Sunday, August 31, 2014

Doctor Who: Into the Dalek (s.8, ep. 2)

Last night was the second episode in Doctor Who's Season 8, and coming off of last week's big premiere, I have to confess, "Into the Dalek" was a bit of a letdown.  I found the plot to be underwhelming--the Doctor and Clara have to literally get inside a Dalek's head to figure out why it suddenly seems to have turned "good"--and I noticed a pattern emerging this season. Many of the characters and situations appear to be a rehash of things that have happened in seasons past.

The overall theme for this season appears to be "Deja Vu". Consider this:

-- We have The Doctor's "new" face, which is actually the face of someone he met in a prior encounter (Caecilius in "The Fires of Pompeii", series 4, episode 2, also played by Peter Capaldi).

-- In last week's episode, he kept saying that things were familiar to him, that he'd "seen this before," but he just couldn't remember where, why or when.

-- The radioactive leak in the Dalek from tonight's episode originated from a crack on the inner wall of the Dalek...a crack that looked eerily similar to the one that appeared in Amy Pond's wall (season 5, episode 1) that ended up being a rip in the fabric of Time.

-- The mysterious woman who keeps snatching up characters just as they face their Death and transporting them to "Heaven" is reminiscent of the woman on the other side of the crack in the Time Field.  Just as Amy Pond was being held in an alternate reality, it's possible this woman is doing the same thing with the rest of these characters.

-- Journey Blue is a soldier working on a hospital vessel who, by the end of this week's episode, wants to join The Doctor as his companion.  She harks back to Martha Jones, the medical resident who becomes The Doctor's companion after an incident occurs at the hospital where she works. She later ends up becoming....a solider.

-- Last night we were introduced to another soldier, Danny Pink, who now works as a teacher in the same school as Clara.  He is reminiscent of Mick, the soft-spoken friend of previous companion Rose, who also ends up becoming a solider.  And, given his odd last name, I'm convinced he's going to end up being Journey Blue's "dead" brother, who did not burn up in their damaged spaceship, but instead was transported (either by the mysterious lady in Heaven or accidentally, by The Doctor) to another point in history, where he was treated for his injuries.

-- The Doctor seems to have an aversion to soldiers now, and turned down Journey Blue's request to join him. I think it stems from an encounter between The Doctor and Danny Pink, which we have yet to see, but I'm sure will be revealed as the series continues. I also thought it was noteworthy that, by the end of this week's episode, the Dalek has turned on its own kind, becoming a serial killer, for all intents and purposes. The Doctor, in "enlightening" the Dalek, has turned him into a solider that is hell-bent on killing other Daleks.

So, my assessment thus far is that the main theme for this new season of The Doctor is "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it."   This season will be all about The Doctor revisiting things he has done in other points in time, trying to understand and accept the choices he made, and getting a second chance to "get it right" this time if he regrets the choices he made before.

It's been announced that Jenna Coleman, the actress who plays Clara, will be leaving the show in the December episode. I already suspect that the circumstances surrounding her exit will hark back to what happened with Amy Pond and the rift in time, but with different results, because The Doctor will have learned from his past choices.

This regeneration is shaping up to be one big "do-over" for The Doctor.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Beige Blazer

Everyone seems fixated on President Obama's colossally bone-headed statement that the United States "has no strategy" to deal with ISIS, but honestly, I still can't get past the pathetic beige blazer he was sporting during the press conference.

At this point, there's nothing about President Obama that isn't carefully crafted for mass consumption, which makes his choice to don a washed out, sedate beige suit jacket for this crucial press conference all the more puzzling.  He used strong words to condemn Russia, but in the context of the washed out, non-threatening tan jacket he was wearing, it was difficult to take him seriously.

The lame visual presented by President Obama was reminiscent of laid-back crooner Perry Como, clueless newsman Ted Baxter (as played by Ted Knight on the Mary Tyler Moore show) and sweet-as-pie Children's Television Workshop personality Fred Rodgers.

I don't know who his current image consultant is, but they should be fired.  President Obama came across as weak and harmless, thanks to the washed-out jacket.

What the heck was he thinking?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Zara Produces Concentration Camp Chic--AGAIN

Good grief, the clothing manufacturer Zara has done it again: they released a product in their fashion line that is reminiscent of the Holocaust.

A few years ago, the company produced an embroiderered handbag that had little swastikas on it that caused a similar uproar, resulting in the bags being pulled from stores. You would think that, after that incident, they'd learned their lesson to be a bit more sensitive to symbols associated with the Holocaust.

But no, now we're finding out that they recently produced a striped shirt with a yellow star that is eerily reminiscent of the clothes worn by Jewish concentration camp prisoners.  Here's a side-by-side so you can judge for yourself:


That's a concentration camp shirt on the left, the recalled Zara shirt on the right.

You can read more about the controversy HERE.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Doctor Who Season 8 Premiere: Capaldi's Take on an Iconic Character

Last night was the premiere of Doctor Who, Season 8 on BBC America.  My daughter Amy got me hooked on this series last year, in spectacular fashion: I watched just one episode, with Christopher Ecclestone as The Doctor, and I became obsessed.  This was less than a month before the big Christmas episode when Matt Smith's version of The Doctor was set to regenerate and leave the show, so I had a lot of catching up to do.

I binge-watched the entire series--hundreds of episodes--in just 3 weeks. Not something I would recommend doing, by the way. Yes, the show was enjoyable, but every spare moment was spent with my laptop nearby, running an episode of the show. Cooking dinner, watching Doctor Who. Wrapping gifts, watching Doctor Who. Doing laundry and cleaning, watching Doctor Who.  It was challenging, but did give me a certain sense of accomplishment when I was able to watch the Christmas special in real time with my daughter.

The one side effect, however, was that I found myself not fully investing in any of the current incarnations of The Doctor, because I knew they were destined to regenerate and leave in order for Capaldi to come in. I knew I shouldn't get too attached, so that when it came time for the actor to leave the role, I wouldn't feel a sense of loss.

The fans of this show, known as "Whovians," are often quite passionate about which Doctor is their favorite.  I always leaned towards preferring Ecclestone's version, perhaps because he was my first exposure to the character.  I also liked the way he played it: very calm and capable, even amidst the chaos.  He lended a self-assurance to the role, which some fans found a bit abrasive, but I found charming. I thought his arrogance was authentic to a character who was said to be hundreds of years old and experienced in travels and adventures across space and time.

When David Tennant came in, I wasn't so sure about him.  He played it rakish and boyish and far more casual than Eccelstone, and the character's tendency towards shameless flirtation and womanizing was a bit off-putting.  My daughter thought he was adorable, of course, but I guess there was a bit of a "Captain Kirk chasing the after every green woman he sees" vibe that I couldn't get past. When he said, "I don't want to go" it didn't tug at my heart strings or affect me the way it did most Whovians. I was ready for him to go so that we could move along to Matt Smith's version of the character.

Matt Smith was so young when he took on the role, and played it even more boyish child-like, almost to the point of being bumbling.  It took awhile for me to warm up to him, but eventually I did. Still, I longed for the maturity and quiet confidence that Eccelstone had infused in the role during his one season as The Doctor.

Enter Peter Capaldi last night as The Doctor.  I know that many younger Whovians were aghast at the idea of an "old man" playing their beloved Doctor, especially those who enjoyed the chemistry between Matt Smith's Doctor and his young companion, Clara.  I wasn't sure how it would work, and wasn't surprised when I heard that Jenna Coleman, the actress who plays Clara, plans to leave her role during this year's Christmas special.

I enjoyed the episode, and was surprised at how quickly I warmed up to Peter Capaldi's version of The Doctor.  He exuded an air of maturity and a sense of responsiblity for his actions past and present that I don't think we've seen from prior incarnations, and it suits him. He also plays the character as far more serious, introspective and intense than the past two actors did, with a quick, wry sense of humor that I loved.  Favorite line of the night: after unexpectedly plucking a hair from Clara's head, he delivered this deadpan response to her objection: "It was the only one out of place. I assumed you wanted it dead."

What did you think of Capaldi's take on Doctor Who?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Thoughts on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

By now, I'm sure you've heard about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money and awareness of ALS (amytrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gherig's Disease) that quickly went viral.  People all around the world have been accepting the challenge to dump a bucketful of ice water on their heads, or else be forced to donate money to ALS research.

Many people--myself included--have done both, saturating themselves with ice water and making donations large and small to the ALS Association.

There has been some backlash, however.  Now that celebrities have joined in the fun--including Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Ben Affleck, and more--there are those who say it is nothing more than a desperate attempt at garnering attention and adoration for those participating. Some complain that not enough money is being raised, or that the barrage of videos being posted on social media is getting tiresome, and is more about self-promotion than the cause of fighting ALS. They implore people to stop perpetuating the challenge because they're "over it" and just want it go away.

To them I say: it doesn't matter what is motivating people to participate in this challenge, the fact that they are doing it--and drawing attention to ALS in the process--is all that matters.   The ends justify the means in this case, so if Lady Gaga choses to sit on a chair scantily clad and wordlessly dump a bucket of ice on her head--without bothering to even mention ALS or how to donate--it still draws attention to the overall cause of raising money for ALS research, and I am grateful she took the time to do it. Could some of these celebrities have donated more? I'm sure they could have. But donations are something that must be freely given, whether it's $5 or $5,000. This is the first time ALS has been in the national spotlight to this degree, and I don't care what it took to get there--I'm just happy it's happening.

(For those who want to see some of these celeb videos, TIME magazine has a roundup of 27 of the best celebrity ice bucket challenge videos: CLICK HERE to view them)

The effort to raise awareness of ALS, and the desperate need for funding to research a cure, is something that is near and dear to my heart.  My father-in-law Nick succumbed to ALS in 1988.  He suffered an agonizing 7 years with this horrible disease.  At the end, he had difficulty breathing, could barely speak, and was completely paralyzed from the neck down. He was immobile physically, but with his mind and thought processes completely intact, fully aware of everything going on around him. I can't even fathom the feelings of helplessness and despair he must have felt at the end.

I have witnessed first-hand how ALS affects not only the person diagnosed with it, but also their family and friends.  No one should have to go through the pain that my husband and his family endured, watching helplessly as Nick slowly deteriorated and was taken from them, diagnosed at 49, and dead by the age of 56.

Fortunately--there IS hope.  Researchers are SO close to finding a cure for ALS.  So, if you are able to, I hope you'll click this link to the ALS Association's donate page and give a donation to this very worthy cause.

To everyone who has participated in the ice bucket challenge and/or donated, THANK YOU for supporting ALS research.

Well, that was fast: the Duggar legacy continues

Jill Dillard, the 23-year-old recently married daughter of the prolific Duggar clan,  has announced that she is pregnant with her first child with husband Derrick, 25. The news comes just 8 weeks after their wedding, and on the heels of the announcement of her sister Jessa's engagement to Ben Seewald.   While I disagree with the family on some of their social views, I am happy for them. A new life is always something worth celebrating, so congratulations to the happy couple. They'll certainly have no shortage of babysitters!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hands Off My Luggage!

My family and I just returned from a great vacation, which I'll be blogging about over the next few days.

I love to travel, but one of my pet peeves is when you get to the baggage claim area, and the luggage carousel vultures swoop in and start grabbing bags that aren't even theirs. So, this time, I relied on the power of "The Force" to keep the vultures at bay. worked!

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Real Reason Disney Movies Kill Off the Mom

So, my daughter and I were at the movies today, and I started ranting about Disney and their insatiable need to kill off Mom characters at every opportunity (yeah, that's right, I'm looking at you Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Bambi, et al). Why, I ranted, WHY do they always have to kill the Mom?!

"Well," Cathy replied, "if they didn't, there would be no movie, because Moms can fix anything. If the Mom was alive, she would take care of the bad guys and everything would be fine. They have to kill her off, so that someone else has to be the hero."


PRODUCT REVIEW: Lay's Wasabi Ginger Potato Chips--we have a winner!

Finally, we have the last of the four contenders in the Lay's Potato Chip "Do Us a Flavor" Contest: Wasabi Ginger.  Actually, the full name is of this variety is "Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger," and I suspect it is this subtle difference in cooking style that ultimately helped vault this flavor combo to the top of the heap.

I'll cut right to the chase: Wow, these are good! They were far and away my husband's favorite, and I have to agree--Wasabi Ginger is a winner.

The chips are not overly spicy, with just a hint of wasabi that adds more flavor than heat.  The two most prominent flavor notes are ginger and soy sauce, and they're perfectly balanced. The only downside is that the entire time I was eating them, I kept thinking of how much more fattening these chips are than just eating the real thing: picked ginger dipped in soy sauce would be a fraction of the calories, with none of the fat.

Oh, but why quibble? This a review of snack food, after all, and sitting on your couch watching television while daintily dipping delicate slices of ginger into a little dish of soy sauce would just not be feasible.  These chips offer a delicate yet complex flavor combo, along with the satisfying crunch associated with the Kettle Cooked variety.

So, the verdict is in: after trying all four contenders in the Do Us A Flavor contest, my vote will be going to....Wasabi Ginger!

In case you missed it, you can read my reviews of the other three flavors by scrolling back over the last few blog posts, or by clicking on the name: Mango SalsaCappuccino, and Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese. This was a fun--not to mention tasty--endeavor, so I encourage you to watch for these flavors and try them for yourself.  Then, head over to to cast your own vote (via social media or text).

May the best chip win!

****UPDATE**** Yes, indeed, Wasabi Ginger DID win the contest. Read my follow up post HERE

Babies Being Left in Hot Cars to Die: A Wake-Up Call for Parents

I read yet another news story this morning about a parent "forgetting" their child in a hot car, with fatal results. The family is described as "devastated", and the article made mention of the fact that the child was usually dropped off at a babysitter, as if this break in daily routine somehow becomes an extenuating circumstance for leaving one's child to die in sweltering 90-degree temperatures. It was also noted that there was construction in the area, so the parking situation was different, and oh yes, this parent needed to go to the bathroom urgently, and by the time she was done, she somehow created the thought that she'd brought the baby in the house and put her down for a nap.  Which would have also been a break from the usual daily routine, so I'm not sure how this mother was able to remember something that didn't actually happen, and then go about her day while her daughter was left to suffocate. I'll leave that to the investigators to figure out.

I have no doubt that the family is incredibly distraught over this tragedy, but if I could question this parent, what I would like to ask is this: how is it that you remembered to grab your cellphone, and your house keys, and your wallet on your way out of the car, but totally forgot your own child?

When my children were small, I went through many a busy day in a sleep-deprived haze, so I know exactly how difficult and draining parenthood can be. I understand that when you have very young children and tons of responsiblities, things can slip your mind, like scheduled appointments and birthdays and picking up the dry cleaning.

BUT YOUR CHILD?  No. Not a chance.

The family in this latest case is calling the death of their baby "a simple mistake."  I disagree. There's nothing simple about being so distracted by other things in your life that you would completely forget the one person who is dependent upon you for everything.  There is no greater responsiblity than being a parent, and nothing else--nothing--should take priority over your child.

There was a time when I used to have to do a lot of shuttling in the car for my older two daughters, and always with my youngest daughter in tow. Inevitably, my little one would fall asleep in her car seat, and I hated to jostle her and wake her up just to run inside her sister's preschool or dance class for pickup.  Surely, I could leave the baby alone in the car, even just for a minute?

But no, I never did, because another parent said something to me early on that resonated deeply: "Before you leave your child alone in the car, pretend that she's actually a stack of $1 million in cash, just sitting out on your front seat, with the doors unlocked.  If you wouldn't feel comfortable leaving the money alone for even a few seconds, then you certainly shouldn't leave your child--your child is priceless. Never forget that."

Those words stayed with me through all of those times, when it was raining or snowing or the baby was sleeping and I was soooooo tempted.  But no...each time, EVERY time, I lugged my precious daughter inside, even if it meant waking her up.  Because that's what responsible parents do. And once you get into the habit of putting your child first, and never leaving your child alone in a car, even for a second, you won't ever have to worry about "forgetting" your child.

These parents who have been in the news lately claim that the deaths of their children were accidental, but I believe they all could have been avoided by following one simple rule: always, always, ALWAYS make your child your #1 priority. That means: put down the cellphone, check your Facebook page after the kids are in bed, and read that email later. Put your child's needs ahead of your own, not because you're a martyr, but because that's just part of the job of being a parent.

PRODUCT REVIEW: Lay's Cheddar Bacon Mac N Cheese Potato Chips

Time for yet another Lay's Potato Chip taste test!

Over the past few days, I've been on a mission to sample each of the four finalists in the Lay's Potato Chip "Do Us a Flavor" contest.  On Saturday, I tried the Mango Salsa variety, and on Sunday, I sampled the Cappuccino flavor.  (Scroll down to click on the flavor names to see my previous reviews for those two).

Today, I tried the other two contenders: Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese and Wasabi Ginger.

First up: Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese.

I had really high hopes for this one, and for the most part, it did not disappoint.  I expected lots of salty, cheesy, bacon-flavored goodness, and the chips certainly lived up to those expectations.  The flavor on these was quite strong--almost overpowering, in fact--to the point where I had trouble tasting anything ELSE for a several minutes after I'd eaten them.

There was also something vaguely familiar about these chips...and I just couldn't put my finger on it. That is, until my youngest daughter figured it out.  "Wow," she said suddenly, "these smell EXACTLY like Beggin' Strips."

Oh, lord...she's right.  Open a bag of these chips, take a deep inhale, and it's the same as breathing a bag of bacon-flavored dog treats. I sincerely hope it's a different chemical composition used for the flavoring, but it certainly makes you wonder.

The verdict:  I liked the Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese, but I had to stop after a few because the bacon flavor is fairly strong, and honestly, a little overwhelming.  I think I like these better than the cappuccino ones, but not by much.


Next up....a review of the final contestant, Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Beauty and a Beat Cover - Christina, Navin, and Simon

My daughter and her friends had an impromptu jam session today. To say that I'm not a Justin Bieber fan is putting it mildly, but the melody on this song is really beautiful--especially with Christina singing it.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

PRODUCT REVIEW: Lay's Cappuccino Potato Chips

Another day, another taste test!

Yesterday, I tried the Mango Salsa flavored Lay's potato chips, which is one of the four finalists in the company's "Do Us a Flavor" contest (to read more about that on yesterday's post, scroll down or click HERE).  Today, I decided to try the Cappuccino variety.

I must confess, a friend of mine tried these a few days ago, and warned me that they were terrible, so I was not expecting much. The whole concept sounds really odd, and although I do love drinking cappuccino, I did not think the flavor would translate well to a potato chip.

Much to my surprise--I liked them!

I found the Cappuccino chips to be very cinnamon-forward in terms of flavor, and it reminded me of eating a churro dipped in coffee.  (For those who are unfamiliar with churros, they are delicious strips of dough that are deep-fried and then covered in cinnamon sugar--a traditional Spanish treat that I absolutely love.)  Whereas I stopped eating the Mango Salsa chips yesterday without difficulty, I found myself going back for more of the Cappuccino chips.  I can't believe I'm saying this, but I actually found them to be quite tasty.  

But would I buy them again?  Hmmm....I'm not sure.  The problem: while I thought they were tasty, everyone else in my household thinks they taste DISGUSTING.  My 18-year-old daughter tried one and said, ""  My husband tried them--after I went on and on about how churro-like they were--and he had a totally different viewpoint.  He said they smell and taste predominantly of coffee, and he didn't like them--not even a little.

So, if I do end up buying these again, it will probably result in me eating the entire bag by myself, which is not a good thing.  I think I'd be better off having a real churro and a cup of coffee instead.

Now...if I can just find the other two flavor finalists in the contest, I can post reviews of those and then cast my vote. Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

PRODUCT REVIEW: Lay's Mango Salsa Potato Chips

I love trying out new flavor combinations, so when I heard that Lay's Potato Chips had some new varieties available, I went on the hunt to find them.  They're part of their annual "Do Us A Flavor" contest, where they present 4 finalists and ask the public to vote for their favorite. The winner gets mass-produced. Last year's winner, Cheesy Garlic Bread, has been available at my local grocery store on a regular basis, but it's been nearly impossible to find the Siracha-flavored ones (last year's runner-up, which was also released as a permanent flavor, along with the 3rd place finisher, Chicken & Waffles).

There are 4 new flavors competing for a top spot this year: Cappuccino, Mango Salsa, Cheddar Bacon Mac N Cheese, and Wasabi Ginger.  I fully expect that the Cappuccino will be awful (perhaps even worse than last year's Chicken & Waffles--bleh, too much maple syrup for my liking), but I'm willing to give them all a try in the name of science (or at least, to blog about it and save YOU from tasting it).  I have incredibluy high hopes for Cheddar Bacon Mac N Cheese (good lord...they had me at BACON) and the Wasabi Ginger, but I'll have to find them first.  So far, all I've found are Mango Salsa and Cappuccino.

First up: the Mango Salsa. And....


They were just okay. They weren't good enough to rave about, and they weren't weird enough to spit out. The mango flavor is definitely the most forward flavor note, and there's plenty of salt to keep chip lovers happy, along with a slight, lingering hint of red bell pepper.  I ate about a handful, but was able to stop pretty easily.  The verdict: Mango Salsa chips are not something I would seek out and purchase again.

One good thing about these "Do Us A Flavor" chips is that they come in smaller, snack-sized bags--perfect for sampling without paying too much.  I got them at Walgreen's, where they're on sale for $1.29 per bag, or 2 for $2.   The contest runs from July 28th through October 18th, and is open to U.S. residents 18 and over.  You can visit their website, to vote via Facebook or Twitter, or you can text your vote (BaconMac, Cappuccino, Mango or Wasabi) to 24477. You get one vote per person, per day, per social media platform.  I'm not going to vote until I try all of them first.

Next up....Cappuccino.  Yikes.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Kidnapped for Christ: a must-see documentary on Showtime

It never ceases to amaze me, the horrifying things people will do in the name of God.  This eye-opening documentary is a frightening look at a "behavior modification" camp for teens in the Dominican Republic managed by an Evangelical Christian group. The filmmaker, Kate Logan, originally set out to make a film highlighting the good works that were being done at the Escuela Caribe camp. Once she started interacting with the young people there, however, she quickly began to see the abuse and mistreatment that was occuring. This is a riveting, disturbing film. It sheds a light on the big business of "Teen Behavior Modification" and the fact that these camps--which number into the thousands--are largely unregulated and ripe for abuse. 

Kidnapped for Christ shares the story of troubled teens from the United States who are sent to Escuela Caribe by their parents for "attitude adjustments."  Some are suicidal or dabbled in drugs, one reveals she is a rape survivor, and then there's David, a new arrival to the camp whose sole "problem" seems to be that he is gay. His sexual orientation caused friction with his parents, so they decide to send him away. He is taken quite suddenly in the middle of the night by two men from the camp, dragged from his home without being given a chance to say goodbye to his friends or communicate with anyone.  Kate immediately forges a bond with David, and as the weeks wear on and she witnesses first-hand the treatment he endures, she is compelled to help him escape.

It's painful to watch as David and the other teens slowly have their spirits broken at the camp. Even more heartbreaking are the follow-up interviews with the teens later on in the film.  One insists that the camp "saved her life," even as she struggles to push away the negative memories. Another is haunted by her ordeal, confessing that she still has nightmares about the abuse and beatings she suffered there. As for David, one thing is clear: the experience has significantly changed him: he appears to have aged dramatically, he speaks more softly and haltingly, and does not make eye contact easily. The post-camp David seems diminished and less vibrant than the David we see at the beginning of the film, as he continues to try and make peace with what happened to him.

You can learn more about the film, and how you can help lobby for better regulation and oversight of these types of camps, on the official website: