Monday, February 16, 2009

Movie Review: "Taking Chance"

Though the situation in the film is the result of war, "Taking Chance" is not a film about war. It does not take a stand for or against war. It does not even show scenes from war, which are so often glamorized on screen to seem more exhilarating than life-threatening.

But that is the truth that HBO's "Taking Chance" does not try to hide. In war, there is death. It is sad, it is unbearable, but it is the truth. Based on a true story, Kevin Bacon stars as Lt. Col. Michael Strobl. Struggling with his own decisions not to serve a tour of duty, Col. Strobl volunteers to escort the body of a fallen soldier, Chance Phelps home. What he discovers along the way is that the death of this soldier affects not only him and the soldier's family, but every single person along the way.

And what the audience gets to see is the care and respect the Marines treat a fallen soldier with. How you feel about the war is of no care or concern here. You need not wax poetic about the steps and missteps taken by the government over the course of the war. The people in this film don't care about that. Their only concern in Chance Phelps himself, and giving him the respect he so greatly deserves for losing his life to keep ours safe.

This film accomplishes that beautifully. There are no special effects, no faced-paced action scenes, no dramatic climax that unfolds to sweeping music. Each scene is quiet, resembling a documentary more than a film. Then again, the screenplay was written by the real-life Col. Strobl, so there is an honesty that is powerful and emotional, but never over-the-top. There aren't any scenes that feel like too much or not enough. Everything about "Taking Chance" is just right, even the most heart-breaking scenes, which include watching the blood be washed out of his watch, his dog-tags. Yes, this film does not hold back the agonizing truths of war. What we see on the news is nothing.

You may not be prepared for this movie, but you need to see it. You will be uncomfortable, you will probably cry (whether or not you know someone who served/is serving with probably determine the level of crying), but you have to see it to understand that, despite the conflict, despite living in a country still divided by war, we can still come together on some things. We are still compassionate, respectful people who recognize and understand the sacrifice so many soldiers have made to keep us safe.

PFC Phelps' life may have been cut short by the war, but his sacrifice, his legacy lives on in the hearts and lives of every person who took part in bringing him home after his death. And now that legacy is shared with every single person who will experience this film. And that's exactly how it should be.

"Taking Chance" premieres Saturday, February 21st at 8 p.m. on HBO.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Cell Phone Conversations: Private vs. Public

Pretty much everyone has a cell phone these days. They're unavoidable and practically a necessity at this point. Heck, I recently blogged about my obsession with my new phone. I left it at home yesterday when I went to work and was going crazy without it. "What if someone texts me?" "What if I need to check my e-mail?" "What if I drive off the road in the snow on the way home?" Honestly, that last one was problem my last worry.

Needless to say, we as have grown seriously attached to our cell phones. They have become extensions of ourselves; they connect us to the people in our lives and we can't imagine having to function without them. It's hard to even recall a time before they existed, even though that time was not so long ago.

Along with the desire to always keep our cell phones near, of course, comes the obsession with needing using them constantly. Walking to the car, in the car, driving around in the car, walking to the grocery store, in the grocery store. Seriously, while you're out today, just look around. You'll see people everywhere talking away without a care in the world as to what's going on around them, or who's listening.

And that is what bugs me the most. I'll admit, I use my cell phone quite a bit. I rarely talk on my "land line;" it's pretty much useless at this point except for the occasional telemarketer. But most of my conversations are held in the privacy of my own home. If I'm out and it rings, I'll answer it, but if the conversation takes a private turn or is of a sensitive nature, I'm discreet about it. I'll say "can I call you back when I get home?" or quickly make my way to a quiet location.

Because when I'm on the phone in public, it's usually to ask a question or get some kind of information pertaining to where I am. Something like "hey, I'm at the grocery store, do we need any eggs?" That is appropriate public cell phone conversation. Discussing personal matters, such as the sordid details of a drunken hook-up, or yelling to your boyfriend about paying for your impending abortion (yes, these are actual cell phone conversations I have overheard, quite recently are not.

Please, the next time your cell phone rings when you're in public, think about where you are. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in conversation that we forget there are people around. But they are. And they can totally hear you. Try not to embarrass yourself.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

In Defense of the Snuggie

I am not a big fan of the "As Seen on TV" products. I survived a time when my family was kind of obsessed with ordering infomercial products. we have a basement full of crappy, once-used-then-forgotten products like that pot that boils and strains, the electric bag resealer (which by the way, almost set the bag on fire), to name a few. Even today, my parents still occasionally fall for gizmos like the Swivel Sweeper and I know my mother is still contemplating the Magic Bullet (because we don't already have a blender or anything). Mostly I just ignore these products because, besides the sometimes hilarious infomercials, they are bogus. I mean come on, 8 shamWOWs for $20?? And I'll never need to buy paper towels again?! Sign me up! I can see through the facade that buying AquaGlobes means you'll never have to water your plants again. And then there was the Snuggie.

When I first saw a commercial for the Snuggie my initial reaction was giggling insanely at the priest-like robe that the actors were wrapped up in. Still shot ads of people wrapped in Snuggies during sporting events also proved completely ridiculous. Then, the other night I was sitting on the couch reading a book when suddenly I got cold. So I threw a blanket over my legs and continued reading. But then my upper half was still cold, so I wrapped the blanket around my shoulders like a shawl and continued reading. But then my legs were cold. Even if I had two blankets, one for my shoulders and one for my legs, I would have still have cold, blanketless arms as they would be busy holding up the book. Unless I had a Snuggie!

As far as stupid inventions go, the Snuggie isn't all that bad. In fact, I think the worst part about it is the name. Sure wearing one causes you to resemble a monk, but guess who just found her last-minute Halloween costume for this year? But unlike so many of its fellow "As Seen on TV" counterparts, the Snuggie doesn't claim to slice, chop, dice, or mop the way so many of those other products flash in front of your face. The Snuggie just wants to keep you warm. Plus, it comes with a FREE booklight, which only makes me want to buy one even more. I mean come on, its slogan is "The blanket that has sleeves!" How can you argue with that? I don't think you can. I think I want a Snuggie.

Crap...they got me.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Book Review: Dumped!: Fun & Games Activity Book Featuring Word Scrambles, Connect-the-Dots & in-depth Psychiatric Analysis for the Unexpectedly Single

If you've ever been dumped, you likely know how hard it is sometimes to just get through the day. Days when anything from a song to a piece of clothing to a smell reminds you of the person you've been trying to so hard to erase from your mind. Or at the very least, get to a point where they're not all you think about all day, all the time. If you're having some trouble getting to that point, "Dumped!: Fun & Games Activity Book Featuring Word Scrambles, Connect-the-Dots & in-depth Psychiatric Analysis for the Unexpectedly Single" is the perfect book for you.

Despite the absurdly long title, this book is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. Designed much like a kid's activity book with fill-ins and word searches about getting dumped, the book is sure tp keep you as entertained as any of those kiddie books. But don't be fooled, the language and subject matter (like the page that asks you to list how many words you can form out of the word COCKSUCKER) is for grown-ups only.

"Dumped" splits its time between Samantha and Sam, two poor souls down in the dumps (lazy pun intended). Author Josh Lewis takes Samantha and Sam on a journey through the stages of being dumped and uses sometimes silly interactive games and activities that are sure to at least bring a smile to your face, if not cause you to actually -gasp!- laugh out loud. Pages include the "Pissed of Word Search" that has you searching for words like "scumbucket" and "hosebag." Sure it's a little silly and some of the activities are a little far-fetched and impossible to solve, but they will make you laugh. And in times of despair, of seemingly unfailing heartbreak and pain, any laugh you can get is priceless. Whenever you regress to the point of tears or you start wallowing in the what ifs, pull out this book and do a page or two. Not only will you laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of it, but you might actually realize a thing or two about yourself and your relationship in the process. And though laughter may be the best medicine, closure is a close second.

"Dumped..." was written by Josh Lewis and can be purchased here.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Building Bridges: Reconciling the Past, Living in the Present, Looking to the Future

*blogger's note: Going through some old favorites, I came across a short-lived blog I started and stopped 2 years ago. This entry was written on August 9, 2007. Though some circumstances have since changed, I still think it rings eerily true in many respects. *

The Past
Reflecting on the past isn‘t always easy, but it is certainly necessary. Although there are plenty of moments in life that you think you’re better off forgetting, it might help to better understand them. Time and perspective often aid in making sense of moments in time, emotional places, and past experiences in general. Of course, in doing so you inevitably come across a tricky word: regret. I have mixed emotions about this word because, like everyone else, I have regrets. I'd be lying if I said if I could go back in time, I wouldn't change anything about my life, my actions, or their outcomes. At the same time, I feel strongly that those actions led me to where I am today and I'm not a big believer in destiny. I'm not sure there's some book written in the stars that has my life planned out and I'm just the main character, willed by the pen of some unknown God. But I do believe that everything in life happens for a reason and that the choices you make of your own free will lead you in one direction or another. What you learn from the life of your past is up to you.

The actions of my "youth" were severely misguided, and it was mostly my own fault. That’s not to say I was a bad kid: I stayed in school, never partied, never gave my parents more trouble than I was worth, in my opinion anyway. I just did everything later than most kids my age: from driving to getting a job to dating. I sheltered myself from the experiences of skate parties and sleepovers, unknowingly stunting my own growth. Looking back, I wish I had gathered more experience early on so that maybe things would have been different. But I can't-- I won't-- spend my life now fretting over "what ifs." I'd like to think I did the best I could with what I knew at the time and there's nothing I can say or do that can change any of it now: it's part of my history. It's been written and recorded, there are no words or monumental revelations that can alter any of its outcomes. Yes I have regrets, yes I wish some memories would bury themselves in the darkest corners of my mind never to be remembered again; but that's impossible. All those moments, from the silly little ones to the ones of epic nature have lead me to...

The Present.
I'd like to think I currently have a pretty good hold on my life. While it's far from perfect, I've found a balance my past sometimes lacked. Most of that is of my own doing and I have no problem giving myself credit for it. While I now surround myself with understanding and inspiring people, when it came down to it, only I could make the changes necessary to get me where I am today. When I first became an ‘adult’, I spent a lot of time defining myself by the terms of others. What angers me the most about this is realizing that I let it go on for so long, struggling each day with the identity I knew I owned but couldn't claim and the one I left others to place upon me and fulfilled gladly because it wasn‘t as much work.

And then there came a moment, more than a year ago, that I simply couldn't do it anymore. I was barreling full-steam ahead to a repressive, unhappy life where every day was the same and nothing would ever change that because I refused to anything about it. It took me a LONG time to realize that I am my own worst enemy. I think--no, I know-- that I hurt a few people when I finally decided to define myself by my own terms and my own dreams. I’m not really proud of that but it was a choice I had to make. I could either sacrifice my own happiness or someone else’s; selfishly and rightly I chose someone else‘s. I shed my skin in 2006 and it was one of the most gratifying and clarifying periods of my life. For the first time in a long time I looked at my life, really LOOKED at it and decided where I wanted it to go. It happened to coincide with where a lot of people hoped it would: out of a dead-end relationship, back to college in hopes for a better life. What became so satisfying to me was that I didn't do it for them, I did it for ME. I've reconciled the past with myself, and, though it may still hang in the balance with others, I try not carry it with me in the present because I've worked too hard on myself to move forward with the shadow of my mistakes hanging overhead. I have my good days and bad, like anyone else, but I am happy. And that's all I can hope to carry with me to...

The Future.
If I were psychic I could tell you what the future holds for me. But I'm not, otherwise I'm pretty sure I'd be a millionaire by now. Or at least have my own psychic hotline number. I may not know what the future will bring, but I can finally envision what I would like it to include. There's no longer a dark, billowy fog where my future stands. I don’t have all the answers, but I can see far enough ahead to hope that it'll include working somehow with words and sentences, which I craft with real joy. I would love to maybe help bring that joy to others, but who knows? I only know that I understand words and the importance of reading. It seems so silly and simple, but so much can be learned from the pages of a good book. It saddens me that in today’s world, good literature is a dying art; I’d love to help prevent that.

As far as the rest of my life is concerned I think I've stumbled onto the dream of domesticity. Along with a successful career doing a blank to be filled in later, I'd like to have all the trimmings of a home life: a home (not a house), a husband, a family. At one time in my life I scoffed at the idea. While other girls were drawing pictures of their future wedding dresses, I was dreaming of traveling the world in search of the next big story, with no familial ties to hold me back. The idea of settling down never appealed to me as a young girl. Damn convention and my supposed purpose in this world as a woman: I wasn't going to let what I was "supposed to do " confine me. There I was again, defining myself by defiance without stopping to consider what I actually wanted. Today, a home life is all I see, it's what I crave. It's not something I'm looking to do at this very second, but I certainly hope its in my near to mid-distant future. I've found someone who I love with everything I am and have ever been: it feels like desire not to repeat the mistakes of my past led me to him. This person has all the makings of a bright and limitless future and I would be honored to be a part of it. Sometimes I question the how and why, but somehow we just fit. Still, I can't know what tomorrow will bring. I can only live every day one day at a time, with the hope that I'm working toward something more, better and bigger than what I have now, but understand that it’s going to take time, energy, and a lot of hard work to get there.

One thing I've learned about these stages of life and time is that they are all connected. You can‘t live in the present without connecting moments to your past that helped you get there. You can’t look to your future without carefully examining the present in hopes of making the right decisions. All of these things are deeply rooted together and bind your life in a way that’s both undeniable and inescapable. Sometimes these moments will tangle you up and keep you from progressing, but they cannot be ignored or discarded. Every moment of my life thus far has meant something. I'm sure I've yet to fully understand the bulk of them, but I have faith that in time, I will. I can't think of the present without gathering experiences from my past to help determine a safe bet for the future. They intertwine and overlap in surprising ways sometimes but they are all there for a reason. Take back nothing of your life, no matter how painful or embarrassing. I believe that I have been made stronger by all of my experiences: the faults of my past, the serenity of my present, and the endless possibility of my future.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cupcakes for Change

(I was supposed to post this last week, but I kind of forgot about it...)

So in case you haven't heard yet...we have a new president. Like everyone else, I was wrapped in the excitement of such a momentous occasion in history. It was a truly special thing to witness, even if only from my kitchen TV.

You see, I celebrate holidays and special occasions with my favorite thing: cupcakes. Of course, Inaugural cupcakes took on a rather patriotic theme:

festive liners.

In the midst of the baking and watching the endless media coverage, I started to think about what the day truly meant. Up until last week, most of the "Where were you when...?" moments I've lived through have been tragedies (9/11 and Columbine, to name a few). But this moment, this moment is the exact opposite of all the tragedy this country has seen and everything that has made others looks to unfavorably upon us.

batter made with love.

While this occasion does not by any means erase all of those other moments, it is a true step in the right direction. And like the rest of America, I feel for the first time in a long time, that change is possible. It won't be easy, and I hope people will give President Obama time. It's only been a week and change does not and cannot happen overnight. It took eight years to get into the mess we currently find ourselves, who knows how long it will take us to get out of it?

time to get baking.

It's an exciting time in the country, in the world, and an exciting time for me as well. I'm not in the same place I was last year. Since recent events have turned my world and my future upside down, I completely forgot to celebrate. I graduated from college. I will have my diploma in hand in a month. That is an amazing accomplishment, and I have not spent enough time being proud of myself for having seen it through.

can you smell them from where you are?

So, despite everything else that's been going on lately, I use this particular blog to celebrate the new stage in my life, and the new stage in the life of America and all the possibilities of the future. I will do great things, the people of this country will do great things. And that, my friend's is something to look forward to.

the best frosting ever.

And, despite everything, I still believe that cupcakes can cure whatever ails you.

The end result. They're never perfect,
but they are ALWAYS made with love.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

i'm not smart enough for my smartphone...

...but I'm getting there.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet my new cell phone:

all together now: oooooooh.

Normally a new cell phone wouldn't exactly be fodder for a blog post but

a. I don't have a whole lot going on at the moment : *(

b. It's a crazy-ass phone!

Seriously, I've had it for about six hours now and I still giggle with glee every time I look at it. The fact that I feel this way about a cell phone is kind of scary. I'm either extremely desperate to love something that loves me back (or at least trusts me and does what I ask it to) or I've turned into one of THOSE people.

I was at dinner tonight with a friend, and while waiting for the bill, I realized we were each on our own fancy touch phones, oblivious to the goings-on around us, lost in a search for answers to some question I can't even remember. I think it might have been what movies am I getting from Netflix tomorrow. Yes, it's a question that can be answered in seconds with my fancy little new toy because I all I have to do is press a little tab on the screen and *boom* my e-mail pops up and, oh, look at that, it's "The Dark Knight" arriving tomorrow from the Land of Nexflix Movies.

Pretty cool right? Yes and no actually. As I sit here still enamored by the phone that hasn't left my side, I'm already starting to regret buying it. I'm sure it'll come in handy a zillion times when I need to know the answer to a question, but what's so wrong with wondering? What did I do before I had a fancy smartphone to immediately answer every single last one of my questions? Oh right, I waited. And I'm still alive, even after all that...waiting 30 minutes until I got home to turn on the computer and log into my YahooMail account to check the status of my next arriving movie.

So while I'm excited about all the cool new gadgets my phone has to offer (I can type word documents!! For someone who carries around a notebook and paper wherever she goes in case the mood strikes to write, this is infinitely exciting), I'm worried that I'll grow too dependent on this little monster. What will happen one day if I lose it or, worse, it breaks and it's no longer around to answer all my questions and do everything I know I'll grow accustom to it doing without ever even realizing it? I'll be lost. I suppose equating it to the end of a relationship would be ironically fitting, but I'll resist the urge.

It doesn't really matter because I think you get the point. Technology is constantly improving and becoming better, faster, more capable than ever. And while we adapt to these rapid changes because we want to or because we have to makes little difference. What we have to keep in mind is the time when these things weren't around. The time when talking to a person face-to-face (or carrier pigeon letter, whichever you prefer) was the only option. Sure you can rely on a a phone, a computer, a GPS, whatever to make your life easier, but don't forget that people got along just fine without all of that.

I'm not too young (ugh) to remember a time before cell phones really existed. News travelled a little slower, but we got by. Now you pick up the phone and call someone, or start a text message conversation and think that's enough. You think that qualifies as contact, as a connection. But it doesn't. I think it's better than nothing, but it's certainly not enough.

I guess what I'm trying to say somewhere in the midst of all this random droning, is please don't forget to connect. And I don't mean at night when you plug your cell phone into the wall to charge the battery. Connect with people: your friends, your family, your love. When you pick up the phone to call or text them, make it to set plans to go for dinner, coffee, a movie, a drive...whatever. It's so easy to get lost in the ease and familiarity of technology, don't forget about life's best comfort: people.