Monday, December 14, 2015

My two new articles on ParentMap.com

Just out on ParentMap.com this month are two very different articles I've written over recent weeks.

The first piece is about Centering, the method of group-based prenatal care that improves confidence during pregnancy and labor/postpartum outcomes. (Think of it as the PEPS group support model for *before* the baby is born.) Swedish Midwives and other midwifery groups have been offering it for years but now Swedish's Cherry Hill Family Medicine Residency Clinic is onboard as well. This signals a confidence in the methodology and a great prenatal care option for parents-to-be. Special thanks to Dr. Jeremia Bernhardt for the story idea and the Centering Healthcare Institute for their significant input on this story.

Swedish Ballard Midwives during a Centering session

------------------------------

The second is a Q & A with author/activist Sharon H. Chang. She just released a book called Raising Mixed Race: Multiracial Asian Children in a Post-Racial World, about the challenges facing mixed race Asians and deconstructing the unique experience of prejudice and bias that face mixed race people. This book emphasizes how mixed race Asian people in our society are viewed in relation to how white or not-white they are, effectively measuring their proximity to 'whiteness.' The book asserts that this in turn causes mixed race Asians to bury overt/covert experiences of racism to fit in--to the point that we Hapas may not even know we're doing it.
As a mixed race Asian myself, I have conflicting feelings about this because I also spent a summer in Japan during high school and I will be the first one to say that some Japanese people don't look too kindly upon mixed race Asians either but from the other direction. The book seems to assert this comes only from the white direction but I say it can also comes from the Asian as well.
But there just aren't a lot of books about mixed race experience and it's really surprising given that the population becomes more mixed (with all races) by the second. Definitely a thought-provoking read with a definite mission to cause mixed race Asians (and parents raising mixed race Asians) to closely re-examine their worldview and sense of self within it.








Thursday, September 24, 2015

Happy Education Funding Work Party Day!

Dear Governor Inslee & Education Funding Work Group:

The Seattle Teachers' strike is over but many remain unsatisfied. I'm still vibrating with ill-feelings and doubts. Not toward the heroic teachers and parents who showed a ferocious unity this past month, but to the political landscape that allows schools to fall so far down in our priorities. We must fix this. The Seattle contract isn't perfect and isn't everything the teachers wanted but it is a hell of a lot better than what the District first countered with. We shouldn't have to get this desperate to accomplish something so necessary and obvious. 

The Stranger Magazine suggested implementing a state income tax just like New Jersey did in 1976 which buoyed it's schools. I know Washington State voted down an initiative proposing one in 2010 but we need to try again. Now that we know why an income tax will be so vital and what the consequences of going without one look like, we need to try again.

I can't help thinking: if Washington state is important enough to China--the second largest economy in the world--and its president visited here FIRST before going to our own nation's capital--that's really saying something. Washington state is home to global companies that change the way society lives, works and plays. The citizens and workers we raise and educate quite literally change the world. So please, fulfill the duty and mandate that has been set forth to fully-fund education.
I am a Washington voter, taxpayer, native-born resident (Vancouver, WA), graduate of Washington State University and the parent of a 1st grader in Seattle’s public schools--with another child starting Kindergarten in a few years. I urge the State to take *speedy* and *decisive* action to give all our children the amply funded education they deserve.

Make this day count. 
Thank you!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

In the Strike Zone

It's hard not to lose a little faith in the system during this strike. To not take it personally that Seattle Public Schools betrayed the trust with parents. We put our children and their futures in the hands of this system, and we trust SPS will find the best ways to educate them, retain the most qualified staff & teachers and provide a holistic education that nurtures their minds, bodies & spirits. Yet what's being revealed of SPS through the late negotiations, retention of legal services and disingenuous tone (when they finally do speak to the public) is an apathy--a disdain.

Why is this? Is Nyland just a frontman for a School Board drunk with power? Is this a larger issue of funding at the state level that might create a larger judicial & legislative crisis? Is this a symptom of efforts to privatize schools (charter schools)? Is there too much of a hierarchy in the SPS which requires "funding" before the teachers? 

I stand with the teachers (of course) yet at the same time I've had to quell my disappointment especially for our daughter and all the new Kindergarten families we know who didn't get to start this week. But I'm a stay-at-home mom, so I can absorb the inconvenience of her being out of school for as long as it takes. Obviously many other parents/teachers/staff members can't do that but it would be tragic if SPS successfully wears down the parents and teachers into accepting something subpar just to end this standoff--effectively turning parents against their kids' own best interests. 

But whatever happens, things will never be the same. It makes me wonder, since we're at the beginning of our relationship with SPS, is this what we can come to expect from them? 

Where I had never known before who my school board district rep is (looking at you, Sharon Peaslee), I know now so when reelection comes up, I will remember your name--and not in a good way. This process has swung the unrelenting, inquisitive eye of parents/voters/taxpayers/community members to take a long look into how schools are run and how teachers are treated by their employer. This is good for me as a parent to know and it shouldn't be taken for granted.
But what really encourages me, is that despite how hard the job is, how under appreciated and under compensated it remains, there are amazing teachers still dedicated to it. Teachers, who make the best of a strike by making something like this...

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Seattle Public Schools: Prioritize Recess, Compensate Teachers and Avoid a Strike


School here in Seattle is supposed to start on September 9th but not so fast... The teachers and the district still have not agreed on a contract. As much as I want Sidney to start 1st grade as scheduled, I am TOTALLY supportive of the teachers on this one. After last year's introduction to the public school system (as a parent now), the work most teachers do and the commitment they have to their jobs--given the politics and ridiculously low salaries--makes them nothing less than real-life superheroes. True story. Two of the biggest issues I see are getting enough recess/active time and pay increases for the teachers. So I let the school board know! If you are a Seattle Public School Parent and you care about this stuff too, feel free to write as well:

superintendant@seattleschools.org
ombudsman@seattleschools.org
schoolboard@seattleschools.org

Dear Director Sharon Peaslee, School Board Directors, Supt. Nyland & the SPS Ombudsman:

Before 2014, the negotiations, compromises and shortcomings between the Seattle Public School District and the teachers' union SEA didn't concern me in the least. I didn't know (as I do now) what all the hullabaloo was about. 

But when my first born started Kindergarten last year, I got to live and breathe what was splashed all over in the local papers and news casts. Volunteering in the classroom on a regular basis provided an indisputable view of the daily experience of my daughter and her 25 classmates. In the past, I had been dubious to some of the concerns and frustrations voiced by teachers, but my opinion now is that teachers are expected to achieve unattainable legislated expectations with uneven parental support & hostile oversight by the School Board which is like walking a tightrope while juggling knives through a ring of fire. Instead, we should be giving these teachers and school administrators everything they need to succeed so that our children can succeed. That means competitive wages with increases over their existing paltry salaries and 45 minutes of recess a day.

Simply put, a competitive, living wage will entice and retain talented individuals who can share their inspiration and love of learning with our children so for that, they definitely deserve a 21% raise over 3 years. Of course, if every kid in a classroom came to school (1) well-adjusted with a stable home life and supportive caregivers (2) unencumbered by learning, behavioral, mental or physical disabilities (big or small) and (3) academically proficient--maybe I could see being more hardline with teachers. But I watched my daughter's teacher continually and compassionately intervene to address 2-3 children again and again who clearly didn't have some of those advantages which directly affected their classroom behavior and ability to learn. 

I was also in the lunchroom (more like a pressure cooker) with the kids. I watched as they quickly scarfed down food so they could have a measly 15 minutes for recess/physical activity. I even tried to assist some of the kids buying lunch who were immediately disadvantaged and robbed of precious minutes to eat/digest. But I agonized over the sickening amount of perfectly good food that went to waste. The kids had to make a no-win choice on lunch vs. recess--while never getting enough of either. So, stop making excuses about state instructional time mandates because that has no impact on lunch and recess! Recess counts toward instructional time, so honoring the SEA and parent request of at least 45 minutes of recess per day is entirely feasible. The health, well-being, and ultimate academic success of our children depends on it. Please listen to what the experts, staff, and community are telling you. Be a progressive model for great education instead of an impediment. 

In closing, The lack of seriousness shown by the school district in regard to our children's health is appalling and disappointing. Therefore, I ask that you grant the SEA's request of 45 minutes of recess per day and to pay teachers commensurate for the significant responsibility they have. Without great teachers, our district is nothing.

******

Monday, August 10, 2015

Unabashed silliness

What happens when you record a video of just your eyes then loop the video and answer some random questions? Hilarity, that's what.

This is totally silly but we laughed so hard making these tonight. Ken thought of it.

Step 1: Record a video of just your eyes making random movements on your phone. 
Step 2: Playloop the eye recording while holding the phone where your eyes should be 
Step 3. Get someone with another phone to ask questions and record it. 
Step 4: Inflict on others



Sunday, July 12, 2015

Empire: Where are all the ladies?


The British-based Empire Magazine is hands-down my favorite periodical about the film industry. With few adverts, a comprehensive look at British cinema, US blockbusters & art house indies, they always deliver to the sweet spot of my interests. Also the editorial crackles with a wry & smart sense of humor though unconventional interviews, in-depth looks at projects in production, and helpful reviews. There is also a palpable, unapologetic penchant for Tom Hiddleston. He's somewhere in every issue. Seriously.

Before, I'd only ever seen the magazine in London when I went to school there in the mid-90's. Then a few years ago, I discovered Pike Place Market Newsstand here in Seattle carried Empire so I would make the trek down there when I could to pick one up. But now as luck would have it, I was recently gifted a subscription so I can save myself some trips downtown.

The latest August edition features a compilation of the "100 Greatest Movie Characters" voted on by over 10,000 readers. I know I shouldn't put too much stock into these kinds of things. I know it shouldn't matter...but as I read through all 100 characters, and good number of which I agree with, I noticed how few female characters made the cut. Only 10 out of 100 in the history of all films. That's kinda sad, because there absolutely has to be more worthy female characters out there. Has to. One of my absolute favorite characters, Ellen Ripley of the Alien franchise, is in the top 5--as she should be. But it's a long walk to the next female character in the 20's. When I checked the list (twice even), I noticed some glaring omissions.

Princess Leia: Wow, in a list that includes Luke Skywalker #50, Darth Vader #9, Obi-Wan #51 and Han Solo #3 (& Yoda #38!) to leave out the one person who gets sh** done in the original three movies? Shameful.

Scarlett O'Hara: One of the most dynamic heroines from an era when women weren't supposed to do anything without their father's or husband's permission. Scarlett embodied a larger-than-life personality in a larger-than-life film production. Short memories, people!

Hermione Granger: So Harry Potter #67 makes it but not the person who continually saves everyone's skin every single time because she did the homework? Brits, this is one of your own. How could you let this happen?

Elinor Dashwood: Okay, this could be a little niche given that it's a Jane Austen character but this movie rates as one of my all-time top favorite movies for it's writing and acting. Everything about this character is impactful and Elinor embodies such restraint and loyalty--Gah! Pass the tissue.

Bridget Jones: A modern, funny, poignant, flawed British woman played expertly by a Texan--and she nailed it. It makes up for all the British dudes honing their American accents for roles over here.

Mulan: A truly kick-ass, non-princess female Disney character. She's a warrior in an epic tale about self-sacrifice for one's family and one's country. If you're going to include animated characters like Optimus Prime #98, Woody #82, Edna Mode #100 or even Gromit #88, Mulan has got to rate in there too.

So maybe there is a great undervaluing of work women have already done in film by Empire readers or maybe there aren't enough 'greatest-movie-character' caliber parts available to women. But if you look at it, this list is really male and really white so it probably has more to do with who answered this poll than anything else.

But these lists influence what people watch, especially when it comes to building cinematic foundations and back catalog. In future, Empire should reveal it's polling demographic data or aim for a 50/50 target representation of participants in future polls to make things really interesting.

Monday, July 06, 2015

On Writing

My New Year's Resolution this year was to read a book that had nothing to do with parenting. Just one was the goal. Mission accomplished and it only took 7 months!

I was once an avid reader, especially when I was in school--it also didn't hurt that I was an English minor with an emphasis in literary criticism. But since becoming a parent, I have found my time highly fractured and overcommitted.  The anguish of trying to read a novel or long-form story with that constant pressure, outweighed any perceived benefit. To fill the void, I consumed the snack food of the literary world: magazines, graphic novels, comics and fan fiction (some of the best-worst stuff ever written, btw). Of course, many of the moms I interact with participate in book clubs and I marvel at their ability to finish 'real' books. That should have been my first (and continuing) clue that I was making excuses. Also, I just need to step away from the Facebook, hours upon hours get sucked down that insatiable black hole.

Anyway, I set my expectations low on purpose because I didn't want to fail. But during our recent LA vacation, I read Stephen King's writing memoir On Writing. I discovered this book when I briefly considered signing up for an online class about writing adult fiction--a genre I have no experience writing. Well, that's not entirely true: there were earnest (though misguided) attempts in college where overwrought self-awareness and a profound lack imagination combined into a cringe-worthy mess. But while reading reviews about the online writing course offered by a prolific fiction writer (not Stephen King), many people instead praised King's memoir as being a superior, highly instructive awas a much cheaper alternative to the class.  By coincidence, my mom, who is writing children's fiction, credited the tools and advice in his book for helping her break though to a major revision and advancement of a story she's been working on for years. And after reading her energized and imaginative revision, I was all "I'll-have-what-she's-having." With enough mental reserves to appreciate King's solid advice, our kid-free, care-free LA trip proved to be a perfect time and place to read On Writing.


In high school, I devoured a sampling of King's work like It, Tommyknockers, Misery, The Dark Tower, The Stand and one of his short story collections. The accessibility of his writing was something I always admired even if the subject matter was unsettling. A few weeks ago when I was only half done with On Writing, we lunched in Santa Monica with a college friend who is a writer. I recommended this book to him in an "I've-discovered-something-new" way.  He assured me he'd read it 3 times since it came out 15 years ago. Oops, late to the party again. But the book still stands up, no question, which explains why I was #14 deep in Seattle Public Library's hold queue for it. 

One thing I always disliked about "writers" as opposed to actual writers, is that "writers" were people who debated, agonized and over-analyzed writing (I'm very aware that I'm toeing that line right now.) But the people who just sit down everyday and put in the time are the shit. Even if it's drivel. The output won't often be inspired and it's not guaranteed to be good but like anything else, you have to put in the time to practice. 

I think at this point, the audacity of writing a fiction novel is like deciding to run a marathon just because you bought new shoes. I haven't trained a lick but, by gawd, I have the shoes. Still there's something so plucky and fresh in that. Another thing King said, and I'm not spoiling anything here, is that a good writer reads. I think my English teacher in high school, Maggie Bates, mentioned that too. Seeing how others make ideas flow, develop characters and tell a story is the other half of "marathon" training. 

One main thing King emphatically championed was a writing space with a door to shut out the world. After a few years of envying everyone else's retreat space in this house, I finally commandeered part of our guest bedroom, which will continue to pull double duty but at least it's something. We'll see what comes of it. No excuses.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Immortalized by my Kindergartener on Mother's Day

My Kindergartner made this for me on Mother's Day and I love it.


I sure wish I actually had long eyelashes like that. The black mouth is definitely accurate for when I step on an errant LEGO and start spewing the Dark Tongue of Mordor. You know like, THIS.


And then there is an awesome Mad Libs-like "All About Mom" that is simply the best. (Click to Enlarge)



I love it Siddy! So proud to be your Mom.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Lee C. Leslie, a remembrance

This tragic event last week brought back these 20+ year-old memories of my friend, Lee Leslie. Despite not seeing him since 1991, I am incredibly sad to know he is no longer in this world and that his wife and 4 kids will have to go on without him. What remains for me are the memories of our unlikely friendship spanning 9 years and his antics that still make me smile.

Even as a 2nd grader, Lee stood out among the boys on the bus. He was a sort of a ringleader: charismatic, risk-taking and unpredictable. He’d be the one talking back to the bus driver and invariably the one being sent to the principal’s office.

I often overheard him and some of the boys who sat toward the back of the school bus talking about riding “cicles” (off-road motorcycles) during the weekend or admiring a neighbor’s “sweet” Camaro parked in a driveway as we passed by. The conversation shifted to the in’s and out’s of WWF professional wrestling and the merits of various “awesome” heavy metal rock bands. In no way did any of these topics interest me, but I listened anyway and one day on a ride home from school, something must have broken through so I laughed out loud and they noticed. Delighted to have an audience, they began to include me, trying to elicit laughs at their off-color jokes. Lee could also crack his knuckles so loud it was unreal. He and the boys on the bus loved nothing more than teaching me--an awkward, nerdy, naive girl--all the naughty words they’d heard from older siblings and metal albums. I came away from our bus conversations with a vastly expanded vocabulary and knowing more about professional wrestling than I’d ever care to admit.

We lived on the northern outskirts of Ridgefield Wash, once a sleepy, simple rural town that is now home to rolling estates. It was a place, when we moved there in 1982 and I started 2nd grade, where there weren’t many minorities in school except for a handful of Mexican laborers’ children and me. One day when I was in 3rd grade, Lee and his friends approached me on the playground and for no particular reason hailed me using the slur “Jap.” I had never been called that before (or since) but I knew it was fundamentally wrong. In retrospect, calling me that racial slur in the absence of malice or understanding of what they were doing felt more like the boys were ‘trying it out,’ rather than expressing a deep-seeded animosity for me or the Japanese race. Soon after this incident which included intervention by our teacher and a classroom presentation by my parents about Japanese culture, my talks with Lee on the bus resumed and we became even better friends. I know that’s weird to say but it never came up again.

I remember in 6th grade how Lee would rush to the swing set at recess and we’d all run over to watch him flip off the swings backwards or jump off with no hands. He performed the riskiest stunts and many of us were in awe of his fearlessness.

In 8th grade Social Studies class, we had a teacher known for saying such things as “You’re going to Hack City!” and “You want to play a game? I’ll play a game on your butt!” [That’s a direct quote by the way, etched in my memory forever.] Corporal punishment was in full effect and kids who got in-trouble actually got paddled (hard) in those days by teachers or the principal. But this ‘old school’ teacher, who was due to retire that year, was known for threatening (and carrying out) these ultimatums. I think it’s fair to say that everyone dreaded this class and because of that, defying him became a pastime for some of the more daring in our ranks. And that was where Lee came in.

In those days, the way the office and the rooms communicated was through a phone receiver/intercom. Because this teacher was hard of hearing and used hearing aids, there were times when he’d miss the quick BUZZ-BUZZ that indicated an incoming call. I was somehow appointed by this teacher to be the designated “phone answerer” during class. The problem with this was that the boys (i.e. Lee and the other guys) would yell “PHONE!” to disrupt the class even when the phone had not buzzed so then I would get chastised by our impatient teacher for not promptly jumping up to answer a phantom phone call. Another hearing aid ‘test’ would happen when the guys would start humming without looking like they were humming which prompted our teacher to adjust his hearing aid volume, sparking endless giggling and gloating at the achievement. It sure did make that otherwise boring class interesting. When not entertaining the masses, Lee was also voted the ‘Best Looking’ and ‘Best Dressed’ guy and landing in the top 3 for ‘Most Athletic’ and ‘Most Popular’ in our 8th grade yearbook. Impressive.

I searched in vain for the one photograph I knew I took of him in 1988 on “8th Grade Slave Day.” It’s where the girls ‘purchased’ the boys for a day and dressed them up in crazy outfits and made them do our bidding (within reason). I’m not sure who had ‘purchased’ Lee but he was dressed in a bikini and a grass hula skirt with a flower in his hair. He actually got off easy compared to the outfits some of the other guys had to wear.

When we crossed over into high school, Lee rode the bus less often, preferring to ride with people who had cars. I had less opportunities to talk to him and despite our small school, our social circles didn’t overlap much. By what would be our senior year, he had left Ridgefield HS and I didn’t know why or what he was doing. But I never forgot the roguish charm that won people over--that won me over--and all the crazy stunts, situations and conversations.

I looked through my old yearbooks last weekend, just--I don’t know, looking for something funny or optimistic. Instead I found something that I’d totally forgotten about in my 11th grade yearbook that he signed,

“I like you and consider you one of my best friends. I’m so glad that you are easy to get to laugh, it makes me feel good to make you laugh…”


"Your good friend, Love Lee”


From the boy I knew growing up, that was heart-breakingly high praise. Rest in peace, Lee.

(For anyone interested, there is a fund set up to help the family HERE.)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Thank you note to Southwest Airlines

Dear Southwest Airlines:
In recent memory, I cannot recall a flight experience so positive that I’ve been moved enough to write a note. But today your team impressed me beyond all expectations. 
Usually I write parenting memoirs about the horrors of traveling with children and the awful things that befall us on airplanes or in airports. But our trip today from Norfolk VA, connecting in Baltimore, MD and then home to Seattle WA, was the most pleasant journey on record and I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that your pilots, flight attendants and ground crews really made the difference. 
From the clever and funny in-flight instructions to the actually "attentive" flight attendants to the gate & ground crews who got our late-checked luggage on the plane to the unexpected invitation from both sets of pilots for my children to sit in the cockpits (during boarding), I am utterly impressed. 
Air travel can be like trudging through Dante’s Inferno with the numerous fees, increased security and general negative attitudes a traveler encounters. And now as a parent of two children under 6, the prospect of flying transcontinental, or even for short flights, feels like gearing up for battle. 
While I’m sure other airlines have good employees who do their jobs well, there is something in your culture that cuts through the drudgery and makes flying fun again.

Thank you so much for doing that.

Kali Sakai
Seattle, WA


Norfolk to Baltimore



 Baltimore to Seattle




Sunday, March 29, 2015

Monument Valley Game, where I enthusiastically jump on the bandwagon

The iOS/Android game, Monument Valley from USTWO, has already garnered a ton of praise and awards since it's release last summer. But it wasn't until watching House of Cards these last few weeks that I found out about it. The design and interaction are simply stunning. I love puzzle games and with the ethereal, calm, zen-like quality of the visuals, the soundtrack and chapter titles that read like Buddhist mantras, this game transforms into a mediative experience. I only wish there were more levels to explore since counting the the original plus the expansion upgrade there are only 18 total. It costs $6 on Android but the experience is like eating a small portion of the most delicious dessert you can think of: what it lacks in volume makes up in quality. With the game's success, I hope this means there are more chapters to come. This is the second great game from a London-based game studio that I've fallen in love with this year. Go Brits!







Monday, March 16, 2015

Live-action Cinderella: Don't forget the tissues


My biggest problem with the live-action Cinderella wasn't the ridiculous waistline or the being saved from one's circumstances by a man...

Warning: Spoilers ahead

Come for the Oscar-bait-costume-design and aspirational rags-to-riches story, stay for the not one, not two, but three intense scenes of children reacting to their parents dying.  Ahem.

When I decided to take Sidney last Sunday to see her first movie in a theater and chose the live action Cinderella, I thought I had a good idea of what we were in for. Having heard that Kenneth Branagh's version would be pretty true to the animated version, I felt reassured. But not so fast.

Be warned that Branagh's wheelhouse is chalk-full of Shakespeare and, just maybe or on purpose, some of that irresistible embrace of tragedy seeped into his film. We all know that Cinderella's father remarried and then subsequently died, leaving Cinderella to fend for herself amongst her stepfamily.  But in this movie we also get to see the "golden childhood" where both of her parents were happy, and alive, thus setting up an even more epic fall into grief, emotional abuse and a life of servitude. Watching young Cinderella bravely experience an extended deathbed scene with her mom, followed by a death-in-absentia of her father, is utterly heart-wrenching. However, I'll concede: that's part of the story that we already know.

But as an added 'bonus,' we get to see the death of the beloved King which installs our new prince charming as the head of state before finding and marrying Cinderella.  Another heart-wrenching deathbed scene with a parent and child. A death fatigue overtook me, as it weighed heavily on the story. By this third death, I started to doubt my parental instincts on how good of an idea this was, noting that my Kindergartener was sniffling right along with me. Poor girl. Even the plucky Helena Bonham Carter as the Ditzy Fairy Godmother couldn't totally right the ship and dry the tears fast enough. I know how Disney loves nothing better than to jeopardize healthy parent-child relationships because it removes steady authority figures and leaves our titular characters to make decisions for themselves. So they either separate, endanger or just kill parents.  Just take a second and think of pretty much any Disney film, then find that element.  So while I'd love to pin all the blame Branagh, it's not totally unexpected I suppose.

What is fascinating and deliciously interesting about this version is Cate Blanchett's Lady Tremaine aka the Evil Stepmother. When she finally reveals her motivations, we suddenly have a very real and chilling understanding of why she's been so cruel to Cinderella. It's a very human moment and she plays it fabulously. For a moment, I felt some compassion for her character which makes for juicy tragedy. I also felt this way for Angelina Jolie's Maleficent, though outside of her performance the plot and other actors aren't as up to the task. Regardless, it's fascinating to discover why people turn from light to dark.  What fuels their bitterness? (As long as we're getting to the bottom of motivations, I'd also love to know what happened to the Little Mermaid's Ursela to make her so vengeful. My money is on King Triton and some other fish in the sea, if you know what I mean. But we'll have to see about that one.)

Since Disney now seems bent on bringing all it's animated movies into live action, we may see more backstory, motivation and depth to some well known characters of our childhoods. Though we should also expect equal amperage to some of the more dark aspects as well.  Lesson learned.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Year of Living Dangerously

My 40th year just came to an end--a year of many firsts--so I wanted to made a list as a reminder that no matter how old you are, there is still lots to do, discover and aspire to.  Life is not over whenever you reach a certain milestone, no matter what pop culture would have you believe.








  






 



 




These aren't in any particular order.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

'Sam or I': the new social casual game from Absolute Hero Games

(Disclosure: Sponsored post but opinions are my own.)

The fine folks at Absolute Hero Games gave me a peek at their brand new game called Sam or I which comes out today and is available on Facebook HERE.  

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The verdict: I couldn’t stop going back for more of this killer gameplay mechanic.

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A Simply Unique Game
It’s really hard to find a stand-out game with a novel play mechanic that hasn’t been overdone. But this new social casual game by Absolute Hero Games, Sam or I, mashes up classic casual game mechanics of four major types of games: ‘block breaker’, platformer, side-scroller and puzzle then blends them all into something totally new and intriguing. Truth be told, I’ve played many, many casual games since I once worked in casual games. But Sam’s thoughtful artistic design is delightfully surprising to find in the social casual space. That’s also why this particular game’s well-balanced levels coupled with it’s novel hybrid game mechanic, make it an exciting addition on the Facebook platform (and soon, iOS & Android platforms).

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Sam or I is set in Feudal Japan and chronicles the journey of Sam, a plucky, young samurai-in-training, as she follows a map given to her by her grandfather sensei.  She uses her ‘martial arts skills’ to break through blocks between her and the keys at the end of the each level. The rich graphics and animations pay homage to the simplicity of ancient East Asian art. Meanwhile, the distinctive color palette and atmospheric background music really give it an inviting, optimistic vibe.




The Social Casual Element
Levels become more intricate as you progress. The Absolute Hero Games team balanced ‘clickable fun’ with focused concentration.  A player is best advised to be thoughtful and deliberate since Sam only has a limited number of moves to reach the end of each level. In her travels, Sam encounters combinations of basic color blocks, immovable stone blocks, locked blocks, burn-your-feet-and-subtract-moves lava blocks, and (my personal favorite) color-shifting chameleon blocks that can change your strategy in an instant.  Every day players are awarded a certain number of coins which can be used to buy various boosters that add to the number of moves allowed in a level, delete whole columns, undo turns, or eliminate all of one color block from the board. A player can also straight-up purchase coins for boosters which is the ‘throw-money-at-the-problem’ option.


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Female Factor
While casual games are typically made FOR the female demographic, it’s rare that they are actually made BY them. Two of the primary creative forces behind the game--lead developer, Lisa Wick and lead artist, Kaari King--are in fact women. “I think women are an asset to any healthy working environment. Their contribution can add a balance to any creative collaboration,” said King. “A lot of casual games are geared towards women as customers so it only makes sense that women should help to create those experiences.”


However, Sam or I is intended for a broader audience than the usual ‘women over 30’ demographic. "We believe this game will appeal to a very broad audience," said CEO Craig Robinson.


But shooting for a broad audience requires a lot of refining. “We had the freedom to explore and iterate on what worked/didn't work in every aspect of the game from start to finish,” added Wick. “The making of this game was very much a team collaboration.”   


King also enjoyed the collaboration and responsibility that comes in smaller teams. “I am grateful for the path that eventually led me to the casual game space which turns out to be my favorite type of game to make and play,” she said. “It includes colorful, happy graphics, small teams and short product cycles, where I have large ownership of the visuals for an entire game.”


I think the team’s gender balance is part of what allowed the game to have more depth and appeal. The play mechanic is sophisticated but not overly complex. The levels are impressively challenging as is the attention to detail. And all of this done in HTML5--not the easiest platform to develop highly-polished game graphics and animations.


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Absolute Hero Games & HTML5
The team at Absolute Hero Games started out two years ago doing contract-for-hire games but ultimately wanted to develop their own IP. Though all seven members are game developing veterans and hail from all corners of the industry (mobile, console, social, PC), Absolute Hero Games’ specialty is HTML5 social casual games. HTML5 is an exciting and efficient approach that allows one code base to be developed to target many different platforms, including Facebook, web browsers, mobile devices and tablets.


“The best thing about HTML5 is that it is capable of delivering a high-quality gaming experience across desktop and mobile browsers without the need for Flash or other plug-ins,” said King.  “Players don’t have to download a separate plug-in and developers don’t have to have separate codebase for each platform.”


Developing games in this way makes them much easier to scale and extend and Sam or I integrates the benefits of a social game like comparative rankings, in-game item share-ability and in-game purchases of boosters, coins, keys and accessories.


Sam or I is an invitingly subtle yet sophisticated, easy-to-learn social casual game that has overall appeal for a wide audience. And just like it says in the video, it's ‘small in size, big on power.’ Find Sam or I now on Facebook HERE.


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All images used with permission © 2015 Absolute Hero Inc.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Trapped in a Room with a Zombie


My crazy-wonderful husband who has a flair for the unique and the knack for the dramatic didn't just pick some random superhero movie off my Amazon wish list for Christmas, he meant to continue the theme of a "year of living dangerously" and pushing boundaries. In my stocking last December, I found a gift certificate to something called Trapped in a Room with a Zombie, for which I just had to set a date and invite 11 friends to solve all manner of clues and riddles to escape a room with a rabid zombie chained to the wall.  Um, what??? I was initially a bit horrified. Truth be told, zombies aren't my supernatural creature of choice. (That would be vampires.) So what the heck would this activity be like anyway?

We finally set the date, contacted our friends and booked the sitter. Then I started looking for reviews online just to make sure I had some idea of what we were getting ourselves into. I found myself growing more intrigued and delighted as I looked around and read feedback on this multi-city offering, it would challenge problem solving abilities and require team work with friends. That's a very good thing, I think, to put yourself (and friends) in safe but challenging situations. You feel surprisingly alive, like you might just be capable of anything. And not just capable of finding a missing Ravensburger puzzle piece under the couch or being able to assemble a dinner in 10 minutes with no planning. You know, big thinking.

One can do this Escape the Room activity with strangers if you sign up for an open, non-private party session but I loved that ours was with people we knew.  I announced to the group before we began, that all of us are parents (with kids ranging from 1-10 years old) so we all know how to multitask while a writhing uncooperative creature wails in the corner.  That's just 'Tuesday-morning-before-school' in my house. Oh really, is a zombie the best thing you got?  How about no sleep for 3 months with a beast that allows no other focus than itself and might as well be eating my brains because I couldn't remember a damn thing. But I digress.

We're sworn to secrecy not to reveal what the clues are like but suffice it to say, last Saturday's romp was very clever and fantastic challenge. In our group, self-named the 'Dirty Dozen', I was the first to fall to the Zombie as I took my focus off of her when looking around the room and misjudged how much chain length she had. We came very close to escaping the room though.  The best part was watching each of our friends find their niche and contribute to the effort. Some people are cool under pressure, some get a little more excitable. But best of all, we all got to do something out of the ordinary, making our tasty brains that much more full of juicy neural activity.

With a few more minutes, we would have succeeded in escaping the room. But only 30% are successful, so not great odds. They may change up to a whole new game with new clues and everything soon so we'll have to see if the 'Dirty Dozen' is up to the task again.

Until then, check it out yourself for some unconventional good times. Ugggggh. BRAINS!!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

New Alien Film: Stay Frosty




Many people say the filmmakers of The Godfather Part 1 & 2 should have stopped while they were ahead. Perhaps they didn’t realize what they had. Why tempt fate when you have perfection? But for me that soulmate transcendence, was in Alien & Aliens.  Two different approaches to a sci-fi alien story but both so symmetrical in their tone, urgency and resolve. Each movie contributed something new and perfect to form the ultimate pair.  


But as a fan, I couldn’t help but wearily welcome more installments after that, if for nothing else, to see our heroine and her beleaguered comrades again. Alas though all that came--from Alien 3 & 4 to Prometheus (yes, I said it) to Alien vs. Predator--was varying degrees of disappointment which reeked of misguided attempts and studio greed. The most egregious and unforgivable of the lot was Alien 3. In an attempt to get back to basics, the filmmakers made the infuriating and idiotic decision to kill off Hicks and Newt. I initially blamed newbie director David Fincher for this.  But it wasn’t until years later that I found out that he too was displeased with the story and the constraints placed on him by the meddling studio. So what little comfort I took hearing that the production had been plagued with endless issues, still left me brooding over what could and should have been. I know it sounds dramatic but I swear to you, there's no amount of fanfic in the world that could override this event as it was canon.


Until now.


Twenty-two years after the Alien 3 abomination, news comes that Neill Blomcamp, director of the impeccable District 9, will helm a reimagined new Alien 3 movie that will dismiss all the events of Alien 3 & 4 in favor of rounding the story out and giving it “a proper finish,” as Sigourney Weaver said recently, who will reprise her role as Ripley again. It will hopefully (please, please, please let it be true) ‘retcon’ or reimagine the fate of Hicks and Newt as well.

I figure, if Star Wars can be salvaged from the ashes of Lucas-meddling and absurdity, then perhaps Alien can be similarly reclaimed from lesser people who have ravaged and corrupted quite possibly one of best science fiction stories ever told.