Sunday, December 31, 2017

Coming To A Close, 2017

There always seems to be this interesting lull between Christmas and New Years.  Like time stands still for a moment that lasts the whole week.  A time of reflection.  A time of wondering.  Pondering over highs and lows.  What ifs.  Could have been.

I never dreamed I would have gone to the UK and Ireland this time last year.  It seemed like an impossible dream.  It was at the end of January when my Mom and I found the tour we wanted to go on.

I visited California 3 times.  Once with the nieces and my Mom to Disneyland and Balboa/Newport.  Quite a trip that was.  Definite high and lows.  Laughs and tears.  But it was all fantastic.

Last May my Grandpa wanted to make a final trip to the California coast to visit all his favorite places.  My Grandma came along (they divorced when my Mom was 13 (my Grandma is a literal Saint)), and we visited Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Great American Melodrama in Oceano, Arroyo Grande, Cambria, and Ragged Point.  It was so good we made the trip, as my Grandpa is going downhill, and there's no way he could make such a trip now, so it was all very special.  And sentimental.

And last November my Mom and I went to Riverside to help my Uncle with something.  Did escape to Disneyland again and to the beach.  It was a busy trip full of service, but it was still good.

It's strange to think Christmas wasn't even a week ago.  Feels like eons.  We had another white Christmas, completely unexpected.  Snow came late Christmas Eve night, enough to stick on the ground through Christmas.  This has happened these last few years it seems.

I thought I was spending New Years Eve alone, as I didn't know if my Dad needed to work through the night, but I just got a call that he's coming home, and my brother Robbie, sister-in-law Lindsay, and little baby niece will be here an hour or so.  So I need to do some cleaning!

I didn't want to spend New Years Eve alone.  Nice not having too. :0)

Happy New Years!

Hope 2018 is wonderful.

Friday, December 22, 2017

November 2017 J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World by LootCrate subscription box review

This is the November J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World by LootCrate, which is a month late due to an item that got delayed at the factory.  This box features 5-7 exclusive and officially licensed items.
This subscription is bi-monthly, coming every other month.  At the outset of the box the cost was $34.99 per box plus $5 shipping.  Now it's $37.99 with $7 shipping and handling.  We got an email earlier this month that shipping was increasing by $2, hence the $7.  So now, if you get the "box to box" plan, the total cost is $44.99.  I've already paid for the January box, but I don't know if I'll get more than that.

This months theme: Secrets of the Wizarding World.

 Ariana Dumbledore Secret Compartment Picture Frame

This is a picture shadowbox.  I love that the picture of Ariana can be switched out. There's a magnet that keeps the box closed, and a back hook thing if you want to hang it.  There are hooks on the inside that aren't too difficult to unscrew.  The inside picture is the Room of Requirements.  Cool touch. Very innovative item.

 Blind Pig Coasters

These coasters are a hard cardboard, double sided, based on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  I loved this image from The Blind Pig speakeasy in NYC.  One of my favorite art images from the movie.  The coasters are nice, I'll use them, very fun.

 I Am Lord Voldemort Magnet Set

My least favorite item in the box.  I'm not even going to open it, just see if I can find a family or friend who would like it.  What is seen are the only magnets in the package.

 12 Grimmauld Place Collapsible Tote

On the inside of the pouch is a collapsible tote bag, and when opened up the pouch becomes a front pocket.  Really cool item, and I love the design.  Definitely fits the secrets theme.

 Glow-in-The-Dark Marauders Tee

This is a really cool T-shirt!  I couldn't get a good picture of the glow in the dark aspect, but it's a lovely drawing of Moony, Padfoot, and Prongs.  The tree itself is the Whomping Willow.

 Helga Hufflepuff's Cup Pin

The latest pin in the Horcrux series.  Since I haven't been getting all the boxes, I don't have all the pins, but I do like this Hufflepuff cup pin.

You can reverse the box to make the Marauders Map!  Really cool if you want to use it as a storage box instead of throwing it in the recycling bin.

The price for the box is starting to get steep, but I do like how innovative and different all the items in this box are.  And all the items are exclusive to this box!  You can't buy them anywhere else.  So if you want unique Harry Potter merch, this box is a good choice.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Reflections on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Now That I've Had Time To Think About It. (SPOILERS)

When I left the theater last Friday I did leave Star Wars: The Last Jedi in a good mood.  I wanted to like it, really like it, and in some ways I did, but now that some of the dust has settled little things about the movie have started jumping out at me.

It's interesting the great divide this movie has caused with Star Wars fans.  Reading through the Audience review section on Rotten Tomatoes it seems fans either love it or hate it.  1/2-1 stars verses 4-5 stars, hardly any down the middle.  93% critic rating compared to 56% audience rating.  That's a huge discrepancy.

Don't Read Below If You Don't Want Spoilers, because I'm definitely spoiling stuff in this post.


I originally gave the movie an A-, I've since gone back to that review and gave it a B.

It's a popcorn movie, but a perfect Star Wars movie it is not.

What Ever Happened To The Original Trilogy?

"Let the past die.  Kill it, if you have to.  It's the only way to become who you were meant to be," Kylo Ren.  That's a very prophetic line from Kylo, and this current Star Wars trilogy seems to be taking it literally.  It seems the Star Wars ethos is being killed for the mouse.  Everything we know and love is either getting killed off or barely noticed.

Han Solo's death is still one of the most pathetic deaths in cinematic history.  Pointless.  Simply Harrison Ford wanting a way out.  But it's a terrible end for an incredibly interesting character.  Luke is now dead, ready to fill new shoes as a force ghost.  And we know Carrie is dead, therefore Leia is dead as well.

Then we get to the other main characters from episode IV-VI.  We still have no idea where Lando is.  Not even a mention.  R2-D2 and C-3P0 are hardly seen.  The moments where Chewbacca shows up is to simply be the butt of a joke; It's like he has no purpose without Han, and Chewie is worth more than that.

This new trilogy has also ruined everything the original trilogy set up.  Han and Leia never had a good relationship.  They have a kid, kid turns evil, and they separate.  Greatest love story build up, extinguished. Then Luke literally takes to the hills.  Does he really have it in him to even contemplate killing his nephew? It goes against Luke's saving grace towards his Dad.  Totally out of character.  Yes, he was a bit of a brat on Tatooine, but he grew past that.

The Killing of Snoke

The climax to his death was pretty epic, with Snoke pitting Ren against Rey.  (Is there any reason why their names are off by a single letter?)  I never cared for Snoke.  He annoyed me in the last film.  Never cared about his origins.  So when he died with no explanation, I was totally cool with it, glad to see him out of the way, but I could see why many were not.  Again with the wasted characters, Snoke being one.  These Star Wars movies are starting a troubling trend in wasting characters.

Rey's linage

Kylo Ren to Rey: “They were filthy junk traders.  Sold you off for drinking money. They’re dead in a pauper’s grave in the Jakku desert. You come from nothing. You’re nothing, but not to me.”

He could be lying.  He could be telling the truth.  He may have thought he saw the truth, but didn't, and relayed a false idea.  But then maybe he is being honest.

Rey coming from nothing doesn't bother me.  Greatness can come from anywhere, my only complaint is that Episode I-IX is the Skywalker saga, and it would have meant more if she came from a known linage.  I kinda wonder if Abrams was setting up for that, but Johnson, in the process of taking over and throwing stuff out, replacing Ep. VIII with his own ideas, went away from the original plan.  It's possible that Abrams didn't have Rey's "nothing" parenthood in mind, and that's Johnson's vision.  Hard to know.  Maybe just another thing thrown to the side in the process of changing directors.  One of the dangers of having too many cooks in the kitchen: We're getting half baked goods.

The Gambling Place

The whole side story where Finn and Rose take off to Canto Bight to find the master code-breaker was a whole lot of filler, set up to bring a political side to the story.  Rich people are bad, ya'll, because they are all dealing and selling weapons.  There's animal cruelty and child slave labor.  It's also the place that introduces light/dark/moral ambiguity by introducing DJ, the Benicio Del Toro character who simply comes and goes, using Finn and Rose in the process.  MIA.

The only way the whole Canto Bight doesn't become a complete waste is if DJ turns out to be Rey's father.  Seems like a stretch after what Kylo Ren says, but he could be lying.  If DJ is Rey's father, having proven to be the kind of man who would sell his daughter for drinking money, and returns in the next film, then the gambling World side-traction won't feel so meaningless.

Floating Leia

Leia floating didn't really bother me, interesting visuals, but her sudden mastery over the force with no real training did bother me.  This is the first and last time we see her truly using the force like a Jedi master, and she's not a Jedi master.  It's out of nowhere, strange, and out of character.  If she was a total force user it wouldn't have been so out of place.

In hindsight Leia should have had Vice Admiral Holdo's death, because that was a great way to go.  Too bad we no longer have Holdo, but I found her character interesting, and we barely got to know her.


I did like Yoda's reprise, though Yoda looked weird.  Glad they used a puppet instead of CGI, but the puppet wasn't quite right.  His face seemed squished, or something, can't put my finger on it.  I did like seeing Yoda again, just wish they used the same puppet as Empire/ROTJ.  (Maybe they did, who knows, just going off observation.

"Wisdom they held, but that library contained nothing that the girl Rey does not already possess."  Yoda to Luke, after burning the sacred tree with the ancient Jedi text.  Though this comment may have been tongue in cheek, because the text are later seen on the Millennium Falcon hidden away, which means Rey stole them, and Yoda knew this, pranking Luke.  So typical Yoda.

Luke's Demise

Luke's last scene facing his Nephew and being shot at was really quite epic.  his being killed off doesn't bother me, because, as a force user, we know he's not really gone.  He can be a help to Rey in the same way Kenobi and Yoda were a great help to Luke.  At least he died in peace, though I still find it a shame what they did to his character during those missing years.  

 Strong Women/Weak Men

Rey, Maz Kanata (barely seen), Leia, and Vice Admiral Holdo are all really strong women who can do no wrong.  Kylo Ren is a spoiled brat, Snoke and Hux are pure evil, Poe is a hot head who gets criticized for it, DJ shrouded in moral ambiguity, and Han went back to his rogue ways abandoning Leia and Ren before suffering a meaningless death.  It's lopsided.  The strong male role models we could have had, we didn't, though Luke maybe could be again.  Han started redeeming himself before getting killed off.

Finn and Rose go off on their little side journey, though it fails, at least they tried, but still.

It's good to have strong female characters, but they're a little 2-dimanetional.  Giving the guys flaws makes them more interesting, more human.

Ren is still a brat.  

Humor in the Star Wars Universe

I don't mind humor in the Star Wars Universe.  As humans we find things funny, so having characters with a sense of humor is natural.  There is a point where it gets to be too much.  One of my biggest complaints with episode IV-VI special editions in the 90's was the added side gags, which were unneeded.  Humor, in general, isn't a bad thing.  It should be natural, not forced, and at times it was forced.

* * * *

There you have it, some of the things I've been thinking.  With all these criticisms I wonder if a B rating is too much, but I still enjoyed it, despite the flaws.  Maybe I'll feel differently in a few months, but it's where I stand now.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, mini movie review. Non-spoilers

Rating: B (changed from A-)

To say I'm relieved is an understatement.

I liked The Force Awakens, but didn't love it.  I wanted to love it, saw the movie back to back in the theater, but it left me wanting as I constantly drew comparisons between Star Wars episode VII with IV.  This time around I was afraid The Last Jedi would be a mirror of sorts to Empire Strikes Back, my favorite of the Star Wars films.  Thankfully this wasn't the case, and I left the theater very satisfied and on a Star Wars high that I haven't felt since my childhood days.

The Last Jedi picks up where the last ended.  How much I'm not certain, as I totally spaced it during the opening crawl and didn't read it.  (Serious, guys, super embarrassed.  Totally zoned out!  Spaced it during a space movie.)

But all the characters, those who survived the last (Han's death is still upsetting.  Did they have to ruin Han and Leia's relationship?  One of the greatest love stories goes out with nothing but a whimper.)  But all the old characters are back with some new ones.  The new characters are a great addition to the story, and I like the new creatures as well.  Ice foxes, as seen in the trailer, are really cool.  Those Porgs that's been getting all the attention turned out to be pretty cute and not overdone.  Surprised by that, honestly.

Really, The Last Jedi has renewed my hope for the future of Star Wars.  Still upset Mara Jade isn't canon, glad Thrawn got re-canonized for the animated series, which I need to watch, but these new characters are growing on me.

The Empire Strikes Back is still my favorite. And because I keep thinking about Empire, and watched it the other day, that stupid "SEAGULLS! (Stop It Now)" song keeps going through my head.  Not joking.  On loop.  And this morning I woke up dreaming about "Bushes of Love."  Which, okay, spoiler, there's no strange sibling kissing in The Last Jedi.  Another relief.

So, seriously, go see The Last Jedi.  It's worth the wait.

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence.

SEAGULLS . . . . !!!!!!  

P.S. The theater audience really got into it.  The in-theater Star Wars fans seemed to really enjoy the movie, and it was fun experiencing their reactions.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Soft Breath of Courage

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."

~ Winston S. Churchill

What does this seagull have to do with this post? Absolutely nothing.

That aside, I've been thinking about courage a lot lately.  What does it mean to have courage?   To be courageous and brave?

Recently I listened to a Hidden Brain podcast entitled: "What Can a Personality Test Tell Us About Who We Are?"  Very fascinating listen.  It starts out talking about Hogwart houses and sorting, then goes into Myers Briggs, Chinese Zodiac, and other types of personality profiles.

I still stand by the fact that at age 11 I would no doubt be sorted a Gryffindor, for reasons and stories I'll never get into.  But lately I've been wondering about my bravery. I don't feel as brave as I use to be.  Far from it.  And, side note, in terms of Myers Briggs, MBTI, it's greatly flawed.  Lots of fun and a little amusing, but far from perfect.  It's sad how much stock people put into it.  In terms of that I'm a "core" INFJ, but I have INTJ and INFP in me as well depending on my mood, circumstance, etc, and will go between the three.  It doesn't mean I'm shifty, just a complex human being.

Got off track.  Back to thinking about courage and bravery.

I want to be brave, and for me, right now, my bravery seems small, not loud and boisterous.  It's me facing my fears, doing things I'm afraid I can't do.  My brothers want me to try composing an 8-bit style song for a game, and my first thought is, "I can't do it!"  My goodness, not that I don't want to do it, I do, but a fear that it can't be done.  My bravery is ignoring that voice in the back of my mind telling me I can't, proving the silent criticism wrong.

And in regards to that Seagull:

Seagulls can be courageous, too, when they're facing death to get a fry.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

My Elf on a Shelf

Elf on a Shelf.

Whenever I think of that Elf in a red onesie I roll my eyes.

And then I'm super glad that Elf didn't exist when I was a kid, because I'm better for it.  This Elf came to the scene in 2005, so heaven help the poor little souls of the next generation who's raised with that creature.  A venomous creature with no regard for privacy.  Apparently Mr. little elf hangs out spying on kids and then reporting to Santa whether or not the kids are good, and then gets into mischief while hiding and seeking.  Who's going to report the Elf for being naughty?

At the end of the book, which I haven't read for rebellions sake and learned on wikipedia, if you touch an Elf it looses its magic and can't return to Santa.  If I was a kid I would touch that elf and hide it myself so I can maintain my independence without outside judgement.

Suddenly that line from Santa Clause is Coming to Town becomes a whole lot more creepy: "He knows when you are sleeping.  He knows when you're awake.  He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake."

Serious Santa, what's the deal?

And I just admitted to owning a Legolas Barbie doll . . . -_-;;

Still, sexier than that little red thing.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Coco, mini movie review

Rating: A

In Coco, the latest offering from Disney's Pixar, Miguel is a boy who finds himself different from his family.  They are all shoemakers, a trade passed on from one generation to the next.  Music is banned.  Many generations back Miguel's great-great-grandfather left the family to pursue music, never returning, leaving his great-great-grandmother to find a way to support herself and her family, the banishment of music the result and the family's love of shoes established.  Miguel is torn between his family and the music that pours through him.

During Miguel's plight, it is also that time of year where the dead come to visit the living.  The day of the dead.  The family ofrenda is all set up, every ancestor displayed lovingly with a photo and favorite offering.  Every member represented except for Miguel's great-great-grandfather, whose photo was ripped.  Miguel believes he's discovered who his long lost great-great-grandfather is, and while doing so, desperate to display his musical talents, he steals a guitar from a tomb, and in so doing finds himself trapped in the land of the dead.  There he finds his family, new friends, and discovers a great family secret.

Coco is a delightful family movie about those who come before and also about what makes us who we are.  I love the music theme that runs throughout with great songs, but also just the love of music that is presented.  As a hobby genealogist I loved the theme of ancestors and family.

The Land of the Dead where Miguel finds himself is a visual masterpiece.  The colors and artistry beautiful.  I loved the spirit guide animals that fly around, and all the other little details that can be seen.

If you haven't seen it yet I highly recommend Coco.  A great family film.

MPAA: Rated PG for thematic elements.

P.S. The Frozen short that comes before about Christmas traditions is really cute.  (Songs could have been better).  Word on the street is that it's getting pulled this weekend due to complaints over it's length, which is a problem, as it's about 21 minutes long.  After 15-20 minutes of trailers that's about 40 minutes of wait time before Coco.  Also, 21 minutes isn't really short.  It's about the length of a full Disney Channel animated episode.  And those sick of Frozen may not want to wait through it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Harry Potter Christmas in the Wizarding World at South Town Mall in Sandy Utah

 I recently visited the Harry Potter Christmas in the Wizarding World at South Town Mall in Sandy Utah.  From the South Town website: "A first of its kind retail experience, will be reminiscent of the setting and atmosphere of a wintry Hogsmeade village. Complete with an extensive wand assortment, film-inspired window displays and interactive elements, the themed shopping experience is sure to be a hit with fans of J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World."

It was smaller than I thought it would be, but I really enjoyed the window displays around the outside of the Hogsmeade set up.  I've never been to Wizarding World at Universal, so it's my first time seeing something like this.  Needless to say if I ever find myself at Universal Studios, I'd pretty much go crazy.

I had a lot of fun in Ollivander's.  There's a little show where the "shop owner" tries out different wands and then it "snows".  The inventory was limited, but I still snagged Queenie's wand, because it's cool.

Window displays around the outside.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

So Many Little Things To Be Thankful

“There is so much in the world for us if we only have the eyes to see it, and the heart to love it, and the hand to gather it ourselves- so much in men and women, so much in art and literature, so much everywhere in which to delight, and for which to be thankful for.” 

~ Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of the Island

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

At our house it was more of a quiet affair with some of my siblings, parents, grandparents, and a baby niece.  Michael and his fam joined up with Krista's family.  Enough text messages were passed back and forth to bring us all together.

There is so much to be thankful.

And now the Christmas season is upon us!

It's been warmer than normal, which I'm not complaining.  Wish the nice 60's temperature can last, but we do live in the mountain west, so it's a matter of time.  I love the snow, don't get me wrong, it's the driving in it that scares me.  So I'm dreaming of beautiful beaches this upcoming Winter season.  Though, the World is so beautiful draped in white snow, on a Sunday morning when no one is out driving, and everything is quiet.  Surreal and magical.  Hopefully we'll have one such day.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Walking Around Kensington Palace Gardens

 On the evening of September 23rd my Mom and I walked around Kensington Palace Gardens.  The palace itself was closed, but the gardens were open for a stroll.  The gardens are beautiful and worth a visit.

 Queen Victoria, as this is where she grew up.

Photos by Robin and Sarah Stufflebeam