Childhood Memories Friday

How about waxing nostalgic over a few more vintage childhood photos? I’ve chosen a few, from January 1977. Sure, I’d like to choose March. But, since our weather patterns are decidedly Arctic with no indication of changing anytime soon, January seemed more appropriate.

snow January 1977

So, here is Dad holding my youngest sister, and then my other sister and me, in front of our house. That’s quite a bit of snow for southern Indiana, but I do remember getting those types of snows, so they weren’t that unusual. Yes, the coat I’m wearing looks sadly like it would have worked better as drapes or a couch. What can I say? It was the ’70s. At least my knee socks are somewhat equal in their droopiness.

snowman January 1977

And here we sisters are again, this time by the back patio with a cute trio of snowmen. I see we’ve scratched some words in the snow in front of them, but I’m not sure what. My middle sister appears to have inherited my favorite childhood coat.

On the back of the photo, Mom wrote “the start of LOTS of snow and missed school.” No wonder we’re smiling.

So, although 1978 gets all the attention with its blizzard, apparently 1977 wasn’t a slacker winter either.

Do you remember January 1977 for any reason?

You may also enjoy:

Childhood Memories Friday: Blizzard of ’78


Thanks to Kregel for a review copy of this book; post may contain affiliate links.

Candle Tiny Tots Lift the Flap Bible

As a Christian mom, I wanted to introduce my girls to God’s word from the earliest age. Candle Tiny Tots Lift the Flap Bible  makes that task easier, and more fun as well. This sturdy, colorful book features 8 double-page scenes from the Bible, told in a very simple way:

Candle Tiny Tots Lift the Flap Bible

Parts of each story are revealed under flaps, which little fingers can lift. I like the way the information under the flaps is part of the story: lift the flaps to find what’s in the basket — and who’s watching.

Candle Tiny Tots Lift the Flap Bible

There are scenes and stories from both the Old and New Testaments.

The illustrations are colorful and simple — perfect for children 6 months through age 3 or so. The book itself is hardcover, and the pages are made of thick cardboard like those in a board book. That’s good, because as all moms know, books for toddlers and babies do take a beating (and sometimes a chewing!).

I think this book would make a great baby gift or treat for your favorite little one.

Disney World: Too Crowded?

Disney World too crowded

Disney World: too crowded?

I’m really wondering about this question after a recent trip. I’ve been to Disney World three times in my life. As a child in 1973, the Orlando theme park was brand-new, and crowds weren’t much of an issue. In 2008, our family went. We specifically chose what was supposed to be a “non-peak” time, January 4-11. We even took the kids out of school, although I carefully considered their ages before doing this (grades 1,3, and 5 at the time). I remember feeling that all 4 parks had reasonable crowd levels at the time, and was so glad we’d opted to go when we did.

This year, I went with a group of women friends, February 8-13. Again, this was calculated as a “light” time to visit. But this time, the crowds seemed much larger to me. My sister, who visits the Mouse frequently, commented that she didn’t feel the crowds were much better than when she visits during “busier” times.

We did the parks “on a mission” — always arriving 30 minutes or more before opening, usually staying until they closed. Still, one clear memory is the first morning at the Magic Kingdom. We were set for a quick takeoff to Space Mountain. Now, I may not walk as fast as I used to, but I’m still far from ambling. And yet, as I rushed into the empty park, I had my ankle run over twice by eager stroller-pushers (one scar remains to this day, 2 weeks later). Another hurrier stepped on my shoe hard enough to pull it off (trying to get it back on without being totally mowed down was another challenge). I had to wonder, what was going on here?

Disney World crowded

I noticed many groups, large and small, ostensibly made up of non-Americans (judging by group names on their shirts). I chatted with a husband/wife from England who were on a 21-DAY visit to Disney. They had done the same thing last year. When I told them I was here for six days, she said, “Oh well, it’s better than nothing!”

So, I’m guessing that a large part of the crowds owes to foreigners visiting. I’m betting that more of the crowd levels are due to others like me, trying to visit at “non-peak times” that have become more crowded than they were hoping for. Disney is probably even in on this, offering their Dining Plan or other perks to entice people into the parks at a fairly steady clip year-round.

Throughout the visit, I was amazed at what Disney has wrought. As an author, I publicize all the time and work as hard as I can to get the word out about my books. But Disney appears not to need to do any of that. Even on a miserable, rainy day, the “Fantasmic” night fireworks show at Hollywood Studios was packed (I had to laugh when I saw the legions in the stands, most clad in — yep — $9 Mickey Mouse ponchos. I joked that it looked like we were at a weird cult gathering of some sort.)


rainy night at Fantasmic

Visiting Disney is hugely expensive, and yet it’s a rite of passage for most families. Disney just hiked ticket prices at its parks since my return. The Florida and California parks both posted record attendance and revenue for 2014. It just amazes me that people seem to have no limits on what they’re willing to spend on Disney.

While I definitely did my best to create my own magic, I gotta admit: trying to dodge the masses did kind of get me down.

I’m curious, if you’ve visited. Do you think Disney World has become too crowded?

You may also enjoy:

Disney World’s Top 10 Scary Rides


Book Chat

This month’s book reviews, which contain affiliate links.
book chat

In the Heart of the Dark WoodI love the cover of In the Heart of the Dark Wood, don’t you? It looks suspenseful and scary — like a good story. Inside, we meet Allie and Zach, 11-year-old friends who live in the mountains of West Virginia. Allie is going through a tough time since her mom disappeared in a tornado about a year ago, and is presumably dead — although Allie doesn’t accept this. She and Zach take off into the woods looking for Allie’s mom. They quickly become lost, and 90% of this 400-page book details their wanderings.

They run into some creepy … creatures? Hard to say. It’s cold, and they become frostbitten. They quickly go through the handful of candy bars they brought. They have a few conversations about God having “sharp edges” (to me, this felt added-on to make it a “Christian” book — it’s published by Thomas Nelson, but didn’t strike me as overly Christian in feel. This seems to be a new trend in Christian fiction, but that’s another topic. I did enjoy the lack of profanity). The ending is happy and sweet, and I enjoyed the kids’ traveling companion, Allie’s dog Sam (is it wrong that I felt more of a connection to the dog than to either child?)

If reading hundreds of pages about a couple of kids lost in the woods sounds appealing to you, you may enjoy this book. It fell pretty flat for me.

Thanks to BookLook Bloggers for a review copy.


Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption has been on my to-read list forever, it seems. This month, I finally read it.

Louis Zamperini grows up in Torrance, California in the 1920s and ’30s. He sounds like a trouble-making kid who would have been relegated to ADD meds long ago in today’s society — always pulling pranks and getting into trouble. Thankfully, his older brother is able to motivate him to channel his energy into running. Although he doesn’t even enjoy running at first, Louis becomes better and better at it as he practices (this is a principle that I wish many of my piano students would grasp). Eventually, Louis is so good that he runs at the Olympics.

But WWII intervenes, and Louis becomes a bombardier (side note: I learned how to say a new word! I kept thinking, bom-BAR-dee-er, but — nope) on a plane. Things are going swimmingly until one day when his plane goes down over the Pacific. Many on board are killed, but Louis and two others survive on two life rafts from the plane. They are convinced that they will be rescued, and they make it by eating raw birds they catch who have landed on them, and other cringe-worthy activities. One of them dies. The other two are finally discovered, AFTER 37 DAYS, by … the Japanese.

They spend time at one POW camp after another, for two years. It’s unbelievable how bad the treatment is there. They are beaten and tortured, and some of the men lose 100 pounds or more. Really, after reading this book, it kept amazing me that anyone could survive the things they did. I kept thinking that these camps sounded as bad or worse than many German concentration camps, and yet I don’t remember hearing much of anything about them. Why is this?

I’ll leave the ending of the story for you to read if, like me, you’re among the dozen Americans who hasn’t yet read this amazing tale.

I also did a bit of reading afterwards about the author, Laura Hillenbrand, because some of her comments in the acknowledgements intrigued me. Turns out she is about my age, but has had chronic fatigue syndrome since her college days. This has affected her in many ways — she is often home-bound and cannot travel for research as might be expected of an author of her fame. She interviewed Louis Zamperini for this book dozens of times, but usually by phone. She articulated one of my life mantras as well: “I have learned to have very low expectations.”

The book’s style interested me. The writing isn’t what I’d call literary or “artsy.” She just tells the story clearly. And yet, the book has sold millions — along with her other book, “Seabiscuit” (which I’ve not read). She also mentioned that she has her third book idea already, although she isn’t divulging it yet.

What are you reading this month? Take a peek at others’ lists over at 5 Minutes for Books.

Menu Plan Monday


Welcome to another wintery Menu Plan Monday! Here we are, just a week before March, and here we’re still in the cycle of snow OR ice OR extreme cold every few days. It’s worn out its welcome, a good month or so ago, hasn’t it? Here’s hoping for better things from March.

It was a busy week here, recuperating from my week at Disney. The week went by so quickly that I really can’t believe it. I’m beginning to get back to normal this week, which is nice.

Here is our menu plan for the week:

Monday: Baked Creamy Cheesy Chicken Flautas — new recipe which one of the girls sent to me via Pinterest. I love that technology is another way to connect!

Tuesday: Pancakes and applesauce — my husband is out of town for the week and so I will take advantage with this meal the rest of us enjoy :)

Wednesday: Cheesy Tater Tot Casserole – a tried-and-true favorite

Cheesy Tater Tot casserole crockpot

Thursday: Vegetable Lentil Soup — with bread from the bread machine

vegetable lentil soup

Friday: Make your own pizza. I make dough, each person gets to make his/her own personal pizza with toppings of choice. Confession time– this is one of those recipes that I have become so sick of over the years that I didn’t care if I ever ate another homemade pizza in my life. But, last time I tried it, here is how I made my own pizza. It tasted so good that I think this will be my “default” pizza for myself from now on!

What is on your menu plan this week? More menu plan Monday ideas at OrgJunkie‘s.


Fisher Price Little People Tales

For most of my growing-up years, it was my and my sister, who was 3 years younger. When we got “matching” gifts of any sort, it always seemed to me that my sister came out ahead. For instance, several times we were given a boy/girl set of dolls, and inevitably I was given the boy, while she got the girl.

One Christmas, she and I had each asked our grandparents for prized Little People toys. One item on both of our lists was the amazing Little People Castle. Given my history, I had the sinking suspicion that, should one of us get the castle, it would not be me. So, on the way to the Christmas celebration, I attempted to make a deal with her: how about if we shared any Little People toys we might receive?

Once inside the house, I guessed from the size of the boxes that I might have possibly, in some inextricable twist of fate, have scored the Fisher Price Castle. I quickly told my sister to never mind our hastily-made deal. We would just keep what we got!

Fisher Price Little People Castle

Friends, the miraculous occurred: I opened my box, and inside was the most miraculous Little People toy yet — the castle! Yes, I have loved castles long before I was captivated by Princess Diana and later, King Ludwig.  I could imagine so many awesome scenarios that could take place in this wondrous fortress.

Of course, being Fisher Price, it had so many fabulous features.

Fisher Price Castle trap door

Up on the rooftop, this innocuous-looking yellow board is actually a trap door. Step on it, and you will tumble down into …

Fisher Price Castle dungeon

… this dungeon! Complete with raising door! Of course, given the friendly frogs and turtles in the moat, maybe it’s not that scary (although there’s a friendly alligator floating just under the drawbridge).

Fisher Price Castle dragon den

Heading around to the side, we come upon this rocky den — and inside, a (admittedly cute and pink) dragon! Just behind him, the yellow piece is actually a sliding door into the castle itself.

Fisher Price vintage castle stairs

Let’s go inside the castle. Sure, the floor is looking a little worse for the wear, but c’mon — it’s probably 40 years old. Note the Fisher Price details from the food on the table to the decor along the stairs. Oh, and mentioning the stairs?

Fisher Price vintage castle stairs

Yes, you can slide them open to reveal A SECRET HIDING SPOT! (see, someone is in there right now!). You can also see upstairs —  I’m reminded of the little velvet covers I made for each bed. And don’t miss the eyes peeking out of the window in the door! The wonders never end with Fisher Price toys, and I appreciated them fully. So many fun times were spent with the various characters in this castle.

Years later, my mom bought me an updated version of the castle which I brought to school for my school kids to enjoy. However, it wasn’t nearly as neat as this original (and yes, this one spent years in my classroom too. I remember one year when our class hatched chicks, and the kids even had chicks exploring the castle).

How about you? Did you get to play with one of these amazing castles when you were little?

I recently returned from a magical getaway to Disney World. For the first time, my package included a Disney Dining Plan, which included one Quick-Service Meal, one Table-Service Meal, and one snack each day.

I wanted to maximize my money on this trip. Now, “frugal” and Disney don’t really go together, but still — I was hoping to spend as little out-of-pocket as possible once I got to the parks. I knew that I’d get plenty of food each day with my 2 included meals (more than plenty, actually — more food than I normally eat. And I didn’t want to return from the land of magic with extra pounds to lose). I sure wouldn’t need a “snack” each day, so I planned to use my snack as breakfast.

Prior to leaving, I did some research and found this comprehensive list of items that count as “snacks” in each Disney park. Then, I made a list of those that would make a suitable Disney breakfast.

Here’s what I came up with:

Magic Kingdom:

Main Street Bakery: Starbucks, smoothies, scones, coffee cake

Casey’s Corner: muffins, croissants

Main Street Confectionary: fruit kabob, caramel roll

Aloha Isle: pineapple spear

Gaston’s Tavern: cinnamon roll, fruit cup, apples with caramel dip

Prince Eric’s Village Market: various fruits

Prairie Outpost & Supply: pecan caramel roll

Liberty Square Market: many fruit options

Auntie Gravity’s Galactic Goodies: muffins, whole fruit, smoothies

Lunching Pad: muffins

Tomorrowland Terrace: Greek yogurt, yogurt, fruit cup, fruit




Kringla Bakeri (Norway): Danish, cinnamon roll, waffles

Africa Refreshment Coolpost (Africa): fruit cup

Liberty Inn (America): fruit cup

Les Halles Boulangerie Patisserie (France): baguette, croissant, puff pastry, strawberry smoothie, fruit parfait

Promenade Refreshments (Canada): fruit cup

Refreshment Port (Canada): croissant doughnut

Electric Umbrella: fruit cup

Fountainview Cafe: various fruits, muffins, croissants, banana bread, lemon bread, coffee cake, scones, smoothies

Sunshine Seasons: Danish, croissants, fruit cup, muffins, bagels, parfait, cinnamon roll, yogurt, oatmeal, pastries

My choice … fruit parfait from Sunshine Seasons

Sunshine Seasons Epcot parfait breakfast

Honestly wasn’t that good — and had to “fight” that it was indeed a “snack” …


Animal Kingdom:

Harambee Fruit Market: various fruits

Kusafiri Coffee Shop and Bakery: turnovers, pastries, cinnamon rolls, muffins,  croissants, bagels, fruit cup, yogurt

Drinkwallah: fruit cup, whole fruits

Pizzafari: fruit cup, yogurt parfait, oatmeal, cinnamon roll, muffins, Danish

Safari Coffee: Danish, muffin, crumb cake


Hollywood Studios:

Animation Courtyard, ABC Commissary: strawberry parfait

Backlot Express: strawberry parfait

Backlot Cantina: pineapple cup, apples slices with caramel, other whole fruits

Peevy’s Polar Pipeline: pineapple cup, apples slices with caramel, other whole fruits

Cool Set Productions: pineapple cup, apples slices with caramel, other whole fruits

Writer’s Stop: muffins, bagels, Danish, cinnamon bun, yogurt, pecan caramel roll

Hey Howdy Hey Takeaway: Danish, cinnamon roll, granola bar

Wheezy’s Breezy Freezy: whole fruit, trail mix, granola bar

Anaheim Produce: pineapple cup, apples slices with caramel, other whole fruits

Beverly Sunsets Sweet Spells: Danish, pecan caramel roll, whole fruit, pineapple spear

Fairfax Fare: yogurt, fruit cup, granola bar, cinnamon roll, Danish

Starring Rolls: cinnamon roll, croissant, Danish, fresh fruit tart, muffin, strawberry parfait, whole fruit

Hollywood Studios Starring Rolls Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcake

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcake at Starring Rolls — yes, I am hanging my head and confessing that this was “breakfast” one day

Remember that the snack credit each day is for one item only — so you can’t get, for instance, a muffin AND a beverage. I carried a bottle of water along with me for that. Sure, I’d prefer a carton of milk or juice, but I don’t want to pay $3 for that or use a snack credit for it.

Have you used snack credits with the Disney Dining Plan for Disney breakfast? If so, what is you favorite option?

You may also enjoy:

Disney World’s Top 10 Scary Rides

Childhood Memories Friday: Disney World, July 1973






Post contains affiliate links.

Think of Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, and likely one of the first images that comes to mind is that of the stunning Cinderella Castle.

You may have heard that the inspiration behind the castle is the famous Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, and that is true. Just as fascinating as Neuschwanstein is the man who built it, the eccentric King Ludwig.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Photo via Wikimedia, public domain

But Neuschwanstein wasn’t the only building that Walt Disney took ideas from. He also drew inspiration from the French palace of Versailles and various other French chateaus, the Alcazar of Segovia and other Spanish castles, and even Moszna Castle in Poland. Herbert Ryman, who designed the Cinderella Castle, was even influenced by the appearance of the castle in the Disney film Cinderella.

Disney World castle

Cinderella castle took 18 months to build, and was completed in July 1971. It’s more than 100 feet taller than the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland. The castle is 189 feet tall, but when you see it in person, you may be surprised that it’s not even taller than that. Its apparently greater height is an illusion, based on proportions of the castle being carefully scaled and angled to make it appear higher than it really is (these same “tricks” were used to make the Expedition Everest Mountain at Animal Kingdom appear larger).

Just as is the case in many instances with Neuschwanstein, many things are not as they seem with Cinderella Castle. It has a steel-based frame construction covered with plaster, but appears to be made of brick and marble. It was built to withstand 110 mph winds, in case a hurricane should blow through.

Disney Castle construction

The Cinderella Castle during construction

Inside the castle, mosaic murals depict the story of Cinderella. These took a team of six artists 22 months to complete. When I first visited, I was surprised that there really is not a lot to be seen in the interior of the castle. If you get your reservations in, months in advance, you can dine at Cinderella’s Royal Table on the second floor.

Disney World castle mosaic Cinderella

Cinderella Castle facts:

  • It has a drawbridge, but, unlike Disneyland’s Castle, the drawbridge cannot be raised.
  • It has 27 towers, numbered 1-29 (numbers 13 and 17 were eliminated prior to construction because they were not visible from anywhere in the park). The tallest tower is #20, and the front tower with the clock is #10.
  • The castle contains 3 elevators.

Disney World Castle towers

You may also enjoy:

Disney World’s Top 10 Scary Rides

Childhood Memories Friday: Disney World, July 1973


Post contains affiliate links.

I have had the great blessing to travel to Germany twice. While I have loved almost everything about these trips, I wanted to share my very favorite destination with you – Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria (southern Germany). If you are ever in Germany, make sure to visit this castle. Even if you never go to Europe, you can enjoy it vicariously through this article.

The name may baffle you, but you will recognize Neuschwanstein as the castle on which Disney based his castles at Disney Land and Disney World. It looks medieval, but was actually built in the late 1800’s. Its fabulous mountain setting and its many towers and turrets make it everyone’s dream of a “fairy tale castle”.

Much of the appeal of Neuschwanstein Castle comes from the history of its owner, King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Ludwig was born in 1845, the son of King Maximilian II. He was a quiet child and enjoyed building things with blocks. When he was just 18, his father died and Ludwig became King of Bavaria. He was still quite shy and had no desire to be King. His main interests were the music of Richard Wagner and architecture. He had three castles built during his lifetime: Neuschwanstein, Linderhof (which is more Baroque-style) and Herrenchiemsee (which is a copy of Paris’ Versailles).

Ludwig was quite eccentric – he often slept during the day and woke at night, insisting that his servants take him on sleigh rides through the countryside in the middle of the night. He ate alone, but requested his table be set for four, because he invited imaginary guests to dinner. Once he had his favorite horse dine with him! Ludwig was also known to make faces at himself in mirrors, put tape on a servant’s head so his brains would not fall out, and request private performances of Wagner’s operas because he didn’t want the public staring at him during a public performance.

In 1886, when he was just 40, Ludwig’s cabinet members decided they had put up with his eccentricities long enough, and they arranged for a doctor to declare him insane. He was arrested at Neuschwanstein Castle and died mysteriously a few days later while taking a walk with his doctor. Both men were found drowned in a shallow lake nearby. The official theory is that Ludwig strangled the doctor and then drowned himself, but to this day no one knows for sure.

The Bavarian people loved Ludwig dearly (and do to this day), referring to him as their “fairy tale king”. The government officials were decidedly less fond of him, calling him “mad King Ludwig”. Which is more accurate? I will leave that for you to decide! Either way though, his castles are a dream to explore.

Not So Happily Ever After

Ludwig is so fascinating that I wrote a book about him!

Neuschwanstein is situated on top of a mountain. You can either hike up, or ride in a wagon drawn by horses. Once you are at the top, you will get into a line (usually a long one – go early or in the “off season”). Inside the castle, you will take a tour of the various rooms. Here are some highlights:

*The Singers’ Hall
This was inspired by a Wagnerian opera and includes a stage and a painted backdrop. Unfortunately, it was never used during Ludwig’s lifetime. Small performances do occur there now.

*The Throne Room
This room features elaborate mosaics depicting Biblical scenes. There is a huge chandelier also. The only thing missing is a throne – none was ever made during Ludwig’s lifetime. The dais remains eerily empty today.

*Ludwig’s bedroom
This room, like all the others, has walls filled with paintings depicting various scenes from Wagner’s operas. The bed is stunning – it has so much carved woodworking that it took 17 woodworkers 4 1/2 years to make it! This is the room which Ludwig was in when he was arrested.

Ludwig’s childlike nature is seen in this artificial cave, built into the castle between the living room and the study. The narrow cave is illuminated with various colors and even has stalactites and a small waterfall! Again, the inspiration was a scene from a Wagnerian opera.

You will tour several other rooms, but I enjoyed these the most. Sadly, much of the castle’s interior was not completed during Ludwig’s life. In spite of Ludwig’s pleas for privacy, Neuschwanstein was opened to tourists just weeks after his death in 1886.

I highly recommend a visit to Neuschwanstein, either in person or through a book. It’s a journey into a real-life fairy tale that is more fascinating than anything the Brothers Grimm ever conceived!


Menu Plan Monday


Hello friendly readers and welcome to another Menu Plan Monday! This week has been quite a jumble, with me returning from sunny Florida.

Going from thisIMG_0515

to this

Disney Epcot China

and back again. But, it was wonderful to see green and growing sights, and to not cook for a week was truly a treat.

Disney Animal Kingdom Tusker House food

More to come on the food (and other aspects of the trip) on the blog in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

So, we start the week rolling with some of the kids spending all day Monday at Indianapolis paging for our local representative. A fun day, but very busy again. Here’s how the week’s menu plan shapes up:

Monday: frozen pizza (see paragraph above)



16 oz. refried beans

14.5 oz. chicken broth

5 oz. chunk chicken (I usually just cook 1 chicken breast)

15.5 oz. black beans, rinsed

3/4 cup salsa

Combine all ingredients.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 10 min.

Crumble a few tortilla chips in the bottom of each bowl.

Ladle soup over chips and sprinkle with cheddar cheese.

You can also cut tortillas into strips and bake them for a few minutes to serve with this.

Wednesday: White Chicken Lasagna — very popular here lately.

Thursday: Healthy Mexican Casserole – new recipe.

Healthy Mexican Casserole

Friday: Baked Cream Cheese Spaghetti — made it and it’s good.

What are you cooking this week? More menu plan Monday ideas at OrgJunkie‘s.