Monday, February 29, 2016

Oscar Moments on Lavender Inspiration

Last night was the 88th Annual Academy Awards. While there are always some key moments, to me the red carpet is always the best part (only half joking).

Last night's highlight may have been Leonardo DiCaprio winning his first Oscar after six previous nominations.  A crusader for our planet, DiCaprio's heartfelt speech was more than about winning Best Actor. Take a listen.....

Watch DiCpario's entire speech

"Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species.......let us not take this planet for granted....." - Leonardo DiCaprio

On a less serious note, I'd like to take a look back at some of the films reviewed on Lavender Inspiration this past year that were nominated for 2016 Oscars. 

First up, one of my favorite films of the year and probably of all time: Brooklyn, nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Picture. 

Pixar's Inside Out was nominated for Best Original Screenplay and won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film. 

Nominated for Best Costume Design, was Disney's Cinderella.

And, finally, nominated for Best Film Editing, Original Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects was Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  (Guest review by +Nicholas Neagle)  

No matter what your view is of the Oscars, I am sure all of us can agree on one thing. Movies touch our lives and give us inspiration like few other things can. I am looking forward to catching up on some of the winning films from last night. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Monkey Kingdom (Family Movie Review)

Disneynature's eighth documentary film, Monkey Kingdom, is geared toward families but suitable for anyone.  Narrated by the talented and very funny Tina Fey, Monkey Kingdom takes you into a colony of macaque monkeys in Sri Lanka. The story line focuses on one particular member, Maya, while demonstrating the very complex hierarchy and struggle for survival that exists in this animal kingdom.

The colony of Castle Rock is ruled by King Raja, the alpha male, and three sisters who, combined with their offspring, make up the group's royalty. (These three sisters make all other "Disney villains" seem tame in comparison.) The position one is born into determines everything including access to food, shelter, and how you are treated. Maya, a low-born member, spends her days just trying to survive. Her battle becomes more complicated when a new suitor enters the picture and she gives birth to her son, Kip. Leave it to Disneynature writers to turn a mating ritual into a love story. It was all extremely endearing.

The film captures the cheeky antics of the monkeys along with their interactions with other jungle inhabitants such as a shy mongoose, sloth bears and others. However, it also captures some tense moments with predators and I will remind parents that nature is nature and there are a couple of casualties that can be disturbing to young viewers. (NOTE: These scenes, while tense, are not graphic. Television nature shows are far bloodier.)  There were a few instances that left my mouth agape, both in delight and in horror. 

Due to circumstances occurring naturally in their environment, there is an eventual shift in power turning this story into a true example of heroism. The bond between Maya and Kip is so beautiful I doubt viewers will ever look at animal relationships the same way again. The trials and tribulations Maya goes through to save her son are heartwarming to say the least.  In general, the facial expressions of these primates captured on film are mesmerizing and will bring you laughs and tears. 

Watch Official Trailer

The film depicts the most amazing scenery and the cinematography was a definite highlight of this documentary. Kudos to the cameramen and writers for making this movie both educational and entertaining. The film is rated G and while very young viewers might lose interest outside the comedy provided by the playful monkeys, older children will delight in the actual story line. Having taken my sons to see Disneynature's first film, Earth, in theaters back in 2007, my son now admits that he was too young to appreciate it. Disneynature's ninth film, Born in China, will be released as always on April 22 - Earth Day.

Read my other Family Movie Reviews.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Kung Fu Panda 3 (Family Movie Review)

"If you only do what you can do, you will never be more than you are." ~ Kung Fu Panda 3

Everyone's favorite panda is back in Kung Fu Panda 3 by DreamWorks, but does this film live up to the franchise?  

Read my review of the first Kung Fu Panda. 

Po (Jack Black) is reunited with his long lost father played by J.K. Simmons (Whiplash), and finally becomes acquainted with his panda roots. However, while now long-established as the Dragon Warrior, Po finds he still has a lot to prove, not only to the villagers and the Furious Five, but more importantly, to himself. 

"When will you realize, the more you take, the less you have." ~ Kung Fu Panda 3

Bryan Cranston joins Black and all the original cast members as our newest villain, General Kai. Stealing the Chi, or energy, of all the Kung Fu masters, Kai hopes to return from the spirit realm and destroy Po and the Furious Five to become an unstoppable force. And he almost succeeds.

The script is filled with great one-liners and tons of physical humor that will leave your children laughing. However, I felt the story line didn't compare to the first two films. Plus, there is so much supernatural mumbo jumbo, young viewers may be left confused as to what is exactly happening. I can only hope that with Po's eventual acceptance of himself as the Dragon Warrior, DreamWorks will put this franchise to rest. 

Watch Official Trailer

The film is rated PG for martial arts action and some mild rude humor and while I am sure your children will delight in the goofy antics of Po and the other pandas, this one may leave older viewers disappointed. I suggest you save your money and wait for this one to be released for home viewing. 

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Cinderella (Family Movie Review)

"This is perhaps the greatest risk that any of us will take, to be seen as we truly are." ~ Cinderella 


I wanted to see the 2015 film version of Cinderella when it was released in theaters last March, but trying to convince two middle-school aged sons to accompany me was a lost battle. However, in the comfort of our own home, guess who BOTH sat down to watch this film with me?

Based on the folktale by Charles Perrault published in 1697 and later made popular by the 1950's Disney animation feature film, this live-action version of the story will delight most family members. What stood out to me was the set design, the costumes (the film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Costume Design), and a few key performances by Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine (the evil step-mother) and Helena Bonham Carter who played the fairy Godmother. Carter's performance offers comic relief and the transformation of the animals into horses, footmen, and a coachman is sure to bring smiles to all viewers. 

We all know the premise behind the story. Ella (Lily James) is born to loving and happy parents but soon learns that sorrow can come to even the happiest of homes. After the death of her mother, Ella's father marries Lady Tremaine who, along with her two wicked daughters, Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drizella (Sophie McShera), turns Ella into nothing more than a servant in her own home. Things only worsen for Ella after the death of her father. 

Yet, despite all her misfortune, Ella, who her stepsisters nickname Cinderella because of the ashes she is covered with due to cleaning, never loses sight of her mother's greatest lesson, "Have courage and be kind." Even more so than the animated version, this film captures the essence of Cinderella's beautiful heart. It also brings insight into her stepmother's pain and motivation. There is also an unexpected tender scene between Prince Charming (Richard Madden) and his father (Derek Jacobi) that ended up being one of my favorite scenes. 

"Where there is kindness, there is goodness, and where there is goodness, there is magic." ~ Cinderella 

I didn't want to fall for this sappy fairy tale, but it really was spectacular to look at, and, well, charming. Despite what many believe, this story isn't about a young maiden being rescued by a prince. In fact, Ella falls for the prince without knowing who he is. It is a story of forgiveness and one young woman's fight to keep her heart hopeful during even the most trying of circumstances. This clip portrays the overall message wonderfully.  

Watch Movie Clip

Filled with all the splendor and glamour of all Disney fairy tales, Cinderella is sure to please even the youngest of viewers. The film is rated PG for mild thematic elements and is suitable for the entire family.

Watch Official Trailer

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Top Moments of the 58th Grammy Awards

Music has played an important role in my life and provides inspiration like few other things can. 

Last night I sat down to watch the 58th Annual Grammy Awards.  My favorite part of this award ceremony is the coming together of all different music genres for one night. The event proved to be yet another night of awesome performances and exciting first time winners including Justin Bieber, Meghan Trainor and one of my favorite moments, Ed Sheeran winning for Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance for "Thinking Out Loud." While there were many spectacular moments these are the ones that stood out to me. 

I am not a huge fan of Taylor Swift, yet her opening number was fantastic. Adele's performance was brilliant as always. The live performance by the cast of Hamilton live from Broadway was also a highlight of the night. 

However, the performance that stood out to me during the night was Demi Lovato's performance of "Hello" during the tribute to Lionel Richie. You could just see the tears in Richie's eyes while she belted out the song in what would prove to be just one of the moments that gave the entire audience chills. The tribute ended with Richie joining the others on stage where he proved he still has it!

The entire show was filled with tributes including one to the late Glenn Frey and Stevie Wonder joined by Pentatonix who paid tribute to the late Maurice White in what was another amazing performance.  But the tribute that kept me watching was Lady Gaga's spectacular tribute to the late David Bowie. 

The 58th Grammy Awards had many exciting moments but these were my favorites. I could probably list another half dozen great moments, such as Little Big Town's performance of "Girl Crush," but I'd rather hear from you. Did you watch? What were your favorite moments / performances? 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Going Vegan: One Year Strong

It is officially over a year since I started living a vegan lifestyle.  I hope you have followed my journey in my Going Vegan series.  Even after one year of eating vegan, I can still say that I am only halfway to living a "completely vegan" lifestyle.  (I will get back to that statement.)

As I have always said, for me being vegan is an on-going process and not one that I take lightly. I was very honest about the fact that I would be taking progressive steps toward living the most vegan lifestyle I possibly can, but was not aiming for perfection. I am thankful for the wonderful advice from many experienced vegans and am truly grateful to have several I can turn to for tips and encouragement.

The most popular question people ask me is what do I miss the most. Occasionally I miss omelets or french toast.  Mainly I just miss the ability to go anywhere and be able to eat.  But there are far more foods that I thought I would miss and don't - like cheese. Remember how I thought I wouldn't be able to live without cheese?!  Regardless, I always go back to why I became vegan, because in the end it isn't about who is more vegan than me, it is about making the choices that will help me sleep at night.

The second most popular question  I get asked is how I feel (physically) being vegan. I feel fantastic. I have had zero side effects and I am slowly learning to eat healthier, but I will be the first to admit that being vegan didn't necessarily make me a health nut! I hope to improve on that this year. 

I think I pretty much have the food thing down, but I have to tell you that in order to fit my active lifestyle I do not worry about possible cross-contamination when it comes to dining out. And, while I have made the move to vegan / cruelty-free products for about 75% of my personal non-food products, I still have quite a way to go in that area.

I am always amazed at how some non-vegans will criticize me because I am not 100% vegan overall (meaning, things outside of food.)  I am even MORE amazed at how many vegans will criticize me for the same thing.

When I started out on this journey to live a LESS CRUEL lifestyle, I was very clear that my goal was not to be perfect. In fact, few of us could live a "completely vegan" lifestyle. That would mean every thing we eat, wear, and use would have zero animal by-products AND use zero animal testing AND have zero impact on animal habitats. Materials such as medications, adhesives, plastics, fertilizers, and pet food - to name just a fraction of products - are all made from animal parts.  

Therefore, the real question it worth eating/buying vegan for the most part if there are still so many other non-vegan items that are currently still difficult to avoid?  For me the obvious answer is YES!

I think the lesson I learned most during the first year of being vegan is that there are too many people not willing to make ANY changes because they can't see themselves giving up everything so why bother. WHY BOTHER? Because in my very humble opinion, I think even the smallest steps towards a less cruel world are HUGE steps toward a better humanity.

Read more of my Going Vegan series.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Dr. Seuss: The Art Behind the Stories

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending an exhibit on The Art of Dr. Seuss presented by the Ann Jackson Gallery of Atlanta, GA.  

The collection was comprised of artworks including preliminary and final drawings for the legendary children's books by Ted Geisel, lovingly known as Dr. Seuss, along with bronze sculptures and his 3-D Unorthodox Taxidermy sculptures.  The collection also included several pieces created by Geisel for his own personal expression. Filled with interesting facts about the man and the inspiration behind these beloved stories, the exhibit definitely shows visitors the versatility and genius behind Dr. Seuss. 

Most of us can remember the delightful tales written by this iconic artist and author including The Lorax, Hop on Pop, Fox in Socks, Horton Hears a Who!, and my favorite How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  Probably his most popular story and one of the most recognizable characters in children's literature is The Cat in the Hat.

Dr Seuss personally created each original sketch, carefully selecting every color to capture the essence of each story and to hold the attention of young readers. In fact, his ability to use illustrations to move the story line became his legacy over his 60-year career.

As mentioned previously, my favorite Dr. Seuss book is How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This story was inspired by Geisel's own attitude toward the commercialization of Christmas.  Probably one of the more interesting tidbits dealt with the unusual and brilliant accomplishment of writing Green Eggs and Ham using only 50 words, a challenge issued to him by his publisher. 

The most unusual pieces on display were undoubtedly the 17 sculptures that made up the Unorthodox Taxidermy collection created by Geisel in the 1930s. In these sculptures he used genuine bills, horns, and antlers of  actual animals that passed away at the Springfield Zoo, a favorite attraction of his from his childhood.

I hope you enjoyed  this glance into the world of the Dr. Seuss you know and love as well as the glimpse into a side of him unknown to most of us. Whether you recall the stories from your own childhood or perhaps from reading his books to your children or grandchildren, we can all agree on the incredible influence Theodor Seuss Geisel had on children's literature.

Which is your most memorable Dr.Seuss story?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Why We Hate Cable Companies

I don't really know where to begin. I don't usually use my blog for crazed rants - do I? But the mere mention of my cable company is enough to get my panties in a wad and I know I am not alone in this reaction. 

Once or twice a year (thanks to the ever advancing world of technology) I am subjected to my cable company sending me new AND IMPROVED equipment under the guise that it is a simple set up process.

Now before I go any further, let me mention that my cable company also provides me with Internet and home phone service. I know - I use the landline a couple of times a week so why bother? I guess I just have too much fun dodging telemarketers!  

I recently hit my annual renewal anniversary. Every year my heart stops when I get that first bill with the new fee and every year I call to beg, borrow and steal my way to a lower rate. At times, I've almost considered offering sexual favors for a lower rate plan. (RELAX, I said ALMOST!) This year was no different as I stood in shock upon opening the statement revealing the new amount had now successfully crossed over the $200 mark. That's right - over $200!!! 

As usual I called to inquire about getting back on a promotional rate. I spent 45 minutes on my cell trying to earn the man's sympathy. When that failed, I threatened to call another provider from my home phone (see it does come in handy!)  

"That's right, I am dialing your competitor right now!!!" I exclaimed. But this guy didn't seemed fazed by my threats. Finally, I heard him sigh......

YES!!!  I was wearing him down.

"I can't offer you a lower rate, but I can give you much more for only 4 cents more a month," he said.

"Okay, you have my attention. Continue."

He went on to say that he could get me on their top plan with all the paid movie channels, higher Internet speeds, and free DVR for virtually the same price. 

Long story short......I agreed and for the additional one-time rate of only $9.95 they would send me my self-installation kit. Seriously? They're charging me to install the equipment myself??

"It is easy," he said.

Yeah, this guy clearly didn't know that I had been down this road before.  I hooked up their equipment multiple times in the past and I am quite competent doing so. Yet there is always - ALWAYS - a glitch that requires more than one phone call to customer service. Even then a technician is required to come out to my house 9 out of 10 times after failed attempts at fixing the problem remotely. (However, the insane installation fee of $65 is waived at this point - I'm brilliant, I know!)

A couple of nights later there is a knock at the door - my self-installation kit had arrived!! I will admit, opening the large box to discover four smaller boxes inside was a bit intimidating. But I got this, I told myself.

I was so gung-ho I decided to start right away.....well, not right away......after pouring my first of what would not be my last glass of wine during this process. I carefully removed all the boxes and took stock in what lay before me.  At the very bottom of the main box I found crucial instructions that stated I MUST start by installing the new modem before hooking up the cable boxes. 

I will save you the gruesome details of what happened next......but two hours, two phone calls, and for simplicity's sake let's say "two" glasses of wine later my phone and Internet were up and running.  I even successfully changed my WiFi network name and password. Ah, my network names......let's just say that they are not G-rated and are indicative of my feelings toward my cable company. 

The next morning I decided to tackle the cable hook-ups to three televisions. However, the minute I activated the main cable box, the Internet and phone went out. And it was too early for wine!! Dare I say that nearly four hours later and three phone calls that had me speaking to various departments for over two hours (Yes, I am serious!) all services were finally functioning. Well, I mean everything except the one remaining problem that required a technician to come out the following day. What did I tell you? It never fails!

Exhausted but relieved my services were finally up and running, I returned my friend's call using my cell when my landline rings. I looked at the caller ID and knew immediately it was the cable company. WHAT DO THEY WANT NOW?? I think you will agree that up until this moment I had been very patient, right? Notice there was no yelling, no cursing, and no throwing of equipment. 

I answered the phone with more than a bit of agitation in my voice and the representative starts giving me the spiel that he is calling to ensure all my services were working properly. I take a deep breath and tell him a technician was coming out the following day to fix one remaining issue. He says, "If I can just have a few minutes of your time I am sure I can fix the issue remotely."

At this point I was DONE! Overall my tally totaled 6 hours, five phone calls (NOT including this recent call) and "some" wine. How dare they call me and ask for one minute longer. I explained that I was on another call and could not waste one more minute on this. He persisted.....oh...I was not in the mood. "Sir, this is not a good time. I just spent all morning on the phone with your company and no one was able to fix the issue remotely."

"I only need 5-10 minutes of your time," he snapped back condescendingly.

"Really, are you seriously going to give me attitude after all I've been through to get the services functioning at all," I said noticing my voice escalating.

"Ma'am if you would only calm down......." 


Let's reflect on his statement, shall we? I am not sure where this man was from, but he clearly missed the memo that states telling anyone, especially ME, to "calm down" is not going to be beneficial to his health. Would you agree? The moment those words left his mouth, I heard nothing else he attempted to say. 

Meanwhile, my friend was still on speaker phone and I heard her gasp out of concern for the verbal beating this man was about to take. Two days and several hours of pent up frustration with the entire process just let loose! 

The conversation did not last long after that.  Are you surprised? All I know is that he told me he would call me back at 6 p.m. - which started me on a whole other rant. Who the hell is he to tell me when he is going to call me back.

I ended the conversation with, "Call me back at 1:30 - understand? 1:30!"

I never heard from him again. I wonder if the poor guy turned in his notice and left work with his tail between his legs. All I know is that I doubt he will EVER tell me to calm down again!

I know I am not alone. What is your worst cable company story?

Read more of my blog