Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What's in Store for You at the New Disney Stores!

Last week, out of the blue, I got an email asking if I would like to come and tour right before the Disney Store's grand opening at Southcenter Mall and cover it on my blog. Hello! You had me at "Disney!"
So for a week now, I have used the threat of missing the "Mickey Mouse-Store Party" as a motivational tool to get her to go to bed on time. "Ohh... if you don't get to bed on time, we might be too tired and miss the party next week! So sad!" PLUS there would be free swag! Win-win!
The only "down-side" was that our pre-opening tour started at 9am. We normally sleep until 9am, so getting up, ready, and there by nine was hard.
To top it all off, I had no idea where the new store was located, and it wasn't yet on the helpful map at the entrance. An employee who was standing outside his store pointed me the right way. It's in the West half of the mall, in one of the short aisles, by an Auntie Anne's Pretzels (kind of between Macy's and the Food Court.)

But we made it! [Just barely!] And I arrived to find a mass of humanity queued into a line filling the courtyard and stretching down the hall. Ughhhhh... As I was asking one of the employees if I'm supposed to get in line, a lady (apparently the one who emailed me) asks if I'm me and waves me in! So long, peons! Mama's in the Big Time now!
Not *quite* as large a crowd as for the iPhone 4. But pretty close.
Some clearly important corporate guy is there and he's just starting the tour as we wheel in (I had her in the umbrella stroller since we can move faster than if she's walking, plus it gives an easily-exhausted pregnant Mama something for support while waddling around.)
And I immediately see how totally outclassed I am by the other invitees. I was dressed in full-on "whatever" regalia, including stained maternity pants that I have to keep hitching up and scraggy old sweater covered in random hairs. Plus my usual plain old ponytail. I felt so out of my element. But the one time I tried to look even the tiniest bit professional (Bloggy Boot Camp,) it turned out my toenails were too hideously long for my sassy open-toe sandals, and my brand-new khaki pants refused to stay zipped. So this time I just went as my normal "slob mom" and hoped for the best! Sadly, my "best" apparently did not include awesome recording devices, video camera, or even a simple notepad for taking notes. I probably would have forgotten my camera too, if it didn't live in my pants pocket!
At least The Princess came prepared! She had initially decided to wear her Belle dress, but had a last-minute change-of-mind and said she wanted to wear her Hello Kitty nightie (that she had slept in.) I counter-offered with a Cinderella dress still packed away, or her Jasmine costume that was in her dress-up bin (really it's a "genie" costume I got on clearance from The Children's Place last year after Halloween for somewhere between $.99 and $3.99. I love their clearance. Plus I had a 20% off coupon!) She chose Jasmine.

The tour started off with him talking about how this store is using the "Imagination Park Design" layout. When Disney was designing these stores, they got down to child-levels to make sure there were things to capture the imagination. Most of the key products are at their eye-level, unlike traditional stores that cater their subliminal advertising towards adults. They even got wheeled around and a slightly reclined angle, like kids in strollers would be, to make sure there were things to gran their attention too! There is a glittery "Pixie Dust Trail" path to follow through the store, and merchandise is grouped by "brand." Cars is all grouped together, Snow White stuff is together, etc. And they have the "boys" stuff (Cars, their new Marvel license, Lion King, Nightmare Before Christmas, etc) grouped on one half of the store, and the "girl" stuff (ahem, Princesses) grouped together on the other side. 
My favorite feature of the new Disney stores is their interactive displays. Once the first blurb of his speech was done, he showed us to a mini castle with a kid-sized door, leading to a "magic mirror." You can grab a wand from any of the Princess displays, wave it in front of the mirror, and the middle one becomes a screen with animation of that Princess. And they even got all the "official" voice actresses to do the voices! (Obviously they have a new Snow White and Aurora, but they got Jody Benson, for example, to do Ariel and Belle again. Although I hear she's a treat to work with and has always come through for voices for those characters for anything Disney cranks out. You'll notice that in extra features on the DVD, or talking toys or whatever, that it's her and not some impostor!)
After the initial shock of a mirror coming alive (all three girls in our group flinched and jumped in shock,) it was a big hit. Z stayed and made some very helpful employee do all the Princess wands with her while I stayed with my group after they moved on.

There is also a big display of stuffed animals, with a tunnel running through the bottom. It has buttons on knobs, and if someone pushes the buttons, it makes wacky cartoon sounds play inside the tunnel. If the large cog knobs are turned, the merry-go-round of plushies at the top rotates too! Super fun!

While the mirror was the highlight of the visit for Z, they were very proud of their huge 10'-across screen with an interactive menu (called the "Imagination Station") where you can put your requests in the queue for clips, music videos, trailers, etc to be played on the big screen. My favorite part was that they can program in your child(ren)'s name(s) to celebrate just about anything. First visit to a Disney Store? Hooray! Your name in lights up on the big screen! Good report card? Potty trained? Birthday? Anything you can think of, and the employees can put up a notice (and cut into the queue) and a big fanfare with sound and lights appears in the TV area, along with your special message on the screen! In front of the screen are little tables and chairs always stocked with crayons and coloring pages, and throughout the day they'll do additional activities, like storytime, how to draw character X sessions, trivia, and more. Always with something to take home.
You can see a bit of the screen behind Z
While my group moved on, the girls got to pick out their own swag. Character masks, bookmarks and stickers!
Guess which mask she chose?
We were ushered back out into the hall for the big key ceremony. The entrance was blocked with  a large lock attached to two velvet ropes. After a speech from the District Manager and Store Manager, three little kiddos came out and helped turn the magic key, which unlocked the velvet ropes so we could all go back in. Hooray!

In my swag bag I got a plush Mickey, a lined journal, and a 20% off coupon!
I asked Z what she would like. Super fancy Princess dress? (There were some really amazing ones.) Doll? Army of plushies? No.
A squishable Perry the Platypus from Phineas and Ferb. For $7.50. Really, kid? REALLY? No sparkly dresses? No $20 shoes? Nope. Perry "gitchigumi." [Her word for those wibbly rubber spiky Koosh-like things.]
I am never getting off this easy at a Disney Store ever again, so I stopped arguing with her. I saved my coupon for a future more-financially-damaging visit.

And a little secret for those of you who love Disney Stores and are still with me here: Each store with this new design has a custom-designed mural with local landmarks incorporated into the design. He pointed out Mount Rainier (with silhouettes of Brother Bear in front,) and a building that used to be the Tukwila Library which is now a museum or something, with Belle and the Beast in front. And keep your eyes peeled. Occasionally, extra graphics are flashed onto the walls at various spots at various times to keep the atmosphere constantly changing!

For anyone local who's interested, on Saturday September 10th, they'll be doing another Opening Ceremony at 10am, and Minnie and Pluto will be there too! (From 12-4 in Center Court of the mall, near Macy's.) And someone told me that the first 500 guests will get a Mickey tote! (Might be just like the one I got. Not sure.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Project Lunch: Eating Healthy, EasyLunchBox-Style!

I've been wanting to introduce the kids (and their moms, of course) to bento-style/waste-free lunches for a while now. But I was worried about the cost. Until I discovered Daiso and their $1.50 (plus tax) bento boxes. But they probably have BPA in them. And they're small, so would require the kids to cut things up small to fit inside. And they might have a hard time stacking them the right way and getting the bands on them (band sold separately, 2/$1.50 or $1.50 each, depending on style.) Plus, I'd have to buy a variety of fresh produce, to give the kids choices. So it would cost a little more, with the food plus box to take home, and I wasn't in love with the boxes, for this age group and purpose. So I shelved the idea for a while.
Until I got a discount code from! I went in with a bunch of my friends, so shipping was negligible (it's free if you buy them on Amazon, or up to $9 flat-rate direct.) I ordered a few extra sets of boxes in preparation for finally getting to do a packed-lunch cooking class! (I ate my share of the shipping since I was ordering myself one of their new hot pink bags as well!)
So I got it scheduled just in time for back-to-school, where the reusable EasyLunchBoxes might come in handy, and to get the kids in a healthy-packed-lunches mindset!
We ended up having 6 kids, plus mine, since it was sprinkling out and we were doing this at a park, so we had some no-shows. It was a nice number for doing this, since I had enough space for everyone! (I was originally going to set up stations and have the kids move from sandwich to fruit to cheese etc. This way they mostly got to stay with their place-mats.) They were ranged from age 3 to 6 (or 7?) plus a bonus 12-year-old.

We started off making the sandwiches. I brought my  Butterfly BytesDynoBytes and SweetBytes (heart) cutters (I found mine at Winco, but I hear they've been seen at Safeway, so probably at other grocery stores too. Probably hanging from the shelves on the bread, baby, PB/Jelly and/or cereal aisle.) I also brought my Lunch Punch Animals set and Whimsical Set (Fairy Tale.) No one chose any from the Lunch Punch Transport set, and I didn't bother bringing the Puzzle ones. And I couldn't find where I had put the new Train Bytes cutter (from Winco.) I also had a star cutter from Dollar Tree and some weird dino/lizard cutter I found years ago hanging up at Safeway.
For our grains options, I brought both wheat bread and some tortillas, in case anyone preferred to make a roll-up sandwich. Plus I looooove Nutella roll-ups! (On those pasty white Mission tortillas. Not the wheat ones as much. The regular ones with Nutella taste like chocolate donuts. Yummmm!)

I opted for spreads rather than meats and cheese for our protein group, since the spreads would be more sanitary than a bunch of kids grabbing at lunchmeats. And easier to use the cutters with, for the littler podlings. Plus they were all able to spread their goop around (even if it wasn't done evenly!) I had squeezable grape and strawberry jams, Nutella, honey, and peanut butter (creamy. We prefer crunchy, but it can be a choking hazard.)
There were a lot of creative filling combinations! And everyone chose bread, so they could use the cutters. Except one boy chose a tortilla with spreads, folded in half, then put INSIDE bread with spreads!

The veggies weren't very exciting, since, other than peeled cucumbers, they're mostly too hard for kids to cut with butter knives. So I got some baby carrots, fresh green beans, and some peas in pods (snap peas?) and let them choose any combination they wanted, as long as they filled the little compartment of the lunch box.

The dairy (cheese) and fruit options were much more fun!
For the dairy, I brought slices of Colby Jack and mozzarella cheese and mini cookie cutters, plus some cheese sticks, in case anyone wanted to make nibblets instead. I brought my mini Easter cutters, mini dino cutters, and mini transportation cutters. Everyone but Z chose to make cheese shapes. She enjoyed hacking and pulling apart her cheese stick to put into the compartment.

I brought strawberries, black (seedless) grapes and blueberries as our fruit options. I had planned on including bananas, since the kids could cut them with a butter knife, but all the ones available were too green. But I did bring my long (4"?) sandwich frill picks, so they enjoyed cutting up strawberries with butter knives and making fruit kebabs along with the grapes and blueberries.

I often don't include a dessert or treat in our lunches, but there were yogurt-covered pretzels in the bulk section at Winco, in four flavors: raspberry, blueberry, cherry and cinnamon. So I got some of each, and let each kid pick four to put in a cupcake liner for dessert. I brought my Wilton Dancing Daisy Flower cups and some butterfly design ones from Target at Easter as girly-er options, since I have a surplus of both. For the boys, I had accidentally bought two packages of the Wilton Pirate combo packs with picks (I got mine at Party City online, plus must have picked up another pack somewhere else,) so brought one.
I limited them to 4 each not to be a scrooge, or because I was going to run out, but because when kids take a packed lunch to school, they decide what order to eat things in. So this way, if they chose to start with dessert, it's not going to be as filling as, say, a cupcake or package of Twinkies. I've found that a cupcake liner (or mini liner!) is an adequate size for a treat, like Cheetos, chocolate-covered raisins (mini liner!) cookie, etc. Since the size of a small child's stomach is roughly equivalent to his or her closed fist, keep that in mind when tossing a pre-packaged bag of anything into your child's lunchbox! Most individual serving-size packages would be pretty filling to a toddler or preschooler, leaving no room for the veggies!

Their Masterpieces
Train and mini car cheese (on butterfly liner,) fruit kebabs,
LunchPunch dolphins sandwiches,
Nutella roll-ups (under kebabs, with Pirate flag pick)
carrots, yogurt pretzels (in Pirate liner)
Yogurt pretzels (butterfly liner,) ButterflyBytes sandwich (under,)
grapes kebab,  strawberry kebab,
cheese ducks (all with eyes poked in using flag pick! Butterfly liner)
Yogurt pretzels (butterfly liner,) snap peas, loads of fruit kebabs
on frill picks and Pirate flags, ButterflyBytes sandwich.
(Lactose intolerant, so was excused from dairy requirement.)
Yogurt pretzels (in plastic cupcake liner package insert!) snap peas,
fruit kebab, cheese dinos, mystery dino sandwiches (with tortilla inside)
Z's Lunch: hacked up cheese stick, snap peas,
LunchPunch fairy PBJ, fruit kebab and black grapes.
The pretzels were eaten before I could snap a pic.
My lunch snack (since we were off to swim class right after.
Plus I wanted a Nutella roll-up!):
Grapes, carrots, mystery cheese scraps (found left on a mat,) Nutella roll-up
I didn't manage to get pictures of all the kids' lunches, but they all packed a balanced meal (possibly a little heavy on the jelly, though!) Since all the kids I knew were coming were 2-6, I kind of planned it based on helpful serving sizes I found online for toddlers/preschoolers. So assuming they each ate their whole lunch, they each got approximately:
1.5-2 servings of their 6 Grains per day (1 slice bread = 1 serving,) 
up to 1 serving of their 2 Proteins (2 tbsp PB = 1 serving,) 
1 of their 2 Dairy servings (2 oz cheese = 1 serving,)
1-2 of their 2 Fruit servings (1 tbsp/year of age* = 1 serving,)
1 of their 3 Vegetable servings (1 tbsp/year of age* = 1 serving)

*up to age 6. After age 6, recommended 1/2 cup serving sizes, same as for adults.