Sunday, December 31, 2017

Reed’s Favorite Movies Of 2017

The end is nigh and boy did I have a great time at the theaters this year. The following are my favorite movies of 2017 (in order of release).

Get Out
Holy Jesus. This was probably one of the best movies I've seen in a while. So much cool sneaky symbolism that wasn't easily spottable but also wasn't patronizing. Had me on the edge of my seat. This is the kind of movie that makes me want to remember what it was like to watch it the first time in theaters.

Spider-Man: Homecoming
As I've written about in past years, I'm a huge fan of Marvel movies. This one was special to me because it stars a kid who was not much older than I was when I fell in love with this genre. His heroes were mine as a kid.

IT
I think this might be my complete favorite of the year. Never has a movie satisfied so many bases for me. It was creepy, funny, wholesome, and terrifying all at the same time.

An utter delight. It really shows when a director tries to make themself laugh instead of trying to make the audience laugh. I've never seen so many high quality special effects go to silly jokes and that was my favorite part. 

We'll see you in 2018

Saturday, December 30, 2017

NYC Four Days In A Row

I’ve gone/am going to be in New York City for the last 4 days of 2017, so I figured I'd write about that.

On Thursday, we went into the city so my brother and I could go to doctors appointments, and then we went to Brooklyn Diner and I got a really good, really big chicken pot pie (perfect for a freezing day). Later, we went to see The Post (because it's in theaters in the city but not in the suburbs yet). That was also REALLY GOOD. I love Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep.

Yesterday we fulfilled one of our Hanukkah presents and went on a tour of the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights. Jeez, those people must have serious electrical bills. After we went to Don't Tell Mama, a piano bar. There was a bartender who easily and flawlessly sang Waving Through a Window from Dear Evan Hanson while casually pouring and mixing drinks, which was very impressive.

Today, my dad won the Kinky Boots ticket lottery, and Im the only one in my family who hadn't seen it yet, so he and I went in to see that, which was really good and very inspiring. Billy Porter was SO GOOD. 'Nuf said.

Tomorrow, we're all going to the city again (I know, we're insane to go in on New Year's Eve, but we got tickets to see Once on This Island, so we're going to go in and see that matinee and gtfo of there before we get stuck there with tourists from all over.

That's what's up! Have a safe and happy New Year's Eve everyone, and I'll see y'all next year!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Rob's Favorite TV Shows

So tonight is my turn to pick up the gauntlet laid down by my family and talk about my favorite TV shows. In no particular order, they are:

SHAMELESS
This is a show I wasn’t expecting to like when it first came out. It’s about a very poor family of six siblings who were basically raised by the eldest sister, Fiona (played by Emmy Rossum) because their mother was not around much (substance abuse and mental health issues) and their irresponsible drunk of a father (played by William H. Macy) can barely keep himself alive let alone care for any of his kids. Each character is different and richly drawn. They form a complex web of a family with many intersecting plots and situations. Although it has a scuzzy feeling, underneath it has a lot of heart. 

GAME OF THRONES
My son turned me on to this show after the first season and even offered to re-watch the entire season with me to “help” me catch up.  There are a lot of characters and storylines to follow but it pays to invest the time.  This show is an epic fantasy piece with really tremendous production values and a dark and dangerous undertone.  The show’s willingness to kill off major characters sets the stakes very high and establishes a tone that lets the viewer know that nobody is completely safe.  It is going to have its final season in 2018 so there’s time to catch up. 

WALKING DEAD
A tragic “end of the world as we know it” show.  It introduced us to zombies that crave living tissue and are more abundant in the world of the show than the “normal” people are.  It is graphic, violent, bloody and many of our favorite characters meet their fate in gruesome ways.  The fascinating thing about this show is that the humans that survive the zombie apocalypse are actually more scary than the zombies.  Living without laws or social norms, the humans fall back to their most base instincts to kill or be killed.  It is a graphic novel come to life and always keeps me at the edge of my seat.

BIG BANG THEORY
I couldn’t even tell you what season this show is in.  It is a lot.  But despite being on the air for many years, the producers and writers always come up with great situations to put the cast in and excellent lines that produce humor time and again from the simple premise of watching nerds interact with each other and with “normal” people of lesser intellect.  After so many seasons, one might expect the cast to start “phoning it in” but they seem as engaged and entertained by each other and themselves as we are.

HOMELAND
The first two seasons of this show were some of the best television I’ve ever seen.  It was tense, edge-of-your-seat, intrigue and action every single week.  And one of the most distinctive aspects of this show was the aggressive pace of its story-telling.  Storylines that other shows would milk for 3 or 4 episodes are brought forward and dealt with in a single episode, with more storylines following right behind them.  The acting and writing have stayed very strong and the key players of Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin never disappoint.  It has been and remains appointment viewing for me and my wife.


Those are my favorites among current television shows still on the air.  What are you watching?


Pat's Favorite TV Shows

Inspired by Grayson’s theme a few days ago, I will share my Top 5 shows.  However, in the interest of time, I have chosen to restrict myself to shows that are currently still on (even if on hiatus at the moment). Here goes in no particular order….

Shameless
I tend to like shows that I haven’t “seen” before.  And Shameless is definitely that type of show.  In the first season in particular, the viewer really has a window into this scamming family.  They work the system, gaming any and every opportunity that comes their way.  Nonetheless, I care about the characters because the kids, against the odds, seem to be good people.  We are currently in season 8, but apparently the writers thought the show was going to end with season 7. So, at the end of season 7, they did that lame wrap-up of tv shows that writers always seem to do – where everybody ends up on some unrealistic happy note.  And then the best thing happened: the decided to make the additional season.  So now, they had to pick up where they left off in happyland and get really creative.  Loving season 8!

CBS News Sunday Morning
I have been a fan of this show for like a decade now.  I love the unique topics they cover and I walk away from this show feeling like my time was well spent and I learned something new.  Did you know there is a museum of toilet bowl covers? Want to learn about leather-clad architect Peter Marino? Or design in Amsterdam? It’s all there on a silver platter for you. 

Black-ish
First let me say that I did not like this show when it first came on.  The first episode I saw was about the mom who felt underappreciated for all she does, then the father does all her work, and then she misses it, has no purpose, and is glad to get it all back.  Felt very 1950s and turned me off for quite some time.  However, at some point I must’ve been bored and started to watch another episode.  Since then, I have found their approach to racial issues very interesting. Often, they will do a little back story about a point in time in African American history.  Then, they have the family address that issue from the perspective of a black family living a “white” life.  I like the insight this show gives.

Finding Your Roots
Love this show.  Each week, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. picks three celebrities and does research on their family trees.  Spoiler alert: lots of people are shocked to learn that their ancestors were slave owners or actual slaves.  But in addition to that harsh realization, he tracks people back to kings, or soldiers, or thieves, or presidents, or just regular folk who managed to beat all the odds.  Lately, he has used genetic testing to close holes in the family tree, as well as to tie master to slave.  I thoroughly enjoy seeing what method of geneology he uses to find facts – ship manifests, census, wills, etc.  Fascinating all around.

Talking Dead
So this one you might find a little surprising.  Why not The Walking Dead? What the talk show that follows it?  Well, it is kind of like book club for me.  Watching/Reading is great, but I enjoy the discussion about the story even more.  I discover parts I missed, different analyses of what is happening, and Easter Eggs and symbolism I may have overlooked.  Great to see fans of the show get so intense about, face it, just show.


Well, that’s it for me.  I will think more on my Top Five of all time and get back to you on that one!


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Reed's Favorite TV Shows

To my understanding my sister ranked her top TV shows so I'm inclined to do the same. The following are my top 5 shows.

Game of Thrones
Bit of a basic one here. When I first started watching this show, it was like a breath of a fresh air in many ways. First of all, it was awesome to see high fantasy being embraced as an element of pop culture that wasn't Lord of the Rings. In general, it was (and is) awesome to see high quality fantasy on a weekly basis. This show takes a genre that is often regarded as nerdy and niche and made it into a gritty, dirty, and beautiful world with a huge book of interesting characters and storylines.

Brooklyn 99
So so fresh. Andy Samberg is so fast and quick witted and generally just adorable to a degree it's impossible not to love this show. The ensemble of characters has a family feel as in other shows like the Office, Community, and Parks and Recreation. The surprisingly progressive feel and betrayal of stereotypes is the sugar on top of a truly fun comedy.

The Office
The perfect blend of clever humor and stupid humor. A fun ensemble of characters with an incredible moving run. A beautiful love story and a beautifully tragic lead. I will watch this show at least twice more before I die.

Master of None
This show breaks so many rules that we think we have of narrative flow and television in general yet works so well and therefore proves there really are no rules. Both funny and enlightening, this show really isn't about anything, yet is a delight to watch. 

The Walking Dead

Specifically, seasons 1-3. To be completely honest, I've stopped watching this show, but that's neither here nor there. The pilot of this show was utterly harrowing to me the first time I watched it. The zombies and new state of the world devastated and intrigued me like no other show or film I've seen before. And then as soon as the zombies stopped being scary, the show was smart enough to show how bad humans in a torn apart world are scarier. Loved this show.


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Grayson's Top 5 TV Shows

I don’t have much of anything scheduled today, and after I’m done writing the blog, I want to go watch TV, so this has inspired me to tell you guys my top 5 TV shows. Including short Google descriptions of each, in no particular order, here they are;

• Teen Wolf
“The high-school anonymity Scott McCall was trying to break free from couldn't have happened in a more mysterious, complicated way. While walking in the woods one night Scott encounters a creature, is bitten in the side, and his life is forever changed. Is he a human or a werewolf? Or a little bit of both? Controlling the strange urges he now feels is the toughest part, and he's afraid the urges could end up controlling him. Will the bite be a gift or a curse, especially as it relates to the mischievous Allison, whom Scott can't get enough of?”

Teen Wolf is HILARIOUS (Love you Dylan O’brien!), smart, dramatic, and every guy in it is really hot. I have no complaints.

• Shameless
“Oscar-nominated actor William H. Macy stars as Frank Gallagher, a single father of six who spends much of his free time drinking at bars. The Gallagher children -- led by oldest daughter Fiona (Emmy Rossum), who takes on much of the child-rearing responsibility due to her mother's absence -- manage to raise themselves in spite of Frank's lack of parenting and unusual parenting style when he does choose to act like a father.”

Shameless is also hilarious, and raunchy too. My favorite thing about it is the family dynamic between the characters, what with the main family of the show having 6 kids in it. Gallaghers for life!

• The Secret Life of the American Teenager
“A drama about the ways a teen pregnancy affects the lives of close-knit friends and family members. When Amy finds out she's pregnant after a fling at band camp, she faces a number of challenges. Her decisions have far-reaching effects on her family and friends, but Amy also learns that most teens in her school have issues they must deal with.”

The Secret Life of the American Teenager is also really dramatic, which I LOVE, and focuses on teen characters and problems, which I think are interesting.

• Gossip Girl
High school is over for the privileged former students at an exclusive prep school on Manhattan's Upper East Side, but Gossip Girl still shares text-messaged scoops on scandals and heartache. As the graduates embark on their futures, with some attending college and others focusing on burgeoning careers, Gossip Girl continues to stir the pot and feed any potential scandals. And still the identity of Gossip Girl remains a mystery.”
As you can guess, I really like super dramatic shows, and Gossip Girl is no exception. What’s special about this one is that it’s so glamorous! Even though the characters on the show get into a lot of trouble, the look like a million bucks while doing, so I enjoy it a lot.

• Girl Meets World
From 1993 to 2000, viewers followed the relationship of Cory Matthews and Topanga Lawrence-Matthews on "Boy Meets World." More than a decade later, the couple's daughter, Riley, is trying to navigate her 'tween years -- and problems that go with them -- especially in regard to bonds with family and friends. At John Quincy Adams Middle School in Manhattan, Riley finds being a student more difficult because her dad is a history teacher there, and she's in his class. Her mom, a lawyer, is involved in her social life and owns a trendy teen hangout. Among Riley's classmates are best friend Maya, crush Lucas, and quirky Farkle, son of Cory and Topanga's peer Stuart Minkus.”


Girl Meets World may be a “kids’” show on Disney Channel, but the lessons about growing up and living life that it imparts to its viewers are important for people at any age.




Monday, December 25, 2017

You're A Funny One, Mr. Grinch

Hello and Merry Christmas to all!

Generally speaking, my family is pretty passionate about Christmas movies.  Everyone has their particular favorite.  For many years, we had our annual Christmas Eve screening of "The Polar Express".  Always a crowd pleaser.

Among Christmas movies, one of the ones we can all agree on is "How The Grinch Stole Christmas". But do you fall in the camp of the 1966 animated version or the 2000 version with Jim Carrey (technically called "Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas"?  While the 1966 version is indeed a classic, I have to say that Jim Carrey gets my vote.  I've seen the film an embarrassing number of times at this point and always find little nuances to his performance that crack me up.  His ability to embody the animated character with such accuracy, while at the same time bringing the Jim Carrey brand of devilish, juvenile humor to make him feel more contemporary, is really a testament to his performance.

My discussion of the Grinch wouldn't be complete without including my son, Reed's, personal connection to the Grinch.  This past summer, as part of a "Christmas in July" cabaret at the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, NY, Reed performed "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" with his own personal spin on the song.  As part of the introduction, he humorously shares his take on having celebrated both Christmas and Hanukah his whole life.  You can check it out here:

Reed Rosenberg -- You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch
https://youtu.be/EISqip6smJ0

Whatever you're watching tonight, hope it leaves you happy and merry (and not Grinch-like).

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Angels Walk Among Us

This being Christmas Eve, I find myself thinking about angels.  Imagine how cool it would be to be an angel.  I am specifically thinking about the kind that walk the earth. 

Last weekend, we watched The Bishop’s Wife (1947). In it, Cary Grant plays Dudley, an angel put on earth to help out a couple.  Spoiler alert: Dudley achieves what he set out to do.  But the fun part of the story for me is how Dudley just steps into traffic to help a blind man cross the street and cars screech to a stop.  Then he rescues a baby in a run-away pram.  He wanders around helping everyone and anyone in need.  Dudley is cheerful and always in control. 

Then, in It’s a Wonderful Life, you have Clarence who is sent down to earth to help George Bailey regain his will to live.  Again, spoiler alert, Clarence gets the job done.

Now, I don’t know if actual angels walk the earth and if so, if I’ve ever met one.  But what I do know for certain is that there are people who around this time of year, play angels.  I saw one man on TV who likes to don a Santa hat and then give $100 bills out to persons in need.  This year, he took an extra step and gave 3-4 $100 bills to various police officers in Houston for them to pass along to community members still in great need after the hurricane.  Very cool.  Also this year, a couple bought a bunch of gift cards in Walmart then went throughout the store distributing them to customers.  Sounds like a lot of fun.

Think about how interesting/fulfilling/challenging it would be to wake up every day saying I am going to be an angel today – whatever that means in whatever environment you find yourself in.  You commute via train; you give up your seat to somebody.  You see somebody carrying heavy packages; you help them to wherever they are going.  You know you have a neighbor living alone; you stop by for tea and a chat in the afternoon.

Now, this is not meant to be a Christmas Eve lecture.  Rather, just an interesting lens with which to look at life.  You have power just like Dudley and Clarence, whether you are aware of it or not, whether you choose to wield it or not.  Now I just made you aware.

Merry Christmas!




Saturday, December 23, 2017

Continuing The Tradition

Today is what would have been my grandfather's 84th birthday. His name was Richard. My dads name is Robert and I was given an R name, "Reed" in honor of him. As a result, every now and then I try to come up with some potential R names I would want to name my potential son to continue the tradition. Below is my thinking so far:

Here are ones I'm kind of into:

Raymond (Ray for short): It's a cool nickname and the full name flows nicely with our last name. Sounds smart in full, cool in short.

Ronald (Ron for short): Same thing as Raymond in regards to flow and nickname. 

Ryder: Cool and kind of unique. Worried it might come off as annoying. Unsure about this one.

Here are some I'm definitely not into:

Rex: This would be a cool name if it weren't so gross. Literally means king which is awesome. You could also go with "Reggie" which means the same thing essentially but it just makes me think of Archie.

Rodney: Can't help but to think about the move Robots when I head this name.

Bonus: some R names for girls I think would be cool.

Ripley: Wow. Imagine meeting a girl named Ripley. Easily a top choice. 

Rey: Short and fierce and Star Wars

If you have any cool R names in mind, please feel free to share them in the comments. If I use your suggestion you can be a godparent.


Friday, December 22, 2017

Not-So-Secret Santa


I have two best friends, Thomas and Caleb. We have a bunch of other people that we hang out with, but we do everything together. For Christmas this year, we decided to buy each other gifts. 

We decided not to do Secret Santa because that’s kind of dumb with only 3 people, so we made a price limit of $20(ish) and set out on our ways. It was really easy to get presents for them, and they already had ideas for me too as soon as we started. I knew I was going to get Thomas cool Christmas socks, because we always talk about how he has cool, unique socks, and I knew I was going to get Caleb buckeye (?) balls (those little 2.5mm circular magnets that come in like packs of 216 and you can make fun shapes with them), because he always talks about them. 

The only problem with the three of us knowing each other so well is that while we immediately know what to get each other for gifts, we also pretty much immediately knew what the other two people were getting for ourselves. Like I knew that Thomas was going to get me a mini backpack, probably with patches, because he knows about my obsession with mini backpacks (I have 5 and counting right now) and things with patches on them. Also, when we were on a field trip into NYC to see a show with our English class, I pointed out a store full of mini backpacks with patches, and he said “I have to remember the store name because Christmas is coming soon”. Keep in mind that this was like a month ago and I still knew. He also knew that I was going to get him socks, because we always compare socks and talk about them. 

Caleb also knew I was getting him the magnets and immediately asked. I knew he was getting me my special throat lozenges (Grether's, Black Currant flavored like the Broadway stars use) because I shared them with him and I was raving about how good they are. 

And, you guessed it, Caleb and Tom know what they're getting each other too. Tom knows that Caleb is getting him tap shoes, because he REALLY wants to learn how to tap, and Caleb knows that Tom is getting him a Chipotle gift card because he loves Chipotle. The only one who's a bit in the dark is Caleb, because he doesn't know that Thomas also got him a hot pink "Pink Ladies" wig on top of the gift card, so that'll be a fun surprise.

We're all exchanging gifts tomorrow and then going to see Pitch Perfect 3 together, so I figured I'd tell y'all about that tonight. Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Start With Compassion

As you may have been able to tell from some of my other blog entries this December, the current climate in our country troubles me.  A lot. 

In case you missed it, check out “Where Have All the Mensches Gone?” http://4callingbirds.blogspot.com/2017/12/where-have-all-mensches-gone.html.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.  But being a parent of two teenagers gives it all extra resonance for me.

My wife and I have always raised our kids to believe that good will ultimately win out over evil, love over hate, and honesty over deceit.  Our kids are not naïve and understand that people often fail to live up to this ideal.  But if they themselves govern their actions by doing what is honest, and fair, and kind, and honorable, they will not only feel better about the people they are, but will also help raise the bar for those around them.

So it is with that background as context that I want to share with you something I just read about this week. 

In a ceremony last weekend honoring December graduates of Cornell University, President Martha E. Pollack delivered a commencement address to the graduates and their families.  In it, she disclosed that in preparation for making her remarks, she consulted a website, maintained by NPR, called “The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever!”  (https://apps.npr.org/commencement/)

Of the 350 speeches catalogued there, the ones that resonated most with her were those that addressed the social and societal issues of the day, and offered the students guidance in meeting the challenges facing the society they were entering.

So what was President Pollack’s suggestion for how the graduates could position themselves to make a difference and have a positive impact on the world?  She boiled it down to this:

“Start with compassion.  With understanding.  With kindness and with love.”

Much of society’s most difficult problems today stem from divisiveness in our communities and in the broader society.  Until we can reach out, connect and communicate with those who are different from us and with different points of view, we will continue to be opposing forces, rather than rowing together in the same direction for the betterment of our country as a whole.

Near the end of her remarks, she recited the sonnet Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote and recited the night he won the Tony award for “Hamilton”, the day after the Orlando nightclub shooting.

We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger.
We rise and fall, and light from dying embers
Remembrances that hope and love last longer.
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love;
Cannot be killed or swept aside.

The full commencement address can be found here for anyone who is interested: http://president.cornell.edu/communications/winter-commencement-address/
Her words gave me hope that someday, whether it is weeks, months or years from now, people like these newly minted Cornell graduates will help us return to the ideal described above.

Thank you, President Pollack!


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

When Blitzen Moves In

This year, my blog posts seem to be about whatever is top of mind on that given day.  Today is no exception.  You see, we have lived in our house for almost 19 years.  And all day today while I worked in our home office, five does sat in my yard – twenty-five feet from my house. 

When we first moved in, we had a beagle.  Although we have just over half an acre of wooded land, we fenced in a small perimeter around the house for the dog.  The dog lived for the first ten years of us being in the house.  During that time, we never saw any deer.  Hawks, raccoons, fox, and skunks yes, but no deer.  So now we have been without the dog for approximately nine years.  And, in the last five years, the deer have moved in.   We usually see 3-4 does walking around with the most we have ever seen being nine.  On top of that, we now also see one buck (at least I think it is only one buck – it is hard to know since they never travel together).  He came by today as well.

Over the years, the deer have gotten increasingly bold.  This past summer, they even came to the more-exposed front of the house.  I will admit a few years back when we had soooo much snow and the poor things were struggling to walk chest-high in the snow on the steep hillside, I did put some food out there for them.  But only that one time.  Now, they will come as close as ten feet from the house to munch on whatever suits them – even sitting on the hillside and watching me cook through the kitchen window. 

I don’t mind all of this and in fact, I quite like it.  It is only “my” land where any humans are concerned.  Animals don’t play by human laws and documents.  Which brings me to my next point: I don’t think they are living on my land; I think I am living on their land.  They are here all the time, without fear, eating and resting and relieving themselves.

Nonetheless, I have trouble dealing with one aspect of our co-habitation, their recent discoveries - my hostas and mums. I spend a great deal of money on landscaping so I don’t appreciate everything being eaten to within an inch of its life.  And yes, I know you can spray the plants with that awfully smelling spray but that is just not worth the stink. 


Herein lies my dilemma: how peacefully to live amongst the woodland creatures creating a perfect balance where I respect their rights yet still protect mine. Kind of a metaphor for life, don’t you think?



Tuesday, December 19, 2017

What Yoda And A Friend Taught Me About Improv

Since I started doing improv a few months ago, I’ve learned that comedy is like how Yoda instructs Luke on using the force: “There is no try. Do or do not”. 

There are people who are funny. This is fine and good. There are people who are not funny. That is also fine and good. Live your life. And then, there’s trying to be funny. It’s synonymous with being “unfunny” or “painful”. It’s an attempt to achieve something but then failing, and the failing is far more painful than if you never tried at all.

I think of it as trying to throw out a piece of garbage from across the room. I’m sitting in my chair and I want to throw a tissue into the trash can ten feet away from me. If I make the shot, it’s awesome and I’ve won eternal respect as a sports god. If I choose not to shoot it at all and throw it out later, no one cares because I made no attempt. But if I shoot it and miss… we know how that feels and looks.

This is sort of what I learned when I auditioned for comedy troupes this fall. I initially went into it like a crazy person; I was going to plan jokes and characters out and prepare everything I could. But that was fake and would never work. I texted a friend about it and she gave me some simple but invaluable advice: “Don’t try to be funny. You can be quite clever when you relax”. And so I did. And it worked out. 

Creativity cannot be forced. If it’s forced, it’s the same thing as trying. It comes out as fake and yucky. Creativity has to ooze out in it’s own natural state when allowed to do so. 

In conclusion, watch Star Wars for comedic tips.


Monday, December 18, 2017

Studying Abroad

These days, it seems like schools are really encouraging students to study abroad for a semester or two.  And it seems like many/most students are taking the bait and doing it.

There are a lot of reasons to do it.  When else in your life will you find another stretch of several months in a row where you can pick up and move to another country without losing ground with your job, education, etc.?  In college seems like the perfect opportunity to do it.  You can entirely immerse yourself in another culture, another city, another language (if that's your thing).  Rarely is a vacation to a foreign land really sufficient to experience this kind of immersion.  You're young. You're adventurous.  I'm a big believer in gulping life (rather than just sipping it) and studying abroad is yet another way to do this.  Several people I know who did it in college reflect on that time as one of the best experiences of their lives.

All of that being said, I have to admit that I didn't choose to do it.  My lovely wife (before we knew each other) didn't do it either.  And our reasons were pretty much the same.  I was having too much fun in college and it seemed to be going very quickly.  By the end of my sophomore year, it dawned on me that I only had 4 more semesters as a college student and there were still so many things at my school that I wanted to do.  I don't regret my decision.  I had a blast those last 4 semesters.  And since then, I've done a fair amount of traveling.  I feel like I've gotten my fair share of other cultures.

Now that my son is a sophomore in college, the conversation occasionally rolls around to studying abroad.  We encourage him to go if he wants to, but also tell him that we would understand if he chooses not to.  He has traveled extensively even though he is only 19, and we believe those travels have ingrained in him a deep curiosity about, and appreciation of, how other people in the world live. If my wife and I had regrets about not going ourselves, we would probably encourage him more strongly.  But he's a smart, creative and responsible person who will ultimately make the right decision for him.

Would be curious to hear what people felt about their study abroad experiences (or decisions not to go).


Sunday, December 17, 2017

My Awesome Summer

My summer 2018 is going to be awesome. I know this because, true to my family’s form, it has already been booked over half a year in advance. I decided to write today about my 4-part summer 2018.

1.      First I’m going to Ithaca, NY to work with a professor at Cornell University in the virtual Reality Lab they have there. See, I do this program called “Science Scholars” at my school, in which high school students get to work with professors or doctors at universities or hospitals, and study whatever kind of science research they want in the summer. I work with an awesome professor at Cornell studying behavioral psychology and cyberbullying. So I will spend 3-4 weeks there at the beginning of the summer with my mom doing science research. Summer will be off to a great start!

2.      Next, I’m doing this crazy amazing tour called “AMA” – American Music Abroad. It’s a program that you apply to, and if you have enough merits in your area -- band, chorus, or orchestra – and a recommendation, you can go on a 3-week trip to Europe to perform songs with other teens. I’m going with my two best friends and a bunch of other people I’m close with from my school, and we’re going to Austria, Germany, Italy, Croatia, and Switzerland. It’s going to be SO MUCH FUN!

3.      Straight from Switzerland at the end of the AMA tour, I’m going on an Adventures by Disney arranged tour with my family to Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia for like 2 weeks. It’ll be the first family vacation with all four of us that we’ve had in a while, since my brother’s been away at college, and our school breaks rarely line up enough for us all to go on a vacation together. Again, soooooo much fun exploring the world!


4.      Finally, my parents always go to the Telluride Film Festival at the end of the summer, so I always spend a week at my grandma and uncle’s house. My brother used to stay there with me, but at that point he’s always back at college again once I’m there now. So I get to hang out with my awesome uncle and grandma, who are some of my favorite people in the world, and my uncle and I bake and buy things for the troops in bulk at Costco, and my grandma and I goof around a drive each other nuts, because what are grandmas/granddaughters for? It’s always the best way to end an awesome summer!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

My Favorite Comedians

I was just watching a clip online of Sebastian Maniscalco.  I think right off the bat, he is my favorite modern-day comedian.  His sense of humor, coupled with his physical humor, is just dynamite.  One of my favorite bits of his is the one where he talks about answering the doorbell.  He compares how people used to be so excited to see who is visiting them with now, where the homeowners are wondering why the heck somebody is coming to them in person.  Another very funny bit is about the etiquette of visiting someone’s home – taking shoes off, the amount of hors d’oeuvres served, etc. Oh, and one more classic I have to mention: Sebastian’s bit about his first experience at a Passover Seder as an Italian dude.  Funny stuff!  Yes, he is definitely on track to become a comedic heavy weight.

In the Living Legend category I would put Jerry Seinfeld.  Yes, I know he is not 100 years old – but when you think about the fact that his very successful tv show Seinfeld first aired 28 years ago, he has been around long enough to be called a legend! For me, Jerry’s comedy is so appealing because it is all about little observations about life.  I saw his stand-up show recently and he talked about cellphones.  He said “I bet every one of you can tell me at this very moment exactly how much charge you have on your phone” and then went on to propose that there are many other important things you would have no clue about, but your phone being at 57% you know.

My most favorite deceased comedian is Lucille Ball.  Like Sebastian Maniscalco, she relied heavily on physical comedy to tell her story. But what I like most about her work is that she was fearless.  As an actress, she adhered to the glamour-imaging of her time – with all the portrait shots of her with perfect eyelashes and her hair just so.  Nonetheless, in her comedy, she was not afraid to look messy, silly or unattractive.  She would have paint spilled on her, shove endless amounts of candy in her mouth, or do the ugly cry.  Anything to get a laugh.  I found her comedy creative and entertaining to watch over and over. 


So there you have it: my thoughts on comedians.  Love to hear everybody else’s favorites!


Friday, December 15, 2017

On Greek Life

Greek life is toxic.

That's the joke I throw out every now and then when discussing the many negative aspects of Fraternity/Sorority life with friends. The list is long: it's heteronormative, promotes gender roles, and acts as a nesting ground for extreme alcoholism, drug abuse, sexism, racism, homophobia, you name it.

This is a joke when I say it because I am part of Greek life. I joined a Fraternity in the middle of my freshman year because it seemed like the natural next step and all of my friends were rushing. I knew about all of these elements going into it but mostly brushed them off with some cute ideology that we would "be better".

Every time a kid is forced to drink himself to death while pledging his fraternity or every time privileged frat bros commit a hate crime or sexual assault, my chest feels hollow and I am inclined to reflect on what this institution is and why it can be so damn terrible.

I try to think of the positives when overwhelmed with the negatives, especially when I consider my place in Greek life. As advertised, Greek life is supposed to provide an instant social life/party scene, lifelong friends, philanthropy events, and just general... I don't know popularity? Like we're in middle school. 

So we have those few positives (which are only more or less accurate) combined with the wall of negatives. You have kids dying and people getting raped balanced out with... brotherhood. That doesn't sound worth it. When you look at it like that, abolishing Greek life seems like the easy solution. 

I don't think joining a fraternity makes a person ignorant or hateful. I do think that ignorant or hateful people can find Greek life attractive, just by it's inherent structure designed to benefit the privileged. If every school everywhere banned Greek life, nothing would really change. If anything, these organizations would operate underground or in another way in which they would be less regulated/overseen by the schools. 

So what is there to do here? The easy solution isn't really a solution at all; it's simply a rebranding and displacement of the same issue. The best thing, to me, is to work with the organizations as they are: educating students, eliminating bias and any lack of understanding regarding sexual consent. Progress can be painfully slow but progress is progress. My hope in Greek life lies in the people who are aware of the flaws of our respective fraternities and sororities. 



Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Last Jedi

Happy to say this post is spoiler free. These are just my initial reactions to it right after seeing it. Get hype.

Wow, good stuff. I'd like to start off by expressing my appreciation for how this movie did not heavily resemble the plot of The Empire Strikes Back in the same way The Force Awakens felt like a still-enjoyable re-skin of A New Hope. Ep 8 is its own animal that, while paying homage to Ep 5 in a couple ways, still holds its own.

The Old Characters: Luke and Leia really get their screentime, both have awesome moments and develop more as characters as opposed to just playing out what we've seen before. Leia in particular has a moment that feels like it was a long time coming and well deserved. Supreme gratification.

The newbies: Finn, Rey, and Poe get mostly split up, which while that was for a greater purpose, it was kind of sad to not see them all together considering how fun that was in The Force Awakens. 

The baddies: Huge Andy Serkis fan here so really cool to see Supreme Leader Snoke in the flesh. I can't help but want to learn more about him. I'll leave it at that. Kyle Ren grew on me in this one. I really didn't love Adam Driver in the last one nor do I particularly enjoy him as an actor. His inner conflict here was believable. Hopefully by Ep 9 he'll be awesome. We'll see.

The new Ep 8 Characters: Newest player Rose was charming and wonderfully wholesome in the way you'd hope and expect every Star Wars villain to see. My favorite new character was Benicio Del Toro as DJ. His character really fit the world nicely and was just fun to watch. I hope we see more of him in the next film. Lastly, Laura Dern as Hodo was a really gentle performance and I particularly enjoyed how our opinion of her shifted. She also has a badass moment.



Wednesday, December 13, 2017

May The Force Be With You

Tomorrow’s a big day!  My family and I are going to see an early screening of The Last Jedi, the 8th “Episode” of Star Wars.  I have to admit that I’m pretty jazzed to see it.  Star Wars is one of those movie franchises that really excites me.  Each time a new film starts, we see the words “Star Wars”, trumpets blare and we pull back onto the deep space sky with a million stars.  Without fail, my pulse quickens and I get a little lump in my throat.  In that instant, I’m the 11 year old kid who saw the first Star Wars in 1977 not really knowing what to expect, but, like so many other 11 year olds at the time, was completely blown away.

The early reviews on The Last Jedi look good so we have very high hopes for this film.  Given all of the anticipation, I got to thinking about Star Wars and realized that even after all of these years, Empire Strikes Back is still my favorite.  A few of the reasons why:

  •            “I am your father”:  I know it’s a cliché by now but that “oh shit” moment in Empire Strikes Back caught most of us by surprise and it was freaking awesome.  It also starts us down the path that leads to Darth Vader saving Luke from the Emperor in Return of the Jedi.
  •           Luke being trained by Yoda:  I thought the introduction of Yoda and the various steps of Luke’s training were really fun and memorable.  The wimpy farm boy from A New Hope (Episode 4) all of a sudden had some skills.
  •           “I love you.” “I know.”:  Han Solo gets captured by Boba Fett the bounty hunter and just as he’s about to be frozen in carbonite for transport back to Jabba The Hut.  Leia declares her love and Han’s response is classic.
  •           The AT-AT battle on planet Hoth:  The film begins on the ice planet of Hoth and before long, the Empire shows up in the big walking vehicles to attack the Rebel base that is hidden there.  The imagination and creativity of the environments and situations really have been unrivaled except possibly by the Harry Potter films.  And given what year these films were made, the special effects in them were especially impressive.
  •           The Creatures:  This isn’t necessarily exclusive to Empire Strikes Back but one of my favorite things about these movies is the endless variety of creatures that the filmmakers constantly come up with to inhabit their various worlds.  Even ones that only enjoy a fleeting moment of screen time are impressive.



What was your favorite Star Wars movie?  


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Miracle Of Hanukah

For those who are unfamiliar, the Jewish holiday of Hanukah, also known as the Festival of Lights, celebrates the Jews (led by Judah Maccabee) retaking Jerusalem from the Syrians in roughly 166 B.C.  After their battle, Judah called on his followers to cleanse Jerusalem’s Second Temple, rebuild its altar and light its menorah—the gold candelabra whose branches represented knowledge and creation and were meant to be kept burning every night.  While they only had enough oil for one night, the menorah miraculously burned for eight nights, giving them time to find a fresh supply of oil.

That’s a nifty story but it’s not the miracle I want to focus on today.  To me, the truly miraculous thing is that Jews have celebrated this holiday for more than 2,000 years, but have still not reached a consensus on how to SPELL Hanukah.

Okay, I get that it is a Hebrew word and we’re talking about the English translation.  So maybe you have a choice A and a choice B in the spelling of the word.  But there are at least 8 different spellings in use today.  You have:

HANUKKA
HANUKKAH
HANUKA
HANUKAH
CHANUKA
CHANUKAH
HANNUKA
HANNUKAH
and of course
CHRISTMAS

Does it start with an “H” or a “CH”?  That part I get.  The correct pronunciation starts with the sound you make when trying to cough up a fur ball from the back of your throat.  That suggests that the “CH” may be more accurate than the westernized “H”.

But do we really need to debate whether there are one or two “Ns”, one or two “Ks” and whether there is an “H” at the end or not? 

I know Talmudic study places a lot of value on the ability to argue different sides of a given issue.  And I know that once you have learned to spell or pronounce something one way in a given language, it is often difficult to look at it any other way.  But there literally is no definitive answer on the question of how to spell Hanukah.

I ran several Google searches on this subject and have found no single authority or even a consensus on how to do it.  Even as I write this, I’ve tried to spell it a number of different ways and Spell Check is willing to accept Hanukah, Hanukkah and Chanukah as correct, but has told me that Hanuka, Chanuka, Hannuka, and Hannukah are all spelled incorrectly.

How do you spell it?

Happy Hanukah to all, however you spell it!

Monday, December 11, 2017

My Harry Potter Confession

I have never read the Harry Potter book series.  My daughter has read the series seven times – and most of that when she was like 12 yrs old.  She said each time she re-read any of the books, she discovered more and more detail that she hadn’t picked up before.  Like most of her pre-teen friends back then, she could cite Harry Potter backwards and forwards and simply couldn’t get enough of the books.  She even enjoys them today.

I have never seen the Harry Potter movie series. Okay, I saw half of the first movie – up until the part with the three-headed dog.  That was when my daughter was much younger and that scene scared the heck out of her.  Scared her so much she did not resume watching (or even think about reading the books) for several years.

Of course I figured these stories would be great. Why else would they cause such a world-wide craze?  But I was busy, and I never got around to checking them out. 

Now, there is a new play coming out.  It is called Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  We bought tickets to see the show in the spring.  I figured now is as good a time as any to binge watch the eight movies – otherwise I am going to be really confused when I sit down to watch the play.  So that is what I did.  I watched all eight movies over the course of 2 1/2 weeks.  I have to say JK Rowling created a formidable body of work!  That was a lot of screen time.  Watching all of the films within a short period of time has the benefit of keeping the story lines fresh in one’s mind.  It is also fun to observe the characters (and actors) growing up right before one’s eyes.  But perhaps the thing that kept blowing my mind was the countless unique worlds that she created.  Every room of Hogwarts, every town, a maze, a graveyard, caves, olde England, the ministry, a bank, a vault etc. etc. etc.  Sooo many different and distinct little universes.  I kept wondering aloud to my daughter – did JK Rowling really put this much detail into the books? Or were the movie guys just really good.  My daughter confirmed that the books read just like the movie views.

Not to be remiss, I should tell you that I really enjoyed the movies!  I am glad I waited until I could sit and give them the attention they deserve.  The characters, story lines, and the scenery were all fun, interesting and engaging.  I find myself wondering if I should read the books. (Don’t tell my daughter or she won’t let up until I do!)  Stay tuned…


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Holiday Meals

I’m baaaaaaaack. I know, I know, you’re all so excited that “Holly” is posting two days in a row this weekend. I do it because I love you all.

That’s a lie. I do it because I have a freakin’ BUSY week, so I’m writing on the weekends so that I can do my actual homework during the week. Fun, right? But you can go with my first answer if it makes you feel better.

Anyway, because my whole house smells like latkes and applesauce for our Hanukkah party next weekend, I decided to write about what my family eats on each holiday. So, here it goes:

Easter: Easter’s our first big family gathering/meal in the year. On Easter, we usually have some kind of ham, be it fresh or smoked. I don’t know why it’s our tradition, or how it came to be, but it’s delicious and consistent. At every family gathering, we also have corn casserole, which is this awesome corn dish with like 6 ingredients. It’s my favorite dish, so you’ll see it’s a staple.

Birthdays: Next up are birthdays. Yes, I know that birthdays are not technically holidays, but they’re family get-togethers where we eat lots of food and celebrate, and that’s close enough to a holiday for me. Since my and my brother’s birthdays are in the summer, we often have big barbeques with sesame skirt steak, balsamic-mustard-garlic chicken, some kind of summery salad, and yes, corn casserole. My family and I have also recently become obsessed with getting an ice cream cake from Häagen Dazs that has a layer of cookie dough, a layer of dulce de leche, the chocolate crumbly things in the middle, and a chocolate shell over the outside. It’s AMAZING. 1000000/10, would recommend.

Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving is a holiday that’s mostly about food. Yeah, it’s “significance” is all about friendship and rainbows between the Native Americans and the pilgrims (before the pilgrims killed the NAs and stole their land, but whatever), but in modern life, it’s become about what kind of stuffing everybody makes, and how each person seasons their turkey. At our house, we do a classic turkey, stuffing (YUM), mashed potatoes (sometimes even homemade!), canned cranberry sauce (I know, we’re uncultured swines, but it’s SO GOOD), and you guessed it, corn casserole. Hearty, carb-tastic goodness. Calories don’t count on holidays, guys!

Hanukkah: For many years now, we’ve hosted a Hanukkah party (because, if you’ve read our blog since the beginning, you’ll know we’re a mixed-faith family). It’s a fun time to see all my Jewish cousins, as well as my “1% Jewish-but-born-and-raised-Catholic” grandma, who loves that joke a lot. Since it’s Hanukkah, we do latkes, and we pair those with homemade applesauce (which is what my house smells like right now). We also do the previously mentioned fan-favorite “balsamic-mustard-garlic” chicken, and the sesame skirt steak as well. They’re good for most occasions, and we obviously couldn’t do ham or pork for Hanukkah because JEWS. But it’s awesome. Good stuff.

Christmas: For our last family gathering, we do something kind of unique. Every year for a while now, we’ve made Sauerbraten, which is this super vinegar-y beef that’s cooked for a whole day. We also make kartuffel gloesse, which are German potato dumplings (forgive me if I misspelled them – even if they’re spelled right, spell check will say they’re wrong). And because it would be wrong not to end my post with this, on Christmas we also eat corn casserole. Shocker.

Holly