7 x 7 Link Award

My pal over at Celluloid Zombie passed along this award, which led me to revisit some old blog posts.

The rules to the 7 x 7 Link Award are simple:

  1. Tell everyone something about yourself that nobody else knows.
  2. Link to a post I think fits the following categories: Most Beautiful Piece, Most Helpful Piece, Most Popular Piece, Most Controversial Piece, Most Surprisingly Successful Piece, Most Underrated Piece, Most Pride Worthy Piece.
  3. Pass this on to 7 fellow bloggers.

And we’re off.

Tell everyone something about yourself that nobody else knows

If not one person knew some deep, dark secret of mine, I can’t imagine why I’d suddenly tell everyone. But here’s the thing…I’m a pretty open person. I’d offer up even the most cringe-inducing confession if I thought someone else would benefit by it. So there you go. Not nearly as exciting as the bodies under the floorboards over at Celluloid Zombie, I know.

1. Most Beautiful Piece

Without hesitation, my most beautiful piece—One Two Three Kick—is about the person responsible for so many happy moments in my childhood (even if I do shudder when re-reading the paragraphs detailing the excessive snacking. What did we know? It was the 70s.)

2. Most Helpful Piece

Felix the Cat and MacGyver inspired this post that I hope encouraged you to consider how the simplest things and a bit of imagination can take life from mundane to memorable. Check out Felix the Cat and MacGyver Picnic on a Purple Sarong.

3. Most Popular Piece

Reading Old Journals…Yikes! struck a chord with many readers. It is my leader in Comments and what great comments they are.

4. Most Controversial Piece

Controverisal? Moi? Well, if you’re planning on hiring me sometime in the future, please don’t read Denim, the evil fabric until we’ve finalized all the contracts.

5. Most Surprisingly Successful Piece

Who could have guessed that my family recipe for Migliaccio (Italian Farina Custard) would top my Most Viewed chart? When did farina, eggs, and sugar become so popular? It just goes to prove that the whole, bubbling concoction is greater than the sum of its parts. With Easter right around the corner, you don’t want to miss this one.

6. Most Underrated Piece

Apparently, readers don’t want to hear about one of the more embarrassing moments in my life or the possibility that Child Protective Services has a file on me for subjecting a minor to naked aliens. If that sort of thing doesn’t interest you either, then don’t read Signs.

7. Most Pride Worthy Piece

My post Travel: Gaeta, Italy in October is the one I’m most proud of. It was a labor of love to condense two of the best weeks of my life into a CliffsNotes travelogue. I’m so hopeful that someone out there will make this very trip and then tell me all about their experience. I love reminiscing about this vacation and I often return to this post to immerse myself in a sea of memories.

My 7 Nominees

I know people are busy, so don’t feel obligated to participate. However, you are the ones that entertain me the most and it would be fun to read some of your posts I may have missed.

Altared Spaces

Finding the Humor

Girlboxing

Huffygirl’s Blog

Mostly Bright Ideas

The Fordeville Diaries

The Glowing Edge

Horror: What truly terrifies you?

There are countless books and movies that attempt to scare us. Some succeed; many fail. Being scared out of your wits is a personal thing, it seems. What succeeds in scaring you may completely fail to frighten me. So, I ask “Which bits of a book or movie are capable of truly terrifying you?”

There’s something exhilarating about entering into a potentially scary experience. It’s a delicious sensation that builds and creates goose bumps on my skin and chills in my core. I curl up tighter on the couch and sink lower under my blanket. My hands make their way closer to my face so I can hide my eyes if necessary. This is a good kind of scariness, one that you anticipate when watching certain movies.

It is in no way similar to feeling disturbed by themes that involve violence done to children, which does my head in but could never result in the scary sensations described above. In fact, I can’t watch horror movies or read books that involve harm coming to children.

When I was a kid, Edgar Allan Poe’s stories scared the heck out of me and probably set the foundation for what I would later find scary, namely suspenseful horror that is not overdone and psychological in nature. For example, Fortunato being walled up, one brick at a time, in the wine cellar. The thought of being trapped like that and no one ever knowing where you were was terrifying to me at the age of eight.

About that time, there was a TV show called The 4:30 Movie that had theme weeks. Vincent Price Week was a favorite. Several of his movies were based on Poe classics and to this day, when someone mentions Edgar Allan Poe, I see Vincent Price’s face (and hear his distinctive voice).

Then there was Monster week. Though I’d watch intently as people screaming in Japanese fled the city with Godzilla, Rodam, Gamera, or Gargantua chasing after them, I was never scared by these fake, rubbery monsters. The horror came later if Mom happened to cook something jiggly like eggplant parmigiana. Then, I’d hear the screeches of Gamera and Godzilla coming from my plate. To this day, whenever I bite into an eggplant parmigiana hero, I always think of them.  

You see the similarities, right?

As a teenager, I saw the standard teen horror flicks. With the exception of the original Halloween movie, the teen horror movies just never did it for me. They relied too much on cheap thrills and such far-fetched plots that eventually I decided to willingly unsuspend disbelief. Cheap thrills leave you hungry for something more substantial. Sure the startle factor is powerful, but it’s short-lived. Something would pop out at you and you’d scream. Remember what you did after screaming? You laughed, right? Because it was more a feeling of “you got me” rather than “wow, you really scared me down deep and that fear is going to linger for a while.” After the movie, you’d walk home with your friends and rather than looking over your shoulder in fear, you’d laugh at who screamed the loudest at those moments.

A good scare is a lot like garlic. It lasts long after the story has ended. Here are some of my favorite, scary viewing/reading moments:

Jaws: It doesn’t matter that I know it’s unlikely I’ll ever be eaten by a shark. The possibility exists and so I’m never quite at ease ever since I saw this movie as a kid.

Open Water: To start, I have a fear of being under water. (I won’t tell you how old I was when I finally learned to put my entire head under the shower, cheeks puffed with extra oxygen stored up.) This movie had me on the brink of an anxiety attack, but I couldn’t stop watching it. Even if I didn’t have a deep-water phobia, as clearly the divers in the movie didn’t, you can’t escape the horror of their situation. First of all, it happens in real life—fly-by-night operations leave divers behind. Then there’s the near certainty that you’re going to die and probably in a gruesome way. The nudge of the shark wasn’t even as terrifying as waiting for the shark’s nudge after the partner died and drifted off. The suspense made me sick inside. Oy! I’m starting to hyperventilate just thinking about it.

Communion (the book): It is a mistake to read this book in bed at night. It terrified me. It’s supposedly a true story about author Whitley Strieber’s encounters with aliens at his cabin in the woods, and there are witnesses. Whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter; it feels real. And the horror of this book carried over into my real life in strange ways. See my post Signs for the details. And speaking of Signs…

Signs: I love this movie because you don’t see the aliens until the end and it’s still scary as hell. The rustle of those corn stalks gets me every time.

Fire in the Sky: Freaky. Freaky. And can I just say, freaky. The whole “based on true events” thing already kicks the scare-o-meter up a few notches for me. DB Sweeney cowering naked in the corner of that shack made my hair stand on end. And the whole icky, sticky beehive-like thing was disgusting, but in a scary way. Imagine waking up to find yourself in something like that. Jeez. But that part only worked for me after the rest of the movie had done its job.

Twilight Zone: The Movie: Can you honestly tell me that when you take a night flight you don’t look at the wing expecting to see that thing standing out there? Shiver.

Planet of the Apes (the original): This is not a scary movie, but the final scene on the beach stayed with me a long time with all the unspoken facts: There’s nowhere to go. You’re where you wanted to get to, but it’s not what you thought it would be. Your life is a nightmare you’ll never wake up from.

With that said, I think I’m a bit clearer about what scares me. It’s the sense of being trapped without control, whether it be in the middle of the sea, among talking, dominant apes, or prodded by aliens. And most likely, this loss of control scares me in books and films because it disturbs me in real life, too. For those of you who know me, I’m sure you’re shocked by this admission. 🙂

Your turn. What truly terrifies you?

The Willing Suspension of Disbelief

A difference of opinion is no reason to eat my brain.

For many of us who read novels or watch movies in genres outside the realm of “this could happen in real life,” there is a willing suspension of disbelief before we enter the theater or open the cover of a book (or press whichever Kindle button). We’re excited. We’re ready to be entertained. And we participate in the experience by opening ourselves to what realists would call the impossible…

Tonight I am guest blogging over at Celluloid Zombie about the willing suspension of disbelief. Though Richard Lamb and I disagree on this topic (just one of many), he’s busy at work and will permit even someone he disagrees with to guest blog at his site. Lucky for me.

So jump on over with me to Celluloid Zombie and chime in and tell us your opinion.

Travel: Gaeta, Italy in October

 This one’s for you, Nan.

If you dream of Italy, possess an explorer’s spirit, and enjoy immersing yourself in a foreign culture, have I got the vacation for you. Take a sledgehammer to your itineraries cast in stone, burn your vacation to-do list, and never again wake at an ungodly hour to catch a stuffy tour bus en route to crowded attractions. In Gaeta, you can’t help but fall into the rhythm of the natives, a rhythm steady enough to keep you on course but with breaks in the beat for some solo improvisation. Perfection.

Gaeta? Never heard of it.

This past October I fell in love with Gaeta, Italy during a two-week stay with a group of writers I met online. (For more on that story, click here.) Like many people, I wasn’t familiar with Gaeta, despite traveling north to south in Italy twice in the past. But I was familiar with two of the products Gaeta is known for…Gaeta olives and buffalo mozzarella. That was a good enough start for me.

Look at that sweet mozzarella face on the supermarket shopping bag.

It turns out this present-day fishing community was a renowned tourist resort to the wealthy, ancient Romans and its seaport had trade and military significance. In fact, its fortifications date back to Roman times. Who knew?

Driving with the Italians…and Michael Jackson

We flew in to Fiumicino Airport in Rome and found our driver Lucio, who would transport us the two hours to Gaeta. This was a less expensive and infinitely more comfortable option than lugging suitcases through stations to catch two different trains.

There’s no roller coaster that tops the exhilaration of driving with a real Italian in Italy. It’s a religious experience. And where else could we have enjoyed the endless Michael Jackson music that Lucio played for the length of the trip. I’m not sure if he was a fan or if he thought his American passengers were. Every once in a while his left hand would come off the steering wheel and do a little circular motion in the air, and the rest of us would erupt in a high-pitched “ooooo.” We joked we were singing along in the spirit of the great Mr. Jackson, but if I’m being honest, it was more a high-pitched squeal of terror—high speed, sharp curves, oncoming traffic, and a one-handed driver. Wait, I feel another “ooooooo” coming on…and maybe a wee, butt clench.

Two hours later, the music track was still playing, and Michael was instructing us to “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough.” Clearly, Lucio hadn’t. And I’d realized much earlier in the journey that screaming “Zio, zio” (the Italian word for uncle) at the top of my lungs did not translate as a cry of surrender. 😉

All jesting aside, Lucio was a wonderful driver and a charming man and I’d hire him again. Case in point, after a long train journey back to Gaeta after an exhausting day in Rome, we exited the station, not looking forward to the bus ride ahead of us.  Standing outside, as if sent by an angel, was Lucio with his cab parked at the curb. We let out a cry of joy and rushed toward him. He looked a bit frightened and probably has his own blog where he tells of the crazy Americans and one English guy he once drove around. 

Villa Accetta: A jewel on the Gulf of Gaeta

We finally arrived at Villa Accetta, which has been owned by the Accetta family for several generations and in existence even longer than that. In fact, it appears on an ancient map of Gaeta in the museum of Formia, a neighboring city. As I passed through the gates, I couldn’t miss the view of the blue-green Gulf of Gaeta, framed by fuchsia bougainvillea and swaying palm trees. According to Villa Accetta’s website:

“Built on Roman foundations, the property sits above the fresh-water spring called Artacia Fons that flows into the sea. Homer, Dante, Virgil and Ovid all wrote about this spring, where Ulysses and his crew found drinkable water after months at sea.”

The Gardens at Villa Accetta

The circular staircase leading to the various apartments has at its core a passage to this grotto, which supplies the property not only with water but also cool, fresh air. All of the apartments have views of the sea, from terraces, balconies, or oversized windows. The soothing ripples of the water lapping against the shore of the private, pebbly beach lulled me to sleep many a night. Once or twice, the sea turned angry and blasted the exterior walls of the villa with a violent spray. In the early morning, I’d look out at the calm water and think I’d been dreaming the night before.

We explored the property with rumbling tummies until a member of our party, who had arrived a few days early, led us to the old, handmaid table on the terrace, where she had set out a Gaetan feast so beautiful it could have been a spread for a photo shoot: fresh, and I mean fresh, balls of buffalo mozzarella waiting to be scooped from a pot of liquid; gorgonzola; olives; tomatoes; pancetta bread; cured meats like salami, capicolla, and prosciutto; finnochio (fennel); and wine. We were half starved from our journey and ate with relish, which is just a nice way of saying we inhaled our food like cafoni. With bellies bursting with joy, we returned to our individual apartments to take the customary afternoon nap. Boy, did we need it.

The Rhythm of Gaeta

The rhythm of Gaeta is a soothing ebb and flow. After a while, you suspect that the sea, and not blood, flows through the veins of its inhabitants. Before sunrise, the fishermen set out in their boats; before sunset they return to lay out their catch at the daily fish market. Day after day, I was drawn to that market to see what treasures had been pulled from the sea and what I might be eating at a local restaurant later that evening.

View from "port hole" window beneath Villa Accetta

In the mornings, we’d have sfogliatella and cappuccino for breakfast at Triestina, our favorite café. You may be familiar with the flaky, clam shell-shaped version of sfogliatella. But there is another variety I have never seen in New York called sfogliatella frolla, which has a smoother dough but the same filling. You’ll never find a cappuccino in the States like in Gaeta. Perfect every time. And even if you do, you’ll pay at least $4.50 for it rather than 90 cents or a Euro. For all you “bacon and eggs” people, fuhgeddaboudit. Not gonna happen. I suppose you can improvise with groceries bought at the PAM supermarket in Gaeta and cooked up in the villa’s kitchen, but isn’t it more fun to have a reason to eat pastry for breakfast? And there’s no need to worry about your figure. The terrain is so rugged with its ancient stone pathways, steep hills, and long stretches of beach that I didn’t gain a single pound and came home with a few new muscles.

After breakfast, we’d take in the sights. There are castles, churches, beaches, shops, outdoor markets, ancient paths to walk, mountains to climb, legendary sites to visit, and neighboring towns to explore. But don’t lose that rhythm or you’ll find yourself hungry and locked out of shops when the entire town closes for its big meal of the day and siesta. After all, this isn’t Rome with its tourist restaurants and menus written in 37 different languages. The first day, we walked through the streets a bit stunned, realizing what had happened, and stared longingly through screenless windows at families sitting down to their pranzo. You don’t make that mistake twice. And so, just before 1 PM, we’d stop at the salumeria or caseificio to pick up some fixings and head back to the villa for a leisurely lunch and siesta.

Sometimes, before that afternoon nap beckoned, we’d stroll on the villa’s beach, collecting shells, beach glass, unusual stones, and what I like to think is some kind of ancient Roman building material. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. 😉

After naps, we’d freshen up and add a layer to our outfit since the October nights can be a bit cool. Then it was on to the passegiata, the pre-dinner stroll that is an Italian tradition. We’d pass the fish market to marvel at tender octopus and tiny clams, and then walk on to the piazza along the waterfront path. No one was in a hurry. Dinner doesn’t happen before 7 PM.

Memorable Meals

On that unforgettable afternoon when we realized we hadn’t planned for lunch, we wandered through the deserted streets until I spotted a statue of Padre Pio, a much loved saint in Italy. Padre Pio has a list of credits to his name, but he is now officially my patron saint of finding food in Italy when everyone has closed up shop and returned home for their big meal of the day. That’s because he sat at the entrance of La Saliera da Mario, the only restaurant open for business, it seemed. We ordered platters of bruschetta, fried calamari, gnocchi, seafood salad, and cheese and cured meats and passed them around the table. After lunch, the proprietor brought bottles of amaro, an herbal liquer, and grappa to the table to finish off the meal. Nice touch.

When the scent of the wood-burning brick ovens called to us, we headed to Da Emilio for pizza.  I enjoyed the quattro stagione, which featured salami, mushrooms, olives, artichokes, and Parma ham over a crisp, evenly cooked crust. For appetizers, we sampled the mixed seafood appetizer, fried calamari, and fried alici (whole, pan-fried anchovies). Let me tell you, Gaetans know how to catch a fish and fry it up in a pan.

Down a vicolo off the Via Indipendenza we happened upon L’enoteca di Luigiraschi. A lucky find since that was their last night serving dinner before closing up for vacation. The steamed mussels and clams were tender and sweet and the garlicky broth was quickly sopped up with bread. The seafood salad was fresh, as all seafood is in Gaeta. As delicious as it all was, one dish really stood out—the seafood risotto. We all had a taste of it and then kept eyeing it as our friend ate his meal. Some of us were bolder than others and I have the fork marks in my wrist to prove it. (Located in Gaeta, Via Indipendenza, Vico 1, 15)

There’s a traditional pizza in Gaeta called tiella, and Nari is the place to go for it. I only wish that these restaurants had websites so I could link to them. Tiella is a stuffed, pan pizza. I adored the zucchini/calamari tiella. I also sampled the one stuffed with onion. (Located in Gaeta, Via Duomo 11/17)

In the best gelato category, Il Molo wins. We ordered multi-flavor cones and sampled each other’s flavors so we’d know what to order next time. There were many “next times.” Nutella and bacio were good. Pistacchio, coffee, and coconut—excellent. (Located in Gaeta, Piazza del Pesce, 1)

Finally, if you happen to take the bus into Formia, the city next to Gaeta, you must have lunch at La Cucina della Nonna where Italian homecooking like your grandma used to do it is what you’ll get. Here, you grab a tray and point to the things you want if you can’t speak the language. We had stuffed peppers, pasta with eggplant, and potato stuffed with prosciutto. And then I saw the little chunks of golden, roasted potatoes and had to have them, too. The couple who run this restaurant are entertaining to say the least. I knew enough Italian and the man knew enough English to share some conversation while we ate our meal. The woman, recognizing that I was American, automatically threw packets of ketchup and mayonnaise on my tray, which I returned to her unopened at the end of my meal. She practically hugged me as she beat her chest and complained in Italian about the Americans who come and put mayonnaise on her food. I assured her that this American, raised by Italians, would never do such a sinful thing. She complimented me on being one of the few sane Americans that she had met. Like I said, entertaining. (Located in Formia at Via Nerva, 14)

Before you leave Formia to head back to Gaeta, be sure to stop at Pastacceria Troiano pastry shop, where we ordered one sfogliatella and one sfogliatella frolla and they wrapped them as if they were a gift for a king. The pastries happened to be delicious, as well. Truth be told, we never made it back to Gaeta. We parked ourselves at a park bench overlooking the sea and ripped into that beautiful packaging for a taste. (Located in Formia at Via Vitruvio, 76)

Places to See

You’ll discover many delightful sights as you wander the streets of Gaeta and travel to neighboring towns. Here are a few of my favorites:

Via Indipendenza – This narrow, stone street will have you believing you stepped back in time. Shops, stores, and restaurants line the way. Be sure to stop and stare into the kitchen of the man who bakes the sfogliatelle and cornettos for the local cafés and shops. If you’re a local kid, he has a just-from-the-oven pastry for you. If you’re not, no cornettos for you.

The Wednesday outdoor market – If you can’t get it here, it doesn’t exist. Fruits, veggies, meats, pastries, housewares, clothes, shoes…even pets. (Located in Corso Cavour, near the old Station.)

Old Gaeta – How I loved strolling along the sea and winding in and out of the old, narrow streets. Check out the Angevin-Aragonese castle and the old Sant’Erasmo bell tower.

Serapo Beach – When you leave the villa early in the morning and think it’s a bit chilly, turn yourself around, go back inside, and put your bathing suit on under your clothes. I’m glad I did. By the time we’d made our way into town and had our breakfast cappuccino, it was beach weather. We stopped and bought some panini and a bag of taralli (lightly sweet, anise flavored cookies) for a picnic lunch and ended up lying on the pristine sand of Serapo. The water was a bit chilly for me, but then my pool has to be 85 degrees before I venture in. So, stick a toe or two in and see for yourself.

Serapo Beach

Sperlonga – Ah, how I wish I could be back in Sperlonga for more than just one afternoon. Next time, I’ll rent a place there for a few days. When you get off the bus at sea level, you are in the center of a small town on a beautiful beach. If you stand on the beach and look up at the mountain, you’ll think there are a few houses up there. But when you start hiking the uphill roads, you’ll find a complex maze of alleys that lead to a hidden “city” of restaurants, shops, a piazza, sea views, serene shrines, and an ancient church. Oy, I could weep. Apparently, there’s a lot more to see. So plan to spend more than just a few hours. And have an alternate plan to get back to Gaeta since the buses don’t run between the two towns in the evening.

Beach at Sperlonga

View of Sperlonga from within the hill town

Annunziata Church – I happen to love churches and this one didn’t disappoint. Be sure to check out the paintings inside. It is said that Pope Pius IX, while living in exile in Gaeta, formulated his ideas on papal infallibility here.  

Montagna Spaccata  – Legend has it that this mountain split upon Christ’s death. Visit the church, see the tiled Stations of the Cross, and be sure to take the 200+ steps down to the grotto (Grotta del Turco). Also check out the handprint seared into the mountain wall, said to belong to a Turk who did not believe in the legend. 

Montagna Spaccata - The "Split Mountain"

Rome, Naples, and Pompeii  – If you want to visit “big city” sights, take the train from Formia station. Gaeta is about halfway between Rome and Naples, and depending on which train you take, it’s about an hour and a half to a two hour trip.

The Last Night and Day

For our last night, we stayed at the Hotel Malù in Rome, a more relaxing option than racing against time to get to the airport from Gaeta. I’m not even convinced it can be done. Disregard the warnings about staying near Termini Station. It’s a bustling area of shops, restaurants, cafés, churches, and fountains. Hotel Malù is owned by a lovely family and operated in a building with other apartments and hotels. Security was tight, prices were reasonable, the room was immaculately clean, well-decorated, and comfortable, and there was free wi-fi in the common areas, helpful for last minute travel inquiries. The delightful Ivan suggested Le 2 Colonne restaurant and I ate my final meal listening to the bells of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Heavenly.

il Bugso Bunny

Some Additional Links

Slow Travel Italy

The “Riviera di Ulisse”

Welcome to Gaeta and Welcome to Sperlonga by the Shapcott Family

Magpie’s Shiny Things: March 31, 2011

Magpie's Shiny Things

I just realized it’s the last day of the month. Time for another edition of Magpie’s Shiny Things.

The other night I received a friend request on Pioneer Woman’s Tasty Kitchen site, and I’ll never be the same. It was from Paula Jones of bell’alimento. Sigh, swoon, gasp. I think we may be kindred spirits. Love of Italy, love of Italian food, love of Nutella. It’s a match made in heaven. I can’t wait to go bleary-eyed reading every single recipe on her site. The food photography is gorgeous, as well.

Let me whet your appetite just a bit. How about Nutella-filled cinnamon rolls drizzled with cherry glaze? Huh? Huh? In this recipe, she announces a new website called Bella Nutella, dedicated to, you guessed it, Nutella recipes. I’m sobbing! I was under the impression that you couldn’t cook with Nutella. A message on the label says not to microwave it. I carried that warning to the extreme. (Kind of like how my Mom has never cut those tags off her pillows because she thinks the Feds are going to show up at her door.) But I digress. Bell’alimento offers a lot more than just desserts. There are mouth-watering pasta, chicken, beef, pork, vegetable, and seafood dishes, too. Check it out, preferably when you’re not too hungry. 😉

Michael of Sharing a Love of Teaching comes through again with another great post on education. This time it’s The Use of Video in Education and it features Salman Khan’s talk at TED. (I love TED talks!) Khan was a hedge fund analyst who made YouTube videos for his cousins to help them with their homework. Other people found them and used them, and now he has over 2,100 videos posted over at the Khan Academy site. I haven’t looked through all of them, obviously, but if you have kids in school (just about any level) or if you have gone back to school yourself, you might want to check them out. Topics include arithmetic, calculus, biology, chemistry, banking, economics, history, finance, and much more. 

And finally, if you’re in the mood for a heart-tugging read and some beautiful photography, check out Rebecca Mullen’s Altared Spaces blog. She is visiting colleges with her daughter and her latest post explores their relationship, using elements of nature to spotlight the contrasts. See if you can read this one without tearing up.

Silicone, silicone everywhere and not a drop to drink

…said the snake. You’ve heard the story, right? In the news a couple of weeks ago? A model handling a snake during a photo shoot had her fake boob bit by the snake…who promptly died. Her silicone implant supposedly ruptured and the snake ingested some. They gave her a tetanus shot for the snake bite. But what about that silicone that’s doing a slow drip inside of her. You know, the silicone that KILLED THE SNAKE. Well, apparently, the story is not true. The snake did not die of silicone poisoning. That was just a rumor that major newspapers picked up without verifying. Must be nice to get paid for making stuff up. “Um, never mind,” said the fiction writer.

What about this story? A mother of a four-year-old is suing a private pre-school because it did not adequately prepare the child to take the entrance exams required to get into the most elite elementary schools in New York. She’s also claiming they didn’t prepare her daughter for the Ivy League. Lady, you’ve been smoking too much ivy. You make Tiger Mom look like a pussycat rolling in catnip. Get a grip. She’s four. And go see the film Race to Nowhere. The popcorn’s on me.  

Talk about people who are out of their quacking mind…Gilbert Gottfried. When you’re the spokesduck for a major insurance company, maybe you shouldn’t make jokes about tsunami victims. Only “Aflac”ing idiot would do that. Or a comedian.

 …Or a governor’s press secretary. Governor Haley Barbour’s press secretary, Dan Turner, resigned after making a Japan earthquake joke in an email. When public figures want to moonlight as comedians, they should take a tip from the Unknown Comic. Insert head into paper bag, do a little dance, tell joke, return to day job, no one the wiser.

And thanks to ABC for sending the wonderful message that you can destroy their offices and break their windows, sending glass raining down on the pedestrian-filled, Times Square streets of New York, and be invited back for another interview. And the award for prolific creator of real-life stories he doesn’t want to talk about in interviews goes to…Chris Brown. Idiot!

“That’s all the news that’s fit to print,” said the journalists.

Pet Peeve – Charity Waste

I just finished compiling my income tax information for my accountant and I feel about 20 pounds lighter despite the Nutella I ate from the jar last night. Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. 😉

I’m a bit nutty when it comes to keeping records of our spending. It’s an odd hobby, I know, but I input everything, and I mean everything, into Quicken. It takes some time, but it’s worth it. I can tell you important stuff, like exactly what I spent on coffee in March 2010, and how much we laid out at the hardware store for electrical tape, used as hockey pucks when playing in the driveway.

In past years, it brought me some joy to know that I was increasing my charitable contributions year after year. But recently, with my cost of living increasing and my salary unchanged, I’ve had to cut back in all categories, charity included. And so, I’ve become increasingly careful about where those hard-earned dollars go. Where will they do the most good? Which charities are the most responsible and deserve my money?

A few years ago, I discovered Charity Navigator. It evaluates the financial health of over 5,500 of America’s largest charities, providing information on how much they spend on program and administrative expenses, what their mission is, how much they pay their executives, etc. Based on this information, it assigns them a score and a 0- to 4-star rating. I was shocked to see some popular charities rated so low. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which ones. I decided to contribute only to 4-star charities in the future.

Obviously, there are people who disagree with how the ratings are calculated, blah, blah, blah. However, since I’m not an accountant and can’t take the time from my already busy life to begin a third career in financial research, Charity Navigator is the next best thing. It also comes in handy when those annoying telemarketers call at dinnertime. “You want my money? Hang on one sec while I look you up on Charity Navigator…Oh, only one star. Sorry, I only give money to 4-star charities. Have a good night.”

So here’s my pet peeve. There are two hugely popular charities, which I will not name here. One is rated with one star, the other four. They both send me gazillions of return address labels with their donation request forms. So do other charities. I end up throwing tons of them out because I don’t mail much anymore. I pay all my bills online. But the thing that drives me crazy about these two charities is that the return address labels are always incorrect. One charity repeats my address line; the other chops off half of my surname. They go right in the recycling bin, along with the envelopes and inserts. It makes my blood boil. I don’t know how much these “gifts” cost to produce, but I say knock it off already. I don’t need them or want them. If I wasn’t planning on giving you money, I’m not going to be swayed by your address labels.

Okay, I feel better now. Thanks for listening. I’m slowly backing away from the Nutella jar.

What Would You Do?

The justice gene—I’ve got it. I swear I was born fully clothed in a bright-colored, monogrammed leotard with a cape tied around my neck. It’s no surprise that I love the TV show What Would You Do? hosted by John Quiñones. If you haven’t seen it, Quiñones sets up a controversial scenario using actors and then films to see what passersby will do. My eleven-year-old took an interest as well, and it’s become our Friday night family ritual, complete with black-and-white cookies, tea, and discussion period afterward (and sometimes during, as we get heated up by what happens or doesn’t happen on screen.) For example:

When attempting to steal a bicycle by sawing through the chain or cutting through the lock, please note:

  • If you are a white guy, no one will pay you much notice
  • If you are a black guy, an angry mob will surround you
  • If you are a blonde woman, you will have instant male accomplices

This isn’t my opinion. These are the facts from a recent show that completely shocked me. The racial bit wasn’t surprising, unfortunately. What astounded me was the number of men willing to help that pretty, blonde woman after she admitted she was stealing the bicycle. And then, though they could have requested to have their faces blocked in the edited episode, they didn’t. They were proud of helping her steal the bike. These must be the same sort of men who find themselves tied to the posts of a hotel bed while the hot chick leaves with their clothes, jewelry, and wallet.

Another fascinating fact: In the potentially dangerous scenarios (e.g., an older teenaged male pushing around his girlfriend), it is often a little woman with a lioness’s roar who comes to the aid of the victim, while a strapping guy in the background shuffles around trying to decide if he wants to get involved or not. I would bet that most of these women are mothers.

Then there are the episodes in which the apathy is downright scary. In one, a group of men at a bar laugh as they watch a woman slip a drug into her date’s drink. In reverse, they would have jumped to the aid of a woman being drugged unknowingly, but when it was a guy, it was funny. Is it that elbow-in-the-ribs, wink-wink machismo that prevents them from helping out one of their own? Did they assume she had sexual intentions and not murderous ones? And that it would be okay or cool for a woman to take advantage of a man? I have no answers, but I suspect it’s this same elbow-in-the-ribs, wink-wink machismo that decides it would be fun to get a bunch of fraternity pledges near-dead drunk and then pile them into a car trunk. Just saying.

I wonder how people can walk by another in need and not stop to help. On a bright note, I’ve noticed that as more shows air, the response from onlookers is better. Perhaps more people are watching and waking up to the idea that we share a responsibility to take care of our fellow man. We’re not all brave enough to step into the middle of the action, and many times that isn’t advisable anyway, but how about calling the police when necessary? We can all do that.

At the end of the show, Quiñones interviews the people who stepped forward to assist. In 100% of the cases, they deny they’re heroes. They are simply human beings doing the right thing. Amen to that.

Tomorrow night (Tuesday) is a different type of show based on ideas submitted by viewers, and it takes you behind the scenes. They’ve decided to air this one at 10 PM, perhaps due to the subject matter of one of the set-ups. I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll let the wee one watch this time. I hope this special edition lives up to the regular weekly show. Regardless, I’ll have fun watching my friend Peter D Michael as one of the undercover actors. Go Petie!

Magpie’s Shiny Things: February 19, 2011

This weekend will bring some much needed rest and relaxation my way and some artistic fun. Today, Art House’s Sketchbook Project 2011 tour begins. I heard about this event a few weeks ago and it really got me excited. As a stick-figure-drawing person who wishes she could translate what she sees in her mind to canvas or paper, I am always impressed with artistic ability. The Sketchbook Project features over 28,000 artists from 94 countries.

“It’s like a concert tour, but with sketchbooks.”

For the artists who entered, the rules are simple. They are sent a blank Moleskine sketchbook. They must use the book in some way without changing its original dimensions. Each book is given a barcode and catalogued into The Brooklyn Art Library system. Whenever someone checks the sketchbook out during the event, it is scanned and the artist can track online how many people have viewed the book.

The tour begins in Brooklyn, New York this week and then moves on to other cities around the country. Following are a few samples that caught my eye. Click here to view others.

Note: Art House sponsors other projects throughout the year. The next project open for entry (just 9 days left to sign up) is the Fiction Project.

By KamikazePilot

 
Click a graphic to go to the corresponding webpage.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

By Sasha_Kiseleva

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

By Brushmarq

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

By Linsart

 

Did you hear? I’m stylish.

This morning, Charles Gulotta of Mostly Bright Ideas nominated me for the coveted Stylish Blogger Award. No one has ever called me stylish. [Stop snickering, Mom!] It’s understandable. I live in pajamas most days when I’m at home writing. If I have to leave the house, it’s jeans, boots, and a sweater. Not too exciting, I know. So, imagine my surprise when I got the news. I feel whole now. [sniff] Special. [wipes tear from eye] Stylish for the first time. [sob] In fact, I must change into pajamas that are more appropriate for this occasion.

[snip, snip, snip] There, I’ve cut the back out of my favorite sheep pjs. Backless outfits are always more appropriate for awards ceremonies, don’t you think?

 As Charles mentioned in his post, the award comes with four basic tasks to be completed:

  1. Present seven things about yourself
  2. Name about a half dozen bloggers you think deserve the award
  3. Contact those people
  4. Create a link back to the person who gave you the honor

Here’s seven things you might not know about me:

    1. I think PEZ taste better when eaten from the dispenser rather than from the wrapper.
      .
    2. I have an overly developed sense of smell—a blessing when the flame blows out on a stove but the gas is still pumping, a curse when I get stuck in a cramped train under the armpit of a tall, unwashed man with a passion for Ralph Lauren’s Polo. You all say ugh to that, right? But when your nose is like a bloodhound’s, you find yourself praying for a quick death.
      .
      The first inkling my parents had of my super-sensory condition was in the pig house at the Flushing Meadow Zoo when I started to cry, grabbed my nose, and ran for the door when I hadn’t even learned how to walk yet. I should mention that there had already been some trauma that day when they looked away for a second and I leaned over to pet a cute little goosey. The weight of my giant, toddler bobblehead toppled me head first into the pond. Afraid of water to this day and hating nasty smells. All true.

  1. I despise overly restrictive rules, regulations, practices, and laws that are just plain ridiculous or that don’t take into account individual circumstances. So there!
    .
  2. I love food. I love to eat it, think about it, talk about it, write about it, you name it. I never mind if someone asks me what I’m eating in a restaurant. Great relationships have been struck up with strangers over the back of a diner booth, stopping just short of the exchange of a fluffy, silver-dollar pancake for a bite of a skillet omelet.
    .
    Growing up half Italian, I quickly internalized the message “Food is love.” I have such great memories of meals with my extended Italian family. And past events are easily remembered in the context of what we were eating at the time.
    .
    “Don’t you remember when Zia Anamaria announced that her brother-in-law’s sister’s son’s wife left him to pursue her dream of working at the buffalo mozzarella factory in Gaeta, Italy?”
    .
    “Oh yeah, that was the day Uncle Tutti choked on the string from the braciole.”
    .
    Okay, some of that’s not true.
    .
    .
    .
  3. Nature at once soothes and energizes me and feeds my creativity. My Muse lives outdoors, sipping nectar from trumpet-shaped flowers. If I’m lucky, I catch her with a butterfly net and bring her indoors for a few hours while I work. I thank my grandmother for fostering my fascination with nature. And I am grateful to my parents for taking us on month-long camping trips across North America every summer. There’s no hotel that compares to a sleeping bag in a tent under the stars, in my opinion.
    .
  4.  I am an ENTP on Myers-Briggs, an 8 with a 7 wing on the Enneagram, and a Gemini. Take a look at those descriptions and you’ll know more about me than you ever wanted to.
    .
  5. I am a champion of the underdog. And come to think of it, Underdog was one of my favorite cartoons as a kid.

 I’d like to thank the Academy, um I mean Charles for nominating me. His blog is one of my new favorites. I read his moving post Zabaglione and felt like I’d known him forever. Parts of it were so familiar to me. Give it a read.

Before I list my six nominations, I want to say the list would have been longer but Charles already nominated Jessica Sieghart of Surely, You Jess! Similarly, Val of Absurd Old Bird was nominated earlier in the week. And Richard Lamb of Celluloid Zombie would have eaten my brains if I nominated him, busy as he is with a new job.

Drum roll please. My nominees for the Stylish Blogger Award are:

The Fordeville Diaries – Her tagline reads “On a mission to turn the ordinary into the memorable.” She succeeds with each post. Whether she’s fretting about the ugly wall sconces in her hallway or lamenting the loss of her fingerprints (I kid you not), she always gets a good chuckle out of me.

Girlboxing – This 50-something female boxer manages to inspire me exactly when I’m in need. If you want some motivation to get up offa that thing and get that body moving, but you’re not interested in a drill sergeant-like trainer screaming in your face, make a stop at Girlboxing’s place for some quiet but powerful inspiration.

Julie Compton – This blog reflects the multi-faceted qualities of its owner. Julie is a two-time published author, a devoted mom, a female biker, a Dave Matthews fanatic, and a former practicing lawyer. If her blog is a bit quiet these days, it’s because she’s at work on her third novel. (Shhhhh, writer at work.) I can’t wait for her to finish. Her first novel Tell No Lies is a legal thriller that has been compared to Turow’s Presumed Innocent. In her second novel Rescuing Olivia, also a thriller, “a Florida biker sets out on a search against time to find and save the woman he loves when she mysteriously disappears after a suspicious motorcycle accident.” What I love about Julie’s thrillers is that her characters are deeply developed and her themes really make you think.

Earthquakes and Rattlesnakes – Zahara blogs about life, food, and travel and posts some gorgeous photos of the scenery and wildlife in Northern California. The photo in her recent post “After the Rain” took my breath away.

Huffygirl’s Blog – Huffygirl’s light-hearted musings about wellness and life keep me coming back for more. Her recent posts and photos about winter birds and how to set up a bird buffet in your backyard were of special interest. I love birdies.

Working Tech Mom – Techy has managed to balance a demanding career in the technology industry and family life. Recently downsized, she is blogging about the experience in an honest and upbeat way. That’s what I admire about her so much. I have a feeling her future posts on the topic will become a popular reference guide for job-seekers. You can’t go wrong with Techy leading the way.

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