Friday, September 9, 2011

Words of Wisdom


-- Roald Dahl, author of such notable children's books as James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr Fox, and Matilda.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

First Look

The 2011-2012 TV season will be kicking off in the next couple weeks, and in addition to looking forward to the return of some old favorites ("Modern Family", "The Middle", "Dancing with the Stars"), I'm equally as excited to check out the new crop of shows hitting the major networks. Here's an exclusive first look at my list of the lucky few new shows that have caught my eye and which I'll be tuning in to see (at least the first episode).

"New Girl" (Tuesdays, 9-9:30 pm, Fox): This new comedy features Zooey Deschanel as Jess, a young woman who after a tough breakup becomes the new roommate to three single guys. Looks sweet and quirky. (Premieres Tuesday, September 20)

"Up All Night" (Wednesday, 8-8:30 pm, NBC): This seemingly funny and charming new show (at least if the commercials are to be believed) features Christina Applegate and Will Arnett as new parents struggling with their new roles and responsibilities. (Premieres Wednesday, September 14)

"The X Factor" (Wednesday, 8-9 pm, Fox): Looking forward to Cowell's acerbic wit in his return to the small screen in this new singing competition. Also can't wait to see what new kinds of crazy Paula brings to the judging table. (Premieres Wednesday, September 21)

"Person of Interest" (Thursday, 9-10 pm, CBS): This drama is from "Lost" executive producer J.J. Abrams, and stars Michael Emerson (aka Ben from "Lost") as a mysterious millionaire who has developed a software program which identifies people that are about to be involved in a violent crime, either as the perpetrator, victim or witness, and who hires a presumed dead CIA agent (Jim Caviezel) to help him stop the crimes from taking place. (Premieres Thursday, September 22)

"Once Upon a Time" (Sunday, 8-9 pm, ABC): This fantasy stars Jennifer Morrison as a bail bonds collector who finds out she's the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, and that as a result she holds the key to saving both the Real World and the Enchanted Forest. The town of Storybrooke, Maine serves as the parallel world in which fairy tale characters look like normal people and don't remember their true identities or anything about their true lives. The parallel storylines might make things a little confusing, but it sounds interesting enough to give it a try. Who doesn't love a good fairy tale? (Premieres Sunday, October 23)

There are any number of additional shows hitting the airwaves, including "Terra Nova," "Charlie's Angels", and "2 Broke Girls" to name a few. One thing is sure, along with a few gems in this 2011-2012 class (some maybe listed above), there are bound to be a few duds, two which I'll call right now: "Pan Am" and "The Playboy Club." Here's to finding one or two new favorites in the bunch.

Silhouettes

Silhouettes is my "America's Got Talent" favorite this season. I found their audition performance a little shaky, but their last two performances have been phenomenal, and I think they're a lock to reach the finals. Given the 9/11 anniversary date almost upon us, this performance to the tune of God Bless America is very apropos. It makes me teary-eyed every time I watch it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Riveting Must Read

A friend who subscribes to "The New Yorker" recommended I read one of their recently published articles, Getting Bin Laden, written by Nicholas Schmidle, that detailed the mission to get Osama bin Laden. Having read the article, I'm going to now pay it forward and offer the same recommendation to you guys.

This must-read article reads like the type of spine-tingling spy thriller novels you just can't put down, and which you know will soon end up on the big screen. The article was an enthralling read which detailed the harrowing events which took place the night of May 1st, when two Black Hawk helicopters loaded with a total of 23 Navy Seals took off from Jalalabad Air Field in Afghanistan and embarked on their designated mission to kill "Crankshaft" - the target name that the Joint Special Operations Command, had given bin Laden. The risky plan was to land one of two helicopters directly inside the compound where bin Laden was holed up, overpower and dispose of any of bin Laden's guards and then kill him and take his corpse back with them to Aghanistan; of course, as in any great story, all did not initially go as planned.

From paragraph to paragraph, every detail ropes you into the tale and brings you along for the ride; from the intelligence work which lead to identifying the trusted courier which was hiding bin Laden, to the Seals initial training exercises in North Carolina where a replica of the compound where they believed bin Laden was hiding was built for practice maneuvers, ending with the culminating moment when one of those Seals confronts bin Laden, shoots him in the chest, followed by a second round in the head, and then per the Native American theme code words which had been given to each stage of the mission (Geronimo was to signify bin Laden was found), reports through his radio the words "For God and country, Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo," followed by "Geronimo E.K.I.A." - "enemy killed in action."

Since the article was published, there has been some criticism from other news outlets (The Washing Post) to the fact that at no point in the article does the author describe the sourcing of the story, and the fact that the story is not based on first-hand interviews with any of the Seals themselves, but instead based on interviews with others who debriefed the men. I don't think this fact takes away from this riveting read which in addition to offering some previously unknown details, such as the fact that initial plans considered tunnelling into the compound, it also helps to correct false reports originally out in the media, such as the fact that the Seals were wearing helmet cams during the mission. It's an informative and gripping read which you'll recommend to your friends as well.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Blog of Note

I find it awe-inspiring whenever I read something which transcends the page. I marvel at the brilliant few who can with the mere use of words – a random compilation of nouns, verbs, adjectives – somehow manage to give a reader a glimpse into their soul, their feelings – be they sadness, fear, anger or joy. I found such a writer in a recent blog I discovered, Enjoying the Small Things, which is written by Kelle Hampton. Given the newness of my finding, I haven’t gotten a chance to read all of Kelle’s posts, but those I have are beautifully written and insightful. In particular, let me direct your attention to a post titled “Nella Cordelia: A Birth Story,” which literally moved me to tears. In it Kelle offers us a glimpse of the special night when Nella came into her life; she shares with us the incredible joy and excitement of awaiting her second child, the pain of contractions once labor starts, and the initial pain and fear when she realizes Nella has Down Syndrome. It is an honest and unabashed look into Kelle’s heart in those first hours (the fear, the hurt, the uncertainty), followed in quick succession by the overpowering feeling of love and gratitude at being blessed with this truly beautiful and perfect little girl who was made just for them.

Be prepared to cry, so have tissues on hand, but don’t miss out on the opportunity to read this beautiful story which brings us the beginning of this family's journey.

Enjoying the Small Things is a great blog which helps us to remember to keep things in perspective, not sweat the small stuff, and along the way teaches us a few lessons about hope, faith and unconditional love.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Spread the Word, Somalia Needs Us

If you’ve seen photos or read articles on Somalia, you know how dire and seemingly hopeless the situation appears for this African nation. As a result of one of the worst droughts in Somalia in 60 years, Somalis are suffering from a famine, and to add insult to injury, as they desperately try to flee to camps in the capital of Mogadishu or refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia they are also facing a cholera epidemic.

Unfortunately, despite the magnitude of the crisis, aid organizations are garnering few donations in comparison to funds raised for recent natural disasters, such as the Asian tsunami or the earthquake in Haiti. For example, according to the Center on Philanthropy, American nonprofit aid groups received $1.9 billion and $1.4 billion for the tsunami and earthquake, respectively. Compare that to $5.1 million collected so far by the United States Fund for Unicef for Somalia. A mere pittance considering Unicef estimates it will need $300 million over the next six months to address famine related issues in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

All of which leads me to the reason for my post. The reason is them, and thousands of other Somali children like them.

(Tyler Hicks/New York Times)

Reports tell of Somali women who walk endless miles, day and night, carrying their emaciated children to distant refugee camps in hopes of finding food and medicine for their children; and Kenyan doctors who have to tape IVs to the side of children's fragile skulls because they can't find a vein anywhere else. This isn't a tsunami, an earthquake, or a flood, but it's an even greater tragedy, because it's children dying not from an illness or a catastrophe, but simply dying of hunger. They don't have a fancy telethon with actors and rock stars to ask for help on their behalf. They only have us, you and me. My request is simple. Give. Give what you can, no matter how small, because every little bit helps. This blog doesn't have thousands of readers; it doesn't have hundreds of readers; but if even one or two of the friends who read this blog donate, then I know I've done my part.

I donated to Unicef, but here are links to a few other organizations helping in Somalia: World Vision, Doctors Without Borders, and Save the Children. I also found an article on MSNBC (here) which provides a more extensive list of charitable organizations fighting the famine in Somalia, as well as in neighboring countries being impacted by the deluge of refugees.

I've dropped my pebble in the proverbial pond in hopes that the ripples reach far and wide, won't you.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Brook

When they announced last week that Hurricane Irene would hit New York, my heart skipped a beat once or twice. You see when Hurricane Floyd hit back in 1999, my condo flooded when the bubbling brook behind my house, became instead a raging river which overflowed. Thankfully that didn’t happen this time around, though not from lack of trying on the brook's part. I wanted to show all the skeptics - namely my brother - that I wasn't exaggerating, so I took this little video of the brook during all its raging glory.

Brook from 3musketeers on Vimeo.

Double Indemnity

"Double Indemnity" is a 1944 film starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and the incomparable Edward G. Robinson. The film was co-written and directed by Billy Wilder, with the script based on a James Cain novel of the same name.

The film tells the story of Walter Neff (MacMurray), an insurance salesman who becomes smitten with and falls under the wiles of Phyllis Dietrichson (Stanwyck), a seductive and scheming housewife whose greatest wish is that Mr. Dietrichson dropped off the face of the earth, and the sooner the better. As the movie begins, a car careens through Los Angeles streets and then stops at an office building. A night watchmen opens the door for Walter who's arrived at the empty offices of Pacific All Risk Insurance Company. As he makes his way to a dark empty office and sits at a desk, lighting a cigarette, it becomes apparent that Walter is injured for he's not using one arm and has a blood stain on his jacket. Walter turns on a dictating machine and begins recording a message for Barton Keyes (Robinson), a friend and colleague who happens to be the claims manager at Pacific All Risk. As Walter dictates into the machine, the story of love, betrayal, and murder plays out as a flashback on the screen.

This film was a great movie classic which I really loved. I only knew Fred MacMurray as the dad in "My Three Sons," so it was interesting seeing him in this darker role. I always found that there was an integral kindness and decency in the man which shined through in his face. He could've been a jerk in real life for all I know, but he just had that kind of face. It's why he was so likable as Mr. Douglas in "My Three Sons", and why despite his actions as Walter in this movie, I still found myself excusing him and blaming Phyllis as the femme fatale responsible for ensnaring him in her web. A decent man brought down by a woman and greed, who ultimately finds his way again, though too late. Ms. Stanwyck was very good as well, but I thought Edward G. Robinson stole the movie. This is only the second movie I've seen with him, "Key Largo" being the first, and I must say that I loved him. It was a perfect trifecta. Great character, great performance and the kind of witty and sharp dialogue you don't get in movies nowadays.

The DVD I watched was a remastered special edition which had a great introduction by Robert Osborne, the host of Turner Classic Movies. Osborne offered a bunch of interesting little tidbits which made the movie even more interesting. As noted above, the film was based on a novel from James Cain. The story of two adulterers conspiring a murder for an insurance claim really pushed the envelope at that time. The first script was submitted to the Hollywood Production Code Office which ruled film content back in 1935, and it took eight years to get a script they would finally approve. Once the script was finalized, it was time to find a willing cast of actors. After a number of other stars declined, Billy Wilder convinced Fred MacMurray to take the role despite the fact that at that time he was best known for romantic comedies. Edward G. Robinson supposedly considered passing on the role, not because of an issue with his character, but because of the fact that it was a supporting role and until then he was used to receiving top billing. Despite all the initial obstacles, the movie went on to receive seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, though it didn't win any.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Really!?!

My guilty summer pleasure, "Bachelor Pad" and all it's trashy goodness, not to be confused with the lame and predictable "Bachelor" or "Bachelorette", was interrupted for a LIVE announcement of this season's cast of "Dancing with the Stars" (DWTS). First of all, LIVE. Really!?! This announcement had to be LIVE? Reading the names on GMA wouldn't have sufficed. Did America really need to know right now? Secondly, and most importantly, Elisabetta Canalis. Really!?! For all of you unfamiliar with the name, and why would you be familiar, unless of course said person were sleeping with your dream husband. OK, I guess I've revealed my bias, but anyway, despite the fact that Elisabetta's sole claim to fame is being George Clooney's recently dumped girlfriend (yup, past tense, she's the ex, not even the current girlfriend), she is in fact one of the "stars" competing for the mirrorball trophy this season.

This season's remaining cast members are Chaz Bono, Nancy Grace, Ricki Lake, Rob Kardashian, David Arquette, Ron Artest, Kristin Cavallari, J.R. Martinez, Hope Solo, Chyna Phillips, and Carson Kressley.

Oh well, I guess stardom like beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Soles4Souls

As you might recall, back in June I posted about my plans to collect shoes for the organization Soles4Souls, a wonderful charity which collects gently used shoes and distributes them to individuals in need all over the world. As promised, I sent out an email to family and friends asking for donations, and as usual, they did not disappoint. I received shoes in all shapes and sizes, and thanks to everyone's kindness and generosity I filled two boxes which I shipped to Soles4Souls' Edison, NJ location for distribution to parts unknown. Here's a couple pics of my bounty:




Receiving the shoes from friends and sending them to their intended recipients was wonderful, both for knowing that in response to my simple request my friend's cared enough to share their many blessings, as well as the knowledge that soon, a man, woman or child on the other side of the world, or maybe even here in the US, will be receiving one of these pairs of shoes and will know that someone cares about them. A simple act of generosity that could potentially make a profound difference in someone's life. Just think, for a small child, the shoes we sent could be the shoes they'll proudly wear on their first day of school; for a man or woman, they could be the shoes they'll wear to a job that leads them to a better and brighter future. What more could anyone ask for, then to know that you've touched someone and made their life better for caring.

Searching for a Cure

Sorry for the posting hiatus, but I've been battling a severe bout of the lazies. Summer tends to do that to me. I guess that's why they call them the lazy days of summer. I was searching for a cure without much hope, until this weekend's potent dose of stress and anxiety in the form of Hurricane Irene came around, and sure enough it snapped me out of my summer duldrums.

What did I do during my absence, you might ask. In all honesty, not much. This is how severe the bout of lazies got, I didn't even read a book, heck I didn't even crack a magazine cover. I did visit Washington DC (my first time), and did tons of sightseeing while there. The sights were lovely, but it was disconcerting to see such beautiful monuments, only to superimpose the reality of those less fortunate who make the DC streets their home. Here's a perfect example of what I'm referring to. On day two of our visit, as we were making our way to the Air & Space Museum, we were commenting on the pristine condition of the city, amazed that such a big city could be so clean. As we were speaking, we just happened to pass a small monument at which there was a gentleman cleaning. My sister-in-law said, well that's how they keep it so wonderful, look that man is cleaning the monument. To which my brother piped in, no, he's not cleaning the monument, he's doing his laundry. Sad, but true. The poor man had a plastic water container next to him, and was scrubbing his clothes. It wasn't surprising to see, because after all need is everywhere. You can see it on the DC streets, as easily as you see it on NYC streets, as easily as I see it on the faces of the families that come to the food pantry where I volunteer. I wasn't surprised by it, just saddened by it.

Anyway, sorry to be a Debbie Downer and to deviate from the subject at hand. Summer wasn't all fun, I did have to work, but in addition to the DC trip, I tagged along with my brother and the knuckleheads and did a bunch of weekend day trips. We went to Lake Compounce, an amusement/water park in Connecticut, went to see a soccer game between Manchester United vs. FC Barcelona during their U.S. tour, visited Mohegan Sun to catch the Bellator MMA (mixed martial art) championships, went go-kart racing (another first), and caught a couple of movies, "Bad Teacher" (Cameron Diaz's character had not one redeeming feature to make an audience care what happened to her; do yourself a favor and skip this one) and "Hangover 2" (a carbon copy of the first movie - both in premise and scenes; skip this one and instead see "Bridesmaids").

That's the long and short of it. I'm so glad Summer is almost over. I'm eagerly anticipating Fall and everything that comes with it, including cool, crisp days, brightly colored leaves on trees, apple picking, soft, baggy sweatshirts, and chilly nights that call for opening the bedroom window and snuggling under the covers. Ahh! Can't wait.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Before I Go To Sleep

"Before I Go To Sleep" by S.J. Watson chronicles the story of Christine Lucas, who as a result of a mysterious accident suffers from a rare type of amnesia which wipes her memories clean every night when she falls asleep. At the novel's onset, Christine wakes up disoriented, in a room she doesn't recognize, in bed next to a man she's never seen before. He's got a gold band on his finger. Great, she thinks, I've just had a one night stand with a married man. She sidesteps the other woman's slippers on the side of the bed, and creeps naked and barefoot into the nearby bathroom, trying to make a hasty getaway before the appearance of an angry wife. She uses the toilet, flushes, and goes to wash her hands, and that's when she realizes something is wrong. Her hands don't look like her own, not as she remembers them; the skin is wrinkled, the nails unpolished, and like the man in the bed, she's also wearing a plain gold wedding ring. Christine looks in the mirror and gasps, as if she's just received a punch in the gut, for staring back at her isn't the face of her youth; it's her, but an older version at least twenty, twenty-five years too old.
"The face I see looking back at me is not my own. the hair has no volume and is cut much shorter than I wear it; the skin on the cheeks and under the chin sags; the lips are thin; the mouth turned down. I cry out, a worldless gasp that would turn into a shriek of shock were I to let it..."
This is Christine's daily routine, and each day, much like today, Ben, her husband is there to lovingly and patiently run down the facts of her illness and share the highlights of their life together. Ben informs her how many years they've been married and answers questions about her past; he gives her a scrapbook with photos, followed by a tour of the house. And every day after Ben leaves for work, Dr. Nash, a young and determined doctor working with Christine unbeknownst to her husband, calls her, introduces himself and reminds her were to find the journal he's instructed her to write in and document each day's discoveries.

On this day, as Christine sits to read her journal, she makes a terrifying discovery; there, beneath her name, in capital letters are the words DON'T TRUST BEN. So she turns the page and reads her history, and with each journal entry she unconvers startling truths about herself and her life, each bringing her step-by-step closer to solving the puzzle that is her past, and all leading to a climactic ending filled with unexpected surprises.

This was an amazing debut novel! It's an incredible psychological drama, mystery and page-turning thriller all in one. I have no doubt that this story will be jumping straight from the page onto the big screen in the near future. Make it a night you won't soon forget, and curl up with this great book.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

One Pair at a Time


Inspired by the above photo, I’ve decided that my next charity effort will be on behalf of Soles4Souls, a Nashville-based charity that collects new and gently used shoes from footwear companies and individuals like you and I, and distributes them to people in need in over 127 countries, including the United States. Since 2005, Soles4Souls has given away over 14 million pairs of new and gently worn shoes (currently donating one pair every 7 seconds.)

You can get involved by donating shoes at any of their participating locations, hosting a shoe drive in your community, or making a monetary donation. For every $1 you donate, Soles4Souls can provide one additional pair of shoes to someone in need. $20 provides 20 pairs of shoes!

I’ve drafted the email I’ll be sending my family and friends, and will be sending it out after the upcoming holiday weekend to ensure it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. As with the diaper drive, I’ll post a photo with a quick little update letting you guys know if my efforts were fruitful. As I look at the above picture, I thank God for my many blessings, not least of which is shoes, and hope that this small act helps to express that gratitude.

So, clean out your closet, and have more than one reason to feel good about it. Your contribution could be providing someone their first ever pair of shoes; a humbling thought.

Liberty and/or/nor Safety

I found this story so troubling. Yesterday, ABCNews.com reported that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents at a Florida airport made a cancer-stricken and wheelchair bound 95-year old woman traveling with her daughter to be with family, remove her adult diaper to receive a security screening pat-down in order to board their flight. While I’m usually the first to say security first when it comes to air travel, I can’t believe that we’ve come to this. There has to be a point where we draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough. Is it security at any expense? For those that would say, if you don’t like it, don’t fly; I say would you be okay with these actions if it wasn’t some nameless, faceless woman in the crowd, how about if it was your frail and sick mother enduring the shame and indignity of these actions? As if life and the disease she’s fighting hadn’t already taken enough from this poor woman, these agents come along and add insult to injury. I understand that agents are just following protocol, but there has to be some wiggle room for using plain old common sense. If we’re willing to pay any price for safety, then what’s next, what other rights and liberties will we be asked to give up in the name of security?

Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying:
"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
While I don't wholeheartedly agree with that statement, because the times do call for a certain measure of compromise, I do hope that cases like this one being brought to light promote an honest dialogue and review of protocols, so that TSA agents can serve and protect our citizens while guaranteeing our most basic of rights of respect and dignity for all, as well as safeguarding the liberties thousands of U.S. soldiers over the ages have lost their life over protecting for us.

Not So Scary Now

It's amazing what some good dental work will do for you. Love the first one, with the Dave Letterman gap.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

"Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" by Ransom Riggs tells the tale of Jacob Portman, an ordinary sixteen year old whose life becomes extraordinary thanks to his grandfather, Abraham Portman. As a young child, Jacob had been in awe of his grandfather's incredible tales of being shipped away from his home for his safety; sent far from his native Poland, to a children's home on a magical island and the peculiar children with special gifts with whom he'd shared his childhood, all protected by a wise old bird from grotesque monsters with rotting skin and tentacles coming out of their mouths. Each tall tale had been brought incredibly to life in the form of old wrinkled and yellowing snapshots which Abraham had presented as proof to his grandchild. The fantastical and frightening stories had prompted both admiration and nightmares in young Jacob, until the day he grew up and stopped believing. At which time, each tale had been explained away by Jacob's father, as mere exaggerations of the truth and more horror story than fairy tale. Abraham was in fact just one of the many children shipped away from their homes for their safety prior to World War II breaking out, the Nazi's were the monsters he'd narrowly escaped, though his family--mother, father and brothers--weren't as lucky, and the only peculiarity for which the children were hunted for was their Jewishness.

Despite not believing his grandfather's stories, an unbreakable bond still existed between Abraham and the now 15 year old Jacob, so when Jacob receives a frantic call from his grandfather, he rushes to his side, only to find his beloved grandfather injured and dying, setting in motion a chain of events which will change Jacob's life forever; splitting his life into two halves: Before and After. Jacob is struggling to come to grips with his grandfather's death and to find meaning in his last cryptic words, when he receives a mysterious letter from Headmistress Alma LeFay Peregrine which sets him on a journey to a faraway island which holds the secrets of his grandfather's childhood, and potentially the path to his own life's greatest adventure.

I so enjoyed this book! An incredible fantasy filled with adventure, intrigue, love and one or two monsters to keep it a little interesting. The book wasn't at all what I expected, but it was nonetheless a wonderful surprise. One of the most intriguing and brilliant features of the book is the array of authentic vintage photographs which the author interspersed throughout the novel. The photographs which were lent from the personal archives of ten collectors, were woven into the story so seamlessly that it added a wonderful touch of credibility to this most fanciful of fairy tales. The book spends some time setting up the mythology and lore of Miss Peregrine and her wards which leads me to believe (and hope) that a sequel is in the works. I can't wait!!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Love & Admiration

"To love is to admire with the heart; to admire is to love with the mind”
--Theophile Gautier


The above two words came to mind as I wrote a character letter for my cousin, Tana. Tana’s little guy Jared, was recently diagnosed with high-functioning Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, this after countless heart wrenching tests and misdiagnosis. After a couple recent scares where Jared wandered from home (a common custom in children with autism), she started looking into getting a specially trained autism service dog, hence the character letter.

As I sat down to write, I thought of the countless wonderful things I could say about my cousin, and realized the above two words capture my sentiments exactly. I love her because she’s my cousin, and we share so many memories together—both good and bad. I love her for the amazing woman she became, which makes me feel old, because I used to babysit the pipsqueak when I was a teen. I love her for the fact that she loved my mom, about as much as I love hers. I love her for every time she was there to lift my spirits when I was down while mom was sick.

I admire the fact that even though she works from home helping to run their family business, she still makes time to be the room mom for Jared’s class, and to help Maya, her daughter, with any number of school activities. I admire the fact that she’s always cognizant of Maya’s feeling, and takes steps to insure she never feels gypped by the demands made by her brother. I admire her strength, perseverance, and resiliency. I admire what an incredible mother she’s been to her children, because while loving Jared is easy, you only have to know him for a few minutes before he’s won your heart, parenting him is way tougher. I admire that she’s been Jared’s fiercest advocate, fighting tooth and nail for every speech therapist or special services he needed.

I know these last two wandering scares have taken their toll, and sometimes it all seems like too much, but I know at the end of the day, whether it be today, tomorrow or 15 years from now, my 'cuz will always be the rock, the fail-safe mechanism which guarantees a safe and wonderful life for her children. So 'cuz, when you read this post, I know you’re one of my few readers, add one more word to the above--proud--which is what I am to be your cousin and to be your friend.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

First Listen via NPR Music

Rave on Buddy Holly is a tribute album featuring some of the music industry's biggest names covering Buddy Holly's greatest hits, including Paul McCartney, The Black Keys, Fiona Apple, Cee Lo Green, Lou Reed and Graham Nash to name a few. The album, which features a whopping 19 tracks, will be released on June 28th, but for a limited time NPR Music has generously made the entire album available on their website for a free first listen.

The interpretations are as diverse as the artists performing them, but each serves to pay homage to the incredible singer-songwriter and rock and roll pioneer that was Buddy Holly. My favorites were "Everyday" performed by Fiona Apple and Jon Brion, "Dearest" performed by The Black Keys, and I especially loved "Raining in My Heart" performed by Graham Nash.

Visit NPR's Exclusive First Listen page to enjoy this great album. You might also want to check out the Tiny Desk Concerts page, where small intimate performances performed at the desk of All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen are recorded live. You'll find everything from traditional bluegrass, classical, and even electro-pop music.

Love Knows No Bounds


(via The Telegraph); Picture: Tina Case/Rex Features

Six-year-old Koa, a Labrador, has become surrogate mother to two baby rabbits. Koa took them under her "wing"/paw after she found them abandoned outside her owner's home.

The Voice: Final Four

Congrats to NBC on what’s turned out to be a hit in “The Voice.” From the get go, every aspect of the show has stood on its own without room for comparison to the granddaddy of singing competitions, "American Idol." Each step in the process has been unique and bold, from the blind auditions, to the battle rounds, and even the live performances; adding a much needed dose of freshness to the tired old singing competition formula. After weeks of great performances, we’re finally down to the semi-finals. Last night was the last set of performance before the final four are announced tonight, and next week's finale. So, here are my predictions for the final four.

Clockwise: Javier Colon, Vicci Martinez, Dia Frampton, Beverly McClellan

While Javier has been a standout throughout the show, Dia has been equally as good. Without seeing the final performances, I’m torn as to how America might vote, but I’ll hedge my bets and give it to Javier, with a caveat that in the end it will depend on song choice, and if anyone can pull off the upset, I think it will be Dia.

“The Voice” has a guaranteed fan in me for next year. Each one of the final eight performers was talented and unique, without being the cookie-cutter pop star which American Idol churns out most years (this year being the exception). In truth, even putting aside the age restrictions on Idol, many of the hugely talented performers that have reached the finals on “The Voice” wouldn’t have made it on Idol purely on aesthetics alone. As for the judges, I love Blake, Adam and CeeLo, but have really been turned off by Christina’s attitude on the show. My one and only gripe with the show is the fact that we’re forced to pick one performer from each team, as opposed to letting us pick any four we wanted. The overall favorites should make it through, even if it means one coach ends up having no performer from their team in the finale.

Tune in tonight to NBC at 8:00 pm to find out the final four, and also next week for the show’s finale.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Thirteen Reasons Why

This first novel by Jay Asher deals with the subject of teen suicide. As the novel opens, Clay Jensen, a young high school student arrives home to find on his porch a box containing several cassette tapes. As he plays the first tape, he hears the voice of Hannah Baker, a classmate on whom he'd had a crush prior to her suicide two weeks earlier. Shocked and confused at hearing her voice, he listens as she says that there are thirteen reasons why she killed herself, and if he's received the package, he's one of them. He's instructed to listen to her tale and once complete, forward the tapes to the person who's next after him in her tale. On a prior occassion, Clay had received a map in his school locker which Hannah references as being marked with the exact locations where many of the transgressions against her had taken place. As he listens and treks through town to each location, he learns some dark truths about Hannah, his classmates, and about himself.

I read this book based on an interview with the author in Entertainment Weekly, but was unfortunately disappointed. First of all, the main character, Hannah, isn't very sympathetic. As she begins her narration on the tapes, she comes across as whiny and spiteful, expressing a need to hurt from beyond the grave, despite the fact that throughout her narration she indicates she's forgiven the guilty culprits.

"When you're done listening to all thirteen sides--because there are thirteen sides to every story--rewind the tapes, put them back in the box, and pass them on to whoever follows your little tale. And you, lucky number thirteen, you can take the tapes straight to hell. Depending on your religion, maybe I'll see you there."

Secondly, while I can see how a young, sensitive teen would be hurt by the incidents or reasons Hannah cites in her story, none of them individually or even as a whole are earth shattering or horrible enough to logically serve as the impetus for her suicide. Being used for rides, and being listed as hottest ass in the freshman class don't quite pack the emotional punch I expected. Throughout the tape Hannah complains of the wrongs done to her, but twice when she has the chance to make a difference, and in one case stop something truly heinous and criminal from happening to someone else, she stands by and does nothing.

Even with all of the above comments, I'd recommend that people--especially parents, teachers, and teens--read it, because any book that spreads the message of suicide prevention deserves a read. The message and not necessarily the story is what makes "Thirteen Reasons Why" a compelling read.

My Summer Reading List

Summer officially arrived today, and along with it my summer reading list. I'm sure you've all been waiting with bated breath.

"Before I Go To Sleep: A Novel" by S.J. Watson. Our memories define us. What would you do if your memories disappeared every time you fell asleep? Who could you trust? This is the premise of this book which tells the story of Christine, who is left an amnesiac after a mysterious accident. After the accident, Christine loses her memory each time she falls asleep and every morning has to rely on her husband, Ben, to explain their life together. At her doctor's urging, Christine starts to write in a journal to help her jog her memory, but things become ominous when one morning she reads "don't trust Ben" written in her journal.

"The Snowman" by Joe Nesbo. This Norwegian author is being hailed as the next Stieg Larsson. This crime fiction thriller focuses on a ruthless serial killer, the Snowman, and the police detective who makes it his mission to bring him in.

"The Kid" by Sapphire. This much anticipated follow-up to "Push," tells the story of Precious' son, Abdul. To be released July 5, 2011.

"Never Knowing" by Chevy Stevens. Be careful what you wish for, should be the motto of this thriller. In spite of being relatively happy in her life, Sara Gallagher had always wondered about her birth parents and finally decides to search for her birth mother. Her search leads her to the gruesome truth that her mother was the sole survivor of a notorious serial killer, the Campsite Killer, that has killed young women every summer for decades. When the news of her discovery is leaked, Sara quickly realizes that worse than not knowing her parents, is knowing that her father, the Campsite Killer, wants to get to know the daughter he didn't know he had. To be released July 5, 2011.

"Turn of Mind" by Alice LaPlante. This author's first novel is about Dr. Jennifer White, a retired orthopedic surgeon with dementia. As the book opens, Dr. Jennifer White’s best friend, Amanda, who lived down the block, has been killed, and four fingers surgically removed from her hand. Dr. White is the prime suspect and she herself doesn’t know whether she did it.

"Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" by Ransom Riggs. As a kid, Jacob had heard tall tales from his grandfather on the peculiar children, with amazing abilities, with whom he had grown up. After his grandfather's unexpected death, Jacob receives a letter which sets him off on a journey to the remote island of his grandather's childhood. Not sure what comes next, but I'm sure it will be intriguing. I bought this book based on the cover alone. Spooky.

"Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" is first on my list. I'll post a review posthaste.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Hitchens, Faith and God

Today at lunch I read a great Vanity Fair article, a friend was kind enough to recommend, written by Christopher Hitchens . The powerfully-written and evocative piece entitled "Unspoken Truths" detailed Hitchens' despondency at losing his voice as a result of his ongoing chemotheraphy treatments for esophageal cancer, as well as speaking to the 'essential link between speech and prose.' As some of you might be aware, in addition to being a journalist, essayist and acclaimed author of titles such as "God is Not Great" or "Hitch 22: A Memoir", Hitchens is probably best known as an avowed atheist, a fact which has not changed even in the face of his grim battle against stage 4 cancer. In a recent 60 Minutes interview, Hitchens stated that while he's been very touched by the letters and emails offering prayers for his recovery, he is relying on science and medicine, and not faith or the existence of God for his survival.

Hitchens contends that religion is the source of all tyranny, and that many of the world's evils have been done in the name of religion. Hitchens has been quoted as saying about religion, "It is the wish to be a slave. It is the desire that there be an unalterable, unchallengeable, tyrannical authority, who can convict you of thought-crime while you are asleep. A celestial North Korea." I don't agree with Mr. Hitchens "tyrannical" comparison, but I respect his opinion, his talent, as well as his courage and conviction in avowing his beliefs even when they go against the popular line of thinking, and even in the face of criticism and repudiation.

A tyranny is defined as an oppressive power, and a tyrant as one who governs oppressively or brutally. I can honestly say that in my life, my faith is anything but oppressive. It is uplifting, freeing, a source of personal strength. My faith affords me the peace of knowing that I don't have to carry my burdens, my fears, my worries, my anxieties alone, I can turn to God and ask for his help and comfort, and he'll be there. And while many evils have been committed in the name of God, just as much good has been done in his name as well. In fact, much of the health care in Africa and other third world nations is made possible by faith-based organizations. How many soup kitchens, food pantries, coat and toy drives to help those less fortunate are organized by churches and synagogues throughout our own nation on a daily basis? In truth, given our innate flaws as human beings, to suffer greed, envy, hate and anger etc, whenever we rise above these sentiments to put someone elses well being above our own, it in and of itself serves as proof of a higher being inspiring us to do more, to be more.

On a closing note, let me say that while this controversial yet brilliant man might have lost his speaking voice, he has definitely not lost his writer's voice for writing isn't his profession, it's obviously his calling. I offer my sincere and heartfelt prayers for him and his family during these trying times.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Living in New York, it's been all Weiner, all the time lately. You'd think Congressman Weiner's weiner was the only important news in the world. Anyway, this whole fiasco is enough to leave a bad taste in anyone's mouth, so what better way to cleanse the palate than with a wholesome, idealistic view of what politics and politicians should be, even if it comes in the form of a fictional character, so with that thought in mind I once again visited my local library and brought home this classic.

"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is a 1939 Frank Capra directed film, which stars James Stewart, Jean Arthur and Claude Rains, to name a few of the talented actors that comprise the cast, in this tale of an idealistic young man fighting a corrupt system. When Senator Sam Foley dies, the Governor from the unnamed state has to appoint a new Senator. After meeting with Senator Joe Paine (Claude Rains), the senior senator from the same unnamed state, and Jim Taylor, the dirty boss behind the state's political machine, Governor Hopper is asked to name a political stooge that will perform like a trained seal and not ask questions on an upcoming dam project which Taylor wants to get passed. Taylor has been buying up land around the site of the proposed dam and holding them in dummy names, all in hopes of making a bundle off the sale of the land to the U.S. government. Senator Paine has been in Taylor's pocket for the past 20 years, yet he's dubious about having a new guy which might start asking questions about their graft scheme. After Taylor's suggested candidate is vehemently shot down by members of a local committee who instead name their own candidate, Hopper comes home torn by his decision. As he sits to dinner with his family, his young sons instead suggest he name Jeff Smith (James Stewart), the head of Boy Rangers and a local hero who was in the local papers for having helped put out a forest fire. Wrestling with his decision, Hopper decides to let a flip of a coin decide it all. When the coin lands on its edge right on a newspaper with the story of Jeff Smith, he decides to take it as a sign.

Governor Hopper names Jeff as Senator with assurances to Taylor and Paine that he's a perfect choice, a simpleton, naive and never in politics who can easily be manipulated. At a banquet in his honor, Smith speaks of his feeling of honor at sharing the title of Senator with John Paine, a man he respects and admires as much as his father. Smith informs Paine of the fact that he'd in fact known his late father, Clayton Smith, and reminds him that as idealistic young men, one an editor and publisher and the other a lawyer, later a Senator, they had been best friends.

Upon Smith's arrival in Washington, DC, he's quickly lampooned and mocked by the press. Feeling like a fraud, and an honorary stooge just decorating a chair, he turns to Paine, a man he trusts, and asks to become more involved on upcoming votes. In order to distract him from the dam project which is coming up for a vote, Paine suggests Smith instead start a bill of his own. Smith turns to his assistant, Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur), for help in writing a bill to start a national boy's camp to get kids out of cities and out in nature, unwittingly selecting the same parcel of land planned for the dam. This fact of course brings forth a classic David vs. Goliath battle between good and evil, and right and wrong.

I loved this movie! I'm a big fan of Jimmy Stewart, so I'm biased in a sense, but it really was a great film. Stewart conveys the character's innocence and idealism so wonderfully, perfectly demonstrated in his simple expression of awe and reverence as he stands before the Lincoln Memorial listening to a small child read The Gettysburg Address as an elderly African-American man stands listening, or his look of bewilderment and hurt at his hero's betrayal. Claude Rains also performs his role admirably, as a man who's given up his ideals for what he wants to believe is an honest compromise and the only way to play ball in a corrupt town, even though he's actually sold his soul to the devil for his own benefit not that of others. A likely excuse probably used by many real political leaders throughout time as a way to assuage their own guilty consciences.

Neither Stewart nor Rains won Oscars for their roles, though Stewart did win the 1939 New York Film Critics Circle Award (yup, we New Yorkers have notoriously good taste). One note of trivia, if you've seen "It's a Wonderful Life" you'll recognize alot of familiar faces. Actress Beulah Bondi played Stewart's mom in both films, H.B. Warner acted as the Senate Majority Leader in this movie and played the part of Mr. Gower, the pharmacist, in "It's a Wonderful Life"; and Thomas Mitchell was reporter Diz Moore in "Mr. Smith..." and ditzy Uncle Billy, who loses the building and loan deposit in "It's a Wonderful Life".

Friday, June 10, 2011

Super 8

"Super 8" was written and directed by J.J. Abrams, and produced by Stephen Spielberg. It's the summer of 1979 in Lillian, Ohio, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and his dad, Jack (Kyle Chandler), the town deputy, are coming to terms with a recent family tragedy which has left their relationship strained. Joe and his friends have been making a zombie movie using a Super 8 mm film camera. One night the kids sneak out at midnight to film a scene for the zombie movie, and while filming they witness a horrific train wreck. As the train had been barreling down the tracks, Joe had seen a pick up truck drive onto the tracks and directly into the train's path. As the dust settles, the friends survey the wreckage, and venture toward the metal heap which was the pickup truck, only to find that the driver is still alive and it's a face they recognize, Dr. Woodward, their biology teacher, who pulls a gun on them and warns them to not say a word about what they've seen at risk of endangering their life and that of their family. As soldier's appear out of nowhere and quickly begin to converge on them, the kids make a quick escape with a promise not to say anything to anyone about what they've seen. As unexplained events begin to take place in the small town following the accident, the deputy begins to investigate, doubtful of the story being fed to him by the Air Force, while Joe and his friends question what was on that train, where is it now, and was their teacher trying to destroy it or save it.

I really enjoyed this movie. The acting was exceptional, especially the two kid leads, Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning. The movie is action-packed, yet the wonderful acting made me care more about the characters then the explosions. A mix of Goonies, E.T., and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It's sweet, funny, action-packed, and at times thrilling, this is a summer must see.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Push

"Push" by Sapphire tells the story of Claireece Precious Jones, a 16-year old living in Harlem whose life to-date has been a hellish nightmare of no waking. Sexually abused by her father and mother, mistreated, unloved and illiterate, Precious has only known pain or indifference. At the novel's outset Precious has been suspended from school because she's pregnant again. This is her second child, by her father, who has been abusing her since she was a young child. Precious gave birth to her first child, a daughter which she refers to as Lil' Mongo because she's got Down Syndrome, on her apartment's kitchen floor at the age of 12. Despite the heartache, her life takes an unexpected turn for the better when she's sent to Each One Teach One an alternative school where she's placed in a pre-G.E.D. class taught by Ms. Blue Rain, the one person that finally sees her and begins to help her heal, learn, and grow.

Precious narrates her own story through entries made in a journal she has to write for Ms. Rain's class. The journal serves the dual purpose of helping her learn to read and write, as well as a cathartic outlet for the childhood memories which have been festering in her heart and mind. Since the novel is written to read as Precious' journal entries, initial entries are written phonetically or in broken English (at best), for example, she writes "bes four mi tostop breev i sm tim tik" (best for me to stop breathing I sometimes think), with the writing and spelling improving as Precious' language skills improve.

The novel was dark and heartbreaking, yet it finds some redemption in the fact that though it deals with disturbing subjects, such as incest, rape, abuse, etc., at the core its a story about the saving power of love and caring, its about finding that one person in each of our lives that can help us look outside ourselves and grow. For Precious, her salvation comes in the form of her teacher and her son, Abdul, and in the end the girl who saw herself as ugly and worthless, says "Look his nose is so shiny, his eyes shiny. He my shiny brown boy. In his beauty I see my own." The novel has a quote from the Talmud in its opening page which reflects this truth, it reads "Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over it and whispers, "Grow, grow."" A novel not for the faint of heart, but definitely worth reading.

"The Kid" by Sapphire, the story of Precious' son, Abdul Jones, is due to be released next month (July 5, 2011).

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Key Largo

I hit my public library last night in hopes of finding a book or movie to chase away the Monday duldrums, and booyah, I hit the jackpot with a classic from Bogey and Bacall, 1948's John Huston directed "Key Largo" also starring Edward G. Robinson.

In "Key Largo" Bogart stars as Frank McCloud, a disillusioned ex-Major who served in Italy during World War II, who has come to the Largo Hotel in Key Largo, FL to pay his respects to the father, James Temple (played by Lionel Barrymore), of his deceased army buddy. Mr. Temple runs the hotel along side his daughter-in-law Nora (Lauren Bacall).

Upon his arrival at the hotel, Frank is confronted by a number of sketchy individuals of dubious character, loitering in the hotel lobby and bar who state the hotel is closed. After reassuring them that he's just passing through and actually there to visit James Temple, he's directed to the boathouse where he meets the wheelchair bound elder Temple, and the strikingly beautiful Nora. Mr. Temple is still coming to grips with the loss of his son and desperate for any information McCloud can share about his son's final days on the battle field. Frank shares a story which paints his friend as a war hero, though later Nora confronts Frank with the information that in fact the last letter she had received from her husband set the scene the complete opposite, and the one on the hill and in the line of fire had in fact been Frank.

After being invited to stay overnight, the Temple's and Frank begin preparations for a violent hurricane which is about to hit the Keys. As the storm's furor grows, the other hotel guests are revealed to be the infamous gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) and his goons. Rocco has been a fugitive exiled in Cuba, but he's crossed to the Keys by boat to make a drop to a like-minded business associate. Also at the hotel is Rocco's boozy mistress, Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor), an ex-singer who never made it good. After an unexpected run in with local law enforcement, events begin to spiral out of control for Rocco, and Frank is placed in the situation of once again being the hero.

While I'd seen Bogart before in the classic "African Queen", "Key Largo" was my first Bogey and Bacall movie, and I loved it. Bogart and Bacall each gave wonderful performances and shared a palpable chemistry on screen, not surprising given that they had been married to each other for three years when the film was shot. "Key Largo" was the fourth and final film pairing for the two actors. Despite not having acted in another movie together, Bogart and Bacall remained married until 1957 when Bogey died of esophageal cancer. While Bogart and Bacall might have taken top billing for "Key Largo", in my opinion the two standout stars of the movie were Lionel Barrymore and Claire Trevor. I had never heard of Ms. Trevor prior to this performance, but she played the part of heartbroken lush brilliantly. It's no wonder she went on to win the Oscar for Supporting Actress for this role.

A great movie from when movies were movies. No CGI, no chase scenes, no sex scenes, just great acting from great actors.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Beauty Love Left Behind

I found this photo posted on Pinterest.com, and the words brought tears to my eyes. It's originally from this site:

http://68.142.214.24/photos/cassiefoxphotography/307636090/in/set-72157594394174281/


If you can't read the words, it says:

"A mark for every breath you took, every blink, every sleepy yawn. One for every time you sucked your thumb, waved hello, closed your eyes and slept in the most perfect darkness. One for every time you had the hiccups. One for every dream you dreamed within me.

It isn't very pretty anymore. Some may even think it ugly. That's OK. It was your home. It's where I first grew to love you, where I lay my hand as I dreamed about who you were and who you would be. It held you until my arms could, and for that, I will always find something beautiful in it."

Sunday, June 5, 2011

What If It Was You?

Your baby starts to cry. His little face turns red, tears in his eyes, as his little lungs give voice to his discomfort. He's not hungry, he's not tired, he has a dirty diaper. Your heart sinks as you try to do your best for your child, so you comfort him and resignedly clean out and reuse the soiled diaper. Crazy? Yes, but a sad reality for many. In fact, a study conducted by HUGGIES® which surveyed over 2,000 parents found that 1 in 20 American moms that are struggling with diaper need have cleaned out and reused wet or soiled disposable diapers. The study also found that 1 in 3 American moms have been faced with the dilemma of choosing between diapers and other basic necessities like food. Most moms want the world for their children. Can you imagine if you couldn’t even provide the most basic of needs for your child?

In response to these troubling findings, HUGGIES® started Every Little Bottom which looks to address diaper need in the U.S. by collecting donated diapers and getting them to babies in need by working side-by-side with community partners which serve as diaper banks, but they need our help. What can we do? Visit HUGGIES® Get Involved page to enter your zip code and search for diaper banks to donate to in your area, you can search for local diaper drive events, or you can host your own diaper drive, which is what I plan to do. In addition to getting the word out for this worthy cause on this humble blog, I'm also going to organize a small diaper drive in my office. HUGGIES® has made getting started extra easy, by providing on their site most of the files I might need, including drive posters, drop signs, drive flyers, etc.

As with most things, together we can make a greater difference, and hopefully help more moms and babies. I plan to reach out to my family, friends and co-workers this week, and hopefully report back soon on a hugely successful diaper drive. I hope you will do the same.

*Update: I ended up reaching out to just friends for the diaper drive, in order to avoid the red-tape involved in an office-wide drive at work. Obviously, this small drive won't solve the problems for all, but just like a small pebble tossed in a pond, the ripples from this small contribution can still make a significant difference in one person's life.

The Red Garden

"The Red Garden" by Alice Hoffman is a compilation of short stories which capture the history of the residents of Blackwell, Massachusetts covering a span of nearly 300 years. Each story is inexorably linked to the previous through the familial ties of the town's residents who are descendants of the courageous young British woman, Hallie Brady, that founded Bearsville in 1750 (changed to Blackwell in 1786).

Each story is magical, each a little fairy tale in its own right. From Eight Nights of Love which tells the tale of Johnny Appleseed's visit to Blackwell, and how he plants the Tree of Life in the center of town. A tree that blooms even during a snow storm, and which goes on to feed a starving town during a famine. To The Fisherman's Wife requiring the biggest stretch to your imagination, centering around a young beautiful woman rumored by the town gossip to be a mermaid. Each tale of family, love or loyalty, tug on your hearstrings, for me none more so than The Principles of Devotion, a beautiful tale of the love and devotion, even after death, between a dog and his owner. This brief passage is an example of the haunting beauty found in this particularly touching tale:

"They say that dogs may dream, and when Topsy was old, his feet would move in his sleep. With his eyes closed he would often make a noise that sounded quite human, as if greeting someone in his dreams. At first it seemed that he believed Sara would return, but as the years went by I understood that his loyalty asked for no reward, and that love comes in unexpected forms. His wish was small, as hers had been -- merely to be beside her."
I plowed through the "The Red Garden" and found each story to be beautiful and moving. My two favorites were The Principles of Devotion, as mentioned above, and The Truth About My Mother. My one complaint would be the abrupt end to the story, and the seemingly missing chapter which could've put a proverbial bow on the novel as a larger whole.

Striking Resemblance

Scorcese immediately came to mind the instant I spotted the photo of this kitty. If ever two beings belonged together, it's these two. It would be mind-bending to see them walking down a NYC sidewalk together.

SYTYCD Early Favorite

These past couple of weeks I've been enjoying the audition rounds of this season's "So You Think You Can Dance." As usual the auditions had their fair share of slightly delusional contestants risking bodily injury, while willing to make fools of themselves for the ego trip of appearing on national TV, but excitingly there was also a nice batch of ones to watch as we head into the Vegas round. I spotted one of my very favorites, Melanie Moore, in this season's first episode. Watch for yourself below.



Tune in this Wednesday at 8:00 pm on FOX to see how Melanie fares in Vegas, as well as all the other talented dancers to make it through.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Story of Beautiful Girl

"The Story of Beautiful Girl" written by Rachel Simon, the author of "Riding the Bus with My Sister" tells the story of Lynnie, a beautiful, young white woman with developmental disabilities and Homan, a deaf black man, better known as Number Forty-two to the guards at the Pennsylvania State School for the Incurable and Feebleminded. On a cold, rainy night in November 1968, Lynnie and Homan recently escaped from the school, arrive at the doorstep of Martha Zimmer, a widowed retired schoolteacher. At first apprehensive to allow the strange pair into her home, Martha takes pity on the desperate couple and shows them all the compassion they've been lacking in their life. Martha quickly realizes they are in fact not alone, they have a newborn baby with them. Unfortunately, shortly after their arrival at Martha's home, the authorities from the school track them down, and while Homan escapes into the night, Lynnie is sadly captured and taken into custody to be returned to the school. As Martha observes the silent Lynnie, she takes in the beautiful green eyes and curly golden hair, and despite the claims by the cruel guard that she's an idiot, Martha senses otherwise. As Lynnie is goaded into thanking Martha for her kindness, she leans in and whispers into Martha's ear two simple words, "hide her," for she knows the doctor and guards are oblivious to the presence of the baby girl that she and Homan had tenderly placed in the widow's attic just minutes before the guards arrival. As Lynnie is ushered away, Martha says "Lynnie, I will," and with that vow so begins the saga that spans forty plus years, which follows the life of Lynnie, Homan, Martha and baby Julia.

As the story progresses, we learn of Lynnie's story and how at the young age of eight she had been separated from her beloved Nah-nah (Hannah), her sister, and left by her parents at the school. We meet her friend Kate, an attendant at the school, and the only staff member to show Lynnie kindness and believe that she isn't as limited as the school believes. For years, Kate had nurtured Lynnie's artistic talent by giving her the supplies to draw as well as hiding those drawings from other school staff, and it's through her drawings that Lynnie communicates the events of that fateful night to Kate, who keeps Lynnie's secret. Through it all, we read of Martha's steps to fulfill her promise to Lynnie, and how she relies on a network of past students to help her both hide Julia, as well as raise her.

I really enjoyed the story, it was beautiful and touching. The story arc is slightly unrealistic, though I guess not any more so than any of the romance novels I read. The novel is structured so that each chapter focuses on one individual's life during a specific year. The story begins with the widow in 1968 and ends with Julia in 2011. One downside to the novel was that given the large span of time covered, there were understandably quite a few gaps in time in the story. For example, we read about Martha in 1973 but her next chapter picks up with her and Julia's story in 1983. When I think about it though, I guess my one complaint is a compliment in disguise, because it speaks to the fact that the story and the characters were compelling enough to make me want to know more about each of their lives.

Lastly, an interesting feature of the storyline was the incorporation of the real media awakening which took place in the early 1970's to the horrors taking place in institutions like the fictional one featured in the novel. As noted in Ms. Simon's author's note, it was 1972 when Geraldo Rivera aired a horrifying story on the atrocities taking place at Willowbrook State School. The novel does well in covering how far we, as a society, have come in our treatment of people with developmental and mental disabilities and the care offered in institutions, though sadly, in many countries some of these iniquities still take place.

Little Help, Big Difference

On May 22, 2011, Joplin Missouri was devastated by a tornado which decimated the community and forever changed the city's residents lives and memories to a before and after that tragic date. NPR.org had a compelling photo essay featuring the amazing photographs of Aaron Fuhrman. Using screen grabs from Google's street views and Mr. Furhman's photos, they documented a heart-wrenching before and after view of this one American city.



This is the same street before and after May 22nd. The after photo with its scarred landscape, crumbling buildings and scarce human activity has an eery almost post-apocalyptic look to it.

For some reason, more than the countless hours of coverage dedicated to this tragedy on the nightly news, these photos compelled me to donate funds to one of the many organizations on the ground in Joplin which are offering food and shelter to the homeless victims. I donated to the American Red Cross, but if you'd prefer another organization, you can visit the official Missouri State website which offers a list of reputable organizations you can donate to or where you can volunteer. Every little bit of help, every penny, every dollar, can make a big difference, especially if we all participate. If your financial situation is prohibitive of even the smallest of monetary donations, then please let your prayers be your donation for I'm sure they are very much needed.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Lucky

After what seemed an endless round of Seattle-like weather, my brother decided to take advantage of a lull in the rain to finally cut the grass at his home. He started his lawn mower, and quickly stopped, as a dead mouse fell out from the undercarriage of the machine. The poor little mouse had obviously taken residence in the recently unused machine. The story would normally end there, but for the fact, that attached to the dead mouse's nipple was a little baby mouse still trying to suckle. So begins the story of Lucky.


As my brother realized the little baby mouse, quickly named Lucky, was still alive, his guilt at having accidentally made Lucky an orphan prompted him to bring him inside and try to keep him alive, and that's how I spent last weekend trying to feed and keep a tiny little mouse alive. I searched the internet for info on how to feed orphaned baby mice, and we tried our best, but sadly he survived only four days and despite all our efforts Lucky didn't make it.


I fell in love with that tiny little creature as soon as I saw him. As you can see from the pictures above, he was so precious. Holding him in your hands was incredible. So delicate and mousy with his little whiskers and teeny-tiny tail, yet so human-like in his actions. He'd curl up on his side to sleep, resting his head on the soft little velour blanky I'd gotten him, and when I'd pick him up, he'd stretch in my hands and yawn. At one point, he was sleeping and completely covered, and when I lifted the edge of the blanky and the light hit him, he raised his little mouse arm to cover his still unopened eyes. Amazing. Only God could create something so tiny and perfect. After this experience, I'll never look at a mouse the same way again.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bridesmaids

"Bridesmaids" is a hilarious new comedy from Judd Apatow, the director of "The 40-Year Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up." Annie's (Kristen Wiig) life seems to be in a downward spiral since her cake shop flopped. Her boyfriend left her, she's had to take a dead-end job selling jewelry, and she's in a self-destructive relationship with a loathsome lothario (Jon Hamm) who just uses her for sex. In the midst of all this upheaval, her best friend since childhood, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), becomes engaged and asks her to be her maid of honor, and this is were the hilarity begins as Annie is quickly overwhelmed by the logistics of keeping the bride and the motley crew of bridesmaids happy, all while maintaining her own sanity.

This is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen, on par with "The Hangover," maybe even better. Please be aware that as in most Apatow movies, there is tons of gross-out, raunchy and bathroom type humor. If you're averse to that type of humor, do not go to this movie. If you're OK with it, then you will laugh for two hours straight. The bridal shop scene alone is worth the $11 movie ticket. Kristen Wiig and each of the supporting cast members were just brilliant. It was hilarious, sweet and at moments even touching. While the cast is comprised mostly of women, it is by no means a typical 'chick flick' in the traditional touchy-feely sense, though it does have one key component in most 'chick flicks', a happy ending.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Summer Movie Preview

The summer movie season will be kicking into high gear soon, which means we'll be seeing tons of shoot 'em up/blow 'em up blockbusters, a few raunchy comedies and a scattered superhero movie or two to round off the list. Here's a few of the movies which have made my summer viewing list:

"Super 8": This J.J. Abrams sci-fi is set in the summer of 1979 in a small Ohio town, which is the site of a catastrophic train crash as well as some other mysterious goings on. They've already started advertising this one, and it looks promising. Release date: June 10th

"Cars 2": This sure-fire Pixar classic will reunite us with our old buddies, Lightning McQueen and good 'ol boy Mater, the tow truck, as they head overseas to compete in a World Grand Prix. Release date: June 24th

"Bad Teacher": Stars Cameron Diaz as a potty-mouthed and all kinds of wrong teacher, hoping to land a rich meal ticket in the form of a handsome substitute teacher played by Cameron's real-life old flame, Justin Timberlake. Release date: June 24th

"Captain America: The First Avenger": It wouldn't be a summer movie list without at least one superhero movie. Chris Evans stars as a young soldier who volunteers for an experimental program trying to create super soldiers. Release date: July 22nd

"Cowboys & Aliens": Stars Daniel Craig. Need I say more. It's billed as a cross between a classic western and alien-invasion movie. Release date: July 29th

"Crazy Stupid Love": Two of my favorite actors, Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling, star in this romantic comedy. Release date: July 29th

"The Tree": My one quirky concession to the typical summer fare. Set in the Australian countryside, the movie tells the tale of 8-year old Simone who becomes convinced her late father is whispering to her through the leaves of her favorite tree. The film closed last year's Cannes Film Festival and supposedly received a seven-minute standing ovation. Release date: July

"The Help": The movie stars Emma Stone and is based on the best-selling novel by the same name. You can read my 2009 post reviewing the book here. Release date: August 12th

In addition to the above, you've also got the prequel "X-Men: First Class" starring cutie James McAvoy (6/3); hottie Ryan Reynolds as DC Comics superhero the "Green Lantern" (6/17); a couple family movies starring two very funny guys, "Mr. Popper's Penguins" with Jim Carrey as a real-estate mogul who receives a mysterious crate from Antarctica and ends up playing mommy to six penguins (6/17) and "Zookeeper" with Kevin James as a kind caretaker that can speak to the animals (7/8); and last but not least, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2" with the world's favorite boy wizard (7/15).

Life Imitates Art

Friday, April 29, 2011

Goodbye to the World's Best Boss

Last night was Steve Carell's last episode on "The Office", and we (fans) all got a chance to say goodbye to the world's best boss. Holy moly. I bawled like a baby. Like a fat, splotchy-faced, nose-running baby. It was such a wonderful send off to a dear character that we've all grown to love over the years. The tears were building throughout the episode, but the scene with Jim broke the dam. To the end, Michael was Michael, a friend, offering each of his office family members a word of his at times convoluted wisdom, but as always shared with love, because being loved was always at the root of Michael's shenanigans. A Michael Scott quote which epitomized the character, "Would I rather be feared or loved? Um... Easy, both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me." How can anyone argue with that logic.

The episode wasn't the season finale, but it might as well have been. I can't imagine how this show goes on without its heart, because that is what Steve Carell was to the show. I wish Carell all the luck in the world, and above all, I wish for him an Emmy because he earned it with this episode.

The Voice

I watched the first episode of NBC’s “The Voice” online because I missed its original airing on Tuesday, thanks to “Dancing with the Stars” race to the mirror ball trophy live special. I gotta say, I really like the format of this newest singing competition. Now, we need another singing competition like we need a hole in the head, but it’s quirky and different enough to standout and I think be successful.

The Voice features Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine as the coaches on the show. One of the best selling points of the show is the first round or ‘blind auditions’ where each contestant sings with the judges back turned to the stage. This format guarantees that the singer will be judged solely on his/her talent, and not on their physical appearance or how sellable their look is. While the contestant is performing, each judge can press a button which signals they want the contestant on their team. If all the judges press their buttons, obviously the power goes to the contestant because they can decide who they want as a coach/mentor. At the end of the blind auditions, each judge will have eight contestants which they'll have to coach/mentor on their team (after Episode 1, each coach has three). In the next phase of the competition, the judges cut down their teams from eight to four. Those four contestants have to compete in ‘battle rounds’ where they perform the same song before an audience, until the finalists are narrowed down and chosen to perform solo. At this point, home viewers vote to eliminate the contestants left standing until one singer is crowned the winner. As in all of these singing competitions, the winner wins a recording contract.

As I said, I love the blind audition part of the show, and equally love the fact that each contestant will receive guidance and mentoring from their coach and not just a critique of what they've done wrong. I don’t know yet if, as in Idol, contestants will have weekly themes determining their song choice during the battle rounds, hopefully not. Lastly, I must say that the competitiveness between the judges is quite refreshing, especially when compared to the kumbaya-vibe of the Idol judges. Christina and Adam seemed the two guiltiest culprits in Episode 1, butting heads more than once over a contestant they both wanted. I think that competitiveness and drive to win can only benefit the contestants, as each coach has a stake in whether they win or lose, even if it's only a matter of pride.

Having watched Episode 1, I would've wanted Rebecca Loebe (Adam’s team), Elenowen and Xenia (both from Blake’s team) on my team (click on each name to go to the YouTube video of each performance). I like Kelsey Rey and Javier Colon too, and I can see Javier becoming an early favorite. Great show (so far)! You should check out Episode 2 next Tuesday at 9:00 pm.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Funky Lunch

I’m single and don’t have kids, but in a perfect world, if I was married to Mr. Right with 2.5 kids (one in the oven because Mr. Right and I find each other incredibly attractive even after years of marriage), this would be the type of sandwich I’d make for my beautiful, brilliant children.


I found this adorable creation and many more like it, including Hello Kitty, Spongebob Squarepants, and Ben Ten, at funkylunch.com. Per the website, “Funky Lunch was born out of the desire to turn an ordinary lunchtime sandwich into something a bit different to encourage children to eat a varied and healthy lunch.” You can purchase the book with step-by-step instructions to these amazing edible works of art through either the company’s website or Amazon. I’d suggest using Amazon, given that Funky Lunch is a British company and you’d probably pay more for shipping than you would the book (priced at $9.22 on Amazon).

Knowing the incredible amount of hard work it takes to raise children, of course this is an outsider’s perspective based merely on observing my brother and sister-in-law, I wonder how the heck anyone would have time for this? Of course, I wouldn’t have a problem, because along with being incredibly good looking and supportive, Mr. Right would have amazing skills in the kitchen, as well as in other rooms of the house, if you know what I mean (wink, wink).

Rio (The Movie)

In "Rio," Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) is a Macaw who is captured as a baby in a jungle near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. While he's being transported to an exotic pet store in the U.S., his crate falls off the truck in Moose Lake, Minnesota and is found by a young girl, Linda (voiced by Leslie Mann) who promises to always take care of him. Years later, Blu is living the life of Riley, basking in Linda's love and attention as her pet and best friend, and enjoying the finer things in life, like an afternoon snack of cookies and hot cocoa with the exact ratio of cocoa to marshmallows. Despite his continued failed attempts at learning to fly, all is otherwise going smoothly for Blu, until Linda gets a visit from a scientist informing her that Blu is the last male of his kind, and requesting that they travel to Rio so Blu can mate with a female of his kind and preserve the species. After much deliberation, Linda decides to put aside her fears and travel to Rio, but all doesn't go as planned, thanks to a robbery at the bird sanctuary by a nefarious group of smugglers. With the help of Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway), the female Macaw he was supposed to mate with, Blu escapes the smugglers and begins the journey through the streets and jungles of Rio, all in hopes of finding his way back to Linda.

This movie was bright and happy in every sense, from the bright colors of the jungle scenery and the colorful plummage of the birds that roundout the cast of characters, to the happy beat of the Brazilian music playing in the background. Having seen it, it's no wonder this movie has been #1 in the box office these past few weeks. A definite must see.

Public Libraries Will Be Hip Too

After the mass exodus of e-book readers, public libraries will once again be relevant following the announcement that Kindle will provide library lending to 11,000 library participants. Amazon announced that later this year they’ll be introducing a Lending Library so Kindle users can check out books from their local library. Titles will be downloaded through your local library's website and automatically removed once the lending period is over. Amazon currently offers two-week Kindle-to-Kindle lending, with the only down side being that when you lend a book to a friend or family member, you (the e-book owner) can’t access the title during that same two-week period. One added bonus to the new lending program is that readers will be able to take notes in the margins, like a real book. When your loan time is up, the notes will disappear from the library’s copy, but if you check the e-book out again, or decide to purchase it, your notes will reappear along with any additional bookmarks you might have made.

I’m hoping that my library is one of those 11,000 libraries participating. I already visit my library regularly, because even though I own a Kindle, there is nothing that quite beats the weight and feel of a book in your hands as you flip through its pages. While this news seemingly makes libraries a little bit hipper and current, I doubt libraries are suffering in attendance. I’d hazard a guess that libraries are already quite the rage given today’s economy, and the fact that as gas, food and housing prices go up, disposable income for guilty pleasures like books and DVDs goes down.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day

Don't let that t-shirt be referring to you (the stupid part, of course, not the mankind. Hopefully, if you're reading this blog, you do fall in the latter category). Anyway, make a difference. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

PBS NewsHour: Autism Now

This past week I've been watching a special series of reports titled "Autism Now" on PBS NewsHour. NewsHour founder and former anchor, Robert MacNeil, returned for this fascinating six-part series. Mr. MacNeil had a very personal reason for the report, and that is his grandson, Nick, who was diagnosed with autism 4 years ago, at the age of 2. Each part of the series covered a different aspect of the disorder, and shared the latest information available from families, teachers, doctors and scientists that are raising, teaching and treating individuals within the autism spectrum.

Each part of the series is available online and approximately 15 minutes in length (see each link provided below).

Part 1 - Robert MacNeil Shares Grandson Nick's Story: We are introduced to Nick, his parents and sister, and gain a better understanding of how the diagnosis impacts the family dynamic.

Part 2 - Exploring the Phenomenal Increase in US Prevalence: This segment begins with the startling fact that autism now affects more children than childhood cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined. Interviewed experts note that one of the reasons for the increase in numbers is a wider diagnosis, or widened definition of the disorder. Mr. MacNeil also introduces us to the Henderson brothers, three siblings, all diagnosed with autism, comprising the breadth of the autism spectrum.

Part 3 - Autism's Causes- How Close are we to Solving the Puzzle: Austism affects one American child in every 110. Experts note that while autism is a genetic disorder, there are environmental factors which also play a role, and while no definitive answers have been found, they are sure that there is no one answer to solving autism, but instead multiple causes.

Part 4 - Demand for Educational Resources for Children Outstrips Supply: In NYC schools, there are more than 7,000 students with autism. Mr. MacNeil visits two schools in the Bronx, one a charter school offering one on one teaching, especially for autistic students.

Part 5 - Adults with Autism: Although federal law mandates educational services for children with autism, that mandate ends at the age of 21, and there are hardly any support services available to these same children once they become adults. In this piece, we are introduced to Zach Hamrick and his family, as they start facing - and planning for - these harsh realities as Zach draws closer to soon turning 21.

Part 6 - How Should We Address Deepening 'National Health Emergency'?: In the last segment in the series, Mr. MacNeil explores these issues and possible solutions in a roundtable with four autism researchers and advocates.

I found this series to be extremely informative, not only as to the medical facts of this neurological disorder, but just as important, the ways that it affects families, and our society as a whole. I hope that as individuals become more informed, we'll be more sensitive to the the individuals diagnosed with autism, as well as to the families impacted by it as well.

As noted in the series by Peter Gerdhardt, a nationally known expert on adolescents and adults with autism, the hope is that society will become more comfortable and better prepared to deal with individuals with autism, as they've become more comfortable in making accommodations for the physically handicapped. It wasn't that many years ago, before the Americans with Disabilities Act, when we didn't have handicapped bathroom stalls or parking spaces. Hopefully, society catches up and we can make accommodations for those children with neurological challenges as we did for those physically handicapped, because these children are growing up and we need to do right by them, as we should for all our more vulnerable citizens.