Why You Don’t Want Me To Watch TV

Last night, I had a rare girls’ night with  my mom and my sister. We had a great time, but on my way home, I started to feel a little ill. I think the bacon-wrapped pork roulade was a little rich for me, and the venison was rather overdone. Chicken, okay? I ate chicken. With Lima beans and some dressing. Stove top stuffing, to be exact. Not guaciale seared scallops or cassoulet.

Our girls’ night consisted of back-to-back episodes of DVR’d episodes from the Food Network. Three hours of chefs sweating over what to do with the bizarre mystery ingredients unveiled to them in their baskets, and I felt like I had eaten my way across six continents. Television isn’t good for me.

I have a TV, of course. We paid $10 for it at a yard sale about six years ago. It works just fine. Okay, maybe everyone on the screen appears to be four inches tall and pink, and the sound quality is so bad that the television can be heard more clearly upstairs than in the room where it resides, but it’s good enough for me. And it’s obviously all that I can handle.

The set we watched last night was a little bigger than mine, the picture and sound clear as a bell. The people looked like people instead of Oompah Loompahs, and the food looked like food.  Well, most of it did. After a couple of hours, that line between entertainment and reality gets a little blurred, and I start to feel bloated from all that bacon. What is this obsession with bacon, anyway?  I don’t get it. Give me a pork bracioli and  broccoli rabe florets with a touch of raspberry truffle. That was actually not bad. Wait… Did I…? Chicken. That’s right. I ate chicken. I keep forgetting. The lines, how they blur! Maybe I just need new glasses…

I got so lost in my viewing pleasure that I know I will have to choose the shows I watch on a real television very carefully. I couldn’t watch The Bachelor without a divorce attorney present. I’d need to get my shots before I ever turned on The Amazing Race. I’m less worried about The Voice because I don’t even know what it is. Do they speak? Sing? Does the champion screamer win?

I’ve decided that television twice a month is probably all I can handle without gaining a lot of imaginary weight. I’m going back to books, I think. I’m better off with reading anyway. When I start The Hobbit for the millionth time, I don’t have to worry about those lines blurring because I already know it’s real.


Totally free-hand. If I were not a writer, I'd have to be an artist, right?

Totally free-hand. If I were not a writer, I’d have to be an artist, right?


Know Before You Go: Legoland Discovery Center

When we got home from our vacation, I wrote two letters. One, a letter to the Fairview Inn and Suites thanking them for an amazing stay. Seriously. The best part of the trip! Indoor pool, clean room, unbelievably courteous and helpful staff (one person offered to bring us more popcorn to our room if we ran out), fitness center with state of the art equipment, continental breakfast that included a make-your-own-waffle bar and fresh fruit. We’d go back again just to stay at the hotel.

The second letter was not as happy. It was to the Legoland Discovery Center in Atlanta, the biggest disappointment of our trip. If you’ve got a  Lego fan in your life, here’s what you need to know before you pay a visit.

It’s expensive. Tickets for the five of us set us back about $80. The site encourages visitors to order tickets online in order to receive priority, so we did. We learned that “priority” doesn’t mean that you get to the head of the line at anything. It means that you get in the door. And if you arrive an hour after your scheduled time, they don’t actually have to let you in if it’s busy.

It’s poorly laid out. After getting our ticket, we were sent into a room that measured about 20×30. Maybe less. It contained five or six large elements and some Lego statuary and was apparently their “factory.” A guide explained how Lego bricks are made, which was interesting. The problem was that the doors on either side closed on us, essentially trapping us in the room, as both sets of doors were automatic and had no handles on the inside. They allow 25 people in this room at a time, which is too many to move comfortably.

When the doors finally opened, we were walked toward a rats’ maze where we were to stand in line for the shoot ’em up game. Except that the line actually blocked the exit from the factory completely. In order to get out, we had to walk through the wall of people waiting in line. I was claustrophobic and ready to leave at that point.

Duplos rule the day. In the whole facility, there were only two areas to build with actual Lego bricks. There was a master builder classroom that can hold a max of about 20 people. Classes were held about every half-hour. The instructor taught them how to build a cube. The other Lego construction area was a build-your-own-race-car area. Builders could test their constructions on two five-foot “J” shaped ramps. Sadly, every single car flew up at the end of its run and either hit someone or left the area completely and became a tripping hazard. There were no attendants at this element. Squish was hit in the head twice.

If your kid considers Duplos  to be beneath them, there won’t be a whole lot for them to do.

There are height restrictions and requirements. The informational map you can pick up at rest stops and restaurants is actually the same one you get at Legoland. It indicates there are such restrictions, but it doesn’t tell you what they are. The soft play area (what my son considered to be the only decent element in the place) is for 54 inches and under. The wizard ride is for 36 inches and above.

caveat: Height restriction applies to parents, too. Unless parents are smaller than 54 inches, they are not allowed to accompany their child into the soft-play area. This means that younger children may not be able to navigate the climbing portion of the structure unless they have an older child to help them. It also means that your toddler may get stuck in a high elements with much bigger and rougher kids, and you can’t see them at all from the ground.

There are lines for almost everything. Lines were shorter at Dollywood. There’s a section where kids can create a construction out of Duplos and see if it withstands an earthquake. There were stations for five or six kids at a time. There were at least 150 kids there that day.

The Lego store has no exclusive items, and their prices are very high .  For the die-hard collector, there’s nothing better than laying hands on something you can’t get anywhere else.  Look elsewhere. Everything in the store can be purchased at Target or Wal-mart for a much lower price. One set we saw was 50% more expensive than it is at Wal-mart.

Other Lego stores are better stocked. They have a little bin where visitors can build three mini-figures for  a set price. At other stores, you get a body, head, hat or hair, and an accessory. At this store, there were no accessories at all, and only  couple of kinds of hair, three different hats, and four bodies. They  also have a small section of “pick a brick” where you can buy Lego bricks by the ounce. The selection of bricks, though, is poor.

My son had been saving his money for months for this trip. He ended up buying nothing. His assessment of the store was “I can get it for less somewhere else.” Dear Lego store, when a 10-year-old Lego freak with a pocket full of cash refuses to spend any of it in your store, you’ve missed the mark somewhere.

You can’t get real reviews on their website. In addition to picking only positive reviews to post (they’ve only got two reviews up at the moment), they reserve the right to edit your post. I would expect that they would only pick the good ones since it’s their site, but it’s creepy that they can edit your post.

One positive: The one thing in the facility that isn’t exorbitantly expensive is the food. The larger combos are for a family of 4, but individual portions weren’t that costly.

My advice: If your child is between the ages of 4-8, it is not a weekend, the tickets are free, and you’re in the Atlanta area anyway, it might be worth visiting Legoland Discovery Center. Otherwise, take the money you would have spent and buy a really, really cool Lego set. You’ll have something to show for it, and you may not lose your faith in the Lego company.

***Update: I did get an email response from someone at Legoland. He assured me that right after our visit, the Lego store restocked their merchandise and now has exclusive items. It’s not worth my money to travel back down there to verify. It appears, also, that all exclusive items can be found on the website. Save a trip and order online.

Anything Can Be Educational

Take our recent trip to Dollywood. Shut up. We had free tickets. Despite the blaring and terrible country music, we had a great time, and we even learned a thing or two.

What I learned: visit a theme park on an overcast Wednesday where there’s a 60% chance of rain. You’ll walk right on even the biggest attractions.

What husband learned: it is more fun to take wife places that aren’t crowded because it’s easier for her to hide the crazy. Win!

What girl-child learned: sometimes you gotta take one for the team. Dollywood wasn’t her idea.

What Padawan learned: Dollywood is the greatest place on earth to spend a 10th birthday.

What Squish learned: the ride does not stop just because you want it to.

It started with a little ride called “Piggy Parade.” And I do mean little. The only requirement was that riders have upper body control. I swear, that’s what the sign says. And it looked like fun, even to Squish. But then the operator started the ride rather roughly, with a bone-rattling jerk. And that was all Squish needed to question the wisdom of his decision.

This attraction is not providing the riding pleasure I had hoped.

Which led to this:

I would prefer to depart now. Could you please stop?

And finally this:

You will be hearing from my attorney

***I am not a totally horrible parent. He’s not actually crying. This is drama-face.  If he had really been crying, I would not have posted the pictures. I would have deleted them and pretended the whole thing never happened. He has some weird little fears, but he’ll grow out of them. I doubt he’ll ever strap himself into a giant pig again, though.

A Day Late and a Dollar Short Movie Review: The Hulk

I did not love it. I am not even sure if it was The Hulk or just Hulk, and I don’t care enough to Google it, or even go downstairs and look at the DVD cover. The happy news is that I spent no money on it, since it was a free loan from my library. Unless I forget to return it today. Then it will cost me a buck, and that would be one dollar too many.

I didn’t hate Hulk, really. The story line was just okay. All the superhero movies get a little tedious as they give the back story on how said superhero acquired their powers, and this one was definitely no exception. There were some disturbing moments, and some of them seemed unnecessary. It was like Ang Lee couldn’t decide if this picture was going to be dark like Batman or not. I guess that was his goal because he was either going for dark and scary or flat and forgettable. Truthfully he vacillated between the two.

I wasn’t completely engaged in his version of the pre-monster story. I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t read the comics, but I grew up on The Incredible Hulk TV show. I think David Banner may have been the first broken, brooding man I ever gave my heart to. And Lee’s version stomped all over my treasured memories. To add insult to injury, Lee didn’t even use the theme song, a tragic oversight if ever there was one.

The acting was, um, something. Yes, something. I know that Bruce Banner was supposed to be reserved, keeping all his emotions locked inside. Ham-handed dialog gave me that insight within the first 10 minutes. Apparently, all the other characters were, too, since they all offered the emotional depth of a popcorn carton. Maybe this was all as Lee intended, and short of hiring Kristen Stewart to play ALL the roles, this cast was the best he could come up with.

It sometimes seemed like Lee hadn’t actually read the script because all of a sudden, the dead-pan lead character is advised to “get ahold of that temper.” Temper? Really? I would give my life-size Severus Snape cutout (hey, sweetie! If you’re reading this, I’m getting one. That’s okay, right? I promise to keep him on my side of the bed!) to have a kid whose tantrums were pre-Hulk Bruce. I’ve had flip-flops with more emotional instability.

Anyway. The story wasn’t horrible. Except for the part about the mutated Poodle. Poodles are German, Lee, not French. Do your research! I’m not sure if scary poodle was supposed to be funny, or if it was supposed to take the sting out of Lee’s stereotypical use of Pit Bulls as vicious attack dogs. I was lost either way.

There were some very technically impressive, though not very interesting, scenes where Hulk bounds through the desert like a giant green bunny. There was also an extended shot of the backs of my eyelids. Or maybe fell asleep. I’m not fussed about it. I can pretty much fill in the blanks. Hulk bounces around. He smashes some stuff. He said “Puny human” once. Which made me ponder the frailty of human existence. Or not.

I asked my husband if Hulk killed the bad guy. He said “Um, I think so?” Which pretty much says it all. Will I see the others in the series? Only if Mark Ruffalo is actually in them. He nailed Hulk in Avengers. Would I recommend it to friends? Sure. Watch this movie if you have nothing better to do, like painting the dog’s toe nails or regrouting the bathroom.

Hulk bore puny human! ARRRR!

Maybe I Should Get Cable Now

As many people already know, we cut cable several years age. We haven’t always eschewed television. Once, we had digital cable with over 300 channels. Shut up. I know that’s like a basic package these days, but back then, it was a big deal. For the record, though, it was still 300 channels of nothing to watch. Eventually, we cancelled service completely and never looked back. Until now.

We have the converter box thingy that makes everything all digital-like, but we don’t pay for extra channels. Our television cost us $10 at a garage sale. Four years ago. No need to gild that particular lily. So the regular programming we now have available consists of three different PBS stations, CBS, Fox, and NBC, which really is three stations too many, since network television now seems to boast nothing but B-list celebrities in reality shows. And PBS has Sherlock. I’m covered. And then came the Olympics.

I get NBC. I figured we were all set. We brought our Olympic-sized snacks down to the family room to get our game on. The Padawan is the only one in the house who knows how to actually turn the television on (don’t get me started. Apparently the cables have to be just-so if you have been playing the Super Nintendo or the VCR.), so he worked his magic, and we were good to go. And what did we get? Women’s volleyball.

Before all the athletic supporters of the world tie me in a net and spike coconuts at my head, let me say I used to like volleyball. I did. I even played. In gym class and stuff, but whatevs. I was good.

I distinctly remember the day my gym teacher approached me and my friend on the court. He said “We’ve got a spot on the team. Are you interested?” I said I’d think about it. Turns out, he wasn’t actually talking to me. He was recruiting my friend.    With all the diplomacy he could muster, the coach said “We’ve got a spot for you, too. We need a statistician.” Yeah. A score keeper. That’s like your best pal getting asked out on a date by the cutest guy in school and being invited to go along. As the driver. I watched my Olympic dreams go up in smoke that day. I’m not bitter. Nor apparently am I good at volleyball.

I tried to watch the game. These are Olympic athletes, after all. God bless the whole world, and all that. But, and  this is strictly off the record, I did not enjoy it. In high school volleyball, the best teams are the ones that actually get a volley going and keep it going. If you’re good, the ball stays in the air for longer than a serve. Olympic level volleyball goes something like this:

Ball is served.

Ball is hit.

Ball is hit again.

Ball hits ground.

Everyone hugs each other and holds hands. 

Maybe that last is just the women’s teams. I didn’t stick around for the guys’. In tennis, the score would be love-15. In volleyball, it’s love everybody. I wouldn’t enjoy playing at the Olympics. Too much hugging.

The ball was touched about three times before it hit the ground, leaving the impression that both teams stink. Score one for the Olympics. Or don’t score. I’m not sure.  After forty-five minutes, I went upstairs to gouge my eyeballs out make popcorn, and when I came downstairs again, the score was the same. I think. My TV is kind of small.

While I was making popcorn, I made the mistake of checking Twitter. There, someone in my feed was discussing Dressage. I followed the conversation, and it was then I discovered that everyone else in the country could watch Dressage, or swimming, or even archery. Oooh, there’s a sport! Who doesn’t dream of shooting holes in things with arrows and winning a prize for it?! No, really. I would totally watch archery. Especially if my only option was volleyball. And why were my choices so limited while my friends had the world at their fingertips? Because my friends have cable! 

No matter. We’re cool.We would just catch the highlights of all the good stuff after 7:30pm. After dinner, armed with my super-sized box of Junior Mints, we resumed our position on the couch, thanking the Olympic committee that Women’s Volleyball coverage was good and over. And had moved on to Beach Volleyball.

Kill me now. And sign me up for cable.

Wow. This was way bigger on my computer screen.