Bad News on Bingeing

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2016-11-28-1480351093-5664005-themarysue_gilmoregirls-656x353For some reason, I find summertime to be a great season for binge-watching my favorite shows. During the school year while my kids are busy with their full schedules, lounging around and watching TV seems too decadent. I try to be as productive on the home front as they are at school. But in the summer, while they oil themselves up and head to the pool, I’m happy to revisit my favorite series Gilmore Girls for the umpteenth time.

But today I read some distressing news. Studies are revealing the adverse health effects of bingeing on video content. Spending hours in front of screens can lead to vision and sleep problems, deep vein thrombosis, and obesity from all the sitting and eating. Nothing in the report was all that shocking, yet seeing it in black and white brought home to me how damaging my habit can actually be.

Ironically, summer is also when the weather is often fine and suitable for more active pursuits. I have increased the frequency and duration of my daily walks lately. And the summer sun brings cheer that makes me more energetic about household tasks.

Medical experts suggest that if you want to binge watch a show, you should get up often to take breaks, stretch, throw in a load of laundry, walk the dog. You should also prepare healthy snacks to eat while bingeing, such as cut up vegetables and air-popped popcorn. Luckily for me, I still have one child at home, so I’m regularly getting up to help her find missing items, trudge upstairs to wake her up, or do her mountains of sweaty soccer-related laundry.

My husband is fond of saying, “Sitting is the new smoking.” It’s a good reminder that as much as I’d like to hang out with Lorelai and Rory Gilmore all day, I need to be active and productive. That way, at the end of the day, I can feel tired and accomplished and feel justified in enjoying a couple of episodes of my favorite show. Those Gilmore girls aren’t going anywhere, after all.

 

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Does Dad Need Some Daditude?

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Does your father or husband like to chuckle and/or laugh out loud occasionally? Do you need a last minute Father’s Day gift?

I’ve been listening to a wry, humorous, and heartwarming book of essays titled Daditude by Chris Erskine. Erskine is a Los Angeles Times writer whose columns are syndicated in my hometown Chicago Tribune under the title “The Middle Ages.” I’ve followed Erskine’s musings for a number of years now, and the man is great with a turn of phrase.

Erskine writes about the trials, tribulations, and joys of family, friends, and growing older. His tales about his brood of four kids and his long-suffering wife alternate with stories about a group of incorrigible drinking buddies. In Daditude, though, he has culled a selection of former columns about his family: rites of passage, holidays, childhood memories.

The tone of these essays is always one of tender bemusement. As much as he mocks some of his kids’ excesses (In one story, he claims his younger daughter renamed herself VISA, with a dollar sign for the “S.”), its clear how much he adores his kids and worships his wife, whom he affectionately calls “Posh” in his writing.

In descriptions of Christmases past and summers in LA, of dropping his oldest daughter off at college, and of shopping for the perfect valentine, Erskine notes the details – the little nuances of nature and human nature that many of us miss. For instance, he describes dressing his newborn son: “I can’t seem to thread this kid’s tiny hand through a shirt hole the size of a nostril.” Or the first cool day of fall: “The cool feels good. Like brushing your teeth. Like a snowy kiss.”

Some of the stories are even more poignant in retrospect, as the twin losses of his son and wife in the past two years had not yet happened. The book was published as Erskine’s wife was going through cancer treatment. Even in those columns that described Posh’s illness, Erskine retains some of the gentle humor and wry sense of the world that no doubt has helped him through such tragedy.

I highly recommend Daditude for fathers and mothers and anyone with a heart, really. As Erskine himself says in the foreword of the book, “I hope you devour this book shamelessly, like no one’s watching, like a big gooey pizza at midnight.”

 

BBT Had the Best Nerds

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An ad for a web-branding company recommends, “Hire better nerds.” It’s a tongue-in-cheek sales pitch and a sign of the times. Since the advent of Silicon Valley dominance, never before has it been so hip to be square. You can find tech gurus in matching t-shirts at the Genius Bar in the Apple store. And Best Buy sends out its Geek Squad to troubleshoot on all things tech. Revenge of the Nerds indeed.

But my favorite nerds are the ones who have populated the beloved sitcom Big Bang Theory for the past 12 years. BBT recently aired its final episode, and I have to say it was one of the most satisfying final episodes of a series that I have ever seen. (Don’t worry. No spoilers in this post!)

For all these years, audiences have grown to love the socially awkward, atrociously dressed foursome of Cal Tech scientists, Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, and Raj – and Penny, the hot girl across the hall who helps them come out of their shells and teaches them a few street smarts. Later love interests Bernadette and Amy add female camaraderie to the tech bro culture of the guys.

The guys’ (and Amy’s) nerdiness is the major source of humor in the show. But being smart is also celebrated throughout the series, and the scientists’ real intellectual concerns are taken seriously. Recurring cameos by real life scientists such as Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and the great Stephen Hawking show that the series creators appreciate science and admire scientists, even the socially inept four who form the nucleus of the show. Mayim Bialik, who plays Sheldon’s wife Amy, is herself a well-regarded neuroscientist.

The character of Sheldon is arguably the most fascinating and beloved of the characters that populated The Big Bang Theory. His many personality quirks and slow development of more socially-accepted behaviors make his interactions with the other characters more interesting. We root for Sheldon because many of us also have idiosyncrasies and insecurities around social situations ourselves. Sheldon’s trajectory gives us hope that ultimately, we can be accepted and loved just the way we are.

Luckily for fans of Sheldon, his young self lives on in the aptly named series Young Sheldon. An interesting note is that Zoe Perry, who plays Sheldon’s mom on Young Sheldon, is the real life daughter of Laurie Metcalf, who plays his mom on BBT.

I will miss the lovable misfits of The Big Bang Theory. Their foibles gave me lots of laughs. And their love for one another gave me all the feels, as they say. Most importantly, the series confirmed that it’s cool to be smart and best to be yourself. And it all started with a big bang – BANG!

 

 

 

Try, Try Again

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IMG_4547In rugby, a score across the opponent’s goal line is called a “try.” When my husband and I first began watching our son play this curious sport, we were bemused by that term. (My husband still occasionally calls it a touchdown.) After all, it’s much more than a try; it’s an accomplishment.

Terminology notwithstanding, we have found much to enjoy in this “hooligan’s sport played by gentlemen.” For one, it’s a much faster paced sport than football. There’s no grim march down the field to advance yardage. In rugby, it’s more of an up and down run as players get tackled and then instantly pass the ball (backwards!) to a teammate, continuing the advance until they score, lose the ball, or garner a penalty.

Rugby seems like a big guy’s game. Indeed, his size and strength seem to be our son’s secret weapons in the scrum. Overall, though, speed and agility are immensely important for all the players on the field. So smaller players can be very effective at getting the ball down the field, weaving in and out between opponents, and other maneuvers. This athleticism is just a lot of fun to watch.

Last weekend, our son’s college team, the Claremont Lions, once again took the national title in the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) championship cup. Try and try again they did, as they racked up a score of 57-17 against the Christendom Crusaders.

My husband and I were, of course, thrilled with the club’s victory and series of accomplishments since our son started with the team three years ago. But we were even more impressed with the relationships these young men have developed off the field as a result of their participation in college rugby. In a ceremony the night before the title match, the boys each shared what it meant to them to be playing for the national championship – and, more importantly, what it meant to them to be part of this team. It was a beautiful display of friendship and belonging that transcends any victories or losses on the field.

I’m not sure how well I’ll ever understand the rough and tumble sport of rugby. It has taken me a lifetime to get the rules of American football and basketball. (And I still have questions!) What is clear to me is how much joy my son gets out of playing rugby with a great group of guys. Too soon, his college and rugby careers will be a thing of the past. But no one will ever take away the memories he has made and continues to make as a Claremont Colleges Lion. I’d like to see them try.

 

Jussie and Donald – Flip Sides of Same Coin

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Two surprising things happened this week. First of all, the completed Mueller report supposedly found no evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Even more surprising, all charges were dropped against Empire cast member Jussie Smollett for faking a hate crime. While the factions of people who support either of these two men could not be more different, the wheels of justice actually turn for them in exactly the same way.

Donald Trump has gotten a pass on allegations of sexual harassment and assault, unscrupulous and fraudulent business dealings, and the use of campaign funds to pay off porn stars. His clear attempts to derail the investigation into Russian collusion have been treated as rightful exercises of executive privilege. Why has Trump gotten away with vilifying war heroes, mocking the disabled, and denigrating women? He is a powerful celebrity and has friends in high places. For heaven’s sake, he’s got an entire news organization in his corner, deflecting his misdeeds right and left like a tennis ace and redirecting the outrage at their perennial whipping post, Hillary Clinton.

Smollett also has friends in high places who worked on his behalf to help him wriggle out of detestable and criminal actions that would send ordinary people to prison. I’m sure his two days of community service were wrenching and difficult, and that $10,000 forfeit of his bond must have hurt terribly, since he reportedly only makes 6-10 times that per episode on Empire. Not even the lead prosecutor is claiming Smollett to be innocent. Still, we can’t have our celebrities do jail time, can we?

It amuses me that people are calling for the heads of Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin and other rich parents who schemed and cheated to get their kids into elite colleges and universities. They were only doing what well-connected people do: leverage their money/influence/celebrity to get ahead and, when their misdeeds become public, weasel out of them.

There have been exceptions, of course. Martha Stewart did time for lying about her financial dealings. And Bill Cosby was actually convicted and sent to prison for sexual assault. But for the most part, rich and famous people just get away with behaving badly.

There are still investigations pending about the business dealings of Trump and his children. I’m skeptical that anything will come of them. We have a different set of rules for the famous and well-connected. Until that changes, we can assume Lady Justice is peeking under that blindfold.

Londonderry Air

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Derry-Girls-Ep-2-2054-1068x623In honor of the wearin’ o’ the green and all things Irish today, St. Patrick’s Day, I’d like to recommend a hilarious Netflix comedy called Derry Girls. The comedy series was not on my radar until my very Irish friend Maura recommended it on Facebook. In no time at all, I had binge-watched my way through the trials and tribulations of four teenage girls and one male English cousin living in Derry, Northern Ireland, in the 1990s.

The featured teens in Derry Girls have a delightful mixture of innocence and bravado as they navigate the social scene in their Irish Catholic enclave. They don’t realize how economically disadvantaged they are until they try to sign up for a school trip to France and find out that none of them has a trust fund, and in fact they are all quite poor.

But their economic and social limitations do nothing to cramp their irrepressible style, and each episode features new shenanigans and repercussions from their parents and their school. The girls (and cousin) attend an all girls Catholic high school presided over by a scene-stealing nun, whose dry wit and jaded attitude make her the perfect foil for both troublemaker and goody two shoes alike.  When the girls fall for a dreamy young priest, Sister’s facial expressions alone are priceless.

It seems unlikely to find humor in a show about a divided country that pitted Protestants against Catholics and in which car bombings and assassinations were commonplace. Indeed, toward the end of Season 1, things take a darker turn and only deepen the viewer’s appreciation for the life-affirming and youthful spirit of these young people.

So grab a pint of Guinness, put your feet up, and enjoy an episode or three of the fabulous Derry Girls. Your Irish eyes won’t be the only things smiling!

 

Fact or Fiction?

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During Oscar season, I noticed that many of the nominated movies featured real people: pianist Don Shirley in Green Book, Ron Stallworth in BlacKkKlansman, author Lee Israel in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and, of course, the late great Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. The film Vice told the story of the Bush years with uncanny performances by Christian Bale as Dick Cheney, Sam Rockwell as George W., and Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney. The Favourite, though a work of fiction, depicted Queen Anne, a real life historical figure. Even Roma was a thinly disguised autobiographical story of director Alfonso Cuaron’s childhood.

In the Trump era, truth is certainly stranger and more riveting than any fiction could be. Each news day features a revolving cast of characters in the White House, manic tweets from the president at all hours of the night, investigations, accusations, and counter accusations. Fox News has become little more than Trump’s mouthpiece, and suddenly fictional stories like Wag the Dog, Being There, and, most ominously, 1984 have become eerily prescient.

Yet the world of fiction still holds a fascinating allure. While the MPAA favored reality film in its Oscar nominations this year, superheroes and their villains dominated the box office. Such films as Venom, Aquaman, Deadpool 2, Ant Man and the Wasp – as well as the latest sequels in such franchises as Spiderman and The Avengers – all made tidy profits for the movie studios at a time when theater audiences have been dwindling. The smash hit Black Panther, the first black superhero movie, was even nominated for Best Picture along with numerous technical awards.

Our appetite for escapism will always co-exist with our interest in real life drama. And the intersection of the two is often the key to unlocking truths about the human condition. I’m thinking particularly of dystopian and science fiction. These genres take us into the future, but they are really making commentaries on the present. I recently read Joyce Carol Oates’ latest novel, The Hazards of Time Travel, which depicts an authoritarian North American state in 2039. The main character, who has the temerity to ask questions and think for herself, is sent back to 1959 Wisconsin for “re-education.” As I read the book, I couldn’t help thinking about the slogan “Make America Great Again.” The manipulation of truth, control over the media, and other horrors of Oates’ fictional future feel ominously close to American society today.

Fact or fiction? Either way, our interest in stories may be the key to saving civilization. As long as we are able to think and feel about the human condition, we will continue to question and challenge the status quo. In the legendary words of Abraham Lincoln, “you may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time: but you can’t fool all of the people all the time.”

As we venture into another presidential election cycle (God help us!), let’s hope Honest Abe was right.