Ever since Lucy began reading the Harry Potter books a few years ago, she has dreamed of going to Hogwarts. Her love of reading, and specifically her love of the Harry Potter series, is one of my favorite parts of being her mother. I always loved reading growing up, and I still find my greatest happiness between the pages of a book. When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I was one of those weirdos who waited in line at midnight to get the newest Harry Potter book as it was released. When I introduced Lucy to the series when she was about 8-years-old, I was giddy with excitement. And her enthusiasm hasn’t let me down!
About two years ago, I overheard Lucy tell a friend that she was pumped for her 11th birthday, because we would be going to Universal Studios to visit Harry Potter World….um, what? Turns out, she assumed based on some of the plot from the books themselves. When Harry turns 11-years-old, he gets a letter saying he is a wizard and he has been invited to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. So OF COURSE Lucy thought she’d be getting something similar on her own birthday. I told Trent about what I heard, and we began to hatch a plan for an epic family trip!
This June, Lucy turned 11, and was surprised with a letter on our doorstop from Hogwarts, inviting her to school (aka Universal Studios)! It was incredibly fun pulling off this present for her, but there was a caveat…she had to wait four months for the trip. We did Disney a few years back in the summer, and it was pretty hot and miserable, not to mention crowded and extremely expensive. Instead, we decided to plan our trip around the kids’ school fall break in October. Flights and hotels were way cheaper, the weather was beautiful, and the crowds were totally manageable.
We had the most amazing time on this trip! I can’t state it enough…parents of preschoolers and younger: It gets better!!! I love how easy my kids are to travel with these days, and they were the perfect age to do most of the activities on the trip. We stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel on site at Universal, and I highly recommend it. Not only were we only 5 minutes walking distance from the parks, the hotel itself was perfect for a family. My husband was sold when we checked in and the concierge asked him to pick an electric guitar to be sent up to the room from the “Guitar Menu.” Once the kids saw the pool, they were thrilled! The hotel has a ton of activities, including movies every night poolside. They also have “Camp Little Rock,” where parents can drop off the kids for a few hours to play. Trent and I took advantage of this by dropping the kids and the heading back to the park to do the giant roller coasters that the kids refused to try!
But the main objective of the trip was to get to Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, the two areas of the parks that are Harry Potter-themed. And can I just say how incredibly impressed I was with the attention to detail in these parks. I mean, I’m a bit of a Potter-head, and I was amazed every time we turned the corner! I mean, Trent went into the men’s bathroom and came out laughing, “Moaning Myrtle is in there!” You Potter-heads will know how hilarious that is!
When we turned on to Diagon Alley, Lucy’s face made the whole trip worth it. This kid was so very happy. Watching her take it all in was a highlight of the trip for me. I love having a kid that loves reading as much as I do, so for her to be so excited to be in the world she’d read about for years was a gift. She is such an awesome child, it felt so good to do something that made her so happy.
There are definitely a few things we learned on our trip, which I thought might be helpful to share, just in case you are planning a trip to Universal with your family of die-hard Harry Potter fans. We were lucky to have chatted with a few friends who had been before us, and it helped so much to be prepared.
1. Stay on site if you can! Universal isn’t huge like Disney, so you can walk everywhere if you stay onsite. You also get passes to get into the park early (which is huge) and to skip the lines on the big rides. Both of these were lifesavers for us! I don’t think we waited more than 20 minutes for any ride, and most were a 5 to 10 minute wait, if at all.
2. Buy park hopper passes. Trust me. Universal is split among two parks (Universal Orlando and Islands of Adventure), but they are so close to each other, you’ll probably want to go back and forth. They also just opened a water park called Volcano Bay, which is incredibly fun! In fact, Tate said going to the water park was his favorite part of the entire trip!
3. If you have early entry passes, use them to go directly to Ollivander’s in Diagon Alley. Getting a wand at Ollivanders is a huge part of the experience, and if your kid is a Harry Potter fan, it is a MUST. But the lines can get extremely long, so if you go early, you can get one-on-one attention from the wand sellers. They will talk to your kid and ask them specific questions about their personality and what they like to do, then find the perfect wand for them. The attention to detail is amazing! My kids loved the entire experience. Make sure you ask for an interactive wand, which you can use throughout Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade to cast spells! They will also give you a map of where the spell spots are located, so you can find them easily. If you’d rather just get a character wand, you can do that too. Both of the kids got personalized wands, while Trent and I got Harry and Hermione’s wands.
4. The two major rides in the Harry Potter areas are Escape from Gringotts and The Forbidden Journey. These were much scarier than anticipated! We actually didn’t even end up doing Escape from Gringotts because my kids were too freaked out. The Forbidden Journey was fun, but it was definitely more intense than we were anticipating. If you have sensitive kids, like mine, maybe skip it!
5. Make sure to take the Hogwarts Express train! This was one of the coolest parts of the trip, and it was a super mellow ride. The train actually takes you from Diagon Alley (in the Universal Orlando Park) to Hogsmeade (in Island of Adventure), so if you don’t have a park hopper pass, you will have to buy an additional ticket. When we went into King’s Cross Station, all of the workers were so in character, it was the best! They were “muggle train workers” so they kept asking Lucy why she was wearing a bathrobe (she was wearing her brand new Ravenclaw Hogwarts robes). She was so giddy and delighted! The train has a cool, interactive component, and the ride is different coming and going, so make sure to take it in both directions!
6. BUTTERBEER! Okay, this is definitely a personal preference thing, but I was obsessed with frozen butterbeer. You can also get it unfrozen, but I wasn’t as much of a fan. My kids and Trent all thought it was gross…but that just meant more for me! We also had breakfast at the Leaky Cauldron, which was better for us than a traditional English lunch there. Pancakes and pumpkin juice!
7. Go get some treats at Honeydukes! Our favorites were the chocolate frogs and the sugar quills (which really write on paper if you get them wet).
8. Go see a show! We took the kids to see the Blue Man Group, and it was a total highlight! Neither of the kids had been to a concert before, and this one was perfect for them. There were lots of kids and families in the audience, so we fit right in!
9. We also spent a lot of time at other areas of the park, not just in the Harry Potter section! In totally random order, here are a few other things we did and loved:
– Jimmy Fallon’s Race Through New York (this was the kids’ favorite ride in the whole place!)
– Getting a caricature drawn of entire family (I totally think I’m gonna make it our 2017 holiday card)
– The Hulk Coaster (we dared Lucy to try this one…she barely met the height requirement and was so scared, but she loved it and actually went twice!)
– The Jurassic Park Playground (perfect place to wind down after waiting in lines)
– The Animal Actors Show was a total favorite in our crowd and was a nice chance to sit down and chill after a few hours of rides. Bonus: Lucy and Trent met “Frank” from Men In Black in the bathroom line!
All in all, this was one of the best vacations we’ve ever taken as a family! I love these nerds, and I’m so glad I get to do life (and roller coasters) with them!
(All photos in this post were taking with our cell phones – an iPhone 6 and Galaxy Note – or with my Fuji x30…I didn’t take our big camera because traveling light on trips like this is extremely important to me, as the designated camera carrier! I’d rather have lower quality images, and better memories, than lugging my gear around a theme park!)
If you’ve been following my online adventures for the past few years, you’ve heard of our annual trips to Western Kansas for dance camp. They are magic, you guys. I’ve written about them quite a bit, but this time around I wanted to share what it’s really like. I decided to attempt to capture some of our trip on film, and put together a little Travel Diary with some of our adventures. We are so grateful to kick off our summer every year spending time with old friends and indulging in the slower pace of life in the country.
But most of all, this video is a little love letter to my in-laws, who invite us in to their quiet home every year for a week and let us take over their lives! The last part of the video is my favorite, because it truly shows how lucky we are to be a part of this family. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins…this kind of closeness and joy is exactly what I always wished for my children, and I could not be more thankful that it is their reality.
A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to receive the book “Making Marriage Beautiful” by Dorothy Greco, at what felt like a perfect time in my life. After 11 years of marriage, my husband and I are in a wonderful place, but we have both committed to actively working on our marriage on a daily basis. Many of the issues we’ve struggled with as a couple have come from lack of communication, and, honestly, a lack of hard work. When you have young kids, two businesses, a dog who gets into the trash EVERY SINGLE NIGHT and a cat who keeps tearing up the new carpet, it can be hard to prioritize time to grow your relationship. But in the last few years, as our kids have grown and we’ve finally found a reliable, long-term babysitter (no, you can’t have her name, I’m never letting her go!), we have worked to make date nights a weekly occurrence. We try to find a quiet five minutes to talk everyday…which I know sounds nuts, but even that small amount of time can provide a huge connection, and avoid confusion over silly issues and arguments.
Making Marriage Beautiful is a perfect addition to this prioritization in our marriage, because the number one focus throughout is in order to make a marriage work, you have to be willing to GROW. Another word for grow that seems scary…CHANGE. One of the biggest myths about marriage seems to be that the person who marry will stay frozen in time as that exact person forever. And we know that’s just not true! As we gain life experience, we change our opinions and our feelings. This can cause a lot of confusion and anger when it’s not addressed. Making Marriage Beautiful covers this head-on, and talks about the hard stuff we like to sweep under the rug. We all come into marriage (or any relationship) with a set of pre-existing assumptions. For example, maybe your family ate dinner together every night while your spouse’s family ate separately. And now you get upset when he’s not home for dinner with the family…but that’s just not a priority for him, so he is annoyed that you are upset. Making Marriage Beautiful talks about these types of conflicts, and how we can work through them (because, honestly, we can’t really avoid them) to make our relationships even stronger.
Spoiler Alert: It’s all about communication!
To get your own copy of Making Marriage Beautiful, click here!
SPONSORSHIP DISCLOSURE: This item was provided to me by the publisher, but all ideas and words included in this blog post are my own.
The last few weeks have been short ones around here. We got back to a somewhat normal schedule after the holidays, just to be slammed with more days off of school for the kids than I can count.
Just kidding, I’ve counted. Twice.
Basically with the combination of national holidays and inservice/teacher learning days, we have four-day school weeks from now until mid-February. Which, let’s face it, isn’t ideal. Not only does this make my work schedule difficult, it is hard on the kids as well! It’s almost impossible for any of us to get into a groove when our schedule is all over the place.
When I’m faced with these types of working mom problems, I tend to get extremely over-stressed and anxious. I find myself making lists in my head of everything I won’t be able to do because I won’t have the time. I torture myself by looking at the social media feeds of my competitors and colleagues, seeing all their perfectly lit images and the work they have been doing, and instead of cheering them on, I feel resentful. I worry that I’m falling behind, yet again, and that I’ll never get ahead of the game. I decide that I’m destined to fail, resign myself to my bed with some fuzzy socks, ratty PJs and Netflix. Why bother even trying, right?
WRONG. Because I don’t have to live fast in order to find success, and the whole idea of hustle equating happiness just doesn’t resonate for me anymore. When my kids have a day off school, I enjoy being with them. I like stepping away from the computer and being present as we throw snowballs at each others heads or read books. I don’t feel lazy when I’m in my PJs with them until 11 a.m. I feel happy. Joyful, even!
So why I am I torturing myself? When they were babies and I worked out of the home full time, I felt guilty for missing all these moments. When I started my own business and they were in preschool, I felt guilty because I couldn’t work as much as I wanted to. Now I’m feeling guilty when they have days off elementary school. I keep waiting for the next phase of life, when things slow down, but I’m starting to think that’s NEVER gonna happen. There will always be something pulling me in one direction while another is pushing me the opposite way.
This year I am planning to focus more on being present, but also on listening to my inner self when it comes to my schedule and work. I am finding doubling down on hustle when it comes to work isn’t always resulting in success. Instead, when I focus on doing what feels right in all facets of my life (working, creating, mothering, reading, meditating, eating chocolate, whatever) the success seems to follow. Recently I was fortunate enough to be asked to read the new, beautiful book Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner, which really speaks to this topic. Erin chronicles her journey from a fast life, to a slow life and back again…and her conclusions aren’t what I expected. Instead of being a book about slowing down your life, this book was more about the question of why do we believe we have to have any particular sort of life for it to be a happy one? I related so much to her journey, and it made me think twice about my goals. Do I want a fast life? Do I want to be a minimalist? Do I want to disconnect from the internet and live in a yurt? Do I want to move to New York City and take my kids to school on the subway? Do I want neither? Both?
Do I have to decide?
Maybe we can just be balancing along the middle…sometimes wanting to throw out everything we own because the clutter is strangling us and other times buying a shirt on sale just because it looked cute online. Who knows? But for now, I can only be where I am. And I am a mom of two kids who are growing into grown-ups faster than I can fathom, so if they have a day off school, I’m probably needed on the front lines of the snowball fight. Afterward, when they are sipping on hot cocoa and fighting over marshmallows, I’ll likely sneak away for a little editing session or to answer a few emails. I’m not perfect, but luckily, no one is.