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HOCAnyone who has ever attempted to build a house with playing cards knows the intense focus it takes.  Not one intruding thought can be allowed to disrupt the absolute concentration required.  That intense concentration is offered by the two main characters – unctuous Congressman Francis Underwood, he a boy of the South and his cool-as-ice wife, Claire – in Netflix’s impressive new series House Of Cards, loosely based on the BBC series of the same name.

With this new 13-part series,  completely available for your marathon viewing, Kevin Spacey gives us the ultimate anti-hero in Congressman Underwood. One reviewer aptly described Spacey’s character as “a politician on the make, he is evocatively deadpan and sad-eyed, as if he wished this wretched world didn’t justify his deeds but will damn sure make the best of it.”   

After a betrayal of Presidential proportions we are the lucky voyeurs who get to watch The Congressman and his lobbyist wife Claire (played with brilliant restraint by Robin Wright) build their intricate house of cards with infinite patience and religious-like dedication to the “family business,” glimpses of which are tantalizingly doled out as the series unfolds. Never has television given us a more clear understanding of the way government really works, all intelligently packaged in a crisp script that simmers and crackles with all our inherent moral flaws. We have surely reached the tipping point when nearly every review of House Of Cards begins with the words  “a journey to the dark side.” Indeed.  This is The West Wing up to its neck in Congressional sludge.

house-of-cards

Everything about this slick production is calculated for the ultimate effect: to make the worst possible expectations of our government decidedly palatable and definitely enjoyable.  It’s a visual banquet filled with tasty morsels we’d ordinarily find disgusting.  In the opening credits, time-lapse photography reminds us that the orbit of any individual or thing is secondary to the institution of governmental power.  The music is haunting.  The set decoration is cool and murky, nuanced by every possible shade of gray. Every action is darkly paced and, like a skilled lover, makes us breathless with anticipation.

But while the Tony Sopranos, the Walter Whites and the Dexters are compelling anti-heroes,  they aren’t exactly our next-door neighbors.   The Congressman hits us right where we live as he jerks the shroud off the putrefying body of government and forces us to face with a macabre sense of relief, the awful truth that corruption is necessary and required.

Just as Lord Acton paraphrased in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

But we knew that, didn’t we?  Thank heavens the truth has been dragged from the closet and given yet another airing.

So cancel your weekend plans, order sustenance and settle in for the most compelling, spell-binding, unrestrained tale of legislative debauchery ever dressed up and tricked out in Sunday’s best go to meet’in finery. You cannot watch just one episode at a time.

Movie Review:

A quartet is a composition for four instruments or voices; a group of things that are considered a unit, or that belong together.

thequartet

And so it is that this Quartet is the most endearing of films and it’s that belonging thing that tugs at your heart throughout this thoughtful, touching, charming story about living in the moment, no matter how fleeting those moments are as we face the final chapters of our lives.

A home for aging musicians on the magnificent grounds of “Beecham House*” is the setting for three of the most delightful aging stars in the opera firmament: Tom Courtenay as Regie, Billy Connolly as Wilf and Pauline Collins as Cissy.  Enter the diva of all divas, Maggie Smith as Jean, who cannot face the realities of her reduced circumstances –  financially, professionally, physically, emotionally – but then, who of us can do it with much aplomb?

Dustin Hoffman directs this story of love, humor and reconciliation with a concert master’s touch.  Tom Courtenay’s kind and aging gigolo is completely charming without lurching into lechery; Cissy’s addled memory-lapses are the perfect foil for tension breaking; and Reggie is perhaps more devastatingly handsome with age.   The apex of their collective operatic careers was their performance in Verdi’s Rigoletto and its famous act III quartet “one of the finest examples of ensemble writing in all of opera.”

The annual fund-raising Gala is looming.  Diva Jean’s arrival introduces the irresistible possibility bigger donors if the quartet will only reunite.  Will they do it?  Can they do it – will their voices hold up?  And what of the smoldering love once felt for two of our stars?  Can they be reunited as well?

BeechamHouseGive yourself a treat and see for yourself.   Tears, laughter, lovely sentimentality, compassion, glorious music, human emotion, happy ending.  This quartet definitely belongs together.  What more could you want?

* Hedsor House was once the home of the Dowager Princess of Wales, mother of George III, (aka Beecham House in the film) in Buckinghamshire, England.  It has only been open to the public since 2008.

Oh, for heavens sake people, get a grip.  Who exactly in the media suggested that Phil Michelson must apologize for having a personal opinion about how he manages his life and keeps his family secure?  It’s not my business.  It’s not your business.  It’s his business.  Period!

Phil-Mickelson-480_2There is no more decent person in public life, on or off the golf course than Phil Michelson. The man is a stand-up, do the right thing and be responsible, accountable kind of guy whom we should all want to emulate.  We should all want our families to be like his. Admire and applaud his success as a golfer, a business man and a human being, don’t demonize him.

Grownups are supposed to make responsible decisions and Phil is entitled to make whatever decisions are best for his family and for securing his future. We should all be inspired and encouraged to do likewise, rather than allowing control over our futures to be governed by others who really don’t care about us.

Phil doesn’t need to apologize to anyone for having an opinion any more than we should expect idiotic naysayers to apologize for their unfortunate opinions which denigrate the success of others.  In a logical, sane world, we would applaud the head of a family for making the right decisions that would protect the future of that family — to take care of them so that they will be safe, secure and not be dependent on others.  That’s all Phil is intending to do and frankly, it’s no one else’s business!  I don’t hear anyone grousing about another native Californian named Tiger Woods choosing to live in Florida…where taxes are much more reasonable!

In our household, we’ve had some very lively discussions about whether or not California has just gotten too expensive, not to mention the irresponsible way Sacramento  mismanages the money we already give them.  When there are other alternatives out there, why wouldn’t a wise and thoughtful person consider the cost of living in one state if it’s less expensive than another one?  Is that any different than deciding to buy a more reasonably priced vehicle that offers a better value?

Why wouldn’t people who are contemplating the future of their business think through all the ramifications of:  payroll taxes if hiring employees; sales tax if goods are needed to run the business; property tax if requiring a building to house your business.  Phil Michelson is a business and he hires employees who depend on his making good and wise decisions that contribute to his success; he needs an office, he buys products and services and contributes to the local economy.

If a business person has X-dollars and the cost of doing business exceeds that money, will that business be successful?  NO.  If it’s not successful who gets hurt?  Certainly the business owner, but that’s the risk.  What about the employees who accept jobs with that business, only to lose them because the owner didn’t PLAN correctly for how much it would cost to keep the business going.  And what if he couldn’t plan correctly because the government kept changing its mind about how much tax money it was going to expect from the business? Do you think planning is important to anyone making decisions?  YES INDEED!  And that is exactly what Michelson is doing.

When I owned my business, I had upwards of fifteen employees.  Ultimately I was responsible for their livelihoods.  They were depending on me to manage the business responsibly.  To be wise enough to anticipate my expenses.  I was the last one to get paid.  If we did well, I did well.  If we didn’t do well…then I didn’t do well.  In most businesses, the owner is the last one who gets paid.  Not the first.  We’ve been fed a whole litany of demonizing examples based on the shoddy behavior of a greedy few business people who do behave reprehensibly.  KNOW THIS: They are the exception, not the rule.

RockwellFourFreedomsOur country was founded on the principle of equal opportunity.  If we want something, we have the opportunity to work hard to get it.  Yes, there are many obstacles to overcome like unfair playing fields or unsavory characters.  So we have to be smarter and work harder.  For 237 years many, regardless of race, color or religion, succeeded.  Was it hard?  You bet it was.  But are we proud to succeed based on our own efforts?  Without a doubt!  And out of extraordinary successes came exceptional Americans and amazing innovations.  Those successes lifted our country out of poverty and gave America its great middle class. Achievement was and is the goal.  Success is defined by outcomes and with it comes the freedom from want and worry – whatever that means to the individual.

Just like Phil, we all make decisions based on what is a reasonable price for goods or services — unless of course, we are spending someone else’s money.   Then perhaps we don’t care so much about the cost.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s not our money – we’ve got no stake in the game.

Very few people value what is given to them.  The value comes from earning it and achieving that success.  Successful people are the ones who create jobs, hire people, bring about innovation,  send taxes to Washington (to help those truly in need,) write checks to charities, sponsor little league teams, purchase goods and services from other small businesses and keep the cycle of prosperity going – locally and globally.

Why is it that suddenly success, achievement and prosperity are being demonized?  Who is it that is perpetuating this false message?  When we, as a society are a little more skeptical of messages that don’t ring true, and are willing to become better informed by checking the facts before emotionally spewing false generalities, there will be less polarization and more interest in all of us working in a positive way to solve our problems rather than hurling blame at others.  What a waste of time.

We really do need to get back to our own knitting.

Waltz_of_the_flowers_09_2_400x310There are some things that should not be tinkered with, no matter how irresistible to the “Artiste,” who thinks he alone has the savoir faire to fashion a more personal vision.  Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is one of them.

We had looked forward to this  holiday Nutcracker offering from The Royal Ballet, choreographed by Peter Wright, CBE, and promoted as a cinematic presentation in HiDef with surround sound.  Sadly we were dismayed from the minute the live transmission began.

The theater, the Cinemark, located at The River in tawny Rancho Mirage, apparently didn’t link up properly to receive the live transmission, purportedly in HiDef/surround sound, or maybe they didn’t think that was important – or maybe it was a cost savings measure – who knows.  To add insult to injury, for those who are hearing impaired and in need of head sets, we were told “they didn’t work for those shows.”   I could only shake my head in disbelief.  How could they not provide the best sound possible for their classical offerings, either ballet, symphony or opera?  They spare no expense for movies like “Transformers”  –  you can hear that sound through the walls all the way to the next shopping center!

Perhaps it’s too much to expect, since they haven’t bothered to market these marvelous offerings.  I’m sure they would be quick to tell me that they are not attended well enough to bother with such  amenities as quality sound and HD transmission.  Well DUH.  Have any of you seen advertisements or promotions for these ballets, operas and other classical concerts?  The Coachella Valley population is predominately senior with money to spare and an appetite for quality cultural programming, but without an intelligent marketing campaign, the target audience has no idea these programs are available.

We, along with a wide variety of our friends,  attend nearly every Metropolitan Opera live in HD, and we know whereof we speak.  The Met performances are spectacular and the sound is JUST FINE;  the picture quality sublime.  Perhaps the employees in charge of the Royal Ballet link-up don’t know what they are doing.   That would not surprise me, since their attitude is less than accommodating.

Meanwhile back to the disappointingly flat Nutcracker – and I don’t mean pitch.  Without the HiDef transmission, the close up camera work of the dancers’ movements gingerbread1seemed out of focus.   If that wasn’t the cause, I can’t imagine an organization as august as The Royal Ballet not having the best technical people on board for  such an undertaking.  Not only was the picture quality poor, the cameras actually cut off the dancers’ feet.  Hel-lo.  It’s a ballet.

Nutcracker-Mouse-King-C19682-15

Choreographer Wright took it upon himself to change certain parts of this well known classic which I found disappointing.  The Waltz Of The Flowers –  traditionally a lovely, magical change of pace by the Corps de ballet, complete with the romantic bell shaped flowing tutus –  was danced as a mashup of multiple pas de dux in short classical tutus.  There was nothing grand, sweeping or waltzy about it.  It didn’t work.  The mice were tall and suave and the Mouse King was downright skinny.  We expect our mice corps to be round!

The short dance pieces from inside the the fairy  castle in the second act were trimmed to the extent that the usual 4-6 Russian Trepek dancers were cut to two, and they appeared to be wearing some sort of shearling cowboy hats. Mother Gingerbread and her eight little children, hidden beneath her skirt – such a treat for the children in the audience – were omitted entirely.

On the positive side, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier,  danced beautifully by Roberta Marquez and Steven McRae, were simply glorious.  The costumes were breathtaking.  The sets were on their way to being magical, but more could have been done,  but the illusionary touches did their job.

The Cinema Program from the Royal Ballet has quite the ambitious line up this winter.  We’ll give it one more shot, but will seek out a theater that has the sense to offer the programs in HD and surround sound, as they should be seen. And yes, I’ll send them this column.  Generally there are nine of us that attend these classical programs, which are almost double the price of a regular movie.  That’s over $200 a pop, when you include the overpriced popcorn and soda – not an insignificant amount.

You know there’s an old adage.  Good experiences garner only a few comments.  But bad experiences garner on average twenty retellings and can have many multiples.

Sadly we’re not surprised at the slipshod way Cinemark runs their theater.  On countless occasions after we’ve attended the Met Operas, we’re left sitting in the dark waiting for the lights to come on.  They don’t and eventually we “feel our way” down the steps.   They couldn’t care less.  In future we will be voting (or stamping)  with our feet and purposely seeking out other theaters that have the same classical cinema offerings.  Big suggestion for the Palm d’Or behind the Westfield Mall  or the Camelot in Palm Springs.  At least they know how to reach their audience!  And they run a first class operation.

JakesOne of the delicious benefits of attending (along with eight friends) the Int’l Film Festival in Palm Springs is discovering new restaurants in between our movie selections. It’s no exaggeration that the whole 12-day marathon requires spread-sheet precision when choosing from the approximately 210 screenings (most films are shown twice) and the myriad choices of the disparate film lovers in our little group.  We are not of one mind so needless to say, appropriate sustenance is required.

When forced to stand in queue, our scientific analysis has proved that the bulk of the line forms at about the 60-70-minute  mark so by arriving at the 75-minute mark prior to the film’s showing we are confident that we will gain a front-of-the-line advantage and thus, a center seat upon entering the theater. While waiting it’s fun to meet other folks who have traveled to Southern California from all over the US  to enjoy the Festival.  Invariably the topic of conversation veers toward “what films have you seen and where have you eaten?”  Last Thursday it was due to a strong recommendation offered by the couple next to us, that we decided to try Jake’s, billed as a “hip yet casual bistro,” located in the up-town section of North Palm Springs.  Thanks to the magic of cell phone to Internet to Open Table, we secured a reservation for after the movie.

What a delightful surprise!  It’s tiny and charming with a cozy patio and a large underlit bar, decorated with those magical twinkle lights and huge umbrellas. We arrived Jakes4early, but were immediately seated in a romantic spot where large patio heaters kept us comfy as we enjoyed the outdoor ambiance and studied the menu and wine list.  The selections appeared to be upscale offerings with gourmet touches that leaned toward the unusual.  Everything reflected an obvious attention to quality ingredients with the right dash of flair.  The prices were reasonable.

I wasn’t at all surprised to learn about owners Bruce Bloch, a creative director from the Manhattan advertising world and Chris Malm, a Cornell grad with 30 years in New York’s brutal restaurant/hotel industry.  They bring an undeniable New York savvy and it shows big time.  Anyone familiar with the New York food scene will attest to the fact that in New York, if you aren’t outstanding, you don’t survive!  Jake’s is outstanding.

Our choices included french onion soup (delivered by an appropriately French waiter;) arugula salad with blood oranges and baby hearts of palm; an eggplant tower of Jakes1mozzarella, ricotta and asparagus; and shrimp stuffed with Gruyere and crab meat served over garlic smashed potato and very very thin (I think roasted crispy) Julienne veggies.  That gorgeous French waiter kept returning with the most mouth-watering rolls, fresh from the oven. Everything was served elegantly and the portions were just right. Nothing left for tomorrow’s lunch…well, except…

Jakes2During dinner the most magnificent three-layer cakes kept calling to us from their refrigerated  glass case.  We were told they have a local pastry chef who bakes for them and after such a fabulous dinner we knew we would not disappointed by our choices of Coconut Cake and Orange Blossom Cake; slices so huge, iced so thick and sooooo rich that it would have been sinful to finish them.  So they kindly boxed our leftovers for a second tasting the following day.  Sigh.  They were just as delicious the second time around.  It’s been a long time since we’ve had such a satisfying dining experience, start to finish.

Can’t wait to try their weekend brunch.  You should too.

Movie Review

lesmisThere are few instances when life conspires to give us perfection.  To witness such an event, even a century ago would have been a miraculous occurrence worthy of biblical reference.  Today we are less inclined toward miracles, so jaded are we by facsimiles thereof.

I promise you, the film of Les Misérables is the real deal at $250 million and worth every frame and every franc.  Weighing in at a hefty two hours thirty-seven minutes, this heart-wrenching musical drama speaks to our basic human need to believe that good will triumph over evil; wrongs can be righted; and redemption is possible.

There’s a reason Les Misérables is the longest running musical theater production in the world.  It premiered in Paris in crowe1980, in London in 1985 and in New York two years later.  It has been enthusiastically seen by over 6 million (and counting) in multiple countries, in multiple languages.  It’s a  compelling story of love, hate, hope, redemption, and the bawdiest of humor, taking us all on a satisfying emotional roller-coaster ride.  But. While most of the world raves on about the music, the music, the music – a film could never survive on music alone.  That would require an unrivaled sense of artistic proportion.

So who would dare attempt such a feat?

Tom Hooper.

Who?  Oh, the guy who did The Kings Speech?

Ah.  Well.  Maybe.

No maybe about it.

Most films are carried by their star power.  Only a few are carried by the director’s vision.  This is one of them.

Director Hooper has crafted perfection in his cinematic interpretation of the brilliant stage production.  Its music is emotionally searing.  The  fully through-sung approach is unique.  Yet all is faithful to the classic Victor Hugo text.  Set designer Eve Stewart (her fourth collaboration with Hooper) has produced a Herculean backdrop, inspired by works from French artist & illustrator Gustave Doré and 19th century photographer Charles Manville.  She has blended these elements beautifully with the location shoots.  She has created a sweeping and grand visual that perfectly balances  the other aspects of the film.  All has been entrusted to cinematographer Danny Cohen, who has given us a colossal, panoramic, romantic canvas that is beyond our wildest  imaginings.  Il est magnifique.

Oh, how the language limps in an attempt to describe this enormously satisfying adaptation wherein all the singers perform their music live (a phenomenal achievement) as the camera rolls – no singing in the sound booth with a playback – this is the high-wire without a net. Musical Director Stephen Booker explains the live recording: “The problem when you’re singing to playback is that it denies the actor of being in the moment because they have to stick to the millisecond of a plan laid down months before. Whereas, when they sing live, an actor has the freedom to create the illusion that the character is acting in the moment, which has a profound effect on the power and the realism of the performance. There’s so much emotion in Les Misérables, and I wanted the actors to have options which might be created by the performance—options which they would be unlikely to have in a recording studio months before.”

battle

Thank goodness this didn’t turn into a “film of a musical.”

I’ve been fortunate to see the play three times (London, New York and Boston)  and three times I’ve stubbornly endured the four-hour, PBS-produced 25th anniversary television spectacle.  Although I noticed different things with each show, I still savored every note, and my tears still flowed on cue.  But the film truly completes the story in a way I hadn’t expected.

Hooper et al – a veritable who’s who in production & design – have passionately honored the shows’ origins while brilliantly creating a cinematic homage on a Sistine-Chapel-sized canvas.   This faithful yet fresh adaptation, viewed universally or intimately at will, transcends what we think we know and showers us with a fresh sense that something extraordinary is happening.

The film is described as the perfect storm of acting prowess and singing virtuosity by a star powered cast headed by Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Sayfried, Eddie Redmayne, Helen Bonham-Carter and Sasha Barren-Cohen.

jackmanThere is not a weak moment, not a weak voice, not a weak scene – from the overwhelming opening sequence of a chain gang dragging a monstrous ship into dry dock, to Jean Valjean’s last dying moment – so poignant there is not a dry eye in the theater.  At the end you may be exhausted, but you will not be untouched by this brave and shining cinematic experience.

Isn’t it fascinating that French composers Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, along with lyricist Herbert Kretzmer could have created such a masterpiece, rightfully called one of the greatest theatrical scores of all times, and yet, unlike other wildly successful musical collaborators for the theater –  Rogers & Hammerstein, Lerner & Lowe, or even Andrew Lloyd Weber – this trio have had no other offerings since they created Les Misérables.

Perhaps it is simply that perfection cannot be topped.

champThe New Year’s arrival has always  brought with it great excitement over what would be ahead, but aging has had a way of making one wish things would slow a bit.    As we leave the angst of 2012 behind, one can’t help but wonder what 2013 will bring.  It’s my New Years wish that we all find ways to reconnect with the important things in life, as is so sweetly described in this little story.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full.. The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes.’

The professor then produced two Beers from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand.The students laughed..

‘Now,’ said the professor as the laughter subsided, ‘I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things—-your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions—-and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.. The sand is everything else—-the small stuff.

‘If you put the sand into the jar first,’ he continued, ‘there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life.

If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.

Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and mow the lawn.

Take care of the golf balls first—-the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the Beer represented. The professor smiled and said, ‘I’m glad you asked.’ The Beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of Beers with a friend.

newyearsThank you my friends, for allowing me to be a part of your lives.  May 2013 bring you your every wish.

Guardians

Take your children, take your grandchildren, or just take yourself to see Rise of the Guardians.

There are times when every one of us needs a little reassurance.  Recent events make me feel that we are living in such times and Rise of the Guardians  the movie, might seem to be just for the children, but it’s not. It’s for anyone who has lost faith and stopped believing in goodness and the possibilities in the world.

My research produced a number of references from folklore to modern comics that deal with the subject of guardians and the battle between good and evil.  This particular story is based on a children’s fable described as a contemporary fairy tale entitled The Guardians of Childhood by William Joyce.  I found it so charming, I sent copies to both sets of our grandchildren.  Joyce served as co-director on this magical and enchanting Dreamworks animation.  Here is an abbreviated synopsis of this sweet story, excerpted from the official website:

It’s a visually stunning yet simple story,  described as “an epic adventure that tells the story of a group of heroes, each with an extraordinary ability.   Meet The Guardians of Childhood:

Fairy.

Santa Claus – more than a legend in this story, is called North and is given voice by none other than Alex Baldwin. He’s not your typical belly-full-of-jelly character, “he’s a warrior with a heart of gold who has  ‘naughty’ tattooed on one arm and ‘nice’ on the other.  Fierce, demanding and impulsive, everything about North is larger than life.  For North, nothing is impossible as long as he believes in it.”

Jack Frost, in the voice of Chris Pine, “is more than a myth. He is a supernatural being much like the guardians, but unlike the others, he is a loner: the classic rebel without a cause.  He too is immortal, eternally young, charismatic and smart.  He has incredible weather powers that he controls with his magic staff; he can control the winds, storms, cold and snow.  He’s the spirit of mischief and chaos personified.  But until he can discover the purpose behind his amazing powers, he will never be a true guardian.”

The captivating Tooth Fairy is more than a fairy tale.  Given voice by Isla Fisher, Tooth is “beautiful, elegant,  blue and green iridescent, half human and half hummingbird.  She is full of energy and always in motion  collecting children’s teeth with the help of her fleet of mini fairies who patrol the globe 24/7.  What you don’t know is that the children’s teeth hold the most precious childhood memories.  Tooth safeguards these teeth in her palace and returns the memories when we need them most.”

Hugh Jackman lends his tough Aussie voice to Bunymund, aka The Easter Bunny, who believes that he is more than a fable.  “Bunny is a cool, calm Australian, as dry as the outback; an in-the-dirt, rough and tumble protector of nature.  He follows nature’s rhythms and when it’s time for action, he waits for the perfect moment to act – all over in a heartbeat with the help of his enchanted boomerangs and exploding Easter eggs.   Bunny is completely unflappable.   The only thing that gets under his skin is North’s constant ribbing about how Christmas is more important than Easter.”

sandman

Dear Sweet Sandman – more than a dream – has no voice, but he is still “our guardian of dreams.  He communicates through magical sand images that are conjured in our imagination, like a game of charades.  He is ancient and wise and incredibly powerful.  Although peaceful by nature, Sandman is a fierce fighter, expertly wielding his dreamsand-whips to fight Pitch and his nightmares.”

And then there is Pitch, an evil spirit perfectly pitched by Jude Law, giving voice to the “boogeyman who hid under your bed when you were a child, and gave you reason to fear the dark.  He’s had to endure generations of parents telling their children not to fear or believe in him, while the Guardians are beloved by all.

But in his underground liar Pitch has devised a plan to change all that.  With the help of his sinister army of nightmares, Pitch plans to destroy belief in the guardians and all they represent – until there is nothing left but fear.”

When Pitch lays down the gauntlet to take over the world, “the immortal Guardians must join forces for the first time to protect the hopes, beliefs and imagination of children all over the world.”

Wasn’t it Tinkerbell who said, “You don’t have to understand, you just have to believe.”  Our world is so complex, it’s easy to lose faith, but maybe it’s worth a try. At least seeing this movie made me feel that way for a while.

Give yourself a treat this holiday season.  Go to the movies!

wordsDuring the December holiday marathon, the one bit of advice is always…Breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, breathe in.  And do try to keep your sense of humor.

Thus, a little contribution to your sanity.

Did you know that December is the most popular month for nose jobs?

From the Southern Groan department:

In a small Southern town there was a nativity scene that showed great skill and talent by the makers.  However, there was one small item that bothered some of the onlookers.  The three Wise Men were wearing firemen’s helmets.

At a convenience store a clerk was asked about the meaning of the helmets.  After exploding with rage, he yelled “Don’t you damn Yankees ever read the Bible?”  When he was assured that that wasn’t the case, he jerked his Bible from under the counter and flipped through the pages and finally, jabbed his finger at a passage.   “See, right there, it says the three wise men came from afar.”

Merger-mania Hits December Holidays

Continuing the current trend of large-scale mergers and acquisitions, it was announced today at a press conference that Christmas and Hanukkah will merge. An industry source said that the deal had been in the works for about 1300 years.

dredelWhile details were not available at press time, it is believed that the overhead cost of having twelve days of Christmas and eight days of Hanukkah was becoming prohibitive for both sides. By combining forces, we’re told, the world will be able to enjoy consistently high-quality service during the Fifteen Days of Chrismukkah, as the new holiday is being called.

Massive layoffs are expected, with lords a-leaping and maids a-milking being the hardest hit. As part of the conditions of the agreement, the letters on the dreydl, currently in Hebrew, will be replaced by Latin, thus becoming unintelligible to a wider audience.

Also, instead of translating to “A great miracle happened there,” the message on the dreydl will be the more generic “Miraculous stuff happens.” In exchange, it is believedpeartree that Jews will be allowed to use Santa Claus and his vast merchandising resources for buying and delivering their gifts.

One of the sticking points holding up the agreement for at least three hundred years was the question of whether Jewish children could leave milk and cookies for Santa even after having eaten meat for dinner.  A breakthrough came last year, when Oreos were finally declared to be Kosher. All sides appeared happy about this.

A spokesman for Christmas, Inc., declined to say whether a takeover of Kwanzaa might not be in the works as well. He merely pointed out that, were it not for the independent existence of Kwanzaa, the merger between Christmas and Chanukah might indeed be seen as an unfair cornering of the holiday market. Fortunately for all concerned, he said, Kwanzaa will help to maintain the competitive balance. He then closed the press conference by leading all present in a rousing rendition of “Oy Vey, All Ye Faithful.”

One final groaner:

What do you call a bunch of Chess Grand Masters bragging about their game prowess  in a hotel lobby?elf

Chess nuts boasting in an open foyer.

I hope you all have a peaceful and calm holiday.

Thanks once again for all your support and interest in this little labor of love.  I enjoy writing it, but most of all, I enjoy your comments and the fact that I am connecting with you. If you would like to receive notification when new posts are made,  click on the RSS Feed, highlighted in the upper right side of this page, within the words:  “Hey there! Thanks for dropping by La Bella Vita! Take a look around and grab the RSS feed to stay updated. See you around!”   Also, you are welcome to forward the blog to others who might also be interested.

 

homelesswoman

Back in the 80’s when driving to my office, I often passed  a woman on the street who was generally dressed in a peasant type blouse, a full skirt and cowboy boots.  She wore a sequined headband that held back her very wild hair.  In that same area there was another woman whom I called “The Pink Lady.”  She was always neatly dressed, wearing a raincoat of some kind with a long pink scarf jauntily tied around her neck. Behind her she pulled a cart lined in pink plastic which I presumed contained her belongings. She had long bleached hair and I often wondered how she touched up her roots.   There was another woman who showed up periodically at an insurance agency in my office building.  I eventually learned that she, like the others, was homeless.  She had family from whom she was estranged, but who provided money for her through the insurance agent.  When she needed it, she came by the building and the agency owner gave her money.

Sounds like the big city?  It wasn’t – it was the relatively small, safe upscale tourist community of Hyannis, Massachusetts.  These women, along with many others, were homeless.  I saw them on my way to work  because they had been kicked out of the local homeless shelter each morning at 8 am.  They weren’t “allowed to lay about the shelter during the day,”  so having nowhere to go, they roamed the streets until they could return to the shelter at 7 pm.

At the time I understood very little about those folks, but subsequently I was invited to join the board of directors of a local medical clinic which served the homeless  population and there I began to learn more about the root causes of homelessness, which are multiple and complex: mental illness or mental disabilities, addiction, poverty and affordable housing. (Today we can add unemployment to that list.)

The most shocking ah ha for me was that often these folks do have families who care deeply about their circumstances, but when the homeless are mentally incapable (not unwilling) of “conforming” to society’s rules the families  end up throwing up their hands.  I had two dear friends whose family members (one a daughter, one a mother) drifted from shelter or facility causing no small amount of anxiety as the family members tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to keep them safe from harm.  None of these folks received the regular and steady mental health treatment they deserved.

While the majority of the homeless I observed were disturbed but not “dangerous,” there are those that are – and you and I cannot tell the difference. I served as the jury foreman on a case where a homeless manhomeless1 was charged with assault, attempted rape and attempted murder of a young girl at a nearby beach.  He “lived” in that same Hyannis shelter and might have been viewed as “harmless.”  That is until he wasn’t harmless.  It was a heart-wrenching case that has haunted me for years and yesterday I could not help making a comparison when I listened to the news of the Connecticut shooting.   Or for that matter, the “random” shootings in Colorado and Michigan and Virginia, all the way back to Columbine.

When mental health institutions were deregulated, the sentiment was that “these people would be happier if they were released from care and given more freedom to make their own decisions.”  But the truth of the matter was and is, it was a fast way to save money by eliminating the state’s expense and load the burden onto the private sector.  The homeless population exploded. Erratic behavior was front and center – if we cared to look – but we didn’t.

Those who suffer from mental illness were and are expected and forced to make decisions that are beyond their capabilities – simple day-to-day decisions – like buying food, remembering to take their meds or doing laundry. To the mentally ill these things can be simply overwhelming.  Families are no more equipped today than they were then, to cope with the full time requirements associated with the mental illnesses of their loved ones.  Just as the Colorado shooter, James Holmes, was found to have a history of mental problems, I suspect we will learn in the coming days that there were mental health issues with Adam Lanza and there were signs along the way, subtle perhaps, but there just the same.  I can’t help but think he had somehow concluded that there was nowhere for him to go.

But instead of having a fruitful debate about how to deal with mental illness, we’ll have a polarized debate about gun control.  That’s so much easier to discuss isn’t it?

How many tragedies will it take before we really get to the heart of the matter of mental illness? The taking of 27 innocent lives isn’t about guns.  It’s about a segment of our society that we deem invisible.  That’s what we do – we look through them or past them, but we find a way to pretend that they aren’t there. Can there be any more cruel behavior than looking through people whom we consider odd, or who make us the slightest bit uncomfortable because their behavior isn’t quite “right?”  Read The Gift of Fear.  Our intuitions tell us when we are in danger.  I have to wonder about the wisdom of Mrs. Lanza having one gun in a home – never mind three,  if there was any doubt about her son’s stability.  Perhaps she felt she needed to protect herself from her son.

There are no easy answers to this enormous, terribly serious issue and I fear we will continue to have these shootings.  It’s “too hard” to have a meaningful dialogue about such complexities – we’re too busy worrying about our new i-Pads and which celebrity is getting divorced and the crass consumerism of how much stuff we’re getting for Christmas. Speaking of which, every newscaster (I can no longer call them journalists) yesterday seemed unusually outraged that this horrific shooting happened “a week before Christmas!”  Hummm…perhaps it would have been better to do it in March – there is absolutely nothing going on in March – such a slow news month.

My young man from the court case was found guilty of assault and attempted rape, but not guilty of attempted murder.  Because he had multiple notebooks filled with confused and rambling obsessions, we had an incredible glimpse of how he was wired.  As a result, we the jury believed he was incapable of organizinghomeless2 his thoughts to the extent of planning a murder.  But as I read the verdict in court, I could barely utter the words.  I couldn’t help but wonder, had he gotten the treatment he deserved, might he at least have been spared the horrible life he experienced.  He was sentenced to life in a mental institution but I doubt that he receives any better care there, than he got on the street.

My Pink Lady died – frozen in sleep one winter night, not three blocks from the shelter.  I say “My” because aren’t we all responsible for those who are unable to care for themselves?  Isn’t that what entitlements should be for?  Those who have nowhere else to go.

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