Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Bemoaning drop-the-mic blogging

What is it about winter? These frigid gray on gray on gray days that turn all your thoughts inward. Cause memories to crawl out of the wrinkles of your brain (or is it that you're digging for them?). We're all inside so much we're dusting off the neglecting relics and wondering how we could've forgotten about them in the first place.

It's a writer's playground and a mother's nightmare.

Which is probably why when posts titled "I Look Down On Young Women With Husbands And Kids And I’m Not Sorry" show up on my Facebook feed I want to throw a hammer at my computer. Writer Amy Glass obviously doesn't have children and she doesn't have children in winter, because if she did she wouldn't write things like this: 
"I hear women talk about how 'hard' it is to raise kids and manage a household all the time. I never hear men talk about this. It’s because women secretly like to talk about how hard managing a household is so they don’t have to explain their lack of real accomplishments. Men don’t care to 'manage a household.' They aren’t conditioned to think stupid things like that are 'important.' "
I hesitated to give Smart any more credibility or page hits by writing about or linking to her post. Judging by the title and contents of the post, she was intending to incite outrage in the same way Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter do -- by unapologetically stating something they know will offend a large portion of the population, knowing that the outrage will get them more notoriety than attempting civil discourse. 

Doing laundry is not difficult. Neither are doing the dishes or scrubbing the kitchen floor. No mother has ever claimed these things are rocket science. Raising kids is difficult though. When she says that it's difficult to be exceptional while raising a family, she's right. Difficult but not impossible.  

And raising kids to be empathetic, kind and understanding of those who make different life choices than they do is also difficult. I'm imagine, like any parent, Amy Smart's parents did their best. And hopefully, when she's able to see past her own self-righteousness, she'll experience a new sort of enlightened thinking -- one where she doesn't apply blanket assumptions and can see there are merits to having children and managing a household, just as there are merits to backpacking across Asia and landing a dream job. 
"Women will be equal with men when we stop demanding that it be considered equally important to do housework and real work," Smart writes.
I believe women will improve our chances of equality if we start supporting and empowering each other for our choices rather than suggesting that those who choose to stay at home are less enlightened than those who don't. Doesn't enlightenment comes with making the choice to begin with?

Lately, it seems more and more people seem to be going with this Drop-the-Mic technique for rhetoric (this may or may not be an actual thing). Unable to break and/or keep up with Google's ever-changing keyword algorithms, writers who want their content to be noticed are taking the road less civil.

The Drop-the-Mic Technique goes as follows:

1. Blog title that will immediately offend a portion of a large audience thus ensuring its shareablity
2. Statement about how you're on the internet and you have an OPINION!
3. Re-iteration of controversial and/or offensive OPINION!
4. Open refusal to consider other viewpoints because they're not nearly as valid or logical as your OPINION!
4. Drop the Mic

Smart makes good points in her post. Her method will definitely get her page views. So maybe she's winning in the end. But I feel like it's just one more entry in the polarizing of our country. Making the assumption that nobody is willing to consider the gray area -- even when that's the part where we can learn the most about each other and ourselves.

Drop the mic.

Monday, January 20, 2014

A song for Snacks and other winter silliness

Today, a random roundup of amusing things. 

First up, a little scene from my house this afternoon. After reading Snacks "The Berenstain Bears' Bedtime Battle," Lily decided that he needed to be tucked in. Then she told me she was going to sing to him. So I grabbed my phone and started recording*. 

For those who are unable to decipher my daughter's angelic singing, her selection was "Lullaby" by Billy Joel (or, as it's called in our house, "Doo Doo Doo" give or take a few "Doos." 

In reviewing the clip, there are several things I feel you should be amazed at. For one, there's Lily's near-perfect rendering of her dad's impression of Billy Joel. Then there's her astounding multitasking abilities: Observe how she can sing her own made-up lullaby, reposition the blanket and attempt to steal a book from her sister all at the same time. And how awesome is that duet-with-your-sister fake out in order to try to steal the book a second time! Simply stunning. And you'll no doubt be impressed by my 21-month-old's ability to not only read, but also read upside down, a talent the envy of elementary school teachers and librarians world wide. And finally, the truly wondrous feat. It actually works! Look at how he's soothed into a blissful sleep. The kind of sleep I'd dream about if only I weren't woken up several times each night for potty breaks or to return a dazed-looking bed-headed toddler to her bed when she decides for some unknown reason that she needs to come to our room each night at 2 a.m. 


Then my 13-year-old nephew posted this video the other day, which I was super impressed with. I'm not quite sure what a Zombocalpyse is -- maybe its the name the Weather Channel is giving some new atmospheric phenomena that involves the undead -- but I love me some Lego stop-motion animation featuring cool sound affects, The Hulk and what appears to be a PSA from OSHA on the dangers of standing too close to construction equipment. Based on this clip alone, I'm pretty sure Finn should be hired to help create the inevitable sequel to "The Lego Movie."

And finally, since we haven't seen these guys in a while, here are our favorite squirrels -- all ready for Janus.

Big scarves are so hot right now.
No pun intended.
Alright, it was intended. 
* Note to my many copy-editing friends -- I realized I spelled "Lullaby" wrong in the title frame after posting the video to my site. And because it took hours to edit, finalize, export and upload I'm not going to fix it. So just pretend the "e" isn't there. Life goes on.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Fun with fiction and stereotypes

At a party this weekend a couple of former co-workers, Chris and Bill, were talking about this romance novel they were planning to write. The main character was to be a badass Scotsman -- whose name I can't remember. He'd wear a kilt all the time and bed busty ladies regularly. 

I'm not sure how serious these two were about their novel -- they'd been drinking girly moonshine (it was peach flavored) and looked a bit glassy eyed and giddy, but I went along with the quick brainstorming session -- suggesting names for their protagonist and character traits (like that he rode a motorcycle and had a tragic past).

Then yesterday, I amused myself by inserting their Scottish rogue into the sort of story I would write (as you will see I'm much to cynical and prudish to tackle romance). Here's what I came up with (and lest you think of me as a novel concept thief, Chris gave me his blessing … I don't really care what Bill had to say).

“The Short, Bonnie Life of Donovan MacWallace”

Photo courtesy of Ishan Manjrekar/Flickr
Donovan MacWallace sat at the end of the dark bar. One elbow leaned against the glossy wood, the sleeve of his scarlet tartan shirt soaking the condensation dripping slowly off his scotch.

He surveyed the room, slowly stroking his jaw – a few days worth of carefully curated scuff scratching the tips of his fingers.

A few regulars sat closest to him – 30-something-year-old bearded fellows who cheered each time one of the 48 kegs was kicked and the bartender wrote a new microbrew on the large chalkboards landscaping the back wall. With each glass they spoke of the hoppiness or spiciness, trying to one-up each other with tales of even more obscure pints consumed at even-more-obscure faux dive bars in places like Williamsburg or Madison or Portland.

Past them were the happy hour stragglers, still wearing suits – ties loosened, blazers strewn on the backs of puritan wooden chairs.

It was the lull between when the weary business crowd stumbled home to tuck their kids in and the fresh-faced coeds bounced in from the local college.

Donovan relished these moments, when the evening was so full of possibility. A drink or two down he felt warm and confident, ready for conquest. From his seat he lean back – one dusty boot balanced on the brass rail the other slung on his knee – and watch the door swing open and closed. Each gust expelling a new candidate.

A bob-haired burnet with full pouting lips and a narrow waist. A compact, tight-assed cheerleader-type with a sheet of shiny raven hair. A cadre of blonds, their hair all curled in wide undulations, in jeans so tight they must have been slipped on with oil and heels that made their legs look as if they never ended.

One of these sweet creatures glanced over at Donovan. Her wide blue eyes encased in black liner and false lashes. He refused eye contact, instead of furrowing his brow and looking off as if to some distant moor against a crashing sea. But he watched out of the corner of his contemplative maple eyes as she strode toward his end of the bar.

When the bartender failed to notice her, Donovan swooped in ever so slightly.

“Her name’s Kelly,” he told the girl in a gruff Scottish accent, nodding toward the barkeep. “She gets distracted sometimes.”

And that was all it took.

The girl, smiled at him – her immaculately styled brows shot up in surprise and pleasure. “Thanks! You’re not from here are you? Are you Irish?”

 He allowed his lips to turn up a fraction of a centimeter. He glanced at her a second then stared down at his glass, taking a quick sip.

“Nah – tho that’s what everyone usually guesses. A’m from Edinburgh,”

“Oh … where’s that?” She was wearing a loose sequined tank top whose neckline flopped down over her ample breasts. From his vantage he could see black lace cupping her chest. He knew his hands would perform that same duty in a matter of hours.

“Scotland.” He replied, finally turning his full gaze onto her glowing face. “Ma name’s Van – pleasure to meet you.”

And then he’d stand up. And they’d see his kilt.

Game. Set. Etc.

It was the same story every night.

His exotic accent. His James McAvoyian eyes. His bike. His feigned aloofness. And the story they’d eventually draw out of him – the one about Fiona, his dead fiancé – killed by an unruly mob drunk on whiskey and a recent win on the pitch.

The woman fell at his feet, beguiled by his foreignness, the undercurrent of danger and the promise of being taken by a Celtic rogue. If they were disappointed by his softer-than-expected physique or his inability to remove their lingerie with anything bordering on panache, they never said anything, not wanting to seem culturally ignorant. Melting at his boyish apologies.

“I’ve never been great with these things,” he’d intone fumbling with dainty clasps and fussy elastic. And they’d do the job for him. His charm and that accent lubricating the way to passionate, or more often than not, rather underwhelming coitus.

He’d leave in the middle of the night. Pulling on his kilt and weathered leather jacket. Getting off again on the 4 a.m. rumble his bike made on the empty street and the image of another satiated lass sprawled in twisted sheets.


Donald Geuber became Scottish on drunken dare. He was offered a free High Life for a week if he hit on a woman while pretending to be Groundskeeper Willie from “The Simpsons.”

Unremarkable in every other way, Donald could make passable impersonations of some of televisions most iconic characters, so he accepted the bet and approached an marginally attractive (in a cute-as-a-friend sort of way) girl wearing orange Converse sneakers and a T-shirt picturing a hippo with the word “marblevore” underneath.

As he recalled, he struck up the conversation by asking where he might relieve himself.

“Excuse me – do ye happen to know where the loo is?”

Her friend, who had just recently returned from a semester abroad, caught his bathroom reference immediately and began pummeling him with excited questions about his origins while sharing all about how great actual pubs were compared to these shabby American knockoffs and how much better a real pint of Guinness tasted over there than here and how the people were so much cooler … he zoned out while she blabbed eventually making eye contact with Marblevore, telling her she was “a right bonnie lass” and asking if he could buy her a drink, which she accepted (later lapping her tongue up his stomach in the corner next to the bathrooms).

It was as much a surprise to Donald himself as it was to all of his friends that the tactic actually worked. And while they never put him up to the challenge again, he was so intoxicated by his early successes that Donald found himself deploying Groundskeeper Willie in more and more social situations (such as they were for someone who spent a large portion of his non-working hours in the basement of his parents house playing “World of Warcraft”.)

Not every outing was a success in those early days. More than one potential mate picked up on the fact that as the night wore on his accent drifted from that charming lilt something more nondescript and vaguely American. That, and he didn’t seem to have the mysterious qualities possessed by mythical Europeans – that of style, social graces and knowledge of soccer (or football, as he’d come to prefer). 

Photo courtesy of Darren Foreman/Flickr
He’d watch them lose interest as the night wore on and made the decision to do something about it (the possibility that the sex being offered to him so freely might disappear too devastating to consider at length.)

To facilitate his transformation, Donald immersed himself into Scottish culture by way of  “Highlander,” “Trainspotting,” “Brigadoon” and “Brave.” (He also watched “Michael Collins” and “Darby O’Gill and the Little People,” perhaps assuming Ireland was just another name for Scotland in the same way the States were representative of all America).

(He was also aided in no small part from the various romance novels he found on his mother’s nightstand – usually featuring a strapping clansman with long hair blowing in the cries of his countryman preparing to pillage a heaving young maiden. The man always wore a fraying tartan cape and tie-front shirts untied to reveal booming pectorals. The women were always in too-small corsets – their peaches and cream expressions a mix of fear and lust.)

But it was the Academy Award winner “Braveheart” he watched over and over again, inspired in no small part by his admiration and respect for Mel Gibson, who he maintained gave his heart and soul to the role of the incomparable William Wallace.

He memorized Wallace’s famous troop-rallying speech, practicing it in front of a mirror, half his face painted cobalt, in hopes that he might one day have the opportunity to inspire his friends to take life-altering measures.

“And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin' to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and say … .”

Sadly, he never could come up with an applicable, equally stirring, life-altering ending though.

His friends commented on the ever-present accent at first, but were dismissive – figuring Donald – who, let’s be honest, had always been on the fringe of even their fringe – was just trying to make them laugh.

But there were more changes. He began wearing plaid daily. He grew a beard. Bought the bike. And the leather jacket (the latter two less for Scottish authenticity than general badass-ness).

He stopped hanging out with them altogether, instead venturing out solo. One time they ran into him at a bar across town, shouting “Hey Donald!” while he was talking to a girl in a dress that only feebly offered to cover up the parts that could get you arrested.  The fact that she was much too sexy to be talking to their friend didn’t seem to register with her.

When they approached Donald laughing about the skirt he was wearing, he hissed at them to stop calling him “Donald.” He went by “Van” now. And don’t act like they know anything about him. As they left, Van shrugged at the girl with disgust. “A bunch of wankers,” he said. She nodded in agreement, her hand crawling up his kilt.

That was the last anyone saw of Donald Greuber.

Photo courtesy of Dave Stokes/Flickr
 One night Van was out. Usual spot.

When across the room, as if glowing in the moonlight reflected off Loch Ness, he spotted a woman so fair it made his heart break.

Her glossy auburn hair fell in tight curls down to her shoulders framing a long, delicate neck with skin the color of buttermilk from a hairy coo. She wore a loose green top unbuttoned just enough to reveal her creamy décolletage and jeans that molded a delicious posterior. She looked over at him, her eyes as emerald as the isles, and this time he did not turn away.

She walked toward him, a smile forming on her rose-colored lips. Nessie stirred under the kilt.

“You’re not from around here,” she said – her voice the wind dancing over the heather.

He smiled. “Nah. I’m from Edinburgh.”

And she’d been there. A couple times. Visited the castle, climbed Arthur’s Seat, toured a distillery. She didn’t seem fazed by the fact that he did not engage in more discussion about his homeland. Which he, of course, appreciated.

They talked for most of the night – well, mostly she talked. (As was customary, he shared the heart-wrenching tail of the lovely Fiona – taken too soon from this cruel world – before resuming his usual brooding.)

He watched those pretty lips open and close, imagining how they’d be used later that evening. He thought about how her soft the skin on her belly might feel and admired the sprinkle of freckles along her throat.

When it was time to go, she asked him to take her home with him. Something he never did (What with the fact that he’d have to sneak past his parent’s bedroom to get to his own.)

But she insisted, saying her roommate’s boyfriend was in town for the weekend and the apartment was small and she could often be loud. At this last part she giggled in embarrassment. Leaving him to wonder about what it was she was loud about.

The stirring shifted to throbbing.

He relented, but told her his grandparents were staying on with him for awhile – his grandfather having lost his potato farm to a fire. They’d need to be quiet.

He could feel the start of her thighs against the back of his as they sat on his bike. She smelled like vanilla and strawberries.

He raced home.

When they made it up to his bedroom -- the same one he’d had since childhood – he made an excuse for the twin bed, telling her he’d given up his room for his grandparents. This was where his nephew stayed when he came to visit.

As he pulled her over to the bed she became coy. She tousled his hair and blew in his ear, but backed away from all his advances.

“Tell me your name,” she said, sucking on her index finger and then running it down her chest.

He’d read about this game. She wanted to be taken. To have that blouse ripped off, the soundtrack to their passions a popping of buttons and angry tearing of seams.

“It’s Donovan MacWallace. Now get over here woman,” he returned.

But she didn’t move. When he strode over reaching for her shirt, she intercepted his hands. Placing them down by his sides.

She began fiddling with the buttons on her shirt. Unbuttoning the first. The second. The third. Exposing the lacy tops of her breasts.

“No. Your real name.”

This caught Van off guard. But the strangeness of the question was outweighed by the promise of her that he answered, panting, after only a short pause.

“Donald Geuber – can you do that thing with your finger again,” and with the reintroduction of Donald, away went that voice. That charming, panties-dropping voice.

She straightened up. Buttoned her shirt.

“Hello Donald, my name is Phyllis Gertmander. I’m with a local collections office. It seems you’ve failed to pay your Visa bill since last May. We’ve sent you several notices and have visited your house on at least six occasions. I’d like to notify you in person that unless you can fulfill your obligations, we will be filing a lawsuit against you.”

Van nee Donald felt his stomach drop. His smile fell. He sighed.

As it turned out, becoming Donovan MacWallace – Rogue, seducer of women, wounded soul – was not an inexpensive undertaking.

In fact, it had cost him nearly $50,000. Which he couldn’t really afford with his job as an administrative assistant, so he’d charged it all. The bike. The clothes. The collection of Scottish and/or Irish-themed DVDs. The replica highlander sword that he liked to wield in front of the mirror while re-enacting the William Wallace speech. The bagpipe he’d intended to learn how to play.

The legend was exposed as a myth and somewhere under his kilt Nessie died.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Meet my other significant other: The novel

So lately I've been thinking that undertaking a major project like novel-writing or large-scale art-ing is kind of like being in a long-term relationship (this is probably the most-abused analogy in literary history … so I apologize for my lack of ingenuity). 

Optimistic art from my sister Sarah.
When you first start out you're tentative, excited, nervous, curious and over-analytical. But most importantly, hopeful. In the glow of a new romance (or new venture) you're full of faith (whether you express it or not) that the undertaking will be fulfilling and worthwhile and will have a happy ending.

Of course it will have a happy ending! How could it not? You're in lust … err … love. Bluebirds are singing! There are rainbows! That song you both like is always on the radio! Everything is an inside joke (like that you both saw that businessman in the hair gel and trench coat pick his nose (twice!) While waiting in line for your lattes at the Starbucks) and every time you need to make the other person smile all you have to do is say double dip. 

There's elaborate character development (she color codes her towels and eats bacon-peanut-butter sandwiches!) and scene setting (her elderly neighbors lawn is full of garden gnomes and bird baths!) and plot (the day was just like any other day until she found that dead body). 

Then you start breaking things in. You get comfortable. The shininess of the venture dulls slightly. You start noticing some cracks. Like, it was cute that she talked in her sleep at first but now you're a little tired about waking up night after night to her screaming about how there's a giant spider hovering over the bed that needs to be killed immediately. And can't he hang his coat up, like, ever? I mean seriously … does the chair look like a closet?! 

Your manuscript becomes loaded down with too many characters, too many details, too many self-serving and anecdotes (does anybody really need to know the names and eating habits of all five cats your protagonists' co-worker owns?) The narrative that once seemed so clear gets cloudy and you start to wonder where it's all going. Opening the story file becomes a chore rather than a craving you need to satisfy.

And then you get to the point where you feel like some choices need to be made. Like do you soldier on despite the invisible spiders and misplaced coats because you know from the depths of your heart that they are but small imperfections in what otherwise is a perfectly serviceable soulmate? Or, do you move on, deciding all those little quirks and frustrations aren't worth working through or ironing out? 

A work in progress from my sister Sarah.
I feel as if I've been in this last-gasp stage of novel-writing for the past six months or so. Maybe last gasp is a bit dramatic. Maybe it's just wheezing a bit. At any rate, a couple days ago I opened up the story file for my work in progress (or WIP as people in the know say … I feel funny using that term … aren't only professional writers allowed to throw out the big WIP? What was that I was saying earlier about self-serving anecdotes ...) the first time in a couple months. It was a Friday night and Brad was working late and there was nothing on TV, so, you know, might as well try to make something of my life (sorry TV, but you really are the destroyer of all dreams).

I picked a random scene that I hadn't finished and finished it. And then I looked at the word count and realized I was at nearly 40,000 words. That's, like, only 10,000 words from being novel length! Of, course, that's not to say that I'll be finished with it in another 10,000 words. I have kind of Tolstoy-ish tendencies (in terms of being averse to terseness -- not by way of quality -- hell I've never even read Tolstoy. I hear "War and Peace" was good). 

So this gave me a renewed sense of hope. The coat got hung up. The spider squashed. This is doable. We can make it work and it will be good. 

Well. Hopefully it will be good. That's the other part. How much would it suck if you do all that work and it's just a big 'ol pile of something my dog would excrete in the backyard then chew on after it froze? (Side note: I wouldn't let my dog lick you during the winter months).

On Thursday's episode of "Parenthood" there's this scene where Jasmine, a dancer, is talking to a young musician about finishing the album he's been avoiding. The musician guy (whose a character I haven't really warmed to because he's kind of a douche) gets real for a minute and talks about how he is having trouble finishing his work because he doesn't just want it to be OK or passable. He wants it to be really good. The scene resonated with me ("Parenthood" never fails to deliver). 

When you have that voice in you telling you that you have to do this one thing (and maybe you feel like it's the only thing you think you've ever really been good at) then you desperately want for that one thing to be really good. Really, really good. And the prospect of pouring your soul into it and having it be just OK is devastating. 

Not that I have high standards for my relationships or anything.

The whole nexus for this post grew out of a conversation I had with my sister Sarah last night. 

Sarah is an artist. Maybe she wouldn't have called herself that last year. I'm fairly certain she wouldn't. She probably would've called herself a doodler. But in the past year and a half she's dedicated herself to her art. And now she allows herself to use the word artist. She talks about marketing and selling her art. 

In fact, she's sold three pieces already!

When I think about someone who has this creative force welling up in her, I think of Sarah. And I feel kinship with that. We talked last night about how it doesn't feel like we can turn our backs on whatever it is that's moving us to turn intangible longings into tangible goods. It's art-nertia! (If you're wondering about the quality of my work, you might have found your answer in that terrible pun).

But there's no doubt about the quality of Sarah's work:

This is how I would illustrate the early stages of a relationship.
Technicolor flowers and possibilities.
Check out more of my sister's work on Instagram. She does commissions!

(Sarah, apologies for borrowing your art without permission. I figured you'd be OK with it)

Friday, January 3, 2014

From Vampire Weekend to Candyland vamps

I had so much fun writing about books a couple posts ago that I thought it'd be fun to review a few more things I've come across. 

To start with:

1. Vampire Weekend "Modern Vampires of the City"

I'm not really qualified to offer serious music reviews. I stopped attempting to stay in the "I knew about them before they sold out" game once Lily was born. It's just too exhausting. (If you want to know what kid's music will become crusted to your ear like dried up oatmeal on the side of a plastic bowl, I can tell you that. "We Are Santa's Elfs." "A Friend Like You" from the Fresh Beat Band. "Hot Lava" from Jake and the Neverland Pirates. Beyond that, I'm useless.) 

I rarely get to listen to my own music anyway (unless I want to listen to it while also listening to Lily scream at the top of her lungs, "I WANT SOPHIA MUSIC!!!!!") so I don't really want to squander the time, waiting to grow to like something. I fear a casualty of this will be the Arcade Fire's new album, which I got for my birthday. I really like "Reflektor" but the rest of the album hasn't really captured my fancy yet. And there are so many long songs. Six of them clock in at more than six minutes. My attention span and patience for jam sessions just ain't what it used to be. 

Anyway, a few weeks ago I was at BAM! doing some work and listening to Spotify when I remembered that Vampire Weekend had a new-ish album out so I decided to look it up. I don't think I'd ever heard their second album, but I really like the first one because it's catchy and fun and fresh and bouncy (even the girls will request "A-Punk" -- I only wish more of the songs on that album didn't have profanity.)

"Modern Vampires of the City" got me right from the start. I must've listened to it four times in that one sitting. Replaying "Unbelievers" over and over and bouncing around in my chair and tapping my fingers on the table like a fool. It's very jaunty for a song about damnation. "We know the fire awaits unbelievers/All of the sinners the same/Girl, you and I will die unbelievers/Bound to the tracks of the train."

And then there's "Hannah Hunt," that quintessential road-trip-in-your-20s song that's more sad that jubilant and kind of how I felt about being in my 20s anyway. Mentally plodding along in a quiet little music box with occasional frustrated, pleading outbursts. 

"Ya Hey" is lovely, too -- all spiritual and searching with a tribal-sounding hook in the chorus that catches you a little off guard. 

The band has grown up since that first album -- not so cheeky and irreverent -- more earnest and introspective. Of course I would like it. I can't remember the last album I so thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish (probably "I and Love and You" or "Between Two Lungs").

So if you care to trust the recommendation from someone who's home on a Friday night wearing saggy sweatpants (blue of course!) over leggings, two pairs of socks, a turtleneck and a sweater that just barely misses being qualified as a bathrobe, well then this is a good one.

2. "Happy Feet"

So we're big fans of "Happy Feet 2" in our household, having commandeered a copy from our penguin-loving neighbor last year. (You can find out why we like it here). 

The original "Happy Feet" was on sale at Target for $5 right before Christmas, so I picked up a copy as a gift for the girls. I'd seen the movie when it was in theaters back in 2006 and only have vague recollections of it having a big environmental message and a strong anti-zoo sentiment (by now no one should be surprised to learn that I cried my way through the scenes with Mumbles trapped in Sea World.) 

The first time we watched it together, I wondered if Lily even liked it. The tone of this movie is so much darker than the second one. There's, of course, the ostracization of Mumbles because he dances instead of sings and the fact that he never physically matures. There's a complicated father-son relationship that culminates in Mumble's dad exiling himself because of his guilt. There's the threat of starvation for all the Antarctic residents. The threat of being eaten by Sea Leopards or Skua's or Killer Whales. The threat of lost faith. There's Lovelace, the penguin, almost being strangled to death by one of those ubiquitous plastic six-pack rings that hold cans of soda. There's an unapologetic, uncensored look at the impact of humans on creatures at the bottom of the world -- the waste, the trash and the ravenous consumption of what should be shared resources. 

And that's not even touching on how the opening of the movie is just one long mating ritual … I'm mean, sure, they're penguins. But man are they horny. (IMDB even calls attention to a later scene: "When Gloria and Mumble are tumbling around on the ice after emerging from the water, they briefly slide into a human mating position (facing each other, lying down) and then slide into a penguin mating position (with Gloria on her belly and Mumble behind her"). So there's that.

If it weren't for Mumble's happy feet and the Adelie Amigos, I'm not sure it would be much of a comedy. 

Lily doesn't see it that way though. "Happy Feet" has just given her more material to use when she's pretending to be a penguin. Since seeing "Happy Feet 2" she insists on tapping dancing in the bathtub as the water drains (the splashing water is similar to the globally warmed melting ice in the movie). And now she likes to pretend to hatch from an egg poking her head out of the blankets on my bed. She swims under the sheets screaming that's she's being chased by a sea leopard. She jumps off the bed pretending to dive into the ocean. 

And then there are the less endearing moments she likes to re-enact. First, there's Mumble's horrible, ear-splitting singing (Lily is spot on, if not a few octaves higher … kind of like a cross between nails on chalkboard and fingers rubbing a balloon. It's awful.) She also likes to head butt me or her sister imitating the moments Mumbles runs or swims into walls and/or ice. And then today, in a moment that both repulsed and sent me into near-convulsions of laughter, Lily approached me with an odd look in her eye and told me to open my mouth because she had something for me. I knew right away what she was trying to do, which was pretend to regurgitate partially-digested fish in my mouth the same way Norma Jean does for baby Mumbles. So that happened. 

When Brad got home from work, I made sure that Lily offered him some fish as well.

In sum, good movie with a good message, just be wary if you have small children not to open your mouth at their request.

3. Candyland

Another one of Lily's Christmas presents was Candyland -- we figured it was time she learned to throw temper tantrums for legitimate reasons (IE: not winning) as opposed to questionable reasons (IE: having to put on socks). Luckily, for all of her dramatic ways, Lily has handled losing with grace (or maybe ignorance). 

The newest version of Candyland looks as if it was designed by someone who'd consumed large quantities of sugar (or maybe some other psychotropic substance). The game board (which is much more compact than the original) is so crowded with candy, it's kind of hard to figure out where you are or where you should be going. So many colors and shiny things. Like a casino, but for a preschooler. We've played a few times and Lily still can't seem to follow the direction of rainbow candy road.

Gone are the little cards that dictated how many spaces you go. In comes the spinner, which makes for less mess, but more opportunities for your quick-thinking preschooler to move the arrow to the most desirable spaces (IE: the one's with cupcakes or lollipops). 

And once you get to those coveted spots, you can marvel at the characters, who've all received makeovers, apparently from someone who loves Bratz, anime and leggy ladies in stilettos. Totally appropriate role models for a 3 year old!

Wait - didn't she used to be a queen? 
I'm not sure I want her sugar fairies to make me giggle.
And then there's Mr. Mint, who I'm fairly certain is based on an emo version of Chazz Michael Michaels from "Blades of Glory."

Wait … is that Adam Lambert?!
Brad tells me we read a blog post a while back on which someone complaining about the new Candyland. I don't remember reading it, but I did a little poking around on Google, and found plenty of others are ahead of me on the ranting end (that's usually the case). Here's a look at the evolution (devolution?) of the game from The Atlantic and SFGate.

I feel my concerns are obvious, so I'll spare you an extended tirade. 

Instead, I'll offer you my suggested makeover for Princess Lolly: