Do You Have a Disney World Problem?

There are two kinds of people out there: those who have a Disney World problem and those who do not.*

(*and, technically, there is a third kind: those who don’t yet know they have a Disney World problem)

My name is Kim and I have a Disney World problem.

You might know people like me and roll your eyes. You might swear this will never be you (and maybe it won’t — but I’ve won bets with far worse odds before).

Or, you might email me and ask for my help in planning your trip, which I’m happy to do (as long as you aren’t rolling your eyes at me).

How do you know if you have a Disney World problem? It’s a little different for everyone, but for me, it sort of looks like this:

  • It means that I’m booking a hotel about seven to eight months in advance.
  • It means that I’m at my computer at precisely 6am exactly 180 days before arrival to secure dining reservations.
  • It means that, last night, at the stroke of midnight, I was back on the computer to secure my FastPass reservations at my earliest opportunity for rides and attractions, with a priority list and Plan B in hand.
  • And it probably means that I will be thinking about how to plan my next trip there before I leave the WDW property on this year’s trip.

Other tell-tale signs include seeking out and commiserating with other like-minded Disneyphiles — perhaps comparing notes on FastPass selections and meal reservation strategies. I know who my people are. And there is always someone who knows more — like a Yoda of Disney planning.

But let’s just address the real question here: What the hellllllll?

Let me be clear, friends. I do not know what I’m packing in my kids’ lunch bags tomorrow. I have no idea what they will be handing out for Valentine’s Day later this week. And I certainly have not started to think about any of our plans for March.

But, damn it, I’ve known since October where we’re eating one meal a day for an entire week this April.

I know. I knowwwww. It seems insane.

Most people who know me don’t take me for a Disney World person. I can see that. For starters, I don’t sing aloud or dress with animated characters on my shirts. Also, I hate crowds, I have very little patience, require SPF 6 million, and am known to be more than a touch cynical.

At first blush, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

So, how did this happen?

And, (I can hear the fear in your voices) — can it happen to you? *GASP*

Yes. Yes, it can.

disney1

 

The truth is that I wasn’t born this way, and the road to having a legit WDW problem was gradual and almost imperceptible. I’ve been conditioned over time by two things that have gone hand in hand at WDW: experience and failure.

I started off all breezy with my first trip to WDW, when my kids were just three and one (and a non-existent third). It was a little side trip from my mom’s place in Florida while we were visiting her. We had a hotel for two nights and a couple of loose dining ideas. We figured we’d just play it by ear. We’d just see how it goes. We’re not Those Crazy Disney People.

I never say this, but: LOLOLOLOLOL.

The ultimate WDW rookie mistake.

Because you know what doesn’t work? Winging anything at all with young kids in a theme park among tens of thousands of other people.

Here, let me explain.

Raise your hand if your kids are exactly zero of these things in a theme park environment:

  • Breezy
  • Patient
  • Reasonable
  • Well-rested

Raise your hand again if your kids are likely to exhibit most/all of these traits in a theme park environment:

  • Sensory overload
  • Hot
  • Hungry
  • Exhausted

See?! We’re more alike than you thought!

And so, what I quickly figured out was this: The only way to turn a WDW trip from a series of kids’ meltdowns to an actual fun family vacation that’s worth the expense is to plan the absolute shit out of it.

As a result, I have a few guidelines that I live by when planning our trip:

  • I want to stay as close to the Magic Kingdom as possible with minimal bus rides to the parks. Because Disney Magic does not include making your kids behave on public transportation.
  • I want to be able to sit down for dinner. Inside. I don’t need a steak by any means, but please do not make me spend 52 minutes standing in a buffet line with my kids, while balancing 16 trays and knowing that I’m paying $25/kid for them to eat a few grapes and possibly some Mickey-shaped pasta.
  • In the camp of Well, That’s Fucking Obvious: I want to not stand in a 240-minute line for the best rides. It’s such a joy to navigate kids through the zig-zag ropes in the blazing Florida sun. Please don’t climb on that. Please don’t remove the rope from the chain. Please don’t step on that person. Please don’t.step.on.that.person. Yes, just another 127 minutes. Please don’t climb on that. Translation: I can stay at home for free if I want to see my kids totally lose their damn minds.

So, guess how many of those things you can do by winging it? You get the idea.

Wait, let’s address the naysaying for a sec.

Oh, but that’s no fun to have everything planned. It’s sooooo stressfullllll.

That doesn’t sound like a vacation at allllll.

How can anyone even enjoy that?

I’ve heard it all. Haters gonna hate. That’s because they’re on the 45-minute line for the buffet while I’m sitting down with kids’ menus in one hand and a glass of cold white wine in the other.

If you think this sounds miserable and distinctly un-vacation-y, let me reassure you that flexibility has not gone off to die while we’re on this trip. Nobody is running a stopwatch or issuing a fun quota — I promise. In fact, apart from some of the must-do items, we invariably move a bunch of plans around once we’re there to accommodate whichever unexpected and inevitable situation arises with kids.

The plan is actually just a framework of which parks we’ll visit on which days, with our top choices for rides FastPassed and a place to have dinner. You can only get three FastPasses upfront per day, so we’re not talking about a regimented minute-by-minute walking path for the day here. Yes, we make unexpected stops and unscheduled decisions. Yes, there’s room for ice cream. Yes, there are many hours spent just swimming in the hotel pool, which means many pretty cocktails with little umbrellas for me.

But I’m not giving up my dining reservations unless some serious shit has gone down or I’ve made some unforeseen scheduling error.

Do I love sit-down meals with three kids under nine? Not especially. Some days, there’s a clear element of OMG-we-should-not-eat-in-public. And it’s not about wanting to eat anything particularly fancy. It’s more about needing the oasis of a reserved table in the air conditioning once a day to break from the crowds and madness. It’s a great re-charge.

Also, there’s an odd environmental phenomenon that occurs within WDW. The whole of Central Florida experiences a synchronized ravenous hunger spell at about 4:45 every day. All of the people on WDW property. Everyone around you. So, in that moment, go ahead and have a look at the spontaneous dining options and then at the hordes of the famished — and then do the math (fun fact: the average number of people in the Magic Kingdom on a single day is 53,000). If you decided, in the name of being breezy, to just wing it, I applaud you and sincerely hope your number of buffet line minutes is less than your age times 12, or that maybe the street-side turkey leg the size of your skull has enough sauce on it. Hopefully, as our kids get older, we’ll have more flexibility with this and less “we will die if we don’t eat within everyone’s picky specifications right this second.”

Outside of where we want to eat, there are considerations to make about which parks to hit on which days. Average crowd levels, Extra Magic Hours (when the park opens early/closes late for those staying on WDW property — translation: way more crowded) and can we make it in time for Rope Drop?

(Rope Drop: The moment the park opens its gates first thing in the morning. Also known as the only thing my family is ever early for in the history of everything. The later you are after Rope Drop, the bigger the lines.)

Ok, and if I’m being honest, there is some sick satisfaction that people like me get from knowing the system, getting the reservations we want and working every possible cog in the WDW machine (What? The Child Ride Swap? This is legit? Yes, it is.) Every year, there’s something I didn’t know before and I add it to my grand planning insanity. I’ve come too far now to go back to winging it. And it’s silly not to pay this information forward. As I type, I’m helping two friends plan their inaugural WDW trips and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have their initial itineraries mentally planned out for later this year.

I wouldn’t even call my Disney Problem that severe. I’m more in the moderate-to-intense camp. There are many true WDW ninjas who vacation among us, and you probably wouldn’t know just by looking at them. In everyday life, they might be doctors, yoga instructors, stay-at-home parents  or waitresses. But once they start planning that trip, it’s a whole other gig. Plenty of folks have a walking plan optimized for the day and know the exact order of the rides they’ll pursue. They stuff enough snacks and well-packed coolers under their strollers to be able to avoid the sit-down meal. They have children who pass out in said strollers (mine never have). They know where to stand for the parades and which side of Main Street, USA to walk along to get to Cinderella’s Castle more quickly.

And others wing it, either knowing or not knowing the consequences. It’s true that once your kids get older, there’s a lot more give in the plan. I’m not there yet. But even when that day comes, I think old habits will die hard. You’ll still find me on my laptop 180 days beforehand at 6am.

OK, maybe 6:15.

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The Ghost of Christmas Renovations Past

Do you do that thing when, faced with an insurmountable and beyond overwhelming to-do list, you instead choose to do something entirely unrelated and pretty much unproductive?

No? Just me?

Because it’s after midnight as I’m typing this, and trust me when I tell you that the amount I have to do to make all the Christmas magic happen is insane.

Oh, speaking of insane, welcome to my home. The place where I impose silly Christmastime traditions like home renovations on impossible timelines. In 2014, I almost had to ask my carpenters to stay for Christmas dinner to get our front porch finished in time to allow guests to walk through an actual front door instead of shimmying in through a side window (because it’s the little things that make you feel welcome).

It was a highly stressful time. Who the hell would repeat these mistakes of the past? What kind of self-punishing fool would decide to “just upgrade the powder room” and then maybe have things sort of domino while insisting that all will be fine to host 30 people for Christmas?

<looks around to see if anyone else can be blamed>

It’s cool, though. We still have two weeks to go. Let me show you that we really don’t have much left to do.

Here, you’ll see that our living room is ready to greet our friends and family in full Christmas decor. Clearly everyone will pick up on our festive theme upon entering our home. In the far end of the photo, you’ll see our dining room – the place where we will gather to cherish our holiday meal together and form a lifetime of memories.

livingroomreno

Before you become concerned about the dining room, let me give you a closer look.

diningroomreno

The only real question left is whether to use the white or cream placemats. These decisions can be stressful.

I’m also thinking that maybe I just spotted my kids’ homework under that tarp.

But in terms of logistics and necessity, do not worry. The new bathroom is definitely on track for completion.

bathroomreno

Just a few final touches and it will be ready to go! I really should get the Christmas hand towels into the laundry since I’ll need them any day now.

And, you’ll be glad to know that, despite all evidence to the contrary, I actually have extremely low blood pressure. So there’s room for error before I stroke out completely.

Say it with me: “It will be fiiiiiiine.”

Now say this with me: “I love wine through a straw in the daytime.”

There’s a reason I like you guys so much.

And this brings me to my deflection strategy. Here’s a truly microscopic sampling of what I could/should be doing right now:

  • Wrapping gifts
  • OK, fine – buying gifts
  • Moving an elf
  • Eating the chocolate in the kids’ advent calendar
  • Deciding if eggshell really is the right finish for the bathroom paint
  • Buying a lock and hinges for a new door
  • Accepting that my two year-old recognizes Home Depot as “the orange cart store,” or possibly as a play date
  • Finding a reputable mediator to use with my contractor when/if this renovation ever ends
  • Wondering if, with global warming trends, outdoor seating will be feasible for Christmas dinner
  • Using parental forensics to determine which kid’s fingerprints are in the wet hallway paint
  • Imagining where the fuck to put a Christmas tree in any of the scenarios shown in the above photos (we’re thinking front porch)

Nope, nope, nope.

I decided that a much more engaging use of my time would be to make a flowchart. See, I’m in the middle of sending out my holiday cards and am having my annual crisis of conscience over where to make the cuts in my list. I err on the side of ruthlessness but maybe I’ve been hasty. Perhaps it’s time to spread some additional cheer. Because going back to the post office this week would prove that there is a worse place to be than in my own home, and that would bring me more comfort than spiking my coffee.

holiday card flowchart final

 

Yeah, you’ll need to zoom in. Sorry, it’s late and my Edit Image skills are not up to par right now. I’ll try to tweak it next time I’m looking to avoid any and all responsibility.

So, in the spirit of public service, I hope you’ll find my flow chart both useful and timely. To be clear, this assumes you’ve already made basic decisions about your list. If you’re looking for advice on whether or not to cut out your parents or neighbors, I’m probably underqualified. This highly scientific approach that I’m advocating is really for the gray areas. The ones you and your spouse might not agree on. The ones that test the boundaries of your holiday spirit. The ones that make you question just how you want to use your last holiday Forever stamps.

If nothing else, I hope I’ve made you feel better about your holiday preparedness levels. And if your gifts happen to be wrapped and you’re looking for some amazing holiday deed to perform in the name of humanity, please drop by and I’ll pass you a paint brush. With wine and a straw.

 

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The Cyber Monday Virgin Report

You guys, I’m a little scared.

I’m scared that if I move my eyes off of this computer screen, they will begin to suffer withdrawal spasms and not be able to focus on actual real-life things that aren’t preceded by a blinking cursor or surrounded by the words SALE, TODAY ONLY, or CART.

I blame Cyber Monday.

It was my first time really embracing it, and I think I got a little carried away.

I never cared about Cyber Monday before. Pffffft. People, please. I have spent years pretending to be a writer on the Internet. I know how to waste hours at a time in front of a laptop. I don’t need an incentive to stray from any remaining shred of domestic responsibility.

But I had one big item I wanted to buy for my husband – and since I rarely come up with a good gift idea for him before December 23, I had to act on it. The thought of dragging a two year-old to any retail destination during the holiday season brought up feelings of terror and despair, so I figured I’d just have a look-see on the Target website to get what I needed. I’d be done in five minutes, tops.

I’m not a LOL kind of girl, but this might have to be an exception.

Over the next few (two? three? seven? space and time got weird) hours, here is a sampling of the thoughts that went through my head:

  • Oh, well, Target’s website crashed. I guess it’s not meant to be.
  • How many open browsers is too many to compare prices? 8? 12? Plus my phone? OK and the iPad?
  • Holy shit, this is sort of addictive.
  • My wrist doesn’t normally hurt. Is Sudden Onset Holiday Carpal Tunnel is a thing? I would Google it, but I don’t want to close my Toys R Us, Best Buy, Amazon or Diapers.com windows.
  • Seriously, the Target site is still down?
  • Is there a closet couponer deep in my soul?
  • “Oops, something went wrong?” Huh? Target, that’s not how you tell grown humans who are missing real-life obligations in order to score a deal that your site is messed up today. Remember when “Expect more” was your jam? How do we get back to those days?
  • Did I somehow skip lunch? What time is it?
  • WHAT THE HELL, TARGET? I’M TRYING TO MAKE A PURCHASE HERE AT $50 LESS THAN OTHER RETAILERS. GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER.
  • Why do I never know my passwords? And who set up these security questions about the mascot of my middle school? That was 1986 – I don’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning.
  • Who am I shopping for again? Who needs a gift? What else can I get? Who is my holiday grab bag person? How many teachers are in my life this year?
  • Oh, hold the fuck up. I need those boots. Merry Christmas to me!
  • Where the hell is the Cyber Monday Groupon code for the nearest massage to fix this wrist pain?
  • Exclusions apply? What exclusions? Areyoukiddingme?
  • My cart is empty? What do you mean, the item is no longer available? DAMN IT, TARGET!
  • Do we have any Visine in the house?
  • Is Monday almost over?
  • Is it normal to see images of shopping carts when I close my eyes?

 

Screenshot 2015-11-30 23.30.41

 

I think I get it now, the whole Cyber Monday thing.

The thrill of the chase is pretty great, especially when one can be seated firmly on one’s ass during said chase. Win/win. In the end, I got about 50% of my holiday shopping done, with only short-term damage to my retinas and wrist.

Too bad I never got the item for my husband, although my new boots should be here tomorrow.

 

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A Guide to Luxury Holiday Seating: Teen Edition

So, you might think that my lack of recent blogging means I have been immersed in some highly unproductive habits. Like perhaps celebrating the long overdue demise of pumpkin-everything season as we finally usher in the glorious Month of Peppermint. Or, maybe tying my own hands behind my back as to not engage in any online discussion of the current roster of presidential candidates. Or, possibly overseeing an overly ambitious home renovation that quickly spiraled from “Hey, our powder room looks dated” to “Do you think the house will still be stripped down to the studs for Christmas dinner?”

(Spoiler alert: Probably. Stay tuned.)

In short, although I have not been writing, I have been productive as hell. If hell is where pumpkin drinks and renovation timelines come to die.

And here we are, suddenly in the midst of all things holiday related. Yes, it’s the season of gratitude, and posting about gratitude, and posting about why people post about feeling #gratitude and #blessed.

While I count my many blessings in my head instead of in public list and hashtag formation, it’s hard to reconcile all of the sadness of current world events with our seasonal consumerism – it feels shallow and vapid sometimes. I’m not saying that my kids will be presented with a photo of an adopted heifer under the Christmas tree, but I am making a concentrated effort to find a balance.

This attempted balance is not easy with the shock-and-awe seasonal catalog approach that lands in my mailbox every day and tests even the most resolute observer of local recycling codes.

Old habits die hard, don’t they? No, no, not a longing for Yule Log programming circa 1982. I just can’t stop analyzing the absurdity of some of our favorite kids’ retailers.

Now, to be fair, I had sort of promised a while back to take on the inaugural issue of Restoration Hardware Teen because, come on. How do we just let that go? And then, between the out of control home renovation plans and making sure all of the dark chocolate from Halloween found its way to my secret stash, a few other writers beat me to the punch on RH Teen, and rightfully so.

And so, rather than re-hash what has already been beautifully covered, I’m going to move on. Well, in just a minute.

Can we first just talk about The Versailles Settee?

Classic 18th-century Louis XV chairs – originally designed to fend off drafts and keep the household porter warm – were the inspiration for our settee. With its grand dome, lush upholstery and gracefully carved feet, it provides a cozy and elegant retreat.

Classic 18th-century Louis XV chairs – originally designed to fend off drafts and keep the household porter warm – were the inspiration for our settee. With its grand dome, lush upholstery and gracefully carved feet, it provides a cozy and elegant retreat.

Well, wait, hold the phone. Now that I’ve read the official product description and I understand that this is going to serve as a $3500 European History reference point, well then that’s money well spent, don’t you think? How else would today’s teen know exactly what an 18th century French porter faced?

Not ready to drop that much cash but still concerned about where your teen will rest his or her precious bottom? Luckily, RH Teen will let your kid slum it in the $1700 Orbit Chair (if astronomy is really their focus over that pesky French history).

RHTorbitchair

Or, if they’re *really* grounded, send them to time out in the Tye Butterfly Chair in Mongolian Lamb (just $649).

RHTbutterflychair

Can you just hear it now? The exasperated texts?

“Uh, yeah. My mom seriously made me sit in the Mongolian Lamb chair and ‘think about what I did.’ WTFFFFF? She is the worst. It’s like prison here, but not as cool as OITNB.”

(Is that even what they would say? Or am I like the Smith Corona version of teen texting?)

I figured this focus on luxury teen seating was strictly a RH phenomenon. But, like a Christmas gift from the blogging gods, the never-count-us-out marketers at Pottery Barn somehow blessed my shamefully-unmonogrammed mailbox with their latest offering for teens.

And, friends, I am so glad that they did. Before you finish entering your credit card info to finance the Mongolian Lamb Chair of Shame over 24 months, first consider the PBT seating options. Because they are not fucking around.

You know those PBK mini “everyday” armchairs that lots of small kids have with their names stitched into them? (Ahem, I’m totally guilty of purchasing one.) I am starting to see that this was really the beginning of the problem. Why, let us create personalized, plush seating for the toddler set. And then, let us not regress for one single moment, ever, in offering them size-appropriate lounging options as they grow.

It’s an evil genius scheme that enables parents to rationalize the $159 Owl Fur Critter Beanbag – when, really, it’s the gateway drug of high-end tween seating.

And am I the only one who finds the woodsy creature theme sort of creepy?

PBTcritterbeanbag

(Side note: I spy at least eight wrapped gifts and three hot cocoas just waiting for the kids to arrive home from a tough day of sitting in terribly hard/not-ergonomic school chairs.)

I have to step back for a minute and just frame all of this PBT madness. It is 100% my own fault that I am surprised by any of this. Because anyone who views this cover and goes on to express shock on any level is really just missing context clues by a wide mile.

PBTcover

Is this a personalized re-creation of Frozen for the teen set? Like Anna and Elsa’s perfect American cousins tackle snow shoeing? Or are they hanging at their parents’ Norwegian chalet for a long weekend while their SAT tutor prepares their cocoa? It’s hard to say.

And in what is perhaps the most jaw-dropping display of setting one’s extra piles of cash on fire this holiday season, I give you the PBT Kick Back Recliner Speaker Chair ($699).

 

The perfect place to kick back for gaming, movie watching and music listening. Features a built-in audio system with Bluetooth, four speakers and a subwoofer.

The perfect place to kick back for gaming, movie watching and music listening. Features a built-in audio system with Bluetooth, four speakers and a subwoofer.

No word yet on when the throw pillows with #entitled will be back in stock to add that certain decorative punch. The Coke is a nice cross-branding touch, though. I guess an iced soy latte doesn’t look as good in a bottle.

But please say that you read the official product description. Because, if nothing else, it will serve as the only reason I’ll ever have for the word subwoofer on my blog. And I can’t let that chance just slip away.

OH, but for the love of all that is holy this season, do not confuse this chair with the Got Game Speaker Media Chair, which is compatible with various video game systems. (And, don’t worry, also has a subwoofer.)

Are we sensing a theme yet? Should the teens sit? Where will they sit? Are you equipped to seat them in the manner to which they’ve grown accustomed? Why are they standing? What is wrong with your home?

I don’t want to act like RH and PB didn’t include other items in their holiday catalogs. There was plenty of decor and luggage, too. And, just when I thought kids these days were growing up too fast, my heart was warmed not only by my spiked Sunday afternoon coffee, but by seeing a sweet stuffed animal available for tweens.

PBTspeaker

Oh, never mind. It’s a speaker that’s fully compatible with all phones, tablets and MP3 players. And, it’s made of “supersoft faux fur.” Not soft. Supersoft.

And, from a utilitarian standpoint, with all of the emphasis on seating, we cannot expect these kids to walk all the way across the Norwegian chalet to retrieve their own snacks or beverages. Pffffft.

PBTretrocooler

 

The retro cooler to the rescue.

Look, I know I don’t have teenagers yet, so who am I to judge? Maybe this will all make perfect sense to me in five or ten years and I’ll be all, “Go to your room and sit in that Mongolian Lamb Chair until I tell you to come down here. If you need your mini-fridge re-stocked, let me know.”

It’s reasonable to think that I may be out of touch with any minor over the age of eight. And, truth be told, if my piss-poor attitude in my own teen years is any indication of what karma is going to throw my way as a parent, I’m probably screwed.

But, still. I’d like to go on record as saying that my future teens will survive in standard home seating. If anyone is getting a chair with a subwoofer and a bedside fridge, it’s me.

#blessed

#grateful

 

 

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Lessons Learned Over Winter Break

Greetings from the ongoing wreckage of Hurricane Christmas!

If all goes according to schedule, I should have all remnants of this holiday cleaned up just in time for July 4th.

I used to think that today — the first “real world” day of back to school, work, etc. — was the most depressing day of the year. HOWEVER, this year, while I am sad to leave the revelry behind, my opinion has evolved and today is not so bad after all.

back to school

In fact, as I sit here, typing in silence, I do believe there’s an unfamiliar feeling creeping up on me. Why, it’s joyful solitude. Holy crap, I’M ALONE. (Well, until the baby wakes up.) I am not fulfilling a snack request or mediating an argument or thinking about the next activity we can pursue to keep everyone from going insane.

I am sitting. The TV is on a channel of my choosing. The coffee I am drinking is still hot, without the assistance of a microwave.

But I did love the break, in the way that we look back on all things frenetic and wish we had enjoyed them more. I had lots of family around. Everyone stayed healthy. I even pulled off a pretty good Christmas dinner for 20 adults.

xmas1

xmas2

xmas3

 

xmas4

xmas4

 

 

And I learned a few lessons along the way.

1) The period of time that constitutes winter break is not analogous to the normal space/time continuum. It’s like dog years meets the big bang. Or something slightly more science-y.

2) A very reliable meat thermometer makes all the difference between stress-free holiday dinner prep and the hostess yelling, “We are SO having Chinese food next Christmas! DO YOU GUYS WANT LO MEIN WITH CHICKEN OR PORK?”

3) New addition to the Ninth Circle of Hell: Any and all airport pick-ups on the Sunday before Christmas. Bonus points if you brought a kid along “for a quick ride” who didn’t use the bathroom before you left the house.

4) There is no existing scale on the market that self-destructs into flames after producing your January 1 weight. (Hellooooo, product development opportunity.)

5) Forget North Korea’s threats. The real terrorists are the folks in China who package children’s toys.

6) How to set yourself up for failure: Trying to create a photo book of your entire year (OK, your previous 2.5 years) on the last day possible for holiday shipping. Disregard if you enjoy a) picking through 6,772 photos in one sitting and b) a slow, steady descent into blindness.

7) If you play a YouTube video of a previous New Year’s Eve in Times Square for your kids well before midnight, they will not know the difference. (Pro tip: Just conveniently stand in front of the screen when they flash the year 2014 or 2010 or 1977.)

NYE

8) Do not bother buying new toys for toddlers.

 

pots and pans FTW

 

pots and pans 2

9) There is no limit to the amount of princess accessories my daughter will wear simultaneously.

princess dress up

Or at any time, day or night (“I didn’t want my ice powers to freeze my bed.”)

ice powers by night

10) Above all, listen up: NEVER, ever play Cards Against Humanity with your dad. Unless you are already in therapy — then, consider doubling down on your weekly sessions.

I hope you and yours had a great holiday!

Now, back to reality we go. I have a lot of clean-up to do by my July 4th deadline.

 

 

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Tidings of Discomfort (and Joy)

Turns out there’s a fine line between thriving and cracking under pressure.

I truly love Christmas. I do. But I am willing to admit, with 15 days to go, that I maaaaaay have taken on a tad more than I can handle. Am I excited to have 25 people over on Christmas Day? Yes! Honestly, I am. On any given day, I’d rather host a holiday and keep my kids at home than spend multiple hours in the car. Because what else says joyful and triumphant like averaging 4 mph in traffic while mediating arguments over Frozen vs The Lego Movie for vehicular DVD entertainment?

But wow, the big day is coming fast and I’m not as prepared as I’d hoped to be at this stage of the game. This may have something to do with our latest home renovation project veering way off schedule. Our original completion timeframe was scheduled for mid-November, and yet, here we are — living in a construction zone with, among other setbacks, an erroneous front door that is far too narrow and actually more suitable for a doll house than a home where adults reside. Until the right door arrives (estimated delivery date: anyone’s guess), you’ll just have to enter sideways if you eat one too many crescent rolls. Unless you are an American Girl doll or a Barbie — then please, come on in. I can then serve you out of tiny toy teacups the size of thimbles just to keep the experience going.

At least I was making very good progress with my holiday shopping. I use the past tense because I had, until today, a complete and total false sense of security that came screeching to a halt when I took a few minutes to actually look at my purchases to date. And there, on the floor of my bedroom, was bonafide scientific proof that 1) it’s easier to shop for a girl than a boy and 2) I should never shop while undercaffeinated. With my daughter’s gift pile (I use the term loosely — these are all small gifts) looking about four times bigger than my son’s, I knew I was setting up some serious therapy discussions for his teen and adult years. Time to kick Operation Even Out the Gifting into high gear. Oh, except for the baby — at 18 months old, he will not know the difference. He loves playing with my Tupperware so much that I’m considering getting him his own set and calling it a day. Shhhhhhhhh. If any of you tell him he was under gifted, I will Photoshop the hell out of Christmas 2014 to prove you all wrong.

But guess what I got done early? For the first time EVER, I knew well in advance what to buy for my husband. I mean, apart from the obvious front-runner, this was a true Christmas miracle. I purchased. I had it delivered. When my friends discussed in stressed out tones what to get for their husbands, I nodded calmly and told them I was done while buffing my nails. And then I had an extra venti peppermint mocha because I earned it. The stress of finding something for him was alleviated before the first weekend in December.

Until he came home the next day and declared he would be making the very same purchase as something “we need for the house.”

Sonofabitch.

I had to come clean and ruin the surprise.

Moving on, I’d be lying if I said feeding my 25 Christmas guests wasn’t on my mind pretty much 24/7 at this point. Yes, I have some ideas. And the problem, really, is that the black hole of Pinterest has about four million more ideas that render what I considered traditional to be tired and just outdated. Ham? Prime rib? Pffffft. If you’re not infusing your stuffing with kale and serving a signature cocktail, does it even count as dinner on the Internet?

Now, there is one area where I have excelled (versus my own historical performance): My holiday cards. Imagine my complete shock when I placed my order last week and was offered options like standard shipping and others that did not involve a 670% premium for shipping via time machine. AND: I have already purchased all of my stamps. That means no physical altercations this year at the Post Office, which is a huge time saver.

Speaking of efficiency, as I prepare to get those cards out the door, I am going through my annual process of chopping down the recipient list. Not to be mean, but just to be prudent. My traditional (but sometimes modified) rule of thumb is this: If I haven’t heard from you at all since last year’s card and we’re not related, then sorry. In the paraphrased words of the Seinfeld Soup Nazi: No card for you! Happy holidays and godspeed. Your kids look adorable on Facebook, and keeping our relationship strictly at the Zuckerberg thumbs-up level is ok with me. No hard feelings.

My husband, on the other hand, is less ruthless. Put another way, he would be ok with sending a card to everyone we’ve ever known since the dawn of time. It’s really a nice thought. And that’s because he’s way nicer than I am. But you know what he’s not? The person who is sending all of the cards. It’s a discussion every December.

There are a few other people I won’t be sending cards to this year. They are on my Holiday Shit List. Like the aforementioned Pinterest Overachievers. Also, the inventors of Common Core Math — because just when I thought math couldn’t get any more painful, touché! Let’s not forget Kay Jewelers, anyone who got a Lexus with a red bow like the commercials and all members of The Trans-Siberian Orchestra (do they play that music strictly to induce cardiac events?). Oh, and the manufacturers of my new front door. It’s a door, not a planet — let’s get moving here.

In the end, of course, the holiday season is not really about any of these things. The gifts, the cards, the menu, the state of my house. Most people won’t remember what I served and what my cards looked like. OK, but they will probably joke for years to come about my dollhouse front door.

The truth is that this year I have a lot more family members coming to visit who aren’t usually here for Christmas anymore, and it’s making me excited and nostalgic and thrilled and sad at the same time. It reminds me of the years we all had Christmas together — before people moved away and the crowd was always big and loud and crazy. It only recently occurred to me that every family has a golden era of sorts when it comes to holidays — a stretch of years, whether it’s a handful or a decade — when everyone is in good health and everyone travels home and nobody misses it. The years when all of the holiday snapshots, literal and figurative, are captured. And you can’t possibly know during those years that you’re all in the midst of that golden era and that it will become the standard to which you hold your holidays in your mind and heart for years to come. It becomes the time you look back on so fondly (family drama and all) and wish you had held it more dearly while it was here.

And while I won’t have every family member here, it’s going to be very close. Closer than it has been in years. It’s going to be special to me.

So maybe it’s easier to worry about food and cards and gifts.

Maybe it’s easier to stress about the size of the front door.

And maybe, in some respects, it’s better to be immersed in the crazy prep phase than to think about how infrequently these times actually come along.

(Still, I’m cutting the card list way back.)

discomfortandjoy

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It’s October, For the Win

I usually don’t realize how much I’m enjoying something until it’s just about over.

{Note: Except for wine or chocolate. I’m pretty much enamored from the beginning.}

But yesterday I came to a strange realization: October is my favorite month.

This was, somehow, news to me. 27 days in. OK, 40+ years and 27 days in.

Yeah, I’ve always loved autumn, with its foliage and crisp skies and sweaters and boots. And for many years, I had big time affection for September, what with its holdout warm temps and extended summer-esque vibe. And yes, it does deserve its rightful place of annual crowd favorite in many respects. Perhaps, though, it’s now having school-aged kids that has really made me appreciate Month 10 as top dog.

(I’m not going to justify my rationale each month, but let’s just say we can take any winter scenario out. Spring is fine, especially when we can officially bid any Polar Votexy weather goodbye. And summer months, I do love you, but let’s not forget the business of everyone home from school all of the hours of all of the days.)

Yes, September is great, but, holy shit, it is so, so stressful and riddled with change. By the time October starts, I have worked through my heartbreak over summer ending. I have muddled through the transition of back-to-school and closed toed shoes and routines and the occasional long sleeves. I have embraced the end of SPF 5 million every day. I have learned to live in a world where Pumpkin Spice Latte will never die. I have, with mixed success, procured all of the items on the school supply list. I have properly mourned the end of my favorite fruit season and moved on to the crock pot, the gourds and the soups.

All of that business is behind me by October. The temperatures drop and the fire pits pave the way for long evenings outside with deep, visible breaths. It is the last gasp before the all-too-early holiday season nonsense kicks in. Because we all know that the moment the last trick-or-treater rings the bell, the Christmas machine ramps up, with Thanksgiving just smashed in between somewhere, like a tryptophan afterthought.

October is the breathing room, the mental break, between adjusting to fall and preparing for the madness of November and December. It eases us gently into that rushed and insane season, with harmless Halloween decor and hay rides — little markers for mini-holidays, conditioning our collective memory to prepare for what lies ahead.

All the while the leaves turn into a million brilliant shades and you can smell neighboring fireplaces at work.

While you look for your favorite sweaters from last year, you realize one morning that your kids’ pants are all inches too short, after not having seen the light of day in half a year.

They are already so much bigger than they were in, say, July. The baby has words now and real mobility. He has entered that phase of utter sweetness by nature and sheer frustration over his own limitations — peeking down the pipeline of true toddlerhood. My oldest now reads books he couldn’t have fathomed under the distantly recent summer sun. And my daughter has suddenly become a real learner, whose days of pre-school seem like light years ago, rather than the span of just four months. And yet, October finds them firmly planted in their new school year, now accustomed to the new homework load and details of their classroom routine.

October, you are not all shiny and bright, though. The daylight hours begin to tangibly shrink, which makes the tasks of parenthood feel longer. Like we’re squeezing more than 24 hours into the day and watching the sunlight dwindle before we’ve even entertained the 32nd request for dinner. Every morning, there is the question of the heavier jackets and, before long, the gloves and hats and boots. And firing up the heat on the thermostat for the first time.

But I will take it. Because with every outgrown jacket and lost glove mystery, there is both routine and promise in October. There is the daily ordinary, just before the catalogs, the retail onslaught, Jingle Bell Rock, and the switch from PSL to Peppermint Mocha — just on the brink of taking us into the home stretch of the year.

With costumes and candy at the ready, my kids feel differently than I do. They have waited it out. They have counted down this month. They are wide-eyed over the prospect of Halloween and are ready for the end of October.

I’m not. I wish I had figured out just a little sooner how much I’ve loved it. I wish I had enjoyed the breathing room just a little bit more.

Sorry, September, but you’ve been replaced.

october

 

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Seven

Seven snuck up on me.

Even though I know what follows six.

Even though he had a four-month countdown going.

Even though I bought the gifts and made the cakes.

Still. Seven snuck up on me in a lot of ways.

It snuck up on me that, on the rare occasion when he falls asleep in the car after a long ride home, I can physically no longer carry him into the house.

It snuck up on me that he would have an opinion about which pants he prefers for gym class.

And it definitely snuck up on me, one day this winter, that all of his clothes were way too short. Not a little, but as if it had happened in a week. And maybe it did.

This was a year of massive change for my first born child. First grade. Full days of school. Homework. After-school activities. So many new entries into our daily routine. It’s a lot for him.

And, oh yeah, a new sibling too.

When the baby came home, I don’t think anyone expected just how smitten my oldest would be with him. And how it would stay that way, day in and day out. He adores their physical resemblance of one another. He tells strangers, with pride, all about the ins and outs of being the big brother. In the morning, he beelines to the crib to greet him.

And while the baby is his captive audience, his four year-old sister is his biggest fan. With their two-year age differences comes the fighting and standard nonsense between them, but the rhythm they’ve created to make ninjas, warriors and princesses co-exist is — most days — really something.

He is a mush at heart. Often it takes some peeling back of the layers to get there, but I hope that inner sentimentality will never change about him. I love that he doesn’t blink when I still hug and kiss him at school drop-off and pick-up. I wonder all the time if those days are numbered. I know deep down that they are.

Last night, when briefing me on how the Star Wars birthday cupcakes should be distributed between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance, he told me that turning seven made him closer to being ten. I told him not to rush — I almost pleaded — but his eyes were wild with excitement over the prospect of being one year older.

He loves the funny, my boy. His knock-knock jokes may be works in progress, but his belly laugh comes from a place so deep in his soul that it still almost reduces me to tears sometimes. His imagination is boundless and exceeds any expectations my husband and I had from our own genetic input. His curiosity is also infinite. And I say that with both admiration for the wonders of childhood and with sheer exhaustion. {Because, if you thought there was a limit to the number of questions one could ask about, say, volcanoes or perhaps scorpions — you would be dead wrong.}

I’m reminded by him often that he’s getting bigger. He asks me what he’ll be allowed to do when he’s 10, when he’s 12, when he’s a teenager. When can he drive? When can he make the decisions about dinner? When can he stay up as late as he wants?

And yet, when I ask him where he’ll live when he grows up, he always states matter-of-factly: “Here. With you. I’ll always stay here with you.”

I will remind him of this years from now and, if I’m lucky, he’ll laugh it off and only roll his eyes a little.

In the meantime, he belongs right here with me.

I kissed and hugged him at bedtime last night and he yelled with joy, “Goodbye, 6!”

And just like that, seven snuck up on me.

Happy Birthday, my sweet boy. xo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Evening News: Winter Break Edition

Thank you for joining this special edition of the evening news. Tonight we take a look back at Winter Break 2013/14 through the eyes of one family.

  • I loved the break! It lasted so, so, soooo long! My favorite part was the extra screen time my mom gave us, especially when everyone was throwing up.” — Child, age 4
  • “Can I go back to work now? Maybe taking seven vacation days was really going overboard. And what is that crusty substance on the floor of the minivan?” — Husband/Father
  • “WE GOT A WII! AND I HAVE PLAYED MORE IN THE LAST WEEK THAN MY RETINAS CAN PHYSICALLY HANDLE. JUST TRY PUTTING ME BACK ON A SCHEDULE WHEN SCHOOL STARTS UP. I’M GOING TO GET ANOTHER COOKIE NOW.” — Child, age 6
  • “***(^&&^%&^%$$^%&” — Infant, age 6 months {Translation: “They tried to sleep train me but I prevailed. I own these people, especially overnight. And what’s with all the vomiting?”}
  • “What? Who? Where? Did someone puke again? Is the break over yet?” — Wife/Mother

But first, we start our coverage with some breaking news.

After an extensive search & rescue effort, there are now reports that a patch of carpet has finally been spotted under the pile of wreckage known as Hurricane Christmas.

Yes, folks. A mere ten-ish days after Santa left the building, unnamed sources close to the family claim there is hope to restore this area to its pre-December status as a functioning living room.

These accounts remain unconfirmed at this hour. We do know for sure that wrapping paper remnants, boxes and toys have overtaken what has been called “a shockingly unacceptable perimeter.” More on this as recycling bags and European vacuums are delivered to the sight.

 

In other news:

  • Moving on to the weather: Last Friday’s snow storm {sponsored by karma} produced about 8-10 inches outside. But the real story here is the shit storm that was happening in the house. Laundry accumulations outperformed even the most outrageous estimates, especially after the stomach bug took out all five family members over the holiday break. At last calculation, it appeared that the residence has accrued approximately 749 metric tons of dirty clothes, but experts warn that these figures are considered preliminary and could continue to climb.
  • In today’s health news: Christmas cookies for breakfast — just how much is too much? If you answered, “even one serving after January 1,” you might be surprised. Household members taken down by the Gastroenteritis Christmas Plague beg to differ. Says one unnamed mom, “But I had no source of calories or blood sugar regulation for 48 hours. Surely this is the fastest path to resetting my system to its normal levels. And is it wrong to alternate between yoga pants and pajamas for two and a half weeks? It is? Shut up — when does school start?”
  • Taking a look at consumer spending trends in the area, it sure has been a windfall for local liquor sales. In fact, one nearby wine store in particular reported unprecedented sales coinciding with the announcement of public schools being closed on Friday after students had reported back just one day earlier.
  • Let’s talk sports! This household is producing some major contenders who have been training 24/7 since school was released on December 20. While previously unranked beyond the domestic level, look for members of this family on the Sochi medal podium in events such as Whining & Bickering Doubles, Synchronized Distance Vomiting, Parental Speed Drinking and Decathalon Sleep Deprivation. Put your support behind Team USA!

We’re just about out of time for tonight’s special report. We hope you enjoyed this look at Winter Break.

Please join us next week for “Dear God, Is it Still January?”

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2013, I Think I Loved You

Everyone’s telling me that they can’t believe this year is over.

I disagree.

I can totally believe it. I think that going without a full night of sleep for 50% of the year really extended my 2013 experience. I feel like I got my 365 days’ worth. And then some.

But I can’t complain. 2013 was very, very good to me. All 8,988 days of it.

There was first grade and ninjas and Legos underfoot.

There was pre-school and purple and pink accessorizing and princess overload.

There was a new baby! A sweet, sweet baby! A non-sleeper (yes, still) but the happiest insomniac you’ll ever meet.

There was blogging fun in not one, but two books. And near-hyperventilation in a live show.

There were short winter days and long summer nights. Snowballs and seashells and road trips.

There were yoga pants and cocktail dresses. OK, mostly yoga pants.

There were bicycles and scooters and minivans and strollers.

There were friends, near and far. Family from many corners of the map.

There was coffee. There was a tragic amount of pregnancy seltzer. And then there was a lot of wine.

There were life-changing high points and there were tears to be wiped away.

There was the daily routine and there were times when we were shaken and stirred and forced to regroup.

There were arguments and bliss and comfort and bickering and belly laughs.

There was all that and more. Here it is — 12 months in just over a minute.

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So long, 2013. I’m not a fan of odd-numbered years, but you were a gem after all.

Happy New Year to you and yours!

 

 

 

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