Monday, October 31, 2011

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Are you all set to hand out that Halloween booty? Want to add some pirate to your day like me?

Here's some tips for swashbuckling Halloween!

First, find a costume you like, adapt and accessorize to make it truly you. Thanks to a generous benefactor, I had a few pirate costumes for the family. We all meant to pose in them sooner, but sadly we had a death in the family and a funeral in Tampa to attend. 


When we got back, I realized the female pirate costume didn't work for me at all. I'd lost some weight, so it was too big, and the gold blousey top, brown vest and skirt just didn't say "pirate" to me. So I tried on this men's costume, switched out the fabric belt for one of my own, and added some shell necklaces and earrings to round out a Pirates of the Caribbean look.




The Engineer went for this cool Blackbeard costume. I know what you're thinking: where's the BEARD? Astoundingly, the costume comes with a jacket, jabot (in case, like me, you recognize the word jabot but can't remember what it is, it's like a neckerchief or cravat), tricorne hat, belt and boot covers--but NO beard! We would have preferred the beard to either the belt or jabot, but the coat is very nice, don't you think?
Carve a pirate pumpkin! 


Just go here and download this Jolly Roger pumpkin stencil and carving instructions! 


You can also check out this pumpkin carving time-lapse video below for more inspiration:




Host a Pirates of the Caribbean marathon!


The latest movie, On Stranger Tides, is available now on Blu-ray 3D & Blu-ray Hi-Def Combo Pack!







Fool around with some photo effects to capture the mood! Here, I used AppZilla 2 for the iPhone, and Photoshop on my laptop, to give our pirate photos a vintage look.




Finally, take the little swashbucklers out and pillage for your own pirate booty!


We received this pirate costumes to help promote the October 18th release of the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides  Blu-ray 3D & Blu-Ray Hi-Def Combo Pack!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Howl-O-Lame

Part II: The Happening


We headed through the park from the first Haunted House, talking about how much we enjoyed it, still excited...but as we went, walking through the park, bunching close together as we'd reach the foggiest, darkest sections of the paths, anticipating the thrill of being startled in the dark...nothing happened.

Not a thing. No performers waited in the dark to scare us, no werewolves or zombies, no one.

It wasn't even one of those, "It's quiet--too quiet," nights, because of course we were surrounded by throngs of people, pressing in on us, so that I'd kept looking around, checking to make sure the seven of us stayed together in a group.

Mostly, it was just like a regular day in the Gardens, except for the fog, and that disturbed me, because when I attended HOS before, there were designated scare zones all around the Haunted Houses, and then there were guys in camouflage, and even a Carnival section with Dia de Las Muertas characters. This is right out of my previous (very favorable) review of HOS last year:

The fog effects and creatures walking around scaring you were *fantastic*. You couldn't see the characters until they were right up on you in most cases. The werewolves were are favorites, though the Owl tried to surprise a huge, hulking walking ghost by hiding behind it, figuring it would take a while to turn around--and ended up being startled himself by a scary clown with a chainsaw! I don't want to spoil any of the surprises for you, but they are really good at distracting half your group on one side while someone comes up on the other and scares the rest of you when you aren't expecting it at all!

But now, no chainsaw-wielding clowns or ghosts were to be found.

We passed rides with long lines, saw the Phoenix and made a decision to ride it because at least one of our party had never been on it before. The Phoenix (in case you haven't, either), is a big boat ride, not like an African Queen let's-go-down-the-Amazon boat ride, but a suspended one that swings like a pendulum. We wanted our group member to experience it because he didn't believe the ride actually completed at least one complete 360 revolution, holding you dangling upside-down in your seats.

So we waited in line for the Phoenix, pulled down our over-the-shoulder harnesses and carefully kept our arms out of the way for the waist one, which comes down on its own. The guys in our party told the newbie rider to brace his knees, because apparently once the waist restraint comes down, the pressure on *ahem* certain parts of the male anatomy is intense, and only worse once you hit that complete 360 and are fighting against gravity. Oh, and there is an added "click" which tightens it further when the ride attendants first start the ride, too.

This time, for the first time ever in all the years I have been riding it, the Phoenix swung back and forth, going ever higher, gaining momentum, holding us just barely upside-down at the peak of its swing--with an incredible view of the clouds and the stars beneath us--and then slowed down, the swings declining, until we were once again at the bottom, on the ride platform, and clambering out again.

No complete revolutions! I've never gone on the ride and had it not complete at least one 360 before. A couple of the guys in our group suggested it was because riders were maybe misbehaving, spitting on people or something (I later verified with operations that this ride, in an emergency situation, can be made to swing right down to the bottom to stop, but that "you'd know it if that happened, because it's fast. Like immediate." But, according to her, the ride cannot simply be cut short, just that emergency stop option. So this was, apparently, a fluke?).

We were disappointed, but that was just one thing, right? Well, that and no scary performers anywhere. But we still had a lot of the park to cover.

And then we went to the Haunted House in the Timbuktu theater,  Zombie Mortuary, which we'd been looking forward to, and the line was unbelievable. Up both the ramps to the stage, zigzagging all over the place. We were told by some attendees exiting that the wait was at least an hour and a half, and we had no reason to doubt them based on what we could see.

So we decided to come back around, and hit the HH at the very back of the park first, because we figured the wait times couldn't really get any longer than that. Some people were bound to leave early, right?

So we kept traversing the park--and cool, creepy, scary, startling performers with amazing makeup conspicuously failed to jump out at us from the depths of the darkness or the obscuring clouds of fog.

We deliberately chose the darkest parts of the paths, the roads-less-traveled. Still nothing; other than pretty lights on the bridge to Stanleyville and masses of attendees, we might as well have been walking down any road in the dark. Actually, any other road might have been scarier in the dark.

We rode Kumba, because it was there more than anything, and because the line was shorter than anything else--though normally, when the park is open, there's barely any line at all, so it was actually longer than typically.

Our spirits diminished, but still hopeful, we came to another new haunted house, Nevermore, only to be turned away. Nevermore was closed (no reason for why it was closed, no anticipated wait time. Just, "Come back later," we were told). So we continued on.

The Vampire Casino Haunted House was next, and from what we could see of the line it was long, but at this point we were ready for some fright night, so by accord we joined the queue.

And so we waited--and as we came around the sign and slipped behind it, our spirits raised, thinking we were close. We zigged and we zagged, and kept on zigging and zagging, and as we turned a near 90 degree turn in the line, we realized that what had been visible to us before--what we had mistaken for THE line--was in fact only a very small portion, like the tip of the iceberg visible to the Titanic right before the crash that sunk it.

We were over 45 minutes in line, and damned if we weren't even halfway through this thing already. There was no way to go back--throngs of people waited patiently behind us--and certainly no way to go forward but to continue on. Later, we would see tour groups, with their telltale lighted necklaces, passing us by without a care in the world, enjoying their front-of-the-line privileges. Murmurs in the crowd grew ugly; I heard disgruntled  attendees all around me saying things like (actual quote) "Dude, this sucks, we should have gone to Halloween Horror Nights," and, repeatedly, "I've never seen the lines this long!"

An employee with a galvanized tub full of ice and cold drinks planted herself near the middle of the line. One of our party had a sore throat; all of us were thirsty, so I ponied up for bottled water for all, parched myself. The employee asked me how I was enjoying my night, and so I told her, honestly, that I was disappointed, but that there was nothing she could do about it; I explained the long lines and lack of performers.

She took her time getting me my change and the crowd moved up, taking my group with them, who hollered back to me. As I went up to join them--barely any distance at all, and passing only those people who had already seen me stop to get water--an inebriated guest tried to stop me, sure I was cutting in line. I hurriedly explained the situation, holding up the bottled water, pointing to my group who were waving at me just ahead, and continued on, though he continued to rail at me, proffering some choice expletives at my back. I couldn't blame him for being upset--I would have, too, if I thought someone was trying to cut in line.

Apparently, as others in the line shared with me, at some HH, employees were not just granting front-of-the-line privileges to the VIP and Tour guests, but "their friends" and, allegedly, one entire "group of school kids" (the "kids" might have been in their teens; I have no way of knowing, but HOS is definitely NOT intended for young kids!).

When I reached my group, I went to put my change in my pocket, only to find that the employee who taken so much time with it had over-charged me for every bottle of water, $3 instead of 2.50, while asking me why I was not enjoying my night.

Whatever. It was only a few dollars, right? But I was getting annoyed. And I had about 45 minutes to wait.

So I pulled out my iPhone and went to the HOS mobile site, trying to find wait times, contact info, someone I could call to find out why HOS was going to hell in a handbasket this year.

There's no contact info on the mobile HOS site, and the Busch Gardens one had only a form to submit which didn't render right on the iPhone, even if I could have typed well in the sized-down-for-the-phone textbox.

So, still with plenty of time to kill, I Googled until I found some phone numbers. Two turned out to be only-open-during-bankers'-hours useless. The third got me through to a real-life person who had no authority and didn't know what to do but did tell me that there were updated phone numbers and gave me two more. One of those was disconnected. The other was a voicemail.

Right, I said to myself, that's it, I'm going to talk to Guest Relations in person before we leave tonight.

Finally, after an hour and 28 minutes (I know because I checked my phone when we got in line, and I also put my timer on once we got halfway in, since, again, I had all that time to spare while I was waiting), we reached the entrance to Vampire Casino, where a performer at the door was doing a comedy skit in character. I didn't hear much of it, though, because there was so many people going in that he would get drowned out, and besides after waiting all that time no one spared an extra moment to engage with him, which took away from his schtick.

I have to say that I was not in the most receptive mood for the HH by this point. The Owl's girlfriend was worried she might get really scared (she didn't), so I placed myself in the middle of the group in front of the two of them (nothing scares the Owl. It's almost eerie).

So it was probably my annoyance that had me muttering, when the 'bartender' in not-at-all scary chalky white makeup thrust her face into mine,"Oh, don't even."

She took one look at my less-than-impressed face and turned away, murmuring, "Huh, you must have kids..."

And I had to smile.

This HH, the one we had waited in line for an hour and a half to get get into, was honestly very meh. It wasn't as good as the first one we went in, and it would have had to be much better to impress us at this point. Plus, although lots of characters tried to scare us, their preferred method was just popping out and yelling "HA!". I remember just once thinking, "Hmm, I didn't expect that one." I don't remember being scared even once.

90 minutes for a less than 10 minutes experience does not a happy group make. I think the Owl's girlfriend was the only one not miserable at this point, because she wasn't going to have nightmares when she went to sleep. The rest of us just felt we had spent half our night in line so far-- and seen only two haunted houses, rode only two rides.

We trudged on, and reached Gwazi, where half the party decided to give just one more ride a try. The rest of us, me included, sat down on a bench (Gwazi is a wooden roller-coaster that has a known bumpiness issue that leaves some of us with headaches afterward).

Now, at last, after more than four hours since we had seen some of the front of the park, we found entertainers in costume.

No one had shown up to entertain the crowds during the interminable lines. None in Timbuktu, Stanleyville, Congo or Nairobi. None, the full length of the park from just right of the Moroccan Village entrance area at around 7:30 until now, when we reached Gwazi, which is just to the left of the Moroccan Village, at 11:26.

Four hours with nothing.

But now, finally, at Gwazi we saw werewolves, scaring guests and posing with them, a zombie with a walker (scary makeup, although this zombie made no attempt to surprise or scare anyone), and a zombie groom who actually seemed enthusiastic about his job and had some talent at it. He snuck up on the people sitting at the caricature stands, alarmed others on the benches, and completely freaked out a number of unsuspecting people strolling along the path. Some of the Werewolves, howling, took off in a group, while a few remained behind. One even used our group as cover once our friends came out and we started talking about what to do, standing with us and nodding his head, his back turned to the crowds on the walkway, until he saw a likely target to scare.

We waited 50 minutes, all told, for our friends to get out of Gwazi, so we had plenty of time to observe the guests and entertainers (and for me to take notes). I think, if we'd seen more of this kind of stuff anywhere else in the park, we'd have had a better night in spite of the lines and not getting in most of the Haunted Houses.

But, of course, we didn't.

So, at just about midnight, half of our group, including me, decided we'd had enough, and would take that first car home.

After I had a little talk with the folks in Guest Relations.

Next in the series: Part III: The Reckoning









Friday, October 28, 2011

Howl-O-Frustration, Scream of Despair. A Farce in Three Parts.

This, as promised, is the most critical review I have ever writtenThank you for your patience; I know it is late in coming. In the interest of covering all the bases to figure out what the hell went so wrong, I spent the last several days on the phone playing phone tag, doing research on the internet, and venting to my family while trying to reach a resolution of some kind, even if it is less than ideal. You'll see what I mean soon.

So it's also a long review. I'm splitting the posts into parts to spare your weary eyes and also to retain my sanity while rehashing all the crap I went through during this debacle and have had to wade through in the days since, so this is the Part the First, which basically sets up all the afore-mentioned crap. We don't really wade in it until the next installment.

I also just received my review copy of Skylanders: Spyro's Adventures, and I'll be announcing our giveaway winners in-between these posts, so those folks won't be kept waiting in suspense. 

And I (truly, honestly!), have some short, positive reviews coming up soon. Promise.

By the time this whole thing is done, hell, who knows, I might have to resort to posting rainbows, unicorns and kittens for a while just to reach blog equilibrium.

Thanks for your support,

~Viv


Part I: It Begins

Last weekend, on Saturday, October 22nd, I took a van loaded with excited teenagers across the state to attend Howl-O-Scream. I was on my own; The Engineer was away globe-trotting for two weeks to exciting places like Kuala Lampur and Bangalore, doing thrilling things like flying for 24 hours straight into a 12-hour time difference and falling, exhausted, into a hotel bed every night after working 11 hour days! I had decided, after very little internal debate, not to join him on that adventure.

To those of you wondering just how much of a masochist I am, juggling everything on my own with the 16 year-old Rhino for two weeks (during soccer tryouts! While on medication!) and then choosing to add to the stress by chauffeuring an entire group of teens across the state on a beautiful Saturday afternoon--these are all great guys, and honestly it's no trouble.

Friends of our sons, they're cool, smart kids, and if I could adopt them all, I would, because they are already our second family anyway. But  their parents, who are also good people, would object to that, so we just do stuff like have movie nights, sleepovers and outings like these instead.

So! Four of us tumbled into the van and headed for Tampa, about a 2 1/2 hour drive. Once there, we'd pick up The Owl, his girlfriend and his best friend at USF (go Bulls!), and divide up into two different vehicles (because some of us might not last the whole night and want to leave early, and once you leave Howl-O-Scream, there is no re-entry).

How did we choose Howl-O-Scream? Halloween Horror Nights, at Universal, is actually closer, by a good hour, to where we live. The Engineer and I had been to both Busch Garden's Howl-O-Scream and Universal's Halloween Horror Nights before.

We liked HOS better. In past experiences, the Haunted Houses were just as good as HHN and the lines were not too long (about 30-45 minutes each), there were roaming performers all over the place (not just in scare zones), some of them wearing ghilie suits or shrouded in simulated fog that hid them completely until they jumped out and scared you. As an added bonus, the rides were open, too. We'd taken the Rhino and the Owl to HOS last year and we all enjoyed it.

In fact, we grew up, the Engineer and I, only a few miles from Busch Gardens, and we both had strong ties to the park, especially me. We had both worked there as teens, as had our siblings. The Engineer worked on the now defunct boat ride during the summer season, and I worked in the games area in Timbuktu, smiling and sweating and handing out big stuffed animals. I chose to stay on and continue working after the season while I attended USF like the Owl is now. My Mom, a skilled Administrative Assistant, also spent years working in the zoo department for the Busch Gardens veterinarian.

But this was all back when the park was owned by Busch Entertainment Corporation, a subsidiary of Anheuser Busch. Back then there was a working brewery at the park, and if you were legal you could stop by the Hospitality House for a few free samples of their beer. Today, the park is owned by Sea World Parks & Entertainment, which is in turn owned by the Blackstone Group.

If you aren't familiar with the Blackstone Group (which I wasn't, before I looked them up), they are an investment firm whose CEO is Steven Schwarzman, a name you might know.

Remember him? He's the guy who, as reported by the New York Times, "referred to President Obama’s plans to raise taxes on the private equity industry in the following manner: “It’s war. It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.” Mr. Schwarzman did not explain how the genocide of 3 million Polish Jews was comparable to large companies having to pay higher taxes."

So, yeah, BG has changed quite a bit since Blackstone took over. More on that later.

HOS is held on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from late September until the weekend before Halloween. Thursdays, HOS goes until 1:00 in the morning, Friday and Saturday nights it lasts until 2:00 am.

And HOS costs--well, that depends. The price for you to attend HOS for could range anywhere from $24.99 all the way to $179.99. For one night.

For instance, on Thursdays, you can buy a four-pack (online and advance purchase only) and attend for only 24.99 each. This is a great option for starving college students, or anyone on a budget, if you live in Tampa. You can also get promo codes from local businesses if you live in Tampa, to bring the price down. Naturally, you pay more for front-of-the-line access, VIP tours, and private tours. You pay less than full (or promo, or passholder) price per night if you go for the whole weekend, BUT more than the Thursday night package rate. More for Fright Feast. Less if you buy tickets online in advance. I'm not sure how they came up with all these pricing packages; figuring it out is like playing a game of Fizbin.

Why, for example, are advance ticket purchases less when there are no limits on attendance and no HOS benefit to having your tickets ahead of time?

Anyway! When you buy the basic HOS admission ticket (77.99 at the gate, 52.99 advanced online purchase! 42.99 with the promo codes! 32.99 with passholder discount!), HOS begins at 7:30 pm.

This is important because, although an HOS ticket says you can use it to get into the park at 5:00, the early admission is not actually valid for any HOS stuff. While you can get in line for the regular Busch Gardens attractions and rides, none of the Haunted Houses are available until you hit that 7:30 mark.

Even with the premium packages that give you front-of-the-line access, you can't get into the Haunted Houses early. The ONLY option for getting into any of the Haunted Houses before 7:30 is the Fright Feast (add $25 onto your purchase price! Add $22.50 if you are a pass holder!) dinner option, and even then you only get a half-hour head start into them.

So HOS  lasts from 7:30 until 2:00 on Saturdays, when we went. That will be important later. We all had basic tickets (with the passholder discount! bought in advance online!).

Our group left USF in its little two-car convey in plenty of time to get to HOS before 7:30, which is a good thing, because although BG is less than 3 miles away from USF, we waited in twenty minutes of traffic just to get into the park. That was no one's fault, of course, although, as it was the 2nd to last weekend of HOS, I'm surprised there were no police directing traffic. We were excited and in high spirits as we drove in...and in...and in, to park in an Adventure Island remote parking lot (1.4 miles away from Busch Gardens).

Which astonished me. Here HOS was just starting, and we were parked waaaaaaay far away. I've never parked that far away, even attending BG all day, even on their most crowded days. When I worked there, they had remote parking lots, for when crowds were highest, like 4th of July weekend. But even then it was common knowledge that the park capacity for safety was, if I remember correctly, ~23,000(?), and the park wouldn't let anyone else in if they reached that level of attendance, for fire safety reasons, so that's as far away as it got.* Busch Gardens has added rides since then, of course, but not much acreage to the park, so I was amazed they were expecting this many people just for tonight's HOS.

After all, we'd chosen this Saturday deliberately. Most locals and college students went on Thursdays because it cost less. We couldn't go on Thursday, because the kids had school the next day. We couldn't go Friday, because leaving after school would have gotten us there too late for the start of HOS. So that left Saturdays, and since USF was having its homecoming game this weekend, we figured that would draw people away from HOS this Saturday. Where were all these crowds coming from?

The line for a tram was long (walking would make us late to get into the park, and we'd also gotten separated in traffic and didn't want to take off walking before the rest of the group caught up to us). It went quickly in the beginning, as several trams were running and lined up waiting for us, but then the line would stop, because each tram had a long way to go, and they hadn't staggered their departures. So between the traffic and the parking situation, our reunited group of seven ended up on two different trams anyway.

We meandered through several parking lots and across various roads to the park. In the last parking lot before we got off the tram, as we waited for those ahead of us to clear out, 'zombies' attempted to push through barriers to get to us, which helped set the mood for the night.

Our party met up again just inside the entrance to Busch Gardens (Cell phones are a MUST for coordinating at times like these), excited to (finally!) head off and experience Howl-O-Scream for ourselves.

NightShade Toy Company 

When we got inside, it was wall-to-wall people already, carrying us along in a river of bodies past zombies and set pieces--we saw one wall where bushes were creatively co-mingled with a hidden zombie covered in foliage--until we got to a bottleneck in front of the Nightshade Toy Company. Since we'd seen it last year and the line was long already, which we put down to it being close to the entrance of the park, we headed to the next house to begin our night of horrors.

At this point, we are still in great humor, and we even saw some zombies as we passed the building that will be holding the ice show by the front of the park.

Death Row Vengeance

The line for the next HH was long, too, but as we hadn't been in Death Row Zone (though it was a repeat house, too), we got in, figuring it must be good with all those people waiting already. We waited about 45 minutes or so, and it actually was a great haunted house, with a novel ending that scared us more than anything that had come before it.

And that's when things took a decided turn for the worse.

And this is where I stop, as it is 7 PM already!

*Note: All of the park officials I spoke to told me that it is now policy not to release what the capacity of the park is at all, or to release how many attendees are present during the day, or on any given night of HOS, although they do track all of them by the bar codes on their tickets. I was assured that if they had reached park capacity for HOS that night, the park would have closed down, though I was also told that procedures for doing so were proprietary information that they would not disclose, either. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

OH HAI COME SEE OUR MOVIE KTHXBYE! ALSO, SHAKESPEARE

Recently, I was sent this pitch (I am not going to include any links, and you'll see why in a minute):

Cambio, an interactive online entertainment experience aimed at teens and young adults, is now in the business of helping its readers do their homework with Mark Burnett’s “CliffsNotes Films.” The first 6 episodes, which are live now exclusively on Cambio, humorously bring the most trusted study guides to life.

The episodes are entertaining, modernized versions of Shakespeare’s classics: Romeo And Juliet, Julius Caesar, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello, Hamlet and Macbeth. Cambio also offers quizzes about each episode to help their young audience cram for the big test. There are also CliffsNotes points, badges, contests, social feeds and commenting available to Cambio members who want to discuss these fun, quirky shorts
(Note: highlighting is mine).

I anticipated recommending this site enthusiastically, because I do think that Cliff's notes and similar services can be valuable study aids for students.

Note that I said study aids. These products are meant to supplement, not supplant, the original material.

So, no, teens, you cannot get out of your assigned reading! And trust me, later in life, you'll thank whoever first exposed you to Shakespeare. Really.

So, back to the site in question. I'm stressing "site", because despite the pitch I was sent, the short films are not really what you are being sold on here, the website is.

The site hosting the films (which, as noted, is run by Cambio, that online entertainment experience aimed at teens and young adults) is incredibly ad-heavy. The whole set-up comes across as more of an ad campaign for the movie Anonymous than a helpful tool of any kind.

And the ads are intrusive. I have a free Adblock extension for my browser that I use when ads start to take over site content, and even my attempts to use scripts to block the ads did not work.

Not only is the left margin of the website taken up by a picture ad for the movie, anyone wanting to watch one of the short films summarizing the Shakespeare plays (I chose Othello) is first subjected to a trailer of Anonymous, too.  Then, the short film is again interrupted in the middle, in an inappropriate and completely out-from-left-field manner, by a character hawking Anonymous.

That's right, they use a character in their "study guide" film to hype another film coming out in theaters.

Which, okay, is a film at least superficially about Shakespeare. But, much as I would love for it to be an educational, historical film, Anonymous is riddled with historical inaccuracies. It has been derided as "inadvertently comic" and "a pompous, ignorant, ill-informed, and clumsy film." Even the premise (that Shakespeare's plays were actually the creation of a former English earl, Edward de Vere), is one that, among respected authorities in the field, has "roughly the same currency as the faked moon landing does among astronauts." (sources referenced via Wikipedia)

There's also an ad along the bottom of the website (which can at least be closed by clicking the x), AND an oversized box along the right side margin with links to Cambio entertainment "news".  This "news" section includes the latest on Kim Kardashian's acting career and a profile of Beyonce.

There's a small link to AOL in the top margin. There's another one to Cambio's home page right under that. At the bottom of the website, in small print, there is a note that Cambio is "part of the AOL network."

Scrolling down the page gets us to the Twitter feed (that's the "social feed and comments" part, not a social network designed for teens, but just plain old Twitter, which, by the way, does contain tweets about the Shakespeare films on the site, but not from other teens or educators, just PR reps tweeting the site to bloggers).

Finally, I reached the bottom of the webpage, with a grouping of links by, naturally, Cambio, not one of which references Cliff Notes or Shakespeare whatsoever.

Now, I have no problem with advertising or promoting a brand, please don't get me wrong! But Cambio, spawn of AOL, is pushing so many advertisements with this site that the content, such as it is, gets buried in them.

So, let's look at the content.

Eventually (after sitting through that trailer for Anonymous, a film I had originally thought of seeing but am thoroughly disenchanted with now), I was able to watch a film summarizing the plot of Othello. Now, the ads on the site are distracting enough to me, so if you have a teen who is having trouble understanding Shakespeare, I'd steer far clear of this site for that reason alone.

But in addition, the animated film I saw, while including some of the classical language and effectively summarizing the plot (which I do approve of, because mature students assigned the plays should be able to handle terms like, "the beast with two backs" and themes like jealousy, deception, adultery and murder), was unfortunately presented in a silly, caricatured format that seemed designed to appeal to young children. Or at least, certainly not designed to appeal to teens.

I can see teenagers just being annoyed by the childish characterizations, if they had the patience to wait out the ads in the first place to watch them, which I doubt. There's an implied condescension in the style, like obviously teens need to be talked down to, as they can't possibly understand the complexity of Shakespeare unless we talk down to them in the form of a cartoon. The silliness of the short films just reinforces the initial impression I had: that this website cannot be taken seriously.

So, rather than actually making a useful study tool--and generating positive feedback and word-of-mouth for Cambio from parents, educators, and students while they were at it--Cambio chose to take the low road and flood a website with advertising first, placing content a very distant second.

So that is why there are no links at all in this post, because not only do I NOT recommend this Cambio educational tool advertising portal, I cannot condone the way they are attempting to pass off very sparse content buried inside a myriad of advertising vehicles as "the business of helping" teenage "readers do their homework."

Just Ghastly

Dear Readers,

I have two posts coming up next that, I want to warn you, are not "glass is half full," enthusiastic endorsement posts in any way, shape or form. So be warned, all you cheerful optimists out there: you might want to have some cute pics of sleepy baby kittens basking in sun rays on the side, bookmarked and ready to go, just in case.

In my experience as editor of Cool Moms Rule!, I have found the vast majority of public relations and media contacts to be delightful people. Talented, enthusiastic professionals, they are passionate about their work. 

Because they are people of integrity as well, they graciously accept that, occasionally, some of us are less-than-enthusiastic about what they're pitching than they are. 

I would liken their reaction, 99 times out of a hundred, to a new Mom's first Girls Night Out with her old girlfriends after having the baby. 

There you are, a new Mom, lovingly sharing for only the second (okay, maybe third) time the miraculous story of the birth, including all 27 hours of excruciating labor and your mangled episiotomy--which, incidentally, you have thoughtfully detailed, complete with annotated flow charts and live video of the birth on your smartphone--when suddenly you find yourself realizing something is not quite right. 

Your friends' eyes have glazed over. Their smiles are stiff and forced. 

And they are guzzling down their drinks like a college student inhaling Red Bull during finals week. 

So you, with your uncanny powers of perception, decide it might be a good idea to talk about something else just now, and deftly shift the subject to Melissa's latest breakup or Megan's promotion.

The professionals I am fortunate to have worked with over the years are are just as expert at 'reading the room'. They have a sense of humor. They all understand that although they love what they do, Tab A doesn't always fit into Tab B. 

That said, I have a job to do, too, and part of that includes letting you all know when something I've been asked to review not only fails to live up to expectations, but fails spectacularly.

My next post is one such example.

And, on Monday, I'll be sharing with you my own personal Perfect Storm: an eagerly anticipated (and expensive) outing gone horribly wrong, and how the cavalier response of the event's staff to customer complaints made me see red.

Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

~Viv


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Halloween is Creeping Up On You!

Halloween is only 10 days away! That means you don't have much time left to scare up those fall decorations and work your magic with the kids' costumes, and what about snack time?

Grab yourself some Pringles (they've got Pringles Grab & Go, Pringles Snack Stacks and Pringles Sticks for fast portable snacking), and if you haven't had a chance until now, be sure to try some of their eerily familiar flavors--how do they make potato chips taste like pizza and dill pickles?!

And if you've got a little more time on your hands, you can always whip up something a little more substantial, like these fun salty-sweet Halloween treats (no tricks, promise!).




Pringles Ghoulish Brownies

INGREDIENTS:
6 ounces baking chocolate, unsweetened
3/4 cup unsalted butter or margarine
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup flour
1-6.41 ounce can of Pringles Original or 1-5.71 ounce can of Reduced Fat Pringles Original
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
Orange and black frosting (optional)
Edible decorations, such as sprinkles and candy corn (optional)

DIRECTIONS:
1.  Preheat oven to 350 F
2.  Line 13x9-inch baking pan with foil, and spray foil with cooking spray.
3.  In a glass bowl, microwave chocolate & butter on high for 2 minutes.Stir until chocolate melts. 
4.  In a stainless steel bowl, mix sugar, eggs, and vanilla until well mixed. 
5.  Pour in butter chocolate mixture and mix well.
6.  Empty Pringles and flour into a food processor, and puree until very fine. 
7.  Empty flour mixture into chocolate mixture and mix well; add nuts to distribute.   
8.  Bake for 30 minutes, and cool.

OPTIONAL DECORATION DIRECTIONS:
1.  Before pouring Pringles into food processer, reserve 3-5 crisps and set aside.
2.  While brownies cool, gently break Pringles crisps in half and decorate with frosting gel.
3.  Top brownies and frosting and place crisp “gravestones” in brownies along with other edible                       
          decorations to create a fun and playful graveyard scene.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure Has Officially Launched


  video

Don't forget to enter our Skylanders: Spyro's Adventures giveaway, NOW with the new rafflecopter giveaway system. 

We have TWO copies of this game to give away for our lucky winners--one could be yours!

If you use every entry method, you could have a total of 15 entries in one day. And you can tweet every day from now until Sunday, October 23rd, for an additional daily entry.

And just between you and me? Your odds on this giveaway are looking good. I think some of our readers missed it on their radar the first time around, so entries are low right now (don't worry; if you did enter before we switched to the new raflcopter system, I transferred your entry for you.  But why not go and tweet about the contest for another entry ?).


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Silly Old Bear Doesn't Look a Day Over 80


Hip, Hip, Hooray! 
Here's to 85 Years of Hunny Hunting
…and Many More! 



“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.”   A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

On October 14, 1926 A.A. Milne published Winnie-the-Pooh, the first volume of stories featuring the beloved bear and his Hundred Acre Wood inhabiting pals! In honor of this momentous occasion, here are some film clips from the upcoming 10/25 release of Disney's WINNIE THE POOH on Blu-ray & DVD.

First, the movie Trailer:





And since my oldest son's favorite character was Piglet, here's a bonus clip for you, Relying on Piglet:



And, for the littlest readers, we even have fun games and activities! 
Just click the button below to Print and Play!

Download Printable Games and Activities!


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My Favorite Giveaways Around the Web!




Laptops and Tablets and Phones, Oh My!

Dolby Lounge is giving away Dolby-enhanced prizes like Lenovo laptops, Acer tablets, and LG phones in a Facebook/Twitter contest that ends Friday!  With each entry comes a free download of "12 Dubset DJ mixes", too. I have no idea what that is, but if I were a cool kid, I bet I'd know. ; )

To enter, either  go to http://twitter.com/dolbylounge and follow, then tweet out the answer to the question “How do you Surround Yourself?” with the hashtag “#dolbylounge” 

OR follow these instructions to enter on Facebook.

Contest Rules Ends on Friday.



Fun-da-Middle Fundamentals Gift Pack!

This is a really cute giveaway: a cupcake-making set for those cupcakes with a creamy filling inside!

It's on a blog called Having Fun Saving, and here's what you can win:

  • One sample of new Betty Crocker Fun da-middles cupcake mix
  • One cupcake pan
  • One oven mitt
  • One package of cupcake liners
  • One box of cupcake gift notes

Just comment for initial entry, and there's instructions on what to do to get s'more!


Ends today, so you had better hurry if you want to enter!



Scare Up a Box of Delicious Cookies for Halloween!

Over at a blog I just discovered called the ReviewWire (which really needs a more eye-catching header IMHO), they're giving away a box of Smiley's Halloween Cookies! 

To enter, you'll need to check out the Smiley's Cookies website and comment on the giveaway with your favorite Smiley's Cookies. Additional entry methods are also available.

[ Note: Why do delicious cookie places not ask me to host a giveaway? I have the One Sweet Tooth to Rule Them All.  Smiley's, I'm looking at you. Hook me up.]


Also ends today!





Spookamole Recipe Contest

Avocados are good for you, and I know I don't eat enough. Let's be honest: unless it looks and tastes good, I'm not likely to change, either. This recipe contest asked for creative recipes with avocados, and since I love Halloween, I was delighted to see some recipes for items I would actually serve and eat myself! Voting is open to the public, and I didn't have to register to vote (I liked the Witch's Fingers). Check it out and vote for your favorite recipe to win!

Voting ends on October 16th.



Dove Chocolate Discoveries Home Starter Kit

Okay, this contest is unique.

You can win a "starter kit" of Dove Chocolate Discoveries, worth about $159, AND what makes this really different is that Dove Chocolate Discoveries is one of those businesses where you go and demonstrate the products in parties hosted in other people's homes.

Now, I don't know anything else about the business side than that. But I do know that Dove makes some awesome chocolate! 


Plus, If you don't want to start a business, there's a lot in this kit for any chocoholic would really enjoy. 

I personally actually have some experience in this home party stuff. I used to be a Partylite consultant, which I really enjoyed doing. Even though I was one of their best saleswomen in my first few weeks in the company, I found I didn't make all that much money doing it. You could get their starter kit free by signing up enough people to host parties with you as the consultant. I did that with the help of my wonderful friends,  but you also have other expenses that come out of your own pocket. 


Sometimes your mentor could help with the forms and materials, and I had a really nice mentor, but she decided to stop mentoring(!) and kinda left me in the lurch. And I couldn't even get mad at her because she went into the ministry for her church! Yes, really.

So why, you may be asking yourself, if I didn't make a lot of money and all that happened, did I enjoy doing it? 

Because I was a SAHM, and working as a Partylite consultant let me get out of the house a few times a month while my spouse watched the kids! I met a lot of people, I enjoyed demonstrating, and my husband and I really liked their candles, (I don't think I could be in sales if I had to sell something I didn't like; I just don't have it in me). So even though it wasn't that profitable for me, I know my Phone Phobia kept me from calling "leads" like I should have, and I probably could have made more money if I did more of that. Also, some people really did make money. 


Most importantly, I had fun doing it! So I consider the whole experience a plus. Since this contest reminded me of all that, I am including it here.


This one ends on Friday.


Note: It looks like the contest is part of a Mom Central campaign. I've done some blog tours for them, but I am NOT part of this one and I don't have any affiliation with Dove Discoveries AT ALL, or any of the other contests mentioned above.


Now, have you entered OUR Real Steel and HandVibes giveaways?

The Fat Lady Is Singing

Lee's National Denim Day is over, and so is our contest for two of your favorite jeans. In a moment, I'll be announcing the winner (I know you are all excited about that, I am too!).

But first, the results of our fund-raising.

Sadly, we didn't reach our goal of $150. We got close, I donated (twice!) myself, and I admit I'm disappointed we didn't make it. 

But I appreciate each and every one of you who commented, tweeted, blogged, posted and helped spread the word about this important issue. Any more awareness about breast cancer and the need for more research is a GOOD thing. So let's give ourselves a pat on the back for our efforts.

And I want to give a very special, and heartfelt THANK YOU to all of you who donated. I know that we're used to the internet providing us with information and entertainment free of charge, and asking people to step up and spend money was tough for me, even though I knew this was a good cause. And I also know that times are tough and a lot of us don't have extra money to give, no matter how much we might want to. 

So, again, thank you to the very special people who made that extra effort and found it in their hearts to give. I love you all.

Thanks to you, we raised $130! 

Oh, and here's how the other bloggers working with Lee for National Denim Day did (and wow, are you going to be amazed and impressed with the "first place" blog's efforts! I know I was floored myself):


 Wendy Will Blog - $1,725
Periwinkle Papillon - $475
Cool Moms Rule  - $130
The IE Mommy - $48
All Things Chic - $30
Family Life in Las Vegas - $15
Laughing Lindsay - $10
A Frugal Friend - $0
Shop With Me Mama - $0
The Mom Reviews - $0

And now, without further ado, the winner of TWO pairs of her favorite jeans (chosen by random integer generator): 

So, comment #40 was our winner! And that was....(drum roll)



lewalk(at)hotmail(dot)com!

Congratulations!

Lewalk, I'm emailing you right now to get all your information on those jeans! 

Thanks again, everyone!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

We. Are. SO. Close!

UPDATE: We have reached $130 in donations, only $20 to go to meet our goal, and Team We Got All the Cool Jeans could go even higher!

That's the good news. The bad news is, we only have hours left to do it!

So how are we going to do this?


Remember, you get FIVE entries in our Lee Jeans giveaway for TWO pairs of your favorite jeans just for donating.


NEW! I have 3 Pink Ribbon pins to award to the first 3 people who donate between right now and 3 PM (October 7th) if we reach our goal.


NEW! You'll also get FIVE entries into the REAL STEEL giveaway for making any donation between now and 3 PM October 7th!


Thank you so much for helping us meet our goal, and 
more importantly, raising money in the fight against breast cancer!



This Giveaway is a (wait for it) REAL STEEL!

 DreamWorks Pictures’ REAL STEEL opens in theatres everywhere tomorrow.



The movie stars Hugh Jackman (good enough reason to see it right there), and takes place in the not-so-far-away future, where boxing is now high-tech and fought not by men but by huge fighting robots (sounds like a more humane way to go about it, actually. No more concussions!).

Hugh Jackman is a former fighter who lost his chance at the title when the robots came along. When he hits rock-bottom (and basically runs out of other choices), his son (played by Dakota Goyo), who wants a better relationship with his estranged Dad, team up to build (and train, apparently?!) their own robot contender. 

Now, if that isn't enough to get you excited for the weekend, guess what? To celebrate the opening, we at  Cool Moms Rule! get to host REAL STEEL  giveaway for you! 

ITEMS FOR GIVEAWAY:


REAL STEEL t-shirt
(in adult  sizes S, M, L, XL)
REAL STEEL bottle opener 
REAL STEEL stickers
REAL STEEL temporary tattoos
                              
One lucky winner takes home the whole kit and kaboodle (ever wonder what a "kaboodle" is? It's things like that keeping me up at night).

To Enter:

Just leave a comment here with your favorite Hugh Jackman film. Come on, the guy's had billions, this is an easy one!


For Additional entries:




Tweet about the contest using #realsteel and #coolmomsrule for THREE extra entries.

"Like" Dreamworks and the REAL STEEL Facebook page for another TWO entries.

+1 on Google Plus for another entry.


Contest ends Monday, October 17th and is available to US and Canadian entrants only, please. 

Good Luck!


P.S. A caboodle (or boodle) - is an archaic term meaning group or collection, usually of people. A "kit" is what soldiers carried their equipment in. The beginning "ca" was most likely added on to boodle simply for alliteration when combined with "kit". The exact phrase "the whole kit and caboodle" was first recorded in 1884. There. Now you can get some rest!

The items in the giveaway are being sent directly to the winner, chosen through random integer selection, by the giveaway sponsor. I have received no personal compensation whatsoever for posting about the REAL STEEL movie or hosting this giveaway on this blog.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Spyro Flies Again!




Remember the loveable, playable dragon, Spyro?

He's baaaaaaack!

Cute little purple dragon (that spits fire), Spyro

Skylanders: Spyro's Adventures, set to release October 16th from Activision, offers a unique new take on the old classic, delivering a "cross-platform experience" that will fully immerse kids in Spyro's vivid 3D world.
This Little Dude is The Eruptor

Activision has worked some kind of technological magic, and their cute little dragon toys can go from the playground to TV screen, letting your children interact with them virtually through TV, computer and game console, too. And THEN, the toys actually "remember" where they are in a game, so that your kids can take them to their friends' houses and start just where they left off via the Portal of Power (great name, btw).

The Portal of Power! Muahahaha!

But that's not even the best part! Are you ready for the best part? 
I still don't know how they can do this, but the toys can transfer those "remembered" game experiences effortlessly from one platform to a completely different one! 

So, if you have the Nintendo Wii and your neighbor's kid has the Xbox 360, there's no problem--Spyro and his pals can go back and forth between them without losing a step! And that's not all--Playstation, Nintendo DS, even PCs and Macs are compatible with the new technology. There's even a whole website world where your kids can play online, too: Skylander's Spyro's Universe. I love that everyone can keep the technology they have now, and yet their kids can still play along with their friends who have a different game console or computer.

Sounds high-tech and space-agey, doesn't it? Don't you just want to try this? I mean, let your kids try this (I admit it, I want to play this game myself, so there!).

Gill Grunt
And wouldn't you be just the Coolest Mom in the world if your family was one of the FIRST families to get this whole wallopin' world of wondrous whimsy right in their home?

You know what--I bet it would be even cooler if you could get it for FREE, right?

Okay, then.

Cool Moms Rule! is giving away TWO Skylander: Spyro's Adventure  games  to celebrate the game's launch day, October 16th!

To Enter: All you have to do is visit the game's website and leave a comment on your favorite character from the game, and on what console your family would play Skylander: Spyro's Adventure! (required for all entrants).

For Additional Entries (optional):

Like Activision on Facebook
Tweet about this Giveaway (you can do this once every day!)
Blog about this giveaway (5 entries!)
Like This post
Subscribe to our RSS feed (3 entries!)
Add our giveaway to any giveaway listing (3 entries!)






Contest ends on launch day, October 16th, at noon.

EDIT 10/17/11: I have now set up this contest on rafflcopter (if you entered previously, I transferred your entry, don't worry). Since I have not yet received my review copy, I will announce the winners along with my review. This giveaway will now end on noon Monday, October 24th!

Which just means you have more time to enter and WIN!

Skylanders Spyro's Adventure includes a vast single player adventure, co-op gameplay, battle modes, puzzle solving and treasure hunts.  The game is rated E10+ by the ESRB.  For more information, visit http://www.skylanders.com/

I will receive a complementary copy of Skylanders: Spyro's Adventures to review for the blog in conjunction with this giveaway and my blog posts about the game. The prizes in the giveaway will be shipped directly to the winners from the contest sponsors. Their prizes, and my own copy of the game, are not contingent on a favorable review. My review will be an honest assessment of my own experience with Skylanders: Spyro's Adventures.
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.