Saturday, December 28, 2013

Wednesday: Animal Kingdom, World Showcase, and a Near Melt Down

Well, two in a row! I am doing well here. Okay, on to Wednesday. Wednesday was a really nice day because we were able to sleep in until 7 AM, as none of the parks had early magic hours that day. We didn't have to leave our room until 8 AM to be to the Animal Kingdom by 9.

Now, I had never been to the Animal Kingdom before. That made things difficult. It was hard to guess at what fastpasses to choose, or how far away things might be-and that will become glaringly obvious.

When we walked in, we chose to go on the Kilimanjaro Safari first, for two reasons. Number one, it can take a significant period of time. Number two, it seemed like the most important thing to see at the Animal Kingdom would be animals.

I will confess here, I'm not much of a zoo person. Oh, we dutifully go to the zoo every year, and we even usually go out to the Wilds every year as well. And animals are super cute and vital to our lives as humans and I know that. But-I'm just not a person who loves, loves, loves looking at animals. And that is an important caveat about a lot of this particular theme park.

Kilimanjaro Safari is a lot like a much shorter ride through the Wilds. Take that as you will. We had to stand in line for about 15 minutes to get on, first thing in the day. Then it lasts about 20 minutes. It lets you out at the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, so we walked through it. At this point, the girls picked up a Junior Ranger program thing, which sounded cool in theory, but ended up taking so much time that we had to put them away. This would be where knowing your kids interest in this would be helpful-are they really into animals and learning about their habitats? Then by all means, do this. If not, it turns into a huge time suck-and with fastpasses, we just did not have time to devote to much of it.

Then we made another ill thought out decision. We chose to go over to Rafiki's Planet Watch. This was a huge mistake. In the first place, we had a fastpass at 10:45 AM, and it was a little after 10 when we got to the train station to go over. Then we had to wait for the train-which took a long time because they only have the one train-and then riding over took 10 more minutes. Once there, we just had to hurry and see the vets working on a monkey (which was a shame, because Betsy loves watching things like that) and then hurry back to catch the train again. We then had to book it to the Finding Nemo show, which was where we had a fastpass for seating. In this summer, a fastpass for seating is probably a good thing. In October, when no one is there, it is unnecessary. So we hurried for basically no reason, and anyone who knows my husband, knows that nerves were frayed at this point.

That said, Finding Nemo is super cute and not to be missed. Then Betsy and I rode Expedition Everest (again, we had a fastpass) and it was really a lot of fun. We went and got a regular fastpass for about a half hour later for the Kali River Rapids, so we decided to go ahead and eat our lunch. We had counter service at Yak and Yeti, which we enjoyed (my kids really like Asian food a lot). We then got in the fastpass line for Kali River Rapids. This was the first (and last) time that we had to stand in a line, even with a fastpass. It took about 15 minutes for us to get through the line. Nick and Betsy got fairly wet, but Felicity and I did not.

At this point, we were late for our fastpass for the Lion King. And we were fairly far away. (I should also point out, we had on flipflops-never recommended for the amount of walking one has to do at Disney World, however, necessary when riding Kali River Rapids to keep from having wet socks and shoes all day.) So, Nick is lugging around the backpack with our tennis shoes, and he's all wet, and we have quite a hike, and he is wearing flipflops. So it's not too shocking that he got mad, insisted that he needed to change his shoes, and proceeded to do just that. And Betsy did the same. Felicity and I hoofed it to the Lion King-missing the time for our fastpass, but going in anyway-and then I spent the next half hour, while watching an amazing, not to be missed show, worried that Nick and Betsy were missing it. They weren't of course, they were a few rows behind us. But it marked a low point for us.

We then took a break to change our shoes, do some pin trading (yes, I will be writing a whole blog about pin trading soon), and calm down. We made our way over to the Dinosaur ride, which was fun (even Felicity liked it, and she was scared of a lot of things). Then Betsy and I rode the Primeval Whirl and the girls and I rode the Triceritop Spin. All good fun.

We trekked back toward Asia for Flights of Wonder, which was a cute show about birds. Then we stepped outside and got great seats for the parade, which is right along that route. Then we trekked back toward the entrance and watched the short 3D film, It's Tough to be a Bug, which scared Betsy silly. (She is overall pretty freaked out by spiders, I should say.)

The Animal Kingdom closes at 5 PM, so we drove over to Epcot for the remainder of the night. We spent the evening in the World Showcase. We rode Mexico and Norway's rides, and watched Chinese acrobats. We saw the American Adventure program, which in my opinion is one of the best things at Disney World.

But the best part of our night was that the Food and Wine Festival was going on. Oh. My. Goodness. If you get the chance, go. Everything is really reasonably priced for Disney, meaning around $5 for most food. But the kicker was that we could use our snack credits for some selections. You get a snack credit a day, and we would never have used all of them in a week if not for this.

First, we got some Chinese food, because we all love Chinese food. We also got some lemonade with snack credit. Then we got ravioli from Italy-I am telling you, it was the *best* ravioli I have ever had. Italy also has this staircase near the lagoon, and I walked over it and was surprised to find no one sitting on the other side. It was the perfect place to sit and watch Illuminations. I called April and had her family join us. It was literally one of my most favorite memories of the whole trip, sitting there with such great seats, eating melt in your mouth ravioli.

It made up for the whole flipflops, wet clothes, trek 10 miles anger earlier in the day. Almost.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Tuesday: Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and A Very Important Date

So...the holidays are over, I have recovered from a horrendous bout with both the actual flu and a stomach flu, and I have a goal of getting this blog series at least somewhat done before the new year. Ambitious, considering that I'm still only on Tuesday, but we'll try.

Tuesday began like most days for the Johnson family. Up by 6 AM, out the door by 7 AM, for an 8 AM opening of the park. We chose to go to the park that opened early for extra magic hours-this is a controversial decision. Most sites recommend against it, as that park is ineveitably more crowded that day. However, as I mentioned, going in early October, there was no one there. And so, even if it was a slightly more full park, it was still worth getting up early and beating what crowd there was.

So, we drove to Epcot, parked in the front row (this always made Nick happy, to park in the front row), and got in the line to enter the park. This is where Joy's intinerary became invaluable. When the park opened, my husband wanted to go to Spaceship Earth-because it was right there in front of us. Let me assure you, you need never, ever worry about a line at Spaceship Earth. If you walk up to Spaceship Earth and there is a line, leave and come back later. You should never, ever stand in a line for Spaceship Earth.

No, when the park opened, we made a mad dash over to the Land, hurried down the stairs and into Soarin'. We were among the first people to ride this incredibly popular ride. Basically you are strapped into a seat and lifted up-the rest of the ride is a feeling that you are soaring over the most beautiful scenery but you aren't actually moving. It was a wonderful ride and the girls (especially Felicity) loved it. Felicity was scared of a lot of rides, but this one was just pure fun.

After that, we rode Living With The Land. It is a boat ride and we were the only people on it. Still amazes me. It was really interesting to see how they grow the food there, especially since we later ate at the Land for lunch. But more about that later.

Then I made what in hindsight was a tactical error. We should have gone to one of the other pavillions that was open early-but we chose to wait around 15 minutes to watch the "Circle of Life" movie about conservation. It is a cute movie, but still, we wasted 15 minutes waiting.

We walked over to the Living Seas next. The thing about Epcot is that things can take as long as you want. We rode the short ride in, then took in Turtle Talk with Crush-which is so very cute, I highly recommend it-and then we watched the fish for a while. They were feeding the fish at that time, so it's an interesting time to go.

We had fastpasses for Mission: Space and Test Track, so we had to walk over to the other side of Future World (another important caveat for Epcot-it is large and walking places takes a lot of time). Betsy and I rode Mission: Space and chose to do the tamer version. I love thrill rides, but I didn't get much out of it. Betsy liked it more than I did.

Test Track we all four rode. You are in teams of 2 and 2, so Nick went with Betsy and I went with Felicity. You get to design your own car and then test it out and compare your scores. Of course, Nick and Betsy won (Felicity was mostly concerned with the color of our car, which was pink). It was a lot of fun.

Next, I wanted to fit in the Universe of Energy. However, it was just a hair past 11 AM, and we would have had to wait 15 minutes for another show to start and then it takes 45 minutes total to view the whole thing. This was just too much time to fit anything else in, and try as I might, we never did make it back.

Instead, we walked over to Innovations and went in Club Cool, where you can sample different kinds of Coke from around the world. We enjoyed it very much, as we were quite thirsty. Then we went to Journey Into Imagination and rode it. (We were told later that it is being closed in 2014 for extensive renovations.) We did a lot of the fun, try it yourself things at the end (being there when no one is there really helps with getting to do hands on stuff at Epcot), but did not have time to see Captain EO (I'm not sure that would have meant much to the girls, as they really don't know too much about Michael Jackson-my bad).

We had a fastpass to meet the Disney Characters available at the Character Spot, who turned out to be Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy. We played a game about saving money next, which was really cute for the girls. Then we headed back up to the Land for lunch. The Land is the best place to lunch at Epcot, I think, especially on the quick dining plan. There are lots of different options (it's like a food court) and very healthy ones at that. Our food was really delicious.

We then had just enough time to squeeze in that Spaceship Earth ride before we had to leave, to get to the Grand Floridian for the girls Alice in Wonderland tea party. This cost $40 per kid, which in the world of Disney is relatively cheap. It was a really nice time for the girls-it was only them and Mallory and two other girls-for one hour having a tea party with Alice and the Mad Hatter. They had tea and cookies, and made a craft, and just basically had a grand time (I will upload the pictures to my Facebook page, and just watch how much fun they are having). April, Jeremy, Nick, Mom, Dad, Natalie, and I hung out in the lobby for an hour, talking, while they were enjoying.

Now, again in hindsight, I should have let the girls bring their bathing suits and go swimming afterwards. The Grand Floridian has really nice pools, including a very cute Mad Hatter themed pool that Felicity wanted to swim in all week. But instead, we hurried over to Hollywood Studios in order to catch Lights! Motor! Action! This is a long show about stunt work, which I thought would be really cool for Nick. Which it probably was-but the girls would have had more fun swimming.

However, very cooly, we came out of that show and quite near a side street where they were having a practice for character greetings. This was a cool way to meet a lot of characters at once, and not common ones. We met Mulan, Pinnochio, Genie-and more that I'm having touble remembering-good thing we took pictures.

We rode the Great Movie Ride and Star Tours (Felicity was chosen as the rebel spy and the girls love that). We saw Muppets 4-D. We chose to go to the second showing of Fantasmic!, so we were able to ride Toy Story Mania with no line (which never, ever happens) and it is indeed the best ride at Disney World. Then we went to see Walt Disney: One Man's Dream, which is touching and made me cry. Then we went over to watch the second Fantasmic! It is fabulous and not to be missed.

It was a lot to crowd into one day, but again, the no lines thing was so cool. In the end, yes, I would have planned some things in a different order, but mostly, it was tons of fun.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Have a magical day...

Okay, we have reached the big time. The Magic Kingdom. To many people, the Magic Kingdom is Disney World. I was hesitant to allow it to be the first theme park of our visit. I was afraid that the other 3 parks would pale in comparision, especially with 2 kids and a husband who acts like a kid most of the time. However, we had reservations for a character breakfast at the Magic Kingdom that day, and it just made sense to stay once we were already there (I had images of pulling them away from the castle, while they yelled "NOOOOO!")

So, off we went. Our breakfast reservations were for 8:15 AM. The guide book recommended leaving 45 minutes early. This seemed silly to me at the time. We were not there when it was crowded, we didn't have to deal with traffic. However, we barely made it. Parking was easy-but you are parking at the Transportation and Ticket Center. Then you have to get on the monorail and go through the Polynesian and the Grand Floridian-and, much to my surprise, the monorails move pretty slowly first thing in the morning. We were still sitting on it at 5 after 8 and I was trying very hard not to panic.

We disembarked the monorail, headed for the ticket gate for people with breakfast reservations (leaving the people waiting for the park to open at 9 in the dust), and hurried inside. And then the most magical part of our entire vacation happened: a man was standing just inside the park, with a Main Street vehicle, and said, "Where are you headed?" "The Crystal Palace." "Would you like a ride?"

I was thrilled! I have never ridden in a Main Street vehicle before. We rode along Main Street, my husband simply overwhelmed by everything, asking if visiting the stores on Main Street was in the itinerary. My kids excited by the castle! And me, overjoyed that I am in a Main Street vehicle! The driver dropped us off at the Crystal Palace and waved and wished us a Magical Day-it was like being in a Disney commercial.

The Crystal Palace is a beautiful restaurant where every meal comes complete with Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and Eeyore. Nick is a huge Eeyore fan, and meeting Eeyore was the highlight of our entire trip. We had fantastic seats, right in the middle of the restaurant. The breakfast is served buffet style, so I stood in line to get the girls food while Nick stayed with them at the table. By the time I got both of them breakfast, they had met Tigger and Piglet. So I stayed put until Eeyore came by, so that I would be sure to take the long awaited picture of Nicholas with his hero. It came off beautifully.

The breakfast was very good, and my girls eat a lot more than you might imagine to look at them. Food at Disney is over priced, no matter where you eat. But for a little under a hundred dollars, we got a good breakfast and a chance for Nick's dreams to come true, so it was money well spent.

We left the restaurant a little after nine, and hurried over to Liberty Square to the Haunted Mansion. There was no line. I kind of still can't get over this. I kept saying, this will not happen again today. And then it did. Over and over. Going to Disney at the beginning of October was the best decision, and my sister deserves all of the credit for insisting upon it. I was extremely worried about pulling the girls out of school for a week, but luckily we have two great teachers who sent home all of their work for the week and we would dutifully work on it every night in the hotel.

So, anyway, we go through the Haunted Mansion, which one of my two favorite rides. (The other is the Pirates of the Carribean.) Felicity was freaked out the entire ride. But she wanted to ride it again, so I'm guessing that it won her over. After that, we were to go to Adventureland, per my itinerary. We ran into Chip and Dale on the way, and so we stopped for a picture and two autographs. (If you are not careful, this can take up a lot of time and ruin your itinerary. We only stood in short lines the entire week-15 minutes or less. I found it fairly easy to keep the girls from noticing the characters if the line was long.)

We headed to Adventureland and rode the Magic Carpets of Agraba (which is basically Dumbo with carpets) and went through the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House. (We watched the Swiss Family Robinson before going and that helped the girls to understand that attaction better-Betsy, I should add, is in love with the Swiss Family Robinson now.) We visited with Aladdin and Jasmine (again, short line).

By this time, it was about 5 minutes after 10 AM. We had fastpasses for Splash Mountain from 9:30-10:30 AM and for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad from 10:30-11:30 AM. So we went and rode Splash Mountain (again, Felicity totally freaked) and then Betsy and I rode Big Thunder Mountain. All before 11 AM.

We chose to go over to Tom Sawyer Island after that. I had remembered this as being a super cool playground. It isn't much of one anymore. There isn't much to do-the bridge was closed, and there was just a small playset. If we went back, I wouldn't worry about visiting again.

We watched the Country Bear Jamboree (always one of my favorite things, and again, no one was there, so we had prime seats). The girls and Nick went to the Frontierland Shootin' Arcade. We went back to Adventureland and stood in a 15 minute line (the longest of the day) to ride The Pirates of the Carribean. We also chose to use one of our snack credits at the Aloha snack stand and got Dole Whips. The girls got vanilla, I got pineapple (so, so recommended), and Nick got a pineapple float.

It was time to make our way over to Tomorrowland for our fastpass for Space Mountain. We ran into the Block Party that they have several times a day and so we stopped to watch and dance. Then over to Tommorowland. Again, just Betsy and I rode-Felicity and Nick (aka 'the wimps') waited on us.

Next was our first chance at using the actual fastpass that most people use. To make a long story short, we were able to be a part of a new test phase of "MagicBands"-which I will likely blog about later-and were able then to choose 3 fastpasses from home before we left. We chose the 3 rollarcoasters. But the original fastpasses are still available for now, meaning that we could, in effect, game the system. We went over to the Buzz Lightyear Space Rangers ride, used our room keys (which we used for nothing else the whole week), and got a fastpass for about a half hour later. We went off to ride Stitch's Great Escape, and to the Monsters' Inc. Laugh Floor show, and then came back and rode the Space Rangers with no line. (I'm telling you, the time that we were making was fabulous.) Of these, the Laugh Floor is really cute and the Space Rangers is fun in that it is a game and a ride. Stitch was weird, but not objectionable. We stood in a 10 minute line for Astro Orbitor (Dumbo high up), and then we went to the Carousel of Progress (one of my very of my very favorite rides).

Then we rode the Tomorrowland Speedway. My mom and dad never let us ride this as kids, and I couldn't understand why. After all, we always rode the old cars at Kings Island. It seemed the same thing. It is not. Felicity wanted to drive, and I thought, oh, it's on a track, why not? No. It is on a track that bounces you back and forth if you don't hold the wheel steady. I finally just insisted that I had to drive. Then Betsy, who was in front of us with Nick, kept slowing down. And then I would lose it and we would start bouncing around again. It was worse than bumper cars. Never again.

We were next to Fantasyland then, so we rode the Tea Cups (why not, I was already sick from the cars). We rode the Carousel. Winnie-the-Pooh was closed for a malfunction. So we rode The Little Mermaid, and took in Mickey's Philharmagic. We ate dinner at Pinnochio's (always where we eat) and we got a table by the window and watched the boats going into It's a Small World. It whetted the girls' appetites for riding it, and we immediately got on after dinner. By this time, it was nearing 7 PM. The Electric Light Parade starts at 8 PM, so we headed for Main Street. It was already pretty crowded, so I managed to find just enough room for Nick and me to sit with the girls on our laps toward the front of Main Street. I sat and saved the seats for the hour while Nick and the girls shopped on Main Street. Around a quarter of 8 they came back and joined me and we got to experience the joy of the Electric Light Parade (which is amazing, but quite short). We decided to leave before the fireworks, and got on a ferry boat for the Grand Floridian. We called Mom and Dad to meet us, and they came down to the ferry dock and we sat and watched the fireworks. It was a beautiful ending to such a beautiful day.

Of course, in reality, it was not the ending. We climbed on the monorail to go back to the Transportation and Ticket Center, and managed to get in a crowded car with a group of teenagers who did not speak English but who did scream at the top of their lungs the entire way. We wearily climbed into the car and drove back to our hotel. I can't remember if we got lost, but we likely did, as that happened more often than not. But someday, I won't remember any of that. I'll remember sitting with my family watching fireworks. I'll remember no lines. And mostly, I'll remember that man waving and saying, "Have a magical day!" Indeed.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Day One: Shopping, Getting Lost, and Having a Fabulous Time

I have hemmed and hawed about the best way to go about writing these blogs. Should I go day by day, group them by subject, do big overviews and then tiny details? Which is all quite silly, and so as of right now I'm going to go day by day. And then if I think that something warrants a whole post, I'll add it in.

So, to begin, getting to Disney World is an ordeal. Flying would be ideal, although it is considerably more expensive and we would have to figure out how to get around once we got there. I knew that we would want the van once we got there, and that proved true with every passing day. So the only option was to drive. My dad and Nick traded off on all of the driving, the girls sat in the back with RubberMade tubs full of things to do, and my mom and I tried to survive. We watched all of Spin and Marty, the Annette serial, a week's worth of (the real, old) Mickey Mouse Club, and Freaky Friday. Watsons' pack food like we are going to be marooned on a small island for a month, so we did a lot of snacking. We stopped every two to three hours, and we managed to eat real food in sit down restaurants for at least one meal each day. On the way down, we traveled through Kentucky, Tenneesse, and Georgia. We left at 6 AM on Saturday morning, and we made it to Macon, Georgia by 8 PM.

We stopped at Stone Mountain along the way. If you have never seen it, I highly recommend it. My family has been there twice before, and we have always enjoyed it. It costs $10 to park your car, but other than that, it is free to see the mountain. (There are other things to do there, if you are so inclined, and they cost extra-like going up to the top of the mountain-I've done that and it is scary if you are at all afraid of heights.) There is an extremely cool laser light show every evening in the summer, and at certain other times of the year. I thought that we were going on a day that there was no light show. However, when we got there and it was packed, it became apparent that my father had simply not told me that there was one-he knew that I would want to stay. And since the Buckeyes were playing, that wasn't an option.

The next morning we left around 6:30 AM (we ate our continental breakfast first) and headed to Disney World. We got there around 1 PM. And we headed to our hotel, Pop Century. Pop Century is a value hotel, which means that it is cheap by Disney standards. It also means that it is on the outskirts of the property, which made having the van a luxury during the week. Now, when I say that it is cheap, I don't mean at all that it is not a nice hotel. It was a very nice hotel, with cute Disney touches and several pools, which is more than what we needed. We did not spend much time at our hotel.

An important note about the hotel-a refrigerator is not included in a standard room at Pop Century. My brother-in-law did get one by saying that he needed it for his diabetes medication. But we did not have one, and so my original idea of eating cereal for breakfast every morning got slightly derailed. We ended up eating the cereal dry, but that also turned out to be a good thing-it was portable that way, and we would take it with us in the car on the way to whichever park we were going.

Now, if you are thinking about planning a Disney vacation, and wondering if you should stay on property, let me influence you: DO IT! It is so much easier to stay on property. If you are staying at a Disney resort, you get free parking at the theme parks. That alone is a savings. If you don't want to bring a vehicle with you, there is tranportation available to all Disney places. And basically, because after a long day at the park, you don't want to have to drive a long way to go to bed.

My parents stayed at the Grand Floridian, which is my favorite hotel ever. I have been blessed to stay there twice in my life. It is so beautiful-even sitting in the lobby is fun, listening to the piano or the band and watching the people. It is also by far the most expensive hotel, and therefore I am never going to stay there again unless I win the lottery-so, not going to happen. However, as my sister says, for our two families, it made so much more sense to stay in the value hotel, because we weren't in the room very much. My parents, on the other hand, only went to the park one day, and spent the rest of their days enjoying the hotel. So, my advice would be to think about what you are paying for and how much you are going to use it.

I have also stayed at the Contemporary and Shades of Green (which was called The Disney Inn at the time). Both are nice, although only military can stay at Shades of Green now. The Comtemporary and the Polynesian, which are both on the monorail with the Grand Floridian, are nice but, to me at least, they are showing their age. They need updated. Nick and I also got to go to Fort Wilderness, which is where you can stay in a cabin or bring your own RV. We both agreed that we loved it, and that if we would ever be able to go back, that would be right up our alley. Staying at Disney in an RV is actually quite affordable, comparitively speaking.

Okay, so, back to our first day. We checked in, looked around our immediate area (Pop Century is divided into decades, we were in the 1970s), and then headed to Downtown Disney. Downtown Disney is a shopping complex with restaurants and other fun things, like a bowling alley and Cirque de Soleil. With our room, we got two vouchers to DisneyQuest, which is a virtual reality/arcade that costs around $40 for an adult ticket. Needless to say, I wanted to be sure that we used these vouchers, since they were worth a good bit. So Betsy and Nick headed to that, while I took Felicity for a day of shopping.

Nick and Betsy had a blast. They were able to play for 2 hours, and they had a fantastic time. The only thing that would have been nice to know beforehand was that you have to be 52 inches tall for some of the attractions. Betsy is 51 inches tall, and there is apparently no bend in this rule. Still, it was time well spent.

Felicity and I had a lot of fun too. We had 2 hours to kill, so we took our time. There are lots of things just to see, even without buying much. There is a very cool Lego store with all kinds of Disney characters made out of Legos. We also shopped at The World of Disney, which is a huge Disney store. We bought our autograph books here, because if you are going to Disney with kids, you have to have an autograph book. Felicity picked out a Tinkerbell autograph book, and I picked out the regular Mickey Mouse one for Betsy. Just to let you know, it's a good idea to look at the inside of the book before buying it. The Tinkerbell book had a place for a picture on the back of every page, plus it had less pages. In the end, Felicity's book got full before the week was over, and I wasn't about to buy her another one, so she and Betsy have to "share" several autographs. If I had it to do over, I would have bought both of them the same Mickey book.

We also went to a really cute store called Little Mismatched, which sells socks in groups of 3. (But be forwarned, they only sell Disney socks for older girls, so I had to buy Felicity cute-but not Disney-socks.) They also have a very nice Christmas store, where I bought our Christmas ornament (we always buy an ornament on every vacation). And there was a store called Stitch in Time, where you could buy Mouse Ears and have them embroidered. Felicity picked out Minnie Mouse ones, and we bought Betsy Mickey Mouse ones. There was also a small carousel, which cost $2 a ride.

Felicity is still little enough that it doesn't really occur to her that Betsy was doing a lot more fun stuff than riding a small carousel, but that is what makes it fun. It was nice to spend some time with just Felicity, who was thrilled at just the statues of Disney princesses, never realizing that during the course of the week we would actually be meeting these same princesses. And Betsy had a blast with Nick, because she always loves having all of Nick's attention. They even got their picture taken in one of those photo booths. It was a great day.

We left around 5, with a goal of going to Fort Wilderness for a campfire sing-a-long with Chip and Dale. The campfire started at 7:30, and it was good that we had so much time, because we got lost. First off, and this is important, if you are going to a Magic Kingdom area hotel, you need to be in the right hand lane going through the parking lot toll. Nothing tells you this until you are already through the toll. We learned this the hard way and had to circle around twice before we got in the right lane. Second, once you get to Fort Wilderness for the campfire, you are headed for the area in the middle of the campground. Again, we didn't see this, and we went the wrong way and ended up doing a lot more walking than was necessary.

That said, it was worth it. The campfire sing-a-long is presented every night at Fort Wilderness and it is free. Let me tell you, I cannot think of a single other thing that we did the whole week that was free. When you get there, they have the campfire started and if you want to, you can buy the ingredients for s'mores, which cost $13. We did do this, but you get to keep the rather generous helping of marshmellows, so I thought it was justified. At 8 PM, the song leader comes out with Chip and Dale and starts singing. All good, old fashioned campfire songs. And then Chip and Dale comes around a meet you. You only get to meet one chipmunk up close, but still, it is a free character greeting. The girls had a blast.

We capped off our day by going to the Grand Floridian and seeing Mom and Dad's room. We also, just by luck, figured out that we could watch the fireworks from the Magic Kingdom from the boat dock there. They were the Halloween fireworks that night, and they are spectacular. It was a great ending for a wonderful day.

If you are planning a trip to Disney, I would recommend starting your vacation in a similar way. It was relaxed and not hurried. It felt like a vacation, which was not so much true for the rest of the trip (not that we didn't have fun, but it's not relaxed once you get to the parks). The one thing that I would have liked to do that we never did get around to was miniture golfing, which my sister did with her family this first day. We had vouchers for that too, which cost around $12 for an adult. The golf courses are really cute, we just never found enough time to do it. But it would also make for a fun, easy first day.

My point-enjoy this nice, leisurely day. Because we are headed to the Magic Kingdom and things are going to liven up quick.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Grab your ears, it's time for cheers...

So, this blog post is a little long in coming. All last week, as we traveled all over the Disney resort, I kept thinking about all the helpful blog posts that I would write. After all, I no longer had a trip to prepare for, obsess over, create itinerairies for, etc. However, I kind of forgot how ridiculously busy this life of a mom/substitute teacher can be. And I only subbed once this week! Between MOPs, PTO and PTA drama, 3rd grade Family Fun Night, a bedroom filled with bees, Daisy preparation, Bible Study for the women's meeting, and just our normal two nights of dance and one night of soccer-this is the soonest that I could get to it.

But enough about that. This is a fun blog! A blog about truly my favorite place on earth after Rix Mills-Disney World! (I am well aware that there are people who will judge me for that statement. There are people who love Disney and people who hate it and people in the middle-I'm sorry, but I'm on the love, love, love, if I were rich I would go every year side.)

I have always loved Disney World. I first went when I was 3. My memories consist of Cinderella castle, getting a Donald Duck hat (not Mouse Ears like everyone else because that is how my parents roll), and falling through an inner tube and my dad having to gallantly jump into the pool to rescue me. That's about it.

I went again when I was 5 and kind of remember the same hazy memories. To be completely honest, I remember a lot more about the pool at our hotel on that trip.

The point is, I don't have a lot of memories from my early Disney trips. And my parents wisely remembered that, and we all decided several years ago, that if they were paying, we would go when the oldest two girls were about 8. I was 9 on my first Disney trip that I really remember, and then I went again at 11, 13, 15, and 18.

The girls were definately the best ages to be at the parks. They are 8 and 5. Betsy was old enough (and tall enough) to ride everything she wanted to, which was great for me, because no one else in my entire family will ride rollercoasters. Felicity was still scared enough of big rides to be perfectly fine with the fact that she was too short to ride a lot of them. And Nick, who is a wuss when it comes to heights of any kind, was content to stay with her while Betsy and I had tons of fun.

Also, they are still young enough that Disney is magical. Because it just is. Yes, they both get that they are people in costumes. But it doesn't matter to them, any more than it mattered to Nick, who was elated on our 2nd day there to meet Eeyore in person!

So anyway, all of that is to say, if you are feeling guilty because you haven't been to Disney and your kids are getting older, don't fret about it. It is a wonderful vacation no matter how old you are.

Now, this particular blog post is about planning a Disney vacation. I'm going to do a whole series of them, from the best places to eat, to the best intineraries to follow, to how to pick the best hotel. Why? Because I want to. And if someone, even one person, gets something out of it-cool.

So, planning a Disney vacation can be overwhelming if you are a Type A, schedule everything kind of gal. Which I happen to be. It helped immensely that I had been there before and knew my way around 3 of the parks. This became glaringly obvious when we got to Animal Kingdom, which I had never been to, and I had to shift around a lot of my plans and we had to do a lot of running.

My first suggestion, as always, is to arm yourself with a book. The two that I found most helpful were:

1) Birnbaum Guides 2013 Walt Disney World-this is the official guidebook. The layout of this book is great. It has big maps, details about every ride and attraction grouped together by "land," and it's just pretty. That said, it is the "official" book for a reason. It doesn't say anything negative about anything Disney ever. Which is why you also need...

2) The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2013 by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa-this book is the bomb. It anticipates every question an anal retentive planner could have, like, how long does every single attraction last? How exactly does one trade pins? Is it worth my time to try to squeeze in miniture golf/Disney Quest/a campfire sing along with Chip and Dale? It also has lots of maps, which Nick and I needed and relyed on, because our hotel (being a "value" hotel) was on the outskirts of nearly everything and we tended to get lost. I cannot say enough good things about this book.

Now then, you also want to check out some websites. First, of course, you have to use Disney's own website because they make you. Once you have made your reservations, you have to use their website to make your dining reservations, use Fastpass+, and to customize your MagicBands. I have basically nothing good to say about Disney's website. It is pretty to look at, but fairly useless. We had a terrible time getting all of our reservations to show up, to link our reservations to my mom and dad, and my sister's family, and just basically anytime at all that we had to use it. Which was all the time. The website is the only thing that I think was truly terrible about my planning experience. I have told them so on several questionaires, and we have had to call multiple times to straighten things out, so perhaps they will see the error of their ways. In the meantime, just know that everything else about your trip will seem easy compared to using that website.

However, there are some very good and useful websites. is easily my favorite. It is snidely funny in it's observations, but this man must go to Disney World every day of his life. He has a crowd calendar (that I ignored, but that is another post), updates about merchandise, updates about new restaurants, ride referbishments, etc. I highly recommend it. is another good blog that is in a similar vein. Lots of tips, lots of pictures, lots of how to best maximize line times (this took up huge amounts of my planning time).

Okay, so then, I made my Disney Intinerary Binder! It sends shivers down my spine. I took a three ring binder, found some super cute Mickey stickers at Hobby Lobby to dress it up, and filled it with our itinerary for each day, a list of the restaurants on the Disney Dining Plan, a schedule of events for the the halloween party, a schedule of times for shows at each park, a list of food available at the Food and Wine Festival, and where all you can get different pennies pressed with different characters (for my family this is a big part of every vacation.)

It was a necessary part of every day. Fastpass alone will be a whole other blog post, but with this new Fastpass+ system, you have to know what time you made your fastpass for. Normal people own iPhones and can use the app. I, however, can not afford such luxuries. So the binder was a needed and necessary part of every day.

Now, the other very fun part of planning was creating a countdown calendar for Betsy and Felicity. I found a cute one on Pinterest that was easy to make. You just use contruction paper to make a Mickey Mouse (black paper with ears, red with chalk buttons, yellow and then white). On the white paper I wrote a Disney activity to do. I'm not the craftiest person, so a lot of them were Disney coloring sheets and word finds that I googled online. We did make Tigger sticks (marshmellows covered in orange icing with black icing stripes-the girls like making them better than eating them). And we had Mickey Mouse pancakes the night before we left (Nick just winged it and they looked really cute). These are all on my facebook page (a smart person would figure out how to put pictures on here, but they are there, so hey).

Counting down was the most fun thing. The two very best were the strips that said "Get a Disney Gift!" For the first gift, I bought them a Birnbaum's Guide to Disney for Kids. It is a shorter version of the adult book, with places to write your favorites rides and what you want to do. They loved this, and it helped them to know what all would await us when we got there.

The second gift was a landyard of pins for trading. If you are at all interested in pin trading, this is the way to do it. (I got this idea from a pin that led me to a blog, but my Disney Pinterest board hasn't been working, so I don't know where.) First, do not buy any starter set of pins from Disney! They are like $30 for 4 pins on a lanyard. Way overpriced. Go to ebay, and they sell lots of 25, 50, 100-whatever you want. I bought 50 pins for $22.50-so each girl got 25 pins. It does not in the least matter what kind of pins end up coming to your door. Disney cast members will trade you good pins for junky ones-trust me. Then Nick found very nice Mickey Mouse lanyards, with a change purse attached, for $7 a piece on Amazon. They were perfect. The girls were excited with this gift, because it was a gift and Mickey and all, but none of us, including me, knew that they would make for one of the best memories of our vacation.

And I'll go into all of that in another blog. This one has gotten a touch out of hand. But I want to say, this vacation was the best vacation I've ever had. Perfect weather, few lines, a nice hotel-we could not have asked for more. My parents have gifted me with so many things in my life. But the best gifts, that I hope they know how grateful I am for, are the gifts that they give me to give my children. And that is exactly how they do it. My parents allow me always to be the one giving, they are content to stand to the side and watch, and that makes them extraordinary. This gift, of watching my kids and my husband experience such a magical trip, was one I will treasure for all of my life.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Settling in to the new bend in the road...

So, today was kind of officially the first day of the rest of my life. Today I allowed two girls to climb onto the school bus and ride off to school. Which was sad and difficult and not fun. But I managed to get through it by allowing myself a cry and then plunging into cleaning the bathrooms, which I must admit was more fun than one might imagine. I mean, for the first time in nearly a decade, the cleaning the bathrooms could take absolutely as long as I wished. I didn't have to hurry to be sure to pick someone up on time, I didn't have that nagging feeling that I should be *finishing my book* instead of doing silly things like cleaning my house, I didn't stare longingly at the bed and think, well, I could just take a little nap. No, today the bathrooms were cleaned properly in the first time in a really long time.

Nick and I then decided to totally up the ante for what our first offcail day to ourselves in 10 years and went to the movies. IN the middle of the day. It was a blast, I tell you. We got the early discount, so our tickets were only $8.50 total. We were not hungry for lunch yet, so we weren't even tempted by the concession stand.

Nick wanted to see Percy Jackson, and I wanted to see The Butler, so we compromised and saw Elysium. I enjoyed it very much, I love to watch an action movie with an actual point to it, and this fit the bill. It was not as good as District 9, but I didn't expect it to be. District 9 would be in my top ten movies that I've seen in the past decade, were I to make a list. And not because I loved watching it so much, but because it lingered in my soul for days and days after I watched it, and even now I feel like it made such an impact on my life.

Anyway, we got home and got our girls off the bus and heard about all of the wonderful things that they had spent their day doing. It does make it easier that they are both loving their teachers and their classes this year.

Tomorrow will be a true test of what I can manage to do with the whole day to myself. My problem, as always, is that I want to do 10 million things, and can't prioritize to save my life, and I will end up spending the day, you know, finishing my book. That's how I roll.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Take me out to the ballgame...

This is the story of how one sports averse mom, who literally cringed every single time her daughter was up to bat last year, became this happy, overjoyed, excited person every single time her daughter was up to bat this year.

I never played any kind of sport as a kid. I was the girl who hated gym class, I was the girl who ran with my arms out, fluttering like a bird, I was a big time nerd with her face in a book and who took nine years of piano lessons.

I had no idea what I was missing.

Betsy is the opposite of me in just about every way, so of course she is very athletic. And not just athletic, but confident in her abilities. She walks up, gets into her stance, and wacks that ball. She only struck out less than a handful of times all season. She runs hard and fast and beats the ball to the base. I am amazed by her.

But this blog is not just about that. Because of course I'm amazed by my daughter. I would be amazed by her if she struck out every time. Because I love her.

But this blog is about all of the other people that I have met on this journey into kids sports teams.

I was so nervous at the beginning of our season. Our team from last year was a young team, so naturally I assumed that we would be on a team with at least some of the same players. But when the teams were announced, there was *no one* on our team from last year. The other New Concord team was our entire team from last year, most of whom are very good friends with Betsy. And our team was again the young team. We only had 3 players who had played last year, with Betsy being one of them.

I was depressed. And I'm not kidding. I felt like I had made friends with the other players and their parents last year. I couldn't believe that we didn't have one player who was the same as last year. I moped around and talked about taking her out. After a weekend of this, Nick informed me that I was going to stop, that Betsy loves softball and that I was being ridiculous.

And so, our season began. Our team was trying hard, but our first couple of games were routs. The only bright spot was in Betsy's hitting, which had significantly improved from last year. Fielding, however, seemed an impossible dream. And both of these losses were to our old team. It was difficult for Betsy to play against so many of her friends, and I again questioned if this was a good idea.

By our third game, though, the girls were into a groove. They started playing as a team. They started really learning how to field the ball.

This is all thanks to our coach, Herb Fields. He continued to work with these girls *the entire season.* This, I have found, is somewhat rare. He moved them around at every game. They all learned to play numerous positions. He taught them to slide. He allowed them to chant and cheer for each other, but never against the other team. He prayed with them before the games.

By the end of the season, we were playing well. I had made new friends among the parents of the kids on this team, and no longer felt left behind by my old friends. And I was witness to some amazing sportsmanship. At one of our last games, the little girl who was playing first base was trying to get Betsy out and Betsy was running hard to beat her to it. The ump called Betsy safe, and this little girl turned and said, "Good job, Betsy." I was stunned. I still am. To be trying to get her out and still tell her good job.

For the tournament, we had to play our old team twice. And-to the amazement of everyone-we beat them twice. But those little girls were the epitome of sportsmanship. Betsy had a pool party right after their second loss, and she not only spent the entire time with those old teammates, playing, but they told her good game and good luck in the final game of the tournament.

I will carry those girls and that wonderful attitude in my heart for years to come as I watch them grow into the athletes that they will become. There is one team in particular that we play that has coaches that are cruel. They berate their girls, and they are nasty to the teams that they are playing against. I wish that they could be witness to our New Concord girls, to see how they played hard against each other, and then set it to the side and congratulated each other.

It is just one more reason that I am gratful to live where I do, to be surrounded by the people that we are blessed to have gotten to know (on both teams). It is one more opportunity for God to let me know that the is a plan to everything, that I don't need to wig out and worry that Betsy will have to endure a hardship. Because everything-everything-is an opportunity for her to learn something, for me to learn something. Sometimes it's something great and sometimes it's something hard. But it is ultimately something to make us better people.

This time it was smiling 8 year old girls, swimming together and wishing each other good luck.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The new bend in the road...

So...Felicity graduated from preschool today. It was wonderful-she sang and danced and waved to us at appropriately cute times. And then, of course, my heart broke into millions of pieces on the floor.

I have cherished this time with my children so much. I have loved being home, trying (and failing a lot) to be June Cleaver. If you stepped into my home on any given day, no, it is not the neatest or the cleanest in the world. As much as it was my goal, no, my children did not create their own murals, grow their own food, or never ever watch more than an hour of television a day.

However, we did those things on occasion. I would like to hope that more than occasionally my house at least appeared clean. Yes, as I look back on it, most days were pretty monotonious-but pleasantly so. We read a lot, we sing a lot, we pick up for what seems like hours, we play, we laugh, we watch way too much is, quite honestly, my idea of heaven.

I am sad about this bend in the road. I want to plant my feet firm and scream and get my way. I don't want my girls to grow into teenagers who roll their eyes at me, who think that my silly songs and dumb jokes aren't funny, who don't want to be read to.

But God has made painfully clear to Nick and me over the past year that this bend is necessary. We have struggled mightily this past year, more so than any other that I have been home and he has been working. God knows that a lot of the time, I need a good swift kick to understand that this is happening, it is not a choice.

My life used to be one of a girl wishing she lived in a Meg Ryan movie. For 21 years I wished and hoped and prayed to fall in love, and not just in love, but in love like a movie. And then one day I meet Nick Johnson and I fell head over heels, nutso in love to the point that we made other people sick. It was like winning the lottery-all of a sudden, I could have this family that I had always wanted.

So I keep trying to remember that. Sometimes something comes along that is so wonderful, you forget that you didn't have it all along. I'm hoping that this next bend is something that I can't remember living without.

I will never regret staying home with the girls. Even though we have had to do without, even though there are many, many days that I would love to feel like I'm contributing to our income, for us it was the right choice.

I recently told someone it is hard to say that I loved my choice without somehow inferring that their choice was wrong. But I'm not trying to say that everyone would be happy staying home, or even that everyone has that choice. For me, though, it was the best choice, and I'm forever grateful to my husband for allowing me to do that, even though it has meant that he can't have an iPhone. And I'm so thankful that I have the parents that I have, who are always there for me, holding me up when I need it. I have realized as an adult that not everyone has parents like I have, parents who still to this day put their children's needs ahead of their own.

They are my example, it is my turn to contribute to this family in ways other than just taking care of babies all day long. And so this fall I will be trying my best to earn a paycheck, to help to allieviate some of this stress from my husband. I'm hoping to be able to substitute teach, so that my schedule will mesh with the girls.

In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy this summer. We're going to scrape through, and we're going to embrace the bend in the road as best we can. And yes, I am going to be sad as I see my girls growing so much faster than words can describe.

Someone told me, back when Betsy was a baby, "These are the longest days and shortest years of your life." That is the truest statement that I know. I can't believe how quickly nine years went by.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


Okay, we all know that I'm a little quooky about holidays. I'm not crafty, so I don't go that route, but I do love books and movies and Peanuts specials. So they figure heavily into everything that I do.

Green week is a tricky one. There just aren't that many really amazing books about recycling. Which is sad, because of course reduce, reuse, recycle is an awesome concept that I try to adapt every day to my life. Which explains why I bought 8 bags of used books yesterday. Because I am helping the library reuse. Obviously. :)

Anyway, our Earth Day books are decent, but nothing much to write home about. Fancy Nancy, The Berenstein Bears, and My Little Pony.

To celebrate Earth Day we take a walk around the "loop," which is the road that circles Rix Mills, and we take trash bags and we pick up what we find. The girls love this. This year they made up an Earth Day song, which went something like, "We are cleaning Mother Earth, we are cleaning Mother Earth..."

Now, Arbor Day is even harder. I have searched high and low for Arbor Day books, and they do not exist. So this year it hits me-The Lorax. Why it took me this long to stumble upon this obvious selection, I don't know. But it makes the perfect Arbor Day book.

Betsy always brings home a tree from school, so we planted it. We have planted a tree every year that we have lived here, and exactly two have succeeded. It doesn't hold out much hope for this new little sapling.

However, the tree that has thrived and grown the most came from my Grandma's house, which makes me so happy every time I see it start to bloom. She allowed me to take it before she died, she wanted me to have something from her yard. It makes me smile.

Oh, and we watch "It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown." I know that sounds dorky, but it's actually really cute.

At school, they planted a tree on Friday, and they asked, "What can trees do for us?" Betsy answered, "Trees can make us smarter." "How?" "Trees are cut down to make paper, and paper makes books, and books make us smarter."

Yes, she's definitely my child.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Now it's time to say goodbye...

Today I had to tell my girls that someone that we love died. My sister called to tell me she was sorry for my loss. And I cried a good bit this afternoon about it.

Nick said, "You would think that we actually knew this person!"

But, even though I have never had the pleasure of meeting Annette Funicello in person, I still knew her. And loved her. And will miss her.

I can't quite remember why I got obsessed with Annette in the first place. But we all know how I am about my obsessions, and I loved her fiercely for almost as long as I can remember.

I'm thinking that I probably first met her in Skippy peanut butter commercials. I'm positive that The Shaggy Dog was the first movie that I saw with her in it.

But I became obsessed somewhere around age 12, and I began loving beach party movies. I don't know why or how that happened, but it did, and Frankie and Annette were just the greatest things EVER.

And then I read A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes, her autobiography, in 1994 when it came out. I have reread that book I think more than any other book in my life. I reread some of it last year, and I realized, like a bolt of lightning-this is where my parenting style came from. I could never really remember when or how I decided to be a stay-at-home mom, just that I had wanted to be for a long, long time. And then rereading some of the sections where she describes her family and her decision to halt her career to enjoy raising her three kids, I remembered where this idea had emerged from.

Of course, I didn't leave a career to be a mom. But I do love being a mom, and I cherish having had all of this time to really raise my own kids. Time flies so quickly, and I can't really believe that Felicity is going to school next fall, but I do know that no matter what, I was with them as much as I could be. That's not a jab against working moms-I am blessed to have been given the choice to stay home. But ultimately, for me, being at home was the best thing that I could do. I have enjoyed teaching my kids, being probably overly involved in their lives I'm sure, but for me, it's what I love to do.

Annette Funicello, as strange as it sounds, taught me that. She says (and I took so to heart) in her book that she didn't like how some parents act like parenthood is life in prison without parole. She says children don't ask to be born, and so if you are making the decision to become a parent, you are making a decision to do so for the rest of your life. She also says that she was always a parent first, and then after her children were grown, they chose to become her friends. I keep that piece of advice close when the girls are driving me crazy, when more than anything I just want to give in and say, okay, whatever, go ahead. I remember I am the parent, and I am getting one chance to help them to learn to make good choices.

And so I'm not just saying that I loved her, which I did. But she truly changed my life and made it better. I will love her always, to the moon and back.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Roger and me...

I am sad today, listening to memorials to Roger Ebert and remembering how wonderful he was as a movie reviewer.

I think that what facinates me most about Roger Ebert is the fact that my memories of him (like, I think, a lot of people's memories of him) are divided into before and after. And while that is probably true of most everyone's memories eventually, his is such a stark line. Before, of course, he was this bombastic movie reviewer, always the more sarcastic, always the one completely sure of his opinions and always sure that he was the smartest man in the room. After is who he became in the last few years of his life, robbed of his voice, and yet still able to be such a presence.

I find that amazing.

He really truly embraced media and continued to put his thoughts out there, and on rather a range of topics. He was still the smartest guy in the room. And yet...

It is sad today as I listen to so many of his reviews, and interviews, and his voice, and realize how scary the thought of losing his voice indeed must have been. To lose one of the more important ways that you communicate and make a living, to lose the ability to be so sarcastic (which rarely comes across in print as well as when spoken). I admire him.

I have always had crushes on both Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. No doubt born of my love of movies, and also the fact that I only had 5 channels to watch growing up, so I tended to watch "At The Movies" pretty much every weekend. I agreed more often with Siskel and so therefore considered him the better reviewer when I was younger. I probably still do, at least a bit.

But as a teenager I began reading Ebert's reviews in the paper, and I found that he was an insightful man-more than I realized watching him bicker with Siskel. Reading his reviews allowed me to understand that one can watch a movie in the same way that one reads a book, and dig through even the silliest of movies for a deeper meaning. One in particular that I remember was his review of Candyman II, which needless to say he didn't like, but still he found mounds of images to ponder over, to take the script to task but at the same time hold up it's deeper revelations-I was just in awe.

I highly recommend two of his books that I have poured over more than once-The Great Movies and I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie, which are a nice ying and yang to each other. In the first, obviously, he is gushing over his favorites (most of which I am still yet to see) and in the second, he is taking many movies to task (I've seen a lot more from that book).

All in all, he loved movies and through writing he made me love them more too. He will be missed.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Here comes Peter Cottontail...

Ah, Easter. What a lovely holiday. For my family, it's a religious holiday and we mostly spend the day in church. But we also hunt Easter eggs and have a visit from the Easter Bunny. He mostly brings my kids candy, and then a present a piece. I was asked about this today-I guess that in some homes he brings bicycles and such. Not here, but then I try my best not to make holidays about gifts. Holidays, for those of you who know me, are about books and things leading up to the holiday a lot more than the holiday itself.

We have several Easter books, mostly of the Clifford/Winnie-the-Pooh/Biscuit variety. One very cute one is Max's Chocolate Chicken by Rosemary Wells. I always love Max and Ruby and it is a particularly funny one. Betsy's favorite is The Golden Egg by Margaret Wise Brown, also a very cute book about a bunny who happens upon an egg.

But my absolute favorite is The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by DuBose Heyward. In it, a country bunny has a dream to grow up to be the Easter bunny. But she gets married, and being a rabbit, proceeds to have 21 children. She thinks that her dreams have gone, but she is in for a surprise, because she is indeed wise, and spry, and clever. And yes, I say this as someone who, at the ripe old age of 34 often feels as though my life is all planned out from here until enternity. I love my life, I love my kids, but somewhere in the back of my head there is this girl that I buried some time ago who likes to come out and play sometimes.

When I was in college, my writing was the most important thing in my life. Sometimes I happen upon things that I wrote back then, and I am stunned. I can't imagine being able to write like that again. When I met Nick, I truly felt that God took his hand off of my writing-I went from being praised for my writing to having people say, this isn't working. You are forcing it. It was a hard transition, but I finally felt that God was saying, not now. Writing isn't what I have in mind for you at this time.

And so I married Nick, and had my babies, and now I am trying to think about what I want to do with my life again. And I want to write-can I ever write that well again? I don't know. I don't even know if I should try. But I am going to spend time writing every day, beginning this fall. Like it or not-ever get paid for it or not-it is my passion and it deserves to be fed.

Anyway, I have gotten far from my topic. I am the Sunday School teacher at my church, and I did the children's sermon today, and I used the Resurrection Eggs for it. I highly recommend them-they make such an impact on the kids, helping them to learn the lesson of Christ's resurrection. You can make them yourself, mine came from Hobby Lobby and cost about $10.

Other than that, we don't do too much. We dye eggs and we have an egg hunt with the girls and my nieces. We wear our Easter bonnets to church and sing "Easter Parade" on the way to church and pretend that we are in the Easter parade.

All in all, it was a great day. I spent the day with the people I love most, and Christ is risen, and all is right with my world.

Friday, March 22, 2013

To a town called Deep Valley...

Okay, so, it's Friday and I'm reading my People magazine (and yes, I read the whole thing, cover to cover, unlike some other people in my household, who only look at the pictures, but who get mad if they do not get to look at it first).

Anyway, I'm reading the People and I come upon Michelle Williams talking about books that she reads to Matilda. And what do you think she says? BETSY-TACY!

Now, why is this exciting? Well, two things. Number one, I kind of obsess over Michelle Williams in a somewhat similar way to how I obsess over Jennifer Garner and this is just further proof that I am a lot like this beautiful, blond movie star but who is also very smart. Number two, I have been reading the Betsy-Tacy books to Betsy for almost a year, and we just finished them up a couple of weeks ago, and I have been meaning to do a blog about them. Ergo, here we go.

Betsy LOVES the Betsy-Tacy books, and whenever she is asked what her favorite book is, that is her answer. Sadly, we have been met with a lot of blank stares and only one older lady who even knew what we were talking about. So, allow me (and my best friend Michelle Williams) tell you about these amazing books.

Betsy-Tacy is how we refer to the books, simply because that is the title of the first book in the series, in which 5 year old Betsy Ray meets 5 year old Tacy Kelly and they become best friends. At the end of that first book, they meet Tib Mueller, who quickly becomes another best friend.

Betsy, Tacy and Tib is the second book in the series and it continues their friendship. It is followed by Betsy and Tacy and the Big Hill and Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown. All four of these stories are available in an anthology called The Betsy-Tacy Treasury. I so recommend it! These 4 books are so wonderful for little girls! The stories are set in the the early 1900s, but the world that they inhabit somehow still fits well with our own. Betsy, naturally I suppose, loves Betsy the best. Betsy is the ring leader, always managing to dream up something new to do. Tacy is the shy one. And dear Tib is so blunt, but she never means to be mean or hurt anyone's feelings.

Now, there is a definite break in the stories after that. Betsy and I were too intrigued to stop there, but be forwarned that the next batch of books take place when Betsy is in high school, and Betsy is boy-crazy! Tacy, however, is not in the least. Of course, there is nothing at all wrong with these books, they just take a different tone than the books when they are little. The high school books are Heaven to Betsy, Betsy In Spite of Herself, Betsy Was a Junior, and Betsy and Joe.

Then come the last two, Betsy and the Great World and Betsy's Wedding. Betsy and the Great World is my least favorite-mostly because it has very long chapters and because only Betsy is in it, without all the other characters that we have come to know and love. In it, Betsy sets sail for Europe in the months before World War I. It's a very interesting book, and it has helped Betsy to understand a bit of World War I history (which I think is always a bit trickier than WWII). But then, with Betsy's Wedding we come back full circle, with Betsy, Tacy, and Tib setting forth into new adult lives. Betsy and I were sad to see it end, but luckily the books are based on Maud Hart Lovelace's real life, so we sated ourselves with pictures of her and her daughter and their eventual life in California.

Right now we are reading Carney's House Party, which is a book in which the main character is Carney Sibley, who becomes one of Betsy's friends in high school. Then we have Winona's Pony Cart, which goes back to when they were little girls with their show-offy friend, Winona. (But we love Winona. That's the thing-even the ones that you don't like so much at first, they grow on you, just as they do on Betsy.)

Anyway, I'm hoping that because Michelle Williams has mentioned them, perhaps they will enjoy a new popularity. And, of course, I have no doubt that my own recommendation will make the books fly off the shelves with my whole, oh, 20 readers of this blog. :)

And back to Michelle Williams. I do love her. I didn't have too much of an opinion of her work until I saw the film Wendy and Lucy, and this is what I wrote in my little book that I write down every movie that I see and book that I read:

A terribly sad story about a transient young woman and her dog, who gets lost along the way. Michelle Williams gives a performance that makes you forget that she is most famous (acting-wise) for Dawson's Creek. But it is a downright depressing movie.

But the movie that I saw her in that I loved, loved, loved is Blue Valentine. That was one of those movies that got stuck in my soul and that I still dwell on from time to time. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend it.

Those of you who know me know that I consider Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck to be my and Nicholas' celebrity couple (meaning that, if we were famous, we would most remind you of Jennifer and Ben). But as of today I am officially making Michelle Williams my celebrity best friend.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Let's Go To The Movies (you know, like the Rockettes in Annie)...

Ever since I was a little girl, I have wanted my own film opening. You know, where there is a very appropriate to the theme of the movie song playing over a girl getting ready to go out, or something to that effect. Before I met Nick, I actually used to put on a CD playing a song that I would like to be my movie montage. Usually it was "Dangerous" by Roxette (this was humorous, even at the time-pretend that it's irony).

So, maybe I am giving away too much about my tastes in music.

"Nothing But a Good Time," Poison. "Your Song," Elton John. "Life is a Highway," Tom Cochrane. All excellent theme songs, no?

I also had an obsession with always playing "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" by the Police on the jukebox every time I went to the Cinema Shop, our video rental store, in some attempt to seem cool to the senior boy who worked there.

I miss video rental stores. I read a very good, though a bit dry, book about them last year. I'm fairly sure that it was someone's thesis, but it made some excellent points. First it said how everyone of a certain age and older can remember how the video store started out as this little hole-in-the-wall shop where you had to get a membership card to rent movies. New Concord had two-Heavy's and Visions. Heavy's was across the street from Shegogg's IGA and it was where my father bought his first membership to a video store. It was an extremely small store with limited selections, so April and I tended to always rent the same movies.

I fell in love, love, love with this live action version of "The Wind In The Willows." I rented it pretty much every week. Once we moved on to bigger video stores, they did not have this obscure video. It became one of my first purchases in 1998 when the Watsons joined the rest of the world on the internet, and I discovered ebay.

So, anyway, Dad eventually must have seen the writing on the wall, and we secured a membership to Visions, the rental store on the other end of town with a bigger selection. It was overwhelming the first time we stepped in there. The shelves were filled with empty movie boxes, with styrofoam inside where the tape should be.

We went to Visions every week. April and I saw every movie that they had in the children's section with the exception of "The Cat from Outer Space." I don't know why, but for some reason or another, neither of us wanted to see it. One time, when we were apparently sick and unable to go, my dad went and got a movie for us. And, of course, that was the one he picked! We refused to watch it, and to this day I have never seen it.

Anyway, somewhere along the line, my best friend Michelle took me to the Cinema Shop, which had opened sometime after Visions. It was run by a professor who loved movies and apparently bought every one ever made. There were hundreds of movies there. Unfortuately, rather than the whole styrofoam box set-up, you had to just look at the covers (which were taped to pieces of plexiglass) and memorize the number that was written on the cover. Then, you went to the clerk and told him the number and he hustled to the back and found it. Granted, there were a lot of movies, and I'm sure this was the most convenient way to go about it, but it was always embarrassing if you wanted a movie that had any kind of insinuation in the title. Because the clerk had to read the title to you, to be sure that it was the movie that you wanted. It took Michelle and me years to work up the courage to rent Casual Sex?

We loved the Cinema Shop. Every Saturday night when we were in high school, Michelle, Tanya, and I would go to Pizza Hut and then to the Cinema Shop. They had rooms in the basement where you could sit and watch your movie, and that is what we nearly always did. Watching these dumb 80s movies (which was almost exclusively what we rented) with them were some of the absolute greatest times of my whole life. Because even if it sucked, we made fun of it to the point that it became funny to us.

Anyhow, to get back to Mr. Thesis' point, he said that after that came...dun dun dun...Blockbuster. And Blockbuster killed all independent video stores. Because Blockbuster was brightly lit, and colorful, and didn't carry porn, so no sleazy people were roaming around. And they carried tons of new movies, so you didn't have to wait a year to see them. Blockbuster came to Zanesville sometime when I was in high school, because it was one of my sister's many, many jobs. She liked working there because she got to see new movies before they were available to the public. She did not like working there because people were mean if they had late fees and were not allowed to rent movies until they were paid.

So...enter Netflix. Which was karma for Blockbuster, because then it died. Netflix had the great idea of never charging late fees. Which is good, because as I speak, I have a DVD beside me that I have had for a year and a half and have never gotten around to watching, but I refuse to send it back because I really do want to watch it, someday. Ah, Netflix. I loved you once.

But now I do not love Netflix as I once did. We have Hulu and I like it better. It has more options to watch now. And since all of this stuff comes through the TV, it is convenient. Netflix really needs to up its game, in my opinon. But, then again, maybe it's just trusting that some people are too lazy to return a film for 540 days, and therefore are paying for the opportunity to borrow a video for possibly years on end.

Anyway, I have digressed far from my topic, but oh well. Imagine me now, nerdy looking librarian girl, typing away, while the perfect song floats around her, telling you that she is obviously much more than she seems. How about "The Girl Gets Around" by Sammy Hagar?