Friday, May 20, 2016

Indy Mini Recap

If I had to describe my experience at the Indy Mini in one word, it would be AWESOME.

If I had more words, I would say this:

I had a great race and felt good the entire time. I didn’t run fast, but I ran STRONG and had a ton of FUN. My only goal was to raise money for Riley Children’s Foundation and #Run4Bronson, and we did that! So mission: accomplished! 

Unfortunately, my BRF Kim didn’t feel well and halfway through the race, she told me she needed to drop out. So we parted ways after we kissed the bricks on the Indy 500 track … a few miles later, I got a text saying she was stubborn (and yes, a little stupid) and was going to finish. She did, barely, and lived to tell the tale.

From the expo to the finish line, this race was an excellent experience, and I would highly recommend it to anyone. For being one of the largest half marathons in the country, it’s exceptionally well run (I expected it to be much more chaotic). All along the course, you get plenty of energy and enthusiasm, and there’s a ton of aid stations and support. We liked it so much, Kyle is already registered for next year’s race! (I don’t think I’ll be ready for a spring half after I give birth this fall.)
Brittany (Bronson's mom) snapped this photo of me on my way to the finish (after I gave her and Cory big, sweaty hugs).

Running for a Reason

I gotta say, Running for a REASON and not for a TIME was a wonderful change of pace (pun intended). Though I started out this training cycle with the possibility of a PR on my mind, my priorities shifted when I found out I was pregnant. So, I went back to the WHY of my race. 

This was my first experience running for a charity, and I think the key was feeling connected to the cause... From the very beginning, my heart told me I needed to run in memory of Bronson and in honor of his family. I'm not gonna lie, it was nerve-wracking and tough to wait for the donations to come in, but it was completely worth the effort. 

During the race, it also helped to focus on why I was running and not how fast I was going. That day, I promised it would be a victory lap, and I would run with JOY. So, I did! I danced my way past the bands (at least the ones playing songs I liked), high-fived anyone with their hand out, stopped for selfies, and I made sure to keep smiling no matter what, even when I had to run the second half of the race alone. 


Brittany is an amazing woman - her big, open heart inspires me so much!
Running a Race with a Friend
Kim is still beating herself up about the race, but I think it was great considering the circumstances. Because when you run a race with someone else, you have to HAVE to be honest with each other or else you'll both be miserable. Sure, we didn't finish together, but we were both able to do what we needed. 

At the start, she knew I wanted to take it easy, and as we ran I let her know what pace felt good (because my pregnant pace is definitely slower than her normal half marathon pace). 

Around mile 5, I let her know I needed water, Gu and a pee break at the next pit stop. Little did I know, she needed the break just as badly ... she was completely honest and told me what was happening. She also begged me to go on without her, but I didn't want to do that right away. First of all, I wasn't running for time (see above). Second, I REALLY thought she would rally and be fine. 

After her second stop to attempt to puke, I realized her situation was serious. She looked like shit (sorry Kim, you did!), so I finally told her I would go on but she needed to stop the race or walk the rest of the way. She promised she'd find a med tent, so I hugged her and went on. The decision made both of us feel better ... I felt better knowing I wasn't dragging her along, and she felt better knowing she wasn't holding me back. 

We made the most of the situation, so I think we both deserve kudos for that. BOOM. 
Kim and I were all smiles at the starting line ... 
... But she was starting to fade when we entered the track.
Running a Half Marathon while Pregnant
When I was pregnant with Kenlee, I couldn't even WALK a mile without getting winded ... so I REALLY didn't know what to expect running a half marathon while pregnant. I knew from my long runs in the previous weeks that I was more than capable, but sometimes race day can throw everything off track (see Kim's story above). 

At the starting line, I felt good, but I was cautious. I knew I needed to do two things: take it easy and stay hydrated. I kept the pace comfortable, which for me was about 9:30-9:45/mile for the first few miles. I also decided to run with a handheld water bottle ... Normally, I run half marathons with my Camelbak, but I decided a handheld would force me to stop for refills and a little rest. 

That strategy paid off. My first stop was mile 5, where as I said above I also ate a Gu and used the port-a-potty to give my poor bladder some relief. Kim and I then took a few walk breaks around the track, which started near mile 6 and finished at nearly mile 9, (Yeah, it's way bigger in person than it is on TV!) and I ate another Gu and refilled my bottle before continuing on without her. I didn't stop again until mile 11, where I needed another pee break (dang fetus dancing on my bladder! Haha).

I felt strong and steady the rest of the way, finishing with a time of 2 hours, 22 minutes. I'm BEYOND happy with that time considering all the stops I had to make. (But still a little bitter my friend Scott beat me ... he hadn't run at all since MARCH! No fair!) Even better, my take-it-easy strategy paid off the next day, when I was the least sore I'd EVER felt after a half marathon. 

Fortunately/unfortunately, the Indy Mini was likely my first and last pregnant half marathon. Things just won't work out to do the local race in June, so my next chance for a nearby half marathon won't be until Labor Day weekend ... when I'll be 31 weeks versus of 14 weeks pregnant. At that point, I hope to still be running, but I doubt I'll be able to run that far. Soooo ... Yeah, I'm not getting my hopes up. 

In the meantime, I'm doing my best to stay healthy and happy because that's all that matters, right? This race was a great way to kick off the summer running season, so even though I don't plan on running any more half marathons this year, I do plan to find some more adventures.

When you're taking it easy, you have more time for selfies! Mario himself was on the racetrack. :) 

I wasn't missing my chance to kiss the bricks! 
Running with Gratitude
Once again, I want to thank everyone who donated to Riley Children's Hospital. I couldn't have done this race without your support!  

As a reminder, the #Run4Bronson page will stay active through the end of May. So if you still want to make a donation, click here: http://donate.rileykids.org/site/TR/ThirdParty/General?px=1467515&pg=personal&fr_id=2651

Thursday, May 5, 2016

It's Time to #Run4Bronson

When I decided to #Run4Bronson and sign up for the Indy Mini, I was seriously nervous. More nervous than any other time I’ve signed up for a race, including my marathon.

Why? Because I was terrified of failure. I was confident I could run the race, but I had no idea if I could raise money. Trust me, it’s one thing to collect donations for a school or club fundraiser – it’s another thing to ask for donations in honor of a wonderful family and in memory of their child. My heart was telling me I was supposed to do this … but my brain told me I’d better not disappoint. 

When I finally launched the site, I was literally shaking. “What if no one donates?” I asked my husband. He was quick to assure me that wouldn’t happen. He was right. (Go ahead and take a screenshot of that last sentence, Kyle. Save it forever.)

Tons of people donated and gave so much more than I EVER expected. Our original goal was $500, but as of today we’ve raised $2,370!


NOTE: I save WE because there’s no way I could have done this alone. Sure, I started the campaign, but YOU GUYS made it a success. YOU gave, YOU cheered, YOU shared my endless selfies and hashtags. YOU gave other children and families hope for the future. So when I run on Saturday morning, I’ll be carrying all of you with me.

THANK YOU to everyone who’s donated (so far, at least … because you still have a chance to give):
  • Amy Baker 
  • Angela Mooberry 
  • Anonymous 
  • Bill and Jean Wise 
  • Brad and Lisa Warner 
  • Brancheau Family 
  • Bronson's mommy, daddy, and big brother 
  • Chris and Marcy Rosendaul 
  • Chrissy Herman 
  • Connie and Bill Brigle 
  • Danielle and Clayton Dulle 
  • Dennis and Pam Herman 
  • Diet Pepsi and Peanut Butter Footballs 
  • Don and Karrie Kimpel 
  • Ginger Mikolajczyk and family 
  • Gunner and Anna Carr 
  • Jan and Rebecca 
  • Jim and Torrie Saul 
  • John and Linda Hug 
  • Kathy Callahan 
  • Katrina Kaiser 
  • Kellie Dunson 
  • Kelly Werth 
  • Kim “I miss coffee” Truesdell 
  • Kreg and Trista Wehrle and boys 
  • Kristin Snyder 
  • Kyle, Kenlee and Rowdy 
  • Marcia and David Mohre 
  • Mary Mohre 
  • Meemaw and Papaw Sanders 
  • Norma Endersby 
  • O-H-I-O Go Bucks! 
  • Penny Wilson 
  • Scott and Holly Kimpel 
  • Stephanie and Dustin Carr 
  • Tena and Bill Sansom 
  • Theta Kappa Sorority 
  • Todd and Sandie Carlson 
  • Wyatt and Adrienne Peterson 
As many runners say, the race is just a victory lap for all of your training. Well on Saturday, we’re going to celebrate every mile. We have a HUGE victory to celebrate for Bronson, his family and the Riley Children’s Foundation, so we’re gonna be sure to live it up. Because it's time #Run4Bronson. It's time to celebrate hope.

P.S. As I said above, if you still want to give, you have plenty of time! I was JUST informed that the donation page will remain active through the end of May. I promise I won’t bug you with a thousand reminders between now and then, but it’s ready when you are: http://donate.rileykids.org/site/TR/ThirdParty/General?px=1467515&pg=personal&fr_id=2651

Friday, April 15, 2016

FAQs from the First Trimester

I hate when bloggers make excuses for not blogging. Who cares?! It's your blog, you should do what you want, right?

Well, in this case, I feel like my excuse is cause for note. I've been too exhausted to write (beyond what I get paid to write at my job ... and even that effort has been questionable as I fight to stay awake at my desk). Why? Because I'm growing a freaking human! I'm pregnant. :)

Yes, baby No. 2 is due Oct. 31 - yes, Halloween! Since we spilled the beans, I've found myself answering a lot of the same questions. So I figured I'd just answer them here.

And then there were four ...

So ... you’re still running?
Yep! I’m seeing a practice of two doctors and two midwives who all believe in staying active as long as possible through pregnancy. They simply said, “Don’t become something you’re not.” Since I’m already a runner, I’ll keep running. But, since I’m not a body builder, I’m not going to start body building. Works for me!

How long can you keep running?
Like I said above, I’m encouraged to stay active as long as possible ... that could be the day I give birth! They said my body will tell me if/when I need to slow down/cut back/stop running. We'll see how it goes.

Are you still running the Indy Mini?
Of course! I’m just not going to run it as fast as I’d planned. When I started training, I was on a pretty aggressive plan though the Train Like a Mother Club (which is awesome, by the way). And I thought I could keep going … but at 8 weeks pregnant, the wheels fell off the bus and I couldn’t do the workouts. I’ve been doing my own modified version of the plan, taking out the speed work and cutting back on the long runs (just listening to my body, really). My ONLY goal for the race is to hit the $2,000 mark in my #Run4Bronson, which you can still donate to if you haven’t already!

Do you have any other races planned?
I’d like to run a local half marathon in June (just because I can't resist a starting line that's only 20 minutes from home), but I’m not sure if it will fit in my schedule/budget with other family stuff planned this summer. Other than that, I’ll do some local 5Ks and just see how it goes. One personal goal/motivation is to complete one of the races at Fort4Fitness, when I’ll be about 36 weeks pregnant. I might run the 10K, or I might walk the 4-miler. I’ll be happy to just keep moving.

How are you feeling? Any morning sickness?
It depends on the day … or the hour. I haven’t actually vomited (yet), but I’ve felt crappy on and off. Around 8 weeks, I felt like I had been hit by a truck (see above wheels falling off the bus reference …). I was exhausted and nauseous pretty much all the time. Things are improving though!

Did you get sick with Kenlee?
To be honest, I don’t remember. She’s going to be 5 in May, so it’s been quite a while since I was pregnant. The other thing to keep in mind is that I was more than 100 pounds heavier when I started that pregnancy, so my body (and its reactions) will likely be different this time around.

Is Kenlee excited?
Excited is an understatement – she is over the moon! She talks about being a big sister ALL THE TIME and asks a thousand questions about the baby. She loves to rub and kiss my belly, talk and sing to the baby, and even try to tickle it (she doesn’t quite understand that she’s only tickling me!).

Can you still do Weight Watchers?
No. I had to cancel my membership for now, but I can start back up again when I’m not pregnant. I’ve tried to keep my same healthy habits, but sometimes I’m repulsed by the foods I would normally enjoy … And yes, I know gaining weight is normal (thanks for the reminder ...). It's hard/weird to accept my body changing, but I'm doing my best to accept it. 

Will you find out if you’re having a boy or girl?
YES! There’s just NO WAY we could wait till birth. We plan to bring Kenlee to our big ultrasound in June, so we can all find out together. We'll let you know when we know! 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

My No. 1 Piece of Advice for Disney World

If you go to Disney World, you have a lot of choices: resorts, parks, attractions, restaurants ... And, everything changes so quickly, you'll never see it all. BUT there is a way to ensure you see more than the average guest. How? It's simple: Wake up early. 

Now, you may be thinking, "I'm not a morning person, especially on vacation." Well, guess what?! Most people would agree with you. Which is EXACTLY why the morning is the best time to get to the parks. The crowds are lower, which means the lines are shorter. You could fit in more attractions before lunch than the average guest will fit in all day! Seriously.

In the Disney fan community, this strategy is called "rope drop." Here's how to do it:
  1. Depart for your chosen park at least one hour to 90 minutes prior to opening. This might seem insane, but you really do need that much time to drive/park or wait for Disney transportation, then get through bag check/security. 
  2. Line up at the gates. Cast members will usually start letting guests scan their MagicBands and head inside about 30 minutes before the official opening time (depending on the park/day ... during peak times, they might even let you in earlier). 
  3. Wait at the rope. In most cases, you'll be allowed to walk partway inside the park before you get stopped behind a rope or line of cast members. At the official park opening time (sometimes a few minutes earlier), they'll drop this rope or tell you to follow them further inside, hence the term "rope drop."
  4. Head to a headliner. Pick a popular attraction and head straight there for the lowest wait times of the day. Depending on what time you arrived, you could be first in line! Be sure to look at a map in advance so you're in the right spot and don't have to ask for directions. 
  5. Do as much as you can. Ride the adrenaline high and ride as many attractions as you can before lunch. Depending on the park/day, you might even schedule a few FastPasses for later in the morning as the crowds build. 
  6. Eat lunch and head back for a nap. No matter how old you and your children are, naps are extremely beneficial on a Disney vacation, especially if you're waking up for rope drop. Even if you don't fall asleep, a break will give you a chance to get out of the sun and crowds for a while. Then you can head back in the evening, refreshed and ready to see more. 
As an example, here's how rope drop paid off for us on our first day at the Magic Kingdom. 
  • The park was scheduled to open at 8 a.m., so we woke Kenlee up at 6 a.m. and got to our resort bus stop by 6:30 a.m. We got lucky - a bus was there in just a few minutes and we were the only people on it! 
  • We arrived at the Magic Kingdom and got through bag check. Surprisingly, we were NOT the first people there! But the crowd was small enough that we took a few pictures in front of the train station and let Kenlee play some hopscotch on the bricks before lining up. 
Bright and early at the Magic Kingdom!
  • After scanning our MagicBands, we headed straight for the rope to the left side of the train station. We didn't have the best view of the Welcome Show, but we could still see it and enjoy. 
  • As the characters counted down, I picked up Kenlee and Kyle was ready to follow me, pushing the stroller. (If we put her in the stroller she wouldn't have been able to see much of Main Street in the crowd.)
Excited to head down Main Street!
  • We did our best Black Friday speed walk toward Princess Fairy Tale Hall, which is where you can meet Anna and Elsa. This character meet is the most popular in all of Disney World, so we weren't lucky enough to secure FastPasses in advance. This was likely our only chance to see the Frozen sisters without a minimum one-hour wait. 
  • Despite taking a wrong turn in front of the castle instead of walking behind the castle (study those maps!), we were the FIFTH party in line to meet Anna and Elsa! Woohoo! 
Rope Drop ... WORTH IT!
  • After Kenlee met her ALL-TIME FAVORITE characters, we did the all of the following attractions before lunch at 11 a.m.: 
    1. Dumbo
    2. Barnstormer
    3. Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid
    4. Jungle Cruise
    5. Magic Carpets of Aladdin
    6. Pirates of the Caribbean
    7. Splash Mountain
    8. Big Thunder Mountain (this was our first FastPass).
I should note that this is a LOT of attractions in just a few hours - some people don't do that many in an entire day. AND, it the crowds were a 10 out of 10 at the Magic Kingdom that day. Boo-ya!

I'll admit, this sort of park touring is not for the faint of heart. If you can't handle Black Friday, you won't be a fan of rope drop. It's not violent, I promise, but it is a bit ... intense ... at least for your walk to the first attraction. After that, it's smooth sailing for an hour or two when the rest of the crowds will start arriving. 

If you don't do rope drop, know this: showing up two hours after park opening and complaining about the crowds is just like showing up two hours into a Black Friday sale and complaining that all the flat screens are gone. Sorry! The early birds get the worm (and the shortest lines). 

NOTE: If you're not sure which attractions you should visit in the morning, the TouringPlans website and app can help you! You sign up for a subscription ($12.95 for one year, plus you can find discount codes online), then you can enter your trip details and select which attractions you want to see. Based on their database of wait times and other information, the system will give you a custom plan for park touring. It will even suggest which FastPasses you should select, allow you to incorporate meals/breaks into your schedule and so much more. It's a great tool!

Because I didn't know what to expect, I made touring plans for each of our park visits but remained flexible. They were more of a guide than a schedule. But without them, I know we would have wasted time wandering around, trying to decide what we should see/do next. 

Also, I should mention Kyle and I appreciated our nap times just as much as Kenlee! We didn't always fall asleep, but sometimes we needed to! When we went back in the parks, we were re-energized while everyone else was getting cranky from being out all day. (OK, sometimes we were cranky, too, but not as much as we would have been!)

So to repeat my No. 1 piece of advice: You might not be a morning person on a regular vacation, but you should be at Disney World! Rope drop is definitely the way to go if you want to see/do as much as possible AND have time to rest. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Changing Your Lifestyle With Your Loved One

Throughout my weight loss and lifestyle change, my husband Kyle has been a constant source of support. He joined Weight Watchers with me in April 2012, and together, we've lost 196 pounds. Having someone eating the same foods, counting the same points and sharing the same goals is what helped us finally get healthy. Today, I asked him to share his thoughts on what it's like to change your lifestyle with your loved one. 




Kyle's Heaviest Weight: 330 pounds

Current Weight: 239 pounds

Goal Weight: 210-215 pounds

Proudest achievement so far: I have a kid who likes vegetables and other healthy food, and makes healthy choices.

Think back to April of 2012 when I asked you to join Weight Watchers with me. What was different compared to when I'd asked you to join before? 
Kenlee. In all reality, we were eating crap, and I didn't want her to have the same lifestyle.

How was this attempt different compared to the other times you'd tried to lose weight on your own? In other words, what made this attempt successful? 
You. I tried the diet pills, all that bull crap - it doesn't work. You have to have the support system there.

Do you think Weight Watchers is a good program for men? 
Yes because I haven't felt like it's been a diet all - you make the system work for you. I think the problem is when people diet, they're restricting themselves. If I want ice cream, I have ice cream, and I just gotta deal with the consequences of it. If I could change anything, I would have started sooner.

What are some of the benefits to changing your lifestyle with your spouse? 
You always have someone to talk to, someone who understands what I'm going through and understands the struggles, and also the victories.

What are some of the maybe not-so-fun parts of changing your lifestyle with your spouse? 
You're a lot more motivated than I am, so I don't always appreciate your chop-bustin' ... but it's for good reason.

What's your favorite healthy meal or food that we eat now? 
I like the salads I take to work - never thought I would say that.

What's your least favorite healthy meal or food that we eat? 
It took me a long time to adjust to brocolli ... But I actually like a lot of fruits and vegetable now. Lately, I really like beets and radishes.

Is there a certain food you still have a weakness for?   
Ice cream and baked goods - that's my kryptonite.

What's been your favorite race that you've run? 
I liked the Warrior Dashes - those were fun.

What race/challenge is on the top of your bucket list? 
Probably a long distance bike ride or maybe a Tough Mudder.

Aside from looking smokin' hot now, how would you say you've changed since you started living healthier? 
I'm more adventurous - I've tried and enjoyed a lot of foods I would have never tried before. Especially spicy foods. I've learned that I can replace some of the bad stuff with better flavors.

How would you say our relationship has changed since we started living healthier? 
I think it's gotten better. We're stronger individually, but we're stronger as a couple, too.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work on being healthier with their spouse/family? 
Be patient. It's not easy. It doesn't happen over night. I think in the past, I was expecting results like, right now, and that just doesn't happen. You gotta be patient and remember it's truly a lifestyle change.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

An Ode to Winter Running


Oh, winter! How I love to hate you
This isn't always the best of time for driving ... or doing anything outdoors
But, oddly enough, it can be the most magical time to run

Sure, there are awful days
Days when you question your sanity
When you spend more time getting dressed than actually being outside
When the snowplow drivers offer to give you a ride home

But, there are also those perfect winter days
When it's not too bitterly cold
Not snowing or sleeting too hard
And not so windy that your hat blows right off your head

The streets are salted and the sidewalks are clear
And you can totally handle this winter thing

Sometimes, you might get lucky and see the sun peek through the gloomy, gray clouds
Maybe even feel its warmth on your cheeks
It gives you hope, reminds you that darkness can't last forever

Even in the dark, there's a wonderful stillness to the air
Everything has magically frozen over
And all the world has stopped in its tracks ... except for you, of course

Because you are more alive than ever
You feel every stride
You pay attention to every step
You feel the aches and pains (hopefully minor) that come with taking the occasional fall

The cold is startling at first, then refreshing
It makes every inch of your skin tingle and tighten
You're focused and you're fearless - you have to be if you're going to survive

Seeing your breath in the air can be reassuring
It means your lungs are working, your feet are moving

Seeing your tracks in the snow can be motivating
It means you've been somewhere and left your mark

You may finish feeling weary
But you also feel so strong
Because when Mother Nature is your only competition, the reward is always pride

Oh, winter! I'll continue to count most of the days till you're gone
But I'll treasure the few wonderful days that remain
And every time I want to hate you, I'll be patient
Because eventually, I know I'll fall in love with you again

Sunday, January 17, 2016

What Surprised Me at Disney World

I definitely had some expectations of what Disney World would be like before we traveled there in November. But, like most things in life, not everything turned out the way I thought. So, I hope other first-timers (or even Disney veterans) can appreciate learning about the surprises - good and bad - we experienced.


How big (yet small) it was … Let me explain. First of all, Walt Disney World Resort is massive. HUGE. When I found out it took an average of 20 minutes to get to the Magic Kingdom by bus, I was skeptical … but it really did take 20 minutes! Fortunately, that was our longest bus ride – trips to the other parks were more like 10-15 minutes or less. But still, the parks and resorts are soooo spread out in reality compared to my expectations. 

INSIDE the parks, on the other hand, everything is sooo close together. Shops, shows and rides are nearly on top of each other (or literally on top of each other) in many cases. We’re more used to Cedar Point, where the massive roller coasters force neighboring attractions to leave more wiggle room. (I know comparing Disney World to Cedar Point is apples to oranges, but Cedar Point is my biggest theme park point of reference, OK?) Also, I felt like a lot of walkways/streets at Disney were more narrow, forcing crowds to bottleneck often. I was a little claustrophobic at times, but there were times where I felt like we had some breathing room, too.

A view down crowded Main Street at the Magic Kingdom - MUCH more narrow than Cedar Point's midway. 
How CROWDED it was … We picked the week before Thanksgiving because all those online crowd calendars gave it about a 3 on a scale of 1-10. Sweet, right? Turns out, our first day at the Magic Kingdom was a 10 out of 10 according to TouringPlans, which gave me a bit of a shock right off the bat. Thankfully, that day was an anomaly, as the rest of the week was less crowded … they weren't exactly the “empty” parks I was picturing, but totally manageable (aside from the wall-to-wall crowds at the Osborne Lights (but that’s just because they’re going away after this season and everyone wanted one last look ... or first look in our case!). 

Highlights of the magnificent Osborne Lights ... They put the Toledo Zoo lights to shame ...
A few fantastic dining experiences … When we made our dining reservations, my husband BEGGED me to eat at Biergarten, the authentic German buffet in Epcot. I didn’t think I’d like it at all, but I didn’t want to deny his ONLY request. I’m so glad I listened to him! The food wasn’t as “weird” as I thought it would be – in fact, it wasn’t weird at all! Combined with the German beer, live music and authentic décor, this dining experience was one of the best of our entire trip!

Kyle was pretty much in heaven with all the food at Biergarten. And he kept it all down while dancing with Kenlee!
I say Biergarten was ONE of our best experiences because I think Boma and Sanaa, the two table service offerings we tried at Animal Kingdom Lodge, ranked toward the top as well. We ate at Sanaa for lunch, and the famous bread service – five different flatbreads with nine dipping sauces (or "accompaniments," if you’re feeling fancy) – more than lived up to the hype.

Sanaa's bread service. I would go there again just to eat this. 
At Boma, the brunch buffet had the perfect combination of familiar and exotic foods. My favorites included the French toast bread pudding with praline sauce (O-M-G!), as well as the carved turkey with African mustard. AMAZING. In my opinion, both picky and adventurous eaters can leave here MORE than satisfied.

And I can't leave out this one ... Honorable mention goes to ’50s Prime Time Café for having the best options for simple, “home cooked” comfort food. Kyle had "A Sampling of Mom's Favorite Recipes" and I had "Cousin Ryan's Vegetable Lasagna." We topped it off with dessert - Kyle got apple crisp a la mode, and I had an amazing chocolate milkshake. MMMMmmmm ...
Kyle lunch at '50s Prime Time was the best of three worlds - pot roast, fried chicken and meatloaf! 
Some amazing attractions … Disney is known for its incredibly immersive experiences with special attention to theming and technology. So I definitely knew we see some great attractions, but the ones that stood out for us were sort of unexpected: 
  • Soarin’ – Kyle, Kenlee and I all LOVED this experience. We truly felt like we were hang-gliding over California, and we left amazed at how REAL the flight felt. 
  • Toy Story Midway Mania – To be honest, I thought this ride sounded a little childish before I tried it. Yes, it is childish, but in the best ways possible. The gaming experience, 3-D effects and carnival atmosphere are perfect for kids ages 2 to 102, in my opinion. 
  • Mickey’s Philharmagic – This show was NOT on our must-do list, but when rain ruined most of our plans during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, we needed an indoor experience. At the recommendation of a coworker who raved about it, we decided to duck in the theater. It was Kenlee’s first 3-D show, and she didn't stop giggling the entire time! So. Damn. Cute. 
  • Festival of the Lion King – This show lives up to its fantastic reputation. It combines elements of Broadway, acrobatics, parades, fire twirling, dancing, singing, stilting (is that a word? I’m going to make it a word) and more.
Festival of the Lion King was our FAVORITE live show!
A few disappointments … Not everything was as magical as I thought it would be. The biggest disappointment was actually my biggest anticipation: Cinderella’s Royal Table. It's hard to explain, but here’s the review I left on Disney’s website: 
Left Hungry and Unimpressed  
For being the most expensive meal of our entire visit, this experience left us disappointed. First of all, we did not get enough food. It tasted good, but the portions were tiny and we all left still feeling hungry. Second, we were the first table seated (which seemed like a great thing), but we had to sit and wait 30 minutes after we'd finished eating for all the princesses to come out. My 4-year-old was starting to get bored, and so was I. When the princesses did come out, the announcement on the speakers could NOT be understood, and we also couldn't hear the directions for the wishing ceremony. All that money and you can't get good volume/acoustics figured out? It was nice to say we ate in the castle once, but I won't be going back. It's not worth the price, not to mention the hassle of getting a reservation.
::SIGH:: Live and learn, right? I can’t believe we ate IN CINDERELLA CASTLE and didn’t feel all that magical about it … On the plus side, my daughter met five princesses without waiting in long lines. So that’s priceless, yes? 

Even though I was disappointed with Cinderella's Royal Table, I can't put a price on those smiles!
Two other disappointments? Journey of the Little Mermaid at Hollywood Studios – holy outdated and strange show, Batman! This was like a “Worst Of” effects from the ’90s. And, Kali River Rapids? Too short and too dry. I hate compare Disney to Cedar Point again, but CP's Thunder Canyon is waaaay better. 

How much I miss it … When we returned home, I had to immediately jump into holiday mode, so there was little downtime to let my brain relax. But now? The post-Disney blues are really kicking in. I KNOW we’ll go back someday (the plan is two years), and I KNOW the parks aren’t going anywhere … but sometimes I just can’t help but crave that magic. My mind often wanders to our memories and I can *almost* feel like I'm there again.

Of course, we had our share of stressful moments and letdowns at Disney, but we also experienced an incredible amount of happiness. Our entire family was together – with no other obligations and distractions – and we could ALL enjoy and appreciate the magic around us. 

If it wasn't already clear, I'll go ahead and say it. This trip made me fall even more in love with the magic of Disney. Maybe it's the eternal optimist in me ... maybe it's the nostalgia of it all. Heck, maybe it's the magic of Disney marketing! ... I don't care. All I know is that this trip was just the beginning of something. And I can't wait to see where it takes us next. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

What We're Eating: Easy Breakfast Burrito Bowls

In our house, we could probably live on two meals: brinner (breakfast for dinner) and taco bowls (basically, taco ingredients without the shells). I'm pretty sure at least one, sometimes both, are on the menu every week.

So when I saw a recipe on SkinnyTaste for breakfast burrito bowls, I was intrigued - it's our two favorite meals in one! But then, I realized cutting up, seasoning and roasting the squash required more patience than I typically have for cooking dinner. (Other people may have no problem with it, but I'm a little lazy in the kitchen <--- Understatement!)

Immediately, I started brainstorming easier options. And, in a moment of pure genius, I came up with the anchor to my newest recipe: CILANTRO LIME HASH BROWNS. Yes, you read that right.

Cilantro. Lime. Hash browns. YES!

Because I'm obsessed with Chipotle, I mastered homemade cilantro lime rice a while ago, and I figured I could do the same with shredded hash browns. Not only does this better support the "breakfast" part of the meal, but it also cuts the points (2 points per cup for hash browns compared to 6 points for white rice!) AND it tastes just as amazing.

So no offense to SkinnyTaste (God knows I love ya!), but here's a much easier (in my opinion) version of the same meal.

All the ingredients (cute kitchen helper optional)

Easy Breakfast Burrito Bowls - 7 SmartPoints Total

Start by making the cilantro lime hash browns (2 points per cup):

  • 1 bag frozen shredded hash browns
  • 1 small bunch cilantro 
  • Approx. 1 tsp. of sea salt
  • Approx. 1/4 cup lime juice 
Cook the hash browns in a large skillet, mix in the cilantro, lime juice and sea salt to taste. Scoop out a 1-cup serving on your plate, then top with:
  • 1/2 cup egg substitute, cooked (I used Meijer's Great Egg Spectations for 1 point)
  • 1/4 cup 2% shredded Mexican cheese (3 points)
  • 2 tbs. fat-free sour cream (1 point)
  • 1/2 cup salsa (0 points for most brands)
Enjoy! 


A note about points: Weight Watchers recently switched over to SmartPoints instead of PointsPlus. I'm not going to explain the details, but this recipe was calculated with the new SmartPoints. My old recipes (like the one linked at the beginning of this post) were calculated with the old PointsPlus. Eventually I hope to update them ... but I think you have a better chance of seeing Oprah show up at my local Weight Watchers meeting. ;)

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Year of Adventures

You know I try to be pretty real online. I share a lot of highlights, but I've shared some lows, too. We all have good days and bad, right? We're human. In 2015, I think I can overlook the bad days because I had so many good ones.

I know sometimes year-end recaps can seem like bragging, but an article on BlogHer (go read it here) recently helped me understand why it's OK to share the best of our lives on social media.
"When you post about how your heart could explode with joy at the sound of your daughter's laugh or that you just had the BEST glass of wine of your life, you are archiving memories that you will be able to retrieve later with just a click of a button."
So here's my archive for 2015, what I'm calling The Year of Adventures. I went to new places, tried new things and met lots of really awesome people. Years from now, I hope I look back with happy memories of it all.

So to recap, this year I ... 


Hit my 1-year anniversary as a Weight Watchers Lifetime member
That was in May - I've now maintained my 105-pound weight loss for more than 18 months. Boo ya!

Met running celebs Lauren Fleshman, Dimity McDowell and Peter Sagal (but not together)
I met Lauren in January, when she spoke at the Fort Wayne Track Club banquet. In May, I went to the Another Mother Runner party in Indianapolis, where I got to meet Dimity (Sarah was out with a broken ankle). Then in October, I met Peter Sagal, who was the keynote speaker at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum (and I told him that I read his Runners World column when I poop ...) 


Ran my half marathon PR
Finished the Towpath Half Marathon in 1:56:59 and felt like a rockstar. 

Ran my 5k PR - TWICE
First, I ran 24:46 at the RBS 5k in Edon ... Then I ran the EXACT SAME TIME at our Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day. Ha! 


Ran my first marathon (which TOTALLY counts as another PR, right?!)
If you haven't already heard about the puddle I left on Market Street, you should totally go read the recap.

Completely gutted and remodeled our living room ... with a LOT of help 
What we thought would take a few weeks ended up taking about six months ... and I owe my family BIG TIME for all their hard work. Check out the difference - the ugly paneling is GONE, and we found hardwood floors under the carpet!

Rowdy likes the new rug ...
Went to Disney World with Kyle and Kenlee
I haven't blogged about it (yet), but it was everything I thought it would be - and more.


Wasn't sure if I wanted to do it all again ...
While all of those things were amazing, I can tell you three of them are NOT happening again next year: 
  1. We're NOT doing any major home remodeling projects - Kyle and I might do some minor things here and there, but nothing that requires near as much effort (or money) as our living room did!
  2. We're NOT going to Disney World. (Insert frown face) But we ARE already saving for our next trip, which will hopefully be in November 2017. 
  3. I am NOT running a marathon. Nope, nope, nope. It's not about the work involved in the training - it's about the TIME. This year, I'm going to spend more of my weekends with my family than with my Garmin. 
What I AM doing in 2016 is taking on a new kind of running challenge ... I'm going to run for Team Riley at the Indy Mini! If you didn't see the announcement on Facebook, please go check out my personal fundraising page. I'd appreciate any support - financial or otherwise - as I #Run4Bronson.

Honestly, I've never been good at fundraising, and I've never run for charity, but this felt like something that was meant to be. I can't wait to see what adventures this challenge - and the rest of 2016 - will bring. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Disney World DVC rental: How we stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge for a FRACTION of the normal price

As you may recall, I spent approximately 18 months planning and saving for my family’s first trip to Disney World. We stayed Nov. 15-21, 2015, and I have to say every bit of research and budgeting paid off – big time. And, I can’t wait to share everything I learned.

But before I dive into any tips or tricks, I want to set the stage with the “stage” of our vacation: our resort, Animal Kingdom Lodge. This place is so incredible, it’s hard to describe. From the sights (animals grazing on the savanna), to the sounds (genuine African drummers), to the tastes (Indian and African dishes) and the smells (OMG I asked if they sold incense so we could take the scent home!!), every detail added to an immersive, amazing experience. 


Now, you may be wondering how we decided to stay here. I wish I could say we chose it after a lengthy comparison of features and costs … but really, we just got one hell of a deal. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for a good discount or clearance sale. And I found that through DVC rental. 

Quick explanation: DVC stands for Disney Vacation Club, which is Disney’s timeshare program. Members can “rent out” their allotted points, allowing non-members to stay in deluxe accommodations for a deep discount. (If you want more details, check out WDW Prepschool’s post.) After doing some research (of course!), I ended up making a request through David’s Vacation Club Rentals … I say request because there’s no guarantee that points/rooms will be available for your specific trip dates/resort. In order to have the best chances, I made our request just before the 11-month mark (the earliest DVC members can make reservations at the home resorts) … and I got it! 

The team at David’s made everything easy. Their process is straightforward and simple, and they responded to all my emails the very same day. How many businesses can say that? Once the reservation was set up, I linked it to MyDisneyExperience (where you manage all reservations and tickets) and we were set. The price they quoted was the price we paid – no hidden fees or extra taxes. I paid the bill in full, and I never had to think about it again. BOOM. 

As I said, we stayed in a Value Studio Villa for six nights, seven days, and loved every single minute. Animal Kingdom Lodge is a FANTASTIC resort, and we got to stay there for a fraction of the normal cost. To be completely transparent, here’s a price comparison (total cost for six nights, seven days – remember, prices change depending on your travel dates): 
  • Animal Kingdom Lodge Value Studio Villa - $895 (with Dave’s DVC)
  • Pop Century Resort Standard Room - $785 (This was our original plan)
Just for reference, I’d like to point out without DVC rental, the price to stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge was WAY out of our range: 
  • Standard View Room- $2,223
  • Savanna View Room - $3,236
So for the extra $110 (compared to staying at Pop Century), what did we get? 
  • Deluxe amenities, including an amazing pool with waterslide, more dining options (one cafeteria and three table service restaurants – one of which is a buffet), a fitness center (which we surprisingly never used) and, of course, views of amazing savanna around nearly every corner
  • A deluxe room – Kyle and I shared a queen bed rather than a double (Kenlee got the pullout couch); we had a coffee maker, microwave and mini fridge (Pop Century only offers the mini fridge – if you want coffee, you have to walk down to the food court); and a private balcony (with the option of a savanna view … more on that later)
Sounds like a no-brainer, right? For many people, it is. But before I booked, there were several things to consider:
  • We weren’t able to participate in any Disney package discounts, such as the popular free dining promo. We had already been leaning toward NOT using the dining plan because of the out-of-pocket costs, restrictions on what you could order, and overwhelming amount of food. (And I totally stand by this decision, but that’s probably a post for another day.) The free dining discount sounded amazing, but I calculated that by the time we paid for gratuities and extra meals not covered by dining credits, we’d ONLY save about $250 on our trip. PLUS, by going with the DVC rental, I didn’t have to deal with the hassle of booking free dining, which was a cluster this year, according to many Disney news sites.  
  • Because the room we wanted is extremely popular (READ: It’s the cheapest DVC room available), we had to book it 11 months in advance … and there’s absolutely no refunds. You have the option to purchase travel insurance if this makes you nervous. But, Kyle and I decided we were going to Disney World come hell or high water, so we passed on the coverage. However, we did make sure to check the dates with our employers before we booked … gotta have your bases covered!
  • We didn’t get daily housekeeping. Since DVC rooms are “home away from home” for members, we only got trash and towel service on day four of our trip. That’s it. To some people, this is a drawback … for us, it was totally fine. We just hung up our towels and picked up after ourselves. Not a big deal, but something to consider depending on how your family likes to travel. 
Oh, and about our view. Thanks to the TouringPlans room finder, I learned that Value Studio Villas can have either a savanna view or standard view. With other rooms, you have to specifically pay extra for the savanna view. Because I subscribe to Touring Plans, I used the awesome fax request tool, which automatically sent my room view request a few days ahead of the visit. Just after we landed in Orlando, I got a text saying our room was ready – 5124, a savanna view! Nailed it.

The view from room 5124 - absolutely worth all the effort!

I sure do miss watching the giraffes while I eat breakfast and/or sip some wine ...

So, in summary: we got to stay at one of the BEST resorts on Disney property with one of the BEST views and some of the most AMAZING amenities for a FRACTION of the normal cost. It sounds too good to be true, but it’s not. Honestly, I hesitate to share my story for fear that everyone and their brother will want to do the same. ;)

Seriously, if you’ve ever looked at going to Disney World and thought, “I could NEVER afford to stay deluxe,” or “I want to treat my family without breaking the bank,” look in to DVC rental. But fair warning: You’ll fall in love with your new “home” and immediately start planning your next trip back ...