A top five of firsts and lasts

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January 31, 2011 – I’m trying to compile a list of things I’ve only done once in my life.

It might have something to do with a friend who decided to jump out of an airplane to commemorate her 50th birthday. When I told her I could never do that, she looked disappointed asked me what happened. She said I used to be fearless.

My friend loved the experience, said she’d probably never do it again, and got to cross it off her bucket list. I wouldn’t call this my bucket list since I didn’t set out to accomplish these things – they just happened. And it’s not something to prove I’m brave or fearless (sorry Nancy) because I’m obviously not, at least not anymore. Rather, it’s a set of unique experiences that I can share (rated PG, of course).

Here’s what I came up with so far:

5. Sang a duet with Steve Perry of Journey fame in Prescott, Arizona. OK, so his song was coming through the radio and I was driving from the Grand Canyon to Phoenix while harmonizing with him, but it happened. My friend and traveling companion enjoyed it, we both laughed, and I never did it again!

4. Got snowed in during summer vacation. While visiting the Yukon Territory of Northwestern Canada the bus that was driving us to our hotel had to pull over because of snow. Did I mention this was Labor Day weekend? Twenty inches of the white stuff fell on the Canadian Rockies that weekend, which is something that rarely happens during the summer. My compadres and I spent 18 hours on that bus, and most of it on the side of the road near this strange little lodge, the Hotel Caribou, which inspired the singer/songwriter in one of my friends. “Welcome to the Hotel Caribou,” she sang. “Yukon check out any time you like but Yukon never leave.” It certainly felt true, and once I did check out I never went back.

3. Drove across the Southwest by myself. I have a few business trips and a long personal weekend away to visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe to thank for this first and last. I drove from Taos, N.M. in the northern part of the state, down to Roswell, the infamous UFO landing spot near the southern border, from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City, which took me through the breathtaking Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon, and from the Flagstaff, Ariz. to Nogales, Mexico by myself. That’s a lot of desert with long stretches of nothing else to make it through alone. Since then, I’ve never repeated it.

2. Walked through a rain forest. It wasn’t in the deep jungles of the Amazon, but rather in the tamer landscape of the Caribbean. Still, it was a rain forest complete with tropical sounds, plenty of humidity, rare creatures, and darkness even in the light of day. The El Yunque Rain Forest is a tiny rain forest in Puerto Rico. I haven’t stepped foot in another rain forest since that experience.

1. Witnessed a glacier calving. You know that thing that happens when a large piece of the glacier falls into the ocean and causes a huge ripple? That’s called a calving, and it happened at the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska. At the time, the tour guide told us we witnessed something relatively rare. At least for me it was, and I’ve yet to experience another calving.

How about you? What are some of your firsts and lasts?

Movie review: The Artist didn’t disappoint this talkie fan

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January 30, 2012 – As a fan of old movies, especially those in black and white, I probably spend more time watching Turner Classic Movies than HBO. I’ve seen hundreds of these oldies but goodies, yet none of them have been silent because the genre never appealed to me.

That’s why I wasn’t sure how I would feel about “The Artist”, the recently released silent movie that’s all the rage. Sure it took the Cannes Film Festival by storm, it won the Golden Globe for best picture (musical/comedy) and is nominated for an Academy Award for best picture. Still, I was skeptical.

I decided to see “The Artist” over the weekend, and thoroughly enjoyed this charming slice of nostalgia. It was clever and highly entertaining, and it held my interest from the moment it started until the credits rolled.

The premise is simple. Hollywood is on the brink of releasing “talkies” and the most popular silent actor (the artist) doesn’t believe they will be accepted and continues to make films faithful his silent art form. You can guess what happens from there.

The two main characters are French and Argentinean actors whose previous work I am not familiar with; Jean DuJardin as George Valentin and Berenice Bejo as Peppy Miller are so well cast and have the perfect faces for their expressive roles. There are other faces more recognizable who make up the supporting cast, such as a svelte John Goodman, James Cromwell and Malcolm Mc Dowell, to name a few, and they all make it believable.

To my surprise (and as a writer to my dismay) you can get the gist of the story easily and without words. The actor’s expressions, the music and very few screen shots of dialogue made it evident. And as someone who believes words are crucial to a script, “The Artist” shows what can be accomplished quite beautifully without them, and that is to the credit of the filmmakers.

The movie may be described as “Singing in the Rain” meets “Sunset Boulevard” with hints of both present in the script, but it was braver and uniquely different; it’s actually a silent movie about making talkies. That’s a risky concept and one that won’t appeal to everyone, but I highly recommend it.

So, will I add silent movies to my lists of must-sees? Probably not, but I definitely won’t avoid them anymore.

Time for Change

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January 29, 2012 — There are a lot of things in this world that would benefit from change.

Since they’re too numerous to mention, and many are out of my control I’ll start with something simple.

I started this blog back on November 10, 2010. Now it’s time for something different, a facelift if you will, and although it might have been more appropriate to introduce a new look with the start of the new year, today felt right.

Have a great day!

Fun Friday: America’s five coldest cities

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January 27, 2012 – It’s almost the end of January and winter is in full swing, so there’s no better time to create a fun list of America’s five coldest cities.

What constitutes this as fun you may ask?

It’s fun to watch the Weather Channel, where I gathered these interesting facts. It’s also fun to realize that although these locations are surrounded by nature’s beauty – and I’ve visited or visited near all of them – I don’t have to winter there. And that image of Jack Nicholson from “The Shining” is a little on the amusing side.

5. Caribou, Maine – Caribou is America’s most northeastern city, so no wonder it’s cold. All that frigid air coming down from Canada hits them first. Typically, the last freeze of the season hits about May 15, while the first freeze arrives by September 24.

4. Jackson, Wyoming – Situated over one mile high, this beautiful city is surrounded by the Grand Tetons and is known to have a freeze at least once a month all throughout the year. Still, they are on record as seeing the last freeze of the season in and around July 10, and experiencing the first of the new season by August 16. That’s one short spring, summer and fall.

3. Gunnison, Colorado – This Rocky Mountain high city boasts the record for the most subzero days in the “lower 48”. That’s a little lingo I picked up on my travels in Alaska. Their last freeze, however, usually hits around June 24, and hits again on or about September 5, which coincides perfectly with the school year in most places.

2. International Falls, Minnesota – I usually think of Minnesota when I think of freezing cold temperatures, and I understand why International Falls earned the nickname the Icebox of America. The last freeze typically occurs in around May 26, and begins again by September 15.

1. Barrow, Alaska – Barrow not only sits north of the Arctic Circle, but it’s practically on top of the world. The last freeze of the season hits about April 23 (not bad), while the first freeze occurs in and around November 4 (again not bad). But the weather isn’t always freezing in Barrow. Since 1922, the city has recorded five — yes five – days of 75+ degree weather.

Stay warm!

Jay Walking Euro Style

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January 26, 2012 – Tomorrow is Holocaust Memorial Day throughout Europe, which commemorates the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops on January 27, 1945.

Apparently Americans aren’t the world’s only ignorant souls, as portrayed by Jay Leno’s “Jay Walking” segment where he asks questions like who was the first president of the United States and people on the street either don’t know or say something ridiculous like George Jetson.

According to a poll released yesterday, one in five Germans has no idea that Auschwitz was a Nazi death camp. And nearly one-third of the people polled were unaware that it was located in Poland.

Sure there are folks out there that fully deny these events occurred, no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary, but that only gives the situation more publicity. Doesn’t it seem impossible that people could be unaware of an event of this magnitude, especially since happened in their backyard less than 100 years ago?

Should I become one of those people?

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January 25, 2012 – I still have one of those old flip phones that make calls and sends texts, but offers little else.

I’m OK with that; it’s a phone and it does what it’s supposed to do.

But some of the wonderful people in my life make fun of me using it whenever I pull it out of my purse, and refer to it as a dinosaur. I realize they are only concerned about my well-being – and aren’t making fun to be cruel – but only to bring me into the 21st century.

So, I’ve been considering buying an iPhone. I suppose it is convenient to have information at your fingertips, even though we’ve survived for thousands of years without it. And it would be fun to be able to play “Words with Friends” or “Angry Birds” on the train during my commute.

Yet I hesitate, afraid of becoming one of those people who always has their phone in their hands, who crash into other people walking down the street because they don’t look where they are going, or who can’t get through a lunch or dinner with friends without checking on and sending text messages.

We all know people who have their smart phones glued to their hands. Many of my friends and family members fit that description, and maybe you do, too. My phone usually stays in my purse until it rings, which isn’t that often, or until I have to make a call. I’ll admit that before I had to start carrying a Blackberry, which was a requirement in my last job, I didn’t even know what my cell phone number was. I considered it an instrument for me to make a call if I needed to, not something that would ring constantly so people knew where I was at all times. That’s a little creepy.

Now people using smart phones are more common than those who don’t. Those gadgets have become part of people’s wardrobes, and everyone seems addicted. I’m just not sure I’m ready to become one of them.

What’s a girl to do?

Ten great reasons to work in Center City

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January 24, 2012 – When I accepted my current job almost four months ago, I was one of the happiest and most relieved women on earth.

Being out of work for two years will do that to a person.

Then a little panic set in, not necessarily because I was starting a new job, but because this job would take me out of my comfort zone of suburbia where I’d spent more than 20 years, and lure me back to center city Philadelphia, a place I hadn’t played in since my early 20s when I didn’t mind pounding the concrete in heels.

Back then I enjoyed singing Petula Clark’s “Downtown” in my head as I boarded the train that took me to work. And at the end of the day, it was fun to head over to McGillan’s with the gang for happy hour. But I became a creature of habit while raising my family, and I grew accustomed to my 20 minute car commute, listening to the stereo as loud as I wanted, and sometimes wishing to get caught in a little traffic because it was often the only time I had to myself.

Things change. Kids grow up go to college and move out, and people get laid off and have to start all over again. This leads me to the top ten reasons why I appreciate the change:

10. Exercise – This suburban girl gave up heels and opted for a few cute pairs of walking shoes, since sneakers are simply not my style. Each weekday I know I’ll walk at least two miles a day, which is the distance from the train station to my office building, and vice versa – and probably more if I go out for lunch. Every little bit helps.

9. Shopping – Christmas shopping was a lot easier (with a salary) and without having to make a special trip to the mall after work. There were quite a few nights I stopped in stores along the way to the train after I’d left the office, making the process much less painful since I’m missing the shopping gene.

8. Restaurants – I feel like I’m in my 20’s again. I can go out after work without having to rush home, and enjoy what center city has to offer. I haven’t done it YET, but I can. And yes, McGillan’s is still open!

7. It’s a nice change – I got used to the sights and sounds when I drove to work, and taking the train has opened up a whole new world of excitement for me. There’s time to listen to music or read a book, but often I just stare out the window and chill.

6. Plenty to do – The burbs usually close down by 8 p.m. but the city is always bustling, which means there’s always something to do. I dare you not to find something fun to do in the city. I double dare you.

5. Great character – Working in Old City right across the street of Independence Mall offers historic charm and wonderful little parks complete with trees and benches. It’s a great place to be on a sunny day.

4. Tourists – Even in this economy there’s no shortage of tourists traveling by in horse-drawn carriages, tour buses and duck boats. It’s amusing to watch them, almost as much as it is for them to watch us. I know they’re thinking how lucky we are to work/live in this wonderful Mecca.

3. Live entertainmentI told you about the banjo man who puts a smile on my face each morning as I walk through the station. On the way home each evening, there are usually a few jazz musicians attracting more than their fair share of attention. Sometimes people sing along or dance and clap, making it even more special. There’s no better way to pass the time on the rare occasion your train is late.

2. People watching – You can’t name a better place on earth to people watch or eavesdrop on conversations than center city Philadelphia. Oh, the things you see and learn. It’s often a fun and entertaining way to spend your time because every type of person is on parade here. Good character research if you’re a writer…

1. A good job – And the best reason to work in center city is getting a good job that didn’t require me to take a pay cut like I thought I’d have to do.