Sunday, August 21, 2016

Disneyworld 2016: Planning

Just to ensure that we have a record of this trip somewhere....I'm back to blogging after over a year! The kiddos are now 6.5 and 3.5 and we took them to Disneyworld in June! The trip was a blast, the kids loved it, we loved it (even more than anticipated) and we can't wait to go back. So, with that said, we're looking to keep track of some things and the blog seems to be the best place to do it.

Pinterest if FULL of crazy Disney blog posts about what you need to bring with you to the parks, what you need to pack, where you should stay, how long you should stay, which rides you should ride, which FastPasses you need, the list goes on and on! I've got some of the ones I found useful pinned here.

First off, a few things about our trip:
1) We flew out early (too early - 7am is too hard with kids!) Monday morning and flew back mid-day on Friday. This way we avoided the weekend rushes, but we realized that we could have (should have) stayed longer - probably a full week.

2) We stayed on site and didn't rent a car. We took the Magical Express bus from and back to the airport to our resort. It was a little pokey, but way more convenient than messing with a car (and hauling car seats for the kids!).
3) We stayed at Art of Animation (the upper end of the 'value' resorts, plus it's the newest resort) and we LOVED it. We chose to stay in the cheapest, motel-style rooms - the Little Mermaid block. It was cozy, but just fine for our family of four. This resort also has family suites that look awesome, but it was almost $1000 more to stay there for our trip and it just wasn't worth it to us (especially since our kiddos don't sleep on their own!). Maybe next time....
4) We also purchased the standard dining plan (one snack, one quick service, and one table service per person per night of your stay). It's spendy, but if you plan it out right, it's pretty great. We used it to take advantage of the character meals!
5) Our general timeline -
Monday: fly in, get to resort, do the pool, head to a character meal for supper
Tuesday: Magic Kingdom - character breakfast before park opened, Be Our Guest for quick service lunch, head home when kids melted down, wait out thunderstorm in the hotel, supper, pool, bed
Wednesday: Animal Kingdom - character lunch, long day there, back for late night pool run
Thursday: late morning, pool hopping at resort, head back to Magic Kingdom after lunch in hotel, ride a few rides, head to Polynesian for happy hour-timed dinner, head back to Magic Kingdom for more rides and fireworks
Friday: breakfast in hotel, pack up, bus to airport and fly out!

Keeping those things in mind, here's some of our key pointers:
A) We had an Amazon prime order sent directly to our resort! We weren't entirely sure it would work, but after reading it on multiple blogs and in travel books, we decided to give it a try. We ordered it early, just to ensure that it would be there upon our arrival (we ordered Wed for a Fri delivery and we didn't get in until Monday - no issues!). Just make sure it has the correct address for your resort, your name and arrival date, and you should be set! What did we have shipped?
  • 12 pk Gatorade (used 2-3 per day as it was HOT!, but we still came home with 3.
  • 6 pack of apple juice for breakfasts (what we thought was a 6 pk turned out to be a 24 pk so we left a lot behind). Skip for next time as we could have gotten by with milk or OJ from the resort food court as you always get a drink with your meals (and the refillable to-go mug doesn't count, so you get plenty of fluids!).
  • Trail mix (didn't really use)
  • Dried mango (used, but not lots)
  • Trader Joe's coffee concentrate (we used this entire jug!)
Upon arrival, just ask for your packages at the concierge. Have your tracking number(s) ready!

B) Snacks we packed along (as they were cheaper than buying in bulk on Amazon):
  • Protein bars (only used 2-3 total)
  • Fruit snacks (box of 10, used most, mainly on the flight or while waiting in lines)
  • Fruit strips (didn't use much)
  • 8 pack of cereal boxes, plus bowls and spoons (used all, plus we got small bottles of milk with the dining plan kids meals and then just stored them in the mini fridge in our room - we did breakfast almost every day in the hotel to save some $)
  • Suckers and gum for the plane (and waiting in line) for the kiddos!
C) Overall, I think we packed too many snacks, especially since we did a bad job of using up our snack credits on the dining plan! We had leftover ones that we used up in the food court on snacks for the plane ride home. The kids also remained occupied enough that we didn't have to use snacks to distract them like we normally do! 
D) We should have had bottled water sent from Amazon - then we could have refrigerated or froze it in our mini fridge for taking into the parks. We filled up our reusable water bottles every day, but the water from the hotel was a little warm.
E) We brought Malibu and vodka with us for mixing cocktails at the hotel - we just purchased OJ or lemonade as mixers as part of our dining plan.
F) We took diving toys (torpedos) for the pools and the kids loved using them! They also had life jackets readily available, which was great for Fynn. They used hotel towels at the pools and you just needed to call to request more as needed.
G) We took our double stroller (no wagons allowed, or we would have done that). It was absolutely necessary for our two kiddos, especially in the heat, but it was hard to maneuver, especially when it was packed with all of our extra stuff.
H) Here's the deal about the blog posts regarding what you need to bring into the park - if you aren't planning on spending the ENTIRE full day in there, ignore them. Also ignore them if you have small kids and you aren't necessarily planning on waiting in every line possible. We learned the hard way after packing a bunch of random stuff we didn't need the first day in Magic Kingdom.

Items we didn't need:

  • First aid kit
  • Bubbles (for distraction)
  • Kids' activities (also for distraction, if waiting in line)
  • Fan (we tried one from the Dollar Store, it broke, we didn't miss it)
Items we did use:
  • Cooler bag that attached to the side of our double stroller, with Gatorades and our reusable, insulated water bottles! We filled the water bottles with just ice from the hotel and it melted throughout the morning. We also packed a few snacks, just in case (but remember that we didn't do a good job of using our dining plan snacks!).
  • Cooling towel (yes, those weird things that you get wet and put around your neck, like at the state fair - totally worth it, especially for kids!)
  • Thin, foldable blanket - we didn't really use it, but it could have be useful for fireworks, parades, etc.
  • Ponchos! We purchased 8 at the Dollar Store and always had a set of 4 on us. We used one set at Animal Kingdom and avoided the downpours the other two days.
  • Autograph books and Sharpies for character autographs (we only got autographs at character meals - you don't really see characters walking around the parks like they did when I was a kid). We bought Dollar Store books and the nice retractable Sharpies in multiple colors.
  • A few glow items, for the night time parade and fireworks (we still bought each of the kids one light up toy, though!)
  • Most importantly, I think, was the power pack that we used to charge our cells! The phones really do drain in the parks and you want to be able to use them for updating FastPasses, checking wait times, maps, etc! Now it goes with us for car trips or other long outings - so useful!
I) Other random items:
  • We did use a little bit of detergent to wash dirty clothes in the hotel sink.
  • We brought too many shoes!! The kids were okay in tennies or good walking sandals, we wore our Keen sandals everyday. Just used a set of flip-flops for trips to pool. (There was a photo that showed just how many shoes we brought, but it got lost when my micro SD card on my phone crashed - and I lost almost EVERY ONE of my photos from Disney. Oh - that reminds me, take advantage of the photo plan they offer and then find every possible photographer in the parks that you can and use them!!)
  • In June, the warm layers we brought we definitely not necessary - except for maybe on the plane.
  • We also packed a few items that we could surprise the kids with in the hotel - from Mickey and Minnie.  ;)  They got Disney flip-flops and sunglasses the first day and some items to take on the plan for the flight home. The kids loved it!
  • We brought a couple of travel games for the hotel, but didn't need them as all free time was spent in the hotel pools!
  • Could do a large caribeaner to hook water bottles or the Disney refillable mugs to a stroller or backpack for inside the parks (saw quite a few people do this!).
  • We forgot to shop, so we ran out of time! Luckily, we were able to order some souvenirs on the new Disney Parks app on our way home.
Dining Plan notes:
  • We had the standard plan - one snack, one quick service meal, and one table service meal per night per person.
  • Be sure to reserve your table service meals ahead of time or you may run into issues getting those used up! We did almost all character meals for these - Chef Mickeys at the Contemporary Resort our first night there (a great way to start!), Breakfast at the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom with Pooh and Piglet, and lunch with Safari Donald and friends in the Animal Kingdom Tusker Hourse. Our last one was used on the O'hana buffet at the Polynesian Resort - our best meal by far!!
  • We did a quick service lunch at Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom - it requires reservations, but it's a great opportunity to go to that restaurant without using a table service credit (if you didn't want to)! Unfortunately, it was our first real day at Disney and both kiddos were conked out halfway through our lunch!!
  • Anytime you can use a breakfast to get into the park BEFORE the park opens, use it! That way you are already in the park when you're done eating - we did this at Magic Kingdom and were able to take advantage of very short lines in Fantasyland that morning.
  • Use up your snacks right away! Our faves: Dole Whips and any size Starbucks drink (inside Minnie's bakery on Main St). (Unfortunately, if you order rum with your Dole Whip, it doesn't count on your dining plan - but so, so worth it! Go for the dark!)
  • Next time, we'll also shoot for cupcakes, ice cream, cotton candy, and caramel apples at the Main St Candy shop!
  • Our resort had delivery pizza, but it counted as a table service meal, so it wasn't cost effective. Instead we did the quick service monster slices of pizza and took them back to our room ourselves.
  • We shared some of our quick service meals at the hotel food court to spread them out a bit more (plus we didn't always need that much food!).
  • Those refillable mugs that you get with the dining plan don't count as your adult beverage that comes with your quick service meal, so be sure to grab a bottle of something with your meal (this is how we got milk or OJ for breakfast or booze).
Art of Animation notes:
  • We LOVED it!
  • Little Mermaid rooms were best for our family size and sleeping arrangements (kids slept together, but we all went down at same time). Next time we may want to upgrade to a family suite - Cars or Lion King? The Nemo ones seem to be more busy since they are the main section, near the big pool and the lobby and food court.
  • We tried all of the pools (there are 3!), but we spent the most time in the Little Mermaid pool on our end, just for ease. All of the pools are less than 5ft deep, which is AWESOME for not having to worry about the kids! Fynn stayed in a life jacket (they provided) and Mia was able to swim without anything.
  • The Nemo pool is the big main one - it's pretty cool, but always busy. They do have a splash pad, which would have been critical if the kids had been younger. If you put your ears under the water, you can hear music playing! This pool has the bar, so that's a big bonus!
  • The Cars pool is the smallest, but it has cool traffic cone cabanas that you can hang out in.
  • Busing to and from the hotel was super easy! You just have to fold up the stroller to ride the buses (not on the monorail, though).
  • If we were to go back and go to the higher end, we'd do the Polynesian - it's on the monorail or you can ferry to Magic Kingdom, super good food, awesome pool, and a white sand beach to play in and watch the fireworks from!
Whew! Okay, I need sleep as I start faculty workshop for my 4th academic year tomorrow morning bright and early!! I'll try to do another post soon - with photos and info on our time in the parks! All in all, we LOVED DISNEY and can't wait to go back!


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Baby boy is 2! and Big Sis is 5!

Mr. Fynn turned 2 years old last week! Time is flying by, and to top it all off, we're MOVING this month! The poor guy's birthday is getting a little overshadowed by the big move, but we did spend some special time together on his big day. David and I were able to take the morning off, and after gifts and birthday donuts, we all headed off in the snow to the indoor slide jungle. Fynn and Mia both love this place, so we were able to kill an hour and a half climbing through the jungle gym with them. Then it was off to daycare, preschool, and work for all of us, until we came back home for pizza, cupcakes, ice cream, and a movie. Daddy, unfortunately, got called away right after we were done singing "Happy Birthday," but he made it back in time to watch a little bit of the movie.

Fynn is such a little sweetheart. His hugs and kisses make me melt. He's really starting to talk more and more every day - and his words are becoming more distinct: mama, help, more, dog, cat, hat, daddy, etc. He's always been a very good communicator, with gestures and some sort of grunt or hollering, but he's finally starting to speak, which is more fun. He's also a big climber - he started climbing out of the crib and on to the top of his nearby changing table this week (partly thanks to Mia, who showed him how to do it this weekend!). Now it looks like I'll be converting his crib into a toddler bed before our move, just to ensure that he doesn't end up hurting himself. He's also liking the challenge of the stacks of boxes that are all over our house - on top of them, inside them, whatever, he's enjoying them. He's learned how to jump from a standing position and when he gets really excited, he'll just start jumping up and down, which is pretty hilarious - especially since he likes to squat down to jump in the first place, so he looks a bit like a frog!

He is loving the warm weather we have this week and insists on being outside as much as possible. He loves playing with his fire truck and tractor toys, but really wants to figure out the trike so he can ride like his big sis. He also loves splashing through the puddles, so I had to do an emergency order for rain boots to try to keep his little toes dry! He loves tractors, trains, Jake and the Neverland pirates, fire engines, dogs, and pretty much anything his big sister likes. He's also getting into imagination play - he loves playing with the dolls and the play kitchen.

He's becoming a bit more picky about eating, although he usually does pretty well with fruits and veggies. We just can't get him to eat much meat or "adult" food - he's definitely in a grazing stage! Cheese, avocados, mini blueberry bagels, bananas and apples, most steamed veggies are his favorites. He doesn't seem to like chocolate, which the rest of us think is WEIRD.

He loves to read and would probably stay up all night if it meant he got to sit in the rocking chair with one of us and read all of his books to him - again and again! His favorites right now are Tugga-tugga-Tugboat, Steam Train Dream Train, Llama Llama books (any!), Little Blue Truck, and Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site.

I can't wait to see how he does in his new fire truck toddler bed at the new house - he's going to be such a BIG boy! He loves going down to pick up or drop off Mia at her preschool, and we're hoping that there will be space for him in the toddler room there sometime this fall or next winter! By then, he'll be more than ready for a new spot!

In the meantime, I realized that I didn't blog about Miss Mia turning 5 in January! She is in her last year of preschool at Hand in Hand, on Concordia's campus, so she goes to work with me every day. With the move, we'll be moving to another school district, and it turned out that we ended up doing her kindergarten round up the DAY AFTER we signed the purchase agreement! It was pure coincidence that I happened to be looking up enrollment information the next morning and saw that roundup was that night! She'll be entering the Moundsview school district this fall and is so excited to be a kindergartener!! For her birthday, since it was right after the holidays, we ended up spending the day as a family and went down to the Mall of America to ride rides all day at Nickelodeon Universe. She loved it - and got to experience her first 'real' roller coaster rides, as well as her first time down the log chute - that was her favorite ride!

She still has Piglet - although he's looking pretty grey these days, as opposed to the pink he started out as! When she turned five, we had it set to be a deadline for Pig to start staying home and not leave the house, except for big trips. It was a little rocky at first, but now she's used to it. She does still sleep with him at night, and she still sniffs his ear, just like she did when she was 6 months old! Fynn even likes to get in on the action from time to time.

She is writing her full name - from memory (which is quite a feat with such a long last name!) and knows most of her letters. She can count past 100 and is doing basic math and sounding out words. She is constantly asking us to spell things for her - or giving us letters and asking what they spell (most spell nothing, which is a hard concept for her to grasp). She still loves to read and her favorite books right now are Tickle Monster (with daddy, because he's a better monster), Journey and Quest (wordless imagination books, which I love), Dr. Seuss books, and a couple of cool Usborne books about the human body and the planet earth - oh, and her Magic Schoolbus books, because of course I am raising a science nerd!  :) We even bought the complete Magic Schoolbus DVD set for her birthday, so we can watch the episodes all of the time (and there are a LOT of them!). She still loves doing science experiments with me, and she also does Goldie Blox 'engineering' projects (a lot of times with Auntie Kendra, since they came from her and Uncle Dan - the latest was a Goldie zipline that they ran across our living room!). She is also loving the warmer weather and can't wait to try to bike without training wheels this summer - she's pretty determined! She is also working on her skateboarding skills. She did swimming with dad this winter again (both her and Fynn), and was told to get into the Beginner I swim lessons (sans parent) asap, because she is READY. She loves the water, so we're hoping to find time to make that happen this spring yet. She also did gymnastics this winter, and still loves that.

She is so super creative - constantly building things, making crafts, making up songs, dancing - it is such a joy to see what she comes up with next! She is very excited for the new house and really wants dad to build her a reading nook in her walk-in closet. We found one built into a closet that needed stairs to get up to in one house that we looked at, and she was convinced that she needed one, too! We're looking forward to getting to really make her room and the kids' playrooms special as we've felt like we've been just getting by with their current living situations as we knew we wanted to move soon. She already got a new Frozen comforter for her bed, and today we went and got paint purchased to get her room all ready for move in, complete with a teal spray-painted chandelier that is moving from the dining room to her bedroom!

The kids are growing up so fast, it's so hard to keep up! I am way behind on blogging (which probably isn't going to change) and I haven't made a yearly photobook since before Fynn was born - I was just able to finish up Mia's most recent one at that point and I now have a running tally of books to catch up on! At this point, we're just hoping that we're giving them enough love and attention right NOW and hoping that the lack of recording isn't that big of a deal.  :)

 Playing with (great) Aunt Jen in the hotel! The rolled onto her back (both of them are on top of her!) about a million times.

 Mia lost her first tooth!!
 AND....she's going to be a flower girl in Liz's wedding in June! So excited!!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Monday, November 10, 2014

Bye Buddy

Last month, on October 13th, 2014, we had to put down our biggest baby, our 100 lb. chocolate lab, Jonas. The month before, he had unexpectedly been sick as I was heading to work with the kids and I had to leave him as he was heaving, almost gagging, and wouldn't let me get near him (he wandered off into the back woods in our yard). I called David in tears and asked him to check on him, but I was fairly certain that whatever was happening wasn't good and it was possible that he was dying. David wasn't able to get home until later that morning and he found him barely able to move, but alive. He picked all 100 lbs of him up, loaded him in the back of the Xterra, and drove him to the doggy ER. There we learned that his stomach had flipped. He's a big dog, but this was not something that had ever been mentioned to us before (I had heard of it happening with Great Danes and other large breeds, but it wasn't on our radar for our own dog). I was at work, the kids at daycare and preschool, and David was at the vet. We went through the whole emotional roller coaster of debating between an expensive surgery and putting our dog down. We had made the decision to put him down, but then at the last minute, decided to do the surgery which would put his stomach back in place and tack it down so that it couldn't flip again. He made it through surgery with flying colors and was home a couple of days later.

As soon as he came home, we ended up running him back in to the ER as he started to physically blow up again (he was extremely bloated and not moving anything through his digestive system and thus, filling up with gas). They sent him home with some motility drugs in him and told us to give him some Gas X. He slowly recovered, enjoying an extended stay in the house and things appeared to be back to normal. However, just under a month later, we noticed that he didn't have much of an appetite and was getting lethargic. David took him back to the ER and they concluded that he must have an internal bleed somewhere and that there wasn't much they could do (they could have done transfusions for a few days and then try to open him back up to find the bleed, but it didn't sound like a good option). I ended up leaving work to meet him at the ER where we got to say good bye to our buddy of 8 and a half years.

The kids took it pretty hard (and we did, too - more so than we would have imagined!). Mia didn't sleep well for a week or so and Fynn still doesn't completely understand where Jonas went. We made a pet gravestone for him, which I think the kids enjoyed doing with me, and we have it back in the wooded area of our yard so we can 'visit' him.

It's still hard to believe that he's not hanging out in the backyard or isn't going to be there to greet me when I pull into the garage every night. He's not there to bark at the random people that walk by the house or howl at the train or emergency vehicles that go by. Or, you know, his random adventures in which he would get lost at the farm and disappear for days (weeks) at a time. He is greatly missed. Bye buddy.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Happy fall!

So, I've decided the only way I can keep this blog going is to accept the fact that the posts will be random and interspersed and there's absolutely no way I'll ever be able to keep the same timeline I was able to keep before 2 kids and a 'big girl' job.  :)

In the spirit of random, I'd love to give you all an update on the kiddos and share some photos from the last few months! Fynn is 19 months old!! He flew by his 18 month mark without even an official photo, as I was busy starting my new school year (year two as a prof!). We haven't even had a chance to get him in for his 18 month well-child check (not our fault, as our doc wasn't available until the end of October!), so we don't have updated specs on him. I can verify he's growing by leaps and bounds - fitting into 24 month clothing no problem. He still has his beautiful blond hair, all curls in the back, and his clear blue eyes (like papa EIO). He does still look a lot like uncle Stephen! He still has a nuk (pacifier), but we're working on getting rid of it (it's so hard when it gives us such an easy way to calm him down - plus, when he's teething, he just wants to chew on a cold one!). He loves being outside, playing with the balls, on his fire truck, and going to the park (he loves the swings and big kid slides already). He also loves dogs, so when we had a BIG scare with Jonas a few weeks ago (his stomach flipped and we almost put him down, but ended up having an expensive abdominal surgery done in order to save him), we knew we had to make the right decision in order to not only take care of our biggest baby, but also to keep our kiddos happy. (As Jonas is back on track, it was definitely the right decision!) "Dog" was one of Fynn's first words, so he has a special place in his heart for them - as you can tell by this adorable photo of him and Oakley, uncle Dan and auntie Kendra's new puppy!

Fynn pretty much followed Oakley around all weekend the first time we met him. He really enjoys reading books, so much so that when we put him to bed, he would stay up all night reading books, but as soon as we turn off the lights, he emphatically points at the crib and insists on going straight to bed, no more rocking and singing like we used to (it made this mama cry the first time he did that!). His favorite books are currently: Peek-a-Who, a Harvest book that has John Deere tractors, a Freight Train book (chugga-chugga-choo-choo!, which he says along with me!), Llama Llama Nighty-Night and Zippity-Zoom, Eyes, Ears, Nose, and the Foot Book (a couple of the same ones Mia loved at that age). He may be even more fascinated with computers, ipad, and phone than Mia was at his age - as I am trying to type this, he's constantly trying to 'help.' It doesn't help that my new work laptop has a touchscreen, so he can easily 'help' and see an effect! He also loves Jake & the Neverland Pirates, and so does Mia, so we've been watching a lot of Jake these days. He has learned how to give the sweetest kisses (big, sloppy, wet ones, with or without a tongue sticking out), but they are filled with loads of love!

Mia, meanwhile, is 4.5 and getting closer to being a big 5 year old every day! She keeps asking us if we want her to turn 5, and we both say "No!" - we're not ready! She is still going to preschool at the daycare at Concordia, so we ride to school together every day, which is nice. She loves it there, so it's been a great opportunity for her. She's learned a ton, and at her most recent parent-teacher conference, they confirmed that as she's at the high end of the scale for her cognitive abilities. Grandma and Grandpa EIO brought baby chicks to preschool this fall and it was a big hit with all of the kids!

She loves coloring and constructing things (books, airplanes, kites, fishing poles, a sled for Piglet that she used to pull him around her school). She'll even take a scissors, tape, paper, and markers with her on our trip to school so she can make things in the car. She still loves doing science experiments with mama, or simply mixing potions of water, oil, baking soda, vinegar, and food coloring!

 She's also growing by leaps and bounds - I think her summer growth spurt was one of her biggest. She's in size 5 clothes, and even some 6s, and has a shoe size of 11. I can't seem to keep pants on her that are long enough, and there was a point this summer where she jumped a couple of shoe sizes! She still keeps Piglet with her, but we've started talking about him staying home more....we'll see how that goes. It's hard to argue with a kid that truly believes Piglet is her best friend (and frequently makes wishes that he'd come to life and play with her!). She did gymnastics and soccer this summer, soccer was a bust, but she still loves gymnastics. No dance this year - it was just too much to do a season that lasted from September to June! She's started talking about piano lessons, so maybe that will be in her future. She loves being outside and going to the park, she plays with Rafe (our backyard neighbor), and she's recently started hula-hooping -and is really good at it! (Better than David or I!) Last night we hit up a Concordia VB game for the first time and she and one of her preschool friends spent most of the last match with the college students - she ran back and forth between them and us, and at times would go straight through them - pushing them out of her way so she could get where she wanted. She's definitely not shy!

Both kiddos are keeping us BUSY, along with two very busy careers - life is flying by and we're just trying to enjoy it as it goes!

 The whole family at Waverly Lutheran Church's Harvest Homecoming!

 Last weekend we had a beautiful fall day, and got to enjoy hiking around William O'Brien state park with David's folks!

 Mia got some binoculars from Concordia (old ones from a field ecology class that doesn't exist anymore) - she loves them!