Family Photo: 10 Tips for a Great Family Photo Shoot, plus a GIVEAWAY!

Family Photo: 10 Tips for a Great Family Photo Shoot, plus a GIVEAWAY!

Family photo:  It’s the time of year when when we practice our perfect smiles and get the kids new perfect outfits for a family photo, right?  Well, not in our case.  We try to do a professional family photo shoot every few years (for holiday cards, or to frame in the house, or to simply capture some moments of all of us together, without seeing me with a triple chin since most of our shots are family selfies taken by me and my long arms from that awkward angle where I for some reason pull my head back and end up with multiple chins.  Does that happen to you, too?), but we have been most successful in not taking these too seriously.  Here are my top 5 tips for a stellar session with a photographer, followed by another 5 tips from professional photographer, Cara, at BabySky Photography, and then the GIVEAWAY details.

family picture - family photo
Family Photo Tips
  1. Coordinate, but don’t force matchy-matchy.  Don’t overdo it with matchy-matchy clothes!  Yes, I know those matchy-matchy pictures can be adorable, but for our style, we try to be somehow coordinated but not the same.  For example, “everyone wear something blue” or, in the case of this year’s shoot, we were all tied together with some neutral-ish color.
  2. Forget the fake smile.  Most of our favorite pictures capture a moment in time when there was actual emotion, and if there are no smiles in those pictures, that’s ok!  Capturing real moments helps to bring back those feelings every time I see the picture, whether it shows laughter or frowns or sleeping babies.
  3. Relax your bodies.  I remember having a family picture taken with my grandparents when I was 8 years old.  I had to stand nice and straight, interlace my fingers as the photographer told me to, and place them gently on my grandma’s shoulder as she and my grandpa sat in the middle of a sea of their grandchildren . . . because that’s how I stand . . . never.  Again, there is a time and a place for this type of more formal picture, but — especially with my three silly sons — that time is not now.  I love it when the photographer captures genuine hugs, real silliness, giggles, and kids in motion.
  4. Respect your photographer.  I assume that if you’ve hired this person, you know the quality of their work or they have been referred to you by satisfied customers.  Respect that.  Let them change lenses or dictate what background to use when, because while you’re working on keeping your kids from wrestling in a mud-pile in the beautiful park you’re shooting in, the photographer is going through a mental checklist of shots he/she is hoping to capture, gauging the personalities of the family members, all while accessing a universe of photographic knowledge on lighting and angles and time of day and shutter speeds.  Let them work their magic!  That said, I think it’s fair game to also ask for a specific shot if there’s one you want, but I have more often loved the pictures I didn’t ask for than the ones I dictated myself.
  5. Bribery is OK.  No, not bribing the photographer in any way!  Bribing your kids.  Nothing major, but I will say we all enjoyed some yummilicious ice cream after our recent family photo shoot with Cara from BabySky Photography, not because it was a hot summer day (it wasn’t!), but because we promised the kids that they could have ice cream (after dinner, or with dinner, or for dinner . . . whatever was going to work!) if they’d just cooperate and have some fun getting the pictures done.
family photo tips
This is us. For real. Photo by BabySky Photography.

Those are my tips as a Mother of Boys who loves to capture moments.  But let’s hear from a professional photographer!  Here are 5 more tips (some similar, some not!) for a great family photo shoot from Cara at BabySky Photography:

  1. Dress for the elements.  If it’s cold, add sweaters, vests and even hats and mittens look adorable.  If it’s hot, don’t wear flannel shirts, lose the tights and cardigans, switch out boots for sandals.  If it’s windy, tie your hair back.  If it’s muddy, wear rain boots instead of suede shoes.  We can’t control the weather and outside photography is always going to be unpredictable (especially here in New England!) so the more prepared you are for the weather, the more cooperative everyone will be.
  2. Make sure your clothes fit properly and anything you’re wearing is okay to see in the photo.  If your bra strap keeps showing, pin it to your shirt.   If your pants are lose, belt them.  If you don’t want to see your husband’s hot pink socks in your photos, make him change them.  If you don’t like the Nike logo on your son’s shirt, don’t wear that shirt.  You will be running around and chasing your kids and chances are you will not remember to keep adjusting or hiding the things you don’t like.
  3. Make sure your kids eat BEFORE your session.  It’s okay to promise ice cream and treats after your session but I promise you the kids will do so much better if they have a full belly.  I think kids are always happier when they’re not hangry.  Plus all they will be thinking about is getting the session over with so they can eat instead of relaxing and having a good time.  Doesn’t have to be a full meal, pretzels and a cheese stick will go far.
  4. Don’t ask your kids to say “Cheese.”  It does work for some kids but most kids will think that as long as they are saying the word then they are doing all they need to do.  Then you end up with forced smiles and roaming eyes while saying “Cheeeeeeeeeese.”  Give them a tickle instead or my favorite…say a potty word, works every time 😉
  5. And most important, do family photos for you and your family, not the Christmas card.  Try to make your session about your relationships with your children and magical things will happen.   Don’t feel the need to only do photos in the fall since that is closest to Christmas.  Try a different season.  Remember that one day these photos are going to be your memories and memories of laughing and fun will mean more than the perfectly posed photo with everyone looking at the camera and fall foliage in the background.

With all those tips, you’re ready for a family photo shoot now, right?  You’re in luck!  For M.O.B. Truths’ first GIVEAWAY ever, we have a $50 discount off of a family photo session with Cara from BabySky PhotographySubscribe to my email list, and you’ll be automatically entered to win.  Winner will be randomly selected on October 29, 2017 and notified by email.


family picture tips
All smiles in black and white. Photo by BabySky Photography.
Easy Pumpkin Bread Recipe: Baking with Boys (a fall tradition)

Easy Pumpkin Bread Recipe: Baking with Boys (a fall tradition)

Making this easy pumpkin bread has become a fall tradition for my boys and me.   The weather is starting to get cooler,  leaves are changing color, and pumpkin spice everything is everywhere.  Every year, we make this together — which usually involves fighting over who sifts vs. who pours, licking the batter before I say it’s OK, and a lot of flour on the floor.  Oh yeah, we devour the delicious treat, too (I even somehow justify that this is OK for breakfast!), and the house smells amazing for hours after we bake it.  I hope making this easy pumpkin bread becomes a fall tradition for your family like it has for mine, and that you can get through baking without it becoming a full contact sport.

pumpkin bread recipe
Easy pumpkin bread. So easy! So yummy!

If you’re like me, you love baking with your kids, but you cringe a little every time you deal with a fight over who will crack the egg (because it inevitably leads to shell in the batter or an actual battle between the kids) or dealing with savages begging to eat more of the batter laden with raw egg (note:  I begged my mom as a kid, too).  Here’s an easy pumpkin bread recipe that has NO EGGS, is fun to make, and is even more delicious to eat!

This recipe has a special place in my heart.  After my second son was born, I baked this for the first time with my 2 1/2 year old son on the first day my husband went back to work.  It seemed like a huge undertaking because it involves sifting (so advanced when you’re sleep deprived and suddenly have twice as many kids as you did the week before!) and what seemed at the time like lots of ingredients (I remember having to borrow a cup of flour from a neighbor the night before, to make sure I had enough!).  I measured all the ingredients in advance and put them in sealed containers so it would be quicker and easier for my toddler and me to just dump them into the bowl when we were making the recipe.  We’ve got it down to a science now, and the kids are 9, 7 and 4.  We measure together and then take turns pouring in the ingredients and mixing.  This year, the whole process went surprisingly well . . . until the very end, when I said, “Guys!  Smile with our freshly-baked pumpkin bread!” and I caught this full-on, spontaneous punch in a pic instead.

easy pumpkin bread recipe

Here’s what you need:

  • 3 1/3 cups sifted flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup oil (I use canola)
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 2 cups canned pumpkin (I buy two 15-oz cans or one 16-oz can and have some left over) (I usually use this kind of pumpkin)
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (I use Nestle semi-sweet, but I’m sure any would be fine)

pumpkin bread recipe ingredients

And here’s what to do:

Grease THREE 9×5 loaf pans (I use butter).  Preheat oven to 350.  Mix dry ingredients together.  Add remaining ingredients.  Mix with spatula until smooth.  Fill each loaf pan approximately 1/3 full.  The recipe says to bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean — in my oven, they are done in just 35 minutes, so I recommend checking frequently after 35 minutes or so, since every oven is a bit different.  Cool on a drying rack, and then ENJOY!!!  (these are also great as mini breads or mini-muffins)

Don’t forget to grab a spoon and finish off every last drop of the batter — no raw eggs = gobble it up!

pumpkin bread yumminess
mixing pumpkin bread
pumpkin bread batter in pans
pumpkin bread batter in pans
8 Simple Ways to Ease Morning Chaos

8 Simple Ways to Ease Morning Chaos

Morning chaos:  In my house, it’s three sons, a husband, and a wife scrambling to get ready for work and school and out the door by 7:15am.  And then 7:16am arrives.  Most days, that’s when I breathe a sigh of relief.  I turn up the music like a triumphant victory song as I start my drive to work.  We did it . . .again.  We got all five of us out the door on time, with backpacks, lunches or snacks, laptops, folders, jackets . . . whatever we need for the day.  You’d think it would be easy by now, or that it would be completely routine.  But somehow, it’s like a crowded obstacle course every day.  Does morning chaos cause stress in your house, too?  Here are 8 simple ways to make mornings easier and help you manage through the chaos to get ready and out the door on time.

Prep lunches the night before

Obvious, right?  It’s easier said than done.  After a long day at work, then home with the three boys for dinner, chill time, bath time, homework time, bedtime, and then often some additional work to get done after the kids go to sleep, sometimes I just don’t have the energy to pack lunches.  But if I push myself hard enough, even laying out the simple things at night can help make mornings go more smoothly.  So here’s how we roll:  my husband (most of the time) cuts fresh fruit and puts it in little containers for the kids’ lunchboxes.  I lay out, with their lunchboxes in descending order of the kids’ ages, a few other things:  juicebox, spoon for yogurt, a salty snack, a granola bar — all the things that are easy enough to drop into a lunchbox the night before, rather than scrambling in a pantry to get it all in the morning.  It takes less than 5 minutes at night, compared to 15 minutes in the morning when kids are hanging on me or fighting or calling my name.  Then all we have to do in the morning is make a sandwich and put everything onto ice packs in the lunchboxes.

easy mornings
Ease morning chaos by pre-prepping lunches

Lay out clothes the night before

If your kids are at an age where you still pick out their clothes, lay out outfits for the week on Sunday night.  And if they’re old enough to choose their own clothes, then make sure there are clothes available in their drawers.  In my house, I do a lot of laundry (don’t we all?), then I fold it (yes, I’m Superwoman), and it seems to live in laundry baskets for days (ugh).  When the kids go to get dressed, if there are no shorts, shirts, whatever in their drawers, they come looking for me, asking for specific shirts or socks, and taking me out of my own get-ready routine. If I can find time on Sunday to actually put away clothes (again, this seems easy, but somehow is not always so!) or to have the kids help me with it, it is a lifesaver for during the week.  (Note:  I rarely lay out my own clothes the night before, and at least a few times a week, a morning outfit crisis (where are my favorite black pants?  Did I remember to wash that sweater?  I guess I’ll turn on the iron . . .) delays me at least 10-15 minutes, which is an eternity when my three sons are yelling for me to help them with something.) (Additional note: If you let your kids pick out their own clothes, you have to be OK with it.  My head says blue shorts with a blue t-shirt make you look like a Smurf, but my heart says “You’re clothed and ready.  Let’s go.”)

easy morning
Ease morning chaos by laying out clothes

Create a checklist

My kids got into the habit of not doing anything in the morning until my husband or I asked them — told them six times in a row — to get dressed, brush teeth, etc.  It was exhausting for me and annoying for them.  So I sat down with them one day and asked them to list for me all the things they need to get done in the morning.  Then I turned it into a daily checklist for them, where they get to cross off each thing as they complete it.  A sense of satisfaction!  It helps keep them from getting distracted by each other, or a game, or a half-constructed Lego scene begging to be finished.

morning routine
Ease morning chaos with checklists

Start the show!

Letting the kids watch TV in the morning?  I remember when I thought I’d never do it.  But now, with three sons who wake up around 5am, and with juggling a fulltime job and life in general, sometimes a little TV in the morning is just what we need to actually help us get out the door on time.   When the boys complete their checklists, they can watch a show.  And since we typically have about two hours between their wakeup time and when we leave, there is usually time for one whole 30-minute show without our mornings ending up rushed.  I know, there are plenty of parents out there who will judge me for this.  But it works for us.

Organize paperwork the night before

Yes, I know.  Another no-brainer.  So, I guess just think of this paragraph as a public reminder for me to do this.  Sift through the PTO notices, the youth sports flyers, the homework, the field trip slips, the notices about how you can help the community, the letters from the room parents, and the schedule of activities for the week the night before.  Put (or have your kids put) the necessary papers back in their folder and then in their backpacks the night before.  Much like laying out stuff for lunches, this exercise saves us many minutes if we do it at night, but can derail us if we look through the papers in the morning.  What do you mean you need to bring food for a food drive today?  And you have to bring stickers to share with the whole class today?  (scramble, scramble, looking for appropriate canned goods and stickers that are gender-neutral, appealing and appropriate).

Have ideas for other quick tasks to keep kids focused

Remember I said I let my kids watch TV in the morning, and it actually helps us get out on time?  I should have said sometimes.  Other times, my kids melt into the couch cushions like marshmallows over a campfire, and the chance of getting them off the couch and out the door seems quite low.  So, even though the boys use and enjoy the new checklist I created for them, if they melt into the couch afterwards, I find that subtly assigning them new tasks can help.  Have a mental list ready!  Things like helping to put on a younger sibling’s socks, opening blinds in the playroom, carrying something upstairs . . . anything to keep forward motion going!

(Look in the mirror)

That’s a reminder for you.  Or maybe for me.  Look in the mirror, even if only for one second.  I realize often when I arrive at work that I have no recollection of having looked in the mirror to make sure I’m presentable.  Yes, I once presented to our CEO with a price tag hanging from my new blazer, and once I showed up at work looking like I had warpaint on my face because I had forgotten to rub in my blush.  I’d like to think that spending one extra second on myself in the morning might have prevented those things from happening.  But, you never know.

Lastly, remember you’re a family

Even with these tips and tricks, moods and obstacles can get in the way of a smooth morning.  Sometimes, we end up yelling.  Yep.  It’s true.  But no matter what, I try to get us out the door — frazzled or formal or flinging things — with a solid, comfortable, confident feeling so everyone is ready for the day.  I always make sure to tell the kids I love them.  Then we open the door.  And we go.

How do you get through your morning chaos?  Share with a comment here, or join our mailing list and let me know your thoughts!

easy morning routine
8 Simple Ways to Ease Morning Chaos










Stroller for Sale

Stroller for Sale

Stroller for Sale

Best Baby Stroller for sale. Maybe someday.
Stroller for sale . . . but not really

It’s so hard to believe my baby — my littlest love, my last baby — is turning 4.  Take a look back at this post from last year.  Here’s a not-so-well-kept secret — I still have that stroller, and he still likes to ride in it sometimes!  WIN for me!  Enjoy this blast from the past:

The stroller.  A necessity for moms of young kids.  But one that lingers just a few years and then moves on, like the crib and the exersaucer.  A month before my youngest turned 3, I realized I soon may be done with strollers.  “Freedom!” I thought at first.  But I quickly reconsidered.  Aside from the amazing convenience the stroller provides for carrying extra bags or snacks or jackets, I realized that when I walk anywhere without it, I feel naked in a way.  I guess it carries my heart — it defines me as a mom of young boys — and the day I need to get rid of it will be a hard one because I’ll be parting with more than what it seems at face value.

Stroller for sale
a little tattered and torn
from carrying my three sons
after each one was born

From newborn to infant
to toddler to boy
this stroller has given me
so much joy

Stroller for sale
more like a time machine
Strolling through memories
of the places we’ve seen

Cold, early mornings
hot afternoons
Looking at clouds
making up tunes

Stroller for sale
Kids getting too big to ride
I still keep them with me
They walk by my side

Stroller for sale
No, forget it, it’s mine
It carries my heart
And there’s no price for time.

Best Baby Stroller for sale. Maybe someday.
Stroller for sale . . . but not really

Vacation with Boys: What I (re-)learned . . . again

Vacation with Boys: What I (re-)learned . . . again

boys vacation
So much for a #boymom to learn while vacationing with boys!

You may have read my post-vacation summary last summer, Vacation with Boys: What I (re-)learned.  Here we are again, after another family vacation . . . where I re-learned again things that I should have known to expect as a M.O.B. (Mother of Boys).    For Part 4 of 4 in my Disney Family Vacation series, I’ve captured the learnings for you.  Can you relate?

  • Time spent waiting in line is perfect for hitting siblings and for climbing on the dividers keeping the line organized.
boys climg
Vacation with Boys: Climbing
  • At least once, you will be certain you are the loudest people at the hotel. You likely ARE the loudest people at the hotel.
  • Somebody’s swimsuit will fall down, and someone’s little bare tushy will make other guests laugh.
  • You will learn to appreciate the 2’x2’ square space between the toilet, the bathroom door and the shower as your serenity space.  Your M.O.B. spa.  Your only sanctuary away from the chaos just a door away.
  • You are the only female in a hotel room full of males. You cannot possibly change clothes (or tampons, for that matter) fast enough to not be caught.
  • Sand will be thrown (even if you’re not at the beach).
  • Farts.  They’re still funny.
  • Noses will be picked.
pick nose
Noses will be picked
  • Hammocks are for swinging wildly.
  • Again, you will be the only one who seems to care about wearing a shirt.
  • Walking to a restaurant can be a full contact sport.
  • Wrestling.  Then more wrestling.  Enough said.
boys wrestle
Wrestling. Then more wrestling.
  • But at the end of a busy and fun day, laden with tantrums and yelling and laughter and rides and family time and fights, boys still like to snuggle their mommies.

I hope you’ve laughed and learned with my 4-part Disney Family Vacation Series!  Family vacations are fun . . . and funny.

#mobtruths #boymom #parenting #familyvacation

Disney Vacation: The really real (really)

Disney Vacation: The really real (really)

The end of a Disney Vacation
Disney Vacation: the end

For part 3 in my Disney Family Vacation series, I’m going to tell it like it is.  Don’t get me wrong – everything I said in the first two posts (“Disney Vacation:  My top tips for your Disney Family Vacation” and “Disney Vacation Secrets Revealed – 10 things that surprised me”) is true.  But taking my family of five on a Disney Family Vacation isn’t picture perfect.  Assuming all families have a little imperfection, here’s the really real (really!) of our experience.  I hope it forewarns you so you’re prepared for your own trip, and, of course, I hope it also makes you smile.  Comment if you can relate (to reaffirm my sanity and let me know I’m not alone!).

  • Flex-time. Just like when that wise friend warned me not to get my heart set on an epidural because it might not happen, you need to be prepared to have your Disney Family Vacation stray from your perfect plans.  Rides can break down – even during your precious FastPass reservation time slot.  It happened to us on Tower of Terror!  Our car stopped right before it entered the drop chamber, and we sat there for a good 5 minutes waiting, hearts pounding in anticipation of the drop.  The great news is that Disney apologized for the wait by handing us each a FastPass ticket when we got off the ride. The not-so-great news is that this was followed by my eldest child having a full-on argument with me about how annoyed he was we had to wait for Daddy and the other boys coming from across the park, and how mean I was to not let him have ice cream at 9:02am.  Deep breath.  Flex. Find something new to do.
  • Forgiving the Ungrateful: I never thought it would happen, but I was that mom loudly and firmly declaring to her children, “We are NEVER coming to Disney again.” I didn’t mean it.  You won’t either.  But you’ll say it.  It’s hard not to, when you’ve spent a lot of money on the trip, a lot of time planning, and when you expect a purely magical time.  So when your kids start saying they just want to swim, or that the line for the ride is stupid and annoying, or they throw a tantrum because you won’t let them buy ice cream at 9:02am, you may find yourself uttering words you never thought you’d say.  But you don’t mean them.  Forgive your kids for their temporary ungratefulness.  Maybe someday your kids will forgive the ice cream shop owner for not even being open at 9:02am.
  • It’s OK to be a softy: It’s hard (or, for me, virtually impossible) to say no to soft serve ice cream.  At any hour.  I admit to giving in to many ice cream stops to tame or avoid my kids’ tantrums, or to sugar-up the kids to help them power through the next hour, or to let myself indulge for having been brave and trying scary rides with my kids.  (yes, I’m a ride wuss).  Go ahead and give in every now and then.   You only live once, and it’s vacation, after all.  If a little ice cream can go a long way toward a happy vacation, go for it.
  • You will, at least once, be those people:  We were those people more than once.  Being those people can be achieved through yelling at your kids too loudly, then embarrassingly having your husband tell you you’re being too loud, by having a child actually lie down on the pavement to resist doing whatever you’re asking him to do, by bumping into people in the park because you’re too busy looking down at the My Disney Experience app on your phone, or even by taking too long on a moving conveyor belt walkway that leads up to a ride because you have multiple kids in tow.  Tolerate these people.  Because at one point on your vacation, you will be those people.  Guaranteed.
  • Beware the auto-flush toilets: They’re loud.  The toilets in the park generally have auto-flush, and they are LOUD.  I tell you this only because, on each of the two Disney Family Vacation trips my family has gone on, I’ve had at least one child covering his ears and crying in the public bathrooms because of it.  You’ve been warned.
  • Let’s pretend:  Even your youngest children may think it’s strange that the characters they meet in the parks don’t talk, or that they’re physically larger than life.  Pre-think an answer as to why.  Or pretend you don’t know.
  • Recovery room:  You will be exhausted.  I feel like I’m still recovering from all the planning, packing, flexing, frolicking, loving, enjoying, riding, re-planning, picture-taking fun.  This vacation tired me out.  I think this picture does a perfect job showcasing how it feels to leave Disney:  You’re deflated, because you really want to stay a bit longer, and you’re shriveled up from exhaustion.  But it’s sooo worth it.
the end of a Disney Vacation
How it feels to leave Disney

Stay tuned for the 4th and final entry in my  Disney Vacation Series:  Vacation with Boys: What I (re)-learned . . . again.

#mobtruths #boymom #familyvacation #parenting


Disney Vacation Secrets Revealed: 10 things that surprised me

Disney Vacation Secrets Revealed: 10 things that surprised me

Disney Vacation Secrets Revealed:  10 things that surprised me

Disney Vacation
Disney Vacation Secrets Revealed: 10 things that surprised me and can help make your vacation more magical

As you know from my prior post, “Disney Family Vacation:  My top tips for your Disney Family Vacation,” we just returned from our first Disney Vacation as a family of five.  Even with all my list-making and pre-planning, there were some “secrets” I learned while at Disney that were helpful to know.  I hope you find these helpful in making your Disney Vacation magical as well.

  1. Pack snacks. For some reason, I assumed you could not bring food or drink into the Disney parks, because they’d want you to buy them there.  Wrong!  You can, indeed, bring snacks into the parks, and drinks, too.  So if you have a child who will only eat Cheddar Goldfish or a specific kind of graham cracker or they reach meltdown mode, go ahead and tuck the critical snacks in your backpack (which, rest assured, will be looked through at the park entrance for security).
  2. Some in-park snacks are refillable! If you’re buying something at a snack kiosk in the park, check all options available.  Some may be refillable, so you get more bang for your buck.  For example, I bought an ordinary bag of popcorn, and learned afterwards that I could have purchased a souvenir plastic bucket of popcorn and refilled it later in the day.  As the mother of three hungry, growing boys, that would have been a smart move!
  3. There’s an app for that:  Use and love the free “My Disney Experience” app. It is a world of helpful information at your fingertips, giving you the ability to check on your plans for the day (did you reserve FastPass, for example), to modify FastPass reservations, show park maps . . . and, what I found most valuable was its accurate report on wait times for the attractions throughout the park.

    Disney Vacation
    The “My Disney Experience” app showing wait time
  4. The devil is in the details:  Disney Dining Plan: If you’re on one, be sure you know its details.  I learned late in the game, thanks to one waitress telling me, that if we were too full for dessert, she could swap in a take-home drink like a bottle of water instead (perfect for bringing to the park the next day, since you’re allowed to!).  I also learned that a quick service meal is the equivalent of 3 snacks.  So, if you miss out on a meal, simply stock up on snacks instead!  (Be sure to check the details of your plan to make sure that’s true for yours.)  Our resort was full of a great variety of options, from hummus with pretzels to fresh fruit to trail mix to cookies.
  5. The early bird . . .gets on the rides first:  If you’re staying at a Disney resort, check for Extra Magic Hours. The parks open early on certain days for people staying at a Disney property.  Getting in early can help get you on a popular ride early, or to check other attractions off your list before the park gets too busy.
  6. Roll with it:  Bring a stroller! (even if your kid is slightly too old for one).  You can rent a stroller at Disney – I think starting at $15/day depending on the type of stroller – but we decided to buy an inexpensive umbrella stroller (like this) before our trip and count it as one of our checked bags on our flight.  It was so helpful to have for our 3yo, but also for an occasional seat for the 6yo or even the 8yo (yes, his lanky legs looked funny in it, but who cares!), and was a great tool to help carry souvenir bags or our backpack.  The little umbrella stroller also supported D’s daily “progressive nap,” as I now call it. It begins with a head nod, then a slight lean, then progressively folds him over.
    Disney Vacation
    Everyone seems to have a stroller – this lot was full!

    Disney Vacation
    The progressive stroller nap . . . in the folded over stage
  7. The classics are classic, so don’t miss them!  Today’s less popular rides are gems from the past that still delight. It’s Disney, after all. They do it right.  Classics like Small World have some high tech upgrades without having lost the magic you remember from your own childhood.  And since rides like this are less popular and less glitzy than they used to be, wait times are minimal!  Great for filling some time and triggering some nostalgia for you.

    Disney Vacation
    Enjoying the magic of It’s a Small World
  8. Take turns:  As if I haven’t said enough about FastPass yet, here’s one more tidbit. Rider Switch (aka Child Swap).  Imagine if you’re at the park with your significant other and your two kids, one of whom is too short to go on a certain ride.  Have your significant other use FastPass with the child who can go on the ride, and have him ask for Rider Switch as he is getting on.  The ride operator will give you a printed ticket for Rider Switch, allowing you to then go on the ride with that same child through the FastPass line while your sig other watches the other child.    A nice surprise to me, which we used in every park.
  9. Meeting characters: There seemed to be more character meeting spots and shorter lines at Hollywood studios.  15 minutes to meet Goofy, 20 for Donald Duck when we were there.
  10. Eat up:  Last, but possibly most important, navigating Disney with nut allergies is EASY! When booking your trip, let the hotel and any pre-booked restaurants know o food allergy in your party.  For our pre-booked meals, the wait-staff proactively asked, “Who has the nut allergy?” and then proceeded to tell us what we needed to know – info like “There are no nuts on premises, but if cross-contamination is an issue, please be aware the rolls and the desserts come from a bakery where they also process nuts.”  They provided us allergy-friendly menus, just in case we were still worried about what was on the main menu, and in many cases, the chef himself came to our table to ensure he understood the allergy situation and to answer any questions for us.  Often, our meals also came out with a special toothpick marked “allergy,” to signal to us that this had been prepared separately.  So helpful!  So reassuring!  Even better than that – we found the same wealth of knowledge throughout the Disney parks – at a popcorn stand, at an ice cream shop – essentially everywhere!  Every time I asked about ingredients, they whipped out a big binder and flipped straight to the page with the food I was asking about so I could read the ingredient labels.  It took the stress out of something I thought would be quite stressful!  I imagine navigating other food allergies is similarly easy, as I hear a chef offering one mom non-dairy milk alternatives due to an allergy in her family.

    Disney vacation
    Steak marked that it had been prepared with care due to food allergy

OK, so maybe these “secrets” don’t reveal how Disney puts the magic in all they do, but these sure were helpful, interesting and reassuring to me on my trip.  I hope you find them helpful, too!

Stay tuned for Parts 3 and 4 in my Disney Vacation series:  Part 3: Disney Vacation: The really, really real (really) and Part 4: Vacation with Boys, what I (re-) learned . . . again.

#mobtruths #familyvacation

Disney Vacation: My top tips for your Disney Family Vacation

Disney Vacation: My top tips for your Disney Family Vacation

Disney Vacation:  My top tips for your Disney Family Vacation

(Part 1 of a 4-part Disney Vacation series!)

Disney Family Vacation

Mid-April 2017.  Perfect time for a Disney Vacation, right?  We thought so.  But so did millions of other people.  (OK, maybe not millions, but you get my point.)  The good news is that we survived, and despite some frustration and tantrums along the way, we had a great vacation.

Are you planning a Disney Vacation?  Here are my top tips for making it (mostly happily) through your Disney Vacation.  It is, after all, the happiest place on Earth, right?

Plan Ahead:

I’m generally a planner, thriving on making lists of things that need to get done, and joyously crossing them off as I achieve each one.  I’m all for choosing a vacation destination and having a general idea of what I’ll want to do on the trip, but vacation, to me, should be a bit more lax, go-with-the-flow.  But our Disney Vacation trips don’t work like that.  This vacation took a lot of planning.  Maybe some people just show up at Disney World without having planned much, but I think they probably miss out on the best use of FastPass, meeting characters, and seeing certain parades, among other things.  Still, all this planning ahead was kind of hard to wrap my head around – especially the FastPass stuff.  How was I supposed to know months in advance which rides we’d want to go on, when, and how to divide up the family so the various age kids each would be happy?  But now, having just gotten home from a 5-day Disney vacation, I am glad we were able to skip the lines on some of the most popular rides.

We’ll talk more about FastPass in a minute, but long before the FastPass planning, there are other elements of your Disney Vacation I recommend thinking through:

  • Long before your trip date, plan out which parks you want to see, and on which days. This will help you decide whether to get a park-hopper pass or a specific park pass for each day.
  • Also think about your family’s mojo: are you early risers who plan to be at the park when it opens each day, or are you planning to have a relaxing morning at your hotel and then rolling into the park after lunch time?  (This will make a difference in how you plan your day, and in how you schedule FastPass).
  • How late will you stay? Will you be at the park until it closes, no matter what, especially considering what you paid for admission?  Will you have dinner at the parks and stay late for fireworks, or are you willing to head back to the hotel pool in the late afternoon if the kids are wiped out at the park?
  • Look at a park map, and determine your list of must-see and must-do activities.  Prioritize them so you won’t feel bad if there are some you end up missing.

Divide & Conquer:

Are you traveling with more than one child?  Do they have different interests and/or are they different ages?  If yes, it will be helpful to think ahead on how you’re going to divide and conquer so each child is maximizing his Disney time with relevant/appropriate activities.  It’s also super-helpful for people like me, who are scared of roller coasters, to always offer to be the one taking my 3yo on the kiddie rides while my husband goes with R and E on the bigger, more extreme rides.  Knowing how you plan to divide and conquer will help if you’re booking FastPass in advance.  Look at a park map and select a ride for one FastPass, and book one for the remaining part of your group at something nearby.  That way, when you’re each done with your rides, you can get back together and won’t be on opposite sides of the park.  I had a hard time conceptualizing this while we were planning – as a busy working mom of three boys, I value all the family time I can get.  So, it’s logical that I would want a family vacation to include the whole family, right?  Yes, but sometimes a little separation is required to keep everyone happy.  It was great that 3yo D could casually wander through the Swiss Family Robinson tree house three times in a row, while R and E had a Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad adventure that D couldn’t have gone on.


Ok, I’ve mentioned it a lot so far but haven’t gone into much detail of the good, the bad and the ugly of it.  I have a love/hate relationship with FastPass.  Let’s start with some facts:

  • FastPass is free with every park admission. It allows you to book reservations for rides up to 30 days in advance, or 60 days prior to check-in at a Disney resort.
  • The free “My Disney Experience” app allows you to book and change reservations right from your smartphone, giving you great flexibility throughout your day. (This app also updates real-time to show you wait times for the various rides throughout the park, helping to plan out your next move).
  • After you use your three FastPass reservations in any day, you can start to book additional reservations.
  • Unless a zillion other people are jumping into the FastPass entrance to a ride at the same time as you, the system does work well to get you to your fun faster.
Fast Pass
Fast Pass and Stand-by Entrances will display wait times
wait times
My Disney Experience app displays wait times and helps you plan your next move

Free, flexible, and fun?  That’s the good.  What’s not to love?  In my opinion, just the following:

  • It can be stressful to have to choose rides far in advance (we did it probably about 45 days in advance of our trip).
  • If you’re at the park during a particularly busy time (e.g. Magic Kingdom the Saturday of spring break/Easter week), you may have limited flexibility. There were times we wanted to change our FastPass reservations for our next park the next day, but because it was such a crowded week, time slots were quite limited, and we were unable to find slots that worked for us.
  • We didn’t end up using all of our FastPass reservations. In reality, this is ok, because we had a perfectly fun time at the park and then went to the hotel pool when the kids were wiped out.  But knowing that we had “wasted” a FastPass ate away at me a little.  Remember, I like to make lists and check things off.  Leaving some FastPass reservations unused meant I couldn’t cross them off.  It’s just a Type-A thing.  Nothing to fault Disney for!

So, that’s the “bad” of FastPass, if there really is any.  And now for the “ugly.”  FastPass is best used if there is a strategy behind it, and some families may not want to deal with that.  For example, if you know you are going to get to Hollywood Studios for park opening, and you know Tower of Terror is a very popular ride, don’t book a morning FastPass for it. Instead, plan to tackle the most popular rides first thing in the morning – before lines get long – and reserve your FastPass for midday when the park is even more crowded and lines are often longer.  That’s how we managed it, anyway.  Sometimes, we’d go on the most popular rides first thing in the morning and then get to enjoy them again later in the day with FastPass.  Other times, we left the park mid-afternoon with exhausted, pool-hungry children, and wasted the FastPass reservations we had so carefully planned over a month before.

Have a plan for meals (whether it’s a “meal plan” or not):

This one is a little easier.  Quite simply, think ahead about whether you just want to buy food and snacks a la carte whenever and wherever you feel like it, or whether you want to sign up for a Disney Dining Plan of some sort.  Look on their websites or work with a travel agent to understand the options, and make sure you use all your Dining Plan credits if you do sign up for a plan – it’s use it or lose it.

Whether you do a dining plan or not, one thing to definitely consider is booking “character meals.”  When I was a kid, it was somewhat easy to wander through a Disney park and happen upon Mickey Mouse or Chip and Dale who would willingly pose for a picture with you.  It’s much more organized now, with lines to wait in for an autograph and a photo opp.  If you don’t want to spend time in lines to meet characters in the parks, book a character meal – breakfast, lunch, or dinner options are available – where you’re guaranteed to have certain characters come by your table to sign autographs, interact with your family, and pose for photos.  These meals can be a bit pricey, but they’re worth it if you and your family still see the magic in meeting these characters.

Disney Vacation
Meeting Minnie at the Chef Mickey restaurant

 Last but not least, bring your parental A-game for passing the time:

Even with FastPass, or meal plans, or just good planning, there will be times when you simply need to have patience and wait.  This can be hard if your kids are anything like mine.  I found myself pulling out some tried and true go-to time-passers to try to ease the angst of waiting in line for rides, for the shuttle on the way back to the hotel, waiting for food to arrive after ordering it, etc.  Here are some that worked for me, and I’d love to hear which ones you’d add!

  • I spy
  • Simon Says
  • Snacks (bring lots of them!)
  • What do you think . . . ? (this is a fun way to get kids to make predictions about things they’ll see during the day. For example, What do you think Pluto will do when he meets us at lunch?  How big do you think Spaceship Earth is?  How many people will we see today wearing Mickey Mouse ears?
  • What was your favorite . . .? (I’m known in my family – since I was a kid, that is – for summing up any event such as a movie or a fair or a museum visit or a vacation with the simple question on the way home:  What was your favorite part?  It gets a laugh usually, since I’ve been asking it since the mid-eighties and am still asking it today.  It’s a fun one.  Especially if you can get your kids to explain their rationale).

One thing is certain with a Disney Vacation – there is magic to be found there if you’re willing to find it, and if you have the stamina.  It’s a vacation full of fun, but it’s exhausting, from the pre-planning to the waiting to the doing to the writing about it afterwards.  So with that, I’m wiped out.  I hope you’ve found this helpful, and I can’t wait to hear about your trip!  Be sure to check back for parts 2-4 in my Disney Vacation series at (2. Secrets Revealed: 10 Things that Surprised Me on My Disney Vacation, 3. My Disney Vacation: The Really, Really Real (Really!), and 4. Vacation with Boys: What I (Re-) Learned . . . Again.

#mobtruths #boymom #disneytravel #disneyvacations #familyvacation

Disney Vacation
Disney Vacation Family Selfie


Exercise Routine for a Busy M.O.B.

Exercise Routine for a Busy M.O.B.

Exercise?  Hmmmm.  Since I have zero time to myself (ok, maybe 20 seconds of free time each day), I have trouble finding time to exercise.  I tried the awesome “Couch to 5k” running app last year, but my neighbor and I (she’s also a working mom) could only fit it in around 5am (think dark, cold, crazy).  While it was certainly invigorating and awesome to have such a sense of accomplishment by 5:30am, it reminded me I’m not so good at running.  Or exercising, really.

But I have three sons.  And I’ve decided that counts as my exercise for now.  It keeps me on my toes, and on my bum on the floor, then up again chasing them, then running around the house with spray cleaner to wipe up spills and pee and who knows what else, then getting up and down at least 10 times during dinner as they call out “May I have more milk?*” or “May I have a spoon?*” and I do laps of the kitchen as a short order cook to get them snack after snack and drink after drink even if it’s less than an hour after a meal (Boys are hungry!  It’s true!).  Not to mention the cardio workout of chasing D to get dressed.

Take that, morning exercise routine.

*Note: my kids almost never speak this politely when asking for things, but I’ve chosen to portray them today like well-polished young men to boost my confidence as a successful parent.  😉

parenting as exercise
Morning Exercise


#mobtruths #raisingboys #raisingsons #boymom #parenting #exercise

Helicopter Parenting: How to Land Your Aircraft for Good

Helicopter Parenting: How to Land Your Aircraft for Good

It's so hard to stay out of it, but I'm trying
It’s so hard to stay out of it, but I’m trying

“Helicopter parenting.  Don’t be a helicopter parent.”  Through the years, I’ve heard the phrase and the disdain that comes with it as other parents judge your completely “everything-must-be-perfect-for-my-baby” style of parenting.  But I didn’t quite know what it really entailed until recently.

I was at a playdate with three good friends of mine, each of us with three children.  While the other moms hung out in the kitchen with their infants, chatting and snacking on the delicious veggie and dip spread, I sat downstairs in the playroom in the finished basement.  I went down because my toddler was down there with the “big kids” (he had just turned 3, and the next youngest child down there was 5), so I needed to make sure whatever he got into was safe, that there weren’t chokey toys he was getting curious about, that he wasn’t climbing on things, etc.  But since I was down there anyway, I couldn’t help but to observe my 8yo tell another kid to “shut up” [“We don’t say ‘shut up,'” I said.  “Please tell him you’re sorry.”] and hear a friend’s son say “I’m going to punch you in the face” [at which point I gave the look but didn’t say anything.]  Next came the movie the kids put on TV, complete with an occasional swear word that the boys repeated, giggling.  I was disciplining during a playdate, trying to predict what would happen next and wondering how I could control it.  I was getting stressed out down there while my friends were upstairs having a playdate of their own.

That’s when I realized I had become a dreaded helicopter parent.  Maybe not in its traditional sense — i.e. I don’t meddle in school stuff much — but I was there, watching my kids’ every move, and trying to make sure it was all ok and everyone was happy and kind and all that good stuff that kids often are deep down but not constantly displaying on the surface.  I was zooming around and descending promptly any time I though my brilliant intervention could improve the flow of the playdate.  I was annoying myself and annoying the kids.

I do believe that “times have changed,” and parents today probably should be a bit more watchful than when we were kids and our parents would send us out to play all day and expect us to show up back home at sundown.  But there I was, at a friend’s house, where everyone and everything was ok . . . and I was meddling.

I decided it had to stop.  If you find yourself in the same situation, here are

5 strategies to help you stop helicopter parenting and land your aircraft for good.

Think back.

Try to remember a time in your own childhood when you had to deal with another kid not being nice to you, for example, saying “Shut up.”  What did you do?  How did you handle it?  Did it even faze you at all, or did you just carry on, playing with the other kids instead?  If you can remember how you got out of an uncomfortable kid interaction, you may realize the power of your own children to get out of it on their own as well.    I once threw a sneaker at my sister’s head.  I was mad, but she got hurt.  And while someone eventually told on me, seeing my sister cry was enough to make me realize I had done something wrong and to make sure I never did it again.  As the mother of three boys, there are a lot of kid battles in my house.  I’ve tried to take a step back instead of constantly running to the scene to try to save the day.  When I hear the boys arguing, I call from the other room, “Work it out, guys.”  Then I hold my breath and listen.  It’s not always pretty, and I often still end up helping resolve (or send them to their rooms to cool down).  I’m trying.  Hopefully soon they’ll get used to me telling them to work it out on their own, and hopefully that means I can start to breathe again after saying it.

Think forward.

OK, one kid just threw a rock at another.  What’s going to happen next?  Will he apologize?  Will he throw another?  Will the “victim” strike back?  Will other kids get involved?  Will someone cry?  Will someone tattle?  If you can read the situation (easiest if you know the kids involved) to get a sense for which way you think it will go, you can keep your actions in check and respond appropriately.  [Note:  I’m pretty sure I’d have trouble staying out of the situation if someone really threw a rock, but I thought it would be a good example.]  If it’s going to escalate, step in, but be fair to all and not just there to protect your own child.  He may have been the one who threw the rock in the first place.

Scan for danger.

Is anyone in real danger?  Can someone be physically hurt?  Sticks and stones can break bones, and while words can also cause emotional damage, they may require less of an immediate helicopter response.  If there is any risk of danger, get those propellers spinning fast and swoop down to help fix the situation.  There may be grey areas — like a projectile sneaker flung — somewhat gently — at a sibling’s head, but you’ll know when real danger is there.  Trust your instinct.

Is this a rerun episode?

Have you seen this situation before?  The exact same situation, the exact same kids?  Is there a toxic combination of personalities that repeatedly derails into an unhappy playdate?  If yes, you may not need an immediate intervention, but rather a chat with your children outside of the situation.  Talk to them later about how they feel in those situations, whether they have fun with those kids, whether they were comfortable with how everyone treated each other.  If they’re not, you can proactively change your plans for the future to avoid those tough playdates.

Plan your own playdate.

Remember your friends upstairs having fun?  You should be there with them.  Build a relationship with your kids so they know they can come get you if something does go wrong.  Trust the system, and trust your kids, so they can have fun being kids and you can have fun being the parent.  Of course, the ability to do this varies based on the kids’ ages and personalities, but you can try it when you think it’s right, and hopefully everyone will be happier in the end.

I’m hereby trying to stop being a helicopter parent so I can land my aircraft for good.

But is hovercraft parenting allowed, in case grounding the helicopter is too hard?  😉


#mobtruths #parenting #raisingboys #helicopterparents