Dear Pegasus – The Holidays

Hello My Little Pegasus,

Boy have you grown in the past six months. From partial sentences to full conversations and descriptions. You are utterly adorable. You’re also a little terror at times, but that comes with big ideas, big emotions, and trying to deal with them.

Last Christmas, you didn’t seem to understand what was going on; this year you don’t know what is happening, but you know you should be excited about it. You asked for a cash register from Santa. I’m not sure if that’s because you wanted one or because Keladry had once mentioned she wanted one.

Right now, I take care of you while I work and I sometimes feel like I don’t give you enough attention, but that’s the way things have to be for now; soon things will change again. Your sister got her first vaccine and hopefully you’ll have yours early in the new year. That means that Dragon should be going to first grade in person. Then you’ll have Mum and I for most of the day.

When someone opens something you chant, “What is it, what is it, what is it?” in the cutest voice filled with excitement.

You’re starting to do imagination play where you make figures talk to each other and make up little stories.

You give the best snuggles.

You are terrible when you’re hungry or bored. You’ll scream and refuse to clean up. Just the other day, I was explaining other religious holidays to Dragon and you were bored so you just screamed. So frustrating.

There are 3 search and find books that you love and I swear they are the most soul sucking experiences. You’ve memorized all the locations of the stuff so you get bored part way, but insist on having me read them to you and then you just drift off. Sigh.

Overall, you are a wonderful little person and I’m proud to be your Papa. I hope you have fond memories of the holidays and I can’t wait to spend them with you for years to come.

Love you,

Your sappy Papa

Being Productive Isn’t that Important

Hello My Imaginary Friends,

I’m not sure when it happened, but I became one of those people who has trouble not doing something. I’ve always fidgited and couldn’t fully sit still, but at some point my inability to sit still went from physical to mental.

I do a lot of things for various projects, jobs, etc. There’s always something to do. Because of that, I’ve had a hard time reading for pleasure.

I completely stopped during university and was fine until parental leave. There’s not much I can do on the bus other than read, video games, or emails. I tried writing, but it wasn’t easy. So for the past fifteen years I’ve read on the bus and it’s worked really well, allowing me to read an average of 20 or so novels a year.

A tired author wearing a shirt that says, “So many books, so little time.” On the shirt is an octopus with glasses holding a cup of tea and reading two books and holding another.
Shirt available at Tee Turtle.

Since my second parental leave, I’ve had a lot harder a time. There are three reasons:

The first is simple and is just the lack of bus and forced time set aside.

The second will sound petty, but it’s my kids. I love my little Dragon and Pegasus, but they don’t seem to like me reading. Pegasus will physically put himself between me and a book or my kobo. Then when I put it down, he’ll go away and do something else.

He’s older now, so hopefully he’s getting over it, but I still have this weird instinct of not reading around him.

The third is something I’ve been been struggling with for a while. When I read, I feel like I should be doing something else. That’s how my relaxing evening reading turned into writing (that worked out for writing). There’s a kind of guilt and panic when I read that I’m having a hard time getting over.

I need to keep telling myself it’s okay to do things that aren’t productive. It’s okay to take ten or twenty minutes to be a little selfish. The other things will wait.

It’s okay to do things for pleasure and not production!

Maybe if I say it enough times it’ll sink in? I detest that I can know something intellectually and somehow not actually believe it deep down.

Stay safe and be kind,

Éric

Quick update – cute cat and bunny

Hello My Imaginary Friends,

My wife and I are working hard on book 2 of The Gates of Westmeath, at work it’s report season, and between allergies and season change; I don’t have much time.

Soon it’ll also be roasting for Holiday Calendar season too. (Preorder yours before Friday)

So quick update, but the kids had a good Halloween and that makes me happy.

Hope you had a happy spooky season. Bring on the Holiday music!

Stay safe and be kind,

Éric

Barbie: Spy Squad – JenEric Movie Review

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Hello Cinephiles,

Today we’re talking about the 2016 film Barbie: Spy Squad.

Story

Definitely geared towards younger audiences, it’s a solid intro into the secret agent / spy genre. The twist was predictable for me, but I’ve seen a lot of these.

Score: 0.5

Characters

The main three characters are the usual super awesome Barbie and friends. They fit into the basic spy stereotypes very well. The techie computer guy felt really relatable and the over-the-top spy aunt was pretty funny.

The villain felt a little meh and the heel-face turn was abrupt and could have used more set up.

Score: 0.5

Dialogue

The dialogue oscillates between cutesy and inane. There are a few funny jokes and the overall message is good.

Score: 0.5

Visuals and Music

The visuals are standard Barbie movie with lots of cute spy and action bonuses. It’s not great, but it’s not terrible.

The music is catchy… too catchy. They have 1 song and they use it A LOT!

Score: 0.5

Fun

I enjoyed this the first time I watched it. It has constantly been on of my daughters favourite movies since she could ask for it. She used to say she was going on missions with her spy girls and then do a bunch of flips.

Score: 1

Overall

One of the best Barbie movies available with a strong message and catchy music. It’s a great intro into spy and action movies without the gratuitous violence. It’s fun and one of my daughter’s favourite movies.

Score: 3 stars out of 5

Gaming with kids

Hello Parents and Educators,

We were asked about using tabletop RPG’s as an educational tool while integrating real life history and geography.

Baby Dragon with Cubie from Alina Pete and a glowing d20.

It’s a massive question and I could write an entire book about it, but here’s what I answered:

Hello,

This is the Eric half of JenEric, I write the RPG stuff and most of the stories. My wife is the one who did the homeschooling but she felt this was a bit beyond her.

Thank you so much for that question. That is a great question and will depend a lot on your kids and your preferred style of play.

First I’d (selfishly) recommend using Oneshot – The Simplest RPG. It’s just the rules, they are very simple and you’ll be able to use them for almost any scenario.

As for the educational part, I’d recommend you make a list of things you want the kids to learn about and build around those goals. If you’re planning on different historical locations, you should break them down. I find it helps to break down each location/time and then list the characters, places, important events, and reason for the characters to be there.

If you’re jumping around in history and geography, you need to either make a series of small adventures or try maybe make it time travel related. With the time travel, the kids can get attached to a character that they’ll see grow and experience,

Another good way to keep it fun and keep them interested is to have a fun villain. I’m a big fan of cartoonish villains for kids, but you know your kids best.

Hook them into a story and they won’t even notice they’re learning.

As much fun as movies, tv, and books are; be careful not to use them too much as research. A good place to start is WIkipedia, each article has sources and those sources usually have a lot more information and further reading.

I hope this helps,
Eric Desmarais

Anyone have further advice for gaming with children in an educational manner?

Stay safe and be kind,

Éric

Change in Schedule – Dear Pegasus and Dragon

Dear Pegasus and Dragon,

Your mum and I had a plan. It was a good plan. Until Dragon went to school we’d have your schedule be 11pm sleeptime and 11am wake up. This meant we had more time with you and the grandparents after dinner.

It worked really well and we were getting mentally prepared to change it when the pandemic and first lockdown hit. We decided that since mum was mostly homeschooling Dragon that we’d keep going.

Now that Dragon is going to be going to full time digital school next week (Yikes) we’ll be switching your schedule to 8pm bedtime and 8am wakeup time.

I’m kinda terrified about how it’s going to work. Worried that we’ve messed up your internal clock or something. Hopefully everything will be okay, but I definitely expect it to be a hard first few weeks.

As much as this past year or so has been terribly scary and more than a little frustrating, I’ve enjoyed the extra time we’ve had together. I’m not sure you’ll remember much from this year but between the homeschooling activities and the extra time at night to snuggle, I’m not going to forget.

This feels like a big change for us, but if we do it right you won’t remember it.

Love you both,

Papa (Éric)

Heat, Allergies, and Mental Health

Hello My Imaginary Friends,

Everyone is different; our bodies react to weather, stress, and fatigue in different ways. So my experience isn’t the same as everyone else’s.

August sucks for me. Especially weeks like this week, where we had high temperatures and high pollen count. Despite living indoors with air conditioning, the heat and pollen still affect me. It means I can’t sleep very well (up every 20-30 minutes), can’t breath very well, and generally feel crappy.

I think the worse part of poor sleep, allergies, and feeling crappy; is that it makes everything seem worse and hopeless. This isn’t new, but I always forget. In the future, I should probably plan trips around this time to keep me moving and not thinking.

I crashed yesterday and snapped at my wife for something that wasn’t her fault (Sorry).

It’s a vicious cycle of feeling like I should be doing more and not having any energy to do it. So when I take time to rest or relax, I then feel guilty and that makes me feel depressed and anxious.

At least the kids are liking the weather. Here’s a cute picture of them playing on the splash mat in our backyard.

Once the heat breaks, I’ll start feeling a little better. Until then, I have to keep reminding myself that it’s okay to take time to recover and not to feel guilty about it.

Be kind to yourself!

Éric

The House with a Clock in Its Walls – JenEric Movie Review

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Hello Cinephiles,

Today we’re talking about the 2018 film The House with a Clock in Its Walls.

Story

I was very impressed. The movie had the right level of intrigue and excitement and the pace was a great balance between Gothic horror and kids horror. The plot was relatively simple and gave space for the characters’ backstories and the world building.

Score: 1

Characters

A lot of times, stories like this will neglect character development for the adults or the kids, but this one did a great job balancing it. The villain was surprisingly sympathetic for a corpse.

Cate Blanchett was amazing in her role and really made me feel for the character.

Jack Black managed to do what he does best and make a loud, arrogant, character who is both sympathetic and likeable.

Owen Vaccaro was wonderful as the quirky kid. I am a little sad they cut the fat-phobia story, but it’s probably for the best.

Score: 1

Dialogue

Quirky, weird, and definitely memorable. The skills of the writer (who wrote for the first five seasons of Supernatural) were definitely well used.

Score: 1

Visuals and Music

The visuals were beautiful and creepy. I wasn’t a fan of the abundant poop jokes however.

The music was atmospheric and fun.

Score: 0.5

Fun

I watched this with my 2 year old and he loved it. Kept saying “scary… fun!” In the actually scary parts he hugged me. I think my 4 year old would have yelled at the screen when the cabinet was opened and flailed like an angry octopus.

Its exactly the kind of kid’s horror that I grew up with and it felt like something I would have watched in the 90’s, but better in almost every way.

Score: 1

Overall

Fun, exciting, and scary with more heart and better acting then expected. This is a movie made by horror fans for future fans. It’s a great introduction for those kids that can handle and enjoy the scary moments. It’s also a great nostalgic feel for those of us that grew up with this style of storytelling.

Final Score: 4.5 Stars out of 5

I like to play games

Hello My Imaginary Friends,

I love games. I love board games, table top games, card games, and video games.

I had never bought myself a video game console. I have an amazing brother who’s bought me a PS3 and PS4 and a lifetime ago we got a free Nintendo Wii with a computer purchase. (Before that, I used my mom’s systems.)

Dragon on her giant Yoshi. (I’m mildly sad she’s stopped calling it sushi.)

Well, last week there was a sale we couldn’t resist and we bought a Nintendo Switch. I worry that it’s about to be replaced, but hopefully there’s a few more good years in them.

Of late, Pegasus has been obsessed with watching me play Mario Kart on my phone. (He’ll climb on my lap and say, “race” although it sounds like “wash”) Dragon has been doing well with Disney Infinity, but I feel she needs games that are a little simpler.

With that in mind, we got Mario Kart 8 deluxe, Switch Fit, Lego Avengers 2, and Just Dance. I’m planning on getting Yoshi’s Crafted World for the kids. I’d also love to get Link’s Awakening and maybe one of the Mario games.

For someone who’s really busy, having something that I don’t have to spend an hour re-learning the controls or several hours doing side quests will be a nice change (Looking at you, Spiderman). To be honest, I’ve missed Nintendo.

So any recommendations for games? Both for a 4 year old with little gaming experience and a 37 year old who loves games, but isn’t very good at them?

Stay safe and be kind,

Éric

Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century – JenEric Movie Review

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Hello Cinephiles,

Today we’re talking about the 1999 film Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century.

Story

At it’s core, this story is one that Disney and countless others have done a million times before and since, painted with a shiny sci-fi veneer.

It includes my most hated trope, parents who don’t believe their children.

Score: 0

Characters

The parents are frustrating and made me yell at the TV, but I enjoyed Zenon herself. She was confident, smart, amazingly lucky, and competent. Despite the overuse, I do like the competent child trope.

Score: 0.5

Dialogue

The dialogue is both fascinating and cringe-worthy. The made up slang mixed with turn of the millenium slang just really interests me. I like that they made sure to have seperate styles of slang for earth vs the space station. A lot more thought went into this than I would have thought.

Score: 1

Visuals and Music

The special effects were okay for the time period despite some major misunderstandings of physics. The costuming was clever and the music was ok.

Score: 0.5

Fun

The parents and adults being about as smart as rocks took some of the fun out of it for me. I enjoyed the main character and the other kids.

Score: 0.5

Overall

The movie is a fascinating time capsule of retro sci-fi that has a wonderful main character. Unfortunately, the entire story is overly dependent on the aggressive stupidity of the adults and them not believing her.

Score: 2.5 Stars out of 5