Monday, March 31, 2008

Lessons learned at Disney World--part 2

My post ended up being too long, so I broke it into two segments. Here's some more of our experience.

*Almost ANYTHING can be terrifying to a 3 year old girl. Especially if it happens in a dark room/ride/theater. We had to have SEVERAL discussions about what's real and what's pretend.

*If in doubt, bring a stroller. I couldn't decide if it would be worth it to bring a stroller along for Whit. don't know what we would've done without it. It was a life saver. And Brandon even had to take a couple of rides in it when his energy was completely zapped. SO glad we made that choice.

*My hair does not get along well with Orlando. Holy cow. It turned into a bigger, frizzier mess than ever! I had to wear it up and keep a baseball hat on almost every day. Nice.
Um, yea, I'm wearing this for SUN protection,
not because I'm having a bad hair day.

*Kids LOVE to meet the characters, even if they have to stand in a long line to do it. I expected this from Whitney, but was surprised that Brandon wanted to see them as much as she did. (Though W would get almost uncontrollably excited when it was her turn it line. TOO cute.)

(Isn't Whitney's excitement just leaping out
of this photo?)


June and Quincy from Little Einsteins

*Bring lots and lots of snacks and drinks from home. Did you know they allow this? I didn't realize it, but they even search your bags before you enter and let you bring in food. Yes! I bought lots of different snacks and brought along snack-size ziplocs and would re-stock our supply every morning before we went. It saved us a fortune! Keep in mind that we had two sick boys who basically fasted for two or three days straight, but I think we only spent about $75 on Disney food and we were at the parks for 5 days. Pretty darn impressive, don'tcha think?

*Disney World is a great place to re-emphasize lessons on sharing. Especially because all the little treats cost SO much.

How about you guys SHARE an ice cream?

*ANYTHING that gets a response like this:

out of your child is priceless. We had so many moments like this one. It was really fun to be the parent--enjoying these times with your child. It helped that I was restricted from most of the rides I REALLY wanted to do, so it became a little more of a selfless adventure for the kids' sake. (But don't get me wrong. I'm young enough at heart that I enjoy a little magic myself!)

*If you keep your kids up long enough (we found midnight to be the best time for ours), they eventually tucker out. I was beginning to wonder if there was any limit to their capacities, because we stayed at Epcot and the Animal Kingdom until they closed! (Magic Kingdom didn't close until 1 am, so we didn't quite make it for that one.)

On the tram out to the car, the kids finally crashed.

*Some of the funnest experiences are the ones that are FREE. Like visiting the Lego Center in Downtown Disney. This was A HUGE hit with Brandon. Can you imagine?
Lego Dinosaur

Cute Lego family with dogs

Or visiting this little city park after church on Sunday.
Where they had a teeter totter AND

a Merry-go-round, both pieces of playground
equipment banned from most modern parks
because of liability concerns.

*Beware of the pizza sauce at Pizza Planet in Disney Hollywood Studios. It has a tendency to attack at the most unexpected times
and land right on big pregnant bellies.


*While in Florida, take advantage of every opportunity you can get to purchase a Slurpee from


This is one of the things we sadly miss in NC--NO SEVEN-ELEVENS. Yea, there are other slurpee-substitutes, but they're just not quite the same as

the real deal.

*When surrounded by mobs of people, it helps if your husband is 6'6" or taller. I could always spot Andrew among the crushing throngs of tourists.

Ever feel like you stand out in the crowd?

*A week at Disney World is an expensive, exhilarating, exhausting, magical family vacation. I loved it and will hopefully use some of these lessons to plan another trip when Caroline is potty trained in 3 or 4 years. :)


*There is no place like home. After living in that dumpy hotel for a week, it felt SOOOO good to be back in our house with our luxurious bed, carpet that I'm not afraid to walk on with bare feet, and space for my kids to play without feeling like we're all on top of one another. Ahhhh. Life is good.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Lessons learned at Disney World--part 1

This past week was B's spring break, so we took the opportunity to drive down to sunny Florida and visit the mecca of princesses, monsters, space heroes, and pirates. We wanted one last family vacation with just four of us and we had a blast. Here are some of the things I learned along the way. Keep these things in mind: I'm 7+ months pregnant, Andrew has a bad back, and we were traveling with a 6 yo boy and a 3 yo girl.

*Mapquest estimates for travel times do not apply when you're traveling hundreds of miles to a hugely popular spring break destination during Easter weekend. Our drive was supposed to take a little under 10 hours. And we usually BEAT the estimate that Mapquest gives. Oh, no. Not this time. We took 13 hours driving down and just over 12 hours coming home. That's a lot of time in the car! Traffic was heavy most of the way and we ran into construction both ways.

Yea, this looks like a parking lot, but it's actually a freeway!

*Portable DVD players are worth every penny. I checked out a bunch of new movies from the library before we left and the kids were PERFECT for all 25 hours in the car. Amazing what a little electronics can do for a seemingly difficult trek. Loved it!

*My kids rock! Ok, I knew they were pretty good kids, but this trip really helped me see how truly amazing they are. Whitney would remind me every morning to put her eye drops in. How cute is that? On the one morning that I forgot, she reminded me at the park, "Mom, we didn't put my drop in! We need to go back to the hotel and put it in." I assured her that it would be ok to wait until the next day. (The dilation was still very effective.) The atropine drops have been much harder on me than on her. It broke my heart to see her watching the shows and parades while
winking her left eye
because it was too blurry to see out of. But she didn't complain. Not once! Amazing.

Brandon got some sort of stomach virus or food poisoning while we were down there. He threw up several times and hardly ate anything. He lost four pounds. (Lucky me, I found them!) Poor little guy just hung in there, though. He didn't whine or complain. Just made sure to let us know when he couldn't walk anymore because he didn't have any energy. And he even got his throw up into a proper holding container all but once. Pretty good for a 6 year old. I felt so bad for him that he couldn't have the perfect experience down at Disney, but he hung in there.

Always had to keep the barf bag handy.
Just in case.

*When you pull up to your hotel, if the brand name is covered over by a big white plastic sheet and it has been re-named since you booked it, RUN!!! We decided to stay off Disney property in Kissimmee at a Best Western that I booked through Hotwire. When we pulled up, this is what the sign looked like:
Very suspicious.

I think there were good reasons why Best Western withdrew their name from this place. It was a dump. Thankfully, the majority of our time was spent away from the hotel. It was not a fun place to be--very noisy outside, broken toilet that kept refilling its tank every 30 minutes ALL DAY EVERY DAY even when we called maintenance twice to have it fixed, broken sink, room right by the stairs, loud neighbors.....Could've done without that.

The sad thing is, when I was talking with Andrew about it, I'm not sure if I'll do it differently next time. It was really affordable and when you're staying somewhere for 7 nights, a relatively small difference in price really adds up. We're such cheapskates. You get what you pay for.

*Never EVER at any cost eat at Cici's pizza buffet. We had only eaten there once before. It was probably two or three years ago. Andrew got very sick to his stomach the next day and has never been back. But it's so affordable and the pizza's pretty good, so we gave it a try again while we were down there. I convinced Andrew that THIS Cici's was in a different state and everything, surely he wouldn't get sick again. WRONG. He started throwing up that evening and felt terrible the whole next day. He had to miss out on going to Animal Kingdom while I took the two kids. (Although he felt bad for leaving me with both kids for the day, he was OK with watching cable TV all day since that's such a luxury for us.)

*If you want to know how to park thousands of cars in the smoothest & most efficient manner, how to make a line look shorter than it really is, OR how to make people pay outrageous prices for novelty hats or other unnecessary items, consult DISNEY.

*Even if you don't plan on attending a parade that's going on in your park, you still need to know when they are happening or you get stuck behind mobs of people and can't get to the ride/show that you were hoping to see. Very, very frustrating.

*A 7 month pregnant woman and a 3 1/2 year old girl have about the same size bladder.
Who knew?
This made bathroom stops very convenient.

*A meal served in the shape of Mickey Mouse is always more fun to eat.

*If there's a really short line for a ride you've never heard of, it's probably worth giving it a try. We had a couple of very pleasant surprises. In Epcot, we tried "Living with the Land" purely because it had no wait and we loved it. We went back for a second round. At the Magic Kingdom, we had a similar experience with the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. Cool ride for the whole family with no wait.

*At Epcot, there is a place called "Club Cool" that is the best deal in any of the parks. Free pop. Woo hoo! I don't usually drink pop, but even I was excited about it. It's sponsored by Coke and has samples of different Coke products from around the world.

Most of them were really good, but I don't know how anyone in Italy can drink the "Beverly." It was the most disgusting drink I've ever tasted. Nasty. You should try it just for the dare factor, but make sure you just take a little sip.

*If you've been wanting to go on an African safari, but it's out of your price range, go to the Animal Kingdom and try their safari ride. It's amazing! One of my favorite attractions of the whole week. My camera did a crappy job taking pictures, but here's one little sample of what we saw.
Rhinos right in front of us. We actually had to stop the truck and wait for a little while for them to get out of our way. How cool is that?

*At Animal Kingdom, don't miss the bird show, Flights of Wonder. We all loved it! I didn't get a pic of our favorite performer, Pogo the cockatiel. I think he got more laughs out of the kids than anything else all week.
I've never seen a bald eagle this up
close and personal before. Wow.

Stay tuned for more lessons, photos, and commentary soon.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Good-bye patching, hello eye drops

We made our bi-monthly pilgrimage to Duke to see Whit's "boyfriend" yesterday. We're doing a "Flat Stanley" project for one of my mom's students, so we did a little photo documentation of our visit.

Here are the kids (with Stanley) outside.

One of the cool things about the Eye Center is they
have a "touchable art gallery" that is completely
child friendly. Depending on how late we're running,
we don't always have time to stop in.
We got lucky this time.
Here the kids are with an art quilt.
All of the artists represented in the gallery
have some sort of visual impairment.
Neat idea.

And outside the gallery, we ran into
the Easter Bunny! (Although
Brandon was sure to inform W that
it wasn't REALLY the Easter Bunny,
just someone in a costume.)

So, we had a lot of fun before the appt, but I'm still not sure what to think about how the appt itself went. I guess all the patching we've been doing was useless because her vision is still unequal between eyes. Boo on that. We've been really diligent lately with those patches, too.

So, now we're on to trying a new treatment. Instead of patching for two hours every day, we need to give W a drop of atropine in her eye every morning. It's dilating solution--I think the same stuff most people get when they go to the eye dr to get their eyes dilated.

I was excited about trying something new and am hopeful that this will help Whit's vision, but I wasn't prepared for how difficult it would be. Sweet little Whitney is and always has been very cooperative with all the treatments she has needed for her eyes, broken bones, etc. She laid right down and helped pull her eyelid so I could put the drop in. But neither of us understood what she was in for. Once that drop takes effect, she can't see. It drives her crazy. She told me four times today, "I'm blind in this eye mom." It was so heartbreaking to hear that.

The written info from Dr. Buckley says that her distance vision isn't affected, but her near vision will be blurred in that strong eye, forcing her to use the weak eye. You should've seen her trying to read books today, which happens to be a favorite activity of hers. She tries to close her dilated (left) eye or will even cover it up with her hand so she can just use her left eye. What a pain! I keep reminding myself that this was the first day of treatment and that she will hopefully adjust to this like she has to everything else she's had to go through in her short life. I hope. I hope. I hope.

We go back in two months, on May 20th. I am already counting down the days.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wanna race?

For the past two years, I've had the privilege of participating with two of my good friends,

Jayne and Diane,

in the Komen Race for the Cure. Both years have been really great experiences and the 2008 race is coming up on Saturday, May 3 in Winston-Salem. In the interest of Caroline's safety, I will be walking this year.... the whole way.... but hopefully doing a little power walking along the way.

Care to join us?

My friend, Jayne, is a team leader and if you sign up on her page, she'll pick up your race info and T-shirt for you and we'll be set to speed walk for three miles on race day. If you can't participate in the race, but would like to contribute to this wonderful cause, there is a link on the right hand side of that page to do so. If you're not a local friend, this page will show you all of the races across the country if you're interested in participating in your own city/state.

Here is an excerpt from the e-mail Jayne sent out:

"Join the fight by registering as part of our team or by supporting our efforts with a pledge contribution. The money raised through the Race will fund vital education, screening and treatment programs for underserved women in our own community and support the national search for a cure.

"I was diagnosed with Stage 1 invasive lobular breast cancer on March 9, 2006. My life was turned upside down. That was exactly two years ago today. As far as I know, I am cancer-free. I consider myself lucky, and I have plenty of hope for a normal lifespan. But there is no cure for breast cancer. It can return decades after treatment.

"Too many young women are dying from this disease. Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women ages 15 to 54. For a variety of reasons, younger women have higher death rates than older women. More than 250,000 ages 40 and under in the U.S. are living with breast cancer. Ladies, we need a cure!!! Let’s help raise some money for that cure.

"I’d love to have you on my team this year. The name of my team is 'Young Survivors and Friends.' There are several advantages to registering as part of a team: easy advance registration, a discounted entry rate, and I deliver your race packet and T-shirt to you.

"The deadline to register online as part of a team is April 15."

FYI, men are welcome to participate in this race as well. (and many do!) So, spread the word and let's get some exercise for a good cause!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Assorted thoughts and updates

*First off, a quick question: What exactly does the tooth fairy do with the teeth she "buys" from children? Throw them away? Sell them to a desperate dental student? Use them to fashion the most life-like mannequin smiles you've ever seen? I think I missed that lesson in parenting 101.

*Our latest indulgence: A Sleep Number bed. We've been missing out. Andrew's chiropractor insisted that we needed a new bed and, lucky us, we just got a tax return! So we went straight to the Select Comfort store and bought a big ol' new one. The salesman talked us into saving $150 by assembling it ourselves. After the first hour of work, we were second guessing our decision, but when the whole thing only took about two hours, we decided we had done the right thing. It is heavenly! LOVE it. And as an added bonus, we sold our old water bed frame on Craig's List for $75. Woo hoo. Almost enough to pay for the new sheet set I ordered for the bed. :)

*Our biggest trial at the moment: parenting a six year old. Just when we think we've got the parenting thing under control, Brandon goes through one of his phases. This one has lasted for the past 2 or 3 weeks and just about has Andrew and I pulling our hair out. He is such a strong-willed little boy and I know this will serve him well in a lot of capacities. It's just no fun to deal with when he's copping an attitude like a teenager and refuses to cooperate with his parents. Today was the first day all week that he didn't have a time out or lost Pokemon cards or had to write a paper about why its wrong to yell at your parents. Maybe the phase is passing? Or maybe it was just the calm before our next storm.

This cute smile can be deceiving....very deceiving.

*The cutest thing ever: Whitney is enrolled in her very first dance class and it started today. There is NOTHING in the world cuter than an almost-four-year-old girl strutting her stuff in a tutu. It was almost like Christmas for her with her excitement and anticipation.

Is it time for my class yet???

I was afraid it might be a let down because she was SOOO looking forward to it. Oh, no, it met and/or exceeding expectations. She has a great teacher and only two other little girls in her class. I don't think she wanted it to end. Too much fun.

Hooray for pirouettes!

Here are a couple little clips from it.

They are learning both ballet...

and tap. What do you think, Natalie?
Do you see potential here?

*Have you ever heard of the store called Steve and Barry's? They sell the cheapest stuff and it is all cool-looking. We only have one around here and it's in a mall where I don't normally shop, but I was in that area this week and stopped by. Everything in the store is $9 or less right now. Are you serious? I bought jeans for Andrew, Whit, B, and even a cute little pair for Caroline. (Obviously none for myself right now. I'm in a total clothing funk, but that's another long, boring story.) And then the clincher--I tried to convince Andrew that he should let me buy some new basketball shoes for him there. For 10 bucks? Come on, how bad can they be? They are endorsed by NBA rebound monster Ben Wallace. So I got them. I'm still not sure if he's going to wear them at his next b-ball game (tomorrow), but hey, I tried.

What do you think of them?

*I don't know what's up with my kids, but they no longer sleep in their beds. Almost two weeks ago now, we let them camp out on the bonus room floor together on a Friday night. They loved it and since then neither of them wants to go back to sleeping on a mattress. They'd rather just throw their sleeping bags down on the floor. We only let them sleep in the same room on weekends. They can get kind of rowdy together, which I think is totally cute, but I hear that sleep is important for growing young boys who want to do well in school. Even in their separate rooms, they prefer the floor. Go figure.

Brandon zonked out on his floor

Whit crashed on hers

Yet there's a perfectly good bed sitting right there.
Oh, well.

And that about wraps it up for this edition of "Random thoughts and occurrences in our lives."