Monday, April 22, 2019

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Disney August 2018)

In the past, I've highlighted certain aspects of our Disney (and sometimes other) vacations.  This post has been sitting as a draft because, apparently, I became sidetracked and forgot all about it.  So here it is (yes, 8 months later): the good, the bad and the ugly from our August 2018 Disney vacation.


Before you become outraged at the thought of an older child riding in a stroller, please remember that Anna was born with myelomeningocele, the most severe form of spina bifida.  Before she was born, we were told that, at best, she would be able to walk with some type of assistance (leg braces, a walker, etc.)  She has far exceeded everyone's expectations as to what she would be able to do physically, but this doesn't mean that it is easy for her.  Actually, this has come up quite a bit over the past couple of months.  What would be viewed as possibly challenging but definitely doable physical activity for Allie and Emily is extremely difficult for Anna.  This includes walking 10+ miles around a theme park.

We no longer own a stroller and I certainly wasn't going to buy or borrow one to bring with us just in case Anna had difficulty getting around.  We decided that if she couldn't handle the walking, we would rent a stroller from Disney.  Those strollers are not the most comfortable but when you're exhausted, a place to sit is a place to sit.

Anna ended up not needing a stroller for this visit and I have to say, it was soooo much easier to maneuver through the crowds without one.  Also, there was time saved in not having to park the stroller and then retrieve the stroller, sometimes searching through a sea of strollers because a cast member had moved them around.  I think how we visited the parks played a role in her not needing a stroller as well.  We weren't out there for 12 hours a day, running from place to place, waiting in long lines.  We took plenty of breaks and utilized FastPasses.  

First Aid

I can't say enough good things about the cast members working in the First Aid offices at the Disney parks.  This is where we take care of Anna's cathing needs and everyone is so friendly and accommodating.  If you or your child need a private space in which to take care of anything medical, head over to First Aid.

Toy Story Land

We really enjoyed visiting Toy Story Land, the new addition to Hollywood Studios.  If you look around and take it all in, the theming is really amazing.  I still feel like visitors are viewing Hollywood Studios as a half day park though.  Maybe that will change when Star Wars land opens on August 29th.  In my opinion, during our visit, Toy Story Land was pulling guests away from other popular attractions, such as Tower of Terror and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, which is a huge benefit to guests who don't plan to blow in and out of the park in record time.

If you'll be visiting Hollywood Studios before the end of August and the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, check out my touring strategies.

The Coffee Situation

I don't drink coffee.  I never acquired a taste for it (unless it's coffee ice cream) and I get my caffeine fix from diet soda.  (I know. I know.  It's SO bad for you.)  Rich and my mom need coffee every morning and their biggest complaint about Disney is that the coffee is terrible.  At home, if they're buying their coffee, they go for Dunkies (Dunkin Donuts) or Honey Dew.  Never Starbucks.  Which is unfortunate for them as Starbucks seems to be the in-house coffee of Disney World.  What's funny is that friends of ours vacationed at Disney last year, and they also mentioned the coffee situation.  Their first stop after leaving the Disney bubble was Dunkin Donuts.

Magic Kingdom Ride Closures

I understand guest safety is high on Disney's priority list but the amount of rides that were down at Magic Kingdom was ridiculous.  Especially considering that ticket prices keep increasing.  There's been quite a bit of commentary over this issue in the Disney online community these past couple of years.  As Disney continues to plow money into new rides and Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge and a new Star Wars themed hotel and Skyliner gondolas, Magic Kingdom keeps getting older.  Yeah, it's typical for a ride or two to temporarily close here and there but at any given time, there were multiple rides down and the same rides kept experiences issues.

Summer Crowds 

In the past, summer months have been known as the busiest time at Disney World.  It makes sense.  There are families, like us, who don't want to pull kids out of school or can't get away for a vacation during the school year due to commitments, so summer is really the most convenient time for a Disney vacation.  Disney doesn't publish crowd information but you can speculate (and many do) on crowd expectations based upon special offers from Disney.  Several Disney World crowd predictors think that summer is no longer the busy time that it used to be.  Last year, Disney offered free dining over the summer months and there have been special offers out for summer months this year already.

2019 may be a bit different as Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is scheduled to open on August 29th, which is a bit earlier than when it was supposed to, and many who were planning to visit in 2019 pushed back their vacations.  For our past couple of vacations, we've booked with a travel agent who was offering their own special late summer (sometimes early fall) deal.  The first time I discovered this travel agent many, many years ago, their special deals would sell out.  I was quite shocked when I received a reminder email months after their offer came out for this year.  It appears that the travel agent hasn't seen the numbers they've seen in the past for summer guests.

Disney definitely tries to spread out the crowds.  They don't want a slow time.  That being said, if you've ever contemplated heading there in the summer but haven't due to the crowds, do some more research.  It may not be as bad as you think.  Also, the heat.  I know.  I didn't think the heat was as bad this time around.  (You can read my post on beating the summer heat at Disney here.)  Having older kids and taking plenty of breaks were definitely factors.  Sure, I'd love to head to Florida in April or November but the girls don't want to miss school (and have to make up a ton of work) and there are other commitments we need to take into account, like dance and Rich's work.

To read my Disney trip reports, click here.

To read my Disney planning tips, click here.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

From the other side of 45

I've never been big on celebrating my birthday.  It's usually just an excuse to buy myself something and eat a good meal with plenty of sweets.  At some point after I turned 40, I began referring to it as my one year closer to death day.  For real, the aging process can be brutal.  I always looked so young for my age, and I hated it because who wants a parent to think your friends are babysitting you.  Yes, that happened in high school.  More than once.  When I turned 21, my entrance into clubs/bars was delayed as bouncers double then triple checked my ID.  When I graduated from college, people thought I was graduating from high school.

I was blessed with good genetics.  My mamaw has skin smoother than plenty of women 25 years younger, and people are surprised to hear my mom's age.  When the girls were little, strangers sometimes thought they were my mom's children, not grandchildren.  But genetics can only go so far.  For many, many years, I squinted instead of just wearing my stupid 1980s glasses.  Now I'm left with those furrowed brow lines between my eyes.  After Abigail died, I feel like I aged an incredible amount in just one year alone.  Grief leaves physical marks.  And then there was the strain of carrying triplets.  "Let's stay cautiously optimistic."  Yeah, no stress there.    

With the focus on social media and the ever increasing scrutiny of one's physical appearance, I have to take a step back sometimes and think about the big picture, what is truly important in life.  Sure, I could go out and get botox but wouldn't I then be a hypocrite?  I have three impressionable girls who have been taught that looks are not as important as what's inside.  What would I be teaching them with botox and fillers?  We're all going to age.  We're all going to look older at some point.  This is life.

This year, I decided to look at the positive and celebrate being here another year.  Let's celebrate life.  (Sadly, Luke Perry passed away the morning of my birthday.)  And let's look at the good that comes with age.  We are wiser.  And I don't know about anyone else, but I certainly don't care what others think.  I'm not sure I ever really did, and now I really do not.

Whenever one of the girls grumbles over having to share her birthday, I always tell them how I "share" a birthday with one of my brothers.  Technically, we don't share the same birthday (he was born a year and two days after I was) but growing up, we had joint birthday parties and always shared a cake.  About a week or so after my birthday this year, I was looking for something in the basement and found this photo.

I showed it to Allie as proof of the shared birthday cake, even as adults.  She told me it most definitely wasn't the same because:
  1. He's a different gender.
  2. There's only one of him.
  3. I had one year to myself. (As if I remember it, haha.)
  4. Our actual birthdays aren't on the same exact day.
Okay, okay.  You win.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Dance - There's no I in TEAM

Teamwork at school picked up last year and, now in 6th grade, is almost a constant.  There have been so many team projects this year, and your grade is dependent on how the team performs in addition to your individual participation.  I sort of have mixed feelings on this as the kids are not allowed to pick teammates.  I've asked the girls if anyone has complained to the teacher about being placed in a team with specific team members and they tell me their teachers have said that when you're an adult, you won't be able to pick your co-workers and you'll have to learn to adjust and work with people you don't want to.  While this is true, I've told the girls that hopefully your employer won't hire and/or keep slackers.  I know from experience that slackers in the workplace do exist and sometimes it takes awhile, but they usually don't last for long.

At work, whenever I sent out an email to my team with an action plan during crunch time, I would always include the statement Remember, there's no I in TEAM.  So while the girls have been learning a great deal about teamwork at school, they're also growing as team members in their dance company.  The girls participated in their first competition of the season last weekend.  Our studio currently has three competition dance teams and all three are in a large group dance with a candy theme this year.  Then the girls' dance team has their own dance, which has a winter theme.  For this specific competition, the girls' dance team only competed in the large group dance.  The studio decided to not have them do their winter dance this time around.  Believe me, my kids would love to be in as many dances as possible but our studio is smaller and competition dances are limited.

Before I get into the details of the competition, I have to talk about what the girls and some of their teammates witnessed in the dressing room.  Another dance team was working on their choreography but they were openly arguing with one another.  You're going too fast.  No, you're going too slow.  It's supposed to be this way, not the way you're doing it.  Watching this disagreement reiterated what the girls have been taught:  1.  Don't argue with your teammates, especially in front of others.  2.  Come prepared.  3.  Act professional.

A team needs a strong leader.  For a dance team, that leader is going to be their teacher.  The girls are really lucky to have an awesome teacher.  I like how she focuses on teamwork and professionalism, in addition to dance technique.  This isn't just about learning a dance for a competition.  There's a lot behind it.

I'm bummed I don't have any high quality professional photos to share with you.  Most of these competitions have a strict no photo/no video policy (because they want you to purchase these from them, of course) and threaten to take points away if someone is caught with a camera.  Because I'm moving around a lot, taking care of the girls' hair and make-up, I didn't even bother to bring my camera to the competition.  It takes a lot to babysit it when I'm running around.

                                             (What would we do without our phones) 

Because of the no camera policy, I had originally planned to do a mini photo shoot before we left the house.  Then we found out we needed to be at the competition at 9 in the morning with hair and make-up, costumes on, ready to go.  I should know by now to multiply by three however long I think it's going to take me to finish hair and make-up.  We left the house on time and arrived in the dressing room on time but the girls were not ready to go.  One had no make-up at all and I needed to thicken Allie's liner (cat eyes.)  Also, because this was the first time wearing these costumes some adjustments needed to be made so that everyone on the team looked alike.  I had their hair in high ponytails but a majority of the girls were wearing the hair bows like cheer bows so I had to pull their ponies up to cheer height.

So I did manage to get the girls ready in time and I have the other dance moms to thank for helping with costume stuff.  We all help each other out because we know that if one dancer doesn't have her hair/make-up/costume like the others, the team could lose points and what would that prove?

The big candy dance walked away with a gold award (highest in this competition was high gold), a special judge's award and a trophy for best costume for level 2.  There's a whole big back story to those costumes so the fact they won an award was just fantastic.  We have a couple of weeks off and then we're gearing up for two more competitions.    


Friday, April 5, 2019

Stay at home mom fashion talk

I've been at home (aka not working for the man) for almost three years now.  Here's a look at what I do on most days:

  • Drive the girls to/from school.  I don't need to leave the van for this so in the morning, I keep my pajamas on.
  • Run errands.  90% of the time this means grocery store, post office, Target or fabric/craft store.
  • At home cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, cleaning, sewing, assisting someone with something, cleaning, napping, reading, working out.
  • Go to an appointment/bring someone to an appointment.
  • At the dance studio.
  • (When the girls were in elementary school, I volunteered as class photographer, yearbook photographer and for food drives.)

I find that I wear the same clothes over and over again because none of the above activities require anything above and beyond the standard jeans/t-shirt/fleece.  This is in sharp contrast to what I see online though.  Stay at home mom (fashion) bloggers/"influencers" are selling a different story.  If I were to believe them, I'd be wearing a $300 outfit to the grocery store.  Maybe it's a regional thing, maybe it's because I don't live in a rich town, but no other moms are dressing like that here.  What I love about where I live is that no one is impressed by labels or brands, so no one bothers.  For example, if a mom showed up at the dance studio with an LV tote, she would be seen as a try-hard.

I also don't need 15 pairs of jeans, 15 pairs of jean shorts, 7 of the exact same t-shirt in different colors, 25 maxi dresses and 35 pairs of sandals.  In my opinion, the materialistic attitude has gotten out of control.  Why are people constantly buying new clothing?  What happened to the clothes they already have?

I understand the people I'm referring to do this for their online image.  They are making money through affiliate links and they need to play the part.  But they are also selling an unsustainable lifestyle.  Unless you're sitting on a boatload of disposable income, the money spent on clothes/shoes/handbags can be better used for something else.  How many people have a sufficient amount saved for retirement?  (One third of Americans have less than $5,000 in retirement savings.)  How about just savings in general?  (Almost one third of Americans have credit card debt in excess of savings.)

I sometimes fear for this next generation.  What they see as popular on social media are people who really do have a lot of money or those with the illusion of having money.  (Or those with eating disorders. Maybe there are some people who can only eat fruit but otherwise, no.)  These lifestyles are not sustainable.  They're selling a lifestyle, which, quite frankly, many people will never be able to attain.  You don't just fall into a job making six figures.  Well, some people do but it's not the norm.
The other night as I was cleaning out a bureau drawer, I realized that I haven't bought myself any clothes or shoes in 2019.  It wasn't intentional, but I typically don't purchase much to begin with.  The only thing that I've bought for myself this year was black market fabric, which was technically my birthday gift.

I keep clothes for a long time.  Sometimes a really long time.  I only get rid of stuff when it's worn out or no longer fits.  I currently have clothes in my closet that are more than 15 years old.  If something fits and it looks good, I keep it even if I haven't worn it in some time.  The reasoning is that when I need a nice black dress or to attend a funeral or I'm going out with friends, I can usually easily pull together an outfit.  And if you're thinking I must have a closet the size of a small bedroom to hold all these clothes, I don't.  I have a bureau and a little over half of a standard-sized walk-in closet.  As I noted above, there's no need for 15 pairs of jeans, etc.

I only buy clothes when they're on sale, except when shopping at Target (it's inexpensive enough and takes forever for stuff to hit the clearance racks.)  It's good to know how sales work at stores you frequent.  Like Loft.  I will never pay full price for anything at Loft because they have sales so often.  I like to shop the sale racks there, especially when everything is an additional 50% off.  Back in the fall, I found a $60 shirt marked down to $8.  Even the woman who worked there was like, "Wow, you found a great deal."  Never have I ever paid $26 for a pair of rubber flip flops.  (Pssssst:  Old Navy flip flops are super affordable, comfortable and last.  I typically keep one pair aside as my beach shoes because the sand and salt will yuck them up.)

Believe me, I like pretty new things and feeling good about myself and how I look.  I'll dress up a bit when I go in for parent/teacher conferences or meetings at the school.  But I don't see the need to constantly spend money on new stuff.  Life is expensive enough.  We just paid $1,000 for registration fees and costumes for this year's dance competition season.  I'd rather have a vacation cottage and investment property versus a bunch of stuff I'm going to toss out and replace in a couple of months.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

I followed a half marathon training plan for 6 weeks.

Here's what happened.

I told you guys last month how I felt like I had reached a plateau with my running.  I was running the same mileage at the same speed and it didn't even feel any easier even though I've been consistently running since I left my job.  If I'm being honest with myself, it really started back in the fall.  It was easy to write off any sluggish runs over the summer because it was so incredibly hot and humid, a record breaking summer.  But summer turned into fall then turned into winter and I just wasn't feeling it any longer.

I attempted to add in some weight lifting at the beginning of the year but that lasted for only a couple of weeks.  I really do need to find a way to incorporate some weights into my exercise though.  As with everything else, you need to make a commitment and stick with it.

Over the years, I've thought of running a half marathon mainly because I feel like I missed my chance to do so back before I had children.  Physically, it would have been easy for me to train back then.  I was running 5 days a week and, quite often, my long runs reached 8-10 miles.  I know plenty of people my age (and older) successfully complete half marathons and marathons, but with each passing year, I feel my body moving further and further away from longer runs.

So in February, I decided to find a half marathon training plan and follow it to see what would happen.  I told Rich I had reached a point where I just wanted someone to tell me when to run and how far to run.  What I was doing obviously was not working any longer.

Google search "half marathon training plan" and you'll end up with a billion hits.  After I began perusing through them, it was easy to eliminate several based on what I knew I didn't want.

  • I wasn't concerned with speed work.
  • I didn't want to run 6 days a week. (That would be crazy and surely lead to an injury.)
  • I wanted a plan focused on how many miles I should be running, not how much time I should be running.  There are plans that have you run, say, 30 minutes this day, and then 45 minutes the next.  While that may work for some runners, it wasn't what I wanted.

I finally settled on the Novice 2 half marathon training plan from Hal Higdon.  Personally, I wanted to stick with someone who has known running experience.  There are so many "experts" online nowadays and no controls.  Anyone can create and post a half marathon training plan.  I went with the Novice 2 plan because it had me running 4 days a week, and I thought if I found it too difficult, I could fall back on the Novice 1 plan.

This plan has Friday as a rest day, which I initially thought would work out well because that's when I have my adult tap class.  But a week before I started the program, I came out of tap class thinking that it really doesn't qualify as a rest day.  So I kept the days in the same order of the original plan but I shifted them so that my first day of the week is not Monday. This way, my day for 60 minutes of cross training fell on Friday, and I could use my tap class as a cross training session.

I know a lot of runners like to do their long runs over the weekend, but for me not being at work, that didn't really make sense.  When I shifted the days of the plan, I ended up with only have to run 3 miles every Sunday.  This was a perfect fit.

Here's what I ran:

Week 1
S - 3 miles
M - 3 miles
T - 3 miles
Th - 4 miles

Week 2
S - 3 miles
M - 3 miles
T - 3 miles
Th - 5 miles

Week 3
S - 3 miles
M - 4 miles
T - 3 miles
Th - 6 miles

Week 4
S - 3 miles
M - 4 miles
T - 3 miles
Th - 7 miles

Week 5
S - 3 miles
M - 4 miles
T - 3 miles
Th - 8 miles

Week 6
S - 3 miles
M - 4 miles
T - 3 miles
Th - 3 miles (This was supposed to be a 5K race but it's a Thursday in March, so 3 miles at home it is.)

Why did I stop after 6 weeks?  Well, I feel like I have a good base/plan to work from for now.  Life will be a bit busy for the next month.  I know there are people who are hard core and wake up at 4:00 in the morning in order to get their run in.  I am not one of those people.  4:00 in the morning is basically the middle of the night for me.  I may pick it up/start over/begin another plan at some point in the near future.  Also, for my body right now, I cannot completely enjoy/give it my all in tap class the day after a really long run.  My toes hurt for about a day and a half after that 8 mile run.  

1.  Lesson learned - I need to run more back-to-back days and not baby myself.  That first week, running 3 miles, 3 days in a row was not easy.  By the third day, I was in compression socks.  Rich said, "But it's only 3 miles," and while that's true, my body was not used to running multiple days in a row.

2.  Even after only 6 weeks, my body feels stronger.  I feel better and have more power when I run.  If I had to run for the train right now, I know I would kill it!

3.  My midsection feels flatter and I don't feel as bloated.  This could be for other reasons as well, but I'm going to assume some of it has to do with more exercise.  I know I've told you guys this before, but my stomach area is all messed up from carrying the girls to 36 weeks.  (Believe me, I know I'm so incredibly lucky to have been able to do so.)  My abdominal muscles and skin were stretched out to kingdom come.  So as the day progresses and I eat, my stomach grows.  Some days are worse than others.

4.  I don't know if my weight has changed because I don't regularly weigh myself.  Our scale is super old and nondigital and really only good for major swings in weight.  I rely on how my clothes fit and right now, I feel like everything is a good fit.

5.  I really didn't think I'd be able to increase the mileage of my long runs so quickly.  8 miles?  I think the last time I ran 8 miles was 15 years ago.  You won't know what you can do until you push yourself.