Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Disney Junior At The Movies - Mickey's Big Celebration Atlanta Ticket Giveaway

Hey, Disney Junior fans - I've got news that's hot-diggety-dog!

Disney Junior is coming to the big screen to celebrate Mickey's birthday and premiere the new series Mickey and the Roadster Racers.  The movie will hit select theaters nationwide for one day only, November 17th.

This is an interactive event, encouraging you and your Disney Junior fans to jump up, dance and sing along with the rest of the theater!

Be among the first to see this new series before its television debut in January, 2017!  You can purchase tickets HERE for the big event.  Attendees will receive a $5 off to the Disney Store, a free e-book download and other special giveaways!

Mickey's Big Celebration will be hitting the following Atlanta theaters:
  • AMC Sugarloaf Mills
  • AMC Avenue Forsyth 12 & IMAX
  • Cinemark Tinseltown 17-Fayetteville
  • UA Perimeter Pointe Stadium 10
  • Regal Hollywood 5 Stadium Cinemas
  • Regal Cinemas McDonough 16
  • Regal Cinemas Avalon 12
  • Regal Georgian Stadium 14
  • Regal Hollywood Stadium 24 at North I-85

I've got a pair of tickets to giveaway to the big event - winner gets to choose the theater.  

Contest ends November 4th, 2016.  Winner will be notified by email and as 24 hours to respond before I move on to the next randomly selected winner.  U.S. residents only.

Good luck!
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Monday, October 24, 2016

Considering the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista For Your Next Walt Disney World Vacation

Disclosure:  Over the course of two visits I was given a complimentary stay as well as a discounted stay.  All opinions are my own.

Until this fall, I had always stayed at a Disney-owned property when I went to Walt Disney World.  I was kind of a snob like that.

On a recent TravelingMom retreat, we were kindly hosted by the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista.  Would it still have that magical Disney feel that I get at Disney-owned resorts?  I was bringing my kids back for a few days during our fall break and I was concerned if the hotel would be convenient for us going back and forth to the parks.

Considering non-Disney owned properties for your next Walt Disney World vacation?  Read up on the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista in the Disney Springs area!

 From the very beginning of my stay, I found a feature that makes a mom traveling solo with the kids comfortable. To access the elevator, you have to use your room key.  I like that security measure.

Our room was bright and comfortable.  The beds and the pillows were terrifically comfy.

We found there was plenty of counter space for our things and an abundance of plugs for our devices.  The room had a mini-frig as well as a coffee maker tucked away, leaving more counter space available.

There were also storage cubbies that could be used for groceries or those shoes that the kids never seem to be able to find again once they take them off.

Worried about losing that Disney touch?  Got it covered.  On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday the Wyndham offers a character breakfast!  Your family can have a meal with Goofy and Pluto on site.

The breakfast was delicious and had a great mix of "adult" food and "kid" food.  There were the usual expected items such as bacon and eggs, cereal, pastries and such.  There was also a custom omelette station and my favorite part - Mickey waffles!

Lets get to what's really important to families - THE POOL.  Honestly - you take kids to Walt Disney World and they just want the hotel pool.  At this hotel, I don't blame them.

There are two pools with a hot tub as well.  Towels are available out at the pool; you need to swipe your room key to access them.

My guys loved the pools!  We weren't going to the parks until the Halloween party that evening, so this was the perfect diversion for them.

Photo Credit: Wyndham Lake Buena Vista
There's a shady seating area as well as a bar with snacks.  Restrooms are located here as well.

On the last day of my stay with my kids, we walked over to Disney Springs, formerly Downtown Disney.  That's another great perk of this hotel - location.  It is across the street from Disney Springs, which means you are in walking distance of crazy amounts of shopping, dining and entertainment.

I LOVED this walkway over to Disney Springs.  No worries about trying to cross multiple lanes of traffic with children, possibly in the dark.  There are elevators at either end of the walkways to assist people with strollers or who have mobility issues.

Those were all the amenities that we used during our stay, but there are a lot more.

This area for kids is tucked off the lobby.  Perfect place to park the kids while you check in, or if you just need to get them out of the room for a bit while a younger sibling is napping.

In addition to the restaurant on site, there's a quick-service food area in the lobby that sells a variety of foods and drinks to grab and go.  If you decide to sit for a bit, there is plenty of seating in an adjacent area.

I didn't need the next service, but I have in the past and it's a HUGE convenience.  Baggage check-in.  I thought this was only available at Disney-owned resorts.  You can hand over your baggage when you leave and it will be checked in and delivered to the airplane for you.  Not just the airport.  The plane.

Let me breeze through a few more amenities!  There is a Disney Store on site for those last minute souvenirs.  Need to rent a car?  Dollar is on site as well.  The hotel concierge can hook you up with Disney dining reservations and tickets.  There is a continuous shuttle from the hotel to the Disney Parks and Disney Springs.

I stayed there with a group on my first visit and with my kids on the second.  I had great experiences both times.  My kids loved the pool and breakfast.  I think my favorite part was the location!  I loved having the leisure to explore Disney Springs without dealing with parking.  The distance to the parks was convenient as well.  As a woman traveling with her kids, I'm always nervous about the safety of the area around a hotel. I had no concerns about the hotel property or the Disney Springs area.  I never felt unsafe.

Much thanks to the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista for making both my working vacation and my family's mini-vacation a great experience.  It definitely changed my mind about "needing" to stay at a Disney-owned hotel.  For me, there was plenty of Disney magic to be found at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista!

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Colors of Autumn - Beautiful Sensory Bin Fun!

We're in that weird time in the South where it is sweater and boot weather in the morning, but you are peeling off layers and switching to flip flops by lunchtime.

My preschool class of two year olds, though, cares not at all.  We're ushering in autumn with a mix of beautiful colors and fun textures for our fall sensory bin activities.

I started out with a 5lb bag or uncooked rice, some rubbing alcohol and food coloring.  This post is not sponsored by Kroger, swear.  It's just where I shop!  

I wanted to make three different colors of rice, so I started with 3 cups of rice in a resealable bag.

To this bag I added a healthy squirt of rubbing alcohol and some red food coloring.  The rubbing alcohol helps the color stick better to the rice and make the color more vibrant!

Knead the rice around until it's evenly coated with color.  I then spread the rice out on a cookie sheet to dry.  I repeated this process with yellow food color and, finally, a mix of red and yellow to achieve orange.  

The rice dries surprisingly quickly.  After drying, I mixed it all together in a disposable aluminum roasting pan.

 I love those colors mixed together!

Y'all.  My thirteen year old son wandered into the kitchen to see "what that smell" was.  Rubbing alcohol.  But when he saw what I was doing, he proclaimed, "That's so cool!  Can you make some for me?"  "Really?"  "Yeah!"  "What are you going to do with it, son?"  "I don't know, but that's cool."

So I made him some with the leftover rice and it looked really pretty!  Pull this recipe back out for Christmas or Hanukkah playtime, perhaps?

Right now, though, we are eagerly anticipating Halloween so I wanted to add a unique touch to the bin.  It starts with bow-tie pasta.  Publix, this time, just to show that I'm not pushing any particular grocery store!  

I placed them in a resealable bag with the rubbing alcohol and a mix of red, blue and green food coloring.  This made a black dye - and my bow tie pasta turned into bats!

I put these in the bin with the perfect bunch of acorns I picked up from my neighbor's yard while waiting for the school bus.  BOOM - a fun sensory bin overflowing with color, texture and loads of playtime fun.

I've got some paper Halloween treat bags I can give the kids as well as spoons and scoops to help them fill the bag.  We also have some mini dump trucks that are perfect for loading up and dumping plenty of autumn goodness!

A caution:  You know your child or your class.  The uncooked rice is too small to be a choking hazard, but watch those acorns and the pasta.  If you have a "mouther" nearby, you might want to reconsider the acorns.  

Again, you can dye the rice all sorts of colors to fit a myriad of  themes!  Be creative and have fun!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Volition Half Marathon Recap - My Murphy's Law Run

Y'all haven't heard a lot from me about running lately.  The main reason for that is that... I just haven't.

No injury, no life-altering challenges.  I've just been struggling with feeling the love for it.

So, hey, let's go run a half marathon in the rain.  I'm sure that will make me happy about running again.

Last year, I was registered for the Volition Half Marathon outside of Charlotte, NC.  Due to monsoon-like conditions and a pesky little State of Emergency, the race was cancelled.  I took the deferral and got myself signed up for this year.  My friend, April, lives nearby and it was a good excuse to see her.

Enter this dude.

Hurricane Matthew satellite skull

While Charlotte was not going to be directly hit, it was going to get wet.  I was going to get wet.

I kept looking at the forecast with hopeful eyes.  Every time I looked, the chance of rain was lowering during race time.  YAY!

I still had that small matter of being undertrained.  The most I had gotten up to lately was 7 miles.

April and I went out for some carb-y Asian food the night before.  We grabbed fortune cookies.  April was going for a sub-2 half marathon.  I was hoping for a sub-sometime today.  Her fortune is on the left.  Mine is on the right.  That's how this was going down.

After a trip to Target to pick up cheap earbuds since I had forgotten my teenager stole my over-the-ear earbuds, I was ready.

 I woke up to rain on race morning.  Checked the forecast.  Yeah - it was worse.

I had on my Frogg Toggs jacket the hubs had given me for my birthday last year.  It's awesome at keeping you dry but the weather was just warm enough to make me shed it within the first couple of miles.  Besides, it was only drizzling.

The start was delayed a few minutes because the organizers seemed slightly unsure of exactly where we were starting.  We were moved over to the other side of the street and then someone finally brought out the timing mat for us to cross.  This did not inspire confidence.

At the start my watch was giving me "low battery" even though I had been charging it.  Crap.  Okay.  I'll just rely on mile markers to help me pace out my walking.

No mile markers.  The entire race.  I had no idea how far along I was at any given time, especially since I don't live there and wasn't familiar with the area.

The roads were not closed to all traffic.  Cones were put out - we basically got a bike line to run in, so runners had to be extra careful to watch out for cars who were trying to navigate 1 1/2 lanes of a road for both directions.  It was pretty crazy.  I've never seen a race that didn't have traffic completely closed in at least one direction.

The only thing that went right for me this race was my ancient but trusty iPod.  Even though it got wet, it still worked.  It was the only thing I had that gave me some idea of time; I took a walk break at the end of every song.

The rain and wind picked up.  I didn't want to put the jacket back on because I was warmed up and I was already soaked.

I was carrying Honey Stinger Waffles with me for fuel.  I've had them before and liked them, but always used GU during a race.  I learned that having to take the time to actually chew something mid-run doesn't work for me.  At all.

Apparently, I dropped one of my Honey Stinger packages while I was getting one out of my pocket and didn't realize it.  I had no fuel for the last 5 miles of the race.

The irony of the message on the shirt is fabulous.

I was in front of the 2:30 pacer and felt good about that, at least.  Then she caught up.  Crap.  Panicked.  Okay, if I can just keep her in sight, I'm good.  At some point, I just had to let her go.  I picked a guy as my "rabbit" - the one I needed to keep in sight to keep me going.  He was doing run/ walk intervals as well so I thought that would be helpful.  Yup - had to let him go after a while, too.  I was tired, soaked and my calves were starting to seize up.  My run/walk intervals got reduced to "run past two cones, walk to one".  I was DONE.

This is what I ended up with.  And I apparently live in NC now.

For reference, my PR is a 2:18.  My "average" time is a 2:20-2:25.  So, while a 2:38 is totally respectable, for me it was not happy-making.  Honestly, though, I can't say that I'm disappointed because I just hadn't put in the training.

Overall, I can say with confidence that I wouldn't do this one again.  Even without the weather conditions, I wasn't impressed.  The lack of preparedness at the start line, the late start, lack of mile markers and course open to traffic would not make it worth it for me.  If you are local to the area and just need a timed half marathon, then you might consider it.  The water stations were supported and there were plenty of people out directing you on the route.

I've got the Rock 'n' Roll Savannah coming up in November and this was a good wake-up call to stick to my runs between now and then.  Maybe that's when good things will come to those who wait!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Camp Twin Lakes Partners Card Giveaway

Summer Camp.  For so many kids, it's a rite of passage.  It's just something you do.

But for so many kids that are described as "special needs" or "medically fragile", it's not something their parents even consider.

That's why Camp Twin Lakes is so important.  I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon at CTL last week to tour the facilities and learn more about them.

Camp Twin Lakes was specifically built with the needs of special populations in mind.  Throughout the summer and on weekends all year long CTL hosts children with a variety of conditions - hemophilia, cancer, heart conditions, developmental delays, gluten allergies, hearing impairments... there are camps for kids with conditions with which I wasn't even familiar.

And there are camps for kids with "life challenges" - grieving the death of a loved one, recovering from abuse, foster kids who have been separated from siblings and so forth.

 There are 56 camps for children and 13 for adults, at last count.

Each year CTL hosts more than 10,000 campers at three locations:  Camp Twin Lakes - Rutledge, Camp Twin Lakes Will-a-Way and Camp Twin Lakes - Camp Dream.  Aside from their overnight camps, CTL also offers day camps in Atlanta and offers Camp-To-Go programs in children's hospitals throughout Georgia.  Their adaptive equipment makes the camps and camp activities accessible for kids with all manner of challenges.

Why is this important?

The children who attend CTL have lives filled with difficulty.  They live in a world of challenges.  They're not like everyone else and that fact is called to their attention, repeatedly.  When their wheelchair cannot be accommodated somewhere, when they can't join in games with other kids because of their disability, when they have to excuse themselves from activities to go take their medications, when they can't eat anything that's on the menu - they are reminded how different they are.

At Camp Twin Lakes, they spend a week with kids JUST LIKE THEM.  They make friends with people who know exactly how they feel.  They are served by adults specially trained to care for them.

The Treehouse

One of the staff members shared that she had taken some first year campers to the pool during Camp Braveheart, a camp for kids with heart defects and kids who have been heart transplant recipients.  The young boys wouldn't take off their shirts at the pool because they were embarrassed about their scars.  Some older boys came along, shirts off, and explained that at Camp Braveheart they had competitions to see who had the biggest scar!  The boys pulled their shirts off and started comparing to see who's scar was bigger.  For once, nobody was staring and whispering.  They were just like everyone else there, doing things that any other kid would do.  

There is a state-of-the-art medical lodge. The pool has zero entry and lifts for kids in wheelchairs.  There is a harness so that kids missing limbs can scale a rock-climbing wall for the first time. There is a "Superman" harness so kids in wheelchairs can head out over the lake on the zipline.  One camper said, "360 days a year, I can't walk but at Camp Twin Lakes, I can fly."  If you don't have tears in your eyes at that, I don't even know what to do with you.

The adaptive zip tower and rock climbing wall

All that is amazing for the kids.  But what about the parents of those kids?

Can you imagine having a child who is medically fragile and it's your job to advocate for that child and make sure they are safe 24/7?  It must take huge amounts of trust to allow someone else to care for that child for 5 days away from you.  But it's also respite.  For five days, those parents are off-duty.  They can relax their guard.  They can take a break from administering meds and adjusting tubes.  They can spend time with their other children who may need a little extra attention.

Making friends with the alpacas on the farm at CTL - Rutledge

How does this all work?  Camp Twin Lakes provides the adaptive facilities, staff and resources.  Camp Partners who serve the specific populations bring the campers and expertise in the specific medical condition or challenge as well as the medical support staff.

More importantly, CTL subsidizes 70% of the camp costs.  They rely on the generosity of individuals, foundations and corporations; they do not get any of their funding from the government or United Way.

Which leads us to my amazing giveaway!

The Partners Card is a Win-Win fundraiser! A $60 Partners Card gets you a 20% discount at over 400 metro Atlanta shops and restaurants from October 28th - November 6th.  Even better?  ONE HUNDRED percent of the proceeds goes back to Camp Twin Lakes.  You can check out the retailers and restaurants involved as well as purchase the card HERE.  

Camp Twin Lakes was generous enough to give me a Partners Card to give away to one of my fabulous readers!

Entry open from October 10th, 2016 to October 16th, 2016.  U.S. Residents only.

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Disney On Ice : Follow Your Heart in Atlanta - Review

Disclosure:  I was given complimentary admission for myself and two guests.  All opinions are my own.

Y'all, as much as I love all things Disney, I had never been to a Disney on Ice show!  I knew there were characters.  I knew there was ice skating.  That's about it.

Photo Courtesy of Feld Entertainment
In the words of my eight year old son, "This is way cooler than I thought it would be!"

We were at Philips Arena and it looked like all the seats had a great view!  Of course the show began with the classic Disney characters - Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy.  Riley and the emotions from Inside Out where tied throughout the show.

As expected, there were princesses for days.  I had boys with me, one of them a teenager.  Was this a problem?  Nope.  The ice skating, music and acrobatics were so cool that my guys were oohing and aahhing along with the rest of the crowd.

Photo Courtesy of Feld Entertainment
Yup, I said acrobatics.  Rapunzel & Flynn, Ariel and a few others went flying through the air during the show.  This also helps up the wow factor for boys who swear they don't like princesses, even though we mamas know better.

But what about the boys?  I assure you it wasn't all princesses.  Favorite characters from Finding Dory were there as well as the Toy Story crew.

Photo Courtesy of Feld Entertainment
We really enjoyed the show and it definitely held the attention of my kids who were a range in age from 8-13.  I saw very young children there and keeping them entertained didn't seem to be a problem.

Naturally, the section of the show featuring the Frozen characters was a big hit!  This comes towards the end and is basically a big sing-a-long, much to my teenager's chagrin.  I was in his face, singing all the songs at the top of my lungs along with every other little princess in that audience.

I saw nothing that was particularly scary.  The only thing that might even give pause was a section with the Evil Queen from Snow White.  Honestly, the face on the magic mirror is really creepy looking to me!  However, that was about the only moment that I wondered if anyone was going to get upset.

Photo Courtesy of Feld Entertainment

Here's what to expect if you go:

Parking at Philips Arena was easy.  There are two huge decks across the street and those were charging $20.

Parents, you WILL get assaulted with requests to buy allllllll the things from your younger kids.  Set some ground rules before you go.  In addition to the loaded souvenir stands there are vendors inside the arena hawking sno cones, cotton candy and glow toys.

As far as food goes, I thought the prices were on the lower end for an arena.  I've certainly paid more for popcorn and a drink at the movie theater.  The popcorn bag was $8 and is "bottomless".  Get it before the show and refill during intermission for the best value.

There is a 20 minute intermission halfway through the show, so keep that in mind when nature calls for you or your little ones.

There were tons of kids dressed up in Disney costumes.  Totally acceptable.

The noise level is pretty much perfect.  My middle son is really sensitive to noise, and the youngest is not a big fan of loud, either.  The volume of the music during the show seemed to be just right to me.  I didn't see my kid plug his ears once, which is usually my barometer.

We had a great time!  I thought it was truly appropriate for all ages and the performances were engaging.  The show is at Philips Arena through Sunday, October 9th.

For tickets go to TicketMaster or Disney On Ice!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Saving Money On Your Walt Disney World Vacation

Disclosure:  I received a complimentary stay at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista.  All opinions are 100% my own.  

Saving money on your Disney vacay CAN be done, y'all.  And in a way that doesn't cut into your magic.

I'm a big believer in splurging on fun - but you've got to cut back on the other stuff in order to do it. Saving money on a Walt Disney World vacation starts with determining your priorities.  Will you be unhappy in a budget hotel?  Are you okay with counter service meals instead of sit-down restaurants?  Figure out what you personally require to be happy on vacation and go from there.

Follow these simple tips to save money on your Walt Disney World vacation without losing any magic!

Park Tickets

There aren't a ton of options here, but modest savings can be found through memberships such as AAA and D23.  Some larger employers may offer a slight discount as well. Any signs you see on your drive into Orlando promoting $49 tickets most likely require sitting through a high-pressure time share presentation as part of the deal.  No, thanks.  There are a few reputable ticket brokers such as Undercover Tourist that offer ticket discounts.

Evaluate the Park Hopper option.  When my older boys were small, we brought them to one park at opening and left after the afternoon parade time, when they would hit a wall.  After that, we played at our hotel and found other things outside the parks to do for the rest of the evening.  Currently, I couldn't live without the park hopper option, but if you're not a park commando like me then reconsider adding the park hopper to your ticket.

Purchase An Annual Pass.  If you think you'll be visiting frequently over the course of 12 months, look into an Annual Pass.  It's pricey, but this past year I have worked my pass until it hollered.

The Lobby of the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista


Ditch the Deluxe.  The deluxe Disney resorts are awesome, but unless you are planning to spend a large amount of time there, I would look elsewhere.  The budget Disney resorts are a good option - unless you have a larger family.  There are only two budget properties that will accommodate my family of five in one room.  Moderate level Disney resorts are a happy balance of comfort and value for me.

Head for the Springs.  Formerly Downtown Disney, the Disney Springs area is a great place to set up home base during your vacation.  The adjoining Wyndham Lake Buena Vista and Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista are across the street from Disney Springs and an official Walt Disney World hotel.  This means that you can still enjoy shuttle service to the parks every 30 minutes, purchase park tickets on site and make WDW dining reservations through them.  Having the two properties together means a room for every budget without sacrificing location or amenities.


Bring your own food in the parks.  Walt Disney World seems like one of the few theme parks left that allow you to bring in your own snacks and drinks, as long as there are no glass containers or alcohol.

Don't pay for bottled water.  Those are $3 each.  Ask for a cup of water at any counter service establishment and you'll be given a full size cup free of charge.

Eat a late lunch.  The lunch prices tend to be cheaper than dinner prices.  If you eat later, you can probably get by with a much lighter meal for dinner.  

Check out your hotel's perks. We were pleasantly surprised with a character meal at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista!  My kids got to take pictures with Pluto and Goofy without the price tag and months-in-advance reservation scramble required to eat at Disney restaurants.

Work your memberships.  If you're an annual passholder, you get a discount on select restaurants.


Snag souvenirs ahead of time.  So many discount stores have Disney related items these days.  Sign up for emails for the online Disney Store so you can shop their sale events.  

Collect pressed pennies.  Hands down, this is one of the cheapest souvenirs in the park.  You'll find the machines throughout all four theme parks.  For .51 cents, your kids can feed the penny in, choose the design they want, turn the crank and walk away with a flat, oblong penny imprinted with the Disney design of their choice.  Get a roll of quarters and gather up all those annoying pennies in your change jar.  The best part is that these are souvenirs that will fit easily in your suitcase!

Buy pins off eBay.  I know - there will be die-hard pin traders who will be cursing my name for this.  That's okay; I stand by this.  I bought a lot of pins off eBay for one of my sons to trade with cast members and it was a great success.  All the pins in the lot were official Disney pins, eligible for trading.  My son had a great time trading the pins he didn't want for ones that he did.  Make sure you read the seller reviews and avoid sellers who are called out for including non-official Disney pins in their lots.  

Collect the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom cards.  SOMK is an interactive game that includes a pack of spell cards featuring Disney characters.  It's played in the Magic Kingdom and you can get one pack of cards per person, per day.  The game is a lot of fun, and you get to keep the cards.  If you get duplicates, feel free to trade with others playing the game in the park.

Did someone mention an Annual Pass?  Yup.  Pull that pass out again because you get a discount on merchandise as well.  

With some research and planning you can bring down the cost of a Walt Disney World vacation for your family!

What are your best tips for saving money on a Walt Disney World Vacation?