Monday, June 30, 2014

Jonas Reviews The Muffin Dragon

Jonas reviews one of my favorite books from childhood, The Muffin Dragon . . . sort of.    Click HERE to view on YouTube or click on the video below.

Happy Monday, everyone!


Monday, June 23, 2014

Jonas Reviews Star Wars Angry Birds Toys

This week Jonas "reviews" one of his favorite toy collections - Star Wars Angry Birds!  Sorry, this one's a bit on the longer side, but it's worth it(though that may be parental bias)!  Either click the link or check out the embedded video below to watch!


Monday, June 16, 2014

Jonas Reviews Mega Man 5

Jonas, like his daddy, loves his Mega Man games!  Actually more than his daddy--at 3 years old he can litearlly name nearly every one of the robot masters from Mega Man 1-10, every supporting character, and even some of the more obscure robot masters from a couple of the Gameboy Mega Man games.

So, here's Jonas's "review" of the 1993 NES(Nintendo Entertainment System) classic, Mega Man 5, as played on the 3DS Virtual Console.  Click the link below to watch it on YouTube, or click play on the embedded video.  Enjoy!


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Throwback Thursday 6/12/2014

Wow, I can't believe it's been almost 5 years since my first and only skydive.  Maybe I can talk my wife into letting me go again . . . 



Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Warrior Wednesday 6/11/2014 - Staying Motivated

So, a couple months ago, as you may have read on here, I started an initiative to get back into jogging, a hobby that I truly enjoy(yeah, some would find that crazy).  I love the natural energy that jogging a few times a week gives me, and most of my story ideas are formed during my runs.  

Last June, I had some trouble with a protruding disc, causing both lower back pain and nerve pain.  Even after physical therapy, when I was feeling better, I'd fallen out of my jogging habit.  It took me the greater part of a year, but I was finally struck by how much that bothered me.  Therefore, I signed up for last month's North Carolina Warrior Dash and started this blog feature as a way to give me a sense of accountability to get back into jogging and improve my health.

Now here I am, nearly a month beyond the Warrior Dash.  Am I still motivated.  I'm proud to say that's a big yes.

I've already run 2 5Ks since the Warrior Dash and, excluding last week and this week, have averaged about 10 miles a week.  Last Wednesday saw me doing something to aggravate my back for the first time in months, sudden stabbing pain striking me about a mile and a half into a morning run.  Somehow, the issue resolved itself(with the help of prescription anti-inflammatories, that is) by Friday, and against my better judgement, I ran the aforementioned 5K, mainly because I'd already paid for it, and I'm stubborn(read - stupid) like that.  Thankfully, it went well, and I'm still mostly pain free.

That's a lot of set up for the simple point I'd like to make.  While I probably should have taken the safer route and skipped the race, taking part in it made me realize that my motivation to run and my love of the activity is there, and it's as strong as ever(I don't recommend anyone taking a risk like that to come to such a realization).  

Along with my 5Ks, my son Jonas ran in the 1/2 mile fun runs associated with each.  I will never push him to run, but as long as he gets excited when I ask if he wants to do a race, I'll let him do as many as he wants.  I would love to have him by my side for a full 5K.  

I'm not sure anyone reading this even cares about this, but I mean it to show that A)Taking control of something that you've lacked in your life over a long period of time is possible if you want it bad enough, and B)It's possible to maintain the motivation to keep that something going.  And I'm not just talking about physical health.  How many times have you realized that you haven't made time for a favorite hobby as simple as making time to read?   We all have something we enjoy doing that we have grown increasingly distant from.  Try to think about something you wish you had time for, or that you lost touch with due to past circumstances and simply haven't gone back because you've become so used to not doing it.  

Now, make some time for it this week.  See how it goes.  Maybe you'll fall in love with it all over again.

Jonas says, "You can do it!"  

And as a quick side note, Happy Birthday to my amazing and beautiful wife, Miranda!


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Top-Ten Tuesday - Favorite Childhood Cartoons

Top-Ten Tuesday - Favorite Childhood Cartoons

I typically try not to write much about my choices in my top ten lists, mostly because being, by definition, my favorites of any given topic, I could go on for pages and and pages and eventually have a book's worth of fanboy ramblings before I could even write my next real book.  Still, some topics I can't help but say a little about, so here is a longer-than-usual top-ten list - my top ten favorite cartoons from my childhood.

10. The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin

Not only did I have a Teddy Ruxpin, but I loved this cartoon as a child.  The problem was, as a child, I was only able to see it when we rented one of the VHS collections(along with a VCR since we didn't own one at the time).  Because of this, I never saw more than the first few episodes, which at least included the ones I had the books of with my Teddy Ruxpin toy.  With the entire series now on DVD, I now own the first 20 episodes, and have finally been able to experience the end to the initial story arc of the first few episodes.  

Though I wouldn't say this cartoon has held up very well, I still love the level of imagination and whimsy throughout the episodes.  It's cartoons like this that helped shape my own imagination, which in turn plays a HUGE role in my fantasy writing.  I mean, it takes place in a rich, fantasy world rife with interesting creatures and lands.  Many of the episodes are grouped as parts of much larger stories(something slightly uncommon for the time), giving it, for children, an epic feel.  

Of course, I can't omit the fact that the cartoon was simply a marketing vehicle for the Teddy Ruxpin toys, but for an extended toy commercial, this was a cartoon that truly opened the imagination and pulled you into its world.  I'm looking forward to sharing Teddy's adventures with Grubby, Newton Gimmick, the Wooly Whats-It and the rest with my son now that he's old enough to enjoy it.

9. The Real Ghostbusters

I, as many kids of the 80s/90s loved the Ghostbuster movies.  Yes, even Ghostbusters 2.  Clearly, some corporate big-wigs recognized the potential for catering to the child-age fans of the movies and released The Real Ghostbusters.  I think the name is due to an unrelated Ghostbusters cartoon(please excuse my laziness to research this).  Though the animated Peter Venkman looks like the live-action Ray, and the animated Ray looked more like the live-action Peter Venkman, this cartoon was every young child's dream at the time, pitting the beloved Ghostbusters against a plethora of ghosts, from silly to creepy.  Plus, Slimer(based on the pudgy green ghost from the movie) served as a mascot of sorts.

An interesting bit of trivia is that Lorenzo Music, the voice actor for Peter Venkman, also did the voice of Garfield on Garfield and Friends(coming up soon on this list).  Bill Murry, the actor who portrayed Peter Venkman in the movies, also did the voice of Garfield in the Garfield live-action movie.  Weird, huh?

8. Inspector Gadget

Truly a product of its time, Inspector Gadget was a show about a bumbling, half-robot detective, and his efforts to take down M.A.D., an evil organization led by Dr. Claw.  With the utterance of "Go go Gadget (insert device here)" various robotic implements would pop out from Gadget's body, whether a helicopter propeller from his hat, a phone from his hands, springs from his legs, or a set of rollerskate wheels from his feet.  Even his car would switch from plain family car, to speedy sports car with a "Go go Gadget car."  Joined by his computer book wielding niece Penny, and her uber-smart dog (aptly named Brain) Gadget unwittingly defeats Dr. Claw's evil forces, almost always without even realizing it.  I'll never forget making my own "computer book" with some stapled, loose-leaf paper and acting out my own adventures.

Of all the cartoons on this list--heck, of all the cartoons ever made--Inspector Gadget may be the most formulaic.  To save some words and time, I'll just point you to Inspector Gadget's Wikipedia page, where the premise section outlines the basic flow of every single episode.  Every. Single. Episode.  Yet it was done so well, I didn't care as a kid then, or as an adult now.  Plus, Don Adams(of Mel Brooks's Get Smart fame) does a brilliant job voicing Gadget.

We just need to all pretend that the Matthew Broderick live-action movie(and especially the French Stewart sequel) were simply bad dreams instead of just bad movies.   I mean, the first one literally showed Dr. Claw from the beginning, effectively ruining any credibility of the writer/director's dedication to the source material.  You just don't do that.  Any of you who experienced this show as a child know what I'm talking about.  Still, they could've been worse . . . Michael Bay could've directed them.  Oh, wait, he's too busy ruining another of my favorites from further down the list.

7. Garfield and Friends

I love Garfield.  It is one of my three favorite newspaper comic strips of all time(with Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side).  Though much of Jim Davis's sarcastic wit was lost in these episodes of cartoon shorts. watching the wise-cracking feline come to life was one of the highlights of my Saturday mornings.  Each episode had a couple of original Garfield stories, a couple "Quickies" that animated classic Garfield comic strips, and a short U.S. Acres, featuring the likes of the intellectual pig Orson, wisecracking rooster Roy, impish chicken Booker, his twin Sheldon(a little pun in that he's  a chicken who's still in his egg with only his legs hatched out), the always terrified of everything(and always entertaining) duck Wade, and twin sheep Bo and Lanolin.

I never got tired of Garfield's Odie-kicking, lasagna-eating, Jon-put-downing, adventures, and after buying one of the DVD volumes, I can say that this one truly holds up today.

6. Batman: The Animated Series

Maybe one of the grittiest comic-book superhero cartoons, even to this day, this Batman incarnation oozed with style, both in animation and storytelling.  The animation, the voices(Mark Hamil's Joker is second to none), the wonderful collection of villains, and a presentation that wasn't afraid to stick to the serious tone of the comic books, made this cartoon stand out in a time when these qualities were somewhat rare(one major exception being X-Men).  And, honestly, Gotham never looked better. 

Though I haven't watched any of the many Batman cartoon series since, I have trouble believing that they can hold up to Batman: The Animated Series.  

5. X-Men

In many ways, Batman was a better cartoon than X-Men - better Animation, more unique style, better writing.  However, X-Men gets points from me in that it was just fun. X-Men lacked Batman's grittiness, but also remained fairly faithful to the comics.  Each episode was full of non-stop excitement and constantly introduced new villains and heroes to fight with and against Professor X, Wolverine, Cyclops, Jean Gray, Beast, Rogue, Gambit, and the rest(as if this was Gilligan's Island).  Like the comics, many episodes ended with cliffhangers, always leaving me anxiously awaiting the next week's episode. 

My son already loves this show, and we just bought two of the comic-book adaptations of the show from a local comic book shop over the weekend.

4. Ducktales

"Life is like a hurricane . . . "  Admit it, this song is now in your head.  The show's animation was a step beyond most other cartoons of the time, there was loads of action, adventure, treasure hunting, and humor.  Most every episode involved Scrooge McDuck hunting down some priceless treasure.  Despite Scrooge's  insatiable love of money and wealth, his blatant disregard as to the safety of his nephews and niece, and flagrant self-importance, he somehow still came across as endearing.  Like an animated Indiana Jones populated with anthropomorphic animals, I have many fond memories of following the adventures of Scrooge, Launchpad, Huey, Dewy, Louie, Webbie, Gizmo Duck, etc.

3. Tiny Toons

"We're Tiny, We're Toony . . ."  Admit it, this song just kicked the Ducktales theme out and has permeated your every thought.  

Now, did you watch Tiny Toons as a child?  If so, pick up one of the Tiny Toon DVDs or look up an episode on YouTube.  Don't worry; I'll wait.  See how well it holds up?  Tiny Toons had tons going for it.  With Steven Spielberg's name attached, there was also a lot to live up to.  Following the adventures of basically the teenage counterparts of many of Looney Tunes most well known characters(who also happen to be teachers at Acme Looniversity).  

I've mentioned the quality of the animation of a couple of the previous cartoons on this list, but Tiny Toons surpassed them all.  The writing was clever, and hearkened back to the humor of the classic Looney Tunes shorts.

2. Muppet Babies

Man, did I love this cartoon when I was a kid.  Following the adventures created by the imaginations of the toddler versions of The Muppet Show muppets, this cartoon was one any young child could relate to.  The muppet babies are simply children being watched over by a nanny in a nursery, but they go an amazing adventures using their imaginations.  Muppet Babies also deserves a nod of recognition for helping me to use my imagination in my writing.

1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Topping my list is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or at least the first 5 seasons or so of it.  TMNT is one of my guilty pleasures.  I may or may not have bought the majority of the 25th anniversary re-releases of the 1988/1989 figure line and have them stored away in their boxes.  I may or may not have owned the three live-action TMNT movies, the CG movie, and the first several DVD volumes of the original cartoon years before I had children.  And, I may or may not watch the new Nickelodeon cartoon with my son as those DVD collections are released.  In fact, I may or may not, despite knowing that it's going to be a trainwreck of a movie that will make me yearn for a Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind treatment, as well as make the Inspector Gadget movie I mentioned before Oscar-worthy in comparison, go to the theater to see the new Michael Bay Ninja Turtles movie.  

Yeah, it's sad, but I've loved Ninja Turtles since I got my Donatello action before I'd even seen the show.. This was the only cartoon that had me chomping at the bit for Saturday to arrive. My brother and I would tape the episodes off the TV so we could watch them again.  And again.  And again.  And . . . you get the point.  

Even today, the turtles have proven their ability to transcend generations, many fans of the original show(such as myself) now at the age where they can watch the new show with their children(like me with Jonas).  Of course, every time Jonas picks out the original cartoon over the new one on DVD when wanting to watch Ninja Turtles, and every time I hear him sing the original cartoon's theme song, I give myself a dorky pat on the back.


You know, every generation looks back fondly on what they grew up with, thinking theirs was the golden age of (insert any random topic you'd like).  Whether or not the mid 80s to mid 90s was the best time for cartoons or not, however, it was a good time for cartoons.  If nothing else, it gave us some darn catchy theme songs.

And here's a few more cartoons that had a big impact on my childhood, but didn't quite make the cut for the top ten.

Alvin and the Chipmunks
Transformers: Beast Wars
Dennis The Menace
Ren and Stimpy
Rescue Rangers
Count Duckula
Thirteen Ghosts of Scooby Doo
Rocko's Modern Life
David the Gnome
Count Duckula
Captain N
Captain Planet
G.I. Joe

Feel free to leave a comment about your own favorite cartoons from childhood or, if you're a big kid like me, your current favorites or your favorite ones to watch with your kids.  


Monday, June 9, 2014

Jonas Reviews The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game

This week, Jonas "reviews" one of his favorite board games: The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game!

Next week, Jonas reviews Mega Man 5!


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Top-Ten Tuesday - Top 10 Superhero Movies

I'm sure X-Men: Days of Future Past should be on here, but I haven't seen it yet, so unfortunately I can't include it.  Anyway, here's my top ten superhero movies.

10. Spider-man

I think most can agree that Sam Raimi's first entry in his Spider-Man trilogy played a pivotal role in today's comic-book movie renaissance.  He not only proved that it is possible to captivate an audience of new and old superhero fans, but that superhero movies can tell a familiar origin story in a compelling new way, while providing an amazing story to boot.  Also, Bruce Campbell.

9. X-Men: First Class

First and foremost, this is an excellent example of how to A)reboot a franchise that went out on an absolutely awful note, and B) work around the prohibitive costs of acquiring all the established actors from said franchise(well, at least at the time).  

8. Batman

Proof that we all need to shut up about superhero casting.  Michael Keaton was an amazing Batman/Bruce Wayne, and thankfully left a great legacy by not starring in Batman Forever and Batman and Robin.  Plus, Tim Burton scenery and Jack Nicholson as Joker.  Enough said.

7. X-Men

I remember when this came out, I though the casting was absolutely horrible(well, aside from Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart).  I mean, who was this Hugh Jackman fella?  And where's Gambit, damn it?  Then I was proved very wrong(. . . for the most part).  This movie didn't attempt to do too much by fully developing every single character, thereby stretching them so thin you couldn't even see them.  Even though many beloved characters were sort of ignored, the ones that were not more than made up for the lack.  Now I can't imagine anyone other than Jackman stepping into Logan's shoes.

6. Batman Returns

Upon rewatching this movie, I realize just how many sexual innuendos and perverted Penguin quips went straight over my head as a child.  Anyway, in my opinion, Michelle Pfeiffer has yet to be topped as Catwoman.

5. Spider-Man 2

Take everything great about Spider-Man(the preceding movie), subtract the origin story, and you get one damn amazing movie.  Doc Ock is one of my least favorite Spidey villains, yet this movie made me love, then hate, then love the character again. We get to see Spider-Man/Peter Parker from a whole new angle, watching him learn to cope with the power and responsibility(or should I say great power and great responsibility).  One of my favorite parts, however, is the nod to Sam Raimi's Evil Dead/Army of Darkness series in a certain scene with Doc Ock.   It's too bad the third in the trilogy took such a dive, thinking it could pull off three major villains, one being a Spidey fan favorite(The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems to have not learned much from that movie's mistakes).  Also, Bruce Campbell.

4. The Incredibles

Hey, these don't all have to be superhero movies based off comic books.  Pixar took a wonderfully creative concept, added a huge dose of human emotion, and pulled off one of the most Incredible(excuse the pun) superhero movies - and it's an animated feature!  Making an almost 2 hour animated movie is a pretty big risk, but if anyone can pull off such a risk, it's Pixar. Now, just make an Incredibles 2.  Pretty please?

3. X-Men 2: X-Men United

Even if X-Men 3 had been a decent movie(which it was so terribly far from being . . . so, so, so terribly far), it would've been hard-pressed to outdo X-Men 2.  From watching Wolverine violently murder one of Stryker's men when they break into Professor Xavier's mansion and put those he now cares about in danger, to the scene where Iceman/Bobby breaks the ice(oh, that's even worse than the last pun) to his parents about being a mutant, this movie took on a much more human touch, and pulled it off wonderfully.  Though, again, where's Gambit?!  *Note* Please don't answer this question.

2. The Avengers

One reason I absolutely love the Avengers is that Marvel Studios took their time to set up the major players throughout the Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor movies, meaning that characterization and backstory could take a backseat to a pure action-packed, fun superhero movie without making you feel that the characters lack depth(well, except for Hawkeye . . .)

1. TIE!!

Yes, I'm well aware that having a tie for the number one spot is a cheap way to get 11 movies onto a list of 10, but it's my list, so there!

The Dark Knight

I'm a Marvel over DC kinda guy, but I love me some Batman.  Batman Begins should really be on this list, but I'm not going back now, so get over it.  Anyway, there's not much to not like about this movie.  It takes so much of what makes the Batman comics great, and translates it into one of the greatest superhero movies of all time.  Aaron Eckheart as Two Face?  Amazing.  Heath Ledger's Joker?  Do I even have to say anything?  While the first and third movies in this trilogy are amazing in their own right, The Dark Knight was simply the best of the bunch, and is not just a great superhero movie, but just a darn good movie in general.  

Iron Man

There are several reasons Iron Man ranks at the top of my list. I used to love Iron Man comics when I was younger(after receiving my first ever Iron Man comic with a White Castles kids meal), Robert Downey Jr.'s turn as Tony Stark makes Iron Man my favorite on-screen superhero ever, the script is witty, and . . . well, if I'm going to post this on time, I'm going to have to settle down on the reasoning.  This movie jump-started the Marvel universe on film leading up to the Avengers with a bang.  Marvel showed us that you can take a less popular superhero and make it universally appealing(not to mention extraordinarily profitable).  Of course, thanks to this film, Robert Downey Jr. got a brand new start in his career.  I wasn't a huge fan of Iron Man 2 or 3, but as much as I love the first one, I can live with that.

So there you have it.  This most current wave of superhero movies has truly been going strong for over a decade now, so here's hoping the upcoming crop of films keeps the momentum going strong!


Monday, June 2, 2014

Jonas Reviews The Best Nest

All right, so given how awesome it is hearing my 3 year old son, Jonas, talking about the things he loves(I may a tad biased in this), I've decided to devote a blog feature to Jonas "reviewing" some of his favorite books, board games, toys, video games, movies, shows, etc.   So, to start off, here's Jonas's "review" of one of his current favorite books: P.D. Eastman's The Best Nest.  

Next Monday, Jonas reviews The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game!


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Sunday Scoop - 06/01/2014

Ah, it's been too long.

I'm not very good at this updating thing am I?  Parenting a toddler AND an infant, trying to get back into running, and an having an unhealthy addiction to a mobile game called Tiny Dice Dungeon has wreaked havoc on my free time.  I wouldn't trade it for the world.  Well, maybe the game addiction part . . . 

But anyway . . . 

Believe it or not, if you look at the progress bar for Book 3 of Korin's Journal, you'll see actual, well, progress(up to 14% from the longstanding 10%)!  I've not been able to put much time into writing in recent weeks, but I'm attempting to remedy said lack.  I scrapped the majority of the most recent chapter and am working on a rewrite(this is becoming a common theme with this book . . . much too common).  The whole scene was initially going to involve a new character describing a certain event to Korin dealing with a certain character who may or may not be an evil, murderous villain.  There has been a decent bit of action in the book up until this point, but I found myself letting the story get bogged down in tons of explanatory dialogue.  Therefore, I am approaching this chapter from a completely different direction, one that will not only lend some excitement to it, but also allow me to add another layer to the overall plot that I feel will improve the book.  

To all who donated to my St. Jude fundraiser, you have not been forgotten.  I tallied up the entries, assigned numbers to the entries, and then used a random number generator online to determine winners.  What happened was literally everyone except for one who donated ended up being picked.  In addition, only one of those picked won more than once(and that person happened to be my mother :-P).  It got me thinking - I want to reward everyone who donated, so I'll be sending out an email soon about what I'd like to do if those who donated are up for it.  I promise I'll get to that soon, so if you donated and are reading this, I promise I'll be getting in touch in the next couple weeks.

Lastly, I'll be starting a new blog feature on Mondays(regularly-ish).  I don't want to give anything away just yet, but it's going to be a fun and funny feature(and ridiculously cute in my opinion).  Keep an eye out for it tomorrow!

Best wishes to everyone, and have a wonderful week!