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Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur: Forget the Premise, Enjoy the Show


What if the asteroid that forever changed life on Earth missed the planet completely, and giant dinosaurs never became extinct? That is the question posed in the promotions for The Good Dinosaur, by Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios, which is being released in 3D on November 25.

The question is an intriguing idea, but had less to do with the movie than I expected. That said, at a media preview on Monday, my family enjoyed The Good Dinosaur, and it provides a great way for families to discuss fear. In my opinion, forget about the premise, and just sit back and enjoy the show.

The opening scene shows a family of dinosaurs (aptosauruses) farming. They grow corn and raise chickens. Apparently this is what would’ve happened if they had not gone extinct. Their silo is being ransacked by a “critter,” who turns out to be an early human. This human walks on all fours and acts a lot like a dog. Aside from allowing dinosaurs and humans to co-exist, and establishing the dinosaurs as having typically human characteristics and the cave boy as having animal characteristics, the idea of the asteroid missing Earth plays a very small role in the movie.

Instead, the movie is primarily about young Arlo the dinosaur learning to face his fears. From the very moment he cracked open his egg, he has been a fearful dino, unlike his more adventurous siblings. His father has faith that he will eventually overcome these fears to (literally) make his mark — as the rest of the family has done by putting a muddy footprint onto the silo after a major accomplishment.

Without spoiling things, Arlo becomes separated from his family and faces many adventures on his way back, accompanied by Spot the human, who is referred to as a “critter.” During the adventures, they meet a T-Rex family and the elder dino (Sam Elliot) gives him the sage advice that the key to conquering fears is to feel the fear and do what you have to anyway.

I thoroughly enjoyed the role reversal with Arlo and the other dinosaurs having more human characteristics and the Spot in the role of a devoted animal companion.

The 3D effects in this movie are intriguing, because on the one hand the scenery looks amazingly realistic, but the dinosaurs and other critters are very cartoonish. The animators clearly put a lot of skill and effort into the details of pine trees, mountains, and water. It is clear it was a stylistic decision to make the dinosaurs look less realistic, perhaps to be more enticing to younger audiences.

My kids enjoyed The Good Dinosaur and I think as long as people don’t get too hung up on the promotional premise, others will too. There are a few dinosaur fight scenes, some scary storm scenes, and yes, death — so you will have to decide if your children will be okay with those scenes.

For me, what was great was the conversation in the car afterwards about coping with fear and anxiety. We also talked about how though we may be born with certain traits (Arlo’s sister is tricky, his brother is physically strong), that we can change certain aspects of ourselves (i.e. become less fearful.)

Also worth noting, prior to the movie is a short, “Sanjay’s Super Heroes.” Make sure you are settled into your seats in time to see it. The short depicts a Hindu father practicing his prayers while his young son tries to watch a superhero tv show a few feet away, much to his father’s chagrin. It turns into a delightful tale about priorities and heroes.

The Good Dinosaur opens just before Thanksgiving and you can find trailers on Facebook at and on the web site at

Disclosure: The movie’s PR team graciously provided my family with three tickets to the media preview event. This did not influence my review of the movie.

{Giveaway} Four Tickets to BrickFair 2015

Don't be a blockhead -- enter this giveaway for tickets to BrickFair '15!

Don’t be a blockhead — enter this giveaway for tickets to BrickFair ’15!

Quick — how many LEGOs do you have in your house? If you said “too many to count” OR you are so obsessed that you know down to the individual brick exactly how many you have, this giveaway for tickets to BrickFair 2015 is for you! (If your answer was “zero” then perhaps you just haven’t been exposed to the joy these bricks bring and need to check out BrickFair!)

LEGO fans young and old (yes, I’m looking at you AFOLs — adult fans of LEGO) will love this event. Exhibitors and vendors will dazzle you with all things LEGO — crazy Rube Goldberg contraptions, dioramas, games, robots and more! Online ticket sales are already sold out, but you can stand in line and pay for tickets at the door and in the meantime, enter this giveaway for one set of four (4) tickets (value of $60) which BrickFair 2015 has generously provided (along with tickets for my family). The event is August 1 – 2, 2015 at the Dulles Expo Center, Chantilly, VA.

BrickFair is primarily an exhibit/expo scenario (look and shop) but there are some interactive displays and a few sections where you can play and even win prizes. Although the tickets advise you to allow 90 minutes to view the displays, we have always stayed far longer and this is an extremely popular event, so there are often long lines to get in and a significant wait for games and anything interactive. In other words, plan to stay a while and bring a great deal of patience (and some spending money for the snack bar because you will invariably need it). But my family will tell you it is well worth it!

BrickFair VA 2015

August 1 -2, 2015
11 am – 4 pm
Dulles Expo Center
4320 Chantilly Center
Chantilly, VA 20153
Admission: 3 and under – FREE.
Everyone else $15 at door — online tickets are sold out.
No strollers please’s BrickFair VA 2015 Ticket Giveaway Rules:

  • The quick must-knows and must-dos:

    • This is a flash giveaway — it is shorter than my usual giveaways, please pay attention to the time frames.
    • These tickets are good for one day only, at BrickFairVA 2015 August 1 or 2 from 11 am to 4 pm. In fairness to others, please enter only if you actually plan on using the tickets. They have a total value of $60.
    • To enter: Use Please use the Rafflecopter entry form below to comment — make sure you use the term “BrickFair” in your comment. Get creative, but keep it clean!
    • In all your entries, you must include a valid email address so I may contact you if you are the winner. I must be able to reach you via that email address within 4 hours of the end of the giveawayI am not responsible for emails that land in your spam or junk mail or are otherwise blocked by your system or any other technical errors that may occur.
    • Tickets will be physically delivered to you, so if you are the winner, you will need to be willing to provide me a mailing address (no P.O. Boxes due to this being a flash giveaway) within 2 hours of my notification email that you are the winner so we can make arrangements for delivery of the physical tickets.  Time will be calculated based on when my email was sent. If I am not able to reach you, by necessity, I will have to pick a new winner. I am not responsible for emails that land in your spam or junk mail or are otherwise blocked by your system or any other technical errors that may occur.
    • Giveaway ends at 9 am, Eastern time,  Thursday, July 30, 2015.
    • Standard rules and giveaway legalese is spelled out in a link in the Rafflecopter form.
    • Winners will be selected at random from all qualified entrants using Rafflecopter.
    • Once a winner is selected and has responded via email and arrangements for ticket delivery have been successfully made, winner will be announced on this site.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Tired of stepping on lots of little LEGO pieces at home? You might enjoy my previous blog post about LEGO organization.


Disclosures: BrickFair provided four tickets for the giveaway and a set of complimentary tickets for my family. LEGO is a trademark of the LEGO Group. BrickFair is not associated with the LEGO Group.

{Review} Equipping Kids to Cook with Curious Chef Tools

Curious Chef 16-piece cupcake and decorating setMy kids have expressed an interest in helping in the kitchen practically since they could talk. At times, this was exasperating, but I tried to be patient as there is so much value to letting kids cook. In addition to teaching them a lifetime skill and getting them interested in preparing healthy foods, letting kids cook has been proven to help with math (all those fractions and equations involved when altering recipes), and may even reduce their chances of getting involved with drugs. There are many other benefits as well — improved reading skills, bonding time with family, real-life application of science, and more! So why doesn’t everyone do it?

In my very informal observation of friends who don’t encourage their kids to join them in preparing a meal, there are a few consistent objections:

  • Patience: It can take longer when kids are helping and they may not do everything “right”
  • Mess: Cooking can be messy, and more so with kids
  • Safety: Fears about kids getting burned or injuring themselves with a knife2015-07-07 Curious Chef Making Muffins w Lorelei 044

I had all of the same concerns above when my kids started joining me in the kitchen, but I also have a Montessori-influenced approach to parenting. (My children have a very headstrong approach to being kids — they always want to try everything whether I think they are ready to or not!) In addition to encouraging cooking (Montessori school kids often have to prepare and bring in their own lunches at a very tiny age), the Montessori method encourages providing child-sized tools for any job.

This is why I was intrigued by the Curious Chef line of kitchen tools. Embracing the many benefits of having kids in the kitchen, they produce cheerful, right-sized tools for kids. They asked me to try out their products2015-07-07 Curious Chef Making Muffins w Lorelei 078 and sent me a cupcake set and a 16-piece cupcake and decorating set and a 3-piece nylon knife set.

It turns out that the cupcake set was the perfect thing to cheer up JavaGirl (age 9) while her brother was away at camp. We had a jam-packed schedule, but in between her vacation bible school camp and horseback riding lesson, we quickly cooked up some cupcakes in the six-spaces tin. They have a recipe on the side of the box that is yields six cups, but inexplicably, I had every type of flour EXCEPT self-rising in my pantry that day! So we grabbed a box of cake mix and used that instead. In the interests of time we used pre-made frosting rather than mixing up our own from the directions provided.

What I was most interested in seeing was how the silicone cups would work (separate inserts that went into the metal pan, rather than a silicone pan). I have used some silicone tools, but I have never used these before. And because I’m perpetually curious, I decided to use our leftover cake batter to cook cupcakes in another pan of mine, in paper wrappers, to see if it would make a difference (JavaGirl loves the idea of an experiment).

2015-07-07 Curious Chef Making Muffins w Lorelei 208

The cupcake on the left was baked in the silicone cup, the one on the right was in a paper wrapper.

The cupcakes cooked beautifully and were very moist. The silicone cups kept the pan clean and the cupcakes came out of them easily. (Note the silicone cups can be washed in the dishwasher but are also easy to handwash.) When compared to the ones in the paper cups, we found that the ones in the Curious Chef cups/pan were more evenly baked and much moister. (Which may be true of any brand of silicone cups — these were just the first ones we had ever used.)

Next: Decorating

JavaGirl has decorated cakes using my Wilton bags and tips before, in fact, earning her American Heritage Girls Cake Decorating badge. But the Curious Chef set comes with a plunger-type of decorating system. The tips screw onto the end without requiring additional rings. There are five shapes of tips including one that would allow you to inject something into the middle of a cupcake. I really wanted to try that one, but JavaGirl wasn’t interested in that that day and time was tight, so, um, I may be using her tools another day! Though I was able to use the plunger (to demonstrate how to use it), it is nicely sized for children’s hands and in my opinion, is definitely easier for kids to use than a decorating bag. And also, easier to clean.  If there were one addition I would recommend to Curious Chef, it would be to include a small tip-cleaning brush and mesh bag (to hold tips while in the dishwasher), fortunately I already had both. The sixteenth piece of the set is a packet of blank recipe cards with stickers.

2015-07-07 Curious Chef Making Muffins w Lorelei 159JavaGirl enjoyed working with the decorating set and would’ve happily fiddled with it for quite a while if we had not been in a hurry.

Incidentally, the set also include a nylon mixing spoon, which again, is a nice size for kids, and a nylon frosting spreader which worked well for JavaGirl.

A final note on the set — at first I was a little surprised that the pan was only for 6 servings, but when I thought more about it, I like this. When we are cooking just for ourselves, 6 is just right and none of those extra cupcakes hanging out for days. Also, JavaGirl and I discussed other ways we could use the pan/silicone cups. Of course we could make muffins, but in our family, we’ve been enjoying making some of the many “muffin pan recipes” out there including breakfast eggcups (think scrambled eggs with seasonings and cut up veggies). We plan to try those out in this set soon to see how they come out versus just in our regular pan and the small size is convenient.

Overall, the set was a huge hit with JavaGirl, despite the fact she already has access to so many tools. She felt pride in this being HER set. And don’t think this is just for girls, JavaBoy tends to cook even more than JavaGirl, so I think he’ll end up using this a lot as well.

Child-sized Cutting Tools

IMG_2377The nylon knife set, on the other hand, got a mixed reaction from JavaGirl. When she was a preschooler, I started her out with a different kind of safety knife, and she has since progressed to using my Wusthof knives. However, I still worry at times about her injuring herself, so I was very intrigued to see how these would workout. Initially, she rejected them, claiming they required more pressure on her part. I tried one out on a few different things such as tomatoes, celery, and peaches — they could cut them all, but did require a little more pressure on harder materials. (Cut the tomato well, however!) Yet just last night, I caught JavaGirl using one of the nylon knives to slice up a peach. So my thoughts are that if you are holding back on letting your child cook due to fear of injury from knives, this is a great option. If your child already safely uses knives, you may or may not be interested in this set — there is some peace of mind with them using a nylon knife, but it has a different “feel” to it. By the way, in holding the knife myself, I oddly found it to be nicely “balanced,” not something I was expecting in a knife like this.

In terms of overall quality, I felt like the pan, silicone cups, and all the nylon tools were great. The decorating plunger was not flimsy but didn’t feel quite as “heavy duty” to me as the other tools, however, this is the first time I’ve used a plunger frosting tool  so I have can’t compare it to an “adult-sized” plunger tool. The finger holes on it worked well for both JavaGirl and I, which is a huge plus because it means parents are able to comfortably demonstrate how to use it to kids. (Also, JavaGirl is left-handed, I am right-handed, and it worked well for both of us.)

The cupcake and decorating set retails for $24.99 on the Curious Chef site, but I also noticed that it retails for less (and is also currently on sale tor additional savings) on (note this link includes my Amazon Associates code. The nylon knife set retails for $8.99 on the Curious Chef (more on the Amazon site, so price shop for any of the tools in this line.) The Curious Chef has many products, including child-sized oven mitts and aprons, food prep tools such as vegetable peelers, and much more. They are all cute and I think any child would feel proud to own any of them.

Whatever tools you use, try to find some time to get your kids in the kitchen with you. You’ll build some wonderful memories together and sneak in some educational benefits as well!

Disclosure: The Curious Chef provided me with the 16-piece cupcake and decorating set and 3-piece nylon knife set for the purpose of review. All opinions are my own (or JavaGirl’s) and were not influenced by receiving the complimentary items. This post contains links that allow you to purchase the items if you are interested in them, including links to, of which I am an Associate. If you purchase these or other items from through the provided link, I may receive a tiny percentage from Amazon, which will help support this site.

{Review} Cirque du Soleil’s “Verekai” Is a Marvelous Flight of Fantasy #Verekai

JavaGirl poses before seeing Varekai.What if things had turned out differently for Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sky with his wax and feather wings and ended up falling into the ocean? That spark of an idea is what brings “Verekai” to life as a vivid performance of song, dance, acrobatics and even comedy.

JavaGirl (9) and I watched the Baltimore premiere as part of the media last night and as much as I enjoyed the show, I especially relished watching the wonder in her eyes as she experienced it. We’ve seen many live performances together, but nothing is quite like a Cirque du Soleil show — the costumes are straight out of crazy dreams, the make-up is like none other, and the acts are amazing displays of human strength, flexibility, and beauty.

Set in a land of brightly colored, fantastical animals and a roaring volcano, “Verekai” begins by showcasing some of the marvelous creatures. What seems to delight the kids in the audience the most is how the performers interact with the manhole cover size holes throughout the stage. Performers pop up from them, drop down into them, and at times steam emits from the holes. Every shot of steam brought about peals of laughter.

Suddenly, a creature falls from the sky. It is Icarus, who instead of drowning in the sea after flying too close to the sun, falls into this magnificent forest. He is injured and his wings are removed. All seems to be lost for him, until he meets a creature known as The Betrothed. What follows is a love story as the inhabitants of the land ultimately conspire to bring these two together.

Just like the first time I saw a Cirque du Soleil show, my personal favorite was watching the aerialists, especially when they made heart-stopping, dramatic rolls with scarves, straps, or a net. A close second in “Verekai” is the acrobatics from the Russian swings to the hand-balancing on canes. Something I’ve never seen before was an act with a performer on special curved crutches — apparently this being also fell from the sky, but did not fully recover from his injuries, and he performs an acrobatic dance to show Icarus that there is life after falling.

There are more than 130 costumes in “Verekei,” all of them stunning, but my favorite is those of the Volcano Leapers. Hats are a big part of Cirque du Soleil’s costumes, but these creatures have a hat with a stone-like face on top, so when the dancers bend their heads, the hats become their faces. They are a wonderful personification of lava.

JavaGirl enjoyed it all (though noted she wanted more acrobatics in the opening scene), but I think if you pinned her down on her favorite element, it may have been the “clowns.” These clowns do not have white faces and red noses like other circus clowns, but are character actors who serve as comic relief throughout the show. JavaGirl especially enjoyed when they worked as a magician and assistant, but I think my favorite act was when the male clown, looking like a young Wayne Newton, has to chase a spotlight all over the arena during his song.

If you’ve never seen a Cirque du Soleil performance, “Verekai” is a great one to see! And if you have seen a performance, “Verekai” is likely to include the elements you love while still providing a fresh, exciting show. Either way, I recommend purchasing one of the programs ($20) to enhance your experience, especially if you have young children who might find it hard to follow the storyline. It is a deconstructed program — instead of a booklet there are a series of double-sided color photos of the show, with captions explaining what is going on, and a poster.

“Verekai” Locations and Tickets

Verekai” is in the metro DC area in two different venues:

Baltimore, MD
Royal Farms Arena
July 8-12

Fairfax, VA
Patriot Center
July 22-28

Tickets can be bought online, starting at $36 (prices go up for weekend shows). There happens to be a Living Social ad for the Fairfax performance. A quick web search for coupon codes may be worthwhile.

Disclosure: My family was given two tickets in the media section to watch the show. Writing a review was not required and all opinions are my own (or JavaGirl’s).

American Girl Fashion Show March 14-15 Benefits JLNV #AGFSJLNV

A model looking forward to her chance on the American Girl runway. Photo provided by: The Junior League of Northern Virginia

A model looking forward to her chance on the American Girl runway. Photo provided by: The Junior League of Northern Virginia

Far more than just a show of matching girl and doll fashions, the 2nd Annual American Girl Fashion Show®,  March 14-15, 2015.  may be a great window into your daughter’s world — real and imaginary.

I’ve been slow to embrace the American Girl doll craze — I was in high school when the dolls originally came out and I just didn’t “get” what they were about until JavaGirl and her friends started showing an interest in these collectible dolls. At first the books caught my daughter’s attention more than the dolls themselves, but now she is the proud owner of Saige, Girl of the Year 2013 and her collection has grown. After many (and I mean MANY) conversations with my daughter about her beloved doll, it’s boiled down to this: little girls love these characters and dolls because they help them see that no matter the time or the location, for the most part, girls are girls. They can be rough and tumble, and courageous, and adventurous, and experience moments of accomplishment as well as, quite frankly — fear. (JavaGirl came into my room with lots of questions when a book character’s friend contracted Scarlet Fever). But in the end, not matter what era, what clothes, what skin/hair/eye color — the characters and girls have much in common. And it is this realization that makes the girls so crazy about talking about their dolls, personalizing them, and talking about them with each other.

The American Girl Fashion show, themed, “Styles of Today and Yesterday,”  uses every day girls from the community who signed up to be the models to showcase both the traditional and modern versions of outfits for the characters of the American Girl franchise. Attending a real-life fashion show with your daughter — one that is relevant to her — is an opportunity to enjoy some refreshments, and learn more about which characters most speak to her and why. Is she like civic-minded Addy and Julie? Adventurous Caroline? Resourceful Josefina? While these conversations can be had at home over your own refreshments, there is something to be said for making an occasion of things. Something different, special, and that allows you to get a little peek into the heart of your daughter.

Community Fundraiser

Proceeds from the event benefit the mission of the Junior League of Northern Virginia (JLNV), of which I am a member. Your catalogue order will also benefit the JLNV. American Girl Programs, Inc., will donate 5% of the total of all orders placed from the specially coded catalogues distributed at the event. Orders must be placed between 02/27/15 and 03/29/15. During that time, please call 1-800-920-0867 to place your order using the special key code 182153.

Purchase Tickets Today

Please see the JLNV web site for ticket prices and availability, and to purchase exclusive American Girl merchandise. Attendees may also pre-purchase merchandise for pick up on-site, including apparel exclusive to American Girl Fashion Shows®, as well as secure a spot for their doll at the American Girl Fashion Show® Doll Hair Salon. Ticket prices will go up on March 6, 2015.

This fun-filled event for girls and their families, friends and favorite dolls celebrates the experience of being a girl throughout history through a colorful presentation of historical and contemporary fashions. Attendees at each show will enjoy elegant refreshments, enter to win door prizes and learn how clothing has changed over the years to reflect history, culture and girls’ individual styles.

Show times:

Saturday, March 14, 2015: 10 am, 1 pm, 4 pm
Sunday, March 15, 2015 – 11 am, 2 pm


Sheraton Pentagon City
900 South Orme St., Arlington, VA


Sales of both tickets and merchandise will help support the JLNV’s community programs, aimed to prepare children in Northern Virginia for success by addressing childhood obesity through increased physical activity and nutritional education

Note: I am a member of the JLNV and have purchased my family’s tickets to the event and additional merchandise.