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 ABC.com'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 EW.com 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 death...to 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 CNN.com, 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 Beardhead.com 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.

Don't Judge a Book By Its Cover

Never has the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” been more true than in the case of Kevin Skinner. The unassuming unemployed farmer, who said he used to catch chickens for a living, appeared on Tuesday’s edition of America’s Got Talent. This guy is definitely a diamond in the rough, but I agree with Piers that he could win the competition. After a little bit of snickering and giggles from the audience and judges he sang the most beautiful rendition of "If Tomorrow Never Comes" by Garth Brooks. It was the perfect song choice for his voice, but what made it outstanding was how heartfelt it came across. It was a truly moving performance, and his reaction offstage made it even more so. It always gets me to see a grown man cry. After all the fuss the judges have made lately about what seems to me as passable talent at best from other contestants, this was a breath of fresh air. Finally some talent!