Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Hangin' With The Back of the Pack? There Are Races With Plenty of Time For You!

I'm linking up with April, Patty and Erika for Tuesdays On The Run!

If you viewed my finish times from every race I've ever run, you would think my running Sybill had come out.

Those times are all over the place.  But I think most recreational runners can appreciate the fact that some races are for racing,



 some are for fun



and some are for just outright shenangians.



If you are a slower runner or someone who exclusively walks half marathons.  I was told about a great resource!  The website 100 Half Marathons Club looks like a fun thing in itself, but they have a list of half marathons that are time friendly - they have longer course time limits and a reputation for keeping course resources open until the last runner / walker has finished!

This is a free site that anyone can access, and it includes races in the US and Canada.  There's also a submission form for people to add races, so if you have a favorite race that is back-of-the-pack friendly and it's not on the list, help your fellow racers out and submit it!

Check out the list, grab your BRF's and add to your race calendar!




Monday, June 22, 2015

The Sorrow of Parting, Cancer Sucks and Why I am Mad

Y'all, my heart is breaking for someone I've never even met.  There was another child lost to cancer on Saturday, June 20th.

I first heard of Juliette through our church.  I went to the Facebook page her dad set up to update well-wishers on Juliette's health.

I learned that Juliette was 11 and fighting Myelodysplastic Disease, a rare blood cancer.

Over the last few months, the updates were full of one complication after another.  Every picture showed a very tired little girl, bravely trying to hide her pain while being subjected to all kinds of devices, tubes & machines.

Her dad was a never ending source of optimism.  His updates were full of determination for  a brighter future for his child.  He kept it real, though.  This was part of an entry 2 days before Juliette passed:

However, not without suffering. Juliette has been awake and alert for the past few days. Now that she is not sleeping 21+ hours a day she is in a lot of pain. I best describe it as misery. She is absolutely miserable. Her whole body aches, her head hurts, her stomach hurts, every breath she takes is a struggle, her whole body shakes all of the time, and she wants to go home. She says she hates it here and just wants to go home. Watching your daughter go thru so much misery is heartbreaking. It is unbearable. She is winning at the moment and inching forward in the fight. But it is a Fight. A relentless, unforgiving, punishing Battle.

HOW?  How do you watch your child go through this?  How do you keep from ripping every single tube away from her body and just taking her home just so you don't feel so helpless?



Juliette passed on Saturday.  She would have been turning 12 soon, just like my Jake; their birthdays are 3 weeks apart.  She & Jake were being formed in the womb at the same time.  Why did this happen to Juliette and not Jake?  It could still happen to any one of my kids.

I was telling my husband the news.  "Oh, God," I thought.  "Tomorrow is Father's Day."  My heart just busted for this man who has to suffer this double injustice.  

Saturday night, I went to bed profoundly sad.  

Sunday morning, I woke up mad.

This is NOT how this is supposed to be, y'all.  Fathers shouldn't have to spend Father's Day making burial decisions for their child.

Children aren't supposed to die.

Families are not supposed to deal with this kind of pain.

I saw the new Pixar movie "Inside Out" on Friday.  The message was clear to me - sadness has its place.  Sadness leads people to want to make things better.

I committed to raise funds for St. Jude Children's Hospital months ago.  I learned that St. Jude has raised childhood cancer survival rates from 20% to 80%.  That's huge.  But if your child or a child you love is in that remaining 20%, it's not enough.  

Let's make this better.  Yes, I've got a fundraising goal to reach.  But, as I type this, I honestly don't care who you give to.  Pick your favorite charity and just give.  

Make it better.  

Amy Albers St. Jude Hero fundraiser




Friday, June 19, 2015

The Three Hour Tour - #MaconMemories in Macon, GA

Welcome to the first of my new series - The Three Hour Tour!  I'll be featuring family-friendly destinations within a 3 hour drive of Atlanta.  Why 3 hours?  It's my unscientific "perfect" road trip length - long enough to be fun but short enough for children's enthusiasm to last.  There's a world of fun to be had - just hours from home.  





Disclosure:  I was provided with lodging by the Macon Convention and Visitor's Bureau.  While the lodging was provided, my opinions were not!  All meals and experience expenses were covered by Yours Truly.  

My previous experience with Macon was seeing the signs for the town as we were passing through on our way to Florida or the Georgia Coast.  It's Georgia's 4th largest city and has a rich Native American, Civil War and music heritage.  We decided to make it our destination instead of a blur from the car window.

Lodging:  We stayed at the Wingate Hotel by Wyndham.  It was right off the highway and down the street from a crazy amount of food and retail establishments.  The staff was amazingly friendly the entire stay, the room was clean and comfortable and it provided a free continental breakfast each morning.  There is a pool which my kids loved but be warned - there is NO shade on the pool deck at all.  Otherwise, our stay was extremely pleasant and had everything we needed.  Here's what my 3 tech-obsessed kids loved most about the room - outlets.  Everywhere.  In the walls and in the light fixtures.  We could all plug in our multiple devices and enjoy some comfy downtime.

Friday

We arrived in Macon too early for the 3:00pm check in (it took only 2 hours for us to arrive from North Atlanta) so we headed over to nearby Warner Robins for a family favorite - The Museum of Aviation!  This museum is an extension of the Robins Air Force Base and is a gem.  Admission is FREE and if you have kids that are crazy about anything that "goes", you need to visit.  We had been before when my older boys were smaller; it was a convenient place to stretch our legs and burn off some energy on our way down to Georgia's Golden Isles.  Wandering three large hangars and a museum full of planes, helicopters and fascinating displays was a great way to spend a hot afternoon!


The yummy goodness you see in the top right is from The Rookery.  The burger was amazing but the fries.  Y'all.  The fries.  They were battered, which means delicious.  I'm still thinking about them.  My kids gave the chicken tenders and the milkshakes thumbs up!

Saturday

We headed over to the historic Hay House for their Flag Day festivities!  Mom Fail.  Do you see the sign I posed my kids next to?  Not one of us actually read that the party was scheduled for Sunday.  BUT - this goof led to the discovery of an epic slide in the park across the street!


Plan B - we hit up the Museum of Arts and Sciences.  It was our good luck that they were having a special "Feathers and Feelers" event that day!  They had all kinds of birds and bugs out for viewing.  You won't need a special event, however, to keep your kids happy!  There is a mini-zoo with reptiles, monkeys and birds.  All the exhibits are hands on and my kids had a great time!  Out back, there is a beautiful trail and pond where we spent some time stalking frogs.


Can we fit one more thing in?  Of course we can!  

The Ocmulgee National Monument was on my must-do list!  The kids and I have a goal to hit every National Park site in Georgia within the next year.  Admission is free and it's a great attraction for keeping your kids active on vacation.  The Indian mounds were fascinating.  Thousands of years of history at your feet and right in front of you.  There are several mounds within the park and great walking trails.  In the visitor's center you'll want to check out the museum.  All 2,000+ items in the museum were excavated on site in the largest archaeology dig in American history.  


After a good long cool down in the pool, we chose to eat dinner at a Macon tradition since 1916!  Nu-Way Weiners is world famous and didn't disappoint!  The boys loved the hot dogs and the chocolate malts, while I thoroughly enjoyed my grilled bacon & cheese sandwich!  

Sunday

My boys have their mother's eye for a bargain.  When we saw a sign for Smiley's Flea Market, we knew we had to check it out!  This place was huge, y'all, and they were selling everything under the sun.  My older boys scored some great outdoors stuff - a foldable shovel with a compass and other tools in it & a fishing net with a telescoping handle - while my youngest spent his allotted $10 on... Pokemon cards.  But they were a bargain and he got some great ones for his collection!

Time to return to Hay House!  The house is gorgeous and I enjoyed the displays detailing the history of the families who have lived there over the years.  My boys loved the pond that was filled with toads!  Admission was free for the special event that day and we even got a craft to take home. 


When it was time to head home, it was a great feeling to realize that even though we had a full, fun weekend, we would be back home in just a couple of hours!  Macon held plenty of fun things for our family, and there were so many more things we didn't get the chance to explore.  There are several state parks in the area and a thriving music scene.  If your family needs a budget-conscious getaway, put Macon at the top of your list!  

The Macon Convention and Visitor's Bureau was a great resource for me in planning this trip!  When planning your trip, be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!  

Have you spent time in Macon, GA?  What are some other destinations you would like to see featured?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

10 Top Tips For Planning A Magical Disney Vacation!

Planning a trip to Walt Disney World as a first timer?  Haven't been in a while?  I'm your girl.

I've had several friends asking my opinion about a few aspects of their Disney vacations lately - not because I'm a travel professional, but because I've been there so often that even people who think I'm a Disney obsessed freak respect that I know what I'm talking about.  



I LOVE talking Disney, especially to people who have never been or don't go frequently.  Those are the people who I'm talking to in this post.  These are the VITALS that you need to know that can make or break your trip!


1)  My Disney Experience - This is Disney's all-in-one reservations system.  You will see your resort (if on-property), dining and Fast Pass + reservations here.  It's a handy tool - when it works.  I'm not gonna lie; for all the resources available to them, Disney's website has some suckage.  But be patient.  Download the mobile app especially for when you are at the parks - not only will you be able to be reminded of your reservation times, but it also has an attraction wait time feature that gives you real-time estimates while you are in the park.  Want to see what the wait is for Space Mountain?  Check the app from Liberty Square and see if it's worth trekking all the way across the park to Tomorrowland.  

2) Fast Pass+ - This replaces the old FastPass system where you used to go to certain attractions and get a piece of paper telling you when to come back to ride.  Now, you can make these "ride reservations" in advance of your trip, online.  For some of the most popular attractions, these are a MUST.  You can choose up to 3 Fast Passes per person, per park - no mixing and matching between the 4 theme parks.  If you are staying in a Disney resort, you can make your FP+ selections beginning 60 days from your trip date.  If you are staying off property, you can make your FP+ selections at the 30 day mark.

  There are also kiosks in the parks that can help you with same-day Fast Passes, but there won't be much left depending on what time of year you go.  I've also had a Cast Member help me sync my FP's with other people in my group, even though we all made our reservations seperately.  If you use up all your FP's in one park and go to another park later, ask if you can add additional FP's.  It's not a guarantee, but it never hurts to ask.  

3) Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs) - If you have a MUST DO on your dining wish list (Cinderella's Royal Table and Be Our Guest tend to top these lists) then you need to jump on that thing as soon as you can.  Disney resort guests can make ADRs 180 days from the first day of your trip and you can schedule dining for the next 10 days, all at once.

Non-Disney resort guests may also make reservations 180 days in advance, but only one day at a time.  This means that at the 180 day mark, you can make ADR's for the first day of your trip.  The next day, you can go online or call back to make any for the 2nd day of your trip, and so on.  

If you don't get what you want at first, try, try again!  I know people who make multiple reservations for the same restaurant during their trip and decide only days in advance which reservation they are actually going to keep and which reservations they will cancel.  Keep trying - you never know what will open up!

Another tip - if you can swing a breakfast ressie for a restaurant inside the park early enough, you could actually already be in the park when it opens!  Time how long you think your meal will take and if you can fully take advantage of this opportunity.


4) Park Calendar - Check this for each day of your trip.  Extra Magic Hours (EMH) is a perk available to resort guests only.  On a pretty regular schedule each of the four theme parks will have a day where it opens an hour early or stays open an hour or more late for Disney resort guests.  The schedule is posted online with the park hours and at your Disney resort.  If you are NOT staying on Disney property, I would skip the park that has morning EMH for that day - it will already be hopping by the time you get there.

Sometimes, parks will close early for special events and it would be sad to have your park time cut short because you weren't aware.

Crowd Calendars - I found this super cool tool from across the pond - it predicts the level of crowds in each of the parks during your visit!  Best feature?  It's not limited to Disney parks.  It includes ALL the Orlando area parks.

5) Tickets - This is the question I am asked most frequently - are there any discounts on tickets?  Rarely through Disney.  The only deals that are ever available from Disney directly are to groups, and those are arranged through conferences, fundraising groups, educational programs, et cetera.  Be wary of anyone telling you that they have "discounted" tickets to Disney - they can be either scamming you or requiring you to sit through a laborious time-share presentation.  Legit discounted Disney tickets usually come through travel agents that have a block of rooms available during certain events. A few reputable ticket brokers are as follows:  Official Ticket Center, Undercover Tourist and Florida Ticket Station.  Subscribe to the Mousesavers newsletter.

HOWEVER - the more days you put on your ticket, the less the cost is per day.  This is when it pays to go big.


Ticket prices as of 6/16/2015
Park Hopper option?  It currently adds $50 - $64 per ticket.  For someone like me that goes on adults only trips and likes to have options, a park hopper is a must.  I also have older kids who can hang with longer days and their Park Commando mom bouncing between parks.  If you have young children or are more laid back and tend to prefer the one-park per day schedule, skip the park hopper option for your tickets.


6) Special Events - Remember the events that the park closes early for sometimes?  Check them out!  The two most notable ones are Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party (select evenings in September and October) and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party (select evenings in November and December).  I've been to the Christmas party and had a blast!  I'm planning on taking my baby trick-or-treating in the Magic Kingdom in September and I can't wait!  These parties require a separate admission in addition to park admission.  But here's a great secret!  While the parties don't officially start until 7:00pm (everyone without a party wristband is asked to exit the park) you can gain entrance to the Magic Kingdom as early as 4:00pm with just your party ticket - no park admission required!  The park is open until midnight on party nights, so that's 8 hours of festive park time, much of it with lower crowds.  That's a great deal!  


These tips are helpful during your trip!

7) Get there before "rope drop"! - If you can, get to the park at least 30 minutes before park opening, preferably an hour.  "Rope drop" is when they officially open the park to guests.  If you are parked and there before that happens, you are good.  There is a fun opening show at the Magic Kingdom and it's a great atmosphere!  The one time I was able to do this, I was amazed at what I was able to knock out in the first hour I was there!  

I should hope it goes without saying that you need to hit the most popular rides first.  However, there are people like MY OWN BROTHER who got there and hit The Hall of Presidents first.  I almost lost my crap when he told me that.  Now, I'm widely and proudly ridiculed for my shameless love of the HOP, but that business will never have a line.  EVER.  Save that for later, when it's hot and you need to sit down.

8) Food can be brought in - If you are on a budget, you can bring in outside food and store a small cooler in a locker for the day.  The only prohibited items are alcohol and anything in glass containers, except for small baby food jars.  This could be a huge savings.  On one of my trips, we packed a full lunch for everyone in a backpack and just carried it around with us.  We bought the boys treats like ice cream, but mostly ate from our own stash.  

9) Ride during the parades - If you've seen the parade already or don't enjoy them, parade time is a GREAT time to hit your favorite attractions.  The parades siphon people away from the rides which means lower wait times for you.  When the park is open late, there are sometimes two parade times.  Pick one of the parade times to watch and the other to ride.  


10) Raining?  Just GO! - A rainy day at Disney is better than a sunny day at home.  Unless it is a torrential downpour or a lightning storm, grab some ponchos and head to the parks as planned.  People will stay away and you will get lower wait times for your favorite rides!  

These are the top 10 tips I give to first timers and non-frequent visitors!  Any other good tips for this crowd?  Feel free to visit my page detailing all my past Disney trips!  

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Show Your Colors at Night! The Color Run at Night, Atlanta - 2 entries giveaway!

Disclosure:  I was provided with 2 entries to The Color Run at Night for giveaway purposes.  I'm not receiving any compensation and all opinions are my own.

My oldest and I had a blast at The Color Run in Atlanta two years ago!



There's a new twist, y'all - The Color Run at Night!


What's included in this newest verion of The Color Run?

  • A Glowing Special Edition Tee
  • Blacklight Headlamp
  • Glow Tattoos
  • Glow Color Packet
Registration is now open for the Atlanta location at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on September 19th, 2015.  Start waves will go off between 8:00-8:30pm.


Enter to WIN 2 free entries for you and a BRF to The Color Run Night in Atlanta!  

Open to US Residents, giveaway runs from June 17th to June 23rd.

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

9 Ways Staples and the Ron Clark Academy are Hooking You Up For School!

Disclosure:  I was provided compensation in the form of a gift card in exchange for promotion.  All opinions are my own!

I hear you.  You're saying, "Amy.  You've been posting about summer and sun and all things warm.  Why are you harshing my summer mellow and talking to me about back-to-school?"

Because this is too cool not to!

If you are not familiar with The Ron Clark Academy, you should be.  It is located here in Atlanta.  It's founder, Ron Clark, is an award-winning educator who authored the bestseller The Essential 55.  These are 55 rules as to how to conduct yourself in life in order to be successful.

Clark's innovative educational philosophies have turned RCA into a successful school for both students and teachers - educator training is available as well.


Staples, Inc. has partnered with MS88 in Brooklyn, NY and The Ron Clark Academy to create a curriculum that teaches students how to identify student needs and design products to meet those needs after doing research and trouble shooting.  They are then guided through the marketing and production process for their products.



The Designed by Students program teaches middle school students valuable, practical life skills.

Here are the products as listed in the press release that will be featured in Staples stores beginning June 28th:

The Big Pen:  A pen AND pencil case with interchangeable writing tips, zipper pocket for small accessories, a built-in pencil sharpener and extra-large eraser ($8.99)

Big Props Pencil Case: This case not only stores writing utensils and accessories but props up most phones, small books and mini-tablets! ($7.99)

Super Folder: This multi-purpose folder  has the usual storage areas but also includes a zipper pouch, clear pockets for class schedules, a pencil sharpener, sticky notes and a writing pad. ($12.99)

Portable Desk: A smooth writing surface on top, the desk also includes interior compartments for notebook & pencil storage while offering a side slot for headphones and power cords. ($39.99)

Tray Desk: Create a simple workspace that features an interior base that doubles as a dry erase board and smooth writing surface.  It includes inside mesh pockets for writing essentials and a horizontal pocket to hold papers in place.  ($29.99)

The Bag: This innovative lunch bag includes a fork and spoon combo in a hidden compartment handle.  Dishwasher safe and folds flat/  ($12.99)

Accordion Bag: This backpack flexes!  It expands and shrinks with the student's needs.  It includes two padded compartments for tech devices up to 15", multiple pockets for accessory storage and a water bottle.  Secondary compartments with organization pockets are included with key clips. ($45.99)

Back2Back School Bag: This is a square shaped bag that provides wider storage space, water bottle pockets and a breathable and detachable compartment for additional storage.  It also includes two compartments for tech devices up to 15". ($52.99)

Floating Locker Shelves: Maximize locker space!  These shelves create four triangular sections for storing school essentials. ($12.99)

These are MIDDLE SCHOOL students, y'all.  I certainly wasn't being this creative or productive in middle school, were you?  I'm so impressed with this program.  Way to go, Staples, to go straight to students - the ones who use the products day in and day out - to create practical, useful school supplies.  Be sure to stop in to your local Staples or view the products online when they hit on June 28th!


Monday, June 15, 2015

British Soccer Camp - Score!

Disclosure:  I was provided with free registration for British Soccer Camp for purposes of review.  All opinions are my own.



We had barely been out of school for a week and I was schlepping my oldest to the only scheduled activity we had for him this summer.  I had the opportunity to register him for British Soccer Camp through Challenger Sports.  

The boy is 13 and while he loves soccer, can be difficult to please sometimes.  I was hoping this would be a good experience for him.



He went every day for a week from 9:00a - 12:00p.  When picking him up the first day, he greeted me with, "Can I do this camp again next year?  And for full day?"  Oh, haaayyyy.  Promising, but let's see how the rest of the week goes, shall we?

The camp covered a wide range of ages - from 6-14.  The kids were split up into teams and named after countries who participate in the World Cup. Every morning the entire camp would start off with games, but then break up into their smaller groups for more skill-based games.  They would end each day scrimmaging with another group.



Points were awarded each day not only for winning games, but for things like good sportsmanship and teamwork.  Each afternoon the kids were given "homework" - decorate your soccer ball in your country's colors, make a flag for your country, find out the most interesting fact that you can about your country.

Each day, my child repeated his request to return next year but for the full day session.


On the last day of camp, parents were invited to come at 11 and watch the final World Cup matches.  After each match up, the large group would come back together.  The instructors would pick an MVP for that game.  The MVP would stand up and the camp would yell, "Who's the man?"  The MVP would then yell back, "I'M the man!"

I was really impressed when watching the games - the coaches had instilled in everyone a sense of teamwork and concern for one another.

Each child receives a soccer ball and a t-shirt with registration.  From what I saw and from what my son told me, the coaches were super nice and were not just trying to keep them busy.  We received a personalized evaluation at the end telling us what my child's strengths and weaknesses were.  This is not just a camp to fill your child's time over the summer; they are truly trying to build skills.

The verdict?  The request for registering for next year, full day persists.  In fact, he wanted to register for another session, THIS summer.  If your child is truly interested in soccer and becoming a better player, this camp is a great fit!  I was very pleased and, what counts most, my child was pleased!


There are still spots open nationally for camps this summer!  Be sure to check them out here for registration information!