Friday, April 4, 2014

Let Me (Okay, Netflix) Entertain You!

There are certain times of the year when there are so many excellent shows on television, I can go weeks without watching Netflix.  Now is not one of those times.  The Walking Dead's season is over, Scandal is losing my attention, and Mad Men isn't back on yet.  I've dropped The Americans, Hannibal and The Following, so all I have left is The Good Wife and The Blacklist.  This leaves me plenty of time for some Netflix entertainment. 

In case you are looking for some recommendations for your weekend (and I know you are), here are some things I have enjoyed on Netflix over the last few weeks/months. Warning up front: I tend to like independent, quirky things, and I am not at all bothered by cursing or most violence.  

  • Mud- Two Mississippi teens befriend a peculiar drifter named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) and get caught up in his tales of lost love, crimes of passion and bounty hunters.  McConaughey gets top billing, but the movie really revolves around the life of one of the teens, Ellis.  I thought it was a poignant story of young boys learning about hurt and loss of trust that all of us experience growing up. If you like quirky, emotionally challenging movies with more dialogue than action, you may like this one. Rated PG-13, I assume primarily for language and some violence.
  • Unfinished Song- This movie made me cry like a baby, and I'll probably watch it again just to cry again.  Arthur is a cranky old man whose wonderful wife, Marion, is terminally ill with cancer.  Marion joins an unconventional church choir.  Imagine elderly British folks singing "Let's Talk About Sex" a cappella.  Yep.  When the choir is chosen to perform in a competition, Arthur reluctantly joins.  A surprisingly touching movie that shows Arthur struggling with the fear of losing his wife and alternately destroying and rebuilding a relationship with their son.  Rated PG-13 for some sexual references and rude gestures. 
  • Blackfish- This documentary made me extremely sad.  I realize this is a very controversial movie and probably neither side is 100% accurate.  However, the stories told by former trainers and the man that helped capture whales from the wild are very disturbing.  There are also scenes in the movie that were difficult to watch because they showed injuries suffered by the animals as well as the trainers.  Rated PG-13.
TV Shows
  • Lilyhammer- Steven Van Zandt (of The Sopranos and the E Street Band fame) stars as a New York mobster who goes into hiding in Lillehammer after testifying against his former associates.  While I would personally hate the cold in Norway, the snowy landscape in this series is gorgeous.  For a highly manipulative person, Steven Van Zandt's character, Johnny, is very likeable.  There is a quirky cast of characters that are fleshed out enough to see the good and bad in all of them.  There are some clever (and some obvious) nods to both Springsteen and The Sopranos. This was Netflix's first original series and they have renewed it for a third season to be released later this year.  It is rated TV-MA.  There is a large amount of swearing, violence and more than one instance of nudity, just so you are forewarned.  
  • An Idiot Abroad- In this hilarious British series, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant send their "idiot" friend Karl on a different adventure in each episode.   He is completing an item off a bucket list in each show, though as Ricky frequently reminds him, this is not Karl's bucket list.  Karl is a somewhat grumpy man who isn't too enthused with trying new things, meeting new people, experiencing new cultures- you can see where this is going.  He expresses some viewpoint where I think, "Aw, Karl isn't so awful" and then he says something else to make me think, "Idiot".  Ricky and Stephen really enjoy putting Karl in some very uncomfortable situations and I thought much of it was funny and interesting.  There are two seasons, though I personally thought season one was a little bit more entertaining.  Rated TV-14, there is frequent cursing, though some of it is British slang so maybe that doesn't count.  FYI- the British use the F word too.  There are also a few instances of nudity in a culturally appropriate way (native tribes in traditional dress), not in a sexually charged way.  
  • Doc Martin- I just started watching this British show about a grumpy surgeon who moves to a small seaside village with eccentric townspeople.  Think Dr. House with less overt nastiness.  Netflix has seasons two through five, though the details I missed by not seeing season one seem pretty small.  I've been able to figure out some of the backstory and enjoy the episodes in season two.   
  • Parks and Recreation- I'm probably one of the last people in America to watch this comedy because I have never been a huge Amy Poehler fan.  After it was recommended to me for the billionth time, I decided to give it a go.  I watched all five seasons on Netflix and started watching the current season on TV.  I'm still not a big Poehler fan, but the show is entertaining to me.  I don't need to take one of those incessant Zimbio quizzes to know that while we aren't in sync on everything, I most closely identify with Ron Swanson.  If you haven't watched it before, give it a good two or three episodes to see if you like it.  
  • House of Cards- Keven Spacey: enough said.  Okay, if you need more, this is a seriously suspenseful drama of D.C. political maneuvering.  There is something so deliciously evil about Spacey's character, Frank Underwood, that I couldn't stop watching.  If you loved The West Wing, but wished it were darker, more sinister, more murdery, and generally made you uncomfortable, this is the show for you. Rated TV-MA for very good reasons- lots of cursing, sexually explicit scenes, drug use and violence. 
I promise I actually do more than just hang out and watch television, though this list is a bit longer than I anticipated.  Any shows or movies you would recommend?  Do you like quirky movies too?  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"Riley Mae and the Rock Shocker Trek"- Book Review

I thought it would be fun to let one of the kids review a book and S enthusiastically agreed. "Riley Mae and the Rock Shocker Trek" is the first book in Jill Osborne's The Good News Shoes series.  In this book, Riley Mae becomes a Swiftriver Shoe Company spokesperson for their outdoor sport collection.  Riley Mae's love of softball and adventure sound like a perfect match for this deal, until the responsibility of shooting commercials and attending promotional events takes up the whole softball season.  She also suspects something isn't quite right at Swiftriver and aims to find out what is going on.  

I thought Riley Mae was a seven year old just like S, but she's actually a seventh grader.  Oops. S still read it just fine, and said she would definitely read more books featuring Riley Mae.  S actually wrote our her own book review and wanted me to post it here, but I had to explain what "spoilers" are and point out that her written review had two of them.  Here is what I can share from her review: "I loved this book because there were some really shocking parts!  For instance, SPOILER.  And I was shocked when SPOILER.  It was just shocking and that is why I liked this book."  Well, there you have it.  HA!

I also read this book, and thought it was generally a pretty cute story about Riley's friendship with her BFF changing as she starts to miss softball games and let her friend down.  She also makes a new friend, Rusty, whose family is struggling financially.  I found this sub-plot a good jumping off point to discuss with S how some families don't have enough food every day, and how we should treat people kindly even if our other friends don't want to add new friends to the group.  Riley Mae's parents are largely involved in her decision to become a spokesperson, and they emphasize throughout the book the importance of sticking with commitments.  The ending of the book wraps up enough of the various sub-plots to leave you (or your child) satisfied, but also leaves some lingering issues I assume will continue to play out in book #2 of the series.  

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Stillness of Chimes- Book Review

A Stillness of Chimes is the first novel by Meg Moseley I have read.  If this novel is an indication of her work, I will definitely add her other books to my reading list.  Meg is originally from California but moved to the south and worked as a journalist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution for four years.  As a fellow Georgian, I appreciate that she sets this novel in our state and describes it full of southern charm (and doesn't make characters into a caricature of  uneducated hillbillies and buffoons) - even the kudzu sounds charming!

The plot revolves around Laura Gantt's return to Prospect, Georgia after her mother's death.  As Laura stays in town to clear her mother's house, she is reunited with former sweetheart Sean and best friend Cassie. Laura's father, Elliott, was presumed drowned in a fishing accident twelve years before, but his body was never recovered.  Rumors of Elliott sightings begin swirling around town, and Laura sets out to find out if her father could possibly have survived all those years ago.  Sean tries to support and protect Laura at the same time, but he has his own reasons for keeping Elliott a ghost in the past.

I really enjoyed Meg's storytelling in this book.  There are threads of several stories woven throughout the book, and the last few chapters really tied all those ends together well.  I liked that there were some resolutions spread throughout the book.  I'm not a big fan of having a bunch of questions that carry on until the last page, and I enjoyed having some bits of information fed to me throughout the book.  For example, you do not have to wait until the end of the book to learn Sean's secret.  There are vivid descriptions of both Laura's mother and father, and even though they are dead (or are they?), you learn a lot about them as people from flashback scenes and descriptions from the other characters.  The only tiny issue I had was a subplot involving Cassie and her husband.  There seemed to be a build up to some relatively large plot point involving them, then it kind of petered out.  I don't know if that was a casualty of editing, or if I placed too large an expectation on what troubles Cassie may be having.  Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fiction surrounding relationships and mysteries.

This is Christian fiction, so characters attend church, reference God and voice prayers.  As you might expect, there is no cursing, little violence (not graphic), and no sexual scenes.  You can read the first chapter here, and visit Meg Moseley's website here.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review, but all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Way In Which I Ruined My Kid's Life (this quarter)

So, we are only in the third month of the year and I've already ruined G's life forever.  Well, at least for the next two years.  G was placed in an intro Spanish class last semester for one of her nine week "connections" classes.  (They change out connection classes every nine weeks unless you are placed in one of the few semester long classes.) It was more of a study of Spanish culture and some basic language than a hard core learn to speak Spanish class.  G said it was okay but kind of boring, and she was glad when it ended.

A month or so ago, G brought home a letter explaining the school's two-year Spanish program.  By completing this Spanish program in seventh and eighth grade, students earn high school credit.  Students have to apply and (get this) fill out an essay on why they want to be in the program.  When G showed us the letter, she said, "I didn't even want to show this to you but knew I'd be in trouble if I didn't." That should give you a clue of how thrilled she was at the prospect of applying.

Hubs and I sometimes have differing opinions of how to handle what the kids want to do.  I am much more soft and gushy in this regard and sympathetic to when kids don't want to do something.  (Something voluntary or interest-based like this, not things like brushing teeth or going to school.  I'm not a complete pushover.) I kind of sympathized that G adamantly didn't want to take the class.  Plus, she was in Spanish before and didn't like it, the class is a two year commitment, and she is already in an all year connection class (orchestra), so she will not be able to take any other classes for the rest of middle school.  Sad face.  Hubs, on the other hand, is the Honey Badger in these matters. (Google "Honey Badger Don't Care" if you don't get the reference.)  After much discussion, we agreed that this was a great opportunity, it is important for our kids to learn another language, and that she needed to apply.  G was as excited as you might imagine.  The first couple of essay drafts were, while hilarious, inappropriate.  Getting a kid to explain why they want in a program they don't want in, with the stipulation that they try not to lie, is not easy.  Ultimately, she wrote something we could all live with and turned it in, I'm sure hoping she wouldn't be accepted.

So, of course she was accepted.  It probably didn't help that G came out of Spanish last semester with an A. Or that her teacher probably liked her because she is generally quiet and does her work.  I asked G how she felt about it a couple of days after she was accepted.  She said, "I can't get out of it, so I've decided to accept it with as much emotional detachment as possible."  Well, okay.  She's twelve, so we're getting into that tough (for me) arena of what decisions do we still make for her and what kind of independence do we start giving in greater doses.  I hope she ends up really enjoying the class and decides it was a good experience.  If not, I'll just blame Hubs.  ; )

Friday, March 7, 2014

Sisterchicks Do the Hula- Book Review

Sisterchicks Do the Hula by Robin Jones Gunn is a Christian fiction book about long lost friends Hope and Laurie.  Hope and Laurie were best friends in college but lost touch with each other over the years.  They reconnect as Hope's fortieth birthday approaches and agree to take the Hawaiian vacation they originally planned in college.  The book chronicles their (mis)adventures in Hawaii and highlights the value of female friendships.

This book is a pretty quick read, partially because I didn't want to put it down!  Overall, this is not a terribly deep book.  It's more of what I can a "beach read", meaning the kind of fun, lighthearted book I would typically take on vacation with me.  Some of the plot points a little silly, and some may find it unlikely that two friends would take off to Hawaii after not speaking for twenty-something years.  However, the friendship between Hope and Laurie was really relatable to me.  I could totally picture my sister (and BFF) and I taking off to the islands, enjoying a luau and discussing the appeal of traditional Hawaii cuisine.  There are some tidbits of Hawaiian history thrown in, which I found interesting.  It also doesn't hurt that I would LOVE to walk the beaches of Hawaii.  This is a Christian book, so there are Christian elements thrown in, such as references to prayer and God but it doesn't hit you over the head.

I enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys stories of friendship and a fun, light read about two women helping each other embrace the new phases of their lives.  There are nine or so books in the "Sisterchicks" series featuring different female characters.  Visit Robin Jones Gunn's website for more information on her books or read an excerpt here.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books.  All opinions expressed are my own.  

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sometimes Good Enough Is Good Enough

Gwinnett County Schools are closed again today because of icy roads.  (Some might say they are using an overabundance of caution, but having a kid who rides the bus, I'll take caution over an accident any day.) Missing school today means kids will not share these joyful gifts of love with their friends until Monday.

I know- impressive, right?  Look, I know Pinterest has a million creative, handmade valentine ideas. Thankfully, my middle schooler has apparently aged out of Valentine's Day, but that is still more than 50 cards between the other two.  Don't let those Pinterest photos fool you.  I know darn well that either a) I'd stay up until midnight making 50+ cards by myself, or b) the kids would make a sticky, glue covered mess and at least one of us would end up in tears.  No thank you.  My kids loved these cards, the kids in their class really just want the candy, and we're saving ourselves from discussing this holiday in therapy down the road.  Win, win.  Maybe store bought cards aren't the most original idea, but sometimes good enough is good enough.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Stop: Family Time (seriously, stop)

On Saturday, we loaded the kids up on doughnuts and iced lattes.  I think is a good representation of almost every time our family goes out in public.  S is super silly and laughs through every meal.  I am pretty surprised she is sitting down in the picture since most we usually have to remind her to sit down 100 times a meal. (She shared her iced caramel latte with me because it was apparently not the 90% sugar/10% coffee mix she wanted.)  E loves to be in pictures, but she takes her eating pretty seriously and doesn't talk during meals too much.  G wants to read a book and pretend she doesn't know us.  Oops, I got caught taking her picture.

After breakfast, we took the girls out to every kids dream day of outings- a huge antique market and a car lot.  : )  This was Hub's first trip to Scott's Antique Market in Atlanta and I think he is now a believer.  It probably helped his art lover heart that he came home with a Salvador Dali print.  The girls were less thrilled with walking around giant buildings full of furniture, art, and antiques.  An occasional slice of pizza or ice cream cone made them slightly more agreeable.

On the way home, we stopped at Car Max and left with a new (to us) car!  We'd been looking at replacing our minivan for a while.  First of all, I never wanted a minivan in the first place.  I never felt cool driving it (shocking, I know) and it got terrible gas mileage.  Plus, it was starting a downhill slide of repair issues that I really didn't want to invest in.  We ended up surprising ourselves by getting an SUV without a third row.  The back seat has plenty of space for all three girls and lots of cargo space in the back.  I'm really happy with it and Car Max was a great experience.

By the time we got home, it was closing in on 11:00 pm, and as G said, "We've had about 13 hours of family time together, and I am pretty much over it."  Amen, sister.  Of course, because God has a sense of humor, we are now on our third day of snow entrapment.  It has been a lot of time together.  A lot.  I think we will all be relieved when school opens again.  Some of us are getting even weirder.  : )