Monday, June 17, 2019

Road Trips: My Planning & Packing Tips

Today I want to talk about road trips.  This is our last week of school and road trips are typically a summer event for us.  With everything going on with my mom, we don't have a Michigan/Kentucky trip planned for this year.  The girls were actually a bit bummed about that.


You guys know I consider myself to be somewhat of a road trip expert.  Growing up in a family of six in the 1980s, airfare costs were prohibitive so we drove everywhere.  Almost every summer, we hit the road to spend two weeks with my family in Michigan.  We drove to Florida several times and to DC a many, many times.  As an adult, I've made the drive to Michigan approximately 15 times, 4 of those with the girls.  And don't forget how we drove to Orlando twice.  Pre-kids, my friends and I drove all around (NY, NJ, IN, OH, DC, PA) for concerts and to hang out with friends. So, yes, I'm quite familiar with long distance driving.


1.  Make sure your vehicle is ready for a road trip.  When was the last time the oil was changed?  What about a full check-up?  I try not to obsess over "what if" scenarios but I do make sure our van is ready to hit the road.

2.  Do you know where you're going?  We all rely on our phones but what if you drive into an area with no service.  I actually prefer paper maps for the big picture and then use my phone for more detailed driving, like when I get off the highway.  I pretty much know what to expect driving south on 95 and on the drive west to Michigan, but for new destinations, I look at a map in advance to see what my route will be.

3.  Pack a phone charger that will work in your vehicle!

4.  Snacks broken down into single servings ahead of time are much easier to deal with.

5.  Be practical when packing food.  For example, if you're bringing a cooler with perishables and you stop overnight at a hotel, you're going to have to empty the cooler and refill it in the morning.

6.  If your kids are frequent bathroom users, you may want to limit how much they drink on the road.  Stopping for a bathroom break every hour on the hour can easily add hours onto your trip.  Ask me how I know this.

7.  Be practical when it comes to entertainment for the kids.  Packing a huge bag of new toys/books/crayons/paper, etc may seem like a good idea but your car/minivan/SUV is going to fill up fast and you're going to end up with stuff everywhere.  Ask me how I know this.

8.  PORTABLE DVD PLAYERS.  We're the parents who limit screen time (we still do!) but those rules get thrown out on road trips.  The girls are prone to motion sickness, which severely limits their entertainment choices while driving, and watching movies/shows has been the easiest/best thing.  If your kids get motion sick, don't expect them to be content with activities which require reading and looking down/focusing for long periods of time.

9.  The girls do take breaks from watching movies/shows so I like to have one or two things they can do.  We have this license plate game (this license plate book looks cute for younger kids who don't suffer from motion sickness) and we have this travel bingo game.

10.  We've had success using Dramamine for Kids to combat motion sickness.  The key is to give it to them before you travel.  Don't wait until they don't feel.

11.  Items to pack:  Small bags for trash (or if the kids get sick), paper towels, Clorox wipes, skin-safe wipes, Kleenex.

12.  When we plan to stay overnight at a hotel, I use what we call "the hotel bag."  Instead of having to unload all the suitcases for the night, I pack a separate bag with our pajamas, clothes for the next day and toiletries.  This saves time and keeps the hotel room from getting cluttered.

13.  Make it fun for kids by printing out a map of where you'll be driving and have them mark off different areas as you pass through.

14.  I know some people, especially those with younger kids prefer to embark on road trips at the kids' bed times so the kids are asleep for all or most of the drive.  I personally don't like this because when am I going to sleep?  When I was 25 with no kids?  Yeah, sure, I made drives like this.  After having kids and experiencing years of sleep deprivation?  No, it doesn't work for me.  Know your tolerance and stay safe.  

Happy travels!!

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 and affiliated sites.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Shopping Lately

It took 12 years but I finally found swimsuits (two!) that look good and I'm comfortable wearing.  It's funny because when I was looking at old photos at my parents' house the other week, I came across one of me on the beach.  I instantly remembered not liking the swimsuit I was wearing because back then (1990ish) our choices were limited.  I've never been truly happy with my upper thighs, even when I weighed 90 pounds.  I would have to be extremely restrictive with my eating and exercise until the cows come home in order to look how I want to look and that's just not happening.

In my twenties, I learned which swimsuits looked best on me and I began running more and working out with a trainer so all was pretty good.  When you only have one problem area and you know what looks the best, swimsuit shopping isn't too bad.  And then I had the girls.  I know I often mention how messed up my midsection is and there are days where it's incredibly frustrating, but I never regret carrying them for 36 weeks.  So now I have two problem areas (one pretty major) and I haven't had much luck finding a swimsuit that looks good.  Honestly, I haven't really gone overboard in looking because life.  I not only want to feel comfortable wearing it in public, but I want it to be a comfortable fit as well.

Apparently, I have a short torso so most one piece suits are too long and I have to wear shorts with them.  I usually don't mind adding shorts because that helps cover my thighs but I haven't had much luck finding shorts that are comfortable or don't add bulk when paired with a swimsuit.  I have a one piece suit that is so tight, it's a serious battle to take on and off.  It makes my tummy look awesome, but really not worth the fight.  I was so excited when high waisted bikini bottoms became popular, and they are perfect for my midsection but I've yet to find one that makes my thighs look good as well.

This combo is from 2012 and still in my bureau.


Rich said to me last week, "Do you have a swimsuit?  You need one."  I had to run to Target to pick up a couple of items and because I was alone, I spent forever in the swim section going through all my options.  I had tried on a handful of suits and none of them fit properly so I returned to look again and I spotted these romper suits.  Gah, coverage of an old lady suit without looking like an old lady suit!

The straps are adjustable on this so I was able to make it fit my torso.  My only issue is that the inside panel across the chest is loose on me but I can easily fix that with a few darts if I think it needs to be tighter, and it's inside so no one will see.  And in case you're wondering, there are regular bathing suit bottoms under the shorts.

I did get this one as well.  I'm typically not a big fan of the halter top style as it puts too much pressure on my neck but everything else about this suit was perfect.  I figure this one will be good if we're headed to the pool for a few hours.  The one above is ideal for a full day at the beach.

I know there's this whole big movement about body acceptance, and while I agree women should not be judged for how they look, my comfort level is for me, not for anyone else.

I was back at Target the other day with the girls because they desperately need summer clothes.  I didn't buy them very much last summer as most of what they had from the previous summer still fit.  Now, they are mostly out of size 7/8 and they keep coming downstairs in the morning wearing shorts too inappropriate, in general, but definitely for school.  

Here are two super cute dresses the girls picked out:

And these swimsuits:

I'll end with a new favorite spring/summer nail polish I found:

This is part of OPI's Infinite Shine collection (the color is Cajun Shrimp) but I didn't use the primer or the top coat.  Instead, I used my essie gel setter top coat, simply because that's what I had on hand, and it lasted for about a week.  I have to say that even without using OPI's base/top coats, this polish was super shiny.  It has a very tropical feel to me and I love it.

If you're looking for more summer polishes, check out my post HERE from last year with some favorites.

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 and affiliated sites.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Girls' Studio Dance Photos

This past weekend was Dance Recital Weekend and it basically consumed the entire weekend.  Which is absolutely fine, but exhausting.  You know I absolutely love watching my girls dance and I'm really enjoying my tap class, but I'm finding that the two together (my tap class IN the recital) is a bit too much.  This year, I had to do my hair for my costume ('80s theme) and the additional running around ate up precious time.  But more on that later.

The dress rehearsal was at 1:30 on Saturday and I had planned to take studio photos of the girls beforehand.  It takes so long to do their hair and make-up, it makes sense for me to take the photos on a day when we actually have to do hair and make-up.  I started the process at about 10:15 and it took over an hour.  Two of the girls can do their own lipstick and I've allowed them to practice but the eyeliner is going to take some time.  My goal is to have them doing almost all of their make-up on their own for next year.

I finished hair and make-up and Rich did most of the work setting up the backdrop.  Then people needed to eat lunch.  And I needed to get ready myself.  So we squeezed in photos when we could.  At one point, I announced, "There are three of you so there should be a constant rotation of kids.  While your sisters are being photographed, you should be changing your costume."  That didn't happen.

(Some kids were on the backdrop for longer than others which is why there are an unequal number of photos by kid.  I basically just pulled and edited the best ones.)




















Here's a pullback of my set-up:


This isn't straight out of the camera though.  The exposure has been adjusted.  I purposely underexpose because it's far easier to brighten a photo than it is to correct an overexposed photo.  My only natural light was coming from two windows directly behind me (the photographer) and those don't provide enough light unless the subject is right near the window, which in this case would have been impossible.  So I have to use my Speedlight (turned to bounce off the windows.)

I didn't think of it until afterwards, but I should have taken a couple of photos with my iPhone for comparison.  It seems like more and more people use their phones as cameras and technology has improved so much, but I still find my phone doesn't do the greatest job in certain lighting situations.  Also, with these photos, the flash helps to remove the awkward shadows.  Next time!  

More dance recital commentary and photos coming soon!

Monday, June 10, 2019

Changes to FP+ Tiers at Hollywood Studios

If you're headed to Disney World after August 28th, you're going to want to read this.  Last week, Disney announced major changes to the FastPass+ tiers at Hollywood Studio.  And, yes, Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opens on August 29th.  It will be interesting to see what happens to wait times and FP+ availability after these changes take place.

If you're not sure how FastPass+ works, you can read my post Your Guide to FastPass+ HERE.  Obviously, the tiers outlined there for Hollywood Studios are outdated.

When we visited WDW last year, Toy Story Land had only been open for a couple of months and the tier structure had been changed to absorb the expected crowds.  The first tier consisted of the three Toy Story Land rides (Slinky Dog Dash, Alien Swirling Saucers and Toy Story Mania) and all other rides/shows/attractions were in the second tier.  Initially, you could make one FP+ reservation for any Tier 1 ride and then two FP+ reservations for any non-Toy Story Land ride/show/attraction.

Here's what the new tiers will look like on August 29th:

Tier 1 - Choose 1
  • Slinky Dog Dash
  • Toy Story Mania
  • Alien Swirling Saucers
  • Rock 'n' Roller Coaster
  • Tower of Terror
Tier 2 - Choose 2
  • Star Tours: The Adventure Continues
  • For the First Time in Forever:  Frozen Sing-Along
  • Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
  • Voyage of the Little Mermaid
  • Disney Junior Dance Party
  • Muppet Vision 3D
  • Beauty and the Beast - Live on Stage
  • Fantasmic!   

Personally, I find this super frustrating because you really do not need a FP+ for shows.  Word on the street is that this new tier structure will create more FP+ availability for those Tier 1 rides.  When we visited Hollywood Studios last August, I rode all five rides in the new Tier 1 category.  I had FP+ for three of them and waited in line for the other two.  If I want to ride all five under this new structure, I'd only have a FP+ for one, and I'd have to wait in line for the other four.  (Unless, I'm able to reserve one as my 4th FP+ later in the day.)

What about the rides for Stars Wars: Galaxy's Edge??  Only one ride (Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run) will be available to guests when the new Star Wars Land opens on August 29th.  The second ride, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, is scheduled to open later this year.  As of right now, FastPass+ will not be available for either ride but it is assumed that this will change in the future.  Oh, if you're curious about height requirements, both rides do have restrictions.  You need to be 38" inches or taller for Smugglers Run and 40" inches or taller for Rise of the Resistance.

I think it's safe to say that most guests are going to want to experience at least three of the Tier 1 attractions and this is going to be tough to do without waiting in long lines.  I also think it's safe to assume that many, many guests are going to flock to the new Star Wars Land right when they arrive at Hollywood Studios.  You have to think about what time most guests arrive to the parks though.  Go read a hundred different articles/books/blog posts outlining strategies for successfully touring Disney parks and every single one will tell you to arrive at the park before the gates open.  How many guests actually do this?  Not many.  People are on vacation.  People don't want to get up at the crack of dawn.  People were up late the night before watching fireworks.  This wouldn't be listed as a touring strategy over and over again if everyone followed it, because then the parks would actually be crowded with long lines right when the parks open.

From August 29th through August 31st, Hollywood Studios will open at 6:00 AM for all guests.  From September 1st through November 2nd, Hollywood Studios will have EXTRA Extra Magic Hours daily from 6:00 - 9:00 AM.  Keep in mind that EXTRA Extra Magic Hours are for guests of Walt Disney World and affiliated resorts.
Die hard Star Wars fans will take advantage of those Extra Extra Magic Hours and arrive at park opening and other guests will filter in throughout the morning.  I'm not a morning person at all so I completely understand not wanting to get up at 4:00 in the morning during vacation but if you want to avoid lines, your best bet is to arrive before 6:00.  I think even getting there at 7:00 will give you an advantage.  Again, for most guests, this is not a Disney trip.  It's a vacation and they want to treat it as such.  If you arrive early, you'll see park attendance slowly increase throughout the morning.  At 10:00, they'll be many more guests than there were at 7:00, 8:00 or even 9:00.

Decide what's most important to you and head there first.  I would also keep an eye on wait times.  Suppose your top two rides are Slinky Dog and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster but you weren't able to secure FP+ for either.  If the wait time for Slinky Dog is at 90 minutes when you arrive at HS, but RnR Coaster is at 30 minutes, it makes sense to head over the shortest wait time first.

Don't forget that once you use (or the time expires) your three FP+ for the day, you can book another one.  And after you use that one, you can reserve another.  Because of this, it makes sense to choose times in the morning for those initial three FastPasses.

When all else fails, a typical touring strategy for Hollywood Studios is to wait for the last couple of hours prior to closing.  Disney is obviously trying to make Hollywood Studios a full day park but guests, for awhile at least, are going to hold on to that half-day mentality.  If you need a break in the middle of the day, take it and then return after dinner.

Friday, June 7, 2019

My Picks for Beach Reads + '80s Vacation Photos

After somewhat of an intense week, I've decided I need to post something fun today.  I was at my parents' house the other day looking at photos from when we went to Key West and I came across a couple of classics.

Whenever the girls act like I'm torturing them, I tell them about the days of 1985.  My family of six drove 1,650 miles to Key West, FL in a station wagon.  There were no portable DVD players. There was no AC.  Our only form of entertainment came from the CB radio.  Kids these days - they just don't get it!

And I showed them this one with my pointed foot.  A dancer's foot.  "Okay."  Clearly, they are not impressed.

I love how we look super annoyed here at Epcot.  This was either in 1986 or 1987.  I'm guessing it's the whole photo taking thing.  My dad was a photographer.  I get it now.  As a photographer.

So we are FINALLY experiencing some warmer weather here.  A hint of summer.  When the girls were really little, I used to wonder if I would ever be able to sit at the beach (as a family) and read a book like I used to.  It didn't seem possible at the time, but now it is.  The girls even bring books to the beach too.

I know a "beach read" is commonly defined as a light, easy to follow book suitable for reading at the beach or by the pool.  Really, though, a beach read could be any type of book you want it to be.  I brought Stephen King's 11/22/63, which is 800+ pages long, to Turks and Caicos.  That was a kid-free vacation and I love long, detailed books I can really dive into.

Below are some of my picks for beach/pool reads.  You'll notice right away that chick-lit is missing.  Believe me when I tell you I read my fair share of Danielle Steel way back when.  I think I'm too cynical (or something) now for those kind of books.  I would recommend Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid though.  That was a perfect "beach read" and leans toward chick-lit.

If you're looking for a thriller:

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
Bird Box by Josh Malerman
The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks OR The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine
The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay
An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

For books with a bit more substance:

The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Remember Me Like This by Bret Anthony Johnston


When We Were the Kennedys by Monica Wood
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

A long book you can really sink your teeth into:

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

If you enjoy books in the apocalyptic genre, check out this trilogy:

The Maddaddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood

For more, check out my list of 6 Great Books You Might Have Missed.

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 and affiliated sites.