Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Little House on the Prairie: A Reread

When I look at my books in my home, most of them are relatively new. I'd say that most were purchased within the last 10-15 years of my life. Any books that I had from my childhood are still in my childhood home or have been boxed up and donated somewhere else.

All of my childhood books except one series: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie series. After getting the box set way back before high school from the Scholastic Book Orders, I took them with me wherever I moved.

But while I owned all the books, I actually haven't read them. They have simply taken up space on the shelf, and I look at them and remember reading through the series very early on in my life, and then rereading them several times after that.

This spring my 3rd and 4th graders read Little House in the Big Woods for Reading class, and it was fun to dive into that book again. As I continued to read, I read new things that I had skimmed over as a child, and learned to enjoy sections that I had previously thought were boring. Of course, I also got really excited at my favorite sections - they were still my favorites even now!

When we finished, I knew I couldn't stop. So I came home, looked on the bookshelf, and got out Little House on the Prairie. It's been just over a week and I'm all finished with the whole series!

As I read, I noticed so much that I understood better now than I had when I read the books as a kid. So I decided to share them with you!

Little House in the Big Woods

This was not actually the first book in Wilder's series that I read; that honor actually goes to the second (and way more popular) book in the series. However, there are plenty of vignettes in this book to understand the Ingalls family and the setting of the series.

Something that stuck out to me in my reading this past week was Laura's doll. Before she received Charlotte for Christmas, the doll she had was a corn husk wrapped in a blanket. And that's what she played with! Envisioning that now was a shock to the system. I hope that my students realized what a privilege it is to have so many wonderful possessions thanks to this book.

Uncle George was an interesting person to read about. I used to see him from Laura's eyes: a crazy uncle that eventually grows on you. (I could understand this fear and fascination from personal experience.) Now, as I read about him and his "wild" tendencies, I could understand him better. He had skipped town at 14 to join the army and had witnessed who-knows-what in the Civil War. He probably had some extreme PTSD to contend with.

Every book wraps up nicely, and this one is always hard to finish, because Wilder says how everything in the Big Woods of Wisconsin was wonderful and pleasant and there was nothing wrong. But right away in the second book...

Little House on the Prairie is clear that everything was not okay. Overcrowding in Wisconsin led Charles Ingalls to pack up his family and move them halfway across the country, to Kansas' Indian Territory. When you know the trials that are to come, it makes finishing book 1 a little difficult

It is amazing how many struggles they had as they settled in this strange territory. Charles ended up messing up his claim by not claiming it immediately, and it was the U.S. government that kicked him out! Throughout the book, one is convinced that it's the Native Americans are going to be the cause of the Ingalls' departure from Kansas, but it wasn't that way at all.

I am a bit surprised at how warmly the family welcomed Mr. Edwards. He also seemed pretty wild, but ended up becoming an important asset to the family in this book and others. But how were they supposed to know that?

Farmer Boy

This book will live in infamy in my house as the Library Book That Was Lost. I had checked it out, and for many, many months we couldn't find the thing anywhere! I believe we actually had to pay for the library to find a new book, only to find that it had dropped between the couch and the wall.

Anyway, I enjoyed this look into Almanzo's boyhood in New York. After reading about the Ingalls' struggles of starting a new farm in Kansas, reading about an established, large farm in New York was quite the change of pace!

Wilder managed to take separate stories and weave them together here. It was clear from the first few chapters that Almanzo loved horses, and even though his father didn't understand how committed he was to horses at an early age, he eventually gains his trust on the matter.

On the Banks of Plum Creek

Talk about a downer of a book! I didn't realize how depressing this book was till I started reading it. The Ingalls family moves up to Minnesota, buys a piece of land from a Norwegian who had built a sod house by the creek, and starts to farm the rich piece of land.

Immediately Wilder makes it clear that her father Charles makes all the wrong choices. First of all, he buys a large chunk of lumber to make a 2-story house, even though he doesn't have the money to do so. And how will he pay it off? "We'll use the money we get from the wheat crop, because of course it's going to be a fantastic crop!"

Well, no, it's not a fantastic wheat crop. It starts out amazing, but then the grasshoppers come. The family is left with nothing, and Charles is forced to travel all over the place to make money to get himself out of the hole that he created for his family.

We also get our first glimpse of the evil Nellie Oleson, and when she's only in a couple of chapters we're relieved that the brat is out of our hair. (But just you wait!)

By the Shores of Silver Lake

Wilder decides to skip a few years, and now Laura is thirteen. Her family has just survived scarlet fever, which takes the eyesight of Mary. For the first three books, Mary is seen as a perfect goody-two-shoes who does everything right while Laura is always messing up. However, Mary's blindness brings amazing character development, and now Mary is seen as someone who looks at her disability with optimism instead of a crutch.

Charles decides to move his family one more time, to the chagrin of his wife, Caroline, who has spent five year on Plum Creek refusing any more moves. (And when you think about their troubles in Kansas and Minnesota, it's no wonder why she would be so stubborn about it!)

Charles works for the railroad company while Caroline and the girls (and new addition, Grace) tag along. They eventually decide to settle in South Dakota and become the first settlers of De Smet. They spend time in a surveyor's home after the railroad company continues onward, and end up boarding many of the men who come to help set up the town.

I didn't realize back when I was a kid how much Caroline suffered at this time - especially in the times when Charles had to go and stake his claim. She had a bunch of men staying in her house with four young daughters. It's no wonder that, at one point in the book, she demands that the girls "pull in the latch" and "don't open the door for anyone." Stuff like that goes over a kid's head.

We also get our first glimpse of Almanzo as a young man, after he and his brother Royal also settle in De Smet. I have to admit, when Laura notices the beautiful horses, I got really excited, because I knew exactly who she was seeing for the first time. (Actually, whenever Almanzo shows up I get really excited now, and I don't think I got this excited when I read these books as a kid. It's fun to see the courtship grow!)

The Long Winter

I used to hate this book because it was the biggest and had the slowest pacing. But it just reflects how the storms really brought the town to a standstill.

When I look back on the book I think of how brave Almanzo was to ride out and get that wheat to prevent the town from starving. But as I read the book a few days ago, I realized that he was pretty selfish here. Did he have to take his horse out 20 miles to buy wheat from a stranger and risk his life and the life of Cap Garland? Nope! He had his own wheat hidden behind a false wall! And still he wasn't willing to part with it. All the arguments he and Cap made to the man with the wheat could have been easily been used on Almanzo, but he was so stubborn he went and bought other wheat. He wasn't as much of a hero as I thought.

Little Town on the Prairie

This is my favorite book of the series because so much happens and the time period is really set up well in this book. I read it yesterday and I was still convinced that this is the best book.

We hear more about the people of the town instead of procedures of farming and building. Laura makes friends in the school, and a few enemies, too. We hear about autograph books, name cards, hoop skirts coming back into fashion, sociables, literary societies, and school exhibitions. All of these wonderful chapters flesh out the book and make it a window into history.

This isn't the first time in the series, but Wilder also mentions "darkies" and madcap games with men dressed up in blackface. I was confused by this stuff back when I read it as a child, but now I understood it fully. They just let it slide as something that was just accepted. It's mentioned in the first book, as well, so I had to make sure I explained to the kids how different things were back then and that those kinds of songs and dances would not be acceptable now.

And finally, we get our meet-cute with Laura and Almanzo! After hearing for several chapters how much Nellie Oleson (remember her?) wants to ride behind Almanzo's beautiful horses in the fancy buggy, it's Laura that gets the first ride. And it's not coincidence, because Almanzo gets down and puts his cap in his hands before asking her for a ride. He clearly sees something in her, and it's all so adorable. I read that section three times with a big smile on my face.

Not only that, but he also asks to walk her home after the revival meetings and the school exhibition. It's hilarious to witness Charles' amusement at the whole thing, in contrast to Caroline's absolute horror at the thought of her daughter being approached by a man!

These Happy Golden Years

I never really had a fondness for this book until I read it recently. It has a title that is reflected in the book itself, or else you could have called it The Courtship of Laura Ingalls.

I enjoyed the growth of Laura and Almanzo's courtship over the three years that are covered. It is very clear in the book that Almanzo took a liking to Laura almost immediately, but Laura didn't realize her affection for Almanzo until later. I just shook my head when Almanzo kept picking her up from Brewsters' school for weekends at home, and Laura didn't understand why he kept coming to pick her up.

It's fantastic how Almanzo's feelings toward Laura grow the more she displays her love of horses - even horses that needed training. He has always had that love ever since he was a little boy, and Laura, unlike most women, shared that love of racing around with unbroken colts like Barnum and Skip.

This book covers more time, so some things go by very quickly. Still, I really enjoyed this book - far more than I ever had before. Laura and Almanzo's dating, engagement, and marriage were so simple and matter-of-fact, which is something that we are not used to at all. I liked its simplicity very much! Wilder keeps every part of the relationship understated, instead of making it blatant like in so many other books. Here's one of my favorite sections that illustrates my point:

Pa laid down his fiddle when Laura came in. He looked at her hand where the ring sparkled in the lamplight.
"I see it is settled," he said. "Almanzo was talking to me yesterday and I guess it's all right."
"If only you are sure, Laura," Ma said gently. "Sometimes I think it is the horses you care for, more than their master."
"I couldn't have one without the other," Laura answered shakily.
Then Ma smiled at her, Pa cleared his throat gruffly, and Laura knew they understood what she was too shy to say.

Adorable, right?

The First Four Years

Well, I was going to stop at These Happy Golden Years because I remember the final book in the series being a bit of a downer, but since I'm on a roll, I'm probably going to continue with the Rose Wilder books after I'm done with Laura.

The book was a downer, since it chronicles Laura and Almanzo's failed attempts at raising crops, only to be discouraged by hail and dry winds. At one point Laura calculates that their wheat crop could net them three thousand dollars, and right when she starts thinking about all the things they would be able to buy, I immediately thought, "Well that wheat is going to fail." And it did.

One phrase is repeated a lot in this book, from beginning to end. When Laura and Almanzo are contemplating the hardships of the farmer, they say the Irishman's quote, "The rich man gets his ice in the summer, and the poor man gets his in the winter." I didn't realize how important that quote was for the book, but it does match the overall theme very well.

This book was published much later than the rest of Wilder's books - apparently she had it outlined in the early 1940s, but gave up after Almanzo died. How sad.

My reread of these childhood favorites was a worthwhile endeavor. I am looking forward to reading even more of my childhood favorites in a brand new light!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Little Disney World Collection

Back in the 2000s, pin trading became a huge phenomenon in the Disney parks. It started around the turn of the century, when commemorative pins were released for the Millennium Celebration and pin "trading" was introduced. Most people would wear their pins on lanyards, including Cast Members, and people could trade pins with each other at either designated locations or events.

Eventually this craze faded, but people still like collecting Disney pins. I personally enjoy this relatively inexpensive hobby, because it's something small that I can show off.

And show off I do! Here is the bag I will be taking into the Disney parks this year.

Every time I attend a Disney Park, I buy myself a pin. Sometimes it's the fancy pin, and other times I just buy whatever fits the theme of the trip. Regardless, it's a great way to keep track of some pretty fantastic vacations!


My very first pin was actually a free pin that was given out when we went during the Millennium Celebration. Each of us kids received one, though I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who still has theirs. (Fun fact: I didn't see the Mickey ears until waaaaaaay too late. Like, 10 years later.)

Highlights of 2000 Trip: 

  • My sister's amazing sense of timing with the picture shown above. (You can't get that shot anymore!)
  • The Main Street Electrical Parade
  • Getting my little brother out of his fear of Disney shows
  • My older brother getting picked for the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!
  • "The HOOP-dee-DOO MUsicAL ReVIEW"


Yep, it was a whole 10 years before I could manage to get back to the parks, but I made the most of it with my best friend Michelle! My main priority was Star Wars Weekends, and it was worth it! 

Highlights of 2010 Trip:

  • Nighttime Spectaculars, including Illuminations and Fantasmic!
  • Getting worried we wouldn't get this amazing shot of Mickey AND Minnie AND R2-MK, but being the last group to do so!
  • Dole Whip
  • Learning to appreciate Epcot like I never had before
  • Seeing how Touring Plans really work!!
  • Racing from Fort Wilderness to the Studios and making it there before closing...with 6 minutes to spare!

2010 Christmas

Michelle and I had purchased Annual Passes that summer with the intention of going back Thanksgiving weekend, which we did with our friend Rachel!

Highlights of 2010 Christmas Trip
  • Seeing all the Christmas decorations!!
  • While Michelle and Rachel enjoyed beverages in Epcot, I wandered around solo for the first time. I got kind of addicted to it!
  • Candlelight Processional
  • Osborne Lights in Hollywood Studios
  • Cinderella's Castle lit up 


The final leg of my Annual Pass trip came with a different friend. This time I was there for Walt Disney World's 40th anniversary!

Highlights of 2011 Trip:
  • Lots of character meet-and-greets, including Rapunzel and Flynn (that year's Must-See meet-and-greet!)
  • Riding the new Star Tours!
  • Sampling great restaurants like Jiko and Via Napoli
  • Seeing Yee-Haa Bob at Port Orleans Riverside


This was a spur-of-the-moment trip, and I was in Florida primarily for Spring Training baseball. As a result, I only spent one 24-hour period in the parks. But it was worth it.

Highlights of 2012 Trip:
  • My first completely solo venture - a rousing success!
  • Eating sushi at California Grill, on the top of the Contemporary, and seeing the amazing view of the Magic Kingdom
  • Seeing Push one final time before he was discontinued
  • Borrowing a friend's camcorder and recording the entire trip. I have it on 3 DVDs and watch it a ton!
  • Doing whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted
  • Discovering a great non-Disney motel close to the property and using it again in 2014!


Probably my most ambitious trip yet - I'd hit all four parks solo, and finally do an after-hours party! (Oh, yeah - I'd also go to Universal Studios for the first time!)

Highlights of 2014 Trip:
  • Everything.
  • No, seriously.
  • Dressing up as the Doctor for Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party
  • Somehow getting a walk-up reservation at Be Our Guest restaurant, and getting the Grey Stuff! (It's delicious!)
  • My time at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. So excited to go back!
  • Like I said - everything. 

Disneyland 2016

I did this trip for the Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend. Everything else was gravy! (Delicious, delicious gravy.)

Highlights of 2016 Disneyland Trip:
  • Meeting Chewbacca and First Order Stormtroopers
  • Seeing the love of Star Wars all around me
  • Eating at Trader Sam's 
  • Following the Paint The Night parade's final float all the way to the end of its route
  • The fact that I could WALK to Disneyland!
  • Finishing both races and getting those medals

Other Pins

I got this pin in 2010 when we bought our first meal of the trip at the Flame Tree BBQ in Animal Kingdom. I've kept it ever since!

The two bottom pins are from one of my favorite (now former) podcasts: WDW Today featuring Matt, Mike, Mike, and Len. They were so great, and provided so many valuable tips. Too bad they've moved on. I still wear these pins with pride!

So as you can see, I like to show off my pins with pride. If I lose them, I will still have the wonderful memories of some fantastic vacations! I'm very excited to add a new pin later this year!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Best Movies for a WDW Trip

Going to Walt Disney World is an amazing experience. If you are mentally prepared for crazy awesomeness, then that is what you'll encounter as soon as you cross into Disney territory.

But you know what can make a trip extra special? Noticing all the "extras" in the park.

Disney Imagineers have created a fascinating set of parks, where guests are immersed into a land that is different from all other theme parks. If you look closely, though, they have added little details that immerse a guest even deeper into the Disney lore.

Much of the parks are filled with details taken directly from the Disney movies, both animated and live action. So if you're gearing up for a trip, here are some films that will help you take your enjoyment of Walt Disney World up to 11:

The Little Mermaid

This movie is a favorite of mine, because it was animated so well! You can find details from this movie in the Magic Kingdom's dark ride and Hollywood Studios' stage show. Ariel and Eric are also featured in Fantasmic!

Beauty and the Beast

There is a lot of areas in WDW that cover this movie. The best one is the Be Our Guest restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, where you dine in Beast's castle. You can eat in the West Wing, guys!!

Belle also shares her Enchanted Tales in the Magic Kingdom. In Epcot, the France pavilion has a few areas dedicated to the movie (including some great stained glass windows). Plus, it has a stage show at Hollywood Studios, and Belle and the Beast are also in Fantasmic!

Peter Pan

One of the older Disney movies has a large representation in the parks. One of the most popular rides in the Magic Kingdom is the Peter Pan ride. There are small details found on the floors of the Grand Floridian Resort. The characters are also all over the Magic Kingdom, including the Main Street Electrical Parade, and Tinkerbell can be spotted flying over Cinderella's castle during Wishes!

Speaking of Cinderella...


She has her very own coach in the Main Street Electrical Parade at the Magic Kingdom, and has her very own castle to show off to guests! You can meet her in the Princess Fairytale Hall, too. You can dine with Cinderella (in her castle!) at the Royal Table, and Prince Charming has the Regal Carrousel out back.

Toy Story

Toy Story characters are found in the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. In the Magic Kingdom, they tend to act like they are indeed cowboys and spacemen, but in Hollywood Studios they act more like toys! They have two attractions (so far; there will soon be more!): Buzz Lightyear SpaceRanger Spin in the Magic Kingdom, and Toy Story Mania in Hollywood Studios.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Walt Disney's first feature length animated classic is well represented in the Magic Kingdom. Snow White and her dwarfs dance around in the Main Street Electrical Parade, and you can find the dwarfs at the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train!

Star Wars...All Seven of Them 

Right now Star Wars has a nice little patch of land in Hollywood Studios, where you can go on Star Tours and your children can try out the Jedi Academy. They also have several stage shows right in the middle of the park. But stay tuned...14 acres of Star Wars land are on its way!

Alice in Wonderland and Pinocchio

I was never a big fan of these trippy Disney films, but they have a pretty large presence in the parks. Alice has the Mad Tea Party and Pinocchio has his own restaurant. Both can be seen in the Main Street Electrical Parade. But beware...these movies are crazy! I watched Pinocchio before my first trip, and it was terrifying!

Raiders of the Lost Ark

If you want to understand the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular in Hollywood Studios, watch this movie first. You'll also understand many of the details of Jock Lindsay's Hangar Bar in Disney Springs.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

Does this really need an explanation? Not only is there the attraction from which the movie is based, Captain Jack Sparrow has his own Pirate Tutorial!

Footlight Parade, Singin' in the Rain, Mary Poppins, The Public Enemy, Fistful of Dollars, The Searchers, Alien, Tarzan the Ape Man, Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz

Want to make the most out of the Great Movie Ride in Hollywood Studios? Then make sure to watch these before you go!


Watch two sections to better understand the wonderful Hollywood Studios' show Fantasmic!: "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and "Night on Bald Mountain."

Swiss Family Robinson

As if you needed another reason to watch this classic, their Treehouse has been recreated in the Magic Kingdom!

Sleeping Beauty

Maleficent is a major player in the Magic Kingdom's Festival of Fantasy Parade and Fantasmic! in Hollywood Studios.

You can sing along with the songs in Hollywood Studios, and soon you can meet with them and go on a boat attraction in Epcot!

Finding Nemo

This movie is featured prominently in the Seas pavilion in Epcot and has its own musical (which is spectacular!) in Animal Kingdom.


This politically incorrect movie can be found (with greater political correctedness) in Animal Kingdom, and has a large presence in Fantasmic!

So there you have it! A nice list (though far from complete) of movies that will help enhance your future Walt Disney World visit. Happy watching!