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Disney Series | WHAT TO EAT (PART ONE)

“Feasting is closely related to memory.
We eat certain things in a particular way in order
to remember who we are.”

(Jeff Smith)

After brain-dumping, and going back through all my notes and old Disney pictures, I had quite a list of food to share. I decided that I would break the food posts up into four posts, covering both the Disney Parks (Disneyland and Disney World).

Part One will be Magic Kingdom and Disneyland.
Part Two will be Epcot and Animal Kingdom.
Part Three will be Hollywood Studios and California Adventure.
Part Four will be Downtown Disney and Disney Springs.

I decided to do it in this order to 1) compare the similar parks and 2) have information available for people who would be going to either. Also, everything listed here is food that I have personally eaten, unless otherwise noted. I included a few notes about foods we don't like, as well as some we've heard much about but haven't had yet. It's hard to beat the Disney Food Blog for this category, but it's almost too much information for even me! So I'm hoping this bite-sized (*ka-doosh*) version of Disney food recommendations is helpful and functional! Happy Memories!

BOTH PARKS

Mickey Pretzels
Churros

The "top-tier" expesnive restaurants that are hard to get into... they are all outstanding.
(Carts around the park)

Screen Shot 2017-04-09 at 10.17.44 PM.png
PC: Oh My Disney

PC: Oh My Disney

MAGIC KINGDOM (The "Castle Park" in Florida)

Starting center, with Main Street, and working in counter-clockwise order: TomorrowLand, FantasyLand, Liberty Square, FrontierLand, AdventureLand.

MAIN STREET USA
 

Buffet
Crystal Palace

  • This is an expensive meal, but truly delicious. The options of the buffet are salivating and adrenaline-producing. The characters also roam around and greet tables, so the experience is hard to beat! If you time it right you can actually stand on the front porch and watch the fireworks with no crowd-pushing or lots of waiting around! I like the kill two birds with one stone like that.

- "Specials" from Casey's
- Foot-Long Hot Dog

(Casey’s Corner)

  • Casey's foot-long is one of the best deals in the park, and they have a rotation of "featured dogs" that are usually top notch. This last time I had an Asian-inspired dog with slaw, chili sauce, and egg roll noodles. 
  • If you're getting a hot dog for your child just go to Liberty Market... they have them there for a few dollars less.

Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich
(Plaza Ice Cream Parlor)

  • Not much too say other than: do this, preferably when you're overheated and need a blood sugar boost... ;)

TOMORROWLAND
 

Pulled Pork Banh Mi
Smoked Sausage Sandwich
Coconut Tres Leches.

(Tomorrowland Terrace)

  • The buns are too big, but I solved this by removing one half of the bun and having an "open-faced" sandwich. The insides are both delicious!
  • That coconut cake is one of those things I'll crave at a time when it's not remotely possible to get into the Magic Kingdom and buy one... and it stays with me until I get it!



Iced Espresso Latte
(Auntie Gravity's)

  • Caleb discovered this one and would like to remind you to get the espresso flavor WITH an extra shot of ice cream, and ask for soft serve on top. (He's always making up his own drink recipes...)

FANTASYLAND

Warm Cinnamon Roll
(Gaston’s Tavern)

  • Hard to beat once the chill of nighttime sets in! Warm, ooey, gooey, wonderful.

LIBERTY SQUARE

New England Clam Chowder
Broccoli Peppercorn Salad

(Columbia Harbor House)

  • Another Caleb find! I'm not a seafood person... but I am a cream and cheese and good-seasoning person. This chowder really is outstanding.
  • I loved the salad too... just ask for extra dressing. It's a little on the "lots of chewing" side.


Raspberry Lemonade Frozen Slush
(Liberty Tree Market)

  • I'm not a super sweet-tooth and other than water I almost exclusively drink kombucha and... wine. But there is something about this slush that makes me a maniac. Maybe I'm always so hot when I get it anything would taste good, but I swear it has this addictive element to it! I drink it in two minutes, tops! Haha

Family Style Traditional Dinner
(Liberty Tree Tavern)

  • If you can only eat "one nice/expensive meal" at Disney... eat here. Salad, warm rolls and honey butter, pork, turkey, roast, green beans, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, mac-and-cheese, cherry crumble, ice cream... bottomless family style. It's one of our all-time favorite meals and MUST be eaten late in the day so you can fill up, and go crawling back to your hotel bed and sleep. It's a Thanksgiving meal. Obsessed. 

Baked Potato
Sweet-and-Spicy Chicken Waffle Sandwich

(Sleepy Hollow)

  • These both are very satisfying and "sit" in your stomach... we love to get one and share bites of it! A great pick-me-up and keep-me-going kind of snack! The flavors of the sandwich, especially, are a great mix of comfort food with "Hm, that's a little different!"

FRONTIERLAND

Fajitas
(Pecos Bill)

  • Alright. This is the recommendation that probably comes with the most cautions. The food isn't "aaamazing" but... you get a LOT (at least in Disney measurements). We like the fajitas and salad the best, but everything needs a little doctoring: squeeze some fresh limes, add salt and pepper, etc. It's a bit bland on its own. The part that wins us, though, is the huge toppings bar (basically self-serve Chipotle style) where you can get lots of extra protein, flavor, and veggies. We can order one fajita platter, load up on toppings, and be very satisfied! So, take with a grain of salt... literally.
PC: Easy WDW

PC: Easy WDW

ADVENTURELAND
Spring Rolls
Egg Rolls

(Egg Roll Wagon)

  • $4.50 for two, relatively not messy, easy to eat, crunchy, and delicious! One of the best little snacks in the park!

Items we aren't fans of (sorry to those who are! Just being honest!)
- Pineapple Dole Whip (makes us question our sanity, but we just.. don't... like... it. Too sweet.)
- Turkey Legs (Too dry, but I'm sure this can vary piece to piece. I may have just had bad luck.)
- The Chicken Pot Pie at Columbia Harbor House (the chowder was SO much better in comparison)
- Pinocchio Village Haus... everything. We've never really enjoyed anything from here. And it's in one of the most crowded locations in the park.

DISNEYLAND (The "Castle Park" in California)

It's a close race for "First Place" in my book... but Disneyland and Epcot are neck-in-neck, with Disneyland maybe having a slight lead for "Best Food" in all the Disney parks. I swear just about everything is really, really good here. I've never had anything remotely bad New Orleans Square, in fact... it's almost always been "Wow. Amazing." They just nail the food. So, it's hard to pick favorites. The confectionary shops on Main Street, the tucked-away restaurants, the fine-dining spots... it's just all good in our opinion! Aside from the cheddar bagel twists. I think that's the only treat I can think of I was dissapointed by. How do you mess up cheese and bagel?! Haha! (Also, skip the Pizza Planet restaurant in Tomorrowland. Not worth it.)

Same order as before: Main Street, and working counter-clockwise: TomorrowLand, FantasyLand, New Orleans Square, FrontierLand, AdventureLand.

MAIN STREET

Fried Pickles
(Carnation Cafe)

  • I'm obsessed with both pickles and breaded-fried-foods. This does NOT disappoint. We ordered a second batch the first time we had them!

Corn Dog
(Main Street Cart)

  • These corn dogs are legendary... and they shouldn't be! I heard a story once, in a Disney documentary, that the Disney staff had been hearing so many raving reviews about "these incredible corn dogs!!" A bit confused by it, Walt was pleased! The corndog batter was made from a regular bag of cornmeal/etc and was just the cheapest stuff they could find. He wanted to do his dear customers a service and decided to make the corn dogs worth their reviews! He hired a world-class chef we prepared a secret recipe that included whole corn kernel being ground while fresh. They launched his new, gourmet, actually-prize-winning corndogs... and they have never had so many complaints in a single day in the park's history! People were livid! So the original, boring, well-loved corndogs came back, and they have been here ever since. And they ARE so good! I get one every single time I'm in Disneyland!

Fried Chicken Platter
(Plaza Inn)

  • We were surprised at how much we loved this meal! The chicken wasn't soggy or dry, the gravy was outstanding, the vegetables were crisp and well-seasoned... and there was a LOT! Three chicken pieces with one order! We made Rowdy a little "chicken biscuit sandwich" out of one piece, then Caleb and I each had one ourselves, sharing the green beans and potatoes. It was hearty! And very good. It's nice to feed the family lunch for less than $20!

Boysen Apple Freeze
Chocolate Twists

(Maurice’s Treats)

  • Tart, not too sweet, crisp, foamy... this iced drink is an all-time favorite (ask for only one pump of syrup. Two is too much!) The flaky, warm, chocolate twists are killer too!

Chocolate Dipped Pineapple
(Candy Palace or Pooh's Corner)

  • While I'm not a Dole Whip fan, I  AM a pineapple lover. It's a simple treat that could be made at home... but the cold fruit with the crunch of dark chocolate... hmmm... it gets me.

Pomme Frites
Fried Green Tomato Sandwich,

Cafe Orleans (sandwich used to be at Hungry Bear Restaurant)

  • If you eat anything in Disneyland, you have to have this meal. It's unique, flavor-full, filling, and fits the atmosphere and expereince perfectly. 
PC: Foodspotting

PC: Foodspotting

Mickey Beignets
(The Mint Julep)

  • There is a little order window in the back where you can walk up to order beignets (instead of standing in line at the restaurant). One of our favorite things to do: get an iced coffee and piping hot Mickey beignets! They are cloud-soft and puffs of steam fizzle up when you bite into them. Gah.

Churro Funnel Cake
(Hungry Bear Restaurant)

  • The churro is a must-try... but this churro-funnel cake is the next best thing!

Meat Skewers
(Bengal BBQ)

  • Caleb and I agree that these skewers are probably our favorite snack in the whole park. We tend to get some in the late afternoon when light protein is just what you need. The little shack they are made in is open air, so when you come around the golden-hour corner of Adventureland with tiki island music playing... and the smells of fire and smoke and meat wafts through... it's impossible to resist. And they are GOOD. Load up!

Carne Asade and Enchiladas
Rancho del Zocalo

  • If this place wasn't at Disney and was just a restaurant nearby, we'd go for dinner all the time! 

To-Try List
I have a few items in the park that I've really, really wanted to try and haven't yet:

- Creamy Corn Chowder from The French Market
- Monte Carlo Sandwich from Cafe Orleans
- Peanut Butter Sandwich from Pooh's Corner (according to the internet it was gone but now is back?)

Hopefully this is helpful! And for other Disney-lovers, feel free to leave your favorite food and drinks in the comments... it's hard to get to everything! It takes a village!

Part Two: Coming Soon!

Disney Series | BEFORE YOU GO

"To all who come to this happy place: Welcome!"
Walt Disney

Alright! I've finally begun the process of organizing and sharing my Disney advice! At this point it's probably what I get messaged about the most, and I just can't do it justice with a short reply! So here is the beginning of my stab at helping prepare for a Disney trip.

These posts are aimed at an audience of first-time (or first-time since childhood) parents taking their kids. I think Disney is superb for adults, teens, couples, empty-nesters, etc. But, the majority of those going (and making the big investment/sacrifice) are families with small kids. So keep that in mind as you read! I have a stream of these ready to share, but I would love to know any other questions you may have regarding a Disney trip (so far I'll be covering things like food, what to do in the parks, Disneyland vs. DisneyWorld, minor tips that make a big difference and "special experiences"). 

"We believed in our idea -
a family park where parents and children could have fun- together.

Why do we have to grow up?
I know more adults who have the children's approach to life.
They're people who don't give a hang what the Joneses do.
You see them at Disneyland every time you go there.


They are not afraid to be delighted with simple pleasures,
and they have a degree of contentment with what life has brought
- sometimes it isn't much, either."

(Walt Disney)

A CAUTION

Don't go to Disney Parks if you don't want to. Don't go because your kids are begging to. Don't go because you feel like you "should" take your kids. Don't go because your sister or neighbor or friend takes her family and loves it. Don't go begrudgingly and "Fine."-ly. Or even just willingly. Go thrilled.

It is too expensive, too "much," and a disappointing waste of time to go and find yourself miserable. Your kids will be far better off to go on a vacation with you where you are wide-eyed, eager to (and almost effortlessly) become immersed, and happy. The best memories of my childhood trips to the Magic Kingdom are mostly the glowing, bouncy, giggly, wonder-filled demeanor of my parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles. The adults! They made it SUCH a fun experience! So, I think it matters far more that your kids get to experience a new or "travel place" with you in that mood than than you "try to force yourself to understand Disney" if it just ain't your thing.

With THAT said: Just because you didn't grow up with Disney/or haven't had a desire to visit the parks as an adult, doesn't mean you couldn't develop that... especially once your own children are involved. When your little boy loves Winnie the Pooh, it's not a far stretch to feel a little pitter-patter in your heart imagining his face on the Winnie the Pooh ride, or, heck, meeting the Hundred Acre Wood critters "in real life"! Or if your kid loves to dance... sheesh. It's killer to see the tinies prancing about Main Street, or jiving to the live shows. THEY believe it, and it is contagious. But my advice is to "catch the bug" before you go, even if it's a small, early version. Get on board, be "stupid," clap your hands, and look forward to "falling for it." Watch documentaries, find something to be nerdy about (the costume design, the music, the organization, the cleanliness, the business model, whatever!) Even Walt's wife said "But why do you want to build an amusement park? They're so dirty." And Walt told her "that was just the point — mine wouldn't be." It isn't like other theme parks... and I think it should get the benefit of being treated as it was intended. Different, made for magical family memories, hope, inspiration, story, and beauty.

So no sour-pusses allowed! (Unless they fit in a stroller.)

VIDEOS AND BOOKS AND MUSIC

Before we went to Disneyland for the first time, my mom bought us the two videos listed first below (Disney Sing-Along and Christmas Sing-Along). We also grew up watching Disney videos (and hardly anything else, other than Donut Man, Steve Green, and Barney). She wanted us to not just love it for what it was, but also for memories we already had as 5, 4, and 3 year olds! It totally worked. I remember seeing buildings and completely thinking we were at "the real place!" It was REALLY Cinderella's castle, and REALLY Mickey's house, and REALLY where they all lived... and here we were! Playing with them! Just like I had seen and wanted to do! I'm all for anything that will stir up that extra-desire in the heart of a kid and help make them especially excited to be there. Roo has watched all of these his whole life! Here is a starter list of ideas:

YOUR TRAVEL STYLE

In general, there are two ways to do a Disney vacation. One is the entire kit-and-kaboodle with Disney resorts, dining plans, and tickets. You essentially fly into Orlando, take the Magical Express bus to your hotel on Disney property, and you don't leave the grounds until you head back to the airport 4-8 days later. The other way is the "Most Bang For Your Buck" route. Generally you stay at a nearby hotel, buy a 2-4 day Disney pass, and then do other things in the Orlando area (other parks, pool days, beach, etc) or just leave after a brief trip. My whole life we have done the latter: we never did the WHOLE Disney experience. Which I hope is encouraging to many! We have been smitten and obsessed with the parks our whole lives, and we never did the all that was available to do... so if you can only do a "smaller" version, don't worry! It will be GREAT! There are so many incredible hotels for crazy great prices nearby, and the whole area is made to complement a Disney vacation, so you can have a seriously enjoyable time.

For example, once we flew to Orlando with Southwest points, stayed at a hotel for $27 a night (yup.) and did three Disney days for about $600 (since Rowdy was still two). We packed granola bars and pb&j, ate lots of popcorn, and had one "real meal" in the park a day. For around $950 we got to do a little family vacation, and it was a blast! 

And if you do go for "the big experience," it is epic and insanely magical. Two great options depending on your needs and constraints! So choose ahead of time what type of investment and effort you want to go for, and know that whichever you choose will impact the way you can do the rest of your trip. (If you stay in the Disney resorts it's much easier to just "run back to your hotel for naps" than it is when you have to leave the whole compound, etc.)

It is so possible to squeeze in a ton in a two or three day visit, but it's also delightful to have many days to go at a slower pace and not have to "worry" about time. Also: it's okay to not "do it all." I think it's better to really enjoy what you did get to, then have completed a long list but felt on edge all visit. Pick five or six things you MUST Do, and then have a second layer of Would LOVE To Do, and go from there. 
 

WHERE TO STAY

If you decide to do a smaller version of a Disney trip, and don't stay at their resorts with "the whole plan," but are doing a few parks days mixed in with some other area activities, here is how I would go about finding a place:

If you've been following along with me for a while you know I'm an avid Priceline user and am equal parts nerd and activist when it comes to them! I never find better deals and they, supposedly, have a different algorithm than other travel sites. So, while this is a little hairy to track with... I'm going to breakdown a typical Priceline booking for me. As is common with most hotels (but NOT air travel), you'll get the best deals last minute since hotels are willing to lower their prices instead of have empty rooms. So all the screencaps I'm going to walk through right now are for a booking tonight, April 4-5, 2017. When using Priceline the best way to get the killer deals are to be flexible and wait as long as possible to book something. It's important to "keep your eye on prices," and if you notice them going up around your travel date, go ahead and get the best thing you can... because it probably means they are filling those rooms up, and they are only going to get pricier!

Alright, without further ado... here are some examples of a Priceline hunt!

To start, I always go to the "Express Deals" tab. Express Deals are lower than Priceline's general front page, but the kicker is that you don't get to see exactly which hotel you're booking. You get to choose the star rating you want, as well as the general area (they show you the map and what each area is named) but otherwise you have to wait for the detailed hotel info until after you purchase your room. However, I've found a way to mostly "beat" that system... 

So here we have a 5-star in the Disney Area for $197 (and at the bottom of the image you can see a little line that says "This deal saves you 42% or more..." This line is very important! It actually gives you a good estimate at what this hotel room would cost regularly, so you know how much money you're actually saving (like, if it's only 15% savings it's really not that great a deal).

Now that I've seen this 5-star, I want to see if I can indeed find the actual hotel I'd be staying at and decide if it's what I'm looking for/a good deal. By going back to the "regular" front page of Priceline I can enter in my search criteria. I will choose the same star-rating and same location as the Express Deal Listing, and see what comes up (you can see on bottom left of this image that I did just so). In this case, I got lucky! There is only ONE five-star in the Disney-Lake Buena Vista Area. This means that the Express Deal is for this hotel... Villas Of Grand Cypress. Sometimes I have to do a little more guessing, and comparing numbers ("197 is 42% of what number...?") but 9 times out of 10 I can end up finding the right hotel before purchasing with Express Deals!

Oooo la la! SooOoo fancy!

On the Grand Cypress website they offer "last minute" deals, the lowest of which is $344.25 for tonight. The nice thing about Priceline, though, is that very often if you show up and they have a better room available than what you booked, they'll upgrade you for free (if you ask nicely!). So you could end up saving far far more!

Then one last little looksie at TripAdvisor to confirm the reviews and compare the prices of other travel sites. In the bottom left corner you can see that $321 is the lowest price with Expedia, Hotwire, Hotels.com, etc. Priceline wins by a long shot here!

The last element you can add to your Priceline game is by bidding for a hotel. They will let you "name your price" and then potentially accept a lower offer than even what is on the Express Deals. The risk is that you only get one bid per star rating every 24-hours and you can get "locked out" of a deal. I use bidding often while road-tripping or when I don't really care where we stay, I just want to save as much money as possible. But for something like a Disney trip I think it's worth it to be able to plan and get what you want. On the other hand, it doesn't hurt... you can always try! And if you don't get the bid, then you can come back and get the Express Deal. Just remember that prices can change every minute, and once you place a bid your credit card gets charged immediately and you can't change your itinerary. It's a done deal!

Here's another example! A 4-star in the Bonnet Creek area with 68% savings. Dang!

Heading back to the main page and putting in my search options (bottom left) I discover there is also only one 4-Star in Bonnet Creek. Yay! So this Express Deal is for the Hilton Orlando!

Not too shabby! And having a great pool is a must for vacation with kids. You know they're so happy to spend a whole day there!

On their website the lower price for tonight is $283. Quite a steal with Priceline asking $89!

In this case, TripAdvisor and the other travel hotels cost more than the hotel's own website! $289 is the cheapest price... always worth double-checking! 

The last one I looked at to make this post was the 3.5-Star in the Disney Maingate, which looks like it's Radisson! Which is going for $99 a night of their site.

It definitely takes some time, organization and patience, but that's always the case when you want to save money! Other great options, especially in the Disney area are AirBnBs. Here is one for $120 a night that sleeps six and has a pool! (There are tons and tons, and I feel like they price very competitively for even Priceline hotels!)

Lastly, the "bottom of the barrel" Disney resorts are a fantastic option for budgets while still getting to have the "Disney experience" and stay right on the property. We've never done it ourselves, but our extended family has! And if you can get some dollars off your tickets it might be worth it! So do the math and check it out and see what ends up being the best for your family and budget.

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* Not sponsored, just sharing what has worked best for us!
** Keep in mind that every hotel will add a $15-$50 tax/fee on top of the room cost. So keep that in mind when budgeting and booking!

 

AGREE ON PARK DAY SCHEDULE

What I mean by this is: are you planning to open and close the park? Or start late, stay late? Or go early, leave mid day, come back at night? Etc. (Ps. We are open the park/close the park people... it's "the only way" for us, but everyone is different. We can get in triple or quadruple the amount of rides in the early and late hours, while slowing it down a notch mid-day to soak up the atmosphere and not feel like we're missing anything). Of course things can change and you may end up with more or less energy than you anticipate, there may be opportunities that arise, or emotions that do too. But it's nice to have a baseline plan. Know your flow, your capacity, your kids, your sleep needs, and your travel squad... But my vote is to gear up for full days, and make the most of those early and late hours!
 

(speaking of) YOUR TRAVEL SQUAD

My advice, especially for first-timers, is to either go with just your family or people that you are completely comfortable speaking up to/are like-minded as you. Since it's so different than getting a beach house or a Thanksgiving dinner, and everyone has their own way of navigating the park, it's nice to avoid any awkwardness or disappointment. Grandparents are generally amazing to do Disney with! Something about generations in such a family-oriented park... it's special.

THE OUTFITS

Go ahead and go nuts with your outfit coordinating. It's perfectly adorable and DOES make the experience sweeter for the family, even if they act all humbug about it ;) These pictures do become lifetime treasures.

RESEARCH

I'm the type who enjoys research, so this may be "easy for me to say," but I think reading and researching as much as you can/want to before you go is extremely beneficial. Don't ever feel like your research is creating an "all required activities list"! But once you've read the same things three, four, five times it starts to become a little more comfortable and recognizable. Look at a map of the parks, read the names of rides, get a vague sense of the "city" you're entering. Don't be crazy about memorizing things or making EXACT. STEP. BY. STEP. PLANS, but during nursing sessions or nap times or car pool lanes, read a blog here and a forum there, and just acquaint yourself with the lay of the land!

DECIDE ON RESERVATIONS

Especially during slow seasons, we've often been able to swing a meal "last minute" (meaning we booked a couple days in advance, or a few times even the day of!) but if you're taking The Big First Trip really, really, really try to make reservations as soon as you can ahead of time! And if you can't, be ready to be flexible or turned down for some of the famous places (9:30 pm dinner slot, etc). But! Don't be dismayed... I'm going to do a whole food post. You can eat through the park without going to any of the reservation-only spots and have a terrific day of munching!

EXPECTATIONS

As my mom would say, "Prepare your hearts!" There will be waiting. There will be things that get missed. There will be tired bodies, adrenaline rushes, rides that break down, or fast passes missed... SOMETHING will happen and... it's how it goes. Your kids will remember the fun, magical parts... and how much fun their mommy and daddy had. It's nice how they can blur the tougher stuff out so well!

Alright, folks, that's all for now! I'll be back again shortly with my FOOD report! Until then, I have to share Walt's commencement speech on Disneyland's Opening Day (every word is just perfect):

"To all that come to this happy place: welcome.
Disneyland is your land.
Here age relives fond memories of the past,
and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.
Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams,
and the hard facts that have created America...
with hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world."

Post 69 | Roatan

“Nights and days came and passed
And summer and winter and the rain.
And it was good to be a little Island.
A part of the world and a world of its own
All surrounded by the bright blue sea.”
― Margaret Wise Brown, The Little Island

Our family vacation, not "travels," to the west Caribbean island of Roatan. A vacation because it was full of bumming around, wearing swimsuits all day, fresh fruit, lounging, talking our hearts out, falling asleep in the breeze, and... not filled with an itinerary of all the places I "had" to eat at/photograph/witness. It was also a dream vacation because it was a prize. Yes! We won an all-inclusive trip! Here's the story:

Last year, around the time Summer was born, a video of Caleb playing "The Prayer" in Washington DC started getting shared frequently (I think it ended up with over 10 million views?). As this was happening he was getting more messages and emails than we could keep up with, but he tried to sit down once a week and get through as many as he could. Lost in this sea of messages were a couple from a guy named Joseph Natale. A friend of his had seen the video and passed it on, knowing Joseph would love it. He did, and wanted to get in contact with Caleb. 

A couple months had gone by and his messages to Caleb had gone unanswered so far, but one day... as he was sitting in Santa Barbara eating dinner with his family... Caleb's twin brother, Daniel, walked up to play violin. Immediately Joseph "recognized" Daniel, but also knew it wasn't Caleb yet knew they HAD to be related. This interaction led to Joseph writing Caleb one more time, having no idea where in the country Caleb was. Joseph was hoping to get both of the twins to play at a fundraising event he was doing. Dan wasn't able to because he was waiting for his first son to be born, and Caleb? Well, we just so happened to be in San Diego in this season of life. And we just so happened to have made plans months earlier to meet friends in Santa Barbara... on the EXACT same date (in the middle of the week) as the fundraising event!

Caleb and Joseph were both amazed at the "coincidence" and Caleb made plans to be there. Joseph invited our whole family to come, so the kids and I did. One of the activities that evening was a raffle for an all-inclusive trip to Joseph's resort in Roatan (a raffle he insisted we enter) and...lo and behold! He pulled our ticket out of the hat!

Aside from the beautiful, restful family time, we were extremely moved to get to know Joseph and his wife, Glenna. Their stories... oh their stories. Endless and, well, they know just about every form of pain this world can offer. And yet, they've spent the last 30 years investing in this small island. We got to hear Joseph's vision for his career-training center, so students can move into professional management, business, and hospitality careers and educations. He's participated in building over 150 homes. Everywhere we went he knew everyone, and they knew him! If people saw him coming there were shouts, smiles, and running hugs. 

Nothing short of incredible to see the impact of compassion, action, a broken heart, and love for decades. There were a couple moments of this trip that will especially stick with me. I will never forget what happened and what was said. Caleb had the joy of playing two performances: one in the poorest part of the poorest town on the island. There aren't words this side of heaven for how music unites and connects the most diverse strangers. People become kindred in seconds.

We wanted to make sure we publicly thanked Joseph for all his kindness and effort to make our trip one to remember! And to Glenna, for being a powerful mix of strength and tenderness. We love you guys! And we hope we will be as generous and inviting to others as you were to us. Thank you for be living proof of God's grace.

With that said, here is a quick blast through our week... happy happy happy!

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We celebrated Summer's first birthday on this trip! And this was her birthday day photoshoot. One for the memory books!

^^^ Roo took these himself, on his own, without me knowing. I can't stand it.

Things We Enjoyed Absorbing + Discussing

  • Part Two: Ways To Fund Your Relationship (Click here for part one of the two part series. We enjoyed both, but REALLY loved the second one. It might be my favorite "article" about marriage ever.)
  • Coincidences on "This American Life" Considering that we ended up on this paradise vacation by a "coincidence," we were especially drawn into this episode!
  • The documentary called "Embrace"... lots and lots more to say about this, but that will have to be a whole seperate post. But we both had very distinct "light bulb moments" that changed our foundation of thought on this topic.

Post 68 | Skincare + Make-Up Research

"Her face told him things which he was glad to know.”
― A.A. Milne

I mentioned in my last post that I've been researching skin care and beauty items. A few people (don't be misled... like, three people!) asked what it was that I had bought and if I liked it. So here's my disclaimer (I'm so defensive hahah): I LOVE research. And I don't know much about make-up (though a smidge about skincare, as I explain below)... but man did I get into skin and make-up research! 

One of my favorite quirky-memories of Caleb and I is when I decided I wanted to do a preppy. classic little boy room for Rowdy's nursery and it needed a Persian rug. We spent about three weeks worth of free time going to every single rug outlet, sale, shop, store, tent, and warehouse we could find. I knew NOTHING about rugs beforehand, but those weeks we learned quite a bit (including the worth of these expensive, beautiful rugs...). Now, without fail, if there is an authentic Persian or Oriental rug anywhere we are we point it out to each other. We flip a corner over to confirm that it is indeed woven and not a sewn-on fringe. We guess the price based on the color and measurements. We've become weird rug people. (And just for the sake of the story: we ended up buying a $60 rug on Amazon because our eyes and tastes were bigger than our budget. Ha!)

BACKSTORY: ACNE
(Products below, so skip this story if that's all you're looking for!)

Between the ages of of 12 and 22 I dealt with severe, cystic acne. During this time I was a humorous mix of extremely conservative athlete and then traveling, business owner, "independent woman." My nickname after high school was "Hollywood" in my group of friends because of my big sunglasses, chandelier earrings, colorful outfits and heels I loved to wear (while they were usually in hoodie sweatshirts and jeans.) However, throughout high school I was almost exclusively wearing oversized men's clothes (I shopped for shorts in the men's department. 100% true.) or sportswear/uniforms. I liked feeling powerful and sweaty, yet also liked lovely and composed.

All this to say, my mom bought me BareMinerals make-up (which I used the most), as well as Clinique skin care and Merle Norman make-up (a brand I had actually seen used at a wedding and was amazed at how well it lasted all day... I had to hunt down the make-up artist later and ask her what she used). These were the "name brands" of foundation and "face make-up" I used, plus plenty of other regular drugstore stuff that my skin haaaatttteeddddd.

In those ten years I went on Accutane three separate times. We (my mom, sweet thing, worked so hard to help me try to find solutions) tried everything. ProActiv, Neutorgena, Clearasil, Biore, Aveeno, Cetaphil, Burt's Bees, herbal/natural/essential oil, drying lotion, luxury brands, homemade concoctions, steaming, multiple oral and topical prescriptions, and honestly probably two dozen other "systems." My acne hurt. It made me cry. I didn't want to leave the house, but I'd have to so I would put on so much foundation, concealer, and powder to feel presentable... but all of that would make my break-outs worse. It was such a viscous cycle. And it feels helpless when you are trying everything yet it keeps getting worse.  Everyone looks at your face, and acne is a pretty unsavory thing to look at. It's no joke.

Accutane really saved me from this issue and it was my last ditch chance... I had truly tried everything else. My dermatologist put me on it for eight months the first time because it was such an intense case (usually a cycle would be for 4-6 months). It worked unbelievably well. People were commenting on my "airbrushed" and "porcelain" skin. Not only was the acne gone, but the scars and visible pores were too... it was so exciting! But my young adult hormones and "perfect storm" life situations (like playing indoor sports in the winter, for example) caused my acne to come back even worse a second and third time (something that my dermatologist said was extremely rare).

I was on Accutane for the last time when Caleb and I were dating. When I went in to start the process this third time I had "100+ (she stopped counting at 100) active papules, pustules, cystics, and nodules." I remember reading that on my report. So intense. I finished it a few months before we got engaged, and it's never come roaring back (just "normal" pimples and simple break-outs). I do have lots of scars and a moon-like texture of skin in some places, but it's such a drastic improvement that I'm left completely happy!

So here's where all this combines: being such an "extreme opposite" person mixed with lamenting my acne for so long... I got lazy/comfortable/balanced/content/whatever-you-want-to-call-it the last five years! Though I have nothing near perfect skin, I've been SO THRILLED to have decent skin... skin that I don't have to slather in a full-face of make-up before leaving the house... that I basically never wear make-up! I probably average 3-4 times a month. I also got into a bad habit of hardly ever washing or moisturizing my face (especially since I didn't have make-up on I had to take off). I don't take not having extreme acne for granted!

Last year while I was pregnant with Summer I spent a lot of nauseous hours reading and researching to distract me. And since I couldn't read about food and travel because it would make me feel more sick, I did read about many other interesting subjects that I normally don't... and one that kept coming up was skin care! I won't lecture about it since there are many other more educated and well-stated pieces out there (I would start at Into The GlossJenni Raincloud, and these two Isabelle Bellis videos -- so soothing!). However, this all caused me to start noticing and writing down the products I would see friends and people I follow online recommending.  This little master list has been in my Notes app on my phone the last year. (I LOVE research.) After hoarding some gift cards, and then getting some more for Christmas I decided it was time to make the purchases to add to my current regime.

Below I have what is actually in my bathroom, and what I have either used for years, or bought to use after much research. I feel like the luxury beauty world as a whole can be so elite and pretentious (Ha. Maybe that's just the luxury world.) but I want to be super down-to-earth here. My skin ain't your skin so look into it before you invest money. Money matters! But here's what I'm doing right now, some days. 

My "ideal" face would be naturally sun-tanned (not burned), blemish-free, with a healthy glow, cherry chapstick, and mascara and eye-liner... and maybe a few noses freckles. Natural, fresh, simple, and "happy-faced." I don't have that "ideal" face anymore (and I sure didn't appreciate it when I was 10!) but when I'm taking care of my skin and doing make-up, that is my goal. After watching so many YouTube reviews I realize more than ever how NOT a make-up pro, or even hobbyist, I am! I just want good products that work well, make my face look its best, and do their job. I include links to all products for where I found them for the best price (to the best of my ability) and nothing on here is sponsored. Without further ado, here's what I have:

SKIN CARE

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  • I'm making an effort to really take care of my skin twice a day. Start fresh, end clean. It doesn't happen perfectly... but that's what I've been mostly doing the last couple months.
  • Of the many dozens and dozens of face washes I've tried, the system my first dermatologist (kind of a strange, Wonka-ish fellow) recommended olive oil and sugar (not salt) to exfoliate, Dr. Bronner's castile bar soap to wash, and Ceravae CREAM (not lotion) to moisturize. For my skin, I've never found a better system to clean, brighten, tighten, and even. And it's so cheap...! $20 for three months? Or more? Can't beat it.
  • First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream This moisturizer kept showing up as a "must-have" on my feeds... so I decided to give it a try! I do love it. I now use it in the morning, with my heavier, thicker Ceravae cream at night. My skin definitely has a "brightness" to it that goes away if I don't use my moisturizers for even a day or two.
  • Boots Botanics 82% Organic Cleanser + Make-Up Remover I use this as my make-up remover at night before washing my face! Love it!
  • GlamGlow FlashMud I heard this name "accidentally" while YouTube hopping watching make-up reviews. But the gals who used it gave it a thumbs up! So I decided to try it last month. IT. SMELLS. SO. GOOD. I wish it was a perfume! And my skin feels amazing afterwards! So I'm happy.
  • Mario Badescu Rosewater This little tugboat gets rave reviews eeeeeverywhere. I heard once that misting your face before moisturizer (and certainly applying make-up) helps your pores to open up and "accept" the product being put on. I'm not sure about all that, but I will say... the smell alone is worth it! Just plain fresh. And it does make my skin softer, which is great since my skin is on the rougher side thanks to aaaacne scaaaars (*said in Oprah voice*)!
  • Two other tips I've heard along the way, that actually seem to work for me are: drinking coconut water to get "that glow" and rubbing an ice cube on your face in the morning to tighten pores and improve circulation. Look into it yourself if you're interested, but I do both of these almost every day.

Here is me after the previous process... exfoliating, washing, moisturizing, rose-water-ing, etc. See the acne scars on my cheeks? I have even more on the other side. Also, I didn't edit or put any filters on these pictures so you could see "the real deal" as best as possible.

Foundation + Lighting

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This side-by-side is before and after Smashbox's Photo Finish green primer. The green helps cancel out the redness. As you can see on the right my face looks more "grey"/yellow... in some ways even less healthy and more sickly. But the red is quite gone. This is my goal since I have so much hyper-pigmentation from acne scars, then also just lots of red around my nose and cheeks naturally. I LOVE this neutralizer that gets my tone on the same page before applying any make-up.

  • Smashbox Photo Finish Primer (info about it in above caption... you can also get sample sizes for about $16 at Sephora and on Amazon)
  • Giorgio Armani Liquid Silk Foundation This foundation got amazing feedback from everywhere I saw it... but, you know, it's Kim Kardashian's favorite foundation. There isn't much I would look to Kim K for advice on, but I have to admit: I assume she knows her make-up! And could have anything she wants! I went to Nordstrom to buy it and the make-up artist there put it on my face (along with some other products they were trying to sell ;) ). I wear No. 5. And it is definitely the best foundation I've ever used personally. It's pricey... but I had a gift card ;) And expensive make-up does last longer than drugstore make-up since you need less of it to do the same job. (Some runner-ups for me that I see everywhere, especially at weddings, are Makeup For Ever Ultra HD Invisible Cover Foundation, Lancôme Teint Idole Ultra Foundation, and NARS All-Day Luminous Foundation. Good luck to you in your endevours and foundation-finding! Ha!)
  • e.l.f Lifting Concealer If I'm going to buy cheap, it's almost always e.l.f brand... because it's so cheap. And yet shows up on "Best-of" lists everywhere! The main cheapness factor of e.l.f make-up is that it doesn't last very long. In my opinion it goes on well, I don't break out when I wear it, and the colors are great! But you have to "keep it up" throughout the day, as opposed to "brand" make-up. But hey... for $3 instead of $30... sometimes you just go ahead and keep it up. 
  • e.l.f Beautifully Bare Blush Pretty obsessed with this! Someday I'll get pricey blush, but for now I can reapply this a few times when I'm wearing it. It's such a flattering, subtle color that does a lot of work and blends in beautifully!
  • BECCA x Jaclyn Hill Shimmering Skin Highlighter in Champagne Pop If I had to have only three things in my possession to "get ready," this would be in my arsenal. Everyone was so right. LOVE this highlighter!
  • Bahama Mama Bronzer Not too orange, not to brown/wrong-skin/color. Not too shimmery, not too muddy or flat. Healthy, blendable, and soft. Can't beat it!
  • BS-Mall Brushes LOVE LOVE LOVE... and the whole set of 10 brushes is $10ish on Amazon. And has 4.5 stars with over 6000 reviews on Amazon! So I'm not alone in my thumbs-up!
  • Bare Minerals Powder, Medium Bare Minerals is my comfort zone with make-up and I feel like I know it. I know what I want and need it to do, and it can. Other powders exist that are "better," I'm sure... but when I test them in stores I always feel like they aren't quite right for me. So my trusty Bare Minerals lives on!
  • e.l.f High Definition Powder, Soft Luminance, $6. "Blurring" powder to blend, soften, and smooth. Pretty solid. When I do save up and spend money on HD powder I want to try this one from Crunchi (a company that is organic, toxin-free, and cruelty-free. That "boat" is a whole other level... eventually I want to explore more of the organic, toxic-free make-up. But, alas, baby steps.)

This set is after doing my face make-up (so no eyes or lips yet). Golden and smooth... I'll take it!

EYES + LIPS

  • Urban Decay All-Nighter Eye Liner I read once that for daytime make-up you choose eyes or lips to "go big" on, and for evening make-up you amp up both. I'm an eyes-girl and prefer simple colors on my lips (but I ADORE bold colors on so many other people! I wish I loved it on me!) Anyways, I like my eyeliner and mascara nice and black to give the best contrast and pop. Got this one at Nordstrom Rack for $5 and it's great!
  • SmashBox PhotoOp Eye Brightening Mascara Smudge-proof and flake-proof! Gotta love it! It isn't clumpy or "over the top," yet dark and smooth. I really love it! But honestly, I like my classic L'oreal Voluminous just as much... and it's $5.89! I've been using it since high school. I got the SmashBox mascara at Nordstrom Rack for $8, but I wouldn't spend more on it.  
  • NYX Rollerball, Nude Get two for $6 on Ulta right now! I use this every time I wear make-up. It's for sure a go to!
  • Merle Norman Trio + Clinique Trio (Both I've had since we were engaged, and they don't exist anymore in-stores... but they're my eyebrow color and "evening eyes" color!
  • Naked2 by Urban Decay With 4.9 stars and over 4000 reviews on their site, and probably in the bag of every wedding make-up artist I've ever seen... this has been on my list to try for a while! I bought it used on Poshmark for only $30 plus shipping! That Half-Baked tone is as good as everyone says it is... it's this really is the lasting, blendable, play-able eye shadow everyone raves about!
  • Bare Minerals Matte Liquid Lipcolor, Cookie You know how I said the Jaclyn Hill highlight would be one of my three items if I had to choose? This would be also. Love love love love. I will be buying more of these in more shades and probably using them forever.
  • Stila Coconut Crush Lip Stain If I want my lip color to really last I put on this lip stain, with Trader Joe's chapstick (which is my favorite) on top, then the Bare Minerals color over. It makes everything stay put and tidy!

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So here is my finished face! Again, I only do all this three times a month on average (plus if I'm working). I'll do bits and pieces for normal life, and then often nothing! I'll just wash my face and call it! Haha But I figured it would be silly to do a post like this and not use it all so you knew what I was talking about.

Same make-up, just with my hair done and jewelry on!

Before / After

Ps. Since they were sitting in my bathroom looking so pretty, I had to add these cuties! Acqua di Gia by Giorgio Armani is my all-time favorite perfume (it gives me chills when I smell it! haha!). The Jasmine version is fantastic, too, and the one I have because Kohl's carries it and I used Kohl's Cash to get this! Daisy by Marc Jacobs is obviously popular for a reason, and it's mine and Caleb's second favorite scent. This was a gift and I love it! Have "your scent" feels so grown-up. And someday I'm going to go for it and get my all-time favorite. Saving, saving until then ;)

Pps. Shout-out to my trusty iPhone 7 and the master bathroom tub for these pictures! Hahah It's all about getting the good light, right?

Post 67 | New York City Part 2

“One belongs to New York instantly,
one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.”
― Tom Wolfe

CALEB'S SWEET TOOTH

We discovered the happiness of Wafels and Dinges at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Day a few years ago, and we (Caleb especially) has been hooked ever since. Caleb's favorite is "deBom": a warm Belgian waffle, scoop of creamy vanilla, drizzled in chocolate. So simple, but perfectly ooey-gooey, savory-and-sweet, warm-and-cold GOOD.

I've heard, seen, and read SO MUCH about Ladurée for years. And I'm bummed at myself that I didn't make sure we got there before this... because WOW. What an EXPERIENCE. From start to finish every quarter-inch of Ladurée is considered, handled with utmost care, and beautiful. Lap of luxury, to say the least. I have more of a Nigella Lawson Philosophy on food, but this really was splendor. And I see how everyone who goes is addicted! Being here made me really want to go to Paris (Disneyland Paris, Rowdy memorizing Madeline - my childhood favorite book, and Ladurée! Sounds perfect! Hah!)

I'm slightly embarrassed to say that I don't even know what this cake-masterpiece is called. But it was the best dessert either of us have ever had. About 9-10 thin layers of different flavors and textures, but soft and delicate to eat, with moth-wing soft crunch. It was absolute art to every sense. Rowdy had (and loved) the macaroons and Caleb also moaned over a chocolate croissant!

CENTRAL PARK

We spent the morning walking around Central Park (trying to build up an appetite after our pizza evening hahah). It might have been my favorite memory of this trip. There was hardly anyone else that we passed, adding to the already serene, quiet presence of the place. Rowdy had a ball crunching snow, finding sludge puddles, and being free to run around with darling rosy cheeks and frost-kissed nose. Caleb commented that it reminded him of Narnia... snow and lampposts and brass statues of animals and...so very quiet. Enchanting, even for us "summer people."

SANDWICH SHOP

Though sandwiches and deli food is some of my all-time favorite, I haven't had nearly enough sandwiches in New York as I should have! I wanted to grab an easy lunch before we headed to the airport... so I researched diligently to find the "perfect" well-reviewed, great-atmosphere, grab-and-go, affordable lunch spot. Alidoro was the winner! Caleb got a steak/cheese/Italian melt and I got a tuna salad (remembering WHY I haven't gotten many sandwiches here hahah I was so full still!). We will definitely go back here! The decor reminded me of my mom so much. She always sought to make her kitchen have that European country feel. Terra Cotta tile floors, blue and yellow mosaic tile, the EXACT same barstools we had growing up, butcher block counters, blue and white damask wall paper, wood farm-style table. I kept thinking of what I would be texting her and how much she'd light up if she was here. So special. 

TRANSPORTATION

#trainselfies

#trainselfies

Our entire (short) trip we didn't use a shuttle bus, subway, cab, Uber, or rental car! We "discovered" that the Newark AirTrain drops off right in Penn Station. We flew into Newark, NJ and took the 30 minute train into the city, walked walked walked walked, and then got back on the train to go to the airport! If we are flying in, this is ALWAYS how we'll do it from now on!  Plus, Rowdy thought we were on a "lightning fast ride" and grinned the whole time. So cute. It was $5.50 each way, and kids under 11 are free! Hope that little tip is as helpful for someone else as it was us :)

Any and all tips or reccomendations are SO welcome!
I'll add them to my list for future visits!