Feeding the Ache: Twenty One Pilots and My Friend Pete Crozier

Hey, friends!  I’m trying something new today.  If you want to LISTEN to the post while you are doing something else, click on the video link below.  If not, just drop down and start reading!  Let me know if you appreciate the audio!  It feels a bit more like a podcast.  🙂

Read below or LISTEN here: https://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/cqin0GOf3Z

Let me start by saying this: This post is going to take some strange twists and turns, but just stick with me.  Primarily, I want to introduce you to my friend, Pete Crozier, an inspirational guy with an awesome cause that I think you will want to support.  But I really can’t do that until I tell you about the Twenty One Pilots concert I attended in Columbus, Ohio on Sunday for two reasons.

(1.) I can’t stop thinking about it.

(2.) I think I can pull these two things together.  (Let’s hope so, anyway!)

First, let’s talk about the concert.  You guys, it was AMAZING.  In a society where people cannot agree on ANYTHING and are offended by EVERYTHING, music still has the power to create a healthy sense of unity that I wasn’t sure was even possible anymore.  Add to that the astounding level of creative detail in both the production and the music itself and you have a memorable experience that I was lucky enough to share with my two sons.  Those boys waited patiently for months after receiving the tickets for Christmas.  It was their first concert –  and it set the bar very high for their future ticket purchases.

Here’s the deal – I have a bit of an obsession with insanely creative people.  I want to experience the way they think.  I want to look through the lens that shapes the way they see the world.  I want to understand their compulsion to MAKE something that MEANS something and then to SHARE that something with the world.  I want to know the catalysts that move them, the inherent need to tell a story, the emotional tumult that paralyzes most people but erupts from others into words and lyrics and melodies and art and dance and PURPOSE.

Obviously, this fascinates me.  Maybe a little bit TOO much.  But, really, isn’t it interesting?

In truth, I feel like these kind of people are MY kind of people.  I’m talking about people who have an incurable creative ache that can only be controlled through some sort of ACTION.  It’s a pain that drives some people to take REALLY BIG risks, not because they are braver or more confident than anybody else but because inaction is so uncomfortable that the discomfort of action is somehow a better option.

This is where great art comes from.  Maybe this is what allowed two young and extremely talented guys from Columbus, Ohio (Yes, they are hometown boys!) who were a bit outside the box, genre-less, and sometimes underestimated to think, Yeah, we should do this.  And even if we fail, it’s worth the risk and pain.  Maybe they even thought, We aren’t exactly comfortable doing this.  But we won’t be comfortable NOT doing it either.  They responded to the ache, and now millions of people benefit from that decision.

As people scurried to their cars under the night sky after the concert, a young man holding a box full of music approached concertgoers, saying, “We’re a local band like Twenty One Pilots trying to get off the ground.  Free CDs!”  I thought, Wow.  That kid is a risk-taker, handing his demos to people leaving the best concert that most of them have seen in their lives.  And he didn’t seem particularly brave.  Instead, he seemed like he had the ache, and, standing there in front of Nationwide Arena handing out free copies of his music, he was releasing his dream into the universe.  That is SCARY, you guys!  Because you can toss something around in your head for years, and as long as it stays within those boundaries, you cannot fail.  But once that dream leaves your heart and your mouth, it’s a whole different story.

And this leads me to my friend, Pete.  This is an honest blog, so I don’t want to mislead anyone.  Although I wish I were friends with Josh and Tyler of Twenty One Pilots (even though I was probably graduating from high school when they entered kindergarten), I do not know them.  And even though I describe Pete as my friend and I see him often in our community, we are just getting acquainted.  We know each other in a we-played-a-mean-game-of-Catchphrase-together-at-a-friend’s-New-Year’s-Eve-party kind of way.  We know each other because we both like to write and we share that on social media.  We know each other through mutual friends who are trusted and wonderful people, which tells me a lot about Pete and his wife Sarah’s character.  And we know each other because our sons are good friends.

And they are both named Gavin.

So we both have really good taste.  (Or maybe Sarah gets all of the credit for that one!)

In fact, here is a pic of them to prove this is real.  Meet the two Gavins.

Remember how I said that some people just can’t be comfortable NOT doing something when they have an ache to do it?  Well, one of those people is Pete, and he is on a truly awesome adventure right now called Fifty for Father.   On his website, Pete shares personal stories about the loss of his father and the diabetes diagnosis of his son – yes, my son’s friend, Gavin.

Here’s the thing that I love about Fifty for Father: Pete decided to DO SOMETHING rather than just THINK ABOUT IT.  He is currently on the last leg of his fundraising campaign that involves playing 50 rounds of golf in 50 states in 50 days.  That is a lot of driving, a lot of walking, and a lot of time away from the family that he loves.  Why would Pete do this?  Two reasons: to honor his father’s legacy and to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) to honor his son.  His goal is to raise $50,000 by the end of his journey.  Today is day 37, and he has raised over $38,000 so far.  I know that meeting his goal in the next 13 days is of the utmost importance to him, and it is important to me because we love Pete’s family and his son Gavin and because juvenile diabetes has touched my extended family, as well.

If you are like me and want to track Pete’s travel and fundraising, you can check out this page with his stats.

I love what Pete is doing for a lot of reasons, but here is maybe the strongest one: Pete, like the kid handing out CDs after the concert, released his dream to the universe.  He accepted the risk and the discomfort.  He didn’t allow the thought to pinball around in his mind forever in order to keep it safe.  As a result, he has raised funds for JDRF, has almost traveled across the entire country (even hitting Alaska and Hawaii), and has shared and heard so many inspirational stories along the way.

I imagine how scary it might have felt the first time he put his IDEA into the WORDS that made it “real.”

But I’m so glad that he did.  I’m so thankful for his decision to respond to the ache and to accept the discomfort of risk – a risk that is paying off in a big way.

I don’t ask for a lot, but I am asking two things of you today.  First, if you know Josh and Tyler and you are inviting them over for dinner any time soon, PLEASE  invite me, as well, so that we can talk about metaphors and meaning and all of that English teacher/international rock star kind of stuff.  (Seriously, we have so much in common.)  And if you have a few minutes and a few dollars to spare, please check out Fifty for Father to see Pete’s posts and videos about his journey and to donate to JDRF to support the mission before his 50 day adventure ends very soon.

I’m sure that some of your families have been touched by diabetes, too.

Thanks everyone!

~Mary Ann

P.S.  Don’t keep incubating your dreams.  It’s time for them to hatch.  🙂

Why I Took an Unusually Hard Stance on Gillette’s New Ad

 

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*Note: This is a challenging post, both to write and to read.  I hope it will bring something new to the conversations you are already having.  Please be prepared for crude language in the first section.

 

I. You Park Like a C***

Let me tell you a story.

Several months ago, a friend of mine shuffled her two young children into a local restaurant to celebrate her daughter’s soccer season with the team. The families laughed. They shared stories. They ate tacos. It was a happy occasion, a short reprieve from the stresses of school and of life. When the event drew to a close and my friend returned to her minivan with her kids, she noticed that a folded piece of paper had been slipped onto her windshield. Maybe one of their soccer friends had forgotten to tell her something, she thought. When she unfolded the scrap of paper, she found this message, scrawled in pencil: You park like a cunt. Her mood quickly shifted. She surveyed the area to see if someone was watching her, to make sure that they were safe. She loaded her kids into the car and headed home, but she was rattled to her core. Who does something like that?

Later that evening, I saw that she had posted about her experience on a private Facebook page for people who live in or around her community. She had included a photograph of the note – the visual evoked a powerful emotional response – and wrote a heartfelt message that our community can do better. The note on her minivan was alarming and unacceptable, but it had prompted a valuable conversation about kindness and respect with her family, and she hoped that sharing this story would remind other local families to have this conversation, too.

Her post had generated an unusually high number of responses.  I was proud of the way we rally around one another to defend what is right. I was proud of us, proud that her message had garnered so much support from the community.

Except it hadn’t.

At first, the comments were kind and appropriate: “I’m so sorry this happened to you” and “This is totally unacceptable” and “We don’t want this kind of behavior in our community.” A doctor who works at a local hospital noted that she had seen people in the ER who had been shot in similar situations; there is danger in treating people this way. Some empathized, imagining how they would feel if their teenage daughters or their wives or their mothers had found notes like this on their cars. But it didn’t take long for the conversation to turn on my friend, who had RECEIVED the vulgar note. First, people justified the note: “I would like to see a picture of how badly you parked.” “How bad do you have to park to get a note like that?” Then people blamed her for being afraid or offended: “It’s just words. What’s the big deal?” “Words don’t mean anything.” “Why are you letting this bother you?” Then people questioned her parenting: “What kind of mother would let her kids read a note like that?”  The downward spiral continued.  At one point in a comment thread, a woman actually said something to the effect of “I hope her daughter gets your daughter’s spot on the soccer team.”

ARE. YOU. KIDDING. ME?

This conversation happened on a private Facebook page for people who live in or near one of the most affluent, highly educated cities in the state of Ohio. And there was only one appropriate response to a person (male or female) leaving that note in those words on a family minivan for any reason: “That never should have happened.”

If we cannot agree on that, can we agree on ANYTHING?

II. Razor Burn

I am eating my cereal and catching up on the morning news on the Today Show. They share a new Gillette ad that is generating some buzz. After airing the ad, the newscasters raise their eyebrows and nod approvingly. I, too, feel a warm glow inside from the positive message. This is huge, I think to myself between bites of toasted oats and dried berries. We are – WITH INTENTION – showing boys like my own sons what behaviors are unacceptable (the beginning of the commercial) and what behaviors are acceptable (the end of the commercial) in a society where the messages we have been sending them have been horribly blurry. I see a beautiful depiction of masculinity, with Terry Crews, the picture of traditional masculinity with his physical strength and confidence, as the ambassador of male kindness and accountability, as well. I see the message that masculinity is being kind and strong and confident and courageous and respectful and responsible and brave. There are MANY, MANY challenging political and social issues with valid arguments that I understand on both sides, but this commercial is something we can all agree on. RIGHT?

The next day, the media is flooded with pictures of men across America throwing their shaving cream in the trashcan.

Is this really happening?

III. The Dukes of Hazzard

Americans are skilled at avoidance and deflection. We are trained to avoid and deflect at a young age, and the skills are honed and reinforced as we watch celebrities and politicians and public relations machines dance around the truth on a daily basis. We suspend our disbelief and accept the Photoshopped images and the “reality” television shows as authentic. We ignore biases and learn from social media that the image we convey is far more important than what is REAL.

Avoidance and deflection are our natural human reaction when faced with the parts of ourselves that make us uncomfortable. This is true of all of us, myself included.  The number on the scale this winter makes me uncomfortable, so I’ve implemented a solution. Am I exercising more? No. Am I eating more carrots? Nope, I am not. My solution is easier and should work until June: I’M AVOIDING THE MIRROR. I’m wearing extra layers to hide things and avoiding that mirror like the plague.

Looking in the mirror ruins the fun of eating mac and cheese, and the truth is that I’m not quite willing to give that up yet.

Acknowledging that the Gillette ad is amazing ruins something, too. It ruins the peace of mind that comes from a belief that we are ONLY responsible for our own behavior, and whatever anybody else does, well, that’s not our business.

The Gillette commercial is also a mirror that is forcing men to strip off the protective layers that we’ve ALL built up by adulthood and take a cold, hard look at an uncomfortable reality: the way we’ve been doing things hasn’t been perfect. It has been flawed. We’ve made some mistakes. And maybe this is a reason why some really fantastic guys I know are feeling uncomfortable. Part of toxic masculinity is the belief that admitting a mistake is a sign of weakness. It’s a fear that a flaw is the equivalent of a failure, that an error is not a chance for growth but a white flag of defeat. We’ve taught our boys not to compromise. We’ve taught our boys that if you don’t win, you lose. In fact, we’ve DEPENDED ON MEN to be firm and tough and stoic and to pretend to be fearless. And that’s kind of exactly what this commercial is trying to say – GUYS, you don’t have to live by those stupid rules any longer.

My two sons and I recently stumbled across an episode of The Dukes of Hazzard. It wasn’t long into the storyline when a dashing Bo Duke blindsided an unwitting girl with a kiss as she turned around. She was surprised. So was I. I paused the show. “Wow. So…. maybe that was acceptable in the eighties? I don’t remember? But you understand that surprising an unsuspecting girl with a kiss like that is not okay, right? It’s completely disrespectful.” We resumed the show, and soon Daisy Duke was wearing even less than her famous Daisy Dukes. She stood in the middle of a country road wearing a tiny bikini to tempt some guys to pull over in order to help her cousins, who, of course, drive a car painted to look like the Confederate flag. Yikes. I had more explaining to do than I expected.  As Bob Dylan once sang, “The times, they are a-changin’.”

This is what we forty-year-old adults were raised on, you guys. These are the attitudes and behaviors that were normalized for us as kids. We tend to remember a lot of not-so-great things fondly if they are threads in the quilt of our formative years. But the messaging wasn’t all good.

Like every generation before us, we have some knots from our childhood to unravel.

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IV. Complicit

It’s hard to look at the people we love, the shows we love, the music we love, the movies we love, the commercials we love, the entertainment we love and realize that all of it is flawed. No one and nothing is perfect. It’s hard to look in the mirror and realize that we, too, are flawed people, that we may have somehow contributed to somebody else’s pain, that we need to change – in significant ways or in small ones. We don’t want to be considered complicit.

We now know that for many, many years the Catholic church harbored a problem of priests abusing children in the church. We also know that the vast majority of Catholic priests are selfless, generous, faithful people – yet the credibility of ALL of the priests took a serious hit when the stories of abuse came to light. And there’s a reason.

According to reports, time and time again the “good” priests chose NOT to address the behavior of the “bad” priests. They were afraid that the unacceptable behavior of one priest, if publicized, would reflect poorly on the church as a whole, so they ignored it. But by ignoring the abuse to protect the whole, THEY BECAME COMPLICIT. If they had not turned a blind eye, if they had forced the guilty priests to be accountable right away, then the good guys would have looked like good guys. In fact, they would have been MORE than innocent. They would have been heroic.

But in so many cases, that is not what happened. By protecting the group rather than contributing to positive change, the priests who were NOT engaging in abuse became tarnished themselves. They tried to separate themselves from the problem, but they became part of the problem.

This is why it is so important for men to support an ad like Gillette’s. Sometimes, there isn’t really a middle ground to stand on. When there is a societal problem and you are made aware of it, you must choose to become part of the problem or part of the solution. You choose to become complicit or heroic.

The commercial is unfair, some people say, because it puts all of the responsibility on men. Don’t women need to be part of the conversation, too? YES. YES, THEY DO. But change happens when people WITHIN a particular group begin TO PUT PRESSURE ON THEIR OWN. Women ALREADY aren’t laughing at blatantly inappropriate comments about other women. Men will stop making those comments when THE OTHER MEN AROUND THE TABLE or THE OTHER MEN ON THE GOLF COURSE or THE OTHER MEN IN THE BOARDROOM stop laughing. That is when those comments will die.

Old habits die hard. But old habits CAN die.

When the bystanders stop resuscitating them.

V. The Playground

It was a beautiful summer day. The sky was clear, a brilliant shade of blue. I was taping clues for a scavenger hunt onto objects around the playground at a local park for a back-to-school party with some friends. I noticed that a few little boys were following, tearing the slips of paper down behind me. I politely asked them to stop and retraced my path, taping the clues back where they belonged. Within minutes, the boys had torn them down again. I kindly tried to negotiate; if you will leave these notes alone for twenty minutes, then we will make sure that you can do the scavenger hunt yourselves in a little while. That will be fun for you. That didn’t work, either. So, while the playground thieves’ mothers chatted away at a picnic table nearby, we assigned parents from our party to stand beside every clue until the game had concluded.

At this point, I was livid, so when one of the same boys walked up behind my son, who was playing soccer with his friends, and spit on the back of his neck in my view, my head nearly exploded. I approached the mothers of the boys and explained what I had just witnessed, adding that it was extremely disrespectful for one of the boys to spit on my son after we had treated them kindly despite their repeated attempts to destroy our game.

The spitter’s mother was indifferent.  She shrugged. “They are just kids,” she said. They finished packing their things and walked away.

My heart was heavy with both anger and sadness. What are the chances that this little boy, the one who spit on my son and was expected to take no responsibility for his behavior, will grow up to become a kind, respectful, accountable young man who respects women, or any authority at all? If that incident is representative of his upbringing, the chances are very, very low.

Some people are perpetuating the myth that an attack on “toxic masculinity” is an attack on masculinity in general – that being critical of “toxic masculinity” is being critical of manhood itself. That argument has proven to be a surprisingly effective deflection, but it’s NOT THE TRUTH. Aside from some extremists on the fringes, no one is saying that being physically strong, muscular, and athletic is toxic. No one is saying that being competitive, hardworking, and assertive is toxic. No one is saying that protecting others by being a police officer, a firefighter, or a soldier is toxic. That is not toxic masculinity – so just stop spreading that nonsense. The reality is that even though we have MILLIONS of amazing and wonderful men in our country who are tough and strong and brave, we also have a serious problem with men involved in gun violence, domestic violence, and drugs. We have a serious problem with men who will not seek help for mental health concerns, men who weren’t taught to deal with stress and emotions, and men who are not financially or emotionally supporting their children. That stuff – it’s toxic. And it’s not just a toxic pill that those guys swallow. It’s a toxic gas that drifts through the air, exposing families and communities to the ill effects.

The truth is that we women, like the mom at the park, contribute to toxic masculinity by the things that we say, the behaviors we allow, and the entertainment that we provide for our sons. And, guys, we know that toxic femininity is a thing, too. It’s only fair that we also call out our own. Victoria’s Secret models aren’t doing women any favors. We do need to hold other women accountable for choices that negatively influence the beliefs of our daughters and our sons, and we need to stop defending women whose behaviors contribute to the objectification of women.

But accepting some responsibility on our end doesn’t let guys off the hook. Those boys on the playground needed mothers who would instill empathy and accountability. But they also clearly needed some solid male role models who would influence them positively and who would encourage the other men around them to have a positive influence, too. Maybe there will be another man who will make the difference – a teacher, a coach, a neighbor, a religious leader, a friend. Maybe.

Somebody has to teach boys like them how to be masculine without being toxic.

And the more pressure that men are putting on one another to be better, the more secure and confident all of our boys will become.

VI. The Wrong Side of History

This week as our nation celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, many students across America will read two important historical texts. The first text, “A Call for Unity,” is a plea written by eight white clergymen in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. In the text, the clergymen ask civil rights activists to stop demonstrating in their city. The gist of their letter is this: Although we do not support hate, your demonstrations are disrupting our peace, so we think you should be patient and give the court more time to work this out. In so many words, the clergymen said we aren’t against you, but we aren’t going to help you, either. They were trying to walk a very fine line between not quite being racist and not quite NOT being racist, if such a line exists.

The second text is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s brilliant and much more famous response, his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which he effectively tears down every part of the clergymen’s plea, revealing the hypocrisy of their stance.

Those eight clergymen probably did many wonderful things while serving their parishioners throughout their careers. But the only reason anyone is talking about them in 2019 is because they signed their names to the wrong side of history. Their public plea for the “outsiders” to go away and for the insiders to be patient was supposed to deter the civil rights protests, but instead their words confirmed the NEED for demonstrations. Their letter was like a flashing neon sign that said, “WE STILL DON’T GET IT!” In fact, the only positive aspect of what the clergymen wrote is that it prompted Dr. King’s incredible response, paving the way for events that would prove other men heroic and would eventually change the face of our nation in tremendous ways.

In a similar way, the shaving cream in the trashcan last week had the opposite effect of the intent; when men reacted so harshly to a commercial that promotes positive male role models, the images of brand new razors thrown into the garbage screamed “Maybe I have the exact problem that throwing away this razor is supposed to prove that I don’t have.”

I wonder if those eight white clergymen in Birmingham, with the blessing of hindsight, would recognize that by asking the demonstrators to stop rather than joining them in the streets they were complicit in the injustices in Birmingham. I wonder if they would be embarrassed that by trying not to get involved, they actually WERE involved, and their complacence hurt people.

I wonder if the letter they wrote to their community and their place in history might have been different if they could go back in time.

I wonder if they would have been brave enough to join the protests instead of criticizing them.

I wonder if they would have been heroes.

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Mary Lou Retton, Commodore 64, and a Pack of Lucky Strikes

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I grew up in a house that was too small for secrets.  There were no secluded hiding spots or private spaces.  Time alone was so rare that it almost felt uncomfortable.  And even when you thought you were having a private conversation, someone was always within earshot.  Usually, that person was your little brother.

There wasn’t much the four of us didn’t know about each other.

So I was surprised when, on a crisp November day while my boys and I were visiting my parents, my dad revealed a treasure box that had been covertly concealed in a closet.  Even in our teeny tiny house, he’d kept a secret – a stash of yellowed newspapers and vintage magazines that he had squirreled away over the years for their historical or personal significance, including several Sports Illustrated magazines from my childhood.

You guys, MARY LOU RETTON.

My memories of the spring and summer of 1984 are limited.  I had just turned eight years old.  My second grade teacher had been creative and unconventional, and she would remain one of my favorites forever.  (She played the guitar, produced a play every season, and sang “Puff the Magic Dragon.”  Standardized tests weren’t holding us hostage yet.)  I owned a Michael Jackson t-shirt that I vaguely remember wearing often.  Probably too often.  I honestly don’t remember much more that that.

But I DO remember watching Mary Lou Retton win gold in the summer Olympics, right here in America.  I remember seeing her on the Wheaties boxes at the store.  (She was the first woman on the front of the box, by the way.)  She was smiley and spunky, and she grew up just a couple of hours away from me, which in Appalachia means that you might as well be neighbors.  We claimed her, and she would become one of the most beloved athletes of all time.

So when my dad pulled out his treasures, I went straight for the Sports Illustrated dated August 13, 1984 to read the articles about Mary Lou.  But I didn’t even read them.  I still haven’t read them, actually.  (I’m so sorry, Mary Lou.  I will.  I promise!)  When I opened the cover and saw the first advertisement, I quickly became engrossed in what this relic from the past reveals about the American experience just a few decades ago.  Is this really what life was like when I was a child?  Whoa.  Apparently, growing up requires so much concentration that we don’t even notice the changes of life swirling around us.

It does surprise me how much some areas of our lives have been transformed.  And it’s equally amazing how much some things that need to change really haven’t changed so much at all.  See for yourself!  Check out this walk down Memory Lane courtesy of Sports Illustrated magazine, August 1984.

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The Marlboro Man was to 1984 what The Most Interesting Man in the World is to 2018.  He was cool.  He persuaded us to believe that indulging in unhealthy habits isn’t immature or irresponsible; it’s manly.  (We are all still recovering from the devastation this myth creates in our society…)  In the 80s, kids loved their candy cigarettes, and there were women who could not resist a man who smelled like a campfire and sounded like he was coughing up a lung.  But the Marlboro man wasn’t lonely in Sports Illustrated.  There were almost as many cigarette ads as articles.

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There was this one, which makes a pool party look like a lot more fun than smoking, but whatever.  I guess the ladies only came when they heard there would be cigarettes?

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And there was this guy.  He had no idea how to ride a motorcycle until he smoked a Kool.  I bet he didn’t have hair like that B.K. (Before Kool), either.  I might even consider smoking a Kool to grow thick hair and have deep thoughts like that . . .

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And there were these.  Hey, at least they are low tar.  A lot of tar sounds gross, but a little tar, well, that’s perfect.

You guys, there were SO MANY tobacco ads in this Sports Illustrated.

Interestingly, according to this article on nbcnews.com dated May 24, 2016, “roughly 42 percent of U.S. adults smoked” about fifty years ago, down to around 15% today.  Which suggests that maybe, just maybe, sometimes government regulations imposed on profitable industries that care more about money than actual Americans can be the catalyst for significant and positive shifts in our society.

Or maybe I’m misunderstanding the statistics.

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Remember when Kmart was king of the department stores and Walmart was just invading the Midwest?  Really, did anyone who banked on the success of Velcro shoes get ahead?

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Yes, there was a time when everybody wanted a Commodore 64.  Who thought technology would expand beyond THIS?  Just look at those graphics!

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What?!?  AT&T made personal computers?  Based on the ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE customer service I experienced with them recently, I’m not surprised they’ve experienced some failures.

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Even with the advancing technology, in the 1980s computers still seemed unnecessary to most of us.  As if every family would need its own computer!  Please!  That would be as crazy as having phones that weren’t attached to the wall!  Or computers that would fit in our pockets!  Just the idea was hilarious.  Electronic typewriters were the perfect middle ground for most of middle America.  We liked change.  But not THAT much change.

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Rolls of film?  My kids would have no idea what this even means . . .

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Friends, here’s a true story: I almost surrendered while trying to open a package of Tide pods yesterday to wash our clothes.  I’m not even joking.  The childproofing was so advanced and creative that it took me several minutes to figure it out.  In 2018, we live in our own personal prisons to keep our children safe.  But in 1984, I was eight years old, and I was sitting in the front seat, probably on my knees, without a safety belt.  Really, I might as well have been driving.  According to this ad, only 15% of Americans were buckling up in 1984, so I was in good company – and my parents were perfectly wonderful – and totally normal to allow this.  I remember people protesting when seatbelt laws were first introduced, but those regulations have saved a whole lot of lives.

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A few things I found in this SI issue did disturb me.  I’m not sure this ad campaign would fly today.  I’m pretty sure that secretaries have other things to type at work . . .

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And I’m confident that the photographers at the Olympics could have shared a more appropriate photo of the Romanian women’s gymnastics team than this.  REALLY?

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And I’d love to tell you that thirty years since this letter to the editor, at least one woman has qualified to officiate a regular season game for major league baseball, but as far as I can tell, that hasn’t happened.  It’s been THIRTY YEARS!

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And this guy wrote an editorial about how, in his opinion, Americans weren’t the most hospitable hosts of the Olympics because, well, maybe our culture is generally kind of selfish and maybe we think that America should always be the center of attention.  Maybe we weren’t as welcoming and open minded toward people from other countries in 1984 as we thought we were.

Whew.  Thank goodness those attitudes have changed, right?  (*sigh*)

So everything wasn’t perfect in 1984.  There were problems, some that we’ve almost extinguished and some that we have not.

But we did have Velcro shoes.

And Mary Lou Retton.

And that alone makes up for a lot.

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A Letter to My Sons About Matt Lauer

A Letter to My Sons About Matt Lauer

Dear Boys,

This morning started just like any other morning.  The three of us rushed around the house, grabbing breakfast and packing lunches and filling backpacks for school.  We were listening to the news, prepared to hear the latest White House tweet, when Savannah Guthrie’s quivering voice shared something unexpected – that her friend and co-host on the Today Show, Matt Lauer, had been fired.  You asked me why I stopped what I was doing.  You noticed that my voice was shaky, too.

Now that you are both a little older, I choose not to shield you from the news.  Sometimes the news reports are ugly and painful.  Sometimes they introduce you to issues I would rather you didn’t know.  But the news is also the truth of the world that you live in.  I want you to see it and feel it and wrestle with it while you are still living here.  I want you to face reality even when reality is hard.  I want you to ask me all kinds of questions because it’s my job to get you ready to face the challenges of life.

So you are both aware that powerful men have been falling like dominos recently, one after another.  We have watched their belief that power and money could make them invincible crumble.  And our illusion that we can tell whom we should trust has collapsed, as well.

I thought I could trust Matt Lauer, guys.  I really did.

Before you left for school today, we had a conversation about how, even though each new story makes me feel disgusted and sad, we are witnessing a pivotal moment in American culture, a moment in which powerful people – businessmen, politicians, and celebrities – are finally being held accountable for clearly unacceptable behavior.  I told you that this means, maybe, hopefully, that you won’t have to worry about your wife being hit on at work someday or your daughters being expected to excuse demeaning treatment to progress in their careers or even keep their jobs.  I told you that this change could signal the beginning of a more equal balance of power in high-level positions and that all people will have to start thinking more before they make decisions – because there may actually be accountability for behaviors that were conveniently overlooked before.  Ultimately, this is a good and historical moment.

And then I sent you off to school.

But after you headed to the bus stop, I reflected on our conversation and felt uneasy.  It wasn’t because I said anything that I don’t believe to be true, and it wasn’t because I don’t see this as a truly significant moment for women.  I felt uneasy because I had suggested to you that this watershed is a victory for women alone, that you, my sons, will benefit only indirectly through the women you love.

But that isn’t true.

Sure, this moment matters because there will always be women who play significant roles in your lives – women like me and your grandmothers, your aunts and your cousins, possibly someday your wives and daughters and nieces.  All of these women, every single one of them, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect inside their workplaces and everywhere else.  I want you to care about women.  I want you to be empathetic, compassionate men.  I want you to notice and positively impact how other people are treated.

But as a mom of boys, I know that changing our culture in positive ways will directly impact your futures, too.  The society that we have created for you, the unclear expectations that we have set for young men – this stuff scares a mom, guys.  Because it is probably safe to assume that some of the men who have crashed in the headlines for tormenting subordinates with inappropriate advances or making lewd comments to or about female co-workers were raised by loving mothers who taught them to be respectful gentlemen, too.

So what the heck happened?

I don’t know how to answer that question.

What I do know, my boys, is that you will receive many confusing messages from the snake oil salesman that is our culture.  He will tempt you with simple remedies for your insecurities and peddle empty vials labeled “happiness” and “satisfaction” that will never provide the relief that you seek.  He will talk out of both sides of his mouth, confusing you with mixed up ideas about what it means to be a man.  He will tell you to be a gentleman always but then feed you a steady stream of music and graphic images that depict women as disposable objects rather than smart, respectable humans.  He will tell you that nothing is more admirable than being a devoted father and husband but then reward you for showing off your machismo, for drinking too much, for laughing at inappropriate jokes, for choosing work over home.  He will tell you that honesty is a virtue but then persuade you that what other people don’t know won’t hurt you.  He will warn you that you could be fired for behaving unethically but then convince you that behaving unethically is just what you need to do to move higher and at a faster pace.  He will feed your ego with power, convincing you that you are above the rules, and then laugh when that power is ultimately stripped away.

In recent weeks we have seen that the Boys’ Club still exists, that it clearly remains part of the business world in America.  It is exclusive.  It comes with perks and promotions, a sense of importance and often generous financial rewards for the guys who get in.  The men in The Club seem confident and invincible.  Really, it must be a whole lot of fun.

Until it isn’t.

So our culture needs to change for the girls in your class at school, certainly, but also for you.  It is easy for you to say at 11 and 13 that you will do the right thing when faced with your own difficult choices in the future.  But I know that IT’S NOT EASY to choose not to laugh at the boss’s inappropriate remarks when you know what he expects and a promotion hangs in the balance.  I know that IT’S NOT EASY to tell your coworkers that rating the looks of the women at the office after a meeting isn’t acceptable, knowing that you may lose friends.  I know that IT’S NOT EASY to remember that really big mistakes start with really small decisions – decisions to do things or say things or accept things or overlook things that become the bricks that pave a path toward your own disaster.

As a teacher, I have seen one truth about people proven over and over again: our human nature is to raise ourselves or lower ourselves to the expectations of those around us.  I have seen students at a high risk of dropping out or going to jail achieve incredible personal and academic success because of the challenging expectations, consistent support, and high level of accountability provided by other people.  And I have seen students who had every reason to be successful fail miserably in school or in life because of the low expectations, weak support, and lack of accountability offered by the people they pulled closest to them.  I want you, my sons, to help set a high bar for the people around you.  But I want our culture to start setting a higher bar for YOU.  Because even though I believe that you are personally responsible for making the choices that you know are right in your life, it will be a heck of a lot easier to do the right thing when the climate in your workplace and your circle of friends demand it.

As a woman, I believe that this is a critical and exciting moment for women and girls in America.  As a mom of boys, I recognize that the changes that should and hopefully will come from the recent revelations will help you, the sons I love so very much, to live a better life, as well.  The news has been dark and troubling, but there are so many lessons you can learn from the mistakes of other people, boys.  Just this week, we’ve discussed that the right thing to do is always the right thing to do.  That peer pressure to behave a certain way or to be quiet will still exist when you grow up.  That power is intoxicating and can make really smart people behave in really stupid ways.  That “what happens in Vegas” or Sochi or wherever doesn’t actually stay there forever.  That it is important to have friends whom you can trust, friends who are brutally honest, friends who knew you before you accomplished anything at all.  That people make mistakes and that mistakes can be forgiven but that you can never move past mistakes that you don’t own.  That if you have created a reputation of behaving inappropriately and someone does falsely accuse you, you are going to have a very, very hard time defending your name.  And that it is always wise to imagine your decisions as newspaper headlines first – because the reality is that they could be.

Most importantly, we have been reminded that how we treat one another matters.  Please treat other people kindly, boys.  All of the people around you, the men and the women.

You will be rewarded for it, even if it means that you can’t be in The Club.

Love you always,

Mom 

Our Disney “Don’t Miss” Lists

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Okay, friends, if you read my Tips and Tricks for a Dreamy Disney Vacation, then you already know that we enjoyed a very special vacation this summer.  This is my second and last post about that experience, I promise, but I thought those of you who have vacationed at Disney or might someday vacation at Disney might appreciate this.  Plus, it is a fun way for me to document our adventure for our own future reference!

As soon as we hopped in the car for the long drive home from Florida to Ohio, I asked each person in our crew (ages 3 to 40ish) ten questions.  These questions covered their favorite aspects of our Disney experience to what they would change about our trip if they could.  Each interview and photo collage below reveals the details of our trip through a different set of eyes!  Any experience that was mentioned by more than one person must have been very special, so those are highlighted in purple.  If you would like more information about any specific park, ride, shop, or restaurant, you can just enter the title in the search bar on the Disney website.  Enjoy!

Mary Ann, Teacher, Writer, and Mom of two boys
Favorite Park: Tie between Magic Kingdom and EPCOT
Favorite Family Ride: Toy Story Mania at Hollywood Studios
Favorite Thrill Ride: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Snack: Chocolate cake pop from the Main Street Confectionary at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Restaurant Meal: Lunch at T-Rex at Disney Springs
Favorite Dining Experience: My birthday luau at the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Village Resort
Favorite Souvenir: A caricature drawing by an artist at the All-Star Sports Resort
Favorite Disney Moment: Watching my three-year-old nephew’s excitement at the Festival of Fantasy parade at Magic Kingdom
Disney Tip: It’s probably going to rain, so pack a pair of extra shoes in your suitcase and bring a poncho to the parks.
One Thing You Would Do Differently: I would save a little extra money for expensive meals and special snacks.

Scott, Teacher, My Brother, and Dad of Two Boys
Favorite Park: Magic Kingdom
Favorite Family Ride: Peter Pan’s Flight at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Thrill Ride: Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Snack: Cinnamon ice cream from L’Artisan Des Glaces in France in the World Showcase at EPCOT
Favorite Restaurant Meal: Chip ‘n’ Dale Character Breakfast at the Garden Grill at EPCOT
Favorite Dining Experience: Lunch at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Souvenir: Memory Maker Photo Pass (professional photos of the family from all of the parks)
Favorite Disney Moment: Watching my nephews experience Disney World for the first time
Disney Tip: Download My Disney Experience app on your phone to watch wait times and book fast passes
One Thing You Would Do Differently: Get everyone moving faster in the morning to get to the parks for early entry.

Stacey, Teacher and Mom of two boys
Favorite Park: EPCOT
Favorite Family Ride: Frozen Ever After at EPCOT
Favorite Thrill Ride: Big Thunder Mountain at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Snack: Caramel apple from Main Street Confectionary at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Restaurant Meal: Family-style Polynesian dinner at the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Village Resort
Favorite Dining Experience: Patio view of Cinderella Castle at Casey’s Corner in Magic Kingdom
Favorite Souvenir: Alex and Ani bracelet with Cinderella Castle, Walt, and Mickey purchased at the Emporium in Magic Kingdom
Favorite Disney Moment: Only one? Maybe watching the boys enjoy an impromptu tea party in Morocco in the World Showcase at EPCOT . . .
Disney Tip: Plan carefully, but also do something spontaneous! For example, we tried using a water taxi for the first time, and it was a special moment.
One Thing You Would Do Differently: I wish we wouldn’t have said we would come back to do something or return to enjoy a ride again later. I wish we had done those things in the moment. Weather and time sometimes prevented us from doing the things we planned to come back to.

Gavin, Age 13
Favorite Park: Hollywood Studios (with EPCOT a close second)
Favorite Family Ride: The Jungle Cruise at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Thrill Ride: The Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios
Favorite Snack: Mickey pretzel with cheese (available all over the place)
Favorite Restaurant Meal: Nachos at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Dining Experience: Eating with dinosaurs at T-Rex at Disney Springs
Favorite Souvenir: Customized phone case from Launch Bay Cargo at Hollywood Studios
Favorite Disney Moment: Seeing the castle, hearing the happy music, and riding my first Disney ride (Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) and thinking “THIS is Disney . . .”
One Thing You Would Do Differently: Skip the 50’s Prime Time Café. We waited a long time even with a reservation, sat at a table that was too small for us, and the experience and food weren’t as good as I expected.
Disney Tip: Leave half a day open to hang out at your hotel and swim.

Carson, Age 11
Favorite Park: Magic Kingdom (with Hollywood Studios a close second)
Favorite Family Ride: Kilimanjaro Safari at Animal Kingdom
Favorite Thrill Ride: Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios
Favorite Snack: Apple cinnamon ice cream from L’Artisan Des Glaces in France in the World Showcase at EPCOT
Favorite Restaurant Meal: Nachos from Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Dining Experience: Luau at the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Village Resort
Favorite Souvenir: A soccer jersey from a gift shop in England in the World Showcase at EPCOT
Favorite Disney Moment: Watching my little cousin wave at characters in the Festival of Fantasy parade at Magic Kingdom
Disney Tip: Be sure to ride the monorail.
One Thing You Would Do Differently: I would have taken a little more time to swim. Our hotel had a neat baseball-theme pool.

Ethan, Age 8
Favorite Park: Magic Kingdom
Favorite Family Ride: Pirates of the Caribbean at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Thrill Ride: Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios
Favorite Snack: Fresh popcorn from popcorn stands at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Restaurant Meal: Pizza from Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria in Italy in the World Showcase at EPCOT
Favorite Dining Experience: Luau at the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Village Resort
Favorite Souvenir: Mickey Mouse beach hat from the All-Star Sports Resort gift shop
Favorite Disney Moment: Being with my family and sharing adjoining hotel rooms with my cousins
Disney Tip: Get up and go to the parks early to get through security more quickly.
One Thing You Would Do Differently: I would skip the gift shops to have more fun!

Aidan, Age 3
Favorite Park: Magic Kingdom
Favorite Family Ride: Kilimanjaro Safari at Animal Kingdom
Favorite Thrill Ride: Frozen Ever After at EPCOT (It’s only a thrill ride if you are three years old!  Check out his face on the one small hill!)
Favorite Snack: Mickey-shaped sugar cookie from the Main Street Confectionary at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Restaurant Meal: Pizza from Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria in Italy in the World Showcase at EPCOT
Favorite Dining Experience: Getting character autographs at the Chip ‘n’ Dale Character Breakfast at the Garden Grill at EPCOT
Favorite Souvenir: Robot puppy from the gift shop at the exit of Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Disney Moment: Watching the Festival of Fantasy parade in Frontierland at Magic Kingdom
Disney Tip: Let little kids make choices, too, and go on family rides all together.
One Thing You Would Do Differently: Meet more characters!

Tips and Tricks for a Dreamy Disney Vacation

 

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Oh . . . Disney World.

For some people, those two words evoke fear and a white-knuckled clutching of the wallet.  For others, the words instantly add a little pep to their step and a noticeable sparkle to their eyes.  So what’s the difference?  After taking my two sons, ages 11 and 13, to Disney World for the first time with my brother (a Disney pro) and his family, I think I know.  Those who love it know the ins and the outs, and those who don’t love it have visited Disney World while flying blind.  There is SO MUCH to research before visiting Disney, but the more you know, the more you will enjoy the Disney magic.  Let me help!

  1. Plan far in advance. Like really far in advance. A Disney vacation is magical, but the magic doesn’t happen by accident.  Disney veterans book hotel rooms and restaurant reservations and fast passes months in advance, so a Disney vacation is a good fit for parents who enjoy the journey as much as the destination.  If you don’t like to plan, you might consider using a travel agent.  Or going somewhere else.  Or adopting my brother, who revels in the planning as much as he enjoys the actual trip.  (Yes, Scott, I said something nice about you . . . Publicly . . . Soak it up!  Love you, and thanks for all of your planning!)
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  2. Consider staying on Disney property. Many families rule out staying on property before considering the perks or looking for promotions that cut the cost. Among other benefits, families who stay on Disney property can book fast passes earlier and can choose from a variety of free transportation options to get from one park or hotel to another.  At least think about it.
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  3. Don’t be afraid of the word “value.”  Value resorts are less expensive than the moderate and deluxe resorts at Disney World, but “value” does not mean low quality. We stayed at All-Star Sports, and it was clean and comfortable with themed buildings, fun designs, and good food.  Since we enjoyed the parks from early morning until dark almost every day, the time we spent at our hotel was minimal.  It probably would have been a waste for us to invest in a higher-end resort, and the sports theme was perfect for our four active boys.
  4. Research meal plans and watch for promotions. Disney sometimes offers promotions that provide your family with some free Disney meals. We booked during a promotion that provided one quick service meal (basically fast food) at any Disney park or hotel for each person each day.  It was heavenly to be able to scan our magic bands for one meal a day without cringing at the prices on the menu.  Paying in advance for additional meals through a meal plan is tempting, but we were rarely hungry enough to eat three full meals a day, so buying a full meal plan would not be cost effective for us.  My kids were often satisfied with a simple snack or two while they were riding roller coasters in the heat of the day between breakfast and dinner, and we treated ourselves to a few sit-down dinners throughout the week, like pizza at Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria.
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  5. Check out all of your transportation options. During our stay, we used the Disney buses at some point every day, but we also hopped on the monorail a couple of times, which I remember being so exciting when I visited Disney World for the first time at five-years-old. My kids loved it, too.  One of the highlights of our trip was the night we caught a free boat ride (water taxi) from the Polynesian Village Resort, where we had attended a luau (a gift from my brother for my birthday), to the Magic Kingdom.  It was a magical experience since we could see the fireworks above and the light parade on the water and since we were the only people on the boat.   And this experience cost nothing extra and wasn’t even a part of the theme parks!  Not all transportation options are available at every Disney location, so check in advance and try the ones that you can.
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  6. Expect that food will cost more than you think. I was prepared for the typical (and ridiculous) amusement park food prices at Disney, but I found the Disney prices to be even higher than I expected. Of course, my sons eat like adults now, so I was buying for three “grownups.”  Breakfasts averaged $20-30 for the three of us.  Lunches averaged $40-55 (except these were covered by our promotional meal plan – hallelujah).  Dinners at sit-down restaurants were WAY expensive, around $75 or more for the three of us, so we did not splurge on this often.  Plus, we could easily spend $8-10 on a snack and a drink for one person in the parks during the day.  You are permitted to pack snacks and water bottles, which we did, and we have some generous grandmas and aunts and uncles who sponsored a few meals because they are so sweet (thank you!), but I will warn you that those Disney people are smart, and their treats are cute and tempting and delicious.  I would say that the cost of food was the most overwhelming expense, but I can also say that we did not have a bad meal anywhere, at any price level.  Disney food is tasty!
  7. Consider purchasing the Memory Maker Photo Pass. This is not inexpensive, but my brother and his wife decided to buy it, and we all appreciated their investment very much. There are Disney photographers all over the theme parks, often stationed in front of landmarks like the EPCOT ball or Cinderella’s castle.  With the Memory Maker Photo Pass, you can ask any of these photographers to take your family’s photo as often as you want throughout the week.  Disney also snaps your photograph on most of the thrill rides, and these pictures are hilarious.  At the end of the week, you can download all of the photos to your own computer.  Our best photos from our trip are the Photo Pass photographs.
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  8. Don’t miss opportunities to “rider swap.” Since we were traveling with a three-year-old, the older kids and adults could never ride a thrill ride as one group because someone always needed to stay with the littlest person.  Rider swap allowed the adult who was waiting plus a couple additional family members to ride immediately after the others finished so that the family did not have to stand in the same long line twice just so that everyone could ride.  This is a very cool and very family-friendly benefit, and many people don’t realize it’s available.
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  9. Fast passes are amazing, but do your research. Fast passes allow you to book several ride times in advance for each day so that you do not have to wait in long lines for every ride. For those of us who visited Disney many years ago, this gives us yet another opportunity to tell our children just how spoiled they are!  Seriously, though, the fast passes allow you to see so much more of the parks in a day because you aren’t wasting ridiculous amounts of time in line.  However, we often saw people using fast passes on rides that don’t typically have a long wait anyway, and you can’t book more fast passes until you have used your first ones, so make sure that you carefully research to see which rides typically have the longest lines.
  10. Load the “My Disney Experience” app to keep an eye on wait times in real time. Again, kids these days have no idea what life was like without instant gratification! Now, using this app on your phone, you can easily see which areas of each park are busy and which are not at any given time.  We often found rides with waits of 5-15 minutes and dashed to those to avoid waiting in long lines.  Sweeeeet.  Truthfully, with the fast passes and this app, we spent very little time waiting around.
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  11. If you are traveling with a multi-generational group, plan to meet the needs of everyone. There are experiences at Disney World for people of all ages and for families that have a wide variety of interests, and many of the rides and shows are entertaining for almost everyone. Young children are able to ride most of the rides, and the classics like It’s a Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean are fun to enjoy together.  But there may be times when dividing and conquering makes more sense, so think ahead about who loves roller coasters and who doesn’t and what each person absolutely does not want to leave Disney World without seeing.
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  12. Enjoy that visiting Disney World is a truly global experience. I had not visited Disney World for over twenty years, so I had forgotten that people from ALL OVER THE WORLD see our Disney World as an exciting vacation destination. I have never heard so many languages spoken in one place!  Even our “neighbors” at our hotel were visiting from England.  Disney employees wear nametags that share where they are from (which is a detail that I LOVE), and those employees represent countries from all around the world.  This is especially apparent at EPCOT where the employees are often from the countries that they staff in the World Showcase.  Even with this global influence, however, we realized just how small the world really is.  (Cue the “It’s a Small World” music!)  We met a Disney employee from our own town in Ohio, saw a family wearing t-shirts from another local high school, and attracted Ohioans like moths to a flame by wearing Ohio State shirts.  Pack a shirt that represents something local to you and see if you meet anyone new as a result!
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  13. Pack your patience. We didn’t wait long for rides most of the time, but that doesn’t mean that we didn’t do our fair share of waiting. We waited for the bus.  We waited for the monorail.  We waited to have our bags checked by security each morning.  We waited in line for food.  But we were on vacation, and we weren’t going to allow a bit of waiting to ruin our fun.  Bring your patience and be nice.  Or stay home.
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  14. Expect to make new friends – because Disney World can be crowded. At some point, you will be waiting in line for a ride, and you will feel just a little claustrophobic. At some time, you will be standing on a Disney bus because there is nowhere left to sit.  At some moment, you will find yourself caught in an undertow of people because you just happen to be in the busiest part of the park at that minute.  I was actually surprised that the parks weren’t as busy as I expected them to be in June, but, again, bring your patience or stay home.
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  15. Disney “hunts” can add another layer of fun to your visit. My kids and their cousins enjoyed collecting smashed pennies across the parks. Penny smashers (machines that heat a penny and then smash and imprint it with a commemorative image for 50 cents per penny) can be found all over each of the parks and even at the resorts.  You can buy penny collection books in the gift shops, and my boys especially enjoyed documenting their favorite rides with smashed pennies and finding penny smashers in every country in the World Showcase in EPCOT.  Another more expensive option is to buy and trade Disney pins across the parks.  If you are going this route and want to save some cash, check Ebay or similar sites for lanyards and pins before your trip.  And there are free options, as well, like searching for “hidden Mickeys,” images of Mickey that are hidden in the designs and architecture across the parks, or playing interactive games throughout the parks like Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom.
  16. Trust that Disney World will provide a clean, comfortable environment for you. Disney World prides itself in being the happiest place on earth – and this is not a joke to them. The employees are, for the most part, exceptionally kind and helpful, and it is easy to find what you need there, including restrooms, which are abundant.  In addition, everything is exceptionally clean.  We were surprised to see employees clearing standing water from sidewalks and using squeegees to dry any wet surface after a rain, including clearing water droplets from the tops of the trash cans.  There are places to rest in the shade when you need a break.  No matter what your personal concerns, Disney World will try to provide the best experience that they possibly can.
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  17. Watch for the magical moments. Disney prides itself in “magical moments,” unexpected small joys that visitors may experience at any time. For example, one afternoon we just happened to walk by a snack stand at Magic Kingdom where we were handed $6 Mickey pretzels – my older son’s favorite treat – for free.  All of us!  I’m not sure why this happened, but it did, and it brought big smiles to our family and several others.  On my birthday, I received unexpected birthday greetings from Disney employees who brightened my day.  While watching the Festival of Fantasy parade, the Little Mermaid, sitting high on a float, singled out my three-year-old nephew to show him that his red hair matches hers.  He was thrilled by the attention.  The Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor featured a joke that my younger son submitted while we waited in line, and my eight-year-old nephew had an awesome encounter with a Storm Trooper who asked him if he was a member of the First Order.  In another special moment, a Disney cast member played rock, paper, scissors with our kids through a window, entertaining them while we waited for the Country Bear Jamboree.  It was such a simple gesture, but it was surprisingly special.  If you visit Disney, please slow down and enjoy the magic!

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  18. If you really want to be Disney trendy, consider creating unique family t-shirts or “Disney bounding.” Family t-shirts may sound cheesy, but trust me when I say that some families had designed some really cool, professional-looking styles with clever plays on words. Disney bounding is all about assembling fashionable, modern outfits that are inspired by Disney characters.  Check it out online; it’s much cooler than it sounds!  I am thankful to all of the people who go the extra mile to do these things because watching for them brought some extra joy to our trip!
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  19. Soak up the amazing Disney details! Before we went to Disney World, my kids imagined that the Disney parks would be like the amusement parks they had visited before, and I couldn’t really explain to them why Disney is different. But once we entered the Magic Kingdom, I remembered that the difference, which is significant, is all about the details.  As a whole, the details at Disney create an atmosphere that feels like a fantasy, but the experience is richer when you take the time to truly appreciate the details of every Disney experience.  Notice the circus peanuts embedded in the concrete that leads to the Dumbo ride.  Notice how the Mary Poppins cast member looks and acts just like Mary Poppins would, correcting children and corralling rambunctious little ones for a picture using her umbrella.  Notice the exquisite costumes and meticulous makeup in the Festival of Fantasy parade.  Notice that the change you receive after each purchase is shiny and new.  Notice the witch at the door of Snow White’s house as you finish riding the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.  Notice the creative designs of the snacks in The Confectionary.  Notice the amazing details that make you feel like you shrunk in the Toy Story Mania ride at Hollywood Studios and the incredible environment all around you in the new Pandora section of Animal Kingdom.  The details are incredible.  Notice them.
  20. Know that, sadly, you can’t do it all, even in a week. We spent five and a half days in Disney parks. That is a long Disney World vacation.  Five of those days, we arrived at the parks around the time that they opened.  Five of those days, we left the parks after dark.  We used fast passes and checked wait times to make the most of our time and took advantage of every moment.  Still, we hardly watched any of the live shows at any of the parks.  We never sat in one place long enough to watch an entire display of fireworks.  There were rides that we had hoped to revisit, but we ran out of time.  We didn’t have a chance to explore Disney Springs or to enjoy our resort pool very much or to go mini-golfing on Disney property.  Even in a week, you can’t do it all.  There is so, so much that you can do!

So if you decide to splurge on a Disney vacation, do your research and invest in the planning so that you can enjoy the experience as much as we did.  My boys really want to go back . . . but we have a lot of saving to do until then!  But that’s okay.  Disney reminded us that there’s a great big beautiful tomorrow waiting at the end of every day, whether you are at a Disney park or just enjoying life with a Disney World mindset at home!

Not Today Satan and an Invite to Birch Bear!

Blessed Mama

Every once in a while when I’m out and about, I run into someone who says, “Hey, I follow your blog!  I really liked that one post you wrote about that one thing!”  Those compliments always bring a smile to my face; it’s nice to know that somebody appreciates what you do, right?  But sometimes someone stops me and says, “I loved that post so much that I shared it with my sister,” or, “I follow your blog and I told my friend she should follow it, too,” or, “We printed this out and we’re giving it to our coach.”  Those comments definitely warm my heart – because I know that when you SHARE something, you REALLY LOVE IT!  So today, I’m paying it forward.  I found something that I LOVE, and I want to share it with YOU.

A few weeks ago I ordered a couple of new t-shirts to spruce up my summer wardrobe.  I’m getting old, which is evident in so many ways, one of which is that I prefer easy, comfy, and does-not-need-ironed clothes over the high fashion, high maintenance, gentle-cycle-lay-flat-to-dry clothes that I wore before I was tired all of the time.  Still, I was hoping to find something at least a little bit classy or clever, something that would say, “See, I’m cute without even trying hard,” rather than, “Just shut up because parenting is hard and you’ll be a slob someday, too.”

This is when I stumbled upon Birch Bear Co and the cutest stinkin’ t-shirts EVER.

Birch Bear

I have found online shopping to be unpredictable, and I have been burnt on Etsy before, so I ordered one t-shirt from Birch Bear Co with high hopes but lower expectations.  But it turns out that this small business is just awesome.  I loved my new shirt, and when I posted a picture of myself wearing the Birch Bear tee below on Easter, SO many of you wanted to know where I got it that I contacted Kayla Ernsberger, who owns and operates Birch Bear Co with her husband in Michigan, to tell her that I love her work and to ask her to team up with me to help my friends get some fun shirts, too!

Capture

Before you start shopping, let me give you six reasons why I love Kayla’s shop:

  1. The quality of the t-shirts is MUCH nicer than others I have ordered online.  I ordered two more shirts with a discount Kayla gave me so that I could recommend the company with full confidence.  They are all comfy, light, and soft, and the t-shirts are high blend premium tri-blend, which gives them a heather color and a richer look.  (Just FYI – they are not fitted t-shirts, but the V-necks seem more fitted than the crew neck shirt I bought.)
  2. Birch Bear Co has a really large selection (over 700 products), and Kayla researches trending sayings (like the one I bought) and designs so that you can find what you want and more . . . and even more if you keep looking.  It’s dangerous.
  3. Birch Bear Co is committed to the details, which makes your purchase feel special, like it came from a boutique.  My t-shirts came neatly packaged in a small box that felt like a gift in the mail.  (This reminded me of the feeling of opening a Stitch Fix box, if you have had that experience!)
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  4. The branding at Birch Bear Co is smart and adorable.  The logo itself could be a t-shirt, and Birch Bear Co shirts can be identified by the company tag added to the lower corner of each one.  Again, the details.
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  5. If you compare t-shirt prices on Etsy, Birch Bear Co is reasonable, with prices lower than some other shops with lower quality products.  Also, you are supporting a small business.
  6. Working with Kayla has been dreamy.  She loves this business, and she values her customers, and it shows.  She is very responsive to customer needs.

Let me just remind you that I don’t know Kayla personally, that I found Birch Bear Co by accident, and that Birch Bear Co did not contact me.  I contacted Kayla because I was excited and wanted to share her shop with YOU.  Kayla shared with me that she and her husband started this business a year ago when she was looking for a creative hobby.  They made their first sale in June 2016, and Birch Bear Co has been so successful that they have both quit their former professional jobs already to keep up with their shop and their two-year-old son.  Birch Bear Co is ALREADY ranked 299 out of 1.7 million Etsy shops – so I am not the only one who was impressed.  Wow.

Here are two shirts I purchased.  I generally wear a small, but the crew neck shirt has a loose fit, so I could probably wear an XS.  I like the fit of the small V-necks.  (Selfies.  Ugh.)

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If my co-teachers, Katie and Ann, buy this one, they are in big trouble:

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And there are days when I probably could wear this one:

Cuss a Little

Here are a few more of my trending favorites:

One more thing . . . Kayla is SO SWEET that she created a promo code just for my Still Chasing Fireflies friends.  This code expires on May 5!  Click here to go to Birch Bear Co where you can use this code to get 10% off:

Code

Today’s a great day to have a great day – and maybe to treat yourself to something fun for summer.  Please feel free to share this post and code with your friends.  Thanks, again, Birch Bear Co!  It’s been a pleasure!