I have a confession: sometimes I miss girlie things. You know I love my boys, but sometimes I wish I could buy the cute pink, sparkly things in the stores. So when we decided to donate some school supplies to Act Together Ministries, I secretly saw this as a chance to indulge in cute things. I had no idea it would turn into a great lesson in compassion.

So we took the boys to Target with a school supply list in hand. Then I told them we were going to buy supplies for a little girl. They were temporarily thrown off kilter, but it was so great hearing them talk about what "she" would like. Would "she" rather have a backpack with Disney Princesses or cute monkeys? "She" would like the notebook with hearts on it. Can "she" keep all of her supplies in this pink pencil case?

The drop-off location for the supplies was an ice cream shop. Every good deed comes with it's reward, right?

In the past, when we've shopped for donated items like this, we always went with the mindset of shopping for a boy the same age as Patriot and Azlan. But here, shopping for someone totally different than them, really seemed to build some empathy and compassion. Great surprise!
Our family has become major Food Network nerds this summer. We love watching "Food Network Challenge," "Iron Chef," and "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives," but "Food Network Star" is our favorite. I think it's great that the boys are learning how good food is made and understanding about quality ingredients. I wish I was a better cook, so we could experience more of this in our kitchen. But I think Patriot might end up being a pretty decent chef.

We had a quiet weekend at home and I dreamed up a Food Network Family Night. Our whole family are big fans of Mexican food, so we looked up some recipes and divided into teams to make dinner.

Team Salsa used Giada's Spicy Tomato Salsa recipe. We were surprised to find a traditionally Italian chef offering a salsa recipe, and the ingredients peeked our curiosity. We don't have a food processor, so they used a blender—worked fine.
Team Guacamole used Alton Brown's Perfect Guacamole recipe. This has become my favorite recipe to snack on—I love it! But I only use about 1/4 of the onion it calls for.

We did a taste test, and I have to admit that Team Salsa was the winner. I think that's because of the green color and onion in the guacamole. They can enjoy the salsa—just means more guacamole for me!

The boys and I worked together to make these beautiful chicken fajitas. I found a package of stoplight bell peppers, so the boys were able to taste the different colors raw and cooked. They both liked the yellow pepper best. We added some seasoned black beans on the side and had a great meal! (And I had help making dinner!)
This news story completely cracks me up. Watch the full video if you have a couple of minutes. The best part is the discussion between the anchors at the end.

I'll summarize: restaurant owner is tired of unruly kids in his restaurant and made a policy that kids under 6 are not allowed. Parents are mad because they're "being discriminated against."

NEWS FLASH TO PARENTS: If your kids can't sit in a restaurant without disturbing the other patrons, they shouldn't be in the restaurant. These parents should be embarrassed, not insulted.

It is the parent's responsibility to address behavior issues in public and teach their children to respect the people around them. I can remember sitting in the lobby of a restaurant (many restaurants, actually) with my misbehaving toddler while the rest of our group enjoyed our dinner. I took responsibility for my child, made myself uncomfortable if necessary, and taught my child how dine in a restaurant.

Now, both boys are pretty good at restaurant dining—able to place their own orders politely and color or work puzzles while they wait for their food. We are still working on volume control during the meal, and try to choose loud restaurants until we get a little more self-control in that area. We take responsibility for choosing a restaurant where our children will not disturb other diners.

My favorite line in the news story: We understand that your child might be the center of your universe, but he is not the center of THE universe.

I might have t-shirts printed with that quote.
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I hope you can handle one more post about our Disney trip. After this, I'll talk about something else. I promise.

Here is our trip in video pics. Please enjoy!

This is the final post in my series about our first trip to Disney World. I shared what I learned for any other newbie families out there. The Disney experts in my life are Kathy and Debra, so check in with them if you're looking for info that I don't have here. Comment or find me on Twitter if you have any suggestions or questions.

After a week at Disney, reentry into the real world can be tough. Both of my kids got sick, with fevers as high as 104. We all took 4-hour naps that weekend. And the piles of laundry were overwhelming. I only have three tips:
  1. Give yourself a couple of days if at all possible. We returned on a Friday, so we still had Saturday and Sunday to recover before work Monday.
  2. Spend lots of time enjoying your pics. We loaded them all on the computer and started editing them right away to compile them for a photo book. (BTW, when you enter your Photopass number, you might find you're missing a couple of pics. Find the place to submit a request and Disney will look for your missing pics for you! And they found ours! I was so excited!)
  3. Start planning your next trip to Disney. I predict we have a window of about 5-7 years that our family will be excited about Disney. After that, I'm afraid we'll have outgrown the magic. I intend to take my children to Disney as often as possible while we're in that window.
Enjoy the Magic!

Our family just returned from our first trip to Disney World and we had a wonderful time! We learned a ton and I researched for hours before we left. Over the next few posts, I want to share what I learned for any other newbie families out there. The Disney experts in my life are Kathy and Debra, so check in with them if you're looking for info that I don't have here.

We are a family that is willing to spend a little money on things that are important to us. Most people probably would not characterize us as "frugal." We like a certain brand of paper towels and won't buy other brands, even if they're on sale. But I do watch for coupons on that brand of paper towel and will buy extras when they're on sale. So we like to save money when we can and on the things that don't matter as much to us. And that's the way we approached our Disney trip.

We knew that, for our first trip, we wanted to stay in a moderate resor
t—not the cheapest, not the most expensive. And we decided it was worth it to upgrade to a pirate-themed room with a water view. So we were willing to spend a little more there. (Fortunately, though, we were able to get a discount on that room thanks to a friend who lives in Orlando. That's my first tip: make friends with people who live in Orlando.)

We also knew we wanted to have a handful of really good meals. We are a family of eaters, and we like to eat good food. Plus, we wanted the boys to experience some of the character meals. Those do not come super cheap and there are no coupons. You just have to bite the bullet.

So how did we save money? Read below, and please comment with any savings tips of your own.

  • Eat breakfast in your room. We have a tradition where the kids get to pick out a sugar cereal to eat on vacation. This is something they look forward to. Plus, everyone's so anxious to get the park, they don't eat a lot anyway. And days with early Extra Magic Hours, you'll leave for the park so early, you might eat in the car on the way. We did Poptarts and bananas that morning. Pack some plastic spoons, put some milk in your room fridge, and use the coffee cups provided, and you've got breakfast.
  • Brown bag one meal at the park. We packed bread and peanut butter, chips, carrot sticks, and some Oreo's in a gallon-sized baggie for lunch every day. Any counter service place that serves breakfast will have jelly packets with the condiments. And if they serve salads they'll have ranch dressing for you to dip your carrots, but you'll have to ask. You'll be able to put together a nice lunch at no substantial cost.
  • Ask for cups of ice water. Pretty much everyplace in Disney will give you free cups of ice water. For variety, pack some individual drink mixes and use your straw to stir the mix in. We did Kool-Aid and Propel. You'll avoid drinking too much soda, stay hydrated, and save cash.
  • Pick up t-shirts and ponchos before you go. We got t-shirts on sale at the Disney Store and Mickey Mouse ponchos on for significantly less than the same items cost at the parks.
  • Buy a lot of trading pins on eBay. At the parks, these pins can cost $7-15 each. We got a lot of 50 for $30 and lanyards for $4 each on eBay. Most of them were pins we did not want, but we had so much fun trading them at the parks. The boys collected most of the Club Penguin puffles. Matt collected sports-themed pins. And I found lots of Minnie Mouse. We did each buy a pirate and Star Wars pin to remember the events of our trip.
  • Give the kids spending money on a gift card. I mentioned this a couple of days ago. The boys have been doing chores to save up money for months. Before we left, we went to the Disney Store and got Disney World gift cards for that amount they'd saved (plus a little from Mom and Dad). This was their free money to spend however they wanted. Our only rule was they couldn't buy something you can get in Target. They kept a list of things they wanted throughout the week, and Matt helped them narrow down and make choices at the end of the week.
Our family just returned from our first trip to Disney World and we had a wonderful time! We learned a ton and I researched for hours before we left. Over the next few posts, I want to share what I learned for any other newbie families out there. The Disney experts in my life are Kathy and Debra, so check in with them if you're looking for info that I don't have here.

We scheduled our trip to coincide with Hollywood Studio's annual Star Wars Weekend. I grew up on Star Wars, and the force is strong with my younglings, so we knew we'd enjoy it!
The gate to the park was well-guarded:
There were many younglings anxious to demonstrate their saber skills while waiting for Jedi Training:

Our younglings worked hard during Padawan Jedi Training:

And Padawan Patriot was ready to battle Darth Maul:
We met many of our Star Wars heroes:

We enjoyed a wonderful Star Wars parade, played Padawan Mind Games, rode Star Tours twice, and ended the day dancing at Hyperspace Hoopla:

May the force be with you!
Our family just returned from our first trip to Disney World and we had a wonderful time! We learned a ton and I researched for hours before we left. Over the next few posts, I want to share what I learned for any other newbie families out there. The Disney experts in my life are Kathy and Debra, so check in with them if you're looking for info that I don't have here.

Walt Disney World is is 42 square miles. It is way bigger than I realized and can be a little overwhelming. You will need to make some decisions to prioritize what's most important to your family.

We decided we wouldn't see everything in this one week. Our first sacrifice was Animal Kingdom. I don't think we even drove by that park, but I really don't know. Our second sacrifice was any ride or attraction that we weren't all tall enough to ride—just no reason to exclude the littlest McKee. And we learned very early that Disney's 44" is about 1/2" taller than the doctor's, so we had to cut some rides we thought we'd hit. Oh, well.

We also decided to use a Disney touring plan to guide us through the parks. was recommended to us, and we really liked it. You have to pay to subscribe to it, but it's totally worth it. The accompanying app is called Disney World Lines. It provided plans based on park capacity, kids' ages, and real-time line waits. We knew when to get Fast Passes and when to use them. We never waited more than 20 minutes for anything. It was awesome.

Some other quick tips:
  • Don't miss the opening of Magic Kingdom. There's a show at the gate that really sets the magical tone for the day. I cried. Seriously. For like 10 minutes.
  • Make sure you catch the closing show at Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Both were great.
  • People kept suggesting we go back to the resort for the afternoon and rest. We didn't. We just planned to watch a show before dinner to give Azlan a chance to nap.
  • Let the kids have Disney gift cards with a set amount of spending money for them to buy souvenirs. Help them understand that when the gift card is empty, they're spending is done.
  • If you're going to watch any of the parades, get there 10 minutes earlier than you think is early enough. Sit down, have a snack, take turns going to the bathroom, but protect your spot. The electric parade in Magic Kingdom was totally worth the wait.
  • Decide ahead of time what pace your family is going to follow in the park. Will you schedule potty breaks, or take them as needed? Will you pause to take pictures randomly, or stay on task to reach your next attraction? If you're going to be a family that moves at a pretty quick pace, don't invest in pins and autograph books. These diversions will slow you down. But if your family is going to move at a slower pace, trading pins and collecting character autographs were a lot of fun (especially for younger kids).
  • Plan a rest day if your trip is more than 3 or 4 days long. You'll need a day that you don't go to the parks. Spend the day at the pool, reading a good book, napping, going to Downtown Disney, or checking out the other great resorts on property. There is plenty to do outside the parks.
  • Don't miss Captain EO in Epcot. If you don't know what that show is, you'll be surprised.
Disney does a great job reminding you to live the magic and create memories while you're there. But let's be honest, you're kids are only going to remember so much. So take a ton of pictures to remind you of the special moments you had together.
Our family just returned from our first trip to Disney World and we had a wonderful time! We learned a ton and I researched for hours before we left. Over the next few posts, I want to share what I learned for any other newbie families out there. The Disney experts in my life are Kathy and Debra, so check in with them if you're looking for info that I don't have here.

You know the old saying "If Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy?" I don't know if that's entirely true, but I do know that my mood can certainly influence the direction of the family. So it's important for me to safeguard my attitude, especially on family trips.

Disney World really is magical, but there are some moments that will try a mom's patience. It is worth the effort for Mom to take special steps to keep her mood magical throughout her family's visit.

(BTW, I think the concept applies to Dads, too, but some of these specific tips will not apply. You'll see.)
  1. Shower at night before bed. I assume that if you're savvy enough to log onto the internet and find a blog, you probably don't need my advice on personal hygiene, so don't be insulted by this. But I found that a nice, warm shower after a full day at the parks calmed me spiritually and kept my muscles from stiffening up while I slept. And it's nice to wash the sweat, sunscreen, and general dirt off before bed.
  2. Bring along a sleep aid. You will be tired at the end of the day, but you'll also be excited and full of adrenaline, so you might have trouble sleeping. A little Tylenol PM may do you wonders. However, if you're like me and kind of weirded out by sleep medications, try an aromatherapy sleep aid. I have a great lavender spray that I got from Bath & Body Works that I love.
  3. Take care of your feet. I know there are some hard-core Moms who can wear sneakers everyday for a week. I am not one of them. I wore comfortable shoes, but I had a few other tricks that helped save my feet: BAND-AID® Friction Block™ Stick and tingling foot cream. Rub the cream on your feet and ankles in the morning, then use the stick on places that might rub. You'll be ready for the day.
  4. Pack a small bottle of Woolite. I am not the kind of lady who packs a different bra every day. I tend to travel with my favorite two or three. But after a hot day at the parks, those bras can get a little rank. It's so much nicer to start my day with a fresh, clean bra. So a quick wash with some Woolite during my nightly shower did the trick nicely, thank you.
  5. Plan some things you like to do. I am a mom of boys. At Disney, I helped Buzz Lightyear battle Zurg. I cheered for Captain Jack Sparrow and booed Darth Maul. I raced around the Test Track and danced with Phineas and Ferb. The only time I saw a Princess all week was during a parade when she was in front of Captain Hook. But I did talk the boys into riding the Teacups with me. And I did make dinner reservations for Tony's, from Lady and the Tramp. It was my magical vacation, too.
  6. Make coffee arrangements. There is no Starbucks at Disney World. That bears repeating: THERE IS NO STARBUCKS AT DISNEY WORLD. The resorts that host conferences do have espresso bars in the lobby. But if you're not staying at one of those, you're coffee options are the coffee pot in your room and the coffee machines in some of the counter service places in the parks. They did OK in a pinch, but I'll probably take some Via packets next time.
Our family just returned from our first trip to Disney World and we had a wonderful time! We learned a ton and I researched for hours before we left. Over the next few posts, I want to share what I learned for any other newbie families out there. The Disney experts in my life are Kathy and Debra, so check in with them if you're looking for info that I don't have here.

Our family's general policy is to travel as light as possible. From the moment I was able to forever set down a diaper bag, I try not to carry extra bags around with me. So I was very resistant to the idea of carrying a backpack around Disney. But the more people I talked with, the more times I heard "make sure you carry this in your backpack." So I gave in and I'm so glad I did.

We decided to invest in a decent backpack for this type of thing, and I found ours at the Eddie Bauer outlet for just $20. It is very lightweight, water-resistant, has padded shoulder straps, and a breathable back lining. And I picked the blue one so Matt didn't mind wearing it some. It worked out perfectly. Here's a shot of me wearing the backpack, and meeting Woody & Jessie!

What did we carry in our backpack? Well, I'll tell you that Kathy taught me everything I know about packing a Disney backpack, but I chose not to follow all her advice and lived to regret it, so go to her blog for her list. But here's my list:

in the front pocket:
  • park map & schedule
  • Photopass cards
  • my phone
  • my lip balm
  • couple of extra sandwich-sized baggies
  • our lanyards when we got tired of wearing them
in the small pocket on top:
  • autograph books and pens
  • package of extra pin backs (more about that later)
in the big pocket:
  • ponchos for the family (should have had them in gallon-sized baggies, didn't know what to do with them when they got wet)
  • water misters
  • first aid kit (wipes, hand sanitizer, band aids, wound cleaner, anti-itch spray, Tums, aloe gel, sunscreen)
  • hats when the boys got tired of wearing them (or we rode a fast ride)
  • snacks in a gallon-sized baggie (frozen grapes, goldfish, portable apple sauce, fruit snacks, granola bars)
  • refillable water bottles and individual drink mixes (more about that later)
  • lunch in a gallon-sized baggie (more about that later)
  • pirate swords and light sabers as needed :-)
The main things we missed were an extra pair of dry socks, Tylenol, and some more clean baggies. Otherwise, we had pretty much everything we needed for the day!
Our family just returned from our first trip to Disney World and we had a wonderful time! We learned a ton and I researched for hours before we left. Over the next few posts, I want to share what I learned for any other newbie families out there. The Disney experts in my life are Kathy and Debra, so check in with them if you're looking for info that I don't have here.

I'm a planner, so for me, the best part of any major event is the anticipation. Our family's first trip to Disney World is a major event, so we started planning and saving about a year ago. The boys went through stages of anticipation: excitement when we first started talking about it, boredom when it didn't come as soon as they hoped, and even maybe a level of disillusionment. I wanted to make sure they knew the right time to get excited, but I also didn't want to deal with "Is Disney tomorrow?" questions 12 times a day for a month.

So I got this treasure chest on eBay and put it outside the boys' bedroom about 10 days before we left. (We're going through a pirate stage, and reserved a pirate-themed room for the trip, so it fit the theme.) Every morning when they woke up, there was new treasure in their chest. I shopped, eBay, and the dollar store for their treasure items. The treasure included:
  • pirate swords
  • a pirate ship craft kit
  • pirate masks
  • Disney trivia game
  • Mickey Mouse personalized duffel bags (these were on clearance, I was so excited when I found them!)
  • Mickey Mouse PJs and t-shirts
  • Mickey Mouse rain ponchos
  • lanyards & pins (more about that later)
  • autograph books and pens
  • portable water misters
  • first aid kits (I made these more exciting by including pirate stickers for decorating)
Some of there were big hits, others were duds. Eh, not everything's going to be a winner. The treasure helped build appropriate excitement, but didn't answer the "when are we leaving" question. So I made this very unprofessional calendar.

We had the gold coins left over from the school carnival this year. I added two gold coins each morning and told the boys they could cash in each coin for $1 free spending money at Disney. Azlan really got into collecting his "gold doubloons" and Patriot enjoyed spending them.

This was a great way to manage the boys' anticipation and make getting the supplies we needed a little more fun!
I was sent a link to this article by the Chinese Tiger Mom. I usually ignore these types of debates, but the link was sent by a family member so I thought I'd read it. I must admit, my initial reaction was "Oh, crap! I really need to step up my parenting or my kids are not going to be able to compete in the marketplace!" I started thinking of science projects, math worksheets, and reading programs. I starting wondering where I could find a piano teacher and considering not signing up for spring soccer.

Then I took a breath.

And remembered my goal as a parent.

My goal as a parent is to introduce my kids to a loving God and show them how to live as He instructs. When I imagine my kids at 20-years-old, I hope they're men who love the Lord, love their neighbors, and turn to Scripture for answers. I hope they embody Godly characteristics and are humble enough to still be learning and growing. I hope they have discovered their God-given strengths and talents and boldly use them to serve God and others.

I've heard people joke about there being no "how to" book for raising kids, and the same relative mentioned above pointed out that even the Bible leaves a lot of freedom in the day-to-day practicalities of parenting. But the Bible tells A LOT about how to live, and those same principles apply to my kids as well as they do to me. I can think of no better parenting handbook than the one written by The Creator. So as I encounter issues with my kids, I'm not going to refer to Google, Dr anybody, or even cultural traditions. I'm going see what Scripture teaches and then teach the same.
  • Kids not doing their homework to the best of their ability? Colossians 2:23: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men..."
  • Kids having trouble getting along with another kid at school? Matthew 5:44: "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..."
  • Kids fighting with siblings? Matthew 20:16: ""So the last will be first, and the first will be last." (Try explaining that to a 5 year old!)
  • And my personal favorite: Ephesians 6:2-3: "Honor your father and mother—which is the first commandment with a promise—so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth."
From beginning to end, the Bible tells the story of God parenting His children. Sometimes He has to discipline harshly, sometimes He leads lovingly. Often He lays out guidelines for His children to follow, knowing what's best for them, but He gives His children the choice to obey or not. Although I cannot adopt all of God's parenting techniques, I am inspired by His ability to know each of His children well enough to know the best way to teach them.

I am a far cry from a Tiger Mom (although I have been known to demonstrate some Momma Bear characteristics occasionally). I'd like to think I'm more of a Sheep Mom, following my Shepherd and leading my kids to do the same.
We got a new dog, then we were literally snowed in the house for 3 days. Some of the words coming out of my mouth have surprised me.

1. We don't stand on the Bible. (meant literally, not necessarily figuratively)
2. I'll pay you a quarter if you sleep an extra 1/2 hour tomorrow morning.
3. You are not allowed to pray again the rest of the day. (don't ask)
4. Did you delete an app when you licked my phone?
5. Let's use cardboard boxes to sled down the driveway!
Thought some of my southern friends might enjoy this recipe -- a gift from the north. If you don't have all the ingredients on-hand today, stick some fresh snow in the freezer until you can get to the grocery.

Happy Snow Day!

Snow Cream
1 cup half & half
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. of any extract: vanilla, peppermint, almond, orange ...
Dash of salt
5 cups fresh snow

Mix all ingredients together (don't overmix or the snow will melt) and enjoy!

Sprinkles are always fun on top. Try marshmallows, raisins, chocolate chips, coconut, honey, granola, even Cheerios!