Why Timothy Omundson is the Greatest Ever

timothy omundsonI was reminiscing on old times today, and I was reminded of my epic Sweet Sixteen present from my sister. Not only did she give me her old car (best sister ever award), but she also surprised me with a gift I never would have anticipated or thought of on my own. When I opened the trunk of the car, there were several framed photos of some of my favorite actors (most of them Twilight stars, as I was in my “vampire-romance-fanatic” phase), and they were all signed by the celebrities.
Apparently she had sent out several letters and photos to the actors a few months before my birthday, asking that they sign them and send them back to her. It was such a special, unique, thoughtful gift, and the best part was that it kept on giving long after my birthday was over. We got a few sporadic late replies, some of them months later, and it was always a fun surprise that brightened both of our days. The one surprise that stuck out more than any other, however, was the reply we got from Timothy Omundson a few months after my birthday.
My entire family has been a huge fan of Psych since the day it began, and my sister and I have always had a certain fondness for Lassie. She mailed him the following relatively old picture of himself, along with a letter explaining that we were huge fans of him and that the autographed photo would be a gift for my 16th birthday. When he replied to her request, we got a lot more than we bargained for.

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He signed the first photo, as requested, but given it was so old, he felt the need to mention that he had much more gray in his hair at this point. You can see that he also took the liberty of using his silver marker to make the picture a more accurate depiction of who he is, today.

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Along with the first picture, he also sent one of his newer, larger photos (which, by the way, means that he had to stamp his own envelope rather than using the self-stamped one that my sister sent along with the letter). Given that his reply was long past my birthday, he joked with us, signing, “This is a very very very very very very late birthday gift. You must be 26 by now.”
And as an added bonus, as if all of this wasn’t enough, he sent along another signed photo for my sister, as well. So all in all, Timothy Omunson greatly impressed me that day, and now, six years later, I still smile when I see that picture and think of the thought that he put into that response. It may not seem like a big deal to everyone, and in this day and age, some people tend to hold the skewed opinion that celebrities “owe us” fans this kind of respect, time, and thoughtfulness. But I’ve always been very bothered by that notion, and I don’t take little things like this for granted, as if simply by watching and enjoying a TV show, this strange man who’s never met me and has millions of other things going on in his life and vying for his time now owes me some kind of grand gesture for my birthday. It seems to me that as social media grows and celebrities become more and more accessible to their fans, this mindset of fan-entitlement has grown with it. (Not to say that everyone is like this…. Obviously there are other loyal, respectful fans out there, and I’m not under any arrogant delusion that I’m set apart from the rest of the world, but you’d be surprised how many people feel this way and release their frustrations on their favorite celebrities for not taking the time to reply to their tweet.)
So, as I reflected on this today, I thought I would take a moment to thank the kind, thoughtful, funny, talented Timothy Omundson for providing me with a lovely, special memory that I will always look on with a grateful smile. You didn’t have to put this much effort into my birthday present, but I’m glad you did.

Review: The Following

MV5BMTUxNTk0MjUwOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTE4MDc2NDE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_I’ve decided to use my first television review to honor one of my favorite shows: “The Following.” If “Doctor Who” didn’t exist, “The Following” would surely earn the place of being my all-time favorite show. Even so, it’s creeping its way up the ladder (especially after Season 8 of “Doctor Who,” but we’ll get to that later).

“The Following” is a dark drama that follows our rebellious, damaged hero, Ryan Hardy (played by the main man, himself, Kevin Bacon), as he assists the FBI with their manhunt for the charming, infamous serial killer and “cult leader,” Joe Carroll (played by the incredibly talented James Purefoy), who has escaped from prison. Over the course of its three seasons, “The Following” continues to provide surprising twists; introduce new, intriguing characters; and, given the dark nature of the show, provoke the sinister feeling that anything can happen. No one is safe, including many of our main characters. Though the series was canceled after three seasons, I would (and do) still recommend it to as many people as possible. Despite the abrupt halt, it’s worth your time, and, unlike many other shows that have ended unexpectedly, it still manages to leave us with a fairly satisfying conclusion.

The first thing that struck me as intriguing about “The Following” was how unique the story is. I’ve truly never seen anything like it, and with the plethora of available media these days, that’s not an easy feat. Aside from the invigorating plot, however, what continuously impressed me about this show was the amazing quality and incredible talent of everyone involved. After “The Following,” I now have many new favorite actors, and given their talent, I’m shocked that I had never heard of many of them prior to the show. Everyone knows Kevin Bacon rocks, and Shawn Ashmore has always been an old favorite of mine, since “Animorphs” and the “X-Men” films, but this show introduced me to a lot of new (or at least new to me) faces. James Purefoy, Valorie Curry, and Sam Underwood, in particular, have become some of my favorite actors, and I’m always anxious to see what new projects they may be working on (such as the beautiful short film “Bus Stop,” starring Sam and Valorie, created by Jamie Sims. Seriously, check that out like now: https://vimeo.com/106475235). I also believe that having such amazing talent from every actor involved has to be a sign of a good Director, so props to Marcos Siega for that.

Another aspect of “The Following” that blew me away was the writing. First of all, it can be tough to follow a story with so many characters, but the show never left me confused as other shows sometimes do. For example, in the recent seasons of “Vampire Diaries,” I often find myself sitting down to watch a new episode and I can’t remember what’s going on in the story because everything is too complicated and there are too many characters to follow. With “The Following,” however, not only was I never confused about the rabbit trails that were taken, but I actually cared about them. Even the smallest of characters, such as one of Joe Carroll’s loyal followers who is only on screen long enough to sacrifice themselves for him, were intriguing enough to make me wonder about who they were and how they got there. The writers of “The Following” were great at creating intricate back-stories for all of their characters, and those back-stories were always revealed at the perfect moments, little by little, just when we were starting to want to know more about them.

I think the biggest challenge the writers faced (and conquered), however, was the challenge of creating and maintaining a character that is so absolutely abhorrent, arrogant, psychopathic, and frightening… and yet, we still kind of like him…. We still kind of want Joe to “win” in some way. We still kind of don’t want him to go to jail, and we still kind of want him and Ryan to be BFFs and have sleepovers together. And the best part is, the writers didn’t just accomplish this once, but many times. At least in my opinion, they succeeded at maintaining this fragile balance with Joe, Luke, and Mark. Not to mention side characters that evoked such emotions, such as Emma, Jacob, Daisy, and probably many others that I can’t remember at the moment. That idea of creating a villainous character that everyone loves and feels some compassion for intrigued me so much, as a writer, that it inspired me to take on the challenge myself, which lead to the accomplishment of a goal I’ve been working toward my entire life: successfully finishing a novel of which I’m proud and my family enjoys. For that, I cannot thank the creators of “The Following” enough. I needed that inspiration to get back into the writing world, and it has since grown and developed into a deep passion that has become a core piece of who I am. Writing is in my blood; it’s who I am, and in the words of Joe Carroll, “I am inevitable.”

So, overall, watching (and re-watching… and re-watching) “The Following” has been an immense pleasure. It’s become an important part of my life and something I want to share with those close to me. If you have Netflix, you can start binge-watching now. Or, if you’re like me and already love the show, you can buy the entire series now, on DVD/BluRay! Also, if you feel like getting me a Christmas present, you can use this as a helpful guide.

Review: The Intern

The-Intern-Movie-PosterOne of my favorite ways to enter into a film-watching experience is with completely neutral expectations. It’s tough to accomplish that, but it helps if you choose a movie you don’t know anything about and for which you haven’t seen any trailers. “The Intern” falls under this category, for me, as it was a suggestion by my mother, and I had never heard of it when I arrived at the theater.

The reason I enjoy having neutral expectations is because I feel that my post-film opinions will be more accurate and less biased. That being said, I greatly enjoyed “The Intern.” Obviously Robert De Niro is fantastic, as is Anne Hathaway, and their chemistry on screen was easy and believable. The characters were intriguing and unique, the story itself was something very different from anything I’ve seen lately, and overall, everything about the movie just worked.

Something I’d like to address is the obvious underlying theme of feminism in this film. Now, as someone who cringes when she reads that word, due to the incredibly vast amount of negative experiences I’ve had with such individuals, I have to say that my feelings toward the many feminist comments in “The Intern” definitely surprised me. I never thought I would come away from a film that I would describe as having an “obvious underlying theme of feminism” and still have a positive view, not only of the film as a whole, but of the expressed views, themselves. On several occasions, I was nodding along with whatever comment was being expressed and muttering to myself “that’s what feminism should look like.” So, aspiring (or already self-proclaimed) feminists, watch “The Intern” and take notes.

For example, one of my favorite scenes in “The Intern” was the bar scene, in which Jules (Hathaway) is having a conversation with Ben (De Niro) and several of the young, male interns/employees from her company. She goes on a bit of tipsy rant about the way our society has begun referring to “girls” as “women” and to “men” as “boys.” She talks about how nurtured young girls are as they grow up, being constantly encouraged about their potential and strength and how they can do anything boys can do. Meanwhile, our young men have kind of gotten the short end of the stick. This is an opinion I’ve had for years, not just in relation to gender, but to any sort of social justice issue that has two definable “sides,” neither of which being better than the other.

For example, thin versus curvy. I was always thin growing up, and I grew up in a family of a lot of curvy people. Right around my teenage years is when the epidemic of promoting curves began. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with encouraging a curvy person about her body, but why, oh why, does it have to be at the expense of the opposition? Why have I heard so many men say things like this to curvy women, to boost their self-esteem: “I’d rather have a girl with curves, anyway! You don’t wanna be skin and bones and have no boobs. Gross!” (Yeah, yeah, that’s not how men talk, but you get what I mean.) It’s as if in order to encourage and build up one group of people, we have to neglect and put down the other. That’s just ridiculous. And as women, I think it’s a mindset we really need to work on changing. Think about how many times you’ve felt better about yourself because of someone else’s weakness. Have you ever gone to the drugstore in sweats and felt terrible about your appearance until you saw someone else who looked even worse than you? Can’t you see how sad that is? It’s sad because, firstly, you shouldn’t be judging your self on a comparison scale anyway, because you are 100% unique. There is no one in the world like you, so comparisons are frivolous. And secondly, it’s sad because it reaffirms in our minds the idea that we want other women to fail, to be less pretty than us, to be less successful than us, otherwise we can’t be happy. I think, in general, we all, men and women alike, could use to work on the balance of being able to be happy for someone else (even someone who has more than you) and happy for ourselves at the same time.

Okay, I’ll get off my soap box now. Well, that one, at least. Another reason I enjoyed the scene in the bar so much is because it depicted a self-proclaimed feminist standing up for the rights and privileges of men, which is something I’ve never seen before. Now before I get a bunch of feminists flocking to my door to tell me how wrong I am, I didn’t say it’s never happened; I said, in all of my many personal experiences in this department, I’ve never seen it. It was a refreshing anomaly to see someone who claims to fight for equality (not just women’s rights) actually doing it.

The rest of the film definitely addressed some other feminist-like issues, such as the women at Jules’ daughter’s school judging her for being a working mother (an issue that Ben resolved greatly in an epic moment that made you want to yell, ‘BOOM! Face!” at the screen), but it was all done very well and tastefully. Also, as a… we’ll say “feminism skeptic” like myself, I think the fact that the bar scene was so early on in the film was fortunate. It set the tone for the rest of the film, essentially saying, “Yes, we are going to talk about feminism, but it’s going to be different than what you’ve heard in the past, so hang in there.” At least, that’s what the scene accomplished for me. If you already have positive views of feminism, you wouldn’t need that scene to be able to enjoy the film, but some people might need a little bit of encouragement to get on board.

Another thing I want to address is a bit of a spoiler, so if you’re planning to see this movie and you don’t want to know how it ends, maybe skip this paragraph. There’s a great scene, near the very end of the film, in which Jules discusses with Ben the fact that her husband is having an affair. It’s a sweet, real moment as they sit in her hotel room and talk about the situation. I loved how open and honest she is about her feelings, acknowledging that despite her anger, she feels partly responsible because of the success and responsibility her company has brought, taking time away from their marriage. The writing in that scene is fantastic, because everything she’s feeling is completely relate-able and we feel for her having to admit those feelings aloud. It’s also another great moment for Ben to step in and save the day, reminding her that she shouldn’t have to apologize for the success that she’s worked so hard for, and, more importantly, she absolutely shouldn’t have to apologize for her husband choosing to have an affair.

Overall, I thought “The Intern” was a great film. It had well-established, strong, interesting characters and a story that was real, heartwarming, and easy to connect with. On top of all of that, it goes deeper than just warm and fuzzy by addressing some important, valuable lessons and issues in our society that we have likely all experienced in some capacity. If you’re looking for a way to spend your weekend, try to catch “The Intern” in theaters before it leaves. It’ll be worth it.

Review: No Escape

downloadAfter deciding to jump back into the blogging world (you can easily tell from my previous movie review of “Annabelle” that it’s been about a year), I started thinking about what to write. Looking back over my previous posts, I was reminded of how much I enjoy reviewing films, so I searched my mind for any particularly good (or particularly bad) films I’ve seen lately, and I remembered “No Escape.”

From the minute the credits began rolling at the conclusion of the film, I said, “That was the best movie I’ve seen in a really long time.” Unfortunately, I don’t think the trailers did this movie justice, as I very nearly almost didn’t see it. Thankfully, my husband made the suggestion one night, and I was bored, so I figured what the heck. I had mediocre expectations for this film, but even if my expectations had been much higher, I still believe it would have exceeded them.

Watching “No Escape” is an almost unbearably intense experience. It’s one of those movies in which, once the screen goes black and the credits appear, you realize you haven’t been breathing for the past hour and a half. I found myself taking deep, calming breaths from the theater, to my car, and all the way back to my house. I believe the intensity of the film hits you hard and stays with you long after the credits roll because the writing and direction were absolutely fantastic. Drew and John Erick Dowdle have created a story that is so raw and real, one which takes real-life situations that simultaneously tug at our heartstrings and illicit unnerving fear. The rooftop scene was intense. The realism of the simple worries of children, such as being hungry or needing to go to the bathroom was heart-wrenching. The (spoiler alert) almost-rape scene undoubtedly had every woman in the theater clenching their legs shut in anxious anticipation. All of these moments, and more, were so powerfully relateable and came alive through the help of talented actors and good direction by John Erick Dowdle. Although the film is much more “action” than “horror,” and there aren’t many “jump” scenes involved, there is an underlying fear that grips you tightly throughout the entire story.

Another reason I believe “No Escape” succeeded at inciting very powerful, realistic fear is because of some great casting decisions. I have to admit, when I saw the previews for this movie, I thought, “Owen Wilson? Really?” I love the guy, but I’ve never seen him in this type of a role before, and I wasn’t entirely convinced that he could handle it. After watching the film, however, I realize that casting a more “Average Joe” kind of guy to play the lead role was brilliant. It goes back to the fact that the reason the story is so powerful is because you, as a viewer, are bombarded with the constant, unnerving idea that “this could happen to anyone.” Being that the story follows an average dad traveling with his family for his somewhat average job, I think it’s more than fitting that the “hero” in the tale be an average guy. So, seriously, well done on that casting choice.

Another thing that I enjoyed about the writing: in the midst of all of this fear and chaos and quick-decision-making, a dad still has to be a dad and a mom still has to be a mom. The children in this story were in that perfectly frustrating age-range in which they understand that something bad is going on and they should be afraid, but they’re not fully aware of the danger of the situation. I loved that Owen Wilson’s character, Jack, continuously pushed his wife to be more brutally honest with their kids about what was happening, because they needed to know. As it was said on my favorite BBC show, “Doctor Who,” “Fear is a superpower. Fear can make you faster and cleverer and stronger.” Those kids needed fear, and Jack made sure they had the appropriate amount, not too much and not too little. Though fear is important, I also enjoyed the fact that the writers never let us forget that we are watching a family, not just a group of strangers banding together for survival, and every family has their own form of humor. One of my absolute favorite moments in the film was after the infamous “rooftop scene.” The family is gathered together on the ledge of a building as mom and dad try to figure a way out of this situation, and one of their young daughters says she’s hungry. Mom and dad exchange a heartfelt glance, knowing they can’t provide her with the food she needs. After a short moment, Jack simply replies with the ever-so-classic, “Hi Hungry, I’m Dad.” It was a brilliant moment, reminding us of every struggle these parents are going through, because this isn’t just about staying alive; it’s about keeping their sanity, staying as positive as possible, and making sure their children will be okay once all of this is over.

Overall, “No Escape” was an incredible film in many ways. I can’t think of anything lacking in the story, and although it is one of those films that makes you say, “That was great, but I don’t want to watch it again,” after a few months of recovery, I’m itching for the day it is released on DVD/Blu-ray. It’s one for the Christmas list, this year. 5 stars.

Review: Annabelle

Annabelle-posterSo I’ve seen a few really great movies in the past couple weeks, but the first film I’ve felt compelled to write about is “Annabelle.” Maybe it’s because bad memories tend to make a bigger impression than good ones. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of positives to the movie, but overall I was not very impressed.

When it comes to horror flicks, I’m a bit of a baby. I love them to death, but I am not very difficult to scare. That being said, “Annabelle” was riddled with many of what I call “jump scenes,” but lacked any kind of real fear. Think of the difference between “When a Stranger Calls” (jump scenes) and “Insidious” (real fear that will stay with you long after the credits roll). Given that this film is associated with “The Conjuring,” I expected a little more in that department, since “The Conjuring” was the first movie that ever made me close my eyes and swear that I would never watch a horror movie again.

Before I jump into what I believe is the biggest negative aspect of “Annabelle,” I will note one very huge positive: the husband. Most horror films exhibit the same pattern of women being home along with the kids and seeing terrifying things and the husband just basically blowing them off completely and telling them there’s nothing to worry about. The husband in “Annabelle,” however, definitely changes that stereotype. From the moment bad things start happening to Mia, John is nothing but supportive and continues to be supportive throughout the entire film. There is only one moment in which John suggests that perhaps Mia is just exhibiting symptoms of postpartum depression or stress, but given the circumstances, it was a very reasonable assumption and was not an offensive suggestion. Another positive aspect of the film that goes along with John’s unwavering support of his wife is that, until the very end, neither Mia or John ever did anything that made me want to yell/throw my popcorn at the screen. Both characters were relatively wise in their decisions and in how they chose to handle the incredibly difficult situations they were put in.

Now that I’ve said something nice, I will get to the part that has inspired me to write about this film. The following is all written from the perspective of a Christian who is deeply in love with Jesus and respects her faith and her God. If you have no interest in religion, you probably won’t care much about my opinions here. That being said, let’s discuss the problems. Problem number one, it is clear from the beginning of the film that Mia and John are Catholic and care about their faith. However, there is literally only one moment in the entire film in which Mia finally says “God, please,” which might have just been a common phrase rather than a literal cry to God for help. I don’t see how a Catholic family who is being attacked by demons – a very obviously spiritual battle – wouldn’t be crying out to their God in that time of need. Problem number two, even the Priest who came to their house to “help them” never once prayed with them or offered any kind of spiritual consoling. He did offer (mini spoiler alert) to bring the doll that was believed to be possessed to the church, theorizing that perhaps a “sacred” place would weaken the demonic power. But even then, driving to the church with the doll, not a word was uttered to the Lord. No prayers, no pleas for help, no rebuking statements of God’s power. I would hope that wouldn’t be how my Pastor would handle that situation. And finally, problem number three, which deserves its own paragraph and, by the way, contains major spoilers.

In the middle of the film, Mia meets a woman named Evelyn who lost her daughter in a car accident. Evelyn says that at one point in her life, while attempting suicide, she heard her daughter’s voice tell her that God wasn’t finished with her and that He had bigger plans for her future. Great message, right? Absolutely. God definitely has plans for all of us and nobody is ever hopeless with the Lord. He can and will redeem any situation and wipe any tears. But the message is all downhill from there. (Here it is, people: spoilers. If you want to see this movie, I would suggest you stop reading now, as I am about to describe the ending in great detail.) At the very end of the movie, we basically discover that the demons attacking Mia, John, and their baby, Leah, are after one thing and one thing only: a human soul. More specifically, Mia’s. They are constantly threatening and attacking her baby, Leah, leading Mia to believe that they want her baby’s soul. Once Mia realizes that they could be satisfied with her soul instead (which was really their plan all along, given that a soul needs to be offered, and a baby isn’t capable of offering her soul), she does what any good mother would at least consider and decides to give the demons what they want so they will leave Leah and John alone. Evelyn and John enter the room just as Mia is about to leap from her apartment window. At the last second, John snatches her RIGHT out of the air (friend points if you can tell me what that’s from). As John is consoling Mia and reminding her that he and Leah need her to stay alive, Evelyn steps into the window and says that she will take Mia’s place, to end this battle for them, because, and I quote, “This is what my daughter was talking about.” So essentially she is saying that God’s bigger plan and purpose for her life, that her daughter was referring to, was to eventually kill herself and sell her soul to the Devil. Absolutely and positively absurd. Given that this was so completely incorrect and offensive to anyone who believes in God, and given that this was basically the highlight (or climax) of the entire film, with everything leading up to this one big moment, I definitely wouldn’t give this movie my seal of approval.

Overall, the main issues I had with Annabelle were surrounded by religion. So if you’re not a religious person, maybe you will enjoy it. Honestly, even without the religious stuff, I would probably only give this movie three stars. It absolutely had some redeeming qualities, and it was not insufferable to watch. I enjoyed my experience, but it isn’t something I would see again, even given the fact that I didn’t have to pay for it. So, in conclusion, three stars if you don’t care about the religious issues, two if you do.

Review: Let’s Be Cops

download (1)When I first saw previews for “Let’s Be Cops” I thought, “Finally, something original.” Is it just me or are screen writers getting less and less creative these days? I feel I can accurately lump an overwhelmingly large majority of recent movies into one of five categories:

  1. superhero movies
  2. Disney/fairytale re-makes, with a twist
  3. movies about cars
  4. sequels
  5. movies adapted from books

Don’t get me wrong, there have been some occasional variations from these categories, such as “Transcendence,” “The Lego Movie,” and “Neighbors” (and it’s worth noting that it took me far too long to even find three examples). However, for the most part, I’m getting rather bored with the current creative levels of our screen writers. Nowadays, it seems that if any movie appears “original” or “different,” to me, I end up finding out that it was a book first. I have nothing against making books into movies, but I find it interesting that there haven’t been a lot of films released recently that have a unique plot that was entirely created by a screen writer. Until, of course, “Let’s Be Cops.”

The name, alone, sets the stage for a theme of nonchalant law-breaking, which is obviously a recipe for laughs. The movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, which allows the characters and the plot to follow an absurd, unrealistic story that gives the viewers a sense that anything can (and probably will) happen.

Given that I have been less than impressed with recent film plots, the fact that “Let’s Be Cops” was an original idea that I had never seen before intrigued me. Unfortunately, however, I had “22 Jump Street-like” expectations for the film, and they definitely fell short. I appreciate the comedic relief that Jake Johnson provides to his role as Nick, in “New Girl,” however his acting (and that of Damon Wayans Jr.) in this film was less than impressive. I believe this reveals the importance of good writing, as an actor is only as good as the script they are provided with. (Obviously there are immensely talented actors out there who can shine no matter what the circumstances, but my point is that the mediocre ones are only able to shine brightly when given good direction, cleverly created stories, and well-written lines.) Watching “Let’s Be Cops,” I was expecting the gut-busting hysteria of the Jump Street films, and I believe I only “lol’ed” once or twice. It was humorous, but not hilarious.

All in all, I think it was worth the time and money to appreciate and support a unique plot line, regardless of its execution, but I wish the film would have lived up to my expectations. Nevertheless, I applaud the idea and hope Luke Greenfield and Nicholas Thomas continue to expand their imaginations and create intriguing stories, hopefully with a better end result in the future.

Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

tnmtSo I just returned from watching the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, and I have a few thoughts to share.

Firstly, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by Megan Fox’s performance. Who knew she would have just as much appeal fully clothed and playing a role with some depth as she did in, well, every other movie she’s been in? I mean, she’s no Jennifer Lawrence, but I was impressed by her tonight. I’ve never been a fan of hers, but if she keeps taking roles like April O’Neil and challenging herself (and succeeding) to become more than just a pretty face and a sultry persona, she just might turn me. Into a fan, I mean.

Secondly, once my mom pointed out that Tony Shalhoub was the voice of Splinter, every word that came out of his mouth sounded ridiculous to me, because I couldn’t stop picturing Adrian Monk. Seriously, watch that movie while picturing Adrian Monk saying all of Splinter’s lines and try to take him seriously. You just can’t.

In addition to being distracted by Tony Shalhoub’s voice, I spent a good chunk of the movie wondering (spoiler alert?) how my childhood pets would have turned out had they grown up to become crime fighting ninja warriors, and this is what I came up with.

I think my cocker spaniel/poodle mix, Pepper, would have been the underdog (pun intended) that everyone roots for. She always had a lot of spunk for her size, and she probably spent 80% of her time on earth sitting on the top of our couch, taking watch of the neighborhood from our front window and barking at anything that moved. You just knew she was ready to take action when needed, though she probably wouldn’t have actually lasted long in a legitimate fight. But dang it if she wouldn’t go in guns a blazing, anyway!

Misty is a different story. Misty was our pomeranian that followed two steps behind my mom wherever she went, laid by the front door and sulked until my mom returned from her errands, and was too fat to jump onto the couch (or possibly even just to jump, in general). I don’t think there would be much of a place for Misty on a mutant ninja team. Either she would die in the first battle or she would just be left behind to hold down the fort while the real warriors fight. But who knows? Maybe there’s potential for a redemption story sequel in there, where the rest of the team finds themselves in a predicament that only Misty can rescue them from. (But I really doubt it.)

I realized, as I was half-watching the movie and half-day dreaming about my fantasy pet ninjas, that Michelangelo is pretty much a carbon copy of how my sister’s Siberian husky, Misha, would be, if he were a mutant ninja warrior. And I’m not just saying that because I’m too lazy to think of my own character. I honestly can’t think of any better way to describe him than Michelangelo, and I’m sorry that now you’re all jealous of what a hilariously amazing animal we had.

This leaves us with our cat, Mittens. Mittens would undoubtedly be the leader of the whole operation, because, well, she’s a cat. I don’t think she would take as parental of an approach to her leadership as Splinter did, however. This would definitely be a full-fledged dictatorship.

Overall, I don’t know how my pets would fare in a life of heroism. Probably not very well, with Pepper’s over-ambition but lack of execution, Misty’s complete inability to go for a 20 minute walk without wheezing to death (also, did I mention she eventually went blind in one eye and almost completely deaf?), Misha’s excitability and inevitable insubordination (he tried to eat Mittens on many occasions), and Mittens’ totalitarian rule. But I suppose we will never know for sure.

Lastly, I have to say, one of my favorite parts of the theater experience tonight was seeing all of the young children who were simply ecstatic to be watching their heroes on the big screen. I saw one little boy wearing a Ninja Turtle chest plate t-shirt and a shell backpack, and another little boy sitting next to my parents had a toy sword that he would whip out and swing around whenever the turtles were fighting with their weapons. During rest times, he would, of course, store it in the back of his t-shirt, or “sheath.” There’s always something exciting about banding together with fellow movie-goers to enjoy something you are all mutually interested in, but there’s something even more special about children and parents getting to enjoy that hype and excitement together. Whether they are my kids or someone else’s, I will always be inspired by generations coming together to share special memories of something that is nostalgic and meaningful to both parties.

The Porn Struggle

For the past year, I have struggled with the issue of pornography. Recently God spoke to me through the reading of Galatians 5, and I feel He is leading me to share this with anyone else out there who has struggled with this problem or is currently struggling. I pray this helps lead others deeper into the path of freedom through Christ.

 

Galatians 5

 

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

 

Break this addiction because you are free! You don’t need to be a slave to your body anymore – the Lord is the Master, and He grants you the power – His power – to not give in!

 

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

 

Break this addiction because you love God and you have faith that His power is strong enough to help you. Focus sharply on your love for Him. Express that love through faithful obedience and surrender.

 

You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the One who calls you…. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay, whoever he may be.”

 

Break this addiction because you want to run a good race and get back on the path of obeying truth. God has called you to so much more. And take heart that justice will always prevail, in the end.

 

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge in the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”

 

Break this addiction because it is sinful nature; you want to live in godly nature. This verse also speaks to the fact that we are all connected. Indulging in sinful nature is not serving one another in love. There is a second option. Take it.

 

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature…. [I]f you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.”

 

Break this addiction by living by the Holy Spirit. Spend time with the Lord, worship Him, read His word, fill yourself with truth and love that overflows, and you will not give satisfaction to the desires of your sinful nature.

 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self control. Against such things there is no law.”

 

Don’t focus solely on putting off sin. Focus also on putting on righteousness. The two are so deeply intertwined that you cannot achieve one without the other.

 

Finally, remember, “[t]hose who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

 

Break this addiction because it is not you anymore – in fact, it never was. God has always had bigger plans for you. You live by the Spirit, not by flesh, and “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, and the new has come.”

Believe it, accept it, and live by it.

How I Save

 

One of my newly discovered favorite hobbies is couponing! I wanted to share some tips from my many hours of searching for ways to save money using coupons, online reward systems, and rebate apps. Here are the 5 biggest money saving techniques I use and how I use them. Enjoy 🙂

 

Sunday Coupons

Every Sunday I get as many copies of the Sunday paper as possible. Right now, I get about three copies per week. One I get delivered to my house, one from my husband’s company, and one from my Grandpa’s house (usually from the week before, after he’s done with the paper). It’s always best to get your hands on as many copies of coupons as possible, because if you find a great deal, such as an item that ends up being free, you want to be able to stock up on as many of that item as possible. Don’t go overboard, though, because coupons and sales will be back eventually. It’s a good rule of thumb to get enough to last you at least six months.

 

The best way to save with Sunday morning coupons is to match them with other sales/deals/rebates. For example, I will layout one of the best deals I’ve gotten since I began couponing.

Usually I get Suave body wash for about $1.88 for 12 ounces. It’s a relatively good product, but I’ve found that Dove is much better. It smells better, it moisturizes better, and you don’t have to use as much of it because it’s better quality. I found a coupon in the Sunday paper for $1.00 off Dove body wash. At Target, Dove body wash twin packs were on sale for $7.00 each. Generally Dove body wash is about 5 dollars each for one, so that’s already a good deal. In addition to that deal, Target was running a special that if you buy two Dove twin packs, you get a $5.00 gift card back. This deal combined with coupon made me able to get 4 Dove body washes (24 ounces each) for $8.00 total, which boils down to $2.00 each, making it only a fraction more than the Suave. So you’re getting twice as much of a better product for only 12 cents more. (It’s worth mentioning that if I had multiple copies of that Sunday paper, I could have saved an extra dollar by using two separate manufacturer $1.00 off coupons, one for each twin pack, making the grand total of each Dove 24 oz. body wash actually less than the Suave 12 oz.)

 

Rebate Apps

Another way that I save, primarily on groceries and toiletries, is by using rebate apps on my iPhone. Again, you get the most out of your savings if you pair the rebates up with other coupons and sales. The three rebate apps that I use are as follows:

 

Checkout 51 – This app has many deals that can be redeemed at any store. You just buy the product, submit your receipt, and receive your rebate. The only negative I have found with Checkout 51 is that you can only cash out your rebates once you hit $20. After you hit $20, they send you a check in the mail.

 

Shopmium – Shopmium isn’t quite on par with Checkout 51 and Ibotta, in my opinion. There aren’t as many deals and they don’t recycle as often. It will be several weeks before you get new products available on Shopmium, and you cannot receive a rebate for the same item more than once. It does, however, transfer the amount of your rebate to your PayPal account immediately, which is a huge advantage over Checkout 51.

 

Ibotta – Ibotta is the only one of my three apps that specifies which store you have to buy an item from. There will be different deals available for various participating stores, including Walmart, Target, Winco, Safeway, and many others. (Ibotta does also offer rebates for things other than groceries, such as clothing, but I generally don’t take advantage of those offers.) Ibotta works the same as any other rebate app – you buy the product, submit your receipt, and receive your rebate. As far as how fast you get your rebate, Ibotta is sort of in between Shopmium and Checkout 51. Once you hit $5, you can transfer your money to your PayPal account.

 

Target Cartwheel

Target Cartwheel is one of my favorite apps to use because generally coupons and rebates are only applicable to name-brand products, which are already slightly more expensive than the generic brands. The best thing about Cartwheel is that it is Target’s app, which means many of the items on the app are Target’s brand, which is already cheaper than most name brands. When using Cartwheel, I search the products for things I have coupons for or that I know are on good sales. Once you find items you want to save on, you add them to your list (which can hold up to 16 items at a time). Then, before you pay at the store, you have the cashier scan the barcode on your phone. (If you don’t have a smartphone, this is all available online as well, and you can print your barcode before heading out to shop.)

 

Reward Systems

The reward systems I use are basically all relatively similar, so I will lump them together.

 

Shopkick is an app on your phone that gives you points to walk into certain stores and to scan certain items at those stores. I got over 800 points today, just visiting a few stores and scanning a few items. The best thing about this app is that you get points just for walking into the store! You don’t have to go out of your way. If you’re at Target, open your Shopkick app and you’ll get points simply for being there. After a while, you can redeem your points for various available rewards.

 

Bing Rewards is another easy system to use. Simply set Bing up as your primary search engine, and you will get one point for each search you make. The only downside is that the rewards aren’t very high value (mostly gift cards, up to $5). But, hey, it’s something!

 

Points2Shop and MyPoints are both websites in which you can register, fill out surveys, respond to emails, and do various other tasks to get points and receive rewards.

 

Last but not least… Websites

Obviously (or maybe not, if you haven’t heard) you can get online coupons directly from the store websites (target.com, walmart.com, ect.). These are great because they can be used in combination with manufacturer’s coupons. For example, if you have a manufacturer’s coupon for one dollar off a bottle of Tide laundry detergent, you can use a similar Target coupon on the same item. Manufacturer’s coupons can only be used one per item, so it’s good to try to stack them with the store coupons, since you can use them together.

My two other favorite websites to visit for couponing or just scoring good deals are TheKrazyCouponLady.com and raininghotcoupons.com. Both of these sites provide a lot of great information, such as what deals are currently going on in stores, what coupons you can find to match up, freebies you can find in stores and online, and many other great tips for saving money!

 

 

So, basically, this has been life for the past few months. I always love to save money in any way I can, and I’m so excited about all of the new ways I’ve found to do that. I couldn’t help but share it with all of you! I hope you’ve learned a little bit and been able to see that you don’t have to spend 40 hours a week on a couponing career, like the people on TLC’s “Extreme Couponing,” in order to get fantastic deals and help save money for your family

 

Gentleness is Courageous

Recently I have been struck by how increasingly negative our society has become. The anonymity and informality of online communication allows us to say things to people that we would never say to their face. Now there is a time and a place for that kind of increased confidence, such as providing an avenue for introverts to invest in friendships that might otherwise have not developed, but aside from a few exceptions, I believe the internet has created an unhealthy interpretation of “freedom of speech” that can lead to serious issues in our society.

 

Cyber bullying has become a widely discussed issue in recent years, and I believe this entire issue can be traced back to that same false idea that words read from a screen have no effect, or less of an effect, on the person reading those words than if they had been spoken aloud. In my eyes, the issue of cyber bullying is not just about cruel people who continuously ridicule their peers in a harsh way that leads to serious emotional damage or even, in the worst cases, suicide. The phrase “cyber bullying,” to me, can be applied to even the smallest cases of taking joking (or what internet-savvy teens would call “trolling”) one step too far. Many things need to be considered when teasing people over the internet.

 

Firstly, remember that sarcasm doesn’t always translate over text. Everyone knows it is difficult to convey tone through the written word. This can lead to hurt feelings or worse. Secondly, you have to consider your REAL LIFE relationship with the person with which you are speaking. For example, if you wouldn’t make an inappropriate remark about someone’s appearance in the workplace, because such a comment would border on sexual harassment, don’t make the same comment to your boss via social media. There is a time and a place for jokes, but the relationship stays the same regardless of venue. Thirdly, and I believe absolutely most importantly, please, please, think before you type. More specifically, think about the comment you are about to make and whether or not you would make that same comment if the person was standing right in front of you. Would you shy away from such a comment to avoid conflict? If so, why are you inviting conflict into your relationship online? Would you keep these thoughts to yourself because you’re afraid it would hurt their feelings? If so, realize that just because you can’t see them and might not have to deal with the consequences of your rudeness, they will still be hurt. On one of my favorite shows, “How I Met Your Mother,” Ted describes breaking up with a girl over the phone because he didn’t want to see her cry, to which his friend Lily replies, “Well, guess what. She cried. You just didn’t have the sack to face those tears.” Words can hurt whether or not you stick around long enough to see the outcome.

 

These are not thoughts directed at anybody in particular, but simply musings on a topic I feel passionately about. It bothers me that people say things online that they would never say in “reality,” all the while forgetting that reality doesn’t stop when you turn on your computer. There is, however, a way everyone can help change this. Aside from the obvious advice I’ve already given (thinking before you type, realizing the complications involved in internet conversations, etc.), I would love to see positive people changing the whole spirit of the media (and the “real” world, as well) by going above and beyond these simple precautions. I have decided that once a week, I will publicly (via Facebook) encourage one person in any way I choose. Sure, I could do this privately, just to make someone’s day a little more pleasant, but I think there is something important about making a public statement of encouragement and love for everyone to see. Not only will it effect the person being encouraged, but it it may even bring a smile to the face of a stranger, simply by witnessing a rare act of selfless, unreciprocated kindness. We’ve all heard “pay it forward” stories, and this is such a simple way to initiate this positive behavior. It only takes a moment of your time to extend an encouraging word to someone you care for, and it could create an amazing ripple effect.

 

So, to conclude, I would like to encourage you all to encourage others, in whatever way possible. In the beginning of this post I mentioned freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing our country has to offer, but it was largely created for protection from persecution. It is not something to be abused or taken lightly. Use your freedom wisely by choosing to spread love and encouragement with your speech. When you step into the grocery store after a long day of exhausting work, take a moment to remember that the cashiers have had just as long a day as you have. Give them a smile, a kind word, or a “great job.” When you see someone having a tough day, even if you have no idea what’s going on in their life, let them know they’re in your thoughts or prayers. Take a little lesson from the seven dwarfs and whistle while you work (or, if you’re like me and can’t whistle, a simple smile will do) because attitude, whether good or bad, is contagious. When you encounter trials, remember that life is huge, and your hardship is just a moment. Your trials may just be those classic “third world problems” like losing your wifi connection, or they may be serious burdens on your heart, but I guarantee there is someone out there suffering more than you and there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how long that tunnel may be. Don’t let the little things (or even the big ones) steal your joy. You can be sad. You can be hurt. You can be angry. But above all of those things, in the midst of them, even, be joyful. And take heart! For Christ has overcome the hurts and trials of this world, and He is right there beside you, guiding you through each and every one.

 

I hope to remind you all that you don’t have to donate thousands of dollars to charity in order to make a difference in the world. “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” Start stepping in the right direction in your everyday life, in your community, in your family, and even simply within yourself.

 

Cheers to creating a kinder world.