Monday, October 15, 2018

Family Time

Holy Hannah it's been almost two months. School started and my blogging time has been replaced with running kids to practices, policing homework, laundry, keeping up with the contents of the fridge (or lack there of) and vacuuming dog hair.

I'm serious. 

Fall has officially taken over, with crisp air in the morning and the smell of fireplaces at night. Between football, field hockey and soccer I'm pretty much constantly on the go, but we fit in family time like it's our job.  

Well, as parents, it IS our job. So much time gets lost looking at screens, I often wonder if people realize that if they put their phone down, they would find something else to do. 

Kids as well. 

Have you ever looked up and everyone in the room is on a screen?  It's horrible.  We're right next to people and we're not connecting. It's easy to see the difference out in public, but in our own homes we're not connecting. Entire families can be home but everyone is on a device in a different room.  

I remember when "screen time"  was the television.  Everyone was worried about how much television their kid watched. Now kids are on screens all the time, with never-ending access to people and information. Family dinner is a lost art in many homes. I work in a school and I see first hand that kids today don't have the coping skills they had years ago.  They also don't have the self esteem. 

They need to know something?  Google it. They want to talk to a friend?  They "snap" them.  

Remember when you had to get on your bike if you wanted the neighborhood news?

Not anymore. 

We all need to make an effort to get our kids away from screens. Connect, make memories and teach them lessons about life and friendship.  Teach them how to bake, how to clean, how to bank and pay bills. 

Not only will they learn important life skills, they gain independence.  Which leads to confidence.  Which leads to a better sense of self and self esteem. 

Over the years I've made an effort to make family time the most important time in our house.  We get around the table for dinner and we take walks on nice afternoons. Am I on top of everything all the time? No way.  Not even close. I get frustrated and I feel like I can do better many days. 

I'm guilty of allowing more "screen time" than I care to admit. The upside is I'm aware and I'm doing better every day.  I see now that the worst thing I can give is more electronics, and the best thing I can give is my time. Kids want and need our time more than anything else we could ever give them. 

Wishing everyone more family time this week! 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Bars

*A favorite recipe from the archives. *

Just over a year ago I made these dessert bars. There are only two words for them:

Oh Nellie.

These bars are ooey, gooey and divine. A universal homerun, even for Hubby. He is my most critical of dessert tasters, always needing to know what is inside before he tries something.

My answer to him?

Saturated fats. Now eat it already.

This is the perfect Labor Day weekend treat. Especially if you need dessert for a picnic. I prefer to bake these bars for special occasions because if they are in my kitchen I'll take one every time I pass by the plate. 

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Bars
2 sticks salted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups quick oats
2 cups chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350. Blend butter, vanilla and eggs. Turn mixer to low, and blend in sugars.

In separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda and baking powder. Gradually add flour mixture to sugar mixture. Stir in oats and chocolate chips until well combined.
Spread in greased 9x13 baking dish. Bake 25-30 minutes. For the ultimate gooey experience, remove from oven just before center is completely done. Let cool.
Makes 24 bars. Eat them. Share if you must.

I hear these are delectable with milk, I prefer with Diet Coke.

Happy holiday weekend!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Fast Forward

Remember VHS tapes? How it looked on the screen when you hit fast forward while tape was playing?

It was a blur of the movie.  It was clear what was happening as the tape sped through the film, but almost every scene could be deciphered if you had fast forward on only one or two arrows.

That's how it feels when you look back on raising kids.  

You can see every moment, but they are all jumbled together and all of a sudden you hit stop and there you are today.  It goes that fast. I look back on my oldest playing trains, my middle two giggling and watching the same movies over and over and my baby waiting at just about every event we dragged her to because the older kids had practice.  Or a game. Or anything. 

I remember not being able to leave the house without buckling kids and snacks in my purse.  Heck I remember that diaper bag. I remember realizing by child #3 diaper bags are just a glorified purse and I was just as good to toss a diaper, wipes and a bottle in my current bag. 

That was the day I became a minimalist. 

When your kids are young, you hear so many parents tell you how fast it goes. Now I know why. My kids aren't even grown up, but I can go to the store whenever I please and I don't have carseats in my van.

It's miraculous when you regain that freedom, but it comes at a price. You do miss those sticky faces and diaper bums. I miss buying toys. I'm blessed to have incredible kids and they still go with me to the store and hang with mom every now and again.

It may cost me a frappe or a pit stop at a drive thru but the company is worth 100 stops.

My house is still a mess, and although every few days I have a mini meltdown about shoes by the door and cups on counters, I know I'll miss that too.  

I'm learning to embrace the mess just like I embraced the chaos a long time ago. We're all a work in progress.

Happy Thursday.  Kiss those sticky faces...even if they're fifteen. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

August Thus Far

Back to school brings mixed feelings in my house. I love fall. The scents, the leaves, football, jeans...but the running around is usually a shock to the system the first few weeks. With four kids and all of them in athletics to say our schedule is full is an understatement. 

A big understatement. 

To ward off any major breakdowns I try and get as much done as possible in the weeks leading up to school starting again. Haircuts, clothes, shoes and of course supplies. Since my flooded basement I have really taken to purging unnecessary garbage I've saved over the years.  This would include just about everything I consider throwing out and then I think "I might need it some day..." 

Fast forward 18 years and I used 25% of it, yet it all lived in my basement. Not any more. Bedrooms have also been cleansed and it is a very freeing experience. I guess rainy days are good for something. 

This weather is making me feel as if summer was stolen, without any hopes of it returning this year. Afternoons by the pool have been replaced with wrangling wet dogs and wiping up muddy footprints. Some of my kids have been stuck indoors for the start of their fall seasons and my oldest is outside catching footballs in the rain. 

Not a fun August so far.

I'm looking forward to sunshine and even the smell of pumpkin spice. Give me anything other than rain. 

Hope the sun is shining where you are...say hello to it for me. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Rain, Basements and Blessings

It's been quite the month.  Two weeks ago I had an umbilical hernia repaired (that's another post) and last week my basement started to flood from all the rain.

We aren't in a flood zone, and we have a sump pump for ground water.  The trouble starts when the ground is completely saturated because you've gotten 16 inches of rain in two weeks. Unfortunately, our pump failed after working overtime and 12 of those sixteen inches ended up in our basement.

We visited a college (that is also another post) and came home to dirty socks floating across the bottom of our basement steps. Since then it has been a whirlwind of pumping water out only to have it seep back in within hours. When we just about dry out the basement and another inch appears just to drive me nuts.

It's a short drive. 

This morning, after a weekend of chaos and mess, I'm thankful we live in a small town.  Flooding is common around here, and the community comes together to help each other.  Without even asking for a hand, we had several.  Friends that came Friday night and stayed until after midnight, friends that arrived Saturday regardless that they had plans. A neighbor I have never met brought us a pump and offered supplies early Saturday after seeing our hoses pumping water into the front yard.

My teenage son even had friends show up to do the heavy lifting. Those boys were a lifesaver.

With all the assistance, and my mom coming Sunday to organize the mess that was left, I'm feeling like this was a blessing.  It is a reminder to lend a hand, to slow down and enjoy every day.  And I'll finally have a clean basement.  I've dreamed about it for years, but could never really part with a lot of the junk I had down there.  

When it's dripping wet it's much easier to toss into the trailer your friends loaned you for trash removal.

I'm overwhelmed with gratitude. 

Happy Monday.  Remember to be the kind of friend you want to isn't always convenient but it makes all the difference in the world. 

Monday, July 30, 2018

Elephant Party

My daughter loves elephants.  She loves all animals, but elephants currently have her heart. Truthfully I never thought much of elephants unless there was one in the room.  Those are hard to ignore.

Did you know that elephants symbolize strength, honor and loyalty?  One of the things I've learned about elephants as I searched for party ideas.

My youngest daughter has elephant stuffed animals, toys, pictures, paintings and clothes.  For her 9th birthday she wanted an elephant party.  I went on Pinterest and found all kinds of great ideas for her party that require me to carve elephants out of watermelons.

That was all I needed to stop looking on Pinterest. I did see an idea for Nutter Butters as party snacks and that one I put to good use. 

Instead of carving watermelons into elephant heads, I went to the dollar store for baby shower products. Elephants are pretty popular for new babies.  I found an elephant garland and table decor, went to Claire's for small elephants for the girls to "adopt" and asked Sam's Club to make me an elephant cake.

My older daughter, bless her heart, made us a "pin the tail on the elephant" game.

The party, with snacks and swimming, was a hit. I now have one more year with a child in "single digits." 

I can't even. I may need another puppy.

Cheers to elephants, nine year old and Mondays. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018


The older I get, I've decided I believe less in luck and more in karma. The energy you put out into the world is the energy you you receive, like a boomerang. I've seen it with my kids, my friends and the world in general.  

You reap what you sow.

I'm not saying if you're a good person you won't have heartache.  We all know that isn't the case. Life has a way of surprising us, and we go through many trials and tribulations. But your attitude through everything, and the energy you put out into the world comes back to you. I'm sure of it.

I know some miserable people. They make other people miserable and no one wants to be around that kind of energy.  I've heard them complain and cry about their luck and how they can never "catch a break."  Year after year it's much of the same and they can't see how they are behaving. They don't see their blessings as easily and they struggle to find that everyday happiness.   

I also know some people who are inherently happy. They just are.  They do favors without the blink of an eye; they offer a hand when its needed and never expect anything in return. I always refer to them as "refreshing."  They are easy to be around, they aren't complaining and they seem to just enjoy life. 

I'll be the first to say with four kids I've needed a hand more than a few times.  There is nothing better than calling a friend for a favor and rather than hearing a list of all the things they have to do before they say they'll help, they just say "no problem. I've got it."  

My third child is extremely charismatic. He has a way of letting things roll off his shoulders.  His room is a scattered mess, but he just lives in this happy bubble of oblivion.  While he's very refreshing, sometimes it's enough to make a mom nuts.  For almost thirteen years I've had mini heart attacks from being late, worrying about his never-ending sense of adventure, losing him in public places and visits to the ER. 

But he is lucky.  Good things happen to him.  He has found money on countless occasions. We'll be in the ocean and all of a sudden, "hey look, I found $10." He has many friends and he is very easy to be around. I often find myself in situations such as when I gave him money for the book fair and when I ask for my change he shrugs his shoulders and responds, "I gave it away."

My first reaction is always Why did you give it away?  And then he tells me he gave it to a much younger student who didn't have enough money for the fair, and I immediately realize I am the one in the wrong.

When we were on vacation this past spring, there was a lazy river at our resort. You had to provide your own tubes or hope to find some people left behind. We brought tubes, but we were lucky enough to have a family give us nice tubes as they were leaving the resort.  They had cupholders and headrests...the kind you can really get cozy in. 

The second day of our trip, I noticed one of our nice tubes was gone. My daughter told me my son gave it away.  I looked at him disappointed and asked him why on Earth did he give our tube away? He gave me that shrug and answered that we have plenty of tubes, and a family needed one. 

He constantly reminds me how to be a better person. 

I kid you not an hour later my son found an even nicer tube a family left behind. Life gives him back what he gives, every single time. Whether it be when he shares his snacks at lunch, funds another student's trip to the book fair or gives away our super nice tubes he always is rewarded two fold. 

This is my reminder to everyone to be refreshing.  Before you say no, think about saying yes. Open your curtains at home and let sunlight in; roll down the window in your car. Say hello to a stranger.  Do favors. Smile. Lend a hand.  

Give away a super nice pool tube when on vacation.

Life will return the favor.  I promise. 

Have a fantastic week!

Monday, July 23, 2018

King's Hawaiian French Toast

I'm a sucker for easy dinners.  We are always on the run, and anything that requires more than five ingredients isn't my cup of tea. I've said it before and I just said it again.

Being married almost 18 years, and parenting four kids, I've become accustomed to repeating myself in order to be heard. Anyone else have this issue?

In the summer, breakfast for dinner is an easy solution on those nights we are all over the place.  Last night we had summer league basketball and a sleepover.  My older son had eaten already and the rest of us were starved. 

The only issue is that my older son had eaten peanut butter and jelly, and had several sandwiches. Anyone else have a teenage boy?

Due to the peanut butter and jelly sandwich feast, the white bread for my french toast was no longer. I did, however, have a fresh package of King's Hawaiian rolls.  These sweet rolls are a staple in our house around the holidays. I immediately thought about how much I love going to a restaurant and seeing french toast on brioche bread.  Or a cinnamon roll. 

Why not french toast on King's Hawaiian rolls?  

To my delight, the recipe was a huge success. 

My favorite part is the french toast is perfect for dipping. The dinner roll sized slices go well with tiny hands, or big hands that don't want to clean utensils. 

I could eat breakfast for every meal, so this recipe will most certainly be featured plenty in our house. 

Before I begin, this is what you need to make this french toast:

King's Hawaiian French Toast

One package King's Hawaiian rolls
five large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1 Tablespoon vanilla
cinnamon, to taste

Heat greased pan or skillet on medium heat. 

Beat first four ingredients until well blended.  Cut Kings Hawaiian rolls in halves, and coat both sides in egg mixture. Place on greased pan sprinkle generously with cinnamon. 

Cook on medium heat until lightly browned, then flip and cook other side (cinnamon as desired).  I turn the heat to low and cook about five minutes once both sides are crisp to ensure egg is cooked through.

Serve with powdered sugar and syrup. I usually add whipped cream on the side for the kids. Enjoy!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Cookie Dough Topping

It's National Ice Cream Month. Music to my ears. 

Does anyone else have a deep and sincere love for cookie dough balls on their ice cream?  Or is it just my family?

I've passed on my appreciation for ice cream to every one of my four kids. We mix flavors and try a variety of toppings. One topping we all agree on is cookie dough, and the more the merrier.

I've mentioned that going out for ice cream is expensive, and I'm a fan of making at home treats whenever possible.  Much to my family's delight, I've added cookie dough making to my repertoire.  This recipe doesn't make the buckets I need for my family, but it makes enough to top your ice cream for a few weeks. 

This can also be used to transform vanilla ice cream into cookie dough ice cream...for all you ice cream makers.

1 c. all purpose flour
1/3 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. white sugar
1/4 c. butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 c. water
1/2 c. mini chocolate chips

In mixer, blend first 6 ingredients (no chips) on medium speed until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.  On wax paper, spread mixture to a little less than 1/2" thick.  Freeze until firm (about 1 hour).

Remove from freezer and cut to desired size.  This will thaw quick, and I like to roll the pieces to resemble cookie dough ball topping.  But squares work too!

Happy National Ice Cream Month!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Mama's Specialties

A few years ago, I started making something I dubbed a "Mama's Specialty."  Basically our family was in a downward spiral (that I created) of going out for ice cream.  This gets very expensive.  I decided to make my own little ice cream shop in my kitchen.  My creations were more impressive than any ice cream window, and I could make several for less than $5.  

The trick behind a Mama's Specialty is the size.  It needs to look impressive.  Often this can be achieved by overfilling an 8 oz cup.  I usually use 12 oz, but that's because I know I wouldn't want any smaller myself. 

Two generous scoops (minimum), drizzled chocolate syrup (or marshmallow, caramel, or anything) with sprinkles, chocolate chips, cookie crumbles or other toppings need to go on the bottom of the cup AND the top of the sundae.  Add whipped cream, drizzle a little more topping over the whipped cream. 

My kids wait for their specialties these days.  My kids' friends even know about these wondrous creations.  I have a line of munchkins every time we go away on vacation with other families.  They are all waiting for their desserts. 

Making your own sundaes saves a crap ton of money when you are on vacation. Trust me, I know this firsthand.  Too often we get into the habit of thinking a special treat or a special evening needs to be outside the home.  We go out to eat, out for dessert or out for a movie.

Stay in.  You'll be surprised how much an evening in can overshadow any evening out. You'll save money and the kids will be more comfortable than if they were sitting in a restaurant.  In your living room you can wear jammies or sweats and really focus on family time.

While my kids love a special treat every night, you can make Sunday for sundaes.  Or Friday. Or whatever your heart desires.

Play it up, set the toppings out and let the kids get crazy!  If this gives you anxiety take their orders and you get crazy.

A few of my favorite toppings:

M&M's (any variety)
chocolate chips (mini are best)
crumbled cookies
chocolate syrup
caramel syrup
marshmallow (made by mixing 1/2 cup Fluff with a tablespoon of boiling hot water)
whipped cream
melted peanut butter

I've also ventured into milkshake making, and this is one of the easier desserts to surprise your kids. A few scoops ice cream (any flavor) and a cup of milk, add syrup to the cup before you pour in the milkshake, and top with a few toppings.

Happy almost weekend!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Happily Ever After...

On Saturday, my sister got married.  This was a very special occasion for me. Not only did she marry her best friend and soul mate, I found him on the sidelines of my son's football scrimmage three years ago.


The short story of the long story is my sister was living with me after moving back east.  While I love her dearly, and she means the world to me, I have four kids.  My house is already full, and an extra person was starting to wear me down.  I knew she may eventually need a good reason to start looking for a place of her own, and I wondered if a good man might do the trick.

One day, at my son's football scrimmage, I saw Dan.  He is the athletic trainer at our high school, and he is adorable.  Tall, dark and handsome and even though I didn't even know his name, I wondered if maybe he would take my sister out.

And he did.  

The rest is history.

Weddings have a magical way of bringing families and friends together.  There is so much happiness and people tend to be their best when they are celebrating a new life.  Whether it be a baby or a wedding, there is something to be said about a new beginning.  

And we celebrated well this past weekend.  I had family in for several days, and seeing everyone left my heart full.  The weather was phenomenal.  Blue skies as far as the eye could see.

The venue was fitting, a barn in the countryside. We do live in rural Pennsylvania and my sister wanted to honor the lifestyle she has grown to love. From the people to the flowers to our brother officiating the ceremony, we couldn't have asked for a better day.

My children were blessed to be included in everything, which was fitting since they were involved from the beginning.  From my oldest son showing the trainer a picture of his aunt before they met, to my younger kids reading all Dan's text messages that first week, it's safe to say my kids felt they had a hand in this union as well. I can still see us laying on her bed when she would open a message, and my kids would tell her what to text back.  

My sister would calmly tell them, No, have to sit on a message for at least a few hours.  We don't want him thinking I'm sitting here waiting for him to text...

I'm laughing as I remember it, but I guess she knew what she was doing. 

On Saturday, they were thrilled to be sharing in every bit of my sister's happiness.

Look at this face..

My sister has waited a long time to find the perfect person to share her world with, and I'm feeling extra wonderful this morning knowing I had a hand in helping her.  While marriage and family isn't for everyone, when your heart desires it finding someone to start that journey with gives new meaning to the word love.

Not everyone fits the "forever" mold no matter how much we wish they did.  The good news is that when we see the happily ever after we truly know that God works in mysterious ways.  You never know where life is going to lead you.

Happy Monday all...wishing you a week full of love!

Monday, July 9, 2018

25 Activities to do with Your Kids this Summer (for under $20)

The other day I blogged about the importance of keeping kids young. We need to encourage them to play and be outside, and keep the screens off as long as possible.

We don't know who our kids are talking to and that is frightening. Smart phones are smarter than most of us, and we need to spend time with our kids to know what is happening in their lives.

Who are they talking to?
What do they like to watch on YouTube? 
What scares them?
What are they proud of?

This summer unplug and spend time together.  Ask hard questions.  Laugh.  Share memories. 

Below I'm listing 25 ways to make awesome memories this summer.  All of them for $20 or less. 

1.  Write letters to friends and family that live out of town
2.  Family tie dye night
3.  S'mores over a fire (or even a grill)
4.  Play cards
5.  Picnic in a park
6.  Family cooking lesson
7.  Family wiffle ball
8.  Bike rides
9.  Paint rocks with inspirational messages and plant them around town
10. Ice cream sundae night
11. Make a fort in the living room and sleep in it
12. Camp in the backyard
13. Plant a garden
14. Popcorn and a family movie
15. Take the kids fishing
16. Hike
17. Make a scavenger hunt in the backyard (the Dollar store has gold coins and fun prizes!)
18. Take a day trip to a state park (and pack lunch for a picnic!)
19. Catch fireflies
20. Make a playhouse out of a cardboard box (save those boxes from big deliveries!)
21. Play charades
22. Check your local craft store for project days (Michaels has different crafts for minimal cost)
23. Make a backyard water park (all you need is a sprinkler and a slide!)
24. Make an obstacle course 
25. Teach the kids a life skill (laundry/gardening/cooking/cleaning)

Enjoy your family this weekend and always! 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

This is Eight Years Old

This is eight years old.  These girls still play barbies, imagine and exchange letters and stories about being best friends.  They don't have phones and they don't play video games.  

My daughter is lucky enough to have her best friend live behind us.  They can run from yard to yard when we are home and they go home for dinner.  I learned from raising the first three that the most important thing I could do was keep my baby young for as long as possible.

This picture was right before they jumped into my pool holding hands while yelling, "friendship jump!" 

We didn't pressure our youngest to join sports, we didn't sign her up for tons of classes and activities.  Other than a club once a week after school she was free to do as she pleased.  It kept her carefree and gave her time at home to play.  Yes she was dragged to several activities for her older siblings, but that taught her how to wait.  

She knows how to be patient and that is a skill most adults still need to acquire.

In a world where kids seem to have just about everything they don't need (phones, video consoles) its ironic to me that many kids don't have what they do need.  

Responsibility. Attention. Time to be kids. 

Keep your kids young.  Resist the urge to buy them the newest phone or the best video game. You may be surprised to see they'll find something else to do. I've fallen into the trap of giving my kids electronics, and luckily they're still involved in sports and school and love to be outside.  

But there are many days I need to remind them that video games are the last thing they should be doing. 

We've moved a couple times, and every time it took a few days to set up internet and television. I remember what a struggle it was that first day. By the end of the second day, I realized we really didn't need any of it.  The kids found other ways to occupy their time and I did as well.  

It was like magic. 

This summer unplug.  Get outside.  Limit the data on the phones. Life passes us by while we're staring at screens, and we need to lead our kids by example. Our kids will find ways to be kids, and if they need help:

Build a fort
Make S'mores
Tie Dye shirts
Ride Bikes
Sleep in a tent in the yard
Write letters and mail them

Happy July 4th week!  Spend time together!

Monday, July 2, 2018

And then there were puppies...

Something happened to me when we decided we weren't having more babies. I got into puppies.
I'll add that I could have had at least one more baby.  Maybe two.  I love the baby snuggles and diaper butts.  The chaos babies and large families bring does not deter me one bit.  I'm like a moth to a flame.

When I was growing up, my parents had so many pets I swore I'd never have a pet.  They were so much work.  We had birds, dogs, guinea pigs, chinchillas and ferrets.  My skin still crawls remembering all the squawking and barking. Those days gave me my current appreciation for quiet.

My sister can't believe how quiet my house is with four kids and three dogs. I've worked hard for the harmonious space I call home.

As an adult, my stance on pets has changed.  They are work, but they also provide us with many laughs and great companionship. Our pets have taught my kids how to care for a living creature, which is not an easy task. We brought our first dog home eleven years ago, a french bulldog/pekingese mix (a Bullnese).  She has been (and continues to be) a phenomenal family dog.

Three years ago, when the pang of no more babies was settling in, a friend of ours brought Pomeranian puppies to my son's baseball game.  Have you ever seen Pomeranian puppies?  They are like live stuffed animals. My heart about melted and that weakness landed me with another puppy. 
With two dogs and four kids, life was full.  Our Pomeranian was difficult for a year (please always remember this...they are work!) but she is now the sweetest most well behaved little pup.

A few months ago I had that urge to add another...I thought a big dog would be a nice change of Enter Blu.  A Boxer/Newfoundland mix that has totally stolen my heart.

Can you even?  That face. This girl is a dream. 

Blu loves digging in dirt, wet kisses, bullying the Pomeranian, going for walks and finding big sticks.  She is the perfect pup to complete our large crazy family.  

Puppy love.  Not the same as baby love, but I'll take it. 

And for anyone who wonders about our senior citizen Bullnese, you can follow her on Instagram courtesy of my oldest son.  He is kind of pup obsessed as well. 

5 SIMPLE Steps to Planning a Disney Vacation

The one thing I've gathered from just about everyone who has ever tried to plan a trip to Disney World is that its overwhelming.  It's a huge undertaking and by the time their vacation rolls around, they are just praying they can figure everything out when they get there.

For families who have never been, planning a trip to Disney World is intimidating.  I understand it, because every time they make an update to their system even I get a little concerned I won't "get it" when I get there.

The truth is, while there are thousands of planning articles, websites and books Disney World is not as difficult as it seems.  Even reading through my own posts (which I try to keep simple) I realize there is so much information it gets confusing.  

Here is a step by step breakdown of how to plan a trip.  I have made this as simple as possible, leaving you plenty of room to read other articles and gather more information about specific activities.  

This is not a guide on all the rides, restaurants and parks.  I have plenty of other posts that highlight the best and easiest ways to navigate Disney World.  This post will focus 100% on planning the trip.

Once you have the week you want to vacation, pick it up from here...

1.  Hotels 

Inside Disney World, there are many options as far as park passes and hotels. ALL Disney hotels are clean and kid friendly.  The "value" resorts have less amenities (rooms are smaller, no restaurants on site) but they are still fabulous.  Your hotel will mostly depend on what you want to spend.

An overview:

"Deluxe" resorts are closest to the theme parks, have more transportation options (monorail, boat, bus) and more restaurants.  These resorts are expensive, truly five star and offer the most as far as amenities.

"Moderate" resorts have bus only to major theme parks. There are less restaurants but overall the resorts are still top notch and everything from rooms to pools will please most travelers.  Cost is more affordable but will still be expensive for many families.

"Value" resorts have smaller rooms and the buses may take a little longer to get to the parks. There are no restaurants, only cafeteria style dining (which is fine with most families).  Pools are still impressive and there is plenty for families to enjoy. These resorts are popular for spring break college kids because of the prices and families with young children because of the themed rooms and decor.

"Villa" resorts are the timeshare resorts. You can choose between studio, one, two and even three bedroom villas.  There are full kitchens and these are fabulous for families traveling with grandma and grandpa. They are similar to the deluxe resorts as far as amenities and price.

Once you booked a reservation make an account on My Disney Experience.  This website (and app!) keeps track of all your plans and gives you reminders to book dining and fast passes. More on that later. 

Tip: Look for deals in the summer and fall months with free dining or free passes for families staying in certain resorts.

2. Park Passes

You can buy passes for one park a day or multiple parks a day (park hoppers). If you have young children (5 or younger) I would NOT park hop unless you have a loose budget. Small kids tire quickly and you can always visit the same park morning and night. Park hopping is suitable for older kids or families preferring to experience all four parks in less than four days. 

You will get magic bands in the mail for your trip.  Everyone gets a band. You can customize them on My Disney Experience. These will have your park passes on them as well as your dining plan. You use them to get into your room, the park and eat.  More on dining below. 

3. Dining

*You do NOT have to have a dining plan. You can bring food into the parks. Most everyone has a stroller, and food is easily stored underneath.  If you have a villa or a fridge and microwave in your room you can easily eat cereal and other quick meals in your room. In the parks, buy two meals for four kids and have them share, supplementing with snacks you bring into the parks.**

Dining plans are expensive but extremely convenient. You receive a refillable resort mug for everyone ages 3 and up, which is very handy for the resorts. 

Deluxe Dining - This includes so much food and is so expensive I won't even discuss it. Unless you are traveling with only adults, skip. 

Disney Dining - This is the one snack (think kiosk type food), one quick service (counter like a food court) and one sit down meal (restaurant) a day for everyone in your party. You get your money's worth, but it is still pricey. More on this option here:

Disney Standard Dining Plan

Quick Service Plan - Two quick service meals a day and two snacks a day for everyone in your party. This is more than enough food, just not as fancy.  You won't be dining with Cinderella, but you also will have more time to be at the pool or in the parks. More on this plan below.

Disney Quick Service Plan

For your reference a snack could be a hot pretzel or a milkshake.  It could also be a banana.  Use all your food credits wisely. 

Your dining credits (how many meals you purchase) will be loaded onto your magic bands. 

4. Book Your Meals

If you opted for quick service, you can skip this section.  Unless you want to enjoy one meal in a restaurant (which I do recommend).  You can book dining reservations 180 days before your trip. Book reservations on My Disney Experience and make sure you plan meals accordingly if you are NOT park hopping.

You can change reservations if you desire.  If I don't get the restaurant and time I want I check several times a week to see if a time has opened up.

5.  Set Your Fast Passes

This is also done on the My Disney Experience app. If you are staying inside the Disney resorts, you can make your selections up to 60 days in advance of your trip.  If you are staying outside Disney this can be done 30 days before your stay (with the advance purchase of a park ticket).

My advice is to set Fast Passes starting at 10am or later.  Anything before 10am is usually not worth it because lines are manageable.  You may wait for 45 minutes, but lines in the afternoon and evening can be hours long for popular attractions.

To start, you get three fast passes per person.  Obviously if you want to stay together you set all people with the same selections.  However, when you get older kids that enjoy coasters and haunted mansions, you may want to consider splitting up.  I send dad with the daring kiddos and I choose a ride nearby.

For more information on Fast Passes click here.

For more planning tips, and all my best Disney advice, visit my Disney Tips and Tricks page!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Disney's My Disney Experience App

I haven't posted about Disney World in a long while.  Too long if you ask me.  

Since I started writing Disney posts seven years ago the parks have changed.  The rooms and hotels have changed.  Disney is constantly evolving and I'm sure anyone who follows Disney has a hard time keeping up. 

Me included.

One of Disney's features that I find extremely helpful is the My Disney Experience app.  When the whole smart phone thing started I was slow to adjust.  But I quickly picked up on how incredibly helpful the My Disney Experience app is while I was vacationing in Walt Disney World. 

For anyone not in the know, MDE is the official Walt Disney World mobile app and it's handy as a swimming pool in the middle of summer. You can schedule fast passes, modify fast passes while in the parks, check in and our family's favorite, check wait times throughout the park. 

A few of my favorite features of the app:

Fast Pass+

I already mentioned the ability to manage your Fast Pass+ selections on the MDE app. You can choose your Fast Pass+ experiences up to sixty days in advance (if you are staying at a Disney World resort; off property it is 30 days). You can choose up to three attractions a day in advance. Once you redeem those passes, you can add fast pass selections (one at a time) for the park you are in.  

With the MDE app you can modify your selections on the go as you vacation.  We all know plans tend to change, and this app allows change to be easier than ever. 

*During peak seasons, FP+ selections "sell out."  Once so many people have reserves times there will not be availability.  Never give up a FP time without checking your new attraction of choice has availability!*

Check Wait Times

This feature by far and away is our family's favorite.  At any point in the day you can pull up the current wait times for every attraction in every park.  This is very handy when you are out of Fast Passes or your next Fast Pass is an hour away.  

Even more handy if you plan on walking across the park in 90 degrees only to find Soarin' is temporarily out of service.  

This has happened to us many times. 

I'll find my kids at random times throughout the year checking how long the waits are in Walt Disney World.

"Mom!  The wait for Tower of Terror is three hours long!"  

Awesome.  Now get that homework done. 

Bus Arrival

The transportation system throughout WDW is a beautiful thing. But as with everything, there are flaws.  We have waited well past the twenty minutes Disney advertises while trying to get to a park. The app now has the ability to give you an estimated time the bus will arrive, which will cut back on running to the bus stop every morning in case the next bus is headed to your park. 

Family Sharing

Disney is often a family vacation shared with extended family or friends.  The MDE app gives you the ability to sync Fast Pass+ selections so you can all enjoy attractions together.  If you invite someone via the app to be your "friend" you can share experiences and travel plans. 

Check In

I'm a bit nostalgic, so this one still has to grow on me. I have many memories of myself waiting in the huge lobbies of the WDW resorts waiting for my dad to check us in.  I also can see my kids, as toddlers, huddled around the television in the lobby of the Wilderness Lodge watching old school Mickey cartoons while I checked my family in.  

But the one constant is change, and the ability to check in on the MDE app is a helpful tool for many families. You can start check in prior to your arrival, and even submit your estimated arrival time. You'll receive a notification when your room is ready, and you can even open the door with your magic bands.  

I guess that's kinds cool. 

Along with the above features I outlined, you can order food (I have yet to use this so I don't feel comfortable saying how great it is) check park hours and reserve dining.  

Check out more about the My Disney Experience app at 

Happy Planning! 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018


There is a new app in town.  Well, new to me.  It's called Ibotta. Before I continue I'll add that Ibotta has no clue who I am.

Starbucks doesn't either and I have no idea how that is still possible.

Ibotta was brought to my attention by my brother.  He sent me a referral code, I joined.  We both immediately had money deposited into our accounts.

I still wasnt impressed. I'm wary of apps that claim to earn you money.  I'm wary of anything other than an actual job that claims to earn you money.  The only reason I'm sharing this app is because Ibotta actually delivers on the money earning, which is astounding.  I joined Ibotta in March and by June I had earned over $100.  

Ibotta is a lot like the Target Cartwheel app (another one of my favorites).  Except rather than percentage off deals you earn actual cash back.  You select a store, view their deals and check the deals you want to redeem.  After you shop, you take a photo of your receipt and submit it to Ibotta.  Within hours the money is in your account. 

You can withdraw cash as soon as you reach $20.  You can turn it into gift cards or simply transfer the money right to your paypal or venmo accounts. It really is that easy.  I'll add that the selection of stores is quite impressive, and all my favorites were included.  You can also make money online shopping and they offer bonuses on certain products as well. 

A few things:

1.  As with anything, the app is not foolproof. When you scan your receipt rebates may be missed.  Make sure you check what offers were redeemed before you hit submit.  You have the option of adding offers and scanning the item barcodes if the app misses any. 

2.  Read the rebate details carefully.  Some require more than one purchase, some can be redeemed once per receipt, some can be redeemed multiple times.  

3. Be prepared to watch 20 second clips, answer a survey question or choose your favorite flavor of an item.  I'm sure part of the system is that the app is collecting information for these companies by our shopping habits.  If they're paying me I'm happy to share. 

Use ibotta?  Comment below and share how much you've saved!  Want to sign up?  I'd love to have you as a "friend" so we can save together!  My referral code is rjsxfcg.

Happy earning!!

Monday, June 25, 2018


You may have noticed I refurbished the blog. I've given it a face lift.  An update.  A much needed refresher.

When I started this blog, my kids were little.  My youngest was a baby and my oldest was in elementary school.  Time has a way of changing things, and my oldest is now entering his senior year of high school.  In the years between the start of this blog and today I've moved, held a few different jobs, transitioned from diapers to potty trained, adopted dogs and life in general has gone from boogie wiping to mom taxi most of the time. 

An example of these changes in pictures...



Enjoy every minute because in between these photos is only seven Christmas mornings.  

I took a long break from blogging because life was too busy and I needed to focus on the family.  My kids also didn't appreciate being the theme of a blog anymore.  When friends are reading your mom's blog in class its a bit embarrassing (if you are the friend reading the blog, get back to work).

When I pulled up the blog today the baby chicks and munchkin crafts didn't quite fit the bill anymore.  While I still have an eight year old, most of my advice now would revolve around teenage girl drama, cell phone issues, how to get chores done, the fastest dinner to make and the best way to remove a stain from football pants. 

I'm going to do my best to get back into the swing of blogging more frequently because I love it dearly.  I've done a decent job of raising responsible humans (hence the new tagline).  My kids play sports, get their homework done most of the time and they are pleasant to be around.  In my world, that's a win.  I'm sure as my kids continue to grow I'll be able to share some valuable tips. Or some huge disasters.  Hopefully not the latter...but life has a way of surprising us.  

The offspring will still lead a fairly anonymous life.  I promise. The dogs are fair game and I don't think they'll mind at all (insert wink emoji).

Happy Monday!  

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Valentine Mailbox

*an oldie but a goodie...reposting because I love this tradition so much*

Like all other holidays, we celebrate Valentine's Day BIG.  Growing up, my mother had a huge, waist expanding Valentine Brunch.  Along with the surplus of trans fats and sugars, there was a homemade Valentine Mailbox overstuffed with Valentine's for everyone in the family.

As kids, we looked forward to constructing and decorating the Valentine Mailbox.  My mother made this an event.  The event was always announced at least one day in advance. 

"Tomorrow night we are decorating the Valentine Mailbox!"  

Que squeals of delight.

Once decorated, the mailbox was placed out in the open for all to see and admire.  As we made Valentine's we stuffed them inside.  Having a mailbox staring us in the face everyday motivated us to make many Valentine's. 

At our Valentine Brunch, the mailbox was opened and hundreds of Valentine's were delivered.  The messages, pictures and goodies were always good for a laugh.  

Ever since my munchkins could hold a crayon I helped them make our Valentine Mailbox.  Like my mother, we make it an event and we set our mailbox out in the open.  My kids then spend their days crafting, writing and drawing pictures.  They write names on candies and fruit snacks and have even stuffed small toys in the box.

And when my parents are over, they always add a little note for each munchkin.  Or a dollar.  When we open our mailbox at our Valentine Dinner, you never know what you're gonna get.

Today I grabbed an oversized box for my kids to transform into the "Mailbox."  The shoebox doesn't cut it anymore.  

My trick with any craft or activity we do annually is to keep it simple.  I make it more about the together time and the experience.  We tape any ole' thing we can find onto our mailbox.  Anything pink, purple or red is game.  

We've painted, taped, glued and stapled.  There is no method to our madness. 

Let me walk you through today's mailbox construction:

The blank canvas.  Box, your life will never be the same.  I apologize in advance.
Jackpot!  Valentine craft paper in the basement! 
Hmmm....doesn't quite fit...we'll have to use the patch method....
My older daughter has always been a tremendous help with the decorating. 
Right about now is when one of these rascals cracked an inappropriate joke.  Giggles ensued.  No craft time is complete without a joke about butts.
To finish the masterpiece I slice the "mail drop opening" with a knife or scissors. 
Year after year, regardless of how the mailbox comes together, it's always perfection.  And I have some wonderful Valentine Mail saved from over the years.  My munchkins never seize to amaze me when they pour their tiny hearts out on homemade Valentines.

Being serious for a hot second (it's about all I can stand), this tradition is wonderful to practice letter writing and composition, etiquette, compassion and design.  

Whew, I think I may have just hurt myself.

Have a wonderful weekend!  Make a never know what surprises will be inside!

**My kids today are 16, 14, 12 and 8.  We still do the mailbox (although now I bought a standard metal mailbox I bring up every year) and we still make each other valentine's.  We just had our big brunch (for supper actually) on Sunday.  Our Valentine week is full with sports, activities and work obligations, so we always find a day that works to keep the tradition alive.

Everyone had Valentine's in the mailbox, and the homemade are always my favorite.  It fills my heart with joy to read what my kids write to me and each other. It takes effort to keep traditions alive, especially as your kids grow and life gets busier.  But it's worth it, and it keeps the family together.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Table

I work with a lovely lady who has four children as well, except her kids are grown and navigating their lives as young adults.  Married, engaged,'s enlightening to see how my future may look when my kids leave the nest and start lives of their own.

I may need medication, but it's enlightening all the same.

A few days ago, this friend at work gave me and another co-worker some words of wisdom.  

"Never stop the family dinner.  Never.  Keep them around that table. Yes there are nights you are on the run, maybe more than you are home.  But every chance you have you set and eat around the table."

It made me think.  I used to make a family dinner every night.  When my kids were little, and we weren't running all over every weeknight with activities, we were around that table.  I taught my kids about napkins on laps, how to cut their own food and to ask permission to be excused. It was important to me they learned etiquette, and to this day they are pleasant dinner companions. 

Trouble is, today those dinners are fewer and farther between.  We are just about as busy as I can handle some days.  We have two or three practices to work around every night.  And games.  

That's before we even figure out homework and dinner and chores. 

We eat in the kitchen, we eat "together."  But there is something about that table.  I admit I was getting lax about it, there were nights we all were home and I let it slide.  Eating in the same room was enough.  

Not anymore.  

This week, the only night we were all home, we set the table.  I made a feast and we gathered around that table. We said our prayer, and we did our classic "high and low."  We go around the circle and everyone shares their high for the day and their low.  You could do a high for the week, or a high for the year.  

What's important is that we all answer the same question, and it gives us insight into everyone's lives.  We know what makes someone's day, what they value and what they dread.

It's wonderful.  And I feel like when we're around that table - with NO phones and no distractions - like time pauses.  Just for a bit, but it does. 

It's magic.  

Don't let that time together go, cherish the moments you can set aside to connect with your kids.  It makes a difference for them and for you.  There is nothing kids want more than your time. Those traditions give them something to look forward to after a long day, and something to come home for when they fly the nest.

Happy Tuesday...make it special. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

How to Make Crayon Hearts

I found this Valentine activity years ago in Family Fun magazine.  I loved that it was easy, quick and unique.

It also made broken crayons useful again.
Broken crayons are one of the banes of my Mommyhood existence.  Please go away broken crayons.  Go away and never return.

Aside from recycling annoying crayon nubs, this activity makes a wonderful Valentine's Day gift for classmates.  A gift that is not a lollipop or a pencil.

Hallelujah and an Amen to that one.

I am good on pencils for at least a year.  We have a wonderfully varied pencil selection with a pencil for every holiday, season, superhero and princess.

I'm bracing for another pencil delivery via three backpacks next Monday (2/14).  If you are contributing to this delivery, I do thank you.  Even though I have a million of them, pencils don't expire.  I guess I can take a few dozen more.  I might use them to build a shed.

Without further ado, I bring you the "How To" on making crayon hearts.


Heart shaped cookie or muffin tin
Annoying crayon pieces from all over your house, car and purse

1. Help munchkins peel paper off broken crayons.  This is a wonderful, time consuming quiet activity.  Munchkins have to concentrate to peel that paper.  The room will be silent.

Savor it.

And then breathe deeply as you view broken crayon pile (cringe) and tiny scraps of paper pile (cringe squared).
This picture gives me agita.

2. Have munchkins fill each mold with assorted crayon pieces.  I love to watch my munchkins combine different colors for each mold.
LLG just tosses pieces in to fill each mold, he lets the chips fall where they may.

The Gymnastics Queen is very particular with her color schemes.  LLG's complete and total disregard for order drives her mad.  I find this very amusing as long as no one cries too loud.

3. Bake at 250 for 10-15 minutes until crayons are melted.

4. Remove from oven and cool at least an hour.  Crayons will easily pop out of mold once cooled.

These are wonderful to accompany store bought Valentines or to make homemade Valentines.

For homemade Valentines adhere heart crayons to a cut piece of card stock.

Add a super corny but cute message such as "You melt my heart" or "You make my days more colorful".

Valentine's Day is the ultimate in cheesy punch lines.  It's fabulous.

Go grab a heart shaped muffin tin and make something cool (heart crayons) out of something that is not cool (broken crayons).

Happy crayon making!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Homemade Bagels

One of my favorite things in the world is a good bagel.  I eat one every day for lunch.  Even when I was counting carbs (that's another post) I fit in a bagel every day.

I grew up in the "tri-state area" of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.  Pizza, bagels and indulgences such as Italian butter cookies are second to none. Bagels are plump and chewy, the butter cookies melt in your mouth and the pizza is an art form that has not been mastered here in central Pennsylvania.

Since moving to Pennsylvania, I've never found the kind of bagels that are plump, chewy and fill your guts with dough. My husband travels for work and nothing makes my heart sing like when he brings me bagels from New Jersey. There are establishments that claim to make a New York bagel, and while they are worth buying, they always fall short.

Don't sell me a 3.5 ounce bagel. If that sucker isn't at least 5 ounces I'm not happy. 

Last year I decided to make my own bagels because I was tired of constantly searching for bagels that fit the bill.  If you have experience baking breads and worked with yeast, bagel making is not difficult.  I was pleasantly surprised how fast I was able to make six bagels I actually looked forward to toasting and slathering with butter. 

This recipe I found on all recipes, and I made some changes. You don't need to buy anything fancy, just bread flour if you don't keep it stocked in the pantry. And yeast of course. 

I use my standing mixer to knead the dough, no need for a bread machine.  I suppose you could use a bread machine, but these come out great with the standing mixer method. 

For the bagels:

1 package instant yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water
4 cups bread flour
1/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 quarts water (for boiling)
2 tablespoons honey (optional)
1 lightly whisked egg (optional)
Toppings such as poppyseed, sesame seeds, cinnamon sugar, etc

In a small bowl, pour the 1 1/4 cups warm water, yeast and sugar.  Let sit about 3-5 minutes, The yeast should froth and puff - this will show you it is working.

In bowl of standing mixer, add the remaining dry ingredients.  When yeast is ready, add to dry ingredients in mixer bowl.  Using hook attachment, knead dough about 10 minutes.  The dough should form a ball and "smack" off the sides of the mixer.  Let it keep kneeding - it will be loud but it will work.

Pick up the dough, spray the mixer bowl with nonstick spray or lightly oil.  Place dough back in and turn to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel.  Let rise in a warm place about one-two hours.  I turn my oven on, preheat to 350, turn it off and place bowl inside. This warm air helps the dough to rise nicely. Dough should puff up (I'm using this word a lot today) and double in size.

Punch dough down and let rise another 30 minutes.  Again, set in a warm place.

Boil 4 quarts water and if desired, add honey. This gives the bagels a tad of sweetness, and is not necessary.  While water is heating to boil, separate dough into 6-8 balls.  I do 6 because I like a big bagel.  You can make them smaller.  After rolling dough into a ball, push floured fingers through center and work to create a ring.  set bagels on counter to rest for about 10 minutes.

Line baking sheet with parchment paper.  Heat oven to 475.

Once water is boiling, add bagels two at a time.  Boil one minute each side. Place on parchment lined baking sheet.

If desired, brush bagels with egg.  I do this to add some color, and if I sprinkle poppyseed on top it helps the topping stick.

Bake bagels at 475 about 15 minutes until tops are just turning a nice golden color. I have read people turn off the oven and cover the bagels with foil for about ten minutes. I may try this next time, it is supposed to help with the chewy texture.

Eat immediately - or if you can resist - allow to cool and freeze.  Remember this is fresh bread without they won't keep longer than about two days.  I take one out of the freezer every morning.

* not let bagels rise longer than two hours. When you leave yeast to work too long you will notice a "yeast" flavor and these won't be enjoyable!*

Have a great week!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Where I've Been

In the blink of an eye, your kids go from needing potty breaks and fruit snacks to needing money to spend as they rush out the door.

Seriously, that's how fast that happens.

I started this blog in 2009, I had a baby. She was a few months old.  I also had an 8 year old, a 6 year old and a 4 year old.  Life was busy with carseats and naptimes.  We did preschool runs and morning kindergarten.  I made dinner at night and breakfast every morning.  I usually passed out in front of the television with a bowl of ice cream watching Grey's Anatomy after all the munchkins were peacefully sleeping.

Then, every so often, one of them would wake up sick or with a bad dream and crawl into my bed.

I blinked.  My kids are now 16, 14, 12 and 8.  My oldest is getting his license.  Holy heck he's driving a car.  We're talking about college.  He's at practice after school every day.  He has a part time job. My fourteen year old is not far behind.  

Today my days seem short.  There was a time they seemed long, but that is forever gone.  I'm up early to work, I bring my two oldest to school.  After school (and work) starts a flurry of car rides, meals, homework and whatever else pops up.  Laundry is a never ending pile of misery.  Crumbs pepper my counters and floors.  

I did six drop offs/pick ups between 4 and 6pm yesterday. Thank God for leather minivan seats and XM radio. 

My life is full.  My kids are finding their way and learning who they are.  There is no greater enjoyment than the enjoyment I feel when I'm with my family.  It is truly a blessing to raise children.  They change you in just about every way imaginable.  

I'm not sure where to go with my blog or what to focus on, because so much of my blogs were about surviving those years when the kids were still wiping boogies.  And man those were some good years.  I could write about how to manage teen girls, how to manage your time, my favorite quick meals or how to just be happy...since that is one thing I manage to remain.  And it's such a great way to live. 

I hope you've all been well, I've sure missed mumbling and sharing parts of my life.  Understandably my kids aren't big on their lives being shared, so you've got me.  That will have to do. 

Happy Thursday, make it amazing. 

                                       Image result for happiness