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How Old Is Too Young to Visit Walt Disney World?

I get asked this question.  A lot. And it surprises me every time!

This is my youngest daughter, Granuaile, during her very first visit to Walt Disney World.  She was four months old at the time, and of course the memories of this vacation are not her memories.  She will look at the pictures with me, and she admires herself, recognizes the people, places, and things, but the memories of the vacation are absolutely mine.

Does that mean she was too young?  In my opinion, no.  The memories I have of this vacation are magical.  I wouldn’t trade them for anything. 

The reactions of children to Walt Disney World are always different, depending on their age.  Granuaile didn’t know who Mickey Mouse was (no, contrary to popular belief, my children are not born wearing mouse ears and singing “It’s a Small World”), and certainly didn’t grasp the whole theme park concept.  To her, it was just another day of amazing things to discover on this magnificent planet.  But what better place to have a baby discover new things?  She loved the music, the lights, the colors – her head was spinning around so fast to try and take it all in, we wondered if we should call in an exorcist. 

Eilis learned to walk at Walt Disney World, and honed her skills at EPCOT’s World Showcase.  She loved the characters from early on, and my favorite Eilis memory at Walt Disney World involved Winnie the Pooh, who she loved from the first moment she laid eyes on him.

 At this age, the very tender four months old, Granuaile put her hand out to grab Mickey Mouse.  Just a few short months later, she was afraid of the characters.  These precious first moments with the characters would have had to wait until just recently, when she became brave enough to go near them again.

When considering taking a young child to Walt Disney World, consider the fact that they are FREE!  That’s right – all this fun for absolutely no additional cost.  Don’t put off your annual vacation to the World just because you have a new baby!  If you love Walt Disney World, they will love Walt Disney World.  And it won’t cost you a dime extra for two whole years to build a scrapbook of fabulous memories of wonderful times. 

Beyond the theme parks, you have other things you can introduce your new baby to.  Imagine the impression a bathtub the size of a swimming pool at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge will make – and the photos you can take!  Picture your little one, for the first time, enjoying the Florida sunshine and the warm water.  That alone is worth the price of taking them.  Oh wait – it’s still FREE!

I always got the best facial expressions from my girls’ babyhoods at Walt Disney World.  There were priceless early smiles and amazed expressions.  I actually had one parent tell me it was a terrible waste, as babies that young could barely see to begin with, and there I was over stimulating my little ones.  Resisting the urge to say “Bite me”, I sent her this photo in an email – showing my over stimulated four month old having the time of her life.

 Even at four months old, she had an appreciation for Playhouse Disney.

My favorite infant memory of Walt Disney World, however, is also Granuaile’s.  She is, as I’ve mentioned, only four months old, but as we walked down Main Street, approaching Cinderella Castle, I snapped this photo.  I realize that at four months old, she’s not looking up at the castle, saying in her little baby brain, “Damn, did I draw the short straw in the parent lottery – look at the digs the kids who live HERE have!” But she did have a priceless expression the first time she laid eyes on the Castle.  I cherish this picture as much as I would a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes – maybe even more.  Because as I’ve mentioned, the memory I cherish of THIS moment was FREE.

Aunt Charlotte’s Candies – A Long Standing Holiday Tradition

Aunt Charlotte’s Candy

5 W. Maple Avenue

Merchantville, NJ 08109


I have to tell you, I’m late to the table when it comes to Aunt Charlotte’s Candies.  My dad used to live in Clementon, NJ, and he was a diehard fan of Giambri’s Candies – a Clementon favorite.  Every year for Easter and Christmas, he’d bundle us up and take us to Giambri’s, where he would choose some delicious confections to be given as gifts or eaten at home.  It was as much a part of holiday tradition as buying a Christmas tree or decorating Easter Eggs.

At some point, my mother began touting the deliciousness that is Aunt Charlotte’s.  I, however, was a Daddy’s girl, and while I didn’t doubt that Aunt Charlotte’s chocolates were every bit as delicious as Giambri’s, the tradition was in Clementon.

And then I went.  I’m not sure why, except I attended a funeral Mass on Christmas Eve at the Church right down the street from Aunt Charlotte’s.  A funeral on Christmas eve seemed to warrant an unscheduled stop for a box of chocolates, so in I went.  And it was WONDERFUL! The smell is what you get first – chocolately goodness! But even as you are breathing in all of the delicious chocolate scents, your eyes are darting from one thing to the next.  There are dolls and toys; seasonal decorations; candy in every shape and flavor; and every corner of this store is packed with old fashioned fabulous. 

You can go upstairs, where a 1984 addition serves as the kitchen, and see the chocolates being made.  On our most recent visit, which was this past weekend, the ladies that work there were escorting shoppers up the steps to show them the art of candy cane making.  My girls not only loved getting to see how this was done, but they loved making their own candy canes!  I browsed downstairs while Jim and the kids made their canes, and I am amazed every time I go in there at what I find.  The selection is great, the freshness undeniable, and the flavors incredible.

The very best part of Aunt Charlotte’s?  Without a doubt, it is the shop patriarch, Brooks Oakford, Jr.  At close to 90 years old, this dapper dresser wanders his shop with a stack of fresh, crisp $1 bills.  He plays games with young and old alike, challenging you to guess heads or tails to win a bill; or having you try to catch the dollar in mid-air.  It’s a pretty safe giveaway for Mr. Oakford.  Both of my girls were the gracious recipients of a dollar, which they promptly parlayed into $1.75 chocolate purchase.  Not a bad return on his dollar!

We generally only visit Aunt Charlotte’s twice a year – at Christmas and Easter, but it has become a family tradition.  Even Jim, who balked at having to go with me, enjoyed the candy cane making with the kids, and got a kick out of the wonderful woman who helped us in checking out (she gave us a delicious sample of the cherry cordials we were buying for someone else – you have to love that in a salesperson!). 

Aunt Charlotte’s is not to be missed.  In a day and age when fast is better and machines can crank out thousands of candy delights, you will fall in love with old fashioned and handmade.

Save Me Before I Buckle Under The Pressure

Many years ago, when we were young, ambitious, and with new love bursting in our hearts, we decided to test our parenting skills on something we thought we couldn’t damage as much as we might a miniature person.  We went, just after the holidays, to the local pound, and we found a puppy.  We fell in love, we filled out an application, and then we went home and cried our eyes out, thinking that they would never allow us to parent this tiny little puppy – we lived in an apartment, we had no parenting skills, and we were completely unworthy. 

Imagine our surprise when they called us to tell us we could have the puppy!  For nine long years, we parented Lucy, a German shepherd mix.  We sat by her crate, tears running down our faces, the day we had her spayed, rubbing her head, giving her sips of water, regretting putting our baby through something so painful.  And the night she fell through the ice on the pool, Jim ran to get her out, wrapping her in blankets, racing to the vet to have her treated – all the while forgetting he was drenched in ice cold water.  When we moved to Florida, and the vet said it was not a good idea to take the aged Lucy with us, we cried all over again leaving her behind – knowing she would be loved and spoiled by Jim’s dad.

We have had dogs enter our lives over the years.  Some of them have come for a short time – like Molly, our fence jumper.  Living less than a mile off of a main highway, with a six foot fence surrounding our yard, the vet suggested we re-home Molly, who would go outside to pee through the back door, and then be barking to come in the front door every time.  And Daisy, for whom a dog behaviorist was hired to the tune of $45 an hour.  After a couple of meetings, the behaviorist told us this was a dog not meant for human companionship, and she should be removed from our home immediately before she hurt someone.  And then there was Grainne, my first Irish Wolfhound, rescued after being so badly neglected that she didn’t even know what to do with a dog treat.  She stayed so sick, and thousands of dollars went into surgeries to try and find out what was wrong with her, until we finally gave her to a couple who the vet recommended to us as hospice care givers.

You can see that we’ve had some bad luck in choosing dogs.  I seem attracted to the insane and infirmed – yes, I am talking about animals – I think.  And after having to get rid of Grainne, I always thought that I’d wait until timing was just right for another wolfhound.  So two years ago, when I learned of a litter of wolfhound puppies looking for homes, at the same time that a large sum of money had just been gifted to me by my husband, who sold his gaming website, it seemed destiny.  That’s when we got Roisin Dubh – Rosie.

This dog was my heart hound.  I loved her to pieces, and she loved being here with the kids.  We had a few early medical emergencies – including an infection on her neck that required mega doses of antibiotics, and an incident where she thought she could fly and jumped from one sofa in the living room to the other – missing the second by only about a foot, landing hard on her paw.  Rosie had a personality – a bit stubborn, but totally loving. 

But Granuaile was itchy.  And no matter what we did, she stayed itchy.  Finally, the pediatrician said it was Rosie, and while Granuaile was too young for him to recommend allergy testing, he did recommend we start removing potential allergens.  Rosie was an allergen.  We found a home for Rosie with a woman who owned one of Rosie’s brothers, I cried my eyes out over losing my baby, Granuaile became less itchy, and the world, believe it or not, continued to revolve.

So with the heartbreak behind me, and the decision made to NEVER EVER EVER NO MATTER HOW LONG I LIVE ON THIS EARTH NEVER allow another dog to be brought into the house, I have lived happily ignoring pleas from the children for another dog.

But the pressure is on.  It’s mostly Eilis, because she is of the age to be conniving enough.  She is the child who suddenly is watching dog documentaries, the Dog Whisperer, Dog Day Afternoon….Every book brought home from the school library is about dogs.  Everything from Clifford the Big Red Dog to Scooby Doo – if it has four legs, fleas, and the potential to drool and shed all over my house, she’s read about it. 

The two of them have been ganging up on me as of late.  They play dog.  Yes, that’s right, they pretend to be dogs.  They come wagging their fake tails in my direction, panting and licking, barking and growling.  Oh it’s cute alright, but it makes you long for the real thing.

I’ve been trying to arm myself by reading prices of veterinary care and dragging myself out at 2 AM in a cold, wet rain to remember – in addition to the allergy concerns – the reasons it’s good we don’t have a dog right now.  But they do wear you down.

I’m holding my ground, but I admit to losing my grip…….

Disney Dining Plan – A Glutton’s Punishment?

You already know I’m a big fat ass.  I have photographic proof that food has always been my best friend.

Anna in July 2006
Anna in July 2006

I was criticized the other day by someone because I said something unflattering about the Disney Dining Plan.  First they told me that it’s because I lost weight that I feel obligated to condemn fat people.  My answer to that – absolute nonsense.  Then they told me they couldn’t believe I would say anything bad about my beloved Disney.  Not being in love with the Disney dining plan doesn’t mean I don’t love Disney.  I love my husband, but I’m not crazy about the way he uses the same cup that he just drank milk out of to then drink orange juice out of.  Ewwww. 

Here’s the very basic rundown of the Disney Dining plan – Food.  Lots of Food. 

There are options where the Disney Dining Plan is concerned.  You could opt for the Quick Service Dining Plan.  For about $30 per person, you will get two quick service meals (these are the counter service meals), two snacks, and a refillable mug to use at your resort.  Honestly, this isn’t too bad, and counter service at Walt Disney World really runs the gamut.  The food court at your resort is a quick service location, and you can actually get some really good meals here – not the burgers and fries you are thinking of when I say counter service.  But even the theme park counter service locations offer such options as rotisserie chicken, salads, soups, and more.  Then you get the two snacks on top of your meals, and you really could skip breakfast completely and not feel hungry.  Is it worth $30?  It depends.  You could make it worth it by making sure you order the most expensive options, but I think it would still come out pretty close to a break even.  It does, however, allow you to budget food costs for your trip.

The Basic Dining Plan gives you one quick service meal, one table service meal, and two snacks per person per day for around $38.  You begin to get into a lot of food here, if you ask me. I always find the food portions to be quite generous at Walt Disney World, and we would easily have to skip a meal here to make use of all the other food.  Again, I’d be tempted to use my snack credits to grab something breakfast worthy, and then be obligated to book a dinner ADR every night.  The one thing that would save me from having to be rolled out of WDW would be the signature dining locations that require 2 credits to eat there.  It would save me from over eating the next day.

If you still think you’re going to come home from vacation hungry, there is also a Deluxe Dining Plan.  On this plan you get three meals per day – any meals you want, quick service or table service, plus your two snacks, plus a refillable mug.  Oh. My. Gosh.  Are you THAT hungry?  And it’s not just that – do you want to have to book yourself into that many meals?  I certainly could find that many WDW restaurants I’d want to eat in over the course of my vacation, but honestly, I wouldn’t be able to walk after a couple of days of this marathon eating regimen.  My arse is still pretty fat, but this is just Way. Too. Much. Food. 

If you have a family of big eaters, and you really think you can do this, it will set you back about $70 per adult (anyone over 9 is an adult when it comes to the dining plan).  You can very easily get your money’s worth on this plan, but would you want to?  I’m thinking we’d have the world hunger issue under control in a month if we just used the left over snack credits people don’t know what to do with on the last day of their trip.  Do you really need a suitcase full of Rice Krispie treats?

The biggest advantage to the Disney Dining Plan is that it allows you to budget your food money – it really does.  With the Deluxe Dining Plan, there isn’t another dime you would need anywhere for food, and even with the other two, you could make it so that your meals were covered each day and not need any extra money for food during your vacation.  That’s a great thing for some people.  But for my family, it’s just way too much.  Even if we tried to eat healthy and conservatively, some of these plans would still have us waddling away from the World.  Not a pretty picture.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Sanaa Restaurant Review Part 2

So my second visit to Sanaa was for Jim’s birthday.  We don’t often get to celebrate our birthdays without children, seeing as how we have a whole bunch of them, but Jim’s birthday happened to fall the same weekend as the Expedition Everest 5K, and we had a sitter back in Jersey with the girls.  Jim loves to try new and different things, especially foods, and I thought he’d really enjoy Sanaa.

We checked in at the podium, and our table was ready right away.  It would have been nice to sit near the windows to watch the animals, but our table was in a quiet location, which was good too.  Jim has on his birthday button, and the waitress wishes him a happy birthday before taking a drink order. 

In browsing the menu, we decide our best bet is to just order sampler platters, so we can try some of everything Sanaa has to offer.  We start with the bread service, and then order the appetizer Sampler for Two; the Salad Sampler; and finally, we opted for the beef braised short ribs and chicken curry for our entree.

If you have never dined with my husband, you may be unfamiliar with his penchant for spice.  He loves food that has some heat – and the hotter the better.  With the bread service, you choose three different types of bread and three of the dipping sauces.  We asked our waitress for recommendations, and she explained each dip to us, and we ended up choosing the red chile sambal; a mango chutney; and the roasted red bell pepper hummus.  I am not a fan of spicy food, and we figured this would give Jim a little bit of the spice with the red chile, but I would still have a nice selection to choose from.

As we were enjoying the bread service, the waitress came over to ask how we were enjoying the dipping sauces.  Jim made the comment that they were all very tasty, but definitely not “hot”.  She told us to hang on, and she would bring him something he found more to his liking, and she quickly returned with some garlic pickle.  That was a really interesting flavor, but not quite spicy enough for Jim.  We thanked her for the extra sauce, and she went about her merry way, but before we knew it, she was back.  In the ramekin this time was a red sauce that was singing the hairs inside my nose before she ever put it down on the table.  She told Jim that the chef had created this dip especially for him, and was anxious to see what he thought of it.  Jim slathered a good bit of it on some of the bread, and declared it amazing.  He really and truly enjoyed the sauce, and finished it himself, as I neglected to wear my asbestos gloves to move the ramekin close enough to me to take a taste, if I was so inclined, which I was not. 

A few minutes later, Chef Bob came tableside to check for himself how the dip was.  He had truly created it just for Jim and he was very excited to see that Jim really enjoyed the dip.  He talked a little about what was in it (brimstone; lava; and some other really hot ingredients), and they had a very animated culinary conversation for a few minutes.  After shaking hands, the Chef returned to his kitchen, and Jim proceeded to enjoy the remaining bread and personalized dipping sauce – which he declared the best food of the night.

The salad sampler is a course we would not repeat.  We opted for the roasted potato salad; watermelon, lime and radish salad; and the roasted beets.  I love watermelon, but for me, the combination of flavors was too severe.  The lime overwhelmed the sweetness of the watermelon, and it tasted like bad melon to me – the kind you should have tossed days before.  I am not a fan of beets, but Jim loves them. I did try the salad, but my relationship with beets being what it is, I wouldn’t order that again. 

The best of the salads we sampled was the roasted potato, but I could easily pass on that and not miss it.  It was lightly dressed and contained corn and spinach, and not my favorite bite of the night.

The entrees we chose were incredible.  The ribs were fall of the bone delectable, and I could have easily eaten a plate of them.  The chicken curry was delicious, and has quickly become one of my favorite dishes here at Sanaa.  I also really enjoyed the five grain rice pilaf.

We were way too full for dessert, but I thought just as a way to have a taste of something, we would split a chai cream.  That’s when our waitress came back with a piece of the chocolate cake with a candle in it to celebrate Jim’s birthday – with birthday wishes written on the plate.  It was very good, but we were way too full to appreciate it.

Overall, I have enjoyed both meals at Sanaa.  I will give tons of credit to our waitress this trip for making the meal, as she really was helpful and much quicker than our waiter the first time I ate here.  It’s amazing how much better a dining experience could be with a competent server.

It Takes Someone Special to be a Daddy – A Chat About Fathers’ Rights

We know.  We know before we are born who our mothers are.  We rely on our mothers for our very existence, and from within the womb, babies can respond to their mothers’ voices.  There is no doubt who a baby’s mother is.

Fathers are sometimes a whole ‘nother story.  If you have’t seen them, there are countless numbers of Maury Povich shows and Jerry Springer shows and even now judge type shows that offer people the opportunity to take DNA tests to find out who a baby’s father is.  There are women who parade – without shame – a group of 3, 4, 5 and even more men across the stage and into our American living rooms, trying to figure out who the lucky guy is that will be declared her child’s father.

As you well know, being a good parent goes beyond DNA.  The bond of blood does not turn you into a terrific mother – or father.  But it seems that many times, regardless of a mother’s qualities and abilities, she is given more rights and respect than a dad.  Because she is the mom.  Without a doubt.

Then we throw in modern complications.  And it gets worse.

So what if a woman has a very young child, and she also has a live in boyfriend?  And the live in boyfriend takes on the role of Daddy, and does it successfully, expertly, with love and dedication, raising the child as his own? And he relishes the idea of being a child’s father?  And there is no chance a biological father will ever rear his ugly head?

You would be surprised – or at least I was – to find out that no matter how long a woman lives with a man and allows him to raise her children, unless at some point he becomes the child’s father legally (which is not an option in many cases), all too often, his role as Daddy ends when Mommy says it ends.  That’s right folks, she gets to take her toys and go home, leaving him standing there with nothing – no rights, no recognition, and no say in the life of this child he has raised.  What’s more, this child who has grown up surrounded by the love of this father-figure; thrived with his constant care; developed into a great kid with his support is now left not only without a father, but probably wondering what the hell happened to make him go away.

In this day and age, where people are disposable, and happily ever after often means until someone better comes along, we are doing our children a terrible injustice.  We are telling them that parents may come and go; teaching them not to form deep attachments; and giving them the impression that the man of the hour, the day or the week is the one they are supposed to rely on.

It’s not fair – to the children, or to the fathers that raise them, with unconditional love and unwavering devotion, only to have them snatched away due to lack of blood ties.  A father/child love affair goes way beyond biology.  It’s time to recognize that.