Shopping for Dad at T.J. Maxx

Thanks T.J. Maxx for sponsoring this post and being a part of my family’s Father’s Day.

This Father’s Day I won’t be in town with my dad. It’s the way my life just is right now since I live so far away. I’ve moved out, I’ve grown up — last month I graduated from college, effectively closing a massive chapter of my life and moving further away from my childhood than ever. But my parents are still very important to me, and I’m always going to be their kid — whether that means I am looking for their guidance or willfully ignoring it. (Although admittedly, I never have been particularly rebellious — mostly just eccentric and hammy.)

When searching for gifts, I frequently shop at T.J. Maxx. They have a wide selection of gifts from great brands at prices that I can afford as a fresh-out-of-college buyer. My father instilled a value in me pretty early on when it comes to shopping: “I don’t mind spending money, but I hate wasting money.” It’s this kind of thinking that has not only gotten me a ton more outfits than what would ordinarily be possible, but also allows me to find better gifts for less by shopping at T.J. Maxx.

Gift-giving is something that I take a lot of pride in. A lot of people are not as into gift-giving as I am, but for me it’s a way of showing someone that you are happy to have them in your life, and that you understand them and want to help them pursue their passions. My dad’s time is spent between work, his kayak, and his grill for the most part. He’s had a lot of time to nurture his hobbies since my sister and I left the house and my mother got a job involving a lot of travel.

I don’t know much about kayaking, so I decided to focus on work and grilling, because I have a better concept of those activities and what kinds of stuff it would involve. I feel like a lot of my gift-giving for my parents is a game of useful-and-interesting vs. weird-and-hilarious. I once bought my father a high-end slab of Himalayan Pink Salt since my dad was getting more into fancy-grilling adventures and my research on grilling revealed that these Himalayan Pink Salt slabs were the hottest thing in fine grilling … only to find out my father had never heard of grilling or cooking on these giant slabs of salt (similar to grilling on cedar planks) and he was absolutely puzzled as to why on earth I thought he would want a 5-pound solid brick of salt.

This time I’m avoiding all those shenanigans.

T.J. Maxx has a lot of clothing to choose from, but I decided to go with the classic Father’s Day gift: a tie. I remember going shopping with my mom when I was still barely shopping-cart-height and perusing all the silk ties at the department store for my dad. Now I can grab a great tie at a great price at T.J. Maxx. 

It was difficult selecting a tie that balanced my memories of my father wearing ties that skew heavily towards recollections from the 90s with the more fashionable options available today. I think I did a pretty good job picking an understated but sophisticated tie with help from my cousin Caroline, who has a much more understated sense of style than I do.

There were some cool tech items at T.J. Maxx I spent a long time considering as well. I was considering buying the portable battery life extender since my dad works long days with a long commute and I’m sure there have been moments when he wished he had some more juice in his phone. In the end, I skipped it since the cute print on it was way too loud for a guy like my dad. (I’m pretty sure he considers my sense of style to be as loud and unnecessary as a lawn flamingo.)

Onward to the barbecue section! How fortunate that Father’s Day is right around grilling season and all the grilling merchandise was set up! I looked at a lot of different implements, attempting to guess which product my father didn’t have yet, but would want. (What do you get for the man who may or may not have everything?)

I ended up grabbing some meat claws for my dad, which you can use to better grab massive hunks of meat (versus the limited utility of tongs and mitts in certain situations) and can also be used to pull meat from bone and shred it. (I am drooling as I write this.) Admittedly, I also think I had way too much fun imagining my dad pulling apart a Flintstones-esque hunk of meat with this.

T.J. Maxx also has a ton of spices, grilling rubs, seasonings, marinades, and more that make great gifts. I wasn’t sure what spice blend my dad would love, so I decided against it, but they make excellent gifts for dads, housewarmings, etc.

I got two great gifts for my dad without breaking the bank, and there’s not a whole lot more you could want on your first gift-shopping venture out of college — or any time, really. I love giving gifts, I love shopping, and I love not having to scrape to do it. T.J. Maxx has everything you need to make an occasion special: gifts, cards, clothes, shoes, décor, athletic equipment, cooking devices, and even tech accessories.

I hope my dad enjoys the gifts. I still don’t know if they’re exactly what he’s looking for — maybe the tie isn’t quite his taste, or maybe he thinks meat claws are as silly as they sound (rather than as awesome as they sound!) — but as much as I aim to be a phenomenal gift-giver, it’s not just about getting the right item. It’s about thinking through what a loved one cares about and how you can do something to be a part of those experiences, even when you are hundreds of miles away from them.

maxx savings. maxx style. maxx life.

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Harper Watched: The Babadook

Harper Watched is a recurring feature on the blog where I talk about movies, TV shows, and theatrical productions I've seen and review them. Today, in honor of Mother's Day being tomorrow, I thought I'd cover a movie that centers around motherhood: the critically acclaimed Australian indie-horror flick The Babadook which is now available for streaming on Netflix!

I had been dying to see this film for months. I am one of those weird people that falls into the category of not really being a horror fan but liking creepy things. The kind of kid who grew up reading the Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark books as a kid and loved them but did not like slasher flicks. I like well-written psychological thriller stuff, but not poorly written gratuitous gore fests. The Babadook is the former, and it centers around a mother-child relationship, digging into the dynamic of a grieving single mother with a difficult child who is struggling to keep it together.

The Plot

The film centers on a woman named Amelia who is struggling with a very difficult son named Samuel. On the way to deliver Samuel seven years ago, Amelia and her husband Oskar got into a car accident, which Oskar did not survive. Since then, Samuel's birthday, and his very existence, is inexorably tied to the death of his father. Amelia is failing to deal with her grief, and under the weight of her single-motherhood and the trials of dealing with an emotionally volatile and deeply anxious child like Samuel, her grief festers into resentment. Samuel lacks emotional stability, is obsessed with the idea of monsters, and is convinced that he needs to "protect" Amelia, his feelings of loss over a father he never knew manifesting as a frantic love and protectiveness for his mother. He doesn't have normal social attachments, in part because Amelia has never seemed to model any, preferring to isolate herself in an attempt to avoid confronting her grief.

The story starts up when Samuel finds a creepy pop-up book for bed time and Amelia begins to read it to him. It tells the tale of Mr. Babadook, a bogeyman you can't get rid of. Amelia cuts the story short, but things start turning strange as Samuel begins to become fearful of the Babadook, convinced that he is coming after him and his mother. Amelia grows frustrated, but then things start happening that makes her afraid that the Babadook is real. She begins to see and hear him. The Babadook starts to come after Amelia and Samuel.

The story works to ask the audience whether to monster is some being out in the world, or if the real monsters are inside us all along.

Getting Down To Business

I cannot speak high enough praises for this film. Motherhood is a concept that's often glamorized/romanticized and generally painted as sunny in media. There is an overwhelming amount of entertainment media pushing the idea that if you don't LOVE motherhood all the time and feel overjoyed with your life as a mother every second, then there is something wrong with you. It's the kind of thing that makes women feel guilty for experiencing post-partum depression etc. The thing is, motherhood is complicated and sometimes it's terrible and scary and terrifying and maddening. Maybe it's all worth it, but sometimes in the moment, it doesn't feel like it. And that doesn't make you a bad mom. It makes you a human person. This movie is about that.

(c/o IFC Midnight via The Mary Sue)
Both Amelia and Samuel are deeply flawed, but they are also people you empathize with. Samuel is isolated in a house with an emotionally absent mother who is too preoccupied with her loss to even attempt to help Samuel understand his. Amelia is struggling with the loss of her husband, and trying to keep her life together, to convince others that she can handle herself without confronting her grief.

The writing in this movie is fantastic, and the storytelling is not at all hindered by the low budget for effects. This movie is all about tension, and the filming is brilliant at maintaining it. It is a story about a woman's grief unravelling her life, and how she and her son worked to confront it and put her life back together. The acting is monumental, and I just want to give Essie Davis (Amelia) all the awards. Amelia is a person, first and foremost, and a mom second.

This film is more about psychological horror than gore. I love this film. I cannot recommend it enough. Maybe watch it in the day time with friends if you are worried about the frights getting to you. Honestly, the film wrapped up so satisfactorily that I slept like a baby that night. If you are a fan of creepy but not overly scary works that are just well-told stories reflecting on the human condition (like the short story The Yellow Wallpaper which is also A+) watch this movie.

Harper's Rating: 5/5

Really well-constructed storyline
Fantastic storytelling
More psychological than visually horrifying
A+ acting
Great cinematography
A wonderful statement on motherhood, trauma, grief, and love
Feminist messaging: Moms are people too, and you can't expect them to be any more than that.
Phenomenal use of tension and color
Give this movie all the awards, please
It's scary (if that's a con for you skip it)
No flashy high budget visual horror
Tame ending-- satisfying narratively and emotionally, but don't go into this looking for an epic final show down with gory monster-slaying

Happy Mother's Day! Have you seen The Babadook? What did you think?

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Mother's Day Gift Guide with TJ Maxx

1 // 2 // 3 // 4 // 5
Mother's Day is coming up and there's still time to snag your mom a great gift! This year my mom took the guesswork out of it by buying herself something and having my sister and I pay in since she's pretty hard to buy for and she saw something she loved while on a cruise last week. If you're stilling looking for gifts, I've picked some contenders out from TJ Maxx's online store. As always, make sure to pair your gift with a nice, heartfelt card.

A cuddly blanket. My mom used to say my sister and I took the warmth out of her when we were born and now she generally runs cold, especially in her feet. This is a great blanket for cozying up on the couch and watching dramas on TV or iPad.

A gorgeous watch. This Swiss watch is a great accessory in the office or out on the town. It's got quality craftsmanship and tons of style. It's really elegant and a great addition to any wardrobe.

A portable power bank. If your mom is a lady on the go, this USB portable power bank might be the perfect gift. It's practical, giving your mom's device up to 120% more battery life. If she's frequently searching for a free outlet when she's out at meetings or on business trips, this is a great solution

A practical bag. This bag has shoulder straps and a crossbody strap, and has room to accommodate everything you might need. Neutral colors make this bag an easy choice on an every day level.

A cute photo frame. Get a photo frame that matches your mother's style, and maybe one of the rooms in her house, and snap in a photo of you guys. It's a simple, sentimental gift.

What are you getting your mother for Mother's Day?

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Harper Watched: Avengers Age of Ultron

First off, I want to apologize for the lack of updates. I finished off my school year (barring a few finals) and it was an incredibly trying last few weeks. Thank you for bearing with me.

Moving on, I've got to tell you my thoughts on Avengers: Age of Ultron! This is probably one of the biggest movies of the year, and I was super happy to go see it with my friends. I've been enjoying the Marvel Cinematic Universe's development (some parts more than others, admittedly) and this installment was pretty exciting.

I'm going to try to keep this review spoiler-free and I'd appreciate it if the commenters did so as well, at least through this week! Thanks for your cooperation. I am writing this review under the presumption that everyone has at least seen the first Avengers and hopefully Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier (PS That's still my favorite Marvel installment thus far).

Okay, let's get down to business! You'll remember that at this point in time, SHIELD has fallen. It was infested with Agents of Hydra, the nefarious organization (affiliated with, but not actually controlled by the Nazis in Captain America) that had plans for world domination. If you follow the ABC series Agents of SHIELD you'll also know that other powered people exist in this universe and something big is happening which resulted in calling in the Avengers. Here's the trailer for the film:

The Plot

Loki's scepter has been misplaced following the events in Avengers and as of yet, the Avengers are still looking for it. They succeed in finding it at a Hydra base but not before encountering some powered people, one of whom has abilities including telekinesis, mind-reading, and other weird getting-inside-your-head type abilities (you might know her as Scarlet Witch) and the other is her twin with super-speed (Quicksilver). Before the Avengers abscond with the Asgardian device, the psychic person plants a terrible vision in Tony's (Iron Man's) mind which pushes him to do the thing all super-talented scientists in such situations do-- take science too far.

Tony and Bruce (The Hulk) have been toying with the idea of creating a device that would protect the world from any other alien threats that might seek to destroy it. After all, the Avengers can fight the bad guys all day, but an alien invasion is something they are just not equipped to handle. Tony in particular is a little obsessed with it-- he's prideful, but also anxious. He knows he is gifted and his greatest fear is losing everything, letting the earth crumble, because he didn't push hard enough to do something. In this case, it's creating Ultron. Tony convinces Bruce to help him get into the apparent Artificial Intelligence living within Loki's scepter and finally build Ultron (without discussing it with the team). There's a great scene of science bros doing science (yay!)

But then of course, it turns out that the Asgardian AI is batshit crazy. It's bent on improving the world by destroying it: An extinction level event. Ultron is the garish and terrifying version of Tony's almost obsessive desire for progress and his intellectual panic/hubris. The Avengers have to unite to stop this incredibly powerful mad-AI, but many questions are tearing the team apart (as usual).

These questions include wondering who can and can't be trusted? What is the end-game of the Avengers? Are they redeemable after all the destruction they have wrought? Can you be an Avenger and have a life? Like most second installments of superhero franchises, this film is all about the hero being tested in their capacity to be heroes, and the blurring lines between the good guys, the bad guys, and the civilians who get to go about their lives like normal people.

Getting Down To Business

This movie was good, but it still didn't top Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier. But I had set my expectations kind of low, so I didn't expect it to top Cap 2. I tried to not read up on any news or hints about what was going to happen (I mean, apart from watching Agents of SHIELD) so I feel like I walked in with a clear head.

The movie provided some exciting new developments in terms of the overarching Avengers plot, so I am very excited to see what the next Avengers installment has in store. Like the other films, the writing was pretty snappy and funny, but it also delved more into who the Avengers are outside of the Avenging part of their lives. I found it particularly exciting to see more of Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) and Clint Barton (Hawkeye) outside of the Avengers context because they are both very interesting and neither have their own films.

The film is two and a half hours long, so plan your day accordingly, kids. I went in kind of expecting it to be stupidly drawn out, because often times action movies that long just do it for the sake of the fight scenes and not to help get more story done. Were the fight scenes gratuitous? Yes. Were they awesome? Also yes. Do I think the movie pointlessly took time out of my life so that Cap could get in more punches? No. I don't think the time is excessively spent on the fight scenes. I do think that some of the storylines were not handled the best, though.

There are some developments with Bruce's character and Natasha's character that really befuddled me. Often when their storylines became the focus, I found myself asking, "WHY??" Some of their storylines were so odd to me, in that they seemed to come out of absolutely nowhere and move very very quickly (the events in the movie take place over maybe a couple weeks) and I was just left sitting in my seat thinking "This is so extra. No one needed this." I think that the characterization that they wanted to draw from those stories could have been handled much better if they went with a different story to showcase.

!!!MINI-SPOILER OF RAGE!!!: There was also a line in which Natasha refers to herself as a "monster" that really upset me because the conversation was about how she had been sterilized to make her a better assassin. I understand that she was referring to the fact that she had been forced to undergo this procedure against her will to become the killing machine that she is today and will never have biological children, but really, Joss Whedon? You had to make her call herself a "monster" for being unable to have babies? You couldn't have found a better way to word it that didn't smack of "women who can't have babies are broken"? You didn't consider the fact that Natasha could very well adopt a child and still pursue motherhood if she wanted? You could have made it about how a life with one of the things she dreamed of having (biological children) was taken from her, or how her body was turned into a tool with no regard for her wishes-- but no, you had to make her a "monster".

I'm also very confused by the role Thor played in the plot because his contributions are not very well explained. He literally peaces-out for a portion of the movie and then comes back like "what's up bitches, I got so many answers for you." Granted, I haven't seen Thor 2: The Dark World and I generally have a hard time focusing on his character because he looks exactly like a human version of the Entei from Pokemon 3: The Movie to me, but I have been assured by people who have seen Thor 2 and can focus on Thor that Age of Ultron made pretty hasty work of this. I honestly hope we get a movie where all that gets explained. Maybe comic book fans knew exactly what was happening but as someone who solely consumes Marvel through the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) I was very confused.

Chris Hemsworth as Thor looks like human-Entei from Pokemon to me
That said though, Age of Ultron did exactly what it needed to do, in my opinion, which is test the team in new ways, challenge their core values, provide additional characterization of the team we met in the first installment, and build up tension and intrigue for the next and final piece of the trilogy. Successful movie? Yes. Fantastic movie? Not quite, but still pretty good.

Harper's Rating: 3/5

Rad effects
Awesome crazy fight scenes
Sassy characters saying sassy things (including Ultron-- he probably gets it from his dads Loki and Tony)
Natasha backstory
Clint outside of the Avengers
Steve ripping a log in half in frustration
Super-powered twins
Really great build of things to come!
What even is Thor doing??
Bruce and Natasha having stuff going on that was neither well-done nor necessary
It's long
I hope Tony isn't off the hook-- obviously they had bigger fish to fry, but Tony needs to be dealt with.

Did you see Age of Ultron yet? What did you think? Feel free to comment below but keep it spoiler-free for the week-- you can also let me know your thoughts over twitter by tweeting at me!

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