0

Disney – The Debrief

Hey y’all! Its been approximately a month since we’ve traveled to Disney and I figured I owed you a Disney debrief. ¬†A what, you ask? A debrief –¬†a series of questions about a completed mission or undertaking. ¬†The completed mission being – our vacation! ¬†And of course I am anticipating the questions I think you all have, but you get the picture, right?

I’m calling it that in homage to my mom. ¬†After every major event, we would debrief afterwards! LOL. So in the spirit of Rita, here it is:

Vacation was a blast! We rode every single ride imaginable and our kids were in pure heaven. As I stated in my last Disney post, we kept our schedule.  We did 2 days in Magic Kingdom and 1 day in Animal kingdom.  Each day we spend over 12 hours in the parks. We got there at around 9/930am and stayed until the park closed at either 930pm or 10pm.  I have the fitbit steps to prove it! Each day, I easily had over 23,000 steps before I left the parks!

Outfits/Fashion. So I warned you guys that I was going to be the corny mom with the matching outfits right? Well, I absolutely was.  I even brought my sister and brother-in-law in on the matching fun.

Monday – it was just the core Gibsons and we wore Star Wars shirts, since they are Disney-related and my son is such a fan. ¬†We got SOO many compliments from families in these shirts, on site. They were definitely hits. Even other families in their matching shirts came up to us and told us how much they liked our matching t-shirt swag. ¬†Many of them talked in Star Wars references….and that was kinda weird, but it came with the territory, so we rolled with it!

Wednesday – it was the Gibsons in the morning and then the Sykes (my sister and brother-in-law) by lunch time. That days’ theme was anything Mickey (and Pals) + Shorts. ¬†Taryn had a Minnie dress, so we let her slide. ¬†As long as everyone was coordinated ūüėČ

Thursday – it was the Sykes + Gibsons all day and we wore our Mommy, Daddy, Uncle, Auntie, Evan and Taryn Disney shirts. I was initially excited about these until Monday rolled around and I saw EVERYONE HAD THEM! I thought to myself, when we wear these on Thursday once we come back to Magic Kingdom, we’ll just blend in. Boy was I wrong…idk if it was the addition of the “Auntie” and “Uncle” or what, but people loved these shirts too! Of course we took a photo where we looked normal and appropriate…then we took a slightly ratchet photo. ¬†You know…for the culture.

 

Here is a list of random things that left an impression on me during the trip. I share these nuggets, in hopes that it will help you with an upcoming trip to the Happiest Place On Earth and give you some perspective in how we experienced our trip.

1. Traveling with kids is a pain in the butt. Umm, so why didn’t y’all warn me that flying with kids is NOT a game?! My children have never flown before, so I had zero experience with them in an airport. I mean, for their first time, I think they did okay. But when the TSA was asking my daughter questions, like, how old are you and she was like, “MOANA!” and what’s your name and she said, “ONE YEAR OLD!” I almost strangled her (kidding….kinda). ¬†And why do they have so much stuff?! Booster seats, electronics to keep them occupied, backpacks, carry-on luggage – I felt like I was carrying EVERYTHING!! And those little jokers have no concept of “inside” voices. ¬†I mean my daughter was literally screaming at the top of her lungs on the airplane, “What y’all eating back there?!” to my husband and son. ¬†I would blame it all on Taryn (mostly because she was sitting by me) but my husband said Evan was just as terrible, LOL. He was mostly asking 21 questions and talking my husband’s head off. ¬†Still, it was so rewarding to see the amazement in their eyes on their first flight. They were utterly speechless as we took off and flew high above the clouds. I managed to get this awesome photo of my daughter.flight

2. Clearwater Beach. I didn’t expect this beach to be SO family oriented. We took two trips there and it was amazing. For a quick 1+ hour ride from our resort, we enjoyed calm waters, white sand beaches and good eats. ¬†I definitely recommend you work in a trip or two if you are staying in the area. I like to think of our beach days as recovery days! We needed them after spending so much time in the parks.

3. Animal Kingdom. So I had heard Disney’s newest park was a good one, but this was by far my favorite Disney park! I’ve been to them all, but this was my first time here and boy, did live up to the expectations. Actually, it exceeded my expectations. The rides, the animals, the food and the night show were all amazing. Do NOT skip this park. Especially if you have young children who are into animals. You will not regret it. Definitely do the safari!AK_AK_20170807_8082433517.jpegI especially loved Avatar/Pandora and Africa. The characters were so accessible in this park and I felt like we could walk right up to them vs. the long lines of Magic Kingdom. Here we actually got to meet Mickey and Minnie! My daughter was so upset our first day in MK. She remarked, “We didn’t even SEE Mickey or Minnie! They don’t live here!” and it was true. We never saw Mickey or Minnie our first day at MK. ¬†The look of pure delight on their faces as we rounded the corner in AK to see the Mouse was worth the 15 minute wait in line.

4. ¬†Characters. Day one at MK we were completely overwhelmed and only saw a few characters. When we got to AK and MK (Day 2) we totally rectified that situation and made it our mission to see every.single.solitary.character we could. This made ALL of the difference between the two days at MK. If you have younger kids, I recommend making or purchasing autographs books, as well as prioritizing characters. It completely added to the excitement of the park and it wasn’t something I remembered doing as a child. It totally made my kids’ days! Although my son is still angry that he didn’t get to see his “girlfriend,” Princess Jasmine. ¬†At least he has good taste in women ūüėČ Here are a few of the characters we waited in line to see below:

5. Character Dining Experiences. I think this is the best way to kill two birds with one stone. You don’t have the issue of waiting in line to see the characters, plus you get to ‘do something’ while seeing the characters. We did the steamboat cruise with Princess Tiana and this was one of my favorite activities. I think for this one, we actually killed THREE birds with one stone. First, the kids got unlimited desserts/snacks. ¬†I’m talking all of you can eat and drink. For the price (roughly $60 for the whole family), it was a great deal considering how much those Disney treats cost. Secondly, we got a great viewing spot to watch the afternoon parade. We didn’t have to fight the crowds and got to see everything from the steamboat. ¬†Lastly, we got to play hide and seek with Princess Tiana and Prince Navid. They did a great job of grabbing each kid, dancing and making them all feel special!

We also had an early dinner buffet with Winnie the Pooh and friends. Such a fun experience and Tigger was a family favorite!

6. Magic Bands. These things were LIFE CHANGERS!! I loved going completely “paperless” at Disney world. We linked our photo pass, credit card, Fast Passes and admission tickets up through our magic bands. So anytime we wanted to do anything, we simply scanned our bands and viola! It made the entire experience seamless. I would recommend purchasing them to anyone who is going to the parks and staying at an off Disney property. My favorite part was the photo pass. We walked up to all of the Disney Photopass photographers and they took our pics at the prime photo locations. It was great for when we all wanted to be in shots together and didn’t want to ask a stranger to take our photos. Another thing that was my absolute favorite was the fact that we could get all of the pics from the rides. Some of these shots were HILARIOUS! The faces that we made were priceless and it was an added bonus because I never purchase “ride photos.” Here are a few fun PhotoPass shots below.

7. Our resort was also really nice. Since I am a Hilton employee, I won’t go on and on promoting a rival brand. However, if you do have to stay at the dreaded M-word, I would recommend the resort we stayed at. ¬†Money well spent! (See previous blog for link).

8. Minivan. ¬†That’s right, we rented a minivan at the airport. The cool thing I wanted to ¬† point out is that if you are an Emerald Club member at National Car Rental and you get to bypass he counter, please do so in Disney. They have TONS of minivans and you only pay the price for mid-size rental. ¬†Just a little Disney hack I learned by accident. I imagine it is the same at other airport car rentals in the Orlando airport, so make sure you tap into that to save some $$.

I’m not sure what else to say without getting extremely detailed and I don’t think this is the forum for that. If you’d like to learn more about how to “do Disney” and for relatively cheap, please contact me. Most blogs I’ve read said that you spend close to $8,000 – $10,000 per trip (for a family of four) to do what we did at Disney. I did it for less than 1/2 of that amount, so I am happy to share a few tricks. Keep in mind, vacationing in domestically is EXPENSIVE! I’d much rather hop on a plane and go to an all-inclusive resort on an island or Mexico, lock my wallet up for the week and have a blast. In the States, you have to pay for each and every meal, drinks and all of the experiences you have, a la carte. Often times the final bill, once you add up all of the a la carte items, is much more expensive.

Our next major family trip will be to Generations Resort in Rivera Maya, Mexico. Kids eat free and we only have to pay for the adult all-inclusive fee. No car rentals, no paying for kids and no paying for character dining! I guarantee the final bill will be much cheaper than our Disney tab.

We cut corners on this trip by buying our airplane tickets at a steep discount and flying a little earlier/later than normal; buying our souvenirs ahead of time Рincluding our mickey ears, personalized water bottles and t-shirts; using a timeshare;  using the car rental hack I told you about earlier; using old VISA/MasterCard/Restaurant/Store Specific gifts cards (I never use them, so they just sit in a pile collecting dust because I often forget I have them); buying groceries (breakfast and snacks) instead of eating out for all meals; and using Disney Credit Card Reward Points/Dollars inside the park.

That said, you still have to be ready to pay for parking each and every day, especially if you stay off site. ¬†Certain things just can’t be avoided when you go to Disney and you have to budget accordingly. ¬†It is best to plan a trip of this nature for at least a year to ensure you can have a great time and not go broke trying to do so. Set expectations for your kids BEFORE you go into the parks and make sure they don’t go crazy every time you go into a store (or just avoid them, like we did).

Traveling the last week before school started was the best thing we ever did. The weather was great (I mean it was still hot, but it wasn’t miserable) and the lines weren’t too long b/c most of the east coasters, including Floridians, were back in school. If you’re worried about pulling the kids out of school and want to avoid that, I recommend traveling to Orlando during this time period. ¬†I hope this helps and make sure you hit me up if you want a more in-depth analysis, including budgeting examples! To everyone who has reached out, I’m so glad ¬†could help you plan your trip!

Until next time ūüôā

 

0

Evan’s First Day of Kindergarten

I cannot believe this day has finally arrived! My son went to Kindergarten this morning and I was pretty much a semi-functioning wreck since I saw him board the bus.

EvanFirstDayEvanTarynFirstDay

I honestly didn’t expect to have so many emotions attached to this, as I’m a pretty unemotional person. Meaning, I don’t cry often and I am rarely anxious. That said..there was something about seeing this little face skip/jog to that bus today that did it for me. I was no good and burst out crying while talking to the fellow moms at my son’s before/after care facility.

I’m praying he has a great day and an awesome year!

Happy First day of Kindergarten Evan!!!

**Dries eyes with Tissues**

a-mothers-first-day-of-school-prayer

P.S. I know I owe you a Post-Disney…It’s coming :))

0

Home Study – An overview

Home Study

As promised, I am including some helpful information we picked up during our foster-adoption journey. ¬†I think the question we get asked the most was how was passed our Home Study. ¬†I’m not going to lie, I don’t know the ‘magic combination’ or formula of how we passed the home study. What I do know it is a stumbling block for many couples and I also know that each agency has their own rules, guidance and requirements. What I will attempt to do in this blog is tell you what we did to get ready for our home study and hopefully some of these steps will resonate with you, if you are going down a similar path.

We had to go through the Charles County Department of Social Services in the state of Maryland in order to complete our home study.  We had a thick packet of information, appointment requests and forms that we had to complete.  Here is a list of things we needed below:

–Copies of drivers license
–Copies of birth certificates
–Copy of marriage license
–Forms – Questionnaire I & 2; Attitudes on Sexual Issues, Biographies
–Forms – Childhood and Family Life Experience Form
–Medical forms with TB results
–Verification of income; month of paystubs, Federal income tax cover sheet with AGI
–Pets – rabies (if applicable)
–Addresses for References (3)
–Certified copy of driving record
–Criminal clearances

A lot, right? Going through this packet and filling it out was quite a chore Рin fact, we almost quit, TWICE!  In particular, the questionnaires and forms were very lengthy.  They asked very invasive questions on our family history, our sexual history, our educational background, income Рyou name it, they asked it.

A word of advice Рduring this process it is important to remember that you have to be completely transparent with the agency and your assigned case worker.  Even if you have gone through some less than great experiences, it is important to tell the truth. I believe our case worker was actually looking for those vulnerable moments, not to trip us up in the process, but to make sure we had overcome anything and could move on in a healthy space.

Thankfully for my husband and I, we had relatively normal childhoods and upbringings. As I mentioned above, this was surprising to our assigned case worker. ¬†We had to discuss our questionnaires in person, in the form of interviews, as a part of the home study. ¬†Our case worker asked us over and over again about our education, experiences, and what brought us to this place. ¬†She also asked about trauma, abuse and was intrigued at our vanilla stories. She later explained, “typically potential resource parents have previously gone through foster care and are attracted to this process. ¬†They’re interested in becoming foster parents after having negative experiences growing up. They want to make a difference in the lives of children who are like them. It is rare that you don’t see some sort of traumatic experience, as most of the foster parents have been through something in their childhood.” That made sense to me, as she explained it. I helped to fill in the gap for her by explaining, “Well, you’re looking at a foster child success story – one generation later. ¬†My father was that foster child you spoke of. ¬†But he overcame his history and was placed in a supportive resource home. He then married my mother and raised a great family, so you’re seeing the fruits of a foster placement, gone correctly.” Her eyes brightened and she seemed appreciative and I further shared my father’s story and how it impacted me to become a foster mother.

As if the interviews weren’t enough, we also had to undergo an examination of our home. This included a sanitary inspection and a fire marshal inspection of our home. ¬†We had to set up appointments with each of these departments to inspect the home to their levels of safety. ¬†The last part of the home study included a long checklist of items, based on the ages of the children you are willing to have in your home. ¬†For us, we included infants as possible placements, so we had to basically baby-proof our home, with no actual “promise” of baby placement. ¬†This means we had to buy a crib, safety plugs, safety gates, etc.

I’ll admit it, it was kinda creepy sleeping in a house without a baby but fully ‘furnished’ for one to walk into it. ¬†We waited until the very last minute get some of these items. ¬†Overall, we started the process in September 2013 and our Home Study, Interviews, Questionnaires and other forms were approved by the end of March 2014. The process was most intense throughout the month of January 2014. We got our first placement June 20, 2014.

Oh, one major important detail I forgot to share – if you are going through the local government/state, a home study is FREE! That is one major difference between going through a private agency vs. the state government.

Lastly, here  is a link to the Home Study Process in the State of Maryland.

I hope that this gives you some insight into the often intimidating Home Study process. If you plan on going through this soon and would like some additional help and resources, please feel free to hit the contact button and reach out to me. ¬†I’ll be glad to walk you through the process and share some of our forms with you.

Hopefully, within the next year, I plan on publishing a book with a detailed account of everything we went through in order to get certified in order to help others navigate this foster-adoption journey!

 

0

Mini Getaway – 4 days in Williamsburg, VA

This past weekend, we got to cash in a wonderful gift from my sister-in-law.  Earlier this year, she found a great deal on Groupon for 7 consecutive days and unlimited admission to Water Country USA and Busch Gardens both located in Williamsburg, VA. Because we missed out on our yearly family camping trip, she gifted us these Groupons for my whole family, so that we all could spend some time together.

For us, this was about a 2.5 hour drive from our home in Southern Maryland. I was super excited to go on this trip because it afforded us some extra time with family and friends, it was $FREE.99 (the best price ever!!) and I took 2 days of PTO so that was some time I got to decompress from a hectic work week. ¬†I was also excited to do this trip again because our family had gotten the same deal last year from Groupon and we took the kids for a full week. ¬†I figured with this trip being approximately 2 weeks before we headed to Disney, it would be a great “test” trip.

Of course, I looked at our Hilton employee travel website and I secured the Team Member Rate for $35/night at a Hilton Garden Inn Hampton, approximately 20 miles away from the theme parks.  While it was a little cumbersome each day to drive the 20 miles to and from Williamsburg, especially with construction on Interstate 64, it was worth it to save the money on the nightly stay. No other Hilton branded hotels in Williamsburg was offering our generous discount, so we happily made the drive.

Our agenda was aggressive for the weekend, as we tried to get the most bang for our buck. While my sister-in-law, her husband and my mother-in-law headed down to Williamsburg that Wednesday night, we didn’t go down there until Thursday night. Our kids had swim lessons that ended at 7:35pm, so we waited until that was over and then we headed down the road with my good friend from college, her husband and their son (who is also my godson). We gassed up and hit the road around 8pm and eventually got to our hotel before 11pm that night. We changed into PJs and got a good night’s sleep.

Friday, we headed to Water Country USA around 11am.  One money saving tip we employed for our family of four was eating free breakfast at the Hilton Garden Inn (HGI). Mommy Tip: Many hotel reward programs allow you to trade in points for breakfast vouchers for the length of your stay.  I almost always opt to get the breakfast vouchers so the family can fill up on some eats and have one less expense to worry about.

Once we arrived at the park, we headed straight to the Surfer’s Bay Wave Pool. ¬†This is my favorite place to start off at the park because you can come in for a dip and relax before hitting the pavement. ¬†The best part about this pool? Every 10 minutes, the surf starts crashing! Cycles of four-foot waves last 8 minutes and when you put the kiddies in their life vests, they have a blast on the waves. We actually stayed here for a good 2 hours! After that, breakfast was long gone and everyone was starving. ¬†We ended up eating immediately after the wave pool at a nearby food option. ¬†Unfortunately, food was crazy expensive and we ended up spending almost $50 on some mediocre pizza, chicken tenders, hot dogs, fries and fruit. ¬†We even got courtesy cups of water…I cannot imagine if we had gotten drinks how much it would have all cost.

Next, we went to Cow-a-bunga -a children’s play area and pool that features three short slides and a variety of interactive water features. Our kids hopped in quickly to explore this scaled-down water slide.

After that, we hit the Kritter Koral, a children‚Äôs play area, which features fun fountains, splash zones, and scaled-down water slides in the shape of their favorite sea creatures. My 5-year-old son, 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old godson didn’t want to leave. ¬†This was, hands down, their favorite area of the park.

FB_IMG_1502244576083

The highlight of the day was the attraction, Big Daddy Falls. Why the shock? It was a ride that I was surprised everyone in the family could ride with no height restrictions! Big Daddy Falls is¬†a whitewater rafting adventure where you brave the rapids together‚ÄĒtackling crazy curves, tunnels, drops, and super-soaking cannon blasters. I think everyone in our family literally screamed in ‘terror’ the entire time. It was the best ride of the day and it was so exciting we could all ride it together.

Lastly, we finished up at H20 UFO – Water Country’s largest children‚Äôs water playground. It boasts of an out-of-this-world adventure filled with slides, spray jets, and a cool waterfall.

It was a full day of fun and the kiddies were exhausted afterwards.

Saturday we spent the entire day at Busch Gardens. ¬†We ate breakfast at Hardee’s that morning because my husband was feeling nostalgic (don’t ask), LOL. We arrived at the park around 12 noon and stayed until around 9pm. It was a full day but we had the best time. ¬†The highlight of Saturday was us meeting up with our good friends, The Jones family, from my hometown of Richmond, VA. ¬†Their brought their teenaged foster son, two younger sons (ages 3 and almost 2) and they were season’s pass holders. ¬†Having someone who knew the park inside and out worked to our advantage! They showed us where to go and helped us to successfully navigate the large park and we found almost every single attractions for the kiddies. ¬†For the children, we ended up riding literally almost ALL of the “KIDsiderate Attractions.” What I loved about BG was ¬†the kids could choose from almost 20 attractions/rides made just for them. The kids wore themselves out and we had such a good time taking them around to each attraction.

For the adults, the best part was having enough of us there that we could ‘trade off’ watching the kids while some of us rode the adult rides and have some enjoyment ourselves. ¬†We ended up riding the Turkish Delight, Verbolten, Battering Ram, Mach Tower, Der Wirelwined, and Grover’s Alpine Express (with the kids).

We took in two shows in order to cool down and get out of the heat – BritMania, which was surprisingly good, and OktoberZest. Luckily, the temperature wasn’t unbearable and hovered around 79-82 degrees most of the day.

Overall, BG was a lot of fun and the kids were completely delirious when the day was over.  We did a great job wearing them out.

20170805_121939

Sunday, we headed back to Water Country USA and the kids were quickly ran out to of steam. First, we did brunch in Hampton at Park Tavern. ¬†I believe this was our first mistake because brunch was delicious, hefty, heavy…and there may have been mimosas involved. Once we got to Water Country, we literally went to Hubba Hubba Highway aka the Lazy River and back to H20 UFO. ¬†After about 2-3 hours we were all like, “yall ready to go?!” Everyone, with the exception of my 5 year old, was tired and ready to leave. We left and grabbed ice cream at Cold Stone, then headed back to the hotel for naps. ¬†That night we got Mexican at a local place close to the hotel and stayed up until watching Game of Thrones and Insecure once the kids fell asleep on the hotel TV.

Monday was completely rained out, so we opted for breakfast at the hotel, packed our bags and headed back home.

Overall, the trip was amazing and it showed us exactly what it felt like to be completely UNPREPARED for vacation. ¬†We had a great time but didn’t utilize any of my typical pre-planning methods. There were no personalized water bottles or the equivalents to the Disney Fast Passes. ¬†If one of us forgot something, the other one had it. One would have wet wipes if the other parent left them in the hotel room by mistake. ¬†One parent had a stroller if the other parent’s kid wasn’t trying to walk. ¬†One parent had extra sunscreen if the other’s ran out. ¬†And yes, one parent had Pedialyte when the other parent’s kid got dehydrated and may (or may not) have thrown up at the end of a long day at Busch Gardens, LOL. I say all of this to say, it showed me that going on vacation and winging it wasn’t such a bad thing. Of course, it didn’t hurt that we ended up in Busch Gardens with Season’s pass holders. ¬†And it didn’t hurt that we went with other families that had young children. ¬†But overall – I enjoyed this laidback, vacation practice run.

Disney – we are ready for you! ¬†Williamsburg, you were a blast ūüôā

2

Who are We? More…

I’m going to jump back in where I left off on our foster-adoption story. You ready?

So, we are back with these two little kids and I’m desperately trying to remember everything they taught us in that 9 week foster/adoption certification class about how to be a parent. ¬†I mean, talk about a struggle! ¬†We only had a couple of hours between us making the decision to “accept” the kids and us actually getting the children that fateful Friday afternoon on June 20th.

You should have seen us, a young couple who had NEVER researched on car seats or crib mattresses, or anything related to infants and toddlers, in Target trying to figure out which car seats we should buy. We had no idea how much either of them weighed, which brands were best or how to even install them in the car. I remember telling my husband, “We have to turn the little one backwards! I remember seeing that somewhere!” After finalizing our purchases, we rolled up to the Department of Social Services and met the kids.

I recall exactly what was happening when we first laid eyes of them. ¬†My son was playing with some toys in the waiting room. One of the social workers was holding my daughter and she had tears in her eyes, but wasn’t quite crying. The petite social worker was rocking her up and down to calm her. I remember thinking…they’re cute. They have big heads (hey, just being honest, lol), but they’re cute. ¬†Then I heard her words again, “Don’t get too attached.” And I quickly snapped into business mode.

The kids’ previous foster parents were there and the foster mom gave me a thorough run down of everything. ¬†“She is on stage 3 baby food and she just starting drinking whole milk. ¬†She just got her 1-year-old vaccines today, so she may be a little fussy,” she explained. ¬†I was vigorously scribbling down notes on an old envelope trying to retain everything she was giving me. I remember thinking, “Stage 3 foods? What is that?!” And also pondering, so if she’s fussy from the vaccines, what do I do then? It was all so overwhelming and it honestly felt like she was speaking a foreign language. ¬†She was actually…it was “baby/kid talk” and I had no idea what any of it meant.

After speaking with the foster mom, I was more than convinced that this would be a quick ordeal.  She was kind, compassionate and provided everything we needed to know despite this being a potentially awkward situation.  I was sure the investigation would conclude and the kids would go back to them in no time.  3 weeks, I thought to myself.  3 weeks.

The first night, the kids did okay. They both slept through the night, which surprised me and my husband. I thought them being in a new place would leave them frightened and unsure. Thinking back on it now, it was just a testament to how resilient my kiddies were. They were such fighters and knew how to adapt to any situation and survive.

Saturday, I quickly went to work trying to secure a daycare for the kids. ¬†Because their current daycare was also under investigation, we weren’t able to send them there. Talk about a bind! ¬†I knew my neighbor across the street ran a licensed daycare and I called her immediately. She had an open spot available for my son. We got my mother-in-law to stay with us to help us during the transition for a couple of weeks. She agreed to stay with my daughter and became our emergency back up person and had to undergo fingerprinting and a background check to watch the children. ¬†I don’t know how we did it, but we had everything in place before the weekend was over so we could return to work on Monday.

I bragged a little earlier how resilient my kiddies were…well they may have been resilient but my daughter was still a 1-year-old little girl who had no idea who we were. And my son was a 2 year and 2 month old boy who like to whine and cry when he felt things weren’t structured enough for him. ¬†He was also a little clumsy and did a lot of tumbling and falling down. ¬†He had come to us with a black eye (the source of the investigation) but after being with him for just a few moments, I was convinced he’s fallen off of some object or structure and had given it to himself! ¬†He would run and let that head lead the way. ¬†Combine that with a lack of balance and ladies and gentleman, we had a faller!

That Saturday was full of crying, whining, falling, tumbling, smiling, laughing, dancing, more crying, a lot more whining, smiling, and eating.  We were exhausted and way in over our heads. Or at least it felt that way in that moment.

My mother and father drove up from Richmond, VA to check on us. I remember opening the door, expecting my parents to come in, “parent” these foster children and save the day. Wearily, I greeted them with a deflated smile. ¬†They came bearing gifts – a couple of outfits and a few toys. ¬†My husband and I must have looked crazy because I remember my parents looking at us like, What have you two gotten yourselves into?! They tried to be as comforting as possible, given the circumstances. ¬†My mom offered me the best words of wisdom after observing us for a while. ¬†“You both look exhausted! And the kids are delirious,” she stated matter-of-factly. ¬†I fought the urge to snap and say, “Tell me something I don’t know, Mom.” (I didn’t say anything though…I wasn’t crazy, lol). Then she provided the most common sense advice that I was entirely too tired and dazed to think of myself. ¬†“You KNOW you can give them a nap, right?” she asked.

“Omg…a nap! A NAP!!!” I giggled excitedly. ¬†YES! WE COULD GIVE THEM A NAP!!! It was like music to my ears. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?! That’s what they needed. ¬†That’s what we all needed – a nap. I let out a little squeal of delight at the realization. “Yes, Erika. You need to put them on a schedule! That will restore some balance to your lives and give them the structure they need,” she explained. ¬†That last sentence sent me to the moon. ¬†THAT is how we will get through this. ¬†A routine, a schedule and naps! NAPS! It was like she had given us the golden ticket. ¬†My parents didn’t save the day in that visit, but her words quickly saved my sanity in that moment.

Later, I busied myself typing in Google searches that read, ‘how many hours should a 1-year-old sleep?’ and ‘how many hours should a 2-year-old sleep?” I went on Pinterest and searched for sleep schedules and recommended nap times. ¬†The final piece of this puzzle was when we were talking to my mother-in-law and she dropped this gem that stayed with me. “You know you can put them down as early as 7:30pm, right? Especially when the fall comes and it gets dark earlier,” she recommended. I’m shocked I didn’t break out into a jig, right then and there. I had figured out how I would get through this. This routine would save us. ¬†This routine would restore us.

This routine would get us through the next 3 weeks!

 

1

Legacy

One of the things that I think will be helpful to share in this blog is a post about my mother, Rita Peters. Her legacy is so instrumental in how I am raising my children that the air is thick with the heaviness of the mantle she left us to carry.

I’ll start with saying my mother transitioned to heaven after a 10-month battle with stage 4 uterine cancer on March 21, 2016. A testament to her unwavering strength, she had cancer for a while (undiagnosed), but still managed to be at my younger sister’s wedding in May 2015 because she knew that “she had to do for one as she did for the other (her words).” Meaning, she knew we would both have a fit if she did something for one sister and not the other one. ¬†So this amazing woman put off dying (or at least being really sick) because she knew my sister would say, “Hey! that’s not fair..mom was at your wedding and not mine!” ¬†I have to chuckle as I type this, but my mom was a G like that ūüôā

IMG_6620.jpg

**My beautiful mother and gorgeous sister pictured above on her wedding day in May 2015**

There is so much to type about the mother and the awesome human being she was. ¬†In her 60 years on this earth, most people who met her were blessed to know her. Her funeral was attended by hundreds of people – it was standing room only! ¬†In her professional life, she was the Superintendent of a Women’s Diversion and Detention Center in the Virginia Department of Corrections. In her spiritual/church life, she was a counselor who helped countless “hurting women” overcome adversity, abuse, addictions and so much more. ¬†Overall, she was a woman’s woman. And she was a mother who excelled at mothering. ¬†So many of the techniques and principles she taught me, I strive to instill into my children.

Here are a few guiding principles she left me with.

  1. Work Ethic – My mother taught me and my sister the value of working hard and a job well done. In everything, she strove for excellence. She was a consummate perfectionist. ¬†She also gave us confidence in our natural intelligence. A funny story about her was if there was some area in grade school that we were struggling in, she would simply say, “you’re smart….figure it out.” And then she would expect you get no less than a B in the subject! ¬†And because high expectations were the norm, we just did it. The confidence she had in us, we almost took for granted. We didn’t struggle, we didn’t doubt, we just simply accomplished what she believed we could do (and more). In her opinion, God had given us the talent, so my mom just ensured we owned it and walked in it.
  2. Compassion, Grace and Forgiveness – This is an area where I probably learned the most for my mom. I’ve always had high expectations from my friends and classmates as I grew up. I didn’t tolerate if someone did me wrong, lied to me or betrayed me (as much as one could do that in elementary and middle school). I guess it was my innate Scorpio nature. ¬†My mom, believing we were all new creatures in Christ, led me to shy away from this natural instinct. Instead, she let me know that my friends were sometimes fallible and capable of making mistakes. And that it was my job to restore my brother or sister, forgive them if they’d wronged me and show them some grace and mercy. ¬†Ha, mercy? I would think haughtily. ¬†They did WRONG by me and it was my job to ensure they paid the price which I guess was a loss in my friendship? Or at least the cold shoulder for a little while. ¬†An eye for an eye, right?! My mom would just look at me and my sister and tell us to reserve our judgement for ourselves. I am so thankful for this lesson because there were many friends over the years that I would have cut off on a whim…all because they would do something that I would deem was incorrect. My mom would tell us – that is your friend! Forgive them, restore them and love them. Her favorite line was, “I’ve invested too much time and money in these friendships! Picking you all up, taking you to the movies, etc. ¬†I am vested! You need to make up and be friends!” ¬†I would often think, this lady is crazy – why does she care about this? But there was a bigger lesson I was missing at the time. I’m so glad I listened to her and learned to meet people where they were. ¬† I’m still working on it….but I know it’s importance, because of my mother.
  3. The love of family – My mom has always instilled in me the importance and love of family. ¬†Whether it’s inviting cousins over to spend the night or volunteering our home to host our annual Thanksgiving and/or Christmas celebrations, my mom was on it. She attended each and every family member’s high school and college graduations, parties or celebratory events, if it was in her power to make it. This is an area that I have fully embraced and even extended to friends. My friends are now also my family. It is nothing to open my home, host loved ones and break bread. ¬†This is one of my most treasured lessons from her.
  4. The love of God – This is the gift that keeps on giving, even in my mom’s absence. She taught my sister and I to have an amazing relationship with God and for that I am truly grateful. How can you ever thank someone for giving you the gift of Amazing Grace? Faith? Eternal Life? You cannot…
  5. Always do the right thing, even when no one is looking – I think this one speaks for itself. Integrity is a critical characteristic that my mom never compromised on. ¬†Once she dedicated her life to Christ, I never EVER heard her curse around us one time. She also never drank or smoke once she made that commitment. ¬†And to me, it’s not about necessarily what she didn’t do, but who she was at all times that sticks out to me the most. She was who she said she was, period. She walked the walk and whatever convictions she had, she lived them out in church on Sunday as well as in the home – Monday through Saturday. She did the right thing, always – even when no one was around to witness it. While I don’t have that down perfectly, those are large shoes that I am trying to fill, one day at a time.
  6. The Sanctity of Marriage – There is so much to say here, but I’ll keep it simple. I got to witness a loving marriage, up close and in person that lasted just shy of 37 years. Sure there were ups and downs, especially before my parents got married and maybe even in the early years of their actual marriage, but I had a front row seat to an amazing partnership. One that I am blessed to try to model each and every day of my life.
  7. Vacation – I think you’ll see evidence tenet of this in my last blog. One thing my mother left me with was “you must take at LEAST one week-long vacation per year!” Words to live by! In fact, another area where I have taken the liberty to expand further- I try to do two weeks per year – one weel away with my Husband and one week away with the whole family (kiddies included).
  8. Be Silly – Maybe this should be number 1? My mom, in all of her seriousness, was literally one of the funniest women I knew, period. She had a hilarious sense of humor and could cut you down with her smart wit in a high-pitched voice, followed by belly laughter. ¬†So much so, she had a ton of sayings that my sister and I coined, “Rita-isms.” We went through a list of them at her homegoing service in case the masses weren’t familiar with that side of her. ¬†My favorite one that I use in my daily repertoire is “Careth Not!” ¬†And it means exactly what it says – it’s when you just simply don’t care about what the person is telling you. The comedic timing is key on this one, as is the high-pitched voice delivery. ¬†Someone has to be pouring their heart out to you, telling you something with pure conviction and unapologetic passion. ¬†Then you look at them blankly, and at the right time, you shoulder shrug and say, “Careth not!” ¬†Usually the person is taken so off guard, they burst out laughing and it lightens the mood. ¬†Of course you care (kinda)….but it’s never THAT serious and that’s what “Careth Not” reminds us of. Don’t ever take yourself too serious..have fun! Be silly and remember, “Who cares?!” Rita certainly did not ūüėČ

These are just a few things that I try to impress upon my kids and keep in the forefront of my mind as I deal with my mommy moments.

Mom, I dedicate my efforts to live this best life to you. I hope you’re proud of the work that I am doing and continue to do, in your honor.

LookBack

**My mother pictured above, headed to Thanksgiving dinner at one of her brother’s home**

0

Our First Trip to Disney – The Plan

Mickey And Minnie Mouse Welcome Everyone To Hong Kong Disneyland ResortThis will be the first in couple of posts about our first family trip to Disney World. I’m writing this, in part, to help other mothers (or fathers) as they prepare to take their first vacation to the Happiest Place on Earth. I’m also writing this because I want to see how I “planned” (notice, this is a common theme in my life, ha) for this trip to go vs. what will actually happen when we get there.

So here goes…our (sike….MY) master plan to conquer Disney World in just seven days.

Over the past month, I’ve been scouring Pinterest, blogs, articles and the world-wide web in order to plan the perfect Disney World trip to Orlando. A bit about me, I’d like to consider myself a vacation aficionado. ¬†I work at the best hospitality company in the world, Hilton, in their corporate headquarters in the Tyson’s Corner area of Northern Virginia. ¬†I may be a tad bit biased, but this job only deepened my love for travel. I get great discounts at some of the best properties in the world. Plus even before joining Hilton, I was a member of a vacation club and also often used my parents’¬†timeshare for vacationing. Travel has always been a priority in my life and I pride myself in planning some pretty decent vacations on a budget.

Growing up, Orlando Florida was a frequent destination for my nuclear family. ¬†I remember going to Disney World at the ripe age of 12 . I was a tad bit “too cool” for Mickey Mouse and my 9-year-old sister, who was trying to be just like me at the time, was feigning being unimpressed by all of the “magical-ness.” ¬†My mother, however, was excited enough for us all! She gleefully squealed once we entered the park, her first time there and exclaimed, “Can you believe we are here!!” My dad shook his head but deep down, we all enjoyed Disney as much as my mother outwardly expressed.

Given my history with Disney, I am eager to plan a trip for my 4 and 5-year-old. ¬†I feel like this is the perfect age for them to enjoy the true meaning of Disney, plus….Orlando is timeless! We can go back to Florida year after year and as they grow, so can the attractions we visit, i.e. Universal Studios vs. Disney in their older ages.

So back to my research. ¬†I’ve found you need quite a few things in order to make your trip to Disney a success (things I never had growing up, but that’s neither here nor there). ¬†Here are some the tips and Disney hacks I’ve learned over the past month. ¬†I’ll also share our itinerary with you as well, just so you can see how I planned our week. ¬†Once we come back after our trip, I’ll post pics and tell you how much of this worked and how much was a disaster. ¬†I mean, misstep… misstep is a better word, right?

So first, let’s start with our flights. I was debating whether to fly or drive to Florida. ¬†From where we live in Maryland, the trip is a solid 12 hours. ¬†I know some of you are thinking, 12 hours, with two small kids?! No way! This actually didn’t scare me because growing up, my family unit were road trip warriors. I will say though, we were a lot older than my kids are now, so I guess I should take that into consideration. ¬†Nevertheless, I wasn’t daunted by the idea of renting a car and driving. I figured, I’d research plane ticket prices and if I saw a great offer, I’d get them. Otherwise, we were driving. ¬†Well, ladies and gentleman, Jet Blue¬†had an amazing deal I couldn’t say no to. I scored tickets in February from DCA to MCO airport for a family for 4 for the low price of $505, total including fees and taxes! I put those babies on my Costco Visa, which automatically includes trip protection and never looked back. ¬†So far the scoreboard reads Erika – 1; Disney – 0.

Accommodations. As I mentioned earlier, I had planned on staying at one of our amazing Hilton properties. In fact, I had secured reservations at the Hilton team member rate at the Waldorf Astoria, Bonnet Creek, a coveted resort that boasts of a lazy river, water slides and good restaurants. ¬†I was ecstatic to get this for the reasonable team member rate of $55/night. ¬†Then I ended talking a friend of mine who had just gone to Disney for Christmas. She told me, with two children, a hotel room for the week would be extremely tight and the close quarters would probably get on my nerves. ¬†She advised, get a suite with a kitchen unit or you’ll regret it. ¬†So I reached back in my bag of tricks and decided to see what our timeshare, Diamond Resorts had to offer through our exchange network, Interval World. ¬†I searched and searched for a Hilton Grand Vacations Timeshare property because: Brand Loyalty. However, my search was fruitless. I did find a Premier rated timeshare at the dreaded “M word.” ¬†You know the one…Marriott. We could exchange our vacation points to the Marriott Lakeshore Reserve Resort for the low price of $159 for the entire week! SCORE! Plus the unit came with the kitchen, a full dining table and area to wash dishes and warm up food. So we could save a little cash in the parks and keep drinks, snacks and other perishable items in our rooms, as well as quick breakfasts for the kids in the AM before starting our days. ¬†Needless to say, I booked there and got a suite for a family of four. ¬†Honestly, I think either location would have been amazing! Both Hilton and Marriott properties were family friendly, with water slides and attractions. ¬†Perfect for those lazy resort days when you want to lounge and enjoy the amenities that come with the hotel room you paid for. ¬†While I am fiercely loyal to Hilton, I believe we’ll have a great time at the resort whose name we don’t mention, lol. ¬†The scoreboard is up in my favor….Erika – 2; Disney – 0.

Planned vacation itinerary. ¬†So we arrive on a Saturday and leave on a Saturday. The more I thought about it when I was planning everything out, the more I realized both travels days will be a wash, due to logistics, obtaining and returning our rental car and our arrival and departure times. ¬†Essentially, we only have Sunday through Friday to work with. As I mentioned above, we like to have a day or two of being lazy…I like to call those “resort days.” I have also heard great things about Clearwater beach which is only a short drive away, so I figured we have to get in a beach day as well. ¬†And of course, the main attraction, the Disney parks. ¬†I heard trying to do more than 2 days in a week with two young children was a challenge for my friends who had recently gone in early July of this year. I figure my kids were a bit older than theirs, so my husband and I settled on 3 days of “parking it up.” Then I thought out the pros and cons of each of the parks to decide which ones we’d attend. I heard great things about Animal Kingdom, one of the new parks that wasn’t there when I growing up. ¬†My kids are very into animals and love learning about the jungle, African safaris, etc. And Magic Kingdom wasn’t even an option to not consider. ¬†That was THE place to go. ¬†I also researched some touring plans (free ones in Pinterest!! I didn’t pay for any) and discovered most recommend 2 days in Magic Kingdom if you are there for a week, so you can see everything, especially with children my age. ¬†So – here is the final itinerary outcome, all things considered:

Saturday – Travel Day

Sunday – Clearwater beach day

Monday – Magic Kingdom Day One

Tuesday – Resort/Lazy Day

Wednesday – Animal Kingdom

Thursday – Magic Kingdom Day Two

Friday – Resort/Lazy Day

Saturday – Travel Day

I think this will allow for us to enjoy the parks without being burnt out. ¬†I’ll let you know how this “plan” goes. I did get the “any park tickets” so if we decide that we don’t want to do a day two of Magic Kingdom, we may switch it up for Disney Studios instead. Epcot wasn’t really a major consideration for our family for this trip.

Travel time. We decided to go in August after peak time dies down in Disney, so hopefully we will enjoy shorter wait times on rides and slighter cooler temperatures. ¬†And by “slightly cooler” I mean the average temperature is only 2-3 degrees cooler during the day in August vs. July. Most people gasp when we say we are going to Disney in August, but if you actually research weather trends, July is the hottest month in Florida, not August. July also one of the busiest times to visit Disney World. ¬†We are going the last full week in August, right before school starts up again. Based on the Disney ticket website itself, we will even save a couple of bucks (literally, only $2 per ticket, lol) as this is ‘Value’ season. ¬†I’m hoping that will make our experience a little bit more pleasant, as I’ve heard the heat and crowds are serious business during the summer months.

Lastly, other “Disney things” that I was told were “must-haves.”

  1. Matching Family Shirts – Yes, we will be that lame family with matching shirts on…I cannot WAIT! I went on Etsy and ordered Star Wars and Mickey/Minnie themed family shirts. ¬†I got my kids names customized and my husband and I are donning the “Mommy/Daddy” shirts.
  2. Refillable Personalized Water Bottles – I got “My first Disney trip” water bottles customized for my kids with their names to save money and also have a cool souvenir. ¬†I don’t know about your kids, but mine are obsessed with water bottles, so this was a no-brainer! ¬†I read there are free water fill ups at each restaurant in Disney ($$ saver). It also keeps the kids hydrated and they’re super cute ways to let everyone know this is the kids first time there.
  3. Magic Bands – I went ahead and ordered Magic Bands. These cool “bracelets” are electronic bands that hold your park tickets, FastPass+, reservations and your¬†Memory Maker Photo Pass. ¬†If we were staying on a Disney property, it would also be the key to our rooms! It seemed like an easy way to go paperless as well as enjoy a cute Disney keepsake. ¬†My daughter got a Princess Tiana magic band and my son got a Star Wars one. ¬†My husband and I got generic pink and blue ones.
  4. Character Dining Experiences – We also booked an ice cream social on Princess Tiana’s Riverboat (where we can also watch the parade in a special viewing area), as well as a an early dinner with Disney characters for our dining experiences.¬† I think I am most excited about this way for my kiddies to connect with the Disney characters as well as enjoy some of Disney’s legendary hospitality and food and beverage options.
  5. Mickey/Minnie Ears – Another Disney Hack I learned from the wise mothers of Pinterest. Buy all of your merchandise BEFORE you head to the parks. That means using Etsy, Amazon and even the Disney Store (sales items only) to buy items for your kids. Then “surprise” them either the nights before you head to the park or that morning with all of the cool Disney items you’ve (already) purchased. You’ll end up saving tons and the kids won’t know the difference, especially when they’re young. I’ve already purchased Mickey/Minnie ears for the kids for the low, low price of $5. That’s right, we only paid $5/set of ears. Based on my research, those could run you upwards of $30/pair once inside the park. ¬†SCORE!

WHEW! I think this is it. I hope my Disney hacks will help you in your planning, if you have an upcoming trip to Disney World. ¬†Also, if you have anything to share with me, please leave a comment or shoot me a quick message. We are open to all suggestions, tips and hacks. ¬†We are a little less than 30 days out from our trip. ¬†I’ll keep you all posted on how everything goes in a follow-up ‘Disney World – The Trip” post. ¬†If it went anything like our adoption went, the plan will be blown out of the water, but everything will turn out amazing, in spite of them going awry ūüėČ

Stay tuned!