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Maleficent: Refreshes the Tired Tale of Sleeping Beauty #Maleficent

Press photo courtesy of Disney.

Press photo courtesy of Disney.

Of all the Disney princess stories, Sleeping Beauty was never my favorite. After seeing the press preview of  Maleficent, I think I understand why — in my childhood mind, the story was filled with scary scenes and no context, whereas Maleficent has provided a backstory so interesting that I now want to rewatch the classic 1959 animated film.

It is important to note that the live action Disney Pictures film bears little resemblance to the original movie. And that is the point. This is meant to be the story of what makes Maleficent (sounds a bit like “magnificent”) so villainous and causes her to utter the curse that will cause Princess Aurora to fall into a deep sleep upon her sixteenth birthday. This is her story, not Aurora’s.

But more than that, this turns out to be a movie about relationships. The relationship between two types of lands — the kingdom of the humans and the moors of the fairies and magical creatures; Maleficent and the lover who betrayed her; the three fairies entrusted with raising the princess in the hopes of avoiding the curse; Maleficent and her sidekick who often serves as her voice of conscious; King Stephan and his own guilt; and other relationships that I won’t spoil for you. Naturally, one of the most prominent ones is the tug-of-war between good and evil — often even within the same being.

The crux of this story is Maleficent’s transformation from a pure-hearted guardian fairy to frighteningly vengeful force to be reckoned with after she is cruelly betrayed. Her body transforms as well as her soul. The animated Maelficent is one of the most frightening villains in childhood tales, so I know one of the most burning questions for parents is, “Will this movie be too frightening for my child?” The answer is two-fold. It depends on the child, and yes, certain scenes may.

Maleficent’s appearance is striking but in my opinion, not nearly as frightening as the cartoon version. The twisted horns are there and quite realistic, so that may be frightening, but if your child has already seen the animated version, probably not. She is not green-faced, but pale with extremely sharp cheekbones and her eyes change color over time. She is mesmerizing and powerful. Inanimate objects come to life onscreen (trees, rocks, and the like.)  However, to me, the most disturbing scene was the act of betrayal, fairly early on in the movie — partially because of how effectively Angelina Jolie conveyed the physical and emotional pain involved.  There are several fight scenes, and magic, and a fire-breathing dragon — only you will be able to tell if your child is up to that kind of action. The special effects are impressive and if you see the movie in 3D, then the impact is amplified — watch some of the trailers online with your child, for example, to get a sense of his/her reaction. I would not take very young children, but my 10-year-old was fine and I think I will take my 8-year-old now. Note that this movie is rated PG.

As intense as this movie is, there is humor throughout, which both my son and I enjoyed. Some may be annoyed with changes made to the Aurora part of the story line (i.e. the curse is delivered a little differently), instead, I took this as further support to the premise of “not everything is as you have been told.” The title character definitely overshadows many of the others — in some cases I’m okay with that; for example, there was no real need to see much of the queen in the land of the humans. In other cases, it may have been a matter of the actor’s creative choices more so than the storytelling, for example, I just didn’t connect well with Sharlto Copely’s portrayal of the king. Could Aurora’s character have been more developed? Sure, but again, she is really not the main focus of this story. I think we see enough of her for the purposes of the plot.

Overall, the movie was beautiful to watch, the story was compelling, Jolie was a pleasure to experience in the role, and the end result made me want to revisit the original animation as well as to read the French fairy tale on which both are based. To me, that’s the sign of an entertaining movie.

Maleficient opens in theaters today. I recommend seeing it in 3D.  Check your local theater for showtimes.

Website and mobile site:  http://disney.com/Maleficent

Note: I was invited to attend the press preview screening of this movie with a guest. All opinions are my own.

Reboot

Java Mom and the Java Kids

Our new “happy family of three” photographed by Amanda Rodriguez of Then Again Photography. (www.thenagainphotography.com)

I’ve been absent for  awhile.

Not just the complete dearth of posts over the past several months, but even before that. My blog is a labor of love, a place to be genuine, and if I can’t write from my heart, if I’m just dialing it in, then I feel like I fraud. And I couldn’t write from the heart because my heart was hurting. Rather, it was hemorrhaging.

My marriage collapsed.

Time of death: December 10, 2013. 11 years, 1 month, 1 week, 1 day.

It’s been collapsing for a long time — I’ve told all of you that before. We separated in 2012, for three months. And I had high hopes when we reconciled after that. But that, apparently, was short-lived. This time, the separation is permanent. We are divorcing.

I’ve had difficulties writing here because of course the premise of the site had evolved to being about having fun as a family and I felt like a complete fraud at that. How dare I write a word about doing anything to maintain a happy family when my own family seemed anything but. In fact, going through old posts made me sad as I realized how much we had strayed from the family we used to be. Or at least thought we were.

When your marriage fails for reasons other than the obvious ones (there was no cheating, gambling, addictions, etc.) you find yourself grasping for any explanation. Even dumb ones. “Should I have been more like those women who makes everything so Pinterest perfect? Is that what went wrong?” No. Pinterest would not have saved this marriage. Nothing would. We fought a valiant fight.

When you believe in marriage and it still doesn’t work:

You go through the classic seven stages of grief. (This by the way, goes on for quite a while and is still going on.)

You fear rejection from your friends and peers. (Divorce is a great way to separate the wheat from the chaff. I’ve been pleasantly surprised more than I’ve been disappointed.)

You want to curl up and die. (I never opened the Christmas cards. I have a backlog of emails I just never looked at. I couldn’t — I had to turn inward for a while and only focus on the kids and I and just live day by day. Day by freaking snowed-in day.)

And then you realize you have to just pick up and move on.

I am reminded of a story from my own childhood. The minister of my church was going through a divorce — I was too young to know the details, but it is my understanding he had not initiated it. Broken-hearted, he turned in his resignation, feeling that if he could not make his marriage work, how could he stand at the pulpit each Sunday? But the church board rejected his resignation. They surrounded him with love, and reminded him that he was a child of God, imperfect like the rest of the flock, and that his experience would only make him even more compassionate to those who were facing similar struggles. They knew he had done his part in his marriage and that the circumstances causing the divorce were beyond his control. I heard this story years later, when I was older, and I’ve always loved the church for the grace they showed in that moment. He was a wonderful preacher who later remarried and has always been devoted to his wife and kids.

We are all flawed human beings. I write this post in the hopes that my readers will forgive me for the past year (or longer) of holding back and disappearances and will bear with me as I get my feet back under me again. I love my blog and my readers and want to return to it, renewed and refreshed. I couldn’t write about my failing marriage as it was happening for many reasons. Embarrassment. Denial. Hopes that it would turnaround. And… because it wasn’t only my story to tell — there was another party involved. But what happens from here forward, that is my journey, and it is okay for me to write about that if I want to. There are some people who are not going to be comfortable with that, but there are always some people who are not happy with what I do. (Anything relating to the kids is shared with their permission.)

I’m rebooting my life. Even prior to the actual separation, I’ve been working on a new degree, which was another reason you haven’t seen much of me on this blog. I’ve been taking pre-requisites in order to apply to nursing school. Something I’ve wanted to write about, but I just haven’t. It’s been quite a journey for me to go from not having had any science classes since my junior year in high school to taking Anatomy and Physiology, Chemistry, and Microbiology!

Other changes include finally putting some of my personal needs first — following up on long-delayed doctor’s visits and such. And then far simpler things such as getting rid of things in the house and rearranging things to my liking. I bought a $16 terrarium at Home Depot simply because it made me happy. Little things like that.

It’s a strange time, learning how to go from being a wife to a… well, I’m in limbo. I’m not an ex yet but I’m sort of “not a wife.” I remember how odd it was for me when we first got married as I tried to learn how to become an “in-law.” I guess now I’m trying to figure out how to not be one. How to be just the “mother of the grandchildren.” Disentangling lives is complicated stuff.

The worst of it, frankly is that I have had to make all of these changes during the seemingly endless winter — trying to establish a “new normal” when there was absolutely zero chance of a routine was pure hell, not just for me, but the kids as well. But I have walked through the fires of hell and have come out stronger and so have they.  And yes, there has been a LOT of caffeine and a LOT of prayer through all of it.

So, if you’ve managed, to stick around with me long enough to still read this post, I appreciate your loyalty. Like the rest of my life, this blog will go through some changes. And yes, it’s probably going to be neglected a few more weeks as I wrap up the last of my pre-reqs for school. Middle-aged brains are not as great at all-nighters as twenty-year-old brains!

I don’t have all the answers to having a happy family and I hope I never gave the impression that I did. I’m just on a journey like you, but sharing mine publicly and willing to laugh at my imperfections quite publicly in the hopes that it will make other people feel okay about their own trials and tribulations. The kids and I are learning to be a “happy family of three.” (They will also have to learn to have to be a happy family of three with their father.) That hemorrhaging heart? I’ve stemmed the bleeding a bit. Yes, I still hurt, yes, I still “go there” and wonder where things went so very wrong. But I also look ahead and I am making the best of the life I have now. The uncertainties are a bit daunting, but aren’t there always uncertainties? The only certainty is uncertainty.

Like most of my life right now, I’m really not sure what happens next for this blog. But the backbone of it — the part about being strong no matter what, embracing imperfections, facing fears head on, and finding humor whenever possible, that will remain. That part will never change.

So if you are willing to bear with me, I promise to come back, more consistently, and not hold back any more. Life is a full spectrum — highs and lows, but it can be lived with zest and vigor, as long as you have a cup full of caffeine and some prayers in your heart!

Thanks for sticking with me! Your loyal readership is a blessing in my life and I hope to be a blessing in yours.

J.J.

Snow Fun Recipes: Snow Cream and Snow Candy

With as much as 10 inches of snow possibly hitting our area, I’ve bought supplies for our snow fun traditional treats: snow cream and snow candy! (Hey, if you are going to have a polar vortex, might as well have a good treat!) Here’s a link to my original post from way back in 2009! Maybe this year I’ll manage to remember to take photos!

 

 

{Review} Disney’s Frozen Warms The Heart

FrozenMovieReviewIf your Thanksgiving plans include taking the family to see a movie, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Frozen (PG), should be one of your choices on your list.  My family was invited to a complimentary early screening and found it to be delightful.

Loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson, The Snow Queen, it tells the tale of the two princesses of Arendelle, Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel) and Anna (voice of Kristen Bell). Elsa is endowed with magical powers that allow her to create snow and ice with the flick of a wrist, which can be quite fun when you are a little girl. Her unendowed little sister, unfortunately, is accidentally struck by this magic and injured, thus causing Elsa to withdraw and become a recluse so as not to risk injuring her sister or anyone else again. As part of the cure, Anna does not remember the incident and doesn’t understand why her sister is avoiding her.

Flash forward several years to when the sisters come of age, and there is a big ball. No one is aware of Elsa’s big secret — until she becomes upset and accidentally sets off winter in her town of Arendelle. The townspeople fear her, proclaim her a witch and she runs off. Anna, who though clumsy and naive at times is no insipid princess, bravely takes after her sister despite the frigid conditions. Along the way she encounters a rugged ice harvester named Kristoff (voice of Jonathan Groff) with his faithful reindeer Sven, and a magical snowman (created by Elsa when they were children) named Olaf (voice of Josh Gad) as well as a variety of other characters I won’t mention for fear of spoiling some vital plot points.

What would a Disney movie review be without discussing the merits of the princesses themselves? Elsa, burdened with her magic, never gets to fall into the mold of falling in love with a prince. She leads a lonely life. But she has a wonderfully cathartic song, “Let It Go” that will surely become a top song this year. Anna, makes many mistakes, but also shows remarkable self-reliance for a young woman who has been sheltered all her life. Ultimately she is a princess who does the rescuing, not the other way around.

To be honest, I’m not a “musicals” kind of person, so I’m not the right person to evaluate the songs and music in the movie. There were quite a few songs in this movie. “Let It Go” was really the only one that captured me, but with music from Tony® winner Robert Lopez (“The Book of Mormon,” “Avenue Q”) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (“In Transit”), there are surely other songs that will end up being popular on the radio or iTunes.

What I do know is 3D. The animation, which we saw in 3D, is beautiful and I highly recommend watching it in the 3D version. The snow and individual snow flakes are stunning. The sheen of the ice is impressive. Additionally, there is a Mickey Mouse short before the movie that you will enjoy more if you see it in 3D.

There are a few scary scenes (a snow monster, chase scenes, wolves, fighting) and a few mildly coarse jokes (a lot of references to butts), but overall, I was comfortable with my 7- and 9-year-old kids being there and I’m fairly conservative about what my children watch.  This trailer will give you a pretty good idea of the kind of stuff you will see.


Frozen opens in theaters today.

In the meantime, if you want to learn more about the movie you can:

Also, enjoy this snowflake cutting template with your kids (PDF format) from Disney. Frozen Snowflake Activity

 The PR Company for Walt Disney Animation Studios provided my family with four tickets to the advanced screening to the movie, but as always, the opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Thanksgiving Dinner: Roasting a Perfect Turkey and Other Tips

photo of turkey with words superimposed: Thanksgiving Dinner: How to Roast a Perfect Turkey and Other TipsI happened to be in the grocery section of Target the other night when a wild-eyed woman looked at me and said, “I don’t see the cabbage! Do you see any cabbage?”

Me, (bewildered as to why one would think Target would have cabbage): “Um, no. I guess they don’t carry any.”

Crazy lady: “How I got stuck with all the cooking and cleaning I don’t know. Dammit, I’m going to have to go to another store now to buy all this food.”

Suddenly it all became clear — she is a reluctant Thanksgiving hostess. Personally, I love cooking for Thanksgiving, but for many, it is a burdensome task. There are some who are afraid of cooking the big bird, or are overwhelmed by the timing of the many side dishes.

Do you find yourself in the same position as the poor lady I found muttering in the aisles? If so, fear not! This is really so much easier than you would think!

Roasting the Perfect Turkey

Let’s start with the star of the show — the turkey! I believe there are two keys to success here: starting with a good brand you trust and picking a cooking method you are comfortable with. I watch all those cooking shows and think, “Ooh, I’m going to try to brine my turkey this year!” But when it comes right down to it, I’ve honed my roasting to such perfection that I just can’t bear to mess with it. (Okay, one year I tried a turducken, and regretted it.) Everyone who has eaten a turkey I have cooked has said it is the juiciest, most tender, and flavorful turkey they ever had, and though I have cooked it, I almost feel like I can’t take credit because it is due to such a foolproof method that everyone else I have shared it with has been able to reproduce identical results.

I posted this method way back in 2008, so without further ado, here is my Foolproof Way to Roast a Turkey and in the same post is my mother’s wonderful homemade cornbread stuffing recipe. Here are a few small changes since then:

  • When I use my covered roaster in the oven, I don’t necessarily have to baste every 30 minutes. But some habits die hard. Note that it does cook faster in the covered roaster, so adjust your timing accordingly.
  • I have since bought an electric roaster, and I have been able to replicate this process in it (with the limitation of the size of bird that the electric roaster can handle). I really like to cook birds in the 22-24 pound range and I can barely close the cover on a 22-pound bird on my electric roaster. These directions are similar, but not identical to my process (again, I stuff my turkey.)
  • You may have noticed that a smart commenter on that post decided to cream together his spices with his butter instead of doing it in two steps; sometimes I now cream together my butter and poultry seasoning.
  • For the stuffing recipe, some years I “cheat” and buy the pre-chopped “stuffing mix” vegetables in the produce section that has onions, celery and usually some herbs in them. It still works and tastes yummy. I buy the largest bowl, estimate what I need for my recipe and then keep the rest to use for my turkey carcass soup!
  • For timing, use the directions that came with your turkey, they generally will give you guidelines for a stuffed and unstuffed turkey. But remember, since you started out with the higher temperature for the first 30 minutes, you turkey will usually cook faster. And remember, TEMPERATURE, not time, is the ruling guideline.

The Side Dishes

Ready for my dirty little secret? I’m actually not a huge turkey fan! I prefer it as a leftover, in things (sandwiches, soups, or cut up with a dip of mayo and mustard mixed together). So for me, the Thanksgiving dinner is really all about the sides. And I’m very much a traditionalist, I stick to pretty much the same recipes my family has eaten for decades. I keep clipping new recipes, saying I’ll try something new, and then when the big day comes, I go to the tried and true. Why? Because I love them! They bring back fond memories and connect me to times spent with families members who are no longer with us.

But in the kitchen, side dishes are what often trip up the reluctant Thanksgiving hostess. It can be challenging to get the timing right when there are multiple dishes with different temperatures and requiring different lengths of cooking time. Here are a few tips:

  • Cook things ahead of time and then reheat. Some ideal candidates for this are candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole.
  • Prep the night before. Chop and measure anything you can ahead of time and put into small, sealed containers. There is no reason you can’t go ahead and mix together dry ingredients for recipes and put them into a sealed container. If you are going to have to open cans of things, put those on the kitchen counter with the can opener next to them. Gather anything that needs to be gathered, make sure your workspace is clear, your dishwasher is empty, your sink is clean — you want to be ready to dive in and clean as you go!
  • Make adjustments. If the variance in temperature is not significant and the food is not too delicate, choose the higher temperature and adjust the timing accordingly. For example, I have two casseroles I cook together but they have temperatures that are 25 degrees apart. I use the higher temperature and then just cook the one that has the lower temperature on the recipe for a shorter time.
  • Use a different appliance. Most recipes can be adapted to use a different appliance. Cook your turkey in an electric roaster to free up the oven. Mashed potatoes can be made in a slow cooker (otherwise known by the brand name: CrockPot). Perhaps something can be made in a pressure cooker. I’ve been known to cook candied sweet potatoes on the stove and in the microwave.
  • Post your menu on the fridge with a cooking time table. If I don’t list out a menu for myself, I invariably forget something, even if it is something small, like putting out the black olives. Work backwards from your planned serving time and run through when everything needs to go in and out of the oven/stove/other appliance, what might be need to be reheated. Leave yourself some time for replating (moving things from their cooking vessel into your pretty serving dishes). Go ahead and set out all of pretty serving dishes WITH serving silverware out on your table or buffet ahead of time so it is all accounted for.

This year I am going to try one new side dish. Doesn’t this look yummy? It has been years since I have cooked turnips and that time I pickled them! At least I’m trying to break free from my this Thanksgiving and trying something new! I’m curious if JavaDad will give them a try!

Glazed Carrots and Turnips from FoodNetwork.com

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4-6 servings

Serving Size: Not listed, meant to be a side dish.

Calories per serving: 70

Fat per serving: 2 g (Saturated 1 g)

Glazed Carrots and Turnips from FoodNetwork.com

Copyright 2001 Television Food Network, G.P. All rights reserved. Relisted on caffeineandaprayer with permission courtesy of FoodNetwork.com. Image courtesy of FoodNetwork.com.

Ingredients

  •    3/4 pound turnips, cut into 1-inch pieces
  •    3/4 pound carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
  •    2 teaspoons unsalted butter
  •    1/2 teaspoon sugar
  •    Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Put the vegetables in a skillet just large enough to hold them in a single layer.
  2. Add enough water so that it comes halfway up their sides along with the butter and sugar.
  3. Bring to a boil over high heat, then adjust the heat to maintain a simmer.
  4. Cover the vegetables with a round of parchment paper just large enough to fit the inside diameter of the pan, or with a lid set ajar.
  5. Simmer the vegetables until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  6. Remove the cover and raise the heat to high.
  7. Toss the vegetables frequently in the pan, as the liquid evaporates to a shiny smooth glaze.
  8. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.
  9. Link to original recipe: http://bit.ly/GlazedCarrots_Turnips

Notes

SERVES: 4 (SIDE); Calories: 70; Total Fat: 2 grams; Saturated Fat: 1 gram; Protein: 1 gram; Total carbohydrates: 12 grams; Sugar: 7 grams; Fiber: 3 grams; Cholesterol: 5 milligrams; Sodium: 219 milligrams

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My Pumpkin Pie Confession

I have made pumpkin pie many ways. I have made it from the famous Libby’s recipe. I have made it from my dear mother’s recipe (which uses bourbon!) I have made it using fresh pumpkin. I have even made a pumpkin flan. I have eaten many, many, many pumpkin pies in my life. And I have to tell you, one of the consistently best pumpkin pies comes from… Costco. There are times when the wisest hostess knows when to streamline (in business it is called “outsourcing”) and goes with the best. After all, I don’t make my own wine, do I? So for the past few years, I’ve stopped making my own pumpkin pies and have run by and picked up a pie. There is no shame in playing to your strengths (mine is making delicious turkey) and then taking a few shortcuts where the end result is going to be the same or better (my pumpkin pie is just fine, but why bother when Costco’s is a bit better? No more dashing up in the middle of dinner to pull a pie out of the oven! I’d love to hear what you do for your dessert!

Incidentally, you may be interested in this recent article by Forbes about why canned pumpkin produces superior pies.

Fun Food For the Kids

We’ve been making these Ritz Cracker Turkeys and Pilgrim Hat Cookies with the kids for years. I didn’t manage to get them made in time to send to school this year, but we’ll probably make them with visiting grandparents this Thanksgiving. It’s a fun way to keep the kids busy while Mom is in the kitchen. If you have trouble finding candy corn (it is often considered a Halloween candy — go figure!), check your drug store — for some reason they tend to keep it in stock for a longer period of time or even year-round, especially Walgreens.

The Most Important Tip: Go With the Flow

My top tip is this: Relax! Go with the flow! We’ve had all kinds of Thanksgivings… more formal ones with several family members and then a very memorable one that felt pretty disastrous as my husband was suffering from swine flu. Another year, I recall having to call the plumber when our garbage disposal backed up one Thanksgiving and washing some dishes in the bathroom sink while we waited. One year, the turkey we had ordered (as I like fresh turkeys of a large size) somehow never got ordered, and when my husband (then fiancé) went to pick it up, not only was it not there, there wasn’t a single fresh turkey to be had, only frozen. He was rushing to bring it home, got pulled over for speeding, then his car battery died. Imagine how mortified I was when my mother looked out the window and said, “There’s a police car in your driveway… and (JavaDad) is in the back of it!” They had given him (and the frozen turkey) a ride home. It is now just one of our many funny Thanksgiving stories… though it didn’t feel like it at the time! If you oven breaks, or you accidentally cook the bag of giblets, you won’t be the first hostess to have that happen. If you forget something, there is sure to be plenty of other food and drink on the table. If the house doesn’t look perfect, so be it. Step outside (or in your closet, garage or anywhere else) if you need a moment to yourself, and then remind yourself that it’s not about the food, and it’s not about being perfect. Thanksgiving is about being together, remembering our nation’s great history, and then counting our blessings and reminding ourselves how much we have to be thankful for.

One of the many things I am thankful for is YOU! Thank you for being a Caffeine and a Prayer reader! I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving! If you get a chance, I’d love for you to share a comment about your Thanksgiving traditions — whether it is food-related or something else!