Friday, February 29, 2008

February in Florida--Part 4, Animal Kingdom

Disney's Animal Kingdom has been open for 10 years now, but this was our first visit. Previously, we have stuck with the Magic Kingdom and Disney-MGM Studios, because of Chris' preference for theater and movies over animals. However, both Kieran and Nicholas enjoy animals (especially Nicholas), and we thought it would be nice to explore a new park.

I loved the Animal Kingdom--it's a perfect example of Disney's "imagineering," full of incredible detail and realistic touches. Plus it has what the guidebooks say are the best two live shows in all of the Disney parks: "The Festival of the Lion King" and "Finding Nemo: Live." Since we are a family that loves shows, we thought it would be worth a look.

Unfortunately, we did not take the weather forecast seriously enough, and we set out in shorts and sweaters or light jackets...but it was in the 40s until noon! Needless to say, we were FREEZING! Mike had to go buy a sweatshirt as soon as the shops opened, and we opted for the inside activities in the morning because we were so cold. That decision nearly cost us the opportunity to go on one of the best rides, the Kilimanjaro Safari.

To get out of the cold, we began the morning with the spectacular Lion King show, full of acrobatics, wonderful costumes, music, and audience participation.

After the Animal Kingdom show, the kids waited in a short line to get autographs from and photos with Lilo & Stitch. Nicholas wasn't too sure about them. This is the photo BEFORE he burst into tears.

This was the best ride--it's called Expedition Everest and is a thrilling roller coaster with jerky twists and turns as well as one part (photo below) where the tracks appear to be broken, and you are swung violently backward. Chris went on it twice, once with me and once with Mike.

This was my favorite, and Mike's least-favorite, ride, the Kali River Rapids. Chris and I went on this three times in a row because of the short line. Mike went once and got completely soaked...just by the bad luck of where he was sitting in the raft. What impressed me most about this ride was the preride environment...the waiting area snakes through a Buddhist temple and it looks like Nepal.

This is a photo from the Finding Nemo show, which was done with puppets and live actors. Very well done.

This was one of Chris' favorites, the very intense Dinosaur ride. The Disney cast member who ushered us through the line told us that Disney and McDonalds (the sponsor) spent some ungodly amount of money on this ride and the sister ride in Disneyland, Indiana Jones...something along the tunes of $24 million. Each car was specially built and cost $2 million to create.

Kieran enjoyed meeting Goofy and Pluto in his new Pluto hat!

Here Mike and Nicholas are waiting for the Triceratops Spin in Dinoland:

We almost missed our opportunity to go on the Kilimanjaro Safari--because by the time we got there, the sign said it was a 90-minute wait. Fortunately, during the parade the line was shorter, and I'm so glad we were able to fit it in. The safari showcased Disney's innovation and creativity, and it was a great opportunity to see the animals in the "wild." Here are a few photos from the safari:

Crocodiles lazing in the sun

Some kind of African cattle...?

The backside of an elephant!

Chris took this photo in "Asia"

This is my all-time favorite photo of my three beautiful boys!

The intricate Tree of Life, which is in the center of the park
and akin to the Magic Kingdom's castle

At the end of the day, right before leaving the park

All in all, it felt like we didn't have long enough time in the Animal Kingdom. Because it was February, all of the parks close early at this time of year, and it was open only from 9 to 5.

I look forward to returning someday--it was a beautiful theme park!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Violence and Sexism In Hollywood: What's a Progressive Pacificist Woman to Watch?

Violence abounds...

Our whole family watched the Oscars Sunday night, as we usually do, even though we hadn't seen most of the movies nominated. What a depressing group of nominated films! For someone who does not enjoy watching violent movies, I'm disappointed with many of the top nominees.

Years ago after one of my miscarriages and a bout of depression, we rented some forgettable movie about hit men, having read good reviews of it. We watched the first 5 minutes before turning it off. I walked out of a showing on "Tommy" when I was in college because of the scene when Tommy's mom (or babysitter--can't remember?) uses a hot iron on him for punishment.

So is it just me, or is anyone else less than enchanted by the titles and content of this year's top Oscar contenders? I have read rave reviews of many of these movies, but the plots are not exciting me or drawing me to the movies. I want to see "Michael Clayton," "Juno," and "Atonement," and many other movies that did not make the best picture list...such as "Into the Wild," "In the Valley of Elah," "Charlie Wilson's War," "Away from Her," "Persepolis," "I'm Not There," "The Savages," and so on...but I am not drawn to "No Country for Old Men" or "There Will Be Blood." Even though I love Johnny Depp and Viggo Mortensen (from Lord of the Rings days), I don't know if I could sit through "Sweeney Todd" or "Eastern Promises." My time is too valuable to sit through brutal violence. I have appreciated much of what the Coen brothers have produced in the past, but I just don't think I can stomach the violence. Why have some of our most highly acclaimed and lauded films this year had to be so violent?

Then we come to the sexism and misogyny...

Don't even get me started on the lack of meaningful roles for women in the cinema, or the fact that every single director who has ever won Best Director has been a man. Did anyone notice the progression of white male faces in the slide shows of previous best directors? Ang Lee was the lone exception. I live in hope that one day the movies will start reflecting women's lives in a more realistic way. Here's an article listing some of the most misogynistic movies in the past decade...

Until Hollywood catches up with real women's lives, we are stuck with the virgin or the whore: paper caricatures of weak, spineless women, or evil career women on the other side.

On a positive note, I did see a delightful independent film this week on my sickbed (yes, I'm still sick with the flu!) is called "Quinceanara," and it's about the Mexican-American rite of passage for 15-year-old girls. The movie was delightful...showing a positive depiction of a young Mexican-American girl who was a strong character despite living in a heavily patriarchal culture.

Another movie I enjoyed this year that pokes fun of the princess culture and fairy tale idea that a woman will get married and live happily ever after over having a career is, surprisingly, "Enchanted." I enjoyed that movie and would happily see it again. Yes, there was an evil stepmother, but she was played by the wonderful Susan Sarandon, with bite!

Miracle Baby in India

Stories about premature babies always capture my immediate attention, and this story tops many of them. A pregnant woman gave birth prematurely to a baby girl in a train toilet this week, and the baby fell through the toilet and onto the tracks (Indian train toilets are open to the ground). The woman then passed out and since it was the middle of the night, she was not discovered by her brother-in-law until two stations later. Covered in blood, she figured out what had happened and her family pulled the cord to stop the train and alert the railway authorities.

The baby was discovered lying on the train tracks, two hours after birth. Weighing a little over 3 pounds and born 8 weeks prematurely, she survived being dropped from a moving train and lying on the tracks for 2 hours in the cold. She is now in a NICU in Rajastan.

It's amazing to consider what a premature baby can survive. Given the importance of early bonding on brain and organ development, not to mention psychological adaptivity and success, these babies fight overwhelming odds. To think that Chris was not held or cuddled until he was 6 weeks old, yet now is an extremely affectionate child, is amazing. Those last 4 months in the womb are critical for so many reasons, not all of them physical. I must remember to remind myself of that any time I grow frustrated with my young preteen.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

February in Florida, Part 3--The Guilty Pleasure of Disney (Magic Kingdom)

After talking a few blog posts back about how we are "principle shoppers," it might seem odd for this feminist mom to talk about how much she enjoys the Disney experience. I do claim it as a guilty pleasure, because there is also so much about Disney that I abhor: the gender stereotypes, the excessive commercialization of the "Princess" culture, and the fact that either one or both of the parents die in practically every Disney movie, to name just a few. I hate the fact that toy store aisles are either pink or primary colors, and that we have to choose between princesses or sports on many clothing items. What are we teaching our children, for God's sake?

However, there is much about Disney to admire as well: the pure fun of it all, the ability to hang out and have a blast together as a family, the positive principles conveyed in Disneyana, and the magic of the whole experience. For every Disney movie or character I dislike, I can find others I enjoy. My personal faves are Lilo & Stitch and Mulan for their strong female roles (and great music). Kieran loves Peter Pan and all the princess stories. Chris has enjoyed all the recent Pirates of the Caribbean movies (as have I, Johnny Depp fan that I am!). And everyone loves Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and Winnie the Pooh (although there is a huge dearth of female roles!!). So there you have it...just like the Catholic church, much to abhor and much to admire. (You might be asking what I admire about the Catholic church, and here are three things: the commitment to peace and justice, the nuns, and laypeople who truly believe in living good lives.) (I won't even begin to list all the things I abhor!!) :)

Here is a photo montage of our day at the Magic Kingdom--all too short and enjoyed by all (in spite of a mid-afternoon drenching downpour in which we got totally, utterly soaked!!).

Chris went on Space Mountain THREE TIMES!

Shortly after arriving in the park

Nicholas' first time on "Dumbo"

This is another thing I love about Disney--
It's a great age leveler--
Chris & Kieran have a wonderful time together!

Kieran's favorite--Peter Pan and Wendy!

Posing with the villains!

Chris got chosen to participate in an impromptu pirate skit--
with a dead ringer for Jack Sparrow and his sidekick!

Pretty convincing, eh?

Posing with Mickey

In Minnie's house

Hamming it up in Tomorrowland with Pleakley

Right before leaving in the evening

This was Nicholas' favorite part of the Magic Kingdom, by far--
he absolutely LOVED the fireworks. They were spectacular.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

February in Florida, Part 2--Sea World

Back to our Florida travelogue. On Monday we went to SeaWorld with Mike's mum. We have always loved Orlando's SeaWorld, because it's a beautifully landscaped park, it has some great animal shows, and they give you your second day free!

They also have a great water slide ride called "Journey to Atlantis." The best part about going to Florida in February was that we didn't have to wait for this ride! I could have gone on it over and over again, but I had to make do with about five times that week. One of us needed to stay with the kids (who delighted in watching the ride, and Kieran in standing in the "splash zone" and getting wet), so we had to take turns. Chris didn't quite get his courage up to go on it on Monday, and by the time we returned on Friday, he had the beginnings of what would turn out to be the 2-week family virus season...and he did not feel up to going on rides. Anyway, I LOVED Journey to Atlantis--I could go on water rides all day long.

Journey to Atlantis

This is from the whale and dolphin show, which was simply amazing...and Nicholas' favorite.
He began saying "dolphin" after seeing this show.

Going on a ride in "Shamu's Happy Harbor," which Mike avoided because
it involved lots of spinning around!

Going on the beautiful fish-themed carousel

Kieran on the carousel, which he rode three times!

Posing for a photo with Shamu on our second day there

Getting ready to watch a show

Nicholas is the biggest animal lover in the family, and he loved Sea World! There was more for him there than the Disney parks, which appealed more to the older kids.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Has the Women's Movement Made Life Easier for Another Man?

No, I still haven't made my mind up about the Oregon primary in May. I continue to be a Hillary Clinton supporter, based on her solid experience, maturity, strong leadership skills, and intelligence. However, overruling any support for an individual candidate is my strong desire to have a Democrat in the Oval I will vote for the person who has the best chance at beating John McCain. At this point, it looks like that might be Obama.

It would pain me to vote against Hillary Clinton, because I truly believe that she has had a bum rap and would be an excellent president. She is a classic example of the "Dress for Success" era, when women needed to be more like men to be successful. Now she is suffering for that approach and the persona she had to cultivate to get where she is now.

Ellen Goodman wisely explains Hillary's conundrum and makes the interesting point that Obama has been more successful precisely because he has approached the campaign and the populace with more of a traditionally "female" approach.

As a personality type and as a leader myself, I'm more like Obama than Clinton. I tend to be the rose-colored glasses, cheerleader type...with lots of ideas, but not always fully developed ones. I have a lot of positive energy, but sometimes lack the follow-through and detail-oriented perspective needed to accomplish great things. I like the fact that Obama has been consistent about sticking to his principles (on the war, for example), and I like the fact that he's inspirational, motivational, and committed to giving tired Americans hope for a better life and a better country.

However, I generally vote based on the issues and candidates' experience (unlike the rest of the country, it seems...judging from Reagan and both Bushes!). Clinton is much better prepared to start as president on Day 1. She has far more depth in her programs and plans to solve the country's problems.

Alas, she is a product of women's battle against sexism in our society. She tried to keep her own name when she got married. Slam! She had to present herself as tough and aggressive to be taken seriously as a lawyer. Slam! She was the first First Lady who had a robust professional career and declared herself committed to women's and children's rights. Slam! She said she wouldn't stand by her man and stay home and bake cookies. Slam! She tried to work side by side with her husband in a partnership on issues that matter. Slam! She ended up standing by her man when he betrayed her because she loved him. Slam! Yes, unfortunately she voted for the war (as did practically everyone in Congress) because to not do so, she would have been considered weak. Slam! She is a professional, intelligent, and strong woman and comes across that way in debates and appearances. Slam!

In the business world, I've often seen women leaders fall into the same trap and be judged harshly for the same reasons as Hillary Clinton, but it's extremely difficult to avoid if the woman was trying to climb the corporate ladder in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and even now. Men who adopt collaborative leadership styles are much more likely to be rewarded with kudos, promotions, and admiration than women with the same approaches; conversely, women with hard-driving leadership styles are judged much more harshly than men. I feel very sorry for Clinton, because I think she's screwed and there's nothing she can do about it. If she had more of a motivational, feel-good style, she wouldn't have a hope in hell against war hero John McCain because she'd be targeted as "soft." Obama just might be able to beat him. (ALTHOUGH THAT SPOILER RALPH NADER IS NOT GOING TO HELP ANYTHING!!)

I find this whole thing very, very depressing, but I completely agree with Goodman. The first president to adopt more of a female, collaborative style (excluding Jimmy Carter, who didn't have Obama's charisma and oratory skills) probably will be a man. Certainly, worse things could happen. Like four more years of Republicans in the White House.

I saw a wonderful suggestion in the letters to the editor in the Oregonian yesterday. If Obama wins, he needs to tap John Edwards as his VP and Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State. Unlikely, but that team would be very difficult to beat!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Remembering Young Lawrence King

This feels strange to blog about during the shallow-in-comparison posts of our trip to Florida, but I can't help but write about it.

Today when I read my New York Times online as I do daily, I read the news about the 15-year-old student who was killed on February 12 in Oxnard, California. Lawrence King had recently identified himself in school as gay and had begun wearing makeup, nail polish, and high heels to school. A 14-year-old classmate, Brandon McInerny, walked into his science class and shot him in the head.

We saw and read just a bit of news while we were in Florida (mostly via USA Today), so perhaps that's why we missed it. The news might have been overshadowed by the college shooting a few days later, but I still marvel at the lack of press coverage I have seen.

This was not Matthew Shepard country--this was close to Malibu, California, in a liberal community. Two days later, McInerny was charged with premeditated murder, firearm use, and a hate crime.

It's been 10 years since Matthew Shepard was killed in 1998. The Wyoming House of Representatives has not yet been able to pass hate crimes legislation, and although there is a federal hate crimes bill in the U.S. Congress, it still has not passed. However, legislation will punish these crimes, but not necessarily prevent them from occurring in the first place.

According to this article in The Santa Barbara Independent about the importance of teaching tolerance and acceptance in the schools, 97 percent of all youth report hearing anti-gay remarks in public schools. I was chagrined to read in a recent book, which I loved in every other way (Eat, Pray, Love) the otherwise very progressive author and an Indonesian friend speak in ghetto slang with each other, hurling various insults about each others' mothers, and also calling each other "homo" in the same way others might use the word "ho" (which I also abhor). How much does the easy acceptance of these insults in our schools contribute to the climate of hate that leads to these types of assaults and killings? Children often learn hate from their parents, so I also question what this young man learned at home.

The good news about this tragedy is that the Oxnard community came together united to protest this tragic death and to call for an environment of acceptance and support. Since his murder, there have been 30 candlelight vigils around the country in his honor. It just seems that I should have heard about this before now, 11 days after the fact. It troubles me deeply that I'm not hearing more people or press outlets talk about it.

February in Florida--Part 1, The Big Surprise!

Those of you who read my previous post will recall that we planned to surprise the kids with our Florida plans. I was amazed that we were able to keep it a secret for so long, since by necessity and personal nature we had shared our plans with many people. Not one person spilled the beans!

Saturday we asked my parents to take the kids out to dinner so we could pack. Before then I had been gradually piling up summer clothing and other items to pack in containers in our bedroom (and even in the living room!). I joked to Mike that it's proof that our children are used to living in chaos, since they didn't notice a thing (or just that they are not particularly observant!). Even when they walked in the door with the suitcases open and full in the living room, Chris and Kieran didn't seem to notice anything at first. We sat them down and asked them if they noticed anything different. No! We suggested they look around. Aha! The open suitcases!?

Chris' first comment upon being informed he was going to Florida? "Well, this is really unexpected!" That came before the scream of joy. It was very cute (and caught on videotape). He and Kieran proceeded to dance around the room, followed by Nicholas, who had no clue what was going on but he thought it looked like fun!
Chris expressed some concern that he would not be around to help his team in the next round of "Battle of the Books" (a reading competition he participates in at school) and wrote an e-mail to his teacher, asking her to apologize to the rest of his team. (Unfortunately, his team lost the next round while we were gone!)

Next came the big task of managing expectations, as we always need to do when we do Disney. Orlando in particular has so much to do, and so many ways to spend money, and we had already planned our activities to match our wide range in ages and interests: 2 days in Disney parks, and 2 days at SeaWorld (mostly because we could get in the second day for free). No Universal Studios, no water parks, no extra adventures...part of how we have managed to do Disney frequently is to do it on a more moderate level and not spend 5 to 7 days at the theme parks...which is just not practical with small children (much less affordable!).

We flew the red eye on Saturday night, and we had bought a seat for Nicholas for the first time, thinking it would be worth the extra cost. Unfortunately, Nicholas and I were seated at the back of the plane, and two people fainted on the flight. The flight attendants burst into activity at the back of the plane, administering oxygen and medical care, and it was all very noisy...of course he woke up and I ended up holding him most of the flight. We should know better by now about taking red eyes, because I'm virtually incapable of sleeping on airplanes, even when I'm not holding a baby. But sometimes that is the cheapest way to go, an important consideration when buying five tickets.

After arriving Sunday morning in Orlando, we drove to our condo, which was a delightful 6th floor unit looking over Lake Bryan. It's the second time I've had great success booking through The condo was called the Blue Heron Beach Resort. It was a one-bedroom, two-bath unit, with bunk beds for the boys in the hallway and a full kitchen and laundry facilities. For $107/night (not including taxes), it was bigger and a much better value than a hotel! It allowed us to save some money on food, because we ate breakfast and a few dinners in every day.

Here are some photos from our balcony:

Being the off season, this pool wasn't heated--but there was a delightful smaller pool around the corner of the building that was just the right temperature and depth for our family. Chris tried the cold pool a couple of times, but the rest of us preferred the heated pool. I'm just too old for cold water nowadays!! :)

Every time I looked at the lake, I kept thinking of alligators! I told Kieran that Florida has gators in most of its lakes, but Mike's aunty Nancy corrected me to say that they have gators in ALL of their lakes, much to Kieran's dismay! He was very concerned that I would let Nicholas swim in a lake and that he would get eaten by an alligator.
Has he no faith at all in my parenting skills?

Mike's mum (who had arrived a few days before) and his aunt Nancy suggested we meet them for brunch at a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. We don't have Cracker Barrels in the Northwest, so neither of us had ever been there before. We enjoyed our brunch and appreciated the large portions and reasonable prices. The front part of the restaurant is the "Old Country Store" part, and that offered diversions for jet-lagged and wired Nicholas and Kieran while we were waiting for our food. Mike tried grits for the first time and liked them! (No thanks for me...they look like cream of wheat, which is not one of my faves.)

I had vaguely heard of Cracker Barrel, mostly through news stories about racial discrimination suits. I noticed the prominently placed sign in the lobby about serving everyone regardless of race, etc. Mike did not recall reading these stories, which is odd because he reads the news far more thoroughly than I do.

On our long car trip to Tallahassee later in the week, I did some research on my BlackBerry about Cracker Barrel, and discovered some highly disturbing information about the business! For example, from 1991 to 2002, they had a specific policy requiring employees to display "normal heterosexual values"! Although that policy was overturned in 2002, the company continues to score very low on gay rights issues. In addition, the company has been accused on several occasions of discrimination on the basis of race. (Searches on the internet will yield lots of examples about this--with testimonies from both staff and customers.) Furthermore, they donated to Tom Delay's PAC. Read all about it at or by doing a Google search.

Issues shoppers that we are (refusing to enter a Wal-Mart or Domino's Pizza for example), we will not be returning to Cracker Barrel, even if they do decide to open one in a Northwest blue state! The kids did love the trademark rocking chairs in front of the store, though!

Mike took the kids swimming on that first day (while Nicholas and I took a SECOND nap!), but that was about all we accomplished. We had an early night to try to catch up on our sleep and prepare for the first theme park the next day: SeaWorld!