Sunday, August 31, 2014

Walt Disney World: Preparing, Planning and Counting Down

In honor of my eBook sale on, I'm featuring an entire chapter from my Disney book, Walt Disney World Tips n' Tricks.  Enjoy!  To read more be sure to snag my ebook before the Kindle Countdown deal is over! 

Chapter 6: Preparing, Planning and Counting Down

 Disney is overwhelming. There is an overabundance of fun waiting at every turn. Planning a “first ever” trip to Disney is no small task. When you add in the cost, the planning, the logistics of getting around and the ages of everyone on the trip, Disney planners usually want to throw in the towel and cry.
 It’s just too much to figure out. 
 What parks? When? Why? Who put me in charge of this?
 Stay with me, and let’s get this show on the road.

Three Months Away or More

If you plan on eating meals in Disney restaurants, you need to make advance reservations. You can make these reservations online ( or via telephone. I cannot stress this enough, especially if you have the dining plan. Choose where you want to eat, and reserve your tables. If you wait too long to make reservations, you will be eating at 9pm with Chef Mickey. 
 Even worse, you won't be eating with Chef Mickey at all.
 Do yourself a favor and take time to think about where you want to eat, and reserve your tables online. To date, Disney restaurant reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance. Considering there are many Disney planning fanatics out there, the sooner the better. I keep a separate folder in my email for all trip related confirmations.


Two Months Away

 Around this time, I finalize plans. I buy park tickets and check park hours. I make an outline of what time each park opens and where our meals are for the day.
Remember my folder full of email confirmations? I make an itinerary with the tentative plans for every day of the trip. I list the day, what park we are going to, what time it opens, and any dining reservations WITH the confirmation number. On my itinerary I also add flight information for beginning and end of stay, and hotel reservation confirmations. This becomes our guide for the trip, and keeps us sane. Every night of the trip, Hubby asks where we are going the next day.
He asks what time dinner is and what time we have to leave the villa in the morning. Having an itinerary is essential for us to function in Disney World.
 Disney’s website has an excellent “My Disney Experience tab that will keep track of your family, reservations, FastPass+ attractions and more. This is quite possibly my favorite planning feature on any website in the universe. I swear.

One to Two Months Away

 One to two months from departure is a good time to tell the kids. Make a calendar to countdown and get them excited, watch Disney movies and make a list of “must do’s” for the vacation. On Disney’s website there is a link for your kids to customize their own maps ( You can search by park, and narrow down attractions by age and preference. These maps can be mailed to your child or printed right from your own computer.

One Month Away

 Even with the meal plan, you will need extra snacks for breakfast or moments your kids cry they are starving. You will be thrilled for your granola bars at the Magic Kingdom when you see you’ll be paying $5.50 (x how many kids you have) for a churro. When you are snack shopping, think breakfast/granola bars, fruit snacks and any other item that will travel well (more on this in Chapter 8).
 Lastly, keep your eyes open for sales on tees, flip flops and sunscreen. Watch for sales on Disney toys and stuffed animals, and buy them as your Mickey Mouse surprises. Purchase any other items you’ll need for the trip, and buy plenty of gum and hand sanitizer. Gum is not sold in Disney (this helps keeps the parks clean) and hand sanitizer is a must for the parks! Don’t forget cheap ponchos, since Disney ponchos in the parks will run you close to $10/piece.


Two Weeks Away

 Give your plans a once over. Double check your itinerary. Cash in your money jar and start getting excited.
 Two weeks away is when I start to pack. I make piles for every child, double checking there is enough underwear, shirts, shorts and socks. For more independent kids, consider packing single outfits in Ziploc bags (underwear, shirt, pants/shorts and socks), allowing them to select an outfit and dress easily. Pack good walking shoes and a sweatshirt for chilly mornings if you are going during the winter months. Pack your dried goods and Mickey surprises in a suitcase, and set it aside. 

A Day or Two Before

 Check in online, and help your kids count their money and budget their spending. Explain how much is in their wallet, and that they will only have enough to buy what they love because mommy and daddy’s money is being spent on tickets and food.
Be clear. Be serious. Stick to the spending plan.
 On vacation, keep their wallets with yours, and allow them to shop at the end of the day. If you don’t make this rule, you will be wasting much time in gift shops. Every ride dumps you into a shopping zone, I am warning you now.
Here is your checklist, from start to finish:
1.      Hotel and tickets (everything bought and reserved)
2.      Restaurant reservations
3.      Check park hours on Disney’s website; make itinerary        with reservation times and what time each park opens.
4.      Tell kids, make customized maps
5.      Shop
6.      Check the weather for dates of your trip and pack (packing list below)

Packing List:
1.      Sunscreen
2.      Ponchos
3.      Snacks (think cereal, crackers, cookies and granola bars)
4.      Sandwich bags (pack snacks, clean clothes, food from buffets for later…)
5.      Good walking shoes and plenty of socks
6.      Sweatshirts for chilly mornings, jackets and pants if traveling during winter months (trust me on this one.)
7.      Swimsuits
8.      One outfit per day plus extra shirt for evenings
9.      Pajamas
10.  Gum
11.  Hand sanitzer wipes and gel
12.  Ibuprofen for headaches
13.  Cough syrup for winter months (I’ve had to buy this at a Disney gift shop…ouch)
14.  Pre-bought souvenirs/trading pins
15.  Dress for Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (for girls)
16.  Itinerary, tickets, spending money
17.  Backpack for parks, soft cooler for drinks
18.  If traveling with baby, don’t forget all essentials such as diapers, wipes, creams, formula, burp cloths, etc
19.  All bathroom necessities

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

10 Household Uses for Toothpaste

1.  Have your kids ever used crayon on the walls?  Squeeze a little toothpaste on a cloth and wipe away.

2.  Brighten white shoe soles with toothpaste.  My daughter has an older pair of sneakers and just a small scrub with toothpaste and the rubber soles were clean.

3. Dingy patio furniture?  Give it a minty scrub.

4.  Whitening toothpaste is a great cleaner for the sink and a deodorizer for the drain.  The next time there is a glob in the sink (every day at my house) grab your sponge!

5.  Deodorize your hands with some toothpaste after cooking with foods such as garlic or onions.

6.  Next time a Barrett won't stay in your daughter's hair try a small dab of toothpaste.  

7.  Use an old toothbrush and some toothpaste to clean your diamonds.  Sparkle city.

8.  Save that old diamond scrubbing toothbrush and use it with a dab of toothpaste next time your nails need de-gunking (word creation alert!).  After a good day in the garden my hands and nails are pretty dang disgusting, even after a good wash  A good toothbrush/toothpaste scrub and I'm good to go.

9.  Coffee table rings anyone?  In our house coasters must be there just to look pretty because no one uses them.  Good thing toothpaste is a cheap fix for those lovely rings.  Use a damp cloth and some paste, wipe and dry with a clean cloth.

10.  Last but not least, use it to brush your teeth! 

Monday, August 25, 2014

What's Your After School Fuel?

In our house, the jump from Summer to Fall is a shock to the system.  Our family goes from lazy unscheduled days to homework and football practices.  My daughter's gymnastics practices return to all evenings except for that dreaded Saturday morning.  Alarms need to be set and lunches need to be packed in advance.

All of the running around after school makes it very difficult to serve a decent meal every night.  Football is after school for my oldest son and my younger son starts practice when my older son is finishing up.  My daughter needs to leave for gymnastics by 4pm three nights a week.  The in and out and driving all over translates to we either eat something that can be prepared fast or we don't eat.  Along with grilled cheese, pancakes, and peanut butter and jelly, I am a huge fan of Bagel Bites.
My kids are very active, and an after school snack doubles as dinner several nights a week.  Cheese and crackers, yogurt and fruits and vegetables aren't enough to satisfy my kids before practices.  They are excellent options for snacks immediately after practice, but I like to give them more of a meal pre-practice whenever possible.  They need fuel to sustain them through running drills and gymnastics routines. After school is my best opportunity to give them a meal, because they are hungry and there is just enough time to digest before they have to hit the field or the gym.
Dinner at 4pm isn't easy but we make it work.  The few times a month I'm prepared I'll get something in the crock pot.  If I have nothing ready after school, I know Bagel Bites can be ready in minutes.  They are made with 100% real cheese, and the dough and tomato sauce are made from quality ingredients.  The biggest win for my family?  My kids LOVE them.  Their friends love them too, which means I keep them fully stocked because I never know how many extra mouths I'll need to feed.
Every mother with kids in school can relate.  
To save $0.75 on your next Bagel Bites product, visit their site for a printable coupon.  Bagel Bites come in several varieties, including three cheese, cheese sausage pepperoni, mozzarella, cheese and pepperoni and supreme.
And now, the fun stuff....
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Friday, August 22, 2014

OMG. Did that Just Really Happen?

I'm having a moment.  This morning I put my last baby on the kindergarten bus.  After the bus pulled away I stood there for a good few minutes and I wasn't sure how I felt.  I had a "did that just really happen?" thing going on.  It was a lot to process. I wasn't sure if I was excited for the freedom or devastated my buddy would be gone all day. 

And then I got my shit together, laced up my sneakers and went for a run.

I ran because many years ago, in between my third and fourth babies, I promised myself I would get my mess in order when my last baby went to kindergarten.  This was after I succumbed to eating Goldfish, Pop Tart edges and leftover Eggos.  I sat at night holding babies and in the morning I pushed babies in shopping carts.  Every baby I fell further and further into the yoga pant lifestyle.  I was knee deep in unnecessary calories and I was clinging to the exercise wagon.  I went in spurts, some weeks I was good, some weeks I just couldn't get the sweat in.

Some weeks I really didn't care.

But I promised myself when my last baby was in school, and the mornings were mine, I would get my act together.  I promised myself that one day, when I had five minutes to think, I would do something for myself.

And so this morning, at 8:03am, I went for a run.

It felt fabulous.

And this afternoon, at 3:05pm, I once again felt fabulous because this face emerged from the kindergarten wing.

Life is all about changing seasons.  After 13 years of constantly being needed, my gears are downshifting.  It's scary to think about focusing on me and my yoga pants.  It's easier and more pleasant to focus on my kids.

They're the fun stuff.

But hey, this working and running thing isn't so bad.  Maybe I'll even find time to dry my hair and wear real makeup.

Happy weekend everyone.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Best Coupon Sites (and other tricks!)

Lately I've been afraid to check my blog traffic.  It changes like the weather here in central Pennsylvania, and over the summer my blogging habits have left little to be desired.  Work, kids home from school, laundry and all that good stuff has zapped my creative juices.

But no worries.  The bus pulled away and they're back.  Juices are flowing.

My first post with my brain on blog mode will naturally be about saving money.  I just finished back to school shopping and even with deals I spent a pretty penny.  It's tough to avoid when you have four kids.  Luckily my third child did most of his shopping in his older brother's "too small" bin.  Add a few new shirts and a pair of shoes and he was set.  Worked fabulously.

When you do have to go shopping, there is never a reason to pay full price.  Most times, everything will go on sale.  I worked at Gap Kids several years ago and I loved unpacking the new shipments.  I salivated over every little item.  After working there a few months I realized every adorable item goes on sale if you wait a few weeks.  And with the current trend of putting "Back to School" clothes out in early July, I'm betting you can wait a few weeks for whatever is brand new and uber adorable.

By the time it goes on sale you may actually need it.

When shopping online, check these sites for store coupon codes.  You can usually find free shipping codes and other great moneysaving deals.  BEFORE you pay open another window in your browser, type in these websites and check to see if the store you are about to buy from has any coupon codes.  It takes a few minutes and can save you $$!

Before you head to the mall, check your phone for any store apps you may use.  I downloaded The Children's Place app and have used it every time I'm in the store.  I also have the Auntie Annie's Pretzel app.  In the last four months I have enjoyed more free pretzels from all my points than I have in the past two years.  We have smart phones for a reason.  Use them.

In regard to groceries, browse these sites for printable coupons.  Remember Target will let you use a manufacturer's coupon (from one of the sites below or the paper for example) AND a Target coupon for an item.  This can add up to BIG savings.  If you are confused as to what a manufacturer coupon is and what a store coupon is, no worries it will say it on the coupon. 

Grocery coupon sites:

Some of my other great tips?  Sign up for Target Mobile coupons, use Target Cartwheel (more on those in my Save BIG at Target post!).  Check the Sunday paper for great coupons and sales and try to match your coupons to what is on sale at the store.  These savings really add up!

 Share your great moneysaving tricks in my comments section!  Happy Thursday!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Our Summer

This is it.  My last day of summer vacation with the kids.  I work the next two days and school starts Thursday.  I'm cursing the thought of an alarm five mornings a week instead of just workdays and packing four lunches every evening.

And homework.  I seriously can't stand homework.  

I'm blessed because this summer was full.  We did more than any other summer.  We vacationed, camped, went to amusement parks and fairs, partied with friends often and we visited family.  We did so much this summer I craved more sitting around and getting bored.

I'm thankful we were so busy because there have been many summers my kids NEED to go back to school. They start poking eachother and telling me playing outside is boring and the pool becomes old news.

The pool is old news but the rest has been few and far between.

This summer, in all our "busy-ness" I learned I can camp.  I can survive without my own toilet for two nights.  I juggled working for the first time and even though there were days it was tough I did it.  My kids learned to be more independent because they had to be.  We vacationed in the Outer Banks with seven other families, sharing a house with three.  We returned home closer than when we left which is a huge blessing.  I'm sure there are people who vacation together and when they return they aren't friends at all.

How wonderful for us that was NOT the case.

Our summer was full.  The current chilly mornings and sweatshirts after the sun goes down is a reminder that fall is creeping up on me.  It's okay.  I'm okay.  I won't be ready for January through April, but I've never claimed to be happy in the cold.  And there is plenty to enjoy before hibernation season commences.

Fall I can handle.  Let the football begin. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Homemade Pop Tarts

I am a lover of Pop Tarts.  Ever since I was a kid I've been a sucker for Maple Brown Sugar Pop Tarts. With the frosting.  As a result my kids are also fans of these toaster pastries.  Since I'm a bit more of a stickler for healthy eating than my mom was, Pop Tarts are not a regular purchase.

But every once in awhile we dive into a box.  It lasts one day before they are gone.

This past Valentine's Day I decided to try homemade Pop Tarts.  I saw a recipe in the paper and I used it for reference.  They were a success, and I had requests for another batch just a day later. 

Even though they aren't the healthiest snack around, I know what's in them, and that makes them a little bit more welcome in my kitchen.

Enjoy, and if you're patience is up to it have the kids lend a hand!

You'll need:

1 large egg
1 package refrigerated pie dough
wax paper
cookie cutter (if desired)

Filling ideas:

Brown sugar and cinnamon

Vanilla Glaze:

1 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400. 

Beat one large egg in a bowl, and unroll two sheets refrigerated pie dough onto wax paper.  If desired, use cookie cutter (I used hearts for Valentine's Day) to cut dough.  My dough made 16 hearts, yielding me 8 Pop Tarts.

Top half of your cut outs with 1-2 tablespoons desired filling.  Place remaining halves on top, and brush with beaten egg.  Moisten edges with egg and press firmly, use fork to seal.

Bake 12-15 minutes, or until just golden and centers slightly puff.  
Let cool, and if desired top with vanilla glaze and sprinkles.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Backpacks and Breakdowns.

I'm having a moment.  I just finished back to school shopping and I'm feeling a bit nostalgic.  After three days of buying clothes, supplies and undergarments, I've decided back to school shopping was more fun when it looked like this:

Five years ago, my third child was entering preschool.  My older kids were in elementary grades (entering Kindergarten and 2nd).  My fourth child wasn't even a thought...yet.  Back to school shopping was easy and cheap.  The kids desired character backpacks and lunch sacks, and I chose their back to school clothes.  I shopped at Gymboree and Children's Place.  I bought clearance clothes off the rack at Kohls seasons in advance.  I had stockpiles of adorable little outfits with red stickers proving how much money I saved on every single item.

It was glorious.

All I bought this year was a few new pairs of sneakers, some tops, jeans and shorts and one new backpack. Oh, and three new lunch bags.  This is spread across four kids so truthfully, no one made out like a bandit. I'm mentally exhausted because my kids no longer desire cheap clothes and character backpacks.  Cool sneakers no longer light up when they walk (except for my sweet kindergartner who got a rockin' pair on clearance from Kohls for back to school this year).  Buying what my kids want these days requires serious budgeting, explanations and planning.  This "Back to School" stuff is no walk in the park.

Today my soon to be third grader was salivating over the $65 Under Armour backpacks at Dick's Sporting Goods.  That shouldn't even be legal.  $65!  We were only in the store for a chin strap for my older son's football helmet, not a backpack.  I had to sit my son on a bench at the mall and regroup.  We had to talk and keep moving in the direction of what was affordable and necessary.  He didn't throw a fit, he didn't beg.  But I knew a little explanation was necessary.

It's hard.  It's hard to explain why a $65 backpack is highway robbery.  It's even harder to try and talk my kids into character backpacks that make noise and come outfitted with bling like stuffed animals hanging off the side.

They're fun right?  And they're cheap!  Don't you want to live in Neverland forever?

They don't.  My kids want Nike shoes and gray jeans and my oldest doesn't want cargo shorts because he'd rather have the kind without the big pockets.  My older daughter doesn't buy jeans if they "bag" between the waist and thigh.  My younger son isn't a huge fan of jeans and he wants everything in the youth section of Dick's Sporting Goods.  Shopping has become a giant science experiment that requires patience, time and plenty of Auntie Annie's pretzel cups.

I have to take each child on their own, use coupons and sales, and pray they are willing to try pants on.  And then we find the happy medium between what they want to buy and what is possible.  I'm lucky because my kids understand I can't buy everything.  They are thankful and we have fun.  Today I just had a serious ah-ha moment when I ordered a sale backpack and lunchbox with a coupon from Kohls and I still paid $43.

Those Doc McStuffins backpacks were $12.99.  Sniffle.  Thank heavens for my little five year old who still loves character backpacks and picture books.  When she is begging for Nike sneakers I might just have a breakdown.

You'll find me crying in the light up sneaker department eating Auntie Annie's.

Cheers. Enjoy these last few weeks of summer.  Lunch packing is around the bend!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Back to School Favorites

I seriously can't believe we're almost headed back to school.  This week, Junior High football practice starts. Next week, Back to School night. And the end of next week?  The yellow bus will be rollin' up.

I'm ready to celebrate and cry all at once.

I'm truthfully not ready to embrace my munchkins going back to school.  I prefer the summer thing.  I prefer no homework, no alarms, late nights and later mornings.  I love the unscheduled playdates and time in the pool.  There is something very daunting about packing four lunches every morning, working part time, shuffling the schedules of six people and trying to stay sane.  

I might just let myself go batty and see where the chips fall.  

In honor of back to school time, I'm sharing my favorite Back to School Pinterest pins. 

How adorable is this Do it Yourself Homework Caddy by Uncommon Designs?  Love it.  And it's a great project to fill up lazy August summer days.

This pencil dispenser shared by You've Been Framed is the perfect teacher gift.  We go through about ten pencils every two weeks.  And I only have three kids doing homework.  

Every parent knows how fast time flies.  I love the idea of doing a "Back to School Interview" every year.  What a great way to look back on all those "first" days of school.

My favorite of all the back to school pins I've found is most definitely this shoe organizer turned supply holder.  I will be adding this to our kitchen this week.  I am SO OVER all the searching for pencils, calculators, scissors, crayons and just about everything else.

If you need something fun for kids that are bored with swimming and playing outside, try making these nifty magnets.  Have your kids customize them and use them during the year for all those art projects and important papers!


Enjoy your week! hare your favorite back to school crafts with me via the comments section!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Let's Get This Party Started

Let's get this party started.
It's football season baby.  

Last night was my younger son's first practice.  Parents lined the fields with lawn chairs and blankets. Siblings ran wild and little boys ran laps in between learning to block, catch and run the ball.  Team moms handed out apparel order forms and coaches sized up their players.

I will never tire of this time of year.  Ever.

While the teams change and the boys grow, some things will always stay the same.  Parents watch practices eagerly awaiting position assignments and little boys daydream while their coaches explain "the holes" and who needs to block who.

They run a few plays and explain again who needs to block who and who needs to run where because if someone doesn't do their job a teammate gets drilled.

Football is truly a team game.  You learn to work hard, practice hard and most importantly be a teammate. There is no star player because anyone who follows football knows that "star player" can't do squat if he doesn't have a hole to run through.  The team can't win if the defense doesn't play hard.  There can be no victory unless all eleven players are in that game playing their hearts out.

There is no kid who shows up to practice and begs to play the line. None.  Yet those lineman make or break every game.  I've seen it year after year.  Every player on a football team has value and a good coach makes sure his team knows it.

There is no room for inflated egos in that huddle.  If only every workplace had the same mentality.

Here's to another season of tiny men playing their hearts out.  Happy Football Season to all the Football Moms out there! 


Sunday, August 3, 2014

The "Kind of" Campers

This past weekend I went camping.  I use the term loosely because I was in a cabin.  I knew there was NO WAY I could sleep in a tent for two nights.  It wasn't happening with four kids, one being JUST five years old.

Our cabin had a small bunk bed, a futon and a loft.  We had electricity (thank you Lord).  We had zero indoor plumbing.  Needless to say the experience was interesting.  I brought the toddler potty I carry in my trunk for "pee emergencies" because I was not walking through the woods in the middle of the night to use the public restrooms.  The girls in our family used the toddler toilet and the boys used the woods.  

Boys have it so easy in that department.

We cooked over open fire and we spent the entire weekend outdoors.  The campsite had games and activities, and the kids ran wild from mini golf to the zipline to the playground.  Some of them swam in the pool and all of them frequented the arcade.  

I was extremely pleased with the campsite because everything was included.  This gave the older kids some freedom because they didn't need to ask for money every time they wanted to do an activity.

One of our friends rented a cabin with a full bathroom, and I must say without a shower I may not have survived.  We all stank like smoke and our feet were black.  

The good news is that we had a fabulous weekend with amazing friends.  The kids want to go again next summer, and I'll definitely spend the extra for the "indoor outhouse."  My oldest is requesting we purchase everything we need to make mountain pies because he's hooked.  Our first camping experience was a success, and I'm thrilled we tried something new.  

Life gets redundant if you're not careful.  I know from experience. 

Have a great week everyone!