Monday, January 27, 2014

Movie Review: "The Nut Job"

 So, we saw our first movie of 2014, "The Nut Job," an animated family movie. (Rated PG for mild action and rude humor.) Not much choice, we wanted to take the kids, and this was the only kids' movie playing (other than "Frozen," which we've already seen.) 

 The plot: Surly, a squirrel exiled from the park, tries to break into a nut store. He has to team up with other park animals, who are trying to bring back enough for the whole park to survive the winter. In a side plot, the nut store is owned by bank robbers who are using it as cover for digging a tunnel to rob the bank across the street. Surly learns a valuable lesson about teamwork and helping others for the greater good of everyone. The park animals learn not to blindly trust leaders who might not have their best interests at heart (or something like that.) Voice talents include Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl and Maya Rudolph. 

 The verdict: The animation is great, but the humor is hit and miss, with the funniest bits being in the previews. Both kids enjoyed it well enough, though neither was absorbed by it, but the only reason any adult would see this is if they're bringing kids. This is no "Toy Story" or "Incredibles," it's more on a level with "Open Season."  Unless you're desperate to take your kids to see something new, I'd say wait for this to hit basic cable or Netflix, and just go see "Frozen" again.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Reflections On An Elementary School Winter Program

  It's "Winter Program" time for the first grader. Back when I was in school, it was the "Christmas Program," but that was back when being "inclusive" meant including songs from every religious tradition, not excluding all mention of any religious tradition. But, whatever. Six grades of kids singing songs about snow. I can only think of three songs about snow, (four if you count "Baby, It's Cold Outside" but that's not appropriate for grade-schoolers) which probably means we're in for a whole bunch of made-up winter-themed songs. Which the boy probably won't sing anyway, since the teacher has been telling me for the past two weeks he hasn't been participating well in rehearsals. I think my combination of threats/bribes will at least get him to do the motions.

  Three hours to go: the grandparents aren't going to be able to make it, icy roads make the 2-hour drive too dangerous. Bummer. The boy will be disappointed, plus the extra distraction for the three-year-old would have been welcome. But there will still be two adults there to handle her, which should be fine, even if the program start time is a half hour after her usual nap start time.

 We leave the house a half-hour early. Should be plenty of time to get to a school five blocks away. Except high parental turn out and no parking lot means we end up parking about two and a half blocks away. We would have been better off walking if it wasn't 10 degrees outside. But we still make it in the door with ten minutes to spare.

 The gym is standing room only. That puts a new perspective on keeping the girl corralled. We head for the way far back corner where there's a bit more room for her to wiggle, dump our coats in a pile against the wall and look at the program. Oh look. It's not just every class K-6 performing, there's also a head-start class, the fifth and sixth grade band, and the fourth through sixth grade strings orchestra. 

 Hey, there's one chair free in the back row. I sneak in and sit with the girl on my lap. That keeps her happy for about a minute and a half. Then she wants her own chair. Once the kicking and struggling starts, I give up the seat to a grandma and go back to standing against the wall.

 I'm holding the girl on my hip when the orchestra starts. They're playing "Old MacDonald." The girl starts singing along, which is pretty audible since the orchestra isn't that loud. Now they're playing Mozart, why is she still singing? Oh, she's singing "Let It Go" from "Frozen." Sorry fellow late-comers, I'm already as far back in the corner as I can get, and to take her out I'd have to cross the entire length of the gym to the doors, squeezing in front of people all the way. Time to hand her off to Daddy.

 We've made it through the instrumentals, the sixth grade, the fifth grade, here comes the fourth grade...are they carrying recorders? Yep. Straight out of a South Park episode, they're singing "Sleigh Ride" while playing recorders. Maybe I can take the girl to the potty. No? Are you sure you don't have to go? Damn.

 A short break before the third graders come out, we're halfway through. Hey look, two people at the end of the back row are leaving. They must have a fourth grader. Either that or the recorders pushed them over the edge. Daddy and the little girl take the seats. I tried sitting with her once already, I'm happy to continue standing behind them. Now that she's sitting, she can play with the Christmas stickers and blank paper I brought for a quiet activity. Maybe that will keep her happy through the end. 

 The second grade is about to start. I look over and see the girl is now putting stickers on the grandma next to her instead of the paper. (Bet that seat we gave up to her at the beginning isn't looking so great now.) Hopefully she's an understanding grandma. 

 First grade is up next, I switch off with Daddy so he can stand behind and prepare to take pictures. Luckily, the girl's out of stickers. "Guess what, your brother is up next!" "I hafta go potty." (Mental facepalm)

 The first-graders are singing, all except the boy. He is doing some of the hand motions, though, that's progress. And on the second song he waves his colored scarf pretty enthusiastically with the rest. Now they're filing out - wow, that went fast.

 The Kindergartners are done and now all the grades are coming out to sing the big finale, "Winter Wonderland." The plan was apparently to have all the kids encircle the audience, but that didn't take into account the standing-room-only crowd. We smoosh back against the wall so the kids can line up in front of us and behind the lucky people in the chairs. The sixth-graders directly in front of me aren't singing: one is on her phone, two are giggling and whispering about one of the boys down the row, who keeps looking over at them. 

 All the kids have filed out back to their classrooms and the parents are starting to leave. A fellow PTA member is next to me. We decide that if the PTA had been selling drinks, we'd have made a ton of money. (Can the PTA apply for a liquor license?)

 We go to the boy's classroom to sign him out. "Were you there? Did you see me? I didn't see you. Did you see my scarf? It was purple. We did a song about ice is nice, and there's ice outside. Do I get to leave now? Is the Winter Program over? I can't wait until we do it again next year."

 Me too, kiddo. It was worth every minute.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Movie Review: Despicable Me 2

 It's late and I'm tired, so today's blog is a movie review catch-up.

 The "Monsters University" outing went so well, we decided to take both kids to "Despicable Me 2." This one didn't hold the two-year-old's attention quite as well, but I sure enjoyed it!

 Gru is out of the supervillain life, and trying to adjust to family life with his three adopted girls, when he's recruited by the Anti-Villain League to track down the culprit responsible for the theft of a secret Arctic lab. In the process, he starts to fall for his recruiter and partner, Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig). Oh, and while he's busy investigating, his minions are being kidnapped and turned into vicious purple monsters.

 This one might not be quite as good as the original, but it's still worth the money. Gru's character continues to grow and change as he shepherds his oldest daughter through her first crush, while dealing with his own unexpected romantic interest. And of course, there's a lot more Minions. Everything about the Minions is great, they could probably carry a movie all by themselves. Steve Carell and Kristen Wiig are priceless as Gru and Lucy, this is one kids movie that is just as entertaining for adults.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

My Baby Is Three Today

 It seems like just yesterday I was turning 40, big as a whale and wondering if I was going to be sharing my birthday. Four days later, along comes the baby girl. 

One Day Old

Two Years
One Year

And now it's been three years already. 

  As she tells me constantly, she's a "big girl" now. Speaking in complete sentences, singing along with the car radio (she totally rocks the chorus to Fall Out Boy's "My Songs Know What You Did In the Dark,") and before you know it she'll be in preschool...but at least for now, she still likes to squeeze into a chair with me for bedtime stories, and insists that I dance with her to the Sesame Street theme song. So I'm going to enjoy this last year of toddler-hood while I can.

3 Today - ready for my birthday cupcake!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review: Nerd Block

 I've been interested in the subscription box trend for a while now. That's where you sign up with a company and they send you a random box of their products each month. There are subscription boxes for dog treats, snack foods, beauty products, and probably a bunch more I haven't heard of. Whoever came up with this idea first is a marketing genius: there's just something super fun about getting a box of mystery goodies in the mail, like having a birthday every month. But I hadn't found one that really appealed to me, until I heard about Nerd Block, a subscription box service for geeks.

 A Nerd Block subscription is $19.99, plus about $10 shipping. (They're based in Canada.) Each month's box contains a geeky T-shirt and five or six toys/collectibles. I've received two boxes so far, and here's the rundown:

Box No. 1
Outer mailing box
Fun nerd box

The stuff in box no. 1

My first box contained a "Gremlins"-themed T-shirt, a Funko TMNT Splinter figure, a HeroClix Superman game figure (Kryptonian Warrior), a "Big Bang Theory" mystery figure (Sheldon-yay!), a package of Topps Wacky Packages stickers (never heard of these, they remind me of the old Garbage Pail Kids stickers), and a GelaSkin smart phone wrapper in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles design.

Grade: D. A disappointing first box. The T-shirt is good quality, but I'm not a huge "Gremlins" fan. I also don't play HeroClix, I'm not into Ninja Turtles, and I don't have a smart phone. The goofy stickers went to my seven-year-old. The only thing I'm keeping is the Sheldon figure (he looks great on my computer.)

Box No. 2:
Box No. 2

The goodies unpacked
This month's shirt

 This month's box contained an awesome spooky Star Wars T-shirt, A DC Universe vinyl mini figure (The Penguin), a Spawn mini trading figure (Wings of Redemption), a Portal Sentry Turret, a mini Wolverine eraser, an Adventure Time puzzle game, and a bizarre blue plastic splotch, that is apparently a TNMT coaster.

Grade: B. Star Wars is my main geek niche, and the shirt is seriously cool. I've only seen Adventure Time a few times, but the puzzle looks like fun, the Penguin figure is cute (he's now sitting next to Sheldon), the Wolverine eraser will probably go to my seven-year-old, and the Spawn figure has amazing detail for a miniature, it may be an uncommon variant worth eBay-ing. However, the plastic coaster looks like a cheap county fair freebie, and the Portal Sentry Turret was so poorly made, the legs broke off when I took it out of the box. Which is too bad, because the box it came in was actually way cooler than the toy itself.

 I plan to give Nerd Block one more month before I decide if the value of each box is worth continuing my subscription. I think the company needs to add a survey to the sign up process, where besides shirt size, you can input your geeky preferences. There are so many ways to express geekiness - comic books, Anime, movies and TV, computer games, role-playing games, math & science, Steam Punk, etc. - the likelihood of everything in a box appealing to one person is pretty slim. If you could pick your categories of geek preferences when you sign up, there would probably be a higher satisfaction rate. ("Yes, I'd like to order a Star Wars/Doctor Who/Joss Whedon box please. With a side of comic books, and throw in some Star Trek. Thanks!")

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Book Review: The Spirit Medium Trilogy by C. J. Archer

"The Medium"
by C. J. Archer 

So, one good thing about being sick, I had lots of time to read (and re-watch series one of "Sherlock," but mostly, read.) I heard about the first book in this trilogy, "The Medium," through the BookBub website, which I heartily recommend if you have an e-reader. You sign up, and they send you an email everyday with a list of bargain ebooks, many of them free. 

 "The Medium" is a Victorian supernatural mystery-romance starring Emily Chambers, a young woman who can see ghosts. When she and her sister accidentally release a demon at a seance, she sets out to track it down and banish it, with the help of Jacob, a handsome ghost with no idea how he died or where his body is. This book also introduces the mystery surrounding Emily's parentage and mediumistic heritage.

 In the second book, "Possession," Emily and Jacob try to stop the ghost of a murderer who's possessing high society gentlemen. To do this, they must discover who summoned the ghost in the first place, and why. And how is it connected to the mystery of Jacob's death?

 The final book, "Evermore," wraps everything up as neatly as a Victorian romance reader would want. When Emily is suddenly unable to summon ghosts to her seances, she and Jacob must discover why ghosts are disappearing from the Otherworld, and how they can stop the curse before Jacob disappears as well. This book ties all the mysteries together, and finally solves the questions surrounding Jacob's ghost. 

 All three books are quite well written. The characters are interesting, and the action flows well. Sometimes, the author gives a few too many clues, making the mystery a bit easy to figure out, but the story is still entertaining. The first book may have been free, but it was compelling enough to make me immediately buy the second and third ones as soon as I finished the first. 

 I'd recommend these books to fans of Gail Carriger's Steampunk novels - they've got the same blend of Victorian romance and supernatural action, minus the Steampunk gadgetry. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Climbing Back on the Blogging Wagon

   I started off NaBloWriMo with good intentions. Much like the January first resolution to go to the gym everyday, I was full of enthusiasm for blogging. But things happen. Like that gym resolution, where you go everyday for about a week, then you get injured or sick, or have to work overtime, and you miss a day. And then you miss the next day. And the longer you stay away, the harder it is to go back, because you told everyone you were going every day, and then suddenly, it's March and you've gained five pounds...

  That was how the last 10 days or so have been for me. But instead of saying, "Well, this month is ruined, guess I'll just have to wait for next year," I'm going to jump back on the blogging treadmill and pick up where I left off, starting with what I've been doing since my lapse 10 days ago.

 A week ago Friday, we went to a fundraising dinner for the Legal Aid Society, celebrating the group's 50 years in Omaha. Interesting speakers and really great food, plus a fairly early end to the evening which gave us time to see "We're the Millers," before the babysitter had to leave. (Good movie, I'll review it later.)

 Saturday, relatives we hadn't seen for quite awhile were in town for the Nebraska-Illinois homecoming football game. We got together for pizza, and it turned into a late night. (9:30 is late when you have little kids to put to bed. Much too tired to blog after getting the hyper, over-stimulated rugrats to bed.)

 Sunday was supposed to be a trip to the Children's Museum, but I was feeling a bit off and decided to stay home and rest. Didn't work. Monday through Wednesday were spent mostly in bed with the first stomach virus of the year, (thank you, elementary-school-aged child), and the rest of the week was spent catching up with everything left undone while I was sick.
  But now I'm back on track. I was healthy again to celebrate my birthday in style yesterday. We had tickets to "The Book of Mormon," which was indescribably hilarious! Literally, indescribable, at least in a family-themed blog, this is a hard R-rated musical from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park. Blasphemous and irreverent, but also sweet, with a nice message about faith hidden in this sharp comedy about two Mormon missionaries on their first mission trip to Africa. I've never laughed so hard at a musical, even though it was laughter of the "oh my God, I'm going to Hell for laughing at this," variety. Oh, and dinner at a new all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant (Tokyo Omaha) was a perfect cap to the day.

 So, that was my last week or so. I'll have more to write about tomorrow, and all the rest of October. And this time, I mean it!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Movie Review: The World's End

  I try to keep track of how many movies I see in the theater each year by reviewing them here, but I got really behind over the summer. That's OK though, whenever I'm short of time or drawing a blank trying to come up with a blog post, I can play movie review catch-up.

 The last date-night movie we saw was "The World's End," another sci-fi/horror/comedy with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (the guys from "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz.") Since we're both geeks, we don't go for the usual rom-coms, and this movie was right up our alley.

 Five guys who were buddies in high school but drifted apart, head to their hometown 20 years later to recreate, and attempt to finish, an epic pub crawl. (The final pub in the crawl, one they never made it to in high school, is named 'The Worlds End.') In the process, they find things have changed since they left; the hard-drinking party guy is on the wagon, their ultra-cool-in-high-school leader is now a loser stuck in the past, and oh yeah, everyone in the town has been taken over by alien robots. The guys have to figure out what's going on, stay alive, and try to finish the pub crawl in one night.

 Fans of "Shaun of the Dead" and British humor will definitely enjoy this one. The movie does a great job of building the guys' characters and personalities -  you get to understand who they are and where they're coming from, before the crazy alien-robot stuff starts. A lot of sci-fi movies don't seem to get that awesome CGI isn't enough by itself, a good movie also needs a fun story and people to care about.   I did at times have trouble deciphering the accent when the actors talked too fast - this will be a good one to watch on DVD, where I can back up and replay scenes where I missed some of the dialogue the first time.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

It's October 1st, Which Means...'s NaBloWriMo, or National Blog Writers Month. This will be the third year I've taken part in the challenge of writing a blog post a day for an entire month - and maybe I'll even reach the goal this year! The first year, I posted 22 days in October, and last year I managed 27 posts, so third time's the charm.

 October is a good month for this type of challenge; this is the point in the year where I start to get discouraged over my inability to stick to a regular blog posting schedule. I get busy over the summer, routines fall by the wayside, and suddenly I realize I'm full of blogs that I've written in my head, but that never made it out to the keyboard. So October is the month of renewed purpose, where all those sidelined blogs can have their own day.

 Maybe I'll get busy, or someone will get sick. There will probably be a few "Wordless Wednesdays" where a few photos will have take the load because I'm just too swamped to write more than a paragraph. But I'm starting fresh and optimistic, knowing that if I could get a blog post in on day one, even though I began "cold turkey" potty training the little girl today (that will be its own blog post in the near future), and oh yeah, the boy was sent home sick from school with a tummy ache, (he napped for three hours and bounced back by dinner time, although he was still awake at 10:30 pm, which doesn't bode well for tomorrow) then the rest of the month should be a piece of cake!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Book Review: "Hidden In Dreams" by Davis Bunn

"Hidden In Dreams"
Davis Bunn, 2012
Image from

 I picked this up off the new fiction display at the library a few weeks ago. An interesting mix of mystery, science fiction and religion, "Hidden In Dreams" follows professor of psychology and dream researcher Elena Burroughs as she's asked to investigate why multiple people are having the exact same dreams, terrifying dreams about a global financial disaster. After learning about the dreams, Dr. Burroughs becomes one of the Dreamers herself. She relies on her professional expertise and her religious faith as she tries to determine if the dreams are a hoax, a side effect of a new experimental medication, or a warning from a higher power. While doing so, she also gets caught in a love triangle between the president of her university and a professional rival, both of whom are helping her investigate the Dreamers.

 I had a slow start getting into this one, but once I did, I couldn't put it down. The action is well paced to keep you turning pages, and the mystery keeps you guessing about who, or what, is really behind the dreams. The protagonist's religious faith added an interesting component to the story; I primarily read sci-fi, where religions, especially Christianity, are mostly non-existent or irrelevant.

  I didn't realize when I picked this up that it's a sequel to the novel "The Book of Dreams." I wish I had read that first, since there are several references to people and events from that book - I found it distracting, but it didn't impede my ability to follow the storyline. At 238 pages, it's a quick read, and a fun one. I can't wait to pick up the first book when I return this one to the library, and find out what I've missed.