I think about Russi Taylor a lot.
I know that’s a weird sentence to start a piece with, but it’s true.
It’s said that when she was a little girl, Russi was at Disneyland with her mother and brother when she spotted Walt Disney sitting on a bench in the park at night. They started up a conversation and when Walt asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up, the young Russi replied, “Work for you!” And she did.
In 1986 she beat out 200 others auditioning for the role of the famous female mouse and she has voiced her ever since.
She was no one-trick pony either. Her career included voice-overs for countless other characters across television and film, including Martin Prince on The Simpsons and Huey, Dewey and Louie in the original DuckTales. And those who work with her say she was just as sweet as the Minnie she portrayed.
She passed away in July at the age of 75, but her work…well, like so many others, it’s around me every single day.
With three kids at home, we watch a lot of Mickey and Minnie Mouse cartoons. From Mickey’s Clubhouse and Minnie’s Bow-tique to Roadster Racers and Mixed Up Adventures, Minnie’s with us every there. And that means that Russi Taylor’s Minnie is a constant presence. Throw in any Minnie Mouse doll, toy car, toy phone or anything else that talks in-character, and well, she’s heard about as much as any family member.
That’s a little strange, right? This person whom I’ve never met in my life but felt sadness for upon hearing of her passing. I didn’t know Russi Taylor. But like so many who experience characters that have become such a part of our lives, you don’t need to know them personally for them to mean something to you. She gave voice and life for more than 30 years to a beloved character that’s been a part of multiple childhoods.
And yet, though she is no longer with us, the Disney Legend continues to live on in every character she brought to life and every childhood she touched and brought joy to. The sound of Minnie Mouse surrounds so many of us every day, and because of that, she has become such a large part of so many childhoods, lives, and lives on in some small way in each person whose face she brought a smile to, even if it was remotely, through the wonder of animation and technology.
I spent a lot of time patching up holes at our house this summer. I’m not going to lie. I often spent much of that time simultaneously patching and singing The Beatles 1967 hit of the same name.
I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go
I’m filling the cracks that ran through the door
And kept my mind from wandering
Where it will go
But why? What holes? Why was this such an ongoing project throughout the summer?
The answer, my friends, is a small one. A chipmunk-sized one. Because it’s a chipmunk.
Early this summer we noticed a hole in our driveway, not far from where the garage door is. We assumed, as it was below the path of gutters above, that excess water had worn it away over time. So, one afternoon I went out, filled it with some rocks, mixed up a little concrete (with plans to cover it with cold patch once it dried) and filled up the hole. Inside the house I went and peeked out the window about an hour later to see if it had dried up yet and ready for the next step.
I did a double take at the window. Wait, what?
The entire hole had been dug up, or rather pushed up from the inside. Before the concrete could dry, it and the rocks below it now sat in the driveway, scattered about. As I inspected closer, I found that it wasn’t just a hole. It was a tunnel! A tunnel that led to the grass just off to the side of our driveway, where a tiny little chipmunk looked at me before running off.
I couldn’t believe it.
So, I patched up the hole again, this time covering it with a bucket and stone on top, while covering the other end of the tunnel with a big brick. This time it worked.
Until another hole popped up a few feet away. And then we discovered multiple holes in the masonry walls of the garage itself where our little friend was coming and going, leaving his droppings and gnawing away at any bags of birdseed. Which I discovered by picking up said bag and having it spill out from the bottom thanks to a chewed hole on the bottom.
Because I apparently live in a reality akin to 1940s Donald Duck cartoons where yes, I’m playing the role of Donald to my tiny co-star of Chip, Dale, whichever one is burrowing holes into our driveway and garage.
As the sun begins to set on summer, so too (at least I think) has the sun set on the cartoonish ongoing battle with our small antagonist (or are they the protagonist and I’m the antagonist?). The holes have been successfully filled in with rocks, concrete and a layer of cold patch on top. The holes in the garage walls have been filled in with steel wool, spray foam insulation, and where possible, a layer of concrete.
All those years of laughing at Donald Duck’s over the top attempts to stop those little chipmunks from causing chaos in his quiet little world have finally come back to bite me, I suppose.
But if you see me in my driveway, doing the Donald Duck angry tantrum bit again next season, you’ll know why.
If you’ve ever watched the holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street, you’re likely familiar with the buzz created when the real-life Santa Claus (mistaken for an actor playing the role) is put into the throne at Macy’s with the intention to push overstocked toys and instead starts telling parents and children alike where to find the items they just can’t seem to find there at Macy’s.
Sending them to other stores?! Gasp! It sends the head of the toy department into a tizzy but strikes Mr. Macy himself as a brilliant marketing ploy of goodwill to make Macy’s the friendly store, the helpful store.
There’s really something to be said for customer service, isn’t there?
You see, the past few years, an annual tradition has developed where on his birthday, I present our son (and last year at her birthday, our oldest daughter as well) with a custom-made comic book based on the super-hero persona he created for himself one Halloween back in preschool. I try to keep notes of the various characters his imagination develops as he played back then or creates in stories or drawings he makes currently, and incorporate them into these breezy little adventures that are all his own. And I try to have extras on hand as additional party favors for anyone at his birthday who may want one.
As in years past, I had ordered via an online printing service that does great work. Only this time, (through no fault of theirs) I made a mistake in the types of books I ordered, paper used. I admit being a bit obsessive about aesthetics at times and realized that these would stick out like a sore thumb amid the ones I’ve given him in the past. But re-ordering for such a small picky thing like that would’ve been too costly and wouldn’t arrive in time for his birthday.
So I started thinking local.
I stepped foot into a local printing and lithograph company that handles a lot of large scale orders in the area, including several magazines. I explained what I was looking to do, but that I only wanted 10, maybe 15 copies of this gift and party favor. They do large projects, but they told me the printer across the parking lot from them would have no problem handling the job well.
They didn’t tell me no and send me packing. They didn’t turn their nose up. They sent me and my business to someone more suited to it.
It was my Miracle on 34th Street moment.
So across the parking lot I hopped into Presto Print, where I was surprisingly greeted by a classmate from high school. An added bonus! I explained the project, what I needed, and she told me ‘no problem.’ To boot, they had it ready the very next day for me.
Thanks to these heroes, I had what I wanted when I needed it, all in time for my little hero.
There’s really something to be said for customer service.
Everything’s not awesome.
It was a lyric that turned the catchy earworm of a song, “Everything is Awesome,” from the first installment of The Lego Movie on its ear in a dramatic turn in philosophy.
Everything’s not awesome
Things can’t be awesome all of the time
It’s not a realistic expectation
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try
To make everything awesome
In a less likely, unrealistic kind of way
We should maybe aim for not bad
‘Cause not bad, well that would be real great
Like many movies out there, we’re late to the game in catching up. We don’t watch a lot of new movies and tend to stick to whatever might be family-friendly and streaming on Netflix at the time, or something out of our DVD collection. But we rented both of the Lego Movies lately (The kids liked them both while I enjoyed the first more than the second) and though I wasn’t as fond of the sequel, I walked away from it taken by this musical flip in attitude.
Because everything is not awesome. It does not always have to be. Sometimes things just being mundane, just being “not bad” IS okay. If every moment is special and spectacular, then nothing is. If we’re always feeling euphoria, then we’re never really experiencing it because we have nothing to compare it to.
And if we can have an awareness of this in our adult lives, or at least have it as an awareness to strive for, then why is it so much more difficult to have it for our children? Why do we have such high expectations of them, expecting them to behave with the life experience and perspective of an adult when they haven’t even gotten close to there yet?
I am by no means perfect and I often have to remind myself that I can have too high of expectations for our children. Sometimes the noise they’re making, the mess they’re creating, the just plain bouncing off the walls, is part of being a child. I can not, realistically, expect them to behave like little adults, with the outlook and perspective on their choices and behavior that I do, because they have not lived my life. They’ve got more than 30 years of living and experiences to go through before then.
We get upset when they’re not behaving well all the time. We don’t look at it that way, of course. They could behave all day and then, when they finally slip, we get upset that they’re not acting the right way. We focus on that negative moment and boil over instead of having some perspective that the rest of the day went pretty darn well. How can we expect them to be good all day long when it sure isn’t possible for many of us adults to do? Appreciate the good moments, verbalize appreciation for it. The bad moments are going to come, but it becomes all too easy to let them overshadow everything else. Pick your battles. I’m trying to teach myself this currently.
They’ve got energy they need to get out. Sometimes it IS accomplished just by being over the top silly, wacky, rolling around on the living room floor, standing on their head, etc. Again, a battle I’m fighting with myself to let go of some of the times and not get bothered by.
Yes, we love them. Yes, they can still drive us nuts. Because yes, they’re children – children exploring their world, themselves, and everything under the sun as they gain experiences and perspectives that it has taken us parents a lifetime in which to achieve…and for many of us, we’re still working on ourselves.
So cut them some slack and ourselves too. Set the boundaries, but let them be kids. Pick your battles.
Because everything’s not awesome.
Things can’t be awesome all of the time
It’s not a realistic expectation.
So, this is a pretty important week for me.
Not because I’ll be one step closer to forty by the time the week is through, but because a tale that’s been floating in my mind for many years is finally seeing the light of day.
This week marks the release of my first children’s picture book, The Little Lamp. It’s the story of a small table lamp who shines his love on a family for many years. But as their lives change, so does his, and as the years pass, he finds himself old, dusty, and eventually at the curb. And it’s with that he starts to re-think what these changes mean for him and what purpose he might still serve in life – as he has so much more love light to give.
Available in hardcover, paperback and e-book, it’s a story I hope offers some inspiration, some hope, and some, all pun intended, bright light to anyone of any age, going through a life change, doubt, and just wondering how they fit in. It’s beautifully illustrated by artist Ada Konewki, with whom I loved working with and hope to one day get the chance to do so again.
It also holds quite a lot of meaning because The Little Lamp has been with me since I was about nine years old, a doodle inspired by the small table lamp my parents bought for my bedroom, which then became crudely-drawn, xeroxed stories passed around to my elementary school friends.
And now, thirty years later, here he is, for anyone to enjoy.
It really means so very much.
It seemed like an era came to a close on PBS Kids recently, and if you’ve been watching Odd Squad with your kids (or maybe on your own, I do it. It’s okay. It’s a great show no matter how old you are), you know exactly what I’m talking about.
PBS Kids recently aired the Odd Squad special, Odds & Ends, which set out to answer questions that have been looming throughout the show’s entire season of odd-busting, and at the same time, brought one era of the show to a close while leaving the door open for a fresh new start.
Avast, matey! Scroll at your own peril! There be spoilers ahead!!
When the original Odd Squad duo, straight-laced Olive and goofball Otto (Dalila Bela and Filip Geljo), left the show at the end of the first season, audiences were introduced to a brand new dynamic with uber-optimist Olympia and the by-the-book Otis (Anna Cathcart and Isaac Kragten, respectively). From the start of the second season, audiences were told that unlike other Odd Squad cadets, Otis didn’t attend the Odd Squad Academy, leaving the door open to all sorts of questions as to where he came from.
Series mainstay Millie Davis continued to guide agents on their missions and paths as the big boss, Ms O, with Sean Michael Kyer also staying on for several episodes as scientist and resident gadget-maker Oscar, eventually exiting to pass the torch along to his protege, Oona (Olivia Presi).
Over the course of 35 episodes in its second season, Olympia and Otis used math skills to solve a myriad of wacky cases that ranged from houses being covered in jam to a man turned into a spaghetti monster, and continued to rack up Daytime Emmy wins for its cast and crew in the process. And all along the way, they and the roster of changing agents, scientists and others around them, the duo had series mainstay Ms O to guide them.
With this special, the show’s second season came to a close as Otis is put on trial for suspected treason against Odd Squad and on the stand tells the story we’ve been waiting for – just where he came from and how he came to Odd Squad. And in typical Odd Squad fashion, it turns out he was raised by ducks. Villainous ducks that in his heart he knew he had to stop, which brought him to Ms O, and eventually, to joining Odd Squad. Of course, Otis committed no treason and we learn that it’s really been the work of a mastermind under our noses the entire time – Agent Ohm!
Yes, Agent Ohm. The goofy, hapless, mucking up every case he touches Ohm, has really been a genius working from the inside to destroy Odd Squad this whole time. And what a delightfully fun turn of character for the young actor who plays Ohm, (Jaiden Cannatelli) to take on, cackling all the way. When all is revealed (and after some wonderful cameo appearances by regular Odd Squad rogues Mr Lightning, Jamie Jam and of course, Joshua Kilimnik’s Odd Todd along with a wham-bang, over the top opening with David Tompa’s delightful villain, Noisemaker) the dust settles, the end of the world is stopped and Otis (along with Ms O) are cleared. With the mystery solved, Ms O moves up the ranks from running one Odd Squad to all of them, and we get a nice farewell hug among the regulars before duty (and battle against giant Laser Chickens) calls.
Our son got a little misty as the special came to a close and I can’t say I blame him. He’s been watching Odd Squad since shortly after it debuted. More than four years later, he’s grown up alongside the characters he’s watched regularly on TV. He wondered what’s going to happen next, but I told him we’ll all have to find out together. I’m sure only show creators Timothy McKeon and Adam Peltzman truly know what oddness the future holds.
I’ve read online that a Season 3 is already in the works.. What that will look like, I have no clue, but it certainly will be a challenge to carry on in a post Ms O world. Young Mille Davis has been with the show since the very beginning and has been nothing short of a delight to watch in every scene she’s in. But then, I wondered how the show would carry on with the loss of Bela and Geljo as Olive and Otto, and went on to find Cathcart and Kragten incredibly charming as successors Olympia and Otis. Hopefully they’ll stick around, regardless of who’s in the boss’ chair, along with Presti, who has found all the comedic quirks over the course of Season 2 that developed her character, Oona, into a wonderful source of awkward comedy moments. So whatever the show’s creators choose to do, it’ll no doubt be fun. And odd.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Odd Squad is the best family show for all ages on TV. Whether it’s our three year old, our six year old, or me, every episode is cleverly written, delightfully acted, and brilliantly put together in a way that delivers action, humor, and some great math lessons along the way. Did I mention that time that ⅗ of the Kids in the Hall appeared in a first season episode spoof of Clue?
So, seriously, tune in to your local PBS or PBS Kids station, download the free PBS Kids app to your television or electronic device and delight in all the oddness and fun. I promise, it’s hard to resist and you might just find yourself watching well after the kids have left the room.
What are you waiting for? Go!