Monday, August 29, 2016

Fighting Anxiety, Insomnia and Stress: How to Quiet Your Mind and Find Inspiration

I recently celebrated my two year blog anniversary. Approximately eighteen months ago, the blog's name officially became Lavender Inspiration. Two followers asked me what significance the title had. Here I was writing a lot of book and film reviews, talking about my experience going vegan, and ranting about everyday life as a midlife woman and mother. So what does lavender have to do with inspiration and what do either of those words have to do with my subject matter? 

I immediately started writing a post (THIS post) to explain the title's meaning. However, life got in the way (It happens to the best of us, right?) and I am just now, a year and a half later, getting around to finishing it. Actually, the timing of this post is no accident. It was influenced by a particular event this summer, one I'll explain. 

First, let's go back to the initial reason behind the title, Lavender Inspiration.

Just over two years ago, I was a working mom who gave it all up to become a stay-at-home mother to two pre-teens. At any age this can be challenging and a bit scary, but at 45 it is terrifying and a quick way to entirely lose your grounding.  The one thing I managed to learn fairly soon was that I needed to rediscover myself and find something that inspired me again.  But with so much anxiety, I couldn't hear myself think let alone calm my thoughts long enough to hear the muse anyway. Relaxing my mind became the first order of business. But how? 

When I started suffering from insomnia (an on-again, off-again problem I've had my entire adult life and now exasperated by menopause and stress), an acquaintance, one who works with hospice patients - talk about stress - suggested I start inhaling lavender oil. She suggested I keep a bottle on my nightstand and a second one in my purse, and breathe it in whenever I felt worried, anxious, or my mind simply wouldn't shut off and allow me to sleep.

I figured it certainly couldn't hurt. I had always loved images of lavender fields and found them very peaceful. The color alone soothes me. I went immediately to the health food store and purchased two bottles just as she suggested. Each night I dab some oil on my hands and then cup them over my mouth and nose and inhale deeply several times.  If I wake in the middle of the night and can't go back to sleep, I reach for the bottle in the darkness and repeat the entire process. Guess what? It helps! So much so that I started this practice on my sons whenever they are nervous or can't sleep and now they ask me for lavender. We are a family of lavender sniffers. 

Fast forward to August 1 of this year. I was visiting my sister on Long Island (N.Y.) and we decided to take a ride along the North Fork. If you are unfamiliar with the area, it is a lovely drive that passes through several quaint towns and scenic spots. We drove past a small lavender gift shop and I made a note to stop in on our way back. After a nice lunch in Greenport and a drive toward Orient Point, we turned around and started heading back home. 

As planned, me made the stop at the lavender farm and shop despite the grumbles from my sons; one wouldn't even get out of the car. Screw it! I am not going to let them ruin my first visit to actual lavender fields. Even though we unfortunately missed the full bloom by only a couple of weeks (full bloom is in July), it was still a very relaxing experience. The ladies at the shop were very informative and demonstrated something about lavender I never knew. While lavender has a strong scent, if you squeeze the bouquet or sachet, the aroma is intensified significantlyEven better, the saleswoman told us that dried lavender will give off its floral scent for years! My older son, who was now getting into the whole stop at the lavender fields, finally admitted, "This is a pretty cool place," as it appeared he was getting his zen on. 

Lavender inspiration is a continuing journey toward calming my mind and finding my inspiration again, from whatever source that strikes.  It is also a way for me to recognize things that make me happy and inspire me. For example, films and novels are at the top of this list and the reason I write so many reviews. They are my escape and passion and I want to share that with others. Plus, I have always been a bit of a dreamer, someone whose head is often in the clouds, or stuck in a daydream. Is there any doubt why I have an affinity toward good works of  fiction. 

While Lavender Inspiration originally started out as being a journal of my day-to-day experiences, it has undergone somewhat of a metamorphosis as I found the means (thank you, lavender) to relax and truly get inspired. Without the calming effect of lavender, I am confident I would have given up on this blog a long time ago. I hope the blog continues to grow and you continue to follow me on lavender paths. 

Note: I want to thank the lovely ladies at Lavender by the Bay who took the time to speak with me about the fields and their products. The farm and shop are located in East Marion, NY. Visit their website at for hours, merchandise, and information about their French and English lavender blooms. 

 Read more of my blog here

Friday, August 26, 2016

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes of an overseas war correspondent's life? Now imagine that journalist is an American woman with no experience in covering such serious subjects. Based on the memoirs of Kim Barker (named changed to Baker in the film), The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the 2016 film Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is on my short list for favorite film of the year so far! The trailer is a bit deceptive. This film, while witty at times, is NOT a comedy. It shows the Afghan war through the eyes of a general reporter turn war correspondent and the distorted "normal" that becomes her home. If those that take the assignment aren't lost before they arrive, they soon will be. 

"I've done thousands of miles on this bike and I have gone backwards. I've literally gone backwards." ~ Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Asked to cover the war in Afghanistan for three MONTHS, Baker (Tina Fey) heads to Kabul where she will live alongside other journalists in what turns out to be three YEARS.  If you think being a male journalist on the frontlines is difficult, imagine what it is like to be a female journalist especially in the Middle East. While a very strong bond exists between all those there covering the war for us back home, there is also intense competition as they struggle for stories. But when public interest switches from Afghanistan to Iraq, the reporters find themselves having to take more risks to get professional respect and airtime. 

"My best friend almost died, and I am jealous of her." ~ Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

One of my favorite elements of the film was the very special friendship that develops between Baker and her translator, Fahim, played by the wonderful Christopher Abbot. I loved his character! I am also a huge Martin Freeman fan. The on-screen chemistry between Fey and Freeman, who plays Baker's love interest and fellow journalist Ian MacKelpie, was playful and sweet and demonstrated a deep, mutual respect between the characters not often seen in films. 

The film not only focuses on the Afghan war, it also deals with the struggle for women's rights in the country, sacrifices women make for their careers, and the obligation a journalist has to her story. Yes, the film has its funny moments, but it also is an interesting look at the culture and politics of the area. There are some very tense moments, amazing images and haunting music that sets the tone and really pulls the viewer in. The only complaint I have about the film is that sometimes the sound quality was poor. Coupled with the many different accents from the characters, I sometimes missed lines. 

"There's only so much any of us have any control of - good or bad. If you didn't learn that in Afghanistan, you were not paying attention." ~ Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Loosely along the lines of Eat, Pray, Love with aspects of Lone Survivor, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a remarkable story of a woman finding herself in the most unlikely place - the war-torn Middle East where reality and normal become twisted. I am not surprised this film didn't do better in theaters. I am convinced many didn't quite know what to make of it and probably had the misconception it was a "chick-flick." Don't be fooled. This film is a political and war drama with a bit of the Fey flare successfully thrown in. This is a career altering performance for Fey. I loved her in this role, enough that I actually watched this film twice - in the SAME week. 

Watch Official Trailer

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot also stars Margot Robbie, Billy Bob Thornton, Alfred Molina, and Cherry Jones. It is rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content, drug use and violent war images. 

Read more of my Nik's Piks: After Hours reviews. 

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Suicide Squad (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

Suicide Squad

"Don't forget, we're the bad guys." ~ Suicide Squad

Well, well, number one at the box office three weekends in a row! Guess Suicide Squad is telling the critics where to stick it! Still, one could say it is all relative. There aren't exactly too many great films playing in theaters right now. As more of a Marvel fan, I didn't rush to see Suicide Squad. When I started to hear some good things about it, I decided to ignore the critics and check it out.

When Gotham City is threatened with supernatural terrorists, corrupt government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) decides to fight fire with fire. She convinces officials to band together the worst criminal masterminds in Gotham City to create the deadliest task force ever seen: Deadshot (Will Smith); Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie); Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney); El Diablo (Jay Hernandez); Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje); and Slipknot (Adam Beach). Using whatever means necessary to motivate these prisoners and keep them in her control, Waller exploits her power to ensure a successful mission, even if that means taking advantage of them and her own team led by Army Special Forces agent Rick Flag played by the very handsome Joel Kinnaman. But can these bad guys turn good long enough to save the city?

The film does a decent job of giving ample backstory. However, the plot is weak and two-dimensional and never fully develops. But relax - it is meant to just be fun and introduce movie audiences to these comic book super-villains. Will Smith is believable as the loving father who is torn between doing what is right and doing what he is ordered to do; Margot Robbie is both seductive and adorable and pairs very well with the sexiest Joker ever played by Jared Leto. There are also cameo roles by Ben Affleck as Batman, Ezra Miller as Flash, and Jason Momoa as Aquaman. Suicide Squad also stars Cara Delevingne as Dr. June Moone / Enchantress, Karen Fukuhara as Katana, and Ike Barinholtz as prison guard Griggs.  

"Everyone has a weakness, and a weakness can be leveraged." ~ Suicide Squad

Of course, the film will make more sense and be more exciting if you understand the connection between all these characters. However, if you don't, just sit back and enjoy the ride for what it's worth - a showcase of the best WORST DC villains and a platform in which to build a movie industry giant. The special effects and make-up artistry are top-notch. I particularly loved Moone's transformation into Enchantress. Oh, and the music is kick-ass as well. 

My biggest complaint with all DC Comic films is that they are dark, which is why I am not labeling this as a Family Movie Review. Sure teens may like it, but it really is for hardcore comic fans and mature viewers who like the genre even if not too familiar with these specific characters.  

Watch Official Trailer

There was a lot of talk about the film being released with a R-rating. However, wanting to take advantage of a younger audience, the studio scaled back just enough to be released as PG-13. While Suicide Squad has the typical non-stop action and violence you see in other superhero movies, including a high level of mass destruction and explosions, there was also more sensuality. For all these reasons, I strongly caution parents against letting those under thirteen see it.

Suicide Squad is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content, and language.

Read more of my Nik's Piks: After Hours reviews. 

Check out my Family Movie Reviews too! 

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Lady in the Van (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

I love discovering films that go virtually unnoticed by the masses. In this case, catching a trailer of The Lady in the Van in the previews of another movie prompted my desire to view it.  The 2015 British film stars one of my favorite actors of all time - British legend, Maggie Smith. Her portrayal of Mary Shepard, a homeless woman living in a van, sparked critic praise worldwide and landed her several industry nominations and the title for Best Actress by the Evening Standard British Film Awards. Smith had previously played this character twice before, once on stage and once in a radio production. The film also stars Alex Jennings who plays writer Alan Bennett. The story is based on true events, and some not-so-true events, as was told in Bennett's memoirs. 

"In varying degrees, they tolerate Ms. Shepard, their conscience is absolved by her presence." ~ The Lady in the Van. 

In 1973, playwright Alan Bennett moves into a new home in Camden Town, London. Amidst his work and liaisons with several young men, Bennett is captivated by the presence of Mary, the street's homeless woman living out of her van. Neighbors routinely bring the cranky old woman food and gifts, despite their shock at her thanklessness. What develops between Bennett and Shepard is a tender and unlikely friendship. When Shepard's existence is threatened, Bennett invites Shepard to park her van on his driveway for a few weeks until she can figure out where to go. 

Watch Official Trailer

Fifteen years later, Shepard is still living in the van parked on Bennett's driveway. What fascinated me most about this film, was the back story - how Mary ended up in her predicament. The realization that one incident can truly change a person's life is staggering. 

"Absolution is not like a bus pass. It does not run out." ~ The Lady in the Van

This human drama is narrated by Bennett who is reliving the events as best as he can remember while writing her story, filling in gaps as he sees fit. The performances by Smith and Jennings are wonderful making this film worth the watch. However, I was disappointed in the bizarre final scene that seemed out of place in this otherwise serious and poignant look at human behavior and relationships.  It is a touching story with characters that captured my interest, although its execution, at times, was a bit flat. Regardless, I recommend the film to fans of drama and dry, British comedy and those who appreciate the fine art of acting, as Smith is remarkable. 

The Lady in the Van is rated PG-13 for one brief unsettling image. 

Read more of my Nik's Piks: After Hours reviews. 

Check out my Family Movie Reviews too! 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

When Blogging Becomes Comfortably Numb

I'd say the heat of the summer certainly stagnated more than my will to exercise. With my days consumed with entertaining and caring for my two sons, along with the daily chores that go into running a household, I was short on valuable blogging time. Not that I'm complaining - I had a decent summer and enjoyed having my children home. I am actually a little sad to see them go back to school, a little.  

Unfortunately, the summer just means lapsing the routine that keeps the motivation flowing the rest of the year. While too much routine can be deadly to the soul, a fair share is beneficial for adults and children alike. Instead of having my set days and preferred times to write, I found myself having to steal time (and energy) when I could AND then had to muster the inner inspiration to do so.

The one area I forced myself to stick to all summer was my Friday movie reviews. But in the overall scheme of things, that was barely staying afloat. Book reviews are scarce these days and personal entries have almost completely taken a backseat.  

I wouldn't say that I have writer's block - it is more a lack of motivation, a huge difference. In some regards, you could say my writing has become comfortably numb. Honestly, I'm surprised I have been keeping up with my blog as well as I have.  But this past week I have hit a wall completely.

This isn't the first time since starting this blog that I have felt I've lost my voice.  There have been several topics and life events over the summer that I have been meaning to write about, yet I haven't.

I've been asked to write more personal posts. However, those take the most out of me. So when I am asked why I have kept up with my movie reviews but not the other categories, I say because 1) I wanted to keep some level of consistency with my blog posts and 2) It is good practice as a blogger to produce something even when the mood isn't there. 

For me, writing movie reviews is the best way to sharpen my writing skills because I often (more often than I care to admit) sat down to write them when I did not feel like it.  As a writer, there are going to be times when you need to write whether you want to or not, and the reviews granted me the perfect practice. However, I could practically write them in my sleep at this point - comfortably numb yet again! 

This coming week marks the two-year anniversary of my blog. With that said, I figured it was a good time to take some personal stock and set some new goals in terms of my blog and to shake things up a bit. To hell with being a no-wake zone! 

First, I would like to get back to regular book reviews, at least one a month. Second, I want to continue my Friday movie reviews because film is such a huge part of my life. Finally, I want to write at least one personal, diary-style post a week. After all, that was the original purpose of this blog when I started it. In order to accomplish this, I need to tell myself that they don't all have to be masterpieces. (Just keep swimming.) Maybe I won't even edit them! (Okay, let's not get too crazy!!) 

With a little luck and a lot less pressure on myself, I hope to reawaken the initial purpose of all this - to find my inspiration, step out of my comfort zone, and once again become passionately alive! 

Read more of my blog here

Friday, August 12, 2016

Truth (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

"You stop asking questions, and that's when the American people will lose." ~ Truth

The 2015 film Truth is a political biography based on the events that led to Dan Rather stepping down after twenty-four years as anchor of the CBS Evening News.  The film is rated R for language and a brief nude photo. Truth stars Robert Redford who gives a convincing performance as Rather, and one of my favorite actors, Cate Blanchard, whose portrayal of CBS News producer Mary Mapes is both riveting and passionate. I cannot remember the last time I respected a character so much. The film also stars Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Josh Howard, Elizabeth Moss, Bruce Greenwood, and Stacy Keach.

In 2004, just months before the presidential election, Mapes, acting on a seemingly reliable source, and her team of investigative reporters break the story that President George W. Bush not only received preferential treatment that led to his position as a pilot for the Texas Air National Guard, but that he also failed to fulfill his duties and essentially went AWOL. Amidst missing documents and an unusual grant for early dismissal so Bush could attend Harvard, Mapes and her colleagues at CBS' 60 Minutes Wednesday work diligently to validate their evidence - several copies of official memos and Guard documents that discuss Bush's suspect service. Their research leaves them questioning just how high up in the military this favor went.  

Watch Official Trailer

The story starts to unravel almost immediately upon airing as conservative websites and bloggers hit back hard claiming the documents were forgeries. After all, an election is on the line. Other networks go after Rather personally claiming this was irresponsible reporting. However, as the producer of the segment, it is Mapes who will undergo the most public and professional scrutiny. As sources start to recant their statements, Mapes, Rather and their team are subjected to a grueling investigation. 

"This isn't a trial. This is a hunt." ~ Truth

Political corruption and journalistic integrity are at the forefront of the film's thematic elements.  I enjoyed this drama and found it became better the further into it I got. Truth left me wondering just how deep the corruption went and how far the powerful will go to keep their secrets. It demonstrates how even journalists, whose sole purpose is to seek the truth, can be quieted. 

Read more of my Nik's Piks: After Hours reviews. 

Check out my Family Movie Reviews too! 

Friday, August 5, 2016

When Elephants Were Young (Special Movie Review)

"That's why elephants kill people. They don't want to be where they are." ~ When Elephants Were Young

I was fortunate to catch this incredible film at this year's Palm Beach International Film Festival where it won Best Documentary, and while my intent was always to release my review just before World Elephant Day which is on August 12, I did not expect to wait so long to write it. But here I am, late July, over three months since I screened it, finally sitting down to write my review. You see, this film is very dear to me and I had to let it all sink in before I shared my thoughts. 

Even after all this time, the image and the sound from the film that stays with me and still brings me to tears is that of elephants in chains. Kind of an oxymoron if you think about it. This large majestic animal forced to entertain people; sentenced to a life of captivity all in the name of money. There are only 4,000 Asian elephants left in the country - half of which are in captivity.  According to experts in the film, wild elephants can be extinct in 30 years if things don't change. Can the memories of life in the wild as baby elephants these animals retain, help them with their reintroduction and overall survival? 

In When Elephants Were Young, co-writers and directors Patricia Sims and Michael Clark expose the plight of Asian elephants. The documentary film, narrated by William Shatner, centers around the street-begging "business" and tourist camps in Bangkok. It tells the history of keeping elephants, a centuries-old tradition. Asian elephants were previously used in warfare and then in the logging industry. However, when logging was banned, 2,000 captive elephants were left unemployed. Under these circumstances and with a grave loss (95%) of habitat due to rice fields mixed with financial hardships of the Thai people, elephants, seemingly unable to be released back into the wild, became a profitable business. To this day, captive elephants remain the number one tourist attraction in Thailand earning billions of dollars a year. 

This life is not natural for these elephants and there are obvious risks to both the elephants and people. Although it is currently against the law to beg in the city streets with elephants, outdated laws filled with loop holes give way to weak enforcement of protective laws. I found it interesting that even those that live within the city of Bangkok disagree with the villagers who still use elephants in such manners. Yet it is often out of love and pity of elephants that many will pay to feed them or see them perform, perpetuating the cycle. Ironically, the Thai people also do not understand the role elephants play in regenerating their forests - a crucial factor for their own survival. 

The star of the film is a young female elephant Nang Mai who, like 50-100 other baby elephants every year, was stolen from her mother in the wild to be used. Her keeper is a young man named Wok who is struggling to help support his family. Every day he and Nang Mai walk into the city with a bag of sugar cane to beg for money from those willing to pay for the opportunity to feed her. The bond between the two is undeniable, but, there is nothing right about this situation. I wanted to be understanding of the cultural history behind the use of elephants. But I could not be. None of this is okay. 

Watch Official Trailer

The film, which was shot over the course of five years, is an important one for our generation and crucial for the survival of elephants worldwide. It was an emotional challenge as viewers learn of the "breaking" ceremonies that occur shortly after a calf is taken from its mother, destroying his spirit and creating a submissive role for the animal. But there is hope. The Elephant Reintroduction Foundation, which was founded in 2002 by the Queen of Thailand, works hard to purchase elephants from villagers under the condition that the families do NOT buy another elephant. The elephants are then released in the Sublangka Wildlife Sanctuary, another Royal Family project that plays a critical role in releasing Asian elephants back into the wild. According to Sims, eight elephants are expected to be released on this year's World Elephant Day

The good news is, although you will undoubtedly shed a sad tear or two, not even the filmmakers were prepared for the beautiful end of Nang Mai's story. When Elephants Were Young has breathtaking scenery, haunting music, and masterful cinematography. It will be shown in select theaters and available online August 12 in celebration of World Elephant Day

SIDE NOTE (from the film): It is still legal to trade "domestic" ivory in Thailand. HOWEVER, this policy is widely used to illegally sell African elephant ivory. Eighty-percent of carved ivory trinkets that are legally sold in Thailand under the guise of being from Asian elephants, come from the illegal African ivory trade. 

**Statistics and other factual information mentioned in my review are from the film When Elephants Were Young**

Related Articles: 

Leaving Time Review
Larger Than Life Review
For Cecil, For Them All

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews.  

Check out my Nik's Piks: After Hours reviews too!