Saturday, December 31, 2016

Favorite Show Tunes

I seem to be in a mood for favorites this year so I might as well continue that in my last post. The following, in no particular order, are my favorite showtunes of all time.

1. Edelweiss- The Sound of Music
This is the first real musical I was in and the audition song I sang was Edelweiss. It's a beautifully sweet time that captures in a nutshell the love of home that the movie spells out.

2. Washington on your Side- Hamilton
What a rocking song. There is no song I'd rather sing in the car with friends than this one. Listen to it and you'll feel he same.

3. This is Not Over Yet- Parade
This song excitedly and adorably shows what a drug hope can be when all seemed previously lost. Pure happiness.

4. To Life (La Chaim)- The Fiddler on the Roof
Similar concept to This is Not Over Yet- life is worth living because it can surprise you in wondrous ways. Also, I love the moment where the Jews dance with the Russians and their music and dance transcends the fact that they're enemies.

5. You Matter to Me- Waitress
A simple song with a simple message in a seemingly hectic world. Probably my favorite love song/showtune.

6. Prepare Ye- Godspell
To me, this song captures what Christianity is supposed to be about: people are lost with their lives and then they hear a horn announcing the coming of their savior who will give them purpose. Also, just a fun song.

7. Epiphany- Sweeney Todd
A cool turning point in a story and a deliciously harrowing song I'm dying to sing in a part I'm dying to play. 

8. Stars- Les Miserables
I love this song so much. It's a sad but beautiful song, a man questions his entire morality and place in the world. 

9. No More- Into the Woods
This song is about wanting to do away with all the crap the world throws at us and just get on with our lives; it's a concept relatable to all.

10. Heart and Music- A New Brain
Anyone whoever has had a scary disease of any kind could do themselves a favor by listening to this song. Also the fear of not accomplishing anything to leave behind before death is really sad and real.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Climate Change - No Question

Today is my last day to write for Holidailies 2016 and I immediately know what I want to write about: Climate Change.  Why you ask?  It is simple; today we personally witnessed yet another example of the effects of the Earth heating up.  Over the last 5-10 years, my family has been taking our own private poll as we travel the globe.  We ask the people who are out in nature absolutely *every* day what changes, if any, they have observed. It is important to note that these naturalists and guides have no political stake in the game nor are they looking to make any great fortune; they are only interested in and appreciate nature. 

Back to today. Today we were hiking on a glacier in Iceland. Our guide explained how the glacier is a dynamic entity that moves and changes over time.  However, he then pointed to a boulder 300 yards away.  There, he said, is where the glacier used to begin and in fact was last there in 2008.  It had receded 300 yards in 8 years! 


Here is another example for you: there is a lovely video presentation done at the base of the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska.  After the video, the screen is raised and curtains open for a dramatic finish to see....nothing.  In the time it took to build this theater, the glacier had receded off to the far right.  These are professional park rangers - they know their environment. Nonetheless, they obviously didn't have the ability to factor into their location the dramatic change that would take place in nature.  


The next time you visit Rocky Mountain National Park, ask the folks there where the little mountain squirrels are.  They will tell you the little guys are dying off because they are struggling to live at a different altitude on the mountain to cope with the changing temperatures.   


And if you find yourself sometime in Costa Rica, ask the hiking guides if they have noticed any changes.  They will tell you they no longer need to wear gloves on any of their high altitude treks.  Out there every day, they see the changes.
Not sure what more proof you need.  Open your eyes and your ears: Climate Change is real. Here's to a new year where we recognize the part we play in this change and commit to doing something about it!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Weather Or Not

I’m fortunate to have been able to travel pretty regularly with my family.  We are very lucky.  Today as we got to Reykjavik and were met with a cold and windy rain, it made me think about how resilient our kids have become when it comes to the weather. 

After checking into our hotel and a few hours to nap and adjust to the time, we all geared up with coats, hats, scarves, etc. and set out to explore the city.  It didn’t rain all the time but it still was off and on.  Not ideal circumstances when you want to walk around but it really didn’t slow us down much.

In our various travels over the years, we have experienced lots of different weather.  In Alaska, we experienced cold and wind but still visited glaciers and went whale watching.  In Vail we skied during a very heavy snow.  We hiked the Na Pali coast in Kauai in a heavy downpour.  In Costa Rica we experienced heat and humidity so extreme that literally the only way you might feel cool all day was by jumping in a pool or going in the ocean.  It was so humid that if you left your suitcase open, your close would get damp from all of the moisture in the air.  We toured Spain last summer in 100+ degree heat and bicycled through Florence and Tuscany in temperatures that neared 105 degrees (that was a bit uncomfortable, even for us).

I would imagine that most families would have at least one weak link – that one family member who would reject the less than hospitable weather conditions and be resistant to continuing with planned activities until the conditions improved.  Luckily, we’ve raised our kids to be tough and we don’t have a single weak link.  They know that with the right layers and gear, they can feel pretty impervious to any sort of adverse weather and continue enjoying whatever adventure we were on at the time.


Looking forward to many more adventures with my road warriors.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Our Top 10 Vacations in the Last 5 Years (My Opinion)


1. Africa
2. Norway
3. Hawaii '16
4. Australia
5. Italy
6. Spain
7. London
8. Hawaii '14
9. Disney World '14
10. Panama

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Time Travel With A Twist

If you could go back in history or forward into the future, where would you go?  And what would you bring?

This is a question I recently saw printed in a magazine. I would absolutely prefer going back in time rather than into the future.  Let’s face it, nobody ever likes the future because it is different from the present.  Couple that with knowing when everybody you love (and you) dies, yeah -- I don’t need to know that.  So, it’s back to the past for me. More specifically, I think it would be cool to go back to the time when my parents were little.  It would be interesting to see first-hand what they were like when they were kids, as well as get to see the relatives up a few generations that we only know from pictures.

A follow-up question was What historic discovery would you most like to witness firsthand?  Nothing immediately came to mind for me – although I am sure there are many that would be cool.  Of course, I googled it for ideas and people seem to fall solidly into two camps with this: either they want to witness anything Biblical or an important juncture of a battle/war.  So much for faith and so much for positivity!  But then I came up with my own historical event: I would like to land right before the dinosaurs became extinct.  This way, I could see what nature was like with them and then I would find out what was the beginning of the end for them.  Was it one cataclysmic event or change in global temperature like we are seeing now or something else entirely?  I guess mine isn’t so positive either…

And perhaps my favorite follow-up question was If you were about to be transported to a random point in time, what would you bring? Here, a poll yielded some interesting answers.  41% of those answered said a Bible (perhaps so they would have a reference in the event that they got to witness one of those historical events?).  31% said antibiotics.  That one made me chuckle.  Are they thinking that they would share them?  Or just hoard them in case they picked up God-knows-what disease of yore.  I envision an entire medicine cabinet being hauled around just in case!  21% said a gun.  Although I am not a gun-toter in my present life, I have to admit that one might prove useful. And perhaps most interestingly, 3% of those polled said they would bring condoms.  I guess that might help cut down on the need for carrying around all those antibiotics…. As I mentioned, I like the idea of the gun, but if I could, I think I would bring my smartphone.  Now indulge me here: since we are talking about time-travel to begin with, I feel like I can have my cellphone and wifi so I can look things up as I encounter them – and of course, take pictures.


Where would you travel to and why?  And what would you bring?  Very insightful questions with very telling answers, indeed!

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Interfaith Home


I am half Jewish and half Catholic. It sounds kinda confusing; how can you be half one religion and half another? It's not like we're talking about race. But that's the way I was raised and that's how I identify. 

For a long time, that wasn't an issue, and it still isn't. But as I've gotten older, certain individuals have decided that this simply cannot be. The logic I am met with occasionally these days is that if I'm both, they cancel each other out and I'm neither. More often, some say that because my father is the Jewish parent (and not my mother), I am not Jewish, because Judaism usually says that the children take the faith of the mother. I think that this, in a word, is bullshit. 

And here's why! Religion, unlike race, sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation, is a choice. Meaning, I could feasibly practice any faith that made me happy. Hell, I could be a Muslim if I decided it was good for me, regardless of parentage. So what does it matter if I say I practice two?

Orthodox Jews don't perceive reform Jews as even being Jewish at all, yet they're still Jewish. They each practice the religion in the ways they see fit, even though it's the same religion. Same here. 

I don't blame anyone for being confused by the concept. It's definitely paradoxical, especially if you have no prior experience to it. My best advice (to myself and anyone else) is just to not think too hard about it. Religions change all the time. They're flexible. As it stands, many are only religious when it is convenient to them. Therefore, if we only listen to select rules, there really are no rules.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Bucket List

Merry Christmas to all! 
As some of you know, yesterday was my 50th birthday.  This got me thinking about all the people who have Bucket Lists for their lives.  The truth is, I’ve never really had a Bucket List like that.  I guess I’ve always just made it a point to do whatever it is I want to do.

But one thing I do have is a Christmas Bucket List.  These are things I find myself wanting to do year after year during the holiday season but just never seem to be able to make time to do them.  So, in the spirit of Bucket Lists and vision boards and the like, herewith I share with you my list.  Who knows, maybe by putting it out there in the echo chamber, they will happen.

Handel’s Messiah group sing:  I have always wanted to do this.  In high school, we sang this piece every year for the holiday concert.  How cool would it be to sing Messiah with hundreds of other people?  If that isn’t spirit-uplifting, I don’t know what is!  A quick search yielded these sing-alongs that looked interesting: http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/103396-top-five-holiday-sing-alongs/

Dyker Heights Christmas Lights: This tour has gotten on my radar only recently and now I can’t get it out of my head.  The folks in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn go all out with amazing light displays, pumping out Christmas music and so forth.  Sounds like a really fun event with lots of energy!  Here is what I am talking about just to give you an idea: https://www.timeout.com/newyork/things-to-do/dyker-heights-christmas-lights

Christmas at The Cloisters: The Cloisters is a relatively lesser known museum up at the tip of Manhattan. (It is actually a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)  It is chock-full of medieval architecture and art, compliments of JD Rockefeller.  At Christmastime, they decorate the museum with very traditional decorations.  I have actually been there at this time of year, but it was a long time ago and never with the children.  Want to go again!  More details: http://www.atasteoftravelblog.com/the-cloisters/

My list is somewhat short, but yet I still haven’t been able to knock stuff off of it!  If you have anything you have on your Christmas Bucket List that you think I should add to my list, please share!  Happy Holidays!


Saturday, December 24, 2016

What's For Christmas Dinner?

Tomorrow is Christmas.  Got me thinking about our big Christmas dinner.  Now before I tell you about ours, I wanted to talk about Christmas dinners generally.

I looked up Christmas dinner in Wikipedia and learned that the “typical” American Christmas dinner is turkey with stuffing and roasted potatoes.  Not sure I buy that.  Since Thanksgiving comes a mere month before Christmas, my informal survey of friends and colleagues suggests that people opt for something other than turkey.

Since Christmas is celebrated across the world, I started wondering what typical Christmas dinners in other countries are like.  Turns out Britain is similar to the U.S. with a leaning toward turkey and all of the fixings, plus a Christmas pudding.  Not sure exactly what that is but it is supposedly very traditional.

An article I found from the British Telegraph described some other typical Christmas meals.  In Poland, people celebrate with a meal called Wigilia or Star Supper that includes traditional foods like borscht and dumplings.  Italians celebrate with something called the Feast of the Seven Fishes that includes such delicacies as fried eel, pasta, meat dishes and a sausage made with pig intestines.  Sounds delish, no?  Germans favor a meal of roast goose and red cabbage and it is considered bad luck not to eat well on Christmas dinner.  In Iceland, it is common to dine on puffin or roasted reindeer for Christmas dinner.  Slovakia’s selections are a bit more unusual with a thick sauerkraut soup and fried carp being the typical menu.

According to the Telegraph article, in Japan where a much smaller percentage of the population celebrates Christmas, Kentucky Fried Chicken is a very popular Christmas meal.  Egyptians apparently favor a lamb stew with rice, bread and garlic.  Even though it is summer at Christmastime in Australia, the Christmas meal can range from turkey and stuffing to a more summer-like picnic or barbecue.

While our family has tried various menus over the years – from fresh or smoked ham to beef tenderloin – our most common Christmas dinner (including the menu for this year) is Sauerbraten.  If you’ve never had it, I strongly recommend you try it some time.  It is a beef roast of pickled meat in a thick brown gravy and generally served with potatoes or dumplings.  May not sound too fancy but done correctly, it is absolutely mouth-watering.  It’s the kind of meal we dream about all year long.  Guess we can make it anytime we want and don’t have to leave it to Christmas but for some reason we don’t.  Maybe that’s part of what makes it so special at Christmas.


So that’s us.  What about you?  What does your family serve for Christmas dinner?

Friday, December 23, 2016

Last Day Before Break

Everyone's excited,
Chamber choir's singing,
No class work to be done,
So laughter is ringing.

People dressed in red and green,
And blue and yellow too.
Representing the festivity
That's felt inside me and you.

Last minute wrapping
With ribbons and bows,
Staying up till midnight
Just to finish those.

We know what tomorrow brings,
A happy sigh we heave
To know that today is

Christmas Eve-eve.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Best Christmas Songs

So obviously there are a lot out there; some are originals, some have been covered a billion times, but here are my favorite Christmas songs/covers of all time.

White Christmas- Bing Crosby
This one is kind of a given, but it's so incredibly soothing and puts me in the spirit. It also never gets old *cough* all I want for Christmas *cough

12 Days of Christmas- Straight No Chaser
Here is a really fun cover of a song that gets kind of tiring after the first 4 verses. It also implements the tune of Toto's "Africa". Strongly recommend

Do You Hear What I Hear?- Perry Como
Whenever I listen to this song I feel like I can hear snow. Does that make sense? Like the music sounds like magical Christmas snow. This cover is also so joyous so what's not to like?

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear- Aaron Neville
This one really gets to me. Neville just has a really cool voice that works so well with this song and takes it beyond another church song. 

Believe- Josh Groban
My God, does Josh Groban have incredible vibrato. I think the reason I like this one so much is I associate it heavily with The Polar Express (which it comes from) which is an endearing Christmas movie.

Christmas for Cowboys- John Denver
A lot of the time we associate Christmas with cities, especially NYC. This song paints a picture of a peaceful and calm rural Christmas. It's awesome.

Aspenglow- John Denver
Another one that makes me thing of snow. Also just a very soothing, beautiful song 

O' Come O' Come Emmanuel- Enya
Honestly, I'm a total sucker for Enya. But this song of hers in particular makes me want to float away. It completely transports you.

O Holy night- Nat King Cole
A sweet song covered by a sweet voice. Especially when he hits those high notes, they really get your attention. 

Little Drummer Boy- Bing Crosby + David Bowie 
Their contrasting voices go really cool together and make me want to sing this as a duet with people. 


:)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

My Day

I don't know what to write and I've been putting it off all day

Here are six things that happened to me today:

1. I sat through the longest high school concert of my life. Honestly, god bless my parents for sitting through these for the past four years and counting. I mean the concerts are good. Just, long.

2. I wrapped some Christmas presents and continued to disappoint myself in my wrapping abilities. I think it'd be for the best that I just received gifts from now on. That's a good idea.

3. I made a danq panini with chicken and cheddar cheese on brioche bread. So good.

4. I almost hit a dumb kid standing partially in the road dressed in ALL BLACK in the dark. The only thing that saved his dumb life was a shiny green bag he was holding. Dummy.

5. I read a little bit. I put the book under the Christmas tree and used its lights as my reading light. I know, so magical.

6. My friend Peter gave me the idea to write this as my blog so if you think this is dumb it's his fault. 
  

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Gifts


It’s that time of year again.  The “most wonderful time of the year”.  The holidays are upon us and that, of course, means gifts.  Lots of them. 

We give to immediate family, extended family, friends, work colleagues, teachers, tutors, handymen, gardeners, cleaning people and I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting about at the moment.  We use gifts as an expression of our gratitude for being part of our lives throughout the past year.  Although it may sound hokey, I actually enjoy giving gifts. 

Throughout the year, as a culture we tend to give gifts on birthdays, Hanukah, Christmas, Valentines’ Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, graduations, bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings and births.  Makes me wonder why Thanksgiving never ended up a gift-giving holiday.  After all, it’s got the word “giving” right in its name.  Rarely a month goes by when we’re not gifting in some form or another.

Even though there is always a whole lot of giving going on, I try to not limit the gratitude part to the holidays or special occasions.  I am very blessed to have a wonderful family, great friends and so many other quality people in my life.  So I try to make sure they know it year round.  Whether through gifts, kind words or just quality time spent together.  Gifts are for special occasions but gratitude is daily.


Happy Holidays to all and thanks for the special part you play in our lives!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Resolutions Anyone?

Here we are at the end of another year!  Time to look back and assess both our progress and challenges of the old year as well as gear up for the new year.  Time to determine if changes need to be made; top of the list of New Year’s resolutions is usually eat less/exercise more.  Next on the list is to spend less/save more.   And not far behind is to spend more time with family and friends.  If somebody is trying to accomplish all of these things, I guess pretty much their only option would be to hike (not eating, definitely exercising, cost-free and they would have company).  But all of this is for naught because, as you well know, these resolutions end up being dropped right around two weeks into the year.  My personal theory for why this happens is that these goals are not habits so they just fall by the wayside.

This got me to thinking: what if a person approached change-making in the “The Year of…” fashion?  I am talking about those enterprising types who set out to do something every day for one year. (Usually they end up writing a book about it.  If they get really lucky, the book turns itself into a movie or a tv show or an endless string of speaking engagements. I digress…) 

A quick search online yields and endless supply “The Year of….” Projects. Perhaps the most famous one is Julie and Julia which started out as a blog by Julie Powell who vowed to prepare all 524 recipes in Julia Childs' landmark cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Interestingly, Ms. Powell was using this project as a tool to attempt to revitalize her marriage, restore her ambition, and save her soul.   Seeking growth via spiritual nourishment, AJ Jacobs sought to follow the Bible literally – up to and including stoning another person – in The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. This project actually spawned new offshoot projects that others took on like “30 days of living like Leviticus” and The Year of Living Like Jesus. And Mr. Jacobs in fact spent a month doing whatever his wife said to make amends for putting her through so much while he lived biblically.  Gives you something to think about.  

Want an even bigger challenge?  Try creating no garbage for one year.  To see what you are getting yourself into, check out No Impact Man and the Zero Waste Family.  I guess you can “cheat” by burning or composting what you can, but that is only going to get you so far.

Uber-talented television executive producer Shonda Rhymes created her own challenge and wrote about it in Year of Yes How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person.  Ms. Rhymes was spurred on by a comment from her sister “you never say yes to anything”.  So, for an entire year, she said yes to speaking engagements, media appearances, etc.    That must’ve been one busy year!

I have been saving my favorite “The Year of…” challenge for last.  One blogger, Dave, vowed to read one “The Year of” book a week for a year and blog about them.  He has read about people who will abstain from/have sex each day for a year, live like Oprah for a year, disguised herself as a man for a year, behave as a sinner in a religious university, and on and on. 

The question becomes: what does a person learn about themselves and the topic during this journey?  What challenge s/he picks is very telling to begin with.  If s/he sticks with it, also telling.  But the revelations at the end are perhaps the most intriguing.


Well, good luck choosing your New Year’s resolutions.  And here’s to keeping them!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Return of Grand Moff Tarkin

If you don’t know who I’m talking about, tonight’s blog might not mean much to you.  If you haven’t seen the new Star Wars movie “Rogue One” – you could stop reading now but I promise there are no real spoilers in this post.

Grand Moff Tarkin was Darth Vader’s right hand man in the very first Star Wars movie (that’s Episodes IV to those of us who care).  He was in charge of the Death Star, killed the planet Alderaan and did assorted other bad stuff.

If you haven’t seen Rogue One, or even if you did and weren’t paying attention, you might not know that Grand Moff Tarkin is back in Rogue One as a substantial character in the film.  So what, you say?  Characters have appeared in sequels for decades already.  No big deal.

The issue here is that Grand Moff Tarkin was played by actor Peter Cushing – who died in 1994.  That’s right.  22 years after his death, Cushing is back on screen.  Rather than re-cast the part, Director Gareth Edwards, along with the wizards at Industrial Light & Magic, decided to digitally recreate the actor. 

How did they do it?  They hired another actor (British actor Guy Henry) to play the role while the other actors acted around him.  Then the magicians at ILM used footage from the earlier film, as well as Cushing’s other films to digitally replace Guy Henry’s face in Rogue One.  They were remarkably successful.  I think back to movies like The Polar Express where digitally created versions of actors had a phony, creepy quality to them.  In this film, even looking carefully, it’s pretty tough to notice anything that makes you second guess this as anything other than another performance by Peter Cushing in the flesh.

With this capability, can we expect new films from many of our favorite stars from decades ago.  A new movie with Emma Stone and James Dean at the multiplex next summer?  The possibilities are endless.  My fear is that long removed descendants of famous actors may seek to cash in on this new technology in ways that may not be up to the standards held by the actor when he or she was alive.


Luckily, some reading I’ve done today revealed that Peter Cushing’s family was consulted and actively involved in the process that led to the digital recreation of their famous family member.  They gave their consent and had input right down to small, subtle adjustments in Cushing’s appearance.  Given those circumstances and the involvement and care taken by Cushing’s family, I’m cool with him being digitally resurrected for Rogue One.  What did you think?

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Favorite Movies

Anyone who knows me moderately well knows that movies are easily my favorite things on this earth. And so, in no particular order, these are some of my favorite films with brief descriptions of why I love them.

Lord of the Rings
If you're a person who has any sort of liking for the fantasy genre, it's hard not to like LOTR. Not only does it literally define the genre, but it has what every successful film franchise requires: its own unique aesthetic. These films, more than any other, have a special feel to them; they transport you to another world filled with incredible and endearing characters and creatures. 

Field Of Dreams
As a person who has never had any interest in watching sports and only a mild interest in playing them, this one is surprising. But baseball, as a sport and as a bigger fan base and concept, somehow captures an ideal image of patriotism in this film. This quote from James Earl Jones' character captures it neatly: "The one constant through all the years Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again".

The Truman Show
Jim Carrey is a delight and, while he's incredibly silly and funny, he shines and connects strongest when he's playing a more serious role, as he does here. Also the film generally has a really cool concept that is capitalized upon with equally well done characters and writing.

The Avengers
I love superheroes. Plain and simple. And this movie captures the epitome of the excitement and old fashioned adventurism that comes along with them. Also, this film introduced to the world the awesome concept of the cinematic universe, something that sounds so obvious but hasn't been overly done before. I'll never forget what it was like the first time I saw this movie.


Friday, December 16, 2016

Tired

Today I am tired.
It is never the matter of being tired-
I am always tired.
It’s always what level of tired I am.
Some days it’s just barely sleepy.
Others it’s just barely awake.
I wish I could nap.
Instead, I am writing this poem.
My mom is napping.
My brother just finished napping.
My dad is going to nap on the train home.
And I will stay awake,
Whether I like it or not.
I know I’ve already written about being tired,
But it just goes to show exactly how often I am tired.
Which is always.
Enjoy this poem of my sleepy woes,
And then take a nap in my honor

Please.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

My Personal Odyssey (a/k/a Three-peat at Berklee)

Guinny and I squealed as we finally got off the bus. I stretched my limbs and let out my exhaustion and breathed in excitement as we scooped our bags out from under the bus. It was chilly and we had to carry awkward instruments, but it didn’t matter. We were finally at Berklee!
We ran through the hotel like a musical cult, jumping up and down with excitement. We got to a rehearsal room and put our stuff down, surveying the jazz ensemble and John Jay kids. While practicing our performance and watching the other two groups practice, I never said it out loud, but were definitely better than the John Jay kids. We sang in the elevators and danced through the halls until we made it to our room. We walked in and then stopped. Guinny and I looked at each other strangely, and then at our roommates, Dominique and Marilyn.
“What’s that smell?” I asked, because an odorous fog of what smelled like a mix between skunk and burning paper was ruining the air in our room. Guinny’s eyes widened in realization as she exclaimed, “Ew, gross! I think it smells like weed!”  We dumped our bags on the floor and skipped down the hall to go talk to the faculty advisors. Mr. C, the Jazz Ensemble instructor,  came in with Ms. Moore, a guidance counselor. They apologized, asking if any of us had some kind of perfume to get rid of the stink, just as Dominique whipped out a can of aerosol Axe body spray and filled the room with the overpowering smell of boys who don’t know when to stop putting on cologne.
“Well, it’s not the greatest smell, but it’s certainly better than weed stank!” I said, flopping down on the fluffy duvet. The girls shrugged with contempt and proceeded to flop down on their respective beds. I was sinking into the puffy comforter, when Sam, one of my best friends, barged into our room and flopped down on the bed next to us.
“God, that bus ride took so long,” he said, and, staring at the ceiling,  I thought back to that morning.
I rolled over and woke up as I felt a tap on my back. “Grayson, There’s been a two hour delay for school, and I changed your alarm and set it for 9:00,” I heard my dad whisper into my ear.
“But it’s Berklee day. We’ve gotta go to Berklee!” I mumbled as my dad kissed my forehead.
“You’re just going to go a little later. Go back to sleep. I love you and I can’t wait to see you perform.” My dad tiptoed out of my room, and I rolled back over with exhaustion and a bit of disappointment.
I woke up two hours later as my mom burst into my room and turned my light on. As I usually do, I panicked because most of the time when my mom bursts into my room I’ve forgotten to set my alarm and overslept.
My mom said, “There’s a snow day today, so you guys are going to leave at 2:00 now.”
“Aww, but I was so excited to show up at school with our bags and have everyone marvel at us with jealousy,” I joked. My mom laughed and told me to get dressed. I hopped out of bed, excited for the trip ahead, and threw on my “Yay! It’s Berklee Day” outfit. After sitting impatiently, staring blankly at whatever was on the TV for another hour, it was finally time to go to the school. I was practically bouncing in my seat as we made our way to the school. When I got to the school, I unloaded my suitcase and went up to my best friends, Sam, Thomas, and Caleb. Sam and Thomas were in Chamber Choir with me, and Caleb was the assistant of our director, Mrs. Morse. We barreled onto the bus with excitement and then I realized as I sat down that Guinny wasn’t there yet. I texted her asking where she was, and I finally saw her bolting through the school parking lot. She threw her bags under the bus, and ran into her seat just as Caleb was starting to take attendance. As the bus drove out of the parking lot, we sang and cheered.
Most people ended up eating all of their food immediately, and Caleb’s tub of guacamole disappeared within seconds. After that the seniors were talking and laughing in the very back, while the rest of us ended up asleep or listening to music with our earbuds in. Thomas and I watched the beginning of the illegally-recorded video of Heathers the Musical on YouTube, until we gave up trying to share earbuds across the aisle, and so I finished watching it by myself. After 2.5 hours, I fell asleep like Odysseus did when he almost made it to Ithaca, and woke up 2.5 hours later when we pulled into the hotel entrance.
We ran up the escalators singing like crazy people, sang our clearly superior music to the John Jay kids and the Jazz ensemble, and the made our way to our rooms to find that our room smelled like weed.
“God, I am SO excited for tomorrow. We are gonna win this thing!” Sam said. I cheered and then got up on the bed and started jumping.
“This bed is like swallowing my feet whole it’s so squishy!” I said, and Dominique, Guinny, Sam, and Marilyn, seeing my clutzy fun, all jumped up onto the beds. For the next 10 minutes, we were just jumping back and forth between our beds, singing way too loudly and laughing until Ms. Moore stuck her head in the room and told Sam to go back to his room and told us all to go to bed. So, against our better judgements, we got into bed and quietly talked until 1:00 a.m. before falling asleep.
The next morning, we got up and grabbed some Starbucks in our matching Berklee outfits, and then we went to go watch the other competitors. As we were sitting there watching the first group of the day, we all immediately started feeling ecstatic.
Sam leaned over to whisper into my ear, and I knew exactly what he was going to say. “They totally suck!”
“I know.” I said. “If all of the groups are like this, then we are totally going to win!”
We clapped politely anyway during the first group, and then during the second group we also clapped politely, still feeling happy because they only had one actually good person in their group. Unfortunately, the next three groups were pretty good, including last year’s Vocal Jazz I winners. I was very nervous at that point, knowing that after lunch, we would be performing for the judges. I could barely eat anything during lunch, and then we went into the stairwell to do one final rehearsal. Mrs. Morse had been talking about “the Stairwell Moment,” when every year that we’ve won, there’s been this magical, gives-you-chills moment while we were having a final run through of our songs in this stairwell with these amazing acoustics. I almost teared up with excitement when she mimed that she was getting chills will conducting us.
When we finally were up on stage, jittery with excitement and singing our hearts out, I could just feel it. I knew that this was going to be our victory. I didn’t want to jinx it, but I was so proud because I knew we had left our best on that stage.
Hours later, tired and tense from an exhausting day of worrying, we were sitting in the giant Berklee stadium squeezing hands as strong enough to throw Polyphemus’s boulder. Blood coursed through my veins like the River Styx as we sat there for 45 minutes listening to them announce the other awards.
Finally, finally, she announced second place for V2, our category, and it was last year’s V1 winners. At this point we knew because there was no way they had gotten 2nd and we hadn’t placed at all. Amy Baumgarten, a funny and loud senior, started flipping out, and we all shushed as the silence hung in the air.
“And the winners… V2....Edgemont High Sch--” The announcer was cut off by our deafening roar. It was like one of those slow motion moments in movies where someone wins something and everyone just hugs and cries and laughs and screams, just letting out all of our tension. It was one of the best days of my life.


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Space Western

If you’ve been following our blog for some time now (or since yesterday), you’ll notice that we do a lot of “These Christmas songs aren’t Christmas songs!” or “These Christmas movies aren’t Christmas movies” type of stuff. This is going to be another one of those times. Strap in.

Except, this time I’m not talking about Christmas. This semester I took a writing seminar that involved writing about western films. So, naturally, we got into a heated discussion about Star Wars. For the longest time, Star Wars (particularly Episode IV) has been regarded as a “space western”, or just a western. Today, I am here to argue that Stars Wars is not a western. Maybe it’s a space western. First off, let’s figure out what that is. 

Wikipedia says it’s a "subgenre of science fiction which uses the themes and tropes of Westerns within science fiction stories”. Okay, fine. Star Wars definitely has some western tropes: it partially takes place in a desert setting, some of its heroes display “loner” characteristics etc. I think to say that Star Wars implements some western genre elements is totally fair and accurate. And I’ll even go as far as to say that that puts it in the subgenre of space westerns. But I don’t think that makes it a western.

Han and Leia have comedic romantic banter but you don’t hear anyone saying that Star Wars is a space rom com. That’s because it isn’t. It’s a science fiction film with some romantic-comedic elements. Just like how it has western elements. Yet, for some reason, some feel the need to say it’s a western.

Moreover, Luke is definitely not a western hero. And, while there are many supporting characters in Star Wars, he is no doubt the hero or film lead. And for that reason alone, I don’t think it’s accurate to label it a western. Luke is a nice boy who loves his family. A western hero is hard. mean, and independent. That sounds a lot more like Han, but he isn’t the film’s hero. 

In conclusion: Star Wars does indeed have some notable tropes of the western genre. For that reason, it is feasibly a “space western” as it is defined as a subgenre. However, it is not a western. If you think it is, your opinion is stupid and wrong. Simple as that. (jk)

<3



Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Not A Christmas Movie

In her blog last night (http://4callingbirds.blogspot.com/2016/12/the-best-christmas-movies-of-all-time.html), Pat used the following criteria to determine the greatest Christmas movies ever:

(1) It needed to take place during the Christmas season; and

(2) It needed to truly embody the Christmas spirit.

Some of the comments posted last night and this morning suggested some films that met test number 1 (set during the Christmas season) but merited debate over whether they satisfied test number 2. That inspired me to follow up Pat’s blog with a description of some of the most famous, best loved Christmas movies that really aren’t Christmas movies.

Love Actually (2003) – The movie had a great cast and did indeed take place during the Christmas season but it really had nothing to do with Christmas at all. A slew of famous faces (including a young Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead)) shared a range of experiences – all having to do with love and love lost – but Christmas was more the backdrop than an integral part of the plot.

Die Hard (1988) – This Bruce Willis movie came out during the summer for gosh sakes. OK, I’ll give you that it takes place at an office Christmas party but that’s about it for the holiday spirit. Saying this is a Christmas movie is like saying that every movie that every featured a wedding is really a wedding movie.

Lethal Weapon (1987) – The opening tune of this film was Jingle Bell Rock. For some people, that’s all the evidence they need. Case closed. There’s even an action scene in a Christmas tree lot. However, like Die Hard, I’m not sure all the business about mercenaries and drugs quite bring the yuletide spirit.

Gremlins (1984) – The premise of this film is that the main character gets a strange but cuddly little creature as a Christmas gift so I get why many people consider this a Christmas movie. However, after giving the creature water and feeding it after midnight, the whole Christmas decoration adorned town gets overrun and terrorized by these evil, scaly little monsters. The only way I see this in the Christmas movie camp is if I put it in the same category in my mind as the song “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”.

Trading Places (1983) – Great movie. Definitely set at Christmas. There’s a heartwarming ending that brings a rich broker and a poor street hustler together but not sure it makes many people’s Top Christmas Movies lists.

Home Alone (1990) – I’m on the fence about this one. It is set at Christmas time but it is about a young kid, Kevin, who is abandoned by his family in their haste to leave the house for a vacation in Paris. At first he enjoys it but then he has to fight off burglars trying to rob his house on Christmas Eve. It is all played for laughs but just describing the movie made me think Kevin is going to need years of therapy – not just sugar plums and candy canes – to get over his ordeal.

So there you have it. The non-Christmas movie Christmas movies. I’m sure there are other films that you or people you know consider Christmas movies that really aren’t. Did I miss them? If so, please share.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Best Christmas Movies of All Time…

Dare I say this might actually be a more contentious topic than politics or religion?

Like most people, I have very strong feelings on the subject.  And just to clarify, I am considering full-length movies as well as all of those half-hour tv shows including animated and Claymation.

The best Christmas movie, for me, is one that truly embodies the Christmas spirit and takes place during the Christmas season.  If the movie has only one of these qualifications and not the other, it is a non-starter.  Period.  For example, Ghostbusters has a scene during the Christmas holiday, but has absolutely nothing to do with the Christmas spirit. Conversely, one might say that Mr. Holland’s Opus displays a “Christmas” spirit, but has nothing to do with the holiday.  So keep that in mind for later.

I limited myself to ten which took some discipline.  Here they are in chronological order:

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946): Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.  A great movie to watch both as a child and then again as an adult. 

Miracle on 34th Street (1947): Santa and Christmas are put on trial and the Christmas spirit saves the day.  Check, check.

The Bishop’s Wife (1948): A guardian angel, a saved marriage, and trees that decorate themselves.  What more could you ask for?

Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964): Burl Ives is reason enough to put Rudolf on the short list.  Throw in the classic children’s song and an acceptance story and I am all ears.

Frosty the Snowman (1969): Who among us as children did not root for Frosty to make it?

The Year without a Santa Claus (1974): The Heat Miser and the Snow Miser are the BEST.  And my kids love it, too, so that rules out my preference being a generational thing.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000): I realize the animated version came way before the live action version, but Jim Carrey rocks the Grinch part. 

The Polar Express (2004): It seems that everybody wants to make a “Christmas movie” these days – in hopes that they will score that great song that stands the test of time or dvd/download sales year after year.  Polar Express nails it – it has truly classic, beautiful Christmas music and a sweet story that I never grow tired of watching.

Elf (2003): A human man raised as an elf seeking his real father’s acceptance.  Heartwarming and nice to get an elf story for a change.

A Christmas Carol (2009): I know there are so many good versions of this story, so I picked the one with the most current technology.  A story with a message still relevant 173 years after it was written!

Here is the controversial part: I really didn’t love Love Actually.  I know there are a lot of fans out there.  Yes, I guess it meets the criteria, but I just didn’t think it was anything special.  Just another rom com that happens to be set at Christmas-time.

And one more while I am at it: Die Hard is not a Christmas movie, people!  Terrorists in December does not a Christmas classic make!

For fun, I asked my family members what their favorites were.  Both my husband and my son said Polar Express and my daughter said both Polar Express and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  Since these are movies I included as well, I think this gives my list street cred!

So there you have it, my list of Christmas favorites.  What is on your short list?  Are there any on my list that you haven’t seen that you now may look to see?  Are you freaking out about my opinions on Love Actually or Die Hard?  Let me know!  Perhaps I can be persuaded…


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Superpowers: Part 2 - The Power I Actually Have

Just to be clear, I DO NOT ACTUALLY BELIEVE THAT I AM A WITCH.

However, there is significant proof to the contrary, because many a time have I wanted something to happen (or not happen) and it worked out that it didn’t happen for no reason. I’ll give you an example: When the four of us were going to go hiking but I really didn’t want to go, the first trail we went to was closed off, and the second trail was covered in giant puddles, so I managed to get out of it. I obviously didn’t really make it happen, but that kind of thing happens a lot for me.

Just this past week even, I didn’t want my science teacher to be here, and it turned out that her father had some kind of health issue that kept her from coming to class. The same thing happened with my Global teacher this week, but he was out for 3 days, and I don’t even know why yet. It’s a very convenient superpower. My parents call me a “special snowflake,” which is an ironic term because we say I can control things like the weather (i.e. making it rain when I want to sit indoors at a restaurant or whatever).

All in all, being a witch is pretty great.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Rick Santorum's Heckling Emporium

I know this title is dumb but I realized "Santorum" almost rhymes with "Emporium" so here we are. 

At my school, the university Republican organization invited Republican politician Rick Santorum to come and speak. First, a little bit about Rick: he was a senator for a little over a decade, he ran for president in 2012 but lost the party nomination to Mitt, he is anti-LGBT, anti-abortion, a climate change denier, and he proposed an amendment which promoted the teaching of intelligent design. Awesome.

That was sarcasm, I don't think any of those things are awesome. And neither do the vast majority of the students at the highly liberal institution where I go to school. And naturally, as a result, many students were not overly joyous to hear that this guy was coming to their shared home. I had friends who organized silent protests to him and his beliefs, which is totally fine and understandable. I respect that and probably would've been down to participate if I hadn't been in tech for a show (also keeping in mind that it's not every day you get to see a noteworthy American politician speak, regardless of his beliefs- I think it would've been generally interesting in one way or another).

Now, as Rickaroo was up on stage doing his thing, something happened. A smallish handful of students in the audience stood up and started chanting at him. He was speaking and they interrupted him. After they did this for an uncomfortable minute, Rickaroni responded, "Now I suspect these people who stood up walk around campus and talk about tolerance". That was all he needed to say for the audience to erupt in applause. His point was made and the audience agreed with it. As do I.

Again, I'd like to reiterate that I am a thoroughly liberal person who doesn't agree with the actions or beliefs of Rickie. That last part about wanting to teach intelligent design in schools especially makes me wanna bang my head against a wall. That part is real special.

Anyways, free speech is a big thing that came up in this election. That old bastard. So good but also... still pretty good. So the university republicans are all like "We have free speech! So does our mans Rick!" This is true. Both they and their mans Rick have the freedom of speech. So, in response, the university's assorted liberals go "This is true, but this doesn't imply we need to listen to your speech or show up to hear it." This is also pretty much true; no one has an obligation to listen to the thoughts, opinions, or beliefs of anyone else. 

But then there's the aspect of tolerance, as Rick the Climate Change denying dick pointed out. Tolerance implies that you respect others as well as their words and thoughts, even though you by no means have to like them. And the liberal (majority) students at my school definitely preach tolerance. Some do it like it's their jobs. A lot of emphasis is put on giving a voice to people of color, LGBT, and other oppressed communities who have been silenced. And that's totally great. Good for us. Go team. 

But then Rick was heckled. That wasn't so great. First of all, it's, y'know, rude. It makes us look bad. People aren't going to come and speak at our school if they're just going to be interrupted by especially angsty students who won't respect their right to be there. Also, put it into perspective; if Bernie came and spoke at the school and some conservatives stood up while he was talking and started shouting, the entire school would condemn that group. 

Secondly, the man was sharing his voice and a group decided to silence him. A group that, as Rick said, definitely preaches tolerance. Wait, but Rick is anti-LGBT! He's a jerk and doesn't support abortion. He's not tolerant and actively silences the voices of many, so why should we respect his voice?

And there lies the sick irony of tolerance. Sometimes you have to tolerate and accept those who aren't exactly tolerant and accepting. Otherwise, you just have another self-validated version of being intolerant. And then you're no better than Rick.

:)


Friday, December 9, 2016

Superpowers: Part 1 - The Powers I Wish I Had

(Part 2 will be the superpower I “actually” have.)

There are two superpowers that I wish I could have. This first is not really an ability so much as a gift. I wish I could never need sleep. I feel like I could get so much more done if I never had to sleep or feel tired. Of course, Eve says that I would probably end up procrastinating for that much longer, and she’s probably right. But I still think it would be cool.


The other superpower that I would love to have is telekinesis. It is one of the more generic ones, I know, but I think it would be awesome. You could get anything or anyone to do whatever you want. Also, anyone who says the would want to fly is being stupid, because you could just telekines-ify yourself and carry yourself wherever you’d want to go, and that would be the same thing as flying. I feel like it’s one of the strongest “control” powers, and it’s actually pretty good offense even if it doesn't seem like it. It’s not a direct attack power, but having the ability to throw someone through the wall of a building just by thinking about it, or the ability to strangle them with your mind (kinda like the Force) is actually really powerful. I would never be in the situation to need to use it offensively, so I’d probably just use it to bring my phone to my bed from 3 ft away. But hey, we all have our own reasons.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Experience Of A Lifetime

I came across this article the other day [http://elitedaily.com/news/world/people-spend-money-experiences-instead-things-much-happier/983208/?utm_source=thrillist&utm_medium=tr&utm_campaign=p10k80] and knew instantly that it would be the subject of my next blog entry.  No question.

It provided corroboration by learned professionals (including one from Cornell) of a theory that my wife and I have espoused our entire lives.  That is – that you get more value out of investing your money in experiences than in buying “things”.  By making memories, you’ve purchased something that you will carry with you your entire life – long after the new sweater, book, shoes or Blu-ray disc have outlived their use or relevance.

Those people who know us know that we travel as a family often.  Our kids, who are 18 and 15 years old, have visited 26 states, 18 National Parks and 22 countries.  On each of those trips, we always try to cover the most famous sights at a given destination, but also to find the less common experiences that will allow us to relate to our destination on a whole new level.

As a family, we also see a lot of Broadway shows, take hikes, visit museums, take cooking classes, etc.  I can’t think of a birthday or holiday in recent memory where in addition to gifts, we haven’t also given our kids a gift certificate for some sort of upcoming family experience.

Our hope, and the goal of all of this, is that when we and our children are older, we can all reflect on these years as a collection of fun and amazing experiences that we all shared together.  Where we all took the time out of busy lives to live these experiences together.  And another beautiful side effect is that now when we say to our kids, “leave Saturday open, we’re going to do X”, they do so willingly knowing that regardless of what X is, it is bound to be interesting and fun.  We’ve trained them to expect great experiences when we venture out as a family and we’ve delivered on that promise often enough that they are always game to climb aboard the next adventure, whatever it is.

Like most people, we take a lot of photographs of the things we do.  But even without a camera or computer nearby, at any given moment, I can conjure up memories of dozens of great shared experiences with my family.  As MasterCard would say, that alone is “priceless”.