Reflections on a Year

Yesterday was my birthday and I’ve been thinking about what 37 gave me and what I am hoping for 38.

37 was a year of many highs and many lows.

The year in running:

I went to Disney and did the Princess Challenge Weekend! But, I also had a big fall before a 10K last summer and ended up with 9 stitches on my face – 6 in my eyebrow and 3 on my nose. I reached big goals but also got sidelined by stitches (and a huge case of road rash on my knee) over the summer and got sidelined again by plantar fasciitis after the Princess Challenge Weekend.

The year in doing good:

I completed my fourth year as captain for Team Pudgie Pies and Pineapple Shirts as we Walk to End Alzheimer’s. But, we also lost Grandma this year and she was the reason that we were walking in the first place.

The year in learning:

37 was when I completed my Master’s Degree. There’s really no downside. Completing this degree while working full time and having two kids at home who were 5 and under was difficult to say the least. Addy was born during one of my first semesters and I had to let a professor know that I would be late turning in some papers because I would be in the hospital having a baby. Finishing that degree was a huge step for me, but also for my family. Addy had never known a Mommy who didn’t have to stay up late to do homework.

 

I have big plans for 38. I am hoping to get my pace down so that I can do other half-marathons but perhaps not start in the very last corral. Hopefully, the weather will become warmer soon because I’m pretty sure that I’m burned out when it comes to running on the treadmill.

Team Pudgie Pies and Pineapple Shirts is back again for this year Walk and I am determined that our team will fundraise more than we ever have before. If you would like to make a donation to our fundraising you can go here for my page or you can donate here to donate to our team.

When it comes to academia, I am not entirely certain where 38 will bring me. I have pondered going back to school again and working toward my Doctoral Degree. Will that happen in 38? Not sure. However, I am pondering applying to present at a conference. It’s something that I haven’t done before and I need to really reflect on what I would present on, but it’s something that I think that I could do.

Cheers to 38! Here’s hoping that my big goals will come to fruition. 🙂

 

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Traveling With Kids – Tips and Tricks

We’ve done a lot of traveling with our girls in 2018 – for holidays, for Disney World, and sadly, for funerals. I have some tips that we’ve learned through our travels this year and every time that we’ve traveled.

Please note, I am not an expert. Not at all. And sometimes these tips work really well. And sometimes, life happens and nothing goes the way you think that it will…….

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1) Each kid gets a backpack. Not only does this ensure that they are able to bring things to entertain them in the car, on the airplane, however you are traveling, but it also ensures that they have the things that they want. Each girl is now old enough (6 and almost 4) that they are in charge of packing things that they want. But, they can only bring what fits in the backpack. This helps to keep the backseat from becoming a toy pile.

2) Make a checklist of things that you need to bring. I love Google Notes. I start working on a checklist before we leave and then mark them off as I pack. This way, I don’t end of staring at the suitcase wondering what else I need to bring. (Although, I still do that….just not as much as I used to….) Google Notes is great because you can also share it with someone else.

3) Snacks! Snacks are great because, in our family, being hangry is a very real problem.  We still bring our diaper bag on trips but our diaper bag (a backpack) is now filled with snacks, juice boxes, water bottles that can be refilled, and a change of clothes for each girl (because you never know what might happen). If you are staying at a hotel with a complimentary breakfast, grab a couple extra things to have in the hotel room for later. Granola bars, fruit, and dry cereal all make great snacks that you can grab from the hotel breakfast bar and enjoy later in the day.

4) Plan for a rainy day. There are always days when the weather will not cooperate with your plans and you might be stuck in your room for awhile. The Target Dollar Spot is my favorite spot to hit up before a trip so that I can stock up on fun stationary sets, stamps, stickers, etc. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. They don’t take up a lot of room in your luggage. And if you don’t use them, you simply take them home to use later.

5) Buy Ziploc baggies! I use them to pack things that might leak like shampoo or lotion bottles. I throw extras in the diaper bag in case we need to pack up wet clothes. (Also good if you are still in the diaper phase and can’t dispose of a dirty diaper right away.) The bags aren’t going to leak and they really don’t take up much space.

6) Be sure that everyone knows the plan but be ready for the plan to change. Yes, it’s fun to plan and plan and plan and plan. I love planning! But, it’s important to be flexible too.  Things happen. Plans have to change. And teaching kids how to deal with disappointment or change is an important part of traveling. Be ready for the unexpected but still plan for what you want to do. And let your kids be a part of the planning! When kids know what’s going to happen, they tend to feel less stress because they know what to expect. Or at least, they know what they can plan to expect.

7) Organize ahead of time and continue organizing while you are at your destination. I like to plan outfits in advance and then roll the outfits together when packing. That way, all that you have to do is pull out an outfit and go. Plus, if you’ve rolled the outfits together fairly tightly, they are most likely fairly wrinkle free! And that’s a huge plus. Because I don’t iron. Seriously. Ask my husband. I would rather hang a pair of pants in the bathroom to steam during showers for days on end instead of simply ironing them.

8) On the night that you arrive, take an hour and unpack what needs to be unpacked. I hang up things that I know should be hung up. We set up a spot for the backpacks to be stored. We designate a place for shoes. We designate a place for dirty laundry to get piled up. If everyone knows where the new homes for things are while traveling, it makes getting ready in the morning much easier. No searching and searching for shoes if everyone knows where the shoes go.

9) Take time to slow down. This is something that I am still working on. It’s so easy to just go, go, go, go all the time when traveling with kids. However, some of our favorite times are when we are just lounging by the pool, or watching shows while all piled in the hotel bed. Also, eating cookies in bed? Definitely something I only do while traveling but it’s also one of my favorite parts of a trip.

10) Try to find ways to keep the daily schedule similar to your at-home schedule. Eat at similar times. Try to go to bed at similar times (although this one is much harder to accomplish, in my opinion).

11) Do something that you haven’t done before! Yes, routine is great but travel is fun when you get to explore and try something that you haven’t done before. Eat new food! Visit new spots! Even when traveling to places that you’ve been to many times before, there are still opportunities to expand your horizons and try something new. And I recommend doing that!

12) If you are still traveling with big essentials (strollers, pack-n-play, car seats) make life as easy as you can. In some large travel destinations and some hotels, you can rent many of these items so you don’t have to travel with them. Babies are so small but all of their things take up so much space! And if you are traveling with a car seat and are using it on a plane (each time we’ve flown, we have had at least one car seat on the flight with us), invest in one of those straps that attach to your luggage. They aren’t very expensive and they make it so much easier to run through an airport. (Just google “car seat luggage strap” and you’ll get many options).

13) If possible, do a load of laundry during your trip. This means that you don’t have to pack as much in the beginning! And then you have room in your luggage to bring home more souvenirs! Sometimes, it’s just inevitable that you’ll need to do at least one load. If there’s a diaper blow-out or a car-sick incident, and you won’t be heading home a few days, you’re probably not going to want that yuck to just sit on the clothes until you get home. But look on the bright side, a load of laundry done while on your trip means one less that you’ll have to do as soon as you get home.

14) Have fun! This is, of course, the most important tip! Your kids will feed off of your energy, especially little ones. If you’re having fun, they will have fun. If you’re stressed, well, they are going to be stressed. And that’s going to lead to arguing, tantrums and all of that kind of fun behavior……

 

Now I want to know……what are your tips and tricks for traveling with kids? What works for you? What doesn’t work?

Disney’s Art of Animation – Resort Review

So, as you may have previously read, my family recently took a trip to Disney for the RunDisney Princess Half-Marathon weekend. I did the Fairy Tale Challenge (10K and half-marathon) and the girls both participated in the kids races (100m and 200m). As we do whenever we travel to DisneyWorld, we stayed at a resort on the Disney grounds. Our hotel this time? Art of Animation.

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Upon entering the resort, you can see right away that the animation theme is in full effect. There are animation sketches on the walls of the lobby and on the chandeliers (some of my favorite chandeliers ever!)

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There are four different sections with very distinct designs – Lion King, Finding Nemo, The Little Mermaid, and Cars. We stayed in a family suite in the Finding Nemo area. I will go ahead and say that I think that the Finding Nemo section is probably the best if you are staying with younger kids. It’s the closest to the big pool, the playground, and the quick service food option, store, and lobby. We have stayed in the Little Mermaid area before, and it’s a fun design but it’s definitely a longer walk. Long walks after a day at the park (or a day running) with small children and tired feet is always something to take into consideration when planning your stay.

Everything about the design is larger than life. The huge scale makes it feel as though you are a little fish in this big big world.

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Of course, not all of the design elements are huge…..be on the lookout for hidden Mickeys!

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Hidden Mickey – in the bubble design of the carpet

Check out the pictures of the Finding Nemo family suite here. There was plenty of room  for the four adults and two kids that were staying with us. The girls slept on the table bed – I wish I could find a video of that thing unfolding so you could see just how easy it was to turn the table into a bed. Very easy and the girls slept very well. Ryan and I slept on the sleeper sofa. It wasn’t as comfortable as a bed. Sleeper sofas rarely are. But, I was exhausted each night so was able to fall asleep (except for when the pre-race jitters would keep me awake, which honestly was a large portion of each night.)

Also, since we stayed in the family suite, there was a kitchenette. Do not plan on preparing full meals using the kitchenette. But, it’s great to store and reheat some leftovers.

There is only one restaurant option here and this quick service option is ok. Lots of family friendly options and probably something to fit every craving that you are having at any time of day. However, at least when we were there, it seemed that no matter what time you were there to eat, there was absolutely no sense of urgency among the employees working there. Everything, from placing an order to paying for your food, took way more time than it needed to. When you are trying to feed a hungry kid or someone who just ran a half-marathon…..you really don’t want to wait in line longer than you need to. The lines were crazy during peak meal time but they were also crazy during every other time of the day as well. When you can see employees just standing around and talking when there are huge lines of people, it doesn’t really reflect well on your dining experience. (There was never a time when I saw every available register was open and being used…..that definitely would have cut down on the lines.)

One of the best parts of the quick service option is that you can take your food out to the pool. One night, for dinner, I grabbed a ready-to-go large cheese pizza and some drinks. This is actually a pretty good deal for Disney food because the pizza is huge! We brought leftovers back to the room. In addition, if you have the Disney dining plan, you will find many options to choose from for each meal and snack.

For the adults, perhaps one of the best parts of the pool area, is the pool bar!  The drinks were delicious and strong (!!!!!). And best of all , the bartenders all seemed to really enjoy their jobs. 🙂 You can enjoy your beverage in the bar area, or by the pool.

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The number one reason to stay on site when traveling to Disney, in my opinion, is the ease of transportation. Yes, the Disney design is fun and each resort has it’s own unique design and different level of Disney-ness. It’s always fun to keep the Disney atmosphere with you all day, whether or not you are in a park. However, transportation is key!

The schedule for the race weekends begins very early in the morning. Yes, on the morning of the half-marathon, I was on the bus at 3:30am. 3:30am. Gross. The early mornings were, well, really early.

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It was so nice to not have to worry about parking…..or driving anywhere during this weekend. However, the Disney transportation is definitely a benefit whenever you are staying. Some of the hotels have boat or monorail transportation to get you from the parks back to your hotel. And at some resorts, you are so close that you can simply walk to the park. However, they all have buses. We used the bus to get to the Expo, to the race starts, and to get to Disney Springs for dinner, snacks, and to see Black Panther.

Would we stay at Art of Animation again? Of course! This was already our second time staying at the resort. It is one of the Value resorts (very important!!), you get the ease of Disney transportation and a fun Disney design everywhere you turn. The girls loved coming back to the hotel room and seeing the giant Crush the Turtle right outside the door!

Key Takeaways:

Fun design. Very kid friendly. Loads of large character sculptures around the buildings and the pool.

Rooms are a fun design and can easily accommodate a large family.

Design is very Disney. Many of the resorts have a subtle Disney design. This is not one of one those resorts.

Food options are plentiful but be prepared to wait. And wait. And wait. And there is only one restaurant at the resort.

Transportation is right outside the lobby. Although Art of Animation only has buses at this time, they definitely get you where you need to go and you don’t need to worry about renting a car, driving, and parking.

 

 

Winter Checklist Update #5

One of our favorite investments that we made when we bought our house in the suburbs was purchasing a family pass to Brookfield Zoo. We realized that if we went to the zoo for the Halloween activities, for the Christmas lights, and for the New Year’s Eve countdown, it just made financial sense to buy a pass. We don’t have to pay for parking and after just a few trips to the zoo during the year we’ve actually broken even on our investment. Plus, I like that we don’t have to make a whole day trip to the zoo if we don’t want to. There are many times during the summer when the girls and I might just pop over to the zoo for an hour or two and then head back home. If we don’t see everything, it’s ok. We can come back and check it out.

The New Year’s Eve countdown is great for kiddos. It’s at 8:00pm which is late enough for my girls to feel like they are actually staying up late. But when we get home, it’s not super late.

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It was really really really cold so we didn’t walk around and look at the lights too much but that was quite ok since we went to Holiday Magic earlier in the season. We were able to take a couple quick pictures before heading to the car….which we did very quickly because baby girl does NOT like being cold….she has inherited her mommy’s tolerance (or rather, intolerance) for cold…..

The list thus far:

Winter Checklist Update #4

Before we had children, we would drive down to spend Christmas Eve with my side of the family, then on Christmas Day we would get up and drive to spend Christmas night and then next day with Ryan’s side of the family. We knew that when we had children, that that tradition would need to change. Now, we travel to my side of the family the weekend before Christmas and we travel up to Wisconsin after Christmas.

So, we have now gone to Mimi and Pa’s house…..

And Granny and Pa’s house…..

Christmas Eve, we make cookies (or, this year, make a gingerbread house), go to Christmas Eve Mass, drive around and look at Christmas decorations, then come home. Christmas Day, we spend in our jammies, watch Christmas specials, and eat breakfast casserole. The girls have all day to play with toys and we can all relax. Our Christmas traveling allows us to see family for Christmas and also allows us to be home for Christmas.

The list thus far:

Keeping the Magic Magical

Our last couple weeks have been non-stop go go go. This weekend, we actually don’t have anywhere that we need to be. Sure, we need to get some Christmas shopping done. And, yes, we’ll probably make at least one trip to Target. But, we don’t have set times for anything.

It’s quite pleasant to think about.

Sometimes, with all of the running around, and must-dos, and places to go, and food to cook, and all of that….it’s easy to forget the more simple joys of the holidays. One of my favorites? Reading some of our favorite Christmas books!

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The girls love reading about the Grinch year round. The Night Before Christmas is always a good idea. And, my personal favorite, The Polar Express. I still get a bit emotional when he says that eventually all of this friends stopped being able to hear the bell…..NOT FOR ME! I STILL HEAR IT!……

When I was growing up, my mom would read The Polar Express every Christmas Eve. Now, she reads it to her grandkids when we go down for family Christmas #1. (The movie weirded me out – anyone else weirded out by it?)

So, this weekend, although we do have things that we need to get done…..I am going to strive to remember to take it easy (or easy-ish), and enjoy just being together by the Christmas tree. Because that’s when some of the most special moments can happen – when we stop and take a breather and just let the magic of the holidays happen.

What are your favorite simple joys of the holidays?

Kid-Friendly Restaurants

Our kids have been eating out at restaurants since…well…they were old enough to be out in public. It’s just always been a part of our lives. Ryan and I love eating at different spots and we have found many spots that have really good kids’ meals in addition to the meals for the adults. So, although this list will undoubtedly grow through the years, here are some places that we love and recommend:

The guidelines for my list? Suburban locations. Great kids meals and great meals for the grown-ups. Not a location that is obviously designed for kids – although we do, of course, love those locations, too.

In no particular order…….

Nandos. (Many locations)

Nandos is a chain but since it has only recently moved in at locations near us, it definitely doesn’t feel like a chain. And it doesn’t feel (or taste) like fast food. It is more like yummy food served fast – not fast food. (Nothing against fast food which we also eat just plenty.)

I love this spot because I love their food. I always get the same thing – chicken skewers, peas, fries, and perinaise (it’s mayo but, like, really yummy mayo.)….perhaps one day I’ll move beyond these and try something new but don’t expect that to happen anytime soon…

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Doesn’t that look yummy? It is!

Nando’s is great because the kid’s meals are really good, too. My girls usually get the same entree (chicken sandwich and grilled cheese) but they change up their side dishes almost every time. Corn on the cob. Garlic bread (yep….bread as a side to their bread). Fries. Apple slices (which is actually an entire apple sliced!).

Yep, we love Nando’s and might actually eat there several times throughout the month.

The Clubhouse  (Oak Brook and Schaumburg)

We’ve even here many times for lunch (actually haven’t gone for dinner yet) but the number one reason to hit up The Clubhouse is brunch. They’re brunch buffet is out of this world. This is a table filled with stuff for the kids – although they can eat whatever else they want too – including pb&j sandwiches, scrambled eggs, mac ‘n cheese, chicken fingers. There is a carving station (Ryan usually hits this one up). There are tables filled with pastas, pancakes, cheese, seafood, just pretty much whatever you might want to eat. And it’s all good. Really good. (Drinks are delicious, too). A lot of times, food on brunch buffets end up tasting bland and, well, cold. But everything here is freshly made and restocked throughout the brunch times.

Check out the girls’ plates:

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And my plate:

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And then…..there’s a dessert table with chocolate fountain, cakes, bars, and all kinds of yummy things to nibble on after you’ve finished off your second or third plate from the buffet.

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Mon Ami Gabi (Oak Brook and other locations around country)

French food is delicious. Wine. Cheese. Bread. Yum. The great thing about Mon Ami Gabi is that the food is delicious for the adults (who can get some truly classic French dishes) but also great for the kids who are able to order from a nice selection of meals.

Now, perhaps your six year old does not suggest that you order the mussels so that she can help you to eat them. Maybe…just maybe…that’s not something that your six year old enjoys.

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My six year old, however, loves mussels. And I’m perfectly ok with ordering a giant bowl of them so that she can have a couple and I can have the most.

Our girls almost always order the mac ‘n cheese when we’re eating at Mon Ami Gabi. And, honestly, I might consider ordering it as an adult because it’s really good.

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The mac ‘n cheese always comes with green beans (that baby girl absolutely loves), apple slices, and extra cheese. The girls like to mix the extra cheese into the already super cheesy mac ‘n cheese to get just the right ratio of cheese to other cheese. Yep. Perfect ration.

Steak + Vine (La Grange)

This is a new spot for us. After seeing many pics of the food (that’s pretty much how I decide whether or not I’ll eat somewhere) we gave their brunch a shot.

Check out our spread:

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There was plenty of yummy choices for Ryan and for me (Chicken and waffles, and shrimp and grits, and chilaquiles! All of my favorite brunchy foods!)

Plus, the girls were able to pick what they wanted and were able to customize their meals. In the pic below you can see baby girl adding more parmesan cheese to her pasta. Yum. Cheese. (Big girl is showing off the breakfast potatoes that came with her meal.)

The portion are a great size for the adults but are a really really great size for the kiddos. Yay for leftovers! One thing that really appeals to me at Steak + Vine is that they understand that young taste buds become adult taste buds. When you stalk the menu online (because everyone does that, right?…..), you will see that they refer to the kids menu as the “Future Adults Menu.” Perfect!

 

Where are your favorite places to take kids for brunch/lunch/dinner? Where do I need to try next?