Review: Pump It Up – Knoxville

pumpitup3My son has a winter birthday. That means, we can’t plan on having his birthday party outside. Normally, we just do cake and ice cream at home with the family. But for his fifth birthday, we felt we really ought to have a party. This was a major birthday and would be his last chance at inviting kids he’s spent his entire life with at daycare.

Looking around town, there are several options, Chuck E Cheese, a couple of gym places, but the place that seems to be the post popular with the five-year-old set is Pump It Up.

We’ve been here several times now for friends’ birthdays so decided to go here.

Here are some of the things I really like about it:

  1. There is a time cut off. The parent is not the bad guy telling the kids they have to stop playing.
  2. I don’t have to come up with games for kids to play. Parents just have to watch the kids to make sure no one gets too rough and everyone follows the rules (as closely as a bunch of excited five-year-olds can, anyway).pumpitup1
  3. You have options for different types of parties. Since we were inviting all 20 kids from his pre-k class, plus several kids from church, we went with the package that was two hours and let up to 25 kids (plus the birthday kid as #26) play. I really like that package. You get 1 1/2  hours to play and a 1/2 hour to eat cake and open gifts. The smaller package has an hour of play time and a 1/2 hour to eat. For the difference in price, I’d go with the extra play time, if possible, even if you have fewer kids.
  4. You can bring your own drinks, cake, cookies, fruit, other snacks. They have an option for them providing pizza – but seeing all the uneaten pizza at the other parties I’ve been to, we decided to save that money and just bring our own stuff.
  5. Parents can play too. Yes, watching the 20-something-year-old moms climbing the obstacle course and then discovering that his 40-something-year-old mom couldn’t make the last ladder on it was disappointing, (If I’d had one more hand-hold I could have made it!) but I was more than capable of doing the other slides, bounce houses, and games with my kid. That’s a really fun memory to have.
  6. It’s not outrageously expensive. Comparing two hours of time at Pump It Up to a birthday party at Chuck E Cheese where the kids spend most of that time playing annoying, loud games for tickets, the price is not that bad. Plus, again, my kid doesn’t like pizza. So the idea of having to buy awful pizza for a kid who doesn’t pumpitup2want it is annoying.
  7. The party time. The employees get everything ready. They provide the cups, forks, plates. They clean up. The kids get to watch pictures the employees have taken and feel like stars because they’re on the TV. The employees even give a handy list of what child gave which gift so those of us who still do Thank You notes have something to go by.

What could be better:

Their directions and how to find the building. This place is awful to try to find. The first time I went there, I followed my GPS, which tried to send me a 1/2 mile further down the road. Coming into the building, it looks rather sketchy and there is not a good sign to really tell you that you’ve arrived. It actually appears like you’re going into the back door of the business, rather than a front door. They need a bigger and better sign to let folks know they have arrived. Trying to explain how to get there to my son’s grandparents from Nashville was an adventure, and their GPS also sent them the wrong way.

But that’s really it for what could be better. Just remember, the place is so popular that you have to book about a month in advance – minimum.

I wouldn’t do it every year, partly because I feel like a child shouldn’t have an all-out mega birthday party ever year, but also because it is a pretty big chunk to spend. But, we also didn’t get him a big birthday gift either like we had in the past. And that’s something to think about. Does a kid really need a big gift they will not play with much, or do the experience and the memories matter more?

 

 

 

Disneyland – first impressions

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While I was in Anaheim for Educause this past October, my boss and I got to visit Disneyland on the Friday afternoon when the conference finished. Since we weren’t flying out until dawn the next day, we had an afternoon and evening to see the area. I had never visited a Disney park with a non-family member before, so this was a new experience for me.

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As many will say, Disneyland feels a lot like the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. However, it does have quite a few other rides – though we weren’t able to ride several due to them being down in order to decorate for Christmas – including It’s a Small World. This was such a shock to me. At Disney World, decorations seem to happen magically overnight. Disneyland had a much more hometown park vibe than any of the Disney World parks.

One of my goals in going to Disneyland on this trip was to decide if we should make a special trip here for vacation. Verdict – if we were ONLY going to do Disneyland, I would not fly across the country for it. But if we were going to combine that trip with Disney’s California Adventure, the beach, and a partial cross-country jaunt to see the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, or Carlsbad Caverns, I’d definitely include it.

I’m fairly spoiled when it comes to Disney parks. We usually plan our Disney trips months in advance, make sure we have meals and rides set up with fast passes. We expect to be able to adjust fast passes on the fly using the My Disney Experience app. Going to Disney World is like going to a park in the 21st century. Going to Disneyland is like stepping back in time to the parks I visited as a kid. It was quaint receiving a paper ticket to get into the park. The idea that they offer hand stamps to allow you to return to the park is old-fashioned. Fast Passes are handled by inserting your paper ticket into a machine and receiving another paper ticket with a return time on it for the ride. It left a good feeling to be able to hand a couple of kids our return tickets for Haunted Mansion at 9 p.m. when we realized we were both tired at 5:30 p.m. and needed to leave the park in order to get up before the crack of dawn the next day. That’s something you can’t do with the Disney World fast pass system.

Disneyland has the feel of a hometown park. And it’s obvious that the majority of people attending are locals. I’d read that you don’t want to visit Disneyland on the weekends. As soon as 5 p.m. came on Friday, the park went from comfortable to crazy busy within minutes. My boss and I both felt boxed in and too crowded. In the short 3 hours that we’d been in the park, we had been able to ride Star Tours, Matterhorn, Pirates of the Caribbean, listen to music on the Mark Twain Boat, listen to the Barbershop Harmony group, shop, and sing along with with a character in Frontierland.  We were not in a rush. We were ambling along and taking the time to look at the art and details. After the locals came, wait times tripled. The only thing we had really wanted to do that we didn’t have time for was ride Haunted Mansion, but between the locals and this being the Friday before Halloween, it was no surprise that fast passes for that ride were rarer than gold.

Just an aside – those who say Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland is better than the one at Disney World are correct. It was longer and had more details; I was impressed.

Can you compare Disneyland to Disney World? No. Can you compare Disneyland to the Magic Kingdom? Yes. And a day at Disneyland can be just as much fun as a day at the Magic Kingdom. But, if possible, go Monday through Thursday.

My first Educause Conference

rachael-edu-twitter-smallI had the opportunity to go to my first Educause conference this past couple weeks. I’ve worked in higher education for nearly 20 years and this was the first time I was able to get to go to THE higher ed IT conference of choice. So I was pretty excited to experience it. As  well as bummed I’d miss my family for nearly a week. Though, my boss and I did get to go to Disneyland our last evening in town and I’ll write more about that soon.

Educause is a major conference, having about 4,000+ attendees. At one point, someone announced it was about 8,000. I have to say, it was strange being in the the Anaheim Convention Center with a bunch of higher education people when the last (and only other) two times I’ve been in that convention center was for Blizzcon. Not seeing folks dressed up in black or in cosplay was a bit jarring. It was like seeing the convention/shoemaker’s shop during the day before the elves come out to make the shoes at night.

What I liked:

Choices: There were so many tracks to choose from. There was always an interesting discussion to go to. This actually made it difficult to choose my agenda, though the handy app they provided really helped with that.

Lots and Lots of Choices: This conference had absolutely no dead times for discussions. I’m of the opinion that since my employer, pays for me to be at the conference, then it is my responsibility to get everything I can out of it. It always bothers me seeing people who “attend” a conference and then only go to one panel and then goof off the rest of the time as if it’s a paid vacation. But I have to admit, there have been some higher ed conferences I’ve been to where I’ve struggled through some vendor presentation as it was the only option even closely resembling something that might help me with work and where I’ve spent time checking email to try to catch up on what’s happening in the office. That did not happen here. Every session had multiple options available that made it easy to find topics in every area that I had an interest in. And I didn’t even hit all the topics available.

What could have been better: 

educause-anaheim-convention-centerBecause there were so many interesting topics, and the convention center is so large, it was often difficult to get from the end of one topic to another topic on time. And since some of the sessions were so popular, I’d occasionally arrive to find a sign on the door saying the fire marshal said the room was too full. Several sessions were standing room only, which gets tiring after a while. But, even if a session was full, there was always my #2 or #3 choice that I could run over to. Ganted, I was a few minutes late when this happened, but it was nice having the option for the second and third choices there.

Final Thoughts:

I am really glad I had the opportunity to go to my first Educause. Now, I need to fend off all the vendors who keep emailing and calling me. I truly don’t make the buying decisions, people!

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One of two very cool 3D chalk drawings by @traceyleestum

Review: Blue Apron

Cooking is not my favorite thing in the world to do. I enjoy cooking special meals at Christmas or Thanksgiving, but those day-in, day-out meals drive me absolutely insane. It literally makes me angry having to cook because I don’t want to figure out what I want to make,  have to shop for (and then not find) all the ingredients I need, clean up prior to cooking, go to the effort of cooking, and then clean up after cooking. It’s just not fun. But, we are trying to eat healthier and eat at home more often. So talking to a friend that I was thinking about trying Blue Apron out, I discovered that she did it and had a free week for me to try. So I did. I was hooked. We’ve now been doing Blue Apron for a few months and I am LOVING it. The meals feel fancy as I’m cooking, but don’t take so long that I feel I can’t get it done on a week night.

muffalatta grilled cheese
Muffuletta Grilled Cheese. I don’t like olives, but I LOVED this dish.

All the food is pre-measured for you. Each meal is perfectly proportioned and sized for what you need. The only thing they don’t provide is the olive oil, salt/pepper, and pan to cook it in. If a meal requires you to bread chicken in flour, they include a little baggy full of flour for you to bread the chicken. The instructions have lovely pictures and easy to follow steps. BBQ sauce comes in a cute little bottle that the frugal person in me wanted to wash out and bring to daycare for the kids to play with. (Mike said they would not want a used BBQ bottle, no matter how clean, but it was so cute). Vinegar comes in even tinier little bottles that would be great for art projects. I love how I don’t have to go to the store when I want to make something and look for ingredients, realizing that I have to get enough to make a meal for five people because that’s the smallest size I can buy and then have a ton of left overs that I end up just throwing away a week later, or worse, Mike and I eat portions that are way too huge.

 

Even how the food is packed and sent through the mail is impressive to me. We started this journey at the beginning of summer. Since we don’t get home from work until late, the box would sometimes be sitting in the sun on our front porch for four to five hours before we could bring it inside. Only once, when the temperature reached into the high 90s and I didn’t get home until after 6p.m. did I feel that the food had gotten almost-too warm. The meat is sandwiched between reusable freezer bags that are made from a water-based solution. Once you’re done reusing them, (or have gotten so many you don’t need more), just cut it open with scissors and put it down the drain. Everything is recycleable. The insulation packaging around the food looks a lot like a car’s sunshield. It has come in handy as a way to block sun in the catio.

chicken burger
The burgers have been GREAT. Not a fan of baked fries, though. Next time, I’ll make potato salad with them instead.

Finally, the taste. Every single dish we’ve tried has been high quality food. In the months since we’ve started trying these new dishes, we’ve not had a single repeat. Only two of the dishes have been instances where I felt that I wouldn’t want to eat them again. Both times, it was things that were good quality, just not really my cup of tea.

 

fresh lettuce
This lettuce literally came with the roots in a pot.

I’ve also found out that my friend and I are not the only ones at work who are hooked. I’ve spoken to 11 women at work about this; six of us are using Blue Apron almost weekly. And that’s the other nice thing. If you don’t need the food one week because of vacations or travel, or you’re just not really interested in the menu that week, you can cancel. That right there is the reason I gave up on Dinner A’faire. I hated having to spend a couple hundred dollars per month on frozen meals that I might not end up having time to make. With Blue Apron, everything is fresh, not frozen. I am able to plan my month out and cancel when I know I won’t have time to fix anything. The fish is sustainable, the meat doesn’t have a bunch of hormones. It’s good quality.

 

I really do love Blue Apron. On those weeks where we don’t get it, I find myself missing it.

Legoland Review

Castle in Legoland HotelRecently, we went on vacation to Florida, and for the first time in years, did not go to Disney World. But, we couldn’t just skip parks all together, so we decided to try Legoland.

Legoland is certainly a better park to go to than Dollywood. On a scale of one to ten, where Disney World is a 10, I’d say Dollywood is a 3 and Legoland a solid 6.

Legoland is ideal for kids ages 4-8 years old. So if you are like many people with multiple kids, you may have one or two kids it’s great for, and then another kid who is bored.

The Boy driving a firetruck on a track for 3 to 4 year olds onlyIt does have good things for that age group. They even have some rides that only kids ages 3 to 4 can ride while older kids have to go someplace else. I liked this because it meant no older kids ruining things for my kid.
Other parents didn’t like it because it meant mom and dad having to split kids up into two lines at two different areas. Kudos to the employees who insisted on brothers and sisters splitting up too, even in the face of a couple of rude families who had obviously read the signs but felt they didn’t apply to them (or apparently the rules for kids to not climb on the rails, or not cutting in line). For those of us with one child, it was an advantage not having ill-behaved 7-year-olds running over my child in a car while he tried to steer.

The Boy riding as a Knight on a Lego horseYou can certainly tell that Legoland used to be a local amusement park. Just as you can still see the bones of Silver Dollar City in Dollywood, you can still see a lot of Cypress Gardens in Legoland. Some of the rides have obviously just been face-lifted to have Lego themes. Some newer rides, like in the World of Chima area, are much better made. But the employees are obviously proud of the history of the park and it made it feel more interesting.

We weren’t able to get to the water park section and I’ve heard that is a great area to visit. We’ll probably do that next time. Since we got to ride the water ride in World of Chima over and over (there were times where the employees just asked if we wanted to stay on) we ended up soaking wet as it was.

We liked Legoland.

We liked that we were able to find discounts on annual passes. We got The Boy the Awesome Pass and Mike and I got the special they ran on Cinco De Mayo of buy-one-Awesomer Pass and get-one free. That saved us $150.

The shopping, which seems to be a great deal of the park, doesn’t have anything that you can’t find online or a big Lego store. We did buy some Lego sets since the Awesomer Pass did get us a discount. One of the nice employees did spend quite a bit of time for me feeling all the minifig packs until she found me a Buzz Lightyear, Captain Hook and Peter Pan. So that’s something you don’t get in most Lego stores.

That brings me to the employees. They were not on par with Disney cast members, but they were running a pretty close second. Everyone was helpful. Everyone had a pretty good attitude. The young employees at the World of Chima water ride were the best. Taunting the riders to try to soak them with water from the guns as they pulled up from the ride. Laughing if they accidentally got hit as riders started the water guns up as they were leaving.

Legoland is not Disney. Where Disney would cover up the mechanics of how things work, Legoland was missing many of those touches. In the Miniland area, all the little tracks that boats, cars, etc. ran on were not covered up. Water in the Miniland area was stale looking. Miniature buildings looked like they needed a good scrubbing. It was neat to look at, but a little disappointing too knowing they could have taken that small extra step to make things, well, more magical. It was really these small touches that made it not feel on par with Disney. That being said, The Boy loved pushing the buttons in this area to get cars to move, pirate boats to squirt us with water, and smoke to come out of Star Wars fire-fights.

The family and the knight in the Legoland hotelThe Legoland hotel was a well themed hotel. We didn’t stay overnight, but we spent a few hours there letting The Boy play in the Lego pit, at the castle, and then had lunch in the bar area. We met the Knight; they also had a court jester to play Lego with the kids. The lunch we had there was pretty good, much better value and quality than the food we had in the park. I don’t think I’d stay at that hotel since the rooms were $300+/night. But it was nice to see and I’d definitely leave the park to eat in the bar area of the hotel. They even have non-alcoholic fancy drinks you can buy for your kids.

Legoland may not have all the magic of Disney, but, it also was a LOT cheaper than going to three days at Disney would have been. I think if we’d not been able to get a buy-one, get-one on our passes, I’d have been a bit disappointed. But we spent in total $270 on passes for three people for tickets we can use for a year. We get food discounts, we get free parking, we get discounts on merchandise. That’s not bad at all. As a comparison, a 3-day ticket for two adults and one child to Disney World is $852 and parking at Disney would be extra unless staying on property. Disney tickets get cheaper/per day the longer you go, but a Disney vacation is still a lot more than going to Legoland.

But, something to remember:  Disney World is the destination for your vacation. Legoland is the fun place you go to while you’re on vacation. I think we’ll be going back.

An Update to the Catio

Catio with curtain and tarp for floorThis is just a quick update to how the catio has been doing. To see the original post, go here.

I’ve come across a couple of issues that I needed to fix.

Problem #1. The main one, was rain pooling on the wood. The wood I had bought was rated as indoor or outdoor use. However, it was not pressure treated. As the rain water would pool on the edges that were not covered by the catio, it would soak into the wood. This would then make it damp inside the catio and I ended up getting a bit of mold growing on the wood.

Solution: My husband and I carried the catio off the wood and I cleaned it thoroughly with vinegar. Then, I laid a heavy duty tarp on top of the floor that was large enough to completely cover the wood. We then moved the catio back and everything has been much better since.

Problem#2: Rain coming in because of all the openings

Solution: The main issue was that rain would blow in from the front on very stormy, windy days. I think if I did the catio again, I would have only open screen on the side that is facing the house. Between the fan and the open screen on the side facing the house, the cats would get plenty of moving air. Right now, I’ve propped up the panel that would have gone where the screen is with wood. That keeps most of the rain from blowing in. When I have more time, I will probably just remove the roof, slide that screen out and replace the panel. But that may be something I do for cooler weather. Once we’re done with the rainy season, that won’t be as big of an issue.

Original Problem: This was actually addressed in the original post. But I wanted to talk about it again. Greenhouses are designed to keep heat in. If you put a cat in them, they need shade.

Solution: I built this underneath a deck that is mostly in shade all day. I also hung a curtain on the side where the sun does hit in the afternoon. This is extremely important if you are thinking about using a greenhouse for a catio.

Result after some time to think about: Other than these two new problems, the catio has been working great. I’m sure I’ll keep tinkering with it, but on the whole, I’ve been very pleased with it. And most importantly, the cats love being outside now.

Easy-ish Way to Make a Catio

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Catio with the door open

What on earth is a catio, you ask? A catio is a safe place for indoor cats to go outside, usually built on a patio. And yes, you call it a catio because a cat house has a whole ‘nother meaning. That means, it needs to have screened windows for ventilation, and be safe to keep the cats in and other animals out.

We needed to build a catio because we want to sell our house, which meant getting the cats outside.

My first thought was to scour the internet for easy plans on making one. So I figured if I could find really good plans that weren’t too difficult, I’d be happy to build something. I needed something that would be light enough that when we move I could have a couple guys lift it into the back of a friend’s pick up truck and take with us. But all the plans on the internet either cost a lot or were really complicated. I tried writing my own plans, but then popped something in my elbow and the idea of doing a lot of manual labor myself went out the window. We tried three different handymen and all three turned us down. I’m not counting the 4th who didn’t even respond. Sigh.

I needed an alternative. I looked at modifying chicken coops (some of these could have possibly worked, so if this catio idea doesn’t work for you, consider chicken coops from someplace like wayfair.com). I looked at modifying dog houses, sheds (ridiculously expensive), and even children’s play houses. Nothing really worked for what I wanted – something that was big enough for me to easily get inside to clean and that would hold a good-sized cat tree, was light enough to move, but also didn’t cost more than about $500.

Finally, I started looking at greenhouses. The problem with a greenhouse, though, is that they’re designed to keep heat in during cold weather and allow lots and lots of sunlight in. Great for plants, not so great when you want it for cats in Tennessee heat.

What I found was a Palram Greenhouse. It’s available at several stores, but I ordered from Amazon. To be specific, it’s a Palram Nature Series Hybrid Hobby Greenhouse – 6 x 4 x 7 Silver. Aside from the fact that the instructions are TERRIBLE, I’ve been pretty happy with this. It’s surprisingly sturdy and well-made and light. It weighs less than 70lbs. So it’s awkward, but easy for two adults to lift. It was also fairly easy to modify to create a catio.

Make sure you give the catio a good floor. Ideally, you’ll have a floor wider than the catio. Then be sure you attach the catio to the floor. Make sure the floor is raised so that water won’t pool under it. I used two sheets of 4×4 sanded plywood on top of patio pavers. I couldn’t fit anything bigger in the back of my car. Right now, it’s held down by bungees. If this were going to be stand-alone away from the house, I’d bolt it down. But since this is protected by the deck above, it doesn’t get a a ton of wind.

Two problems to solve when modifying a greenhouse to a catio:

Problem #1 – too much sun. I solved this by the fact that I built it underneath our deck. It will be in shade most of the time. However, I added a curtain on the inside that I can use to block even more sun. They do sell netting for these, so if you don’t have a deck above it, check that out. The cats are enjoying the curtain, though, because it just makes one more place for privacy. They tend to each stay on opposite sides of it.

Problem #2 – no ventilation. This was the most difficult problem to solve.

  • Buy 1/4″ metal rods (2 per panel, total of 6)  – Note, I tried bamboo first and it broke.
  • Buy heavy gauge thread for outdoor use
  • Buy a roll of pet safe window screen, 48″ wide, 96″ long

Step 1: During the building step where you insert the wall panels, don’t install three of the wall panels. Just a hint, make sure you leave two solid walls on opposite sides and make sure the panels you remove have the metal angle brace. That makes it much sturdier than if you remove too many panels or remove ones that the original walls are the primary support. I did one open panel on the front next to the door and two panels on the rear wall. Keep the side panels as-is since those do not have metal bracers to help with keeping it sturdy.sewsmall

Step 2: Using a sewing machine, make pockets for the rods on the 3 panels that you measure to fit, then insert the rods. You don’t have to worry about tops and bottoms of the screens.

Step 3: Insert the screen into the metal upright pieces where the wall panels would go. Use the included tool for your greenhouse to bend down the extra few inches of rod you don’t need.rod pocketsmall (If I had a way to cut the rod, that would have been better, but I wasn’t willing to buy a tool for that).

Step 4: Continue building the greenhouse following regular directions. Make sure when putting the upper cross braces in, that you tighten it through the top of the screen to hold it.2 catssmall

Step 5: After the greenhouse is built, use thin metal wire to thread through the bottom of the screen and attach the bottom to the greenhouse. Note: I left a couple gaps where I could put outdoor extension cords through so the cats could have their water fountain and, where in the summer, I could put a fan inside, if needed. Warning, I’m not very happy with the amount of wire this exposes to the cats. So I’ve used blankets and other items to cover the wire up so the cats don’t play with it. I may try to come up with a better solution for this in the future. It’s possible using the thread could work, but I felt like the wire held it more sturdily.

After this, I moved in their cat tree, litter, water, food and some blankets. The cats love it.

Final thoughts:

What I’d do differently if I could: I’d get a larger greenhouse. 4×6 sounds pretty large, but it really isn’t. I’d love to have gone with the 8×8 version. However, that would not have fit in the space I had or been easy to move. On the whole, I’m very happy with how this turned out.

What about rain? After these pictures were taken, I used two of the spare panels with some wood to create an overhang next to the wall of the catio on each side where the plywood extends. This will help prevent rain from pooling on that wood and getting inside. In the event of a big storm, I plan on using the panels almost as storm shutters and propping them up from the inside. And, of course, I will bring the cats inside.

Talk to your vet. We did talk to our vet before doing this. Our cats are now on flea/tick medicine because, even though this is screened, mosquitoes and other bugs can still get to them.

 

 

A Quick Review of Deadpool

Deadpool

Deadpool is not one of the characters I’d want to read about in Comic books. But for Valentine’s Day, Mike and I went to see it. Yes, we are so romantic.

Here are my VERY quick thoughts on the movie.

Surprisingly Awesome. I can’t believe that I really liked this movie. This was the perfect role for Ryan Reynolds and I think everyone making this movie realized that.

Definitely NOT a Kids movie. You would have to be insane to bring a child – and by that, I mean anyone under the age of 18 to this movie. This was an adult movie. Do not bring a child to this movie. Do not let your young teen go to this movie. I am seriously surprised this movie did not get an NC-17 rating. Don’t bring a kid to this movie! Too much torture, violence and sex for young eyes. Not to mention, kids won’t get the 80s and 90s pop culture jokes.

That being said, when The Boy is old enough, Mike has said he’d enjoy watching it with him. But again, not until he’s 18 and with the understanding he’d have to explain the jokes.

So weird seeing Morena Baccarin like this. Granted, she’s technically playing a sex worker just like she did in Firefly, but Inara was nothing like this. She does tough very well and I would like to see how they grow her character in the sequel.

Humor. Any movie that does not one but TWO Sinéad O’Connor jokes that are not mean-spirited and has so many jokes referencing 80s and 90s pop is just a winner in my book. I loved the humor in this. It’s what made the film for me.

Worth full-price and a re-see on matinee.

Star Wars The Force Awakens, it was actually good!

We got to see the new Star Wars movie the other day and it was amazing the relief I felt after seeing it. This was the Star Wars movie I’d hoped for with the prequels and was constantly disappointed. Was it a perfect movie? Definitely not. But it was a great Star Wars movie and even those, like Mike, who aren’t huge fans can go thinking it’s a pretty good movie. 

Spoilers follow. Big ones. Don’t read if you haven’t seen the movie. Seriously.

What I liked:

The humor! Finally, it’s back. Star Wars began taking itself way too seriously in the last few movies. They were boring and complicated. Though the politics of this movie were still overly complicated (Republic, Resistance, First Order, Senate, who cares) it wasn’t filled with interminable scenes of people we don’t care about debating. Here, we get humor not just from Han Solo and Chewie, but the next generation doesn’t seem as stupid and afraid to crack a smile as the grandparents of the prequels. 

The newbies. Finn and Rey have a good chemistry. They are both obviously special in some mysterious way that I actually care about finding out. I’m assuming Rey ends up being related the main folks in some way, but I’m looking forward to finding out more on the janitor turned hero. 

Han’s death. It was telegraphed like a neon sign as soon as you saw his son walk onto that walkway over a needless abyss. You’d think every major character would learn to fear those. Yeah, Obi Wan dies on one, Luke loses a hand, the emperor gets tossed off one, and here comes Han. He had to die. Harrison Ford could not continue as Han because he’d completely steal the movies from the next generation. They could give him one line in the movie and he’d still be what everyone talked about. All that being said, it was the best death Han Solo could ask for, on an important mission to save millions of people and trying to save one person he loved. 

What I wish had been better:

How did Poe end up back with the fleet all of a sudden, why did he not care about finding BB8, and why is he acting like he found a lost brother in someone he knew for all of twenty minutes before crash landing? It felt like a whole section of the movie had been cut and it was jarring. 

What is up with Captain Phasma? Please tell me she ends up being the one who somehow turned off Finn’s conditioning and she’s really a good guy. Otherwise, I’m going to be really disappointed in how she rolled over and completely gave up the codes that are responsible for keeping practically her entire army safe. And how she obviously didn’t follow through on making sure Finn was reconditioned or at least re-assigned back to garbage duty rather than continuing to walk freely around. Here’s the first female Storm Trooper we see and she’s…incompetent and willing to give up her codes at some minimally harsh words? And yet, we’re expected to see her as some great Storm Trooper leader? Maybe it’s because they have incompetents as leaders that they have such poor accuracy with their shots. Maybe they should spend more time drilling and less time standing in formation listening to a too-young general gloat about how big and bad his weapon is and how it’s better than the other two Death Stars because it’s bigger. How old is that kid anyway? He looks like a 12-year-old in his Dad’s uniform.  And he’s a general?

Finally, there’s Snoke.  I’m not complaining about his ridiculous size where he’s obviously over compensating for a lack of confidence, or ability, or something like not existing prior to this movie and coming out of nowhere. No, I’m complaining about his name. Really, the guy’s name is Snoke. Let’s think of what it sounds like, smoke- yes as in smoke and mirrors. Snope? For sure, obviously he’s told Ben Solo a pack of lies. Snookered him, if you will. Ah, there we have it. Snoke is a combination of Snopes and Snookered. Come on, pick a better name for the bad guy. This was just awful. 

But these are just nit picks. It really was a good movie and a great Star Wars film. I had pretty much decided to pretend that episodes 1-3 didn’t exist when it comes time to show The Boy the films. But at least I can include this movie in the rotation and be happy doing so. 

My thoughts, it’s worth full admission once. Personally, I wouldn’t bother with 3D, but I don’t like 3D anyway. We went to the RPX matinee and that’s the way I’d prefer it. 

The Santa Problem

Even before we had a child, Mike and I talked about how to handle The Santa Problem. Mike will tell you he was (and still is) traumatized by discovering his parents had flat out lied to him for YEARS about this. My family came at Santa more from the idea of whoever gave out the presents on Christmas morning was Santa and it was fun to pretend he existed. We always joked that it was Mrs. Claus who filled our stockings since it was our mom who did the work.

We decided when The Boy came along to go at Santa more from the perspective my family had. We didn’t want him to be That Kid who ruined it for everyone else, but we also didn’t want to take part in a lie that society seems to think is perfectly acceptable to do right at the age where we’re teaching kids that lying is wrong.

But here’s where the problem comes. The Boy talks to his friends at pre-school. These kids are indoctrinated by desperate parents who have told them to behave or they’ll end up on Santa’s Naughty List. (And believe me, there have been times I’ve wished to be able to use that.) But now, the kids have a go-to threat with each other. You make me angry; I’ll tell you you’re on The List.

We have been very careful to tell The Boy that we like to pretend about Santa; that it’s a fun thing to do. We’re not quite sure if he believes or not. He’ll make comments about pretending there’s a Santa or noticing that the Zoo Santa we saw this year was the same Santa as last year. But then, he’ll make comments about how all his presents come from Santa. We both shot that one down fairly quickly since we want him to understand that those come from family who need to be thanked when they give him a gift.

I’ve told him how much we liked pretending that my mom was Mrs. Claus and how I’m looking forward to being Mrs. Claus to fill his stocking. I’ve told him about the man, St. Nicholas and how that name eventually turned into Santa Claus. We’ll see how he does as he gets older. I don’t remember ever being surprised about Santa as a child. I’m hoping we’ll be able to walk the fine line between fun and truth a few more yzoosanta2015ears.

In the mean time, we’ll enjoy the fact that The Knoxville Zoo has an awesome program for meeting Santa. It’s a wonderful place to go where one parent can stand in line to meet Santa while the other watches as The Boy plays on the slide in the jungle cave or looks for dinosaur bones in the dig pit. And getting to see animals afterward around the zoo is just one more amazing benefit.