Monday, April 25, 2011

So Long Dear Friend

I have written 3 blogs about our trip to Disney, it was a wonderful trip. However, the first evening that we were there I received word that the mother of my dear friends, Lisa & Kristina had passed away after a heroic battle with leukemia. Her funeral was two days before we got home so I missed saying goodbye to her. I would like to just tell you a little bit about her and what an impression she had on my life.

When Lisa and I opened up our store 2 and half years ago I really didn't know her mom, Inger very well. What I did know was that she was a dear woman that was always willing to help, she was the type of person that would give you the shirt off her back even if she didn't know you very well. As the months went by she would often swing by the store and would help us however we needed it. During those times and the numerous birthday parties I got to know Inger very well. She was such a good time to be around. My favorite moment I spent with Inger was washing the windows on a sunny spring afternoon. She was really good at washing windows! LOL, I don't think our windows will ever be that clean again! We are a little baffled by how she got them that clean! We were chatting about music, this is when I found out that Inger loved the Beatles. Her older brother, to whom she was very close to, had introduced her to the Fab 5 and she was hooked to that day. She spoke of her brother with such a tenderness, she told me a lot about him that day and ended it with how he had passed away. That was it, the end of the story, no further explanation of how he died, when, nothing, just the end. So Inger. We had a moment that day, and I felt very close to her, we had covered all bases. We had discussed family, music, a little politics and death. We had crossed a threshold, we now knew a few intimate details of one anothers lives, and it was awesome.

In July I wrote a blog entitled “Reflection”. This was in response to Inger being diagnosed with leukemia. It rocked all of our worlds, especially of course her daughters lives. Friends, I have seen a lot of things in my life. I have witnessed people having to deal with all sorts of life changing situations. I have seen some people rise to the occasion and do the right thing, I have seen some run and hide and others I have seen turn their backs and ignore the situation at hand completely. These women are incredible. Not for one moment did these girls leave their mother alone. Someone was with her at all times from July through February, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. In every hospital room, during every holiday, birthday and celebration they were by her side. They made me want to be a better daughter and just a better human being in general. They were amazing in their care and love for their mother. Then I realized of course this is the way they would react, look at their teacher.

Here is what I learned most from Inger.

  • Love your family, even when they drive you crazy.
  • Be true to yourself.
  • Don't let the small stuff, or small minded people bother you.
  • Homemade Meatballs work for any get together.
  • Life is short, be happy.
  • Be kind.
  • Fight hard for the things worth fighting for.
  • Support those you love
  • Help people who need help, even if they don't know that they need it.
  • Always do the right thing, always.

Goodbye my friend, rest assured you touched my life and you helped me look at life a little differently, in a more positive light. I am a better person for knowing you, I will miss you every day and especially every time I eat a meatball.

Saving Money At Walt Disney World

I know it sounds like an oxymoron to save money at Walt Disney world but it is possible. We managed to save a ton just from doing 2 things differently from the norm. What I encourage everyone to do is to plan your entire trip with all the bells and whistles. Plan everything you want to do, exactly where you want to stay, how long you want to stay as if money is not a factor. Then, prioritize that list. What must you do to ensure that you have a magical experience? After that start trimming down your list, finding alternatives to major expenses may just ensure that you are able to do everything you want to do. This process takes a lot of time and a lot of conversations. Be prepared and always enter these conversations with an open mind. Arguing about this and that doesn't help and nothing should be argued about in this stage! Hopefully. I can help and illustrate clearly what we did to save some money on our trip.

For our family, including my mom it would have been between $9 & 11,000 to stay on site. We have a very large family and at Walt Disney world it does not matter if you are 90 or 3 months old you count! So we opted to stay off site. We found a house 15 minutes from the Magic Kingdom. It was a 6 bedroom, 2 master suite, full kitchen, pool and hot tub lap of luxury oasis! It was $1000 for the entire week. Now do you see what I mean by finding alternatives to major expenses? Of course that adds some new complications and expenses. How do you get to the parks if you fly?

We considered renting a car but a rental car would have cost just as much for us (huge family) as it would have been to for us to fly our entire family down. We were considering to drive the 17 hours. Before you actually go though with the drive make sure you factor in the cost of gas and hotel stays. Also think of the ride home. For us, I would have been in our local mental institution after attempting to drive that far with 8 people in our 8 passenger car...SO what is the solution? The auto train. In the end it did cost as much as flying, however, we had our car and a very relaxing ride down. For our family it was around $1500 ( this included our car) as opposed to the $3000 it would have been to fly and rent a car. The only downside to the auto train for me was that I did not sleep well. So it made for a very long first day for me

Eating at the parks is expensive hands down. For our family to eat it was about $250 for dinner. This was one thing we splurged on. Food is very important to us and we like to eat well so that was one of things we could do because we had saved money in other places. Lunch was about $70. Now a way to save even more is to eat at the house. Seriously, it would potentially save you well over a thousand dollars! Make lunches in the morning and bring them to the parks with you. They make a variety of insulated picnic totes these days that are just fabulous. Go home in the late afternoon, have a swim a rest and some dinner. Keeping it simple, pasta and sauce, no muss no fuss! Go back to the parks and enjoy a snack and some fireworks.

Park passes are one thing you just can't get around. Here is a little tip though. If you buy a year long park pass, it is not that much more, you could potentially go to Walt Disney World 2 times in a year and pay for passes one time! The passes begin the year on the day your purchase them so if you purchase your pass on March 1, 2011 you are able to return on February 1, 2012 and pay nothing for passes. That saves you a bunch of money, it is almost like 2 family vacations with one major expense paid for!

In the end what matters most is that your family has a wonderful time, with as little stress as possible falling on the parents, remember its your vacation too. I am a planner, to me its one of the best part of the trip. Why? Well, as you watch all of your planning unfurl before your very eyes and you see the joy in the faces of your family, you just smile realizing that you have done something really good. These memories for your kids are amazing but I think for you as the parent its even more then that. You are able to provide the trip of a life time and memories that they will take with them for the rest of their lives and even pass on to your grandchildren. That is monumental as a parent. I hope this helps you in your decision making process and in planning your trip. I have listed some links below to help you on your way. We loved our trip and we cannot wait to go back! Much Love and Safe Travels!

Where we rented our home:

Amtrak Auto Train

Picnic Time Insulated Totes

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Of Course Its Great, Its Disney!

Our trip to Disney was, as I am sure it is for most people, a very thought out endeavor. With the large family we have it is essential that every trip we go on we try to plan and anticipate everything! Which of course is completely impossible! However, we do try. So with that said here are some ideas of what to take with you and what not to do. A lot of these ideas I got from a book that I had read 5 years ago when we went to Disney the first time. Its called the Unofficial Guide To Walt Disney World, With Kids, by Bob Sehlinger. This is a great resource to refer to. When we went the last time I wrote down what was good, what was bad and what we had to do next time. This is a great tip for any family vacation. We have often thought of starting a journal for our vacations so that we don't overlook things we missed or want to do again.


So if you are coming from colder climates like we were, we heard Florida and we broke out the shorts! Well, allow me to tell you, South Carolina, Georgia & Florida can get down right chilly in the winter. After living in South Carolina and Florida you would have thought I would have remembered that. I didn't which lead me to way over pack. Check the weather and keep it simple. If you are at a place that has a washer and dryer you can get away with just a few outfits per person. If not it gets a little trickier. Have your clothes at the ready but really don't pack your clothes until the very last minute! Bring rain gear. Orlando has these pop up thunderstorms at all times of year. Even if you have just silly cheap ponchos that will disintegrate after the first wear. Why? Because you will be dry the first time! Which can make the difference of you enjoying the park for the rest of the day or having to break up your day to go back to change!

Shoes, now this is a big one. Sneakers with socks, for little ones, period. Unless they have some sort of supportive sandal that they have worn for 2 months prior. The biggest mistake people make when going to a place like this is that they buy new shoes and try to break them in while there. Not good because kids end up with blisters on their feet and if their feet are miserable, they are miserable and that means you are miserable...In Disney! Boo!

Diaper Bag

I have thought a lot about this because it is tough when you are expected to spend 5-8 hours with your children in a place that is not home. Think about it, we may run 4-6 hours worth of errands in a day but are we ever more than 20 minutes away from home? I did a lot of trial and error when I was there last and I am not sure I ever quite got it right. There is a lot to juggle but here are the essentials.

Take only what you need.


An extra change of clothes for little littles (something small like a onesie and a pair of leggings),


Drink for baby, you don't have to bring a full day supply just enough to get through the first time its needed.


Changing Pads. I have a GREAT changing pad that I actually sell in my store. It is made by a local company here called Baby Goin' Places. It is a terrycloth towel that has fabric pockets sewn on the front. It was a dream! I didn't have to lay my baby on anything hard! Disposable ones will do just fine though, but please use them, people are rude and don't clean up after themselves, yuck!

Bags for bad diapers, I get the scented ones they are great for clothes from blow outs too!

Rain Gear (Only if they are calling for rain)

Camera, I would recommend getting a little snapshot camera if you have a big one. Just because there are professional photographers all over Disney to take your pictures.

A few special snacks, rewards, bribes, just to get them to stop crying long enough to get out of the park!

First Aid Kit You can get little ones at the store, I usually add my band aids so that they have the characters they like. I always have a little first aid kit in my diaper bag.

Pens, simple but necessary!

If you forget or lose anything not to worry! There are baby care stations located through out all of the parks and they have everything! From bottles to formula to clothing, they even have little wrist slips that you can put one on your 2 year old that keeps bolting away from you and one on you! Sounds wrong but you will see the need for one if not by you personally then the person in front of you. They will be having a nervous breakdown because they have run about 5 miles just to keep up with 2 year old Timmy!

You may need something other then your usual diaper bag because your day to day bag may not be able to carry all of your needs. We usually dawn the backpack for these occasions, its just easier for all of us. Now, sometimes people think that they could just get through the Walt Disney world experience without a diaper bag. Just carry a few diapers and that way we won't have to stand in line to have our bag checked. If you are traveling with little ones you need to deal with the fact that you are going to have to have a diaper bag, so get over it!


Its all in the timing and on vacation we all take our definition of time and literally throw it out the window! Kids stay up later and sleep in longer, parents seem to not care about schedules as much and meandering is highly encouraged. Now, there are the exceptions. A trip to Walt Disney World is expensive and some people like to get their moneys worth so they come equipped with schedules agendas and plans. That is totally fine, please be ready for those plans and schedules to be altered. You are running on kid time here and they do not understand that if you ride every ride in Magic Kingdom 4 times you will get your moneys worth! Also this place is distracting! The phrase of “Oooo! Look Something Shiney!” takes on a whole new meaning! Relax, you are at the happiest place on earth, remind yourself of that, often. Yes, you paid a lot for this vacation and your kids are melting down, you have ice cream on your new shirt and your spouse looks like they are going to climb a tower and start taking people out if they don't start walking faster. Its these times that you need to find a place to sit down and people watch for a few minutes and come up with a new plan. Remember those special snacks you packed? Perfect time for them. Breath, remember where you are and come up with a new plan. I f you take anything away from my little rant here remember this. It cannot ALL be seen, so pick out what is most important to you.

This leads me to breaks. Not all children can make it through an entire day and night without a reset or a break. We all would go back even if it was just to change and grab a quick snack just to get out of the over stimulation for a little while. Do watch your kids and see what their needs are, I promise it will make your trip a lot more enjoyable if you do.

Entering and Exiting. Do keep in mind that if you are in Parks it can take up to 30 minutes to get out of the park alone (depending on where you are) and 15 more minutes to get the tram back to your car. Strollers also must be folded on the trams.

I have to once again climb up on my soap box here. This was the most annoying thing to us and it had absolutely NOTHING to do with the parks but everything to do with the people that were there. This is Disney World people, they have been getting people out of these parks for decades! Millions of people have been there! They know the most efficient way to get you in and OUT. There is absolutely no reason to take out a 6 year old because your family found a pocket in the sea of people and moved up a little further. This isn't the Titanic, you will see them again! I promise! Take your time leaving, seriously, everyone gets out! It may take some time but there is reason to why the wait is so long. If it is that important to you to get out quickly then please leave prior to the closing of the parks. Otherwise, accept the fact that you are going to be sitting and waiting to leave.


One thing we didn't do was make reservations for every night we were there. Dinner is hard to get reservations for especially when you are trying to feed a bunch of kids at their usual time. Make reservations early as in the 90 day time period before you go. You can always cancel them, well most of them. Some of the character dining experiences require full payment and no cancellations but for the most part you can just cancel on a whim.

We had 2 experiences that I really encourage you to have. The first is have a meal at Cinderellas Castle. This was a wonderful character breakfast that we went to. The food was also exceptional! We went for a 9:15 reservation, the park wasn't even open yet when we got there to walk to the castle (about 20 minutes for us from the entrance) the people at the gate let us in before everyone else! There is a show that goes on prior to the park opening (of course there is its Disney!) and here we are walking down Main Street USA, all the girls dressed up as Princesses, Dean as Prince Charming, and all the cast mates of WDW wishing us a good morning! AMAZING! Then if that weren't enough Aladdin and Jasmine scurry down in front of us leading us the way to the castle! GREAT memory that none of us will forget!

The second was a dinner at Chef Mickey's located in the Contemporary Hotel. This was fantastic! The food was wonderful and the interaction with the characters was exceptional! I always tended to shy away from hotels and their dinners, I won't be doing that in the future.

Disneys Dining is amazing. Compared to the reputation it had in the 80's early 90's, the food it exceptional. However, it does cost a good amount of money. There are dining guides out there as well as a really cool app for your phone that tells you what to expect. MiMi downloaded this app to her phone and was a life saver when they tried to book us at the 5 star French Restaurant that was between $30-50 a plate! Plan ahead!

So there you have it, a few tips that will hopefully make your trip a little bit easier. The next blog I have ready is what we did to save A LOT of money! So stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Traveling Big Time!

This is a series of about 3-5 separate blogs. All of these are in reflection to our recent trip from Pennsylvania to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Hope you enjoy them and I hope that you find some of the tips useful. Just to give you some background, we originally were going to drive the 18 hour drive to FL. We did a test run to Kentucky to visit family. That was a 9 hour drive that we turned into 12 just because of all the breaks we had to take. When we returned we realized that our kids had done really well so of course we had no reason to think that they wouldn't do just fine on the trip to Orlando. As we got closer to our trip I started thinking about the drive home from Disney. I started worrying about the kids, frankly, I started worrying about Patrick and I. Everyone was going to be a little on the bummed side.

I remembered as a kid taking the auto train with my mom and wondered if it was still in operation. The rest was history!

So we began our actual journey this morning at 8:30am. Classically, an hour and a half past when we wanted to get on the road. This was a day of firsts for us mainly due to the fact that our dvd in our car had died on us. We were about to embark on a 4 and half hour car ride without it for the first time. Its amazing how we all have relied on these marvels of technology to entertain our children, especially in the car, making our lives a lot easier. I can see why some would wax and weigh about these things being horrible, what ever happened to family sing alongs right? But I for one am not one of those people. I have one intention and that is to arrive at our destination without wanting to eat my young. Needless to say it went well until the last 45 minutes, which of course was the most stressful navigating around the beltways of Northern VA.

So we get to Lorton, Virginia, follow the signs to the auto train, talked to the nice lady at the booth & pulled up to the terminal and started unloading. Everyone was so nice and kind as we unloaded all of our carry-ons. Then they took our car away to load it onto the train. We went into the terminal, checked in, got our dinner tickets, waited about an hour then boarded the train. That was it! A little too easy. So we decided to take cover & wait for that other shoe to fall. It never did!

Our seats are large, spacious and comfy. Complete with foot rests. It’s like a little lazy boy recliner. What I am personally loving is that there is enough room between the 2 sets of seats for the kids to sit on the floor and play. I had filled their bags with all sorts of new coloring books and small toys. The Bigs had their DS’s and we loaded up ipods with movies, we were beyond prepared to keep them occupied. The one thing though I hadn’t thought of was the most obvious thing of all. Just the anticipation of the train ride and the train actually moving kept everyone occupied for a few hours. Everyone was just so excited to be on the train. I am not sure who was more excited the kids or the adults! Yes I was jumping up and down so happy not to be driving, and frankly not to be flying.

As I sit here typing this, all our bellies are full of delicious food we had for dinner, all included in the price of the ticket mind you. We have been lounging around for about 3 hours just playing and reading stories, spending that quality time that you don’t normally get in the hustle and bustle of the day to day. Those moments alone were worth the price of admission. We are whisking through North Carolina, and I am loving the fact that we aren’t sleeping in a hotel off the interstate. I am a spoiled, spoiled girl. I know it, this is really living for me. Glass of wine in hand, kids all resting, not asleep mind you but resting and I am enjoying peace and quiet while quietly being chauffeured to our wonderful destination.

Already memories are being made for our family. I think one of the things that I will remember most was when my dear husband who works so hard for our family, shut down his laptop (he worked a full day by having me drive the Lorton and then once we were on the train he continued to work.) and said “okay guys I am yours for the next 10 days.” Wow. We were really on a family vacation, complete with Mimi. And to make it better, we are going to Disney World! Amazing.

Couple of things to know about the auto train.

1. You are not allowed into your car during the travel period so take what you want to have with you when you unload your car.
2. If you have small children as to be seated towards the back of the car. There are large areas behind the last row of seats that are great for spreading our further, even building a little bed.
3. Do bring blankets and if possible pillows. They will make your trip a lot more comfortable.
4. Dinner is served at 5pm, 7pm and 9pm and is included in the price of your ticket. Breakfast starts at 6am. If you go during the "snow bird migration get ready"! They will be all scooting through the aisles at exactly 6am to get their muffins and cereal!
5. Shoes must be worn every time you walk through the train.
6. Lights out is at 9pm
7. When you get to Florida or Lorton, they call your car number, you go out and get into your car and away you go! It really is that easy! It was about a 10 minute wait, that was it!
8. There is a movie provided, however, this is probably the last form of transportation to still allow smoking in the downstairs lounge car. The smoke filters upstairs to the main lounge car where the movie is shown. We didn't want the kids to smell like smoke so we didn't take advantage of this.