny (oh yes, I said only 51 cents!!), you can get a binder in which you can store your pennies.  Best. Cheap. Souvenir. Ever!

I know in this economy, it’s harder to stretch your vacation dollar as far as it needs to go.  But these reasonably priced souvenir options add a little spandex to the budget – and put smiles on your kids faces.  And THAT is what vacation is all about!

Five Things I Couldn’t Live Without – 2011 Edition

Product reviews are a funny thing.  I hate having to say unkind things about products.  I’ll tell you if I really and truly hate something, or have a bad experience (Archer Farms scallops wrapped in bacon – NOT a good idea), but for the most part, if I don’t like something, I recognize that it might just be personal preference, and I keep my mouth shut.

But there are some things that I love, couldn’t live without, and as we close out the year, these are some things you should really check out.

1 – Wegmans Supermarket – I’m surprised at how much I love Wegmans.  It’s a supermarket, after all, and how much can one love a supermarket?  Not only have they done a price comparison in our area to find out that Wegmans offers lower prices than the other big name grocery chains in our area, but the specialty items are amazing.  No time to cook?  Grab a crab cake platter, some hot soup, or a complete Asian meal – hot and ready to serve.  Want to cook something fast and easy?  Check out their selection of ready to cook (or reheat) items – everything from freshly marinated fish to BBQ spareribs.  My favorite thing?  If you sign up for the Wegmans customer savings card, you get the Wegmans Menu magazine in the mail.  Some of our favorite family recipes have come from that magazine. Fresh sushi, all sorts of samples, people walking around in chef coats – way better than the Acme.  I definitely could not live without Wegmans.

2 – Kerastase Bain Satin Shampoo – Have you seen my hair?  It looks an awful lot like that stuff they use to make scarecrows – on a good day.  This year, I discovered this L’Oreal shampoo, and I think we might be on our way to better hair!  My hair is what I like to call “crunchy”, and Kerastase is taking some of the crunch out.  It’s a little bit pricey compared to your drugstore or grocery store shampoo, but a little goes a long way, and it really has done some remarkable things for my hair.  Combined with the Kerastase conditioner, you could be the next, ummm, you know, I can’t think of anyone with famous hair after Farrah Fawcett!

3 – Bill’s Wonderland of Pets – This is not your typical pet store.  You won’t go in and find aisle after aisle and bag after bag of discount, run of the mill pet foods.  Bill’s is sort of a health food store for your pets.  He carries foods that aren’t primarily some kind of filler or pet food nastiness that you wouldn’t feed your dog if you knew that’s what you were feeding your dog.  There are bones, treats, even freshly baked dog cookies – all made with healthy, good for you ingredients.  And the staff there is so knowledgeable!  I went in looking for a fish based food for Lusi, who was on a fish based food in Italy, and ended up switching Harper – guess what?  No more itchy dogs!  I didn’t even realize how much Harper was itching until she wasn’t doing it anymore with the better food!  And now, you can buy Bill’s own dog treats – small, cookie shaped morsels of deliciousness that causes your dog to do anything you ask in exchange for one!  (note that I said your dog, because mine are as incorrigible as ever).  Great store, great people, great local business.

4 – Starbucks – You knew it was going to end up here, didn’t you?  As routine as brushing my teeth is my morning drive to my favorite Starbucks – and not just for a morning coffee (well, a morning drizzle of coffee hidden beneath a half a cup of milk and a very healthy splash of sugar free syrup).  It’s a warm, happy way to start my morning, and it’s really one of the few things I do on a daily basis that I feel indulges me.  I may swap my Starbucks budget this coming year for a personal trainer budget, but at least in 2011, Starbucks was yet again one of those things I could not live without.

5 – Disney World – Everyone should have a happy place.  Whether it’s a far off destination or snuggled in your bed with your fuzzy pajamas and a good book.  In my life, it’s Disney World.  I’ve celebrated just about every occasion there, forgotten troubles there, remembered being a kid there, and made many friends through Disney.  I’ve gone right after surgeries to aid in healing (because happy helps healing), and I’ve gone with the expectation that I could do a 5K (I didn’t, but I know I could have!).  I know, no matter what else is going on in life, I find comfort and happiness at Walt Disney World.  I always will.

 

Happy New Year!

Alternative to Microsoft Streets and Trips?

I can’t handle being called an anti-Microsoft person — that would be like being called a Universal Mom over a Walt Disney World Mom. But with Jim retired from Microsoft due to his disability, I have been given lots of new found freedoms over the past two years. We all have iPhones for one.  I cannot begin to tell you how horrible it was 12 years ago to be forced to use early adopter alpha beta gamma whatever they call it – I called it junk – Windows smartphones. The only thing they did good was let me play Bubble Burst.

On our last two cross country trips we used a laptop and Microsoft Streets and Trips. It lets you plan a trip from A to B, but “budget” in hours of sleep or rest and add stops to your itinerary. It had its problems — the biggest being no one goes on vacation on DAY ONE. We need to be somewhere by June 25th, 2012 – not DAY FOUR. I don’t know if they have fixed that bug from previous versions yet – fingers crossed.

But back to the original question — before I spend money on the 2011 or 2012 version of Microsoft Streets and Trips – is there an alternative?  Are you guys using anything I should look into?

Live near Disney, Lose the Magic?

The short answer is – no.

I’ve had a couple of people ask me recently if we went to Walt Disney World as often when we lived in Orlando as we do now that we live 1000 miles away, and really, it was as much my favorite place then as it is now!

Almost as soon as we moved to Orlando, we invested in Annual Passes for all of the theme parks – SeaWorld, Universal, and WDW, figuring since we were in a town where we knew no one, this would be our entertainment budget for the year.  No huge Christmas party to plan and pay for; no monthly birthday parties to go to; no Sunday dinners at Grandmoms.  We knew that with our recent move to Orlando, the budget would be tight, and there was a chance we’d even have to miss weddings and other big family events we never would have thought of missing if we were still living in New Jersey.  I found many afternoons and evenings of solace, wrapped in the comfort and familiarity of Walt Disney World, and whenever I was missing home and family, we went to the theme parks.

The best thing about living that close to the Magic was that you got to see and do all the new stuff right away!  I can remember hearing about a new attraction, and planning our next vacation to head down to Orlando so we could check it out.  It instantly became like planning a day in the park for us – literally – whenever announcement was made of something new and wonderful at Walt Disney World!

Another huge perk?  Restaurants!  I don’t think I cooked for the first six months that we lived in Orlando – then suddenly, my husband reminded me we weren’t on vacation, and at some point, I’d have to actually use the stove at our house.  But in lieu of Sunday dinner at Grandmom’s, we did Sunday dinner at “Mom’s” at the 50’s Prime Time Cafe at Hollywood Studios.  Date nights were never spent heading to Applebee’s or the diner, where we often end up now.  Date night usually included a trip to EPCOT for a beautiful evening stroll around the World Showcase, with dinner at a different location each time.

Not only is the magic still there, but you feel like you become more a part of it when you live that close.  It’s the one thing I miss about not being in Orlando.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s great being home again, near family and friends, with the big Christmas party and the family barbecues.  But I cherish my (gulp) monthly trips to the Mouse, and I know when I get there, it’s

Some of My Favorites…

As I sit here, not studying for the Anatomy and Physiology test I have on Monday, I am thinking of the vacation I’m not on.  While that may sound regretful, and yes, I do wish I was anywhere in the world except school at the moment, it gives me a chance to reflect on some of the places we’ve been and seen.  Here are some of my favorite photographs from previous vacations.  I certainly feel blessed to have been able to visit so many wonderful places – and a little less sad about not being somewhere other than home right now!

 

Bow of the Grand Princess

Bow of the Grand Princess

From a Gondola in Venice

From a Gondola in Venice

Urquhart Castle Ruins, Scotland

Urquhart Castle Ruins, Scotland

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

Jesus in Liverpool, England

Jesus in Liverpool

Lunch in Castel Gandolfo, Italy - summer home of the Pope

Castelgandolfo, Italy – summer home of the Pope – I can see why!

Fort Dubrovnik, Croatia

The French Riviera – I didn’t go topless – maybe with the newly repositioned boobs?

Oh yeah, the most magical place of all!

Didn't think I'd miss this favorite, did you??

 

Summer What?

I laugh in the face of you summer vacationing people.  HaHa!  While you are lounging comfortably on your beaches, basking in the mountain sunshine, cruising the seven seas, and trekking across Europe, I am learning the ins and outs (although mostly ins) of the human body.  Ha….ha?

 

I have virtually vanished from the blogosphere as I crack down on the whole process of reading, writing, and wracking my brain to try and make sure that when I actually DO become a nurse, I don’t kill anyone.  Needlessly.  And damn, it’s tough!

Remember the song “The foot bone’s connected to the ankle bone” – you know it, we all sang it as children.  Yeah, well, don’t try to sing it in an effort to pass the bone practical in Anatomy and Physiology I – your instructor will not be amused.  And you Disney peeps – heading in humming the Hannah Montana bone song won’t get you very far either 🙁

So, the only basking I’m doing so far this summer is in the glory of the A on my transcript from A&P I.  And I’m hoping A&P II goes equally as well.

No go, you, get back to your summer, ummm, yeah, what’s that thing called again?  Oh yeah – VACATION!  You have to have fun for the both of us!

Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmatic – oh, and Anatomy and Physiology

I’ve done my best to blog like a madwomen these past couple of days because I have a dreadful feeling, my blog is about to go dark for a few weeks.

When I decided to go back to school, I focused on the important things – what cute book bags there are out there!  I don’t have to cook dinner if I take night classes!  I don’t have to do laundry if I take day classes!

Who knew there’d be all this studying and crap to do?  They want me to write papers, turn in assignments, and – GULP – study!  The nerve!

As I prepare for my summer classes – Anatomy and Physiology I and II AND (as if that wasn’t enough torture on myself) World Civilizations.  Oh yes.  The fun never ends in this house.

Summer vacation? HAH! Who needs fun in the sun and relaxation when you can be learning the foot bone is connected to the ankle bone, and the brain bone is disconnected when you have children?

So in case I don’t make it back, please disregard the email requests for urgent cash sent to Rome, where I’ve been hustled by Gypsy children, lost my passport and can’t get the Embassy to help me.  I won’t be in Rome.  If you get an email asking you to donate money for my kidney transplant, because I was left in a bathtub filled with ice after having a drink spiked at the Kool-Aid bar, just ignore it.  My kidneys are intact and still enclosed within my body, which will be in school.  All summer.

I’ll miss you guys.  I’ll get here whenever I can!

Disney Dining – A Few Family Favorites

If there were ever two topics I had to choose as my areas of expertise, it would seriously be Disney and food.  I have eaten my way around Walt Disney World to the tune of over 300 pounds, and I’ve eaten my way back down by 150 pounds, so I’ve pretty much tasted and sampled everything there is Disney to eat.

There are some Walt Disney World dining experiences that my family absolutely loves – and I think you’ll be surprised to find that even with three daughters, our favorites don’t tend to be the character meals.  Our vacations at Walt Disney World are often just as much about reconnecting with each other as they are about reconnecting with our favorite Mouse.  Here’s where we enjoy eating the most:

Afternoon Tea – Garden View Lounge at the Grand Floridian

Having all daughters, it seems like a no brainer that we’d eventually have to do tea.  You might be surprised to learn, however, that this tea is not only a favorite meal of my husband’s, but my decidedly anti-tea father-in-law can’t wait to go back, either!  You’ll find numerous dining options here – everything from an a la carte light afternoon tea to the full, fit for British royalty, how dare you still have room for dinner after this high tea experience.

For the littlest teetotaler, you’ll find Mrs. Potts tea – a variety of kid friendly sandwiches (and if they don’t like a particular variety, you’ll find they are very willing to accommodate a picky eater with all of one type of sandwich or another), chocolate milk (served in a tea pot, of course!), and pastries or strawberries.  It’s a big hit with our littlest tea lover.

The adult offerings almost rival that which you will find at Harrod’s in London – although with a much more reasonable price tag.  We never leave the table hungry, and we always leave the table happy.  We’ve enjoyed at least an hour long meal together where we’re talking, laughing, and telling stories – the same as we did when I was a kid at my Irish grandmother’s table for afternoon tea at her house.  I love this experience.

Teppan Edo – EPCOT

We have never shied away from taking our kids to eat someplace that didn’t offer burgers, fries, and chicken nuggets.  Thankfully, you’ll find quite a few options at Walt Disney World to take your children where they can veer off the beaten path that leads them to fast food type of choices and right to where good food can be fun – even if it doesn’t come with a toy!

The kids are so fascinated and entertained by the chef – not to mention sitting at the grown up table (aka grill) – that they hardly notice there are veggies being tossed in with the chicken or shrimp!  I love taking the kids here and watching them enjoy eating a little healthier and enjoying it even more than if we’d stopped for a burger.

The restaurant is not quite as conducive to conversation as some other options, but it’s fun for me to just sit and watch the kids spellbound by the chef.  I’d like to see that creepy looking Burger King catch a shrimp shell in his crown.

Restaurant Marrakesh – EPCOT

Seriously, I don’t know why this restaurant gets such a bad rap.  I can almost always call and get a dining reservation for this restaurant – even if I’m calling at 4:59 on Christmas Eve for dinner at 5:00 with a Candlelight Processional dinner package.  Why is that?

Here’s one reason I love this place – you can sample pretty much everything on the menu!  It can be hard, especially with kids, to go eat at a restaurant with unfamiliar cuisine.  At Restaurant Marrakesh, there are several “sampler” type options that allow you to get a taste of several delicious menu items on one plate.  That way, if there is something your kids don’t like, you haven’t ordered them a whole entrée of it, and now have to grab a turkey leg somewhere because they didn’t eat dinner.

My girls also enjoy the music and the belly dancing.  The atmosphere is fun, it keeps the children entertained, and they never make you feel rushed, so you can sit and wait for the belly dancer at pretty much any time you decide to dine.

And the food – well, I really can’t say I’ve ever had anything I didn’t love.  I’m a big soup fan, especially since my gastric bypass surgery, and I love the Harira soup.  Packed with proteins in a delicate tomatoey broth, it’s a favorite even in the summer.  The kids could eat bastilla – a pastry wrapped portion of chicken or seafood – until they collapsed – and the chicken variety (sprinkled lightly with cinnamon and powdered sugar) is almost like getting dinner and dessert on the same plate!

 

These are just a few of our favorite Disney Dining Experiences.  We have had so many through the years, that it’s hard to pinpoint so few.  I hope these are meals you may not have tried before that you’d be encouraged to try now!