Friday, August 26, 2011

THQ uDraw Your City Contest = Best Prize Package Ever?

I want to give a shout-out to the "uDraw Your City" contest for kids because the geniuses over at THQ have put together a fun and creative giveaway with perhaps the best prize package I have ever seen for kids and their parents.

From September 1st to October 1st, kids from age 6 to 17 (in other words, elementary, middle and high school kids) are invited to create a piece of artwork that represents what their hometown or home city means to them, for a chance to win a prize package worth more than $25,000, which includes:

  • $10,000 cash prize that the winner can choose to apply toward a college scholarship.
  • $10,000 to the winner’s school of choice to help support the school’s art program.
  • An HDTV.
  • A video game console (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or Wii).
  • A uDraw GameTablet.
  • A host of uDraw games for the innovative device.
  • A Gamestop gift card.
See what I mean? You've got money for their school now, money to use college later, and just plain fun for the winning kid, all included in that prize package!

Whoever put that package together really deserves some kudos. It's clear that THQ is a company that not only markets products for kids but actually gets kids, and has combined education, creativity, productivity and play together for a contest and prize package that will appeal to them (while also making their parents happy with that educational funding!).

Seriously, ya'll, I am not being compensated in any way for this post, I have no ties to THQ, but I am a big fan now.

Don't know what "uDraw" and the "uDraw Game Tablet" are?  Watch this (very cool) video:

Remember, kids can enter their original artwork from September 1st to October 1st. THQ will announce the winner on November 11th. For more information, head to the uDraw You City contest website

Thursday, August 25, 2011

MyUbby Review: Cute, Cuddly and Customizable

Baby Rhino never went anywhere without his Blanket.

He was our little Linus. He even held his blanket the same way: at nap time, he would snuggle Blanket up to his face with one hand while diligently sucking the thumb of the other.

He fell asleep with the softness of Blanket against his cheek.

We, of course, thought this was adorable, even though we had to go to extreme lengths to wash Blanket (after the first one nearly disintegrated, we always bought at least two in the same pattern). As he grew older, we trained him out of the thumb-sucking (the pediatrician said it could lead to an overbite), and tamed his blanket habit somewhat.

The Rhino went from full-on Blanket addition to simply social Blanketing. He could go without it for hours at a time, only turning to Blanket when he was ready to sleep.

And when, one traumatic day, he left Blanket in a restaurant and they tossed it into their dumpster with the rotting remains of spoiled food, we were even able to substitute a blue and black towel for Blanket with barely any fuss over the transition at all.

So blankets have always held a soft place in my heart, especially baby blankets, even now that the Rhino barely remembers ever having had one at all.

When a friend of mine invited me to try a website specializing in custom-made baby blankets, then, I was sorely tempted, even though I technically have no babies at all in my home.

So I went and checked out (such a cute name!).

What's an Ubby?
"ubby" (made up noun) a blanket-friend that will always be by your side. Soft and warm, ubbies can also be used as a tissue, super hero cape, or sun shade. An ubby will never run away but sometimes hides. An ubby never gets mad or complains. A true companion for life.
I was immediately impressed by all the options. You can make your own Ubby completely unique, just like your baby.

You can give an Ubby as a gift to new parents, and know that you have created a personal, lasting memory for their child, one that no one else can duplicate.

Me? I designed my Ubby for my cat.

Yes, I know that means I am teetering dangerously on the edge of the Crazy Cat Lady precipice, but since the Rhino's older brother just went off to college (!) and even the Rhino is learning to drive now(!!), I am seriously dealing with Empty Nest Syndrome here, people.

And I really did fall in love with the MyUbby blankets.

At, it's easy to order just what you want. You can choose from three sizes (you're going to love this): the Ittybitty Ubby, the Original MyUbby, and the Big Ubby.

I know, aren't the names just adorable?!

I chose the Original MyUbby. Nothing like a classic, right? By the way, the IttyBitty Ubby is a good baby size; if you go with the original, as I did, it makes both a generous baby blanket and a nice little throw; and the Big Ubby would be the perfect size for an adult throw, so you don't have to have babies or cats to get your own.

On the MyUbby site, you can choose whether you want a pattern or color on one side or both, and then the fabric you want for each side. I chose one plush, fluffy side and one fleece side (I tried to choose options in different price ranges, to really get a sense of the offerings). My colors were simple: black on one side and white on the other, as my sweet girl kitty is black (Cheddar, our big orange Maine Coon, already has a cat bed he prefers to sleep in).

Then, I chose the edging, which I was just going to have be a simple serge stitch (since this MyUbby is just for my cat, after all), but my friend told me that satin was definitely the way to go with my other choices, so I upgraded to a white satin trim.

And then, as the final indulgence, in white script on the black side of the blanket, I put my cat's name, Fancy.

Of course, if you were getting this as a gift for new parents, you could put the name and the birthdate on your customized MyUbby to make it uniquely theirs. Or you could have one made for your own baby as a lasting, personalized gift that will stand the test of time (I wish the Rhino's original blanket had been as well-made as the Original MyUbby. It's very luxurious, soft and cuddly, and definitely more durable than one of those themed baby "blankets" that come in packs in the stores, which are so thin and pill after just a few washings).

It didn't take long for my blanket to come, and I'm really happy with how my own Original MyUbby turned out.

Plus, my cat really likes it!

Viv's take: I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the website and the Original MyUbby to friends and family after my own personal experience. The customization and ordering process was effortless, I received MyUbby in a timely manner, and the quality of the blanket is top-notch. I feel confident that either of the other sizes would be just as well-made. The various customization options for size, color, fabric, trim and personalization ensure that you can find an Ubby that fits your budget, too.


I received a complementary original MyUbby, made to my specifications, for the purposes of this review.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Insider Tips from a Google+ Early Adapter (and maybe even an invite or two!)

I know a lot of you use Facebook, but I always forget to add things there. I'm getting better about that, but I really prefer Google+. 

Why I like Google +:

I feel they respect your privacy more than Facebook. You have a lot more options about including location services or not and who and how to share items.

Google+ does NOT let companies have Google+ accounts just for PR. In fact, they have already banned some users for trying to spam.

Google+ Circles

On Google+ you create circles of people you know, like this (here's a few of mine):
Parenting/Family (mostly the other Mom bloggers I know)
Random Smart People (eclectic list, from scientists to cartoonists.)

It's really easy to create circles! You just make up names for your circles, and add your contacts.

Cool Stuff You Can Do With Circles

You can Share things! Share with any circle, or several circles, or pick a certain circle (like Writers), open it up and choose just a few people to share something with (like maybe only the Science Fiction writers). 

The top of your Google+ page has icons to post, share links, share photos or even play games! And you only see game updates if you click on the game link, so you don't have annoying invitations to help this person or that person water ten plants

+1 stuff, which is basically the same as 'liking' on Facebook.

Make MORE circles, for special stuff! I created Movie Reviews and Book Reviews circles, for instance, and polled people I know about them. Now, any time I write a review of a movie/book on my blog, I send it to the people who let me know they wanted to be on those lists. That keeps me from spamming the heck out of everyone with stuff they don't really care about.

I'm thinking I might create another circle just for Mac stuff too. Apps, software, iPad tips, Mac shortcuts, stuff like that for the non-windows users in my circles.

Google+ Stuff Only the Cool Kids Know

In your stream, navigate down with j and up with k. You'll go to the next post or comment.

When you comment on a post someone has made, you can use formatting!  
  • To make a word bold, put asterisks around it: *word* becomes word
  • To italicize, put one underline on either side of it: _Name of Book_ becomes Name of Book
  • To strike out something: -stupid thing- becomes stupid thing.
  • To reply to or mention a specific person who is on Google+, try this: 
  • Type + and then the name of that person, for example: +Darth Vader. As you start typing their name, your contacts come up and you can auto-complete with the right name, which becomes a link. So that's cool. Has to be someone you know on Google+. What's even more cool is the linked name (it won't be underlined, btw, just change color), informs them that you mentioned them in a comment!  A friend used this the other day on an author's name and he showed up  in the thread to talk about his book!
There is a little grey arrow to the right of posts. I think it is ridiculously hard to see; don't know why they made it that way. You can mute posts, block people or report abuse if necessary with that. Hopefully, you won't use it much. 

If you want to get blocked by me: Come on to me in a really creepy way (my first block). Continuously post everything from status reports to incredibly common internet memes until you fill up my stream completely (block #2). Make a point to share every little detail publicly when you are sick and have disgusting bodily fluids leaking from every orifice. Yes, this really happened (block #3, of the post only because this was a nice guy whom I can only assume was delirious with fever at the time). 

Otherwise, we're good.

Extra Stuff to Make Google+ Even Better

If you absolutely must have FB: Google+ Facebook* (puts everybody together all in one social place!) Also, make Google+ look like Facebook.

Google+ Ultimate* allows you to +1 from anywhere on the net.

Add Twitter to tweet from your Google+ stream:  Google + Tweet (IE, Chrome, Firefox)

Hang out with friends and record yourselves! Screencast-o-Matic lets you record from your browser on Windows, Mac or Linux with just one click, and it's free for recordings up to 15 minutes long.

If you have an invite and haven't tried Google+ yet, you really should! 

Also, if you need a Google+ invite, leave a comment with your email below this post. Maybe I can hook you up.

*I use Google Chrome as my browser because my boys taught me that it is lightning fast compared to every other one (yes, even Firefox). The * items are Chrome extensions. You can probably find them for other browsers, too, though. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Shop for a Cause at Macy's with a 25% off Shopping Pass! Support the March of Dimes

I've worked with Macy's before, and I also shop at their local store at our town's (one and only) big shopping mall, so I thought I'd pass this info on to all of you: a way you can donate to a good cause, go shopping, and save 25%! 

Macy’s Hosts Sixth Annual Shop For A CauseDay 

Customers donate $5 to local charities and receive special Macy’s 25% discount saving pass

Macy’s 6th annual “Shop for a Cause” charity shopping event is a unique one-day-only shopping event created to support local charities’ fundraising efforts.  The event has raised more than $38 million for local charities across the country since 2006.

By purchasing a $5 shopping pass to the event, customers support their favorite causes and receive 25% off most regular, sale and clearance purchases at the store or online all day. 
Shop for a Cause passes sold at all Macy’s stores beginning August 20 through August 27, 2011, and at on August 27, 2011, will benefit the March of Dimes. The March of Dimes, the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, is the exclusive national beneficiary of this year’s event. 

WHEN: Saturday, August 27, 2011
 (Select stores only also Friday, August 26, 2011)

 All Macy’s stores and                

About Macy’s
Macy's, the largest retail brand of Macy's, Inc., delivers fashion and affordable luxury to customers at more than 800 locations in 45 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam. Building on a 150-year tradition, Macy's helps strengthen communities by supporting local and national charities that make a difference in the lives of our customers.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

More pics from the San Diego zoo!

Saw this rhino on the safari expedition bus. Some season pass members were
enjoying their one-on-one time with him.
Of course, when I saw the rhino being fed, I had to take pictures of him for MY "Rhino" dude!
Rhinos are surprisingly cute, aren't they?. We had a whole toy shop of rhino toys we collected over the years for the Rhino, everything from plush beanies to educational figures. We used to have a toy rhino from the Discovery channel (I think?) with a button on the side. When you'd push the button, a scientist-type voice would give you a "fun fact" about rhinos, "Rhinos have thick, leathery skin!" The Rhino's brother's favorite one was, of course, "Rhinos are very large--but their brains are small."
Next, we passed a baby giraffe...

But Mama said, "No photos!" and blocked our view from the bus.

Can you see those horns in the background?
That's Mama, looking out for this baby.
I took this pic of the polar bear while standing on the curb beside the exhibit, looking over the fence.
The view was better from there than from inside the exhibit.

Cute Overload: Baby Hippo Video!

I took this video while visiting the San Diego Zoo. Baby Hippo!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why Does This Article Make Even Pro-Choice Women Squirm?

Jenny, 39, desperately wanted another child. She and her husband were already parents, but now found themselves unable to conceive. Years of fertility treatments followed while the couple waited and hoped for good news, enduring invasive medical procedures and spending thousands of dollars in the process.

Six years later, the now 45 year-old Jenny was delighted to learn that she was finally pregnant.

But when Jenny and her husband learned that she was carrying not one but two fertilized embryos, as reported in this New York Times article last Sunday, they elected, through a process known as selective reduction, to give birth to one single child instead of the twins Jenny was carrying:
The idea of managing two infants at this point in her life terrified her. She and her husband already had grade-school-age children, and she took pride in being a good mother. She felt that twins would soak up everything she had to give, leaving nothing for her older children. Even the twins would be robbed, because, at best, she could give each one only half of her attention and, she feared, only half of her love.
Jenny is just one of the women profiled in the article, but her story in particular seems to have struck a nerve with women all over the internet. Reading the rather dubious rationalization Jenny gives for her controversial choice, it's not hard to see why:
“Things would have been different if we were 15 years younger or if we hadn’t had children already or if we were more financially secure,” she said later. “If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.”
It's hard to put into words why this kind of selective reduction--out of personal preference rather than medical necessity--just feels wrong. 

Especially when you are, as I am, pro-choice.

Like many women, my advocacy for a woman's right to choose only grew stronger when I became pregnant myself. Each of my pregnancies was both wanted and planned (though my second pregnancy happened a little sooner than we anticipated--the very day we started "trying" to conceive).  My husband and I had discussed, and agreed, that if during either of my pregnancies we discovered there was something seriously wrong with the fetus, we would choose to abort.

We actually had a scare with our youngest, but thankfully everything turned out all right. And I am immensely glad that I never had to face anything worse, because with each pregnancy I bonded so completely with my children that I knew I couldn't have gone through with an abortion. I had no idea that was how pregnancy would affect me.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but that's why I am pro-choice.

I don't think anyone else should legislate what a woman does with her body, because no one else can experience that moment, the instant when she has to consider whether abortion is the right choice for her. Even she can't fully anticipate what being at that crossroads will mean until she reaches it.

Every woman is unique, and every pregnancy is unique, and every factor that goes into influencing her decision is unique to her. You can sympathize, but you can't truly empathize with how she feels, not really.

Still, it's only natural for us to question decisions like the one this woman made. We have so many more options when it comes to our fertility than our mothers did, or their mothers before them. With all the choices available to us, it's inevitable that sometimes we're going to disagree about what the "right" one is. And I think it is perfectly okay to feel uncomfortable with the choices other women make. We all have our own moral compass, and morality and logic are not the same thing.

Let me explain what I mean by that. In a recent discussion on this issue in which I participated over at online forum Metafilter, one particularly strident commenter wrote:
You know, actually, seriously, I think I insist on it: If you are against this...and if you consider yourself pro-choice I want an explanation of what you believe the fundamental ethical difference is between a person who makes a choice with known consequences (sexual activity) and has an elective abortion because they find having a child incompatible with their personal life choices and someone who makes a choice with known consequences (IVF and/or other infertility treatments) and has an elective abortion because they find having two or more children at once is incompatible with their life choices. I genuinely find this position logically incoherent... pro-choice individuals who think the situation described in this article is ethically different than any elective abortion not made for medical necessity or because the pregnancy was the result of non-consensual sex are basing their opinons on emotional reactions to various conception/pregnancy/birth narratives and have no ability to logically defend their opinions. I've seen nothing so far here to make me doubt this suspicion." --nanojath
My response:
"And? So what? Ethics and logic are two different things. You could make a sound logical argument for Eugenics and forced sterilization of the mentally handicapped (and we did), but that doesn't make such an abhorrent practice morally ethical.

You seem very combative about this; really, you "insist" on explanations? No one here owes you an explanation. I am sure you'd be very upset if a woman had to defend why she made the choice to abort (and rightfully so). Why should anyone who doesn't feel exactly as you do have to defend their opinion?

Personally, I support a woman's right to choose, even when I don't agree with her choice. I also think I have the right to say how I feel, though*, and I don't give a damn whether you agree with me or not.

*For instance, I think a 40s-something woman with kids already who has to go through fertility treatments just to get pregnant again might want to consider that she had her chance already and maybe let it go.
Sometimes, people make choices we disagree with. Sometimes, it seems like they are just throwing their hands up in the air and rolling the dice rather than even making a conscious choice at all.

You can live your life like that, sure, but I don't have to agree with it.

I can sympathize with wanting more children even when you at first thought you were done having children. I had my tubes tied after my cesarean (two breech births), but medical issues years later mirrored exactly, in a twisted irony, many of my symptoms when I was pregnant with my two boys. Friends suggested perhaps the tubal hadn't worked or reversed somehow, and suddenly I was faced with the idea of having another child, right out of the blue. Emotionally, despite having made the decision years before that our two boys were all we would have, I found a welcomed the idea of another baby.

But as it turned out, the reality was not pregnancy, but serious medical issues which eventually led to my having a complete hysterectomy. The sense of loss I felt when that situation turned completely around was devastating.

So yes, emotionally I understand wanting more children later in life, and how it feels not to be able to have them.

Intellectually, though, the time investment, the financial commitment, the hormonal treatments and possible medical consequences of fertility treatments for women who already have children, and the toll it might take on their marriage and on their other children, just seems like a bad idea to even consider pursuing.

Hell, if I were the woman's girl friend, giving her advice, I'd probably have weighed in long before the twin/singleton issue even came up to tell her, "Concentrate on the children you already have, woman!"

But that's why it's so important that we don't get to decide for Jenny, or for any other woman. Because no matter how we feel or what we think, no matter how hotly we may debate whether she should have done what she did, we are not the ones that will be living with the consequences of her actions.

She is.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

BlogHer '11 Photo Roundup (Or: "You Thought YOU Took Bad Pictures?!")

So, look, I'm going to put up some BlogHer photos here that include me in them, but only as a public service.

I realize a lot of you may not be on Twitter or Google+ and so didn't see these when I tweeted them, and though my normal reaction to that would be a fervent, "Thank God!" because I look hideous in them, I also know that there are others like me out there.

By which I mean: The Photogenically Challenged.

That's right: my name is Viv, and I take bad pictures.

"Some people are taking silly pics. You know, hugging the shoe,
kicking their feet up, that kind of thing." --Anonymous PepsiCo Woman
See? You thought I was kidding, didn't you?

Even when I was a teen and skinny as a rail, the moment a camera focused on me I'd get this glassy-eyed, deer-in-the-headlights look on my face; pretty much the same dazed expression Michelle Bachman had in this cover photo that caused so much ruckus (I'd rather there was a ruckus about her opinions, but that's another story).

You know, that photo that had critics declaring Bachman was a zombie who ate her young? Which, while it might possibly be true in her case, is not kind, people!

Oh, yeah, take a look at this pic, over on the Twizzlers Flickr page, too. What was I thinking?!

If there was a class on how to pose, or how to look like you aren't posing maybe, or even if someone just stood there holding up a big cue card reminding me "Don't slump, your stomach is sticking out! Watch your posture! Don't blink when the flash goes off," maybe then I could take better pictures and not be mistaken for a zombie caught on film myself.

The lovely Giuliana Rancic, from E! and me, at the Trop 50 booth. Guess which one is me?
I have no clue what I am looking at to the bottom right.  Maybe an escape route?
It really is the pictures and not me, by the way. Honest.

I know that I am not generally quite so hideous in Real Life, because people assure me all the time that my photos, "look nothing like you!" and that, "They don't capture how lovely and vivacious you are!"

Okay, so it's actually my Mom that says that. Shut up.

I am posting these pics for you, gentle readers, and my fellow photogenically-challenged, so that you will know that you are Not Alone.

The things I do for you people. *Sigh*.

I had a lovely lady at the Philosophy booth at BlogHer'11 tell me that she held The Secret to taking flattering photos.

She told me AFTER she took this picture. Obviously.
She told me that it's because I feel that I am going to take a bad picture that I actually do.

She says she never takes bad pics, and it's all because she tells herself beforehand that she takes amazing pictures!

Yes, that is the reason. Not because she is gorgeous, and probably 15 years younger than I am in addition to that wonderful confidence. Apparently she can parallel park, too.

Okay. So there is one last picture of me that I want to share with you. I don't think this one looks half bad, but it's not because I told myself I took amazing pictures and suddenly *poof!* it was true (like the women in that Star Trek episode that were irresistible to men because they took that pill, remember, and they would suddenly be beautiful, but it turned out that in the end there wasn't anything in the pill, because they had just replaced it with some placebo or something, and really it was their CONFIDENCE that made them beautiful? And, apparently, fixed their hair and makeup and stuff, too?).

That's not what happened with me.

Here's what did happen: the very busy women at the Lee Jeans booth managed to fit me in* (one of the perks of being a Lee Fit Ambassador! Yay!), and one looked me up and down and asked me what I thought my size was, and then she went over to these stacks and stacks of Lee jeans and took out just two pairs.

Now, there are a bajillion different types of Lee jeans, especially once you factor in all the different lengths and fits, which is what makes them so popular in the first place, so when she said she was sure one of those pairs would look good on me, I was pretty dubious.

I mean, I know Lee jeans put a lot of thought and design into making their jeans fit, but I hadn't been there ten minutes and usually I take a whole afternoon to find jeans that both fit me and are flattering.

But I went into the cute little blue changing tent anyway, because they were being so nice.

Cute little blue changing tent!
And I didn't even have to try on the second pair, because the very first pair fit me perfectly! They are one of the new Lee Jeans Slender Secret stretch jeans with the purple label: 

Not so secret any more, come to think of it.
These are lighter and stretchier than my usual jeans, and really comfortable. And they were even a little loose on me. I thought they were the "relaxed" fit or something, but they weren't.

Which, naturally, totally made my day.

So, if I look happy and not so much like a dazed zombie on the prowl for some tasty brains in this last picture?

It's probably the jeans I have to thank for all that.

*See what I did there? Fit me in? Get it? I'm so clever.

Oh, I guess I should mention again that Lee jeans gave me a free pair of jeans at Blogher11! I drank some pink lemonade while waiting to meet Giuliana Rancic. And I totally snagged some Twizzlers for my kids, too. But I didn't tear them off the Twizzler Statue of Liberty or anything, I swear. Also, the Philosophy people that took that pic of me kindly gave me some Philosophy product samples to make up for it. 

Giveaway winners announced!

The winner of the Hairmax giveaway...

h. mcnaron

And the winner of our Dreamworks "The Help" movie giveaway...

tina reynolds


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Help movie review--Opens tomorrow! (p.s. giveaway ends Friday)

Often, when I read a book, especially such a compelling work as Katherine Stockton's The Help, I find myself picturing the characters in my mind. So I'll have this mental image of, say, Minny cooking in her apron or Aibileen's eyes clouding over as she relives a painful memory. 

So sometimes I'll be both dreading and anticipating the film version of that book, because while I want to see it put to film, I also want to see it done right. I want my characters the way I imagined them, and since everyone else who has read the book is likely thinking the same thing, that's quite a tall order. I imagine that it's intimidating, and hard to find filmmakers willing to take that challenge on. Maybe that's why we see so many remakes and sequels these days. 

So, anyway, I have really been anticipating the opening of The Help movie! As you will know if you've been following my tweets, last weekend I was attending BlogHer '11 in San Diego, and I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend a premiere screening on Saturday with the DreamWorks reps.

Now, you may be asking, "Viv, why did we have to wait until today to read what you thought, if you saw this on Saturday?" To which I will answer that you are really nosey.

No, honestly, the answer is that all of us bloggers attending the screening were asked not to release any reviews before today, since the movie doesn't open officially until tomorrow and nobody wants to spoil the opening by giving the whole movie away. I won't put spoilers in this review even now because I hate when people do that.  

[Side rant: Speaking of inconsiderate things people do, can you believe that here we were, seeing a free premiere of a movie that hadn't even been released to the general public yet, and our hosts had to make repeated requests for people to shut off their cell phones? I'm not talking when people were filing in, or during previews, either. Cell phones were lit up all over the dark theater as the movie started. Right next to me, two women were using their phones, and I figured that once the lights went down they'd stop. Nope. Credits are going now, and again everyone is asked to put their cell phones away (politely and firmly, though I at that point was ready to take the phones away myself and drop them in their sodas), and they finally did. Like the other two times they were asked didn't count or something. Or like they normally watch movies with lit cell phones in their hands the whole time. How rude do you have to be, to text during a movie? Where do you usually go to watch movies, the phone store? Okay, end of rant!]

So, did The Help movie live up to the book? Oh yes! 

I admit, I was initially apprehensive when I saw that Emma Stone, this beautiful young actress, was cast as Skeeter. Skeeter isn't supposed to be lovely and popular; in the book she's considered gawky and graceless even by her friends, and the men aren't exactly lining up at her door. 

But the actress really got to the heart of the character. Skeeter is an ambitious, forthright young woman, impatient with dissembling and foolish constraints, caught up in a sheltered world that values frippery, faux femininity over assertiveness and a social conscience. Stone pulls Skeeter of perfectly.

Viola Davis's strong, sturdy Aibileen, setting aside her private pain to nurture another woman's child--"You is kind, you is smart, you is important!"-- is heartbreakingly compelling. This woman is tough. She's a survivor. But she's so open-hearted. I really think that's the right expression: open-hearted. Aibileen manages, somehow, to look past all the crap she has to put up with on a daily basis, and focus on the stuff that really matters to her, like raising Mae Mobley. 

And Octavia Spencer is just perfect as Minny--Aibileen's best friend, the most gifted cook in all of Jackson and the bane of Hilly Holbrook's existence. I couldn't even imagine them casting anyone else in the role. Her speech, her mannerisms were spot on Milly. She had me laughing and shaking my head and gasping out loud, even when I knew what was coming. I can't even think of  the "terrible awful" scene without picturing Octavia Spencer now. 

Davis and Spencer's chemistry comes across on the screen, too. You really could see them being friends. 

In fact, the whole cast was magnificent: 

As haughty, hypocritical, holier-than-thou Hilly Holbrook Bryce Dallas Howard is the character you love to hate, intent on her personal crusade of racist fascism; 

Old 'Missus' Walters (Sissy Spacek), Hilly's Mom, may be losing her memory, but not her sense of humor. I loved watching her gleefully gloating at Hilly's expense; 

Jessica Chastain plays "White Trash" Celia Foote. Pretty, silly Celia, longing for children and desperate for acceptance, doesn't have a prejudiced bone in her body, and Chastain plays her with a charming naivete'. I really liked her in this role.

Skeeter's Mom (Allison Janney), is flawed and frail and human (but with a hidden core of steel when Skeeter needs her most, like most mothers). Wow. I would never have pegged Janney for this part after watching her in the West Wing. SUCH a talented actress;

And Cicely Tyson's brief appearance as sweet, faithful Constantine was enough to bring me to tears.

The story is essentially the same: set in Jackson, Mississippi during the 1960s, The Help centers around the plight of 'colored' maids working in the homes of rich white society ladies, forbidden even from using the bathrooms in the very houses they are responsible for cleaning.

Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan riles up polite society when, in a scheme she's hoping will land her a real job as a newspaper reporter in New York city, she publishes a book told from the perspective of the maids, exposing all the faults and foibles of their employers. 

The Help does differ slightly from the book. A couple plot points were changed, and I actually liked the way one was handled in the book better, though I understand why it was changed (the movie version cast the sympathetic characters in a better light). 

But overall the movie captivated me. Little touches of humor and moments of surprising warmth added to an already compelling story. 

And I want to make it clear that Skeeter is not a white woman "rescuing" the black women here. All she does is offer them the vehicle to get their own message out to the public, something that they could never have done at this volatile time of race relations. The movie does a great job showing both the strength of the women telling their 'stories' and the sheltered life Skeeter has led. She is the one, going in, who doesn't realize how dangerous this could be for all of them. She rises to the occasion, but it is "The Help" who are really courageous here.

Go see it. Tomorrow, if you can. 

And you might want to bring your tissues.

(And enter The Help giveaway already! It ends Friday!)

I attended a complementary premiere screening of DreamWorks movie, The Help, to facilitate this review. I also received a bag of movie favors at the screening (canister of tea, a pocket mirror, a cardboard fan and some literature on the film). 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Family Movie Night: "Who Is Simon Miller?"

This Saturday, August 6th, NBC is hosting Family Movie Night! Grab your kids, grab some popcorn, turn out the lights and tune in at 8 pm EST (7 pm CT) for "Who is Simon Miller?"
So what's this all about? P &G and Wal-Mart, as you may remember, have made a commitment to partner up and create more movies family-friendly movies on television. The idea is to get the whole gang together and share some quality time, watching a thought-provoking but appropriate-for-all-ages movie with your kids.
This month's movie focuses on Simon Miller, a geologist who suddenly vanishes one night, leaving his family (naturally) desperate to to find him. Simon's wife, Meredith, and his children, Sarah and Kevin, set out on a quest to discover the mystery behind his disappearance. But though his wife and children start out trying to piece together where Simon went, uncovering a cache of passports under a host of aliases leaves them instead wondering who he was. An international adventure to solve the puzzle spurs his family on as they race to find the missing husband and father and ask him, once and for all, "Who is Simon Miller?"
Here's what you need to know to share Family Movie Night with your own kids this weekend:
I had a chance to preview "Who Is Simon Miller" on Monday, August 1st. While I watched the movie, I jotted down my own impressions, and used them to come up with some questions for my own kids about the film, the way the family in the movie was portrayed, and how realistic that portrayal really is.

I thought I'd share them with you.

Questions for Who Is Simon Miller?
  1. What are your first impressions of the son and daughter in the film? How about the Mom? 
  1. How do the kids in the movie help in the search?  At the beginning of the movie, I was frustrated myself, because I felt the daughter was just standing around looking confused and pretty, or manipulating Mom into letting her do what she wanted. The son seemed to have a variety of skills. Thankfully, the movie didn't perpetuate the "girls are pretty, boys do things" stereotype. 
  2. How realistic are the kids' skills?  My sons are gifted gamers, but know nothing of hacking, and I'm great with puzzles but never learned to pick locks. And all of us have taken languages in high school and/or college. So, we had trouble accepting the daughter's proficiency with languages. I learned the hard way that 'knowing some French words' and "actually conversing with French people" are two different things. Oh, and my kids would be texting the whole time and taking a lot more pics!
  3. How would you handle yourself if you were in the kids' place? I liked the kids' self-sufficiency in this movie. I know my kids would not fall to pieces emotionally, but even with all the travelling we've done, I think they'd feel anxious trying to get around town on their own. I also think the movie handled the emotional reactions well. 
  4. (Okay, now the scary question) How do you think Mom/Dad would handle themselves in this kind of situation? Yeah, you'll have to fend this one for yourself!
Enjoy "Who is Simon Miller?" on Saturday night. And feel free to come back and comment to let me know what you and your family thought of the movie!

I wrote this review while participating in a campaign by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of P&G and received a promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate.
Cool Moms Rule! is in full compliance of the new FTC rules concerning Bloggers. I disclose on all posts where a product was received for free and/or if there was any kind of financial compensation involved.