Saturday, October 27, 2012

Movie (p)review: Hotel Transylvania

Hotel Transylvania, in case you did not know it, is a great movie, combining the voices of some of greatest comic actors with wonderful animation that will be enjoyed by kids and adults.
I was able to host a Hotel Transylvania party at my house this weekend courtesy of Crowdtap. They made wonderful party games and suggestions available to get everyone in the mood for Halloween and also discuss the movie.
copyright Durhamonthecheap
The main characters are Mavis, a slightly different heroine (monster, tsk, tsk) and Johnnystein (a mere normal human being) - who of course fall in love and have to overcome some difficulties, namely Mavis' father (Dracula) who does not like humans!
copyright Durhamonthecheap - coloring pages for the kids (and adults)
He is right, how can Mavis prefer Johnnystein to the nice strapping monster? The kids loved to color the pages provided by Crowdtap and eat cupcakes, which were appropriately decorated with gummyworms and looked too goolishly fun to eat almost.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - who is the fastest to the Hotel Transylvania

copyright Durhamonthecheap - even kids enjoyed this brainy puzzle!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - monsters make everything more fun!
Current playtimes for Durham, NC include:
  • Rave Cinemas Southpoint 17 + IMAX 10:35a, 12:50p, 3:15p
  • Regal White Oak Stadium 14 10:35a, 12:50p, 3:15p
  • Carmike Wynnsong 15 10:35a, 12:50p, 3:15p
So go ahead, take some time with your kids and enjoy this movie, after all humans are not the only one struggling with rearing teenagers! You will gain a whole new appreciation for Dracula and his changing moods. 

Disclaimer: Through crowdtap, I was able to receive a digital partykit with ideas for hosting a party themed Hotel Transylvania. The opinions expressed on this blog are my own and have not been influenced by crowdtap or any other third party.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Product review: Influenster Beauty Bloggers Voxbox 2012 - initial impressions

Today I received a package and it was the eagerly awaited Influenster VoxBox for Beauty Bloggers. It contained a wonderful assortment of products and the best part of it all, it was free, no dime or dollar needed to be spent.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - contents of the Influenster Beauty Bloggers VoxBox 2012!

The products included were awesome:
NYC New York Color Individual Eyes Custom Compact, retails for about $5.00 - love NYC products, such high quality and wonderful colors - Thanks so much Influenster for including this!

Kiss Ever pro Lashes Starter Kit ( $5.99), my first go at false lashes, I am very excited to try these out!

BBW Mini Candles ($3.50), I love the Nutmeg and Spice scent, just in time for fall and cozy evening in front of the fireplace

EBoost - orange flavor, one individual serving. I had this in other boxes and love it. It is all natural and work wonders to perk you up.

Goody Simply Styles Spin Pin ($7.29) - very excited to see this included since I like to wear my hair up and i will definitely give this a try soon likely this weekend!

Not your Mother's Smooth Moves Frizz Control Hair Cream ($6.00 for full -size bottle) - I believe this is available at Walmart. I had never heard of the company, but I am definitely looking forward to trying this and being sold at Walmart means that this haircare product should  be affordable, which is important in this economy.

 Disclaimer: As part of the Influenster Beauty Bloggers VoxBox 2012 program, I received free samples in return for honest reviews. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by Influenster or any third party.

BrandX - Russel Brand for 30 minutes uncensored

Yes, that is right, Russel Brand has his own TV show and it is clearly uncensored and that is the reason it is coming on at 11PM on the FX Network.

I choose this screensaver from the FX website as the first image, because the show can be described as dark. Russell is not pleased about a lot of things and he makes that clear. So if you are hoping for light entertainment, keep looking. If are you looking for a highly individual view on current topics and no nonsense critique of people in charge, aka politicians, this show is for you. And just in case you are not that familiar with Brand, his show and the clips available online are definitely not save for work. The language can only be described as strong.
And while Brand may seem like he does not care about other's opinions of himself, he clearly wants to be in the spotlight and even criticism of his behavior and opinions will bring publicity. I was surprised by an interview he did with a guest on the Olympics and switched into a discussion of propaganda. And while Brand made it clear that propaganda is not necessarily bad, think of the 1936 Olympics, mixing Nazi means of influencing the masses in with other events based on similarities in posters was a stretch for some of the guests I invited to the viewing party. They were wondering where did that come from and who is this guy that, in their opinion, will make such statements to grab headlines. That is why I picked the second image from the FX website - Brand covets publicity, even if only through notoriety.

But you should really make up the opinion about BrandX on your own - check out the show website on the FX site here. And then watch some of the clips and full length videos there as well.

Disclaimer: I was able to host a viewing party on BrandX through The opinions expressed on this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by Crowdtap or any other third party.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bookreview: How I Came to Sparkle Again by Kaya McLaren

Thanks to Cravebox, which came out with a book lovers Cravebox earlier this month, I received this book before the official publishing date. I did not know which book would be included, but I gathered it was something romance / life story because of the teaser statements we got.

I have to admit that I never heard of the author before, but I have read several books in the past few months by authors that I had not read before, so I was excited to get to know another new author. It turns out that Kaya McLaren has written bestsellers before, including a book called Church of the Dog which deals with a couple that has become disenchanted with their marriage, but a stranger entering their lives manages to revive the feelings between the couple. Comparing both books, you can discover a theme of rekindling romance. Now, keep in mind, I did not read Church of the Dog, I was just curious a bout other books by the author because the subject of How I came to Sparkle Again is definitely interesting.

So what is How I Came to Sparkle Again now about? It tells the story of three people, Jill, Lisa and Cassie, who all end up in Sparkle, Colorado, a ski town and find their lives in turmoil. The book describes how they find back to their lives and happiness, overcoming the problems that initially seemed insurmountable.

Jill, who suffered a recent miscarriage, finds out that her husband is cheating on her. She follows invite by her friend Lisa to come to Sparkle. She hopes to only overcome the disappointment of her husband's betrayal, but Sparkle has more, much more to offer.

Cassie, a young girl, struggles with her mother's illness and death. She does not know how to go on, but she too finds herself in Sparkle with new energy and a life that has promise.

The final character is Lisa, Jill's friend, who has relationship problems of her own. not being married and really afraid to get married because she wants to avoid trouble like Jill is now in, Lisa has an endless string of brief relationships and no way out.

available on here

While I really liked the overall message of the book, there were some issues with the book. First the good things.  The characters were well developed and the story had a deeper message of faith and belief in yourself. This I really enjoyed and made the book to me very meaningful. What put me off and this is probably a personal choice; the book contained quite a bit of swearing. To me  these sections seemed like an attempt by the author to obtain street cred, but really did not add anything to the story. I really do not like it if writers feel the need to include such language when it seems out of character.

So if you do not mind that kind of language in a book, you will probably enjoy the book a lot. I did enjoy reading it, but the first encounter of swearing left me thinking - now where did this come from? It just did not fit into the book. I recommend Kaya McLaren's book How I came to Sparkle Again for an interesting take on relationship / romance, but be warned about the language.

Disclaimer: I received the book as part of the Cravebox program. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by Cravebox or any third party.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Newsworthy to me: Kafka scripts belong to Israel library

I just came across this headline on Yahoo - much to my surprise Yahoo actually covers Kafka.
The letters and correspondence that Max Brod inherited from Franz Kafka or kept after Kafka's death will now be moved to the library in Jerusalem, which plans to put them online. I hope that everyone will have access to the correspondence without having to pay fees or memberships costs.

Franz Kafka is one of my favorite authors. He lived in Prague and then also in Austria towards the end of his life. He is considered one of the most influential German authors of the 20th century and his writing style is very unique. The subjects covered in several of his books are centered on the helplessness of the individual. Whether it is the inability of a person to fight against the system or the failure of an individual to stand up for themselves, Kafka points out how alone a person can be. The books by Kafka tend to quite dark and would never be described as cheerful. In addition, he tends to go into very much detail as if he thought being concise would mean that no reader would truly understand him. So no book by Kafka is short. He actually turned on single letter to his father into a story aptly titled "Letter to His Father" that ended up being 45 typed pages. 

Photo of a young Kafka - taken from here

His most uplifting and funny book is "Amerika" describing the adventures of a young man that gets shipped to America after he got a servant girl pregnant. In true Kafka fashion, do not expect a book that will leave you laughing or even smiling. While the protagonist never reaches the depth of desperation as the (anti)hero in "The Trial", even the story in America is not funny, just the least depressing of all Kafka stories. 

So why the fascination with Kafka? I am not really sure when it started. But I was in my late teens when I started to read Kafka and became fascinated by a person that was so willing to put his fears in such detail on paper. Kafka had the ability to be critical of society without being political. He had a strong believe in the individual, which is why some critiques see him as being a member of the existentialist philosophy. I simply was fascinated by his books because they show what an individual can endure and still be a human being. 

Therefore the prospect of having the correspondence of Kafka with Max Brod, who was his closest friend for much of his life, be made available online, is to me as if someone discovered a few more books by my favorite author. Kafka unfortunately died way to young. He died from tuberculosis at age 40 and felt so badly about the quality of his writings and his letters that he asked Max Brod to burn his manuscripts and correspondence. Fortunately, Max Brod did not follow that wish, saved the manuscripts and so we have access today to Kafka's writings such as The Trial and the The Castle. 

I have to admit that I have only read Kafka in his native German. Despite being born in Prague, Kafka wrote almost exclusively in German and I am not certain how well he would translate into another language. Because of his deeply philosophical approach to writing, English translations may not grasp the depth of his writings. But even if an author like Kafka is not your style, in case you have never heard of him, I recommend reading a biography about him, such as the one by Max Brod available here.

UNC-Chapel Hill, NCAA penalties, AFRI/AFAM, Fundraising, Leadership - Oh My!

After watching the UNC-Chapel Hill administration slowly but surely become a daily News and Observer headline for all the wrong reasons, I finally decided that I should voice an opinion on the comings and goings (and mostly goings they are) as well. 
To be clear, I do not believe that the happenings at UNC-Chapel Hill are unique to this university and that anything that came to light here has not happened at other universities. But the combination of so many things going wrong at the same time and the fact that local newspapers have been covering these events in regular reports and blog entries to an avid readership for more than one year and counting makes the events at UNC-CH somewhat unique. And with the latest report from the News and Observer detailing the problems  in the tutoring of athletes and their scholarly activities at UNC-Chapel Hill  - UNC players needed academic help, records show - I decided to finally publish this blog entry that was written almost a month ago.

Read more here:

Some general thoughts on scholarship athletes at UNC-Chapel Hill

So by now everyone in the USA, especially in North Carolina, will have heard about the tiny scandal that rocked the flagship university of the UNC system – the football scandal that broke more than a year ago, resulted in significant penalties for UNC and in its wake extended to a scandal involving academic fraud in at least one UNC Chapel Hill department.
Is this my first exposure to a scandal involving athletes at colleges? No, I was at another university at which watercolor painting was an extremely popular class with, you guessed it, “scholar” athletes. Back then, this also resulted in embarrassment to the University and a promise to do a better job in monitoring athletes on scholarship and ensure that the academic mission of the university was not ignored in favor of success in sports.
Only the most naïve among us will believe that university athletics is not mostly about money. Athletics, especially basketball and football, bring in big bucks for universities. Students do get scholarships in exchange for spending hours each week in practice. Even in my first year in the USA, I had been made aware that football players, especially in a state like Texas, had privileges. From staying in special dorms to getting better meal choices than the rest us, being an athlete at a university got you special treatment. It was accepted as the way it was supposed to be and I found nothing objectionable to it because money through athletics also helped the university balance its budget and keep tuition rates lower for the rest of us.

At my next university, things became a little bit darker. Football players took classes in billiards and watercolor painting and still could not finish their studies to obtain an undergraduate degree.. While most of us still thought it was hilarious to imaging football players discovering their love of the arts by filling up classes on watercolor painting, the university was embarrassed when reports of this understanding of "academic rigor" came out and promised to do a better job in ensuring that athletes on scholarships would indeed get what amounted to a basic college education.

Tutors provided for free, special exam times to not interfere with the road trip to a tournament, special sign up for classes desired by more students than slots were available. The coverage revealed that college athletics did extend to academia. Clearly athletes have to dedicate a lot of hours each week to practice, but does that excuse cheating them out of an education? Most athletes would not qualify for attendance, let alone scholarships, to most of the universities they attend were it not for the athletic ability and the promise to help the university teams reach post season events and increase news coverage as well as subsequent donations and advertising income. So even without hours spend on the practice field, many athletes will require assistance to make it in class. And there is nothing wrong with that, academic assistance is available for a number of groups on many campuses. International students may be able to enroll in special classes dealing with US history to provide them with a more meaningful class than the regular freshmen history class. Minority students may have specific academic support organizations available to them, single parents may be able to benefit from university-sponsored daycare and most universities have mental health counseling available to students. Universities are like small towns and like every local entity universities have social safety nets to help students at risk of being overburdened for a variety of reasons.
So when is the line from supporting athletes to academic fraud crossed? According to the NCAA report on the UNC football scandal, a tutor covered traffic tickets for athletes, who were allowed to accumulate significant numbers of tickets without detriment to their on campus privileges. In addition, donors and UNC staff members provided travel and other gifts to athletes. These transgressions were all listed in the initial report provided to UNC Chapel Hill and, while these offenses are serious, the academic reputation of UNC Chapel Hill was not implicated by them.
What really affected the academic reputation of UNC Chapel Hill was a secondary development that arose out of the NCAA investigation. It turned out that not watercolor painting, but the AFRI/AFAM department was offering the favorite class for athletes. And while taking a class in such a topic does not seem to be an offense at first blush, when whole courses that are supposed to be taught in lecture format never even require the students to show up for class once, the academic rigor of the classes seem questionable at best. It turned out that at least classes taught by one professor in the African-American Studies department were taken predominantly by athletes. Moreover, these same classes were known to be sympathetic to the special role of scholarship athletes.
Now we have a scandal that truly affects the academic reputation of UNC Chapel Hill. But is this scandal truly as shocking as UNC-Chapel Hill administrators want us to believe? And more importantly, is the scandal really limited to a FORMER chair of the AFRI/AFAM department and were not more people involved, some of whom may still be associated with the university?

(so far the initial post - before the chancellor resignation, advancement-gate and concerned tutors who were presented with cut and paste "original" papers by athletes)

By all accounts now, individuals were concerned about the attitude towards academics by athletes as well as the administrators. When tutors are the ones that have to raise this issue and the administrators point out that lower bars are to be expected for athletes, the priorities of a place like UNC-Chapel Hill are clear - money through athletics first, academics for athletes (and possibly everyone else) second. Because keep in mind that not just athletes enrolled in classes through AFRI/AFAM, but also a few (un)lucky regular students who were not scholarship athletes. So what about these students? Are we to believe that a different standard was applied to these students? And would that then be fair? On one hand, if truly a more rigorous standard was applied to the regular students, they likely benefited from the class and learned something. But is a differential standard between students and scholarship athletes fair, when it is understood that free tutoring, special accommodations etc are already provided to scholarship athletes to make up for the burden of them having to attend practice and roadtrips that interrupt their focus on academics. And reading in the latest report by the News and Observer that scholarship athletes were seemingly unconcerned about classes or academics in general, would it not have been better to treat the athletes identical to other students because the athletes obviously knew back then already what the rest of us are now slowly piecing together from newspaper articles and resignations at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Update 2: 
I finally decided to publish this post. Bill Friday, former chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill, died last week. I never met Mr. Friday, but by all accounts he had been concerned for quite some time about college athletics and whether academia was still being  taken important enough in college athletics. While these impressions are based on recent articles published in newspapers, I cannot help but think that Mr. Friday would agree that the victims in this situation are first and foremost the students, both regular students,who pay their way through college and end by chance end up in classes that do not meet academic goals, as well as scholarship athletes that are brought into the college environment for the sole purpose of assuring a winning record for a team and inducing alumni to donate money.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by any third party.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Influenster - social networking with a purpose (and the great rewards don't hurt either)

For quite some time I have been a member of Influenster and many of you will have seen my blog entries about the great sampler boxes called VoxBoxes. VoxBoxes are the way Influenster rewards its members for their social networking presence and activity.

Many of us spent hours each week on Facebook or read tweets regularly to keep up with what is going on with our friends or what new products have come out. Now you can feel good about spending time online because Influenster will give you a purpose (and a benefit) for staying connected with your friends through social networking.

Do you post to Facebook? Do you like to tweet? Love to share your opinions on social networking pages and enjoy blogging about products, beauty, or other interesting topics? Then Influenster is just the place for you! If you go to, the homepage for Influenster, you can find about the reat products that members like me have been able to sample over the last few months.

Go to their home here and sign up to become a member. To determine your interests and in which areas you are particularly active on Facebook and Twitter, Influenster will present a number of surveys. Completing these surveys will give an opportunity to win badges, with some being expert badges and indicating that your social networking presence is outstanding in these areas. Besides the survey, Influenster also learns about you by asking you about your presence on youtube and whether you have blogs. I should make it clear that having a blog is not pre-requisite to being a member of Influenster, but it certainly is helpful. I like working with Influenster because the VoxBoxes provide plenty of material for blog entries and through Influenster encouraging its members to create videos, I am now regularly making videos and including them on my blog. I even have my own youtube channel now.

While this may seem intimidating to some who simply use Facebook ever so often, I really appreciate the fact that Influenster makes my time spend online at social networking sites worthwhile and gives it a purpose. Am I spending more time online than before, not really - but now my online time is being rewarded by having a much more active blog than before Influenster and by spending my time online being productive rather than just playing games.

Just to give a sample of the wonderful things I have gotten through Influenster, here is an image of a more recent VoxBox. Keep in mind that VoxBox is always free, no money is spent by you on these goodies. In exchange for receiving a VoxBox, the companies donating the items want to hear your feedback on their Facebook page or through Twitter. To encourage completion of the feedback, Influenster will have brand-challenges that outline the feedback suggested for each product. Completing these challenges can earn your even more prizes, all for free. I have received extra Ivory soap and press-on nails as rewards. For me, providing the feedback does not require additional encouragement. As I stated, I love getting these products because they provide material for product reviews on my blog. I therefore usually complete my challenges early on and then wait for additional suggestion from your Influenster peers about how they provide feedback.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - a VoxBox filled with goodies that I received for free earlier this year!
Disclaimer: I received several VoxBoxes  in return for honest reviews. The opinions expressed on this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by Influenster or any other third party.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Cooking with Aldi: Pork Schnitzel with Mushroom Spaetzle and Green Peas

Last week, Aldi had German week with a lot of Deutsche Kueche items on sale. I have already blogged about the Prosciutto and today I will blog about two other items that at some point were on sale at Aldi during German week. One item is the Pork Schnitzel that was actually on sale the same week as the Prosciutto. This is a thin piece of pork, covered in a saltine coating, frozen, and can be used individually, although not packaged individually.

I opened the carton and the pork schnitzel are all in one bag. Not my favorite way to freeze meat since the closure on the bag will not work well enough to prevent freezer burn. So if you buy a package of the Pork Schnitzel, plan on using them up fairly quickly. The schnitzel themselves are good size and certainly feed one adult. I followed the instructions on the box.You add some oil to a skillet, let it heat up and then add the meat, ensuring that it is golden brown on one side before flipping it over and letting it cook for a few minutes on the other side. During the second round, I added canned green peas from a recent sale at Harris-Teeter.

While the meat was cooking, I had started the mushroom spaetzle. The spaetzle come in a dried form with little bits of mushroom in the package and a powder that will eventually form a creamy sauce. I am not too fond of having my spaetzle with sauce, so I usually add a lot of more liquid than then recommended two cups to the mix and to ensure that the sauce is thin enough to drain out when I get my spaetzle. Overall, the prep for this side-dish is very easy. Add mix to the cold water, stir and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. After the noodles were nice and soft, I used a slotted spoon to remove the noodles from the pot and serve them right on the plate.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - Schnitzel and Spaetzle!

The final outcome was a typical German dish with all ingredients coming from the USA and this made it very budget friendly. The total price of the dish was less than $3 a person - a real bargain! The schnitzel tasted very authentic and preparation was so much easier than doing the coating of the meat yourself. The spaetzle had a nice texture and the added mushrooms gave them a little bit extra flavor. The peas were just peas, but I love peas and was happy! So the next time Aldi has German week, try the pork schnitzel and the Spaetzle (and if you want, a German beer), play some Oktoberfest music and pretend you are on vacation in Germany.

Customer appreciation at Jimmy John's: some tip to stand out in the crowd for freebie giveaways

So yesterday Jimmy John's had their customer appreciation day and they were selling selected subs from their menu for $1, including tax. This is the first smart move by Jimmy John's. Saying that the total price is $1 and throwing tax right in ensures that the cashier do not spend any time handing out change to people. Let's face it, most people will grab a sub and very few will want soda or chips with the sub. We know how real bargain hunters work and everyone knows that restaurants make a lot of money by reselling soda to people with no other effort than providing a dispensing device and some ice to go.The profit margin on soda is the reason I stick to water at most places.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - Jimmy John's #1 with hot peppers!

The line was a good size when I showed up at the Jimmy John's in Durham around 11AM. But it also was moving at a good pace. They had one staff member standing outside taking orders and handing out menus, explaining to everyone the limitations of the offer again and doing her best to move the line along.

As we were getting closer to entrance, we noticed that the whole place was packed with people waiting for their subs. I ordered (by mistake) a #1 (Pepe) instead of #6 (Vito) with hot peppers on the side. This proved to be good mistake because whenever a standard sub was called up, such as #4, a number of people wanted to grab it. No numbers or names were called out with the sandwiches and while this sped up the processing of orders it also left people wondering which #4 was their sandwich. Anyway, the sandwich was fresh and very tasty. I actually liked the little kick of the hot peppers with my ham and provolone and hope that they permit to have this option with all sandwiches from now on without charging extra.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - a good amount of hot peppers for a kick to wake you and your tastebuds!

Anyway, below is my $1 lunch from the customer appreciation day at Jimmy John's and a very nice feeling it gave me enjoying it!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - a close up of the "interior" of the sandwich

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Product Review: Book Lovers Cravebox - initial impressions

As a member of Cravebox, I get to select from time to time limited edition boxes that contain a mix of new and interesting products to review. This October, Cravebox made a book lovers box available to its members. For the price of $11, you get the box delivered to your house, well packaged and the selection is usually interesting - this box is no exception.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - Cravebox Book Lovers with licorice, soy mix, book and a bracelet!
Not surprising, the Cravebox contained a book; the novel How I came to sparkle again by Kaya McLaren. it is set in a small Colorado ski town and describes the lives of three people. I actually ended up getting an advanced copy since the book will not be available until this month.

The next item was a soy nut mix from Crum Creek. This is a new company for me and the mix is a 1oz package with soy nuts, chocolates, raisins, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Curious to see how I like it and I may have just stumbled on to another company to get my snacks from. I am always on the look out for new snacks that combine interesting ingredients, while still being healthy.

Then I almost jumped when I saw the next item - a bag of strawberry-flavored licorice from Natural Vines. I love licorice, so this was perfect for me. Can't wait to try this new licorice. I also had never heard of Natural Vines before this Cravebox and I am happy I can sign up for services such as Cravebox because it is a wonderful way to get to know new products and companies.

The last item in the box was a wonderful surprise because it was so unexpected. It was a Gratitudes bracelet from Alexa's Angels, a company producing inspired gift. It is a flexible bracelet with wooden beads that are separated by metal cubes that end up spelling Gratitudes.

Overall, I like this box. Not the usual food or cosmetic selection, but perfect for the rainy days we right now have in North Carolina.

Disclaimer: For a small fee to cover shipping and handling, I received the items described in the blog entry. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by Cravebox or any third party.