Happy Mailbox, Tons of Freebies, Atrocity

It has been a good couple of weeks for mail around here- a ton of free samples. A couple types of cereal, a warm delights chocolate dessert you nuke, couple of bottles of vitamins, hamburger helper singles, a couple of different kinds of deodorant, granola, tampons, pads with wings, $31 worth of P&G coupons, magazines, shampoo and conditioner, moisturizer and more I can't remember. I usually do fairly well, but these last couple of weeks have been outstanding even for me. Here are the sites I use to get the goodies.
We also have a notice to pick up a package from the post office- it is the DDR for the PS2 and Headphones for Dawn that we got using mostly codes I won or exchanged from the various points and prizes programs I do. Fun to get something for a little bit of time- mostly I will save them up for Christmas or the little man's birthday, but Dawn had earned some herself so I added some of mine.
We are mostly over being sick here, more blah than anything. Hopefully we will perk up soon. Today, it feels like there is not enough coffee in the world, thank God I know it will pass.
I was kind of heartbroken today reading a journal entry at Cafe Mom and someone was talking about her severely handicapped son having a seizure in the store and how rudely some were staring at her like she was an unfit parent. It breaks my heart to hear stories like this, having a challenging child should be enough without having to put up with ignorance and hate as well. One of my best friends has a son who is different-abilitied and I can't tell you how many times she has cried due to the rudeness and nastiness of others who have no clue.
Cafe Mom for anyone who might be interested is a great site where you hook up with other moms who are going through the same challenges we all face as parents and there are many different groups you can join (or even start your own) that are particular to your own interests and issues.
There are two sites that I personally have never seen anyone be nasty or get flamed on and they are Cafe Mom and FamilyCorner. When I need down time or want to find something family oriented I head over to one or the other of these sites- sometimes both. You will find the friendliest people and whether you are a lurker like I mostly am or a regular contributor, you will be made to feel welcome.
Enough rambling, I may enter some more contests and sweepstakes- I was thrilled to get a couple of winning emails this week. Gotta love this hobby.
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Making ends meet, frugal living, freebies, deals, links and more.

It seems like no matter where you go, people are talking about rising prices and how hard it is to make ends meet. I am a stay-at-home mom and I love it and over the years we have gotten by on very little and very comfortable depending on circumstances.
One thing I do try to do is get the most for our money no matter the income. Now that is not to say the things I do are the same things you should, or that what works for anyone else will work for you. It is largely a matter of trial and error and setting your own priorities.
My priority is my family, period. So I will go without some things to get things that make them happy. You might be able to get by without paying for TV or on dial-up for your computer, but that just doesn't work for our family as my husband works long hard hours on second shift and likes to come home and watch tv when most of the rest of the world is not quite awake yet. My girls, especially the oldest, are gamers and I enter contests and sweepstakes and sign up for freebies and we just cannot have an unreliable, slow connection. We have a Wii and PlayStation and handhelds and Ipods, those are things we get a lot of entertainment value out of.
I'll read how you can save so much by hanging your laundry to dry and I am thinking not only no, but hell no as our car will be coated with pollen within a couple of hours sitting in the driveway. I would literally get nothing done if I kept my thermostat in the 80's like I know some do, I don't tolerate the heat well at all.
We are coffee aficionados around here and aren't willing to give up our Starbucks. That being said when we go out to drink it, we count that as entertainment. Other times we purchase from Starbucks online, and especially love the Tazo Teas and Seasonal Coffee Blends and some of the Syrups and make it at home. The girls also absolutely love the chocolate covered espresso beans. Some things are just not worth sacrificing quality for and a good cup of coffee is one of them. Especially since Starbucks does have sales and free shipping. Granted, we don't NEED the cups and whatnot with the Starbucks logo, but it does seem to taste better drinking from them.
We live with one car and not many can do that. And there is nothing wrong with either of us. None are better choices than any other, only what works for you and your family and what doesn't.
That being said, I LOVE getting the best prices on those things we do want, sometimes even free or money back.
I will blog at another time some of my favorite frugal tips, but for now I will post links to some of the sites I go to when I am looking for the deals or trying to make the most of what we have. One thing I do is sign up at the sites of products I regularly use and lots of times I will get coupons for free or money off my next purchase. Some people call this spam, I call it getting the most out of my online time.
From freebies to deals to frugal families, find them here. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
I will be adding to this list as this is only part of my bookmarks. If you would like your site reviewed and added, please email or leave a comment with your url and I will get to it as soon as I can.

Freecycle I think everyone pretty much knows about this, but I am putting it here anyways in case you don't or forgot. Want to get rid of something, list on Freecycle. Need something, check freecycle first to see if anyone is giving it away for free. Save the landfills, get rid of unwanted clutter and help someone else, what's not to love? There are tons of groups worldwide, click here to find one near you.
Craigslist If you can't find what you are looking for on freecycle, check out craigslist- search their classifieds for everything from jobs to pets to used furniture or anything else you can think of.
Start Sampling If you sign up to the site and for the e-newsletter, you find out about the new samples and offers regularly.
House Party Share free products and previews with family and friends.
Wal Mart Order free samples online and see what events will be coming to your local Wal Mart.
The Coupon Mom I go here to find free samples. The virtual coupon organizer and best deals lists are particularly helpful to make sure you don't miss out on the bargains.
Hot Coupon World If you're all about getting the deals, this is a great place to find them.
Wow Coupons Find printable coupons and freebies here. Also has online deals
A Full Cup Here you will find the deals, coupons and refunds- even your local stores deals are listed. Also have online codes for discounts, free shipping, etc.
Coupon Loop Printable coupons and links to other coupon sites
Deal of Day Freebies and good deals and exactly how to get them.
My Good Cents Freebies, good deals, coupons, giveaways, articles and more.
Family Corner Great all around family site with message boards where people share knowledge and information. Lots of kids crafts, recipes, coupon exchange and more. I really get a lot out of the forums, especially what did you do frugal today?
The Dollar Stretcher Both the website and the newsletter have a wealth of information. Fairly new is the addition of message boards. What can I say except that I can't think of any area that hasn't been covered here. If you haven't checked it out, you definitely should.
Living On A Dime Several informative articles and frugal recipes from Not Just Beans and Dining on a Dime
Budget101.com Articles, contests, message boards, freebies, make your own mixes and clone recipes. A lot of info on saving money and getting out of debt.
Laine's Letters Christian woman shares her family, faith, inexpensive recipes, budgeting and money saving hints and tips. It feels like she is talking to a friend.
Hillbilly Housewife A lot more than just a low cost home cooking site. I find myself coming back often. The homemade convenience food page is one that gets a lot of use- I am all for fast and easy especially if you can have it without all the artificial ingredients and high cost.
Sage Mommy Freebies, frugality, cottage industries and more.
Mom Advice There are a lot of in-depth articles here, and the forums are great with a deal of the day and freebies as well as a bunch of other aspects of family life.
Totally Frugal A fairly wide range of topics including budgeting, frugal living, cooking, crafts, shopping, homesteading and lots more with helpful forums.
The Simple Dollar A lot of info, from what I have read so far it is in easy to understand terminology and it makes a lot of sense. There are extensive archives on all sorts of things related to your finances and I liked the reviews I read. If you want to change your finances for the better, this is an excellent starting point.
Just Frugal Make the most of your money from freebies to frugal everything, find it on the boards here.
Frugal Mom Find useful advice on all things frugal.
Frugal Village Cooking, homemaking, simple living and more.
Creative Frugality There are a lot of links to various frugal sites and ideas- too many to list but it is definitely one of my well used bookmarks. Be sure to check out the links for the Counting the Cost ezine and website.
All Things Frugal Good general frugal site- make sure to check out the library index if you are in the mood to browse.
Cooking By Numbers This is a fun site, you check off what you have in your pantry and fridge and they find you recipes.
Creative Homemaking Running your household well with articles and tips on budgeting, cooking, gardening, crafts and more. Also check out the forums.
Heart4Home Budgeting and organizing ideas, menu planning and more.
Frugal Upstate Interesting blog from a sahm in upstate NY who focuses primarily on living a frugal lifestyle.
Better Budgeting Tons of free tips on budgeting, savings, getting out of debt, etc. Get your free subscription to Living a Better Life ezine for money saving tips.
Mom's Budget Advice on budgeting and personal finances geared towards women but useful for anyone. Quite a bit of info on everything from pregnancy to recipes and more. I have especially been perusing the container gardening section lately although I think I am going to go for the Aerogarden.
CheapCooking.com We all need to eat, this site is dedicated to helping you get the most from your grocery budget.
Chef Michelle's Adventures Recipes and tips for eating well on a budget.
Pioneer Thinking From natural remedies to home repairs to managing money you can find it here. Be sure to check out the forums.
Pennypinching-grandma Quite a few tips on frugal living. I was disappointed with the freebie section- it was a bunch of ads wanting me to buy stuff and recipes for homemade cleaners that called for commercial products... I have found cheaper, effective solutions elsewhere. That being said overall I like the site.
Organized Home From articles to printable planner pages to download for free, you can find it all here.
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Sicko's, summer vacation, more

Being sick stinks. Being sick over summer vacation stinks even worse. That is what I am dealing with now, a house full of sickos, including me. Whatever we have, it is lingering and not wanting to go away, so we have been total slugs. Not seeing much of Ian lately hasn't improved my mood any either. I miss my boy!!!- even though he is several handfuls.
Ken's sister and brother-in-law are visiting his mom with the nieces and nephew and of course we don't want to pass whatever this bug is to them so haven't seen them since the graduation party. It would not be so bad except Andy is in the USMC and they are leaving for Okinawa soon. He did his stints in Iraq so they got to choose this post. The girls are totally jealous and hoping we can find some way to get over there while they are stationed in Japan.
We are of course totally grateful to him and all of our troops and their families that dedicate their lives to our freedom and safety.
I have been entering some contests, though, when I have felt like sitting at the computer. That is good since I've been kind of letting them slide. I probably entered a few hundred over the past few days. Not many to some, but quite a bit for me.
Dev had won a Spiderwick Chronicles set a while back on an instant and that came in- along with the box set of the series of books in the trunk and PC game, they also sent a coupon for a free Lunchable since it had taken so long. I said maybe we can pick one up for Ian and go on a picnic when we're feeling better. She was CRUSHED. Almost 15 and she still loves her lunchables. So I said okay, we'll get you that and buy one for the little man and she has to chime in oh sure love him enough to buy him one but I gotta have the freebie. I can't win!!!
Got a few other wins in the last couple of days- gum, chips, xbox live codes, Esprit code and repelle haircolor shield. This is totally cool since my kids LOVE to change their looks and Dev is not the neatest so next time she colors (she is thinking purple with black tips for either her b-day or back to school) we'll try it out and let you know if it really does keep the skin from staining... it looks like a glue-stick you just slide around the edge of your face at the hairline.
Got some freebies in as well- lady things (hahaha you should have seen how Ken was when we first moved here he would DIE before touching a box of tampons- now we tell him we need lady things and he can actually buy them), a couple kinds of cereals, Crystal Light to Go, Viva paper towels, toothpaste, deodorant and a couple other things.
I will post hopefully later some of the sites I use to get the freebies at, I figure in this economy we can all use all the help we can get. I know the little things all add up for me and I would rather get the most for my time/money that I can.
Have a fabulous Friday, and while I am very good at sharing, I am keeping my germs to myself so you all can enjoy your summer. ;)
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Baking With The Blonde, Tree Frogs

Well, the blonde and I decided we weren't sick enough to be super slugs all day again so we decided to bake. Yes, in this gazillion degree heat- we have issues. Well, actually pretty sure we have lifetime subscriptions.
Anyways, my Japanese wannabe found a recipe for Melon pan- supposedly there are a gazillion recipes and most screw it up the first time because it is kinda like a roll with a cookie on top and getting the cooking time right without overcooking one and under cooking the other is fairly difficult.
We tried a simple recipe- it was nothing spectacular so I won't be posting a link to it, but I can tell you that if you make it, when they say make walnut sized balls they mean it. We thought it was kind of like my uber special cookies and bigger you know is definitely better... not really with this, I think you don't get as many crispy good edges. (Actually, she saw an anime and the character was eating fist sized melon pan and raving so bugaboo wanted that too.)
Also, the bottoms get browned before the tops- instead of overcooking the bottoms we turned the oven off and let them sit there in the heat and that cooked them through so that part was good.
It takes a lot of time, and while I used to love making bread, with my wrists now I was ever so very grateful for my Kitchen Aid Pro Mixer. That baby did its job and did it well.
It is fairly addicting, but plain, we'll try it again but we will definitely try one of the recipes with some more flavors added, and perhaps the pudding. For a first attempt, not so bad.
Oh, the recipe we tried called for making up the topping (cookie part) while the dough rose and putting it in the fridge. Bad idea. It was hard as a brick then crumbled apart so we ending up dividing it up and smooshing it with our hands. Worked but I found some other recipes and most have you make that part just before baking. Definitely we will do that next time.
Now when I say we made it I am using the royal we. Blondie and the kitchen do not mix well at all. Seriously. This is the girl who burned up the microwave popcorn- not a few burned kernels, but a where's the baking soda fire not once, but twice. We were sure that she did it wrong so we watched what she pushed she did it again, exactly how she was supposed to, and still it caught fire. Lest you think it was a defective batch, we always got the value packs of 15 or 24 and all the rest cooked perfectly. This was before we knew the bags leached all kinds of evil into our systems of course... now we use our super cute Hello Kitty popper.
Okay, so blonde + microwave = big no-no. Fair enough, I have things I am less than skilled at. Making some goodies for her friends (we always have a list of treats they want homemade for the holidays) I asked her to preheat the oven. Period. That is all she did, I watched her. Maybe 3 minutes later, BIG OLD POP. She blew the freaking thing up. Yes, the whole oven. Too late now trip to Lowe's in the morning to order a new one blew it up. Fire in there, too.
So now her job- since she is forever volunteering me to make things- is to sit there and look cute. Maybe hand me something now and then, but only if I have plenty to spare.
She has declared she will wait til she can afford to eat out every meal before she moves out. Probably not a bad decision. It would be hysterical if it wasn't so pathetic... and costly.
Being in the kitchen made me think of our little visitors. We have 3 little tree frogs that come on the window above the sink each night. Not so little any more. We keep the kitchen light on all the time since we have erratic hours with Ken working second shift and of course the bugs are drawn to the window the froggies like that.
Goofy little fellows hang onto that window and then gorge themselves. If you happen to be there when they stuff themselves a little too much you can watch them slide down and lose their grip because they are too dang fat now to hold themselves up. Last night one did a back flip into a tree branch trying to hang on and kept reaching reaching and flipperoo. Really funny to watch.
I actually collect frogs- err not real ones, way too icky boy for me, but my gramma had them and it makes me happy to remember her and have some cute ones around. I don't mind the little tree frogs on my window though, anything that will get rid of bugs can't be all bad.
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I can't possibly be this old. Happy father's day.

We went to a graduation party last night for our niece- she wasn't even 10 yet when we moved here. Kids grow up so fast on you when you aren't looking, and sometimes even when you are. It was a really nice party, a shrimp boil with a good part of the family and Jen's friends there. Ian was a pistol, like always. Rough and tumble. They had a really neat playground with a couple of slides and swings- he and Grandpa Ken had a blast- one of the swings is shaped like a car and he loved it. They also had a Little Tikes coupe car that he really enjoyed. And a ball. Ian's favorite thing is to throw around a ball, so he was in little boy heaven. They came back here after the party, and we thought after all that hard work playing he'd conk right out, but it just wasn't happening. I think he got through all of 101 Dalmatians and part of Lilo and Stitch 2 before he went down hard.
Dawn is now officially a quarter of a century old- her birthday was Thursday. I am not old enough for this. Seriously. And definitely not mature enough. I know how lame it is to say it seems like only yesterday, but sometimes it does.
So today is Father's Day. I have to be thankful to the ex- without him my girls would not be who they are. Even though we're not together, and we have our issues, mostly about late and non-existent child support any more, I am grateful we can be decent to each other for the girls. Mostly, though, I have to give big kudos to Ken. I went into the hospital within days of getting married this second time and he really stepped up to the plate. Taking care of everything those girls needed when I couldn't do it myself. Making sure they had everything they needed, even through 4 years of no child support except for a tiny bit.
Putting the girls on his insurance, even though the divorce papers say the ex has to. Paying all the deductibles and co-pays even though the ex is supposed to pay half of those as well.
Whenever we express our gratitude, hubby is like you're my girls why wouldn't I? So while I might not have picked out father of the year to be their sperm-donor, I sure did good the next round.
He runs them to their things, buys them pretty much whatever they want when he can afford it, went from having peace and quiet and all kinds of savings and stocks and a retirement plan to mountains of medical bills, a gaggle of giggly girls, and 5 dogs to round things out.
And for some strange reason he thinks he got the good end of the deal. 5 for the price of one as he calls it.
We are actually doing a lot better, and the ex has said he'd start to get caught up starting in July, so that will be nice. Maybe Ken can start to build back up his nest egg. I wouldn't even mind that the ex is now late or only making partial payments so much except he either tells me these elaborate stories that no one could possibly believe or avoids any attempt at communication so I can't make alternate plans to make sure the money (that is supposed to be automatically deposited) is there to pay the bills.
Thank God DH is great with money. He likes to say that we have a great system- he makes the money and I spend it and I am much better at my job than he is. Which, I can shop with the best of them, so that part is true. But we always have the bills paid first, and we can get what we need and a lot of what we want.
He is happily surrounded by his girls today, had a couple of his favorite meals and they are watching movies together since most of us are down with some nasty, nasty stomach bug. So, laying around like slugs and just being together is our celebration.
All you fathers out there, and father figures, and you mothers who have to be both mother and father- Happy Father's Day to you!!! I hope you are surrounded by those you love on your special day.
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Rambling, RAOK, thanks.

I am so excited about how many people are entering my little contest. I know some sweepers aren't into the blog contests, but I think they are a great way for smaller sites to get the word out and since I have won from quite a few of them myself, they will always hold a place in my heart.
It is especially gratifying to me to read the kind words, especially those who think my advice is useful. It won't help you win, as this is a totally random contest, but it makes me happy.
I might just have a suck-up contest next time, though. Seriously. Maybe whoever says the nicest thing about my blog will win. ;-)
Of course, you can't discount the fact that I also do RAOK's at times, mainly from the message boards I read. I have several friends who do the same, and just recently was the recipient. Donna has a site and she very generously made a banner for me to use on OLS and to put up here for if anyone wants to have a link to my site in their sidebar, which I will eventually figure out how to do. Really, I will. If you ever need graphics done, check out Donna's site, I was going through it earlier and she has done some incredible work!!! None as nice as what she made for me, but I admit I can be slightly biased.
Unfortunately, my techie geniuses (aka kids living at home) don't blog and don't seem to be very interested in helping me figure this out. I know they want to chillax for this first part of summer vacation but enough already, mama has a blog!!! I think, considering that the extent of my knowledge of computers used to consist of email, chat, contests and message boards I am doing pretty well.
I'll blog more when I actually have something to say, but for now I just really wanted to thank everyone who has been entering and everyone who has been reading my blog. You are much appreciated.
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Win an Amazon GC or OLS premium membership

If you've read my blog you know one of my hobbies is entering contests and sweepstakes.
I know I know you are sick of me bragging about my wins. Or maybe inspired and wondering if it is something you might like to do. If you aren't sure, read getting started when you have a chance.
Since winning is such a high, I thought I might give everyone a chance to win something from me. A few somethings, actually.
There are 5 prizes and there will be 5 winners. (2) $25 Amazon GC's, (1) 1year premium membership to Online-Sweepstakes.com, (1) 6 month premium membership to Online-Sweepstakes.com, and (1) 3 month premium membership to Online-Sweepstakes.com.
This is my first ever giveaway so I am sponsoring all of the prizes myself.
You can enter daily by posting a comment. Make sure to specify whether you want to enter for the Amazon GC's, the OLS memberships or both. You will get additional entries for subscribing to my rss feed, linking to my blog and/or blogging about this giveaway. Let me know in your post what you have done so I know how many entries to credit you for.
Inappropriate comments like blog entries suck will be deleted with no entries credited.
The giveaway will continue until midnight CST June 30, 2008 and I will post the winners here and notify them by email on or about July 1st, 2008 so that I can get their prizes to them. If the winner(s) don't respond within 36 hours I will choose new winners. All prizes will be given out.
Thanks and good luck to each and every one of you who take the time to visit my blog and enter.
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My win list

Do people really win contests and sweepstakes? Heck yeah they do. How do I know this? Because I am one of those winners. While others have won more than I have, I win consistently and for the amount of time and effort I put into entering, I am extremely pleased with my results.
For those of you still wondering if it is worth it, here is my win list so far for 2008. I have also included wins my family (those living at home) received. I have only included prizes I have actually received. I have also been notified of several others that I will add after I receive them. I have deliberately omitted things like ring-tones and I-tune codes that I immediately give away to those who can use them.
2008 WIN LIST
Ipod Shuffle
Baby Einstein Diaper Bag & Toys
Physicians Formula Concealer
T-Shirt (Instant)
Rachael Ray Serving Platters (Instant)
Margarita Set (Instant)
Loaf of Bread (Instant)
Chalkboard Stickers
$500.00
Fleece Blanket
Free Product Coupon PF Cookies or Crackers (Instant)
Purpose Face Wash
Garnier Nutrisioniste Ultra Lift (Deep Wrinkle Treatment)
No Reservations DVD
$5 Amazon GC (Instant)
Yoga Set
$5 Amazon GC (Instant)
2 Charachter Watches
Pkg (2) AntiBacterial Dish Towels
$100 Dicks Sporting Goods GC
2 Free Product coupons - Clorox Green
$50 AZ Jeans GC
$5 Amazon GC (Instant)
Create-A-Cling
$10 Esprit Code (Instant)
Pikachu Action Figure
$10 Esprit Code (Instant)
Melt away stress body lotion
$20 7-11 GC (Instant)
2 Pokemon DVDs
$5 Amazon GC (Instant)
Style 101: What Every Stylish Woman Should Know book
The OH in Ohio DVD
$10 Amazon GC
Duffle/Carry on bag
T-Shirt, Racing Form Holder
Natures Gate Organics Chamomile & Lemon Verbans shampoo, conditioner & lotion.
Loaf of Bread (Instant)
15 Books
Make-up Brush Set
$5 Amazon GC (Instant)
$5 Amazon GC (Instant)
Pack of Gum (Instant) x 7
Repelle Hair Color Stain Shield
Spiderwick Chronicles Box Set w/trunk, books, game & Free Lunchables Coupon (Instant)
400 Xbox LIVE Marketplace Codes (Instant)
$10 Esprit Code
Pack of Chips (Instant) x 13
T-Shirt
Shea Butter & Coconut Scrub, Soap and Lotion Set
L'Occitane Ultra Comforting Cleansing Milk, Serum and Cream
Free Product Coupon Oust Air Sanitizer
V-tech Phone
The Dark Knight Soundtrack (Instant)
Oprah Tote
Lucky Max Factor Prize Pack
Magic Bullet Platinum Pro 20 Piece Set
Journal
4 Movie Tickets
$25 Drugstore.com GC
Free Product Coupon - Wolfgang Puck Pizza
$25 Pre-paid Visa
Slip 'N Slide
Personalized Book of Life photo book
$250 Bed Bath & Beyond GC
Free Product Coupon - Dole Salad
Max Factor goodie bag
Scrapbooking Supplies - 2 sets - kids & Christmas
2 Cookbooks
Child's Severe Allergy Alert Bracelet
2 sets Satin Wrinkle Reducer Pillowcases
Free Product Coupon M&M's (Instant)
$20 Pre-paid Mastercard (Instant)
Organic cotton Mom Works T-shirt
Organic cotton Got Karma onesie
Wet Get wet to win prize pack
Clinique 3 step system
10 year online membership to emealsforyou.com
Really cute birdie necklace the littlest diva dibbed the second she saw it
$50 AmEx GC
Rowenta Pro Compact Steamer
Book
Book
T-shirt
Lucky Tote & 6 Clinique Lip plumping glosses
Cookbook
Tide To Go Pen
$200 Disney GC & 3 Disney DVD's
1 hardcover & 2 paperback signed books
1 *green mom* T-shirt
1 T-shirt
Bonnie Hunt & Hard Rock Cafe BCA Prize Pack
The Women Prize Pack
$25 Amazon GC
Free Product Coupon - Kahiki Meal (Got General Tso's Chicken, delicious.)
Free Prouuct Coupon x 2 Hershey's Bliss Candy (Instant)
Autographed Paperback Book
Free Product Coupon - Clorox Greenworks
T-shirt (Instant)
Duffle/Carry on bag
Icky bag (very cool- for like wet swimsuits, resists mildew)
GC and Coupon organizer
Venus Razor
Stainless Steel Bento
Sweetheart Apron
PS3
Coconut Body Wash (2)
Gorillaz Camera Thingies (2)
Designer Bag

Some of the wins I have received prior to 2008 are: Ipods, including an Ipod video, MP3 players, 3 Digital Cameras, Set of Emeril Cookware, Trip to California, Trip to New Orleans, Trip to Disney, Cash, Gift Cards, Harry Potter merchandise, numerous Health and Beauty products, years supply of gourmet coffee, coupons for years supply of other grocery items, Clothes, Designer Purses, Designer Shoes, Sneakers, Backpacks, Tote bags, T-shirts, Kitchenware, Housewares, Cleaning Supplies, Candles, Books, Wine, Scrapbooking Supplies, School and Office Supplies, Party Supplies, Gift Baskets, TV and Entertainment Center and more.

I enter fairly regularly and have since 2003 and try to get in some entries at least a few days a week, but there have been days, weeks and even months I didn't enter at all. It is a hobby for me and I don't enter when I have other things to do or even if I am just not in the mood. That being said, there have been a few days where I have spent several hours entering.
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Getting Started Entering Contests and Sweepstakes

Entering contests and sweepstakes is an easy hobby that offers the potential for huge rewards. You can see my win list here. Since I have been enjoying (and reaping the benefits from) this hobby for many years, I have found several things that make entering a whole lot easier and faster for me.
The first thing to do is to make sure you have good Anti Spyware and Anti Virus protection. I personally use Ad-Aware, Spybot Search and Destroy and AVG AntiVirus and don't have any problems. All of these have free versions. If you want to see what else is available, look up Anti Spyware or Anti Virus software in any search engine.
Next thing is to download RoboForm, a form filler that also saves your passwords and protects your information. I love RoboForm and can't imagine entering nearly as much as I do without it. It speeds up the process and once you use it you will see why it is so highly recommended by serious sweepers everywhere. It will also help you fill out freebie forms and you can use it for several different family members. There is a free version of RoboForm as well.
Join a site dedicated to sweepstaking and contesting. The only one I will personally recommend is Online-Sweepstakes also known as OLS because after months of research, that is the only site I use and I find it meets my needs. You can join as a free member then read the forums to decide if subscribing is right for you. For me the $30. a year, mere pennies per day is well worth it for the organizational abilities alone, not to mention access to the harder to find sweeps and contests. Naturally, you can use any search engine to find contests and sweepstakes on your own or even to find a site more suited to your own particular needs.
Now it's on to the fun stuff. At first it can be overwhelming, but you can avoid a lot of mistakes newbies make by doing a few simple things.
Decide what types of prizes you want to win. A lot of people new to contesting and sweepstaking enter everything they are eligible for, and that is fine, but there are a LOT of contests and sweepstakes and there just isn't time to enter every one.
Realize that you are responsible for paying taxes on your wins. If you can't afford the hundreds of dollars you will pay on that two thousand dollar purse don't enter for it and have to turn it down. While some sponsors will move on to the next name on the list, many will not and everyone loses. An easy way to determine your taxes for next year assuming you are making approximately the same salary is to add the fair market value of the prize to your salary and see what your taxes would be, then you can decide if that is worth it to you. To me, getting a great purse at a fraction of the cost is worth it as we can afford the taxes, but you may feel differently.
Read the rules to determine if you are eligible for a particular contest or not. While OLS and other sites make it fairly easy to tell at a glance, it is always good to read the rules for each particular contest at least once. You will eventually become fairly proficient at knowing what certain sponsors are looking for, but at least at first I always try to read the rules. It is heartbreaking to receive a win notification only to have it be determined later you are ineligible for one reason or another.
Keep track of what you have entered and when so that you don't disqualify yourself. Contests and Sweepstakes can have different frequencies to enter, some of the options are once, once a month, once a week, once a day, every 24 hours, every hour, unlimited, once per code or really anything the sponsor determines. OLS makes this very easy.
Find a strategy that works for you. I don't want to spend all of my time on my hobby, I enjoy doing other things too much and if it feels too much like work I won't do it. I do have a strategy that works for when I do enter, though, and if you saw my prize list you know I win fairly consistently.
After logging onto OLS I go through the new sweeps that have been added since the last time I went through them whether that was the day before or a month ago and add the ones I want to enter to my sweeps. I do not enter them as I add them, although I know that some do. I then go through the expiring soon sweeps, and while the plan is to keep several days or even a week or so ahead I usually get to them the day they expire or maybe two days before.
Depending on how much time I have I might hit a category that I really want to win such as trips and enter those or if I have no other plans and just want a lazy day entering sweeps, I will go to my daily sweeps and enter like a madwoman.
There is an option on OLS to organize the sweeps by ratings, but I don't like this at all because it is user rated and some people rate everything one star just to have a record that they entered it and it does not go by the value of the prizes or how easy they are to enter. If there are some sweepstakes or contests that you really really want to win, put them somewhere else on your computer- I have a favorites folder- so when your time is very limited you can make sure to enter for the things that are most important to you.
Remember that the time put in does not guarantee you will win big or even at all. I have been fortunate and I admit it, but I don't think it is all a numbers game. Having a positive attitude helps. As do patience and persistence. Some contests and sweepstakes run for months or even a year. Sometimes you will find out you won then have to wait what seems like forever to get your prize. You never know which entry will pay off, though, so if a prize is worth having, it is worth entering for. I know it isn't funny to them, but you will a lot of times see someone whining because they haven't won anything yet then realize they have only been entering for a few weeks. Sorry, but if you don't have patience, this probably isn't a hobby you will be happy with. If you are going to give up easily, ditto.
I know, I know you're impatient and want shortcuts- that first win would really help to show you it's all real and you aren't giving out your information for nothing. I don't blame you, and here is the advice I give to newbies who are getting discouraged. Enter contests and sweepstakes that have lots of prizes. Enter local/regional contests- radio stations, drop boxes in the stores you frequent and the like. The harder it is to enter the less competition you will have, so enter those recipe or essay or skill contests and you will have better odds of winning.
Okay good, you stuck with it even when it seemed like a waste of time. How are you going to find out you won? Good question, and the answer is... it depends. You can find out in any number of ways, the most common being instant win screens, email (check your spam folder), postal mail, UPS, Fed-Ex, DHL, your name being shown on a website, hearing it on the radio or tv and having a certain amount of time to respond or a phone call. Sometimes you will receive an affy (affidavit) to fill in and send back to make sure you are eligible and sometimes you will receive the prize by one of the carriers with no prior notice. All are exciting.
Why would sponsors give away everything from houses, cash and cars to candy bars and wallpapers and I-tunes? Advertising. And it works. I know I am loyal to sponsors that hold contests whenever possible, to show my appreciation. I have also found out about a lot of new sites, products, artists and whatnot that I never would have found on my own, and whether I win from them or not, I do support them when I can.
Keep at it and you will soon have all the T-shirts you can ever use and lots of presents to give away. I hope you enjoy your new hobby and wish you wins galore.
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The Girlie Girl Verses The Spider

I don't know about you but I'm not afraid to say I don't like spiders. Period. Of course I pretty much don't like any creepy-crawlie critters. Or any icky boy type things for that matter. Naturally, I consider anything I don't want to deal with an icky boy type thing.

Dddiva extraordinaire that I am, I know what to do when I see a spider. Scream for help. Unfortunately, the hubster works second shift and couldn't be budged nor could the oldest, who though she doesn't like them will deal with them as necessary as she was working nights then. The littles weren't home, but I don't think they would have been any help even if they were.
I know you're thinking it's just a little spider, deal already. Perhaps I could have, but this was a mutant spider and kept growing right before my very eyes. It started taking over the room and was almost as big as the house. Well, that's a slight exaggeration, but it was at least as big as a Volkswagon.
I just can't bring myself to get any closer to the thing than absolutely necessary, so smooshing it in a paper towel or using some kind of bug spray on it is out. Knocking it down then chasing it.... hello, no way what if it fell on me or sprouted fangs or something. Screaming again didn't do a darn bit of good.

In a stroke of sheer brilliance, it came to me. Run quickly to the laundry room and get the vacuum then lug the thing back to the living room to make sure the evil creature was still there. While I wanted it gone, I didn't want it loose in my house.

Mutant spider is still there, sitting on the window, looking at me as if I'd make a nice tasty meal. Well, NOT this chickie, I am armed and dangerous. Plug that vacuum in and get to work. Sloooowly push the vacuum over near the window and very carefully remove the hose and stick on the extender. Pick out the biggest attachment there is because I kid you not, that sucker was HUGE. Yell one more time for reinforcements then bite the bullet and hit the on switch.

Thirty nerve wracking tension filled minutes later the deed is done and Mr Spider is no more. Feel my heart start beating again and turn the thing off after running a bit to make sure it is really in there and not going to climb back out and eat me or one of the dogs.

Turn to go unplug the thing and see Ken and Dawn holding their stomachs laughing so hard they could barely contain themselves and shushing each other and start cussing up a blue streak.
I was so furious I was seeing red and I ran out of words and had to make some up.

Apparently, some people have no honor. They found it hysterically funny the way I was going about getting rid of the dang thing and didn't think to come to my rescue. Morons.

I know some spiders are beneficial to the environment and eat other bugs. I know that some of you think it is wrong to kill any living creature. I am not particularly fond of it myself and usually leave pest removal to those more knowledgeable and less squeamish and girlie.

Before you come down too hard on me, though, realize this- there are poisonous spiders in our area, I believe brown recluses and I have no idea how to tell one from the other and I am pretty sure that ANY spider as big as the one that wanted to eat me HAD to be poisonous. While I am all for live and let live, when it comes right down to it if one of us had to go it wasn't going to be me if I could possibly help it.

Oh, and if you are wondering, yes I forgave hubby and Dawn, but it took a while for me to get over such a traumatic event and they bribed me.

There, I said it. Yes, I can be bought.

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The Grammar Police

I was reading in some forums earlier and came across an interesting post. As some of you know, we call Devon the grammar police because it makes her crazy when things aren't just so. Apparently, she's not the only one although I believe the term they used in the forums was grammar Nazi.
Seriously, there was page after page of posts from people who can't handle typos, abbreviations and misspellings let alone words being used out of context or in the wrong tense. I was seriously surprised. I knew Devon was like that, and maybe my English and writing teachers were although I can't remember that far back.
Does it seriously bother you that much? I mean, with Dev- she's just quirky and knows it is a habit of hers that we find annoying, but would never think of telling anyone and possibly making them feel bad. Except for us, of course. But to go around correcting others or saying it should be this instead of that, or you were supposed to use too instead of to. I always was just happy that they were sharing at all.
Actually, a lot of people have problems with spelling. Ki and Dev are the only two of mine who can spell worth a darn. Dawn and Casey- not so much. I blame Hooked on Phonics, myself. Well, not the actual program but learning to spell how things sound and then later trying to memorize it right the first time. I never did grasp how that was supposed to help.
Seriously, does it offend your delicate sensibilities to see a comma where a semi-colon should be or someone who uses ... a lot?
If so you probably won't care to read this blog. Not only are my spelling, grammar and punctuation not perfect, but I make up a lot of words myself when it's almost this and not quite that I will combine them or make up something totally random.
If you spend much time on the computer at all it might behoove you to learn to read typos along with abbreviations.
Around here we are fluent in Typonese and not only do our fingers type faster than our brains can catch up with we are also well versed in speakos since our words fly out of our mouths faster than our brains as well with some regularity. Ah, well, what can you do? Just like with a machine, a human is going to have glitches.
Even if these things do bother you, it might not be a bad idea to keep it to yourself. After all, as a very wise little rabbit once said- if you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all.
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Making The Web Work For You

You can't go anywhere without being aware that people are struggling in today's economy. It is getting harder and harder as prices keep rising to get the most value for our dollar. People are looking for ways to make extra money or wondering how they are going to have enough to afford the basics let alone the extras.
Like many of you, I want nice things for my family, and I have found a way to get some that cost me nothing but a little bit of time. In addition to entering contests and sweepstakes as mentioned in a previous post, I put my computer time to work for me doing various things to get points and prizes, and you can too.
If you have ever used a search engine, you know how simple it is to type in a word and have
access to the information you were looking for- and many times way more than you ever dreamed of. Well, due to the intense competition, you can actually sign up to win prizes for every search you do? Each one is different but they all offer a chance to win with every search you do up to a certain amount each day. If your friends and family join using your unique link, if they win a prize, you win the same thing. I also take surveys for cash or entries into contests sometimes both. I have gotten to test and review several products, including many before they became available to the general public. It's great to have an influence on the new products companies are offering.
Here are some of the programs I use and have either personally received my rewards or my family or close friends have, so you can be assured they are legitimate. All of these programs are free to use and give you a chance to get something for the things you already do online.
ChaCha - This is so cool. When you become a ChaCha guide you get paid to look up the answers to the questions people text in. The people I know who are doing it average from $8.50 to $10 per hour for actual time spent answering the questions. You need to be 18 or over and a resident of the United States. There are a couple of easy tests to take and then you are all set to begin earning money at your own convenience. Wanna ChaCha with me?
My Survey - I love My Survey. You get an entry into a $10,000 sweep just for joining, entries for logging in each day, chance to win Reward Points for taking the first survey, chance to win a survey completion bonus with each survey you complete, earn points for each survey you take or new referral. The surveys are very short and easy, and if you meet a certain demographic you will get invited to take a longer survey for additional points. You can redeem your points for cash, donate to charity or entries into various sweepstakes. I have done all three.
Blingo - You have to be a Resident of the United States and at least 13 years old. In addition to having a chance to win anything from $5 Gift Codes to high-end electronics for up to 25 searches per day, you also get an entry in to the Publisher's Clearing House SuperPrize sweepstakes for the first search you do every day.
Winzy - You have to be a Resident of the United States, United Kingdom or Canada and at least 13 years old. In addition to having a chance to win instantly, you earn points for entries into a monthly drawing. Currently the prize is $1,000. If you place a Winzy banner on your website or in your e-mail signature, each unique view earns you points.
Lucky Search - You have to be a Resident of the United States, United Kingdom or Canada and at least 13 years old. During searches you will periodically receive points which can be redeemed immediately or saved up for larger prizes.
Swag Bucks - You have to be a Resident of the United States, United Kingdom or Canada and at least 13 years old. Instead of winning prizes instantly, you can periodically win Swag Bucks, which you redeem for prizes including gift cards, Itunes and electronics. There is also a program to get Swag Bucks for your old cell phone, which I think is kind of neat- help the environment and get something in return.
IWon - You have to be a Resident of the United States or its territories except for Puerto Rico, or Canada except for Quebec. Each search earns you points, which you can use for entries into various contests including a yearly $1,000,000. one as well as a chance to win instantly. You also get a free daily chance on a lottery ticket for $50,000. and 20 spins on a prize wheel and 20 spins on a jackpot machine that each have prizes and points that you can win.
There are also a lot of games that you can play and instead of just killing time, you get points to put towards entries into daily, weekly, monthly or yearly drawings, spins to win instantly and occasionally a chance at a scratch off ticket to win instantly.
I don't recommend this if you have dial up as it is flash intensive, but with a decent connection it is a chance to win cash or prizes.
You won't get rich with these programs, but you can win some very nice things. The gift cards are especially nice for birthdays and Holidays.
MyPoints - You have to be 18 or older and residing in the United States or Canada. You get points for reading and clicking the link in the email. If you respond to an offer (many free) you get even more points. You also get points for searches, taking surveys, playing games, shopping and more. The points can be redeemed for a variety of gift cards.
Ad Perk - Basically you watch videos and get points that you can put towards rewards. I have gotten 3 magazine subscriptions for free so far, not bad for a little over an hour.

All of these programs are extremely easy to use and self-explanatory. I don't do them all every day, but when I have a little extra time it takes very little effort and since my kids are at an age where they want things like Ipods and video games that are pretty spendy this is one way for me to get them without putting a dent into our budget. Give them a try- the worst thing that can happen is you don't happen to enjoy them and you quit. You never know, you just may get lucky with me.
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I've Got Dibs

Is my family the only crazy one out there or do you all put up with the I call dibs for like every dang thing too? Sheesh.

It is one thing to call dibs on riding in the front seat, who gets the bigger piece or who is player one on the Wii, but quite another to dib your mother. Seriously, the head dictator-tot actually dibbed me. And not just called dibs but got out a Sharpie and wrote Property of The Little Middle- me! on my right hand. Still mine! on the left.

At least they make the permanent markers in pretty colors nowadays and she wrote it in teal.

Naturally the youngest had to come cross it out and write the little one. I ask you, is nothing sacred?
Less than 3 days into summer vacation and we've resorted to this.

Oh well, I guess it is to be expected by children who use rock paper scissors to make all of their most important decisions when more than one of them is involved. I kid you not.

When they are alone they usually end up with a heads I do this, tails I don't after an arduous debate with themselves so I shouldn't be surprised.

Kids these days, I tell ya. Whatcha gonna do? Can't live with them, can't sell them to the gypsies.

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Awesome Hobby - Contesting and Sweepstaking

I have the coolest hobby in the world. Well, at least to me it is. And no, I do not mean blowing bubbles and making the dogs and the little man nutsy-cuckoo. Although, speaking of, that is a really fabulous pastime and never fails to make me bust a gut laughing and put me in a fabulous mood.
The hobby I am speaking of is entering contests and sweepstakes. Instead of paying money for doing something I enjoy, I am actually rewarded for a little bit of time and effort.
Unlike many hobbies, there are very few things needed to get started. Access to a computer and Internet connection, an ability to read and type, knowledge of basic information about yourself such as name, age, address, etc..., and the ability to find the contests and sweepstakes to enter.
It's easy enough to get started, just do a search and tons of results pop up.
An even easier way is to join a sweepstaking site. Well, spellcheck tells me sweepstaking is not a word, but it is for me, so deal. After months of research, I found the best site for me is OLS also known as Online-Sweepstakes. It is set up so nicely that you can begin using it almost immediately, especially if after joining (if I recall correctly, everyone has to sign up for a free membership to access the forums) you go to the forums under general sweepstakes discussion and look under hints and tips and Community under newbie neighborhood. There is a wealth of information from some very talented individuals.
If it will inspire you, some of the members post about their wins big and small to motivate and let everyone know that people really do win and it is not just a scam.
OLS is organized in such a way that you can find what you want to enter by either looking under the different categories that might interest you, the expiration dates, or the entry frequency to name a few.
You can tell at a glance if you are qualified for a certain sweep or contest, and there is a section for notes that have answers or codes if they are allowed to be shared and anything else pertinent to that particular sweep.
Now the majority of the sweeps are available to all OLS members, but there is also an option to pay for a premium membership- $12.50 for 3 months, $20 for 6 months and $30 for a year. Quite a bargain when you consider you not only get access to some of the less publicized sweeps but also organizational tools that make this hobby so much easier and more enjoyable- the ability to know the last date you entered alone is worth the paltry few cents a day it costs.
In fact, I and many others have gifted others with subscriptions, and I will most likely doing it again, through my blog this time, so stay tuned for details.
In case you were wondering, I get nothing for linking to OLS except the satisfaction of supporting a site that I really love. Oh, and possibly giving myself more competition.
Super wonderful people on the site, for the most part friendly, caring, helpful and decent. With that many people, there are of course a few rabble risers but that is to be expected.
I will write another time with my personal best hints and tips, but for now suffice it to say it is an amazing hobby with great perks.
Some of the pros: You can win anything and I do mean anything from huge amounts of cash to houses, cars, and vacations down to a feminine hygiene products, ringtones or itune codes.
In general sweepers are very helpful and generous.
You can support companies that sponsor contests and sweepstakes to show your appreciation.
You can give my family and friend really nice gifts that don't cost you anything.
You have a lot of nice things and can take some very nice vacations that you wouldn't have taken if you hadn't won them.
You find some new sites and products that you never would have found if not for this hobby.
And now for the cons: You can get a very bad case of chair-butt aka numb-butt.
You begin dreaming about the instant win games when you sleep.
You give up sleep because you lose track of time.
Some have been known to develop an ever widening bottom because they are sitting for long periods without exercising. The Wii you win is very good for combating this, especially if you win the Wii Fit and Dance Dance Revolution to use with it. Or, you could always buy them with a gift card you win.
It has been reported that when you win a lot and people find out how you got all that neat stuff, they will think you should share with them. When you give them the information to enter themselves so they can win too they look at you like you are crazy to think that they should actually have to work for it.
Some people even think that if you give them something you won you are too cheap to buy them a gift. Luckily the people I share with aren't like that and if they were they'd also know that if they EVER even think about having that attitude they will not get another thing from me.
You do have to pay taxes on your wins. At least in the United States. In Canada, they don't have to pay taxes on their winnings.
All in all something I started when I was too ill to do much more than get on the computer for a little while here and there has proven to be very beneficial to me. While many have won more than I have or bigger prizes, I win consistently and last year the total value of my prizes was more than I would have if I worked a traditional job. And I in no way shape or form put in full time hours.
The thing some people fail to realize is that there are no guarantees. You might win, you might not. But if you don't enter, you don't have any chance at all.
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Nicknames

It has been brought to my attention that it's difficult to know who the heck I am talking about because I use so many nicknames, and not always the same one for the same person. Well, yeah, it's what we do, and my mom did it before me and so on. It is an expression of love (or sometimes exasperation) and meant always as an endearment. So while it may seem odd to you, it is perfectly normal in my family and we all do it. If you want to try to keep up with who I am talking about, here's a rundown of some of the more common names we use, but the list is by no means complete.
I am: Mom, mommy, mama, silly mama, mummsiekins, MOTHER, mommy salami, momther, hon, babe, hey you, sweetie, dovie, hey gorgeosity, pretty lady, crazy lady with two trees, sher, cranky witch, the meanest mommy in the loonyverse, head dictator of the loonyverse, mrs. goofus-doofus, goober, meanie, or fun-sucker, depending on who is talking. Oh, and Ian calls me gigi. ;-)
Ken (my husband) is: dh- and d does not always stand for dear, you man you, grouch, the best stepfather ever, crankypants, hon or grandpa ken
Dawn LaVonne (daughter, 24) is: my real favorite, roni, roni mac and cheese, dodo, doopy, hot stuff, toots, sleepy-head, and auntie dodo
Kyra Nicole (daughter, 21, married to Aaron and mother to Ian) is: my real favorite, kiki, not fred, peter pan girl, ki, keez, keeks, keekers, keekster, keezlemeister, middle child of mine, darling, angel, kat, mommy and mama
Casey Jaclyn (daughter, 17) is: my real favorite, head dictator-tot of the loonyverse, lil mama, mini mommy, ddddiva jr, mommy clone, ceejers, lu, lubug, lululadybug, bugaboo, dahlink, casey jack-o-lantern, little actress, vain shallow stuck up snot and auntie casey
Devon Janelle (daughter, 14) is: my real favorite, dj, dev, devster, devii, deviikins, the fididdler, genius, cook, cookie, quidnunc, sweet hound, captain destructo, chocolate fiend, sugar junkie, smarty-pants, grammer police, rennie, serenity, doops, doopsiekins, doopsiepoopsiekins, bestest bud, sweetie, sweetie-pie and auntie devon
Ian (grandson, 19 months) is: E, E-man, E-dude, little man, love of my life, monkey boy, moose baby, TROUBLE and little mess
Aaron (son-in-law) is: Aar, fanboy, dada, daddy, and son-in-law of mine
Lady (dog 1) is: la, fatso, chubs, fat la la, the queen
Cinnamon (dog 2) is: cin, cinnaminibuns, min, mindy, minabel, minders, miss priss, prissy paws, cinderella and minarella.
Traveler (dog 3, Cinnamon's daughter) is: ick, icky, icky licky, kitty, chunkers, chunky monkey, kit, kitkat, batcat, baby goatly and doatly.
(dog 4 - not really sure what his given name is, it depends on who you ask and what they recall at the time) is: brother, dude, doofus, did, dids, diddy, diddle, squirt, squirtle and pansy paws
Groucho (dog 5) is: grouch, grouchy, baby, foo-bar, fuzzball, babykins, furball, fluffball, hairball, the little munchkin and mr barky von schnauzer
There are some common names and we all answer to: dude (the inflection depends on who we are talking to or about, like dawn is duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuude, dev is duuuude and anywhere in between. The girls and I all answer to hey cutie or hey cute one, brat, dork or doofus.
Everyone else is darling, honey, sweetheart, pretty lady, hey handsome, hiya sexy, gorgeous or the like if we know and like you, your given or formal name if we don't. Oh, except for the girls friends. They are all called my real favorite. Except for Darcy. She is mama's really real real favorite because she sucks up the best.
I'll never understand people who get all bent out of shape when you use nicknames. I know some people think that it means you are a player and can't be bothered to remember names, but honestly in our case at least it is used affectionately as in I care enough about you to use a term of endearment. To each their own, I guess.
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Disney Our Way - Final Thoughts

Walt Disney World is an excellent place to take a vacation. Winning that vacation is even better. Yes, we will have to pay taxes on the value of our trip, but it was worth it to us and we can afford it. While we could have done things a lot cheaper than we did, we knew several months in advance that we were going and put all *extra* money in a special bank account we called our Disney fund for just this purpose. This included the money I got from taking surveys, cash wins including one for $500, our state income tax return (federal return we had earmarked for other things), and our change jars. Also hubby finds money on the ground a lot at work and in parking lots and those pennies really add up. Added to the $500 gift card that was part of my prize package, and the fact that Ki and her group had their own spending money as did my brother and his girls, we had a nice hefty sum and we really didn't want to have to worry about scrimping or keeping to a budget.
The most wonderful thing about Disney is the atmosphere. Everyone who works there is friendly and helpful and smiling. They don't call it the happiest place on earth for nothing. Naturally with this many people, we had our moments, but we got over them quickly. I would go back in a heartbeat, all of us would. I had heard that Disney was overrated, too commercial, too crowded, blah blah blah. It's NOT. April was a great time to go weather wise as most kids are in school- sure the one day was cold but overall very pleasant, but it WAS crowded on the weekends. Not unbearably so, but I definitely prefer the weekdays.
Something very cool- if you are staying at one of the resorts you can have them put your credit or debit card on the room card and use that at all the parks. You can have it on just one card or all of them or just some of them. Devon LOVED wielding the power. It is very easy to just hand it over and most everywhere but a few snack vendors take it. A couple of times, though, the machines were down in the gift shops and I was glad I had my debit card with me. The hotel will print a copy of your charges once a day for you if you ask and a final tally on check out day.
Part of our prize included a 50 minute spa and 50 minute facial for each of us, but due to various circumstances we cancelled that and all in all I am glad we did since we didn't have enough time to do near what we wanted and I can get those anywhere.
Disney does this neat thing where they have TONS and I mean literally gazillions of pins that the kids (and some adults) like to trade. The best way to go about this is if you know in advance, buy a batch off of ebay or somewhere cheap. We didn't so did the next best thing- got a starter set that has the ribbon and some cheaper ones to trade. Well, the employees that have them have to trade with the kids and I forget which but the ones who wear a certain color ribbon have to trade with anyone. As part of our prize, we got 2 pins that were only made for the winners- there were 10 grand prize winners from the contest I entered through Georgia Pacific. Several employees remarked how rare they were and worth collecting. We of course kept those- well Keeks has one put back for the little guy. However the few dollars here few dollars there can really add up faster than you think.
Another very cool thing- in the hotels and gift shops and around and about there are machines that will press a penny or quarter with a Disney image. They cost anywhere from 50 cents to I think $1.50 was the highest one we saw. The machines we saw all had different images. We knew ahead of time and had taken a stack of both pennies and quarters for this purpose. This is especially nice if you want to give someone a little token and don't have much or want to spend even $5 or 10 dollars. They also have books to keep them in for collecting purposes.
We had all brought sneakers for our comfy shoe days, but... only a couple pairs of socks each. BIG mistake as we needed to at least part of the time wear them every day. Luckily for us we had the money and a handy dandy gift shop to buy a few multi-packs. We could have done laundry at the hotel but hello, vacationing here, sure don't want to waste time with that.
We had my brother get us some (winning) lottery tix in Florida as there is no lottery here in Arkansas. Unfortunately, he skipped the part about the winning and we lost, but we sent him some more $ to get us more. A wish and a dream and a $3 ticket is all it takes to change many lives, right. Can't win if we don't try.
We have decided if we ever go back to Disney World on our own dime to stay at the Polynesian if at all possible. Not that we wouldn't love staying at the Boardwalk Inn again, but because it was so amazing looking when we went for our Luau. We didn't have a lot of time to really explore there but it was just beautiful with lush tropical plants and everything. They also had a couple of really nice looking gift shops we didn't get to.
While we were at one of the deluxe resorts- they have I think budget, moderate and deluxe- I don't think I would go and not stay at one of the on property resorts. It was just so convenient with transportation and such and of course the perks didn't hurt a bit. Oh, and make sure if you leave a tip to leave it marked Mousekeeping... or housekeeping. They won't touch a dime that isn't marked.
Everything and I do mean everything was clean and neat. They don't miss a trick when it comes to thinking of the guests comfort at WDW.
While we had gotten a lot of useful information beforehand, some of it was very different that what we found. Most everyone says that things are disgustingly expensive and we just didn't find that at all. I mean, they were talking about shipping water on ahead and stuff. The large bottles of Dasani were only $2., smaller I think maybe $1.25- not positive because we didn't get those. Yes, I could get it cheaper if I got generic or on sale with coupons, but I'm at a resort for goodness sakes, and I didn't think it was out of line at all. I was expecting it to be $4 or $5 from what I had read.
There is nothing, though, like experiencing it yourself, and I highly recommend it if you get the chance. Disney Rocks!!!
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Disney Our Way - Day 5

We were a little bummed to be leaving, actually if given a choice we would LIVE at Disney World. But. We still had some exploring to do, some presents to buy and food to try. Check out is supposed to be easy from the resorts, they handle your luggage and hold on to your carry-ons if you have time to kill. Just show up 3 hours before your flight to catch the bus to the airport. Unfortunately for us, something was wrong with the computer or program or something and it took quite some doing to get everything situated. It worked out, though, as things have a way of doing and we split up in two groups.
The youngest and oldest came with me to Epcot and the others were planning on going to Animal Kingdom, but ended up in Epcot as well since it worked out that they would have barely gotten there then had to turn around to make it to the airport in time.
Half our time was spent looking for a working ATM and the rest buying things. The two gift shops we tried had sections that included gifts for under $10. so that was good, made it a little easier than looking through everything.
The other thing we did was hit Italy in the World Showcase and got gelatto- I don't think it was anywhere near as good as people were raving about and we tried a couple of different flavors. Also tried a cannoli. Okay but again not worth the raves. Maybe this is because I grew up in New York and New Jersey and I am used to something different, but my girls who had never had either before weren't overly impressed either. And the little sweet monger was MOST looking forward to the gelatto as she heard on the Food Network that it has twice the sugar of ice cream. That about did us in so we went on our last ferry ride back to the boardwalk.
Went in to the gift shop there and got a few last minute things, the most important being some more of those chocolate covered coconut Mickeys. I really should see if I can get some online and how expensive the shipping is to surprise my little clone with them for her birthday. If they could even be shipped in the summer. Anyhoozle...
Picked up our carry-ons then headed out. Ate at the airport, nothing spectacular. The trip home was not as smooth or uneventful as the one going to Orlando, but we eventually made it home safe and sound.
Ken and the dogs were really happy to see us and vice versa but we were beat so pretty much crashed and burned.
Did I mention that we LOVE Disney and want to stay forever? If they ever want to have a test family move there and rate the different attractions for the different age groups, we are so up to the task. Hear that Disney peeps? Pick us, pick us!!!
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Disney Our Way - Day 4 1/2

Back on bus we headed back to Magic Kingdom with a bunch of other diehards and had quite the good time. Giddy and in excellent spirits we (along with most of the bus) sang Disney songs and had some fun. We had a GREAT bus driver. A challenge was issued (wonder who had that brilliant idea) to all takers to get off the bus and walk to the entrance doing the Man-walk from Mulan. All of us and several others were up to the challenge. We had many, many looks from those leaving the park as we entered since only resort guests could stay. Lighten up, people. We aren't hurting anyone.
It is still cold so we decided to skip Splash Mountain and went waaaaaaaaaaay over to Space Mountain. The workers were letting some of the people in line hula hoop for fast passes, although to be honest the regular line was moving right along and not a bad wait at all. We went twice. I really loved this ride, every one of us did. So much, in fact, that we got right back in line to ride again, with only a quick run to a little kiosk to pick up a spinning light up Tinkerbell and I think a hat. The Tink was fun, we loved it and got our money's worth since we are goofballs like that, but I will admit that was our only casualty when we got home. She had lost her wings. After a day or so of playing, her body was in 3 pieces. They reattach, but it is not the same without her wings so we gave it to the E-meister to play with.
Brave souls that we are, we decided to tackle Splash Mountain. Walked back to Main Street to find a store still open- some were, some weren't since it was after hours. Bought enough Rain Ponchos for all of us and trucked back over to get in line. Uhh NO line. Another really good ride. The animatronics are kind of lame but it is fun and wet. I tucked my sleeves and everything and got that poncho as closed as I could and lifted my feet up but the kids didn't think to do it and I didn't think to tell them because I assumed they would. Icy cold, but nobody wanted to get off so we got to stay in and ride again. The couple behind us elected to do the same and kept up a running commentary on the adult antics inferred by the positions of the puppets. And now I will never be able to go on Splash Mountain without thinking of that again.
Over to Thunder Mountain- didn't think it was the best ride ever, and I would not have wanted to wait an hour and a half for it, to me it wasn't that great, but since we had a short wait it was decent.
4 of them headed to the other rides and such since Aaron wanted the teacups and Dawn and I went BACK to Main to find a Jacket since she hadn't brought one- they were $50 and up, a pretty nice quality- not the kind of Disney things you find in discount stores. Got that and a few other goodies and went to find the troops.



Wanted coffee but settled for a cold drink since we learned our lesson by now. Found the kids over by the teacups - there were a lot of characters roaming around and taking pics. The two littles went on the Dumbo ride and Deviikins even got to ride with Goofy!!! Yes, score!!!
Messed around til closing then back across the park- singing and skipping all the way to the entrance and our ride home.
We were wired, but showered and the girls got to sleep. I got as much of the packing done as I could and finally crashed for a couple of hours myself.
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Disney Our Way - Day 4

This was one of our more interesting days at Disney. Rainy and a bit chilly. First things first- to frantic phone call to lost and found to see if anyone found our camera. YIPPEE!!! Amazingly enough it was turned in and so off we trudge to get that. Another monorail ride to the terminal thingy to get that. It was on the opposite side from where we thought/were told soooooo long wet run.
Back to the Magic Kingdom for Ian's first haircut. Wow was that fun. Had a bit of a wait, but it was so worth it. Two little boys were getting their cuts ahead of us- a bit older, maybe 4 to 6. After cutting they sprayed a neon Mickey on the back of head and also colored the front then sprayed and sprinkled with magic Mickey glitter over it all. Totally cool. Since it was the first haircut ever for the little man, and probably due to his age he got a cut, a pair of Mickey ears, keepsakes- lock of hair, glitter, I think a certificate, I forget really. All of that for maybe $14 dollars. Since the barber was so fabulous with the kids we gave him a $20 and went on our way.
After that it was MY choice, so off to Downtown Disney. I had heard of a shop that all the souvenirs were $10 and under and since I had over 20 nieces and nephews of the under 12 variety to pick things up for off we went. I think we took a bus there. First thing we saw- a Christmas shop. Totally way cool. Dropped some $$ there, some for us, and an adorable snowman Mickey ornament that is perfect for my wonderful mother-in-law as she collects snowmen.
Next stop- Goofy's candy store. Sweet tooth youngest daughter aka sweethound, and Bill's youngest racked up over $60 getting their little baggies filled. We were going to eat at the Rainforest cafe, but then Bill and my nieces needed to leave- work and school and whatnot. Also, my brother was getting dizzy- he gets that sometimes and they haven't figured out what causes it so better he be home and rest. It was so good to see them, though. My favorite part of the trip was seeing them as we had not seen each other in 10 years. Yes, I know, but when I lived in Florida he was in Jersey, now that he's there I am here in Arkansas, aka middle of no-freaking-where.
Split up and wandered in and out of the shops- had a really good time laughing with the girls, cutting up and amusing ourselves. Met up at Ghiradelli and almost cried because the soda fountain part was closed for repairs or upgrades or something. Naturally, the girls and I pouted adorably but for some reason or other it didn't magically open for us. The free sample in the gift shop helped a little and did exactly what it was supposed to and tempted us into buying a couple of bags to bring home. Great marketing strategy.
Moseyed and meandered around and looked for somewhere to eat dinner. Finally settled on seeing if Planet Hollywood could squeeze us in so walked to that end... Pleasure Island I think it is called. Lucky for us they could. We had a wait, though and by this time were starving as we had just picked up little snacks for breakfast. A couple of the kids wandered to hunt up a kiosk and see what they could find and came back with some pretzels. I had the plain, but am told the pepperoni is particularly good. It is a toss up for us whether this or the luau was our favorite restaurant/meal that we had at Disney. The food- some was really good, especially the bruschetta appetizer, and some was only okay. But. This is our kind of place. Totally rockin' and it was really trippy to see all of the memorabilia. We danced our way up the stairs and across to our table and gawked like tourists. We had Ian headbanging and laughing so hard and made quite the spectacle. Some people look at us a little oddly sometimes, but the way I figure it, why not squeeze as much joy out of the moment as you can. Life is made up of moments so... make every moment count.
Had to stop in the gift shop there as well for the sparkly T-shirts for the mini-diva's. Walked back across downtown Disney and hit a gift shop, but never did run across the $10 and under one. Found some things we *had* to have, a very cool Mickey throw for one of my best friends and a magical pen for mama. Lucky for us it does not shut down at 9 like the other parks.
They were pumping music out of some of the clubs so the girls and I literally danced and spun and sang our way back to the entrance and went back to the boardwalk. Found out that Magic Kingdom was open til 3 am for resort guests so you know on our last night there we were not going to pass that up. Grandpa very kindly offered to take Ian back to their room and get him to sleep so the rest of us didn't have to worry about keeping him up so late or dealing with him if he got fussy so we gladly took him up on that and hopped onto the magic bus....

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Disney Our Way - Day 3

Aaron and his dad took off early to catch a few rides and the rest of us waited for my brother and two nieces and they wanted to treat us so we went to a really, really good breakfast at Spoodles, the restaurant right outside of our hotel on the boardwalk. Since we hadn't made reservations in advance they gave us a pager and the wait wasn't long at all, maybe 20 minutes, tops. The food was excellent. The juices were so fresh and the grapefruit especially was so naturally sweet, even my girls that hate it loved mine even more than their own juices. We all had different things and everything was delicious except the coffee. We had a little gabfest, really enjoyed a leisurely meal.
Took the infamous ferry to the Magic Kingdom and met up with the boys then went to the Nemo thing for our next adventure. Oops, shoulda checked better- we had to meet them at the front gate. Luckily we were there in enough time that I was able to get them to let my nieces go in my place- they couldn't over the phone because of their ages and needing a guardian and whatnot. Anyways, Ian, his grandpa, my brother and I went into the aquarium while the kids enjoyed absolutely the funnest most wonderful thing Disney has to offer- snorkeling in the coral reef.
They had a tour and lecture and then suited up in wetsuits and got to swim right in with the stingrays and sharks. They did have to stay above a certain level, and they had fed the fish about 30 minutes before they got in so they weren't hungry... good for them, bad for the pics as the water got very cloudy after the feeding.
There were some giant turtles that kept swimming by Ian, and stingrays, that he just loved. He got a bit bored waiting, but he's very young and we let him run around a little and he was very good, all things considered. Actually I got a bit bored too, it was a couple hours. *s* The best time ever, though, I am told if you are the one who gets to go snorkeling. Every one of them chose that as THE VERY BEST PART of the vacation. They even threw in t-shirts and buttons.
After they were done we went to a fancy schmancy restaurant that was very disappointing that Kyra had read good reviews from and made a reservation. Very mediocre sandwiches and salads I could have gotten in most any diner in America. Reubens, cheesteaks, burgers and the like. The one cool thing was that I got a glow in the dark clip on Tinkerbell on my straw since I ordered the drink it came with. I think a raspberry lemonade, which I usually like but didn't care for there.
After that we split up because blondie's friend went with her school and was giving a concert at a diner there. Unfortunately, some of the kids tried pulling something and the whole band had to leave the park and go back to their hotel, so we left and the kids with us did the go kart things across the way.
We met back up and wandered down Main Street, found the first-aid / changing station because when you are a teenager and you swim in a wetsuit, your deodorant wears off. Luckily we could get some there instead of going back to the hotel. Went through the tree house and got some pineapple whips... those are really good. We were going to have that and some fresh pineapple spears, but they ran out of the fresh fruit after they took our money so they gave us extra whips. We got the small and they still melted quickly.
We went to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride- that was a blast. The line was long but not really that bad. We snapped a few pics of the kids among the memorabilia along the way and they kept amusing themselves. Ian cracked us all up doing his little aarrggh yo ho ho pirate sounds.
Girls entertained one of the workers bouncing and hamming it up... he was just going on shift and happened to be the one seating us and started bouncing and had us all bounce to our boat. Good, clean, silly fun that hurts no-one and makes waiting tolerable. That was very cool too. Another worthwhile wait. Disney sure knows how to put on a show. Naturally we spent a nice chunk of change in the gift shop. HUGE JOHNNY DEPP FANS here!
We debated staying but the park had extended hours til midnight and only guests of the resorts can stay, which my brother and nieces didn't have resort cards, so we split up- grandpa taking Ian back to their room, my brother, I, the two littles and the nieces went to hang out on the boardwalk. They have a really cool thing on the boardwalk- many passenger bicycles. After the E-dude and grandpa went up we rented one. Okay, this WOULD have been fun were people not ignorant and rude. Seriously, hello, ring the bell means coming through, please move. NOPE. Stood there like dolts. Eventually we got moving, of course, but having to slow down for people who have no common courtesy whatsoever did get a bit annoying. It was pretty funny though we accidentally took the wrong path- kept going instead of turning and OOPS time to turn around and we couldn't get up the hill- bro had to get out and push, literally. One of those things that is a lot funnier when you hear it than when you are the one stuck there. LOLOL
Funnest thing on the boardwalk- there are a couple of bars on one side. Well, obviously we couldn't go in with the kids. They were pumping out the music and there were bubble machines and hula hoops. We had an absolute blast.
Nieces wanted to play some games so we walked to the other end of the boardwalk to the ESPN place and loaded them up cards to play games. Shut the video game part down then back to the hotel. Ordered another couple pizzas and went out onto the balcony with brother. Girls went down to the pool and had some fun there. They especially enjoyed the hot tub. Everyone got to do what they wanted so all were happy. Pizza was once more really good and Bill and I had a nice little chatter. When the girls came back they had to leave to take care of the dog and had an hour to drive so started the winding down process.
Unfortunately, there were only a few pieces of pizza left, the kids who stayed at the park only had a light snack and room service closed at midnight. If I had known I would have ordered an extra for the son-in-law, but I didn't so they had to make do with snacks.
Settling down and showers, then sleep. By then we really needed it. Disney is a lot of things and as previously mentioned, one of them is exhausting.
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Disney Our Way - Day 2

Stitch called to wake us up and we got up and busy getting ready for our day. My brother, one of my nieces and a friend of hers met us at the hotel and we took another ferry to Hollywood Studios. Part of the prize was an 8 hour vip guide for one of the parks- for us, it was Hollywood Studios. Let me tell you, vip treatment is amazing at Disney. Our guide was Vanessa, an absolute doll. She took all of our ages and interests into consideration and made sure there was something for everyone. The thing the girls and I remarked on later was that she never seemed like she was in a hurry but we were really moving. Just walking in the streets is fun, a lot to look at, but since we hadn't eaten we went to the commissary and had a quick breakfast. Nothing special, but the fruit was good. OH, biggie- the coffee is LOUSY. What they gave you in the room and every restaurant we had it in and all of the stands. Bring some of your own to make in the hotel if possible and bring or buy a refillable mug. We are serious coffee drinkers here and none of us could handle it. YUCK.

The girls all got their pics taken with Kim Possible and Ron Stoppable and they enjoyed that.
Since Dawn's BF really loves that show, that was nice. I am going to mess this up, and I know if the kids see this they will say gosh mom that old timers is really creeping up on you, but really it is because I waited so dang long to write about it, so I'll just write about some of the highlights I remember, in no particular order. Tower of Terror- WONDERFUL, FABULOUS, AMAZING, one of our very favorite things at Disney. We *had* to get a pic on the way out, with frame of course.

Stunt car show- The mini diva little middle wanted this, but all of us were really in awe. They were doing scenes from an upcoming movie and it was really fun, they even brought out Herbie.


We had VIP seating dead center up in the shade, really nice. A lot more exciting than we expected.


Star tours- the star wars thingy, that was fun.


Rock n' Roller Coaster- Fun rocking out to Aerosmith's Dude Looks Like a Lady. The ride itself was short, but very enjoyable
Beauty and the Beast Stage Show- Wicked good. The entertainers before the play were fabulous, son-in-law meant to get their cd from the gift shop on the way out but we had to get stroller and Vanessa had us moving right along and he forgot.






Muppet 3-D- That was crazy awesome. Lunch at Pizza Planet, like in Toy Story- nothing spectacular, didn't like it as well as the hotel delivery. The kids had fun playing the arcade games though and my brother and I caught up a bit. Ian liked all the noise and action. They had a movie tour ride that was really, really fun. The head dictator-tot little middle loved this the most. The studio lot tour was interesting too. If you are the first family in line of the next batch you may get invited to participate.
Seeing things like the ship used in the Navigator was a blast from the past for my oldest. The first time she saw that she was 4 and asked me if she could go on it and I told her if they came and asked her she could and packed her a lunch... she sat at the window for quite a while waiting and calling, but alas it wasn't meant to be.

We had prime seating for everything and Vanessa got all of our fast passes- anyone can get free fast passes for ONE ride per ticket, then after it is used you can get another fast pass. If you don't have a guide, I would suggest getting a fast pass for one of the most popular rides, going quickly to the next favorite on your list, riding that then using your fastpass within the allotted times. Repeat as time and inclination allow. Vanessa watched Ian while we rode, but another neat thing they do- if a family has kid(s) too young to ride, they will let whoever stays back get in the front of line once the others are back so no one misses out. Our tour lasted longer than the 8 hours, but we had to get back to the hotel and change for our dinner reservations.
We went to the Polynesian for the Luau. Here again our concierges were amazing- we only had tickets for 8 and with my brother and niece needed 11. They were sold out so the concierges told us- go, show up and tell them that you have 11 in your party and give your name and if there is any way they will get you in. Well it took some doing and we had to split up but we ALL got great seats and they just charged my room card for 2 extra since Ian is under two and technically could eat free.









I had read reviews about how hokey it is and whatnot, and maybe if you are expecting an authentic Hawaiian luau you would be disappointed, but it was delightful for us. The bread was out of this world outstanding, and the salad. The ribs were very good, chicken pretty good, vegs just vegs. Dessert was these little individual choco berry lava thingies.... not sure. While they weren't the best chocolate we have ever had, they were definitely edible. It was kind of hokey, but really entertaining, especially the fire twirler.
Everyone got those cheesy plastic leis- I ended up wearing one on my princess ears- I of course got the sparkly Minny ones with the multi-colored silky stuff trailing. One as a necklace, one on each wrist and one on each ankle. I am pretty sure there were several people who thought I had imbibed a wee bit as beer and wine were included in the dinner and you could purchase other adult beverages. None were needed, high on life and Pixie Dust!!! We took the monorail and that was fun as well. Little known fact- 4 people can sit up front with the conductor so the two littles and the niece and her friend did that and got little co-pilot cards. Then got off and got another ferry back to the boardwalk- singing Disney Songs and making fools of ourselves as per usual. Another late night so we decided to turn in. Sat on the balcony and watched the nightlife for a while- we particularly enjoyed seeing the old timey organ bike rider- that had been sitting in our hotel before then. Need to take a cookie making break before the kids revolt, so I'll end here for now. Part 3 to come.
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