On Caregiving…and having a young family…and having a full time job…and trying to keep some sanity…

Image result for picture of stressed out woman cartoon

In the last three years, we’ve spent quite a bit of time being a caregiver.  Abigail was 3 the first time we did this.  First, it was my father who had terminal cancer.  And then, with my mother who had a serious illness keeping her down for 4 months and now she’s fallen, broken an ankle, had the docs piece her back together and we are looking at another 3-4 months of intensive caregiving.  This time also includes a sister who had major surgery and needed care and was also diagnosed with a seizure disorder.  A daughter who broke her arm.  And me who was diagnosed with diabetes.  Oh, and we have a young family.  I have a full time demanding career.  My husband is a full time college student.

Needless to say, sanity is in short supply these days.  I’ve had a lot of people ask the question in the last few days of, “What can I do?”  My response is always, “oh, I’ve got it.  Don’t worry about us.”  I have a superwoman complex.  Truly.  I think I can handle the world.  I thought about it this morning and more than likely those around me will be seeing more of their peers doing the kinds of caregiving that I am doing.  So, when they are asking how to help it is not just for me, but I’m sure it has them thinking of others they may encounter in this situation.  So, this is a list of things that are of most help to me and are a good starting point for those you may know who are both full time caregivers and have a young family.

  1. If you are local, call on Sunday night and say in a forceful way, “I’m bringing you dinner on _______. What are things that people cannot eat and what do you like to eat?”  Don’t ask, “Can I.”  Just say you are going to do it.  If you are out of town, send a gift card for a restaurant.  Believe me, we will forever be grateful for McDonald’s at this point.  No lie.  We will eat that up like it is gourmet.  Why?  Because we’ve already been up since 5-6 am and by the time dinner rolls around we are beyond exhausted and a hot McDonald’s cheeseburger that we do not have to fix or do dishes after would taste great.
  2. Call us up and say, “We are coming for your child”—just not in a creepy voice.  Haha! Full time caregiving is very rough on children.  The household routine is disrupted.  They, unfortunately, do not get much of our time and they are worried about their family member who is sick.  It is hard on littles.  They need fun and we simply cannot give it right now.
  3. Send random texts and cards just to let us know you are thinking of us. Those moments of encouragement go a long way.  You have absolutely no idea what it feels like to get a funny meme in the moment after having to empty bedside commodes, etc.   Caregiving is not glamorous, so keep us laughing and encouraged.
  4. Call us and say, “We are coming over and you are leaving.” Caregiving is hard on a marriage.  VERY hard.  Many might not think of it, but when the patient literally cannot move it means someone has to be home every hour of the day.  So, we cannot go out together.  Being able to have a short meal and a trip to Target together means the world to a couple in the thick of this process.
  5. In the priority of things in life, the house is the last thing that gets attention. But, for someone like me, who has a hard time with clutter and mess, not being able to properly attend to it just weighs even more on the stress.  Show up with a bucket.  If you are out of town and have the resources, call Merry Maids or someone similar and pay for a one time cleaning.  You have no idea the tears that would flow to have that taken care of.
  6. Send wine and unhealthy snacks.
  7. If they do not live somewhere with online grocery shopping, let them know you will do their shopping and that you will stop by for their list at ____ time. Do not give them a choice.
  8. If they have dogs, stop by and take the dog for a 10 minute walk. The stress is also rough on our pets.  They are protective and can sense illness.  Poor Jake has been beside himself all week, but we haven’t had time to take him for a walk.  Thankfully, the mice have their own wheel.
  9. If you are headed out to run errands at Target or will be just doing general things around town, call and ask for their list. Believe me, we always have one.
  10. I’m going to repeat this one again—just be there. Just send love, prayers, positive energy and healing thoughts for the entire household.  Of anything I’ve done in my life, caregiving has been the hardest physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  Knowing that we have friends and family who love us and are thinking of us is so important.

So, if you know someone in this situation—reach out and even something you think is so simple—it might make the world of difference in their challenging day.  Now, I’ve got the lunch duty to get to!


Dear Dad…


Dear Dad:

It’s hard to believe three years have gone by.  It’s been a lifetime and an instant.  It’s been an adjustment that will never feel right.  But, we’ve done as you wanted and we’ve tried to move forward.  Some days have gone better than others.  Some weeks better than others.  And, in some cases, we had to take it minute by minute.

I’m getting to the point where I can focus myself on the good times before the bad.  I can think of our daily calls and texts without crying.  I can think about our summers just sitting around talking without feeling the crush of loss.  I can think about all the times you told me you loved me without feeling utterly lost.

I’m also doing my best to work on those areas of my life you always hounded me about.  I think you’d be proud.  I’m taking more downtime.  This was the first summer in my career that I am working less.  However, I haven’t mastered the art of just relaxing as you were always stressing to me.  I’m a work in progress.

I so wish you were here to experience first-hand all the wonder that is your granddaughter.  She is witty, smart, sweet and sassy, and just overall a beautiful little soul.  You knew that though.  I just wish you were here to see her.  I miss the times you used to call just to hear her babble.  Oh how she can talk your ear off now.

We’ve had some major hurdles since you’ve been gone.  But, we’ve done as you always asked and stuck together.  I made you promises and will always keep them.  Family first no matter what.

I promise we will keep moving forward.  We will honor you by living the fullest life we can just as you always wanted for us.  Please keep sending those little signs that I know are from you.  The feathers in unexpected places, the red cardinals that love my neighborhood and the strong presence I sometimes feel.  They keep me going, remembering and give me a little smile and reassurance.

I love you, Dad.  I miss you.  I always will.

Your Daughter

Thanks for sucking the fun out of it…

fun sucks

I like a good laugh.  I really do.  Many may not believe that because I am Captain Serious in my household and work, but I do like to laugh.  I play little pranks at work.  I prank my daughter.  I’ve never successfully pranked my husband, but I’ve tried.  I like to laugh at funny memes, jokes, etc.  And, sometimes adults and kids just do funny things and you have to take it at face value and laugh.  You have to laugh at the irrational moments.

But, then comes along those that can suck the funny out of an innocent situation.

Case and Point:

On Sunday, Mom took Munchkin to the local dog park with Pup-Pup.  There is a fun new online group that is painting rocks and hiding them for people to find.  We’ve found some really cool ones!  I’ve seen people from all walks of life get into this and it is fun following online.  Well, Munchkin found a rock IN the dog park and brought it home.  She laid it on the kitchen table with our food.  She proceeded to tell hubby where she got it and he completely overreacted.  It was cartoon comical.  Truly.  It was.  I couldn’t stop laughing.  He yells, “DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY DOGS COULD HAVE PEED ON THIS ROCK????” and then fired it out the kitchen door. Bye, bye rock.

Just the look on his face, the way his voice stressed the words, his irrational reaction—it was just plain funny.  It’s like he could see the germs jumping off that rock and onto his steak.  Come on people, it was steak and shrimp night!  You do not mess with steak and shrimp night.

So, I thought it was funny and posted it to the online group that we were down one purple sparkly rock because my husband wigged out.  Well, you can only guess what happened next.

First, I had those that thought it was just as funny as I did.  Thank you, people.  Thank. You.  You saw how funny this really was.  You saw this was not life or death.  You just saw the humor.

I then had those who felt sorry for my daughter and said it was sad.  Ummm…WHY?  How in any reality is this sad for my child?  Does this impact her physical, social, emotional or psychological well-being?  NO.  Does this scar her for life that her father threw a purple sparkly rock out the kitchen door?  NO.  So, I do not get the sadness.  But, if for some reason it does leave her impaired, I have good insurance.  I will get her a good therapist that she can tell all about the time the purple rock got hurled out the door.  I just hope it does not impact her college chances.

Then, there were those who took me to task because I was supposedly concerned about pee being on rocks and “What happened to the good old days where kids could eat dirt, oil, play in the polluted streams and it made men out of them?”  Ummm…my child gets plenty dirty.  I used to catch her licking trees for goodness sakes.  She plays in the mud constantly.  My husband had an irrational moment and saw a peed on rock next to his steak.  It was funny.  It does not say anything about our parenting and it certainly doesn’t say we are raising a “pansy” as the one commenter noted.  Oh the sexism and gendered norms present in that comment, but I will not get too sociological.

And then, there were those that were angry because we were down one sparkly purple rock that won’t have a picture online.  I have no words.  Did I mention we were painting and hiding ROCKS?

If I had known Sunday night that sharing with the group something I found funny with the rocks was going to cause such backlash, I would have kept my trap shut.  I didn’t realize this business of painting rocks and hiding them in parks was such intense business.  Since I was looking for something a little more lighthearted, I guess I will need to leave this group.  It’s even too much for Captain Serious.  🙂

Our Healthcare Situation…

Once again, I am busy this week writing more letters.  Conveniently, Mitch McConnell’s website and email has been down for maintenance so I am not sure whether my letter will reach his office in time.  Also, other legislators would not let me email them because I was outside of their district.  However, I did manage to get this message out to those who allowed me to contact them.  How sad is it that our leaders are making it hard for us to express our opinions on the decisions they are making?

Below is what I sent regarding the repeal of the ACA.  This letter was written a few days ago, so it does not include the new changes that I am infuriated about including requiring pregnant women to return to work within 60 days or risk losing Medicaid.  Have they also included access to affordable childcare in this new plan because as far as I know childcare continues to be a barrier to full employment as well as hindering families across the United States when a childcare build can exceed $1,000 a month in my area.

Each day I wake up further fired up about making my voice louder and thinking about our policy challenges in the days to come.  I hope no matter what side of the aisle you sit on you are just as engaged.  As I’ve said before, the election of a leader shouldn’t be the end of our relationship with them, it should be just the beginning.


I write to you today to express my deep concerns over the new replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act.  I first want to tell you a little bit about my family and then I will share my concerns.  It is my hope that you will take this considerations into account when you cast your vote that will hurt my family.

I am a member of what is called the sandwich generation.  I have a young child at home and also within the last two years moved my aging mother into my home so I can better care for her and she can reduce her hours at work.  She worked hard her entire life for not only me, but also my sister.  She was largely a single parent.  She cleaned houses for most of my childhood because it gave her flexible hours to be home for us.  However, it also meant that the work broke her body down at a young age.  We never had health insurance growing up.  I watched my mother stress every time we got sick.  The real strain when there was a broken bone.  I saw her neglect her own health because we simply could not afford to have health insurance.  I know we trivialize that kind of work my mother did in our society.  We tend to think less of the working poor who clean our toilets.  But, she did what she had to do to keep a roof over our heads.  She later was able to move into a management position in retail once my sister and I were older.  However, that work did real damage to her feet since she was on them 9-11 hours a day.  Her hard work paid off for me though.  I am a first generation college graduate that not only earned a BA, but also a Master’s degree and a PhD.  I am financially secure enough to care for her.

I also have a young child.  A beautiful six year old daughter who loves science.   My husband is now a full time student.  While I finished my PhD he worked so I could achieve that goal for us.  Now, he is pursuing his educational goals and I am supporting us.  We are fortunate enough to own a modest home.  We own two paid off vehicles, are able to take a nice vacation every other year and make sure our daughter has additional educational opportunities.

I am also fortunate that I have health insurance.  Now, my employer and I pay A LOT for that privilege.  My 2016 tax form shows where we paid $11,200 in premiums.  This plan provides at least a modest amount of coverage for my little family.  My mother is also still working enough hours that her company provides her health insurance, but I’ve been concerned in the last year that she will need to drop down further in hours which will eliminate her health insurance.  However, I was not very worried because of the expanded Medicaid in Kentucky and I knew she would be able to get coverage through that avenue or if she still made too much for that we could afford one of the plans in the exchange.

The proposed plan changes all of that for my family.  I was horrified when I saw the CBO estimates that someone in my mother’s position could have premiums of $14,000 a year.  Congressman, we simply cannot afford that kind of cost.  I’ve been sitting down over the last few days and putting pen to paper thinking about what this change will mean for my family.  If my Mom has to continue to work while breaking her body down further this means I will have my remaining parent for a shorter amount of time.  My father passed away 3 years ago after a horrific battle with cancer where I also cared for him.  She literally would be working for health insurance.  Now, if we decide to drop her hours down and attempt to purchase one of these insane plans she would still be working only for health insurance and I would also have to contribute to paying for this plan.  This would mean adjustments to my family and our way of life.  Somehow, I cannot imagine this the position she thought she would find herself in after sacrificing so much for her kids.  I certainly never expected my government to expect a 60 year old woman who makes working poor wages to pay $14,000 for healthcare.  Now, I consider us fortunate.  I have the financial resources to figure it out unlike the millions of people who will lose vital coverage under this proposal.

I am, frankly, infuriated with the estimates of how many people will lose coverage.  I keep hearing the rhetoric, the talk of coverage was never promised but rather it is about lowering healthcare costs.  However, in my review of this plan I see very few measures that would truly lower medical costs.  There is no discussion of how to lower prescription drugs.  There is no discussion of how to lower and standardize the costs of healthcare across hospitals, states, regions.  There is no discussion of how to hold insurance companies accountable.  I heard the rhetoric that poor people may have to make the choice to either buy health insurance or an iphone.  Congressman, I would jump all over a healthcare plan that cost me $700 for a few years of use.  I would jump all over a plan that was $700 per year per person in my household.  However, we both know comparing the cost of an iphone and the cost of a health insurance plan is ludicrous.

I do see a clause that assumes the poor are playing the lottery, winning and then hiding this money from the government; so therefore, we need something that says we can go after those winnings for Medicaid.  The last time I checked, the odds of winning the lottery are about 1/14 million.  We all have a better shot of getting struck by lightning (1/9 million) or getting bit by a shark (1/3 million).  Please explain to me why this clause exists?  What do our legislators assume about poor people?  I also see plenty of clauses about limiting tax credits for women’s health care choices.  Congressman, what do you assume about a women’s ability to make her own decisions regarding her body?

I am sickened by a system that is based off the premise of making profit.  To me, healthcare is not a privilege.  It is a right.  It is not a market for profit, but rather something we do as a society because it is the right thing to do for our population.  And, I will gladly pay my share so that those who are working themselves into the ground just to provide the basics to their family can also have healthcare.  I will gladly do my part so every person in our nation can have access to healthcare.  It makes our nation a healthier and more productive place to have a healthy population.

I urge you to vote no for this plan.  I urge you to show leadership and collaboration and craft a plan that really does work for the poor, the average citizen, the elderly, children and not just the wealthiest among us.  I urge you to radically rethink how we do healthcare in this nation.  I would support, campaign for, back up and defend any congressman who has the leadership and bravery to craft that kind of plan.



Today fear hit me in such a way that I am still processing everything that happened and my own feelings about it. Writing seemed the only way to be able to start reflecting on the events and a part of my new reality I haven’t confronted before.  One that is always in the back of my mind, but I never dwell on it instead choosing to believe it will be sometime in the far, far distance.

It was a regular day.  I was grading papers at my desk thinking toward my afternoon class.  My phone rang. It was Mom. Except when I answered it wasn’t Mom. It was her co-worker telling me she was having chest pains and needed to go to the hospital. I RAN from the office and probably broke a few laws getting to my Mom.

Mom on the gurney. Mom hooked to machines.  Mom looking SO pale and frail.  The calm nature of the doctors and nurses. Me screaming in my head as I observed all of this, “Why are you so calm?  Don’t you know this is my Mom?  Don’t you know this is the only parent I have left?”  Me speaking to the nurses in my own calm voice answering questions about her medical history, family medical history, current medication–so many questions.

Waiting–oh the waiting!  I thought answers about heart attacks would be quicker. Nope–a 3 hour wait to evaluate cardiac enzymes or whatever they are called. Pacing, sitting, standing, looking at my phone, pacing some more, sitting some more.

And then finally the non-answer. She didn’t have a heart attack, but the heart is a funny, funny muscle. She could have been feeling something but only tests from a cardiologist will be able to tell us more.  The ER visit today was to solely tell us she didn’t have a heart attack.  Then, he kind of made me laugh when he essentially told us he was also going to treat her for gas, because you know, it could also be that.  I brought Mom home and then proceeded to nearly give her a heart attack with the number of times I crept into her room to check on her.  And, I will likely do this for some time to come or until we have more answers.  I definitely will be these doctors worst nightmare in the weeks to come as we have these tests.  I want to understand every detail.

But, I’m also sitting here thinking about my support system.  Wow, these people cover me in love and concern when I need it.  Hubby was home ensuring Munchkin was happy and content and, above all, oblivious to what was happening. Texting and checking in.  Making me laugh even when I didn’t want to.  My sister–stomach all torn up with worry right with me–feeling the same fears.  Mind going a million different directions–none of them good.

Two other women, the most unlikeliest of friendships, like always were ready to do whatever I needed.  These two women have been the most amazing friends since we moved to town.  I’m the youngest, J is 10 years older than me and R is 10 years older than J.  I do not think I would have been able to stand, stay focused and be as healthy as I am without their constant friendship.  I do not thank these two women enough for being such good friends and strong examples to me about motherhood, friendship and overcoming challenges. They jumped in and took care of what needed to be done at work and then just kept in touch with me and would have been in that ER in 10 minutes flat if needed.

Later, I reached out to some family to let them know what was happening.  I was scared.  Just needed some reassurance.  They always provide the level headedness.  And, as always, I wish my Dad’s family was just a little closer distance wise during times likes these and that my sister in law was just down the road.

I got home and I reached out to my silent, constant–K.  She knows the deep rooted fear since she lost her father many years ago now. She was right there and you know what, I know with out a doubt in my heart that if I had said, “K–I need you here.” 8 hours later she would have been in my driveway.  She shared how she’s dealt with the fears.  The healthy ways she’s tried to channel it.

And there are many more.  I know that.  And I know I am so blessed in having this support.

But, I’m not going to lie.  It freaking sucks to have this fear of losing my one parent.  I have many friends who have already lost a parent or both and I think, “How do we do this?”  How do we keep all the fears in check or how do you keep the grief in check?  How do I make sure this episode doesn’t put me back into that dark place I was a year ago; two years ago? I just don’t know.

I know I will have this fear, this far reaching, deep fear of losing my only parent.  I know that I have to recognize the fear, deal with it in a healthy way and then handle the future with the same calm on the outside with hopefully more calm on the inside.  I also know that I still have an amazing circle of people around me who will help me with whatever comes my way.


A New Start


Letchworth State Park, New York State


I woke up on January 1, 2016 and I felt different.  I just felt lighter, more motivated and that inkling of “me”–the person I was before overwhelming grief.  the person I was before where I didn’t question every decision I’d ever made.  The person I was before where I didn’t feel an overwhelming guilt.  Even now, 25 days later I cannot quite put my finger on it.  I’m still grieving.  Today proves that–I’m having an angry day. I still have those moments where I question the decisions I made.  I still have a lot of regrets.  But, my outlook on the future, what I want to do with my family and what I want to accomplish professionally is suddenly clearer again.

I’ve found myself in the last 25 days reaching out to my friends again.  Over the last year and  half I just simply didn’t have the energy.  Not that my friendships take a lot of energy.  They don’t.  I have a great circle of women who just let me be.  They understood.  They knew I needed time.  They didn’t take it personally.  They loved me from afar.  But, even just picking up the phone and trying to explain how I was doing was a task.  I had no words to explain.  I couldn’t talk about how I was really doing when I couldn’t explain it to myself.  I turned inward toward my family–those who knew and loved my father best–and just sought their comfort.  I needed that and now I feel stronger and more able to articulate my feelings.

Hubby and I are making plans again.  We are thinking toward the future and the kind of lives we want to lead, the experiences we want Munchkin to have and we are actively pursing those.  We are taking steps to make our shared dreams come true.  We are actively seeking new adventures.  We are excited about potential opportunities.

I’m excited to start the semester.  The last two semesters I had no excitement of being back in the classroom.  This was nothing against my students.  I just didn’t have the energy like I normally did to give them all they needed.  I beat myself up for it.  I hated feeling like I was giving less than 100% in the classroom a place that holds my passion.  I hated feeling like I was putting on a show and going through the motions.  But today, 3 hours from my first class of 2016 I am energized and ready to go.

I also feel Dad saying, “Good for you!”  As much as I miss him.  As much as I want him here.  As angry as I sometimes feel that he’s not with us–I know he’s encouraging me to have a new start and take what I’ve learned about myself in the last 18 months and do good with it.  As he always said at the start of football season about his beloved Buffalo Bills, “This is our year” and in many ways I feel this is mine.  To continue learning to live without him, to enjoying my baby girl to the fullest, to continue going after dreams with my hubby and to be a good daughter, sister, niece, cousin and friend.

Here’s to 2016 and all it may bring–whether good or bad–I’m ready to tackle the future with a fresh, clear outlook.

Disney Extravaganza!!


A dream is a wish your heart makes…


This BLT Mom blog post is very different. It is my trip report from Disney World to share what I learned and our experience with my fellow Disney addicts. I will say–we picked a great week to go crowd wise. We had our moments–this was our first major trip as a sandwich generation family and so we learned a lot about traveling together. I felt my Dad a lot throughout this trip. In fact, right after a character meet and greet in Animal Kingdom Munchkin and I were walking up a tropical path alone and a single white feather floated down in front of us. Feathers have always been my sign and I just smiled and teared up. Always close at heart…

I am thankful that we were able to take this trip. It was everything I’d hoped and more!

Trip Report 12/10/15—12/15/2015

Travelers: On this trip it was me (36), hubby (35), my mother (58) and our daughter (5). This was the first big trip for our new sandwich generation family and Mom’s first trip using a scooter due to mobility issues. Hubby, Mom and I have been to Disney several times. Most recently hubby and I took a trip in 2013. This was our daughter’s first trip. I spent months creating touring plans through http://www.touringplans.com. I had it down to a military science. And then we arrived.

Method of Travel: drove 12 hours from Kentucky in a rented van and then used Disney transportation for the rest of the trip. From our resort (All Star Movies) we did not wait any more than 10 minutes for a bus. Our longest wait was an evening wait for a Disney Springs bus. For our return trips from the park we tended to wait in the parks shopping while the bus lines went down. This was a great way to do a little shopping and avoid a long line. I don’t know that we will drive again from Kentucky. The trip down was just fine. The 12 hours back was pure torture. I didn’t think too hard on how tired we would be after 5 days at Disney.

Accommodations: We stayed at the All Star Movies. On previous trips I’ve always stayed at either moderate or deluxe resorts. However, because on this trip we would need 2 rooms we decided to stay at a value resort. The rooms are fairly basic (think Holiday Inn Express but smaller). They have a refrigerator. We paid for preferred rooms and were in the Toy Story section. This was a quick 2-3 minute walk to the pool, transportation and front desk area including cafeteria. The outside of the hotel is very neat. Our daughter loved walked to the different sections and seeing the huge characters in the courtyards. I used the touring plans fax room request option. I intentionally selected rooms on the backside of the resort to hopefully have a quiet room. We got the exact rooms I’d requested and they were very quiet. We ate in the food court one evening. The food was ok—nothing spectacular, but filled the void. They had kid’s activities going on and our daughter had a blast watching movies and playing video games with the other kids. It gave me a chance to kick back and enjoy a hot cup of tea and talk to the other parents.

Magic Kingdom: We did MK 2 days. One regular park day (5/10 crowd level) and 1 Christmas party (sold out). For the Christmas party we focused on rides and not the special meet and greets. We walked onto several of the big rides but for others had no more than a 10 minute wait. We also did Be Our Guest for dinner before the party started. It really is about the experience. I ordered the Shrimp and Scallops as did my Mom. The food was overall pretty good just really small portion sizes. Hubby ordered the braised pork and said it was seasoned well. Our daughter had the steak and it was a little on the dry side and over cooked. BUT, our daughter was just so happy to be in Belle and Beast’s castle that it made everything seem insignificant. We watched Wishes from what is typically the Fast Pass spot for Wishes. It was a really great spot. We then moved to main street for the parade. As expected, fireworks and parade area were very, very crowded. But the fireworks were the best we’ve ever seen at Disney and the parade was a lot of fun. I do it again.

On day two we had a 10:35 Boutique appointment for our daughter. My plan was to be in the park by 9:00 a.m. and do a FP at Peter Pan. She was so exhausted from the party the night before that my plan went out the window not only on this day but every other day too. She and I went on our own as a special mommy/daughter date. We arrived at 10:30 and by 10:35 she was in her chair. Our attendant was FANTASTIC. Her name was Kelsey. She was so much fun and Abigail just adored her. They had the photo pass photographers so I just got to enjoy and not worry about taking pictures. We finished within 40 minutes and then met the rest of our group. We did Fantasyland and then had lunch at Cinderella’s Table.

Abigail loved meeting all the princesses. This was our main reason for doing it. The food was nothing to write home about. Mom & hubby had the special which was salmon and I had the chicken. Abigail had steak once again. She ended up eating my chicken and I her dried out steak. Salmon was tasty. But, again you are paying for the princesses and the experience not the food on this one. But, honestly, I felt rushed at CRT. Snow White was by so quick I barely had time to snap pictures. Aurora and Jasmine stayed a little longer and Ariel was great—she stuck around a good bit.

The rest of our day we did Frontierland and Tomorrowland. Abigail is big on rides so we did all the must do big coasters. I had FP for Mine Train, and splash. Everything else standby and waited no more than 15-20 minutes. I was really impressed that there were very few rides where Mom couldn’t ride her scooter right into the attraction. That really helped her. We finished out MK by eating at Cosmic Ray’s—typical fast food. We met a few characters, but the Tremaines were the BEST! Really try to meet them. We were back at the hotel by 7:30 p.m.

EPCOT (7/10 crowd level): This day was a bust for us. Abigail did not like this park at all. She normally likes science, but just wasn’t feeling it. She did Test Track, Mission Space and Spaceship Earth. We convinced her to wait to meet Belle—line was too long for Mulan. We canceled our ADR at Teppen Edo (thankfully they waived the fee) and my Mom took her back to the hotel pool while hubby and I enjoyed an evening at the World Showcase. It was packed, but we still enjoyed eating our way around the pavilions. Definitely try Tangereine Café in Morocco. VERY good counter service place. I got our spot for Illiuminations about an hour before and had a great view beside the Mexican pavilion. I think this is a toss up park for young kids. I thought she’d like the KidCot stations, but again she just wasn’t interested. Her most fun was the fountain in Morocco. I finished her KidCot Duffy bear with stamps and signatures. It was fun! And traveling with Nana had its perks–a date night at Disney. WHAT?!

Animal Kingdom (5/10 crowd level): We arrived in the park about 10 a.m. and Kilimanjaro Safari was down. I took a chance on Conservation Station because Abigail loves animals and science. It was a GREAT idea! She loved every minute of collecting her badges and learning. She got to pet a snake. She also got 5 meet and greets on the island—Miss Bunny, Thumper, Chip, Dale and Rafiki. She got so much time with them since there was no one around. By far the best character interactions of the trip. We spent nearly 2 hours over there and then hit Festival of the Lion King. If you can get near the front your child has a chance to participate. Abigail got selected and she was thrilled. We did lunch at Tusker House. Once again, fantastic character interaction. We didn’t feel rushed at all and I was glad for that. Each character took their time. The buffet was pretty good. Lots of selection. I enjoyed trying the specialty dishes. We did Expedition Everest twice—1 fast pass and a 30 minute stand by. We ended the day by meeting Pochahontas who, again, just spent a lot of time with each child.

I felt like we packed in a lot that day (even though we didn’t remotely see everything), but didn’t feel the rush I felt at Magic Kingdom. I think that disappointed me. Everything from character meet and greets to rides to meals just felt like we were in a constant race. I know they are trying to get a lot of people in, but it really all seemed like a blur. After our day at Animal Kingdom I really noticed it.

Hollywood Studios (6/10 crowd level): I’ve heard people say this is now a ½ park. I don’t see how. We really enjoyed our day here. We did Star Wars, Toy Story, Rockin Coaster (standby—1 hour but I didn’t get FP because I wasn’t sure Abigail would make the cut height wise), Launch Bay, Frozen Sing along, Tower of Terror, Osborne Lights, Fantasmic, Honey I shrunk the kids playground and I know I am leaving out some other things. I think we did the most actual shows/activities this day and it didn’t feel rushed at all. Maybe we were getting into the groove? Our wait times were pretty low even on a 6/10 crowd level. We waited 20 minutes for Chewy and 30 for Darth Vader. But, I didn’t think anything was outrageous. We wouldn’t have waited so long on the Aerosmith coaster, but it broke down for about 20 minutes making our wait an hour instead of 40 minutes as posted. The dance party is a really fun thing for the kids. I’m so glad we got to see the Osborne lights before they are taken down. Though **rumor alert** a CM told me lots of people were murmuring that they may be relocated to Disney Springs. Take that for what it’s worth—haha. We did Minnie’s Holiday Dinner. The food was good—very similar to Tusker House. Abigail had a great time meeting Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Daisy. We saw them all twice. I didn’t feel rushed in the least bit.

Disney Dining Plan: We did the plan this trip. We did 3 character meals and knew we wanted to snack our way around EPCOT. We didn’t leave behind a single credit and even used our resort mugs quite a bit. In the end it was worth it to us. Next time we go we likely will not do as many character meals so I will probably not purchase it. So, just do the math for your family. I will say this—for my price conscious hubby it was great because when the $200 bill for a buffet came to the table I could say it was paid for. This mattered to his attitude and my happiness a lot. 🙂

Scooter: We rented from Buena Vista Scooters. The scooter was waiting on us. We never had a problem out of it. It took her some time to get used to it. It made the trip possible for her and she got to enjoy every minute with her granddaughter. So, when someone accidentally cuts in front of you in a scooter or you get behind one who is going a little slower just remember they are trying to have some magic too.

My last thoughts:

1. Remember to bring allergy meds that work best for your family. I didn’t even think about the weather change and Abigail was miserable the first full day.

2. Plan an extra day just to hang out at the resort. Other than the EPCOT meltdown we didn’t see much of a really neat resort not to mention all the other great Christmas decorations.

3. Plan! Plan! Plan! What!? I thought you threw out your touring plan! I did. But, because of all that planning I still had lots of ideas of how to handle the changes and didn’t just feel lost.

4. Touringplans.com—I used this website obsessively in the months before our trip. I learned so much from the chatboard. I don’t think our days would have been near as successful without the time I spent with the people on this website. I was thankful one of my Facebook friends turned me onto it. After checking out the statistical models they use to predict crowd levels, etc. I was hooked.

5. Expectations: This is Disney World. People expect them to hang the moon, rotate it and then put it in their room at night. Disney is a special place. It is magical. But, there are also jerky people, melting down kids, grumpy CM’s, rides break, etc. You have to temper your expectations that everything will be perfect. We had so many imperfections on this perfect trip. It was perfect because we spent 5 days together not worrying about work, the outside world, etc.

6. I bought Memory Maker. I LOVED this product. I simply wish they had the photographers in the character meals as well. It is a pricey product and the meals are pricey. We should have access to the photographers. I came home with 369 photos where I completely enjoyed the experience and not worrying about capturing it. For that—it was worth the money.

7. I’m a foodie. I like good, quality food. I think I’ve changed in my definition of quality food because my 20 year old self thought the food was fantastic at Disney. My 36 year old self not so much. I ate some really good things (bakeries in EPCOT, Tangeriene Café), but they were the unexpected places and not the places that herd through 500 people in a seating.

8. I’d stay at a value resort again. Without reservation.

9. Weather: in December pack for it all. It was 80 during the day and 60 at night and we needed a light jacket.

10. I think my biggest mistake in Magic Kingdom is I let the CMs rush me. I can think back now to times that I should have spoken up and just taken a few more moments. Don’t be afraid to speak up and take the time you need.

Well, hopefully something I said is useful to you. Enjoy your trip. We loved ours and Abigail is still humming Disney tunes. I have my Mickey ornament on the tree and I smile every time I look over to it. Eight months of planning for 5 days of pure joy. It was well worth it!!

I Refuse…

As a Sociology professor I have to tackle hard topics in my class.  There is no way around it.  I have to find ways to allow students to explore race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, politics, inequality and yes, even terrorism, in a way that both allows them to process these difficult topics but also dispels harmful stereotypes and generalizations.  Some days I am more successful than others in creating this environment.  With the events of Paris, Beirut and other countless acts of terror around the world in a given week I was especially sensitive to how we shape conversation about the forbidden trifecta–politics, religion and violence.  I am not going to talk about my classroom experience because that is a safe place for my students to express themselves and not for me to write about in a public blog.

But, it is time that I express my own feelings on the events around the world. I am one that has to think for a long time before I speak publicly about social issues and events.  I want to make sure that I have reconciled events in my own mind, digest them and explore my fears, ideas, attitudes and biases.  I truly explore myself before I make any statements.  I’ve been doing a lot of that in the last few days and here is what I’ve decided.

I refuse.  I refuse.  I refuse.  I refuse to buy into broad strokes that paint entire groups of people as inherently “bad” or inherently “good.”  I refuse to buy into the “good” versus “evil” rhetoric. The world is so much more complicated than simplistic generalizations.  I refuse to condemn entire groups of people for the actions of a few.  I refuse to do it to our law enforcement; I refuse to do it to every white person I know, every black person I know, every Native person I know, every poor person that I know, every rich person that I know; every religious person; every Republican, every Democrat, every Socialist, every Christian, every Muslim, every Buddhist, every Hindu.  I simply refuse.

Further, I refuse to pass on these fears, stereotypes, generalizations, and frankly poor conceptualizations of the world to my daughter.  I do not want my daughter growing up to fear everyone who is not like her because she will then be a lonely and fearful person if she only clings to those exactly like her.  I want her to travel without fear.  I will continue to travel without fear.  I want her to embrace people.  I will continue to embrace people.  I want her to love people.  I will continue to love people.  I want her to give people the benefit of the doubt.  I will continue to give people the benefit of the doubt.  I want her to be generous with her fellow man.  I will continue to be generous with my fellow man.

I will teach her strength, courage, fearlessness, love, generosity, hope, kindness, and most of all the ability to reflect without all of the noise of the world to draw conclusions.

There are those that will disagree with me and believe that I am portraying an unrealistic view of the world.  However, I challenge them to think about the billions of people who live peacefully, work with their neighbors of various backgrounds, practice their faiths and beliefs in ways that may be much like your own.  Why focus your entire world on the margins and forget about the billions of people around the world that have strength, courage, fearlessness, love, generosity, hope and kindness?  To do this does not negate that we should fight those at the margins and extremes.  But, it recognizes that we are doing just that–fighting the margins–not entire groups of people.

So, I will continue to LIVE and teach my daughter to live.  I will love and act with kindness.  I will open my heart and doors to people.  I will not let those at the margins take away the very nature of who I am.  I refuse to stop LIVING.


Ecuador 2014


Children and Grief


Granddaddy and Munchkin

Munchkin was not yet 4 when my father died.  J and I knew that having her living in the same house where my father was in his last days was going to be difficult, confusing, and heartbreaking for her.  But, we saw no other choice.  Like many situations, there were just no good solutions.

In the days leading up to his death we talked with her a lot about Granddaddy going to heaven.  We tried our best to help a 3.5 year old understand the permanency of death and what was going to happen.  We didn’t believe in telling her half truths about what was going to happen.  She was going to see the full depths of my grief in the days, weeks, months to come and so we needed to try to prepare her for all that would entail.

Of course, initially we saw actions that we simply expected to see.  She acted out.  She regressed in her potty training.  She needed her Mommy and Daddy even more.  When my Dad passed, she parroted what we had told her about death.  We knew she understood pieces of it, but had many long conversations between ourselves about how much she was understanding and how she might really be dealing with it.  But, overall she seemed to do really well.  She liked to talk about Granddaddy and hear stories.  She would hug me and tell me she knew I missed him a lot.  She would also remind me that he was looking down on us.  We’ve bee in that pattern for the year and a half since my Dad passed.

Then, last night happened.

It was a regular, rambunctious bedtime.  We did teeth, potty and stories.  Up highs, down lows, in the middles, hugs, kisses and tickles.  J and I shut the light off and walked out.  About 15 minutes later she came out of her room and sought me out with just the biggest tears rolling down her little face.  She said,

“Mama, I miss Granddaddy.  I can’t remember him.  I can’t remember his face.  Our family is not the same anymore, is it Mama?  Granddaddy really isn’t coming back, is he?”

She worked herself up to the point where she was sobbing and having trouble breathing.  It broke my heart into a million pieces.  Of course, I wondered where this was coming from.  We are a year and a half from his passing.

Naturally, when I do not understand I head to the literature.  I spent time this morning reading about preschoolers and grief.  According to the article I found on helping children through grief from the National Association of School Psychologists, “Young children may deny death as a formal event and may see death as reversible.  They may interpret death as a separation, not a permanent condition.”  It hit me at that moment.  Her little mind was just now comprehending that Granddaddy was never coming back.

They gave some very important advice that we will take to heart and help our Munchkin as she is just now really taking in the events of the last year and a half.  First, the article notes that young children do not grieve in orderly and predictable ways.  This really explained the seemingly delayed response to Dad’s death.  As an adult I quickly understood the reality of death.  I don’t know why it never dawned on me that it would take her longer to process the reality of loss.  The article also suggests to allow Munchkin to teach us about her grief experience.  Allow her to tell her story and for us to be listeners.  This morning she told me she wanted to make a special frame for her favorite picture of her and my Dad.  Tonight we went to Michaels and I let her pick out whatever she wanted for this special project.  While we worked on the project she told me her favorite things about Dad.  She remembers a lot more than I thought she would.

I was 16 before I lost someone close to me.  J was in his 30’s.  Munchkin lived in a home where she experienced death first hand.  One day Granddaddy was in his room and the next day he was not.  Now that she is processing his death at a different level we begin a whole new phase of the grief process.

What happened last night was a shock to us all.  Mom was upset.  J was not only upset about Abigail, but also concerned with how it was affecting me.  We’ve entered into a new phase of handling grief.  The literature notes the importance of allowing Munchkin to talk to us, being good listeners, and being as open and honest as we can about death.