Saturday, December 24, 2011

Pre-Christmas at Disney World 2011

The holidays are upon us and we as a family embarked on our annual Christmas at Disney getaway! As Fl residents, we hold annual passes...seasonal ones. Seasonal ones are great because the only blackout dates are the times we would never want to go, ie; the hottest times and the busiest times!
Get annual pass info here
Nothing brightens your holiday like the Christmas magic of Disney. The decorations, performances, parades, even the "snow" that falls overhead while walking down main street toward Cinderella's castle, all warm your spirit. By this point we are self-proclaimed "Disney Aficionados", but there are always new things to experience and explore! New to us this year was the Tomorrowland Terrace Fireworks Dessert Party, the Magic, Memories and You show, the Caribbean Beach Resort, the Cape May Cafe character breakfast , space mountain (for my 6 year old), the Seas with Nemo and Friends and Turtle Talk with Crush.
Let's start at the top with the Tomorrowland Terrace Fireworks Dessert Party! This was amazing! We will never again view the fireworks standing up amongst a crowd of people! This experience was far better than we anticipated. The tomorrowland terrace faces Cinderella's castle in the Magic Kingdom. You have an unobstructed view of the castle in an open terrace with tables and chairs that are reserved specifically for families that book this event. Reservations are limited so it is never crowded and you have plenty of space. A gourmet dessert buffet is laid out to enjoy and enjoy we did! The cost was around $90 for the four of us. It is worth every penny. From our comfortable seats, we could see the crowds standing shoulder to shoulder and we couldn't help thinking of ourselves as VIPs with the inside track! We entered the terrace at around 9:30, in time for the Magic, Memories and You show. This is a fantastic new projection show that appears on the castle. During the show, pictures of families from the park that day are projected onto the castle and the castle itself appears to go up in flames, be made of gingerbread, have hundreds of bouncing balls come out of the windows and many more special effects that are really cool. We enjoyed this while sipping coffee and sampling cheesecakes, tiramisu, custards, chocolate confections and much much more! Following the Magic, Memories and You show was of course the most spectacular fireworks you will see anywhere and being the holiday season it was the Holiday Wishes display. Afterwards, we stayed and enjoyed ourselves until about 11 pm. I grabbed another cup of coffee and we enjoyed conversation about our day while the crowds thinned out vying for the exits. When we had our fill, we leisurely made our way out, easily maneuvering our double stroller once the crowd had dissipated. This will be the only way we do the fireworks from now on!
Each time we visit Disney we choose a different resort. This time we chose the Caribbean Beach Resort because of their pirate themed rooms. We thought the boys would enjoy the pirate ship beds and they loved it! We try to have a "down day", when we stay and enjoy what the resort has to offer and take a break from the parks. The upside to this resort is it has a great pool with two slides and poolside games during the day for the kids. You could rent boats, bikes, play in the arcade or just relax in a hammock on the beach. In the evenings they had a campfire for toasting s'mores and movies projected outside by the pool. The downside is how spread out the resort is and how far away it is from the parks. We always have a vehicle, but if you are relying on Disney transportation, you could waste alot of time just trying to get from point A to point B. Especially if you want to come back to the resort during the day for the kids to rest so you can party all night! That's what we like to do.
The Cape May Cafe character breakfast was the only one we had yet to try. The restaurant is located in the Beach Club resort. This one is a buffet and features Minnie, Goofy, Pluto and Donald....but no Mickey! Why??? If you ask me, Mickey should make an appearance at all of the character breakfasts! It is great if you want to ensure one on one time with characters. They come by one at a time to each table and you are not rushed. You have plenty of time to get autographs, pictures and hugs. The buffet was good, with plenty of options, but it was pricey at about $110 for four of us.... and no Mickey.
My six year old was so excited to finally be tall enough to ride space mountain! He loves splash mountain and thunder mountain, so naturally the next step was space mountain........wrong! It was too fast and too dark and he hated it! Then we felt like crappy parents for allowing him to ride it! He was not ready.
This trip was the first time we have taken the kids to Epcot. We have previously avoided this park because there didn't seem to be enough there for little kids. We wanted to try the new things available for the little guys, so we ventured over. The Seas with Nemo and Friends was a cute little ride, you board a clamshell and go through an aquarium while the characters appear inside the tank and talk to you. The highlight was absolutely Turtle Talk with Crush! Inside a room facing an aquarium, Crush appears to be swimming right in front of you! He interacts with the audience, engages the kids and is really funny! Overall, Epcot is still not a great draw for little kids and it lacks the "Disney Magic" found in the atmosphere and scenery of the other parks. Unless you have a pass or a hopper ticket, I wouldn't spring for a day at Epcot if you have little kids. Bigger kids and adults will definitely enjoy it though. Adults 21 and older will love Epcot as it features plenty of adult beverages!



As always, we had a great time and made plenty of family memories on another holiday Disney adventure! We'll be back throughout the year, but the holiday trip is always something special!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Paperless Retail Transactions

Kudos to the Gap and more.......

Stopped by the Gap outlet store today to check out the sales, got some good ones by the way, the whole store was 50% off! Anyways, when I paid for my purchases at the register, the cashier asked me "Would you like a paper receipt or would you like it e-mailed to you?" What? This is the first I had heard of such a thing! What a fantastic idea! It's really a win-win situation. The customer no longer has to hang on to a paper receipt for returns or exchanges and your e-mailed copy of the transaction comes with a coupon for your next shopping trip! The company saves money on paper and gets your e-mail for marketing purposes!

And let's talk about the eco-impact of a paperless retail transaction. I did a little research on other companies that are providing a paperless receipt option. Turns out Apple started this trend in 2005, but it hasn't been until now that other companies have signed on. Those among the paperless retailers include Best Buy, Anthropologie, K-Mart, Whole Foods, Urban Outfitters and the Container Store. The National Retail Federation predicts that 60% of retailers will be paperless within 5 years. The environmental impact of this transition would be amazing!

Already, you no doubt have been presented with the option to go paperless on many other things, including bank statements, utility bills, mortgage/rent statements, etc. I have gone paperless on anything and everything possible! I love the footprint reduction, not to mention the reduction of junk mail and stacks of paper on my desk!

Check out www.PayItGreen.org
This site is dedicated to reducing our impact on the environment by decreasing our use of paper.
They even have a financial paper calculator that can estimate your annual financial paper footprint reduction.
I plugged in my info and found that I can can save a whopping:

6.5 pounds of paper

62 Gallons of wastewater prevented from discharging into lakes, streams and rivers

2 Gallons of gas saved by not mailing bills, statements and payments

110 pounds of greenhouse gases avoided

111 miles not driven in my car

1 tree planted and grown for 10 years

19 square feet of forest preserved from deforestation

Check it out and I challenge you to make the change! It's simple and I swear you'll love it! Get rid of the paper in your life!




















Thursday, May 5, 2011

Diagnosis: Language Impaired, Developmentally Delayed

What next? What happened after Language Delay diagnosis.

Little Taz just turned three and has been diagnosed with language impairment and some developmental delays. It has only been a few weeks since his evaluation and I wanted to share what I have experienced so far, for those who are simply interested or are handling a diagnosis for their own children.

Taz is such a wonderful little boy. So happy and loving, he is my sweet little cuddler. We call him Taz because he loves to climb and explore and in doing so leaves a path of destruction in his wake! He loves the alphabet and puzzles and has such a huge appetite that we call him a bottomless pit! As far as physical abilities go, Little Taz is right on track. He can do anything and everything any other three year old can in that respect. But, by age two, he rarely said anything and when he did it was only one of three or four words. For the next year I told myself he must just be a "late talker" and I didn't worry too much. Not wanting to push him to conform to older brother Bug's milestones, I stressed to myself that my boys were two different individuals and they would develop differently too. A few months before his third birthday, his language hadn't really improved and the communication frustration he was experiencing was more than noticeable. I decided to have him evaluated by Early Steps Intervention.

Early Steps is a state program designed to provide early intervention for children with special needs. Now, I don't know about you, but the term "special needs" certainly didn't describe my Taz. It was abrasive, offensive and ugly. It made me immediately defensive. No mother wants her child treated as if they are not "normal". If it wasn't for my mom, I probably wouldn't have ever contacted them. My mom works in the school system and is very familiar with Early Steps and what they offer. She urged me to take Taz in, just to "see what they would say". I had other family members urging me to have him evaluated as well. And I think it needs to be said that sometimes you just want to smack your relatives. I heard everything from he's "autistic" to he's not "normal" to he's such a "bad kid". If you are experiencing others judging and diagnosing your child, then you have probably had the urge to smack them too. I'm not saying to ignore them, because sometimes it does come from true concern and they just do not have the ability to express their concern properly. However, as a parent you know your child better than ANYONE! Don't let outside influences change what you know to be true. Trust your instinct.

Simply put if you have any concerns about your child's development, having him evaluated will either put our mind at ease or provide you with options for encouraging his progress. The Early Steps Program will test physical, cognitive, gross & fine motor, communication, social & emotional and adaptive development skills. Should your child exhibit delays in any of these areas, they can provide information and services to help. And the earlier your child receives help, the better off he will be. You can also consult your pediatrician, a developmental pediatrician, a SLP (Speech Language Pathologist) or an Occupational Therapist to name a few. After Little Taz's diagnosis, speech therapy was suggested. A speech therapist came to our home on Monday mornings for one hour and worked with myself and Taz. She showed me ways to encourage him to use language and offered many suggestions. It was really important for me to grasp these concepts because I was with Taz most of the time, so it was up to me to continually reinforce the techniques we learned.

One of the ways I got Taz to start using words was to refuse to respond to any form of communication unless it was spoken. For example, when Taz wanted to go outside, he would come to me, take my finger and walk me to the door, quietly showing me what he wanted. So, when he did this, I said "Oh you want to go outside?" Tell Mommy "Outside". Say "Outside". I would then wait for him to say "Outside", verbally expressing his want. Well, let me just tell you, the first time I did this, he laid down in front of the door and pitched a fit for about 10 minutes. I then came back over and repeated "You want to go outside? Say Outside". Again, he laid down and pitched a fit. We continued this for the next hour until in a fit of tears he finally said "Outside"! That was my first indication that we were on the right track. Even though he was upset, mainly because he couldn't verbally express his anger, he understood that his want would not be met without speaking. Over the next two weeks, there were a lot of fits and a lot of crying. I held strong because I was determined for my child to succeed. And even though I was being tough on him and pushing him, it was always done with tremendous love and encouragement. It's normal to get frustrated, but if you are finding yourself getting angry with your child, obviously losing your patience or unable to maintain a normal speaking voice, please consult some outside help to deal with it. You are not helping your child if you are not maintaining your cool.

Taz was only in the Early Steps program for about two months before he turned three. Once a child turns three, he is no longer eligible for Early Steps and he is then referred to the county school system. Each county does their own evaluation to determine exactly what to recommend. So.... Little Taz was evaluated again. Diagnosis: Language Impaired, Developmentally Delayed. Even though I knew exactly what the evaluation would conclude, I still cried hearing it. In fact, I cried with the Early Steps evaluation too. I cried every time I would talk about it for almost two weeks. It was so saddening to accept that Taz would struggle and I shuddered to think how people might treat him. But I knew utilizing services and help early, would provide him the best opportunity for growth and progress and given time, he could very well be indistinguishable among his peers. After his evaluation, an IEP (Individual Education Plan) was created and formal recommendations were made. It was recommended that Taz attend a full-time language based classroom. Full-time. Monday through Friday. 8:30-2:30. This was a blow.

I had been a SAHM (Stay at home Mom) for the past five years. I had always planned on going back to work when the kids started school and I was so thankful for the opportunity to stay home with them until they did. Bug started Kindergarten this year and he was definitely ready. But, to suggest that my Little Taz go to school the same way my five year old Bug did, seemed like too much. It had always been the plan to ease him into school and just like we did with Bug, at two, Taz would attend two days a week (which he did, at a private preschool and he adjusted well). At three, three days a week. At four, Pre-K. And at five, kindergarten. There went the plan.

Taz has just turned three. He is still so little, and with language delays, seemingly smaller. But with only 6 weeks left in the school year I decided to take him full-time. As a parent, you absolutely have input on the IEP, so make sure you agree with it. Had it been the beginning of the school year, I would have probably opted for bringing Taz just three days a week. His classroom has five children (interestingly enough, all boys. I have learned that boys are much more likely than girls to have speech and language challenges). The curriculum is designed to encourage language development and Taz receives one on one speech therapy twice a week. I am happy to say that this is his 2nd week in his new classroom and he has transitioned seamlessly! No crying at all!........for Taz at least. The first morning I dropped him off was my designated "Mourning". I spent the entire day sad and miserable. But I only allowed myself that one day to mourn the loss of my "baby" boy. Then I set out determined to make the best of his time there and to educate myself on any and every way that I, as a parent, could help and encourage him.

We are utilizing the hand-over-hand technique to encourage Taz to follow through with a directive. For example, if I ask him to point to the cat and he does not point, I place my hand over his and guide him to point to the cat. This is to help reinforce his receptive language skills and then I would ask him to say "cat" to encourage his use of expressive language. We use picture cards to illustrate activities and objects. I ask Taz to look at the picture and then have him say the word associated with the picture. For example, if he takes me to the door to go outside, he will now say "outside" without prompting from me. So I show him a few pictures of things that are outside: ball, bike, garden, etc and have him show me what he wants outside. Then I have him say the word associated with the picture he has chosen in order to have his request met.

There are no services offered through the school system over the summer, so I am looking into other options. I don't want him to lose ground with three months of vacation. Most likely we will hire a private speech therapist to work with him during the summer break and of course, continue to work with him at home ourselves. I am still at the beginning stages of my research for ways to help Little Taz. Right now I am reading The Parent's Guide to Speech and Language Problems by Debbie Felt and it has been extremely helpful. I have also picked up The Verbal Behavior Approach by Mary Lynch Barbera because it looked like it would contain useful information, but I haven't started it yet. I have come across some helpful websites and resources as well. I have listed them at the end of this post. I hope you can relate to this post or might know someone who can and if you have experiences that might help me on my journey, please share them with me! I will continue to update on Taz's progress and our experience.

Resources:
American Family Physician: Evaluation and Management of a Child with a Speech Delay
Bright Tots: Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder
Keep Kids Healthy: Speech Delay
Baby Bumblebee DVDs: Help for Kids with Language Delays
Laureate Software Games: Expressive Language Training

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

DIY LAUNDRY DETERGENT!

How to make natural laundry soap.

I like to make stuff. All kinds of stuff. From laundry detergent to body scrubs to shirts for my boys..the list goes on and on and I love to learn how to make new stuff! From time to time, I'll post how and what I am currently creating! Today I wanted to share how I make my own laundry detergent. I have been making my own detergent for years now and it works great, even in my HE front load! It's a very common and simple recipe. Easy to make and easy to use! Making your own laundry detergent is not only less expensive, but it is without the multiple chemicals added to most name brands so it's better for the environment and gentler on our skin. I prefer to make dry vs liquid detergent because it's so much easier! Here's what you need:


Dragonflies and Stars DIY Laundry Detergent


6 cups Borax


4 cups Baking Soda


4 cups Washing Soda


3 bars Fels-Naptha, all natural soap, grated


Mix all ingredients and store in a sealed container


Use 1/8 cup of powder per full load.










I like to keep mine in a pretty jar, because even the laundry room can be beautiful! You can find these jars at any craft store. Add a handmade tag and you've got a beautiful display of practical and environmentally friendly homemade laundry soap!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My Java Crush

Why I choose Organic Coffee.
I drink coffee. More like I have a love affair with coffee. I'm a junkie. An aficionado. A connoisseur. An addict. And any other phrases to describe the lust and addiction I have for my daily cup of joe. Or let's be real...cup(s) of joe as one cup does not fulfill my desire. I never drank coffee before I had kids. As a sleep deprived new mom, I used it as a stimulant to simply keep my eyes open because I thought it preferable to my baby and society that his caregiver be "awake". From necessity, adoration and addiction was born. Nowadays, the caffeine content I used to rely upon for basic daily functioning has no effect. I drink for the pure pleasure. I start the coffeemaker first thing in the morning and as I am showering I think about that first delicious sip. Just the thought motivates me to get moving. As I've learned more about coffee, I've become more particular about which coffee I drink. Coffee is typically grown with the use of more pesticides than any other crop. Most coffee is grown in countries that have NO regulations regarding pesticides. Even as lenient as the US is, there are still plenty of pesticides that are banned here, but are still being used on the coffee we purchase! Coffee farmers are often the most exploited as well. This information takes the satisfaction away from my daily pleasure. Is it too much to want to enjoy my coffee without contributing to unfair labor practices and ingesting toxic chemicals? Come on people, let's look for a solution. An easy solution too. Get organic coffee and make sure the label is fair-trade certified, take it one step further and make sure it's shade grown and carbon-free and feel good about every drip. You can find these coffees at almost all grocery stores now or try www.highergroundroasters.com and www.groundsforchange.com, great but pricier. Publix is my local store and they have a great Greenwise coffee that is organic and fair trade certified. I like a little sweetness to my cup, so I add Stevia in the Raw. Stevia is an all natural sweetener and it comes it great convient packets that you can take on the go too! You can also get it in liquid form and all kinds of flavors! Stevia in the Raw isn't over-processed like most sugar and doesn't contain chemicals like artificial sweeteners (pink, blue and yellow packets!) It is derived from the Stevia plant and is low in calories too! It's also sweeter than sugar so you use less! Now that's sweet! Organic Coffee - Organic coffee is grown without the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, thereby assuring the health of the soil, forest and farmers. Certified Fair Trade Coffee - Fair trade coffee gives farmers a better standard of living and producer cooperatives are guaranteed a minimum fair price for their crop. Shade Grown Coffee - Shade grown coffee protects migratory bird habitats, reduces clear-cutting in tropical rainforests, promotes biodiversity and enhances flavor. CarbonFree® Certified Coffee - To get a product certified CarbonFree®, a company must submit the item for a detailed Life Cycle Analysis, a third-party process that formally scrutinizes the carbon emissions associated with every step in production. The resulting analysis accounts for and offsets all carbon dioxide emissions, in our case, starting with a coffee plant and ending with an empty bag of coffee.