A Novel Idea

One of my favorite places to hang out is the library.  Last week, my oldest son asked if we could go there so he could look up some things for a homework project.  While he was working on that, I naturally started browsing.  I always start in the New Fiction/New Non-Fiction section.  By doing this, I have stumbled onto some books that I may never have read (I love to do this at the book store, too!).

While looking at the new titles on the book spines, one jumped out at me – “Marley”.  Two things come to mind when I hear “Marley”: (1) Marley and Me (the movie about a dog) and (2) Jacob Marley from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (which I just read for the holiday).  I picked up the book and saw that surrounding the title were links of chains.  Marley’s Ghost in Dickens’ story appears weighed down by chains.

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As you can see by the cover, the book is indeed about Jacob Marley.  I read that this author, Jon Clinch, also wrote a “back story” to Huckleberry Finn, which focused on Huck’s father.  This backstory, gives new light to the story we all know so well.  That is what this book does, as well.  In Dickens’ tale, we don’t know much about Jacob Marley.

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We know that he was Scrooge’s business partner and that he is forced to walk the earth bearing the chains he forged in life.  But what led him to this fate?  Why is Ebenezer Scrooge the way he is?  This book tells us.  I am only a few chapters in, but am enjoying it so far.

It’s been done before – many times

This is not a new concept.  There have been many books, movies, and TV shows that explored how well known characters became the way they are.  Fans of the TV show Taxi may remember a flashback scene where Reverend Jim was drug free!  Jack Benny did many shows telling the story of how he met members of his cast.  The TV show How I Met Your Mother used this entire premise for the entire series.

It is no secret that I am a HUGE fan of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather.  I loved the book, and loved the movie trilogy.  The novel was published in 1969, and the film was released in 1972.

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Marlon Brando played Vito Corleone, the head of the Corleone Crime family.

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Two years later, in 1974, The Godfather Part II was released in theaters.  It consisted of flashbacks of how Vito became the Don.  The role was played by Robert DeNiro.

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But what about other characters?  Ed Falco’s 2012 novel “The Family Corleone” tells us.

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The book is based on an unproduced screenplay that Mario Puzo had written.  It gives us a look at some of the minor characters, like Luca Brasi, and how they come to know the Don and how they join the family. A couple books that “fill in the gaps” between the Godfather movie trilogy came out in 2004 (The Godfather Returns) and 2006 (The Godfather’s Revenge) written by Mark Winegardener.

Good characters – Good Stories

When we come to love good characters, we tend to want to know more about them.  We want to see them or read about them in another story or adventure.  Perhaps that why there are so many books that feature a star character (like Alex Cross, or Cotton Malone) or movie sequels (like Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Toy Story).  In the 60’s and 70’s, many TV shows had novels or short stories based on characters (like Get Smart, Kojak, Columbo, and countless Star Trek books).

I LOVE the concept of exploring a well known character and shedding light on their back story. I am hoping this book on Jacob Marley does not disappoint.

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The Challenge: #PayClassicsForward for Christmas

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A blog that I follow, Once Upon a Screen, posted a challenge that she has done for a few years now.  The idea is to share some of your favorite movies with others – by “paying classics forward”.  You can my friend, Aurora’s post from this year here:

The Challenge: #PayClassicsForward for Christmas

From the above link, you can also click on her posts from previous years.  She loosely follows the “format” of The 12 Days of Christmas.  Another buddy at Movie Movie Blog Blog II posted his here:

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What follows is my attempt to share some movie “classics” with you.  Perhaps you can check some out during your holiday break?  Here goes:

One AMAZING performance –

James Cagney as psychopath Cody Jarrett in White Heat.  He had given up playing gangsters a few years prior, but returns with this electrifying and mesmerizing performance in this film.  The ending is classic!!

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Two Musical Brothers –

Jake and Elwood Blues are on a “mission from God” to raise money to save an orphanage, but first, they need to put their band back together.  Based on two characters they did on Saturday Night Live, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, along with an amazing band, great cast, stellar cameos from legendary singers, and the Bluesmobile are a MUST see!

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Three Movie Trilogies

The Star Wars Original Trilogy.  Yes, I know that there are prequels and sequels, but the original trilogy (Episodes 4, 5, & 6) are required viewing for everyone!

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The Back to the Future Trilogy.  Time travel has never been so much fun! While I still feel that Part 3 could have had a better ending, I still love watching the adventures of Doc Brown, Marty McFly, and Biff Tannen.

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The Godfather Trilogy.  Movie perfection!  Godfather 1 & Godfather 2 are such masterful works!  While Godfather 3 was panned by many critics, I still find it to have some wonderful moments.

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Four Star General

George C. Scott won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of General George S. Patton.  I have always loved him as an actor, and his performance in this film is truly worthy of the award.

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Five Card Stud

I love a good western.  I could have had an entire list of westerns to suggest to readers (maybe that’s a future blog).  Five Card Stud stars two of my favorite actors, Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum.  I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s good stuff! Shuffle the cards….

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The Sixth Sense

I remember seeing this one in the theater. I remember exactly how blown away I was at the ending.  If you have never seen it, you need to!  Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment are terrific.  Still one of my favorites of all time.

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Seven “Hoods”

Robin and the 7 Hoods is one of two Rat Pack films on this list.  Take the story of Robin Hood and set it in 1920’s Chicago and you have a fun flick.  There are some great musical numbers, including a Sinatra classic, “My Kind of Town”.  Peter Falk is brilliant in this film, as is Bing Crosby.  Then, of course, you have Dean, Frank & Sammy!

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Favorite Eight film series.

The Harry Potter series.  Whether you are a child or an adult, this wonderful world of wizardry is very well done.  What makes it extra special is that the main characters are played by the same people throughout the entire series.  I saw the movies before I read the books.  My kids and I love watching these together.

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Nine Players

I’m talking baseball movies.  I’ll give you a drama and a comedy.  For laughs, Major League is my pick.  The all star cast includes Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Corbin Bernsen, and Wesley Snipes! Bob Uecker as the Indians announcer is worth the watch!

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In the drama category, The Natural with Robert Redford is my suggestion.  Roy Hobbs and his bat “Wonderboy” lead the Knights to many victories in this wonderful film!  Wilford Brimley is great as the manager.  Watch for Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Barbara Hershey, and Robert Duvall as well!

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Ten Commandments

The Cecil B. DeMille epic is an amazing movie with a phenomenal all-star cast and pretty cool special effects for 1956!  Charlton Heston is Moses.

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Others in the cast include Vincent Price, Anne Baxter, Yvonne De Carlo, Yul Brynner, and Edward G. Robinson.

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Watch this.  “So let it be written.  So let it be done.”

Ocean’s Eleven

The original!  Not the George Clooney, Brad Pitt remake!  This is my second Rat Pack selection.  Sinatra is Danny Ocean, and him and his old military buddies are going to rob all the major casinos in Las Vegas.  I have always loved the ending of this film – so much is said (and felt) with nothing but silence and no dialogue.

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Twelve Angry Men

Henry Fonda leads an all-star cast of jurors who must decide whether a teen is guilty, sending him to a death sentence.  In the film, we see 12 very different personalities all trying to work together to come to a conclusion.  The clashing of these various personalities is what makes the film so brilliant.  Martin Balsam, Jack Klugman, Ed Begley, Jack Warden, and Lee J. Cobb all put in thrilling performances.

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Now it is your turn – pay it forward.  What movies are must sees for other film fans?  You have freedom to pick what you want and use your numbers how you wish.  Use my post and the examples of my friend as a guide.

 

 

Favorite Films – The 2000’s

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It’s been a couple of weeks since I picked back up on this series of blogs, so I thought I had better.  A while ago, I saw a post that suggested you pick one favorite film from every year of your life.  So far, I have covered 3 decades.  Some years were easier than others.  Some years were very difficult, because there were many “favorites”.  One quick reminder – the movies are movies that I have seen.  There may be a monster hit movie from a certain year that I wasn’t inclined to see, or just didn’t see it.

As I move into the fourth decade of my life, I noticed something that I want you to keep in mind.  In 2002, my oldest son was born.  As I began to look through the movies of the 2000’s and even in the 2010’s, I noticed the amount of animated and kid films increased.  What I also noticed is that in many cases, those movies ended up being better than some of the adult films of those years.  Agree with me or not, remember this is MY list. While many of my readers are from Facebook and do not have blogs, many of my readers DO have blogs.  It has been fun to revisit each year, and I would love to see the list of some of my blogger friends (hint hint).

That being said, let’s dive into the 2000’s!

2000

Ashton Kutcher became a household name in 1998 as Kelso on That 70’s Show, so it was only a short time before they had him star in a feature film, and naturally it was a comedy – Dude, Where’s My Car?  While I found it mostly stale, there were a few laughs.  2000 brought us the funny sequel to Eddie Murphy’s Nutty Professor in Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis were both very good in Unbreakable, Harrison Ford wound up being the bad guy in What Lies Beneath, and Russell Crowe starred in the visually brilliant Gladiator (although at times I was bored with it).

A runner up for my pick for this year was the very funny Emperor’s New Groove, the animated feature that starred David Space, Patrick Warburton, John Goodman, and the amazing Eartha Kitt.  I loved this movie and Kitt’s voice work is just amazing.  However, music is what made me pick my favorite for 2000 – O Brother, Where Art Thou?

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George Clooney plays a convict who escapes from a chain gang and ends up recording a hit record.  I loved the story, and loved the soundtrack.  I was working in country radio when the movie came out.  The phones were constantly ringing for Man of Constant Sorrow!  The sound sounded so out of place among the current country hits of the time, but maybe that’s why it did so well.  It reminds me of when the Dixie Chicks first hit radio – their sound was so unlike anything on the air at the time that it stood out and sounded great!  I still have the entire soundtrack of this movie on my iPod!

2001

In 2001, Morgan Freeman reprised his role as Alex Cross in the movie adaptation of Along Came a Spider.  David Spade introduced us to Joe Dirt.  Amanda Pete, Jason Biggs, Steve Zahn, Jack Black and singer Neil Diamond all starred in Saving Silverman.  Much like Titanic, they tossed a love story into a real life historic event for Pearl Harbor with Ben Affleck.  We also got the first installments of some BIG franchises – Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.  Wes Anderson offered up a gem with The Royal Tenenbaums with Gene Hackman, the Wilson Brothers, and Ben Stiller.  Wes Anderson’s films always have a very unique look to them and I almost chose this one as my pick, but instead, I chose Shrek.

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The film is based on the 1990 book by William Steig.  Chris Farley was supposed to be the voice of Shrek, but his death led them to re-cast the role.  Word is that Mike Myers did the voice straight, and was unhappy with it.  He recut the voice with his Scottish accent and the rest is history.  Now add the talents of Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, and John Lithgow and it’s magic!  It was a fun movie to watch and remains a favorite that I still watch with my kids.

2002

There were a few animated and kids films in 2002:  Ray Romano starred in Ice Age, Disney brought us Lilo & Stitch, and there was a live action Scooby Doo movie.  The second (or fifth) installment of Star Wars hit the screen with Attack of the Clones, while other sequels included Men in Black II, Analyze That, and Austin Powers 3 – Goldmember.  Two big sequels were Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.  Sitting here in 2019, who could have known that there would be a gazillion more super hero movies to come … but my pick for 2002 is Tobey Maguire as Spiderman.

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As a fan of Spiderman since I was a kid, I was excited to see this one.  I thought Tobey was a good Peter Parker.  The rest of the cast was great, too (James Franco, Willem Dafoe, JK Simmons)!  I always thought Kirsten Dunst was pretty, and thought she was great as Mary Jane.  It was a fun movie to watch with good special effects and a good story.

2003

The Lord of the Rings saga continued with the Return of the King in 2003.  Will Ferrell appeared in Old School, which I felt was “Animal House crossing the line”.  Uma Thurman starred in the first Kill Bill, and Johnny Depp appeared for the first time as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.  A clown fish named Nemo stole the hearts of many in Finding Nemo, while Disney offered up the action adventure film Holes.  Again, music played a factor in my favorite – School of Rock.

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Jack Black is a rocker who gets tossed out of his band.  He fills in as a substitute teacher and teaches his class all about Rock and Roll.  He also uses the kids to form a band in hopes of winning a Battle of the Bands contest. The soundtrack includes cuts from the Ramones, The Darkness, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Nicks, and the song they play at the end is the classic AC/DC song, It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll).

2004

Damn you, 2004!  There were so many great movies that came out this year!!  7 of them easily could be my top pick!  Adam Sadler brought us 50 First Dates with Drew Barrymore.  Mel Gibson brought us the controversial Passion of the Christ.  Uma Thurman returned to Kill Bill again in part 2.  Harry Potter was back with the Prisoner of Azkaban.  Tina Fey and Lindsay Lohan gave us a look at public school in Mean Girls. We enjoyed some high school football with Friday Night Lights.  Shrek and Donkey were back with a new friend (Puss in Boots) in Shrek 2.  Will Ferrell donned a mustache as he told the Legend of Ron Burgandy in Anchorman.  Harold and Kumar went to White Castle for some sliders.  Zombies were all over the place in Simon Pegg’s Shaun of the Dead (which I loved!). A very funny cast (Vince Vaughn, Rip Torn, Justin Long, Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor) told us an underdog story in Dodgeball (Chuck Norris has a funny cameo). Nick Cage stars in a great film that makes you rethink history in National Treasure. Jamie Foxx was just brilliant as Ray Charles in the biopic Ray.

A word about a film from 2004 before I announce my pick.  I saw the DVD cover for Napoleon Dynamite in the video store.  I am not sure what made me get it.  Someone may have mentioned it to me, whatever the case, I rented it. We popped it in.  I watched it all the way through.  When it was done I remember saying “What the hell did we just watch?!”  I literally sat there scratching my head.  I just couldn’t figure it out!  It was so dumb!  But here is the weird part – after it ended and after I sat there for a minute – I started the movie over!!!  I watched it all over again.  The second time I watched it – I laughed like hell!!  All of a sudden, it was a funny friggin movie!  When I would recommend it to people, I would tell them “you may have to watch it twice”!  LOL

Ok, so my movie picking credibility may forever be tarnished because of that last paragraph….but here is my pick for 2004 – The Incredibles.

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Brad Bird (who does the voice of Edna) wrote this masterpiece.  Craig T. Nelson is Mr. Incredible and Holly Hunter is Elastigirl (also Mrs. Incredible).  Samuel L. Jackson is super cool as Frozone.  After getting sued for injuring a citizen, Super heroes are banned from performing their duties.  They go into the Super Hero Relocation Program and live as ordinary citizens.  Syndrome is a super villain (voiced by Jason Lee) and his antics bring the “Supers” back out into the public eye.  The music soundtrack is just amazing.  I was SO excited when the sequel was announced.   Just LOVE this movie!! No Capes!

2005

There weren’t many films I liked from 2005.  Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was good, as we see the “birth” of Darth Vader.  DreamWorks had fun with the animated film Madagascar.  Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson were Wedding Crashers.  Goblet of Fire was the next installment of the Harry Potter series.  My pick for favorite of 2005 is a remake – I know, I know!  I have dissed many remakes, but I found Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to be different enough that I liked it.

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Johnny Depp is one of those actors who amazes me.  When I look at the various roles he has played, each one of them is very unique.  His take on Willy Wonka is so vastly different from Gene Wilder’s in the original.  It is almost creepy – ok, it is creepy! The whole movie is a bit darker than the original, too.  While the story is basically the same, it is different enough that it stands alone as being worthy of my pick.

2006

The success of animated films becomes apparent by 2006.  DreamWorks put out two animated movies this year – Flushed Away and Over The Hedge, while Pixar released Cars.  Ben Stiller interacts with history in A Night at the Museum.  Johnny Depp is back as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men’s Chest.  Little Miss Sunshine is a delightful film with Steve Carell, Greg Kinnear, and Alan Arkin.  My pick for favorite stars Jack Black as Nacho Libre.

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While it is a comedy, it also has heart.  Jack Black is a cook at a monastery.  He grew up there.  There are many orphans that live there, and there is little money to feed them properly.  He decides to wrestle after hours in an effort to raise money for the orphans.  I love this movie, because while there are moments you laugh at loud, there are also heartwarming moments.

2007

Animation movies continued to be big in 2007 – Jerry Seinfeld had Bee Movie, Shrek was back for a third (and probably weakest of the series) movie, and Pixar had the marvelous Ratatouille.  Jack Sparrow returned in At World’s End, and Simon Pegg offered up the comedy Hot Fuzz.  Harry Potter returned in the Order of the Phoenix, and Nick Cage was back for the sequel to National Treasure: Book of Secrets. Jon Heder, coming off the success of Napoleon Dynamite, teamed up with Will Ferrell for Blades of Glory.  The gang from TV’s Reno 911 got their own film Reno 911:Miami.  My pick for favorite – The Bucket List.

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Admittedly, I did not see the movie until recently, I am glad I did.  This movie made “the bucket list” a phrase everyone now uses.  We all have items on a list that we want to do before we die.  Going to Italy is on mine.  Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman are just wonderful in this film.  If you haven’t seen it – you have to!

2008

Comedies from 2008 included Simon Pegg’s Run Fatboy, Run, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. starred in Tropic Thunder, Rainn Wilson was The Rocker, and Will Ferrell and John C. Riley were Step Brothers (Boats and Hoes!!)  Animated films from 2008 included WALL-E, and Kung Fu Panda. Tom Cruise starred in a great story about the plot to kill Hitler in Valkyrie.  Harrison Ford reprised his role as Indiana Jones in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (I didn’t care for it).  Will Smith was a guy with super powers in Hancock.

Vantage Point was almost my pick for favorite.  Dennis Quaid stars in the film about an assassination attempt of the President.  The movie shows all the different views of the event – all the different vantage points.  It was a very cool film to watch.  I hate to say it, because it is kind of a remake, but my pick for favorite is Get Smart.

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TECHNICALLY, it is NOT a remake.  It is just based on the TV show.  At first I was angry to hear they were making this movie, because of my love for the TV show.  Then I heard that Steve Carell would be playing Maxwell Smart.  I thought he was perfect for the role.  Alan Arkin is great as the chief (I like him in almost everything he does).  Anne Hathaway is 99.  James Caan is the President.  The Rock is also an agent.  Great cameos from Bill Murray and Bernie Kopell, the orginal Seigfried (although I wish Bernie’s cameo had been longer).  Over all, it was a good story.  I loved the nods to the TV show, that earned bonus points for me.

2009

As we enter the final year of this decade, three films all stand out as ones that could easily be my pick.  Two of the dumbest films I saw were Paul Blart Mall Cop (which even got a sequel!!) and Year One.  I am stupider for watching both of those films!  Animation and kid films included The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and the Monsters VS Aliens.  Harry Potter was back with the Half Blood Prince.  Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw starred in The Blind Side.  Woody Harrelson kills the undead in Zombieland. I’m gonna be honest – I NEVER saw Avatar, it just didn’t look interesting to me.  I was impressed with the new Star Trek movie – I felt the characters stayed very close to the original star’s portrayals.  I really enjoyed Inglorious Basterds (always been a fan of WWII movies).

That leaves me with four films – one that I disliked and three I loved.  I know that I am in the minority here, so I apologize in advance.  I didn’t care for the Hangover.  It obviously was major hit which spawned quite a few sequels.  Everyone kept saying, “You’ve got to see this movie”, so I did.  I really didn’t find it as funny as everyone else did.  I don’t know what it is, I just didn’t find it to be the great film everyone else did.

Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law was VERY well done!  I enjoyed it very much.  I really felt that it captured the Sherlock Holmes from the stories.  I found it funny, exciting, and thought it had a great story.  When I discovered Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch, I felt that it was done in almost the same vain as this film.

I almost picked A Christmas Carol starring Jim Carrey as my favorite.  First of all, it is one of my favorite Christmas stories.  I am sure that I have blogged about it in the past.  Second, Jim Carrey does the majority of the voices in it and it just amazing.  I loved the animation and it has been one that I watch each and every Christmas season.  My pick for 2009, however, is another animated film … Up.

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Pixar continues to bring out amazing movies for the whole family.  Up is the story of Carl Frederickson(voiced by Ed Asner), and his quest to go to Paradise Falls to fulfill a promise to his wife.  The montage that shows the love story of Carl and Ellie is done with no voices – just action and music.  It is the most moving thing I have ever seen.  Yes, I cried.  It is beautiful.

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The adventure that Carl ends up going on with his newfound friends Russell, Doug, and Kevin is exciting and heartwarming.  I truly wish that Pixar would give us a sequel to this film, just to see more of this wonderful friendship that Carl and Russell have.  I LOVE this movie!

9 more years to go and I will pick up the series next in 2010.  I hope you enjoyed reading this!

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Par For The Course …

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Do you have something that you love to do, even though you’re not really that good at it?  I have quite a few things that would fall into this category.  The things that pop immediately into my mind for me are singing, bowling, writing, and golf (to name a few).

I have been golfing since I was in high school.  I’ve never been really good at it, but I love to do it.  On Senior Skip Day, my friends and I decided to golf.  Most of my golf buddies and I play with the same set of rules, which contain many “mulligans”.  (For those who don’t know, a “mulligan” is a do-over shot.)  I have played with Joe, Steve, Jeff, Matt, Lee, Chris, Scott, my dad, my uncle, and perfect strangers.  In those many rounds, I have probably lost over 400 golf balls in the woods, 600 golf balls in various ponds, lakes, and rivers, and almost tipped the golf cart at least 3 times.

Over the years, I have continued to go out whenever I was able to, which amounts to about 3-7 times a year!  In Michigan the golf season just isn’t long enough.  To me, there is nothing like being out in nature playing golf.  I love being out on the golf course.  I recently have found the next best thing.

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I am far from being a “gamer”, however, I have found myself playing this game a lot lately.  It has almost become a habit to shoot 18 holes before leaving for work.  I started by just playing single rounds.  These made me laugh because the guy who does the announcing would say things like “Oh, that’s moderately disappointing” or “I’m sure that was not exactly what he had in mind with that shot” when you missed a putt or shanked one out of bounds.

Recently I started playing “My PGA Tour”.  I play a major tournament before leaving for work and for whatever it is worth, it’s kind of a stress reliever, much like actually being on the golf course.  As you play each round, you have a rival player that you are trying to beat, as well.

The graphics of this game are pretty awesome and I love the little details.  You can hear birds chirping, see planes flying overhead, there are “oohs” and “ahhs” from the audience, the crowd offers a “golf clap” when you drop the putt, and the ball leaves marks on the green when it lands.  You can upgrade equipment and clothing with your winning and the more experience you get, too.

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My best round so far has been -15!  I laugh out loud at this, because on an actual golf course I’m lucky if I end at 15 over par!!  If I get a par when I am out on an actual course, I am happy.  If I get a birdie (a rare occurrence), I am ecstatic!!  I have said that if I ever bowl a 300 game or get a hole in one golfing, I’d quit right then and there.  You’ve done it!  You have aced it.  Why go any further!?  It’s such a silly though, but I will often psych myself up when I tee off on a Par 3 hole. “Wouldn’t it be awesome to get a hole-in-one here?”  “Could this ever really happen to me?”  Let me be clear – it has NEVER happened to me for real.  However, in the game it happened twice in the same game!

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It’s also not happened again since!  LOL!  However, I did walk away the winner of the FedEx Cup, which apparently is the big event on this game.

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Sweet victory!!

We bought the Xbox for the boys, for when they are with us for the weekend.  My oldest loves to play Forza Horizon, which is like a racing game.  It’s actually pretty cool and the cars are pretty detailed.  My youngest likes to play Minecraft, The Lego games (Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Incredibles, etc), and some crazy one called Cup Head.  We have Madden football, but I usually have to beg them to play it with me.  Whether I am playing games with them, or just watching them play, it’s fun.

When it’s just me, and I have about 20 minutes, I put in my silly little golf game and de-stress.  It’s the next best thing to being out on the course for real…..

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The Power to Choose

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It feels like forever since I sat down to write a blog, yet it has only been a week. This week I am flipping from midnights to days, back to midnights, and then back to days with a day off in between each. Needless to say, I am exhausted and have to remind myself what day it is!

The reason for my flipping shifts this week is due to a conference. The hospital I work for hosted a day long conference called “The Power to Choose.” The objectives of the conference were to (1) help build trusting relationships with patients and family, (2) help you make mindful decisions that help you foster enhanced patient, family and staff experiences and outcomes, and (3) illustrate and help apply approaches that improve outcomes through compassion and communication. One of my goals for this year was to gain more knowledge by attending these classes. It is difficult to do when you work midnights and most of these are during the day. My boss worked with me to make sure I got all my hours this week, and the conference was worth it.

The Power To Choose

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The daylong conference was geared toward health care professionals, and while many of the topics were directly focused on the healthcare setting, there were many things that I took away from the conference that apply to every day life. Those are the things that moved me to sit down and write. I chose to write about this because (1) I don’t want to forget these things and (2) maybe it is something that YOU can use in your daily life (or at work), too.

The conference opened with four employees sharing stories. Some were more emotional than others. The one that struck me the most was from a nurse who spoke of a male patient whose loved one was in the hospital and was always Googling and suggesting what needed to be done. She said it was like he “put on the boxing gloves” every time she walked in. It wasn’t until her son was diagnosed with a disease, that she began to see things from that patient’s point of view. Nurses and doctors were taking care of his “prized possession”, and it wasn’t until she shared his role that she really understood. She also wanted to put on the “gloves” and fight for what was best for her son. She had asked him to trust her because she “knew what she was doing” and now she was forced to trust the people caring for her son.

Next, there was a woman who works at the Cleveland Clinic. Her presentation was about communication skills that can be used when something goes wrong – in the industry we call it “service recovery.” In her presentation she stated “it all starts with empathy”. There is so much truth to this. Imagine how much better the world would be if we all showed a bit more empathy to each other!!

We live in a world where we relate to stereotypes. We judge a book by it’s cover, even though the famous quote says not to do this. I honestly don’t know if they showed this video when I started here or at another health system, but it was SO powerful! I encourage you to watch it all the way through and to reflect on it. Coincidentally, it comes from the Cleveland Clinic.

I realize that the video was geared toward health care, but stop and think about how this very well could have been a video shot on the streets of Everytown, USA! Think of the people you pass in the mall, or on the street, or at the grocery store. What is going on in their world today?

We were next shown a video that was a part of TED Talk. In the video, we meet a man named Alex Sheen. He tells the story of his father and explains that he was a man who always kept his promises. When his father died, he created “promise cards”. On the bottom of the card it reads “because I said I would.” Here is that video:

We then opened an envelope that had cards that read “because I said I would” and we were to write our own promises on them. Some people at our table wrote immediately, while a few of us took awhile to think of the promise we wanted to write. The idea is to keep you accountable. I, admittedly, am bad about following through with things. I am guilty of telling someone I will call them, and either get busy or forget. The card is a way to remind yourself of the promise. On my card, I wrote:

“I promise to stay positive and avoid negativity”

Quite a tall order, but I have now made that promise and I intend to keep it.

There was an extra blank card on my table. Because I like to make people laugh, I wrote something on it and walked over to where my boss was sitting during the break. I held up the sign which read:

“I promise not to drive my boss crazy!”

She laughed and snapped a picture. What makes this even funnier is the “official photographer for the event saw my boss and me and asked to take our pictures … with each of us holding up our signs. If any of my coworkers or fellow hospital employees see it – I REALLY did write a serious one!!!

promise

After lunch, Stephen Trzeciak, the author of the book “Compassionomics” spoke. His talk was full of data and statistics that illustrate the power of compassion. I plan on getting the book to read in the near future.

One of the things that he stated in his talk was that the data shows: “loneliness kills”. In connection with this, I stumbled on an article about a photographer who took pictures of people without their cell phones to illustrate how dependent we have become on them and just how lonely we are. Notice the loss of human connection in these pictures. Here is a link to the article:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3270660/Communication-problems-Photographer-removes-mobile-phones-images-couples-families-expose-just-addicted-technology-become.html

Dr. Shajahan

The highlight of the conference for me was the talk that Dr. Shajahan did on “Unconscious Bias”. I took more notes from this talk than all of them. Her talk was very interactive, informative, and fun.

The first thing she did was play us a video illustrating the McGurk Effect. Look it up. It’s actually very cool. Wiki says: The McGurk effect is a perceptual phenomenon that demonstrates an interaction between hearing and vision in speech perception. The illusion occurs when the auditory component of one sound is paired with the visual component of another sound, leading to the perception of a third sound.”

There are videos on YouTube that illustrate this. Watch one with your eyes closed – you’ll hear one thing. Then listen to it with your eyes open and you’ll hear something else. It’s very neat.

She went on to talk about conscious and unconscious bias and how they can affect how we treat others. Another “exercise” was given. She showed us pictures of various people and we had to rate how “warm” and “competent” we thought they were only by the pictures! There was a picture of a guy who wore a scowl. Not very warm. He had a shirt and tie on, so he had to be competent, right? Well, we found out the guy gives 82% of his salary away to charity every year – I guess he was warmer than we thought! The cute little old lady she showed us actually turned out to be some really crooked and mean politician! What did I say earlier about judging a book by it’s cover???

So, how biased are you? Dr. Shajahan told us that we could find out by taking the Harvard Implicit Association Test (the IAT). I haven’t done so yet, but it is something I am going to do this weekend. Here is a link to the test:

https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

She spoke of how in classical music, most musicians in an orchestra were male. When blind auditions were held, 5 times more females were included into the orchestra! There was a bias that men were better players.

In another exercise, she put up on the big screen four people. These people varied in race, education, citizenship, gender, sexual orientation, status, with and without children, addictions and/or disabilities. Each was represented by a color. In the auditorium, four colors were held up. First, you had to go to the color of the person you’d most like to be. The room was pretty divided and people were asked why they chose that person. Then it got harder. Next we had to go to the person we’d least like to be – and explain why.

She spoke of ways to reduce bias.

  1. Individuation – seeing others as people. Individuate instead of generalizing. Go beyond race and stereotypes and get to know the person.
  2. Counter-stereotyping. Basically, counter the stereotype – cancel it out. The example she used was “Black people are dumb” to which you could counter with “Barak Obama or Martin Luther King were pretty smart.” See? Counter the stereotype.
  3. Increase the awareness of the type. Familiarize yourself with a group or race that you don’t know much about. For example, I don’t know much about Arabic culture. So I can ask questions of one of my coworkers, or take a cooking class that is geared toward Middle Eastern foods where I can interact with people who disconfirm the stereotype.
  4. Replace the stereotype. First you label the response or portrayal as stereotypical. Second, you evaluate it and think of how it can be avoided in the future. Finally, replace the stereotypical response with a non-stereotypical one.
  5. Perspective talking. Simple enough – put yourself in their shoes. Think of how you would feel if you were labeled as a stereotype. My Polish friend has a degree from the University of Michigan and is one of the smartest guys I know. He is nothing like the people portrayed in Polish jokes. Same with female blondes – they are not all dumb! How would you feel if you were stereotyped?

She wrapped up her talk with a fact – we all have biases. We need to be aware of them. She had a flow chart that I will attempt to recreate here:

SELF AWARENESS

WHAT? (We all have bias) ——-> SO WHAT? (It affects people negatively) ——-> NOW WHAT?? (We have the power to choose to do something about it!)

Watch this short video that was shared at the conference:

I LOVE THIS!!!

Words Matter!

Everything we do involves a choice. We choose what pants to wear. We choose what to eat. We choose what to say. Every day is full of choices and we have the power to choose to make a difference.

They wrapped the conference with some quotes –

“Follow hope – not fear”

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” – Nelson Mandella

In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Dumbledore says to Harry: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

In Conclusion

So what can you take away from this serious blog? I hope a lot. You have the power to make a choice today to make a difference. Show empathy and compassion to others. Choose to be aware of bias. Choose to not judge a book by its cover.

The other day, I drove through Tim Horton’s and was informed that my coffee had been paid for by the car ahead of me. Some stranger did that for me. It made me smile. It made me grateful. It made me want to do the same for the car behind me – which I did. There is so much hate in the world today. Share a smile today. Make someone feel good!

Maya Angelou’s quote has always been one I have held close to my heart. I used it as a reminder when I was doing my radio show, but it applies to daily life, too.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

At the conference, each person in attendance received a rock. On the rock was the word “Choice”. We were told to place it somewhere where we would always see it. The purpose is for it to be a constant reminder that we always have the “power to choose”. So do you.

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