Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Watching My Kids Watch "Star Wars" For the First Time

A few years ago, our oldest daughter started to show an interest in Star Wars. She knew the names of the main characters, and often included them in her "Pretend World" activities. (Chewbacca was her favorite.) But, she hadn't seen the movies--and we decided she wasn't ready to see them yet. (She cried during Muppets Most Wanted because Kermit's evil twin was too scary.)

Several years have passed, and circumstances seemed right to end our Star Wars embargo. (We're stuck at home, and all the movies are available on Disney+.) My wife, who isn't too familiar with the movies, wondered which movie to show them first. I guess there are some people who would think it best to start with Episode I: The Phantom Menace, because it says right there in the title that it's the first episode. But, since I wanted our kids to actually like the movies, I started them out with the one that started them all, Star Wars!

[NOTE: In order to clear up and/or add to the confusion, let me explain. Star Wars, also known as Episode IV: A New Hope, was the first movie to come out, back in 1977. So, even though it's the fourth episode, it was the first movie, and since I'm old and grumpy, that's the way it's always going to be to me.]

As I sat down to watch the movie with my kids, I decided to take a few notes. I wanted to watch my kids watch Star Wars for the very first time. It was pretty fun! But first, roll call:
                                         Thing 1--11 year-old daughter
                                         Thing 2--9 year-old son
                                         Thing 3--5 year-old daughter
                                         Thing 4--3 year-old son

Her are there reactions.

*The Opening Note--That opening note from the John Williams score is one of the best opening notes in cinema history. I jumped a bit in excitement when I heard it, and my kids all jumped along with me, and laughed at me a little.

*The Opening Scroll--Thing 1, as many have done before her, felt the need to read the opening scroll out loud. Thing 2 observed that as the words faded out of view, it appeared that they were turning into little stars.

*The movie starts--"That is one big ship," says Thing 2. It's the exact same thing I thought when I first saw the movie in 1977.

*Darth Vader appears--"Is that him breathing? It sounds like someone slurping a straw."--Thing 2

*More Darth Vader--"He says 'I want them alive' right after he kills one of them. Doesn't make much sense."--Thing 1

*C3PO--"Is he always that bossy?"--Thing 1

*R2-D2--"Is R2-D2 going to die?"--Thing 3 asks. "No," I reply. "Okay."--Thing 3. (I don't think Kermit's evil twin would make her cry.)

*Jawas--"Oh, they're aliens. The sound a little bit like Minions."--Thing 2

*C3PO--"Is he always that bossy?"--Thing 1 (again.)

*Two moons over Tatooine--"The red one is for the aliens, and the other one is for the people."--Thing 3

A long time ago....

*The Sand People--"More aliens?"--Thing 2 (I remind him that this is a planet far, far away.)

*Luke gets his lightsaber--Luke lights up his lightsaber and is waving it around the room. Thing 1 warns him, "Be careful! Don't hit anyone with that!"

*Obi-wan uses Jedi mind tricks--Obi-wan tricks the Stormtroopers into saying, "These aren't the droids we are looking for." The kids love it!
"That was cool!"--Thing 1.
"(Excitedly) How did he do that?"--Thing 2

*In the Cantina--The camera pans around to the different aliens in the bar. "Some of those are definitely just people in masks."--Thing 2

*Greedo--As Greedo and Han Solo exchange words, Thing 3 laughs and says, "He talks really funny."

[NOTE TO GEORGE LUCAS: Look, George, you made a great movie back in 1977. Why won't you let us watch it? The changes to the Greedo/Han Solo shootout are bad enough, but the added scene with Jabba the Hut is preposterous because it a) is totally unnecessary; b) is actually harmful to the plot of this and the next two movies; and C) looks terrible--as if some 6th grader was trying to create a movie scene using Photoshop. It's too bad I couldn't show my kids the real movie.]

*Jabba the Hut--Thing 1 has a hard time understanding what Jabba is saying. "Did he just say, 'I'm a very happy cheese steak?'"

*On the Millennium Falcon--As Obi-wan trains Luke, Thing 1 says, "For a second there I thought he sounded like PopPop." (Interesting, because PopPop is not a Jedi master.) (At least, not as far as I know.)

*On the Death Star--As the action moves to the Death Star, the kids are too involved in the movie to make as many comments. But, as Han Solo "rescues" Princess Leia from her cell, Thing 1 observes, "Wow, he's very rude."

*Lightsaber fight between Obi-wan and Darth Vader--"They're fighting! That's a fun part!"--Thing 4, who has spent most of the movie up until now in wide-eyed silence and awe.

*Millennium Falcon shootout--As the heroes are escaping the Death Star, they get into a laser fight with some Imperial fighters. Han Solo and Luke each strap into moving chairs and fire at the enemy, looking as if they are playing a video game. Thing 2 stands up off of the couch in excitement. "This is good!!! Now I know why this movie is so famous!"

*The rebel forces prepare to attack the Death Star--Leia gives Luke a pep talk before he climbs into his X-Wing to face almost certain death. "Boy, she's wearing a lot of lip gloss!"--Thing 1

*Luke hears Obi-wan's voice--"I don't think he's really dead."--Thing 1, stating the obvious.

*Several rebel fighters fail to destroy the Death Star--"I think it's going to be Luke."--Thing 1, stating the obvious. (She's good at that.)

*Death Star blows up--"Woohoo!!!"--Thing 1, Thing 2, Thing 3, and probably Thing 4.

*THE END--"Is there a scene after the credits?"--Thing 1. (Today's kids have been spoiled.)

*Waiting for a scene after the credits--They're not sure if they should believe me, so they want to watch the credits. "James Earl Jones. He was really good as Darth Vader!"--Thing 2

*After the movie was over (with no scene after the credits)--
"That was the best movie ever!!!"--Thing 2
"No, Frozen 2 is better."--Thing 3
"Nope! Star Wars is the best movie ever!"--Thing 1
(Sitting in silence with a big smile on his face.)--Thing 4
It's official. Two out of four children think Star Wars is the best movie ever.

I asked the kids who their favorite character was.
"Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Darth Vader!"--Thing 1
"Luke."--Thing 2
"The big guy--not the one who lost his clothes."--Thing 3 (I'm not sure, other than that Obi-wan Kenobi is not her favorite.)
"The robot who says beep."--Thing 4
"--and the little aliens who sound like Minions, and C3PO!"--Thing 1, unable to limit her list of favorites to fewer than 13.

Later in the evening, Thing 2 is walking around repeating, "Obi-wan Kenobi. Obi-wan Kenobi."
"What about him? I ask.
"Nothing. It's just fun to say."--Thing 2

As they're going to bed, I play the song "Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band" by Meco for them.
"That's an old song!"--Thing 4
"Well, it was from the nineteen hundreds!"--Thing 2

Yes, it may be ancient, but that doesn't mean it can't be "the best movie ever!" (I'm so glad I didn't start them with The Phantom Menace.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Day I Made Chuck Norris Chuckle

Chuck Norris loves babies!

Sure, most people say they love babies, but Chuck Norris actually does something about it. Chuck Norris is an American hero!

It was a normal day. I was at home with my two youngest kids, Thing 3, the two and a half year-old girl, and Thing 4, the eleven month-old boy. (Thing 1 and Thing 2 were in school.) I was trying to figure out a way to entertain the kids without resorting to songs from Moana or Frozen when I got a text from my brother alerting me to the fact that Chuck Norris would soon be making an appearance in the town where I live.

My first reaction, as it often is, was to question my brother's sanity. Why would Chuck Norris be coming to small town Utah? But, my brother insisted he had seen this announced on the semi-reputable website for one of the local television news stations. I checked it myself and, yes, Chuck Norris was scheduled to appear at a convenience store/gas station less than a mile from my house in about an hour! (He was coming to promote his new line of bottled water, CForce.) And so I did what any responsible parent would do: I loaded up my kids for an opportunity to stand in line in the hot sun so they could have a ten second meeting with some guy they had never heard of!

When I showed this picture to my 2 year-old daughter she got excited and said, "It's HulkSmash! It's HulkSmash wearing pajamas!" 

As I approached the gas station, cars were lining up and parking along the side of the road. I got my kids out of the mini-van and plopped Thing 4 in the stroller so I could roll him the rest of the way to the convenience store. Because of all the Chuck-related traffic, I was holding Thing 3 in one arm and trying to push the stroller with the other. That's when my neighbor and his wife (and their young son) came along and helped me out. (Shout out to Aaron and Leah!) The neighbor pushed the stroller for me as we made the longer-than-it-seemed walk to the end of the line to see Chuck Norris.

Chuck Norris waits for no one, but everyone waits for Chuck Norris.
Chuck was meeting people in a tent in the front of the store, and the line to see him came out along the side of the building, out to the edge of the parking lot, around the end of a dead end road, and down along the side street toward the traffic light. It was a pretty long line. I had been in line with my kids and my neighbors for about twenty minutes when a bigwig from the convenience store (I recognized him from their commercials) came out to the line and announced, "Chuck would like anyone who has babies in a stroller to move right up to the front of the line. He doesn't want the babies to get dehydrated out here in the sun." Yes, Chuck Norris loves babies!

I looked at my neighbors, who had helped me out so much, and who were there with a young son who just as easily could have been in a stroller, too. Was I somehow more worthy to jump in the line than them just because I had a stroller? I felt bad...but I ditched them in a heartbeat. (Sorry about that, Aaron and Leah!)

I strolled up to the front of the line and there he was in the tent: the one and only Chuck Norris!!!

As I started to undo the straps to get Thing 4 out of the stroller, a small joke formulated in my mind. I walked toward Walker, Texas Ranger, carrying my baby boy. When I got close enough that I was sure Chuck Norris could hear me, I reached up to take the binky (pacifier) out of my boy's mouth and said, "You can't meet Chuck Norris with a binky in your mouth!"

And Chuck Norris chuckled. Yes, I made* Chuck Norris chuckle! (*NOTE: That's not true. No one makes Chuck Norris do anything. It would be more accurate to say that I said something that Chuck Norris decided to acknowledge with a chuckle.)

Chuck chuckled, and then quickly said, "No, no, that's okay." Because Chuck Norris loves babies, and he wants them to be happy, even if it means that baby is sucking on a wimpy binky. But, I defied Chuck Norris and took the binky out anyway, because I knew my son was tough enough he wouldn't cry in the presence of Chuck Norris. (He didn't.)

The next ten seconds are pretty much a blur. Thing 3 hid behind me because she was apparently afraid of this bearded stranger and foolishly thought I could protect her from Chuck Norris. So, I had to herd her around to the front of me, but she still was a little leery of him. I held Thing 4 up between Chuck and I. And, worst of all, I forgot to suck in my considerable gut. It's not a very good picture.

As my wife said, "Why look at the camera when you can look at Chuck Norris?"
A few things about the picture: 1) My daughter wanted nothing to do with Chuck Norris. 2) I think my son's forehead might be touching Chuck's cheek, and the boy is staring intently at Chuck's beard. 3) Chuck Norris is not a very large man. And D) I held onto my baby because I figured Chuck Norris wouldn't want to hold other people's babies. I was wrong. It turns out he posed holding a lot of babies. Of course he did, because Chuck Norris loves babies! (If I had known this, I certainly would have had him hold one, or maybe both of my babies. Oh well.)

After the picture was taken, I headed into the store, because if Chuck Norris is there to sell CForce Bottled Water, then by golly I'm going to buy me some CForce Bottled Water! I didn't do this just because I wanted the water. I did this because they were handing out "free" swag to people who purchased Chuck's water. (I'm always a sucker for buying stuff I didn't really want in order to get some free stuff that I also didn't really want.) 

So, I bought four bottles of CForce water and took two of them to my neighbors who were still in line. (Still feeling bad about ditching you, Aaron and Leah!) I then went to the "free stuff" line and got myself a t-shirt and a pair of fake wood sunglasses! 

I look much tougher and skinnier in a Chuck Norris t-shirt! (And when I suck in my gut.)
(I should mention that appearing with Chuck Norris was Truck Norris. Unfortunately, Truck Norris is not some muscle-man cousin of Chuck's, but a large, tricked-out truck.)

(Also, while standing in line the guy in front of me was whining because they only had shirts in sizes L and XL. The person handing out the shirts rightly called him out, saying, "Dude, it's free stuff. Stop complaining.") 

I then took my water bottles, t-shirt, sunglasses, and babies, and went home. I had a really good time. It's not every day you get to meet Chuck Norris and turn him into Chuckle Norris!

Edited from a post originally published in May 2017.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Friday Fiction: The Rise of Sleighrider

"It's less than a week before Christmas!" Santa exclaimed. "This is the busy time. We have last minute preparations. We don't have time for this!"

"I'm sorry, Santa," said Blinky the Elf. "I know the timing is not good. But it needs to be today. The elves won't wait."

"I just don't understand it," said Santa. "I treat the elves wonderfully. They get great benefits. Plenty of vacation time. All I ask is that during the busy season I get their best work. And the elves usually love their work!"

"It's true, Santa," Blinky replied. "It's just that this time there are extenuating circumstances."

"More important than their work?" Santa asked.

"Yes," said Blinky. "As much as the elves love their work, they hate spoilers even more."

"It's just one week," Santa begged. "Can't they wait until the 26th? My golly, I'd even let them watch it on the 25th, once I get back with the sleigh!"

"Sorry, Santa. It's Keebler. Even as we speak the entire company has shut down and they are having a private screening. Those cookie-baking cretins would love nothing more than to send spoilers our way!" Blinky had a rare look of disgust on his face.

"Keebler!" exclaimed Santa, angrily. "You'll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy! That Ernie Keebler has just earned his way onto the naughty list! But wait--how did Keebler manage to get a private showing?"

Blinky blinked, then stated, "Simple bribery. Let's just say that J.J. Abrams won't be running out of E.L. Fudge anytime soon."

Santa looked defeated. "Is there no way to get around this?"

"No, Santa," said Blinky. "They all want to see the movie, and they all want to see it now." Blinky thought for a second. "Well, 90% of them, anyway. There are some who say they'd rather watch old Star Trek reruns, and a few weird ones who prefer Doctor Who. And there's also a small percentage who brag about the fact that they haven't seen any of the Star Wars movies like it's some kind of badge of honor. But there's not enough of them to make it worth keeping the production floor open."

"Fine, then," Santa said. "I'm not a monster. I'll let them watch the movie. But, as soon as it's over, they'll go right back to work, right?"

"Yes, Santa! Oh, yes!" Blinky was jubilant.

"Go set things up," Santa told Blinky, who ran off hurriedly.

Mrs. Claus, who had been listening the entire time, hugged her husband. "It's a good thing you are doing today. The elves will be happy," she said.

"They will," Santa replied. "I just hope, for their sake, my sake, and the sake of J.J. Abrams, that this movie is better than The Phantom Menace. The last thing I want is a bunch of angry elves."


Now choose a title that best fits the story.

O A. Santa vs. Star Wars
O B. J.J. vs. E.L.
O C. The Spoils of Keebler
O D. Star Wars: The Rise of the Sleighrider
O E. Harry Potter and the Phantom Menace
O F. The Angry Elves

Edited from a post originally published on 12/18/2015. (The day Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens opened in theaters.)

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

When Your Kid Needs That ONE THING for Christmas

Every year the news will run a story about that ONE THING that every kid is clamoring for; the ONE THING all the kids just must have; the ONE THING the stores are sold out of and that you can't find anywhere.

I've always laughed at those stories. I've scoffed at the idiotic parents driving all over town to try to find that ONE THING. I hadn't really worried about it, because it wasn't going to happen to me. Why? Because I'm not a very trendy person, and neither are my kids. And even if my kids did say they wanted that ONE THING, we often don't have enough money for it. I had never experienced the hunt for the ONE THING.

Until this year.

A few weeks ago I was walking through Walmart with my three year-old boy. He likes dinosaurs, and he loves monster trucks. (Sometimes he'll call them "monstrucks!") On the toy aisle we walked past some little monster trucks that were shaped like dinosaurs. I know--dinosaur monster trucks make absolutely no sense whatsoever. Dinosaurs were extinct before the cavemen invented the wheel (or so they'd like us to believe), and definitely long before the redneck invented the monster truck. But, toys don't really have to make sense to a kid. I made the mistake of pointing them out to the boy. He, of course, was pretty excited. "Dinosaur monster trucks!" he exclaimed.

Dinosaur Monster Truck!!!
I didn't think much  of it at the time, but as the days and weeks passed, whenever anyone would ask him what he wanted for Christmas he would say, rather emphatically, "Dinosaur monster trucks!"

It soon became apparent that, for my three year-old, this had become his ONE THING. (I have no idea what the real ONE THING is this year for most of America. I'm too backwoods to know.) So, I returned to the Walmart to get the boy some dinosaur monster trucks. Of course, they weren't there anymore. The problem is, when I first saw them, they weren't in the main toy section--they were in the seasonal toy aisle. The products in the seasonal toy aisle get swapped out frequently. To make matters worse, the dinosaur monster trucks were not a name brand product, they were the generic Walmart brand, so that made it difficult to look them up online.

I searched the store. No dinosaur monster trucks. My wife scoured the interwebs. She couldn't find them on her mothership, Amazon. She eventually tracked them down on Walmart.com, but they were not something that could be ordered, and it said that none of the nearby stores had them in stock.

The hunt continued. My wife and her mother searched an out of town Walmart. No dinosaur monster trucks. Then, after getting the kids to bed, I went for a late Saturday night hunt. I tried a Walmart about 20 miles away. They had some monster trucks that were bigger, and looked a little like dragons, but they were not the ONE THING. (I bought them anyway, to have as Plan B.)

There was only one more nearby Walmart I hadn't yet searched. It was my last chance. I was desperate. I went up and down the toy aisles and found some monster trucks that looked like sharks. So close! But not the dinosaur monster trucks I was looking for. It was approaching midnight, and I was about to give up, when a kind, courteous Walmart employee sauntered into the area. She had a shopping cart full of items that she was restocking to the shelves. I grabbed the shark monster trucks and asked her--no, begged and pleaded with her--if there was any chance they had some monster trucks similar to the shark ones, but shaped like dinosaurs instead.

She looked at me and didn't say anything. She held up her finger, motioning me to wait, and walked to her shopping cart full of go-backs. She reached in and pulled out a package of dinosaur monster trucks and--with a look of uncertainty on her face--handed them to me. "Yes!!!" I shouted. I didn't hug her, although I did think about it. Instead, I just said "Thank you!" to her about 17 times.

The hunt was over! After spending many, many hours searching through four different Walmart stores, plus the time my wife spent digging through the internet, we finally had our son's ONE THING! I was so relieved.

Four days later I was back in the neighborhood Walmart where I had first seen the dinosaur monster trucks. (I needed some Pepto-Bismal, possibly because of the stress from the search.) For no other reason than out of sheer habit, I walked past the seasonal toy aisle. There, on the shelf, were a dozen more packages of dinosaur monster trucks. The ONE THING was now overstocked.

The ONE THING, many times over.

Because, of course.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Quick and Easy Family Christmas Letter

Does anyone ever look forward to writing the family Christmas letter? It's one of those things that starts nagging at the back of your mind as Thanksgiving approaches, and stays there until either you get it written or it's New Year's Eve and you can free your mind by declaring "not this year, but maybe next year." (Then the whole cycle starts over again next Thanksgiving.)

It shouldn't be that hard to write a family Christmas letter, should it? It's not like it's ever original. You could say the exact same thing every year, with the exception of the kids' ages, and no one would ever notice. (Except maybe for Aunt Beverly. She's a stickler.)

So, to fix this problem, I have created the easy solution: a form letter you can use every year! All you have to do is fill in the names, ages, and a few other simple details. It's simple and effective!

The family Christmas letter doesn't have to be difficult. (Or any good.)

To use my Family Christmas Form Letter, all you have to do is put your personal information in the blanks between the brackets (these things: [    ].) That's it!

So, without any further ado, here is the SlowJoe40 Family Christmas Form Letter:

Dear [friend, family member, casual acquaintance, random person],

Merry Christmas! [Happy Holidays/Happy Hanukkah/Festive Festivus, or other salutation] I hope all is going well for you and your [family/significant other/cats/imaginary friends]. We are doing [great/fantastic/better than you].

We had a wonderful year! We did [Exciting Thing #1]! We also did [Exciting Thing #2]. And, we also did [Optional Exciting Thing #3]. It sure kept us busy this year!

[Child #1] is [ ? ] years old now. Time sure does fly! [He/she] [is in ? grade/will start school soon/just got married/just got engaged/had another baby]! [He/she] really is becoming a mature young [man/woman].

[Child #2] is [ ? ] years old now. [He/she] is doing great [at school in ? grade/at work/with his/her wife/husband]. [He/she] really enjoys it. [He/she] likes to [favorite activity] and [other favorite activity].

[Optional: Child #3 through Child #?? (Just make sure you don't forget any.)]

[Wife/Mother] had another big year, taking care of all [specific number of] children, and working on [job/hobby/community service/church calling], and [job/hobby/community service/church calling], and [job/hobby/community service/church calling] [Note: Must have at least three items listed in order to be doing an acceptable job as Wife/Mother.] It sure keeps her busy, but she wouldn't have it any other way.

[Husband/Father] keeps busy with [job]. He also spends time doing [hobby/household project/church calling]. [Note: A second hobby/household project/church calling is optional, but not necessary.]

We send you our warmest greetings and best wishes this holiday season. May you have a [Merry/Happy specific holiday] and a Happy New Year!

[With Love/Sincerely/Seasons Greetings],

The [    ???    ] Family

(Wasn't that easy? You're welcome!)

Edited from a post originally published on 12.19.2017.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Time Out

Why is my five year-old daughter in time out?

Time out!

She was sniffling, so I told her to go get a tissue to blow her nose. Her three year-old brother, attempting to be helpful, pulled a tissue from the box and tried to hand it to her. She wanted nothing to do with it. She insisted that she get her own tissue from the box. He stood between her and the tissue box, still trying to give her the tissue he had pulled from the box, but purposely blocking her from getting a different one herself. She yelled. She screamed. She stomped her foot. I told her to just take the tissue from him. I told her he had been trying to be nice. She yelled. She screamed. She stomped her foot. Because she was now crying, more snot oozed from her nose. She really needed a tissue now, but she would rather have a face full of snot than accept a tissue given to her by her little brother.

I sent her to time out. She stood in the corner. She yelled. She screamed. she stomped her foot. She still did not have a tissue.

If you ever come to my house and notice snot stains on the wall, this would be an explanation.

[Please note that I said "an" explanation, not "the" explanation. I make this distinction because I cannot guarantee this story is the only reason there might be snot on the walls of my house. I have four kids.]

Friday, December 6, 2019

"So, What Do You Want for Christmas?"

"What do you want for Christmas this year?"

That's the big question, isn't it? We'll get asked that question many times over the course of December, and we'll probably ask it ourselves to several people. It can be a tough question, or it can be an easy question. Some people know exactly how to answer it. "I want an official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!" And some people have no idea whatsoever what they want. In her letter to Santa (as dictated to my wife) my youngest daughter once said, "Please bring me a present, not a froggy. I want a froggy and a toy dinosaur and a toy lion in the present." (She got a froggy. She liked it.)

Merry Christmas to all!!!

So, what do I want for Christmas this year? Not much. Just a few things like:

*I would like an end to partisan bickering, so that members of both parties could spend more time working to continue to make this nation a wonderful place to live instead of calling each other names and worrying about getting re-elected.

*I would like the Minnesota Vikings to win the Super Bowl this year. (Just one championship. That's all I'm asking for! C'mon, if Tampa Bay can have a championship why can't the Vikings?)

*I would like automatic computer updates that update at convenient times for me, and don't mess up my computer.

*I would like all television commercials to be rated "G." I shouldn't have to have the "birds and the bees" talk with my kids because of an advertisement during a timeout in the basketball game.

*I would like some egg nog.

*I would like good health for me and my family. And my friends. And other people, too.

*I would like world peace.

*I would like lettuce to taste like bacon.

*I would like to be able to tell my children something once, and have them hear me and do the thing I wanted them to do after only telling them one time.

*I would like happiness for me and my family. And my friends. And other people, too.

(I don't want to be too greedy. I'll settle for any one of these things.)

Edited from a post originally published on 12/12/2017.