Frozen Chicago Disney Store

My daughter had a dance rehearsal about 30 minutes from home. It was a 2-hour practice, and I didn’t feel it would be a good use of my resources to drive home before picking her up again, so I needed something to do. She came up with an idea for me: she’d heard that “Frozen” director Chris Buck would be speaking nearby at that very time. I love it when plans line up like that!

So, I treated myself to 90 minutes listening to this interesting guy. I’ll fill you in on the good stuff. I hope this is all reasonably accurate, although I was taking notes (with a pen and notepad) in a dark auditorium.

  • Chris always loved to draw. As a child, he spend lots of time copying Peanuts cartoon figures before branching out to drawing and creating his own characters. During high school, a friend showed his portfolio to a Disney animator, who liked it.
  • After high school he went to CalArts, an arts school where he met many talented peers who he would later work with on various projects — Tim Burton, the head of Pixar, etc.  Be nice to people and make good friends, he emphasized. You never know who can help you later, or who you might offer an opportunity to.
  • At an end-of-year program at CalArts, Walt Disney’s widow Lillian told Chris that she really liked the movie he had produced for the program. Soon after, he landed a job working for Disney.
  • He left Disney after a while, wanting a less-structured schedule. He worked freelance for a time, mentioning that he worked on animation for the Keebler Elves and Sugar Smacks, to name a few. He later returned to Disney, helping design the Ursula, Flounder, and Sebastian characters for “Little Mermaid.” He worked on animation for “Pocahontas” too.
  • Chris was animation director for “Tarzan.” A few years later, he learned that three songs from the film were featured in his teenage sons’ high school choir concert. He was excited by this and mentioned to the boys how happy he was that their concert was using songs from “his” movie. The boys were unimpressed, saying, “But Dad, it’s not like you wrote the songs!”
  • He worked next as a director of the film, “Surf’s Up,” an animated film about penguins. However, he said the film didn’t do well. There was a bit of “penguin fatigue” as a result of “March of the Penguins” and Madagascar having both coming out shortly beforehand. The film did receive an Academy Award nomination, but lost to “Ratatouille.”
  • In 2008, Chris headed back to Disney again. He had to pitch three ideas to the higher-ups, and one of his was … The Snow Queen. They loved the idea, and it morphed eventually into “Frozen.”
  • Animated films take about 3-4 years to make. Originally, “Frozen” was slated to come out about now. But, another film fell out of the slot for last year, and when asked if “Frozen” could be ready then, Chris agreed. He was a little tired of working on it and ready for the finished product.
  • He said that snowman Olaf represented Anna and Elsa’s love for each other — beginning as kids and continuing throughout the film. Olaf is an animator’s dream — he’s a character who can come apart and reassemble himself!
  • Kristoff actor Jonathan Groff was the only actor to send a thank you note after auditioning. Buck stressed the importance of sending thank yous. It gets your name in front of the boss an extra time.
  • To grasp Anna’s personality, film workers were asked to read “Anne of Green Gables.” That does make sense to me — I can see similarities in outlook between Anne and Anna ;)

And there you have it! A very interesting talk by an interesting man.


Menu Plan Monday


Marching band flute breakfast 2014 is history, and I hope the girls enjoyed it as much as I did.

breakfast buffet foods

The spread was ready, and it was fun when guests began to pour in. We don’t have a lot of people over to our house, so maybe that’s part of what made this so much fun.

flute breakfast marching band

Soon the living room was full of hungry, happy, laughing girls. I was hearing, “Your house is so beautiful” — “You are an amazing cook!” — “Thank you SO much for inviting me over to eat at your house” — and, wow. I might like to have 25 girls over for breakfast every Saturday :)

flute breakfast marching band

If you’d like to see our menu, I posted recipes at the end of last week’s MPM (by the way — making bacon in the oven worked better this year. Not sure why).

So, on to this week:

Monday: Chicken Stir Fry – I just cook chicken, a bag of alfalfa sprouts, a chopped carrot or two and snap peas (now ready in the garden!) in soy sauce, and serve with rice

Tuesday: Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas — this is a recipe I tore out of a magazine and kept. It’s good.

Wednesday: Freschetta Pizzas (on sale at Meijer last week) — we pick up cake rolls as a band fund raiser tonight and I know it will be busy.

Thursday: Calico Beans

Friday: Chicken and Noodles — guests here for band senior night. Just chicken, noodles (busy week; probably not homemade), carrots, celery, broth — etc.

What is going on in your kitchen this week? More ideas at OrgJunkie‘s.

GoPro Cameras at Best Buy

There are so many moments I want to capture this fall: marching band competitions. Dance performances. Bonsai show meetings. Then, Christmas rolls around, and the photo opportunities only increase.

If you’re in the market for a new camera or camcorder, Best Buy is offering the truly amazing GoPro cameras. How good are these cameras? See for yourself the types of images they capture:

Best Buy GoPro cameras panoramic


Best Buy GoPro camera image

Best Buy GoPro camera image

Best Buy stocks the full line of these cameras, as well as an assortment of accessories. GoPro cameras make perfect Christmas gifts for everyone, from kids to gadget gurus. This new line of cameras allow you to beautifully capture and share memories.

GoPro Details:

·         GoPro HERO4 Black: the most advanced version ever, featuring improved image quality and a 2x more powerful processor with 2x faster video frame rates

Best Buy GoPro cameras

·         GoPro HERO4 Silver: the first version of the camera to feature a built-in touch display. Controlling the camera, playing back footage and adjusting settings is ultra-convenient—just view, tap and swipe the screen. HERO4 Silver offers powerful, pro-quality images.

Best Buy GoPro Silver camera

·         GoPro HERO: Featuring high‐quality 1080p30 and 720p60 video, and 5MP photos up to 5 fps, HERO captures the same immersive footage that’s made the brand one of the best-selling cameras in the world.

Best Buy GoPro camera

You can learn more at Best Buy’s website or visit your local Best Buy to check out the latest cameras in person.

I did just that, and talked to a salesman who owns a GoPro camera. I asked him what he liked about it, and he immediately said that the 4k resolution was great. I found the cameras on an endcap display in the store, and the video playing (shot with a GoPro camcorder) was truly life-like and stunning. It took home filming to a whole new level, that’s for sure.

Best Buy GoPro cameras


I was compensated in the form of a Best Buy Gift Card. All opinions my own.

Childhood Memories Friday
Close your eyes. Go back to fourth grade or so. You’ve finished the daily set of language worksheets that the teacher handed out for you to complete while she meets with reading groups in the back of the room. What do you do now?

SRA reading folder 1970s

Most likely, you headed back to the SRA box and pulled out a cardboard folder to read and answer questions on. Then, you went back to the box for the answer key and recorded your results. All your SRA papers were kept in your own personal folder, which you decorated (see mine above; it made a recent trip upstairs from the basement). I’m thinking RFU was a similar program.

A bit of research reveals that SRA stands for Science Research Associates. They were an educational publisher. I’ve always been pretty task-driven, and I usually finished my “seatwork” fairly quickly. So, SRA and I spent quite a bit of time together. Often, the stories I read on the card weren’t all that interesting. I became pretty good at first looking at the questions, and then skimming the text for the answers.

I began with the cards at the front of the box, and dutifully worked my way back. The teacher recorded my progress on a folder:

SRA reading folder

The first set of cards in the box were aqua — once those were all finished, one “graduated” to purple cards, and so forth. Here’s a picture of an SRA box, and sure enough, you can follow the colors listed here all the way back. I can’t remember what I did when I finished the box, but I’m sure it was a happy day. Maybe I was just allowed to read a book of my own choosing?

Do you remember working your way through an SRA box as a child? Did you enjoy it?

You may have never heard the name Gene Stratton Porter, but if you had lived 100 years ago, that would not be so. Born in 1863, Gene was one of America’s most popular novelists and is still considered by many to be Indiana’s most famous female author.

Her most famous books, Freckles and Girl of the Limberlost, both depict simpler times and feature characters who enjoy and learn from nature – much like Stratton Porter herself.

Happily, Gene’s two Indiana homes are still open to tourists. Our family has visited Limberlost State Historic Site, which is the house she and her husband built after their marriage.

The home is a large cabin-like structure built of massive logs. The interior is full of original furnishings, the significance of which is described in loving detail by tour guides. Items of note in the home are a large collection of moths which Gene had collected, and a conservatory with plenty of windows to observe birds and other creatures outside.

Gene Stratton Porter house Limberlost Geneva Indiana

This home was built near the Limberlost Swamp, so named because there was a legend of a man, “Ole Limber Jim”, who wandered into the 13,000 acre swamp and never returned. The cabin was named in tribute to this swamp, which Gene loved to explore.

Gene and her husband, Charles Porter, had a daughter, Jeanette. Jeanette’s small room can be viewed, complete with her dolls and a door leading to the large porch wrapping around the house. My girls were enchanted by it, and I feel sure it was a magical place for Jeanette.

Gene was distressed when she learned that the swamp was scheduled to be drained. She worried about what would happen to the birds and insects that depended on the swamp for their habitat. She needed a new place to live, and found it about 80 miles northwest in Rome City.

The family had a home built there in 1913, and called it Wildflower Woods. This home was also made of logs and is rustic, but it was quite a bit larger than the Limberlost House, probably because by this time Gene was becoming more famous and her books were doing well. The house is full of things special to Gene. As a child, she loved seeing Indians run through the yard of her family home, and inside the entrance to Wildflower Woods she placed an “Indian Torch” light at the base of the stair railing.

Gene Stratton Porter house Wildflower Woods Rome City Indiana

The house features built-in cabinets throughout which feature Charles Porter’s knick-knacks from his world travels.

A highlight of the house is the living room fireplace. It features stones from all the states, and the stones above the center are in the shape of Gene’s favorite creature, the moth. A revolutionary soldier can be seen formed from stones, and other pictures as well.

The home features its own dark room (Gene also loved to take photographs) and had 7 bedrooms (contrasted to Limberlost’s 2).

Gene Stratton Porter house Wildflower Woods Rome City Indiana

Spring at Wildflower Woods where Gene enjoyed relaxing

In 1920, the family moved to California, both because of the perceived health benefits and because several of Gene’s books were being made into films. There they had a spectacular, castle-like home built. Sadly, before they moved in, Gene was killed in a car accident in 1924.

In 1999, Gene and Jeanette’s bodies were returned from California back to Wildflower Woods, where they rest today, in a wooded setting reminiscent of the site of Gene’s novels.

Our family enjoyed visiting both sites. The homes’ websites can be viewed at the links listed, and from there you can find admission rates and hours. We were impressed with the enthusiasm of the guides at both sites.

recycling cereal liner bagsSave Money and Resources with This Free Alternative to Wax Paper and Plastic Bags
Our family used to throw away five or six empty cereal boxes each week, and with the boxes, the plastic liner bags inside. No more! I have found a way to reuse these, thereby “greening up” my kitchen, reusing resources, and saving money, too.

Why? Cereal liner bags have many uses. Here are my top five favorite uses for cereal liner bags:

  1. Rolling our pie crusts. No more wax paper to roll pie crusts on – I simply cut off the closed ends of a cereal liner bag, shake out the crumbs, open out the bag, and voila! A perfectly-sized, non-stick surface perfect for rolling out crusts or cookie dough. Use another bag on top of the crust or dough for less mess.
  2. Crushing crackers. If you need crushed crackers, candy canes, or other items for a recipe, don’t put them in a plastic bag – reuse a cereal liner bag. Use a rolling pin to crush the items inside. Your rolling pin won’t even get dirty.
  3. Lining food containers. At Christmas, we like to bake cookies and other goodies. I used to divide layers of these with wax paper, but now I’ve discovered that it’s cheaper to use cereal bag liners. They can be cut into any size needed, and they are great at dividing layers of cookies and candies.
  4. Sandwich containers. Okay, here I admit you may feel a bit embarrassed if you are seen taking your sandwich to work in a cereal bag liner. However, it does work well – just put the sandwich in, roll down the top and staple it. If you can handle the raised eyebrows, you’ll save the expense of ziplock bags, and the earth will thank you (and hey, maybe your coworkers will secretly admire you, too).
  5. Play mat for kids. When your kids want to play with playdough or other messy substances, put down an opened-out cereal liner bag first. This avoids the mess on the table. When your kids finish playing, you can gather up the mess in the liner bag and throw it all away.

As you can see, the possibilities are many for the lowly cereal liner bag. I’ve begun using them so often that now, every time we finish a bag of cereal, I take out the liner bag, dump out all the crumbs, and fold the bag to store it in a drawer. That way I always have one handy when I need it.

Reuse – it’s the ultimate recycling!

Linking to more great ideas at Works for Me Wednesday.


Stuffed animals – my kids love them. So when my daughter asked for a stuffed animal birthday party, I began researching. I was frustrated to discover that almost everything I could find online dealt with having a party at the popular Build-A-Bear stores. This was not what we wanted. After some brainstorming and creativity, we came up with a wonderful party where each guest brought her favorite stuffed animal and left with some treats for it.

As the children arrived, I had animal-themed coloring sheets for them to color and/or paint. Try these resources for online coloring sheets:




After the guests arrived, we made our first craft: name tags for our pets. I had purchased 1″ paper key tags at the hardware store (like the type of tag you would put on a keychain). The kids decorated these with fine-tip Sharpies and then threaded them onto a ribbon and tied them around their pets’ necks. Very cute!

For games, we played Pin-the-tail-on-the teddy bear (you can make a large outline shape of any stuffed animal), Doggie doggie where’s your bone? (we used a little stuffed dog for the “doggie” to hold while guessing who stole the bone), and a game where the girls formed a circle and passed a mini stuffed animal around while “it” stood in the middle with her eyes closed and had to guess who had the animal.

Our main craft involved making blankets for our pets. I cut 10″ x 18″ pieces of fabric (one decorated, the other a plain soft flannel) and had sewed them together for each child. I then gave each child a large needle threaded with yarn and the children tacked the top and lining of their blankets together at various spots (similar to making “tie quilts”). The girls were so pleased with their pet blankets!

stuffed animal birthday party

The party was completed with a cake in the shape of my daughter’s favorite stuffed animal. We also served fruit kabobs which the girls made, and I put out mini party-picks for the kids to use to make kabobs for their pets as well. The girls enjoyed playing with their animals as they waited for their parents to pick them up.

My daughter loved her stuffed animal party, and I was pleased with how easy it was to pull off. The guests all enjoyed themselves as well, and many parents commented on how much they liked the items the children made for their pets.

Happy stuffed animal party to you and your little animal lover!


Menu Plan Monday


Menu Plan Monday time again! What’s the weather like where you live? My youngest daughter and I helped at a marching band event Saturday, and it was so cold here. Temps in the 40s, but with strong winds, and at times sleet and some even said a bit of snow. Not what I would hope to see in early October, that’s for sure. This week looks a little better.  I would like to hold on to the 70-degree days as long as I can.

This week is extra busy cooking-wise, with dinner guests here Friday for the high school football game (we go to watch the band), and on Saturday morning I am hosting the ~25 marching band flutes for breakfast. I did this last year too, and it was fun. The girls are all nice and polite.

Here are the plans:

Monday:  Wendy’s chili — the weather is certainly cold enough to start making chili again. I wish I had more garden tomatoes to use in it.

Tuesday: Oven Roasted Chicken and Veggies — easy and tastes great!

Cut up a couple of chicken breasts, a couple of carrots, a couple of potatoes – put in a roasting pan, then top with 1/3 c. olive oil and a packet (actually I use 1/2 packet) of dry onion soup mix.  Bake 45 minutes at 425.

I make this recipe a lot, and you can feel free to tweak it: add different vegetables, add more or less oil, adjust the temperature based on your oven, etc.

Wednesday: My husband is gone on a work trip, so — pancakes for dinner! Woo hoo!

Thursday: Poppyseed chicken -- one of the girls’ favorites, and I haven’t made it in a while.

Friday:  Cheeseburger Buns

Saturday: Flute Breakfast —

Cinnamon Roll Cake

Cheesy Potatoes

Bacon (I never cook or eat bacon, but it’s a band breakfast tradition. I’ve heard that it’s easiest to bake it. I tried this last year and didn’t think it turned out too great. Oh well, we’ll see how it goes …)

Grands Biscuits

Fruit Salad

Chocolate Milk, OJ

Fall M&M’s, Candy Corn and Peanuts.

What is going on in your kitchen this week? More ideas at OrgJunkie‘s.


Childhood Memories Friday

My oldest daughter is a high school senior, and I’ve found that when my kids go through any stage, it brings me back to when I went through it myself.

high school class 1983
Here’s a photo of me in my senior year pre-calculus class, in the 1980s. First, of course, we notice the hair and glasses. Oh, my. We never believe it when others tell us that, no matter how ‘cool’ we think we look at the time, 20 years or so later we’ll cringe. It’s true. I remember that sweater I’m wearing — I loved it. The floral embroidery around the front — ahhhh. I wore that a lot, with my trusty green polyester pants.

So there I am, studying my math diligently, although I appear to have noticed the yearbook photographer who stopped by. My friend Cheryl is behind me — I’m  happy to say we’re friends to this day.

Math is a popular subject to hate, but I never did. Our teacher, Mr. Stickles, was a kind and matter-of-fact man. I remember him saying most days, “First, I’ll prove this to you (referring to the math concept we were learning), and then I’ll show you how to do it.”

Every time, I would think, You don’t have to prove it to me. Really. I have enough faith that whatever you’re showing us is true. I never understand the proofs anyway, so can we please just get on to the actual algorithm? PLEASE?

Of course, being the total teacher-pleaser, I never actually said that.

One day, Mr. Stickles stopped me on my way out of class. He asked if I might like math as a college major, and as a career. This was in the days before all the emphasis on encouraging girls in math/science, so his suggestion kind of shocked me.

I told him that I didn’t think so — I had observed how many of the kids in class loved math, and approached tricky problems with glee, almost like solving them would be a type of treasure hunt. While I did struggle my way dutifully through each one, I didn’t feel that same love of the subject.

True to his steady manner, Mr. Stickles smiled . “Well,” he said, “someday you might just decide that you like numbers.” And with that, he turned and erased the chalkboard.

I did go on to take college calculus as a freshman, and felt that Mr. Stickles had taught us well — I remember thinking the class seemed to cover the same things I’d learned senior year. That was my pinnacle in math, however — my eventual major required a much easier math class, which I (with a bit of humiliation) ended up taking as a sophomore.

I had to dig out some papers from the class, just because they make it seem more real -- purple mimeograph ink and all!

I had to dig out some papers from the class, just because they make it seem more real — purple mimeograph ink and all!


How about you? Any math memories?


In high school I became penpals with an Italian girl named Monica. We corresponded regularly, and it was a great thrill to actually be able to meet her the summer following my senior year, when I toured Europe with a band and choir.

A few years later, Monica and her friend Olga came to the US and stayed with my family for three weeks. We exposed them to all the excitements of our small midwest town: Baskin Robbins (they loved Pralines ‘n Cream), picnics, and a visit to the campus of Indiana University. My mom kept them busy hanging out laundry (they didn’t seem to mind!), and they enjoyed going to church with us.

Monica and Olga hang laundry in the US.

Monica and Olga hang laundry in the US.

During their visit, a few things struck me as unusual: they didn’t ask to have their clothes washed very frequently, and often remarked that we were “very clean” (I don’t think we were any cleaner than your typical American family!). They also really enjoyed our church – they seemed quite surprised at how friendly the people there were, and at the “spirit” of the services as evidenced through singing, preaching, etc. This was not something they were accustomed to at home.

A few more years passed, and I was very excited to be traveling to Italy to spend three weeks with Monica and her family. I was a little apprehensive too: after all, this wasn’t an Americanized tour, but a “real” Italian experience.

And what an experience it was! Monica’s family lived in the Tuscany region, in a small town called Prato just 15 miles from Florence. Every day she was within walking distance of the world-famous Uffizi art gallery, Michelangelo’s David, Florence’s famous Dome, and Dante’s former stomping grounds. One of my first thoughts was profound embarrassment over the pitiful offerings we had offered her back where I lived – somehow the Wal-Mart SuperStore paled in comparison to the great art of the renaissance!

My weeks in Italy were very interesting. One thing I noticed was that I saw virtually no overweight people. One reason for this is that most Italians appear to do a lot of walking. While here in the States we often drive from one side of the parking lot to the other, in Italy it’s nothing to walk 2-3 miles to a destination (I got a few blisters during my stay!) I also attribute their apparent fitness to their diet, which is, well … different. There was lots of pasta, sauces, hard bread, meats (prosciutto, sardines), fruit, and wine. I was a little horrified when Monica poured about 1/4 cup of olive oil over the top of almost every dish that was served. They ate very little in the way of sweets, which was really difficult for someone with a sweet tooth like me! One night, Monica’s father, who spoke almost no English, came in grinning with a big Hershey Bar and handed it to me. I was ecstatic!

Another thing which stood out was the totally different perspective the Italians have about the human body. There were TV ads and billboards all over the place with naked women on them, apparently not meant to be provocative. Also, we visited many art museums, and I found myself thinking, Wow – almost all the people in these paintings are naked!! Monica, meanwhile, would be looking at the same paintings while declaring, with her Italian accent, “Isn’t this beautiful? Look at the use of perspective!” Elementary-age children were on field trips in these museums, apparently appreciating all the fine art around them. I just can’t imagine even showing most of these paintings to children in America! (As a side-note: on a later trip to Paris, I was able to visit a children’s book publishing house. They showed us two versions of a book they were publishing on the human body: the US version showed the child in underwear; the European version showed the child naked).

As I had begun to notice when Olga and Monica visited the States, hygiene is somewhat different in Italy too. Most people do not wear deodorant, and many women don’t shave their legs or underarms. This became quite noticeable, because almost no buildings or cars were air-conditioned, and I visited at a very hot time of year. Monica’s mother did all our laundry by hand (I felt really bad giving her my dirty underwear, etc.!). Then the wash was hung out on a line outside the apartment balcony (there’s yet another difference: all but the very wealthy live in apartments).

A final difference was the types of socializing that young people do. Every night around 10, Monica and I would go out to a bar to visit with her friends. When I first heard about this, I was more than a bit apprehensive – I did not drink or party! However, I shouldn’t have feared. What passed for a bar was actually the outer walls of a castle where many people visited outside under the stars. Monica’s friends were a group of about 10 college-educated men and women in their early 20s. Although I don’t speak Italian, and therefore can’t vouch for much that was said, I could pick up general themes. They spoke of various authors, political situations, current events, etc. I was so impressed, because most of my friends back home spent their evenings discussing how to get a certain guy to ask them out or something like that. Also, each person ordered just one drink during the several hours we stayed. There is no minimum drinking age in Italy, but the people I observed seemed much more mature about the whole drinking issue than young people in America. There was no “Woo hoo, let’s party and get drunk!” mentality. It was so refreshing!

My weeks in Italy are several years behind me now, but I think of them often. Monica now works in London for Standard and Poor’s and is very successful in the world of finance. I have visited her there, although sadly, we’ve lost touch in recent years.

Yes, Italy is far from America in both miles and in cultural traditions. It was fascinating, though, to “live like an Italian” for a brief time!