Sunday, January 27, 2013

Book Review: Let's Pretend This Never Happened

Check out this book on Goodreads: Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir

Good Beach Read

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Lion King - Hakuna Matata

So you know, how everyone says the musical of The Lion King is amazing.  How it's such a great story and who would've thought they could translate it to stage?  And you're all, "yeah, yeah, yeah... I saw the movie, it's about animals, and it's by Disney.  Of course it's good, but how much better could a stage show be?"  Ok, well maybe YOU weren't like that, but I was.  And I was WRONG!  I'm not sure how to describe this show, because AMAZING doesn't do it justice.  It really doesn't.  Yes, the story, the music, etc... was done for the movie, and Disney does movies REALLY WELL. But for the stage, I would say, they took the idea of a musical to a whole new level.  Strong words, right?  I don't use them lightly trust me.  I think the thing that struck me the most was the costumes and sets.  I expected the performers to be phenomenal, and they were.  I knew the story and the songs and the stage show were true to the best parts of those.  They also added a couple extra songs just for the stage show.  All of it, above par and exactly what you would expect from a show that has been playing on Broadway since 1997, played over 33,000 performances worldwide and won over 70 international theater awards.  (Yeah, I bought the program.) What I did not expect was that the costumes and sets would be full characters in the show. (Cue record scratch noise.)  I know that sounds weird, but it's true.  And I also know my attempt to explain it, will come no where near doing it justice, so after you're done reading this you should get tickets and see for yourself.

Instead  of dressing the actors up in makeup & fur (think Cats,) they interlaced the actors with makeup and masks, and in a few cases, puppets.  In doing this, they were able to utilize the actors expressions, but keep the characters in the context of being animals.  For instance, Mustafa's makeup is not of a lion at all, it's "inspired by Masai tribal decoration."  When Mustafa is in his normal day to day "voice" his emotions are conveyed through his face.  When his emotions run hot & he is conveying his power, the actor utilizes his mask. We can still see the actor's face & the emotions he's eliciting, but the costume isn't limiting his movement or voice.  By having both a mask, makeup and costume the actor is able to convey how large his emotions are, and we can see and feel them from the audience.   The pride's makeup is similar in that it isn't a direct translation of a lions face.  But in the case of Pumba & Timon, the actors are "fused" w/the puppets.  Their movements are reflective of the animal, but their ability to move and emote are not limited by the costume they wear.  (See, this is the part where you're probably going "Wha???" and it's why you really, really need to see this show for yourself.) 

In terms of the sets being a character in their own right; Africa is huge right?  They have plains of sweeping grasses, and jungles w/foliage so thick you can't see a foot in front of you.  How does one take those types of vistas and convey them on a stage?  They did it in ways that utilized the actors and the set itself.  But they also allowed room for the audience to "bridge" with their imagination.  For instance, there's a scene in which Simba is bouncing back and forth over a stream/river.  For the water they used blue, knee-high material stretched across the stage. I assume it was held on either end by people, as it was turned broadside.  An offstage fan, gently waved the fabric to emulate the movement of water.  They utilized lights and puppets moving behind the fabric to imply fish were swimming in the stream.  It wasn't a big scene, but it's a great example of the level of detail they went to, to convey their location.  In a scene involving "grassy plains" they have performers dressed in the different grasses.  They wear'skirts' that looked like the long yellow grass, and the movement of these 'skirts' implied the movement of those grasses in the wind.  The performers wear 'hats' or platforms of green grass.  The costumes allowed them to evoke the movement and different heights that these grasses would have been at in a large plain in Africa.  The imagination of the designers is truly phenomenal. 

Of note, my girls are scaredy cats. (That's the understatement of the century.)  I'm the Queen of the Horror Novel, so I am perplexed by my kids' inability to disconnect reality from fantasy.  (The oldest one is 9yo now.  She won't even attempt to read Harry Potter, yet!  How is she even related to me???)  Both my kids were leery of this show because (spoiler alert!) Mustafa dies in it.  We talked it through, and they've seen the movie, but both had misgivings about it.  We told them we would let them leave if it got too hairy.  (Yeah, right.) It never did though.  My  6yo had a little bit of trouble understanding that, that's what happened when Mustafa did die.  There are so many things going on, I think she had a little trouble putting it all together, which was good, for us.  Our tickets were for a weeknight and I was concerned about such a late night on a school night.  In the end, my girls LOVED it and I ended up declaring the next day as a mental health day and we spent it in our PJs. (Hakuna Matata, right?)  The experience was well worth it.  I'm so glad I decided it was worth a late night.  While there were kids as young as 2 or 3 in the audience, it's a LONG show.  Your kid may love it, but the theater is packed, and I would recommend kids being at least 5yo for such a performance.   At the very least, consider the cost vs leaving early, and the other patrons who paid to see the show too.  Lastly, I would be amiss if didn't mention that I did receive my tickets, along with a VIP package to attend this show.  This was actually part of how I got my two scaredy cats to go.  We had a meet & greet w/the adult actors who played Simba & Nala.  Seeing them out of makeup before hand really made a huge difference for my kids.  They did not ask me what to write, only that I write my honest opinions in regard to this show.  I have two friends who have already purchased tickets, per my experience.  I know you won't be disappointed if you do the same.

The Lion King is playing in the Orpheum Theature in San Francisco through January 13, 2013.  You can contact them online or by calling 1-888-746-1799.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Give the teacher an Apple.... Dora Phonics

So way back when...2, err 3, years ago, when I was so ahead of the curve & got my kids their own iTouches, I was planning on writing a post on here about Kid's Apps that I pink puffy heart.  That list has evolved somewhat, (less than you'd think,) as my girls have gotten older.  Truthfully, it hasn't changed all that much.  I did want to give a shout out to a particular app that should be getting some big time praise. 

The app is Dora Hops into Phonics.
One of the main areas of speech that Little is struggling with is phonics within a word.  She's got the first sound down & if she's focused, even gets the ending sound.  It's those middle ones that are hard.  Before, I had a diagnosis for what was up with her, we had downloaded several educational apps.  Upon talking a good friend who is a speech pathologist, she gave me the name of the company who has supplied the brick & mortar type tools used by her trade for years.  They do have apps, but I'm not going to give their name bc, 1) I think their apps are crap, 2) their stuff was geared toward a "teacher" with many students.  Obviously, I'm not a teacher or a pathologist, so my needs were different.  From what I could tell, these apps were made by someone who does apps, not by someone who does the speech part.  I suspect, they are really well developed from a tracking standpoint.  I do not need to track a bunch of kids, just one.

Dora Hops into Phonics was created by someone who understands what needs to be taught and how best to teach it on a handheld device. (Kudos to Nickelodeon for find that person. They are few and far between & I hope you are paying them well.  Give them a raise, they deserve it!)  It has been a huge help for Little.  She's engaged, and learning at the same time.  It teaches her the phonics lesson, but it also has little games w/in the game to hold her attention.  Whomever designed this, really understood their target audience.  Some of the games involve skills akin to "Angry Birds" which translated well for my kid.  If she's frustrated or overwhelmed w/the level/lesson she just covered, well they have a little rest stop over here for you to take a break and keep it fun.  There are other apps who cover this subject, and we do have another Dora app from which to compare.  This particular app deserves praise in the respect, that it's teach my child w/out her realizing it.  She's not even a huge Dora fan, but she likes the game so much, that she plays still plays it. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I'm THAT Mom...I Bought My Three Year Old An iTouch

Originally published on SV Moms Blog May 1, 2010, I've found myself repeating these reasons over and over again. Since SV Moms Blog is not longer actively publishing, I thought it made sense to repost this article over here. I have a follow up post about the aps we're using that I'm planning on posting for the holidays.

Now, before you go get all in a huff at me, "What are you going to give her when she's 5 her own cell phone?" Let me explain myself. I NEVER thought I'd be this mom. NEVER! I agree, a three year old (she'll be four at the end of the month) with her own iTouch, it's over the top! But she didn't JUST get it. There was a lot of thought that went into this decision. For starters, she has a sister who is six (seven in two months) who also got one. (That doesn't improve my standing with you does it?) Well, it was part of the decision. If she didn't have the older sister I probably wouldn't have gotten it. I have an iPhone, and I started out downloading a couple free apps for the girls. Stuck at the doctor's office, give the kid your iPhone to play a game. It has been a sanity saver! But boy, did I open a can of worms. Little was constantly asking to play. Part of the problem, she wouldn't stay on the games I'd set up for her. She'd go exploring. She would also go into my apps, my phone, my pictures, etc... And it was fine when I just had one girl with me, but when if both were with me stuck somewhere? The fighting that would ensue was legendary. This would also happen at home, because they wanted to play on it. It's MY PHONE, but you wouldn't know it. I started thinking that if I wanted my iPhone to last, (i.e.-not get trashed) I might need to do find something to get them off of it.

The apps I downloaded for both girls are educational. Little's actually starting to learn her letters and numbers on sight, something she has never been interested in doing before. (Colors and shapes, she a pro, but those are on there too.) Too boring for her in other formats, I think. She has several games that cover those topics and she loves them. Big's games are things like word search, hangman and bananagrams. These games are helping to increase her vocabulary and to figure out new words. From that standpoint these games have been nothing but a win as far as I'm concerned. I've also used apps to teach games like cribbage, sudoku & mahjong. They love it. We own Leapsters, and the girls like them, but to be honest, Little is just now starting to understand how to use them. The pen tool is what she wants to use. It's been hard for her to understand to push a button to get her character to do something on the screen. She wants to have a movement with her hand that matches what's happening on the screen. She's good with a mouse on the computer, so it doesn't have to be a touch screen, but I think that's one of the biggest draws of the iPhone. For kids, and adults, let's be honest, that touch screen is a huge boon, it's intuitive.

Their cousins, who are 10 & 13 received iPod touches for Christmas. Age 10 & 13 seem much more appropriate, I agree. I just felt so weird about getting this "new technology" aimed at adults for my younger children. I looked into the Nitendo DS, but my oldest, who this type of hand held is targeted, isn't really that interested. The games are too old for my youngest. The games for Leapster, or DS are in the $20-$50 range per game. The games on the iPod Touch are often free. I can download a game onto my computer then add it to all three of our iPods. We can all play the same game at the same time! No fighting over who gets to play that right now! On several games, we can play each other, from our respective iPods. Now, I can certainly find games that cost more (the most expensive ones I've seen for their age group are around $5,) but it's not nearly as expensive as the other two handhelds. All of this applies to music too. And Little LOVES to listen to her music. I refuse to play their kids music in the car, so if they had their own iPod, they can listen to what they want in the car with earphones. I can go on, can you see how getting them iPod Touches is a win for all of us?

I made a deal with the girls, if we sold some of their toys on Craigslist and were able to raise the money to cover the cost of half of the iPod Touches, than we (mom & dad) would pay the other half. We sold their Leapsters with games, and several sets of Fisher Price Little People to raise the money. They are still bringing me toys to sell now. So I'm getting a playroom clean out over this too. The iPod Touches I purchased are refurbished, so slightly cheaper than a brand new one. Apple sells them online only, but they come with same one year warranty as a new iPod Touch. They hold 8GB, so they aren't the super high-end version. I got the girls hard covers, in pink and purple, to help tell them apart and to protect them. I downloaded the games I've gotten for them, along with a few new ones I found in the process (Where's Waldo was a new one. Big's a huge fan of the books, so was super excited to see it.) I also downloaded a music list of the songs on my iPhone that they love. Then downloaded all of their kids music from CDs and created playlists for them on their iPod Touches. They were super excited to have "ALL THEIR MUSIC MOMMY!" I also have set the settings so that they can NOT access the internet. I can change that easily where ever we are if I decide to, (say to download something on the fly. Maybe a movie for a roadtrip.) My point is they do not have that kind of access. I wrapped them up and surprised them with fully charged, stocked with games and music iPod Touches for Easter. They were beyond thrilled.

There were no fights this Easter. But it also was not, sit in the corner with your game and stop engaging in the real world. In fact, there was lots of helping each other learn the quirks of various games. Little is "over-the-moon" about the music. Can't stand herself that she has it at her fingertips. I love that she can turn it down and take it with her out of the room. I do need to get her some "kid-sized earphones" as the buds are too big for ears. But it's fine, I just tell her to turn it down. I can only tolerate Wheels on the Bus for so long. I love that there is something else quiet for them to do, that is NOT TV (they're allowed 30-60 mins a day, when there's not thing else going on.) Don't worry, my kids read tons. In fact, losing books is a big threat I can pull out with them, that's how much my kids read. These games are not cutting into that time. I also love that I set time limits on their use, and they can earn or lose their time on the iTouches. It's a very motivating instrument for them right now. I think that's going to last.

While I never thought I'd be that mom, the one who go her kid the iPod Touch. I don't regret my decision at all. My kids have learned some the value of things through the process of "earning" some of the money to pay for the iPod Touches. The games are cheap, and can be used by all of us. They can listen to their own music (and videos, if we chose to do that at some point). It is a great motivation tool. And my iPhone has never been happier.

Original Silicon Valley Moms Blog post.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Vegas BABY!

After the roller coaster ride of the last six months, I have been in dire need of DOWN TIME! Not just vacation, but I needed some time to sleep in, unplug, not worry about when or where we were going to eat or do anything. I really, really needed to take some time to truly relax.
My priorities for this weekend were:
  • Warm location (sunny please!)
  • cabana boys (or girls) to bring me drinks by the pool
  • a pool
  • a spa
We got an unexpected tax refund, and had just refi'd the house to put in new windows, so the sense of "we should do something responsible with this money" wasn't pushing as hard as it might have under normal circumstances. We are also taking a family vacation to Hawaii with my parents & brother's family this summer, so there's the "family vacation". It was like someone was trying to tell me something.

When I first started looking for vacation spots I was gravitated to Resort Spas. Not cheap. I found a few that seemed very interesting, but to be honest, DaddySpeak wasn't interested. And for "not cheap" it seems like all parties should be interested. Remember, I was not babysitting anyone on this trip! After some looking around I found the best specials were running on Vegas. To be honest, Vegas has never been my favorite place (too much time there for work during my trade show years,) but the more I thought about it, it was one of the few places that did meet all the my criteria. We ended up getting a deal on our hotel which contained a spa. It turned out to be a great choice. The other advantage to Vegas was, that while neither of us gamble, (not opposed to it, but not into it,) there were tons of great places to eat and shows to see. So, even though DS was not into the spa, he did enjoy the food & shows.

I'm not your typical Vegas traveler, in that I probably know too much about the town and my goal is typically to get OFF the strip. This visit, I never even put a quarter in a slot machine. Crazy, huh? But I left plenty of cash and was on a first name basis in the spa. So there you go.

Overall, Vegas is not my favorite place. But it does have a little something for everyone. I think I need to lighten up on my opinion of Vegas. While my preference isn't what they're pushing, the accommodate my needs, and everyone else.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

SHOUT! The Mod Musical!

You're going to think all I do is go to the theater. Hardly. For some reason I managed to go to two stage shows within two weekends. Funny, huh? I can't tell you the last time I attended a live show prior to this month. (Except the yearly Nutcracker performance at Christmas.)

Last weekend, I attended Shout! Which was presented at The Retro Dome with several writers from the SV Moms website. The location of the Retro Dome is great for a Mom's Night Out (MNO) which is what this turned in to for us. There are several restaurants within walking distance of the theater for dinner or drinks, so if you're considering repeating our evening be sure to plan for dinner before the performance. We met an hour before at Chevy's (mmm... Can you say, Margaritas?)

The show itself is described as:
The first production in our 2010 "Off-Broadway San Jose" Series is a non-stop journey through the infectious and soulful pop anthems and ballads that made household names of stars like Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield and Lulu with such chart-topping hits as "To Sir With Love," "Downtown," "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," "Son of A Preacher Man," and "Goldfinger." With its irresistible blend of hip-swiveling hits, eye-popping fashions and psychedelic dances from the 60's, this fun-filled musical will make you want to throw your head back and SHOUT!

We had great seats (2nd row) and the show was really fun. Several of friends I attended with had been to previous shows at the Retro Dome and claimed to prefer those (School House Rock & Santastic) to this one, "because they knew those songs." Yeah, um I knew all the songs. I guess I was the old one in the group. Ahem, but they all seemed to enjoy it very much. The show had lots of energy, the costumes were really fun and the talent was amazing. No, it's not a Broadway show, but I'm impressed to see we have such talented artists here in San Jose. At the end they announced that we saw a "preview" so they were working out the kinks. Really? Couldn't tell at all! Apparently we were not alone. They received a standing ovation at the end of the night.

My only comments about the show were basically limitations related to the theater. The first would be that the energy level on stage was great, but we were in the second row of the theater. I wondered how well it translated to the back. In the era of surround sound, it was notable that the speakers seemed to be mostly on-stage pointing out. (Very authentic though!) And two, a couple times, I heard the feedback associated with mics being switched. I mentioned it to a friend at the end and she didn't notice it at all. What can I say, I worked in theater & multimedia, I notice that kind of stuff. The microphone stuff might be "kinks" that are worked out by now anyway. Neither of these items detracted from the show at all.
I enjoyed this enough that I will be purchasing tickets as gifts and maybe a little gift for myself as well.
We saw a couple younger kids (around 12ish) at the show, but I would say there are quite a few innuendo related topics in the show. If you think your child is old enough and/or don't mind explaining it, then I guess it's OK. But, you know, it IS the age of free love we're talking about here.
I think that Baby-Boomers will enjoy the show the most because the songs are from their generation. Since my parents were baby boomers, I grew up listening to this music (No, I'm not THAT old! I was born in the 60s though.)

March 5-April 11
Adults $36
Student (Valid ID) $30
Seniors (62+) $30
Children 12 and under $24

Fridays 8pm
Saturdays 8pm
Sundays 2pm

Monday, March 1, 2010

Wickedly Awesome!

On Friday, I was able to attend the stage show Wicked in San Francisco.

OH! MY! GAWD! Sooo Good!

I received the tickets as part of a promotion from the SV Moms holiday party. At the time I tweeted about it, and my BFF in LA texted me to "please, please, please take her". So, of course, I promised I would. We created all kinds of PITA for the agency who were setting up our tickets. I fully expected nose-bleed seats off in the corner. Not at all! We could not have had better seats. Seriously. Right in the center of the theater, about 10 rows back. (I highly recommend them.)

I expected the show itself to be good, and I wasn't disappointed. I have to admit, especially with my back, I sometimes have trouble sitting through a show. It's not that I'm not enjoying it. It's just that after a period my body starts to let me know it needs to get up and move around a bit. This show as so good that I wasn't aware of my discomfort until intermission hit. (It's ok, I brought meds and was good for the 2nd half as well.) For the purists, I too had read the book. I usually find movies and stage shows don't measure up to the nuances a book can provide. I knew they'd made some changes to the show, it's hard to cover all the territory and nuances writing can provide. Honestly, I enjoyed this more than the book. The book was well written, and I enjoyed it. But it focused more on the tragic side of Ephiba's life. The stage show was able to touch on that, but also found humor (sometimes dark) in it. The stage show had fun with the story. The energy from the cast made it seem that they were enjoying themselves as well. Obviously, I'm not a critic, so you can take my review with a grain of salt, but it was an amazing evening. I'm seriously considering going again, and taking my 6yo to see it.

Wicked is currently playing at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco through at least December 2010.