Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Week 24: Stubborn Baby

Yesterday was our second attempt at the anatomy scan and all is well, but Baby H is still evading the paparazzi, as she has at the last 3 ultrasounds. I joke that being a happy and highly allergic person, I laugh and sneeze all day, and it has turned her into the most unflappable baby ever. No amount of poking from the ultrasound tech gets her to shift position. Like Calvin on picture day, we have a long strip of blurry photos, but managed to get one halfway decent one. From all other angles you can see that she is rolled up in a ball like a pillbug with her arms in front of her face.

Francis thinks that 3D ultrasounds look like the baby is sculpted from mashed potatoes, and I tend to agree that they look pretty weird. Go figure, though, when it's your own baby they look amazing and perfect and not at all like mashed potatoes. I kept pulling this picture up all day yesterday. She looks just like us! MAGIC! Can you believe she is only about 1lb 9oz right now? Week 24 is when they can survive outside the womb with medical intervention, so basically she's just growing for the next 16 weeks or so.

I've had a lot of people ask me for updates, and here I am at week 24 feeling like this is all I have to offer. I have no complaints, which is what I feel people (especially moms) expect when they ask how you feel. Other than the occasional bout of insomnia (which could be managed 9 out of 10 times by putting my smartphone away an hour before bed), a little reflux (which could be managed by a walk after dinner), and a little joint stiffness (which could be managed with more swimming if I would just buy a new swimsuit), I've had a blessedly easy time thus far. Of course, that is due in no small part to starting my own business and being able to nap when I need to, exercise when I want to, and work wherever I please. I highly recommend it!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Fancy Fireworks and Evening Shows at Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World just announced that the new Wishes Fireworks Dessert Party reservations open today, and that got me flashing back to our AWESOME trip last year, where we made every evening a VIP experience, for Science. I mean, for the sake of making recommendations as a travel agent. I am not a fan of wasting time staking out a good spot for evening shows. I prefer to have someone "save me a seat", so to speak, so here are some of my favorite ways to do that!

For viewing Wishes at Magic Kingdom Park:
1. My ALL TIME FAVORITE is the Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage. Start with a snack buffet and meet & greet with Captain Hook and Smee at the Contemporary, and then set sail on the Seven Seas Lagoon with Patch the Pirate. It is, hands down, the most I have ever laughed at WDW.

2. If you get a late reservation at Ohana at the Polynesian, they dim the lights and play the soundtrack for Wishes in the restaurant. Your best view of the fireworks is at a window table, of course, but we could still see from table in the middle of the restaurant. We discovered this on the first night of our honeymoon, and it was a magical surprise!

3. NEW! The aforementioned Wishes Fireworks Dessert Party, the new and improved version of the Tomorrowland Terrance Dessert Party, which begins July 5 (reservations open today). This really is one of the best views of Wishes, and they will not even let you hover in this area if you don't have a dessert party ticket.

For Viewing Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios:
Hollywood Studios has 3 options for Fantasmic VIP Dining, and once you go VIP, you will never go back. The Fantasmic arena is ENORMOUS, accommodating nearly 10,000 people, and the VIP section is so spacious and convenient. We walked right down to the second row (prepare to get wet) and I think I will need VIP seating on all future visits.

Dining is prix fix (appetizer, entree, dessert, non-alcoholic beverage) or buffet at one of the following three restaurants:
Hollywood Brown Derby - My personal favorite. The service, food, and atmosphere are top notch. Children are allowed, of course, but this in the "Fine/Signature Dining" category and is a great "date" restaurant.

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano - A more family-friendly, cute & casual option with delicious Italian food & wines. This is on my list for our next visit!

Hollywood & Vine - Your basic buffet with salad, pasta, and carving station, with kid friendly options like chicken nuggets and mac & cheese. And, of course, a chocolate fountain!

For Viewing Illuminations: Reflections of Earth at Epcot:
With 11 countries in the World Showcase and more than 30 restaurants, you have many, many options for Illuminations. Here is one super popular, one dessert party, and one secret gem:

Rose & Crown Pub - This is far and away the most popular (and the best) option for viewing Illuminations, and even when I am there at slow times of year, the wait is crazy. If you want to cross this off your WDW bucket list, here is the pro tip from Disney Food Blog (the best site for Disney Foodies):

"While Rose and Crown cannot guarantee their ability to grant requests for patio tables, hopefuls begin crowding the podium before 7:00PM each night, willing to wait as long as it takes. The line of patrons waiting to check in can stretch all the way to Tudor Lane. As a result, Rose and Crown has instituted a policy (in my experience) that those checking in at the podium may wait only one hour for a table request; after an hour, they must take the table offered, or choose not to dine at Rose and Crown."

IllumiNations Sparkling Dessert Party - Click the link for the menu of desserts and wines from around the world! Like the Wishes Dessert Party, this VIP area is the best possible view of the show.

Tokyo Dining - This is a great indoor viewing option that is similar to the Ohana experience, for when you don't want to arm wrestle for a patio table at Rose & Crown or the other waterside restaurants. We made a late reservation, arrived early, and requested a window. I believe we were seated at our original reservation time, and got a window table! Bonus: This is one of the few places to get sushi at WDW. It's not a huge or adventurous menu, but it's good.

COMING IN 2016! Rivers of Light at Animal Kingdom Park:
Animal Kingdom is undergoing expansion right now, and their first evening show ever, Rivers of Light, is expected to open in the spring next year. It will be on Discovery River, near Expedition Everest and will have viewing areas both sides of the water. Here's a look at the concept art Disney released last year:

What is your favorite evening show viewing experience at Walt Disney World?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Books and Adventures and Tea Parties, Oh My!

Back in 2010 when Francis was in Iraq, before we were even dating, before he had really even considered having children, he would often talk about how brilliant and beautiful our hypothetical future children would be. This usually came up when it was late at night in Iraq, but for me it was the middle of the afternoon, which I think made it all the more endearing. This is probably how he managed to convince me that daughters are the way to go, even though I'd spent most of my life thinking I would have boys. 

Good thing, too, because a daughter is what we get! Last week I left the house with the intention of driving to Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, MO, which is just shy of 200 miles from my house. That proved to be a bit ambitious for a pregnant woman who needs to stop every 30 minutes, whether by choice or necessity, and I ended up only going as far as Old Towne Antique  Mall in Doolittle. I still spent the whole day on the road and in antique malls, and I was constantly reminded of all the ways I subconsciously wanted a daughter all along.

1. Little House on the Prairie - You know I am a dedicated fan if I was just planning a solo day trip to the place where the books were written, just to buy a copy of Pioneer Girl and check out the museum renovations I heard about before I left my construction job. I read at least one of these books every year and have been doing so since I was young. Of course, I do feel like the reasons I love them - learning about the past, the challenges of growing up in a much stricter time, farm life, seeing family dynamics in new ways as I get older, etc - have no gender,  but in the end they are books about sisters and appeal to girls more than boys. I am pretty excited at the prospect of someday showing my 8-10 year old daughter that Pa's fiddle is only 195 miles from our house.

2. Mary Poppins - Yes, of course, I am a fan of Disney and so I am also a fan of the movie, but the books are so much more complex. I truly wish Walt hadn't been so antagonistic with PL Travers, because there are so many more Mary Poppins stories I would have loved to see on the big screen! My mom introduced me to them when I was probably about 9, and they are another series I have read again and again. Francis read the first book last year and enjoyed it, but not on the same level as a girl child, obviously. He bought me the smaller umbrella for my birthday last year, because he couldn't find and adult-size one, and then we found the adult-size one at Marketplace Co-Op last year. Oh, look at that. Now we have a mother-daughter set!

3. This princess ballerina piggy bank. I bought it on clearance at Target at least 4 years ago, thinking I would give it to some friend's daughter eventually. It stayed on a bookshelf in my house instead, and I think secretly, I wanted it to stay.

4. American Girl dolls - I cannot tell you how many friends with sons (also, my mom) have mentioned this like I'm doomed. Not me! wanted a Samantha doll in 1986, and it was like a sign that they brought her back last year. I went to the store by myself last year just to see it. I will happily take my daughter to tea parties and doll hair salon appointments. 

5. Lusterware Tea Sets - I do not actually own this, yet, but I will be purchasing the next set I see. I've just been waiting for an excuse.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Refinishing Tiny Chairs for a New Tiny Horton

I've been in the Military for over fifteen years at this point. As any old Soldier can tell you, that much time in the service can see you accidentally stockpiling a lot of old equipment and uniforms you don't need, but can't seem to throw away.

Beth and I found these tiny old chairs at St. Mary's Antique Mall, and decided to pick them up and maybe do a little rehabilitation.

The Army changed uniforms around 2005. I joined in 2000, so I had a bunch of the old green mottled uniforms laying around. I unstitched a pair of pants and cut them into strips. [Note from Beth: I was trying to think of a way to redo the seats for free, since the price we paid for the chairs was a bit more than a "bargain". I thought of denim first, but as it happened, we had just taken 2 garbage bags worth of old pants to Goodwill.]

Hector being a good helper
 As you can see in the first photo, the seat was made by burlap woven back and forth. We figured that would be good enough for the new seats.

The weaving was fairly easy. First, I tied the lateral one inch strips in and put the knots on the bottom. Then just weaved in the cross strips and tied them on. For one chair I tied them at the bottom with the lateral strips, and the other I tied them at the back of the chair. Both gave pretty much the same results: A chair to sit on.

I'm really happy with the results. If I did it again, I'd refinish the chair frame first, but since this will be for a kid, I expect it's going to get pretty banged up over the course of the years!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Pyramid Schemes, Direct Sales, and Empowering Women

Annie Malone, direct sales pioneer and personal hero of mine

Yesterday I skimmed a clickbait listicle about how all direct sales is a pyramid scheme where no one makes any money, and it has been bugging me ever since. I don't want to give them the satisfaction of a link or a Facebook comment, but there are a few things I just have to say.

First of all, let's get this notion of pyramid scheme out of the way. A pyramid scheme IS an scam. There is no product being exchanged, or if there is, it's a minor amount relative to the startup costs and focus on recruiting. It is true that in a pyramid scheme, no one is making any serious money without signing up more people, because the actual money to sign up is distributed up the pyramid. Pyramid schemes are illegal in many countries, including the United States.

Direct sales companies use independent consultants to sell products directly to the consumer, instead of using retail stores. You can't buy Tupperware at Target. You can't buy Usborne books at Barnes and Noble. You can't buy Paparazzi at the mall. They don't spend a lot of money on advertising, because they rely on the consultants for that,  so instead they reward customers and party hosts with free products and monthly sales. That's really all there is to it. There's no trick.

Why do people sign up to be direct sales independent consultants? In most cases, it's just to make a little extra money sharing a product that they love with their friends and family. If you read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, you know there are three kinds of people who make something go viral: Connectors, Mavens, and Salespeople. Direct sales people usually start out as Mavens - people who like to connect people with information. They really like to tell you about the things they have discovered, and it's extra exciting for them to find out that they can get paid for their opinion.

Direct sales companies that use multilevel marketing (MLM) or network marketing rely on these Connectors, Mavens, and Salespeople to build the company, which is where this issue of recruiting and pyramid scheme confusion comes in. I am a Team Leader for Jewelscent, and this is my full time job.  My typical week involves at least two conference calls, a lot of spreadsheets, coming up with contests and games to reward my team, being available most of the day to answer questions, and managing and growing my own business. I am not just sitting back with a cocktail on the beach watching commissions roll in, which is what people seem to think is going on when they say "You can't make any money at this if you don't recruit." In actuality, you're not going to make a lot of money at this if you don't WORK.

So why does this make me so mad? Because while there are plenty of savvy men involved in direct sales companies, more than two-thirds of the 15.6 million direct sales consultants in this country are women (source). Why? Because we have abysmal maternity leave in this country compared to other first world nations, and pardon us women if we don't want to punch a clock 40 hours a week just to hand our paycheck over to day care. And also because the average household only need $200-300 extra a month to avoid bankruptcy, and $2400 is about average annual income for most people doing direct sales part  time (source). Direct sales gives us an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to our households on a flexible schedule.

I joke all the time that direct sales is like a crazy underground market of women making money only to spend it on something another woman is selling. There's truth to this, though. I know that when I buy something from a direct sales consultant, I'm helping a mom stay home with her kids, a family take a vacation to Walt Disney World, or a student pay for a master's degree. I have switched many of the brands I buy from faceless corporations to one where I know that my personal interaction may inspire that woman to take her business to the next level.

Are there companies out there selling inferior products or making bogus claims? Of course, and all you have to do is listen to commercial radio to hear about plenty of non-MLM companies who are also selling crap. I'm happy to talk to you about them if you're looking to vet a company. But when you say that ALL direct sales is a scam or a scheme or that it's impossible to make a living at it, what I hear is that you think women are stupid and gullible and don't even know when they are losing money. If you don't need the products, you don't have to buy them. Just don't contribute to the myth of the pyramid scheme,