H.A.P.P.Y.

Summer is winding down, and Fall is on the way!  I’m completely indifferent to Pumpkin Spice, but so excited about the cooler (less humid) weather.  Here’s what’s going on with me this week:

Menu –  Semi-homemade chicken salad.  I use a rotisserie chicken from Fresh Market or Publix, shred the meat with a fork.  Add mayo (Duke’s, obviously), mustard, chopped spinach and onion.  My secret ingredient?  A little pickle juice and some chopped up hamburger dill chips.  Eaten over some blue corn chips, it’s currently my favorite thing.

Tunes – Heard a new song by Jack Garratt called Water, and it took my breath away.  The Revivalists, who I love, are coming to the Tabernacle in Atlanta and I’m really hoping to get to this show!

Wanderlust – Disney is almost paid for!  I’ve moved on to buying our shirts and silly fun things for the trip.  Next is the beach, hopefully Gulf Shores, before it gets too cold.  In the meantime, we’ve been going to Callaway for day trips with the kids, and it’s a terrific way to get the beach vibes without all the time in the car and other hassle.

**Shopping** – I don’t normally include news about purchases here, but I bought some rad new workout gear at Target.  I bought cute leggings, a sports bra, and a tank top, all for about $30.  They have an amazing clearance going on right now as Summer apparel gives way to chunky sweaters and pumpkin everything.

Fitness – I’ve been reading about Buti Yoga, and there’s a local gym that offers free classes on certain Saturdays so I’m talking myself into trying it.  According to MapMyRun I’ve run about 80 miles since I started running outside, which is GREAT.  I know I have a long way to go, but 80 miles is 8,000 calories and lots and lots of power gains in my legs!  I feel good about it.

Spiritual – Everything is circular, not linear.  I keep thinking about the phrase “Everything comes full circle”.   I have believed for a long time, and still believe, that all things are connected, but now I am starting to see that the connections tend to be circular, in that our understanding of them has a beginning (confusion/noticing/wonder), a middle (generally when something happens again, or we experience deja vu), and and end (light-bulb moment, connection is made, we see the result).

Dreams – My 8th grade English teacher, Mr. Decker, was a guidance counselor and he hugged me and talked to me about what was bothering me.  Rather benign dream, but nice to see he’s doing well.

Photos – Aside from kids and beach, mostly horoscope screenshots. Nothing new here.

TV and Film – To The Bone on Netflix.  SEE IT.  SEE IT NOW.  Also lots of Chopped on Food Network, Cooks vs. Cons, and Beat Bobby Flay.  What can I say, I like food.

Between the Pages – Still nothing. I’m in desperate need of a new good book.

Tech – Perusing podcasts this week, and learning to use SnapChat to actually chat instead of just playing with the filters.  I both like and dislike that the conversation disappears so quickly.  I am considering buying a MacBook, but I have always been a computer user so I’m afraid I’ll hate it.  Thoughts?

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H.A.P.P.Y. family

 

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Sticky Fingers, Sting Rays, and Strides

[Chattanooga Recap]

My family and I (minus the tiniest guy) went to Chattanooga for the weekend, not knowing what to expect, but full of excitement.  We all enjoy an adventure and I have a serious inexplicable need to see and touch every part of this country and other countries.  I would like to put my two (bare) feet on the ground in every city in every country on Earth, if I could.  I am comfortable at home, but I have a nomad’s heart.

Word to the wise: A trip to the mountains – any mountains – is refreshing to the spirit.  If you’ve ever felt like your soul needs to take a good, long, tingly fresh breath, the mountains are the place for you.  If you don’t believe in that mumbo jumbo, well quite frankly, Chattanooga may still be the place for you.  After all, some things are true whether you believe them or not.  *wink, wink*

The drive from our house to the Noog (as some of the locals call it) was an easy, painless, traffic-free 5 hours.  I love a good road trip and I always like driving through Atlanta and daydreaming about the people who live and work in the beautiful buildings there.  (I see you, Tyler Perry.)  We arrived and met up with my step-dad, and then promptly drove over to see Mom at her wordplace.  Now, I’m going to keep this place anonymous in order to protect her, but we have this running joke that she actually works at a CIA Front Operation (ala Sydney Bristow in Alias) because there is no way any workplace can be this wonderful.  It’s a beautiful glass building that sits on a cliff overlooking the river, complete with coffee shop and neatly manicured courtyard including infinity waterfalls, where she’s encouraged to take yoga classes ON THE CLOCK because wellness matters.  I mean… WHAT?!  This alone is reason to move to Chattanooga.  We took a tour of the building and I tried to get the elevator to go to the “bottom” floor, but it wouldn’t. Probably because I don’t have the security clearance and wasn’t willing to do a retina scan.

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Allow me to inquire about your health insurance.

Since our trip was just for the weekend, we had to try and squeeze a lot of activity into just a few hours.  We were up to the challenge, and we started with Rock City on Friday Night.  I have been to Rock City once, but it doesn’t count, because it was the middle of winter and I didn’t get out of the car.  My 7 year old son has been once before, so he was my official guide.  Rock City is one of the most well-known attractions in Chattanooga, and I recommend it.  Because we arrived somewhat late in the evening, we pretty much had the place to ourselves, which was great because we could wander and chat and it felt very relaxed.  There’s a lot of walking through beautiful foliage and ancient rock formations,  and at the top of Lookout Mountain, you can “See 7 States”, which is really rad.  There are garden gnomes all over the place and a rickety bridge that unfortunately doesn’t come with an alternate route.  I felt a little like Indiana Jones, if Indiana Jones was a complete coward.

(At the end there’s a small gift shop that has some really kitschy gifts.  I chose an agate slice to use as a coaster on my writing desk, and some small vials of blood stone and citrine, which I’m very excited about.)

Saturday morning started early with a 6:30 am wake-up to run in the city.  I had planned to go alone and use my MapMyRun app, but Mom wanted to run too, so my step-dad drove us over to the Walnut Street Bridge and off we went.  Firstly, the weather was fantastic!  We started just before sunrise, and I tried to take some photos of what I was seeing but the photos don’t do it justice at all.  It was cool, not humid at all (a big change from home), clouds hovered around the mountains and there was a nice breeze.  Ideal running conditions.  Walnut Bridge itself is fun to run, it’s made of wood and forgiving on the joints and it’s over half a mile long.  My legs felt fresh and breathing was easy.  Excellent way to start the day, and running is a wonderful and underrated way to explore a new city.  We ran through the Bluff View Art District and Coolidge Park, saw several interesting works of art, and smelled tons of baked goods being prepared for the day.  The run was so good, we repeated it on Sunday morning!

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Panorama at Sunrise, Walnut Street Bridge, Chattanooga (photo: me)
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Sunrise at Bluff View Art District (photo:me)

That brings me to two other great things about Chattanooga:  The food and the architecture!  The amount of coffee shops and bakeries here is mind-blowing and extremely pleasing to the fat girl inside me.  I’m sure I could eat my weight in delectables at Rembrandt’s Coffee. (If you’re ever there, try the Nutella Macaroons!) Many of the buildings in C-town have a German feel to them. I lovingly refer to them as gingerbread houses.  My husband lived in Germany for several years as a kid, so I was particularly excited for him to have the opportunity to see something familiar and tied to happy memories.

Beyond patisseries, there are LOTS of places to eat in Downtown Chattanooga (we mostly stayed around the downtown area for this trip).  We chose to eat at Sticky Fingers BBQ, and it was a magnificent choice, if I do say so myself.  Here in Georgia we use Sticky Fingers sauce and until we drove past the building, I didn’t realize they even had restaurants.  I chose a sampler plate that included a pulled pork sandwich, ribs with sauce (you can also choose them dry), veggies, and sweet potato soufflé that will make you say Hallelujah.  The food was satisfying, the ribs in particular were very well cooked – tender and flavorful – and the sweet potatoes were some of the best I’ve ever had (which is saying a lot, given my affection for my aunt’s Senator Russell potatoes) and our server was very friendly.  I can’t wait to go back and have more ribs.

After our exhilarating run, we headed over to the Tennessee Aquarium.  For my son, the Otter Whisperer, this is a big deal.  We arrived to see that the Saturday Market was going on right outside, so that was fun.  We shopped and met local artisans and crafters and I was reminded that we humans are creative.  We are wildly imaginative and talented, and I’m proud of us.  High five, homo sapiens!  Inside, the aquarium was a little crowded but the place is huge so the crowd moved freely.  There are escalators to the different floors, which is nice, and the air was on “Arctic” setting, which after standing outside in the sun for a while was a welcome break.  Sadly, the otters didn’t feel like playing, but we did see penguins and the gator feeding show, and I pet something!  I honestly do not remember WHAT it was, probably because I was terrified, but on coaching from my son I put my fingers in the water and touched some kind of gross fish!  Check that off my bucket list!  It was softer than I expected, and kept swimming back for more loving.  It acted like a cat, but was definitely not a catfish.  I learned some new things while there, which I love doing, about jellyfish – the Sea Walnut (which reminded me a lot of a flux capacitor) and the Upside Down jelly, in particular.  I also was a magnet for the Sea Horses, which just reaffirms my belief that I am Snow White.  Even though it wasn’t an outside activity, this aquarium was one of the highlights of Chattanooga for me.  If you get a chance to go, please do!

That night we went by Publix, ate at Mom’s and watched Jurassic Park.  It was lovely to get a rest and some family time just relaxing.  Everyone slept early, which was also nice.

Sunday after the run, we packed up and went to Shoney’s.  Step-dad wanted us to go and Emmett is nearly dumbfounded at the idea that you don’t have to wait for your food, you can just go get it!  The breakfast bar was delicious, and I ate way too much.  For our last stop before driving home, we hit up Build-a-Bear at the Northgate Mall.  We don’t have a Build-a-Bear Workshop near us, so this is a special treat that Emmett gets each time he travels to a place that has one.  After some deliberation, he chose a Pokemon outfit for his bear, and we hit the road.

The Noog was fun, refreshing, and educational.  I really have nothing negative to say.  Some things were a tad bit expensive, though someone pointed out that it might have been due to large crowds traveling up to view the eclipse.  We didn’t get to see Ruby Falls because of an enormous crowd, and I’ll also blame that on the eclipse.  The great news is, the tickets we purchased are good for a whole year!  So we’ll be back to Chattanooga in the Fall to see Ruby Falls and Christmas lights.  There was a LOT of art and friendly people (and dogs!) and we walked 4-5 miles each day.  We saw the Trail of Tears and a handful of other historical places, and I got a hug from local radio DJ Joe Cook, my mom’s friend who I’ve known and loved since I was around 5 years old.  Shops like All Things Groovy have a special place in my heart, and while I didn’t photograph them I did shop them.  Highly recommend the Chattanooga experience to anyone who wants to feel a mix of down home and big city, shore town and mountain hideaway, hipster-friendly with an appreciation for history.

Strange and Unusual

It was all very The Bridges of Madison County.

You know towards the end of the story, when Francesca is sitting at a stoplight in her husband’s truck, watching the rain and re-living the past few weeks as she contemplates whether to jump out and run to Robert, abandoning her current life in favor of excitement, passionate love, and the unknown?

That’s what my trip to New Orleans was like.

It was like that one time I wandered into a goth bar, looked around, gulped, and decided to stay.  Then, several hours and several drinks later, realizing I wasn’t just surviving the situation, I was enchanted with my surroundings.  The music, the people, feeling my horizons stretching as I breathed in new smells and entertained new ideas.  Infatuated.  Curious. Entranced. Hypnotized. Beguiled.

And I don’t want to let it go.

Some people say that a place like New Orleans, or the French Quarter in particular, allows the visitor to be someone else for a while.  True, there are lots of bars, lots of boobs, lots of interesting characters and avenues for transformation.  In my case, though, the opposite was true.  The New Orleans experience, for me, didn’t feel like an opportunity to be someone else.  It felt like the opportunity to be who I am, authentically.

What does that mean?  Who am I, at my core?

If you must know, I’m an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, wrapped in bacon.

It’s hard for me to articulate what I mean.  To look at me, you’d see someone who is responsible, clean, not tattooed or pierced, a runner, someone who likes to sleep and read books and pet cats and dogs that aren’t mine, someone who dreams of Paris and plays at photography and likes a nice cardigan sweater.  If I’m totally honest, I don’t look like New Orleans.  I look like White Bread, USA. This is where, as an outside observer, you’d get me wrong if you were to judge based on appearance.

I may not like scary movies.  I don’t enjoy music where people scream at me in what may or may not be an intelligible language.  But at my center, I tend towards the melancholy.  Always have.  Even as a kid.  I like Poe, I like dark art.  I’m fascinated with magick and gem stones, the moon and its power, psychic abilities, and the things that go bump in the night.  Just last week I was researching wolves and skin walkers because I totally believe it’s possible (and I kinda hope it is).  [True Story: The Wolf is actually my animal totem.]

I think tattoos are sexy as hell.  I don’t have one because I’m indecisive.  Piercings, even more so.  I’ve always wanted a few of them, but besides the navel I’ve been a chicken about it.  I want purple hair sometimes, I want to wear a corset, I watch Vampire Hunter D and paint my nails black and weirdos are my favorite kind of people.

Maybe I’m Lydia Deetz – not so hardcore that I wear pentagrams and know which bars the vampires frequent, but genuine in that there’s a part of me that is authentically goth, macabre, gloomy, and intrigued by the people who are deep into that scene and living it out loud.

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Actual Photo of me in New Orleans.

I could have been that, had I jumped out of the truck.  No, I AM that.  Deep inside, past the big smile, GAP tank top and gooey marshmallow center.  I am.  Wandering the streets of the French Quarter was like reading the part of the “choose your adventure” book that you didn’t choose, just to find out what would have happened.  It was also like coming home to somewhere I didn’t realize I had left.  Like meeting a gorgeous, eccentric relative I never knew existed.

It was rad. I won’t ever forget it, and I’m forever grateful for it.  I can’t wait to get back to her – I think the city is definitely a woman – and I doubt a day will go by that I don’t think of her until I do.

p.s. Friends, if you get to New Orleans before I do, there’s a little shop called JEWELS that I wish you’d go and visit.  You’ll be glad you did.

Beaches, Bikinis, and Badassery

Yep, I know that’s not a word.  Except it is now, technically, as of the publishing of this post.  You’re welcome.

So this weekend the Master’s Ski and Wakeboard Tournament (Sponsored by Nautique) is in town.  Apparently, it’s a very big deal.  Kids and adults travel from far away lands to come here and demonstrate their skills in the water.  I have always been aware of the Master’s, though vaguely, and have never attended.  Until yesterday I really had no idea of the magnitude of this event or of its true scope in the world of water sports.  Two reasons for this:

  1. I’m incredibly self-absorbed.  I don’t swim.  I like the lake, yes, and the beach, but I never learned to swim properly and now at the age of 37 I am somewhat certain it isn’t a skill I’ll ever be able to list on my LinkedIn profile.  No swimming means, obviously, no water sports.  I don’t ski or slalom or wake board or anything that might result in me drowning.  I don’t even venture into unnecessarily deep bathtubs.  So, since I don’t do it, I’m not involved in it at all, I don’t read about it and am generally clueless.
  2. There was a second reason when I started typing, but now I think number 1 is enough of an explanation, so we’ll just skip the second reason.

So apparently for people who swim and ski and have boats and live near oceans and are immensely more active in sports and outdoors than I am, the Master’s is a VERY big deal.  It is THE big deal.  People gather from as far away as Belgium and Italy at this huge lake in Georgia to see the best-of-the-best slalom (not sure what this is but it’s fun to say), trick (it’s not what you think) and jump their way to glory.

Today I had the opportunity to attend my first Master’s Tournament, and it was everything I expected it to be, good and bad.  Mostly good.  The bad wasn’t so much BAD as it was, fit girls in tiny bikinis who are really tan and have no body fat at all and “is there a tree big enough for me to hide behind”-type thoughts, and wanting to pull my shorts down far enough to cover myself while staring at them in a mix of disbelief and envy.  One of the girls from the Monster Energy Tint looked like she used makeup from the Snapchat Filter line.  I kept squinting my eyes, unable to discern whether my eyes were blurry from the sun or her skin was just that smooth.  The guys all looked like PacSun models, brown skin and blonde hair, some in ponytails or dreads, lumbering around in board shorts laughing with each other about who has the most individual ab muscles.  Is this real life?

Besides the blindingly beautiful people with exotic accents, there was a lot to do and see.  Bouncy houses for little kids, fair food like hot dogs, beer, and funnel cakes, lots of sponsor booths selling gear and apparel, and people of all ages having a great time on the beach.

Anyway, the tournament drew a massive crowd (because, as mentioned previously this is apparently a big deal and everyone knew about it but me) and the beach was packed.  The announcers raved as each skier sliced through the water at top speed, followed by cheers, applause and the boom of dance music pouring out of the speakers.  The hot sun, blue skies, and gentle breeze all conspired to invoke feelings of a modern day Monet painting, complete with wildflowers in bloom on the distant lawn.

So, in summary:  The Master’s Tournament is truly something to see.  Nautique Boats, the sponsor, is very well represented and Callaway Gardens, the venue, is a wonder of the modern world.  A fun time was had by all.  I left with an appreciation for something I had no awareness of before and – if you can believe this – a want to learn more.  I guess the next step will be swimming lessons, or skiing lessons?  Maybe I’ll go way out of my comfort zone, and take a bath.

 

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By the way, you can find info on the Master’s Tournament HERE and info on Callaway Gardens HERE.

Han and Leia and Vader, Oh My!

I just wrapped up my posts on Disney this morning, and today I found this drawing in my son’s end-of-year folder from school.  I believe it speaks for itself.

 

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In other news, it looks like instead of purchasing a new vehicle, we will be visiting Disney again this fall.

The Saga Continues…

OFFICIAL DISNEY DAY 1: THE MAGIC KINGDOM (part 2)

(…So where was I? The Disney experience is so large-scale and fast-paced, it can be wildly disorienting. The same is true of returning to the ‘real world’. I’ll do my best to continue the story.)

Ah, yes. We had just had our photo taken.  From the castle, we walked over to Tomorrowland, one of my son’s favorites because it houses the Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin.  Buzz Lightyear is definitely one of the park’s most entertaining rides, so each time we visit MK we try to ride it at least a couple of times.

This is easier to do with Fast Passes, which I learned I could both book and access on the My Disney Experience App.  Brad in Tomorrowland was helpful in booking our Fast Passes.  I’ve had the app on my phone for months, but never knew that or even read it anywhere in my research.  So, good to know.  I did also find that the app does not work, most of the time.  It worked well inside our hotel room, and it was anyone’s guess whether it might work the rest of the time.  We got our Fast Passes and continued walking through the park.

One of our goals this year was to meet as many characters as we could.  Last year we concentrated on rides and missed out on a ton of special encounters, so this year we wanted to remedy that. In Fantasyland, Emmett met with Cinderella and Elena of Avalor first. (They were in the same room together.  One line, two princesses? Good deal!)  He was quite nervous to meet Elena (I’ve noticed he has a thing for brunettes) but she was patient and kind with him, asking him birthday questions like what is his favorit ekind of cake, and sharing with him that her favorite is called Tres Leches.  (Disney Character Cast Members are remarkable at staying in character, and knowing their characters. I am convinced that they have to study up on themselves, because kids ask questions and they definitely have answers.  It adds to the experience.)  We took some photos and moved on to Cinderella, with whom Emmett was considerably less impressed.  I think this is due in part to the fact that he’s never actually seen her movie.  Joseph, the Memory Maker photographer was super nice and funny.

We walked over to the Mad Hatter Tea Party (referred to by the masses as “The Teacups”) and Alice was there!  We had to wait for her to go and take a short break, but the advantage here is that everyone else walked off so when she came back, Emmett got to spend LOTS of time chatting with her.  He liked Alice a lot!  I don’t know if it was her British accent, or just that she took so much interest in him, but he seemed comfortable chatting with her and posing for several photos.  As a mom, I cannot compliment these characters enough. I know it’s hot out there (even in November), and it’s tough meeting kids all day and having to be bright and smiley and ooey-gooey nice at all times, but for my Emmett and kids like him, it means the world.

We had Fast Passes for Teacups and it wasn’t time to ride yet so we walked on over to the Big Top tent, where we stood in line to meet Donald and Goofy. (Another two-for-one, YAY!)    Minnie and Daisy were also in the tent, and Emmett made the agonizing choice to get in the guys’ line and wait to meet the girls another time.  Even waiting in line here was fun.  In between photos, Donald and Goofy were joking around and being silly for the kids.  Just ahead of us in line was a very tall man wearing a Goofy hat, ears hanging down, grinning from ear to ear.  After a few minutes we realized he had special needs, and was visiting the park with his mom.  As he stood clutching his autograph book, he could barely contain his excitement at meeting Goofy.  Many of us in line watched him as he approached eagerly to greet his hero.  Goofy – or the Cast Member – was sensational.  He hugged the man and spent a lot of time with him, taking photos, admiring his hat, and inviting the man’s mom over to get in the photos as well.  I have to be honest here, I actually cried.

Damnit, Disney.  I’m standing inside a giant circus tent crying at the kindness of an imaginary talking dog.  And I don’t even mind it.

After, we walked around the store.  You’ll notice in Disney that nearly every attraction or ride has a gift shop attached to it, usually at the end or exit, so that you have to walk through or past the merchandise to get out to the main area of the park.  Marketing-wise, it’s very smart.  As a mom who sees her dollar bills actually growing wings and flying away, it’s very annoying.  In the Big Top Gift Shop (probably not its actual name), I found a super cute onesie for our 6-month-old, but he’s wearing 9 month clothes and I couldn’t find that size.  I asked Francesca at the register for assistance, and she went above and beyond. I’m sensing a theme here.

The next character we met was in Adventureland.  It was Aladdin!  Unfortunately Jasmine wasn’t with him, but the line was pretty short and hey, why not meet a Disney PRINCE for a change?  Aladdin bears a striking resemblance to my step-brother, who is an actor at his school and who, coincidentally, I think should work at Disney one day in the near future.  Emmett and Aladdin got along like gangbusters!  As we were in line for the other characters, I found a site online that had “secret” questions to ask the characters, so I found one for Aladdin – ask him if the lamp next to him is real.  I didn’t see any of the other kids ask him, so Emmett didn’t know what was going to happen.  I love this!  It felt like Christmas!  I’m highly excitable! (haha I just wrote that to see if you’re paying attention.)

I am NOT going to spoil this, but please parents, ask the secret questions.  It’s really cool and we got some awesome photos and Emmett felt like he was in the Disney “in crowd” after that.  Aladdin even walked over and shook my hand and James’ hand, I’m not sure why exactly, except he honestly seemed to enjoy Emmett’s company as well.  Full disclosure: I was kinda sad to walk away from Aladdin.  That experience made my heart feel full.

Alas, much more to see! Much more to do!

(continued in part 3…)

 

***ETA: I forgot to mention a Cast Member!  He was a nice young man who worked in the Big Top Circus tent, and chatted with us at length about Disney Pins.  We are not collectors, but these pins are very popular with Disney fanatics, and after seeing some of the ones for sale, I’m seriously considering starting a collection.  Juan, or perhaps Jose – I could not see his name tag clearly – from Trujillo, Peru answered all our questions about the pins and even gave us some pointers about which ones were rare and all the different lanyards.  It was truly fascinating and once again, Disney’s commitment to giving guests a magical experience shone through one of their employees.***

 

The Most Congested Place on Earth

Are you, dear reader, familiar with the scene in the film 300 that references the strategic funneling of enemy soldiers in order to lead them to slaughter?  The area the 300 Spartans want to siphon the opposition through is referred to as “The Hot Gates”.  I think that name gives an appropriate visual without me explaining any further.  We lived in a house once that had a narrow hallway we called “The Hot Gates”.  We had birthday parties and holidays in that house and I swear to you, guests would have to walk single file down that hallway.

This week, at several different times while visiting Walt Disney World, I was reminded of that scene and that hallway.  Disney, though, does everything on a much larger scale.  Disney felt like The Hot Gates almost everywhere we walked, not just while standing in line for rides, although a few of those were psychologically tough to handle.  There were so many people at our resort, so many people on the buses to the parks, so so so so so many people inside the actual parks, that a good portion of my subconscious was anticipating being attacked or trampled by Leonidas and this legendary troops.  It was like having flashbacks to a historical event you didn’t actually attend.

So, in short: Disney, man. It’s crowded.  Moving on to my review of our stay…

We (my husband, myself, and our 7-year-old son Emmett) set out on our adventure on a Sunday morning, after checking and re-checking that we had packed all the clothes and gift cards and the plants had been watered and the appliances were turned off and most importantly, there was nothing in the apartment that would cause it to smell like an animal had burrowed under the sofa and died while we were out.  I know it sounds strange, but my dad always had us take out all the trash and do all the laundry in the house before vacation, and I have adopted that habit and now inflict it on my own children.  Seriously, though, what’s worse than coming home to some strange odor?  Anyway, we loaded up in my VW Passat, and settled in for the 6-7 hour drive to Walt Disney World.

***Be warned now: This is not going to be a short blog post.  Not at all.  There’s a lot to cover and I tend to ramble.  Consider yourself warned. Continue at your own risk.***

The drive to Disney was relatively uneventful. I’m blessed with a husband who drives well and a little boy who is content to draw, read, or watch a movie in the car without complaint.  It was a nice drive on a beautiful Fall day, and thankfully we arrived safely at our destination, Disney’s All Star Music resort.

We have stayed at the Art of Animation resort before, so we chose All Star Music to try something different that was still in our price range.  Listed as one of Disney’s “Value” resorts, it is a little bit like a motel with doors outside and little extras.  We knew this before we arrived and personally we are fine with it, as we spend a total of 30 minutes a day in the hotel and the rest of the time at the parks.  It’s a good option if your main focus is the parks.  We don’t use the pools because we typically travel to Disney in the cooler months.  It’s fine for what it is.

At check-in, Stephen was polite and smiley, as Disney Cast Members tend to be.  He offered my son a “Celebrate” button, wrote his name and drew some balloons on it.  This is something Disney does for special occasions. They have buttons for First Time visitors, Birthdays, Honeymoons, and I’m not sure what else.  It’s a great and cheap way for them to make guests feel special, and I love it.  If you have young kids, you know that they love stickers and buttons and my son is no exception.  I appreciated the effort to make him smile upon arrival.

After a few minutes of typing on his keyboard, Stephen told us our room was in the Country Music section.  This was not music to my ears – not because I have something against Johnny Cash – but because Country is located WAY out in the back of the resort.  In the woods.  We’re already talking about a bare-bones resort, and now we’re talking about a half-mile trek from the front desk out into the woods on the back of the property.  I wanted to change this immediately, but nothing else was available.  (I thought booking our trip for a Sunday-Wednesday in November was a smart move, but apparently no one else worries about their kids’ education because the place was jam-packed.)

After dropping our bags off in the room, we came back to the desk to talk to a manager about the room and one other big disappointment.  We learned that the Main Street Electrical Parade (one of the things on our list of “MUST SEE” items this trip) was no longer running.  Not only that, but there would be no parades at night at all because we were unlucky enough to have booked our trip during the “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party” time.  This was news to me, and a bit distressing for two reasons:  1)I really wanted Emmett to see a parade, as we didn’t see one last trip and 2) I had never even heard of the Christmas party, and we would have enjoyed going to that.  Now, standing at the desk sniffing back tears, I’m told the admission to the Christmas party costs as much as one day of park admission.  So there’s no way we can attend.

I’m a big believer in addressing issues as they arise, and not letting them fester.  Disney has a reputation for pleasing its guests and making things right, so I knew it wouldn’t hurt to ask.  That said, it had been a long day of travel.  I was tired and all my balloons were being popped before our actual vacation even got started.  What gives, Disney?  Big, hot tears were welling up in my eyes, mostly about the Christmas Party situation and about 10 percent about not wanting to be murdered in the back of the hotel property by some insane woods-dweller and never ever being found because not even the maintenance guy goes back there.

Nick, the manager, politely apologized about the room and said he would be happy to move us to the Broadway area (one building closer to civilization) the next day.  We made arrangements to do that.  I tucked my tears back in and resolved to make the best of the rest of what Disney had to offer.  We had 2 1/2 days of fun in the park to look forward to! Chin up! Let’s go to the gift shop!  [Note: The next day we inquired at the desk about our room change, and there was no room change noted or listed for us.  Nick was off that day, because of course he was.  We waited quite a while to get it moved, but at least something else was available.]

So we looked around the resort gift shop for a while.  My son decided that first night that he wanted to spend his $25 gift card on a Stitch doll.  We persuaded him to at least wait until we were in the Magic Kingdom to make up his mind, and he acquiesced.  I noticed that the resort gift shop carried baby clothes for girls, but nothing for baby boys.  I inquired about this, because we also have a 6 month old who stayed home with the grandparents, and the attendant told me she wasn’t sure why that is, they used to have boy stuff and now they just don’t.  Um… ok.  At this point I decided to start taking notes.  Positive and negative, I would record this trip for posterity and for Disney’s, and other travelers, information.  We went to Publix to grab a few snacks for the park the next day.  I’m no penny-pincher, but I’m not going to pay $75/day for meals and snacks.  Okaaaaaaaay?

OFFICIAL DISNEY DAY 1: THE MAGIC KINGDOM (part 1)

We awoke on Monday morning and walked (and walked and walked) to the resort dining hall for breakfast.  The prices give me a headache, so I tried to coach myself that this would be the only ‘paid for’ meal today so at least there was that.  I got the Bounty Platter, which is eggs (I believe this is actually egg product scrambled to look like eggs, but I digress…), 2 strips of bacon, one sausage, one biscuit, potato squares with onions (strangest thing on the plate) and a waffle shaped like Mickey’s face.  Emmett ate the waffle and biscuit, I ate the eggs and bacon.  No one ate the potatoes, and I can’t really figure out why they’re there.  The platter costs $11 so I was half-expecting some Mickey Mouse – shaped lobster chunks, but no such luck.  My husband ordered the biscuits and gravy and a coffee and said it was fine. I don’t know how much it cost. Part of me doesn’t want to know.

While eating breakfast, we were approached by Cast Member Joshua.  He told Emmett “Happy Birthday” – something that happened over and over and over again during our stay thanks to the marvelous button on his shirt – and inquired about our stay and where we were from.  He gave a few suggestions of his favorite things in the Magic Kingdom and wished us well.  This, I like.  This, I expect.  I hope that Disney encourages this kind of behavior in cast members and from what I can tell, they do.  Every time a cast member went above and beyond, whether in attitude or in service, I made a note.  They’ll all be mentioned by the time I’m done writing.

After breakfast, we boarded the bus, which was pretty standard and uneventful.  We arrived at the Magic Kingdom full of hope and expensive egg substitute, feeling excited for our day of magic.  (Last year, Emmett’s review of the Kingdom was that it was “too girly” so we tried to be more aware of ‘boy’ things in the park, like Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion.)

[Note: I LOVE the Magic Bands, they make everything so simple and organized, connect reservations, photos, fast passes, practically all the info about the trip is on them. we just scanned our bands and went right on in.]

Right inside the park, before walking down Main Street, we entered the Town Square Theater, where Magician Mickey was doing a Meet and Greet.  We wanted to get this most important meeting done early, so we went inside and stood in line.  It was about a 25 minute wait.  Meet and greet wait times don’t bother me as much as waiting for rides, because the character cast members genuinely take time with each visitor, hugging and joking with them, signing autographs, and posing for several photos.  The Disney photographers take PhotoPass photos and will also take photos with a guest’s smart phone.  Finally, we got up to the front of the line to meet Mickey.  Emmett was so nervous, his little clammy hand was pressing into mine.  Mickey is his guy, y’all.  He met him last year at Epcot but this time, Mickey was talking. This Mickey talks!  Right away, Emmett’s “Happy Birthday” button was noticed.  Mickey said, “This calls for the birthday song!”  My heart skipped.  What’s this?  THE Mickey Mouse is going to SING to my Emmett?  Oh boy!  And he did.  Y’all.  I was like a child in that moment, too, just soaking it all in.  Unfortunately all the basking meant that I completely blanked on taking video of the moment, but it was incredible.  From what I understand it is somewhat rare, as well.  Emmett hugged Mickey and left that meeting knowing that they were BFFs.  This, Disney.  This right here.  This is why you are successful and drowning in other people’s dollars.  Please never forget it.  Please never stop doing it.

We’re all on a high from what just happened, walking towards the iconic castle.  We got to the area right in front and while attempting (and failing) to take a family selfie, we were approached by a custodian in all white who offered to take the photo for us.  Sweet!  His name was Richard and he was from Trinidad and Tobago.  His personality was almost effervescent and we thanked him profusely.  This small act, coupled with the Mickey Birthday thing, had me feeling like I was walking on air.  This place really is magical. I was starting to feel it.

***To be continued with Official Disney Day 1: The Magic Kingdom (part 2)

 

 

 

Let’s Go Viral!

Followers and readers and friends:

I have just opened an account on GoFundMe in order to raise money and give my husband (and yes, myself) the romantic honeymoon we couldn’t afford.  Even after being married, between jobs and no jobs, moving, new cars, old cars, a new baby and a teenager, you know, LIFE, we just haven’t been able to make it happen. 

We give a lot to charities, in the form of time, money, and other support.  This means there’s lots in our karma bank.  I am confident that this trip will be funded, off the kindness of strangers, so I’m thankful and excited!

Please pass along the link, please consider donating.  My soul needs to be in my motherland, and his soul needs a retreat.  As a couple, we would benefit greatly from such an amazing trip together.

HERE is the link to get started:  http://www.gofundme.com/4rt388

Thank you, thank you, thank you and love, love, love.  ~~~~ vibes to you all.