Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Dreamers, Keep Dreaming

Puff the Magic Dragon
It's odd how a simple post can lead to such strong emotions. The other day I noticed this photo (right) on my mother's Facebook page along with the caption "Remember this?"

I immediately "liked it" and decided I should pull up the video on YouTube and have a listen. This song has always been a favorite of mine and one that epitomizes childhood. The story of a young boy, Jackie Paper, and his imaginary dragon, Puff, and their adventures in the enchanted land of Honalee is not only representative of childhood innocence, but of creativity in general. And, if Puff's sadness when Jackie grows up and stops visiting him doesn't tug at your heart strings, well, there is something seriously wrong with you. Just sayin'.

The song, whose lyrics were based on a poem by Lenny Lipton, was written by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary and, despite the popular belief that the song is about drug / marijuana use, a theory denied by Lipton and Yarrow, has to do with the loss of innocence when children grow up.  Somehow becoming an adult became synonymous with no longer believing in fantastical worlds and creatures, an end to our inner dreamer. 

A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant's rings make way for other toys
One gray night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff, that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar

His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane
Without his lifelong friend, Puff could not be brave
So Puff, that mighty dragon, sadly slipped into his cave

Apparently I didn't get this memo when I hit adulthood and seem to suffer from living in a constant state of imagination and fantasy. I guess that would explain why I love series like Harry Potter, Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings. I have a particular fascination with dragons, one I have shared with my sons (and former students) and, therefore, we have quite a collection of dragon books. Even to this day, I marvel at dragonflies for the sheer fact that their name contains the word "dragon." 

Original song by Peter, Paul, & Mary

So back to this Facebook post of my mom's and my decision to look up the video on YouTube. Now, before I explain what happened upon playing the song, let me acknowledge that I am an extremely sentimental person (and happen to be quite hormonal to boot!).  So as I sat in my office and listened to the song, I started to cry. Not just eyes watering with a tear or two escaping. No, this was a full-blown cry. I am not sure if the tears were brought on by the realization of my own aging process or the loss of innocence I am witnessing in my two sons - OR the simple fact that I am a nut!  But for whatever reason, this song has always evoked intense emotions in me. Probably because, unlike Jackie Paper, I have refused to give up my childhood imagination - MY Puff will not be slipping into his cave alone and defeated. The problem is I am busy trying to cheer up all the deserted dragons, and it's exhausting.

To those who say they do not like this song (like the woman who stated so on my mom's Facebook post) all I can say is, you just don't get it.  Imagination, I would believe, isn't high on your list of talents. You're probably one of those people who are always rational and hate sci-fi and fantasy. Your heads are never in the clouds. Or, maybe you are just offended by the mere possibility that this song has something to do with drug use. Seriously, people - lighten up!  It was the sixties after all.

Puff the Magic DragonWhen I had my own children, I bought them the book that was accompanied by the CD of the song. There were days I tortured them by playing it over and over again while showing them the beautiful illustrations in the book (pictured left).

Happily, in this storybook version, Jackie Paper's daughter, much to Puff's delight, eventually takes her father's place in Honalee as the dragon's new companion. An ending that, needless to say, melts my heart. So I ask you, what is wrong with fantasy? Why are the dreamers like myself shunned by those who easily make the transition to "rational adulthood," giving up their dragons without batting an eyelash?  Personally, I think the world needs more dreamers.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a pet dragon to feed and need to check my mailbox for my Hogwart's letter.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Vanishing Girls (Book Review)

"But I understood why she was crying. Because in the moment I'd felt it , too: sheer, driving terror that the darkness was permanent, that the moon would stop its rotation, that the balance would never be restored." ~ Vanishing Girls


At first, I thought maybe I just started reading this book too soon after finishing my last book. Then, perhaps, I thought maybe I was facing a genre crisis and was simply growing tired of young adult fiction. But eventually I realized that I couldn't make excuses - I just didn't love Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver. In fact, I can't even say I liked it.  It truly frustrated the hell out of me, and some elements are unsettling.

First, there was a lot going on.  The narrative was being told by the two main characters, Dara and Nick - sisters that are only months apart in age.  The timeline jumps around too much, and readers have to work really hard to keep it straight in their heads.  Plus, interspersed between their narratives, there are online news postings and reader comments, just like what appears in social media. However, I actually like these and found them quite insightful to read. 

"Funny how things can stay the same forever and then change so quickly." ~ Vanishing Girls

Second, I could not develop a connection with either main character. Nick and Dara grew up best friends, despite their many differences. Eventually, under the pressures of high school and their parents' divorce, their differences cause a strain on their relationship.  Sure, there is also a boy involved creating a love triangle. But nothing could have prepared them for the damage the accident would have on their lives and relationship. Sounds promising, right? Unfortunately, the characters were mere cliches - the smart, sensible, plain-Jane older sister, and the shallow, pretty, and popular younger sister who can't stay out of trouble. Neither character had any real depth or originality.

Oliver saved the book from being a total disaster for me by increasing the suspense in the last one-third of the book and an unforeseen twist at the end.  Yet, it was this same twist that caused holes in the events of the story.  I was also pleased that Oliver touched base on a serious concern with underage girls and young woman (sorry, no spoilers!) Overall, though, I had no strong feelings - at least not positive ones - toward Vanishing Girls or its components. Upon finishing it I felt absolutely nothing except grateful that it was over.  It is an easy read with a positive ending (thank GOD I liked the ending, at least.) I am sure there are readers out there who did enjoy this novel. I'm just not one of them. 

Read more of my Book Reviews.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Hotel Transylvania 2: Family Movie Review

Just back from the theaters where we saw Hotel Transylvania 2 which opened in theaters this weekend and kicks off the fall/holiday movie season.  The story line is not one that requires viewers to have seen the first film - which, I will say right up front, was far superior to this sequel. My 11-year-old son enjoyed this movie, but agreed it didn't come close to the original.  

Read my review of Hotel Transylvania. 

Hotel Transylvania 2 picks up right where the first film leaves off.  Mavis (Selena Gomez) - the daughter of Dracula played by Adam Sandler - now with the blessing of her father is getting ready to marry her human boyfriend, Johnny (Andy Samberg).  Time passes and they have their first child, Dennis. Dracula is a doting grandfather but quickly becomes consumed with whether or not his grandson will find his inner monster (which he must do by his fifth birthday) and grow-up to be a vampire.  But, how do you raise a monster when even the monsters aren't behaving like monsters anymore?  And, if Dennis turns out to be just a mere human, will Mavis and Johnny move to California so he can have a normal life?

The film reunites all our favorite characters from the first film and, in addition to those I've already mentioned, includes the voice talents of David Spade, Kevin James, Fran Drescher, and Steve Buscemi.  Mel Brooks was among those added to the cast playing Dracula's father, Vlad.  Vlad and his cohorts of scary bats offer the only scary images in the film. There are some clever jokes but similar to the first film, it relies heavily on slapstick comedy.  I do like that the plot focuses on the thematic element of acceptance even among our differences (as the first one did).  

Watch the official trailer

Overall, Hotel Transylvania 2 seemed to please the packed audience which was full of adults accompanying the littlest viewers to young teens, and it definitely gave my son some laughs. However, this film was clearly written as a sequel hoping to capitalize on the success of its original.  The film is rated PG for some scary images, action and rude humor.  It makes a cute, fun family film, but definitely falls short of the first film. 

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews


Friday, September 25, 2015

Home: Family Movie Review

I was really excited for the 2015 spring release of Dreamworks' Home. Unfortunately, my sons didn't share my enthusiasm and we ended up missing it in theaters. Now available on DVD, my younger son (age 11) and I sat down together for family movie night to view it. 

Including the voice talents of Jim Parsons, Rihanna, Steve Martin, and Jennifer Lopez, Home is a very cute movie suitable for the entire family.  However, underneath all the cuteness are some real-life, albeit subtle, political commentaries. Either that or I am really starting to read too much into children's films!

"Humans are more complicated than it said in the phamplet." ~ Home  

Home is based on the children's book The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex and is about an alien species, the Boov, who, in an attempt to flee their enemy, the Gorgs, another alien life-form, invade earth and force all humans into controlled colonies - dare I say concentration camps?  The Boovs, although on the surface are adorable and peaceful, actually have major problems with interpersonal relations. They do not have family and form no real friendships. 

Oh, played by Parsons, (Have I mention Jim Parsons already??) isn't like the other Boovs.  He doesn't fit in with them, yet he discovers he makes a pretty special human.  When Oh accidentally puts the Boovs and the planet in danger, he becomes a fugitive.  He meets up with Tip (Rihanna), a young human girl who also has trouble fitting in with her peers and has become separated from her mother during the Boov takeover.  Together they try to find Tip's mother AND save the planet from Gorg destruction. 

In the end, Oh must decide between friendship and the only way of life he's ever known. We learn that our differences can lead to wrong assumptions and create false illusions of who is good and who is bad (and that's about as political as I will get!)

My son giggled throughout the film, but I'll admit I was a bit disappointed.  To me, the film, although a great story, was saved by Jim Parsons. He was without a doubt the star of the film.  Home is a showcase for his comedic talents. But beware - if you are not a fan of his, that might take away from enjoying the film.  However, Rihanna fans will love the soundtrack performed by the singer.  

 Watch the official trailer

The end is very sweet and focuses on the gift of hope and, yes, my eyes did tear up. Although not as awesome as the trailer had me believing it would be, I recommend it for family movie night. Home is rated PG for mild action and some rude humor. 

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

While I can, I will

One of my original goals when I left teaching to take some time off to be a stay-at-home mom was to volunteer more. Volunteering at my sons' school was accomplished easily enough, but adding a second day to the animal shelter didn't come quite as easy.  

It took me a year to add a shift at the shelter, but I finally did this week. In addition to my usual Sundays in the call center, I am now the newest member of the boutique staff.  Apparently, after helping this department at one of the annual events, it was evident that I have a knack for spending other people's money - I mean a knack for sales.

I suppose there were a few reasons it took me a year to arrange a second shift. I didn't particularly want another day of answering phones. I was also hesitant to work with the dogs directly, probably because of the heat (I'm a wimp) and the residual anxiety left from the time a doberman almost tore my shoulder out of its socket. This occurred at a different rescue center under unusual circumstances, but it has left me a bit gun shy. And, although I visit the cats regularly, working directly with them would lead to me taking them all home, cementing my reputation as the crazy cat lady. So finding my niche took me a while - obviously.

But, here I am, a year later and I think the boutique is going to suit me well. I am a people-person and love the face-to-face contact with the public. I also have this weird fascination with price scanners and get to fulfill one of my childhood pastimes of playing store.  Also, there is a whole different vibe over in this building, one of hope.  I get to see the happy animals - the ones either visiting the clinic to get their vaccines or the animals that have been adopted and are on their way home!

The call center, where I've been on Sundays for over two years, is located in what I call "the pit of despair." It is in the intake building where all the animals are brought after being picked up as strays or when being surrendered by their people (Notice I kept my opinion of said "people" to myself?).  The animals are scared and confused, often depressed. So, yes, it is nice to volunteer in the boutique where I get to help pets pick out new toys, bowls and beds that they'll be able to call their own.

Yesterday was my first official day in this new capacity and it was spent mainly re-stocking shelves and getting all the Halloween merchandise on display. It was a mere four-hour shift.  What is that? Like part-time hours? And thank goodness!! By the time I left and ran some errands and got into car line at school to pick up my sons, I was positively exhausted.  Plus, we had a soccer game that night so tending to my exhaustion was going to have to wait.

However, putting all this bitching and moaning aside, I really enjoyed my new venture.  One of the highlights of my day was meeting an old colleague who, now retired (man, we're all getting old), had just started volunteering at the shelter herself.  It was just really good to be out of the house and doing something I love. I am also volunteering two days at my sons' school this week, so I need to be careful not to spread myself too thin.  I have to remind myself it is all about balance.  This blog is important to me and I need to make sure I leave time for it. Plus, I am currently tutoring one student and collaborating with the occasional author on their newest novel - all this in addition to the normal care of my family and the household. So, yeah, my days and weeks are full.

All-in-all this year of transition has had its ups and downs, but I am forcing myself out there slowly, but surely. In the meantime, there was one little kitten in the window yesterday that caught my eye.......I must remain strong!

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (Book Review)

They say rescue animals have a way finding the person that needs them the most, not the other way around. The same can be said of books. People will inevitably be summoned by the book they need at that moment in their lives. 

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

"Sometimes books don't find us until the right time." ~ The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin was recommended to me by one of my followers. It is her latest adult fiction novel in a long line of books she has written for fans of adult and young adult fiction. I do not like to put spoilers in my book reviews, so any aspect of the plot I mention in a review is also made clear in the book's official blurb.  Unfortunately, sometimes this policy makes it a bit difficult to write a review. But here goes......

First of all, I thoroughly enjoyed the uniqueness of this novel. One of the key aspects of this book, and one I fell in love with, is the setting.  The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry takes place on Alice Island - which is fictionally located off the coast of Massachusetts, just a ferry ride from Hyannis.  More specifically, in the small bookstore owned by A.J. Fikry himself.  Island Books, as the store is named, actually takes on a "persona" of its own, becoming a main character. I can't think of a more ideal location for me than a bookstore on a quaint, New England island.....but I digress. 

The second key aspect of this novel which I loved was the passion for books shared by A.J. and the other characters - all with varying opinions and preferences. A.J. lived his life relating every occurrence to one piece of literature or another.  Ironically, however, and adding a touch of humor, A.J. is actually a bookshop owner who dislikes most genres, book promotion parties, and doesn't have a nice thing to say about authors.  

The third aspect I wish to discuss are the characters themselves. It was my connection to them, on very real and basic terms, that propelled the momentum of this novel for me.  And, it wasn't just the main characters that drew me in. There are many secondary characters who also made the story richer and tied in all the pieces, whether it was the troubled relationship of A.J.'s in-laws or the interactions with locals who form book clubs in his store.

The novel follows A.J.'s life struggles - from dealing with the loss of his wife and then having a rare and valuable edition of poems by Edgar Allan Poe stolen, to a life-altering event that leads to his transformation which spans the course of approximately 15 years.  An ongoing theme in the story is the idea that readers will either connect with a story or not based on where they are in their own lives. I am finding that becoming more and more evident in my own life as I am exposed to various novels and diverse readers. 

"My life is in these books. Read these and know my heart. .....We are not quite novels....... We are not quite short stories.......In the end, we are collected works." ~ The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Zevin gives us the right amount of tender moments and romance, even an unexpected twist or two, and proves people can be brought together because of their love of a book.  In the end, all of us readers leave behind a list of favorites that somehow explains what's in our hearts.  I recommend this novel to all lovers of literature and to anyone who has ever been touched by the written word. 

Read more of my Book Reviews

Friday, September 18, 2015

Fantastic Mr. Fox: Family Movie Review

Featuring the voice talents of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson (just to name a few), Fantastic Mr. Fox is a charming adaptation of the children's book by Roald Dahl.   This storybook is brought to creative life through the use of classic stop-motion animation giving this film an entirely different look and feel to other modern day animated films.  Filled with adorable animal critters, and, of course, starring the clever and witty fox, your young children will surely delight in this unusual tale. 

When a life of crime (stealing farming birds) lands Mr. Fox and his bride in trouble, he promises his wife he will turn over a new leaf. No more stealing! Instead, he straightens himself up and goes to work as a columnist for a local paper. Yearning for more excitement and dreaming of a better future, Mr. Fox decides to go on one last heist.  Unfortunately, Mr. Fox is blinded by the thrill of success and the glory it gives him among the other animals. So much so, in fact, that he doesn't see how his behavior puts all the other animals at risk. The characters are soon caught in a dangerous game of cat and mouse (although, more accurately, farmer and fox) and facing a rescue mission to save all their lives. 

However, behind all the chasing and cute animal antics, there are some very deep life lessons accumulating into one final understanding that our differences are what make us special.  Mr. Fox's son, Ash, is desperately trying to live up to his father's legacy and his cousin's revered abilities. While Mr. Fox, consumed by his own limited expectations of himself and his reliance on others to boost his self-esteem, must come to grips with his self-destructive behaviors as they jeopardize all that he loves. It most certainly is difficult to change, but sometimes our lives depend on it.

Watch official trailer

Fantastic Mr. Fox is rated PG for action, smoking and slang humor.  For example, there is a reference to the "town tart."  My sons and I saw this film in theaters a few summers ago as part of a free summer series for kids. This time around I was on my own. My older son, now 13, wasn't into it and my younger son was at a sleepover - which is a shame because he likes to make his own stop-animation films and would probably have been able to appreciate the artistic beauty of this film.  Fantastic Mr. Fox is a tender film of proving yourself and discovering your personal strengths. I definitely recommend it to families with young children. 

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Girl on the Train (Book Review)

People everywhere are talking about The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and with good cause. In Hawkins' first thriller, she takes the reader on an emotional ride as her characters deal with the intense issues of alcoholism, depression, and human relationships. The novel is narrated in the first person by three different characters on two different timelines, which off the bat makes it interesting to read.  The Girl on the Train reminds us that we should never assume we know what is going on behind closed doors.
The Girl on the Train Paul Hawkins

"I have lost control over everything, even the places in my head." ~ Rachel, The Girl on the Train 

Rachel takes the same commuter train from her London suburb into the city center every day passing the same track-side houses which sit along the railroad like fish bowls, susceptible to prying eyes. Still dealing with the heartache of her recent divorce, Rachel enviously stares into the home of one couple in particular.  She watches them daily from the train, often seeing their loving interaction on the porch and easily romanticizes their relationship.  But when Rachel sees something she wasn't meant to, her obsession with the couple intensifies.

 ".......the holes in your life are permanent.  You have to grow around them, like tree roots around concrete; you mould yourself through the gaps." ~ Megan, The Girl on the Train

Megan is at a crossroads in her life, both personally and professionally. As Megan tries to deal with her current crisis, she continues to be haunted by her past. Will she be able to get a handle on things before her past ruins her present life?

"....when you walk down our little street - tree-lined and tidy, not quite a cul-de-sac, but with the same sense of community - it could be perfect......It could be ideal." ~ Anna, The Girl on the Train

Anna, newly married to the man she loves, has what most would perceive as a dream life.  Unfortunately, she is quickly learning that her role as a new mother and wife isn't as glamorous as the visions she previously had of "playing house."  In the end, only Anna can open her eyes and see what her life has become and face an ugly truth that will forever change her.

As these women come face-to-face with their personal struggles, they engage in self-destructive and provocative behaviors that threaten to destroy all that is good in their lives.  One single, seemingly private, moment will forever connect these three women in a way no one would have foreseen. All three women will have to fight their way out of highly dangerous mind games fed by secrets, abuse, and addiction that threaten their personal happiness and transformations.

The Girl on the Train is as addicting as it is suspenseful. I had a difficult time putting this one down. One pivotal part of the story's climax was not entirely unpredictable. However, the manner in which Hawkins unfolds the events keeps the novel exciting until the very end. This book will easily make my list of favorites read in 2015. 

Read more of my Book Reviews

Friday, September 11, 2015

9/11 Photo Tribute

Every American alive and old enough to remember the events of September 11, 2001 was forever changed. That day in U.S. history has undoubtedly affected different people in different ways. I still have friends who live in or near NYC who, to this day, are unable to bring themselves downtown to the site which for months afterwards was referred to as Ground Zero. A former New Yorker whose dad is retired FDNY, I have gone back. Multiple times actually. I have watched the rebuilding of that area and just this past summer experienced the new One World Trade Center and 911 Museum for the first time. 

In memory and honor of all those that died, survived, and helped with the rescue and clean-up mission, I'd like to share some photos with you all. 

The view of lower Manhattan at approximately 8:30am on September 11, 2001
 (photograph on display in the National September 11 Memorial and Museum)

See Below

The Survivors' Staircase led hundreds of evacuees out of the WTC complex and was the last identifiable structure of the original site above ground.  It is on display at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. I spoke with one museum volunteer when I visited in June. He recalled the events that day with me and how he used these stairs to escape to safety.

A photo of the Twin Towers shortly after they opened 
(photo displayed in the National September 11 Memorial and Museum)

Tributes to the heroes of 911 are everywhere in NYC.

Makeshift Memorials on display during the construction of the new One World Trade Center. (June 2012)

The entrance to the 911 Memorial, June 2012

The Memorial

Nicholas Paul Chiofalo, "Uncle Nick" to my friend and her family, had just finished his shift and was on his way home. But like so many other first responders that day, he turned around to help with the rescue efforts.  He was one of the firefighters killed that day when the towers collapsed.

Re-building: the new One World Trade Center is now open. (photos June 2015)

 September 11, 2001
Never Forget
(photo on display in the National September 11 Memorial and Museum)


Friday Movie Night

Happy Friday, everyone! For those of you that have stopped by to see what my Friday family movie night pick is, I am so sorry to disappoint you. It has been one heck of a week and, unfortunately, I didn't have the time to watch and review a film. Well.....that isn't entirely true. In a departure from my usual kid friendly movies, I did review Oscar nominated film Whiplash (Rated R) which was posted  on The Entertainment Whacko blog.  Check it out!

 Whiplash Official Trailer

I am, however, very excited for the upcoming films to be reviewed on my blog including several great DVDs such as Narnia, Home, and the classic Ghostbusters.  Plus, we are entering the fall movie season which has some promising new releases to look forward to, among them Hotel Transylvania 2, Goosebumps, and Mockingjay 2. Check out their trailers here.

I invite you to take a look at my current list of family movie favorites and I promise I'll be back next Friday with a whole new review. In the meantime, I have a new book review coming out on Monday and look for my usual personal post on Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Teens and the Information Age: Are Your Kids Pulling the Wool Over Your Eyes?

Parents are so consumed with keeping their kids safe in this Age of Information, they may be failing to fully explain to them why precautions are necessary.  For instance, why posting pictures of themselves online is dangerous because it can attract crazies. Or, how their images can be stolen and photoshopped on porn or other inappropriate pictures and then plastered on various websites or shared in an attempt of cyberbullying.  Welcome to the digital world! 

Just yesterday, my sister wanted to take a picture of my son doing something goofy. However, before she snapped it, he granted permission only if she agreed not to post it anywhere.  She assured him she wouldn't so he let her take the picture. I then called him over to me and said, "For the record, never believe anyone outside this room who tells you they won't share a photo." 

A shame, right? Yet, this is the day and age we live in. No one can expect even a basic form of privacy, especially when outside their home.  The bottom line was this was a totally innocent and silly picture. But the bigger lesson was clear.

Parents put in place rules and regulations regarding their children's activity online (at least I hope they are doing this), but are they diligent about telling their kids why they implement these rules. Sure, sometimes a simple, "Because I said so," will suffice, but typically, especially with older kids, you need to give them the reason(s) behind a restriction. I am not known for sugar-coating my concerns either. Having spent six years working in the juvenile criminal system, I've seen just about everything and can be quite blunt about things relating to sex, drugs, and violence. NOT telling your kids isn't going to keep them safe.

There is such a thing as being too restrictive. My son has had a small group of friends for the last couple of years. Some girls, some boys. All of them platonic - they "date" outside this circle, lol. One girl, we'll call her Suzy, isn't allowed to do anything. She can't go to the mall with the group and she certainly can't talk to boys on the phone (do they realize that she and my son and his other male best friend are inseparable at school?). When we ran into her and her family at the movie theater some months back, she barely acknowledged my son - with me standing right there! I asked my son what that was all about and he said, "Oh, it's her parents. She can't really talk to boys."

In my opinion her parents missed the perfect opportunity to meet one of her male friends and his mother. Maybe that would have put their minds at ease (or possibly would have cemented in their minds the reason why she can't talk to boys!)  Either way, at some point parents have to trust that their kids are doing the right thing.  We can only monitor so much. Don't they deserve some level of privacy?

The other day my son was sitting next to me busy texting away, or so I thought, with a friend of his. I asked him who he was texting. He answered, "Suzy, but we're not texting, we're emailing."

"Why are you emailing, isn't it easier to text?" I asked.

"Yes, but she's not allowed to text boys," my son said.

And, there you have it folks. Proof that your teen will find a way around any rule you set.

Parents can tell their kids they can't text someone or they can't have social media profiles, but let's face it. Kids are way more computer savvy than most of us. Do you seriously think my son couldn't have a secret profile online without me knowing? Of course, he could. Up until recently, I told him none were allowed until he was older. Well, now he is older so I have adjusted my stance that he can, but I want him to let me set it up so security measures are put in place. Could he still open one secretly? Absolutely. All I can hope for is that I've given him enough knowledge not to do so, and reiterate that I am not infringing on his privacy, but looking out for his safety.

Most parents will insist on having all the passwords to their kids' accounts. Whether or not you do, don't be naive. If your teen wants to set up a private account, they will. Therefore, it is more important to educate your children on the dangers of the digital age than to just forbid their activity and assume they won't be able to pull the wool over your eyes.

Similar Posts: 

Taking on Sexual Violence: A Must Read for Teens and Parents
Faceless Bullies: A look at Cyberbullying

Monday, September 7, 2015

Walking With Frodo (Book Review)

My son, an even bigger fan of The Lord of the Rings than I, bought me this book for my birthday.  An incredibly thoughtful gift, he's going to make someone a great boyfriend some day.  Walking with Frodo by Sarah Arthur is a devotional that aims to show how J.R.R. Tolkien's Christian faith influenced his writing of The Lord of the Rings. Before I go any further, let me just state that you do NOT need to be a Christian to read this book (as long as you are open to viewing the Bible as, if nothing else, a literary work), but you absolutely must be familiar with the The Lord of the Rings books or the movies.

"With his usual shrewdness, Tolkien puts a mirror in front of our faces, forcing us to look at our true selves." ~ Walking with Frodo

While examining the forces of good vs. evil in The Lord of the Rings, the author connects moments in our own lives to reflect on these forces.  Designed to be broken down into nine one-week personal study guides, Arthur demonstrates opposing choices in life such as Pride vs. Humility, Deceit vs. Honesty, and Despair vs. Hope.  For example, in the week devoted to studying Betrayal vs. Loyalty, we study the conflicting personas of Gollum (who is compared to Judas) and recall how Sam was loyal to Frodo above all else (as was the disciple Peter to Jesus).

Others are compared to Biblical figures as well. Gandalf and Elrond are our spiritual leaders and teachers.  It is they who inspect our motives. The Hobbits signify humility, Aragorn a symbol of servanthood, and the Balrog represents Satan.  And, just who, may you ask is God? Oh, that was the best one.  I don't want to spoil it ALL for you, but here's a hint.

"We've seen evidence that all our choices, though murky and difficult now, have significance in the great battle between darkness and light........We can trust that in the darkest hour, when all seems hopeless, help 'unlooked for' is on its way." ~ Walking with Frodo

I recommend this book to fans of Tolkien who want to delve deeper into the likely influences of his writings. Arthur gives relatable situations to define the choices we all must make at some point in our lives, ties them into The Lord of the Rings characters and plot, and then incorporates parallel bible references. I can think of no greater novel than The Lord of the Rings to analyze for the discussion and comparison of good vs. evil attributes. Walking with Frodo is a well-organized and easily understood  look at Tolkien and his most beloved story.

Read more of my Book Reviews.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Karate Kid: Family Movie Review

Hard to believe it's been thirty-one years since The Karate Kid was released, and, yet, it has become a favorite of  both my sons.  The film reeks of the 80s, but I can't imagine it any other way. (Please don't get me started on the 2010 re-make. I like to pretend it never happened.) 

The Karate Kid is rated PG, but so are most Disney animated films (see below for important details about this film's rating) so my sons saw this one really early on.  The main reason being my son was taking karate at the time and was about to participate in his first tournament. As I recall he begged me to let him watch it. His sensai advised me NOT to show him the film until AFTER the tournament because the film is not realistic in this regard at all. The tournament as featured in the movie is more of a MMA fight - brutal! 

 "Lesson not just karate only. Lesson for whole life. Whole life have a balance. Everything be better." ~ Mr. Miyagi, The Karate Kid

Ready to start a new life, single-mom, Lucille Larusso (Randee Heller), and her son, Daniel (Ralph Macchio), move from NJ to sunny California. Daniel almost immediately gets in the radar of the school bullies, a group of karate students that, unfortunately, have a sensai that doesn't know the true meaning of martial arts.  AND.....of course, it's all over a girl, Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue).  Having witnessed one of the attacks, Mr. Miyagi, played by Pat Morita, agrees to help Daniel learn the art and true meaning of karate so he can put an end to the bullying. 

"First learn stand, then learn fly. Nature rule, Daniel-san, not mine." ~ Mr. Miyagi, The Karate Kid

What develops is a powerful relationship between Daniel and Mr. Miyagi, one based on complete trust and respect. The Karate Kid examines the true meaning of karate and focuses on the fact that it is a discipline of the mind and heart. One trains in karate so one never has to fight.

 Watch Official Trailer

This film was released two months prior to the MPAA implementing the PG-13 rating, so as I watched it again (this time for the purpose of my review) I can see how The Karate Kid would most likely today be considered PG-13 and not suitable for the PG rating it received back in 1984.  The PG rating is for violence, including some scenes of bullying and some language.  But I will remind parents who haven't seen it in years and are considering it for a family movie night, that there is also a scene depicting alcohol use (Mr. Miyagi gets rip-roaring drunk and passes out) and one scene where our villain, Johnny (William Zabka), is rolling a joint in the boys' bathroom at school. 

"If comes from inside you, always right one (choice)" ~ Mr. Miyagi, The Karate Kid

This iconic film that gave us the phrase "wax on, wax off" is a powerful film that stresses inner strength. The Karate Kid deals with several important issues for middle and high-school students including classism, sportsmanship, commitment, and believing in oneself.  It is a great coming of age film, and, one of the most memorable underdog movies ever made with a final few minutes that still give me chills EVERY time I watch it.

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Going Vegan in 2015: Convenience Foods

A friend recently asked me if I have to prepare two different dinners now that I am vegan and my family isn't (more on that in an upcoming, separate post.)  I laughed and said I was already preparing two, if not three, different meals each night. I refer to and have written about this atrocity as my biggest parenting mistake!  So it is no different now. However, I will admit, that the use of what I call convenience foods has helped make meal preparation easier and quicker.

The use of these so-called convenience foods is a great way to transition to veganism, especially for those that don't necessarily like to cook. Such food items will prove most helpful at the beginning of your transition, especially if you have a hectic schedule that doesn't allow for much time to prepare many home-cooked meals. And, while I realize pre-packaged foods of any kind aren't the best for me, at this time they are vital to my sanity. 

Here are my favorite convenience foods along with some of my favorite vegan substitutions. Naturally, nothing can replace the intake of fresh (and preferably organic) fruits and vegetables, but these food choices have given me the variety I need to make going vegan easy as vegan pie. 

There are several milk / cream alternatives out there and you just have to find the one(s) you like the best. For my coffee, I prefer So Delicious coconut milk. Try it in hazelnut flavor, my favorite.  However, I will also use cashew milk (more in cereal than coffee) and good old almond milk. If you suffer from a chocolate addition, Almond Breeze chocolate milk is to die for! (But watch the calories. No one said eating vegan was all low-fat and low-calorie!)  My new addiction is Daiya vegan cheese and I've used it to make myself vegan versions of my favorite dishes such as baked ziti and eggplant parmesan. These dishes are so incredibly yummy, I'm glad I don't have to share them with my family!

For actual meals I rely heavily on vegan burgers and meat alternatives.  There is a large variety of quineo burgers. But my absolute favorite meat substitute is anything by Gardein. I use their products regularly and in many different capacities. Amy's organic soups and frozen meals offer quick and delicious food options in so many varieties I've lost count.  There is also a large selection of vegan protein powders and energy bars. Great for pre- or post-workouts or traveling. Lastly, this article wouldn't be complete without mentioning my two favorite desserts: vegan ice cream (try So Delicious varieties) and vegan chocolate (I usually buy Endangered Species).

The fact is you won't believe how many yummy vegan food choices there are out there until you decide to look for them. I am fortunate that all of these items I've mentioned, with the exception of the So Delicious coffee creamer, is available in my regular grocery store.  So, while I am busy preparing multiple meals, at least I'm not running all over town shopping at different stores. 

Okay, so tell me again how difficult it is to go vegan!!

Read more of my Going Vegan in 2015 series here.