Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Financial Assvice Courtesy of The Sun

I made the mistake this weekend of actually reading the paper's business section (yes, we still get the newspaper. I wouldn't be able to feel good about recycling it with only digital media now, would I?). As it's January, albeit the end, and we are approaching tax season (I'm even kinda sorta organized! Now if my company would just send me my W-2...) there is of course a plethora of articles on what you should be doing, you dumb hick who is destined to live in your children's basement, subsisting on a diet of mixed grill and salmon surprise cat food if you don't get financially healthy this minute!

Yes, savings rates have fallen off in this country. Yes, I'm betting a large number of my peers have little to no retirement savings. Yes, this is a massive implosion waiting to happen.


Articles telling you that if you aren't socking away the maximum allowable in your 401(k) ($17,500 a year I believe) then you are beyond screwed are not helpful. You get the virtual sigh and 'well, if you can't do that, then at LEAST get the company match' runner-up tone. This is of course assuming that your company offers any sort of a match. Listen, I've been with my company for over 16 years now and I do okay but there is not a chance in HELL I could afford to put away over 25% of my salary for retirement. Maybe someday but not with a mortgage and kids in daycare/aftercare. I mean, I guess I could if we gave up the little things like a house or eating.

You're putting away the maximum into your 401(k)? Great! But you aren't done yet. You are a fool if you aren't maxing out personal IRA contributions of $5000! YOU WILL DIE BROKE AND ALONE, YOU WORTHLESS CONSUMER WHORE.

Consults budget - Let's see...well, we have clothing and we don't have a house anymore so don't have to worry about heat or electricity. Layers are in this year after all.

Got your $22,500 squirreled away? Good work but you aren't done yet. Do you have six months of expenses saved up in an easily liquefied account? You know, what, it's so hard to find a job, better make it a year's worth. Hm, that's another $48,000 to put away which may be overkill seeing as we don't have mortgage, food, or heating bills anymore as you don't need them in a cardboard box. Oh! No electric, no need for TV so we can cancel that too. Still need cell phone service and car insurance so those have to stay...good news! We can drop the amount needed to save to $28,800. Well that's certainly a lot more doable. I'm feeling pretty good about this plan.

To hit these numbers, we would have to save $5900 a month. a lot more than what we bring home. So thanks guys for pointing out in 12-pt type what miserable failures we are.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a wine rack to polish off. Might as well enjoy it while I still have a house to drink it in.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Why giving your children a vote is rarely a good idea

We may have inadvertently set the bar a bit high last year with our having things to do, places to go, people to see weekend extravaganzas of rarely being home. So much so that the kids have come to expect that every weekend and now Noah has taken to asking, 'Where are we going today?' as apparently 'Sunday School' and 'Noelle's dance class' don't count. It should though, it's out of the house, dammit! But! Experiences! Enrichment! Not bugging each other! So we put it to a vote: either go to the World of Pets Expo or Germs R Us. This is why we bundled up yesterday, grabbed the mound of tokens and headed to...Chuck E. Cheese.

They have dead eyes, like sharks eyes.

As we already had a slew of leftover tokens from a previous visit and everyone had already eaten lunch, this was fixing to be a very low-cost outing (good thing there is no 'pizza' purchase required though they ostensibly serve beer so it would be a win-win.) (Full disclosure: I've never actually discovered the magic beer fountain there. I feel kind of betrayed.) Games, rides, could this be a bad idea? LET ME TELL YOU THE WAYS.

Firstly, we made the rookie of mistake of heading there after 11 am. Seriously, if you want a lord-of-the-flies free experience, go before noon. We arrived at 3:15. Into absolute madness. Every table was reserved for parties or in use by other families who had the exact same idea we did. No place to stash our coats, Dyl and I carried/wore them while the kids ran around. Or tried to because every possible path was choked full of bodies. No one was unruly or mean; there were some older kids who refused to doff their shoes before climbing in the playground but overall, no one was bad. There were just a LOT of people having a LOT of birthday parties.

Second, they were pretty close to being understaffed. We had decided that we would get drinks (playing and running is thirsty work after all) and Dylan stood in line for a long time to get two kid-sized cups. Then when it came time for the kids to trade in their tickets for (cheap-ass) prizes, it took another 20 minutes for them to get a turn. Incidentally, Noah cleaned up on tickets - he favors the games where you can win a lot at once as he has inherited the lucky parking horseshoe from his father. Noelle likes Skeeball (as do I) and trap the hamster, even emptying the game of tickets at one point. Tired, hot, jostled, and frazzled was not a fun ending to the afternoon.

The thing with being in public? You have to see them and their sartorial choices. I really can't believe that a *lot* of pregnant women (that's so redundant but there you go - sounds weird otherwise. Pregnant people? Pregnant folks? See what I mean?) put on leggings and non-tunic sweaters/shirts and thought, 'Damn, I look good'. It was pretty traumatizing. For me at least. It's very judgy, I admit it but Leggings Are Not Pants. Not ever. So say we all.

But in the end the kids had fun, ran off some energy and even brought home a toy that provided minutes of fun and excitement.

Next time though, I'm rigging the vote for the Lego Movie.

Friday, January 24, 2014

How quickly the cocoa comes off the bean

Noelle woke up this morning very excited. Why? Well, today she was going to eat Cocoa Puffs for breakfast! She had seen an ad for them while watching Disney Junior earlier this week and it spoke to her. (Aside: when did Disney Junior start airing commercials? That was one of the things I liked best about it and Nick Jr - no paid advertising. Assholes.) She's not a cereal eater, in fact, both of them usually have French toast sticks for breakfast unless there are pancakes. Which I rarely make except for dinner so frozen French toast sticks it is! I don't get this; I grew up eating cereal and to this day it  is my preferred breakfast food but hey, it's not my stomach so whatever.

For her though, this was going to be awesome. It was chocolate! It would make the milk chocolaty! It would be the greatest thing since Monster High dolls and Star Wars all rolled into one! Breakfast as we knew it would be revolutionized! She took the first spoonful with great gusto and then...huh. There wasn't much going on. Sure, it's dark brown and the milk was turning an alarming shade of brown/grey but...where was the awesomeness? Where was the flavor she had been promised? For the love of god people, WHERE WAS THE CHOCOLATE?!

She ate about half the amount in her bowl when she turned to me and asked if she could be excused, she was done.

"Wasn't as good as you thought it was going to be, huh?"

She shook her head no.

"It's okay honey, that is what commercials are designed to do: make something or an experience so appealing that you just have to have it. It's called marketing and it's everywhere."

She got down from the table and went to play, a little sadder but hopefully a little bit wiser.

Me on the other hand? Well, let's just say that I already know what I'm eating for breakfast tomorrow.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Name By Any Other Is a Pit of Vipers

I have three last names. Not the kind like the guy my mom used to date *cough Coleman Langam Wessel cough* but three actual last names that I float between depending on the circumstance: my maiden name, my legal name and my social name. Growing up I hated my last name. Loathed it. Despised it. Couldn't wait to get rid of it. It was weird (Welsh roots), no one ever spelled or pronounced it right and it was just too easy to bastardize into a taunt. Add in a strategic 'r' and voila! Instant hilarity. I was going to be just like my mom: get married right out of college and change my name! Except life didn't quite work out like that.

I had boyfriends since the age of 16 but none of them were ever the *One* so single I remained. Got an apartment, got a job and for seven years built a career with my god-awful maiden name. But something strange happened along the way: I no longer regarded my name as something to be despised, mocked, and shed at the earliest convenience; it was *me* and with no brothers, the possible end of our family name. Then I met Dyl and for the first time, really had to consider what I would do when I said 'I do'. To Dyl's everlasting credit, he never pushed for one or another as I was strongly considering just keeping my maiden name as I was established in my industry as my maiden name and didn't want to have to start again. Ah, the arrogance of youth. But I also believed that sharing a last name would help bind us together into a family unit and be a non-confusing link to any hypothetical children we might have. Who, for the record, are no longer hypothetical as evidenced by the sheer amount of plastic crap in the family room. What to do, what to do.

In the end, I took the semi-feminist way out and hyphenated. I kept mine, took his and went on my merry way. My family, who has a really admirable hands-off policy but a suspicious habit of betting on decisions, kept mum let me know later that in the 'What Will Dawn Do With Her Last Name' Pool that most put their money on keeping my maiden name. My mom was the only one who went with hyphenation. Yay mom. I use my maiden name at work, my legal hyphenated name for taxes and loans and official-type stuff, and Dyl's name as my 'social' name so as not to confuse teachers and neighbors. This has worked out pretty well except for when I can't remember which name I used with which program. "Try F----s. No? Well, try F-----s-L---e.' Oh, hell, just try 'L---e." In an unexpected bonus, I frequently have to spell Dyl's last name too as the silent 'E' really trips people up.

Good thing I've had a lot of practice.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Battle Royale

And it's not good vs. evil or the living vs. the undead. No, it's played out on a grander scale every day. I refer, of course, to the battle for control over the thermostat. This happened at work. INSIDE the building:

Fingers are overrated anyway.
 Yup, my fingers were completely numb. Not to be confused with Nien Nunb.

There once was a man from Nantucket...
I run cold. I fully admit it and always have a sweatshirt with me. I know some folks run hot as I am married to one of them so I make allowances. Some of my coworkers, however, don't feel the same way. Our HVAC system has been reconfigured and stressed so many times that during the most recent lab renovation (oh, say, 11 years ago) the output vent went in directly above my desk yet the system is shared with the cubicles on the other side of the office wall. I get it, they have to crank the air conditioner to feel any cooler so what did they do? They had maintenance relocate the thermostat to their side of the wall so they could control it.

Ah, my old friend, how you mock me
It's 10 degrees Fahrenheit outside right now. I am in a sweatshirt with a small space heater running while the air conditioner blows cold air on my head. Moving my workstation is not an option as when my office-mate was laid off, they took out all the network connections. Complaining is useless. Asking them to, I don't know, turn off the air conditioner in the middle of winter FFS, is tantamount to declaring open war. Not even turn on the heat, just turn off the AC for the love of god!

It's clear my only remaining option is to distract them with pizza and while they're away, pry open the cover and super-glue the control lever to 'off'. It's fool-proof!

If you don't hear back from me soon, send an industrial strength hair dryer. Or a Saint Bernard. Beggars can't be choosers after all.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Weekend Round-Up Scattershot Style

You know how there are some weekends you are just really glad when they end? We had one of those and I for one am very grateful it's now Monday and life goes back to normal. Oh wait. That's right. It's an extended weekend! For Noelle! After just having a week and a half off for Christmas. 'Murica, this is why we can't have nice things. (Today is the day we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King. That's totally cool and way important. What is not was her being off a half day on Friday and all day tomorrow for teacher grading. I digress.)

Friday started with the Great Stomach Issue Watch; she got...backed up. And was in a lot of pain/discomfort but rallied for dinner and a treat. Okay, huzzah! Her fun weekend can go as planned....until after dance on Saturday when she was having a LOT of stomach pains. It sounded like cramps as the pain would come and go and we debated cancelling her birthday sleepover with her grandparents. My aunt was in town so I was taking Noah to my parents' house to visit the fam and have Fifth? Sixth? Twenty-fourth Christmas? So Dyl stayed with her until she passed the bubble while Noah and I headed to DC armed with an overnight bag so I could haz the winez if I wanted to. And I did want to. Lack of will power or responsible planning? To-may-to, to-mah-to. 

The guacamole was almost gone by the time we got there which poor form y'all. My BIL makes the best guacamole and I shoveled what little remained into my face hole. Guac! A snack and a facial all in one. Process improvement indeed. I played Play Doh chef with my nephews and Shannon, I'm sorry but I taught your daughter DREEET!. You'll thank me someday.

Then Christmas: Part the Whatever! Twas cool and fun. Dyl arrived, Noelle off to her other grandparents' house for a manicure, dinner and a show. She was planning on getting green and black but ultimately settled for pink and turquoise. With glitter because DUH. Dyl went back home, Noah and I stayed overnight where the most evil cat in the universe decided I was her personal cushion. The 4 year old got the queen bed and I got the twin...because the twin was in Evil Cat's room and hey Dawn, you don't mind Evil Cat, do you? Nah, sleep is overrated anyway. 

So for those keeping track: Noelle was with one set of grandparents, Dylan was at home and Noah and I were with another set of grandparents. Family time! We do it right! Noah had unfettered access to Nana; many books were read...

perks of being a cuddler
and many humans were passed.
Pass the human down the left hand side mon.
Finally, everyone was home and there was much rejoicing...

The Broncos and Seahawks made it to the Super Bowl and all was right with the world until I had to try to talk a 7 year old through swallowing a pill. That worked about as well the production guys actually filtering the products which is to say is not at all.

Maybe next weekend we'll all try being together. And sleeping. That would be grand too.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Leggings are not pants and other random musings

1. They look like pants. They are put on like pants and yet, unless you are layering them under a skirt or pairing with a long shirt, thou shalt not wear them as pants. (Babies and toddler are exempt from this of course because RUFFLE BUTT!)

2. Why is it when you go to bed late and you have to get up early you are compelled to wake every 45 minutes or so to make sure you haven't overslept thereby negating any 'sleep' you do get? Also: still tired.

3. If the 'ladies' on Maury Povich want an easy way to identify their baby daddies, perhaps they shouldn't sleep with so many different men in the first place. (What? Isn't every break room TV tuned into Maury?)

4. Never, ever, EVER argue with the judge hearing your case. It's like the people on Judge Judy have never actually watched 'Judge Judy' before. You only piss her off and make yourself look stupid. Stop it.

5. We're big fans of quality talk TV here at work.

6. Recent dreams have included walking around Old Navy in my underwear and last night added in walking around topless. It was beyond weird but man my boobs looked great.

7. While Triscuits and peanut butter are a delicious combination, choosing to make them dinner two out of the past four nights probably didn't help with the dreams.

8. Related, someone needs to study the link between making extremely poor dinner decisions and dreaming about the lack of clothes. I'd try it again tonight (for SCIENCE) but alas, am almost out of peanut butter.

9. It does not matter what time I leave work in the afternoon; I will arrive home at 5:55 pm due to weather, traffic, stupidity (mine or others. Usually others), or some unholy combination of all three.

10. One word for you: Battleshots. Look for Riskbong to be a thing next year.

You drank my battleship!

Have a great day! Phases on stun, good luck, Kirk out.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Does this paint make my blog look fat?

You know what makes folks feel good? A makeover. A new face for a fresh start. We do it for our hair, our bodies, our houses (hello cat-puke pink walls!) so, why not our blogs?

Drum roll please.......

After 4 years, this little blog o'mine that started as Mino and Man-Man is getting a face lift to become Dawn Snarks. I'm pretty excited as it captures the growth I've been feeling and the possibilities that are out there. The old version, it was cutesy, whimsical and in my jaded countenance, just doesn't reflect who I am anymore. Mino was Noelle, what her cousin called her before she could pronounce 'Noelle'. Man-Man was one of my first nicknames for Noah but he's now Boo, Buds, Boo-Boo, Doodlebug, Doodles and sometimes 'Noah'... but not Man-Man.

I started this blog to talk about them, their trials and tribulations, successes and failures, the hysterical and the heartbreaking but as they get older, those stories are becoming their own to tell and I am more than just a mommy. So I'm reclaiming this space for myself and if there's something to share about them I will but for now, pour a glass of wine and lock the door because, as the name says, Dawn snarks.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Some days really are unicorns and rainbows

My kids love each other, there's no doubt about that. Noelle won't let us leave school drop-off until she has hugged and kissed her little brother good-bye. Noah won't leave her alone for a second as she's so much fun to play with. And she is, she makes up incredibly imaginative games and narratives. Granted, they usually end up looking more like running from room to room chasing or being chased by something but the giggles are loud and plentiful. Other days? Hoo boy. It's all we can do to make it to bedtime with a minimum number of meltdowns and tantrums.

Saturday...was not a good day. Noah was in a MOOD. He was whiny and cranky and it didn't help that it was raining, limiting us to indoor activities. With the keen sense that staying home and doing nothing would exacerbate the situation developed over 7 years of parenting nonsense, we planned a moderately full afternoon of activities: haircuts (which they both needed), lunch at Red Robin, a visit to the Disney Store to look around and finally, a viewing of 'Frozen' which I have wanted to see since it opened. (Also, you CANNOT find a Jasmine doll in any store. Noelle managed to lose hers and of course it's the one she wants to play with now. Apparently we used up all of our luck getting a parking space right in front of the theater and I do not have time to stalk stores. 'Aladdin' just needs to hurry up and be re-released already is all I'm saying.) You know, fun stuff. Maybe he suffers from a form of Seasonal Affective Disorder, maybe he wasn't feeling well. Maybe he was just being a right little shit. Who knows? It was rough but we were seeing that movie dammit. I'm an extremely empathetic parent as you can tell.

So between him falling asleep in the car on the way home, getting home at dinnertime and having church/Sunday school the next day, I was already plotting my escape. After Mass we picked up the kids from their Sunday School classrooms; I got Noelle and the first thing she tells me is, 'Mommy, we got candy canes and I have two so I can give one to Noah.' She handed both to me, then took them back saying, 'Look, Mommy! When you put them together they make a heart! That's why I'm giving one to Noah because I love him so much!' And she walked right up to him and told him that. He lit up and hugged her back saying, 'Thank you Noelle! I love you too!' (He really dislikes candy canes so him ignoring that and thanking his sister was a BIG HUGE STEP right there.)

When we got home, the love fest continued. Noelle straight away wanted to write him a letter and decorate it

Yay! Everyone loves love.
It's not only lefties who trail to the right...

then made one for everyone in the house: me, Dylan and even Jinx. Jinx's letter is hanging about her food dish so she'll always know how much Noelle loves her. Then Noah wrote her a letter telling her that he loves her which she has already designated a space for in her room.

Yes, the hallway really is that yellow.

I tiptoed around not wanting to disturb whatever delicate balance of the Force was required to result in such harmonious sibling coexistence.

They played together all afternoon: I was getting ready to go run some errands, they were playing; I was out, they were playing. I returned from Target and the grocery store and interrupted them (still) playing, leading to the dulcet cries of 'What did you get me?' (This time I actually did get them something they didn't need but am hanging onto to until Valentine's Day because what better way to say 'I Love You' than with Monster High dolls?). Putting groceries away: still playing. Chilled out on the couch for a bit before heading to the consignment sale inventory pick up? Still playing. They. Were. Amazing. I guess the key is for mommy to not be around for an afternoon. They could have asked for the world that day and I would have given it to them, that's how awesome they were.

Except the Monster High dolls. Sorry guys, you're waiting until Valentine's Day for those.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Reviewcap: 'Frozen'

After begging my kids for over a month can we please please please see 'Frozen' (yes, the irony of this statement is not lost on me), we finally had a family movie date to see it. And it was worth waiting for. Once again Disney has crafted a beautiful story of love and acceptance but took a 90 degree turn from the usual.

While on the surface it's a story of love between two sisters, the meaning is much deeper than that. Born with the power to make ice and snow, Princess Elsa accidentally gravely injures her younger sister Princess Anna while playing on day. Taken to the mountain trolls, Anna is healed by the removal of the memory of Elsa's magic but never forgets the fun. Elsa in that moment is taught that her powers are secret and shameful and that she must be isolated so she doesn't hurt anyone again. This isolation freezes the relationship between the sisters with Anna not understanding why Elsa doesn't want to play with her anymore. To protect Elsa's secret, the castle gates are locked leaving the girls prisoners: Anna by the gates and Elsa by her fear and shame.

When their parents are lost at sea, Elsa assumes the throne, alone in her fear and uncertainty over her growing powers. Anna is reveling in her new-found freedom, if only for a day. While Elsa worries alone how she will get through the coronation, Anna finds first love with a handsome prince named Hans, the youngest of 13 brothers whose parents clearly subscribed to the old adage of 'an heir, a spare and a football team'. After a whirlwind romance of a couple of hours they decide to get married and spring this on Elsa during the coronation ball. Unsurprisingly, Elsa vetoes the idea and an argument between Elsa and Anna reveals Elsa's secret, leading her to flee in shame. The depth of the feeling behind the power Elsa unleashed causes an apocalyptic winter to settle over Arendelle in the summer, stranding the visiting dignitaries .

Free for the first time from the prison of her mind and fear, Elsa revels in being able to experiment and create with her powers a stunning ice castle with a wild new fashion look. She can't hurt anyone anymore but doesn't know what is happening to Arendelle - and  for the moment, doesn't care. She's finally as happy as she knows how to be.

Anna has never given up on her sister no matter for how many years Elsa shut her out and sets out to find her, enlisting on her way the assistance of an ice merchant named Kristoff and his life partner Sven the reindeer and leaving Hans in charge as she has a long history of making really excellent decisions. In classic fashion, they bicker, share and finally, begin working together. The closer they get to where Elsa has made her new home, the more beauty they see in winter. The strength of Elsa's magic has brought a snowman named Olaf to life - he begins to revive Anna's memories of the accident but with a child's trust and innocence, Anna knows that it wasn't on purpose. She just wants to find her sister, bring her home and fix the mess in Arendelle. Oh yeah, and marry Hans.

Elsa is less than pleased to see that Anna has tracked her down and orders her to go away, she doesn't want to hurt anyone and is better off alone. Anna pushes the issue as Elsa hasn't let her describe the conditions in Arendelle but this only serves to heighten Elsa's anxiety causing her powers to gain strength and she shoots ice at Anna which hits her in the heart. Little sisters, amirite? Elsa literally throws them out of the castle thanks to a giant snow monster which, when you think about it, is really her patronus. So that went smashingly well and still no answer to Arendelle's problem. Meanwhile, Hans is really stepping up with keeping the people of Arendelle comfortable with blankets and food and is growing into a leader role while trying to ignore the blustering of the Duke of Weaselton (that's WESelton!) who wants to hunt Elsa down and make her pay for trapping him there. Weaselton is the main trading partner of Arendelle and for years, the Duke has been trying to find out anything he can about the mysterious country.

Kristoff and Anna begin to head for home when Anna collapses. She's freezing and her hair is turning white. Kristoff takes her to see his adopted family and begins talking to a pile of rocks. Anna and Olaf question his sanity when the rocks are revealed to be mountain trolls. They completely misunderstand the situation and think that Kristoff has brought a girl to them to be introduced but hello! Have they met Sven? Kristoff and Anna are just about ready to say their vows when Kristoff is finally able to get through to them that they aren't getting married but she is sick and can Grandpoppy please help? Up rolls Grandpoppy and it's the same troll who healed Anna years ago but this time it's much more difficult - only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart. This means they need to get Anna back to Hans and Arendelle right away.

Hans though, is off to rescue Anna and he and his men end up fighting Elsa who ultimately is knocked out and captured. She awakes in the castle dungeon with her hands encased in iron mittens. This understandably stresses her and her powers begin ramping up to full throttle. Unaware that Anna has been hurt, Elsa begins to struggle in a desperate attempt to free herself. Hans visits Elsa and attempts to comfort and soothe her; he's really quite kind and solicitous. He returns to the castle proper when Kristoff and Anna arrive, Anna practically comatose. They take her to a warm room and leave her with her true love Hans. Anna asks him to kiss her as only an act of true love can save her and of course that means true love's kiss. Hans makes with the kissy face then pulls back and taunts her that he never loved her and she was an idiot for buying into it. As the youngest of 13, he had no chance back home so would have to marry into a throne. His plan was to marry Anna, kill her then off her sister to get Arendelle but Anna freezing to death beforehand would do nicely. He extinguishes the candles and the fire and locks her in there to die. This is one of the only parts of the movie I have an issue with: there was no indication of any sort that Hans was playing a deeper game. No side glances, no questionable expressions, no suspicious utterances. I get that they were trying to come from left field and bravo and all that but for it to work, there has to be something to build on unless they were trying to imply that he was getting a taste for ruling when in charge of Arendelle then made up the whole plan? It's the weakest part of the story.

Hans sadly informs the Duke that Anna has died but not before saying their wedding vows in private where no one could see them. The Duke of course accepts this and since it was Elsa's fault Anna died, he sentences her to death for treason. Couple of things wrong here: Elsa is still queen, they aren't married and you always, always ALWAYS make sure the person is completely dead as a Miracle Max or Olaf the summer-loving snowman will thwart you. And he does. Olaf, that is. Olaf picks the lock on the door with his carrot (not a euphemism) and they now must find Kristoff as he's clearly her true love. Elsa's magic is getting stronger with killer ice spears erupting throughout the castle. Anna and Olaf escape by jumping out of the window but since the snow is about 30 feet deep right now, this isn't a major cause for concern. Elsa has blasted her way out of the dungeon and is taking off across then fjord again. Hans pursues to carry out the sentence, Anna is trying to find Kristoff and everyone is playing dodge the ships as the blizzard rages out of control. Hans catches up to Elsa and tells her that Anna is dead, she killed her with her magic. Elsa falls to her knees in tears and the blizzard stops. Anna sees Kristoff and stumbles to him but then notices Hans raising a sword above Elsa's head. With her last ounce of strength, she throws herself between her sister and the descending sword as she turns to ice. The sword shatters against her upraised hand and Elsa throws herself on her sister, sobbing. As the skies calm a strange thing happens; Anna begins to thaw. It was the selfless act of saving her sister, the sister she loved more than anything else in the world that did it. No magic kiss, no prince, none of that. She healed herself with an act of true love. Elsa is overcome with joy and in that moment, finally understands the key to her powers: you can only love when you are free from shame and secrets. With that heavy burden gone, she reverses the winter and summer returns to Arendelle.

Hans is sent home with his tail between his legs and the trade pact is severed between Arendelle and Weaselton. Happy and confident, Elsa orders that castle gates opened; never to be closed again and Anna and Kristoff get to know each other in a non-life threatening emergency way.

I loved that the key ended up not being romantic love but the fierce protective bond between two sisters. It also speaks to the damaging power secrets have over us. By keeping Elsa and her powers hidden, Elsa learned she was a freak and her abilities were something to be ashamed of and controlled at all costs. By trying to keep their daughters safe, the king and queen ended up making them prisoners and for Elsa, the complete absence of stress became her only survival tactic. But once her secret was out and she was free to love and laugh and be, her powers were no longer an issue and she could use them as she chose and not become a slave to them.

The music was fantastic and the dialogue witty and a bit snarky at times so naturally I love it. Anna reminded me of Mulan at times with her clumsiness and enthusiasm, of Rapunzel with the being locked up, and of Jasmine for saying exactly what was on her mind. No filter for that girl. This movie is good reminder to all that that what makes us who we are is never a thing for shame. Oh, and locking children away never leads to anything good so as batty as they drive us, just don't do it. But do go see 'Frozen' if you haven't already. You'll laugh, you'll cry...and you'll love.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Reviewcap: Zorro the Gay Blade (1981)

This is not Antonio Banderas's 'Zorro'; it's much, much more...more.

Sorry, wrong gay blade.

That's more like it
I recently rewatched this gem with my sister, her husband and Dylan on New Year's Eve and because it's so gloriously bad, I felt compelled to share the awesomeness with you all. This was a family favorite back in the day and actually getting a copy for my very own self, well, transcendental joy doesn't even come close. So sit back and relax, it won't hurt *that* much.

Do you remember the legend of El Zorro? Well of course not, most of us were born after the 1950s but he was the native Californian's superman in the 1840s where greedy, unscrupulous landowners had pretty much enslaved the peasants. He fought for truth, justice, and the poor trodden-down pepels in the field so of course the masses were crying out for a movie in the 1980s.

George Hamilton starred as Don Diego de la Vega, a wealthy playboy in Madrid. Caught with his pants almost down with another man's wife, his loyal mute servant Paco (Donovan Scott) pantomimes a letter from Diego's father. Two thoughts here: 1) I want Paco on my charades team every time and 2) Did Scott get a SAG card as he had no actual lines in the movie? Moving on. To California!

No pants are safe around me
Diego and Paco arrived in Los Angeles to be greeted by Diego's boyhood friend Esteban (Ron Liebman) who has risen to the rank of Capitan in the local guard. In no sort of coincidence whatsoever, Diego's father was killed in a tragic riding accident, elevating Esteban to acting Alcalde or boss of the dons and who it turns out married the object of both of the boys' affections, Florinda (Brenda Vaccaro). Diego congratulates Esteban on his luck and can't not charm the pants off of every woman he meets. Esteban is slightly unhinged so a threesome is out of the question. Now that Diego's back in town and new Don de la Vega, the dons meet to formally elect the next Alcalde which to the surprise of precisely no one is Esteban. Interrupting his victory speech however is rich political do-gooder Charlotte Taylor-Wilson (Lauren Hutton) who is trying to bring independence to the people of Los Angeles. Esteban threatens jail to anyone who listens to her leaving only Diego hanging around. He's instantly smitten and turns on the charm but girlfriend is having none of that as he is not concerned about the pepels working with the ships in the field.

Repairing to his family villa, Diego finds a note from his father detailing the de la Vega's true destiny: in time of crisis, the Vega men don the mask of El Zorro...and this hat, which needs reblocking. True to form, the import is lost on Diego who thinks it's a snazzy costume to wear to the celebratory masquerade ball but I'll be honest, Hamilton cuts a dashing figure as Zorro, though a bit puffed up with his own importance. As Paco and Diego head to the ball, they come across an old man crying for help; a one-eyed man has taken all of his money! Diego chases the bandit down and returns the coins to the old man, plus interest. Alas, it turns out that the bandit was actually the tax collector who was also on his way to the ball. He fingers Diego as the masked man who robbed him and Esteban immediately challenges Diego to a duel.

They fight all through the ball room until the masked Diego effects a grand escape from the balcony...breaking his leg in the process and missing his destiny by a foot. He limps off home and is visited first by Florinda who had carried a torch for him all these years and then by Esteban who suspects his friend. Esteban challenges Diego to a dance off to prove that it had to have been Diego in the mask which is one of the funnier things I've seen. Satisfied, Esteban leaves and engages in a reign of terror as the peasants are treated worse and worse because of the interference of Zorro.

Early form of zumba
Diego is despondent that he can do nothing until a surprise visitor shows up: his long-lost twin brother Ramon de la Vega (George Hamilton. Again) who their father had sent to the British Navy to man up. And man up he did, reinventing himself as Bunny Wigglesworth with a falsetto that could make your ears bleed. Diego comes up with the brilliant idea for Ramon, er, Bunny to take over as Zorro until his leg heals. Bunny doesn't 'do' swords but he's a mean hand with a whip and with a colorful flair for fashion as the traditional black is just too drab.
Never fear, El Zorro is here
Looking like a bag of Skittles threw up, Bunny slashes and dashes his way through Los Angeles, bedeviling Esteban at every turn and giving Diego a perfect cover. Unfortunately, Charlotte is falling for our masked hero, leaving Bunny as the intermediary between Diego and Charlotte. The only good news is that Bunny is definitely not a player in this game.

Esteban is being driven completely around the bend by Zorro when he sees a chance to lure his nemesis into the open: a grand ball to show off Florinda's expensive new necklace. Figuring that Zorro could never pass up the chance to swipe the necklace, Esteban surrounds Florinda with quite possibly the most inept quartet of guards ever, discounting Stormtroopers of course. In my favorite scene of the film, Esteban is talking to the tax collector Velasquez saying that they need to be sharp, it's not like Zorro is going to walk in announcing 'Here I am!'...which Diego precisely does, elating and disappointing Esteban that it wasn't harder to catch him. comes another guest also dressed as Zorro! What the blazes is going on here?! A mysterious servant delivered instructions to all the guests to come dressed as Zorro! And mayhem ensues.

But the Alcalde is right; Zorro is planning to steal the necklace but how will he pull it off? Why, having his twin brother dress in drag and present as his cousin Margarita Wigglesworth from Santa Barbara.

Perhaps 12 times a night once a year isn't the best idea...
What no one anticipated was that Esteban fell hard for whom he termed, his 'large, blond dove.' So Bunny Margarita creates a diversion by spilling a drink on Florinda and under the guise of 'helping' relieves Florinda of her jewelry. They escape in the madness that ensues and Bunny heads back to the English Navy, finally clueing Diego in the Charlotte is in love with Zorro. Why he couldn't have shared that particular bit of information earlier I'm not really sure as he was not going to pursue that avenue ever. Diego as Zorro goes to Charlotte and yay! Love! BUT...a spy of the Alcalde sees Charlotte and Zorro together so of course she is kidnapped to trap Zorro when he comes to rescue her. Zorro hides in the crowd as a priest and is caught. Charlotte is released, Zorro is set in front of the firing squad when a voice cries out 'Two bits, four bits, six bit a peso. All for Zorro, stand up and say so!' Bunny-Zorro has returned and the dynamic duo turn the tide on the Alcalde's force, firing up the pepels to fight for their independence. The Alcalde abashed, destroyed, bereft is left in the square. Bunny finally boards his ship back to London and Diego and Charlotte depart for Boston to get married. And the pepels? Well, good luck y'all. Let us know how that independence works out for you.

Yes, the story is ridiculous and silly but such tremendous fun. George Hamilton was nominated  for a Golden Globe for his dual role and the physical comedy is top notch. Ron Liebman and Brenda Vaccaro chow down on the scenery something fierce. None of the lead actors are Hispanic and given today's sensibilities teeters dangerously close to a stereotypical parody of Hispanic accents. It's eminently quotable for what better way to announce your presence than with Don Diego's 'Here I Ammmm!'

Zorro: he stands against tyranny, he stands for justice and he your bedroom. Go watch it. You can thank me later.

I am intelligent. Intuitive. And not in Barcelona.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Say hello to my little friends

I call them 'PI' and 'TA'. They are of course my ridiculously expensive hearing aids. Say hi guys.

We've just sucked 1 year of your retirement away. 
Yes, I need them. Badly. Born with hearing loss, I cleverly disguised my difficulties with ever-changing coping mechanisms from reading ahead in class to reading to responding to what I thought I heard. No one would ever know! And they didn't, not for many years, until I spectacularly failed a hearing exam given school. My mom huffed and puffed and took me to an audiologist's office where...they confirmed nothing. I passed all of those tests with no issues so back to school I went with nothing done. Year after year the school nurse insisted I see an audiologist as I wasn't hearing the tones. I was failing! I would fail out of school, destined to work menial jobs, forever chained to a name tag. Except I wasn't. I was an excellent student, mostly A's, some B's (until Algebra, Calculus and Chemistry joined in the fun but let's not talk about them).

Let's face it - school when I was growing up consisted of following along in the book of whatever subject you were learning about. There wasn't real interaction, exchange of thoughts. That sort of thing in a Catholic school is anathema so I excelled at book learning. It wasn't hard to mask a disability I didn't know that I had. Finally in middle school, an audiologist was able to confirm what the school nurses had been saying for years: I was missing a huge chunk of sounds. My difficulty is with low tones so low talkers, people facing away from me, a lot of background noise, in those environments it's very hard for me to hear. So I resisted hearing aids because there was no way in hell I was wearing hearing aids in high school. Were they insane?! For over 20 years I've hemmed and hawed and put it off until what I was missing was more than what I was getting. So I broke down and met with an audiologist last fall. They gave me the results in hushed tones, not wanting to upset me but...there was no longer a 'good' ear. It used to be I could hear better out of my right ear than my left one but not anymore. Way to be an overachiever, self! Also, no shit, Sherlock.

The good news just kept on coming - reviewing the my health insurance benefits it was discovered that they covered...nothing! Everything out of pocket and doesn't go to meeting the deductible. Whee! So in case you were wondering, CIGNA thinks that being able to hear is a luxury so you might as well brush up on your lip-reading and ASL cuz that shit's expensive. To the tune of $1,800 each for the in-the-ear type and if you need two, well hello darlin'! You're looking at $3,600. For the middle of the road technology. But hey, it's cool. I've been saving in a HSA for 2 years, we got this. That's what the account is for, amirite? Ha. Haaaa. No.

Well, sort of but see, there's a daily  transaction limit of $3,000. Even those who have trouble with math know that $3,600 is more than $3,000. Here's the best part: NO WHERE does it tell you there's a transaction limit. You need to get special authorization for any amount over $3,000. Fine, patch me through to the bank that holds the account...what? Why am I getting a voicemail at a bank on a Monday....crap. It's Veteran's Day. A bank holiday. So there I was with two new hearing aids that needed to be paid for with almost $9,000 available in my HSA but can't get to it because NO ONE WAS HOME.

Much wine was consumed that evening.

So learn from my experiences lest ye be left holding the bag-o-hearing aids in a doctor's office:

  1. Always listen to the school nurse
  2. Hearing is a luxury if you have CIGNA insurance
  3. Don't make major purchases with your own money on a bank holiday

Now if only there was a way to improve my typing and handwriting. Torpedos, anyone?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Following Directions Is Hard

Here in the mid-Atlantic, we woke to decidedly chilly temperatures (for us) this morning. Stumbling to the bathroom at 5:30, Dylan informed me that our local school system was on a 2-hour delay due to the cold. Okay then. It was my turn to stay with the kids but I have to say, maybe if they didn't turn OFF the heat in the buildings overnight in the dead of winter, it wouldn't take an extra 4 hours to make the building okay for human occupation. Just saying. Regardless, more sleep! Or not. Thanks honey!

This meant of course that Noelle's before school care was cancelled so I would be taking her to school along with all the other not-used-to-carpool-lanes crazies. At the beginning of the school year, all of the parents, guardians and assorted responsible adult-type people were told how the carpool drop off/pick up works. Please don't park across the street and walk your children across the road - many cars are traveling then, buses are pulling in, danger Will Robinson, etc. And again this information was shared in December. Today was our first chance to show that yeah, we studied. We're gonna nail this test. We're...gonna be responsible for a whole lot of road rage.

The drop off/pick up line winds around the school parking lot, down the street, into a local Swami temple and on really bad days, back out of the temple parking lot and down the street. It's a mess. They start allowing kids to be discharged from the cars starting at 8:55 on regular school days so it was 10:55 today. If you don't get there at least a half an hour before discharge starts, well, hope your brakes are in good shape cause that hill is steep. I didn't feel like competing for one of the first spots so eh, the line will go quick. Folks know the drill so it will be smooth. Ha. Haaaaa. No.

We joined the queue below the Swami temple right on the crest of the hill. I had a good look at the vehicles coming after me. To a vehicle, they stopped at the entrance to the temple, looking for a place to pull in and join the line. you NOT see the growing line of vehicles lining the street? I sat there behind the wheel, giving them the evil eye behind my sunglasses which they totally saw I'm sure and muttering 'Don't you dare. Don't. You. Dare.' Most realized that crap, they did have to ease on down the road with the rest of the latecomers. The others though, smug in the knowledge of being super special snowflakes to whom the rules don't apply, pulled into the parking lot of the temple causing mayhem (see: cars already there) and me hissing 'You. ASSHOLE.' which does nothing except make me feel better and enrich my children's vocabulary. Others parked in the auxiliary parking and walked their children across the street and then my head exploded. But I got better. Yes, you're busy but guess what? I'm busy too. And so is everyone else in the line. There is nothing that makes you better or more important than anyone else so check yo'self and get to the back of the line!

But most important of all, not following the rules endangers the kids. Waiting sucks. Being late sucks. But you know what? I will wait when any child's safety is on the line. This endears me to no end to other drivers who think that I should pull into/across traffic when they think I should but ultimately, it's my decision. And I will come down on the side of safety each and every time. I'd just like to see other adults remember that too. We're supposed to be the grown-ups after all.

Everyone got to his or her respective schools with some bonus TV time this morning but I will go on record saying that I hate 2-hour delays with a passion of a thousand fiery suns.

Oh goody! Only one more hour until the process is repeated in reverse.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Don't Call It A Comeback

Happy New Year! It's been a while, hasn't it? I won't bore you with the details but suffice it to say it involved a magic lamp, an alien invasion, and a whole lot of peach salsa. One of my resolutions was to get back to writing on the regular as it brings peace, clarity, and a kind of joy. Well, before the innerwebs tears it apart but bravely go on we must.

I had fallen into a deep melancholy the first half of the year - was unable to find energy or joy as my job sucked at all right out. Happiness and fulfillment from where you spend the majority of your waking hours is not too much to ask, right? Apparently not. Looking for validation and fulfillment from work only served to drag me down, make me desperately unhappy and so I stopped writing. Stopped doing a lot of stuff. Just didn't care because what did it matter? Had only to make it through the next day, gritting my teeth. Only 30 more years of this; I can make it. That's no way to live.

I still don't know what happened but it was the equivalent to a cosmic slap upside the head - sometimes a job is just a job. A means to an end. Personal happiness and fulfillment from it aren't required. And so I smiled more and laughed more and know what happened? The job got easier, the drudgery lessened and once I stopped expecting it to give me everything I wanted, it met me halfway and gave me what I needed: a paycheck and a sense of pride in what I do.

So, new year. New opportunities. Some things ending like Noah will be starting Kindergarten in the fall, on his 5th birthday to be exact. We had considered having him do another year of preschool as he will be the youngest in his class but once his pre-K class started on sight words and reading, there's no way to hold him back. He soaks it up like a sponge and is eager for more. It will be strange, leaving the daycare then preschool we've been with for seven years, since Noelle was a baby but any teary-eyed nostalgia is more than tempered by the thought of all the money in tuition we get back by not having to pay it anymore! We'll soldier on somehow.

Beyond that, my family is having a huge family reunion this summer, we are making progress on fixing up the house, clearing the basement and organizing the back room. Everyone is in big kid beds now and Dylan has a shiny new display case for his collectible figures. I took back care of my health last year and this year is my year to take it to the next level by actually wearing the $3600 hearing aids I paid for as my insurance covered exactly 0% of it.

But biggest and best of all, I had made a renewed commitment to writing and Friday afternoon, was offered the opportunity to recap Being Human for the website Paranormal Popculture. To say that I'm excited might be understating it by just a bit. Interesting, you get your head in order and things just seem to fall into place.

Now if you'll excuse me, it's time to make 2014 my bitch.