Disneyworld · how to · tourism · travel · trip planning · Uncategorized

Top Ten Disney World Pre-Trip Planning Tips

Disney is my passion: I live, breathe, eat Disney. Between frequent visits, a semester on the Disney College Program, and hours a week spent keeping up on all the new going-ons, I feel justified in considering myself a Disney World Expert.

This is the first of many (I hope!) “Top Ten” lists I’m going to post to help you optimize your Disney World Vacations!

  1. Research research research! Things at Walt Disney World are constantly changing and staying on top of the new developments is essential! My favorite websites that keep me informed are WDWInfo/thedisboards, mousesavers, and theme park insider.
  2. Carefully consider your family’s needs. There are tons of factors that need to be considered while planning your vacation. Families with small children or that have more than 5 people are going to need a different plan that honeymooning young couples. Disney is also a haven for those that are differently-abled or disabled and there are less-conventional plans that might fit those needs better.
  3. Know your touring style. Are you going to go commando, hitting the parks at rope drop and taking no breaks until you’re the last ones out? Maybe your group would do better with a daily pool and nap break, or you prefer to sleep in. Especially with little ones it’s important to know beforehand a general idea of your daily schedule. If yours are little enough to use a stroller and will sleep in it despite the stimulation that can be used to your advantage!
  4. Make a list of everyone’s must-dos: there are rides, restaurants, characters, and experiences that each member of your party will want to do and you might not all agree. By knowing everyone’s non-negotiable can’t miss adventures you can make a more efficient touring plan and save arguments and meltdowns.
  5. Make reservations and FastPasses ASAP! Continuing from #4, your must-dos are likely other people’s must-do and making reservations as soon as you can gives the peace of mind that you won’t miss out. If you’re staying on-site at one of the WDW hotels you can book dining reservations 180+10 days in advance (starting 180 days out from the first day of your stay you can book for the entire trip as long as it’s 10 days or less) and FP+ 60 days in advance. If you’re staying off-site your dining reservation window still opens at 180 days but you’ll need to make reservations for each day 180 days out. FP+ for off-site guests opens 30 days out. I’ll go over staying on-site vs. off-site in more depth in a future post.
  6. Download and study MDE in advance. The My Disney Experience app has all you need to know for touring the 4 parks. It has park-hours, consistently updated wait times, character locations, dining menus and more! There’s an easy interface to book FastPasses and to make dining reservations. You can even preorder meals and snacks from counter service locations now! MDE is also home to all your reservation information and ticketing and magic band needs.
  7. Budget for souvenirs. With all the beautiful and tempting things Disney sells, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and spend more on merchandise than your entire trip! There are stores that sell everything from fine art and designer handbags to bath toys and the iconic Mickey ear hats so having a plan is essential. Disney also has another app, ShopParks, that can help you locate and price out various memorabilia. Knowing in advance can help with making those tough purchasing decisions.
  8. If it seems too good to be true then it must not be. Obviously a Disney vacation is expensive and wanting to save as much as possible is human nature. However there are many unscrupulous companies online looking to take advantage of budget-conscious consumers. Beware sites offering “discounted” tickets that make claims of great savings. The only companies endorsed by the Orlando theme parks for legitimate savings are Undercover Tourist and Park Savers.
  9. Make a packing list, check it twice… or 100 times. There are plenty of pre-made and customizable packing lists on the internet but I’ve found it easiest to list the things I use throughout the day. Think “head shoulders knees and toes” and figure out what you need to take care of every body part. Of course there are also vacation and Disney specific things you wouldn’t use normally but need for vacation. Remember that you’re going on vacation to a huge theme park in a major city, not a solo backpacking expedition in the middle of nowhere. Other than medical needs, passport/drivers license, and electronics everything can be purchased there. Make a copy of your IDs, insurance information, and medication list and prescriptions and save one to your phone and one printed in your wallet for peace of mind.
  10. HAVE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS!!! This is the MOST important tip of all. Accept now that you won’t be able to see and do everything. It might rain. You favorite ride could be closed for maintenance. There are the less than magical realities of crowds and long lines and rude guests. While it’s impossible to plan for every eventuality having a good mindset going into your vacation will make your entire experience that much more rewarding.

I hope these tips help you plan your vacation to the Most Magical Place on Earth! Faith, trust, and pixie dust!

Disclaimer: As always, these are my thoughts and opinions and are not affiliated with the Walt Disney company and in no way reflect the views of the company.

crystals · how to · metaphysics · Uncategorized

Crystal Basics from a Skeptic

I have had crystals as a part of my life for over 30 years. I discovered them when I was 14 and have always had them around my personal spaces. I enjoy their looks and their presence.

What are crystals?

Crystals, in their most basic sense, are minerals and chemicals that have been placed under intense heat and/or pressure and reformed into what we know as crystals. They are Nature’s gifts to us to show us what Nature can do over time. They can be anything as mundane as pyrite, or as priceless as diamonds.

In a metaphysical sense, crystals contain their own energies, powers and can even capture spiritual entities within them. They are important parts of rituals, altars, and spells.

As a skeptic, I admit, I find it a bit of a stretch that something that has been buried in the ground, in the dark, could hold any energies within it, or that anything that we use them for in metaphysical or pagan ways has any basis in reality. However, I am also a strong follower of creative visualization, the power of positive thinking and the placebo effect, which, in spite of how it is often used, is often a lot more positively powerful than medicine. So if crystals and the rituals behind crystals allow one’s brain to utilize the placebo effect and bring more positive aspects to one’s life, I’m all for it!

How do I find the perfect crystal for me?

Attuning into the crystals you need can be done in a couple of ways.

The first way requires question asking and research. You need to ask yourself, what is it that you would like a crystal, or crystals, to help you with. What are you searching for? What traits do you want to bring forward in your life? What changes are you looking to make?

For instance, my altar was originally set up for self-compassion, so I needed crystals that would help me focus on love, compassion, self-awareness and forgiveness.

Once I had what I needed and what I was hoping to accomplish, I researched the internet for what crystals I would need. Of course, having been around crystals for many years, I already knew that rose quartz, amethyst, pearls, and moonstone would be a nice spectrum to start with. But, I still needed to do my research to make sure I wasn’t missing out on one that might be better suited for my needs.

In this article, I won’t go through the basic energies of crystals because for one, there are really just too many to list in an blog article, and second, there are numerous sites that all will help you find which crystals will best serve your purpose. To better find them, just google the phrase, “Crystals for (insert focus here)” and it should provide you with a good list of sites to read. Be prepared though! There will be a lot of conflicting information! That’s why the second way is better, in my experience.

The second way is to find your local metaphysical, new age and/or “rock” store. Every town, I have discovered, no matter how large or small, has at least one. Set a date to go and plan out your trip. Most important! Please don’t listen to the person behind the counter until after you have done this process. I say this because you need to find what you need, not what they want to sell you. Not that the people in the stores are hucksters or scammers. Most of them are really very neat people who you will want to get to know better. But you are there to find what you need, not what they think you need.

So, go to the store on the day and time you decided and clear your mind of everything but what your purpose for getting crystals is. Focus on those needs as you walk around the store. Pick up crystals and stones that grab your attention and old them for a moment, then put them back down. Don’t discriminate because you find yourself holding a crystal or stone that wasn’t in your research. You are there searching for what you need. The crystals and stones will answer.

Eventually, you will find yourself coming back to certain ones. You will find yourself picking up the same ones over and over again. Those are the ones you will want. They are the ones that will help you in finding what you seek. If you leave without them, I can guarantee, you will end up going back for them at a later date, so get them that same day, if you can. I know not everything you pick up is going to be within the budget you’ve set for this. If that happens, then gather together what has found you and then determine which ones call stronger to you. This can be done by either holding them again, or simply asking the question, “Am I going to be disappointed if I leave without this one?” It’s amazing how much that one question can help you determine which ones are the most needed.

Okay! I’ve got my crystals! Now what?

I have learned over the last few years or so that many people don’t know what to do with their crystals when they bring them home. While what I’m going to say may not be entirely necessary, it doesn’t hurt to do these steps. (As a skeptic, I tend to only do half of this, because…well…crystals are going to do what they want to do, regardless of what I want, but…it never hurts either…)

The first thing you are going to want to do is get some sea salt. It can be bought at the grocery store for fairly cheap. Don’t get anything iodized or processed. Sea salt should be larger than regular salt and not fine. I usually get the large cylinders of sea salt.

Find a dish that will be large enough to hold all your crystals without them touching. This dish should be made of ceramic, glass, pure metal, or any other natural material. Do not use plastic, resin, or paper.If using metal, make sure that you use a pure metal, avoiding metals such as aluminum, nickel, and pewter. Silver, copper, and gold are the best metals for this. Man-made materials do not channel the energy you need the way pure materials do. Pour a covering of sea salt into the dish, then place your crystals and stones in the dish on top of the salt. Don’t push them down against the dish. Just let them sit on top of the salt. Then once they are arranged so they aren’t touching, cover them in more sea salt, then place in a quiet corner of the room or house for 24 hours.

This process is called “cleansing”. Just like you did in the store, other people also went around picking up stones and crystals to determine if they were what they needed. This allowed their energies to enter into the crystals. You need to cleanse them so you can fully attune them to you. The salt will draw out the energies and dilute them through the dish they sit in,which is why you need a pure material and not man-made.

Once the 24 hour period is over, you may remove the crystals and stones from the salt. At this time, you can wash them in water, to get any potential salt residue off them, but it is not necessary. I tend to do it anyways, just in case.

Then, take your crystals and stones to your personal quiet space and hold them. Close your eyes and meditate on what you wish to accomplish with their help. What energies, emotions, mental processes you wish to have with them. What questions you want answered. What traits you would like to have them help you work on. By doing this you “attune” the crystals to your needs and imbue them with your own energies that are filled with intent towards a goal. This lasts until you feel you satisfied and have fully imbued your crystals with your intent. There is no set time limit, but 20 minutes is generally good. When you are done, you can put them in a silk, wool or natural fiber pouch, and place them someplace safe.

During your meditation sessions, or when you want to work on the goal you decided on when you found your crystals, take them from their pouch, hold them and focus on the intention. You can hold them all at once, or one a a time, focusing and writing down what thoughts come to mind, plans, goals, ideas, etc. You can also place them close to the bed at night to receive any messages through dreams.

Every so often, you will want to re-energize your crystals. You can do this monthly, or every 3-4 months during the full moon, depending on how often you work with your crystals. Much like “cleansing”, you want to place them in a dish of natural material with salt. When I do this, I also add water to the dish, as opposed to covering them in salt, as I want them to keep their energies, but absorb more. Take this dish and place it somewhere it will get the light of the full moon. I put mine outside, but you can put the dish on a windowsill inside. Leave the crystals exposed to the moonlight all night long. In the morning, you can remove them from the dish, wash away the salt, and put them back in the pouch. If you miss the first night of the full moon, not to worry, you get another chance the following night, but don’t put them out for both nights as it isn’t necessary.

Again, I am a skeptic. I have a hard time believing that something in the ground can be powered by the moon that it would never have been exposed to without man, but…I’m also a fond believer in the placebo effect, so…Even if it is only to placate my mind, I’m okay with that. The purpose of the crystal is to help you focus and discover the journey you brought them home for. If adding a bit of moonlight helps, then go for it!

And that is how you find crystals and attune them to help you with your journey through this life! Enjoy your hunt!


art · cartoon · comic · creativity · how to · Inktober · self expression · Uncategorized · writing

A Simple Thing You Can Do to Art Up Your Life!

I never claimed to be an artist, some people have said I am, but I’ve never felt particularly arty.  Maybe some of that is because I see other people who can whoosh down to a canvas and create an amazing painting or careen over to a piece of paper and write a story that captivates. But I enjoy doing art, and I enjoy the feeling of being involved in something arty. Problem is, there’s this life thing that interferes, like constantly. So, what’s a person to do when they want to art, don’t have time to art, have a family, a job, a cat who wants you to know they really ought to be fed on a constant basis, and need to do sundry self-care things like eating food, bathing, etc? Well, I don’t know what YOU should do, but I know what I tried.

I got my first idea back in September 2017. Some of my friends are comic artists and other artists. They were gearing up for Inktober. For those who don’t know, Inktober (inktober.com) was started in 2009 by Jake Parker. It is a challenge where you make an ink drawing for each day in October using a prompt list. Prompts for 2017 included words like divided, ship, squeak, and crooked. I decided to give Inktober a try, but I would do a 2-3 minute sketch rather than trying to do some big art thing. And I would try to do whatever came to mind and most importantly, try to have fun with it. My drawings ranged from super quick sketches to more complicated drawings (days when I actually had 10 or so minutes to spare).

And I did it! I got behind a couple times, but was able to catch up. I did a little art almost every single day of October and it felt really good!

As October was coming to an end, I realized I didn’t want to stop, but I also didn’t want to keep doing the same thing. November is NaNoWriMo (nanowrimo.org) which stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s a challenge every November where you can sign up and try to write a 50,000 word novel in that month. I did do it one year, but knew there was no way I would be able to this year (see above explanation about the busyness of my life!). So, I decided to start a different thing using the art of writing this time. I created a list of prompts for each day in November and started #TinyWriter.


For every day in November, I wrote a 2-3 sentence fiction story. Some were better than others, but I was still arting! Every day! It felt amazing. Here are a few examples:

#TinyWriter Nov 1 “Pants”

It turns out it was the pants. I never thought pants could do something like that, but they could. So, I put them on, felt super happy in them, and walked out the door into a new life.

#TinyWriter Nov 15 “Moon”

“It’s my favorite, the moon” they said dreamily, “so beautiful and round and powerful. The moon gives me power.”

“It does? I just kind of look at it sometimes, but I never cared much about it.”

“Well, no one’s perfect, my friend,” they said gazily at the moony, “no one’s perfect.”

#TinyWriter Nov 24 “Dragon”

“You look like you’re draggin’ ha! Am I right?”

“Really? You know I could actually eat you, don’t you?”

“Pfff, you won’t eat me, you’re totally a vegetarian dragon.”

*Sigh* “I know”

You get the idea. It was a lot of fun! I didn’t do anything formal for the months after that, but I have continued with a monthly art theme. In December, I decided to learn how to do woodburning and woodburned ornaments for family and friends for the holidays. I decided to focus on coloring in my coloring books in January. For February, I have been working through a therapeutic coloring book I have that has exercises to help with survival (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/582580124/seven-strengths-a-coloring-book-for-resiliency).

I have been really proud of being so arty, for a person who never felt like much of an artist. And doing something simple has made it easy to stick with it. So, how about it? Want to join me?

how to · mental health · self care · tutorial · Uncategorized

Emergency Self-Care Kit

I’ve lived with mental illness almost all of my life. It started out as depression and anxiety and bloomed into something much larger as I confronted my past. Currently, my diagnoses include depression, anxiety, autism, ADHD, trichotillomania, dermatillomania, and complex PTSD. I’ve been in mental health care for about 5 years now and, needless to say, I’ve developed a multitude of ways of dealing with my mental illnesses.

When you have major mental illness, crises will almost always come at some point in your life. When these crises do come, there are tons of ways to help combat them! You can call your local mental health hospital, contact your therapist or psychiatrist, contact a loved one, etc. But here is my favorite way of combating a crisis: an emergency self-care kit.

This emergency self-care kit can help you ride the wave of a crisis until it passes. It contains things to help ground or distract you from the impending doom rising in your head. I have used this kit many, many times, especially when the urge for self-harm arises. I’ve been battling self-harm for 8 years now and it’s never easy to contain the urges. The kit can contain anything you want but here are my ideas for the kit!

  • Lush bath bomb
  • Calming essential oils to put in a diffuser
  • A coloring book and colored pencils
  • Silly putty to keep hands busy
  • Temporary tattoos to put on spots you would normally self-harm
  • A stuffed animal to cuddle
  • A book to read
  • Letter from a loved one telling you why you should keep on living

Lush bath bombs are a great way to relax! I tend to put on some calming essential oils in a diffuser, such as Blues Buster from Plant Therapy. I also will put on some classical music or calming music from YouTube.

Coloring books are a great way to keep your hands busy and your mind focused if you’re a self-harmer like myself. I like the adult coloring books from Michael’s but they sell tons on Amazon as well!

I have found that, for me, silly putty is the best way to keep my hands busy. In a crisis, I’ll put on my favorite YouTube channel that always makes me laugh, Achievement Hunter, and play with silly putty. This takes my mind off of the chaos and keeps my hands working so I don’t self-harm.

I buy temporary tattoos from the dollar store and tend to get butterflies or hearts to remind me to stay safe. But there are temporary tattoos on Etsy that are made specifically to combat self-harm. (MentalHealthMagic on Etsy.)

One way I can be comforted if my loved ones are not accessible is to lay under my weighted blanket and cuddle my favorite stuffed animal. I can have a good cry there and let out all the emotions swirling around in my head. I got my weighted blanket from Lifetime Sensory Solutions on Amazon for much cheaper than the average weighted blanket and the quality is great! They also frequently give away weighted blankets on Facebook so it’s worth a like. My favorite stuffed animal right now is this angry llama I got from a comic con.

Books have always been my escape. Since I was a teenager, I have read fiction books to escape my life. I can imagine myself as the main character that has none of the problems I do and forget about whatever has been troubling me lately.

Letters from a loved one is probably my favorite thing in this kit. Though I don’t have letters, I save sweet text messages from my fiancé to look at when I need reassurance that life is worth living.
So, my process using this mental health kit is to first take a Lush bath while diffusing essential oils. Then, I will put on temporary tattoos to deter myself from self-harming and either color or read a book. Normally, when I color or read, I’ll do so under my weighted blanket with my stuffed animal close by. Finally, when the chaos has subsided a little bit, I’ll turn on my favorite YouTube channel, still under my weighted blanket, and have some silly putty to play with.

I hope this helps you next time you’re in a crisis. Stay safe everyone!

cooking · how to · recipe · tutorial

Cooking sugar like a pro

What do candy, caramel, italian meringue, italian and french buttercreams, and nougat all have in common? They all require you to cook sugar to make them. It’s a process that needs precision but is pretty simple and straightforward, so you don’t need to feel intimidated.

All you will need is a pot, sugar, water, and a thermometer or a big bowl of icy water. A brush is also recommended.

Now, the easiest and safest way to do this is to use a thermometer to measure the temperature of the boiling syrup. If you don’t have one or you can’t find it because it’s hiding somewhere in those drawers, don’t panic. It will be okay.

The thermometer-less method

When I was studying baking, my teachers deemed it unnecessary to give us thermometers because, after all, ‘’ real bakers don’t use thermometers.’’ They wanted us to learn to tell the temperature of our preparations by the look and feel of them. It is true that I never saw a thermometer used in the professional bakery that I worked at and it did come in pretty handy a few times in my home cooking to be able to do without the thermometer.

Before starting, you might take a moment to wonder : ‘Why am I doing this? Am I insane? This doesn’t sound like something someone with a sound mind would be doing…’

Alright, now that you have gathered up your nerves, stand in front of your boiling syrup. You will have beside you a bowl of really really cold water (even better if you have ice cubes in it!). Dip your fingers in the water until they feel really cold and then very quickly pinch the syrup with your iced fingers and plunge them back into the bowl of water. Crazy, right? You should now have cooled syrup between your fingers. Its texture will tell you how hot the syrup is. If you do this right, it will not hurt at all. You can also use a spoon to scoop up a little bit of the syrup and dump it in the water, for a much less scary experience, and possibly safer, depending on your level of clumsiness.

Nowadays, if I do have a thermometer, I’ll use it. Why go to the trouble if you have a perfectly good, easier way to do something?

Cooking sugar

First, you need to select a pot. It needs to be big enough that you’ll have plenty of room at the top because once the syrup is bubbling, it rises some. However, don’t choose a giant pot for a small amount of syrup or you won’t be able to stick your thermometer in it and it might cook too fast.

The quantities of sugar and water you’ll use depend on your recipe but a good ratio to follow is 1.35kg of sugar (3 pounds) for every liter of water used (34oz). More water will take longer to cook, as it needs to evaporate first. Less water will cook faster, but if there’s not enough water to make all the sugar wet, you might burn some of it. Put the water into the pot first and then add the sugar. You may gently stir to make sure that all the sugar is wet, but as long as you put the sugar in the water and not the other way around, you should be good.

Sugar is a bit capricious; if you mix it while it’s cooking, you risk having the whole batch crystallize and clump on you. At that point, there’s nothing to do; you’ll need to start over. That’s why you should never mix it and, whether you use a spoon or thermometer (or your fingers for that matter), make sure your implements are clean and free of sugar crystals or impurities.

Once you start heating your syrup you may find that you have a few crystals that are clinging to the side of your pot. You can use a wet brush to clean them off. If you don’t, there’s a risk that you might knock some off in your syrup later on and cause clumping.

Temperature guide

105°C (221°F) – Lissé

At this temperature, if you separate your fingers, the sugar will form a thread between them and then will break. If you followed the proportions of sugar I mentioned above you will end up with a simple syrup or what is called sometimes ‘sirop à 30’. 30 Here means 30° Baumé,  which is a measure of density. This syrup keeps pretty well and can be flavored to soak cakes or help liquefy  an apricot glaze that has gotten too thick.

107.5°C (225.5°F) – Filet

You will still get a thread between your fingers, but it won’t break.

111°C (232°F) – Morve or Soufflé

Morve means ‘snot’ in English. Now if that doesn’t whet your appetite… At this stage the syrup would leave a sticky coating to your fingers but won’t form a thread.

115°C (239°F) – Petit boulé (Soft ball)

If your roll the syrup between your fingers, it will start making a very soft ball that will lose its shape if you let it go.

117°C (242.6°F) – Boulé (Firm ball)

The ball now hold its shape if you let it go, but you can still squish it really easily.

120°C (248°F) – Gros boulé (Hard ball)

The ball is much firmer now and you can still change its shape, but it will resist a lot more.

The ball stages are what you’ll use in the making of fondants, nougats, buttercreams, caramels (the candy kind, not the cooked sugar stage kind), and italian meringue among other things. It will give you an end product that behaves like the syrup itself, in a way. It’s firm and can hold a shape, but malleable and soft still.

125/135°C (257/275°F) – Petit cassé (Soft crack)

The sugar is now forming a brittle layer, that can’t be shaped, but will stick to your teeth if you bite into it.

145/146°C (293°F) – Grand cassé (Hard crack)

The sugar forms a hard layer that you can break and won’t stick to your teeth.

This is the stage used to make decorations out of sugar (blown sugar, pulled sugar, spun sugar, etc.)

150°C (302°F) – Light Caramel

You should see your sugar starting to change color and turn a light golden (if you started with white sugar).

165°C (329°F) – Caramel

The sugar is now becoming a nice brown. You don’t want to cook it too long or it will turn bitter! If you are using the caramel for something that will cook again (for example, crème caramel) it is better to leave it a tad lighter than you want it to be in the end, as it might darken some more.

The caramel stages are used for crème caramels, nougatines, and as glue in croquembouche, for example.

190°C (374°F) – Dark Caramel

Well now you did it. Your sugar is turning black and your kitchen is starting to fill with an acrid smoke. The taste is super bitter. This kind of caramel is only used in small quantities as a food coloring.


Cooked sugar can seem pretty hard to clean up, once you are done, but just fill your pot with some water and bring it to a boil and it should dissolve all the sticky mess.