Sunday, January 30, 2011

The seas are angry my friend! (# 68)

Ahoy there everybody-it's my favorite time of the week-Microfiction Monday. Susan over at Stony River challenges us to write a story based on pictures she posts, but there is a catch-they can only be 140 characters or less (including spacing and punctuation.) This week we have an "ocean themed" picture, so since the subject matter was a little silly, I tried to match it with a little humor of my own. (Now those of you who come by here often know that I usually leave the humorous posts up to other members, but I just couldn't come up with anything serious!) Here is this week's picture and my first post

Fin was taking it hard but Seamus was ecstatic. "It’s a sign Fin! We're gonna live, and we're gonna smell awfully sweet while we wait!" (137 characters)

And this week, since we are leaning more on the funny side of things, I thought I would try my hand at a limerick (I haven't done one of these in quite a while, so bear with me...)

Two sailors alone on the shore,
Were stranded so sailors no more
They had hope,
When up washed some soap,
But a meal of suds is quite poor!
(140 characters)

What did you think-did I get you to chuckle? I can't wait to see what the rest of you wrote, and if you are new here, why not join us? Just be sure to link up to the Stony River website.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Review)

My son wanted to start reading the Harry Potter series, and even though I knew he could handle the reading, I was a little concerned about the subject matter. I talked with his second grade teacher about it (she read the whole series) and she said that years 1-5 weren’t too bad, but that years 6-7 were a little intense, so I decided that we would read each volume together. I also thought I would give an overview of each year in my blog just in case you might be curious about the Harry Potter books.

First let me start out by saying that I’m now a J. K. Rowling fan, and I never really liked fantasy or sci-fi themed stories-the books are that good. I read ahead when my son goes to bed and at first I did it as a precaution, but now I can’t put the books down (I am four chapters ahead of my son.!)  My son is also hooked, and we are constantly discussing events of the story-sometimes it can be a bit much so I’ve had to tell him when I’m Harry Pottered out and need to talk about something else.

The first book in the series is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and it’s in this first book that we first learn about Harry’s peculiar abilities and his sad past. The story begins with the delivery of Harry to his only blood relatives after the untimely deaths of his parents. Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts (the local wizarding school), along with Professor McGonagle (a witch at the school) and Hagrid (the school’s gamekeeper) check out and deliver Harry on the doorstop of the Dursleys. There is one major problem with this-the Dursleys are not magical. They are "normal" humans that magical folk refer to as "muggles," and Harry will have to live in their world and not the world of his parents-it will be safer...

Harry has it hard with the Dursleys-his Aunt Petunia (his mother’s sister) and Uncle Vernon have not told him about his magical parents or how they died, and they treat him like he is some sort of poor relation who they have been forced to raise. The Dursley’s only son Dudley is very fat and given anything that he desires, while poor Harry is made to live in the cupboard below the stairs, becomes a human punching bag for Dudley, is forced to wear Dudley’s overly large hand-me-downs, and is never shown even the slightest bit of kindness. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia abhor anything that is out-of-the-ordinary, and there is nothing ordinary about Harry.

But Harry’s life is about to change. He turns eleven, and though he doesn’t get even a happy birthday wish from his relatives, there are wizards every where who know about Harry and they soon will do everything in their power to wish him a happy birthday and welcome him back into their world, even if they have to go against the wishes of Harry’s muggle family.

The rest of the story revolves around Harry’s first year at Hogwarts, the school for witches and wizards, as he struggles with new-found fame in the wizarding world. However, some disturbing events force Harry to deal with both a painful past and uncertain future, as he unravels the real reasons why he is so famous.
Now even thought I love the books, there are a few alarming elements in each story that younger kids might find frightening. In year one, someone or something has been attacking the unicorns in the woods that surround the school (students are forbidden to go there because of the menagerie of dangerous creatures who live there). Harry and a classmate serve a detention where they accompany Hagrid into the woods and they not only find the hurt unicorn, they come across a shadowy figure doing the attacks!

Since my son and I were taking turns reading back and forth, I "glossed" over this particular area during the reading, and we talked about what was going on with Harry in the story. And, after we read a book, we rented the movie, but the movies were kind of a let down-someone else’s vision can’t quite take the place of the pictures our own minds can create…

Here are my ratings for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone:

Language/Vocabulary: One of the things I found most interesting is Rowling’s ability to create this world with all the terms and lingo associated with it. You can’t help but believe this world exists. (For example: Harry plays the wizard game of Quidich, a sort of a basketball game played in the air on broomsticks.) Keep in mind that the characters are English, so they speak a little differently that our kids, but there is no need to worry about foul language. My rating: 5/5

Lesson: There are plenty of positive messages given throughout the book: the importance of friendships, how your past does not decide your future, acceptance of people who are different from you, and the power of love.
My rating 5/5

Violence: Here’s where things get touchy. As I said before, there is the attacker in the woods, but there is also a brush with a three-headed dog, and danger for Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione at the end of the story.
My rating 3.5/5

I highly recommend the series, but keep what I've said in mind when considering these books for your child. The official age rating for at least the first book is 8 and up, but many teachers say that fifth graders can better handle the subject matter. Regardless, the books are quite large and the vocabulary is unique, so it may be best to read it with your child, especially if they struggle over unfamiliar words. Happy reading!

The picture of the book was used for the sole purpose of review and is connected to it's  All opinions expressed in this review are my own and were done without any form of compensation.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Aging and Oddities: A losing battle?

It’s been ages since I did a truly personal post and that’s because I’m struggling with the direction I want my blog to take. I started a blog to get back into writing, share common experiences, and give helpful feedback concerning goods and services that you as a mother might be interested in.

At first things started slowly, and I kept things strictly business-like with reviews of my favorite vacation destination-Cape May, New Jersey. Then I bounced between day-to-day issues about being a mom and an occasional review. Then when we all headed back to school (me included) I didn’t have the time to be posting every night, and my interest in blogging waned.

Then something sparked my interest again, and that was a writing meme, and I was so excited that my posts became this and nothing more, so I decided to step back and think about what purpose I want my blog to serve. I decided on this plan of action-Sundays/Mondays I am reserving for the writing meme (writing the post and reading other member entries), Wednesday I will try to hop over to read updates on all of your blogs, Thursday will be my "personal" entry (anything from my life could end up here), and Saturday I will set aside for a review post (technology, books, etc.)

So that’s the plan, and since it’s Thursday I thought I would catch you up to speed with what’s been going round my head lately. Some of you may remember that I celebrated my birthday in December and it was a milestone birthday- one where you feel both excitement and dread at the same time, especially when you glance at all the candles covering your birthday cake! After blowing those candles out, I have come to realize something about aging. I am convinced that aging and personal oddities go hand in hand!

Let me explain. Everyone has their own sets of likes and dislikes and idiosyncrasies ("quirks"), and as I get older, I notice that mine have doubled, maybe even tripled in number. I’ve listed some of my old habits along with my new habits-see if you can identify with any of these (and I am really hoping you do!):

Then: I never liked getting my hands dirty.
Now: Hand washing has become a compulsion, and having kids hasn’t helped-something yucky was always coming out of them, at the top or the bottom!
Now: I can’t stand for my hands to be sticky or wet either, and I have to drop everything and wash them off. And speaking of wet, I literally can’t stand if my sleeves get wet. It’s like I get this sickening feeling in my gut when water drips down my sleeves and down my arm…

Then: I always wear socks on my feet because when my feet are cold, my whole body gets cold.
Now: I rarely walk around anywhere, even on the beach, without something on my feet. In fact, while my kids and husband run around the house in bare feet, I sit here with both shoes and socks on!

Then: I reach for the magazine at the back of the rack because it’s crisper and less smudgy.
Now: I don’t take the first of anything in a rack or shelf-books, cards, clothing, etc, and I can’t stand for someone to wrinkle up the newspaper before I have read it. And don’t let me go on about reading my magazine before I do either! (I think this one might be genetic because I remember my father having a fit if we went through his paper before he did.)

Now: I disagree that this is a bizarre habit, but my husband says that I just started doing this a couple months ago and it’s weird (in his opinion of course.) If we use a regular plate as a serving dish, I put these in the sink to wash instead of putting it in the dishwasher, although I don’t see anything wrong with this…

Well, I know there are others, but I'm getting tired and I don't want you to think I'm a total crack pot.  Tell me, am I alone, or do you see yourself doing odd things too?  Well, I have to go wash my hands and head to bed, so goodnight everybody!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

It's raining, it's pouring...

Well I'm back for another installment of Microfiction Monday. It's #67 in fact, and Susan, over at Stony River challenges us every week to write a story in 140 characters or less (including spaces and puntuation)based on a picture she posts on her site.

I'm feeling a little under the weather (no pun intended) this evening, so I wasn't sure I would be able to post anything tonight. But when I'm in this chair, typing away, I perk up a little.   Here is this week's picture:

And here is my attempt:

We shared some good times my brother and me, on that old bridge after a cold winter rain, watching the fog tuck the river in for the night.
(140 characters-cutting it close I know...)

I really wanted to do a poem with this one, but I need to get some sleep. Maybe I'll try tomorrow. Anyway, I look forward to reading all of your thoughts but I'm going to wait until I'm feeling a little better.

PS: I didn't sleep to well last night (almost not at all in fact), but I feel loads better so I came back and did some poetry-I just couldn't stop myself because this picture just evoked such powerful feelings in me-did you feel it too? Anyway, here is my poem:

I like sun, but I also like rain,
It calms my soul and eases my brain.
The gentle hum on my windowpane,
Helps bring him back to me again.
(138 characters)

Thanks for your well wishes, and I am off to read more of your entries!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Move over Ipod-meet Chumby I (Review)

As a self appointed geek, I am always on the lookout for the new and upcoming tech toy either for members of my family or myself, and I am pretty taken with one of our latest additions, the Chumby I. I can almost hear you muttering, "What’s a Chumby?" because that’s exactly what I said when I read about it in November, but it’s been only a few weeks and we are enamored with this little device.

You see, every Christmas I give my husband some things that he needs, and some that he doesn’t-in other words "toys"-and I was on the look out for something tech to fill "that need."  I think I did a search on Google for "best cheap tech gifts" and one of my favorite tech sites, PC World, popped up with the article, "Terrific Tech Gifts for $200 or Less", and let's just say I was aiming for less...

 Anyhow, the site had a slide show of 14 tech gadgets that were worthy of purchase, and I was on slide number 12 when I saw the Chumby One for the first time. Now the price was still a little too high for me, but when I did a search for information that was only Chumby related, I found out that the Chumby website was offering the device for $79 with I think free shipping and handling-this was down from the normal price of $129.95!

I read more reviews at another favorite technology get their take and they gave it high marks. Yes, I still haven't told you just what this thing is... It’s a small, wireless device that you can keep on your bedside table to wirelessly connect to the Internet. It’s 3.5 inch touch screen allows you to view comments on Facebook, check the latest weather forecasts for your area, connect to Pandora radio, check e-mail, play games, and the list goes on and on.

There are several “channels”in the Chumby  that you can program with around 1000 apps downloaded from the site (all gloriously free I might add). My husband has a channel that’s just weather related, another for news and sports from sites like ESPN and CBS, and he has a gaming/web cam/ "fun" channel. He picks the channel and the apps loop continuously (with a time for each site determined by him). If he wants to look at the site more closely, he hits the screen and the looping stops, and if he doesn’t want an app anymore, he simply logs into his account on the Chumby site from a computer, and deletes it.

This thing can also be a clock, so the old, outdated alarm clock that used to grace his nightstand is now gone. He can set an alarm with the Chumby One and wake up to music from Pandora, or other various alarms he can choose. Right now it’s a taps alarm with the bugle sound getting louder and louder the longer it plays-thank goodness I’m up before it goes off, but I can sometimes hear it from the bathroom… There is also a night mode that keeps the Chumby from looping, lowers the lighting on the screen, and shows only the time.

The Chumby One is the second of two models that came out in 2009. Unlike the original Chumby that has soft leather sides, and is slightly larger (and more costly) with some impressive features, the Chumby One can use a rechargeable lithium ion battery(the older model has to be plugged in), has one USB 2.0 high speed port, 2W mono speakers, an FM tuner, 454 MHz ARM processor (larger than the older model), 64 MB DDR SDRAM, and Internal microSD card firmware.

This device is like an iPod, Wipad, alarm clock, DS, radio, and digital photo frame (you can loop your Facebook pictures as well) all rolled into one. I can’t tell you how many times the kids have jumped on our bed to check out the Chumby screen. In fact, my husband just added an app that counts down the days to each of our birthdays, and the cake image on the screen continually changes the closer the date gets. (My daughter’s birthday is in March, and she now has a three-layer cake with icing…)

The thing is so cute that my daughter and I both want one, so I’m going to keep on the lookout for any discounts and sales. If you want to read more about the Chumby One, a good place to go is the CNET site or to the Chumby site (it will help you get a good idea about all the apps available and give you information about each model.)

I did want to point out that Sony came out with a competing device this year called the Sony Dash-it has a 7-inch touch screen that sells for $199. But I found out the Dash is just a Chumby in disguise because it was made in collaboration with Chumby (it runs with the Chumby operating system and uses all of the Chumby site apps) but it comes in a fancier package with a fancier price tag. So, based on price, (cuteness), portability, and good reviews for Chumby, I went in that direction, but I anxiously await the next new tech toy that combines the best of both…

*I just noticed that the Chumby site is actively advertising the Sony Dash as well, so it is a true partnership.

This review was done without any compensation from Chumby, CNET, or PCWorld.  I bought a Chumby this Christmas, and all opinions I have given are mine and may differ from others but were not influenced by any of the companies mentioned. All pictures in this post were taken by me to show some of the apps available.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A little sword play for #66

It's a war out there-literally in Microfiction Monday #66! For those of you who are new, Susan, over at Stony River, challenges us to write a story (140 characters of less including spacing and punctuation) based on a picture she posts each week. I worked on both the prose and poetry while at my daughter's gymnastic meet tonight. I did it in between events, and yes, this time I was able to get a poem out (although it's pretty darn short.) Anyway, here is the picture and my first story:

Fudo grabbed the first thing he could reach, hoping it would buy him some time, but Rafu'a sword would test this tactic in mere seconds. (136 characters)

And here is my poem:

The war raged on,
Pitting father against son.
But in the end,
Nobody really won.
(80 characters)
It's a little rough around the edges, but no time for rewrites...
Now, a few of you (I hope) will exercise your funny bone tonight, so I can't wait!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mothman: winner or loser?

My son was intrigued with this week's picture for Microfiction Monday and was with me in the kitchen when I was trying to pen a story.  However, he didn't like the fact that my story might not end happily, so the two of us put our heads together to come up with a decidedly positive approach.

Here is our story (super hero style):
Mothman's steely grip was no match for Madam Blue's icy stare-she quickly reduced him to nothing more than a shiny pile of rubble. (130 characters)

And here is mine:

Mothman drew Sarah closer, tighter-she froze knowing his victims rarely survived, and that soon she would take the form of her captor. (134 characters)

As for poetry, after two "regular" entries, I'm spent, so I'm hoping that one of you took on the challenge.
If you are new to this meme, our host Susan, over at Stony River asks us to compose a 140 character story (including spacing and punctuation) about a picture she posts. So if you decide you are in the mood for a challenge, write your entry and link up at Stony River.  I can't wait to see what everyone has written!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Technology Toys (a couple reviews and excuses)

I was supposed to do a couple reviews this week-that was the plan at least, but we all know that sometimes life gets in the way. First the excuses-I had a very sick little girl still recovering from a bout of strep throat and nasty stomach bug, and my adjustment back to work was a wee bit difficult after being off for so long. I developed a nasty habit of staying up later and later so it took me more than a few days to readjust to an earlier bedtime. And, my bewitching hour is near, so this post is going to be a teaser for meatier reviews to come.

Technology toys were the "it" items in our house this Christmas, so I wanted to give a brief overview tonight on one of the hits and one of the misses. Santa brought a number of Dsi games for the kids based on online reviews, but the biggest test of a toy is whether your child actually plays with it or not. Two games stood out from the crowd-Zelda Spirit Tracks and Professor Layton and the Unwound Future-but the clear favorite by everyone was the Zelda game. In fact, I started playing it when I found myself a little talked out at my in-laws, and I couldn’t put it down. It literally drove me crazy when I couldn’t figure out the combination of the secret tunnel-the game gave hints about what to push in what order to open the door! The whole game is like this-you are constantly thinking of how to do things, so if your kids like a lot of mental exercise (and you do too), then this game's for you. A note of caution: both my kids enjoyed this game so much that you can imagine how tough it was to share…

A possible "miss" this Christmas might have been Duck Hunter Xtreme. I bought this toy for my husband because it was something that my son picked out personally. I originally thought that since it is a two-person game (one person has to fly the duck while the other takes aim with the "infrared" gun) it would be a good one for the kids to play with their dad. I quickly looked at the age ranges for the toy (ages 10-15) but didn’t worry too much since my son has a couple remote control items already. One problem right off the bat is that this toy takes a huge amount of batteries-the shooter takes 3 AAA batteries and the remote control takes 6 AA batteries-then you have to wait an additional 10 minutes to "charge" up the duck.

The irritants don’t just stop there. My husband is quite the aficionado when it comes to all things electronic, and remote control airplanes make up some of his collection, but this duck is quite different. It flies extremely fast (I was more than a little scared of the thing) and at least right out of the box it would only fly a few laps before losing altitude and coming down-there was no time for any shooting because we were mostly ducking.(No pun intended...) And speaking of shooting, there is no beam that you line up to shoot-just an annoying shotgun sound, so I’m not sure how the gun actually brings the duck down. The toy claims to be for both inside and outside use, but we now know that a normal sized room isn’t nearly large enough to fly this thing. If you were looking at this toy before Christmas, or are looking at it now, you might want to reconsider-the duck was packed up, and hasn’t been taken out again.

Well, that's all for tonight, but I will be back in a couple days for another review.
*Note: Zelda images are free screen shots used for the sole purpose of my review, while the Duck Hunter Xreme image links to its source-the Amazon website.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Just a dab will do 'ya'...

It's 2011 and I wonder how long it will take me to stop writing and thinking it's still 2010? I did remember the change yesterday mainly because I'm a techie and numbers like 010111 are more than a little interesting. Does anyone else get a kick out of number patterns?

Well, I'm way off topic tonight as we head into Microfiction Monday #64. Our host Susan, over at Stony River, posts a picture and asks us to compose a "story" in 140 characters or less (including spaces and punctuation). I also struggled a bit with this week's picture-I didn't want to do the obvious but I ended up giving in and going with my gut on this one. Here is this week's picture and my prose:

Carlos motioned the gentleman closer. "Gapacho, look, just for you. Texaco grease-fix your car, your hair, and attract the ladies!" (136 characters) *Note: "Gapacho" means foreigner.

Now I almost gave up on a poem tonight even though I thrive on challenges. My major mistake was trying to write it while guiding my kids to bed, and the words just wouldn't come. I also thought I would tackle it in a couplet, but that was not to be. Here is what I came up with:

He tugged my sleeve
And lured me in
To gaze upon
A tiny tin
Grow hair, tame curls
Add color, get shine
For just pesos
The tin was mine
(Another 136 characters-interesting...)

Well, I hope none of you are having the trouble I was having, and I look forward to reading your posts. And if you are new, why not try your hand at 140 characters of less-just be sure to link up at Stony River.

I promised some upcoming reviews, but it took me a while to get back into the blog after being away for a week-just know that I will be doing these in the next couple days. Happy New Year everyone!