Jeff & Nicole

A photo of my nephew at 4 years old resting his chin in his handsThis is my nephew Jeff when he was four. I took this picture at Disney’s (then) MGM Studios. It was my first trip to Disney with my boyfriend/fiancé’s family (Side note: A-Man and I had gotten engaged the night before I took this picture, but that’s a story for another time).

It was a warm May day and we were waiting for a parade to start. He’d just finished telling me that he didn’t want to get wet. I was confused, but after getting over her shock, Grammy explained. Apparently, he remembered the Aladdin’s camel’s spitting on him when he’s watched the parade two years earlier. For what it’s worth Aunt Lee got wet that time, Jeff did not.

He was the one we spoiled when we were double-income-no-kids (sorry buddy you got gipped after we got married and bought a house and once we had our own kids? Oy!).

He was second only to Grammy on the call list for baby sitters.

He dotes on his little brother and the feeling is mutual. Jason is extremely developmentally delayed, but Jeff ranks as his all time favorite human.

He’s the first one I thought of when my kids’ pre-school needed a teacher. He’s THAT good with kids. He had the nerve to follow his interests and leave education for the business world, but he’ll make an amazing father some time way, way, way, way, way, WAY down the road.

He’s got one of the largest collections of Nerf weapons of any person of any age that I know.

Jeff & Nicole on their wedding day Holding H, the cutest flower girl ever.*

I took this picture a few weeks ago on his wedding day. That’s Jeff and his bride Nicole. Holy cow time flies! He’s married AND a homeowner. They’ve been together for five years. College sweethearts as it were. They’ve definitely faced some challenges and persevered. She’s good for him and he for her.

They are cool in the eyes of my kids and I’m happy they have them as a role models.

Congratulations Jeff & Nicole!

 

 

* They are holding H, the bride’s cousin, the cutest flower girl ever and Jeff’s shadow for the day. I don’t have her parent’s permission to post her face on the Interwebs, so instead you can enjoy the lovely leaf and trust me when I say she was TOTALLY adorbs!

DIY Halloween Costume – Steve from Minecraft

It’s that time of year again. Halloween! Crafty Cathy I am not, and I’m also not fond of spending $$$ for poorly made crap. This year our primary costume makers were tied up with other obligations. Something about a son/grandson’s wedding. 🙂  So I was on my own. Said wedding did buy me a little time as we didn’t have our normal Columbus Day festivities at the lake, but there are still many other spooky celebrations to be enjoyed and opportunities to collect candy.

Fish is taking a pass this year. A combination of age and food sensitivities put an end to her trick or treating career. Mim announced he wanted to be Steve from Minecraft. If you aren’t familiar with Minecraft, it is an a video game that involves highly pixelated characters and structures. There are two different modes creative, where you can build all kinds of buildings and survival mode where you fight for your life against Creepers (green pixelated monsters). Steve is the main character.

A quick web search turned up a pre-made cardboard mask. $30 for flimsy cardboard?? No dice! Besides, I still had 4 days left, I could do this right?

Thankfully, I found this Instructables costume.  A little beyond my skill set, (he lost me at sheet rock screws) but definitely some useful information including downloadable “skins” that could be modified to fit any box.

Here’s my supply list

  • A recycled box large enough to accommodate your child’s brain case.
  • A package of full sheet mailing labels ($9.99)
  • Photo editing program (I used Adobe Elements)
  • An Exact-o knife & blades
  • A mental ruler and cutting mat

Assembly

First I found a box and cut a whole for Mim’s ginormous head. No really it’s HUGE! The kid has been wearing adult sized helmets for at least 3 years.

 IMG_0082

Next, I sized the downloaded the skin files from the Instructables site to 8.5 x 11 and printed them using the borderless setting. I made a few extra copies and even created separate files that were flesh toned and t-shirt toned. So I could fill in as need be.

Steve Face in Adobe Elements

Then it was time to trim the labels and apply them to the box.

IMG_0084

Meet Steve.

IMG_7579

Here is a 360 Degree view of the head.

360 Degree View

 

 

 

Appreciation

I recently had this exchange via text with a fellow volunteer.

 a text exchange "LOL" You rock Seriously Rock!" "Thank you without getting too sloppy your appreciation is appreciated" "Heheheheh It's nice to be apprecaited :)" "Well It's Nice when someone verbalizes it"

Her words made me feel good and it got me thinking. We need more appreciation in this world. People are quick to complain and all you need do is read the comments section of any online news article and you’ll see that rudeness and hostility abound.

When I really stop and think about it, I have much to appreciate in my life (my family, friends and many material things), but too often I get bogged down in what frustrates me (my husband’s wonky work schedule, kids who view me as the maid, my inability to lose weight).

That night, those words of appreciation made a difference. I decided it was time to start voicing my appreciation more. I’ve been trying to let those around me know that I appreciate them and the things they do.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Pollyana I can, and do, fire off a frustrated rant with the best of them, but I am making a conscious effort to appreciate the good.

 

You know you live in the country when . . .

The other day I was out walking with a friend. We’re up to 4 miles with a 16 minute per mile pace. YAY US!! But, I digress, we were out walking and passed a house where a crew of men was taking down some trees.

My friend said “Oooh, that’s a nice one.”

I turned to look thinking she was referencing something like this.

'Construction Worker' photo (c) 2010, Phillip - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

No, actually it was a smaller version of this.

'P5100013' photo (c) 2008, Kid Cowboy - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

For my city slicker friends, she was ogling a wood chipper.  God, I love living in New Hampshire!

The Disney Dream – Five Magical Days Part 2

For background and the first day of our cruise, please read part one.

Ports Of Call: Castaway Key

Disney leases the island known as Castaway Key from the Bahamian Government. Disney is once again in complete control of the environment and it shows. A selfie with mask and snorkelSince we’d sunk so much into Atlantis, we did Castaway Key on the cheap, opting for a package deal where we could swim with the stingrays, rent tubes and rafts, and ride bikes for an hour (it was too damn hot so we stuck with water activities). We had an awesome day. The girls loved swimming with the stingrays. The boys, meh not so much. The rays are kind of like puppies, when you first get in the water. They are excited to see you because they know you are going to feed them. They swim around in between your legs and onto the special tables where you can pet and feed them. According to the marine biologist who briefed us, there were 61 sting rays and they were rescues. All of their barbs were trimmed for safety, but we were still encouraged to do shuffle our feet through the sand to alert them to our presence.

3 frames Fish feeding the stingrays, A sting ray underwater, a stingray buried in the sand.

We were divided into groups and everyone had chance to feed them (if desired). After they’ve had their fill, we took our snorkel and masks and were free to swim around their pen. Fish & I were floating having a staring contest with on of the rays when all of the sudden he (or she) rippled and disappeared except for her eyes. We both immediately stood and said “id ooo ee ah?” at the same time. We laughed and took the snorkels out of our mouths and said “Did you see that?” I’ve seen it on TV and in films, but it is really cool to experience in person.

3 frames a long view of Castaway Key, beach umbrellas and the clear blue sky, The Disney Dream as viewed from the beach on Castaway Key

We floated, we ate lunch, A-Man & Mim explored the water slide while Fish & I snorkeled some more, we had a day full of as much or as little activity as we wanted. The kids had an opportunity to participate in group activities on the island, but both were content to hang with their parents. Their parents thoroughly enjoyed it in anticipation of those years when they will want nothing to do with us.

A teak bench and three deck chairs with cumfy cushionsOur fourth day was an At Sea day. This is by far my favorite part of cruising. I make it a point to find at least a little time to grab a lounge chair on the deck closest to the water and just appreciate the sea. I stare, I read for a while and eventually I end up investigating the inside of my eyelids, but I find it tremendously rejuvenating.

One of the amenities on The Disney Dream is the Aqua Duck, a “water coaster”. It’s a clear tube filled with water, you ride around the perimeter of the ship on an inflatable raft.Towards the end of our At Sea day, the line was manageable enough to entice me to try it. Fish & Min on the Aqua Duck (on an inflatable raft in a clear tube filled with water)It was fun and definitely a novel approach to a water ride. The kids loved it. Husband and I pulled up a few beach chairs and relaxed watching the end of Tazan on the massive LCD screen mounted on the ship’s funnel (aptly named FunnelVision). It was enjoyable even if we did have to share the space with OPKs (other people’s kids 🙂 ).

Logistics

Disney manages things well. Boarding was a breeze. They pay attention to every detail. Even what folders guests leave in the cruise terminal. (NO! I didn’t leave the folder with the travel documents and passports at a counter by the Oceaneer’s club desk). *ahem*. We even had a full, hot breakfast on the morning of our departure.

Debarkation was a little crowded, but there is a smaller window of time in which 4,000 people pick up their bags, and pass through customs to get back to the U.S. Still we had no trouble finding our bags and the lines moved at a reasonable pace.

Would we do it again?

We will cruise again. Will we take a disney cruise again? Probably not. One of the big draws for us was the kid friendly atmosphere and by the time we have saved enough to cruise again, the kids will be old enough where that won’t be such an issue. We’ve cruised with Carnival and Royal Carribean in the past. They all provide excellent service (although not quite as good as Disney). We paid the extra to have an environment where we could be comfortable letting our kids go with minimal supervision. Was it worth it? Most definitely. Do I recommend it to other families? Without reservation. The Disney staff is just amazing. You will have a good time. Your child will have a good time. The memories are worth every penny.

The Disney Dream – Five Magical Days Part 1

About a year ago, my husband announced that the time was right to take the kids on a Disney Cruise. Um, Ok, no arguments here. I did some research and the plans were made.

Me: “When should we tell them?”

Him: “The day we leave.”

Can I just tell you how hard it is to keep a secret of THAT magnitude? Amazingly, we pulled it off. Here’s where the kids found out they were going on a Disney Cruise.

Let me start by saying that the number one objection I hear to Disney vacations is that they cost too much. It’s true, that they aren’t cheap, and a year later our finances weren’t as robust as they had been, but we made the trip anyway and I’m really glad we did. Disney has incredible standards of service that make any vacation with them a wonderfully memorable experience.

Ship: Disney Dream

Departure Port: Port Canaveral Florida

Cruise Length: Four nights/Five Days.

Ports of Call: Nassau, Bahamas, Castaway Key, Bahamas (Disney’s private island).

Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Accommodations

My Daughter waking up (slowly) on the bottom bunk The thing about Disney is that they get the important stuff right. Our room was tight, but comfortable, we had opted for a room with a balcony, something I highly recommend. We had a queen sized bed and the kids had bunk beds. One dropped out of the ceiling and the other was the couch converted into a twin bed. Both kids said they were comfortable and our mattress was fantastic. The bathroom was in two separate rooms, a shower and sink and then a second space for a sink an the toilet. I’ve cruised before and one of my big complaints is the size of the shower. This one was down right spacious in comparison. It even had a little bench.

Disney Cruise Food

Food is a big factor for us when we travel. Fish is intolerant to gluten, eggs and dairy and allergic to red food dye. The combination means we rarely eat out at home, but Disney is amazing at handling food allergies. The staff went out of their way to accommodate her needs, even planning ahead to have an extra, sushi style appetizer on hand when they knew she’s love it. I may have been a little jealous that I didn’t think to order two myself. It was THAT good.

My one complaint was that outside of meals it was sometimes hard to track down snacks. On other cruises I’ve been on something has been open 24/7. But there were times when I just wanted a little nibble and couldn’t find even a strawberry. Truth is I probably saved myself a few pounds. I never starved, I was just looking to fill in a few cracks here & there.

Disney Cruise Activities

Fish is 13 and Mim is 9. Neither child participated in the planned activities as much as we thought they would, but in hindsight I attribute that more towards their personalities then a flaw in the programming. Her age group was automatically given the right to enter and leave the activities as they pleased. Their activities mostly started at 4pm. It’s a hard age to program for, but there was a variety of events, including cooking, movie making, movie viewing, video games and dance parties.

3 pictures horizontally, Mim & Mike from Monster's Inc. In the Oceaneers Lab, A snap of The Edge, teen hang out, The Sail Away party on the big screen on the ship's funnel.

Mim’s group, The Oceaneers, had a two spaces just chock full of fun all day long. There was a Toy Story themed toy room, a craft room a dance floor, a science lab and gobs of video game stations. There were plenty of staff available to organize games and trouble shoot where necessary. We opted to give Mim the same freedom to sign in and out of the activities as he desired, with the understanding that if he didn’t behave responsibly, he would be glued to our sides. Some people were aghast that we’d let our 9 year old run around the ship unattended, but we know our kid.Close up of my Son & Daughter in a porthole window. He was great about making sure we knew where he was at all times. It was actually nice to be able to feel comfortable enough with the environment to give him that taste of freedom, and even nicer that he lived up to our expectations.

Our schedule leading up to the cruise precluded a lot of family time, so the kids were keen to stay with us or do things as a family and that was fine with us. They even sought each other out to spend time GASP together! One highlight was a scavenger hunt that took them all around the ship. A-Man and I also managed to snag a few minutes to ourselves in the 18+ sections.

Ports of Call: Nassau. Bahamas

Here we opted for an excursion to the Atlantis Resort. Where we paid an exorbitant amount of money for access to Aqua Adventure (their water park), a lunch voucher and a tour of the aquarium. I should say we started off this trip by visiting Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon. In comparison, Atlantis Aqua Adventure has fewer attractions and longer lines that Typhoon Lagoon and we were at TL a sunny Saturday in August. The only attraction Aqua Adventure had that was better than Typhoon Lagoon, was the river ride. TL’s is actually a relaxing lazy river. AA’s is a river rapids adventure. There are calm parts, but there are also narrow passages and with rapids and waves. There are several paths to follow, on one, you are transported via conveyor up into the tower of one of the water slides. Where you then go down a series of slides until you are eventually released back into the river. That was fun and it was the last ride we rode, so we left with a pleasant feeling. The aquarium is small and in my opinion, not worth the trip. Atlantis is like a mini Las Vegas in the Carribean complete with gambling and high end shops. Nice, but not really my scene. If we hadn’t visited Typhoon Lagoon we might have had a more favorable impression of Aqua Adventure, but having visited both in such a short space of time, Typhoon won hands down.

I also feel the need to say that overall, I wasn’t impressed with Nassau. There are a lot of empty storefronts down town and in hindsight, I wished we’d picked an activity that supported the local economy rather than a mega-corporation headquartered thousands of miles away.

3 Frames My son & husband floating in a calm section of the river ride, a wave headed right for my daughter, the conveyer to the tube ride

 Stay tuned for part two later this week!

 

Remarkable Days – September 10th and 11th

The beginning of September is always chaos, back-to-school end-of-summer followed by September 10th and 11th. Both days hold significance for me.

September 10th.

A close up of my grandparents grave maker with my mother's information addedIt is remarkable to me because it was my mother’s birthday. She would have been 74 this year. Her birthday has passed without us talking before but this time there wasn’t even an answering machine on which to leave a message.

Instead, I spent the day filing to be named voluntary administrator of her “estate”. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, but circumstances change and the most reasonable path is for me to take over. There are no assets to speak of. She had no house and lived month to month on social security. I’m hoping to gain access to what little money was left in her checking account to offset some of the costs of her burial. If I haven’t already said it, death is expensive! We didn’t even go the gold and champagne route. The burial and service was respectful, but um, budget friendly and it was still pricey.

After my visit to the courthouse, I went to visit her grave. Per her request, she was cremated and buried with her parents. I received notification from the stone company that her information had been added to the headstone and I wanted to see it.

It was a drab day. I stopped and purchased a pot of mums some food for a picnic lunch and a cup of tea. It took me two tries to actually find the grave. I was in the right section, but as you might imagine, a Boston cemetery is literally teeming with headstones with Irish surnames. It’s enough to make you say OY! By the time I found the grave, it was raining, so I had to have my picnic in my car.

The day we buried the urn, I really felt her presence. I felt, loved, cared for and supported. Much of that is attributable to being surrounded by family and close friends, but there was more. I just had this sense that she was there.

When I went back this time, there was no such feeling. It was just a stone in the ground. In an odd way, that’s good. I’ve long thought that that graves were an odd tradition. I would much rather be remembered at the places where people shared happy experiences with me. I’m glad we were able to fulfill her wishes and that it looks nice (that would have mattered to her), but I don’t feel the need to go back. I’ll stop by again as I can, but more importantly, I’ll remember her when share a happy memory from my childhood with my kids or I eat fried clams.

 

September 11th

Close up of the some of the names at the South Tower at the 9-11 memorial. Twelve years out, the solemnity of the day seems to be waning. As documented by this blog post and this one, businesses are using it as an opportunity to promote their brands. I don’t mind brands like Chik-fila and Huggies tweeting remembrances, but AT&T kind of puts me off (and I am an AT&T customer), it only goes down hill the farther you scroll down in that second post.

I’ll be honest, I’m disappointed with my own remembrances of 9/11. I paused briefly. I watched a touching video and on Facebook, I read a few accounts of where people were when all hell broke loose. Even twelve years later, the events of that morning still haunt me but yesterday, was more or less a regular day for me. This was as much by necessity as a lack of any organized activity to attend. I have a friend who watched the ceremony online. I couldn’t. I knew it would wreck me for the day. I don’t want to forget, but remembering is hard.

The new tower on the former site of the Twin TowersFor each generation there is a touchstone, for those before me, it was December 7, 1941. For me and so many others it is September 11, 2001. I don’t ever want the horror to fade. I don’t ever want us to become complacent. Too many lives were lost that day and in the years that have followed. I don’t ever want to forget, but remembering the agony is often too much for many people, myself included. There has to be a middle ground a way to remember what happened, and to celebrate our progress towards recovery. I need a way to share this with my kids so it stands out in their minds. I want to protect them from the pain, but remind them of what happened. I want to remind them of all that was lost, remind them of our collective strength and encourage them to contribute to the greater good.

I don’t have a solution, I just know I don’t want to forget. I marked my calendar for July 11, 2014 to begin the process of planning some kind of remembrance that I can personally live with for September 11, 2014.

Did you do anything to mark the passing of another September 11th?

 

Huzzah! It’s BLT season

Oh how I love the end of August and beginning of September. I LOVE fresh tomatoes. Really big, red, juicy, fresh tomatoes. Ours acquired a bad case of horn worms this year, but I digress. Ever since I read Harriet the Spy, I’ve loved tomato sandwiches with mayo. I love tomatoes with mozzarella, in a salad, or with just a little salt. But, by far, one of my favorite ways to eat fresh tomatoes is in a BLT.

Turns out I was doing it wrong. I saw first saw this Life Hack on the Buzzfeed List 22 Things You’re Doing Wrong, but it’s worth noting it originated on Life Hacker

Last week I finally remembered to try the Bacon Basketweave method of BLT making.

Before cooking and after cooking pictures of 3 pieces of bacon woven together.

Pros

  • A much neater sandwich
  • No escaping bacon
  • Bacon in every bite

Con

  • It takes longer to cook bacon in the oven than in a frying pan.

Would I do it again? Absolutely.

The bacon weave on top of fresh tomatoes and lettuce on lightly toasted white bread with a swipe of mayo

Summer 2013 Summary

Well, I guess by now, it’s tradition that this blog is ignored during the months of July and August. 2013 was no different. Now that summer is “over” here’s a quick look back at what was going on when I wasn’t here.

June

On the left Mim & his tent mate at Cub Scout Camp on the right the San Diego Sky Line

As the school year wrapped up, Mim headed off to his second year at Cub Scout camp.  Once again he had a blast and this year, he even tried a few new foods. Whoo Hooo! At the end of the month, I headed out to San Diego for a whirlwind trip as part of the leadership team for the 2014 NOAH conference. I am coordinating social activities, so basically, I got to play tourist. San Diego is a lovely city and I’m looking forward to getting back there!

July

July 2013

The highlight of July was Sarah & Bob’s wedding. They’ve been together since high school and she is the first of the next generation of cousins to get married. It was a lovely wedding held on Cape Cod and afforded me the opportunity to laugh and visit with family and long-time friends. This is my mom’s side, so it was even more meaningful for me to reconnect with everyone.

Both kids attended NOAH family camp, and had a blast, while we were at the wedding. Special thanks to Grammy for keeping an eye on them while she also ran the camp! Mim did a Lego camp over what was possibly THE hottest week of the summer. Fish did a half day video production camp and later in the month they both did a three day Apple Video camp (bonus it was FREE!).  While there, she made her first personally funded major purchase, an iPad Mini. She baby sat and saved enough for the Mini, AppleCare, a screen protector and case. They’ve been inseparable ever since.  We squeezed in showings of Monsters University and Despicable Me 2 as well. At the end of the month, Mim tested for his 3rd degree black belt.

August

August 2013

August was a magical month.  We kicked it off by surprising the kids with a trip to Florida. We blew the trip off the surprise chart when we announced that we were going on a Disney Cruise. The vacation requires at least a post or two of explanation, but suffice to say it was an AMAZING experience. We rounded out the trip with stops at The Kennedy Space Center and SeaWorld, more info to follow.

Sprinkled in between were a few trips to the lake, our annual weekend with our friends the L’s (I didn’t take ONE picture!), the occasional play date, and several trips to the water park (we bought season’s passes).  We also celebrated Kristen and Ed’s marriage and celebrated Nicole as she prepares to marry my nephew Jeff. We ended the month with our 4th annual Back-to-School breakfast the day before school started. Then, it was time for the real thing!

Fish and Mim on their first day of school.

Now that I read back on all we did, it’s no wonder we had a laid back Labor Day weekend.  We all needed it!