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Gin Schaffer is a former higher education administrator and works part-time at MWHC's Regional Cancer Center as the Coordinator of Integrative Medicine. She lives in downtown Fredericksburg and enjoys walking and biking with her husband and 2 kids (especially if coffee is involved).



Pillow Talk

A Head Full of Dreams

As parents, we often ponder our kids' readiness to try new experiences. Of course, what is often behind this classic brain-wracking process is that we, the anxious parents, aren't ready for our kids to step out and try new things. In one moment, we dream about them going to college to become doctors and lawyers, but also want them right back in that carseat, eating Cheerios, and learning to talk. It's hard living in our past, present, and future dreams, isn't it?

Something we joke about in our house is that Steve is the Reading Teacher and I'm the Music Teacher. It's not that I don't appreciate or value reading, Steve's just so much better at it than I am! I grew up in a musical family and enjoy exploring music and playing instruments with the kids. Over the past year, I noticed that Jack was really interested in the band Coldplay (I think this was helped along by his cousin, Eli (age 15) and the fact that the band was selected as this year's Super Bowl half-time band). What struck me was that he was developing an interest in wanting to know more about bands, instruments, and behind-the-scenes kinds of things. So, when I heard that Coldplay announced their current album, "A Head Full of Dreams" would be their last album and that they would be touring, I thought, well, we really should see that...we need to see that. Jack's ready for that, right?

I had not said anything to Jack about this concert because, again, I was wracking my brain about it all and I didn't want to set him up for disappointment (looking back, I find that funny because I know I should work on not shielding him from disappointment). When the tour dates were released (brilliantly timed for tax refund season) it turned out the nearest concert was in Philadelphia. I was bummed they weren't coming to the DC area, partly because I was concerned about my ability to make that kind of drive by myself given my health. After various conversations with my mom and sister, we came up with a plan and four of us (Jack, Eli, my sister, and I) headed to Philadelphia for the show on Saturday, August 6th.

I didn't know what kind of time we would have for sightseeing before the show on Saturday or on Sunday morning, so I picked the centrally located Doubletree - Philadelphia Center City. We were able to take a quick walk to City Hall and the famous Love sign on Sunday morning, it's pretty clear that Jack wants to return for a historical visit to Philly; his love for the Broadway hit, Hamilton is pretty crazy.

We had a little time before the concert started and stumbled onto a fantastic Italian restaurant, Little Nonna's - reservations definitely recommended, we just got lucky. This is the kind of place where you can all eat off of one plate of spaghetti and meatballs. WOW! The metro, SEPTA station was right there at our hotel and so we took a train straight down to Lincoln Financial Field for $3.60 round trip (tokens).

      

If you're not familiar with Coldplay's music, you will discover, like many musical acts, some people love them, some people hate them. As Jack and Anna's mom, I love that they love them. And, I can't argue with a band that has my kids singing:

"leave your broken windows open and in the light just streams, and you get a head, a head full of dreams, you can see the change you wanted, be want you want to be"

     

The stands at Lincoln Financial Field were filled with plenty of kids and teenagers. Alessia Cara opened for the band and every time she spoke to the crowd, she emphasized a message of being true to yourself and loving yourself for who you are. I sincerely appreciated her performance. The energy that Coldplay brings to a stadium of thousands is beyond remarkable - it's impossible not to feel good in those moments. I loved seeing how focused Jack was at different moments of the concert - like watching the wheels in motion in that mind of his. My hope is that this concert will be a lasting, memorable experience for both Eli and Jack and that those heads of theirs get chock full of dreams.

 

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Raffi has a New Record!

I am the first to admit that I am incredibly challenged when it comes to technology - the fact that I am able to use the program required to post this blog is pretty amazing. I have a smartphone, but I often hand it over to Steve because something isn't working and he is shocked at how little I use the programs that are on it. Apparently, I am not harnessing the powers of this handy little machine!

So, in an effort to try and embrace my phone's abilities, I recently agreed to join Steve's Google Play Music Family Plan. Just in case you are in the market for choosing a service, I consulted Steve about what other services people are using: Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Red, and Pandora

I guess I resisted joining the plan because I didn't exactly understand what it was; I didn't believe him when he told me (over and over again) that I could listen to any music I wanted at any time, anywhere. I was satisfied with the radio in the car and using Music Choice on our television; I guess I didn't mind the randomness of what music played. I also think I had some weird notion that if I agreed to Steve's plan, that would mean I'd finally have to deal with the piles of CDs that I haven't listened to in years. I've learned while writing this blog post that actually, according to Steve, that's exactly what it means! It's hard to part with things that bring up emotions, but I wonder if I'm as attached to that U2 album as I think I am.

If you are in the same boat as I am with old CDs, check out the service Decluttr to purge your collection. If you have a lot of CDs, it is labor intensive, but definitely worth it. I like that I'm having to take a hard look at each CD to really decide if I truly need it. It's also been a good process for me to confirm for myself that I can, in fact, bring the songs of my past back at any moment, anywhere!

The other night, I was finally convinced of the benefit of my Google Play Music. Anna and I were reading books - I was happy when she brought me one of my favorites, Baby Beluga by Raffi. I have fond memories reading and singing this story to the many children I took care of over the years, so I love that I now read it to my own children. After I read the story to Anna, I asked her if she wanted me to sing it to her. She agreed, so I sang, and then she asked me to find the song on my phone. I didn't say anything out loud, but I was skeptical that it would be on the service - a children's song from 1980, really? I was pleasantly surprised to find the whole album (we had so much fun listening to the songs) and then, there was a link to Raffi's website with the news that he has a new album out, Owl Singalong. How fun to discover even more songs!

Anna and I had a great time singing and dancing, an activity that I think will be enriched by my newfound music service. I feel like a kid in a candy store and look forward to exploring all kinds of music. Of course, I wish I had started using the service sooner, but I (my confidence) wasn't ready. And, I thank Steve for being patient with me, watching me come to my own realization when I was ready to try something new. Watch out! Who knows what other apps I'll start using!?!

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DIY Camp with Fredericksburg Parks & Rec

As we entered the summer, I wrote about my decision to be Camp Counselor for my kids (take a peek at the past blog). Between the heat, my health, and the moving chess pieces that are our schedules, it hasn't been easy fulfilling this role. However, I have had fun trying - even when it's clear the kids would much rather be laying around half-naked, playing video games and not be my little campers.

I decided to dive in by trying to visit the wonderful parks and trails of our city. We recently had guests in from Boston and it was obvious they were impressed when I told them we had 21 parks. I found myself continously pointing them out - almost like Oprah saying, "you get a park, you get a park, you get a park!"

The various maps and guides that the Parks & Rec office provide are great. I kept them by the front door as my visual to help me come up with a game plan as to which parks to visit that day based on the other errands and appointments we had scheduled for the day. Something I've yet to plan well for, still, is that the Motts Run Nature Center is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I will get this one checked off - even if it's the Sunday before school starts!

When we get ready to head out, I give the kids the responsibility to carry their water bottles, journals, and their Wegmans passports. I think this helped signify we were in "camp" mode and the passports focused them on an activity. The passports have them go to different trails, collect "rubbings" from different trail markers, and when they complete the passport, they will receive a goodie bag at Wegmans. I also came up with my own fun little activities like counting the dogs at the dog park, or you know, having them pick out activities for next year at the Dorothy Hart Community Center! 

     

Our very first park was Alum Spring Park. When we moved to Fredericksburg, we lived near there and I know the kids love it; plus it's been a popular field trip spot for them in the past. This was my way of easing them into the idea that we will be visiting all 21 paths, parks, and trails. At first, they only wanted to play on the playground, but they warmed up to the adventure of finding this mystery trail marker for their passport...which, of course, we never found! But, we will return to try again (with Steve, who has a much better sense of direction than I do, so I've decided this is how his time will be spent as Co-Camp Counselor).

I think the search for "treasure" in these trail markers or exploring parks they haven't been to as much has generally kept the kids interested in this mini-camp concept. Of course, they have had their mornings where they weren't thrilled with going outside. One morning, it was clear that any kind of participation was going to be difficult, so I just drove to the spot I had selected (City Dock) and said, "Here's your camp, deal with it." Not my finest hour, but I felt that I needed them to see that we were going to see our camp project through. When mornings proved difficult, Steve helped by rallying the kids for an afternoon outing. I have been on a long road to recovery health-wise and it was nice to see the kids be so proud of me for climbing over tree limbs to cross water at Old Mill Park - it's fun surprising your kids with what you can do!

        

The cover of the Wegmans passport says, "Passport to family wellness" and I've realized that this is what's at the heart of our DIY camp. And really, what we've been doing goes beyond this summer. Engaging with our parks builds the foundation for our kids to take charge of their overall health as well as appreciate nature. Just when I was having a moment of thinking Jack and Anna really weren't appreciating these visits to the parks, they proved me wrong - like kids often do.

As an aside, when we go to the library, the last thing we do is look at the cookbooks and the kids always pick out a cookbook for me. I noticed their recent choice was about using Farmer's Market finds.  I think we might just make it to Wegmans for that goodie bag yet.

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For the Love of Peaches

Right before we moved into our new house last year, we were fortunate to get a walk through with the previous owners. They were very sweet and showed us all the quirky way things worked in the old house and it was clear how special they felt about the yard and the different plants and trees they had tended over the years. In particular, there was a little peach tree in the front yard that the couple really loved. When they pointed the tree out to us, I think Steve and I had a little moment of cringing because our track record with fruit trees has not been good and sadly, we have been given fruit trees as memorials to family members who had died, so that lack of success was a bit of a sore subject. Looking back, I hate to think we may have rolled our eyes at that tree, in front of that sweet couple!

We officially moved in mid-June 2015, right around the time school ended and then everything halted when Steve's brother passed away unexpectedly. Not surprisingly, we really didn't pay attention to anything in or around the house until around the July 4th holiday. Well, by then, whatever that little peach tree had on its branches had fallen to the ground. In our minds, the tree had given us a mushy mess, not a bountiful harvest. Plus, we had squirrels and bees take up residence in our front yard so they could feast on the carnage. The tree was a nuisance and it was an odd source of agitation between Steve and me - neither one of us wanted to deal with the clean-up, but of course, the threat of the blame-game would be quick to commence if anyone, especially the kids, got stung by a bee. I think at one point Steve just wanted to get rid of the tree to which I'm fairly certain I called him a "tree-killer."

When we calmed down, we realized we needed to give ourselves a chance to actually live in the house and just pay attention to the tree the next summer. I know that while we realized this we were still harboring some anger and resentment toward the tree, almost hoping it wouldn't produce; it's ridiculous what our emotions can lash out on!

Fast forward to late spring 2016 and we had just gotten through that 17-day rainfest (remember that?!); I thought for sure we were sunk with the peach tree. It looked it me as if the seed pods were just dropping off the tree left and right. We weren't completely being negative about it, but we were reflecting on the previous year and anxious to see what would happen. As the school year came to a close, we were busy attending end of year parties and recitals, then we left town for 2 weeks. So, we decided we would make a decision about what to do when we came home.

We returned home to a great surprise! Peaches were everywhere and they were still on the tree! No mush, no bees - however, the squirrels were starting to show up to feast on the fruit. We knew we had to harvest those sweet little things fast. I have to give credit to Steve for making it a family affair.

 

          

The peaches just kept coming. There were some up so high that once we finished getting all that we could, Steve started to shake the tree. It was raining peaches. We just couldn't believe it! Our faith in the fruit tree had been restored. And I think we felt a sense of relief too.

Then, we all looked at each other and said, "What do we do now?"  We started out by giving a pound or two to neighbors which was a lovely topic of conversation and fun way to share summertime stories and recipes with each other.  I loved that these peaches traveled with neighbors headed out for vacation, that they were served with breakfast to start the day for campers and swimmers, and that they brought joy to our avid gardeners in the neighborhood.

Even with giving out all those peaches, eating them, and making classic desserts like a peach crisp - with Carl's Ice Cream, we still had so much left. I estimate that roughly 50 pounds came off that tree. I decided to give Georgia at Tart Cart a call to see if she could use them. I was happy to hear her elation to receive them and so, I dropped off 10 pounds for her to use for the Farmer's Market. She made the sweetest little peaches and cream tarts with our peaches.  When asked by market-goers, "How local are the peaches?"  She simply pointed down the hill and said, "Mortimer Avenue."  How great is that?

     

What a difference a year makes, right? Who would have thought that this little peach tree could teach us something? Patience is truly a virtue. Sometimes you just need time to see things differently. Our ability to see the positives in owning this tree allowed us to share and connect with others in the neighboorhood and greater Fredericksburg community. I hope the simple pleasures in life give you moments of reflection too. Here's to Harvest 2017!

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Our Nine Lives at Disney: Lessons Learned

Whenever my mother, sister, and I travel, we usually start planning our next vacation while we're still on the current one. I think it's our way of coping that our time together is coming to an end and so we reflect on our trips together and come up with new adventures.

Without a doubt, our most special vacations have been when we've come to Disney to celebrate my mom's birthday as well as each grandchild's 5th birthday. A total of 4 trips since 2006 for this Goofy crew; see what I did there? We have used our trips to Orlando to also visit Sea World, Universal Studios, and Legoland. During this, our final birthday trip to Walt Disney World, I asked our troop of nine "Cast Members" what they thought about our Disney adventures and what advice they had.

Sara Ann, my mother is a well-traveled woman and enjoys all that life has to offer.  I like creating travel itineraries with her and I know her main concern is that we plan meals in a way that doesn't lead to wasting money or food. She recommends trying to get a room or suite with a kitchenette so you can maximize making your own breakfast, reheating leftovers, etc. We like starting the day by eating breakfast in our room and revieiwing our plans for the day, not feeling rushed at a restaurant. The immediacy of the coffee was quite helpful to the adults too.  Definitely research the Disney Dining meal plans as they might work for you.  We have just had too varied itineraries during our trips to Walt Disney World (WDW) that none of them made sense for us, but if you are staying at a WDW property and focusing on exclusively going to the Disney parks, it's worth a look.

Mary Susan, my sister is a terrific organizer and planner and uses every amenity that is afforded to her. She's the one who reads the manual upon every purchase and recommends doing the same on vacation; know the details on where you are staying and all that they have to offer. For example, at our stay at Disney's Boardwalk, she found the "hidden" pool that no one was using and had a glorious time.  Mary (and really, all of us) recommends staying at a WDW resort; your access to the parks and other resources such as concierge services increase the overall value of your money spent and well, just makes things easier. Specifically, staying at a WDW resort affords you access to the transportation system throughout the entire WDW (shuttles, monorail, and ferries). However, my sister's long-standing joke is that Disney's Magical Express is neither magical nor express. So...

Allow for extra time, allow for extra, extra patience.

Andy, my brother-in-law is a foodie and a wine lover. There are many great restaurants to explore at WDW - we focused on Epcot during this trip. Absolutely make all the dining reservations you are able (usually 180 days before the first day of your reservation). This is especially true when you have a large party and when any dining includes meeting characters. Our time with the princesses at the Royal Akershus Banquet Hall was so much fun. You start with a lovely Norwegian appetizer buffet and then have your dinner while characters visit your table; a dessert platter is brought while your children go through the banquet hall for a parade with the princesses. We were smiling and laughing the whole time.

Steve, my partner in crime who loves the technology side of things will tell you A) Get a Magic Band. Wear Your Magic Band. A constant conversation had among us was, "But, I'm going to the pool. Wear your Magic Band. But, I'm going to bed. Wear your Magic Band..." The Magic Bands are pretty brilliant, a customized key entry and pay system all right there on your wrist. and B) Download the My Disney Experience app and have it ready at all times because knowing what the wait times are for rides will make you the smartest person, like ever, to your kids.

Charged Cell Phones, Sunblock (under clothes too) and Water are your friends. Use them early, use them often!

The kids, Eli (15), Sara (12), Jack (8), and Anna (5) - Like a chorus, in unison, FAST PASSES!  I have to tell you that I find the whole fast pass procedure incredibly confusing, but using them is an absolute must. We avoided a 120+ minute wait at the new "Frozen Ever After" ride at Epcot because of these magical time machines linked to our, you guessed it, Magic Bands! You have to prioritize which rides are really important to you and use your passes wisely.  Eli, along with Steve, was great at strategizing what rides we could do while we waited for our Fast Pass time slot (each slot is a one-hour timeframe).  Of course, there was whining and complaining. I think a key phrase we used was, "Disney is about making tough choices, kid."  

I think Jack thought this ride was neither magical nor on a carpet.

Yours truly - planning and organizing my "Cast Members" is both tiring and gratifying. I know we are blessed to spend this time together, but I can get a little crazy trying to make sure everyone has a good time. I tried to focus on what I knew my mom and Anna, who turned 5 this year, would enjoy for their birthdays and planned accordingly. Being flexible and making changes as new information becomes available is key when visiting Disney. Granted, the flexibility part is especially tough if you have children who don't handle a change to the itinerary well, but this is where communication and using them as helpers with the map, the app, the overpriced water mister/fan thingy, helps.

If you are heading to Disney in the near future, I hope my two blog posts on the House of Mickey have been helpful to you. If you'd like a personal travel planning consultation, all you need to do is meet me where iced coffee is served.

 

 

 

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