Saturday, May 11, 2013

Little Big Man

Riley is 5!

I know he's been 5 since January but we are now going through process of picking schools and it hit me Riley is 5!

That being said a few weeks ago I started thinking about how much he had grown. He was our third little one and there was an 8 year difference between him and his big brother and a 10 years difference with big sis.  We were in a new house and poor Greg had to give up his office. It was by far the smallest room in the house. Ok I think the guest bath and half bath might be smaller but not much. Little Riley got a 10X10 room all by himself, squished between two preteen rooms. We went all out. We wanted a cute little nursery and had a gifted local artist do a animal mural. Jungle theme crib bedding and the cutest little monkeys hanging out in the room.  It was adorable.

In the past five years I couldn't stand the thought of re- vamping the room. Our little princess surprise Bella pushed Riley out of the crib and Sydney out of the "big room". (No worries Sydney got an entire basement finished out for her personal use).  Bella inherited Riley's crib and furniture and Riley inherited Sydney's camp style bed, dresser, and armoire.  My mother, who is an awesome seamstress/ quilter/ all around crafty person added edging and made his baby quilt into a twin sized one. We made it work so we could keep the mural.  By this time we knew a bit of what we were dealing with as far a Riley's sensory stuff was concerned. He's been a bit of a crash boom bang kid and no way was I buying new furniture to get destroyed.

I'm very surprised to say that the furniture actually held up.... except for the poor nightstand which seriously never had a chance. Sydney and her friends had already carved their names in it! (yes they got in I don't "let"my kids purposely mark-up, write-on, use stickers etc on their furniture it just happens sometimes).  Riley is doing so much better taking care of his things and I thought it was time for him to graduate to a big boy room!

I asked him what type of room he wanted and got about fifteen different answers. Hubby said "let him pick whatever he wants" but I did stack the deck.  I started by looking on pinterest and showed him tons of star wars bedrooms.  So he decided on star wars. Sneaky mom I know, but we have been down this road before (Ryan had a star wars room) and I still have lots of star wars stuff so why not! The trick is I'm trying to do this on a shoe string. Anyone who knows me well knows I'm like a bloodhound. Someone can put three similar items beside each other and I will always pick the most expensive as the one I like.   It's a gift HAHA! So for a week I've been pinning, measuring his room, going on line to price compare and just really trying to do a nice room on as little as I can manage. Ikea is going to be a very good friend in this endeavor.

First order is to paint. His poor beautiful mural and walls look like they were felled in WWIII! Today we removed everything off of walls and patched everything. We are going for a very "Industrial" style. We chose pale gray paint. It is a very neutral gray and honestly we bought waaaay to much of it for the living room so we are using it up. (My bedroom also got a few of coats of this awesome stuff). We have always used cheap paint and in the past had to use multiple coats and put it on thick.  We went with a pricey porter paint that supposedly will hid things better and cleans up nice. It rolls on like a dream and we've been really happy with it.  This is a good thing considering we spent some bucks and had a TON left over!

The biggest problem I have his closet doors. They are white, six paneled, by-pass doors and due to size of room can't do any other type of door. After a lot of research I thought the best thing to do was to paint them.  Decided to do a metallic treatment, the spray paint was $8.00 a can and we bought four cans but I think three would have worked.  I thought that was pricey for spray paint but for the convenience factor I thought it was worth it. Also when comparing price of new doors...well lets just if this works out new doors for $42.00 isn't bad. Plus we didn't need to buy paint for the room so yay!
The doors and the damage 
during :) 

Antique Pewter Awesomeness

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Blessed and Distressed

Where to start? I'd say the last two weeks have been crazy but honestly crazy is our new normal so I'm just going to say the last two weeks have been extremely routine!  I am TWO MONTHS away from my 14 day mission trip in the Ukraine. WOW! Time is passing by and yesterday I started getting into fine know the logistics of packing and luggage and TSA requirements all the minute details that can mean the difference between easy travel and problems at every turn. I'm a bit of a clothes horse and ALWAYS worry that I'm not packing enough clothes. Hermione's beaded bag from the Deathly Hallows would be soooo greatly appreciated at this time!

I have felt a tugging at my heart for years to do some type of mission trip.  I've supported quite a few, prayed for friends as they have went, and always been so excited to hear how it went after they got back. My grandma Gene use to say "I'll be surprised if you don't make a missionary, I've never seen a kid with the bug to travel like you do" My dad called me the go go girl, he'd say "if I say 'I'm going...' Laraine would meet at the door with her coat before I could even say where". I choose a trip to Europe over a car when I was a teen (spoiled enough to actually get the car also).  My husband had never flown until our honeymoon...when he suggested we go somewhere we could drive I informed him unless he wanted to be home alone a lot he needed to get on board with flying.....literally. This trip is so different. I'm not going for a vacation or to see the world I'm going with my heart set on making a difference in the lives of the teens we are serving. I'm going to share the love I have for Jesus with the world and I'm expecting amazing things to happen!

This has been a big leap of faith for me. Financially, the last thing I needed to do at this point in my life is "sign up" for an expensive trip that I had no idea where the finances were coming from.  I have been amazed at the blessings I have received in the area. Our youth minister told us "send out support letters, let everyone you know hear about your financial needs, pray everyday....God will take care of this!" I do believe God can move mountains and I hear stories from others about how he provides, but for some reason I have a hard time believing his blessings are meant for me.  I'll be honest three years ago I would have just written a check, not sent out anything, and then patted myself on the back for not needing help.  The only way I could go on this trip is if it was completely taken care of. I sent out letters and have been amazed at the outpouring of love for this venture.  I needed two-thirds of the trip paid for  by May 1st.  Two Sundays ago we had a missions meeting, I needed a chunk of money to meet the deadline. I was freaking out a bit and my husband told me "I've got the kids covered, you go pray about it"  I prayed for a bit right then and then prayed on and off the rest of that day. Less than twelve hours later I get a text from someone saying that they are donating X amount of money. It was the exact amount  of money I had been praying about needing. I think after all the donations were tallied I had a few dollars over the amount due. I had goosebumps.  I still  have a way to go... I need about $1000.00 more but I'm not worried I know that it's going to get covered. I'm hoping to get enough to pay for me and then to roll over to others on the trip.( I'll add a shameless plug here if you would like to donate ANY amount....even a few dollars please contact me and I'll send you the designation form, it's tax deductible so you will get a receipt. :) )

This is also emotionally hard because since I met my husband I don't think I've ever been away from him for more than a week... yes we are attached at the hip and have been for 20 years.  He's my best friend and no matter how irritated he can make me at times, he is the first person I talk to when I need to share anything. I was comforted with the Skype/cell phone placebo, but have found out there is no service at the camp where we will be teaching.  I got a little teary eyed over the thought of not hearing from or seeing my husband and kids for a large portion of the trip.  However, I'm a Newman and we are made of pretty tough stuff. Many call it stubborness I call it fortitude! A bit of the Gray temperament doesn't hurt either. I'll be busy, they will be busy and I just have to keep a journal of all the cool things that are happening and take a lot of pics. Being a stay at home mom of four with so many responsibilities , well I think I make myself believe that I'm the only person who can take care of them.  I know that's disrespectful to my husband, and the scores of people who are offering to help with my kids while I'm gone, but I can't help but worry just a bit. I tell my husband "Just because I don't do things YOUR way doesn't mean it's the WRONG way" I need to take my own advice and let him parent the way he needs to without me here.  I swear I am NOT leaving a's killing me but I refuse!!!! haha. I've been blessed with a wonderful husband who has a real heart for Jesus and his kids they will be fine.

My Ukraine language and culture book from Amazon came in the mail yesterday and now the biggest worry I have is trying to pack my bag and trying to learn the Ukraine alphabet.... Whew! Who knew fundraising would be easier than that!

The other thing that has been taking my time the last two weeks is distressing... Literally distressing. I'm a pretty boring decorator... I use lots of neutrals and go to stores and pick out all the matching furniture. I was sick of the same ole same ole and two years ago hired an interior decorator to help me punch it up a bit. She is great and has helped with color schemes and some staging but honestly I just can't afford her to redo entire house.  I've been bummed about it but then a dear friend ...Alana.....said "Girl we can do this..... I'm going to teach you to go to Peddlers mall and get you looking up stuff on pinterest and we'll do this our own way". Apparently I'm one of her more "high maintenance" friends and she's very excited to teach me DIY and shopping for deals. I found (OK actually Greg found it)  an old wooden dresser that was pretty beat up even missing a door for $59.00. It's solid wood and had all original door pulls. It came home with us it was really really ugly.... like I wouldn't have even owned this in the 80's...really ugly. I used Annie Slone's chalk paint and OMG this stuff is AWESOME. Very little smell and you have NO prep... No stripping finish off, no sanding... NOTHING.  Just paint it on the messier the better. Riley even helped he thought he was hot stuff!  Since I have a gray room I used gray paint and then bought Annie Slone's dark wax to "distress" it.  Not to be disrespectful to my hubby but he gave me the hairy eyeball that it couldn't be that easy.

This stuff dried in like an hour and then I rubbed the dark wax over the entire thing then wiped it away.  The dark wax stayed in the crevices and gave it a distressed old antique look. My husband even said "I would not have believed it if I had not seen it" I have pictures but I can honestly say it does not look as good in the pics as it does in the room! We had a college friend help us move the dresser to our room and he thought we had bought it like that. The only trouble is the Annie Slone's paint is expensive but it goes a long way and the people who sold it too me said I'd never buy dark wax again. I used such a small amount I'd believe them. I also found a huge antique mirror (gold) that I distressed using a teal wash where the gold shows through and then using dark wax to give it a bit more dimension. Again, boring ole me was going to do black on mirror but thought "lets try it I can always paint it black if it doesn't work out" The teal/gold/black kinda gives it a patina look which is neat. It's sitting in my room waiting to see how it works. I think I'm going to hang it and wait until I get my teal headboard to see if it works in the space. However, I am NOT handy at hanging stuff so must wait on hubby to do that. It's fun having these projects to do I'm pretty happy about it. Peddler mall shopping is kinda like treasure hunting but I have to go with a specific purpose or I'll try to get too many projects going. I'll try to get pics up later and I'll keep you informed on how the ongoing projects go.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Mommy Guilt

Mommy Guilt?  Anyone else have it? Believe me I have enough to go around. I remember when it started... Ok maybe not exactly when it started full force but I can track it back to about 7 1/2 months before Sydney was born.  You know that moment when you realize "Oh wow I'm pregnant" and then start thinking... "OMG I had a small glass of wine 2 weeks ago, I ate tuna fish for lunch yesterday, I sat in a hot tub for more than 10 min last night..." and geez thats just the start of it.

Our society has sold us a bill of goods that is just down right deceitful and untrue.  I remember as a child watching TV with the lady in a suit singing " I can bring home the bacon ... fry up in a pan?" remember that one? Women were AWESOME and we could do EVERYTHING... We could have a career, keep a perfect house, have gorgeous over achieving children, and look FANTASTIC while doing it. I totally bought into it ... hook line and sinker. Even convinced others I could do it too. People at work thought I was the BEST MOM in the world.  I took off work for conferences, arranged my schedule to volunteer at the kid's daycare, baked things for daycare/school. I had manicures/pedicures weekly and stopped by the gym 3-4 days a week during lunch or on my way home from work. Sounds great right?  I was miserable... I hated my job, hated not seeing my kids until 6:30-7:00 every night, and I hated that the only time I spent with my husband was on vacation. I remember praying every day and night for years for me to find some way to stay home with my kids. Finally my husband and I took a leap of faith and I gave up my career. At that point I just knew I was going to be extra super mom. I mean if I was THAT AWESOME working 40-50 hours a week world just watch out when I'm home!

Almost 4 years later I still very happy that I chose to be a SAHM (stay at home mom) but I feel anything but super!  It's 9:15 I'm still in my jammies, Bella has on a shirt she wore yesterday (It's her favorite), Riley is running around in underwear with a smily face in Sharpie on his tummy (thank you honey for giving that to him as you were walking out the door :) ) My dining room looks like a princess truck dumped pink stuff everywhere (Bella's B-day party is sat) and my hair and nails haven't been touch by a professional in months!  It's rainy so the dog has made tracks all over my hardwood floors and I really need to do a load of dishes and laundry! Park and Zoo are out so I get to watch my house slowly but surely be demolished bit by bit today while we play house, bayblades, yuigioh, puzzles, coloring and try to do some therapy... That's all before lunch :) Riley is being too loud and Bella is being too quiet ( I don't even want to know what she's up to right now) .  I work long and hard every day (OK most days there are times I veg out and do very little those are few and far between). I have finally loosened up a bit and I only do one carpool a day instead of three ( hate my kids riding the bus but 3 or 4 carpools was just too crazy). I manage to do in home therapy with Riley continually and my kids are safe, healthy, fed, and mostly clean everyday ( see above about yesterdays T and sharpie!) Why then do I feel so defeated so often?

Mommy Guilt!

We guilt ourselves and then in turn do it to other moms.  Don't believe me?  Go to anyplace where moms gather... you will hear diatribes on everything from the pro/cons of co-sleeping, attachment parenting, school placements, using meds, proper seat belt use, nutrition, extra circular activities, TV usage, Video game usage, home schooling, private schooling, discipline, religious training, potty training.... the list is endless. I can handle all of that because after 4 children you realize all children are different and each family situation is different.  Things I said "I'll never do" with Sydney( # 1) I have done with Bella (# 4). I'm not saying conversation about all this stuff is necessarily bad. I've had great conversations with other moms and have taken their advice which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. I think it is important for moms to connect and impart wisdom but I also think that we all need to remember that we usually don't voice our fears.  In other words I'll tell you "oh we don't let our children sleep with us" what I won't tell you is "maybe I missed some bonding time?" what I really don't even want to think is "uggghhhh I need my sleep and a foot in my face every night makes me not a good mother tomorrow". Because we have to make it about the kids and not about us. It's OK to say "I want my children to learn to self sooth and not be dependent" but it's not OK to say " If I don't sleep well, I'm evil to EVERYONE". I read somewhere once that parents who vehemently have all the answers are usually the most insecure.  In my own life I've found that to be true. I find it funny that I thought I was super mom with my first two even though most days I spent 2-3 hours with them versus the 12-13 hour days I put in now. ( Ok actually 24 for the littles but I don't count when they sleep cause I'm usually doing the same and yes I don't allow children in the bed often because I selfishly need lots of sleep). When I worked I felt guilty that someone else was raising my kids for me and now I feel guilty because my kids aren't socialized. You just can't win! And my poor husband I know he is soooo sick of coming home to find me in his sweats and t-shirts. I'm trying to work on dressing up a bit more and going out on actual dates where I fix my hair and make-up. Hard to be motivated when you are at home all day!

What's my point? Not really sure, just something that seemed I needed to work on in my own heart and mind today. I'm not super mom but I'm not a bad mom. I'm somewhere in the middle and the pendulum shifts day to day. I've been reading the book of James recently and James 3:17 says "But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace- loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere". I'm going to try to have heavenly wisdom and be full of mercy for myself and others today and every day. Hope some of you get some peace or joy out of this. Have a great day.... I have to go fix a door handle that mysteriously came off while I was typing.  The fun never ends!!!!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


 It's been a LONG time since I've blogged. I have used Facebook mostly to journal my daily routine and to write down all of my families quirky/funny events... and believe me there are more than a few.  My husband often tells me I need to update Surviving Riley just for my own sanity.  My life is zipping by and I love looking back on journals and reading about events that I might have otherwise forgotten. So I'm trying to commit to spend a little time each week to type about life in the Epley household. All 3 of my followers are waiting on the edge of their seats I'm sure :)

First things first... I AM A NERD! I will make geeky references  dealing with anything from Stars Wars to Jane Austen novels and sometimes it might not make sense to anyone who isn't a full on nerd like we are in the Epley house! Secondly .... I don't write much anymore. My grammar isn't the worst but isn't the best. I try to proof read and make corrections but most of the time my fingers do not keep up with my brain. My computer acts up a lot right now and honestly sometimes making a correction is more hassle than it's worth. Forgive my screw ups. Yes I know this is hypocritical considering I HATE when people use you're and your wrong or to, too, & two but such is life. Finally.. I am not supermom, I'm a good mom but in no way the best. I'm not interested in the mommy wars or telling anyone how to parent.  I'm just sharing a glimpse of our crazy un-dull life :)

I thought it would be fitting to start this again on April 2nd which happens to be Autism Awareness Day. My crazy life intervened and we ended up Spring Cleaning and moving my bedroom furniture around 3-4 times. ( I'm a visual person so I can't really think it I have to see it). However, in honor of Autism Awareness we did put a blue bulb in our porch light and found Riley an awesome T-Shirt.  The shirt has a super hero on it and it says "Autism is my Super Power". I cannot tell you how much he LOVED this shirt. He thought he was Super Hot Stuff wearing it.

I have to say I had mixed feelings about him getting this shirt. On one hand I'm not trying to hide his problems, but it does feel a bit like putting a huge billboard on my child. I let him wear it to therapy and forgot he had it on when we went to the mall.  We only had one minor meltdown. I was surprised about the absence of dirty looks, which I'm accustomed to.  It was only after lunch when people kept smiling at us and greeting us nicely (even when he was talking loudly) that I realized he had the shirt on.  I'm thinking of buying seven of them! HAHAHAHAHA

We use the words "Autism", "on the Spectrum", & "Sensory Processing Disorder" often around the house and it made me wonder what Riley actually knew. I asked him "Do you have Autism, Riley?" he responds "Yes Mommy! I have Augusttism and it's awesome". That's all I could get out of him but Hubby says "Apparently he has Autism and a fear of the month of August".  I love that little dude even if he has Augusttism :)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Cleaning up our Act

     Since Riley started therapy I have been doing countless amounts of reading and research on Auditory Processing Disorder, Autism, and Asperger's Syndrome. After reading and discussing with his therapist we have decided to Clean up our house and our eating.
      Anyone who knows me well knows that I really like cleaning products.  I love the "clean" smell my house has after using lysol, bleach, armstrong, windex etc... There is some evidence that these "cleaners" can possibly aggravate his symptoms. About 3 weeks ago I ordered Shaklee housecleaning products. These products are organic, natural, non toxic and the best part ....... It works! Once I got over not being able to "smell" the clean, (which really didn't mean anything except I was filling my house with chemicals that smelled) and actually evaluated how the products were working I was extremely impressed.  I'm not sure that this will make a huge difference with his diagnosis. I do know this isn't hurting him and if there is any chance that we can help even a little bit, we will do it.
      The second change we have made is using supplements to help fill in dietary gaps. Children with sensory issues all tend to have eating problems.  Thank goodness Riley is a good eater and does not have oral defensiveness. He does however get on food kicks where he only wants certain foods.  He has starting having sleep problems and extremely horrid night terrors. I talked with a nutritionist about what to add and we bought some good quality  dietary supplements (also from Shaklee). Again we are willing to try whatever it takes.  Since starting the supplements there have been no night terrors and he is sleeping a TON better!
     This week we started reading  "Eating for Autism the 10 Step Nutrition Plan" by Elizabeth Strickland. The first step is getting rid of preservatives, additives, food dyes and artificial sweeteners. It has been an eye opener looking at labels and really trying to clean up the kitchen and pantry.  It's been a bit difficult trying to adjust our eating habits but it's a work in progress and hopefully we will continue a bit at a time.  We really love our mac and cheese around here so I'm going to start making it from scratch.  If anyone has any healthy all natural recipes please email them to me.  I'll try to keep the blog updated if the Epley's don't eat each other first :)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Yucky two months!

Whew.... it has been a heck of a two months. It seems like we went on Spring Break and had a marvelous time and came back to craziness! While on vacation I had to call my doctor for an appointment and within a week of returning had a complete hysterectomy.  (No fun let me assure you!) Bella also had tubes put in a few weeks ago. If this wasn't enough the day before my surgery the world as we know it came crashing around our heads when we learned that crazy, stubborn, off the wall, hyperactive Riley wasn't all of those things but actually has some fairly severe sensory issues. Everyone seemed to think this would make me feel better because "it's not your fault he's wild" but I truly hoped and prayed it was a parenting issue, I can "fix" my parenting skills I can't "fix" a sensory issue. No one can. All we can do is try to learn and teach him how to cope and compensate.  On top of my surgery it was a lot to deal with in a short time.  I've started reading anything and everything I can about sensory integration, Auditory Processing Disorders, etc... We have also started occupational therapy with Easter Seals (they are fabulous) and have hours of work we do at home daily! We are seeing some improvement but are in for a long road.  No one can tell me what caused this and all the high risk factors that seem to contribute do not apply to us.  Just seems to be plain ole genetics! On the up side we caught this early (he's too young to even get a firm diagnosis because tests can't be accurate until closer to 6 yrs old) We are trying every intervention available and although he was a bit resistant to therapy at first he is starting to ask for it when he gets out of sync. We are just taking it one day at a time and praying daily for Riley. Any prayers would be appreciated.  On a funny note my hubby and kids think his therapy is great because a lot of it involves getting on the ground and getting dirty! Yesterday for instance we made a "dog Kennel" under the kitchen table and we ate our food out of bowls on the floor! (supposed to build fine motor) It was quite  disturbing for me which made it that much more fun for everyone else!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Gotta get back to Hogwarts!

     I know it has been a while since I've updated but with Spring Break and such, well it has been crazy! I will tell you a bit about our Spring Break vacation because it was such a special time for us.
     First of all we cheated. We left Riley (3) and Bella (1) at home with Nana and Grandma. I felt really guilty about this but Syd (12) and Ryan (10) really had to take one for the team last year and do Disney World with a 2 yr old and a 7 week old infant.  They had to ride little kiddie rides, stand in line to meet characters, and go back to room often for naps and rest time. I was determined that this vacation was just for them.  OK maybe for me too, it was nice to take off with only two suitcases, not use the topper to the car, and be able to drive as far as we could without meltdowns. OK maybe one or two from me and Greg.
     We left on Saturday and made it to Jacksonville, on Sunday we stopped in St. Augustine and did the Ripley's red train city tour, fountain of youth and then ate at our favorite sea side spot at Flaggler Beach. It's called High Tides at Snack Jacks and it is a fabulous little dive right on the beach. The crab cakes and steamed crab legs are an absolute fav of mine. After that we headed into Orlando to get the party started.  Now we are die hard Disney fanatics but this time stayed at a Universal Hotel.  Ok it was actually Comfort Suites which is a partner hotel. They had a special for 4 nights and 3 day passes to Universal it also gets you into the park an hour early which is KEY with Wizarding World of Harry Potter open. We had a free breakfast at the three broomsticks included in that deal and that breakfast was wonderful! The biggest disappointment with this hotel is online they advertise free shuttle service to Universal.  However, they do not have a shuttle service. You must to walk to another partnering hotel and wait in line behind their guests who are allowed to "book" times to leave. Some fellow Kentuckians we met at the pool tried to do the shuttle and were told it was booked until 7:00 pm, yes I said PM 2 hours before park closes.  Not to mention you cannot get into the park early using the shuttle because they don't run until after the park opens. Even though the hotel was fairly nice I will not plan to stay there again simply because I felt they were dishonest in their dealings. Now we were only 1/2 mile from park entrance and we could have easily walked it but I was concerned about carrying packages back and also the actual park is probably another 1/2 mi to mile past the front entrance. After all of us walking all day I just wasn't sure we'd want to hoof it back to hotel at closing after walking miles in the park. Plus parking was only $15.00 per day and honestly as I told my hubby, "is $45.00 for the entire 3 days really the breaking point on our funds" we spent more than that on Harry Potter t-shirts. It was however disappointing to be told one thing and have it changed and I will look into staying on property next time.
     The key to doing WWof HP is to get there early and head straight back, you can't get lost everyone heads back there.  Get in line for the "castle ride" (called the Forbidden Journey) first thing. Even being there early it was still a 20 min wait but considering we checked about two hours later and it was a 140 min long ride, I felt very accomplished. After coming out of there head for flight of hippogriff. This is a kiddie coaster and it is kinda cool but it you don't have kids I wouldn't wait  for it and even with kids I wouldn't wait more than 20 min for this ride.  Luckily the Dragon Challenge ride ( dueling hanging coasters) was at the most a 20 min wait time and Syd and I walked on to the ride 3 or 4 times in a row at one point with no wait. This was our second vacation to WWof HP so we did not do the Olivander's wand shop presentation.  It is very nice but we did it when hardly no one was there  last year. Currently it is a 2 sometimes 3 hour wait for a 5 min presentation. Very cool to do, but something you might get there early to do and then you'd never do it again.
     Universal has really got a hot ticket item here! if you wait more than an hour or two after the park opens you have to follow the hoard of people heading back to Hogsmeade and get "return tickets" to even get into that section of the park, it is THAT crazy.  When you come back you have to que to get into hogsmeade. I have never heard so many British accents in one place (OK I'm exaggerating a little, when I've actually been to Europe but you get my meaning)  Europeans are hopping the pond in droves to come check it out.  The butter beer alone (and yes it's non- alcoholic) is worth the trip in my opinion. All kidding aside if you are a Harry Potter fan this place is for you. I can not describe the tiny details they put into this (they even have moaning Myrtle talking in the bathrooms). At a time when Disney's white glove service is starting to slack off Universal is stepping up with incredible service that rivals the Disney of old.  It says something when you have to que to get into the guest shops to buy t- shirts and movie props. Yes people actually stand in long lines to spend money here.  Even more exciting is the news that they are planning to expand and make that section of the park almost twice as big :) Team Epley will be going back!
     A few side notes to help fellow first year Wizards. First of all their dining plan is worth the money (all you can eat food all day) however, the places you can eat are limited and the food is not that great. We only bought this option the first day.  The second day we ate breakfast at hotel and then had lunch at Mythos in the park (it's near Hogsmeade) and then ate fast food on way back to the hotel.  Mythos has been voted best theme park restaurant 6 years in a row and I can see why, the food was FABULOUS and we spent the same amount for lunch there that we did for burgers and fries the day before. Make reservations their diner service is almost always sold out and we were very lucky we ate an early lunch and got right in. As we were leaving,  the crowd hit and people were waiting 40 min to an hour for tables. Another thing  to do is take advantage of the free lockers that they provide while you are in line. Universal has lockers at each "thrill ride" use them.  You get entry with a fingerprint and the amt of time you can leave your belongings changes as the wait time changes.   After the time has passed they charge fees, but that is just to keep people from abusing lockers all day. So as long as you collect belongings after each ride you should be fine.  I heard people in line worrying about having a 25 min lockers but wait time jumped to 40 min - I explained that the locker time would jump also and that you have a grace period.  Believe me we used the lockers all three days and never had to pay! PLEASE use the lockers!!! The only Hogwarts casualty we had was Syd's phone. She took it on the dragon challenge and lost it out of her pocket. (USE LOCKERS :) ) Universal staff was helpful and said they would look for it after the park closed but since 90% of the ride was over water they weren't too hopeful. I was fully expecting to be buying a new phone. Greg checked with guest services the next day and Hallelujah they found it and it was in one piece. Their guest services staff were so helpful and nice ..well I just can't say enough nice things about them.  Finally take advantage of their package services .  If you stay on site they will deliver anything you buy to your room.  If you stay off site like us they deliver it to the front of the park and give you pick up tickets to collect your belongings as you head out of the park for the day.  I sincerely hope this convinces people on the proverbial fence to go ahead and book that trip.  Team Epley had a great time and we would love to see our friends and family enjoy the park as much as we did! OH and I almost forgot Universal has front of the line passes that work like Disney's fast passes. They are free if you stay on property but they are a $60.00 upgrade for everyone else. Unless you are only there for one day and are rushed DO NOT get these. Universal is great but it is not the size of Disney even with wait times we did entire park in about 6 hours.  We spent 2 days in Islands of Adventure which is where WWof HP is and one day in Universal and did everything we wanted many times over. Plus the only ridiculous ride times were the HP stuff and the front of the line passes cannot be used at Forbidden Journey. I'm sure it saved a bit of time for those who had them but honestly Jaws was a 10 min wait, Hulk was 30, Spiderman 25.... Just keep checking wait times and adjusting schedules accordingly and it's not a problem. And as the song goes "I gotta get back to Hogwarts, I got get back to school, I gotta get back to Hogwarts where everything is magic-cool" :) Have Fun All