Saturday, July 30, 2011

Baby Sister's Binkie

Amelia sucks her thumb. I'm not worried that revealing this on my blog with scar my daughter for life, because she's not embarrassed about it at all. In fact, while I was suffering from a migraine last week, she curled up on the couch with me and shared some prime thumb-sucking tips:

"You've got to use your left thumb, Mommy. It tastes better than your right thumb. And you've got to tug on your ear with your other hand. Try it - it will make you feel better!"

Amelia is also insistent that all of her dolls have either a thumb or pacifier to suck when she swaddles them at night. Sometimes, this is easy. Certain baby dolls even come with their mouths open and thumbs extended, including one doll who makes sucking noises. This doll also cries when she can't find her pacifier. She is very loud and was one of Santa's worst ideas.

Some dolls, however, have what might be called a poor sucking reflex. Several times, Amelia has expressed concern because her favorite doll, Baby Sister, has a closed mouth and can't take a binkie. Usually, she worries about this at bedtime. Since Amelia can't settle down until Baby Sister does, it's made for a few long nights.

Last week, I finally found a way for Baby Sister, Amelia, and all of us to get a good night's sleep. On a trip to Target, I purchased a package of pacifiers and a package of adhesive putty. I cut the rubber part off of the binikies and attached a chewing-gum sized piece of adhesive putty. Then, I used the adhesive putty to adhere the pacifier to Baby Sister's mouth.

Because adhesive putty is removable, Baby Sister could suck her binkie at night and put it aside during the day. Amelia was thrilled. In fact, a couple of nights later, she announced that Baby Sister was ready to move from her little bed and sleep on the toy box with the other dolls. She said that she was proud of Baby Sister, but also a little sad.

As for Amelia, it seems that similar progress is being made. She now has two loose teeth, which has made thumb sucking difficult. Yesterday, I noticed that she fell asleep with both hands - and thumbs - folded on her belly. I'm very proud, but I'm also a little sad.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Since I focus so much of my reading on comic books and graphic novels, I arrived late to the Harry Potter craze. I started on "The Sorcerer's Stone" right after "The Prisoner of Azkaban" came out in paperback and only a few weeks before the first movie hit the theaters. It was an exciting time to be reading Harry Potter, since I blew through the first three books in a single weekend and saw the movie shortly thereafter. By the time "The Deathly Hallows" hit bookstores, I was a textbook-definition crazed fan, waiting patiently at Barnes and Noble when the clock struck midnight.

So, naturally, I had to make a trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Islands of Adventure in Florida. It didn't disappoint. I'm never going to get my own letter from Hogwarts, but this truly is the next best thing.

Hogwarts is the first thing you see when you enter the park. It's larger than any other structure in the park and it really stands out. The effect is similar to walking into Disney's Magic Kingdom and seeing Cinderella's castle.

To actually get to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you need to cross the other lands of the park, (including an incredible land dedicated to Marvel superheroes). Once you're there, you've entered into an entirely different world. Even the signage is just a bit more British.
The first thing you'll see is the Hogsmeade Station, complete with the Hogwarts Express. You can't really board, but you can watch it blow steam every few minutes. We posed for photos with the conductor before buying pumpkin juice (apple cider with just a hint of pumpkin flavor) from a nearby sweets trolley.
You can buy all of the Harry Potter sweets at the Wizarding World. In fact, there are several stands throughout the park selling regular and iced, slushy varieties of butter beer. We bought some, and were slightly disappointed to find out that it tastes just like American cream soda. The chocolate frogs we bought at Honeyduke's, on the other hand, were delicious.

There's a great attention to detail throughout the park. It feels like you've stepped into the village of Hogsmeade:

A display in the window of Honeyduke's Candy Shop advertises puking pastilles. Thankfully, the pastilles aren't really for sale.

The window of the quidditch supply shop.

Mandrakes and gillyweed in the window of the Hogsmeade florist.

Audio-animatronic owls line the walls of the post office.
Some of the items on display at Zonko's joke shop. If you buy a pygmy puff at Zonko's, they hold a very loud pygmy puff adoption ceremony. Amelia named her pygmy puff "Pinky."
The attention to detail doesn't stop with the shops. Authentic noises are piped into various areas of the park, including Moaning Myrtle audio in the restrooms!

There are three rides in the Wizarding World. One is a standard roller coaster called The Dragon Challenge. If you have a keen eye, you'll recognize it as a re-vamped version of the old "Dueling Dragons" coaster that has been at Universal for years. It's a great coaster, and I was sorry I didn't have the chance to ride it on this trip, since I was accompanied by a coaster fanatic who is four inches too short to ride.

There's also a smaller coaster called "Flight of the Hippogriff." It's a cute kiddie coaster where you ride past Hagrid's hut in a car that looks like a wicker basket. You'll soar over a pretty convincing animatronic hippogriff:
Remember to treat the hippogriff with respect, and let him make the first move. Otherwise, you might lose a limb!

The best ride in the Wizarding World and arguably the best ride in the muggle world as well is "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey." Before we boarded, I asked a ride attendant what the ride was like, and she told me that it was "kinda like a motion simulator." Now that I've ridden, I can tell you that, if "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" is "kinda like a motion simulator," the iPad is "kinda like a pad of post-it notes."

The ride starts as a motion simulator and switches to a traditional dark ride and back again several times. Also, because you're in an individual car with only three other people, there's an emphasis on the motion. At several points during the ride, you are on your back with your feet above your head. The storyline is that muggles have been invited to Hogwarts to sit in on a few classes. Harry, Ron and Hermione make an appearance (via a very realistic film/holograph effect) and suggest that you might prefer watching a game of quidditch. On your way to the quidditch pitch, however, you encounter dragons, dementors, and Draco Malfoy. I didn't film the ride because I was too enthralled in the wonderful effects, but there are some great videos online. My favorite is here. The video is a little too dark to give you the experience of riding, but it gives you a good idea of how special this ride is. You really feel like you're in the world of Harry Potter. Even the queue is an experience. You walk through Hogwarts castle.

Hogwarts is a big place, and the queue area doesn't skimp on details. You really get the feeling that Hogwarts is immense, mysterious, and dangerous.

Here's the beginning of the queue. In the movies, this statue guards the entrance to Dumbledore's office.
The portraits talk to you, to themselves, and to each other.

The mandrakes are maturing in the greenhouses.
Some of the many instruments in Dumbledore's office
Dumbledore greets you personally in his office, and welcomes you to Hogwarts.

Another view of Dumbledore's office

The Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom is where Harry, Ron, and Hermione appear and invite you to quidditch. Ron also accidentally makes it snow in the classroom for a few seconds, which is a great effect.

I always love seeing this dragon skeleton in the movies. Seeing it in person was awesome.
In addition to the rides, there are lots of shows in Hogsmeade. The Beauxbatons and Durmstrang schools put on a demonstration.
You can also watch the Hogwarts choir perform with their toads. Keep an eye on the girl from Slytherin. She stays in character throughout the entire show:

All in all, Universal has done a wonderful job with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I was sad to leave and had to console myself with re-reading "The Deathly Hallows" and seeing the movie on opening day.