Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Magical Musical Mystery Tour

Kids have a lot of good things built right inside them from the very start. Good hearts, good intentions, good imaginations....

But one thing they don't have? Good taste. Not in food (do you know how many things they'll put ketchup on? It's actually horrifying) not in fashion (though my girls' pattern mixing game is remarkably strong) and certainly not in music.

I wrote about my naivety in this regard back when Piper was little. I thought that we could avoid the "Raffi" of it all (not hating...he actually seems like quite a dear, but how many verses of "Down by the Bay" can you get through before it morphs into actual torture?) But it turns out I was wrong. Kids actually seem to come pre-programmed to enjoy the least common denominator of entertainment. (Witness: my childrens' endless giggling at the mere mention of "poop". So highbrow.). And as it is with humor, so it also goes with music....Without me intentionally exposing them to anything even remotely Wiggle-esque, they still manage to find the cheesiest/corniest/earwormiest tunes...and love it. Like moths to a musically-stunted flame...

Now- the good news is, kids are also very moldable, so while if left to their own devises, they might never expand their horizons beyond grilled cheese sandwiches and Baby Shark videos, with a little help, they can be taught to appreciate the finer things in life. So it becomes my job to expose them to a range of quality song stylings, in an effort to unseed the rhymey refrains they're typically drawn to.

So when a blogger I follow talked about doing a project to introduce her daughter to more varied (/good) music, I knew I wanted to get in on that action. She talked about how she noticed that while they love music, their rotation had gotten remarkably small- consisting of mostly her daughters' favs. So she wanted to break it up a bit, and planned to listen to a band or artist once a week, to grow their "repertoire". She didn't give many details, but that kernel of an idea was all I needed to get going on my own version. I didn't quite get my act together at the beginning of the year (we were too busy listening to all things Disney anyway...) but I got the itch to get it going this weekend...and so off we go!

Introducing: The Magical Musical Mystery Tour

Yes, I named it. Because anything worth doing, is worth naming, and then doing.

My basic plan- write down a bunch of influential bands/artists, pick one (from a surprise jar) per week to listen to as a family, getting my kids familiar with more music, and hopefully sparking some new favorites to work into our daily listening.

Alexa (my unofficial assistant in this endeavor) informed me on Sunday that we had 44.4 weeks remaining in the year, so I wanted to select about that number of artists for the project. Wellllll- it turns out it was a little tough to narrow it down. (If you saw my Instagram Stories from the other day, then you know I was in pretty deep, pretty quick). So I eventually just aimed to get as comprehensive a list as possible, and see where it netted out. I consulted several online "Top 50" lists, and "Best Artists" by decades lists to help form my roster. And like I said- it ended up being much more daunting than I thought (Theme Of My Life) so I had to draw a few lines to keep it manageable. I knew I wanted to focus mostly on the "classics"- though there are many different interpretations to that. Mostly what I mean is: artists who have a large body of work, numerous hits, and have withstood the test of time. This means one-hit wonders were out (no matter how good that hit was), and I made the choice to stick with artists prior to the 1990's. There is certainly no shortage of talent that has launched within the last 30 years, but for the purpose of this exercise I thought it best to narrow it down, and trust that my kids will have an opportunity to get schooled on the many merits of Katy Perry at a later date.

I wrote each band/artist on a piece of paper, and counted them up...I had just around 99. (Pretty sure Duran Duran sneaked in there twice though. Duran Duran Duran Duran?) There was no way I was going to be able to weed out more than half, so I decided to pair some of them up. I figure having a couple artists each week will be good to add variety. Plus I tried to group them by genre (kinda...loosely) so that we could also talk a bit about different time periods or styles of music, while we learn about specific bands.( I did leave some bands/artists on their own if I felt like they had enough of an anthology to carry the week solo.) Once they were all ganged up, I was left with 37 sets of classic content. It's not quite enough for the full year, but it should take us right up to the holiday time- when we can shift into non-stop caroling!

After I completed it, I wanted to share our list so that other people could benefit from the effort...but I'm hesitate to post the details because I fear the inevitable wrath and judgement for what I've included, (and more likely- what I omitted). There is NO WAY the list I landed on satisfies everyone's point of view on the most important artists of our time. I'm certain I've left of someone that people would deem crucial, and I can already sense my Dad rolling his eyes at the inclusion of the Bangles. But in the end...My list, my rules! And it's not about being perfectly classy...it's just supposed to be a fun way to expand our musical palates (are those called ears?)

I think it's going to be a fun little challenge, and I'd love it if you got into it with your families too. (It doesn't even have to be for kids...it might be a good experiment to get you out of your own musical rut!) In no particular order, Here is our full list:
  1. The Andrews Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald
  2. Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong
  3. The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Drifters
  4. Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Barry White, Marvin Gaye
  5. The Mamas & The Papas, The Everly Brothers, The Four Seasons (& Frankie Vallie)
  6. Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams
  7. The Rolling Stones
  8. The Beach Boys
  9. Elvis Presley
  10. The Beatles
  11. The Shirelles, Diana Ross (& The Supremes) The Crystals
  12. Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield
  13. Fats Domino, Smokey Robinson, Chuck Berry
  14. Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline
  15. David Bowie, Elton John, Billy Joel
  16. Bob Marley
  17. The Grateful Dead, Steve Miller Band
  18. The Ramones, The Who, Pink Floyd
  19. Janis Joplin, The Doors
  20. Queen, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix
  21. ABBA, Donna Summer, The Bee Gees
  22. Commodores (& Lionel Richie), Stevie Wonder
  23. Michael Jackson (& The Jackson Five)
  24. The Eagles, Chicago, Simon & Garfunkle (& Paul Simon)
  25. Creedance Clearwater Revival, Fleetwood Mac (& Stevie Nicks)
  26. James Taylor, John Denver, Tom Petty
  27. Crosby Stills Nash & Young (& Neil Young), The Doobie Brothers
  28. Kool & The Gang, Run DMC, Sly & The Family Stone, The Beastie Boys
  29. R.E.M., U2
  30. Madonna
  31. The Bangles, The Go Gos, Pat Benetar, Blondie
  32. WHAM (& George Michael), Hall & Oats, Duran Duran
  33. Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, The Police (& Sting), Bryan Adams
  34.  Bruce Springsteen, Phil Collins & Peter Gabriel (& Genesis)
  35. Bon Jovi, Van Halen, Motley Crue
  36. Foreigner, Def Leppard, Guns & Roses
  37. Journey, Aerosmith, AC/DC
Today was our kickoff, and my quick explanation of the idea, I was met with a range of complete indifference to mild tolerance...So...typical!
And from the jar we choooooseeeeee......drumrollllll....

ABBA, Donna Summer, and The Bee Gees!

*anti-climatic cymbal crash*

Ok. Admittedly, maybe not the strongest start. But the surprise is part of the thrill (and what puts the Mystery in The Magical Musical Mystery Tour) so we (rock &) roll with it. Once we had this week's selection I started a Spotify Playlist. My plan is to add each week's artists as we go so I'll eventually have one full playlist for the whole project.  I just chose the cream of the crop hits for my compiled list, but I also have a few more all-encompassing lists by artist queued up in case we're in the mood for some deep cuts. (They're probably not all totally kid safe, but we'll cross that bridge over troubled water when we get to it).

And so The Magical Musical Mystery Tour is off and running (toot toot, beep beep!) I'm cautiously optimistic that we manage to stick with this for longer than a day and a half. (Dustin is reluctantly getting onboard with Week One's disco fever, but has already emphatically refused a showing of Mama Mia!)

If you're going to give it a whirl, I'd love to hear about it! You can write out your own list, borrow ours, or even just follow along with the playlist to jam with what we selected that week. No matter how you run it, if you join in the fun, tag #magicalmusicalmysterytour so I can follow along!


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Friday, February 22, 2019

Disney-ing: The Grand Finale

Welcome back to this week's blog series:
The Wonderful World of Disney: A Travel Tale As Old Long As Time
covering all the 'ings from our recent trip to the Most Magical Place on Earth(If you missed it- you can catch up on Part 1, 2, 3 and 4 here) 

Last round...here we go!

Taking: a million(ish) pictures and video. We signed up in advance for Disney's Memory Maker- which allowed us to download any professional photos taken in the parks. (Remember the (super) old days when you'd go to an amusement park and they'd wrangle you for a picture at the front door, and then you'd be able to purchase it as a keepsake viewfinder keychain 8+ hours later? This is basically that...but better in every way). I wasn't totally sure if this was worth the money, but the theme of this trip was more or less "go for it" so we gave it a shot...and it ended up being pretty fun! We got a few great shots of us on the rides (which I always love seeing, but can never rationalize buying) and it was nice to have a few photos of all of us without having to beg a stranger to snap it. We got a ton of character meet and greets- which meant I could just watch (or take video) without having to worry about capturing the moment. They also do "magic shots" which are super cheesy and super fun- adding little characters and special touches to your pictures. My kids are accustomed to my insatiable need for family photos, but that doesn't mean they always cooperate- but I found they were much more willing to pose for the "real" photographers...and the magic shots were an extra motivator because they loved to be surprised by what showed up in their photos. The quality of the photos is a bit hit or miss (cropping can be a little strange, they're not artfully lit/filtered) but there are enough gems in there that it was worth trying.

But of course we didn't just rely on the pros- I snapped a million of my own pics, and I'm hoping to compile the video into a little film of the whole trip (you know...someday...) Before we went, I had no real thought as to how much I would be posting to social media (though I did have requests for lots of Insta stories! Everyone loves living vicariously through other people's vacays!) but once we were there I just didn't really feel the need to share much in real time. I had my phone out plenty, taking pictures and videos, but I was happy to save the editing and posting for later. Each night I posted the highlights to stories, which was a fun way to relive the day without taking away from actually being in the moment.

I was hit with waves of nostalgia throughout our trip, and one thing that really made me laugh was thinking back to what vacation photos were like back in the film days. Can you image being limited to 24 shots per roll?! I must have taken that many of our in-flight snack! There might be 3 good quality snapshots from all of the 1990's of me and my fluorescent biker shorts skipping around Magic Kingdom...meanwhile, my kids will be able to make a feature-length flip book of That Time We Fell Asleep on the Bus from the Airport. So whenever I got bummed at not having the world's most perfect shot of the world's most adorable kids in front of the world's most beautiful castle, I tried to remember that my mom had to settle for whatever the drugstore print processing surprised her with- even if that meant most of them were an eyes-half closed, slightly blurry, at least we're all facing the same direction, and I think that's a palm tree in the background print...with a cameo of my dad's thumb.

Thinking: about the next time we can come back (starting basically from the minute we arrived). I'm leaning towards trying it again in 4 years or so (when everyone is around elementary school age- old enough to do a bit more, but not so old that they're embarrassed to be seen with me). But I wouldn't be shocked if we found a reason to do it sooner. (Ooooh, maybe a Disney cruise!)

For what it's worth, the kids actually haven't begged to go back...Piper was sad about leaving, but Fin actually said that she doesn't want to go back- "too much going. go here, go there, go go go". (She loves to be contrary, so I don't put a lot of stock into her grumblings).

Crying: at Frozen Sing Along. Well, one of us did anyway (turns out Dustin is a bit of a softie!) I actually thought I would be the one getting all emotional about things, but I wasn't as sappy as I thought. I definitely got sentimental about things- remembering trips from my childhood, and wanting to just burn these memories into my brain (they grow up so fast! etc etc) But we all have our moments, and something about the Frozen show made Dustin melt. (To be fair, he didn't actually cry- he might have just gotten a wee bit misty eyed for a minute). I teased him a bit about it, but it really was quite sweet. He said that it was just so much work to get them there, deal with behavior, spend all the money, and on and on, but for just one magical moment the snow starts to fall, and hundreds of kids are singing their hearts out, and that makes it all worth it. 

There were probably hundreds of moments like this throughout the trip- when their eyes opened wide in wonder, when they gasped at seeing a princess, when they couldn't contain their giggles. I tried really hard to step outside of the busyness of it all whenever I could, and just really enjoy the simple thrill of experiencing things with them. Miller in particular was a prime age for being absolutely astounded by it all, and I don't take it for granted that they all wanted to sit on my lap, hold my hand, skip down the paths together...I can't even count the number of times I heard "Look, mama, look!" (or Miller's signature phrase: "Mom- you've GOT to try/see/feel this!")- they were so eager to take it all in, and share that joy with us which was just the absolute best.

Embracing: the unexpected. As much as I love planning, I also know that some of the best parts of any trip are the moments you didn't anticipate. Some fun surprises: dancing with the Incredibles (they had an informal little song/dance show going throughout the day that people could join in. Miller especially loves those characters so he was on cloud 9 to get to hang with Mr. Incredible himself!), finding ourselves front row for the mid-day show at Cinderella's castle (I hadn't kept up with the schedule enough to know when the shows were, but we were wandering near the castle when we heard fireworks...we made our way down to the stage and got an up-close view of all of the fun!), and meeting Cinderella's step-sisters (they weren't listed as an available character meet and greet on the app, which I was bummed about because I had heard they were super funny. But we found ourselves with a few minutes to kill before our next Fastpass time opened up and we spotted them nearby. It ended up being one of my favorite character interactions!)

Surprising: myself with how much I've gotten into all of this. I joked before I went that I was going to become a "Disney person" (first come the Minnie ears on my head, then it's a slippery slope to stick figure Mickeys on the back of my car! Fear not- that has not actually happened.) It made sense to embrace all things Disney as we prepped for the trip, but even after we came home, a lot of that fairy dust seemed to stick. Weeks later and we're still watching the movies, listening to the songs, reading our book of characters, and playing with our souvenir toys. I had actual Disney dreams every night for two weeks after we came home (and not the stressful "I forgot to pack the ponchos!" kind). I'm sure some of that post-Disney high will fade, but for now it's fun to keep a bit of that magical spirit with us. (Heaven knows February and its miserable weather can use all the happy thoughts it can get).

Ignoring: the outside world. Our day-to-day life tends to be jam packed with things...lots of super good things, but still lots of things: work, volunteering, chores, social media, friends, date nights, family, super-boring grown up stuff...But for 4+ days none of that existed. It was still jam packed, but in a totally different way. There was nothing else beckoning for our attention, nothing else we had to get done. It was just the five of us, having fun, together.

Forgetting: all the bad parts. One day Piper was complaining about something (one guess? Probably the rain. Can't blame her one bit!) And I agreed- there are some parts of Disney that are just not fun. But I also told her the absolute truth- that I went to Disney multiple times as a kid, and while I'm sure there must have been rough times in there, I honestly only remember the good stuff. Actually...I remember it all...but I remember it all being good stuff. Somehow things transform when viewed through the looking glass of time. And the stuff that wasn't so awesome actually seems to stick in our memories the most...but with a new aura around it; the mishaps become funny, and the struggles are recalled as adventures. And I know that will happen with this trip. In some ways I'm thankful for the less-than-perfect bits, so that someday we can giggle that much more about the "remember when..." tales.
 Remember when Daddy found out the difference between a rain jacket and a windbreaker is that only one of those things actually keeps you dry? Remember when the wheel kept falling off of our stroller when we tried to carry it on the bus? Remember when it took Mama three days to figure out you could choose what design you wanted from the penny machines instead of just accepting it at random? Remember when we couldn't figure out how to get out of baggage claim and we had to try every floor off of the elevator? Remember when Miller nearly gave himself a black eye because he was so oblivious on the playground slide? Remember when Crush kept calling Fin "Tinley"?   Remember when Mama made us all ride Splash Mountain and she ended up the driest one? Remember when Daddy had to babysit the dryer because our wet shoes kept banging the door open? Remember when had to split up on Slinky Dog and Mama got to ride with an adorable little Hispanic grandma? Remember when Piper's popsicle broke but Mama caught it, so Piper had to eat the rest of it out of her (freezing cold) hand? Remember when we took the wrong monorail at the airport and ended up having to go back and around again to get to our terminal? 
Yep. I remember. And it was awesome.

Feeling: full (of carbs), overwhelmed (by sensory and happiness overload), exhausted (like...to-the-bone tired), and really really thankful.

Knowing: my kids may not remember much, or any of this...but being totally ok with it, because I've stored away enough magical memories for all of us.

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Thursday, February 21, 2019

Disney-ing: Part 4

Welcome back to this week's blog series:
The Wonderful World of Disney: An Extensive Recap for Those Who are Always “Curiouser and curiouser!”
covering all the 'ings from our recent trip to the Most Magical Place on Earth
(If you missed it- you can catch up on Part 1, 2 and 3 here) 

Gigglingat the Monster's Inc and Turtle Talk with Crush shows. These shows have animated characters interact in real time with the audience, and it's hysterical (and frankly astounding...even though I technically understand how it works, it still feels pretty magical). They throw in a bit of (kid-safe) adult humor, poking fun at different people and saying some stuff that goes over the kids' heads, so Dustin and I got an extra chuckle in there (we're all actually still repeating some of the jokes!) Piper and Fin were each chosen to be a part of one of the shows which made it even more special.

Watching: every Disney movie we could possibly get our hands on. (through Netflix, YouTube TV, the library, some dark corners of the internet...) Yes- I made my kids cram for Disney. It was maybe a little silly, but I loved building the anticipation and it was fun to show them movies I loved as a kid (not sure why we haven't watched them sooner). I expected there to be some duds in there, but they honestly loved all of them- even the ones that upon a fresh viewing I found a little boring (not naming names but it might rhyme with Schnow Schwight) or scary (what is going on in Pinocchio?!) We found a few flicks we universally adored (Toy Story, Beauty and the Beast...) discovered Miller was surprisingly brave (didn't bat an eye at Maleficent turning into a dragon), and saw Fin's softer side (she cries at some point during every movie, without fail). As is becoming the theme with this whole trip, all of this studying-up was probably overkill...I'm lucky their brains didn't turn into mush after near nightly mandated viewings. But, as is also the theme, it all paid off. Like most things, Disney is best when you go all in, and it was fun to go in deep for a bit. Having a frame of reference helped them to enjoy things so much more...and it showed every time they recognized a character, or sang along with a song.

Pretending: I caught magical gems in the PhilharMagic 3D movie. Wait what? Let me back up a bit...A few years ago, our friends were prepping for a trip to Disney, and she mentioned that she had to go buy red gems from the craft store for their trip. Wait what? She explained, that at Magic Kingdom, there is a 3D movie in which Ariel appears to throw gems into the audience. Her plan (that was suggested to her by other moms who have traveled this road before) was to wait for that part, and then toss the gems into her girls' laps, convincing them they had really caught a piece of the show. At the time I couldn't roll my eyes hard enough...I mean, I love her, but seriously? All this effort to enhance the already incredible magic of Fantasyland? Shouldn't taking these kids to the happiest place be sufficient? Do we really have to manufacture wonders on top of it all? (With all the stuff-buying, and surprise-packing I had been doing, I know my attitude sounds a little hypocritical....I have no idea why this is where I draw a dramatic line of principles.) Welllllll, fast forward to our trip- we're standing waiting for PhilharMagic to start, and a woman leans over to Dustin and tucks 4 red gemstones in his hand, whispering "I believe these will come in handy during the show..." He passed them, and the message, on to me and I about died laughing. Of all the people in the crowd for her to find...and for all of my protesting...at this point I had to just embrace it. So when we found ourselves in the fourth row of the auditorium with Arial tossing out 3D treasure images I encouraged the kids to try to grab them- eventually revealing that I had caught some for each of them. And they were utterly amazed. Piper must have asked me four times if I had really caught them (because she tried but couldn't grab any!)...she still talks about it (with a mix of awe and suspicion). It was fun little memory, and a reminder for me that you don't have to do anything special to make Disney magical, but it can be extra fun to let yourself get swept up in the wonder of it all. 

Buying: one main souvenir for everyone. We told the kids they could each pick one thing to buy, so they kept their eyes out all week. Lucky for them, just about every ride drops you off right into a gift shop, so there was no shortage of browsing opportunities. Fin wanted basically everything (I eventually started taking her picture with things for her to "remember her wish list"- in an attempt to dull the pain of not purchasing every adorable stuffie we saw.) Piper was overwhelmed by options. And Miller waffled between a Beast stuffie and some Toy Story figurines. On the last day, they were overjoyed to finally pick something out. Piper and Fin each got a stuffed animal (baby versions of Disney characters that come in a little stork blanket. Disney knows what little girls like) and Miller went with Toy Story (what kid can pass up the chance to have his very own Zurg!) 
I wasn't sure if I would get a souvenir for myself or not...We had already been spending money hand over fist for this trip, so I didn't think I really needed one more expense. But when I saw a key-chain in the shape of a Mickey pretzel I knew it had to come home with me. (and of course- I've got a plan to turn it into an ornament!)  

Meeting: all of our favorite characters! I've gone on and on (and on and on) about this, but it's just one of the most unique parts of Disney, and even though we weren't all Disney-obsessed (or even particularly Disney-familiar) before we went, it was still a huge highlight of the trip. All three kids loved the meet and greets- eagerly waiting their turn, excitedly shrieking when they saw a particular fav, and shyly smiling while they hugged and posed for pictures. Fin went into the trip wanting to meet Daisy, Minnie and Aurora, and thankfully we got to see them all. Miller was particularly pumped about Baymax and Wreck it Ralph, Piper likes everything, so it's a little hard to determine her favorite and I was legitimately enamored by Gaston (there's no one as burly and brawny!) We got to meet nearly everyone we dreamed of (Rapunzel and Cinderella's Fairy Godmother are on my list for next time) ncluding most of the princesses who were all stunning, if a little overly-polite (I tend to like the spunk of the villians). Mulan was our only minor let down- the girls told her they loved her panda, and she had no clue what they were talking about. (Lessons for Princesses- 1: you need to know your own back story, and 2: if a kid says something to you...just play along!) Fin and Miller were especially funny with their interactions, reporting "they were SO soft" about everyone they met ("I touched Daisy's tail!!", "I felt Ariel's hair!!") I just rewatched the video of Fin meeting Goofy, and saw that she was trying to covertly stroke his ear while he signed our book. I think maybe my kids were the real characters...

Struggling: with all the walking. I didn't track it, but I've heard it can be around 10 miles a day (and with the inefficient meandering routes we tended to travel, I'm sure we made it to that number or more). We rented a double stroller, and brought our own single stroller just in case. (Piper could probably physically handle all the walking, but handling the jealousy of siblings who get to ride all day is another matter altogether). We went with the double only on the first day (which helped us be slightly more nimble getting in and out of the rain) but we brought the single along for Epcot which was beyond helpful in keeping everyone happy visiting country after country. I judge a lot of parenting choices in regular environments, but at Disney- I support whatever makes someone's trip easier/happier. So even if it might have been slightly unnecessary, I had no issue with pushing an "extra" stroller some of the time. And frankly it was nice to have a "bag on wheels", saving me from lugging waterbottles (and snacks, and extra shoes, and jackets) all over tarnation.

Collecting: pressed pennies. Some things on this trip were more for me than anyone else, and this was one of them. I packed $10 worth of quarters (stacked and ready in an M&M Mini's container), which was enough to get 20 pressed pennies. We found machines all over the parks, and the kids loved picking different designs and turning the crank. There were probably hundreds of options, so I tried to get ones that would serve as mementos from specific things on our trip- we have them from big rides we went on, the resort we stayed at, and characters we especially loved. What am I going to do with my pile of smashed coins now? No idea! But it was fun finding them all anyway! (and in extra-crazy fashion, I may have asked a friend to pick up a few that I missed when she went to the parks last week...A splash mountain memento is a need not a want!)

Sayingyes. To nearly everything. Cotton candy before lunch (and dinner). Carrying them when they're tired (/lazy). Popcorn. More popcorn. Dancing in the streets. Pushing the stroller so fast it makes their hair blow. A lollipop the size of Fin's head. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. This is not sustainable parenting. This is not character shaping diligence. This is an epic family vacation, which is founded on an excess of yes. 

(see you tomorrow for another round of 'ings!)
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