Tuesday, October 27, 2015

@MilkBone Has #TreatsForAll This Halloween!

We recently added a very adorable little furbaby to our family - his name is Bandit. He's a 7 year old chihuahua mix that we adopted from a local rescue. He is a very chill little dude. He really wants nothing more than to be snuggled and held and just be touching his favorite people as much as possible.

And he wants treats. He really likes treats!

I was recently contacted by Big Heart Pet Brands about doing a promo and when I saw how fun the info was, I couldn't resist!! Check out these fun Halloween tidbits!

Although Halloween has usually been considered a children's holiday, these days increasing numbers of "furry kids" are getting in on the fun.

Big Heart Pet Brands (the makers of Milk-Bone, Pup-Peroni, Canine Carry Outs and Milo's Kitchen) conducted an original survey of 3,000 dog parents nationwide to find the top 25 states that most like to include their pups, the nation's most popular "Doggy Halloween Tricks," and each breed's favorite special treats -- right in time for the spooky-fun holiday.

Fun Halloween Stats:

  • 44% of NY pet parents have dressed their dog in costume versus 28% of California pet parents
  • 38% of NY pet parents have greeted trick-or-treaters with their dog while 18% of pet parents in California have 
  • 18% of Texas pet parents have given their dog extra treats for Halloween and 16% have taken their dog trick-or-treating.

Because dogs are the ultimate tricksters, Milo's Kitchen brand dog treats wanted to uncover, for the first time, which tricks dogs are best able to perform. The nation's most popular doggy tricks are:
#1: Sit (77% of dogs can do this on command)
#2: Shake paws (58%)
#3: Lay down (57%)
#4: Stay (50%)
#5: Give a kiss (44%)
#6: Beg (31%)
#7: Roll over (27%)
#8: Speak or bark (26%)
#9: Spin (14%)
#10: Play dead (10%)

For wacky DIY doggie costumes, ideas on how to treat your pet, or for downloadable decorations to show your neighbors you're celebrating with your pup, please visit this special Howl-o-ween website, from Big Heart Pet brands' Milk-Bone, Pup-Peroni, Canine Carry Outs and Milo's Kitchen:

For a chance to see your dog's Halloween photo in the Milk-Bone Halloween website and social channels, tag it on FB, Instagram or Twitter with #TreatsForAll.

I received some treats for my puppy (some of which will be donated to local rescue efforts) and you have a chance to win, too!

If you'd like to win some yummy treats for your favorite pooch, leave a blog comment about your pet and Halloween!! Winner will be selected on Friday, Oct 30.

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Quick Tips: Disney (2016 Update)

This post has been published twice before on the blog. I've gone through and added updates as we prepare for our second family trip (my 4th trip in 4 years).

1.  Don't let Disney be your child's first amusement park experience.  Rides and 3D movies can be overwhelming.  If your child has experienced things at the State Fair, Holiday World, King's Island, Six Flags, etc - they will be better prepared for what Disney World has to offer.  We knew the kids wouldn't be doing big rides like roller coasters but had hoped they'd enjoy 3D experiences.  Instead, we learned that anything with a boat was a winner and we enjoyed shows like Finding Nemo: The Musical and the Indiana Jones stunt show.  However, a 3D experience was out for Zach.  Anything that was dark was scary for him.  It was very hard to adjust our hopes for the trip to what Zach needed the trip to be.  We were able to divide and ride for some things - Jeff took Teagan on Haunted Mansion, Jeff and I took turns on Star Tours.  Zach did great on things like the Buzz Lightyear ride and Toy Story Mania.  But he mostly did best with show type experiences - Monsters Inc Laugh Floor was a big hit for him.  He also liked little rides like Winnie the Pooh and Peter Pan and he loved It's A Small World and the Country Bear Jamboree.  Magic Kingdom was definitely the best park for him.  At Epcot, his best ride was the one in the Mexico pavilion in World Showcase.  We rode it twice.  But if my kids were the kind of kids who were eager to go to amusement parks - Disney would have been a chance to kick it up a notch instead of a place full of overwhelming experiences. My kids were 8 and 5 for our first trip to Disney.

2016 Update - For our 2016 family trip, we plan to utilize a few tools to get our kids thinking about the rides and experiences ahead of time. There are a lot of YouTube channels that post videos of rides - this is a great way to get an idea of what it will feel like. We also previously purchased the Birnbaum Disney World for Kids and plan to pick up the 2016 version. Then we can review the book together and talk about what those rides and experiences were like! My kids will be 11 and 8 for this upcoming trip and I'm eager to see what a difference their ages will make!

2.  Tip your housekeeper daily (you could have a different person each day).  We tipped Mousekeeping each day ($5 per day) - and left little notes.  In one note, we just said thank you.  In another, we told them we were coming up on our last day and that we've enjoyed they're hard work in our room.  In another, we told them that the kids thought it was really Fairy Mousekeeping because they had worked magic in our room!  We also left a picture of ourselves out one day (from the arcade photo booth) so our housekeeper could "see" us.  Our housekeepers made our room fun to return to each day - and also left us extra bottles of shampoo and conditioner and extra bars of soap!

2016 Update - This one we still plan to keep in place. I will bring along a $5 bill for each night we stay and this time I might utilize some of the free online printables to make fun envelopes or sleeves. Related - I also plan to have cash tips available for table service servers. Honestly, I think we tipped about $20 per table service meal.

Here is some of the fun left behind by Mousekeeping:

3.  Keep your room organized.  I can't say enough about having a shoe organizer and a pop up hamper.  We were very glad to utilize the laundry room at our resort.  Having a set place for dirty clothes to go at the end of a hot and sweaty day was great.  And the shoe organizer was fantastic - the kids could wake up and grab a bite to eat without any issue.

2016 Update - This is still top of the list. Each trip I've taken in the past 4 years has included the shoe organizer, fold up hamper, and a power strip! The power strip makes it so much easier to plug in phones or laptops or ipads or whatever other electronics need recharging each night. I carry my cell phone and a rechargable power pak for when my battery gets low - and both need to be charged up each night.

4. Be friendly with all cast members.  I can't tell you how many times our day was saved by a friendly cast member!!  Especially when we were tired, hot, sweaty, cranky... a little eye contact and friendly smile was often the cue for a cast member to go above and beyond.  Not in big ways - just little things to make the day better.  For example, at Epcot, Zach was overwhelmed by all of it and it came to a head when we stopped for a snack and a fly landed nearby.  He freaked out about the fly.  Crying and scared and my normally happy dude was overcome with tears.  A cast member was nearby, cleaning tables.  She saw how upset our boy was and came over to find out what was wrong.  She sat and talked with him and brought him colring pages and crayons.  And she stayed with him until she knew he was happy.  Another night, after a long and fun and tiring day, we got picked up by a bus with a driver in training.  His trainer, Bob, let my kids sit in the seat right behind the driver and then kept them happy and entertained all the way to our resort.  He made faces and joked with them and gave them each a "Safety Tip" card.  Teagan is still doing his routine of pushing her nose to make her tongue pop out and then pulilng an ear to move her tongue to the side... As we were leaving Magic Kingdom - again, tired and hungry - we were greeted by a cast member in the Emporium and she squatted down and talked with our kids for a good 5 minutes about their day and the rides and the characters and when we left that store (we didn't buy anything), the kids were bubbling over with excitement.

5.  Character meals are the best way to meet characters!!  If you want autographs or pictures with characters, the single best way to make it happen is with character meals.  We started out at Chef Mickey's at the Contemporary and got to meet the big guys right away - Pluto, Goofy, Donald, Mickey and Minnie.  We met some of the main crew again at Tusker House at Animal Kingdom - Donald, Daisy, Mickey, Goofy.  My favorite character meal was breakfast at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian - Pooh Bear, Tigger, Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, and the Mad Hatter.  There are other character meals - I think you can find one for just about any favorite character.

2016 Update - We have character meals planned again. This time we will go to Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom to meet my favorite Winnie the Pooh characters. We also plan on breakfast at Cape May (Beach Club Resort) and lunch at Tusker House (Animal Kingdom). I'm not one to wait in line just to meet a character (unless it's Winnie the Pooh) so character meals are very much the way to go!

6.  Dollar store glow sticks are awesome.  We didn't have to buy any glow sticks for night things.  We weren't even tempted.  And we discovered that having a little glow stick or bracelet meant that Zach had a little candle to hold on to for darker rides - it was his bravery shield for Pirates of the Carribean.  Plus, we were able to share some Disney magic with other families by handing out glow sticks and bracelets to others!!

7.  No matter how tired you are, take notes!  At the end of the day, take notes.  Jot down the things that made the day special and the things you want to do differently going forward.  Otherwise, there is no way to remember it all!

2016 Update - Seems silly not to have 10 tips so here are a few more!

8. Use the apps! Disney has their own app to help you navigate each park. There are maps and posted wait times so you can decide if it's worth poppin gover to a different ride or figure out if you can make it to a show or parade. I'm also a fan of Touring Plans. I use them to plan my trip and also to plot out potential plans once we are on the ground. I'm not a "hard and fast" type of user - I put together my plan based on their suggestions but the app allows me to then be flexible and rearrange the day as needed.

9. Shoes and socks matter. Don't buy brand new shoes right before your trip. Don't dress your feet for style - comfort is key when you're walking up to 10 miles per day in a park. This coming trip, I plan on a pair of Skechers GoWalks and a good pair of sneakers. We had 2 pairs of sneakers per person - that way if your shoes are damp or wet, you've got a dry pair back in the room. I also took to carrying spare socks in our backpack. If a rainstorm hits and your feet are soaked, dry socks can make a huge difference in your comfort level!

10. Have fun! Don't take any of it too seriously. Things will go wrong. Things you didn't expect to go wrong will go wrong. Disney magic and pixie dust doesn't mean the entire vacation will be magical and dusty. There will be incredible memories and highlights. You can plan and plan and plan and plan - but in the end, you have to have your plan as backup and be able to be spontaneous and go with the flow.

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Monday, October 12, 2015

First and Last

I love when someone shows me a different way to approach a bit of scripture that I've always read in one particular way. That happened at church this past Sunday.

The reading was from Mark - the story of the rich man who comes to Jesus and asks how he can have everlasting life. At the end of the passage, Jesus says that "many who are first will be last and the last will be first."  (This is also quoted in Matthew, by the way, and more than once in Mark).

I've always read that to mean that those who struggle but still follow Christ will one day be head of the line, leader of the pack, receiving the gracious gifts of God before others. As if life is a race with a finish line at the end.

When I think about it that way now... it really goes against what I believe. But I never thought about it deeply.

There is a human gratification in the idea that those who are first - people that I imagine to be on that high horse, putting themselves above others - will get knocked down a few pegs. And that those who have struggled will finally know what it means to be up a few levels.

But I don't really believe there are levels in God's eyes. So why would I believe that scripture to be read that way?

In the message at church this week, our pastor gave me a new way of looking at that scripture. I'm going to paraphrase...

"If you are currently feeling like you are last... don't give up hope. Reach out. Ask for help. And if you are someone who is in a place where you are stronger, where you are first - share that strength."



Those who are last can reach out to those who are first right now. And those who are first can reach out to those who are last. Right now.

This isn't just an afterlife thing. This isn't just a "someday in heaven" thing.

And who says that once you're last, you're always last? And once you're first, you stay up in front?

I took a far more literal approach to that scripture than what my heart really feels.

I truly believe that we are all loved equally in the eyes of God. That grace is abundantly given to every single one of us. How can there be a first and last in that?

And how do we measure first and last, anyway? Power, status, money? Lives touched, lives saved, lives damaged?

The idea that first and last is really more about how we feel in life right now really spoke to me. I have seasons in my life filled with struggle. I have days that are hard to get through. And there are seasons filled with joy. Days where I celebrate all day long.

When I struggle, the Holy Spirit has always delivered a "first" to help me through. When my days are hard, I am blessed to have others around me who pause from the "firstness" to take time to reach me where I am and help me back up.

When I celebrate, I am given opportunities to reach out to others who may be struggling. When I have days of joy and strength, I find it so easy to be strong for someone else. To let my shoulders be where their tears may fall.

The first shall be last and the last shall be first. And that's when we all end up equal, right? That's where we find balance, right?

First and last and last and first. Right here. All around us. Today.

Where are you right now? Are you feeling last, lost, struggling? Are you strong, joyous, content? How can you help someone else? Who can you reach out to so you aren't alone in your "lastness?"

We were also given the opportunity to take a purple and teal ribbon - a sign that I'm willing to be your strength if you're feeling so very last and lost that you just can't do it anymore.

I'm in a season of First. Let me pull you with me. Let me offer you my shoulder. Let me be the ear and heart that hears you. Let's be First and Last together.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Open Your Eyes. And Your Heart.

There was a lot of coverage in the media about refugees recently - specifically after the body of a toddler washed ashore in Turkey.

And the refugee crisis made headlines for a few weeks as important people called on Europe and other countries to embrace refugee families.

I'm not a big follower of mainstream media. But I have been following stories on Humans of New York and NPR that are forcing me to keep my eyes open. Forcing me to continue to realize that my life is one of much privilege.

Humans of New York is a mostly fun project. For the last 5 years, photographer Brandon has roamed the streets of New York City, chatting with people, capturing a portrait and telling some interesting part of their story. He made news recently when he met a kid and got connected to a school and started highlighting this school and ended up raising a lot of money for them.

He also travels each year and shares stories from overseas. And most recently, he is sharing stories of refugees who have escaped Syria and come to Turkey, Hungary, Germany, Austria. He is meeting people who are doing what they can to help, to comfort, to welcome people.

There are stories that are terrifying. Stories that are heart warming. Stories that are gut wrenching.

And they are all stories of real people who have been living in unbelievable conditions, facing situations that we Americans typically only see in the movies. But this is real life.

Go scroll down the Facebook page. Open your heart. Read their stories.

Many times, I end up on my knees in prayer.

NPR is doing a series in October on #15Girls. "Through the month of reports and audio portraits from eight countries, the series examines gender-based expectations and other elements of these girls' (and a few boys') lives that they see as surmountable obstacles - child marriage in India, the Brazilian bias against tomboys, access to education and healthcare, community violence and sexual abuse. The young women in the #15Girls series take risks, break rules and defy stereotypes to create a better life for themselves."

I listened to the first installment on girls in El Salvador on my drive home yesterday and I fought tears the entire time. El Salvador is run by gangs. And not gangs like we think we know in the United States. Not gangs like we see in the movies. People who are heartless, soul-less, evil. The story that turned my stomach the most was of a girl who was trying to escape to the United States who was caught just hours from the border...

"The girl says her father is in one of El Salvador's two main gangs. He's in prison for murder. And now he says if his ex-wife, the girl's mother, doesn't give him $50,000 when he gets out, he'll have the girl raped and killed.

This is how gangs work in Central America.
The girl says the family doesn't have $50,000. The girl's mom is in the U.S. Her grandmother works in a street stall. Her grandfather doesn't have a job."
Her father is demanding money from her mother and this 13 year old girl is the one caught in the crossfire, the one dangled as bait.

I often have to avoid the news. Because my heart breaks. My gut turns. But at the same time, turning a blind eye to the evil in the world means that no one is willing to fight it. I'm a suburbanite in the United States. In a lot of ways, I'm a typical middle aged white girl - right down to my love of yoga pants. I feel powerless to have any kind of impact on these tragedies, travesties, crimes.

Sometimes, remembering that all of Creation is connected helps me deal with it. I feel like, through prayer and meditation, I can send positive and strong and healing energy out into the world. I can be open to the universe, to my Guidling Light, and listen for how I can be the Hands and Feet of my Creator.

Sometimes, remembering that all of Creation is connected makes me feel the pain, the hopelessness, the devastation in big and huge ways that make me feel like I want to cave in, deep inside myself.

Maybe you are against people coming to "our country." Maybe you think immigrants shouldn't be allowed to come to the U.S. anymore. Maybe you favor walls and guns and guards that keep people out.

If so, no matter what your reasons are for that feeling, please take some time to really immerse yourself in the stories of people who are trying to escape.

And maybe you're like me. You know there is great need in the world and you have no idea how to help, how to be one of those who can offer bread to the refugees, who can offer a home, who can help someone get across a border. I feel very powerless sitting in the middle of Indiana.

Let's find some way to reach across those borders, either physical, mental, emotional or otherwise, and share love in radical ways.

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Monday, October 5, 2015

Disney 2016

We took a family vacation in June of 2013. It was our first time to Disney World!

I had been to Disney when I was 5 - 1 day at Magic Kingdom with my mom. And I had been in Sept of 2012 for a conference - which made me realize that we needed to come as a family.

And while the trip wasn't without times of frustration and whining, it was really a great week of family fun.

We've been trying to figure out the best time to go back. We were thinking of going when school got out this year but all the crowd tracking websites I obsess over indicated that crowds would be pretty high at that time in 2016 (Star Wars Weekends and unofficial Gay Days are going to overlap).

On a whim, I checked the dates for our spring break. And they look good!

So the family is going back to Disney!

And we haven't told the kids. Last time, we told them from the moment I started planning. It was a family mission. This time... I think we might want to save it for Christmas. Or maybe not even tell them until it's time to go!

I have to admit that I get caught up in over planning when it comes to Disney. We have a subscription to Touring Plans and I will tweak plans for each park over and over and over again as we approach trip time. I have made spreadsheets with info on the resort, dining options, which park we will visit on which day. I am eager to apply the learning from our first trip there - and the learning Jeff and I did when we went without the kids last year (and they still don't know- shhh!). But all my over planning means I can let go once we get there. Plus, over planning now just keeps me excited for it!!

And we wouldn't do this planning without Hi Ho Vacations and our awesome travel agent, Katie!! All I had to do was choose dates and resorts. She put together the quotes for me. Then I could easily choose what we wanted. Next, because we booked right before the 180 day window, I went ahead and figured out dining and she made all the calls/pinged the website/got us the reservations we wanted - I had a message this morning that we got everything we requested!

The focus on the next 6 months will be on the budget (because we use Hi Ho, I can make payments to them instead of having to pay everything up front), we will be pushing Disney movies at home, and it's time to get more fosued on being able to walk and walk and walk! Time to put together a new Disney Training Plan!

And if there are any gift opportunities coming up... Disney gift cards are VERY welcome! Or cash towards the trip. Also VERY welcome. Just don't tell the kids why you're giving them a Disney gift card until Christmas, please!!

I think the over planning also helps me justify the cost of a vacation. Vacations cost money. No matter where we go - a weekend just a few hours away, a week a few more hours away, a full blown Disney vacation - it's always going to cost money. That's the stressful part for me. But the planning, knowing the fun and memories and experiences we will have together... that makes the expense worthwhile.

Be prepared - I'm in Disney focused mode for the 6 months!!

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