Saturday, September 17, 2011

Best Day Ever: Lion King Edition


Last night was a dream come true. And it was better than I ever could have imagined. I felt like Rapunzel in Tangled (why yes, I am citing a Disney movie in a post about a Disney movie); before living her dream, she has a fear that it will either not live up to her high expectations or it will and then she won't have the dream anymore. I was a little afraid I had built up my Lion King love a little too much; what if the theatrical re-release wasn't as amazing as I expected? I'd never seen a 3D movie before, what if I didn't like it?

I had absolutely nothing to worry about. I loved the 3D aspect; I got teary during The Circle of Life just as I did during the Broadway show. The sun rises over the horizon and I just tear up. I can't help it; majestic beauty makes me cry. But in a good way. Zazu flew in over my head and I made more excited noises than the theatre full of kids.

When I had dreamed of seeing The Lion King on the big screen again, I had never thought about the audience. I see animated films in theatres all the time; I'm used to sitting in an auditorium full of children. I have the same capacity for wonderment and amazement I had as a child (this is why I'm such a happy person-- little things excite me. That's the secret of life: enjoy the little things without letting little things bother you), but it was a completely different experience to watch my favorite movie, on the big screen, surrounded by a generation that had never seen it. The sense of wonderment was undescribable. They were ooh-ing and aah-ing and completely enraptured by this film. It was amazing.

The scene in the gorge is one I often avoid. I always hope it will somehow end differently. I get a sense of dread the moment Scar walks away and leaves Simba under the little tree, waiting for Mufasa. As if Mufasa's death weren't heartbreaking enough, this exchange went on between the mother and child in front of me (in whispers, of course-- they were very respectful):
   Child: (gasps) No, he didn't die. He doesn't die, does he, mommy?
    Mom: Yes, honey, he dies. But it'll be okay.
And then the child started crying. Of course I was already crying, but this only made it worse. Also? Crying under 3D glasses is kind of obnoxious.

The 3D aspect was handled really well. It's not like I imagined, or like shows at theme parks, where the only 3D is throwing stuff in  your face. I felt like I was surrounded by my favorite characters in my favorite movie. There were a few scenes added to enhance the 3D by having the camera angle be first-person, but only someone who has watched TLK as often as I have would notice. It didn't detract or distract from the plot in any way. It was the ideal amount of new technology mixed with an amazing film.

And I'm not even the one who started the clapping at the end. I joined in, but for once I didn't start it. I might when I see it again next weekend, though. ;)

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Alaska Experience

In mid-August, we had our first visitors come to see us in Alaska. My in-laws traveled from Florida and we had 9 days of jam-packed Alaska adventures. This means that this post will be insanely long. I recommend fixing a snack and settling into your seat...because this will take awhile.

Day 1: Settling in
     Their flight arrived at 8 p.m. on a Sunday. We took them to our favorite Anchorage eatery, City Diner. Thanks to the still-extended (but rapidly decreasing) daylight, we drove home to the Mat-Su Valley around 9:30. The view of the Alaska Range, Talkeetna Range and Chugach mountains were silhouetted by aspen-glow clouds from the sunset.
    The following day we gathered together and headed out to Hatcher's Pass, a visitor-friendly area with hiking areas, camping and a mining camp and museum. J and I had been there before and were looking forward to sharing it with his family. We drove up, with exclamations of wonder from his family (thankfully-- it's so beautiful we'd have been disappointed had there not been exclamations of wonder at the beauty of it all). It always surprises us how close we are to such a special place. Well, to so many special places. The Little Susitna river winds its way down from Mint Glacier and provides spectacular scenery long before you're truly in Hatcher's Pass. We stopped at the viewing areas so we could all take photos and take in the amazing view. Near a camp ground, we saw loads of people wandering around in the hillside and foothills of the hills (ha--little mountains, not hills!).
"Blueberry pickers!" J and I have been wanting to go blueberry picking since we learned they grew wildly up here. We stopped and began our picking. J's brother immediately started climbing the nearest mountain. After collecting quite a few berries, J joined him and they climbed a mountain. While my husband climbed a mountain and his parents took photos of the scenery, I continued by berry picking at the foot of the mountain he was climbing. It was one of the special experiences you could only have in Alaska.

Day 2: Lake Lounging and Matanuska Glacier
    We needed to have our oil changed before heading to Whittier and Denali, our plans for days 3 and 4. J's family and I spent time at Newcomb lake, lounging in the sun, while he went to have our car maintenance taken care of. J's brother insisted on going swimming in the large lake in the center of Wasilla. The only other people in the water were under age 10. This is because the water was frigid. It was sunny and 65 (in the sun, at least). I laid in the grass, enjoying the sunshine...and fell asleep. I'm very cat-like (although I'd rather say I'm lion-like, I think that would be considered weird), and dozing in the sun while laying in the grass was just amazing.
    Once our car was all checked out, we headed to Palmer. We drove through downtown Palmer, which is the ideal picturesque town. We visited my favorite bookstore, Fireside Books, and walked the lamp-posts with hanging flower baskets- studded sidewalks. It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon.
   We continued on the Glenn Highway, one of America's Scenic Byways (which I drive from Wasilla to Eagle River 4 times a week for work) towards the Matanuska Glacier. Random trapezoid-shaped areas consisted of trees with solely yellow leaves, while all the trees around them were still green. It was the perfect mix of fall and summer. We stopped often to take photos of the breathtaking views, turning around near Matanuska glacier. J's goal was to reach Matanuska glacier before turning around, despite the fact we were going to Whittier the following day and our Prince William Sound cruise was titled "26 Glacier Cruises".
      We headed back towards town, stopped and picked up a couple pizzas and ate under the stars on the deck of J's parents' hotel, the lake water lapping at the dock below. The dock was covered with ducks tucked into sleep, but occasionally one would wake with a start, flapping it's wings and making that funny noise ducks make.

Here's a glacier-- Sorry, I forget which one. I think it's Matanuska Glacier, but it may be on the Seward highway.

Day 3: Prince William Sound
    Whittier, the port where our 26 Glacier Cruise was leaving from, is a small town in Alaska accessibly by boat, plane and car. However, to drive there you share a tunnel going through a mountain. It's a one-way road, with traffic changing direction every 20 minutes. There's another 10 minute period after those 20 minutes where trains travel-- in both directions. So basically you share a one way tunnel with both directions of traffic and both directions of trains.
       To get to Whittier from Anchorage (coming from the valley, we traveled through Anchorage to get to Whittier), you take the Seward Highway. The Seward Highway is another Scenic Byway of America. En-route, we stopped to take photos of the view and got to see wild Dall sheep playing on the mountainside. We stopped at Beluga point, but no Belugas were playing in the water that time of tide and day.
        It was drizzly and cloudy when we arrived in Whittier, with the parking lot full of great big puddles. I was already wet before I even got on the boat. Because there are glaciers on all sides surrounding Prince William Sound, and glaciers often calve (pieces of ice falling off glaciers), it will be cold on the water. We dressed accordingly and the interior of the boat (which has windows on all sides) is heated, so we were comfortable. There was also an endless supply of free hot coffee. I had way, way, way too much caffeine that day.
Here is our port:

       We got underway and our eyes immediately got tired from scanning for wildlife. We saw a lot of glaciers (they say it's easier to see the glaciers when it's cloudy). Here is a list of the wildlife we saw: sea otters (everywhere!!), sea lions, seals, 2 bald eagles and a humpback whale.

One of the 26 glaciers

Sea otters chilling on an ice berg. Ha! Get it? Chilling!?

      Now, the whale has a story.
      When I say we saw a whale, you're probably picturing a giant whale jumping out of the water "Free Willy" style. I would have LOVED that. However, that's not what we saw. Being science-minded as he is, J noticed a flock of birds swirling over one particular spot. We had rented binoculars (bought our own the next day), and I trained them on that spot. Within moments, the whales head popped out of the water and then back in. J looked with the binoculars his parents had rented and left on the table (they were walking around) and again, the whale bobbed his head in and out of the water. We both, "Wow, is that a whale!?".  We didn't want to announce it in case it wasn't. Someone overheard us and told the captain to stop the boat. Of course the whale didn't resurface after that. After a few minutes, we started moving again and the captain announced that what he thought the people who saw the whale actually saw was a seal tossing around a fish.
   Um, no. It was a whale head. All day long. So ha.
   And that's our whale story. Not as exciting as Moby Dick...but also not nearly as long.

Day 4: Denali National Park
      All I can say is Wow. I mean, WOW.
      Ok, obviously I'm me, and I can say more. But really-- WOW. If you ever have the opportunity to go to  Denali, DO IT.

    We arrived at the Park after much stress over how to get there. You simply take the Parks Highway, you guessed it-- another scenic byway (I think?)-- to the Park entrance. It's about 3.5 hours from Wasilla. We stopped at Arby's on our way out because Wasilla is the last town before the Park that has fast food and not just sit-down restaurants. The park itself has no restaurants of any kind, or gas stations or anything else. You can drive 15 miles of the park road in your car, but after that it's buses and hikers only. We had been told there was a 3 p.m. shuttle tour that would be finished around 9 p.m. (this is the shortest tour-- 6 hours). When we arrived at 2:30, we were told that the person who had informed us of the 3 p.m. tour was mistaken.
       Keep in mind, we just spent 3.5 hours in a small car. This is NOT the time to tell us we missed the last tour. We were already concerned because only 30% of Denali visitors actually see the mountain-- Denali, highest mountain in North America and technically the highest mountain in the world (because the base is at sea level whereas Everest's base is on another mountain, above sea level. Take that, Everest!). Anyway, it was cloudy, so our expectations were low and disappointment was already high.
          Thankfully, there was one more tour. It left at 5 p.m. and returned at 11 p.m. Keep in mind, we have 3 dogs in our apartment whom we left at 9:30 a.m. We didn't want to be gone until 2:30 a.m.
         We signed up for the 5 p.m. tour, knowing we'd have to cut it short and catch another bus on its way back. We drove to mile 15, thought we spotted some wildlife, took some photos, I pointed where I thought the mountain was behind the clouds and then we headed back to the main building where we'd board the bus.

           We watched a little video on the history of the park and I visited the gift shop. I have two frequently traveling friends who always send me post cards. Now it was finally my turn! I also found a really cool magnet set. Yes, I know I'm a dork. We also picked up some snacks in the gift shop-- lunchables, peanut M&M's (my weakness), etc. We packed up our lunch and went to wait for the bus.
          While we were waiting, the sun came out. Yay, warmth! Our bus arrived, we boarded and set off. We stopped to take photos of a caribou, came over the crest of a hill/small mountain (it's getting hard to tell the difference), and there it was. Denali, in all it's glory. We're part of the 30% club! Our bus driver said he hadn't seen the mountain for 2 weeks and this summer had been especially cloudy, so it was more like the 10% club.  Here's a photo of Denali:
Shortly after, we spotted this caribou:

Here are some more photos of Denali:

Like I said. Breathtaking. Go there

Wildlife we saw includes moose (maybe-- far away), bald eagle, dall sheep rams, dall sheep and the caribou.

Oh! I almost forgot. We also saw a grizzly bear. I only took video and for some reason it isn't showing up on my computer. But we were on the shuttle bus going through the park and we stopped to watch an adolescent grizzly bear eat berries. It was awesome.

Day 5 Rest already!
      Day 5 we took a break. We had spent way too much time in the car/on buses/on boats and need a day of rest to recuperate. So we did.

Day 6 Big Lake
     About 20 minutes from our apartment is Big Lake. Big Lake is a small town around a ton of lakes. There is a park we frequently take the dogs to where a family of wild swans live. We took our pups and J's family to the park to play.
      Of course J's brother had to jump in the lake, which was equally cold as the lake in Wasilla. This lake had wild salmon swimming in it that we could see. It was incredible.

Day 7 Animals Galore
    We started out our day at the Iditarod Trail headquarters. This is about 7 miles down the road from our house. It's a great place to learn the history of the Iditarod and see videos from past years. We also got to go on a cart-ride pulled by the Iditarod sled dog team that placed 7th last year. Our card driver was the son of Joe Reddington, the man who re-started the Iditarod race and made it what it is today. There was also an adorable sled dog puppy, only 7 weeks old.

Only 7 weeks old! I wanted to dognap him, not going to lie.

A statue of Joe Reddington Sr, the father of our sled dog ride driver.

After leaving the Iditarod Museum, which was rather hard because that puppy was Adorable (notice the capital A), we went to Palmer to the Reindeer Farm. If you visit Alaska, the Reindeer Farm is a must. They have caribou, reindeer, bison and horses. We got to feed reindeer and baby reindeer. Oh, and we got to feed moose!


I'm petting a reindeer--might be a baby.

I'm feeding a moose!

It was a really special experience. I also made friends with a giant horse named Guiness, who I'm now calling Guinny because we're just that close. It was LOADS of fun. And only $7 a person! For those of you with kiddies, it's also really educational. And who doesn't want to feed a baby reindeer?!

Day 9: Packing Up and Moving On
    On their last day, J, his parents and I went to lunch at a restaurant his mom had wanted to try. Then we went into Eagle River to the Eagle River Nature Center. We went on a short walk around the trails and saw even more wild salmon. We also saw a sign that said, "Trail closed-- bears feeding on spawning salmon". You certainly don't see that every day.

  That night, I flew to Oklahoma to surprise my family for a visit. I got my Taco Bueno fix and got to see all of my family-- it was a really special week. More so because of the family than the Taco Bueno. And for a week I didn't have to count every time I wanted to call someone! However, I did melt. One day it was TWICE as hot in Oklahoma as it was in Alaska. It was nice to come home to Alaska, where the heat index was NOT 110.

Whew. You made it. Ok, Snow White is probably next. Look for it soon :)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

(Re) Discovering Disney

I don't think it's a secret around here how much I love Disney. Disney channel, Disney movies, Disney store, Walt Disney himself, Disney World. I'm Disney-centric. Since moving to Alaska, we have yet to re-activate our DirecTV. This has less to do with DTV and more to do with our not wanting to deal with installing a satellite dish at our apartment (especially since I REALLY want to move out of this apartment. The builder has apparently never heard of soundproofing and our upstairs neighbor's personal volume on life is not an inside voice, to say the least. It's like living under a year-round mardi-gras.) I've really been missing Disney Channel, which has led me to watching lots and lots of Disney movies that I own. J loves bonus features of discs and one night we found ourselves playing a "Name all 50 Disney animated movies" game on the Tangled  blu-ray.

Side note: Tangled is officially my 2nd favorite Disney animated feature. The first is The Lion King, obviously.

Anyway, I named 30-something movies off the top of my head. Then my dirty little secret was revealed.

J: Wow, you know a lot of these.
Me: Yeah... I really want to see Bambi, but it looks so sad.
J: WHAT?! You, of all people, have never seen Bambi?!

I know, I know. It's shocking. Shameful, even. But it also inspired my next Disney-focused adventure. You know, since DisneyWorld is now 4,000 miles away (what was I thinking?!)

And so I've been inspired to watch all 50 Disney animated films. I can't say I'm looking forward to repeating Pinocchio, and I generally only watch Fox and the Hound if I feel the need to cry. Despite my deep love of all things Disney, the earliest feature length films aren't my favorite. To counteract the opening 20 minutes of credits, I'm going to alternate my viewing order. I'll watch number 1, then number 50. So on and so forth. This way I work my way towards the middle and don't loose steam around Black Cauldron.

To the critics: Because of my deep love of all things Disney, I'm often criticized. I am not naive, immature nor am I trying to re-create my childhood. I read voraciously (see, Disney fans can use big words) and am up to date on current events. You may judge me all you like for avoiding dark and depressing television shows and films. But honestly? There's enough darkness in this world. I don't need to invite it into my living room.

I am taking a bit of a break from the Baking Odyssey. I need to lessen my intake of super bad for you desserts, thus the (re)Discovering Disney sidetrack. Plus, it's fall here in Alaska. Meaning days are shortening and temperatures dropping, but not yet to the point where my urge to bake completely overtakes my life. And I think watching all 50 animated features is a nice way to honor the theatrical re-release of The Lion King in a mere 14 days.

THAT'S RIGHT!! TLK returns to it's rightful place, theatres nationwide, 2 weeks from today. AAAAHHH!!!!

On that note, I'll be writing soon with all sorts of Alaskan Adventures. And of course a report on Snow White, the first ever Disney animated film.

Wishing you all happily ever afters :)