Cruising in your Twenties

When you’re in your twenties and feeling the tug of wanderlust, you’ll find so many travel options. Between backpacking, road-tripping, all-inclusives, cultural experiences, and much more, you face the tough choice of how to spend your vacation days and best see the world. Have you considered taking a cruise? I personally just returned from my second Royal Caribbean cruise in as many years, and had an awesome time. Cruising in your twenties isn’t usually the first vacation that comes to mind. But cruises aren’t just for families and older travelers. Depending on the experience you’re looking for, it might be a great choice for you!

The Variety of Travel with the Comfort of an All-Inclusive

The main draw of a cruise, for me and many others, is the opportunity to visit multiple destinations with a consistent “home base”. I love being able to stay in one room with tons of amenities, then step on-shore and experience new locations and cultures. Last week, my family and I traveled to Nassau, St. Thomas, and Sint Maarten, all of which were interesting and beautiful. From this and my previous cruise, my boyfriend and I can pick our favourites, and decide where we’d like to travel again in the future, and where we want to try next.

Excursions: Optional On-Shore Adventures

If you’re looking for an authentic cultural travel experience, then you may opt out of the additional expense of on-shore excursions. These are activities you book through the cruise line with some safety built in (i.e. the activities have been vetted, and the ship won’t leave without you if the excursion runs late). Examples include parasailing, ziplining, cultural tours, dolphin swims, scuba diving and snorkeling, or even just a comfortable bus ride to an exclusive beach. My family and I even participated in an “Amazing Race”-type activity for a few hours in Sint Maarten, which was a riot. (And we came in second place, haha! Not too shabby!) For a summary of my excursions on last year’s cruise, check out this post!

These activities can get pricey. But you’ll want to compare those prices to whatever you would be spending otherwise on taxis, food, and activities. To each their own!

Entertainment

Many cruise lines these days pride themselves on quality entertainment for all ages. If you’re cruising in your twenties, you’ll probably be less interested in the kid-friendly costume parades. But on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, for example, there was a Broadway musical, an ice dance, a high-diving water show, and a very creative acrobatic performance. And that’s not including the numerous smaller activities and events held throughout the ship, basically all day, every day. If you’re a fan of the arts, this is definitely a plus! There’s also a full assortment of sports and fitness activities and amenities, if that’s the kind of entertainment you’re into.

Nightlife? It Depends

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no party animal. On my most recent cruise, I went to the onboard nightclub twice, but it’s not exactly my cup of tea. From what I’ve heard, if you’re into that sort of thing, Carnival Cruise Line could be the way to go. They’ve got a reputation for hosting the youngest crowds, wildest parties, and best DJs. But if you’re just looking to party and dance the night away on your vacation, perhaps a cruise would be overkill. You could just as easily travel to a single city or venue and save money on the extras that come along with a cruise.

The Food!

There is so much delicious food on a cruise. It’s kind of insane. And while there are lots of ways to spend more money and upgrade your dining experience, there are also tons of free options! I’m talking multiple buffets, sit-down dining, pizza, 24-hour room service — all included! The price tag of a cruise might look outrageous at first, compared to your standard hotel or vacation, but you really need to factor in the food you’ll be enjoying throughout your trip.

A word of warning, though. Most cruises are cashless and use ID cards to load your tab for the week. That makes it so easy to rack up charges without realizing it, especially at the bar (or at Starbucks on board). I didn’t drink much on my trip, but I’d recommend keeping an eye on your account if you’re on a budget!


All in all, I’m now a huge cruising fan (and, apparently, evangelist). If you have a reasonable budget and are looking for a good balance of adventure and relaxation, then I’d definitely recommend cruising in your twenties!

Where will your next vacation take you?

Choosing Your 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene

You may have heard of Yoga with Adriene. It’s a YouTube channel with around 2 million followers (at the time of writing) led by quirky, lovable yoga powerhouse Adriene Mishler. (Maybe you’ve read my two previous posts on the subject, here or here? Check these out if you’re curious about my experiences so far.) If you’ve heard of Adriene, then you’ll definitely know about the 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene challenges. They’re guided video practices released daily in January for the past three years.

Each series is available for free on YouTube, and contains 30 (or 31) videos at 15-45 minutes in length. If you sign up on the website, you’ll also receive a daily message to supplement the practice of the day. In January 2015, there was the original 30 Days of Yoga, and in 2016, Adriene released the sequel, 30 Days of Yoga Camp. This year’s series, Yoga Revolution, wrapped up this past week. I’m happy to report that I really enjoyed this year’s practice, but I’m finding that each one is unique, fun, and invigorating in its own way.

Why a 30 day experience? While it’s awesome to practice yoga wherever and whenever it fits into your life, a daily practice provides great structure for growth. This was true for me physically, mentally, and emotionally. Adriene gets into some of this in the intro video for her first series, 30 Days of Yoga:

So what if you’ve just found out about Yoga with Adriene, and want to begin a month-long yoga journey? Should you choose 30 Days of Yoga (2015), Yoga Camp (2016), or Yoga Revolution (2017)?

Naturally, I (and Adriene, I’m sure) would recommend all three — probably in chronological order. But perhaps you’re looking for a particular type of yoga challenge. If that’s the case, I want to provide you with some context and insight to help you choose, based on my own experiences with these three 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene series.

If You’re New to Yoga

My recommendation for newcomers would be the original 30 Days of Yoga. Adriene’s guidance is very clear and informative in this series — but don’t worry, there’s lots of fun and silliness along the way. There’s also a natural progression of difficulty throughout the series. As a relative newbie myself, I found the earlier videos helped me build strength and mindfulness to prepare me for the rest of the series.

If You’re Looking for a Physical Challenge

Is yoga your workout of choice? Awesome! I’d recommend Yoga Camp. I found this series to be the most physically demanding of the three. Like the first challenge, this sequel series provides a ramp up to the more challenging videos. Adriene provides opportunities to practice new, more difficult poses, but also offers modifications as you work towards them.

If You’re Seeking a Journey of Self-Love

Committing to any yoga experience is an act of self-love, but if your ultimate goal is an emotional experience, then Yoga Revolution is for you. This series is the embodiment of Yoga With Adriene’s slogan/mantra, “Find What Feels Good”. The focus is much more on mindfulness, positivity, and “tapping into your inner smile” than the other two 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene experiences.

If You Want a Consistent Practice

Maybe you’re having trouble sticking to those New Year’s Resolutions. (It is February, after all.) If you’re looking to make yoga a daily ritual to carry you into the rest of the year, I’d suggest starting out with 30 Days of Yoga. I found this series to be the most consistent in terms of style and length. The day-to-day cadence of difficulty and focus was also more predictable in this series. This made it easier to fit yoga into my daily schedule. And after these particular 30 days of yoga with Adriene, I felt the most prepared to continue my home practice without YouTube video guidance.

If You’re Looking for Something New

After practicing for a while in a highly structured public yoga class (or the same old YouTube videos), things can start to get stale. Yoga Camp and Yoga Revolution will help you step out of your yoga comfort zone, in slightly different ways. Yoga Camp focuses on the link between mind and body, using mantras to channel energy and breath throughout both gentle and challenging sequences. I found Yoga Revolution to be a bit more instructive, as Adriene discussed alignment, energy, and chakras, for example, throughout the series. Both experiences incorporate a bit of Kundalini Yoga as well, which was new for me, and might be new for you.


I hope these considerations help you Find What Feels Good — whether that’s 30 Days of Yoga, Yoga Camp, or Yoga Revolution! If you’d like, take the next three months and do all three 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene series! Let me know which one(s) you choose! 🙂

Tone It Up Nutrition Plan First Impressions

After weeks of debate, and swooning over nutritious Instagram stories, I finally caved and purchased the Tone It Up Nutrition Plan. That means I’m a full-fledged TIU member! Never thought I’d be saying that, but here we are. Just a few weeks ago I started following along with the Daily Workouts on ToneItUp.com. I’ve really enjoyed the process and the community thus far. So before I get too entrenched in the TIU 2017 Challenge (for better or worse), I thought I’d share my Tone It Up Nutrition Plan first impressions!

 Tone It Up Nutrition Plan First Impressions: 2017 Challenge

Tone It Up Nutrition Plan First Impressions

Curiosity killed the…wallet?

Let’s just start off with the price. This plan is expensive, yo. Dropping $150 (USD, I might add) is a hefty commitment, especially since I’ve never done anything like this before. Can’t I just Google all of this nutrition info? Pull together some recipes on Pinterest and make my own plan for free?

Technically, yes, anyone could do that. The question is whether anyone will — and for me, the answer is a definite “no”. By the time I put in the effort to research which foods I need to fuel my body for mental and physical exercise, I’m already chowing down on Tim Hortons. I have made some healthier choices in recent months, but my self-regulation is my downfall. The convenience of having things explained, and aggregated in one spot is my biggest draw to the Nutrition Plan. I wanted to see whether the layout and guidelines of the plan would work for me.

I also took advantage of the current bundle offer. For $165 I received the Nutrition Plan membership and the Body Love video series. These video workouts currently appear quite often in the 2017 Challenge Daily Workouts. The challenge is already 1/3 of the way through, which is a bummer for the bundle. But from what I saw in December, members-only videos from previous challenges show up pretty often during non-challenge period Daily Workouts. Plus, I can always do the workouts whenever, right? (…Right? Hah. We’ll see about that.)

This Plan is Future-Proof.

Usually, when I’m making a commitment like this one, I’d take forever to come to a decision.

Should I wait until the next challenge comes along? Should I wait until I’ve used up all of the frozen pizzas in my freezer? Should I just try to eat healthy without any Nutrition Plan? (Continue ad nauseam…)

But the payment structure of this plan is a huge plus — or, rather, the lack thereof. It’s one fee. One-time. Flat rate. And you get every Nutrition Plan update and Challenge supplement download, for free, forever. This is perfect whether you just want to dabble, or if you’re an all-in-or-all-out kind of person, like me. Here’s the current spectrum of Plans available to members for download:

 Tone It Up Nutrition Plan First Impressions: All Plans 2017

I likely won’t use all of these, but they’re helpful to have when the opportunities arise. (Granted, TIU Challenges also usually require a paid set of videos, which are not included.)

Nutritional Science(ish).

I read through the “plan” portion of the download (i.e. not the recipes) on Saturday night. The guidelines seem solid, and there’s even some chemistry in there to explain the “why” behind them.

Even though I’ve got a Bachelor of Science, my biochemistry background is super limited. I appreciated the basic explanations Karena & Katrina included in the Nutrition Plan. But then you come across stuff like this:

Fatty acids are broken down by the enzyme hormone-sensitive lipase~ or what we like to call the “Burn Baby Burn Enzyme!”.

My boyfriend was reading over my shoulder and dying of laughter! So take the science sections with a grain of salt…

Meal Prepping is Madness.

My original plan was to dabble in some recipes and try out the Nutrition Plan whenever I could fit it in. But I just knew that I would revert to pasta and takeout, and wouldn’t be giving it a fair shot! So instead, I spent Sunday afternoon grocery shopping and meal prepping, as instructed by the 2017 Challenge Guide.

Wowza.

That grocery run was so expensive! I probably could have guessed. So much healthy food, and some of it premium or organic. Also, I was stocking up on bulk foods that I wouldn’t otherwise have purchased, like coconut shavings and flax seed. (And apple cider vinegar. Apparently that one’s important.)

Joe helped me with some of the meal prepping, since he loves to cook and I’m a mess in the kitchen. But as we all know, practice makes perfect! I made Egg Muffins, Almond Butter Cookies, and Chia Seed Pudding.

Things I Wish I Had Known 24 Hours Ago.

I’ve only had this Nutrition Plan for a day, and it’s already been a learning experience. Here are some things that might be helpful if you’re taking the TIU Nutrition Plan plunge:

Print it out.

If you have an iPad or tablet, you’re probably okay, but it was a nightmare switching between my phone and my laptop all afternoon. There are also printables at the end of the Plan — so at least print those. Plus, there’s just something so comforting about holding the pages in your hands, isn’t there? Okay, maybe that’s just me. I’m thinking of printing and binding mine at Staples ASAP — at least the main Nutrition Plan book, anyway.

Rewrite the grocery list in an order that makes sense for you.

This applies if you’re following a Challenge, like the 2017 Look for Love Challenge, with your meals all laid out. Joe and I kept having to go back for things in the grocery store because we skimmed over an ingredient! Take more time to study the grocery list than I did…

Join the gosh darn challenge on time!

At the end of 2016, I was convinced that my reasons for skipping out on Look for Love were solid. I’m participating in Yoga With Adriene’s Yoga Revolution, and still following the Tone It Up Daily Moves. That’s all the time I have to commit!

But you know what I still had time for?

Facebook.

Netflix.

And lots and lots of dawdling.

So you know what? I’m going to bite the bullet, try something new, and hopefully be healthier for it.


Those are my Tone It Up Nutrition Plan first impressions. To summarize, I’ll say that I’m cautiously optimistic, motivated, and curious! If you have any questions (for a newbie like me), ask away!

(P.S. I also created a TIU Instagram account to document the journey — mostly so I wouldn’t annoy my main account followers, haha! Let’s connect @tiu.hillary)

Are you on the #TIUteam? What were your Tone It Up Nutrition Plan first impressions?

thoughts-on-last-nights-debate

I don’t usually follow politics very closely. I’ll do a bit of research right before an election, I’ll vote, and that’s about it. But even as a Canadian, it’s been impossible to miss the headlines surrounding Donald Trump in the past few months. I had a hard time believing some of the things I was hearing. It was easy to assume that most of the stories were sensationalized in the tabloids. It all came to a head last night in the first 2016 Presidential Debate. And dear lord, it was all true.

In some circles, my Canadian political views automatically make me a bleeding-heart liberal. In Canada, that’s not entirely accurate. My opinions are liberal in some ways and conservative (by Canadian standards) in others. But I’ve realized that prior to this past year, I was under the misguided impression that the kind of people that would back someone like Donald Trump couldn’t possibly exist. So imagine my shock as the polls shifted more and more toward The Donald in the past few weeks.

Watching last night’s Debate made it abundantly clear to me that if the US elects Donald Trump, the consequences could be devastating. His complete disregard for facts, logic, respect, and self-control was laughable. Except that millions and millions of people are actually going to vote for him. Are you kidding me?

Now, about Hillary Clinton. For starters, I am so thrilled that America finally has a female Presidential Candidate. Is she the best-ever choice for US President? Maybe, maybe not. (Though her choice in first names is impeccable…) But in my opinion, any logical person should be looking at the two options, and the best choice should be extremely obvious. Yes, even for Republicans. I simply can’t believe that someone’s standing political allegiances can be so absolute that they should blind them to what’s going on in the world around them.

Anyway, those are my two cents on the matter. I want to encourage everyone to do their homework and make an informed decision. The world as we know it may depend on it.

Time for an Upgrade: My New Google Nexus 6P

I’ve had my good old Samsung Galaxy S III for three years now. For me, having the same device for three years or more is pretty standard, especially when it comes to phones. In fact, my Galaxy was my first-ever smartphone, so that gives you some indication of how slow I am to catch up to the mobile trends. If I could, I would probably stick with the same device forever. But with all of the apps and processes I’m running all the time, my battery life was terrible and the phone was so slow. Time for an upgrade. Yesterday, I picked up a brand new phone: a Nexus 6P!

Looking into phones for the first time in three years was pretty rattling. They’re so darn expensive now! My first thought was to look into the Galaxy S7 as a natural step up, but the price tag wasn’t very attractive. Instead, I started doing my research into which Android phones out there were the best bang for your buck.

First of all, I’ll mention that I’m not an Apple person. At all. So the allure of the new iPhone 7 was completely non-existent in this search. Plus, my entire life is integrated into Google apps at the moment, so it makes sense to keep everything accessible.

My major concerns when looking for a phone were processing power and battery life. Camera quality was more of a cherry on top than a deal-breaker, considering the not-so-great quality of my current phone camera. But beyond all of that was the price, to be honest. I wanted to be relatively caught up in terms of technology without breaking the bank. And while the successor to my current phone was pretty much top-of-the-line, I couldn’t justify the monthly plans and/or the up-front fees with any provider I came across.

Luckily, as a long-time Rogers customer (because I never change phones, hah), I was offered an extra 3G of data for free. It’s a similar plan to my current one, with $50 down for the Nexus 6P. Totally reasonable for my purposes, and it met my criteria as well. Score!

Now that I have my Nexus 6P, I’m excited to start using and customizing it. All of my apps were copied directly from my old phone to the new one, thanks to Google. (Yes, even Neko Atsume, haha!) I will say that the size increase from the S III is a bit extreme, especially with my tiny hands, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it!

Honestly, because of all the software updates needed, I haven’t had much time to play around with my Nexus since I picked it up. If I develop any strong opinions on this phone, positive or negative, I’ll be sure to review in a follow-up post. But for now, I just want to say that I’m so glad to finally have a new phone. (And hey, now I can download Pokémon Go for real! Not that anyone is playing it anymore…)

What’s your smartphone of choice for 2016?

My 3 Latest Binge-Worthy Netflix Faves

Hello, friends! It’s been a hectic few weeks around here. In the midst of the hustle and bustle this month, I’ve found it so necessary to take the time to chill out for an hour or two and watch a favourite TV show. With my current schedule, I don’t really have much time or brianpower for following multiple shows at a time. Netflix has been a godsend, then, since I can watch a single series straight through at my own pace. I’m glad I made time for these three recent Netflix picks!

Stranger Things

 Netflix: Stranger Things

Quick IMDb Synopsis: “When a young boy disappears, his mother, a police chief, and his friends must confront terrifying forces in order to get him back.”

This is one television bandwagon that I’m so glad I hopped on. Obviously, this show is blowing up right now, and for good reason. I’ll admit that I wasn’t hooked right away, though. I’d gone into this paranormal thriller expecting something similar to The X-Files. The first episode went essentially according to my expectations, so I didn’t feel particularly compelled to continue watching. A week later, I watched the second episode. And two days after that, I’d completed the entire eight-episode season. So.

In spite of its niche genre, Stranger Things has a very broad appeal: mystery, sci fi, nostalgia (it’s set in the 80s, in case you didn’t already know that), awesome characters, you name it. I am so impressed with the quality of Netflix Originals these days. Whether it seems like your cup of tea or not, give Stranger Things a shot next time you log into Netflix!

Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23

 Netflix: Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23

Quick IMDb Synopsis: “Chloe is a New York party girl with the morals of a pirate who bullies and causes trouble for her naive small town roommate June.”

This show is definitely not the stereotypical, formulaic sitcom I was expecting when I sat down to watch the first episode. It’s incredibly zany and surprisingly self-aware. The vibe is more Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt than Two Broke Girls, thankfully, but I’d say it’s more clever than Kimmy as well, especially in its use of clichees and tropes. Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 is still predictable, like most sitcoms, but it’s worth a shot if you’re looking for a quick laugh with a twist.

Galavant

 Netflix: Galavant

Quick IMDb Synopsis: “The adventures of Galavant, a dashing hero who is determined to reclaim his reputation and his “Happily Ever After” by going after the evil King Richard, who ruined it the moment he stole the love of Galavant’s life, Madalena.”

So one major thing missing from that synopsis is that Galavant is a modern musical. No, seriously. And it’s kind of hilarious. It’s essentially an Americanized Monty Python (Holy Grail comes to mind). The writing and musical team behind the two-season show is also responsible for Disney’s Tangled, which makes perfect sense. If you liked Tangled, you’re pretty much guaranteed to enjoy this.


What binge-worthy Netflix shows would you recommend?

When you’re looking to add a new board game to your home collection, one of the most important things to ensure is that the game won’t get stale. What’s the point in buying a game that gets boring after the first few play-throughs? Joe and I were on the hunt for something fresh and fun this weekend. We landed on Pandemic, a popular cooperative strategy game released in 2007. So far, we’ve played in three different groups: with my family, with his family, and just the two of us. And we had lots of fun each time!

The goal of Pandemic is to save the world from four deadly diseases. You play as a team of specialists with various randomly-assigned skills. As your turns progress, you and your team travel the world to treat these diseases and research their cures. At the same time, new cities are infected and outbreaks spread. It’s a race against the clock and the forces of nature to save the world.

Pandemic is the first cooperative game I’ve ever played. It took some adjustment, but I really enjoyed being able to work with the other players. Instead of competing via psychology and betrayal, your shared enemy is a series of random card draws. That way, the suspense and excitement were equally high for all players. Plus, you can share everything: the cards in your hands, your plans for next turn, and suggestions for your teammates’ moves.

The cooperative gameplay worked best when all players were engaged in the game. That wasn’t always the case, though. But even when a player was distracted or disinterested, they wouldn’t fall behind like they might in other games. The team still could still direction and use that player’s in-game special skills as things progressed.

My favourite part of Pandemic is the role of randomness in providing a unique game experience every time you play. Your strategy will change based on which cities are infected, when your cities have an epidemic, and what your special role will be for the duration of the game. I’ve noticed that some board games get very repetitive the more you play. That’s not the case with Pandemic, especially because you can also adjust the game’s difficulty at the start of each round.

 Pandemic — A Board Game Review

I do have a couple of warnings for new players. First, the game gets harder and the strategies get more intricate as you add additional players. It’s intended for 2-4 players, but we tried playing with 5, which made it much harder (but not impossible). Extra players essentially lengthen the time it takes to execute your strategies, and there are more opportunities for random events to ruin your plans.

Also, be aware of your team composition. Team strategies in cooperative games like Pandemic tend to gravitate toward the suggestions of players with stronger personalities. Do your best to ensure that every player gets a chance to voice their opinions and make decisions with the group.

In short, Pandemic is a great game for groups to have fun and be competitive – but with common goal. It looks a bit daunting at first glance, but the mechanics are really straightforward once you get the hang of the three-stage turn system. I would recommend Pandemic for groups of all kinds!

What are your favourite cooperative board games?

Smartphone Astrophotography with Novagrade

Hello all — I have returned from Starfest, Canada’s largest annual astronomy/camping conference! We had fabulous weather and clear skies for (almost) the entire week straight. There were lots of opportunities to use telescopes, binoculars, and even our eyes to observe the skies, especially the Perseid meteor shower! While real-time observing has its merits, many Starfest attendees are also heavily involved in astrophotography: taking photos of planets, stars, galaxies, or the night sky in general. This year at Starfest, I tried out smartphone astrophotography for the very first time.

Heading into this week of astronomy, I brought my 10-year-old automated telescope along with me. My only camera is a Nikon point-and-shoot. It’s not suited for long exposures or detailed images, both of which are important for “imaging” astronomical objects. However, I’d recently heard about a new trend in astrophotography that would take advantage of a camera most people already have: their smartphone.

It’s not enough to hold up your smartphone to a telescope eyepiece and snap a picture, though. You have to keep incredibly still, and if your phone moves out of alignment, you’ll see nothing but a black screen. That’s why Joe and I decided to make a purchase through Red Raven Marketing, one of Starfest’s vendors, at this year’s conference:

The Novagrade Phone Adapter for Smartphone Astrophotography

 Smartphone Astrophotography with Novagrade

The phone adapter is a device that latches onto any reasonably-sized smartphone or mini tablet. The side clamps are spring-loaded, and the back of the device has an adjustable hole to accommodate any camera placement. We found that it was easier to have the adapter hold the phone upside down. That way, thee little knob above the phone (see above) would support the phone’s weight instead. The adapter then twists onto a telescope eyepiece or camera using a compression ring.

 Smartphone Astrophotography: Novagrade Compression Ring

For our first foray into smartphone astrophotography, also known as digiscoping, we used 2″ eyepieces and a Samsung Galaxy S6. We used the Pro Mode of the phone’s built-in camera app to take pictures. That allowed up to 10 seconds of exposure, and we could play around with brightness and focus to try and optimize our images. Some turned out really cool, but we struggled with some others. We’re still learning! I’ve just used PicMonkey to apply some filters to these images. (That’s known in the astrophotography world as “post-processing”, apparently.) Take a look!

The Crescent Moon

 Smartphone Astrophotography — The Moon

Saturn

 Smartphone Astrophotography — Saturn

Jupiter, and some of its moons

 Smartphone Astrophotography — Jupiter

The Double Cluster in Perseus

 Smartphone Astrophotography — Double Cluster

(Okay, it basically looks like a bunch of stars…)


Another important aspect of this process was the Twilight app. We were taking photos in the dark and looking at faint objects in a telescope, so we didn’t want to ruin night vision for ourselves or the other campers around us. This program applied a red tint to everything on the phone screen. This way, our eyes didn’t get blown out by bright white light every time we looked at it. The only downside was having to take a break every couple hours to look at all of our images in full light, to make sure they still looked good!

Want to use this technology for yourself? You’ll need a smartphone, an adapter like ours, and something with an eyepiece. That could be a telescope, a birding scope, perhaps binoculars… or maybe even a microscope! And as for me, Joe and I are going to keep experimenting with our Novagrade Phone Adapter!

How do you enjoy the night sky?

Disclaimer: This post is not affiliated or compensated in any way. I just enjoy sharing about cool products!

The Bachelorette — The 2010 Video Game for Wii

As we all know (apparently), tonight on The Bachelorette, JoJo Fletcher is down to her final four suitors, and it’s time for hometown dates!

Let me say this right now: I am not a fan of this show. In fact, the hour of last week’s episode that I happened to watch was only my second experience with the entire franchise. I cringed my way through the forced conversations, and killed myself laughing when JoJo and Jordan crushed grapes at a vineyard with their sweaty, hairy feet and then drank it. Because they honestly thought it was wine. I was dying.

The Bachelorette — JoJo & Jordan Vineyard Date

They’re perfect for each other. (Eww.)

So to amplify the excitement of tonight’s episode, and to fill my entertainment void due to No Buy July, I bring you:

The Bachelorette — A Real, Actual, Honest-to-God Licensed Video Game for Wii

 The Bachelorette Video Game — Cover

Joe and I saw this video game at the library yesterday and just had to see what it was all about.

Our assumption, based on the subject matter and the back cover description, was that this game would be a dating simulator, where you win over the Bachelorette and sabotage your opponents (somehow). And for a while, nothing seemed to be amiss.

First, you choose your character. If you choose a guy, you’ll be competing in The Bachelorette, and vice versa. We chose this dude, a photographer, and named him Chad. Your other career options include Med Student, Account Executive, Movie Producer, and Designer.

 The Bachelorette — Character Select

Then the games begin — way more literally than we expected.

The first group date was a hot air balloon ride. So, naturally, the balloons need to be inflated. And who better to inflate balloons than the Bachelorette contestants, by pressing the A button repeatedly? If you fill your balloon the fastest, you’re rewarded with “heart points” from The Bachelorette herself!

  The Bachelorette — Balloon Mini-Game (1)

At this point, we’re a little confused. Are we playing The Bachelorette or Mario Party? Perhaps it’s just a qualifying round, so we can get to the real date…

No such luck.

The entire purpose of the game turns out to be earning these heart points, and the winner gets the girl. We are treated to a racing game, a tracing game, a puzzle game, a memory game, a weight deduction game, a catching game, and Joe’s personal nemesis, a picture-guessing game. Sometimes these games get re-skinned to match the theme of the date — notice, for example, how the game in the center below looks suspiciously like the hot air balloon challenge.

 The Bachelorette — Mini-Games

If you succeed at earning the most heart points during the group “dates”, you are invited to a one-on-one date, which includes (you guessed it!) another mini-game. However, there’s a cutscene component to the one-on-one dates as well! If you win your mini-game, the romantic scene can go well:

  The Bachelorette — Massage

And if not, things get a little uncomfortable. Both for the characters and for the player.

  The Bachelorette — Awkward

Then it all comes down to the rose ceremony, which tends to be quite dramatic on the TV show. The video game version, though, has no surprises at all. The contestant with the fewest heart points goes home.

The Bachelorette — Elimination

I suppose this is the entire premise of the show, but it seems a little strange when it’s phrased like this, don’t you think?

One of the strangest things about this game occurred at the end of the first “season”. We managed to win all of the mini-games (all fifteen of them…) and win the heart of DeAnna Pappas (yes, they used the real Bachelorettes). After the proposal cut-scene, we arrive back at the main menu to find that we’ve unlocked the second season with Trista Rehn. And we’re still playing as Chad the photographer! So basically, the object of the game is to successfully propose to the women in each of the five seasons?! I don’t know if the developers really thought that one through.

That’s the main storyline of the game, but there’s also an unlockable series of personality quizzes. They’re used to determine which Bachelors/Bachelorettes are most compatible with you, and you can also evaluate your compatibility with friends that take the quizzes. The topics include Dating, Marriage, Leisure, and Sex. And the slant on these quizzes was extremely confusing.

The Bachelorette — Relationship Quiz

Did the same person that wrote this quiz…

The Bachelorette — Sex & Pleasure Quiz

…write this quiz?

I know this game is rated Teen, but like, who is their target audience, exactly?

But the quizzes can’t be all bad…

The Bachelorette — Soulmates

D’aww. (I have mixed feelings about trusting this game though.)

Just like the love of most of the winning Bachelor/Bachelorette couples over the years, this game will live on the hearts of absolutely no one. I give this totally incongruent, dated (pun intended), so-bad-it’s-hilarious game one and a half roses out of five.

 The Bachelorette — Rating

If you feel the urge to play this game… you should probably just play Mario Party and then watch The Bachelorette tonight instead.

The Secret Life of Pets — A Disappointed Review

Three weeks ago, Joe and I went to see Finding Dory. We were those typical 90’s babies that saw Finding Nemo as kids back in 2003, so the nostalgia factor was the main reason we decided to go. Nostalgia aside, though, we really enjoyed the movie. There was humour and emotion for all ages. For Joe, the sequel was even better than the original; I’m not sure if I’ll go that far, but they were at least on par. With this positive Summer-2016-kids-movie experience mind, my sister and I went to see The Secret Life of Pets last night.

It was not good.

(If you care, there are spoilers ahead for The Secret Life of Pets — but not for Finding Dory.)

I’ll start with the positives. It has cute animals. These animals become friends and work together after starting out as enemies or disinterested acquaintances. The kids in the theatre really enjoyed the humour.

Now for the bad.

Before I launch into this, I want to make it abundantly clear that I am not judging a kids’ movie by adult movie standards. In fact, I am comparing it almost exclusively to Finding Dory. These are two directly competing movies released within a month of each other. So they should have been equal in terms of quality…right?

 The Secret Life of Pets — can it live up to Finding Dory standards?

Short Film

Both movies have a preceding short film. One of them is a zany, contrived, slapstick scene with no development — plot, character, or otherwise. The other is a full-fledged, wordless story with beautiful art and a full character arc. I’ll let you figure out which is which.

The Secret Life of Pets: A Frustrated Review

Pixar’s Piper

The Secret Life of Pets: A Frustrated Review

Universal’s Mower Minions

Heavy Reliance on Stereotypes

Both movies use stereotypical characters so that the audience can more quickly connect with them, but there were two major differences I noticed.

First, Finding Dory had a solid number of uniquely developed characters, whether they were the antithesis of a stereotype or just something completely different. The Secret Life of Pets has perhaps two characters that are not clearly-identified stereotypes.

Second, Finding Dory‘s stereotypes seem to be based on the expectations of the character’s animal species. The Secret Life of Pets, instead, stereotypes based on personification — either the personality, the lifestyle, or even the perceived race of the character, if they were human. There’s a lot more to this that you can read about in this article from The Root, but suffice it to say that it was very frustrating to watch.

Slapstick & Crude Comedy

When we watched Finding Dory, we were laughing right along with the kids. And sometimes, we laughed more, because of a second layer of humour intended only for the adults accompanying their children to the movie. This multi-leveled comedy is common in this genre. In fact, when I rewatch my favourite childhood films, I catch so many more jokes now than I did then!

The Secret Life of Pets has very little of this. The comedy is very physical, and the major driver for laughter is the characters getting hurt in an entertaining way. Not to mention the toilet humour. Finding Dory took advantage of this as well, but to nowhere near the same extent.

Character Development (Or Not)

The main character in this movie, a dog named Max, seems to learn the following lessons in the movie:

  • Bullying another (larger) dog will backfire
  • The white Pomeranian is in love with you
  • It’s best to work together with your rivals if you have a common enemy (i.e. Animal Control)

To me, it seemed that the main lessons were very situational, and essentially solidified a self-serving morality. I didn’t get that from Finding Dory. But maybe I’m reading too much into it.

Central Conflict

The general premise of this movie is that two dogs in New York City have to find their way home. Sounds a lot like Finding Nemo, right? So the difficulty could be the journey — navigating the streets of NYC, with help from the zany characters they meet along the way.

That is not this movie.

In The Secret Life of Pets, the two dogs would have had absolutely no trouble getting home if it wasn’t for:

  • The fact that they are trying to bully each other into submission at home.
  • The criminal gang of anti-human murder-glorifying ex-pets living in the sewers.

Universal felt that this movie would be incomplete without introducing a central villain — Snowball, the cute white bunny that leads this psychotic gang called the Flushed Pets — that is motivated by a desire for revenge and villainy. Snowball even has a line proudly describing what he is doing as evil.

A movie with the title The Secret Life of Pets has so much plot potential, no villain necessary.

Normative Violence in The Secret Life of Pets

This one was the nail in the coffin (pardon the inappropriate pun) for me. As I mentioned, the kids in the theatre laughed the most at the physical humour, especially characters getting hurt. This was mostly due to the aforementioned criminal gang of anti-human murder-glorifying ex-pets living in the sewers.

Even more bizarre was the fact that there were full-fledged battles in this movie.

But, of course, if an animal says “Hi-yah!” when knocking out another animal, it’s not really violence, right? It’s just funny.

Except I couldn’t help imagining all the kids that will go to summer camp on Monday, identify which other kids are the “bad guys”, and instigate a similar battle to get the same laughs in real life.

Full disclosure: I am not a parent. But maybe I will be some day. And I am not looking forward to having the conversation that goes something like this: “Even though it’s funny when the characters in the movie do it, you shouldn’t do it, because it’s hurtful/mean/inappropriate/…”

There was nothing like that in Finding Dory. Plain and simple.


In short, The Secret Life of Pets is not, in fact, a movie about what pets do when you’re not home. Instead, it’s a promising premise wasted on crude physical comedy and unimaginative characters.

Go see Finding Dory for a second time instead.

(I can’t believe I got so riled up about a kids’ movie…)

Did you see either (or both) of these movies? What did you think?