Geeking Out – Disney!

Dear Erin,

School has started, so summer must be over. I’m glad about that; for a lot of reasons, September was welcome this year. We’ve had a few days recently that have even felt a little like fall here.

But before we trade in popsicles for jack-o-lanterns, there’s one last entry in the summer series to go. What’s the last interest I have a history of geeking out on? Why, Disney, of course!

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that my interest in Disney is nothing compared to a lot of people you can find on the Internet. But I could – once upon a time – sing every word to every song from Disney’s major animated releases from The Little Mermaid to Mulan and plenty from before then.

And you could, too, fellow Disney geek, so don’t pretend otherwise.

We all have our ways of expressing our love. Some people dress in costumes, some Disney-fy their normal wardrobe, some memorize the movies, some memorize the songs, some create their own works in response (see: WAY too many things on YouTube).

And some lucky stiffs get to go to the parks on a fairly regular basis.

Guilty.

One of the benefits of growing up in the Sunshine State and still having family there is that I have been to Disney World more than I probably should have – not that I’m complaining – enough that at one point, it got a little boring. (First world problem, I know.)

But it’s not boring any more!

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A fantastic first trip for the boys. But it makes for a bit of a long day:

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Bring on the Disney! It’s going to be fun to geek out in a whole new way.

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Geeking Out – Everything Austen (or almost)

Dear Kristen,

I hope that your Fourth of July was a blast!  Full of fireworks, flags, and sunshine.  It rained here.  And since the kids go to sleep before it gets dark, there were no fireworks that we saw – though we definitely heard them!  Our dog, who used to be unfazed by anything but who now barks at the scratching of a beetle on the side of a tree one mile away, went a little crazy.  But…that’s not what we’re here to discuss.

As you’ve mentioned, our summer series this year is “Geeking Out.” And being self-identified nerds, its completely appropriate!

So I’m starting us off with one of our favorite authors: Jane Austen.

Why do I love Austen?  Can’t even come up with words that will do justice to the skill of that lady with the pen.  How can you, I ask?  And its good that I ask, because there are a lot of people who have tried to add to the worlds created by her genius, and I’d like to prevent tainting my perspective of those worlds by reading those books.  (I mean no offense to those who have loved Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but its not my thing.  I like my Austen like I like my coffee – absent of weird flavors.)

So yes, the novels are sitting on our shelf – worn, disheveled, alphabetically catalogued, and begging to be read. Again. And again. So imagine my surprise and utter over-the-moonness (I couldn’t think of an appropriate adjective) when on vacation, we stumbled on an exhibit that featured dresses from many of the Jane Austen films!

Matt and I went to the Biltmore (another thing to geek out about another day; that and the Gilded Era, of course) and there was an exhibit on dresses, many of them wedding dresses, from many, MANY films.  It was AWESOME!!  Had NO idea they were there, so it was like an extra, extra bonus!  If it had been socially acceptable, I might have squealed.  As it was, near the end of our tour, there was a lady who admitted her disbelief that anyone would want to wear these dresses as they were “ugly and unflattering.” Gasp.

In my mind, I gave her a scathing speech that would have done justice to Lizzie Bennett’s monologue to Lady Catherine de Bourgh.  Except it wouldn’t have been as eloquent or even understood, as I am not Austen, articulate when angry, or desirous of yelling at a stranger.  It would have come out something like…”You are an idiot!” And that would have been that.

But, for your enjoyment, here are the dresses! (I only took photos with my phone in the home, so they aren’t the greatest.)

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Some Time Away

Dear Erin,

I know all the snow is a hassle (at least, I know it abstractly; snowfalls are not a normal part of my life and never have been), but you make it sound both fun and cozy. And you got a proper snowman out of it, which is impressive. I remember our little snowman that we built on the side of the road one year on the way to New Hampshire for Christmas and how much work it was. That was, what, thirty <cough, cough> years ago?

So no snow here. This is what it looked like this weekend.

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I feel slightly guilty posting this picture at you, but you’ll notice it’s not stopping me. I took the weekend off. Left Little Mister with Charles and went to a church women’s retreat. And it was lovely. Both outside.

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You can just see the rainbow starting to form above the wave.

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My phone is very artsy on my behalf.

And inside.

20160123_173524The speaker was good, the seminars were pretty good, the fellowship was very nice. It was a good break until Sunday, when I got to come home to this little monster

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Sorry, not the best quality picture.

and his dad, who had sent me lots of pictures of them having fun over the weekend so I could relax and not worry about them. A thoughtful man, isn’t he?

Since then, I’ve been working on something that looks like this:

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No details yet, but I’m guessing they’ll be a bit late getting to you, because whether or not the snow at your place slows them down, the monster at mine is also a very effective hindrance to such as this.

Top 5 Necessities for Car Travel with Toddlers

Dear Kristen,

What beautiful gloves!  I know that she will enjoy them, even in Florida.  Having been in Florida recently when it was 35 degrees when I woke up, I’m very confident she will get use out of them.

As you alluded to, I was out of commission last Friday and couldn’t write.

Because I was traveling.

And we’ve been traveling. For. A. While. Like weeks.

With small ones.

And on the heels of your post, no less, I find myself feeling as if I am in the same boat – though we weren’t on a boat.  Or a plane like you.

Now I’ve talked about the difficulties of driving with sweaty babies before.  And also about how the car seat is the bane of my existence.  This is different.  These are my top 5 pieces of advice for traveling with toddlers in a car for an extended period of time. (Our typical travel times extend from 2 to 12+ hours, so this is for those who have a death wish family in far off places.)

  1. Good Intentions – We leave EARLY in the morning when faced with a 12 hour trip.  Our intentions are that the kids will still be very sleepy and rest from the point of entry into the car until breakfast. Those intentions are lovely. Optimistic even! This last trip, we were out the door and backing out of the driveway at 5:00 AM.  Woohoo!  And Little Man screamed in the back from 5:10 until breakfast.  (We missed out on your good luck.)
  2. Snacks – Here is my suggestion on snacks.  They need to be easily consumed by little ones and not so messy that when they throw them in anger at being in the car seat for 5 hours, it won’t necessarily become a hazardous waste zone in your car if you can’t find said snack until March.  If you know what those snacks are, could you let me know?IMG_3063
  3. Playgrounds – They need to be released from their five-point cage harness and burn off energy.  This is a MUST.  For this, and because we have a limited diet, AND because we love them, we choose Chick-fil-A.  Almost all of their restaurants have indoor playgrounds, perfect for when you travel in the cold and or rain.  Our preference is to eat breakfast at one of these – grab some yummy biscuits (except those of us who are GF) and head to the play area for a solid 20-30 minutes.  Worth it.  Now, Chick-fil-A is not PERFECT.  They are closed on Sundays, so if you are traveling on that day of the week – sorry.  Also, for future reference, they open later on New Years Day.  So you may drive up at 7:30 – but you won’t be served.  And then you will spend the next three exits trying to find a McDonalds with an indoor play place and you won’t find one and you will settle on a random one and your kids will get wet climbing on the playground.  Just warning you.  Now if you are traveling I-95, check out this site about playgrounds.  These will come in handy later when both of our kids can run like the wind.  The younger still falls on his face.IMG_2970
  4. Distractions of All Kinds – And you should have LOTS of them.  They can be books, singing toys, a running list of lullabyes to sing, stacking toys, dogs, an older sibling (very handy) and a movie.  The trick is that you need to be able to rotate them quickly.  This requires you NOT to sleep when you are not driving, as you need to be available to switch out toys/books/etc and you may need to climb in the back.  So no sleeping parent in the passenger seat!  Having an older sibling available is helpful.  Especially a first child who’s a girl.  She’s willing to help and suggest how to calm down her screaming brother.  She will even sing for a little bit when you start to get car sick and dry mouth from constant singing while turned backwards for 30 minutes.  That’s when the concert breaks from the opening act to the main event!  Its very sweet and only a little off tune.
  5. Prayers – Its a necessity.  All of the four above are likely to fail at some time or another.  Or maybe even all on the same trip!  But Jesus does not.  And we arrive – frazzled, tired, hangry, and sometimes in tears – safe.  And we didn’t lose anybody on the way.  And we had moments of laughter, even if its just laughter at our ridiculous life and situation. And when I pray, I know He likes me and loves me even on the crazy drive from Virginia to Florida.  Even when I’ve lost my patience entirely. Or I feel like I can only give up and there’s still Georgia to get through.  He still hears us, loves us, and forgives us.  He offers a fresh start every moment of every day – and if you remember nothing else, remember that as you face a long drive with toddlers.  And preschoolers.  And elementary kids. And middle schoolers. And high schoolers.  Its sound advice.

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The Top 5 Necessities for Air Travel with a Toddler

Dear Erin,

Poor Little Man! That’s really kind of awful, although I’m glad it seems not to have bothered him for long.

It’s good to get back to the writing, starting afresh for the new year. The only trick is continuing to think of things to write about; well, that, and not getting sidetracked by all the other life things going on.

As you mentioned on Monday, we spent the holidays on the East Coast, visiting lots of family. Thankfully Little Mister managed to avoid significant injury, unlike his younger cousin, although we might have come close by the time we were almost home.

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He didn’t want to wear his own mittens, but he was perfectly happy with my gloves.

See, much as we love being with family, the travel there and back is a bit of a bear at this point in life. There’s just no denying that. And on the very last flight, LM finally lost it. He had done really well up to that point, but those last three hours were a bridge too far, in his opinion.

Nevertheless, I’m going to play advice columnist and act as though the previous five flights of this trip (and somewhere between 20 and 30 in the last year – at least, I think that’s what Charles calculated) are what really count. This entitles me to give what is surely expert advice on air travel with young toddlers.

So here is my advice – the five things you need to survive a plane ride with a toddler.

  1. Good planning. So, let’s say you’re trying to cross the country, from California to Virginia or Florida. Just as a “for instance.” That’s about 6 hours (more or less) of flying time. Without young kids, you probably opt for the cheapest flight you can bear with the fewest, shortest layovers possible. With kids, it seems to be better to break it up and give them time during a layover (if possible) to stretch their legs and work off some energy. This adds some travel time, but during the journey seems totally worth it. Also, if you can get a seat in the front of the cabin – or plan to have one of you in front of the kid who will kick the seat – that takes off some of the stress of feeling like you’re making everyone around you miserable. Finally, packing the carry on bag wisely is super important. Let’s just leave it at that.

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    Christmas morning at our hotel. One of the few pics I could get of him smiling.

  2. Good luck. No getting around this. All the planning can fall in the face of bad luck. Did you try to time your flights around nap time? Better hope the kid decides to sleep and isn’t kept up by another unhappy child two rows away. Hope he doesn’t get sick. Hope you’ve fed and watered him perfectly so that there are no diaper blowouts on the plane, especially while taxiing (or stuck on a runway – an especially exquisite form of torture when traveling with a one-year-old) when you really cannot get to the one lavatory with a changing table.
  3. Non-digital distractionsWe’ve had varying degrees of luck with these, and the more novel they are to him, the longer they will entertain him. Books with lots of flaps he can open like this one or this one, or books with lots of pictures like this provide relatively extended quiet times. Small toys like cars or trains can be good. And stickers have been a surprisingly reliable hit. I provide him with paper, but he prefers to stick them on himself or me.
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  4. Digital distractions. Perhaps unfortunately, but without a doubt, the best distraction is the ipad. Charles has found some good apps for LM, and he also gets to watch some saved videos on YouTube. That can satisfy him for nearly an hour at a time (when the good luck is holding). But then there’s the issue of breaking the addiction when you get home. So far, though, I’m finding it still totally worth the hassle today for the peace on the plane.
  5. Husband. Again, if at all possible, it’s best not to try to do it alone. I couldn’t do it without Charles. When one of you gets totally frustrated, the other can take over, because even with all the planning, luck, and distraction in the world, you’re still likely at some point in the journey to get to where we were late Jan. 1st, with a child who hadn’t napped all day, who was on East Coast time, who was no longer amused by any of his distractions, and had had it with not being able to move much throughout the day. And at that point, it became a matter of who had the longest fuse at the moment and could handle him. Until LM completely broke down, at which point he just sobbed in Mommy’s arms until he fell asleep, in less than 5 minutes. Then he slept the rest of the way home.

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    Enjoying hibachi dinner and especially the fire.

So there you go; there’s my “expert” advice. Maybe some of that would be helpful for car trips, which you guys do more of. But then again, you have plenty of experience with that, and some of the constraints are very different. You can bring more things to entertain and stop to get out if you really need to. But on the other hand, it’s probably harder to separate them once they start fighting.