Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Daisy Duck and Minnie Mouse Bow-Tique Party

Since we went to Disney World a few months back, I thought it would be fun to have a Disney themed birthday party for Sienna's third birthday.  I gave her the option of having a Disney Princess party (which I was hoping for) or a Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck party.  She enthusiastically chose Minnie and Daisy which I can understand since they are pretty cute (especially to a three year old).  I wanted to keep the party simple this year so we only invited family.  I was surprised that I ended up spending a little more than last year's pineapple party, but that was mainly because we had a barbecue dinner catered for 17 people.  In lieu of a children's activity, I made sure to have plenty of decorations to add to the party's bow-tique theme.  I found bubble fabric on sale at a local fabric store which I used for the dessert table runner since it matched perfectly with the party supplies.  The Minnie Mouse Bow-Tique Paper Lanterns and Treat Bags I picked up last minute added a nice touch to the dinner tables.  The star of the party was undoubtedly the Minnie Mouse Air Walker Balloon that was taller than the birthday girl.  At 54" tall, she provided plenty of entertainment and photo ops for the whole family, and we were able to get our money's worth since she was still alive and well the following week for our daughter's actual birthday.  

 {Chocolate Chip Bow Cookies}

{Flower centerpiece}

Sunday, July 10, 2016

10 Tips on Saving Money at Disney

{Meeting Daisy Duck at the Tusker House Restaurant at Animal Kingdom}

Our family of three spent four days at Walt Disney World last month, and we are already ready to go back!  It was a spontaneous add-on to our already booked beach vacation, so we didn't get to plan as much as we could have if we had booked six months out.  But we had so much fun!  And that made all of the last minute effort of finding another hotel and planning ahead for four days at Disney parks totally worth it!  We've known a lot of friends who have gone for a full week to Disney, but for us, four days felt just right.   And the good news is since we didn't break the bank we hope to go back soon!  

Here are 10 tips on how to save money on your next Disney trip:

1.) Consider driving rather than flying.  Flying these days is such a hassle that we prefer to drive instead.  It makes our trip less stressful because we can go with the flow instead of worrying about a plane to catch.  Then when you arrive at your destination you have transportation!  Plus, the money  saved on airfare can go toward park admission tickets.

2.) Stay off property.  The allure of staying on Disney property is appealing until you see the price tag.  The prices of Disney hotels are higher than other comparable hotels.  While we were there we checked a couple of Disney properties out and for the price we chose to stay off property.  It was really nice to go back to our hotel in the afternoon to swim or relax and get away from the big crowds for a little while.  I would recommend staying within 10-15 minutes of the parks so that your commute isn't too long each day.  

3.) Go for four days instead of seven.  We purchased 4 Day Park passes and felt like that was a good amount of days for our first trip with a toddler.  We went to Magic Kingdom two days, Animal Kingdom for one day and Hollywood Studios on our last day.  

4.) Take a rest day at the hotel.  It was so nice to take a rest day after three days spent at the parks.  There's only so much a toddle can take in so having a day to decompress and relax by the pool was just the buffer we needed before our last day at the parks.  The key to a fun day at the hotel is making sure you have a nice pool area when you book your hotel.  Since you are paying for a hotel anyway, it's nice to enjoy the amenities while you are there and helps with your vacation budget!

5.) Explore other parts of Orlando.  We enjoyed other parts of the city besides Disney on our rest day.  We went shopping, ate at local restaurants and even drove around some gorgeous neighborhoods.  

6.) Bring your own stroller.  You will definitely want to make your toddler ride as much as possible instead of walking the park.  You can rent strollers at the parks, but you will save by bringing your own.

7.) Split meals and bring your own snacks.  The days at the parks are long and tiring so we preferred to eat smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day to keep everyone happy.  At the table service restaurants, my husband and I split an entree and ordered a kid's meal for our toddler.  The lunch portions were pretty generous so it was plenty to hold us over until our afternoon treat (which was ice cream most days).  Disney lets you bring in your own snacks and drinks which was a big help.  We brought in three large waters every day plus snacks for our toddler which helped with the waiting for rides.  This strategy cut the cost of eating out each day.  

8.) Splurge on one character breakfast.  Since it's Disney, we thought it was totally worth it to dine at a character buffet where we could meet Disney characters.  We ate breakfast at the Tusker House at the Animal Kingdom and lunch at Hollywood & Vine at Hollywood Studios.  Our favorite by far was Tusker House - the Jungle juice was amazing!  I would highly recommend budgeting for a character breakfast on your next trip, especially since the price of an adult breakfast buffet is cheaper than lunch and dinner options.  Having a special dining reservation to look forward to was a great incentive for keeping the food budget reasonable on other days.  Plus, it really made our trip!

9.) Use your fast passes to see characters.  Instead of feeling obligated to set up expensive lunches and dinners to see characters, use your fast passes each day to see your toddler's favorite characters.  At Magic Kingdom, we saw Tinkerbell, Cinderella and Rapunzel.  Then we saw the classic characters at our Tusker House breakfast: Mickey, Donald, Daisy and Goofy.  We did see the Disney Jr. characters (Sofia the First, Doc McStuffins, Jake and the Never Land Pirates, and Handy Manny) at our Hollywood & Vine lunch, but on our way out we saw them outside at accessible spots with short lines.  Since Hollywood Studios is a much smaller park, next time we would just wait in line a few minutes to see Sofia instead of paying for the pricey character lunch.

10.) Bring your own princess dresses/ character costumes.  Since our daughter was under three, we didn't make an appointment at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.  We brought our own princess dresses with us which made her meet and greet experiences more magical.  She wore a Cinderella dress when she met Cinderella at her castle, and I had a few shirts monogrammed for her to wear each day to the parks.  I let her pick out one dress on our last day at Hollywood Studios.  I used the Disney Shop Parks app on my iPhone the night before to pick out a couple of clothing options that I thought she would like that were in our budget.  This app is great because it shows what items are in stock at each gift shop!  The next day I was able to go straight to the options I had picked out which helped us not waste time shopping and kept my toddler focused on the task at hand.  After holding up a couple choices, she enthusiastically chose an Elsa and Anna tulle dress to wear to the Frozen Sing-Along Celebration.  It was less than what I would have spent at the boutique, but still made her feel special because she got to pick something out at Disney World!

Have you been to Disney lately?  What tips can you share on how to save money?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Sici & Me {33.5 months}

{Knoxville Zoo}

It's been way too long since I've given an update, and you won't stop changing!  I've definitely figured out a pattern: every three months you have a major change.  Whether it's a schedule change or a developmental leap you change in some dramatic way - that I can count on!  As soon as I think, "I've got this" you throw me off my game, and I have to come up with a whole new game plan.  I don't know if all kids like variety as much as you do, but you sure do keep me on my toes.  

The last update was 10 months ago, but if feels more like years ago!  When I read it, I can't believe the vast difference.  At 27 months, you began dropping your naps.  It took you three months to transition from four to two naps a week at 30 months.  You stayed with one or two naps a week until 33 months.  Basically after a week of going hard, you will finally give in and nap one day out of seven.  

At 31 months, the time changed and you started staying up an hour and a half longer each night!  I had just gotten used to the no naps/ early bedtime routine and then you dropped the early bedtime.  After a couple months of this, I discovered you needed more (story of your life) during the day.  So I ordered some preschool curriculum.  And at 33 months, we added an hour of preschool activities to our day.  

You have gone from talking in sentences to talking in paragraphs.  Your enunciation is so precise!  You love words and you devour books.  We get lots of comments on how surprising it is that you talk so well for a two year old.  

Your hair has gotten so long!  It is several inches past your shoulders when wet.  I wash your hair every other day and comb it piece by piece after your bath.  This takes 20 minutes!  When I am done, you say "Am I tangle free?"  You are truly the cutest.

You love to be around other kids.  If you see a group of kids playing chase, you join the fun and start running with them.  And you have called quite a few little girls "your sister."  Elsa and Anna's story is rubbing off on you.  Oh, I would love for you to have a sister one day (sigh).   

You are more attached than ever to your father and I.  The last three months you haven't been away from us - one of us has been with you every minute of the day.  Yes, we have gone on 1,000 less dates than other parents, but there has been extra hours with you.  And besides we will have plenty of time to go to the movies when you're in college.  

To sum up the last three months, I would say we have had lots of quality time with you, including a 17 day vacation!  My prayer is that all the love, time and affection we pour into you will saturate your heart like a million tiny seeds that will one day grow into a harvest so strong and brave.  We love you, Sienna Claire!  

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Snapshots of 2015

{28.5 months}

I admit I am a slow processor.  I need time and breathing room to process change and life events. For me, January is that in between time that lets me slowly wave goodbye to a whole year of living and embrace all the living a new year offers.  Yes, technically January is part of 2016, but I like to think of her more as the intermission and not the opening act.  Now that February is nearly over, it's time to start moving but first, Snapshots of 2015!  

1. I started 2015 on a roll capturing all our moments and memories with a new (to me) system called Project Life.  I got a little bogged down after our family vacation with so many pictures to choose from and ended up procrastinating way too long on ordering prints.  I'm determined to get caught back up this year and am trying to cut myself some slack in the meantime.  After all, there's always a learning curve when attempting a new big project.  Hopefully I've worked out the kinks and PL will be a practical memory keeping system for our family for years to come.  

2. We went on four fun trips last year: three of which were technically with Bryant's work but me and Sienna tagged along and had so much fun!  We went on an Alabama Road Trip during Spring Break, a Family Beach Trip to Blue Mountain Beach for Memorial Day, and squeezed in some Nashville Family Fun over Labor Day weekend.  Our last travel for the year was an 8 day trip to Dallas in October where we managed to find 8 toddler approved outings to fill our time.  We had a blast in Texas and I am hoping we get to visit again in 2016!

3. I continued writing for Missional Motherhood last year with six new posts.  You can tell what stage I was in and what I was learning by reading the titles of each blog post.  I like how writing gives you an outlet to share what's on your heart and how your soul is growing.  With having such an unpredictable schedule last year, writing for MM was the ideal ministry to be a part of since I could write during my fringe hours of the day (like Sienna's nap time).   

4. My little Reading List for 2015 was twice as big as the year before!  A couple of the books made a big impression on me and I'm sure I'll remember them for a really long time.  After reading through the OYCB four years in a row, I started a new Bible reading plan that takes three years to read through the whole Bible, one chapter a day.  I am really loving the slower pace!  I am reading the daily Bible Challenge devotionals by Steve Wiggins and I am continually blown away!  His insight into Jewish history and culture gives a fresh perspective to my reading.  

5. One book from my reading list made quite the impact on us.  And yes, the title says it all: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  I had no idea that tidying could change our world inside out and upside down.  I've always been a natural organizer by default so I almost passed on the book.  Marie Kondo's concept of simpler and smaller woke up this new way of living in me.  We are about halfway through (Marie says it takes a year on average) of our household purge and LOVING the results.  Spacious drawers, half-empty cabinets, and closets that breathe are three things I thought I'd never see in this house and now I see them every day - all before breakfast.  I can't wait until we are completely finished with this tedious process of tidying up - I know it will be well worth it!  

6. Bryant got a new job this year at FedEx!  We are really excited about this new position and thankful for the timing of the job.  He had been working at a temporary position for two years and the Lord worked it out perfectly (just as He always does) that his start date came before his end date.  He has been so faithful!

{winging ceremony}

7. We celebrated 13 years of marriage this year!  The day in July that Bryant found out he got the job I told him, "Just wait.  Your first day will be on our anniversary!"  Sure enough, our anniversary fell on a Monday this year.  Thirteen is often symbolic of waiting in the Bible.  It was yet another reminder that the Lord is faithful and promises good things to those who wait on Him.

8. Sienna turned two years old this year!  On January 1st, she came blazing out of her room with two suitcases and hasn't slowed down since.  I don't think my feet have every hurt so bad in all my 36 years, but we did have a lot of fun.  We celebrated her birthday with a Pineapple Birthday Party and I was pretty proud of myself for keeping the party on the frugal side this year (thanks to Pinterest and Etsy).  It ended up being the perfect party for our Pineapple Princess and her friends!     

{New Year's Day}

9. Miles turned 8 this year.  I'm not going to lie.  There were many days that I thought about dropping him off at the nearest pet inn for an extended stay.  But as much as he can get on my nerves with that non-stop barking he sure does make our little girl happy. 

10. My one word for 2015 was SHEPHERD.  I wrote Isaiah 40:11 on the chalkboard in Sienna's playroom and must have read that verse hundreds of times over the year.  I love how the verse depicts the Lord's tender care for his sheep and especially toward mothers.  The Good Shepherd gently led our family through 2015 and carried us well.  It was a good year.  

"Like a shepherd, he tends his flock.  He gathers the lambs in his arms, carries them close to his heart, and gently leads the mother sheep." {Isaiah 40:11}

Friday, January 15, 2016

My 2015 Reading List

I have to admit it was kind of fun rounding all the books up that I read last year and taking a moment to reflect on what I've learned.  Good news is I read twice as many books last year than the year before.  I guess I'm getting in the groove of this motherhood thing and figuring out that every spare minute is precious.  If there's something that I want to do, I just have to squeeze it in as best as I can.  

I would recommend every book on this list - not one was disappointing.  If you are looking for some books to add to your 2016 reading list, check these out:

Encounters with Jesus by Timothy Keller = I really enjoyed this book.  Keller is so easy to read and I specifically love how he uses story to teach theology.  Probably one of my favorites of his.

Nobody's Cuter than You by Melanie Shankle = A lighthearted, make you laugh out loud book.  A great choice to bring along on a vacation.  It will make you want to call your best friend and reminisce on your college years.  

The Fringe Hours by Jessica Turner = I read this on our beach vacation and it was really eye-opening.  It made me realize that I have to make time for my hobbies and interests, and that I will be more fulfilled by taking care of me.  Turner gives practical advice on how and when to squeeze in those things that we love and fill us up emotionally despite our busy schedules.  

Barren among the Fruitful by Amanda Hope Haley = This was the second book I've read from the InScribed Collection.  Although the author's infertility journey was very different from mine, I appreciated her point of view and enjoyed reading her story.  This would be a good resource for women who have traveled the long road of infertility.  

Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp = This book was highly recommended to me by many people and it lived up to all my expectations.  I loved how Tripp emphasizes the role of a parent as a shepherd and encourages us with practical wisdom on disciplining and instructing our little sheep.  A must-read for any new parent!

Breathe by Priscilla Shirer = This six week Bible study encourages making room for the Sabbath in our every day lives.   The message is inspired and very timely, especially in today's fast-paced culture.  A must-read for every wife and mom!

Sabbath by Wayne Muller = By far my favorite book of the year!  Go ahead and order it today- you won't be disappointed!  I soaked up every word from every chapter of this book.  Muller has an excellent way of communicating the life-giving principles of practicing the Sabbath, and then goes on to tell us how we can experience this sacred rest in our real lives in the most simple ways.  

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo = (This book is not pictured since I rented it from the library.)  All I can say is, wow!!!  As a natural tidier and organizer I knew that I would enjoy this book, but I had no idea that the KonMari Method is truly life-changing!  We are about 7 months in of a major household purge.  This book changed my perspective on excess and accumulating things.  My new motto is, "Simplify, simplify, simplify."  

For 2016, I'm pulling out the parenting books.  I just finished Fit to Burst by Rachel Jankovic and am currently reading The New Strong-Willed Child by Dr. James Dobson.  If you have any must-read parenting books you would like to share, I'm all ears!

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