Category Archives: movie references

Frozen Ever After is delicious

blue treatsWhen my mom, sister and I decided to have this year’s girls’ trip at Epcot for the Food and Wine Festival, I was super excited. Sure, this was my fourth time attending, but neither my sister or my mom had ever even been to Epcot, so I was thrilled I’d get to show it to them. I was also more than a little stoked to get to once again try tasty treats from around the globe, which is the real star of Epcot in October.

My sister loves fireworks and was very excited we’d get to see them multiple nights. However, she and my mom also have some mobility issues, so I was worried about their ability to stand through the viewing. I knew there was no way in the world they’d be able to sit down on a curb and watch the show. Heck, I may still be able to do it, but I won’t lie and say I like the idea of sitting on the ground or standing through a show either.

I remembered seeing the Tomorrowland Terrace being used as a special fireworks viewing area on previous trips and I knew Disney did special fireworks and meal packages, so I decided I should look into it. When I did, I found that each of the four parks has some sort of fireworks and dessert party.

Wait, I can not only snag a place to sit during the fireworks, but I also get all I care to eat drinks and desserts? SIGN ME UP!

Epcot’s version happens to be the Frozen Ever After Dessert Party. It includes a buffet of desserts, a few savory treats, drinks, special fireworks seating, and an after hours ride on Frozen Ever After. So not only do you get tons of fun desserts, but it comes with something even better than a Fast Pass to ride one of the most popular attractions at Epcot. Again, SIGN ME UP!


We arrived at our designated party space, which is close to the Mexico pavilion only to find out that due to inclement weather, our party was moved inside. So, instead of sipping drinks and snacking on treats near the lovely World Showcase lagoon, we had to walk back over to Norway to find our indoor location. This was my only real complaint about the event. My guess is that by inclement weather, they were referrin to the wind, which had picked up a bit. My mom and sister were pretty tired at that point (it was 8 pm) and walking back to Norway, even though it wasn’t far, did annoy them a bit. The cast members who were supposed to lead us to the special room they had set up, were far back by the actual Frozen Ever After ride, so we nearly missed them. It was dark and we couldn’t see their signs. Luckily we found them and were ushered upstairs into a series of secret rooms inside the Norway pavilion.

room for frozenWell, after we checked in and were given special glittery writsbands to indentify us as members of the party, we were ushered in. I wish they’d made it clear there was an elevator available. I didn’t need it, but my mom and sister could have used it. Thankfully the line was moving slowly so we were able to rest on every stair. For anyone who has trouble with stairs though, there is an elevator available, so ask for it.

The room was decorated in full glitz and was cozy without being too crowded. There were snowflakes everywhere and they at least tried to capture the feel of Frozen.

Olaf lightEveryone is assigned a table, so we ended up sitting with a family, a couple and a woman who was on her own (10 of us at each table). Our table had an adorable Olaf lantern on it as well as very pretty, sparkly linens. Once we found our table, we had about an hour to eat and drink as much as we wanted. And there were LOTS of choices! 

One benefit of the Frozen dessert party is that unlike the dessert parties at some other mom's plateparks, this one does have adult beverages available. Anyone over 21 can have as many beers, glasses of wines or signature cocktails as they like. Someone suggested to us that if we wanted more than one alcoholic beverage that we should order two at a time because lines can get long, but honestly there weren’t that many people at the party and we had no trouble getting drinks. I only had one margarita, but my mom and sister each got two with no wait at all. They got the Olaf-inspired pina colada, and it had little candy bits in it to replicate a melted snowman. That’s supposed to be cute, right?

Olaf cupcakesFor any kids or those who don’t want alcohol, there are canned Coke products, coffee, an assortment of teas, water, and special juices with cute Frozen themed names like “Frozen Heart.” I actually had a big ol’ cup of water because even in the evening after drinking a lot of water, I still felt dehydrated from being in the Florida heat (it was about 86 degrees that day). I also had a Coke Zero because I am very addicted.

After we got our drinks, we headed to the tables to get some food. There was a great spread to choose from. The decor was adorable. I loved the snowman cake decoration that was used to hold all of the blue velvet Amy's platecupcakes. I also thought the blue light blocks all of the treats were situated on were very cute. There really was something for everyone at this buffet. There was a delicious no sugar added lemon curd with blueberries (also gluten free) that my sister worshipped. There were coconut macaroons, a key lime tart with an orange glitter glaze, eclairs, almond cookies, ice cream, fresh fruit, a salted caramel bread pudding, cheese fondue with both bread and veggies to dip in it, and some sort of savory snack mix that I did not try. There was even a special celebration of Olaf. They had a slice of Olaf’s birthday cake and nitro frozen custard with chocolate sauce.Olaf's cake

smoresMy absolute favorite though was Olaf’s warm double chocolate s’mores pudding. I didn’t initially want the scoop of ice cream the cast member scooped on top of it, but in hindsight, it was perfect. The pudding was simply amazing. It was rich and creamy and everything I want in a dessert. The chocolate was melty and smooth. The marshmallows did not overpower. And the soft, graham cracker inspired bread pudding sort of base was like a cloud on my tongue. I actually ended up eating not only mine, but also stealing my sister’s!

About 45 minutes after we started nibbling, cast members came around and handed out special 3D snowflake glasses to help us watch the fireworks. These seemed a bit silly at first, but when they were on, they made any light look like snowflakes. After using them to view the fireworks, I don’t think I ever want to watch fireworks any other way. It’s difficult to describe, but it made them even more beautiful. Plus, looking out across the lagoon to Future World, there were tons of other lights (including the torches) that took on a cool, special snowflake effect.

Since our party had been moved inside, the one real negative is that our special firework viewing area did not have tables set up. Since we were toward the front of the party leaving the dessert pavilion, we were also some of the first people to arrive at the viewing area, so my mom and sister could at least lean on the railings in order to watch the fireworks. Many people, especially the ones with children, did end up sitting on the ground. There was plenty of room and no one was squished in our area, which makes sense since we should have had a bunch of tables and seats. We saw the brand new Epcot Forever show and I was blown away  by it. I was not sure what to expect, but Disney did not disappoint. I especially loved the illuminated kites. It was also pretty cool to hear Walt Disney’s voice during the show as well as music from the nearly 40 years of Epcot’s history.

DSCN0708As the rather lengthy fireworks show came to an end, we had to wait a few minutes for the crowds to disapate a bit. Then, we were led back to Norway for our faster than Fast Pass ride on Frozen Ever After. I’d really wanted my mom and sister to be able to ride it since I think it is an adorable ride AND it moves at a ride pace they can appreciate. Thanks to this party, I didn’t have to use a Fast Pass for it. And since the park was closed, there was no one in line for the ride. We still got to go through much of the queue, so they could see the sights, but we waited less than two minutes in the line, hoped in our boat and took our ride. They both loved it.

We left Epcot, full of yummy treats, dazzled by fireworks and content with a great last ride. Even with our dessert party being held in doors, I still think it was 100% worth the money we paid for it. I would absolutely do it again with my husband and kids. Although next time we might look at the Star Wars inspired party at Hollywood Studios.









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An enchanted afternoon at the Enchanted Rose

forrest room.jpgOn Tuesday October 8th, Disney opened its latest lounge, the Beauty and the Beast inspired Enchanted Rose at the Grand Floridian. While I was not there for the initial opening, I did get to go the very next day.

My mom, sister, and I were enjoying a girls’ trip to Disney World. Despite growing up in Anaheim, home to the original Disneyland, my Mom had only been to Disney World once. Back in 1980 when she went, there was just the Magic Kingdom and although the Polynesian Village Resort where we stayed did exist, she’d never seen it. My sister, had never been at all. For me, this was the perfect chance to show them the wonders of Disney at a pace I knew they’d enjoy.

Enchanted Rose signWe planned our trip rather light. Although we had four nights at the Polynesian, we only had two park days planned. Both were at Epcot and both were intended as a means to eat and drink our way around the world (which we did, but that’s another post). In between our bacchanals, we had a day of rest and relaxation and it was on this day that I realized The Enchanted Rose had just opened.

It was just after noon and we hadn’t eaten yet, so we figured it was the perfect time to hop on the monorail and head over. We noticed they had a menu which includes appetizers and figured it would help offset our otherwise liquid lunch.

rosesThe monorail lets travelers off on the second floor in the Grand Floridian and since it wasn’t quite 1 yet and we weren’t sure where the Enchanted Rose was, my mom and sister went into the gift shop while I investigated. It took less than two minutes to figure out that the Enchanted Rose is also on the second floor, tucked away in the far right corner from the monorail exit. The sign outside the bar hints at its elegance, especially the lovely live roses on the table right below it.

The bar is definitely the center-piece in this beautiful movie inspired lounge. It was beyond lovely and I found myself wanting to sit at the bar, something I never really want to do. The chandelier, which Disney says is inspired by Belle’s iconic golden ballgown, is breathtaking. But, since my mom and sister were with me, and the place was pretty empty, we went ahead and entered the Garden Room, which is inspired by the enchanted forrest surrounding the Beast’s castle (pictured at the top of this post).

enchanted bartender

As if these two spaces aren’t lovely enough, there is also a patio and a library room. We really wanted to sit in the library, since we are all HUGE book nerds (English teacher and a former librarian in our party), but it does not open until 4pm, so if you too want to feel as if you are in the Beast’s reading room, you have to arrive a bit later than we did. Still, I enchanted librarydid manage to get in and have a quick looksie. There is actually a bookcase in the room, but it is down on the farther end of the room and it was not easy to get a picture at that angle.

Another interesting tidbit of information we found out AFTER we’d ordered our drinks, is that the kitchen doesn’t open until 5pm, so while we had visions of appetizers to help soak up some of the VERY potent drinks we ordered, that was not an option for us at 1pm. While my sister, who is a bit pickier about what she eats due to her gluten allergy, was not enthusiastic about the very limited menu at the Enchanted Rose, I am an adventurous eater and love to try new things, so I was particularly disappointed I did not get to try the crab and gnocchetti gratin. enchanted envy

enchanted loveWhat the Enchanted Rose does have is darn good (and strong) drinks. It even has two signature cocktails that come with their own “stories.” I didn’t quite know what this meant, but loved the idea of a Love and an Envy cocktail. I debated between the two for quite some time before settling on Envy.

And what does a cocktail with a “story” mean exactly? It means that the server brings out everyone else’s drinks first, confusing you just a bit. Then, they bring out this really cool drink cart:

enchanted drink cart

Then, as they slowly make your cocktail, they tell you the story behind it. For envy, it is the tale of all the girls in the town who were green with envy over Gaston’s affections for Belle. While each ingredient is added, so is another portion of the tale. Once the drink (and the tale) are complete, the server hands it over and you get to enjoy. I don’t know about Love, but I can honestly say that Envy was delicious!

I actually recorded our server making my drink, so if you want a sneak peak, you can check it out here on my YouTube channel (along with several other Disney and Universal Orlando videos).

Even though the Enchanted Rose is a lounge with deliciously strong drinks, children are still welcome. I can’t imagine they’d want to stay long as it does not have much to offer children. The menu is not kid-friendly; my very adventurous son would probably try everything on the menu, but my daughter wouldn’t try anything except the truffle fries and only because she’s had truffle fries before and no one explained to her what a truffle was. The decor is beautiful and has clear ties to Beauty and the Beast if one is looking for them, but it’s not whimsical the way kids would want. I felt a bit bad for the two kids who were seated two tables away from us. They were clearly stuck there while their parents had a drink. They weren’t old enough to have phones and seemed bored.

Still, if you are a true Disney fan or even a Beauty and the Beast fan, it is a must stop on your next Disney vacation. And, if you need help planning your next trip, I’d be happy to help at no cost to you.



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A new view of a familiar place

BttF 1I can’t remember exactly how old I was the first time I went to Universal Studios Orlando. I know it was before Islands of Adventure existed, but not when it first opened. I’m thinking mid to late 90’s.

I was so excited to go since I’d grown up near the original Universal Studios in Hollywood and spent so many hours of my youth completely in awe of actually being in the town square where Back to the Future was filmed, talk to K.I.T.T from my favorite show Knight Rider, and desperately try to get picked to be one of the volunteers to ride the bicycle and fly with E.T. While I never got to soar against that green screen, I did love the backlot tour in Hollywood, so I figured Universal Studios Orlando would be amazing too.

And it was. I loved all of it. My favorite part was definitely the backlot tour, even if there wasn’t that much actual filming going on. It was a bit odd to me that Earthquake, King Kong and Jaws were their own stand alone rides, since they are integrated into the actual backlot tour in Hollywood, but I still got a kick out of them. I also really loved the Back to the Future ride. It was the first time I’d been on a motion ride like that.

Men in BlackFast forward a few years to 2004, my husband and I moved to St. Augustine, Florida. Disney annual passes were a bit out of our price range, but Islands of Adventures had opened at Universal Studios Orlando, and we decided passes were a must. In the 8 years or so that had passed since my last visit, not that much had changed. In fact, the only new edition I remembered was Men in Black, and it was fantastically fun.* We loved our annual passes. Often we’d go for just a couple of rides and then we’d catch a movie and get some food. It was a great way to unwind after work or spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. Sure, I already knew all the secrets of Twister Ride it Out, but I still went to see it because it was fun. And no, the “shark attack” in Jaws no longer even slightly started me, but who cares? It was fun. And don’t even get me starting on Dueling Dragons. I LOVED that ride.

It’s been about 15 years since I’ve visited Universal Studios Orlando resort, but this past week, I got to go as part of trip to help me learn more about the resort so I could help clients make their vacation plans. This was really exciting for me for two reasons: 1) I love helping people plan trips and I want to be able to give them the most accurate information and the best advice I can.

And 2) The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I have been DYING to go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter since it opened back in 2014. I could barely contain my excitement on Monday night when I got to walk through the archway to Hogsmeade. There might have been tears.

But that’s for another post. This post is about what I didn’t realize in my excitement: in order to make way for my beloved Harry Potter and all his magical experiences, the powers that be had to get rid of almost every single ride I’d known in the studio side of things. Ok, true, it wasn’t just the wonderful world of Hogwarts and Diagon Alley that pushed out my old favorites like Back to the Future and Twister. The park underwent a HUGE facelift that left it, well, like a lot of plastic surgery patients, almost unrecognizable to me.

As I strolled through the park, only one ride remained from my first trip there over 20 years ago: E.T. Adventure. The ride is absolutely unchanged from the first time I rode it all those years ago. It’s still a simple dark ride that reminds me a bit of Peter Pan’s Flight, only this trip is on a fake bicycle with a mission to help E.T. save his dying planet. At the end of the ride, E.T. still calls out the names of each rider on the bike. Well, in theory he does. Somehow there was a snafu when we went through and we got called the names of the people who’d been just ahead of us in line. Still, it was cute and brought a bit of nostalgia to me.

ETOne of my fellow vacation planners told me that the only reason the E.T. Adventure hasn’t been sacrificed to progress is because Steven Spielberg himself adores the ride and had such a hand it in. He basically demanded that it stay in the park and at this point if Spielberg wants it, he pretty much gets it. Not that I mind. I liked seeing at least one part of the original park still standing.

Ok, that’s not entirely fair. There are some homages to the parks origins scattered throughout. The Mummy ride features a golden statue of Kong in the treasure room (since the Mummy ride is housed in the old Kongfrontation building). There are also some hidden Easter Eggs from Jaws in Diagon Alley, which occupies part of the space that Jaws used to. And there is still a chance to get a photo op with the shark that used to guard the entrance to the ride, but it’s been moved to the San Francisco Wharf area.

JawsAs much as I love all the new attractions and updates, I can’t help but be a little taken aback that so little remains of the original park. It’s not that I expect time to stand still in the parks. I understand the entertainment industry is constantly changing and if they want to appeal to their audience, which is also growing and changing, they need to make sure they are giving everyone a good bang for their buck. But classic movies are classics for a reason: they withstand the test of time. It’s a shame the same is not always true about classic rides.

BttF 2

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Wildcard Wednesday: travel souvenirs

souvenirsAny time I travel anywhere without my kids, their inevitable first question upon my return is not: How are you? What did you see? Did you miss us? No, their first question is the same universal one uttered by kids all around the globe: What did you bring us?

On my most recent trip to the UK, this particular question was a bit more specific, although just as insistent as usual: Did you bring me my wand?

Much to my delight (and my instigation), both of my kids LOVE the Harry Potter series. My son, who is 11, and I have read the first 5 books together. We started this tradition when he was 7 with the first book. My son is a very advanced reader. He was no doubt capable of reading and mostly understanding all seven of the books back in first grade when we started the first book. However, I knew he wasn’t even remotely emotionally ready for the series and so we took our time, each reading a page for 15-20 minutes at bedtime. It took us quite awhile to get through that first book, but it was perfect. He never lost interested, in fact, he was enthralled until the end. When we finished it, I let him reread the first book as many times as he wanted to. We repeated this when he was 8 with the Chamber of Secrets. At 9 we moved on to the Prisoner of Azkaban.

I’ll admit I was quite worried about what the Goblet of Fire would bring when he hit 10. He was stunned at the death scene, but since we read it together, we were able to talk through it. We did the same with The Order of the Phoenix, although the talk took a bit longer as I spent quite a bit more time crying than he did.

As he gets older and is more emotionally ready to deal with the content of the books, I have decided to step up our reading of the books. I’m going to hand over The Half Blood Prince this fall when he starts sixth grade instead of making him wait until February.

My daughter, who is 8, however, is still only on the second book. Unlike my son, she still truly believes in the magical world and is very concerned with the prospect of being a muggle. Although I have tried to tell her they are just books, I don’t think she believes me. She refuses to believe that Hogwarts is not a real place, so I finally had to tell her that she won’t get her letter because she is not British. For now it seems to have done the trick. She no longer asks why her brother hasn’t gotten his letter AND she has stopped asking when exactly she’ll get hers.

It was no surprise to me that when she realized I was actually going to the UK that she’d ask me to bring her back something Harry Potter related. After all, she knew I’d already visited Platform 9 3/4 once and when she asked if I’d be going back, I wasn’t going to lie to her.

Knowing where I was going, she made her request: a wand. And a spell book. After all, what good is a wand if there are no spells to go with it?

My son was less sure of what he wanted until he looked at the Platform 9 3/4 shop website and saw a copy of the Marauder’s Map. That was what he wanted.

I’d visited the shop at Platform 9 3/4 three years ago and knew wands were not cheap. I just happened to be looking around on the WISH app and found Harry Potter’s wand for under $10, so I bought it. Sure, it took several weeks for it to arrive, but I ordered it in plenty of time. I also ordered her a spell book off of Amazon. For less than the cost of one wand in the UK, which I would have to pack in my luggage and bring back home, I got her a wand and a spell book. I hid them away, told my husband where to find them and had him bring them to the airport when he picked me up. As I was loading my bag into the back of his vehicle, I slipped the wand and book into my suitcase so that I could open it later and surprise my daughter.

And she was ecstatic!

We were a bit less ecstatic when all through dinner she tried to cast spells on us. She couldn’t understand why her new wand was not working quite the way she hoped it would. I was VERY sleep deprived after being up for 20 hours straight, but managed to remind her that she was only 8, and hadn’t actually been taught how to do the spells yet. I reminded her that even Hermoine needed a little help. She was pretty ok with that, especially when I jumped in my seat a bit when she tried to levitate me. Yes, I know, that will probably come back to bite me in the end, but I’m not quite ready to destroy her sense of wonder yet.

My kids loved their souvenirs and I loved not having to pay full price for them, especially since hers were available in the states. I did get my kids some inexpensive UK specific items. I got them some fun candies we don’t have in the US. I got them really need multi-colored pencils from a Scottish art museum. I got them buttons from a castle, a bookmark from Oxford and cool scene changing postcards from a Harry Potter store I found in York. All told, those souvenirs rang up to less than 10 pounds.

It’s not that I’m cheap, but my kids already have so much. I like to see their faces when I bring them something from my travels, but I also hate spending hours and hours searching for the one thing they really want when I can just order it ahead of time and have it waiting. I learned that lesson four years ago when I went to Vegas with my best friend and my son wanted a scorpion encased in plastic/glass for his bug collection. He figured Vegas was in the dessert, so this would be an easy find. I agreed. Turns out I spent a good portion of the trip trying to find it and finally, in one of the last stores we visited, which was completely off the strip, I found one. Too much work for something that sits on his shelf. So now, if I can order ahead, I do.


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Free Reading Friday: The Pornographer’s Daughter

the pornographer's daughterI picked up The Pornographer’s Daughter by Kristin Battista-Frazee as part of my on going search to find interesting non-fiction that might engage my students. Granted, I was pretty sure that a memoir with a title like: The Pornographer’s Daughter, was probably not one I was going to be able to take into my classroom, but it definitely had a catching title that I know my students would think twice about reading.

Although I was not alive when Deep Throat was released, I have seen Lovelace and have done a bit of reading about the original movie. It peaked my interest when I learned about the Watergate connection while studying journalism in college. I have never actually seen the movie itself, not because I have objections to pornography, but more because it was so before my time and no one I know has ever had a copy of it. I’m not opposed to pornography on any moral level, but I’m also not much of a consumer of it either. I know a bit about the adult entertainment business, and I thought this book might give me a bit more insight into it.

What I didn’t realize when I picked up this book was that Battista-Frazee’s father was not directly involved with the making of the movie. When she called herself the pornographer’s daughter, I thought her father might have been one of the director’s or producers of the movie. I thought her dad was going to be a big name in the industry. I had no idea he was simply a stockbroker who wanted to make a bit of extra money by distributing the movie to theaters around the country. I also had no idea the scandal that distribution caused.

Battista-Frazee’s book is an interesting look at the obscenity case that surrounded the movie. While I know a variety of pornography has come under fire over the years for being obscene (as have a variety of art forms that are not categorized as porn), I did not realize that for merely getting a copy of a movie to a theater that wanted to show it, anyone would be followed by the FBI, arrested and indicted. I guess I understand how taking illegal materials over state lines is an issue for the FBI, it just seems so strange to me that taking a pornographic movie to a theater where consenting adults viewed it quite publicly would be viewed as illegal.

Battista-Frazee does a good job of recreating her family’s struggle as her father got entwined not only in the Deep Throat court cases, but through the loss of his stockbroker’s license and his acquisition of further porn businesses. She gives a pretty straightforward account of the pain it caused her mother when her father opened strip clubs and then later pornography shops. She also details some of the additional legal battles he had as a result of becoming a full-time club, video store and sex toy warehouse owner.

Although she had very limited exposure to any of his legal battles or his actual business dealings until after completing her masters’ degree, it is interesting to see how she pieced together information from family interviews and old newspaper and magazine articles about the case. She makes it very clear that she was never in one of his clubs and never even visited one of his adult stores until she was well into her 20’s. Never once does she stray from painting the relationship she had with her dad as perfectly loving and healthy. Her parental relationship issues came from her mother, who was struggling with depression.

This was an interesting read. It’s not a book I will end up taking into my classroom, more to avoid any potential parental complaints than because of any actual lewd or obscene content. I would have no problem telling my students I read the book, but don’t think I need to actually promote it to them. They can discover books like this one when they go to college.

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Wildcard Wednesday: Flying

I took my first plane ride when I was six years old. For many people, this might not seem very impressive, but it was 1981 and people didn’t fly nearly as often. By 1982, I was flying as an unaccompanied minor 2-4 times a year and felt like an old hand in the airplane biz.

As a kid, I loved flying. Since I was flying from Indiana to California (and back again), I had nearly four hours to kill on each plane ride and I filled that time with books, games, toys and snacks…lots of delicious honey roasted peanuts. I was pretty cute back then, so I could always get the flight attendants to give me extra peanuts. In fact, one year, in large part because I was very upset to be leaving a visit with my dad in order to go back home with my mom (who I lived with 10 months out of the year), I was actually allowed to pass out all the peanuts to the passengers. One man was so appreciative he gave me a card with $5 in it. Back then, that was a heck of a lot of money for an 8 year old.

Today I am not quite as enamored of air travel. Knowledge of airplane malfunctions and crashes, no matter how statistically small, have taken their toll. That’s not to say I don’t fly. I still really love traveling, but I’m far more wary when I step on an airplane. I spend the entirety of take off and landing either praying or holding my breath and hoping all will be well. After all, statistically, malfunctions and crashes are more likely to happen at these times. Once I’m in the air I’m usually pretty ok, but the turbulence which used to remind me of the thrill of a roller coaster now has me seriously on edge.

Recently I flew to the UK. The first leg of our flight was from Indianapolis to NYC. We were in a tiny plane and actually in the completely last row of said tiny airplane. We felt every single dip and bump. It wasn’t horrible, but I spent way too much time trying to distract myself from worrying over noises, dips and shaking. Thankfully I had a student I really like sitting next to me and was surrounded by several rows of my other students, which kept things pretty much upbeat. It was the very start of our British adventure and everyone was not only wide awake, but super excited about the trip, so my nerves were mostly ok.

Our flight from NYC to Edinburgh started off pretty well. We got off the ground with no issues and even before we were airborn I found out the vast selection of in flight movies were available, so I settled back and started Game Night, a movie I’d wanted to see when it was in the theaters. Not only do international flights offer a plethora of movies, but they also feed passengers. And often. During those six hours we had two meals and a snack. I wasn’t even half way through with my first movie before the flight attendants were in the aisles offering that initial snack, which was great. I hadn’t liked the sandwich I’d had while we were laid over in NYC, so I gave it away. That bag of snack mix and Coke Zero were very welcome. Not as good as honey roasted peanuts would have been, but I understand the change.

Since I knew we’d have to hit the ground running when we touched down in Scotland the next day, I tried to get some sleep. Despite having a comfy neck pillow, tons of leg room (somehow I’d managed to score a seat that had double the leg space because it was located at the end of the mid section of the plane, right in front of the bathrooms) and a sleep mask, I really couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t just because my seat didn’t recline. I’ve never been successful at sleeping on planes. There is just too much noise (even with earplugs), motion and lack of true comfort.

Although I was quite sleepy after being up for 19 hours and knowing I still had at least 12 more hours to be awake, I gave up and started watching Red Sparrow, another film I’d wanted to see in the theater. I was pretty glad my seat was not near any of my students as I could only imagine the comments I would have gotten from them about the content of the film.

We flew into Scotland during a rather nasty storm that had wind gusts of up to 50 mph. Since we were on the tail end of it, we were able to land safely, but we encountered the worst turbulence I’ve had in my 30+ years of flying. I have never once been motion sick on an airplane, but it took all my concentration not to throw up during that landing. Others on the plane were not so successful. Thankfully none of them sat near me. Unfortunately, several of them were right next to other members of my group, so once we were off the plane, I got to hear very detailed accounts of the vomiting that took place somewhere behind me.

Although the flights may be longer, I really do prefer international flights over domestic ones. I like all the little extras you get: sleep masks, earbuds, movies, extra drinks and food. The food may not be the best, but it’s also not horrible. In fact, on the flight from Heathrow to NYC, I had a truly tasty pizza twist thing. Plus, I got to watch The Greatest Showman, Thor: Ragnarok and most of Bad Moms. Sure, they were movies I’d already seen, but they kept me entertained and happy. Over seven hours on that plane felt like less than the just under two hours from NYC to Indy, mostly due to the movies.

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Free Reading Friday: Genuine Fraud

Genuine FraudIn E. Lockhart, I have found a new favorite YA author. I first found her last month when I finished We Were Liars. I actually picked up the book because I accidentally confused her with another author I like. The only reason the mix up happened is because they both use the initial E in place of their first name.

It turned out to be a very happy accident as I really enjoyed We Were Liars. I read it in less than four days, which considering I was also teaching a full load, is impressive.

Genuine Fraud took me even less time. I started it yesterday afternoon and in less than 24 hours I’d finished it. I was initially confused when I read what appeared to be chapter 15 first. Was 18 the title of the chapter? What an odd title. But then, as I finished up the section, I noticed that 17 came next. And since 18 was dated “Third Week in June, 2017 Cabo San Lucas, Mexico” and 17 was dated “End of April, 2017 London,” I realized Lockart was, in fact, telling her story in reverse order. And I was thrilled about it.

Although I’ve seen the movie Memento, I’ve never actually read a book told in reverse order. I’ve read tons of books that begin in medias res or at the end only to circle back around to the beginning, but not one that goes all the way backwards, at least until the final chapter of the book, which is, in fact 19.

I love the way Lockhart unravels the story, because it is a great way to show the unraveling of her main character, Jule…or Imogen…depending on what part of the story it is. Her story has so many twists and so much psychological drama that I am still only like 95% sure that I know who the narrator is. Or at least who the narrator thinks she is. Regardless of who she is, the title of the book is apt because she is, without a doubt, a very authentic fraud.

This book reminded me in parts of The Talented Mr. Ripley and in parts of Single White Female. I also love the weaving of the superhero story and Jule’s interpretation of herself as the hero of an action movie. I also love the fact that she explains how she is not the action hero everyone expects her to be, and not just because she is not white, male and rich. I also love that it is hard to figure out when, if ever, Jule is being genuine.

I’m not usually a reader of mysteries and suspense, but this was one that I could not put down

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Teaching Tuesday: Senior pranks

saran wrap deskThe school I teach at has a bit of an odd tradition when it comes to senior pranks. The administration allows seniors to participate with senior pranks as long as the seniors actually get the pranks approved ahead of time.

I know that in many respects this defeats the purpose of a prank. After all, if it is officially sanctioned, can it really be a prank? If it doesn’t have the air of secrecy and mischief a prank implies, is it actually worth doing?

Somehow, despite the extra hoop they have to jump through and the lack of total surprise across the board, our seniors like it enough that they play along and what we get is fairly harmless, sometimes even clever senior pranks.

One year the seniors brought camping gear into school at like 6 am and pretended they’d camped out all night in the school lobby. One year they had theme dress up days for every letter of the alphabet (like superhero, construction, pajama, wacky). One year they left random fruit all over the school (I had a pineapple on my desk, there was a jackfruit on top of the vending machines, bananas in the library, etc). One year they waited outside at the end of the last day with silly string and silly stringed all the underclassman.

Silly stuff, granted, but harmless.

This year they saran wrapped our desks. Well, not all of our desks. They picked about 12 teachers, got the administration to let them in our rooms and saran wrapped our stuff. Since I have mostly seniors and my AP kids have me for two years in a row, my room was one of not only the first stops, but one of the most thorough ones.

The only problem, is I get to school really early. I have to drop my kids off at the elementary school next door before 7:40 and my school doesn’t start until 8:35 (our doors don’t open for students until 7:45). My kids were actually running early, so I was at school around 7:30, just as the principal had let the kids into my room  so they could start their work.

They were really disappointed. So, being a good sport, I said, “well, l have to go get my tea and heat up my breakfast and probably chat with the librarian, so I won’t be back fro a good twenty minutes.” And, I left.

They were still hard at work when I came back, but I just took some pictures, sat at my desk, unwrapped my keyboard and did some work.

They left my room feeling very happy, which was not a surprise considering they individually wrapped all of my pens, dry erase markers and even my cardboard cut out of Benedict Cumberbatch. Luckily, I had a small handful of AP juniors in my first block class (the rest were taking their AP US History test), so we were having a study hall day. My juniors ended up unwrapping everything for me.

It was definitely easier to clean up then the year my AP seniors decided to just prank me by “Twilighting” my room. Knowing my dislike for the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyers, they collected all sorts of pictures of the cast (mostly from their own stock) and put them EVERYWHERE. There were Twilight quotes all over my board. There were Twilight collectible cards everywhere (I may have kept the Anna Kendrick one that said, “What the hell is wrong with you? for a few years). There were stickers. There were magnets. There were books. Everywhere you looked, there was Twilight. It was devious and I have to say, brilliant of them. Even after I thought I cleaned it all, I found bits of Twilight for weeks afterwards.

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Free Reading Friday: The Glass Castle

The Glass CastleIt’s very hard to read memoirs of absolute deprivation, especially when they involve children. Even before I became a mother I found it hard not to cringe when reading stories of abused, neglected or forgotten children. Now that I am a mother, I find it even harder. I cannot imagine anything that could induce me to allow my children to suffer. I would give up everything I have in order to keep them from experience true hunger or pain. When parents are not willing to do the same, I find it hard to understand.

I knew nothing about Jeannette Walls’ life when I bought The Glass Castle. In fact, other than the fact that her memoir had been turned into a movie (which I have not yet seen), I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I picked her book off the shelf in the airport bookstore. However, I was getting ready to board a flight to South Carolina to spend a long weekend on the beach with friends and I knew I’d need something to read. I also knew that my Pop Sugar book challenge for 2017 included a book bought on a trip, so I purposely did not bring a book with me on the trip so I could buy one. Ok, I’ll admit I brought my Kindle, but I didn’t bring any paper bound books with me, so I would be more inclined to read whatever I picked up at the bookstore.

Since I am always on the lookout for interesting non-fiction books to bring back to my AP Language and Composition students and since I knew some of them might see this movie and want to read the story behind it, I picked this book over several other interesting looking fiction works.

I’m glad I did.

While stories of abuse and neglect are hard to read, I think they are important to read. I think it is vital that we read stories like Walls’ so that we develop better empathy for our fellow man. Stories like the ones Walls tells help to make it harder to dismiss the homeless woman we see digging through the dumpster, or the children who come to school dirty and without food. Stories like these remind us that small acts of kindness toward those who may be in need go a long way.

Of course, those lessons don’t make Walls’ stories any easier to read. Her tales of her parent’s complete abdication of their parental responsibilities are cringe worthy. Like Walls, my children were also very precocious, however, the thought of allowing either of my children at age three to operate the stove, let alone cook their own meals is appalling. The idea of allowing my children to sleep in cardboard beds under roofs that are caved in and allow rain and snow to fall into their bedrooms is hideous. The mere thought of taking my children into a bar to help me swindle people out of money at pool and then allowing grown men to take my teenage daughter upstairs is disgusting.

But there are parents who do these things and as a teacher I am thankful to memoirs like Walls’ because it makes me look harder and with more compassion toward many of my students. Because of books like these, I find myself listening more intently to students I think may be being neglected or abused. I check in with those I know have difficult home lives.

Although a great many tragic events happen in Walls’ life and in the book, she manages to keep her memoir from being too dark. She does fill it with lighter moments. And while she clearly sees the neglect and abuse her parents committed against her, she also shows a sort of understanding for them and a deep love for them.

How she managed to write so kind a memoir after finding out what her mother’s land in Texas was worth is beyond me.

This is an engaging and well-written account of Walls’ life that I am glad I read.

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Free Reading Friday: Slasher Girls & Monster Boys

Slasher GirlsSlasher Girls & Monster Boys is a really fun collection of YA horror stories. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as I’d only read novels by two of the authors (Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die series and Cat Winters’ The Steep and Thorny Way). Still, since this is a Rosie nominee and Halloween was quickly approaching when I read it, I thought this would be a perfect choice.

As I started the first story by Nova Ren Suma, I got a strange twinge of familiarity. I found myself thinking of the Daphne du Maurier story “The Birds.” I’m sure it was just the mention of the creepy, creepy birds just sitting and watching the house. I definitely didn’t think of the story as a retelling, but it had a vibe to it that was so familiar. When I finished the story, I noticed that on the last page, upside down at the bottom was a little note that the story was inspired by two of Hitchcock’s movies, one of which was “The Birds.” I’ll be honest, I was a bit disappointed that, being a writer, Suma didn’t reference the short story, but still thought it was pretty cool.

The second story, “In the Forest Dark and Deep,” by Carrie Ryan (which is one of my favorites), was clearly inspired by Alice in Wonderland. I’d be amazed if anyone doesn’t figure it out in the first few pages. Just because the inspiration is obvious doesn’t mean it isn’t a great story in its own right. It’s twisted and creepy (way more so than Carroll’s original work). Since I teach Alice in Wonderland to my Film Lit class, I’m hoping I can find a way to add this story into my curriculum. Considering the fact that the purpose of the class is to see how literature is adapted into a new art form (film), I think this story would be a cool way to explore a different kind of adaptation as well.

As I read I found myself trying to guess which novels or movies had inspired each writer. Most of the stories are based on movies. A few are based partly on stories or novels, but even those also have a film inspirations. I was not correct nearly as often as I’d thought I’d be…mostly because horror is not my favorite genre. I have a feeling my best friend would be able to figure out the majority of them.

Other stories I found particularly note worthy include “On the I-5,” “Emmeline,” and “The Dark, Scary Parts and All.” It’s probably not a surprise that two of those are by the authors I was already familiar with and whose other works I enjoyed. Probably also didn’t hurt that I was able to guess the films associated with two of them!

There isn’t a single story in the collection I didn’t enjoy. I am actually quite excited to take this book back to school and suggest it to my juniors and seniors. I’ve already mentioned it to one of my students who bought a copy and loves it. I think many of her classmates will also thoroughly enjoy it…even after Halloween.

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