Posts Tagged ‘kids’

Our First Disney Trip: Planning

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

Our First Disney Trip Planning

This is going to be an incredibly long and exhaustive series that a ton of people are not going to be interested in AT ALL, but I have gotten so much joy out of reading blogs and doing research and anticipating our first Disney trip. E and I spend many, many evenings booking, canceling, rebooking and changing dining reservations, making notes of which rides we’re prioritizing, creating list of must-see and must-eat things. We haven’t actually told the kids we’re going yet because as much as I want to share my excitement with them I don’t want to be asked 20 times a day if it’s time to leave. The plan is to tell them on Sunday since we want time for them to get excited and they’ll be missing the last couple days of school. I want them to be able to day goodbye to their classes and teachers before summer break. So until then, all my excitement has been focused on the internet.

Let me start with a disclaimer: This isn’t a Disney on a Budget guide. This is not a cheap vacation. I didn’t coupon my way to Disney or pay for it entirely with rewards points. We can only afford to go because Disney offers pretty good military discounts on both hotels and park tickets, plus we’re driving. It’s probably a twice-in-a-lifetime experience (we’ll go again when Linc and Finn are old enough to remember it) so we are throwing all our discretionary funds at this trip.

If you haven’t been to Disney in the last decade, you might not realize that planning is a HUGE part of the trip. Last time I went (2002? 2003?) we stood in a lot of lines and got one or two paper Fastpasses, if we happened to remember. Now you not only need to plan your rides at least 60 days in advance, you need to plan meals and make dining reservations 180 days in advance. NOT planning might sound easier, but unless the only thing you care about is literally walking through the front gates and being inside the park, you will proabably miss a ton of stuff. As much as I realize that making a minute-by-minute schedule when there are 4 kids involved might be pointless, NOT having a schedule would be worse. I am fully prepared to be flexible, but I’m not prepared to come home with sad kids who just wanted to meet Baymax but I had no idea where to find him. Enter: THE INTERNET!

My Disney Pinterest Board is here. I pinned everything from lists to specific restaurant reviews to Etsy shops. There are a TON of pins that relate to Disney but there are surprisingly few really great ones – a lot of links lead to sites that are mostly ads or obvious click bait. I’ve taken to searching “Disney” on Pinterest every couple of days just to see if anything new comes up.

While I was looking for real world vacation recaps and advice, I found the Disney Tourist Blog. I was a little skeptical at first, because the guy who writes it doesn’t even have kids yet. I figured his experiences with the park are vastly different than what I would be interested in. But his photography sucked me in (and he shoots with the same equipment I do, which made it even more helpful) and his site is extensive, so when I’m looking for reviews or suggestions for something specific (is the menu at X restaurant better for breakfast or lunch? If I have to choose between these two rides for Fastpasses, which one should I pick?) he almost always has the answer. He updates very regularly and revises old posts when things change. At this point I’ve read so many posts featuring Tom and Sarah if I were to actually SEE them at Disney it would be as exciting for me as seeing Mickey Mouse. Not that I’m an internet stalker or anything. I’m just a normal fan. Super normal.

Another blog I really enjoyed reading was The Frugal South’s Disney World section. She also updates regularly, is easy to read, and has real-world tips for things like Magic Bands and making room requests. She does do a lot of budget-type advice, which is helpful even if you’re not specifically trying to plan a low-budget trip.

When it came time to make Fastpass reservations, the Touring Plans blog was incredibly helpful. They have the tiers listed for the parks that use tiers, suggestions for which passes to prioritize, even times suggested for each one. I thought having a list of what Fastpasses we wanted was enough, until I actually looked at our day and realized between dining reservation and parades we had very specific windows for rides. They even have current (as in, right now, at this moment) Fastpass times still available for all rides at each park. It was helpful to look at those over a few days and see which rides ran out of Fastpasses (the Mine Train passes were gone at 7 am) and which ones we would be safe trying to book after we use up our initial 3. The truth is even though for ME the Mountains (Splash, Space and Big Thunder) are the most important rides, I need to prioritize the kid-friendly rides more and aim for later Fastpasses for the roller coasters. I never would have even thought of doing that without the info on Touring Plans.

I spent $7 of my actual real-life money for access to all the member info on Character Locator. The website looks like it was built in 2001 and there isn’t an app version so I just pinned the forums to my homescreen, but I really wanted to be able to quickly find out where we can meet characters. There’s also a thing called Characterpalooza that’s super secret and you’re not supposed to talk about (like Fight Club, except instead of punching people you get a picture with Robin Hood) but you can find out when it is if you subscribe. There are a lot of short character meets that aren’t the kind in a building with a FastPass – Belle in France, Peter Pan in Fantasyland – which means they’re easy to miss. I figured on a scale of how much money I’m spending on other things, a few dollars to make sure the kids get to meet their very favorite Disney people is nothing. It also has all the info on parade times, menus and ride info like height requirements and FastPass/Rider Swap. The super-basic layout means that stuff is going to be easy to find quickly while we’re walking around the parks.

As the trip has gotten closer, I’ve been working on adding detailed info to my daily plans. I sorted out our list of must-do rides and attractions by park, then by area, so hopefully we won’t be wasting a lot of time crisscrossing the parks. The maps on WDWInfo we very helpful, although good old Wikipedia also had lists of rides divided up by Fantasyland/Tomorrowland/etc. I’ve also made notes next to rides with height requirements since being prepared to rider swap/handle Caroline’s disappointment is important. It’s also nice to look at how many rides DON’T have any height requirements, which means I can wear or bring Finnegan with me and we can do them as a whole family.

Another thing that has made planning easier and more fun is having a Disney vacation friend to talk to. My friend Alena was planning a trip less than a month before mine AND had been to Disney World with her kids last year, so she was always ready to make suggestions and give me real life updates on what time they got to the park for castle photos and which character interactions should definitely be on my list. I had another real life friend forward me a bunch of email advice she got from a Disney Vacation Club member and I chatting with yet another real life friend about Disney Springs meal options. People who love Disney World LOVE DISNEY WORLD and are happy to talk about their past/future vacations. If you need a Disney friend, I am MORE than happy to be that person!

Next up on Disney planning: What we wore! I’ll include tons of links now and then update with actual in-park photos when we get back. I put almost as much effort into our outfits as I did into where and when to eat.

 

 

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We Went To The Ocean

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Ocean Beach is “New England’s finest sugar sand beach”, according to the radio commercials they play all the time. Really, it’s the only beach nearby that has STUFF as opposed to just being a state park. It means it costs more to park (and more to ride the rides and more to use the pool and more for the water slide…) but it’s also easier to spend a whole day there because you aren’t just sitting. E HATES sitting on the beach. He does not know how to relax. And when you’re watching 4 children near the ocean, no one gets to relax. But we still had a good time with our out-of-state relatives last weekend, even if the water was freezing. The children did not care.

The above photo is a very accurate representation of what it’s like to take 6 kids to the beach.

My boys don’t have swim shirts because I wasn’t expecting anyone to actually go in the water. IT WAS NOT WARM. So I totally covered them in sunscreen instead, which makes them look even paler than they already are. It’s sort of ridiculous.

Every time we end up at Ocean Beach I wonder why we don’t go more often*. During the summer they have special kids nights on Mondays (I think) where the rides are cheap. As soon as our summer weather gets here (any day now would be fine, Mother Nature) we’ll try to make it a habit. I love the ocean, even if it’s not super relaxing, and these are exactly the kinds of summer memories I want the kids to have of Connecticut.

*The real answer is I think of New London as being really far away even though it’s only like 20 minutes from the house. It’s also the opposite direction from the lake, so we’re usually headed that way instead.

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Summer is Almost Here

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Huge thanks to Gymboree for once again sponsoring this post and outfitting my constantly-growing children.

We are T-minus 4 days away from the unofficial start of summer around here because this weekend our lake opens! I’m not actually sure how we survived summer before we had a lake membership, but for the past few years it has been a lifesaver for hot summer days, the cure for too much screen time, a meeting place where we almost always find friends to play with and a much-needed break for me from cleaning up the same mess day after day.

But it’s not just the lake I look forward to in the summer. I’m an ocean devotee – the sand, the salt, the smell, all of it is necessary to my happiness. Just knowing I can be at the ocean in a few minutes makes me feel better. It’s why I don’t know if I could ever live in a non-coastal state. How do you handle so much dry land?

Thanks to a few true summer weather days last week we’ve already been to the beach once this May and are going back during Memorial Day weekend to share it with some flyover state relatives coming to visit. They specifically requested the ocean be on the itinerary, so we’ll probably take them to Ocean Beach where they can get the full Atlantic experience: cold water, hot sand, the boardwalk, the rickety rides, the overpriced ice cream. It’s all important. And thanks to my friends at Gymboree the kids are going to look stylish and patriotic for all our weekend plans. Their new Star Spangled Days collection is perfect for Memorial Day, 4th of July, or any summer day where you’re feelin’ the red, white and blue vibes.

Caroline’s favorites from here look are the sunglasses and her “high heel” wedges.

 4

You can find the shoes here, which you should definitely do because they’re so adorable. They also come in big kid sizes.

One of my favorite things about Gymboree is that they still make clothes for ALL my kids so it’s easy to match even when my cool-guy 8-year-old maybe doesn’t want to wear exactly the same shirt as the 2-year-old. Although who doesn’t want super sweet glasses like those?

My very attractive and well-behaved children are the perfect fashion models. In opposite world.

Evan has worn that hoodie every day since we got it, which is about as strong of a recommendation as anyone can give.

Four more days before Memorial Day, 18 more days before we ditch school to start our summer vacation, 43 days until the 4th of July, and my fingers are crossed every single one of those days is perfect New England summer weather. What are your plans for the holiday weekend? Is it summer yet where you are?

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Life on Film

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

I bought two new cameras recently. One is a new DSLR, the D750 I’ve wanted since the very first time I heard the term “full frame” and imagined maybe some day I would be good enough to justify such a large purchase. The other one was a Nikon N80 film photography body, an SLR camera released in 2000 that uses 35mm. I paid $26 for it on eBay after losing out on half a dozen other Nikon film cameras. The best part is I can use my good lenses on that cheap camera, so I can shoot at 1.4 or 1.8 and my film doesn’t all come out super dark.

I’ve been carrying both cameras around with me since they came. The D750 is everything I’ve ever dreamed of – fast, incredible in low light, super sharp, amazing with my favorite 35mm lens. It’s making me excited to shoot again, trying out how it does with all my lenses and getting used to the slight differences in button set-up from my last Nikon.

But the film camera has my heart. There is just something about that delayed gratification that makes me really treasure my film photos more than my digital. Which is funny, because even though I take the photos on film, when they’re developed and sent back to me they’re digital files. So it has less to do with the tangibility of the product and more to do with thinking of each frame as a valuable commodity – is this moment worth capturing? When I develop this roll will I want this picture on it? Does it go with all the other photos?

I’m making it sound more serious than it is. I’m trying to make sure my shots aren’t a disaster but I’ll still take a pic of the kids making funny faces or toes in the grass or someone twirling even though I’m pretty sure I will never take a twirling photo in focus. There is still SO MUCH I don’t know about film and honestly, I might never learn it all? But that’s ok. You don’t actually have to know everything about something to enjoy it. I like cooking, but I can’t make a turducken. I like knitting but still can’t do short rows. I really like money but who even knows how that stuff works?

My only goal is to be proud of my work, and thus, here is my whole first ever roll of Fuji 400H Pro (the film stock of fancy wedding photographers). I love them all, even the technically bad ones.

If you have an old film camera laying around somewhere, I am happy to answer questions that might help you start using it again!

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My Photographic Eye

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

I read an incredibly interesting article the other day that analyzed the photos Melania Trump has posted publicly on her Twitter account.

(No this isn’t a political post. Yes, the article was pretty critical of Melania. Yes, I agreed with it. No, I don’t want to have a political discussion here.)

If you look beyond the actual subject of that post, the idea of learning how someone sees the world from how they capture it is fascinating. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a photographer, any time you stop long enough to take a picture you’re saying “This is how I see things, this is a moment I want to be preserved, this is my reality as I want it to be presented.” In this era of social media, photos are even more performative – you can crop or filter so your friends (or strangers) can see what you want them to see. You are making a lot of choices, whether they are conscious or not, and looking at those choices can be eye-opening.

Because I’ve been doing a 365 photo-a-day project for three years now, I have hundreds of everyday life photos to look at and analyze for patterns. Once I started thinking about my pictures (many of them not more than snapshots) as a body of work versus just individual photos, it became super clear that my photographic eye says a lot about what I value, what I want the world to see, and what I want to remember.

The most obvious fact about my photos is they are almost all of my children. I almost never photograph myself. I could make a list of my excuses for that, or I could look at it more analytically. My appearance in the photographic record isn’t a priority for me. I don’t want to remember what I looked like during these years. My body doesn’t need to take up space in the frame. It’s incredibly important to me that I witness my children’s lives, but not necessarily as a participant in their activities. This feels both sort of uncomfortable for me (I don’t want to be distant or emotionally separate) and accurate (I’m much more free-range than helicopter mom).  Also, from a practical standpoint, my live as a stay-at-home-mom revolves around my children, so obviously my work shows that.

The next pattern I saw right away is my love of capturing a small body in a big frame. I’ve chosen my equipment (mostly a 35mm lens) so I can focus on my subject while also including a lot of their environment.

When I think about how I framed these photos, I intentionally avoided other people in the frame (unless they were also my children) to make my subject stand out. I didn’t try to blur or compress the environment to the point where you couldn’t identify it – WHERE is an important part of the story. I took photos like these in every season, at home and away, with my subject aware of me and not. Children are small and the world is big. I want my kids to be confident and bold when faced with big things, unafraid of the world, so they remain the focus even though the environment could overpower them.

Another fairly obvious trend in my pictures is that I center my subjects.

 

There they are, right in the middle of the frame. The main focus. There is balance in this composition, and something very calming about a photo that tells you exactly what it’s about. It’s easy. When I think about these photos, I often took them during challenging times, when I didn’t have the energy to devote to seeing something artistic or unusual. Simplicity is something I often value.

Something I was actually surprised to see was my love of taking a photo from behind my subject. I think of my work as being full of faces, so I wasn’t expecting so many of these.

 

These photos are about seeing what my children see, looking at the world from their point of view. I often crouch down, sit on the floor, get low so I can capture their perspective. I want to learn about what catches their eye, what THEY view as important or noteworthy. I’m following along as they direct the show, ready to be supportive but not interferring. Without the emotion of their face, you have to infer feeling from their body language. When you’re raising kids, this feels true in everyday life as well; they often don’t – or can’t – tell you what they’re feeling, so you’re left to interpret what they need.

Something there is slightly less of but still often featured is taking photos of small pieces of my small people.

Fingers, toes, hair, eyes, hands. I love them. They are soft and unlined, a perfect example of how children are unbothered by the realities of life or age. The same way an elderly person’s hand speak to their lived experience, a child’s hands show innocence. Their eyes are clear and open, unguarded. They also are little pieces of where they come from – Caroline’s red hair comes from her father, Linc’s blue eyes are from me. These photos are more personal than any of the others. I do have to be physically close my children to take them, even if the small bodies are in motion and I have to be quick. They capture something so very fleeting – the split second before those feet grow bigger, run faster, carry the children away.

And finally, my neverending love of taking pictures of my kids while they sleep.

The sleeping photos fall into almost all of the previous categories – sometimes up close, sometimes lots of environment, etc – but I took them because of the sleeping so it deserved its own analysis. Children are loud and busy, capturing them at their most quiet and still is a treasure. While they are vulnerable, I watch over them. They feel safe in their home and with their family, which is why they so often fall asleep in places other than their own beds. Our home is comfortable, even if it’s not always magazine-worthy, with plenty of places to take a nap when you need it.

I really loved this exercise for myself, even if putting my emotions and inner thoughts into words was difficult. I appreciate my photographs more and I’m thrilled this record will exist (as a reminder, print your photos! I have both 2015 and 2016 books as hard copies of many of these, the rest are from 2017 and will go in a book in January).

Are there any trends you can recognize in your own photographic record? Go look at your Instagram feed or Facebook photos and see if there are patterns or constants that emerge. Or you can take some of this analysis and use it to inspire your own pictures. I’m definitely going to make an effort to take at least one self-portrait this spring.

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