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Reel Mama: January 2012

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

How a cough drop that was supposed to make me feel better made me feel like @#$!

This is just weird.  I’m blogging about a cough drop.  But I have my reasons.  I caught a terrible nasty cold bug at one of the places frequented by little runny noses where I regularly take my daughter, be it the park, the preschool, the children’s museum, or the public library.  I’ve been coughing up a lung and I’m on my fourth box of tissues in 24 hours.  
And just when I was at my lowest, “curl-up-and-die” point, I realized that Halls cough drops actually have sayings on the wrappers.  I expected something pleasant, perhaps an uplifting Chinese proverb, or a soothing haiku.  I saw the catch phrase “A PEP TALK IN EVERY DROP,” and felt encouraged that this wrapper would be worth reading.  It said things like, “Buckle down and push through!”,  “Power through!”,  “Take charge and mean it!”, and  “Let’s hear your battle cry!”  
I felt like the cough drop was shouting at me.  In other words, “Get off your lazy duff, you pathetic little wheeze bag!”  I’m taking medicine, but I’m not actually allowed to be sick.  I realize that this is society’s fault.  Being sick is no excuse anymore.  Here’s a real gem from the cough drop wrapper: “The show must go on.  Or work.”  In other words, it’s better to drag yourself to the office hacking and spewing and infecting your colleagues than to give yourself time to recuperate.  
And believe me, as a stay-at-home mom, the show really must go on.  My husband gives me wonderful help, but I’m still “Mommy,” and the world can’t stop for our 2-year-old.  
I just wanted a little sympathy out of my cough drop. Like, “Feel better!” Or, “You poooor widdle thing!  Are you sicky-poo?  Poor baby!”  Or how about: “You are loved!”,  “Hug ‘n kisses!”, etc.  I needed cough drops for the soul.  
I’m not saying that Halls are bad.  They really do work.  I’m just saying that while you are “powering through” your semi-life-threatening cold or flu, there’s nothing wrong with indulging in a little comfort.  Sip on some tea with lots and lots of honey in it, and if you have to be at work, ask your boss for a hug.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

"Carnage": A cruel and splendid look at the dark side of marriage and family (Film review)

“Cruelty and splendor.”

These are the words Jodie Foster’s character Penelope Longstreet uses to describe the simultaneously grotesque and dazzling paintings by Francis Bacon as her guest Nancy Cowan, played by Kate Winslet, flips through a coffee table book of the artist’s work.  These words could also be used to describe the cruel psychological interplay, splendid in its cast’s portrayal, that is Carnage.  The film is Roman Polanski’s latest, now in theaters, an adaptation of Yasmin Reza’s hit play God of Carnage.  Reza co-wrote the screenplay with Polanski.  
Following a bullying incident on the playground, the parents of both 11-year-old boys involved agree to meet to discuss the issue and come to a resolution about how best to handle the situation.   Nancy and Alan Cowan are a moneyed power couple.  Nancy is an investment banker, and Alan (Christoph Waltz) is an attorney representing a big pharmaceutical company.  Michael Longstreet (John C. Reilly) is, at least on the surface, the likable all-American, hardworking blue collar dad who sells hardware for a living.  His wife Penelope Longstreet is a do-gooder who writes about genocide in Africa.  It is Penelope’s idea to call the meeting in the first place to discuss what to do about the incident like civilized people.  

Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christophe Waltz, and Kate Winslet as dysfunctional couples in Carnage

The Cowan’s son Zachary struck the Longstreet’s son Ethan with a stick, knocking out two of Ethan’s teeth and bloodying his mouth.  The children are discussed at length, and while we never see the children themselves, we come to know them from a variety of angles through the parents’ heated discussions.
Ultimately, the question of which child is the real bully comes to the fore:  is it Zachary, or was the boy unfairly provoked by Ethan?  As the debate plays out, each character takes on the role of the bully and is then attacked; each character lays blame and has blame laid upon him or her, and each character falls apart in his or her own way.  While many classify this as an extremely dark comedy, it really is a heartbreaking representation of the American family, one reflecting the ugly truths of family dysfunction.  The characters are not sympathetic, certainly not as parents, nor as human beings. While I won’t say that any parent can relate to this, I will say that the work is a fascinating exploration of the dark side of marriage, family, parenting, and indeed of human nature.
What begins as a difference of parenting philosophies spins out of control. Each parent reveals morally questionable privately held beliefs that slip out behind closed doors when frustration or rage overwhelms, and especially when the liquor starts flowing.  The walls crumble, and we discover who these people really are.  The mothers’ inner fears that they are bad parents, and that their children’s shortcomings are in fact their own, ultimately drive them to shocking accusations and irrational behavior.
In Penelope’s case, we discover her hypocrisy through the un-PC attitude she takes toward the maid, who failed to refrigerate the soda, in spite of representing herself as a crusader for noble causes.  Nancy, who at first seems genteel and apologetic, admits that for her the day to day of parenting is “boring” and “excruciating.”  

Kate Winslet portrays the repressed Nancy in Carnage

To say that the fathers are out of touch is an understatement.  Alan is a self-absorbed and apathetic business man, seemingly incapable of feeling. But the real bombshell is Michael:  behind that inviting and friendly facade lies a true nature that is really unsettling.
There is very little violence in the film, as the title suggests, but instead words are weapons that sear the heart and torture the mind.  Are humans merely puppets manipulated by the so-called God of Carnage, a deity at the center of a belief system that humans are animals at heart, ruled by base instincts? Alan believes so, but Foster’s Penelope doesn’t want to buy it.  She believes we are truly good at heart, and fights tooth and nail to take the moral high ground, to resolve the conflict peaceably, like a decent, compassionate human being.  Yet even she is at times judgmental, at others playing the martyr, and sometimes acting as immaturely as her 11-year-old son.  

Jodie Foster as Penelope losing it in Carnage, with John C. Reilly.  These people have issues!

Carnage was released last year, and didn’t make the cut for an Oscar nomination.  Part of Polanski’s challenge with this movie was breathing cinematic life into a play that takes place in one New York apartment.  While the movie can feel claustrophobic at times, and there are moments when it’s obvious that this is a play adapted for the screen, either through dialogue or blocking, the film is never static, and the confined quarters are appropriate for these characters who are emotionally trapped.  The suspense lies in what these unpredictable characters are going to do next.  
The film bears comparison with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, another wildly successful play with explosive performances by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, a husband and wife who invite another couple over for cocktails, and a liquor-fueled destructive battle royal ensues.
Reel Mama’s rating: Appropriate for ages 17 and up.  The sophisticated adult themes will best be appreciated by older teens.  There is quite a bit of profanity. 

View the trailer on Youtube here:

Friday, January 27, 2012

The word of the day rhymes with "stuck"

Last night I saw Samantha Bee on the Daily Show with such a potty mouth that the high-pitched bleep was squealing non-stop.  Then this morning, to my shock, Samantha was on Sesame Street as none other than Mother Goose, and I started getting really nervous.  She was looking for something that rhymed with “plate.” My mind flew to a word that definitely does NOT belong on Sesame Street.  Luckily, the rhyme was “eight.” 
But the tension mounted, because then she was looking for a word that rhymes with “luck.”  I was biting my nails, hoping that Elmo, who was helping her rhyme, would not be dropping the f-bomb.  As it turned out, the word they needed was “stuck.”  I know I need to get my mind out of the gutter.
We have a moratorium on cursing at our house, and so far I think we’re doing a pretty good job.  We have stickers with “f-bomb” in a red circle with a red slash going through it.  Mommy and Daddy have to put it over their mouths when something accidentally slips out.  Okay, I’m kidding on that one.  We have a buzzer system.  Even “it sucks” and “crap” aren’t permitted.  If it slips out, we hit the buzzer.  Okay, kidding again.  In truth, we are exercising Herculean self-control, and Mommy and Daddy act as each other’s censors.
But there are a whole host of other words that parents don’t realize should be avoided when their toddler starts imitating every word that comes out of their mouths.  There are the obvious ones, like “Roman orgy,” and then there are the not so obvious.  For example, the other day a driver took the parking space after I’d been waiting patiently for ten minutes.  I won’t write here what I was thinking, but “cheater” did slip out.  My daughter Leilani repeated it immediately, undercutting the credit I was giving myself because I didn’t curse, and the power of my words hit home again.  I know it’s not a “Mean Girl”-caliber, body-slamming insult, but it is name calling, not something I’m anxious for my two-year-old to pick up.  Already Leilani loves to say, “It’s all your fault!”  I wouldn’t know WHERE she got that one! 
So let’s hope that when Mother Goose gets really ticked off and needs to curse, she says, “Oh, word that rhymes with ‘stuck’!”  Or, “Oooh, word that rhymes with ‘sit’!” (My mom’s favorite was always, “Oh, shoot a monkey!”  I always felt sorry for the monkey, but at least the euphemism is clean.)
Then again, even Mother Goose needs to have her fun.  I wouldn’t be surprised if she dashes off a few limericks once the kiddies are in bed.
Here’s one to try on for size (and no dirty words!):
Mother Goose made a rhyme that was naughty
For she thought Old King Cole was a hottie
She sent him a tweet
That I can’t repeat
And now she’s his little hot toddy.
P.S. I know Samantha Bee is a mom, and no doubt a great one at that, not to mention a brilliant comedian.  Love her work!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

When did scary skinny become the new "hot"?

Sophia Loren, during the Golden Age of sexy

When looking back on a figure like Marilyn Monroe's or Sophia Loren's, the gold standard of sexy, it's a bit painful to look at some of the reality stars, supermodels, and movie stars of today and the trend towards scary skinny, with rib cages clearly visible and thigh bones and clavicles jutting out unpleasantly.  I shutter when I see these figures and don't think ooh la la or va-va-voom!  But that's just me.

Twiggy ushered in the androgynous ultrathin look in the 1960s.  

Bucking the hourglass figure trend, Twiggy showed that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes

There was heroine chic in the 1990s, but even those models look like they have meat on their bones compared to today's standards of skeletal chic, the new standard of beauty.  If you look like you should be hanging in an anatomy lab, then you have arrived.  You are beautiful.  Eating, it seems, is a thing of the past.  Better get your quick shot of electrolytes intravenously, then spend 5 hours in the gym working it off.  
But let's face it: figures have changed, but women have always done scary things to be thin.  There were the corsets of the 1800s.  Remember Scarlett's hunger strike and Mammy squeezing her into that corset to achieve a 17-inch waist in Gone with the Wind?

Vivien Leigh as Scarlett, with Hattie McDaniel as Mammy, in Gone With the Wind (1939), thinking that #$%&-ing corsets are overrated

And then there were the impossibly small-waisted pinups of the twentieth century, not to mention stars of A- and B-grade film and TV, including hostess of horror flicks Vampira, proudly B-grade, the original "Mistress of the Dark" (Elvira being the most well-known) who "sexed up" the character of Morticia of Addams Family fame at a masquerade ball.  (The cartoonist who created Morticia for the comics took note, and the sexier Morticia was portrayed in all future incarnations.)  

Vampira must have had cobwebs in her belly--she starved herself to get this look

According to an interview I heard recently, there was nothing Vampira wouldn't do to maintain her 15-inch figure.  A weekly weekend fast, a waist cincher, and even a self-described "flesh-eating cream" to maintain that girlish (goulish?) figure. Talk about scary skinny!  (Vampira would love that!) 

Now I'm gonna go get some Ben and Jerry's.  So loosen your corsets, ladies, and join me.  Chunky Monkey is the new standard of beauty!

Enjoy reading a favorite post of mine from last summer: "When will they get to eat?"

Monday, January 23, 2012

The wonderful twos

“Enjoy every moment,” said the lady who had been smiling at my daughter and me as we sat in the yogurt shop.

Babies are consummate icebreakers.  They elicit smiles on stranger’s faces, and draw parents into in-depth conversations with people they might otherwise hardly acknowledge with a greeting.  One day almost a year ago I found myself drawn into such a conversation.  When my daughter threw her spoon on the floor, the kind lady at the next table got us another one.  Her kids were already grown, she had told me, and before she left, with a wink and a smile, she gave me her sage advice about never taking a single moment for granted.

The time has flown by since that brief encounter made an impression on me, and now my daughter has raced out of “babyhood” and into toddlerhood, and we are navigating the stormy waters of the “Terrible Twos.”  And I hate to admit that I’m not enjoying every single moment.  I’m taking too many moments for granted.  A lot of moments I’m tearing my hair out.  I’m confounded by the behavior of my headstrong little one who is suddenly a person announcing what she wants to eat and when; what she wants to wear and when; refuses to potty train; has a pretty large vocabulary, including the word “cappuccino,” but doesn’t understand the word “no,” and runs around naked when my head hurts and my body aches and she should have been in bed two hours ago.  I could go on but you get the idea.  Parenting a two-year-old is hard, and I was unprepared for it.

Here is how my friend Jane, a therapist and now stay-at-home mom, described her memories of her twin daughters being two:

Oh, how I remember that period.  It was FUN, exciting, and also challenging for me, as I learned how to allow my girls to learn and grow "on their own.”  It is just such a journey, not just for our children, but for us, parents, also. 

Jane is right about the journey.  While there are the very challenging moments, there are also so many fun and funny moments.  Yesterday during a church service a woman quietly complimented Leilani on her dress.  “You like my panties?” Leilani’s voice boomed.  Everybody stopped…and luckily, laughed.  Like I said, babies are the ultimate icebreakers, and so, I now know, are toddlers.

And it is exciting.  Leilani is discovering who she really is.  She delights in the world around her.  She can walk around in my shoes for an hour.  She’ll say something charming that catches me off guard but makes me feel like a million bucks, such as, “I like your nose!”  She runs up and hugs me from behind when I least expect it.  She has quite an imagination, and it seems we are always “off to see the Wizard” (or the “Lizard,” as she prefers to call him) and “looking for Oz.”  She’s even asked me, inspired by the Cowardly Lion’s request, “Can I get you some courage?  Do you need some courage?”

And the answer is, yes.  I need all the courage I can get, to face each day bravely, and with infinite patience.   And I need courage to face the reality that time is passing more quickly than I want it to, and Leilani is growing into a little girl before my eyes.

And I need to remember the lady’s sage advice.  I don’t want those little moments to get lost in the unpredictability of my life.  There is a lot to enjoy, and to treasure.  When the “Terrible Twos” aren’t terrible, they really are wonderful.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Why we need the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)

I have a feeling I’m a lone voice in the wilderness on this, but I believe that we need SOPA, or some incarnation of it, to be made into law.  The public has panicked as Wikipedia and Craigslist have gone dark, and a frenzied battle cry has arisen that this would mean the death of the Internet as we know it.  But nobody wants to kill the Internet.  With the explosive backlash this legislation produced, I feel that we’ve lost sight of the original intention of the bill, and why it’s been introduced in the first place.
I’ve read some of the bill and researched it, and I understand the concern about it being a case of government overreaching and that the ambiguity in some parts could create some difficult situations.  But the law wasn’t invented to curtail free speech, or even to threaten the thousands of blogs, this one included, but rather to do something about the out-of-control piracy of films and other copyrighted products, which really does need to be reigned in or the film and TV industry as we know it will collapse.  Congress isn't interested in the Youtube clip of your dog singing "Happy Birthday."  It's about more serious offenses, the free availability of films still in theaters, for instance.
Why should someone pay to see Avatar when they can download it off the Internet for free, hook up their computer to their flat screen, and have an amazing viewing experience?  Some people don’t like to pay for this kind of entertainment, but it’s wrong.  Yes, Avatar made huge amounts of money at the box office, but it has also lost huge amounts of money that it rightly should have made due to piracy, which then in turn could have been used to finance other worthy projects and pay the talented people who make them happen.  
Audiences want this caliber of filmmaking, but it comes with a price.  Films need to make money if they are going to get made, and piracy is taking a terrific bite out of movie profits.  Studios and other companies have financed these films as a money-making endeavors.  They need to make payroll just like every other business.  What’s happening is that people are getting laid off -- they are struggling and hurting like so many in this economy -- and piracy has a big chair at the table of blame.
Global piracy is out of control, and we clearly need a law with some teeth in it or prosecution will be ineffectual.  Even if SOPA passed the House and another version the Senate, it would still have to go into committee, and some of the ambiguity and other problematic aspects would probably be ironed out. 
We have to recognize piracy as a big contributor to the fact that Hollywood is in a world of hurt right now.  More people every month are being asked to clean out their desks, and the technicians and talent are not getting hired and wonder if they’ll be able to make ends meet.
Maybe you don’t feel too sorry for those in Hollywood, because you’re used to seeing Hollywood celebrities living the high life, but I’m talking about the office assistants, the electricians, the special effects post-production artists, the every day people who have families to support, and who are finding that work is getting much harder to come by.  Maybe you’ve noticed that fewer films are getting made, and that those film tend to be big budget action films or big budget kids’ films.  I enjoy those immensely myself, but there’s not much being produced in between.  Hollywood has come to grips with the fact that they need a box office winner, a guaranteed money maker just to break even in many cases.
Some of the layoffs in Hollywood probably have been purely in the interest of the bottom line, but I think in many cases the companies just can’t afford to keep their staff on.  DVD sales have absolutely tanked, and I really think in part piracy is to blame.  Piracy is everywhere.  I once was at a car wash in LA where I walked into the waiting area, and I suddenly felt like I was at Blockbuster.  Pirated films, including DVD copies of the movies currently in the theater, lined the walls and were being snapped up like hot cakes.  As a filmmaker myself, and having so many in my circle of loved ones dependent upon the entertainment industry to make a living, I was disturbed by this to say the least. 
I just feel that artists deserve to be compensated properly for their amazing work, so that we can all continue to enjoy that work in the future, and so that the good people who make it all happen can continue making a living doing what they do best: entertaining us.  

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sunny days go dark on Palestinian "Sesame Street"

They say never to talk about religion or politics, and usually they are easy to avoid when having discussions about children’s programming.  But not anymore.  The funding for Palestinian Sesame Street, called Shara’a Simsim, has recently been cut by Congress in retaliation for the country’s bid to join the UN.  Haneen, a big orange puppet, and Kareem the big green rooster, will not be entertaining and educating Palestinian children, and have been sent to New York for repairs in the meantime.  The shows writers and producers are biding their time, surfing the internet and working on a project to develop jigsaw puzzles as the show has gone into reruns.
Ordinarily I might not dare to set foot in the political minefield that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  I sympathize with the ordinary citizens in both places who just want to live in peace and have a better life, and there have been things I’ve strongly disagreed with coming from the leadership of both sides.  I condemn the killing of innocents.

But the priceless life lessons that Sesame Street provides -- teaching tolerance, kindness, valuing diversity, and educational lessons ranging from simple to sophisticated -- should be available to children regardless of the political system they live under. With the decades of turmoil the region has experienced, the message of Sesame Street needs to be heard.
I understand those who might question why the U.S. government needs to fund Sesame Street abroad at all when there have been so many devastating budget cuts already here at home, but the money was already allocated.  In addition, Sesame Street and its many global incarnations are financed in part by the purchases of merchandise.  It’s clearly stated on each Sesame Street product, and parents make the purchases knowing that their money will go to fund all of these various productions around the world.  I’m not certain how this money is allocated, but I will try to find out and report back in this blog.
In the meantime, the Israeli Sesame Street, Shalom Sesame, will go on with the show.
Here’s hoping that Shara’a Simsim will be up and running again soon, and that Elmo will negotiate peace in the Middle East.

"The Artist": The hope and heartbreak of Hollywood dreams

Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo star in The Artist

Hollywood is notoriously fickle.  One day an artist is the toast of the town, and the next, forgotten like yesterday’s news.  Shirley Temple was a case in point.  When she grew up and was no longer seen as the adorable, dimple-cheeked curly top and box office winner, the studio quickly took down her star and showed her the door.  Or Veronica Lake, the famous sexy star of Hollywood’s Golden Age, who quickly faded into obscurity when she was deemed as no longer “hot,” and was discovered years later waitressing in Mexico.  
And then there were those actors who were huge stars in the era of silent film who just never managed to make the transition to talkies.  And that brings us to The Artist.  The introduction of sound revolutionized movies, but the established stars were often unsuited to the new medium, either because they had terrible speaking voices or because, as with George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), the main character of The Artist, the public had grown tired of the same old faces after decades.
The most singular thing about The Artist, which was awarded the Golden Globe for Best Comedy Picture on Sunday, is that it is itself a silent film.  The film has a lilting score from beginning to end, but, except for a few chosen sound effects and a brief utterance of spoken words, there is no traditional dialogue.  Instead, as in the movies of the glorious silent era, the actors are shown improvising with their lips moving, with the occasional placard inserted to explain what the characters are saying.  And this, rather than being a deterrent, is actually a reason to see the film, not only for its technical accomplishment of replicating the films of a bygone era so beautifully, but for the charm it lends the story.  We fall in love with these characters and are transported to the world of the 1920s and early 1930s in lush black and white.
Talkies ushered in a new generation of starlets and leading men, and this transition is beautifully portrayed in The Artist with the character of Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), a bit player discovered by Valentin who rises to stardom.  Meanwhile, George Valentin’s career sinks, a metaphor underscored when an explorer he portrays in a self-financed B-grade film meets his untimely end in quick sand. 

This film is delightful, touching, heartbreaking, and at times dark.  It is well worth seeing, if only for the viewer to experience being transported so convincingly to another time and place.  Like Midnight in Paris, the movie immerses the viewer in the world of the 1920s, and in the film’s lighter moments you might even find yourself never wanting to leave.  The film does have a dark side, and the Golden Globes’ designation of it as a comedy is a bit misleading.  The tone is not as consistently light as Midnight in Paris, and in its saddest moments the film is heartbreaking.  On the other hand, Peppy’s pep is present throughout to balance the film and lift Valentin’s spirit and ours. 
Sound films are portrayed, but how they sounded is left to the imagination, a risky but in the end very effective device.  There are some beautiful performances, both by the leading actors and by the supporting ones.  You’ll enjoy appearances by John Goodman (of Roseanne fame) as the studio head, and James Cromwell (best known as the farmer in Babe) as Valentin’s dedicated chauffeur, whose devoted friendship with Valentin is especially touching.  
The Artist is the most highly original film of 2011.  If you love film as an art form, you’ll love this movie.

Reel Mama’s rating: Appropriate for ages 13 and up. It has a sophisticated theme and may take some effort on the part of young teens to get into it, but if they love culture I think they will appreciate its original presentation and nostalgic themes, and I think they’ll find themselves getting drawn into the charm of the story.  Keep in mind that the film does get very dark at times (Valentin makes a disturbing attempt on his own life).
Two classic films to enjoy with the theme of films transitioning to talkies and the repercussions are Singin’ in the Rain and Sunset Boulevard. Check them out!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Housewives taking over the world!

Apparently I pose a security threat to Facebook.  I was shut out of my account for days 2 weeks ago.  They told me that my computer had a virus, and that I wouldn’t be able to use my account until further notice.  I took the computer to the Apple store to see a Mac Genius (yes, GENIUS!) who informed me that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my computer.  I was puzzled, but decided to let it go.  More or less.  
Until Friday: I created a new Facebook page for this blog, and was informed that the page had already been flagged as spam.  They gave me the option to report it/defend myself if I felt it was in error, which of course I did.  But how could my page already be flagged as spam?
I realize I’m probably playing with fire by even writing this blog.  Nobody wants to get Big Brother P.O.’d, after all.  (And I mean “Big Brother” in the kindest possible way, as in, “the all-knowing, all-seeing older sibling” way.) I am just gently suggesting that Facebook take a second look at their “spam” producers.  Grannies who knit, porcelain nick nack collectors, and nuns are probably among them, along with countless others who don’t deserve to be on that list.  As a lifetime Girl Scout member, animal shelter volunteer, and now stay-at-home mom, how exactly do I pose a threat? I just feel I deserve some kind of explanation.
I think they’re afraid that housewives are taking over the world.  And they’re right, we are.  We have our own reality shows, after all, and our cat fights and plastic surgery debacles are reaching global proportions (last I heard, “Real Housewives” has been syndicated worldwide).  Former stay-at-home moms have been elected to Congress and have come close to the White House.  Breast-feeding moms have been staging sit-ins at Target with their eye on taking over corporate America.
Taking over the world is great, and it is near the top of my to-do list, but I think what’s more important is making the world a better place.  There is more strength, and it makes a more powerful statement, to make a positive impact on our world.  I give Facebook credit for making it easier for us to do just that, for instance, by providing a new platform to connect with charitable organizations we care about, to renew and strengthen friendships, and to help people realize their dreams by enabling them to spread the word about their endeavors.
I like to make a difference in small ways, like learning the postman’s name and saying hi to him every day.  Smiling at people.  Keeping my cool with the lady with the “practice random acts of kindness” bumper sticker talking on her cell phone who ran me off the road last weeks.  Donating a little time or money to a cause I care about.
I’m not a spammer, but I do love to shake things up.  Maybe I will take over the world...someday.  Today snack mom; tomorrow, the White House!

Monday, January 16, 2012

"Beauty and the Beast" comes alive in glorious 3-D

Perhaps you recall when Beauty and the Beast was originally released in 1991.  At the time, the film was praised for its stunning animation, along with its moving story and catchy songs, which elevated it far above the run-of-the-mill kid’s film.
At the time no “Best Animated Picture” category existed at the Oscars, and so the fact that it was up until that time the only animated film ever nominated for “Best Picture” is a testament to its excellence. After 20 years, the film deserves another look, and Disney has given it just that with a marvelous release in 3-D. 

Just as Belle observes that “everything is alive” in the enchanted castle, so the film comes to life in this new rendition, and it deserves to be seen on the big screen.  The story is a sweeping depiction of the classic fairy tale.  A young provincial French girl, Belle, dreams of adventure in “the great wide somewhere.”  Her father, a kooky inventor, loads his latest creation onto his cart to show it off at the inventors' fair, but on the way gets lost in the dark woods.  He comes upon the castle, where lives a hideous beast, a handsome prince under a dark spell.  The beast must find true love and be loved in return for the spell to be broken.  The beast, furious when he learns that Belle’s father has intruded, takes him prisoner in the castle.  Belle searches for her father and discovers him there.  She meets the beast, who agrees to release her father if Belle will stay.  But how can the beast convince Belle to love him?
The song “Belle,” sung by the heroine and the townspeople, bursts off the screen in 3-D during the animated crowd scenes.  The film’s remarkable details are much more striking in this version, whether it’s the looming trees of the haunted woods surrounding the castle, or the impressive reveal of the beast’s frightful appearance to Belle.
The humorous touches of the castle’s talking nicknacks and furniture steal the show. Lumière, the oh-so-French Maurice Chevalier-inspired candelabra, singing “Be Our Guest” against a backdrop of spinning china plates and spoons diving into a punchbowl, Esther Williams-style, makes the 3-D version well worth the price of admission, even if you’ve seen it before.  The boorish Gaston, who fails in his attempts to woo Belle, is also hilarious.
The film obviously cast a spell over the audience of children and their mothers who filled the theater during the screening my daughter and I attended, and the songs especially delighted them.  Perhaps your kids have seen the film on video numerous times.  This 3-D film will re-introduce the magic to them, and will make them feel as if they are seeing it for the first time.  

One of the pleasant surprises to me upon revisiting this film was the character of Belle.  As a heroine, she is a lover of books and a non-conformist in the town.  She clearly has a mind of her own, takes the initiative to rescue her father, and shows courage in the face of danger.  She doesn’t fall for the handsome Gaston and instead is capable of not only recognizing but bringing out the inner beauty of the beast.  The Disney princess franchise has its detractors, but it’s well worth examining the films themselves before passing judgement on the princesses as brainless bimbos, because Belle exhibits qualities that are quite admirable.  When the beast shows Belle his library and gives her all the books, her fondest dream has come true.  Belle is quite intent on pursuing higher learning.  
Check out Beauty and the Beast on 3-D this week.  
Reel Mama’s rating:  Appropriate for all ages.  There is a scene involving a ferocious wolf that may be scary for under four, as well as the beast’s temperamental outbursts in the beginning.  The final showdown between the beast and Gaston may be too intense for the youngest viewers.  
Overall, children and adults alike will delight in this film.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Why I want my daughter to be a Girl Scout

I’m not one to brag, but I’ve always been extremely proud of my Girl Scout Gold Award.  The equivalent to the Eagle Scout Award for Boy Scouts, it is the organization’s highest award.  For my Gold Award, I organized a benefit concert for the Humane Society.  I hired the bands, secured the location, advertised, and in the end raised almost $500 for a cause I cared deeply about and still do.  Through that experience I learned about philanthropy and gained professional and organizational skills that I’ve carried with me my entire life.  
Now I’m a mom, and as a lifetime member of the Girl Scouts, I can’t wait for my daughter to gain life lessons as a Girl Scout, and I can’t wait to become a troop leader to mentor girls and help them benefit from the organization as much as I did.
That’s why I’m deeply saddened over how the Girl Scouts has become a political battleground, and people feel they need to choose sides based on the Girl Scout’s policy to accept transgender children in certain circumstances.  Just as the Boy Scouts have become mired in politics, and it has wreaked havoc on the organization, now the Girl Scouts has become a hotbed of divisive politics.  Those who agree with the Girl Scout’s policy have called for supporters to buy Girl Scout cookies in bulk, while those who disagree with it have gone as far as disbanding their troops, and in that case the ones who lose out are the girls.
The debate revolves around a Colorado troop that has decided to admit a 7-year-old boy who identifies as a girl.  The Girl Scouts has stated that they will admit transgendered children on a case-by-case basis.  A Girl Scout named Taylor, reportedly with the support of an organization called The Honest Girl Scouts, created a video to protest the Girl Scout’s decision and policy, arguing that the admission of the boy threatens her safety and that of her peers.  Perhaps one of the concerns is how certain situations might be handled if a transgender child is present, such as camping trips.  My argument, based on personal experience and observation, is that many Girl Scout troops, especially the urban ones, are moving away from camping trips and focusing more on professional development.  The troops in question can choose activities where all the children can feel comfortable, and no one will feel excluded, such as Girl Scout cookie drives, arts and crafts activities, organizing community benefits, and more.  
If a parent has an issue with this policy, I would argue that it comes up so rarely, that it’s hardly worth depriving your daughter of the Girl Scout experience over it.  Certainly it’s a heartbreak, and a real loss for the girls, if a troop is disbanded over it.  On top of that, at the heart of the issue is really one of tolerance.  In today’s society where bullying and cruelty in school are such an issue, the policy is really at the heart of what the Girl Scouts stands for: teaching kindness and acceptance.  Consider the difficult struggle of the parents of the transgender child.  Doubtlessly out of unconditional love for their child, these parents have allowed their child to identify himself as a girl.  Consider the bullying that this child possibly endures, and that the troop may be the one place where she feels accepted.  This 7-year-old child is a threat to no one, and children like her are often hurting inside, frustrated, and confused.  
If a Christian value system is used as an argument for disbanding a troop because of the Girl Scout’s policy, consider that Christ himself made it his personal mission in life to accept society’s most outcast.  He healed these people and showed them the milk of human kindness.  He made them his own, and I think he identified the most with them.  
If you have a problem with the Girl Scout’s policy, consider the incredible benefits that the Girl Scouts can provide for your daughter that will last a lifetime.  This organization will ennoble her heart, teach her incredible values and skills, allow her to form friendships and explore her interests, so that she can become all that she can be.  I know that all I learned through my wonderful experience with this organization helped me to be a better friend, daughter, wife, sister, mother, and human being.  No girl should miss out!  

I welcome your comments and questions below.

Friday, January 13, 2012

It's a Family Fun Night Giveaway - Jumanji Style Adventures Ahead!

Family Fun Night Jumanji Movie and Book Giveaway This is a Family fun night giveaway filled with adventure for your family - a Jumanji DVD or Blu-Ray and an AUTOGRAPHED copy of the award-winning book! Mama Luvs Books, and several other amazing bloggers have worked together to bring you this giveaway, and we've put together not only a DVD, Blu-Ray Combo, and not only an AUTOGRAPHED copy of the award-winning Jumanji book, but also a $15 Amazon gift card just for you to personalize your family night with! This week's Family Fun Night Giveaway will score you an amazing book and movie set that your family can enjoy for years to come, but to win you have to work through your own adventure of sorts! Before you set off on your journey through the Rafflecopter waters of Destruction (cool name, right?), read a little more about just what you will receive if you survive the journey and are chosen as the victor! First, let's introduce a silent member of this adventure team, without him none of this would be possible! Author Chris Van Allsburg very generously donated an autographed copy of his book for one of you lucky folks to win! Feel free to like his Facebook Page in the RaffleCopter below to show your thanks. You can also check out the author's amazingly interactive site, or check out any one of his other award-winning books, like The Polar Express and Zathura. He's also a talented artist and sculptor, with his art winning awards and honors as well.

The Amazing and Terrifying Movie of Suspense ... Jumanji!

This is a rated PG movie filled with action and suspense, and it WILL terrify and enthrall you with the wonders of this amazing story!

Jumanji DVD & Blu-Ray Special Features

          • Ancient Diversions
          • Ancient Diversions: Severed Finger
          • Secret & Riddles Game
          • The Extreme Book of Nature
          • Jumanji Jungle Adventure: Virtual Board Game
          • Special Effects Commentary
          • Making Jumanji: The Realm of Imagination
          • Lions and Monkeys and Pods... Oh-My!
          • Production Design: Bringing Down the House
          • Storyboard Comparisons

Description of Jumanji:

From the description: "Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst and Bonnie Hunt star in this phenomenal adaptation of the award-winning children's book. When young Alan Parrish discovers a mysterious board game, he doesn't realize its unimaginable powers, until he is magically transported before the startled eyes of his friend, Sarah, into the untamed jungles of Jumanji! There he remains for 26 years until he is freed from the game's spell by two unsuspecting children. Now a grown man, Alan (Williams) reunites with Sarah (Hunt) and together with Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter (Bradley Pierce) tries to outwit the game's powerful forces in this imaginative adventure that combines breathtaking special effects with an enchanting mixture of comedy, magic and thrills."

Go on an Adventure in Your Mind with Jumanji

This award-winning book is a classic adventure thriller that will delight the readers in your house, young and old. And as an amazing bonus, the author, Chris Van Allsburg, has sent us an autographed copy to give to one of our amazingly brave and enlightened adventurers! What an amazing opportunity to have something even more amazing to treasure, along with an amazing story! From the description of the book: "A 30th anniversary gift edition to celebrate the magic of Jumanji! Thirty years ago, Peter and Judy first found the game—Jumanji—with the instructions that once the game is started, it must be finished or it will go on forever—and thirty years ago, with this same wonderment, readers found Jumanji, too. Since its original publication, Jumanji has been honored with many awards, including the Caldecott Medal, and in 1996, the surreal story was adapted to fit the big screen. This special anniversary edition of Jumanji contains a CD of the renowned actor Robin Williams reading the timeless tale.

Are you Ready to Begin your adventure to Score Jumanji?

It's not that hard, and you will probably survive it ... simply follow at least all the mandatory entries in the Rafflecopter below. And if you are a brave little adventurer ... you can complete extra entries to make your odds of survival (and winning!) even greater! Are you ready? Roll the dice ... er ... enter the Rafflecopter! And good luck!   a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, January 12, 2012

My picky eater loves stinky cheeses and octopus

I’ve almost been speechless today, not just because I have laryngitis but because my daughter is a lover of stinky cheese.  On top of a salad (yes!)  We’re talking feta, blue cheese, the ones that make the fridge smell funny.  Not long ago I had a post about how Leilani wouldn’t eat her veggies.  But she will eat her Vieux Boulogne.  This I’ve discovered is the stinkiest cheese in the world, so much so that the French have outlawed its transport on all buses, trains, and subways.  And I have a sneaking suspicion that Leilani would love it.
And here’s another shocker: my daughter also loves to chow down on octopus.  I discovered this quite by happenstance on a culinary adventure with our good friend John, an expert on Asian cuisine, particularly if it’s territory not often explored by American tastebuds.  We went to a Korean restaurant that served only the hotpot, a bubbling cauldron in which your meal is cooked at the table, served with countless exotic side dishes, kimchi being the most mainstream.
The octopus was smeared with a spicy Korean red sauce, and there was nothing I could do to keep my daughter’s little fingers from gripping those chewy, somewhat gelatinous cubes and cramming them into her mouth.  She almost forgot to chew.  It was as if she hadn’t eaten for a month, and to us it had felt like she hadn’t.  She refuses peanut butter, but she’ll eat the chili-spiked broth our meal was cooked in with a spoon?  She ate dried seaweed and hot cucumbers.  What child does this?  Chicken nuggets and mac ‘n cheese aren’t going to cut it for my little culinary thrill seeker. 
I was stunned to learn that the battle over Leilani’s picky eating, or at least the fight to convince her to chew and swallow, was over.  My jaw is still on the floor.  We’ll be having Korean every night from now on.  
But I’m still puzzling over how to work in the blue cheese dressing.  Oh well, it kind of goes with everything...right?