Monday, March 31, 2014

Hiking the Butte

We've been having what feels like unseasonably warm weather here in Alaska. It's late March, almost all of our snow has melted, and we've had abundant sunshine and high temperatures in the high 30s and low 40s for at least two weeks. I've been enjoying getting out and enjoying this warmer weather, with Baby A in tow of course. He loves being outside and is quite inquisitive and observant.

After hearing of several friends of ours hiking the Butte already, I thought it must be manageable enough to try again. The Butte is a small mountain located near Palmer. The last time I tried it I was about two months pregnant and just didn't have it in me to make it to the top. I made it to the plateau before the rock climbing part to the top. J has made it to the top twice; once on the trip where I hung out on the plateau and once with his sister and our nieces. Since I've been working out five days a week for two months, I thought the chances of my making it to the top without huffing and puffing enough to blow some poor pig's house down were pretty good. Oh dear, I just made myself the big bad wolf. Bad analogy.

One of my goals before we moved was to make it to the top. We've always gone up the Reindeer Farm side, with a hiker-created trail that sometimes is hard to identify. I thought we'd try the West Butte trail, a newer and borough maintained trail that includes stairs (the stairs led me to believe rock climbing wouldn't be involved).

So we set out with our Mei Tei baby carrier, baby A, and my goal. When we go the Butte, the parking lot was super muddy. I should have recognized this as foreshadowing, but I didn't. We set out towards the trail, after meandering down a misleading path, and came upon…snow. Apparently snow is only scarce in our neck of the woods. Since I thought we would be on dirt paths, I'd worn tennis shoes. My cutesy red tennis shoes are great for walks around parks, neighborhoods, and dirt paths. Not so much on snow, ice or mud--all three of which we encountered.

The West Butte trail is supposed to be a gentler ascent into the elevation. They achieve this by lots of hills; there's a lot of up and down. Then you reach the stairs, and you're excited; stairs! Simple! Not so fast. Those steps make you lift your feet higher. So now your calves are exhausted from the up and down of the hills, and within the first staircase your legs are shaking. Well, mine were. Apparently my legs workout isn't strenuous enough. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to stop and take photos (and discreetly catch your breath so that the kids running past you don't think you're dying and call 911.

Once we hit the steps, I untied the baby carrier and A rode on J's shoulders up the stairs, while I kept a lookout for low-hanging branches that might clothesline A. Thankfully we'd switched who was carrying the baby, because this part of the trail is where the treachery increased. The mud was slick, topped with a thin sheet of ice, and the handrails/rope was only on one side. Then we get to the first rock climbing part. My husband is amazing. He climbed up the rocks while holding A. The stairs got steeper, the mud got slicker. I thought we'd reached the top when I saw more rock climbing ahead of us, with a dozen hiker-made trails branching off in a variety of steep paths. My amazing hubby managed to carry the baby up this part, too.

Then--we reached the top! It was over! And the view--oh, man, the view. Just amazing. There's an outcropping of rock, and many hikers had signed it or put their mark on it. Among those signatures was an FSU sign with an arrow under it-- our alma matter! We aren't the only Seminoles to climb the Butte! That was pretty awesome, and then I captured this image:

This is now one of my favorite photos of A. I am so blessed to have such a wonderful husband and sweet kiddo that I got to do this with.

Once A discovered the edge and ran towards it, we knew our time up top was limited. So we reluctantly headed down, knowing it could be just as bad as it was coming up. Don't get me wrong-- it was a blast. But it wasn't easy (whoever referred to this as an easy hike on TripAdvisor should be banned).

So going down, A started out on J's shoulders. We made it back down the steep paths, back down the rock climbing parts one and two, and across the mud. There was much slippage and fear, but no falling or dying. There were LOTS of prayers going down! Once we got past the stairs, for which that handrail and rope rail were very helpful, A started crying. Since he can walk and run, he isn't such a fan of being confined to being carried for so long. We put him back in the Mei Tei carrier and set off. He was still crying, so I put on his favorite playlist, which happens to mainly be comprised of songs from Frozen. God gave me an extra burst of energy with which to bounce across the hilly snow-and-ice part, and guided my feet so I didn't slip. I may have sang such hits as "Let it Go" (complete with hand motions), "For the first time in Forever", and most appropriately, "Do you want to build a snowman?". Climbing a mountain was the best possible setting for my rendition of those songs, and it made A stop crying and enjoy the ride down, so it was a win-win (unless other people heard me…in which, it wasn't such a win for them!).

We had such fun. With the house being on the market and applying to out of state jobs so we can move, we've been pretty stressed. Although our to-do list was plenty long, we threw it out the window to have an afternoon of family fun. And now we get to dangle the fact that we carried A up and down a mountain over his head for life. It was totally worth it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Disney Villains Revealed

Warning: This post contains spoilers for all of the films mentioned. They appear in chronological order, so if you haven't seen the film and don't want it spoiled, don't read that section!

Disney villains, like their princess counterparts, have evolved with society. From Snow White and her 1930s damsel in distress-ness that modern feminists abhor to Princesses Anna and Elsa, with their modern ideas against impromptu marriage, Disney's princesses and their antagonists have changed to reflect what threatens society's safety.

Snow White vs the Evil Queen: 
Much like Snow White is the embodiment of the 1930s damsel in distress, the Evil Queen is the symbol for vanity, fear, and a dangerously changing world. When Snow first arrives at the dwarves' cottage, they instinctively fear her. This is a transition from a Mayberry-esque world in which everyone was safe. World War I had rocked the boat, causing Americans to turn to fear more and more frequently. Yet Snow herself, the one person who has the most reason to fear, doesn't fear the apple-bearing hag. She takes the apple, not thinking about the death sentence hanging over her.

Who's the real villain? Fear. What beats fear? Love. Love heals Snow White, love leads the dwarves to chase down a giant, evil, powerful queen and win. FDR said the greatest thing we have to fear is fear itself, and this speaks loudly in Snow White.

Aurora vs Maleficent:
 The 1950s is our next Disney decade. Maleficent is terrifying because, well, she turns into a dragon and sentences a baby to death because she wasn't invited to a party. Umm, what? Since when does a party foul merit a death curse? We don't really get to know Aurora very well, and neither do her parents. The fairies magically alter the curse to a sleeping spell, but then she has to live with them in the woods. Her parents are punished, the fairies have to give up magic for 18 years, and she lives a lie without even knowing it.

Who's the real villain? The knowledge that you can be punished for someone else's oversights or mistakes. The sins of the father fall to the son, and so forth. Aurora didn't exclude the evil green fairy, yet it is she who is punished.

Ariel vs Ursula:
My husband despises this movie. He hates the message of rebelling against your family for someone you haven't even spoken to. Once again a product of its time, the 1980s produced a princess that was strong willed to go after what she wanted-- even if that something happened to be a someone. Ariel's strength is great, though misdirected. Her willingness to give anything for her love gave our villain, Ursula, a clear shot.

Ursula, nursing the wound of ousted ruler, seizes the opportunity to hurt her enemy and his daugther simultaneously. What does Ursula represent? That tiny part of ourself that wants to hold on to past hurts. If Ursula had let go of her perceived injustices, we'd have an entirely different movie on our hands.

To a much lesser extent, Triton can also be a bit of a villain. Not in the up front way Ursula is, but in an over-protective way. He denies his daugther her love (human things), ultimately chasing her away. Instead of supervising and nurturing her interests, he shut them down. By doing so, he caused her to push him away. Had he not done so, she may have turned to him for help instead of evil.

Lesson to be learned: by forbidding something, you make it more desirable. Be careful how you handle other people's hearts.

Belle vs Gaston:
Ah, Belle. Her love of books endeared her to me from the start. Her town couldn't understand how a woman could be smart and beautiful, and only cared about her outer beauty. Her intelligence they found 'odd'.  She stood up to Gaston, not once but several times. Her strength came from her heart, not from her looks.

Who's the real villain? Society, for giving Gaston power for being attractive and subsequently falling under his spell, believing his lies that the beast would do them harm (when, up to that point, Beast hadn't hurt anyone but a fairy's feelings).

Lesson to be learned: Be who you are. You'll find where you belong. Don't give someone power over you simply because they're attractive.

Mulan vs society's misconceived gender stereotypes
Mulan struggles to find balance between who society says she must be and who she feels she is. Her love for her family leads her to deny society's gender stereotypes, but she still has to hide the 'female' part of her identity. 
Of course, the advancing Hun army is the obvious villain. But Mulan uses gender stereotypes to her advantage to beat the Huns, win the heart of the man she saved, wins the respect of the Emperor, and finds out her father loves her for who she is, regardless of her gender.
90s Disney princesses were all about empowerment and standing up for yourself. Mulan is no different. The villain is soceity, for trying to pigeonhole someone based on their gender.

Rapunzel vs Mother Gothel
 As time progressed, soceity became less villainized. Knowing who was trustworthy and who wasn't became the new fear, and Tangled reflects that. What's scarier than an entire soceity trying to hold you back? Someone stealing you as a baby, convicing you that they're your parent, and making you fear the world for what it would do to you.
Whoa, Disney. Whoa. Mother Gothel is deeply, psychologically unsound. She may even be the scariest villain, as she psychologically brainwashes our protagonist into fearing everything. The abuse doesn't stop there; she mentally abuses her throughout the film.
The real villain is Mother Gothel, and any other kidnappers. Flynn Rider, a perceived villain due to his theivery and bad habit for breaking and entering, ends up not being a bad guy. But seeing little three year old Rapunzel tell Mother Gothel she loves her?  That's the stuff of nightmares, folks.

Merida vs herself
 In Pixar's Brave, the villain can be difficult to identify. After all, Merida and her mother fight with each other, but neither of them is evil. They both want what they believe to be best for Merida, they just disagree about what that is.
In Merida's case, her antagonist is...herself. She stands in her own way. She finds the witch, weasels her way into buying a spell, and intentionally changes her mother. Though the spell didn't work as she intended, her desire was for her mother to change. Change into a bear? That was more than she bargained for. Finding a way to listen and express herself, as well as seeing the far-reaching consquences of her actions, are what saved the day. Both mother and daugther had to learn these things, but ultimately it is Merida who serves as the catalyst for all that happens. She is her own worst enemy.

Frozen has two villains, so to speak. A main villain and a minor villain. They work indepednently, and are discusses as such.
Anna vs Hans: I have to admit, I was surprised when it's revealed Hans is the villain. Once I thought about it, I realized there are quite a few signs that point to it, but I didn't notice them until hindsight was in my favor.
I was so happy to see Anna happy that when they're singing their love song, "Love is an open door", I didn't question the unlikelihood that Hans was going to say 'sandwiches'. I found it odd, but I was so thrilled Anna was happy that I didn't give it a second thought.
Hans: We finish each other's--
Anna: Sandwiches!
Hans: That's what I was going to say!

Then, when Anna goes to find Elsa, Hans stays behind a little too willingly. He offers to go with her, but it seems like he knew she would turn him down.

Hans says and does all the right things-- a little too right. The youngest of 13 boys, his motive is there from the beginning. Yet when he says Elsa is not to be hurt when they reach her ice castle, he ends up being the one that hurts her.

Yes, you read that right. I didn't catch it until the 4th time I watched it. When the Duke of Weselton guard is about to shoot her with the crossbow, there's one second when Hans sees the crossbow, sees the chandelier, and intentionally points the crossbow at it so that it will crash and knock out Elsa. After all, he needs her back in Arendelle to thaw winter. He doens't yet know that she doesn't know how. He needs her there, and he needs to look innocent. Check and check.

What makes Hans as a villain so terrifying is, much like Mother Gothel, he's so manipulative. He convinces so many that he's good, from Anna's court to Anna herself, even Elsa eventually asks him to take care of her sister. That kind of psychological manipulation is terrifying to me. Kids who grow up with this movie will be harder to trick, and I'm certainly thankful for that.

Elsa vs Herself
Much like Merida, Elsa becomes a villain by turning into the monster some think her to be. Anna serves to remind us that Elsa is good, and those who fear her, like the Duke of Weselton, make her act out in fear. Much like a cornered animal, Elsa only attacks when she's being attacked. She's so afraid of hurting Anna, not only does she actually hurt her, but she creates a giant snow monster to keep Anna out of danger's way. This monster only serves to reinforce the others' perceived notion of Elsa herself as a monster. 
Elsa fleeing only hurts the situation. Each time she runs away, the problem only gets worse. The storm outside intensifies as her internal storm does. Keeping her feelings bottled up for years only served to exacerbate  the problem. Well played, Disney. Well played. 

Disney's villains and heroes are a reflection of what values society fears and values at any given time. Watching a Disney animated film is like stepping into a musical-with-a-great-storyline time capsule.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Let it Go: The Disney Way

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you've probably heard the hit sweeping the nation: Let it Go, from Disney's most recent animated feature, Frozen. From covers to parodies, this song has taken over the internet. Idina Menzel, the voice of Elsa and Broadway legend, sang it at the Oscars and on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. It. Is. Everywhere. Here's the original, if you've somehow missed it:

Although it's a great song, I think part of its widespread takeover is due to social media being at its peak. Right now between Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube, and all of the other stratospheres of the internet, anyone can share their version of it, anywhere. Weatherman version? Check. Mom version? Check. People who are tired of it? Check. Every niche can take a stab at it, post it, and go viral. It has spread like a wildfire, reaching higher and farther than any Disney anthem has before. Which begs me to ask...

What if other Disney movies had this opportunity? What if The Lion King had been released during this social media frenzy? What song from each of Disney's animated features would be the meteoric hit like Let it Go?

To answer that question, I've rewritten the song with one line from each of Disney's 53 animated films (except for Fantasia, Black Cauldron, The Rescuers Down Under, Fantasia 2000, & Dinosaur which have no songs with lyrics). You'll see the movie title next to the song line, but sing the song in your mind (or out loud, if that's your thing) to the tune of Let it Go. I'd film myself singing it, but something that terrible would most likely break the internet and end civilization as we know it.

(Snow White) One day my prince will come,
(Pinocchio) Makes no difference who you are,
(Dumbo) Never to part, baby of mine
(Bambi) What can compare with your beautiful sound?

(Saludos Amigos) A new day's waiting to start,
(Three Caballeros) We have the stars to guide us,
(Make Mine Music) A perfect dream set to a theme as lovely as you,
(Fun and Fancy Free) You're the hero of my most favorite dream.

(Melody Time) We'll remember once upon a wintertime,
(Ichabod and Mr. Toad) We have no time to stall,
(Cinderella) So this is the miracle I've been dreaming of,
(Alice in Wonderland) I keep wishing it would be that way.

(Peter Pan) Gleaming in the skies above,
(Lady and the Tramp) Side by side with your loved one,
(Sleeping Beauty) Once upon a dream,
(101 Dalmatians) in this new location,
(Sword in the Stone) You must set your sights upon the heights.

(The Jungle Book) Trust in me, just in me
(The Aristocats) 'Cause everything else is obsolete.
(Robin Hood) Once we watched a lazy world go by,
(Adventures of Winnie the Pooh) I'm just floating around over the ground,
(The Rescuers) Til your hopes and your wishes comes true.

(The Fox and the Hound) Goodbye may seem forever.
(The Great Mouse Detective) We know by now that time knows how to fly,
(Oliver and Company) Why does nightfall find you feeling so alone?

(The Little Mermaid) No time will be better 
(Beauty and the Beast) Certain as the sun rising in the East
(Aladdin) Shining, shimmering, splendid
(The Lion King) The world for once in perfect harmony
(Pocahontas) But I know every rock and treat and creature has a life, has a spirit, has a name.

(Hunchback of Notre Dame) Living in the sun,
(Hercules) I would go most anywhere to find where I belong,
(Mulan) Somehow I cannot hide who I am, though I've tried.

(Tarzan) You'll be in my heart,
(The Emperor's New Groove) In the quiet time of evening,
(Atlantis) Where the dream takes you,
(Lilo and Stitch) Like a river flows surely to the sea
(Treasure Planet) This place I never thought would feel like home,
(Brother Bear) Tell everybody I'm on my way.

(Home on the Range) Will the sun ever shine again?
(Chicken Little) We both bruise so easily.
(Meet the Robinsons) The hardest part is over.

(Bolt) There is no home like the one you've got,
(The Princess and the Frog) And I'm almost there.
(Tangled) It's like the sky is new,
(Winnie the Pooh) Well I could be the blossom,
(Wreck it Ralph) When can I see you again?
(Frozen) Let it go!

It's interesting to see how Disney's messages have ebbed and flowed from the more upbeat to the more downtrodden as society has done the same. What do you think of Frozen's anthem? Are you a fan, or have you grown weary of its persistence?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Veronica Mars Movie Review

Calling all Marshmallows! The Veronica Mars movie hit AMC theaters and the digital world yesterday, reuniting marshmallows with their favorite teen-turned-twenty-something sleuth.

Cue the cliched "Reunited and it feels so good" music, please.

In case you either missed the show when it was on UPN/CW, Netflix, or somehow haven't seen the movie trailers or heard about the legendary Kickstarter campaign, you can view it here:

By legendary kickstarter campaign, I'm referring to the fact that the funs funded this movie. The actors barely got paid, if they did at all, and mostly just reunited for the fun of it and to honor their loyal fandom.

Honor us, they did. The movie was excellent. One review I read (I'm afraid I've mommy-brained and forgotten which blog it was on; I'm terribly sorry for not giving proper credit where it is due) noted that the film felt like an entire season of VM, condensed into one film. We had the typical over-arching mystery, as well as the smaller mystery that sets Veronica on the case in the first place.

Fear not, friends. No spoilers here!

In case you missed the VM craze in its earlier inception or its most recent reincarnation, here's a quick Inigo-Montoya style sum up:

After her high school best friend was murdered and her father ousted as Sheriff in the small, economically divided community of Neptune, CA, teenager Veronica Mars starts investigating the murder herself. Having picked up some tools of the trade from her now private investigator dad, Veronica uses her quick wits, ability to think on her feet, and stun gun to solve the crime. We see her through two years of high school, one year of college, and a sex tape scandal to boot. The movie picks up nine years after the TV show ends, and many familiar faces re-emerge.

Movie plot summary: Logan, Veronica's off-again, on-again love interest, is in hot water after supposedly getting his life together. Accused of murdering a former Neptune High alum, Logan seeks out Veronica for help. After nine long years of radio silence, Veronica once again puts her life on hold, leaving New York to return to Neptune to save Logan's ever-troublesome behind.

Can she find the murderer? Can she resist Logan in a Navy uniform? Will the new Veronica, a non-sleuthing, law school grad, withstand the magnetic pull of old, inquisitive, push-the-envelope-until-it-burns Veronica?

As always, the witty banter, pop culture references and amazing character development shine. We get to see who Veronica has become, as well as watch her struggle to find the best balance for herself.

I give the movie an A+. Much like the show, it's slightly too suspenseful for me and I woke up several times last night thinking about the film. However, Veronica is the only sleuth I'm willing to bite my nails for (and trust me, I lost several watching this movie.) Watching the movie is like being reunited with an old friend, if you can consider fictional characters friends. It makes you harken back to who you were when the show was on, and how you've changed since then, too. Or at least that's a side effect that hit me.

In any case, VM fan or not, I recommend this film. It's nice to finally have a conclusion after the show was unexpectedly cancelled without the opportunity to have a series finale.

After all, a long time ago, we used to be friends.