Oscar-nominated short films for 2014

Posted by barb on Mar 2, 2014 in Movies

For the past several years, Andrew and I have been going to see the Oscar(tm)-nominated short films at our local theater (well, it’s not exactly local anymore, since we moved to the other side of the Beltway…). So, this year, when the program showed up at Cinema Arts Theatre, we made a plan to trek over to Fairfax for the day and catch both the animated and live-action programs.

Here’s my take on this year’s crop.

Spoiler Alert I’m probably going to give away some of the plots/turning points in these shorts, so go see the films first, before reading!

Animated shorts

Get a Horse [Clip]

This was a Disney short, and starts out in the old black and white, small screen format. Suddenly, a couple characters break through the screen and find themselves in 3D color. The film continues with the characters popping into and out of the screen – into 3D color then back to flat, black and white.

It felt like this concept had been done before, many times. In fact, it seemed vaguely like Day and Night from Disney Pixar, which was nominated in 2010.

If this one wins, it will be because of the sentimentality of the old-style Mickey Mouse.

Mr. Hublot [Trailers]

Mr. Hublot is an OCD single man living in a steampunk-inspired future with tons of retro-looking automation. One day, he sees an abandoned robot-dog, and he can’t get this little guy out of his mind.

This one was my favorite. Though the story was predictable, with the ending set up fairly obviously in the opening shots, the story was uplifting…and the puppy was cute. And the animation style was straight-forward and fun to look at.

Feral [Trailer]

This one was about a feral child picked up in the woods. While there was a story present, the main driver of this piece is the watercolor-style animation.

Personally, I find this type of animation hard to look at, but I can appreciate the beauty that others must find in it. This one may win, just because the style sets it apart from the others and makes it seem more “arty”, which often attracts the Oscar voters.

Possessions [IMDB]

Bizarre story based on the old Japanese idea that if possessions are old enough, they begin to possess a soul that can taunt people. A “fixer of all things” is caught in the woods during a storm and stumbles into an old house. All night the objects in the house taunt him int fixing them.

Room on the Broom [Trailer]

Going in to today’s movies, we were both hoping there wouldn’t be yet another Gruffalo short…well there wasn’t, but Room on the Broom was from the same team and author. It is based on a children’s book, so the film was cute, as were the Gruffalo shorts, but not terribly substantive or interesting beyond the cuteness.

My prediction is that Feral will win, because of the animation style more than anything. We’ll see tonight!

Live-action shorts

Helium [Trailer]

The live-action program started with this, a sentimental piece about a hospital janitor trying to comfort a dying child with tales of the world of Helium, a more-fun alternative to Heaven. It was cute and sad and sentimental – everything that we come to expect from the live-action shorts. Sigh. From the moment it started #150; in a hospital with a sick child – we knew exactly where it would end.

The Voorman Problem [Trailer]

What do you do when a prisoner proclaims to be a god? And, when that prisoner convinces the entire prison population that he’s a god? Send in a psychologist of course. This short shows us what happens next.

One of few comedies that we’ve seen in all the live-action shorts we’ve seen over the years, this one was fun and extremely well-done with just a few short scenes.

Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything) [Trailer]

This short captures the day a woman’s decides to take her kids and leave her abusive husband. I found myself drawn in almost immediately, and continued to be engaged throughout the entire piece. The danger for this woman felt very real, and the urgency carried through every moment of the piece.

This one could win tonight, and I would heartily support that win.

Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me) [Trailer]

Set in Africa, this piece follows a pair of Spanish aid workers who are kidnapped by a group of child soldiers. The acting was not great – perhaps because the actors were working in English, which was clearly not their first language. However, even if the acting was great, I would have been disengaged from the beginning. I know that child soldiers are a real problem in parts of the world, and I do know that their plight needs to be brought out to the public…it just seems that there are other ways to do it. Or maybe not. I know it’s complicated.

If this one wins tonight, it will be due to the subject matter, not the film itself.

Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?) [Trailer]

A very short (7 minute) comedy about a family late getting ready to attend a wedding. So many unexpected moments, and I may have laughed out loud. I doubt it will win, but this was my favorite.

I’m guessing that either That Wasn’t Me or Just Before Losing Everything will win tonight. It’s so hard for comedies to win these awards, though those were probably my favorite in this program.


“Board” games: Wooly Bully

Posted by barb on Jan 29, 2014 in Games

Wooly Bully Game

2014-01-18 19.49.51 copy

Several years ago we took a board game class through our county’s community education series. One of our favorite games (as evidenced by the fact that we bought it) was Wooly Bully. In this game, each player is a farmer with a different color (black, blue, red or yellow). Your goal is to fence in as many of your sheep as you can by the end of the game. This can be done in one large enclosure or in many small enclosures — whatever sheep you have completely enclosed scattered around the full playing area count toward your score.

At the beginning of the game, only you know what color sheep you have. You lay tiles, matching sheep colors and/or terrain (there are “village” sections and forest sections — see the detail picture showing a few tiles). When you lay a tile, you replace that tile but you also get to pick additional tiles if you match more than one side of the tile you laid — this way you can get more tiles in your had to choose from.

The village and forest tiles count as “fences” to completely fence in your sheep. However, you need to beware the forest — there are a four wolf tiles that can be played at any time. These wolves in the forest nullify any sheep enclosures that use that forest to close them. If you are lucky, you might have a hunter in your hand that can also be played at any time. The hunter kills the wolf, thereby making your sheep safe again.

To make the game a bit more complicated, each tile is double-sided, so you can play the reverse side of the wolf or hunter to get four additional sheep of a single color — this is a bonus if you happen to get the hunter or wolf with your color of sheep. But, of course, there’s some strategy to how and when you play that tile!

We’ve found that this game isn’t quite as fun with just two players, but works quite well for 3 or 4 players. The rules are very simple, so it’s also the perfect game when you don’t have a lot of time to explain the rules of a complicated game or you just want to get right into a game. The strategy shifts from game to game as you try to figure out whether to make a lot of small enclosures to to go for a ginormous, rambling pasture.


Two-player games: All Creatures Great and Small

Posted by barb on Jan 21, 2014 in Games

All Creatures Great and Small Game

Andrew and I have gotten back into board games. We first got into them a few years ago when we took a couple board gaming classes through our county’s community education program. We’ve played on and off over the last few years, but not with any regularity.

For 2014, we’ve committed to two things that will help us reconnect with our gaming-selves. First, we are hosting a gaming event at our house once a month for a small group of gamers (at least a small group to start). Second, we’ve committed to playing games together at least once each week or every-other week (if we’re busy on gaming night).

Our first game of the year was All Creatures Great and Small, which is a 2-player version of the game Agricola. I’ve never played either, so I can’t say how the 2-player version relates to the full version.

Each player has a farm, and the game is played in eight rounds, with three turns for each player in each round. There are several actions a player can do with their turn, from building fences for their animals, collecting resources, taking in animals, building stables or a new cottage. At the end of the game, players get points for the number of animals of each type and certain buildings. Once an action is taken by one person, it can’t be done by the other. (At least, not in the exact same way.) At the end of each round, pairs of animals have babies (as long as you have enough room for them).

I kept finding that I wanted one more turn each round, which, of course, is the point of limiting the rounds. There was a balance to how early to obtain animals, when to build a structure and when to enclose a pasture. We played two games, and I certainly didn’t feel like I figured out the strategy in that time. I suspect, as with any good strategy game, the strategy changes each time, depending on what your opponent does.

I’m looking forward to playing this one again, and might even look into the full game for our gaming parties.

Here’s my board at the end of one of our games:
All Creatures Great and Small Game


April Photo-a-day

Posted by barb on May 8, 2012 in Pictures

I did Fat Mum Slim’s April Photo-a-day challenge, here’s my April 2012 at a glance!

My reflection in the front window
1 – My reflection
Colorful post-it notes
2 – Color
Delano post office
3 – Mail
Jim and Ralphie jim
4 – Someone who makes me happy
Tiny buttons at an antique store
5 – Tiny
Post-lunch treat
6 – Lunch
The landscape in shadow
7 – Shadow
Inside my wallet
8 – Inside my wallet
Me with my dollies
9 – Younger me
Pants would have been better!
10 – Cold
Eating breakfast on the couch
11 – Where I ate breakfast
The runner is gone!
12 – Stairs
Kitty in a tunnel!
13 – Something I found
We get to paint! Yay?
14 – How I feel today
Oops, missed this one!
15 – Sunset
Stained glass flower
16 – Flower
Cleaning supplies
17 – Something I don’t like
Wearing a french braid
18 – Hair
Orange-handled paint rollers
19 – Orange
Oops, I missed this one!
20 – Something I drew
This one didn't come from a bottle!
21 – Bottle
Paint roller pan liners
22 – The last thing I bought
Greek salad for lunch
23 – Vegetable
My big guy
24 – Something I’m grateful for
My big girl
25 – Looking down
Stormtrooper Donald
26 – Black + white
Our little park
27 – Somewhere I went
Andrew and Aurora at the dog park
28 – 1pm
At Home Depot AGAIN
29 – Circle
Oops, I missed this one!
30 – Something that makes me sad

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March Photo-a-day

Posted by barb on Apr 8, 2012 in Pictures

Last month I did Fat Mum Slim’s February Photo-a-day challenge….then she went and put together a March Photo-a-day challenge, so I had to do that one, too. Here’s my month at a glance!

        Looking up
1 – Up
Our fruit bowl
2 – Fruit
Neighborhood lights
3 – My neighborhood
My bedside
4 – Bedside
A smile in my magnetic portrait set
5 – A smile
At the dog park
6 – 5PM
My Egyptian fortune necklace
7 – Something I wore
A window into my soul?
8 – Window (into my soul)
Do not feed!
9 – Red
The side of the truck we rented
10 – Loud
Zephyr in the Sun
11 – Someone I talked to today
Southwest Salad
12 – Fork
Don't make a mess!
13 – A sign
A glimpse of clouds in NYC
14 – Clouds
Veiw from my hotel window
15 – Car
Sunglasses on my head
16 – Sunglasses
Green dots on the NYC road
17 – Green
My Desk
18 – A corner of my house
Love this notebook
19 – Funny
That's the littlest grape I've ever seen
20 – Before/after
Catnip is yummy!
21 – Delicious
Our clean dishes
22 – Kitchen sink
Our shower curtain
23 – Moon
Aurora and I saw this deer on her morning walk
24 – An animal
Quick trip to Dunkin Donuts
25 – Breakfast
Robot key
26 – Key
My cartouche
27 – My name
Random stuff from my pocket
28 – Trash
Andrew being silly on the park bench
29 – Feet
Our puppy is spoiled!
30 – Toy
Kicking my feet up
31 – Where I relax

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February Photo-a-day

Posted by barb on Mar 4, 2012 in Pictures

I discovered Fat Mum Slim’s February Photo-a-day challenge, and decided to join in. Here’s my February 2012 at a glance!

      My Office wall
1 – My view today
Words on one of Dad's t-shirts
2 – Words
My hands, old and new
3 – Hands
Strangers at the dog park
4 – A stranger
Just back from my run
5 – 10AM
Does this count as dinner?
6 – Dinner
7 – Button
This is the only sun we'll be seeing today
8 – Sun
Our front door
9 – Front door
10 – Self portrait
Woo at the Zoo
11 – Makes Me Happy
Clean closet!
12 – Inside my closet
My water bottle
13 – Blue
He has my heart!
14 – Heart
Gimme a call
15 – Phone
16 – Something new
It's 5 o'clock somewhere ... here!
17 – Time
Movie drinks
18 – Drink
Default title upload by motoblur
19. Something I hate to do
Fragments of magnetic poetry recorded before it disappeared
20. Handwriting
Me at trail's end
21. A fave photo of me
Where I work
22. Where you work
My shoes, taking me on adventures in The District
23. Your shoes
Inside my bathroom cabinet
24. Inside my bathroom closet
My Keroppi pillow
25. Green
The Moon with Jupiter and Venus
26. Night
27. Something I ate
The spoils of my gumball machine
28. Money
Listening to hubs typing
29. Something I’m listening to

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Posted by barb on Jan 13, 2012 in Around DC, Pictures

Remember that Gin-GRR-bread contest that I won? The prize was a behind-the-scenes tour of the Elephant Barn at the National Zoo.

Last Saturday I got to cash in my prize. Sweetie even came out from MN for the tour! I also brought Andrew, JD, Laurie and their kids, Lorna, Stef and Doug. We had to get to the zoo early, but Marie, the elephant manager and our host, met us and brought us up to the Mezzanine.

Our elephant barn host - one of the elephant keepers, Marie

When we arrived, Kandula was getting his bath.
Kandula gets a bath!Footprints

The ladies, Shanthi and Ambika, were eating in another stall. They also were throwing hay onto their backs – apparently back-hay is very tasty:
Back straw is the bestBack scratches

Marie answered many of our questions. The kids wanted to ask about the elephant poo – how much do they poo in a day? Turns out, each time they poo, it weighs as much as a 7-year-old boy!

Next up for a bath was Ambika – Marie had to leave us, as she was in charge of bathing Ambika. So, Becky came up to answer our questions and supervise us.

That's a big scrub-brush!

After her bath, Ambika went to the “sandbox” stall, and started flinging sand on her still-wet back. Turns out this is good for their skin, because as the sand dries and falls off, it helps to exfoliate their skin.

Flinging sandFlinging sand

We stayed in the barn for an hour and a half! It sure didn’t seem like it. After the tour, we walked around much of the rest of the zoo. We even checked out the elephants again – we just hadn’t gotten enough! Oh, and the keepers were out in the yard, and recognized our group…I’m sure that was a good thing, and not because we were terribly annoying :)

Elephant reflection

The rest of my pictures from the tour are here: Elephant Barn Tour on Flickr.

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Gin-GRR-Bread Habitat Contest 2011

Posted by barb on Dec 19, 2011 in Crafty Me, Random Thoughts

Longtime readers may recall that last year I entered the inaugural Gin-GRR-bread Habitat Contest at the National Zoo. My entry turned out better than I had ever expected, and I was fairly certain I was going to win. Well, that is, until it broke when I was transporting it to the zoo.

So, when the National Zoo announced this year’s Gin-GRR-bread contest, I was very excited – I was going to redeem myself this time! The theme this time was “Winter Wonderland on the Farm”, because the Zoo’s children’s farm was saved from closure this year by a generous donation from State Farm. I debated between doing a literal interpretation of the theme or thinking a bit outside the box – which one would the judges embrace?

I decided to go a little outside the box with my entry: Winter Wonderland Country Fair. Here’s the final entry:
Winter Wonderland Country Fair

The contest had a few requirements:

  • food and drink for the animals
    An alpaca buying a carmel appleCarmel apples and a candy cane in the concession stand
  • space to move around and explore
    A goat riding the carouselThe snowball toss game
  • and shelter from the heat or cold
    A pig and goat warming at the fire

I added one secret ingredient to my entry – Ares and Duncan, the two cats that our household lost this year:
Ares getting warm at the fireDuncan sniffing a candy cane

So, how did I do this year?

I won my category!!!!
Me with my certificate!Me and my winning entry

Hmmm…does this mean I’ll have to be even better next year? Dear Lord, I hope not! I was already a crazy gingerbread-woman for a couple weeks in November…I’m not sure Andrew could take more.




Posted by barb on Nov 24, 2011 in Family, Random Thoughts

I’ve never been a big fan of Thanksgiving. Not because I’m not thankful for things, but, I think, because a friend of mine died the Monday before Thanksgiving when I was in high school…his wake was Thanksgiving evening, funeral on Black Friday. My Dad, though, he loved Thanksgiving. It might have been his favorite holiday – at least a close second to Christmas. He loved getting whole family together.

This year has been a year of loss and stress. Most of it has not appeared on my blog yet, because it’s just been too painful. I’ve wanted to write about it, but whenever I start to think about all of it, I feel like it will overtake me.

In January I lost my Grandmother. Honestly, I didn’t grieve for her; it was her time, and she had wanted to die for years. But the loss hit me because I knew how much she meant to my Dad. In March I lost my Dad. I can’t even begin to express how much that hurt, and still hurts today. In April, just six weeks later, we lost one of our cats. After Dad, it was just too much, too much to deal with. Shortly after that, my job changed completely, and not in a good way. Things calmed down over the summer (except for not being happy with my job), but then I bought my Mom a condo because Dad had left her in a shit position for money (i.e. he left nothing, not even enough to pay for a funeral). So stressful to take on a new 30-year mortgage, and to know that I can’t just leave my job when I want to – I’m not responsible for my Mom’s housing. October…ah October. In one week, my Grandmother (my other one) was in the emergency room and taken to another hospital for possible emergency surgery (she’s fine, and didn’t end up needing the surgery); my uncle had a stroke; I turned 40; I found out the one person who makes me feel calm about my job is leaving; and another of my cats died.

It seems that it would be hard to be thankful for much this year. I know it seems trite, but I am thankful for my family and friends, for being gainfully employed (and being able to afford to buy my Mom her condo), for the best husband around (I never would have made it through this year without his support). More than all of this, though I’m thankful for two things:

Dad with his new camera

  • I’m more thankful than anyone can know that I decided to go visit my parents for Thanksgiving last year. This picture captures Dad last year on Thanksgiving Day, full of pure joy, surrounded by his family and futzing with his camera – two favorite things. And I was there with them, adding to his joy. Seeing his joy. If I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t have seen him until his Mother’s funeral. Instead I got to see him at his happiest.

  • Cats in a row

  • I’m thankful that we got another year with both of my boys – Duncan and Ares. Duncan started getting sick in Fall 2009, and we found out that Ares had cancer in January 2010. I remember taking down our Christmas tree, crying while putting away the ornaments we have for each of the cats thinking that I wouldn’t get another Christmas with them. But we were able to treat both of them – Duncan with steroids and lots of small meals, Ares with chemotherapy. We struggled the whole year with Duncan, but he started to gain weight, and we constantly watched for him to tell us when and if he was ready to give up the fight. Ares went into remission in the summer of 2010, and we were optimistic that he would be with us for a long time. So, while I hoped that we would have them longer, I am thankful that we had an extra year with each of them.

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Posted by barb on Aug 5, 2011 in Family

If I could bottle the smell of fresh sawdust, I would. Then I would pull it out everyday and take a small whiff. Especially when I needed a reminder:

  • that I am loved
  • that I have always been loved, since before I was born
  • that I am connected to a wonderful network of people, friend and family
  • that there are people who love their job.every.single.day they go to work
  • that I should be really proud of all of my accomplishments – big and small
  • that my family is special, spectacular, and a source of pride by itself

Why sawdust? Because that’s Dad. He was a carpenter. I’d smell sweet sawdust when he gave me a tour of his latest job. I didn’t necessarily appreciate the job site, but his joy and pride were evident. There would be sawdust on his lunch pail and water jug at the end of the day. When I’d borrow his truck as a teenager, sawdust was my constant companion.*

I’ve always loved the smell of sawdust, but I don’t think I understood why. Now I cherish fleeting whiffs of sawdust as a comforting reminder of Dad.

* Occasionally we’d have to take his truck to a dressy affair (especially if Mom and I wanted a separate vehicle to escape before Dad wanted to leave), so we’d have to take extra care to check the seats before getting in with our good clothes.

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