My Daniel Tiger Fanfiction

If you have small children, you’re probably aware of a little show called “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.”

This piece of PBS entertainment is a direct rip-off of the puppets from “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood,” in which the eponymous Daniel learns life lessons from his parents and other friendly citizens of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Like its predecessor, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is not my favorite. I watched a couple episodes with Dan when we both had stomach flu. Not only did it fail to keep Dan entertained, but its saccharine tone and stick-in-your-head-all-day musical numbers may actually have made the nausea worse.

These kids are planning something evil. I just know it.

Despite my efforts to keep Daniel Tiger out of my house, however, well-meaning friends have provided us with plenty of his books. They were lovely, thoughtful gifts, and I appreciate them. Books derived from a well-loved TV series about an entity named Daniel—they’re the perfect gift! And Dan loves the stories, which are right on his level. But you can understand how I might poke some not-so-good-natured fun at this adorable, inoffensive franchise.

And so, I present to you: “Daniel Tiger Whines.”

I created this in October, when Dan was going through an excessive (but understandable) whiny phase (I was also in the middle of a surly phase, which hasn’t yet ended). I wrote it as a cautionary tale to any small children (who may or may not be named Daniel) who may whine just a bit too much. Almost all the illustrations are straight-up plagiarized from the source text, and those that aren’t are easily identified. Plagiarism is okay as long as you label it “fanfiction,” right?

What I didn’t anticipate was how much Dan would like this book. He requested it five times a day—more frequently than the originals. After a couple days I felt guilty reading it to him, and hid it away for a few months. I still pull it out occasionally on particularly whiny days. I don’t know if it actually helped with the whining problem at all, but feel free to try it out yourself. You can easily substitute your child’s specific whiny demands for anything Daniel Tiger says in this book.

Happy parenting!

 

DISCLAIMER: I love Dan, and he’s a really good kid. But let’s be honest: we’ve all been there.

 

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New Blog Feature: Girl Books

***If you consider yourself a feminist, you should probably skip this one, because I still want to be friends.***

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I think books are really important. Stories, even fictional ones, resonate with us and teach us things we might not learn any other way. The Savior used parables to teach his most important lessons. The stories we read can, over time, shape our character—which is why it’s important to choose the right ones.

This is why I want to write stories. I remember the books that helped me figure out who I was and who I wanted to be. Someday, if something I write helps another little girl, I’ll be so happy. I don’t know if that will ever happen; I don’t yet have the time or skills to create those kinds of books. But for now, I can share the “girl books” I loved the most, and that’s where this series comes in.

Before we can get started, I have to define what makes a good “girl book.” My criteria may be different from yours, and maybe some of you are bristling with rage already. Feel free to close this tab and visit again next time I post baby pictures. I won’t mind.

Why not just “books”?

There’s a lot of fantastic, uplifting literature about men and boys out there, and we don’t always have to read books about people who are just like us. I get that. The most important books in my life, The Book of Mormon and The Bible (and to a much lesser extent, the Lord of the Rings), have very few female characters, and I love them just the way they are.

But reading an excellent story with a good message can be especially powerful when you feel a strong connection with the characters. Most of the Savior’s parables are about “a certain man” (or woman) performing everyday tasks. His audience knew exactly what He was talking about, and could see themselves in the characters in those stories. That freed up their minds to really ponder the Savior’s message. Similarly, when we make a strong connection with the protagonist of a story, we experience it on an entirely different level.

What’s wrong with “girl books” today?

There are a ton of books with female protagonists, so you’d think girls would be surrounded with excellent literature. But in my experience, this is just not the case. On my last bookstore jaunt, the YA shelves were filled with obvious Twilight knockoffs, obvious Hunger Games knockoffs, dystopian love triangles, and John-Green-esque existential dreck. In the worst cases, these books promote risky behavior and specifically glorify teenage sex; many are simply unoriginal, uninspiring, and lacking in good role models.

I could write a whole post on what’s wrong with YA fiction, but the thing that bothers me most (after the inappropriate peer-2-teen choice behaviors) is the generic teenage action heroine protagonist (GTAHP). You know the one. She’s tough, she’s driven, she’s better than all the boys—and essentially acts like one. Her problems can be solved with fists, and by golly, she’s got fists. She theoretically cares about her love interest(s) and maybe one other family member, and has a chip on her shoulder when it comes to the rest of the world.

Clearly, I don’t consider the GTAHP an acceptable role model.

It’s possible that I just can’t see myself in these characters. I’ve never had a desire to dispatch bad guys with a sword or a bow—that sounds like it requires athletic ability. But I think it goes deeper than that.

So, what makes a good “girl book”?

Andrew Klavan likes to say (and I don’t have an exact quote because I can’t find it in print and I don’t want to wade through 450 podcast episodes) that human beings are most drawn to stories in which men are brave and women are loving. This isn’t to say that men can’t be loving and women should be cowardly—a simpering protagonist with an unfeeling muscle-man love interest would make any book deeply unsatisfying. A different way of phrasing Klavan’s idea is that stories are most satisfying when men display masculine bravery and love, and women display feminine bravery and love.

And so, to define what makes a satisfying girl book, we need a quick discussion on masculinity and femininity.

***Seriously, I’m about to start talking about gender roles here, so get out while you still can!***

I’ve found that the best primer on these topics is this baby right here:

My generation loves to hate on this document because (among other things) it affirms that men and women are different and have different roles in God’s plan. But I firmly believe it is inspired, revealed to a latter-day prophet as a pattern for how to live our lives. Following it as well as we can will bring us happiness in this life and the next.

The Proclamation clearly indicates that God designed men to be providers and protectors and women to be nurturers. Obviously we are all individuals with different abilities and circumstances, but I believe the greatest joy results from striving to fulfill these roles. And just as this is the ideal pattern for family life, in my experience, it’s also makes for the most satisfying fiction.

One of my (many) beefs with Peter Jackson is that he messed up big time in his portrayal of Éowyn. The point of her story isn’t that she picked up a sword and saved the day, slashing traditional gender roles in the process; the point is that she did all these things and she still wasn’t happy. Only when she falls in love with Faramir and resolves to be “a healer, and love all things that grow,” does she truly find peace.

We need more books that feature strong, loving, nurturing female protagonists and encourage their readers to develop these traits. And the books that already do this need more praise and attention, which I hope to bring them through this series.

Which books qualify?

Here are my criteria for the books in this series:

  1. It must have a prominent female viewpoint character.
  2. It has to be entertaining and well-written enough to hold my attention.
  3. It features “men who are brave, and women who are loving” as defined above.

Each post in this series will feature a book that I think fits these criteria. You might disagree with me on which books qualify—heck, the authors of these books might think I’m totally crazy. But if my high school English teachers taught me anything, it’s that authors’ opinions don’t matter!

…pfffffft. Hahaha. Yeah, I don’t believe that, either. But I do believe it’s possible to take something away from a book that the author didn’t necessarily intend to put there, and that may well be the case here.

The point is, if you disagree, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. And I’m always looking for book recommendations, so if you have a favorite girl book, please let me know!

Our Hurricane Harvey Adventure

Normally I’d return from “blogging maternity leave” with a post about the new adorable baby, but I feel like I should write about our Harvey experience while it’s still painfully fresh in our minds. Plus, I loved my friend Emily’s post about her Oregon-Trail-esque experience, and I wanted to write my own. I’ll introduce the William on the blog next week.

In the meantime, enjoy the story—and some overly-dramatic Winnie the Pooh gifs!

The kids and I could have gone to stay with Tom’s family before the hurricane hit, but we decided not to do so. The information available to us made it sound like the storm wouldn’t be too bad in our area, and virtually no one I knew was leaving. When I took my concerns to Tom, he said we had about a 10% chance of losing power for more than 24 hours, and I’m enough of a homebody that I’d put up with more than that just to avoid driving the kids to Dallas alone.

In hindsight, that was a pretty selfish parenting move.

Anyway, we went into the weekend feeling pretty confident that we would be okay. I went to a doctor’s appointment that couldn’t be canceled (at an office that was flooded just a few days later). I made the traditional last-minute HEB shopping trip—along with the rest of Southeast Texas—and stocked up on water and emergency-friendly foods. Tom mocked me for buying ridiculous amounts of peanut butter and jam.

“Maybe I just never want to go to the store again,” I grumbled, remembering my struggle to fit multiple water flats around Will’s car seat while trying not to let Dan get run over by frantic shoppers.

“Fair enough,” said Tom.

We moved Dan’s bed upstairs on Sunday night, but went to bed without making any other preparations.

On Monday morning I woke up to Tom frantically moving things upstairs. The street outside flooded, and the water covered most of our driveway. We were getting pretty nervous watching the drainage ditch out back fill to capacity, but by early afternoon, the water had receded enough for Tom to go to work. He was feeling pretty smug about accurately predicting we wouldn’t get flooded, but I grumpily chalked it up to dumb luck.

I took a bunch of pictures so I could show my family how bad it had gotten later. Ha. Ha.

Dan surveys the front yard

Driveway view

Drainage ditch

On Tuesday Tom’s boss sent him home at about 9 in the morning, which ended up being a tremendous blessing. It seemed like Monday was going to repeat itself: water crept steadily up our driveway, and the drainage ditch filled back up. But this time, the water didn’t recede, and it never stopped raining.

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And the rain, rain, rain, came down, down, down…

As the day wore on, we made peace with the fact that we were probably going to get flooded, and made a major effort to get everything we wanted to save upstairs, along with several days’ worth of food and our entire water supply. As we prepared to live upstairs until the crisis was over, I think I went a little crazy. I remember shoving my raincoat into my backpack (in case we had to get on the roof? Or something?), and formulating plans for Dan’s outgrown diapers that make very little sense in hindsight.

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The hymn “Master, the Tempest is Raging!” played in my head all night long. We ate fish sticks for dinner and attempted to calm down by watching The Two Towers. We got the couches and piano up on Rubbermaid containers in an attempt to keep them out of the water. We charged all the electronics and made a lot of little last-minute preparations. Finally, around 10, we went upstairs to settle in for the night. Just before we went to bed, water started seeping in through the walls. When I saw the water on the floor, my overtired brain thought, “Oh! There’s water on the floor! I should mop it up!” I just couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing. But then the tiny corner of my brain that was still capable of rational thought spoke up: “No! Don’t be a moron! Go to bed!” So I did.

By 1 A.M., we had about a foot of water in the house. The Rubbermaids holding up our furniture were buoyant enough to be unstable, and I got to watch my piano crash keys-first into the water. I told Tom what was going on and we spent the next hour moving more stuff upstairs, Tom wading through the water in my flip flops with garbage bags tied around his legs (we made a note to buy rubber boots in case this happened again) while I grabbed things from him and played junk tetris in our office nook. The whole thing felt like a weird dream.

We woke up in the middle of a lake.

The next few days kind of ran together. We were pretty much confined to the upstairs bedroom until the water level dropped, and then Tom sprang into action by calling insurance companies and contractors, pumping water out of the house, taking out furniture and carpet, etc.

Meanwhile, I tried to keep the kids happy, made sandwiches, kept water inventory (especially after we heard it was shut off in Beaumont), and tried to keep Dan from going downstairs.

Lucky Will had no idea anything was amiss.

It really wasn’t that bad. We had power. We had plenty of food (although we were all getting pretty tired of PB&J by the third day, and the awful reality of our situation set in when the applesauce muffins ran out). We had plenty of water. We had bunches of toys and books. We had a Blu-ray player, and quickly learned how many random flood-related movies we own (we watched Ponyo and O Brother, Where Art Thou? without even realizing what we were doing). We even had hot water and air conditioning part of the time. And if all else failed, we could watch the boats speeding past our house and the helicopters flying overhead.

Dan: “I love it!”

Still, we were very grateful when our wonderful friends from church rescued us Friday night and let us stay at their house until Tom’s family could come down from Dallas and further save us from our bizarre predicament.

All in all, we were very fortunate. We have amazing family and friends who gave us unbelievable amounts of help. Our insurance company was generous, and we were able to find replacement cars and appliances quickly. We’re hoping to be able to move back into our house in a few weeks. We definitely feel like we’ve been blessed and protected throughout this experience.

That said, I know I’m not alone in thinking it’d be great this didn’t happen again.

(Hey Emily, this gif thing is pretty fun!)

 

EDIT: I would be remiss if I didn’t pay tribute to a dear friend we lost to the flood. When we emerged from our house, we discovered our beloved garden gnome was gone. Where he floated off to, we’ll never know.

RIP, Mr. Gnome. You were the best and brightest of us. Thank you for cheering our garden bed for two wonderful years. You will be missed.

Book Review: The Chemist, by Stephenie Meyer

When I found out Stephenie Meyer had written a new book, I turned to Tom and told him I had to read it.

“Why would you do that to yourself?” he asked.

“Because the worst case scenario is I have something to rant about on my blog.”

He then agreed that I needed to read the book.

Unfortunately, I’m writing this because the worst case scenario has indeed transpired.

I feel the need to add a bit of a disclaimer: I’m not a complete Stephenie hater. Her writing is pleasant and unobjectionable, and she does know how to tell an interesting story. I enjoyed several of the Twilight books for what they were, and I quite liked The Host. Obviously the Twilight series has some serious problems, but my main beef with Stephenie has always been the contemptuous way she treats her fans (don’t get me started on Life and Death, alrighty?). So when I heard she had written an actual book again, especially one with a title like The Chemist (in case you didn’t know, I used to be one of them chemistry types), I couldn’t resist giving her another chance.

Now, having read the thing, I’m just glad I found it at the library and didn’t actually spend any money on it.

(Fair warning: there are major spoilers in this post. In addition, this is probably the grumpiest thing I’ve written since my Hobbit posts. Also, I’mma go all pearl-clutching, Molly Mormon Utah girl on you, so if that’s not your thing, you probably oughtta skip this one. Please feel free to check out some of my other posts, like my last book review!)

***

The basic idea is that “Alex” (not her real name, but the one she goes by most consistently in the book) used to work for a shady government agency using shady chemical compounds to interrogate shady individuals. It’s all very shady. At some point her shady boss decided she knew too much but she survived the murder attempt and has been on the run ever since. After several more attempts to kill Alex, the shady organization asks her to complete one last assignment for for them, and the chance to live a normal life again is too tempting to pass up. But (shady voice) all is not as it seems™.

The really frustrating thing is that The Chemist wasn’t a completely terrible book. The plot was interesting, the writing style was fine (although you can tell Meyer is out of her element writing in third person), and Alex showed promise as an interesting narrator. There was potential for Meyer to fall back into bad habits and include yet another really awkward love triangle (identical twins, guys!), but she spared us. There wasn’t even any actual science in this book for me to cringe at (which kind of defeated the purpose of my reading it in the first place). I wanted to like this book, and I did—for the first third or so. But things went downhill fast when the romantic stuff took off.

Still a better love story than The Chemist, too.

The whole relationship is riddled with problems, starting with this gem from the main male character (Daniel…I hate that she used that name):

I see a woman who is more…real than any other woman I’ve ever met. You make every other person I’ve known seem insubstantial, somehow incomplete. Like shadows and illusions. I loved my wife, or rather–as you so insightfully pointed out while I was high–I loved my idea of who she was. I truly did. But she was never as there to me as you are. I’ve never been drawn to someone the way I am to you, and I have been from the very first moment I met you. It’s like the difference between…between reading about gravity and then falling for the first time.”

Let’s pass over the “while I was high” comment for now, but we’ll come back to it in a moment.

Girls, take note: men do not talk like this outside of really terrible romance novels. And the kind of men who do talk like this are probably not the ones you want to be dating. Edward Cullen, for example, also uses this kind of nauseatingly romantic language. I’m starting to worry that Meyer’s love language is “words of affirmation” and her husband has no idea, so she’s constantly fantasizing about attractive men telling her how luminous and intoxicating and real she is. This is not a healthy way to live your life, and it’s not a healthy way to write fiction.

What’s worse is that this conversation takes place shortly after Alex kidnaps and drugs Daniel with “a chemical compound with manifestations similar to ecstasy,” tortures him for information he doesn’t have, and essentially takes him so far out of his comfort zone that the poor guy is desperate for any sort of reassurance. Not only does Meyer create the sort of unhealthy, unequal relationship power dynamic we’re all familiar with, but it’s obvious that Daniel’s attraction to Alex is 100% adrenaline and drugs.  This is just the extreme version of my high school psychology teacher’s awful advice to the boys in our class: take the girl you like to a roller coaster park or horror movie so she’ll mistake the adrenaline rush for attraction to you.

Boys, don’t do this. Just don’t.

This is even addressed several times in the book, but Daniel blows it off quickly. No, it’s okay! I asked for your number before you drugged me, remember? We had that awkward two minutes of small talk on the train! Our love is reeeeaaaaallll!

More accurately, Daniel’s physical attraction to Alex is real. I guess that’s a better foundation for a relationship than, “Your blood smells so good I want to kill you.

The final nail in the coffin for me is that just after a particularly gory near-death experience, Alex and Daniel engage in some poorly-concealed “adult” activities. (Actually, “poorly-concealed” isn’t accurate–she didn’t even try.) There’s nothing explicit, of course, although the scenes leading up to the act are pretty racy. This is disturbing for several reasons, not least of which is the adrenaline/attraction thing we just discussed.

(Before I proceed, I want to make it clear that the purpose of this blog post is not to condemn anyone’s lifestyle. That’s not the point I’m trying to make.)

Stephenie Meyer is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So am I. As Mormons, we believe that certain practices are not only contrary to the commandments of God, but are also bad for individuals and detrimental to society, and extramarital sex is one of these practices. It’s well known that Stephenie is a Mormon, and so whether she likes it or not, when she publishes her work, she is acting as an unofficial representative of the Church. It’s one thing for a Mormon author to acknowledge the fact that people in “the world” engage in these types of behaviors for the sake of realism (I personally don’t feel like you have to include sexual content to tell a good story, but what do I know?). It’s quite another to present this event as the single best decision a character has ever made in her entire life, and dwell on the life-changing “joy” she feels to the exclusion of all other consequences.

When it comes down to it, when you hear that a book was written by a Mormon author, you generally expect that book to be reasonably clean and PG-rated, which made the whole experience really unpleasant. I think Breaking Dawn straddles the line between appropriate and inappropriate (especially in a YA novel)but at least Bella and Edward are married. In The Chemist, it feels like Stephenie is prancing over the line, declaring to the world that she doesn’t have to follow the rules anymore.

Well, Stephenie can do what she wants, and her fans have proven that they’re going to financially support her no matter how she treats them. She’s certainly not going to read or care about my opinion. But on the off chance that she does, here’s my message for her: Stephenie, you’re a Mormon. And with all the sisters-in-Zion love in my heart, I’m asking you to please act like it.

I speed-read the rest of the book, skimming more often than was probably necessary, but it was pretty hard to enjoy it after that. The ending was rushed and underwhelming, and if I’d been at all invested in the story, I would have felt disappointed. Overall, The Chemist gets one star from me.

And now I’m going to go scrub my brain by reading something decent.

The 2016 GTA Year In Review

Last year it was brought to my attention that the “GTA” in my title made them think of “Grand Theft Auto.” That’s hilarious, so I’m not going to change it. Muahaha.

Anywho, here I am, late as usual, to bring my twelve fabulous readers the famous year in review post! And man, it has been a crazy-good year to review.

The Fam

This was a big year for us as a family. We bought our first house, accompanied Tom’s grandparents on an amazing, life-dream-fulfilling genealogical trip to Italy, road tripped to Corpus Christi and Big Bend National Park, and basically spent a lot of time figuring out how to be a family of three.

We also put up Christmas lights for the first time!

lights

There were definitely some hard times. We all barely survived the plague, and the other plague, and there was the time Dan got that rash and everyone was stressed and I stormed out of the house to go buy Cadbury Mini Eggs. But we made it through the hard times, and I can safely say 2016 had more good times than bad times for the fam.

The best news from this year, of course, is that we’re expecting a baby in July!

Yes, I actually got this fortune cookie right before we made the announcement.

Yes, I actually got this fortune cookie right before we made the announcement.

We’re all very excited, although Dan doesn’t really know what’s going on yet. We’ve told him there’s a baby in Mom’s tummy, and sometimes he’ll say hi to the baby. But then he’ll point to his own tummy and say “baby,” so…we’re still working on it.

The Dan

This has been a big year for Dan. He learned to walk, talk, eat foods, and basically do all the amazing thing he does.

He also met Santa.

santadan

He wasn’t thrilled.

Dan also started Nursery this year. He had a rough time at first, as most kids do, but now he loves it—especially when they bring out the bubble machine at the end!

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One time I went to Nursery with him, and he built a barricade of trucks around me so I wouldn’t leave.

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I covered most of what there is to know about Dan in my “18 Months of Dan” post, and he’s continued to develop along the same lines. He is much better at communicating now, and learns dozens of words every day. Right now we’re working on saying “please,” “thank you,” and “I love you.” He’s a real sweetheart!

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The Tom

This has been an awesome year for Tom. He put his Italian skills to good use, got promoted twice, experienced his first turnaround, and was accepted into his first-choice online MBA program. Wow!

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Tom continues to be an amazing dad.

Oh yeah—Tom was the scruffiest I’ve ever seen him on our camping trip in November.

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Wut.

The Me

I didn’t really know what to put in this section. It’s not like I didn’t do anything in 2016—it’s just that I don’t have really good physical evidence of my accomplishments. Unlike in 2015, I didn’t get much crafting done, largely because once we moved I couldn’t find my crafting supplies/equipment.

I did, however, learn to cook a bunch of cool stuff: Dancakes, beef with broccoli, japchae, singapore rice noodles, moqueca, pot roast (now I’m a real white housewife!!!), pho (new “Elissa Cooks Stuff” coming soon!), and many other delicious foodums.

(I thought I took more pictures of my creations, but apparently they were all snapchat videos…)

As far as writing goes, I wrote about 71,841 original-fiction words this year. That’s not a lot by most writers’ standards, but considering everything else that happened this year, I’m pretty happy about it. I did participate in NaNoWriMo and win, and I’m still working on that project right now. I’m hoping to do a more in-depth writing post in the near future, so if you have any questions about my writing stuff, leave a comment!

To be honest, 2016 was pretty hard for me. We had a lot of fun adventures, but not a lot of downtime. I spent most of the year exhausted, stressed, and/or sick. I expected the whole family would get sick more once Dan started nursery, but for whatever reason, most of the plagues originate with me. 2017 hasn’t been much better so far, which is part of the reason this post is so late.

I’m starting to realize that I’m a real wimp when it comes to traveling. My body just doesn’t handle it very well, and it can take over a week to physically recover from a short weekend trip. And every time something unpleasant happens while traveling (like, say, Dan and I getting stomach flu in San Antonio, or a night of travel insomnia turning an ordinary case of delayed-onset muscle soreness into an out of control, fever-ridden, excruciatingly-painful nightmare), it just makes staying home and reading books sound that much more appealing.

This year I’m hoping for more relaxing family time at home, more crafting, more writing, and more delicious foods. As far as new year’s resolutions go, these seem pretty attainable.

Looking Forward to 2017

There’s a lot to be excited about in 2017! Here are some of the things I’m looking forward to:

  • Dan’s 2nd birthday!
  • Dragonwatch in March!
  • Our 2nd baby in July!
  • Oathbringer in November!
  • More blogging!
  • The return of THESE GUYS!

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It’s going to be a great year!

Happy mid-January to all, and may all your times be good!

Elissa Cooks Stuff: Beef with Broccoli (Or, Elissa Kills People: Medical Lackeys)

First things first: Dan’s been under the weather this week.

He picked something up (most likely) from the kid sitting behind us at Stake Conference (affectionately known ’round these parts as “Plague Kid”), and on Tuesday he woke up with a 101.4° fever. The doctor said it was bronchiolitis, which led to a 2-hour wild goose chase around Beaumont as I tried to find him a nebulizer.

CVS: We don’t have those. You need to go to a medical supply store.
Elissa: Okay…where’s the closest one?
CVS: There’s PRN, but I don’t know where that is.
Dan: *cries*
(After a phone call to my dad and a trip across town)
PRN: We don’t take your insurance. These two places do.
Elissa: Great…do you have an address for either of those?
PRN: Nope.
Dan: *cries louder*
(After texting Tom and driving out into the sticks to Taylor Home Health)
THH: We have a nebulizer, but not the exact kind of nebulizer your doctor prescribed, so you need to get a new script. [20 minutes after I’ve phoned Dan’s doctor] They haven’t sent the script over, and we have to have it. Also, you haven’t met your deductible, so it’s going to cost you [amount]. Honestly, you can just go to King’s Pharmacy and buy one for [amount/2].
Dan: *cries even louder*
(After a 15-minute drive to King’s Pharmacy, which is just down the street from our place)
Dan’s doctor’s nurse (on the phone): Okay, so you want me to do whaaaaaat?
Elissa: *bombs every pharmacy, doctor’s office, and medical supply store in Southeast Texas*
Dan: *SCREAMS*

I did salvage a nebulizer from the smoldering wreckage of King’s Pharmacy, which was great.

On Thursday, Dan seemed to be getting worse, and we found out he also has an ear infection. Now he’s taking five different drugs, and thankfully, he seems to be improving.

Oh yeah, and I’m sick too. But I’m a mom, so I’m just dealing with it. And by dealing with it, I mean binge-watching Jane Austen movies and Duck Dynasty with Dan to keep him entertained while I die sit on the couch.

No "Mom of the Year" award for me this year.

No “Mom of the Year” award for me this year.

The same day we found out about the ear infection, Dan’s pediatrician called to say that, according to his blood test results, he’s mildly anemic. It never rains but it pours.

But, that brings us to the real subject of today’s post. It seems like we probably need more red meat around the place! And coincidentally, Tom’s been bugging me to make beef with broccoli forever! So let’s do this!

***

I’ve never been a big beef fan, but this stuff is delicious. The trick to making good beef with broccoli is using Chinese barbecue sauce. You can find it at any decent Asian grocery store.

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And in case you’re wondering: no, it’s not very much like American barbecue sauce.

Mmmm, brill fish.

Mmmm, brill fish.

I’d never made this dish before, but it’s pretty straightforward. I used, roughly, the procedure in this recipe, but dude—skip the stir fry sauce. Use the barbecue sauce instead.

As before, I was supervised by the illustrious Chef Dan.

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“Don’t try to distract me with this cracker! Get back to work!”

 

I used this stuff to marinate the beef.

I used this stuff to marinate the beef.

 

Cookin some broccoli!

Cookin’ some broccoli!

Beef in the pan

Beef in the pan

I’m typically not really good at thickening sauces, but we pulled through.

Is it supposed to look like that?

Is it supposed to look like that?

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That’s better!

The finished product turned out quite beautifully.

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And now for the scoring:

Taste: Excellent!

Ease of preparation: Very easy. This one is definitely going into the regular rotation.

Ease of cleanup: No complaints here.

Will Tom eat it?: The first words out of his mouth were, “This is good junk!” I think we can give this a yes!

Will Dan eat it?: Nope. Chef Daniel was not impressed. He tried a little bit of pureed beef mixed with rice porridge, and it didn’t go over well.

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Oh well. We’ll cut him some slack—he’s had a rough week.

Overall evaluation: Woohoo! I’m very pleased with how this turned out, and excited that I can decently replicate it. It might even turn me into a beef lover. Who knows?

Happy eating!

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Farm Animals

People have been asking me to review The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (BotFA) since it came out last December. However, we’d decided not to see it in theaters. Since it came out on DVD at the end of March and Dan was born in early April (we actually tried to use the movie to send me into labor, but it didn’t work), a timely blog post just wasn’t going to happen. This weekend we were bored and Redbox had a copy, so here we are.

We did put our youngest Tolkien fan to bed before we got started, to protect his innocent mind.

"No, Mom! Not another Hobbit movie!"

“No, Mom! Not another Hobbit movie!” I know, son. I know.

I watched BotFA with very, very low expectations, so I have to admit I didn’t work up as much rage this time around. I was able to appreciate the few things Peter Jackson did well and laugh at the absurdity of it all. So, for this blog post, we’re going to look at the good, the bad, and the ridiculous.

The Good

Like its prequels, BotFA had some redeeming qualities. It was probably worth $1.50.

As always, Martin Freeman is the best part of the movie. I liked nearly every scene Bilbo was in: his interactions with Thorin were great; the acorn scene was cute; the negotiation scene with Bard and Thranduil was well done. You know what would have been great? Tolkien should have just written a book about Bilbo and cut out all that other nonsense. Oh wait…

Sorry, this is supposed to be the positive section. *ahem*

Next on the “stuff that wasn’t terrible” list: This guy.

Dain_Ironfoot

I liked Dain a lot. He comes riding in with his dwarf army and his battle pig (more on that later) and makes it clear that he won’t take any crap from Gandalf  or Thranduil or anyone else. You know what? Just watch it.

Then he leads his army to face down the orcs while the pansy Elves just stand there and watch. Thranduil probably wouldn’t have done anything if he hadn’t been afraid to look bad in front of a bunch of dwarves. Git ‘er done, Dain!

Also, his favorite method of fighting involves headbutting orcs. That’s pretty hardcore. Ironfoot? More like IronHEAD!

I’ll address all the exotic battle steeds used in this movie in the “Ridiculous” section, but the most heart-wrenching part of this movie is definitely the moment when the battle pig goes down. Rest in peace, noble creature.

Finally, the movie’s ending wasn’t bad. We finally get some closure as to Gandalf’s knowledge of the ring, Bilbo finds all his neighbors bidding on his stuff, and the final scene ties this movie in with The Fellowship of the Ring. It was simple, it was sweet, and it worked. This could have been the ending to the Hobbit movie I always wanted.

***

Now, I know you’re all here to see me angrily rip this movie apart. Never fear, dear readers. There’s plenty of that coming up.

The Bad

Oh, there was plenty of bad to go around. I ended up with six pages of notes on what was wrong with this movie. Let’s jump right in!

Dol Guldur

First, let’s talk about the assault on Dol Guldur.

really wanted to like this scene. I was looking forward to it long before the first Hobbit movie came out. It wasn’t all bad—Elrond’s outfit was pretty awesome. But beyond that, things were extremely disappointing.

Courtesy of NervousPearl

“You should’ve stayed dead”? That’s your epic line? What kind of Elf are you? Who’s writing this stuff?
(Courtesy of NervousPearl)

First of all, Gandalf is still in his cage. According to movie canon, there’s no reason why he should be out of the cage, necessarily, but it brought back all these unpleasant memories from The Desolation of Smaug. Sigh. Then Galadriel comes in, and you know things are about to get weird.

By the way—what’s with the implied weird romantic subplot involving Gandalf and Galadriel? Why do they keep touching each other like that? Are we all supposed to just forget that Galadriel is a married woman and has a 2700-year-old granddaughter?

galgandalfbeardstroke

Galgandalfkiss

galgandalfhandhold

Yuuuuuuuuuck.

But wait—it gets worse. Not only does Galadriel spend the first half of the battle cradling Gandalf in her arms and ignoring the fighting, but when she does get involved, she transforms into the evil swamp hag.

Galadrielcreep

Wut

Peter Jackson, you do realize that the Elven rings aren’t evil, right? Sauron had no contact with them, ever. In fact, I’m pretty sure when Celebrimbor hid them from Sauron, he thought, “I’ve got to keep these safe so their bearers don’t become evil swamp hags when they try to use them.” Elves are pretty clever that way.

And of course, the rabbit sled makes an appearance. I guess it wouldn’t be a Hobbit movie without it, but can’t we let it die already?

Anyway, the whole scene lasts about 8 minutes, and probably makes the top 50 most disappointing 8-minute segments of my life.

Tauriel and Legolas

Tauriel continues to drag these movies further down into the muck. She contributes nothing positive, and because she’s around, Legolas has to be around, too. Any scene with either Legolas or Tauriel was painful to watch. Starting with this one:

Oh, Legolas. First of all, how did you think this was going to end? Tauriel defied an (admittedly boneheaded) order from Thranduil, and you tagged along after her. And she was already in the doghouse—of course she’s going to be banished.

Second, the whole “If there is no place for Tauriel, there is no place for me” thing made me throw up in my mouth a little.

Persistence

To be fair, Legolas spends very little time mooning over Tauriel for the rest of the movie. But that leaves the two of them without a lot to do, as Tauriel’s improbable dwarven love interest is busy hanging out with his bros in the Lonely Mountain. You can’t leave the fangirls without Orlando Bloom for that long, so Lego and Tauriel take a pointless vacation to Gundabad and discover the orc army there.

Why is it pointless, you ask? Because it has absolutely no effect on the outcome of the final battle. How could it? Legolas’ and Tauriel’s warning about this Gundabad army doesn’t exist in the book, and yet somehow, the good guys still win.

Furthermore, with his characteristic laziness, Peter Jackson doesn’t even attempt to make it look like Tauriel and Legolas contributed anything important with this discovery. They warn Bilbo, Bilbo warns Thorin on Ravenhill, Thorin tells Dwalin to call Fili and Kili, and before Dwalin can do anything, the orcs show up and off Fili. As far as I can tell from this jumbled-up, illogical sequence of orc-stabbing scenes, they didn’t provide their information early enough to prevent anything or change the course of the battle at all.

While we’re talking about nonsensical action sequences, Tom wishes me to mention that no piece of masonry would ever act like this:

(Okay, I guess Legolas and Tauriel do kill some important things in that part. They’re still completely unnecessary.)

Let’s move on. Tauriel’s greatest offense continues to be her awkward, improbable romance with Kili. Worse than their awkward flirtations are her whiny, pubescent conversations with Thranduil on the subject. I swear these scenes could have been pulled out of a Twilight movie.

Tauriel: “THERE IS NO LOVE IN YOU!”

Thranduil: “YOUR VAMPIRE LOVE AIN’T REAL!”

Lego: “DAD STAAAAAAHP” (*flashes werewolf abs*)

And then there’s this one:

Cringe-inducing. I almost expected to see Tauriel moping in a chair in front of a window while the camera pans around and the months pass by. There’s a possibilityyyyyyyyyyyy…

The phrase “Still a better love story than Twilight” doesn’t apply here.

And then Legolas throws a hissy fit and refuses to go home for unexplained reasons. 

Seriously, someone this delicate has no business in the Fellowship of the Ring.

GANDALF: (reading) “…Speak, friend, and enter. And underneath small and faint is written: TRIGGER WARNING: Orcs in here, bro.
LEGO: “Whoa whoa whoa! Sorry, dudes. I don’t do orcs. Come on, Bill.”
BILL: (whinnies)
Exeunt LEGO and BILL.

The worst part is that Tauriel doesn’t even die at the end. I wanted her to die so badly, maybe even hand in hand with Kili. It would have been so, so satisfying. Instead we’re left to wonder what happens to her, since she’s apparently still exiled from Mirkwood. Oh well. Maybe she died of a broken heart off camera—a girl can hope.

Thorin’s Insanity and “Dragon Sickness”

I want to briefly touch on the fact that Thorin’s greed and corruption were blown up to unreasonable, bizarre proportions, and we’re supposed to believe that it’s all because a giant lizard sat on his money for awhile.

I’m sorry, but this whole “dragon sickness” thing is way overblown. You can be corrupted by greed without any sort of supernatural curse making you go absolutely bat-guano crazy. This is, in fact, the case for most people who are corrupted by greed. Last I checked there weren’t many dragons in Washington, DC, for example.

"A treasure such as this cannot be counted in lives lost." --Planned Parenthood's mission statement

“A treasure such as this cannot be counted in lives lost.”
–Planned Parenthood’s mission statement

Seriously, if this treasure is so dangerous, how are the Lake-men supposed to use it to rebuild their town? How is Bilbo able to take some home and become fabulously wealthy? Wouldn’t it make the Lonely Mountain uninhabitable forever? News flash: after the battle, Dain moves right in. But maybe Dain is incorruptible because of his indestructible head and his fondness for porcine steeds.

battlepig

Even Gandalf is taken in by the supposed “dragon sickness” nonsense. And he’s supposed to be the smartest guy here. And don’t get me started on that “Don’t underestimate the evil of gold” nonsense.

Thorin’s madness culminates in this acid-trip-esque hallucination involving that lake o’ gold I love so much.

I know when I’ve been a moron about something, it takes a weird hallucination to make me see reason. Personally, I prefer to be swallowed up in a lake of hummus. Or maybe pho.

Look, there are a lot of perfectly mundane reasons for Thorin to become corrupted by greed. He’s just regained control of an amazing treasure stolen from his family. The moment he gets it, everyone comes knocking at the door trying to grab it back from him, Rainbow-Fish-style. Normally he’d probably be okay with that, but these people are armed; among them is Thranduil, the jerk who threw him in prison.  Human nature is inclined to be stingy under those circumstances; dwarf nature even more so. Thorin simply chooses to indulge these feelings instead of deciding to be the bigger man (uh, dwarf), and so he becomes corrupted. It doesn’t have to be weird, and it doesn’t have to involve “dragon sickness.”

In short, Peter Jackson took a potentially relatable character arc and turned it into a freak show. In other words, it’s business as usual in Hobbit Movie Land. Sigh.

Honorable Mentions

I’m only scratching the surface on what was wrong with this movie. Here are some other things I noticed that didn’t quite generate paragraphs worth of rage:

  • Gandalf is a total pushover in this movie. He spends the whole time whining when Thranduil won’t do what he wants, and Bilbo is continually getting the better of him. What happened to this guy?

  • This Asian.
    laketownasianI’m all for cultural diversity, but a place as tiny and isolated as Lake-town is just not likely to be that diverse.
  • Another Billy Boyd song? He’s not even a very good singer.
  • I hate to say this, but Howard Shore continues to disappoint.

The Ridiculous

Every time I watch BotFA, there’s a distinct moment in which I can actually feel part of my brain shutting down—the part connecting the movie with the book. See if you can figure out which moment I’m talking about:

If you guessed the were-worms popping out of the hills, you get a gold star! (Ding!)

From that point, I stop registering deviations from the events of the book. I still notice things that are lame or nonsensical, but I can sit back, relax, and revel in the ridiculousness of it all. I almost wish my brain had been overloaded like this earlier in the series, but then I realize that my conscious revulsion has saved me money that might have been spent purchasing DVDs or seeing this abomination in theaters.

As for the were-worms, I don’t think much commentary is needed. I’ll just add that the only basis for the presence of were-worms in Middle-earth is this throwaway comment by Bilbo at the beginning of the book:

“Tell me what you want done, and I will try it, if I have to walk from here to the East of East and fight the wild Were-worms in the Last Desert.”

This blog post is already way too long, so let’s move on.

What’s with all the animals?

I titled this post “Battle of the Farm Animals” because of the astounding variety of war-steeds used in BotFA. We were introduced to Thranduil’s majestic elk in An Unexpected Journey, but the animal doesn’t really come into his own until this scene:

And then the elk dies, just as I’m starting to like it. Oh well. It still wasn’t as sad as the pig’s death.

The elk and the pig are enough to make one wonder why no one rides horses anymore (okay, so dwarves really can’t, but Thranduil has no excuse). Not to mention the rabbit sled. But wait! There’s more!

(Sorry…you’ll have to skip to about 1:40 in the video)

Where on earth did Thorin and Co. find fully domesticated battle goats, particularly in an area patrolled (until recently) by a giant carnivorous lizard?! Is there some sort of traveling battle farm where people can just buy domesticated animals on which to charge down orcs? How can I get in on this business?

On a more serious note, I’ve just learned that 27 animals died, sometimes in horrific ways, during the production of the Hobbit movies. I’m no animal rights activist, but that’s pretty darn bad. Chalk that up as another of Peter Jackson’s offenses.

***

Next on our list of ridiculous BotFA elements…

This guy.

Alfriddress

Can we just pause for a moment and consider the fact that this man is named “Alfrid Lickspittle”? That is the actual name of an actual character in this movie.

This man serves no narrative purpose. He just hangs around Bard and annoys everyone around him by saying things like, “Out of my way! Abandon the cripples!” and “Not every man is brave enough to wear a corset.” He’s a completely static character. Why is he in this movie?

As Tom puts it, “Realistically, somebody ought to shank him.”

***

In conclusion, I liked BotFA much more than Desolation of Smaug, though only because my expectations were outrageously low. It may have had its moments, but for every battle pig there were three were-worms, so the whole business is doomed.

At least the series is over, and Peter Jackson’s reign of terror comes to an end at last. (It does come to an end, right? He can’t possibly be thinking about The Silmarillion, can he? CAN HE?!?!?!?). Also on the plus side, the How it Should Have Ended guys are on point.

To end on a positive note, here’s a goofy picture of Dan that always makes me smile.

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Happy Thursday!