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 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.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Must Watch: Crazy, Stupid, Love

There's something about Steve Carell portraying a sad sap in love, who's fighting / pining for his woman that really does it for me (see Dan in Real Life; Date Night). It's a formula that works for him, so hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

One item of interest from the trailer, it appears that Steve is once again being upstaged by a man without a shirt on. In "Date Night" it was Marky Mark (Wahlberg), and in this movie it's Ryan Gosling. It's enough to give a poor guy a complex.

Diary of a Mad Fat Girl

This was my first find through (see post below) and it proved to be a true gem. The title spoke to me instantly, and once I downloaded the sample to my Kindle, I had to start reading it immediately since I was two pages into the book and already laughing out loud.

"Diary of a Mad Fat Girl" by Stephanie McAfee centers around Ace (Graciela) Jones, the books narrator, and her two best friends, Lilly and Chloe, all three of whom work at a high school in a small town in the South. Ace is a size 16, sarcastic and funny as all heck art teacher, who dreams of owning an art studio, and is still in love with her ex, Mason. Lilly is a beautiful ex-lingerie model and Chloe is a beaten woman, literally and figuratively, thanks to a cheating and abusive husband who everyone else believes is a fine-upstanding citizen.

As the book takes off, Ace’s hated arch-nemesis, Catherine Hilliard, the school principal, accuses Lilly of sleeping with a student. While the truth behind the accusation against Lilly remains an element of the story, once Chloe ends up in the hospital yet again due to her abusive husband, Richard, the main action then revolves around Ace and Lilly teaming up to play private detectives on Chloe’s behalf, as they get into one scrape after another trying to capture her sleazy husband red-handed in one of his many misdeeds.

The storyline has plenty of action to keep you entertained, including breaking an entering, dressing up as drag queens to sneak into a topless bar, and mad dashes in the dark to escape the police, but what I especially loved was the great dialogue between characters, as well as Ace’s witty, sarcastic humor:

“She whips out her school issued photo ID card that has a picture of her looking like an advertisement for Crest White Strips and Pantene” (speaking about Lilly). “I whip out my school issued ID card, but my picture looks more like a startled primate at the zoo.”
I loved this book. It was a fun, fast paced, and quick read. Not the next great American novel, but a wonderful way to spend a couple hours of your evening. The book is only available in an ebook format through Kindle or Nook, and unfortunately I found a number of spelling and grammatical errors which was slightly disconcerting. Nonetheless, the good far outweighed the bad, especially at the incredible price of 99¢. I also offer fair warning that the book has a lot of cussing, though that fact didn’t bother me at all.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011 is a great new find I made through my public library’s website. It’s a free site for casual readers or book worms like me. The idea is to use the site as a large library where you can see your friends (and other members) bookshelves, their reviews, and their ratings on books. You can post your own reviews and also keep track of everything you’ve read, are currently reading, and plan to read in the future. You can even start a book club, answer trivia quizzes, read blog posts by authors, and even read exclusive interviews with current best-selling authors. They also have an “explore” tab, where you can browse lists of popular and unpopular books to find books to potentially add to your “to-read” list.

So far, I’m off to a good start. I’ve registered and have started populating my bookshelves, even if it’s only with a measly 31 books (my most recent reads). I’ll have to comb through my lousy memory banks and expand my list. I’ve also already invited some friends to join, since per the site, and I quote, “Goodreads is approximately 7 bajillion times more awesome when your friends are using it too. We have proven this. With science.” The proof is in the pudding, so we’ll see, but I’m enjoying the site already, and I’ve even found a couple books I will definitely be checking out soon.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Jane Eyre

Loved it, loved it, loved it! Mia Wasikowska ("Alice in Wonderland") and Michael Fassbender ("Inglourious Basterds") star in this latest retelling of Charlotte Brontë's classic novel. By the way, did I mention I loved it? The story begins as Jane Eyre flees Thornfield House, where she has been working as a governess to Edward Rochester's young ward. After a frantic race through rain swept moors, she finds succor from the elements and her own broken heart with a young preacher and his sisters. As she reflects on her recent past, we learn that as a child the orphaned Jane had been sent by a cruel aunt to a boarding school where she was horribly mistreated until she'd been able to escape by taking the governess job at Thornfield Hall. After an awkward and contentious first meeting with her employer, trust and friendship slowly develop, and ultimately love blossoms between the plain and honest young governess and the brooding lord of the manor. Of course, that love is tested when Jane learns a horrible secret about the man she loves.

I can't say it enough times. I loved this movie! As a true romantic, this had everything you could ask for - love, betrayal, redemption. Throw into the mix incredible cinematography, beautiful wardrobes, a great screenplay and perfect casting and you have an instant classic. Mia Wasikowska is the best Jane Eyre ever. Every look, every word, every nuance shared between her and Michael Fassbender as Rochester, ring so true. It was like she became Jane Eyre, she didn't just play the role. This is one movie which I'll be adding to my DVD collection as soon as it comes out. Loved it!

Autobiography of a Face

I just finished "Autobiography of a Face" by Lucy Grealy and found it engrossing, compelling and above all poignant. At the age of 9, Lucy was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a potentially fatal type of cancer that required her to have a third of her jaw removed which left her disfigured. The book relates her suffering through years of chemotherapy, radiation, countless reconstructive surgeries, and just as painful, the thoughtless cruel taunts she endured at the hands of her classmates.

Lucy shares each detail of her experiences with great honesty and wit, from the first time she receives chemotheraphy ("I began to grow warm, a caustic ache began settling into my elbow. For a split second, a split of a split second, the sensation was almost pleasurable, a glowing, fleshy sense of my body recognizing itself as a body, a thing in the world. But immediately it was too much"); to her apprehension at the first day of junior high school, and the attacks which quickly followed ("My initial tactic was to pretend I didn't hear them, but this only seemed to spur them on. In the hallways, where I suffered similar attacks of teasing from random attackers, I simply looked down at the floor and walked more quickly, but in the lunchroom I was a sitting duck.") Each detail moving in its own right, but to me, the most compelling statement in the book is offered as a quote on the back cover, and speaks volumes to how those taunts indelibly shaped her life:

"I spent five years of my life being treated for cancer, but since then I've spent fifteen years being treated for nothing other than looking different from everyone else. It was the pain from that, from feeling ugly, that I always viewed as the great tragedy of my life. The fact that I had cancer seemed minor in comparison."

Each surgery brought with it a new round of disappointments, as the bone grafts which were meant to reconstruct her jaw were constantly reabsorbed by her body. Nonetheless, upon graduating high school, she finds a measure of peace and acceptance when she she enrolls in Sarah Lawrence College. It's there where she finds her true calling, and an outlet for her suffering, in poetry.

I loved this book. It is by no means a feel good, you can beat cancer type of book, but I nonetheless reached the end with a real sense of hope. Unfortunately, I was sad to learn that Lucy Grealy died in 2002, at the young age of 39. I quickly thought, cancer, it must have won the battle after all, but upon doing some online research I was saddened to learn that later on in life Lucy had in fact suffered with bouts of depression and drug abuse, and died of an accidental drug overdose. A truly tragic end to a tragic life.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Beauty in Silence

Watch this amazing video of a performance by The China Disabled People's Performing Art Troupe. The troupe was founded in 1987 and features performers that are blind, deaf, and mentally or physically disabled. All of the performers featured in this video are deaf.

The Suicide Tourist

I recently watched the "The Suicide Tourist," a moving and compelling PBS Frontline documentary dealing with the controversial topic of assisted suicide. The piece focused on Craig Ewert, a retired professor living in London, whose rapid deterioration after being diagnosed with ALS brings him to the brink of a monumental decision, to live or die. Mr. Ewert knows he is dying, but sees the situation as having two choices, to die now - as he will eventually, or to continue living, suffer and have his family suffer and then die. In spite of this realization, the decision isn't an easy one for him. He readily admits "I'm not tired of living, I'm tired of the disease, but I'm not tired of living. And I still enjoy it enough that I'd like to continue. But the thing is that I really can't."

As he debates his decision, Mr. Ewert reaches out to an organization in Zurich, Dignitas, which offers physician-assisted suicides. Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland and other countries, as well as in two U.S. states - Oregon and Washington, but only Switzerland allows outsiders to come and end their lives in their country, hence the title of the documentary.

Despite his will to live, Mr. Ewert is in a race against time and the disease. You see, for him to be able to use Dignitas he has to be able to drink the lethal sedative that will end his suffering. If he waits too long, the disease could ravage his body to the point that he would be unable to swallow, and he'd be left with no options.

Mr. Ewert makes valid points as to the morality of his decision. He makes note of the fact that individuals against assisted suicide say that you can't take your own life, because you can't play God, but in truth science plays God everyday. The ventilator which was keeping him alive was playing God. If he didn't have access to technology, he would've been dead already. When a baby is born premature and they exhaust every resource to keep it alive, when a patient has to have a heart transplant to keep him/her alive, in fact doctor's are playing God every day. He questions why doctor's can't play God to end someone's suffering.

The documentary was moving, compelling and thought-provoking. You are moved to tears throughout the show, but especially as it reaches its conclusion for the cameras stay with Mr. Ewert right to the end, when he travels to Zurich, and ultimately when he takes the lethal sedative that ends his life. Not easy stuff to watch someone die, even if peacefully, right in front of your eyes.

The piece gives viewers plenty food for thought and discussion - the moral aspects of assisted suicide, as well as the issue of fairness and availability to all. What of individuals who are not in the financial situation to be able to turn to an organization like Dignitas? While Dignitas is a non-profit organization, the current fee for their service, based on an article in The Wall Street Journal, is $10,500.

I'd personally have to agree with Mr. Ewert, individuals who have a terminal illness should have the right to end their own suffering if they so deem it's time. I believe it's a decision between them, their loved ones and their God. I'm Catholic and my faith is important to me, but despite the fact that my religion says suicide is wrong, I don't believe that God, the merciful and forgiving God I love, would condemn someone for trying to find peace.

Here Comes Peter Cottontail

...hopping down the bunny trail. Easter is almost here. The plan is to spend the day with my knuckleheads, of course. They've already finagled their Easter gifts out of me (new iPod touches), so day of it will just be chocolate bunnies for them. As previously noted on this blog, I'm not a cook, so my sister-in-law will be doing all of the cooking, and I'll limit my contribution to dessert. There's a great little French bakery a few towns over that has to die for desserts (for example, Raspberry White Chocolate Ladyfinger cake, yup, it's as good as it sounds) so I'll pick up a couple desserts to bring with me. Anyway, I always bring a simple bouquet of flowers to my sister-in-law as a small hostess gift, but I spotted these adorable arrangements online and just might give them a try. I'm about as good at crafts as I am at cooking, so it'll be interesting to see how this ends up.

I found both via Pinterest. Luckily, the pin for this first arrangement with Peeps and jelly beans provided a link to Tip Junkie which listed simple directions.

I love the colors in this arrangement too. I imagine you'd probably use the same principle as the previous arrangement (two vases, one inside the other).

If the plan goes beyond this post, I'll be sure to post a picture of the finished product.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


"Hanna" is an action thriller starring Saoirse Ronan (star of "Lovely Bones") as the titular character, Eric Bana as her father, Erik Heller, and Cate Blanchett as Marissa Wiegler, a corrupt CIA agent. Hanna is a 16-year old girl raised in the wilds of Finland and trained in all types of mortal combat by her father, in preparation of making her the perfect assassin. Since childhood, Erik has prepared Hanna for the day when she will meet, and ultimately kill, Marissa Wiegler. When Hanna decides that day has finally arrived, she informs her father, who presents her with a tracking device or transmitter which Hanna must activate to send a signal informing Marissa of her whereabouts and therefore, begin the chase.

The balance of the movie focuses on Hanna's mission to kill Marissa and reunite with her father, while using flashbacks to reveal the events which shaped Hanna's life and that of her mother, as well as Marissa Wiegler and Erik Heller's roles in that story.

While I enjoyed the movie, the fight sequences were very cool, I must say the movie had alot (alot) of lulls in the action. It didn't have a steady stream of action, on par with - let's say - one of the Bourne movies. Saoirse Ronan's performance as Hanna was impressive though. While she was admirable in conveying the cold, almost robotic, expression which you'd expect from a heartless assassin, it was the scenes where she expressed real emotion where she truly shined, such as the mixture of fascination and fear she conveys when exposed to electricity, a modern convenience which 'til then was completely foreign to her or the look of pure pleasure when Hanna hears music for the first time in her life.

In Gratitude

As I've mentioned before, my oldest nephew, Anthony, served in Iraq while in the Army. With heartfelt gratitude to God, I can say that while he still struggles to cope with the psychological effects of having lived in a war zone and seeing his friends maimed or killed, he's adjusting and slowly finding peace. He's working, in college, a new dad to a cute puppy, and a proud new homeowner. It's with that gratitude in mind that I decided to reach out and try to help - even in a miniscule way - other soldiers still in harms way.

While Anthony was in Iraq, I used to send him regular letters and care packages with little comforts from home and words of encouragement and love to keep his spirits up. Unfortunately, not all soldiers are lucky enough to have that support system, so I searched online for organizations offering help to our troops and found and the Care Package Project.

With the help of individual donations and volunteers across the country, they ship over 1200 care packages four times a year. To date they have sent nearly 28,000 packages to 20,000 Marines who might not be receiving mail or packages from home. The list of needed items includes such basic items as baby wipes for personal hygiene, sunblock, liquid hand sanitizer, deodorant, as well as snack items such as gum, nuts, power bars, etc.

Not surprisingly one of the items on the "most requested list" is letters of support, so in addition to the above items, I also wrote a couple of letters letting each soldier know how much their service means to me.

So, whether you have a loved one that served in the Armed Forces or is currently serving, whether you're for or against our troops being in Iraq or Afghanistan, remember above all else that these are young American men and women, far from home and family, risking their very lives to serve their country, who need nothing more than a kind word and a little encouragement to see them through the days of darkness until they can, God willingly, return to the loving arms of their friends and family. In short, make a donation or, even better, simply write a letter and touch someone's life.