Monday, December 22, 2008

Bella dancerella: Enchanted Tales

Over this past weekend we got together with some of our family for Christmas gatherings (more to come later in the week). My dad and stepmother gave Kyra a number of presents, including a toy called Bella dancerella: Enchanted Tales. The toy is one of the many Disney Princess items I see all over the place. We opened the toy up for Kyra to play with this morning. She absolutely loves it.

The toy comes in three parts; a DVD, a dance mat and a magical princess wand. The wand is actually magical and turns little brothers into frogs. Alright, maybe not... but it does light up in different colors and make different sounds based on which of three Disney Princesses the child chooses on a selector (Ariel, Aurora and Belle). The dance mat is not electronic and is just a guide to various foot placements during certain dances shown on the DVD. The DVD itself features live dancers in princess/ballet costumes along with clips from Disney films. They dance and sing six different Disney songs. It basically equates out to a aerobic workout for the child. Unlike the electronic dance games, the child isn't just stepping on sensors on a mat: they are working their entire body. It had my daughter dipping, stretching her arms up and moving all over the place.

The toy gets a big thumbs up from me as a parent and as for Kyra's review, just look at the expressions on her face as she danced to it this morning (note: the princess clothing didn't come with the toy being discussed; Kyra just wore it for the occasion). She's danced to it three times already today. Thanks Dad and Kathy!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Free to Be... You and Me (1974)

As a child in the 1970s this children's anthology movie was shown to me at school assemblies on at least two occasions. Certain segments stuck with me though I could never recall the name of the movie. Back in 2004, I was describing the scenes I remembered from the movie while talking with a friend who is passionate about old school AV films. He told me the title was Free to be... You and Me. I looked it up online, found it on DVD and immediately purchased a copy. It was surreal to see the film again after so many years. I also found it strange that I'd been listening to a sound byte from the movie for years without realizing it; an audio sample had been used on Too Much Joy's album Son of Sam I Am (one of my favorite albums of all time).

Free to Be... You and Me started out originally as an album and book a couple years prior to it becoming a made for TV special. It was the brainchild of actress Marlo Thomas, who wanted to create something that would go against the gender stereotypes she witnessed in most children's fiction.

The TV movie has a number of other celebrities involved; Mel Brooks and Alan Alda in particular are featured heavily along with Marlo Thomas. Other celebrities who make appearances include a teen-aged Michael Jackson, Dionne Warwick, Rosie Grier, Harry Belafonte, Kris Kristofferson and Carol Channing. I have a hard time not smiling when a young Michael Jackson sings a song in which he asks if he'll be "big and strong" when he grows up. It is also difficult not to laugh out loud seeing football player Rosie Grier singing song about crying while decked out in his 70s attire. It looks like he could use his shirt collar as a hang glider. However, the film makes some solid points about gender stereotyping and the message is still valid even if the look is comically dated.

While originally purchased for myself, the DVD has become one of Kyra's. She was watching it again this morning which made me think about it. The movie is full of songs, stories, animation, puppetry and live action performances. Even 34 years later, Marlo Thomas's creation continues to entertain my own daughter. She's watched it many more times at the age of three than I did throughout my childhood. Then again, she's also seen The Wizard of Oz many many more times than I did growing up too. DVD is awesome, but it does make some films seem less special due to their availability no longer being limited.

Someone uploaded the entire Free to Be... You and Me movie to YouTube in chunks. If this blog has made you curious, it is possible to watch the entire thing online for free. The opening of the film (with its haunting carousel music) can be seen here. You can select the next segment by searching through the scrolling menu on the right side of the screen.

Thank you, Marlo Thomas, for making it safe for me to play with dolls and cry.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Time Enough at Last

There is an old Twilight Zone episode titled Time Enough at Last. The episode stars Burgess Meredith as a bookworm who wishes to be left alone so he can read. He becomes the apparent sole survivor of Armageddon and is delighted that he'll finally have time to read... only to beak his spectacles and render himself pretty much blind.

This past weekend Kristy and Kyra went to visit relatives in Rochester, leaving me with much needed time to work on writing projects. I was like Burgess Meredith clamoring for some alone time. The only problem was, once they left I was totally unable to focus. I managed to get some research done on various Dutch families of Tarrytown, NY and started into a much needed revision of the Dark Destination's article on Washington Irving's Sunnyside Estate. That was to be one of a few different writing projects I intended to complete when I had "time enough at last" over the weekend.

However, my brains turned to yogurt and I found myself in a marathon viewing of episodes of The Big Bang Theory. I only discovered the show last week. It's brilliant. I'm completely addicted. I kept making return attempts to write more and kept giving up frustration after limited bouts of progress. I didn't even complete the one writing project. Sigh.

I guess I just needed veg time. Unlike poor Burgess' smashed spectacles, this is just a temporary setback.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Tall People: Slaves to Our Tiny Masters

A question for you other tall folks out there: Have you noticed that short people think we're there to do their bidding? How many times have you heard, "Hey. I can't reach that. Can you get it for me?" What are we, some sort of service animals for the vertically challenged?

When is the last time you heard a tall person ask a short person to grab something from a lower shelf because they don't have as far to stoop? Never! We'd get kicked in the shins.

The short people have lured us into a trap by making us believe that being tall is "cool." It has conditioned us to respond to their requests as some sort of demonstration of our height superiority... but who is calling the shots here? It's a conspiracy and it's bigger than you might imagine.

I did some research and I found out that short people are physically superior to us. That's right. If you visit Short Persons, you'll find a whole list of abilities short people have. According to the site, short people have the advantage on tall people when it comes to physics and biology. The site claims that short people have "faster reaction times, greater ability to accelerate body movements, stronger muscles in proportion to body weight, greater endurance, and the ability to rotate the body faster. They are also less likely to break bones in falling." Holy crap! Shortness is like a super power!

That's not all, the web site goes on to say that short people live longer lives. It explains that because human cells have a limited capacity for duplication, short people have an advantage at healing.

"Since bigger people require a larger number of duplications to reach maturity, they have fewer potential cell doublings left to replace defective or dead cells. Thus, the functional capability of vital organs declines with advanced age because damaged cells can't be replaced. A new study also showed that oxidative damage to cells increases at a higher rate with increasing height; e.g., an 18% increase in height leads to an 83% increase in cellular damage. Current gerontological thinking is that oxidative damage leads to aging and death."

Alright, so now short people have heightened agility, heightened strength, heightened endurance (not to mention their greater ability to hide from danger in small places) and now they have some sort of anti-aging healing factor power like Wolverine! Oh...but we're not done yet. The site says there are also studies that show that short people get cancer less than tall people and are less likely to have cardiovascular problems. To add further insult to injury the web site then claims that short people have less of a negative impact on the planet than us tall people. Apparently, us tall folks now have to feel guilt because we cause more pollution and use up more resources.

I've recently been reading about physics and the concept of time dilation. Time dilation is a phenomenon in which time goes slower the closer you are to a source of gravity. Experiments have shown that clocks that are in sync with each other will go out of sync if one is at a higher elevation than the other. The clock that is closer to the ground will run behind, because apparently time is going slower there. So does this mean that time is going slower for short people than for me? I remember how slow time seemed to be when I was a kid. Now, I'm tall and time is whizzing by!

Conclusion: Short people have ultra-cool super powers and will live longer lives which will seem that much longer thanks to time dilation. The next short person who asks me for help reaching something is going to get a vulgar hand gesture.

I'm going to lay down on the floor now so that time will start going slower for me. Being tall sucks.