Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Spina bifida and the 4th grade

Fourth grade is very much focused on teaching kids responsibility.  If you arrive to class in the morning without your homework, the correct answer is, "I forgot my homework," and not, "My mom forgot to put my homework in my backpack."  The girls pretty much took responsibility for their homework and snacks/lunch years ago.  They are the ones who pack up their backpacks each morning, but they are still kids and occasionally an item is forgotten.  During the morning rush a few weeks ago, I noticed Anna's homework binder on the dining room table.  I reminded her several times that morning to pack it up in her backpack.  I don't recall why it was still on the table that morning as homework is almost always packed up the night before.

After dropping the girls off at school that morning, I returned home and ate breakfast in the kitchen while perusing the internet.  I'd been home for about 30 minutes or so when I walked into the family room and noticed Anna's binder still on the dining room table.  CRAP.  My first thought was to not bring it to her at school, to teach her that responsibility lesson, to say, "Hey Buddy, this is what happens when you don't pack your bag."  That lasted for approximately 30 seconds and then I texted Rich and asked what he would do.  I was questioning it, and in some state of disbelief because I had reminded her many times that morning to not forget it.  So as I'm typing this text to Rich, I'm pulling jeans back on (I know, so rough) and getting ready to drive back to the school.

What are the consequences for forgotten homework this year?  You have to complete it in the classroom during recess.  And the homework that night before had been tough.  They haven't had homework that time consuming since that one particular night.  When I picked the girls up at school, I asked Anna what her reaction had been when she realized she had forgotten her homework.  She had held back tears.  Her concern was that she was going to have to redo that difficult homework during recess without any help.  If I hadn't brought it to her, I would have felt so incredibly guilty.

I questioned myself on that initial reaction of teaching her a lesson.  Would I have felt the same if Allie or Emily had forgotten their homework?  But I didn't have to remind them to pack their bags.  Was I frustrated because I had asked her many, many times that morning to get that binder in her backpack?  Here's the thing - we don't know exactly how hydrocephalus and the resulting shunt impacts Anna's brain.  We do know that there are side effects, quirks if you will.  That's a definite. After reading up on the subject a few years ago, it was obvious to us that, yes, hydrocephalus plays a role in her day to day actions.

I'm tough on Anna because she's tough on herself.  This kid has never said she can't do something because she has spina bifida. It's easy to forget that she had brain surgery when she was a newborn.  It's easy to forget that she doesn't have the same muscle tone as her sisters or her friends.  After one of our long bike rides along the Cape Cod canal this summer, I had posted a few photos on FB.  My sister-in-law had also posted photos of her kids with family friends biking along the same path.  A discussion started as to how far kids were biking and until that discussion, I hadn't realized that six miles for a kid is kind of long.  I knew that it wasn't easy for Anna but she had cranked along like a rock star.

Years and years ago, back at the beginning of my career in public accounting, I worked with a manager, who I was on friendly terms with.  We are actually still in touch today, all these years later, and he's someone I would work with again if given the option.  I remember during one of the review cycles, I felt like he was being overly critical of me.  He gave me a really good review, but the recommendations for improvement, I thought, were too much and points he wouldn't have given to lower performers.  When I discussed it with him, he agreed and told me that because I was hard on myself, a perfectionist, an achiever, he was harder on me when he wrote reviews.  That's something that stuck with me, almost like a lollipop moment, in my working life.  I never thought it would transfer over to parenting, but it has.  

Sunday, October 16, 2016

My Reading Log

I reported not that long ago that I've been reading again and so I'm here to share with you what I've been reading.  Rich asked me how I find new books and this is one of the ways - seeing what others have been reading via blogs, FB, IG, etc.  I also periodically scroll through the new ebook titles on my library's website.  For those wondering, I went through a bit of a transition period after I stopped working because I used to read on the train and I obviously lost that train time.  Now, I sometimes read at night, sometimes I read during the day, and sometimes I read when I shouldn't be.

I am of the opinion that most trilogies exist simply to make money.  To me, it feels like the third book drags on much longer than it should and that maybe, possibly, the three books could have been written as one long novel.  I recently read two books that completed trilogies - Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs and End of Watch by Stephen King.  Library of Souls wasn't too bad but I did think the storyline was pulled along and then the ending was super quick.  End of Watch was slightly better in that it was somewhat of a different story than the first two books.  All three books are connected but it's not the same book broken into three.  I've been a King fan for almost 30 years now (gah! I'm old) but this one didn't seem believable to me.  It was well written but there was something I couldn't quite buy into.

I know - everyone read Bloom years ago.  Kelle Hampton and I share some common ground with our daughters and this was an interesting read.  However, I grew up in a Boston Irish Catholic household (which means we were taught to suppress emotions) and so Kelle and I are very different in that manner.  The world would be pretty boring if we were all the same though.  Wouldn't it?

This next one may sound boring but trust me, it is anything but.  Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (by Matthew Desmond) takes an in-depth look at the housing crisis in America by telling the story of both tenants and landlords in some of the poorest areas of Milwaukee.  This was so well written and fascinating.  The author actually lived with and followed the "characters" of the book for months.  This book was so good that I had trouble shutting the kindle.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman.  OMG.  This book was dangerous in that I would start reading and an hour would go by just like that.  Poof.  Gone.  This page turner is a quick read.  If you're into apocalyptic themed books, this one's right up your alley.  I'm recommending this to everyone though.  It is that good.

My wish list right now is out of control but what have you been reading?      

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Appalachian Trail, The Berkshires, Road Trip

Scenic Western Massachusetts is quite popular this time of year.  We had planned to pack up the van and head out there the first weekend of October.  The weather, however, had other ideas and with a forecast of rain, we canceled our hotel room.  Last weekend looked iffy but we decided to make the best of it, especially after I found an available hotel room.  






Our main destination was Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts.  The Appalachian Trail runs over the top of Mount Greylock and yes, I have a fascination with the AT.  Rich says that I'm obsessed.  I don't know if I'd go that far but, yeah, I talk about it quite often.  We hadn't really planned or prepared to hike the AT but we ended up walking a portion of it, which the girls absolutely loved.  We began at the summit so the first portion of our hike was downhill.  The Appalachian Trail in that area is rugged but doable for kids.  It really depends on how far you go, especially if the second half of your hike is uphill.  There are many trails to hike throughout Mount Greylock and I hope we return in the near (after winter!) future to explore.











I hate to complain about the rain as it is needed to fight this drought but the views weren't as spectacular as they should have been because of the overcast skies.  The rain didn't move it until late that night so really not a big deal.  It didn't disrupt our time outdoors.  Our hotel had an indoor pool, which the girls took advantage of.  They were happy.  Oh, they packed their bags too which was super nice for me.  I just had to tell them what they needed (two outfits, pajamas, underwear, bathing suit and an extra pair of shoes) and they were good to go.  It was such a time saver for me not having to pack for four people.






If you're looking for a scenic drive, you must head out to Route 2, also known as the Mohawk Trail.  Unfortunately, it began pouring rain shortly after we hit the road so I wasn't able to photograph it but it's so very different from the landscape I'm used to.  At times, it was hard to believe we were only a few hours from home.  




Tuesday, October 11, 2016

{Disney Planning} 2016 Tips

Here we go!  If you're planning to visit Disney World in the near future, I've compiled a list of suggestions for a magical vacation.  Some of these I've pointed out in prior years but some are new based on changes and updates made by Disney.

Don't wait, make those reservations

Trust me when I tell you that your life will be so much easier if you just make those reservations at the earliest date allowed.  At the 180 day mark, make your dining reservations.  I wrote a detailed post on advanced dining reservations (ADRs) that you can read here.  Remember, you can always cancel an ADR, but trying to add one later on can be frustrating and time consuming.

One of my least favorite planning activities is securing FastPass+ reservations, but having those in place will save you so much time during your vacation.  If you're staying at a Disney World resort, you can make your FP+ selections 60 days prior to your vacation.  

Download the My Disney Experience app on to your phone

Not only was I able to keep track of my dining reservations and FP+ selections through this app, but I was able to view updated wait times for rides and attractions, make any changes to my reservations and view PhotoPass photos.  Honestly, this app saved us time, especially when it came to FP+.  I was able to delete FastPasses that we didn't need and add others right there on my phone.

Don't underestimate this app or judge its usefulness on how much I have written here, which isn't much.  It really did make planning on vacation so much easier.

Understand and use the FastPass+ system to your advantage

Let me start with an example:  As we were boarding Living with the Land, located in Epcot, a ride that probably never has more than a 5 minute wait, a couple scanned their magic bands at the FP+ kiosks and entered the line.  Except there was no line and the wait time was listed at 0 minutes.  Yes, zero.  When they realized this, they asked the attending cast member if there was a way to cancel that FP+.  They were told that no, they couldn't, not after they had scanned their bands.  So they essentially wasted one of their three FastPasses.

You can hold three FP+ reservations a day.  Once you use all three or the time period runs out on the three you have reserved, you can add another FP+ for that day.  After that is used, you can add another.  While this sounds like a nice benefit, and it can be, keep in mind that the popular rides will not have any FastPasses left.  If you don't use a FastPass for whatever reason, cancel it and add another.  One night, we jumped on the Little Mermaid ride because there was no line at all.  Apparently, most of the other guests were waiting to watch the fireworks.  We had FP+ reservations the next morning for this ride.  I asked the girls if they wanted to ride it again and they said no, they'd rather do something else.  I canceled via the My Disney Experience app and made a new FP+ selection.

I believe Disney allows guests to make FP+ selections for rides that rarely see wait times greater than 10 minutes (outside of holidays) in order to keep availability more reasonable for the popular rides.  Do your research and know which rides have longer wait times!

Parade and Fireworks

If you were unable to make FP+ reservations for popular rides and you don't want to wait 60, 90, 120 minutes for those rides, consider skipping the night parade/fireworks.  Wait times for rides and attractions drop dramatically during nighttime entertainment.

If you do decide to watch the parade, the route along Main Street is the most crowded.  Don't expect to saunter up 20 minutes before the parade and find front row seats.  It won't happen and those of us who have been sitting there for over an hour aren't going to make room for you.  (Not sorry.)  If you don't want to spend precious time holding seats, head over to Frontierland.  The viewing areas do not fill up as quickly.  You can also view the fireworks from most areas within Magic Kingdom.  I know the experience isn't the same as watching from Main Street, but sometimes the crowds aren't worth it.
Disney Without Tears

I bring this up quite often because of how important it is.  Be realistic with your expectations of what your kids can handle.  If kids are kept up late and woken early and then forced to walk six miles, you shouldn't be surprised when they lose it.  Be realistic with what you can handle yourself.  This is supposed to be a vacation, not boot camp.

First Aid

If you or your child has a medical need, please visit First Aid.  They are extremely helpful.  This is where I cath Anna and every single nurse we've met has been nice and welcoming.  Anna needs to be cathed approximately every three hours so we've visited First Aid quite often.  It is never crowded and most of the time, we are the only guests there.

Don't listen to the travel bloggers who tell you to pack a first aid kit along with all the other stuff you need to carry with you when visiting the parks.  They don't know Disney very well.  If you need a band-aid, pain relief, or other like items visit First Aid.  They'll have whatever you need and are there to help.  (The stores within the parks do not sell these items.)  

Friday, October 7, 2016

{Disney} Driving vs. Flying, Disney Transportation


Our August 2016 Disney vacation was booked during November of last year through a travel agency.  I booked all of our prior Disney trips myself and feel more than qualified to do so, but when I found a travel agency offering a fantastic deal, it only made sense to book through them.  We aren't completely spontaneous, especially when it comes to substantial vacations, but having a trip marked on the calendar that far in advance is not typical for us.  I was still working at the time and had plans to resign in 2016 but didn't know when.  We assumed I would stop working before the start of summer.  Even though it's hotter than the face of the sun in Florida in August, Disney at that time of year is appealing for a variety of reasons.   My kids are not in school and activities have not yet begun.  The end of August sees less crowds at Disney parks as many schools across the country are back in session.  Unfortunately, the school calendar for the 2016-2017 year wasn't available when I decided on the dates of our vacation so I wasn't completely sure of when school would start or the school open house date.  My assumed dates worked out just fine.

Rich is part of a monthly meeting that everyone schedules their vacations around.  This is the main reason why Rich flew down to Disney the day after we did.  And originally, we weren't going to fly.  I was going to drive Grammy and the girls so we would have our own car with us.  I booked this vacation to fit between Rich's meeting and the assumed date for the open house at school.  The rough draft of my travel plans had us leaving Boston four days before Disney Day 1.  This would have allowed us time to spread out those 1,300 driving miles over three days.  We also planned to stay at a hotel in Orlando for a night or two to rest before hitting Magic Kingdom.

This remained the plan until July, when we returned from our Michigan adventures.  It wasn't the driving I was concerned with, but the costs of being on the road.  Hotel rooms (in most cases, we would need two), food and while the cost of gas is fairly low, when you're driving 2,600 miles, you still need to include it in your budget.  In my head, I began adding up the expenses and wondered if flying would be that much more expensive.  Rich must have read my mind because a few days later, he said the same exact thing to me.  Rich's flight on what was to be Disney Day 1 was late in the morning and I didn't want to lose a vacation day so Grammy, the girls and I flew out a day early.


We've always had our own car while at Disney.  Yes, we've used the monorail and the boats, but this was our first experience with the bus system.  Admittedly, I was skeptical but overall, we had no issues.  In fact, Rich commented on how pleasant it was not having to drive.  I was impressed with the organization of Magical Express and how quickly they moved people along.  And yes, it was nice not having to claim our luggage and drag it through the airport.  At the end of our vacation, we were able to check our suitcases at the hotel, which was super convenient.  We never waited long for a bus and there were always plenty of seats.

That being said, we stayed at two resorts with non-bus access to three parks (Contemporary to Magic Kingdom, and Yacht Club to Epcot and Hollywood Studios.)  Excluding Magical Express, we needed to rely on the bus system only three times.  I also reminded Rich that our vacation was taking place during a known slow time, which meant fewer guests sharing the busses.

Would we go this route again?  Probably.  More likely than not.  Ask Rich and he'll say without a doubt.  The girls did not mind using Disney transportation and they much prefer to fly than to drive.  It's in Disney's best interest to make using their transportation pleasant as it keeps you in the Disney bubble.  No complaints here.