Friday, September 28, 2012

Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland - 2012

MHP_with_Mickey__MinnieTonight we are off to party at Disneyland! This year, Mickey’s Halloween Party started earlier than previous years allowing for more chances for more people to get in on the fun! As in previous years, Disneyland Resort guests will join Mickey Mouse and the Disney villains for some treats and family fun at Halloween Time. The Celebration started Friday, Sept. 14 and will continue at Disneyland Park on 11 special Monday, Tuesday and Friday nights until Halloween. This is a separate-ticket event and tickets are available at The fun gets even spookier this year with the new Disney's Halloween Time Carnival featuring "The Astounding Cauldron of Magic" at Big Thunder Ranch, plus new pirate makeovers at Pirates League and, at Disney California Adventure Park, "The Art of Frankenweenie" exhibit with a peek behind the scenes of Tim Burton's new film which opens in theaters on October 5. Nearly all of the favorite Disneyland rides and attractions will be open so you can jump on something in between your trick or treating.

A really great feature of the party is the opportunity to "mix in" with regular Disneyland guests for three hours prior to the start of Mickey's private bash. To use us as an example, today, we will arrive at 4:00pm for the 7:00pm party. The party starts at different times depending on the date, so make sure you check before you go. I always make sure we have a good spot for "Halloween Screams" fireworks spectacular, hosted by "Master of Scare-omonies" Jack Skellington and only for guests of Mickey's Halloween Party. It’s really fun to see those mischievous Disney villains who you don’t usually see as much in the park other times of the year. For Halloween, they are plotting to take over Town Square on Main Street, U.S.A.

Big Thunder Ranch is my favorite spot in Disneyland. I’m really looking forward to, Disney's Halloween Time Carnival which is new this year.  A highlight of the Halloween Time Carnival can be found inside a mysterious sideshow tent where guests are invited to help conjure one of the Disney villains - Maleficent, Jafar, Cruella, Captain Hook or the Evil Queen from "Snow White" - with a magic spell in "The Astounding Cauldron of Magic." When the villain appears, guests may join him or her to pose for photos. As in past years, visitors to Big Thunder Ranch also will find ranch animals, pumpkin carvers, Halloween décor and activities for youngsters. Please, don’t worry, fan favorites Haunted Mansion Holiday and Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy are back again this year and I’m looking forward to Chip and Lulu being big enough to go on Ghost Galaxy.

At Pirates League in New Orleans Square, guests age three and up can live their pirate dreams and learn the ways of the seven seas by choosing one of three pirate transformation options: Jake and the Never Land Pirates, First Mate and Empress (created especially for all the pirate princesses). Pirates League is at Disneyland for a limited time only this fall. For Pirates League reservations call (714) 781-STYLE/(714) 781-7895.

What you need to know: The after-hours Mickey's Halloween Party is offered as a separate-ticket event on these nights: Sept. 28 and Oct. 2, 5, 9, 12, 15, 19, 23, 26, 29 and 31. This is the only time adults are allowed to dress up in costume. Kids and adults can trick-or-treat (candy and healthy treats). Be sure to get your tickets early as many nights sell out.

Tickets purchased in advance for Mickey's Halloween Party are $54 most days, while tickets purchased on the event days are $64. All tickets to Mickey's Halloween Party on Monday, Oct. 29, and Halloween Night, Wednesday, Oct. 31, are $69.

For more information about Halloween Time at Disneyland Resort, see This site will be updated with frightfully fun details.

Disclosure: I received complimentary tickets to Mickey's Halloween Party for review purposes.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Elmo, Sesame Street and me

ElmoLizThere are only a few things I’ll drop everything for. Meeting Elmo is one of them. Sesame Street is my show from my childhood. These kids today have way too much choice when it comes to tv shows. Chip and Lulu? Sure, they like Sesame Street…But not like I like Sesame Street. So the e-mail came in saying that Elmo would be hanging in an hip restaurant inside a hip Hollywood hotel and “would you like to interview him? Oh, and feel free to bring your kids.” Here is where I need to explain the complete awesomeness of this invitation. Me and Elmo, one on one and the kids can come too. Back when I was in the Sesame Street demographic, living outside Boston, the closest I ever got to this was when the human Sesame Street characters would make public appearances at places like malls. For example, I got to see Gordon at The Northshore Shopping Center in Peabody, MA. I was in the front row with my younger brother and Gordon came up and asked him a question. My brother froze. I whispered the answer and he said it. I spoke to Gordon via my brother while sitting on the floor of a mall in the 1970’s with hundreds of other kids. Now, a personal invitation to meet with Elmo. If I could have told my six year old self to just hold on…

I’ve had some great opportunities with Sesame Street. In honor of the 40th Anniversary in 2009, I was invited to meet with Caroll Spinney who plays Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird and Fran Brill who plays Zoe and Prairie Dawn. Henson Studios, founded by Jim Henson, who created the Muppets has invited me on several occasions and I’ve had the opportunity to meet two of Jim’s five kids, Lisa and Brian. They were both amazing to meet and told fun stories of growing up going to Sesame Street. Imagine that. How totally cool.

A couple of days ago, I picked the kids up straight from school and pointed the minivan towards Hollywood. It was kind of funny when we walked into the restaurant and I asked the girl at the host stand if she knew where Elmo was. She looked at me confused. I said, “red, puppet. Elmo?” A nice man sitting nearby said, “He’s in there.” And pointed to a private dining room. How awesome! One of his people stepped out and showed us in. There we were, sitting with Elmo talking about the latest happenings on Sesame Street. Elmo was fun, enthusiastic and being that he is 3 1/2, he got along especially well with Lulu. In fact, Lulu kind of took over the interview! Here is what we learned: The 43rd season of Sesame Street premieres today on PBS. One of the biggest changes this season has to do with “Elmo’s World” which has been the show closing segment. This season kicks off “Elmo The Musical,” which is replacing “Elmo’s World” after 13

Elmo The Musical new for the 43rd season of Sesame Street
years. In each skit, Elmo will use his imagination to make math musical - singing, dancing and taking kids along with him on fun-filled interactive adventures. Some of the adventures coming up this season include Elmo imagining himself in “Sea Captain the Musical,” “Mountain Climber the Musical,” “Prince Elmo the Musical” and “President the Musical.” The math component builds on the STEAM curriculum that Sesame Street integrated into the show last season. STEAM = Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math and all figures into getting preschoolers to think artistically and critically. I personally think this is really great. Critical thinking is so important and something I have felt to be lacking in education.Elmo musical

As usual, there will be many celebrities this season, including Charlize Theron, Maya Rudolph, Steve Carell and Don Cheadle. Elmo told me that he is really excited that the band Train and rapper Common will be visiting Sesame Street this season too. There will also be muppet spoofs giving nods to popular shows. We can look forward to “Birdwalk Empire” and “Upside Downtown Abbey.”

Elmo gave Chip and Lulu some goodies from the Sesame Street Store. The store is a great place to look for Sesame merchandise that you don’t really see anywhere else. There are plenty of things for grown ups, the iPad cases, watches, reusable tote bags and coffee mugs are some of my favorites.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

ScholarShare–California’s 529 College Savings Plan

imageSaving for college can seem insurmountable, especially if you have multiple children. I get it. In fact, The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that college tuition rose 439% between 1985 and 2005. Tuition for my college has more than doubled since I graduated…If that trend continues, it should cost roughly 5 times more for my kids to attend my dear alma mater. Nowadays, it feels like saving for anything is tough to do. I know. Although it “feels” easier to just put college savings “off”, I’m here to tell you that it’s not easiest in the long run. Here is why: The earlier you start saving for college, the more time the money has to grow. Time is your friend when it comes to investing. There are various ways to save for college and I recommend you do your homework to find out what method is best for you and your family. In this post, I’m going to let you know about California’s 529 College Savings Plan, ScholarShare, managed by TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing, Inc. There have been a number of changes to the plan making it more attractive than in past years. If you looked into the California 529 in the past, I recommend you give it a second For those who are unfamiliar with the state 529 plans, you are allowed to participate in any state’s plan. Since I have readers from all over the country, I’m pleased to be writing about something in which all of you can participate.

September is College Savings Month and the perfect time to start contribution to a 529. One of the biggest benefits of using a 529 plan is that all the money (contributions and earnings) is tax free when withdrawn to pay for qualified education expenses. The Scholarshare website, has lots of information about how their plan operates, how to plan for college savings and how to open an account. Features of ScholarShare that I like are: the choice of nineteen investment portfolios for your account, accounts can be opened with as little as $25 and ongoing contributions can be as low as $25 (that’s less than a dollar per day!), low plan fees which means your account gets to keep more of your money, extensive customer service support online, by telephone and in three office locations in California. I love a mobile app! ScholarShare has an Android App called Saving4College and there is one for iPhone coming soon. The recent changes that have been made to the ScholarShare program have raised their Morningstar rating from “average” to “above average”.

How about some free money to kick off your college savings efforts? In celebration of College Savings Month, ScholarShare is running a Facebook contest two winners will receive $1,529 to open a new ScholarShare account or contribute to an existing one.  Just “LIKE” their page and then share your college savings story – could be about yourself, saving for your child’s education, savings tips you might have, anything about saving. Simply go to ScholarShare’s Facebook page and click on the Share Your Story Tab to enter. Entries must be submitted by 9/26/12.

Some other great aspects of saving for higher education via a 529 plan are: If your child receives a scholarship, you can withdraw an amount equal to the scholarship amount without penalty or tax. Account funds can be used for educational expenses other than tuition such as books, room & board, supplies and equipment. Account funds can be transferred to be used for educational expenses of other family members. An account is owned by the person who opened it, the beneficiary is not the account owner, therefore, allowing the owner to have control of the account. Only thirteen states do not give taxpayers a deduction for contributing to a 529 plan. Unfortunately, California is one of them. I really wish California would add this incentive to encourage college savings. Maybe if enough of us trying to save for college bring this to the attention of our state legislators, it will get on their agenda. I have already contacted my representatives in Sacramento and I hope my readers in CA will do the same!

If I leave you with nothing else about college savings after you read this post, let it be this: Start saving, even a little bit, but start saving now!

Disclosure: I attended a dinner with ScholarShare and TIAA-CREF where I learned more about The California 529 Plan. I am being compensated for this post. The content is my own.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Getting to Learn All About Teacher

apple teacherIn nursery school, we didn’t have official room parents and I frequently found myself stepping up to handle Christmas and end of year class gifts. Being someone who tries to give relevant and useful gifts, I tended to ask the teachers and aides what their favorite stores and restaurants were. We would put together gift bags with some swag and give everyone gift cards to a few of their favorite places.

Early in my teacher gifting career, I even asked at the school office as to whether they had a lists of the teachers “favorite things” or “wish list”. The nursery school director said, “that would be a great idea! But, no, we don’t.” Recently, I read a post over at my friend Jen’s blog, Tiny Oranges, about putting together a questionnaire for your child’s teacher to fill out at the beginning of each school year. What a great idea! With all the events that may come up, holidays and teacher appreciation day come to mind, it makes life easier to just refer to the questionnaire. If you have a room parent, they could give it to the teacher and then share it with all the parents. Just think, we could save so many teachers the pain of receiving ANOTHER red ceramic apple that says “#1 Teacher” on it and, instead, get them a gift card to their favorite sporting goods store. Let’s band together to share the questionnaire! I wrote my own questionnaire that I will give to Lulu’s nursery school teacher. Feel free to use it for your kids’ teachers. Have a great school year!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Back to School at Del Amo Fashion Center

del amo 3Back to school shopping has always been mostly a non-event to me. Unless you had a massive growth spurt over the summer, your clothes still fit. Plus, as my mother always said, “wait to see what everyone is wearing first.” As of today, it seems like everyone of school age in my orbit is back to school. Summer is “over” and the mindset is shifting. I never underestimate the psychological momentum to be gained by having something brand new to kick off the start of an academic year. The Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance, CA is one of several malls in the Los Angeles area. It’s one of my favorites because it is so big and has so much to offer. I run to this mall all year long for things my kids need. Here is my rundown of some of my favorite stores this year for back to school.

Starting at the south side, Sears is where I go for kids Land’s End shoes, clothing and outerwear. The Land’s Enddel amo department is located on the main level. Down the escalator is the children’s department which is a good source for licensed products like superhero sweatshirts and cartoon character undies. Heading north in the mall, is the Vans store, famous for their uber-popular slip on sneakers…A good way to get around having to tie laces! Continuing along the first floor, there is an elevator and escalator to transition up to the second floor.

This level is where the majority of stores are found and is a good access point for Macy’s. At about the midpoint of this level, we find the food court. I love the lemonade at Hot-Dog-on-a-Stick and the chicken strips at Chick-fil-a. Here is also where the mall makes a left and a right turn in short order. Around the second corner we have Build-a-Bear Workshop which always has something new to commemorate any occasion and just past that, The Disney Store. Disney is a fun place to pick up themed lunch totes and water bottles. At the end of the hall is a large Old Navy. Here I keep an eye out for boys shorts and underwear and girls leggings and tank tops. Old Navy is also a great destination for school uniforms as well as trends you don’t want to “invest” in because you think the trend will be over by Halloween. For example, brightly colored denim is a major trend this Fall. My son found a pair of green jeans, although “full price” they were still only $19.50. Turning the corner to the right, you have Stride Rite for kid’s shoes on the right and further down, also on the right, is H & M kids. I seem to always find fun girls’ socks and tights here. H & M is one of the best choices for keeping up with fashion trends. They have inexpensive accessories like neon colored hair clips.

del amo 2Just past H & M is a set of glass doors leading to the newest part of Del Amo, the two-story outdoor Promenade. Here I recommend two of my lifelong favorite stores, Marshalls and TJ Maxx! You never know what you’ll find at these places but the treasure hunt for the deal is so much fun. I tend to score shoes for kids at Marshalls with great regularity as well as team logo baseball caps, shirts and sweatshirts at both stores. Also located out here is GapKids/BabyGap (combo store) which is a great source for all kids’ basics. Some items I like here for boys are: khakis, cargoes, polos and light jackets. For girls: casual cotton dresses, yoga pants, fleece tops and long sleeve t-shirts. Finally, Skechers is a family favorite for footwear.

Having covered the whole mall, everyone is probably ready for a break and something to eat. Del Amo has many restaurants to choose from. I recommend Lucille’s Smokehouse BBQ and applaud them for their spacious booths, kid’s menu and biscuits. Out in the Promenade, BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse with a menu that has something for everyone, Stacked where kids have a blast ordering from the table’s iPads and Lazy Dog Café which offers a vast kid’s menu with lots of healthy choices and a fun outdoor patio with fireplaces.

Info & disclosure: The Del Amo Mall is located at 3525 Carson St., Torrance, CA 90503 at the intersection of Hawthorne Blvd. and Carson St. Exit the 405 freeway at Hawthorne Blvd. Barnes & Noble bookstore and Crate & Barrel are located on the mall property along Hawthorne Blvd. Get connected via:, and To facilitate my review, I was provided at $50 Simon Malls Giftcard. All content and opinion is my own.