Wednesday, February 20, 2019

January / Winter

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We've made it just past the halfway point of "winter" without any school snow days.  Around here, winter is basically the months of January, February and March.  We've had blizzards and major snowstorms during the last week of March, so while other parts of the country are feeling like it's almost spring, we're happy to have reached the halfway point.

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(I took this one morning after I dropped the girls off at school.)

We really haven't seen any significant snowfall and what has fallen has been swept away by rain.  Ice has been our greatest enemy.  Fortunately, the biggest ice storm we had took place over a holiday weekend.  Unfortunately, the girls were attending a dance workshop, which refused to cancel, and while the roads were mainly wet on our way there, everything iced up while the girls were dancing.  I couldn't even open the back door of my van so I started scraping off the ice with the handle of a hairbrush.  Thankfully, a friend was parked nearby and rescued us.

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Each month, the girls' school recognizes two kids (usually one boy and one girl) from each team who display good effort, kindness to others, a positive attitude, etc.  The girls have wanted to receive this award because in the spring, all of the 6th graders, who were recognized throughout the school year, work with the 5th graders on their transition to middle school.  There are about 90-100 kids on their team, so your chances are low to begin with.  Although, if you remove the slackers and troublemakers, you'll eliminate about a third, maybe even half, of those kids.  This isn't about grades either.  As we all know, a kid can try her hardest and walk away with Bs or Cs.  So this isn't about achieving all A+s.

I told the girls that their chance of receiving this award was low to begin with and how maybe their teachers may not nominate them because they would feel it was unfair to her sisters.  I hate to say this but a part of me did not want to deal with the backlash, drama and emotional upset of one kid receiving this award.  I've always told their teachers to treat them as individuals, but when you look at the type of student the school wants for this award, they all fit the bill.  It would be difficult to separate them on that.

So, I'm extremely thankful for teachers who understand them.  In an unprecedented move, the school gave all three of the girls the monthly student award for January.  I had three very happy kids and needless to say, I'm extremely proud of them.

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I ran 45.5 miles in January.  I sort of slacked off that last week, with good reason.  Something happened to one of my big toes and it felt like there was a needle poking into it every time I took a step.  I thought I had stepped on a rogue shard of glass but there were no marks on the outside skin.  So that set me back a few days as I was walking around with my toe up.  Life was a little crazy later that week and I was running around, not home and that's fine, life happens.

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Back before the holidays, I sort of felt like I had reached a plateau with my running.  I added in some weight lifting at the beginning of the year hoping that would change my attitude, but that didn't do the trick.  I ended January realizing that I needed to change things up and I did.  (I'll tell you all about it in another post.)  I like running and working out but when I don't feel like it's doing anything, my motivation dies down.    

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This is the worst time of the year for me.  I suffer from the lack of natural light.  I seriously miss warm weather and feeling heat from the sun on my body.  There are some days I feel like it takes a great effort just to change into my workout clothes because I'm so cold.  Not working in the city and having to deal with that freaking commute has been amazing these winter months, but winter does seem to be drawn out without the distraction of busy, tax work.  

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We're going to keep on keeping on, patiently waiting for warm weather to roll in.

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Monday, February 11, 2019

Disney's 4 Day Ticket Special Offer - Is it worth it?

Plus, Disney closes FastPass+ loophole!

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Disney is offering a special deal on a 4 day park ticket for select dates in 2019.  What's the catch?  Well, the ticket includes one day admission to each of the 4 parks of Walt Disney World.  In other words, you can only visit each park once.  This forces guests to spread their park touring across the board.  The assumption can easily be made that park attendance is disproportionate and Disney is attempting to even that out.  Well, we all know attendance is not even across all 4 parks.

Magic Kingdom sees the most guests, and this is to be expected.  Disney was successful in increasing park attendance at Animal Kingdom with the opening of Pandora - The World of Avatar in 2017.  I have not yet seen data on 2018 attendance, but it's safe to assume Hollywood Studios saw a bump up in the number of guests after the opening of Toy Story Land.  Star Wars Land is scheduled to open late in the fall of 2019 as part of Hollywood Studios, and interestingly, Disney's special 4 day ticket offer ends on September 30, 2019.  It should be noted that as part of this offer, tickets must be used within 7 days of the first day of use.

Let's talk money.  There are three different pricing options dependent on dates for this deal.  As one would expect, the less expensive pricing coincides with predicted slower times.  For purposes of this analysis, let's look at the most expensive of the three, which is available for popular summer dates.  An overall cost analysis is difficult here due to the constant price changes so I'm going to pick a specific week and we're going to look at that.

Week of June 24, 2019

Cost of 4 day park special offer ticket (aka 4 Park Magic Summer Ticket):
  • Adult - $380
  • Child - $360
Cost of a regular 4 day ticket (no hopper option) through WDW:
  • Adult - $406
  • Child - $389
Cost of regular 4 day ticket (no hopper option) through Undercover Tourist:
  • Adult - $405
  • Child - $388 
 
Two very interesting items to note:
  1. Your savings per ticket under the special offer is $26 per adult and $29 per child.  For us, as a family of five "Disney" adults, our total savings would be $130, or $6.50 per person per day.  
  2. Whenever I refer friends and family to Undercover Tourist for tickets, I always throw in the caveat that tickets may actually cost the same through Disney.  You should always compare costs through different ticket outlets before making your purchase.  

Is this "special offer" really saving you that much?  The answer to this is going to vary person to person.  My assumption is that this deal is aimed towards first time visitors, who typically plan to spend one day at each park, and if this is you, than it would save you some money.  If this isn't you, you have to ask if $6.50 per person per day is worth the loss of freedom in deciding which parks to visit.  If you've been to Disney before, you may decide to skip a certain park and spend more than one day at your favorite.  

Keep this in mind!

Did you know that the longer you stay at Disney, it becomes less expensive per day.  This is with respect to park tickets, of course.

Check this out:

6 day park ticket through WDW:
  • Adult - $436
  • Child - $418
6 day park ticket through Undercover Tourist:
  • Adult - $436
  • Child - $411  
Those costs are for June 24, 2019, the same week as above.

For an additional $56 you can add two days onto your adult park ticket.  That will give you a cost per day of $72.67 versus the cost per day of $95 under the special 4 day ticket offer.

I would suggest coming up with a total budget of what you can spend on your vacation and then breaking that down into different categories such as transportation, hotel, food, and park tickets.  Of course adding 2 days onto your vacation will increase your cost with respect to hotel and food, but there are some families who schedule down (or no park) days and may not realize that adding more days onto their park tickets causes the cost per day to decrease.  


Okay, let's move on to a bit of important FastPass+ news.  Last week, Disney announced that when guests cancel their resort reservations, their FastPass+ reservations will also be canceled.  Sooooo, apparently, people have been booking resort rooms, making their FP+ reservations at the 60 day mark and then canceling their resort rooms and staying at non-Disney properties.  Say what!  I actually had never, ever thought of this.

I've known for awhile now how there are guests who book campsites at Fort Wilderness simply for the benefits, such as booking FP+ at the 60 day mark, but they don't actually camp there.  That one doesn't bother me personally as they are paying for the benefit, but I do know it bothers those who actually want to stay at Fort Wilderness but cannot because it's booked up with people who aren't even going to stay there.  The resort room cancelation trick is on a different level though.  There must be a whole unethical underground system out there that I am completely unaware of.

That being said, I am aware of those who take advantage of Disney's guest assistance program.  When I was researching using a stroller as a wheelchair for Anna, I discovered that most guests remain vague when describing this benefit and they encourage others to do the same, to keep the scammers from collecting too much information.


Looking for Disney planning tips, click here.

To read our Disney trip reports, click here.

Monday, February 4, 2019

How we beat the summer heat at Disney World

There are several reasons why we choose to visit Disney during the summer and the weather is not one of them.  I'm frequently asked how bad the heat is and what we do to deal with it.  Here in New England, we're no strangers to humidity, so it's not like we're transitioning to a completely different environment.  But, yes, it is hotter in Florida.

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Ideally, we would love to take trips to Florida in the late fall or early spring, when the weather up here isn't so pleasant and the weather down there is more inviting.  Our school system isn't as strict as others when it comes to pulling your kids out for vacation, but all missed work has to be made up.  This wasn't a big deal when the girls were younger.  It is more difficult to do so now and I know it would stress out the girls, who take school very seriously.  And we don't need any unnecessary stress.  We also have their commitment to dance (they can only miss so many classes) and Rich's work schedule, which always hands us an important meeting during school vacation weeks.  So summer vacation it is!

With each passing year as the girls have become more independent, the heat has become more bearable.  Not unnoticeable, but tolerable, for the most part.  Pushing a loaded double stroller when the real feel temperature is 100 degrees is no joke.

So what do we do to beat the heat?

1.  Cooling Towels 

When Anna told the school nurses we would be vacationing at Disney World in Florida over the summer, they immediately recommended these cooling towels.  We purchased two for our trip and they really did make a difference.


I'm embarrassed to post this blurry phone photo but it's the only one I have of a towel in action.

When we were at Disney in 2016, I didn't see anyone using these cooling towels.  This trip, we saw them everywhere and Disney was even selling them (for a big markup) throughout the parks.


2.  Spray Bottles

I can't take credit for this idea.  The girls and I were shopping at Target for supplies before our trip and Allie pointed to the $2 spray bottles and suggested carrying them around the parks full of cool water.  This was a great idea and worked well.  When one of the girls started to feel too hot, she took out her spray bottle and sprayed herself with a misting of cool water or asked someone else to.  I even used their spray bottles to cool off.  This was a less expensive alternative to the misting fans that are sold in the parks.


3.  Take a Midday Break

If you're staying at a nearby resort, it's easy enough to leave the park and take a break to cool off during the hottest part of the day.  For some guests though, this may not be feasible.  They may not want to eat up the entire afternoon returning to their Airbnb or offsite hotel.  Think outside the box.

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Table service and character meals take at least an hour from start to finish.  Guests are actually told to expect character meals to last for at least an hour an half.  We've found booking lunch at a table service/character meal is a great way to cool off.  For example, Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom offers a fun character meal in a cool restaurant.  We always feel refreshed and ready to roll after that break.

Also, think about planning to visit indoor attractions (Carousel of Progress, It's Tough to be a Bug, etc.) during the hottest part of the day, especially when you feel like you need a break.  


4.  Stay Hydrated

I know this is obvious but so many people don't take in enough fluids.  We have had our struggles with this.  The girls carry around water bottles in their bags which helps.  Did you know you can ask for free water at any Disney quick service restaurant?  It won't be bottled water, but it's water.  Drink up!



Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.  TGUH is a participant in the Amazon Services Associates Program LLC, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

January 2019 Book Review!

Are you comfortable?  Good!  January handed me quite a bit of waiting time and I like to fill that empty space with reading, which means I have seven books to talk about today.

Did I ever tell you how I wanted to be a librarian when I was in elementary school?  I was such a bookworm and my hometown library was so quiet and peaceful.  It even had a koi pond with a little waterfall in the solarium-like reading area.  I thought it would be the most perfect job.  And then I decided to enter the high stress wonderful world of taxation.  For some reason, I was thinking about this when the girls and I were at the library a couple of weeks ago.


First up for the month . . .



While this book has a good heart, the writing just wasn't up to par in my opinion.  I view books like Southernmost as "high level."  There's not much in the way of character development, and characters seem to make odd/rash decisions without much thought behind them, leaving the reader to think, Why would the character do that?  This is quite simply a quick read with a good message.

Asher, a small town preacher from Tennessee, is outcast from his church after he welcomes a gay couple into his congregation.  At the same time, his marriage falls apart and fearing the loss of his son through a custody battle, he kidnaps the boy and flees to Key West in search of his estranged gay brother.  Yeah, there's a lot going on this book.  There's the positive message of accepting others without judgement but I couldn't quite understand why certain events happened as there wasn't enough background thought given to satisfy me.

I'm the type of reader who craves detail and I read this book right after The Flamethrowers, a book with a TON of detail.  It was hard for me to not compare the writing styles of these two authors.  I think Southernmost is a perfect example of losing something in the process of trying to tell a story quickly.    

Of course, my desire to return to Key West is at an all time high after reading this.





I wanted to love this book.  I really did.  I have this weird thing for post-apocalyptic plots and Year One seemed right up my alley.  At first.  A deadly virus spreads quickly, wiping out half of the world's population, but there are those who are immune and band together to survive.  I was reading the second or third chapter when the fantasy stuff kicked in which left me muttering phrases such as "Come on!" and "NOOOOOOO!"  So, yeah, not a fan at all.

Like I've said before and I'm sure I'll say many, many times later, fantasy needs to be written a certain way or I just can't stand reading it.  Unfortunately, the fantasy here was just not well written and really overall, I wasn't a fan of the author's writing.  The dialogue didn't come across as realistic and there were several conversations involving multiple characters and I couldn't easily determine who was saying what.  Also, some of the action writing was missing detail and it was hard to follow what exactly was happening.

With that said, I did place the second book in this series on hold.  These are quick reads and I want to see if the author offers any explanation into the magickal stuff she's thrown into Year One.  It really just doesn't make any sense here.  Some people had magickal powers before the virus spread and those powers strengthened afterwards.  Others did not have these powers prior to the virus, but are now faeries, wizards, seers and they don't seem to question how or why.  It left me with a lot of unanswered questions.





I thought Something in the Water was pretty good.  I enjoyed the author's writing style and how she keeps the reader interested.  A young couple honeymooning in Bora Bora finds something in the water during a diving expedition.  The decisions they make cannot be reversed and will change their lives forever.  So, yes, questionable, could this really happen type questions will enter your mind but just keep reading.  The ending wasn't a total shocker; I felt like you could see it coming.  If you're looking for a thriller that won't take up too much of your time, check this one out.





This is a short book, a novella really, describing Japan after it cuts itself off from the rest of the world after a massive disaster.  We see life through Yoshiro and his great-grandson, Mumei.  In this new world, the elderly live forever while the young age at a rapid pace.  This was an interesting read with a dystopian feel to it.  It's described as humorous but the humor was lost on me.  Admittedly, I did like how every day was a national holiday celebrating something.  Just like we have National Pizza Pie day on February 9th.  I want to say that there's no real plot, but there sort of is and if I say it, I'll be giving it away.  It's a really quick book to read so you don't need that suspense to keep you interested.  I will comment that after I read the last paragraph in the book, I said, "Oh."





Soooo I have mixed feelings on this one.  Sabrina arrives to her 30th birthday dinner at a restaurant in NYC and finds the five people from her dinner list waiting at a table for her.  You know what I'm talking about here.  The five people, alive or dead, you would invite to dinner if you could.  On one hand, the concept was unique but, unfortunately, on the other hand, I don't think the author had a strong enough storyline to keep readers completely invested.  There is a plot twist and I was patting myself on the back for guessing that one.  

I always say that if a book is well written, it doesn't need to have a 'what's going to happen next' plot.  The Dinner List isn't poorly written but it did not have that pull for me.  Fortunately, it's an easy and quick read so that helped in motivating me to finish it.  I don't know if this was the author's intent or not, but I found the ending to be incredibly sad.





I have my sister-in-law to thank for this one.  If you enjoy history and true crime, I highly suggest you check out Killers of the Flower Moon.  We all know how the American Indians had their homelands taken from them by the US government.  They were forced to move to certain areas deemed undesirable by settlers.  In an interesting twist, members of the Osage Nation discovered oil under the land in Oklahoma they were allocated by the government.  Without giving that away, they worked into their agreement with the government that the rights to their land could only be obtained through inheritance.

In the early 1920s, the Osage were the richest people per capita in the world due to the oil on their lands.  They lived in large houses, owned multiple cars and even employed servants.  During this time, many Osage died under mysterious circumstances.  And then there were outright murders, and anyone who attempted to solve those murders disappeared or suffered the same fate.  Finally, the FBI stepped in and while at the time it appeared the people behind these murders had been properly arrested, the circle was actually much wider and callous than anyone realized.

I'll stop here before I summarize everything in the book but I want to add how I was blown away by this piece of US history that seems to have been buried.  





I find myself fascinated by stories of Detroit and its history, and I don't know if that's a product of having family who live there or simply due to the interesting nature of the city itself.  Detroit: An American Autopsy is written by a journalist who grew up in Detroit and returns to work for a local newspaper.  Quite often books like this tend to have portions that are dry and maybe a bit boring.  There was none of that here.  LeDuff does an excellent job of tying in his own family's journey with the history of Detroit and what the city had become about 10 years ago.  This is personal, detailed, emotional and unsettling.  I would highly recommend it to anyone.

I've mentioned before how I view my grandparents' story as a Detroit success, which unfortunately was lost to others later in their journey due to the economy.  My Papaw and Mamaw migrated from Kentucky in the early 1970s on the heels of my great aunt and uncle, and my grandfather found work in a Chrysler plant.  He remained there until retirement, at which point he was able to collect a pension.  They lived a comfortable life, purchasing a home in the suburbs, owning two vehicles (American made, of course.)  My grandfather always had stories about his time working for an American automobile plant in the city.  For example, a guy drives a foreign car to work and finds it destroyed in the parking lot at the end of this shift.  Long story short, I found quite a bit of familiarity in LeDuff's book.    


To see a list of all the books I read in 2018, click here.


Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.  TGUH is a participant in the Amazon Services Associates Program LLC, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Thoughts from my sewing room

Well, technically speaking it's really a designated area and not a room.  I have the tables holding my machines set up to block off the space and the girls know they aren't allowed in there without permission.  That space is the size of a walk-in closet right now but we're going to do some rearranging in the basement to make it bigger.  Yay!

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Growing up, my mom used to sew clothes for us because it cost less than purchasing those items new.  We didn't have stores such as Old Navy or Target back in the '70s, or in the "old fashioned days" as my lovely children like to call it.  And, yes, I do realize the 'wash and toss' mentality did not exist at that time either.

I don't remember exactly how old I was when my mom taught me to sew but I was on the younger side.  I know I could sew when I was in the 4th grade so I must have been around 8 or 9.  For me, it was a hobby as my dolls certainly did not need those clothes and blankets and whatever else I crafted for them.

It's interesting to me how sewing seems to have become more popular these days, but the dynamic is completely different.  I see people purchasing fabric for $40 a yard on the black market.  You cannot make the argument that this is for money saving purposes.

Yes, I know it's pretty but even at $22 per yard, it's expensive.

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For most, sewing is a hobby.  For some, it's a business.  I can argue that the market for home-sewn goods is over-saturated.

But here I am. Sewing.

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A preppy, hand-quilted pencil pouch.

Some tips, or ramblings. . .

Cutting fabric for projects can be tedious and extremely time consuming.  I am extra careful with my measurements when I cut fabric because I know when I go to sew those pieces together, my project is going to look nicer and more professional if the pieces fit together as they should.  So while it may take extra time for me to cut fabric, I save time sewing when the fabric is cut to the correct size.

Have you ever worked with wood?  If yes, than you know how important it is to be precise with your measurements.  Imagine putting together a table when all four legs are different lengths.  You'd have to take extra time to fix those legs and then you run the risk of having your completed project not measure the height it's supposed to measure.  The same thought process should be applied to sewing.

Measure twice, cut once.

If the fabric has a design in it, make sure you cut it going in the right direction.  You don't want it to end up upside down.

It's okay to use your seam ripper.  Look, we've all been there.  Even the most experienced sewists still flub up.  Using a seam ripper doesn't mean you don't know what you're doing, it means you care about your project and want it to look its best.  Don't be afraid to take something apart if it didn't come out right.

Let's talk about ironing for a minute.  I can't speak for those who exclusively sew clothes from cotton lycra but I can tell you that if you use woven cotton, you need to iron.  A lot.  I honestly don't know how people sew bags, etc. without ironing at all.  I can tell when you haven't ironed.  In order to get those nice crisp lines, you need to iron.  Please.  Ironing will make your finished projects look so much more professional.

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It's sort of ironic how I now have the time to sew more for the girls but they are mostly beyond that when it comes to clothes.  As they say, life does pass by in the blink of an eye.  The girls see Disney outfits I create for resale and they always say, "That's so cute.  I'd wear that at Disney."  Get it all in when you can.

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@sarah_sews_and_sells on IG for those who want to follow.