Saturday, June 2, 2018

Waiting on Dreams & Peonies

I am a lover of plants.

I come by it naturally, my mom is an excellent gardener and her mother also excelled in loving green things. My grandma even had a "secret garden" inspired by the book which was just as enchanting and charming as you can imagine. She had bleeding hearts and wild, heirloom roses that filled her property with their perfume-like scent. And, because of my mom, I have a cutting of those very same roses in my garden.

I'm not as good at it as they are. I have the love and not the talent. Houseplants do better here, and my home is filled with them- which is interesting since both of those women have very black thumbs once the plants come indoors. But they do well here and I love them. Outside I stick with simple things that grow easily and don't require much care. I have scads of roses and lavender and mint, things that come back every year and I never prune them, even if I should.

I also have peonies. Six bushes of peonies.

My mom grows them and my grandma grew them and I wanted them too, but had no idea what I was doing. I purchased them at the end of summer the year we bought our home and planted them in my bed (with no consideration to sun or location!) in the Fall and eagerly awaited the arrival of Spring so I could cut zillions of them and bring them indoors to swoon over.

Spring came, and I saw them starting to come up. It was so exciting! I went out to check on them every day. But... they never produced.

The next year was the same story.

And the next year again. 

I was really discouraged by this point and had mentioned it to my dear friend Liz (over at Broken Called to Beauty and you should check her out immediately) who grows scads of peonies at her home many times. I asked my mom. I even asked my brother, who is no gardener at all and has rows of peonies! I couldn't figure out why my peonies weren't producing and it was so frustrating! I was starting to think about moving the six bushes or just giving up on them entirely. Finally I consulted my friend google, who told me that peonies don't particularly like the location they were in and need plenty of sun, but also... they need plenty of time. If you move a peony or plant a new one, they can take up to four years to produce blooms. 

This is the fourth year. 

I noticed little buds on three of my plants early in the season, but didn't want to become too hopeful since I've seen buds before. They grew and grew. Some of them started to turn black, and I thought it was going to be another unsuccessful year.

And then the magic happened! Literally, overnight they started blooming. Today I'm staring at this vase which started with one glorious bloom this morning and now has six, with two more on the way.

And it made me think about my life. And dreams. And all the really important things... the desires of my heart. They're so much like these silly peonies and our lives are so much like a garden. It can be so hard to watch and water and wait... and still believe we will see our dreams come to pass. Or believe for the desires of our heart.

I know what it means to watch and wait. I know what it means to watch baby after baby fill the arms of happy mothers while mine remain empty.

I know what it means to have deep dreams and feel like time is slipping away along with them.

But today was a reminder that these dreams, these desires are peonies. They take time. I can't give up... because they very well could bloom overnight! We never know the moment when the waiting will be over. All that time, the peonies weren't idle. They were growing and preparing. No time was wasted. No time IS wasted. 

So for those you who perhaps, like me, need the reminder... here it is. 

Psalm 37:4 - Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 20:4 -May He give you what your heart desires and fulfill your whole purpose.

I know so many of us are waiting for things to happen in our lives, or for something from God. And one of the biggest temptations is to give up - to say that if nothing has happened so far, then nothing will. It isn't easy to keep doing what we know to do when we aren't seeing what we as humans think are "results". C.S. Lewis said, 


“When we carry out our "religious duties" we are like people digging channels in a waterless land, in order that when at last water comes, it may find them ready.”
We want to be ready when the water at last comes. Keep doing what you know you're to do. The water will come, the peony will bloom. 

I'm praying for those of you who are waiting. Praying you will find all of your everything in Him who holds all of our everything. He is so good. And He is enough.

And may He bring your garden into bloom. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Disney World 2- Clothing, Makeup and Skin Care

Anyone who knows me is pretty familiar with my extreme lack of favor for hot weather.
Nope. 
Don't like it.
So the high 80's temps in Florida were obviously too much for me, but I didn't want that to get in the way of having the best possible time at Disney! If you're like me and the idea of walking around dripping with sweat, hair frizzing out and makeup sliding off makes you cringe, then this post may be for you. We had purchased the Memory Maker package (more in a future post) and I wanted to look presentable in the pictures, so I spent some time considering how to be most comfortable in those extreme temperatures.
Ready to dive in? 



Clothing

Ok, let's talk clothes. I know everyone goes with shorts in warm weather, but I'm an avid fan of dresses and skirts. I think they're actually a lot cooler than shorts and less clingy- for me, they're a lot more comfortable too.

I made dresses/skirts the basis of every Disney outfit, with a "shorts outfit" if tragedy struck, but thankfully it never did.

The only regret I have is going with a tank style across the board. Despite carefully applying sunscreen, my shoulders still burned a little. If you burn easily, consider going with dresses that have at least a cap sleeve.

Most of these were dresses from my closet already (J. Crew denim dress, black Olive and Oak dress), but the blue tank dress was a new find from Amazon. 

My backpack was a necessity and worn daily. The Lack of Color straw hat was used every-other-day to try and keep sun exposure to a minimum.

And of course, Minnie ears! Mine were not officially licensed, but were a steal on Etsy. All four pairs (two for me, two for nieces) cost less than one pair from the parks.

Dresses are just my jam. I'd wear them year round if the weather were more conducive to it here. If you've never tried a dress in the heat, check out some flowy styles and get back to me, I bet you'll be way more comfortable than in shorts! 



Footwear

I spent a ridiculous amount of time cruising blogs, reading reviews and stalking IG to find footwear that was comfortable for Disney. Obvs, the standard trainers don't go with dresses :) Also, running shoes often leave my feet in pain by the end of the day anyway. 

I settled on four pairs, three of which you can see in the layouts above, and rotated them from day to day to give my feet a break. The flip flops were meant as "alternates" and carried in my backpack in case my feet needed a break from whatever shoe was being worn that day. 

Born

I chose a pair of flip flops and sandals from Born based on customer rave reviews and brand loyalty for comfort.
Both of these pairs were comfortable and when first worn, they felt like they had a memory foam sole that conformed to my feet. That feeling wore off pretty quickly though and I'm hoping the memory foam restores itself after the shoes have had some rest.
The shoes were fairly indestructible in the parks, but did leave my feet feeling sore and tired. I have high arches and these just didn't have enough support. However, they get an A+ in the blister department- neither caused any at all! And they were never broken in, I wore them for the first time in the parks.
The ankle strap sandals were worn back to back in the parks, and of the three, these were my favorites.

Blondo

Again, this Canadian brand had a cult following for it's ability to stand up to all forms of weather (Michigan!) as well as incredible comfort. I bought these booties back in January and have been regularly wearing them to work multiple times per week. They have never let me down. Wearing them all day, every day never left my feet in any amount of discomfort.
Not true for the parks.
Around 3 PM in Magic Kingdom, I couldn't take it anymore and subbed in my flip flops. My feet were super swollen, red and had blisters. I will say these shoes are about a size too big, so I did worry about blisters before we even got there. I've always worn thick socks with them in Michigan. My shoe size is a 7/7.5 and at a 7, these are still too big for me.
Would not recommend, haha!

Adrienne Vitadini 

These had wonderful reviews across multiple platforms for comfort. I would love to weigh in, but in the end they just didn't match anything so they stayed home. They're made to look like a sandal but have a sneaker style sole.

I'm not sure if it matters what sort of footwear had been worn. Some people are just prone to sore feet and I'm one of them. My brother wore flip flops all week with no issues, and John wore two brand new pairs of shoes (out of the box!) in the parks all week without a hint of pain as well!


Makeup

If you don't wear makeup, more power to you.
I do :)
Finding a way to take care of my skin in that blazing heat was a challenge! I wanted to create a look that would (a) keep my skin protected, (b) be breathable (c) not take much time & (d) be easy to reapply at the park if necessary.

The base of my routine was sunscreen, a bronzing stick, mascara and a multi-purpose tint.

Bronzing stick: Tarte, The Sculptor 
















I'm pretty sure this is meant to be a contour stick, but I can't figure out how to actually contour. We had a wonderful makeup artist over to teach my friends and I how- but seriously... could not be taught. However, it's a great bronzer! This was another item I kept in my bag for touch ups on the go.


Mascara: Julep, With a Twist

This is my currently favorite mascara! I love this stuff. It isn't waterproof, but it's definitely resistant to smudging and water in general. Waterproof is too harsh for my lashes, so this is the next best thing! You use the wand first fully extended to lengthen lashes and then shorten it (by twisting the cap) and apply another coat to add volume. It really works! I'm on my fourth tube and can't be convinced to switch! 
Julep is one of my favorite brands. They have a monthly beauty box (which I need to review again) that you can entirely curate yourself. You can use my LINK to purchase and get a little extra, and I'll get a present as well! 

Multi-purpose tint: BeautyCounter, Color Pinch in Hibiscus & Benefit, gogo tint
















In general I prefer cream blush to powder, but especially in hot weather. It just has a better staying power and it's easier to reapply. Both of these were excellent as cheek and lip color, with Benefits acting just a bit more like a stain. I carried whichever one was being worn that day with me to the park for touch ups, but didn't really find that I needed any!

Setting Spray/Sunscreen: Supergoop! Defense Refresh Setting Mist

This was another purchase for refreshing my sunscreen in the park. No wrinkles, thanks! I loved that you could just mist on as needed and keep going. As a bonus, my friend who lives in a warm weather climate had recommended a setting mist as CRUCIAL for keeping makeup going. This was a two in one!

Nails

This is just for fun, but I wanted rose gold nails to match my minnie ears! These shades from Julep were PERFECT (use my link to save $ and I'll get a present too!). I'm a huge fan of Julep and have blogged about them in the past. Their colors are free from 5 major toxins and last really well- especially the glittered varieties of course.
Janet, Nell & Arlene
I also purchased some Jamberry nail wraps for my nieces to wear on the trip. One niece's nails didn't even last through the night, but my littlest niece managed to keep hers on through the entire week. They loved the Disney themed wraps, though! Mine came from eBay, with each set costing between $3 and $7.

We are going to head back to Florida again, so I'd love to hear any additional tips or tricks you have for surviving the humidity! If you've worn a pair of shoes in the parks that were remarkably comfortable, please leave a comment below and fill us in.

As always, thanks for reading!


Monday, April 9, 2018

Disney World 1- All About Food

I have waited my entire life to go to Disney World!
My brother (N) wanted to take his girls and invited John and I along, so we joined them on the adventure. If you've been to Disney, you know the cult status that something as simple as Dole Whip has! The place is BRIMMING with delicious food so there's no reason to eat even one meal on site that isn't incredible. After doing 8 months of research, I can happily say that we only ate one meal that was standard fare. Everything else was perfection. Below I'll review the Disney Dining Plan and then tell you what our favorites were for each park, as well as the ONE restaurant that missed the mark.


Disney Dining Plan (DDP)

N is a big budget guy, so he wanted to make sure that there were as few variables as possible. The dining plan allowed him to pay for all of his food up front (minus gratuity!) so that he didn't have to think about it again. When traveling with a group, everyone has to be on the same plan- so either EVERYONE gets the DDP or no one gets it. Same goes for park tickets, etc.

We went with the mid-level tier which includes ONE table service meal, ONE counter service meal and TWO snacks per day, per person. Our fee was $75/day per person. That means in order to break even, you need to be spending...

$45/table service
$20/counter service
$5/per snack

Each tables service meal includes a drink and dessert. Each counter service meal includes a drink. I actually found this to be mildly difficult depending on the restaurant. At a table service restaurant like Crystal Palace where the price is $60/adult (most expensive buffet ever?), we nailed it. But in other places I was definitely working to order an expensive meal.

Personally, I found the DDP to be a waste of money. Know yourself! If your stomach doesn't do well either traveling or the heat, this plan probably isn't for you. It's hard for me to eat in the heat, so I was often forcing down food. In some cases, I only ate one or two bites at the most expensive restaurants and had to send the rest away. It was such a bummer.

My brother, however, is a champ when it comes to eating and ate every bite- as did John. He maintains that he would get the DDP every time, whereas I would not get it again. I probably could have gotten by on 2 snacks and one meal per day in that heat, spending about $40 and saving $35/day.


Disney Springs

 We ate at Bongo Cafe in Disney Springs which is AMAZING! I don't remember reading about it on any of the food blogs we scoured and Disney Springs wasn't really on our hit list. However, my niece forgot a bathing suit and so we decided to try finding one there and stopped for dinner.
You guys.
So good.
I got the Cuban sandwich which came on the most perfect bread. I've had a few Cuban style sandwiches in my day, but this was unlike any of them. It was grilled, it was flavorful, the meats were thickly cut. Yes. SO good. Their fries were excellent, too. They had an unusual texture, they weren't standard at all.
John dislikes mustard AND pickles, but still thought my sandwich was delicious. His Cuban coffee was excellent. I highly recommend them both for quality and customer service. We were able to use that meal as a counter service on the DDP.

Magic Kingdom



Be Our Guest:

This was one of my top favorite restaurants. The service is wonderful and the atmosphere is truly magical. Everyone loved what they ordered, though on a second trip I wouldn't get the Croque Madam as it was *slightly* underwhelming compared to what everyone else ordered.
Croque Madam, Master's Cupcake + Pastries for the table

Croissant Donut with caramelized bananas 

My nieces received one of their two free souvenirs there- mickey shaped silly straws- which were a cute bonus. We also loved how the food was brought up to you on a cart to be served.

We obviously tried the gray stuff and can confirm that it IS delicious! You can use a snack credit to snatch up these beauties. They are 80% frosting, so if you love frosting- these are for you. Even once you crack them open, the insides are filled with more gray stuff. 
Since we went for breakfast, this was a counter service meal. Be advised that Be Our Guest books up EXTREMELY quickly. If you want reservations, you need to do them as soon as the window opens. Even if you're dining as quick service, at this restaurant you must make reservations.
Be Our Guest provides several beautiful backdrops that serve as excellent photo opportunities. I wish there had been a photo pass station here!


Crystal Palace:

If you are traveling with children who love characters- this is a must do. It was also the best use of our DDP (table service credit) monetarily as well since the cost per person was nearly as much as an entire day of DDP credits!
The food was wonderful, the desserts were standard. The ambiance is gorgeous. I loved the architecture and natural lighting.
My littlest niece loved the characters. I've never seen a more glowing face than the tiniest one when she hugged Pooh Bear. You'll also encounter Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore. They even have a little parade a few times per dining experience where children are welcome to join them and march around the restaurant.
This is a buffet, and when we were there they had several options that would suit a variety of tastes. I really enjoyed their specialty salads, shrimp, mashed potatoes and sausage.
Their strawberry basil panna cotta was very, very good. I had THREE cups (they are tiny). The rest of the desserts were fairly standard and didn't inspire me to try more than one bite.
Even though this is covered in the plan, expect to pay quite a bit out in gratuities still. I think we paid about $40 for a 20% tip.

Dole Whip Float:
Obviously. We had a Dole Whip in every park, except for Animal Kingdom where the machine was sadly down. We also traveled to the Polynesian Resort for a fix! I prefer them in float form, and their slightly higher cost makes it a great option as a snack credit on the DDP.

Plaza Ice Cream Parlor:
My nieces FEASTED here! Nearly every item (in fact, as of 4/18, every item except the kitchen sink) is included as a snack credit on the DDP making it a great stop on a hot day and a wonderful use of those snack credits! The brownie sundae (with your choice of ice cream!) is ginormous. I don't think either girl could finish it.

Animal Kingdom

 Satu'li Canteen:
Located in the new Pandora - this was our place of disappointment. It was OK. If you have a CoreLife Eatery near you, this is similar. You choose a grain, protein and dressing for the bowls, or you can order a set meal. Neither of my nieces liked what they got (it isn't super kid friendly) and I felt my bowl was a little sub-standard.

John got the vegetable steamed curry pods and they were super boring. I'm a huge curry fan and these just didn't hit the spot. He was pretty upset with me, because I talked him out of getting the cheeseburger variety thinking these would be better.
However- their cheeseburger version was DELICIOUS. If you do go- that would be our recommendation. All of the adults thought that one item was very good and worth eating a second time. This was a counter service credit. 

Yak and Yeti:


Yak and Yeti was a WIN! You will definitely want a reservation as they do run a bit slow- expect about a 2 hour experience from reservation to check. Our reservation was for 6:15 pm and we finally were seated around 6:45 and finished eating around 8:15. This is a table service credit and well worth it.



I ordered the Malaysian Seafood Curry and it is probably one of the top ten best meals of my life. I was never more sad about being unable to eat a meal (so sick by this point) in my life. The few bites I could get down inspired me. No joke. Great flavor, perfectly cooked and a wonderfully sized portion and presentation.
John ordered the Korean Chicken and Waffles on the recommendation of our server (who we loved) and he said it's the best meal he has ever eaten. Everything will be compared to that from now on. The syrup had a subtle kick to it that he really loved, it was just spicy enough. He passed some to my brother who also gobbled it down.

N had the Ahi Tuna and again- LOVED it. He felt it was perfectly cooked and scrumptious to the last bite.
My eldest niece ordered the Korean BBQ Ribs, which looked fantastic, but were too spicy for her palette. The staff was amazing and allowed her to send them back and order something else. That definitely earned Yak and Yeti a spot on our loyalty list!

For dessert, we ordered the chocolate pudding cake and the fried wonton skewers. Both were great choices! I feel like they had the consistently best everything all around.
We also had their lemonades (lychee and summer breeze flavored?). They were extremely sweet, but really good. As someone who generally sticks to water, tea and coffee they were a fun treat. 
Despite the wait, we really loved Yak and Yeti. I'd go back again and again! 

Flame Tree BBQ- Pulled Pork Fries:
I really tried to research which snack credits were the best use of money- and these were a definite hit! I shared them with John but we probably should have each gotten our own. If we had, they could have made a great little lunch! The portion was generous and they were delicious. 

Joffrey's Donuts and Coffee:
I will mourn the loss of Joffrey's. MOURN. Most of the items on their menu are a snack credit, making them a great "breakfast" stop in the morning. We all got coffee items (frozen cappuccino, Shakin Jamaican cold brew, Caramel Mocha) and felt it was very comparable to Starbucks in quality. The donuts... my goodness.
They're delicious and HUGE. John and I shared one, easily. But we probably would have preferred our own just because they were so good. Definitely a great use of snack credits. There are several flavors, including also a chocolate frosted giant donut and an oreo themed.


Epcot


Les Halles:

Snack Credit Heaven. This place is wonderfully authentic. We went back twice just to snatch up more goodies! Again- you'll find that most pastries are included in the DDP as snack credits, though some are cheaper to buy than to spend a credit on.
Our first expedition yielded a frangipane and chocolate hazelnut filled beignet that we enjoyed while waiting for the World Showcase to open up. This is another example of how snacks credit can be used to create a breakfast (add a coffee!) on the go. Both were some of the best pastries I've had. The frangipane could have had a little more almond, but overall it was delicious. 
Our second visit, we used our credits to purchase a chocolate coated palmier (SO GOOD!) and the large raspberry and lime filled macaron. If the large macaron is any indication of the standard sized ones, the 6 pack sold at Les Halles is a STEAL. I wish we had gotten one for the road. 
I am already looking forward to many, many purchases there in the future. This was definitely a favorite for Epcot.


Les Chefs de France:

This was a table service credit for us, and one well spent. I loved the ambiance, the sunlight and the service. Everyone was wonderfully kind and extremely attentive despite being busy.
John ordered the Steak-Frites for lunch, and his steak was so exceptional that I wished I had ordered his! He ate every bite of the butter covered goodness. This was perfectly cooked to his request and melted in our mouths. 
I ordered off of the Prix Fixe menu (still covered under the DDP) which allowed me to get their french onion soup in addition to an entree and dessert.
The soupe à l'oignon is topped with gruyere cheese and was some of the best I've ever had. I shared this with John, who was equally impressed. 
I ordered the salmon for my entree. You can't tell- but the portion is HUGE. It's the biggest piece of salmon I've received at a restaurant. This is my favorite fish, but it was a little mushy, sadly. The flavor was good, the sauce was superb and the presentation was clearly really nice as well. 


For dessert I had the creme brulee which was standard, but good. John had the swan cream puff which was beautiful to look at and photograph, but fairly standard as far as taste goes as well. Overall, we really loved the food and atmosphere here. On top of that, several of their staff were kind enough to converse in French with me, which truly made my day.


 Karamell Kuche:

More snack credits! The large AND small bags of caramel corn both cost one snack credit- so go for the large bags! We got two- one to share with the family and one for the two of us. They were very good and at $5.99, credits well spent. Aside from having my booty tapped by a patron here, this was another pleasant experience! 


Pineapple Promenade:

Here we had our final Dole Whip, sadly. We had them floated in Fanta (a favorite from my Germany days!) and enjoyed them almost as much as the standard floats. The sizes are smaller in Epcot than in the rest of Disney World. I think this stand is only operational during the Flower and Garden Festival so check online before getting your hopes up! They also garnished their Dole Whips with an edible violet, grown on site, which is quite charming.

We ate a few other things here and there- but this is everything worthy of noting. Again, the DDP wasn't the best use of our money, but it did force us to try really nice and different things. I honestly enjoyed the variety offered by Disney restaurants and I was extremely pleased by the quality of our meals and service as well. Disney doesn't disappoint when it comes to food!

If you have any questions about these restaurants or the DDP, please ask! I'd be happy to answer. Next I'll be talking about what I wore (on my face, too!) in that crazy heat ... so stay tuned!

Have a great day, and as always, thanks for reading!