Disney World Moms Panel – the Interview is Over!

WHEW!

What a total rush that was!  As I posted previously, I applied for the Disney Moms Panel back in September.  My first attempt last year was a complete failure, but this year, out of about 20,000 applicants, it came down to 31 people for a telephone interview – and I was one of the 31!

I waited all day for the phone call.  My interview was at 2 o’clock, and when the phone rang, my heart just leaped!  I had planned all day how to handle this.  Eilis was home sick from school, and Granuaile is always home, but as anyone who has called me with both girls home before knows, it sounds like Armageddon in this house.  I waited until about 1:45 to make lunch, and I served Eilis in the living room, where she was laying on the sofa.  I took Granuaile upstairs, put Playhouse Disney on the computer for her to play a game, and headed to the Florida room, where I thought it would be quiet.  It was.  And damn cold!  I thought for sure the panel would hear my teeth chattering if I stayed out here, plus, if you know my kids, there was a chance they would lock me out there and I would freeze to death.

Plan B was to go lock myself in the downstairs bathroom.  It seemed the perfect plan.  The lock is on my side of the door.  It’s the warmest room in the house.  I cannot hear the computer upstairs, and if the kids need me, I will hear them call me.  Of course, a minute or two into the interview, Granuaile uses the upstairs bathroom, so it must sound to the panel like I am doing my interview from inside a waterfall.  When Granuaile flushed, the whole room filles with the sounds of rushing water.  Maybe I’ll score brownie points if they thought I conducted the interview while navigating white water rapids.

So the phone rings, and it’s Trish, who is going to put me through to the panel.  A song from my most favorite Disney movie ever is playing on hold – it’s Elton John singing Can You Feel the Love Tonight from The Lion King.  Maybe that’s a good omen – my favorite singer, my favorite movie.  Trish comes back on and tells me they panel will be with me in a minute, and the next thing I know, I am on speaker phone with a room full of people!  It’s a good thing I am in the bathroom, I might actually be sick from the nervousness!!

They are actually SUPER nice.  They ask about 4 questions, which I hope I answered well enough.  It’s hard to know what they expect you to say, so I went with what I felt was truly MY best answer to all of the questions.  Of course, you can’t help but second guess yourself.  There were things I said that I wish I hadn’t said, and things I could have said if I had given myself a minute to think.  But, it’s done, the answers are in, and I’ll have to wait a week to see if I’m chosen!

I will get to go to Disney for training, which sounds so exciting!  Best of all, it would give me the opportunity to do what I love doing more than anything – helping people plan for Disney vacations!  This has to be the best job on the planet.

Keep your fingers and toes crossed for me!  I’ll let you know next week how it went!

Betty Crocker Pouch Potatoes – Pouch Worthy?

Somehow, I got a link to go and sign up for Betty Crocker’s new 80 calorie Pouch Potatoes.  Being Irish, it was so hard to turn down free potatoes, so I went and signed up for my free sample.  And then I promptly forgot about it, because it is so rare that those things actually show up.

Today, however, they showed up!  And what perfect timing!  The menu for the evening was planned to be meatloaf, green beans and mashed potatoes, but having broken my potato peeler last week, I was not looking forward to having to peel my potatoes with a paring knife.  Betty Crocker saved the day!

The sample we received is for Homestyle Creamy Butter Potatoes, one of three flavors available in the new 80 calorie pouches.  From a gastric bypass standpoint, there is 1 gram of sugar, 1.5 grams of fat, and 2 grams of protein – but this is a pouch of potatoes, and you know you probably shouldn’t eat too much of them – 17 grams of carbs.  There are 4 portions in this pouch, and each portion is 80 calories.  We got 4 portions and threw a lot of potatoes away.

When you open the pouch, the first thing you notice is an odd smell.  It doesn’t smell like potatoes, and it doesn’t smell like creamy butter, although it is advertised as both.  And essentially, this is a pouch of powder.  They give you two ways to prepare the potatoes – the first one, Microwave directions, is subtitled “Ready in Only 3 Minutes!”.  The second option, Stove-Top, touts “Rich, Creamy Texture!”  Well, the stove top version doesn’t actually involve much in the way of stove top preparation, so I opt for the “Rich, Creamy Texture!” and follow those directions.

You boil 2 cups of water, pour the powder into a bowl, and then pour the boiling water over the powder, stir it in, and let it stand for 2 minutes.  I don’t know how this works in Betty Crocker’s kitchen, but in my kitchen, I did not allow for any water loss due to the steam from the teapot, but I assume I am pretty darn close to the 2 cups of water.  I pour it over the powdered potatoes (which, by the way, have what I am hoping and praying are flecks of potato skins because there are a few brownish uglyish things in here), and stir it in.  I feel like there is too much water, even though I carefully measured the 2 cups.  I let it stand for the 2 minutes it takes me to slice the meatloaf, and then I come back to “whip it”, as instructed by the Betty Crocker Kitchen wizards.

There’s that smell again.  It’s not a pleasant, buttery smell; it’s more like a plastic smell with artificial butter aroma thrown in.  It’s unpleasant, and even as I put a tablespoon full of the soupy potatoes on my plate, I know I’m not going to be able to get this down.  It doesn’t fluff up or thicken to the point that you think it’s real, homemade mashed potatoes – unless you are making them for an infant trying potatoes for the first time so your purposefully make them very thin.  But my kids don’t even balk at the consistency.  It’s the SMELL.

So, I read the front of the package again to see if this is indeed real potatoes, and it says, right under the familiar Betty Crocker logo “made with 100% REAL MASHED POTATOES” – and yes, that’s all in caps on the pouch.  Then I read the ingredients.  Potatoes are listed first, but there is an asterisk that indicates they are dried potatoes.  Well, of course – how else could they have made this powdery substance in the bag.  The second ingredient is powdered cellulose WHAT?  I don’t know what that is either, but I know I probably shouldn’t eat it.  Mixed in with some ingredients I can’t pronounce, let alone spell out for you here, it does say butter, and then it also says “less than 2% of natural flavor”.  Well, had I read that first, I’d know why my Betty Crocker pouch of potatoes smells like plastic butter.

There are other things in here – anti caking agents, artificial colors, and soy flour – be careful if you are sensitive to soy products – but really, with no other eating problems in my house except my gastric bypass, it doesn’t matter a whole lot what’s in the thing.  The taste is what matters, and even my resident potato-a-holic scrapes the nasty, gooey mess off of her plate.

So, while it is much easier than peeling potatoes, boiling potatoes, and mashing potatoes; and cheaper then grabbing the already prepared Country Crock potatoes, Betty Crocker 80 Calorie Pouch Potatoes are definitely NOT pouch worthy.  They won’t find a place on our pantry shelves.

High School Musical III

Did you know this was going on?  Apparently, the wildly popular with tweens Disney franchise is coming to a big screen near you – and SOON!  I have seen the signs posted in various places – billboards and bus stops – but it wasn’t until I got an email from another mom in Eilis’ school that she had tried to get opening day tickets without luck that I looked into it for my own tween. 

Fortunately, we were able to secure opening day tickets at a different theater, and her father is going to take her.  It means I will have to arrive at work a little earlier than I had planned, but that’s okay – I don’t mind going in a few minutes early for the sake of Zac Efron!

Seriously, could it be any more obvious that they are riding this cash cow to the very end?  This is apparently the last of the High School Musical Movies, because the kids are now collecting social security, but this is the first one to make it to the big screen.  The others were on the Disney Channel and still managed to generate thousands for the Disney coffers.

I hope Eilis loves the movie.  Just not enough to plaster her room with Zac Efron posters.

Walt Disney World Mom’s Panel

Last year, Disney came up with a phenomenal concept.  They would recruit a Disney knowledgeable collection of people that would be available to answer vacation planning questions from other folks.  Okay, that may be overly simplified, but that’s basically what it is.  They called it Mickey’s Mom Panel, and to apply for a spot,  you had to submit an essay or answer a question or something.  I did, and after a few weeks, got a thanks but no thanks reply.  My essays were sarcastically funny – evidently not something Disney was looking for, but I had hoped at the time that my essays stood out.

This year, when the application process opened up again, I applied again.  I answered the questions seriously this time, because I really think I’d be good on this Mom’s Panel.  My family and I have – as you ALL know – traveled to Disney dozens upon dozens of times.  We have stayed in many of the Disney properties; we have stayed in the properties on Hotal Plaza Blvd.; we have stayed at Good Neighbor hotels.  We own not one, but two Disney Vacation Club Contracts, and we have sailed on the Disney Cruise Line.  I would be perfect for this panel!

About two weeks ago, I got a notification that I was selected to enter round 2.  It came when I was bogged down by a pretty intense writing assignment, so I don’t know if my answers to the round 2 questions were as well thought out as my first round answers.  They are supposed to let people know this week if they are selected as finalists, because the telephone interviews begin next week.

I know people who have gotten their thanks but no thanks emails.  I have not gotten mine.  Of course, that makes me very nervous – not that I may have made it to the next round, but that I may not have and my email got lost in cyber space and I’ll never know for sure if I should have made it.

But my fingers and toes are crossed.  It would mean a free trip to Disney World, and I am so ready to go!  I don’t think I even need to pack – my suitcase just knows what to do to get me there.

Keep your fingers crossed for me and I’ll keep you posted!

Buca di Beppo – A Gastric Bypass Restaurant Review

As with all of my gastric bypass restaurant reviews, I like to remind people that not all of us who are gastrically altered have the same food issues.  I happen to have a few pretty consistent ones.  Shrimp almost always gets stuck.  Chicken usually gets stuck.  Clams are generally not chewable to a consistency that I feel comfortable swallowing them.  And it only takes a little pasta to make me feel like I’ve eaten a whole water buffalo.

Buca di Beppo has been a family favorite restaurant for a number of years.  Jim first ate at a Buca location out on the west coast during a business trip, and he raved about it then.  When we discovered the Cherry Hill location, we were all excited to visit, based solely on Jim’s glowing reviews. 

Back in the day (Jim hates this term, which is why I use it now as often as I can), Buca di Beppo was a family style restaurant.  You go in, you go through the kitchen, just like you might if you were going home to eat with family, and they lead you to a dining room that is filled to nearly exploding with photographs, cheap plastic and silk flowers, and memoribilia from days gone by.  When you place an order, you are placing an order for a dish that will feed at least 2 to 3 people (for a small); or you get a mountain of food that will feed 5 to 6 people.  It’s served on mismatched plates with giant serving spoons and forks – just like you might get at Nonna’s house.  The menu itself was always pretty well rounded – offering something for everyone.  There were always seafood options, traditional favorites like stuffed shells and spaghetti and meatballs, and dishes with chicken or veal. 

Lately, the Buca di Beppo I loved has changed a bit.  First, I suppose to accomodate people not into the whole family style dining option, they now offer Buca Mio platters – meals that serve, oh my gosh, what a concept – one person.  Then the menu changed.  And unfortunately for me, a lot of the meals I could eat and enjoy are no longer part of the Buca di Beppo menu.

My favorite dinner entree was the shrimp and scallops with orzo pasta.  This was my favorite for a few reasons.  While shrimp are not my friends, scallops and I get along splendidly!  I enjoyed the fresh, perfectly cooked scallops on this dish.  And while orzo pasta is technically still pasta, it is small pasta, so I always felt like I could eat more normally.  There was a little heat in the dish, but overall, it was a good meal.  My favorite side dish was the Tuscan beans.  Tender, flavorful beans that really hit the spot in terms of being a comfort food and being delicious.  Neither of those dishes are on the menu anymore.  They also had a salad which was topped with prosciutto ham and it was delicious.  It’s gone now as well.

I’m sure they have made the changes to the menu in order to keep up with the demands from the customers, but if you don’t or can’t eat pasta, your options here are really limited to chicken.  There are one or two other things on the menu – a pork dish; salmon; and I think a veal – but the ones I’ve tried so far hold very little appeal.

On this particular occasion, we ordered the Quattro al Forno – a sample of each of their baked pasta dishes.  There were four sausage stuffed shells; two chicken canneloni; two manicotti; and I’m not sure how many ravioli.  I ordered that because I figured if the pasta was too heavy, I could at least eat the inside of the stuffed pastas.  They were all very good, but very heavy.  The sausage stuffed shells were delicious, but after half of one shell, I ate only the inside, which was a mildly spicy sausage and cheese blend.  The ravioli were also very good – with creamy ricotta cheese stuffed inside the little pillows.  The chicken canneloni was just okay – I have chicken issues, so I only tried a small bite.  The manicotti was good – nothing notable, but good. 

You will have to caution yourself at Buca di Beppo when ordering, and keep in mind what your body will tolerate in terms of food.  It’s a shame for me that I am not able to eat more foods, but a shame as well that Buca di Beppo seems so limited in terms of the proteins they offer. 

We will still go to Buca di Beppo occasionally, but not with the frequency we used to.  It’s not the same, and for someone who is gastrically altered, it’s really not the best option food wise.

Granuaile Turns 3

Well, it was an exciting week for us, if not for Gracie!  She turned 3 on Wednesday and had two birthday celebrations!  When she woke up on Wednesday, we sang before we got ready for school, and she kept saying it wasn’t her birthday it was Eilis’ birthday.  We had Dram and Pop-pop and Nannie come over for a Kentucky Fried Chicken dinner with a little birthday cake, and she blew out the candles, all the while insisting it wasn’t her birthday.

On Sunday, I wanted a traditional family dinner.  This is probably the last year we’ll be able to have this kind of party, because as she gets older and makes friends, she’ll want friend birthdays.  I’m not too well versed on big traditional meals, so I enlisted the help of my stepmom, who enlisted the help of her sister, and we had a little extra help from Buca di Beppo. 

The meal was like a Sunday dinner at your Italian Grandmom’s house.  We had a big tossed salad, dressed with a homestyle Italian dressing; fried calamari and mozzarella cheese; baked ziti; Italian bread; and all kinds of delicious meats – meatballs, sausage, pork ribs.  Everything was delicious, and we all sat around our big new dining room table – which was really comfortable enough for everyone.  I had planned to set up an extra table in the Florida room if we needed the space, but we had just the right amount of people for the dining room.

Aunt Joan arrived a little late with a couple of other Sisters, and we heated stuff up and served lunch again when they got here.  It’s always so nice when Aunt Joan gets to come to functions, because she is so far away.  We were lucky that she had a meeting in the area the day of the party 🙂

Rude Hawgs Barbecue – A Gastric Bypass Restaurant Review

As a person who has had gastric bypass surgery, I have avoided most BBQ restaurants.  Nothing good can come from a visit to a place who bases it’s reputation on sugar sweetened sauces and pork fat – at least not in terms of the gastrically altered.

I want to remind my readers that I am now 2 and a half years post-op, so some of the things I can tolerate you may not be able to.  And some of the things I can tolerate, you shouldn’t even try! 

Rude Hawgs, located at 363 West Browning Road in Bellmawr, NJ is a recently opened restaurant in a shopping center that has seen better days.  The only places we’ve ever visited in this strip mall are the Domino’s – which is gone – and the bagel store.  Rude Hawgs would have gone totally unnoticed had they not blanketed the area with signs.  Even with that, the whole BBQ thing made me nervous, so I avoided it as long as I could.

And then it happened.  You know it comes.  You have nothing in the house for dinner, and you are so sick and tired of pizza or Chinese, you just want something else.  So Brighid and I, armed with orders from the homefront to bring back something for dinner, pulled into the parking lot.  She ran in and grabbed a menu, and we figured we might as well give it a try.

Once we looked over the menu, we decided to head in and place our order.  Cute does not begin to describe this little restaurant!  The tables are gorgeous wood picnic style tables, highly glossed and really pretty.  There are two rows of these tables along the walls where these tables are, and the way they have it decorated, it looks like you are sitting on someone’s porch.  So, so cute. 

On this night, we ordered the “Broke ‘Til Tomorrow” meal.  As advertised, it comes with 1 pound of any meat except ribs; 1 whole hickory smoked yard bird (which we hope to God means chicken and not something we don’t want to know we’re eating); 3 pints of any side dishes; 6 pieces of corn bread; and a half pint of BBQ sauce.  We waited the few minutes it took to put our meal together, and we thought we made some pretty good choices by opting for the pulled pork for our meat; and the macaroni and cheese, green beans, and carrot souffle as our side dishes.

It was all we could do to ride home without pulling over to eat!  The smells in the restaurant were good enough, but having all of this delicious barbecue in the car made us nearly delirious.  And for about $35, you are carrying home a good amount of food – definitely more than the Colonel gives you.

The true test is in the taste, though, and we were not disappointed.  The yardbird (please God don’t let this be a pigeon) was moist and delicious, so flavorful that it really didn’t need any barbecue sauce.  The pulled pork was succulent, perfectly cooked and tender, with the right amount of smokey flavor.  The macaroni and cheese was just the way I like it, although not to everyone’s taste.  I like mine a little on the dry side, and this was, with a hint of garlic in the cheese.  The green beans were real country style, with the flavor of pork fat in there somewhere.  But the surprise hit was the carrot souffle.  Sweet and delicious, I know it has to be bad for me, but it tasted so good, I had seconds.

The meal was way too much food, even for our family of five, and we were able to enjoy leftovers the next day.  From a gastric bypass standpoint, the yardbird (rodents don’t have wings, right?) was definitely edible, and for me, the ability to eat chicken is hit or miss, so this was GOOOOOD.  The pork was a little bit more difficult, but that was because it was pretty dense and I put a good chunk in my mouth.  I was able to eat all of the side dishes, but I did not attempt the cornbread.  I would say that the carrot souffle HAD to contain sugar somewhere – or they were the sweetest carrots known to mankind – so be very careful with your portion here.  I had about a tablespoon of them, and did fine. 

The only negative on our first trip was that there was no barbecue sauce included with the meal.  I did have some in our fridge, so that worked out well, and if you are visiting the restaurant, they have a sauce “bar” in the middle of the dining room for you to help yourself.  I would have done that if the menu had not indicated it was included with the meal.

We have had three subsequent visits to Rude Hawgs since that first one.  We have ordered the same thing each time, with one exception.  We visited the restaurant with my in-laws, and added the baby back ribs and had cole slaw as a side.  The food is always delicious, but we have had other issues.  One time, despite it saying on the menu that you get three sides, they told us we were only supposed to get 2, and the 3 was a typo.  We’ve gotten 3 every other time except that once.  Another thing is we have always gotten larger, pint sized side dishes, but once we got half-pints.  A call to the restaurant produced the answer that we were only supposed to get half pints with that meal ever.  Hmmm.  I hate it when they can’t get their stories straight, because honestly, right now, I couldn’t tell you for sure what comes with this meal.  While the menu clearly says 3 pints of side dishes, we’ve been told something different on two other occasions.  That’s a shame.

Overall, this is a good meal, fairly priced, and a wonderful change of pace from the ho-hum take out dinner.  We will definitely give Rude Hawgs our barbecue business.

National Kidney Foundation Kidney Walk Philadelphia 2008

So this is my dad.  My father was a diabetic – a bad diabetic.  He was the kind of diabetic who made root beer floats with real ice cream and diet soda.  He was the kind of diabetic that ate butter on sticky buns, then upped his insulin to help his body compensate.

At some point, when you are a bad diabetic, the disease starts to kick your ass.  It robs you of things a little at a time.  You get a sore that won’t heal; your eyes start to go; you begin to have heart problems; your circulation slows down; you could lose your legs, like my dad did; and most of all, your kidneys stop working.

My dad’s kidneys stopped working in the early 1990’s, and he ended up on peritoneal dialysis.  That was good for him, because it allowed him to continue to travel and be active.  And it was thanks in part to the money raised by the National Kidney Foundation that things like peritoneal dialysis come to be. 

Eventually, my dad received a kidney from the wonderful family of a man who lost his life.  A portion of all of the money raised by the National Kidney Foundation goes towards organ donor awareness.  Imagine my surprise when I did manage to pull a team together!  And I got an even bigger surprise when that team generated more than $1100 raised to benefit the National Kidney Foundation!

Thank you, to my friends, my family, my team – who walked in memory of my dad – for helping raise this money!  I know my dad would have been so proud – and he would have enjoyed the walk around the zoo with his grandchildren and nieces!  It was a terrific experience, and I’m hoping we can do just as much to help again next year.

It was my goal when I decided to walk for the National Kidney Foundation to raise money that might help another family recognize the benefit of organ donation and the various treatments for kidney disease.  I wanted other families to know that kidney disease does not have to mean life is over and you curl up in a ball and wait for the rest of your body to shut down.  I wanted people to be aware that help is out there if you are battling kidney disease.

I set my fund raising goal at $200.  I thought I would be lucky to get that, even if I did get a team together.