Thursday, December 31, 2015

Embracing Change and Gaining Courage: What We Can All Learn from a Hobbit

As I read my post from last New Year's Eve, Time:Glancing Back and Looking Ahead, I couldn't help but force myself to look back at 2015 - a year that I will not miss. To say it has been one of the most tumultuous years of my life is an understatement. It has been stricken with loses and personal battles.  And, while I am aware that 2016 will continue to test me and allow me to subsequently grow, I am also looking forward to all the changes that the new year will bring. I have no other choice really. I either try to embrace the changes that my life is taking or I slink back into a cave and wait for life to find me. 

In all my life, for as far back as my teen years at least, New Year's Eve has been without a doubt the worst day of the year for me. To say I am not good with goodbyes would be an understatement. As if I needed yet another reminder of how quickly time goes, or of all the things I haven't accomplished in my life yet, today is the day, and it is thrown in my face like lemon juice poured over a paper cut, only it's not one cut, it's thousands of them. 

But I am going to make a change right here and now (or, at the very least try to.)  For the first time in my life, I am going to attempt (see how cautious I am being) to enjoy New Year's Eve. I am going to look this night in the face and say, "F*CK YOU, 2015. You will not define the rest of my life." 

Phew, okay, I feel better now that I got that off my chest. 

Yesterday, my son and I started our marathon of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings - an event that is spilling into today because, my God, there are only so many hours in one day and we needed to sleep sometime! I can't think of a more suitable story for me to gain strength from, more suitable characters than hobbits whose courage never "ceases to amaze me." 

So, I could stay in my hobbit hole in 2016 and wallow in all that I do not have or have lost. OR, I can take a lesson from Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, and I can embrace the adventure that 2016 has in store for me.  And maybe, just maybe, I will find my courage, too. 

May you all have a happy and healthy New Year filled with love and peace. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Home Alone (Family Movie Review)

You know a movie is a holiday classic when your 13-year old son says it doesn't feel like Christmas time because you haven't had the annual viewing yet.  Watching the 1990 hit film, Home Alone, has been a family tradition with my children for years. I remember introducing it to them several years back and they STILL love watching it.

"You'd feel pretty sad if you woke up tomorrow morning and you didn't have a family." ~ Kate McCallister, Home Alone 

We all (by now) know the premise of the story. The McCallisters, a family of seven, are headed to Paris for Christmas along with an aunt and uncle and several cousins. Eight year old Kevin is sent to sleep on the third floor after acting up.  When the power goes out, the alarm clock fails to wake the family and when they are finally woken up they need to scramble out the door and rush to catch their flight. Among all the confusion, the headcount is messed up and Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) is left asleep on the third floor. Not until the plane is en route to Paris does the mother, Kate, played by the very funny Catherine O'Hara, realize Kevin was left home alone. 

What ensues is one mother's comical, yet sentimental, mission to get back to her son before Christmas. This brings me to one of the most heartwarming quotes of the film.

"I have been awake for almost 60 hours. I'm tired and I'm dirty. I have been from Chicago to Paris to Dallas to......where the hell am I? I am trying to get home to my eight-year-old son. And now that I'm this close, you're telling me it's hopeless?  This is Christmas. The Season of perpetual hope. And I don't care if I have to get on your runway and hitchhike. If it costs me everything I own, if I have to sell my soul to the devil himself, I am going to get home to my son." ~ Kate McCallister, Home Alone 

Home Alone is a great family film (BUT see rating explanation below) that touches on the valuable lesson of learning to face your fears. I also really like this film because it shows how tight family bonds are despite all the crazy dynamics and sibling bickering that occur in every family. Probably the most memorable character is the old neighbor played by the late Roberts Blossom.  But the highlight of the film is the epic "battle" at the end of the film between Kevin and the hilarious would-be burglars played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. 

The film is rated PG for comic action and mild language. However, while it is categorized as having mild language, there is a lot of it, mainly name-calling. Also, the "comic action" is quite brutal and dangerous. At one point Kevin rides his sled down a flight of stairs out the front door, so you may need to remind children "not to try this at home!" In addition, there are references to female nudity (no actual nudity) and, at one point, Kevin finds and looks through his older brother's Playboy magazine. The biggest shocker to young children may be the local Santa smoking a cigarette.  

Watch Official Trailer

Like I said, Home Alone continues to be a holiday favorite among my sons. O'Hara, to me, was born to play the role of Kate McCallister and makes me laugh out loud every time. I am sure she is one character all stressed out, but loving mothers, can relate to. The film's music is also wonderful. Overall, if you haven't already added this film to your yearly Christmas tradition, I recommend you do so. 

Read more Family Movie Reviews on Lavender Inspiration

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Family Movie Review - GUEST BLOGGER)

It's been 38 years since the original Star Wars film hit theaters. This past Friday, Disney released the much anticipated latest installment in the franchise, Episode VII: The Force Awakens.  I am thrilled and honored (and, honestly, relieved that I get to go see this film without the pressure of writing a review) to have a knowledgeable fan, +Nicholas Neagle, guest post on my blog today with his review of the film that is taking the world by storm. Whether you're a parent looking to see if the film is right for your kids or just a Star Wars fan looking for a NO-SPOILERS review, you're in the right place.  


Star Wars The Force Awakens

In all fairness, I am a huge fan of all things Star Wars. I have enjoyed each and every movie, TV show, book, etc. that I was lucky enough to experience. This year’s release of The Force Awakens was no different. I was not sure what to expect, not only as a lifelong fan, but a dad taking my 10 and 14-year old to see their first new Star Wars movie in the theater.

To be honest, I don’t think anyone who wants to see this movie has to have seen any of the other previous films, but it sure helps to understand a lot of the backstory and, especially, the inside jokes. This story does fit well into the Star Wars universe even though there is a 30-year gap between this film and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

The movie begins where it should, with a backdrop of space and the ships that are the co-stars of the entire series. We meet several new characters at the beginning of the film. There is Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), someone whose skill rivals very few in the Star Wars universe. Then we meet both Finn, played by John Boyega, and Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, two characters that will obviously become a very important part of the awakening. The action gets off to a great start with our new baddies, The First Order. They prove immediately they are not messing around trying to reclaim the Empire’s stronghold. Their current henchman, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), also quickly proves he is not to be reckoned with, and he forces the story to take a strong jolt into the fight between the Resistance and the First Order.

From here, we begin to meet some old friends again such as Chewie and the much anticipated return of Harrison Ford as Han Solo. This has to be one of the most rewarding parts of the movie, besides a part at the end, which I won’t spoil. Han and Chewie help our new friends with their discovered mission surrounding, you guessed it, a droid everyone is looking for. The older characters have such presence that they are given a warm welcome each time someone appeared. In addition, everyone in the theater cheered for minutes each time. Rey and Finn must begin to learn about themselves as much as their mission. Rey begins to look inward to her new found knowledge, and Finn begins to see what type of strength he has inside of him to help the Resistance. They do get lots of help from our friends from the old stories, but in the end, the story is about the awakening, the new forces of light and dark.

Watch Official Trailer

There are many great chases, battle scenes, emotional scenes, and a great deal of humor tossed in as well. One thing for long time fans, there are many, and I mean many, references to the original trilogy. It will be fun to look for even more on addition viewings. Overall, the movie really hit a good spot for me and I think it is an instant winner, and I think most will see it more than once as well. I will warn parents that there are a few scary moments for smaller kids, and certainly some emotional ones for everyone. Director J.J. Abrams has helped Disney bring back Star Wars to the big screen and opened up a new story that we all will enjoy.  Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence. 

**This review was written by guest blogger +Nicholas Neagle **

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What Sex is That Gift - Huh?

I have to admit.  I am a little disappointed in myself.  No, a LOT disappointed in myself. Yesterday my son and I went to the store to purchase a toy for a "white elephant" gift exchange in his class.  Apparently, the teacher couldn't call it a "secret Santa" exchange because one girl was against Santa.  No, this wasn't a religious matter; she is just anti-Santa.  Well, I am completely offended by the term "white elephant" which refers to "a possession that is useless or troublesome."  Excuse me, but elephants, regardless of color, are anything BUT useless or troublesome.  I considered writing a letter to the teacher but decided to let let it slide - this time only!

Anyway, my son picked out a Star Wars action figure.  This is where everything I stand for and try to instill in my sons went down the drain.  I said, "We'll need to mark this as a boy gift, I suppose."  My son immediately agreed with me while I was slamming my head against the wall. Did I seriously just assign a gender to a freaking Star Wars toy??  PLEASE tell me I didn't do that. I hate the whole notion of the toy industry marketing items specifically for girls or boys.  Hell, I even ranted about it in my post, Enough Foofooness.  For heaven's sake, I am a female and I love all this space crap. Granted I am not an eleven year old girl, but I was only eight when the original film came out and I loved it even then! 

So what was I thinking saying such a thing. Obviously, I wasn't! 

I quickly tried to rectify the damage by pointing out to my son that this is actually a great toy for a boy OR a girl.  But he would have no part of it - damn it! Two steps forward, one step back in the toy equality department. Home we went where I wrapped it in gender neutral paper (seriously, stop this!) and on the front wrote "TO BOY" - I swear, my son made me do it!

I am trying to justify my horrid behavior by pointing out that even the teacher requested that gifts have a blue bow or a red bow on them to indicate if it was a boy or girl gift respectively. I thought back to my years teaching elementary school where every Christmas we'd have a book exchange. Without fail, there would always be one boy crying because he ended up with a princess book or a girl in tears over the monster truck book she received.

I know most of this is just ingrained in all of us and old habits are hard to break. Part of me wonders, if there is a girl who wants the Star Wars toy, if she'll even admit to it.  I'd like nothing better than for my son to come home and tell me all the girls were fighting over the Star Wars toy he gave.  Wouldn't that be a huge step for all of us? 

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Career of Evil: Cormoran Strike Series (Book Review)

"He was not a man who told himself comfortable lies." ~ Career of Evil

Readers are reunited once again with private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin, in the third crime novel in the Cormoran Strike series.  In Career of Evil, the duo must track down a murderer who seems to have a personal vendetta against Strike.  This novel starts with the intensity immediately as we get inside the mind of a serial killer.  The reader is grabbed quickly, however, be warned, similar to the others in this series, particularly The Silkworm, there is a high concentration of brutality in this story.

Robin takes on a much bigger role in this novel, both professionally and personally. And I LOVED that.  While she is dealing with past demons, the relationship between Cormoran and her blossoms. Once again, and what makes this series so attractive to me, the dynamics between the two is both endearing and sexy.  

"You could find beauty nearly anywhere if you stopped to look for it, but the battle to get through the days made it easy to forget that this totally cost-free luxury existed." ~ Career of Evil

This is a dark crime story that will engage the reader with it's many twists and highly interwoven string of characters. Although, some may find it difficult to keep all the backstories of the numerous characters straight in their heads.  The Coromoran Strike series remains my favorite detective / crime series and Career of Evil is without a doubt my favorite in the series thus far. 

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Thursday, December 3, 2015

The OCD Traveler

I consider myself a world traveler. I have traveled extensively in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.  I spent two semesters studying / living overseas.  I have traveled with friends and family as well as individually. I have some amazing tales of places and people and some horror stories of travel gone wrong. But, despite all my experience, one thing remains the same - I am a complete basket case the day before I travel. 

I am not afraid of flying - once I am in my seat and on my way - but I am terribly anxious of the process.  Yes, the entire process - from packing and getting the house and pets ready, to driving to the airport and getting through security.  Did I unplug the flat iron? Was the garage door down? What day do the garbage pails have to go out? 

Then there is the connection at some godforsaken airport like Atlanta or LaGuardia.  It once took me 45 minutes to get from my arrival gate to my connecting gate in Frankfurt! Then there are some other airports that we aren't allowed to speak of in my home because the mere mention of them send me into hysterics.  I'd tell you which airports they are, but I can't break my own rule, can I? There are entire cities I won't visit just because their airports were cruel to me during layovers.  

On top of all these usual concerns, I have been dealing with an ear condition for several months now - a condition the doctors can't quite figure out the cause of. I have been reassured by my doctor, however, that, and I quote, "Although you have an increased chance of your ear drum rupturing, you should be okay during the flights."  He's lucky he's cute or that would have warranted a slap. 

Yet, despite all the aggravation, the act of traveling remains one of my favorite ways to recharge my battery.  

So here I go again.  Tomorrow I am traveling domestically just for a long weekend to visit a dear friend for a little bit of R&R.  There is sure to be great conversation, some great food (she has already scoped out all the vegan friendly places) and some great wine tasting - vineyard country here we come!  

However, I spent the day fretting over the preparations and whether or not I have enough time to make my connection in Atlanta. Will the cats be okay? Who will remember to feed my tortoise? Is the damn roof still leaking??  And, I still haven't figured out where the hell I am going to fit my camera.  I'd hate to not bring it. But even prior to airlines charging for checked baggage, I've insisted only on bringing carry-on! Sacrifices always have to be made!!

Anyway, the point of this blog post, which seems to have gotten lost in the travel frenzy, was to tell you I will be back next week with a new book review (which, now that I've mentioned it, I am bound to produce).  Until then, be well and, as always, thanks for reading. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

COMING SOON: Even More Movie Reviews

I have recently received complaints from various readers that they are disappointed that my reviews on "date-night" films (a/k/a reviews for mature audiences) aren't posted on my own blog.  Instead I have been publishing those over on The Entertainment Whacko.

I love the feedback and want to make you all happy (because only good things come to those who try to make EVERYONE happy, right?)  Therefore, I am thinking of adding a NEW page to my blog for such reviews.  I will most likely still only publish them on The Entertainment Whacko, but I will add the link on this new page (once it's up) as well. Hope that is a nice compromise for everyone.

In the meantime, while I am working on this additional page, here are the links (click on the DVD jacket) to the other films I have reviewed that fall outside my Family Movie Reviews section.  Enjoy!

Check out my Family Movie Reviews too!