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    Friday
    Apr132012

    DVD review: Frozen Planet

    When I was in elementary school, my favorite days were the "movie days" when we got to watch nature films. I was equally delighted and educated by the scenic stories of beavers building dams, otters floating on their backs and breaking open shells on their bellies, rams and sheep battling one another in shows of strength and masculinity. So breathtaking were those breaks from everyday lessons.

    Watching Frozen Planet—the epic three-disc series from BBC Earth, makers of Planet Earth—reminds me of those long-ago moments in a dark classroom learning of animals and insects and environments I'd surely never experience first hand.

    As a kid, my main take away of the nature films was "Wow!". As an adult, I have a far larger vocabulary and more adjectives for the experience. Still, "Wow!" is the first to come to mind when watch Frozen Planet. Others: Spectacular. Riveting. Astonishing. Thought-provoking. Extraordinary.

    I love this series. The show premiered on the Discovery Channel in March, but having no cable, I didn't watch it on TV and was thrilled to have been provided the DVD for free to review. Together Jim and I marveled at the amazing photography in the seven-part series narrated by the legendary and brilliant Sir David Attenborough.

    Highlights? Sheesh...I don't even know where to begin. Filmed at the North Pole and the South Pole, teams of photographers captured footage of seasonal changes that continually astonished. Soaring birds and whales. Penguins humorously flying through ocean waves (and waddling obliviously around the film makers on the beach). A caterpillar that goes through fourteen years of freezing each winter then thawing each spring before finally metamorphosing. Undersea animals that look like Dr. Seuss characters. A mother polar bear and her two cubs and how they survive through the seasons of change. And that's just the tip of the figurative iceberg. (There's no shortage of real icebergs throughout the series).

    The groundbreaking series also focuses on the land and sea and all the changes between ice forming and melting in the North Pole and South Pole regions. There's also much mention of what the changes in the Arctic Ocean mean not only for the animals but for the humans who live there and the countries scrambling to stake their claim in new oil-drilling opportunities available thanks to formerly ice-covered regions warming twice as fast as the rest of the Earth.

    One of my biggest questions from the outset, when I first put in the first DVD, was How in the world do the photographers manage to capture such things? Thanks to the seven "making of" featurettes and 47 (yes, forty seven) videos in the Production Video Diaries, I no longer wonder, only applaud their amazingly successful efforts. Other bonus features include a feature on scientific exploration in the South Pole, a music-only viewing option, and more.

    What I loved about the DVD series: Frozen Planet is a series that all ages will enjoy again and again. There's so much information and extraordinary imagery that I can't imagine ever tiring of watching.

    Earth Day is April 22 and though it isn't typically a day that folks exchange gifts, Frozen Planet is the perfect gift for the occasion—for yourself and others. It arrives on shelves just in time, on April 17, retailing for $39.98 DVD and $54.98 Blu-ray. For more information, visit BBC Earth.

    Thursday
    Apr122012

    Review: Simply Bags Beach Tote

    Grandma's got another brand-new bag, which is oh-so cool because grandmas can never have too many bags. Am I right?

    This newest bag—a Stylish Beach Tote from Simply Bags—is sure to be one of my most used as it's huge. And stylish. And durable. And it's personalized with my name embroidered on front. (It looks just like the one to the right except it says LISA not Jennifer.)

    The lightweight jute beach tote bag, which I received free for review from Simply Bags, measures 23 inches wide by 14 inches high (overall height is 25 inches) with a seven-inch bottom. It's lined, has an inside pocket for car keys and phone, and features a zipper closure.

    Though it's a "beach" bag and I'm not likely to hit any beaches any time soon (unfortunately), my new bag is perfect for packing plum full of fun for a day at the park and more. It easily holds a lightweight blanket or towel for spreading on the grass, a few bottled drinks for myself and a guest or two (husband, grandkids, or daughters, depending on the outing), some snacks, a book, and playthings for grandkids joining me.

    What I love about this bag: The size and quality are huge pluses, but what I really like most is that it has a zipper. Most bags and totes of this size that I own don't have closures of any sort so each time I set them down, stuff spills out—or is easily visible and nabbed by curious grandsons.

    The Stylish Beach Tote comes in green or orange, personalized with one name or three-initial monogram ($27.99, including personalization). It's available at Simply Bags, along with hundreds of other beautiful bags, including diaper bags, lunch bags, iPad totes, wine bags and more.

    Tuesday
    Apr102012

    Review: Rascal Flatts — Changed: One Night Only

    I’m not much of a country music fan and much more prefer the rock and singer/songwriter genres. I am, though, a fan of new experiences. So when I was offered the opportunity to review the Rascal Flatts — Changed: One Night Only, I jumped at it for two reasons: 1) My oldest daughter is a country music fan in general and a Rascal Flatts fan in particular so I thought it would be a something fun and different for us to do together; and, 2) Fathom Events are often advertised before a movie I’m seeing at the theater, and I’ve always wondered how such events work.

    The event was to be a celebration of the band's new album, Changed, released April 3, so I figured we’d be in for a hee-hawing, boot-stomping (or at least toe tapping) concert by the popular trio of bassist Jay DeMarcus, singer Gary LaVox, and guitarist Joe Don Rooney. It turned out to be much more than that, thanks to the heartfelt conversations with the musicians before and after each of the songs prerecorded in front of a live audience.

    The show began with the guys taking questions from fans on the Internet and the small audience attending the concert-recording event. The beginning Q&A provided info a non-fan like myself had no idea of—Rascal Flatts has been together 12 years—as well as a quote from one of the members that surely resonated with fans of all musical genres—“There’s nothing more influential on a person’s life than music.”

    The first song was Banjo, the popular single from the new album, and banjo-player Ashley Campbell (who appears in the Banjo video) joined them on stage.

    From there, the show alternated between studio and behind-the-scenes conversations with the guys—heartfelt, inspirational glimpses, often with a side of silliness—and concert performances. They moved audiences at the concert as well as in the theater with many new songs from Changed (Hot in Here, Changed, She’s Leaving, Come Wake Me Up) as well as, my daughter pointed out, fan favorites (Bless the Broken Road, What Hurts Most, Fast Cars and Freedom).

    I especially enjoyed the behind-the-scenes portions of the show as they introduced me to this trio of fellas I knew nothing about but soon felt as if I knew them quite well. They talked of their challenges as a band, with one another, and with others in their professional lives. Much of the latter—in terms of management and long-time associations—inspired them to create Changed, their eighth album together. Apparently 2011 was a year of huge change and challenge for the guys and, according to Gary, the album “defines where we’re at and where we’re going.”

    Each member also shared much about their families and how they balance their career with being a husband and a father (each musician is married and has two children). Conversations with wives and kids were included as each man’s home life was highlighted.

    As a grandma, the most poignant moments for me were when the band members talked at length about the powerful influence their grandparents had in their lives and on their music. One grandmother played spoons and taught her grandson how to harmonize. A grandfather was masterful on the dobro. Most moving of all was when Joe Don, the guitarist, wiped away tears as he talked of his grandparents and how their legacy lives on in his children. I had to choke back tears myself as that moment was followed by “Won’t Let Go,” a song perfectly punctuating their sentiments on the importance of grandparents.

    The show ended with comments from each member on their love and admiration for one another and the road they’re traveling together, followed by Life is a Highway, the only song I’d heard before. Not the Rascal Flatts version but the original rocking version from singer/songwriter Tom Cochrane. The Rascal Flatts guys rocked it fairly well themselves.

    In the end, watching Rascal Flatts — Changed: One Night Only didn’t change me into a country music fan. It did, though, change me into a Rascal Flatts fan. I have no doubt my daughters will be surprised when they see I’ve included Changed on my Mother’s Day wish list.

    Changed is a good thing indeed—in more ways than one.

    Want to win tickets to see Rascal Flatts in concert? Be sure to enter the Rascal Flatts Fly Away Contest.

    Disclosure: My attendance at the event was free as part of a review campaign through the One2One Network. Opinions are solely my own and not influenced by anyone.

    Wednesday
    Apr042012

    Review: VeggieTales: Robin Good and His Not-So-Merry Men (DVD)

    My daughters were well into junior high by the time VeggieTales became popular among the preschool set, so I didn't have much exposure to the animated series—featuring anthropomorphic veggies such as Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber, and Archibald the Asparagus—as a mom. As a grandma, it's a totally different story. Bubby loves VeggieTales, and together we've shared many a tale.

    The most recent offering showcasing the songs, silliness, and stories with a moral from the faith-based characters is VeggieTales: Robin Good and His Not-So-Merry Men (approx. 50 minutes, $14.99, Big Idea Entertainment). I received a free copy of the DVD for review and was pleased to find that Larry the Cucumber—Bubby's favorite VeggieTale character because he's Bubby's favorite color—once again had a significant role in the show.

    The story goes that in the long-ago and faraway town of Bethlingham, Robin Good and his band of merry men helped the poor through fundraising (called "funraising" in the show). Then along comes a greedy, ham-hoarding prince who causes donations to dive and coerces Robin Good's friends over to the dark side. All that, of course, hurts Robin Good's feelings. Thankfully things take a turn for the better, Robin Good overcomes his hurt feelings, and little ones watching the show learn that there's no hurt too big for God.

    It's a sweet story, and some of the corniest parts (pun intended) come from the fun-raising efforts to get everyone to lend a ham. The DVD also includes a bonus short called Lenny & the Lost Birthday, "Silly Songs with Larry featuring Bubble Rap," and other faith-based goodies.

    What I loved about the DVD: This is the DVD that clinched my love for Larry the Cucumber. Not because he's green, though, which is why Bubby loves him, but because of his silly songs. And they are indeed silly...and catchy. Also, for kids who are a little bit older, the DVD has a pretty good explanation of leap year as part of the Lenny & the Lost Birthday short.

    For more information on this particular DVD, click on the image above (not an affiliate link). For more info on VeggieTales in general, visit www.VeggieTales.com.

    Wednesday
    Mar282012

    Book review: It's a Big World, Little Pig

    Poppy, the little pig who sprung from the imagination of Kristi Yamaguchi and dreamed big in Yamaguchi's first picture book, Dream Big, Little Pig!, is back. This time, in It's a Big World, Little Pig! (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $16.99), the cheerful pig heads to the World Games ice skating championship in Paris.

    Of course, even pigs with big dreams get nervous and uncomfortable in new places and with new faces. The text, along with the delightful illustrations by Tim Bowers, follow Poppy as she meets Li, a panda from China, Gianna, a Maltese from Italy, Kiyomi, an ice-skating crane from Japan, and other athletic animals.

    It doesn't take much for Poppy to realize each athlete has his or own nerves and challenges to deal with, making Poppy feel less alone. Most importantly, Poppy learns that despite their differences in language, sporting event and more, the competitors from across the globe all smile in the same language.

    What I loved about the book: Bowers' illustrations are the highlight of the book, with all the animal characters possessing distinct personalities. Also, I think it's commendable that one hundred percent of Kristi's profits from It's a Big World, Little Pig! will benefit early childhood literacy programs through her Always Dream Foundation.

    What I didn't love so much: The story felt a wee bit slight and predictable, but youngsters for whom the book is intended (ages 4 and up) will undoubtedly appreciate the sentiments.

    Clicking on the book cover will provide more information on each book. It is NOT an affiliate link; I earn nothing by you clicking on it.

    Monday
    Mar052012

    Review: Butt Bench

    I recently received for review a Butt Bench. You heard (read) right: a Butt Bench. And I was pretty darn excited to give it a try.

    The Butt Bench is high-quality wood bench for the bathtub. It can be used for holding toiletries in the tub or, more importantly, for holding your, um, posterior while using the tub for all manner of things.

    I envisioned using the attractive pine Butt Bench I received free from the Butt Bench makers for holding bathtub toys when my grandsons visit. I also thought it would be great for placing in the center of the tub to divide the space when the two boys bathed together, making it easier for Mom (or me) to lather up one kiddo while the other splashes away. I also thought it would be an awesome spot to sit while shaving my legs—on my own, not when the grandsons are visiting or bathing, of course. It holds up to 300 pounds and is crafted in such a manner that sitting on it won't damage the seat or the bathtub, and water won't mar the fine finish of the seat.

    So I went for a test spin on the Butt Bench, using it while shaving my legs. The Butt Bench features suction cups that firmly attach the seat to the back wall of the bathtub. Which works great for keeping the bench in place at the end of the tub. I wanted to scoot my Butt Bench to the center of the tub, though, so I'd be closer to the faucet and running water while shaving away. With no suction cups on the ends of the seat that attach it to the wall on the side, my seat slipped and slid and scared me enough that I opted to push it back to the end and complete my shaving while sitting on the edge of the tub. Like I said, I like to be near the faucet for continual rinshing while shaving.

    I suppose filling the tub with water—to do your shaving while actually taking a bath—and keeping the bench attached to the tub's back wall would make better (and safer) use of the Butt Bench. For now, though, I'll use it to hold toiletries and toys for the grandboys when they visit.

    My daughter also tested out the Butt Bench, using it to hold her book (and later, her Kindle) while soaking in the tub. She found it quite handy.

    The Butt Bench fits standard-size bathtubs, holds up to 300 pounds, and comes in four finishes: pine, white pine, pink pine, and cedar. I can see how it would come in quite helpful for seniors who need a spot to sit while bathing. And it would have been really helpful to have on hand when my husband had foot surgery a few years ago and needed to sit while showering in order to keep one foot dry.

    What I loved about the Butt Bench: The quality of the wood and construction makes it a nice piece to have in the bathroom. My daughter's first words when she saw it were, "I'm so jealous." It looks that good. Also, I just think the Butt Bench logo is adorable.

    What I didn't love so much: I would have been far more enthusiastic about the Butt Bench if there were suction cups that allowed it to attach to spots in the tub other than just on the end. The quality of the gizmo that holds the suction cups is such that I don't see it as being that difficult to make it in such a manner that the suction cups can slide around the corners and work from each side, as desired.

    Bottom line: The Butt Bench is a nice bathtub addition for those who would benefit from taking a seat at the end of the tub while bathing...or shaving.

    The Butt Bench costs $43.95 to $52.95 (depending on finish) and can be purchased at www.ButtBench.com (free shipping within Continental U.S.).