Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Morning

It is now April 2012.  I was just looking through my pictures and realized I never blogged about Christmas.  I'm back dating this post so that it will end up in the right blog book when I get around to printing them.

Grandma and Grandpa came over to have breakfast with us and watch the kids open presents.  You can see that the kids were pleased with their gifts from Santa and everyone else.

 Charlotte could not make up her mind what to ask Santa to bring for her.  At bed time on Christmas Eve she was still trying to decide.  I told her I hoped Santa had read her mind because he was already on his way with her present in his sleigh.  Luckily Santa picked something she loved.
Ruby and her backpack for her new baby
Baby Sarah and Ruby.  I think they like each other.

Pearl thinks Santa brought Baby Sarah for her

Two peas in a pod.
Playing with Charlotte's new Playmobil pool.  It was a hit.

Helping Grandma make Rouladen for dinner

We were very lucky this year to have both Michael's brothers and their families in town for the holiday.  It had been over a year since we had all been together.  It was great to see everyone.  Apparently I got busy enough visiting with everyone that I did not take any pictures of while we were all together.  Bummer.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Dog Fostering

I can't believe I haven't blogged about this already, but looking back over the last few months it seems I have not.

In early October we decided to help out Houston Collie Rescue by taking in a foster dog.  Baron our loveable three year old, smooth coat, tri-colored collie came from HCR.

Our Howdy passed away in June.  It was obvious that Baron would like a playmate but we really were not ready to commit to having a second dog.  So when the opportunity to foster arose it seemed like the perfect solution.  We provide the dog with a home, love, food and exercise until its forever home is found.  In return, Baron gets a playmate and we all get the satisfaction of knowing we made a small difference.

Our first foster dog arrived on 10/8.  You can read all about Jana here.  She is a sweet, calm, loving eight year old collie mix.  She is currently going through heartworm treatment.  She spent the first eight years outside but has quickly adapted to inside living and honestly doesn't like to be outside any longer than it takes to do her business.

Jana loves belly rubs and will roll over when you walk by to make sure you give her a nice belly pat.  She likes to hang out near her people and when she wants more attention is happy to come over and nudge a hand to let you know.  When she comes in from the yard or we come home, if we don't immediately give her a pat she does a cute little howl to make sure you haven't forgotten about her.  When she does this we say, "Jana in the hooouuuusseee!" and she howls back a few times.  It is very cute and endearing.

Tomorrow, Jana will be going to a new foster home here in Austin.  I am excited for her and sad all at the same time.  We knew when she came to our house that we would not be her forever family and that at some point she would leave us.  But, she has been part of the family for two months and we have and do love her like our own.

I've talked to her new foster mom and know she is going to a great place where she is going to continue to get lots of love and care.  I know this is a good move for her but we are all going to miss her.  My hope is that she will soon be completely healthy and will find her forever home.

So are we done fostering?  Nope.  Tomorrow morning, after Jana's new foster mom picks her up, I'm headed to Houston to pick up our new foster dog.  Her name is Pearl.  She is a special needs girl who is deaf.  She is a double-dilute, smooth coat collie.  She has been in rescue since this summer.  I think she and Baron are going to have a lot of fun together.  She is younger and much more spirited than any dog we've had in a long time.  It should keep thinks interesting around here, because you know it is so quite and boring in my house...
Courtesy of Houston Collie Rescue
Courtesy of Houston Collie Rescue
These pictures are from when Pearl first came to rescue.  She is significantly bigger now.  


Sunday, December 11, 2011


Trying out new curlers

The back - ready for church

Ready for church - Looking much older than 8 to me

Mid-afternoon.  Still has curls.  They've held up better than I expected.

Jenn - Posted from my iPhone

Disney World: Disney Photo Pass Update

I am very glad I pre-ordered the Photo Pass CD.  I have spent time over the last week slowly editing all of the photos so I can have the CD mailed.  I have identified the most perfect Christmas card picture and can not wait to get the image so I can get it made and in the mail. 

I do have to say that the editing of the photos leaves a lot to be desired.  The tools available are few and cumbersome and the site is extremely slow and glitchy.

I do love all the boarders they provide that you can add to your photos.  They are cute and fun. I just wish I didn't have to close and reopen the site multiple times to get the boarder choices to show up.  Or sit and wait for five minutes for things to load at times.

But even with these issues I would still recommend the Photo Pass pictures and CD.  I just wanted anyone considering to know it does come with a few drawbacks.

I'm sure there will be at least one more Photo Pass update when I actually get the images.  And no, unfortunately they did not in any way compensate me for my review or recommendation.  I just like to share things with everyone else when I find them.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Disney World: Day 1 - Epcot

The first park of our trip was Epcot.  We arrived about 45 minutes before the park opened.  Each day we made breakfast in the condo, wrapped it and took it with us to the park of the day.  While waiting for the park to open we would leisurely enjoy breakfast and a cup of coffee.  On the first morning we had egg, bacon and cheese mini croissants.  It helped to start each day with a good hearty breakfast that kept everyone full for several hours.

Once the park opened we headed to Soarin' to get fast passes.  Since there wasn't much of a line yet we went ahead and rode it while we were there.  I was really nervous about how Eliza Claire was going to react to the various rides at Disney World.  This was the perfect first ride. She and the rest of us loved it.  She declared it the "best ride ever!" when exiting the ride.

After Soarin', we went over to Test Track.  Eliza Claire could hear and see just enough that she was very unsure about the ride.  We convinced her to give it a try.  When the ride was over she declared Test Track "the best ride ever!"  At that point I knew it was going to be a fun week.

We spent the morning and afternoon in Future World.  We rode Soarin twice, Mission Space Green twice (except Michael who rode Orange the second time), Test Track twice, Living with the Land, Spaceship Earth, Seas with Nemo.  I was surprised at how much we all liked Living with the Land, especially the green house part of the ride.  And, I was surprised at how disappointed I was with the Seas with Nemo ride.  I really thought it was going to be a ride through the actual aquarium, not just video of sea creatures.  We didn't have time to do much in the actual aquarium but it looked awesome.

On our way out of Epcot we had our first character experience.  Daisy and Stitch were visiting and there was no line!  My kids enjoyed the characters more than I thought they would.  It is amazing how expressive and funny they can be without being able to talk.  Everyone really liked Stitch even though the girls had no clue who he was.  

We went back to the condo for a late lunch and a break.  While I took a nap, Michael and the kids went to the pool and hung out in the Lazy River for a bit.

We went back to Epcot around 5:00 or 6:00.  We spent the evening in the World Showcase.  We sampled food from various countries instead of having a real meal.  We had Lefse in Norway.  It is a potato flat bread spread with a cinnamon sugar butter.  We had pot stickers and egg rolls in China.  Every one got a bite or two.  All the girls liked the pot stickers and Charlotte really liked them.  I think I'll have to find a recipe and make her some.  None of the girls liked the egg roll.  We had some caramel treats from Germany.  Obviously, this was Rehm's favorite.  And we had a Brat from Germany as well.  We only made it through about half of the World Showcase. 
For Grandma
This is Rehm with Neptune.  I ask him to come get his picture taken with Poseidon and he said, "Mom, Poseidon is Greek. We are in Italy, this is Neptune." 

We used a fast pass to ride Maelstrom in Norway and then staked out a seat for the fireworks.  While waiting for them we took turns going to Mexico to ride The Three Caballeros.  It was super cute and a fun low-key ride at the end of the day when the kids were getting tired.  Everyone really enjoyed it.

Then we watched the fireworks.  They were great except for Eliza Claire begging to leave for the entire show.  She didn't cry but she did not  want to be there and she made sure everyone knew it.

Favorite Rides:
Michael: Mission Space: Orange
Jennifer: Test Track
Rehm: Not sure I'll have to ask him when he gets home.
Charlotte: Soarin'
Ruby: Test Track
Eliza Claire: Test Track

It's Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas

Jenn - Posted from my iPhone

Stressed Out about Christmas

Oh my goodness!  It has been a couple of crazy weeks and I am so behind on getting ready for Christmas.  I got nothing done prior to Thanksgiving because I was focused on getting ready for our Disney World trip.  And then we came back from Disney and the first week I was focused on recovering and unpacking from our Disney World trip. 

This past week was crazy.  Five out of the six of us ended up on antibiotics mostly for strep throat.  Plus I got to have my first experience visiting a Chiropractor.  I managed to pinch a nerve in my neck during our Disney trip, from carrying a backpack.  It is so annoying.  Luckily, the Chiropractor does seem to be giving me some relief though it is by no means better. 

I got the lovely experience this week of having the school nurse call me to pick up a child for strep throat symptoms while standing in the parking lot of the doctor's office with a different child who had just been diagnosed with strep.  Yep, it has been that kind of week.  Luckily, my fabulous pediatrician was nice enough to write a prescription for the other child without making me bring her in.

I started this week with no Christmas shopping done whatsoever.  I think I have finished all of it but teacher gifts at this point.  But my house is a disaster and nowhere near ready for Christmas company.  Nor are any cookies or other goodies baked.  This week looks to be as crazy as the last few, though hopefully without the illness, so I'm just not sure what will get done and what won't. 

I've decided that it may not be "perfectly, perfect" this year (anyone know the literary reference?) but it will be good enough.  The important thing is making memories with my family no matter how not-perfect they are.


Thursday, December 01, 2011

Christmas Lists

I've finally gotten around to asking the kids what they want on their Santa List for this year. 

Eliza Claire was the first child I asked.  The first item on her list was an outside race car she could ride in.  I told her that probably wasn't in Santa's budget.  She informed me that he could make it. She would also like a ladybug shirt, a Barbie with a crown, and an alarm clock for Ruby!

The last item on Eliza Claire's list just cracks me up.  It sounds so nice and selfless that she has something on her list for her sister.  But,  in actuality there is not one nice thing about it at all.  Eliza Claire and Ruby have the same alarm clocks but the alarm is broken on Ruby's.  Eliza Claire does not like it one bit that she has to wake up for school with her alarm but I go in and wake up Ruby because Ruby's alarm doesn't work.  She wants to make sure Ruby is getting woken up the same way she is. 

To give Eliza Claire some incentive to wake up to the alarm, she has the job of coming to wake me up every morning.  She comes in my room and says, "Wakey, wakey!" She gets up much better to an alarm than she does when I try to wake her.  For me she just rolls around and goes back to sleep, for the alarm she hops right out of bed.

Before I left Eliza Claire's room, she told me I would need to get up extra early on Christmas morning.  That way I could check and see if Santa left Ruby a clock and move it over with Eliza Claire's gifts so that "Ruby will be extra surprised when I give it to her."

I also asked Charlotte what she wanted for Christmas.  To start with she told me she didn't know, that she really didn't want anything.  A few minutes later she came back and told me she would love it if Santa left money so that she could take flute lessons.  She has been asking for flute lessons for about a year now.  I guess it is time for me to figure out if that is a possibility and find a teacher.  If anyone has any suggestions please let me know.

Rehm is still thinking.  Ruby was in such a "great" mood at bedtime that we didn't talk about Christmas lists. 

Ah the joys of Christmas,

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Disney World: Do before you go

Here are several things we did prior to going to Disney that I think really helped us have an affordable and extra fun trip.

Read The Unofficial Guide to Disney World.  You will be overwhelmed and skeptical, but their plan really works and once you understand it, is very flexible.  We were at Disney at one of the busiest weeks of the year.  We saw everything we wanted to see and rode all of our favorite rides at least twice, never waited in line more than 20 minutes and never spent from opening to closing in the park.  I read through the book several months before our trip, then the night before visiting each park I read that park's section and picked our touring plan for the next day.  Most days we chose their "Whole Family" plan for the park we were visiting.  This way we got everything from the Dumbo to Space Mountain on our plan. 

Pay to subscribe to Touring Plans and download the Lines app for your phone.  This gives you the best planning tools for finding discount tickets, figuring out which park to go to which day, pick a touring plan for each day.  The app then allows your touring plan to be at your finger tips with actual wait times for rides without lugging around the book or several sheets of paper.

Buy Disney Trading Pins and Lanyards from ebay.  These pins are $7 or more each in the park.  We bought a lot of 50 pins for $35.  The cast members (staff) at Disney all have pins and you can trade with them or other guests.  My kids loved trading and it was a great activity when waiting in line to get in the park or to ride a ride.  It also made a great souvenir that didn't break the bank.  All four kids started with pins they didn't really like, but all four came home with pins they love.  Ruby collected fairies.  Rehm collected Mickeys and Muppets.  I'm not sure what the other two collected, I think they just enjoyed the trading and didn't really care what they got.  These really cut down on the I wants in the park because every time they traded they felt like they had gotten something and were not feeling deprived. Also buy metal backs for your pins from amazon.  They stay on better than the mickey back they come with. 

Pre-buy the Photo Pass CD.  You can the CD at any time, but if you buy before you go, it only costs $99.  If you buy after you go it costs $149.  As soon as you enter the first park, find a photo pass photographer and get a Photo Pass Card and of course get your picture made.  Every time you get your picture made have them scan your card.  This is a great way to get pictures of your entire party as no one is behind the camera.  We ended up with 130 pictures of our family and another 40 stock photos from Disney that all directly related to our time at Disney.  I have not received the CD yet as I'm still editing the pictures and adding borders and such.  Once I receive the CD I can use the pictures any way I want.  Expect to see some of them on this year's Christmas card and of course on the blog.  This made it easy for me to relax and enjoy our trip instead of constantly feeling like I needed to be taking pictures.  It also allowed me to take the point and shoot camera instead of the dSLR. 

Buy prepackaged snacks.  Disney will let you bring food in the parks.  One backpack was filled with nabs, peanuts, chips, gum, and other easy to grab snacks.  This saved lots of time and money while in the parks and prevented more than one melt down.  We also took a couple of water bottles in with us each day and re-filled them at the water fountains.

Bring a roll or two of quarters and a roll of pennies.  This is another cheap and easy souvenir.  There are pressed penny machines all through out Disney.  We got our favorite characters and favorite rides and one for each of the parks.  Each one costs $0.51.  This is a souvenir that is easy to say "yes" to.  It is also a good time killer to do with the kid that doesn't want to ride the ride the rest of the family is on.  We bought a pressed penny holder at one of the many gift shops to hold all our our pennies.  If you forget change, no problem. There are plenty of change machines and the cast members are happy to give you change in any of the gift shops.  

Shop at Miss Morgan Designs on Etsy and make custom shirts for your family.  This was affordable and fun.

Pack to coordinate.  All four kids had on the exact same shirt every day we were at Disney.  This made it much easier to spot them in the crowd and helped the ride operators know who was in our party. I used shirts we already had from school, VBS, choir musicals, sports teams, etc.  It also made getting dressed each day a breeze.

Make ID cards for the kids with your cell phone number on them.  We attached these to their trading pin lanyards.

Make a first aid kit to keep with you so you don't have to go to the medical station for every blister or skinned knee.

Take a sharpie.  This came in handy to write my phone number on the kids' forearms each day.  That way if something happened I knew the information would literally be at their fingertips.

I'm sure I'll have more to add, but these are the things that come to mind right now.

Disney World: Happy Birthday

All six of us celebrated our birthday at Disney World.  No, none of us have a birthday in November.  At the beginning of the year we sat down with the children and told them we would like to go to Disney World as a family.  We told them that we had two options:  go in two or three years after Michael and I had saved all the funds or go at the end of this year if they were willing to help us save. 

Everyone wanted to go this year.  So, we agreed that none of us would have a birthday party this year and the funds would go to the Disney fund, all money we received for our birthdays and Christmas would go to the Disney fund, and Christmas would be smaller. 

At each child's birthday they received a gift from us, something they really wanted.  They also received a lanyard, ten Disney trading pins, a scrap book and an autograph book - all in preparation for our Disney trip.  Each child still had a family celebration for their birthday where they picked our dining location and I made each a birthday cake.  They were not deprived in any way.  But they did put all cash and checks happily in the Disney fund. 

Our goal with this was to help our kids learn that there are trade offs for things we want and to learn that sometimes delayed gratification is even better than immediate gratification.  We wanted them to be invested in this trip as it was a big time and money commitment.   We wanted them to really want to go.  And want to go bad enough to give something up to make it happen.  I think everyone learned a lot from this experience and I hope we do this again in the future.  Next time I hope to talk them into a cruise...

When we got to Disney one of the first things to go on the grocery list was a Birthday Cake since we were all celebrating. 

Disney World: Getting There

For the week of Thanksgiving the Maniacs traveled to Disney World.  This was the very first visit for all of us.  Yes, Michael and I were deprived as children.

In true maniac fashion, we drove to Disney World.  Read that, we are frugal or cheap.  I'm not sure which sometimes but we decided to drive instead of fly.  Once there it was nice to have our own transportation to the parks and grocery store and such. 
Lake Charles, LA

West of Baton Rouge, probably St. Martin Parish

The trip took two days.  The first day we were in the car 11+ hours.  We made it all the way to Daphne, AL.  We would have made better time but someone forgot to slow down for the bridge over the swamp in St. Martin Parish, LA and got a speeding ticket and thus had to drive much closer to the speed limit the rest of the trip. 

We have gotten car trips down to a science.  I keep a bag of snacks, a gallon of water to refill water bottles and a bag of crafty things to do with in reach.  Between those and the wide array of electronics (DVD player, Nintendo DSs, iTouches, iPods) we seem to have amassed the kids traveled great. 

We only stopped to go to the restroom and to pick up food and then we ate in the car.  While waiting for our food the kids and I did exercises to get our wiggles out.  People looked at us like we were crazy, but we are used to that.  We did stretches and yoga and some running around in various parking lots.   It really did help the kids deal with two days in the car. 

Our first day we had breakfast tacos for breakfast that we made and packed before leaving home, Jason's Deli for lunch and Pizza Hut for dinner.  We find that pizza for dinner is a nice change but still manageable in the car.  I search for a location about 30 minutes away and call and order our pizza.  By the time we get there the pizza is ready and waiting.  So we have a quick potty stop and hop back in the car and enjoy fresh, hot pizza.  Where so many pizza places currently have $10 pizza deals not only is the a nice change it is also a very cheap way to feed a family of six. 

After spending the night in Daphne, we got up bright and early and finished our trip to Orlando.  The second day was uneventful.  I thought it took a long time to get out of Texas, but man, we drove almost eight hours in Florida!  Crazy!  

To break up the monotony of Florida, I bought a pack of bubble gum and proceeded to try to teach the kids how to blow bubbles.  Charlotte and Rehm figured it out, Ruby and Eliza Claire need a bit more practice.

We stayed at the Wyndham at Bonnet Creek.  We were not on Disney Property, but were surrounded on three sides by Disney Property.  It was the perfect place for us.  There are very few choices for affordably staying on property when you have a family of six.  The condo gave us lots of space, a full kitchen, jacuzzi tub, two bathrooms, and plenty of amenities (like we had time to use them given we were at the parks all day, every day).  But the kids liked the playscape, lazy rivers, miniature golf and such that was available.  We won a week at a Wyndham property at a silent auction, but even if we had booked it through Wyndham it would be about the same price as staying at the Fort Wilderness Cabins on property but with 3 times the square footage and twice the number of bathrooms of the cabins. 

View from our patio

Much more to come about our trip as I juggle blogging with getting the pictures downloaded and catching up on laundry and such.