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?

 

 

 

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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.

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. 

A quick review of “The Martian”

I am one of those annoying people who always read the book before seeing a movie. I usually end up comparing the movie to the book and finding the movie rather lacking. Sometimes, I’ll think the movie is a good movie on its own, even when it’s nothing like the book. In this case, I can definitely say that “The Martian” is a great movie on it’s own, as well as a pretty faithful adaptation of Andy Weir’s book.

This review has spoilers. It’s a quick review and the movie has been out a few weeks, so I don’t want to have to figure out what might spoil it for folks. If you haven’t seen it, you should. We saw the movie at a matinee and I would happily re-see it in the theaters again. It is almost unheard of for me to say this because I’m a cheapskate.

So here we go… Spoilers below….

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