6 days at disney world

In early June, we took a fabulous vacation with the in-laws down in Orlando, where we spent 6 days taking in the sights and sounds and experiencing the thrills and chills of Disney World. It’d be a very long post indeed if I tried to cram in all that we did, so I’m going to focus on just six highlights from our time there.

From Wikimedia Commons
From Wikimedia Commons

“It all started with a bang”: The Fireworks

We got front-row seats for the light and fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom one night, but we were also fortunate to catch the fireworks from the ferry one night and from a bus another rainy evening. All in all, these were very impressive fireworks, including the ones that burst into heart and star shapes!

Evenings at the Magic Kingdom

From countless loops around the Speedway to meeting Rapunzel, Aurora, and Cinderella to catching the Electric Parade, evenings at the Magic Kingdom were a lot more tolerable than the heat of midday. The kids were too excited to go to bed at their regular bedtime anyway, so we kept them out late and counted on them to crash into deep sleep as soon as their heads hit the pillows (a good thing when you’re sharing a hotel room!).

“I’m in the movies!” at Hollywood Studios

Sir I. and David got up early one morning to sign Sir I. up for Jedi Training Academy. By the time the rest of us trickled into the park, Sir I. and eleven other young padawans were on stage receiving instruction. After their training, Darth Vader appeared on the scene in heavy-breathing-glory to tempt the young Jedis-in-training to the dark side. Each padawan fought in single combat with Darth Vader, and with their combined use of the Force drove him and his storm troopers away.

David, not to be outdone, volunteered to be an extra at the Indiana Jones stunt show, which was full of explosions galore.

Chillin’ at Blizzard Beach

The water park was the undisputed hit with everyone. From the one-acre wave pool to the lazy river that ran all around the park, it had something for everyone to do. Our family started off the day with a group activity–the Team Boat Springs. But the biggest hit of all were the Runoff Rapids, which we did several times, either in pairs or singly. The ten or so flights of stairs that we had to walk up while carrying our inner tubes failed to dampen our enthusiasm for this water slide.

“I’m flyyyyying” at Epcot

Our favorite rides at Epcot were Space Mission (simulation of a shuttle launch and Mars landing) and Soarin’ (simulation of flying in a glider over the California landscape). We did Space Mission twice, but Soarin’ was so popular we got to it only once.

Eating our way around the world

Our last day in the parks, with still several meals and snacks left on our Dining Plan, we proceeded to eat our way around the world at Epcot. We ate crepes in France, black forest cake and apple strudel in Germany, and orange chicken and lychee ice cream in China. The day before we ate dinner at Le Cellier Steakhouse in Canada. The filet mignon was heavenly.

Have you been to Disney? What are your Disney vacation highlights?

5 family read-alouds to try

You’ve been reading chapter books to your kids since your oldest was 2. You’ve read through all of the Narnia and all of the Little House books–twice. You cheered Harry on through his years at Hogwarts, went on a tour of Mr. Wonka’s amazing chocolate factory, and teared up when Charlotte died. You’ve even made it through classics like The Secret Garden and Peter Pan.

Your voice is permanently hoarse and you’ve just about run out of book ideas.

Now what?

Try one of these as your next family read-aloud:

My Father’s Dragon and sequels by Ruth Stiles Gannet

 My Father's Dragon

This series is the perfect introduction to chapter books for younger, wigglier children. The few black-and-white illustrations are appealing, the chapters are short and episodic, and the tale is wildly improbably and fun.

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

The Princess and the Goblin

This lovely fairy tale features a brave miner boy, a truthful princess, a many-times-great grandmother with rose-scented magic, and a dastardly goblin plot.

The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper

The Dark is Rising

This is David’s current read-aloud with the olders. Both of us Gale parents LOVED this MG fantasy series as kids. There’s some confusion over the fact the series is named after the second book. You want to start with Over Sea, Under Stone.

And the movie adaptation sucks. Don’t bother with it.

For a more humorous fantasy angle, check out The Boggart by the same author.  A Canadian family accidentally take a boggart from Scotland back home to Toronto. Mayhem and hilarity ensue.

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

Swallows and Amazons

Now I’ll be the first to admit that these books aren’t superbly written (I always want to edit as I read aloud). And the whole “natives and explorers” angle might bother some folks. BUT these adventurous children–none of them teens yet–are capable, kind, courageous, and resourceful. Their parents let them go off on a sailing/camping adventure and TRUST them to not drown–and these kids live up to the responsibility. For older books, they are also refreshingly free of gender problems. Four of the six children are girls, and there’s never any indication that they are not as capable as boys.

I found these books very empowering when I was a child, and my kids do too. They’re the next best thing to running away and having their own adventures!

The Moffats by Eleanor Estes

The Moffats

 If you like the Ramona books, you’ll like the Moffats. Perfect for when you just want an old-fashioned, nostalgic read about small town families.

What are some of your favorite read-alouds? Share in the comments!

me, my kids, and Harry Potter

Several weeks ago, our family listened to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on a long (long!) car trip. We followed that up with a viewing of the movie adaptation. For several days thereafter, the children’s play was full of Quidditch matches and House Sortings: “Hogwarts, without Harry Potter”, as my six-year-old put it.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

And it occurred to me then that my kids will never know a world without Harry Potter, without his complete story. They will never know the building buzz, the anticipation of the next release, or the speculation over how it would all end.

And even more than that, they will never have the experiences that shaped–long before Harry came on the scene–the way I view the series.

I first saw Harry Potter in my college bookstore, and was instantly attracted by its cover and blurb. It drew me in not because it was something new and different, but because it sounded so comfortably like other British children’s books.

Otherwise known as the Books I Grew Up Reading.

The too-horrible-to-be-believable Dursleys reminded me of Matilda’s terrible family in the book by Road Dahl. The whimsy that characterizes so much of the wizarding world is reminiscent of Diana Wynne Jones’ charming and delightful books. And the whole boarding school aspect–stripped off its magic and co-education–is a lot like Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers and St. Clare’s school series

Blyton’s boarding schools, like Hogwarts, include the stereotypical Good but Stern Teacher, the Nasty Teacher, and the Timid Lacking-Classroom-Management-Skills Teacher. The headmistress is a an awe-inspiring, remote figure, who appears to dispense wisdom at the end of the book, rather like Dumbledore. Blyton’s boarding school girls tread the halls at midnight to have illicit feasts, while Harry’s  illicit midnight trips are to the Restricted Section of the library. A chapter or two of a Blyton school story is nearly always devoted to lacrosse matches in the same way Rowling spends time describing Quidditch games.

But Hogwarts also shares elements with my own school experience, sadly, though, without the magic.

I didn’t go to a British boarding school, but I did go to one that had been founded by the British for the education of their young in colonial Karachi.

We didn’t have houses with names like Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin, but we did have houses called Frere, Napier, and Streeton (all men who extended and strengthened the British Empire’s hold on India–make of that what you will). And yes, we did earn points for academic and athletic achievement, and a House Cup was awarded at the end of the year.

We didn’t have a singing Sorting Hat, but we did have a school song. (It began with “O God whose mercy long has kept/Our school from age to age”). I still know the first two verses and the chorus–some things you never forget. Lyrics available upon request. 😉

We wore uniforms and had prefects. In fact, I was a prefect my last year of school, and I wore a badge and a black gown. Our main job was to keep students in orderly lines, check for uniform violations, and make sure there was no unseemly giggling/talking during Assembly.

Fast forward fourteen years, and here are my young, homeschooled children, who have no experience with this kind of school system. Who can’t help knowing major plot points of Harry Potter because they live in a world with Harry Potter (just as my 8yo who has only watched A New Hope knows the relationship between Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader). Who will read Diana Wynne Jones and Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton after their exposure to Harry Potter, not before.

My kids, who will bring their own, very different experiences to the story of the Boy Who Lived.

conversations with Miss M.

Setting: Miss M., the Baron and I are snuggled in bed, reading about a kid who had a bad dream.*

Me: *pointing to the illustrations of the robots and monsters in the dream*: They don’t look so scary. See, they’re smiling.

Miss M.: But, Mom! Those are wicked grins!**

Doh! Of course, the bad guys are leering evilly. How silly of me.


*That would be The Berenstain Bears and the Bad Dream
**She’s six, reading voraciously, and picking up all kinds of phrases and vocabulary that are not part of our everyday conversation. ***
***Oh, and she just came to tell me she heard a sound like a tarantula scraping against a pipe. O.o