My daughter’s birthday is coming up, and to celebrate the occasion, Toys R Us sends her a $3 gift card. Not that you can get anything there for $3, but it is the thought that counts, I suppose, and the fact that the recipient will want to spend it, and inevitably spend more!

Anyway, we took her there on Saturday to see what she could find. She wanted something Harry Potter, but I warned her they were unlikely to have anything, and that was proved correct. Despite the staying power of the books, the ancillary market seems to have died out after the final movie. Then she wanted something featuring Wonder Woman. Nope–lots of Spiderman, Batman, and Superman, but no Wonder Woman. Then she saw the Star Wars section, and asked if there were any Princess Leias. Again we struck out.

Finally we found ourselves in the Star Trek section, and she saw a Mr. Spock action figure. This is from the classic series, not the reboots, which she has not seen. We have been watching Star Trek on TV, and she thinks Spock is cool, so that is what she wanted. We did another lap of the store to be sure, but Spock it was, and now he stands, ready for action, between her photo of President Obama, which he sent in answer to her letter, and a Harry Potter action figure. I have had trouble finding a Hermione one.

I have no problem with Spock–as I told her later that morning, I thought it was cool that she liked him. However, it would have been nice to come home with a female figure. First, I have to note that all this looking we did took place in the boys’ section of the store. The girls section was pretty much limited to Barbie, My Little Pony, and Disney Princesses. None of which she finds appealing. But as I walked past the pink Easy Bake Oven, I was reminded of the petition started by the girl whose brother wanted said oven and didn’t understand why it only came in pink. My daughter wanted a cool superhero toy, and there was nothing specifically for her. It’s bad enough that we still perpetuate the cars and tools sets are for boys and kitchen sets are for girls mindset in the toy industry. But can’t girls even get the tiniest bone thrown their way?

I left the store wanting to open a toy store of my own and stocking it with cool, non-traditional toys for girls, and maybe boys too. It is unrealistic, but I was annoyed. I don’t think my daughter really realized she was shopping in the boys’ department, but she did notice that the store didn’t have the things she wanted. In the end, however, I am happy she found something she liked.

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Cutting the Cable: Part 2

February 11, 2013

So far so good with reducing cable channels. My husband misses CNN, but that’s it. However, I was not happy with my Apple TV, and, as a result, it is going back to the store.

The main reason we got Apple TV in addition to the Roku was so we could use the mirror option to watch shows from the apps or online. And this was mainly for CBS shows because just about everything else is available through Hulu. Well, CBS has some kind of issue with Apple, I guess, because this was a big bust. First of all, CBS does not have an app that allows streaming of full episodes. Secondly, while episodes are available through their website, they won’t stream on an iPad, only a computer. Without these options available, the Apple TV quickly became redundant–pretty much everything it could do the Roku already did, so there was no need to have two.

I have to say this is disappointing, and I don’t know what CBS is thinking. Unfortunately, we like a lot of the shows that air on CBS, and we aren’t usually up to see any of them live. I really hope they get their act together soon. With more people going this route, their ratings will plummet if they don’t do something for the viewers, who, if I am not mistaken, are supposed to be their primary reason for existing, right?

A TV Junkie Cuts the Cable

January 28, 2013

Unemployment can be a strong motivator. For a long time, we have been thinking about cutting back on our cable services, but all we did was talk about it. Now that trimming expenses is critical, the cable bill was the first thing to hit the chopping block. I do love TV; my husband does as well. We used our DVR to record just about everything we watched. We didn’t want to give up our shows, but we needed to make it all more budget friendly. I had read and heard about a lot of people who had dumped cable, so I knew it was possible and potentially painless. So now that we were motivated, we set about making changes.

We didn’t completely sever ties with Time Warner, who is our local provider. We kept our Internet, because that has become an essential utility. And it makes the rest possible. For right now, we also have our landline, although we are considering cutting that as well and just using our mobile phones. Lastly, we did keep Basic Cable for local channels and access to news and sports. However, even that reduction cut our bill almost in half.

To fill the TV gap, we turned to streaming. We’ve had a Roku box for a long time, and we love it. We had Netflix’s streaming service already–although up to now we’ve used it primarily for movies and to re-watch Alias and The X-Files when there was nothing on cable, which was happening more and more. To this we added Hulu to get access to first-run shows shortly after they air. We did upgrade to a newer Roku box so we could also add Vudu, which allows you, among other things, to rent movies to stream. Although for that, I think Redbox is still cheaper.

This all happened last week, so this will be the first week we are depending on streaming to watch the shows we like. Luckily, just about everything is available on Hulu, so I have high hopes. I was leery of Hulu because there are a lot of negative reviews, particularly regarding the commercials included. However, we got the free trial to test it out, and I didn’t mind the commercial breaks at all. For what we watched, they were short–I think the ad breaks when watching through the network apps or their websites are far longer. And, as someone noted in a review I read, they have to pay the networks to get access to these episodes so soon, so it is either ads or higher monthly fees. I’ll take the ads. So, we’ll see how that goes. The only shows missing at those that air on CBS, so we will have to stream those from the website.

I have an iPad, so to complement our Roku, we also got an Apple TV. This allows us to mirror the iPad on the TV screen and watch shows via the apps or website. We went back and forth about needing both, but the Apple TV doesn’t allow streaming from Amazon, and since we have Prime, which includes free streaming of a lot of their video, we wanted to have access to that. While there is overlap, both have enough different features to justify having one of each. And, while it was a bit pricey to get these new toys–and the cables and whatnot to connect it all–a few months of lower Time Warner bills will cover it.

I have to say the worst part of the whole thing was trying to negotiate something with the cable company. Everyone you speak to, it seems, has different information and access to different deals. At first we were being told that reducing our channels would be more expensive as they are all about the bundle. That was just crazy. But after several calls, the last of which lasted 52 minutes, we got our current package. Although we intended to drop the phone, we were told that was not possible to do and keep the bill low, so we have it for now. I have since been told by another TW representative that we were given mis-information, but I didn’t have the strength to make further changes at that point. We’ve just decided to try ignoring our landline for a month to see if we can really go without it.

So, I will post more after we have spent some time with this new system, but I figure if I can take the leap, just about anyone can!

Summer Reflections, Part 1

September 7, 2012

It’s hard to believe that I haven’t posted since June, that school is back in session, and that Fall is right around the corner. The end of August really took me by surprise this year. One thing that I look forward to during the summer is going to the movies–summer blockbusters, no need for a sitter thanks to camp–it is all good. Unfortunately the movie crop wasn’t that tempting this year. After The Avengers, there really wasn’t anything that had me jumping up and down–and that was worth the jumping! The Amazing Spiderman was pretty good. I am really looking forward to seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark in IMAX tomorrow.

We took our daughter to see Brave, and that was pretty good. Finally a movie about a girl that doesn’t end in a wedding–where she gets to choose her own course. Disney should really take notice. Interestingly, we finally watched Disney’s Snow White with our daughter around the same time. She just finished The Sisters Grimm and wanted to know more about the fairy tales in the book. It had been a long time since I watched the movie–it was never one of my favorites–but something struck me as I was watching–a couple of somethings actually. One is that the movie is not about marrying Prince Charming. It is about dying a virgin so one can go to Heaven and marry God/Christ. The Christian overtones at the end are really striking, and I don’t know how I never noticed it before.

The second thing I noticed really didn’t come together in my mind until the movie theater shooting in Colorado. The effect of violence in popular media on our psyches continues to be an important conversation. A parallel conversation is the impact of negative images of women in the media and how that affects girls. That is one reason I have delayed showing my daughter any Princess movies–I wanted her to be able to think about the message first.

Now, my mother has always said that I watched these movies as a kid with no ill effects. Without going back in time to change that, I don’t know if she is true or not. However, I may be willing to agree with her because I experienced these films differently–just like people used to experience violent films differently. People would see a movie once in the theater. That was it; the effect was limited. Now movies are viewed, especially by kids, over and over on DVD. A violent video game isn’t just played once–it is played for hundreds of hours. There is a lot of evidence supporting the idea that if someone is told something over and over, they will come to believe it. Might not something similar happen with repeated exposure to violence or negative images? I would argue that it is not necessarily the products of the entertainment industry, but the way we engage with them.

However, because of this difference in engagement, perhaps the industry needs to do something differently. What that is, I am not sure. Serious thought for the end of summer. I promise some pictures of tasty treats soon to make up for it!

The Dresden Files

March 7, 2012

I finished Turn Coat the other day, and it was another great entry in The Dresden Files series, by Jim Butcher. I only have two more to go until I am caught up–then what will I do? I tend to fall into series late, so I have lots of back titles to keep me occupied, but I am now caught up with Sookie Stackhouse and Kitty Norville, and almost caught up with Dresden. Guess I will need to delve more into Anita Blake and Rachel Morgan!

Anyway, I got into TDF after seeing the series on SyFy. I’ve been re-watching the series on Netflix, and, as usual, the books are better, but it is fun to have a visual as well. Anyway, the best part of this book was Morgan, Dresden’s perpetual thorn-in-the-side, being in desperate need of Dresden’s help. The story raced along, and I felt out of breath at the end–and anxious to start the next one! But I try to be good and spread them out a bit–especially when I am so close to the current end.

The books are a perfect blend of detective novel, horror, and fantasy–genre-crossing is all the rage these days, but no element suffers here.

Happy New Year!

January 4, 2012

Since I have used three recipes from the book in as many days, I think my cookbook to follow this year will be Urban Vegan. Monday we had a waffle buffet for supper, and two of the recipes came from that book: Orange Poppyseed (left–which I made lemon because I didn’t have any orange extract) and Chocolate (right). I also tweaked these two to be gluten-free, so I could enjoy them as well!

And for my daughter’s lunch this week, we have The Vegan Lunch Box‘s “Eat Your Oatmeal” Waffles (below), which she has not minded eating cold and dunking in maple syrup.  I thought about making some soy bacon to send it with it, but I wasn’t sure how that would go over.

Wanted to go to the movies this week, but just not sure I can sit through Dragon Tattoo at the theater–it is long and I am expecting it to be intense–might be better at home on DVD–but do I want to wait? Have to think about this some more.

Looking forward to The Avengers and The Hunger Games, but there is still awhile to go for those! We saw a trailer for The Avengers before Mission Impossible, and it looks good–and Joss Whedon too! Just watched the trailer for The Hunger Games, and I’m still not sure I like the main actors, but we shall see! TV is still in a lull, but I am looking forward to Alcatraz–J.J. Abrams!–The Finder might be good since it is a spin-off of Bones, which I really like, Touch and The River also look interesting. The bigger problem is that I don’t think my DVR can hold any more!

P.S.

June 29, 2011

I realized after the fact that my rant about Disney might have seemed hypocritical paired with my search for Harry Potter, given that I’m pretty sure Disney distributes the Harry Potter films. However, that is part of my point. They cannot be gotten away from. My main concern is with the animated features and the princess mania. Although the newer princesses are an improvement, they are still rather passive. And all the tie-ins need to stop. Disney may have its corporate fingers in other pies, but it is their own line that has turned into a hydra that just needs to be killed.

And I must say that I am not a huge fan of HP either. It’s not that I am an English professor, necessarily–believe me, I consume a great deal of literary junk food. And many of my colleagues like the books. I just found it rather derivative–perhaps because I am a medievalist and a big fantasy reader. But my daughter is turning eight and wanted to have a movie party with her friends. We figured Harry would have the most appeal. She has read the first book. In this, one must pick their battles. And my search is testament to the fact that the tie-in craze, at least for younger kids, is not so heavy. I like looking around my daughter’s room and, with the exception of a Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman poster (a great show that should be saved), a signed photo with the Hi-5 cast from several years ago, and a small Saddle Club poster, the decor is her own, not dictated by some show.

Does that mean we aren’t sucked in on occasion? Hell, no! She has an ample collection of Build-a-Bear animals and clothes, but those are her “dolls,” so we decided that was OK–picking battles. She has Legos, books galore, Breyer horses, toy tools, a Nano, a veterinarian costume complete with gear–in other words, girl stuff. I just want to steer clear of the things that will try to dictate what she can do and be.

And I also understand that Disney movies are part of our culture–they are stories people are expected to know. Critical thinking skills need to come first. And new releases need a day to miss most of the toys!

Kim Harrison

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