Monday, November 15, 2010

Volunteering at Members Project School Day

On Saturday I participated in the American Express Members Project School Day, organized in affiliation with New York Cares, at PS 290Q in Maspeth, Queens. The goal was to spend a few hours of the day (9 am to 2 pm) trying to make a positive difference in a local school. As the event sponsor, AMEX provided all of the supplies for the project, as well as generously providing a light breakfast and lunch for all volunteers, and a gift bag containing a disposable digital camera, to help us chronicle the day's events, and a t-shirt to wear while volunteering. At sign-in we were asked to choose between doing straight painting, painting murals (that's what we did), or furniture assembly. After my initial enthusiasm at sign-up, the possibility that I would forever mar these young children's school hallway and give them nightmares with my horrible drawing skills, if the mural had to be painted free-hand, sent me into near panic. My heart rate went back to normal once I was informed that the mural had already been stenciled and that we were basically doing color by numbers.

Before splitting us up into our respective groups, the principal of the school thanked us for our time and offered an open invitation to visit the school when the little people benefiting from our work were around. My group trotted up to the second floor, and after getting a run down on safety instructions, each of us parked ourselves in front of a blank stenciled wall and got to painting. Here are some before and after pictures.

Pretty cool, huh? My contributions were the bushes, leaves and flower above. My friend painted the rockin' bird and tree. It was a great day and it felt good to know there would be some smiling little faces come Monday morning when students got a look at the hallway we'd worked on.

Room: A Novel

I finished reading "Room: A Novel" by Emma Donoghue this weekend. The novel's disturbing subject is made a little less so by the writer's intriguing decision to write the book from the perspective of the 5-year old main character. "Room" tells the story of Jack, a just-turned 5-year old who has lived his entire life with his mom in one 11x11 room. To Jack, Room holds everything he needs and loves, his mom, his books, his TV, Wardrobe, and his beloved Rug, where he was born. To his mother, Room is the prison she's been held in for the seven years since the time of her kidnapping by Old Nick. Thanks to Jack's bravery and his mom's ingenuity they undertake a daring plan for escape, which finally breaks them free of their prison and exposes Jack to a world he didn't know existed.

While the book covers a dark subject matter, it is not depressing or gloomy. Jack's voice of innocence and wonder brings light and hope to what could otherwise be a depressing read. The relationship between mother and son is also beautifully detailed throughout the book. From mom's ingenuity in making toys for her son out of regular household items, like a snake from threaded together egg shells, or protecting her son from their limitations and her own sense of entrapment by helping Jack believe that Room was their safe world and everything beyond the door was outer space or what he saw on TV make-believe. The novel lovingly details the remarkable lengths to which a mother's love will go in an effort to protect her child. A worthwhile and at times moving read.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Last night I watched the Swedish film (subtitled), "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," and all I can say I haven't enjoyed a movie this much in a long while. A classic whodunit which was disturbing, yet riveting. I hadn't read the novel by Stieg Larsson, but given that as a general rule books are better than the movie, I will be rushing out to buy the novel ASAP.

The story centers around a disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, who takes on an assignment from a wealthy CEO to look into the forty-year old disappearance and potential murder of his beloved niece, Harriet Vanger. As Blomkvist starts to delve into Harriet's last days with her family he teams up with expert researcher and goth computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander. The search for Harriet's killer leads them to uncover a series of decades old murders and a veritable Pandora's box of Vanger family secrets.

As I said, the film is very disturbing. There are a couple of brutal and explicit scenes which are not for the faint of heart. Nonetheless, if you can stomach it, then watch it, because the actress playing Lisbeth, Noomi Rapace, gives a tour-de-force performance unlike none I've seen before.

Theodore & Miguel

I wanted to introduce the latest additions to the family, my knucklehead's new pets. Pets don't last very long in that household; fish, rabbits, and birds have quickly fallen by the wayside as the boys lost their initial devotion and interest, but I'm hoping Theo and Miguel can benefit from the fact that the boys are older and wiser. Personally, I'm totally loving these two. The knuckleheads are lucky I have Jasmin (my kitty) at home, because if not, I'd be quick to confiscate them during one of my weekend visits. Without further ado, here are Theo and Miguel.

Theo is a little pudgy ball of fur. While Theo might not be as photogenic as Miguel, due to his piercing red eyes, he in fact is the sweeter of the two. He enjoys eating while sitting in his food bowl and long walks down the driveway in his see-through hamster ball.

Miguel is a sassy little thing. He loves to be held, but picking him up requires some initial fortitude because he's quick to nibble on your finger. He's a bit of a loner, sometimes opting to sleep alone in their tube lookout instead of snuggling with Theo.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Stop and Smell the Flowers

Slow Dance
© David L. Weatherford

Have you ever watched kids on a merry-go-round?
Or listened to the rain slapping on the ground?
Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight?
Or gazed at the sun into the fading night?
You’d better slow down.
Don’t dance so fast.
Time is short,
The music won’t last.

Do you run through each day on the fly?
When you ask "How are you?"
Do you hear the reply?
When the day is done do you lie in your bed
With the next hundred chores running through your head?
You’d better slow down.
Don’t dance so fast.
Time is short.
The music won’t last.

Ever told your child, "We’ll do it tomorrow?"
And in your haste, not see his sorrow?
Ever lost touch, let a good friendship die
Cause you never had time to call and say "Hi?"
You’d better slow down.
Don’t dance so fast.
Time is short.
The music won’t last.

When you run so fast to get somewhere
You miss half the fun of getting there.
When you worry and hurry through your day,
It is like an unopened gift…
Thrown away.

Life is not a race.
Do take it slower
Hear the music
Before your song is over.

Stand By Me | Playing For Change

Stand By Me | Playing For Change | Song Around The World from Concord Music Group on Vimeo.

I found this on and absolutely loved Grandpa Elliott's portion of the song. From “Playing for Change: Peace Through Music,” a documentary about how music has the power to bring us together, comes this video of one of the 'songs around the world.’ The documentary brought a traveling recording studio to streets in the US and around the world, capturing unknown street musicians, each singing pieces of the same song and editing them together to form soulful musical mosaics. As a result of the success of the project, the Playing for Change Foundation was created. Its mission is “to ensure that anyone with the desire to receive a music education would have the opportunity to do so.” Now, musicians from all over the world come together to perform benefit concerts that, along with donations, help build music and art schools in areas of the world that need a little hope.

You can help out too, by visiting the foundation website (link provided above) and spreading the word or by buying the “Songs Around the World” CD/DVD at Amazon or at the Playing for Change shop. Great music for a great cause.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day

This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave. - Elmer Davis

Thank you to all those soldiers - young and old, men and women, of all races, creeds and sexual orientation who have risked life and limb for our safety and freedom. Thank you for your quiet heroism, both on and off the battlefield. May God Bless You and keep you always.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Due Date

I went to see “Due Date” this past Friday. Unlike most of my other recent movie outings, this time I did not go with my knuckleheads, instead I went with my friend which made it a special treat all of its own. “Due Date” is a road trip comedy starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Zach Galifianakis. Peter Highman (Downey) is a businessman on his way home to his expectant wife, eagerly anticipating his first child’s arrival only 5 days away via a planned C-section. While at the airport to catch his flight, a chance encounter with Ethan Tremblay/Chase (Galifianakis), a wannabe actor making his way to Hollywood, quickly throws all of Peter’s plans into chaos. A comedy of errors quickly ensues and Peter finds himself without his luggage, wallet, or ID and on a no-fly list, forced to share a rental car with Ethan and his pet pooch, Sonny, as they embark on a mad-dash from Atlanta to LA to make the birth of his child. The typical high jinks you’ve come to expect from Galifianakis’ movies of course follows, including pot smoking, car crashes, illegal border crossings, and much, much more.

While the humor was infantile at times, I can’t deny that I laughed throughout the movie. My only complaint is that the movie didn’t have a lot of heart. There were only one or two scenes where Galifianakis showed his acting chops and performed with real emotion. Downey was reduced to playing straight man to Galifianakis’ wacky character. I won’t say skip it, because I did enjoy myself, but I’ll add that if you want to see a great comedy road trip movie with tons of laughs and emotional resonance, rent “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” with John Candy and Steve Martin. That movie can make you cry laughing, and then just plain cry.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Twilight...Just Say No

This is for my cousin and friend, both of whom made valiant yet vain attempts to recruit me into their Twilight book cult. Love the "vam...pires...dying of shame." I do remember 'cuz saying something to that affect at some time, but I think it was early on (maybe after Twilight), before she was fully indoctrinated into the fold. (Click on the comic to access a larger, more legible copy.)

The brilliant artist responsible for this witty masterpiece is Lucy Knisley. I stumbled across her site by pure chance, and ended up spending a couple hours pouring over her site and ArtJournal. Even the simple journal sketches which she had in her recent Halloween post were great.

An equally hilarious and awesome book summary for Stephanie Meyer's Twilight saga can be found on Lucy's ArtJournal page.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Make A Difference With Just A Click

Today I received an email from The Humane Society which asked for my vote in the Pepsi Refresh Project. I was completely in the dark about the project, but I clicked on the link to vote, and after visiting the site and reading more about their efforts, I felt I had to share it with you guys.

Basically, Pepsi is giving away grants to fund great ideas which will have a positive impact in our communities. Anyone can submit an idea, individuals, businesses and non-profits. Pepsi is accepting 1,000 ideas every month. Each month applications are accepted from the 1st to the 15th or until such time that they receive 1,000 ideas. They have $5K, $25K, $50K, and $250K grants. The $5K, $25K, and $50K grants will each have up to 10 awardees per month. The $250K will have up to 2 awardees. Submitted ideas have been broken down by categories, including Health, The Planet, Education and many more. You can check out the current leaders in each category, shuffle the list and view random entries, or view those that are near you.

Visit the site and either submit an idea of your own or vote for a worthy candidate. If you love animals vote for The Humane Society submission, or select one of the other worthy candidates. I loved Comfort4canines which was submitted by a 13-year old girl looking to provide a little TLC to shelter dogs ($5K category), and also loved Butterfly Kisses Playgroup, a submission from the mother of a special needs child looking to build a facility with playground equipment especially designed for handicapped children ($50K category). You can vote for up to 10 of your favorite ideas every day, so spread the wealth.

Register and vote! One click of your mouse can bring a worthy idea that much closer to reality.

Update: Yipee! Each one of the three candidates for which I was voting (listed above) won their grant! Thanks to all those friends who took the time to vote for my favorites.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Great Cookie Challenge

Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta! Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta! (Think Rocky theme music)

“Trying hard now
it's so hard now
trying hard now

Getting strong now
won't be long now
getting strong now

Gonna fly now
flying high now
gonna fly, fly, fly...”

This song popped into my head, as soon as I started thinking about the challenge before me. A la Rocky, I will start training as of this weekend. Unlike Rocky, my training regime will not involve jump ropes or trying to catch a chicken, but instead cooking...baking to be exact. You see, my friend came up with the great idea of planning a holiday cookie swap at work. I have signed up for said cookie swap, in spite of the fact that I cannot cook...or bake...or broil...or steam. You get the idea. Cooking, in whatever form, is a foreign concept to me. Since participation requires homemade goodies, I could skip the cookie swap altogether, but the list of cookies sounds too darn good to pass up. The current list includes Fudge Ecstasies (a chocolate lover’s dream), Pecan Tassies, Red Velvet Whoopie Pies with Peppermint Filling (yum), Bittersweet Chocolate Biscotti, and Pepper Jelly-Cornmeal Cups.

In short, in an effort to master the heretofore foreign art of baking, my training will entail baking my selected cookie recipe every weekend from now ‘til December. Said training will not culminate with a triumphant run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, instead it will culminate in my kitchen, when I bake a perfect (or at least darn good) batch of cookies. If all is a success, I might have to take a victory lap after all...I’ll go around my block, my arms raised in victory (oven mitts in hand, of course) while the cookies are cooling.

P.S. Check back in early December. If I K.O. the cookie challenge, I'll post my cookie recipe and a picture of the finished product.

Election 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010

Memories, Fears and ABC World News

I recently tuned in to an ABC World News segment that Diane Sawyer was doing with Maria Shriver on Alzheimer's. Maria Shriver, the First Lady of California, is a long-time advocate for families touched by Alzheimer's and is passionately involved in trying to raise both awareness and funding to help fight this dreaded disease.

I was compelled to watch the segment by memories of my mother. Compelled by a sense of camraderie with the daily struggles and heartache of the caregivers which they were covering, as well as a curiosity rooted in fear. It is a fear borne of the memories of what my mom had to endure during the last six months of her life. My mom did not have Alzheimer's, she suffered a cranial hemmorhage which caused her memory loss, as well as the onset of advanced vascular dementia. Whether Alzheimer's or dementia, seeing someone you adore, scared, lost, confused - and in moments of lucidity - heartbroken, is enough to break your own heart and make you fearful all at once. As always, it's the unknown which is the scariest. Will you grow old gracefully? Will you have creaky bones and bad eyes, but still be all there? Or will history repeat itself, and your greatest fears become reality?

The news segment included a moving video piece entitled "The Life of a Caregiver." The piece included an elderly man whose wife is living in a nursing home and suffering with Alzheimer's. Due to the disease, the wife had begun to forget him, so he began laying by her side in bed whenever he'd visit. To her doctor's amazement, she began to remember him. Watching this lovely old gentleman lying by his wife, singing her a love song, was touching beyond words. "I love you" he told her as he caressed her face, and she responded in kind. Seeing how his love still managed to reach her, even across the distance of the lagoon created by the disease, made me cry. They say 'love conquers all'. In this case, it's more than a cliche.

The report went on to state that Alzheimer's affects more than five million people in the US, disproportionately more women, and if things remain the same, as many as 16 million families will be affected by the disease by 2050. A fact that ensures that we will be touched by Alzheimer's, whether directly or indirectly, in our lifetime.

What can you or I do? We can support, through donations or advocacy, organizations like the Alzheimer's Association; or as Maria Shriver stressed "support a larger, more centralized effort in Alzheimer's research." Maria cited comparisons to research funding for other leading diseases: $6 billion for cancer, $5 billion for heart disease and only $500 million for Alzheimer's. Lastly, prevention is the ideal. A goal we can contribute towards in the way we lead our daily lives, through a healthy diet and exercise.