Monday, December 31, 2012

Last Movie Review of the Year: The Hobbit

 Well, we finally got to see "The Hobbit", just under the wire to make my 2012 movie list.

 I knew I'd enjoy this movie. The Lord of The Rings Trilogy is on my all-time favorites list, and with the same director, locations, and many of the same actors, it was like revisiting an old friend. Martin Freeman is wonderfully believable as a younger Bilbo. (After seeing this movie, I began watching "Sherlock" on Netflix, in part, just to see more of him.)

 Also stellar is Richard Armitage as Thorin, leader of the Dwarf company. As light and humorous as "The Hobbit" is, there is also emotional depth there, much of it riding on Thorin, and Armitage is up to the task. The pain of a leader who has seen his homeland devastated is plain on his face, as is the determination and duty to regain what was lost. He also has a great singing voice; the dwarf chorus singing "The Misty Mountain" gave me chills.

 There is so much going on in this movie, it never really feels like almost three hours; I can't think of any scenes I'd cut to shorten it, although maybe I'll change my mind after repeated viewings. And there will be repeated viewings. This is one of the movies I'll be buying to watch over and over with my kids when they're old enough.

 I haven't read the book (yet), so I can't compare the book and the movie. I read the Lord of the Rings Trilogy after seeing the movies, so I'm going to wait until after the last of this trilogy to start "The Hobbit." I really don't know how they can stretch a book that size into three movies, but I'm willing to keep an open mind. I can't wait for part two next December.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Good Costume Accessory: Common Sense

 A news story caught my eye today. It was a light, local color piece, that just as easily could have been a serious tragedy.

 Anime Nebraskon was this past weekend in Omaha. This is a large sci-fi convention, with an emphasis on Anime fandom. As with most sci-fi conventions, costuming is a big part of the event. One of the costumed attendees (who will remain nameless here, he's been embarrassed enough) ran short of cash during the convention, so he headed for a nearby bank. However, he was in costume as a character from the Resident Evil video games, complete with prop gun, worn in a visible holster. You can guess what happened next.

 Witnesses who saw him walking into the bank called 911, and the police showed up full bore, no doubt fearing armed robbery at best, mass shooting at worst. Luckily all turned out well. The costumed attendee complied with police instructions, the misunderstanding was sorted out and everyone had a good laugh. But this could so easily have gone the other way.

 A lot of commenters on the news media Facebook pages for this story are calling this guy an idiot, or worse, but that's hardly fair. Yes, it was an error in judgment (which he admits) but an understandable one. Now, I've attended conventions in costume, and I have stopped in public places, in costume, on my way to or from the convention. Sometimes it's necessary: you need food, gas or cash. And when you're immersed in geek culture for a weekend, it's easy to forget what you look like to outsiders. You spend the weekend in costume, surrounded by other people in costume, and everything you do revolves around your particular fan obsessions. Everyone you meet is "in the know."

 Some fan commenters on the Facebook pages are calling the people who called 911 idiots for not realizing this was just a guy in costume, but that's not fair either. No matter how big a convention is, you can't expect average people nearby to know about it, or to recognize a particular costume when they see it on the street. After what happened in Colorado, like it or not, any costume including prop weapons is going to look suspicious - and it should! Better to err on the side of safety.

 So a word of advice to convention-goers: When you need to leave this protected environment, try to remember that, no matter how big a deal the convention is in your life, people on the outside may not know it's even going on. They will have no idea why you're dressed as you are, or what your character is supposed to be. Use some common sense, and leave obvious weapons at the hotel, or in your car. After all, it's fun to explain your elaborate costume to curious outsiders, but you really don't want to try to explain it to the police.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Biggest Story of the Day (Hint: It's NOT Hurricane Sandy)

...Not that Hurricane Sandy isn't a big story. Millions of dollars in property damage and millions of people without power is no laughing matter. We're just lucky to live in a time when science can give us enough warning to prepare. 100 years ago, a storm like this would have left thousands dead and injured instead of just a few.

 I feel especially sorry for all those on the East Coast still lacking power, because without Internet access, they missed the REALLY big story today: Disney bought Lucasfilm, and announced there would be new Star Wars movies, with the first planned for 2015.

 For Star Wars geeks, this is a jaw-dropping announcement. Uncle George, Lucas the control freak, sole owner of privately held Lucasfilm, cashing out to Disney? Actually allowing someone else to control the Star Wars franchise? Unheard of. Plus, three new movies announced. The final trilogy that George said was never going to happen, is officially happening starting in 2015. Christmas came early this year!

 But if it's surprising that George sold Lucasfilm, it's not surprising who bought it. Who but Disney could afford to continue something as epic as Star Wars? There was already a relationship in place - the Star Tours ride premiered at Disneyland back in 1987, and Disney has been doing Star Wars weekends at its parks for some time now.

 So this is the dawn of a new Star Wars era. We're already getting new movies, so what's next? Maybe this will mean a whole Star Wars-themed Disney park, a la Universal's Harry Potter attraction. Maybe this means George won't be able to keep changing the original trilogy any time he feels like it. Maybe we'll even get to see the original theatrical release versions of the first three Star Wars movies on DVD. It feels like the universe is new again, and anything can happen.

 "When you wish upon a star..."

Monday, October 29, 2012

Movie Review: "Cloud Atlas"

 Well, this hasn't happened for a while - we got to see a movie on its opening weekend. Saturday night, we went to "Cloud Atlas."

 This is a very interesting movie, with a big-name cast: Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon, just for starters. Going in, I had no real idea what this movie was about, and now I know why - it's not the kind of movie you can boil down to a brief plot synopsis.

 The first 15 minutes are confusing as heck, jumping around in time quickly and randomly from the mid-1800s to a post-apocalyptic far future. (Just to add to the confusion, the far future characters speak a pidgin English that's almost impossible to comprehend, at least at first.) But gradually, as each time frame's plot starts to develop, you begin to see the connections between the storylines. The sudden changes are still jarring, but if you're paying attention you can keep up.

 It's also incredibly interesting to see the actors playing different characters in each storyline, sometimes in such heavy makeup they completely disappear into the character. (Stick around through the credits, they run photos of all the characters played by each actor next to the actors' names. Even if you're looking for it, I guarantee you'll miss some of them.)

 This is the most original science fiction movie I've seen in some time. It doesn't exist just to show off flashy special effects - the visual effects are stellar, but definitely secondary to the story. It has something to say about how everyone's lives are connected, and how actions and relationships can echo throughout space and time. It's philosophical, arty, complex, and at almost three hours, incredibly long - but it's definitely worth the time and money to see in the theater.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Movie Review: Hotel Transylvania

 Since the boy has two days off this week (parent-teacher conferences) we dropped the toddler at day care and went to a movie. That's kind of our day-off treat, now that he's a big school-ager. We get to see a movie and split a huge tub of popcorn for lunch.

 So this time, we saw "Hotel Transylvania." Lots of good voice talent in this one: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Steve Buscemi, Selena Gomez and Kevin James, just for starters. The plot: Dracula builds a hidden castle as a refuge for the monster community, and to keep his daughter safe from the dangerous human mob who killed her mother. Enter the young human backpacking his way across Europe, who accidently stumbles on the castle and falls for Drac's daughter.

 This is a pretty predictable movie, with the expected fish-out-of water jokes as the young human tries to blend in as one of the monsters. And the expected reaction as the monsters discover the human who's been hiding in their midst. And the predictable conflict of no boy ever being good enough for daddy's little vampire, followed by the usual change of heart, as Dracula realizes his daughter has to live her own life, he can't always keep her locked up and safe, and the humans aren't all bad after all.

 In general, adults will probably have the feeling they've seen this all before, but hey, it's new to the kids. And even if the message/moral is a bit heavy-handed, at least the animation is pretty and the jokes are funny enough to entertain kids and adults. The monsters weren't at all scary, making this a good movie for the younger kids - and it's not like there are a lot of choices out there in that category.

 It's hard not to compare this to "ParaNorman" (the last movie the boy and I saw together.) Both animated, both featuring misunderstood monsters, both with a moral at the end - but all-in-all, "ParaNorman" is the movie that will stick with you.  "Hotel Transylvania," while fun, is ultimately forgettable. (Not that there's anything wrong with a couple hours of escapist entertainment on your day off!)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Product Review: Huggies Little Movers Slip-On Diapers

 Yep, this is a diaper review, so if you don't have any diaper-wearing children in your life, feel free to skip this one, I don't mind.

Huggies Little Movers Slip-On Diapers
Average retail price: about $20-$25 for the Big Pack size box, count varies by size

 This product came out about a year or so ago - you probably saw the ads: wiggly babies crawling, staggering and dancing around, with adults trying to change them. The idea was that a slip-on diaper would be easier for changing an older baby that moves around a lot.

 I tried it when it first came out. My baby was about one, sitting and pulling herself up, but not yet walking. This diaper is similar to a smaller-sized Pull-Up, it slides on like underwear, but has two tabs to unfasten the sides and take it off.

 Honestly, I'm not sure why the product researchers at Huggies thought it would be any easier to slide diapers on a wiggly baby than putting a diaper on the regular way. Yes, it's hard to keep them still, lying on their backs, legs in the air while you swap out used for new. But anyone who thought sliding a diaper on a baby like underwear would be easier, has never tried putting pants on an uncooperative baby. You stick one leg through the hole, then while you're trying to stuff the other one in, the first leg comes out.

 Also, they can't be pulled up easily unless the baby is standing - difficult to do if your baby isn't walking yet. You have to awkwardly prop the baby up, leaning against you, while you use both hands to tug the diaper up into position (it can't be done with one hand, I tried.)

 Now, I didn't really want to write a negative review - I like Huggies, I've used them on both kids - so I thought I'd wait and try them again when the baby was older. Well, I bought a pack a couple of weeks ago to try on my now-two-year-old. The Slip-On Little Movers do work a lot better on an older child. She's much better at putting pants on, and standing still on her own while I pull them up. The diaper change does go faster with these, pop off the side tabs on the old, and slide on the new.

 One major drawback: you can't go for the really quick change. Sometimes, say, in a public restroom, I do the quick change where you just slide the pants down, not take them all the way off. This way, you don't have to remove and replace shoes (and socks, since a baby will always whip off socks if given the chance.) But if your baby is wearing these, you'll have to take shoes and pants all the way off, you can not get the diapers on over shoes (I tried.)

 Overall, I don't think this is a bad product, just an unnecessary one, at least for me. Honestly, if your baby is big enough to slide the diapers on and off like underwear, it's about time to start potty training anyway, so you might as well just move straight to Pull-Ups and not bother with these.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

New Recipes From A to Z: A is for Acorn Squash

 Here is number two in my quest to cook a new food starting with every letter of the alphabet. Yes, I know number two should be "B", but if you missed my previous post, Brussels sprouts were on sale last week, so I started with "B".

 I had never cooked, or to my knowledge, eaten, acorn squash before. It just never seemed appealing. But it's a popular autumn produce item, so when I saw it on sale cheap, I thought, "Here's my 'A' recipe!" Then I had to figure out what to do with it.

 Most of the recipes I looked up were variations of the same thing: cut it in half, put butter and brown sugar, or maple syrup, or both, on each half, and bake. Seemed a little sweet for my taste, I like my side dishes savory. Then I found Roasted Parmesan Acorn Squash on Not only was it a savory recipe, but the instructions were clear and simple, assuming (correctly) I had no idea what to do with this gourd.
 First, with a sharp chef's knife, cut the ends off, then slice it lengthwise. Scoop out all the seeds and pulp with a spoon. (The look, and smell, of this step reminded me of preparing a jack o'lantern. I felt I should be carving a face into this thing instead of trying to eat it.) Then, slice each side into half moon slices. Drizzle slices with olive oil (rub it in for good coverage) and sprinkle each side with coarse sea salt, ground pepper and Parmesan cheese shreds. There were actually specific measurements for these ingredients, but I almost never measure out salt and pepper exactly, I just sprinkle on what looks right to me. Same with the cheese.

 Then just roast in the oven at 425 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. I went 40, I wanted to make sure it was done. The cheese got a little too brown and crispy, but it didn't seem to hurt the flavor any.

Here's the pic from

Here's my finished product. Nailed it!

  The adult verdict for this recipe was "keeper." The squash part was soft and squashy, the skin/rind was slightly crispy, the roasting in olive oil brought out a slightly nutty flavor that went well with the cheese, and the cracked pepper added just enough of a spicy 'pop.' (FYI, before this I had no idea you could eat the outside of these. It doesn't look at all edible in its raw form.)

 The six year old ate two bites and asked if he could be done. I told him you don't know if like something until you eat three bites (standard procedure at our house). He ate a third bite and said he still didn't like it - surprising, since he loved pureed squash as a baby. Speaking of babies, the two-year-old has yet to give her opinion. She was having a very 'two' night - crying and throwing food - so she can try some leftovers at lunch tomorrow. I have high hopes for this being the first vegetable she'll eat! Assuming it is a vegetable - or is it a fruit? I'm too tired to look it up tonight.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Review: "Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children"

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs, 2011

 This book was one of those impulse buys - you know, how when you go to the bookstore for a particular book, but it's not out yet, then you spot something interesting on the display table on your way out? It's one of those. It's got this vintage photo on the cover (early 1900s), of a truly creepy little girl who appears to be hovering several inches above the ground. That's the kind of cover that will get my attention.

 After the violent and mysterious death of his grandfather, teenager Jacob goes to Wales to find the truth behind his grandfather's bizarre stories of growing up in an orphanage - an orphanage for children with strange talents.

 This is a great adventure story, full of conspiracies, secret organizations, and strange children who somehow live outside of linear time. Inserted in the book are some of the most wonderfully strange vintage photographs I've ever seen - the photos alone are worth the price of the book!

 It's hard to believe this is Riggs' first novel. The characters are believable and compelling - you truly care what happens to them. The story is well-paced, moving the action along so naturally that you just can't put it down. (I think I finished it in about two days - and two late nights!)

 "Peculiar Children" is the author's third book, and first fiction novel. On his blog, the author promised a sequel, which according to Amazon is due out June of 2013. Can't wait!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Day Is Ruined...

...Because I just found out "The Sing-Off" has been cancelled. Apparently, it was cancelled back in May, but somehow I missed the announcement. I only found out because I googled it, looking for the date when the new season would start. Imagine my disappointment after reading there would be no new season.

 Why would NBC cancel this show? OK, the ratings weren't great, but that speaks to NBC's scheduling problems, not the quality of the show. This was, hands down, my favorite reality music show - even above "American Idol." (And I'm a die-hard "Idol" fan from way back).

 If you never saw it, "The Sing-Off" was an a capella choral competition. It followed the basic format of other singing competitions: groups sing a song related to a weekly theme, three celebrity judges give feedback, each week one group is eliminated. On this show, the judges chose the group that went home; the only audience vote was at the finale.

 The quality of musical performance on this show was so much higher than others. Viewers weren't subjected to awful auditions by clueless people, we only saw the ones who deserved to be there. And there's nothing that challenges vocalists like singing without instrumental accompaniment. A show former high school/college choir geeks could really appreciate, (yes, I'm one) this show had groups who did everything from barbershop to beat boxing - and they did it amazingly well. (My six-year-old can beat box. I'm not saying he learned it from this show, but this was one of the few prime-time shows he was allowed to watch.)

 Maybe NBC will realize what a gem they had, and bring it back at mid-season when their current crop of mediocre shows have all tanked. Here's hoping!

My four favorite performances from last season (last I checked, still available as singles on iTunes):
"Grenade" by Delilah
"Whattya Want From Me" by Delilah
"American Boy" by Afro Blue
"Video Killed the Radio Star" by Pentatonix (the season three winners)
Attribution: all videos from YouTube

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday List: Best Movie Quotes

For a fun Friday blog, I thought I'd list some of my favorite movie quotes. It was going to be a top 10 list, but I came up with 25 and didn't think I could cut it. To make the list they had to be from a movie I love, from an interesting character, and quotable - meaning I can, and do, use them in random conversations. A gold star to anyone who can name all the movies!

So in no particular order:

  1.  "It's against my programming to impersonate a deity."
  2.  "They come in pints?"
  3.  "Tell me of your homeworld, Usul."
  4.  "Ray, when someone asks you if you're a god, you say 'Yes!'"
  5.  "It's a rock, it doesn't have any vulnerable points!"
  6.  "This task has been appointed to you, and if you do not find a way, no one will."
  7.  "You got into Harvard Law?" "What, like it's hard?"
  8.  "Don't tell me, you're from outer space." "No, I'm from Iowa. I just work in outer space."
  9.  "That's no moon. It's a space station."
  10.  "That word you keep using. I do not think it means what you think it means."
  11.  "Never tell me the odds!"
  12.  "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night."
  13.  "Greater good? I am your wife! I am the greatest 'good' you are ever gonna get!"
  14.  "He's my brother." "He killed 80 people in two days." "He's adopted."
  15.   "There's a shortage of perfect breasts in the world. It would be a shame to damage yours."
  16.   "Why is the rum gone?"
  17.  "Rule number 1: Cardio."
  18.  "That still only counts as one!"
  19.   "In the last two hours I've lost my job, my apartment, my car, and my girlfriend." "You still have your health."
  20.  "Surely, you can't be serious." "I am serious. And don't call me Shirley."
  21.  "Would it help if I got out and pushed?"
  22.  "Puny god."
  23.   "They mostly come out at night, mostly."
  24.  "Well, they were a bit...bitey."
  25.  "I declare this house...clean."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Now She's Two

  My former baby girl is now officially a big girl - she turned two yesterday. (She's been acting two for a while now. Normally cheerful and good natured, she can still throw the most amazingly dramatic tantrums, for no apparent reason. Drama school may be in her future.) Before writing this, I looked over my blog from her first birthday last year - I can't believe how much she's grown and changed! Same smile, though.

 Since it was a school night, we had a simple celebration - a little cake, some presents and bedtime. The girl took everything in stride, but I thought her brother was going to blow a gasket, he was so excited. First he wanted to help blow out her candles, but we told him he had to wait until she'd given it a good try on her own. She took many, many puffs without success, and he was actually quivering by the time we told him he could help.

 Of course, he also wanted to help open her presents. She would tear some paper, then get distracted and wander off...we'd herd her back for another try...

 Once again, the boy was desperate to get in there and help. We constantly had to tell him to back off, let her do it herself. He's a bundle of constantly-moving hyper anyway, and the strain of trying to keep his hands to himself was visible - and hilarious!

 Eventually, all the presents were opened and they could play. They play together pretty well, though he needed many, many reminders that they were HER toys, he could share, but not take them out of her hands.

 It was a Sesame Street-themed birthday - a Sesame Street playset with muppet figures, and an Elmo book with beanie baby-size stuffed Elmo were the biggest hit. She loves Sesame Street, and she REALLY loves Elmo. (She also got clothes, but two-year-olds don't care about clothes!) She's been carting around "Eh-Mo" all day today, even introducing him to strangers as we went out and about.

 Here's some pictures of the birthday girl and her brother.

Blowing out the candles
Candles out - with help
Mmmmm, frosting
Big girls use forks
Birthday girl and big brother
Playing nicely together
Uh oh, crazy-baby eyes. Time for bed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

New Recipes From A to Z: B Is For Brussels Sprouts

 I've noticed that lately I'm in a rut when it comes to the evening meal. I love to cook, but I've just been falling back on the same old recipes, things that are fast, from ingredients I always have on hand.

 I tried to look through cookbooks and cooking magazines for inspiration, but then I would be overwhelmed with all the various ideas. Plus, I'd find something to try, but it would call for a bunch of specialized, expensive things I don't have on hand. I'm cheap, so I'm not going to spend a bunch of money on something I'd probably never use for anything else.

 So the idea I hit on to get out of my rut (without getting overwhelmed) is to focus on one new ingredient at a time. Using the alphabet for inspiration, I plan to go A to Z, finding foods I've never cooked before. Maybe I'll find some new go-to meal ideas.

 For my first new dish, I cooked Brussels Sprouts. (OK, I'm starting with "B" but that's because Brussels sprouts were on sale this week. I told you, I'm cheap!)

Not only had I never cooked Brussels sprouts before, I have not eaten them voluntarily as an adult. I remember them as bitter, mushy and tasteless. But I found an article that said if you don't like Brussels sprouts, it's because you're not cooking them right. Boiling them into submission doesn't work, you have to roast them. So I got a simple recipe off the Food Network website - just trim the ends, dump them in a bowl with olive oil, sea salt and fresh ground pepper, and mix together. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes. Here's a picture of the finished product:

 The verdict: pretty darn good!

They were soft without being mushy, and the sea salt and roasting brought out a much richer flavor than I remember, while minimizing the bitterness. Even the boy ate one without complaint. (OK, I told him it was a zombie brain - but whatever works, right?)

 I probably won't make these that often, but it's a good recipe to have on hand when I'm tired of the standard green beans/corn/carrots vegetable rotation.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Review: Jones Bros. Cupcakes and Looper

 So, on my birthday, after the zombie walk, we went for a cupcake and a movie.

I feel bad for anyone who doesn't live close enough to Omaha to go to Jones Brothers Cupcakes. I know there's a lot of cupcake specialty bakeries around now, but not many of them are "Cupcake Wars" champions! On Saturday, I tried one of the champion cupcakes created on the show, Smoked Pancetta Honey Apple Crisp.
 Maybe the idea of pork in a cupcake doesn't sound great to you, but this is a seriously good cupcake. The frosting was honey-sweet, but with enough tart apple flavor for balance. The cake was moist, light and fluffy, and every other bite or so, there was a chewy, salty bit of pancetta to cut through the sweetness. If you like to dip bacon in leftover pancake syrup, you'll like this. Too bad they don't make it every day. Of course, every other cupcake I've ever had there was excellent, also. (Except the Tres Leches - that one was disappointingly bland.)

 After the cupcakes, a late showing of "Looper." If you've seen the trailer, you know the premise: Time travel is illegal and run by criminal organizations. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works as a "looper," a mob assassin, who shoots people sent back in time. Bruce Willis plays the older version of Joe, sent back in time to be shot and "close the loop." Older Joe escapes, and young Joe must hunt him down while also dodging his employers, who are out to get him for botching the job. Old Joe has an agenda - there's something he needs to do to fix his life 30 years in the future.

  Joseph Gordon-Levitt has grown from a child actor to a talented leading man. Joe is a fairly unsympathetic character - a remorseless killer, a drug addict who'll sell out his best friend, and who has no problem with the thought that someday he'll be required to shoot his future self. Yet Gordon-Levitt's nuanced performance brings a sliver of humanity to Joe (essential to making the ending believable.) And it's eerie how well he does a young Bruce Willis - facial expressions, mannerisms, gestures - all make us believe these two are actually the same person at different ages.

 There are some confusing plot holes. (Why would the assassins be required to shoot their future selves? That just seems to be asking for trouble.) But there always are in time travel movies. Don't try too hard to unravel the logic of time travel, you'll just give yourself a headache.

 This is a dark, violent movie about a depressingly dystopian future, but it's also an interesting movie that will make you think. Definitely worth the money.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Very Zombie Birthday

So, as I mentioned before, I turned 42 yesterday. But I think I still look pretty good for my age, right? (Be honest!)

Well, maybe that's not the best picture. The lighting wasn't that good, and I'm kind of a zombie...

 I wrote yesterday I was going to do something geeky for my birthday, and this was it - the fifth annual Benson Zombie Walk. Seriously, what else would I want to do for my birthday? We can do dinner and a movie anytime, but the Zombie Walk is only once a year! Besides, where else can you say things like, "I'll meet you by the hearse," and "Excuse me, I think you dropped your eyeball."

 Last year, all four of us went, me with two zombie children and daddy as a zombie hunter. (See last year's post, "A Good Day to be Undead" if you missed it.) This year, the almost-2-yr-old stayed home - she's at that age where taking her out in public is a crapshoot, behavior-wise. It'll probably be another year or so before she's an enjoyable companion in restaurants and other public places. So this year, I zombied alone, because the boy abandoned me to be a hunter/survivor with daddy.

Aren't they the cutest zombie apocalypse survivors?

Daddy said the most romantic thing - "If you were a zombie, I couldn't shoot you in the head. I'd have to put you in the barn."   (Awwwww. It's a "Walking Dead" reference.)

After the zombie walk, we dropped the boy back home with a babysitter and headed out for cupcakes and a late movie, "Looper," which I'll review tomorrow. The perfect ending to a geeky birthday!

Here's some more zombie photos:

"That's not your mommy anymore!"
Zombie sock monkey and zombie Gumby

The boy with a chainsaw

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Today is my birthday

 I'm 42 today. Which is a very geeky birthday. Because 42 is THE ANSWER. To Life. The Universe. Everything.

 To get this, you have to have read Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series (which everyone should read.) You see, an alien civilization built a super computer to tell them the answer to life, the universe, and everything. The computer took thousands of years to ponder, until finally coming up with the answer "42." (The people were not satisfied with this answer, and the computer told them they should have asked the question better.)

 So I'm going out to have a very geeky birthday. More on that tomorrow.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Book Reviews: Shadow Grail 1 & 2, Hex Hall 1 & 2

Going to review four books today, from two different young adult series. they're very similar, so it makes sense to lump them together.

 First up, the Shadow Grail series by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill.

photo from
"Shadow Grail 1: Legacies" introduces teenager Spirit White, whose parents and sister have just been killed in a car accident. In the aftermath, she discovers her parents made arrangements to send her to a boarding school, Oakhurst Academy, if anything ever happened to them. When she arrives, she discovers Oakhurst is a school for the children of magicians, an anti-Hogwarts where students are encouraged to compete against each other for top honors, and discouraged from forming friendships.

In "Legacies" and book 2, "Conspiracies" Spirit and a few fellow students discover nothing they've been told is true, about themselves or their parents. Neither teachers nor fellow students can be trusted, while they try figure out what's really going on, and why students are disappearing.

 Mercedes Lackey always writes compelling characters, and she has a real feel for teenagers. This series kept me turning pages long after I should have been in bed, and I can't wait for the next one.

photo from
Next, "Hex Hall" and the sequel "Demon Glass" by Rachel Hawkins. Also a young adult series about a school for magic users, although this one is a reform school for witches, shapechangers and fairies, who broke the rules by using magic in front of humans. Sophie Mercer gets sent there when her spells go awry, bringing too much attention to her at a regular high school.

 The Hex Hall series has more humor (and quite a bit more profanity) than the Shadow Grail series. Full of teen angst, rivalries between different magical cliques, ghosts, demons and secret societies dedicated to hunting down magic users and magical creatures, the story hooks you into a supernatural teen soap opera. I could totally see this as a new series on the CW - it would pair well with "Supernatural"  and "The Vampire Diaries." I'll be downloading book three as soon as I reload my iTunes card.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Anyone Else Out There Watching "The Neighbors?"

  I have a phobia about the fall TV season. I fear getting hooked on a fun, quirky, intelligent new show, just to have the rug pulled out from under me when it's cancelled after four or five episodes. It's happened so many times before: "Covington Cross," "Firefly," "Flash Forward"...a lot of the time now, I just don't watch a new show until it's been renewed for a second season. That's when I feel like it's safe to start watching - I can catch up on NetFlix during the summer.

 So far, this strategy works for me. I missed the first season of "Lost" but was able to catch up in time for season 2. And I didn't watch "The Event" or that dinosaur time-travel show from last year, so I didn't get my heart broken when they were cancelled.

 But this season, I started watching "The Neighbors,"  an odd little sitcom about a family who moves to a condo development in the Jersey suburbs, only to find everyone else in the neighborhood is a space alien. It's like "Mork & Mindy" for the 21st century.

 I didn't expect to like the show so much. It seems like a standard family sitcom formula: pretty mom, clueless dad, smart-mouthed kids. But when you add the aliens, it changes everything. The condo development is an enclosed colony, and when the first human family moves in, the aliens' attempt to fake human interaction is hilarious - starting with the fact they all have names of athletes. (The colony leader is Larry Bird, his wife Jackie Joyner-Cursee, and their kids, Reggie Jackson and Dick Butkis.)

 I don't know why this show works, but it does. It makes me laugh out loud every episode, something I can say about very few sitcoms. ("Big Bang Theory," "New Girl," and sometimes "How I Met Your Mother" and "Two Broke Girls.") So please start watching it. I'm not ready for it to go away yet.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

I'd Like to Punch Carly Rae Jepsen In the Stomach

 And if you don't know why, I envy you. FYI, Carly Rae Jepsen sings this summer's most annoying earworm, "Call Me, Maybe." And if you still don't know what I'm talking about, you're saner than I am right now, but it must have been really boring for you, living on that deserted island with no wi-fi all summer.

 This song is impossible to get away from - for the last four months, at least, it's there every time I turn on the radio. And I don't even listen to the radio that often. But I only have to hear one word, one note, of this song, and it will replay over and over in my head for days. Every time I woke up last night, before I could go back to sleep, I would suddenly realize this song was playing in my brain. Over and over. Because I heard two seconds of it, last Friday morning.

 This song is the very definition of earworm - super-catchy tune, annoyingly bad lyrics. "Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad." What does that even mean?  Even if you can get away from the original, YouTube is full of parodies. Some of them are actually funny, but watching one just gets that song lodged back into my brain.

 If I have to have a song stuck in my head, why not Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know"? That song was almost as ubiquitous as "Call Me, Maybe" this summer, but it's a much more interesting song - catchy tune, lyrics that make sense...I could live with that one on a seemingly-endless repeat in my head.

                                                        * * * * *

 Full disclosure - I no longer have "Call Me, Maybe" stuck in my head. Why? Because the boy found two singing animal toys (Christmas gifts from last year - thanks, Mom!) and he and his sister have  been playing them all evening. Imagine "Christmastime Is Here" sung by the Chipmunks, and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" played on a saxophone by a the same time. Because of course, they play them simultaneously. Over. And. Over.

 The cure was worse than the disease.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Did You Know October 6 Was Star Wars Reads Day? I Did!

Last Saturday was Star Wars Reads Day, an official Lucasfilm thing, where authors of Star Wars novels, and Star Wars costumed characters went out to bookstores and other venues around the country to promote reading.

 No authors made it to our general area to do book signings (alas), but the 501st Star Wars costuming group appeared at our local Barnes & Noble. By the way, the 501st - the people who dress up as Stormtroopers, Boba Fett, Imperial officers, etc. - not only make their own costumes (spending boatloads of time and money in the process) but volunteer to do these appearances for charity. They make no money doing this, it's done out of love. Love for Star Wars, and the enjoyment of seeing kids' faces the first time they see Darth Vader - up close and personal!

 When we first walked in and looked around, it was easy to tell where the action was. A little girl, about 8 years old or so, came running out of the bookshelves, yelling "Darth Vader's here, I saw him, he's here!" (I especially love that it was a girl this excited about seeing Vader. Yeah, girls dig Star Wars too - and they don't all want to be Princess Leia. Some of them want to be bad guys.)

 Ironically, none of us left with Star Wars books. The boy picked out Halloween-themed books for himself and his sister, daddy got a history book off the clearance table, and since I picked up the latest Star Wars book last week, I went home with the new Harry Dresden paperback, by Jim Butcher.

 Here's some photos of my little Star Wars fans:

The boy with a Royal Guard. He loves the Emperor's Royal Guard, mostly because he wants to be the Emperor.

The boy, wearing his new Vader hat, with Vader.
Mara Jade (a character from the novels, not the movies) with a very tired Mara Jane. No, the name isn't a coincidence! ;)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Book Review - 50 Shades of Gray

Fifty Shades of Gray
E. L. James

 This was one of the first eBooks I bought after I got my iPad. At the time, it was just becoming the "it" book, the one everyone was talking about, so I jumped on the bandwagon. My reaction: Meh.

 I really don't understand how this book became so popular. A few months ago, everywhere you turned someone was talking about how groundbreaking it was, how it gave women permission to read erotica (or at least, admit reading it). Whatever. There's just as much sex in your average historic romance novel. And a lot of those are better written.

 Really, how believable are these characters? Ana, the college grad virgin who suddenly falls for super rich, creepy stalker Christian, to the point of following him into his kinky world. Christian, super-rich, emotionally messed-up, could have anything and anyone he wants, but falls hard for inexperienced (and boring) Ana. Nope, not buying it. Plus, the dialogue is atrocious. By the time I got to the end of this, I wanted to slap some reality into these cardboard characters, and I have zero interest in completing the trilogy.

 By the way, I read a few weeks ago, this author started out writing "Twilight" fan fiction. That explains so much...

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Product Review: Farmland Oven Perfect Pork Loin

 A few days ago, I tried the new Farmland Oven Perfect Pork Loin. This is a new product, where you cook it in the plastic packaging - just remove the paper labels, put the bag on a cookie sheet, and bake.

  The instructions on the loin say to cook for an hour at 425 degrees, and not to puncture the bag. After removing from oven, let sit for ten minutes, then use scissors to cut open the bag. Well, I followed the instructions, but I didn't have to get my scissors dirty; when I took it out, the bag had split wide open all by itself. I don't think it was supposed to do that, but it didn't seem to hurt anything. Though it was juicy and flavorful, I thought the pork was a bit overcooked. (DH disagreed, but I like my meats rarer than he does.) Next time I make this, I plan to reduce the cooking time by about ten minutes.

 I tried the Cracked Peppercorn flavor. Now, when I've tried other marinated pork loins, like Hormel's, I've found the flavor was too intense. All you taste is marinade, not the meat. This Farmland version got it right. Just the right amount of marinade flavor, but not enough to overpower the pork.

 The usual retail price for the product is $8.99. I got it on sale for $7.49, plus I had a $1 off coupon. It was big enough to feed three people (though the boy didn't eat much, he doesn't care for pork), plus enough for lunch the next day.  I liked the product and would buy it again, but I wouldn't pay $8.99. I will probably only get it when it's on sale, or I have a coupon - preferably both.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Movie Review Catch-Up Blog

  * Oct. 4 exercise: walking the boy home from school, 10 blocks round-trip, about 20 minutes.*

 Going to finish my backlog of movie reviews, so I can get down to catching up the much longer list of book reviews. I have four, so each will just be a short capsule, posted in order of most recent viewing to oldest:

 1. The Campaign
   Starring Will Farrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis
 A good election year comedy. Both parties take hits equally for being corrupt, pandering, morally bankrupt, or all of the above. Not a big Will Farrell fan, but he and Zach Galifianakis play off each other perfectly as competing congressional candidates. The feel-good ending is completely unrealistic, but that doesn't hurt the movie. After all that cynicism, a fairy-tale ending leaves you feeling refreshed.

2. Brave
 I wasn't sure a Disney cartoon about a medieval Scottish teenage girl would hold a six-year-old boy's attention, but he got into the magic, the swords and the bears. It's not going to be a keeper, though. The animation is gorgeous, but the story just isn't that compelling, and the music is pretty, but forgettable.

3. The Avengers
 Best movie I've seen this year, hands down. (Granted, I haven't seen that many.) I was surprised to enjoy this so much, since I never followed the Avengers comic, or any of the individual heroes' comics. (Iron Man, Thor, etc.) I felt that way about all the lead-in movies, too - low expectations, then pleasantly surprised. But this one is easily the best of the bunch: action-filled, witty dialogue, well acted. And Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston - best super villain, ever! Good-looking, funny, but still menacing, and a God - can't beat that!

4. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
 Exactly as expected, the book was better. Oh, they tried their best, but shrinking down such an extensive, well-researched and detailed book into just a couple of hours was doomed from the start. Plus, I didn't like the addition of scenes that weren't in the book, or the changed ending. Bit of a disappointment, I think it could have been adapted better, though the acting was wonderful. Benjamin Walker was a perfect Abraham Lincoln, believable as president and action hero. Too bad the script didn't give him more to work with.

 There. All caught up.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Shopping Out of the Pantry: My Time- & Money-Saving Experiment

* Exercise activity for Oct. 3: Walking to pick the boy up from school - 10 blocks, 20 minutes. *

 About two to three years ago, I saw a story about a young couple trying to save money and get out of debt. They kept track of how much they were spending on eating out, take-out food, "convenience" foods, and how much food they were throwing away after it expired because they forgot about it. Then they decided they would only shop out of their own pantry, until the pantry was empty. A drastic way to save money and become more aware of what you're eating, but effective.

 I thought of this story yesterday, when I was trying to decide what to make for dinner. I didn't have anything in mind, and I didn't feel like going to the grocery store, so I decided to see what I could create out of what I already had. In the process, I discovered:
   1) I really need to set aside a half hour or so to organize the pantry - it starts out orderly, but after a few weeks of stuff being moved around and shoved in wherever it will fit, gets a bit out of hand.
   2) Once I organize and inventory what I have, I can save some money by getting creative like that couple did.

 I'm not going to go to their extreme (I mean, what did they do for perishables? Fresh milk, bread and produce are necessities around here) but I can definitely do better than I have been. As proof, I present last night's dinner: Taco Pizza.

 I already had a 1 lb. roll of ground beef, and tortillas I bought with no plan for their use because they were on sale really cheap. I browned the ground beef, drained it, then added from the pantry a can of petite diced tomatoes and a can of pinto beans. For flavoring, I dug into our massive stash of Taco Bell sauce packets. (You know you have one of these too - everyone within 10 miles of a Taco Bell does.)

 While everything simmered together, I sprayed a pizza pan with non-stick spray and laid out the bottom tortilla. I used a slotted spoon to layer the ground beef mixture on the tortilla, sprinkled on some shredded cheese, and put on the top tortilla. On top went two more sauce packets and more shredded cheese. Then into the oven at 250 degrees until the cheese melted. Garnish with shredded lettuce, avocado, black olives, or whatever you have on hand.  I made two pizzas, and had enough leftover filling for a couple of small burritos for lunch the next day.

 The verdict on my money-saving experiment: two "yummy"s and one "meh" (the boy is hard to please, and doesn't care for beans so much.)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Gonna Catch Up On My Reviewing

* Exercise log for Oct. 2: Walked to pick up the boy from school instead of driving. Five blocks each way. Pushing the 30+ lb. toddler in the stroller. About 20 minutes, round-trip, not counting stops to look at the neighbors' Halloween decorations. *

  While I was looking back on past blogs for inspiration, I found one from January where I decided to review, in blog form, every movie I saw in the theater and every book I read in 2012. These blogs would then be used as reference material to come up with Top 10 lists at the end of the year. Well, my last book review was in April, my last movie review before that, so I didn't keep up too well. It's not too late though; I haven't seen so many movies that I can't catch up, and all the books I've read since April are still stacked in various places (end table, nightstand, floor) since I didn't want to shelve them until I'd reviewed them. Except for the ebooks, but since I got the iPad in April, I know everythng on it still needs to be reviewed. So that's my back up plan if I can't think of anything to write about this month - catch-up book or movie review.

 I'll do movies first (since there's far fewer of them), starting with the most recently seen. Today: "ParaNorman".

 The boy had last Friday off school, so we took the girl to her drop-in daycare and the two of us went to see "ParaNorman," an animated show about a boy who talks to ghosts, and must save his town from a centuries-old witch's curse that will cause the dead to walk. I was worried it might be too scary for a six-year-old, but ghosts, witches and zombies are right up the boy's alley. (He loves the stuff - he's been pestering me to put up Halloween decorations since August.)

 There aren't many "kid" movies that are worth the money for adults, but this is one of them. The kids actually act like kids, not smart-mouthed adults. There's a lesson to be learned about bullying, and fearing things or people just because they're different, but you're not beat over the head with it, it flows naturally from the story. And the funky retro claymation-style animation is a nice change from the usual super-slick computer animation.
 The zombies are gross, the witch is scary, the sidekick is funny, everything you want in this type of movie. Best of all, the characters are actually developed, not stock cliches. A surprising plot twist provides an unexpected motivation for the witch and the zombies, leading to a spectacular (and scary!) end confrontation between Norman and the witch. This movie might become a Halloween staple at our house once it comes out on DVD.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

It Was a Good Day For the Zoo

 So, to prepare for NaBloWriMo, I went through my posts from last year, refreshing my memory and hoping for new ideas. One that caught my attention was about losing the last nine pounds of baby weight before the baby turned one. I had a new, realistic exercise program that was going to work this time. Really. For sure.

  It lasted about three weeks. I now weigh four pounds more than I did at the time of that post.

  Oh well.

 My plan this year is not to worry about losing weight, but instead try for at least 15 minutes a day of some kind of physical activity. And to keep myself honest, I'll check in here with what that activity was the previous day. For example, yesterday I walked around the zoo for 2 1/2 hours.

 Speaking of the zoo - it's awesome. We didn't get there much this year - I forgot to buy a membership at the early bird price, and I just couldn't bring myself to pay full price when I know I could have gotten it cheaper. It's the couponers curse: it's physically painful to pay full price for something. Turned out to be a good financial decision though. It was so insanely hot here from March through August, we hardly would have used the membership anyway.

 Anyway, the kindergartner had the day off school and the weather was pleasant, so I took him and the almost-two-year old to the zoo. As an experiment, I decided to go without the stroller. She doesn't like to be confined, and the idea was to get her tired enough to nap well, so she needed to be able to run around. Since she's an insanely brave explorer (and a fast runner) who refuses to hold my hand, we used the teddy backpack with the leash.

 Before I had her, I thought those child leashes were terrible, treating toddlers like dogs. Then karma reared its head and I had a child who isn't afraid of anything - strangers, animals, cars, open spaces - and who is too independent to be carried or hold my hand. The leash gives her the illusion of independence and me enough control to keep her from getting lost in the crowd. (It was a lifesaver on our airplane trip this summer - imagine trying to keep track of her without it at O'Hare!)

 The experiment was a success - both kids did great walking together, playing nicely, even eating lunch at a table without trying to make a break for it in two different directions. Oh, she did break down at the end of the day, collapsing bonelessly to the ground and rolling around screaming when I refused to let her jump in the sea lion pool, but that's on me. I knew I was pushing pretty far into nap time at that point. And I learned my lesson, having to carry all 30+ pounds of her uphill to the front gates and across the parking lot to the car.

 Anyway, here's some zoo pictures. There aren't many since it's really hard to take a picture with a constantly moving toddler pulling on your wrist.

The boy with gorilla statues
 Meditating gorilla

A gorilla about to scare the crap out of those kids in the window when he slams into it, beats his chest and roars. Wish I'd been shooting video instead of taking stills.

 P.S.: If you're not from the Omaha area, but happen to be here for any reason, try to make time for the zoo. Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium stacks up to any zoo in the country, even San Diego. (I've been to the San Diego Zoo - it's fantastic, but the only thing they have that we don't is pandas. Which, admittedly, are incredibly cute, but expensive as heck to get and care for.)

Monday, October 1, 2012

It's October 1st!

...And that means it's once again National Blog Writers Month (NaBloWriMo), where participants attempt to post a blog entry every day for the month of October. The first post is supposed to be an introduction for new readers, so current followers, bear with me.

 I'm a stay-at-home mom with two kids, a six-year-old boy and an almost two-year-old girl. And I'm a total sci-fi geek, have been practically since I could read. But definitely since the original Star Wars came out (A life-changing event for much of my generation.)

 Last year was the first year I participated in (or had even heard of) NaBloWriMo, and looking back in the archives, I see I posted 23 blogs last October. So, I guess I got about two-thirds to the goal. That's not too bad, though, when you consider my first blog post ever was last September 28th!

 This year I expect to do better. It helps that I now have two blogs: This one, a catch-all of recipes, book and movie reviews, parenting topics, geeky things and whatever catches my interest; and "A Geek About Town" which I post on Thursdays. That one, a clearinghouse of geek-related things to do around Omaha, Nebraska, is something I started writing last spring - I volunteered  to write it for a charity organization I belong to, The Omaha Science Fiction Education Society (OSFES). So if the goal of NaBloWriMo is to get you writing, I guess I was somewhat successful, even if I didn't manage to post every day last October. After all, I went from no blogs to two blogs in just one year!

 Of course, after last October, I was pretty hit-and-miss keeping this one going. This time, I'll try to keep going on a regular schedule even after October is over. I'll pretend I'm a newspaper columnist on a deadline - that should work, I worked for a newspaper for 15 years (though not as a writer.) And the newspaper I used to work for now employs several bloggers on different topics, so maybe I can work this into a job!

 Full speed ahead into October!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Cyberbullies and Star Wars - I thought it was no big deal, but I was wrong

 A lot of you probably heard about the uproar a few days ago, but for those who didn't, a synopsis:

    A local news station in Florida ran a photo essay on their website, under news, that consisted of around 40 photos of people in costume at Celebration VI, a Star Wars convention held in Orlando a week ago. The photos had extremely snarky, and sometimes downright insulting, captions. (I'd link to it, but it's since been taken down.) The outcry from fans was instantaneous, and petitions and postings condemning it and demanding its removal spread through social media like wildfire. The station left it up most of the day, then replaced it with a glib not-apology by the photographer/author of the essay, which resulted in even more outrage. Eventually, an actual apology was posted. See it at

 Now, after seeing at least three friends post indignant links to this story, I went to check it out, expecting...well, I don't know what I was expecting, but something shocking, outrageously horrible. But all it was, was pictures with mean, unfunny captions.  And the last photo in the slideshow was of the photographer (not in costume) who admitted he was a Star Wars geek himself.  I thought, what's the big deal, any geek has seen way worse attacks than this. To me, it looked like attempts at humor by someone who doesn't know how to be funny. You know how there's always that guy at a party, who makes a comment he thinks is funny, but really just causes people to cringe, and the host to quickly change the subject? Like that.

 But I overlooked an important point: This wasn't just some d-bag's blog, or Facebook page, this was a NEWS WEBSITE. The photographer/author is a journalist, with editors, who all looked at this piece and said, "Sure, that's fine, people will think it's a cute human interest piece." That's what elevates this to cyber-bullying. That's where the real outrage should come in, because a legitimate news site thinks there's nothing wrong with ridiculing people in costume. People who, by the way, numbered in the thousands. Attendance figures haven't been released yet, but Celebration V, also held in Orlando, drew about 32,000.

 As an example, one of the photos was of a woman dressed as Obi-Wan, complete with fake beard. The caption said something about the abundance of women at the convention with facial hair. Another photo was of a woman dressed as an alien, wearing blue body paint. The caption said something about her going a little too heavy on the makeup. Now imagine these photos and captions referred to a gay pride parade instead of a Star Wars convention. Can you imagine the public outcry then? Can you imagine a newspaper or television news station ridiculing attendees at say, a Pheasants Forever convention? Or maybe a car show? What a slap in the face to people who are, presumably, spending gobs of money in your city.

 So, I should have taken this more seriously from the beginning. I guess the multitude of anonymous, nasty forum posts, Facebook posts, etc., has just led me to accept incivility as part of the Internet landscape.

 I still have more to say, but this has gotten too long, so look for part 2, Geek-on-Geek bullying, tomorrow.

Monday, April 9, 2012

2 Quick Book Reviews

The Help
by Kathryn Stockett

 I meant to read this a few months ago, so I could see the movie before Oscar time. (I always try to read the book before I see the movie it's based on.) However, it took until this month before my name came up on the library hold list.

 The book was definitely worth the wait. Not my usual fantasy/sci-fi pick, this historical novel is set in the south in the early 1960s. If you've seen the movie buzz, you know what it's about: Upper-class white girl/aspiring author decides to write a book telling the stories of the ubiquitous black maids around her, against the background of the civil rights movement.

 The book changes point-of-view between Skeeter, the would-be author, Aibileen, maid and nanny to Skeeter's childhood friend Elizabeth, and Minnie, Aibileen's friend and former maid to Skeeter's other friend, Hilly. The sections of Aibileen and Minnie are written in the vernacular, which I found very distracting at first - it feels very artificial in my head, like I have to translate as I go. I got over it pretty quickly, since the story is so engrossing.

  Since I was born in 1970, this setting is as much history to me as if it had been set in the middle ages, and almost as hard to understand - people really believed these things, acted this way, and it was all just accepted as the Way Things Were. The author does a great job of placing the reader in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, of creating the historical context for the stories of the help. All of the characters, and their stories, are touching, amusing and moving. It's a book that stays with you. And now, I can't wait to rent the movie.

The Art of Deception
by Elizabeth Ironside

 Also not my usual fantasy/sci-fi novel, this is a very British book. Sort of a murder mystery, set in London, it's told in the first person by Nicholas Osterlonie, an amateur art historian, who recounts how his life unraveled when his wife left him and he encounters a beautiful neighbor, who might be connected to the Russian Mafia. Everything in the story is about perceptions, how we make judgments based on limited information, and see only what fits our preconceptions.

 The plot is way too complex, and nebulous, to really summarize, but it's an odd little story, with a twist ending that will have the reader flipping back, seeing what clues might have been missed because of our own incomplete perceptions, and our own understanding of how we expect the characters to behave based on the possibly unreliable information presented by the first-person narrator.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

So, we finally got to The Hunger Games, and only the second weekend it's out - pretty good for us. And the movie was just as awesome as I expected - and I expected a lot!

 My number one question was how they were going to film the violence in a PG-13 way, without watering down the impact. The answer: Very well, thank you. The bloodbath scene at the cornucopia is just as horrifying as I imagined while reading, but without obvious gore. It carries more of an impact that way; with the quick cuts, you see just enough to imagine the worst.

The young actors show some serious acting chops in roles that not only call for emotional depth, but are physically demanding as well. This movie would have completely fallen apart if the young leads weren't up to the task, but they not only make the audience care, they bring us right into the arena with them.

 The movie isn't a word-for-word remake of the book - that wouldn't have worked - but it captures the spirit. A few minor things are changed, scenes added or moved around to keep the story flowing naturally. Of course, the story had to be condensed, but I think the scriptwriter's choices of what to take out and what to leave in were spot on. I saw the movie with three people who hadn't read the book, and they had no trouble following the story.

Obviously, I really, REALLY liked it - best movie I've seen yet this year. (OK, I've only seen three movies this year, but still...) Whether you've read the book or not, whether you like sci-fi or not, I can't imagine anyone not liking this movie. I won't say "enjoying," that's not the right word for a movie as dark as this one, but you'll be thinking about it and discussing it for a long time.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Movie Review: "This Means War"

I actually saw this movie about a month ago, before everybody started getting sick, but I'll review as best I can remember.

 Although it didn't get much love from critics, I really liked this movie. I'm not a romantic comedy kind of person, I prefer action or sci-fi, but this was a good date movie. I love Reese Witherspoon, and there's a sci-fi connection with Chris Pine (Captain Kirk in the new Star Trek movies) and Tom Hardy (Picard clone in the last Start Trek:Next Generation movie). It has the predictable rom-com conventions: cute meetings, secrets, misunderstandings, a love triangle, but it also has car chases, gun battles and explosions. Really, it's sort of a mash-up of traditional romantic comedy and buddy-cop action movie, which sounds strange, but somehow works, probably on the strength of the actors.

 If you don't know the premise, two secret agent partners (CIA? It's never specified) fall for the same woman, she doesn't know they know each other, and while she feels guilty for dating them both, and agonizes about which one to choose, they use all their agency resources to sabotage each others' dates. And of course, their job intrudes in the form of the gun-running terrorist out for revenge against the agents who killed his brother.

 You would think all the movie cliches would drag this down, but it actually feels pretty light and funny. I've never cared for Chelsea Handler, but she works well as the stock character of married best friend living vicariously through her single buddy. It's probably not in theaters anymore, but it will make a great rental next time you can't decide on an action movie or a rom-com.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sharing a Recipe - Kahlua Kiss Cupcakes

Today, I thought I'd share a recipe I created for Valentine's Day - Kahlua Kiss Cupcakes. Chocolate and Kahlua are my absolute favorite dessert pairing, and the darker the chocolate, the better. I use my favorite dark chocolate Hershey's Kisses, but you can use whatever flavor you want; the mint ones work well, too. This would qualify as semi-homemade, since all of my cupcake recipes start with a cake mix.

Kahlua Kiss Cupcakes
1 box Devil's Food cake mix
24 unwrapped dark chocolate Hershey's Kisses
1/4 cup Kahlua

Kahlua Buttercream Icing
1 stick butter, softened
1 stick Crisco, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
2 T. milk
2 T. Kahlua
1/2 tsp. vanilla

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tin with cupcake liners.
Prepare cake batter according to package directions, replacing 1/4 cup of water with 1/4 cup Kahlua. Fill muffin tins about one-third full and set unused batter aside. Bake for about 6 minutes. Remove from oven and place a kiss in the center of each cup - batter should be just firm enough to support it without the kiss sinking to the bottom. Use remaining batter to fill muffin cups to about two-thirds full. Bake another 10-15 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting. Makes about 24 cupcakes.

For the Kahlua Buttercream Icing, use an electric mixer to beat butter and Crisco together until blended. Gradually add in powdered sugar, milk, Kahlua and vanilla, beating until smooth. Adjust powdered sugar and milk amounts until icing has the proper consistency - you want it thick enough to hold its shape without running down the sides of the cupcake. For a fancy presentation, drizzle with a little chocolate syrup and sprinkle with dark chocolate shavings.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Geek Road Trip!

 We took our first geek road trip as a family this weekend - down to Kansas City for Planet Comicon.(Well, technically, Overland Park, Kansas.) We decided to make it a day trip on Saturday, which was pretty ambitious considering it's about 3 1/2 hours each way. Both kids took the car ride amazingly well, even did some napping.

I got Gil Gerard and Erin Gray autographs - geekgasm!
 We had never been to Planet Comicon before, but this year's guests were a big draw: Gil Gerard, Erin Gray and Felix Silla (Twiki) from Buck Rogers - my absolute favorite TV show as a kid; Edward James Olmos; and Lando himself, Billy Dee Williams!

 This convention was a lot of fun! I don't know how attendance has been in past years, but this one was packed! The crowds were daunting at times, but convention staff did the best they could to move people through, opening new lines when registration backed up, and answering questions and directing people where they needed to go. The main panel room was packed for Billy Dee's and Edward James Olmos' talks, but it was large enough to accomodate everyone, although the sound system could have been better. (Or maybe Billy Dee Williams just mumbles.) The main problem with the room, called the Atrium because of the ceiling of skylights, was out of the convention staff's control - on an unlikely 80 degree day in March, the skylights turned a packed room into a sauna at times.

Billy Dee Williams, at maximum zoom from waaaaay in the back
 I didn't hear much of Billy Dee Williams talk (I was in the back with a fussy baby) but what I heard was entertaining. The biggest response came from an audience question, What from your body of work do you most want to be remembered for? and his answer: "Colt 45!"

Edward James Olmos was a wonderful speaker, you could tell he was really enjoying himself. He answered questions about Miami Vice, Battlestar Galactica, and everything in between, and wrapped up his talk with a rousing round of "So say we all!" (for you non-geeks, it's a Battlestar thing.)

Edward James Olmos

Boy and Daddy with stormtroopers

Boy and me with Emperor Palpatine (you can't tell because of robe shadow, but he has the best facial prosthetics I've ever seen on an Emperor costume)
My favorite part of any convention is always the costumes, and some of the participants here really went all out. Here are photos of some of my favorites.

Pinkie Pie the Stormtrooper

The shortest Optimus Prime ever

Avengers Assemble!

The Penguin and Poison Ivy

Mojo Jojo

Captain Barbossa, complete with undead monkey puppet

No, it's not Billy Dee, just a really good Lando costume