Out of this World Constellation Cookies

All Images courtesy of Bridget Edwards

Occasionally I like to think that I can channel Martha Stewart or Delia Smith. It usually ends up with me in a very sticky situation, proclaiming a few choice words over something resembling food. I have tried and failed several times to create Cake Pops, and the closest I have ever come to domestic goddess status was making a rainbow layered cake for my son’s first birthday.

For quite some time now I have been eyeing up the cookies at Bakeat350 by the delightful Bridget Edwards. I purchased some of the equipment in 2010, some more in 2011, and her book Decorating Cookies in 2012. I have actually attempted to flood and fill cookies on several occasions. I have had moderate success, though I still cannot get the consistency done well enough to have the icing set properly. One of my favorite cookies of hers from over the years is her constellation cookies. When she posted these cookies, I was blown away. They look so simple that I think I may be able to do a half decent job with these, if only I can solve my consistency problem!

I love having her book at my side. Bridget gives a step-by-step guide to her methods, and pretty much covers anything the novice cookie fiend could get wrong. Her photography is excellent and leaves you wanting for nothing. On her website, she links to other “how-to” posts for further assistance.

For this particular cookie, I love that she stayed true to the actual constellations. By using a push pin and a print out of each constellation, she is able to give complete accuracy to these constellation cookies. For a space-themed birthday party, a meteor shower, or a NASA event, these are an absolute must.

Take a look around her site and you will soon find other geeky delicacies such as Harry Potter, Wonder Woman, and holy cookies Batman. She even provided a gift basket of cookies to fellow Texan, Jim Parsons. Next up, I’d like to see some more state cookies with some geographical markings for my map-obsessed family. The Texas ones she made for Jim were wonderful.

Adventures in Photography: The Toddler Years

All Images: Master Tobias Pinault

Having a large family that live mostly three thousand miles away, has meant that we take more pictures and capture more video than I would have thought possible. It’s a blessing in disguise, both cumbersome in storage and wonderful in experience, as we have such a large record of the lives of my children.

As my eldest grew he began to develop a fascination with the devices we used, so we got him his own camera. We’ve been excitedly watching ever since to see what develops.

First, the choice of the camera. There are several pre-school cameras on the market and it is easy to get lost in your child’s needs vs. the cmaera specifications. I did what any self respecting frazzled mom would do. I went to Target and bought the one that they stock!

Thus we ended up with the VTech – Kidizoom Digital Camera. For somewhat of an impulse purchase, it has been pretty impressive. It came with batteries that last long enough for your child to turn it on, take a few pictures, and freak out when the batteries die. Due credit, they do warn you on the packaging that the batteries have a VERY limited lifespan. Seeing as this was for a three year old we went top of the line on batteries and stocked up at the dollar store. There came my first pleasant surprise. The dollar store batteries lasted three weeks with my son clicking fairly consistently on a daily basis. This camera doesn’t suck up too much juice when in use. Even now he is older and has begun using it to make movies, the batteries hold up pretty well.

My second pleasant surprise, which shows how much attention I was paying in Target (bad GeekMom, bad!), was that the camera came with three games. One of these is a photo based game, the other two have photo options, which means your child can include their own pictures in the games they play. At the time we were trying to wean our son off his Ipad games, and so this proved a very useful distraction. Now that his brother is old enough to play along with him, they both enjoy making up new games on the camera with the pictures they take. It has become something they do together, and quite well. They can usually spend ten minutes or so sharing the camera before we run into brotherly discord.

For a shaky hand, both of my sons are able to take a lot of pictures, and have a decent percentage come out clear, pretty much all I ask for in a camera aimed at his age group. The specifications of the camera, which I rarely pay attention to in my own device, seem to be decent:

  • 1.3 megapixels with 4x digital zoom
  • 128 MB internal memory (up to 1000 photos)
  • Optional photo effects, meaning frames, mustaches and such
  • Video recording with sound
  • Takes 4 AA Batteries – device turns off after three minutes of idle time to preserve battery life.
HTML CHEAT!!!
There are a couple of downsides with this device. While the case is exceptionally sturdy, the battery covers come off with ridiculous ease for little fingers. My son had it cracked within 24 hours, although due credit, he very soon lost interest in removing the batteries. This provided me with ample time to teach him about the correct way of inserting batteries, which he was fascinated with. Also, the camera comes with a port to attach to your computer but doesn’t come with a USB cable. Luckily my husband is a hoarder and so we had the appropriate cable.

A Pre-schooler’s impression of JoAnn Fabrics. Prompted by a frustrated mom asking a bored pre-schooler to “take pictures of the things you see honey.”

I have found that my son responds well to being given tasks with his camera. If we don’t provide tasks, he inevitably starts to film the ceiling until the camera turns off.

Here are some options for fun photo projects with your toddler:

  1. Find like things. While running errands, have them find a group of certain things. In the grocery store, have them find their favorite foods. In the craft store have them find their favorite colors.
  2. Designated Family Photographer. Bring it to family gatherings and prompt them to take a picture of everyone they know. In photobook form, this will also make a great gift for grandparents.
  3. Nature Photography. Take a walk in the woods and have them photograph all the animals/plants/flowers/birds they can find.  Add variety to this based on what seems to take their interest that day – follow your child’s lead.
  4. My favorite things. To help adjust them to a new baby in the house, have them take pictures of all their favorite things to show the baby.
  5. Make your own blog. Teach them how to blog! At each stage of construction in a brio/playdoh/lego/blanket-fort project have them detail what they do. Help them write up the instructions.
  6. Map your world. Take a tip from the GeekMom book and make a map of your neighborhood, have your child take pictures and create a pictorial guide to where they live.
  7. My favorite things (the most wanted list).Make a photographic Christmas list. Take them to Toys’R’us and let them roam free with their camera. Make sure you have had plenty of caffeine and repeat after me “No, you can’t have it. No, you already have one. No, you already broke that.”
  8. Quite time book. After following tip #7 have your child photograph pretty things in your garden to help calm you down after your nervous breakdown, tell them to create a “Quiet time book” for mommy and see what they think will soothe you.
  9. Storyboards. Have them photograph each of their action figures/dolls/action dolls, print out the images and help them create storyboards of adventures involving their toys.
  10. On the move. Give them the camera in the car and play an updated version of I-spy. The resolution of the camera may not cope with high speed pictures, but it should prove entertaining on road trips.
  11. Snowed in. Since many of us appear to be snowed in right now, use the camera as a defense against cabin fever. Use the above indoor projects or suit up and go outside to document snowflakes, snow formations, and icicles. Then look at the pictures over hot cocoa.
Share your kids pictures on the GeekMom Facebook page, we’d love to see what your geeklings come up with!

Odd Squad: Warehouse 13 For Kids

OddSquad

© 2014 The Fred Rogers Company

Pete Lattimer and Myka Bering best move over; they have been replaced by a younger crew.

Agent Olive and Agent Otto are the stars of Odd Squad, a Canadian/American show that debuted in Canada and on PBS Kids on November 26, 2014. My sons discovered it about a month ago. I have to say, kids, grandparents, and parents alike are all enjoying the escapades of this quasi-governmental agency.

oddsquad_needs_you-hex

© 2014 The Fred Rogers Company

Odd Squad is an agency run by children, who seemingly stop aging at age 10. They investigate strange or odd phenomenon, as the local branch in their town. It is unclear whether this is a localized oddity, such as Sunnydale’s hell mouth, or if such oddities are nationwide.

If you open your mouth and start barking instead of talking, Odd Squad can help. If a swirling vortex appears in the park, Odd Squad can help. If pizzas across town are being delivered with two pieces missing, Odd Squad can help.

Sometimes the storylines are well suited to a kids show, but most of the time they could be easily adapted to Warehouse 13, The X-Files, or Once Upon a Time without skipping a beat. There is some excellent writing at work here, and some very innovative, creative minds. Each episode starts with a quick fix case before moving into the main storyline.

The show frequently nods its head at mainstream shows that have come before it. The transport operator is always O’Malley, O’Hare, O’Brien, O’Donohue, or something of the like, in seeming reference to Chief O’Brien from Star Trek: The Next Generation. There is an episode featuring animals called Centigurps, who populate headquarters like Tribbles. The storage facility, in which they store artifacts, animals, or other oddities that need to be contained and collected, is remarkably reminiscent of Warehouse 13. It’s a lot of fun watching for allusions and references in these episodes. Things that my children will never pick up on, but that tickle me to no end.

agent-mso

Ms. O © 2014 The Fred Rogers Company

The show has great writing and a great atmosphere, but also a great lineup of main characters. This really sets Odd Squad apart from other kids’ shows. The two main characters are Agent Olive and Agent Otto. Olive is the veteran, while Otto is her rookie partner. They play off each other nicely, and bring out the best in each other. Olive is the more straight-face agent, while Otto serves well as a foil. Their strengths play off each other, and the cases are solved best when the pair are working together.

The head of the organization is Ms. O. Ms. O has been around since the 80s, and rules Odd Squad with a big stick and an even bigger voice, but always with a juice box in her hand. Ms. O is obviously a homage to the Judi Dench years of the James Bond franchise, and it is wonderfully played. Ms. O has the answers to the most obscure problems, and is always several steps ahead of her agents. She trusts them implicitly, but will not tolerate running in headquarters.

Agent Oscar is the squad’s resident scientist and inventor. He has a gadget for everything—and I do mean everything. Olive and Otto go to Oscar whenever they need technical help, and he is usually sent to the field by Ms. O to assess a situation that the other agents can’t handle, such as the Hydraclops or the vortex.

agent-dro

© 2014 The Fred Rogers Company

The cast has a great gender and racial balance, and so far stays far away from playing up to stereotypes. In one scene, Olive, Otto, Oscar, and Agent Octavia are fighting off robots in the princess room. Olive and Octavia send Otto and Oscar out of the room, and retreat to the door backwards while firing at the robots. Olive proclaims “I never liked princesses” and Octavia concurs. It’s a really well played scene. Just when you think they are going to kowtow to some form of stereotype, the producers subvert it, make fun of it, or make it irrelevant.

Agent Octavia is Odd Squad‘s resident doctor. She is a very eccentric character with great problem solving skills. She frequently reminds the other agents, “I’m a Doctor,” and while usually I might chaff against a girl character reminding us of that, in no way does it come across as negating her value. It is a personality quirk and simply amplifies her eccentricity. Nothing in this show belongs to the boy characters and nothing to the girls, and it is a wonderful to see and to have modeled to my two sons.

Odd Squad uses math to investigate strange occurrences and to come up with solutions. This is the only part of the show that feels laborious to the adults watching. However, both of my kids count and add along with Olive and Otto, and it has really made a dent in my five-year-old’s indifference to math.

The show also teaches perseverance and teamwork. It frequently goes over the idea that it’s okay to go through several wrong solutions on your way to finding the right one, a big believer in trial and error. The episodes always start with a voice-over by Agent Olive: “My name is Agent Olive. This is my partner Agent Otto. This is ____.” The third thing shown on the screen is always something random, that never has anything to do with the storyline that follows. The best one so far has been “This is Emmy Noether.” It is wonderful to think of how many kids (and adults, ahem) then looked up Emmy Noether, whom Einstein described as the most important woman in mathematics. This show uses math, but it shows how everyone can use math and how important it is.

So far my favorite episode has been episode 21: “6:00 to 6:05.” In this episode, we learn the dangers of confusing 6:05 with 1:30. It features the dinosaur storage facility at Odd Squad headquarters, a time machine, and a girl’s passion for toy dinosaurs. Absolutely brilliant.

My son’s favorite episodes are anything involving a character called Delivery Doug, who delivers egg salad sandwiches in his egg mobile. It’s what’s for lunch in our house these days.

You can watch Odd Squad online at PSBSkids.org or PBS Kids during the week. Each episode is made up of two 11-minute adventures and the show is aimed at ages 5-8. We stream through our Roku channel.

The Sequel Generation

Mermaid

© Disney. All rights reserved.

My five-year-old son is a connoisseur of animation, from Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Wallace and Gromit to Rio and 101 Dalmatians. A conversation with him a few weeks ago left me pondering how the current movie-making climate is shaping the collective mindset of his generation. His is the sequel generation.

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Image: Fox/DreamWorks Animation.

I first began to notice this in him when we went to see How To Train Your Dragon 2. He seemed especially pleased that it was the second movie, proclaimed a preference for the second movie many times, and several times expressed his desire to see How To Train Your Dragon 3. Now when he talks about the movies, he is sure to add the “2” at the end, because that is his favorite. So Toothless is the dragon from How to Train Your Dragon 2, not simply from How To Train Your Dragon. His most recent love is the movie Rio, about the last two blue Macaws. He doesn’t even really know that they made a second one, but he assumes there are more movies. He actually believes there to be 99 of them. However, he does not call the movie Rio. In fact, he corrects everyone who says simply Rio; the movie is Rio 1.

So I am left wondering. While my generation typically rolls their eyes, and heaves a heavy sigh each time we hear of an unanticipated sequel, will my kids not only tolerate them, but come to expect them? Will they become disappointed in the stand-alone movie? Invariably, when we see a movie, my son asks when we can see the second one. This is his normal.

Growing up, I always used to wonder what happened at the end of my movies. What happens when Ariel and Eric have kids? How did they establish a dalmatian plantation? How does a peasant girl, who has been sweeping floors for many years, suddenly transition into a princess? My children won’t have to wonder such things. 101 Dalmatians 2: Patch’s London Adventure shows us the dalmatian plantation in action. The Little Mermaid 2: Return To The Sea explains how Ariel’s human daughter longed for the sea. Cinderella II: Dreams Come True shows Cinderella revolutionizing the palace banquet. My point is not whether or not we find these things annoying, but that our children do not see them as anything but expected.

While the past decade has seen the sequel, the franchise, and the reboot, become a work-a-day part of the movie going experience, the concept has been around for a long time. The first sequel, though now a lost movie, is considered to be The Fall of a Nation, which was made in response to D.W. Griffith’s incredibly racist The Birth of a Nation. However, not till The Godfather: Part II and Jaws II did sequels really take hold of the industry and captivate the nation. According to Back to the Future, we should be watching Jaws 19 this year. Where animation is concerned, I find myself to be more discerning about sequels. I set higher standards and more often than not, I am let down.

The-Rescuers-Down-Under-Movie-Poster

© Disney. All rights reserved.

In 1990, Disney released its first animated sequel into theaters. The Rescuers Down Under grossed $3.5 million on opening weekend, fourth after Home Alone, Rocky V and Child’s Play 2. It is worth noting that Home Alone would go on to spawn many sequels, Rocky V was the fifth movie, and Child’s Play 2 was a sequel that would later be extended into a franchise. The Rescuers Down Under was a decent story that, in my opinion, did not have the same narrative or lyrical grab as the first movie. It is the only sequel that Disney features in its canon; all other sequels (excluding Pixar) are considered separate. Presumably the success of Pixar sequels earns them a place on the classics list.

After The Rescuers Down Under, Disney sequels were mostly confined to home release. The Return of Jafar, Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas were all released in the nineties to varying degrees of success.

There are some exceptions to the animation let down. The Toy Story movies are all equally charming. Monsters University, though unnecessary I feel, is a charming prequel. Planes: Fire and Rescue surpasses the original in both storyline and character. Non-Disney movies sometime suffer the same fate, with sequels that can be hit or miss. How to Train Your Dragon 2 surpasses the original in my mind, but Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa failed to live up to its precursor. The list goes on. While I may wail against the lack of imagination in animation studios, if we didn’t go see them or didn’t buy them straight to DVD, they wouldn’t still be making them.

I find it interesting therefore that my son will grow up with a different mindset than I did. That a preference for sequels and expectations for continuing storylines will be something that is just assumed by his generation. Happily ever after will now be spelled out in detail and surround sound forevermore, and while I may not appreciate it, my son certainly will.

We have passed by the time of stand-alone movies, we are now firmly in the sequel generation. Grumble all you want. I think it’s here to stay.

What to Do When Winter Storm Juno Hits

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All Images: Sarah Pinault

Despite the barrage of news stories about how off track meteorologists were with the weather report for New York last week, up here in Maine they were spot on, if not a little light. We were supposed to get up to 24 inches, and by the time we were done it was more like 34. My husband went out three times to clear the snow, for fear that it would be too much for our snowblower once the storm was done.

We ended up having three snow days this week, for which a rather rambunctious five year old was kept cooped up. As he tends to get a little surly over movies and video games at the moment, we are severely limiting screen time right now. So what do you do for 12 waking hours when you are trapped inside? Turns out, there are a lot of household items easily adaptable to some serious playtime.

1. Masking Tape. We discovered the joys of masking tape last winter. You can play hopscotch, make a “corn” maze, make a city scape for cars, or make a railroad for trains. You can also tape children to support beams so that they can pretend to be The Incredible Hulk and bust out of said tape. You can create a laser security system in the hallway, and either tear through it (because you are still pretending to be The Incredible Hulk), or you can navigate your way through as a jewel thief or secret agent. Be wary of wooden floors, though. We now have a permanent hopscotch field where the masking tape peeled up tiny fibers of our wooden flooring.

2. Cotton Balls. Oh cotton balls, these can be so much fun during a storm. Pile a stack of pillows up between two halves of the room and have a good old fashioned indoor snowball fight. They aren’t cold, they don’t hurt, and you can throw so many of them at one time. You can hold them in front of a fan and make it snow, you can stick them to paper airplanes and see if they fall off mid-flight. You can make snowman with them, you can pretend to roast marshmallows with them. They can also be used in conjunction with…

3. Pool Noodles. Not just for summer days at the pool, these are great indoor tools if you don’t mind cutting a few in half. Did you know that a cotton ball fits perfectly inside the hollow middle of a pool noodle, and that when you blow into that pool noodle the cotton ball shoots across the room at ridiculously high speeds? Entertainment gold right here. And it doesn’t matter if the cotton balls hit anything; nothing is going to break because of a cotton ball. Something might get broken when using the pool noodles as light sabers, for karate practice, or when pretending to be He-Man, though.

4. Food Coloring. I can seriously get away with pulling this out and not using it in cookies or cupcakes, if I will just add a drop or two to a bowl of water and let my kids play with some Tupperware. It is quite ridiculous how long this will entertain them. Adding different colors mid play session ramps it up a notch and keeps them interested for longer. Very little clean up too, just drain the sink and wipe out quickly.

5. Blankets and Pillows. Never underestimate the power of a blanket fort to entertain. Especially a blanket fort with four walls and a roof that allows for the rare privilege of using a flashlight in the house during the day time. Blanket forts are an almost daily occurrence in our house, whether group homes or individual fortresses of solitude.

6. Paper. This may seem like an obvious one, but paper airplanes are often the way to go. I’m not talking an 8.5 by 11 standard plane here. Check out the recycling bucket, and experiment. Which types of paper or cardboard make the best planes, what type of material flies farther or fastest, which one folds best? You can take the simple activity of folding and flying a paper airplane and turn it into an hour long science experiment.

For a more extensive list of things to cure cabin fever check out GeekMom Laura’s list of forty cures. I know that people don’t just suffer with snow at this time of year. These activities will work really well in the mid-summer heat when you are trapped inside by heat waves and air conditioners too.

Paddington: A Jolly Good Movie

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Image: The Weinstein Company

Having grown up in England, Paddington Bear was one of those essentials of childhood. Much like Dr. Seuss, even if he wasn’t your particular cup of tea, you still knew the Paddington stories and understood the references.

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Image: http://www.paddington.com

My generation grew up with the FilmFair television series, which was narrated by Michael Hordern. Hordern also voiced the rabbit god Frith in Martin Rosen’s 1978 adaptation of Watership Down, another essential of British childhood. The FilmFair series was a combination piece: Paddington himself was done in stop animation but the other characters and backdrops were a series of two dimensional animated drawings. The series was originally broadcast in the latter half of the seventies, but was shown extensively in my eighties childhood. The animation style and music easily evoke my memories of childhood and home.

To introduce my eldest son to Paddington Bear had actually not crossed my mind, until I found out there was to be a movie. At that point I became firm in the cause that he should be acquainted with “the real Paddington” before being exposed to the new version. It is a peculiar trait of us geeks, that even something we only have a tenuous attachment to becomes “the real thing” the moment that a remake is rumored.

So we began with the stories, which he devoured night after night, and then with a few FilmFair episodes. To this bibliophile’s delight, he much preferred reading the stories with me than watching the animation, though he did find them amusing. And so, for a month before the movie’s release, our evenings were filled with the bear from Darkest Peru.

Then one cold January afternoon, while his brother was napping, and his father was languishing on the couch with this season’s must-have cold, we set out to the movie theater.

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Image: The Weinstein Company

The movie had several things going for it at the outset. Firstly, they did a darn good job with the bear himself. The visual effect of the fur, the features, the movement, all seemed spot on in the trailers I had seen. Secondly, the casting was stellar. Hugh Bonneville is a must for any British film these days I feel, Nicole Kidman plays an excellent bad guy (as in The Golden Compass), and a glimpse of Peter Capaldi doesn’t hurt either, even though it is disconcerting to see him in such an awkward role.

SPOILERS AHEAD

One of the things I love about the Paddington stories is the simplicity of the adventures. There is no turning point needed to move the plot along, it moves along at its own pace and concludes with a marmalade sandwich. It is simple and comforting. For a movie however, you need a good catch, a foil, a bad guy, something on which the simple and comforting storyline hangs. In this movie, that is played out delightfully by Nicole Kidman as the exceptionally creepy Taxidermist Millicent. When her storyline first began to play out before me, I had a momentary flash of dislike for the use of such a story arc in my sweet, simple Paddington, but it is written so well, and acted so deliciously by Kidman, that my aversion departed as quickly as it arrived. Her backstory, so interwoven with Paddington’s himself, is wonderfully written.

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Image: The Weinstein Company

There is much of Mary Poppins in this movie, in that the defining rooftop moment, while ostensibly about saving Paddington, is actually about saving the father from himself. Hugh Bonneville is delightful, both as a distracted and terrified father, and as an all-hands-on-deck dad. You never dislike him, you just feel sorry for him, and in turn for the kids. The kids are very well done, nicely updated for a modern movie but with elements of the older stories thrown in. This is something the movie does well, keeping it modern whilst also tipping its head to the original stories and setting. I suppose given that it is a Brit-centric movie featuring London, Paddington station, and The British Museum, it was bound to. Keeping the old and new together is something we Brits do well in our media.

Overall I enjoyed the movie. I was not bored, which is a must for a children’s movie in my opinion; a great children’s movie will entertain the entire family. It was not too predictable, there was an excellent twist in the main story line, and it was aesthetically pleasing. The score is fantastic, anything that incorporates Calypso music has my vote. Calypso music was quite common in my childhood music classes at Whitehall Infant School, so it is nice to see a nod to this part of “British” culture. The inclusion of the band, which was put together just for the movie, in several scenes was delightful. I took my five-year-old son with me to see this movie. He paid attention, he asked pertinent questions, and he asked to read more Paddington stories when we got home. Above all of that, he sat perfectly still for 95 minutes, and in Five Year Old Land, that makes for the highest rating! There was just enough fart humor for my son, and not too much for me. Just enough dialogue for me, just enough action for my son. I still can’t convince him to try marmalade though, even though his Nanny has offered to make some from scratch!

What I had not expected from this movie was the delightful back story of Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo. That I will not spoil, but I will say that this is one movie not to arrive late to. The first fifteen minutes are a treat that stands alone from the rest of the movie. Bring tissues.

 

The Doctor Who Christmas Quiz

Doctor Who (s8) Christmas Special

Image: bbc.co.uk

Whether it’s David Tennant and a hot air balloon, or Matt Smith and some creepy snowmen, one thing’s for certain: All bets are off with the Doctor Who Christmas special. A staple of British viewing over the holiday season, the Doctor Who Christmas special has a long history of great story telling. No matter the events of the season, if you like the companion or not, even if you like the Doctor or not, the Christmas special always delivers.

So, while you are waiting to see Peter Capaldi and Father Christmas dance their holiday dance, why not take the Doctor’s Christmas quiz over at British Sci Fi Magazine SFX and see how well-versed you are in the festive side of our favorite Galifreyan.

I scored 30%. Now I shall go drown my sorrows and shame in mince pies.

Twice as Much Awesome: Sharknado 2, The Second One

Image: SyFy

Image: SyFy

Sharknado 2 was an epic television event that will be remembered for years to come. Sharknado 2 was the worst movie to be made in 2014. I have heard both of these statements in the past few months, but in my opinion, the year of the “bad” TV movie certainly saw a great moment in the continuing story of Fin Shepard and April Wexler. Not everyone shares my enthusiasm for movies like Sharknado and Croctopus, I know, but Anne Wheaton does and so I know I am in good company.

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Image: Amazon.com

The movie picks up with Fin and April on their way to the Big Apple to see family. April is on a book tour for her bestselling book How to Survive a Sharknado. I love how apropos that plot device is for the current era of reality tv and Zombie escapades. Of course a storm is brewing, and of course there are an unnatural amount of sharks in the area. There is nothing surprising about the progression of the plot in this movie, but it’s predictability does nothing to diminish it’s awesomeness.

I tried to keep a running death tally but lost track pretty quickly. Kelly Osborne is the first to go, followed by the co-pilot, then a nasty woman on the toilet, Wil Wheaton is next (only Wil Wheaton is credited though his wife sits beside him, what’s with that SyFy?), and Tara Reid loses her hand but not her life. Incidentally this will lead to not only a great Bruce Campbell moment later in the movie, but a pivotal moment for our young heroes.

This movie is highly entertaining, but is taken to new heights by the cameos. Some of the best one liners come from these throwaway parts. Robert Hayes commenting “This is nothing, I’ve flown worse.” Judd Hirsch driving a taxi. Richard Kind playing a reminiscent ex-baseball player at Citi Field, who finally gets to hit one, and by one I mean a shark, out of the park. Judah Friedlander was originally a one line role, but grew into one of the main characters. Billy ray Cyrus, Andy Dick, Jared from the Subway commercials, the movie is littered with amusing cameos.

Of my two favorite moments in the movie, however, only one is cameo related. Kelly Ripa killing a shark with her exceptionally high heel, now that’s style. Yet I would have to say that the best moment is when Ian Ziering plays Frogger across the water and literally jumps the shark. He jumped the shark, people. He actually jumped the shark, and they actually make the frogger reference in the movie. This is classic cinema history in the making.

The DVD is full of gems, almost as delightful as the movie itself. To begin with, you simply have to watch the trailers at the beginning of the disc. While there are some dime a dozen movies such as The CoEd and the Zombie Stoner and Bachelor Night, there are also some must see movies, and no I do not say that tongue in cheek:

  • Bermuda Tentacles: The President goes missing over the Bermuda Triangle, and an elite team must go in to save him from an alien octopus creature from the deep. Yes, please!
  • Mercenaries: Hijinks ensue when only an outlaw team of the world’s most infamous female criminals can rescue the presidents daughter. “We go PMS from hell on this place!”
  • Blood Lake—Attack of the Killer Lampreys: I mean really, do you need more than the title to want to see more from this movie? You do? Well it stars Christopher Lloyd, you’re welcome!
  • Hercules Reborn: Really this looks like Russel Crowe’s Gladiator but with a Hercules theme. It did provide me with my new closing statement for arguments though, “Let us finish this with blades.”
  • Age of Tomorrow: Robert Picardo stars in this alien attack movie. It has similar tropes to Armageddon except once they land on the asteroid, they realize that it is not an asteroid.
  • Sleeping Beauty: I’m all for fairy tale remakes and this “Aurora meets Helms Deep” style movie has a Heath Ledger-esque lead so I’m game.
Patricia Schlein/Star Max / Getty Images Contributor

Patricia Schlein/Star Max / Getty Images Contributor

Previews aside, the remaining extras on the DVD are pretty good for such a low budget flick. There is a ten minute documentary about the cameos in which the director chats about the process. When talking about casting the airplane scenes, they had wondered out loud if they could get the actual guy from Airplane, and they did indeed get Robert Hays. There were hints of a Sharknado Musical, but even I’m not sure about that! The gag reel is a little over five minutes long but there aren’t really many gags. “Sharkchum: From the cutting room floor,” contains more gags in its eight minutes and you get to see the Canadian edit which features Toronto mayor Rob Ford getting impaled with a shark. There are some great extended bits with Al Roker and Matt Laeur, and I have to say I simply love the running gag about Matt Lauer not wanting to use the gauche term “Sharknado.” “The Making of Sharknado 2” contains ten minutes of chatter about the origins of the movie, and some more information about the cameos. Some worthy extras, and a decent commentary from Ian Ziering and Tara Reid make this a pretty good deal for a movie that in any other world would have been straight to DVD.

GeekMom was provided with a copy for review purposes.

Gaming This Christmas With Holiday Fluxx

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Image: Sarah Pinault

No Christmas is complete without gathering the family round the table for a rousing game of (insert favorite game here). In our family, no Thursday is complete without it, but that’s just us. We’re a big fan of Looney Labs for a quick and fun card game, and this holiday season they have done it again with a seasonal twist on their most popular game: Holiday Fluxx.

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Image: Looney Labs

The basic rules and tenets of the game remain the same. Each player starts with three cards, and the rules are draw a single card and play a single card, until a new rule card changes the rules. The goal is an ever changing object that you determine by playing certain cards. On your turn you can create a new goal, lay down a “Keeper,” or play an action card and do something immediately. It’s a game of both short- and long-range goals, all of which can be thrown out at a moment’s notice. All of the cards are rather more holly jolly than usual.

Unlike the most recent iterations of Fluxx, this version does not have any creepers, those dastardly little cards sent to thwart your victory. I am, however, tempted to make up a blank creeper card and create a few myself; Scrooge, the Grinch, and Bill Murray spring to mind. There was a special card issued in their holiday package this year: Mrs. Claus, a keeper that has the same properties as the Santa card. Also, this version includes a few ever popular surprise cards to throw an extra turkey bone in the works.

There are twenty-one new keepers, four surprise cards, thirty-two goals, and twenty-four new rules—a new rule for every day of Advent. The holiday game incorporates elements of Thanksgiving and Chanukah, though it is heavy on Christmas. Holiday-specific rules are the “Xmas Bonus” and “Regifting” cards. Some of the best themed cards come on the action cards however. In “gift Give-Away” every player must give away a keeper that they have before them. If you don’t have any, you are to be the first to receive a gift. In “Clear the Table” you must remove any keepers, held by any player, that are food related, such as Side Dishes or The Roast. In “Today’s Special” you get to draw three cards and play a different amount of them depending on what day it is. If it is your birthday you can play all three; if it is a holiday or a special day in your family, you can play two. For a normal day you can play one card.

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Image: Looney Lab

The production value is of the high quality we have come to expect from Looney Labs, but it is the illustrations by Ali Douglass that absolutely steal the show. In an old time style, Douglass has created some wonderful images that add greatly to the enjoyment of game play. The old fashioned ornaments and twinkle lights are my favorite. Douglass’ Etsy store is on hiatus for the holidays but I thoroughly recommend checking it out in the new year. Her Sound of Music illustration is wonderful but the cityscapes are stunning: classic and eclectic in the best ways. It is rare that a game introduces me to a new artist, but this was a wonderful treat from Looney Labs.

All in all this game is a great stocking stuffer, great office gift, or just generally a great addition to both gaming closet and holiday repertoire.

GeekMom was provided with a copy of Holiday Fluxx for review purposes.

 

 

‘Tis the Season To Breastfeed in Public

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Images courtesy of Christen Gundersen. The name of the employee has been blurred out by GeekMom.

When I was struggling to breastfeed my first baby, I found simple pleasures wherever I could. Discovering the football hold, getting the breast pump to work, oh so much lanolin, and mother’s rooms.

Yes, even when I decided to exclusively pump (or EP as we like to call it), mother’s rooms were my friend. A quiet place away from the hubbub of wherever I had to be at the time, to pump or nurse, in a room that did not contain a toilet. It was a dream.

Breastfeeding2Now I have friends who are perfectly able to whip it out in public, some with latching problems who prefer privacy, some for whom a blanket is sufficient, and some with questions of personal modesty.

For my own part, my son was a very messy nurser; mama needed room to clean up. My friends would all agree with me, that for whatever reasons, these rooms were such a blessing. However, one friend, on a trip into New York City this weekend with her infant, was met with the Ho Ho No’s at the Times Square Toys ‘R’ Us in New York City. Many of the seasonal members of staff did not know that such a place as a mother’s room existed, understandably. After all many of them probably only started that day. I’ve been on the retail floor with only a moment’s notice in the holiday season. I know how that plays out.

While waiting in the long line for the ladies’ room, my friend asked the staff member directing bathroom traffic for the location of the mother’s room. The staff member did know where it was. So, infant in tow she left the bathroom line and headed off in the direction of the mother’s room.

Once she got there, she found that it had been closed for the holiday season and was being used for personal shoppers. Aghast, she walked away from the room only to overhear an exchange between employees about a woman who had decided to use the mother’s room anyway, sitting on the floor surrounded by boxes, at which point the door was locked to “make sure it didn’t happen again.” Fortunately my friend was able to get to another location nearby, that was not the bathroom, and nurse in privacy.

To my mind, you either agree with the need for such rooms or you don’t. Do or do not, there is no try.

If Toys ‘R’ Us as a company has decided to use part of the square footage in each location for a mother’s room, I applaud that. Mothers everywhere applaud that. But that means that such a space is needed year round, not just when it’s convenient. Choosing to take that service away during the holiday season seems a tad more grinch like than I am used to from this company. Apparently this kind of behavior, at this particular location, has made waves before. In 2006, a woman who was nursing outside of the mother’s room claims to have been harassed, the company called it encouraged, to go elsewhere in the store to nurse. At that time the then-store manager responded, “We take this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to nursing moms.”

Now I am left wondering, is the personal shopping being done in that room for one customer?

And how much does it cost to buy a room in Toys ‘R’ Us?

Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day on December 6th

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We take our children to local bookstores whenever we can. We take them to the library. We take them to Books A Million. We always peruse the book aisle at Sam’s Club. I’m really not picky about how I expose my children to the tactile experience of perusing a shelf and finding a good read. For the past few years we have been diligently participating in Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, and it’s coming up again this Saturday.

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On our way to Longfellow in 2012: Not even the weather will defeat us!

In 2010, the first Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day was celebrated by just 80 dedicated bookstores. Now the list of participating stores numbers over 700. You can see a list of participating stores at their website, and even add your own bookstore to the map. The idea is simple. Take your child to a participating bookstore this Saturday and they will get to pick a book (up to a $10 value) to take home with them for free. Our local store, Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine, lets you apply the $10 to a bigger book if they decide on something a bit pricier. If you can, I’d encourage you to pick out several and support your local bookstore.

It’s a great day, and a great environment for the kids. We walk in to the store, which is full to bursting with children on the trail of new adventures. Parents are happily standing by breathing it in, or encouraging one shelf or another, staff are pointing out things that the kids might like. This is where my son first discovered The Cat in the Hat, and where we expanded our McCloskey library to include Blueberries for SalI can’t wait to see what the boys will pick out this week, and what extras I might find to bring home.

So, take a look at the list, clear your schedule, and take your child to a bookstore. You won’t regret it, I promise.

A Doctor Who Christmas Teaser

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Photo courtesy of the BBC.

So what does a man with two hearts and over 900 years under his belt ask Santa for? Will this be Clara’s last outing? Will we see a new companion or have to wait for next season? Will there even be a next season after Moffat’s interesting writing choices in the last one?

All this and more may or may not be answered in the Christmas Day special of Doctor Who. The annual Christmas episode arrives just as certainly as the man in red.

According to the press release: “In Doctor Who, the Doctor and Clara face their Last Christmas. Trapped on an Arctic base, under attack from terrifying creatures, who are you going to call? Santa Claus! Will this really be the Last Christmas for the Doctor and Clara? And what exactly are these terrifying creatures? It’s not the first time the Doctor has visited the Arctic of course. It’s previously been home to an Ice Warrior in Cold War—and the Cybermen!”

The episode, entitled “Last Christmas,” may or may not feature the song of the same name. Though I am a huge fan of Christmas music, I am erring on the side of not having a George Michael appearance!

Thanksgiving: Now With More Dinosaurs

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Image: www.facebook.com/JurassicPark

We attended the first of two Thanksgiving dinners this past weekend. Every year we have a separate Thanksmas with a group of friends, no family drama, no parade, just turkey, some games, and people who like the company of each other.

This year, a friend of a friend came, and thus the year of Stephen came upon us. Stephen has a mohawk, an honest to goodness mohawk with pink tips. None of this faux-hawk business. It is a thing of beauty, and my five-year-old was in love the moment Stephen crossed the threshold of Friendsgiving. So much so, that he instantly ran to get his two-year-old brother. My two-year-old son stood toe to toe with this seven foot tall (hair included) man, looked up at him, all the way up, with his mouth wide open. “Are you a real dinosaur?” he asked. Thus 2014 became the year of the Thanksgiving dinosaur.

Apparently Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Trevarrow agree with me. This year, the highlight of my Thanksgiving day will not be the parade, it will not be the green bean casserole, it will not even be The National Dog Show. This year I will patiently wait for the commercial breaks during the football game, in anticipation of the trailer premiere of Jurassic World.

I have yet to find the words to describe just how much I love the Jurassic Park franchise. The first movie is my go-to movie. I watch it when I’m sick, I watch it when I’m sad, I watch it when I need a pick-me-up. It is “that” movie to me. But I do not discriminate. I will dance with all three installments. Call me a Spielberg floozy, I care not. I have been waiting for Jurassic Park since before we knew of Midi-Chlorians, since Anna Paquin was simply an X-Woman, since Richard Dean Anderson was MacGuyver. I was waiting for this movie in utero.

That Laura Dern would only allow one scream in the entire movie. That Ariana Richards could reboot the park’s system by herself. That Jeff Goldlum, well, was Jeff Goldblum. This movie shaped my young thoughts about so many things. My life verse became, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” It was the first time a movie was everything I hoped it would be. It was the first time that an idea I held loosely in my mind was put on the big screen for me to see played out. The T-Rex and the kid in his bedroom from Lost World was lifted from one of my day dreams; I don’t know how Spielberg got it.

Here’s a twenty-second teaser. Join me in looping this until Thursday:

Your Thanksgiving Playlist

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Watching the parade in the Pinault house—another fine tradition. Image: Sarah Pinault.

I’m a big fan of Christmas music and my husband is a big fan of Thanksgiving. Over the years, this combined set of interests has led to an annual search for Thanksgiving music to play over dinner. We’ve come a long way since that first hobbled-together CD, which consisted mostly of “Alice’s Restaurant” and Adam Sandler. This year, we both agree, we have hit upon a playlist to be most thankful for. We have family favorites that have survived each year’s culling, we have old classics that were wrongly assigned to Christmas, and this year, we have discovered new-to-us gems. This list is too good not to share and there is still plenty of time for you to get your playlist in order, so here is the 2014 Pinault Thanksgiving playlist.

“Thanksgiving Day” by Ray Davies. Traditionally the second track on our CD, Ray was promoted above Bing this year. This song has a great beat, great lyrics, and a great artist: Ray Davies, lead singer and  songwriter for The Kinks. The linked video is from his performance on Conan back in 2005.

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Image: Amazon.com.

“I’ve Got Plenty to be Thankful For” by Bing Crosby. Taken from the movie Holiday Inn, this is Bing holiday gold. If you aren’t familiar with the movie, Bing plays a disillusioned performer who decides to open Holiday Inn, a quaint retreat in Connecticut that only opens on holidays. The movie is full of original songs for each holiday featured, and the Thanksgiving section is a family favorite.

“Prayer of Thanksgiving” by Johnny Cash. Lifted straight from the classic television series, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, the man in black offers a poetic addition to our Thanksgiving playlist. It has taken years to find a decent recording of this, as most are from people who have filmed the episode running on their TV.

“The Food on Our plates” by Ciara Thorton.  This has a nice piano base and beautiful vocals. This song is new to us this year (thank you Spotify), but I have a feeling it will survive to next year’s CD. This is from a 2004 compilation album called Thanksgiving, but is the only one that made our cut. It can be obtained on Google Play.

“T-day” by Jo D. Jonz. Get your turkey on big-band style. This song injects a little Frank Sinatra into the day. It’s pretty tongue-in-cheek and my five-year-old adores dancing away to this.

“Make Up a Thanksgiving Song” by Billy Harvey. If you skip his opening monologue about what it is he is attempting to do and go straight for the music, this makes for a nice backdrop. “Let’s try giving a little more than we did before.”

“We’re Thankful” by Moose A. Moose. This is a song from in between shows on the Nick Jr. of years gone by. It’s also one of several kid-specific tracks on the disc. This one survives each year because it amuses me so, but it was on my husband’s cut list this year. It’s got more saccharine in it than the rest of our songs, and a whole lot of bounce.

“The Turkey Song” by William P. Hitri. A Thanksgiving earworm if ever there was one. This is the perfect song to teach your kids to sing on the way to grandma’s house; the little voice rendition of the tongue-twisty chorus will bring a smile to anyone’s face. There are some great lyrics in here. “Roll, roll, roll to Plymouth Rock” and “The bird beast they call Turkey” are among my favorites.

“Thanksgiving Day” by Marcella Detroit. Another new addition this year, thanks to a needle-in-a-haystack search on SoundCloud. The opening has a touch of Iz’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to it. This was released last year, and we just found out that another version was released this year. Last year’s is much better; it has more bounce to it.

“Pumpkin Pie” by Tory H. This is the ultimate Thanksgiving song. This has survived since year one, and is our two-year-old’s favorite YouTube video. We play this song year round. Though you can still view the video on YouTube, I recommend paying the dollar on iTunes, as artistry of this brilliance should always be supported. It’s also really easy to play on the ukulele and kids will love singing along. My second son’s first words may even have been, “Next year, I’m not coming if you don’t have pumpkin pie.”

“Thanksgiving Song” by David Campbell. This was one of the first Thanksgiving songs we found, and has a touch of Bing Crosby/David Bowie’s “Little Drummer Boy” about it.

“Count Your Blessings” by Bing Crosby. This song is taken from the movie White Christmas, which was made to follow up on the success of the song “White Christmas” in Holiday Inn. It is traditionally used on Christmas albums, but really it’s a Thanksgiving song, so we stake our claim to it for our collection.

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Image: Amazon.com.

“Thanksgiving Theme” by The Vince Guaraldi Trio. It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Christmas get all of the attention at this time of year, but A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving should not be overlooked. True, the movie is sub par, compared to the others. However, Vince Guaraldi still brings his A game and the “Thanksgiving Theme” is just as good as “Linus and Lucy,” just not as familiar.

“Thanksgiving Song” by Mary Chapin Carpenter. A classic Thanksgiving song if ever there was one, from this country-turned-folk singer. Originally on her 2008 Christmas album, Come Darkness, Come Light: Twelve Songs of Christmas, it bears absolutely no resemblance to the more well known”Passionate Kisses.”

“Thanksgiving” by The Whale & the Warbler. It’s contagious; more and more people are getting on our Thanksgiving song bandwagon. Recorded in a NY church in early 2013 and released last fall as part of their Thanksgiving EP, you can download the whole album on their website and name your own price.

“The Thanksgiving Song” by The Ridler Brothers. Another one to survive over the years, it has the feel of Robert Keen’s “Merry Christmas From the Family,” but with less redneck and a slower pace. It’s a really beautiful song.

“Everyday Should be Thanksgiving Day” by A. Kendall Kraus. There’s some nice guitar work on this song and great earthy vocals. Another Spotify find this year, he says this of the song: “I guess the point that I’m trying to make is… even if you are having a tough time, look around and you will find something that you can be thankful for. Peace out.”

“Stuffy Turkey” by Thelonious Monk. Three original songs appeared on Monk’s sixth album, It’s Monk’s Time, and this is one of three original compositions on it. It has been around since 1964, but not being big jazz fans ourselves, we just discovered it this year.

With the exception of “Thanksgiving Day” by Marcella Detroit, which she is giving away for free on SoundCloud, you can get all of these tracks on iTunes. I hope you have time to get this together for your listening pleasure; it really is a delightful addition to the day. If you have any songs that you listen to on T-day, please do send them my way.

Kicking off TableTop Season Three: Tokaido

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All Images: Amazon.com

We have 40 minutes of every Thursday evening blocked out in our Google calendar for the foreseeable future. We have friends who own a board game store nearby and a semi-standing game-date for Friday night. We are the Pinaults, and this is our TableTop Season Three adventure.

TableTop Season Three kicked off this past Thursday night with some challenges to face. Not only is the season highly anticipated due to its record breaking, white-knuckle ride of a crowdfunding experience, but after two great seasons, viewers just expect a good time. The difference in production value between the first two seasons also placed higher expectations on Season Three. And, as the popularity grows, we are looking for bigger and badder gamers to play with. Episode one and Takaido saw that challenge and journeyed to the next location with it.

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Playing with Wil this week were a virtual cornucopia of characters. Batting for the gamers was Chris Kluwe, known to the sports world as a former punter for the Minnesota Vikings and to the gaming world as a tournament Magic player and high level World of Warcraft player. For the celebrity team, we have J. August Richards from television’s Angel (be still my beating heart) and, more recently, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. For the discerning geek, we have Jason Wishnov, a voiceover actor who is also the lead designer at Iridium Studios. As Wil and Jason touted, they are currently working on pushing out There Came an Echo, a voice-controlled squad-based strategy game, which is scheduled for release on Steam before the end of the year.

TOKAIDOThe Episode

Wil is back on form straight away in Season Three. The eyebrows are at work, the sarcasm is flowing, and everyone is out to get him! One of the unexpected joys of TableTop has been watching Wil get harpooned from every side, and these first guests took to that task with aplomb. Wil’s opener for Tokaido was suitably predictive, “The most zen-like cutthroat game you’ll ever play.” His take-away from the game matching with the TableTop experience in general: “I didn’t know this was a collaborative game against me!” While it’s fun to watch the “team” work Wil from every angle, the interactions between these players also just worked. J. August, the self-professed amateur geek, was a good stand-in for the TableTop initiate, whilst Jason played his part of evil mastermind with great dexterity. As to Wil, I would not be surprised if there was some college drinking game out there, taking bets on when the puppy dog eyes come out in each episode.

Minute 1.47: Wil bangs his head on the table.

Minute 15.04: Wil gets puppy dog eyes.

Minute 24.36: Wil calls for alcohol.

It was easy to follow the game play and fun to watch as the players explained their strategy. There was a good degree of profanity beeped out and a good degree of profanity left in. I personally don’t think it adds anything to the humor, but if you were thinking of watching with your kids, be warned that Wil likes to drop the F-bomb and some other choice phrasing in this episode.

The basic format remains the same; why change a winning formula? The set is better, the graphics are amazing, and everybody gets a trophy this year. I am curious to see if they all get a replica of the same trophy or if it is a different kind of statuette each week.

TOKAIDO4The Game Itself

Having read up on Tokaido beforehand, I was not inspired at all. Travelers journey across Japan along the East sea road, and earn points based on how they participate in the journey. You can meet interesting people, try strange food, worship at the temple, or take in a hot spring. The episode of TableTop changed my perception of the game and got me interested. Ultimately, I found Tokaido to be much more interesting and playable than it first sounded.

The structure, a simple road, with off-shoots to visit, is extremely accessible to non-gaming types. We played with my dad, who raised me on Sorry, Monopoly, The Game of Life, and other such classics, but has only ever played beyond the basic roll-and-move game when staying with us. The actions are simple and the artwork is simple and beautiful, but therein lies your first challenge to learning the game. Nothing is labeled except by illustrations and at first, this can be confusing. You play the game by referring to pictures and symbols for your instructions. I found this irritating at first, but was surprised by how quickly we picked up on the game play. Not following word-by-word instructions enabled us to pick up the mechanics faster and once we were used to the illustrations, added to the zen-like experience of the game. Fewer words, less stress.

Playing with three people made for a more truncated version of the game than our TableTop training had shown us. For example, each landing point can only have one occupant when playing with three players, while more players left some spots with the option for multiple players. Boardgamegeek.com recommends five players for the optimal game, but there are also rules for a two-player version, which we will be trying out next. With the children in our house being kindergarten age and under, two-player versions are always welcome! As always, the episode of TableTop was a great way to introduce ourselves to the mechanics of the game, but Tokaido is easy to learn as you play should you not wish for the shenanigans of Wil and the gang. My dad, who did not especially enjoy Mr. Wheaton, did however seem to enjoy the game more for having first seen it on TableTop. He said of the episode that “even when you don’t completely follow it, you learn more by osmosis than you think you are.”

As to an age range, the game makers recommend eight and up, which is third grade. I think that might be pushing it, unless your child is already heavily invested in gaming. Certainly interested middle-schoolers could handle it, and it would hold their attention. My son at five is an avid fan of Robot Turtles and Castle Panic, but I do not think the assets of Tokaido would interest him as much—not even in three years. It is accessible enough that adults who don’t usually play games could be persuaded to join in also.

TOKAIDO3Now, a couple of tips and tricks to maximize game play from our first outing. Your choice of original character card really helps. I played as the street performer, which earned me an extra point and extra coin every time I met a new friend. My dad played as the artist, who was able to paint every time he ate a meal; this was the character played by Wil. My husband played as the sightseer and was given a coin every time he saw a landscape (the painting spots). Playing to these strengths in the game really helps. Wil and my dad weren’t to be beaten on painting, I was not to be beaten on friends. Earning an extra coin didn’t seem to help much, unless you are strategic and get the chance to employ it well. Getting to leave the hotel first, at the first two stops was crucial to my plan of action, and paid off with a final victory. Always block someone from getting to the bank if they need to, and if you can afford the expensive food, buy the expensive food.

If you want a more involved TableTop experience, Thursday also saw the launch of http://www.tabletopday.com, where you can gather, host, and find local events all year long.

All in all, a great kick-off and I look forward to the next episode.

Thanks to Julie and Ryan York of Weekend Anime, for letting us test out their demo copy of the game.

Movie Interruptus: Commentary From the Cheap Seats

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Image: Sarah Pinault. The fine art of movie watching with his mom.

I get very irritated when people talk through a movie at the cinema, but I have no qualms about chatting through a movie at home, just ask anyone who knows me. It isn’t by choice, I simply can’t help myself. Settle me down in a comfy armchair with a good (or bad) movie, and I am suddenly more chatty than Lorelai Gilmore.

My commentary tends to fall into two categories:

1. What it about to happen?

  • Is he going to die? He’s going to die isn’t he? Just tell me if he dies and then I’ll be okay.
  • She’s the killer isn’t she? It has to be her. Oh yes she did it.
  • What’s in the box? You have to tell me what’s in the box!!!
  • Well I’ve read the book so I know he can’t die… unless they changed it for the movie… did they change it for the movie?
  • Well Mr. X can’t die, he’s a main character, there’s no way there are killing him off… are they?
  • Oh I’ve seen this, is this the part where (insert annoying spoiler here)?

Should you be watching a movie with me and the above occurs, just ignore me. For if you answer my questions thinking it will silence me, you will be wrong and get a whole new set of questions. If I have my laptop with me, I will inevitably refer to Wikipedia at least a half dozen times.

2. Fun Fact Time. This second category relates to facts concerning the movie in question, whether it be actual movie trivia, things that I like/dislike about the movie each time, or information on how the movie pertains to me.

  • During The Two Towers, I will always comment that when seeing the film in the cinema, the fire alarm went off at the very moment the first arrow is fired at Helm’s Deep, forcing us all outside for twenty minutes.
  • During The Return of the King, I will always criticize Aragon’s accent as he beckons the mouth of Sauron to come speak with him. All of a sudden he’s Irish!
  • During Disney movies, I will sing along with songs, and I will speak lines before they are spoken. I will also give any and all information I have about Walt’s involvement with the film in question.
  • During any movie set in New York, I will point out places I have been.
  • If I have watched the making of—or director’s commentary of—a film, I will tell you everything that I found interesting, even if you watched the making of or director’s commentary with me.
  • During Star Wars I will point out every actor that has signed my Return of the Jedi storybook, which is most of them.

As with the first category, I will also inevitably refer to Wikipedia several times. This will usually be going down the rabbit hole of “Wasn’t he in…?” or “Didn’t she used to play…?” or the dreaded “Didn’t they make a movie about … yet?”

I am my own Mystery Science Theater, but no one is willing to give me my own franchise. I try to tone it down when watching movies with anyone other than close friends and family, and I don’t think even they find it particularly cute. It is genetic however, so I can happily chat with my mom through an entire movie.

So, would you mock me, or  join in?

 

A Downton Abbey Christmas Wish List

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Image: PBS.org – preview. The perfect album cover; just look at that holiday dress.

By now, most of you would probably be severely irritated by me; most of my coworkers are. I began listening to Christmas music on September 30, which is about three weeks after I usually begin. Nothing can dampen my affection for holiday music, even in the absence of the holiday. One must begin this early after all, if one is to listen to all existing recordings of “White Christmas” in time.

If I wasn’t already in the mood for some sleigh bells, the news that there is to potentially be a Downton Abbey Christmas album would be enough to get me going. Now this announcement comes via The Sun, one of the UK’s most inflammatory publications, so it may all come to naught. But now that the idea has been planted in my mind, there is nothing to deter me. Tie in the fact that Lady Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) is in a band called Sadie and the Hotheads, and I’ve just pre-ordered something that doesn’t exist.

So, powers that be, here is what I would like to see from a Downton Abbey Christmas album:

1. “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” but not with regular 12 accumulations. I want something more like “The Twelve Days of Downton.” This would include “three female heirs, two eligible bachelors, and Edith in a pear tree.” Poor Edith. It would be sung by the whole cast, of course.

2. “Baby It’s Cold Outside” sung by Carson and Mrs Hughes.

3. “White Christmas” sung by the Dowager Countess.

4. “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” sung by the Dowager Countess and Mrs Crawley.

5. “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” sung by Lady Edith .

6.  “There’s No Place Like Home (for the holidays)” sung by Matthew Crawley—come on Dan Stevens, just one song?

7. “Blue Christmas” sung by Tom Branson. There has to be a weepy one.

8. “Rockin Around the Christmas Tree” sung by Mrs Patmore and Daisy.

9.  “Last Christmas” sung by Lord Gillingham.

10. “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” sung by the whole cast.

11. “When a Child is Born” sung by Lord Grantham.

12. “All I Want for Christmas is You” sung by Daisy.

13. “Ho Ho Ho (Who’d Be a Turkey at Christmas?)” sung by Thomas.

14. “Fairytale of New York” sung by Lady and Lord Grantham.

Last, but certainly not least…

15. “Santa Baby” sung by Lady Mary.

I am far too excited by this prospect. What would be on your Downton Christmas wish list?

Peg Plus Cat Amigurumi

PegCat

Image: PBS.org and Sarah Pinault

Before having children, I went on an Amigurumi feeding frenzy.

I devoured everything Ana Paula Rimoli came up with, then when Pinterest and children came along my imagination exploded. Of course, as every first time mother knows, she will have plenty of time for her hobbies while on maternity leave, ahem. My needles sat mostly dormant through two children, surfacing here and there for a new hat or simple blanket. Then came the wonderful Peg Plus Cat from PBS, and my imagination was sparked again. So out came the hook and the yarn, and eventually, out came Cat.

This pattern for our beloved Cat comes with a warning. I started making Cat in time for Christmas 2013, he was finished in time for Easter 2014, and the pattern was translated from chicken scratches in time for Columbus day 2014. I fear that something has been lost in translation. Perhaps this should be considered a test pattern, please comment with questions and addenda and bear with me as we work to get this pattern out together.

The increase indicated at the end of each line are, I pray, at least accurate enough so that you can adapt this pattern to your preferred method of increasing and decreasing.

My sons have had hours of fun with this friend, and I hope that the ramblings of a first time pattern designer are good enough for you to get to the joy he can bring. Because if your child loves Peg Plus Cat as much as we do, I can promise that this will bring only joy.

Body (using Navy blue yarn and a G hook)

Row 1 Ch 3 and join into a loop

Row 2 6 sc (single crochet) into loop (6)

Row 3 Sc 2 into each st around (12)

Row 4 *Sc 1, sc 2 into next st*,  repeat (18)

Row 5 *Sc 2, sc 2 into next st* repeat (24)

Row 6 *Sc 3, sc 2 into next st*,  repeat  (30)

Row 7 *Sc 4, sc 2 into next st*,  repeat  (36)

Row 8 *Sc 5, sc 2 into next st*,  repeat (42)

Row 9 *Sc 6, sc 2 into next st*,  repeat (48)

Row 10 *Sc 7, sc 2 into next st*,  repeat (54)

Row 11 *Sc 8, sc 2 into next st*,  repeat (60)

Row 12 *Sc 9, sc 2 into next st*,  repeat (66)

Row 13 *Sc 10, sc 2 into next st*,  repeat (72)

Row 14 *Sc 5, sc 2 into next st*,  repeat (84)

Rows 15 – 41 Sc 84

Row 42 *Sc 5, dec 1*, repeat (72)

Row 43 *Sc 2, dec 1*, repeat (54)

Row 43-55 Sc 54

Row 56 *Sc 2, dec 1*, repeat (39)

Rows 57 -59 Sc 39

Row 60 *Sc 2, dec 1*, repeat (30)

Row 61 *Sc 2, dec 1*, repeat (24)

Row 62 *dec 1*, repeat (12)

Row 63 *dec 1*, repeat (6)

Row 64 *sc, sk1* repeat 3 times then close

 Ears (make tw0)

Row 1 Ch 3 and join into a loop

Row 2 4 Sc into loop (4)

Row 3 sc 2 into each st(8)

Rows 4-12  Sc 8

Row 13 *sc, sc, sc, sc into next st* repeat (10)

Rows 14-17 Sc 10

Arms and Legs (make 4)

Row 1 Ch 3 and join into a loop

Row 2 3 Sc into loop (3)

Row 3 sc 2 into each st (6)

Row 4 sc 2 into each st (12)

Row 5 *sc 1, sc 2 into next st* repeat (18)

Rows 6- 16 Sc 18

Tie off and sew flat.

Tail

Begin with White Yarn

Row 1 Ch 3 and join into a loop

Row 2 3 Sc into loop (3)

Row 3 sc 2 into each st (6)

Row 4 sc 2 into each st (12)

Row 5 sc 2 into each st (24)

Row 6 *sc 3 then sc 2 into next st* repeat (30)

Rows 7 -12 sc 30

Switch to Blue Yarn

Rows 12-13 sc 30

Row 14 *sc 4, dec 1* repeat (25)

Rows 15-16 sc 25

Row 17 *sc 3, dec 1* repeat (20)

Row 18-26 Sc 20

Row 27 *sc 1, sc 2 into next st* repeat (15)

Row 28 *sc 1, sc 2 into next st* repeat (10)

Rows  29-34 sc 10

Stuff up to this point, do not stuff any further

Rows 35- 40 sc 10 and finish

Legs were added at the request of my four year old, I would have preferred a bean bag base and no legs to create a doorstop of kinds, but I was outvoted. A word to the wise, sew on the tail with steel, Cat will be swung around the head in some kind of feline karate action the likes of which you have never witnessed.

Happy hooking!

Once Upon a Not-This-Time

OnceUponaTimeElsa

ABC’s Season 4 teaser poster. It was released moments after the Season 3 finale, putting me off instantly.

For my entire life, I have been a bibliophile. I have been a fan of books, stories, tales, ditties, poems, and the like. I have been fond of twisting tales, of alternative perspectives, of crossing story lines, and mixing genres. I have sought out fairytale remakes, origin stories, and mash-ups.

I have also been an avid follower of Once Upon a Time since season one. I have written about it many times for GeekMom. I have even become so involved in the show that I’ve thrown things at my television.

And, as of this day, I will not be watching season three.

Here are my wrought-over thought processes:

1. The Frozen Factor. Okay, it was a good movie, the songs were catchy, and the sister thing was lovable. Yet, oh how I loathe the idea of the characters from Frozen gracing the screen with my beloved Regina and Emma.

My complaints are twofold.

Firstly, during the animated film FrozenI did not agree with the plot device that was Hans as bad guy. Up until the moment he turned into an evil man, I was utterly in love with the movie, convinced that Anna had found her prince, and that Elsa had found a man who could truly appreciate her icy qualities. So sue the feminist in me; I liked the mushy two-part happy ending. I therefore have no desire to see this evil Hans storyline played out over many weeks—none at all.

I also have a more basic dislike for the incorporation of the Frozen characters. Thus far, actual Disney fairytale references have been at the fringes of the storylines. They have been musical refrains, items of clothing, certain character traits. The main focus of each character has had a far broader frame of reference.

With the inclusion of these characters, we are simply pandering to the masses and going full-on Disney, Disney, Disney. Don’t get me wrong, I almost signed up to live in Celebration, but this is ridiculous.

2. The Sherwood Factor. I liked—no LOVED—the development of Regina’s character over the course of the last season. Her hard road to redemption, her even harder road to love, the realization of her own inner white magic. Oh Regina, how I love thee. Then she ends up with Robin Hood, the man Tinkerbell had pegged as her second chance. Beautiful.

I have no desire to watch him get all wishy washy over Marian then Regina, then Marian, then Regina. I don’t want to see Robin Hood without Maid Marian, but even more than that, I don’t want to see this Robin Hood without Regina.

3. The Kid Factor. Kids can only be involved in the main storyline of a series show for so long before they become annoying, to me anyway. Henry has always pushed that envelope, and I’d rather go out on somewhat of a high, and not see yet another “Operation Cobra” storyline from him.

Also, I fear that the awful Pinocchio will feature in more story lines instead of my beloved manly Pinocchio.

4. The Baby Factor. We all know that Snow and Charming are best when they have an enemy to fight, retorts to toss around, and some kick-ass forest action. Snow with PPD and Charming changing diapers? Not something I feel will lend itself to good storytelling.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t some things that might tempt me back. I hear rumblings that there will be more of Maleficent in the second-half story arc, and that I would love to see. My hope is that they play out all of the lamer story lines in the first half, and I can pick it back up again after the Winter break.

See you in January!

Fun Facts In October

Pumpkin

October in Maine. Image: Sarah Pinault

Happy October! Here are some facts to ponder about the tenth month of the year.

1. In the Southern hemisphere, October is the seasonal equivalent to April.

2. In his 2006 collection Fragile Things, Neil Gaiman included a story that personified the month, entitled “October in the Chair.”

3. John Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Jimmy Carter were all born in October—the most Presidential month.

4. In the early Roman calendar, it was actually the eighth month.

5. Rural delivery of mail in the United States was not free until October 1, 1896. Prior to this, rural farmers had to pay a private carrier or pick up from their “local” post office.

6. President Truman made the first presidential telecast address from the White House on October 5, 1947.

7. October 11, 2014 is the third annual Star Wars Reads Day.

8. Carrie Fisher, Christopher Lloyd, and Matt Smith were all born in October—a good month for three of my favorite franchises.

9. New Zealand was discovered in October 1769; Middle Earth fans are forever grateful.

10. October 20 is World Statistics Day.

A Great Scottish Export? The Gruffalo.

GScots

Image: Itchy Coo

I knew The Gruffalo was popular. I knew it had been translated into 43 languages. I did not know that it had been translated into Scots. In light of the election last week, it seemed somewhat timely to make this discovery now. The linguistic variations are fascinating, and if it’s something you are interested in exposing your children to, then this is the book(s) for you.

Whereas the mouse in The Gruffalo takes a walk in the deep, dark woods, the mouse in The Gruffalo in Scots takes a “donner through the deep, mirk widd.” In The Gruffalo, the mouse is “going to have tea with a Gruffalo,” where in The Gruffalo in Scots, he is “gonnae hae ma denner wi a gruffalo.”

“A moose took a dauner through the deep, mirk widd. A tod saw the moose and the moose looked guid.”
“Whaur are ye aff tae, wee broon moose? Will ye no hae yer denner in ma deep-doon hoose?”
“That’s awfie kind o ye, Tod, but I’ll no—I’m gonnae hae ma denner wi a gruffalo.”

The fun continues with The Gruffalo’s Wean (The Gruffalo’s Child)!

“The Gruffalo said it wid come tae nae guid If a gruffalo roamed in the deep mirk widd.”
“How no, how no?” “Because, hae nae doot, The Muckle Mad Moose will find ye oot.”

Translated by James Robertson, endorsed by the author, and published by Itchy Coo, it is an absolute delight for Scots and Sassenachs alike. Itchy Coo was founded in 2002 by Robertson and Matthew Fitt. Their aim is to “encourage better understanding and greater acceptance of the Scots Language in education and in all aspects of Scottish life.” They publish best-selling books in Scots for children and young people. Itchy Coo is also an education project, which works with students and teachers to develop their Scots reading and writing skills. Itchy Coo has made almost 1,000 visits to schools and libraries throughout Scotland.

If you can’t quite imagine the brogue, then a lovely Scottish father has created a YouTube video of it for his children:

The Mysterious Energy Source of My Children

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Image: Sarah Pinault. After being bitten by a radioactive spider, my son gets energy tips from Steampunk Iron (Wo)Man.

My children, two and five, believe that mealtimes are an unnecessary interruption to their busy lives. My youngest will happily chow down on a handful of Cheerios as he’s bouncing off the walls, but sit him down for a meal and we have a battle ahead of us. My eldest doesn’t even want the Cheerios! Occasionally he will eat a dinosaur tree (broccoli), but most of the time he will even refuse a big plate of spaghetti if it stands between him and his toys.

Whilst they have decided that their intake is not an important part of daily life, their output has not decreased. They have just as much energy, just as much get up and go, as they did while eating seconds and thirds at every meal. I must therefore hypothesize that my boys derive their energy not from food, but from some alternative energy source. I have narrowed it down as follows:

1. They have Kryptonian blood coursing through their veins and derive strength from the yellow Sun.

2. The plastic ring that was given to my eldest by a nice lady at the grocery store actually contains a piece of Starheart and has him encased in a life-supporting force field.

3. They are not merely my sons, but are the avatars of some long forgotten god such as Khonshu.

4. They have a genetic mutation, a la Hank McCoy, that will only fully appear upon reaching puberty. Heaven help me!

5. They were caught in a nuclear explosion while at daycare, and now have the ability to create identical duplicates. What I am seeing is not one active little boy, but several more sedate ones.

6. They are able to convert impact energy into raw strength. Therefore the more active they are, the more things they crash into, the stronger they become.

7. Their energy is linked to their environment, and somehow increases as parental energy levels decrease.

8. Their natural physiology was enhanced by immersion into an electrical field conducted by a chemical compound.

9. They were bitten by radioactive spiders.

That’s why they have more energy than I do 99.9% of the time, surely.

*Musings on my superhero children were originally posted at Wired.com/GeekMom.

What Downton Abbey Season Five Can Do For Me!

Downton

Nick Briggs/Carnival Films 2014 for MASTERPIECE

Our beloved Downton Abbey returns to U.S. screens on January 4, 2015, but comes to the UK this weekend. Executive Producer Gareth Neame has already confirmed a brief cameo by George Clooney; what more could I ask of season five you might say? Plenty, I can ask plenty.

Downton

Image: PBS.org preview

– We need a “good” ladies maid for Lady Grantham. Baxter is lovely, and I’m sure there’s some wonderfully evil Thomas story lines to come, but no one can hold a candle to Miss O’Brien. We need an evil ladies maid to juxtapose with Anna.

– The children in this picture look eerily like Children of the Corn with a British accent. While I’m not keen on more children’s story lines, a few involving Mr. Carson, I think, would be wonderful. Sneaking down for snacks maybe, hiding behind the curtains. I see Mr. Carson being more of a Grandad to Lord Grantham’s Grandpapa.

– Molsley, what is left to be said about poor old Molsley. Well let’s kill two birds with one stone, shall we; let’s see him set up shop somewhere with Baxter. Get rid of the complaining and the niceties in one fell swoop.

– Lady Mary’s love interests were I think played out to their fullest in Season Four. Certainly she needs to pick a suitor, and while part of me still adores Evelyn Napier, I have to hope for the dashing Lord Gillingham. More Gillingham, I say, more Gillingham. I worry that she will marry Harry (Gillingham) but mess around with Ike (Blake).

– I hope Griggs comes back and they get the baby; Edith needs a happy ending. I fear Griggs will come back but have become a Nazi, and Edith will have to make a horrible choice.

– For Anna and Bates, I would like to see children, if only to explore the differences between upstairs and downstairs more. I’m guessing Anna won’t get much maternity leave. It might also take their minds of the murderous tendencies or Mr. Bates.

DowntonTom

Image: PBS.org preview

– Simon Bricker, played by the delightful Richard E. Grant, will appear in four episodes. An art historian and house guest, I fear he is intended as a love interest for Cora. I hope he is a love interest for Edith, after turning away the Nazi Griggs. She does like her older men.

– Tom Branson seems to be getting into the swing of things as man about the estate. I’d like to see him embrace the lifestyle a little more for Sibbie. I’m a sucker for a daddy-daughter storyline. He might not have laid aside the revolutionary for Sybil, but for Sibbie? I think we’ll see more upward mobility on his part.

– An illegitimate child from Lord Grantham’s youth to complicate the inheritance? We haven’t had an inheritance complication in a while.

– Three words. More. Paul. Giamatti.

So what are you hoping for from Season Five?

A Great British Export: The Gruffalo

IMG_3481

Picture: Sarah Pinault. My very own Gruffalo family.

Since having children I have enjoyed sharing my own favorite childhood stories with my boys, I have also enjoyed discovering new stories with them. One of my favorites was discovered shortly after having my first son in 2009, with the help of Grandma. The Gruffalo was then celebrating its tenth year of publication and if you know our family, then this is the first book your child will receive as a present from us. If they like it as much as we do, it will be followed with The Gruffalo’s Child. It is one of those stories that sticks with you and just keeps getting better with each telling. Now that my second son is expressing interest in picking his own bedtime stories, we read through both of these tales daily. He knows all the words, and acts them out as he is sitting in my lap.

< Spoilers—of a sort > On a crisp day, a little mouse sets off for a stroll in the woods. Along his way he encounters many foes who would devour him but for his cunning and quick thinking. Announcing that he is meeting up with a far scarier creature than they, he describes the Gruffalo, an animal so fierce and vile as to send all predators running for the hills. Feeling quite well of himself, the mouse is shocked to turn a corner and discover that his imaginary protector is real, and wishes to snack on him! Gathering his wits, the mouse leads the Gruffalo back through the woods, back past his predators and by the time he has woven his tale, has sent the Gruffalo running in fear.< /Spoilers >

Image: Amazon.com

Written by Julia Donaldson, the story is simple, the rhymes are clever, and the repetition makes it feel instantly familiar without ever becoming tiring. The mixture of fantasy and reality are the perfect blend for the childhood imagination. Along the lines of Roger Hargreaves and Roald Dahl, The Gruffalo sneaks in that spark of the unusual to a young audience. Also, just as the work of Roald Dahl is incomplete without the illustrations of Quentin Blake, the story of the Gruffalo is enhanced by the magnificent illustrations of Axel Scheffler. The pair have collaborated on well over a dozen stories together; in the Pinault home alone you will find Tabby McTat, the Musical CatCharlie Cook’s Favorite Book, and The Smartest Giant in Town, all of which are regulars in the night time rotation.

This story has been a hit with every child we have introduced it to. In fact it is a hit worldwide and has spawned a sequeltwo moviesmany games, and an extensive line of merchandise. Perfect for a Geeklet to obsess over. The website goes from strength to strength, with games and sing-a-longs.

Image: www.gruffalo.com/

The movies are just as entrancing as the standalone story. Each about twenty minutes long, they are narrated by a mother squirrel voiced by Helena Bonham Carter. They feature the voices of Robbie Coltrane (Harry Potter’s Hagrid), James Corden (Doctor Who’s Craig Owens), and John Hurt (Harry Potter’s Ollivander, and the War Doctor). However it is the music by French composer René Aubry that really sets the movies apart from other animations. It is an absolute delight to listen to, wonderfully entertaining and calming at the same time. Thanks in large part to a beautiful score, it is one of those movies that you don’t mind your child getting addicted to, that you can watch or listen to many times over and not get exceedingly frustrated with!

If you enjoy listening to stories on long rides with your children, there is a fantastic box set of Julia Donaldson stories which includes The Gruffalo. Many of the stories are read, and then sung by Imelda Staunton, whose voice you will recognize and fear as the voice behind Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter franchise. Be warned however, if your children are anything like mine, this 14-minute tale will be on repeat for every hour long drive you take. You will also recognize the voice of Jim Carter on one of the stories. Jim Carter, of course, plays Mr. Carson on Downton Abbey. If you want to hear him sing, this is the set for you.

*Musings on The Gruffalo were originally posted at Wired.com/GeekMom.

New Tim Burton Trailer: Stunning and Creepy, of Course

Whether you like his movies, adore his movies, or couldn’t give a hoot, one thing’s for certain, Tim Burton’s always going to shock you. Whether making Catherine O’Hara sing a reggae song, or having Helena Bonham-Carter bake questionable pies, Burton’s always got a twisted twist somewhere. His latest movie doesn’t seem to have that same sense of the overt peculiar, but his subject matter will certainly give him plenty of opportunity for some emotional peculiarity.

Big Eyes is a biopic of Margaret Keane, whose paintings of over sized doe-eyed children are certainly in keeping with Burton’s aesthetic. It is her life, success, and divorce, however, that are the subject of this movie. I look forward to seeing Burton explore artistic property, and the rights of a woman in 1960s divorce court. Her divorce proceedings made it all the way to federal court, where finally, Margaret challenged her husband (who had been claiming authorship of her works) to a “paint-off.” She notoriously created a painting in front of the judge to prove that she was the artist. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Burton movie without those remarkable eyes making their way into a few mirrors and real faces along the way. Burton seems to have long been taken with Keane’s work and in fact, in 1998 Keane painted a portrait of Burton’s wife, Helena Bonham Carter, stating “She looks like my paintings—she has big eyes.” (LATimes)

For me, anything starring Amy Adams and Kristen Ritter is a must see movie event.

The trailer for Big Eyes was just released this week and the movie opens on Christmas Day.

BIGEYES

© 2014 – The Weinstein Company

Muppets Most Wanted: The Unnecessarily Extended Edition

Muppets

Recapturing the booth shots of old. All photos: Walt Disney Pictures

Muppets Most Wanted is a terrific addition to the Muppets canon. It takes on the best aspects of Muppets Take Manhattan, and leaves out the worst of Muppets Treasure Island. The talent is spot on, the bit parts are hilarious, and the music is excellent once again. As one of their previous DVD releases contains one of my all time favorite bonus features, the menu of The Muppets Christmas Carol, I was excited to see what the “Unnecessarily Extended Edition” would bring.

Muppets2Muppets Most Wanted picks up right where The Muppets left off. Exactly where it left off, but with body doubles for the posteriors of Amy Adams and Jason Segel. What follows is a riotous romp across Europe, involving a Russian doppelgänger of the worlds most dangerous frog, the longed-for wedding of Miss Piggy, and the greatest cameo of the year thanks to Ray Liotta.

My favorite component of this latest movie, was the consistent use of in-jokes. The references to former shows and movies, blended in subtly and not so subtly into the tapestry of the new Muppet era. Constantine’s use of the line “It’s time to light the lights” is instantly legendary. The encore version of one of their classic songs, pure genius. The only thing this particular story line lacked, unless you were forced to sit next to me and listen to my dulcet tones, was the oh so appropriate “They’re finally getting ma-ha-ha-rried now” during the ceremony in London.

But let’s talk extras.

– Three versions of the film are included: the 107-minute theatrical version, the somewhat shorter tongue-in-cheek Statler & Waldorf cut, and the extended cut with 12 minutes of additional material. The extended material is sometimes good like The Fellowship of the Ring, and sometimes bad like Return of the Jedi. Does exactly what it says on the tin, not really necessary for this kind of movie, I’d much rather have more bloopers.

MuppetsKermit- Which leads me to “The Longer Longest Blooper Reel in Muppets History.” At ten minutes, it’s probably not as long as it could be, but it’s longer than the last one and full of not only bloopers but plain old behind the scenes Muppet nonsense.

The joy on Ricky Gervais’ face at working with Kermit is wonderful. That man just cannot stop laughing. I wonder how they managed to get the movie made. The bloopers reel is worth it if only for Gary’s imitation of Ricky Gervais laughing.

Here’s where I show how gullible I am. I really thought they were using one Muppet for Kermit and Constantine, but there were two, and Constantine didn’t break character for the bloopers. He doesn’t become Kermit again when the camera stops rolling, he’s just Constantine. I actually thought they were using a green screen when they were both on screen, and yes I get how ironic that is. I even looked it up, it was really well thought out. In an Entertainment Weekly interview in January 2013 Kermit commented, “We talked about putting me in makeup and having me play both roles, but we decided Constantine needed to be a guy who could do a Russian accent. And, you know, I’m a pretty accomplished actor and all, but besides The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island films, I’ve only really ever played myself. The great thing is, I have like 3,000 relatives back in the swamp, so it was quite easy to find a frog who could play Constantine.” Blew. My. Mind.

Aside from the continual laughter of Ricky Gervais, the best thing on this reel has to be when Constantine is asked to name his fellow Muppets: “Fonzie bear, little boy, doggie, fish man, cook, birdie, zongo, sweetie, Ricky Gervais, guy I always flip over because he touch me, Pepper the shrimp boy, science man and his pet, other doggie, blow up guy, very old men who follows around, James Bobbin, Mr. Tooth, oh and er, ah pig.”

MuppetGervais- “Rizzo’s Biggest Fan”, a three minute short video starring Rizzo the Rat.  Posing as a fan, Rizzo sends an anonymous message to director James Bobin lamenting the lack of the Muppets most wanted rat in this new movie.

– “I’ll Get What You Want,” a three minute music video by Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords, and now, Muppets fame. Watching Constantine, it’s a great villain song for an evil Kermit. Watching McKenzie, it’s straight from an episode of Flight of the Conchords: “You want an Armadillo, I’ll give it to you.” Watching McKenzie sing this song to Miss Piggy makes me wonder what Flight of the Conchords would look like if done with Muppets. Perhaps a Muppets/Greg the Bunny/Flight of the Conchords mash up should be on the cards. This is the only extra included on the DVD; all of the others are on the Blu-ray edition.

Muppets1- Extended menu screen. Much like the hilarious antics of Kermit on the menu of The Muppets Christmas Carol, the menu screen for the Muppets Most Wanted is entertainment in its own right. This time involving all of the characters, and occasional comments from Sam the Eagle like, “Will somebody get this chicken out of here?”

Of course, if you don’t have time to watch the full edition of Muppets Most Wanted, you can always take in the Statler and Waldorf cut.

My favorite take away “extra” from this movie, is one that is unique to the Pinault household, however. The fact that my 2-year-old cannot say the word “Muppet” but yells out “Muffins! Muffins” whenever he sees one of the cast. Ah, the Muffins, classic Jim Henson.

Into The Storm: Different Angles

Storm

All Photos: Warner Bros Pictures

Before I begin with my thoughts on Into The Storm, you have to understand a few things about me. My go-to movies for rainy days, sick days, doing the ironing, etc. are Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park III, Jaws, Twister, Volcano, and more recently Cabin in the Woods and World War Z.

I have been following the Jurassic World facebook page since I was around fan 671,357 of what is now close to five million. I was sorely tempted to get cable just so that I could see Sharknado 2: The Second One. In short, I have a thing for disaster movies, and am very forgiving of scientific inaccuracies in them.

Into The Storm is being described as a “found footage film,” which means it is loosely structured around film or digital recordings discovered by characters in the movie, who are missing or most likely dead. To my mind, Into The Storm does not hold to this idea as well as movies like Paranormal Activity or The Blair Witch Project. The footage is not so much found as recorded intentionally for several different documentary projects that each character has in-line. Therefore, the footage we see serves precisely the purpose it was intended to, and I have a hard time thinking of that as “found footage.”

The use of various styles of digital recording in this movie is its strongest component. Into The Storm grasps and displays the use of videography, as we are seeing in the digital-age we currently live in. The movie tells the story using documentary makers, high school kids and youtubers, and it just about sums up life as we know it.

Photo: New Line Cinema, Village Roadshow Pictures taken from www.IntotheStormmovie.com

Official footage being shot

The most official footage in the movie comes from the storm chasers. A team, not led by Bill Paxton or Helen Hunt, is following storm systems around the country with highly sophisticated equipment. Their intent is to record the eye of a storm and thereby collect more precise data for future storm tracking.

They drive a tank-like vehicle called the Titus, which is followed by a standard blue van containing weather equipment. The Titus, on the other hand, is equipped with a 360 turret  armed with video equipment rather than weapons, and a gyro-stabilized camera on the outside of the vehicle to capture more stable images. There are two camera men with hand held, but high end, cameras to record while on the move. These guys are also able to jump out of the Titus to capture footage at a moment’s notice.

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HS AV Club footage from inside the Titus

The most used footage in the movie comes from the High School AV club, the members of which form the main thrust of the story. Jacob and his brother, Trey, are tasked with the responsibility of creating a video diary for the graduating class, at the request of their vice-principal-father (enter Richard Armitage).

Footage of this starts the movie, pushes it forward, and is the illustration of a broken relationship between father and sons. When Jacob skips out on graduation, for a girl, it is to help her shoot journalistic footage to create a video application for an internship. In a critical moment, Jacob uses this equipment to record heartfelt goodbyes to family members as the waters rise. When the storm hits during graduation, his brother (Trey) keeps filming as the crowds take refuge in the school. We are also given footage from school security cameras, which to my mind, is the only true found footage of the movie. When Trey encounters the Titus and its team, he is offered thousands of dollars for his footage of the storm, and is asked to keep the camera rolling.

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Youtube footage

It is the monetary impact of video footage, that prompts the third set of film makers in the movie. That of Donnie and Donk, amateur youtubers.

We are introduced to them during Donnie’s attempt to jump a flaming swimming pool. A video they hope will boost their youtube numbers, something they perceive as having the capacity to make them rich. They see the Titus drive by and speed off in pursuit. To them falls the role of Jester, and the comic relief for the movie. They also represent the many viral videos I have seen in the past few years. Donnie and Donk follow the storm, not because they want to collect data, not because they are trying to rescue someone (because they want to capture that hilarious/awesome/catchy video that will launch them into infamy and boost their bank balances).

These three types of video are played against each other, back and forth, as the storm progresses, grows, and destroys the small community.

The storm itself, is on occasion believable, and on occasion completely laughable. As a lover of disaster movies, it was a beautiful thing to watch, and had me alternately clawing the edges of my seat and laughing uncontrollably.

As a movie? Rotten Tomatoes describes it as “clumsily scripted and populated with forgettable characters,” and I’d say that’s a fair analogy. The quality of dialogue and story-line is inconsistent, and it has more than its fair share of cheese. Yet, from the perspective of a disaster movie junkie, it’s not too bad. It also gains points for the presence of Richard Armitage, even though he isn’t used to the best of his abilities.

It might not be on the rotation with Jurassic Park and Volcano, but it will probably win out over Sharknado every once in a while.

As a weather movie? Probably not very accurate, but pretty awesome to watch.

As a take on the role of video in society? Spot on.

Reading Comic Books With Your Pre-Schooler

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All Images: Sarah Pinault

On a recent attic purge at the in-laws, we acquired something new to us: two boxes of the most varied ’80s comics you can imagine. The Toxic Avenger, Jello Man, Animaniacs, Spider-Man, you name it. My 4-year-old son could barely contain his joy. Having discovered comic books at PortCon last summer, he has read the few comic books  he has so many times over they don’t even pretend to hang together anymore.

So for the last few weeks we have spent the early morning hours, little brother’s afternoon nap, and much of bedtime, curled up in the big armchair reading, but also not reading comic books. How do you not read a comic book you are reading? Well, it turns out that not all cutesy comic books are created equal. (I’m looking at you Warner Brothers.) Some that seem to be good for a younger audience on the surface, actually contain some interesting language and metaphor choices that we’d rather not explain at this stage. So we selectively read for some time, skipping over certain frames and pages, before determining that the collection needed to be culled.

YOGIWe sat down one evening and went through hundreds of comics, determining which ones were good for now and which ones could be put aside for a few years. Now, some things are obvious. Most comic books that my friends read are not suitable for my 4-year-old. But some of the characters he loves, and that seem age-appropriate, aren’t always the best reading for little ears. So, if you get handed a collection of similarly random comic books, here are our criteria:

1. The Wolf Whistle Test. Any comics that depict a male character momentarily morphing into a wolf when a girl passes by—instantly gone. Don’t get me wrong; there are classic cartoons that contain this kind of imagery that I would love to share with him in years to come. At this young age, when he is absorbing the world around him like a sponge, that’s not an ideal I care to teach him.

2. The Language Test. None of the comic books we had in our stack contained any actual cursing, but there was a great deal of snark and sarcasm. Now, I am all about the snark and sarcasm. My pastor would say that sarcasm is one of my spiritual gifts, but on a 4-year-old, it is not cute. Animaniacs J’accuse!

comicbook3. The Violence Test. Some of the superheroes that my son adores are much more violent in the comic books than they are in the cartoons and movies. The language often describes what’s going on, but a picture speaks a thousand words. On the whole, I avoid many of the superhero comic books at this stage, but some of the more cartoon-like ones can still contain more violence than you would expect.

4. The Nudity Test. Closely linked to the Wolf Whistle test, this speaks more to the clothing of a character than the relationships depicted. A lack of clothing, on either sex, is a big no for our comic book library. My son gets more curious each day, and images in comics like The Toxic Crusader prompt questions that I’d rather deal with in about eight years’ time.

When all was said and done, we packed away about half of the Animaniacs comic books, most of the DC/Marvel lines, and were left with a good collection of Looney Tunes and Hanna Barbera comics.  My son is perfectly happy with Yogi Bear, and hasn’t noticed the shrinking pile. It is much easier to read to him now that we aren’t stumbling to edit a sentence every page or so.

The Desolation of Smaug (With Tweets)

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Image: Storify Screenshot.

Going to see a movie with your spouse, when you have two children and a dwindling supply of babysitters, is no mean feat. So in 2013, when friends invited us to see The Desolation of Smaug with them at the theater, it was inevitable that only one of us would go.

You would think as lifelong geeks, lovers of Tolkien, and admirers of Peter Jackson, that we would be in some kind of fight to the death to see who would go. The truth is, neither of us enjoyed the first installment of The Hobbit, and therefore weren’t excited by the prospect of installments two and three. For myself, I have grown weary of multi-installment franchises. I am tired of books that take a good story and spin it six ways to Tuesday. I am annoyed beyond reason at this generation’s penchant for taking one book and turning it into two movies for the final chapter. I’m looking at you Potter, Katniss, and Tris.

I had been less thrilled with a three-part film adaptation of The Hobbit than I had been with the news that R2-D2 and C-3PO were to be in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The only saving grace of the second installment of The Hobbit, in my eyes at least, was the dragon. Give me any movie, add a dragon or a dinosaur, and I am there. I wanted to see Smaug on the big screen, but the thought of Radagast again was too much for me. I willingly sent my husband off with his friends.

Now it is August 2014, and for eight months I have been battling disinterest in the movie. Then suddenly, probably spurred by my desire for next year’s Jurassic World, I found my need to see Smaug overwhelming my need to dislike The Hobbit spread over too much bread. Within 24 hours, I was watching it. Using Twitter and Storify, here are my musings on the movie franchise that will never end.

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Screenshots: Sarah Pinault.

The movie? In my humble opinion, it’s so much better than the first installment. It moved at a better clip, contained more elements of the book that I personally favored, and had fewer moments that required heavy sighing. If you are looking for a more conventional review, I would suggest GeekMom’s own Patricia Vollmer, who was much fairer than I in her judgement! Live tweeting the movie was a lot of fun, and I plan on doing this again with friends across multiple locations. Likewise, employing Storify to get a running narrative of my event was a neat way of looking at.

Note, I have included some comments from friends and the responses, which occurred on the final few tweets. You can find the expanded interactions on my Twitter page, that is, if you are into expanded versions.

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What’s In a Name: Coca-Cola

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Image: Sarah Pinault

Last summer, Coca-Cola took the UK by storm with its “Share a Coke” campaign. Everyone I knew was either obsessed, intrigued, or amused by finding their name on a Coca-Cola bottle. My wonderful niece, knowing that we didn’t have this in the U.S., found three of the four names in my family. She perpetrated Coca-Cola forgery on a fourth. I have to admit, I was far more excited about this than I would expect. I still have the labels, and am just waiting for the right Pinterest project to Modpodge them to.

“Share a Coke” was launched in Australia in 2012 and has since been part of the Coke advertising strategy in 50 countries.  This summer, the campaign rolled out in the U.S. I saw my first bottle in our local Subway this morning. Coke has swapped out three of its logos on 20-ounce bottles and replaced them with 250 of the most popular first names among millennials and teens. Larger bottles, such as 1.25- and 2-liters, will brandish names like “Family” and “Friends.” If that’s not your cup of tea, be on the lookout for 12-ounce cans sporting “BFF,” “Grillmaster,” “Bestie,” and “Wingman.”

Of course, this campaign also comes with it’s own hashtag. You can use #ShareaCoke if you want to share your personal Coke story. “For teens and millennials, personalization is not a fad, it’s a way of life,” says Stuart Kronauge, senior vice president of sparkling brands for Coca-Cola North America. “It’s about self-expression, individual storytelling, and staying connected with friends. ‘Share a Coke’ taps into all of those passions.”

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Image: Sarah Pinault

The “Share a Coke” cross-country tour, which will feature traveling kiosks, will make 500 stops this summer. Coke drinkers will be able to customize their own Coca-Cola mini-can and a second can for a friend.

So the litmus test of popular names in 2014 will be down to teens and millenials. Did you make the list or will you have to make your own?