Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Date Night: May the Odds be Ever in Your Favor

Stewart and I haven't gone out the two of us for dinner and a movie since I don't know when. It may have been before H was born so almost six years ago. We've gone out to dinner or we've gone out to a movie, but never both because of the time. Dinner and a movie = five hours. Five hours = $60 babysitting fee. Add that on to the cost of the dinner and the movie and it quickly becomes the cost groceries for a couple weeks. I haven't even considered going to see a movie in the theater lately because I've been so scarred by my last theater movie experience. Hangover II. It took months to recover from the visual of male appendages blown up to epic proportions. The things I do to support Korean actors!

But something has been brewing for the past couple of months. As I've been using Wikets to recommend my favorite things and places, I've noticed there is a book that people mention over and over again. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It is the book that comes up repeatedly as a new user's favorite book for their first rec on the system. It is the series that people re'rec and wishlist and rave about, with fans exclaiming their excitement in scoring tickets to sold out opening night performances. With so many people rec'ing it, I had to see what all the hype was about, to see whether the community was genuinely rec'ing it or just hopping on the train with everyone else.

I think I read the first one in a matter of hours, late into the night morning hours. I couldn't put it down. I had to see if Katniss Everdeen won the Hunger Games. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that she does, since there would be no second and third book if she hadn't. But the way she won, was really ingenious and made me excited about the rest of the series. As soon as I finished the book, I told Stewart that we were going to see the movie. Actually I told him I was going to see the movie. I never thought we could both see it because of the aforementioned cost factor. But an angel family from our church pushed us to have a date night and agreed to take care of all three of our kids. Baby E has been exhibiting signs of stranger danger so a regular babysitter wouldn't even have been an option. But Baby E had been falling asleep in this angel woman's arms since the first month of her life so we were all set. Yippee!

When we got there I took some photos to commemorate our experience. The line, Stewart standing at the end of the very long line, and my ticket. I would have taken more except someone reported to security a woman wearing a purple jacket taking photos of the line and they came over to tell me to cut it out. I guess I must look like someone with criminal intentions. Back to the line. It was really amazing the diversity that made up the line. All ages and races; families, singles, teenagers--the entire row in front of us was made up of senior citizen couples. The woman who had organized the outing brought baggies of snacks, one for each couple.

Everything was exciting and fun, starting with the previews. There was one for the Avengers movie, the new Spiderman movie, then the next Twilight, all showing lots of fighting and killing. Then there was the preview for The Titanic. It was really interesting to see that showcased as "from the director of Avatar." It was ironic that nothing had been said during the the previews for the other films, but for this one, when the ship starts to sink, a little voice behind us said, "soooo scary." Then the movie started and two and half hours flew by. Even though I knew exactly what was going to happen, it was thrilling to see how the director had put what was on paper onto the screen. At first the Peeta character really disappointed me, I think I imagined him as a stockier, younger Paul Walker. But he definitely grew on me as the movie progressed and by the end I was rooting for him. Stewart said later that Jennifer Lawrence wasn't emaciated enough to portray Katniss and he does have a point there. It was all over too soon!

The date wasn't over, though, we still had dinner to come. I used the explore function in Wikets to find the closest restaurant that someone had rec'ed and it didn't disappoint. There was one that was in the same shopping center that I had actually put on my wishlist: Alexander's Steakhouse. Sous vide beet salad, ribeye the size of Stewart's head, truffled mac and cheese and truffled french fries. I've been eating salad ever since. So rich and so delicious, honestly the person who recommended it really knew his stuff. Oh, and complimentary cotton candy for dessert. A perfect end to a perfect date. Hopefully it'll be less than six years till the next one. May the Odds be Ever in Our Favor that it is! 

You can find Hunger Games and other great recs through the iOS app Wikets. If you sign up using my promo code "randommommy" you'll get an extra 200 bonus points and be that much closer to earning an Amazon GC. I work as a consultant to Wikets but all opinions in this post are my own.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Book Review: Good Idea. Now What?

When we moved to the Los Angeles area I wanted to switch gears in my church life. I had been going to a church back East that was and is an awesome close-knit community. I had great friends and we really supported each other in all the aspects of our lives. As much goodness as that was, I wanted to try something different. We were moving to a place where I had my sister and another close girlfriend. Since I was being shaken out of my comfort zone, I felt like this was the perfect opportunity for us to be shaken out of our spiritual comfort zone as well. After visits to churches near and far in LA and Orange County, we settled at New Hope South Bay.

The pastor of the church, Charles T. Lee preached sermons that made you feel like you could walk on water. He inspired, empowered, and challenged you to do enormous good for the local and global community. The church was a recent church plant and didn't have a huge number of members. Perhaps there was a core group of 40 believers and a larger transient group of 200. But throughout the two years I attended this church, the core group raised hundreds of dollars through rummage sales to support an orphanage in China, put together gift baskets at Christmas time for victims of human trafficking, paid for countless loads of laundry for the homeless through the Laundry Love initiative, and supported children and moms in the community by providing free VBS, a meeting location, and events in the park that tied in popular culture and the message of Christ. Sometimes when I think back, I am really amazed at how much we accomplished with so few people. It truly was a special special time in my Christian life.

After we moved to Silicon Valley, the church closed for a variety of reasons (not the least of which being zoning laws that the church before us had broken in building the facility) and Pastor Charles moved on to another calling. I think that God recognized his ability to activate and spur people on to action by giving Charles the opportunity to create something that would enable him to do just that not just for Christians but for everyone and anyone with the capacity to do good. As the CEO of Ideation, he creates spaces through which some of the most innovative thinkers and practitioners in the field of social good (e.g., businesses, organizations, influencers, etc.) meet in order to help fellow practitioners develop thoughts and tangible next steps for greater impact in their respective work. Of course, not everyone can afford the time and expense of attending a conference, so Charles has made it possible for those with great ideas get these ideas from abstract formulations to executable action steps.

Each chapter in Good Idea. Now What? is structured simply. I think the short and sweet approach works so that you can effectively build layer by layer the strategy to carry out your plans. You think about a concept, you formulate action plans, then you act. There is space for you to write down your thoughts so that you can have your notes all in one place and be able to come back to them later. This makes total sense, yet I've never come to the realization myself. When you write something down about your idea and see how it changes, then you're able to revisit key steps later and track the evolution of your idea instead of it just being a jumbled mess in your head.

One chapter that affected me right away discusses insecurity--how we are afraid to ask for things or present ideas at work because we think we will be shot down. Charles makes the excellent point that there is very little chance that we will be fired so we should stop being insecure and just do it. This may sound really minuscule, but I had not been able to access my work email on my phone. This meant that I had to go to my computer several times a day and many times I would get to email late, even days late, because of emails coming in at odd times. I had asked my boss to get me access back in December but with everything else going on (my request being low priority on the to-do list of a startup), I hadn't heard back. After reading this chapter, I talked to my boss again and he got me access right away. I can't believe I just sat back and did nothing about this for three months, but Charles was right. If you need something at work to make you able to work better, there is absolutely no downside to taking action.

I won't reveal all the great nuggets of the book because I want you to go and read it yourself. Even if you don't have a supersonic singular idea, this book can help you get your life organized. If you do have a potential world-changer on your hands, it also has a great list of references for other resources that can help you turn your dream into a reality. I wholeheartedly recommend this book and the man behind the book. If you look up the word "integrity" in the dictionary, Charles Lee's face would be there. It would also probably be followed by the words, see also, "Yankee fan," but that's another blog post. Here is a great Youtube video about the book:

I hope it will help you bring your greatness to the world!

I was not compensated for this post. It was a pleasure reviewing a book written by a friend and mentor. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Little League Team Parent for Dummies

My post on how little I know about how to be a team parent for Little League is up on Technorati. If you live near me, I will be hitting you up to buy buckets of cookie dough.

The boys had a lot of fun during their first game! And afterwards at the snack shack filling up on M&Ms and giant pretzel. Too bad their games will be canceled this week due to rain. More time to practice piano!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Weekend Family Movies: WWJD II: The Woodcarver & VeggieTales: Robin Good

It's Lent. Stewart just said to me, "just think about God." We should be doing this all year long, but, if you're a Christian who observes the season of Lent, you probably do it more during this forty day (not counting Sundays) season from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday. Many people give up something during this time to remind themselves daily about the sacrifice of Christ. It might be coffee, chocolate, red meat, fast food, baths, or something equally luxuriant (bath forgoers take showers instead). This year I've decided instead of giving up something, I'm going to try and do something. It was spurred by the talk given by Stacie Wood in my previous post. I'm going to try and fill my mind with good thoughts so that I can be nicer to my kids. It's amazing how faithful God can be when a person decides to do something after God's own heart. It was as if the moment I made the decision, I got two emails about some great family videos that would help me do exactly what I was hoping to do.

WWJD II: The Woodcarver
The next installment in the What Would Jesus Do? series from Vivendi Entertainment and Nasser Entertainment stars John Ratzenberger (Cliff from "Cheers"), Woody Jeffreys , and Dakota Daulby.  Matthew Stevenson (Daulby) is a troubled kid from a broken home. When he vandalizes the local church to get back at his parents, Matthew has to repair the damage to the church to avoid criminal charges. While working at the church, he meets Ernest (Ratzenberger), an accomplished wood carver who created the intricate woodwork decoration that Matthew destroyed. Ernest has become something of a hermit since his wife's death, but reluctantly comes out of reclusion to help repair the church. Now Ernest and Matthew must work together to preserve the church's beautiful antiquity, and along the way, they also manage to restore their faith in God and in life.

As I watched the film, I noticed how the constant fighting between the parents was affecting Matthew. I'm guilty of this, Stewart doesn't want me to fight in front of the kids but I can't seem to control my anger sometimes. Maybe it's the constant flux of pregnancy, post-partum, and nursing hormones that have made me crazy but I can't get a grip on the rage valve. I really need to ask myself the question that Ernest has Matthew ask himself in the movie, "What would Jesus do?" Jesus would not be yelling at his spouse about some infraction (not putting clothes away, asking me for the millionth time where something is, forgetting to take H to school) in front of his children. I need to CUT. IT. OUT. The craziness of Matthew's dad (Jeffreys) in the movie also made me hear myself. It does affect children and if I don't change, then there is no telling what kind of acting out will happen with my kids. I'm really glad to have watched this movie so I can remind myself to act in a more loving way, even when I am disciplining the boys. This film really made me think about how parental behavior affects kids. 

VeggieTales: Robin Good & His Not So Merry Men
The faith-based animated series takes on the Robin Hood legend in this newest VeggieTales adventure. When the evil prince of Bethlingham oppresses the have-nots by stealing their food, do-gooder Robin Good and his fearless associates launch a project of stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

The boys have been watching too much secular TV and this film came at the perfect time to give us a dose of goodness during this Lenten season. The boys could clearly see how ridiculous it was that Sir John was taking away hams from people, saying he didn't have enough, when he had hams coming out of every corner of his palace. A teachable moment--greed is NOT good, kind people share, and sometimes when people are grouchy they are just hungry (SPOILER: there is a giant in the movie that is supposed to be terrorizing the villagers but it turns out all he wanted was something to eat). One thing I found interesting was that the villagers were commenting on tough economic conditions, so it felt like the situation could be analogized all too real to real life. It would be nice if those holding all the hams would share so that the hungry in our society could get enough to eat.

The other features of the DVD that my boys enjoyed were the Leapin' Leap Year Lesson, "Bubble Rap" (Silly Song with Larry), and the bonus short "Lenny and the Lost Birthday." H said the best part of the short was when Lenny was crying in bed and then his mom came. Of course after he told me that, hugs were shared, then H told me, "you're the best." The power of talking and singing vegetables! We wanted to share all the great things we learned from the DVD, and H&R agreed right away when I asked them if we should send it in a care package to a missionary family in Japan. If you need a video to spread some warm fuzzies in your family this weekend, this is definitely one to consider.

The lessons from these two great videos will stay with me for a while. Thank you to Vivendi Entertainment and Big Idea Entertainment for providing them to our family!

I did not receive compensation for this post. I did receive product samples to facilitate my review.