you are (2) going on (3)

Have you recently found yourself delighted at the prospect of going to an allergy office to be stuck by needles several times because you have the opportunity to get those pokes all by your lonesome? Do you feel stuck in a loop a la Groundhog’s Day, except instead of trying to make it to February 3, you’re trying in vain to keep food off your floors and walls? Are you rapidly losing your hair (because you’re pulling it out)?

You might have an Almost-three.

Classic Almost-three. Note the spilled marker cup and the eyes that say “yeah, what of it?” Almost-threes are also masters of the smirk.

Almost-threes are a particular breed of child that can “be starving” but also “don’t want to eat that.” Almost-threes often speak in high pitched screeches that rival the decibel level of a jet engine. They love avenging self-declared grevious wrongs, unfolding perfectly matched pairs of socks, and requiring an emergency bathroom at inopportune times. Oh, Almost-threes have their sweet qualities: for one, their little half-baby faces look positively adorable scrunched up into anger. The first time, anyway. And maybe some Almost-threes say “barret feet” instead of “bare feet” or “wass” instead of “water,” and that’s just crazy sweet. 

But let’s be honest with ourselves: we’ve all heard “terrible twos.” We’ve heard “three-nager.” While each child will have a different journey toward reaching their maximum jerk potential, I urge you to consider the oft-overlooked Almost-three. Don’t let them sneak up on you. You’ll probably end up wet as a result (don’t ask what the wet is, it’s better not to know).

“Who wouldn’t want sand over every inch of their body?” -All Almost-threes

So how do you identify an Almost-three? Here are some handy things to look out for.

An Almost-three has successfully completed two journeys around the sun but has not yet completed a third.

An Almost-three simultaneously wants to “play with mama” and “no play with mama.”

Note: “Play with mama” usually means either a) physically abusing mama, b) asking for a snack, or c) making a pile of all of your puzzle pieces and immediately saying “all done.” “No play with mama” usually means your Almost-three is peeing somewhere there should certainly not be pee.

An Almost-three switches moods almost instantly.

And there are ways to work with this. “Suggest” your child take a nap because he seems sleepy. When he doth protest too much, say, “or just play nice with mama and we’ll get a snack later!” That snack may be carrots. That’s future-you’s problem.

This leads us to the Question of the Universe: WHY IS YOUR ALMOST-THREE THIS INSANE NIGHTMARE?

I have a theory, but note: this theory works really well with my current situation as a stay-at-home-mom. If you’re in a different situation but are also experiencing signs and symptoms of having an Almost-three, let me know your specifics and I will come up with a tailor made theory just for you.

As a stay-at-home-mom, I firmly believe that the Almost-three appears about six months (give or take) before you would send your little goldfish-guzzler to preschool or threeschool. Three-year-old preschool is not a requirement of any kind. Truth be told, four year old preschool isn’t either, but then you can use the reasoning of preparing for kindergarten.

But preschool for three-year-olds — especially three-year-olds that, say, don’t get out much (WE TRY OK; jk, I mean the ones that don’t go to a regular daycare) is so good. The three-year-old learns how to become a contributing member of a group. He learns to follow a somewhat regular routine. He learns that his teacher is someone to respect; he learns what respect is (in an ideal world, but hey, bear with me). 

But here’s the deal. Sometimes, when my Almost-three is asleep at night (and bonus points if he’s actually kept his pajamas and nighttime pull-up on), sometimes I look at him. I watch his tiny chest rise and fall and tear up in a sentimental way. I think, maybe you don’t need preschool this year?

Stay with your mama forever, you sweet little fluff of angel baby sent down from heaven!

And then he’ll wake up and dump a bottle of glue on his hands and I’ll say SIGN HIM UP NOW!

Almost-threes are God’s way of letting us know our littles are ready for preschool. Oh sure, we’ll cry and take a million pictures on that first day, but then we’ll drive to Starbucks alone, and we’ll smile, and we’ll think maybe I should have another baby? And then we’ll sip our coffee, remove oatmeal from our hair, and we’ll think NOPE.

premeditated meals, part 2

Here they are — in no particular order — my three FAVORITE kitchen appliances! Please know that the amazon pages listed are affiliate links and I may collect a portion of sales if items are clicked through and purchased from here.

Without further ado, the INSTANT POT!

So the Instant Pot is getting a LOT of buzz right now. But anything that can cook 2 lbs of ground beef and carrots and potatoes from stone cold raw to ready-for-dinner in about a half hour is going to get buzz. And it’s well deserved! This one appliance can do the work of so many others. It’s a pressure cooker, a slow cooker, a yogurt maker (one some models) and more! One of my favorite features is the ability to sauté in the pot before doing any pressure or slow cooking. All of a sudden you’ve eliminated the need for another pan to say, sear meat or carmelize onions.

Another great thing about the Instant Pot is that once it’s done pressure cooking, it can keep your food warm for an extended period of time. This is great for our family because when Jason’s working nights, he’ll leave our house between 4 and 4:30. If the rest of us aren’t ready for dinner quite that early, he can still take his portion and leave the rest in the pot to stay warm. There have been so many times when I haven’t started a slow cooker early enough for him to eat before leaving, and since this cooks food so quickly, it’s usually not an issue.

Cons: It IS bulky. If you don’t want to leave this on your counter, you may have to search a bit to find appropriately-sized cupboard space. It’s also pricey — consider how often you’ll use the Instant Pot before taking the plunge (for the record, I do get my money’s worth).

//ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=premedit-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B00FLYWNYQ&asins=B00FLYWNYQ&linkId=90dbb295e7ff067b63770b486c77a9dd&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=true&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff

Next up… the AIR FRYER!

OK, I’m going to be honest, I’m waiting for the internet to blow up about this thing. It is amazing. It “fries” your food using a tiny fraction of the oil typical fryers need, and it does this using hot circulating air. You can go pretty simple with the Air Fryer — throw in some sliced potatoes brushed lightly with the oil of your choice and in about ten minutes you have some pretty awesome French fries. BUT! The Air Fryer can do so much more than this. To date, I’ve made copycat Chick-Fil-A chicken patties, carne asada (yes, 1.5 lbs of flank steak!), DONUTS (work in progress, but I mean, they got eaten), and tandoori chicken. There are just so many things you can make with this thing, and I feel like nobody talks about it.

If you like to buy frozen foods (mini pizzas, French fries, other appetizers), the Air Fryer will crisp those up faster and better than your oven can. And while there is a range of temperatures at which you can cook different foods, the Air Fryer does not require the long pre-heating time the oven does.

Cons: Like the Instant Pot, it’s bulky and it’s pricey. If you struggle with finding time for cooking, I do recommend one or both, however. They do speed up the process!

//ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=premedit-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B06XHP8R99&asins=B06XHP8R99&linkId=166386b6a98d3b2d9170adf788aec2b6&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=true&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff

And finally… the ZOJIRUSHI BREAD MAKER!

I’m going to start out by listing the con for this one — it’s expensive! I absolutely LOVE this bread maker, but please know there are much more reasonably priced bread makers out there. I can’t speak to them, however, because this is the only bread maker I’ve ever owned.

I LOVE homemade bread, but it really is an event. It can take up almost the whole day, and if, at the end of the process, you learn your yeast is bad, you’re toast. (Pun totally intended.) It takes me less than ten minutes to throw all of my bread ingredients in the bread maker and press the “start” button. Or, if I’m heading to bed and want to wake up to the aroma of freshly baked bread (which is something I highly recommend), I can schedule the cooking so it will finish just as my alarm is going off. So far, I’ve made white bread, whole wheat bread, and banana bread, but there are just so many other options. Every loaf has been amazing and delicious. Now I’m kind of drooling and need to make bread tonight.

//ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=premedit-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B0067MQM48&asins=B0067MQM48&linkId=151e3017c1f4a44f2b3eac15e964a114&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=true&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff

My runner-up favorites can be found below:

//ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=premedit-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B0074CDG6C&asins=B0074CDG6C&linkId=9eecc209c22c01181f588cb6ac53f822&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=true&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff

//ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=premedit-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B008YNFB3Q&asins=B008YNFB3Q&linkId=1d361c4ea9d6a7feb40f331417703664&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=true&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff

//ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=premedit-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B003OXNBYC&asins=B003OXNBYC&linkId=09d9fc8ad8cdd2797f7c46fe39c3ad1a&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=true&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff

Happy cooking, premeditated family!

premeditated meals, part 1

My nerd is showing because Y’ALL — I’m talking about food.

I love food. I think that’s one of the reasons I love every single thing about Shauna Niequest — she is a Christian/mom/wife/superstar who also loves food. She’s written on and on about the balance between body acceptance and the richness and pleasure in eating well, and that is a line I tread regularly.

Food is spiritual. Whether we are filling our children’s bellies or bringing a dish to a family in need, we are doing God’s work. The kind of food doesn’t matter as much as the feeling behind it. Before I start getting a bit too dramatic, please know that there are many times I stand, bleary-eyed, in front of the microwave reheating boxed macaroni and cheese for my children. In that moment, my motivation may simply be “feed the kids quick,” but when I reflect on those times, I know that I am still providing for them in a real and tangible way.

But life.

LIFE, y’all. I know it’s hard to break out of the mealtime madness routine. Our lives are busy and full, and sometimes the thought of standing in a kitchen and making a big mess and chaos is just less than desirable. But if you are like me, you know that a delicious meal can, if only for a moment, soothe and comfort.

I do not claim to be any sort of food or meal prep expert, but I am premeditated, and I’m going to share some goodness with you. This week I’m talking about basic tips and how-to’s, but next week I’ll be talking about my favorite appliances (like the star-of-the-hour, the INSTANT POT!).

Premeditated Meals in 5 Easy Steps!

1. MEAL PLAN

img_5219
A fun meal prep notebook is a total game changer.
Even if you aren’t a big planner, please please plan out some meals. Start with dinners if you are new to meal planning — I plan out dinners for each day (though sometimes they do get shuffled around) and a few breakfasts and lunches for the week. I use a magnetic notebook and leave it on my fridge so I always know what meals we’ll be eating on a given day.

2. GROCERY SHOP

A given, sure, but I’m only including this here because IF you can somewhow make this work, immediately after grocery shopping I love to…

3. PREP THOSE MEALS

Prepped food! (Label maker sold separately.)

img_5476
Snacks, lunches, veggies
Chop your veggies. Cook things that can be cooked ahead of time and easily reheated. Start putting meal ingredients together in a way that will make the actual cooking of them a breeze. While I’m at it, I also like to bag up whatever snacks I bought (goldfish, pretzels, etc.) and get them ready to throw at hangry kids when necessary throughout the week. If you can manage to do this

Some caveats here: yes, there are a million videos/articles/blogs on the internet that will tell you how to store your veggies. Usually these won’t say “cut them all up!” because this will sometimes cause them to go bad quicker. Know how many veggies you’ll eat in a week and buy/prep that much only. You’ll be much more likely to eat it if it’s ready to go anyway, and couldn’t we all eat more easy veggies? We could.

If the idea of making all of those snack baggies makes your earth-loving heart cringe, look into reusable cloth snack bags. I do like the cloth bags I have, but if I’m being honest, I use ziplocks a lot. We are a people who lose things.

4. COOK THOSE MEALS

img_5095
A happy little chicken pot pie all ready for the oven!
Hopefully, your meal prep will make the cooking EASY. Throwing salads together, reheating taco meat, or throwing a bag of ready-t0-go food into a slow cooker. It’s hard to feed your people everyday. Make this as simple as possible.

5. EAT!

Perhaps this goes without saying, but hey, eat your food. Really eat it. Sit down at the table, pour yourself a glass of wine or La Croix, pray with your family, eat with your family. Take the time to be present, because life comes at you fast. And your food will taste better if you, ya know, sit and chew it.

That’s all for today. Happy meal prep! Check back on Thursday for my favorite kitchen stuff!

holly jolly silent night

Any red-blooded Christmas fan knows this to be true:

elf

I love Christmas songs more than most songs. I say this collectively, generally, with “Christmas songs” being one big lump of songs I love.

Of course, there are some terrible songs in that lump.

Let’s explore them now.

In no particular order, here they are: the WORST CHRISTMAS SONGS EVER!

(Might this offend you? It’s possible. I love Jesus and I love Christmas and I love you, so let’s embrace our differences and chuckle for a minute, mmk?)

Do You Hear What I Hear?

First of all, this title is too long and it is a question, which makes it hard to say. “What’s your favorite Christmas song?” “Do you hear what I hear?” “Umm… no?” It’s a more personal question than “What Child is This?” another Christmas song with a question-asking title. (Though it should be noted I dig this song, and not only because it was my first opportunity to publicly say “ass” as a child. Yeah, it meant donkey. I was the kind of rebel who only rebelled by smirking slightly when singing the word “ass” in church.)

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” is essentially a game of telephone that starts with the wind (of course) talking to a sheep (with you so far) who passes along that message to an actual human boy (who apparently speaks lamb) who somehow immediately gets an appointment with the King, who broadcasts the news to his people. The wind couldn’t just talk to the King? I mean, the boy got in to see him no problem. Or perhaps the wind could directly tell the news of baby Jesus to the people? Unless the wind can only communicate with sheep. Can all shepherds talk to their sheep as well? If so, I feel like the wind could have just spoken to the boy and left the middle animal out of it. THIS SONG CREATES SO MANY QUESTIONS. Also all of the echos makes it sound like it’s the background music in a weird and spooky cave. No. No.

Same Old Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg

If you haven’t heard this song because you don’t obsessively listen to STAR 105.7, I’ll give you a moment to listen to this monstrosity on your own: Same Old Lang Syne.

Are you done? Great. Whether or not you listened to it just now, here’s a sample of the lyrics. This is LITERALLY HOW THIS “CHRISTMAS SONG” OPENS:

Met my old lover in the grocery store / The snow was falling Christmas Eve / I stood behind her in the frozen foods / And I touched her on the sleeve.

THE FIRST STANZA OF THIS CHRISTMAS SONG REFERS TO FROZEN FOODS, THE SADDEST OF ALL FOODS.

The song goes on very much in this manner for about fourteen minutes. Or six. Far too long for a melancholy Christmas song. Here’s your summary: ex lovers meet at a grocery store. They go through the check out stand together. They talk. They laugh. Talking gets awkward so they decide to go for a beer. They have a super depressing conversation about their lives. They part. The snow turns into rain.

??????????

I admit, there’s some hardcore torch song beauty there, but when you sandwich this sappy melodrama in between “HAUL OUT THE HOLLY!” and “ON THE FIRST DAY OF CHRISTMAS MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME,” this song feels like a stray skittle in a bowl of m&m’s. 0/10 would not recommend.

Santa Baby

Please, I beg of you, don’t sexualize Santa.

The fact that he’s married still somewhat traumatizes me. I prefer to think of him as celibate even in marriage; better yet, I prefer to not think of his personal life at all. He delivers toys and eats cookies. As far as I’m concerned, Mrs. Claus only exists to make sure he takes his heart medication and likely to remind him where he left his boots and Santa hat (of course Santa has a specific place he should put them, but does he ever put them there? NO).

Come and trim my Christmas tree… NO. NO. NO.

(Yes she’s asking for decorations from Tiffany & Co. on her tree. Maybe I’m the only one making up all of the double entendre and it’s really just a simple song about a woman asking for a bunch of high-end presents.)

(…maybe.)

Mary, Did You Know?

I realize I could get a little heat for this one. I know people love it. They LOVE it.

I’m sorry, I… don’t.

This isn’t the Christian equivalent of the big Sixth Sense plot twist. BRUCE WILLIS WAS DEAD THE WHOLE TIME / THE BABY WAS GOD THE WHOLE TIME! No. I mean, if it was a total surprise to Mary, I could see some relevance here.

Mary: Heeeeey Joseph, so I know we haven’t “laid together,” but turns out I am “with child?” Like, that’s so weird, right?

(Thirty-three years and three days later)

Mary and Joseph: SAY WHAAAAAAAAT?!?

OK, so this song doesn’t just refer to Jesus’ death and resurrection. It lists many of his miracles and asks Mary if she knew he’d “give sight to a blind man” and “calm the storm with his hand.” To be fair, she may not have known these specifics. Here’s what she did know: An ANGEL appeared to her to tell her she was pregnant. An angel. Not a Clear Blue digital pregnancy test. An angel. And the angel said that Mary’s baby would be “great” and “called the Son of the Most High,” and that his kingdom would “never end.”

Please note the angel did NOT say “you will straight up birth this child next to a cow.” I mean, if there’s anything that would come as a surprise to Mary, I think it’d be the barn delivery. Mary, did you know… that your water will break… next to sheep and donkeys…

In short, I leave you with this meme:

mary

All right dear readers who didn’t get so offended that they stopped reading halfway through — thanks for sticking it out. I hope whatever music you’re listening to right now brings you nothing but joy. Even if it’s a sappy Christmas soap opera. Or an elongated musical question Luke 1 quite succinctly answers. Or if you (gasp!) aren’t even listening to Christmas music at all. You do you. You’re the best at it.

 

o tannenbaum

My very favorite day, year after year, is the day after Thanksgiving.

I don’t Black Friday shop. I don’t bask in gluttonous turkey day leftovers.

I decorate.

On the day after Thanksgiving, I am up with the sun (or, as is often the case in late November in Michigan, I am up with where the sun would be if it weren’t covered by clouds). With a strength of ten Jennies, I haul up tubs of decorations like a post-spinach Popeye. I do all of this in a holiday sweater and — this year, thanks to my new obsession — holiday-themed Lularoe leggings. THE JOY! We have Christmas music playing, cookies out to decorate and eat, and there are squeals of delight as each decoration is unearthed (those squeals are solely from me).

To bring in some realness, here is what I look like on the day after Thanksgiving:


And here is what the rest of my family looks like on the day after Thanksgiving:


What a bunch.

I generally have enough energy and goodwill to carry these occasional wet blankets, so fun is had by all. All. ALL.

(Me.)

Knowing of my love of decorating, I once had a well meaning friend ask, “what is your Christmas color theme?”

“My Christmas color theme! Yes! That’s of course a thing I have! It’s… :quickly thinking of Christmas colors: green!”

That’s when this friend probably politely nodded and backed away from my obvious Christmas insanity.

The truth is, I bought an end-of-season Christmas tree my senior year of college. It was on super clearance, and after some creative sale-watching and gift card use, I ended up paying exactly one penny for my tree. It was perfect. Easy to assemble, pre-lit (HAHAHAHA AT ONE TIME I CONSIDERED THIS A BONUS), and not containing any actual pine that would make my allergies go crazy. I loved it. I purchased some clearance ornaments that I thought looked “good enough” to help fill it out that first year. By the next Christmas, I was married and teaching elementary music. Elementary kids LOVE gifting music-themed ornaments to music teachers, so I came home with several blown-glass pianos, coppery treble clefs, and eighth-note patterned everything. I added them to our tree, along with the many “Our First Christmas Together” ornaments we had received on wedding gifts. I bought tacky gold tinsel. Boom. Christmas.

The next year, I was still teaching, and received more musical ornaments. This happened for three more years, actually. 

Additionally, when Jason and I would go on vacations, I would buy an ornament to hang on our tree to remember the trip. So each year added new mementos (a lot of Mickey Mouse, to be clear), and over time, the tree was full of special parts of our lives together. 

One year, the pre-lit lights proved disastrous (SEE; NOT A BONUS) and stopped working altogether. I loved my penny tree — it was the perfect size! The perfect shape! I loved that it cost me a penny! And so Jason spent several hours painstakingly removing each individual light. We threw on our own set of lights and the tree lived on.

It’s now the tree that we decorate as a family on the day after Thanksgiving. The ornaments are random, varied, and slightly broken. Some are musical instruments, some have faded National Park logos. Some have handprints from a tiny baby Boone. There’s magic and meaning there.

But, to go back to my “color scheme?” There totally isn’t one. There will be no awards for the beauty of this tree. It’s a mess, especially this year, where many of the ornaments are hung at Jonah-height since he was insistent on helping. 

“I’m pretty sure this is what mom meant by ‘spread out the ornaments a bit.’ Yes.”

But when I look at this tree, I see Jason taking off all those dead lights for me. I see my parents storing it in their basement before I had a home of my own. I see Boone and Jonah falling in love with decorations and making their own to add to the collection.

I used to get this feeling every time I walked past a Christmas Tree in a store window — the feeling that someday I would achieve “pretty Christmas tree” status, with coordinating ribbons and ornaments and lights blinking on some kind of program. But the more I watch this Christmas tree become our own, the less I want to change it.

Christmas is hard for perfectionists. We want everything to look perfect and be perfect, because if not, it’s a failure. 

Look at your tree, and the love you’ve poured into it. Look at your house, even when toys are scattered and the remote has been missing for days. Don’t get caught up in the vision of Christmas or life you have in your head and forget to live the one in front of you. Maybe your tree won’t be on the covers of any magazines. It may not be shared a million times on Pinterest. But, in the words of our dear friend Linus VanPelt from A Charlie Brown Christmas

“I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.”

So maybe you don’t have a color scheme. Or maybe you don’t have that many ornaments. Maybe you don’t have a tree — for Christmas, you don’t need any of it. Just the love. Sending you all I have at the start of this holiday season!

so you’re thinking about walt disney world!

I can’t believe I’m writing about Walt Disney World.

Background: I love Walt Disney World. I love it so much that I like to formally call it “Walt Disney World” instead of “Disney World” when I’m talking about it in general. Let’s pay our full respects to Mr. Walter Elias Disney, shall we? My first trip to WDW (as I’ll likely refer to it from here on out, but please continue to read “Walt Disney World” if you don’t mind) was back in 1998. I was in middle school. You may think that I was ~too cool~ for a family trip at that stage in my life, but let me assure you, I’ve never been too cool for anything in my life ever.

I knew right as I waltzed through those Mickey adorned trellises in my shockingly white keds (fake keds) that I was entering someplace special. Every single employee (or cast member, as they are referred) was 100% in. Nobody was mentally checked out. Nobody appeared bored. Every person working was happy, engaged, and smiling like I’d never seen people smile before in their life. As an awkward preteen at the precipice of the real world, I was thrilled to be at a place where reality seemed incredibly far away. I’ve never really lost that feeling.

The first time Boone went to WDW, he was seven months old. The second time, he was two. The third time, he was also two.

Boone’s first race was at WDW, of course.

The fourth time, he’ll be five, and Jonah will be two.

You could say I have a problem. But I don’t! I have a solution! A solution to the harsh realness of everyday life.

You could also say I’m being melodramatic and I should probably visit a national park sometime. I DO THAT TOO, OK! Let’s just pretend this obsession is perfectly normal and makes perfect sense.

And now to the crux of the post: So you’re thinking about going to Walt Disney World!

I won’t try and convince you this is the vacation for you (it is). I will simply pass along my advice and you can choose to accept, ignore, or third party your way through this advice in the way of your choosing. I’m not an official WDW Travel Agent (though you’ll hear from one later in the series).  I’m just a girl, standing in front of a mouse, asking him to recognize her love. Let’s dive in.

WHEN TO GO?!

WDW is alive in Spring, when flowers are blooming and trellises are shaped like Lightning McQueen. WDW is hauntingly perfect in Fall, when Mickey jack-o-lanterns adorn basically every open space. WDW is magical at Christmas, with trees and decor that would make even the smallest Grinch heart grow three sizes.  WDW is crazy in the summer because the entire world is there and the air is so humid you can basically eat it but it is STILL wonderful because they do not skimp on the A/C.

So… When can you go? You can have a fantastic vacation regardless of the time of year. If you can swing it, I would recommend trying to go during “non-peak” times. This may mean pulling your kids out of school (if they are in school) or staying home on Spring Break to save money for a vacation in September. Or February. Not only are lines shorter and shorter crowds smaller during the non-peak times, but it is during these times when Disney is prepared to offer its greatest discounts, one of the favorites being free dining.

Yes, free dining means your meals are free. The amount of free meals you receive depends on where you’re staying (unless you choose to upgrade the plan you’re comped), but believe me, Disney food does not disappoint. Instead of raving about it here, I’m going to refer you to The Disney Food Blog, where you can get lost for a hours in a virtual wormhole of Dole Whips, Mickey pretzels, cupcakes, Mickey waffles, and any other snack your heart didn’t even know it wanted. And you’ll hear more about Disney food next week!

The catch… to earn free dining (or many other Disney-offered discounts), you have to stay on the Disney property. Which leads us to…

Jason enjoying a “LaFou’s Brew” in the Magic Kingdom.

WHERE TO STAY?!

Seriously though, you should stay on property. There are various “levels” of resorts, from value to deluxe. The value resorts will still run you $100-$200 a night, depending on season. Moderate resorts are generally $150-$300, and Deluxe resorts generally start around $300 and climb from there. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, and the good people at AllEars have a fantastic website for accommodations (and just about everything else, if you’re getting really deep into trip planning), so check them out if you want more detail (and lots of pictures!).

For what it’s worth, Jason and I stayed at a moderate resort on our honeymoon (oh yes, we are those people… Come on, are you really surprised?) but every other time we have stayed at a value resort. The moderate and deluxe resorts are gorgeous and quiet, but when it comes down to it, we’re only using our room to collapse in at the end of the day. The value resorts serve that purpose well.

Staying at a Disney resort has other benefits — all transportation is covered for your stay, including a complimentary bus ride to and from the Orlando airport. Those staying on property can also easily send souvenirs back to their rooms free of charge and enjoy extended park hours.

HOW LONG SHOULD YOU STAY?!

This comes down to what you can make work. I would recommend — at the least — a four day park hopper pass, if you want to see it all (in general). You have options when buying tickets — a “base ticket” allows you to visit one park (non-water park) per day. A “park hopper” allows you to visit multiple (non-water) parks in a day. One day ticket prices seem steep (and they aren’t cheap, I’m being honest), but the ticket prices become more reasonable the longer you stay. For an adult during “regular season” (March 11-31, May 27-31, June 1-30, July 1-23,  November 20-27, and December 2-31) a one-day ticket costs $117.15, but for a four day pass, the cost is $346.13, making each “day” cost roughly $86. More info on ticket prices can be found at The Mouse for Less.

So are you hooked yet? Mildly interested? Already a Disney fan looking for a fix wherever the Internet will give you one? Tune in next week for a more in depth look at the individual theme parks inside Walt Disney World and a brief glimpse at the joy and delight that is WDW FOOD!

Thanks for indulging my fantasy to write about Walt Disney World. Have a magical day!

wacky wednesdays

Welcome back to another rousing rendition of “what we’re doing this summer!” Summer is so very quickly approaching (8 school days left around here!) so if you, like me, need plans to keep you sane, read on.

(And if you want to catch up on what we’ll be doing on Mondays and Tuesdays during the summer, you can check out those posts here: masterchef mondays and tech-free tuesdays.)

IMG_1533
He’s ready to craft! Now excuse me, while I cry about how small my giant almost-done-with-kindergarten kid used to look.

Wednesdays are for arts and crafts. Now, I may be a caffeine-fueled mom with a solid pinterest addiction, like so many of us, but I am unfortunately NOT a crafter. That’s not to say I haven’t tried; oh, I’ve tried. I’ve made cards. I’ve sewn bedding. I’ve knit scarves. I’ve purchased paints and small canvasses with the intention of making something super ~shabby chic~. I have failed. I just don’t get any satisfaction from cutting and gluing or stitching and pearling or anything else that requires I sit and do instead of stand and move (or sit and not do).

I do like writing to-do lists while sitting. Does that count?

Here’s my arts and crafts plan for Summer 2016:

On the first Wednesday of summer break, I’ll be gifting my kiddos a $30 gift card to Hobby Lobby. We’ll go there with the specific intention of purchasing craft supplies, DIY kits, anything that catches our eye and fits our budget. This is our craft budget for the summer — period. If we want other items, we’ll get creative with our trash and recycling. It’s important to note I’m not looking to make museum-worthy pieces of art here — or even gift items — we’re looking to have some fun with some mostly temporary creative pieces.

True confessions time: my planning for our art projects will usually take place on Tuesdays after the kids are in bed. I’ll scroll pinterest and choose a project we already have materials for. But I’ll happily share with you a few of the favorites I’ve saved from preliminary pinterest searches…

LadyBugs vs Tadpoles Tic-Tac-Toe — ok, this is just cute. And it’s a game we can play later! We probably won’t use an actual piece of freshly cut-tree for the playing board (though my neighbors do have tree-cutting plans, so we’ll see), but we can totally paint rocks.

Kid Made Bird Feeders — I love a craft that serves a purpose, and I’ll happily hang kid-crafted bird feeders all over our yard. Prepare to feast, birds!

Beaded Snakes — this craft incorporates hand-eye coordination (which, to be honest, both the two year old and the five year old could stand to practice more) and the end result is a fun new toy.

Our school activities will focus on social studies for the big kid (I love the worksheets found here) and shapes and colors for the little kid (preschool pages found here).

And that wraps up Wednesdays! My husband did suggest “wine down Wednesdays” to give mom a break during the week, but I’m pretty sure the only thing that would accomplish is “ok everybody, it’s time to take a nap.” Which… now that I think about it…

Grab some wine (or not) and let’s craft, everybody. Happy Summer Wednesdays to you!

your village

I think it’s safe to assume we have all heard the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child.” Even if you haven’t, the meaning is fairly clear: we’re all in this together.

IMG_2908
Oh, lovely friend who came directly to the hospital from her job hours after Ev’s birth and told me I was beautiful even though I felt entirely exhausted and puffy? VILLAGE.

When I hear someone reference their “village,” my mind first travels to the people who helped raise me —

my mom, who stayed up sewing costumes for plays and Halloweens,
my dad, who instilled in me a lifelong love of all things Disney
the aunts who taught me how to fish and how to play piano
the teachers who taught me how to sing and how to think
members of my first church, who introduced me to God

And then I think about those who have helped and continue to help my husband and I raise our boys —

my in-laws, for rushing over to watch our kids even when they are puking
my siblings, by blood or by marriage, for loving John and Ev so much
my friends, who, at different times, have brought us food and prayed over us
my friends, who I could answer honestly when asked how I was doing after a miscarriage
my friends, who tell me stories about their crazy kids so I don’t feel so alone

race
Oh, lovely friend who accompanied me to the Riverbank Run Expo while her lovely husband stayed home with her kids AND mine? VILLAGE.

My village is huge. If you are reading this, there’s a pretty good chance you have been or currently are at the very least a temporary resident. See, I’m an observer. I’ve learned parenting tricks from people I’ve never spoken to. Additionally, I have some very important people living in my village who I am not regularly in contact with, and who may be unaware of their valuable influence on my family’s life.

One of these individuals is a woman named Teresa. Jay and I met her soon after we got married and moved out of state. We went back and visited once since moving away, and she was able to meet John (Ev was a tiny blueberry squirming around in my uterus at the time), but otherwise she doesn’t really know my kids (at least, not in a “real life”-way). We moved away from her when I was pregnant with John. She belonged to the same church as Jay and I, and we were gifted with many lovely things on our last Sunday (related: this is how you make a pregnant woman ugly-cry). She gave us two board books, Jamberry and Barnyard Dance, along with a note that said these were two of her daughters’ favorites when they were young. I thought of her every time I read those books to John. I think of her every time I read those books to Ev. I’m lucky that my boys love books — but they really love these books. We love to pretend to eat the cascading blueberries in Jamberry and “promenade two by two” in Barnyard Dance. (And of course, Barnyard Dance was our introduction to all things Sandra Boynton, and she is simply the best.)

I follow Teresa and her daughters (now successful, strong women; kids when I knew them prior) on facebook, and I take special note of her support for her children. I know that she is a strong, successful woman herself, and it makes me believe that strong women make strong kids (who, it turns out, grow up to be strong adults). She has interests and passions outside of parenting (and of course, within parenting as well) that makes me realize the importance of having “non-mom” interests in my life. Her impact is strong, even across so much distance.

IMG_4673
Every single person who cares about these boys (shown here in an old but good photo) and their parents, whether or not they are parents themselves? VILLAGE. VILLAGE. VILLAGE.

So. This brings me to — who is your Teresa? Which member (or members) of your village play an important role but might not know it? Please — I implore you — let them know! Share this post on facebook and tag them. Send them a note and tell them how much they are appreciated. Get to know the members of your village, and you may learn you belong to more than one.