Paper Bag Scrapbooking

P1060601When one of my crafty MIL’s friends visited last week, she left us a surprise: all the materials necessary to make our own paper bag scrapbooks.  Say what?  My thoughts exactly.  As someone who abandoned old-fashioned scrapbooking the moment I discovered Shutterfly, I never imagined turning a lunch bag into a keepsake.  But my five-year-old was enchanted.  Every day, from dawn ’til dusk (and once at 4am in the morning), she asked if we could make her paper bag scrapbook.  So, we did.  Turns out, we love this kid-friendly craft!  It’s simple enough to finish in a few hours, and full of customizable options (paper, photos, stickers…) that will leave your little one with an extra-special keepsake.P1060612

You will need:
3 small paper bags
hole puncher
ribbons (to bind your book)
scissors, glue (or double-sided tape)
photos
scrapbook and/or construction paper
any other scrapbook embellishments

Steps:
1. Fold your paper bags in half.  Open them and punch two holes down the middle crease.  Thread three strands of ribbon through the holes and tie in a bow on the outside of the scrapbook.

Use any color paper bags

Use any color paper bags

2. Decorate each page of your scrapbook any way you please.  My daughter loved picking which pictures went first, and what paper and embellishments went with them.

3. Use the pages with the top portion of the paper bag as “pockets.”  We filled some with photos, and others with hand-drawn pictures. P1060618

4. Other pages will include the bottom portion of the paper bag (the rectangular part that makes it stand upright).  You can either glue this part shut, or use it as a little flap to include captions, small stickers, or “surprise!” photos. scrapbook

You can see both sides of the paper bag in this picture - the "pocket" and the "flap."

You can see both sides of the paper bag in this picture – the “pocket” and the “flap.”

In the end, your final product will look something like this: P1060621 P1060620 P1060619 snowman

Oh…and like this!
P1060609.

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What Everyone Should Know about Raising a Child with Special Needs

When Dana Hemminger asked me to review her new book about raising a child with Down Syndrome, I readily agreed.  Knowing Dana’s blog, I knew the book would bless me.  But to be honest, I was motivated for one other reason: sheer curiosity.  BookCoverImage

In 1987, Emily Perl Kingsley coined an analogy to describe the experience of raising a child with disabilities.  In the analogy, pregnancy is like planning a trip to Italy.  Parents eagerly pack and dream and make preparations with Italy in mind, only to deliver their baby and realize the “plane” has landed in Holland.  Naturally they’re shocked, grieved, and confused.  Nothing is as expected.  But eventually, as they learn to adapt, they realize Holland is beautiful in its own way.  Dana borrows this analogy for the title of her book, Reflections from Holland.  

The Shameful Truth
Here’s what we moms who have only been to Italy don’t like to admit: Holland scares us.  We’re curious about it because, on some level, we fear that a journey there might destroy us.  Much of that fear is due to the fact that Holland is entirely unknown territory.  But these past few weeks, that changed for me.  When I sat down with Dana’s book, I thought she was going to teach me about raising a child with Down Syndrome from a biblical perspective.  And she did.  But she did so much more than just that.  Dana invited me onto the plane with her.  She let me climb inside her heart and journey to Holland, beginning from the very moment her pregnancy test was positive.

DSCF9075_editedAs a result, reading Dana’s book felt like reading her diary, and I found myself unable to put it down.  The lessons weren’t grouped in clever phrases or listed in simple steps.  Instead they were woven into her life.  Shimmering on the surface of her tears.  Rising from the ashes of her prayers.  They were everywhere.  In the big moments when Benjamin endured open-heart surgery at two months old, and when his parents (and I!) cried as he finally took his first steps at nearly four years old.  And the lessons were in the small moments, when Dana opened a Christmas card with “perfect” pictures of a friend’s baby, or listened to her 8-month-old daughter say “Mama” before her 4-year-old son had ever said it.

What Everyone Should Know about Raising a Child with Special Needs (or Why You Need to Read This Book!)
Of all the things I learned from this book, 3 things especially stand out:

Ignorance is hurtful.
Before reading Reflections from Holland, I had no idea how many medical challenges Down DSCN2189Syndrome can present, including hearing and vision loss, heart problems, seizures and more.  I knew it caused developmental delays, but I underestimated those as well.  By the time I had journeyed with the Hemmingers in and out of hospitals, through multiple forms of therapy, and heard their desperate prayers for their son, I, too, felt the sting of insensitive comments like: “Just wait until he does learn to crawl; you’ll be wishing he didn’t!”

In one of my favorite chapters, entitled “Help that Hurts,” Dana gives several examples of ignorant comments like this, and graciously explains why they are hurtful.  I was so grateful for this knowledge.  In my opinion, it is invaluable.  As the church, one of our greatest callings is to minister to people in their suffering.  But sometimes we have no idea how to do that, because the form of suffering is so foreign to us.  Educating ourselves is crucial in becoming equipped to love others as Jesus does.

Everyone will face disappointment in parenting.
This book is about so much more than Down Syndrome.  The reality is, we are all going to face disappointment in parenting, whether or not God calls us to Holland.  This book is about experiencing God in the face of that disappointment.  It’s about laying our plans and our dreams on the altar, and delighting ourselves in God’s will for our life, even (or perhaps especially) when it’s not what we had in mind.

Hope in Christ withstands every storm.
In other words, you can do more than survive Holland; you can thrive in it.  When it came to parenting Benjamin, almost nothing went according to Dana’s plan, from the smallest details of the delivery to the greatest challenges presented by Down Syndrome.  For some people, this DSCF8919would justify lifelong resentment and bitterness.  But there was one crucial key to Dana’s ability to thrive in Holland–she made Jesus her treasure.  She chose to treasure Christ more than milestones, or expectations, or appearances.  And in so doing, she found great comfort, overflowing promise, and abundant reasons to rejoice.

This is a book well worth every mom’s time.  Initially, when I sat down to write this review, I was going to say that by the time you close the last page, you will feel like Dana is a close friend.  But perhaps it’s more fitting to say, by the time you close the last page, you will wish you had a friend like her.

For more from Dana Hemminger, visit her blog or buy her book on Amazon.

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Peanut Butter Princess

pbprincess2
Peanut Butter Princess
with sticky-icky hands,
and 27 crowns
and twice as many fans!

Put on plastic heels,
clatter through the house,
smear peanut butter fingers
on mommy’s satin blouse.

Dance on daddy’s head
at the crack of dawn,
put lipstick on your eyebrows,
wave your hotdog wand!

And I will wear a tutu
and laugh until I cry;
My Peanut Butter Princess,
I’ll love you ‘til I die.

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How Mama Bear Hurts Her Family

animals-bear-angry-brown-bear-wallpaperI’ve never loved the “Mama Bear” analogy.  When I think of “Mama Bears,” I picture moms who bite teachers’ heads off, and elbow their way through crowds so their kids can get the best seat at story time.  I’d much rather be a Mama Swan, peacefully gliding through life with all my little ducklings in a row.  But I’m not.  I’m the Swan-faced mom with the heart of a Grizzly.

The truth is, you don’t have to be loud and obnoxious to be a Mama Bear.  You just have to care too much about the well being of your family.  You have to idolize it.  To bow down and worship it, so that if anybody in your household isn’t okay, nothing’s okay.  You see, the thing about Mama Bears is that deep down, we long to control our universe so that we can protect the people we love.  If we’re Christians, on some level we know this is impossible.  But that doesn’t stop us from trying.  How can we stop trying?  Then things might really fall apart.  So we spin our wheels endlessly, longing for that moment when we can take a deep breath and say, Life is good.  Nobody’s in the hospital.  Nobody’s having nightmares.  Nobody’s miserable at work.  Of course, this kind of peace is fragile as an eggshell.  It’s like building your home on a foundation of toothpicks.

And boy, is it exhausting.  I knew there would be a lot of work in becoming a wife and mom; I just didn’t realize how much of it would be done with my heart instead of my hands.  The more people we add to our family, the more my heart has to carry.  Worry, concern, love, joy, pain, affection, fear.  I don’t even want a dog, because I don’t have the emotional capacity to care for one more living thing!  There are days when my husband walks through the door with a heavy expression on his face, and I want to hold up a hand and say, “I’m sorry!!  The anxiety meter has reached maximum capacity.  Put one more burden on my plate and I will drop dead right here in the kitchen!  Then you’ll have to finish cooking.”  Instead I usually opt for the quick-fix: “What’s wrong?  Just tell me.  Tell me now.”  Maybe I can slap some gospel truth on this one real fast and check it off the list before the spaghetti sauce burns.  

But it doesn’t work that way for one simple reason.  I’m not Jesus.  All my outward attempts to “fix” our universe are just that–outward attempts.  They’re the toothpicks straining under the weight of the house that will always crush them flat.  I still remember the day Clint looked at me and said, “Can you just let me be not okay?  Can you just love me when I’m not happy?”

But if you’re not okay, then I’m not okay, I thought.  And just like that, I finally got it.  Wanting him to be okay was never really about him.  It was always about me.  I didn’t want to abide with him in a season of long-suffering.  I wanted it over.  Fixed.  So that I could go back to being happy.  I’ve known that Mama Bears (like me) are protective and controlling.  But this was the first time I realized they’re also selfish.  So selfish, in fact, that they’re willing to short-circuit what God wants to do in someone’s life, just so they don’t have to endure the discomfort of watching it.

When little Susie has no friends at school, Mama Bears (like me) don’t want to walk the long, painful road of teaching her to trust Jesus.  We just want to make the heartache go away.  We want to throw a block party and invite every 5-year-old in Georgia.  But what if God destined this to be the first time little Susie turned to Jesus with a real problem?  What if this heartache set the stage for her first experience of believing God and seeing Him act on her behalf?  Isn’t that worth a little suffering?  For Susie…and for Mama Bear?

But the only way we will become the kind of woman with the ability to abide instead of fix, is if we abide in Christ.  David once sang, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Ps 46:1-2).  Don’t you long to have such assurance on the day your private mountains fall into the heart of the sea?  On the day your husband loses his job?  Or the pediatrician says you need to see a specialist?  Or your grown child phones to tell you she’s getting a divorce?

I guarantee you, Mama Bear longs for it.  Because she understands life on the other side.  She lives in the house built on sand, and even on the good days, she fears it’s sinking.  I wish I could say it’s easy to pick up that house and plop it down on the Solid Rock of Christ.  I wish it was a one-time thing.  But it’s not.  It is a moment-by-moment choice to yield and to trust.  Then, and only then, can we minister to our families with the sort of love that says, “Come as you are, messy and in pain.  I will abide with you.  As long as it takes.”

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3 Factors to Consider Before Starting a Family

You know the saying, “If you wait until you’re ready to have a baby, you’ll never have one”?  I’m not entirely sure I agree.  I agree with the heart of the sentiment: no one is ever totally “ready” to become a parent.  That’s the beauty of it–parenting changes you.  You don’t have to have all the maturity necessary to complete the journey right from the get-go, because the journey itself will develop that maturity within you.

But I think it’s unwise to suggest you don’t need any form of readiness before becoming a parent.  Let me be the first to admit, when I discovered I was pregnant with my firstborn, I had all the enthusiasm of Barney and all the readiness of Bart Simpson.  My thoughts went something like this, “A baby!!  Ooooh, polka dot bedding!”  Suffice to say, there was a steep learning curve when she arrived.

In hindsight, I think there are 3 factors that can make the transition into parenthood a lot easier or a lot more difficult.

Personal Maturity
We will never be perfect.  But the last thing we want to do is have a baby in order to fill a personal void in our lives.  Children were never meant to “fix” us.  They do not cure loneliness or mend weak marriages.  In fact, they do just the opposite–they apply pressure to the already weak areas.  Furthermore, it is our calling as parents to shepherd them, not vice versa.  And sadly, we cannot give what we don’t have.  Which begs the question: Am I in a good place spiritually?  How is my marriage?  Am I battling any addictions or enslaving sins?  Am I involved in Christian community?  The goal is not to seek perfection or works-based righteousness.  It’s simply to evaluate our hearts before the Lord, recognizing that the call to parent a human being is a serious one.

Financial Readiness
I think the big thing to consider here isn’t dollars and cents, but what living situation you will have to adopt in order to support a baby.  In other words, what will this look like practically?  Will we both have to work and put our child in daycare?  If so, how do we feel about that?  Will one of us have to take a second job?  Or drop out of school?  How much will we see each other?  My husband was in his last year of graduate school and only working part-time when our first child came along.  We chose to use up a portion of our savings for one year so I could stay home and he could finish school.  It was a costly decision financially, but it protected our marriage and reduced the stress in our household.  The question is: Can we make it work financially and still maintain a healthy family life?  

Outside Support
This can go a long way toward protecting and even boosting those first two categories.  If the budget is tight but Grandma and Grandpa live in town, you’ve just saved yourself a wealth of babysitting expenses.  If you’re going to be a stay-at-home-mom and you already have close friends, you’ll probably be a much happier one.  Outside support allows you time for yourself, time to get in the Word, date nights with your husband, and clean laundry when you’re too tired to do it yourself.  It’s not a necessity, but it will greatly impact the ease or difficulty with which you transition into parenthood.  Do I have outside support in this season of life?  Do I live near family members who are willing to help?  If not, do I have close friends who are trustworthy?  Can I count on my husband to be a source of support?  Is he excited about starting a family, or have I coerced him into it?  

Final Thoughts
I actually wrote this article several months ago and set it on the back-burner for one main reason: I see the potential for discouragement.  What if you’re already pregnant, and one or all of these factors aren’t in place?  Dear friend, that was me.  Our first baby was a big surprise.  We were far from family and hardly in a good place financially, with a lot of growing up to do.  But guess what?  We survived.  Better yet, God used it mightily to accomplish His purposes in our lives.  If there’s one thing I’m learning to treasure in my life, it’s the blessing and sanctification that only comes through difficulty.

If you’re in the same unprepared boat I was in six years ago, don’t lose heart!  You can  take steps to grow in each of these areas.  Simply seeking godly community, either through church or ministries like BSF, will help you develop outside support and personal maturity.  Turning to the Bible and godly mentors will help you make wise decisions regarding finances and lifestyle changes.

But most of all, remind yourself that only God creates life.  From the beginning of time, He has ordained every day of this precious child’s life!  (Psalm 139:13-16).  And He has chosen you to parent this child, at this time, for His great glory.  Surely, you can trust Him to equip you.  As Isaiah once wrote in a song of praise: “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.  Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal!”  (Isaiah 26:3-4)

(photo credit)

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3 Things to Tell Yourself When Others Prosper While You Suffer

how-to-deal-with-jealous-peopleHave you ever noticed that suffering makes us keenly aware of the blessings of others?  It’s the woman recovering from a miscarriage who’s the first to notice all the pregnant bellies in the grocery store.  The laid-off employee who feels like every Facebook friend is celebrating a fulfilling career.  The spread-thin single mom, who watches husbands hauling baby carriers into church.

There was a season in my life when it felt like God said, “No,” to every request I asked of Him.  I stored up those “No”s in my heart like an old woman in a house full of cats, daily nursing my grievances with God.  Finally, out of nowhere, I received an unexpected blessing.  It was a very small thing, so when it fell through a few months later, my husband couldn’t understand why I took it so hard.  As we cooked in the kitchen (well, technically he was cooking and I was sobbing on a stool), I finally managed to choke, “It just felt like it was a sign that God still loved me.”

In the weeks to come, God impressed three truths upon me that deeply comforted me and radically changed my perspective.  The first was this:

I do not need a single blessing from God to know that He loves me.  I only need to look to the cross to know that He loves me.  When we look solely at the circumstances of our lives, it often feels like God plays favorites.  Like He loves sweet Susie Jane with her happy family and easy life more than he loves you and me.  I used to comfort myself by thinking that one day the boot may drop on Susie Jane’s perfect life, too.  But it may not.  People really do face varying degrees of suffering while on earth.  And even if the boot did squash Susie Jane for a season, is it really biblical to delight in her suffering?  To hope for it, even?  Of course not.

I still remember the day God whispered those bolded words above into my heart.  All at once I saw the cross again.  And just like that, I had proof…MIGHTY proof that God had not forgotten me.  Just like that, I didn’t need to test Him anymore, because the test had been given on a hill long ago, and He had passed with flying colors.  Months later, my insecurity was triggered all over again when a sweet friend received the very blessing I ached for.  As I cried to God in bed, I could almost hear Him pleading with such earnest passion, “Look to the cross!  I promise I love you–look to the cross!”  You know what?  In a thousand years I wouldn’t trade that intimate and powerful moment for a fleeting, earthly blessing.  Which brings me to lesson #2:

In God’s economy, spiritual blessing always outweighs earthly blessing.  In the allegorical book, Hinds Feet on High Places, Much-Afraid embarks on a journey to the High Places.  As she is about to set off, the Shepherd promises her, “I have most carefully chosen for you two of the very best and strongest guides.”  Much-Afraid is horrified to learn that the guides are named Suffering and Sorrow.  But later in her journey, when the Shepherd asks her how she feels about them, this is what she says:

“I never could have believed it possible, Shepherd, but in a way I have come to love them…They do truly want to get me up to the High Places, not just because it is the commandment which You have given them, but also because they want a horrid coward like myself to get there and be changed.  You know, Shepherd, it makes a great difference in my feelings towards them not to look upon them any longer with dread, but as friends who want to help me.”

This is exactly what passages like James 1:2-4 want us to see!  God designs suffering to make us more like Christ.  Much as I despise encountering Sorrow and Suffering on my own journey, they are the most excellent tutors I have ever known.  And nothing is more encouraging than looking back over my life and realizing that because of them, I am no longer the cowardly girl I once was…or the arrogant teenager…or the idolatrous young adult.  That is the truest blessing.  Becoming like Jesus is more valuable than birthing children, or winning awards, or finding a spouse, or any other earthly blessing we could ever beg for.

I am not called to evaluate the lives and circumstances of others.  I am only called to follow God myself.  The final stop on my journey to accepting personal suffering in light of other people’s prosperity was John 21.  Right after Jesus prophesies about Peter’s future death, Peter glances at John and says exactly what I would’ve said: “Lord, what about this man?”  To which Jesus beautifully replies, “If it is my will that he remain (alive) until I come, what is that to you?  You follow me!”

Wow.  And ouch.  If it is My will, that she receive the blessing you wanted…what is that to you?  If it is My will to write the story of your life completely differently than you wanted Me to…what is that to you?  If it is My will to say “yes” to him and “no” to you…what is that to you?  You follow me.

Dear believer, you and I are called to one thing only.  Jesus Himself.  To love Him enough to follow Him…no matter whatAs Much-Afraid finally came to see in the Valley of Loss: “Right down in the depths of her own heart she really had but one passionate desire, not for the things which the Shepherd had promised, but for Himself.  All she wanted was to be allowed to follow Him forever.”

Sometimes only valleys and deserts can teach us that.

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5 Secrets for Surviving Disney with Preschoolers

disney-magic-kingdom

This summer we spent one magical day at the happiest, sweaty-est, most crowded place on earth.  When my 4-year-old asked if we could go home before we even made it out of the parking lot, I felt the first wave of dread.  In the end it really was a special day, but with all my newfound Disney knowledge, I feel compelled to share the top 5 things that can make or break your next visit with Mickey.

#1: Arrive at the Park One Hour Before it Opens
Did you know it takes nearly thirty minutes to get from the parking lot to the entrance of the Magic Kingdom?  Yeah, me neither.  Those thirty minutes include one shuttle ride followed by either a monorail or ferry ride.  If you’re in the parking lot one hour before the park opens, you’ll probably be through in twenty minutes.  If you arrive when the park opens you’ll find yourself waiting in the parking lot with hundreds of people who are more than willing to shove a 2-year-old out of the way to beat you onto the shuttle.  If (like us) you are also trying to cram a jogging stroller onto said shuttle, you may as well just set up camp.  Now I know what you’re thinking: if we make it to the entrance so early, what are we going to do until the park opens?  Before the ropes drop, the very front of the park is actually open.  Characters often greet guests, and if you go into the visitor’s station, people celebrating a special event—even if it’s just their first time at Disney—get a free button, guaranteeing a little more attention from staff.  And just imagine how many rides you can get in when the ropes do drop and everybody else is elbowing their way onto the shuttle in the parking lot.

#2: Reserve Your FASTPASS Experiences Ahead of Time
Every guest is allowed 3 free FastPasses.  This means, you may choose 3 attractions in which you bypass the regular line.  A-mazing.  The FastPass line usually takes 5 minutes or less.  But if you wait until you’re at the park to sign up, you’ll find yourself standing in line at a FastPass kiosk for hours.  Moreover, the only times available for the popular rides will probably be after 8pm.  Instead, you should reserve your FastPasses online or through the My Disney Experience App.  Guests staying at a Disney hotel can book their FastPasses up to 60 days in advance; all other guests can book them 30 days in advance.  When you enter your selections, you’ll be given different time options.  If you’re vacationing in the off-season, choose early time slots because as soon as you use up your 3 FastPass experiences, you can reserve more.  If, however, you’re vacationing during a hot, busy season (like summer), choose afternoon time slots when you’ll be the most exhausted.  If the park is crowded, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to reserve additional FastPasses.  My last piece of FastPass advice—don’t waste them on older rides like “It’s a Small World” or “Dumbo.”  Those lines are always relatively short.

#3: Book a Character Lunch
If you’re vacationing in the busy season, make a lunch reservation!  There’s nothing like bypassing a monstrous crowd and stepping into a gloriously air-conditioned restaurant.   We opted for a character lunch, and it surprised me how much our preschool (and even school-aged) gang loved it.  Back when I was a kid, characters roamed the streets of Walt Disney World, but not anymore.  Now, you have to stand in line to meet virtually anyone.  Greeting characters while you eat is the best of both worlds.  It entertains the kids and makes you feel less bad about skipping the 2 hour line to meet Rapunzel.  As far as options for character dining in the Magic Kingdom, there are only two: The Crystal Palace with Winnie the Pooh’s gang, or Cinderella’s Royal Table with several princesses.  Both have pros and cons.  The Crystal Palace is cheaper and easier to book.  (Cinderella’s Table usually fills six months in advance!)  A lot of reviewers think the food is better at Cinderella’s palace (for $60 a plate, it ought to be!), although the Crystal Palace is buffet style, which is nice for starving, impatient preschoolers.

#4: Visit Dumbo’s Secret (Indoor!) Playground
This is the best kept secret at Disney.  If you need an afternoon pick me up that doesn’t involve money or sugar, go to the Dumbo ride.  The line begins outside, but quickly takes you through a tunnel into a blessedly frigid play place.  It was designed to entertain kids while they wait for the ride.  On busy days a hostess offers you a buzzer (just like at a restaurant) and your kids can play while you wait for the buzzer to go off.  But even though we went at the peak of summer, the line wasn’t long enough to necessitate the buzzer.  So the hostess simply gave us the option of playing or riding Dumbo.  I literally watched kids sobbing as their parents hauled them away from the playground to ride Dumbo!  That’s how appealing a cold playground can be on a scorching summer afternoon!

#5: Go Lightweight with the Gear
I packed a backpack you’d need American Ninja Warrior biceps to budge.  I wanted to be ready for anything, but we quickly learned less is more when you’re hiking through a hot theme park on foot.  Skip the Gatorade bottles and disposable water bottles.  All you need is one refillable bottle because every restaurant is required to fill your water bottle for free.  Hot, melting snacks aren’t as appealing as you’d think, so only pack a few.  If it’s summer time, it’s worth investing in a pair of real UV sunglasses for the kids and packing sunscreen.  Finally, (unless you plan to rent one) bring a stroller.  We opted for a jogging stroller thinking it’d be more comfortable, but the truth is, exhausted kids aren’t picky.  Take the skimpy umbrella stroller and it’ll be much easier to maneuver, especially on and off the shuttle!

Any tips to add??  Leave them in the comment section below!

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