Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar Review

I anxiously awaited the November 22nd premiere of Disney's new Lion King based animated series, titled The Lion Guard. Sadly, Comcast is evil and we were out of data (since they have a data cap they don't tell you about, and it's nearly impossible to track your usage, but WHATEVER COMCAST. Your time will come, and we will all laugh with joy while you burn. Muahaha!) so I had to wait until our data cycle reset to watch it.

Before the animated series premieres next year (wow, 2016 is close!), Disney kicked off by releasing a movie that the series spin off from. I tried to keep my expectations in check, especially since they went bazooka when I heard Ernie Sabella and James Earl Jones were coming back to voice Pumbaa and Mufasa, respectively, and Rob Lowe and Gabrielle Union had signed on as well. 

The animation was in sync with the style of The Lion King, which I was glad to see. It's nice to see Simba as an adult, and see him handling parenting situations. The Return of the Roar picks up before the events of the embarrassment that was The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride, but still includes Kiara, Simba and Nala's daughter, and references the Outlands, also referred to in Simba's Pride

Overall, I really enjoyed The Return of the Roar. The lions didn't move quite as gracefully as they did in The Lion King, but a quality difference is to be expected between film and television. There was certainly some kid humor, especially concerning Pumbaa and his, ah, stomach problems. There was also some humor for parents, with Simba and his son, Kion, referencing an earlier conversation they had ("the talk" = the birds and the bees--eek! My boys are still in diapers, so that's still a bit off, but their joke was funny regardless!). The story integrates The Lion King well, explaining the background subtly so those poor souls unfamiliar with it can follow the new series, without boring the die-hard LK fans like me who are also watching. It's a difficult balance to strike, but if anyone can do it, Disney can. And they do.

There are, of course, the essential Disney lessons included. From standing up for your friends, to voicing your opinion, to being trustworthy so adults will trust you, The Lion Guard tackles them all in one 55-minute TV movie. The message is delivered gracefully and without shoving it in your face, much like classic Disney animation. Kion's decision to make the Lion Guard include non-lion animals is a great allusion to accepting others skills despite what they look like.

My only real problem with the movie was one character, a female lion who gets her claws stuck in a log and proceeds to act like a valley girl for the rest of the movie. Thankfully, she isn't in it a lot, but her aversion to bugs and her overly-generalized female-ness was off-putting. Kiara is a strong female character, with a level-head and great instincts. I found it odd that her character would be so well developed while her friend's character was simply a series of stereotypes that don't at all fit with a lion. Lionesses are fierce, and I'd except them to be portrayed that way. I also found it interesting that Kiara, a female firstborn, is training to succeed Simba as ruler, when only male lions rule prides. I know it's great to encourage girls to be leaders, and I fully support that. I do worry a bit about this generation of kids not understanding how animals follow a different hierarchy than humans, but it's really a nuance and not a deal breaker at all.

My almost 3 year old watched it and enjoyed it. There was some talk of the circle of life, specifically killing gazelles, but nothing is shown and I don't think he understood. I'm not ready to have the 'where our food comes from talk', so hopefully he stays clueless on that aspect of the plot.

Did you watch The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar? What did you think?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Top 10 Scariest Disney Villains

It's that time of year. People all over are paying gobs of money so people can try and scare the pee out of them. Meanwhile, in Sunshine-Rainbows-LaLaLand where I live, I'm avoiding all movie trailers and watching fall themed movies and Hocus Pocus and calling it awesome. To get in the Halloween spirit, I've compiled a list of what I think are the scariest Disney villains.

Now of course these photos don't belong to me, but they truly depict the horror with which these Disney villains reign. So here they are! 

10. Shan-Yu, Mulan
Anyone who smiles while thinking about murdering children makes the list. We see illusions to his brutality, like having his men kill all of the Emperor's army, and we see him battle Mulan. His defeat is quite enjoyable, as he didn't expect a woman to best him. HA!

9. Mother Gothel, Tangled
Mother Gothel is a special kind of evil. Her vanity leads to her insanity, but its how she treats Rapunzel that is truly evil. Instead of treating her as a prisoner, she pretends to be her mother and manipulates her with fear. That's truly terrifying.

8. Cruella DeVil, 101 Dalmatians
You might be a psycho if you want to wear a coat made of puppy fur. Just sayin'.

7. Ursula, The Little Mermaid
"Here, let me trick you into signing a contract that will doom your father, your family, the entire populace of Sebastien's undersea medley, and imply strongly that since you're a PYT (pretty young thing) you don't need your voice, because men only care how you look." Yep, definitely evil.

6. Scar, The Lion King
The lengths that Scar will go to to be king of Pride Rock are truly terrifying. Killing your brother? Severe. Killing you nephew, a mere child? Extremely severe. Killing your brother in front of your nephew, convincing the nephew it was his fault, and then ordering his execution? Deeply disturbing.

5. Judge Frollo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Speaking of disturbing, here's a villain from one of my least preferred Disney movies. It's strongly implied he intends to rape Esmerelda, he murders Quasimodo's mother, and keeps Quasimodo hidden away. He is the personification of destruction.

4. Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty
Oh, just a woman who can become a fire-breathing dragon at the drop of a hat and curses an entire kingdom because she wasn't invited to something she probably didn't want to go to anyway.

3. Dr. Facilier, The Princess and the Frog

Now we're getting into the big scary ones. Dr. Facilier is frightening because 1)voodoo is a real practice (eek). 2) His 'friends from the other side'? Shadow demons. He's obsessed with money and power and literally sells his soul to try and get them.

2. Chernabog, Fantasia
Ugh. Chernabog. Walt himself referred to this character as the devil. He's a combination of the minotaur and a Mayan demon. He may only be a small part of Fantasia, but he's certainly memorable. In an evil, terror inducing way.

1. The Horned King, The Black Cauldron
I'm not sure he needs an introduction, because you can see that picture, yes? Just a cloaked skeleton with hot-coal eyes trying to summon an army of zombies. No big deal. I won't have nightmares just thinking about him or anything.

What do you think? Did I miss any scary villains?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Invisible Sister Review

Disney fans have been treated to more screen time for Girl Meets World star Rowan Blanchard.  I love this girl! She's adorable and a great actress and seems like exactly who I would've wanted to be friends with when I was a young teen. She delighted her fans with her role in the Disney Channel Original Movie, Invisible Sister. 

Her character in Invisible Sister is quite different than Riley on GMW. As a chemistry prodigy, Cleo feels isolated from most of the other students in her high school. Her older sister Molly seems to have life mastered, as a popular athlete with lots of friends. Cleo feels constantly eclipsed by her sister, which Molly can't understand.

What I love about this movie is that Molly isn't a villain, or even an antagonist. The only person standing in the way of Cleo's happiness is Cleo. Molly is often reaching out to Cleo, inviting her to be friends with her friends. But Cleo is too afraid of being the plot of a high school movie where the nerd is mocked by the cool kids, and always turns her down. When the boy Cleo likes shows interest in her, she assumes he's only doing it to make fun of her, since he's a jock.

When Molly accidentally ingests Cleo's science project, which turned a moth invisible, she herself turns invisible. The only person who knows about the experiment is Cleo herself, thus they must keep Molly's condition a secret. With their parents conveniently out of town for Halloween weekend, Molly has Cleo dress in Molly's costume to pretend to be her. With an important field hockey game that afternoon, Molly has to be in class to be allowed to play-- even if it's really Cleo just pretending to be her. This provides the perfect avenue for the girls to walk a mile in each other's shoes, and discover that each one's life is quite different than how the other perceived it.

I love the focus on sisterhood and building each other up. Sometimes you have to see the world through someone else's eyes to better understand yourself as well as them. Molly and Cleo got to do this, and discovered how deep sisterly love runs.

The young actresses do a great job, and it's a great October movie. It has some mystery, dark nights in New Orleans graveyard for suspense, and some mystical happenings--even if they are attributed to chemistry, invisibility is indeed mystical.

You can still catch Invisible Sister on Disney Channel and the Watch Disney app. Have you seen it yet? What did you think of it?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Mindy Project Review: Season 4, Episode 1

I LOVE The Mindy Project. All caps doesn't even do my love for it justice. I discovered it this summer while J was away on business and I was super pregnant, and I got sucked in. Then I re-watched them all with J after he got home, as he loved it. I'm a huge fan of all things Mindy-- as an actress, a writer, and the character Mindy Lahiri.

Why do I love the actress? She's honest, which is beyond refreshing in our age of Photoshop and lies. She's open about her struggles as a female comedian, a writer, a minority, perception of her body, etc. She's hilarious in a seemingly effortless way. She makes me want to be her best friend in every interview I've read and/or seen. I read recently she doesn't like being described as 'real', but that's a great word for her if only because she doesn't share just a tiny part of herself with the world. She's open and shares a lot of herself, emotionally, which is why she seems real. We get to see her as a whole person, and not just a persona.

Mindy Kaling writes books and television shows. I first became a fan of her when she was on The Office, playing Kelly. She had me in stitches all the time. She's also a writer on her own show, The Mindy Project. She's written two books, one of which I have on audio and can't wait to listen to next week on a road trip, and another that just came out Tuesday, September 15 and that I'm on a waiting list for at the library. The fact that I've withheld listening to the audio book until my road trip is a testament to a willpower I totally lack in other areas of my life. But this book is like wedding cake: it'll totally be worth the wait, and probably super memorable. No pressure, Mindy. No pressure.

Also? My wedding cake was delicious, so that's kind of the best compliment I can give someone. I hope it isn't insulting to compare someone's work to cake. I love cake.

Why do I love Mindy Lahiri, the main character on The Mindy Project? She's confident and totally comfortable with herself. I strive to be her, basically. Except for OB/GYN job, because I don't do blood so well and could never give people bad news. Back to the character. She's funny, confident in her beauty, able to admit when she's wrong, and she wears her heart on her sleeve. She's the most likable character on TV, by far.

Okay, now to the review. If you aren't up to date on season 3, stop reading and go binge watch before coming back. I've been anxiously awaiting the season 4 premiere, which transitions our show from Fox to Hulu. The premise, as described in ads and descriptions, follows Danny as he goes to India to introduce himself to Mindy's parents, while she's in an alternate reality in which she and Danny never got together, and she's instead married to a character played by Joseph Gordon Levitt. Joseph and Mindy are great together, and Mindy figuring out her alternate reality self is a barrel of laughs. I never thought I would enjoy someone saying "Ex-squeeze me?!" so much, but she makes it hilarious.

While Danny finds himself in a pickle, Mindy finds her whole personality altered by the lack of Danny's influence in her life. It all circles back to what Mindy and Danny said previously: the best person for you is the person who challenges you to be your best self. Mindy and Danny have that effect on each other, and they're even more likable together than they are separately. Their dynamic is enviable, and the actors play off of each other really well.

I didn't notice a huge difference between the Fox and Hulu productions, as I thought Mindy was just as hilarious as ever. But J was a little disappointed. I'm hypothesizing we were both just so excited, the episode couldn't live up to his expectations. I think once all the characters are reunited, and not on separate sides of the world, their interactions will resume the normal level of hilarity that J appreciates. The actors all work so well together that it's nearly criminal to not have them all interact at the office.

I'm so excited for the new season of Mindy. I can't believe I have to wait another 6 days until the next episode, though. I wish I could just binge-watch, but then I'd be sad until even more episodes were available.

Have you seen season 4, episode 1? What did you think of it?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Welcome, Baby!

This is one of my rare, Disney-free posts. You may (or may not) haven noticed fewer posts over the last few months. We've had a lot of life changes going on here: we moved, J started a new job, J was gone for two weeks for training for new job, I was super pregnant, I had a baby, we brought baby home and have been adjusting to life as a family of 4. Since A is now a big brother, and we have a newborn, the poor blog has had fewer posts. Since the new baby has kept me away, it's only fair to share his birth story for those of you who like it. Don't worry, I don't do gross details!

Our new baby, whose name also begins with an A so we'll call him by both initials here, was due on June 14, 3 days after J returned home from his business trip. Two weeks without Daddy was hard on A, but thankfully our family came to my rescue and helped out a LOT while he was gone. A got some quality time with his Grandma Rosie and his cousins and aunt who live nearby. I was terrified I'd go into labor while J was gone, and we had all sorts of emergency plans. As it turned out, AJ had no intention of arriving early or even on his due date. In fact, once I got to the 17th and he still hadn't arrived, I was pretty sure I'd be pregnant forever.

I was scheduled for an ultrasound to make sure he was doing okay on the 18th, where we'd then discuss induction et al. I was trying for a VBAC, to avoid the difficult recovery I had with A, and really didn't want to be induced. Thankfully AJ decided to begin his journey before the appointment, as I found myself with my water breaking at 4:30 a.m. on the 18th. I'd been worried about going into labor in the middle of the night, as A's cousins were going to watch him while I was in labor. When I woke up to pee in the middle of the night and my water broke, I couldn't help but think that AJ was both considerate (after all, I was on the potty already so the amniotic fluid didn't get all over the place) and inconsiderate (it was the middle of the night!). I called my midwife, who groggily told me to get to the hospital and the on-call midwife would be there at 7 to check on me.

We called our sweet nieces, who came over to watch A. In the half hour it took them to get to us, we gathered our last minute items for the hospital bag, woke A and explained who was coming over and why, and started his favorite movie, Toy Story, as a distraction. Once they arrived, we left a tearful A to head to the hospital. We were relieved when they texted us that he stopped crying quickly and went back to the movie.

We got to maternity triage, where they did a test to see if my water had truly broken on a stick that remarkably resembled the stick you pee on to see if you're pregnant in the first place. My water never broke on its own with Archer, so I had never experienced that particular part of labor before. But I knew, instinctively, that's what it was. So when their test came back negative for amniotic fluid, I was very unhappy and convinced the test was wrong. No amount of description or explanation would convince the nurse her test was wrong-and I'm not usually that kind of patient. This is their job, they know what they're doing and I trust their experience. But in this case, I knew my water had broken. Because I was Group B positive (a natural bacteria that all women have but that can cause problems during childbirth if the levels are elevated, requiring antibiotics), I knew I needed antibiotics as soon as my water broke. That's what my midwife had told me when I asked what would be different about having Group B this time, and I wasn't with A.

Thankfully, the nurse shift changed and my new nurse assured me that my midwife would want to examine me. She also said that she hated those stick tests, as they were often wrong-- 40% of the time, actually. I had been so worried about being sent home, having to leave A again, and for waking my nieces up at 5 a.m. unnecessarily. I was also worried that my water had broken and I'd end up having my baby at home or in the car because the first nurse wouldn't listen to me.

When my midwife arrived, she did another test where they examine the fluid under a microscope to see if it resembles a fern, which means it is amniotic fluid. While collecting the sample, more water broke, and she assured me that I was for sure in labor and not going home before even looking under the microscope (she still did, and it was fern-like, so HA! Take that, first nurse!). Unfortunately I was only dilated to a 1.5, and my contractions were five minutes apart and not that strong. She recommended using a balloon and catheter to put pressure on my cervix, making it open more and faster.

I agreed, because heck yes I was ready to get that baby out. If I could do it again knowing what I do now, I wouldn't do it. It's painful, and apparently contractions with a second baby are worse than they were with the first. The balloon-catheter thingy got in the way when I was walking or moving, and so I spent most of my labor laying in bed instead of moving around like I did with A. The labor ball, much like a yoga/pilates exercise ball, was a huge help with A. But with AJ, I leaked amniotic fluid every time I moved and I hate feeling moisture--heck, I overuse paper towels when I dry my hands!

With A, I didn't ask for the epidural until I was dilated to a 6. My goal was to reach that with AJ, because I'm irrational when pregnant. I also didn't know contractions hurt worse the second time around! I lowered the number to a 4, when the balloon thingy should fall out. Finally, I couldn't take it and asked for it early. Thankfully the ballon thing fell out right before they came in to do it, so I kind of reached my goal.

The anesthesiologist had trouble administering the epidural, despite my ability to hold still. Because I was attempting a VBAC, I had to have fetal monitoring the whole labor, and we knew when each contraction should come. Unfortunately, the epidural didn't work. The pain continued to get worse, and I was mentally losing my patience with myself and was worn out and starving, but I couldn't eat in case I had to have another C-Section.

An hour after the first epidural, they came back to try again. I couldn't help it-- I was so exhausted and didn't want to go through the pain of another epidural, and I began sobbing, shaking with emotion. My amazing nurse, who distracted us with crazy stories and hilarious antidotes, took my face in her hands, put her forehead against mine, and calmed me down. I had reached my limit, but she knew exactly what to say and do to help me. It was amazing.

The second epidural finally worked and I felt some relief. I took a nap while J went to get some lunch, since it was now 2 in the afternoon. The day toiled on, with 12 hours since my water broke coming and going. Finally, ten minutes before my amazing super nurse was about to get off (she was determined to meet AJ, after being with me all day), she checked and I was at a 10, ready to push.

I was nervous and excited. I never got this far with A; he went into distress when I was at an 8. We pushed on counts of 3, over and over again. I had no idea how long the pushing was supposed to last. As I pushed, my nurse told me what was going on (I don't do blood well and there are certain things I don't want to see!). She saw his hair before anything else. 28 minutes later, at 7:18, he finally arrived. He warbled a cry, and they placed him on my chest, and I cried and cried and kissed his beautiful full head of black hair.

All of his cries were warbles, with trembling chin and a unique sound that made all of the nurses and midwives say, "awww" and coo over him. We cleaned him up and started breastfeeding after J cut the cord. I tried to deliver the placenta, but it wasn't budging and my midwife had to manually remove it and then stitch up where I'd torn, a grade 2 tear (the most common). He was 9 pounds, 1 ounce, and beautiful.

Although I'd successfully delivered via VBAC, my recovery was just as difficult as with A. I had a terrible time with the stitches, a poor reaction to the tape used on my back for the epidural that resulted in a huge rash, and a puffy, swollen arm from where my IV had been. Due to the placenta issues, I had to be on more antibiotics after I was discharged, as well as painkillers. I also had an embarrassing issue that required a painful in-office procedure a few days after the birth.

6 weeks after delivery, I was still bleeding. It was discovered through an ultrasound that not all of the placenta was removed, and I took medicine to cause uterine contractions to try and get it out. When that didn't work, I was scheduled for surgery. I felt great after it was over, just tired. But ten hours later, I began getting sick to my stomach and couldn't stop. When it finally abated, I tried to just go to sleep. But every time I laid down, my headache worsened. When I began getting sick again, I called my doctor and was told to go to the ER. Several hours, more vomiting, and medicine and a liter of IV fluids later, I could finally go home and go to sleep. Again, our amazing family stepped up. J's sister, A's aunt, came and stayed with an already-asleep A so we wouldn't have to take him to the ER. A week later, I finally stopped bleeding and called myself healed from a delivery that occurred 10 weeks earlier.

Through all of the difficulty of the 17 hour labor and long recovery, my sweet husband was by my side. All through labor, recovery, surgery, recovery, ER visit and recovery, he was always there. I'm incredibly fortunate to have him and our family, who helped out so much. His mom came for weeks to help us adjust to having a toddler and a newborn, and with all my complications, it was truly lifesaving. Regardless of how difficult it all was, it's all worth it when I look at this sweet face:

AJ is such a good baby. Sweet, snuggly, and a GREAT sleeper. He eats well, he sleeps well, he hangs out on his own or allows us to hold him. He's practically perfect most of the time! A loves being a big brother and helping. He hands me diapers, gives AJ his pacifier, holds his hand and asks to hold him all the time.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Why I (Still) Love Girl Meets World

Disney Channel's Boy Meets World sequel, Girl Meets World, has total captured my heart. I love it. I can't get enough of it. Every week, I'm checking my Watch Disney app on Apple TV to check for new episodes, since I don't have cable. There's so much to love, but my obsession is mainly attributed to two factors: the show itself, and what it represents. Since I'm talking about why I love this show so much, there are some spoilers. If you aren't up to date on seasons one and two, turn back now! Come back after you're all caught up.

The actors, the characters, the set-- I love everything about the show. I sing along to the theme song. I love the group of four friends, finding their way in the world. I love how they question the world around them because of an inspirational teacher, and that they realize their learning situation is unusual and incredibly special. I love that when something changes, it influences future episodes. For example, in the episode "Girl Meets Yearbook," each friend struggles with who they are and how they are perceived. Farkle changes based on what he learns, and doesn't revert back to his 'old' self. Two episodes later, his wardrobe is still the newer version. People change; it's a fact of life. Sometimes it happens slowly and sometimes they make a decision that speeds it up. Riley, Maya and Lucas have had to deal with the latter issue, and it shows.

"Girl Meets Creativity" is my favorite season two episode so far. I love all of them, of course, but this one touches on something close to my heart: teaching and the role of the arts in education. Budget cuts affect the arts first, and that's something our favorite middle schoolers are having to deal with in this episode. Maya, who struggles academically but finds confidence through her art, is especially hit hard. Instead of moping or giving up, they fight for what they think is important. But they don't fight unfairly; they don't vandalize or suggest other cuts. They take the high road, and they research their opponent. They know it is going to be a tough battle, but they use their skills to show the school board why the arts are important. This episode epitomizes what I love about the show as a whole: it's a group of friends, finding their way together, while discovering how fine that line between right and wrong really is.

The second reason I'm so GMW obsessed? The show represents a turning point for Disney. Up until this point, their tween/teen programming has been lacking an authenticity that's incredibly hard to replicate. I enjoy most of their shows, but many of them have fatal flaws that I have a problem with. So often, a character is dumbed down, or the parents are villain-ized, or the parents are dumbed down and out of touch. But both GMW and another new show, K.C. Undercover, involve the parents in a more positive way. Parents are supposed to be a positive influence on their kids; they're supposed to be there to help guide them. GMW shows this positive behavior, and that parents at least have their kids best interests at heart. Of course that isn't reflective of all parents, and some parents don't play a big role in their kids lives (heartbreaking). It's nice to see that Disney Channel is broadening the type of parents portrayed on their shows. I also love seeing Cory and Topanga's marriage; it's refreshing to see marriage portrayed positively at the same time as we see a single parent's struggle (Maya's mother) and how both situations impact the kids. Riley and Maya's outlooks on life are directly related to their home situations, and they each have strengths and flaws as a result. But they're both still good people, and still lovable. GMW breaks free of stereotypes in general, a bright indicator for the types of shows we can see from Disney Channel in the future.

What do you think of Disney Channel's newest shows?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Disney Descendants Review

Last year, Disney announced the production of a Disney Channel Original Movie (DCOM) titled Descendants. Since then, I've been anxiously awaiting the July 31 premeire about the children of Disney's heroes and villains and their interactions.

For those of us lucky enough to have the Watch Disney app, the movie is available before tomorrow night's big premeire! I've already watched it, of course. 

This may be silly, but I didn't realize it was a musical until the opening act. Had I known powerhouse singer Kristen Chenoweth was playing Maleficent, I would've assumed there was at least one song. You don't pay for Chenoweth and not use her voice! 

Although a couple of songs fit quite well, a couple did not. I loved Rotten to the Core, Evil Like Me and If Only. Rotten to the Core, the opening sequence, has a very West Side Story vibe, with our main characters parading through their turf causing mischief and mayhem at every turn. Evil Like Me showcases Chenoweth's amazing voice in a Broadway style number with some harmonizing with Disney Channel's own Dove Cameron. The Liv and Maddie star also has a solo ballad, If Only, highlighting the inner struggle of her character, Mal. She has a beautiful voice, and the movie relies on her vocal storytelling ability to lead the musical numbers. I was less fond of Did I Mention and the cast's random pop-ization of Be Our Guest. Both songs felt less sincere and more forced, and too similar to High School Musical.

I have to admit, I was a little disappointed with Descendants. This is partially my own fault; with my excitement building over a year, I had unrealistic expectations. But, in my defense, Disney Channel fed into those expectations with their TV spots and ads all summer. The movie was different than I expected, both with the softening of characters and the predictability of the plot. Disney animation has really honed their storytelling skills, with plot twists and surprises keeping viewers on their toes. I had the same expectation for Descendants, despite its live action cast and made-for-TV status. I still enjoyed it, but it lacked the originality I anticipated.

As far as the softening of characters goes, I expected all of the villains to be harder and more vengeful, like their animated selves. Instead, they were less frightening, with only Maleficent striking fear in anyone's heart. The Evil Queen was too absorbed in brainwashing her daughter and staring into a mirror to plan anything, Cruella has apparently become delusional, and Jafar has gone from a manipulative mastermind to a thieving salesman. These characters simply don't fit with those I grew up with--and feared. Even Maleficent wasn't scary, just a heartbreakingly bad mother.

Of course, I hadn't fully expected the movie to answer the question of the children's parentage. Only one parent is revealed for each character, with Cruella and Jafar parenting a boy each and Maleficent and the Evil Queen each quasi-mothering a daughter. I also found it odd that Cruella would make her son afraid of dogs, and Jafar would teach his son to be a thief, as neither original character would act in such a way. I would think, after 20 years on the Isle of the Lost, that each villain would grow angrier and more resentful each year, instead of drawing into themselves and losing what made them villains in the first place.

The costumes and make-up are great, though I did find some of the dance choreography contrived. I loved that Evie, daughter of the Evil Queen, was super into fashion and making her own clothes. The graphic design, with Mal's graffiti art reading 'Live Evil', was fantastic. There were a lot of little details to make this universe real and believable, with cameos from some of our favorite characters. I adore that Belle's wardrobe was yellow-centric, and that the Fairy Godmother wore lots of blue. Tiny homages to the original characters were much appreciated by a Disney nerd such as myself!

The movie is, of course, still enjoyable. The songs will be stuck in your head for days (in a good way), the teen characters are more complex and interesting than their adult counterparts, and the fact that the consequences of our grandparents and parents actions affect future generations is clearly imparted, giving the audience something to think about long after the credits roll. There are issues of trust, manipulation, coercive bullying and choosing who to become that are explored, all within the Disney heroes and villains universe. Though the plot points may be more predictable than not, Descendants is still well worth your time.

Have you seen Descendants yet? What did you think?

Thursday, April 16, 2015


Today marks three years since my dad passed away suddenly of a heart attack.

I know; depressing, right? My sister and I have been talking all week about how down we've felt, and how we always start to feel sad this time of year.

To add insult to injury, Sunday was the two year anniversary of my dear dog Charlie also suddenly passing away. It's been a rough week.

One of the hardest things about losing someone you love isn't just their absence from your life; once you have kids, it's the noticeable absence from their lives. So with pregnancy hormones making me uber emotional anyway, these two losses occurring one year apart but within the same week make this particularly difficult. At least I have photos of Charlie with A; but we don't have that luxury with my dad or our upcoming baby. Although A got to meet my Grams, another important person who has passed away in the past three years, we didn't take any photos. She was battling cancer and very displeased with her appearance, and that isn't how we wanted to remember her anyway.

Since I've been battling all this sadness this week, I wanted to try to remember the positive instead. So here are two happy stories involved my loved ones that only see us from heaven.

My dad loved baseball, and even played in a local minor league before hurting his knee and becoming unable to continue. His love of baseball meant we grew up not only watching a lot of baseball movies and being surrounded by baseball memorabilia, but also learning to play. Some of my favorite early childhood memories involve my parents, sister and me forming a small-scale diamond and playing softball in our front yard. Many a time, my dad had to come adjust my elbow or correct my stance until I got it down. We loved getting outside and tossing the ball around, but batting was (and still is!) my favorite. I'm sure we played on cloudy days too, but all of my memories involve the sunshine and fluffy clouds so often associated with happy memories. When we were older and the Wii was out, we had a lot of fun around holidays playing baseball on there as well. I'm really lucky in that my dad didn't pass away until I was in my mid-20's, so he got to see all of my proms, high school and college graduations, and my wedding. I wish he were here to get to know my sons, but I know they'll know him through the stories my family and I will tell them throughout their lives.

Charlie loved being outside as well. Windy days were his favorite, and he adored the Alaska weather. His layers of fluff kept him warm in the winter, and he loved feeling the wind rush through his fur any time of year. He'd stand on a small hill, lift his face into the wind. It sounds crazy, but he always smiled when he did that. The wind invigorated him, and he'd race around the yard chasing leaves and barking up a storm of joy. He was a blur of sable and white, running crazy fast, mouth wide open and tongue hanging out. If I had to pick a single image to represent the word joy, it would be Charlie racing the wind.

Thinking about happy memories helps abate the grief, but I know I'll always miss them. Since I believe animals go to heaven, I know they're up there together having a blast watching our lives. I feel things very deeply, even when I don't have crazy pregnancy hormones adding to it, and loss is another emotion I feel very deeply. There are many hard days, or hard moments, or times I'll find myself getting misty of the silliest of things (I once cried during A Cinderella Story, and during the latest live-action Cinderella, when the parents die. True story.). But there are just as many moments where I'll feel like they're still here, or when the wind brushes the hair off of my face, and I can't help think of them.

How do you deal with grief? Does the loss of a parent get easier over time, or is there absence more keenly felt?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Frozen Fever and Cinderella Reviews

Last week was spring break in East Tennessee, and I took the opportunity to take my amazing niece to see the new Cinderella movie. From the trailers, I could tell it would either be really good or terribly bad, which for other movies would usually makes me wait until the rental release to see it. But this particular Disney release has the new Frozen short, Frozen Fever, playing before the feature, and I simply can't resist anything Frozen.  So off we went, and we had a blast. I'm splitting the reviews up and I'll try my best to avoid any spoilers!

Frozen Fever
 I was beyond excited when I first heard about this short, and my expectations soared to the sky. Thankfully, a few days before seeing it, I came across a video on the Disney blog to help everyone learn the lyrics to the new song. I showed it to A, since he's obsessed with all things Frozen as well. He loved it, but J and I were both seriously disappointed. The musical composition is great, but the lyrics are seriously lacking. Honestly, it seems like a first draft. Which is terrible, and I hate to say it! I love all the songs in Frozen, and the writers are the same, but the short seems much more juvenile than the film. Since it's playing before Cinderella, which is sure to draw all ages (or so I'd think, and the fact that it's currently the number one movie in the WORLD would attest to that as well), I expected a song that would appeal to all ages as well. That little preview tempered my expectations, and I can happily say that I still love the short film, even if the song isn't as perfect as the ones in Frozen.

The plot is great: it's Anna's birthday, and Elsa is trying to make up for all the birthdays Anna spent without her. There has been lots of planning, and so of course something has to go wrong. Elsa catches a cold (you've got to love Disney and their use of irony!) and naturally hijinks ensue. There's cake and presents and a dash of Oaken, too. Olaf, Sven, and Kristoff are back as well, lending a helping hand.

Overall, I really enjoyed it. The original voice actors are back, and Disney has a good track record with shorts as mini-sequels (I also loved Tangled Ever After, when that came out a few years back. The Toy Story shorts and TV adaptations are great, too!). I think A will love it, when it finally comes out for him to be able to see it (despite my Twitter pleas, Disney has yet to make just the short available for the Frozen-crazed toddlers of the world who can't sit through a whole movie.) I'm crossing my fingers it will be available for purchase by itself, and not just with Cinderella.

Here's the trailer, in case you haven't seen it yet:


My skepticism with this film was based on the trailer. In case you missed that, as well, here it is:

I knew from that it it would either be great or terrible, depending on which side of the cheesy pendulum it fell on. I can, gratefully, say that it is not overly cheesy at all. It's quite wonderful, and I can see how it's the number one movie in the world.

There are many things I love about this film, from the costumes to the sincerity to establishing the characters. The characters are well-developed and flawed, from the main characters to the supporting ones. Even the King, Grand Duke, Captain and household servants are well-developed, with clear motives for their actions.

If not for the sincerity, and very good acting, this film would have come across as cheesy. Lily James, who plays Cinderella, does a wonderful job of showing the innocence and genuine heart that Cinderella possesses. Cate Blanchett, as Lady Tremaine, does a wonderful job as well. She's cold and calculating, but also honest with her motives. The film runs a bit long at an hour and 45 minutes, but that's partly due to establishing the background these characters draw from. Lady Tremaine, especially, has an important build up. We get to see the growing resentment, as her new husband clearly favors his daughter and misses his deceased wife. We also find out more about how life has treated her, and brought her to this point, later in the film. It's nice to see a villain portrayed in a way that they're descent into evil is reasonable, and that we have to be careful to stay true to ourselves throughout the bad, not letting life's hardships taint our spirit. Darkness is a slippery slope, and Lady Tremaine demonstrates that very well.

The film also showcases the relationship between father and son and King and Prince, and how difficult it can be to balance both of those relationships. The relationship between the Prince and Cinderella is also established prior to the ball, which is refreshing from a modern standpoint. He likes the way she sees the world, and she likes his willingness to change his perspective to see things multiple ways. It's nice to see that they're well-suited for one another before they fall in love, which many love stories don't take the time to do.

I did get teary during this film, partly because there's a lot of parent death. This can't be too much of a spoiler, as we know from the original story and Disney's animated film that both of Cinderella's parents die, which is what causes her servanthood predicament. But this film takes the time to establish their family before tragedy strikes, allowing the viewer to get to know each character as an individual and cog in the clockwork of their family. It makes the inevitable death of the parents painful, because the viewer has already empathized with Ella and her family, and their innate goodness makes it hard to see them in pain.

One of my concerns was how the filmmakers would handle Ella's loneliness. In many films with a solitary character, another character is added for them to speak to. In I Am Legend, they added a dog; in Coraline, they gave her a friend. In the traditional tales of Cinderella, her goodness extends to all creatures great and small; she speaks to the birds, the mice, the field animals. In the animated adaptation, they speak back. I was worried about breaking the magical realism with talking animals, but I needn't have worried. The film does a great job of establishing both that the animals are listening and that she's perceived as looney by her stepsisters for talking to herself.

Many trailers included most of the scene with the fairy godmother, played by Helena Bonham Carter. I was surprised at how little she was in the film, considering how much she was in the trailers. But they do a great job of keeping with the slightly zany character established in previous adaptations while also making her unique to this one. Helena Bonham Carter does a great job, as always, and really gives the character life.

When I taught mythology and fairy tales as a teacher, my students would often ask logistical questions. Why didn't the slipper fit anyone else? Why didn't Ella leave? The film does a great job of subtly answering those questions to establish the realism aspect of the magical realism genre. They also allow the view to see Ella's breaking point, as well as stand up for herself once she has nothing left to lose.

I know, everything I've said has been good! But there were a few moments where I was perturbed. This is such a silly and shallow thing, but I can't imagine why they didn't have Lily James' eyebrows match her hair. One of my initial concerns with the movie is that when they tried to do a live-action remake of Snow White with Mirror, Mirror, they had Julia Roberts and still somehow made a terrible movie. One of the things I remember most is the actress' eyebrows that played Snow White: they were overgrown and nearly formed a unibrow. I'd read a review of that movie, saying it was bad, and complaining about those eyebrows. I thought the reviewer was being shallow and judgmental, but it really was terribly distracting.

Another negative to this Cinderella was the transformation of the animals into people for the coach. The lizards and goose still maintained a lot of their original characteristics, and it was just a bit much. They even have one of the lizard footmen eat a fly when he's supposed to be a person. It was to relieve tension during a dramatic moment, but still. It was a bit much.

The dress is a character unto itself, but it got a bit distracting as well. It's gorgeous, yes, but the poor girl could barely move in it. This dress was just a bit too puffy, and you could see it getting caught up in the Prince's legs while they were dancing. The transformation of the dress was Walt Disney's favorite piece of animation, and I can see why. This transformation is the cheesiest part of the film, as she slowly twirls and cranes her neck with her eyes closed. The original animated transformation is much more downplayed, with Cinderella being surprised at the result.
Here's the Disney animated transformation, for comparison:

The hair, makeup and costumes for this film were astounding, and I hope they get nominated for Oscars because they truly deserve it.

The entire film was just delightful, and it's one I can see myself watching again. The emphasis on goodness and kindness is such a wonderful message, with some modern notes dotted in on standing up for yourself and being brave.

Have you seen these new releases yet? What did you think? Sound off in the comments!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Bad Hair Day, Ripley's Aquarium, Indoor Zoo: A Month in Review

I know, y'all. I'm sorry. I totally disappeared for a month! This post will, of course, have your Disney fix and a few bonus reviews as well.  Here's what I've been up to:

Bad Hair Day
 I know the new Disney Channel Original Movie Bad Hair Day premiered in February and I'm way late, so I'll only do a mini-review.
The characters were nicely crafted, shucking stereotypes. I can't tell you how refreshing it was to have a main female character be super smart and enjoy dabbling in beauty products and trends without some drastic makeover montage. Bad Hair Day's protagonist is a tech wiz and a girly girl, and that's awesome. Multi-facted personalities are a fact of life, and stereotypes in television and movies perpetuate that.
Of course the plot line is a little far fetched, from jewel-heists to kidnappings, but like most Disney stories it's told with a lot of heart. Sincerity goes a long way in making up for predictable twists, and Disney nails it. Bad Hair Day was enjoyable to watch, with deep characters, funny quips and a heartwarming ending.

After nearly two years apart, my favorite (and only) sister and I were reunited last week. It was so much fun, I can't even begin to describe it. My son, A, totally fell in love with her all over again. He was glued to her side the whole time she was here, even climbing in to bed with her one night. We always have fun together, whether we're hanging out at home or adventuring out and about. Here's a review of some of the adventuring we did.

Since moving to Tennessee, we live in the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our proximity to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg allows us many day trips to experience things that people travel from all over to see and do.  While my best sis was visiting, we hit a few local attractions and ate many delicious foods (here's looking at you, Krispy Kreme, O'Charley's and Olive Garden!).

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies
As a huge animal lover, I'm a bit obsessed with aquariums. I love seeing how magical these creatures look, and I'd heard great things about this aquarium. We were worried about the amount of time we'd have, since J had to work and we wouldn't get there until 5, and they close at 9 in the spring. We ended up having more than enough time, spending just over two hours there. Admission is pricey, which is why we've been waiting for a special occasion to go; with $25 for adults with kids admittance varying from $5 and up, you want to make sure you're there long enough to get your money's worth.

By far, the best part was the shark tunnel. Stretching and turning, the tunnel has a moving sidewalk that goes on for quite a while, affording you every angle of view you could want of many different kinds of sharks. There was also a spooky sign explaining the scratches on the tunnel were from a shark attack in 2011. The only negative is that they play suspenseful music the whole time, perpetuating the bad stereotype sharks have. I know, I'm crazy. But many shark species are becoming endangered because people kill them out of fear. End of rant.
You're allowed to take photos, and the sharks are so accustomed to people and noise they just keep swimming (5 points if you got the Finding Nemo reference!). I thought our photos came out great, but later realized they're a bit grainy and sometimes unfocused. The tunnel is very dim, I'm sure for the comfort of the sharks, and I only took my iPhone to take photos with. (Apple has ruined me; I hardly ever take anything other than my iPhone 5 for photos!).

There are a lot of exploratory areas and knowledgable staff. There's even an indoor waterfall! My 2 year old had the best time, looking at fish and penguins, and trying to catch the wave pattern on the floor made by overhead lights. We were able to catch two shows, the fish feeding dive show and the sting ray dive show. Both were great, with the divers interacting with the fish and the audience. I was surprised at how toddler friendly it is. Many windows are at toddler height, so he could see the fish really well. There are also a lot of tunnels and areas that are small, and clearly just for kids. He had a great time.

Disney has spoiled me a bit when it comes to attractions like these: I go in expecting a Disney-like experience, where every part of every attraction is both informative and entertaining. When I leave Disney, I always feel…fulfilled. I've never been disappointed at Disney. I found, after all the excitement leading up to the aquarium (TripAdvisor does list it as the #1 aquarium in the US), that I felt a little let down after, as if it were a little anti-climactic. There isn't anything that I can say was disappointing, except for the lack of marine mammals (I'm used to seeing dolphins, thanks to the Indianapolis Zoo. I'm a dolphin nut). We had a great time, and I loved getting to experience it. It isn't something I can see us doing frequently, especially since it isn't an all day experience. But we still had a blast, and there is a lot to see.

My feelings might also be tempered by the giant freaking crabs. I'm terrified of crabs, and the ones here were so large at first I thought there were fake. It's…excessive.

We planned on going to WonderWorks, the upside-down building with a hands-on museum/interactive experience. Unfortunately we didn't have enough time, and had to settle for plan B: a poorly researched decision that may have scarred us for life. Of course, I could be being melodramatic (just a little). I'd recently seen mention of a little indoor zoo in Pigeon Forge, and since we had a rainy day with only an hour or two to fill, we decided to give it a try. A horrible decision.

We pulled up to Rain Forest Adventures Indoor Zoo to find a near empty parking lot (not a good sign, as WonderWorks had been packed and traffic in Pigeon Forge was sluggish). When we opened the door, we were hit in the face with an intense stench. We hadn't thought of the smelliness of an indoor zoo. You enter into the gift shop, where you pay $12 a person. A loved the monkeys, and they were great. They're the first exhibit you come across, and they're happily playing and swinging and chomping on fruit. What follows are quite a few reptiles (snakes! lots of snakes!), amphibians, insects (spiders…blech), and birds. The birds are very, very loud. Oh, and rats. There are rats. When A walked up to a drinking fountain, I glanced up to see a very large insect not in a cage. I pulled him away and realized it was a 3-inch long cockroach, just hanging out on the wall. No thank you! We moved on, and found several more roaches scurrying about. One lizard, which had been sleeping, awoke and started hanging out near the front glass of his enclosure. We moved closer to see until we realized he was trying to get to the roach hanging out on our side of the glass.

There was also an outdoor petting zoo area with goats, llamas, chicken, and sheep. The goats were cute, and the sheep were very baaa-y and trying to eat the sign on our side of their fence. The chickens were just hanging out, in the open, no fences or enclosures, and at eye-level of my 5'10" sister. We didn't see them at first (I'm quite a bit lower, so I had to look up). There's nothing quite like turning your head and being face to face with a chicken. I was excited about the llamas, because A loves, loves, loves Llama Llama Red Pajama and the Llama Llama series. However, the llamas were terrifying. We were seriously concerned for our safety just walking by. They weren't necessarily aggressive, but this one giant black one was pressed up against the fence and glaring at us the entire time we were outside.

Overall, the whole experience left us sneaking out to avoid small talk and using hand sanitizer the moment we were out the door. It gave us a good laugh, and will always be the scary zoo to create funny stories, but I wouldn't recommend anyone go there. Except maybe my enemies (but I don't really have any, so I guess I won't be recommending it at all).

What else have we been up to? Well, I decided to take advantage of Netflix's free trial to try and watch all 7 seasons of Boy Meets World. I'm so enamored with Girl Meets World I wanted to refresh my memory and get all the inside jokes and references to the original series. I don't know if I'll make it, since I'm 1/3 into season 3 and my trial is halfway over, but that's my goal.

I'm sorry for the absence and I'll try and do better, but spring has FINALLY come to East Tennessee and boy, have I been loving it. Now it's time to get on Spring Cleaning and tackle that yard work we put off last fall.

Has Spring come to your area yet?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Valentine's Day the Disney Way

It's Valentine's week, as I'm sure you know. Everything is pink and red with little hearts and cupids, constantly reminding us that Valentine's is almost here.

Valentine's Day can be a divisive holiday. Most either love it or hate it. I used to love it, but I'm a romantic. Now I'm still on the pro side, but not in the extreme way some are. Growing up, my dad always got my sister and I a single rose for Valentine's Day. Even if we weren't in a romantic relationship, we still felt loved. That single, sweet action taught me more about what Valentine's Day should be about, and provided an armor against the onslaught of candy, card and flower companies that, let's face it, are just trying to profit off of the holiday.

So what is it I think Valentine's Day should be about, and when I am going to bring up Disney? Valentine's Day should be about taking a day to be grateful for the love you have in your life. Whether that's romantic love, or familial love, or even just how much you love your pet, isn't nearly as important as just taking a moment to think about the different types of love present in your day to day existence. That's why I tell all my loved ones, not just my husband, how much they mean to me on Valentine's Day. I also think it's silly to pay more for flowers and chocolates the first two weeks of February, and often celebrate Valentine's Day on the 15th…by shopping the clearance aisle.

Not everyone can, or wants to, go out on Valentine's Day. Maybe it's a financial thing, or a babysitter thing, or a we-don't-like-crowds thing. After spending two hours waiting for a table on Valentine's Day several years ago, my husband and I decided we didn't want to fight the crowds and barely hear each other over the din in the restaurant year after year. Instead, we decided to start our own tradition of a special dinner at home. So the next year, we bought steaks, and made asparagus, mashed potatoes and homemade rolls as sides. We spend the evening cooking together in the kitchen, ate a delicious meal together while drinking a great wine, watched a movie and enjoyed being loved. It's great. Very little fuss, but we get to spend quality time together. Each year since, for about five years, we've made our special steak dinner and forgone the traditional Valentine's Day hoopla. We celebrate how much we love each other by simply being together.

Where does Disney figure in to this? Well, if you've got kids and are spending Valentine's at home celebrating with them, you need a family friendly movie. Who provides better family friendly entertainment than Disney? Obviously, in my book, Disney is King. There are plenty of romantic movies to choose from. Here are a couple of lists for ideas for movies, depending on whether your focus is familial love or romantic love.

Family love:

101 Dalmatians (coincidentally, releasing TODAY, February 10, 2015 on Blu-Ray!)
The Aristocats
The Lion King
Meet the Robinson's
Lilo and Stitch
Brother Bear

Romantic Love

Sleeping Beauty
Beauty and the Beast
The Little Mermaid
Lady and the Tramp

There are, of course, many more Disney movies that could go on either or both lists. Disney is versatile, and can provide entertainment for parents and kids alike. A quality story is a quality story, after all. Our plan is to (hopefully) rent Big Hero 6, since my shame-faced self still hasn't seen it.

So instead of cringing when you run across all of the holiday hoopla, remember that you can celebrate Valentine's Day any way you wish. Me? I'll be cozied up with my toddler and my hubby with a belly full of steak, delighting in a Disney movie. Not a bad way to spend a holiday, in my opinion.

What are your holiday plans? Will you embrace Valentine's Day as a day to celebrate love in general, or will you be holed up burning through your Netflix instant queue? Whatever your plans, I hope your day is lovely! (Ha! See what I did there?!)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Disney Lullabies

The first night we had our first son home from the hospital, I realized quickly that I knew very few standard lullabies. I relied instead on what I know best: Disney. I still sing him Disney lullabies, and I thought I'd share some of my favorites with videos in their original Disney glory (no, I won't sing to you. I'm sorry, you're great and that's why I won't sing to you. I wouldn't wish my singing on my worst enemy. But my kid likes it, so he gets to hear it.) I've included ones I sing as well as ones I'd like to sing, if only I could learn all the words (here's looking at you, Dumbo).

Cinderella: A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes

Dumbo: Baby Mine

Sleeping Beauty: Once Upon a Dream

The Little Mermaid: Part of Your World (and reprise)

The Lion King: Can You Feel the Love Tonight

Aladdin: A Whole New World

Beauty and the Beast: Belle's adventure song, and Tale as Old as Time

Pocahontas: Just Around the River Bend, Colors of the Wind, If I Never Knew You

Tangled: At Last I See the Light

I'd sing a song from Frozen, but then he'd dance in excitement instead of going to sleep. Since the point of lullabies is to lull the baby to sleep, it's out.

Confession: I'm not always 100% faithful to Disney. Three of my top lullabies aren't from Disney movies. I know, I know. I'm ashamed, but I can't stop. They're catchy and they help A drift off to sleep, so sing them I must.

All Dogs Go to Heaven: Home to My Heart

Anastasia: Once Upon a December

An American Tale: Somewhere Out There

There's one more that I sing that I wrote myself, when I couldn't remember the real words. It goes like this:

Lullaby, and goodnight
Go to sleep little (insert baby's name)
The hour is late
The time is nye
So close your eyes.
Close your eyes, little bear.
Momma loves you so.
Close your eyes, little bear.
I won't let you go.
Lullaby, and goodnight,
Go to sleep little baby.

What songs do you like to sing to get your babies to sleep? I'd love to hear in the comments!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Weaning a toddler from breastfeeding

When I began breastfeeding my son as an infant, I didn't know how long I'd last. We received a lot of misinformation at the hospital; each nurse had something different to say, and it was often contradictory. It wasn't until we saw two lactation consultants that I felt I really had a grasp on how it was supposed to work, and I didn't feel fully confident until I'd read the La Leche League's book, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.

In the book, which was recommended to me by a friend and that I recommend to all my planning-to-nurse friends, the section on weaning mentions baby led weaning. This essentially means that you follow your baby's cues as to when they're ready to stop nursing, and gradually wean from there.

When my son's first birthday came and went and he was still nursing, I figured he'd want to wean in the next six months. When that didn't happen, I planned on weaning him by the time he was two. Each time I'd start the process, we'd have a setback. There would be an illness, or an emotional event, and he would regress back to nursing more instead of less. Now that we're expecting our second baby, my doctor recommended weaning him before June, when his little brother arrives. This seemed like a good idea, as the climbing all over me was wearying and I knew I didn't want to tandem nurse. I also wanted to stop early enough that A, our first baby, wouldn't be jealous of the new baby for getting to nurse when he didn't. Since we'd had a trip planned for March, my doctor recommended weaning him by then: the trip would be a distraction, and he'd forget about mommy's milk.

I began weaning in December, by cutting out all non-sleepy-time nursings. Unless he was going to bed at night, night nursing, or napping, he had to drink cow's milk, water or juice from his sippy cup. We began potty training in January, and I realized weaning and potty training at the same time may be too much change at once for my little man. 

So after his birthday in mid-January, we put potty training on hold and I stopped nursing him at night. This was the easiest step, since we begin the night with him in his own bed but he joins us for co-sleeping when he awakes. When he wakes up and comes into our room, we would snuggle him without nursing and he'd go back to sleep. A week after stopping the night nursing, we cut out morning nursing. He often, though not always, wanted to nurse when he first woke up. Although he let this go easily, he is still asking for morning milk.

Shortly after the morning milk was gone, I cut out nap time nursing. This has been an especially hard transition. The first day, nap time fell on a Saturday when we were out and about, so he took his nap in the car. The next day, he'd had a late night and an early morning, so he just climbed in my bed with me, snuggled under our newly labeled 'nap time blanket', and I snuggled him to sleep. It took over an hour, but it worked. 

Our nap time success rate is about 70% at this point, at the beginning of February. He's still napping in our bed, as it's only been a week and a half since he hasn't gotten to nurse to sleep at nap time. Now we're easing him into napping in his bed by having him lay in his bed first, then moving him to our bed if he doesn't fall asleep.

The hardest transition by far has been cutting out nursing to sleep at night. I know, now, that allowing him to nurse to sleep for as long as we did set a bad precedent. We now this going into baby 2, and will change the way we teach him to sleep. Hindsight and all that. Anyway, the first night we cut out nursing at bed time we were out and about, and he was in PJ's and nighttime diaper, so he fell asleep in the car. The next night was more painful, as we were home. We tried giving him warm cow's milk in a sippy cup, rocking him and singing to him, laying him in his bed, rubbing his back, playing his soother, singing more songs, and all to no avail. He was obviously tired, but just not falling asleep. J had the idea to ease him into bedtime by letting him fall asleep in our bed the first few nights, and then trying to get him to fall asleep in his own bed.

If, like me, you nursed your toddler to sleep for too long and now they don't want to go to sleep without it, here's my recommendation (based on, you know, this one kid and my own experience. This is just what I think. I have no accreditations, this is just mommy advice!)

  • Go slowly to ease them into the transition.
  • Try to not make too many life changes at once (moving, stopping nursing, potty training, arrival of a sibling, etc)
  • Cut out the least-important milk time first, let them get used to that for a week or two, and then cut out the next least-important milk time next, so on and so forth.
  • Explain to your child what you're doing and why you're doing it. I know toddler reasoning skills aren't super great, but I didn't want to give him this big change with no explanation. Each time, I said, "No, we're not doing that anymore. We're going to do this instead. But that's okay- you're a big boy and you can handle it. Mommy still loves you." If he asked for it again, I'd say something about the milk taking a nap, and asked if he could drink from his sippy cup instead.
  • If you use a boppy pillow, put it out of sight. Sometimes he'd want milk when he was bored, and he'd go straight for the pillow. Now he goes to his sippy cup, or just sits with me or pulls me to wherever he wants to go.
  • Have a sleep routine and stick to it. Ours is bath on bath night (every other night), PJ's and night time diaper, teeth brushing, story reading, and bed. Our nap time routine is read a story, get the nap time blanket, snuggle and sleep.
That's where we're at now; he's gone to bed without milk twice, so he hasn't nursed since Friday, January 30. Easing him into it also eased myself into it, so that I've had very little discomfort (except when his little razor sharp elbows inevitably find their way to poke me!). I'm not a cold turkey type person, so I chose the gradual approach. It also helped me emotionally, since stopping nursing is bittersweet. I enjoy the quiet, calm bonding time that it provides. It's also hard to end the nursing relationship, because it's another sign that he's moving into boyhood and further away from baby days. 

What advice do you have for weaning toddlers? How do you get your kiddos to sleep? Was stopping nursing an emotional experience for you?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Disney for all seasons

We're still new to Tennessee, which means each season is a surprise. Winter so far has been a bit of a disappointment. We've only had two snows that actually stuck, and even that only lasted a few hours. We've had a handful of other snowy days with none lingering, the trees are all half-naked and dried leaves are still swirling around. Each day, I can't tell if it's going to feel like winter or early spring. Since the weather can't make up its mind, how am I supposed to make up mine about what Disney movie to watch? 101 Dalmatians is great for snowy days, and Pocahontas fits better on the days that feel more spring-like. Since my indecision has been irritating me, I've compiled a list of each animated Disney feature, sorted by season. I'm beginning with winter, since it's still January and therefore should feel wintry.

The movies selected for winter usually occur during colder, snowier times. They make us want to snuggle under blankets with hot cocoa (extra marshmallows, please!), and wish the scenes outside our windows were as beautiful as those on the screen.

Make Mine Music
101 Dalmatians
The Sword in the Stone
Beauty and the Beast (this falls into fall and winter, as it begins in fall and extends into winter)

Spring movies are much like the season: warmer than winter but softer than summer. They may depict spring-like seasons, or just begin in the spring, or somehow remind us of spring.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Fun and Fancy Free
Melody Time
Alice in Wonderland
Sleeping Beauty
The Aristocats
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
The Rescuers
Fantasia 2000
Brother Bear
Wreck it Ralph

Summer movies are brighter and louder than spring ones. They're adventures into leafy jungles, onto the hot pavement of city streets, or through dusty deserts so well depicted your mouth feels dry just thinking about it.

Saludos Amigos
The Three Caballeros
Peter Pan
Lady and the Tramp
The Jungle Book
Robin Hood
Oliver and Company
The Little Mermaid
The Rescuers Down Under
The Lion King
The Emperor's New Groove
Lilo and Stitch
Home on the Range
Chicken Little
Meet the Robinsons
The Princess and the Frog

Fall movies remind us of apple cider, crisp breezes and long walks in crunchy leaves. It makes you want to curl up with a good book in front of a roaring fire, or bake something yummy.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
The Fox and the Hound
The Black Cauldron
The Great Mouse Detective
Beauty and the Beast
Treasure Planet
Winnie the Pooh (2011)

Confession: I haven't yet seen Big Hero 6 (I KNOW! It's a travesty, it is. It's just… I have a toddler.  I refuse to risk ruining someone else's movie experience, or an entire theatre's movie experience, just to see a movie I want to see. But I'm working on it!). Since I haven't seen it, I can't categorize it. I only included the Disney Animation Studios films, to keep in line with the (re)Discovering Disney project. Maybe I'll embark on a Pixar project in the future, just so I can include those too!

What do you think? Would you move any of these around? Do movies make you think of a certain season too?

Stay warm, friends! Or watch one of the spring/summer movies to get you into the warm spirit (if that's where you want to be. Stick with the winter ones if you like feeling wintry in winter!)

Friday, January 9, 2015

K.C. Undercover pilot review

The newest Disney Channel original series, K.C. Undercover, is currently only available for viewing through the app Watch Disney Channel, and will debut on Disney channel January 18, 2015.

It's no secret that I adore Disney. Still, I was a little hesitant to see Zendaya's newest TV series. Some Disney channel shows are amazing, like Jessie, ANT Farm, Hannah Montana (remember, this is before Miley went, ah, anti-Disney), and Girl Meets World. Then there are shows like Fish Hooks that I just don't see the appeal, and can't sit through more than the few minutes during the ad. K.C. looked promising, but I still had my worries.

I needn't have worried. The pilot was GREAT. Truly entertaining, without being terribly predictable. It's also not merely a re-make of The Famous Jett Jackson that cuts the famous-actor plot. The show centers on teenager K.C. I won't give away any spoilers, but the plot line offered in promotions reveals that she is a teenage spy. It's a fun concept that Disney flawlessly pulls off. It's also well-written, beautifully executed and left me looking forward to the rest of the season. Here's why.

Zendaya's character, K.C., is her own girl. She's super smart, yet also stylish, but also gets tongue tied around the male half of the species. The well-written, fully rounded characters don't end with her. The side characters are also thoroughly developed. Her best friend, though a little stereotypical, is far from the archetype that often plagues shows with teenaged main characters.

What I'm most excited about are K.C.'s parents. I know, right: you know you're old when the parents on the TV show are what grab your interest. But there's been a long series of dud-dads and bimbo-moms with overly-teasing, borderline hurtful relationships. K.C.'s parents are not only intelligent and treat each other respectfully, but also show a loving partnership with joint-decision making and mostly responsible parenting. It's nice to see parents presented positively. They aren't perfect, but who is? As well as having positive parents, K.C. provides inside jokes from the grown-up spy realm for any parents watching from home.

With the exception of the whole spy plot line, the show is incredibly realistic. Girls can be mean. Friends can be pushy. Parents can be confusing. Boys can be manipulative. It's a great way to show how to adapt and overcome adversity in regular life, as we see more struggles with non-spies than spy work.

 Diversity is often either neglected, or overly emphasized. When shows do add multi-cultural, or even multiple races, to a program, it tends to be as a focal point instead of as a, "hey, we live in a melting pot, maybe we should represent that," type of way. K.C. does a decent job of including multiple races without having great neon signs pointing that say, "Hey! Look at us! We're including characters of multiple hues!" What's especially refreshing is the lack of stereotypes within those hues. Many shows focus on what I call the Kanye or Urkel effect: any character of color is either super cool or super dorky, with very little balance to achieve an actual, realistic personality. K.C. avoids the Kanye or Urkel problem by avoiding 2D characters in general, and instead creates 3D, believable and relatable characters. It also promotes owning who you are, and being honest about your flaws instead of ashamed of them.

Avoiding stereotypes of teenagers and parents is crucial to a show made for teens. What they see on screen and in life is often similar; life may be less over-the-top, but the relationships they see on TV affect how they're going to treat people. This doesn't even just apply to the under-18 set. We all allow what we see to influence how we act. That's how TV catchphrases stay relevant to our language, even once the TV show is no longer on the air (for example, just from How I Met Your Mother: Legendary, Challenge Accepted, Bro Code, etc).

I was truly delighted with K.C. Undercover. The originality of the plot, thoroughly developed characters and witty dialogue make for an enjoyable show for all ages.