Entertainment

We started off our third day in London by eating a lovely breakfast made at home. I was particularly in love with this egg carton we got at the grocery store around the block.

British eggs

 

We then headed from our place in Russell Square . . .

Kids russell square

. . . to Leicester Square (I thought everyone knew it’s pronounced “Lester” but I overheard some Americans refer to it as Lie-sester. So embarrassed for them.)Leicester Square is where they have the half-priced TKTS ticket booth for a lot of the plays. Here’s how it works: many of the plays sell their extra tickets the day of the show for a discount. Sometimes they’re quite a bit cheaper, but usually it’s about 25%-40% off face value. The big name musicals rarely offer true discount tickets–they don’t need to. So if you want to see Book of Mormon or Matilda or something extremely popular, just get the tickets at the theatre box office. Otherwise, you can check the TKTS website ahead of time to see which plays they generally have tickets for. You never know what’s available until the day of the performance, though. Some theaters don’t release tickets until closer to lunchtime.

For all the less-popular shows you’ll go to the TKTS booth in the square (the back of it faces the Shakespeare fountain). There are a bunch of other little shops saying they sell half-priced tickets too but they aren’t legit. You want the stand-alone booth that says TKTS. There’s always a ginormous line. We would go most mornings so we’d be there when the booth opened at 10 am (11 on Sundays). We’d be done buying our tickets for that day’s performance by 10:45 at the latest. (A lot of shows are dark on Mondays so keep that in mind.) Some shows will sell tickets two days in advance as well. Not all of them, but some. There is a computer screen outside the booth that says which tickets are available that day and the next and how much they cost so you’ll be able to make an informed choice when you get to the front of the line. You can use that time to search your phone for reviews of the plays so you can get an idea of what’s worth seeing.

leicester sq

If there is a show you are simply dying to see, it’s best to get tickets as soon as you know you’ll be going to London. If you aren’t super picky (this is London theatre, after all. It’s the best of the best–most of the time. Some plays are dumber than others) or you’d rather take the budget approach, wait until you can buy tickets at TKTS.  I knew that we’d want to see a play on Monday so I checked the box offices ahead of time to see which plays were going to be performed and made sure that we saved one of those shows for a Monday performance when the other shows wouldn’t be playing. Does that make sense? In order to maximize your show-going you need to know your options. You can check here for a master list of what plays are performed when. We generally avoid matinees since we like to sightsee during the day. There isn’t a whole lot to do at night in Europe if you don’t drink and all the museums are closed (and the shops close at 6! It’s so insane!). Better to see a play in the evening.

There are also several movie theaters in Leicester Square. One, in particular, is where they have a lot of the European premiers of big movies. While we were there people were queuing for the X-Men premier (lots of weird cosplay people) and on a different night, there was the European premier of Godzilla. And Postman Pat: The Movie. We didn’t see any of them. We can do that in the U.S.!

Soooo after that long explanation we ended up with tickets to George Orwell’s 1984. We then commenced our day of sightseeing. First on our list were the Churchill War Rooms. This is the underground area where the British ran WWII. Shortly after the war ended, this area was boarded up and left undisturbed until the 1970′s. I guess everyone was so sick of the war that it took a good long time before they wanted to think about what happened. But it was opened back up and was preserved as a museum. And it is a very good museum. Part of it is a tour of the rooms where the top people in Britain ran the war. It’s got a lot of very interesting multimedia presentations. The rest of the museum is dedicated to the life of Winston Churchill. He was quite a fascinating man and his life spans the history of 20th century England.  It sounds quite boring but it was a great museum. (Don’t take my word for it, check out the reviews on Tripadvisor!)  The museum gift shop was particularly great with a bunch of British wartime memorabilia. Love these postcards that I got!

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After visiting the War rooms we decided to do a little shopping. We headed over to John Lewis, which is the best store ever. I found the cutest children’s clothes but I didn’t dare buy too many in case they didn’t fit the kids. They have all sorts of kitchen things (as well as kitchens themselves), clothes, fabric, wallpaper, a fancy little grocery store, and of course clothes for everyone. I could easily have spent a whole day in there.

When we left the store we found that it was pouring rain beyond belief. We were trying to get down to a restaurant near the 1984 theatre and for some insane reason Mister thought it would better to find a cab. What a joke! We couldn’t get a cab to save our lives! He was convinced the Tube would be much too crowded. So instead we sat in the pouring rain for 15 minutes (we had umbrellas but still . . . ) until we realized that we didn’t have time to eat a nice dinner before our play so we just dashed into a Pret à Manger and ate some incredibly mediocre food. But at least we were starving anymore and we found a taxi immediately after we were done eating.

We ended up being plenty early to see the production of George Orwell’s 1984. Mister is an incredibly huge fan of theatre. I prefer movies myself. I like to see close-ups and luxurious scenery. But there is something wonderful about watching a play happen live. We aim to see things we can’t see elsewhere; meaning no Wicked or Les Mis. I also don’t like musicals very much. I realize that makes me a total weirdo but I just get so tired of all those cheesy songs.

We decided on 1984 because the book can be so hard to plod through and I thought it might help the kids if they have to read it at some point (doesn’t everyone have to?). Plus this production got rave reviews.  York’s been bitten recently by the drama bug and it was exciting to see him get to experience real, high-quality productions for the first time. The play was really excellent and I finally understood the story for the first time.

In 1984 the nursery rhyme “Oranges and Lemons” is used throughout. I thought it was particularly interesting since the first line is “Oranges and Lemons, sing the bells of St. Clement’s”. And those bells of St. Clement’s? Those are the very ones I shot a video of on the first day we were here, ringing their little hearts out.  I included this YouTube video of the history of this nursery rhyme because it’s pretty interesting if you like London-y things. Kind of long but maybe worth watching if you’re sitting at the DMV, bored.

After a stop at TKTS to buy theatre tickets first thing in the morning, we headed off to The British Museum. Or as I like to call it, The British Museum of Pillaging and Thievery. Due to the British having the biggest and strongest army/navy for so many centuries, they’ve stolen every antiquity across the Western Hemisphere and put it all in one huge museum. I’m not complaining; The chances of me getting to Thebes or Athens are slim-to-none. I just find it a little appalling that they somehow think that they have the right to keep all the good stuff for themselves.

At any rate there it all is in a big museum. And it’s free. Which is utterly wonderful. There is a big plexiglass case in the entry hall where you can slip some money for a donation. It isn’t necessary and nobody keeps track of the amount you donate. But it’s rather rude to not donate something.

Rick Steves has some audio tours of this place that we downloaded ahead of time. We tried to listen to them but he really is insufferable. His dorky sense of humor is not funny at all and we barely learned a thing. So back into the pocket went Rick and we chose to read the very well-marked exhibits instead.

Here’s Cleopatra’s mummy. She was only seventeen when she died and you’d think they could have found a better artist to paint her mummy. She looks like Olive Oyl.

Cleopatras mummy

 

Also on display are the Elgin Marbles. These were taken from the Acropolis in Athens because, hey, why not? And to rub salt on the wound they’re not called the Parthenon Marbles or seomthing that makes sense like that. No, they’re named after Lord Elgin (that’s Elgin with a hard -g. Which is how we pronounce the town in Texas), the guy who took took them back to England.  Supposedly Britain paid for them. But they received permission from some Turkish Sultan so how does any of it make sense?

India Elgin

This section was from the pediment. Even after all this time, that drapery still looks gorgeous.

The British Museum has things from just about everywhere. This is a statue from India called a Garuda. It’s the creature that Lord Vishnu rides around on. Personally, I think it looks like a Pokémon.

Garuda

The British Museum is a place that everyone should visit at least once. There’s quite a lot of remarkable things to see. It also has the best café of any museum I’ve ever been to.  Look at this snack bar!

British Museum Cafe

I really wanted to visit the Geffrye Museum after the British Museum, but I realized that this was our last full day in England and I hadn’t done any bra shopping yet, so this was my last chance. Yes, you read that right. Bra shopping. Ever since my eyes were opened to properly-fitting bras I just can’t bear to buy poorly-fitting American ones. British ones tend to fit me the best. In the U.S. they’re upwards of $65 a piece. So I thought I might stock up while I was in the Motherland. Surprisingly the men of the family were not too interested in this. So off they went to have lunch and ride the London Eye (being terrified of heights I was happy that they could do it without me).

I found some great bras that were much cheaper than in the US but I managed to lose my Oyster card in the process (you get your £5 deposit for the card refunded if you turn it back in when you’re done with it). Since we still had the rest of the day of traveling in London, I went and bought a one-day pass. It was over £8. Moral of the story, Travelcards are a better deal and you should try not to lose yours.

After shopping (I bought several t-shirts for the kids at Next which has lots of affordable clothes for children and adults) we met up with the menfolk at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. This Globe isn’t the original. It’s a reproduction based on the few clues about the original Globe Theatre that have been found over the years. It was built using authentic construction methods; the only differences being modern safety features.  After the Great Fire in 1666, thatched roofs were outlawed. The roof at the Globe (it was built in the mid-1990′s) was the first one to be built since then (with lots of sprinklers installed, naturally). The plaster on the walls was traditionally mixed with hair, so the Globe used hair too–goat hair. It’s such a remarkable place. When we were touring it, the crew was breaking down a set from that afternoon’s performance.

Shakespeares globe theater

In addition to the theatre itself there is  an exhibit describing what London was like back then (only technically the Globe wasn’t in London proper), how buildings were built, how costumes were made and cleaned (hint: fermented urine was used), and what musical instruments looked like.  This scene shows a typical costume workshop back in the 1600′s (but cleaner).

Globe costume making

This costume was used for a production several years ago. Talk about a complicated dress! (Make sure you read the explanation that follows.)

Queen Elizabeth costume

QE costume words

All the tour guides at the Globe are actors. As you might be able to tell by our tour guide who could not resist my camera. He was trying to give us a brief synopsis of the opening scene of Hamlet.

Mister just adores Shakespeare so you know we hit the gift shop on the way out.  I wish we could have stayed for a production but they had been sold out for months, even the standing-room-only tickets. We thought about queuing up for returns but since there was a chance we wouldn’t get any, we decided to get tickets to something we would for sure be able to see. Which turned out to be a new production of Jeeves and Wooster, the hapless rich playboy and the butler who gets him out of one jam after another.

Jeeves 2

Did you ever read the Jeeves and Wooster series of books? They were written in the 20′s and 30′s by P.G. Woodhouse. They’re so veddy uppah-clahss British; charming, witty and droll. There was a Jeeves and Wooster TV show in the 90′s starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. This production was nothing like that. I mean, it was. The story is one of P.G. Woodhouse’s but it’s a brilliant new adaptation called Perfect Nonsense.

The cast is only three men who play every single character. They’re fantastic actors who do such a great job. There’s quite a lot of physical comedy and the set is just super. It won an Olivier award (the British equivalent of the Tony’s) for best comedy a few weeks ago and it’s well-deserved. We laughed our heads off; I can’t remember a play that I’ve liked as much as this one. It’s charming, hilarious, and just perfect.

We headed back to our neighborhood just as it was starting to rain AGAIN. We had dessert in a cozy, snug pub then went home to pack for France.

 

 

My British accent is more like Jennifer Coolidge’s in Austenland but maybe if I watch this video a few more times I’ll get the hang of it. Which accent is your favorite?

I am a very visual person. If I want to understand or remember something I have to see it. I have never cared for being read to (at least not since I was a kid) because hearing something means so much less to me than reading something. Also, it takes about a million years longer to listen to a book than to read it yourself.

This summer during our Confederate Car Trip we brought along four Harry Potter books. My friend Connie assured me that these would make all the difference between murdering my children and coexisting with them peacefully for two weeks. So I took them, rolling my eyes, but by the time we hit Waco I had put on the first CD. We listened to them for most of the trip and were a very captive–but very willing–audience. We really loved listening to them. I read the first Harry Potter book when it had barely come out and nobody had the vaguest idea how to pronounce Hermione (but I did, being full of trivial, pointless knowledge as I am.)  I enjoyed it but then the books became horrendously popular and I didn’t want to read the rest solely because who wants to wait in line all night to buy a stupid book? I tend to not like things anymore once they’re popular; ditto for the movies. (I did see the very last movie but I had no idea what was happening or why it was a big deal.) The older kids were completely familiar with the entire Harry Potter oeuvre, but the younger ones weren’t.

Listening to the Harry Potter books was wonderful for me because I was completely new to them. All the kids are at a great age to listen to them and Connie was right; they made the 4000 miles fly by.

But still I like to have real live books in my hands.

Last week I saw a copy of the Lonesome Dove miniseries on my husbands shelf of DVDs and he reminded me again how it’s super good and that I really should watch it. But I hate, hate watching TV while my kids are at school because I can’t multitask while I do it (our only TV being in the playroom, away from the dirty floors that should be mopped or the bathrooms than need scrubbing). TV and movies are such a time suck. But maybe I could read the book Lonesome Dove (since reading is easier to do than watching a movie when you’re waiting for carpool kids or in a doctor’s office). But for some reason I ended up downloading the audio book. When am I going to listen to this? I thought. I barely am in the car for more than ten minutes at a time. Then it hit me–I can listen to this while I clean my house.

I know what you guys are thinking: you are the biggest dummy ever! How has this never occurred to you?

I’m a little slow on the uptake sometimes, friends. But now that I’m about ten hours into Lonesome Dove, let me tell you that cleaning while you listen to an audiobook is the best. Although if you have little kids bugging you I imagine that it would put you in a mighty foul mood to be interrupted constantly (maybe during nap time?). I actually try to think of more things to clean so that I can keep listening. How crazy is that?

Due to the fact that there is an occasional swear and that prostitutes come up pretty often in the story, Lonesome Dove is not exactly kid-friendly. But I’m enjoying it heartily.*

I still have 25 hours to go before I finish this book, but I’m already thinking about my next read listen.  Do you listen while you putter around the house too? What are your favorite audio books? Anything I must listen to next? A book can be completely ruined by a bad narrator, so what are some good recommendations?

 

*To make things even better, I got the book from Audible.com and they have an app that makes each book the size of a couple of songs. It won’t take up your iTunes space like a bunch of CDs will. And if you go to www.audible.com/npr they’ll let you try a book for free. Also, our library also has a couple of audio-books-for-free services. Yours probably does too.

I really, really love Instagram (you can find me @heyhildie). I used to fight it because I hated the idea that all my pictures have to be square. Now I accept square-ness (and I know how to get past that if I need to). Instagram is kind of like Facebook but without all the ads and weird stuff. And, of course, you always have to use a picture (or video!). That’s the whole point.

If you’re on Instagram or are thinking about it, let me give you a few hints. These might sound a little bratty, but I’m just trying to help you out. If you want people to like your stuff (and obviously you do or you wouldn’t be putting your pictures up for public approval on Instagram), you need to follow a few guidelines:

1. Don’t be a Private User. There is nothing more annoying than having someone comment on one of your photos, only to click over to their info and this is what you see:

Photo Jun 24, 11 52 43 AM

There is pretty much no info on your Instagram account unless you put it there. Meaning that there is no way people can figure out your name and address and kidnap your kids unless you put it on Instagram on purpose. Facebook is way more scary in that respect.

 2. Keep the pics of your kids to a minimum (I’d say 50% or less). Yes, I know you have the cutest toddler ever and your teenage daughter is simply gorgeous, but unless your mom is your only follower the rest of us don’t want to see endless photos of your kids. It’s boring. Sorry. It also makes you look lame and one-dimensional. Certainly there is more to your life than your children (please say yes). I know that Christmas and Halloween are kid-heavy holidays and we’re all guilty of putting up lots of pics on Instagram during that time of year. Just try to expand your horizons a little and find interesting/pretty/funny things that don’t revolve around your offspring.

 

3. Limit pictures of your animals. Pets are even more boring than kids. At least kids have different facial expressions. Unless your pet is doing something really hilarious, or it’s a particularly gorgeous shot, don’t post it. A cat lying on a bed is not interesting unless you’re a ten-year-old girl. If that’s who follows you on Instagram, then knock yourself out. I have one friend whom I had to unfollow because all she ever posted were pictures of her Afghan Hound sleeping. It just looked like a brownish mop laying on the floor. You can only give a person so many sympathy “likes” before you just unfollow them.

 

4. Do not even think of posting a shot looking down at your shoes! We’ve all taken one, which is what makes it so boring and overdone. I don’t care how great of a filter you use. If you want to show that you are about to go running, wrack your brain for some other way to illustrate this.

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5. Don’t go overboard with hashtags. This is a tricky area. I like a hashtag if it’s funny or clever. Or if I actually want to be able to search for the topic of the picture. Please don’t go crazy with the “funny” hashtags. It can get really, really annoying. Like an eight-year-old who won’t quit with the knock-knock jokes.

 

Yes, you can put whatever you want on Intagram. But if you want people to like your pictures and follow you, you need to keep things interesting.

 

This is one of my most popular posts and I like to repost it every year in case you’ve got a houseful of bored (hence, annoying) kids and need to know how to keep them occupied without relying on TVs/vieogames/ipads to babysit them. This is a great way to keep everyone in the house quiet and entertained. It’s really the best thing that’s happened to our summers! We’ve added a few changes to the system as our kids have gotten older. I’ll mention those at the end of the post.

My kids started driving me crazy the day after school got out. There was the constant squabbling, playfighting, and watching each other play video games for hours on end ( I loathe that, but it’s just so peaceful while they do it, that it’s hard to crack down and turn it off). Some people go cold turkey and turn off all screens during the summer, but I think it should still be a fun time of year (especially since we really limit TV and video games during the school year). I just needed to figure out some sort of system.

My friend Amy and I escaped for lunch a few weeks ago. She told me about the system she uses in her house and a giant light bulb went off over my head. I took her idea and ran with it, expanding on it to fit our family’s needs.

This is how it works:

–Our house is divided into six stations (Art, Reading, Computer, Puzzles, Academics, and TV).

–Each station is in a different part of the house (or in separate parts of the same room) so there is very little annoying and teasing of siblings going on.

–Stations last for 45 minutes each (sometimes if we have other plans for the day we’ll only do stations for 20-30 minutes a piece). Then the kids rotate to the next station. Each child goes to all of the six stations every day, Monday through Friday. We usually begin in the late morning after everyone has done their chores. Since we live in Texas which is HOT in the summer, we usually spend the mornings playing outside (after chores!) and don’t waste precious cool time indoors.

–Everyone gets a chance to choose which station they would like to start with. Yes, they will all have a chance at every station, but you know how much siblings like to compete with each other. Currently we are picking popsicle sticks labelled with the kids’ names. I draw one and that child picks where they’d like to begin.

–It’s helpful to have a list of activities available at Academics and art. We have things listed like “work on handwriting”. The kids all tell me they want to improve their handwriting but they forget. Their are workbooks for the littles but the older kids can do it on their own; they just need a reminder. Some of the art things we have are kept in my craft closet and the kids tend to forget about them. Having all the choices on a list makes a good reminder.

Here are the details:

Art (at the kitchen table):
Everyone has a sketch book, so there are minimal amounts of loose paper floating around. All coloring and watercolor go on sketchbook pages. We also have Shrinky Dinks, pipe cleaners, Sculpey clay (for the older kids), Play-Doh (for the younger ones), and brand new sets of watercolors, crayons and markers. I stocked up on the fabulous coloring books that Dover Publishing carries. We also have an assortment of drawing “how-to” books and creativity-building exercises.

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Puzzles (on a card table set up in the Mudroom): I bought ten new puzzles of all different skill levels. I also got one of those roll-up puzzle savers so the older kids can work on the same puzzle day after day. We also have Sudoko, crossword, and word-search books of different skill levels. My friend Amy and I will be swapping puzzles after a while to keep things fresh.

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Academics (on the coffee table in the family room):
There is a real variety here since Jasper barely knows his letters and India is taking AP classes. Probably our favorite item is the Flashmaster. It’s a fantastic gizmo that quizzes kids on their addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts. They can be timed or not timed, and the computer remembers which problems they got wrong. It’s been wonderful since my younger kids have never been required to learn their math facts very well. You can get Flashmaster on Amazon for $50.

We also have a Geography Globe from Oregon Scientific, the Phonics Firefly (perfect for helping the younger kids learn their letters and sounds), and some educational Leap Pad sets.

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In this category we also have workbooks (the great kind sold at Costco that are full of worksheets), handwriting practice sheets and spelling word quizzes. I try to get items that the kids can do on their own so I don’t have to sit there all day. The older kids are working on assignments they were given at school to complete over the summer.

 


Reading
(in the Living Room which is where our bookcases are):
This is read-alone time. Every few days I rotate the supply of kids’ books so they always have something new to look at. Library books stay in here too. The older kids usually have a novel they’re reading. This is a perfect time for teens to work on their summer reading assignments for school.


Computer
(playroom):
The kids can play whatever they want without someone claiming that “she took my turn!”; I don’t really care what it is, whether it’s Webkinz or something educational (Finn has been doing a teach-yourself-German program). This is their entire computer time for the day. This would probably include Nintendo DS time, if you have those at your house.

TV (in the playroom where our only TV is):
This includes video games and DVDs. Whatever takes place on a TV, this is the time to do it. The best part of this system is that you don’t have children sitting around watching their siblings play games (one of my major pet peeves). Occasionally we’ll watch a movie as a family in the evening, but for the most part this is their entire allotment of video games and shows.

You could tailor the stations to suit your family better. If you all play instruments, you could do music time, for example. Or you could do an outdoor station. With our blazing summer temps, though, the kids stay indoors most of the day but we spend evenings playing outside or swimming. This system would work with a smaller family, too. For the last week India and York have been visiting their grandparents in Oregon and we’ve been rotating four kids around the six stations. It’s been fine.

We have been doing Stations for a couple of weeks now and it has been phenomenal! The kids never complain about being bored and they bug each other so much less. My house is actually quiet during the day! It’s a miracle!

Jasper doing summer stations

UPDATE: now that our kids are getting older, we’ve made a few changes. We’ve combined academics with spiritual stuff. The kids all have goal programs that they’ve been working on at church and this is a great time to accomplish the tasks they’ve set for themselves. We’ve also made a reading plan to for the scriptures this summer and having time during a station for this works a lot better than expecting tired kids to read at night.

We are accumulating a lot of instruments around our house, my new harp being the most popular. So now along with puzzles, we have the option to play an instrument during that station. Not all of the kids are interested in this, though, which is why I didn’t just add another station. My children are finally old enough to use the instruments unsupervised. I would never have done this when I had preschoolers. It would have caused way too much trouble.

School just ended for us on Friday and this last week was a killer. I barely had time to catch my breath. My favorite part of the end-of-the-year festivities was going to see the silent movies made by Ada’s second grade Theatre Arts class. They learned about silent films and got to make several  of their own. Since I know you’re dying to see Adelaide’s, here it is in all it’s old-timey glory. (It’s the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. Ada plays Jack’s mother.) It’s a whole lot more creative than just acting out a silly old play.

 

 

Mister finally bought a Prius after thinking about it for about five years. Now he needs a new license plate. Here in Texas we have about a jillion different plate designs and I had fun looking for one. I also found out that the name Hildie is available! I should totally get a personalized plate, shouldn’t I? They’re $150 per year so I doubt I will, but I had fun trying out some designs. This one is my favorite. I do love a good cheeseburger.

 

Mister is a big Dr. Pepper fan. Me, notsomuch but this would certainly be a unique plate. In case you’re thinking that it’s a totally random license plate design, Dr. Pepper was invented in Waco, TX.

 

Of course, Texans love Jesus too. You’d better be a nice driver if you commit to this license plate. If you feel like your Jesus fish on the back of your car isn’t hardcore enough, consider this one.(Or you could just let your kind Christian behavior speak for itself.)

 

Say you’re really into NASCAR. Texas has not one, not two, but four NASCAR designs.  Why does that not surprise me.

 

And let’s not forget the hunters. If you are super into killing wild Turkeys, now you can inform everyone behind you at the stoplight. You wouldn’t want people to think you kill deer or boar or something. Make sure you let everyone know that shooting turkeys is where it’s at. And you don’t kill those tame turkeys either; only crazy wild ones. Hey, there’s is an actual federation dedicated to them! I’ll bet those are some rootin-tootin conventions.

 

This one just plain confused me. BYU is in Utah. But I can have a Texas plate with a Utah school on it? That’s like ordering a Steak Gordita at McDonalds. Weird.

 

If you have a tribal tattoo you’d probably like this plate as well. That way people know you’re a badass even though you’re driving a Corolla.

 

This design is my favorite but I have to say I was a little disconcerted with the way they split up my name:

 

Suddenly Texas is telling me they want me dead? Although I have to say I love the tagline, “Texas 4 Ever”. Did you guys watch Friday Night Lights? Did you see the show’s finale when Tim is looking over his property and says, “Texas Forever”, just like in the very first episode? Man, I was doing the ugly cry. Texas forever, indeed.

Let’s talk about fashion first: Watching the Oscars is a bit lame when you don’t have cable. You can’t switch between four channels to make sure you don’t miss a single dress on the red carpet. Instead I had to sort through pictures on the internet this morning to see if there were some stunners I missed.  There weren’t. My opinion is that color is good. Neutral tones really don’t flatter many people. I mean, some of those grey/white/bronze dresses looked nice but think how much prettier they would have looked in a nice peacock blue. Especially that knock-out Jessica Chastain (At least she had some bright lips to perk things up). And Amy Adams hair? It looks Nanny and the Professor. Ew.


I guess I should amend the above statement to say that white girls shouldn’t wear neutrals. My favorite dress of the night was on Zoe Saldana who is one of the most gorgeous women ever. It’s a pearly grey but it doesn’t look washed out since Zoe has that lovely cappuccino skin. Love the layers at the hem and the flowers up top. LOVE!

 

Normally I hate everything about Jennifer Aniston but she looks 100% gorgeous.

I thought everyone looked pretty decent. This isn’t like the Oscars of the 80′s when everyone looked ridiculous. But there were a few things that caused me to raise my eyebrows:

Oh Anne, the satin and the darts combine to create the perfect storm. I’m sure your nipples are lovely but we really don’t all need to know. Her diamond necklace is adorable but I hope the “necklace on backwards’ trend ends quickly. It’s weird.

And then there are a couple of ladies taking a footnote from the 80′s. Halle Berry gets all Alexis Carrington while Jane looks like she’s on her way to the Captain’s table on The Love Boat.

 

But enough about clothes. Let’s talk about movies. I haven’t seen most of them. Although Mister and I did catch a screening last weekend of all the live action and animated shorts. It was three hours long but completely enjoyable.

I’m still not sure who Seth MacFarlane is but I quite enjoyed him. And what a nice singer. I loved the stage set. So bright and pretty. But I’d have to give the broadcast a thumbs down. Why? Too much singing! This isn’t the Tony’s! It’s like the producers said, “Oh look how popular Les Mis is. People must like singing. Let’s have lots of singing!”

No, people just want to see the awards. And who could possible agree that Chicago is the best musical of the last 10 years? I hate Chicago! And that lady singing Goldfinger? She rocked the last note but what a waste of five minutes. Same with Barbra Streisand. I was like, “I’m going to go make some cookies. Tell me when the singing’s done.”

I love that Jennifer Lawrence tripped on the stairs. She is such a funny, honest person. She recovered beautifully. I’m sure if it had been a prima donna like Catherine Zeta-Jones she would have promptly committed suicide.

Daniel Day Lewis is the best actor ever. Anyone who could give us Abraham Lincoln, Cristy from My Left Foot, Hawkeye from The last of the Mohicans and Cecil from A Room With a View is completely brilliant. Tommy Lee Jones, on the other hand, was nominated for an award despite playing the exact same grumpy jerk that he plays in every single movie he’s ever been in. How is that even acting?

I was really hoping Ben Affleck would win because I really feel for him because of all his struggles. And I love Jennifer Garner. His acceptance speech was so humble and touching.

And the whole Michelle Obama thing? Odd. Especially with that passel of footmen (and footwomen?) surrounding her. Although it makes sense considering the love affair that Hollywood and the Obamas have with each other. That relationship also explains how Obama can blame everything and everyone for the violence that is exploding in our society EXCEPT for blaming Hollywood. People like Quentin Tarantino aren’t chastised for making horrendously violent films that glorify murder, torture, anger and revenge –they’re celebrated and honored for it. It really sickens me.

OK, sorry for the outburst.

Let’s lighten the mood by discussing the ubiquitous aging European men with flowing blond hair. In case you were wondering what Legolas would look like as a middle-aged man:

 

Even more bizarre? The mystery of Renee Zelweger’s scrunched up face. Maybe she needed a Claritin? And Kristin Stewart? How does this person have a career? She is peevish, sullen and thoroughly detestable. She couldn’t even pretend to be charming for three minutes while presenting an Oscar. I think I hate K. Stew more than any other actress.

What were your highlights and bombs of the Oscars this year?

Are you on Instagram? Do you wonder how people get all those cool effects onto their photos? (In case you aren’t familiar with Instagram, it’s kind of like Facebook or Twitter but you use pictures for your updates.) I really resisted instagram for a long time. Mostly because it offended my artistic sensibilities that all photos have to be square. But I’ve made my peace with that and now I’m having endless fun. (Want to follow me on Instagram? I’ll follow you back! Look for @heyhildie).

Whether you’re a fan of Instagram or just want to upload pictures to Facebook or message to friends, it’s terribly useful to be able to make your iphone pictures look tip-top without having to export them to a computer. There are piles of apps that will make your pictures look fantastic and are incredibly fun to play with. The big problem with editing pictures directly in your camera is that each app usually just performs a couple of functions. If you want your photo to have all the bells and whistles (labels, a font, some cool effects), you’re going to have to run it though several different apps. This sounds like a chore but really it’s super fun. Let those creative juices flow!  These are my favorites apps:

(Not sure how much of this applies to other smartphones. We only have iphones around here).

Instagram has a few filters you can apply and a tool to crop your photos to be square but I like the flexibility of an editing app. In an editing app you can adjust lighting and exposure and sometimes do some color correction too. You can also add frames and sometimes special effects. My favorite app is PhotoToaster  (99¢) There are lots of different filters but unlike other apps, you can adjust saturation, color, softness, vignette size and other sorts of things. It has way more control than other photo editing apps and I really like it. I’m also a fan of Camera+ (99¢). This is probably the easiest to use of the apps–once you figure out how to import the photos. That took me a while–Each filter is adjustable so if you like your pictures to have an Instamatic look to them, you can make them look just a little bit Instamatic or get the full effect. I LOVE this feature. PhotoToaster doesn’t have that. PicFx  ($2.99) is another good editing program, although it specializes more in fun effects rather than improving the quality of your photo. PicFX requires you to make all photos square whereas the other two apps will let you keep them rectangular. It has tons of cool filters and also some nice bokeh features.

TouchRetouch. The best 99¢ you will ever spend! (Don’t even bother with the free version. It’s no good.) This is a pretty amazing app that lets you remove unwanted items from your picture. It takes a while to get the hang of (fortunately it has some very helpful in-app tutorials), but once you do you’ll love it. It can take anything out of your photo, from a zit to a car in the background. Pretty incredible considering it’s a tiny screen and you’re using your fingertip. Just keep in mind that it doesn’t have transparency settings so it’s not going to look so good if you’re trying to remove wrinkles or undereye circles. Here are two shots before TouchReTouch (on the left) and after (on the right). I removed some stray floaties in the background and a dead tree limb on the left side.

Phonto is another app I could never live without.  Phonto is simply the best app for putting words onto pictures. Not only are there a ton of fonts to choose from, you can upload your own fonts from your computer! It’s incredibly easy to resize them, change the colors, add shadows, change the spacing and pretty much anything you’d ever want to do with words. Best of all it’s free!

Diptic  (99¢) is my preferred app for making collages. It’s incredibly intuitive and easy to use. You can make the edges of pictures rounded or squared. You can make the entire collage rounded too. Like super rounded. As in a circle! Fun!

 

Making Tape (99¢) is another app that will keep you occupied for hours. It makes it look like you’ve stuck really cute washi tape (which is sort of like fancy masking tape) on your pictures. Perfect for labelling! There are hundreds of tape designs to choose from. There are fonts available too but as the app is Japanese, most are not-so-interesting English fonts. I love this app but occasionally it can be difficult to figure out.

Another cool labelling app is called LabelBox. It is a little more polished than Masking Tape (since it isn’t supposed to look like masking tape. Duh). Some of the fonts I like and some I don’t (you can’t pick which font you use in Label Box). Whether I use Making Tape or Label Box I usually add the label with no words on it, save the picture, then run it through Phonto to add words in a font I like better.

LensLight (99¢) has every sort of light, bokeh or lighting effect you could possibly want. Need a sun flare? Shooting stars? Streams of sunshine? Heart-shaped bokeh? (Bokeh, by the way refers to unfocused areas around the background/edge of photos. Usually they look like blobs of light.) This is the app for you. Less is more with this app, but you can get some really cool lighting effects with this app. P.S. I spent about half an hour trying to figure out how to “undo” in this program. There is no undo because each effect that you like must be saved (“rendered”) if you want to add another. I am not a very intuitive person.

 Bubbleframe (99¢) is right up your alley if you’re at all scrapbook-y. It’s a super girly app for one thing. But it reminds me of really easy digital scrapbook layouts. Except for the background, though, everything is in circles. Cute backgrounds and fonts make this very-intuitive app very easy to use. This took me about 90 seconds to create:

I hope you have fun using some of these apps. Just try not to ignore everyone for too long while you’re editing and uploading a picture during dinner/at the zoo/hanging out with friends.