Our First Trip to Walt Disney World - The Magic and Planning of it All

12.05.2019

Sometime in early September, I started daydreaming about a vacation to Walt Disney World.  Unlike our National Park trips, this one would be about swimming in a pool, going on rides, and experiencing holiday lights, music, and entertainment.  It didn't take long for me to hit the "submit" button.  Before I knew it, I had booked us a reservation to Orlando, Florida, and there was no turning back.


My eleven year-old self remembered Walt Disney World when I went with my mom and Aunty Sarah.  Back then, however, there was no Toy Story, Frozen, Star Wars, or even their third theme park--Hollywood Studios. It would feel like a new experience all over again.  Big Lew had never been to Disney before, and Little Lewie, now eleven himself, would be going for his first time.  It felt great to be creating and memorializing a tradition.  "Lewie," I said, "did you know I was eleven years-old when I came here for my first time, too?  You are following in my footsteps."

About two weeks before arriving at Disney, I bought our tickets and soon learned about the My Disney Experience website and mobile app.  New to the inner workings of online vacation planning, I quickly had to acquaint myself to the FastPass+ reservation system and all the rides, entertainment, and dining experiences.  My Disney aficionado coworkers laughed at me: "You haven't started planning yet?  You better get online and start making reservations; some people start booking their rides 60 days in advance!"  Gone were the days in 1986 when my mom, aunt, and I strolled through the park and leisurely picked out our rides as we came to them.  If I didn't have a master plan, we would be doomed to a vacation of long lines and FastPass+ reservations for rides we didn't even want to experience.

Just days before our trip, I started flipping through travel guides like the Birnbaum's 2019 Walt Disney World: the Official Guide and websites like MagicGuides, where they provide a detailed list of rides, entertainment, FastPass+ Mobile App tips, and sample itineraries.  I put on my research hat and started making a list of rides at each park--not just for me--but for my two boys that are into space, technology, and all things virtual reality.  Then it was off to planning--a combination of "Yay, this ride is available," and "Darn, we missed out on that one."

In the end, I learned that the "early bird does get the worm."  There were some rides like Peter Pan's Flight (Magic Kingdom), Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (Magic Kingdom), Frozen Ever After (Epcot), and the Slinky Dog Dash (Hollywood Studios) that had 60+ minute wait times and no FastPass+ options available (even after routinely checking with the My Disney Experience Mobile App throughout the day).  Many of the other favorite rides, however, were available with multiple time-frames to choose from.  Thankfully, for procrastinators like me, we were still able to see most of what we wanted through the reservation system.  For those rides that we couldn't reserve, we made decisions about how long we wanted to wait.  For example, my two boys were willing to wait 60 minutes for Test Track (Epcot), but they were unwilling to wait 60+ minutes from Frozen Ever After (Epcot).  (I lost out!!)

I'll be writing about all our adventures at the different parks; ultimately, we went to Epcot, the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Universal Studios (in that order) and had an AWESOME time.  There was no way we would ever get to experience and see it all in one vacation, but we certainly did make the most of it.  Unlike me, I don't think Little Lewie will have to wait until he's 44 to go on another Disney trip again.  If I can have it my way, we'll be back again before he's 20.

To Be Grateful...

11.28.2019

Every night before we go to bed, Little Lewie and I say something we are grateful for...

Sometimes it's for God and for the gift of life itself; sometimes it's for good health; sometimes it's for friends and family; sometimes it's for independence and education; and sometimes it's for just the random things we take for granted everyday...food, shelter, clothing, and all the little and big things that make us happy.   At one time I was going to start writing down all of our nighttime answers, but admittedly, I didn't start.  I imagine if I did, the list could fill a book.

I woke up this morning with a to-do list in my head--pay these bills, start a load of laundry, answer a few work emails, vacuum the house, etc.  I realize now that these to-do lists that I wake up to each and every morning clouds my head space.  Instead of waking up feeling grateful and satisfied, I wake up to a void... I have this, and this, and this to do... Until the list gets done, I don't allow myself to feel happy, and if the list rolls into the next day, then I increasingly feel frustrated and burdened.

I'm not sure how to end the cycle.  After all, if I don't follow my "to-do list" for today, we won't have a Thanksgiving dinner...or we'll have some agitated family members that will be unhappy that I didn't do my part.  Maybe, Little Lewie and I need to begin our days in the same way that we end them..."Dear God, I am thankful for..."

Today, my morning gratitude reflection is this...

"Dear God, Today I am grateful for being able to celebrate another wonderful Thanksgiving with friends and family.  I am grateful that we all have our health, and although there has been some scares with family members in recent years, they are still here with us to enjoy and celebrate the day.  I am thankful for the yummy food we will be eating today, our warm and cozy house, and the fun board games we'll be playing afterwards.  Even more, I'm grateful that we all have today off to be with each other and not have to think about school or work.  We have time to laugh, to love, to inquire, to celebrate, and to be ourselves.  We have time to relax and be joyful (and maybe even have a glass of wine or slice of chocolate cream pie)."

I still have my "to-do list," but somehow it feels less important.  In a time where, lately, it feels like we're surrounded by feelings of scarcity and lack, I'm so glad we have a holiday that reminds us of our abundance.  Wishing everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving and a happy day of gratitude!

This year our Cub Scout Pack helped out at a soup kitchen.  It felt good to be able to help sort food in the pantry and to be able to serve a yummy and nourishing meal.

Halloween 2019 - Elves, Leprechauns, and Fairies?

11.10.2019

We've come a long way (11 years of Halloweens to be exact).  I won't bore you with a rundown of every Halloween, but let's say, so far, we've had three phases: 1) the cartoon character phase, 2) the train phase, and 3) the video game character phase.

I'll admit I enjoyed the first two phases.  For the most part, everyone knew who we were.  However, when we started dressing up like video game characters (Plants v. Zombies, Splatoon, Undertale, etc.) no-one knew who were were--I mean NOBODY.  It wasn't fun.  There was no, "Look how cute you are," or "Wow, what great costumes!"

This year I put my foot down.  "We have to be something different," I told Lewie.  He was already gearing up for a second year of Undertale.  We spent weeks thinking about it, and then one day, it clicked.  "Let's be other holidays for Halloween," Lewie said.  "Like let's dress up and say, 'Merry Christmas.'"

"Right.  I can be a Christmas Elf," I said.  "You should be a different holiday...like St. Patrick's Day.  Yeah, that's it.  You'd make a great Leprechaun, Lewie!"

Lewie liked the idea.  Daddy wanted to be an old lady in a mumu, but that didn't quite go with our theme.  We explored some ideas on the internet, and suddenly, we found it:  "Look at this, Lewie.  Daddy can be the tooth fairy!"  The costume was perfect--the tooth fairy could be an old lady, and he could swap a tutu for the mumu.

A picture of Little Lewie, me, Big Lewie, and my mom  (My mom was a scarecrow.)
Following our tradition, we went to my mom's place of work first, so the ladies in the office could see all of our costumes.  Since they are a festive bunch, they were dressed in their own costumes and had candy for all of the employees' children and grandchildren.




I can't believe how big Lewie looks next to my mom!!


After visiting my mom, we went home, grabbed some pizza, and hurried out to trick-or-treat before the rain.  It was 70 degrees and windy, but after 25 minutes of going house-to-house, the sky opened up, and it poured.  We finished another 20 minutes with umbrellas.  At one point, the alarm from the firehouse went off.  We looked at each other as if to say, there isn't a tornado in the area, right?  Thankfully, it was just a rainy and gusty day, but the weather did put a damper on things.  There were a lot less families outside trick-or-treating as there had been in previous years...


Lewie with his best friend.  I have to admit that in this picture, Lewie looks a little scary.  
Lewie instructed me not to say "Happy Halloween," so instead, "Merry Christmas, Happy St. Patrick's Day, and Happy National Tooth Fairy Day."  (If you think I'm making up the last day, then feel free to visit this post, which says it's celebrated twice per year--once on Aug. 22nd and another on Feb. 28th!

October Pumpkins, Hiking, & More

10.27.2019

In my mind, October is just not complete without enjoying the great outdoors--farms, hiking, walks, etc.  Every weekend, we've tried to fit in some fun outside time, and of course, I made my boys go pumpkin picking. 

This year we tried a new farm in Warren, CT called Angevine Farm.  It's a little distance from our house, but since we were going up that way to hike anyways, it was worth the visit.  Actually, once we arrived, we learned that the views alone made the visit well worth it.  I couldn't get over the beautiful rolling hills around us.  Plus, the farm and the barn itself had its own rustic charm.








Leave it to my husband to find an instrument at a farm...

Lewie bought himself some Kettle corn to hold him over before dinner.














After a glorious time at the farm, we headed to Steep Rock Preserve to do some hiking.  My timing was a little off, so we didn't have enough daylight to do the full hike, but we still got 1.5 hours in before sunset. 








Now, this weekend, Little Lewie and I had a chance to take a walk by our house and capture the "Witch House."  That's right...there's a house that likes to set up about ten dummy witches in its front yard.  I'm "okay" with viewing it during the daytime, but you won't catch me there after dusk--not ever.





Tomorrow it's supposed to rain, but so far, it looks like we're going to have good weather for Halloween.  As usual, we'll be parading out together in themed costumes as a family.  I can't wait!!

I'm 44, Say What?

10.13.2019

In the blink of an eye, or so it seems, I turned 44.  When I round it by 10's, I can still say I'm closer to 40, but if I round to the nearest 5, well I'm almost there--you know--at the mid-point of this decade.  YIKES!

This year has been different all around.  I'm still serving in two different capacities at the College, (they still can't find someone to fill my interim position), and time feels crunched. It makes my days off feel that much more valuable, so I try to make the most of them.  In September, I took a half day, and my mom, Little Lewie, and I went apple picking.  This was the start of fulfilling some of the items on my fall bucket list.








I'm glad my mom took this picture of us.  It shows how much Lewie is catching up to my height!
Of course, while we were at the farm, we fulfilled another item--buying yummy apple cider donuts!


On my birthday, I had a work retreat--actually two of them, back-to-back.  I was a little concerned as I would be away from Lewie for four nights total.  I knew my mom and Hubby would take good care of him, but still...I wouldn't be home for the nightly ritual of tucking him in bed and sprinkling fairy dust over his head or the morning ritual of getting his breakfast and lunch ready.  I also wouldn't be home to make sure he was reading, completing his homework, or practicing his trumpet.

Miraculously, everyone survived, and the work retreats brought a little unexpected fun.  For one, Big Lew was able to come up for dinner on my birthday.  We rode on a party bus to have a few cocktails, had a nice dinner, and then called it an early evening, so we could enjoy the hotel's pool and hot tub.  He even stayed with me overnight while my mom watched Little Lewie.

On the last day of both retreats, I had a chance to take walks and capture some beautiful autumn pictures.  Since both retreats were held at historic places (on the water no less), the scenery, buildings, and houses all had this rustic New England charm.  If there's anything to know about me, it's that I'm in love with old houses from the 1600's, 1700's, and 1800's.  Here's just a few of the sites I couldn't help but take pictures of...

Can you tell this is a pumpkin person at a spa? It has cucumbers on its eyes, a robe, and wine glass in hand.

Beautiful historic homes overlooking the sound.


I just LOVE the pumpkin wall...












I love the narrow European inspired streets and alleyways.



I might have stayed here...
The last amazing part of the retreats was the sweet phone calls and big hugs from my Little Lewie who said he "missed me so much!!!"  On the morning after both retreats were over, he whispered, "Mommy...things run so much smoother when you're here."

During a year when I feel as if I have too much to do and there is never enough time, I have a little boy that very innocently reminds me that I'm doing a pretty good job after all.  I'm not sure I'm thrilled about turning 44, but at least at this age, I can say I have the fortune of good health, love, and happiness.  What else can a forty-something-year-old ask for?