Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Purr-fect Project!

"Hi! I'm Hudson! and I approve this purr-fect Girl Scout project!"

"Make the world a better place," reads, in part, the Girl Scouts of America law. It's a maxim that Brielle, my oldest granddaughter, has pledged to honor as a "Daisy" (Kindergarten level) scout. I am very proud of her!

Scouting involves contributing; it's the same vision shared by grandparents who recognize that devoted time and attention help raise a new generation of compassionate and socially responsible citizens. "We make a living by what we get," reflected Winston Churchill, "but we make a life by what we give." Who among us doesn't wish to bestow satisfying gifts of purpose, generosity, tolerance, and gratitude upon society's youngest members? Modeling virtues of giving back, and gently guiding grandchildren toward the same goal accomplishes exactly that! And, not to cast a gloomy spell of morbidity or anything, but it also fulfills personal pledges to leave the world a better place!

Brielle's troop leader recently appealed to parents for project ideas. I was delighted to be called on to help my daughter, Christy, with a charitable activity that will benefit the cause closest to my heart. We will deliver small paw-printed fleece blankets to a local low-cost spay-neuter clinic. Each Daisy made one of these popular items, following directions given below. Clinic staff and volunteers will distribute them to worthy cats or small dogs. Think of the post-surgical comfort 12 needy fur-babies will find in the warmth of these blankets on their way back home to a new life that won't contribute to an overpopulation of pets!

Our troop will also collect clinic "wish-list" items from their community of family and friends. Paper towels, cat food, trash bags, office supplies - all of these things are needed on a continuing basis. Every donation helps! An extra bonus for us was the response Christy recieved from her daughter's principal when she requested permission to initiate an all-school drive. Seems his wife is a rescuing over-the-top animal lover like we are! Somehow, I think our box for donations is going to fill to "over-the-top" too, especially since we were also invited to submit our feature to the community newspaper!

And by the way, if you're a "dreamer" like I am, hoping that someday every single puppy and kitten born will enjoy a safe, happy life in a loving "fur-ever" home, be encouraged! Locally, we are experiencing a "kitten shortage." Its even been featured on the news! "It's spring! Where are all the kittens?" they've asked. And potential adopters have been greeted by shelter door signs that read, "Sorry! No cats left! Try again next week!" Spay-neuter initiatives have made an impact here on a surplus formerly destined for euthanasia, and I am delighted!

If you can't adopt - foster....
If you can't foster - sponsor....
If you can't sponsor - volunteer....
If you can't volunteer - donate....
If you can't donate - educate....
Everyone can do something!

Make 2 kitty/small dog sized blankets from 1 yard each of paw print and solid color fleece. Cut the 36" x 60" wide lengths into two 36" x 30" pieces. Stack a print and a solid with right sides facing out. Trim to match. Cut a 4" square out of each corner. Continue to cut 4" slashes all around perimeter, each about 1" - 1.5" wide. Double knot each pair of fringes to complete.

And what's a grandma to do with those leftover 4" corner squares? Well, make them into catnip toys, of course! Sew, turn, stuff, hand close - purr-fect!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Minnie Mouse Birthday Party!

"We've got ears!"

And pretty pink bows!
And polka dots!
And happy smiles everywhere!

Kaylee has always been an avid fan of Minnie Mouse, but since our recent multi-family vacation to Walt Disney World®Resort, her affection for that perky and personable little rodent has been off the charts! When mommy and daddy teamed up to plan her third birthday party, there was no question on the theme she'd choose. Minnie Mouse! But more specifically, PINK Minnie Mouse! And so, inspired by that familiar Disney creativity, the fun began....!

If you're a grandma with frequent flyer babysitting hours, you're likely familiar with the Disney channel and its popular "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" educational cartoon. You know this lively entertainment keeps everybody humming and hopping to catchy signature tunes - and on rapt alert for appealing puzzles to solve. You'll also recognize the greeting that welcomed our party guests.....

....and know what to do with these "Mouseketools!"

A helping of Minnie's Fruit chunks may appeal to you.....

along with a well-relished "Hot Diggity Dog!" and a side of
"Minnie's Bow Tie Pasta."

The best choice from the beverage bar, in my opinion, was the Cherry Ice Cream Punch! Mmmm! (Recipe below)

By the way, we know you heard Kaylee calling you to lunch because you put on a pair of ears when you came in!..... 

....and she made sure you wore them the entire time! 

That includes you, mommy and baby brother, Ryan!

After lunch, it's time for games and prizes! Here's "Pin the Bow on Minnie" with family friends, Amanda and little Savannah. 

Everyone took a turn at the cheerful bean bag toss game I built on a foam board easel.

And then it was time for a final flourish of cake and ice cream....

With several dainty puffs, the candles were out - and Kaylee was THREE!

Presents! Let's wrap this party up by digging into that big pile and opening them!

"Thank you, Aunt Karrie! This looks like fun!"...... 

"Aunt Mary and Uncle Tom and four of my cousins know I love pink horsies! Thank you!"

And thank you, too, dear readers, for visiting our Minnie Mouse birthday party today!

Here's how to make Cherry Ice Cream Party Punch!
Mix together: 1.5 quarts vanilla ice cream, one 2 liter bottle of Cherry 7 Up, and one 64 ounce bottle of Welch's white grape juice

Wait! One more thing! There's still time to enter for a chance to win the Better Homes and Gardens magazine multi-generational "Making Memories Magical" trip to Walt Disney World®Resort for your family of eight! Kaylee's been there and she knows there's nothing like hugging Minnie Mouse in person! We'd love to see you experience the same joy. Here's where you'll find every link and detail needed to enter!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Magical Grand Adventure - Memories!

Disney paid for my family's trip to 
Walt Disney World® Resort. As always, all opinions are my own.

Savoring the happy hustle and burgeoning bustle of Main Street U.S.A. at Magic Kingdom® Park, I overhead a wistful conversation between a pair of young stroller-pushers. "I just wish we could ride a few of these as a couple." "Tsk, tsk," I mused, "Why didn't you people invite grandma along?" A while later, I witnessed an epic meltdown by a tired and frustrated toddler. "Well, tsk, tsk, again! Where's grandma?"

Not a single one of the grand-ladies (or gentlemen!) I know would miss an opportunity to pass out mouse-eared ice cream treats and relish a break in the shade with restless mini-guests, leaving mommy and daddy free to enjoy the park for awhile as a carefree couple. In fact, I met fellow grandmas who joined me to do exactly that on our recent venture. One of my bench companions had accompanied her family ever since the kids were very young. Today, her nine and ten year old grandchildren don't need her as a babysitter anymore, but their annual trip to Walt Disney World® Resort just wouldn't be the same without grandma!

Grandma's premium-stroller-patrol-service! My grandson, Ryan, totally enraptured with a hat to twist and a sock to savor!

Grandpa and I, plus the family of my oldest daughter, Mary Jo, comprised a group of eight who recently enjoyed a five day, four night dream vacation to this magical wonderland. We were guests of Better Homes and Gardens and Walt Disney World® Resort as part of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine "Making Memories Magical" contest promotion.We also included, at our expense, the families of two additional daughters, bringing our three-generation party to a total of sixteen. At one point in my life, I would have regarded such a trip as impractical. Weird, even. But I know better now! Because Walt Disney World® Resort offers such a wide range of experiences for every age, multi-generational/multi-family trips create unique benefits and memories for each member. Join forces as a team and everybody comes home happy and satisfied! Here are a few of my own reflections:

Night life. You may be different, but for this grandma, the best time of day is often at night! Late evening romantic dinners at Epcot® are for mommy and daddy! I prefer to keep a watchful eye - and an earlier bedtime - back home at the hotel with the little ones. We hop into our jammies, nestle together, and relive the best moments of the day. We chatter about what we'll do tomorrow and animatedly describe something we spotted through a gift shop window. Then, we drift off together, smiling away in anticipation of the next day. When mommy and daddy slip in later on, relaxed and happy, they find us soundly asleep. It's then they realize that vacations don't get any better than this!

Okay, shared babysitting. That's one reason to travel in a multi-generational pack! But what about others? I'm not saying you have to be a techno-wizard to enjoy a day at Walt Disney World® Resort, but millennials (that's mommy and daddy!) instinctively know how to handle all the cool stuff you can do directly from your "magic wristband!" Enter the Park (with valid theme park tickets). Load pictures to Disney PhotoPass® service. Operate the My Disney Experience app to reserve meals, and use Disney FastPass+ service to select character greeting experiences. You'll enjoy each day without the worry of making a bad choice. How's that for a benefit?!

And here's another one....

Sharing the tab! Everyone's circumstances are as diverse as the bottom line on your own Walt Disney World® Resort vacation budget, but a few things tend to be true with a grandparent lifestyle. We've got all the "stuff" we need. (Just check out our closets!) Most of us don't need things from our families to be happy. We just want to do things with them! And we've been around long enough to know that what experts say is true - the best value from a dollar is an experience enjoyed - not another thing purchased! Memories. That's what we want to invest in!

But I should clarify that we grandparents do like to buy some things! Like dated, keepsake Christmas ornaments for each individual family. My wish is that the ones I bought will trigger annual revisits to the fond memories we brought home together this year. ("Merry Chris-Mouse??!")

This last one is personal to me. It's my own favorite benefit of our multi-generational/multi-family trip to Walt Disney World® Resort:

We wait in line to ride, and all I know is that I'm part of a "group of eight." A little hand reaches for mine, our fingers lace together proprietorially, and suddenly, I'm half of a "party of two." "I want to ride with you, grandma." Long after many scenes from this magical journey have faded into the mist of senior years that lie ahead, I will always feel those little hands and hear those little voices. And my reply will always be the same. "Grandma wants to ride with you, too, sweetie. I will always want to ride with you!"

My sincere, most heartfelt gratitude to Mara VanGeldern, Associate Marketing Manager at Better Homes and Gardens, and to the Cast Members of Walt Disney World® Resort. Together, you made our multi-generational vacation to Walt Disney World® Resort one beyond magical!

Here is where you'll find details and links you'll need to enter for a chance to win a multi-generational family vacation for eight of your own at Better Homes and Gardens Magazine "Making Memories Magical" contest. 

And here, at "Magical Grand Adventure!" is where my five part series on multi-generational travel to Walt Disney World® Resort begins.

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Better Homes and Gardens and Walt Disney World® Resort. 

Magical Grand Adventure - Entertainment!

Disney paid for my family's trip to 
Walt Disney World® Resort. As always, all opinions are my own.

Explosions of sound! Of light! Of color! Of dance! And song! The best magic of Walt Disney World® Resort comes alive on the streets and stages of its theatrical productions. And an even more heartwarming vision? The faces of your children and grandchildren, star struck with wonder as they gaze in awe at the spectacles before them!

My family recently enjoyed a five day, four night dream vacation to this magical wonderland. We were guests of Better Homes and Gardens and Walt Disney World® Resort as part of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine "Making Memories Magical" contest promotion. Here's where you'll find details and the links you'll need to enter for a chance to win a multi-generational trip for eight of your own from Better Homes and Gardens! Then, prepare to be swept off your feet with a whisk of Cinderella's broom to the adventure of a lifetime!

Besides the stunning suitable-for-most-ages entertainment factor, I appreciated parades and shows for the opportunity to take a break from the brisk pace of each day. In vivid contrast to the energetic hustling bustle of each Walt Disney World® Resort Theme Park, indoor theaters are cool and dark - a great place for grandparents - and kids! - to refresh.

If you've only room for one show, allow me to suggest that it be Festival of the Lion King. This indoor, live stage performance features giant puppets, dancers, and acrobats plus familiar, beloved music of the original Disney movie. You'll find shows at Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park.

The production is striking in its beauty - of performers and costuming, vocals, and majestic animal puppets. I loved the dancers who gyrated agilely on stilts, the display of fire twirling and the constant presence and movement of eye-popping brilliance!

The "circle of life" is present not only on stage. Can any other scene warm a grandma's heart more fully than one like this?

Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park is also home to the It's Tough to be a Bug® attraction. The theater setting for this 3-D film is deep below the roots of a tree. (Who but Disney could manage that?) I don't have photos because they're not allowed, so you'll have to use your imagination here. The glasses you'll wear bring everything to life. Bugs flit and flutter inches before your eyes. They peer down from openings in the ceiling. There's a huge scary one, a locust, I believe, who narrates on the stage, and he's not that friendly. Bugs are everywhere! And they're busy! And loud! When it turns completely dark, prepare to feel drops of moisture when you're "sprayed" with insect repellent. You'll smell a stink bug, too! It's intense. And wonderfully done. But is it for young kids? Possibly not. My seven year old grandsons loved it. Bree, at age five, was scared. Year old Austin burst into tears and mommy took him out. Cast members explain right from the beginning that the show may be too much for some little ones, and they make it easy to exit if that's the case with you. I'd definitely see this one again. With older kids.

When the weather is picture-perfect, there's nothing like an outdoor show to revel in the sunny warmth of it. Magic Kingdom® Park is known for its iconic Festival of Fantasy Parade. This visual spectacular overwhelms Main Street. Grandchildren who are character fans will relish the way they just keep coming! Ariel! Mickey Mouse! Minnie Mouse! Peter Pan! The Seven Dwarfs! Fantastic color and sound. I'd say that it is, by far, the most energetic focal point in all four theme parks!

Here's what it feels like to be on Main Street at Walt Disney World® Resort!

And here's what it looks like when your grandchildren are enjoying the time of their lives - and you are there to witness it all!......

But how much do kids take home with them from a magical vacation at Walt Disney World® Resort? I didn't see the Voyage of The Little Mermaid show at Disney's Hollywood Studios®, but five year old Brielle did. After we arrived back home, my daughters and I exchanged a flurry of messages - our fondest and funniest moments and memories. I haven't changed many words in this email from Christy. Picture Bree performing as mommy narrates:

"It feels like I actually never left Walt Disney World® Resort. I would have sent a video of this show, but Bree gave us rules! NO flash photography! She wears her Little Mermaid costume, the play room is re-arranged, she's singing, and if she does not know the words she continues on with babble, but promptly tells us that it is actually Spanish. She claimed Austin (little brother) was Ursula, but then later he was the prince and Sneakers (cat) was Ursula. She had a fork out, combing her hair and labeled that the correct name - "dinglehopper." She pretended she was eating fish (?) and then the show went on and on and on and on and on and I suddenly realized that I had told her after "the show" she would need to go up for quiet time. So that might explain why it lasted 2 full hours! We ALL fell asleep after that."

And here she is - grandma's own little mermaid/ actress/producer - "feathered up" as a parrot at Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park!

Fantasmic! is another outdoor venue performance that we enjoyed together - all sixteen of us. Mickey Mouse is the hero of this dramatic laser light and fireworks extravaganza that takes place after dark, on select days, weather permitting. But lots of villains show up before he triumphs - this fearsome dragon among them. I liked the slithery snake too! Catch this one at Disney's Hollywood Studios® .

The show is smoke and fire and music and boats that round the bend loaded with favorite characters. All of them, I believe, aboard the steamboat that makes a concluding appearance. It's piloted by Mickey Mouse - the original "Steamboat Willie!" I wondered, the second I recognized that version of him, if anyone but grandparents would note that. And I wondered too, if somewhere, somehow Mister Walt Disney himself realizes today how much joy his creativity has brought to so many of us for so many years. I wonder if he knows that I join him in marveling how "it all began with a mouse!"

And, one more reminder! Be sure to enter the Better Homes and Gardens Magazine "Making Memories Magical" contest for a chance to win a multi-generational family trip for eight to Walt Disney World® Resort! Links and details right here!

Continue reading for more! "Magical Grand Adventure - Memories!" is right here!

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Better Homes and Gardens and Walt Disney World® Resort. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Magical Grand Adventure - Dining!

Disney paid for my family's trip to Walt Disney World® Resort. As always, all opinions are my own.

My family of sixteen recently enjoyed a five day, four night vacation to Walt Disney World® Resort. Eight of us were guests of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine and Walt Disney World® Resort as part of the Better Homes and Gardens Magazine "Making Memories Magical" contest promotion. Enter for your own chance to win a multi-generational family trip for eight! Contest details and links found here!

Dining at Walt Disney World® Resort!

We didn't show up at Walt Disney World® Resort just to eat, although I've heard that some people do exactly that. I'm not surprised. If there ever was a showcase of fabulous food to please practically every single taste at every single price point, it's right here! We discovered for ourselves that the wide range of prices and flavors has one consistent quality - delish! Here's a sampling of what we experienced......

Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park:

The Walt Disney World® Resort manages to infuse every one of its sites with heaping platters of atmosphere. Often, that extends to the area outside of the dining room, too. Like this one. While waiting for breakfast seating at the African flavored Tusker House Restaurant at Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park, we admired ceremonial masks and had fun choosing our favorites. I liked that silver one next to Nick's head!

Step inside to the warm embrace of feasting! - this rich marketplace visual, and an equally amazing culinary one both greet you! Tusker House serves buffet style dining all day long. Classic items that kids will enjoy join a large selection of African specialties. Characters dressed for safari mingle about; it's a lively, exotic experience! We loved it!

 "Where does Walt Disney World® Resort find all this cool stuff?" In this case, I know the answer: Mexico! Permanently parked along the lush path that winds though the Asian area of Disney's Animal Kingdom®Theme Park is the Anandapur Ice Cream Truck. If ever a picture spoke a thousand words, I wouldn't have to make another peep!....but I will!....

"Step right up for tasty frozen treat
window service!"

When we were hungry for lunch, Restaurantosaurus beckoned us! Oh, it was as busy as a manic bee hive when we arrived at peak lunch hour, but tables to snatch and hold opened up continually. Mommy and daddy lined up to order our food - simple and good - fries, burgers, and apple slices served in cute sand pails. Not one of us had to be coerced to "shovel it in!"

Every vacationing Mouseketeer appreciates dining that's easily accessible. Guests of Disney's Beach Club Villas enjoy a bounty of that convenience. Let's start with what's right under our ears and move outward from there!

Disney's Beach Club Villas:

Two casual, family friendly eateries anchor the main lobby of the Villas. (Isn't she a beauty? Just couldn't stop taking pictures of her, inside and out - morning, noon and night! :) ) We frequented Beach Club Marketplace during our stay for quick sandwiches, early morning coffee, and the mini Disney merchandise shopping area. Time didn't allow us to poke into Cape May Cafe, but character buffet breakfast dining is featured - something you'd normally have to leave the building to enjoy. Next time, for sure!

Disney's BoardWalk entertainment district:

I've mentioned in a previous post that this lodging location is in the "backyard" of both Epcot® and Disney's BoardWalk entertainment district. That means a brisk few moments walk delivers you back in time to the BoardWalk Bakery. I recommend sending your son-in-law for take-out breakfast croissants if in-room morning dining is your pleasure. Worked for us! Scrumptious! - and a great time-saver!

My favorite Walt Disney World® Resort-dinner-to-remember will always be Italian. At Disney's BoardWalk entertainment district. At Trattoria al Forno. Best food. Best wine. Best company! (You know who you are!:)) Step right in! "Be our guest!"

Meet our handsome, talented and attentive chef!

My grandsons were fascinated with the open kitchen and the flaming pizza oven.

Since I've been home, I've read independent reviews of this restaurant; plenty of people think it offers the best, most authentic food of any Walt Disney World® Resort restaurant! I was also impressed with the generous portions.

Use your My Disney Experience app to view complete menus for all restaurants and make reservations.

Indulge in an authentic Italian appetizer platter at Trattoria al Forno!
Cheeses! Breads! Olives! Prosciutto! Calamari!

Mussels, too! This is a delicacy I'd not tasted before. I'm a fan for life now!

Epcot®! So many delicious countries, such limited digesting capacity! Nonetheless, our best, most relaxed moments were those spent together in enjoyment of ethnic food. And Walt Disney World® Resort does think of everything! No matter the cultural theme, there is always a "kid section" on the menu or in the buffet line. And that includes the Biergarten Restaurant.

It might as well be Oktober! Here's a beautiful slice of Germany outside the restaurant, under the watchful gaze of Spaceship Earth® attraction.

The Biergarten Restaurant offers a sumptuous buffet of authentic German food coupled with towering mugs of beer. Multiple offerings, specializing in sausages and potatoes, with sides of sauerkraut and marinated veggies.

And, when it's time for dessert, the cheesecake is out of this world!

Entertainment! Authentic and lively. This is where grandchildren will enjoy a sense of the world outside of their own. Next time, I'm sure we'll opt to sample another culture, but this festive visit will always remain special to us.

Magic Kingdom® Park:

Table for sixteen? We managed to do it! The Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom® Park is a wonderland of beauty, great food, and characters hailing from the Hundred-Acre Wood. This evening simply warmed my heart. Characters table hop, hug, and lead a kid parade. The dining is buffet style and it's delicious!

Here's Kaylee taking a break from pursuing cuddly characters. Food choices for kids are healthy and appealing.

The Crystal Palace serves three meals each day, but an evening dinner reservation assures you of quick access to the best fireworks watching location once you've eaten!

I'd recommend one elegant dining experience per park to create the best multi-generational family memories. Reserve in advance on My Disney Experience!

We found day time Magic Kingdom® Park attractions so involving and exciting that eating just wasn't a priority! If that's the case with you too, quick counter service works well, although we would have benefited from the oft-given advice to avoid rush hours! The places we chose for lunch were crazy-busy at noon, but proved yet another reason to travel with grandma and grandpa. We served as table-spotters, taking the kids with us to make the wait in line more tolerable for mommy and daddy. When lunch finally arrived, kids were relaxed and happy, ready for the serious business of eating!

I didn't find this out until I returned home and read reviews, but Columbia Harbour House is an acclaimed venue for its seafood focused menu, including the lobster rolls we ordered! Delicious! Generously sized and reasonably priced, chips included!

Here's another choice for quick stop refueling - The Friar's Nook. Hot dogs, mac and cheese in several flavors - pot roast and barbecue among them - and more!

Disney's Hollywood Studios®:

Disney Junior Play n Dine is a lively spot, appropriately named. It was our last stop on the final day of our vacation. I secretly wondered if the kids would be "character-weary" by then, but they proved me wrong. Lots of hugs remained for Handy Manny, Doc McStuffins, Sophia the First and Jake and the Neverland Pirates in between bites from a healthy and satisfying buffet that pleased both adults and kids.

Below: Can you guess who'd just visited Disney's Hollywood Studios® gift shops before lunch?

Just had to include a final farewell to "Gertie" even though we didn't partake of her "Ice Cream of Extinction." Next time, for sure!

Bloggers and others who give travel advice often suggest packing portable snacks for kids. I agree with them. Even if you're not visiting Walt Disney World® Resort on a budget, it makes sense. I stuffed the corners of my suitcase with cheese cracker packs as my own contribution. My daughters did more. In the days before departure, texts and emails flew between us at a furious pace. What were we bringing? How much of it? How would we transport it all? It seemed a wise choice to bring peanut butter and a loaf of bread. "Bread?" read one text, "It'll get squished!" 

We pondered that dilemma until Christy's husband stepped up. "Just put the loaf in a shoe box!" Ahhhh! We breathed a sigh of deep relief. "Shoe Box Bread" was born that day, courtesy of my innovative son-in-law, Keenon. And you can be sure that he is, to this day, hailed as our family hero, the well admired inventor of "Shoe Box Bread!"

One more reminder! Be sure to enter the Better Homes and Gardens Magazine "Making Memories Magical" contest for a chance to win a multi-generational family trip for eight to Walt Disney World® Resort! Links and details right here!

Continue reading for more! "Magical Grand Adventure - Entertainment!" is right here!

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Better Homes and Gardens and Walt Disney World® Resort.