5 Lessons Learned in 5 Months of Blogging

As of today I have been writing in this space for five months. While technically not a blogging newbie {I wrote on a different platform for years} I am more conscientious and deliberate about my writing these days. 

With that in mind I would like to share five blogging lessons I have learned since hitting publish on Welcome back on 30 March.

Coffee cup on saucer and open notebook with pen sit next to a laptop computer on a wooden surface.

I Am a Writer {Yes; A Real Writer}

Previously I hesitated to say this out loud, because I erroneously assumed that only people who get paid for putting together words were permitted to use such terminology. 

But then I applied that logic to other things, and it did not make sense. Do you need to win marathons before you can call yourself a runner? Do you need to sell masterpieces before people notice you are a talented artist? When people comment that you are a great baker, do you dismiss them because you are not a professional? 

If you are good at something and you love to do it, does it matter whether or not you are financially compensated for it?

Support Other Writers {But Remain True To Yourself}

One of the great perks of blogging is getting to know so many other wonderful writers and bloggers along the way. After a while you really begin to feel like you “know” them, even though you have never met in person and likely never will. I genuinely enjoy following along and engaging with fellow writers and sharing their work. 

However, I cannot compromise my own integrity by supporting work I fundamentally disagree with. I generally do not connect with pages that promote pseudoscience or pages that are overtly religious. If I don’t feel comfortable sharing much of what you post on my social media accounts, I probably have no interest in following your page. And I am completely not offended at all when folks feel the same way about mine. {Atheist homeschoolers aren’t for everyone.} It is what it is.

Writing Versus Marketing {Two Very Different Things}

I enjoy writing, and I know I write pretty well, but I have difficulty with self-promotion. The hardest part of this whole gig is marketing my own words. 

In theory, I know all the marketing tricks of the trade; in practice I often feel nervous sharing my own work. Not because I don’t think it’s useful or I am afraid people will judge—it’s more some sort of ingrained need to feel like I am being “nice” and “not rude” and “never too pushy” when it comes to, well, everything. This is probably my biggest challenge to overcome as a blogger.

You Can’t Do Everything At Once {So Just Start Somewhere}

When first starting out, figuring out the necessary steps to take in the right order can be very overwhelming. 

Do I need a platform first? Should I just start writing drafts until I have several posts in progress? How important is it to have a specific niche? What social media accounts should I have? How can I possibly be active on all of them? Who is my target audience? How do I get search engines to notice me? What if I run out of things to blog about? How do I find technical help when I need it? 

The truth is, all of those things are important, and to some extent you will be doing them simultaneously, so you might as well pick one and get moving.

Many great Facebook groups have helped me tremendously in my journey. If you are interested in which ones I have found to be the most useful, I am more than happy to offer suggestions.

Invest in Yourself From the Start {It Will Be Worth It}

If I could go back and start again, I would pay for self-hosting on day one. When I started, I thought: I need to make sure I am going to stick with it this time; I need to get x number of page views first, I need to prove that I am “worthy” of the cost

Trust me, it will be so much easier to just start out where you want to be straight away.

Even though I’m plugging along now on a self-hosted site {I made the switch a month ago} I really stressed and struggled at the beginning with transferring everything over and updating the layout and just trying to figure it all out again in general. It would have been nice to have only had to do that once. Also, I had to go back and update all of my pins to reflect the new website, which was unnecessarily time-consuming. 

How long have you been blogging? What blogging lessons have you learned?

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.


How To Homeschool: What Do Very Young Children Need?

Welcome back to How To Homeschool—a series addressing all aspects of secular homeschooling. You can view all the posts in the series so far here.

If you have been following along with these posts, you may have noticed I have only addressed from Kindergarten on, nothing for pre-K or preschool or toddlers. There is a reason for that.

At those ages, say before five or six, play is the most important part of their lives, and all they need to thrive. 

Sharpened colored pencils in order from light to dark form a semi-circle.

Oh, reading to them is great, of course, and if they start to read on their own, that’s great, too. Mine all did by around age five with no real “instruction” of any kind. Art is fun, too, and most kids enjoy creative pursuits {i.e., coloring and getting paint and glitter everywhere}. Outside time is always encouraged, and if you are fortunate enough to have parks and zoos and museums nearby to explore, even better.

But play is how children learn. Play is their job. Play is all they need. Really.

{For additional perspective, you may want to check out Help! My 5-year-old won’t “do” school! over at Simple Homeschool.}

Are You Sure About This?

At least once a week on one of the homeschool-related pages or groups I follow, someone wants detailed information about curriculum choices for their two-year-old. Or expresses concern that they are not “doing enough” with their three-year-old, or that they need a plan for their four-year-old to follow, or that they are afraid their kindergarten student is behind. 

No. Just, no. 

Very young children do not need structured learning. 

I know that statement makes at least a few of you reading this uncomfortable. Edgy. Even mad. You might have big plans and put lots of careful thought into how you will do toddler time and preschool at home. You might feel that I am judging you personally. I am not. 

Still, it doesn’t make it less true.

It might help you to have a plan, a schedule of activities, a routine in place. But realize it is all about your own need to have control over events at this stage. Routines are extremely useful in parenting, especially when your children are littles. I personally love routines. I am all over making plans and having a weekly schedule. But, your kids don’t need this.

No one will ever say I wish I did more structured schooling with my toddler. Literally, no one. 

I have BTDT with three young students of my own, and I obviously have so many feels about this. Suffice it to say that your preschooler or kindergartener—or heck even your first or second grader—will be 100% fine, a-okay if they are not into “doing” school with you. The best laid plans and most awesome curriculum will not matter to them.

{This post by A Magical Childhood from nine years ago is without a doubt the best post I have ever read about early childhood education.} 

So What Exactly Do You Do? 

From my experience, anything before age five should be strictly for fun with no educational strings attached. Kindergarten through about second grade is sort of a grace period where you can try out different things and see how it fits your student, and maybe focus on some basics {math and reading}, but not get too jazzed up about “school work” just yet. Third grade is where we kick it up a notch and have more specific expectations. 

Agent A is at this point now. Oh, he’s done lots of written work in the past few years {due to his weird love of workbooks} and he’s been sitting in on his older siblings’ coursework, but he is turning a corner now. He pays more attention, seems more involved, is more of an active participant.

On a related note—and I realize this irks some people—you are not “homeschooling” your two-year-old. Home education is an option you choose once your children are of typical “school age” and would reasonably be expected to be at some type of public or private educational institution on weekdays during the school calendar. Unless complete strangers regularly ask your kid “oh, no school today?” when you are out and about on a weekday, you are not homeschooling—you are a parent, full stop. 

Please just let your kids enjoy having you in their lives and spending time with them. Any structure at this age is for your benefit. Have a routine—even a very specific and detailed routine if you must—but do not feel that you need to be “doing” any kind of formal schooling with them. I promise you, you do not, and you absolutely will not regret it in hindsight.

Next up we will consider some ways to make teaching multiple grade levels together easier.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.


It’s Okay If You Don’t Enjoy Moms’ Night Out

When my first child was born, I joined a local moms’ support group. One of the big things everyone kept going on and on about was moms’ night out and its importance for keeping mom sane, having fun, enjoying “me” time, saving the planet, and promoting world peace.

Okay, maybe not those last two. But, they certainly made a huge deal about it.

So, when Agent E was three months old, I gave it a try. And I absolutely hated it.

Darkened shadow outline of a mountain at sunset.

I came home {early} to a hysterical baby who wouldn’t take a bottle and simply missed her mommy. I tried attending moms’ night out again two more times over the course of the next couple of years. While the second attempt turned out okay—toddler Agent E did fine with Dad and Momma didn’t have a panic attack—I came home {early, again} from the third attempt to nurse baby Agent J. 

To sum: I did not have fun, I missed my baby as if a part of my own body were cut off, and I spent the entire evening uneasy. This was early in my mothering and a lot of my parenting philosophy hadn’t really come together yet. I assumed the problem was me.

Why Did I Feel This Way?

I felt guilty for having gone, and more guilty for coming back. Every message I had received insisted I had to leave my baby, I had to teach her to get along without me, I had to do this for myself. This was great for moms and I needed it! Right? Why didn’t this work for me? Why wasn’t I looking forward to this? What was wrong with me?

Turns out, nothing. It’s just how I’m wired: I am an attachment parenting introvert, and I erroneously let other people define that as a character flaw.

I always assumed that being an introvert meant you didn’t like to be with people, and being an extrovert meant you did. It made perfect sense that I wasn’t that into mom’s night out as an introvert, but there was more to it. I don’t dislike being with people. I enjoy family gatherings, small group discussions, meeting other moms at the park, and joining friends for coffee. However, that’s not how I energize myself when I’m feeling low.

Being an introvert versus an extrovert is more about how you refuel when you need to recharge your batteries. Somehow I had managed to find myself in a group of extroverts who thrived on being able to go out once a month {or more} for moms’ night out and let loose, have a few glasses of wine, and be part of a big group in a festive atmosphere. 

However, I much prefer to schedule get-togethers with one person {or just a few people} during the day. I am not a night person. I don’t drink. Crowds make me shudder. This wasn’t fun for me; it was something I endured due to outside pressure. 

Combine this disdain for the partying atmosphere with an attachment style of parenting, and you have a basic recipe for a moms’ night disaster.

I absolutely hated leaving my babies at night. It did not make me feel energized or like I finally had a break. It made me feel worse, and ignored my own self-care needs. 

What Do I Do Instead?

Even now—with my “babies” currently 13, 11, and almost 9—I still  prefer to be home in the evenings. When I do go out later than usual, I don’t feel recharged—I feel on edge and restless. I need “reset” time, just like every mom does, but in a different way. 

When the Agents were little, I would arrange breaks that didn’t involve me leaving them completely, such as having a mother’s helper come to the house so I could feel productive in some other room while the kids played. I did occasionally enlist the help of close friends with children of similar ages, leaving to run an errand for just a short bit while they were distracted. I never made it a goal to “make” them stay without me for any arbitrary reason.

Now that the kids are older and I have the benefit of hindsight, I no longer worry about what I “should” be doing, and that includes declining invites for moms’ night out. I do the things that help me {not any other mom} to refocus and enjoy parenting with a clear, relaxed mind. 

My self-care methods have changed now that I am not longer in the thick of babies and toddlers and the Agents are more independent. I get up early to have some quiet time for reading, writing, and thinking. When I meet with friends it is during the day, not in the evening, and certainly not near the time I’d be normally going to sleep. I arrange mom/kid meet ups with one or two other families at a time, and avoid big, organized events.

Of course, I make exceptions. I go out. Sometimes even at night and to places that I know will be filled with people. I stay awake {and out} too late on vacation. It’s not that I never socialize after dark. I just choose to minimize these times, and honor my limitations.

Self-care will look different for every parent, and that’s okay.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.


Homeschooling Update {Week 9}

This week we had our kitty to the vet {again} regarding his dental issues. {We adopted him at age 7, already missing multiple teeth.} Long story short, he will be seeing a veterinary dental specialist in September. 

Of course I had all three Agents with me at the appointment. Which several folks commented on, as the {year round} schools here went back in July. 

Sharpened colored pencils in order from light to dark form a semi-circle.

Interestingly, I rarely get even remotely negative or passive aggressive comments about homeschooling or socialization. Instead, I get a lot of “I wouldn’t have the patience” or “that must be so challenging” or “how do you manage with three” kinds of observations. 

I mean, how do you even answer that? “Well, actually, I am not a very patient person, it isn’t that hard, and I’ve had three kids for nearly nine years now so I’m kind of used to it.” 

When random people comment on homeschooling in your presence, how do you react? Do you feel the need to “defend” it? Or do you mostly shrug it off? 

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.


How To Clean Out a Closet

How often do you clean out your clothes closet? In the past few years I have made this a frequent occurrence—about every six months or so {usually spring and fall}.

You would think doing this with such regularity means it gets easier each time and I only have things I adore and wear all the time and absolutely must keep. 

You would be wrong.

I am continually amazed at what I find I truly do not need {or want, or use} each time I clean out. Of course this is also true when the Agents and I go through their clothes, although with them it is usually because they simply refuse to stop growing. 

Even if the thought of this task seems overwhelming, the following advice will make the experience efficient and painless.

Black and white photo of empty hangers on hooks.

The Basic Process

  • Take everything out. This is a critical step. It all has to leave the closet, even stuff you “know” you are keeping. Trust me on this one.
  • Figure out the best home for everything. Are you going to fold sweaters or hang them? Will pajamas live in a drawer or on a shelf? How much space do you need for small items like socks?
  • When in doubt, try it on. Yes, it takes longer and it’s a pain. Do it anyway.
  • Group like clothes together and only put back what you really want to keep. Be brutal if you must.

What Has To Go

  • Anything with an obvious stain or tear that is beyond simple repair, because nobody’s got time for that.
  • Clothes that had been demoted to this must go under something because it can no longer be worn by itself {usually because of—you guessed it—a stain or tear}.
  • Anything you haven’t worn even once since the last clean out for that season. A few exceptions slip in here {e.g., formal dresses and outerwear}.
  • Clothes you simply do not like for whatever reason. {Confession: I love a good sale, but sometimes I buy something I “couldn’t pass up” and then realize it wasn’t a smart fashion move.}
  • What doesn’t fit. Yes, seriously. Don’t keep too tight clothes in the hopes that someday they won’t be. {This one was hard at first, but honestly, if I lost ten pounds I would totally splurge and buy a new pair of pants—and you probably would, too. Dress the current, real you—not the future, potentially smaller you.}

Some Helpful Tips

  • Pretend you are packing for a two-week trip. What goes, what stays, and what wouldn’t you even consider? Being forced to pick favorites is eye-opening. {I have packed for many extended trips, and can attest that this definitely works.}
  • Look at each piece and imagine what you would wear it with. You should have at least a few options for everything that stays.
  • Start a wish list of specific pieces you might want to add to the rotation or replace. This might be an “extra” of something you wear almost daily, or a new version of a staple that is starting to look worn.

Warning: Whatever you do, do not go shopping based on what you think you need. Always go through the whole clean-out process first or I promise you will have regret.

When you admire your beautifully pared down closet, it will be hard to believe you will be repeating the process in a few short months. Yet you will, and it will be worth it to know in the end you will only have pieces you love and actually wear.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.


Navigating Life After Faith

Letting go of your faith prompts a visceral reaction followed by much uncertainty. As with mourning any loss, your feelings may be all over the place at first. Even when leaving something behind by choice, your emotion needs time to adjust to your logic.

Part of the process of navigating life after faith will involve practical and self-care matters you may have never consciously considered simply because you never had to. If you followed a religion for as long as you can remember, it likely fulfilled a lot of roles without you realizing.

Following are three questions you might have about navigating life after faith and some suggestions for how to cope with them.

White rope for tying a boat coiled on a dock.

Where Do I Find Support?

If leaving the faith you were indoctrinated into caused you to feel isolated from you family and friends, you will need to reach out and find new humans to depend on. This does not need to be as scary as it sounds. For purposes of this post, I’ll offer some suggestions for group options, although I realize jumping into a new gaggle of people won’t be for everyone. 

The Sunday after I broke things off with Jesus, the Agents and I visited a UU {Unitarian Universalist} congregation. Now, you may be thinking, what? You decided you did not believe one church anymore, and literally the next week you showed up at a different church? Yes. Yes, I did.

At the time I really still craved the unity and support of a church-like family, even though I knew it could not be a Christian church. UU traditions and principles align nicely with humanism, and provide a structure similar to what we were used to without the whole Jesus loves you but if you don’t love him back you’ll go to Hell aspect. 

UU is a good option for a lot of people. However, they tend to be very different depending on the location, reverend/minister {yes; they still call them that}, and people involved. Personally, we had a UU family we adored when we lived in upstate New York, but after we moved to southern California we found we didn’t click with any of the ones nearby. Still, when we move again we will likely give it another try. 

There are also organizations such as Sunday Assembly and Oasis that provide a congregation-like structure for humanists and nones, although neither is very widespread. Again, it is something you would need to try out and see how it feels to you. You can also find humanist organizations in or around most major cities, although YMMV with how useful you find them.

{Full disclosure: We attended a local Sunday Assembly for several meetings, but ultimately decided not to return. I cannot speak to what other groups in different areas would be like.}

What Do I Do Instead of Pray?

What if you have always turned to prayer in time of need and you honestly feel that it helped you? Do you just stop? In time of crisis or worry, what specifically do you do instead?

It took me a while to accept that praying to someone was not the factor that made me feel better. Simply the act of sitting quietly with my thoughts, maybe talking them through a bit, was the key. I could have been talking to my cat, or a stuffed bear, or Luke Skywalker—if you can envision someone listening to your most private concerns, it makes you feel less alone. It works even if the listener is imaginary.

So, on some level, you can still “pray” in the sense that you might concentrate on a specific need or issue or person and seek clarity. Except in this definition of prayer, no deity listens. It is more of a meditative process by which you attempt to better understand yourself and focus your thoughts. 

I felt similarly about Bible reading. It was calming, and relaxing, and an ingrained part of my morning routine for years. If I dropped it, what would I replace it with? 

Turns out, most other books work just as well. If you really want to stick with a similar “theme” there are secular devotional-style readings out there. I find that many of the works by His Holiness the Dalai Lama convey a simpler, gentler spirituality without all the god-speak. 

When Will It Stop Feeling Weird?

Being a non-believer in a sea of believers can be overwhelming, eye-opening, and just plain weird—especially when you live in a very god-assuming culture. You begin to notice everything through the lens of disbelief, and to understand just how entrenched most people have become.

This may surprise you—given that I write a public blog where one of the primary focuses is helping atheists, agnostics, humanists, and nones feel less alone—but most people in my life have no idea that I am no longer a believer. 

I basically have a don’t offer, don’t refuse policy: If they ask, I will answer honestly, but it is not necessarily information I hand out willingly. 

Truthfully, it still feels odd to me that I am one of very few in my circle of family/friends who doesn’t buy the whole Jesus story and embrace all the Christian myths. It can be strange to be the only one on the outside looking in. However, I know that I am being honest with myself now in a way I had not been for years, and I feel content.

You will, too. It just takes time.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.


Homeschooling Update {Week 8}

How often do you go to the library, and how many books do you typically have out at any given time? 

We went to the library yesterday {we normally do not go on Saturdays, but we had errands to run near a branch we do not get to often} and came home with 48 books. Combined with the ones we already had out, that brings our total to 114.

I have found that we prefer to go just once a month or so and check out more items each time. We tried getting into a routine where we visited the library once a week and took out fewer books, but the Agents like this method better. 

Sharpened colored pencils in order from light to dark form a semi-circle.

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In the area where we live, we actually have access to four separate library systems, three of which have multiple branches. We have been sticking primarily with just two—because it is too confusing otherwise—but now apparently we are back up to three. They each have their own shelf on a separate bookshelf in the dining room.

Of course, only two of those books are mine. I find it difficult to go through books anywhere near as quickly as the Agents do. My current reads are Beyond Religion by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Enough As She Is by Rachel Simmons.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.


How To Homeschool: 3 Things That Might Surprise You

Welcome back to How To Homeschool—a series addressing all aspects of secular homeschooling. You can view all the posts in the series so far here.

Becoming a homeschooling family is a lifestyle change. No matter how prepared you feel, there will always be aspects that surprise you.

This post will address a few key points {all positive} that I did not fully appreciate when we first undertook this venture. 

Sharpened colored pencils in order from light to dark form a semi-circle.

Conversations not related to “school topics” can provide the best learning opportunities.

People will say that both the best and worst aspect of homeschooling is all that togetherness. It is true . . . you are around your kids {and your kids are around their siblings} way more often than if they each went off to different classrooms {or schools} each weekday. And that means plenty of opportunities to chat . . . about everything. 

Probably one of the most profound discussions that arose organically out of that intense camaraderie was when the Agents innocently asked me what religion they were. That talk led to more mulling over, which led to a startling {at the time} revelation for me. For the Agents, it was simply a way to quantify and label what they had been feeling all along. It also fostered our love of world religions and mythologies, and even today it remains one of our favorite topics to explore.

Exposure over mastery is okay most of the time . . . even for older students.

Of course there are subjects where you need to master earlier steps before you can build {math, reading, foreign language}; however, many subjects we learn do not work that way. 

I strongly believe that children should be exposed to lots of ideas without always worrying about turning it into a teachable moment. You can always go back and memorize facts or give quizzes or write term papers . . . if that is your jam, and if you think it will help. 

Do not let the thought that you need to be “teaching” all the time stop you from simply wandering around the zoo, watching a documentary just for fun, or choosing random selections from the library because the pictures look pretty. When your students are ready for more concentrated study, they will let you know. 

If you consistently expose your students to good books, fun places, and interesting people, they will greatly benefit and be more well-rounded for it. They will love learning, and not see it as something they need a break from.

The teacher is also always learning.

I doubt I would have ever read as many books, or started Spanish lessons again, or discovered how much I enjoy podcasts, or done any of the “educational” things I have in the past several years if it weren’t for homeschooling. Because I am responsible for my children’s education in a way that I would not be if they went to public school, I feel compelled to keep learning alongside them. 

Also, much of my education over the years was, shall we say, lacking in many areas. My entire K-12 experience could be summarized as: I memorized efficiently and tested well. I was woefully unprepared for college and it’s amazing I didn’t give up and drop out. 

This is why I find homeschooling so fascinating: Much of what is new to them is “new” to me as well. At the very least, I’m seeing everything in a different light.

Next up we will be taking a closer look at the early years, and what exactly you need to be concerned with when homeschooling very young children.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.


Disneyland for First Time Visitors: Key Differences From Walt Disney World

If you have never visited Disneyland in Anaheim, California—even if you are a seasoned Walt Disney World traveler—you may be unaware of some key differences from the Orlando location. This post will share essential information to ensure a great trip to Disneyland for first time visitors.

{If you need some packing tips before you go, be sure to check out How To Pack For Any Adventure.}

Pictures of Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck against a background of flowers and an ornate building.


Location, Location, Location

The biggest difference is that Disneyland is a theme park in the middle of a town, not a separate, magical universe like Walt Disney World. Although common knowledge, it is still somewhat jarring to witness it for yourself, especially if you are used to the cocoon of WDW. Once inside the parks, it is Disney vibes all the way; however, your arrival is definitely a different experience. 

In contrast to WDW—with its four main parks, two water parks, boardwalk, golf courses, and Disney Springs—Disneyland consists of just two main parks—Disneyland Park and California Adventure—and a much more condensed downtown area {which is still simply called Downtown Disney}. Overall it has more of a small town, nostalgic feel and is not nearly as overwhelming. 

Where To Stay?

While WDW maintains myriad on-site options, only three “on property” resorts exist at Disneyland. They are all within walking distance of the parks, but very expensive and thus not a reasonable choice of accommodations for most. 

Luckily there are “good neighbor” hotels just outside the gate on Harbor Boulevard or nearby. You can find dozens of excellent hotel options within a mile or so, many of which offer shuttles. 

I have personally stayed at four such hotels, and would wholeheartedly recommend two in particular: the Fairfield Inn Anaheim Resort {Marriott} and the Candy Cane Inn {independently owned}.

Winnie the Pooh Topiary holding a red balloon and popping up out of some flowers.

Unique Lands and Experiences

When you visit, you will definitely want to check out the attractions not available at WDW. Some of our favorites include Alice in Wonderland, Indiana Jones Adventure, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and Snow White’s Scary Adventures. Toon Town remains a part of Disneyland Park as well.

{Spoiler alert: The castle at Disneyland Park is much smaller. And pinker.} 

Also keep in mind that even the rides that are “the same” are not exactly the same. You’ll find noticeable variations on Pirates of the Caribbean and It’s a Small World, for instance.

California Adventure houses both Cars Land and Pixar Pier, with numerous attractions and amenities not available at WDW. There is also a huge play area {Redwood Creek} where children under 12 can use a mini zip-line.

{Truth: I actually enjoy the attractions at California Adventure more than those Disneyland Park, especially the Guardians of the Galaxy update to the former Tower of Terror and the entire “Radiator Springs” area.}

Do I Really Need MaxPass?

MaxPass allows you to get FastPasses on your phone, rather than going directly to the ride and using the kiosk. It also entitles you to download any PhotoPass photos taken that day. 

Many people will insist you need MaxPass for your trip, but you most definitely do not.

The current price is $15 {per day, per ticket}, which can end up being prohibitively expensive for large parties. For example, for our family of five on a typical three-day trip we would spend $75 a day, or $225 total, simply for the convenience of not walking to a FastPass kiosk and the possibility of getting a few decent photos.

{Spoiler alert: The PhotoPass photo opportunities are not as interesting or varied as at WDW.}

I think where a lot of people get confused is they erroneously believe you must have MaxPass in order to book FastPasses—the way you pay for express ride access at some other theme parks. The truth is, you can still get the same number of FastPasses either way, whether you book them on your phone or walk over and get a paper reminder.

The one advantage would be if you have a park-hopper pass you can book FastPasses for the opposite park {the one you are not currently in} from your phone, but without MaxPass you would have to physically walk to that park. 


Character Meet and Greets

We have certainly met many characters at Disneyland that we have never witnessed out at WDW, including Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Groot. However, the character meet and greets are not organized the same way. 

At WDW, if you are in line for a character, you will see that character. A cast member may cut off the line at some point, but if you have a place in line, you will get your hug, autograph, photo, whatever. 

At Disneyland, the meet and greets frequently “end” without much warning. When this happens, usually the character will exit by coming down the line and giving a high-five or hug to the remaining guests.

The cast members are usually good about keeping you updated, but sometimes you might be standing in line for five or ten minutes and then suddenly hear, “okay, this is Mickey’s last family; he’ll be coming down the line to say hello real quick on his way out.” It used to be disappointing, but now we kind of expect it. 

What About Meals?

There is no pre-paid dining plan, so everything is out-of-pocket on the go. They do offer restaurant discounts for annual pass holders and DVC members. As in WDW, the discount only applies at “inside” restaurants, not kiosks or food carts. Personally the lack of dining plans does not make me too sad, as we have recently concluded the ones at WDW are simply not worth it for our party any longer. 

Unlike WDW where you can plan your meal reservations 180 days out, bookings for table service dining can only be made 60 days in advance. Character meals are also more limited; only five available at last count {including both parks and the three on-site hotels}.

While it would be impossible to go through every single difference between the two establishments, I wanted to elaborate on several key disparities. Hopefully this will assist you in your planning, or at least provide some food for thought when considering a first trip to Disneyland.


Homeschooling Update {Week 7}

We now have 17 items in our book rotation {as part of our loop scheduling} and I can neither confirm nor deny that I am tempted to add more. 

After a few adjustments early on, we now have a cycle that includes math, language arts, Spanish, geography, American history {3 books}, world history, science {2 books}, health {2 books} world religions and mythologies {3 books}, art, and music. 

We have no logical reason as to why some subjects have multiple texts; we just found them interesting and added them and here we are.

Sharpened colored pencils in order from light to dark form a semi-circle.

On average we read 3-4 books from our loop each day. We used to go through more, maybe 5-6, but not read as much from each. We have found that we prefer to read more pages from fewer texts, even if that occasionally means finishing a few rather long chapters in one go and only getting to 1-2 books that day. It feels more focused. 

Our written work seems to be moving along at a speedier clip than in the past. The amount of time we spend on it seems to be about the same as previous years, so maybe the Agents are just getting more efficient? Most days, they work on “table stuff” {as they call it} for about an hour. Everyone does some written assignments for math, language arts, science, and social studies. Additionally, the older two {8th and 6th} do some written Spanish. They are also all working through this really cool human body coloring book. {Because who doesn’t love to color?}

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.


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