Dollywood's Festival of Nations is out of this world this year!
Ha, excuse my terrible puns! It'll be worth enduring for the awesome coupon code for Dollywood tickets at the end of this post!
But really, it's fantastic. The food passport is phenomenal, the shows are incredible, and did I mention the food?
Beyond the general glory of the festival itself, visiting the park in spring is a great decision. It's not too hot, the chance of rain thins the crowds, and on sunny days it's warm enough for water rides. Plus...the food! I know, I'm a food nut. But a variety of international flavors and demonstrations that are in line with the superior quality of all Dollywood food? It's an unstoppable combination. It may be my favorite food festival of the year (well, until BBQ & Bluegrass).
The Food Passport
With nine countries and four continents, there is plenty of food to sample. Our favorites include the paella from Spain (the kids especially loved this one!) and the empanadas from Ecuador. We also sampled Canada's food, and you just can't go wrong with fried cheese! It made for a great snack, but we preferred Spain and Ecuador for more filling meals.
Grab a food passport- it's a great guide to where the food stalls are, what they're serving, and the kids love getting the stamps. Our goal is to fill ours up before the Festival of Nations ends April 14!
Dollywood's shows are always astounding. These traveling troupes are no different. We've heard wonderful things about Drumstruck and it's interactive components, but our youngest family member is sensitive to loud noises so we didn't get to experience it firsthand this year.
We got to attend one of the chef demonstrations. Considering our 6 year old wants to be a chef when he grows up, this was a dream come true for him. The chef, from Dollywood's Dreammore Resort & Spa, did a fantastic job of teaching us how to make paella. And our little one was even brave enough to speak up when the chef asked a question to the audience! They sampled out the empanadas they demonstrated making when the demonstration was complete.
We also visited Cuba Vibra and it was FANTASTIC!!! I cannot express how much we loved this show. From ages 3 to 34 in our group, everyone loved it. The kids were entranced by the different dancing, I drooled over all the costumes (Dear Dollywood, please sell these in the park! I'm dying for those dresses!!). The dancing, the singing, the drumming...it was all so fantastic. I could watch it again and again. It's a 45 minute show, so be prepared if you have younger kids to make a mad dash to the bathrooms or grab some popcorn to help entertain them if they lose interest (because not all little kids will enjoy every show, so having a backup plan is a great way to make sure the grownups enjoy the show!)
Dollywood is decked out with flags and globes. It's a great way to introduce little ones to new cultures in a familiar environment, where they're more willing to try new things. It's a great experience to mix the fun rides you typically go for with the fun decorations, food, and experiences.
Are you ready to print your tickets and head to Festival of Nations? Would you like to save $10 per ticket? Print online using the following code and you'll save $10 per ticket! These tickets are upgradable to a season pass, and more fun festivals are just around the corner!
Festival of Nations only runs until April 14, so print those discounted tickets, load up, and head to Dollywood for your next adventure!
Last fall I had the pleasure of reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and since then I've been eagerly awaiting her next release. Now, I've finally gotten my hands on it and it is just as phenomenal as her debut.
In On the Come Up, teenager Bri has big dreams to be a successful rapper and pull her family out of poverty. But big dreams demand big sacrifice- is Bri willing to go the hard route, or will she sacrifice who she is for temporary relief?
Thomas flawlessly crafts realistic characters. From protagonist Bri to her friends, family, and enemies, each character is carefully created. With a former addict for a mom and a high achieving but underemployed brother, Bri is struggling to live up to everyone's expectations of her while also living in her deceased dad's overpowering shadow.
One of the things I love about Thomas's writing style is her ability to write teenagers as actual teenagers, and not just tiny adults. Bri is still working on controlling her emotions and she doesn't always make the right call. She has real struggles and she handles them like a teenager actually would- and sometimes that's the wrong way to handle it. She also speaks like a teenager speaks, which is refreshing. There is less of an emphasis on sex in this one, which is something the protagonist in The Hate U Give was considering, which made me hopeful more schools would pick it up. However, because these teenagers talk like teenagers, their (realistic) use of profanity may make some schools hesitant.
The messaging is similar to that of The Hate U Give, without being repetitive. While the setting is the same, the plot is different. The setting of Garden Heights allows us to see the community a year after the events of The Hate U Give, and how those events have far reaching repercussions. With T.H.U.G., we learned we can't make assumptions about events we weren't present for. On The Come Up reinforces this, with Bri being targeted and interpreted as 'aggressive' when she exhibits the same behavior as her white classmates, though their consequences differ greatly.
Another important message in this book, especially for teen readers, is that famous people can be playing a role. So often, celebrities endorse products they don't actually use and neglect to mention their personal trainer/stylist/photoshop (watch any actress promoting an $8 box of hair dye and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about!). While adults may recognize this occurrence, it's less apparent to younger consumers. When Bri is asked to play a role, she has to choose if she's going to take that route or be true to who she is. With plenty of financial trouble at home, the choice is more complicated than any other teen's quest for fame.
One of my favorite messages of this book (though I loved it, so there are many), is the power of words. Especially as a rapper, Bri has to come to grips with the fact that her words have power. There are several instances in the novel when she discovers this, and she has a hard time accepting it. When the world makes you feel powerless, learning your words have power can be intoxicating and dangerous.
Another message I love is one centered around people having to want help themselves. You can't control other people, nor can you change their desires.
Much like T.H.U.G., this novel aims at teaching readers how to handle difficult situations. Sometimes the right path isn't the most immediate or satisfying one. When people push your buttons, it's hard to control your temper. Add to that the pressure that at any moment, people could stereotype your entire race based on your conduct, and that pressure is too much for anyone, let alone a teen.
This book is absolutely worth the read. I hope teens and adults alike will pick it up, and learn a little something (or a lot of somethings) alongside Bri.
I didn't plan it. I didn't expect it. It just came out of nowhere, and now I'm all googly-eyed and practically drooling over this new love of mine.
I locked eyes across a dusty room. My love wasn't all dressed up; actually, more worn and dirty than I'd ever anticipated for myself. But those gorgeous lines, that overwhelming potential, it just cried out to me.
So I brought it home, researched endlessly about this new journey of mine, and then just jumped right in with leftover supplies from other projects.
I know, you shouldn't begin any new relationship with the intention to change practically everything, but the POTENTIAL. I had a vision and I had to nurture it into this real world of ours.
Okay, fine. My love is a desk. Whatever, it's not a big deal. I mean, it kind of is, but still. Ahem.
Before photo- the drawers are out, but look at that detailing!
So I was generously given this gorgeous old desk with the understanding I'd make it my own. It was dusty. Dirty. I found spider egg sacks on the bottom.
But it's sturdy, well made, and all I saw was what could be. So I took out each drawer, removed the hardware, Old English'd the heck out of every surface I wasn't painting. Then I needed to prep for the areas I was painting.
Now, I don't own a sander, nor do I even know how to use one. Everything I saw online said I had to sand it with a power sander, I HAD to, or it would be a disaster.
Ha, ha, internet! I'm too lazy for that. So I took some sandpaper from a random sample pack we had, with various different grains or what have you, and I lightly roughed up the desk. Then I cleaned it again, took a deep breath, and used the leftover bathroom wall paint to do the first coat.
Then I did a second coat. In between those, I spray painted the grungy brass-turned-blackishbrown hardware with a couple light coats of white so they look all antique and what not (I mean, the desk is antique-isa, so I suppose the hardware is too?).
I considered sealing it with the poly I used on the kitchen cabinets and the kid's chest of drawers, but honestly, it didn't make a whole lot of a difference on the oft-used kid's drawers and it was cold and I was tired of this project dragging on. It was nearly Christmas and there were simply other forms of magic to be made. Luckily for me, it's been three months and so far there's nary a scratch (knock on wood. Just not my desk.)
Once all the things were dry and spots had been touched up and dried as well, I placed it in my office and put all the drawers back in and 'moved in', so to speak. And I couldn't be happier with the results.
I love the coral color, and how it contrasts yet compliments my (admittedly messy) turquoise filing cabinets. It goes perfectly with the tropical theme of my office (Hey, if I can't be on a beach, I can at least pretend I'm near one!)
Paint- purchased at Lowe's last August for the upstairs bath, named Lei Flower, is of the semi-gloss latex variety. I used a small roll for wide, smooth surfaces and a small brush for the details
Hardware- spray painted glossy white, Rust-oleum, but lightly and from a good distance
Center drawer hardware- leftover knobs from the kitchen remodel fit the old-timey look perfectly
So if you're looking to paint something sturdy but the world keeps yelling 'power sander', try roughing it up by hand with sand paper, cleaning it well, and doing a test spot. At worst, you'll have to rent a power sander and sand off the paint and whatever you were trying to cover. At best, you don't have to put all the blood, sweat, and tears into using a power sander.
I see you, biting your lip in worry over the newest American Academy of Pediatrics screen time guidelines. You mentally calculate how many Paw Patrol episodes your kid has watched today, trying to discern if you fit in their recommendations. It's okay to worry; everyone does, regardless of whether or not they admit to it.
I spent years carefully limiting screen time. Then work deadlines changed, I found myself in a pinch, and honestly, I just got tired of having to say no. So for a season, I gave up on following those recommendations. Do you know what happened when watching TV was no longer a special occurrence, but instead something that was said mostly yes to?
My kids asked to watch TV less often.
They're currently 3 and 6 years old, and we went through a season where they were definitely watching more TV. When I started saying yes more often to Puppy Dog Pals and Team Umizoomi, they binged a little. Likely, they were making up for lost time and subconsciously worried this yes phase wouldn't last forever. But as time went by, they asked less and less.
Granted, we don't have much in the way of live TV, just a digital antenna. So when they watch TV, they get to pick a show from the DisneyNow App or NickJr app on our AppleTV. There aren't any ads, so that's something to consider with how much TV they're actually watching. We also rarely do non-TV screens, because at least they're watching something together, talking about it with each other, and just experiencing it together. Watching together encouraged them to work things out as a team, as they had to agree to a show. We also removed YouTube as an option, because it isn't something we can allow them to watch with minimal supervision since horrid people try and slip awful things through.
Also, basically every show is educational in some way these days. So if you're feeling guilty about how often your kids watch TV, or for having the TV on in the background while they do puzzles or play with Play-Doh, here's some ways in which their everyday shows are teaching them valuable things, even if they aren't paying close attention:
Paw Patrol: Friendship and teamwork
Team Umizoomi: Shapes, patterns, team work, helping, generosity, responsibility
Shimmer and Shine: Friendship, honesty, creativity
Butterbean's Cafe: Helpfulness, friendship, working together, cooking
Puppy Dog Pals: Family, being a good sibling, sticking together, creativity, treating others with kindness even when it isn't reciprocated
Fancy Nancy: I have yet to see an episode of this show that doesn't teach something- not jumping to conclusions, following directions, being a good sibling, what to do when you're frightened
Doc McStuffins: Following your dreams, helping others, asking for help from grownups when you need it
The Lion Guard: Doing what's right even when it's hard, breaking societal expectations, rescuing those who have done you wrong, helping
Mickey Mouse Clubhouse/ Mickey and the Roadster Racers/Handy Helpers: Shapes, colors, patterns, working together, telling the truth, being a good friend, being helpful as best you can
Daniel Tiger: THIS SHOW IS BASICALLY A MIRACLE. Okay, so I'm a bit of a fan. I've written an entire post for KMB on how Daniel Tiger has made me a better mom, but aside from that, it also teaches kids just the most amazing things. It's helped potty train both my boys with the potty song. Other songs I've heard my kids use in the appropriate situation include the angry song (When you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four), Use your words song, the waiting song (When you wait, you can play, dream and imagine anything), the playing together song, the clean up song, and likely even more that I can't recall. Each episode reinforces an idea with two storylines. No one is perfect, everyone is learning new things all the time, it's just my favorite non-Disney thing.
Vampirina: Don't judge based on looks, friendship
PJ Masks: Friendship, team work, helpfulness
Little Einsteins: Music, team work, helping others, being kind
These are just the kids shows I can think of on the top of my mind, but I can likely tell you how any kids show is helping your kid be a good person or learn something valuable. And even if it's not, not everything has to be educational. Sometimes we just need to decompress and chill, and maybe kids need that occasionally, too.
There are going to be seasons where kids are more into TV and some where they aren't. As long as they're also being imaginative, playing, and being their normal tiny dictator selves, maybe we shouldn't worry quite as much (even though its normal if you do so don't feel badly about it!). I, for one, find myself worrying less and being much happier being able to say yes more often in this area.
Happy Valentine's Day, friends! Although today is usually all about the love between couples, there's more to this hearts-galore day than that. It's a lovely opportunity to shower your friends, family, and even pets with a little extra love.
Until my kids had reached the school age, I'd forgotten the simplistic beauty of Valentine's Day. Yesterday, I had to explain to my Kindergartener that its also a day for couples, and so Daddy and Mommy would be having a special dinner (his sense of injustice over that is another post in itself!) Having only experienced Valentine's through his six year old eyes, he saw it as a day that everyone showed some love. He loved writing out his valentines for his classmates and family members, and it simply hadn't occurred to him to not make everyone feel special.
Remember the joy of early elementary school Valentine's parties? Everyone gets a card from everyone, there's no secret hope that the cute boy three desks down will notice you, you load up on sugar and friendship and get a dozen cards of your friend's favorite characters.
Wouldn't it be lovely to look at Valentine's this year like a Kindergartener?! If you're not romantically involved, see it the Disney way, as Friendship Day. Tell your friends how much they mean to you. Buy a dollar box of chocolates, curl up with some dogs and good friends, and watch silly movies. Or if you're married or involved, tell your person why you love them.
Kindness doesn't cost anything. Sometimes everyone forgets what makes them special, or worries no one notices the effort they put into making the world a better place. It's amazing how a simple, "I see you" can change their day.
Mamas, I see you trying to raise thoughtful and kind kiddos.
Dads, I see you teaching and leading your kids, too.
Friends, I see you being there for your loved ones.
People, I see you. I see you holding doors, smiling, lending a hand. I see you checking on your neighbor. I see you loving on your friend's kid.
I see you.
You are making the world a little better, just by being you.