Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mirrors lie, photos don't.

True words of wisdom from my Weight Watchers leader.  Looking in the mirror, I could be thoroughly disgusted but still pathetically unmotivated.  But seeing photos of myself, rare as they were, gave me the heebie jeebies.  It was so hard to believe that was me.  So, finally accepting that I hadn't lost an ounce of pregnancy weight in three years and terrified of being obese, I turned myself in to the WW authorities two weeks ago.  Today was "payday" and I was down 14 lbs.  So take that Biggest Loser, with your personal trainers, gyms, nutritionists and doctors!  I didn't have any of that and I still worked it.  Of course, there was a little disappointment.  I thought my clothes would be much looser and that I might have been able to get into some of my less-fat clothes, but mostly the Overhang is diminished.  Yep, I'm talking about the gut overhang that I know people see and then bite their tongue about asking how far along I am.  When I see eyes glance at my mid-section, a prayer mantra of "please don't, please don't" is triggered inside my head.  Won't it be nice when that threat is gone?  What will people notice then?  We'll see...

Friday, July 17, 2009

Go Eat This Pizza!

Unlike my husband, who has a very unnatural love of pizza that blinds him to any health risks of eating it 3 times a day (he doesn't do this, but not because he doesn't want to), I like a good pizza every now and then. I'm no die-hard and am perfectly satisfied with tracking my order of a artery-clogging American Legends pizza from Domino's. However, I've been known to appreciate the St. Louis style Imo's Pizza which is very thin crust, provel cheesy pizza cut into small squares, as well as the deep dish Chicago-style pizza. My tastebuds are very open-minded, so it was no big deal to try out Pitfire Pizza Company's pizza at 2018 Westwood Blvd. But, wow! I don't know what it is about the Mugnaini Pizza Oven, but that thing bakes slices of Southern Italy that turn out to be the best darn pie on the Westside!

The restaurant is open, airy, noisy, with booths, tables, highchairs, indoor and outdoor -- all of which are perfect for families with kids. Not that unmarried people aren't welcome, but when we went for dinner on a Thursday evening around 6ish, my husband exclaimed, "Wow, I see a lotta critters in there!" If you are drinking parents, you can bring in your own beer or wine and there's no corkage fee, which is a much better move than ordering the $10 glass of cab that I did. Even Pitfire's web site recommends getting your booze at Wally's across the street. And there's a special treat for sparkling water fans: it's on tap and you get a big bottle -- like Vos meets jug -- to take to the table.

As for ordering, one parent should stand in line to order while the other scouts a table. Avoid looking at the glass case of giant Auntie Em cupcakes -- they're expensive with delicious frosting, but dry cake -- and definitely get a pizza for each adult and share one slice of each with the kid. If you have more than one child, get a pizza for every two. We made the mistake of being nice and "sharing" our pizza with our 2-year-old toddler and had to order another mid-dinner. We were fans of the nitrate-free pepperoni, and our 9-year old boy chomped down the margherita pizza. Meatballs were yummy, but not out-of-this-world. And the salad rocked! Yep, even for someone who thinks of eating salad as drudgery, I absolutely loved the Hand Chopped Salad with Grilled Chicken. Everything we ate tasted soooo fresh that I'm pretty sure everything this restaurant makes is delicioso! They also have locations in NoHo and Downtown, so don't wait another meal -- go eat this pizza!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Assed Movie

Sorry if the title is a bit of a spoiler, but like so many Potterheads around the world -- not the crazy, dress-like-a-character fans, because I reserve that type of freaky fan behavior for Star Trek: The Next Generation -- I was desperately looking forward to Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince come to life on the big screen. I devoured J.K. Rowling's series about the reluctant Chosen One (not Jewish) coming-of-age saga and his band of merry friends and evil enemies, first reading "Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone" in a college course about Philosophy in Children's Literature. I introduced the wizarding world to my stepson, and we've had a great time reading the novels together.

So I took my 9 3/4 year-old stepson to a screening at 3:30pm, able to convince him that we shouldn't see the midnight movie because we'd enjoy it more if we were awake. Of course, I didn't know that I'd be inclined to take advantage of the 2 1/2 hour running time and boring plot line to take a quick catnap during the film. Without giving away all the details, there is SO much missing from this movie, such as interesting dialogue, quick pacing, fluid editing, character development, and beloved images and ideas from the novel. I know films are different than books, but it's as if the filmmakers couldn't figure out what exactly that is. This movie definitely does not stand alone and confused this viewer who read the book only a couple of years ago.

Scenes are introduced that add no value to the story or the movie itself, while major subplots that are humorous or dramatic in the book get haphazard screen time in the movie. The opening shows 1) the Muggle world being disrupted by what appears to be airy trails of soot and 2) Harry getting hit on by a waitress in a subway diner, only to be whisked away by Dumbledore to recruit a professor for the school. Huh? I wish those ten minutes had been applied to developing Harry's infatuation with Ginny and Draco's assignment from Voldemort. Also, the omission of house elves was really a letdown, but not as much as the Lifetime-channel ending of a wistful look and comment about the scenic view from Hogwarts. Much more compelling endings have been written by students in Screenwriting 101.

But I save my biggest criticism for the poor acting. Daniel Radcliffe's Harry is less complex than a snap closure. His acting seems confused, as evidenced by his general expression of "how should I look now?" After five films he still cannot show any subtlety of change in emotion. When he sees Ginny, the budding object of his desire, making out with a guy in a tavern, he glances toward the action but cannot convey even a flash of jealousy or anger, just a simple preoccupation with getting Professor Slughorn's attention. In another scene, when Hermione sobs over Ron's relationship with Lavender and says to Harry that he's her best friend, the general look of confusion prevails and Harry appears as someone who has suffered amnesia and doesn't understand why this stranger would make such a proclamation, but still gives Hermione an obligatory hug. Also, I've never been happy with Michael Gambon's replacement of the late Richard Harris as Professor Albus Dumbledore. Harris had a air of sophistication and wisdom, a touch of refinement and royalty. Gambon feels like a Hell's Angel biker that momentarily surrendered his leather chaps for a wizard's robe and will soon need a smoking break. And there has absolutely been zero chemistry between Radcliffe and Gambon, making the absence of a Dumbledore funeral not so heartbreaking. When we cry over Dumbledore's death it's because we remember the shocking and horrible moment from the novel, not because of what we're seeing on screen. Alan Rickman returns as Severus Snape and Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange, but Rickman's performance is sedated, almost withdrawn, and Bonham Carter's portrayal of Deatheater and Draco's aunt is similar to a crazed turn-of-the-century prostitute. Jessie Cave as Lavender Brown gets major props for providing actual entertainment and Rupert Grint provides some comic relief as Harry's other BFF, Ron Weasley. Everybody else is not worth hating or loving.

It's hard to believe that so much time, money and effort could result is such a dud of a movie. Die-hard fans are going to have to see the movie, but if you've waited this long, you may as well wait for DVD.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Gifts, please.

I’ve been following a thread in one of the Internet parenting groups that I belong to, soaking in the reasons for respecting or ignoring the instruction, “No gifts, please,” on invitations to children’s parties. Without polling the Midwest or South, I’m pretty sure this is a celebratory dilemma faced only in major metropolitan cities on either coast. I’m not saying that good things can’t come from educated, affluent, neurotic, eco-conscious moms, such as organic children’s products, but birthdays free of presents isn’t one of them.

In support of a “no gifts” policy, moms argue that a) they already have a lot of things, b) they don’t want a bunch of plastic toys, c) they don’t want to inconvenience parents with having to go buy a present, d) presents teach a child to be materialistic, etc. Some of these mommies’ ideas to replace the crappy plastic item that ruins a child’s values is a donation to a charity in the child’s name or a book that can be exchanged with another child at the party. Let's see the two-year-old's eyes light up with that one. But why beat around the bush? Instead of exposing everyone to your self-righteousness and trying to forbid all gifts (which seems to have about a 50% chance or better of being entirely ignored because parents feel completely awkward showing up to a party without a gift) why not just come out and say exactly what you’d like for your child?

The real message of “No gifts, please” is “Not your gift, please.” The inviter is fairly certain that whatever gift you would choose would be inappropriate, inadvertently shunning even those who give “donations in your name” gifts. But as it also implies that you were going to give a gift, I say why not just come out with a preference. “Please bring only organic clothing.” “Please bring only wood toys.” “Please bring children’s books in Spanish as we are bilingual.” I think for my stepson’s 10th birthday I’m going to write “Theme park passes and Lego kits appreciated.” For my son’s 2nd birthday, “Size 3 pajamas, Size 5 diapers, and Lucky gift certificates welcome.”

Does that cross the line between merely didactic to intrusive? Well, then just bring whatever. I’m sure it’s not too much of a hassle to get a book from a bookstore, coloring book or Hot Wheels from the drugstore, or one of the 5,000 gift cards at the supermarket. And I guess if your gift isn’t our cup of tea, we’ll donate it to underprivileged children. If for some reason my preschooler turns into a shopaholic from present overload, I’ll hide eight of them and save them for Hanukkah. Actually, I like this idea A LOT. So be assured, no gifts given to my children will go to waste.

I don’t need to ban gifts from my child’s birthday in order to teach him any lessons or to validate my parenting. Values are taught every day all year long, and materialism isn’t caused and charity isn't prevented from a bounty of birthday gifts. Go ahead and let down your guard for this occasion and have fun unwrapping (yes, save the bows). At some point in our lives, when each of us is ready, we learn that the greatest gifts aren’t packaged in paper or donated in our name.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Going to the Movies

Hello, movie lovers! Like me, many of you may be rushing around from theater to theater trying to see one of the many films nominated for an Academy Award. I always like being able to predict the winner of each of the major categories, but it becomes increasingly difficult when most of the movies don't appeal to the general public. And, obviously, it's not to due a lack of fine acting, directing, or writing, but rather the massive downer quality of most of these worthy films. I'm a married mom of two who views every evening excursion as time regrettably taken away from de-cluttering the dining room table of bills, insurance claims, parenting articles, and credit card statements. I also know that the babysitting tab will most definitely exceed the cost of dinner and a movie, so I take the adventure of movie-going very seriously. I certainly don't want a film to be more depressing that paying bills, which is somewhat of a downer but does provide a little morsel of satisfaction from knocking something off the to-do list. For those of you who face the same considerations, here's some information that may be of value. (Spoiler Alert: if you are too naive to know the endings of movies and wish to remain in the dark, please stop here.)

Slumdog Millionaire
My husband and I went to see Slumdog a couple of weeks before the Golden Globes with a couple of friends. Unfortunately, we had to prove our friendship by keeping our seats together thereby putting us just four feet away from Mumbai mania. However, the notion of seeing this film appealed to my cinematic snobbery days of my early thirties, where I mostly frequented arthouse showings of obscure, indecipherable plotlines with little and/or foreign dialogue. Once again, I felt like an independent, intelligent woman liberated from watching a movie that wasn't animated or sung, didn't have licensed product or promotional tie-ins, wasn't cast with celebrities that would call to mind tabloids and political statements. But the first ten minutes were brutal, filled with tension, torture, and general terribleness. My Disneyfied heart found it hard to handle, and I squirmed noticeably in my second-row seat giving my husband cause for concern. Although the violence and wretchedness did not diminish, my tolerance increased along the way, and I could only really see half the picture that close up, thereby reducing the heinousness by 50%. The movie was well-acted and the story was intriguing, but watching children living in squalor and subject to unspeakable conditions for two hours made an evening of bill-paying seem like a welcome retreat. At least we were compensated with a happy ending, but we certainly earned it.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
After receiving 13 nominations, TCCBB became the next movie on the list. The nearly three-hour run time was almost a dealbreaker, but not many would complain of having to pay another $15 of babysitting fees to look at the perfect Mr. Pitt for an hour longer. I've never been attracted to blonde men, but Brad transcends being defined by the color of his hair. However, two thirds of this movie feature Pitt in old, wrinkly form or as a little boy regressing toward infancy, which is really a waste and a shame. I was actually more captivated by the beauty of Cate Blanchett! Anyway, a good story line could have overcome my shallowness, but no such luck. Here was a very long movie about a man who ages backward yet whose personality or behavior NEVER changes! That's right, Benji remains the same calm, nice, dull creature from beginning to end, no matter what his age, whether he's sleeping on a living room chair while his momma gets a booty call in the bedroom, swabbing the decks of a tugboat with a drunken sailor, patronizing a brothel, or taking midnight tea with a married woman. I'm thinking that...I could be reconciling my bank statement and submitting all outstanding insurance claims...maybe Ben didn't show any emotion because it would have screwed up the make-up or visual effects people. Some people have compared TCCBB to Forrest Gump, probably because they both feature a boring special needs person who lives through a few historical events, but the comparison ends there because Forrest Gump was...funnier, better acted? Actually, maybe they are the same.

I have absolutely no interest in seeing this film, at least on the big screen. Neither of the actors or characters are sexy, and director extradordinaire Ron Howard has been prone to saying stupid political things in public, so articles on toddler tantrums and their "big feelings" will get read instead.

Sean Penn also says stupid political things in public, but we all know that he must be a total nutjob to be such an incredible actor. So he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his acting talent, and we are drawn to the fire. But the problem with this film is that we all know Harvey Milk dies, and Mayor Moscone, and that the murderer gets a light sentence due to his Twinkie defense, so what clutter will remain on the table for a story already told and still alive in the media archives? Not at easy one to justify.

The Reader
Since "Heavenly Creatures" I've been a big Kate Winslet fan, although I didn't like her cast opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in the boat movie because it looked like she could crush the little guy. Anyway, this movie also stars the amazing Ralph Fiennes, who also engaged in dealmaking at the crossroads. The acting must be mindblowing, but the idea of a sympathetic Nazi criminal is a little off-putting and has a very high downer quotient. But I think the my inner paperwork czarina should be ignored and the cinema snob indulged at least one more movie before the big night.

And the winner is...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday Card Review

I'm an admitted stationery freak who enjoys perusing all kinds of paper products and spending countless hours selecting the perfect card for a friend's birthday, anniversary or baby shower. I love the different textures, embellishments, messages, and graphics that work in harmony to create that unique greeting for that special event or holiday. No surprise that I love the holiday season to see what treasure will be mailed to me. And not just mailed, but addressed, stamped, and signed -- an archaic gesture of a sincere, communicative civilization that recognizes religious customs and holidays, as well as the aesthetics of greeting cards. But every year, the mailbox contents are more disappointing.

I should also add that I love photos almost as much as stationery, but photos as stationery is bad form yet rapidly accepted amongst our society. As a mom to a 17-month year old boy, I have a higher than average ratio of cards featuring cute toddlers, but even the older families are having a hard time letting go of the family photo as holiday card, and I feel compelled to offer an honest review in hopes of inspiring people to return to art on paper (of course, these aren't the actual names).

"I Oughta Be In Pictures!"
Burton, an adorable boy is featured on his family's card in four different poses on stairs, near a brook, looking, happy, excited. I love Burton, and I love his mama, but I'm not in love with the casting card. Maybe he should be in movies, but I'm not an agent.

"Dora the Explorer"
Constance waves adorably in front of some ancient ruin, signifying her parents commitment to maintaining their lifestyle and bravery for toting their toddler to a different continent. It says "she's never going to remember the pyramids of Egypt, but that's not going to stop us." I'd also like to travel with my tyke, but I'm too afraid to board a plane with my little monster and don't like having my nose rubbed in it.

"That Magic Moment"
These cards usually feature two siblings making nice. Hugging, smiling, kissing, playing -- all totally adorable, but also a total anomaly. I know these moments happen, but it's pretty obvious that they are the centerpiece of the holiday card because they don't happen often enough.

"What Winter?"
The family frolics on the beach in Hawaii, Mexico, or the Caribbean, sporting a tan and swimwear, stopping for just a moment to capture the photo that will be featured in a holiday card sent in the dead of winter. It contains trace sentiments of "we're always on vacation" and "we're stay warm even in winter." I think this type is also a bit of a nose-rubber.

"Paper Toddler"
Mom and Dad have no qualms about putting their child in a hilarious but humiliating outfit or scenario. In these photos, parents are projecting a carefree, little maverick attitude onto their son (yes, it's almost always a boy) and you can almost hear the universal reaction, "Now that's funny!" Until son grows up and has one more reason to resent his parents.

"Everyone Smile"
This is either a large family or a family with older kids. Everyone is dressed nicely, sitting or standing together symmetrically and (1-2-3 smile!) smiling. It sends a very straightforward sentiment of "once a year we all get dressed and smile on cue -- happy holidays." These set-ups are also an indicator that the family photo season is coming to an end and soon the parents will return to buying a box o' cards.

And my family holiday card? I've been married 3 years and have yet to send a holiday card. If I find some time tomorrow, I might get around to it, but at least I know it won't be plastered with a family photo on the front. Maybe one on the inside though.