The scene that saved “Mad Men”

elle-01-don-sally-h-lgnApril 23, 2014 – Word on the street is that television is more popular than movies these days. The buzz is all about “Game of Thrones”, “Downton Abbey”, “House of Cards”, and even the return of “Mad Men”, a show that has lost some momentum in the last few seasons, yet was once the darling of the Emmys and Golden Globes.

Despite the decrease in viewership, and Don never learning from his mistakes or owning up to them, I vowed to stick with it. After a lackluster season five, my hopes were saved in the last 15 minutes of the final episode. It began when Don told Hershey executives, “The closest I got to feeling wanted was from a girl who made me go through her johns’ pockets while they screwed. If I collected more than a dollar, she’d buy me a Hershey’s bar. And I would eat it alone… in my room with great ceremony… feeling like a normal kid. And it said “sweet” on the back. It was the only sweet thing in my life.”

Sad yes, but this was a huge turning point for a man who hides every aspect of his life from his family and co-workers, and assumed the identity of another man to disassociate from his childhood.

Don’s confession did not stop there. In the last scene, he stood with his kids in front of the dilapidated brothel as he showed them where their father once lived. I applauded his efforts, especially with his daughter Sally, who had earlier caught him in an uncompromising position that no child should have to witness, especially when the activity in question didn’t happen with his wife. It was the best season finale scene I could imagine, which gave me hope for the future.

When “Mad Men” began its sixth and final season on April 13, I waited anxiously to see what became of Don’s and Sally’s relationship. Instead, we saw Don, still on leave from his job, but back to his old ways, trying to pick up a woman on a plane. Were the writers going to ignore last year’s spectacular ending? Did Don learn nothing from losing his job, his daughter, and his wife?

If I had been patient one more week, I would see that he had indeed learned. The process was slow, but it was happening. The scenes between Don and Sally in Sunday’s episode were superb, and possibly the best this series ever offered. When the two venture out on a road trip back to Sally’s boarding school, Don does his best to talk to his daughter, who remains stubbornly silent. Don does not give up though, and aside from telling her she is like her mother when she is angry – I did not care for that – he handles the situation correctly, acts like the adult, and continues trying to reach her. Not only was the writing terrific, the acting was top-notch, and those scenes should already be in the hands of the Emmy nomination committee.

Cheers to Jon Hamm and Kiernan Shipka for making me believe again. Even though I would have stuck with “Mad Men” to its final episode, these two have renewed my faith in the show, and will make it a pleasure to watch until the end.

 

 

Movie review: Hateship Loveship

hateship-loveship-hd-poster-365x200April 21, 2014 – Kristen Wiig has made interesting choices since leaving Saturday Night Live to pursue a career in film. With her success with the mega hit “Bridesmaids”, she likely has her selection of movie scripts, some hilarious and some quirky and hilarious, and all have been entertaining.

In her latest role, she plays quirky, without the hilarious. In fact, she barely cracks a smile in the new Indy film “Hateship Loveship”, which is based on the short story by Alice Munro.

It wouldn’t be stretching it too much to call her character a modern-day Jane Eyre. She plays Johanna Parry, caregiver/nanny/nurse who takes a job minding a teenage girl who lives with her grandfather (Haliee Steinfeld and Nick Nolte). Unlike Jane Eyre, we know little about Johanna’s past – she worked for an elderly woman as a nurse for most of her career, and in the opening scene, the woman dies – but we can tell by her sullen face, her past was not filled with love and laughter.

The teen, Sabitha (Steinfeld), lives with her grandfather because her mother was killed when her drunken father crashed their car. Her father (Guy Pearce) served time for the accident and death. After a cruel trick by Sabitha and her friend Edith, who both prey on Johanna’s naïve and shy personality, Johanna thinks she is in a relationship with Sabitha’s father, and this is a completely new experience for her.

This is one of those films that counts on dialogue to move it forward. There is no real action, and the story line is simple and quiet. Not simple enough, though to offer few surprises. Screenwriter Mark Poinier and Munro do a fine job of staying away from clichés in this story. For example, Nolte, as the grandfather, and the father who lost his daughter in the car accident, isn’t the angry, bitter man you expect him to be. He doesn’t trust his son-in-law, but he welcomes him into his home so he can maintain a relationship with Sabitha.

Pearce’s character, as the addict father, is also surprising. He sees his flaws, and although he doesn’t try to hide them or make excuses, you can tell he wants to change and be a good role model for his daughter. While you can’t call him the hero of the film, at least in the traditional sense, he isn’t the villain, either.

There are plenty of awkward moments in the film that are interesting and somewhat cringe worthy. Johanna leaves herself open to the possibilities for the first time in her life, and we feel for her, root for her, and even fear for her. The film isn’t a feel good drama with a fairy tale ending. It’s real life that plays out on the screen, portraying plenty of human emotion without being overly dramatic. It also portrays three-dimensional people, with both good and bad and hero and villain qualities.

Hateship Loveship is well acted and refreshing. Liza Johnson, who directed, refers to it as a love story for grownups, but I believe it’s for anyone who enjoys a dose of reality in their film choices. While you won’t leave the theater hopeful that the characters rode off into a blissful existence, you will leave realizing that sometimes simple is good, and these are the stories that are lacking  in Hollywood today. The film is in limited release in some cities, and is available On Demand, as part of Comcast’s “same day as theaters” promotion.

Why is yawning contagious?

imagesApril 18, 2014 – Yawning is a force so powerful, that if we see it, we often copy it. It is not something we physically transmit to another person, like a germ that gives you a cold, for example. Yet, we repeat the pattern as if to follow the old adage, “money see, monkey do”.

The experts at discovery.com explain that yawning is contagious because of the “ancient, deep, and subconscious roots of empathy and social bonding. It is a primal instinct that bonds us together” much like contagious laugher or crying. This seems as logical, although newer research from Duke University found little evidence to back up this theory.

Not a lot is known about why we yawn, but here is what we do know: There are two types of yawns, contagious, which occurs when someone sees another person yawn and spontaneous, which occurs more often when someone is bored or tired.

Fetuses begin spontaneous yawning in the womb at about 11 weeks, and scientists recently dispelled the myth that people yawn to receive more oxygen. Many species of animals yawn spontaneously, while only humans, chimpanzees, and possibly dogs according to Japanese research, yawn contagiously. It has also been proven that yawning becomes contagious by age four, and that kids with autism are less likely to catch yawns than other kids.

Were you able to make it through this blog post without yawning? Perhaps not, as even reading about yawning is enough to make it contagious. I’ve yawned a few times while writing it, too.

It all seems simple enough yet yawning is a complex behavior that may never be explained. We have to accept it as just one of those things.

Ten things I like about spring


32506459389d31d2156e6f452d26ec78April 16, 2014
– After a cruel winter, it is a pleasure to welcome spring. Here are 10 things I adore about the season:

10. Longer days – What a joy it is to drive home from work and still experience daylight.

9. Warmer temperatures – Spring is perfect “no utility” weather. There is no need for heat or air-conditioning.

8. Taking photos – Everywhere you go looks like a picture postcard. Fresh blooms are enough to make any amateur photographer look like a pro.

7. Birds singing – Even the sound of birds chirping in the morning is a true pleasure.

6. Dining alfresco – I love sitting at outdoor restaurants and cafes in the city on spring days. It is great for the soul and for people watching.

5. Spring cleaning – Is it crazy that I love to clean in the spring? It makes me feel lighter to get rid of stuff we do not use.

4. Shopping at the farmer’s market – We have our pick of plenty of options in southeastern Pennsylvania, which gives us access to the best fresh produce around.

3. Cherry blossoms and azaleas – I like flowers, but never have I gone completely bonkers over them. I do enjoy spring blooms like cherry blossoms and azaleas, though. They are short-lived and much appreciated.

2. Sandals and open toe shoes – To get my feet in shape for the sandal season, I used a Pure Pedi foot peel. I was skeptical, but it worked wonders. Like a snake, I shed a lot of skin on my feet (and that was a little gross). However, I love the baby soft skin underneath.

1. Open windows – Yes, open windows are my most favorite thing about the season. There is nothing better than letting the fresh air in and watching the curtains flutter in the breeze.

The streets of Philadelphia, part 6

April 14, 2014 – Over the past five weeks, we covered a lot of territory and visited the neighborhoods in Rittenhouse and FairmountOld City and Elfreth’s AlleyUniversity City and Powelton Village, Fishtown and Queen Village, and Chestnut Hill and Manayunk.

Today, in our last part of the series, we’ll take a closer look at South Philadelphia and the Italian Market area, and Northeast Philadelphia, where a working farm sits among the crowded residential streets.

South Philadelphia

The heart and soul of Philadelphia’s southern region is the Italian Market that runs along 9th Street. I drove to the heart of Little Italy where the streets are narrow and there’s not a Starbuck’s, Walgreens or Olive Garden in site.

As one of the oldest and largest working markets in the U.S., the Italian Market is still predominantly Italian, but also includes some items from other cultures.

Photo source: visitphilly.com

Photo source: visitphilly.com

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

From fresh produce, cheese, pasta, baked goods, seafood, and Italian Water Ice, to antique shops, herbal shops, jewelry and more, Philadelphia’s Italian Market has something for everyone.

pasta shop

There are also a variety of excellent Italian restaurants and pizza shops, and of course, the famous Pat’s Steaks and Geno’s Steaks at the southern end.

Photo source: Bergheimfollies.blogspot.com

Photo source: Bergheimfollies.blogspot.com

Photo cource: Phillymagazine.com

Photo source: Phillymagazine.com

Philadelphia’s 9th Street Italian Market is off the beaten path as far as city attractions go, but if you’re looking for a unique way to spend an afternoon and a lot of good food, it’s worth the trip.

Northeast Philadelphia

Large urban cities and farming rarely go hand in hand, but in Philadelphia, it is part of the culture in the Northeast section of the city.

Fox Chase Farm, located at 8500 Pine Road, is closed to the public, except during public events.

sheep

 The farm, complete with plenty of livestock, sits on 112 acres near Pennypack Creek.

livestock

The farm has existed at this location for over 200 years, and has been known by various names.

farm

Friends of Fox Chase Farm, an all-volunteer group with over 400 member families, keeps the farm working. In 2005, the farm was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

full view

While Fox Chase Farm is a working farm on grand scale proportions, there are smaller urban centers and agriculture projects in Philadelphia that grow local produce. These centers are scattered throughout Philadelphia, in Kensington, North Philadelphia, West Philadelphia, and other areas of the city. Additionally, there is the Walter Biddle Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences in Northwest Philadelphia (Roxborough) that trains students to be future farmers.

Don’t bother me, I’m French


SiTWayXnljxx944mSENlkMUpo1_500April 11, 2014 – Whoever said life isn’t fair may have been referring the new law in France that makes it illegal for employees to work after 6 p.m. You read that right: the French not only manage to achieve that illusive work/life balance with ease, but they also signed it into law to guarantee it.

These same world citizens already have it good with their mandated 35 hour work week, full lunch breaks during the day, and the generous amount of vacation time they receive. Not to mention the croissants and champagne.

The new law officially forbids employees from viewing any work-related materials after 6 p.m. on their computer, laptop, tablet, or Smartphone. Sounds like they are pretty serious about this. Surely there will be penalties incurred by companies who break this law, but will it also affect employees individually if they choose to work late? How will they monitor such activities? The honor system?

This law will force companies in other countries conducting business in France to change their practice, as well. The company I work for has offices in Paris, and our workday is already cut short due to the time difference. This law makes that window even smaller.

Not that I am against a country that mandates its citizens enjoy life a little more; in fact, I’m rather envious. It’s commonly stated that Europeans work to live and Americans live to work. In the U.S. it is often one’s career that defines them, where in Europe, they see the benefit of family and play time.

In the U.S., it was the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 that gave us the five-day, 40 hour work week, a concept strongly suggested by Henry Ford. It was the automaker’s way of looking out for and retaining good employees during the industrial era, when factories had to work round the clock.

If we’re keeping score, it looks like France pulled into the lead. Chalk one up for a country that shares a mix of capitalism and socialism.

Flash fiction: April Showers

imagesApril 9, 2014 –  The raincoat did little to keep her dry. She hadn’t bothered with an umbrella; rain hit from all sides rendering it useless. Perhaps the storm would wash away the fear that clung to her like ivy growing around an old tree. Giving in, she let the rain wash over her.

 

The above is part of a WordPress Daily Challenge to write a complete story with no more or no less than 50 words, which proved more difficult than I expected.