Travel Extras – Disney



Like the other posts in this series, there will be no pictures.  Unlike the other posts, this isn’t so much about the hotel as much as it is about things you might not think to bring to enjoy your vacation.

I recommend reading the Family Hotels post also as many of those suggestions would be relevant to a theme park.  This post is written assuming you are staying on Disney property, so the Kitchen and VRBO information would be less relevant, but you can apply those to your specific situation as appropriate.

So, lets dive right in train of thought style.

If you have children, you will want a stroller.  I recommend a stroller for children through at least age 6, which may be much older than they would normally ride in a stroller at home.  But, Disney is huge and a tired, grumpy child will be no fun for the group.  Plus, the place is really pretty stroller friendly and it offers a built in base for your stuff.

We usually bring our own, but we have rented the Disney strollers also.  The kids found them comfortable and the double can fit three in a pinch, which is handy.  Some people like to buy a balloon to mark their stroller (they tend to get moved) so it is easier to find.  Our regular stroller is orange, which makes it reasonably easy to spot.  But, if you have a black stroller or are using a Disney stroller it is a good idea to tie a bright scarf or such around the handle so you can quickly differentiate it.

The unfortunate second topic is germs/illness.  Disney does a good job cleaning and is generally much neater than other amusement parks.  But, there are still thousands of people touching everything and you probably have small children who cannot be convinced not to touch.  Plus, because it is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for many, it is very hard to skip a day in the park even if you really should for illness.  Therefore, hand sanitizer and wipes are your friend.  I recommend a large supply of both and using them after every ride.

Another trick for preventing the spread of germs is to bring a sharpie to label the caps and bottles of all group drinks.  This way you know exactly whose is whose and are much less likely to share germs among your group.

Disney does allow you to bring a soft sided cooler into the park, which if you are clever can store food for the entire day.  Even if you do not do that, I recommend bringing a bottle of water for each person in your party (labeled with that sharpie).  Most days it is hot.  Even if you have the dining plan, which now has about a million snack credits, it seems wasteful to use a snack credit on a bottle of water.  The exception is to get a truly cold drink, which your stroller-stored water bottles might not be by afternoon.  There are grocery services which will deliver to your Disney hotel, especially if you order in advance.  Ordering by the case will be much less expensive than buying single bottles from Disney.

Continuing with the weather theme, you will be outside all day so sunscreen is a must.  You will want to purchase this at home and bring it as Disney sunscreen is also expensive.

Another thing to consider if you have small children is what will happen if they are separated from you.  I recommend safety bracelets.  These are custom printed (we put both adults cell phone numbers on them), waterproof bracelets that are pretty difficult for the child to remove on their own.  Your child will probably be wearing a Magic Band (more on that later), but the bracelets will allow any adult to help them, not just a Disney staff member.  This is particularly helpful in places like Tom Sawyer’s Island where staff members can be few and far between and places to get lost are many.

Now back to those Magic Bands.  If you are staying on Disney property every member of your party will get one.  If you are using Disney transportation from the airport, you will need them on to board the bus, so put them in your carry-on luggage.  You will also need your transportation paperwork.  And, do not lose your transportation paperwork as you need to present it to the driver on the return trip to the airport also.  Finally, if you are using Disney transportation they will provide you with luggage tags so you do not need to claim your bags at the airport.  Note, that your bags may arrive at the hotel much later than you so pack swimsuits, pajamas, or anything else you want use in the first few hours in your carry-on luggage.

A few final thoughts.  I prefer to bring printed copies of our itinerary rather than rely exclusively on the app.  This is especially helpful if you can’t get a signal at some point or if your phone gets low on battery.  Some people also like to bring a portable charger.

So, keep all this in mind next time you pack for a Disney vacation.  Hopefully it will point out some things you may not have thought of.


The Week in Review – Week 6, 2018

It was a relatively busy week last week.  Still nothing compared to spring or fall, but there was a bit more on the calendar.

Typical activities occurred:

  • The oldest went to four conditioning sessions.
  • He also went to two baseball practices.
  • The twins went to Before School sports and skiing.

We missed Math Morning and gym for the youngest because so many people have been sick.  The sickness is going in waves, though hopefully will be done soon as we’re running out of people who haven’t been sick yet.

  • The boys all got haircuts.
  • The elementary school and preschool participated in Global Play Day.  This was quite popular even though it was shortened by a snow-induced early release.
    • The snow ended up more icy than snowy, but they boys went out anyway and got very wet.
    • One child took some LEGOs with him.  Miraculously they all came home.
  • Our first grader celebrated his 100th day of school.
  • We hosted two birthday parties and attended another.
  • I went to the preschool parent social.

Grocery Update & What We Ate – Week 6, 2018


While I did make a number of stops this week, I purchased very few things and took next to no pictures.

On Tuesday, I spent $9.97 at Stop & Shop on 2lb of strawberries plus 18oz of blueberries.  I wanted to get sour cream also, but they were out so I got a rain check.

The strawberries were popular, so on Thursday I grabbed another pound for $2.99.

On Thursday I also spent $49.50 at Wegman’s.

Finally, on Saturday (new sale cycle) I grabbed another pound for $1.88!

That brought me to $64.42, more than balancing out last week.

The berries have mostly been eaten at lunch.  As for dinner:


Early: Hot dogs, strawberries
Late: Homemade pizza

Korean braised short ribs, green beans, rice

Early: Chicken nuggets, carrots & jicama
Late: Indian take-out

Early: Macaroni & cheese, carrot sticks/cucumber/jicama/green pepper
Late: Homemade pizza

Spaghetti & meatballs, spinach salad

Bistro chicken, oven baked fries, carrot sticks/cucumber/jicama

Instant Pot Review – Large Family Edition

All opinions here are my own.  I gain nothing from them and purchased the units myself.

Second, I know there are about a million Instant Pot reviews out there.  And, I was reluctant to add to that list.  But, it is a thing and as such I get asked about it a lot.  But, I’m going to take a rather strictly large family take on it vs covering all the ins and outs.


So why did I buy one in the first place?  I bought the first Instant Pot about a year ago after my (very inexpensive) rice cooker died.  The rice cooker itself had been an experiment.  We don’t eat a ton of rice, but I’d grown tired of monitoring the pot so it didn’t boil over when we did.  In that sense the cheap rice cooker experiment was a success because it proved that a least decent rice could be had with much less mess.

But, when it died I knew I needed to upgrade at least to a nicer rice cooker.  At this point the Instant Pot had been out for a while and gained a fair amount of traction.  I asked a few folks about theirs and everybody raved.  Plus, I don’t own a slow cooker or pressure cooker so this thing was going to theoretically cover a lot of bases.

All that being said, we don’t eat much yogurt and there are a lot of us so I went with a less common model – the 8Q LUX.  I’ll go into more detail below, but suffice it to say that I was able to do many things quite successfully.  However, I realized that I was stuck with either the entree or the boil over threats (potatoes/rice) in the Instant Pot.  So, about a year after I bought the first I added a 6Q LUX.  You see both above with Korean spare ribs in the 8Q on the left and rice in the 6Q on the right.

We eat a lot of soup/stew type items which easily translate to the Instant Pot.  We also eat a lot of mashed potatoes which the unit does well.  Most Instant Pot recipes are written for a 6Q version, but can be made in the 8Q version.  I find I really need the 8Q if I do larger meat pieces like pot roast or spare ribs.  I just cannot fit enough in the 6Q.  Mashed potatoes for us is pushing the limits of the 6Q, but very doable.  Rice is definitely fine in the 6Q.

I assume that the 8Q unit takes longer to come to pressure.  Frankly that is the thing I am still trying to wrap my head around.  Instant Pot recipes will tell you to cook an item for 15 minutes, while not acknowledging that there are significant pressurization and depressurization times.  I find most recipes take twice their stated length start to finish, even when a natural release time is indicated.  I’m not sure about the argument about it making the dinner process faster.  Maybe technically yes, but not by nearly as much as you think.

In my mind the best attribute is the relative lack of mess.  Especially if you rely on natural release, clean-up is pretty easy.  And, there’s no risk of boil over.  I do run them on the stovetop so the hood can catch the steam.  There are many suggestions online not to do this because the base can melt if a burner is accidentally turned on.  But, the first time I used it I put it on the counter and it released far more steam than I was comfortable with on my ceiling.

Also, like many plug in kitchen appliances, an Instant Pot is safer than a pot on the stove for little kids.  Again, there are warnings online about the burning steam during a release.  And, it is so easy to release the pressure that any child could do it.  But, unless your child is on the counter or you put the device on the floor, the steam will be nowhere near your child.  You really should flip the vent with an oven mitt and keep your face out of the way though.

In summary, I do like the Instant Pot.  Do I rave about it like some reviews you see online?  No.  But, for those of us trying to put dinner on the table while managing so much more it offers less mess, set-it-and-forget-it convenience, and a relatively kid-safe cooking experience.

Travel Extras – VRBOs

Continuing the theme of this series, there will be no pictures today.

A VRBO is where you rent someplace to stay on vacation directly from the owner rather than staying at a hotel.  In many cases, there may be a management company that acts as an intermediary, but thinks like daily linen service that a hotel provides are not included.

Because it is someplace you are staying temporarily, most of the recommendations I made in the first two posts (Hotel Kitchens and Family Hotels) in this series still apply.  But, because it is not a hotel, there are a number of other considerations when packing for a VRBO stay.

First, VRBO listings should tell you how much is included.  Most, but not all, will include linens.  If there is a kitchen there should be a similar quantity of plates, cutlery, pots, etc. to a hotel kitchen.  But, the similarities pretty much end there.

Most importatantly, while basics are included they are not necessarily new for each guest.  This means you could end up with only a few sheets of paper towels in the kitchen, or half a roll of toilet paper.  If you have packing space (and nothing here is truly huge), I recommend enough supplies for your entire stay.  I.e., assume nothing is there.  It is generally easier and cheaper to bring these from home as otherwise you’ll be at the nearest Walmart buying single rolls or other small volume options.

  • Kitchen
    • paper towels/kitchen towel
    • dish soap
    • sponge/cloth
    • dishwasher soap
    • trash bags
  • Bathroom(s)
    • soap for both the sink and shower
    • shampoo/conditioner
    • toilet paper
    • trash bags
  • Laundry (especially if in unit)
    • detergent
    • stain remover/fabric softener, if desired
  • Misc other common hotel items, if desired
    • Pen/paper
    • Tea/coffee/sugar
    • Tourist information

On the other hand, there are things a VRBO often does provide that a hotel does not.  If you are near a tourist destination there may well be a stroller.  There might be beach or pool toys if those are relevant to your destination.  There might be DVDs or other TV/gaming options.  If there is a BBQ, it is probably gas and there are probably BBQ tools available.  If you are going to a destination that might suggest commonly used items, ask the owner what is included so you don’t have to pack duplicates.

Accomplishments – January 2018

Things are a bit off lately as I’ve been dealing with multiple sick children.  So, while I don’t usually post on Wednesdays I figured I’d post today rather than waiting further.

I did fairly well towards the January goals, all things considered.

  • Finish the master bedroom clean.  I was going to be on track until sickness hit last week.  So, this will carry over yet again.  But, it is mostly done.
  • Start the office clean:
    • Put away items that shouldn’t be in there.
    • Shred the massive pile of bills/receipts/etc.  It turns out this pile was much bigger than I had anticipated.  I started, but there’s a lot more sorting/shredding to do.
    • Put away important documents to keep and toss ones that are older than need keeping.  Done, although this did add to the previous task.
    • Fix one category of broken items: books, sewing, or plastic stuff.


    • Clean near the window wall and put the desk back where it belongs.
  • Make a master cleaning document to track how often things should be/are getting cleaned.
  • Set up the new meals/activities tracking white boards.


This was a more relaxed month since we generally have less on the calendar in the winter.

  • The kids attended weekly conditioning, baseball, skiing, sports, math, and gym classes.
  • I registered the middle four for swimming lessons starting next month.
  • Our oldest had a half day snow tubing trip.
  • I went to two Girl’s Nights Out – dinner/drinks & yoga.
  • We had two doctor appointments.
  • We celebrated two birthdays.
  • I had two school meetings.
  • We had three snow days; this before our usual snowy period of February and March.
  • We assembled, hung, set up, etc. most of the Christmas/birthday presents.  I think all have been a success.
  • With sickness setting in I’ve been doing even more laundry than usual.

So, where does this leave us for February?  Since February is a shorter month and I’m going into this with two sick kids (Three have been sick so far so there might be more to come.  Fingers crossed!), I’m not making any great commitments.

While I’m going to try to make progress on sorting/shredding the bills/receipts/etc., I am not even going to try to finish that task this month.  I’ve also still got sewing and plastic stuff to fix.  The office is being pushed off to March.

Here’s what I plan to do:

  • Finish the master bedroom clean.
  • Set up / put remaining items into circulation.  This is a bit of a catch-all, but includes a number of things we’ve bought/received over the past few months.
    • Two Amazon gift cards to enter so they get used instead of the credit card on file.
    • Clothing that needs tags cut off so it can be put in the appropriate person’s closet.
    • One LEGO set needs assembling (adult assistance required for this one).
    • Five electronic devices need some settings updated.
    • Some clothing items from the sizing sort need to go to their final homes – either the sale bin or the hand-me-down bin.
    • Open the new mop and use it for the bathroom floors.

January 2018 Grocery Review


Inevitably, after a low cost week, this one was higher.  It’s also been about a month since I’d made a big trip to BJs or gone to Shaw’s.  I did both this week.

On Monday, I spent $153.12 at Wegman’s.  Sodas were on sale, along with carrot puree, Brussels Sprouts, and the salad.  You’ll see a lot of these items showing up in the menu this week.  This was my last grocery trip in January so only this one will be reflected in the January numbers.

I had been wanting to do other shopping sooner, but sickness kept us confined to the house through mid-week.  Thursday evening I was able to run to the farm stand for a few items that totaled $18.35.  It was fundraising day for the elementary school so I’d had this day in the plan for a while.


I also spent $32.23 at Stop & Shop Thursday night on items that were finishing up their sale cycle. I had planned to get some other cheese also, but they were out so I got a raincheck instead.  In many ways this is just as well since we don’t really need that other cheese right now.  I’ll pick it up at the sale price when we do.


I did another batch of shopping on Saturday.  First, I spent $35.12 on oatmeal and pizza dough.  Unfortunately they were out of pizza cheese so I needed to go to another location (nobody else sells the brand we prefer) on Sunday.  I spent $11.28 on cheese; more than we needed for the Super Bowl, but enough to meet the minimum purchase for the best price.


Then I ran over to Wegman’s for a few items, totaling $36.64.


Saturday afternoon I went to BJ’s during baseball practice.  I spent $164.94 on items that should do us for most of the month, apart from the milk.

That brings me to $451.68 for the week.  Yes, a very high week.  But, because the week splits two months it will not all be reflected below; most will be in the February numbers.

January TOTAL: $1,075.23

  • Stop & Shop: $243.12
  • Wegman’s: $352.67
  • BJs: $295.18
  • Other: $184.26
    • Local: $22.85
    • Star Market: $64.16
    • Trader Joe’s: $0
    • Target: $73.28
    • Other: $23.97

Overall, not bad.  Some high weeks and some low weeks, but it leveled out.

We finished out the month on a positive note, but then things went downhill.  Maybe next week we can get back on track.

Sear-roasted cod with Brussels Sprouts, bacon, and carrots puree

Early: Chicken nuggets, broccoli
Late: Homemade pizza

Mini meatloaves, mashed potatoes, spinach salad

Early: Chicken nuggets, strawberries
Late: Tuna noodle casserole

Early: Pancakes/blueberry pancakes
Late: Homemade pizza

Chicken noodle soup, baguettes

Homemade pizza for all (Super Bowl!)

Cod with Brussels Sprouts, Bacon, and Carrot Puree




This was very good.  Our oldest even took seconds of Brussels Sprouts.  So, I might put them in the rotation even if they’re not with this specific recipe.

Adapted from The Yellow Table’s recipe

Ingredients (serves 8):
1 cup chopped bacon
2 cups shredded Brussels Sprouts
½ cup white wine
2 Tbsp olive oil
8 6-oz servings of cod (adjust accordingly, I will try a full fillet that I cut later next time.)
Salt & pepper
20 oz carrot puree (I used Wegman’s which has a nice hint of ginger.)


The Brussels Sprouts and cod can be made in parallel.

Brussels Sprouts:

  1. Cook the bacon in a large frying pan over medium-high heat until it begins to brown.
  2. Add the Brussels Sprouts and cook for about 3 minutes, until wilting and bright green.
  3. Add the white wine and simmer until it evaporates.
  4. Remove from heat.  Salt and pepper to taste.


  1. Preheat the oven to 425°.
  2. Salt and pepper the cod.
  3. Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat.  (I used a non-stick roasting pan.)
  4. Add the cod, skin side down.  Sear the fish for 3 minutes.
  5. Flip the cod pieces and move the pan to the oven.
  6. Cook for 5 more minutes or until the fish flakes easily.

Heat the carrot puree per the package instructions.

Plate separately, or stack: carrot puree first, topped by cod, then Brussels Sprouts.


Travel Extras – Family Hotels

First, none of these entities/products have paid me for or requested an endorsement.  These are strictly my opinions.

Families of five+ have all sorts of logistical issues that smaller families do not face.  Restaurants, cars, hotels, etc. are all arranged around families of four.  And, we went from three directly to five!

For years we tried to stay at Embassy Suites hotels.  We could put the kids in the bedroom (two queen beds) and at least have the pull-out living room couch to ourselves.  Plus, they usually have above average breakfasts.

Last summer we stayed at a Homewood Suites near Philadelphia.  It was not as nice a breakfast, but they have two bedroom suites.  So, the little kids were in bedroom 1 (two queens), we were in bedroom 2 (one king), and our oldest got the pull out couch.  Plus both bedrooms had a bathroom, which is great for so many people.  We would do it again if we found such an arrangement.

When those two options are not available, we get adjoining hotel rooms.  This gives us four queen beds and two bathrooms.  But, while you can ask for adjoining rooms, the standard line is, “we’ll do our best, but we can’t guarantee it.”  It has almost always worked out though.

All that being said, this post was not supposed to be about hotel room configurations, but what you might want to bring to a hotel with your family that you’re not thinking of.

First, what not to bring.  At home kids often sleep with a bedfull of stuff – toys, stuffed animals, favorite blankets, etc.  The fewer of these you can bring the better.  It is just too easy to lose things when you have a lot of people in an unfamiliar cramped space.  If you do bring such items, I recommend making a list of them so you can do a complete check before checking out.  We did have one hotel call us and mail us forgotten items, but I would not want to rely on that, particularly for sentimental items.

There are other things we have brought over the years.  When you have small children with bottles, sippy cups, etc.  you will need to bring your own cleaning supplies.  Bring some dish detergent, a brush if necessary, and gloves if you prefer.  I usually lay out the cleaned items on a washcloth from the bathroom, but you could bring a towel for that purpose also.  Realize you will be using the bathroom sink so you really will be making do.

Another thing you must consider with small children is baby proofing.  Your hotel room will never be baby proofed as well as your house, but you can improve it from its basic state.  Upon arrival, remove anything you can that will be dangerous for your child or that you don’t want them getting in to.  First on my list is almost always those pads and pens near the beds.  Next, you will probably want to move the TV remote to a less accessible location.  If they will be an issue for your child, you can unplug table lamps and put them on the floor of the closet.  Other miscellaneous items can be moved to the top shelf of the closet.  Ideally, these would be put back at checkout, but the hotel will understand if you don’t.  The things I’ve never found a good way to babyproof is the phone, which is always in a very accessible location and cannot be unplugged.  Since you are unlikely to use it, I’d recommend tucking it behind the nightstand/under the bed before the child notices it.

If you are staying for any length of time, you may want (or find you need) to do laundry.  For many years I brought Purex 3-in-1 laundry sheets.  They do fine for everyday wear.  You will need more if you have a true stain, like spaghetti sauce, or a sick child.  Today, I’d recommend throwing a couple of Tide pods in your luggage as well.  They’re not as mess free in luggage so double wrap them, but they’ll do a better job on your laundry if needed.

A couple of other things to consider:

  • laundry bags of some other method by which your kids will know dirty laundry from clean
  • a portable booster seat if you have a little one
  • a boot dryer comes in handy in ski country, but also if your sneakers get rained on
  • hangers with clips to dry swimwear in tight spaces

Apologies again for the lack of pictures.  I think that will be a theme with this series.

The Week in Review – Week 4, 2018

Things continue to be fairly relaxed as far as scheduled events go.  It will be a few more months yet before things really go into overdrive.

  • Our oldest had 4 conditioning session and two baseball sessions.
  • Our youngest had gym class.
  • The twins had their ski lessons.
  • They also went to Math Morning and Before School Sports.
  • I had a school meeting.

A nice, concise list.  So, what did I do with my seeming abundance of time?

  • Most notably, I put to use / put away things we had.
    • We unrolled a new rug and added a rug pad.
    • We hung the ball cabinet our oldest got for Christmas.
    • We hung a new picture in the dining room.
    • I cut all the tags off the clothing I had ordered for the oldest and put it in his closet.
  • I purchased sheets from Target to replace some that had outlived their useful life.  The old sheets will go to the fabric recycling with some other stained/worn items.
  • I purchased some heavy duty wall hangers at Home Depot.  I bought a couple of different styles so, now that everything is hung, one will need to be returned.
  • I made progress towards cleaning the master bedroom and office.
  • I vacuum sealed 6 pouches of potatoes for mashed potatoes to prolong their shelf life.