Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A crisis of faith

I've been debating posting this for long time now. It's been running in my head for months now, but I guess I've been scared to hear the comments, feel the backlash, and maybe even alienate friends and family.

You see, I was raised Catholic. Roman Catholic to be exact. I received all of my sacraments, went to CCD, and even got married in a Catholic church. I considered myself to be a Catholic the majority of my life. But now, I'm not so sure.

I've been participating in a Bible study with other Catholic women and to be honest, I've felt like an impostor. There are things in my life that directly contradict my religion. For example, I divorced my Catholic ex-husband. We never had marriage annulled. (Heck, I'm pretty sure that means that technically, I'm not part of the Catholic Church anymore.) Based on my personal beliefs, I'd most likely be categorized as a "Cafeteria Catholic." In reading the passages for the study, I keep coming back to the thought that religion in the Bible seems so much simpler than in real life. God put forth Ten Commandments, the golden rule (to treat others as you would want to be treated), and sent his Son to teach us how to be good, God-loving people. But religion gas given us so many other rules to follow.

As I've mentioned before, I'm an avid reader of the blog Momastery. Amidst its silly stories about parenting, heart wrenching tales of people in need, and observations about everyday life there is a central theme -- Love wins.

Momastery has taken on a life of its own. It isn't just words on a screen, but a community of women who loves everyone, as they would themselves. Who donate money via love flash mobs to complete strangers because those strangers are in need and these women have the means to help. Who truly believe that love is all around even when you are so far down, you can't believe it still exists.

In a lot of ways, that is what I want my church to be. A place full of compassion, giving, and God's love no matter who you are.

Both of my kids have been baptized Catholic, despite my husband not being a Catholic himself. They have godparents and go to CCD and maybe in the end, that's how it will stay. Maybe I'll remain a Cafeteria Catholic and watch them partake in the same sacraments I did. I'm not really sure.

I will continue to follow God's Commandments and the Golden Rule, to thank Him every day for the health, happiness, and safety of myself, my husband, my children, and my friends and family. Right now, that's all I know.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Doing Disney with pre-schoolers

We just got back from Spring Break in Orlando with our 4 year-old daughter and 2 year-old son. I did a lot of reading and researching for our trip so I felt prepared. Here are some tips and tricks if you decide to brave the trip with your little ones:

There are tons of guidebooks out there but I found Birnbaum's guide to be the most informative and concise. It was well organized and includes maps and itineraries to help you plan.

Luckily for us, our hotel room had a washer and dryer in it so I didn't need to pack an outfit for every day. Depending on what time of the year you are in Orlando, the weather can fluctuate. While we were there we went from short sleeves and shorts to jeans and sweatshirts and back again. Orlando is also famous for rain showers. I purchased ponchos before we went for just a few dollars each and that is all they were worth. Do yourself a favor and buy GOOD ponchos. I wound up getting one at Disney for $8.50.

Comfort items are essential.  Just because you're on vacation doesn't mean you should alter your usual bedtime routine because let's face it -- your kids need their sleep. Mine brought their pillow pets, a favorite stuffed animal and two books that we rotated for bedtime stories. We also packed night lights. Hotel rooms are very very dark.

After reading various blogs, I also brought along ziploc bags in various sizes. I was very happy to have it to protect my iPhone the day it poured!

We chose not to bring our stroller. Both kids are old enough to walk through the airport and I've never been a fan of collapsing the big stroller and trying to squeeze it through the X-ray machine. The strollers at Disney are expensive and are just plastic platforms with a sun shield. Singles are $17/day and doubles are $35. For a little over $100 I was able to rent a double stroller with a rain cover, small cooler, and insurance from Kingdom Strollers. They even dropped it off and picked it up from our hotel. I decided on the double in case my 4-year old got tired. It turned out that she rode it in more than the 2-year old. Go figure.

To help defray some of our in-park costs, I signed up for the Disney Visa card and used it religiously to pay for groceries, gas, and other purchases and then paid it off in full every month.  In about a year and a half I was able to get a gift card pre-loaded with over $500. That made it easier to say yes to $15 face painting and not be upset when the $4 bucket of popcorn was barely eaten.

*****UPDATE 2/10/14 -- Disney now offers Memory Maker instead of the Photo Pass CD to purchase in advance. This includes photos from all the PhotoPass locations, plus dining, character, and attraction photos. You then get digital copies of all the images. If you buy before you go (needs to be at least three days before), you save $50 ($149 vs. $199 at the park). While you are there, be sure to check your images. Most appear online within 24 hours. By checking my account, I was able to see that our pic taken on Main Street didn't have the castle in it so we were able to get it retaken. Photo Pass also allows you to take as many photos as you want -- groups, couples, individuals. My husband and I did an impromptu kiss in front of the castle and it is one of my favorites.

If your kids are into characters like mine, I suggest this idea I found on Pinterest:

I bought the photo mats, stickers (in the scrapbooking section), and a pack of fine tip Sharpies all at the local craft store. This way your can put a photo of your child and their favorite character on display versus having a book full of signatures they probably won't look at again.

Speaking of characters... If your daughter is as Princess prone as mine, I highly recommend a meal at Cinderella's Castle. It was by far the best food we had while we were there. It books up quick so be sure to get your reservation in a year in advance. Yes, you read that right. 

The Parks
Strategy is your best friend in the parks. We were there at an "average" attendance time and wait times exceeded 70 minutes at the more popular attractions.  Fast Pass is a great program but it can have you zig zagging all over the park. (Tip: get Fast Passes for all the people in your party whether they can go on the ride or not. By doing this, we we able to ride Big Thunder Railroad two times on a row with no wait.) Prioritize what you want to do and work your day around that. For us, characters were a big deal so lining up right after the park opened to see Tinkerbell made sense for us.

Disney offers an app (iPhone and Droid) called My Disney Experience that will help you find characters and tell you wait times/Fast Pass issue times. Is was a great tool but loaded VERY slow in Magic Kingdom. (Tip: Disney has in-park wifi so don't kill your battery using 4G!) They also have a whole planning website including customizable maps. I didn't use this service but its available.  I found Kenny the Pirate's blog to be much more useful for locating characters. The site breaks down who is in which park, where they are, what times, and if you can find them at another park as well.

To save money and time, pack snacks and drinks. Disney allows you to bring them in to the parks so take advantage!! I bought take and toss cups to use on the plane, in the hotel, and in the parks. They are especially useful at Animal Kingdom which only has paper straws.

Magic Kingdom has the most to do for the littles as far as rides go. There are tons of character greets so pick and choose your lines wisely. Make sure you FP for the Princess greet at Town Square theater. Mickey is there as well, but there is no line later in the day (4pm-ish) so don't waste a FP on it. We found that we needed to go back to MK in order to see and do everything we wanted.

Animal Kingdom comes in second with it's petting zoo and Safari ride. (Tip: if you want to ditch the kids with your spouse and ride Expedition Everest, there is a single rider line tucked away to the right of the Fast Pass return entrance. The wait time was 15 minutes when we entered the FP line.) AK has few character greets and is the only park where you can meet Pocahontas.

Hollywood Studios was good for shows -- Disney Junior live on stage was a big hit as was Beauty and the Beast on Stage. There are lots of great character meets here as well including Jake, Handy Manny, Phineas and Ferb, and Lightening McQueen and Mater.

Epcot held little interest for the kids other than The Seas with Nemo and friends which we really didn't need to see since we had gone to Sea World a few days before. Epcot is the only place to get Belle's autograph. She does photos at her story time in Fantasyland but the wait was over an hour when we went by. (Tip: the line at Epcot forms quickly as well so get there right before she's "off duty" to line up as one of the first people to see her when she gets back.) We did Epcot after our additional morning at MK and that was enough time there for the kids.

And remember...
There are a lot of people. And lines. Your kids will be missing naps and overwhelmed with it all. Try to be patient and realize that if they act up at home, they'll act up at Disney too, happiest place on earth or not. It is your vacation too so try not to get too stressed about it all and get a few big kid rides in for yourself.

So there you have it. Hope you enjoy your trip!