Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Weekend Wrap Up

Since it is now Tuesday, I guess I should post our weekend wrap up!   Better late than never!  
Our weekend started off great!  Nicholas and I took the day off Friday to get some things done around the house, his haircut, and to go to the dentist. (More on that trip in another post!) My sweet boy grows hair fast like I do and as my hairstylist says, he has the head of hair of a 30 year old, so after 7 weeks, he was in a world of trouble hair wise! Ha!

I also finally had time to sign him up for tee ball this Spring!  Let me just say that get ready, because I am EXCITED about being a ball mom and I'm about to blow up your IG, FB, and blog feed with adorable ball pictures! I also had to laugh when I signed the "ethics clause" because Michael always laughs that my Dad and I might get thrown out of a tee ball game as worked up as we get over my Dad's games! I can assure you, we will behave! ;-)  In all seriousness, I have spent my entire life keeping cool and holding my tongue and opinions at games, even when it has made me so mad I cried, so I'm pretty sure if I can handle someone talking ugly about my dad as a coach or his players, I can handle tee ball...I hope! 

Friday night we had another Friday fun night with our friends. This week we stepped it up a notch and took the crew to Chuck E Cheese. I didn't get as many pictures as I would have liked because it was wild, but fun!  My boys went during the Fall while I was at my some of my Dad's away or colder games. Nicholas was like a pro! He could work those games like he was 10! I die! 
It was fun to actually get to go with them and play a little myself! 
Ok, maybe more than a little...thanks to my skee ball skills, we had over 600 tickets to cash out! Woohoo!

Saturday didn't go as planned...at all!  We were supposed to have a day full of birthday parties and errands, but I woke up at 2:40 with what I've decided to call the Chuck E Cheese plague. I still don't know if it was food posioning or a stomach bug but I felt like death until midday Sunday. The boys went ahead and went to the first party of the day for a little boy at school. Nicholas had a great time!  I love that he is so close to his school friends, but I'm also sad that none of them will be together after next year as they all go to different kindergartens. :-(
By the time we started to get ready for party number 2, Nicholas said he didn't feel well and had a temp of 100.4...change of plans again. Into pjs he went and ibuprofen was given!  He had a restless night and even into Sunday still wasn't himself. He just wanted to lie in my bed with Netflix. Since he was sick, I threw the TV allotment out and let him spend his day there. 

Of course, by bedtime Sunday, he was his wild, crazy self without any sign of ever being sick!  I have no clue what we had, but it was rough! 

So, that was our weekend. I'm thankful we had fun Friday since we had to give up on the second half of the weekend! 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What I'm Loving Wednesday

I haven't done one of these posts in a looooong time, so I thought it would be fun!  I've tried several new things lately that I've fallen in love with and wanted to share with you! (I also realized while doing this post that I never use pictures from my camera anymore, only my phone. Sorry for the not as good quality)

1. MomAgenda Personal Portfolio  
I am LOVING my new planner this year.  I love to plan out my day by making a to do list so I don't forget something, especially at work and this allows me to do that for my workday, OSHA things I need to do, and a space for Nicholas, Michael, housework, and even has a line to meal plan dinner!
 It is a little smaller writing space than the Erin Condren, but I love how much more organized by task/person it makes me feel! I also like that after the original investment, I only have to buy refills annually, not $50+ every year. 

2.  BabyLiss Pro Flat Iron
My trusty 5 year old Chi suddenly went to flat iron Heaven one morning when I was running late...of course. I text my hairstylist immediately and told her to order me the same flat iron she uses. I used it for the 1st time on a rainy day I ran errands and at the end of the day it still looked good! Sold! It is awesome and gets my thick, coarse hair stick straight which no other flat iron has been able to do! 
I am in need of a new hair dryer, but do not want to spend a small fortune. Any recommendations?

3. Costco!
(Had to slip a picture of my little shopping buddy in here somewhere for the grandparents)
Ok. So this one is a little dumb, but I cannot tell you how much Michael and I are loving shopping at Costco!  Because clearly we are old, we bought a membership as part of our Christmas to each other and have been hooked since!  I have compared costs of some pantry staples, wine, and meats between my usual grocery store and Costco and I'm saving by buying in bulk, especially if they have it on sale. (Example, 72 Donut House kcups for $29 on sale!) We have found their Kirkland brand marinara sauce, Cabernet (and I'm somewhat of a wine snob!), and meats to be very good! It is on my weekly shopping list now and I'm building a rotating list to keep certain things in our pantry at all times. 

4.  Fleece Lined Leggings
I have always been part of team-no-leggings-as-pants, but I have to say after discovering them this Fall, I've actually lived in them on the weekends!  I wear them with dresses, long sweaters and tunics, and under jeans or scrub pants on really cold days. If you haven't tried them for yourself yet, RUN to find some! (Tip: my Walgreens had them 2/$12 last week!)

***All of these recommendations are 100% uncompensated. I have not been asked to review any of the above items.***

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Balancing Many Hats

One of the things all women have in common no matter what stage in life you are in, is that we wear many hats.  Sometimes I struggle a lot on how to juggle so many hats.  On my shelf of hats there are the Mom Hat, Nurse Hat, Wife Hat and True-To-Myself Hat.  The Mom Hat and the Nurse Hat seem to win the war on my time, but the Wife Hat and True-To-Myself Hat need time as well and that is where I struggle.  When you spend 10-11 hours a day away from home, it is hard to balance family, housework, and time for your spouse and for yourself.  

Being a Mommy is my most important job. When I'm at home or with Nicholas, I want to dedicate as much of my time to him as possible. No phone, computer, or distractions, just time to play, read, work on puzzles, or whatever he wants to do. I have guilt about the amount of time I miss him during the day and it's important to me that he never looks back and says "my mom didn't spend any time with me". This is where the struggle begins. How do you balance Mom Hat and Wife Hat?  

****Before I go any further, keep in mind that I LOVE being a mom and I LOVE my child more than anything, but sometimes other relationships need attention too.****

Since New Year's, Michael and I have made an effort to spend more time together.  We have gotten lazy in our marriage over the years, especially since wearing our Parent Hats.  It is hard to find the time to even have a conversation about our day sometimes when there are things to do around the house or Nicholas is demanding our time. It is almost like our marriage has taken a backseat to everything else. We recognize that and now is the time to change that. 

Sunday while we were out I ran into a lady I used to babysit for while I was in college.  I've always admired this woman and looking back, my life is very similar to hers in those days. She is a nurse, she had to balance work, home, marriage, and child and from what I could always tell, she did it well. While talking with her about raising an only child and some of my fears about that, she reminded me that one day it will just be the two of us at home and our relationship will matter. I think that is true no matter how many children you have. One day it will be just the two of you and the foundation you set as your children are growing will be important then. 

We are making an attempt to check in with each other during the day, even if it is just a "how is your day" text. We are sitting down together at night and we have chosen a few tv shows to watch weekly as a couple. We are also making a priority to get a babysitter and have one date a month. It doesn't matter if it is our with friends to watch football or dinner at a nice restaurant, as long as we are together and can enjoy adult conversation. 

The other hat on my shelf is one that I believe must be worn at some point during a busy week, if even just a short devotional time, quick hot bath without kids busting in and out of the door, or going to get a pedicure (which may I add, I haven't done in almost 2 years!). My True-To-Myself Hat (aka time for myself) is worn the least of any hat. I think for me to recharge and for me to be able to survive, I need to take a few minutes for myself every day. Most days this is only a 10 minute devotional in the morning, and that's ok. I just need some quiet time before I start the day where I'm not at work, playing superheros, discussing our household chores or finances, folding clothes, or cooking dinner. Just time for me. 

I also think part of wearing my True-To-Myself Hat is maintaining friendships with those in similar situations to my own. Due to my work schedule, I am not able to join a MOPS group or have a lot of playdates. I crave time with other moms and it's almost impossible to fit that time in. By having a girls night once a month or meeting other families for dinner on Friday with the kids in tow, allows me to talk over my struggles and listen to their struggles. I have two close friends who work outside the home with small children. We know that at any point of the day we can text on the verge of a meltdown and within a few minutes, feel better knowing we all understand. Being a better friend is another one of my resolutions for 2014. I plan to get active in my sorority's local alum group again, the occasional girls night or even just make time for a quick coffee on Saturdays with a friend before beginning my Saturday to do list.  We all need those girlfriend relationships. 

I pray that as women we can learn to balance our many hats and stay happy. I pray that we are able to maintain strong marriages, raise happy well adjusted children, and find time to just be ourselves without having to worry about all the other hats. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Weekend Wrap Up

We had another good weekend. Friday night we had pizza with friends. The kids have really gotten into playing arcades and as soon as we pulled in the parking lot, Nicholas asked "do we have money for games?" He kills me! 
He also ate two large pieces of pizza! I think it's safe to say he does love pizza! 

Saturday we had a work day at home. I did my grocery shopping, laundry, and some meal prep.  Y'all, seriously, my weekends are anything but glamorous these days! Haha!  Nicholas has gotten to the point where he is happy and content just playing in his playroom while I get things done around the house and I'm so grateful for that. 

Saturday night I had dinner with a few blog/twitter/Instagram friends. These girls are great and anytime I consider deleting social media I always remember that I've made several great friendships that way. Sadly, we failed social media and forgot to take pictures. :-( 

Yesterday we took Nicholas to my parents and had a day date! THIS never happens...girls night then a day date all in a 24 hour time frame! We went with some friends to Buffalo Wild Wings to watch my man Peyton win! 

Nicholas had a fun time and enjoyed being with his Gigi and Pawpaw for te first time since Christmas and we enjoyed having a day out just to ourselves. My next post in my mom series is balancing relationships and monthly dates are part of what we are doing to make sure we keep our marriage a priority. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Typical Day In My Life

Several of you asked me to do a "day in the life" sort of post of how I spend my day and a little about our routine.  I have done a few of these in the past, but some things have changed since then.

6:30 Alarm goes off, Michael gets up and I read my devotional in bed
6:50 I get up, pick out clothes for myself and Nicholas for the day. Michael gets Nicholas up. 
7:00-7:20 I get ready, Nicholas eats cereal or oatmeal and Michael gets him dressed. 
7:25-7:30 Nicholas and I leave with coffee, my lunch, bags and coats. 
7:50-8:00 Daycare drop off 
8:05-8:15 Clock in at work
8:15-12:00 I do paperwork, review charts and dictations, faxes, phone calls, etc. 
12:00-12:30 lunchtime
12:30-1:00 Prep for patient office 
1:00-5:00 Patient office (see patients with a trauma surgeon) 
5:00-5:40 Leave work (always varies)
5:10-5:50 Pick up Nicholas 
5:15-6:15 (30 minute rush hour commute  in the evenings depends on when I leave work) Commute home while discussing the day with a very talkative 3 year old. 
6:00 (on average) arrive home and start dinner
6:30-6:45 Dinner followed by clean up while Nicholas' bath is running. 
6:45-7:15 Nicholas takes a bath. I usually use this time to get things ready for the next day or clean the kitchen if we are running late. 
7:30-8:00 play or read with Nicholas.  This is our favorite time of the day. It's the time it is just the 3 of us. No phones, computers, or distractions. 
8:00-8:15 bedtime for Nicholas 
8:15-10:00 I shower or take a bath, put away laundry some days, pick up, and do anything that needs to be done. 
10:00 Michael and I try to get into bed by 10 and we may watch tv or read for a little while or we may just go to sleep. 

This is just a sample of our days. Sometimes it's crazier and sometimes lazier. The fact Michael is home to help in the mornings is HUGE! This is new within the last 8 months and it has made my life so much easier. We split it up that he does mornings and I do bath time and bedtime at night. 

Michael and I both like to have things picked up and tidy. There are certain things I do every day to keep our house in order. I clean my countertops in the kitchen and bathroom every night. I also clean floors if needed and as I've said before, I TRY to do a load of laundry everyday, but sometimes life happens and that is the chore that gets pushed to the side before anything else. 

Nicholas' playroom gets cleaned well and picked up once a week, but we try to put away all the small toys and clutter every night before bed. His room and bathroom gets picked up every night. 

Our bedroom and bathroom seems to be a catch all spot. There is ALWAYS clothes to be put away or a pile of clothes to be sorted in the laundry room. I try to make my bed everyday, but it just doesn't always happen. 

Our living room and kitchen are the areas I concentrate on.  They are where we spend 90% of our time and where someone would be if they stopped in for a visit. I pick those rooms up several times a day when we are home and keep them as clutter free as possible every single day. I have dark hardwood floors in my foyer and living room and I've given up keeping them spotless. With a dog and 3 year old, it's impossible! I clean them well once a week, but also if we have a spill or more tracking than normal.  

I am very type A, structured person and so is Nicholas. We like to have everything in order and things run in a routine. I think that helps me to survive our lifestyle and balance my two worlds of wife and mommy and nurse. I also consume a lot of coffee during the day and wine at night. What can I say, it helps! :-) 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Thoughts For Thursday

1. I am determined to get us back on track of eating what is on our meal plan for the week. During Christmas we did a terrible job of staying on our plan for the week and ended up eating out a lot.  So far this week we have nailed it!

2. I'm trying to decide how I want to decorate my living room with the new couch. Since we have nice new furniture I feel like we need to get a new rug, pillows, and curtains. Since we have the dark floors and bright walls, I'm thinking a fun splash of orange and turquoise would be fun. Has anyone seen any good throw pillows in either of those colors lately? I went to Hobby Lobby Saturday but couldn't find anything. 

3. Does anyone else buy clothes, hang them in their closet, then forget about them? Just me? I know. It's weird. I don't do it often at all, but Tuesday night I was looking for something to wear to work on a day I didn't have to wear scrubs and I was excited to find this sweater dress, I bought last year but never wore! It was a fun surprise!

4.  It is almost consignment season and I am hoping to start going through Nicholas' outgrown spring and summer clothes this weekend. He has grown so much since early Fall that he has had to have a lot of new things for Winter. He is growing up so fast and looks so old in pictures now. :-( Slow down kid! 

5. This week we have found ourselves to be the laziest people on the planet at night after the chores are done and N goes to bed. We've been putting our pjs on and lounging in our recliners by 8:30 every night. Best part about my new couch...my wine glass fits in the cup holder! Haha!

6. Thank you for all the feedback on my working mom series. I'm excited to what a couple of post I'm working on now. I'm hoping to have a post about our daily routine up tomorrow or Saturday. I'm also working on one in regards to balancing being a working mom and a wife. I seem to struggle most on balancing those two roles. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

I'm Not Superwoman...And I'm Glad

A few weeks back I saw a free download on Amazon for the book Chasing Superwoman and after reading the description thought I would give it a try.  I actually forgot about it until I put my Kindle app on my iPad on Christmas.  When I woke up at 6:30 the following Sunday I thought I would give it a try.  It was just what I needed.  I'm not sure a book has ever spoken to me like that one did. 

Let me give you some background on why this book changed my way of thinking about being a work outside the home mom. 

I love a good challenge and I love being in control. I do my best work under pressure, which is why I think I was drawn to critical care and trauma nursing.  The last year or so I had gotten in a great rhythm as a work outside the home working mom and I was actually beginning to feel like I needed a challenge in my life.  Since accepting more work responsibilities I've struggled to balance work, being a mother, a wife, and running a household under the standard I prefer it kept.  I am physically and mentally drained when I hit the door at night. My final straw was the day about 10 days before Christmas when I was exhausted with the end of the year rush of patients, attempting to write a new OSHA policy by the end of the year, OSHA inspections, and end of the year OSHA paperwork. I drowning. 

My house was a disaster area.  Laundry piled up so much you couldn't open my laundry room door, and I was exhausted leading to a cranky, mean Mommy and wife.  I was rarely leaving work on time and I was coming in at least 30 minutes early in the morning.  As a daycare kid myself I always swore my kid would NEVER be the last one picked up and it was happening more and more frequently.  He had noticed and I was feeling like the worst failure of a mom ever.  However, this was a career opportunity that I couldn't pass up.  I have worked for the practice for 8 years now and my hardwork and attention to detail had been noticed and rewarded.  I was gaining more experience in a different area of nursing.  Also, I admit, I love it.  There had to be a way to learn to balance and allow myself some grace. 

As I began to dig further into the book it was like I was the one writing.  I felt a connection to everything she was saying.  The writer has names for the different roles she lives such as Lady Lawyer and Devoted Mommy.  She says this about her two roles which just put it all into prospective for me: "At the end of my long day, Jesus comforts Devoted Mommy, gives grace to Lady Lawyer, and understands when I just collapse in bed."  Can we all give a big AMEN to that?!  THAT was EXACTLY what my conflicted heart needed to hear.  He knows when I'm at my end and He gives me grace. 

I made a point to finish this book before I went back after a week off at Christmas.  I needed to know I wasn't alone in my daily struggles.  This was my task on Saturday.  I sorted, washed, and put away 6, yes, SIX loads of laundry (with a total of 8 over the weekend!). I always say I'll do it daily and get into a routine so this doesn't happen again.  Yeah, I never do.  I spent the rest of my day picking up and cleaning.  This was done the previous week at 4am when I couldn't sleep.  

I also love to meal plan, but you know what, life happens.  Sometimes my day has been worse than anticipated or I forget to thaw something for dinner.  Those nights my family gets grilled cheese or quesadillas from the freezer.  You know, that is ok. At least we have food to eat and we are eating as a family. 

A lot of my friends ask me how i do it all or tell me how impressed they are with my balancing act and I always get embarrassed.  I hate feeling like I put on a persona or that I am trying to get praise for just surviving.  I promise you that it is not easy and I hate that it seems to appear this way. I live in survival mode and this book taught me that every other working mom does too. We are NOT superwoman and let me assure you, I do not even pretend to be!  

Let's open up the comments for other moms to share their struggles and encourage each other by showing that no one is alone. We are all in this together! 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Weekend Wrap Up

This weekend was a catch up at home weekend.  Sometimes we get way behind at home and it takes two days to catch up!  Friday night we cooked a pizza at home and just chilled. I have been fighting a head cold since Tuesday and I just didn't want to do anything. I got in my bed and read at 8:30.

Saturday I got up early and began washing this mountain of disaster...also known as 2 weeks of laundry.  

My goal was to have Sunday to get caught up on the DVR and rest...on my new sectional that arrived Saturday afternoon! 

This thing is heaven on earth!  It has 4 recliners, 2 gliders, and is sooooo comfy! We actually fell asleep on it last night! (Excuse the picture that I took in the middle of rehanging our TV)

Today was a lazy day. Just what we wanted!  I made muffins and since I've been sick we slept in. I didn't want to expose every kid at church to the funk we've had. We just needed a day of rest and catch up.  Although, I think I need an extra day in my week.  There is simply not enough time in the day by the time I'm gone 10-11 hours, come home, cook dinner, and get N to bed. I need a 28 hour day!  I finally finished all that laundry tonight and now I'm back on my couch resting and watching TV. 

It's been great to get things done around the house and rest. We are ready for another week. Look for the 1st working mom post by midweek. It will explain why I feel convicted to do this series and how I feel as a working mom. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Thoughts For Thursday

1.  It has been COLD here this week. The high on Monday was 18, low Monday night of 4, and Tuesday made it as high as 24!  It was 5 degrees when I got in the car Tuesday morning. Miserable!  My window office was not all it is cracked up to be this week. It was 55 when I walked in Tuesday! Burrrr!
Thankful we are supposed to actually see high 40s today. Heat wave!

2.  Michael won some BIG husband of the year points last night for our anniversary.  As I said yesterday, we had not planned to go out, but he had arranged for our neighbor to babysit and we had reservations at Ruth's Chris for dinner!  It was amazing and I got way too excited about a night out! It was so cold I didn't get to dress up as much as I wanted, but my trusty sweater dress and boots were warm and comfy! 

3. While I was out and about Saturday, I ran into Gymboree. Yep, huge mistake. I ended up spending a small fortune on Valentine's shirts, pjs, and an ADORABLE line of superhero shirts. Oh my word! If your little guy loves superheros, RUN to your nearest Gymboree!  Nicholas is obsessed with this shirt! He is now referring to himself as Super Dude. Awesome. 

4. I am doing a pretty good job on my goal of reading 20 books this year. I'm about halfway through Elizabeth The Queen, but I did read Chasing Superwoman in a day last weekend. (I have an entire post coming on my experience with that book soon!) I'm looking for suggestions for a good chicklit type read or good history/biography next. Any suggestions? 

5.  I am considering taking my blog in a little different direction. It will still be all about our family, no ads, and personal, but I want to be more of an encouragement to real life moms, especially working moms. I see so many moms struggling on twitter and Facebook and I know there are many others that feel alone in the daily struggle.  I've been praying for a way to have some sort of ministry to other moms and I think my blog is the best avenue for that.  Any thoughts on that?  

6.  What kind of decorations do you have for Valentine's Day? I have a big heart I hang on the door, but I need a few things inside. Any suggestions? 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Happy Anniversary!

9 years ago today I walked down the aisle and said "I Do" to my best friend. It was one of the best days of my life and I wouldn't change any of it for the world. What an amazing journey it has been since!  I love you Michael and I am so lucky to have you!  
Things sure have changed in the last few years.  Instead of going out and having a night out, Michael is bringing form steaks and wine for an evening in.  I'm excited for what the next year...or 50 will bring! 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Weekend Wrap Up

As I attempt to get back in the groove here, I am going to do all I can to post a weekly weekend wrap up and Thoughts for Thursday. Hopefully I can hold myself pretty accountable! 

Friday evening we met our good friends for pizza. Nicholas was excited to see his "girfends" and they all missed Tate who was sick and unable to come. It was nice to have an hour where the kids could play, eat, and I think we should make this a more frequent thing! 

I LOVE my weekend time with my family. I know a lot of people wonder why I don't make a lot of social plans on the weekends or why I prefer a quiet, lazy night in to being with others. The answer is simple. I have been going nonstop, on the phone, on the computer, seeing patients, talking or communicating in some form or fashion with someone all week and I simply just need a break. I also enjoy getting to just be still at home and playing with Nicholas. However, I do enjoy the hour or 2 a week that I take to buy groceries and run a quick errand or two.  Since Nicholas is in the car with me the entire commute daily, it is nice to just have a quiet ride alone sometimes. ;-) 

Saturday morning the boys went out and took a ride into the mountains and I took advantage to run to the mall and the grocery store. As much as I enjoy that quiet time, it is always strange to look back and not see a sweet face looking back at me!  They had a lot of fun and when they got home and I saw how muddy Michael's truck was, I knew they had fun! Ha! 

Sunday we went out for lunch at one of my favorite Sunday spots, Blue Plate. Nicholas has gotten to be such a big boy when we go out. He sat and ate and was content to watch the food prep area we could see from our table. He also loves to give hugs and "cudders" (also known as cuddles) which I take fill advantage of these days!
Side note: if you are ever looking for a tasty BLT or brunch in the downtown Chattanooga area, Blue Plate is my favorite for both! 

Last night we were expecting up to 2-3 inches of snow this morning, so Nicholas went to bed in his snowman pjs. 
Sadly, all we had in our area was some nice, slick black ice and temperatures in the upper teens all day! Burrr. So, we ended up not getting a snow day and off to work and school we went.

Disney for Newbies: What I Reccomend

***Disclaimer: Again, I am NO expert and I do NOT pretend to be. This is just what we recommend after one visit.***

Now that it's been almost 4 months since we returned I wanted to continue my Disney for newbies posts.  This has been sitting in my draft box for months, but I just now found the time to finish it!  Like I said on my last post in this series, I am brand new to Disney planning and really also to touring. It had been almost 25 years since I went to the Magic Kingdom, so I wasn't really sure what to plan, how to tour, where to eat, and how to manage the buses.  Michael and I have discussed what we are glad we did, what we would do again, and what we would do different next time...

Stay on Property
We chose to stay at the Caribbean Beach Resort in the Epcot resort section and I would absolutely, without a doubt, stay there again (but we may try another resort next time).  Some people aren't fans of how large and spread out it is, but we loved it and enjoyed a nice leisurely walk around the lake in the center of the resort to get to the food court and pool.  We also loved the convenience of the meal plan and ability to charge purchases to our room key.  "Mousekeeping" left Nicholas' stuffed characters doing funny things everyday and there are fun little bits of magic everywhere! 

Disney Dining Plan 
We had the quick service dining plan and it was PERFECT for our family!  With a small child we learned very quickly how difficult it is to stay on a schedule (as in it is impossible!) and I'm glad we weren't tied down to more than 2 ADRs.  The QSDP includes 2 quick service (or counter service) meals plus a snack/per person/ per night of your stay.  We ate 2 character meals, but we just paid out of pocket for those.  We spent close to $50 each meal and the plan only costs $39/day, so it worked out great for us to not have to worry about how much the meals cost or how we would pay for it since it was pre-purchased.  We have said several times that we will never go back without some sort of dining plan!  A tip on the dining plan, stockpile powerades!  You get your refillable resort mug and at every meal you also get a drink. We always got powerades and stockpiled them for park time.  It worked great!  Also, you can get free ice water at any counter service, so add some lemonade mix and you've got a free lemonade! :-)

Low Crowd Levels Are A Must! 
For two people who didn't know what they were doing, we got super lucky on our travel dates!  We booked our trip, started making ADRs and then I purchased touring plans iPhone app.  The app rates crowd levels and gives recommendations for park days on a scale of 1-10.  We ended up in the magic kingdom on crowd level 2 and 1 days.  Honestly, the 2 seemed less crowded than the 1, but both days were amazing! We walked on every ride with a wait of 10 minutes at the very worst!  We have yet to stand in line at Under The Sea, Toy Story (the hottest fast pass in town and we actually WALKED ON right at rope drop and obtained a fast pass for a 5 minute wait an hour later), and Peter Pan (walked on a rope drop and during fireworks the 1st day)!  It was insane how low the crowds were.  I don't think we could ever visit on a crowded day now that we've gone during such a low time of year!  

Know About Fast Passes
We only used 2 fast passes the entire time we are there, but they were awesome when did get them!  We came out of Hollywood and Vine just as the crowds came into the park from rope drop and were LITERALLY running to Toy Story, so I joined in and ran with them (with a backpack on and my boys trailing behind!). I pulled a FP for an hour from rope drop and we went into the standby line and walked right onto the ride!  The next day we didn't get to the park until 11:30 and by the time we got around to Peter Pan at noon it was a 60 minute wait.  No thank you!  We walked on after a 5-10 minute wait in the FP line at 1:45!  Awesome!  I kept reading and hearing about how important fast passes are, but we only used 2 all week because the crowds were so low! 

Do Character Meals To Save Time 
Since we were only there for 4 days, we wanted to maximize our park days as much as we could.  We also knew seeing characters were an important part of touring for a 3 year old.  To make the most of our time we made ADRs for 2 character meals at the 180 day mark in March.  I knew I wanted to kick off our trip at Chef Mickey on our arrival night (a mistake, but more on that on our day 1 recap) and Hollywood and Vine on our Hollywood Studios day so we could meet the Fab 5 characters and Disney Jr characters without waiting hours in line.  The only line we waited in after seeing in a meal was Jake, but it was worth it to Nicholas, so who cared! 

Use A Stroller!
I don't care if you bring one from home or rent one, just USE A STROLLER!  We only had one meltdown all week inside the park and it was a direct result of the fact N refused to ride in his stroller and was hot and tired.  Once we had a nap and made a rule of "you have to ride in the stroller" it was great!  
I also know a couple of people that have had strollers stolen at Disney, so if you bring your own, it's a chance you take.  To help cutdown on our chance of getting our stroller stolen or accidentally taken by mistake, I made a sign and tied ribbons on the handles.  It also worked great to help find it in a sea of strollers!  
On that note, also get a rain cover.  I saw people use ponchos and garbage bags, but our cover was awesome and Nichols was able to ride under it.  I got ours at Toys R Us on clearance for $7! 

Bring Souvenirs With You
One thing I did over the 8 months I planned our trip was slowly buy what we needed and park souvenirs from the Disney store online and outlets when on sale.  This saved me a lot of money and Nicholas loved that "Tinkerbell" visited him at night!   She left light sabers, snacks, shirt for the day, and a stuffed character.  Best money saving thing I did!  

Our Take on Disney Transportation
We were not fans of the busses from resorts to the parks, but some people love it.  We went with the full intention of riding the busses, but it was just too much for us.  We preferred driving our car to the Ticket and Transportation Center then taking the ferry over to the MK.  Our resort was 0.6 miles from Hollywood Studios, so we just drove and parked the day we went there.  We found it much less stressful and the ferry was an awesome way to enter the MK!

This is the end of my posts, but feel free to go back to September to read the rest of the tips.  My mom and I are in the process of planning a trip for next winter, probably in January.  She and I are taking Nicholas and leaving Michael and my Dad behind.  I'm considering a monorail resort or another trying out moderate resort, but undecided.  Like I said, we loved Caribbean Beach and the location, so I may just do it again.  If anyone has any tips on a hotel, let me know!  

Friday, January 3, 2014

New Years 2014

We continued our New Year's tradition of a family friendly, fun night in with friends for New Year's Eve.  Our good friends came over with the kiddos and we had finger food, champagne, and the kids wore pjs and watched movies.  Perfection! 
This bunch always has a fun time together. Love them! 

These three always have fun too!  I have been blessed to have two sweet best friends like Amy and Nicole that understand and live the same crazy busy life we do. 
Nicole and I have spent many, many NYE  together and I think the ones we have spent with our kids have been my favorite. Definitely a LOT different! Ha!

New Year's Day we were lazy other than taking down the Christmas tree. I spent the afternoon on the couch in the sunshine, watching football and reading my new cookbook.  (Thanks Amy!) 

We also ordered our anniversary gift to each other...a new couch!!!  We've been looking at this set for over a year, but finally pulled the trigger on it. Our 10 year old microfiber has taken a beating between our fire, a dog, and wild child! I cannot wait to get it in my living room! 

Nicholas has been playing in his playroom a lot lately and is really developing a love of Legos. 

Because it was NY Day, I made a variation of Nana's black eyed peas, collard greens, cornbread, ham, and apple pie for dinner.  No way was I going to risk my luck in 2014 not cooking this meal on NY Day! 

Yesterday we returned back to a normal routine.  I'm a little sad that all of the holidays are over, but happy to have the house and our routine back to normal. I am up now at 3:30am cleaning and just kind of enjoying having my life back in order. Tonight we are meeting the usual friends for pizza and arcade games for the kids after work and I'm excited for a little down time this weekend. The holidays zapped me!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Being Present, Giving Grace, and Looking Ahead In 2014

A few times in the past year I have blogged about my desire to just be present and not a slave to my camera, phone, blog, or anything else that may take time away from my family. As you've probably noticed, I've been MIA from my blog and even as I made an attempt to blog a few weeks ago, life got in the way. Truth is I have had no motivation to sit at my computer at night and do anything. Life is simply just too precious these days, especially after working and being away from Nicholas all week.

2013 brought about the best year our little family has had in several years. 2011 and 2012 were hard for us as we struggled in several areas of our lives.  In 2013, God opened several doors which has led us to a place where we are finally in the place I think He wants us in. Part of the reason I think it was such a wonderful year was we allowed ourselves grace and we were still long enough to hear what He wanted us to hear. 

In the upcoming year I plan to continue to allow myself grace. I cannot be everything to everyone and everywhere all the time. I'm making more of an effort to slow down. On days where I feel like I can barely crawl to bed once I get Nicholas to bed, I'm going to tell myself that if the laundry isn't put away daily or there are dishes in the sink, that's ok. I don't have to get so stressed or feel like I'm failing if my house is a wreck. It is ok.  I don't want to feel a obligation to blog, but something I do as a hobby. It shouldn't be something that adds stress to my life. I need to be ok if I go 2-3 months without posting. That's ok. I'm allowing myself grace. 

I want to make more time for Michael and I to be together. We celebrate our 9th anniversary next week and I want to spend the next year reflecting on our marriage and our relationship. We are in a great place right and I want us to enjoy that place in our relationship. We need to have more date nights and less nights sitting on the couch on our iPad and iPhones, but not really enjoying each other. We need to remember that we both work full time and some days we are both tired and I may not want to cook, he may not want to fold laundry or help clean up the kitchen. And that's ok. We need to get back to just being present and allowing each other grace. 

I want to spend more time with my devotions and making it to church more than once or twice a month, if we are lucky. I want to make it a routine, not something out of the ordinary. 

This is how I want to spend 2014. Being present and giving myself some grace.  What are your goals for yourself in 2014?