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Lessons in Parenting
Dealing with the Pain
Published on October 31, 2011 by guest author: J LeBlanc
When I met each of the three midwives in the practice where I went for prenatal appointments, they asked me the same question. I told them that I wanted to have a natural childbirth and they smiled back indulgently and asked, “Are you sure?” I could tell they had heard this before in prenatal appointments and then heard something very different in the midst of labor pains. Yes, I told them, I was sure. “Because if you’re really sure we’ll help you hold to it, but only if you’re sure.” I nodded again. Even then I had to tell them (on a scale of one to ten) how committed I was, and they encouraged me to have a code word with my husband, just in case, to let him know the difference between a fleeting moment of weakness and a real change of heart. I think we selected one, but I don’t remember what it was.

I had been fortunate in my life to have had little experience with pain. I was very committed to the idea of having a natural childbirth, but how could I really know how I would feel during labor till I knew what it felt like? One of the midwives recommended holding an ice cube in my hand for a minute to practice dealing with sustained discomfort. My husband’s idea of pain training was a little more extreme.

A former Division I cross country runner, he was well acquainted with the “become one with the pain” philosophy. One night, after a long day on my feet at work, I told him I wanted to soak my swollen ankles in some icy water. “Are you sure?” he asked. I nodded. It was a hot day anyway. He prepared a plastic dish tub jostling with water and ice cubes and set it at my feet. I dipped one toe in and recoiled. “Come on!” he said, setting an example by plunging his own feet in the water and holding them there for a minute or two. I put both feet in this time, but the longest I managed was a few seconds. He shook his head. “You need to work up to it.” But I gave up on the idea. After all, I wouldn’t be feeling labor pains in my feet - why punish them? I did other things to prepare myself: prenatal yoga, squats, focused breathing. I packed calming music and aromatherapy oils for the hospital. But during labor, I didn’t use any of these.

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"Red State" Rages, Rants & Disappoints
Published on October 31, 2011 by guest author: J.K. Eisen

Kevin Smith wants us to know that he can do more than make silly movies.

That’s the inescapable message of the writer and director’s foray into horror, Red State. It’s also the most coherent message in this unfocused and frustrating effort where it seems Smith urgently wants to say something about sex, politics and religion. Unfortunately, he ends up giving us the cinematic equivalent of a cynical rant.

It’s not that Smith hasn’t tackled hot-button topics in his comedies. Dogma, Smith’s film about two fallen angels who have found a path into heaven that also will end the world, tackled religion and stirred up controversy when it was released in 1999. And plenty of his other films have had something to say about sex and relationships, even if it was for a juvenile laugh or two.

Of course, the romantic comedy Chasing Amy garnered Smith raves and won two Independent Spirit Awards in 1998. But there’s a sense with Red State that Smith really wants to prove that he can be more than the guy who gave us Clerks and the comic slacker team of Jay and Silent Bob.

Red State begins with a solid premise for a horror movie. Three high school boys set out to meet the woman behind an online ad seeking sex. They meet her in person and soon discover it’s a trap. She’s a member of a radical religious group that takes the teenagers captive and plans to punish them for their sins – a punishment that will end with their deaths.

There’s a sense that a lot of Smith’s inspiration for this movie was “ripped from the headlines” as he raises topics that include religion and post-9/11 America. The religious group – the Five Points Church – pickets funerals much like the Westboro Baptist Church. But a character in the film makes a point of stating that Five Points is not Westboro. Five Points has the potential for violence.

There’s a great opportunity here to explore religious fanaticism and what pushes people professing obedience to God to lash out violently and even kill. When Five Points Pastor Abin Cooper, portrayed by Michael Parks, gives a long sermon early in the movie, there’s potential for exploring this territory. Parks certainly has the acting chops for this role. Unfortunately, aside from a few nuggets, the sermon turns out to be a tedious exercise that eats up a lot of screen time.

Any remaining hope the movie will seriously explore the inner workings of this group is dashed when one of the boys makes an escape attempt and discovers the group’s massive cache of guns. Shots are fired, the ATF hits the scene and suddenly the viewer is watching a movie about a Waco-style standoff – so much for watching a horror film.

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Adults Ruin Everything
Published on October 31, 2011 by Sara Foss

I have mixed feelings about Halloween. I loved it when I was a kid, but I guess I'm OK with it being one of those things I loved as a kid, but have no interest in celebrating as an adult.

When people asked me what I was doing for Halloween, I shrugged. I was feeling reclusive, and my only plans were to catch up with my friend Kim, who had absolutely no interest in dressing up. When Kim proposed going to Valentine's in Albany to listen to music, I warned her about what we would be getting into. "It's Valentine's annual Halloween bash," I said. "I'm not opposed to going. But there will be people in costumes there, acting all goofy and stuff." "Hmmm," Kim said. "That's not really my scene."

So we didn't go to Valentine's. In fact, we didn't do anything, because it was snowing and neither of us felt like leaving our homes. But I didn't hear or see anything that made me regret my unintentional boycott of the holiday. In my mind, Halloween is really for kids.

That's why I enjoyed this piece, titled "How I Became a Halloween Grump," by Rosecrans Baldwin. In it, he bemoans how safe and saccharine Halloween has become. What was once a wild, scary and ultimately thrilling event, he writes, has been destroyed by adults, who force kids to trick-or-treat in broad daylight and never let them out of their sight. For the record, my father always drove us from house to house on Halloween, and we only visited the homes of people we knew, which I consider a pretty wise strategy. (We didn't want to die on Halloween any more than our parents wanted us to die.) But I can agree with the crux of Baldwins' argument, which is that adults ruin everything. Because they do ruin everything.

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When is a Withdrawal Not a Withdrawal?
Published on October 31, 2011 by Sara Foss

I couldn't quite believe it when Obama announced that U.S. troops would withdraw from Iraq by the end of the year. It seemed too good to be true.

As I suspected, there was a little more to the story. According to news reports, the U.S. is planning to bolster its presence in the Middle East after the Iraq withdrawal is complete. Which comes as no surprise, I guess. But still. Was it too much to hope that we were really changing course?


Hometown Pride?
Published on October 31, 2011 by Sara Foss

In my weekly column over at the DG, I write about my surprising surge of hometown pride when fellow Lebanon High School alum Ben Cherington was named Red Sox GM.

Here's an excerpt:

"I felt an unusual swelling of hometown pride this week when New Hampshire native Ben Cherington was named general manager of the Boston Red Sox.

Ben Cherington went to my high school, and although I never spoke to him (he was two years ahead of me), I certainly knew who he was.

He was a familiar face in the halls, one of those people you’re aware of despite never having a meaningful conversation or interaction. As soon as he was named GM, my Facebook feed blew up with proud comments from other Lebanon High School alumni. (As well as amusing comments. One schoolmate recalled how Ben was awarded “best hair” in the high school yearbook.) While sportswriters and commentators in Boston debated Ben’s readiness for the job, my hometown friends responded to the news of his appointment with unconditional joy.

Our elation was heightened, I suspect, by the fact that Ben Cherington is now the GM of the Red Sox, as opposed to the San Diego Padres or the Houston Astros or some other team nobody from New England ever roots for. The Red Sox are our team, and now one of our own is running the show."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Whatever Happened to the Transylvania Twist?
Published on October 31, 2011 by guest author: Eric J. Perkins

Every year, I put together a Halloween mix for myself (and whoever else is willing to listen to it). Some songs have become standard for me, like Cat Power's "Werewolf." I'm also not above going for the obvious, like "The Monster Mash." The kids and I have been dancing to that one a lot lately. One year I came up with a list of songs only about ghosts. This year, I'm going for one representative song for each of your basic Halloweeny creatures or features, with some fudging here and there. These also all happen to legitimately good (or at least fun) songs:

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The Freak Storm
Published on October 30, 2011 by Sara Foss

We didn't get much snow in downtown Albany, so today I decided to go look for some.

I drove out to the Hyuck Preserve in Renselaerville, about 40 minutes away, with my hiking boots, ski poles and snow shoes. I wasn't sure what I would encounter - a foot of snow, or just a few inches. But I wanted to be on the safe side.

The Hyuck is a lovely perserve, with a trail around a lake and a pretty impressive waterfall in the Renselaerville Falls. I've only been out there once before, with a friend who illegally scattered her grandfather's ashes there. It was quiet when I arrived at the preserve, but it was clear other people had been there: There were footprints in the snow, and when I got to the footbridge over the river, which warned visitors not to cross, I could see that others had ignored the sign and climbed right over the wooden barrier and continued along their way. I decided to do the same thing, and was treated to a delightful walk.

The falls were impressive, and I also really enjoyed the austere view of the lake, which seemed unusually silent and stark right before dusk. I would have walked for a while longer, but I couldn't find an easy crossing at the river - the water was high, and the rocks looked too slick - and turned back. By then, the sun was descending, and I was feeling chilled. But I also felt invigorated. All weekend, I'd tried and failed to drag myself out of my apartment, and once I finally made it outside, I realized how much I needed some fresh air.

So I enjoyed the freak October snowstorm. But I hope it warms up, the snow melts, and we don't have anymore until the end of November. At the earliest. Also, I'm going to the British Virgin Islands this week, and the trip can't come soon enough.


Beavis and Butt-Head Do America ... Again
Published on October 30, 2011 by guest author: J.K. Eisen

When I learned that Beavis and Butt-Head would be returning to MTV with new episodes, I had mixed feelings.

I was a fan of the series during its original run from 1993 to 1997. I saw the movie, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, when it was in theaters. And, of course, I recited my favorite lines with friends as we all giggled like the show’s stars. As the years passed, I also appreciated it for opening the door for other animated shows that I enjoy. South Park, Family Guy, American Dad and Aqua Teen Hunger Force are indebted to Beavis and Butt-Head.

But as much as I wanted to see new adventures involving those giggling and snickering morons, I knew it could be a huge disappointment. It’s been 14 years since the series ended. Could the show pick up where it left off? Would it seem stale and dated? Would MTV meddle and ruin it? The show’s creator, Mike Judge, had great success with the more mainstream King of the Hill. I wondered if that experience would soften the edges of the show a bit.

If the first new episode is any indication, the show not only successfully picks up where it left off, but it’s apparent that the world – and pop culture – is once again ripe for critique by Beavis and Butt-Head.

The first episode features a story inspired by the Twilight movie franchise. After seeing girls in the movie theater swoon over a werewolf in the movie, the guys decide they should become werewolves. Naturally, they set out to find a werewolf to bite them. The quest leaves them with multiple bite marks and hepatitis A, B and C as well as a slew of other diseases.

Yes, this is the Beavis and Butt-Head I remember.

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Don't Offend People This Halloween
Published on October 30, 2011 by Sara Foss

Every year, I'm amazed by the reports that inevitably surface of people thinking it's a good idea to dress in, say, blackface on Halloween. This is one of those things people should know not to do, and yet people - grown-ups! - keep doing it. Perhaps that's why a student group at Ohio University launched a campaign, titled "We're a culture, not a costume," to make people think before dressing as an ethnic or racial stereotype for Halloween.

I actually knew someone in college who proposed having a "come as your favorite ethnic stereotype" party. I tried to impress upon her what a terrible idea this was - the sort of thing that might (but probably won't) be mildly amusing when discussed privately among a small group of friends, but will become a giant fiasco - and possibly a national news story - if you actually do it. In any case, common sense prevailed, and my friend did not throw a "come as your favorite ethnic stereotype party."

Meanwhile, GOOD magazine has provided a helpful primer, titled "Time, Place and Race: What Makes a Halloween Costume Offensive?"

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The Life of a Small-Town Druggist
Published on October 30, 2011 by Sara Foss

I'm trying to catch up on my New Yorkers, and I finally got around to reading this nice little slice-of-life story by Peter Hessler, about the life of a druggist in the remote town (population: fewer than 1,000) of Nucla, Colo.

Here's an excerpt:

"In the southwestern corner of Colorado, where the Uncompahgre Plateau descends through spruce forest and scrubland toward the Utah border, there is a region of more than four thousand square miles which has no hospitals, no department stores, and only one pharmacy. The pharmacist is Don Colcord, who lives in the town of Nucla. More than a century ago, Nucla was founded by idealists who hoped their community would become the 'center of Socialistic government for the world.' But these days it feels like the edge of the earth. Highway 97 dead-ends at the top of Main Street; the population is around seven hundred and falling. The nearest traffic light is an hour and a half away. When old ranching couples drive their pickups into Nucla, the wives leave the passenger’s side empty and sit in the middle of the front seat, close enough to touch their husbands. It’s as if something about the landscape—those endless hills, that vacant sky—makes a person appreciate the intimacy of a Ford F-150 cab.

Don Colcord has owned Nucla’s Apothecary Shoppe for more than thirty years. In the past, such stores played a key role in American rural health care, and this region had three more pharmacies, but all of them have closed. Some people drive eighty miles just to visit the Apothecary Shoppe. It consists of a few rows of grocery shelves, a gift-card rack, a Pepsi fountain, and a diabetes section, which is decorated with the mounted heads of two mule deer and an antelope. Next to the game heads is the pharmacist’s counter. Customers don’t line up at a discreet distance, the way city folk do; in Nucla they crowd the counter and talk loudly about health problems.

'What have you heard about sticking your head in a beehive?' This on a Tuesday afternoon, from a heavyset man suffering from arthritis and an acute desire to find low-cost treatment.

'It’s been used, progressive bee-sting therapy,' Don says. 'When you get stung, your body produces cortisol. It reduces swelling, but it goes away. And you don’t know when you’re going to have that one reaction and go into anaphylactic shock and maybe drop dead. It’s highly risky. You don’t know where that bee has been. You don’t know what proteins it’s been getting.'

'You’re a helpful guy. Thank you.'

'I would recommend hyaluronic acid. It’s kind of expensive, about twenty-five dollars a month. But it works for some people. They make it out of rooster combs.'"

The article is mostly a character study, but it also touches upon important issues, such as the difficulty of obtaining decent health care in rural areas, and the lengths to which people are willing to go to avoid incurring huge health care bills when they lack insurance.



When Bands Fall Off Cliffs
Published on October 30, 2011 by Sara Foss

In an interesting piece, the Guardian takes a look at bands that were once hugely popular, but then fell off a cliff. The piece opens by discussing the Kaiser Chiefs, a band I was never really into, but was still surprised to learn has released three albums since their successful debut, which spawned the hit "I Predict A Riot." The local alternative rock station still plays this song, but I've never heard a single track off the band's two follow-ups. 

In fact, the article names a number of bands and artists that were a constant presence on local radio, but have never matched that early success again. Such as: Duffy and MGMT.

Just today, I listened to the 1993 Belly album "Star," which I absolutely loved. But I remember being extremely disappointed in the follow-up, "King," and eventually selling it. In other words, bands have been falling off cliffs for a long time.


Top Reads of the Week
Published on October 28, 2011 by Sara Foss

Music: Tony Are on how his niece Was right about Tyler the Creator

Parenting/Family: J LeBlanc on joining the club

New Media: Sara Foss on the virtual village

Games: Sara Foss lists her favorite childhood games

Politics/Current Events: Sara Foss on why she doesn't like drum circles


Worst Lead Ever?
Published on October 27, 2011 by Sara Foss

My head almost exploded today while reading one of the worst newspaper leads ever written.

Here it is:

"There's an old saying that the Russian military has two great allies: General January and General February. Dozens of people camping in Academy Park as part of the Occupy Albany movement will soon encounter their own foe: Lieutenant October Snow."

The article goes on to talk about some of the challenges facing the Occupy Albany group camped out near the state Capitol as snow approaches. But I struggled to get past the first paragraph, which made me want to dig out my battered copy of "War and Peace" and reread the sections that describe the winter struggles of Napolean and the French army. Especially confusing was the phrase "Lieutenant October Snow." So, January and Feburary are generals ... but October Snow is a lieutenant? Is there a database of meteorological military metaphors where I can double-check that ranking? Why do January and February get to dbe generals, while October Snow is only a lieutenant? Is it a severity thing - an indication that January and February are worse, more painful and grueling, than October snow? Or is it simply an attempt to be clever?

Then there's the lead's nonsensical comparison. To the Russians, winter was an ally ... but to the Occupy Albany protestors (and \the French), it's a foe. I'm sorry, but why are we comparing foes to allies? Reading that paragraph makes me feel like I'm playing the opposite game. Which might be intentional. Maybe the reporter wants me to figure out who Lieutenant October Snow's ally is on my own. OK, I'll bite. If Lieutenant October Snow is a foe to Occupy Albany, does that mean he's an ally to ... Governor Andrew Cuomo? Cuomo does want the protesters out of the park. Maybe he's hoping they'll get cold and go home. Which would make Lieutenant October Snow Cuomo's ally. And everyone will nod their heads and say, "This is just like what happened to the French, when they starved to death in the brutal Russian cold." Or something.

In short: Reporters should only incorporate Russian history into their stories when they're writing about Russia. They should resist the temptation to use overwrought metaphors that make no sense, and coin cutesy terms like "Lieutenant October Snow." It's for the public good, trust me. We'll all be better off for it.


Top Cult Movies
Published on October 27, 2011 by Sara Foss

Movie lists are almost always fun, and Nerve has made a list of the top 50 cult movies of all time. I'm a fan of cult movies, and I thought their list was pretty good. You can find it here.

I'm also a fan of Scott Tobias' biweekly column on cult films, titled The New Cult Canon. The column focuses on noteworthy cult films from the last 20 years, and began in 2008 with an in-depth look at "Donnie Darko."


Bad Trend Alert
Published on October 27, 2011 by Sara Foss

Apparently the top one percent of earners more than doubled their share of the nation's income over the past three decades.

According to the New York Times, "...from 1979 to 2007, average inflation-adjusted after-tax income grew by 275 percent for the 1 percent of the population with the highest income. For others in the top 20 percent of the population, average real after-tax household income grew by 65 percent.

By contrast, the budget office said, for the poorest fifth of the population, average real after-tax household income rose 18 percent.

And for the three-fifths of people in the middle of the income scale, the growth in such household income was just under 40 percent."

So I don't get it - what exactly are the Wall Street protesters angry about? I'm so confused by their incoherent message!

 


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