Packing Tips for Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World Packing Tips and ListEarlier this year we took our first family trip Walt Disney World in Orlando. We planned this trip rather last minute, as our original plan of going over the summer changed since we’re expecting our third baby in July. One last trip as a family of four!

Normally I do lots of research before taking on a trip, probably too much research! Since there were only a few weeks between booking the trip and packing our bags, I spent less time researching but still think I did well preparing for our family trip to Disney World. I mainly focused on what to pack for the family and decided the rest I’d figure out once we arrived!

We stayed at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort and relied on the Disney transportation system to get between the parks and hotel. This made transportation easy, but it also meant there were not opportunities to swing by stores to pick up last minute items. I also did not want to spend a small fortune buying necessary items in hotel or park gift shops, so a good packing plan was key.

In addition to all of our regular clothes, shoes and toiletries, here are some of the extra items I packed for our Walk Disney World trip that were useful:

  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellant
  • Wet wipes and hand sanitizer
  • Hats
  • Sunglasses
  • Ziplock bags, various sizes – perfect for the $7 Mickey Mouse cookie your kid wanted and had one bite – save it for later!
  • Snacks – because kids always want snacks! Next time I’d throw in some breakfast bars as it could take a while from the time we got up until we arrived somewhere for breakfast.
  • Water bottles for kids – we’re big fans of these Nalgene water bottles, they go everywhere with us.
  • Rain ponchos (kids and adult sizes) – these are lightweight enough to thrown in your backpack everyday.
  • Compact umbrella – so you are prepared for an afternoon Orlando rain shower.
  • Flashlight – I always bring a small flashlight to a hotel.
  • Portable cell phone charger – I have this one and it’s perfect for charging on the go, especially when you burn battery taking so many photos and videos.
  • Band-aids, gauze, paper tape, moleskin, antibiotic ointment – someone always gets a scrape or blister (usually me!).
  • Small blankets – perfect for the kids in their strollers when it cooled down in the evening; great for the plane too
  • Lightweight sweater and/or windbreaker.
  • Notebook/autograph book and markers – so the kids can get character autographs! On the plane or during long waits, I also had the kids draw pictures in their books about the trip, it kept them busy.

Most of the items on the list above my husband or I carried in our backpacks each day. Since we had strollers, we could also stash sweaters and blankets in them to save room in our backpacks. We had a change of clothes in a plastic bag for each child in the stroller – and used them!

Are you planning a trip to Walt Disney World, or are you a Disney packing pro? Share some of the items on your packing list.

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Keeping Track of Important Family Documents

Family Safe Deposit Box

At some point my husband and I decided we needed a safe deposit box. While we have a nearly paperless method for organizing documents at home, it seemed like a good idea to keep a few things secure and away from the house.

Great idea, right? Only if you can remember what’s actually in your safe deposit box! Save yourself an extra drive to the bank and keep track of what’s in there with my Safe Deposit Box Inventory spreadsheet. Download and customize it for your family.

Here are a few things experts recommend you keep in a safe deposit box:

  • Insurance policies
  • Deed to your home
  • Car titles
  • Marriage license
  • Birth certificates
  • Social security cards
  • Stock certificates and paper bonds
  • Outdated passports, licenses and other forms of ID
  • Treasured family photos, heirlooms, jewelry

We have electronic versions of the documents in our safe deposit box, but if we ever need the actual hard copy we head to the bank. Keep in mind, you won’t have 24/7 access to these documents – so experts don’t recommend keeping anything in there you may need in an emergency.

What are some ways you keep track of important family documents?

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Planting our First Fall Vegetable Garden

Chances are you’ve heard of the urban gardening trend – I’m not sure it’s even a trend anymore, just another activity people in urban areas do. A few years ago we decided to give vegetable gardening a try. It started one spring with a few tomato varieties and several herbs in a single raised bed. Now it’s grown to two raised beds and we just planted our first fall vegetable garden.

Isabelle and Emma planting like pros.

Isabelle and Emma planting like pros.

One of the things I enjoy most about our backyard garden is watching the kids tend to it. They jump at any chance to dig with their tiny shovels, pick out plants at the local nursery and harvest the herbs and veggies. The entire process is a learning experience for them – from finding worms in the soil to making sure plants are the right number of inches apart; they are soaking it all in. I love that they come in the backdoor with great excitement ready to snack on veggies!

Snack time! Tomatoes and peppers fresh from the garden.

Snack time! Tomatoes and peppers fresh from the garden.

Fruit and vegetable gardening is quite common in our neighborhood, as are backyard chickens – people find it hard to believe since we live just a few miles from downtown Dallas. Some of our neighbors have amazing gardens with plentiful harvests – I have garden envy! We do have a huge pecan tree that produces an impressive number of nuts each year and the kids get very excited about the harvest and taking them to be shelled at the Dallas Farmers Market. The pecan excitement at hour house is worthy of it’s own blog post!

Our vegetable garden is still in the infancy stages and I wanted to track what we planted each season. As you may have guessed, I started a vegetable and herb garden spreadsheet to keep everything organized. I’m tracking what we planted, date planted, days to maturity and overall results. Here’s my Vegetable and Herb Garden Spreadsheet, download it for free and customize for your garden.

Our garden includes several varieties of lettuce.

Our garden includes several varieties of lettuce.

For our first fall vegetable and herb garden we planted:

  • Broccoli (yes, my kids love broccoli!)
  • Cauliflower
  • Rainbow swiss chard
  • Red leaf lettuce
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Cilantro

I’m hoping to find brussel sprouts and rainbow carrots this weekend and add them to the vegetable garden.

What are some of your favorite vegetables and herbs to plant each fall?

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Easy Lemon Bars

I remember my mom making lemon bars when I was young. The recipe came from her mother and I love looking at the dog-eared recipe card in my grandmother’s recipe box. After some genealogy work, my aunt found out there were several bakers in our family – it only makes sense the women in my family have a love of baking!

While we’ve been making this recipe for years, I added the Lemon Essential Oil to give them an extra burst of lemon flavor.

Easy Lemon Bars


Cookie base:

1 cup unsalted butter softened

½ cup powdered sugar

2 cups all purpose flour


Lemon filling:

2 cups sugar

4 tablespoons all purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

4 eggs

6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 drops Young Living Lemon Essential Oil

Powdered sugar for dusting



Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together butter, powdered sugar and flour until it forms soft smooth dough. Press into the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch pan. Bring the dough up about ½ inch on the sides of the pan. Bake for 20 minutes.

While the crust is baking, sift together sugar, flour and baking power into a mixing bowl. Add eggs, lemon juice and Young Living Lemon Essential Oil. Beat by hand with a whisk (you can use a mixer, but my mom always made these by hand and I do too). Once well blended, pour over crust and bake for 25 minutes. The top will be slightly golden and have a thin crust.

Allow pan to cool for several hours. Cut into bars. Dust with powdered sugar and enjoy! Wasn’t that easy?

Makes 24 bars.

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The Hunt for the Best Cheeseboard in Dallas

Best Cheeseboard in Dallas

If you follow any foodies in Dallas, you may have noticed an interesting hashtag on Instagram, #indefinitecheeseboards. It’s a few bloggers, digital marketers, foodies and a scientist (the scientist asked the rest of us if we had “real jobs”) scouting out the best cheeseboards in town every Monday night. And yes, we do have real jobs, but cheese is serious business and must be talked about, blogged about, photographed and cataloged.

My blogging and photography skills are not that impressive, but I’ve got the cataloging part covered!  Wondering where we’ve been? Here’s a spreadsheet with all the places we’ve enjoyed cheeseboards around Dallas. One of my favorite places has been Veritas in Uptown, mainly for the impressive number of cheeses on their menu.

It’s not all about cheese – we enjoy wine and other compliments like fruit, nuts and crackers.  Some of my favorite cheeses have been the bries and blues, both perfect with a slice of crisp apple.

I’ve enjoyed being part of the The Council of Indefinite Cheeseboards (any serious group needs a good name, right?) and am looking forward to our next “board meeting” on Monday.

What are some of your favorite places in Dallas with a great cheeseboard?

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Emma’s First Day of Kindergarten

Like many parents, today, I sent my first-born child off to kindergarten. It seems like not long ago I was holding all five pounds and twelve ounces of Emma in my arms overwhelmed with my new responsibilities.

First night home from the hospital, all bundled up in a cradle at arms reach.

First night home from the hospital, all bundled up in the cradle at arms reach next to my bed.

Over five years, hundreds of questions have raced through my mind – or been asked to anyone who would listen.  Will I ever sleep again? Is she eating too much or too little? Will she choke on this grape I cut into 24 pieces? Will she climb out of the crib in the middle of the night? When will she get dressed by herself? What if she falls off the big slide? Is she ready for kindergarten?

Exploring the backyard and playhouse.

Exploring the backyard and playhouse.

Turns out, most of those things really weren’t that big of a deal. Somehow, it all worked out – we both made it! I quickly learned to worry less and cherish more, as these years are going by too fast.

The best big sister to Isabelle.

A very loving big sister to Isabelle.

I’ve been blessed to watch Emma grow into a girl with a caring and compassionate spirit, a girl that loves her sister, loves Jesus, loves to sing, dance and have fun. These are pretty good qualities that I hope suit her well in the days and years ahead.

Excited to decorate the Christmas tree.

Having fun decorating the Christmas tree.

As I left Emma in her new kindergarten class this morning, I held back the tears and told myself she’d be just fine. She’ll be just like all the other kindergartners on the first day – a little lost, adjusting to new routines and probably very tired by three o’clock.


Playing dolls and laughing with Isabelle.

Maybe next year I’ll blog more about organizing for back to school because I did all of that too. I made lists, shopped, labeled and sorted all the right things. At the suggestion of a friend, I’m working on spreadsheet to make packing lunches easier. But for today, I’m cherishing Emma and her first day of kindergarten. I can’t wait to hear all about it over dinner!

back to school

First day of kindergarten.

Did your little one start kindergarten this year? Or are you a first day of school pro? I’d love to read your comments about this exciting milestone.

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What’s in My Freezer? Simple Freezer Inventory

Freezer Inventory Downloadable List

Sometimes I cook several meals ahead and put them in the freezer for quick weeknight meals. I also shop at Costco and stock up on family favorites. The only catch is that I have to remember what’s actually in the freezer! More than once, I’ve gone to pull something out of the freezer that’s no longer there – dinner fail!

To solve my problem, I developed a spreadsheet to track what’s in my freezer – both the kitchen freezer and the deep freezer in the garage. I organized the freezer inventory list  by category so I can quickly scan the list and see what’s on hand.  The list includes the location (deep freezer or kitchen freezer) and the date it was frozen.  Have you ever found something in the freezer and have no idea how long it’s been there? Yeah, me too.  Now just reference the spreadsheet that has the date and you’ll know exactly how long it’s been there.

Freezer Inventory Categories

  • Meals
  • Breads and Pastries
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Meat and Poultry
  • Seafood
  • Other

We are nearly paperless in our house (that’s another blog post soon) and all of our files are on Dropbox. I can access all of my spreadsheets from any device at anytime. If I’m shopping at Costco and wonder if I have any more mahi-mahi, I pull up my freezer inventory spreadsheet on my phone and see I still have 4 fillets.  I can also check my list when I’m out and know what I have on hand that can be cooked quickly – dinner dilemma solved!

Not only has this helped me be more organized in my meal planning, it’s resulted less food waste, since I’m more aware of what’s in my freezer and how long it’s been there.

Download my free Spreadsheet Mommy Freezer Inventory list and customize it for your freezer.

What are some of your freezer staples, or recipes you make ahead for quick weeknight meals?

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Family Favorite: Chocolate Chip Cookies

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

I’ve spent a long time searching for the perfect chocolate chip recipe, as they are quite popular in our house. I’ve made recipes passed down from family members, ones off the chocolate chip bag and about everything in between. Recipes with butter only, shortening only, oil only, part wheat flour, bread flour, all white sugar – you get the gist.

We all have different criteria for what makes a great chocolate chip cookie. In our house there is still a debate about milk chocolate chips vs. semi-sweet chocolate chips (semi-sweet is my preference), but we all agree the best chocolate chip cookie is soft, not too flat, not too greasy and has a slightly crispy edge.

Did I finally come up with a recipe that meets my family’s criteria? After modifying many chocolate chip cookie recipes, I’ve determined that the oil, butter, a little bit of cornstarch, and 2 teaspoons of vanilla make this version our family favorite.


1/4 cup canola oil

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cup all purpose flour

2 tsp. cornstarch

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup semi-sweet (or milk) chocolate chips

Before I dive right into the directions, I do think a few things are worth mentioning. I always try to let the eggs and butter come to room temperature on the counter for a few hours. No one wants to start off  their cookie recipe with the microwaved sick of butter that melted down the middle!  I’m also careful about heaping flour and sugar into the measuring cups – the most accurate way to measure dry ingredients is with a scale, but that’s too intense for me. I use a spoon to scoop the flour and sugar into the measuring cups (vs. scooping the cup down into the canister), then leveling the cup off with a knife. I’ve read this method is second best to using the scale. For brown sugar, I loosely pack and then level off with a knife.

Try and avoid over mixing. We’re all guilty of turning on the mixer and walking across the kitchen to do something else for a second. Meanwhile half the flour floated out of the bowl and covered the counter!


1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2.  Using a stand mixer (my beloved Kitchen Aid) with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla; mix until blended in.

3.  In separate bowl, combine in flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt. Stir together and then add to the wet ingredients.

4. Mix just until combined, then add in chocolate chips and mix until they are worked in. Remember, no over mixing!

5.  Using a medium size cookie scoop or tablespoon, drop dough onto a prepared baking sheet. I always use a baking sheet lined parchment paper – seems easier to do this then to try and remember if I greased the cookie sheet.

6. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden brown around the edges. The first time you make them, start watching them closely at 7 minutes. Only the edges of the cookie will be golden brown – the rest of the cookie will be wet looking. Do not let them cook longer than 10 minutes.

7. Remove cookie sheet from oven, cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes then place on wire rack to cool fully.

Yields approximately 3 dozen. If they don’t vanish, store in airtight container.

If you give this recipe a try, I’d love to hear how they turn out. Are you a milk chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate family? Or maybe a house divided like ours!

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Best Gear to Pack for a Camping Trip with Kids

Packing Essentials: Camping with Kids

My family recently returned from a week-long camping trip in New Branufels, Texas. We were very excited about the trip since it was the first time our family joined the over 30-year tradition of camping along Guadalupe River with my husband’s family.

My husband and I both camped as kids, but camping with our 3- and 5-year old daughters is new for our family. This particular camping trip is a serious tradition on my husband’s side of the family – mostly the same people, same campground, during the same week in July for over 30 years! See what I mean about serious tradition?

We have a camper (yes, one of those tiny houses on wheels you pull with a truck) so some of our camping gear remains in the camper at all times. However, lots of what we need like beach towels, hats, sunscreen and swimsuits, comes from the house before every trip.  Having a packing list just for camping makes this task much easier!

Since this particular trip was along the river, there would be lots of time in the sun and water.  Here are few essentials from my camping packing list:

  • Life jackets for kids
  • Sun hats for everyone
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray – I like my friend Marcie’s DIY Bug Spraydeet-free and smells great!
  • Water and sand toys
  • Swimsuits – 2 per person, we’d be in the water every day
  • Water shoes – the Guadalupe River bottom is rocky and slippery!
  • Canopy for shade – we even splurged for one with mosquito netting

Want to see what else is on my family’s packing list? Download my Camping Packing List now for FREE. Customize the spreadsheet for your family’s next camping trip.

Once packing was out of the way, it was time to make the drive from Dallas to New Braunfels and start the fun. I enjoyed so many parts of the trip, but most of all, knowing this family tradition was important to my husband as a child and now we’re making memories with our daughters on the same trip. Our spot is already booked for next year – same campsite, same week in July – can’t wait to use my spreadsheet for packing all our camping gear!

Here are a few of my favorite memories from our New Branufels camping trip.

My husband and the girls on a walk near Canyon Lake.

Happy Campers!

My husband’s grandmother cooking in the shade while the girls wait patiently for pancakes. The mosquito netting canopy was well worth it – the flies like pancakes as much as our family!

Camping- Pancake Magic 3

What’s on your camping packing list? Does your family have a special trip that happens every year?

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