May 29, 2006

Walt Disney World Tips and Tricks

Here are a few things we learned along the way from the various books, friends, websites and experiences we had that we found really helpful and useful to know. Take them for what they are worth, everyone enjoys and needs different things for their families. Also our kids were really young so keep that in mind (6,5 and 2). They are in no particular order so read all the way through as some of the best tips may be at the bottom.

1. Read, read, read. We were very well prepared and had reasonable expectations because we read so much ahead of time and knew what to expect and what to do and not to do. All libraries have excellent books available to you. Skimming them is generally all you need to do. We have special needs (vegetarian diet, peanut allergy) so we found the Passporter Guide especially helpful.

2. Use Fastpass. This is a great system at Disney and one when used well saves you a ton of time. You put in your tickets and receive a paper ticket with a set return time say you are at the ride at 9am your return may say 10am-noon. On the bottom of the ticket will also be the next time a fast pass is available to you (here 10:05am) so we get the pass then walk across the park to an area we want another fast pass and find a ride or two nearby without a line and ride them. Then at 10:05 we get our next fast pass and walk back to ride the first pass ride. Come out and ride another ride on the way back to the first ride and so on. You quickly realize the rides this makes a big difference on for you. For us our most used fast pass was Buzz Lightyear. Others that were very helpful were Peter Pan, Winnie-the-Pooh, space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Soarin, Kilamajaro Safari, Star Tours, and the Ariel show at MGM. These save you a lot of time and are worth criss crossing the park especially with young children with little patience for lines.

3. Plan for the bathroom. No book we read gave us an idea of this. You will spend a lot of time in the bathroom with young children. Just accept and embrace this and you will be happier. Everyone needs to drink a lot of water and therefore go to the bathroom more and if you don't plan for this it will happen at VERY inconvenient times. Like when you are next on line or on the bus headed home or nowhere near a bathroom. We found continually asking helped but also so did making them "just try" before any long line, show or upon entering and leaving the parks. It is helpful to make note of bathroom locations along the way, especially ones at the park entrance (on the outside of the gates) so you are prepared. We were at first annoyed with all the bathroom time and then when we embraced and planned for it - it was much better. Also kids take a LOOOONG time in the bathroom sometimes so be patient and let others go on rides without you.

4. GO EARLY! Every book says this and it is true. The difference in lines is amazing and substantial. Walking right onto popular rides with no wait and riding them back to back immediately is possible first thing in the morning during extra magic hours. The extra magic morning hours are MUCH better than the extra magic evening hours as more people are willing to stay late then get up early. GO EARLY, get up one hour to 1 1/2 hours early depending how long it takes you to get ready and to the parks. Then eat at 10am when it starts getting crowded but people aren't hungry yet.

5. Parades and Fireworks. If you are not a huge parade and fireworks person plan to ride the rides during this time (especially Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Buzz Lightyear) as there are nearly no lines and you can get off and ride immediately again. Sirah and I rode Buzz Lightyear four times in a row without a wait during the fireworks one night before I lost patience and made us do something else. We watched each parade and fireworks once and then used that time for rides the rest of the time.

6. Do Character Meals. The priceline on these seems high at first but they are really a great deal because you accomplish so much at once. You eat (which you have to do), you sit in air conditioning (which you desperately want to do), you get character signings and hugs and pictures. Everything costs money at Disney, even your time, remember that. I think Serona figured out we were spending about $134 an hour for our vacation (all expenses totaled) so the character meal was actually a great deal. As we spent nearly two hours at the meal, ate, played with the characters and spent around 90 total for a family of five. By contrast our dinner at the Tommorowland counter (fast food) cost us nearly 60 was less than an hour and was not nearly as good of food with no characters. Plus we did not need to stand in line for Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Chip, Dale, Donald Duck, Cinderella, Belle, Aurora, Snow White, Fairy Godmother, Pooh, Eyeore, Tigger, and Piglet. Also the food is much better, all you can eat and will fill you with energy and rest for much longer. We found doing one of these a day (including the night we came) to be an awesome use of time and resources).

7. Special Needs. If you have a special needs diet like we did, call ahead and let them know. Ask to speak to the chef upon arrival and they will work really well with you. Do not hesitate to ask for anything ,they have excellent customer service and really want you to be happy. The sit down places were accommodating, the counter services were not helpful at all. Your options may be limited. Check out the passport's guide and read the restaurant section ahead of time.

8. Bring Portable Snacks. My kids love natural fruit leathers (simply dried fruit no extra sugar), very portable, hold up to weather and relatively cheap. I spent 15.00 on fruit leathers and another 5.00 on gum and mints they like. This went a long way, the entire trip. It was helpful for a stand in between meals or in place of begging for snacks. We still bought ice cream a few times but for the most part our very lightweight and portable fruit leathers went a long way for us.

9. Nametag and Light. Our friend Julie gave us a great idea to have a little light and nametag necklace. We could not find a good necklace before we left but found nice bright luggage tags for nametags, we put the kids names, our cell phone numbers and the initials of our resort (CBR) on them. I also found 2.99 carabeners with little flashlights at Target before we left. Upon arrival we bought each child a Disney Pin Trading Lanyard that was perfect to link the luggage tag and carabeener onto. They wore those every day. We let them pick out pins and put them on their lanyards at first but quickly realized you need special locking backs to prevent pin loss (we donated two back to the park this way). We decided to just keep their pins in our book but you could buy the special locking pins and then the kids can keep the pins on their pin lanyard.

10. Collecting Treasures. Little kids want gifts and treasures. It is a reality no matter how much you work with your kids. We decided to embrace this and find cheap and small space ways to accomplish this.
A. Pins. We let each child choose one pin a day (we were in the parks four days) - pins range from 5-10 per pin. With several kids this can add up but much less than some of the other stuff does. It also is much smaller in space and if kept in a special place we bought a pin book can be kept as a reminder of the trip for them to look back on. Or you could pin them on the lanyards as discussed above.
B. Penny Presses. Scattered throughout the parks and resorts are penny pressing machines. They take two quarters and one penny per souvenir. It does not get cheaper then this. We bought a little book to keep them all in for around 7.00. Ahead of time I set aside some shiny pennies (they are prettier and better for the designs) and a roll of quarters in a ziploc bag we kept in the backpack with us. Tip in Epcot in each main gift shop they have country penny presses. Each resort has one and the characters are throughout the park. Watch though a few are quarter presses which will run you 5 quarters.
C. Passport Stamps In the World Showcase at Epcot each country has a KidCot area that the kids can get passport stamps. They sell a book at the gift shop, we had one from our homeschool book already. Or you could probably bring a homemade passport for them to use.
D. Country Masks. In Epcot World Showcase they have a mask the kids can make and collect little trinkets on. In each Kidcot they get a new trinket. We let them color one part of the mask in each country. Giving them a break and something to look forward to in each area. Warning the Kidcot stations in Epcot are in the main gift shop near the kids toy section so if your kid can not handle the temptation of the gift stores these passports and masks may not be worth it to you.

11. Autographs. Kids love getting their pictures taken with the characters. They also like collecting autographs and they will see other kids doing this. They sell cheap autograph books at Disney for between 5-10 I think. Our friend Linda offered the suggestion of having them sign a Disney hat instead. The policy on signing hats is it has to be a Walt Disney product so you know. We purchased light colored hats the first day before our first character dinner at a gift shop (around 20 a piece), and brought several different colored sharpie markers from home. Tip, find the clicking kind without a lid if you can and keep in your fanny pack. The hats turned out great! You do need to keep them off Splash Mountain and out of the rain or they might run a bit. The kids look really cute in them and they liked them more then the autograph books.

12. Pictures. We took on average 100 photos a day, one day nearing 200. So be ready with charged camera, plenty of storage space or film depending which you use. We used a digital camera and loved it. We downloaded the pictures each night and sent them to the grandparents and family who enjoyed seeing the pictures. Also Disney has professional photographers throughout the park. They give you a little card that you use the whole time and whenever they take a picture it registers to your account. You can see and purchase the pictures at the park or online after you go home. Family members can do the same. There is no charge for the card or the pictures as they take them only as you purchase the ones you want later. This is worth it and you can get prime photos like the castle and with characters. Also we found the kids pictures much better just one at a time with the character, the group shots were harder to get everyone looking their best. Also some the candids were the best. Especially young toddlers looking up at the characters - it really captures their expressions better. We also love the candids we took of our kids watching the SpectroMagic parade.

13.Double Stroller. We rented one the first day we were there for all four days in the park (it is two dollar cheaper a day if you rent it all at once) and good in each park you go to each day. Our two year old was in it nearly all the time not on rides but our 5 and nearly 7 year old were in it often too, taking turns. It was rare there were not atleast two kids in it. Also we often ended up with all three in there and our backpack on top.

14. Packing. Each day we packed a fanny pack that one of us wore and a backpack the other one wore. In the backpack we kept a change of clothes, the water bottles, the snacks, diapers, wipes and other misc items. We often left this in the stroller with the thought if it gets stolen there is nothing essential in there. We also kept our bag of pennies and quarters in there and when it rained the kids autograph hats. The fanny pack carried all our essentials we needed quickly. Wallets, tickets, cell phones, hand sanitizer, sunscreen and sharpies for signatures. As well as bandaids, advil (essential for my lip injury) and blister tape which we used on three members of our family. I also carried Dramamine but never needed it.

15. Cell Phones. One of the best things for us was both having cell phones. I unfortunately paid roaming charges on mine, but my husbands calls were free and we really needed and used them. This prevented wasted time of "meeting locations" and we could go on rides until the other one was ready. It allowed us to split up easily and stay in touch even if we ended up at different parks or one was back at the resort. We used these often. Our signals were good (Verizon and Blackberry) everywhere except in some of the buildings in Epcot. We also saw some using walkie talkies but you need to be careful of the range on those and some seemed to have interference. We found the cell phones worked well, they also clipped easily to a belt or fit in a pocket.

16. Line Activities. One of the best investments we made was to buy a Disney Trivia Pursuit game before we left. The newest version has picture cards with simple and challenging questions. We played it a few times before we left but I brought the cards with us and placed a few dozen in a ziploc bag each morning and used these cards while waiting on lines. They worked really well and even entertained some other kids in line along with us. I could hold out the card show the picture and ask trivia questions. Sometimes I added other more simple or more difficult ones for the kids. This kept them occupied in a fun and very space saving way. The cards fit right in my pocket.

17. Mickey Says. We often played "Mickey says" with the kids. A modification on Simon Says where they only do what is requested if Mickey says and you catch them if they do it when Mickey does not. We used this when waiting for parades, in lines with some space and at other times the kids had a hard time waiting. It also burned energy by having the kids do jumping jacks, push ups and hopping. Other times if space was limited they moved their hands a lot and did not require much space. We also sang the "shake your sillies" out song for our two year old especially to get those crazies out.

18. Ziploc Bags We always pack toiletries and airplane items in individual ziploc bags. For the kids I place one activity in each ziploc bag (I find one zip bags to work the best) and they play with that until they are done and then get a new bag. It keeps items organized and clean. We also brought a few big ziploc bags for wet clothes, unfinished desserts or other things that would be too messy to put in a bag by themselves or needed to be protected from water. They pack down small and come in handy to keep items together or away from other ones within your bag.

19. Plan to Say Yes. We tried to make things that would normally be no's, be yeses. The kids controlling some of the schedule, saying yes to treats, saying yes to certain small purchases. Of course you need to balance it with your budget. We found saying yes to pop (already included in meals) or desserts went a long way for us. Of course for us our kids don't usually get those things so this was a treat for them.

20. repetition. Be ready for the importance of repitition for the kids. The need to do the same rides, same parks, same bathrooms over and over again. I could have driven myself crazy over how many times we went on Buzz Lightyear and a Small World but rather I just tried to understand it was important to them and build it into my schedule. Once the kids knew they would get their favorite things again they stopped asking so much.

21. Making Choices. You need to make a lot of choices at Disney and continually. Often it is the choice between two good things. You need to be willing to let some good things go for other good things and be willing to adapt and be flexible. For us we found having an idea of what we REALLY wanted to do, what we did not want to do as the important part then we were flexible about everything else and worked it in as it fit.

22. Ebb and Flow.There is an ebb and flow to the park and rides. One moment an area will be empty and the next swamped with no logical reason. Sometimes simply walking over to another area or another ride has completely different lines and waits. Being willing to be flexible with your schedule and agenda helps here alot. Some rides never had short lines like Dumbo and others like Peter Pan could run from a 10 minute wait to a 90 minute wait in less than an hour.

23. Leave and Rest. Sometimes your kids and you really just need a rest. If you listen to yourself and your kids you can save the entire rest of the night and have a great time. If you keep pushing yourselves you can lose the rest of the night, be miserable as you try to make it through and then end up leaving early. If you realize you have a high need then just listen to it. Go back to the hotel, take a nap, play in the pool, etc and then come back happier and enjoy the rest of the evening. Some of the parks are open so late and you tend to be back at the hotel at the busiest time at the park (your least efficient and effective time) and then return refreshed and energized as the park is winding down. This works especially well if you will not watch the evening parades and fireworks but ride the attractions then as the lines are really short.

24. Listen for Tips. We knew where to sit for Belle to ask the kids on stage (on the left side of the stage on the bench with the flowers on the ramp), to put the kids up front for Turtle Talk with Crush (they talked to him), and where to sit for the parades (by the little discs on the ground). Don't hesitate to ask Disney staff they are very helpful and will answer your questions about where the best places for photos, to see fireworks, etc are. These little extras make the trip even better.

25. See It Through Their Eyes. For our family this was the most important thing to remember. Who were we there for and how were they seeing it. Sirah LOVED small world. And riding it with her and seeing her in it made me love it too. Watching everything through their eyes gives you a different perspective and keeps the vacation running smoothly. We stood online for awhile to see Pinocchio. The kids were growing more and more impatient and we were only 3 away from meeting him and they all wanted to leave the line. Serona and I did not, we had just waited if we got off we would have waited for nothing. But to the kids, Pinnochio was not important, not a favorite and not worth waiting for even if we already had, waiting one more minute was not worth it to them. So we got off the line, hard for Serona and I, but the right choice. I went on Buzz lightyear more than a dozen times including almost 6 times in the same two hour span but that is what they really wanted to do and what made them happy.

And remember to just HAVE FUN!!!!!!!

Walt Disney World Day Six

We slept in today, much needed with a 2:30am bedtime the night before! We slept as late as possible then packed up the room and all our luggage for an 11am check out time. Everyone in bathing suits we headed to the main lobby (halfway across the resort) to check in for our flight (a very nice bonus to staying on Disney resorts) and check all our luggage. We headed to the pool for the remainder of the day. The kids were excited to finally be able to go into the Pirate themed pool with the water slide. We spent almost four hours there and the kids had a great time and burnt off a lot of energy before our long travel day home.

We boarded a bus back to the airport, took a tram, an airplane and then our car home. We arrived home with some yummy Indian food (our body was craving food without cheese) that actually no one wanted to eat. The kids had a bowl of cereal and feel into bed. Serona and I ate dinner and tried to watch a movie (because our basement was cool - we left 58 degree weather for Orlando high 90''s and came back to 96 in Minnesota). We both feel asleep halfway through the film but by the time we crawled into bed the air conditioner had worked and the house was cooled off. What a trip! We all had a great time.

Walt Disney World Day Five

We began this morning EARLY as the alarm rang at 5:30am once again we did go back to sleep until 6am and then arose to get ready for what would prove to be our longest day of all at the parks. It was also the hottest day and today happened to be the day that we were all wearing heavy costumes despite the heat, my costume included a full length black skirt, long sleeve black turtleneck and a long hooded crushed velvet cloak in high 90's weather! What causes this insanity you ask? Star Wars weekend at MGM Studios. Friday was opening day for the weekend and our whole family went in costume. We arrived at the park at opening to hear and watch the storm troopers patrolling the top of the entrance gate.

Upon entering the gates we headed straight for Star Tours which we rode using child swap since Sirah was too little to ride it. I felt sick on it but made it through the ride but wisely knew it was not worth going on again for me. The kids and Serona immediately proceeded to ride it again with our fastpasses. He said "These aren't the fast passes you are looking for" and was granted admission to the ride of course they all were in authentic jedi costumes and got stopped for pictures and autographs. Sirah and I walked around and looked at the costumed characthers and got fast passes for the Ariel show. We saw wicket, Chewie, Anakin, Mace, Shak-Ti, Luke and Leia. The lines were too long to wait around for autographs so we took a few pictures and just kept walking. We headed over to Ariel but got off the line because we would miss the parade for the show. Instead we stopped at the Narnia show. Which as much as I love the book and enjoyed the movie I did not enjoy this attraction. It was a long line for not much. The coolest part was when the wardrobe doors opened and you walked "into Narnia" and then you stood and saw the white witch say a few lines and then watched an extended trailer of the movie and then are led quickly through a room with several items fro the film. We did a get a picture in front of a set of Tumnus' front door, not worth the wait IMHO. We headed into the special star wars merchandise store to pick up the collector pins and to have our picture taken with an x-wing.

The x-wing line was taking awhile and we knew we would likely miss the parade if we stayed on it. We decided to just stay where we were and have the picture taken and to forgo the parade. Serona was very flexible for the family's sake, missing out on things he would love as a big star wars fan so that everyone could enjoy the day. As Serona picked up the pictures and shopped a bit I took the kids outside and headed over to Ariel. The show was good, a mix of live entertainment and clips from the movie, with some water and wind to make things feel more real. While we were in there Serona went to "Who wants to be a millionaire" Star Wars edition. He never made it into the hot seat but did know the answer to all but one question which he would have used a lifeline for. We got caught up in a street show with their street performers and we got asked to take several pictures with people which we are always happy to do.

We decided then that the kids simply needed to leave. There were other things we wanted to do, like the jedi training, the adult trivia contest (which both Serona and I got bracelets for), the beauty and the beast show, the muppets 3D, honey I shrunk the kids set, and serona wanted to do tower of terror alone, but this was one of those days where we said "Whose vacation is it and what do they need" and the answer was "The kids needed naps to save the rest of the day" - we headed back to the hotel and let go of everything else we wanted to do and it was the absolute best decision we could have made. We took a solid 3-4 hours of napping at the hotel and woke up feeling like it was a new day. It had ominous clouds and a promise of rain.

We boarded the bus and headed back to MGM to pick up our pictures and to do a few of the things we left unfinished. Only when we arrived it was absolutely pouring so we switched gears. I ran with the older two to the Magic Kingdom bus stop and Serona took Sirah to get the pictures and pick up raingear. Ponchos are relatively cheap (nothing is cheap there) and worth the cost. He came back with ponchos for all and we eventually dried off on the way to Magic Kingdom. The good of the rain was it drove a lot of people out of the parks at what is otherwise a very busy time of day. As we arrived at Magic Kingdom the gates were nearly empty and people were streaming out of the parks to escape the rain. By the time we had our stroller and walked to get dinner the rain was down to a drizzle. By the time we finished dinner it was done and the sun was out and the park was cool (a nice by-product of Florida rainstorms) - perfect for touring the park.

We worked our way through the entire park reriding all the kids favorites and trying a few we had missed like the Swiss Family Robinson house. By now we were used to doing rides during the parades and fireworks for short lines but the kids were showing interest in the evening parade so we decided to watch it if we could find a spot. Main street of course is packed and as much as every book and experienced person tells you too I just can not bring myself to sit down for two hours to wait for a prime spot for the parade. We happened to be walking out of the Swiss Family treehouse right around parade time and were heading over to the mountains when we realized the parade route in Fronteirland was completely empty - prime front row curb spots were open and it was just 15 minutes until parade time! Okay I can wait 15 minutes for a front row seat, 2 hours - no, 15 minutes yes. So we found a good spot, bought some ice cream and waited it out.

The parade was really special. Something about the characters being lit up just really made it all so much more special and the kids had that big grin and looks that we had been hoping for at the first afternoon parade. The sparkle in their eyes, the craning of their necks to see what's coming next, the waving until someone waves back, it did have that magical feeling. The kids got personal waves and even kisses blown to them from many of their favorite characters and it provided a way for Ciaran to say goodbye to many of the characters something he was afraid he could not do. They loved it, we had fabulous seats and no wait time. Head back to fronteirland for the evening parade!

We immediately headed for Alladin's carpets again before the lines hit and got their just in time, we boarded second and right behind us the line formed huge. Then we let the kids pick out their little gifts. Rhiannon picked out intricately dressed Jamine and Alladin dolls, Ciaran a Buzz Lightyear Ion Cannon with targets (like the ones they use on the ride)and a buzz light up toy he wanted all week. Sirah picked out a bag of jewels and an alladin and jasmine action figure collection as well as a talking princess telephone. They all spent the same amount of money give or a take a dollar or two. Of course we had also been picking out pins and coins all along as well and saying yes more than we ever do to ice cream, candy and all that sort of treats.

Our kids actually did REALLY well in the no whining/begging for stuff department. I think because they are so used to hearing "No" they took it in stride even in Disney where everything ends in a gift shop and everything screams BUY ME to little kids and their parents. They also were blessed with more "YES!" and more treats then they probably have ever had all at once in their lives which can not have hurt. A few things that we did that I think helped this was to have things for them to "collect", each day they could pick out a pin (5-8 range) and we always said yes if they found one of those penny press machines (we bought a book to collect them in for 6.00 the first day) and they also had their hats to collect signatures and in Epcot they collected passport stamps and little items for their masks. This gave them something to look forward to and helped them feel like they were getting "gifts" all along and helped distract them from some of the schwag they otherwise would have wanted.

Plus they knew the last day they could pick something out so they kept thinking about that and when they asked for an item we would say "If that is still what you want the last day as your present then you can get it then". This strategy worked really well for us. A tip though, check what time you need to make your purchases before for package pickup or resort delivery so you are not carrying them with you the whole time and be sure to buy before then.

By the time we finished gifts and were ready to split up again for the mountains it was after 10pm. The park stayed open until 3am and while not our intention to stay that late we knew we would stay late as it was our last night in the park so we got our extra magic hours bracelet (do this early to avoid lines) and split up for one last ride on the mountains for Rhia and dad and one more trip on Buzz and small world for Sirah and Ciaran. We did not connect up right away and we did a few more rides in Fantasyland separate then I let Ciaran and Sirah out to play in Pooh's playground and in the water area - when I looked at the time I was shocked it was already midnight! The kids were still doing really well but I was starting to fade.

We caught up with Serona and Rhia and Rhiannon really wanted to do some rides with just me since she had spent so much time with Serona so I said yes and we headed off for Philharmagic and Small World. Serona took the others on Winnie the Pooh, then we were going to just ride the carousel all together as our last ride but all three kids wanted Peter Pan as their last ride. Since there was such unity on this of course we wanted to say yes but Peter Pan had long lines all night and they had turned off the fast passes before midnight. We decided we would just do it and stand on line. We realized they turned back on the fast pass machine and got a fast pass whose time stamp said "1:30am to 2:00am" I kid you not! So we bought ice cream shakes and root beer floats and sat at a table eating them until it was time for our ride. We rode Peter Pan and headed for the gates waving goodbye to things as we went along. We exited the park after 2am and all three kids still in good spirits! What a nap we had in the afternoon that even Sirah was still chipper. They all three immediately feel asleep on the bus and getting off with the packages and three sleeping children was a challenge but we made it to the room and along the way we even saw a frog on the lightpost causing Ciaran great joy. He had seen many geckos and lizards but no frogs until that moment.

We piled into bed half asleep at 2:30 in the morning after having gotten up that morning at 6am! What a day, but it was a great day and a great way to end the vacation at the parks.

Walt Disney World Day Four

We began this day at Epcot after a bit of a sleep in since we did not need to be there until 9am. We were meeting with the group we went down with (Homeschool Adventures) for a special homeschool program that Disney had arranged with them. There were two tracks available to us, a science program or a culture program. Given the ages of our kids we chose the culture program in the world showcase area. We began in a building in China where we met Gloria, an international exchange student from Hong Kong. She shared with us a bit of her life and talked about schooling in Hong Kong and how homeschooling is illegal there. We were able to ask her questions and it was very interesting. Each student was given a nice book put together by the Disney Institute with some interesting workbook pages and facts about each country and a passport page in the beginning. The rest of the day was on our own as we went through the countries. There was a fair amount of material in the book and we did not make it through even half of it. We were there on vacation so we limited what we did that felt "schoolish" to them.

We headed back over to the land pavilion for another character lunch at the Garden Grill (this one is often available for last minute reservations or walk ins which we were) with Mickey, Chip, Dale and Pluto. The characters seemed a bit rushed here though they did come back several times - instead of spending lengthy time at any one time they were brief but back often. Pluto and Chip were very playful with my kids putting sunglasses on their noses and just playing games with them including pretending to take Rhia's sunglasses (they handed them to me behind their back) and the kids enjoyed them. Mickey was very short here and I am glad we had seen him somewhere else first. The food was alright - not my favorite of the character meals but it was easy to get into and available at Epcot.

We rode Living with the Land and Soarin here. Living with the Land was very interesting and this was one of those rides that I know my kids enjoyed more than other kids because we homeschool and do lots of field trips. They were really interested in how they grow vegetables not in a traditional soil garden and in figuring out what all the plants were. We spend lots of time at the arboretum, science museum and historical sites so my kids find different things interesting and fun. This is the same reason I think they genuinely enjoyed the carousel of Progress. Anyway we enjoyed the boat ride and all they learned. People with older kids or no kids may consider the Behind the Seeds tour which I would have loved but would have tested my kids patience too much. Soarin was very popular with my kids and we should have used a child swap so I could have rode too but for some reason I did not think to do that and I missed this. By the time I tried to get another fast pass it was for after 5pm, several hours later. I did get it but ended up giving it away to some other happy guest because we were leaving the park.

We headed over to the Living Seas pavilion for a peek into the different fish of Nemo and Turtle Talk with Crush which was very cool. Crush comes out on screen to talk to the kids and he is very funny and asks kids questions - both Rhiannon and Ciaran talked to him (they were sitting on opposite sides of the audience and are not shy about raising their hands and waving them) and Sirah was sad she did not get to ask him a question. It is worth the wait and it goes faster then you think it will. However not getting to talk to Crush was a final straw for Sirah in a slow moving day and Serona took her back to the hotel while the other kids and I remained at Epcot.

We had some snacks and went over to Journey into Imagination to see Figment. I still remember this well because it was my brother's favorite thing when we went to Disney when I was younger. My kids also really enjoyed this easy going and at times silly ride. Then we had fun playing in the imaginarium labs. They especially enjoyed making music with their arm movements and jumping on pictures to hear the sounds (airplanes, fireworks, cows, horns, etc) we played there for awhile.

Then we headed into the countries for awhile. Using our books we would look for some interesting fact or object we could look for in each country and make a game of it, we learned to say hello, thank you and good-bye for each country and Epcot provides these Kidcot stops where the kids could make a mask and get little items attached to it at each country. They also had their book passport stamped at each location and we pressed pennies from each country. I do not think we could have done this with Sirah as she would have had little patience for it - this pushed the patience at times of the other two as well and it helped tremendously that we saw Belle and Aurora in France and then Alladin, Jasmine and Genie in Morrocco.

I had hoped to make it to China to see Mulan but we ran out of steam halfway through and headed back to the other areas of Epcot. We ended up settling on just going on Spaceship Earth which was the one thing Ciaran wanted to do. I really thought he would be disappointed when he realized that it is basically a moving history museum in the dark as he is uncomfortable in darkness and I did not think the content would hold his interest nor was I looking forward to going backwards down a hill (no matter how slow) but it was the one thing he wanted to do so we did it and they both LOVED it and wanted to go again. Again the fact we are homeschoolers came out here loud and clear as we worked through history and pointed out all that we have learned from Story of the World and the kids would point out different things as they saw them, thankfully the couple behind us was very patient and claimed they did not even hear us talking through the whole thing.

I decided Epcot, while interesting was just moving too slowly for them and we called Serona, still at the hotel napping with Sirah and decided to meet at Magic Kingdom instead. We met for dinner and a greatest hits night at the park allowing everyone to pick a few rides which of course meant Buzz lightyear, small world, peter pan, splash and thunder mountain and some others. It was a great day and while I was a bit sad to miss the Epcot fireworks and miss dinner with our homeschool adventures group at Epcot it was the right choice for our family who had a lot more fun at Magic Kingdom. Had we had more time we might have returned one evening to have finished the other half of the countries and do the Mission Space area. It leaves us something to look forward to when the kids are older and can all enjoy it more.

Another long day without naps for the older two and another two parks. Thankful for the park hopper and tired with a VERY long day to look forward to the next day we headed back to the hotel for much needed sleep.

Walt Disney World Day Three

Learning our lesson from the day before we got up early and headed to the park first thing for Magic hours opening this time at the Animal Kingdom. While Animal Kingdom has a lot there we decided there were only a few things we really wanted to spend time at because we planned to spend most of our time at Magic Kingdom given the ages of our kids. Serona had one ride he really wanted to do that only he would do and that was the new Everest ride at Animal Kingdom so we headed right there and dropped him off without a need for a fast pass, he rode that once twice in a row while the kids and I headed over and secured fast passes for the Safari ride we wanted to take and then ate breakfast. We walked through one of the zoo like areas while we waited for him to rejoin us for the safari. He loved Everest but it was wise that it was just him who went on it as you go backwards down some substantial drops in the dark and it would have been too much for Rhia.

We met back at the safari and that ride was outstanding! We saw giraffe's, zebras, hippos, crocodiles, lions and elephants up rather close. Our kids had never seen elephants before so that was a real treat and one of my favorite animals is the giraffe. I would say if you love animals or have never seen these animals this is a not miss ride, everyone in our party loved it. Our plan was then to head to the Lion King show but we ran out of time because we had a lunch scheduled at the castle in Magic Kingdom. I would have really liked to have seen this show but there is always another time and we never did make it back to Animal Kingdom.

We headed to Magic Kingdom and changed Rhiannon into her Cinderella costume for lunch at Cinderella's castle with several of the princesses. It was good we left Animal Kingdom when we did as we just made it on time for lunch. The castle is beautiful and it was fun to look at all the architecture and paintings and decorations. You begin your lunch with a line to see Cinderella but it is a short line and in air conditioning. She takes time and poses for pictures (two of which are included with your meal beautiful 8 by 10's that also include 8 by 10's of the castle), signed our hats and talked with the kids awhile. Then you head upstairs for lunch. Everything is set beautifully and makes you feel like you are dining high brow. Again we had to see the chef and talk menu options and he was very accommodating and even found some soy meat and tofu to add to our dish which was a treat as our bodies were craving some protein from anything but cheese. The castle presents each boy with a sword and each girl with a fairy wand and each child with a wishing star. They do a little presentation with the wishing stars and of course the princesses walk all through the meal.

My only complaint about this meal is that they cluster the characters so you see none for awhile and then all of a sudden they are ALL there and they whip through your tables quickly and then you are done with the characters. It is easy for your table to be overlooked and I had to call out to two of the characters so they did not miss our table. The character selection is great and they are good with the children. We met with Aurora, Snow White, Belle, and the Fairy Godmother. Belle spent the most time with us and was VERY good with the kids, really taking her time and showing genuine interest in them. This was good for us since Belle is Rhiannon's favorite. Snow White is Sirah's and she did pay some extra attention to her, sometimes I think the characters just must be able to read kids and know when they are a child's favorite. We took our time at the castle lunch and enjoyed ourselves.

We headed immediately to redeem the fast pass for Buzz Lightyear we got upon entry into the park (as usual) after so much for everyone else Ciaran needed a little something for himself. As we exited the ride we saw Buzz standing there and we stood on line and got some great pictures with him. Again he was very good with the kids and played with each of them individually and we did individual pictures with him. I really prefer the individual pictures to the family pictures as you have a much better chance of everyone smiling and getting good pictures. We went into the carousel of Progress which our kids actually really seemed to enjoy (Rhia even asked to go on again) and then headed over for the tea cups in Fantasyland. I even braved them with Sirah as the others wanted to spin fast and Sirah was content to spin very slowly with me. We rode a few more rides together then split up for Space Mountain/Buzz Lightyear and rejoined together for the Storytime with Belle show. We had an insiders tip (thanks Jen) on where to sit to be chosen to join Belle on stage (on the bench with the flowers on the ramp up towards the stage) and sure enough all three of our children joined Belle on stage (Ciaran was Papa, Rhiannon Mrs Potts and Sirah was Chip) I got some great photos and a few short video clips and they were all smiles for awhile after that. Ciaran even had lipstick on his cheek from Belle giving him a kiss and a silly boy grin when he realized that. He asked me later if the kiss was still there.

Another tea cup ride and then a split up so Serona and Ciaran could do the race cars and Rhia, Sirah and I headed into Toon Town. We went to Donald's boat which was perfect for the hot day - the kids got soaked and cooled off. Serona joined us with Ciaran who then took a turn in the water. After everyone was dried off Serona took the older two on the Goofy roller coaster and Sirah and I went to Minnie's house and Mickey's house and then stood on a LONG line to see Pluto (the one character she really wanted to meet)Serona and the kids rode the Barnstormer, took a snack and bathroom break and rode Snow White. Thankfully the line for Pluto was in air conditioning and Sirah took an hour nap while we waited and then she got to see Daisy and Minnie as well. We all met back at the carousel again, then headed over to Peter Pan and then Alladin's carpets. We ate dinner at Pinnochio and watched It's a Small World while we ate. We met a few more characters and rode a few more rides and then headed home after a long day with no naps and two parks.

Walt Disney World Day Two

Well we finally got to the parks today and decided we would spend the entire day in Magic Kingdom. We arrived at the parks at around 8:30am and quickly realized we really should have made the effort to be there a half hour earlier when the parks opened. The lines were so short during extra magic hours, which we missed half of due to sleeping in. We did not make the same mistake again and made sure we were up and at the parks early each morning.

The older two kids were both begging to go on Space Mountain. Having been on the ride myself and having read several books recently I really discouraged it being our first ride and truthfully tried to convince them that it was not a good choice. I was especially worried about Rhiannon who tends to be a bit timid on rides. We settled on walking towards space mountain and we went on Buzz Lightyear first. We also got a fast pass to ride Buzz again later. Fast Pass to Buzz Lightyear quickly became part of our regular routine as this was Ciaran's favorite ride and one that all members of the family (even Sirah) could enjoy. Then they decided to go on Space Mountain. I waited with Sirah in the gift shop area and prayed for them that they would not be too scared or overwhelmed. For those unaware Space Mountain in a roller coaster completely in the dark, it is fast, with drops and it is very dark, our kids are only 5 and 6 but insistent on going on it and both met the height restrictions. So off they went.

To my surprise it was Ciaran who was very unhappy coming off the ride. Not terribly shaken up but clearly not planning on going on it ever again and a bit hesitant about any ride in the dark (besides Buzz) and anything fast moving. Rhiannon on the other hand loved it and wanted to go on again right away. We said no we needed to find a ride for Sirah. So we headed over to Fantasyland in what became my most traveled path in the park the trek between tommorrowland (for Buzz lightyear) and Fantasyland (for It's a Small World and others) to catch a ride on The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. I had read in all the books that this was a ride to not miss. I will say it was ok and my kids love the pooh books and videos. I would however not recommend standing on line for more than 20 minutes for it. If I got a fast pass or was on a short line it would be ok but it would be disappointing to stand for an hour and then ride it IMHO. We had a relatively short wait and enjoyed the ride.

We came out of the ride and told them we had another surprise and headed off to our character breakfast with Pooh and friends at the Crystal Palace right off Main Street in Magic Kingdom. This breakfast was also a buffet and had decent food. Our server was good about keeping drinks refilled and the make your own omelets were good as well. We had a longer wait to get in here and there was something up with our reservations but it all turned out ok. The characters here were alright - a bit more rushed and seemingly less personal then at Chef Mickey's. The costumes were a bit too obvious and everything just felt a bit more rushed. A bit rushed at the tables and with the characters. If your kids don't love Winnie the Pooh you could skip it. But if you will have to stand on lines to meet Pooh, Piglet, Eyeore, and Tigger anyway then the breakfast is worth it.

Some complain that the meals cost too much, but everything (including time) costs money in Disney. The way we figured the true value was that we were doing several things at once, we were eating (which you have to do), we were sitting in air conditioning (which you need to do) and we were meeting the characters (which you stand in long lines to do) so instead of standing in long lines outside in the sun, we sat and ate in air conditioning while we waited for the characters to come to us. Besides the breakfast and lunch buffets are relatively cheap. When you consider we paid 55 for a counter dinner (think fast food style) for our family and 75 for a sit down buffet breakfast with character I think the 20 dollars was worth it plus the food was much better. We also found if we ate one big meal each day we spent less on other food because our stomachs were full and the energy lasted longer. If you can work it out I would recommend a character meal each day.

As we headed out of the Crystal Palace we noticed a crowd around the front of the castle and headed over to discover that Cinderellabration was about to start. This was several little girls we knew favorite thing and we thought it would be high on Rhiannons list so we waited. It was hot and sunny and it was hard to see the stage with people in front of us. We don't mind holding kids on our shoulders the problem is we are two adults to three small children so we can't physically hold all of them as both Rhia and Ciaran are pretty big for their age. So Serona took turns holding Ciaran and Rhia and I held Sirah on my shoulders. Rhia got to be held most of the time as her eyes were big as she watched it.

After this was over we went back to Fantasyland and worked our way through several of the rides and we swallowed the long line for Dumbo. It does not matter what time of day it is there is always a line for Dumbo and there is no fast pass available. So we stood on line for almost 45 minutes. The longest line we stood on for any ride.

The kids were getting a bit grumpy so we decided to head back to the hotel for some naps. On the way out though we realized that we were right in front for the Dreams Come True Parade and decided to wait it out. It might have been better to do it another time as I think the kids would have enjoyed it more in a better mood. It is a great parade but after having just had two close charachter dinners with them hugging the characters seeing them up on a float may not have had the same affect as if we had done the parade first. It was a good parade but the kids were not as excited for it as we might have hoped, they did enjoy the ice cream though. We headed back to the hotel for a nap and recharge.

We returned to the park with more energy and worked our way through It's a Small World, Peter Pan's Flight, Mickey's Philharmagic, the Haunted Mansion and then split up during the evening parade time (a GREAT time to ride the rides with short to no lines - thanks for the tip Laura) Serona took Rhiannon over to Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain and I did a greatest hits for Sirah and Ciaran which mostly involved zigzagging between Buzz Lightyear in Tommorrowland and Fantasyland for It's a Small World and Peter Pan for Sirah. We met back together at Cinderella's carousel which we rode together and then went to watch the fireworks in front of the castle.

It amazes me that Disney does fireworks every night and still does them so big and so well. They really were well done. Since we did not "reserve" a spot we did not have the best view of the fireworks but we could see the castle completely and majority of the fireworks and the kids watched with big eyes and we all enjoyed them. Then we were caught in the throngs of the big crowds exiting the park. At these times we found it very helpful to have all three kids in the double stroller which we could do fairly easily as Sirah fit nicely between Rhiannon's legs and on her lap. We were right in the middle of the crowd so there was little we could do but go with the flow at that point. We decided to not be in front of the castle/main street again at the end of the evening and that was better. We made it with the big crowds and waited to return to the hotel for a few buses and some sleeping kids. We headed off to bed after a great and long first day at the park.

Walt Disney World Day One

Well we spent the past week at Walt Disney World in Orlando Florida. We had an outstanding time. I must admit personally I was a bit hesitant to go with the ages of our kids (6,5 and 2)but Serona really wanted to and I figured we could make it work. I am glad we went and even though I initially said I only wanted to go once I am sure we will go again sometime since everyone enjoyed themselves so much.

We had planned this whole trip as a surprise to the kids and we were able to keep it a secret the entire time. This included getting summer clothes ready, packing in secret and dropping our dogs off at a dog sitter for a week. It got harder and harder to keep it from them as we got closer but we made it!

We woke them up on Monday morning at 5:30am and told them to get ready because we had to get daddy somewhere really early and we could not be late. Our car was already packed from the night before after they went to bed. Once everyone was dressed and ready we sat them at the kitchen table and told them that daddy did not need to go to work this week and that we were all going to spend the week together in DisneyWorld! At first it did not register and then when it did they were VERY excited, Ciaran was jumping up and down and yelling. Our neighbor said he heard him. We contained the excitement and got in the car and headed to the airport.

Most of Monday involved travel car, airplane, tram and buses, thankfully all air conditioned. Our check in experience did not go so well at our resort in WDW. WE arrived fairly early and had planned to spend the day swimming and head to our character dinner that evening. Our room was not ready for a long time and we went over past check in time and realized they were swapping out all the mattresses in the entire building and this was going to take forever! All our swimming stuff was in our carry-on's which were checked at the front desk at the other side of the resort. We stayed at the Caribbean Beach Resort, a moderate WDW resort and it is huge and very spread out, which involves a lot of walking.

We finally got some very nice gentleman to help us and we got moved into a room on the other side of the resort. By that time it was too late to get our clothes and go swimming. Atleast we were in air conditioning again though as we waited for our bags to trickle in. A slight mix up with bags and a fear that the suitcase with the kids clothes did not make it (they did) and everyone was grumpy from having been in jeans in the Florida heat.

A tip for the future. Be sure to bring your suits and shorts in your carry on and change right into them in the airport BEFORE you head to the resort. Then no matter what happens at least you can check your bags and enjoy the pool until they figure the rest out. I think we would have all been less grumpy if this is how we had done things. Alas we did not but we did have something that redeemed the evening for us.

Our friend Jen, who goes to WDW nearly every year, was full of helpful tips and suggestions and wisdom. One of the best tips she gave us was to reserve a character dinner with Mickey and friends at Chef Mickey in the Contemporary Resort. We boarded a bus and headed to Magic Kingdom (no direct resort to resort transportation) - the kids could see the outside but truthfully to them so far this vacation was not very magical and did not feel like they were in WDW at all. Seeing the castle and space mountain from the outside did not help in the way we had hoped it would. But we rode the monorail loop around several resorts and ended inside the Contemporary Resort (the monorail actually goes through and stops inside the building) for a character dinner.

We arrived a bit early and let the kids look around the store. We bought them each a pin trading lanyard designed to hold WDW pins and placed their nametages and a small carabeener with a light on it. Each child got to pick out a pin for their lanyard. We then went inside to dinner at Chef Mickey's. Having never been to a character dinner we did not know what to expect. It was really great!

Our friend Linda recommended buying hats as the kids first souvenirs and having all the character sign the hats instead of an autograph book. We loved this tip and the hats turned out great!!! So we arrived, kids wearing their hats (Sirah - a white Tinker Ball cap that says "Don't even Tink about it!", Ciaran - a tan one with a Mickey mouse on the top, Rhia - a pink princess hat with small pictures of each of the main princesses all around the base of the hat) and when we left they had already had signatures from Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald Duck, Chip and Dale. Of course they also got hugs and kisses and some play time with each of the characters.

Our experience at Chef Mickey's was top notch and of all our character experiences (we had one each day) this was my personal favorite. Chef Mickey's is buffet style but since we have a peanut allergy and are vegetarians the chef came to our table to meet with us. Chef Robert was fabulous. He really went the extra mile for us. He walked us through the entire buffet telling me what had nuts or meats and even what might have traces of nuts or what he could not be sure of. He asked if it was enough and offered to make us separate dishes if we needed. We said the kids would be fine but could he make Serona and I something. He asked what we wanted and we decided on an Asian noodle dish. He made one of the best I have had considering we can not have nuts or meat which is in many of the oils and traditional ingredients in many Asian foods. Chef Robert came out several times to check on us and make sure everything was ok. Him and Serona talked wine a bit and he was always respectful to leave if he saw a character coming to our table and he even took our family picture together with Minnie Mouse for us. He really gave new meaning to Customer service.

As for the characters themselves at Chef Mickey's they were very good with the kids. The took their time with each family, posed for several pictures, signed anything you gave them (our hats for us) and took time to play with each child. You never got the sense they were in a rush but rather that they were there to spend time with your family. We were there a long time and each character took a nice amount of time with the kids. They were well spaced out so we did not have a rush of characters all at once or too long without seeing any. There were also parades and songs with the characters and loud napkin waving moments. This dinner made my kids realize they were in Walt Disney World. Excellent food, excellent chef, excellent customer service, excellent character experiences and you get a monorail to boot. I highly recommend this for your first evening at WDW if you choose not to go to the parks.

We headed back to our resort and I took the kids to the pool while Serona went to meet our group leader to pick up our park tickets at a different part of the resort. The Caribbean Beach resort has several pools, one in each village as well as the main pirate themed pool at Old Port Royale. Since it was late at night we opted for one of the local pools in our Aruba village. It was a nice temperature, not too crowded at 10pm and the kids were so excited to finally get in the pool. We played for a bit and then the accident happened.

Ciaran jumped in the water and was under water for a bit too long I thought. I went to pull him up right as he pushed off the floor to jump up and he jumped right into my chin, hard. I bit my lip hard and was bleeding badly and in pain. I had to pull all three kids out of the water to many protests from Ciaran (who did not understand the severity) and asked a woman to look at my lip. She said I needed to go back to our room, put ice and pressure on and offered to help me with the kids back to my room. I had her help me pack up but assured her we could get back to the room where Serona would be. I held a towel to my lip the whole time and the kids thankfully were cooperative about helping each other and we got back to the room where Serona was.

I was ready to head to the emergency room in Orlando. But a phone call to my FIL, with a medical background, and a bit later the bleeding stopped and we decided just to wait it out and see how it healed. What a day! Welcome to Walt Disney World. Still we did have a lot of fun and we headed off to bed for the parks the next day!

May 28, 2006

Walt Disney World

We have spent the past week at Walt Disney World! A summary and things we learned to come after all the laundry is done and we recover from our long 14-16 hour days!!!!

In short it was FANTASTIC! It truly was magical. Everyone had a great time and we really connected as a family.


May 19, 2006

Frogs, Toad and Guinness

It is late evening and I am sitting out on my deck listening to the sounds of the frogs and some toads. The crisp evening air is wonderful. Listening to the frog sounds reminds me of how much I have grown as a mother. While I have always loved nature I was never one to notice frogs or birds much more than in a passing by way, now I recognize the specific sounds of particular species of both. For instance we have American toads, leopard frogs and spring peepers nearby. We also have robins, cardinals, morning doves and swallows. I can tell you this now because I have learned it with my kids. The sounds of toad are strong tonight.

I am also alternating listening to some music on my computer, Toad the wet Sprocket how appropriate. Serona surprised me with tickets to see them this summer for our anniversary. I am excited as they are a favorite band that has been split for quite awhile now but are touring this summer. Toad reminds me of the early days of knowing Serona and the album Pale has special significance to us.

I am also drinking Guinness as I type, my favorite beer and one that brings many memories to mind. I can still remember convincing Serona that dark beer really did taste better than Rolling Rock, a summer drinking Terminator Stout in Portland seemed to do the trick. Nearly every time I drink this beer I think of two things, good live Irish music and the song Home by Deep Blue Something. Also sometimes I remember that when Serona met me I was a good Irishwoman I could drink stout and burn water! I have since become a better cook but still love a good stout now and then.

I love these crisp cool evenings - almost an autumn feel to the air yet the promise of a warm day tomorrow but a relieving breeze in the evening to relax to. A perfect night for a bonfire but I am too lazy to start one up myself right now. We often have weekend bonfires with our neighbors.

We are blessed with great neighbors. Considering we live in a typical suburban neighborhood where most people are gone all day and very into their own lives and duties, we still have developed friendships with one another. From wine and s'mores by the bonfire, to lending tools, to sharing snowblowers and lawnmowers, to helping build swingsets by floodlight the midnight before Easter, to helping with our flooding and sump pump, to crazy practical jokes we get along really well. It makes life that much more enjoyable and I am thankful for our neighbors and our neighborhood, what a blessing!

Of all the places we have lived this is my favorite. The house is a good fit for us, the location is great, our yard is huge and we have good neighbors. Sure it is cold in the winter, but at least it is not 90+ degrees from May until October like it was in Georgia. We also don't have the smell of manure and the challenges of a small farming college town that we had in Illinois. Portland was wonderful I must admit but I think the rain would get to me after awhile and while it was a great place for a young couple I would not be thrilled raising kids there now. I guess I never would have placed myself in Minnesota but here we are and here we are happy, soaking in what God has for us here and enjoying the moments we are here.

Off to listen to the frogs and toads,

Ketchup in the Drawer

Things I find in my home:

-The ketchup bottle in the silverware drawer
-The cheese on my bedroom dresser
-Our small american flag wrapped around a stuffed animal like a blanket
-Our roomba electronic walls in our lunchbags
-Clean pullups stuffed inside ziploc bags
-Toothbrushes in the kitchen cabinet
-Pretzels and other snack food from our pantry in Sirah's backpack
-Rocks in the bike trailer

This is just to name a few of the irregularities you find in our home due to life with Sirah. Our lovely little two year old has a "collector" personality. She likes to gather things wherever she is and stuff things in bags, boxes and anything she can fit things into. She loves to collect food especially, though she does not actually eat it. Somedays she is heading to "work" other days she is going to "London" or to a "meeting" and she has to bring her things with her. Can you tell what she hears mommy and daddy doing?

Sirah's collector personality is wonderful and I am sure God will use it for something later in life. Though it can also be very frustrating when we are looking for something and have to start to think like a 2 year old about where it could have wandered off to.

These are the memories I will look back and laugh and smile at. Especially Sirah's reactions when she is caught with something. She covers her eyes with her face and looks as guilty as possible - she is remorseful and leads us to the items right away (if she can remember their location) and she is just plain so cute it is hard to be mad at her at all. One day she was covering her eyes before she did the wrong thing, knowing in her heart she was going to do it.

Still every once in awhile I find things a few days late (frustrating when it is food) or I open the drawer and find a bottle of ketchup in there. It no longer suprises me to be honest, and it could be so much worse so mostly I just laugh and put things back away and talk to her about it later.


May 16, 2006

Summer Day in Progress

Well not quite but it feels like it. We are on summer vacation already and this week is a routine free week given what is upcoming next week :) The temperature is still in the 60's but it feels warmer because it has been so cold and rainy lately. Kids ate breakfast and ran right outside to the yard.

Everything in me wanted to finish the dishes and clean this morning (unusual motivation for me) but I decided to follow their lead. We all went right outside after breakfast for about an hour. I brought down our bike trailer from storage and cleaned and assembled it, attaching it to my bike.

Then a threw about a hundred grounders to Ciaran and ran all over the place trying to catch his throws - which are improving. Sirah played in the trailer which she is excited for and Rhiannon rode her bike up and down the block a ton of times. The desire for a family bike ride brought us all inside to finish up some basic morning chores so we can be free to take a nice ride without them hanging over our heads.

Well off to clean the dishes and fold some laundry. More to come later. It is nice to be done with school :)

May 15, 2006

Why Wear Aprons, Bonnets and Hats?

Our kids enjoy dressing in pioneer fashion, think Little House on the Prairie, and often do. Today we visited the Oliver Kelly Farm in Minnesota. This is a working farm set back in the 1860's along the Mississippi River. This also happens to be one of my kids favorite places to visit. We started visiting about 3 years ago when Rhiannon was just three and Ciaran 2 and have spent many days there since. We went so much we joined the Minnesota Historical Society and in the process found many other wonderful locations to visit and enjoy!

Back to the farm. Today we went for one of their homeschool program days and the theme of the day was planting on the farm. The kids had opportunity to help plow fields(guiding the oxen team that was plowing), plant and water seeds, transplant seedlings, work in the garden, shell corn, separate out a variety of beans for planting, carry wood, fetch and carry water, clean the kitchen, help cook, pile manure and straw with a pitchfork, and a few other farm tasks. In addition they were able to see up close and sometimes pet roosters, calves, pigs and piglets, lambs and sheep and oxen. They also burned off energy.

It may seem strange that the kids love going here as they actually do the farm work, but they really love it. Not because my kids love doing their own chores around the home, but something about this is different for them and very enjoyable. When the kids were getting dressed today they asked why the girls wore aprons and bonnets and why the boys wore big straw hats. I almost answered them right away but decided to see if they could figure it out themselves.

Not too long into the day did they quickly realize the benefits of the wide brimmed hats and bonnets and how they kept the sun and heat off them, as well as the occasional raindrops. The girls especially appreciated that their bonnets tied as they could easily drop them down around their neck while inside and then lift them back into place when they went outside with little assistance and no risk of losing them.

At the end of the day Rhiannon's white apron was filthy and wet. Covered with dirt, food, little bits and pieces of her work all day yet her dress itself was still in fairly good shape, though looks like I may need to fix a hem. She was thankful for the apron and had discovered very naturally the answer to her question about the bonnet and apron. The lesson had far more impact on her discovering it herself and living it then any explanation I could have possibly given.

The moment this struck me was when Ciaran was assisting with pitching manure and hay into a big cart from a big stack. Little 5 year old Ciaran picked up a BIG batch of the stuff with the pitchfork and lifted it over his head into the cart. I was sure it was going to land right on top of him and go all over the place. He had more strength and dexterity than I gave him credit for (or God simply had more mercy knowing my personal limits) and all the manure made it into the cart and just a few pieces of hay fell onto his hat. He placed the pitchfork down, lifted off his hat and simply brushed it away and put back on his hat and continued working. I realized then an added benefit of the wide brimmed hat, intentional or not. Ciaran realized the benefits himself when he saw how the hat protected his head from the heat and sun as well as little flying pieces of his work.

We truly had a great day at the farm. We met up with two families we knew, one intentionally and one by surprise. The combination was perfect as the family we were meeting with has three little boys - Ciaran jumps in with them and they just go off doing little boy things (chasing roosters, climbing fences, smelling the pigs, catching bugs, carrying things, and pitching manure!) and have a grand time running off energy.

Rhiannon on the other hand has a different idea of fun. She saw a little girl in the parking lot also dressed in pioneer clothing and stuck to her like glue. Thankfully we knew the mother and her daughter also likes to hold hands and giggle and work with other little girls in pioneer clothing. We ended up splitting up for a good part of the time so the girls could carry water, plant seeds and seedlings, sew and cook and clean in the kitchen and other little girl things. A memory burned in my mind from today was watching Rhiannon run across the field holding her skirts with three other little girls similarly dressed holding their own. It was like watching my own daughter in the opening credits of Little House on the Prairie. There were four of these little girls, all right around the age of 7, and they were buddies and did everything together and were so cute while they did it!

Rhia had a great girlish time and Ciaran a great boyish time. They naturally demonstrated why tasks on a farm during that time period were generally divided by gender and the boys worked on some things and the girls on others. Given the freedom to do what they naturally wanted our kids choose these traditional and typical roles for themselves without any coaching whatsoever. I am thankful for the families we met up with and for the comfort and freedom to allow my children to split up and work with others and for the kindness and generosity of the other mothers.

As for Sirah. She spent much of the time in a backpack on my shoulders generally content. She wanted to get down for a bit but was indecisive and often unhappy, it just got to be a long day for her. She informed me that "this is a bit rough for me mommy" and "It is hard to be 2" that was our cue to wrap things up and head home. She was asleep within moments of the car starting. Still she had a good time and did participate in some things and I even got a few cute pictures of her.

As for me well I am tired and drained physically and emotionally. We left the farm too late and spent 2 hours driving what took us 30 minutes to drive on the way to the farm. We ran home, ate very quickly, washed up and headed to tball for the evening. Then off to pick up daddy and did not land in bed until after 10pm! Still it was a great day. If you live nearby I highly recommend the Oliver Kelly Farm.

Peace in Him,

May 10, 2006

Powerful quote

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There's nothing enlightening about shrinking
so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
-Marianne Williamson

As quoted in Akeelah and the bee. Hat Tip Mamadala.

Pippi Longstocking

We went to see the MN Children's Theater production of Pippi Longstocking today, just Rhiannon and I. Rhia had recently read two of the books from the series and was really looking forward to the show as was I. Overall it was a solid performance like most shows at that theater. The costuming and set were very professionally done and a joy to watch unfold. The performance was well acted and funny.

There was one downside however, I felt the language was a bit much for an "appropriate for all ages" show. At times it was a bit over the top. Knowing that I tend to overreact to some of this I looked around and the mom sitting right next to me was also surprised. It never went "too far" but it felt inappropriate and unneccesary. There was nothing explicit but there were things that just did not need to be said and especially made as a joke. It left a bad taste in my mouth for the whole show, which otherwise was good. I would be hesitant to recommend the show which to me is disappointing because I enjoyed it otherwise. Still many others might not even blink or think there was anything about what was said and that I am blowing it out of proportion.

Now those familiar with Pippi know that she is a bit irreverant and sassy to start with but they seemed to over exaggerate that point as well. Even Rhiannon seemed affected as at one point she said "This is so much different from the book and so much worse!" she said it a bit too loudly as well. She then sat on my lap and enjoyed the rest of the show.

Overall it was a good show and I am glad we went to it but I definately left with a negative opinion and a hesitation to recommend the play.


Last Day of School

Today Rhiannon doubled up on her work and finished the remainder of her school work for this year. We officially finished first grade today. She still had a poem recital when Serona and I can manage to be in the same room but otherwise she is done! It was a good year and I am looking forward to not having anything to work around in our schedules and being able to just say "Yes!" when they ask to go outside or go somewhere.

She will have the next few weeks completely off and in June she will do some math just to keep it fresh in her mind. Math games and an occasional math worksheet just so she does not lose it and I would make her read but no need to do that with her!

Now for some good weather....

May 8, 2006

First Grade Curriculum Review

Well as we are wrapping up the year I thought I would throw out my thoughts on the main resources we used this year.

Ambleside Online - We tried this in the beginning of the year. I love the free schedule and the free resources and books, however we found the schedule not to work for us and some of the books to not be the best fit. We may try it again in future years and did follow a similar artist/composer/nature study format.

Illustrated Bible - This was perhaps one of my favorite things Rhiannon did this year. Her feelings for this have been back and forth between love/hate. She loves the results and sometimes enjoys the work but finds it to be a big task and therefore sometimes her least favorite subject. She read the First Graders Bible from My Fathers World and drew illustrations of each bible story and wrote a few sentence summary.

Miquon Math Red and Orange Books - These were a good fit at times they pushed her right to the edge I thought we would need to pull back but then they naturally got gentle in nature again. What a great mastery of the basics and a natural gradual introduction to more complex concepts like multiplication, division, fractions and order of operations. We will continue the Miquon series next year.

First Language Lessons
- One of Rhiannon's favorite subjects all year long. Easy and gentle though at times extremely repetitive. She especially enjoyed memorizing and reciting all the poems. This is a two year book so we will continue with it next year as well.

Story of the World Vol 1
- A solid history program with flexibility told chronologically and lending itself naturally to keeping a history notebook. Purchasing the Activity Guide is an essential part of this curriculum. The text reads like a story, especially in the beginning and is easy as a read aloud or even for the child to read themselves, though I enjoyed reading this one aloud. The activity book contains mapwork and activities for each chapter as well as review questions or narration exercises and additional reading suggestions. When some of the topics were too intense for sensitive Rhiannon I would skip them or edit the story as I read and do more of the fun activities. We did not do an activity for each story but rather found a balance that worked for us. We chose not to finish the entire book this year and will pick up the last few chapters when we start second grade in the fall and move into Vol 2.

Spelling - I simply found some online spelling lists from local public schools and taught her a few words a week. We did not start this until the end of February when she was more ready and then we breezed through the entire list in just a few short months rather rapidly. We found short sessions of spelling twice a week to work well for us.

- We began the year with outdoor nature studies, keeping a nature journal and discussing flowers and animals as we interacted with them. We kept it rather simple and went with the flow. One day Rhia picked up a typical science unit text book (like I remember using growing up) and started reading it. She loved reading science this way and continued through the entire book sometimes reading one chapter a week sometimes reading three in one day. As her interest was sparked we would go into more detail about a particular subject. She finished two of these textbooks this year on her own, one a general text and one a good health text. My science downfall, experiments - I was bad about them and she wants more of them. Room to improve next year as we try the Exploring Creation series of science most likely starting with botany and more experiments.

Copywork - This was fluid and kept simple. Rhiannon seems to have naturally good handwriting so we did not work too hard on this. She wrote a few sentences a week in the beginning. Sometimes bible verses, book quotes or famous sayings, or just letters to family and friends. By the end she was writing several sentences a day, most typically for her illustrated bible.

Geography - We studied this through our history program and a few little unit studies we did on places like Mozambique, England, Ireland and the US States. We would dive in deeper to these locations and learn a lot of details about them as there interest was there. Rhiannon really enjoyed doing a US state study where she learned and drew pictures of interesting facts about different states.

Read Alouds - There were too many to write down here, I have kept lists, some I have previously placed up here others I have just kept on my computer. Some of the highlights for her this year. Reading several complete American girl series (Kirstin, Samantha, Felicity, Kaya, and Kit). Reading nearly all the Magic Treehouse books she could find. Getting into the Bobsey Twins and Pippi Longstocking series. She read nearly the entire Little House on the Prairie series and Betsy Tacy as well as the Mary Poppins series and many of the Great Illustrated classics versions of some of the best kids classics. She read many Pony Pals the Misty series as well as the Black Stallion series and several books from the Chronicles of Narnia. Simply put Rhiannon LOVES to read.

Fine Arts - We studied art and music through listening and looking at masterpieces. We studied Monet, Mary Cassat and Van Gogh for artists and Vivaldi and Beethoven with a little Bach for composers. Very simply we listened to their works and looked at their pictures, that was it. As she gets older we will do more including music and art classes or study but right now we need simply to learn what great work looks and sounds like and how to appreciate that. She will begin a drama camp this summer and we will see where that takes us.

All the rest - We filled in the cracks with many resources including field guides, non-fiction library books, field trips, Academy classes (sign language, manners and character), ice skating, soccer and other activities. I look back on her first grade year and I think we did so much yet it did not feel overwhelming as we did it. We had to take off quite a bit of time for her surgery and still we are finishing early. Best of all to me she still has a love for learning and a passion for reading. She likes learning even if she does not always love "school" time. We still have fun and she has accomplished and learned so much.

I am looking forward to the break simply so we can have more time just to play and have fun and examine the world together all the time. We still do those things while we homeschool but we have even more time in the summer to just enjoy each other and the world God created. I look forward to more silly time and fun time with all three kids. Then we will be refreshed to begin again in just a few months, this time second grade and Kindergarten as well as a precocious three year old who will be sure she can and should do everything her siblings will.

Another adventure of teaching a child to read is beginning as Ciaran is starting to desire to read. He starts and pulls back and we just go with his flow and know that will work better than trying to force it on him at his tender age.

Peace in Him,

Thanks Serona

Serona has been doing so much around the house lately I just wanted to say thanks! He has replaced our sump pump, rescreened our windows, cleaned the gutters, repaired our deck and swingset, roped off sections of our backyard to begin lawn recovery and taken care of the lawn. He will soon have to rip up carpeting and refloor our office due to water damage as well.

As I have no gift in this area I am truly appreciative of all he does to keep up good stewardship of our home as well as to improve the place we live. So thanks!

May 5, 2006

Winding Down

We are winding down the school year. We have finished several subjects for the year. All that remains for her first grade work is to finish up her grammar and illustrated bible. We should complete that by the middle of next week and be done with school until September! Of course we still do stuff but nothing official sit down and do things so that will be nice. It has actually been nice that these last few days have been so cold as there is less temptation to just slack off from school. It will be nice to be finished a full month before our local public school gets out.

Rhia will still have to do a page from her math review book (will be easy and light for her in comparison to what we have been doing) and read daily (like I could stop her from reading anyway) and she has to read from her bible each day but all those things she will do on her own and just needs to have them done before she is free to do what she would like for the day.

It was a good school year, we got a lot accomplished even with her surgery and other events of the year. She still enjoys school and being homeschooled and has really developed a passionate love for reading and for learning in general. We are excited to have a relaxing and fun summer.

When asked what she would like to do this summer for activities she replied "The Oliver Kelly Farm and Fort Snelling" two locations from the Minnesota Historical Society that we spent a lot of time on last year and have not gone to since the late fall. Ciaran seconded both places and added the science museum. Of course we will also go to the beach, park, hikes, and bike riding. The library, kite flying and family walks are other favorite activities. This year we can add tball and drama camp to the mix. Along with two major family vacations, one to Florida in just three weeks and Cali at the end of the summer for my brothers wedding and a nice long two week vacation!

Hope your own school is winding down and you too can start having some fun this summer! Not that fun and school are mutually exclusive at all.

Peace in Him,

May 3, 2006

Daily Roundup

Today was a great day all around until the late evening when it all started to fall apart but we recovered. We started off great, early rise, took Serona to work (we are a one car family) and returned for breakfast and school. Rhiannon was very quick with her work and did a nice job. The fact that school will be over next week, if she works well, is a good motivator for her. In general her attitude these past few days has been great!

All subjects were wrapped up by 10:30. The kids put together some thank you cards and even a little picture scrapbook for their ice skating teacher and we headed off to the last ice skating session. Both kids passed their levels, Rhiannon even passed two levels and jumps ahead. Neither child is really interested in continuing lessons right now but it was nice that they did well enough to pass.

On our way out we had a rousing game of foozball type hockey (Ciaran beat me in overtime). To celebrate the kids wanted to eat out as a treat. We tried Serona, but as luck would have it he was already out at lunch with a co-worker so we settled on Culvers just the four of us. The kids were excited and extremely well behaved and mannered at the restaurant. They even shared generously with each other without complaint. We had a very nice time there.

After lunch we headed home for Sirah's nap. Ciaran and Rhia played along nicely in their beds so she would go to sleep peacefully without fuss. It is easier on her if she thinks everyone else is sleeping too and she isn’t missing out on anything. The moment she was asleep they practically leaped out of bed to head outside to play. They played on the swingset while I finished up some dishes and school cleanup then we all headed out into the front yard.

Ciaran and I practiced grounders and pop-flys and worked on his throws while Rhia rode her bike and made chalk drawings. It felt so good to be outside after many days of consecutive rain. The kids challenged me to walking races. The rules of our races. I have to walk at a good pace (but can not break into a jog at all) they get to ride their bike and they have to try to make two laps (up and down our street's sidewalk) before I make one walking. This keeps it challenging and good exercise for both of us. Rhia usually manages it - though it is sometimes close and Ciaran is getting better and getting closer.

After we were worn out and had some water we started a game of baseball in our yard. Kind of waffle ball rules but we play with a tee and a real ball. I play on both teams and I field with each child while the other bats. We all had a lot of fun. It was neat to be playing this together as kids got off the school bus too. Those are always nice reminders to Rhia about the benefits of homeschooling.

The game ended in a tie. Not because I am the "it all ends in a tie so no one's self esteem gets hurt" kind of mom but because it started to pour on us right as Ciaran was getting ready to bat his last inning. Truth is he probably would have won but we could no longer play. We had been playing through drizzle and even through rain but I drew the line when it started to really rain and a real game would have been called. Wisely too before the thunder started. The kids were disappointed and wanted to go out again as soon as it stopped raining but Sirah woke up and Serona called and wanted his ride home so the game was left unfinished.

We had evening plans of racquetball and rock climbing at our gym but it was not to happen. Instead we had different takes on what dinner should be and once we came to an agreement we realized it was going to take longer to prepare than we thought and we would be cutting it close to get to the gym on time. Instead Rhiannon informed me I was needed in the basement. When I arrived I found our laundry room to be flooded with standing water! We mopped it up with blankets and towels and whatever was around that was not already soaked and discovered that the sump pump had overflowed!

I managed a quick fix to at least drain all the water out and stop it from flowing more onto our floor and we went up to finish dinner and deal with the remainder later. We had a wonderful eclectic dinner from all around the world and shared with the kids the different countries that were represented in our evenings cuisine. We began with a Miso soup (Japanese) that Ciaran loved and Sirah did not. Our main course was falafel (Middle Eastern) which Serona makes so well along with a cucumber yogurt sauce and some fixings for the pitas. We ended the evening with sticky rice and mangos (Thailand). The meal was delicious and we had nice family conversations.

Serona read a chapter from Redwall as we ate dessert and the kids began getting ready for bed. I went down into the office to print something out and was frustrated when I thought I stepped in a dog accident. Much to my dismay it was not a dog accident (which would have been preferable) but rather the sad, and a bit scary, discovery that the overflow from the earlier flood in our basement had seeped underneath the carpet in our office! There were several very wet spots throughout the carpet all clearly underneath. I dreaded informing Serona but knew I had no choice. He did not take the news well.

You see this is not our area of expertise. Home improvements, home repairs and more than basic good stewardship is not in our comfort zone. Serona is quite good at what he knows how to do and he knows quite a bit but we were both at a loss here but knew we needed to do something and quick before it spread and the problem worsened and we would risk further damage. We stopped and prayed immediately and that helped keep our focus right and our tempers in check. We were able to give up control and ask for help. I immediately put out a prayer request to our homeschool group that offers us tremendous prayer support and instant messaged my neighbor who then came over to help us.

He has unfortunately for him (fortunately for us) had several water experiences and knew what to do and how to handle it. What an immediate answer to prayer. The kids went right to sleep without any further difficulty, another answer to prayer. Serona and our good neighbor set to work to figure out the problem and possible solutions. Another family from our homeschool group called to offer help and see if we needed anything. This man has helped us out before with handyman type things and was quite helpful over the phone. It was clear we were being supported and helped as God brought the right people into the situation to handle what we knew we could not alone.

The rooms are cleaned up and we are running a dehumidifier and fan to try to get all the water out of the carpet before it has a chance to turn into mold. They walked around to find the source of the overflowing water and discovered that the drain tile pipe was draining into our sump pump and causing a cycle of overflowing water between the yard and the pump. They fixed that situation and examined the sump pump and decided we will need to replace that (thankfully we again have people willing to help us) and talked about strategies we can use until we can replace it tomorrow.

Another friend, sent us a note with a link to this Homemade Star Wars Short for a bit of comic relief and distraction. Serona and good neighbor enjoyed watching it after they were done and it helps to laugh through situations like this. A well done short, Serona of course had seen it before, but enjoyed watching it again, me and good neighbor enjoyed this clip for the first time.

What direct answers to prayer we experienced tonight - even down to answering prayers to keep us in good spirits and extra well behaved kids (to not add stress). All in all it was a great day - a long day and a day that did not end up the way we thought it would but had a plan of its own and a joy of its own.

If you made it through this long boring post about my day - pat yourself on the back and thanks for caring enough to read it!


May 2, 2006

Homeschool Carnival

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