Disneyland Mickey’s Halloween Party with a Toddler

Choosing when to go
My friend has an annual pass for Disneyland, so she’s constantly telling me stories about it. In September and October, Disneyland has a Mickey’s Halloween Party that includes trick-or-treating and a special parade. I absolutely love Halloween and I have been wanting to take Lana to Disneyland for some time. So this month, we packed up the family car with way too much stuff and made the drive down to Anaheim.

Disneyland was made for kids and families, but Lana is only 1.5 years old, so there were some potential problems. As a toddler, Lana naps for about 2 hours in the middle of the afternoon. This midday nap makes a full day of Disney a little tricky. Plus, tickets for a full day can range well upwards of $100 per person and I wasn’t sure we would get our money’s worth. To top it off, I thought an entire day might just be overwhelming for such a young age.

Mickey’s Halloween Party solves all these potential issues. It is a special event that gives you access to the park from around 3 or 4pm until 11pm. The exact time depends on the ticket. This half day ticket gave us access to the park at a reduced price starting right after nap time. I knew we wouldn’t last until 11pm, but figured 4 or 5 hours would be plenty of time in the park.

A lot of parents have asked me if Disneyland wasn’t just a bit too old for under 2 years old, but it definitely wasn’t for us! Lana is a social butterfly, so I knew at the very least she would enjoy all the people watching. But she loved the rides too! I have to say, I think people of all ages really can enjoy Disneyland.

With our alien filter
With our alien filter

The Boy Scouts have it right – be prepared!
We made the mistake of walking into Disneyland without a plan. We just walked straight ahead, through Cinderella’s castle and into line for the first ride we saw. It was a mistake. The line took forever even though it appeared short and the ride, which was a train, was short with very little to see. We wasted almost an hour with this boring ride. After that, we met up with our friends, the Disney experts, and had a much better experience. I learned two things from this mistake: 1) map out what rides you want to go on to maximize your time there, especially if you have a toddler who won’t last that long, and 2), don’t go on a busy day.

We went to Disney on a Wednesday evening to minimize the crowds. I highly, highly recommend this. I didn’t think anyone would be there midweek, but it was still pretty crowded. Although, my friend said that by Disney standards, it wasn’t that crowded at all. I don’t think I could handle Disney on a crowded day! I’ve become a small town girl in recent years, I guess. I can’t take throngs of people pushing and waiting in line forever, anymore. In an ideal world, I would live on a small, private island. My husband and Lana would go absolutely crazy, but the dog and I would be in heaven. Every day, we would take a long walk around the island, spend the afternoon sunbathing, then finish up with a coconut curry dinner or fresh sushi. Ahhh, the dream.

Disneyland rides
But back to Disney! Once our friends rescued us from our own lack of preparedness, Disney was fun! We headed over to It’s A Small World ride which I remember from when I was little. It’s changed a little and includes the Disney princesses. Lana’s favorite ride was the Jungle Cruise. It was a tiny bit scary for her because we didn’t get to ride it until after dark. She still loved it because she loves animals and she was making elephant noises for a while afterward.


Mickey’s Halloween trick-or-treating
In addition to the ride, Mickey’s Halloween also includes special trick-or-treating activities. Basically, you stand in a line that moves really fast and Disney characters hand you treats ranging from Reese’s to Halloween Peeps to apple slices. Lana had her first bar of chocolate there. We didn’t go to Mickey’s Halloween with the goal of getting candy, but it is a really safe and easy option for trick-or-treating.

One of the trick-or-treat lines went through the Star Wars Launch Bay. Because we had a larger group, we decided to dress up in what I like to think of as Hipster Star Wars costumes. Basically, they were Star Wars characters printed onto shirts from Amazon. Unfortunately, we were too busy to get many good pictures.

With our alien filter.
With our alien filter.

Frightfully Fun Halloween parade
Part of the entertainment at Disneyland includes a parade. For Halloween, they do a special Nightmare Before Christmas parade called the Frightfully Fun Parade. It starts late and so we were on our way out of the park when it was happening. It passed right through downtown Disney, though, and so we got to see all the dancers and floats on our way out.


After the parade, they have a big firework show. We didn’t realize this, but we could see the fireworks from our hotel room! We were getting ready for bed when we heard the explosions and ended up watching the whole show through our hotel room window. It was so much fun.


Tips for toddlers
Disney definitely has a lot to offer and we probably could have used at least a full day at the main park or two to go to California Adventure. I don’t think toddlers need quite that much stimulation, though, and our afternoon was plenty for Lana. Our drive to Disneyland wasn’t bad, but the traffic going home was horrendous and it took twice as long. Lana hates driving, but I downloaded the first season of Curious George onto our iPad and she must have watched 4 hours of it. I highly recommend having lots of entertainment if you’re driving through Los Angeles.

Parade at the end of the night.
Parade at the end of the night.

Some additional tips and tricks for surviving an afternoon at Disneyland include:

– Bring snacks! Or whole meals. Just have lots and lots of good, healthy food to give everyone the energy they need. I packed a cooler of food and brought an insulated lunch box into the park. We had sugar snap peas, carrots, apple slices, grapes, low sodium hot dogs, and string cheese and ate everything while we were in line. Disney has good restaurant options, too, but it makes it easier having easy access to food at all times.

– Bring water! It is actually okay to bring water bottles into the park, as long as they are not glass. Anaheim is hot more often than not, and even on cooler days you’ll do a lot of walking.

– Go midweek if at all possible. I know most people can’t run off to Disney on a Wednesday, but it really helps to minimize the crowds and how long you’ll wait in lines versus having fun on rides. My husband took a half week of vacation and worked a bit from the hotel.

I really want to go back to Disneyland and California Adventure now that we have more experience and we would go with a plan for the park. What do you think about a Disney trip? Would you take a toddler? Do you have any tips or tricks for theme park vacations?

Why We Need a “Netboox” for eBooks

Disclaimer: Netboox Doesn’t Exist (YET)

I love reading, but I have to admit that it’s gotten more difficult to do since having a baby. When I was pregnant, parenting books and mom blogs and random strangers warned me to have lots of books to read and music to listen to for all the late night nursing sessions. This was great advice.

I have to be careful when I start a book. I get sucked in and end up reading late into the night. Before MK, I would read all night. My husband would wake up at 5am to get ready for work and look at me in amazement, “Are you still awake??” It can be an addiction. Now that sleep is such a valuable commodity, staying up late reading is always a mistake I regret the next exhausting day when I’m chasing the baby, covered in yogurt and ketchup, wondering what the hell I’ve gotten myself into.

Audio books have opened a new door to reading for me. I can pop in one headphone and take MK and the dog for a walk and get my reading fix in early in the day. I can throw MK in the stroller when she refuses to nap and still get a bit of down time. I can listen during car rides, nap time, even chasing her at the playground.

Normally I get ebooks and audio books from the library. Otherwise, I could spend a fortune on books. Library ebooks check out through my Kindle, and the audiobooks go through my Overdrive app. It’s super easy and convenient and free. The problem with the library is, as the Rolling Stones said, you can’t always get what you want. I usually don’t mind waiting for a book, but when they don’t even have it? That’s when I go to Amazon like here, take all my money!


Recently, I started reading What Alice Forgot. Even though the naive Alice character is slightly irritating and the plot seems a tiny bit far fetched, the story is compelling and I can’t read it fast enough. Which is why my library ebook wasn’t enough. Since they didn’t have the audiobook I caved in and bought it on Audible.

Amazon has this program (or whatever it is) called Whispersync, which magically syncs your Kindle ebook and Audible audiobook so that you can go back and forth between the two without having to search for your furthest point. It’s the sneaky bookworm ninja, streamlining reading for busy readers everywhere. It’s pretty much the best thing ever… except the cost makes no sense to me.

First you have to buy the Kindle book for $10 or however much, and then you shell out another $10 or whatever (a discounted price) for the audiobook. Now you’ve spent $20 on one book. You can also sign up for an Audible subscription for about $15 and you get one free book with that. So, essentially, that’s $15 per audiobook. That’s what books on CD and tape cost, though, right? So, yeah, whatever. This is more convenient.

But if you think about it, you can get unlimited movies and TV shows on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon for under $10 a month. The cost of movie production has to be higher than ebook production, even for audiobooks with a couple of readers. So what justifies the price discrepancy? Where is our $10 per month Netboox subscription (TM — you heard that name here first!)? Our unlimited streaming audio? Have I just missed it in my sleep-deprived, toddler-focused, haze?

What do you think? Do you use Audible or something like it?

Our Wedding

A Beach Wedding in Santa Barbara on Labor Day Weekend

When my husband proposed, we both knew we wanted a beach wedding. Even though I consider it my home town, Santa Barbara wasn’t immediately our first choice. We considered eloping or having a small wedding / elopement in the Caribbean. But our parents really wanted us to have a more traditional wedding and in the end we agreed.

Ideally, I wanted to get married in the sand in front of crashing waves and a brilliant jewel-toned sunset (as if you can just place an order for sunsets). Since we had settled on September for our wedding date, sunset wasn’t until almost 7:30 and so saying our vows in front of the setting sun wasn’t a practical timeline.

We looked at venues all over Santa Barbara — vineyards, hotels, private estates and home rentals, the courthouse, and other event spaces. We decided to use Fess Parker’s Resort (formerly the Red Lion, now a Doubletree) because we could get married on the beach; have cocktails on the upper Rotunda with almost 360* views of mountains, ocean, and city; and have our dinner and reception in the Plaza Del Sol, set romantically under string lights and the stars. Fess Parker’s also has an ideal location, right at the beach, surrounded by tons of hotel options for guests, and very close to downtown Santa Barbara and its nightlife.

The night before our wedding, we met on the beach before dinner to rehearse. It was a cold, windy evening and we hurried, shivering, through rehearsal. Luckily, our rehearsal dinner was set inside the lovely Stella Mare’s greenhouse. It’s such a perfect little French restaurant set alongside the bird refuge, just down from the beach. The greenhouse room is all windows, giving you views of the stars and the water while you dine.

The day of our wedding was beautiful. We said our vows on the beach in front of the waves, under a bamboo arch strewn with sheer white fabric, white lilies and light blue hydrangea. We walked down the aisle to a string quartet and the guests picked up white parasols to cover them from the sun.

After the sunny ceremony, guests went to the upper Rotunda at the Fess Parker to have cocktails and appetizers while taking in the views of the ocean and mountains. Our band had set up a small area to play acoustic music upstairs while people chatted, drank, and ate. We had spent so much time doing tastings to choose “the perfect” appetizers (my mom is the pickiest of picky and must overdo everything), but we missed the cocktail hour! My husband and I never got to taste a single appetizer because we were taking photos the entire time.

The reception was downstairs in the Plaza Del Sol, a beautiful, Spanish-style, red-tiled, round courtyard lined with string lights, palm trees, and huge windows looking out into the ocean. We even had string lights twinkling above like stars.

We started the night out with our first dance to a live band, the Rembrandt Band (not the band the Rembrandts from the show Friends). Rembrandt band is just amazing. We had all decided music, food, and drinks were the most important, so after my mom talked me into having a live band, Rembrandt was the only one we could agree on. They play everything from music from the 1940s to modern pop, rock, and rap. They started the night slow for dinner, moved into dance music our older guests would enjoy, and finished the night with modern songs our younger guests enjoyed dancing to. After one of the singers finished and Eminem song, my friend even asked me if they were really singing or if they just played an Eminem recording — they were that good!

For dinner, we chose Fess Parker’s stations buffet with carving stations, the most amazing seafood display, and a dessert buffet that featured my and my dad’s favorite dessert — eclairs. We also had a wedding cake. I’d wanted a naked or smooth-frosted cake but I was outvoted and we ended up keeping with the beach theme — blue with white seashells.  In addition, we had an open bar for guests. Having an open bar at a wedding makes for the best entertainment, but it’s a little scary when the ground is tile instead of carpet.

When we were choosing a venue, I’d always wanted to have it outside, or at least with a large outside patio. My husband and I loved the Plaza, but my mom (who overdoes everything, remember) wanted inside so we wouldn’t have to worry about weather (what weather?? we don’t have weather in Santa Barbara). Since we ended up outside, we made sure to have plenty of heatlamps. Then my mom added more. Then some more. At the night of the wedding we had 30 heatlamps (30!!)!! There were so many heatlamps my onsite coordinator said she wished she could get an aerial infrared of all the heat. We had to turn off heatlamps all over, we were so hot. To this day, I have no idea what the weather was like that night during the wedding.

Vendors: Venue, Lighting & Catering – Fess Parker’s ResortPhotography – Michael + Anna Costa, Florals – Juniper Floral Design, Cake – Montecito Confections, Linens – La Tavola, Rentals – Classic Party Rentals,  Music  – Rembrandt Band, Wedding rings – Tacori & Custom,  Wedding Coordinator – Event of the Season,  Make-upTomiko Taft, HairMishay Salon & Spa

Our Safari Honeymoon in Africa

It took us two years after our wedding, which was Labor Day weekend 2011, to finally go on our safari honeymoon in Africa. We went back on forth about where to go, when, and how much to spend. We almost did a shorter Africa trip in February, but we had to cancel when a work emergency came up just days before our deposit was due. We ended up going in late August, just before our anniversary. The weather was hot but not insufferable, there were absolutely no mosquitoes, and the animals were fairly easy to see, especially in Chobe, which is like the Disneyland of safari parks.

Our trip was 17 days and included Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. I love, loved our trip, but if I was going to recommend a honeymoon, I would stick with South Africa, doing a safari in Kruger (Sabi Sands if you can afford the splurge), followed by Cape Town and wine tasting in Stellenbosch.

That said, the Chobe River and Okavango Delta in Botswana were fantastic. The Chobe River is perhaps my favorite. It was very crowded when we were there — I didn’t expect to see as many people as animals — but for good reason. There are animals everywhere. It’s stunning. You see so many giraffes, elephants, hippos, birds, and impala that you almost get tired of seeing them. We even saw lions and (female) and a leopard in our first three days of the trip. We did a sunset cruise which was just magical. All the animals cross the river, which is set against an amazing orange sunset. It was incredibly romantic, except while I was on the cruise my husband was fly fishing elsewhere on the river, having a very romantic evening with his Tigerfish and a random man with a boat.

My husband having a romantic evening with his Tigerfish on the Chobe River
My husband having a romantic evening with his Tigerfish on the Chobe River

After Botswana, we headed over to Kafue National Park in Zambia. We saw a lot in Zambia: mating lions, a cheetah, a cheetah eating an impala, a pack of wild dogs, and a small nocturnal cat which I think was an ocelot. There were also biting flies in Zambia, which are a literal pain in the ass. We stayed along the Kafue River and could hear hippos from our “luxury” tents. I picked up the flu virus from one of the travelers on our tour and missed a day of safari (when they saw lions!), but I had a very close encounter with an elephant that came right up to my tent and flapped it’s ears at me.

From Zambia we went to Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Hwange is an old park with man-made watering holes. The history is interesting, but I won’t go into it. We stayed in a hotel there and the rooms and patio had a great view of animals, but I actually could have skipped Hwange. It was a little underwhelming after the isolation of Kafue and the beauty of Botswana. However, we did see a lot of female lions and juvenile males, plus the elephants are tame enough you can almost touch them from your jeep.

Me standing in an elephant footprint in hardened mud
Me standing in an elephant footprint in hardened mud

We ended the trip at Victoria Falls, which is beautiful. We were on the Zimbabwe side of the falls, because it is supposedly a better view. You can hike around the falls from Zimbabwe, but I hear you can (or could?) actually swim in the falls from Zambia. We also took a helicopter ride over the falls (my first!), which I highly, highly recommend.

All and all it was a fantastic trip and it made me want to plan more trips to Afrcia. I would really like to do the Cape Town, Stellenbosch, and Sabi Sands trip in South Africa, as well as a Tanzania and Kenya trip, with a stay at Giraffe Manor. If you’ve been, don’t tell me about it, I’ll just be jealous :).

We’ve got spirit, yes, we do: Spirited Kids

On the long and winding road of our sleeplessness saga, I began researching child issues by temperament. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense that an easy-going child is going need a different method of– everything — from a child who is more stubborn, or timid, or whatever.

There’s a lot of information out there on child temperament. Sleep consultant Rebecca Michi categorizes children as “easy,” “difficult,” and “slow-to-warm.” The easy child is, well, easy:

  • Regular eating, sleeping, elimination cycles
  • Not easily frustrated
  • Adapts to change
  • Good mood most of the time

Then there is the difficult child:

  • Irregular eating, sleeping, and elimination cycles
  • More easily frustrated
  • Negative response to new situations, such as tantrums
  • Slow to adapt to change

I have to admit that I have not read this book, only overviews online. These descriptions are so black and white, so divided, that I don’t find them helpful — at all. My daughter is bits of both. Irregular and easily — and loudly — frustrated, but she thrives on new people and places. In fact, she’s so social, she’s usually in a better mood at a big party then she is playing at home.

Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka has a much more interested take on children who are not that easy to parent. She calls them “spirited” and refers to them as “more” children. She has her own spirited child and so she speaks from personal experience. Right off the bat, she lists traits of the spirited child, similar to Michi, but a bit more complicated. The gist is a spirited child is “more.” More intense, more persistent, more sensitive, more perceptive, and more uncomfortable with change. She also lists bonus characteristics, including irregular schedules (yes!), more energy (yes! yes!), more time to warm up to new things, and more serious mood.

Kurcinka emphasizes that not every spirited child possesses all of the traits, but her or she will possess enough to make them stand out. My daughter fits more bonus characteristics than the first 5 traits, so I am still not sure she would be considered spirited. If she’s not, that’s enough to make me seriously afraid of having another child. Maybe she’s actually going to be easygoing and I have yet to find out what a truly spirited child is??? Shudder.

Regardless, I think Raising Your Spirited Child is one of the more helpful baby/toddler/child/whatever books I’ve read (part of. Sorry, I have a spirited 1 year old baby. I’m busy.) to date. Kurcinka has a positive perspective on the more trying aspects of raising children who expect more from their parents (read: are demanding). It’s geared to kids who are a little older than mine, but it still gives me insight into her personality and what to do about it. If you, like me, suffer from night-waking-toddler induced insomnia and are looking for good midnight read (or 1 am, 3 am, and 5am read, I mean, who am I kidding?), check it out.


To Sleep or Not to Sleep

Toddler and baby sleep is such a big part of being a mom and having a mom blog, I just have to cover it at least once. I was actually inspired to write this post after writing a review of the Dockatot Grand (the bigger one for babies 9 months and older) on Amazon. You can read my review here, or wait for my upcoming blog post for more details. It was actually a comment from another parent who was going through the exact same sleep issues that made me think I should share my sleep story here.

When MK was about 4 months old, she just stopped sleeping. Yes, I know there is a developmental leap at that age and that babies go through a sleep regression. What you do during this sleep regression will, apparently, haunt you for the rest of their childhood. No one told me this at the time, but I’ve decided it is the undeniable truth.

At around 7 months, sick, exhausted from getting up every 45 min to 2 hours and not being able to get back to sleep, having failed at variations of cry-it-out because she lasted longer than I could (2 hours!), and feeling the pressure from folks who kept saying, “well, we co-slept for years and my baby slept through every night,” I finally brought MK into bed with me. And we finally, finally slept. For a few weeks that is.

Since then, my husband and I have been trying to get her to 1) sleep through the night, and 2) sleep in her own bed. Trying to get her into her crib was like trying to hold a hysterical, 20lb fish.  A red, swollen-faced puffer fish. I can’t do the Ferber Method, cry it out, or Ferberize her, whatever you want to call it. She can cry longer than I can stand it. That means we’ve stuck to “gentle sleep training” methods, the no cry-it-out kind, which means it’s not at all effective.

I did all the things – black out curtains, white noise, sleep routine since day 1 at home, dream feeding, cluster feeding, co-sleeping, milk in a bottle, milk in a cup, night weaning, night feeding. I even bought an over-priced dog bed for her — I mean Dockatot ;). I read all the books: the Sleep Lady,  Pantley, Dr. Ferber, Dr. Karp, Dr. Sears, Dr. Weissbluth, Dr. Seuss. You know who else read all these books? Everyone on the internet. At least everyone with a baby with “sleep issues.”

Some days MK sleeps perfectly through the night. Some days she still wakes every 2 hours. Sometimes I am woken up by dreams that I’ve been wrongly accused and am suffering sleep-deprivation torture at a secret facility.  Some days I’m woken by dreams that Charkie from Curious George has gotten off his leash AGAIN (seriously, people, that dog is a menace) while I’m out walking with the little and he will not leave my overprotective dog alone (do you really want to die, Charkie??) The only consistency is what I’m not getting — consistent sleep.

Do you have a baby or toddler who has trouble sleeping? Or did you solve your nighttime and nap time sleep problems? Please feel free to share in the comments.