Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Summer Disney Series, Part 6: Eating at Disney World

A bit late, but here it is: the LAST installment of my summer Disney series. Once you're there, you're going to have to eat, right?

This (like pretty much everything Disney) can be an overwhelming topic. I spent much time thinking about how to organize this post (maybe THAT'S why it's a week late!) and have finally settled on the following three part format:

Part 1: a few general dining tips and thoughts
Part 2: personal favorite sit down and quick service restaurants
Part 3: some thoughts on being gluten free at Disney

Part 1: General Dining Thoughts

1. To dining plan or not to dining plan: I've already discussed my deep and abiding love for free dining. If you can get the dining plan for free, do that. If you have to pay for it? Is is worth it? Simply put, I don't know. I've never paid for it. I'd do a lot of math first, looking at menus and thinking about what I was likely to order, before deciding. You can find all the menus with prices at All Ears. And think about whether you'd like to eat off property some or bring in some of your own food. One nice thing about the dining plan is that all your food is paid for in advance. You don't have to spend a lot of time fretting over how expensive the food is while you're on vacation, because you'll have finished fretting about it before you even leave home! On the flip side, having all your food paid for already can kind of cramp your style if you like a less planned out vacation. If the food's paid for, you have to make sure you go eat last minute changes of plans.

2. Make reservations: you can make reservations for table service restaurants SIX MONTHS in advance. This is probably not how you're used to eating out. Now, at most restaurants, most times of year, if you're flexible about days and times, you'll still be able to get in if you don't plan that far in advance (even if you only plan a few days in advance). For the very popular restaurants, though (some character meals, especially) you really do need to make your reservations way ahead of time. Go ahead and book them all when you can; you can always change them around and cancel them later.

Part 2: A Few Favorites

My favorite quick service places in each park:
Animal Kingdom:
Restaurantosaurus: the food here is nothing special, but it's huge and air conditioned, and the decor is cool. There's even a real Winnebago outfitted with booths.

Hollywood Studios:
ABC Commissary: for some reason, we always wind up here even though I'm not a particularly big fan. I think it's because there's not anywhere in HS that I'm a big fan of. And the air conditioning.

Magic Kingdom:
Columbia Harbor House: we all love it here. There's always lots of seating upstairs, the food is good, it's centrally located, the decor hasn't been updated in decades, and they have the gluten free chicken fingers that  my kids adore.

Sunshine Seasons: I know you're supposed to go try exotic food in World Showcase, but I like Sunshine Seasons.

Some favorite table service places:
1. Boma (Animal Kingdom Lodge): Boma is an African-inspired buffet, and it's Dave's favorite restaurant anywhere, not just at Disney World. I like it, too. And you can look at zebras and giraffes while you're waiting for your reservation.

2. 'Ohana (Polynesian): We've had mixed luck at 'Ohana, but when it is good it is very, very good, so we always go back. Lots of meat. Also coconut races and hula lessons for the kids.

3. Via Napoli: We can't eat real pizza any more, but the pizza here is yummy, if you can.

4. Crystal Palace: I'm not as big of a fan of Crystal Palace, but Dave and the kids really like it. Lunch more than breakfast. I find it less overwhelming than some of the character meals.

5. Jiko: expensive, but good. Also, the server here cut the kids' steak up for us! Not having to spend half of our meal cutting steak for children felt very luxurious.

Part 3: Gluten-free at Disney

There is no where in the world you'd rather be eating out gluten free than Disney World. They really do an amazing job. I wrote a very long trip report about our 2011 trip, entitled "Is there Gluten in Whiskey?" in which I discuss the whole thing extensively and write lots of reviews. But, yeah, basically, they make it really easy. You can note on your reservations that you're gluten-free, and the chef will come out to talk to you at most every table service restaurant. At quick service restaurants, a manager will talk to you. And then you will wait a long time for your food, very often. This is the big downside. But! You get BREAD with all your table service meals! And there's even a gluten free bakery, Babycakes, in Downtown Disney.

All done! To recap:

Part 1: When to Go
Part 2: Where to Stay
Part 3: Bringing Baby
Part 4: Big(gish) Families
Part 5: Save some Money

And, finally, our last day. AKA Magic Kingdom day #2.

It was Ari's birthday! He was 12, so he needed Milo to help out with some extra fingers.

One of my favorite Disney things to do is to ride the Peoplemover and take pictures of my kids on it. Lots of pictures. So many pictures.

We ate lunch at Columbia Harbor House, and I had to take a picture of this thing, because Abe has a thing just like it (only smaller) in his nursery:

This is just us waiting for the tram back to our car. But what I like about Gus when he gets a little sun is how clearly you can see that he only has freckles on one side of his face.

Ari selected Buffalo Wild Wings, near our rental house, for his birthday dinner. Shrug. Whatever the birthday boy wants, right?

We tried both nights we were there to see the nighttime parade at Magic Kingdom, and both times it was canceled because it looked like this. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Illustrated Kitchen Wall

Are you ready for this? I'm about to BLOW.YOUR.MIND.

There is this paint that you can buy that turns any surface in  your house into a CHALKBOARD. 

True story.

Okay. I suppose at this point talking about how overdone chalkboard walls are is pretty much as overdone as chalkboard walls themselves.

But what about talking about talking about how overdone chalkboard walls are?!

See? Right? I just blew your mind, didn't I?

So I mentioned wanting to make a chalkboard wall in this awkward little corner of the kitchen back in the plans/goals post at the end of last year:

Maybe now you're all, "hey! you were just talking about wanting to move that refrigerator! So why are you wasting all this time chalkboard walling?! Huh? Why?"  Well. When that happens I think we will keep the lovely chalkboard wall and frame it out somehow. With wood. It will be nice.

I used Rustoleum chalkboard paint. I primed it and then put on five coats (yes! five!) and it still only took around half the quart.

One coat in, it looked like this:

It took a couple of days because each coat was supposed to dry for four hours before recoating. I used a little smooth roller and kept it in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap, between coats:

After the fifth coat, we let it set for 4 days, because this is what Rustoleum told us to do. Then we primed it by covering it with chalk and wiping it off, because this is what all the other blogs told us to do:

Then I referenced art and took pictures:

The kids descended on it immediately:

Within an hour it looked like this:

And within a day it looked like this:

So that's kind of fun. Then yesterday we had a three year old over, so I went to erase everything so he could draw on it, and realized from the kids' (mostly Gus and Ari) angry protests, that they wanted to keep the wall just how it was FOREVER. I felt this was impractical and silly. So we're still negotiating on this point.

Here's what the awkward corner looks like now:

Linking with:
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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Online Rug Shopping for Dummies

For someone who's owned three houses, I'm a pretty inexperienced rug buyer. Our only rug at our last house was in our living room. It was a giant antique dark red oriental rug...all worn down flat and threadbare in some places, and I loved it lots. Then our dog Oliver got really old and started peeing on it, so we finally had to get it of it.

I've been meaning to buy some rugs for this house ever since we moved into it. But I've been utterly paralyzed with indecision. Some rugs are really expensive. And some rugs are really cheap, but that makes one wonder if they are also really crappy. Also there are SO MANY RUGS. Different colors! Different materials! Different patterns! HOW to decide?

Having a baby who is now old enough to sit and play with toys and who is approaching mobility is what finally motivated me to just suck it up and buy a rug already. Babies can't hang out on your cold, hard terra cotta tile!

Here's how it went down. Rugs USA was having a big 4th of July sale (Rugs USA is one of those sites that's always having a big sale, but the biggest ones are to go with holidays, it seems. And they have USA right there in their name, so that's the biggest sale of all! I just made that part up. I have no idea). They had a bunch of rugs at 75% off, so I started looking around. But every rug I liked seemed to be out of stock.

Frustrated, I went over to and started looking there instead. I found the "Hand hooked Alexa Moroccan Trellis Wool Rug" there, 6' x 9', for around $230. The rug looked very familiar, and I'm pretty sure I've looked at it and considered buying it half a dozen times over the past year. I'd been hesitant about a wool rug with all the dogs and cats; I'd thought about getting an indoor/outdoor rug instead.

But I was so tired of looking at rugs. So I ordered this one. In gray, which, according to a lot of the reviews, would actually be more gray blue. So I was prepared. The reviews also said that the rug looked great, was surprisingly thick, and shed a lot for a long time. But, then, so do all of our animals.

For some reason, after ordering my rug, I felt compelled to go back to Rugs USA one more time.

And there I discovered that they had the exact same rug I had just ordered. Only 75% off.  Which made it around $80 cheaper than what I had just paid Overstock for it.

In a panic, I rushed back to Overstock and logged in to my account....and was very relieved to discover that it was not too late to cancel my order. Phew!

The moral of this story is not that you should order from Rugs USA instead of Overstock (I've had good luck with ordering stuff from Overstock in the past and am a big fan). It's that you should comparison shop very carefully. Because you might save $80 if you do.

My rug took forever to get here. Or, like, 2 1/2 weeks, I think. Overstock, it should be noted, had promised to have it here much more quickly. But waiting an extra couple of weeks was worth $80 to me (Abe did not fall over and get a concussion on the hard tile while we waited, or my perspective would probably be different).

That's my only complaint about Rugs USA. I love my rug. I was afraid it was going to be too pattern-y next to the octagonal tile, but it is, IMO, not. It is indeed nice and thick and seems like great quality for the price. It is definitely at least as blue as gray (Rugs USA calls it blue gray). It does shed a lot. I vacuum it every day, and that is not at all overkill. But I don't mind. Because it's so soft and pretty.

Unfortunately, my baby is now perpetually covered with fuzz.

But that's better than a head injury, right?

Let's look at my new rug again (also my baby):

Linking with:
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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Farmhouse Table: Easy, One Month Long Project

That's a joke up there. It shouldn't really take you a month to make a farmhouse table. And, if you are not us, it probably won't!

It's kitchen week here at Boxy Colonial. Or maybe kitchen fortnight. We've got a good bit going on in the kitchen, and I'm going to tell you all about it. Slowly. I'm going to get two whole posts out of this little table. This only makes sense after how long it took us to finish it, right?

This is the general table show off post, with a bit of background information, lots of pictures, and also the stuff about the stain and finish on it. Then Dave will write up the post about the actual table construction with a cut list and all that.

We moved our old kitchen table out to the sunroom awhile back. This was awesome for the sunroom, but left us tableless in the kitchen, which meant that not only was there nowhere to sit or eat in the kitchen, but people kept hitting their heads on the light fixture in there, what with no table to keep them from walking under it. And the light fixture happens to be very pointy.

So Dave decided to make a table (really, we knew for months that Dave was going to make a table. It didn't take getting stabbed in the head by the light fixture to remind us that we needed a kitchen table. I just told the story that way for dramatic effect).

We looked at maybe....783? posts about other people's farmhouse tables, mostly riffs on Ana White plans, and then Dave came up with his version, scaled down for our kitchen. Eventually, I told him to stop trying to get me to help him decide about all the little details involving tools and wood and such, and that he should just surprise me.

And then the table looked like complete crap when he finished.

JUST KIDDING! It looks great! I love it! Dave is such a good decider!

He's going to tell you about all of that we (he) decided on the size and what wood to use and how it went together. I will show you the table. And then I will tell you about the stain. Because that was my part.

My original plan, way back a long time ago, was to just ignore all the light wood in the kitchen and stain the table dark walnut. I didn't want to give it a light stain like the cabinets or the floor; I didn't want to let the cabinets and floor bully me into a finish I didn't like. But then it occurred to me that a grayish finish would work well with all the gray in our granite countertops. And I LIKE gray!

I didn't want straight up gray like we used on our foyer bench, though. I did a lot of reading and found many complicated sounding plans for homemade stain involving rusty nails and tea and eye of newt and hair from a unicorn's tail and all that sort of thing.

And then! Right before I left to hunt unicorns, Katja at Shift Ctrl Art posted about how she made a lovely barnwood colored stain by.....mixing two different colors of stain together! Brilliant! Easy! My kind of custom stain:

See how I snuck in the shot that not only shows off the color, but also the lovely table setting?

My stain is not the same color because I decided to just work with the stains I already had on hand. 

I had a big thing of Cabot gray semi-transparent deck stain that my friend Kristi gave me, and I had my beloved dark walnut. All I did was pour a bunch of the gray stain into a yogurt container then slowly mix in the dark walnut, just a little bit at a time, testing it out on some scrap wood after every addition, until I got it how I wanted it. 

Then I brushed it on to the table (I did the stain back before the table was assembled, to make it a little easier), let it soak in for 20 minutes or so, and wiped it off with a rag. 

After that, we did a gazillion coats of polyurethane. Well. We did two coats on the legs and apron and four or five on the top. We went with the semi-gloss, but now I'm kind of wishing we'd gone with satin. But maybe the gloss will simmer down over time. And, anyway, water beads right up on that thing now! 

So maybe you noticed that there is a motley collection of random chairs around the table right now. Those are not staying. I am slowly collecting the permanent chairs now, and then I will do something FUN with them. And colorful. Because my kitchen is looking pretty monochromatic these days. That one brown windsor chair, with the funny part in the middle? That's the first one I've found for the table. It took about 5 thrift store trips to find the one, and I need six. Sigh.

I have TWO MORE exciting kitchen projects to share soon. And a smaller sunroom post. Also my last Disney post. SO MUCH POSTING!

Linking with:
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Inspiration Monday
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Tuesday's Treasures at My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia
Tutorials and Tips at Home Stories A to Z

Monday, July 22, 2013


Okay, you guys: I have real, honest to goodness HOUSE PROJECTS to post about this week. But not today. Today I'm going to tell you about Fergus.

First, the sad news: a little while ago, we had to say goodbye to our crazy old girl, Lucy. Lucy was nearly 15 and had been going downhill a lot the past few months, so we knew it was just a matter of time....but the house doesn't feel the same without her.

I've always thought that we'd go back to fostering dogs once Lucy was gone (three dogs is my limit. My limit, I tell you! And also Lucy did not have the best doggie social skills in the world, to put it mildly, so fostering with her in the house was a bit anxiety-producing).

Remember how we tried to foster dogs a year ago and made it to dog #2 before we just had to keep one (i.e. The Beagle aka Fiesta)?

I am determined that that won't happen this time!

But my sweet boy, Fergus, is making it pretty tough.

We're fostering this time with the rescue group my mom is a part of, Southeast Cocker Spaniel Rescue. As you can maybe tell from that picture up there, Fergus is not a Cocker Spaniel. Cocker Rescue is branching out! To other kinds of small dogs. My plan is to be the scruffy little terrier arm of Cocker Rescue :).

I fell in love with Fergus at the shelter as soon as I saw him. He's been here with us for a week today, and he is a completely wonderful, easy, laid-back, charming little dog. He's great with the kids, with our other dogs, ignores the cats, loves visitors....I could go on and on about how fabulous he is.

He went up on Petfinder Thursday night, and by Sunday we'd gotten e-mails from six different people who were interested in him. A great family came over to meet him yesterday, and he's going home with them today.

So this was all kind of a whirlwind. Scotties (or Scottie mixes who look very Scottie-esque) with no particular issues are a pretty rare find on Petfinder, it turns out. I'm very glad he's going to his wonderful new home today, because I'm not sure I'd be able to let him go if he stayed here much longer!

Happy new life to Fergus....and on to the next scruffy little terrier!

(I will also consider beagles, corgis, non-scruffy little terriers, and poodles)

There is a wonderful poem I read awhile back, by Peter Davison: "The Passing of Thistle."  (oh! It's about a Scottie; I just realized!) It has a line in it about the dog's darkness, "bringing out the hero in photographers." Yes. Fortunately, Fergus is at least good at being still, which helped.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Middle of the year check in on plans/goals list

Way back in December I posted a list of very, very tentative house related plans and goals for 2013. Now that just over half the year is gone, I thought it might be a good time to check in and see how things have progressed and how our priorities have shifted. 

So here's what I said back then:

1. Finish the nursery AND the master bedroom

Part one of this we totally did! Yay!

More about the nursery here.

The master bedroom is still a work in progress, but we have done quite a bit with it since the beginning of the year. 

We hung up bird pictures:

....and made the top of the dresser pretty:

....and I bought The Most Beautiful Chair In The World:

So it's coming together, but I still have a couple more projects in mind. Should be all finished right in time for Abe to move out into a different room (his nursery's in the other half of our bedroom right now, set off with a curtain room divider) so that we have a whole other half of the room to figure out what to do with!

Really, at this point I'm thinking the curtain will probably stay up for now and we'll make the other half a craft room/office. The room is just too ridiculously long not to divide somehow into two areas.

2. Redo the den

Umm. Nothing's happened in here. And I'm not sure it will. Back in December, I voted this the room most likely to get a complete makeover, but I don't really feel that way anymore. For one thing, we've started using the sunroom as a family room lately, so I don't feel as much urgency to make the den more pleasant. For another thing, how the den comes together is going to depend largely on buying a new couch (and on which couch we buy). This is a pretty major purchase, one which we can't afford right now and also not something I want to rush into. So this may well be pushed back to next year (or whenever). 

3. Finish painting trim and hanging art in Ari's room

Yeah. We kind of went overboard on this. Ari's room wound up getting a complete makeover, including not just the trim and art, but refinishing all his furniture and making him a new headboard. 

More about Ari's room here.

4. Get hardwood floors in (at least) Milo and Gus's room

Hasn't happened. Will it this year? Not looking good. Gus' allergies have been a lot better lately, so that's kind of killed my motivation here. And this is something that's going to cost a good chunk of money even if we install it ourselves, so it may lose out to stuff like new windows and trim in the sun room this year.

5. Vegetable garden

Did it! The entry said something about starting small with "a few" garden beds. We started VERY small, and did one. Also a container herb garden, though. That counts for something, right?

6. Build some furniture

Why, yes! Dave built a bench for our entryway:

....and it's just possible that that project I keep talking about that I'm going to post about next week also involves some furniture building :)

7. Chalkboard Wall in Kitchen

Not yet, but it's still on the list. I even have the chalkboard paint already!

8. Furnish the sunroom, somehow or another

We did this, too! I'm intentionally taking my time with the sunroom and letting it come together organically, but we have furniture in there now, and we use the room all the time. Loving it!

9. Figure out how to help sad porch/deck and make some progress on it

Figure out how to help it? Sort of. We've thought about it, and we have a skeleton of a plan. But we've pretty much decided that professionals are going to have to help us, again. But it's on the list! It's pretty unlikely much will happen with it by the end of 2013, but maybe early 2014, if things go well. I'll talk more about it when I finally do the Big House List for outside.

10. Get rid of carpet in master bath

Not done yet, but this is probably at the top of my list for big DIY projects. I was hoping it would be done this summer, but summer is kind of getting away from us (Dave goes back to school in two weeks!) So probably not that soon. But I would bet on before the end of the year. In fact, I probably should place a bet on it, so that I'll be more motivated to make sure it gets done!

So not too bad! Halfway through the year and we've done half of the list! And as for the rest of the list, we're still on track to do some of it, and some of it has been lost to changing priorities (a possibility I was very open to when I made the list). 

About those shifting priorities? What did they shift TO? Well, the biggest thing on my list right now that I didn't put on that list is dealing with the sunroom windows. Some of them need to be replaced altogether; and a lot of the exterior trim around them is rotted and needs to be replaced. We're collecting estimates and looking into this now. It's not a particularly exciting job, but, sadly, it must be done. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Abe is Six Months Old!

In impossible to believe news, Abe is already six months old. Just a few months ago, he looked like this:

Now he sits up all the time, he has TWO TEETH (which I did not manage to get a picture of today), and he's busting out of that white t-shirt he's been wearing since his newborn pictures. In fact, we seem to have lost a button somewhere along the way. Next month we may have to leave the t-shirt behind. We also have lots of babbling going on, along with hearty baby chuckling at hilarious stuff like peek-a-boo. We celebrated his six month birthday with his first real attempt at eating solid food, and that event (which he seemed to have mixed feelings about, but he gave it a good try, at least) is well documented here.

He's still sleeping beautifully at night, still sleeping irregularly during the day. It's amazing how much more interactive he is now than a month ago. He suddenly finds the dogs and cats hilarious. He is suspicious of strangers. This is the first month he's been all, "whoa! check out this awesome stuffed seal!" during his photo session :).

Also, it was finally a sunny 17th! So I had a lot more focused pictures to choose from. And that plus the milestoneyness of turning six months means there are lots of pictures this month. Lots. Here you go!

....and it was Milo's turn for photos this month. Milo was not so excited about this. So we have a lot of very serious pictures and a couple of trying desperately not to smile pictures: