Sunday, July 24, 2011

Elora's Guide to Cool Hiking

Wear large sunglasses to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays.

Though unsafe, it's okay to hike with your hands in your pockets

Be sure to reapply your lipgloss

Drink plenty of water

If it's your turn to wear the Camelback and it's too long on you, just tuck the tube into the chest strap

Do not pose for pictures with your un-cool mom

Happy Trails!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Harry Potter Movies

As I just watched the first seven Harry Potter movies in a fairly short span of time (less than 3 weeks).  I thought I'd refresh your memory before you go see installment number eight (if you haven't already).  I give a quick recap as well as a couple personal remarks on the film and acting.
I finished movie 7 last night and now I'm dying to see the movie but I'm home with a recovering little boy this weekend so it will have to wait a bit longer.


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Year 1 at Hogwarts (age 11)
We are introduced to all the main characters and the wizarding world.  Hagrid gives Dudley a pig's tail.  Harry buys his wand in Diagon Alley and receives his owl as a gift.  First year students arrive by boat to Hogwarts and the sorting hat places them in houses.  Harry is anonymously gifted his father's invisibility cloak.  Fluffy, the three-headed dog guards the sorcerer's stone.  A troll is set loose in the castle.  Professor Quirrel teaches Defense Against the Dark Arts.  Ron, Hermione, and Harry defeat a wizard obstacle course to keep the sorcerer's stone from falling into the hands of Lord Voldemort.

The actors are SO young and such amateurs.  Emma Watson gives a sincere performance as Hermione, though I always wish her teeth and hair were bigger like they are in the books.  I'd forgotten how much I love Maggie Smith (Professor McGonagall) and how tender the relationship between Harry and Hagrid is in this film.

H.P. and the Chamber of Secrets
Year 2, age 12
Dobby the house elf visits Harry and attempts to keep him from returning to Hogwarts in various ways.  The Weasley boys rescue Harry from the Dursley's in their flying car.  Ron and Harry arrive at Hogwarts by way of the flying car, narrowly escaping death from the Whomping Willow.  Hagrid receives a dragon egg but the baby dragon is sent off to Romania when Draco Malfoy reports it.  The delightfully humorous Professor Lockhart teaches DADA.  Ron and Harry miraculously escape death by spiders.  Moaning Myrtle leads Ron, Harry and Lockhart to the entrance to the chamber of secrets after Hermione is petrified.  Harry kills the basilisk.  The handsome Tom Riddle is defeated before killing Ginny Weasley to rise as Voldemort.

The actors seem at least two years older than the previous film, which they probably were.  Harry suddenly isn't a little boy anymore with his Adam's apple and deeper voice.  Ron's voice is changing.  Emma Watson's acting is stiff and forced.

H.P. and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Year 3, age 13
Harry accidentally uses magic on Uncle Vernon's sister and takes the night bus to get away.  Students arrive to Hogwarts by carriage.  The professors and ministry of magic believe that Sirius Black, Harry's godfather has escaped Azkaban Prison to kill Harry.  Remus Lupin, a werewolf, teaches DADA.  Hagrid becomes a teacher and introduces us to Buckbeak.  The Marauders' Map comes into play.  Hermoine storms out of Divination class. The dementors torment Harry.  Peter Pettigrew is discovered.  No appearance of Voldemort.

Best movie so far by a long shot.  First H.P. movie directed by Alfonso Cuaron instead of Chris Columbus.  The first to feature Michael Gambon as Professor Dumbledore after the death of Richard Harris.  I love Gambon but didn't like his version of Dumbledore as well as I'd liked Harris', or perhaps it was just difficult to adjust to the change.  Emma Thompson, Gary Oldman, and David Thewlis inject a much needed shot of professionalism and excitement to the cast.  They give incredible performances, especially when compared to Emma Watson's pained and annoying portrayal of Hermione Granger.  Danielle Radcliffe and Rupert Grint have a little too much confidence for 13 year-olds but have definitely improved as actors.  The sexual tension between Ron and Hermione is sometimes cheesy and overdone and other times cute and realistic.  The friendship between Harry and Hermione is beautiful and a bit too mature for their age but I believe it was in the books too, perhaps it was to reflect that their experiences in life have been more mature than others their age.

HP and the Goblet of Fire
Year 4, age 14
Harry and the Weasley Boys all sport much longer hair in this movie.  The film begins with the Quiddich World Cup, which is awesome but ends with Death Eaters spoiling the fun.  Hogwarts hosts the  Triwizard Tournament.  Harry Potter is put in as a competitor.  Mad Eye/Alister Moody teaches DADA.  Ron and Harry have a falling out.  Rita Skeeter "reports" on the tournament events.  Each contestant has to battle a dragon, breathe underwater, and face the maze.  There is a ball.  Harry is plagued by visions of Voldemort's doings.  The pensieve comes into play as does verita serum.  Sirius remains in hiding but keeps in touch with Harry.  Voldemort regains a strong body, partly by means of Harry's blood.  Harry sees someone die.

Gambon plays a far too angry a Dumbledore.  New director = Mike Newell.   First HP movie to get a PG-13 rating rather than just a PG.
Brandon claims the highlight of this film is the crowd-surfing midget.

HP and the Order of the Phoenix
Year 5, age 15
Harry and Dudley are attacked by dementors.  Harry faces trial at the Ministry of Magic for use of underage magic.  Luna Lovegood is introduced:)  Thestrals pull the carriages from the train station to Hogwarts.  Prof. Deloris Umbridge teaches DADA by order of the Ministry, then takes over as Grand Inquisitor of Hogwarts and finally as Headmistress.  Hagrid finds his half-brother.  Harry takes private lessons on occumency from Snape and discovers that James Potter was a bit of a bully.  The Room of Requirement comes into play.  Dumbledore's Army learns from Harry how to defend themselves.  The D.A. fights death eaters in the department of mysteries.  Harry looses someone else close to him.  Friends take heart in the fact that they have something worth fighting for.

Emma Watson manages to not look like every word coming out of her mouth is going to make her cry, which is a huge improvement, actually her acting is VASTLY improved.  Have I mentioned how Prof. McGonagall is possibly the best character in the film series?  The HP series gets its fourth and final director, David Yates.  And I have to admit, I really think Daniel Radcliffe is great as Potter.  Tom Felton is still way overacting as Draco Malfoy after five films.

HP and the Half-Blood Prince
Year 6, age 16
The Weasley twins have opened a novelty shop.  Harry suspects Draco has been initiated in as a Death Eater.  Prof. Slughorn rejoins the Hogwart's staff as Potions professor.  Snape takes up the post to teach DADA.  The character's start using the word "snogging" a lot.  Ron plays keeper in Quiddich.  We learn that both of Hermoine's parents are dentists.  The Sug Club.  Ron has his first girlfriend.  Hermione experiences heartbreak.  Harry experiences heartache and romance.  Harry discovers the existence of horcruxes, no easy task.  One member of Hogwart's staff is killed by another.

PG rating again.  Composer Nicholas Hooper leaves behind the musical themes of John Williams for a very different, very good original score (albeit not quite as magical).  The three leads give great performances and Felton finally hits his stride.  And another shout out to Prof. McGonagall, her character is incredibly well written and performed.  Oh, and I love Alan Rickman (the actor who plays Snape), always have.

HP and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1
Year 7, age 17
Our main characters do not return to school this year, in fact Hogwarts is barely shown in the film.  The biggest excitement occurs at the very beginning when practically every member of The Order of the Phoenix risks their life to get Harry from his home to the enchantment protected Weasley home.  Two important characters die in this transaction (I think it was three in the book).  When The Order is attacked during a Weasley wedding, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are forced to go into hiding.
The Death Eaters take over the Ministry of Magic where Harry, Hermione, and Ron have to use some Polyjuice Potion to get in and retreive something very important.  The rest of the movie is spent with our three leads alone together living in a tent, hunting for horcruxes and a way to destroy them.
My favorite part of the movie is the telling of the tale of the Deathly Hallows which occurs in animation. Love the scenes at the Malfoy home and those in Godric's Hollow and the scene where Harry tries to lighten things up by dancing.  Love Ron.  Love Luna.  Pretty dark and depressing overall with an ending that leaves you wanting.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Disneyland Hotels

As many of you know, I am planning a trip to Disneyland in October.  I love planning vacations and I love Disneyland!  I like to be very thorough in my research of a destination and for this reason I have had two or three people ask me to share the information I've found on Anaheim hotels.
First off, thanks in part to a recommendation from my SIL Lauren, I have chosen the Anabella Hotel for our stay.  I have booked a three bedroom family suite for Brandon, the kids, my mom, my sister Claire and I to stay in as well as a nearby room for my FIL and step MIL.
I have been to Disneyland nine times, I believe.  I have only stayed in hotels there three of those times.  The first time I was seven or eight and have memories of red hallway carpets and the ice machine at the Mariott.  I thought it was very fancy since I'd only ever stayed in motels before that:)  When Brandon and I stayed in a motel in the area, it was completely unmemorable and I don't even remember the name of the place.
Dec. 2001

When we went six years ago we stayed in a very basic motel called The Alpine Inn.  It had a grungy pool, which we actually used, and I don't remember being in the rooms at all except to sleep.  The location was great and the price was right, but I wouldn't stay there again.
All the research I did for this trip came from two books and the internet.  The books are The Unofficial Guide Disneyland 2011.  It has all the information you need and more.  The authors are overplanners and total geeks (they encourage matching t-shirts and fanny packs).  I loved it!  The other book is Disneyland & Southern California with Kids 10th Edition, which wasn't nearly as useful but still had some new information and good stuff.

Here's the breakdown on what seem to be the best hotels in the area (I wish I knew how to set up a chart) for families:
Townplace Suites by Marriott Anaheim- room rating 88/100, pool, $$, best deals (value for what you get),
Sheraton Anaheim Hotel - room rating 87, $$$-, best deals, pool
Hilton Suites Anaheim-Orange - 86 room rating, $$$-, best deals, pool
Homewood Suites by Hilton - room rating 85, $$$-, best deals, pool
Hyatt Regency Orange County - rooms 85, $$+, best deals, pool
Sheraton Park Hotel - 17 min. walk, room rating 85, $$$-, pool rating = 7/10 (best pool rating on my list), best deals
DoubleTree Hotel Anaheim-Orange County - rooms 84, $$$-, best deals, pool
The Anabella - room rating 83, 14 min. walk (also an ART stop), pool 6, $$$-, and listed under "top 30 best deals" in Unofficial guide.  Two heated pools (one for adults only) and spa.  Rooms have refrigerators and coffee makers and some have microwaves.  Can take the monorail into Disneyland from the DT Disney station.  You also have access to walk thru the Disneyland Grande Hotel on your way to the park.

Desert Palm Hotel & Suites - rooms rated 83, 13 min. walk (one block from Disneyland), heated pool and spa, pool rated a 2/10, $$$-, micros and fridges in rooms, free continental breakfast
Staybridge Suites Anaheim Resort Area - rooms 82, pool, cost $$$-, best deals, recommended by CA resident friend of mine 
Portofino Inn & Suites - room rating 82, 16 min. walk, pool 7, $$$+, kids eat free at adjacent restaurant, shuttle service available for a fee, free parking, heated pool and spa, video arcade, fridges & micros in every room.  Great kids' suites.
Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Anaheim - room rating 82, $$+, best deals, pool
Greenwood Suites - room rating 82, $$+, best deals, no pool
Peacock Suites - room rating = 81, $$+, best deals, pool
Ramada Plaza Hotel - Anaheim resort - room rating = 81, 14 min. walk, pool 2, best deals
Best Western Stovall's Inn - room rating 80, $$+, best deals, pool
Holiday Inn - Anaheim Resort - room rating 80, $$+, best deals, pool
(Anaheim) Desert Inn (&) Suites - room rating 79, 7 min. walk, pool rating of 1, $$, listed under best deals.  Across the street from the maingate, heated pool and spa; microwaves, fridges, free continental breakfast
Hilton Garden Inn - 79 room rating, $$, best deals, pool
Candy Cane Inn - room rating 78, 10 min. walk, pool 4, $$+, listed under best deals, highly recommended by a friend of mine with season passes to Disneyland.  Garden view rooms available, one block from maingate, shuttle available, heated pool, spa, childrens' wading pool, micros and fridges in some rooms, free continental breakfast
Howard Johnson Hotel - room rating 75, 11 min. walk, pool 6, $$$.  Heated pool, kids' pool area, fridges in all rooms
Ramada Maingate - room rating 67, 8 mins. walk, pool 8,  $$, some kitchenettes available, heated pool and spa, fridges available for a fee, free continental breakfast
Anaheim Plaza Hotel & Suites - room rating 65, 11 min. walk, pool 6, $$-

What I was looking for in a hotel for this trip was something with more than one room (a suite), walking distance to the resort (most area hotels offer shuttle service or are on the ART route, but you may not be able to come and go at the exact time you'd like), at least three and a half stars from Unofficial, a room rating of at least 75, a decent pool, and affordability.
The downsides of the hotel I chose are no free continental breakfast, no free wifi, and parking isn't free either.

The three Disneyland hotels are supposed to be fantastic, but they are way out of my price range.

The only hotels with pool ratings available were those within walking distance of the resort.

ART = Anaheim Resort Transit system (aka: buses)

All of this information is true to the best of my knowledge but be sure to check with the hotel directly for current information.

I am looking forward to reading lots of comments about your experiences with Disneyland area hotels:)

If this information has helped you and saved you time (it has) and saved you money ($35 in guidebooks at least).  I guarantee it will make for a more enjoyable stay in Anaheim.  Please contribute a dollar or so towards my future research.  Thanks!

Saturday, July 16, 2011