Thursday, October 22, 2009

Do It Again

"A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we." [G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Chapter 4]

Shutter Island

This thriller from Dennis Lehane is set in 1954 and centers around two U.S. Marshalls investigating the escape of an inmate/patient at an institution for the criminally insane located on Shutter Island. The book is a page-turner which keeps you guessing and on the edge of your seat until its shocking conclusion. I haven't enjoyed a book this much in quite a while. A must read!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Susan Boyle - Wild Horses

The rightful winner of Britain's Got Talent. Susan shines in this song from her debut album, "I Dreamed a Dream", which is available for pre-order on Amazon and has a scheduled release date of November 24, 2009.

Labor Day Weekend...

...was great! This post is a week late, but as the saying goes, better late than never. Now I could post some photos I shot of the beautiful scenery and landscape to try and capture the weekend, but in all honesty it wasn’t the setting or the activities that made it great, it was the people I shared it with. From start to finish the weekend was filled with fun shared with family and friends.

It kicked off with a 3-hour iPod fueled music fest on the drive to Oneonta with my dear cousins Tana and her daughter Maya. The car’s acoustics along with our incredible singing voices left us ready for the next American Idol auditions, or at the bare minimum ready to join in the karaoke scheduled for the next evening’s party.

The main reason for the annual Labor Day get together is to celebrate three family birthdays which fall in a row on 9/1, 9/2 and 9/3. The joint birthday party which we celebrated on Saturday evening, equipped with a DJ and karaoke, was a booming success. Tons of food, drink, music, and laughter.

Over the rest of the weekend, I got to enjoy a spin on a quad, to take a peaceful hike in one of the beautiful fields that comprises part of my cousin's property, and to sit by a crackling campfire under the glow of the moon and stars. After some urging from Tana, I even played volleyball (badly), which I hadn't done since gym class in high school. My serve was decent, it was just everything else that sucked. Lucky for me, not only were my cousins and their friends very understanding, but my team was seemingly filled with pros and their skill more than made up for my lack of it.

Thanks to my cousin Susa I also laughed like I hadn’t laughed in over a year. The kind of laughter that leaves your sides aching, and has the lingering aftereffect of leaving a stupid smile plastered on your face for the rest of the evening.

Lastly, I had the pleasure of spending time with some of Tana and Rodger’s (her hubby) closest friends, Chris and Rachel (and their kids) and Kenny. After getting to know them a little better, I see why they’re such an important part of their life. They were kind and funny, and a blast to be around.

I had a wonderful time which I hope to be blessed to be able to repeat next year.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

I saw this last Tuesday with a bunch of friends from work. When it comes to the violence in this latest movie from director Quentin Tarantino, it's about what you'd expect from any of his movies - abundant and gruesome. The movie is good at times, and ridiculous at others. The best thing going for the movie is the performance of Christopher Waltz as Nazi Col. Hans Landa. An Oscar nomination is guaranteed for Mr. Waltz.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Weekend in the Country

I went upstate to Oneonta this weekend to spend some time with my cousins and help them get their cabin ready for their annual Labor Day blowout celebration. Alot of work, alot of fun. The first half of the weekend was a rainy mess, but Sunday more than made up for it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Survivor: Samoa's Cast

The granddaddy of all reality shows, Survivor, has announced next season's (Survivor: Samoa) new cast members. At first glance it appears to be a nice cross-section of people. Names, ages, and professions are listed below:

- David Ball, 38, LA Fitness Instructor
- Betsy Bolan, 48, Campton, N.H., Police Officer
- Mike Borassi, 62, Marina Del Rey, Calif., Private Chef
- Ben Browning, 28, LA Mixologist
- Marisa Calihan, 26, Cincinnati Student
- Erik Cardona, 28, Ontario, Calif., Bartender
- Brett Clouser, 23, LA T-Shirt Designer
- John Fincher, 25, LA Rocket Scientist
- Yasmin Giles, 33, LA Hairstylist
- Russell Hantz, 36, Dayton, Texas, Oil Company Owner
- Elizabeth Kim, 33, New York City Urban Planner
- Laura Morett, 39, Salem, Oregon, Office Manager
- Monica Padilla , 25, San Diego Law Student
- Jaison Robinson, 28, Chicago Law Student
- Kelly Sharbaugh, 25, LA Hairstylist
- Russell Swan, 42, Glenside, Pa., Attorney
- Ashley Trainer, 22, Maple Grove, Minn., Spa Sales Rep
- Mick Trimming, 33, An La Doctor
- Shannon Waters, 45, A Renton, Wash., Sales Rep
- Natalie White, 26, A Van Buren, Ark., Pharmaceutical Sales Rep

The new season premieres Sept. 17th.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rites of Passage

A rite of passage is defined as a ritual or ceremony signifying an event in a person's life indicative of a transition from one stage to another, as from adolescence to adulthood. For a baby there's the first haircut, for a young girl there's a sweet 16 to mark her transition into womanhood, and for me, at 41...drum roll please...there's a mammogram.

Yes, I had my first mammogram last night, and as I told my friend at work, that machine is a torture device straight out of the movie Saw. As if the 'pinch' (that's what they said it would feel like, yeah right) from the vise-like grip on my breasts wasn't enough, add to that the technician manhandling my breasts like they were silly putty to get it 'just right' for the imaging. Discomfort and embarassment rolled into one pretty little package. I just hope I never run into that technician in a social setting. Can anybody say "awkward".

I guess now that I'll be having my breasts flattened into an unrecognizable pancake on a yearly basis, I can officially say that I've transitioned into middle age. Yippee for me! I don't even want to think of the great rite of passage waiting for me at 50, a colonoscopy. I'm glad I still have 9 years left to prepare myself for that one, because my butt cheeks are clenching just thinking about it.

Album News from Jason Castro

Jason Castro aka the dreadlocked dude with the beautiful blue eyes (aah, isn’t he just dreamy?) from Season 7 of American Idol has an official release date for his new album, November 17th. The new single “Let’s Just Fall in Love Again” is streaming on his website, and you can pre-order the album as well.

I’m really loving the single. It’s catchy and has a Beatles-like sound to it. If you need to know more, I found this Michael Slezak interview with Jason over at Entertainment Weekly with some inside scoop on the other songs on the album.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bollywood Meets Hollywood

This was my favorite performance from tonight's America's Got Talent. It's Ishaara, a Bollywood-style dance troupe comprised of students from UC Berkeley.

Want-to-See Fall Movie List

With Summer almost over (thank God!), one thing I'm looking forward to, in addition to some nice crisp Fall weather, is Fall movies. Here's the short-list of movies I'm actually eager to dole out $11 for:

Shutter Island. This is another Scorcese and DiCaprio project. The movie centers around two U.S. Marshalls (DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo) sent to investigate the escape of a female inmate at an institution for the criminally insane. The movie is based on the novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane. Lehane's books have translated well to the big screen in the past, including Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, and with Scorcese on board I can't imagine that this movie will be any exception. (Release Date: Oct. 2)

Where the Wild Things Are. This movie is based on the classic children's book by the same name written by Maurice Sendak. It's about the wild adventures of a little boy named Max in his make-believe world. (Release Date: Oct. 16)

The Road. Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel written by Cormac McCarthy. The story centers around a father and son in a post-apocalyptic road trip toward safety. Viggo Mortensen is cast as the father. I read the book, so if the movie is even half as good as the book, then it will be worth the money. (Release Date: Oct. 16)

A Christmas Carol. The Charles Dickens classic with Jim Carrey as Scrooge. What else do you need to know? Carrey's "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" is a perennial holiday classic in my home. I'm hoping this becomes one too. (Release Date: Nov. 6)

The Lovely Bones. Based on the novel by Alice Sebold. It's the story of a young girl who is raped and murdered, and then watches her family and murderer from heaven. It's directed by Peter Jackson and stars Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz. This is another case where I've read the book, which was wonderful despite the horrible topic, so the movie has a lot to live up to. (Release Date: Dec. 11)

I'm a Dancing Fool

This Fall will be all dancing, all the time. In addition to a special first time ever Fall season of So You Think You Can Dance, I'll also have Season 9 of Dancing with the Stars to keep me on my toes. Dancing with the Stars recently announced their Season 9 celebrity and pro dancer match-ups:

- Aaron Carter and Karina Smirnoff
- Natalie Coughlin and Alec Mazo
- Mark Dacascos and Lacey Schwimmer
- Tom DeLay and Cheryl Burke
- Macy Gray and Jonathan Roberts
- Ashley Hamilton and Edyta Sliwinska
- Melissa Joan Hart and Mark Ballas
- Kathy Ireland and Tony Dovolani
- Michael Irvin and Anna Demidova
- Joanna Krupa and Derek Hough
- Chuck Liddell and Anna Trebunskaya
- Debi Mazar and Maksim Chmerkovskiy
- Mya and Dmitry Chaplin
- Kelly Osbourne and Louis van Amstel
- Donny Osmond and Kym Johnson
- Louie Vito and Chelsie Hightower

One glaring omission from the list, of course, is my favorite dancer, Julianne Hough, who supposedly is taking time off this season to focus on her music career. Julianne, you will be missed. As for the match-ups, I think one obviously mismatched couple doomed to early failure is Kelly Osbourne and Louis van Amstel. What were the producers thinking? The kid's probably in her early to mid-20's, I can't imagine...and I could be wrong...stranger things have been known to happen...there being any kind of chemistry between the two.

I'll wait to watch the first episode before I pick my early favorites, but I will say that the couple I'm most curious to see is Tom Delay and Cheryl. We'll see if Cheryl can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear with Tom, and I'm referring more to his media persona and the fact that he's going into it with a lot of detractors from the get go, and not his dancing obviously, since I've never seen him dance. She'll have to do it if she wants to take home her third mirror ball trophy.

Whatever happens, Dancing never disappoints, and it will undoubtedly be an interesting and fun season filled with fake tans, scantily clad women in sequined spandex dresses and men in too tight pants that leave little to the imagination.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Death of a Spider

While I extend my deepest condolences to the spider, and its 1000 babies, this new video from The Cat Diaries is LOL funny.

Rainy Weekend Movie Marathon

When the local weather forecaster announced rain straight through from Friday afternoon to Sunday midday, I kicked in to "planner" mode, and like a hurricane veteran preparing for an impending storm, I hit the supermarket for snacks and my local Blockbuster for some much needed entertainment. I prepared to hunker down at home and ride out the storm. Now granted, it was just rain, not a hurricane, but it was as good an excuse as any to just chill at home not doing anything. Sadly and/or gladly (depends on when you ask me), it didn't rain straight through and there were enough breaks in between to allow me to finish cleaning my patio, visit the nursery for some items for said patio, visit the library for some future reading materials and visit my dear knuckleheads(nephews). In the end, even with all the interruptions I managed to squeeze in plenty of time to watch these great, not so great, and so-so movies.

17 Again - This sweet, funny and romantic movie was great. In the movie, Mike O'Donnell (Matthew Perry) is a 30 something year old wishing to turn back the hands of time and go back to his glory days when he was 17, and before he made a life-altering decision. Mike gets that chance when he's transformed into his 17 year old self (Zac Efron) and goes back to high school. Matthew Perry is barely in this movie, this is totally Zac Efron's movie and I thought he was great. I'd never seen him in anything and I was impressed. On a side note, I don't know if this makes me a so-called 'cougar' but let me just say, Zac's soo cute. I think I have a crush. Anyway, getting back to the movie, this one's definitely a keeper. Loved it!

Knowing - Fifty years ago an elementary school class buries a time capsule. The students are urged to draw pictures of what they think the future will look like. All the kids do it, except for one little girl, Lucinda, who instead fills a page with a written sequence of numbers. Fifty years later, a current class at the same elementary school opens the capsule and each student is given an envelope with the past child's drawing, except for Caleb who gets the mysterious little girl's paper. His dad, John Koestler (Nicolas Cage), is a professor who quickly becomes intrigued with the paper when after closer inspection he realizes that the random numbers are in fact the date, number of dead, and coordinates for some of the greatest disasters in the past 50 years and supposedly more disasters are to come. Everything in this movie was great, until the end. I won't go into finer detail, because I don't want to ruin it for you guys, but let me just say WTF! were the exact words out of my mouth when I finished the movie. 'Nuff said.

Push - A group of people (conveniently all young and attractive) born with powers, including Movers, who move things with the mind, Pushers who can control and distort your thoughts, and Watchers who can foresee the future, find each other and band together to bring down the Division, a government agency that tracks them and is using a drug, which has proved mostly lethal when injected into its subjects in the past, to try to create an army of super soldiers. This one never quite did the job for me. It wasn't believable, or honestly good enough to make me suspend my disbelief. Not a total waste, but I wouldn't rush out to rent it.

New in Town - Lucy Hill (Renee Zellweger) is a big city executive sent to a small town in Minnesota to restructure a manufacturing plant with new equipment which in turn will need a smaller, scaled down workforce. It's your typical fish out of water story, with a dash of romance thrown in, in the form of Harry Connick Jr. who plays a local union rep who locks horns with Zellweger's Lucy. She's a cold fish who's quickly won over by the small town and its resident's charm, as well as by it's local hottie. The movie was cute, yet predictable. Maybe rent it when everything else on your 'must rent' list is out.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

On this Day (in 1942)

On August 13, 1942 Walt Disney Studios premiered Bambi at the Radio City Music Hall in New York. The movie was based on the book, Bambi: A Life in the Woods by Austrian author Felix Salten. The film went on to receive three Academy Award nominations for Best Sound, Best Song for "Love Is a Song" and Original Music Score. Here's a video of the original 1942 movie trailer.

My First Knitting Project

The lunchtime knitting lessons (two in total) that I mentioned in my previous post, I Know How to Knit! (Sort Of), went well and after a couple of weeks practicing what I learned, I've decided to jump in with both feet, and start my first real project...a child's sweater. Here's the pattern I bought online.

I picked what seems a very simple pattern. I've even opted for the rolled hem style, to avoid knitting the ribbed hem, neck and cuffs. My knitting teacher/co-worker thinks I might be getting a little over my head, but heck, I have nothing to lose. If I mess up and it doesn't turn out well, I can discard it and consider it a trial run for the real thing. The plan(hope) is to send the completed sweater to Guidepost's Knit for Kids, an organization that sends handmade sweaters to needy children all over the world. I will only send it if it's absolutely perfect, and if all goes well, I plan on attaching one of these lovely little labels to the inside collar.

Hopefully the next post you read from me on knitting will include a photo of the completed project. Cross your fingers for me and wish me well. If not for me, do it for the poor child that'll be getting my sweater.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Swell Season: Tiny Desk Concert

Anyone who saw the movie "Once" undoubtedly fell in love with Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova and their wonderful music, including their hit Falling Slowly, which was introduced to a whole new audience when it was covered by Kris Allen during this past season of American Idol. While visiting NPR I was thrilled to find that they have a follow-up album to Once titled Strict Joy, out October 27th.

If you're interested in a sneak preview, visit NPR's Tiny Desk Concert for 30+ minutes of Glen, Marketa and a battered acoustic guitar emanating beautiful music.

A friend at work introduced me to, and I can officially report that I’m obsessed and loving it. First things first, thesixtyone is an innovative music site whose mission in their own words is to “make music culture more democratic: artists upload their work for review, but, rather than allow a stuffy suit in a boardroom to decide what's good, thousands of listeners do.” I love the idea that as a listener you’re privy to talent on the ground floor of their musical journeys and careers.

I’ve found some great music! I love this song, and this song, and especially this one by Sean Fournier. I love this song by Kate Earl, this one by Katie Herzig, and this one by The Rescues, and so many more.

You can listen to music without creating an account, but the account lets you save your favorite songs to listen to over and over again, and it also makes you a more active participant in making your favorite songs or artists heard.

Spread the word. If you love music, join now!

John Hughes: A Moving Tribute

I was saddened to hear last week of the passing of John Hughes, the brilliant mind behind such great movies as The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Uncle Buck, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and my all-time favorite Some Kind of Wonderful. Above all else, the characters in his movies all showed so much heart. They made you care...about them...about what they were going through.

I recently came across this blog post which speaks volumes about the man behind the camera. The post is a tribute, not to the filmmaker, but to the man. It’s from a fan who wrote Hughes a letter as a young girl and became a pen pal. In reading the post, I realized that the reason his movies were so wonderful was because a little of bit him shone through in each one.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I Can't Wait to See This Movie

America's Got Talent Quarterfinals - So Far, So Good

After week's of auditions and the dreaded Vegas round where we saw over 100 acts whittled down to forty by the judges, we had the first quarterfinal performances that placed the power squarely in our, the viewers, hands to vote forth the acts we deemed worthy of continuing on.

First of all, I need to get one thing off my chest...Judges, you suck! While I know the show isn't all about the talent, just like So You Think You Can Dance isn't all about the dancing, that's why those judges always say it's "America's Favorite Dancer" not "America's Best Dancer" that's chosen. But c'mon, some semblance of talent should be a determining factor on whether you make it through or not. The judges put through a little girl with a big personality but who can barely sing or play the piano, and leave in tears, pleading for a chance, a talented singer (Kelli Glover) who had a real chance of making it all the way to the finale. It boggles the mind.

Ok, now that that little rant is off my chest, I'm very happy to say that one of my favorites, Kevin Skinner, made the first cut and thanks to America's vote he will be advancing into the next round of competition. Kevin not only sounded great, but he cleaned up very nicely too. I'm looking forward to seeing performances from the next batch of 12 contestants, and also hoping that a couple of my other favorites make it through.

Snickerdoodles and A Trip Down Memory Lane

A week before last it was my friend/co-worker's birthday and her friend/my knitting teacher brought her some homemade snickerdoodles (sugar and cinnamon cookies). I had never tried these delicious little cookies prior to this but I promptly fell in love with them as soon as I bit into the tender and sweet little morsel. I'm not a cookie person, so my own reaction was a bit of a surprise, but after gobbling up more than my fair share of the birthday girl's delicious treats, which she kindly shared with us, I quickly shot off an email to her friend asking for the sweet confection's recipe. So this weekend, despite my lack of baking expertise or know-how I decided to try my hand at making myself some snickerdoodles to enjoy and horde all to myself.

First of all, the recipe couldn't have been any easier, yet somehow I managed to mess it up -- not totally -- but enough that many of my cookies didn't exactly match the wonderful tenderness and sweetness of the original sample. The problem proved to be my inability to follow directions, as the recipe clearly stated to shape the dough into 1-inch balls, but I made my balls all various sizes which of course impacted the duration of time I kept the cookies in the oven, hence some of my cookies were flat and crispy where the originals had been plump and tender little bite size pieces. You live and you learn. I was able to salvage enough of them that after stuffing my face and belly with snickerdoodles I can now go a good year before I repeat this baking experience.

The trip down memory lane portion of the post title refers to the fact that I enjoyed said snickerdoodles while viewing, in the company of my dear cousins, one of my all time favorite kid's movies, "The NeverEnding Story." My cousin bougth the DVD for her daughter to enjoy, but in all honesty, I think we enjoyed it more than the kids. It was wonderful visiting Fantasia again, enjoying the bravery of young Atreyu as he tried to rescue the Empress and all of Fantasia from the Nothing. As I watched Jared's face, my cousin's little boy, during the sad scene when Atreyu loses his beloved horse Artax in the Swamp of Sadness, I could so relate to that look that said WTF! This isn't supposed to happen to one of the heroes of the story because I remembered feeling the same way. It's now a shared experience.

It was a great afternoon of shared fun and memories, which I hope to repeat soon.

Back to the cookies, I was only able to take this one lousy photo of my creations because my camera's batteries were dying, a fact I only realized when I went to take said photo, but here's the very simple recipe for those interested.

Snickerdoodles (from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, 2002)

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1.5 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

In a medium mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the 1 cup sugar, baking soda, and cream of tartar. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour. Cover and chill dough about 1 hour or until easy to handle.

Combine the 2 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll balls in sugar-cinnamon mixture to coat. Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 10-11 minutes or until edges are golden. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Help

This great novel by Kathryn Stockett introduces us to three incredible women: Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, Aibileen, and Minny, who despite their differences come together, at their own peril, to try to make a difference in the world around them. In "The Help", set in Jackson Mississippi during the time of the civil rights movement, Skeeter is a young woman fresh out of college, who comes back home eager to embark on her life. While her mother's fondest with for her is a husband and family, Skeeter's hopes and aspirations are to become an editor at Harper & Row Publishers in New York City. Aibileen and Minny are two black maids who have spent their life employed by some of the well-to do white families in town, including Skeeter's friends, caring for their children. Of the two, Aibileen is a serene and wise woman who loves the children she cares for, especially her current charge, Mae Mobley, and Minny is Aibileen's complete opposite, sassy and outspoken with her white employers, she's lost more than one job because of it.

When one of Skeeter's friends from the Junior League, Miss Hilly, decides to put forth a new initiative to have separate bathrooms created in each private residence for the colored maids, this triggers a greater social consciousness in Skeeter and after taking a job at the local paper writing a column on household advice, Skeeter reaches out to Aibileen for help in answering the questions and a tentative and fragile bond begins to form between these two women. Motivated by the memories of her own loving bond with the black maid who raised her, Constantine, Skeeter decides to write about the experiences of these black women and the white families they care for. The book becomes a compilation of interviews with 12 black maids sharing their stories of both daily struggle, but also in some instances of the love and compassion shared with the white families they're employed by. Of course, the names are changed and all the interviews are held in secret, because knowledge of the book endangered not only the black maids jobs but their very lives.

The book delves frankly, through the maids personal stories and through their eyes, with their every day fears of abuse from their white employers, their struggles for equality -- even with something as simple as sitting down to eat at the Woolworth counter, to the sad realization that the young children that they help raise and love will one day be their employers and possibly treat them the same as their parents.

I loved this book. It was insightful and moving as it dealt with the issue of racism from the different perspectives of these women. Each character is so well written that it leaps off the page. Even the side story of Miss Celia and Mister Johnny, Minny's employers, was both funny and touching. I highly recommend this book.

Picasso I Am Not

In an effort to expand my interests, as well as to step away from the couch and TV, I purchased a sketch book, drawing pencils, and some instructional material to take a stab at drawing. In all honesty, the stuff sat on my coffee table collecting dust for more than a month until I got a little nudge thanks to an article I read and listened to at NPR.

The article was titled "Getting Adults to Draw" and it discussed how we were all artists as children. Drawing and coloring to our hearts content on any flat surface we could find: paper, coloring books, and some of us -- even on walls. We did our thing at school or daycare and rushed home to share our art work with our parents, who in turn proudly displayed it in a place of honor -- more than likely the fridge. But at some point, we as children stop drawing, and the guest attributes it to the fact that children don't see adults do it and drawing becomes a "baby" activity. Another potential reason is that people stop drawing when they realize they're not good at it, when in fact that shouldn't stop anyone from drawing. We don't stop playing basketball when we realize we're not going to play in the NBA, so why should we stop drawing or sketching just because we're not going to be the next Picasso or Rembrandt.

So, to make a long story short, though it might be a little too late for that, I opened up my box of pencils and I started drawing. Here's my handiwork:

I wanted to include a photo of my art supplies, but Jasmin had another idea.

Here's my first creation. It's not van Gogh's Sunflowers, but heck, there's no where but up from here.

I don't think this one is necessarily a step up, but he is cute.

Jasmin manages to get in the shot again. The girl wants to be in pictures.

This little guy is my favorite.

There's definite room for improvement, so I'm not giving up. Even if my skills have already reached their peak, I'm OK with that, because you know what, drawing is still fun.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Coraline is a stop-motion animated film based on an award-winning novel of the same name written by Neil Gaiman. The story centers around Coraline, a young girl who moves into the Pink Palace Apartments with her distracted and always too busy for her parents, Mel and Charlies Jones. The story features a wide array of intriguing characters, including Wybie Lovat, the grandson of the owner of the Pink Palace Apartments; two old and overweight actresses, Miss Spink and Miss Forcible; Mr. Bobinsky, a circus mice trainer, and last but not least a black cat who's wise to the truth about the 'other mother'.

Whilst exploring her new home, Coraline finds a little door hidden behind wallpaper which at first glance appears to be bricked up. Later that night Coraline manages to travel through that portal into a parallel reality into an apartment exactly like hers where her 'other mother' and 'other father' look the same as her real parents, except they have button eyes, and they're everything her parents are not, interested and caring, and better in every way. Mom cooks delicious meals and dad even writes songs for her. Coraline navigates between both worlds at night while her parents are asleep. All seems like paradise until she turns down the 'other mother's' offer to stay there forever, as long as she lets them sew buttons for her eyes, then things get a little hairy, and Coraline quickly realizes to be careful what you wish for.

I loved this movie for what was on the screen, but having read up on the making of the film, I loved it all the more for the talent, dedication and creativity behind its creation. As I said earlier, Coraline is stop-motion animation which basically means the film is shot frame by frame as true artisans of their craft manipulate miniature models of each character. According to the film's website, it took some of the most talented animators and puppetmakers in the world three years to make this film. It really is incredible when you think that each scene took hundreds, maybe thousands, of shots to capture from each minute body movement to each little grimace or grin on a character's face. Truly amazing stuff. Here's a YouTube clip which offers a brief glimpse into the making of Coraline.

My only warning is that despite the fact that it's an animated movie, this really isn't for little kids. It's a bit too dark and creepy for the little ones.

All Things "Lost"

Do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do! ABC's new webisode series (Episode 1 below) will undoubtedly add to the Lost mystique, stoke the embers of fan interest and give birth to a new array of theories and what ifs in advance of the series' final season. The webisodes are promoted as a recently found documentary series from an old 1980's show. I’ve watched and re-watched this first episode in hopes of unearthing some clues towards solving Lost's unending puzzle, but I definitely have to see more. This is's exact language:

Mysteries of the Universe: The Dharma Initiative
A project discussed for years in and around conspiracy circles. Once thought to be lost, this explosive documentary series has never been seen before...until now.

The five-part video series will screen as follows:
Episode 1: July 23rd, 2009
Episode 2: August 4th, 2009
Episode 3: September 8th, 2009
Episode 4: October 15th, 2009
Episode 5: November 16th, 2009

If you still can't get enough of Lost? If you're suffering from Lost withdrawal? Visit for some great videos from a Totally Lost Panel at Comic-Con 2009 that was hosted by the ever-theorizing Lost guru Doc Jensen, including an insightful interview with Michael Emerson aka Ben Linus.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Remembering the Good Times

It's been two months since mom passed away, and as time goes by I find it a little bit easier to remember the happier moments we shared prior to her illness. During the first days and weeks, and at odd times even now, quiet moments inevitably brought back sad memories of the months leading up to mom's passing. I'd be driving in to work and find myself crying as I remembered the sadness in her eyes when I arrived for my afternoon visits. My heart would break all over again as I thought back to the tears she shed shortly after the cranial hemorrhage, before the vascular dementia had really taken its hold, when she was aware of the damage wrought by that one event, and how she thought other residents were laughing at her halting and lurching steps as I helped her walk.

Now that the pain isn't so fresh, happier memories are coming back into sharper focus. I look back at old photo albums and try to let those images, captured at happier moments in time, bring me back to the moments of joy and laughter that we shared. For example, her childlike excitement on Christmas mornings when she got to open her gifts from me, especially the year I surprised her with a Dooney & Burke bag she'd been eyeing for months. She was beside herself with joy, because she truly hadn't expected it. Even years later she'd always tell me that that was her favorite bag. One year, after I started working, I took her to Disney World. She'd never been there. I took this photo, and it's one of my favorites of her because of that smile. It's one of the biggest smiles I've ever seen on her face.

I love seeing the devilish grin she's sporting in this photo, as she laughingly sat on a friend's motorcycle. As with most photos of mom, you'll note the cigarette in her hand. Those things were her constant companion. They were a part of who she was, and yet in the end, after having smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for most of her life, she didn't remember them.

In the end, I hope I'll remember it all, good and bad, because it's both which make up a life. Her life. Our life together.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Art of Racing in the Rain

This wonderful book written by Garth Stein is heart-warming and heart-breaking all in one. A human story about love, about the struggles of reaching for a dream, and the faith to never give up on that dream even when all hope seems lost. What makes this touching human story so unique is that its told by a dog, Enzo. On the eve of his death, Enzo thinks back on his life with the Swift family and everything they've meant to him, in particular, his master, Denny Swift, a young race car driver who dreams of making it big.

Enzo is a philosopher, a TV addict, and a racing fanatic. He's also certain in the knowledge that once he's finished living his life as a dog, once his body has served its purpose and his soul has done what it came to do, he'll be reincarnated as a man. He knows this from a documentary about Mongolia which he saw on TV. In fact, he's always felt almost human. He just wishes he could carry with him all the memories and all of the knowledge that he's garnered on the human condition into his new life.

Enzo's memories begin when Denny first picked him out from a pile of puppies, their move to a little apartment on Lake Washington, and his consternation at Denny falling in love and marrying Eve. When Eve becomes pregnant, Enzo marvels at the female sex. "The life makers", and when Eve's contractions come early and she's home alone with the midwives because Denny is away at a race, it's Enzo who's at Eve's side in her hour of need. As she nurses her newborn baby, Zoe, Eve calls Enzo to her bedside, he hesitates, but then as she scratches his head and cries for wishing Denny was there, he stays, he knows not to move, because he knows that she needed him there. When she asks him to always protect the "tiny purple thing" that the midwives had placed on her torso to nurse, he feels the obligation, and as the story progresses Enzo's love, loyalty and dedication to his family will be demonstrated many a time. In good times and bad times, like Eve's illness which Enzo detects through his keen sense of smell as a bad odor of "wet, soggy decay" that didn't belong in Eve's head. Through it all, Enzo will be there as a source of comfort and love for his family.

Through Enzo's yearning to be human and everything that it encompasses, like walking and talking, we gain a greater appreciation for those simple things which we at times take for granted, like walking and talking. The ability to verbalize one's thoughts, wants and feelings is nothing to sneeze at. In thinking back on my mom's illness, one of the things that most broke my heart was the fact that she was trapped within herself, unable to communicate, to convey her fears, her sorrows.

I loved this book, but even more so, I loved Enzo. A wise soul full of wisdom that the humans he so much admires could only aspire to. Enzo is ready for life, ready "to live every day as if it had been stolen from say I am alive, I am wonderful, I am. I am." That's how I wish I could live my life.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Poem

Disclaimer: I am not a poet. I don't claim to be a poet. I don't aspire to be a poet. I merely wrote a poem. So as you read the following with those thoughts in mind, please be kind in your critique, whether you think the poem is so-so, horrible or horrendous. Just keep in mind that I'm a big softie and my feelings are easily hurt.

A Word
I thought of inventing a word
A word that could touch the whole world
A word that could give us strength through our fears
A word that could wipe away all of our tears
A word that could mean love, faith and hope
A word we could cling to when we're at the end of our rope
A word that could make us feel safe and sound
A word that would hopefully always be around
A word we'd take for granted each single day
A word that could make a grown man cry when its taken away
And as I weighed my own thoughts
I realized my own ignorance
For such a word does exist
Its in all of our lives
For us to love and to treasure
What is this word you might ask,
Its mother, mom or mama
A word that holds a love without measure.

Copyright 2009 Maria Rodriguez

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harlequin Celebrates (Free e-books)

One of my many guilty pleasures, besides dark chocolate and ice cream, is romance novels. They're just so much fun! Easy, light, and you can always look forward to a happy ending. Rarely have I finished a romance novel, and not closed the book with a smile on my face. Well today, my friend Suman made my day, by sending me a link to Harlequin's 60th anniversary celebration site. In honor of the occasion, Harlequin is giving out FREE e-books, up to 16 to choose from, whether suspense and paranormal to tender romances and even a couple historical stories too.

You can download the books as a PDF or use an alternate format like ePub, eReader, or MS Reader. There’s something there for everyone, so hurry on over and download your books today.

Fun for All at Playland

Wednesday was my company's annual picnic at Playland Amusement Park in Rye, and I got to spend it in the company of two handsome fellows (my two knuckleheads/nephews). For those of you unfamiliar with the New York area, you might recognize Playland from a couple of scenes which appear in the movie "Big" with Tom Hanks. Here's one scene from the end of the movie when Josh finds the Zoltar machine and makes the wish to be small again.

I took these next photos of the boardwalk a couple of years ago when participating in a walk to raise funds for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

And these are from today's fun filled evening.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

America's Got Talent - A Star Is Born

On tonight's episode of America's Got Talent, Kelli Glover, blew the studio audience, judges and me away with a pure, rich and powerful voice. In the pre-performance interview, Kelli shared the fact that when she was 19 she auditioned for season one of American Idol but didn't make it. After losing, she struggled emotionally with not reaching her dream, and temporarily put her dream on hold - working in a casino for the past six years - until now. Unless she totally crashes and burns in a future performance, I totally disagree with Piers' comment that he's not sure she's likely to win the show, if she sings like tonight, she can win it all. She was phenomenal. A real powerhouse voice.

Emmy Nominations This Thursday

The Emmy nominations will be announced this Thursday, July 16th at 5:35 am on the West coast (8:35 am here in New York) and I'm crossing my fingers, and toes for good measure, that all of my favorites are lucky enough to hear their names announced as nominees, and they can don their modest frocks (maybe some Armani for the guys, and Badgley Mischka or better yet Chanel for the gals) to join the festivities on Sunday, September 20th for the award telecast.

I don't want to be presumptuous and assume it was all me, but at first glance it would appear that some Academy members must've read this here humble blog, because as requested in my 'Dear Academy' post and following his rousing performance at the Tony's, Neil Patrick Harris has been chosen as the Emmy host. Yup, you guys can thank me later.

A Long and Arduous Road

I was online visiting the ASPCA website today and read an article on a young Bronx woman arrested for burning a kitten to death in an oven. In yet another animal abuse article recently on, a 75-year old woman killed a fawn, a little baby deer, with a shovel because it was in her flower bed. Reading these articles I remembered a quote I came across not long ago:

I guess we still have a ways to go.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Swearing and Biology

I was listening to WCBS 880 on my way in to work this morning when I heard an interesting piece on swearing from The Osgood File. According to the story, swearing is nature's aspirin and in fact there's a biological effect when we swear. A psychologist in England was at his wife's side during labor and witnessed his demure wife's expletive laced tirade during the worst of labor. Witnessing this he was curious as to whether there's a biological reason that people swear and he decided to hold a study using a group of undergrads. In the study, he asked the students to write down five swear words they'd yell out if they were to hit themselves with a hammer and five words they'd use to describe a table. Then the students were asked to place their hands in ice cold water and keep them there until the pain was unbearable. As the pain got worse, half of the students were allowed to use their swear words, and the other half had to use the words for table.

Well, the swearing did the job, and had a biological effect on the swearing students by increasing their heart rate and allowing them to endure the pain longer than the other non-swearing students and, supposedly they felt less pain after it was all over also.

So, next time you hit yourself with a hammer, stub your toe, or bang your funny bone...let'er rip. You'll feel better after.

Olive Kitteridge

This weekend I finished reading this wonderful Pulitzer Prize winning novel by author Elizabeth Strout. The book is actually 13 short stories all linked by the novel's namesake, Olive Kitteridge, a high school math teacher in the small town of Crosby, Maine. Each of the 13 stories offer a brief snapshot or glimpse into the lives of some of Crosby's many citizens. In "Pharmacy" we're first introduced to Henry Kitteridge, Olive's kind and steadfast husband, a pharmacist in the next town over. A gentle soul, always eager to please, even at his own happiness' expense. In "Incoming Tide" we meet Kevin Coulson, a lost and tortured ex-student of Olive's on the brink of doing the unthinkable. Throughout these and the remaining stories we get a full measure of Olive, at times strong, mean, cold, and demanding, and at others hurting, kind, lonely. Like most of us, Olive is a mixture of good and bad, and while at times she earns your enmity, at others, like when her new daughter-in-law is mocking Olive's wedding attire to her friends, you feel protective of her, indignant at their slight.

I would highly recommend this book. Each story offers a little pearl of wisdom that we can use in our own lives, and despite the fact that most of the stories are no more than 20-30 pages long, some even shorter, the stories are so well-written and the characters so well-defined that they seem almost real. You feel like a voyeur, privy to brief glimpses of these sad and troubled lives. A truly engaging read which leaves you curious -- and caring -- about what happens next.

Shakespeare on the Sound

Last Wednesday and Thursday I went to see Shakespeare on the Sound's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." The outing turned out to be a two day event due to the fact that the sound board went on the fritz at the last minute on Wednesday and the Artistic Director had to cancel the evening's show. Despite the evening's lack of entertainment, I thoroughly enjoyed myself as we picnicked on sandwiches and crepes, basking in warm and sunny weather while enjoying the view of the water and nearby docked boats and a little people watching.

We picked up the crepes at a little (literally, because no exaggeration, there's barely any walking space in there) local crepe place called Meli-Melo.

I feasted on a banana and nutella (chocolate and hazelnut spread) crepe which was very good but, to my taste, could've been a little sweeter, actually more chocolatey. Granted, I add three teaspoons of sugar to my tea, so I might not be the best judge on sweetness.

Thursday's production was totally worth the repeat drive. The cast did a great job during the performance, and the meandering narrow stage brought the audience and actors closer together. The lighting along the edges of the stage also added to the night's ambience. Unfortunately, photos were not allowed during the show, but here's a photo I was able to snap (without flash) at the end of the production when the actors came out for their curtain call.

The only thing I'd change about the production is really an issue of personal taste, and that is that I would've loved to see the actors in costume instead of current day street clothing. With that said, the clothing did not detract from their great job and I would recommend the experience to anyone interested in an evening of camaraderie, fun and of course, Shakespeare.

Monday, July 6, 2009

I Know How to Knit! (Sort of)

A friend of a friend at work gave me my first knitting lesson today during lunch. I learned how to cast on and how to knit both the knit and purl stitch. Not bad for the first day. I'll be practicing this for a while, and then I'll take the next step, which supposedly includes learning to read patterns, binding off, increases and decreases. I'm not sure what all that means, but hopefully I'm a quick study. Here's the first attempt on my own.

So far, I'm really enjoying myself. I do have a couple goals I hope to reach once I've fully learned how to knit. First, I'd love to be able to knit a sweater to donate towards Guideposts Knit for Kids sweater project. I've wanted to do this for the longest time, but obviously not knowing how to knit was proving a real damper on my plans. The objective of this great endeavor is to collect handmade sweaters in children sizes 2-10 which are then donated to needy children all over the world. Knit for Kids celebrated its 10th anniversary back in 2006, and today they've reached the amazing milestone of 500,000 sweaters.

Secondly, I really want to knit something for each of my two knuckleheads (nephews) so that they know it was made by me, especially for them, with love. I'm getting a little ahead of myself, especially given that today is my first day knitting, but I already have a project in mind that I'd love to knit for them. My dream is to knit them a "beard head"-like hat, since doesn't make their hats in children's sizes. Unfortunately, this might be a pipe dream since I don't have a pattern and I wouldn't have the first clue where to start without one. Given that fact, another potential project is this cool dragon scarf from Morehouse Farm Merino.

Now as if the mere pleasure of knitting and learning something new wasn't enough, I also found a great BBC News article entitled "Knitting 'can delay' memory loss" that gave me yet another reason to take on this new hobby. The article reported on a US study performed at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota which found that "those who had during middle age been busy reading, playing games or engaging in craft hobbies like patchworking or knitting were found to have a 40% reduced risk of memory impairment." I'll have to remember this article every time I want to plant myself in front of the TV for movie marathons. Knitting should help me do that.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Lasting Words of Love

NPR's Morning Edition recently marked the 400th anniversary of Shakepeare's sonnets and asked its listeners if there were any modern love poems or songs that they thought could be remembered 400 years from now. The suggestions varied from songs by Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee", and lyrics from Billy Idol and Pearl Jam. Some listeners recommended poems by Pablo Neruda (Poem #20), E.E. Cummings, and one of my personal favorites, "Funeral Blues" by W.H. Auden. The first time I heard that poem was in the movie "Four Weddings and a Funeral". To this day, when I think of that poem, the voice I hear in my head is that of John Hannah, the Scottish actor that recited it in the movie. Here it is for those of you unfamiliar with this beautiful poem:

Funeral Blues
by W.H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good

If you'd like to make a suggestion on a poem or song that has staying power, you still can. Add your suggestion to the comments section of "Love Words with Staying Power?" at the NPR site. My personal entry was a poem that speaks to my heart:

At Last
by Elizabeth Akers Allen

At last, when all the summer shine
That warmed life's early hours is past,
Your loving fingers seek for mine
And hold them close—at last—at last!
Not oft the robin comes to build
Its nest upon the leafless bough
By autumn robbed, by winter chilled,—
But you, dear heart, you love me now.

Though there are shadows on my brow
And furrows on my cheek, in truth,—
The marks where Time's remorseless plough
Broke up the blooming sward of Youth,—
Though fled is every girlish grace
Might win or hold a lover's vow,
Despite my sad and faded face,
And darkened heart, you love me now!

I count no more my wasted tears;
They left no echo of their fall;
I mourn no more my lonesome years;
This blessed hour atones for all.
I fear not all that Time or Fate
May bring to burden heart or brow,—
Strong in the love that came so late,
Our souls shall keep it always now!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Summer Reading

As a fitting follow-up to yesterday's post, here's proof that I'm doing my part to keep the ladies numbers up, as well as helping the economy by keeping Amazon in business. A couple of nights ago I spent a few hours on Amazon looking for a nice assortment of books to enjoy as summer reads. I hadn't gotten any word of mouth recommendations so I just looked for a lot of 5 star customer reviews, and today when I got home I was excited to see a little brown box waiting by my door.

Hopefully I've made some wise choices. Here they are:

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is thirteen short stories linked by one woman, Olive Kitteridge, a strong willed seventh grade teacher in Crosby, Maine. The author won a Pulitzer for this book.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is narrated by Enzo, a dog, who tells his owner's story while hoping for the day when his life as a dog will be over and he can be reborn a man. I love dogs, so I couldn't resist.

When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris is a collection of 22 essays. I've never read any of his books, but there were alot of "laugh out loud" and "could not stop laughing" mentions in the customer reviews. Plus, I think his sister is hilarious, so he must be funny by association.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett is the story of a young white woman during the early years of the civil rights movement who writes about the plight of the black maids working for white families in Jackson, Mississippi. Great reviews.

The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman is the story of three sisters whose lives are forever changed by a tragedy that tears their family apart. The reviews for this book were actually mixed, and the story sounds very grim, but I bought it strictly based on the fact that it's written by Hoffman. I read her last book, The Third Angel, and loved it. I'm hoping she doesn't disappoint.

So, that's it. I'll post some reviews as I finish them. Olive Kitteridge will be first.