Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Santa Spoilers

In case you have some true believers still around when you read this - beware! As a character on one of my all time favorite shows is fond of saying, Spoilers!

From article, Santa Spotted by NORAD
So, it was my younger sister who told me that Santa Claus might not be as real as I would like. I'd had inklings of course, I'm not that daft, but I didn't really want to not believe. I loved the magic of Santa and leaving out cookies and milk with sugar for the reindeer. Writing him a note to leave on the table, hoping he and the reindeer were having a good night. There was nothing quite like getting back to my house on Christmas Eve from my grandmother's and rushing off to bed because the next day was going to be the best day of the year. A little magic is lost when I realized that the presents had been moved from my grandmother's during the Christmas Eve festivities, that your dad was the one who ate the cookies and that your mom was the one who left the note, written with her left hand so we wouldn't recognize the writing. 

But, on some level, I made a deal with my eight year old self. OK, so there wasn't a physical being called Santa who came down my chimney but the idea of Santa and everything he stands for? I'll believe in that until the day I die. Because, well, I don't want to live in a world without a Santa Claus, without that possibility of magic and kindness and miracles. In fact, I think the world could all use more believers in things like that. This was long before I read Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus but obviously that is an editorial after my own heart. In fact, I consider it required reading about this time of year.

So, that little piece of my heart that is eight years old forever still gets excited for Christmas Eve and that moment when I get to go to bed. I know Mom and Dad are out in the family room putting out the gifts but I still love going down the hall and seeing it on Christmas morning, the mountains of gifts radiating from the tree and the overflowing stockings sitting in the easy chair because they are too heavy to hang back up. Even now, there is no room more magical than the family room all lit up on Christmas morning with snow out the window. The snow though is becoming more rare (curse you global warming!). 

But one of the best parts of the season is that we still have little ones in the family who truly believe. For years, I was Santa for my cousin. I'd call to get the inside scoop on his school and friends and things he'd done that year and then write up a letter from Santa to send to him. I loved coming up with the picture of the North Pole for him. I usually re-read some of them about this time of year too. It was fun to think up why elves would be putting together an iPod or where a sports jersey might come from if Santa needed one. Today's kids are smart - you have to stay ahead of them!

While my cousin has long outgrown those letters, I still get to hear from my other little second cousins about their excitement, about all the things they found on Christmas morning (paw prints in the yard! half eaten carrots!) and to share for a little while in that absolute certainty that of course Santa exists, how could he not?  

As I head home for the holidays, I wish all of you and your families the very best and magical moments the season has to offer. Happy Christmas Everyone!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Acquainted with the Night

From Goodreads
So I have a small confession to make. I actually do like vampire lit. Well, I should clarify. I like GOOD vampire lit. The kind that hasn't forgotten vampires are supposed to be rather nasty at times, not go out in daylight, and have some pretty awesome mythology in general. Sadly, it has been awhile since I found a good vampire read. The one I finished this weekend had potential and then, well, turned out to be kind of lame.

I first watched the original Dracula one Halloween season when TCM or AMC, one of the classic movie channels, did a Monster Marathon. The original Dracula movie is so awesome - extremely dated but awesome. I first read Bram Stroker's Dracula when I took a Ghosts and Goths class while I was in England and adored it. It's not scandalous by any stretch of the imagination these days but there is something fascinating about seeing a myth at its origins. You sit there and think "what a cliche" and then remember it's cliche because of the novel you are reading. I am nerd - I adore that!

So, I stumbled into vampire lit from Dracula. Anne Rice was of course the first stop and her books inherit the tradition of vampire lore while updating and morphing the myth into something new and interesting. I'm not a big fan of first person books in general (I am nosy, I prefer to have a narrator that can tell me a lot more info or a book that gives me a lot of different narrators) so The Vampire Chronicles are fun but not favorites. I loved Maggie Shayne's series of stories following a growing family of vampires. I liked how Shayne expanded the myth in all different directions, including creating an evil government agency that is hunting them. Somehow things are just better when there is an evil government agency to root against. I've read other one offs and updates but most don't stand out. 

I had high hopes of the book I finished over the weekend, Acquainted with the Night. It sounded like someone took The Da Vinci Code and added vampires which is a cool idea but the execution lacked here. For one thing, the characters were very flat. Only a few characters receive a decent backstory to explain their current actions and those are even kind of weak. It's a very black and white book - people are clearly either good or evil - which doesn't really work for the story which is flirting with the fact that not all vampires are pure evil, that like any species, there are good and bad eggs. Mainly, it was a book that couldn't sell the grey area it was trying to work within. The pace of the story was good; it certainly moves quickly from place to place but the "puzzle" solving piece of it was lackluster and I would have liked more puzzles, more mystery. Maybe then I wouldn't have noticed the flaws in the main characters so much.

Because, well, the heroine and hero are just sort of...blah. The heroine is whiny and really rather dumb. One of those heroines you spend the entire book yelling at. Don't do that! Don't go that way! Are you an idiot - DON'T TELL HIM THAT! It gets really old after awhile. And a bit exhausting. You wonder how a heroine who is supposed to be smart can be that consistently dumb and still make it alive to the end of the novel. Her hero is a bit better - at least he was supposed to be smart and consistently acted like it. He was prejudiced but he was consistent about it so I could deal with him. That said, he was a very flat hero - I didn't much care if he made it to the end of the novel either. In fact, I wasn't much invested in any character. The bad guys seemed to be bad because they could be - the mastermind behind the whole problem of the novel was really just a crabby guy with too much money who had an overdeveloped sense of entitlement. What made him scary was his vampire hunchmen, really bad, nasty guys who are apparently very bad and nasty because they are vampires? Like I said, the grey area of the book didn't really work...

I wish my thoughts were more clear about this book. On one level, it does take the Rice influence on the vampire myth and expand on it a bit but for the most part, it just got bogged down in its own issues. It's a long book - the author had plenty of time to develop the characters and tap into the vampire myth but it got caught up in its love story (way too was kind of ridiculous) and then failed to follow through on its own themes. I guess I shall have to continue to look for a good vampire read because this was not it.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Even More Magical

As you should know by now, going to Walt Disney World for me is the equivalent of getting to go to a second home. I know those parks, those rides, and all those good eats as well as I know my hometown. At Christmastime though, it becomes something even more magical.

I haven't been to WDW at Christmastime in 12 years. Think about that Disney people. The last time I saw the Osborne Lights they were on Residential Street, Snow on Main Street was still novel and there was that great theater back in Tomorrowland for the Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas show. There was also, gasp!, no Holiday tag to Illuminations which I think might be the most tragic thing of all.

So, now that I had my Florida Resident Annual Pass, I headed down to WDW for Thanksgiving to take advantage of my sister being a fantastic person who was willing to go to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party for a third time with me. Sadly, my body decided to cause issues this trip (the Celebration hospital is VERY nice FYI) so we missed our planned Thanksgiving feast at Tusker House but we discovered that the food court at Pop Century does a nice Thanksgiving meal on their own. The things you learn...

OK, so what was my favorite part of all the new holiday things I saw...that would be like asking me to pick only one favorite book. I adored the new location of the Osborne Lights on the Streets of America. The snow added a nice touch but I especially like the "dancing" lights (which is apparently it's official name now...who knew?). Every 10-15 minutes, the lights "dance" to a song. It was fun to watch and see what they would do next! We also got there just in time for the lighting which I liked seeing - I think some of the impact is lost if you were to just wander in. Seeing all those lights come on at once was truly incredible. 

Looking down the Streets of America

Next, is Epcot. This is my favorite park anyway but add in the Christmas element and it's even better. I wish I'd had more time to go and watch all of the little shows in each country. We caught part of the show in Norway and their mischief maker Santa was fun to learn about. Also, apparently, you leave out Porridge and Ale for Santa in Norway. That is one St. Nick that knows what is up! We also didn't have time for the Candlelight Processional but that is at the top of my list for next year. It's something I know I will adore. I didn't make a big push to see it this year because I missed the narrator I would REALLY love to see by a day. Next year Neil Patrick Harris (and if you don't come, I will cry). Now, Holiday Illuminations. I love fireworks, well, let me rephrase...I love Disney fireworks. To see non-Disney fireworks is just sort of sad actually but I digress. As I was saying, I love Disney fireworks and Illuminations happens to be my favorite of them all. Holiday Illuminations adds a tag at the end. It is AWESOME in the true sense of the word. I don't know that I've ever seen so many fireworks! And as always it goes beautifully with the music and adds a truly magical element during the holidays. We actually saw this twice and it was totally worth it!

The park that pulls out all the stops at the holidays though is Magic Kingdom. Home to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, MK is truly decked out in its holiday finery this time of year. Lights and garland are everywhere along Main Street USA and if you stay for a party, you also get snow on Main Street which is such fun to see. We attended a sold out Christmas Party so it was a bit crowded still. If we hadn't been so tired, I think I would try to do the later parade and show because most of the families with kids do the early ones and then leave after the fireworks. I enjoyed the show in front of the castle - If nothing else, I do love watching the cast members in these shows. I sometimes think it would have been fun to be a dancer at WDW if only for the fun costumes  The parade was so much fun - I didn't really remember it from before especially the smells! Yes, some of the parade floats come with their own smells like the Alpine float with Chip and Dale smells of pine and the Baking floats make me hungry from cookies even if I wasn't feeling well. We did get some of the (free with your $60 ticket) cookies and I tried the apple juice rather than the hot chocolate. The juice was tasty! It had an added kick of cinnamon which I enjoyed. I would have liked it hot though even better. The new show on the Castle before the fireworks is wonderful! I liked it a lot better than the one they ran over the summer. I especially liked they have added a Wreck-It Ralph section to it - it was fun to watch Ralph and Felix wreck and then fix the Castle! Then it was time for Holiday Wishes. They had a bit of a mishap with the fireworks the night we were there - the close up fireworks were firing just fine but the larger fireworks went MIA for a bit. Luckily, they got it back on track for the finale and if you didn't know better, I don't think you would have missed them. I do enjoy the perimeter fireworks they have for the special firework shows - it's fun to be "surrounded" by fireworks :-)

Seriously, you'd think they couldn't improve on the best sight in the world and then they do...

But wait! I forgot what I think is my favorite part of the Magic Kingdom at Christmas time. The Castle lights. A few years ago, Disney "iced" CInderella's Castle with white lights to make it look like ice hanging all over it. We didn't watch the lighting but it was truly a magical sight to see when we walked up to the Castle after eating. The lights will vary throughout the night but I think I prefer the blue best - truly makes it look like an iced confection!

Cinderella Castle at Christmastime

Yes, it is crowded this time of year, make no mistake but I think it's worth it because at this time of year, the most magical place I know of gets a lot more magical :-)