M-I-C… K-E-Y… M-O-U-S-E

We did it.  We went to Mickey’s house.  It’s been nearly 2 weeks since we returned from our Disney World expedition and I think I’ve finally recovered enough to write about it.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a ton of fun.  But boy is it exhausting!  A little background on our excursion before I carry on…  I was set to go to Orlando for a business meeting in mid-January.  My colleague and I have been chatting off and on for months about how we need to take Junior to Disney (he and his family are HUGE Disney fans and go every year).  Long story short, he busted into my office back in October and said “I got it!  You’re going to Orlando anyway in January so you MUST mix in a Disney trip!”  I thought about it and said why the heck not?  The timing was actually pretty great.  January is off season in the land of Disney, our son isn’t in school yet so it’s no big deal to yank him out of daycare, he’s an only child at the moment which helps a ton, and I was going down there anyway.  My wonderful colleague had accumulated some extra Disney Vacation Club points that were close to expiring, so he helped set up our lodging.  How lucky are we?

So there you have it.  Our family’s first Disney trip was locked down and I had no idea where to begin.  I know from talking to other people over the years that families often plan for MONTHS in advance; every step they take, every meal they eat, every show they attend, every moment they sleep.  But you know what?  That’s not my style.  For someone so textbook type-A, it’s odd that I really like to wing my vacations.  I obviously did a little research on where we were staying and the parks themselves, but for the most part we decided to figure it out once we got there.  I also had to factor in my back-and-forth to business functions, which is why we were heading that way in the first place.

Junior’s first plane ride was a breeze.  He’s 4 so we didn’t have to take a bunch of extra junk; he just sat in the seat, waited eagerly for the flight attendant to bring him a snack, and flipped through the TV channels (thank you Jet Blue for your built-in entertainment).  We arrived in Orlando, found our transportation, and got to the Animal Kingdom Lodge with no trouble.  Once we settled in a bit we got our bearings and headed out.  Now I’m not going to give you a play-by-play of our entire 5 days there because that’s overkill.  What I will do is sum up our experience and offer some words of wisdom in a nice, tidy, bulleted list.  Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@mommybanter) probably saw the daily #DisneyLessons I posted each evening.  You’ll see some of them in my list again  Here we go…

  • We only bought passes to the official Disney parks this time (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios). With only 5 days we knew it would be impossible to get to Sea World and some of the others.  BUT we included a park-hopper to give us the freedom to bounce from park to park if we wanted.
  • Mid-January is a PERFECT time to go. There were definitely some people there, but it was MUCH less crowded than a peak season week.  The weather was good; a little chilly but we rarely needed more than jeans and a light jacket.  After going in January I will never attempt to go in the summer.  I will take my children out of school for a week before I try to conquer Disney World between May and October.
    • Side note…  You can totally tell who came to Orlando from Wisconsin or South Dakota or Maine or another freezing state.  They were wearing tank tops and flip flops in 59-degree weather.
  • Best thing we did? Bring the umbrella stroller.  Of course our 4 year old was not thrilled when we told him to hop in, but getting him around the airport and the parks would have been an absolute nightmare without it.
    • Side note… There is designated stroller parking all throughout the parks.  If you go rogue and put that stroller somewhere else, a park employee will move it.  So that means you panic and think someone has walked off with your stroller and all the crap you’ve stuffed in it.  We learned that the first day.
  • My anti-planning really only hurt us in one way – dinner reservations. We were on a budget so we had no intention of doing expensive character breakfasts and fancy dinners every night.  But I did want us to have one “nice” dinner together at a sit-down restaurant.  But reservations fill up fast and we came up empty.  So we ended up doing the nice buffet dinner in our hotel one night – mainly because we couldn’t get a reservation anywhere else and we didn’t feel like having a sandwich.  It was delicious but overpriced (go figure).  All of the “quick service” food in the parks is pretty darn tasty, so we didn’t feel at all deprived.  And it was better for our credit card anyway.
  • The cool thing about Disney? They let you bring in your own snacks!  A friend of mine told me that before we left and it was music to my ears.  So we stuffed a backpack full of granola bars, fruit snacks, crackers, etc. and it was a lifesaver.  One thing we didn’t do that we should have is come with a case of bottled water or go to a convenience store (off property) to buy some.  That would have saved us a little cash.  Fortunately it wasn’t blazing hot like in the summer so we weren’t going through water like crazy.
  • Another thing we started doing is having a big breakfast at the quick place in our hotel, and taking advantage of the inexpensive a la carte stuff that’s available. Our place sold baggies of sliced bread, so we used the free packets of peanut butter and jelly to make PBJ sandwiches for the afternoons at the parks.
  • We spent full days at each park and made our way to Downtown Disney one night. And trust me, they are FULL DAYS.  My husband and I both got Fit Bits for Christmas and we logged 20,000+ steps each day!  Remember people, bring your stroller…  No young kiddo can walk that much for 5 days in a row.  It’s hard to say what our favorite park was, as each one had its own special things that we liked.  Magic Kingdom obviously has the most rides, Animal Kingdom has an amazing safari tour, Hollywood Studios was great for daddy/son time — hello Star Wars — (I was in meetings that day), and Epcot has, in my opinion, the best food options.  We chose to watch Epcot fireworks two nights in a row vs. fighting the crowds at Magic Kingdom.  They were awesome.
  • We also purchased the Memory Maker package to ensure that we got lots of family photos during our time there. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it to have 150 pictures at your fingertips without lugging a camera.  And we could download all of them and share them with the grandparents.
  • I had a lot of people tell me that we’d be way off schedule and we’d have Junior up until 11:00 every night, yada yada yada. That really wasn’t the case for us.  We took our time in the mornings and paid attention to when he was starting to lose it in the evenings.  He was in bed most nights by 9, except the nights we watched fireworks and that was closer to 10.  It’s exactly what we all needed.  My husband and I hung out on the balcony (usually with cocktails) while he fell asleep, and planned the next day’s activities.  I had early wake up calls on 2 mornings because I had to commute 30 minutes to my business meetings, so a good night’s sleep was welcomed.  Everyone knows their own kids and how they operate.  Mine can stay up really late for a night or two, but he’ll eventually turn into a bear without an afternoon nap.  And who wants to leave the park to go back and nap in the middle of the day?  So we opted for earlier bedtimes instead.  On our last full day we did go back to regroup and let him rest for an hour.  My husband and I sat on our little balcony and started cocktail hour while he slept.  Win win.

I could go on and on and on but I’ll spare you any more commentary. If you have specific questions about how we handled things just leave a comment and I’ll get back to you!  Long story short, we took the plunge and crammed everything into 5 days that we possibly could.  It was a great time, an exhausting time, and something we’d like to do again – in maybe 5 years.  It’s not a cheap trip, but you can get out of there without breaking the bank if you try.

A coworker of mine said something to me once that really stuck:  “There’s a big difference between a ‘vacation’ and a ‘family trip’.”  Truer words have never been spoken.  Unlike after a leisurely week at the beach I was ready to get home and go back to work, simply to have some sort of routine again.  But we certainly appreciated the hospitality from Mickey and the gang while we were there.  Mickey, we’ll see ya again real soon!

Resolutions Shmesolutions

It’s January 5th.  I’m back at work for my first “normal” week since mid-December.  The decorations are down, the new stuff has been put away, the guests are gone, and the holiday menu checklists have been thrown away.  As my mother would say, the “doldrums of winter” have begun.

Most people spend January acting frantic about their resolutions.  Go to the gym no less than 3 times per week and for no less than 1 hour each time.  Eat no more than 1.285 desserts per week.  Eat no less than 6 pounds of celery per week.  Blah blah blah.  My resolution this year?  Kick resolutions to the curb.  In fact, I started the year by QUITTING the gym.  How’s that for going against the grain?

Yes, there are absolutely things that I want to work on this year.  Things that I need to improve upon in my personal life as a wife, mother, friend, sister, and daughter.  But I don’t want to set unrealistic goals because I know these continuous improvements should be part of my everyday life, whether it’s January or July.  I like the way that sounds actually –“continuous improvements” instead of “resolutions.”  I didn’t wake up on January 1st with a big slap to the forehead and say “dammit, I think I’m going to be more patient with my toddler this year!”  Who does that?  Every day I strive to be more patient as he becomes more aggravating.  Patience, for me at least, is a hard concept.  I’m bitterly type-A, and have had to finally realize that there is often no room for reasoning with a 4 year old.  Sometimes they’re just plain difficult.

And then there’s the health and fitness piece.  I can picture what the gym (the one I just quit) looks like at 6 PM Monday through Thursday evenings, at least until about March.  Once again, I didn’t wake up on the 1st and say “time to get healthy!!!”  I’ve always known that I need to eat well and get exercise; we ALL know that.  We just feel like January 1st is the right time to obsess about it because we spent the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas eating and drinking like slobs.  There’s too much unnecessary pressure surrounding the “get healthy in the New Year” movement.  Who’s really going to drop 15 pounds in the month of January?  Most people can’t completely overhaul their diets and expect to stay the course for more than a month (hello Valentine’s Day chocolate!).  So why set yourself up for failure?  Continuous improvements…

So there you have it.  For me there were no resolutions going into 2015.  I need to try to be a better mother and a better wife because let’s face it, there’s always room for improvement in these roles.  I need to continue cooking nice meals for my family and not feel bad when I call in a pizza from time to time.  I need to get my money’s worth out of the new exercise equipment I bought (in lieu of keeping a gym membership) because no matter how hard I try, I’m just not a gym person.  I’d rather work out at home in my ratty college t-shirt at 9:30 PM watching re-runs of Friends or Law & Order SVU.  I’m a realist, not a resolution maker.

If you came up with a long list of resolutions for yourself, three cheers for you and I hope you get ‘em done.  If things go awry, don’t beat yourself up…  If you’re like me and have no interest in resolutions, enjoy your year of continuous improvement and the occasional slice of greasy pizza!

Gimme Gimme Gimmes vs. Give Give Gives

As the Christmas holiday nears I start thinking about presents (duh).  Buying them, wrapping them, giving just enough without being obnoxious, especially when it comes to our 4-year old.  And I unintentionally start noticing what other parents are getting for their young kids.  Am I doing enough?  Are they doing too much?  Is my son spoiled or is he deprived?  Throughout the year we try to strike a good balance between giving him things he wants and not giving in to his every demand.  Make him feel special but not entitled.  Are we successful?  I think we are, but an outsider looking in may totally disagree.  “Spoiled” is in the eye of the beholder, especially during the holidays.

Our son is our one and only right now.  He’s the only grandchild right now.  So yes, I’d be totally lying if I said he wasn’t spoiled to some degree.  But while it’s the grandparents’ duty to greet him with a little trinket whenever they see him (especially since they all live out of town), it’s my job as a parent to pull on the reigns a little so he understands the process of being rewarded, and why he can’t have every little thing his heart desires.  Well let’s be clear here – we don’t have an unlimited budget to give him every little thing his heart desires…  But even if we did I think we’d still err on the side of conservatism because that’s how my husband and I grew up.  The whole “we’re not here to keep up with the Joneses” cliché was a favorite with my parents.  Ugh I hope I never say that to my kids, even if it’s what I’m thinking…

So back to Christmas.  Fortunately at this stage I think he’s happier opening lots of small, inexpensive stuff rather than one big gift.  More bows, more paper, more trinkets, more this, more that.  Fits the bill at 4 years old right?  Gimme gimme gimme!  So over the course of a couple of months I pick up odds and ends as I’m out running my regular errands.  And I try to keep in mind some of the things we want him to DO in the coming year, not just play with.  Camping with daddy is on the agenda, so he’ll get a cute little sleeping bag from Santa to set the stage.

And that brings me to the extended family.  One of the reasons I remain fairly reserved at Christmas time is because he has 3 sets of grandparents, plus aunts and uncles and cousins who are champing at the bit to load him up.  So for that reason I have to make lists – lots and lots of lists – to come up with ideas not only for Santa (us), but for the other family members as well.  “We’re getting him the sleeping bag, so you get him a lantern.”  “We’re staying away from big toys this year, so you can have at it.”  “He needs a new outfit, so why don’t you handle that.”   And before you know it the living room has exploded with more boxes and bows.

Yes, he’s spoiled in late December.  I realize it and maybe it’s wrong for me to say, but I don’t feel guilty about it.  Instead, I try to balance it out by helping him understand that all kids aren’t as lucky as he is, and that he should be thankful for everything he has.  I let him choose the Angel Tree recipient from the church Christmas tree.  He picks a non-perishable food item to bring to daycare every day during the food drive.  He helps me box up clothes for the Goodwill truck throughout the year.  And he drops change in the Salvation Army bucket every time we pass it.  He’s only 4 so I’m not sure he totally understands what it all means, but I hope we’re giving him a good foundation for being humble and gracious as he grows up.  How does YOUR family balance the gimme gimme gimmes with the give give gives?

Happy holidays!

I love you Chuck. Chuck Roast, that is…

So this piece really has no direct correlation to parenting, but since I am quite the little food junkie I felt the need to dedicate an entire blog post to my favorite slab of meat:  the chuck roast.  Why?  Because it’s awesome.  Well if you eat red meat of course, which we do in my family.

As a full-time working mom I make great use of my crock pot all year long, not just in the winter.  And a chuck roast is quite simply one of the most versatile things you can prepare in the slow cooker.  It’s almost impossible to screw up, can take as little or as much seasoning as you want, and can be used in a thousand different ways.

So why the sudden urge to write about my friend Chuck?  When I think about the coming week and what dinners will fit into our busy schedules, I often look for things that I can cook once and use twice.  So yesterday I plopped a chuck roast into the crock pot with some onions, carrots, seasoning, and a little broth, with the intention of having a vintage pot roast dinner.  It turned out perfectly and I served the tender meat with rice, some quick homemade gravy (using the reserved broth), broccoli, and the carrots that cooked alongside the meat.  I felt like June Cleaver serving Ward and the Beaver (minus the patent leather heels), and it was delicious.  But the best part was seeing a big plate of leftover beef, knowing that dinner is covered tonight.  Because I chose to season the meat simply, it’s once again a blank canvas for tonight’s meal, which will be hot beef and cheddar sandwiches.  Nothing is simpler on a weeknight than a hearty sandwich, and this one rocks because the main component is already done.  And since I know it’s a quick fix tonight, I’m hitting the gym after work.  Score.

So here’s the skinny on all the different ways I use this versatile, inexpensive, delicious cut of meat.  I usually try to find a 3-ish pound roast with some good marbling; you need a little fat to ensure it stays moist as it cooks, and trust me, it breaks down completely after 8 hours (on low) in the crock pot.  I typically season it very simply so I can use it more than once in different dishes; salt, pepper, some cut up onions and garlic, and any other “universal” ingredient you want to toss in for flavor.  My arsenal:

  1. Traditional pot roast like I describe above. Add in some carrots and potatoes, serve with rice and gravy and you’ll be a 50’s housewife in no time.
  2. Tacos/burritos/enchiladas. Season the meat with cumin, chili powder, and hot sauce, and use it for your favorite Mexican-style dish.  It’s so flavorful and goes great with traditional taco fixins.  It’s like your own version of Chipotle.
  3. Beef stroganoff.  I love beef stroganoff in the winter.  I’ve made it a dozen different ways, using everything from high quality steak to hamburger, but the shredded crock pot beef is by far my favorite.  When I get home from work all I have to do is shred the meat, combine it with some of the broth (thickened), mushrooms, sour cream, a few herbs, and egg noodles.  So good on a cold night.
  4. Chili.  My husband loves chili made with chunks of beef versus ground beef.  It’s a nice twist on a traditional red chili with beans, and the chuck roast has more flavor than hamburger.
  5. Soup.  Beef and barley, beef vegetable, steak and potato.  Envision the soup aisle at the store and easily recreate it at home.
  6. Sandwiches.  French dip, beef and cheddar, sliders, you name it.  If you slow cook the meat with onions they are soft and sweet and so good on the beefy sandwiches.  Play around with different breads, cheeses, and condiments like horseradish sauce and honey mustard.  I almost always make sandwiches with leftover chuck roast.

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here.  Want to know what’s even BETTER?  If you don’t want to eat beef two days in a row, it freezes perfectly.  So you can put it away and have it ready a month later when you get the craving.  The same goes for slow roasted pork roast, but that’s a blog for another day…

Chuck, I love ya.  I just wrote an entire blog post about you.

Summers Then & Now

Even though it’s back-to-school time, I’ve been thinking about my summers growing up.  When I was a kid the last day of school was epic.  Knowing that I didn’t have to do homework or read textbooks or wake up early for a couple of months was the best feeling.  I also felt excitement for the start of a new school year.  Not necessarily the homework and early wake-up calls, but shopping for a few new outfits, picking out school supplies, learning who my teachers were – all of that mid-August fanfare.

My mom stayed at home for a big chunk of our school years, or at most worked part time.  We were a modest middle-class family, happy and well provided for.  Not a ton of frills, but that was fine with us.  My older brother was wheelchair-bound, which is one of the main reasons my mom stayed at home when we were younger.  But as we all got older we were more than capable of fending for ourselves when she went back to work part time.

I remember my summers as a kid, before I was old enough to have a part time job to keep me busy.  The first week at home was a lot of sleeping in, watching TV, and running around outside with the neighborhood kids.  We’d pop home and eat a sandwich, then head back out until dinner time when we’d return sweaty and dirty and exhausted.  Some days my mom would drop me off at the neighborhood pool to meet up with friends, or stick me with my little brother if he was bored.  There was always one week at the beach, a week of day camp like Vacation Bible School, or an overnight camp when we got older.  It was fun and simple and got mind-numbingly boring by the time August rolled around. 

Sometimes I find myself a little bummed that Junior won’t get to experience that kind of carefree summer.  I work full time and don’t see an end in sight, so he won’t really have a chance to deviate from his regular school year schedule.  He’ll still be up early so I can drop him off at daycare and he’ll stay there until I pick him up after work.  When he gets older they call daycare “summer camp” since that’s pretty much what it is for the school-aged kids.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s a fun environment with stuff planned every day and I’m grateful he’ll have the opportunity to be there.  But there’s a part of me that wishes he could have a less scheduled summer, running around the neighborhood until dark, sleeping in, vegging out in front of the TV on a rainy day. 

Admittedly, I’ve worked full time since Junior was 10 weeks old, and I really have no experience with that stay-at-home lifestyle.  Would I be satisfied planning activities for my kids?  Being the chauffeur?  Hearing the griping when they’re bored at the end of the summer?  I’m not sure.  I have very fond memories of my summers at home and the bookends of excitement around summer’s start and summer’s end.  Does my mom have the same fond memories?  Hahaha maybe I should ask her…   Any way you slice it, times are different now.  We want more “stuff” which means we need more income.  Even the kids who do stay home all summer are in so many activities.  I’m not sure it’s even possible to recreate the summer vacations of the 80’s and 90’s.  One day I’d like to give it a try though, even for just a little while. 

Happy back-to-school season everyone.  I can still remember the great feeling of satisfaction when I found the perfect Trapper Keeper and coordinating folders.  Can you smell the vinyl?  Can you hear the Velcro?  I can…

Ye Ole Noggin

Today I’ve been thinking about my kid’s head.   It’s a nice head – full of unmanageable blonde hair and a little big compared to the rest of his body, but overall it’s a keeper.  It also takes a beating.  I don’t know if it’s a boy thing or if all kids bang up their heads on a regular basis, but Junior’s a pro.

I remember his very first substantial knot; he was maybe a year and a half old.  I was helping him step out of his pants and into his jammies when he got tripped up and smacked the back of his sweet head on the knob of his dresser drawer.  A walnut sized lump popped out immediately; he wailed and I was traumatized.  I was right there but somehow I couldn’t grab him before he hit the deck.  I rushed downstairs looking for frozen peas, crying because I was such an awful, irresponsible mother.  He recovered quickly and I beat myself up for hours.

And they kept coming.  There’s that time we were heading out to catch a ride on the Christmas trolley…  He was walking along when he hit an uneven section of sidewalk; since his hands were in his pockets the only way he could break his fall was with his face, right into a brick wall.  Oh.  My.  God.  The howling, the purple goose egg on his forehead, the bloodied lip, the trolley passengers staring…  Fortunately a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer sighting was a well-timed distraction.  What a weekend.  Needless to say our Christmas pictures were not as attractive that year.

Whether it’s a forehead to the wall, a tumble off his bike, or most recently a golf club to the face, it’s clear that young kids’ heads are made of concrete.  Somehow his mishaps have only result in bumps and bruises, no open wounds or stitches (how’s that for jinxing myself?).  And even though I’ve become somewhat immune to it now, there’s always that initial “oh shit” gasp before I slow down and gain my composure.  You know the feeling — the internal struggle of “do I apply frozen vegetables or take him to urgent care?”

Peas, cuddles, and a juice box usually do the trick for him, but I always spend a few minutes berating myself for being a sucky parent.  Why can’t I protect my sweet boy from walls and sidewalks and sports equipment?  What’s wrong with me?  Fortunately it’s not too long before I see a post on Facebook about another kid’s stitches or a busted tooth or a broken arm and I realize that we’re all experiencing the same adventures.  I guess a hard-headed kid isn’t such a bad thing after all…

You’re Mad About What??

The blog drought is over, for now at least.  How long has it been since I posted something?  There’s no real reason for the hiatus; the crappy winter resulted in nothing interesting to write, so I didn’t waste my time or yours.  What’s fun about a weekly blog on parent/toddler arguments?  Nothing, so I’ll just sum it up real quick.

tantrum

This is not my child… Photo courtesy of theconfidentmom.com.

Age 3 has been much more of a parenting challenge for me than 2 ever was.  Between 3 and 3½ I got a hard and fast lesson on stubbornness, defiance, backtalk, and crankiness.  I know it’s all part of Junior’s growing up, learning how to express himself,  having an opinion,  yada yada yada, but some mornings I contemplated walking out of the house and going to work in my bath robe just to escape it.

The funny thing is, Junior is only a grumpasaurus at home; he’s an absolute prince when we’re together with friends and playing with other kids.  So my friends literally don’t believe me when I tell them that he throws tantrums, swats at me, and loses privileges on a fairly regular basis.  A little junior Jekyll & Hyde I suppose.  I’ve taken the liberty of creating a top-10 list of Junior’s greatest (and most illogical) anger-inducing situations.  I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy experiencing them.

10. Syrup placement:  God forbid I drizzle syrup ON his pancake instead of on the side for dipping.

09. Get dressed before we come downstairs for breakfast?  Hellz no!

08. What?  No cartoons during dinner?  Mommy should be deported.

07. Runny nose = tissue only.  Toilet paper, napkins, hankies and any other absorbent items are contraband.

06. “Junior, please pick up your shoes.”  “No YOU do it mommy!”  Uhhhh, what?

05.  “Junior, I need to wash your hair because it smells like a trash can.”  (SCREAMING) “I WANT to smell like a trash can!”  This bathtub episode was great – I got it on video.

04. When and where I blow dry my hair can be a major issue on any given morning.  Tread lightly…

03. Daddy does the occasional morning daycare run.  LOOK OUT.

02. Well let’s face it…  Daddy tries to do any of the usual Mommy stuff (excluding wrestling, tickling, and watching vintage Muppets shows online) and there’s backlash.

01. SOFT PANTS.  Dear Lord, the child wants to wear some form of sweat/jersey/athletic pants every day and doggone it I want him to wear khakis every once in a while.  So we finally came to a mutual agreement that seems to work:  soft pants on Mondays and Fridays, and “handsome” clothes on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.  DEAL.

I’m laughing as I write this because the conflicts we have are so ridiculous.  Fortunately as he approaches 4 he is definitely easing up on some of those idiosyncrasies.  But even if we start the day arguing about sweatpants it’s good to know that the nights usually end with snuggles and story time and bedtime prayers.  Not always, but usually.  He’s an opinionated guy, what can I say?  He’s particular about the order of things; he appreciates a process.  He also falls down and bumps into things a lot, so I’m guessing my DNA is really taking charge in there.  Poor guy – I know how hard it is to be a klutzy type-A person who wishes she could wear sweatpants every day.