Losing Nemo

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Several years ago, when my high school son was in elementary school, our principal very wisely decided to encourage teachers not to keep live classroom pets.  Instead, the teachers (being the creative types they are) began adopting stuffed, plush animals as class pets.

The picked pet usually goes along with the classroom theme and comes complete with a name and even care instructions.  For example, one teacher has a puppy since her classroom is the "doghouse," and one classroom boasts a baseball-playing bear since sports is the theme.  For my youngest son's "Under the Sea" class, Mrs. Bryan allows for "Nemo" to go home with a child for a good behavior reward or for the child's birthday.  Well, that's where our family drama -- which aligns with a certain Disney/Pixar animation -- comes in.

My young undersea explorer's birthday is in January, and without my knowledge, Nemo came home with him at the very beginning of this year.  Or let me be more exact and say that Nemo tried to come home with us -- but in fact, he never made it out of his denim carrying bag which was wedged under one of my car seats...for two months!

To fully appreciate the family's reaction and ensuing jokes, you have to understand a little about our school's culture.  At our kindergarten through 5th-grade elementary school, kindergarteners are given small denim bags with their first names creativity displayed on it (with the themes of their individual classes, of course). So, when I pulled out this bag while cleaning out the car earlier this week, I held it up to my kids and exclaimed, "Who in the heck would name their child 'Nemo'?!"  The older kids laughed at the absurdity and immediately began making snide remarks like, "I wonder if his father is Marlin" and "Is his nickname 'Sharkbait?'"

Yet, my first grader knew exactly who Nemo was and shouted with much jubilation, "There he is! You found Nemo!" The entire car full of my kids and others simultaneously came to a moment of standstill and silence, and then, as if on cue, erupted into wild laughter. "Mom found Nemo!" they quipped back.

Then came the realization (and embarrassment) that Nemo had been lost underneath a car seat in our family car for not two days or even two weeks...but two months! The other children -- who do not carry the family name -- then started to inquire why we hadn't cleaned out our car in so long and why the teacher hadn't asked about Nemo's whereabouts.  Yeah, why didn't we know that someone was looking for Nemo?!  As it turns out, Mrs. Bryan had been asking her student/my son to look for Nemo at our house, but that's where the system broke down.  He was looking in the wrong places while Nemo was safely tucked away in my car -- running to the grocery store, or to ballet or carting kids back and forth. Dozens of people had sat right on top of Nemo without noticing that Mrs. Bryan's class pet was stored silently underneath the seat.

My thoughts then turned to the sad little children in Mrs. Bryan's class who had celebrated a birthday or achieved another milestone in those two months only to be disappointed by not being able to take Nemo home with them.  I could only imagine how our family name had been dragged through the mud at dinner tables throughout our community.  Yet, before I spiraled completely into a guilt trip, I took a good, long look at Nemo and became completely and utterly thankful at that moment that the principal had outlawed live pets years ago. At that moment, I was certainly glad to find Nemo, but I was even more grateful he was not a real fish!

Magic Kingdom Guests To "Schedule" A Meeting with Mickey Mouse Beginning Later This Spring

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Magic Kingdom officials have a hunch a really "hot ticket" this summer is going to be something other than a ride, a snack or a show. Rather, it's a first-ever opportunity to nail down a time to meet with Mickey Mouse.

When meet-and-greets with Mickey move into a permanent new location in Town Square later this spring, Magic Kingdom guests will be able to obtain a Disney's FASTPASS ticket specifying a one-hour window when they can return to see the popular character for hugs, photos and autographs -- without waiting in the standby queue. It will mark the first time the complimentary, computerized service has been available for a character meet-and-greet at any Disney Park.

Since spending time with Disney characters is at the top of the "must-do list" of many guests, the FASTPASS ticket will allow them to experience their Mickey Mouse meet-and-greets more conveniently. As a result, guests will be able to devote more time enjoying other Magic Kingdom experiences with family and friends.
The new meet-and-greet location, Town Square Theater, will be located inside the current Exposition Hall area just inside the park entrance. Imagineers already are working to completely transform the space for the new experience.

Guests arrive at a building befitting Mickey Mouse's stardom -- with a grand-Victorian-theater elevation, including a marquee that glistens with gold-leaf trim and sparkles with lights. Inside, there's a mosaic floor, lush curtains with gold rope tie-backs and polished-brass chandeliers. Imagineers are creating new elements and surprises for Magic Kingdom guests, including an interactive queue -- with an extra touch of Disney magic -- and highly themed retail shops.

The queue takes guests "backstage," where Mickey is waiting to greet them in a rehearsal-room environment amid posters, steamer trunks and stage props.  In addition, during the New Fantasyland construction, royalty will be visiting as the Disney Princesses will be in Town Square Theater to meet and greet their loyal subjects.

Spring Breaking with the Mouse!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Not many people asked us where we were going for Spring Break last year...they simply asked us when we were leaving for Walt Disney World. And for our teen son who had his driver's permit, it was certainly a rite of passage to drive through the gates of Walt Disney World. Visiting at least annually since he was two, he has always been the one who calls the arches to our attention whether we're arriving or leaving, and he was particularly pumped sitting in the left turning lane waiting for the opportunity to drive through!

Every trip to Disney is different for us...I guess that's why we keep returning. For that particular vacation, it was having a third driver and my serving on the Walt Disney World Moms Panel. Instantly, my family and I had a network of friends -- whom we call our "Disney Family" -- from all over the (real) world and who frequent our favorite vacation spot, too.

Therefore, it was such a treat to share part of our vacation with fellow Moms Panelist Dannee and her sweet family. Several of our kids perfectly match up in age and interests, and they became as close to each other as Dannee and I did at our training.  In fact, this year, we look forward to hosting Dannee and her gang in Birmingham -- we're going to show them what's so special about the Magic City!

In addition, I was able to meet up with some great Disney friends whom I've met because of my selection for the Walt Disney World Moms Panel including the real Hidden Mickey guy and gal, Steve and Vickie Barrett. Steve has written several books on Hidden Mickey's in the parks as well as on the cruise ships, and he's the author of The Hassle Free Walt Disney World Vacation. You can see all of his works at www.hiddenmickeysguide.com.

Steve Barrett and his wife, Vickie, met us for lunch and took us on a Hidden Mickey tour of Animal Kingdom Lodge. And he signed our (first edition) copy of his famous book!

 Also, we made special arrangements to sneak a hug with Princess Pink herself, Laura Spencer.  One of the original members of the panel, Laura now is a Disney Cast Member who manages the Moms Panel (among other duties).  You can follow her on Twitter @LauraSpencerOne.  Just make sure you don't have anything in your mouth when you read her tweets...you may choke or spew!  She's a funny gal!

Dannee, Laura and I met at Beaches & Cream at Disney's Yacht & Beach Club. Dannee and her family ordered "The Kitchen Sink"...and being the good friends that we are, we helped them eat it!
Besides visiting with friends and my Disney family, I'm always looking for ways to help friends back home and guests online make plans for a wonderful vacation at Walt Disney World. Learning from my trip last year, here are just a few reminders and tips to help make your spring break at Walt Disney World more magical this year:

  • Take advantage of staying on property by utilizing Extra Magic Hours. Usually, spring break (in March or April) can be of the busiest times of year in the parks. Therefore, use your time wisely. Go early or stay late -- and spend the middle part of the day at your resort, at Downtown Disney or enjoying recreation opportunities.
  • A park hopper is a must during the peak season. Most of the time, we are quite frugal and make park plans which don't include park hopping. Yet, high crowd levels almost require the ability to start off in one park and end up in another -- either impromptu or by careful planning.
  • Visit a water park or DisneyQuest.  Family time spent at Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach has made for some of our most memorable vacation moments together. If you love Disney Parks, just think about adding water! And DisneyQuest is our new hang out when it's too warm, cold or wet outside. We come and go at the indoor amusement park while enjoying the Downtown Disney area, too.
  • Recreation is an economical way to enjoy your day. Even if you don't have park tickets, there is much fun to be had throughout Walt Disney World, and several discounts are available for recreation choices such as boat rentals, golf and mini-golf. You can receive various offers and deals as Disney Vacation Club members, annual passholders, AAA members and other sources. We've had a blast darting around Seven Seas Lagoon in Sea Raycers or playing a round at one of the mini-golf or world championship golf courses.
  • Dine off the beaten path. If you haven't made dining reservations at some of the most popular restaurants yet, you may need to consider trying dining choices which others may not first choose. For instance, Todd English's bluezoo at the Dolphin resort,  Paradiso 37 at Downtown Disney or Sanaa at Animal Kingdom Lodge/Kidani Village are some of our new favorite, out-of-the-way places.

Spring break makes for a fabulous vacation at the Walt Disney World Resort -- the temperatures and the memorable events make for such a great family vacation. Hopefully, this has helped point you in the right direction, and if I can answer any questions, remember you can always come visit me at disneyworldmoms.com!

Running Disney's Princess Half: The Good, The Bad & The Blisters

Friday, March 4, 2011

How did I become a runner? I mean, really! This time last year, I couldn't run a half of a mile without stopping, and last weekend, I ran 13.1.  Now, if you've ever been skeptical about the power of pixie dust, I hope this helps prove my point that Disney is way more than some (world renown) theme parks and a few (Oscar-winning) animations. For me, it's about people coming together in the name of courage, commitment and creativity to make life a little better for everyone along the journey.
Jeff Galloway, US Olympian runner and marathoner, designed a plan for novice runners to train for Disney's Princess 1/2 Marathon. I began following it last summer and crossed the finish line on Sunday with NO PAIN and NO REGRET.  My goal for the weekend was to finish like that and to meet him to tell him so.  Here's proof positive that fairy tales really do come true...one mile at a time!

The Disney Princess Half Marathon was just that for me. In fact, I got emotional several times watching mothers and daughters running together knowing that my dear mom will never run again; witnessing cancer survivors overcoming the odds and running to celebrate life; seeing first hand the agony and despair of some that simply couldn't finish the race (or finish when they thought they would).  Yet, I finished!  Nothing could've made me endure a hardship like that nor made me enjoy it along the way more than Disney. (Yes, I said "enjoy!")

I flew down to Walt Disney World last Friday (by myself) and joined some friends already there hosting a travelingmom.com retreat at Animal Kingdom Lodge.  I had dinner with them and my new blogger friends from the travelingmom.com site. This site is all about moms written by moms traveling with or without families -- tips, deals, offers, products and advice.  Its founders, Kim Orlando (@kimorlando) and Cindy Richards (@cindyrichards), are amazingly talented and intelligent women who are ambitious yet equally concerned about promoting the interests of others. It was such a pleasure to spend the evening and part of the day on Saturday with this creative group of women, and I appreciated their hospitality.  They are all wonderful communicators and so well traveled...yet, I loved showing them a different side of Disney. Whether with fabulous food, good wine, amazing experiences or little known facts, I get such a kick out of spreading the pixie dust and showing others my Disney World.

Enjoying Jiko courtesy of the hostesses with the mostesses:  Kim Orlando of TravelingMom.com and Leanne Jakubowski of Walt Disney World
As a lone traveler, I was in charge of my own agenda on Saturday, and I was loving it! I spent some time at Disney's Fit for a Princess Expo where I received my race packet and bib number. I brought proof of my running time from the Red Nose Run in Birmingham earlier in the year which boosted me from Corral E up to Corral C. (Keep in mind that I'm still a very slow runner -- about a 12mm pace -- but that gave me hope that I wouldn't be picked up by the pace van!) Plus, I got to start the race about 15 minutes ahead of the last corral.  That evening, I carb loaded at Mama Melrose's at Hollywood Studios with some amazing moms/bloggers who are equally amazing athletes, and I think I drank my weight in bottled water.

If you're thinking of running with me next year, I took a little video of the race packet, some race day tips from my friends who coached me and my Disney Princess 1/2 race day costume:




The race started (at 5:45 a.m.) in the parking lot of Epcot; to and through the Magic Kingdom; and back to Epcot.  Along the way, there were photo ops with Disney characters, DJs, tumblers and acrobats, stilt walkers, cute firemen, high school bands, choirs and various other entertainers.  Even "Sarge" from Toy Story was there to encourage us up a hill! And there were food, water and medical stations to keep everyone hydrated, energized and patched up.

As a novice runner, I was impressed with how the race was organized, and I was thrilled to have access to the VIP tent afterward where I met my running hero, Jeff Galloway.  Yet, I was equally thrilled to see my new buddy, Monique Rubin (@monique_rubin), who traveled all the way from The Netherlands.  She is a blogger for travelingmom.com and also can be found on her blog at motravels.com.

Monique and I are still smiling even after 13.1 miles -- tutus and tiaras intact!

After brunch, I made it back to Saratoga Springs and took a quick shower in time to check out and make a few phone calls to my admiring fans back home.  (Some of my friends and family virtually followed me by receiving updates on my time splits and texting me with encouraging messages along the way.)  I then threw on my swimsuit and ordered a yummy turkey and brie sandwich from Artist's Palette to eat by the pool. And this was pretty much my position until it was time to change in order to catch Disney's Magical Express back to the airport on late Sunday afternoon.

If you look close enough, you can see the blisters on my toes.

If I had it all to do over again, would I do it and would I consider doing it again next year?  Yes and yes!  The only thing missing was having you come with me.  So strap on those running shoes and get to movin' -- you can't slap that 13.1 sticker on your car unless you've trod the miles! Good luck, princesses, and I hope to run with you in 2012!

Military Defense Is No Match For RSV

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

With two military officers in his house, my little nephew still wasn't protected against a potentially deadly enemy.  Sterling -- who is not quite three months old -- was diagnosed with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) last week and spent seven days in the hospital. RSV causes an infection of the lungs and breathing passages and is a major cause of respiratory illness in young children.  Although he is at home now and doing much better, his illness scared the life out of my brother and sister-in-law -- who had to put everything on hold and were in shock over how this tiny being had put their hearts in a tailspin in such a short amount of time.

In adults, RSV may only produce symptoms of a common cold, such as a stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, mild headache, cough, fever, and a general feeling of being ill. Yet, in babies (and kids with diseases that affect the lungs, heart, or immune system), RSV infections can lead to other more serious illnesses.  RSV is highly contagious and can be spread through droplets containing the virus when someone coughs or sneezes. It also can live on surfaces (such as countertops or doorknobs) and on hands and clothing -- then, it can be easily spread when a person touches something contaminated.

RSV spreads rapidly through schools and childcare centers, and babies often get it when older kids carry the virus home from school and pass it to them. Almost all kids are infected with RSV at least once by the time they are two years old, and RSV infections often occur in epidemics that last from late fall through early spring. Generally, in healthy kids, it's not necessary to distinguish RSV from a common cold.

Because RSV can be easily spread by touching infected people or surfaces, frequent hand washing is key in preventing its transmission. Try to wash your hands after having any contact with someone who has cold symptoms, and keep your school-age child with a cold away from younger siblings — particularly infants — until the symptoms pass. I've always been of the mindset that everyone gets colds, and with so many people in my house, I rarely get in a wad when someone has a common illness.  However, with the scare we experienced last week with Sterling, I now have a new respect for keeping our germs to ourselves...especially for the sake of those with lesser defense systems.

Getting Ready to Run Disney -- My First 1/2 Marathon

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Long run complete? Check.

Blisters turned into calluses?  Check.

Tu-tu purchased and packed?  Check!

I know it's not exactly the serious runner's check list, but when you're running the Princess 1/2 Marathon at Walt Disney World, a great tu-tu is almost as important as a good pair of socks. Now, the only thing that will complete my quest is to have you follow along with me next Sunday (February 27)!

Nobody does anything quite like Disney and that includes endurance events, too. So, come along beside me -- either in person or virtually by following the steps below. You can sign up to have alerts sent to your computer or smart phone and follow me as I run the Princess 1/2 Marathon Course, or you can follow the steps of the Spectator Tool to watch all of us royal types as we pass through Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom or take our victory lap around Spaceship Earth at Epcot.

For those who are lacking a little pixie dust and can't fly off to the happiest place on Earth, you can sign up for Runner Tracking by receiving my personal times notices, and Disney will "magically" let you know when I cross the finish line...whenever that might be!

After all, fairytales do come true...one mile at a time!