Wednesday, October 25, 2017

10 Disney Dream Insider Tips - Disney Cruise Line





We spent an amazing 5 days on the Disney Dream last month. It was a wonderful family vacation! This was our 2nd Disney Cruise Line vacation. Disney fans love planning so I wanted to share my insider tips for the Disney Dream.

1. Figure out when your online check in window opens and be ready! You must be paid in full and then first time cruisers can check in 75 days ahead, Silver Castaway Club members (1-4 cruises) can check in 90 days ahead, Gold Castaway Club Members (5-9 cruises) can check in 105 days ahead, and Platinum Castaway Club Level (10 cruises or more) can check in 120 days ahead. The most important thing is to grab an early Port Arrival Time (PAT), book Princess and Frozen Meet and Greet tickets (limited quantity), book Palo or Remy, and book shore excursions (don't sell out as fast typically). I put in just the basic info to grab a PAT and then go back and add flight, transportation, and passport info later. I also registered my son for the kids club online and was able to skip that line in the terminal. Print your paperwork when you are done. 3 days or less before your cruise you cannot make changes online or print documents again so make sure you print before then. If you forget the documents you can still check in, it just speeds up the process.

2. Each adult can carry on 6 cans/bottles of beer or one bottle of wine at embarkation and at each port. This is the policy as of October 2017. Save a little money and bring your own wine or beer.

3.Pack a day bag with swimsuits, important documents like passports/birth certificates and medicine, and give the porters the rest of your luggage. Your room won't be ready until 1:30pm but boarding usually starts around 11:30am. We always head straight for Cabanas for a yummy lunch at the outside tables and head straight for the AquaDuck water slide and pools. The day we embarked the pool deck was HOT so flip flops or sandals are handy.

4. Go to the spa raffle on embarkation day (3:30pm) for us. Not only did several people win $50-$100 spa gift cards, at the end of their quick presentation they ran $100 off special on the bliss package (hot stone massage, scalp massage, foot rub, and facial). I wasn't planning to book a spa treatment but did for the 1st night between dinner and the show and had an amazing 1 hour and 45 minute service. So relaxing! 

5. Book Palo brunch for your sea day. It was amazing! The food was so delicious, the service was great, the view was nice, and the adult only atmosphere was wonderful. Brunch on a sea day means you don't have to miss any of your evening meals and you don't have to worry about excursion timing. The Palo Lasagna, Veal, and Chicken Parmigiana were all some of the best food I have ever had. The cold buffet and desserts were pretty great too. Yum!

6. Check out the Midship Detective Game on deck 2 or deck 5. This wasn't overly promoted but it was a super fun game. I played one night with hubby and our 5 year old. My kids ended up doing all 3 missions over the course of the 5 days.

7. Play family Bingo! It may seem expensive or lame but it's not. It is a ton of fun. Even my teens loved it. Photographic evidence below!


Teens smiling at bingo!


8. Castaway Cay, a Bahamian paradise! I love Castaway Cay, my favorite port. So gorgeous. My insider tip is run the Castaway Cay 5K, it's a ton of fun. If you have kids too young to run, don't worry, the kids club on the island opens early just for them. Bring your swimsuits with you and change into your swimsuit after the race and enjoy a relaxing beach day. We found on the Dream, where there are more passengers than the Magic, the first family beach near the climbing structure was less crowded than the 2nd family beach near the Pelican Plunge water slide. Take time to ride the water slide, especially if you have small kids, they can ride a big water slide with a life jacket on. Adults, I highly recommend checking the kids into the kids club on the island for an hour and having lunch at Serenity Bay and enjoying some adult only time. Even more beautiful and peaceful than the family beach area.

Serenity Bay adult only beach at Castaway Cay


9. Room Service, use it! The cheese plate and the cake of the day are two of our favorites but you know what we loved this cruise? Pre-ordering room service breakfast the night before. Just hang the door hanger found in the desk drawer out the night before with a 30 minute time slot you select. I chose the time my alarm was set for and woke up to hot coffee, donuts, and fresh fruit. My 5 year old asked if someone would bring him donuts in bed once we were back home. Sorry buddy, real life isn't anything like a Disney cruise!

10. Dress up for events! Depending upon your itinerary you may have a semi formal, formal, pirate night, Halloween night, or other special night. My advice is dress up and participate! When else do you get to go all out and have fun? Our 5 day cruise had a Halloween night, a pirate night, and an optional semi formal night. We participated in them all! 


Semi formal night

There are pirates out in those waters!

Kids during the Halloween on the High Seas Celebration

Prince Eric and Princess Ariel

There were several times during our cruise where I looked over at hubby and said, "is this real life?" Our whole trip was amazing and we can't wait to do it again!


Michelle

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Writing...Because it is Cheaper Than Therapy...




We have reached the point in the summer where mom has had enough! I expect most moms anticipate summer with longing. They get to spend more time with their sweet kids, the days are longer, the weather is warmer, we can play outside, we can go to the pool, we can camp, we can go on fun vacations.

At first, it was fun and I am still loving the warmer weather (winter stay away forever) but my household has disintegrated into utter chaos. Orion is newly 5 and will start kindergarten in August. He is my most challenging child by far. He was a high needs baby who needed his mama all the time and never slept. His intensity has continued on. I love him so and he is so fun and cute but he thrives in routine.

This summer I have 3 high school age kids and 2 of which who drive. In my head that meant I could pay them to watch Orion. He could sleep in, play with friends, the oldest two could drive him to the park, to the pool, to the zoo. He would be happy and having fun and my youngest teen would be happy because she was earning money.

The reality has been starkly different. The oldest 2 are working 32-40 hours each week. Staying up late and sleeping in. Mostly they have been unavailable to drive the 14 year old and 5 year old anywhere. The 14 year old has been uninterested in much besides her phone. She has taken to staying up very late and sleeping in which doesn't work well when you are babysitting your brother. She has kept him alive and usually fed but engaging activities aren't happening and often Orion has dissolved to tears because one of the 3 big kids has upset him. So much for summer fun!

Then we have my job... super flexible, I can make my own schedule except for a few set meetings and events during the week. I can even bring Orion to work with me occasion and can do a lot of my work from home. Working for a non-profit you don't make the big bucks, you do it because you love what you do and you are passionate about the mission. Both of my jobs at the church offered me more flexibility to balance work and home life than typical corporate jobs. Trying to squeeze my work hours in around the demands of 4 kids who are home all summer and still trying to manage my household isn't working out well. Working from home is okay but then I feel guilty that I am not in the office more. Bringing Orion to work with me hasn't worked out well. I should have learned by now. At my last job I brought him every Wednesday morning, which worked fine when he went to his class at church. As much as he should do fine with helping me clean, put stuff away, just play, he doesn't and bringing him to work with me is never a good idea and should only be used as a last resort.

I am feeling exhausted, fed up, and like life is just out of balance. I feel bad I can't provide Orion better routine and structure and that his behavior is suffering. When I am at work I feel guilty that the kids are at home and I am not spending time with them. When I am at home spending time with the kids I feel guilty that I haven't got more work done that week. Mom guilt, it's real!

Only 30 more days until school starts...send wine, send coffee, send cupcakes, and most importantly pray for me. I hope we all make it...



Michelle

Friday, May 5, 2017

Run For Your Life


Want to win a 5 pack class pass to be used at any participating Fit4Mom location (Greater Denver, North Metro Denver, and Northern Colorado franchises)? Head to Facebook to enter! Giveaway ends 5/12!

Fit4Mom is an organization near and dear to my heart! I have never been athletic or much into working out but in 2010, when we lived in Maryland I heard about a Couch to 5K at our local running store and I signed up. Something in me changed! I set goals and beat them! I loved socializing with the other participants and successfully ran my 1st 5K race that summer.

The next fall I signed up for their 10K training and ran my 1st 10K race and just kept on running! In 2011 when I got pregnant with our 4th child, I knew I didn't want to lose this fitness I had built up. I was determined to run as far along in my pregnancy as I could manage. I ran until about 24 weeks when a cold snap hit Colorado and I was starting to really show.

The problem with stopping running is it is hard to get back into it! During our 2011 move from Maryland to Colorado and my subsequent pregnancy, I never did find a training group that was my speed. Then came a baby who never slept and was very high needs and running and exercising did not happen for this mama!

Two of my friends, who didn't know each other both opened Fit4Mom franchises in the area. I checked out their openings but I wasn't sure it was my thing. One of the owners, Darcy Peters, persistently encouraged me to sign up for the Fit4Mom marathon and half marathon training. If she didn't persist I would have never said, "yes"! A marathon seemed beyond my reach but with some time, a lot of hard work, and some encouragement, maybe, just maybe I could run a half marathon. 

That was December 2013 and I am currently training for my 4th half marathon! Running is my outlet. It keeps my mind clear when my world is chaos. It keeps me exercising. It keeps me connecting with other moms. It keeps me setting goals and working towards them. It keeps me doing something for me and me alone.

Fit4Mom was the group I needed. It was structure, it was accountability it was experienced coaches, it was friendship, and it was encouragement. I would have never crossed those finish lines without those ladies who logged all those miles along side with me. We have laughed and shared way too many TMI moments. There is something about running together, where you just bond. Running friends are the best friends!

May 2014 Colorado Half Marathon Fit4Mom Team

In May, 2014 I successfully completed my 1st half marathon, the Colorado half marathon. I started my race with all my teammates but one teammate stayed with me the entire race. She likely could have finished several minutes ahead of me but she never left my side. We finished together and it was an awesome feeling to have accomplished something that many people will never come close to!

My 2nd oldest and my youngest cheering Ginger and I on the race course


Happy Finisher!

I took a short break from training but started back in July to train for the Denver Rock n Roll half marathon in October. Fit4Mom was there again, along with my awesome teammates and friends. Training for a half marathon, you log a fair amount of miles over about 4 months. Not only did these ladies faithfully show up each week for our long runs, we often met up once or twice during the week to get in our shorter, midweek training runs. 

The Denver Rock n Roll half I was on pace with a great friend of mine, LeAnn. When she struggled, I encouraged her along, when I struggled she encouraged me. I beat my 1st half marathon time by several minutes and came in about 2 minutes under my goal. I was a happy runner!

Fit4Mom Northern Colorado Denver Rock n Roll Team!


LeAnn and I proudly holding those medals we earned!

After almost 10 months of training I was getting mentally fatigued and needed a break. A lot of my team mates went on to train for the 2015 Colorado Half Marathon but I needed a break. Darcy Peters, the Northern Colorado Fit4Mom franchise owner encouraged me to try a BodyBack class. I was hesitant to say the least. I had come to love running but don't love exercising otherwise. I had never dieted but becoming healthier and losing weight was appealing. Plus I loved these ladies and two set dates each week to see my mom friends sounded like a bonus!

From the end of 2014, all of 2015, and the beginning of 2016 I took 3 sessions of BodyBack and I came to love the HITT style workouts. The diet part was hard for me but I saw results! My family loved the dinner recipes and some are still in our regular rotation. It was awesome to do assessments at the beginning of BodyBack and measure how fast you could run a mile, how long you could hold a plank, etc. and then at the end of the session seeing how much you had improved. Then there is the before and after photos and inches and pounds lost. I always saw great results and it was awesome to do it in a supported, fun atmosphere, with women who had become my friends.

Then these crazy friends of mine, talked me into a race I thought I'd never do. Horsetooth Half Marathon. Those of you not from Fort Collins may not realize but this is a tough, tough race! You run up a mountain, partially down, then back up another mountain. I am social person and once several of my friends who I had made through Fit4Mom committed to Horsetooth Half I signed up. The training was great. Yes, lots of cold days in January and February but we were ready to race. The day of the race it was snowing like crazy, blowing sideways, not the type of weather you want for a big race you've been preparing for 3.5 months for. With my Fit4Mom teammates and friends, Joni and Dara by my side, the 3 of us crossed the finish line of the Horsetooth Half Marathon. I am still so proud that despite that weather, all 3 of us finished! It wasn't our fastest half marathon but we ran a half marathon, up a mountain, in a snow storm. There was nothing we couldn't accomplish!

Still smiling after a snowy and hilly Horsetooth Half

Fit4Mom isn't just running training or BodyBack, it is friendship and support, and healthy lifestyles and healthy families. Their flagship class, Stroller Strides allows you to workout while you bring your baby in the stroller with you. They also offer Fit4Baby, pregnancy fitness and StrollerBarre, classes for moms with baby. I have so many great memories with these ladies. Not only of running and exercising together but of ladies night out and fun times together.


One year Fit4Mom had a team at the Color Vibe 5K

Being part of the Fit4Mom family the past 3 years changed me and my approach to fitness. It has grown my love of running and it has shown me that I can dream big and accomplish those dreams. There is nothing I cannot do if I put my mind to it and work hard towards my goals. 


Another bucket list item, hubby and I climbed not one but two 14ers


Want to learn more about upcoming Fit4Mom events?

Greater Denver event- Anniversary Class for all mamas at all locations to attend 

North Metro - Stroller Strides Lafayette Grand Opening at Waneka Lake Park

Northern Colorado - Mother's Day 5K


All opinions are my own and based on my own experience participating in Fit4Mom programs. I was compensated for my time to prepare this post and share it via social media.








Michelle

Sunday, January 29, 2017

2017 Goals


It's still the first month of the year so I want to post my goals. It has been a few years but I posted my goals here on my blog in 2013, 2012, and 2011. I like accountability so here you go, 2017 goals:

Health/Fitness/Running

-Do not purchase junk food for the home. Limit treats to special occasions. Eat Whole 30 85% of the time (eat healthy except occasional, purposeful deviation).

-3 non running workouts per week (CourtsPlus or West Fargo Moms on the Run).

-Run the Fargo Half Marathon on May 20, 2017. Run 200 or more miles in 2017. Run 3 times per week.

Marriage

-12 dates per year, 1 overnight trip.

Kids

- 3 one-on-one dates per kid this year.

Social

-Attend one social event where I can meet new people or get to know acquaintances better.

Spiritual

-Join a small group and attend weekly or bi-weekly for at least 3 months.

Financial

-Refill emergency fund.

-Pay cash for vacations.

-Buy a camper.

Personal

-Get Orion to school before 8:15am everyday. Being on time or early makes for a great start to my day.

-Get Orion to bed each night by 8:30pm. Getting Orion to bed earlier will give me some free time each night but still allow me to fall asleep around 10pm each night.

Home Projects

-Finishing staining trim, doors, and cabinets upstairs.

Travel

-Disney cruise.

-1 trip to Colorado.

-1 trip to North Carolina.


Those are my goals for 2017. What are your goals? What do you think about what I am trying to achieve this year?




Michelle

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: A Year In Review


2016 was a year of many changes and many adventures for our family. I thought it would be fun to do a year in review post to highlight some of the big changes or adventures we took in 2016. 


Grand Canyon


During spring break in March we took our beat up 20 year old pop-up camper on a big adventure! We spent one week visiting The Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, and Glenwood Springs, Colorado.We encountered white out conditions in southern Utah and decided to get a hotel and finish our drive in the morning. The National Park campgrounds were all full so we had to stay at a RV Park just outside the park. It got down to 29 degrees overnight and our heater wouldn't work at first but thankfully Nate was able to fix it. It was quite the adventure! It was just as beautiful as I had remembered it though it had probably been 25 years since my last visit. We enjoyed ranger led activities, seeing wildlife, hiking the rim, and hiking several miles down into the canyon. Orion was a rock star this trip and hiked miles each day on his own!


Hiking into the canyon


The canyon rim


Zion National Park

Zion National Park did not disappoint! It was gorgeous! Once again all the first come, first served campsites were full so we had to stay at an RV park. Apparently spontaneous trips aren't allowed anymore. Someday we'd love to go back and hike the river bed. The dripping overhangs, river, wildlife, and scenery were all beautiful.We wrapped up the trip visiting friends in Grand Junction, exploring Colorado National Monument, and spent a full day swimming and soaking in the hot springs. Awesome spring break trip!


Colorado National Monument


Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado

In April, Nate accepted a promotion opportunity with his company in Fargo, North Dakota. We were moving over 800 miles away and Nate would be headed there in 4 weeks. We furiously got our house ready to sell. Thankfully it went under contract right away. The first weekend our house was for sale we took a trip to Colorado Springs and visited the Garden of Gods among other sites. 


Downtown Fargo

Debt Free!

With our big move and house sale we were able to pay off the rest of our student loans. We were officially debt free (except our house) 6/28/16. We purchased our 2nd home 6/29/16 and were able to get a 20 year low fixed rate mortgage and put 25% down. Home sweet home in Fargo!


Bought our 2nd house


One thing our big move left me without was a job! After working for 3 years as a full-time salaried employee in a job I loved, I was a bit lost at first. I wanted to take some time to visit my dad who had been ill, visit my sister, and take time to get the kids settled before I looked for a new job. The summer was a whirlwind as Nate started work in May, the kids and I didn't arrive until July, we were only here 3 weeks then we left for a month on the road, only to get back in time for school to start. So thankful to have had that time with my dad (and my sister) this summer and for all the amazing sites we got to see between Fargo and Orlando.


Anheuser Busch St. Louis Missouri

Clydesdales

Our first stop on our trip was St. Louis, Missouri. This was a last minute addition as Nate needed to travel there for work just two weeks after we got into Fargo so we started out road trip early and met him in St. Louis. It was neat to see a city I had never explored but it was HOT while we were there. 105 on the heat index and extremely humid! We toured the Anheuser-Busch brewery, watched a Cardinals game (where I was sure I was melting from the heat), had local custard and soda, visited the science center, and Wynter met up with a friend she met on last year's cruise. Fun stop on our trip!


St. Louis Cardinals game


Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Gatlinburg, TN

Our next stop was Gatlinburg, Tennessee where my dad met up with us for the first part of our visit with him. I had never visited Gatlinburg or the Great Smoky Mountains so this was a real treat for me. Once again, never enough time to truly explore and I would love to go back and do some longer hikes when it isn't so hot and humid.


Skinny Dip Falls Asheville

After 2 nights in Gatlinburg we went back to my dad's for almost two weeks there. We took a day trip to explore Asheville. I asked a friend who lives there and she recommended Skinny Dip Falls. It is just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, which was a gorgeous drive by itself but a short hike back and you are rewarded with hidden natural waterfalls, pools, and a deep rock jumping pool. It reminded me of Maui, Hawaii and the road to Hana, gorgeous for sure!


Caribbean Beach Resort, Myrtle Beach, SC

Myrtle Beach, SC

Myrtle Beach, SC

Myrtle Beach was a highlight of our trip. I wish Nate was able to join us for this leg of the trip but he had to work. My dad, his wife, and my niece and nephew joined us at the Caribbean Beach Resort. The resort location and amenities made our time there so special. The property was on the beach so it was easy to go from the beach, to the pool, and to the condo. The only negative was Myrtle Beach experienced record jelly fish the days we were there and both Brennan and Phoenix got stung several times both times they tried to swim. Our ocean time was limited to shallow wading. The pool area was awesome though! Water slide, two lazy rivers, 4 pools, 4 hot tubs, and 2 kids play structures with fountains and spray features for kids. We would love to go back. 


Walt Disney World, Florida

Magic Kingdom

Hubby was able to meet us in Orlando and join us for the rest of our trip. My sister lives in the Orlando area so we got to spend several days with her. We spent one full day inside magic kingdom, another day touring the grounds of the Art of Animation Resort, and another day at Disney Springs. We swam at my sister's neighborhood pool which was awesome and went to Cocoa Beach while the older boys went to Cape Canaveral to tour the NASA facility there. It was a very pleasant temperature our entire time in Orlando. A welcome break from the oppressive heat and humidity we experienced in MO, TN, and NC, the previous few weeks.


Disney World

Disney World

Nashville Parthenon

I tried to plan our trip so we were in the car no more than 7-9 hours each day. I also gave us 2 nights to explore each new city so we had a day without car time in the middle. Our next stop was Nashville where we toured the city and visited the Dave Ramsey show live during his radio broadcast.


Visiting the Dave Ramsey Show

Mammoth Cave National Park

One awesome part about having flexible plans is when we came across Mammoth Cave National Park we were able to stop, do a cave tour, and spend about 3 hours there. Not in our original plan but so awesome. We truly love the National Parks! 



Navy Pier, Chicago

The Cloud Gate, Chicago Bean

Our next stop was Chicago! I was excited because I had never been to Chicago. I was expecting New York, which in some ways it is like but it definitely has a Midwest friendly, slightly slower pace vibe that NYC didn't have. I actually loved Chicago and would love to spend some more time there. It is a day's drive from us so definitely possible for that to happen at some point. We explored the zoo, Navy Pier, The Cloud Gate, the amazing park next to the Cloud Gate, ate Chicago style pizza, and a Chicago style hot dog. We went rode the train from our hotel, which is always fun for the kids.


Brennan bought his 1st car and got his driver license

In 2016, Brennan turned 16, got his driver license, and bought his own car. It is awesome having another driver in the house. I know he is enjoying the additional level of freedom and being able to have a job and drive himself back and forth from his job.


Breckenridge Brewery Colorado

In October, Nate's grandma passed away so we drove back to Colorado for the funeral. It is always hard to say goodbye to a family member but she lived a good, long life! We stayed a couple days after the funeral and spent time with Nate's dad, brother, and extended family.


Orion started playing hockey

Those of you that know me well know we are not a sports crazy family. I am not a soccer mom, honestly with 3 kids that played soccer from 1-10 years I hope to never sit through a youth soccer game again. I was not ready for Orion to start team sports but our neighbor told us about this amazing program through Fargo Youth Hockey where you pay $40 for 6 lessons and if you sign your child up for hockey ($150 for the 5 month season) you get to keep all the gear for free. So Orion got every single piece of gear for free. I mean, skate, stick, pads, bag, everything. It seemed like it was too good an offer to pass up. We tried it, figuring he wouldn't be ready as he had only ice skated twice before but he LOVED it and was skating well by lesson 3. They split them up into teams and we now have practice Saturday and game Sunday with an occasional weekday afternoon practice. I hear it gets more intensive and expensive but so far we love hockey. I even am helping the Fargo Youth Hockey Association with a fundraiser they are doing on February 9th for Giving Hearts Day where 350 area charities have partnered up to raise funds that day and access matching funds to help their organization. So far that has been fun!


Wynter bought her 1st car and got her driver license


We moved while Wynter still held her permit so we weren't sure what that would mean but North Dakota made it easy and she was still able to get her license on time. A few days later she purchased her own car. I now have two licensed drivers with their own cars in my house. Hard to wrap my head around but so convenient!

Besides that I think we are settling in well here in Fargo. We have a great church and an awesome neighborhood with tons of kids. Orion was out playing every day it was warm with other boys his age. Our house is about 700 sq ft and 1 bedroom smaller but we added a 3rd shower, a 3rd car garage, and a bigger lot so it is working well. I love our kitchen and master bath that had been recently updated and love the hardwood floors upstairs. Overall 2016 was a great year for us!


Michelle