Friday, December 31, 2010

Time Travelling for New Year's Eve

Having just got back from our week-long Christmas vacation in Florida, this morning we shopped for groceries to replenish perishables and other food items in short supply. Since today (as of my typing this) is December 31, I decided to go through the coupon folder to see which coupons were expiring today and might be for things described as "perishable" or "other food items in short supply." We had two coupons for a dollar off a jar of Spice Islands seasonings. Since all our spices are in full supply, we decided to discard them. I mused about making a purchase anyway and somehow sending the spices to our future selves. Then I realized that we have a time travel device right here in our home.

In order to build up suspense I will now go off on a tangent. (You may want to skip to the next paragraph, but you are sure to be disappointed if you do. Patience is always rewarded.) Sending food to the future seems tricky but I soon realized that I have done it many times in the past. You see, in order to get a really good deal on boneless chicken breast, it's best to buy a "mega" pack of breasts (usually more than five) which any normal individual and few families could easily eat in one sitting. One of my workarounds for this problem (because, believe me, I do buy in bulk if the deal is good enough) is to grill all the chicken at once on the outdoor grill. I might even grill some steaks or burgers along with them since I usually try to maximize the use of the charcoal and they do taste so good and smoky when they're done. Cooked meat lasts much longer than raw. Another workaround is to cut up the chicken and put it in marinade for Cashew Chicken. I cook one batch of chicken and put the rest into ziplock bags and then into the freezer for future use. As this crossed my mind, I suddenly realized that freezing food is a way to send it to the future! Could that possibly work for spices? Was it really worth the bother to save a dollar? Would we forget the spice jar in the freezer and not see it again till some future moment, probably right after we bought more spices? That's the sort of classic blunder we are quite prone to falling into.

It didn't seem worthwhile to buy the spices in order to send them to the future. Plenty of other things filled our shopping list, so it's just as well. Now our pantry is restocked and we are ready to celebrate the new year with new food. If you skipped ahead to this paragraph, you are probably disappointed not to see me describing the time travel device here in our own home. I am sorry for any distress I may have caused, but I did warn you. Perhaps working on patience could be a new year's resolution?

I hope everyone has a happy new year. And plenty of spices.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ambiguous Day 2010

I'm glad to see someone is celebrating Ambiguous Day this year. Check it out:

In order to promote ambiguity, I have removed the signature
In case you haven't heard of it, Ambiguous Day comes toward(s) the end of the year. It's sort of a celebration, sort of a memorial. What do you do for Ambiguous Day? You can fast or feast or do neither. You can light brightly colored lights or candles or matches or a lighter or a flashlight, though it is recommend that you turn off or extinguish them at some point. Conversely, it might be fun to hang out in the dark all day. If you send cards, it is best to send them to your closest friends and complete strangers. You can find strangers in a telephone book, which might be found in your house (if you are old-fashioned) or at a payphone somewhere nearby. Perhaps on your way to the payphone you could just give out cards to whomever you meet. It's really all up to you. Just don't do the same thing every year.

If you want to learn more, you can go to the meeting next week in the afternoon at that place. Tell them you heard about it on the internet. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Zombie Review: The Walking Dead, Vol. 5 The Best Defense

The Walking Dead Vol. 5: The Best Defense by Robert Kirkman

See previous reviews of Trade Paperback 1, TP 2, and Book 2 (which contains what's in TP 3 and 4). I just finished watching Season 1 of the TV show (which ended a week ago), so look for a review of the final two episodes soon.

ZPAA rating

Late teens and up (use your judgment based on content summary below)

Gore level

8 of 10--the usual amount of zombies fill these pages, though not many of them are killed. The zombies get to do a lot of graphic eating, which is new and not pleasant. Some of the worst gore is human on human violence: a behanding (yes, someone winds up being called "Lefty"), bitten off ear (not by Mike Tyson), some rough torture.

Other offensive content

Some pretty bad language (f-bombs and such), human on human violence, a totally wacky marriage proposal.

How much zombie mythology/content

As I've said before, these are classic zombies. We do get to see some zombies being kept as pets or loved ones, though there doesn't seem to be any idea of de-zombifying them like in Volume 2.

How much fun

This volume has been the toughest read yet. Some of our survivors are captured by another group of survivors that are into maiming, torturing and feeding those they find to zombies. Yikes!

Synopsis & Review

The survivors are cleaning out Cell Block A with the thought of moving in. While there, they discover many interesting things. First, they find a generator which may only need some gas to get going. Glenn and Maggie find body armor and other riot gear that will be helpful in fighting the zombies. If it's bullet proof, it's bite proof! The gear comes in handy as Rick and Glenn go out past the fences to get gas from the abandoned cars. While siphoning gas, they see a helicopter fly by and crash off in the distance. Rick, Glenn and sword-weilding Michonne grab a car that works and head off to find the helicopter's crew. Eventually they have to ditch the car while off-roading and find the helicopter empty. Lots of footprints lead off into the distance, leading our heroes to a town of about 40 people led by a guy self-named "The Governor." Turns out they have a lot of nasty secrets about how they pass the time.

This volume continues dealing with the issue of people makng rules for themselves and how bad they are at it. After Carol's attempted suicide, she decides she needs more stability in her life and wants to marry Rick and Lori. She asks Lori while Rick is chasing after the helicopter. Lori freaks out and says no. The big example of bad rule making is the new group of survivors. They have a little arena set up for blood sports and "The Governor" rules with an iron hand and sadistic glee. He begins to torture Michonne, Glenn and Rick to get information about where they came from. The people in his town go along with him because he provides them security from the biters and he ruthlessly takes care of any problem people. And outsiders are problem people. The poor helicopter crew had a very miserable fate.

Things are only getting worse for Rick and the gang. Reading this series is becoming less and less enjoyable. I still care about the characters. I'm still rooting for them but I'm running out of hope for them as the situation worsens. I'll give it another volume, because I want to find out what happens next.

Sample Text

The Governor talking while watching the zombies eat: "We can learn so much from them, y'know--just by watching them. They've been at it all night. They just don't stop--they're resilient. They eat until it's gone and then they're content. I almost admire them. The thing you have to realize is that they're just us--they're no different. They want what they want, they take what they want and after they get what they want--they're only content for the briefest span of time. Then they want more."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Zombie Job: Christmas Cookie Maker

Having recently re-watched Shaun of the Dead, I think every now and then about appropriate jobs for zombies. In case you haven't seen the movie and don't mind a pretty large spoiler (skip to the next paragraph if you don't want the end of the movie spoiled), at the end of the movie the zombies are integrated into society and given the sort of mindless jobs at which they would excel: collecting shopping carts from the parking lot, delivering newspapers to homes, playing wing man for video games.

One potential job that we tried out this weekend (and by "we" I mean my wife, my sister, and my niece): making Christmas cookies. Surely this is only seasonal work, but it would provide the next logical job after collecting the fall harvest and working at the Halloween haunted house. There are several steps to making the cookies.

The first step is making the cookie dough. This step requires some precision measurements and following the recipe in proper order, which may be too much for a mindless zombie. First problem is the lack of dexterity or coordination in measuring and mixing ingredients. Second is following proper order. Third is the concern for zombie bits getting mixed in. If you think finding a hair in your food is nasty, wait until your gingerbread man has an real finger! So this step is no good for zombies.

The second step is to bake the cookies. Cutting out fun shapes seems pretty easy. We had a little panic in our house when we couldn't find an oven mitt. Surely a zombie would have come in handy here. No worries about burns for the undead, right? Taking pans in and out of the oven aren't so hard. Someone would have to monitor when the cookies need to come out, of course.

The third step is to decorate the cookies, like so:


For this step, great results require a great eye, sense of style, and memory of what Christmas cookies are supposed to look like. The zombie decorator would never come up with these fabulous results:


The fourth step is handing out the cookies, which should be pretty easy for a zombie and always results in a satisfied customer:

That looks yummy!
Cookies taste much better than brains!
Her lips were turning blue, but only from the icing, we swear!
In conclusion, I don't think a zombie would be particular good as a Christmas cookie maker, but could serve much better as a sous-chef. A better seasonal job would be one of those Salvation Army bell ringers.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

NYT Article on How Modern Life is Like a Zombie Infestation

Inspired by the popularity of the TV version of The Walking Dead, writer Chuck Closterman has written the article "My Zombie, Myself: Why Modern Life Feels Rather Undead" on the New York Times web site. Working from the premise that fictional monsters like vampires, werewolves and zombies are metaphors of their audience's anxieties, he proposes an new interpretation of why modern people are interested in zombies. Popular thinking sees zombies as a metaphor of our fear of infectious outbreaks; Mr. Closterman sees them as similar to how we deal with day to day life. We are constantly bombarded with unwelcome, uninvited and intrusive demands for our time, be it from ever expanding email in boxes, constant Facebook and Twitter updates, ubiquitous paperwork, and other ongoing tasks that seem unending. How to solve such a problem?

That's where the zombie metaphor comes in. Everyone nowadays knows how to eliminate a zombie, by causing a brain injury. The real threat is the unending supply of zombies that you'd face in an outbreak. The solution is easy but the execution is the hard part. The author suggests that in the same way, taking care of modern life's pesky intrusions is the same. It's easy to read one email and deal with it, but what about the other 20, 40 or 400 unread messages that are still waiting for your attention? His solution is to put your nose to the grindstone and keep on keeping on. He ends his article thus:
The zombies you kill today will merely be replaced by the zombies of tomorrow. But you can do this, my friend. It’s disenchanting, but it’s not difficult. Keep your finger on the trigger. Continue the termination. Don’t stop believing. Don’t stop deleting. Return your voice mails and nod your agreements. This is the zombies’ world, and we just live in it. But we can live better.

I actually find this a little bleak and not at all reassuring. Are we really living better if we just keep fighting on and on and on? Isn't there a risk of becoming just as mindless and reactionary as the zombies we are trying to destroy? Are we making ourselves into the Yin for their Yang? I, for one, would rather not get caught dancing this zombie two-step. Maybe some day someone will take my emails or social updates or other interactions with them as just another bombardment from modern life and they'll dispatch me like the zombie that they think I am.

We have met the enemy and he is us. - Pogo

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Zombie Review: Dead Guy Spy

Dead Guy Spy by David Lubar

See the review of My Rotten Life, the first book in this series, here.

ZPAA rating

8 years old and up

Gore level

2 out of 10--There's hardly any gore in this one: one exploding animal (organic); many exploding animals (mechanical); one massive puking/gas scene that sends characters screaming and/or passing out.

Other offensive content

Bad attitudes among the school children; climbing an electrified fence (which isn't fatal if you're already dead, though it is kinda unpleasant).

How much zombie mythology/content

After his bath in Hurt-Be-Gone formula that renders him insensitive to pain, stress, or any other feelings, Nathan seems to have achieved an equilibrium in his zombie state, though his bones are becoming more brittle. No mindless shambling horror here.

How much fun

This series of junior fiction books is shaping up to be quite the fun read. The story is entertaining. The characters are likable. The situations are interesting and well thought out.

Synopsis & Review

SPOILER IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE FIRST BOOK: Our hero Nathan Abercrombie is now set in his path of zombiehood. The hoped for cure had to be given up to save his friend Abigail.

Nathan's come to embrace being a zombie and even begins to plan what he will do with his new found power. Like the child Cole in The Sixth Sense, he plans to use his special powers to help others. At first, Nathan plans to be a superhero but doesn't know how to pull it off. Then he notices that he is being followed by some suspicious looking bushes with human feet. Mechanical animals are also keeping an eye on him. Someone is stalking him in the on-line game he's been playing in his sleepless wee hours of the night.

He's finally approached by an agent of BUM (the Bureau of Useful Misadventures, whose acronym is certainly the butt of many jokes) with a deal: they will help him stay in one piece if he'll help them with some spy work. Being a spy is almost like being a superhero, isn't it? It turns out to be a lot more ambiguous. Is BUM working for or against the government? Are they really helping people or hurting them? Can his friends Abigail and Mookie help him figure out what to do?

This book is an enjoyable read. The school scenes are funny and Nathan's home life is developed more. It's nice to see a dad who isn't an idiot or comic relief, but really concerned about and involved in his son's life, even if he doesn't know about his son's special abilities. The only detractor is that the story takes a while to get to the BUM recruitment. I particularly enjoyed the debate over whether it's okay to be a spy and is this organization really one of the "good guys"?

The book includes a chapter from the next book and a reader's guide with study questions and activities.

Sample Text

We were less than half a block away when the thing inside the car exploded, blowing the doors off the car. A moment later, the car exploded, too. But I'd saved us. I couldn't help imagining the applause of a crowd of spectators. I could almost hear their conversations.
    Who is that amazing zombie hero?
    So dead, and yet so brave.
    I want to be like him when I die.

    "What next?" Mookie asked as we jogged away. "Helicopters? Flying saucers? Guys with jet packs?"
    "I wish I knew."
    Mookie looked back over his shoulder. "I never thought hanging out with a dead guy could get you killed."  (pages 39-40)

Jacob Cracks the Cell Phone Code

Granny got a new cell phone just prior to her latest visit. Jacob has been working on figuring out cell phone technology and was helping her out as can be seen in the following photo montage:

Jacob and Lucy race to unlock the secrets of cell phones

Jacob gets to Eureka first!

Jacob shares his knowledge with others


Not only was Granny visiting, but Auntie Rosemary stopped by with her dogs:

Jacob attempts to use The Force to lift the dog

Lucy goes in to pet the pet

Saturday, November 27, 2010

New Grimm's Fairy Tales at Forgotten Classics

I've recorded another tale for the Forgotten Classics podcast. Check it out here. I'm becoming a regular feature on the show, so look forward to future fairy tales, folk lore and myths. Enjoy!

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Walking Dead Episodes 2-4

So I've fallen way behind and finally had a chance to catch up on the current AMC series The Walking Dead which I am watching through Amazon Unbox Video, since we don't have cable here. After staying very close to the plot of the graphic novels, the TV show has changed things quite a bit, adding new characters (who I assumed would be red shirts but are still around) and new situations for Rick and the other survivors.

I suppose purists would complain about changing the story line. In my opinion, it's okay to change how the story goes if the story telling is true to the central ideas, themes and tone of the original. Consider some examples: The first two Harry Potter films hewed as closely as possible to the books, resulting in a kind of "paint by numbers" film that's more or less unsatisfactory to film critics and film lovers. A film tells a story differently than a book. Later Potter films do a better job of being films when they less slavishly adhere to the book.

Another example is the film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which took many liberties with the plot, introducing new characters and story lines. That didn't bother me so much, especially since the story changed from the original radio play to the books. What did bother me was the overall inability to hit the themes and tone of the previous stories. The clever and wacky tone is occasionally found in the film, for example in the opening musical number by the dolphins who are about to leave the earth. But the sharpness of Douglas Adams' wit is more absent than present, leaving the Hitchhiker's fan unsatisfied.

A third example is Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. Quite a bit of reorganizing, adding and cutting were required to make the book into a good movie experience. Occasionally the movies misstep here and there, but most are understandable (dwarfs are for comic relief; Aragorn "dying and coming back to life" in The Two Towers). The tone and themes of the novel are well translated into the films without turning the films into an extended "book on film." Hopefully The Hobbit will fare as well.

So how does The Walking Dead series shape up? The tone is exactly like the books--the viewer definitely feels the oppression of living in a zombie apocalypse and how the biggest problem is the normal people turning on each other. It's nice to have a different story line, especially for a horror story. The scares are fresh because you don't anticipate them. New and different issues of how to treat others comes up. In a moment of panic, Rick and a group of scavengers handcuff a man to the roof of a building and later are forced to flee before freeing him. How will they handle leaving him there? Of course they go back but what happens is unexpected because the story is in "new" territory. So I would say this story has been well adapted and is engrossing.

I'm enjoying the show, except that the gore level is very high. Moving from black and white comics to full color live action makes the gore, at least to me, much harder to watch. I know I said in my last review that the kills looked a little too CGI but they are already getting better at that. Also, the zombies eating innards in broad daylight isn't fun to watch since those scenes look pretty realistic. Definitely not for kids or the faint of heart. Only two more episodes to go for this season. I will definitely watch the rest and let you know what I think.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Children Are Leveling Up!

Our little zombie overlords are showing some improvements lately.

Lucy has done two things. First, she has starting eating food on her own, including using utensils and her own fingers. She'll take a scoop of yogurt and more often than not get all of it in her mouth. She really loves rice.
Okay, so maybe everything doesn't make it inside her mouth.

Lucy's second improvement is in language and recognition. Last Sunday my sister Regina was visiting. When Lucy first saw her, she gave a big smile and said, "Gina!" which was exciting for everyone. She has even reliably repeated "Mommy" which is exciting for Mommy. Her vocabulary grows daily.

Jacob has advanced in his athletic abilities. It used to be that he'd need help climbing on playgrounds and some obstacles were not even considered. Lately he has taken to climbing all sorts of bendy ladders, chain ladders, rock walls and other assorted challenges. Here's one of the local spots where he is climbing more and more:
He hasn't tried the rock climbing on the right because it is no longer there!

Another breakthrough for Jacob was at the church playground. Usually, if other kids are around he isn't interested in playing on the equipment (this applies at Chick-fil-A too). But last Sunday after 9:30 Mass he joined in with at least a dozen other little Catholics. It made me happy.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Quick Movie Review: White Zombie

With these zombie feet, he shambled into history!
White Zombie (1932) directed by Victor Halperin.

This movie is the first of all feature length zombie movies. The story is about a couple who are in Haiti and want to get married. They go to the estate of a recent friend to tie the knot, but he wants to have the bride for his own. Enter Bela Lugosi as the local voodoo master who helps the friend "kill" the bride and have her come back as a zombie slave for the friend. The distraught husband goes on a bender, then to visit her grave, only to find out she's gone. With help from a local expert he tries to find his bride and get her back.

The movie has a lot of things going for it. Bela Lugosi is great as a creepy and beguiling voodoo master. The mood and style is very Gothic and unnerving, though this is often undercut but the performances of the other actors who are nowhere near as good as Lugosi. I especially enjoyed the intercutting between shots that suggested character separated in space were influencing each other. Also the story was told through a lot of action and visuals rather than characters explaining everything to each other, which is a big plus in my book.

The zombies are voodoo zombies, basically people who are not quite dead but are made into mindless slaves through voodoo magic or medicine. They are put to work mostly for manual labor and to scare the pants off people, which the zombies do effectively. They look pale and vacant but aren't gory.

The plot was pretty melodramatic but didn't bother me too much. The ending was a little clunky, especially the tagged on joke at the end. It felt like the end of an episode of Scooby Doo, Where Are You!, which isn't what you want for a horror film.

I watched the film on Netflix instant queue and the quality was pretty low. The print had a decent transfer but the sound was really bad. I had the volume almost doubled and still had a hard time hearing the dialogue. Maybe getting a disc is a better way to go.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Learning to be an Evil Inventor I

Jacob took his first step yesterday towards being an inventor. The tools of the trade are important to learn. We began with a screwdriver.

Money isn't the root of all evil, but it can cause problems
Lucy shoved a bunch of big plastic coins from her piggy bank into a toy piano. This rendered the piano unusable. I was going to fix it during nap time but Jacob seemed interested in helping me so I promised him that I'd wait until he woke up and we'd do it together. While he was sleeping I got our screwdriver out and left it with the piano.

Jacob woke up, had his snack and we set to work. First I showed him all the screws underneath the piano. The job would be tricky since both flat head and phillips head screws were used. Luckily, our screwdriver has multiple heads so I could easily switch them out. First we worked on the phillips head screws. Jacob and I carefully turned the driver in the proper direction (I told him about "righty tighty, lefty loosy" but we haven't taught him left and right yet) and out came the screw. His excitement at using the screwdriver was palpable. Jacob put the screw on the table in a safe spot. After taking out the other two phillips head screws, we switched to the flat heads and got them out quickly.

We pried open the piano. I took out one coin and Jacob the other. He was very excited. I told him we'd have to put it back together. After snapping the bottom of the piano back on, I had him test the playability of the piano before we put the screws back in. It worked fine; he sang Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Then he gave me one of the flat head screws and we turned it in the other direction. Soon we were done with all the screws. Piano fixed.

Jacob was very proud of himself and I was proud too. Working together was great. I hope we have lots more projects in the future.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Quick Review: The Walking Dead Episode 1

I finally got to see the first episode of The Walking Dead TV show. I was supposed to go to a bar in Annapolis to see the premiere episode on Halloween night but an eye injury prevent me from attending. Since we don't have cable and Hulu isn't hosting the episodes, I've plunked down some money at Amazon (where I had a video-on-demand gift certificate) to get the whole season. The first season is only six episodes long. Tonight they are airing episode three, so I definitely need to do some catching up. Anyway, enough excuses, onto a quick review.

Having read the first trade paperback (reviewed here), I was already familiar the story. For those of you who don't know, police officer Rick Grimes wakes up from a coma to find the dead have returned to life and are ravaging his small Georgia home town. But it's not just his home, the zombie plague is apparently everywhere. He finds this out from a father and son who take him in and fill him in on what is going on. Believing his wife and son to be in Atlanta, he heads out in search of them.

The TV show is fairly consistent with the comic so far. Some minor changes are made for dramatic effect. The storytelling is still deadly earnest and grim to the core. Director and writer Frank Darabont (who also directed The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and The Mist) does a great job bringing the comic to life (pun intended) and telling the story in an exciting, tense way. The actors are all good, though Andrew Lincoln as Rick carries the show for the first episode. You do get to meet his wife and some other survivors for a few scenes, but so far it's mostly Rick going to Atlanta. I am looking forward to future episodes if they are all this good.

The gore is pretty bad as you would expect from the source material. The zombies are horrible-looking for the most part. Some seem like they are more recently turned and not decayed with organs hanging out. One striking thing is when zombies are shot with guns. The effects definitely look like CGI, but that may be a good thing. If they were too realistic, it would be unbelievably grim to watch. The show is rated TV-14 and I definitely would not recommend it for younger viewers.

Later on I may provide a review or feedback about watching through Amazon's video on demand player once I've had more experience with it. Here's what the player looks like in case you can't wait:

click on the image to see it larger

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Kinect Kraziness

My birthday was in the very near past and one of the presents I received was Kinect for Xbox 360. For those of you who don't know, it is a peripheral for the Xbox console. What does it add? A very sophisticated camera set-up with a microphone so you can control the Xbox by either hand motions like Tom Cruise in Minority Report or by voice commands like Jeffery Goldblum in The Fly (at least until his voice becomes unrecognizable to the computer).

You can use more than just your hands to play on the Xbox. The in-package game, Kinect Adventures, lets you use your arms, legs, head and just about anything else to have your avatar run, jump, duck and otherwise have a fun time. An unexpectedly entertaining feature is the occasional photo it takes as you play. You can see the photos on the console and upload to the Kinect web site for two weeks. From the web site you can download it and post it to a blog, like so:

A game so great, it made me levitate!
The other cool thing about the Kinect is playability. A lot of people are intimidated by console game controllers, which have an awful lot of buttons and two sticks. With only a camera, even my three year old can play along, with a little help from Mommy:

Kinect Adventures actually has no dancing, alas!
Jacob was surprisingly adept at the car racing game called Kinect Joy Ride. We raced side by side and he nearly tied me the first time. Even Lucy wanted to try it out:
Suddenly, our living room got wider!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Is Jacob Really an Evil Genius?

I was quite excited this morning when my three year old son told me he was going to get some daytime clothes out of his drawers. Usually I have to go pick some pants and a shirt for him and wrestle him into a nice outfit. Today he chose two items for himself. They kinda matched but didn't really go together. He brought me a pair of pants and a pair of shorts. I took the shorts back to his room and found a shirt. At least he's making some progress!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Till Death Do You Part?

I ran across this video and had to pass it along because, hey, it's Bruce Campbell at a zombie-con.



Zombie wedding vows seem backwards to us since you don't become a zombie till after you have kids. On the other hand, the video is called The Evil Dead Wedding Renewal Ceremony, so renewing your vows after zombification is okay with us. All my wife and I need to do is invent a time travel device so we can go back to this event. That'll be tough with our lack of brains. I'm sure the kids will help out.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Review of My Rotten Life

My Rotten Life (Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie) by David Lubar

"My best friend and I used to have contests where we'd try to gross each other out. We don't bother with that anymore. I can win every time, even when I'm not trying." Nathan Abercrombie, back cover.

ZPAA rating

8 years old and up.

Gore level

2 out of 10--The boy loses a finger but finds it again, reattaches it, and is able to move it when detached; one big barfing scene; passing gas more than once.

Other offensive content

Bullying; belittling; tricks for not eating food; lies between friends.

How much zombie mythology/content

Nathan is a chemically-induced zombie who slowly turns while still alive and he's conscious of the transformation. He quickly discovers that he doesn't need to eat food and that he can lose body parts without even noticing. He can't experience pain but is fully in control of his body, even when a part isn't attached to him.

How much fun

The book is an enjoyable read. Nathan has a comic relief sidekick who has a lot of fifth-grade one liners that may make you smile or may make you groan. I did a bit of both. Also, there are a bunch of in-jokes for horror/suspense fans.

Synopsis & Review

Nathan Abercrombie is a fifth grader who belongs to a special clique: the second besters. See, it's cool to be a jock or a brain at school (at the top of the social pyramid) or the fattest, skinniest, oddest (at the bottom of the social pyramid). What if you don't excel in desirable or undesirable qualities? Then nobody knows who you are.

Which doesn't mean you still can't be crushed by the cruelty of fifth grade life. Nathan has what he thinks is his worst day ever when Shawna, the girl he's had a crush on since third grade, rubs his nose in the fact that he isn't invited to her Halloween party. If that wasn't enough, he then gets picked last at gym class. To heap on the humiliation, he then plays someone else's portable game, Zombie Invasion, and loses immediately resulting in howling laughter from his classmate. After this triple crown of thorns, could things possibly get worse?

Cue the quiet yet nerdy classmate Abigail who might have a solution for his problem. She and her uncle have been working on a secret formula called Hurt-Be-Gone that will (as you might imagine) take the pain away. The problem is, in true horror fashion, he gets a massive overdose that starts slowly turning him into a zombie. Will being a zombie hurt or help Nathan's social standing in school? Will they be able to get the ingredients for a cure before he becomes a complete zombie?

The story plays out in interesting and creative ways. Plot twists are sometimes unsurprising but other times are unexpected. Plenty of in-jokes are found in the book, e.g. the local community college is called Romero Community College, after George A. Romero, director of the classic Night of the Living Dead and many other zombie movies. The book is an enjoyable, quick read with sympathetic and imperfect characters that make the reader want to come back for more. To that end, the first chapter of the second book is included. I just got the second book from the library and can't wait to start.

Also a study guide is included at the end for further thought and discussion about the book.

Sample Text

Narrator Nathan and his pal Mookie escape an aquarium and discuss the future (page 90):

"Thanks," I said when he joined us. "You really saved me. I owe you one."
"Just keep that in mind when you become mindless and get an urge to eat brains."
"I'm not going to eat brains!" I shouted.
"I've got two kidneys," Mookie said. "I guess you could have one of those. But not my liver. I'm pretty sure I only have one. You probably wouldn't want it, anyhow. I'll bet even zombies don't eat liver."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Recording Debut on Forgotten Classics

In my spare time I managed to record a couple of Grimm's Fairy Tales for one of my favorite podcasts, Forgotten Classics. Check out my recording at this post. It was a lot of fun to do and I will be recording some more in the future. Check out the podcast too, there's lots of great content. She is currently reading a recent translation of the Book of Genesis and has great stuff like The Riddle of the Sands and Uncle Tom's Cabin in her audio archives.

Movie Review: Dead Snow (2009)

Dead Snow (2009)

MPAA rating

Unrated, I guess since it was a foreign film that barely got released in the USA. I heard about it from BBC film reviewer Mark Kermode a long time ago, and finally watched it through Netflix's on demand queue.

ZPAA rating

Late teens and up

Gore level

9 out of 10--Lots of people being torn to pieces on screen; plenty of intestines and one human brain make appearances; people never bother to wash off blood splatter; the bad guys ooze dark, blood-like liquid from their pale gray orifices, but otherwise aren't too gory for the walking undead. Except when they lose limbs or are otherwise torn up by the living.

Other offensive content

Lots of bad language and violence; one non-marital sex scene without nudity.

How much zombie mythology/content

This movie is all over the place about the zombies. Sure, they are the reanimated corpses of Nazi soldiers from World War II. They eat their victims when they can. But, even when they bite people, no one ever turns into a zombie. And they are pretty intelligent in attacking and can run like a normal person. They follow the orders of the Nazi commander (there is a cool scene where he screams "Arise!" and hundreds of Nazis pop up out of the snow). And they're just as interested in getting back their gold as they are in killing and eating.

How much fun

The movie seems to be intended as a comedy horror, though the jokes don't really start till a third of the way through the film. Even then, the humor is a little lame and mostly gross out gags. They references to other films are entertaining but didn't sustain my interest. This isn't Shaun of the Dead or Evil Dead II by any stretch.

Synopsis & Review

This movie has a fabulous premise: Nazi zombies. Eight medical students head to a cabin in the middle of a snowy Easter break for fun and frivolity. The first night, an old guy drifts through and relates as creepily as he can how haunted the mountains are, especially since a Nazi troop had terrorized the nearby town, stole everything of value from the town and was eventually driven off by the disgruntled townfolk. Presumably the Nazis froze to death in the mountains but strange tales abide and no one stay on the mountains for long if they can help it. This old coot then heads out into the snowy darkness leaving the other to sort out what to do. They then find Nazi gold hidden in the crawlspace under the house, which brings on the undead Nazi mayhem as they come to get their gold back.

I'm certainly willing to forgive a film that has a hackneyed set-up (the characters even discuss that the "cabin in the woods" beginning has been used countless times in horror movies). As long as the movie rewards the viewer with inventive twists or clever writing or characters you feel invested in or interesting visuals or some other worthwhile payoff. Certainly Nazi zombies should allow for a lot of creative license and fun playing around, which could make up for uninteresting characters, predictable twists and a nearly complete lack of visual flair. Unfortunately, all of these faults are in the movie AND they do more or less nothing with the Nazi aspect of the zombies. Sure, there's the awkward joke about how the zombies wouldn't turn one of the guys into a zombie because he's half Jewish. And the zombies have Swastikas on their costumes and WWII weapons. That's it. It could just have easily been an undead Attila with a bunch of zombie Huns running around trying to get back their gold. Only the uniforms and the weapons would be different. Even as zombies, they are unsatisfying, as I said above.

So I can't recommend the movie, unless you're into just the gore, which I don't really enjoy. I'm not even going to post an Amazon link at the end. Yeah, it's so bad I would be ashamed to make money off of it. I will post the trailer, though, if you are desperate to see more:

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Safest Place to Hide from Zombies

A zombie attack on the nation's capital was narrowly averted on Tuesday, October 26, 2010. The zombies arrived by bus at the Lincoln Memorial but were quickly repulsed by the US Park Police. See the Washington Post story and video here. It seems the zombies didn't have a permit to assemble on a national park like the National Mall. They were perfectly free to swarm over a nearby subway station.

Who knew that the safest place from zombies isn't an isolated, boarded up house or an underground bunker or even a shopping mall, but a National Park? Here's hoping you have a national park near you (check for the nearest one at their web site) and that it is well stocked with park police. And hoping that the zombies forget their permit to visit the park.

Hat tip to sister Regina for emailing the article.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Zombie Review: The Walking Dead, Book Two

The Walking Dead, Book 2

See previous reviews of Trade Paperback 1 and TP 2. You might be confused to see this review of Book 2, instead of TP 3 or Book 3. Well, the Howard County Library, in its infinite wisdom, decided to buy hard cover editions of The Walking Dead 3 and 4. The only problem with this scheme is that each hard cover edition has the content from two paperback. So hard cover Book 2 has the content of trade paperbacks 3 and 4. So I wound up buying book 2 from my favorite comic shop to cover their flub. Thus, we have a review of Book 2.

ZPAA rating

Adults with high capacity only (use your judgment based on content summary below)

Gore level

8 out of 10--Continuation of the same stuff from before--lots of more and less gruesome zombie killings. New for this volume is a bunch of human on human violence (killings and beatings) with more gore than you'd expect.

Other offensive content

The aforementioned human on human violence; lots of extra-marital affairs with varying degrees of nudity; lots of bad language, including a racial epithet; implication that God does not answer prayers.

How much zombie mythology/content

There's some more explanation of how people become zombies and how fast they come back from the dead. The focus of the story is still on human interactions.

How much fun

The grimness continues in this book. The idea of building a new life or creating a new social structure is explored, which is fun to think about. Lots of characters die throughout and many betrayals happen, which won't put a smile on your face. Even so, it's still compelling reading.

Synopsis & Review

After finding the prison at the end of the last trade paperback, the story continues as our group of survivors start clearing out the prison and trying to establish a more stable life. As they clear out the yard and one of the cell blocks, they discover some survivors who've been locked in since the outbreak. An intriguing new arrival and some old friends return, causing interpersonal conflicts that naturally turn into violence and mayhem for everybody. Other people are just as much a threat in this volume as the zombies.

A lot of interesting issues come up revolving around justice and leadership. Rick is pushed beyond his limits and has a hard time dealing with the pressure of being the chosen leader and trying to integrate his former job as a law enforcement officer with his new responsibilities. After all, there are no lawyers or legal system to back him up or to fill in the roles of prosecutor, judge, executioner, etc. When murders happen in the prison, a discussion of what kind of justice has to be meted out and to whom and by whom is a natural result.

Also, how the group integrates with others (the prisoners, the outsider, the old characters) provides some forward momentum when the situation really could have stagnated into a "let's get set up as a happy little group here." Anyone expecting a happy little group will be disappointed.

Sample Text

After a serious injury, Rick finds Lori and Carol and give them the bad news:  Lori: What is it? Are the kids okay?! Rick: No. The kids are fine. It's Allen. He was hurt. He's okay for now--He's--downstairs. [Carol runs off to check on him] Rick: Lori, do you want to check on Allen? Are you going down to see him? Lori: No. It's nothing I haven't seen before. Why bother?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Max Brooks vs. Roger Ma

Next up in our dual/duel reviews, we find Max Brooks trying to redeem himself (he lost the last one) against another opponent, The Zombie Combat Manual: A Guide to Fighting the Living Deadby Roger Ma.

As you may remember from the previous smack down, the best section of Mr. Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead(hereafter ZSG) was the historical review of zombie outbreaks from prehistoric times to the present. The rest of the book was consumed by practical advice and exhaustive (and exhausting) reviews of different situations, weapons, etc., involved in a zombie outbreak.

Roger Ma’s work is more focused: after separating zombie myth from fact (e.g. he resolves the issue about whether zombies can run), he discusses their strengths and weaknesses, how we can prepare ourselves for combat, how to choose weapons and the best combat strategies and techniques. Sprinkled throughout the book are “combat reports” which are interviews of people involved in a recent world-wide zombie outbreak. These interviews help to illustrate the previous discussion. For example, after discussing important physiological concerns in combating zombies, Ma has an interview with a dentist from the 7th Combat Sciences Group (part of the American government, naturally). The dentist describes how zombie teeth are different from human teeth and how he works with the government on ways to combat the zombies through science, like trying to make their teeth rot and developing specialized weapons (like for removing teeth or jawbones).

Clearly Ma is inspired by both ZSG and World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie Waralso by Brooks. Adding the oral history component gives Ma more human interest throughout the book, so it isn’t all dry descriptions with wry humor like the early part of ZSG. Ma certainly has much better use of illustrations (some are step-by-step depictions of how to use particular weapons to behead, de-brain or otherwise incapacitate a zombie) and includes twenty pages worth of child protection advice (for which any underage zombie overlord is grateful). Plus, you’ve got to love quotes like, “Evading the undead can be an exhausting war of attrition, against an enemy that will not attrite.” (ZCM, p. 269)

Even with all these strengths, Brooks’ dry humor is a lot funnier than Ma’s dry humor. And Ma’s zombie outbreak is only describe in snapshots taken from the different interviews, so there is no big, cohesive picture or narrative. Also, I found the interviewees in Ma to be less well-rounded and believable as people. Some bits of dialogue read okay but seem like they’d be clunky if someone actually spoke them. So in this round, the winner is Max Brooks with his one-two punch ZSG and World War Z.

You may say it isn't fair having two books beat one, but when has zombie combat ever been fair?

Winner:





Loser:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Making Choices, Zombie-Style

 Being a zombie parent, sometimes your choices are limited, either by circumstances or your darling little children.

We were supposed to go to a wedding today. Mommy picked out a lovely dress for Lucy, Jacob looked sharp in his new vest and pants. Directions were printed out. A card was ready, along with a gift certificate to the store where the happy couple are registered (we waited too late to go shopping to pick something out, whoops!). Everything seemed to be in place.

Except for last night. The family has been on the verge of recovering from a cold for the past three days. Last night, Lucy thought we were losing our sleep-deprived zombie state and had to intervene. She decided she couldn't sleep without one of her parents in her room. I spent the night "sleeping" on her floor. She was still ill in the morning and I was sleep deprived, so we started to discuss options for the wedding. The original plan was to have the kids nap on the drive to the church about an hour and a half away. It wouldn't have been quite enough nap but they usually are okay if they are healthy. We thought Lucy wouldn't get enough sleep to keep herself on the road to recovery, so maybe she shouldn't go. So the options were:
  1. We go anyway, hoping Lucy would sleep extra in the church or driving between church and reception.
  2. Just Daddy and Jacob go.
  3. Just Daddy go with Mommy caring for Lucy and Jacob.
  4. Nobody goes.
Option 1 seemed highly unlikely. Option 3 looked like it might be too much for Mommy, especially if Lucy didn't nap anyway. So 2 and 4 were the most likely contenders. In order to get me more sleep, Mommy would take the kids on some errands in the morning while I rested up.

I helped get the kids in the car. A serious problem manifested itself quickly when the automatic doors on the minivan wouldn't open from the key fob buttons. So I sat in the driver's seat and pushed the buttons to open the doors. Still no action. So I put the key in the ignition and turned it. That's all that happened. No lights came on, no bells started ringing, nothing at all. Seemed like a big problem with the battery. I noticed one of the automatic doors was slightly ajar, so maybe the interior lights were on all night.

Luckily we have jumper cables, so we would be okay.nIn order to jump start the van, we'd have to get it out of the garage. The new problem was the gear shift not changing to neutral. It runs on battery power, of which there was none. Consulting the owner's manual, we found the manual override in the dash that let us change the gear.

With the car finally in neutral, Mommy pushed because she didn't want to be responsible for steering out of the garage (a minivan is a tight fit for a one-car garage). After getting it out to the driveway, we drove up the other car. But the jump clearly wasn't working. A quick call to our favorite repair shop determined that it was probably a completely drained battery. The battery's six years old, so replacing was probably the best idea.

Extracting the battery was challenging too, since we don't have proper wrenches to loosen the cables. Phoning a friend worked out well. Thanks, BJ, not only are you a great source of YouTube videos but of great tools too! We got the battery out in no time, even though some of the nuts were hard to get too. A quick trip to the auto parts store procured a new battery and eventually a revived car.

Of course, by this point, going to the wedding was a moot point so we chose number four, though not by free choice. Sorry we couldn't make it to your wedding, Mike and Kimberly. The card will be in the mail shortly!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Smell Like a Monster, Monster!

In case you have been living under a rock or without access to any pop culture at all (which would be odd since you must be on the internet, right?), there is an extremely popular series of Old Spice commercials, that have been parodied by none other than Sesame Street. In case you haven't seen the original ads, here's the object of parody:



And here's the parody featuring Grover:



Why is this on the Zombie Parenting blog, you might wonder? The parenting connection is obvious, but what about the zombie connection? Well, the only thing that detracts from the awesomeness of the "Smell Like a Man, Man" ad campaign is the replacement of the previous Old Spice spokesman, the greatest zombie killer the silver screen has even known. That's right, Mr. Bruce Campbell, hero of the Evil Dead movies:



Hat tip to BJ (Facebook friend & zombie parent) for the Grover video.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Review of a Great Superhero Book

How Do You Tuck In a Superhero? And Other Delightful Mysteries of Raising Boys by Rachel Balducci. Revell, 2010, 203 pages, $12.99 US.

I picked this book up back in August at the Catholic New Media Celebration in Boston, Massachusetts. It was a very inspiring experience, meeting other bloggers and podcasters. I also love the opportunity to buy a book and get it autographed!

That being said, I acknowledge that the title of this book seems entirely antithetical to this blog's central conceit, viz., that our children are turning us into mindless servants of their whims. At best, they are misled geniuses making scientific experiments of us. From the kids' point of view, I'm sure they think of themselves as superheroes. I mean, Lex Luthor thinks he's saving the world from Superman, right?

Brief overview of content:

This book is a collection of essays and stories by a mom raising five boys. She chronicles the ups, downs, laughs, tears, antics, aggravations, eating habits, clothing limitations, limitless imaginings and Chuck Norris obsessions she deals with every day.

Author overview:

Blurb from the back of the book: Rachel Balducci is a writer and the mother of five lively boys--with another baby on the way. Her website, www.testosterhome.net, has been nominated for several awards and chronicles the antics of her boys.

Recommendations:

1. Read cover to cover vs. consult as needed.

The book does not present practical advice for the reader, so you wouldn't really consult the book. Many lists, like unlikely household rules and gear needed for life with boys, are sprinkled throughout. I'm tempted to adopt some of these, such as "no throwing things out of second story windows; yes, even if you have a bucket below to catch them; especially not Daddy's underwear and our nicely bound books." [p. 151] It reads pretty quickly and is uniformly delightful, so I would recommend reading it cover to cover.

2. Readability.

The essays are short (from one to four pages), so it's easy to read little bits in between checking to make sure the kids aren't killing each other or destroying important property. The style is warm and engaging and quite often laugh out loud funny.

3. Helpful to a parent?

Here's the tricky one. Even though the book doesn't present practical advice, I'd say its real value is practically indispensable. Many are the times that I think I'm going crazy over the antics of my three year-old and one and a half year-old. They want impossible things or they aren't sure what they want or just can't communicate it or just keep asking figuring I will eventually say yes. Seeing other people dealing with the same craziness is comforting. And even more, learning to embrace and enjoy the amazingly fresh and unconventional acts and attitudes of our children. You don't have to survive the childhood of your children, you can thrive in it.

4. Did we use it?

I've thought about it. We are definitely adopting the "no throwing Daddy's underwear and nice books out the window" rule. We'll probably even extend it to Mommy's underwear.

Sample text

On Sticks: I continue to be amazed, for instance, when I see the wide and varied list of things that a simple stick can become. I see a stick. My boys see a lance, and then a spear, a javelin, or possibly a high jump pole. Later on it's a fishing pole and the world's skinniest rocket. And that's just the first ten minutes." [p. 83]
On Boy Scouts: My boys are natural-born Boy Scouts. This stems less from a nature that is always prepared and has more to do with their inherent love of fire and wild behavior. If you have a passion for fire and for being wild, you will make a very fine Scout. [p. 116]

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Letter to a New Zombie Parent

Here is an edited version of a letter my wife sent to a friend who has recently been turned to a zombie parent by her lovely first-born son. Names have been changed to fool the gullible.

Hello NEW ZOMBIE MOTHER!

It was great to talk to you today. I'm sorry that YOUR ZOMBIE OVERLORD SON isn't sleeping better. It's a problem as old as motherhood! Some people say that some babies sleep better in a more enclosed space at first. If you want to try our bassinet we can bring it over any time. I liked to pull it right next to my bed so I could reach my hand in and insert the pacifier without sitting up.

I've heard that for a lot of people that co-sleeping really makes the baby sleep better, even if they're not touching you, sometimes I think just hearing your breathing and smelling you on the sheets is helpful. We let OUR SECOND ZOMBIE OVERLORD WHO IS IN FACT AN OVERLADY sleep in our bed for many nights during the first few months. If you're nervous about safety issues you could try something like this: http://babies1st.com/p-32754-baby-delight-deluxe-snuggle-nest-sleeper-for-the-prevention-of-sids.aspx But I think that studies show that unless you are on drugs or are drinking that the baby is just as safe with you in bed as in the crib.

I always found that my babies slept better the tighter they were swaddled.  With the velcro swaddlers it's tough to get a tight fit when they're little. SENTENCE DELETED FOR BEING FAR TOO SCANDALOUS. OVERLADY, I'm sorry. Some of my friends liked this one: http://babies1st.com/m-3853-miracle-blanket.aspx And, of course, with OVERLADY it helped to attach a stuffed animal to the pacifier. This was the inspiration: http://www.wubbanub.com/

I've also heard that if you sleep and nurse in a T-shirt and get it nice and smelling like you, that you can put this in the crib to help them sleep.

Who knows, all this stuff could be superstition - one night the baby just decides to sleep for reasons of their own, and we zombie parents decide it must be because of the last desperate thing we tried :)

We all love you and will pray for your good sleep tonight!

Love,
MRS. ZOMBIE PARENT

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Jacob's Latest Mad Scientist Creation!

Jacob has developed quite an obsession with photocopiers lately. It all started innocently enough at the library. One day he was looking at the three-foot globe (presumably working out plans for world domination) when he noticed someone using the nearby copier. He went over to investigate. It has lights! It has buttons! It has a coin slot and coin return tray! What more could a young boy ask for? It even gives out paper. Jacob fell in love. Though it wasn't really love.

We should have known we had a real problem on our hands when we went to a friend's birthday party two weeks ago. At the house, Jacob discovered their all-in-one printer/scanner/fax/photocopier/Ginsu knife set. He went, "Oooohhh, aaahhh!" They were nice enough to photocopy something for Jacob. That was his favorite part of the evening. He even talked about it the next day. It was much better than helping blow out candles or eating cake.

Now every time we go to the library, visiting at least one photocopier is part of the agenda. He even made poor mommy lift him up so he could see better when he was lifting the door and pushing buttons. Photocopiers are so fascinating that Jacob has left off looking at the globe. Maybe the plans for world domination are finished and now he needs to build equipment. Which is what he started doing today. At first, he gathered supplies:
Could MacGyver make these into a copier? I think not!
Then he went to work. In no time at all, he had results that were completely satisfactory to himself. As for how successful he was, look at the raw footage captured just moments ago:




If that isn't mad scientist behavior, you tell me what is. Notice how Lucy runs away, like any sensible woman would!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Parent Review: Toilet Training: A Practical Guide

We've made some progress at home with Jacob's potty training. Finally a treat worthy of Jacob's attention has been found: Hostess Blueberry Mini Muffins. Also, he really likes dried cherries, which we call "super raisin cherries." Both have been successful motivators. He has even peed standing up at the potty. Unfortunately, so far he has only peed at most twice in one day and some days he hasn't peed at all (in the potty, that is). We haven't even started training on the infamous #2 yet.

Toilet Training: A Practical Guide to Daytime and Nighttime Training Revised and Updated by Vicki Lansky. Book Peddlers, 2002, 104 pages, $12.95 US. Paperback includes KoKo Bear's New Potty for your child to read.

The introduction has an excellent aphorism: Remember that there are three things you can never make your child do--eat, sleep or go to the bathroom. [p. 2]

Brief overview of content:

The usual issues are dealt with in the first two chapters: what are the signs your child is ready and what apparatus to use in the bathroom (potty chair, toilet adapter seat, toilet by itself). The advice of experts on potty training is reviewed in the third chapter (see below in Helpful to a Parent). Physical and emotional complications that might make your child uncooperative are explained. The author also looks at special circumstances (two working parents/day care, public restrooms, traveling, etc.). Dealing with accidents and bed-wetting finish the book.

Author overview:

Blurb from the back of the book: Vicki Lansky's invaluable advice and information has helped countless parents through her more than two dozen titles, articles and media appearances. Millions have benefited from Feed Me! I'm Yours, Games Babies Play and Practical Parenting Tips. She is also a contribution editor to Family Circle Magazine. Lansky lives in suburban Minneapolis.

Recommendations:

1. Read cover to cover vs. consult as needed.

The book is so short, reading cover to cover is far too easy. The index in the back helps if you just want to look at specific issues or ideas.

2. Readability.

The writing is personal and non-technical. Plenty of pictures of toilet training items, along with occasional cartoons, make for a pleasant read.

3. Helpful to a parent?

A lot of the standard advice is in here. Of special note are the chapter on what the experts say and the potty progress chart/diploma in the back. The chapter on the experts reviews the opinions and advice from the big guns like Dr. Spock, Dr. Brazelton, Dr. Sears, and Dr. Leach. The chapter also discusses Toilet Training in Less Than A Day by Nathan Azrin, Ph.D. and Richard Foxx, Ph.D. Successes and failures of the one day method are presented. The potty progress chart can be used to track a week's worth of potty successes, though there are only four boxes per day for stickers or check marks. Depending on what you are rewarding (checking for dry and clean, sitting on the potty, actually going), that may not be enough. The backside of the chart has a diploma for when the child has successfully completed the program. The author encourages photocopying and enlarging the pages. That is especially important if you get the book from the library!

4. Did we use it?

We got the book from the library; we did not tear out or photocopy the chart/certificate. As noted above, the only material motivators for Jacob have been mini muffins and super raisin cherries, so stickers and stamps have not been of use in our situation. Reading advice from the other major pediatricians was helpful to do further research.

Sample text

On the basics of potty training: You'll probably think about toilet training long before you get into it. One thing you'll want to do is settle any major differences of opinion between you and your spouse (or anyone else who will be involved) about methods and ways of handling things. Some compromise may be called for. Basic consistency is very important. There should be total agreement that there's no place for punishment in any phase of toilet training. [p. 8]

Also, the author mentions hypnosis as a treatment for the over-five-year-old set, just like the last author did.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Zombie Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Audiobook

Being a zombie parent means you don't have a lot of time for reading, so what better solution is there than an audio book? You can listen while pushing a stroller around or driving from la crosse practice to band practice to dance practice. Browsing through the shelves at the local library's audio book CDs, I shambled upon Pride and Prejudice and Zombies on the shelf. "Give it a try," I thought to myself. The children wouldn't let me browse any longer (they seem to think they are in some pre-apocalyptic version of The Road), so the deal was sealed. On to the review:

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Quirk Classic)

ZPAA rating

Tweenagers and up, i.e. if you're ready for Pride and Prejudice, you're ready to add some zombies in too.

Gore level

3 out of 10--Descriptions of the zombies, their feasting and their dispatching are more technical than graphic, as befits an Austinian sensibility. The narration is without any sound effects or mood music to enhance the mood or horror.

Other offensive content

Human on human violence; threats of self-mutilation (human on self violence?); a suicide; ridiculous romantic entanglements and complications.

How much zombie mythology/content

These zombies are the standard zombies, though the mythology is described in period vocabulary. The zombies are referred to as "unmentionables" (not to be confused with underwear), "stricken," "Satan's spawn," and other colorful and indirect epithets. The zombies are considered a plague though they do rise from the graves. I'm not sure how people who died long ago were infected and rose from their graves, but give the authors a break. This isn't science, it's literature.

How much fun

The story has a patina of gravity but is really full of light-hearted fun. Lots of characters have training and discipline from the Orient (hey, that's what they called it back then). Kung fu fighting and katanas abound, along with ninjas, nunchuks and throwing stars. The movie will probably be ridiculous and awesome. They should dub the fighting style "Jane Fu" if you ask me.

Synopsis & Review

A guess it had to happen eventually. Someone had the crazy idea of adding zombies into the most unlikely genre of literature, the Regency romance. The title "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" sounds pretty hilarious but the execution of such a high-concept idea seems likely to misstep at least once, if not fall flat on its face. My wife read Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and said it wasn't as fun as this story.

The revising author, Seth Grahame-Smith, had the brilliant idea of keeping Jane Austin's text and only adding new text in the style of Austin but with the content of Romero. So the plot (which I won't rehash in detail; if curiosity, school or a girlfriend hasn't made you read the book or watch one of the many movies, consider yourself unlucky) is essentially the same: The lovely Bennet sisters are more or less trying to get married off to eligible men in the vicinity. A lot of content is added: The deadly Bennet sisters are more or less trying to keep the countryside clear of zombies thanks to their martial arts training in China. Balls are still held in spite of potential (and seemingly inevitable) zombie attacks. People going for walks to have conversation are often also killing off unwanted interlopers (or should that be inter-shamblers). London is a walled city with constant battles defending the perimeter. The combination of drawing room intrigues and hand's on combat sequences is quite silly but well-executed and makes for a fun revisit to a classic story.

The narration is also well done. Katherine Kellgren has the haughty tone of a well-bred lady. She also gives the occasional zombie voice its due. The reading is enjoyable and lively, capturing the tone of Austin flavored with Asian martial arts and zombie mayhem. I would definitely recommend the audio book to any and all lovers of action and Austin.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Zombies Invade Baltimore...Well, Just the University

Recent articles in the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun and even the BBC have discussed the current (Fall 2010) English 333 course "Media Genres: Zombies" at the University of Baltimore. The course is part of a new pop culture studies minor being offered at the university. Regardless of how you regard the academic significance of pop culture, this course clearly is an important and worthy study not just for English major or people looking for cool minors, but for every man, woman and child in America.

The course instructor is Arnold Blumberg, who curates a pop culture museum at Baltimore's baseball stadium Camden Yards and has written Zombiemania: 80 Movies To Die For. He seems well qualified in pop culture trends and zombie lore and will make a good instructor. Consider this quote from the Baltimore Sun article:
Blumberg starts class with a deceptively complicated question: What is a zombie?
"I know that lately, a lot of zombies have been created by viruses," one student volunteers. "Is that a zombie?"
"Absolutely!" Blumberg says merrily. One of his key beliefs is that we use zombies to reflect contemporary dreads, such as our current fear of pandemics. He seems thrilled that a student has tapped this theme so quickly.
He also is open to all sorts of zombie manifestations, e.g. radiation, voodoo, etc. I'll have to send him a link to my blog.

The course materials are intriguing. Also from the Baltimore Sun:
Students will watch 16 classic zombie films (including "Zombi 2," in which a zombie fights a shark), read zombie comics and, as an alternative to a final research paper, have the chance to write scripts or draw storyboards for their ideal zombie flicks.
Working out the ideal zombie movie does sound like a fun activity, though I don't know how well it will prepare the students. Perhaps they will imagine their own homes or dorms as the battleground and consider how to secure them and best methods for fighting. I may also write with this concern.

Another awesome idea is to have a distance learning version of the course. Certainly a lot of people would be interested in taking the course without wanting the academic credit. I would sign up in a heartbeat. Or better yet, I could craft my own course...hmmm...if only I had the time! I think I hear one the children calling now.