Friday, September 8, 2017

Our Family is GROWING!

SO when I said there was a lot of new beginnings in August, this is what was cooking in The Cozy Little Kitchen .....

Our family is growing, by adoption!!!!

(We're pretty thrilled.... just look at baby girl's face.)


And yes, there will be dark chocolate dipped potato chip cravings and ugly cries of joy have already started flowing!  I will labor and their may be pain, but it will look different than a natural birth story.  

Up to this point though, I've not felt lighter in years!  It may be partially to adrenaline, but I also know that's what the peace of God that passes all understanding feels like.  We are trusting God to provide the funding we need, the wisdom we need, the patience we need, the rest we need, and our children the security they need as we move forward.  We're putting one foot in front of the other with our eyes set on Him as he say's, "GO". 

Adoption is a leap of faith in many ways, but I believe wholeheartedly that's part of the miracle!   

God has set deep inside our heart that He has called us to build our family though adoption.  It is His plan A for our family's life!  Heath and I couldn't be more giddy-excited, overwhelmed, and a little scared as we begin this process again.  We know just enough to be both thrilled and anxious so please, we ask you pray for us as we have a number of decisions to make and as we trust the Lord to work on our behalf on all the decisions that are out of out of our control.  Your prayers are so appreciated!

There will be more to come as I'll try to keep you updated, so I hope you'll join us as we begin the journey to our 3rd child through a domestic newborn adoption!  

"He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.  Praise the LORD!"
Psalm 113: 9

In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved."
Ephesians 1:5-6

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths."
Proverbs. 3:5-6

"Whoever receives one such child in my name, receives me."
Matthew 18:5

"Jesus said, 'Have you believed because you have not seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'  "
John 20:29

Friday, September 1, 2017

Blackberry Farms Blackberry-Oat Crumble Bars

Happy September friends!

Today is a very rainy and a cooler day outside as "hurricane Harvey" gently sweeps through our area.  Rain and a bit of wind is absolutely nothing to whine about, especially with so many people hurting deeply from the very same storm in Texas.  By the time a hurricane gets to KY of course it's just usually just a rainy day or two, but my heart is breaking for the people who are suffering from so much loss right now or just to survive at all.  

I've gathered some supplies to send with a local ministry called Healing Projects who is making the drive down in a few days to deliver lots of essentials that our community has collected.  I know love has gone into buying and putting this collection drive together, and I hope each life it touches will feel that love even though we can't change their devastation.  

Lord, surround those who are hurting and scared in your arms.  Bind up the wounded hearts, heal their bodies, and meet their needs, as only You do the very best.  That they will see restoration and redemption come out of their heart ache!  Thank you for those risking so much to help in rescue parties and for those donating money or resources. May any effort on our part only reflect Jesus.  In Jesus name I pray!  Amen.

Mom surprised me this week with a package and this beautiful devotional in the mail, Devotions From the Kitchen Table!  It's perfectly timely since I'm just a couple weeks from finishing Devotions from the Front Porch.  The basis of all these scripture based devotionals are in a kitchen setting, which will be perfect in the cozy months of fall and winter!

I love different devotionals, and so to be given a new one is a special treat!  I look forward to starting this with a hot cup of coffee in the mornings. My life doesn't always lend itself to sitting and snuggling with coffee and a devotional, I don't want to paint a perfectly picturesque morning.  I do make an effort to get up before the rest of the house does to read or pray in the quiet, but some mornings need to start really early and it's a to-go coffee kind of morning.  Those days or I will open the Bible and my devotional or journal later in the day when there's time for my mind to settle for a minute, but I try to create space whenever I can.  At the ages my kids are now is much easier than when they were toddlers... those were my survival days!  Rolling with the season of life I'm in is what I'm learning to do, and while planning is essential in some things in life, learning to not be beat up by u-turns is just as important. Got it? Good! Now lets get to the delicious stuff.

You know what really gets me excited, that I haven't shared in a while?  Baking!  

I have a new recipe for you!!

Meet my new friend, blackberry-oat crumble bars!

Blackberry. Oat. Crumble. Bars.

You're welcome!

This is a new recipe for me, and I'm so glad I found it.  Right away I knew it would be yummy!  These blackberries happened to be from a patch down the road we picked from back in July. I froze most of them so I have locally grown berries now on the first of September to enjoy.

This particular recipe comes from the famed Blackberry Farms in Walland, TN.  It's a luxury type place to stay at in the middle of nowhere--so I've heard-- just south of The Smoky Mountains.  They are known for award winning cuisine that is unpretentious and recipes that derive from that area of the country but done in a fresh way. There was a stunning spread written up in Southern Living magazine's July issue about them, and it showcased their recipes.  This beautiful blackberry-oat crumble bar recipe looked delicious as I was reading through all the divine recipes.  I knew I would make it soon.  

They said this is one of the desserts they're known for at Blackberry Farms, but they have used this base recipe and replaced blackberries with many other fruits. Whatever is in season.  I imagined it being delicious with cherries, blueberries, peaches, or apples.  Apples would be perfectly fall in there!  To add fall flare I did sprinkle a bit of cinnamon to the topping, but I'm sure it's amazing without it, too. 

These smell divine as they bake, which is always a fun thing I look forward to when baking desserts--that cozy scent wafting through your home!

Light your candle, and get your coffee with one of these bars while watching your favorite show with the hubs, or take a pan to your next family reunion. Either way, enjoy!

Blackberry-Oat Crumble Bars
Blackberry Farms
Serves 24

Note: I halved this recipe and used a 9x13 pan instead of a large sheet pan. I baked it for 30 minutes.


6 cups regular rolled oats
2 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups unsalted butter, melted, more for pan (Yes, it's a lot of butter!  This is a treat for a reason.)
1 tsp. kosher salt (Use whatever salt you have, but kosher gives it a nice bite.)
1 tsp. baking soda


9 cups fresh blackberries
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (3 lemons)
1/4 cup cornstarch

1. Prepare the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Stir together oats, brown sugar, flour, butter, salt and baking soda.  Remove 3 cups of the oat mixture, and set aside/  Press remaining oat mixture in an even layer on an aluminum foil-lined and buttered 12x17 in rimmed baking sheet.  Bake in preheated oven until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

You guys, until literally just now I totally missed this baking step of the crust!!  I over looked it on accident.  So just know if you don't have time for that step or forget the bars will taste amazing, but might be a bit more crumbly.

2. Prepare the filling.  Stir together blackberries, sugar, lemon juice and cornstarch in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until syrup thickens and is bubbly, about 7-8 minutes.  This alone would be a dreamy topping for pancakes!  Pour over the prepared crust and crumble the reserved 3 cups topping mixture over the filling.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 30-35 minutes. Cool completely --about 2 hours--and cut into 24 pieces.

Monday, August 21, 2017

August, Full of New Beginnings

Don't you love that little classic school song?  My mom used to sing it to us the very first morning of school every single year when I was growing up all the way to our senior year of high school!  Of course with family traditions running in my veins, I do the same thing.  The kids look forward to waking up on the first morning of the school year to a chipper,

"School Days, School Days,
Good and Golden Rule Days,
Reading and Writing, Arithmetic....."

Somehow we are already past the halfway point of August and we've managed to start the third week of school!  The kids couldn't have been more excited to start back, and although it was hard to me to give up our relaxing summer schedule and lazy pool days, I was ready to share them with their friends and teachers again!

That first morning was almost magical, because they were so happy and easy to get up and dressed.  Like many kids around the country they were excited to carry their new backpack and lunchbox to school as they entered a brand new grade.  

Everything feels so fresh and shiny new in school the month of August!  From their new teacher to the perfectly prepped classroom and crayons with the papers still on.  The white socks that haven't worn gray and the neatly packed lunches I so eagerly prepared.  (I start off as fresh as the kids do!)  Their bright smiles shined the brightest, reflecting their sheer joy.  You never have to second guess how my girl is feeling, because her face always says it all! 

This is the first year they had not even an ounce of fear or hesitation when I dropped them off for their first day.  There were no tears or lingering in my arms, and while that may seem more bitter than sweet, as an adoptive mama I knew in my heart it was a milestone that they truly feel secure at their school and in our home. 

Thank you Jesus!

The first week of school I received the most beautiful card in the mail.  Look at how exquisite this card is!  And everything about it is so very me!  Only Mom would know to get me a card with lovely antique china on the front and delicate flowers inside and how those details would make my heart skip.  Her words written on the inside were even more beautiful than the card!  God has used her dozens of times over the hand full of years to send me the perfect card or note or text message that only He could know my spirit needed right then.  I love Mom's ministry she has with cards and all the love she's always shown towards me.  I know how blessed I am to have her in my life as my mother.  I see so much of her in me and how I try to build my family and my home.  

She gave me encouragement inside this card that I needed as I was just starting to step into my new position as Worship Pastor alongside my husband this month at our church.  That is something big in my life that I don't think I've shared on here yet!  The Lord called me to worship many years ago, but just this year God brought it into complete fruition more than ever before.  God has really been doing absolutely amazing things in our community and in our church--Christian Fellowship--  over the summer! I don't know where to begin, but it has lead our church to start a brand new, casual mid-day service on Sundays called simply, The Gathering.

"Where two or three gather together in my name,
I will be in the midst of them."
Matthew 18:20

As always at our church, this service is never compromising on the Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. It's a service comprised of intimate, modern worship and a Biblical, practical message from our pastor. We are called to instill a real family like atmosphere that will be rich in the love of Jesus and fellowship with others.  Heath and I are the worship leaders of the incredible team for that service.  I could talk on and on how God is bringing His word to pass in all of this!!  

In a matter of a couple days I was helping to launch this new service, leading worship in a new service and with a new team, and sending our kids off to school while praying the Lord's grace floods every one of these situations in where I may fall short.  He did just that!  His love never fails!  That week was exhilarating to see everything come together.  Beautiful, holy things happened with our church and inside my family.  New friendships are being cultivated, new songs are being sung, and God is birthing new and exciting things that are affecting my life in every aspect!  

Today is "Eclipse Day" and we live where we're going to have nearly 100% totality, which is pretty amazing!  I've got my Milky Way candy bars in the fridge getting nice and chilled, and I'm about to view the eclipse with my fashionable glasses (ha!) with my kids at their school.  A big blanket is coming along and a tall thermos of lemon water, and we will get to see the majesty of God displayed in another new way for us this afternoon.  It's pretty exciting!  Let me know if you're also in the path of eclipse totality, and if so put those fun glasses on and enjoy it!  I love a reason to celebrate!

It's been a wonderful month of August full of new beginnings.

Talk to you again soon!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Heart and Home

"Home is where the heart is" and my family holds my heart, so that is certainly true for me! 

I'm having a bit of introspective thinking while watching 'Anne with an "E" ' for the first time on Netflix in a very rare moment this summer of being home by myself!  In all my girly splendor I'm enjoying a divine piece of Reese's cheesecake and a cup of coffee as I write you all.  It was one of those days that I found myself wanting to eat my feelings..... it happens!!

I was thinking about home and thought I would snap a few "moments" in time right now, as-is, around my home.  I haven't shared much of our home in a while and because the home can say a lot about someone, I thought I'd invite you in again! 

So if you're new to my blog I welcome you in my home to let you in on our world a little bit more! 

In my world, there's a trail mix of a life the Lord has given me of mommyhood and homemaking, marriage and ministry, creativity and fun and hard work.  All amazing things but the Lord is at the center and my family is right beside me through it all.  There are moments I have to choose joy in the chaos that's out of my control and this sign is the perfect reminder that I can do that because the joy of the Lord is my strength!

You know, I'm learning so much about the Lord and I have so much yet to learn!  While it feels some days I should be a wise ole owl after what the past decade has brought about, everyday I realize a little more that I'll always be a student learning. I have so much more to learn about the places God has put me. The assignments He has given me in the now.

Learning more about my kids, about raising them in the love and admonition of God. Learning more about my husband and how to love him well.  Because if there's one thing I have learned it's that we're all changing and I've come to expect that.  Where change can scare the pants off me, I remember The One who never changes and I've come to this conclusion:

There is adventure in the growing and the changing together with your one love, your spouse, that's like no other adventure!!! 

Dive in head first together.

That truth has helped my whole outlook of marriage!  We've decided to grow together instead of apart and that's a choice we have made as a couple. A glorious decision that goes back to choosing joy in all things!

As I'm watching the "new" Anne of Green Gable, I see this movie in a totally different perspective than I have ever watched it before.  I've see this movie dozens of times, as it's one of my all-time favorite being a fellow idealist like Anne, but there's something strangely real about it this time that's made it harder for me to watch.

Because we have adopted our children, the dynamic of the underlying story line really hits home.

I can see deeper into the struggle Anne has faced in her orphan past and the flashbacks that occur because of triggers that set them off.  It can be a simple phrase or the cry of a baby that's everyday for most folks but shoots Anne's memories into the place she refuses to live... abandonment and ridicule and despair. 

Outwardly she seems to be a bit of a wild card! She has lots to say, she's a vibrant day dreamer and bosom friend on the one hand and a fiery temper covering up a porcelain hearted girl on the other. The imagination she developed is a perfect disguise to cover the hurt and insecurities she arrives with at Marilla and Mathew's door.

I'm familiar with loss. Everyone in my household has suffered from tragedy, as many people have.  Just as most of my house may look clean it took time and effort and work to get to the point of a clean house.  It doesn't just happen without a little sweat and sacrifice.

It's the same with our children.  We've been told that we have always looked like the picture perfect family from the very beginning.  That we looked happy and content as though we've always been together. The truth is that we've come such a long way as a family, but it wasn't that way in the beginning. It was a process that came with hard work, sacrifice and dedication from everyone in the family, but it didn't happen overnight.   We are not the perfect family, but we are so happy nowand our pictures do reflect the joy in our hearts!

God has been incredible to us by shaping and designing our family by way of His perfect plan!  We have come a long way from a few years ago when we were introduced to each other in a room moments before leaving with two beautiful. precious, scared children that made my heart leap and yet I've never been more afraid in my life. Yes, I was afraid, but I was up for what God called us to!  There was a unique challenge parenting bio children doesn't usually come with and that's the challenge of proving our trust and our love in a daily or hourly basis, but mostly proving our commitment to stay the long haul.  

Over and over we were tested and like Marilla I made some mistakes along the way.  I questioned in the early months if I could wake up again to start it all over with a 2 and 3 year old who I didn't always understand their personalities or the mixed up patterns of outbursts.  I wondered if I could handle another early morning after a long night with my husband away at work while I managed the children.  Slowly but surely, I was growing deeper in the secret place with the Lord and in turn I began to see my more strength, more patience, more wisdom, more resiliency. Over time. 

I remember how I would rest on the promise the Lord gave me years ago.  "He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyful mother of children."  We knew that God lead us to buy our first house.  I know He lead us to our babies. So I claimed the joyful part, because that's one of the most important parts!  Anyone can be called mother but not every mom finds joy in it, but I held on to that promise and claimed it like my life depended on it... in a way it did, because when you have joy you feel alive!

I trusted God and slowly but surely through His grace and provision our sweet ones began to really trust us!  It was a process (over time) but a miraculous process!  We still have a ways to go, and  I still run to Jesus crying some days throwing my hands up asking "am I doing this right??"  and "I need Your help more than ever!" as they're getting older.  But through it all, He has definitely fulfilled that Biblical promise that I claim all the time!

I run to Jesus with my hurts and with my fears and my struggle and put everything out there with Him!  He is my strong tower!!! He calls us to hard things sometimes and our dependency of getting though and thriving is all in the power of Jesus name!  I cry out to him and I think sometimes how He must tire of my same prayers. Another weary Leslie coming to the cross and needing help or wisdom or comfort, and lots of forgiveness and grace, but that's when I'm reminded of how sweet the Lord is... well, let me quote this movie for a moment to show you what I mean... 

Matthew and Anne are at the train station as she has run away from home out of fear from being abandoned once again because of being falsely accused at home.  She was confused and hurt so she would rather run and live poor and alone than even look Matthew in the eye and get hurt again. Matthew was old and he had traveled a long way to bring her back home. 

"I've come for you." Matthew says from across the train station's waiting room as she's asking for money. 

But Anne was running because she was broken and hurting. She wouldn't even look at him. 

When a bystander asked Anne if that man (Matthew) was bothering her she says yes.

That's when Matthew revealed his heart towards her.  

"She is my daughter."

Anne turned around in near disbelief at those words, as she has never been anyone's "daughter". No one had been proud of her in her whole life.  She drops her small money bag and goes over to him in tears for a hug to resolve it all.  

That scene pierced my soul so very deep and made me cry.  I couldn't help but think how I too have been like Anne at times.  It's my heavenly Father's loving kindness that draws me to Him!

How many times do we want to just run and thought," I'm done. Enough of this! I can do this on my own, because it's the better way.  There's got to be another way. I don't want to do this anymore"

Be it motherhood, ministry, marriage, family, past jobs or in the midst of tragedy.  There have been times I've felt that I was failing and wanted to throw up my hands run away irrationally.  

God pursues me every time and says, "You are my daughter. Come home."

Being His daughter changes everything and hearing it is what all of us at women around the world need to know and need to hear.  

Please listen to me, friend, because this is really good.  The Lord calls you daughter!

"And I will be a father to you and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."
2 Corinthians 6:18 

Abide in the home and in the life, our Father has graciously given us.  We can be scared, we can be hurting, we can be broken, but we must run to Him because we belong to Him!  What comfort I find in that!  That's in part how I relate to my children in a deeper way. 

I was an orphan.  He called me daughter. 

I was barren.  He called me Mother.

I was broken.  He calls me Redeemed.  

I know these are scattered thoughts today, but I wanted to share the real me in the place I am now.  I fill my home with things that mean something to me and to my family. As I look around the house I'm reminded of the blessings I'm surrounded by.  And it fills me with, JOY!

What a blessing to have you around my house today and joining my alone time as I sit and think of the goodness of God!  What's been on your heart these days?   I would love to hear.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

How We Did Disney and Made it "The Best Vacation"

*Extra long blog post alert.

Y'all, we just returned home from what I'm calling "The Best Vacation"!

Our little family took a road trip down to Florida and went to Walt Disney World for the very first time as a family!  From there we spent a few days on the pristine beach of Siesta Key, and it was as gorgeous as we heard.  Clear water, soft cool sand, uncrowded beach.

The Best Vacation may be a bit of a bold title, but with all the excitement Disney World brought to our family and the relaxation we found by the ocean, for us this trip was the perfect family vacation!

We've been dreaming about taking our family to Disney World a long time now as many parents do and waited till both children finished kindergarten before we took on the great adventure. I think the Lord helped us make the right decision because, as a whole, they were pretty patient as there were a few times we waited in line for a ride or reservation and had miles of walking everyday.  I will get into more of those things in a bit. 

We made the wise decision to go to the beach for a few days after Disney World. The beach is my "happy place".  There is something about the clear aqua water, the humid air, the salty breeze, soft sand, and the sound of waves crashing that infuses my bones with relaxation like I never quite feel at home. The looking across an endless horizon that makes you feel small and reminds you of how big God is to create and control such a wonder. It helps that all our family finds it their happy place, too!  It was the perfect way to recoup after a busy Disney experience before coming back to real life and immediately feeling the need of yet another vacation!!  Am I right?  Although it took the hubs and I days, DAYS, to get rested after we came back home from our trip (after 10 days of going strong and the last one being 17 hours on the road with kids in tow) we all needed time to recoup...that kind of traveling will do it to you!  Plus the time change, and the immediate 4th of July activities, and all the unpacking.... we were tired.  A good tired, though, because of all the memories we made.

Before I get into Disney World, let me share with you a little about the beautiful isle of Siesta Key. It's a small island off the coast of Sarasota Florida. It has a small village with condos lining the beach, but not a bunch of big high rises although there were a few.  The island has a nice laid back feel to it. 

The beautiful view of the sunset over the Gulf every evening reminded me of how great my God is to make something so breathtaking!

It reminds me how much God really loves me to create something so exquisitely beautiful for me to experience, for us to experience as a family!  His loving-kindness and faithfulness even shows up in creation with the setting of the sun every evening, no matter where you are on earth!

When we arrived I took this photo below and it was then-- as we were taking it all in,  experiencing shear joy with our family-- that I could hear the Lord tell me that He wanted me to settle in and enjoy this relaxation.  It was for me to enjoy!

That is a big deal for me, because I am on-the-go all the time at home and it's hard for me to relax.  I listened and obeyed my Heavenly Father and enjoyed my time there so much, being present in the moment! 

I allowed myself to rest.

Today, I've popped in to not only tell you about our trip but I want to share with you all how we "did Disney" in case any of you would like to hear our own experiences and recommendations! Things we would definitely do again or maybe leave out next time.  Tips and a few things to expect if you haven't been or if you have been but without children.

Keep in mind, we are no Disney expert, but just getting home from the trip I can share from our own experience while it's fresh on our mind.

We were blessed to have a whole lot of help with the planning from a very dear friend who knows the park inside and out, and that helped the overall Disney experience tremendously!!!  We also asked many different people what they thought, but overall we made the trip designed for our personal preferences.  That's how you should do it, too.  Glean ideas from those who have been and get recommendations and but when it comes your daily "schedule", only you know that speed your family would like to go. It still takes some research to get to that point.  When all was said and done,  we planned enough ahead of time that while we were there we didn't have to stress.  We initially went into the planning stages overwhelmed by all the options we had.  Between the resorts, to the meals, the fast passes, the character meets, the options felt limitless.

We knew for sure that we wanted to spend 5 days in the park and give a "magical" trip to our 6 and 7 year old that we would never forget!

Let me give you a little background on us for context.  It's been 23 years since I've been to Disney World, and I only have been to The Magic Kingdom.  It's been 28 years since my hubby has been, so we knew it would be a whole new world!  :)  Needless to say, we were some of the biggest kids there!!!  It was exhilerating to unapologetically throw inhibition to the wind and just have fun or act silly with our kids!  They saw us at our most carefree they ever have!

We are a family of 4 and didn't take any grandparents or extended family with us.  We actually enjoy the bonding time of just the 4 of us each year on vacation, although it would be fun and easier in some ways to have more family there. ( I hope that happens in the future!!)  We navigated our way around a little easier that if we had gone with a large group and getting reservations or even just a table at a counter service place is easier with four.

We decided to go to Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom.  We felt that our kids were a little too young and innocent for them to go to Hollywood Studios this time.  We knew we were going to the beach afterward, so we didn't care to go to a waterpark.  I think we ended up making wise choices for this trip!  We found the least to do at Animal Kingdom but that day we went back over to Disney Springs for dinner so it worked out well.  Coincidentally our favorite ride in the entirety of Disney World ended up being at Animal Kingdom .... you'll have to keep reading to see what that was. :)  Let me back up.....  it was a God thing, not coincidence that we chose Animal Kingdom because we had no idea how fun that ride would be, but He knew!

One of my all-time favorite days of the trip was at Epcot.  I've never been before but Heath and I absolutely loved it!  It felt less crowded, I loved the beautiful music that was playing over the speakers around the park, and I loved the World Showcase and all the diversity those countries brought. There was delicious food everywhere we went. We only went to Epcot one day but I would have loved to go an extra day and see it all...and eat all the food! Next time we'll spend more time there.

On that day in Epcot, we saw where a lady was doing face painting.  We hadn't seen anyone walking around with their face painted but it looked like so much fun and the kids wanted to do so we thought, "when in Rome... errr, Disney"!  They got fabulous painted faces, especially baby girl's.  She was a stunning ice queen!!!

My excitement arose when I saw how great they looked and in the joy of the moment, this happened .....

Then, the kids & convinced Heath he needed to get his superhero on as well.

Yes. We got our faces painted too!!  I never had done this before, but we were at the most magical place on earth so why not??? This is the time to just have fun, that's essentially why we were there! 

We became "that family" and it was pretty amazing! I couldn't have been more proud to be a part of our bunch of characters walking around the park sweating our booties off but having fun!  We ended up getting a lot of compliments from people, even this one elderly man said how sweet it was for us to paint our faces for the kids.  I thought, "I did this for me, Buddy!" 

So practically speaking, let's talk Walt Disney World!  

1. When you begin planning, decide if you want to stay on or off Disney property. 

We stayed on Disney property which was the right decision for us. 

We stayed at the Caribbean Beach Resort which is a "moderate" resort.  It is in the Epcot area but fairly central to all the parks and Disney Springs, except for the Magic Kingdom. The bus ride there was about 20-25 minutes for us.  The grounds of this resort are simply beautiful!  Lush foliage all around with a tropical Caribbean theme that's done really well.  The pool was awesome with a zero entry on one side and two water slides. Our kids loved that pool! We stayed in one of the Pirate themed rooms, and it was wonderfully done! They remodeled these rooms just a couple years ago and it was decked out like we were going to sail the high seas!  Our son especially got excited when we walked in.  The beds in those rooms are full sized but honestly we were so tired at night I never noticed a difference.  The mattresses were firm and very comfortable, and housekeeping left the kid's toys in adorable, playful ways on their bed every day.  (It's the little things like that you'll only find at Disney!)  This room had a mini fridge and a small table with two chairs along with a very large flat screen tv.   The Caribbean Beach Resort is undergoing renovations right now, but the construction wasn't around South Trinidad, the building complex we stayed at.   I guess next year it will be even more beautiful there when all the renovations and rebuilding is complete!  I can definitely see us staying there again in a few years.

Some nice things about staying on the grounds of a Disney Resort, is that we parked our van after we checked in and left it there the whole trip, taking Disney transportation everywhere we went.  That gave my husband a huge break from the stress of driving and allowed us to have the all inclusive feeling of living in a "magical" place, if only for a few days. Also, each person gets a cute Disney souvenir style travel mug that you can take home.  There are drink stations set up around each resort that you can fill up your mug and have something to drink with you around the resort.  The magic bands you receive in the mail about 3 weeks before your Disney vacation serves also as a room key so you don't have to pack around a key card.  Just scan your badge and the door easily unlocked for us.  It was so nice when we're tired and hot and dragging ourselves over to our room after a long day of fun to not fumble around a bag to find that room key!  Yay for Magic Bands!

2.  Decide how you will want to do meals. Disney Dining plan or not. 

We knew we wanted to use the Disney dining plan.  It worked out wonderfully for us and would do it again.  We chose the plan with two snacks, one counter service, and one table service per person, per day.  These can be used at any time in your trip.  For example, some days we would share the (large)portions of a "snack" like at Gaston's Tavern where the cinnamon roll was the size of a loaf of bread.  Each of us didn't need our own cinnamon roll, that would be a waste.

Two of those cinnamon rolls fed our family with a couple of Lefou's brews.  Gaston's Tavern, by the way, is a delicious place we loved at Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom!  At the end of our trip our dining plan ended up being the perfect amount of food.  We used all our credits just before leaving the park, and we never went hungry.  We did have a small fridge in the room where I kept yogurts and fruit for breakfast along with some bottle waters and coffee creamer.

The food at Disney was delicious!  The portions were perfect if not extra large and the longer we stayed the better we knew how to order wisely for our family. You learn where has larger portions also from observing other people's food.

Another perk with the dining plan is that you're not carrying a bunch of food around the park weighing down your backpack or stroller. It's a good idea to still have a pack of peanut butter crackers or a couple granola bars in your back pack, also we bought a Brita filtering water bottle to refill in the park...but that's all the food and drink we carried around.  (Keep in mind, if you go with toddlers or pre-schoolers you would probably need more snacks on hand to keep little ones happy.) We found Disney to have some really cute kid or kid-at-heart friendly snacks. From the classic Mickey pretzel to the Mickey shaped ice cream bar to more refined tastes of the Epcot snacks or the popular Dole Whip float, which was one of my all-time favorites when you're in the afternoon heat.  Oh, that Dole Whip Float was like manna from Heaven for us at the time!  We drank it so fast I don't think we got a picture!

3. Make your dining reservations as early as possible for dinner or at least for the table service restaurants. 

I believe you can make dining reservations as early as 180 days out from your arrival date.  We planned our trip 3 1/2 months before and immediately made reservations for dinner once we nailed down the dates, even before we booked our accommodations!  We had help doing this and all the recommendations of places were great. The only lunch we reserved was at "Be Our Guest" in Beast's castle.  What an amazing place to eat in Beast's castle!  It's chock full of intricate details straight out of the movie. There are three diding rooms in there and we chose to sit in the West Wing! It was fun for the kids. We definitely recommend eating there if you can, but the reservations fill up fast so I recommend trying to get that one early.  We reserved all of our dinner reservations because that's when we chose to use the table service meals.  If we go back I think I would like to try to eat breakfast one morning at Chef Mickeys.  I've heard so many good things about the Mickey waffles particularly there, but it fills up fast.  There's a pizza restaurant in Epcot / Italy that sounds divine so I would like to try that out, too.

  • Favorite Restaurants 
One of our favorite places to eat was definitely 'Ohana at the Polynesian resort. Yummy! We went here after our first day at the park, and it felt magical to be in what felt like a tropical paradise with deliciously grilled meats of chicken, steak and the best shrimp. Delicious pot stickers and lo mein style noodles with a big fresh salad.  We LOVED the bread and butter which has tropical flavors, and you must get the famous bread pudding for dessert! Everything was really delicious.   There we had a view of the nightly fireworks over the castle, and that became one of our all time favorite memories there!  They even played the music to go along with the fireworks inside the restaurant.  There were a few little games our kids participated while there, but overall I found the atmosphere relaxing and after dark it had a nice ambiance.

If we had the chance to go to a place without our kids for a more relaxing dinner we would go there for a date.  Real life: one of our children was in an epic bad mood there, but instead of allowing it to totally ruin the dinner we chose to make the best of it. Going into this trip my husband and I sort of made that our mantra.  We knew bad moods would happen but it doesn't have to sink the whole ship, right??  I can guarantee every family will have a melt down or sour mood happen at least once, even in the perfection of Disney World.

Be Our Guest at the Beast's castle in Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom was a favorite restaurant as I mentioned.  We highly suggest the cupcakes and the potato leek soup there!  We planned to go here after going to Enchanted Tales with Belle in keeping with the Beauty and the Beast theme.

Another one worth noting was the Irish Pub called Raglan Road at Disney Springs. This was our first place to eat the very day we arrived so we were fresh and full of anticipation here!  It didn't disappoint with options like fish and chips, amazing desserts on beautiful china with live Irish music and dancers in an atmosphere full of  Irish detail.

The Biergarten Restaurant in Germany at Epcot was amazing.  It felt like Oktoberfest there and even had live traditional German music on stage that the kids can dance to.  Unless you go with a large group you will be sitting at a large table with another family there, so that is something you may want to be aware of although it wasn't a problem for us.  It is a nice, large buffet.  The German potato salad was exceptional and the creamy German cheesecake with the cup of berries poured over was divine!  Everything we had there was delicious come to think of it!

We enjoyed the food at the Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom more than we thought.  It's definitely pricey if you're paying out of pocket but apparently the character dinners are always more.  It was a buffet of delicious American fare.  Some of our kids favorite there included the mac and cheese and our daughter raved about the pomegranate lemonade.  She talked about it for days! We were blessed to have up close view of the fireworks over the castle.  There you can inform your server you're stepping out to watch the fireworks, and it's not a problem.  The view from the Crystal Palace is like a front row seat.

Let me interject how it was God's timing to be at The Crystal Palace at the time of the fireworks.... 

We had an earlier reservation at 7:20, but we over slept our nap a little and the bus coming to the resort was running very behind so we completely missed our reservation.  (This is the only time this happened.) Heath called to see if they had anything later and they advised us to come on and they would get us in as soon as possible.  I'm glad we did that because they have a nice porch with benches overlooking the castle and it's courtyard!  We watched the sun go down behind the castle and the kids watched ducks and a bunny in a grassy area just across the walkway.  By the time we got a sat down, the castle's fireworks began and the restaurant was almost empty leaving the characters (did I mention Pooh and friends are there?) to a have more time visiting at our table!  God was all over the details in our trip, making it even better than how we planned!

A man's heart plans his way 
But the LORD directs his steps.
Proverbs 16:9

The characters come around to your table while you're seated, but it could be as long as 1 1/2 hours after being seated, although we didn't have to wait nearly that long. Character meals are great for younger kids so you get to meet characters without standing in a line somewhere in the park.  Our kids loved meeting Pooh and the gang ... and I did too... mostly.  Haha, honestly there was a point during the meal I really didn't care to get any more hug and kiss interruptions from Tigger, as cute as he is, for the rest of the night.  Real life: I did experience a few moments of over-stimulation at Disney, and those usually came mid afternoon or close to bed time.  I know my limits and that's when a timely solo trip to the bathroom came in handy to get a moment of alone time in the bathroom stall. It's real life, folks!!  That's how I could handle the big crowds and extra excitement that came with the Disney experience.

Bongos at Disney Springs was wonderful!  It's Gloria Estafan's restaurant and they serve authentic Cuban/Latin style cuisine.  The whole place was just as colorful and vibrant of an atmosphere and food as you hope! You can even join a conga line, which my kids did!  If you want lively and delicious food with or without kids, this is the place.  I recommend the tres' leches cake!

La Cantina de San Cantina in Mexico was a wonderful place for lunch while in Epcot.  We only used two quick service credits there by sharing an order of nachos with fresh guacamole and some delicious shredded beef tacos.  We knew there was so much good food around the World Showcase so we didn't want to eat too much anywhere so we could try lots of things.  We were STARVING and happened to be in Mexico after riding Soarin' and going to a character meet and a couple other rides in the future world part of Epcot.  We just started going around the "world" and came upon the savory smells in Mexico.  It became my favorite lunch meal of the whole trip!  Look at our water view.... very, very peaceful and quiet to be in the middle of Disney.

  • Favorite Snacks

Gaston's Tavern in Fantasyland.  As I mentioned before, this place was a favorite and has generous portions.  The LaFeu's brew with is a refreshing and frothy apple cider drink with a huge cinnamon roll or chocolate croissant was an amazing mid morning treat for us!  We like that they had huge urns of iced water for free so we would each guzzle a cup of that and refill our water bottle before leaving.

Dole Whip Float.  My fave! This is a treat unique to Disney and is something right up my alley with pineapple soft serve ice cream floating in cold pineapple  juice.  We had it at Aloha Isle in Adventureland and planned getting it at one of the hottest and most tiring parts of our trip so when we arrived at the stand it felt like we arrived at an oasis in the desert. Haha! We loved it so much and the kids loved the Dole Whip cone. I didn't take a picture because we were too busy drinking up the island goodness!

Big Top Souvenirs.  This is right across from the Dumbo ride. Let me just say, we had googly eyes at everything behind the glass case at this place... these confections are a kid's dream come true!  There are some really fun treats here including caramel apples, chocolate covered Minnie Mouse strawberries and sprinkled covered chocolate dipped marshmallows.  I chose the chocolate covered pineapple and it was outstanding!  I have never seen this unique treat anywhere before, but if pineapple is your thing get one of these at Disney!  Just be sure to quickly eat it in the summertime heat, because the chocolate melted fast.

That will not be a problem!

Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe in Norway at Epcot.   The sweet pretzel and the school bread were unique and delish!  Along these lines, when we go back we will also try the patisserie in France, but we didn't have time this trip.  So much do go and do and see!

Gelati, the gelato/cappuccino stand in Italy at Epcot. Although I think the strawberry gelato we got was not in the dining plan, we could just scan our Magic Band like we did with anything extra we bought at the park and paid at the end of our trip when we checked out.  Anyways, that gelato wsa phenomenal and really hit the spot when we were hot and a little tired in Epcot. It was nice to sit at the street café style tables and relax.

3. Fast passes.  Book your Fast Passes as soon as possible.  The earliest is 60 days out (if staying on property, 30 days if not).

Fast passes are something that gets you to the front of the line (queue) without waiting.  It's like a magical pass that lets you go ahead of even the sometimes 2-3 hour wait lines and step right on the ride!  Everybody gets 3 Fast passes per day. These can be key in the planning of your day, especially with little ones and when it's very hot outside.  We booked these easily through the My Disney Experience app on our phone and tweaked them as we went along. There are places in the park to get fast passes if you don't have the app.  If you need somebody to help give you recommendations on what is worth booking, talk to friends or family about this who know you and your family well.  You want to Fast Pass rides you definitely want to ride on and ones that have notoriously long waits.

  • Favorite things to Fast Pass for our Family/ Favorite Rides

Magic Kingdom:

The 7 Dwarves Mine Train roller coaster.  I loved this ride so much!  It was pretty thrilling but a great starter roller coaster for the younger ones.  I like how every person gets their own safety bar in front of them.  Meaning you could be much larger or smaller than who is beside you and fit it to make you comfortable and safe. I didn't feel like I was holding my daughter in this coaster like I did Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  This was a shorter ride but like I said, we loved it and Fast passed it every time.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Our whole family loved this one!!  It is jerky though so just be prepared.  The views of the park are nice and it's definitely thrilling for the whole family!  Here was the kids after just stepping off for the first time... haha.. they were proud of themselves!

Splash Mountain.  A classic favorite that I waited over 1 1/2 hours to ride back in 1994.  Never again!  It's really cute and lots of fun though.  You will get wet so it's great to book to ride mid day in the summer!  Our kids loved this one, too!

Space Mountain.  This is a ride to have an epic-long wait time since it first debuted.  This is the only ride we did not ride as a family.  My daughter and I sat this one out and went on the Astro Blaster ( a much tamer ride) while my husband and son rode Space Mountain. They said it was intense but they loved it!  It's a roller coaster in the dark which adds to the thrill.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.  This ride is adorable for the young at heart and perfect for the little bitties.  The line is always is long though!!! I have to say there are cute things for young children to play while waiting in the line to help pass the time.  Disney does a brilliant job with that.  It's a cute ride, but I'm glad we didn't wait an hour for it.

(Classic Ride)  Peter Pan's Flight.  This is a delightfully classic ride that has a long wait time.  We went first thing after rope drop and didn't wait long for it.  It will take you back to your childhood!

Enchanted Tales with Belle.  This is one we Fast passed without knowing too much about it, but I'm so glad we did because it's so neat!!  It's something a bit longer (about 20 minutes) and it's where you can interact in a play of Beauty and the Beast!  My husband was in the play and our son played the Beast!  He even danced with Belle!!  It was an AMAZING time for this mama to watch!  Our daughter and son both enjoyed this.  It was a highlight for us, for sure.  Heath scheduled us to eat at Be Our Guest directly afterwards so the Beauty and the Beast theme continued.  It's times like these we are glad we scheduled those things ahead of time.

Prince Charming's Regal Carrousel.  This is the first thing you see if you walk through the castle into Fantasyland, and it's a classic ride. We rode it twice without a Fast pass and didn't wait.  The time we went back to the park after eating at 'Ohana and it was after dark during extra Magic hours, riding it truly felt like a dream!  It was a sweet, nostalgic experience reminding me of when when I was 10 years old and there with my family!

*If you want some extra Magical fun. When I say extra, I mean you will have to pay extra for these things.  We used some Disney gift cards we had to do this. It was worth every penny to us.  In our opinion, the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and The Pirate's League (both in Magic Kingdom) were unique extra experiences we wanted our children to have their first time there. I know that Heath and I were just as excited to see our son transform into a pirate and our daughter to get made over in a princess salon and get pampered and sprinkled with fairy dust!  We were very impressed with both places and the workers, I mean the Fairy-Godmother-in-training and the Pirate/Sea wench who worked on our kids were in full character all the time.  They were amazing!!!


Soarin'.  This is very popular and I know why!  You are in what feels like a hang glider and you soar all over the world and over magnificent scenery!  I'm actually afraid of heights.  It's a fear I face head on with Jesus, because I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength!  That being said the first time I rode it I had my eyes closed the first minute.  I ended up opening my eyes and loving it so much that we rode it again with another Fast Pass and kept my eyes open!

Test Track. This is probably the most thrilling ride at Epcot.  We thought so anyways.  We rode it once.  Our kids loved it but because of the nature of the ride itself, but I was a little surprised we were put in a regular looking seat belt for it. I sat in the middle of one of the three seated rows, and the middle only has a waist seat belt.  Anyway, it was fun and probably one the men and sons in your life will want more of!

Frozen Ever After.  We loved everything about this newer ride! We love Frozen though, and went on this just after meeting Anna and Elsa immediately at rope-drop (with no wait at all at that time for the character meet). So we stayed in Norway and went to this ride to feel like we're in Arendale.  It's in a beautiful building in Norway and intreicately done. Though we didn't fastpass this ride, even as you wait in the queue, it is beautiful with fun Frozen touches.  We loved the music in this ride and our daughter simply lit up! We definitely recommend this if princesses, Frozen, or music is your thing, but the wait time is usually very long. Within an hour of rope-drop, we only had to wait about 20 minutes, though, and as I mentioned, the queue is quite entertaining.

Animal Kingdom:

Favorite Ride in the whole trip: Pandora's Flight of Passage!!!  This is in the brand new Pandora world in Animal Kingdom.  Honestly I knew very little about this ride, so it made me a little nervous to go with our little kids.  Our daughter was stopped twice in the line to get measured.  Height requirement is 44 inches and she is 44 1/2, so she was good...but it did make me a little nervous going into it.  I covered up my nerves for my kids because I didn't want them to think they had anything to fear... turns out they loved it like we did!  I didn't know what to expect other than we would fly on a Banshee like in the movie...  but it was incredible!!  I don't want to give it all away, but it was soooo worth Fast Passing this ride and I would've ridden it twice had the wait time not been 4 hours long! (yikes!)  

The Safari. Beautiful way to see lots of animals in a realistic African setting.

Expedition Everest. Our kids stayed with a friends (we had one overlap day with some dear friends who were starting their Disney trip at the close of ours) while we hopped on this ride, and I'm glad because it would've been too intense for them with a much steeper descent, and at times riding backwards unlike the coasters we rode in Magic Kingdom.  It was a lot of fun though!

Kali River Rapids.  You get really wet and have fun but it's not worth a very long wait.

I have heard there is a Dinosaur ride that is really fun but also pretty scary so we sat that one out.

I have to say when we were in Animal Kingdom there was a time we were tired and almost cranky, so we tried out this place called Dinosaur Dig.  Turns out it's actually a large inclosed playground style place (outside) with things to climb, little tunnels to explore, big slides and such.  There were workers all around helping to keep kids safe as they played, and only one entrance/exit.  So when we went in there, us parents rested for a while and our kids played without us having to watch something or think. It was a nice break for them to get to free play and us to rest.  So if you have kids 10 or under, check this out when you need a break!

4.  Set yourself up to win from the time you arrive.  

Download the My Disney Experience App on your phone.  You will have quick access to your entire itinerary from the reservations to the Fast Passes and hotel accomodations.  There is a map of the entire Disney World that you can navigate to seeing into each park.  This easily shows where the rides, bathrooms, restaurants and every thing you need to know is located...and most importantly gives wait times for different attractions that are updated in real time. FYI: We didn't go online for anything during this trip. This was our first completely unplugged vacation with no social media at all and it was wonderful!!  We used our phones for pictures and to use this app. It's all we needed.

For us, setting our family up to win means arriving rested!  Our trip there was almost 800 miles so on the way we decided to break it up by staying in a hotel about 3 1/2 hours from Disney. That way the trip there could be much more relaxing and we could stop as much as we wanted.  That meant if we saw a neat rest stop or fruit stand or restaurant or Target, we could stop and not feel anxious.  When we arrived at Disney World for the first time, we were fresh instead of tired and grumpy after a full day of travel.  (I've traveled full days before and even in excitement it's hard to stay jubilant when you're spent).  As parents, we were so glad we had a relaxing trip there, and that we arrived mid afternoon instead of late that night.  Breaking the trip into 2 days worked really well for us and I recommend that if you're driving there with kids.

(Me seeing the first Disney sign!!!)

5. Try to get to the park at rope drop, and make room for naps or down time in the afternoon.

We made it to the park by rope drop 3 out of the 5 mornings we were there.  Two at Magic Kingdom and one at Epcot.  It was hard to get out of bed in the mornings, I'm not going to lie. Although I was excited every morning, I was also a little sore and tired, but I set the alarm for me to get up first. I usually hopped in the shower right away, made my coffee and woke up Heath and we got all ready before getting the kids up.  Yes, we were so tired they slept through us getting ready in the same room!  Of course their excitement became pretty contagious though. It was a little crazy leaving the rooms making sure everyone had magic bands on, sunglasses, remembering the small bag I carried and Heath's back pack full of "goodies" we could need throughout the day.  Also before leaving I took my meclizine (non-drowsy Dramamine) and an Ibuprofen before we left and coated our legs and ankles with the bug repellent they provide in the rooms (score for free bug repellant!). I usually put sunscreen on the kids in the bus on the way to the park. When we did make it to rope drop, the park wasn't crowded at all and we could walk on our favorite ride without a Fast Pass.... this made it worth the busy morning routine!

The flip side of this early equation is to make room in the afternoon for a time of rest preferably at the hotel, before dinner. Our dinner reservations ranged from 5:30 to 8:20 but most days we pulled ourselves away from the park to nap at the room. We brought a box fan with us so once we turned that on and got off our feet in the cool bed with the fan humming...that was all we needed to go to dream land, just don't forget to set an alarm to wake up! We were more refreshed for dinner that way or if you wanted to go back to the park or swim later.

6. Remember, things won't always be "magical" or go as planned.

We were at Be Our Guest and Heath was trying to stage a funny picture with the kids by Lumière. One of our kids at the time (uhumm) was in a bad mood, the whole time we were at this awesome restaurant and absolutely loathed this idea...completely refusing to play along.  Not sure why, although I think it was a combination of things, but it just happened. Bad moods, they happen! 

Before going on this trip, my husband and I talked about how we knew these things are inevitable with all the excitement around and all the going/doing, we know even Disney isn't a perfect place all the time! We decided to not let these things we can't control dictate how we feel, and not let it ruin the moment, period.  I'm so glad we didn't let it get to us, because silliness will happen.  There will be a random bad mood or a near tantrum over not having a perfectly clean bathroom stall or a child with tired legs who has much farther to go, or a mom getting overstimulated and just wants a peaceful meal or being in line waiting for a very delayed bus. It can get tiring for parents and kids alike and that's okay if you're prepared for it. It's just that we can't control every detail, so if the ride gets closed just before your Fast Pass (only happened to us once...and Disney made it right by us) or the sky breaks open with rain untimely (also only happened once, amazingly considering what's typical for Orlando area), try to remember that you are there making memories!!! You will look back and laugh or cry but it will be part of your Disney story with your loved ones!

Prepare as best as you can, both for yourself and your children. Try not to have unrealistic expectations.  And rest when you can either in a cool theater like at The Country Bear Jamboree, The Enchanted Tiki Room, at a café, or in your hotel.

7. Plan your best trip, even if that looks different from others.

You do you at Disney! 

We are somewhere in between the marathon-Disney people and the go with the flow/relaxed (or none at all) itinerary folks. We planned what we could and we didn't stress over the rest. We really didn't! Thanks to a recommendation from a sweet Disney veteran friend, I pre-planned all the kid's outfits at home even socks and underwear and put each outfit in a gallon sized plastic bag.  I gave each child their bag the night before and it became an exciting reveal since I added new clothing prior to the trip that they hadn't seen before. This helped make getting ready so easy for the kids.  We winged

I have so much I can say but in conclusion, we were just thrilled to all be together and present in this fun adventure as a family!  It was one of the neatest things as a wife to see my husband 100% relaxed and care-free the way he was on this trip!  His and my kids hands were in the air on every roller coaster!

All of us meeting Mickey Mouse for the first time was so great, and seeing their faces when they saw Cinderella's castle for the first time!

We flew on Banshees as a family and soared around the world on a hang glider! We watched our daughter clog on an Irish stage and our son transform into Edward Stormwater, the pirate! We tried Norwegian treats together and all got face painted for the first time.  We rode on a monorail, on a ferry and on a safari as real as North America has! 

We watched our son dance with Belle and my husband do heel clicks down the World Showcase.  I cried as we entered Disney World from excitement and beamed at my children as they met their own Disney heros. We laughed and laughed and reminisced and swooned and screamed til I was absolutely hoarse at the end of the trip from all the rides.  We played hard as a family!

We would not trade a moment of this trip for anything in the whole world! It was a blessing to our family, and we're already reminiscing together about it. 

It's trip that we will never forget-- it was the best vacation!