Thursday, May 25, 2017

Quiet beaches and this week

After my day of cleaning the cottage last week (and I've really only just begun to scratch the surface), I had pretty much convinced the girls that we should sleep down there over the weekend.  This was last weekend.  I'm behind here.  So I convinced them.  Emily was all excited and encouraged her sisters to get excited - it helps when you have one ally - and then I checked the forecast.  Daytime high of 55.  Uh, I don't know if we can do it this weekend.  I keep calling it camping.  Rich says it's not camping, it's staying down there.  I say it's camping until the cleaning and construction phase is complete.  And then we'll move on to painting, which is part of the making it cute phase.  Oh, I can't wait for that phase.

Anyway, Rich tells me of things going on over the weekend, some of which I had forgotten, some I didn't know of, and so camping (or sleeping down there) will have to wait.  It won't be this weekend either because hopefully the demo crew rips out the bathroom tomorrow.  That really would be camping, wouldn't it?

Off-season on Cape Cod officially ends this weekend with the Memorial Day holiday.  It's been nice walking on whichever beach we want, parking without fees or stickers.  Because work on the bathroom isn't scheduled to begin until tomorrow, I was going to head down there for a few days this week to clean.  Instead, I ended up with a nasty cold that's been going around so I spent the first three days of this week resting and recovering.  It's nice to have that luxury now.  I'm sure that if I had been working, this would have dragged on for longer and been much worse.

These photos are from last weekend.  Still a bit chilly most days, but warming up.

5.25a

5.25b

5.25c

5.25d

5.25e

5.25f

5.25g

5.25h

5.25i

5.25j

5.25k

5.25l

5.25m

5.25n

5.25o

All I do is eat chowdah.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Plan Your Walt Disney World Vacation in 8 Steps

"I'm planning a vacation to Disney World but I don't even know where to begin.  Help!"

The most frequently asked questions I receive with respect to Disney surround planning and how to go about doing it.  I get it.  There is so much information out there.  Where do you even start?  Over the past six years, we've vacationed at Disney World in Florida five times so I have quite a bit of experience in planning.  I've broken down my planning process into eight steps.  I actually enjoy the planning aspect of our vacations.  Make it fun, not stressful!



1.  Decide when to go

I know this one seems obvious.  Duh, Sarah, of course, we need to decide when we are going on vacation.  That's not what I mean.  The crowds at Disney fluctuate and if your vacation falls during one of the busiest weeks of the year, you may not have the most magical time.  Knowing the "Disney seasons" will greatly help your planning.  All holidays are busy.  This makes sense, right?  People usually have holidays off from school and work so they'll plan a vacation to fall around holidays.  I recommend avoiding holiday weeks/weekends if at all possible.

The parks/resorts are also crowded during Disney-only events - such as road races, Food and Wine Festival, and little league baseball tournaments.  Unfortunately, I do not have a calendar outlining the best and worst times but searching the internet should let you know if your vacation is during a busy time.  And I know that sometimes you simply do not have many options on when you can vacation.  Vacations need to be planned around school, work and activities.

Being from the North we have a slight advantage when it comes to summer season.  Summers at Disney are extremely busy because school is out.  Makes sense.  However, summer season at Disney is usually June through mid-August. We don't go back to school until the very end of August, and sometimes not until after Labor Day in September.  The end of August is a slower time at Disney so if we want to vacation in the summer when the girls are out of school, we plan for an end of August trip.

2.  Choose where to stay

This is a multi-step process.  First, do you want to stay onsite or offsite?  Personally, we always stay onsite.  I feel like it adds more to the vacation and I prefer the proximity to the parks.  You are in a Disney bubble when you stay at a Disney resort.  We are able to take breaks back at the resort, if need be, and quickly return the parks later on in the day.

If you are staying onsite, you have many different options to choose from.  You'll need to decide if you want to stay at a value, moderate or deluxe resort and then pick which resort.

Another option is the Swan and Dolphin Resort, which is located next to Disney's Yacht Club.  It's technically not a Disney World hotel, but it is.  Yes, confusing, I know.  I have friends who have stayed here through a special deal and enjoyed their vacation.  It's worth checking out.

See my post Benefits of staying at a Disney resort . . . or not.

5.24a
(Taken at Art of Animation resort)

3.  Search for special offers

How do I do this?  The easiest way is to simply check the special offers page on the Walt Disney World's website.  Here is a link.  Keep in mind that in addition to offers from Disney, there are travel agents who offer their own deals.  You'll have to search around for those.  Follow Disney on social media for notifications on the release of special offers.

Although I have this listed as the third step, you may want to do this in conjunction with steps #1 and #2.

Note:  If you book your vacation 9-12 months in advance, there may not be any special offers available at the time of booking.  Check back!  If a special offer does become available and you've already booked your vacation, you'll need to contact Disney and rebook under the special offer.  If you've used a travel agent, they will rebook for you.  Special offers are usually limited so you'll want to keep up to date on offer releases.

4.  Book your vacation

Yay!  You can book directly with Disney yourself online or over the phone, or you can use a travel agent.  I have a detailed post here - The best way to book your Disney vacation - that you may want to read for more information.

5.24e

5.  Plan parks by day

I feel like this step is where you really get into the nitty gritty planning stages of a Disney vacation.  In order to book FastPasses and make dining reservations, you need to map out which parks you plan to visit on which days.  There are websites out there which predict crowd levels by park by day.  Some offer their advice for free, others have fees.  I usually check a few different ones.  If you do the same, you'll see that they quite often vary in opinion.  Keep in mind that sometimes a park may be listed as one to avoid for the very reason you want to visit it.  For example, if there are extra magic hours at Magic Kingdom, that park will receive a lower rating for the day because more guests will be there to take advantage of additional time in the park.

I actually feel that the crowd level when you go is more important than day by day park crowd levels.  If you're vacationing at Disney in July, does it matter if Magic Kingdom has a predicted crowd level of a 9/10 or a 10/10?  No, not really.  I usually plan our days based on what we want to do first and then fill in the other days.  Suppose we want to see the nighttime parade at Magic Kingdom, a park we usually spend two days visiting.  I'll make sure the parade is scheduled for the two days we plan to visit MK even if MK is listed as the park to avoid for those days.

6.  Create draft itineraries for each day

Basically, this is where you decide what you and your family want to do each day.  When you visit Magic Kingdom, which rides and attractions do you wish to experience that day?  Do you plan to take a break to swim in the afternoon?  Where do you want to eat?  I use the word draft because I always feel that it's best to have a plan but to also have some flexibility because nothing is ever going to go exactly as planned.  This step is needed for the remaining two steps.

5.24c

7.  Make your ADRs (Advance Dining Reservations)

You can book your ADRs 180 days in advance.  Please see my post Everything you need to know about Disney Dining Reservations for more detail.

5.24d

8.  Secure your FastPass+ reservations

You can make FP+ reservations 30 to 60 days in advance, depending on whether or not you are staying at a Disney resort.  For more information, please see my post Your Guide to FastPass+

5.24b

Not a step, but important - have fun!!!

(I've added this to my Disney board on Pinterest if you'd like to save it there.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Living with a shunt, age 10

A triplet mom emailed me last week asking some really good questions with respect to how we are handling Anna's learning affected by her shunt.  As I was thinking of my reply, I decided to post the information here.  I know other parents of children with spina bifida and hydrocephalus are often directed here and also, in general, I feel it's good information to get out there.

So as to not repeat background information, here's a post I wrote in 2012 with a ton of information on spina bifida and hydrocephalus.  Here is a more recent post from two years ago discussing some of the learning issues that may arise as a result of hydrocephalus.

In summary, an individual with a shunt may:
  • Process thoughts in a different manner
  • Have difficulty with math
  • Be disorganized 
  • Lack fine motor skills
  • Have messy handwriting

There are plenty of people in this world who don't have hydrocephalus or a shunt but have some of characteristics I've listed above so sometimes it can be difficult to ascertain the root of the issue.

In Anna's case, when it comes to math and processing thoughts, it appears that ordering or keeping track of multiple steps can be difficult.  Anna's a bright girl.  Her teachers have commented on her mature sense of humor and how she can pick up on things other kids her age don't.  Her ability to spell words is amazing.  She can read anything and automatically pick out the misspellings like it's her job.  She's had her fair share of A grades on math exams but there are some areas of math where she may struggle.  For example, multiplying two digit numbers together 34x12.  Why?  Because you need to complete multiple steps in order to solve the problem. 

We are far from shunt experts here and still very much learning as we go, so I'll share with you what has worked for us.

Support system at the school
This is an important one and hopefully one you don't have to fight for.  You'll want the school administrators (principal, vice principal, etc.) who make decision impacting your child to completely understand the needs of your child.    

Organized/structured teacher and classroom
Because kids with shunts tend to be unorganized, it would be best if she is placed in a structured classroom setting.  Our school system is quite large with more than 10 classrooms per grade so there are options.  I understand that if your school system is small, this may not work for you.  We've found that Anna performs better in this type of setting. 

Teachers who understand your child and her needs
When Anna is scheduled to leave the classroom to visit the nurse this year, she does not miss any math.  It's been interesting to see how teachers in the past have handled when she has had to miss the beginning of math.  One was good about making sure she was caught up; one had a plan, but it didn't really works so well.  In my opinion.  I don't think she truly understood Anna's personality and the guidance she needed.  Teamwork is needed in order for your child to succeed and teachers are very much a part of that team, along with you, your child and others in the school.

Organized/clean house  
This one can be tough as my house isn't always cleaned up but it does make a difference.  If you have papers cluttered around, it's easy to lose homework.  Believe me, it's happened.  More than once.  

Establish routines
When the girls arrive home from school, the first thing they do is pull their binders out of the backpacks and complete their homework.  They are then suppose to place their completed homework sheets back into their binders and then the binders go in their backpacks so they're ready to go in the morning.  Sometimes someone leaves her binder or homework out and about.  This means that the next morning, there's a chance her homework may not make it to school.  Which leads to my next point. . .

Independence
I would love to go through and clean out Anna's binder on a daily basis.  I would love to constantly remind her to do this and do that.  I can't, well sometimes I do, because we've got that independence struggle going on.  I do back off a bit because I know I can't do everything for her.  She doesn't want me to do everything for her now anyway and I'm not going to be there when she's an adult, at college or working.  She needs to learn to do for herself.  She needs to learn what routines work for her.  The girls' school has really pushed independence this year in fourth grade.  If you forget to bring in your homework, you stay in at recess and redo the homework.  Students are told that it is their responsibility to remember to bring their homework to school and they aren't allowed to use the excuse "my mom forgot to put it in my backpack."  

I've been at home for this entire school year and there has definitely been a shift when it comes to homework.  Anna used to be hesitant to ask for help.  She would never exactly say why but I gather she viewed it as a sign of weakness, that maybe she wasn't smart because she had questions.  Thankfully, we've moved past that and she will come to me with questions when she's stumped.  All three of the girls will.  As a parent, you have to find that balance where making suggestions is viewed as helping and not nagging.        

We are in a unique situation with Anna having two identical sisters.  Identical doesn't mean that everything about them is exactly the same, but they are very similar to each other.  Anna definitely has some differences which can be attributed to her shunt.  Not that we want to compare them against each other - and I'm very hesitant to do so.    

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Exploring, as seen on my walk

Last week flew by.  I'm hesitant to use the word busy when referring to life now that I'm not working.  So instead of a busy week, I'll call it a full week.  Temperatures jumped from the 50s into the 80s and 90s.  Of course, Allie and Anna had a field trip on the hottest day (so far) of the year.  92 degrees and we went hiking.  The field trip was through the Mass Audubon Society and was supposed to consist of one "hike" and two activities at the camp.  The classes were broken down into smaller groups of about 9-10 students.  Because I was technically there as Anna's nurse, I couldn't be a chaperone on my own so I was teamed up with another parent.  Our guide took us on a very long hike, an hour and a half long hike to be exact.  It was too much for Anna.  Poor baby.  The medication she takes for her bladder causes her to feel hotter than it really is so she was all pink-faced before the other kids and simply exhausted.  But she pushed through and did it.  She kept saying, "I'm going to sleep good tonight."  There were a few positives though.  The other kids were also hot and tired and wanted to rest too, so Anna didn't necessarily stick out.  When I wasn't right there to grab Anna's hand, her two friends helped her out before I could reach her.  They would also find places for her to sit when there was time to rest.  It was truly heart warming to witness.

Earlier in the week, I drove down to the cottage after dropping the girls off at school.  It was to be a day of cleaning, but I took a lunch break, of course.

5.21a
The view from my car as I ate lunch.

Aside from when we looked at the cottage back in the fall, this was the first nice weather day where I've been at the cottage.  It was interesting to spend almost the entire day there, watching the movement of the sun through the rooms.  The dreary, forlorn feeling had finally lifted.  In the middle of the day, I took a cleaning break and explored.  I could finally taste summer.  

5.21b

5.21c

5.21d

5.21e

5.21f

5.29g

5.29h

5.29i

5.29j

5.29k

5.29l

5.29m

5.29n

5.29o

Friday, May 19, 2017

How we road trip

5.19a

After our recent trip to DC, I had an idea to write a post talking about how we do road trips.  As I created an outline, some of the points seemed obvious and too much like filler content.  Bring snacks.  Everyone knows this and you know what?  If you somehow forgot the carrots and hummus, or the raisins, your kids can survive off of crackers and whatever else you can scrounge up at a rest stop.  I was also going to mention Waze, the app.  Does everyone use this?  I'm an old person, who is not really up-to-date in the tech department, but I know and use this app, so I assume everyone else is aware of its existence.

I think the discussion I really wanted to have surrounds entertaining your children in the car and their tolerance levels for road trips.  My kids are not fans of driving long distances and part of that is due to the fact that they are prone to motion sickness.  I am too, so I completely understand.  But also, it's boring.  Their words, not mine.  I always think back to my parents loading up three kids (5 and under) and driving from Massachusetts to California.  "Electronics" of today didn't exist at that time.  There were no electronics of any kind.  Everyone had telephones attached to the wall and I'm pretty sure that one of our televisions was still black and white.  So what did we do?  We played with toys. We used our imaginations.  We looked out the window!

I have a friend with two kids slighter older than mine and when we have parenting discussions, I've been known to say, "Act like it's 1984.  What would you have done back then?"  Rich and I have really tried to limit screen time for the girls, but sometimes you just give in.  We had a portable DVD player that we used in the van for long road trips.  It wasn't ideal but it worked.  We had to string it across the middle of the two front seats, which made your blind spot even blinder and because the volume had to be turned up a bit so the kid in the third row could hear, the driver and front seat passenger had a movie blasting in their ears.  That DVD player began having issues a few years ago so before our road trip to Michigan last summer, we invested in dual DVD players that can be attached to the back of the headrests.

5.19c

We purchased two, so there are now four DVD screens in the van.  My niece was coming with us and this way, everyone had their own screen.  With the dual system, only one of the screens actually plays a DVD.  Yes, this means that the two kids using the same system need to agree on what to watch.  Thankfully, this has never been an issue for us.

While I'm not a fan of allowing my kids to binge watch shows/movies, over the years we've found that it's one of the things they can do on the road which won't trigger car sickness.  Activity books and the like are out of the question.

5.19d
(I know the shoulder strap needs to be on her shoulder.  The car was not moving (waiting for Rich) and she was shifting away from the sun.)

Additional thoughts on road trips:
  • Start 'em young.  Little kids are not going to enjoy road trips but over time, they'll get used to driving long distances.  Hopefully, when they're older, they'll appreciate they opportunities they've been given.
  • I've departed for road trips at all times of the day.  4:00 in the morning, 3:00 in the afternoon, midnight - that was waaaay before kids.  To avoid grumpiness associated with being overtired, we've found that waking up a little bit earlier than usual and leaving in the morning works best.  The drive to my grandmother's house in Michigan takes about fourteen hours.  If we left at 4:00 in the morning, we'd arrive around 6:00 that night.  We would also be exhausted from waking up at 3:30 in the morning.  If you're disrupting your normal sleep schedule, be aware that there will be side effects. 
  • For everyone's sanity, make frequent stops if you need to.  I know it adds time on to the drive but sometimes you just have to stop.

5.19b