Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Reading is for Women (and Men!)

I stumbled upon an interesting 2007 NPR article about the differences between the reading habits of men and women. An AP poll taken among avid readers showed that the typical woman reads 9 books in a year, compared with only 5 for men, with the exception of the categories of history and biography. What was really interesting about the article was the fact that in the category of fiction the contrast between men and women is even starker. Men make up only 20% of the fiction market.

The article ponders various theories as to the whys for the “fiction gap,” including cognitive psychologists findings that women are more empathetic than men, with a greater emotional range which can make fiction more appealing to them. Another theory held “mirror neurons” responsible for differences. Neuroscientists believe these neurons hold the biological key to empathy. “The research is still in its early stages, but some studies have found that women have more sensitive mirror neurons than men. That might explain why women are drawn to works of fiction, which by definition require the reader to empathize with characters.”

While I'm not attuned enough to the male psyche to hazard a guess as to the whys for the male side of the poll findings, as an avid reader, and woman, I think women have active imaginations, I'm sure some men might even say overactive imaginations, which could explain fiction's appeal. We can easily lose ourselves in a character's life or personality, be rich if we're poor, be brave if we're afraid, or be confident if we're normally meek. Another facet of fiction's appeal is simply escapism -- an escape from the daily rigors of balancing work, home, and family. Not that men don't need that escapism, but I think men find that escape through other means, like maybe sports.

A disturbing tidbit of information in the article was the fact that a poll released by The Associated Press and Ipsos found that the typical American reads only four books in the year, and one in four adults read no books at all. Sadly, whether male or female, Americans are readingly less than in the past. It's really not that surprising given that in general our lives are lived in hyper-speed, with little down time for something as seemingly vacuous or purposeless as reading.

But in fact, as wiser men have said, reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body, and one of the greatest gifts we can give our children and ourselves is the freedom found in a book -- the freedom to dream.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Out of this World Fun with "V"

"Today, the world woke up to find spaceships over every major city. The Visitors claim to have come in peace, bringing gifts of medical miracles and technological breakthroughs. They promise to do no harm. They're lying."

Ooh, scary. In scoping out the Fall schedule for ABC, I found this juicy sneak preview for V, which as many of you will recall was the hugely successful 80's mini-series about aliens taking over the planet Earth.

For all you Lost fans, I'm sure you recognized our beloved Juliet aka Elizabeth Mitchell who'll be playing Homeland Security agent Erica Evans. Also in the cast is old Party of Five hottie Scott Wolf.

One minor obstacle to my excitement is the fact that the show still has no set air date. ABC's web page just says "coming soon." Stay tuned.

Gran Torino

This was the last movie from Clint Eastwood, who both directed and starred in this entertaining story about a grouchy Korean War vet, Walt Kowalski, whose prejudices are tested when he forms an unlikely friendship with a young Hmong teenager, Thao, who tries to steal his car, a mint Gran Torino, as part of a gang initiation.

Clint is at his Dirty Harry best, all steely-eyed stares and grunts and growls, while still deftly portraying the character's tender vulnerabilities caused by the inner demons he still carries with him since the war. The movie convincingly portrays the relationship between these two strangers, with nothing in common, who come together and help each other find peace, purpose and redemption.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie from beginning to end. The movie starts off a little slow in the action department, but the substance is there from the onset. It's not the best Clint Eastwood movie, but its definitely worth seeing.

My Fall TV Viewing Schedule

The major networks (ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC) have announced their Fall lineups and premiere dates. A number of my favorite shows have premieres on the same night, which will wreck havoc on my viewing schedule, but I'm sure I'll manage. For example, NBC's comedy lineup, including The Office, will kickoff on September 17th, the same night as the premiere of Survivor: Samoa. Luckily they're on in different time slots. Survivor kicks off at 8:00 pm, and The Office has an hour-long special at 9:00 pm. Another head-to-head match up is set for September 21st when both the struggling Heroes and Dancing with the Stars have 2-hour premieres. Depending on the announced line-up of celebrities for this season of DWTS, this decision might be an easy one. Tuesdays and Wednesdays will be jam packed with fun thanks to a Fall run of So You Think You Can Dance on Tuesdays, and a glorious hour of Glee airing on Wednesday nights. The Mentalist will kick-off in its new Thursday spot on September 24th, and Medium, which was picked up by CBS after it was cancelled by NBC, launches on September 25th.

There's definitely plenty to see so I drafted up my preliminary viewing schedule, with only the old favorites included.

As you can see, some nights I have a couple shows slotted at the same time, which means I'll either be channel-hopping, recording, or demoting some shows from "must see" status to an episode-by-episode decision basis. It's a dog eat dog world out there. Only the strong survive.

In Their Own Words

"Throughout the journey of my life, I have maintained a strong faith in the power of the human spirit to overcome adversity."
- Farrah Fawcett

"If you enter this world knowing you are loved and you leave this world knowing the same, then everything that happens in between can be dealt with."
- Michael Jackson

Each faced adversity. Each was loved. May they both rest in peace.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

SYTYCD: Look at my boy go!

Both of my guys (Evan and Brandon) had great nights with their respective partners, but Evan's was the dance that really shone for me tonight. I'm not a huge fan of Mia Michaels, mainly because I find that she's a little full of herself, but you can't deny the woman's brilliant when it comes to her craft. I loved this piece, including the music it's choreographed to. Perfect match.

The Office Rules!

I about peed my pants watching this video clip. Easily the funniest four minutes on television this year. Give them the Emmy now!

"No, no, no you will not die Stanley! Stanley! Stanley! Barak is President!...You are black Stanley!" - Michael Scott


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Resurrecting the Jheri Curl

Tonight I might have taken the first step in single-handedly resurrecting the Jheri curl look of the 70s and 80s (shiny and wet). I volunteered at my church's Italian Festival and lucked out with french fry duty. Lucky me, for two hours I stood mere inches from two huge vats of hot bubbling oil constantly cooking fries, and dishing them out to what seemed like every teenager and small child living within a 10-mile radius of the vicinity. Call me clueless, but I was oblivious to my new look until I got home and looked in the mirror, at which time I noted that my hair which is usually curly and frizzy, instead looked like I had dipped it in the previously mentioned vat of oil, and sadly I smelled like it too. I'll probably also have a pimple or two tomorrow morning to serve as battle scars from the night's work.

Well, you know what they say...no good deed goes unpunished.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Musical Remake of 80's Classic

A musical remake of the movie "Footloose" is in the works and will be directed by Kenny Ortega (High School Musical). Chace Crawford from the CW's Gossip Girl has been cast in the role of Ren, the role originated by Kevin Bacon, and turned down by Zac Efron. Variety now reports that Julianne Hough of Dancing with the Stars fame will be playing Ariel, which was originated by Lori Singer. I love Julianne from DWTS and more specifically from my days as a loyal and rabid Apolliane fan (Apolo Ohno & Julianne name combo from DWTS) but casting her as the rebellious preacher's daughter is a bit of a stretch. She radiates sweetness and light from every pore. Look at these two beautiful people. Forget Ren and Ariel, they should be playing Cinderella and Prince Charming.

The other two roles that it'll be interesting to see cast are John Lithgow's role of Reverend Shaw Moore and Chris Penn's lovable lunk Willard.

In all honesty, this is such an 80's classic that I think they should leave well-enough alone. You wouldn't remake Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink or the Breakfast Club, why do it for Footloose? This is yet another example of the fact that Hollywood can't seem to come up with many original ideas. With all that said, they've got my number, because come 2010 I'll be doling out my $10 bucks just to see how they've treated this old favorite.

Reality TV Double-Header

Summer has officially started, which means we can look forward to the usual round of fun and zany summer reality TV fare, including Big Brother, Wipeout, I Survived a Japanese Game Show and the following two shows. Tomorrow (6/23) the fun kicks off with The Superstars on ABC (8 pm) and America's Got Talent on NBC (9 pm).

The Superstars is a six-episode series based on ABC's classic Wide World of Sports series by the same name. It's basically the same show, except for one change. Unlike the original series which pitted individual athletes from all different sports competing against each other, this time, in the vein of Dancing with the Stars, the athletes are paired up with a celebrity. The eight teams will perform in different events including swimming, biking, running and kayaking. One team will go home each week until the last team standing wins the competition. The teams are as follows:

1. Terrell Owens (NFL football player) & Joanna Krupa (model; Maxim's top 100 women)
2. Robert Horry (NBA basketball player) & Estella Warren (actress; Planet of the Apes)
3. Bode Miller (world champion skier) & Paige Hemmis (Extreme Makeover: Home Edition)
4. Kristi Leskinen (X Games freeskier) & Maksim Chmerkovskiy (Dancing with the Stars)
5. Jennifer Capriati (pro tennis player) & David Charvet (actor; Melrose Place)
6. Lisa Leslie (WNBA basketball player) & Dan Cortese (actor; Surviving Suburbia)
7. Brandi Chastain (pro soccer player) & Julio Iglesias Jr. (singer)
8. Jeff Kent (baseball player) & Ali Landry (actress; Miss USA)

While I won't pick a team sight unseen to win it all, I'm going to go out on a limb and call Jeff and Ali early front-runners, strictly from the ABC website photo of the teams.

In its fourth season, America's Got Talent is a talent competition that features everything from ventriloquists, jugglers, dancers, singers and any other talent auditioners can dream up. As in all the talent-style competitions (like Idol and SYTYCD) you can count on seeing your fair share of wackos, attention-seekers and talentless wannabes during the auditions, but you'll also enjoy some real talent with moving back stories to touch your heart. The judges (Piers Morgan, David Hasselhoff, and Sharon Osborne) remain the same, but in the musical chairs hosting spot, this season it will be Nick Cannon, replacing Jerry Springer, who in turn had replaced Regis Philbin.

I saw a recent article on AGT that offered a heads up on a couple acts to look forward to, including a a trio of siblings called Voices of Glory who serenaded their comatose mother and a singer who'd been turned away from auditioning for a cruise line because of her appearance.

My only gripe with the show is that there are always so many singers competing against each other, but after all, America is voting so we're the ones putting them through. Other than the talent, one other reason I'll be tuning in is for the chance to see Susan Boyle perform. The Britain's Got Talent singing sensation and YouTube phenomenon has been invited to sing on the American show sometime during the fourth season.

I'm volunteering at my church's Italian Festival, but I'll definitely be recording both shows to indulge in as soon as I get home.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Goodbye Birdie

I have to give a eulogy today for my nephews new parakeet, Mario, that passed away yesterday. Mario is survived by Luigi. Sound familiar? Yes, they were named in honor of Super Mario Bros. We actually think Mario might have been a girl, but can't be 100% sure. Anyway, I was searching for a pretty little poem or something to say when we bury him and found this clip of a beautiful poem, about his dog Beau, recited by Jimmy Stewart on a 1981 appearance on the Tonight Show. It's just beautiful and moved me to tears, so of course, I had to share.

Happy Father's Day

4 years: My Daddy can do anything!
7 years: My Dad knows a lot…a whole lot.
8 years: My father does not know quite everything.
12 years: Oh well, naturally Father does not know that either.
14 years: Oh, Father? He is hopelessly old-fashioned.
21 years: Oh, that man-he is out of date!
25 years: He knows a little bit about it, but not much.
30 years: I must find out what Dad thinks about it.
35 years: Before we decide, we will get Dad's idea first.
50 years: What would Dad have thought about that?
60 years: My Dad knew literally everything!
65 years: I wish I could talk it over with Dad once more.
Fathers Day Quote by: Unknown

My Dad will be gone from us 15 years in November, but I still remember him with love and admiration. He'd only received an elementary school education but he was a wonderful teacher, who taught by example. Amongst many things, he taughts us about love, loyalty, and the value of a hard day's work. When I see the amazing father's that both of my brothers turned out to be, I feel the pride my dad must in knowing he did his job well.

Happy Father's Day to both my brothers and all the fathers, godfathers, grandfathers, and stepfathers out there! God Bless.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Precious Memories

Prior to mom suffering the second stroke which ultimately took her from us, my brother and I had to empty out her apartment. Going through room by room, each room filled not just with items but with memories, was one of the hardest things I’ve done. I spent so much time at mom’s place, that in truth most of my happiest memories with her were in her apartment. There were moments shared in each room, whether it was me sitting on her couch reading to her (she was legally blind due to macular degeneration), chatting with her through the curtain as she showered, watching Spanish telenovelas (soap operas) at night together, or on lazy Sunday afternoons the two of us napping on her bed with Jasmin snuggled in between us. Each memory is more precious than the last.

Mom had been in that apartment for close to ten years, but it was still surprising to see how many things one little woman could accumulate in such a small space. All the items of sentimental value came home with me, like a book she’d had forever which is falling apart, the cookbooks she had since she got married, photo albums, jewelry, etc. Amongst all those things, I found a bunch of unfinished projects, like this pretty little thing below.

Mom had stopped working on most of her crafts (sewing, embroidery, knitting) in the last couple of years due to the loss of her vision, so this one must have been sitting around for a while. Thankfully all the embroidery work was complete, so all I had to do was add the lace, which was no easy feat given my sewing skills. Here it is finished thanks to some much appreciated help from my friend Manshi.

It’s just a doily, but it’s special because it’s a tangible reminder of mom as she truly was – bold, funny, smart, and creative.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dear Academy,

As a TV addict and award show junkie, I'm taking this opportunity to offer my comments and suggestions to Academy members in the rare and admittedly highly improbable chance that they should read this blog prior to the June 26th deadline for returning ballots to the Academy.

While it's readily apparent from Emmy history that the Academy likes to pick a show and like an old horse ride it into the ground year in and year out, hence Frasier's win for Best Comedy from 1994 to 1998, or West Wing's win for Best Drama from 2000 to 2003, why not throw some new blood into the mix and ultimately send some new faces up to the stage to accept an award. The Academy has expanded the top 10 categories to six nominees each, but that does not mean this needs to serve as another opportunity for Boston Legal or Monk to have another chance at glory . Be rebels, live dangerously, and forget James Spader in Boston Legal (I think they're still eligible for nomination even though the show is no longer on the air), and instead how about giving cutie Simon Baker in The Mentalist a shot. Why not shock the critics and give them just what they've been asking for, a nomination for Battlestar Galactica? If I could suggest another name for your consideration, how about the brilliant John Noble (Dr. Walter Bishop) from Fringe. He elevates his show to another level with his mere presence on the screen.

On a related and just as important matter, the telecast, the Academy has a lot to make up for to redeem itself from the fiasco that was last year's brilliant idea (not) to have five reality TV hosts emcee the biggest night in television. While I love Survivor, Jeff Probst is just not the guy to host a show celebrating the best of the best on TV. Every time he came on screen I was sure he'd be snuffing someone's tiki torch and saying "the tribe has spoken." In all seriousness, you need someone who can show the right amount of reverence merited by the occasion and its guests, while keeping the mood light and fun for the nominees and the TV viewing audience. Two individuals which quickly come to mind are Neil Patrick Harris (NPH) and Ricky Gervais. NPH was wonderful during the recent Tony Awards, and Ricky Gervais is always funny, including during last year's telecast in his skit with Steve Carell. Either man would do a brilliant job. Oh, and if irrevent and quirky is what you're looking for, how about Stephen Colbert? You'd have to be very brave. Very brave indeed. I don't know that the Academy has it in them.

I've shared my two cents on the matter. I look forward to hearing the list of nominees on July 16th, and even more so to cheering for my favorites on award night, September 20th. Don't let me down.

Is There a Formula to Happiness?

NPR's Talk of the Nation recently had an interview with Joshua Shenk, who wrote "What Makes Us Happy?", an essay published in The Atlantic. Recently, Mr. Shenk got a chance to review the files of the Harvard Study of Adult Development hoping to find the secrets to a good life. The study involved researchers following, over the span of 72 years, the lives of 268 young men who attended the college in the late 1930s, and saw them through marriages, divorce, alcoholism, etc, all in hopes of finding the elusive secret or perfect combination of factors which could determine a long, happy and healthy life. Supposedly study participants have mostly remained anonymous except for a few who identified themselves, including Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post.

The psychiatrist in charge of the files and the study over the last 42 years is George Vaillant. The doctor determined there are 7 factors that predict healthy aging, both physically and psychologically, including education, stable marriage, not smoking, not abusing alcohol, some exercise and healthy weight. Personally, I find that most of those identified factors didn't really require 72 years of study to determine, they seem pretty common sense. Nonetheless, one of the key items to a happy life was found to be relationships. For example, according to the doctor, good sibling relationships were crucial. In fact, 93% of the men in the study who were thriving at 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger.

During the interview, the host opened the lines for callers, and asked "what have you learned about happiness over the years that would have surprised your younger self?" One interesting response came from a male caller who said that he learned that you are responsible for your own happiness. Don't expect others to make you happy, or you to make them happy. Not sure I fully agree with that statement. I think we do bear responsibility for our own happiness, but also for that of others, and we should never let happiness be someone's sole personal responsibility. The more we care about someone elses happiness, the happier we are in the long run. As Jimmy Durante very wisely sang,"Make someone happy. Make just one someone happy. And you will be happy too."

Sorry to get sidetracked. My own answer to the host's question would be that I've learned gratitude goes a long way towards being happy, not that this fact would necessarily surprise my younger self. If you live your life grateful for even the smallest of blessings and mercies each day, peace and happiness will come easily. Ralph H. Blum said "There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude, a quiet joy." What do you think? What would your response be to the host's question?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Like Calvin Loves Alice

I'd like to some day be loved like Calvin loves Alice. Until recently I was unfamiliar with this wonderful American love story, but then a friend gifted me a copy of "About Alice" by Calvin Trillin. Calvin Trillin is a long time writer at The New Yorker and Alice was his life, love and muse.

The book is only 75 pages, yet those few pages somehow encapsulate a lifetime of love, respect and admiration. Each memory shared about his love, Alice, emanate a deep abiding love, a profound respect and admiration for who she was as a human being, and a sense of awe at the luck of being blessed with her in his life.

So yes, as a 41 year old single woman (heck why be pc, 41 year old spinster) I do dream of finding that special guy that like Calvin with Alice will still be trying to impress me decades after we've fallen in love, who will still remember the moment we first met, even if we argue over the fine details of what we were wearing, and who feels blessed to have me in his life.

Not an easy feat, especially at 41, but I'm still holding out hope.

Monday, June 8, 2009

SYTYCD Early Favorites

I've been following the new season of SYTYCD and I already have a couple early favorites. I have two guys which I'm rooting for, neither of which is new to SYTYCD fans since both were on last season but didn't make it out of the Vegas round, Brandon Bryant and Evan Kasprzak. I'm not that crazy about the girls, but I do have a soft spot for Kayla Radomski ever since I saw her grandfather start crying during the auditions as he shared the story of sleeping on chairs in dance studios and working two jobs to pay for her dance classes.

I would love to see Evan make it all the way to the end. I just hope he gets a good partner, because your partner can make or break you. Either he/she will carry you further than you expected through great chemistry or likeability or have you dancing for your life on a weekly basis.

Whoever ends up winning, here's to another great season of dance, filled with new awe-inspiring dance routines, such as this one or this one.

This weekend I...

...went to the movies with my two knuckleheads nephews to see Up, which is easily the best animated movie I've ever seen. It was enchanting, touching, and really funny. I laughed out loud in parts, and in others even teared up. At one very touching moment early in the movie, my eyes filled with tears and I tried surreptitiously to wipe them away without my nephews noticing, sure that I would be endlessly mocked by an 8 and 10 year old, a fact I would never live down. Luckily, they didn't notice, but as I looked around I noticed that the mom sitting next to us was doing the same. I felt much better after that. At least I wasn't the only nerd to cry watching a cartoon.

...wolfed down enjoyed a rich, creamy and fat-laden classic banana split while sitting on a bench in the company of my two knuckleheads, as we watched a bee on a nearby blade of grass and discussed the fine points on bee stings

...trekked behind said knuckleheads around a small pond at dusk, with eyes wide open and alert, ready to sound the alarm at any sign of a frog or small fish

...visited my dear cuz and her clan, which includes 1 hubby, 2 children, 1 cat, 1 fish, 1 lady bug garden (not ladybugs yet, still very creepy), and last but not least, 1 guinea pig, Jack. I had never met Jack before and let me just say, I'm smitten. Don't you just love his hairdo.

...envied and enjoyed my cuz's garden, including this little beauty.

...drumroll please...baked. Now granted, the recipe is more assembly, than actual 'from scratch' type baking, and I did have 2 assistants (cuz and little cuz-- cuz's 8 year old daughter), but it's still baking. I made Monkey Bread using the very simple (so easy a monkey could do it) recipe from the wonderful Pioneer Woman. Not as picture-perfect as Pioneer Woman's but still delish!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Night at the Museum 2/ Angels & Demons (Mini Reviews)

I've always been a bit of a movie buff, so I'd missed not being able to catch a movie on the big screen since last year. I must say it was quite comforting to enjoy the familiar feeling of settling into my seat, popcorn and drink in hand, anxiously awaiting for the movie previews (the more the merrier). After a long movie-going absence, I've now seen two movies within the past couple of weeks, neither of which really satisfied my movie viewing craving. I took my two nephews to see A Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and I went with my friend to see Angels & Demons. So here goes. A brief mini-review of each.

In this sequel to the original Night at the Museum, Ben Stiller reprises his role as Larry Daley, the previous security guard at the Museum of Natural History, and current owner of a company that produces his inventions. Larry still visits his old friends, Jedediah (Owen Wilson) and Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) at the museum and its readily apparent during the visit that while he's successful, he's not happy. On one such visit he finds out that all of his friends will be shipped to the Federal Archives housed at the Smithsonian in DC in order to make room for newer interactive exhibits. Larry finds out from Teddy that he and a few others are staying behind, but since the miraculous tablet that brings them all to life will not be traveling to the Smithsonian, this means it will be the others last night alive. Later at home, Larry receives a frantic call from Jedediah, who's now at the Smithsonian, that they are under attack, and of course, Larry rushes to the rescue.

The movie was very cute, but in truth its the same old gimmick without the freshness of the first movie. I didn't find it all that hilarious either, except for a silly slap fight scene between Larry and Dexter the monkey which had me in stitches. The one redeeming feature of the movie was the performance of the always enchanting Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart. Whether she's a fairy tale princess (Enchanted), a pregnant young wife (Junebug), or in this case Amelia Earhart, Amy Adams always manages to make you fall in love with her character. Hank Azaria as the evil pharoah Kahmunrah was also pretty good. Overall, I'd say wait for the DVD, though if you have kids, waiting might not be an option.

Angels & Demons is supposed to serve as a sequel to the movie The Da Vinci Code, though in actuality Angels & Demons, the novel, was published before The Da Vinci Code. In the movie, Tom Hanks is back as Robert Langdon a brilliant symbologist who is asked by the Vatican to help them solve the mystery of a secret society known as the Illuminati who are claiming to have possession of four abducted cardinals who are the preferred (preferiti) candidates to replace the recently deceased Pope as the new Pontiff. Langdon, along with the help of Dr. Vittoria Vetra, not only have to save the preferiti, but also find a volatile material (anti-matter) stolen from a lab which could potentially obliterate the Vatican.

What can I say about this movie? If you've read the book, which I have, then the movie will fall short by comparison. In all honesty and fairness, I'll admit that I find most film adaptations of novels lacking. I will add that if you'd like to see some amazing views of Rome, then dish out the $10; and if you haven't read the book then dish out the $10 because overall the movie was entertaining, with alot of action and excitement, and Tom Hanks was very good as always.