Chaparral Friday Nights Lights

Saturday, August 31, 2013

For years I've been saying we should go to a high school football game.  I knew we wanted to go before the weather started to change, although there is something to be said about wrapping up in a blanket with a cup of hot cocoa and cheering from the stands as leaves whip in the wind.

This year we finally made it to see the Wolverine's face off against the Rocky Mountain Lobos.  The baby boy wasn't so sure about the crowds, screaming students and booming speakers, at one point he was trying to clap and cry at the same time.  After a few minutes though he settled down into and enjoyed the spirited evening.

Online Photography Workshops

Friday, August 30, 2013

When the photography bug first bit me I did a lot of research on the best online photography workshops, and read a ton of reviews on photography courses.  I knew that I wanted something that let me spend the time when I had it, given that enrolling in an evening course just didn't fit the working-mom schedule.

I took Karen Russell's Snapshots of a Good Life photo class earlier this year as an auditing student.  It can probably be to blame for a large surge in my passion for this art.  Karen is a fantastic instructor. You are provided a weekly written and audio lessons as well as a very active forum.  Auditing students are able to participate in the forum, including asking questions, however their assignments to not receive Karen's critique.  Karen does help to set up peer groups so that everyone who would like feedback on their weekly assignments can team up.  The course was so good and I'm looking forward to taking it again and reviewing the materials.

Clickin' Moms

I've taken several breakout sessions through Clickin Moms and have really enjoyed them.  They generally have one or two breakout sessions that are "live" each month, however you can purchase previous breakouts from their store.  They also frequently run sales in the e-learning store.  I also took Intro to Natural Light this summer and thought the materials were very good.  The only down side I experienced with their courses is that auditing students are not able to participate in the forums, and although most courses set up a Facebook group, I found it harder to stay motivated.  I also recommend just being a member of Clickin Moms as their forum is so educational. 

Then just recently I discovered Nichole Van's workshops.  I would highly recommend following her Flourish Emporium on Facebook because she frequently offers discount codes.  I took advantage of a 40% off code to purchase her Perfect Exposure materials.

Finally, I can't personally speak to the course yet, but I have purchased Erin Cobb's Clean Color and have heard outstanding things about it.  It comes recommended by Karen Russell and at the conclusion of her workshop a week is spent on the Clean Color workflow.  I'm hoping this fall to spend some time learning's Erin's editing flow to improve my post-processing.

Blanket Boy

Thursday, August 29, 2013

He never really took to a pacifier, but from very early on he has favored his Aden + Anais blankets. Fortunately for us he doesn't favor a particular one so we can easily rotate the eight we have on hand. I had registered for a package while pregnant and we quickly learned we needed to double our supply.

Frequently you will see him wondering around the house with the blanket thrown over his body looking like Casper the ghost, or you will see him tailing you as you pull fresh laundry from the dryer in hopes that the load holds one or two dear blankets.  I believe we will be sending him off to college with a thin sheet of worn muslin cloth.

Traveling to Disney World with a Toddler

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

As we were planning our trip to Disney World I did several searches on Google and Pinterest for "How to Travel to Disney with a Toddler" and "Disney World planning tips" to help make our trip as smooth as possible.  I thought I would put together a our list of most helpful hints and tricks that made our trip even more magical.

First things first, a few givens.
  • You NEED a stroller.  Disney does have stroller rentals, but I didn't want to deal with standing in a line to pick on up, or paying for it, plus we wanted ours for the airport.   You also want to make sure your stroller folds down easily if you will be riding on any Disney transportation.
  • If you are staying at a Disney hotel and using Disney transportation, leave the car seat at home.  You can't use it on the buses to the parks.
  • Again, another on property tip - leave the pack 'n play at home.  You can request a portable crib through your hotel.  We did bring our own sheet as our babe has sensitive skin, but they also provide sheets for the pack 'n play.
  • Bring more snacks than you think you need.  We did this not to save money like most recommend, but because we wanted to have some favorite foods on hand, and again not have to wait in a line when a meltdown was pending.  Having puree pouches, breakfast bars, graham crackers and gold fish also helped to keep busy hands occupied when were trying to get ready in the morning or as a distraction in hot lines.
  • We did bring sippy cups from home, but we actually found that a straw stuck in a bottle of water, carton of milk or apple juice box worked just as well.
  • Don't skip the afternoon naps.  We would take advantage of early magic hours at all of the parks (which we weren't sure if that increased the crowd because everyone else did the same), but it allowed us to get 4 hours of park time in, grab a quick lunch, and head back to the hotel for naps.  The entire family took advantage of the quiet time to put our feet up.
  • Take advantage of FastPasses.  Everyone says it, but do it.  Magic Bands are being tested at some resorts, but we weren't selected for the test.  Also, get the Disney MyExperience app so you can see line wait times and character appearances.  You can plan your FastPasses based on what has wait times and also hit the rides at times when wait times are low.  The app came in so handy, and really I think the longest line we waited in might have been 15 mins during peak summer travel times (and that was because the ride had to stop while we waited).

Most people we told about our family vacation asked us why we were taking a 22 month old to Disney - "He won't remember it."  Yes, we were going to celebrate my birthday, but we also wanted to start creating memories - even if the memories would only be for my husband and I to recall fondly.  Going at 22 months also let us have a lap child on the airplane a few ticket into the park.  It was a perfect vacation for a variety of reasons.

A few other WDW toddler travel tips:

  • Plan to wear fun Disney outfits.  I bought my husband and I a shirt from the Disney store, and myself a few more from Kohl's.  They are cheap.  The little boy also got in on the fun with a shirt for every day at the park.  Again, for a few dollars you can get into the Disney spirit.  We found great deals at Walmart, Target, Disney Store, JC Penny's and Kohl's.
  • Consider if the Disney Dining Plan works for your family.  I did a lot of Disney Dining Plan review searching before we went, and most said it could be worth your money if you wanted to eat dessert and big meals for every meal.  We got the standard 1 quick service, 1 table service and 1 snack a day plan.  This allowed us to basically have the little guy just munch off our plates as you aren't required to buy a plan for his age group.  I didn't save our receipts to see if we came out ahead, but I will say just the ease of not worrying about what or where we going, or looking at prices and making a choice based on trying to save a few dollars at check-out just helped make the trip smoother.
  • Get the Disney PhotoPass.  We got the PhotoPass Plus which included a few extra benefits, like the photos from rides, but really I would say with a toddler you just need the normal PhotoPass because toddlers aren't able to really go on the rides that take photos (which are really the only rides they aren't able to go on - they can go on the majority of the park rides).  It was just nice to know that someone was taking our family pictures quickly, and we didn't have to fumble with trying to hand someone our camera and tell them which button, blah blah.  It was worth it.  Order it in advance to save some money.
  • If your little one hasn't had a first haircut yet, do it at Disney.  It is so worth it.  For $18 you get a haircut, certificate, a little bag with their locks of hair, and a pair of Mickey Mouse ears.  I would recommend making an appointment, but wait times are short if you don't.  They are super quick, have lots of distractions, and it makes for some great photos and memories.  Plus, how many can say that is where they go their first haircut?!

Overall a Disney vacation takes a lot of work.  It takes a ton of work when you add a toddler to the mix.  But, like all vacations, the memories only intensify once your home and your suitcases are packed away, and it really is a magical experience.  The smiles, the awe, make it all worth it.

Disney World Day Four

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Our final full day in Disney just happened to be my big milestone birthday.  We went to Epcot, and were so excited to go up into the big iconic sphere.

After a few rides we met up with Mickey (who was a little questionable at first), Pluto (who we loved - one big stuffed dog) and Minnie (who wasn't half bad).

We ventured on a few other rides and our FastPasses for Soarin' were finally ready.  It wasn't as amazing as I remember the ride being in California Adventure 12 years ago, but it was still pretty fun.

We made our way around the World Showcase for lunch in Japan (probably our best quick service meal, but I might be swayed by the great green tea ice cream we had).  My favorite stop was Norway, and I actually found their ride to be pretty fun along with a great gift store.

We went back to the hotel per the course after lunch for a rest and a swim before J and I went to the Grand Floridian to enjoy a birthday dinner.  The baby boy stayed with Grandma and Grandpa again.  After dinner we went back to Magic Kingdom and actually hopped on just about every ride that was still on our list before the fireworks started.  We were in Fantasy Land behind the castle for the show and it was just such a fun way to close out our vacation.

The next morning we went to Downtown Disney for breakfast and took one last swim at the hotel before our late checkout.

I know it will probably be a few years before we go back, but we really did have such a great time celebrating at Disney World.  Later this week I'll do a quick post about how we survived four days in the hottest Florida humidity and the largest summer crowds with a toddler in tow.

Disney World Day Three

Monday, August 26, 2013

On day three Magic Hours let us into the Magic Kingdom at 8:00AM (lots of magic).  We were a little disappointed to find out that Adventureland doesn't open until 9:00AM.  So we went to Tomorrowland, got FastPasses for a few rides to hit later in the morning and then waited to go attack Pirates of the Caribbean as soon as we could get through the rope dropping.

After a Dole Whip Float, a few rides and lots of sun, we headed back to the hotel for our afternoon nap and dip in the pool.  My parents kindly offered to take our wild child for the evening so that we could to Hollywood Studios and enjoy some leisurely time without a stroller.  I think my parents also wanted a walking break.  We had been logging about 10 miles a day already and our feet were sore.

Hollywood Studios is the place to meet characters.  Up until this point we hadn't really seen many characters.  We saw Rafiki, and we saw Buzz Lightyear (which brought my boy to tears, and I'm not talking happy tears).  But at Hollywood Studios we stumbled upon a little block that was loaded with characters, from Stitch, to Princess Jasmine, Toy Story characters and a few other favorites.

We enjoyed a quick and quiet dinner at ABC Commissary and hoped on a few rides including Star Tours and the Great Movie ride.  When we first walked into the park at 4PM we nabbed a FastPass for Tower of Terror for 8:30PM.  I was going to conquer that blasted ride - when I was in 8th grade we took a family trip to Disney and I was terrified of the line at this ride and broke down in tears and had some cast member lead me out as my parents boarded the elevator.  I thought for certain they would meet their end on that ride - and one day before my 30th birthday I was determined to get on that elevator.  Well after walking, eating and walking some more, and it was only 6:45, we knew we weren't going to make it until our FastPass would let us in the ride.  So we handed over our passes to some young-and-in-love couple of teenagers and hopped on the bus back to our hotel for an early night of rest.  

Disney World Day Two

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Our second day in Disney started very early with a 7:00AM open at Animal Kingdom.

We hit some of the popular rides first with Dinosaur and Everest.

After a few other stops we made it over to the Safari ride which I was most excited for and of course the baby boy passed out within 30 seconds of getting into the moving vehicle.  It was a very entertaining ride.  We also met our first character of the trip, Rafiki, and we escaped any tears surprisingly.

We enjoyed a quick dining lunch before heading back to the hotel for naps and afternoon swim.  We had dinner reservations at O'hana and I LOVED the restaurant.  The food was so good and the entertainment kept things lively.

Afterward we took the Monorail back to Magic Kingdom and enjoyed watching the sun set and the lights to twinkle with magic to close out the day.

Disney World Day One

Monday, August 19, 2013

I'm finding it really difficult to get back into the routine after vacation.  Once I finally get through posting some of our photos from the trip I'll make sure to do a quick post on some tips of traveling to Disney World with a toddler.

Let's get started with the first day.

We flew out very early and arrived in Florida just after noon.  We were very fortunate that my parents traveled with us to help celebrate and to of course help be baby wranglers.  Once in Orlando, we were magically whisked away by Disney's transportation and checked into the Port Orleans French Quarter.  We immediately headed to the Magic Kingdom to get our adventure started.  We enjoyed a hot dog lunch at Casey's Corner, and then took A for his very first hair cut at the Harmony Barber Shop (as you saw in my August Letters to My Son post).

We took our freshly trimmed boy to see the Tiki Room birds, and all agreed the show was a little lengthy and in great need of a makeover.

For dinner we made our way over to Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge and then went back to close the night at the park.  Our very first ride was It's a Small World.  Already past bedtime, and after a long day of travel, our little guy seemed quietly amazed.  After that we rode the new Little Mermaid ride and closed the night with Winnie the Pooh.  It did take a really long time to get out of the park as we didn't time the parade crowds right.  I think the entire group was quickly asleep once we got back to the hotel.

Letters to My Son

Friday, August 16, 2013

I'm taking part in a new blog circle with some other fabulous women, where each month I will include a letter to my baby boy along with a few pictures that capture the emotion and love I feel for him.  I hope that you will enjoy this feature as much I have enjoyed the process, and will also take the leap to the next blog in the circle each month.


My beautiful boy,

On the eve of turning 22 months you are developing before our very eyes.  Your vocabulary is exploding as you are starting to imitate us much more frequently, your coordination is improving and you are starting to even play games with us like "Simon Says" or "Hokey Pokey."  You are such an amazing blessing.

Even when you still lived in my belly I dreamed of taking you to see Mickey Mouse.  I assumed we would make the trip when you were at least 3, old enough to understand a little of what was happening, but given my impatience, I couldn't resist, and we planned our vacation much sooner than that.

You handled the trip remarkably well, and it is as if in visiting that magical place we took a stop in Geppetto's workshop because on our vacation you became a "real" boy.  

On the first day at Walt Disney World, we got your first haircut.  If I wasn't hiding behind the camera I'm sure a tear or two would have slipped out as your baby fine curls were snipped away.  Following that, your new found look gave you the courage to boycott the sippy cup and only accept straws to drink from.

I didn't believe you could ever get cuter, but your precious haircut made you even more handsome.  When you smile, you light up my world.  Your father and I discussed our favorite parts of vacation and we quickly agreed that nothing beat having you sitting between us on a ride with a little hand resting on each of our legs as you watched new sites and stories unfold in complete amazement.

I am so thankful that I am your Mama, that each day I get to wake up knowing that you are part of my life.  I want the very best for you in life.  I want you to be happy, to thrive, to be healthy, to be able to accomplish all of your dreams and goals.  I will be right here on the journey.  

Just like on the Mickey Mouse Club, we'll have fun, we'll meet new faces, we'll do things, we'll go places all around the world, we'll go marching - and forever let us hold your banner high, high, high, high!

Now hop over to see Carrie's blog to see her beautiful children and read her letter.

Magical Birthday Celebration

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Our family made a little escape last week to celebrate my milestone birthday and I'm still trying to find my routine after a few days off.

We celebrated with Mickey Mouse, Goofy and the rest of the gang, while dining on great food, screaming on the thrills rides and sweating in the hot Florida heat.  It was a great family vacation, so stay tuned for numerous posts filled with lots of photos from the week.

Life + Lens {Quiet}

Thursday, August 8, 2013

On Disney Jr. they have a feature called "Quiet Is..."  The song on there is so calming, and it plays shortly before we get ready for bedtime.  For us quiet normally doesn't happen unless the baby is sleeping.  I try to sneak some "me time" in after he goes down for the night, or in the early morning over a cup of coffee.

Please continue on with our Life + Lens blog circle and view a post by the very talented Chrissy Sandifer.