Our Top 3 Films for 2014

Like almost everyone, watching movies is one of my family’s most favorite past times. When we want to spend a quite night in with the kids, we just pop in the DVD of one of our favorite movies and huddle up with a bowl of popcorn. However, not a week goes by without us hitting the movie house to watch the new releases.

2014 has been a great year for the movie industry. A lot of fantastic movies came out which includes another installment to the Hobbit Trilogy. Before I sat down to write this post, I sat down with my family to discuss our most favorite films of 2014. Without further adieu, here they are in no particular order.

Maleficent

This movie is a dark fantasy film that is told from the point of view of one of Disney’s most popular villains – Maleficent. If you aren’t a Disney junkie, Maleficent is the villainess in Sleeping Beauty. The main character is played by none other than Angelina Jolie. I must say, she portrayed the role beautifully.

Anyway, it is a story of love, betrayal, and revenge. However, the main reason why we love this movie is because it shows how humans really react when they are betrayed. This movie has allowed us to teach our kids the importance of not letting greed get the best of them and to never betray the people who love just so they can get what they want. Another thing that this movie shows is that no matter how dark a person’s path has become, there is always hope that he or she will someday see the light.

Annie

Annie is one of my most favorite Broadway musicals so I got very excited when I heard that a film adaptation was going to come out. As you can expect, I dragged my family to the movie house on opening night.

I wasn’t sure if my kids were going to like the film when I brought them to the movie house. After all, the original version of it was set during the Great Depression and it was about an orphan girl. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the movie adaptation was set in the present and that they even managed to squeeze in Instagram and Twitter into the story. That was really something my kids could relate to.

I’m glad my kids loved this film as much as I loved the Broadway musical when I was younger. Like me, my daughter was singing “Tomorrow” non-stop for days after we watched the movie.

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Penguins of Madagascar

Now who doesn’t here wouldn’t love the highly intelligent and witty penguins of Madagascar? Madagascar is one of my kids’ most favorite cartoons of all time! I’ll admit, it’s one of my too! When we heard that a movie focused on those darn penguins was going to come out, we knew we weren’t going to let it pass.

It’s one of those movies that will have laughing the entire time you are watching it. The wit and antics of the penguins were the same as how they were in Madagascar. My kids loved it!

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

We recently went to a holiday to Istanbul where we had the time of our lives. The main reason why we chose Istanbul for our family holiday is because we wanted to take the kids to a place that had a lot of history and culture. Also, John wanted to study the architecture of Istanbul’s greatest masterpieces – the Ayasofya Müzesi or Hagia Sofia- because his current client wanted the design to his house to be inspired by it.

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We stayed in Istanbul for two weeks. Since it was the first time in a long while that we were taking a vacation abroad as a family, we decided we would go all out. We booked a room in one of the best hotels in the city. The room we got had a fantastic view of the skyline of seven hills of the Old City.

We took the kids sightseeing during the day visiting the museums, grand palaces, and imperial mosques that Istanbul is famous for. With so many places to see, two weeks of sightseeing every day was not enough to get through everything on our list. However, it there was only one thing I wouldn’t let pass, it was the opportunity to shop in one of the best bazaars in the world – Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.

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The Grand Bazaar is popular for being the ones of the biggest shopping centers in the world. The place can be a town in itself because of the large area it covers. Just imagine how big it really is that is able 4000 shops. Okay, I didn’t exactly count the number of shops there but that’s what our guide told us.

Shopping isn’t the only thing you can do at the Grand Bazaar. There were also a great number of restaurants that served different kinds of cuisines that can satisfy even the pickiest of taste buds. In fact, one of my most favorite meals during our vacation was at a small restaurant at the bazaar.

I visited the Grand Bazaar about five times the whole time we were there. I had the kids with the first couple of times but when I told them I was going to go shopping for the third time around, they flat out refused to go because they claimed that it was too exhausting. I really can’t blame them. The place just made it too easy to forget about the time that you don’t even realize that you’ve already spent an entire day there.

Despite my sore feet and limbs, I was always remained in very high spirits when I got back to our hotel. So did I manage to buy? All sorts of things! I got an authentic Turkish hand woven rug that now lies handsomely in front of the fireplace in our living room, glazed tile and pottery pieces, some copper and brassware to add to my collection, and also an array of clothing and bags made from beautiful leather.

Needless to say, I spent a lot more than my allotted shopping budget but I have no regrets. After all, it’s not like we’ll be going back to Istanbul any time soon. If you plan on including Istanbul in your bucket list, make sure that you allot a couple of days of shopping at the Grand Bazaar. Trust me, a single visit is not enough to get your fill of what the place has to offer.

My Latest Discovery: Pressure Cooking

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I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t discover the joys of pressure cooking until three weeks ago. Ridiculous, right? I know that the process of pressure cooking has been around for more than a century but I’ve never really given it much thought. In fact, I was quite against the idea because to me, it was only for people who were too lazy or too impatient to cook.

You see, I was brought up a very traditional way. My mom baked in a brick oven that was fueled with firewood and my dad chopped wood for our fireplace. That’s right, we didn’t have centralized heating in our home. Instead, we had a fireplace in our living room and radiators in our rooms. Although I don’t practice simple living to that extreme, I have used traditional methods when cooking. In fact, I even had a brick firewood oven built in our backyard. To this very day, it’s still what I use in baking breads, oven roasting meats, and cooking homemade pizza in.

That said, I never really had any problem in simmering a particular dish for long hours so I didn’t see the need to invest in a pressure cooker Besides, I had some backward beliefs about pressure cookers. For one thing, I thought pressure cooking wasn’t healthy because the food would lose all of its nutrients because of high the high heat and pressure that the food was being subjected to.

Next, I thought they were a hazard because they could explode if too much pressure is contained inside. I had a friend whose pressure cooker blew up and scattered Bolognese sauce all over her kitchen. It’s a good thing she was in her living room when it happened or else she could have been seriously hurt.

Last, pressure cookers were expensive. The cheapest pressure cooker in the market is around $100. I’m no cheapskate especially when it comes to things for the kitchen. However, I just couldn’t justify the thought of spending that much on a pot.

All this changed when I was gifted with a pressure cooker set by my sister. The first thing I did I opened the gift was laugh. I asked her if I’ve ever served her rubbery meat because I couldn’t understand why she was gifting me with a pressure cooker. She told me in reply that it was about time that I stepped into the 21st century when it comes to my kitchen.

In the days that followed, I kept researching about pressure cookers and how they affect the quality of the dish being cooked. It was then that I was able to disprove my initial thoughts about pressure cooking.

First, it’s not true that essential nutrients in food. According to my research, pressure cookers are able to preserve a lot more nutrients because cooking time is a lot less. Since the food is cooked faster in a pressure cooker, less nutrients are broken down. Next, pressure cookers these days are equipped with safety features that eliminates the risk of explosion. My last point (that pressure cookers are expensive) is still true but since I was given one as a gift, my argument was kind of moot.

Since I received my pressure cooker, cooking has been a lot easier. I no longer have to wait hours for dinner to be done. This has allowed me some free time to play with my kids and enjoy quiet time. It has also improved my dishes especially in the broth department. Broths have always been a problem for me because I am rarely able to make that perfect gelatinous broth no matter how long let the pot simmer. Overall, I think a pressure cooker is something everyone should have in their kitchen.

Buying CrossFit Shoes for the Family

Keeping the entire family fit can take a bit of organizing. At the start of the year we discovered CrossFit training. It offered a regular exercise program for every family member young and old, all under one roof.

We now attend CrossFit sessions every Monday and Thursday evenings. It’s a fantastic workout and all the kids enjoy taking part. In this article I want to talk about the importance of buying the correct shoes for CrossFit.

I originally discovered CrossFit during a conversation with a good friend. I mentioned that I was looking for an activity the entire family could do together. My friend suggested CrossFit and I conducted more research about the sport when I arrived home that day.

After speaking with the local CrossFit coach I signed us up to an introduction session for the following Monday. We arrived on time and were all excited to get started. However it was quickly pointed out to us that our training would be limited due to our choice in footwear!

I didn’t realize at the time the difference between athletic shoes designed for workouts and sport shoes designed just to look cool. I spent many hours searching online and, two visits to the mall later, we now have the family fitted with the correct shoes for CrossFit.

Below are the shoes we are currently using for CrossFit training.

Reebok Nano 4

The Reebok Nano 4 was released in 2014 and is, as the name suggests, the fourth generation Nano. This is the shoe of choice for both my son Jacob and I. We have both been wearing the Nano 4 for the past two months. It’s designed just for CrossFit training and feels very comfortable right out of the box.

The shoe fits true to size and provides an excellent grip on indoor surfaces. I like the range of color choices, but you also have the option to design your own online. Jacob designed his own pair and it was impressive to see the design go from screen to real life once delivered.

At some point during the summer of 2015 I hope Reebok will release the Nano 5, as I will be the first to buy them.

New Balance MX20v4

My wife and our other two children have decided to try a barefoot style of shoe, eventually opting for the New Balance MX20v4. These minimalist shoes are interesting because they don’t provide any form of cushioning. The shoes are extremely flexible and lightweight, but are made with durable materials.

The MX20v4 is available to buy in five different colors and are only $80 — that’s half the price of the Nano 4. The whole point of the barefoot experience is to strengthen your feet and have a more natural experience compared to wearing a padded shoe.

The downside is they do take a few weeks for your feet to adjust because the sole of the shoe is flat compared to a traditional padded shoe with a 4-millemeter support.

Now that we have the correct footwear, we can focus on keeping fit and healthy.

Reasons Why People Just Can’t Get Enough of Horror Stories

There are so many reasons why horror stories and movies are a hit. You need to understand just why people are so hooked.

People love horror stories. This is why horror novels are a huge hit. Horror movies that have been creatively done are also a huge blockbuster hit. Different places also have different urban legends to tell. Wherever you go, there are tons of ghost stories and a lot of people are crazy about this. Yes, fear is an emotion that people wanted to avoid. However, when it comes to horror stories, they just can’t help it. Even if it scares them to death, they still want to watch horror movies or read ghost stories.

The thrill

Horror stories are done in such a way that people will hold on to the book page after page. This is why they will surely read the entire story from cover to cover. The same thing is true for horror movies. The scary plot to the sound effects and graphic visuals, everything constitutes to a cinematic effect and people love it. Each time their imaginations are provoked and their sense of fear is activated, then they become attached to it.

A touch of reality

Although these horror stories are usually just a product of people’s imaginations, they always inject reality in it. The setting, characters, and everything in it are relatable. There are horror stories of a group of friends who are out on an adventure trip. This is something many people can relate to. There are also stories involving family accidents, revenge, and many other realistic plots. Thus, you can’t blame people for being totally engaged in horror stories.

Connections with loved ones

If there is one thing that these horror stories imply, it is the fact that there is life after death. Whether it is a good life or not, the point is that life exists. These stories, no matter how gruesome they are, provide hope to people that they can still connect with their loved ones beyond life on Earth. These stories are a proof that souls exist and even if these souls are in distress, something can be done to make them feel good eventually. The possibility of connecting with the lost loved one again is something that these horror stories provide. Thus, a lot of people are given hope and are comforted especially with their longing to see their loved one again.

Striking people’s imaginations

This is definitely what horror stories offer. They make people think. Their imaginations fly. They activate emotions. Thus, for people who feel lost or who feel numb, these stories bring them back to life. They feel better again. They feel like they are human again. However, not all horror stories are effective. This is why there are some that totally fail. Nevertheless, a well-written story or a perfectly crafted movie will most likely be a hit for the people. In fact, if you want to know more horror stories, you can read about   Robert the Doll through the Legend of Robert the Doll. You will surely feel scared once you have read the entire story.

Family Communications Upgrade

A few weeks ago we faced a problem that we really didn’t think would end up being a big issue. Our trusted home phone that we have been using for about 15 years finally broke beyond repair. We really thought that we would be able to live without it and had already considered deactivating our VoIP phone service.

However, after about a week of not having it we realized how important it really had become. We actually use it a lot especially for international calls, which are very expensive to make on pretty much any cell phone plan. In addition to this we have a problem with cell phone reception in certain parts of the house. So if I want to go and make a call in peace and quiet I often find myself struggling to have a conversation.

So, we had to take the hit and invest in a new phone. What I couldn’t believe is how cheap these systems have become. I checked out some cordless phone reviews and due to the really cheap prices I decided to get one with a total of 5 handsets. The reason for this is that we have a busy house and I always seem to be searching for the phone, which could end up being anywhere.

In addition to the multi handset feature I decided that it would be very convenient to invest a bit extra in a Panasonic cordless phone with built-in Bluetooth.

This seemed like a bit of an unnecessary gadget, but when I looked into this a bit more I found that it was a really convenient feature. It basically allows me to pair my Smartphone with the home phone and then all incoming cell phone calls go through to the handsets. This again means that I don’t end up searching for the phone every time it rings.

At this stage I also decided to review our most recent home phone bills to see if there were some better deals available. About 2 years ago we upgraded to a VOIP system and it has saved us a fortune over the years. But there are many more providers available now with quite some competition.

Our main concern is audio quality, which we have found was lacking a bit a few years ago. With so many providers available I really had to take a few shots in the dark. Basically I signed up for a load of free accounts and everyday I change the provider I use for calls. This has allowed me to test out the quality of service over a several days.

Surprisingly, there really was not one that stood out as having bad quality, which was a very pleasant surprise. This meant I could really focus on call costs and for this I set up a bit of a spreadsheet. I recorder the last months call destinations and times in one column and in the subsequent columns I added the cost per minute for different providers. This way I could tell which provider would have resulted in the lowest bills.

Basically I am now saving an additional $15 per month and I have a fantastic phone system that suits the whole family. Everyone is happy with!

Simple Things You Can Do if You Wish to Lose Weight, but You Just Can’t

There are things that you can do to have a better shape even if you felt you have tried everything.

You might have tried a lot of things in order to lose weight. You might have gone to the gym and tried weight loss equipment. You might have also started changing your diet and went for healthier dishes. However, despite all these efforts, you still remain the same. This can be very frustrating. It seems like this is a hurdle that you just can’t get over with. Well, before you lose hope, you need to realize that there are a few things that you can do in order to lose weight. These are small changes that will surely make you a lot better than what you are now.

Eat slowly

This is a very simple trick, but this might be where the problem lies. Try eating fast and compare it when you eat slowly. You will realize that when you eat slowly, your food is digested faster. You won’t feel heavy even if you have eaten a lot. On the other hand, when you eat fast, it seems like you are already full with just a few bites. You need to help your digestive system and chewing well is the key.

Try walking every now and then

If you work in an office, you might be stuck in your chair for the entire day. This could be the reason why you are still big. Take note that you spend more time sitting than hitting the gym. Therefore, if you wish to lose weight, you have to make the most out of your breaks. Take time to get out of your office and walk to the nearest mall. If not, you can go outside by using the stairs instead of the lift. These are small tasks that you can do every day that could change the way you look.

Don’t just sleep during weekends

If you are so busy with your work, you might just end up sleeping during the weekends. You stay up late at night and just roll on your bed for the entire day. This is not a good thing to do at all. You have to understand that this is the only time for you to be more physically active. During weekdays, you are bombarded with work and so you have all the excuses not to be physically fit. If you have free time, spend more hours in the gym. If not, you can just walk around the park or in the neighborhood. You can also take your pets out for a walk or go shopping with your kids. This will make you more physically active.

Don’t eat late at night

You have to stop eating before 6 or 7 in the evening if possible. Take note that your organs need to rest and recharge at night. If you keep on eating, your digestive system will continue to work and this is what makes you fat. Therefore, you need to stop eating no matter how hungry you are.

In the end, if all these tricks don’t work, you might try a fitness supplement. You can read more of Plexus slim review to find out the key to losing weight.

SUPs and Supper

Things are always shifting and changing. The more people in your family the more things shift and change. Sometimes I miss my single days and the simplicity of life with just me in my apartment but usually not! I love my wife and kids and wouldn’t change my situation if I could. And I do get a little alone time once in a while… Anyway, the latest changes are two new passions that have emerged. The wife has recently purchased an electric pressure cooker — check some out — and the kids seem to have caught paddle board (reviews of the best stand up paddle boards can be found on shakasurfer.com) fever which is kind of odd considering it is only March.

From what I gather, one of the kids started hearing about paddleboarding from a friend who was on vacation and then they all started watching videos about it and, voila!, now they are a must-have. We shall see as SUPs (that’s the standard abbreviation for stand up paddle board) are pretty expensive, even the inflatable ones. Perhaps we can have a family outing some time in the summer and rent them and give them a try. Or, maybe the passion and fascination will fade and I can avoid a tussle over a big purchase. I love it when the kids are happy and having fun but wish they could chose a less expensive hobby. Enumerating the costs for a paddle board set-up is enlightening and sobering – it looks like a half-decent kit would cost around $1000! Multiply that by the number of people in your family and you have to be fairly comfortable financially…

  • paddle board $900 – $1500
  • paddle $100 – $300
  • PFD (personal floatation device) $40 – $150
  • paddle board leash – necessary so you don’t get separated from your paddle board if you fall off – $40

So, onto the other new thing in our family and specifically our kitchen – the electric pressure cooker. This is one I can fully support: not too expensive, frequently used, produces some really tasty meals and saves time. I tried it out myself just because and was impressed. Black beans took twenty minutes to cook rather than the usual one and a half to two hours. I like the peace of mind of the modern electric cooker too. With all its safety features and the timer I can get it cooking and then leave knowing that it will turn off when scheduled. Though I have to admit I did arrange my bean cooking time so that I was in the vicinity when it was supposed to shut off – just to be sure. Honestly there are so many redundant safety mechanisms that I would feel ok with one of the kids using it though I’m not sure I’d be too keen to eat whatever comes out.

So, in summary, thumbs up to the pressure cooker. I can’t see any negatives – except maybe overcooked food if the cook doesn’t know what he or she is doing. As for the paddle board idea probably thumbs down due to financial concerns, but we can always rent!