Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Turning Mozzarella Sticks into Merry Poopins

When I was new to LA after matriculating in Ohio, going out was a way of life. I was young and naïve and the Sunset Strip was just a few blocks away. Going out on the town was the best, and the worst. And being a young single guy, the winter holiday season was always filled with festive nights out filled with no shortage of flowing beverages and hors d’oeuvres. I remember one particular New Years Eve spent with a group of pals at a spicy cantina called Senorita’s. Back then my patience for crowds was thick and my stomach was eager to sample my newly discovered passion for Mexican cuisine. Those nights, and their subsequent mornings after, weren’t as painless as in college, but were still manageable for a youngish dude. Perhaps that’s because that era, around the turn of the millennium, was when I began seeking comfort with a tasty little pink darling who was always ready and waiting for my call, morning, noon or night.

Now, years later, I’m older and wiser. There’s no chance I’d go to a Hollywood joint like Senorita’s (RIP) on New Years Eve. Clubs, lines and unnecessary crowds are as foreign to me now as babysitters, Nick Jr. and the Valley were to me then. Hell, there’s minimal chance I’d go anywhere on NYE without a great reason, like being invited to drop the ball at midnight from Mars.
New Years Eve Appetizers

As of a few years ago, likely coinciding with becoming parents, Mrs. Dude and I adopted a low-key approach to the New Years holiday. We usually have a family activity during the day (i.e. something that will wear the kids out and make them want to go to bed early) followed by Mrs. Dude’s famous Appetizer Dinner as our oxymoronic main course.

Every December 31st now, as our oven readies an array of bubbling oozy mozzarella sticks, fried mushrooms that erupt like a volcano when you bite into them, crunchy chewy taquitos AND my wife’s famous homemade pigs in blankets, I can feel my stomach percolating in eager anticipation of the fiesta it’s about to ingest-a. And with each passing year, I tell myself that I can still down this stuff like I did 20 years ago in my off-campus apartment on any given Tuesday night a mere 6 hours before a big exam. The truth is I realize that I need a head exam to think I can make it through this big tasty night without a wingman by my side. So I look back to that little pink lady who’s always been there for me through both good times and stuffed crust pizza: Pepto-Bismol.

Unlike the comparative ease of my college and mid-20’s adventures, I now face New Years with a new crew and my Little Dudes don’t show the same mercy my professors usually did. I have to be up and ready to move on January 1st long before noon, sadly, on some family adventure or another. That means I don’t have time for my digestive tract to go on strike from our previous night’s holiday excess, relatively low key as it may have been. So I keep a bottle of the classic pink tummy-fixer elixir chilling’ in the fridge, ensuring that I’m always ready to counterattack my intestinal distress, call it Mozzarella’s Revenge, caused by my exposure to a few of my favorite things*, head on. Plus, if I’m not home, I can carry chewables in my pocket, making it even easier to stop the need to go when I’m on the go.


*Speaking of my favorite things, unlike virtually every third other person in LA, I don’t fancy myself a songwriter, but the memories conjured while writing this post and some seasonal movie watching inspired me to pen some alternate lyrics to a classic tune from one of my wife's favorite movies about singing Austrian families. Thanks to Pepto-Bismol whose #PinkRelief helps me avoid being a self-induced member of the Von Crapp family, and for more Merry Poopins.

Here's a little poem I wrote, to the tune of one of my favorite songs: 

Fresh fried veg-tables with dips straight from Ranches
Taste great but cause me belly ava-lanches

Bubbling hot pizza dripping with oil
Makes my chest feel like it’s going to boil

Buttered hot pretzels are a wonderful lot
But usually tie my gut in a big salty knot

Holidays lead to delicious binges
Rescued by Pepto with its bright pink tinges…


I was compensated for this post, but all opinions contained within are entirely mine, for better or worse, like the fact that mozzarella sticks might be the greatest food ever invented. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Force Awakens IS the Star Wars Movie You're Looking For

Moviegoers: Dude, 40; Mrs. Dude, 40; Little Dude, 6 & Littler Dude, 3

Family Fave Flicks: Beyond the original Star Wars films, some of our favorites to watch together are Toy Story, The Lion King, Despicable Me and most other modern animation flicks.

Fave movies for grown-ups: The Dude’s Faves (that the kids aren’t ready for): Bull Durham, Goodfellas & Old School

What’s the story: A few decades have passed since Luke Skywalker and the Rebels defeated the Empire in Return of the Jedi and a new band of enemies have arisen in the galaxy. The First Order is led by the mysteriously masked Kylo Ren and their mission is to find the now-in-hiding last remaining Jedi Luke Skywalker. Thanks to some old friends and SW-universe newcomers like the rugged scavenger Rey, conflicted Stormtrooper Finn, fighter pilot Poe and next-gen droid BB-8, the battle to defeat the First Order and Kylo Ren has begun.

My group of Star Wars aficionados loved the 3-D effects, updated lightsaber battles and, of course, the lovable BB-8, heir apparent to the iconic R2-D2. My 6 year old was on the edge of his seat for most of the 2+ hours from the opening scroll until the final familiar theme outro. This is definitely the movie Star Wars fans have been looking for and it will leave you yearning for Episode VIII, due in May 2017.

What parents may like about this movie: As a big fan of the original Star Wars trilogy, I appreciated the way this film quickly led us into a totally refreshed universe of exciting new heroes. It was wonderful to see both male and female positive role models that all kids can relate to. The classic Star Wars dilemma of good vs. evil was present, but it’s not too deep to be off-putting to a younger audience and will hopefully be thought provoking and a dialogue starter for older kids/tweens/teens.

What kids will like: BB-8, no question. My boys loved the movie as a whole, but BB-8 was the real deal for them, aided in part by being so familiar with him in advance from the trailers and retail toy departments.

Concerns: This was definitely a much more graphic Star Wars film than all of the previous iterations, except possibly Episode III, containing some epic battle sequences, however, true gore was virtually nonexistent. Intensity might be a concern for some younger kids, or those who haven’t been exposed to other films in the series, so one trick I like to implement before seeing movies that might contain is reinforcing with my kids that what they see on the screen is all pretend.  Humanizing the experience for them seems to help ease any concerns they might have during intense scenes.

Bottom Line: Movie elements ranked on a scale from 1-5, with 1/5 being the least and 5/5 being the highest.

Positive themes: The movie featured several key characters seeking to conquer various hardships without necessarily knowing why they were in those positions. There were also friendships forged among characters who might otherwise have not been connected if not for these adverse conditions. (5/5)

Violence/scare factor: There was a fair amount of violence in this film, though a majority of it was Stormtroopers using their laser blasters so it mostly looks like people getting knocked over. However, for the first time I can remember in a Star Wars film there was a little visible blood (albeit briefly) during one battle scene. Beyond that there was a large monster that captured a character and some other intense scenes involving essentially hand-to-hand combat. There was also a brief dream sequence which was both trippy and surprisingly intense. (3/5)

Sex/Romance: None. Two former paramours briefly embraced and there appeared to be another budding romance, but no action was taken. (0/5)

Bad language: None. Not even anyone being called a half-witted scruffy looking nerf herder. (0/5)

Another parent’s view: Click here for a Fandango mom’s take and another Mom's Movie Minute

Final thought: My wife, who had never seen a single Star Wars movie until we started watching them with the boys less than six months ago, said this just after our screening ended: “I really think we need to see it again, there are so many details I want to rewatch!” Enough said.

This post was written as part of my partnership with Fandango's Fandango Family team. I was compensated for this post, but the opinions contained within are entirely mine and my family's, for better or worse and light side or dark.

Spoiler Alert: If you aren't following @DudeOfTheHouse on Instagram, you might as well go pick up some power converters at Tosche Station.  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Star Wars, FOMO & Getting Ready for The Force Awakens

As my family’s Year of Star Wars Part 1 is coming to an end, when my boys become indoctrinated, initiated and almost institutionalized with Star Wars Fever, it has occurred to me that I’m suffering from a retroactive case of FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out.

FOMO is an acronym defined as ”anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.”

I’m generally not a jealous person and am generally happy for people who post their trips-of-a-lifetime pics on Facebook (as long as they don’t post 300), so that’s not really a point of FOMO for me. Though we all have our regrets, the one that has been on my mind lately is ironically something that I missed out on even though I was actually there.

Earlier this year at the Dad 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, one night we were bussed into the Presidio for an event at Lucasfilm. It was pretty cool walking on the hallowed grounds where so much movie magic has taken shape, yet at the same time I have to admit that I was a bit tuned out. I’d always been into Star Wars, but at the time I hadn’t seen any of the movies in quite a while and since becoming a parent my memory of the two moons of Tatooine had been replaced with a permanent memorization of Goodnight Moon. Needless to say at the time my kids’ interests were attuned elsewhere beyond a galaxy far, far away.

It’s not as though I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings, it’s more that I just wasn’t in a Star Wars frame of mind, so it was an amazing place to be, but I was elsewhere while I was there. That being said:

I was lucky to be greeted at the event by the wisest Jedi of all:

Given directions by these two gents dressed in reverse tuxedos:

And greeted by one of the more notorious parents in film history:

Fortunately I got a warm hug from this trusty little Droid:

I was given a sneak peak that night of the hilariously clever and pithy Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales and that kickstarted some of those memories for me. I was eager to introduce that series and the larger series it inspired to my boys, and a few months later I did. Hesitantly. I wasn’t sure if (then) 5 1/2 & 2 1/2 year old boys would really understand the movies, but I can honestly say that from the first loud blast of the Star Wars theme preceding Episode IV, they were hooked. We spent the summer watching all six movies, debating their merits, highlights and lowlights and wishing we all had real lightsabers of our own.

We’ve learned a lot along the way about family, relationships and communication, because when you really look at the root of the Star Wars saga, it’s about a troubled man who sacrificed everything for the woman he loved (and lost) and again, later in life, for his son. Anakin Skywalker suffered from the ultimate case of FOMO and thankfully he was able to redeem himself as his life concluded. Though he did miss out on most of his children’s lives, at least he saw that his son became the success he never could. So his fear of missing out was extinguished as his soul was put to rest.

I’ve also erased the thoughts that I missed out on my night at Lucasfilm with the few memories of amazing things I saw there, not the least of which was this LEGO bust of George Lucas, which quasi-resembled Burt Reynolds in Boogie Nights. 

Now, I’m ready to absorb The Force Awakens with my family on the big screen, opening weekend. To paraphrase Yoda, “miss out, we will not.”

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Our Intergalactic Star Wars Family Game Night

With school back in session and fall in full effect, I’ve been thinking about the just-passed summer and the unexpected adventure my family shared. It happened by accident, as the Little Dude wanted to attend a one-week Jedi Training camp nearby, which understandably piqued his interest in what occurred a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Now I will admit it publically for the first time: we became a group of Star Wars nuts.

And I don’t mean nuts like my boys watched Episode I and liked Jar-Jar Binks. I mean nuts like we watched all six movies and they are both fully consumed with what happened on Tatooine, Hoth, Endor, Naboo, Kamino and assorted other intergalactic locales. Did I mention that this was just before they recently turned 3 and 6 respectively?

Having spent considerable time in July and August in front of the tube while escaping the triple-digits outside, I wanted to find a way to extend my boys’ interest in Star Wars beyond just the movies. So I’ve bought books about the mythology, and there’s been toys, snacks and a variety of other SW-wares floating around our place. So when a box arrived with a few brand-new Star Wars games from my friends at Hasbro, my family was more excited than an unfrozen Han in Episode VI. 

So on a recent weekend afternoon, we shut off the tube and went to dig into our new box of treasures. There was Loopin’ Chewie, a Wookie-esque spin on a classic board game suitable for all ages, which first appealed to my gang. We laid on the floor and slapped our boosters, trying to get Chewbacca to knock each others’ coins loose. This was easily doable for all ages, even the just-3 Littler Dude. 

Mrs. Dude was partial to “Bop It”, a handheld portable R2-D2 which is a great memory and timing game. It was a bit too tricky for my boys after the first round, but it’s a fun little stress reliever which can double as a cool R2 statue on your desk.
The one I was most curious about was Catch Phrase, which is like a mix of charades without the drawing and hot potato, with a Millenium Falcon subbing for said potato. It’s listed for ages 12+, but I wanted to see if my boys could keep up, and I can proudly say that they appear like Anakin in Episode I, to be the Chosen Ones. I won’t say they aced the game, but this fun little game is a fantastic creative tool, forcing my 6-year-old to use your brain to create clues about the phrases I had to guess He guessed some of mine, I guessed some of his, and we all had a great time. So much so, in fact, that he refused to put Catch Phrase down for about an hour. Just to be clear, this is definitely a more advanced game, but my boys enjoyed making their brains work to solve the puzzles. This is really a great game for Star Wars enthusiasts and obsessives at the same time, plus it even features info about the upcoming Episode VII: The Force Awakens for the super hardcore fan.

Loopin’ Chewie and Star Wars Catch Phrase are available at most major retailers and also on Bop It Star Wars R2-D2 is exclusively at Walmart. Even better: thanks to Influence Central you can have the chance to win one of 5 Hasbro Star Wars Prize Packs, valued at $65, containing these great games. Contest ends on November 23, 2015, so don’t wait to enter or you’ll feel left out like Luke when his friends all went to the Academy. How can you enter? See the handy box below: 

Hasbro Star Wars Giveaway

*I-C will randomly select 5 winners from all program entries and will handle fulfillment of the winning prizes.

Like a good Jedi, I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Influence Central for Hasbro. I received samples of all three games to play and was compensated for my participation. All opinions and ideas contained above are solely from my mind, for better or worse.

Want to see the Little Dude play Star Wars Bop It? Here's your chance: