all of us, Lyra

Disney World Part 1 – Be Prepared.

Did you sing “be prepared” like the song from The Lion King?
Oh, you didn’t?  Then this post may not be for you.

Back in March, we tried our hand at going to Disney World.  That trip to the park was very last minute and so we were woefully unprepared.  And Disney makes you be prepared if you are going to have any hope of a magical visit.  So what did I do for our next trip?

Prepared the shit out of our trip to Disney.

Should the S-word and Disney be in the same sentence?  Probably not.  Moving on.

When we came home from our Florida trip in March, contacted Disney, and then got tickets from them to go back, we went to work.  John and I looked at sites that told you what park attendance was like and matched it with how much Disney resorts cost during those periods and we decided we would take a chance on a middle of September visit.  We chose a day to go to Magic Kingdom when we knew there would be Extra Magic Hours and planned our hotel stay around that day.  The month of September, after Labor Day, and the month of February are the lowest of the low seasons.  The only problem with September is it is hurricane season so you are totally chancing it.  We knew that, but Disney has a policy that if there is any named hurricane that takes place within 5 days of your visit or where you are visiting from, they will refund you or change plans without a fee.  See — I prepared.  Ask me anything about Disney policies and I will tell you.  Rhianna Wells does not go into things unprepared.  Probably one of the reasons I was devastated after our first trip – I was way out of my comfort zone.  But that’s another discussion for another armchair.  Anyway, we chanced it on September, to make a short story long.

What do you need to know about planning a trip to Disney?  A (not at all) quick rundown of important things.

  • Stay on property.  Sure you could stay off and get some place cheaper but this is Disney and the trip, even a quick one like ours, is not going to be cheap so just go with it.  I also know I am totally coming from my middle-class white lady privilege with this.  Oh man, the tangents I could go on.  I’ll indulge this quick — Disney, a billion dollar corporation, could make things cheaper and more affordable but they always keep their prices JUST high enough to keep a certain socio-economic status population out.  This is just reality.  But no ethical consumption under capitalism, amirite?  This is just what this privileged white lady does under late capitalism so her three year old can see effing Mickey Mouse in “real life.”  Okay, I’ll stop.  But just assume all the information I’m giving you from here on out is coming from a place of intense privilege and I know that.
  • If you are only going to the Magic Kingdom, stay at Fort Wilderness Lodge, Fort Wilderness Campgrounds, The Grand Floridian, The Polynesian, or The Contemporary.  These are all the places you can stay near the Magic Kingdom.  The Lodge and the Campgrounds are a direct boat ride to the park, the other places are on the monorail.  This way you can get back to your hotel for a nap in the middle of the day or at the end of a very long day quickly and efficiently.  We stayed at the Fort Wilderness Lodge and loved it.  The Campgrounds are the least expensive but of the other resort hotels, the Lodge is the cheapest.  But it’s still super nice!  We originally were going to stay at the campgrounds but wound up transferring to the Lodge for reasons I’ll explain at the end of this post.
  • Set up your My Disney Experience profile and make sure you’ve added your friends and family.  Someone will be designated as the planner and can make plans for everyone.  Put the most type A person in charge of this.  Our party consisted of me (the Type A planner), John, Lyra, John’s dad, and his partner Mim.  I made sure there were no kinks in being able to link everyone to me so I could make plans for everyone.  Maybe here is where I tell you why we didn’t take Lucy.  We didn’t take Lucy because there is NO REASON ON EARTH to take a child younger than 3/3.5, maybe 4 depending on maturity, to Disney World, unless you are a local and can go to Disney whenever you want.  Lyra was a perfect age for a first trip to Disney.  I count her trip in September as her First Trip and when we take Lucy on her solo trip in like 2019 or something, that will be her First Trip.  Lyra is pretty mature for her age and man, she believes.  She believes so hard.  And it was MAGIC watching her at Disney World getting to meet everyone.  Once you get kids older than like 5/6 you run the risk of them not really believing and while it will still be magical because it’s Disney World, the complete and total awe that you see in their eyes won’t be there.  So my recommendation is make their first trip between 3 and 6 years old.  Just do it.  Then you don’t have to go ever again if you aren’t “Disney People.”
  • 180 days out, you need to make your dining reservations.  YOU NEED TO.  You need to set an alarm on your phone and at 7AM 180 days before you plan on walking your magical self up the Magic Kingdom, you wake up and hop on the My Disney Experience website and you make breakfast reservations for a time before the park opens.  You can get into the park before it even opens if you have breakfast reservations at one of the three options.  If you want character dining, go to Cinderella’s Royal Table but you have to be QUICK to get a reservation.  If you do not get it, keep checking to see if someone has canceled.  The Crystal Palace also has character dining if your kid is into Winnie the Pooh, my kid is not so that wasn’t an option.  The cheapest option, but not with characters, is Be Our Guest.  This was our first choice because we knew we’d see most, if not all, of the princesses later that day and we wanted something more affordable.  It was an awesome choice.  Getting into the park and eating breakfast early is key because then you are in the park before a majority of the people and can plop yourself in line for a ride or two and get right on so you don’t have to waste a fast pass on it.
  • 60 days out, you need to make your fast pass reservations.  YOU NEED TO.  Because you have heeded my advice from my first point and decided to stay on property, that means you get to reserve your fast passes 60 days in advance.  If you do not stay on property, you can only make them 30 days in advance like some peasant and let me tell ya, you ain’t getting on Seven Dwarves Mine Train until like 8PM.  You just aren’t, okay?  So once again, set an alarm and an alarm for that alarm and you make sure your ass is in front of a computer screen at 7AM and logged onto the My Disney Experience site so you can make your reservations.  What you decide to fast pass, you can only do 3, is up to you and your party and their ages.  The planner can make all these reservations for everyone.
  • 30 days out, order your food.  You can always change your order during the next thirty days, but if you want, you can order online ahead of time so you don’t have to worry about it when you are there.  If you have any dietary restrictions you can select what you don’t eat and new menu options appear.  We wanted plant-based options so we chose that we wanted food that was dairy and egg free and we ended up with super delicious food that was still extremely decadent.  Disney is very accommodating to all kinds of diets, which is something nice to know if you have any restrictions.  We had no problem finding delicious food to eat the whole time.  And, bonus, they put a little “Allergy” flag in your food when it comes out because you are allergic to the Standard American Diet.  Woot woot!
  • Make sure your Magic Bands are personalized early on and send them off to be personalized so they can get to you before your trip.
  • Coordinate your flight plans with the Magical Express so that info is ready to go on your Magic Bands.
  • Strollers – I recommend either bringing a stroller or renting one NOT from Disney.  Since we got rid of our single stroller and did not want to bring just an umbrella stroller or lug the big double stroller since we only had one kid, I found Kingdom Strollers and got a Baby Jogger City Mini from them.  They deliver to your hotel and pick it up.  It’s better to have a stroller out of the park that way you can stroll your over-tired kid around to and from the park instead of just in the park.  If you just rented when you got to Magic Kingdom, you would have to return it before you left the park and then hold your sleeping three year old the entire way back to your hotel after you’ve kept them up way past their bedtime to watch fireworks.  Kingdom Strollers was great and they give you a free rain cover, insulated bag, and parent console with the stroller.  We saw a lot of people in the park that had rented from them.  We loved this service.  As soon as we checked into our hotel our stroller was waiting for us so we were able to take it to Disney Springs and all around the resort as well as take it into the Magic Kingdom.
  • For young kids, just go to Magic Kingdom and call it a trip, man.  So many families around us look so frazzled and crazy-eyed when they told us they were on their 3rd or 4th day with preschoolers.  And most of the time the kids were crying and way over stimulated.  Magic Kingdom is the only park you need to take little ones too.  Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios have stuff for little ones, Epcot kind of does too.  But why subject your preschoolers to days and days of The Most Stimulus Ever?  Save the money and the long trip where you go to each park when they are older.  We plan on taking Lucy to one day of Magic Kingdom to meet the big guns when she is 3ish.  Then in another few years after that we will take the whole fam damily for a week of Disney to do the Whole Thing.  One day is more than enough magic for a little kid.

I think those are all the things to be prepared.  Of course we were only staying 3 days, 2 nights on property with only one day at the park.  Going for multiple park days requires much more planning.

The last thing we had to do was wait and see.  Since we chanced it on hurricane season, wouldn’t you know there was a hurricane headed that way when we were supposed to be there?!  And not just any hurricane, but a hurricane that was supposed to be the biggest one to hit the Caribbean and the state of Florida ever, Hurricane Irma.

I watched and read the news about hurricane Irma like a mad woman.  John’s dad and Mim decided close to the trip that they weren’t going to come up to Orlando for Disney.  John and I remained hopeful that we would still be able to go so we waited before canceling.  We knew the hurricane was going to come before we were supposed to be there. It was projected to be there early Sunday and going through the state that entire day.  We weren’t scheduled to get in until Tuesday afternoon.  The weather forecast for the days we were supposed to be there looked gorgeous.  Sunny, cooler temperatures, no rain.  We had insurance on our flights and we knew Disney would refund us because of the hurricane should we need to cancel so waiting until the Monday before to make any major decision was the path we chose.   The weekend before we were in contact with Disney to change our lodging plans.  They were closing the campgrounds for the hurricane and we no longer needed to stay at the cabins since it was just going to be 3 of us now.   We changed our lodging to a room at the Fort Wilderness Lodge and it ended up being just a bit cheaper than the cabin we had originally reserved.  Room changed, I changed all our reservations to reflect that we were now a party of 3 instead of 5 and we waited and watched the news to see what Irma was going to do.

Thankfully, by the time Irma hit Orlando she was drastically downgraded and there wasn’t too much damage done to that area and Disney was planning on being up and running right after.  There was flooding in the campgrounds so that would remained closed, and there was a bunch of tree debris to be collected, but they came out of the hurricane relatively unscathed.  Our trip was still on and we were super excited!

As it turns out, planning a trip to Disney right after a hurricane is perfect.  The weather is usually nice and the crowds are low because many people canceled and day trippers just don’t come to the park.  So try and plan your trip for directly after a hurricane, okay?  It will be awesome.  Ew.  Just typing that out makes me feel weird.  You guys, I know, I KNOW we were EXTREMELY LUCKY.  I know that.  And this is long enough as it is, so our actual trip will be a separate post.  Catch ya on the flippity flip.

our Magic Bands ready to go!


all of us

Florida Trip – March 2017

In March we embarked on our first long road trip with both girls.  John’s father lives in Florida on Lake Okeechobee.  It is a long way from where we live, but then again, everywhere in Florida feels like forever away.

a trip to Florida meant the girls got new Minnie jackets! and we needed them, it was COLD!

We left on a day John had to work so I was the one to pack the car up.  John’s mother, Irene, drove him to work in the morning and then the girls and I drove the van to his work to pick him up and get on the road from there.  We knew we were going to break up the trip – we had to – so we didn’t mind getting on the road a little later in the day.  We were hoping to make it to Jacksonville the first leg of the trip, but after frequent stops (three year olds have small bladders, imagine that!) we realized once we were stopped for dinner somewhere in South Carolina that we were going to have to settle for Georgia as a stopping point.  When we headed down 95 we started calling hotels for vacancies from where we were in South Carolina to Jacksonville and we weren’t having any luck.  We didn’t know how much longer we would be able to drive that night before needing to stop.   We needed gas once we were in Savannah so we got some gas, and then pulled our van over in the parking lot of the gas station, it was crazy busy, and John just kept calling hotels that were in the area they were all completely full.  We could only find one opening and the hotel happened to be at the exit where we were so we said we’d take it!  It was pricier than we wanted to spend for just one night but it was the only thing we could find available at the time.  This made me realize we should’ve put more planning into our trip and gone ahead to pick exactly where we would stop for the night and make reservations in advance, but we had no idea how busy it would be.  It happened to be Spring Break for many colleges and schools so everyone was going to Savannah or Hilton Head or heading further south to Florida and had snatched up all the hotels.  But this is how we found our favorite hotel chain, the StayBridge Inn and Suites.

Our hotel room was more like an apartment and it was so lovely.  The girls were SO excited as the stretched their legs running around the rooms.  After the frustration of our travel so far from not knowing if we’d have somewhere to sleep, it was nice to settle into a comfortable hotel for the night.  In the morning we packed our bags, got ready, ate breakfast, and then headed back on the road for the longer leg of the trip.  John’s dad’s house is kind of in the middle of nowhere.  Thank goodness for GPS because I don’t know how we would’ve found it without it.  There’s not much to say about our trip down, the girls were great in the car, we had frequent albeit quick stops, no crazy traffic, just a long drive.

We were so happy to get to our destination.  The house is on a little canal that connects to the lake.  We unpacked the car and settled in our room and set up some toys for the girls, and chilled out at the house.  We didn’t do much the first day, just hung out around the house and ate dinner, we got the girls down to bed and then the adults watched a movie.

The next day we took out the golf cart and road around the area which both girls loved.  They live in a quiet, country setting and it was fun getting to tool around in the golf cart outside.  Lyra also swam in the pool and hot tub.  When Lucy was down for her nap, Mim (John’s dad’s partner) stayed with her and the rest of us went on a boat ride.  John’s dad, his name is also John, had a couple boats and we took the bigger one out with Lyra.  She loved it.  We went all around the canal and up into a bigger part of water and saw so many alligators.  It was a little scary, to be honest, because they just appear out of nowhere and then they sink without a trace.  I wasn’t too worried about Lyra falling in, but that fear was still there – I mean, if any one of us had fallen in for any reason, we would probably be eaten pretty quick.  We did see a lot of baby alligators which were so cute, but we also saw quite a few big alligators which were … not.

Lyra “driving” the boat


On our last day at John’s dad’s house we had a lazy morning with more golf cart rides and hanging out on the porch and then we packed up because all of us – John’s dad and Mim included – were heading to Orlando to do a day at Magic Kingdom the next day.  It was a two hour drive up to Orlando and we stayed at Buena Vista Suites which was close to Disney Springs.  It was a great hotel for being close to Disney even though it was not on property.  Once we checked into our hotel our family cleaned up and rested a bit before John’s dad and Mim got there, they left a little after us.  We decided to go into Disney Springs that evening to eat at the Rainforest Cafe and we also had to go to Guest Services to figure out something with our tickets to the park.  Dinner was fine and then we walked around a bit, it was raining at this point, and headed to Guest Services which was packed because people were sheltering from the rain.  We had a very long wait before we could be seen.  Lyra, however, didn’t mind – she was going around talking to everyone and making friends, my little extrovert.  While it wasn’t fun having to wait for a long time in a crowded area where all the seats were taken, I do have to share this sweet tidbit:  Lucy needed to nurse while we were waiting.  I am not shy about nursing in public but there was nowhere for me to sit so I asked a cast member if they knew of anywhere I could go with a chair so I could sit and nurse Lu.  A cast member immediately cleared out one of their offices and told me to go in there and take as much time as I needed, they closed the door for privacy as well.  I was very touched by this gesture.  They didn’t hesitate to assist and find a solution even though they were very busy at the time.

For posterity’s sake I’m going to write about this day at Disney, though it honestly brings back really unpleasant feelings for me, it has a happy ending, very happy.

Our day at Disney was honestly kind of a bummer.  We didn’t know we were going to Magic Kingdom until a little before our trip and we didn’t have our tickets in hand until a couple days before, so we were unable to schedule fast passes and dining in advance.* When I got on the My Disney Experience app fast passes were unavailable for the things we wanted to do with the girls until night time when we weren’t going to be there. We hadn’t planned on taking the girls until they were a little older so we didn’t know how they’d do at the park.  It was also Spring Break and one of, if not THE, busiest times of the year for Disney World.  The park was very crowded.  We were shoulder to shoulder with people the whole time, we had a huge stroller that was hard to move through, by the time we actually set foot on Main Street USA we had already been waiting in some line or another for hours.  With two little ones, waiting in line, where you cannot take your stroller, is hard when wait times are 90 minutes +.  We weren’t able to do a whole lot.  Lucy was also cutting her molars at this time so she was super fussy.  We rode only a few rides because we had to wait so long, but at least Lyra got to meet Minnie Mouse and Daisy.  Towards the afternoon when the girls were way over stimulated and tired of waiting in line, we called it quits and decided to head back north. John’s dad and Mim were going to stay a little longer (they are both Annual Passholders, by the way, so they can go to Disney whenever they want), but not long after we were on the road they texted us and told us they decided to leave too because wait times were almost all over 2 hours and bus loads of high school kids were entering the park.  I was very upset by the whole day, I get teary just thinking about it.  We love Disney and we had such a horrible time.  I was crying on our drive back to Savannah because Lyra had asked why Mickey wasn’t there and we didn’t know how to explain to her that the line was over two hours long to see him.  I wanted so badly for it to be a fun day at Magic Kingdom and it wasn’t.  But it was in the car on the way home that John and I decided sometime before the end of the year, we would come back with just Lyra and take her to Magic Kingdom and do it the way Disney makes you do it, by scheduling every little thing far in advance so you could see the things you wanted.  I didn’t want to play that game, but I was going to if we had to.  And to make a long story short, John wrote to Disney to tell them about our experience and someone called us to talk about it, after speaking with us they gave us tickets to come back.  We have a lot of issues with Disney – it is a billion dollar corporation after all – but their customer service is one of the best.  So I started planning our trip and 180 days in advance I found myself waking up to make dining reservations, but that is a story for another blog post.  (Spoiler Alert, it was the best trip ever, so I promise this has a happy ending)

It was actually really cold for most of the day, glad we had jackets.  Neither really wanted a picture at this point since we had already been in 3 long lines for hours just to get in the park.
Lucy loved the Dumbo ride waiting playground.
they were both happier than this picture would lead you to believe.
Lyra on Dumbo!
We didn’t buy the photo pass photos for this trip so excuse the low quality pics.
This was the brightest spot of the day – she LOVED Minnie.
Lyra hugged her for so long, it was so so so sweet.
me and my girl.  I love her so much.

*John and I hadn’t been to Disney since 2011 and at that time they were using the old fast pass system so we were unaware how the new one worked until it was too late.  If you are going to Disney World you need to schedule MONTHS in advance.  You need to schedule dining reservations 180 days in advance and fast passes you need to schedule 60 days in advance, at least if you are staying on-property, if you aren’t you can only schedule them 30 days in advance.  This new system makes deciding to do a day at Disney spontaneously absolutely impossible.  It also takes most of the flexibility out of what you want to do at the park which is hard when you have little ones.  You want to kind of follow their lead, but if you haven’t made your itinerary 60 days in advance, you’ll most likely be waiting in long lines if you are there during a peak season.  We understand why this system is implemented, but it still doesn’t make it fun if you aren’t aware how you have to play their game.  But we know now.


So anyway, the drive back to Savannah was quiet because the girls were tuckered out and John and I were both sad with how the Magic Kingdom turned out.  But we were so happy to roll back up to the StayBridge Inn and Suites that night, where we had called ahead and made reservations.  We got some take out food and brought it back to our hotel room, watched a movie, ate dinner, and passed out.

The next morning we took our time hanging at the hotel, eating breakfast, and then eventually got on the road and continued on home to North Carolina.

I hate that I had the sad chunk in this post, but it’s worth remembering.  We had such a fun and relaxing time down in Florida even though our one day was sour.  It was such a nice, quiet place and it was fun taking golf cart rides and boat rides and just catching up with John and Mim.  It did help that very quickly after this trip we had plans to meet back up with John’s dad and Mim at the Magic Kingdom to really do a day at Disney.

all of us

Sedona, Arizona 2017

In February my mother’s side of the family had a family reunion in Sedona.  My Uncle Mark and Aunt Lynda have a beautiful home there.  I have another uncle & aunt that live in the Phoenix area, and I have a cousin that lives in the Phoenix area with his family.

My mother comes from a family of 9 children.  One of her sisters passed away many years ago, my Aunt Karen, and her son is the cousin of mine that lives in Arizona with his wife and children.  And, sadly, another of my mother’s sisters passed last year, my Aunt Mimi.  Our family was getting together to not only visit, you can imagine how hard it is to get a majority together with 9 siblings and their families scattered throughout the US (and one family in England), but to also scatter some of my aunt’s ashes by Cathedral Rock in Sedona.

When John and I first heard of the plans for our family reunion in Arizona we both decided we wanted to figure out how to make it work for us to attend.  John had never been to Sedona and I wanted to share that beauty with him and the girls.  I have wonderful memories of Arizona as I grew up going out there quite frequently to visit family, but I hadn’t been to Arizona for ten years and hadn’t been to Sedona in almost 20 years (ouch, typing that out made me feel old). It was also important for me to introduce my girls to some of the family members that they probably won’t see very often.  We booked flights and a rental van a few months in advance and awaited our trip.

This was our first big trip together as a family of four.  It was also Lyra’s first plane ride.  Lucy accompanied me when she was just 8 weeks old on a quick trip to Kentucky so she had already been, though I’m sure she doesn’t remember.  My mom arranged her flights to go out with us, though she had to fly back earlier than we did so she didn’t go home with us.  It was really nice having an extra adult to help us with the girls in the airport, though I have to say, both girls did really well.  On our first flight (we had a layover in Chicago), Lucy would not sit still and though she was relatively happy the whole time, it was a challenge getting her to stay happy in our little row of seats.  Thankfully she slept the whole second flight which was the longer one.  Lyra was fascinated with the whole plane ride and was a champ, even though she couldn’t get comfortable enough to fall asleep on the second flight, she remained in good spirits.  We got to Phoenix late at night and took a shuttle to the hotel we had booked for the night and immediately collapsed in the bed.

In the morning, John took the hotel shuttle to the rental car place to grab our minivan and drove it back to our hotel.  After everyone got ready for the day and ate, we hopped in our rental van and started making our way north.  The drive was beautiful.  The beauty of Arizona is so unlike the beauty on the east coast, we loved the drive because it offered the most beautiful vistas as we climbed higher and higher in elevation.  Our ears also kept popping every 1,000 feet.  We decided to go to Flagstaff first and then back track a little to Sedona.  As we got closer to Flagstaff we started seeing SNOW on the ground!  We aren’t guaranteed to see snow each year where we live in North Carolina, and even if we do, it’s just for a day or two, so this was so exciting to us and the girls.  Our first stop once we got to Flagstaff was Target, of course.  We decided to get a couple toys for the girls to play with for the trip as well as a movie.  We then ate lunch up there before driving back down to Sedona.

the drive up to Flagstaff

My uncle lives in the Oak Creek part of Sedona (if anyone is familiar with that area) and his home has huge windows along the back of the house that perfectly overlook Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte.  His home was so lovely and he had everything set up so nicely for our stay.  Lyra was in one of the guest rooms with my mom and John, Lucy, and I were set up in another room.  My aunt and uncle had a stocked mini fridge and coffee pot in our room as well as basket of snack food items – they really made it feel like such a nice retreat.

the view from my uncles back deck. pictures don’t do it justice.
javelinas outside the cantina

The other family members that were coming into Arizona were staying in Phoenix the first day so it was just us with my aunt and uncle that day.  After relaxing and playing outside in their yard we cleaned up for dinner.  John told me he’d stay at the house with the girls so I could go out to an adult dinner with my mom, aunt, and uncle.  It was so nice.  We are at a stage right now where going out to eat with the girls is just more of a hassle than anything, mostly with Lucy, so getting to go to a restaurant feels more like a chore than something fun.  I was so grateful for that chance to catch up with my uncle and to really enjoy a meal.  (Thank you, John!) We went to Javelina Cantina where we had a nice window table.  The restaurant really does have a family of javelinas living outside so we were able to watch them at the restaurant, it was really neat.

Fun story from dinner:
I ordered a margarita, because no kids!, and the waitress didn’t want to serve me because I didn’t have my ID and she said I looked young.  Even though my mom and uncle were right there with me she said she didn’t feel comfortable serving me.  I asked her if I could have my husband take a picture of my ID and text it to me  and she said that would work.  So I had to call John while there and have him give me a picture of my ID so I could get a drink.    I think because Sedona is mostly populated by retirees that it is hard to guess the age of anyone under the age of 40.

Anyway, we had a lovely dinner – I had veggie fajitas that were delicious and I brought most of them back for John to eat – the portions were HUGE.  After the day of traveling and big day driving around, we all slept well that night.

In the morning we asked my uncle to take us to the Buddhist Stupa.  We had a small wishlist of things we wanted to do in Arizona and this was at the top of the list.  There aren’t that many stupas in the USA and there aren’t any in North Carolina or anywhere near us. John and I identify strongly with most Buddhist ideologies so we really wanted to be able to visit this sacred place.  (Here’s a good ole wiki page if you’re curious about what a stupa is, it is different than a Buddhist temple or monastery)  I wore Lucy in the ergo and Lyra walked.  We explained to her that we were going to a sacred place and we needed to be reverent.  Lyra did really well, even telling my mom “shh!  We need to be quiet so people can pray!”  She surprised us with her reverence which is pretty hard for a three year old, but I think even she could feel how sacred that place was.  The stupa was magical.  That word sounds so trite, but I can’t think of another word.  The energy there was palpable and awe-inspiring.  We all split up at different points to walk the grounds and meditate, my mom and John were able to circumambulate the stupa.  I wanted to as well but Lucy was starting to squirm a lot in the ergo so I took her further up the grounds to let her out on one of the hiking paths to get some energy out.  I knew as soon as we got there that we would visit again during our stay so I knew I’d have my chance to walk around the stupa eventually.


IMG_9188 2


After seeing the stupa, my uncle took us on a driving tour of Sedona, pointing out all the famous red rock formations and the vortexes.  (What’s a vortex?  Try here!) We stopped a few times to get out and explore and take pictures.  When we went up to Airport Vortex, the view of all of Sedona was incredible and pictures just don’t do it justice at all.  Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to hike up to the peak of any of the vortexes because the girls are a bit too little to make those hikes.


the view from a lookout near Airport Vortex

Another thing that was on my wishlist other than the stupa and seeing the vortexes was to buy some Navajo turquoise jewelry.  My uncle took us to a place where he knew some of the families that sold their own jewelry so we wouldn’t be getting ripped off and we picked out some things.  I ended up getting some simple stud earrings and a plain turquoise band.  Lyra got a necklace and bracelet as well as a dream catcher for her room.  After our busy morning we met up at a restaurant with two of my aunts and their husbands for lunch.  It was so wonderful to get to see them and hang out.  After our lunch we all went back to my uncle’s house to hang out.

the bumper sticker on my uncle’s jeep made me laugh.

My mom and aunts told John and I that we could go out for a date while they watched the girls at the house.  My uncle let us take his jeep out to town for our date which was really fun.  Our first stop was to go back to the stupa.  I was able to do my circumambulation and then we both hiked a long time around the grounds, John wanted to make his own rock stack (there were many throughout the grounds, pictured above if you don’t know what I mean), and we just sat and enjoyed the energy of the stupa.  We then went to a new age shop that had a lot of crystals amongst other things.  We browsed forever in that store because it had so many wonderful things.  We really wanted to get a beautiful singing bowl that John found but we didn’t have a lot of room to take back things in our suitcases so ended up just getting a small magnet and I got an amethyst bracelet.  We drove around looking at all the town had and stopped in a small natural grocery to get a few things for the house to make smoothies.    Then we found a wonderful, small little restaurant called Taste of Marrakech that used organic, local ingredients and had an amazing meal with some homemade kombucha.  It was a great day date.  When we got back to my uncles house we put the girls to bed and hung out with our family.  That evening we were able to go outside and enjoy the dark sky – it’s so trippy to be able to see the Milky Way galaxy.  We just laid outside looking up at the stars forever.

Some more photos from the Stupa later in the day when it was just John and me.


The next day was the official family reunion day.  Five of the nine kids in my mom’s family were there and 2 more were represented by their children (my cousins) and then we had my Aunt Mimi’s ashes.  It was a lot of fun catching up with everyone and watching my girls interact with everybody.  Lyra took an immediate liking to her second cousin (my cousin’s son) Ben.  She was enamored with him and he was so sweet to play with her and read to her.  And later Ben’s older sister, Liz, played with Lyra and she was in seventh heaven.  She adores older kids.  We ate a lot of yummy food and played games outside.

Ben reading to Lyra
Ben, Lyra, Liz, Lucy, and Sam

The last full day of our trip, the next morning, everyone woke up early and we met up at a restaurant to eat breakfast before heading out to Cathedral Rock to spread my Aunt Mimi’s ashes.  Unfortunately it was raining that morning so our short hike to the creek was a little treacherous, but there was still a very sweet and calming spirit in the air.  A few of the siblings said some words and my uncle spread the ashes in the water.  It was such a beautiful spot.  I didn’t get any pictures because it was raining and it was also a solemn affair, but I wish I had.  Next time we get out there I’m planning on visiting this spot again.

Later in the day after going back to my uncle’s house, John had to do some work so he suggested I go out with my mom and aunt while he stayed at the house to do some grading and watch the girls.  So I went with my mom and Aunt Beckie to a lovely outdoor shopping center and we browsed all of the shops and had a great late lunch before heading back to the house.  In the evening we got back together with everyone still in town at a restaurant my aunt picked out specifically for our little family, it was called Piccazo’s Healthy Italian Kitchen.  This restaurant had so many plant-based options so we had fun creating our own pizza that we could eat.  It was really easy to eat plant-based in Sedona and Piccazo’s was a great restaurant to end with, stuffing ourselves with yummy pizza (my favorite!).

Early the next morning we said our goodbyes and got in our van to travel back down to Phoenix to drop my mom off at the airport.  She had an early afternoon flight, while we were taking a red eye later that night.  Once we dropped mom off, we found a restaurant in Tempe to have some lunch and it was walking distance to Tempe Town Lake so we walked over to the Tempe Beach park and let the girls run around.  We contemplated renting a boat but in the end we didn’t want to fork over the money for the rental since we weren’t going to be on the lake for that long.  There were a lot of people out enjoying the nice weather and it was nice to stretch our legs before heading to the airport.  Once we finished with the park we walked back to our van and drove around looking at Arizona State University and the surrounding area.  Then we headed back to return the van and head over to the airport.  Once we got to the airport we had to wait an hour before we could check in so we walked around the area we could and then checked-in.  Once we checked-in we found our gate and took turns walking to find some food we could eat for dinner then we settled in at our gate, putting a movie on for the girls to watch.

Our flight didn’t leave until 11PM so we had a lot of time to kill.  Once it was around bedtime I took Lucy to the nursing room to nurse her down to sleep.  The room was in a super quiet part of the airport and no one was around.  So once Lu had nursed down I texted John to tell him to bring our stuff and Lyra so we could all chill in this room.  We closed the door and set up a movie for Lyra and we were able to just relax for the next few hours before boarding.  (FYI – we were prepared to vacate should another family need the room but no one came in)  Lyra ended up falling asleep on one of the little tables, which amused us.  When it came time to board, we just lugged on our luggage and  sleeping babes to the very back of the plane where they thankfully stayed asleep and slept the whole flight and we were able to snooze too.  We did have a layover and at this time Lyra was awake, but Lucy was in and out of sleep on me in the ergo.  Our second flight was super short and Lyra was awake but enamored with the movie options so she chose to watch something with her headphones and Lu fell asleep again.  We got back to RDU in the morning, found our car, and headed home.  It was such a peaceful trip back and it made me want to only travel on red eyes, especially if the girls are with us.

Lyra asleep in the nursing room. Passed out on a table.

All in all, it was such an amazing trip.  John and I kept talking about how good it felt for our souls.  The energy in Sedona is truly something else.  It feels different and it felt like we could all just breathe easier and really relax even though we had a one year old and a three year old with us.  If you’re into healing vortexes and crystals and stupas and hiking and all that good stuff, it’s a definite recommend.  It’s a recommend even if you’re not because the beauty you’re surrounded by is just unreal.  We can’t wait to go back!


all of us

Christmas Day 2016

Christmas morning everyone woke up around the same time as usual and after potty breaks and diaper changes, we went downstairs to see if Santa arrived.

The wine and cookies were gone (Mr. and Mrs. Claus were ever so grateful for those!), and Santa had filled up everyone’s stockings, including the pets’ stockings, and put presents around the tree.

We put the coffee on while the girls went through all of their gifts.  Once they had seen everything and started playing, John and I then went through our stockings.  Stockings are my most favorite part of Christmas.  We always get each other pretty practical things but there’s something about opening a new package of hair ties or your favorite lip balm in your stocking that makes it all the more special.  Maybe that’s why I love them so much, making the ordinary just a little more magical.

After opening stockings I put together some homemade hot chocolate in the crock pot to warm, while I prepared some homemade cinnamon rolls.  I’ve never made homemade cinnamon rolls so was determined to try it for Christmas.  They were messy and not the prettiest, but they turned out delicious.  It made for an especially decadent Christmas morning.  Once I got the rolls in the oven to bake, John and I finished opening our presents to each other that were under the tree.  By the time we finished, breakfast was ready and we ate.  After eating our fill of rolls and drinking the awesome hot chocolate, we all played with our presents and enjoyed our morning, obviously watching A Christmas Story on repeat, because that is just what you do on Christmas Day.

The Presents:

  • Lyra and Lucy both got sleeping bags, a rudolph toy, and the movie Finding Dory.
  • Lucy received a giraffe ride-on toy, a Little People car track with some cars, and her stocking was filled mostly with bath toys, a toothbrush & paste, and some other little things.
  • Lyra received a kite (the only thing she actually asked for), a Frozen dollhouse with dolls inside, and her stocking was filled with the same things Lucy’s was, but also had a bit of sweet treats in there.
  • The dog and cats received a few treats and some new toys.  Rory loved it and the cats always love the wrapping paper from opening gifts.
  • John and I received so many wonderful things and we had a great Christmas.  I’m only going to share my favorite present that I received this year which was a book John made of pictures Lyra had taken on our phones.  He added captions and titles and put in an introduction.  It is hilarious and every single time I flip through it I laugh hysterically.  I will treasure it always.


Lucy took a nice long nap in her new sleeping bag, I can’t remember if Lyra napped or just had quiet time that day.  But once Lucy was up we all headed over to my parents house to exchange presents with them and have Christmas dinner.

The girls loved that Santa came there too.  We ate a ton of food, watched more of A Christmas Story, and then headed back home.   There John and I picked up the living room from the day’s festivity, got the girls down to sleep, and watched It’s a Wonderful Life before going to sleep ourselves.

Christmas 2016 was the best Christmas so far, I can’t wait to see what 2017 is going to be like.

Onto the pictures:

so excited Santa came. love her sleepy little face.
“hey! that’s Elsa!”
she got her kite.
both girls checking out Lucy’s stash.
she loved her giraffe.
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one of my most favorite presents I’ve ever received.
sister giggles in their new sleeping bags by the tree.
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nothing is better than a long nap by the Christmas tree.
more presents at Grandpa and Gigi’s house
Christmas continues.

So that was our Christmas… eight months after the fact.  Maybe next Christmas I’ll be more on-the-ball with documenting.


all of us

Christmas Eve 2016

(yes, it’s August 2017 and this is posting.  I have several posts in this blog that need to be dusted off and finally posted.)

Christmas was… magical.  Having small children during holidays is the absolute best.  I’m just going to focus on Christmas Eve for this post since I had so many pictures for each day.


Early in the day my parents babysat the girls so John and I could put together their Christmas presents.  They had lots of small parts and were going to take a long time to put together and we knew we wouldn’t have the fortitude to do it all after their bedtime.  It was a lot of fun having a Santa’s Workshop set-up in our living room while we watched Christmas movies and could hold a conversation  without being interrupted 25 times.

Santa’s Workshop


I left John to finish up and I went over to my parents’ house to get the girls.  I hung out there for a little bit to give John enough time to finish up and hide the toys.  Once we headed home I realized we didn’t have any cookies left from our cookie baking session to leave for Santa, luckily I had all the ingredients on hand for some simple chocolate chip cookies and Lyra helped me whip those up before we had to get ready for the Christmas Eve service.


Once evening hit, we loaded up and headed over to Irene’s church for the Christmas Eve service.  Lyra was going to be with Irene in the pageant.  (I’m not sure if I’ve blogged about the first pageant she was in at my parents’ church where she played an angel.  But she did, and she did awesome!)  Lyra was once again going to be playing an angel and Irene was a shepherd.  My parents came to the service too so towards the back of the church John, Lucy, my parents, and I sat in a pew to ourselves.  Our crew… did not do well.  Where to begin?  I suppose I should start out with, our girls are not used to a church environment as our family does not attend them and we only accompany extended family for services that are important to them.  So our girls have not had the regular practice of sitting in a pew and being reverent, they aren’t used to sanctuary surroundings.  Lucy LOVED the wooden pew and the hard wood floors and the wonderful acoustics that come along with a very old church.  She was exploring her voice and tapping her fancy shoes on the floor and pew.  She was in a good mood but she wasn’t very quiet.  People noticed.  And let me say, we never were made to feel like we were being bothersome, everyone smiled at us with a knowing smile that comes with small children just being small children, but it still doesn’t make you feel that comfortable as a parent when you are trying to get your child to be somewhat reverent and they are just not having it.  AT ALL.
Now that we know what Lucy was doing throughout the church service, let’s explore how Lyra spent her time as an “angel.”  First of all, God love her, she looked a hot mess in her costume.  She was just in an adult white dress shirt that she swam in with a simple silver garland halo hanging appropriately askew.   She was antsy because she’s a two year old (at the time, she wasn’t yet 3) and having to wait for her part to go up on stage.  Irene was there to wrangle her in the vestibule while they waited for their part.  Once their part came and they headed up to the front of the church, that girl was SO entranced with the baby Jesus.  I mean, she’s in prime baby-doll playing age range.  She kept trying to steal the baby Jesus out of the manger.  When she was told no, she laid back on a hay bale and pouted, arms crossed.  But ever the persistent angel, she tried a few more times to get that baby Jesus.  Same thing, reprimanded (albeit ever so lovingly and gently and quietly as to not to detract from retelling of one of the greatest events of the last millennia), and then she’d pout.  Rinse and repeat.
SO – we’ve got new one year old that is happy as a clam, chattering away and using her feet as a drum, and we’ve got a two year old on stage trying to steal the baby Jesus.  My parents, John, and I couldn’t help but crack up.  We were trying so hard to laugh quietly as our family was falling apart.  John made it worse by whispering to me about how in This Version of the Birth of the Savior, a rogue angel of the Lord steals the baby in order to raise him herself.  He had this whole narrative and then my quiet laughing became not so quiet.  It was just a mess.  We’ve never been so relieved to hear the last Christmas hymn so we could get out of that church with our deviant family.  We met Lyra and Irene outside, Lyra was happily sucking on a lollipop, wonderfully oblivious.  Kids are awesome.
Needless to say, I think we’ll be skipping the pageant circuit next year.

the most ornery angel in all of heaven

After the Christmas Eve service, John, the girls, and I went over to Irene’s house to exchange presents with her.  Our family friend just got into town and he joined in the celebrations.  It was a lovely end to a nice and full day.  We didn’t stay too long because we were exhausted and needed to get the girls in bed.

Santa likes red wine, didn’t you know?

Once home, we set out the cookies and wine (we don’t drink milk… well, we drink soy milk, but we don’t like it by itself and wine is usually much needed on Christmas Eve) for Santa, then the girls were put to bed.  John and I set up the girls presents in the living room and then we got out our presents to each other and set them up.  It was so wonderful to see everything under/around the tree and all the stockings filled.  So peaceful.  John and I then snuggled up in bed to watch Christmas Vacation before falling asleep.


the set-up on Christmas Eve.  stockings filled and gifts out.

here’s what our house looked like on the outside. all the windows have candles that were lit throughout the night. our house looked especially cute in the snow we received right after Christmas.