Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Be Grateful, Be Happy

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” ― Melody Beattie

Chatting with my brother this weekend, he was bemoaning the state of the economy and the general sentiment that it seems we work paycheck to paycheck just to pay bills. I nodded my head in agreement, but quickly reminded him that at least we have that paycheck to paycheck coming in. While I might not be going away for vacation this summer, I’m mindful of the fact that I’m still better off than the man or woman who recently got laid off or who’s been unemployed for months, and I'm grateful. I’m grateful for my job, for the good health that permits me to work, for the roof over my head and the warm bed to sleep in, and I’m grateful for the love of my family and friends who lighten my daily load and bring me so much joy. Gratitude is the key to a life filled with peace and happiness, instead of anxiety and resentment. There will always be someone who has more, but a fact just as easy to remember is that there will always be someone who has less. Count your blessing and let gratitude make what you have enough.

In an article by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, entitled “Why Gratitude is Good”, Dr. Emmons references a study of more than one thousand people, from ages eight to 80, which found that people who practice gratitude consistently have lower blood pressure, feel less lonely and isolated, and are more optimistic and happy, among countless other physical, psychological and social benefits.

Each day we make lists of bills to pay, things to do and errands to run, today instead make a list of all the blessings, big and small, that touch your life and take a moment to send a big THANK YOU out into the ether or to God or to whichever divine being you believe in. Be grateful for the big things but don’t overlook the little ones. Each day write down in a journal or even on a post-it note all the good things that happened that day; maybe you didn’t hit traffic in your morning commute, or you got the last piece of pie, or someone gave you a compliment. If it brought a smile to your face, if it lightened your step, then it’s not inconsequential. Remember, gratitude is the best attitude.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Soylent Green

Last week was Once Upon A Time’s season finale, so last night I took advantage of the free time to watch the 1970’s sci-fi classic Soylent Green. It starred Charlton Heston and movie great Edward G. Robinson in the tale of a futuristic dystopian society plagued with overcrowding, poverty, pollution, a climate impacted by the greenhouse effect where the heat doesn’t permit anything to grow, and which as such has caused the depletion of all the earth’s natural resources.

It’s 2022 in NYC, electricity and real food are luxuries allotted only to the rich, there isn’t enough housing for the millions of city residents so they live on the streets and sleep on fire escapes and building stairwells. The state run government has set up curfews and scheduled daily food and water distributions. Police detective Robert Thorn (Heston) is assigned to investigate the murder of William R. Simonson, a rich lawyer and member of the Board for the all-powerful Soylent Corporation, the company responsible for producing Soylent Red, Yellow and the all new high-energy plankton, Soylent Green, a food substitute manufactured to feed the masses across the globe. Helping Thorn on the case is his old friend and roommate Sol Roth (Robinson). Sol tracks down information for Thorn from the scarcely found records available, since now even paper is a rarity. Thorn is convinced that the murder is not the result of a staged home invasion, but a more sinister planned assassination. Relying on information shared by Simonson’s live in mistress, Shirl, an escort employed by the luxury apartment building and assigned to satisfy the tenant’s every whim, Thorn begins to question what Simonson knew, and who would kill to keep it quiet.

While the movie was quite ahead of its time in relation to the subject matter of climate change and its effects on the earth’s resources, the special effects – or lack thereof – was all 70’s cinema. Nonetheless, the actors did a good job in conveying the deprivation of and nostalgia for items which we take for granted today such as fresh produce, beef, water, and simple luxuries like a shower and ice cubes. Heston was OK as the weary cop hot on the trail of the truth, but as in all the other movies I’ve seen him in, Robinson steals the show as the old man disillusioned by the present, who reminisces about the ‘good old days’ when people still sucked, but the “world was beautiful.” Simple scenes like when he’s brought to tears by Thorn’s pilfered piece of beef; or the way he savors a single leaf of lettuce as if he’s tasting the world’s sweetest ambrosia, convey the character’s emotions beautifully. Above and beyond the revealed secret at the end of the movie, which most people know by now, for me the pièce de résistance to the entire film was the gut-wrenching and heartbreaking scene when Sol (Robinson) decides “to go home.” Ugh…brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it, especially after finding out that Soylent Green was Robinson’s last film, having succumbed to his fight against cancer only two weeks after the end of filming.

There are countless reasons to watch this movie, from the fact it’s a sci-fi classic, to the very current subject matter, but above all, watch it for Robinson’s performance. Heston looks like a hack next to him when they share the screen. It’s incomprehensible that one of the greatest actors in movie history never won an Oscar. He was to be presented a special honorary Oscar by the Academy, but unfortunately, died before he could accept the well-deserved honor.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Future of Us

In The Future of Us co-authored by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler, the setting is 1996 and Josh and Emma are high school students who had been friends since childhood, up until a few months ago when Josh made the mistake of trying to be more than friends to Emma and had his heart broken. It's been months since they've spoken but knowing Emma just got a new computer from her father, Josh's mom sends him over with an AOL CD they'd received in the mail. Once Emma signs in, she's logged into her Facebook page, the problem is Facebook has yet to be invented, and the page is of her 15 years into the future. At first Emma is sure this is merely a prank by Josh, but he denies her claims. Once they find Josh's page and are convinced this is no hoax but instead a peek into the future, they also quickly realize that the decisions they make today also affect their future selves.

The premise was so original and promising that I read this book, despite the fact that it's a young adult novel. The authors unfortunately waste the story's potential on the two self-centered and oblivious teenage protagonists. The book's chapters alternate between Josh and Emma, neither of which offer any redeeming characteristics which make the reader care about their life now or in the future. Emma is selfish and boy crazy, concerned about nothing and noone but her latest crush. Josh is slightly better, in so much as he at least truly cares about Emma, though he's quick to think with something other than his head or heart when he finds out that his future self is married to the hottest girl in school. Wasted opportunities abound. You get a rare glimpse into the future and all you're concerned about and obsess over is who you marry and where you'll live? Really? I know they're teenagers, but not all teenagers are shallow twits, I'd say most aren't. The books redemption comes in the last couple chapters when miraculously, like the Grinch's heart, their minds grew three sizes that day, and the two protagonist start to think like rational human beings.

The Dictator

In The Dictator, the latest wild ride from Sacha Baron Cohen of Borat fame, he portrays Aladeen, the despot of the small African nation of Wadiya. With the help from his second in command, Tamir (portrayed by the brilliant Ben Kingsley), Aladeen is relentlessly trying to pursue the development of nuclear weapons. When word of his attempts reaches the United Nations, he is threatened with military action unless he speaks to their concerns during a U.N. council speech in New York City. Unbeknownst to Aladeen, Tamir is plotting against him, in an effort to gain direct control over the country's oil fields. Once in New York, Aladeen is betrayed and left penniless, homeless and beardless on the mean streets of New York, where he encounters Zoey (Anna Faris) who mistakes him for a dissident refugee, and offers him a job. There hence Aladeen begins plotting his return to power with a few detours thrown in for good measure.

The movie opens with the message "In loving memory of Kim Jong-Il", so you know you're gonna be in for a bumpy ride from the get go; and boy was it bumpy. As an equal-opportunity offender, Cohen's jokes take aim at everyone from women, Blacks, Jews, America, Chinese and celebrities, to name a few. I'm sure I missed someone. The humor was crude, rude, offensive and relatively funny, though alot of the funnier scenes had already been previewed on the trailer. There are a couple little hidden gems, like the polaroid wall of shame featuring Aladeen's sexual conquests, some of the names were hilarious, and a funny celebrity cameo near the end of the film. A definite scene-stealer for me was the great Bobby Lee from MADtv. He was, as expected, hilariously offensive as Mr Lao, a Chinese diplomat.

I went in with high hopes because I enjoy Cohen's usual hijinks, unfortunately The Dictator wasn't as funny as Borat, though it did have the added benefit of a few less cringe-worthy moments, since this time-around everyone was in on the joke. A tepid recommendation to average movie fans, a resounding 'must-see' if Cohen's brand of over-the-top humor is your cup of tea.

Get Caught Reading

May is officially Get Caught Reading month, a nationwide campaign to remind people of all ages how important and how much fun it is to read. While the organization supporting the campaign, the Association of American Publishers (AAP), undoubtedly has ulterior motives for promoting literacy, like selling books, there is no doubt that this endeavor is a win-win for all involved. The many benefits of reading, especially for children, are indisputable. From stimulating their brain and imagination, to increasing their vocabulary. As the saying goes, reading is to the mind, what exercise is to the body.

The benefits aren't just for children. What's better than leaving all of your stress and worries behind for a couple of hours; travelling to a far off land for a magical adventure, or falling in love with a handsome prince, knowing that 10 times out of 10 it will end with a "and they lived happily ever after." Better yet, read a non-fiction and walk in someone's elses shoes, if only figuratively, and experience their heartache, struggles, triumphs or losses and learn a little empathy to boot. Books are like little magic carpet rides. A little bit of magic that you can take anywhere with you, to bring you joy if you're sad, excitement if you're bored, or maybe just to be a friendly companion if you're lonely.

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents. So read to your child, and foster his/her imagination and curiosity. Read whether you're 5, 40 or 90; read and let your imagination run wild.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Summer Movie Preview

The countdown is on...before we know it summer will be here and the dreaded and inevitable winter weight reveal will be upon us. No longer will we be able to hide behind our bulky sweaters and winter coats. Our rolls will be leavening under the midday sun as we don shorts, t-shirts and bathing suits to cope with hot sticky weather. Don’t despair though, it’s not all frizzy hair and heat rash, summer also means longer days, less rush hour traffic, ice cream, and most importantly the summer movie season in all its over the top blow ‘em up, shoot ‘em up glory. This season features a wide array of films to appeal to every member of the family, including the privileged few which have made my must-see list (see below). Click on each link to view the film’s trailer.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (June 22)
After honest Abe’s beloved mother is killed by one of these vile creatures, he makes it his mission to rid the nation of their kind. I can’t wait to see this movie. It’s based on the book of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith. Read my book review here.

The Amazing Spider-Man (July 3)
The film features Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, as well as the always funny and adorable Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. Looking forward to seeing how Garfield measures up to Tobey Maguire's Spidey of yore.

Ted (July 13)
In this directorial debut from Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, the story centers around John (played by Mark Wahlberg) and his teddy bear (voiced by MacFarlane) who comes to life as a result of a childhood wish. The trailer looks hilarious, if a little foul-mouthed; the ‘thunder’ song alone won me over. Thunder buddies for life.

The Dark Knight Rises (July 20)
This is the third and final installment in Christopher Nolan's Batman film series. Christian Bale returns as Batman with Tom Hardy as the villain Bane, and Anne Hathaway as Catwoman.

The Campaign (August 10)
A film parodying American politics, starring Will Ferrell as Cam Brady, up against Zach Galifianakis as Marty Huggins, in a North Carolina congressional race. Will and Zach…I’m there.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green (August 15)
A young married couple is told they can’t have children, so they fill a box with little notes stipulating the qualities and characteristics their dream child might have and bury it in their garden, only to wake up and find that their hopes came to life in the form of a magical little boy. Looks sappy, but incredibly sweet.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


This looks very promising and has all the potential to become another Lost-like theorizing obsession. Revolution from Executive Producers J.J. Abrams and Jon Favreau is a new series slated for NBC’s fall lineup, which will air right after The Voice on Monday nights. The sci-fi drama is a post-apocalyptic tale about a world suddenly deprived of all forms of electricity and, in turn, all technology. If this action-packed trailer with a hint of mystery is any indication of what’s to come then we’re headed for quite an adventure. The young female protagonist out to save the world and lead us out of the darkness puts me in mind of Katniss in The Hunger Games, while the single light bulb and cryptic message typed on the computer at the end of the trailer is classic Abrams and Lost. Abrams is always good for a challenge (think Lost or Fringe), so get ready to be kept on your toes and guessing what comes next.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Funday Monday

Ya Gotta Believe

Like the proverbial Little Engine That Could, my New York Mets are disproving all the dire predictions from the so-called experts and naysayers, like renowned know-it-all and Mets / Jets hater, Mike Francesa from WFAN. Granted it's still early in the season, but nonetheless it's great to see that under the veteran leadership of David Wright, who so far is having a monster season, this young group of players has displayed a never-give up attitude, playing full-tilt all nine innings of the game, leading to more than the usual lot of late-inning come from behind wins. We even beat the perennial National League East powers the Philadelphia Phillies. Not bad for a group most people thought would be no more than a misfit bunch of lovable losers.

The Mets are not only playing over .500 ball, they're only 2 games out of first place in the NL East behind the Washington Nationals. Like Tug McGraw said, "Ya Gotta Believe" and I do.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Random Acts of Kindness

I’m in a bit of a rut when it comes to finishing my most recent do-good project, Project Night Night, thanks to a hefty condo assessment which like a sponge has soaked up my expendable income for the month. Luckily there’s no rush or deadline to finish, so I’m going to take my time and not skimp on any of the outstanding items, though I am looking forward to wrapping up and actually assembling the bags. The throws (Hello Kitty, Lightning McQueen, and Winnie the Pooh, to name a few) and books I've already purchased are so adorable (I can't wait to share some photos), so all that's left is to get some soft and fluffy stuffed animals that any little one can snuggle with and make their life-long friend. To finish the bags off with a sweet and fun touch, I’m going to make some cute ID tags for each tote, and plan on laminating them so they’re not too flimsy.

Back to the original subject of my post, since I probably won’t be finishing my project until next month, I was searching for little things I could do in the interim and stumbled upon the site for The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. As the name would suggest, the organization is “founded upon the powerful belief in kindness and dedicated to providing resources and tools that encourage acts of kindness.” The website has tons of simple ideas and stories of small, simple gestures that don’t take a lot of time or money but can make a big difference.

Many of the ideas were too specific for my taste, for example, doing something nice for a co-worker or a family member. Where is the randomness in that? You shouldn’t choose the recipient. I love the idea of leaving it to the fates to decide. Man or woman, black or white, young or old, and most importantly deserving or not, after all who are we to judge someone's worthiness which is what we'd be doing if we were to pick one person over another; because in truth those that deserve it the least, probably are those that need it the most. A little kindness, if not a lot, should touch everyone’s life every day. The world would be a better place if it did. I ended up searching some other sites to help round off my list.

1. Leave quarters at a laundromat.
2. Give a lottery ticket to a stranger.
3. Leave quarters at a pay phone.
4. Give extra coupons to a random shopper or leave at register.
5. At post office leave some extra stamps at the counter or at the stamp machine. .
6. Keep an extra umbrella in your car and give to anyone who needs it.
7. Put change in a row of vending machines.
8. Bring a special treat to work, and put it in a common area for all to share.
9. Leave a book you have already finished somewhere for someone else to read.
10. Become an organ donor.

I even found a cute little calling card to print out and leave for each recipient. Probably not a good idea to use it on #10.

Obviously, above and beyond this list, we can all share a little more kindness with those around us every day; whether it’s holding a door open, saying ‘have a nice day’, letting someone merge into traffic or simply sharing a friendly smile. You never know the burdens or sorrows someone might be carrying and your simple gesture could make a difference in that person’s day. Let’s all do our part, so that maybe each small kindness we share today with a stranger, comes back to us when we need it tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mother's Day

Tomorrow will be mom's third anniversary in heaven. It seems incredible that it's been three years since that Mother's Day afternoon when I kissed her cheek for the last time. 1,096 days since I held her hand, caressed her face, or heard her voice. The numbers are just as painful even when they're smaller...three Christmases without her, three birthdays, three Mother's Day, one grandchild's confirmation. Big and little moments diminished without her. Without her bigger than life presence, her smile, her wit.

A very old picture of Mamá and me (ignore my E.T.-like fingers).
Her presence is still a constant in my life, whether it be through my memories, photos, or mementos, including the gold necklace she gifted me with and which I wear around my neck today and everyday. I can close my eyes and still see her face clearly without a photograph to refresh my mind. The deep creases across her forehead, maybe from all the worrying after raising two at times troublesome sons; or the brown beauty mark located right on the bridge of her nose. Oh, and these two tiny little holes she had exactly on either side of her nose (I think they were just oversized pores), which reminded me of a little bird. I used to joke with her about them all the time. I remember hugging her and her body would fit just so; the top of her head snuggled right underneath my chin; and I'm only 5'2".

Her voice is the only thing that's gone, at least during the waking hours, though I still hear it clearly in my dreams. The first time I realized I'd forgotten, I quickly rummaged through my things, remembering the one place I knew I could find it, my brother's wedding video. I fast-forwarded through the old VHS tape, thanking God I still had my old VCR, and then finally, at 43:42 in the video, my mom. "Hola mija" (a term of endearment or shortened Spanish of 'mi hija', my daughter) were her exact words. It was during the reception. I hadn't seen her for a bit because I was in the wedding party and we'd been kept apart from the wedding guests during the cocktail hour until they officially introduced the wedding party as well as the bride and groom; but I had snuck out and gone down to say hello. She'd been giving the videographer a tight awkward smile, looking anywhere but at the camera, when she'd looked to the side and seen me coming. After all the searching, it seemed perfectly apropos for those to have been her first words on the tape.

Mom was my life for so much of my life; as I've said in the past, she gave my life purpose. I keep myself busy with work and find joy in my family and friends, but as for a life's purpose, I can't say that I've found anything to fill the void she left behind. I volunteer and do countless little 'do good' projects, but in all honesty, it's not the same as knowing you're truly needed by someone. Nonetheless, I hope she's proud.

Some weeks ago I was at Wal-Mart with my brother and the boys. We separated to do some shopping. After I'd finished I was looking for them and couldn't find them, so I started up the aisles, calling out their names in a loud voice. When I finally found them, my brother answered, exasperated and embarassed by my loudness, "we're here...geesh, you're just like mom." In that moment, I remembered all the times she used to do that to me, and I'd used that same exasperated tone. He said the same another time when I was trailing behind as we walked from a field to a car. You know what I say to that, if every day I became a little more like my mother, then I couldn't be prouder because she was pretty amazing.

Lastly, let me take this opportunity to wish all the moms out there a very Happy Mother's Day this Sunday. To my own mom, gone but never forgotten, "feliz dia mi querida mariposa."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

This is Colossal

It seems like I’m always a day late and dollar short when it comes to the latest hot trends, whether it be fashion, technology or blogs, which brings me to my post. I recently found a great art and design blog, Colossal, which I had to share with each of you, though it's probably old news to most. I’m not an artist or designer, but I’m always awed by the God-given talent of individuals who can move and inspire through their gifts; through the beauty created with either the stroke of a brush, a chisel on marble, or the countless other mediums used to touch each one of us. For those of you previously in the dark like me, know that Colossal offers something to appeal to everyone’s taste:

Street Art
This beautiful piece is from Rome-based visual artist Alice Pasquini.

This is a sculpture made of wire mesh by Korean sculptor Seung Mo Park. To better grasp the skill and effort which goes into each piece, click on the link and view the YouTube video which shows him at work.

This beautiful macro photograph of a dew-soaked dandelion is from UK photographer Sharon Johnstone.

This is by far one of my favorite pieces to appear on the site. It’s a watercolor from self-taught Italian painter Silvia Pelissero aka Agnes-Cecile. Self-taught! Can you believe it! The painting is so ethereal it truly touches me with its haunting beauty. Clck on the link to view a YouTube video clip of Agnes-Cecile at work.

Lastly, if you doubted art could come in any form, just check out this wall installation by Baptiste Debombourg that utilizes nearly a half million metal staples tacked to a wall. It was inspired by drawings from 16th century engravers Hendrick Goltzius, Jan Harmensz, Cherubino Alberti and took 340 hours to complete.
Visit Colossal for a touch of beauty to brighten your day; it's a true feast for your eyes and soul and sure to both humble and inspire you..