Archive for May, 2014

Electronic Dinosaurs

Thursday, May 29th, 2014


I never had to walk barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways to school. I don’t remember when you had to ration for sugar and coffee and I never drew lines on the back of my leg to pretend that I was wearing silk stockings. I have heard these stories from my parents and grandparents. When I talk to my daughter about the days before the Internet, when you only saw a movie once a year on television, it probably sounds as antiquated and far-fetched as the stories I heard. Kids today are fascinated with the idea of life before technology. How did you do you instantly look up facts? How could you do your homework without a laptop? In my childhood home, we walked over to the bookshelf and pulled out the encyclopedia. We turned pages with our hands. Chances are, our copies were outdated, so a trip to the library wasn’t out of the question. Requesting a show or a song “on demand” would have been met with a quizzical look and an attitude adjustment lecture from our parents. To help kids get the picture (not the kind on Instagram), be sure to share any of your old electronic equipment with the kids. An old Sony Walkman-style audio player will never come back in style, but let the kids experience your favorite mix tape from college – old school style. Your turntable will certainly be a hit with the hipsters, as will your old Polaroid camera (if you’re lucky enough to have any film). These are relics from a not so distant past, but  instead of just letting them collect dust, turn them into a history lesson. And maybe, just maybe, they won’t be so quick to complain that their new laptop isn’t fast enough. Oh, you might want to watch this first.



Time Shift Your TV: Crazy TV Science Shows

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Science can be so fun – and funny.  Wormhole

The most successful TV scientists do just that – make it accessible, easy and, at times, silly. Look at Bill Nye, the Science Guy. His clever and easygoing 1990s show on PBS was so popular he’s become a pop culture icon, making appearances last year on The Big Bang Theory and Dancing With the Stars.

Also moving into the pop culture science realm is Morgan Freeman, host of Science channel’s hit show Through the Wormhole, which delves into big questions about the universe and our place in it. In a new short video posted on YouTube, Freeman inhales some helium before saying, “In unusual situations, you don’t always get what you expect. But sometimes, unusual situations lead to new insights.” The simple video has gone viral, approaching 1 million views in one day. And it’s all promo for the fifth season of Wormhole, which returns to the Science channel on June 4 at 10 p.m.

Meanwhile, have you heard of the Dancing Science Guy? On Friday’s Today Show, Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb welcomed him on for a segment in which he made giant glasses of “wine” appear and then made wine glasses disappear. And who is he? Jeffrey Vinokur, 23. He’s got a master’s degree in biochemistry from UCLA and specializes in demonstrating and explaining science through TV and school shows. They all had a good laugh during the “three cool experiments” he did on the air.

All of this is to say that if you like your science delivered in a wacky way, you might want to check out a new show starting Tuesday, May 27, at 8 p.m. on the Science channel, titled World’s Strangest. It promises to examine strange machines, inventions and experiments. For example, the show touts a vessel that will make you say, “Holy ship!” You get the idea. See how fun science can be.

Field Day

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

SpinCircleCreative Commons License Patrik Jones via Compfight

The end of school year means different ideas to different folks. For kids today, part of the celebration is Field Day—a whole day of play at school! Field day is designed to get kids outside, moving and having fun. Some schools call it Sports Day and have physical competitions. Others have lots of activities that may get kids moving, but will never be part of the Olympics. Social games like water balloon toss, egg races and hoola hoop challenges are the norm. It’s a nice tradition to end the school year and blow off some steam. Parents and teachers are often involved and it can be a lot of fun. Scholastic has some fun ideas, as does Education World and the PTO. And to keep the sparks and benefits of play alive all year, has a location based map of playgrounds.

If your school doesn’t have a Field Day, you can create a family day to celebrate the start of summer. To help mark the moment, try planting a pumpkin seed so kids can keep track of it—and their summer —progress. When the pumpkin starts getting big and orange, they’ll know it’s time to start thinking about getting ready for school.


Pumpkin Seed

How will you celebrate the end of the school year?


Food Revolution Day!

Thursday, May 15th, 2014



It’s simple, really. Eat better food, feel better. But what exactly is “better food?” Who has time to read every food label, research every ingredient– or has enough money or time to buy and cook fresh? It all seems like one more thing to pile onto a parent’s to-do list.  Like anything in life, it’s more effective and long term if we make changes in small steps. Friday, May 16 is Food Revolution Day. Take your first step to a healthy future and check out Food Revolution Day. It’s a day to get kids and families excited about real food. Good food. Simple food. It’s a day to start a change in your family, share your recipes and ideas about food to make eating healthy just a normal part of everyday life. Started by Chef Jamie Oliver, his Food Foundation and ensuing movement has spread to 74 countries with the goal to make this revolution part of daily life. The site has live cooking lessons, recipes, printouts and contests. Diet related illness is on the rise. Home cooking is a lost art. Recipes and cooking skills used to be handed down through the generations, but now most kids can’t even make themselves a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Teaching kids to cook fresh, healthy food doesn’t just help them physically, it teaches them self-sufficiency and problem solving and gives them a self-confidence you just can’t buy at a fast food chain. Will you be part of the revolution?

My Favorite Roast Chicken

4 lb. roasting chicken (preferably organic)

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil to taste

Juice of 1 lemon

10 sprigs fresh thyme

6 cloves garlic, unpeeled

2 yellow onions, peeled and quartered

1 cup fingerling potatoes

1 cup baby carrots

1 cup white wine or chicken broth

Preheat oven to 425. Prepare chicken in pan (remove innards, pat dry with paper towel). Rub cavity with salt and pepper and lemon juice. Fill cavity with 8 sprigs thyme. Scatter garlic, potatoes, onions and carrots around the chicken. Drizzle olive oil over chicken and vegetables. Shred the remaining thyme leaves over everything; add a little more salt and pepper. Put the bird breast side up in shallow roasting pan on the middle rack and roast for 30 to 40 minutes—until everything starts to brown nicely. Pour wine or chicken broth in the pan and continue roasting. If juices are evaporating or vegetables are burning, add ¼ cup water to pan. Chicken is done when the meat thermometer registers 180. Carve and serve with fresh bread. You have your vegetables and protein all in one dish. I promise, it is incredibly easy and unbelievably delicious. Don’t be surprised if there isn’t much left at the end of dinner.


Summer 2014 Movie Preview

Monday, May 12th, 2014


Summer is typically a big time for family films.

But this year, there are not quite as many movies to lure you into the darkness and out of the summer sun. As a Variety story noted this week, last summer there were seven big movies targeting all ages. And for summer 2014, there are only two – How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Planes, Fire & Rescue. However, there are more than two films with a rating of PG, and there are some with a PG-13 that might be appropriate and enjoyable fare for the tweens and teens in your house.

Here are the films generating the most buzz, along with our take on what might be worth your while on a rainy summer afternoon:


 Godzilla (PG-13) May 15

The movie about a giant reptile started with the 1954 classic Japanese film Gojira. It has been remade more than once since then, and this time there are high hopes for director Gareth Edwards’ version and vision, starring Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston as a nuclear physicist who investigates suspicious activity at a Japanese nuclear plant. Early reviews say the CGI work is top-notch, so for kids in the family who can handle a giant reptile wreaking havoc, there will be that payoff. As for why you’d go see it otherwise? Maybe a conversation about science will happen on the car-ride home and make it even more worthwhile.


Million Dollar Arm (PG) May 16

A baseball movie is always welcome in our house, and this one will be tops on our list of movies-to-see. Mom will be happy – it stars Jon Hamm. Dad will be happy – it’s about baseball. And everyone will likely get a kick out of the story of two cricket players in rural India, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, who in 2007 began their journey to becoming professional baseball players in America.


Blended (PG-13) May 23

Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore made a cute team in the 1998 movie, The Wedding Singer. The film had heart. They were also a sweet couple in 50 First Dates, another PG-13 film. You can count on Barrymore to often play that heart-of-gold part, but Sandler doesn’t always deliver. Let’s hope they hit a home run with this story, centered around two single parents who had a previous terrible blind date and now find themselves stuck together at on an African safari with all their kids in tow.


Tracks PG-13 (May 23)

This movie has apparently been kicking around, trying to get made, since 1994. There was talk of Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman both being interested at one point. But the role of a young woman taking a nearly 2,000 mile trek across the deserts of West Australia with four camels and a faithful dog went to Mia Wasikowska, the dynamic star of Alice in Wonderland. It’s a true story, adapted from Robyn Davidson’s 1980 memoir. And note: in 1980, Robyn didn’t have a GPS, a cell phone, email and all the other tools that are such a part of our lives. It might do us all a lot of good to see it’s like to undertake a trip of serious real-life challenges and solitude.


Maleficent (PG) May 30

There’s been much hype already about Maleficent because the film stars Angelina Jolie. This is a prequel and retelling of Sleeping Beauty, told from the perspective of the villain Maleficent. She curses a princess only to find out that the child, played by Elle Fanning, may be the only one who can bring peace to the kingdom. Look for fire-breathing dragons, magic, fairies and more in what appears to be a very grand tale.


The Fault in our Stars (PG-13) June 6

If any teens or tweens in your house have read John Green’s award-winning 2012 novel, The Fault in our Stars, then there is probably high interest in the film already. Shailene Woodley plays Hazel Grace Lancaster and Ansel Elgort plays Augustus Waters, two teens who meet in a cancer support group. Willem Dafoe plays Hazel Grace’s favorite author and the two embark on a journey to find him. It’s a heartbreaking story, but you knew that the minute we said “cancer support group.” The film, if it lives up to the book at all, promises to be a winner. Just be sure to leave the little ones at home and have plenty of Kleenex on hand for everyone else.


How to Train Your Dragon 2 (PG) June 13

It’s been four years since How to TrainYour Dragon charmed us all. Now DreamWorks is returning to the dragon and Viking world in this sequel featuring Hiccup, the Viking and Toothless, the dragon. Cate Blanchett joins the already-packed voice ensemble of Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill and Kristen Wiig. Will it stack up to the original? Maybe not, maybe so. But at its worst, it will still likely be highly enjoyable.


Earth To Echo (PG) July 2

Could this be E.T. for a new generation? The storyline is reminiscent of that classic film, but with an updated twist. Here, teens begin to receive mysterious messages on their cell phones. No, it’s not a new Dominos texting ad campaign. It’s got to do with a cute little alien they befriend. And, of course, trouble follows.


Planes: Fire & Rescue … July 18

The second film in the planned Planes trilogy features air raced Dustry Crophopper joining an elite crew to protect Piston Peak’s National Park from a massive, raging wildfire. The rescue team includes veteran helicopter Blade Ranger, energetic Lil’ Dipper, and a group of all-terrain vehicles that must bravely try to stop the fire. For young vehicle-lovers in the family, this will no doubt be a must-see movie. The 3D version will be particularly fun. The original was rated PG, so we’re guessing this one will be, too.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Aug. 8 No rating yet

Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello aren’t just the names of Renaissance masters, they’re also the names of the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from the storm sewers of Manhattan. They battle evil bad guys, with the help of their rat sensei, Master Splinter. Expect a lot of fight scenes, some light-hearted wisecracks from the Turtles and Megan Fox. In other words, is there any real reason to go see it? Probably not.


The Giver Aug. 15 No rating yet

This film is an adaptation of the 1993 children’s Newbery-winning book by Lois Lowry, so your tweens or teens may be familiar with it. It’s about a 12-year-old boy, Jonas, in a post-apocalyptic futuristic society in which he is chosen to be “the receiver of memory.” In other words, he is instructed by a Giver as to the reality behind his seemingly perfect world where pain, war, suffering and differences don’t exist. Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgard star. What’s unknown is whether it’s appropriate for younger teens because the filmmakers have turned the 12-year-old into a 20-year-old and have included more of a love story. Watch for the MPAA rating.


When the Game Stands Tall Aug. 22 No rating yet

This football movie could prove to be fine family fare as it tells the story of football coach Bob Ladouceur, played by Jim Caviezel, who turned around the De La Salle High School team in Concord, Calif., taking them to a 151-game record-making winning streak. The story promises to look at how the streak affects families, community and player character.


One Chance (PG-13) Aug. 29

“What if you had a gift no one believed in?” That’s the teaser in the trailer for this charming film, which has been making appearances at festivals since last year. It’s the true story of British cell-phone salesman Paul Potts, who, on a lark, auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent in 2007 and went on to wow audiences and judges with his opera singing as he won the show and became a global sensation. Potts was bullied as a child and had a lot of bad luck in life before he realized his dream and was able to do exactly what he was put on earth to do. One Chance promises to be a charming, triumphant story of daring to be different and following your heart and gift.