Thursday, April 22, 2010

heri ya siku kuu!

That means "happy birthday" in Swahili! Today is Earth Day, and it's also the twelfth birthday of Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park! (Coincidence? No! The Imagineers planned it that way, of course!)

I'm one of the first people to admit that AK is my least favorite of the four parks. I'd much rather immerse myself in the wonder of the MK or the glamour of DHS - although lately I find myself appreciating Epcot much more than I used to. I'm one of those people who is usually content with spending half a day at AK before scooting off to an afternoon at World Showcase.

Today, however, I find myself reflecting on WDW's newest park and appreciating the little things about it. My friends Rikki and Katie both posted their thoughts on AK, and I think they capture the park's essence perfectly. AK is a very interesting park in terms of statistics: it's the largest of all four parks, and its symbol is the "Tree of Life," a majestic manmade tree that towers over the park on Discovery Island. Over 300 animals are carved into the "tree"'s base by a number of incredibly talented artists.

There are those who believe that Disney is run by a group of money-hungry vultures, but AK is proof against that. The park was inspired by Walt Disney's passion for animals and conservation. For example, you won't find drinking straws at the restaurants inside AK, because they are harmful to the animals if swallowed. Disney is very careful to protect the wildlife inside the park.

AK gets a bad rap for being a zoo. Actually, its motto is "nahtazu" - not a zoo, get it? It's a park teeming with animals, yes, but it's also filled with thrill rides like Dinosaur and Expedition Everest. The park offers some of the best counter service restaurants in the World. And of course, it's Disney, so the attention to detail goes above and beyond. A cult favorite "hidden gem" is DiVine, a woman wearing stilts who blends into the background of the trees so well that you might not spot her until she decides to surprise you!

I will always have fond memories of my very first Internet Disney community meet at Flame Tree Barbecue in January with the BOGP group!

In addition to having an entire park devoted to animals and conversation, Disney also continues Walt's passion for the environment through the Walt Disney Conservation Fund, the Disney Wilderness Preserve, the Disneynature series for Imax, and Disney Friends for Change: Project Green, which collaborates with Disney Channel stars like Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato.

Some interesting facts about Disney's efforts to reduce their eco footprint can be found at the official Disney Parks blog.

I hope everyone has a magical Earth Day!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

i solemnly swear i am up to no good.

Did you know that before Christian, I loved another boy? Hard to believe, since I was so young. But 2010 marks ten years since I first fell in love with this kid. Some people say that first loves never die. I guess in many ways that's true, because this young man will forever hold a special place in my heart.

Yep, that's my man right there with his two best friends. To be honest, it was unrequited. Harry never really knew I existed.

I love telling the story about how I fell in love with him. I owe it all to my friend Brandy. We were best friends in fifth grade (in the year 2000), and we were the geeky kids who played Nancy Drew computer games together and came to school the next day to compare notes on our progress. We wrote in our diaries and read books at recess. We were completely content in our geekdom. Harry Potter was wildly popular then, but I refused to get sucked into the fad. I knew it was some book series about a kid who found out he was wizard. It had a stupid-looking book cover of the kid riding a broom. How dumb, I thought. Well, my worst fears were realized when Brandy started reading these books - and raving about them.

"Come on, you have to read them," she'd say emphatically. I always resolutely refused. No way was I reading some dumb book about a kid wizard. Finally one day, Brandy snapped.

"Read the first chapter of the first book. It'll take you five minutes. I swear if you hate it I'll never bother you about it again," she said solemnly.

I thought about it. She'd never bother me about it again? Fine. I agreed. I took home Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and read the first chapter. I was immediately caught up in the mysteriousness of the wizarding world. I delighted in how purely British it was: "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much." I couldn't stop at chapter one. I read the entire thing, and a sort of frenzy began. I devoured Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in rapid succession. I actually racked up a juicy library fee from keeping Goblet of Fire three weeks past the day it was due, despite having read it in two days; I kept it in the cubby below my desk, and I'd take it out from time to time to read my favorite passages and stare lovingly at the front cover.

Harry might be fictional, but I thought he was the finest thing EVA.I wish I were making this up, but it's true, people. I was a girl obsessed. Brandy was very smug and delighted that she had someone to discuss Harry Freaking Amazing Potter with.

After finishing book four, I panicked. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix wouldn't come out until 2003 - THREE YEARS LATER. I was like a drug addict suffering from withdrawals. What do you mean, no more Harry Potter? I thought I'd never survive. But we HP diehard fans soothed ourselves with the movies and merchandise, and reread the books every so often. Finally 2003 did come, and Half-Blood Prince came two years later. Finally, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came in 2007.

I'd followed the series from the age of ten to the age of seventeen. I'd literally grown up with Harry. I knew my fictional friends so well - I'd laughed with them and cried with them. Brandy, our friend Allie, and I went to the midnight premiere of Deathly Hallows at Barnes and Noble on July 20, 2007. I'll never forget that night. My emotions were bittersweet - we were finally, finally going to see how it all ended. But did I really want to know? In some ways, I didn't. Because it would mean the end of Harry's story. It would be the last time I'd experience the happy exhaustion that comes with reading furiously until the sun comes up. And I knew that revisiting the series wouldn't be the same as cracking open a fresh Potter book.

The excitement at Barnes and Noble that night was almost tangible. At midnight, everyone began screaming hysterically - you'd think Harry himself had ridden his Firebolt into our midst. There was much fidgeting as we waited our turn at the register, but we were among the first twenty people to hold that prized book in our hands. We immediately turned and ran from the store, in fear that some kid would scream out the ending just to spoil everyone's fun (yes, that has happened before). I trembled as I opened the front cover and read the words, "We now present the seventh and final installment in the epic tale of Harry Potter."

I didn't turn on the TV or radio until I finished the book, and I didn't dare check the Internet for fear of spoilers. And when I finished it, I experienced a mix of joy and numbness. You know how when someone dies, you don't start crying until later, because you're in shock? That's how I was. I didn't cry the first time I read HP7 (but boy, I used half a box of Kleenex during the second round).
I'm happy to report that almost two years after the release of HP7, my ardor is not dead. I reread the series every summer, and I look forward to visiting Harry again this summer. I cannot WAIT until I get the chance to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (the sole reason I'd visit another theme park in Orlando besides Disney).

Just the other day I was discussing Harry with a good friend who shares a love for HP. He said, "There are two kinds of people in this world: those who say Harry Potter sucks, and those who have read it." It was like describing myself, circa 2000. Of course, there are people who don't like HP - and that's cool. But I think it really says something when a series has such a cult following. I have SO MUCH respect for JKR - she's a bloody genius. I mean that. She's brought more meaning to my life through her "children's" novels than anyone with a Ph.D. has. That's why HP7 is my favorite book - no other book has come close to making me feel the way I felt when I held a brand new Harry Potter.

So that, friends, is the story of my long and emotional relationship with the boy wizard. Ginny Weasley doesn't know how lucky she is.

Long live the Boy Who Lived!

Mischief managed.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

easter in the country

Yeah, I realize I'm a week late on this. It was a busy spring break (and by busy, I mean lazy) so I'm just getting around to this. Anyway, I went with Christian to his grandparents' for Easter Sunday. They live a good two hours away, so I don't get to visit there too often, but they're some of the nicest people ever. Their house is in the country and it's really pretty.

(All pictures were stolen from Ms. Stacy's Facebook. Thanks, Aunt Stacy!)

Christian's parents, Mr. Sam and Mrs. Stephanie; his grandparents, Mrs. Carolyn and Mr. Steve; his Uncle Brian and Aunt Rachel; and his Aunt Stacy.

Mr. Brian, his son Nick, and Mr. Steve barbecuing for us:

Christian's cousin Hailey with her adorable niece, Abby:

My best friend (and Christian's sister) Coryn, with her boyfriend Harold:

Chrusie :)

And the best picture ever taken in the history of the world:

See why I love this family so much? I call them my Cullens. Except I don't have to worry about them eating me. Which is cool, I guess.

We played with Abby, swung outside, rode around on the Mule (which is like a golf cart on steroids. They call me a city girl, because I had no clue what it was), ate lots of amazing food, and just hung out. It was a super nice day! Hopefully I can visit again sometime soon.

Hope everyone's having a good Sunday!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

any man can be a father, but it takes something special to be a daddy.

Today is a pretty signifcant day for my family.

Two years ago, my parents and I booked a trip to our favorite vacation destination for my spring break. That trip really stands out in my mind. We stayed at Port Orleans French Quarter, which is probably my favorite resort. It was my senior year, so they bought me an adorable graduation Mickey hat - which happened to come in my school colors. We went to the incredible Pirate and Princess Party at the Magic Kingdom. We had fun riding the Mad Tea Party and laughing like fools, and stuffed ourselves with Mickey Premium bars. It was a carefree, amazing week. Mostly.

See, Daddy and I tease my mom because she walks so fast throughout the park. She's like a seven-year-old that just consumed ten Pixi Stix in a row. It's no small feat to keep up with her when she's on a mission. "Let's go grab FastPasses for Expedition Everest!" she'll cry, that familiar manic glint in her eyes, before taking off for Asia, with Daddy and me panting as we race through Discovery Island.

This trip, Daddy was having more than the usual trouble keeping up with her. He complained of small pains in his chest. We were concerned, but figured it was time for stints to be placed in his arteries. We know a lot of middle-aged guys who have had stints done. I mean, it's a fact that if you live in Southern Louisiana, you're not going to eat right all the time, so this is rather common. So we thought, Ok, he'll schedule an appointment when we get home to get his heart checked out.

He went to the doctor the next Wednesday, and not a moment too soon. The doc said he had 90,70, and 50% blockages in the major arteries in his heart. Very little blood was passing through, and his heart was under a lot of stress. Basically, he was a walking bomb - he could've had a devastating heart attack if they hadn't caught it right then. We were shocked when his doc had him immediately transferred to a hospital in Baton Rouge: they were operating the next day, triple bypass.

Those few days were kind of a blur. I was in school, I was graduating the next month, I was to wear the dress of my dreams to my senior prom that weekend - and suddenly my dad was in this terrible, life-threatening situation. I didn't go to school on Thursday, but sat around a waiting room, staring at magazines without taking in the words. I remember when they took my dad into surgery: my mom and I clutched each other and cried. What if he died? I couldn't help wondering. What if he doesn't get to see me graduate, or go to LSU, or get married and have kids? We'd been so happy at Disney World not even a week ago, but it felt like years since I laughed with my dad in a spinning teacup.

He was okay when he came out of surgery, but it was a long and difficult recovery process. I think that was the hardest part for me. My dad, who'd always been strong and capable of anything, could not lift anything heavy or exert himself for several weeks. I did go to the prom, but the traditional ritual of parents taking pictures beforehand was done in a small, crowded hospital room so my dad could see my in my Belle dress. It was a long road to recovery, but at least he was okay. He got to see me graduate and go to LSU, and I pray to God that he'll be there for major events in my life in the future.

I thank God every day for my dad, especially after April 10, 2008. He's such a great person. He's quiet in front of people he doesn't know, but he says the funniest things at home. He hates blueberries and is the pickiest eater, but is satisfied with a simple Mickey bar for dessert at WDW. He's a NASCAR freak, a Disney fan, an American history buff, a car mechanic, an awesome husband to my mom, and an amazing dad to me. Like any traumatic event, I think his ordeal brought the three of us closer together. He can't do all the things he used to, but he's still strong. His current project is converting our patio to a sunroom.

I'm looking forward to racing around Disneyland with him and my mom in May.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

the dark side of the english department

I can't imagine choosing a major other than English. Writing papers gives me a sense of satisfaction, even as I agonize over choosing thesis statements and stay up until 3 am to finish writing before the deadlines. Reading has always been fun for me, since I was a toddler.

One day in my freshman year, I was sitting with a bunch of fellow English majors, and we were chatting about - what else? - books. There happened to be a copy of The Princess Bride lying around, and one girl rolled her eyes and smiled derisively. "At least it's not Dan Brown!" she snickered. I was taken aback. I had no idea that Dan Brown was not Appropriate Reading Material For English Majors. This was my first encounter with a Book Snob.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Book Snobs, let me describe them for you. Book Snobs are usually, but not always, literature majors who read "the classics" when others their age read Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. They have read Harry Potter, but do not consider the series to be a "favorite" because it isn't "serious literature." One of their favorite pastimes is mocking the Twilight series and bemoaning how badly Stephenie Meyer writes. They are not caught dead with "beach read" books, such as Dan Brown or Meg Cabot. They do not watch TV, except for the news, the Discovery Channel, or maybe HBO if Shakespeare in Love happens to be on. They often walk around quoting their favorite long-dead Russian author. The more extreme Book Snobs prefer black turtlenecks, black coffee, and black framed glasses.

You think I'm joking? I have observed these beings in their natural habitats: the library, the writing center, the English department, and my own English classes. These people repulse me, my friends. I admit, they used to intimidate me. I used to find myself musing, "Maybe I shouldn't be an English major. My favorite books are Harry Potter 7 and Gone With the Wind. I don't like poetry. I don't like William Faulkner. Oh my God, I'm a disgrace!" Then I'd sink lower in my seat and listen meekly to the witty banter of the Book Snobs around me.

I felt like I didn't fit in. And I was ashamed.

Then, this semester, I realized how much I dislike Book Snobs. I don't mind if Absolum! Absolum! is your favorite book ever, or if you'd much rather delve into a little Tolstoy than watch American Idol. I'm not saying that the above description means you're a bad person. It doesn't, really, unless you think you're better than others because you prefer so-called "serious" or "higher-level" literature. True Book Snobs take themselves too seriously. Pretentiousness is the defining characteristic of Book Snobs, and it's not a pretty thing.

This is my confession to the Book Snobs across the world: My name is Susie, I'm a sophomore lit/creative writing major, and I hate William Faulkner. My favorite writers include J.K. Rowling (duh), Shakespeare, Meg Cabot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ridley Pearson. I like "kiddie" books, like The Kingdom Keepers and Percy Jackson and the Olympians. And you know what? It's okay for me to be bizarrely obsessed with a certain fictional nearsighted wizard. It's okay for me to read Moby Dick and not know what the heck's going on. It's okay for me to be a non-Book Snob English major.

I'm gonna go drool over this, now. I can't wait to read it!

What's your favorite book? (I promise I won't sneer.)

"living on love, buying on time, without somebody nothin' ain't worth a dime."

Oh, if only money grew on trees. If only.

So, money is a pretty important thing. No, it's not more important than love, or being truly happy, etc. But financial security is pretty crucial to not being so stressed out that you forget to enjoy life. I don't really worry about money much - yet - because I still live with my parents, and because I am blessed with an excellent job for anyone in this economy, let alone a college student. (I won't say how much I make, but I am probably making more now than I will when I'm a teacher.)

However, sometimes I forget how lucky I am. Sometimes I complain because my car is from 1996 and therefore tends to need a lot of work/parts. I complain because I burn so much gas commuting to Baton Rouge. I complain because my boyfriend can't afford to take me out to nice restaurants every weekend.

Then, I was talking to my parents (who are really amazing people, by the way). They were practically broke for a long time after they were married. But they got through the tough times, and they were happy anyway.

I watched Gone With the Wind today. One of my favorite movies ever, probably because Scarlett is such a trooper. The Yankees take almost everything from her and she still finds a way to get through. That's what real financial desperation is, the Reconstruction era. Scarlett inspires me.

I'm so much luckier than that. Someday, I'll have saved enough money for dinners at cool restaurants and a nice car. Maybe someday, if I'm lucky, I'll be able to buy into DVC! Ya never know. But for now, I'm a college student, and my boyfriend is broke. I can deal. Because at the end of the day, we have this.

Have a good Thursday!

Monday, April 5, 2010

true confessions

A couple Fridays ago, my friend Katie tweeted, "What #Disney ride haven't you been on or what famous Disney ride don't you like? #confessfriday." This one tweet started a phenomenon within the Disney Twitter community. People confessed that they'd never ridden Splash Mountain or that they hate Dole Whips. It was somewhat embarrasing, at first, but I quickly realized how liberating it was to get these confessions off my chest.

A lot of people ask me, "So, is there, like, anything at Disney World you haven't done?" I guess they expect me to shrug and reply, "Nope. Been there, seen that, done it all." Wrong. There is a lot I have yet to experience at WDW...

My Disney Confessions:
1. I've never had the infamous school bread from the bakery in Norway, though it has a cult following like the Dole Whip.

2. I've never seen the Electrical Water Pageant, which is an electrical parade that takes place on the Seven Seas Lagoon in front of the Magic Kingdom nightly (weather permitting).

3. I have yet to experience Drinking Around the World, which involves having a drink at every country in Epcot's World Showcase. (I guess this is obvious, since I'm not 21.)

4. I don't believe I've ever ridden Dumbo. I don't see the hype, other than the fact that it's considered a Classic Disney Must-Do in the Disney Fanatics community. The lines are always ridiculously long, and I'd just rather spend my precious time waiting in line for Big Thunder.

5. I've never eaten at Jiko, 'Ohana, California Grill, Narcoossee's, Le Cellier, Artist Point, Citrico's, or Victoria & Albert's. These are some of the most expensive resorts on property - I'm talking $150 for one person, easy. Sigh. Someday, though, I hope to experience the renowned Bananas Foster Bread Pudding at 'Ohana.

And guess what? There's a heck of a lot I'm not 'fessing up right now because 1. I don't want to bore you and 2. I gotta save my material for the next round of #confessfriday!

Non-related Disney confession: I don't get the iPad hype. (And it will forever bother me that I don't know what Apple's prefix "i" stands for.)

One last thing to make you laugh: I came across this article today, Ten Signs You May Have a Disney Addiction. My readers might be surprised to find out that I'm not as obsessed as some are - I checked "yes" to 10, 8, 5, 2, and 1.

That's it for today, folks. Have a magical day!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

i found something beautiful.

This Holy Week has been a really powerful time for me - I made more progress in my prayer life in the past six days than in the rest of Lent put together. For several months I hadn't really felt like I was as close to God was I was, say, this time last year, and I didn't really know what was wrong. I felt like there was a veil between Him and me, and I was waiting for Him to take it down. This week, I woke up.

First, temporarily giving up the majority of my Disney obsession was the best thing I could've done for myself. It helped me get my priorities in order. Sure, I missed it a lot at first, and I'll be glad to get back to my message boards, but I was able to do other things with my time. I spent more time on homework and other things. I found out that my Disney friends and I have so many things in common, and Tweeted regularly about random things. So they became actual friends, not just Disney friends.

Second, I was involved in my first-ever Passion play this year. At my high school, the senior class put on a "Living Way of the Cross" every year. It wasn't nearly the same experience as a real Passion play. My friends Kori and Theresa did an amazing job writing the script and directing. The actors were perfectly suited for their characters. My friend Ashley blew me away as the Blessed Mother, and I saw some of my guy friends in a completely different light after watching them portray Pilate, pharisees, and Jesus Himself.
Everyone really threw themselves into this play, from the main actors to the singers, from the makeup artists (who made "Jesus" look sickeningly bloody) to the light technicians. It was amazing to watch the whole process unfold, and to see everyone strengthening in their roles. At the first few practices, our directors advised us to take a few minutes to "get into character." I admit that at first I thought to myself, "Really? I'm not a theatre major. I don't know what I'm doing. I have a lot of homework, so I'm ready to just say my few lines and head home." But by the third practice or so, I realized that getting into character really made a difference.

I actually had two roles: I was part of the mob scene, and I was a weeping woman. Talk about opposite ends of the spectrum! Getting into character meant concentrating on being really angry, ready to scream out, "Crucify Him! He's a blasphemer, surely He deserves to die!" while impatiently crossing my arms over my chest. Then a moment later I had to switch to being distraught, sharing in His anguish, crying, "Master, how could they have done this to You?" Um, talk about difficult. But it was a very rewarding process. Last week, I focused on being a weeping woman with my free time. I listened to "Via Dolorosa" over and over again. I watched clips of Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" on YouTube. It really made a difference with my mindset.
During the performance, I looked at my sisters who were playing the other weeping women, and I saw them differently. It was like I was really seeing them as women of Jerusalem instead of the girls I know every day. I looked into the eyes of Christy, the girl who played Veronica, and I saw real pain in her eyes - shared pain that we felt as we bore witness, centuries after it actually happened, to our Savior's earth-shattering death. The veils on our heads were at first annoying pieces of cloth that refused to stay in place, but by the end of the experience I felt even more beautiful wearing it. I guess that's what getting into character is all about.

Though I'm really sad that the experience is over, I'm so glad I put in those few hours a week into that play. I got closer to my friends and to Jesus and His Mother. It made me realize how blessed I am, and how much He loves me. It woke me up from the selfish stupor I'd been in - the problem wasn't that God wasn't reaching out to me at all. The problem was that I was blowing Him off most of the time, putting time and energy into hobbies instead of Him.

My current favorite song is "Something Beautiful" by a Christian band called needtobreathe. I was listening to this song in the car on Wednesday when my revelation hit me like a sack of Easter eggs. This is the chorus:

"Hey now, this is my desire
Consume me like a fire,
'cause I just want something beautiful
To touch me, I know that I'm in reach
'Cause I am down on my knees.
I'm waiting for something beautiful
Oh, something beautiful."

This has been the best Holy Week ever, by far.

I hope everyone has a blessed Easter!