Thursday, December 8, 2016

'Tis the Season for Reading

Well, I just added another four books onto my What I Read in 2016 list.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

This book was so, so good!  I had trouble closing it and wished I could have just read it straight through.  Bonus - I liked the ending and thought it fit well with the rest of the book.  The Dog Stars is about a pilot, Hig, living in a post-apocalyptic world.  I felt connected to the main character and his desire for human connection.  The writing style (fragmented and/or run-on sentences) takes a bit to get used to.  It felt choppy at first but I quickly adjusted and then it made sense the further I read.  If you enjoy post-apocalyptic books, add this one to your "books to read" list.

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright

The main setting for this book is a dump in Cambodia.  The main characters live in the dump, collecting and selling trash to pay for food and their rent.  The book focuses on a couple and their young son, who is constantly sick.  The woman discovers a secret about the mean-spirited rent collector, and uses that to help her son.  When I first read a brief description of the book, I expected blackmail and such to be part of the plot but that wasn't the case.  It's best described as a book about hope and "you can't judge a book by its cover."  I'd give it a solid 4 stars.  Although this is a work of fiction, the setting and characters are real and based off of a documentary created by the author's son, a fact I found interesting.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Have you read this book?  It kept popping up here and there so I decided to check it out.  It's best described as a story of two families and infidelity.  I thought the writing was strong and I enjoyed the little twists.  I know some don't like when chapters skip around in time but I find it adds interest. I really wanted to like this book more but the ending didn't do it for me.  I was actually surprised when my kindle told me the book had ended.  So a good book to read but a meh ending.

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

Sooooo I liked reading the first half of this book, maybe because it was so personal.  The second half, for me, dragged on, and I don't want to take away from the author's experience, thoughts and message but it was just too wordy for me.  Personally, these type of books usually aren't my cup of tea but I've taken an interest in blogger books.  This is a bestseller and was selected for Oprah's book club so maybe it's just me.

***

Before I go, I wanted to offer a gift suggestion for the holiday season.  If you have an avid reader in your life, especially one who is a train/subway/bus/plane commuter, a Kindle Paperwhite is a great gift.  I was skeptical at first when Rich gifted one to me but I absolutely love it.  It has made reading, including the act of getting a book, so much easier.  My commuting bag was always full - shoes, food, work, umbrella, extra socks - the kindle fit in better than a book.  Now, when Rich wants to go to sleep before I'm ready to, I can just read in bed without disturbing him and without bothering my eyes.



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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Nutcracker and The Flat Tire

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This past Sunday was the second annual girl cousin outing to the Boston Ballet's presentation of The Nutcracker.  Sparkly coordinating outfits and logistics were all set up and ready to go.  The kids were excited for an adventure in the city.  I, however, never, ever expected one of the tires on the van, a new tire, to go flat as I was cruising down the highway.  Yeah, that's a problem.

Before we get to that, let's talk about the good stuff.

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How adorably awesome are these outfits?  I love, love, love the touch of ballet.  Those skirts leave a trail of glitter and our home is covered in it.  We went out to eat dinner later that night and Emily was still wearing her skirt.  I brought her to the bathroom in the restaurant and as we were washing our hands, a little girl, who went into the stall after Emily, exclaimed, "Oh, look! Sparkles!"

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I brought my camera with me because you are allowed to take photos inside the Opera House, no photos of the performance though.  I'm kind of bummed that I didn't have a wider lens in my bag because the 50mm was just too tight.  Plus, the lobby was always packed and I didn't have time to wander around and take photos.  I sort of had to walk and snap with one hand.  The Opera House is simply amazing inside - a must see if you live in the Boston area.

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Soooo the tire.  The second week in November I ran over a bolt.  I believe it happened right after I left the school parking lot one morning but it didn't flatten the tire and a few days went by before we were able to figure what had actually happened.  The van needed/(needs) new tires so it wasn't that big of a deal except that when we discovered the bolt, we wanted to take care of that tire asap.  We brought the van to a nearby chain tire store and replaced that tire and another one that had a bubble on it.

The roads around here are full of potholes and I've hit little ones and some big ones for twenty+ years now and never, ever had a tire blow out because of it.  I've also hit my fair share of curbs (blaming my depth perception issues on that) over the years and again, never had an issue.  I drove around with these new tires for three weeks and hadn't hit anything.  No potholes, no curbs.  Three weeks.

Our plan for The Nutcracker was for Grammy to drive to our house so she could drive into Boston with me and the girls.  Along the way, we would pick up my brother's girls while my sister-in-law was meeting us in Boston with her two girls.  So I'm driving down the highway telling Grammy about the new tires.  The highway was about to split and I needed to stay to the right so I moved into the far right lane as no one was over there.  Right after I changed lanes, I heard a loud PFFFFTTTT sound.  At first I thought I was driving on the rumble strip because there's a section along another highway I frequent where the rumble strip is a bit messed up and extends over into the driving lane.  Nope, wasn't the rumble strip.  Then the tire pressure gauge lit up.  Because I was in the right lane, moving over to the breakdown lane was no problem and I actually drove up a tiny bit more as there was a gravel area off of the highway.

One of my new tires was flat.

The girls were slightly freaking out for a variety of reasons but mainly because they were afraid and they thought that we were going to miss the ballet and honestly, I was a bit concerned.  I was able to get Rich on the phone and he jumped into his car and headed out to find us.  We were about 20 minutes from home.  If I hadn't caught him before he went outside to do yard work, we most likely would have missed some of the performance.  We switched cars with him and he waited with the van for AAA.  My brother drove into Boston to drop off my nieces because I could no longer fit two more people in Rich's car.  We made it into our seats with 10 minutes to spare.

I couldn't understand how that tire had gone flat and assumed that there must have been a bolt or something small in the road that I hadn't seen.  What are the odds of that happening again?  Rich had quite the experience with AAA - which Allie kept referring to as AARP (ha ha).  The guy was brand new and broke a lug nut and under AAA policy, he couldn't place the spare tire on the car with a broken lug nut.  Rich was told that he (Rich) could either do it himself or they would call for a tow truck.  Rich went with the second option because he didn't want to be driving on the highway with a sketchy tire.  He ended up back at the chain tire store where he was told that tire went flat because of a gash in the sidewall.  "Your wife must have hit a pothole or a curb."  Think again, buddy.

I spent the night researching these tires and I'm not the only one who's had a flat and been told it's due to hitting a pothole or curb.  I paid a visit to the store and told them that I don't feel safe driving my car with their tires on it because I hadn't hit anything and that I will be returning their tires and expect a refund.  I received no argument.

If you're going to get a flat tire on the highway, what happened to us is the best you could wish for.  It's still a bit frightening to think of what could have happened though.

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Monday, December 5, 2016

{Disney} Your Guide to FastPass+

I've referenced our use of FastPass+ during our most recent Walt Disney World vacation and spoke to the importance of understanding how to use the FastPass+ system.  It can be a huge timesaver, especially when paired with basic touring plans.  If your first Disney vacation is coming up, I realize that the whole FastPass+ thing may seem a bit overwhelming.  I used to hate dealing with it and in the past, always asked Rich to take care of that part of the planning.  Disney's most recent update of the system has made it much more user friendly and booking our FP+ reservations was quite simple this time around.

FastPass+ is basically a reservation to enter a ride or attraction during a specific period of time.

You need to know:
  • Initially, you can make up to three FastPass+ reservations (must all be in the same park) per day.
  • If you are staying at a Disney resort, you can make your FP+ reservations 60 days in advance.  If not, you will have to wait until 30 days before your vacation.  (Note that the time to begin securing your FP+ reservations is 7:00 AM EST.  I suggest you log on to your My Disney Experience account prior to that day to ensure that your account is set up and ready to go.)
  • A FP+ reservation is for a window of time that lasts an hour.  
  • Your FP+ reservations cannot overlap.  If you have a reservation to ride Peter Pan's Flight at 2:00, you cannot book another FP+ within that hour window.  The next opening available to you would be 3:00.
  • Once you use your three FP+ reservations or the time for your reservations expires, you can make another FP+ reservation.  After you use that FP+, you can book another, and so on. 
  • Having the My Disney Experience app on your phone will save you time during your vacation.  Not only can you view your FP+ selections, but you can make any changes through the app.  If you don't have the app and you want to make a change, you will need to go to a kiosk in the park.   

Unfortunately, Epcot and Hollywood Studios operate under a tier system.  What does this mean?  Well, you can only hold a FP+ reservation for one Tier 1 attraction at a time.  And yes, the popular rides are in that Tier 1 category.

Epcot Tier 1 Attractions
  1. Frozen Ever After
  2. Soarin'
  3. Test Track
  4. IllumiNations
(Does this surprise you?)

Hollywood Studios Tier 1 Attractions
  1. Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage
  2. Fantasmic
  3. Rock 'n' Roller Coaster
  4. The Great Movie Ride
  5. Toy Story Mania

Several rides rarely see wait times in excess of 20 minutes but yet Disney allows guests to select a FastPass for these rides.  My belief is that this is done in order to spread out the FastPasses with uninformed guests using their FP+ slots for rides with low wait times. In addition, FastPasses are limited and quite often book up which sometimes leaves guests no choice but to choose rides with typically shorter lines.

So what should you do?  Here are some of my suggestions (including touring plans) for Magic Kingdom and Epcot:
  • Arguably the most popular ride in all of WDW right now is Frozen Ever After.  This should be the first FP+ selection you make.  Keep in mind that at the 60 (or 30) day mark, all of your vacation days are open for making selections.  
  • Don't make FP+ selections that coincide with when the park opens because the lines should be short anyway.  If you plan to arrive for rope drop (or shortly after), hit some rides first in the standby line as the wait times will be low.  Then as the park begins to fill in, utilize your FP+ selections.
  • Avoid making FP+ selections for later in the day because you won't be able to add any additional FP+ until your original three have been used or the time has expired.
  • On most days, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train has the longest line at Magic Kingdom.  If you plan to ride this, I would secure a FP+ or make sure you are at the park at rope drop and this is your first stop.
  • If you are unable to secure a FP+ for Frozen Ever After, I would choose Test Track over Soarin'.  The recent renovation of Soarin' increased rider capacity and the wait times are typically lower than those for Frozen Ever After and Test Track.  
  • Don't ever let anyone tell you that securing FP+ for a character meet is a waste of time.  It's your vacation and if your children are into meeting the characters, those lines can sometimes grow quite long.  If possible, I try to add character meet FP+ after we've used our 3 FP+ for popular rides. 

Remember that you won't be able to plan out every little detail and if you try to do so, you are setting yourself up for a meltdown.  Do your research, know what to expect and go with the flow.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Friday, December 2, 2016

Six Months of Retirement

Tomorrow marks six months from my last day of work.  It has gone by quickly and I can honestly tell you that there has never been a day where I have been bored.  I was reading an early retirement blog the other night where the author stated one of the reasons for retirement is the inability to physically or mentally work.  People also retire because they simply want to and have the financial means in order to do so.  I thought about where I fit in.  Maybe a bit of both.

The girls' summer break from school began two weeks after my last day of work and that time of year is so very different from when school is in session.  We travel and tend to be on the move so life is a bit unstructured and less routine.  When the girls returned to school in September, I took a mental break.  I fully admit to being lazy.  But I was meal planning and cooking and doing laundry and taking care of everyday cleaning.  It's not like I completely checked out, but I told Rich that my mind needed rest.  I needed to recharge from the past eight years of a challenging, sometimes nonexistent work/life balance.

Do the girls like having me home?  Yes!

Do the girls like when I don't cook dinner?  No!

I am so not a fan of cooking, cleaning, meal planning, etc.  You know - all the things I willingly take full responsibility for now.  At times, I feel creativity swelling inside of me and I need a release so I'll turn to photography or work on a new sewing project.  There's time for that now.  I don't know how I fit it all in before.  

I feel healthier now.  I'm eating better (but not the best.)  I'm getting more exercise.  (I haven't been able to run for a few weeks now because of an injury in my left leg.)  I didn't need to lose weight but I dropped those last 5 pounds or so leaving me at about the weight I was before I became pregnant with the girls (but not pregnant with Abbey.)  I even fit into my black dressy pants that I had to stop wearing a few years ago for fear the thighs would tear open when I sat down.  However, I have no practical reason to wear those pants as my outfits these days consist of jeans and pajamas.  My stress levels have dropped but I still lack patience.  That's a personality flaw for sure.  I did some major adulting a few weeks ago that in the past would have caused my stomach to freak out, but now I remained mostly calm.

I don't know what the future holds but I can tell you I haven't really given much thought to tax work.  I have considered other business ideas but there's no rush.  It will be interesting to see how this winter goes as I'm already craving warmer weather.  I may go stir crazy.