Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Movies For a Hot Summer Afternoon

Summer is a lazy time of the year, at least where I live. It’s too hot to be outside except between 9pm and 8am. So what to do with the time I’m sequestered in the house? Watch movies. Here are a few of my favorites that not only entertain the viewer but send a positive social message.

They are not light-hearted-brain-numbing comedies. They will make you question your place in the world, all that you value and all that you endorse. Grab some popcorn, a box of Kleenex and curl up with a pillow or your favorite person. Be ready to cheer, cry, and laugh. Be ready to feel and think.

Children of Men – Clive Owen and Julianne Moore navigate a future where reproduction has ceased and the people live under the strict control of the government. But stick with this dismal state of affairs. There is hope.

Hotel Rwanda - Ten years ago, as the country of Rwanda descended into madness, one man made a promise to protect the family he loved--and ended up finding the courage to save over 1200 people.

Akeelah and the Bee – Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne star in this heartwarming tale of a young girl from South Los Angeles who tries to make it to the National Spelling Bee.

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman – This story of a black woman in the South who was born into slavery in the 1850s and lives to become a part of the civil rights movement in the 1960s won five Emmy awards.

Silkwood - The story of Karen Silkwood, a metallurgy worker at a plutonium processing plant who was purposefully contaminated, psychologically tortured and possibly murdered to prevent her from exposing blatant worker safety violations at the plant.

Erin Brockovich – Julia Roberts stars as the real-life Erin Brockovich, an unemployed single mother who becomes a legal assistant and almost single-handedly brings down a California power company accused of polluting a city's water supply.

Not Without my Daughter - In 1984, Betty Mahmoody's husband took his wife and daughter to meet his family in Iran. He swore they would be safe. They would be happy. They would be free to leave. He lied. Sally Field plays Betty Mamoody.

Pans Labyrinth - In this fairy tale for adults, 10-year-old Ofelia stumbles on a decaying labyrinth guarded by Pan, an ancient satyr who claims to know her destiny. With a new home, a new stepfather -- a Fascist officer in the pro-Franco army -- and a new sibling on the way, nothing is familiar to Ofelia in this multiple Oscar-winning tale set in 1944 Spain from director Guillermo del Toro. Beautifully filmed, equally disturbing and uplifting. Don't be afraid of the subtitles. It's worth it.

The Pursuit of Happyness - A struggling salesman (Will Smith) takes custody of his son (Jaden Smith) as he's poised to begin a life-changing professional endeavor. Every parent should see this movie of struggle and triumph.

Schindler’s List - Oskar Schindler uses Jews to start a factory in Poland during the war. He witnesses the horrors endured by the Jews, and strives to save them. Winner of seven Oscars.

Philadelphia – Tom Hanks. When a man with AIDS is fired by a conservative law firm because of his condition, he hires a homophobic small time lawyer as the only willing advocate for a wrongful dismissal suit.

Boys Don’t Cry - A true story about finding the courage to be yourself told through the tragic life of Brandon Teena, a transgendered teen who preferred life in a male identity until it was discovered her secret was discovered.

Dances with Wolves – Kevin Costner’s epic portrayal of Lt. John Dunbar, an exiled solider at a remote western Civil War outpost, befriends wolves and Indians, making him an intolerable aberration in the military.

Let me know what you think. Comment and add your favorites to the list.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Random Acts of Kindness - Always Remembered

My friend Cindy thoughtfully sent me a link to the Toronto Star Newspaper. She knew I’d be interested in their column called The Multiplier Effect, found at

The Multiplier Effect is a collection of stories from the Star’s online readers who wish to share their experiences with random acts of kindness. It provides solid proof that no act of kindness is too small and some have such a profound affect that the memories last a lifetime.

Below are a few examples from the Star:

From Grace Ross of Toronto - We moved to Toronto last month from a much smaller city. The move was uneventful, but [we] were exhausted from the seemingly endless chore of unpacking. On top of it, we had just purchased a large dining room suite with hutch – a private sale in Oakville. We had no idea how we would get this very heavy set to our new home in the east end. Meanwhile I answered an email [seeking] a donation of paint which was needed for a shelter. Two individuals came to pick up my paint. They had a van, and on the spur of the moment I asked if we could rent their services to help us pick up our furniture. They readily agreed and set off with us to Oakville. Not only did they load the furniture into their van, and set it up for us here, they refused to let us help carry the items, saying they were used to this kind of thing and didn’t want us to get in the way. When I offered to pay them for their time and labour, they refused, saying this was their way of giving back. Finally I urged them to accept gas money, which they reluctantly did. After hearing horror stories about the arrogance of big city people, we were converts to a new appreciation of how wonderful Torontonians can be!

From Nancy Martin of Toronto - As a child of about eight, I was riding the Carlton streetcar past Broadview in Chinatown when I spotted an elderly man with a package that was covered in pretty stamps from a distant and - to me - exotic country. I noticed he was cutting them out and I thought he must also be a stamp collector. As he got off at his stop, he presented the stamps to me with a small bow and said quietly, "For your collection." What a kind gentleman to notice the interest of a small child. I was thrilled and couldn't wait to show my parents.

From J. Fowler of Toronto - Last summer I foolishly decided to ride my bike home from work on a smoggy day after donating blood. When I reached my neighborhood I got off my bike to go to the store, and wham, fainted on the sidewalk. Two women came to help me. They tried to walk me home which was a couple blocks away but I couldn't fully regain consciousness. So they locked up my bike, put me in their car, loaned me a cell phone to call my husband and drove me to the hospital. They sat with me while I waited in emergency and spoke to the triage nurse for me. They were incredibly kind, generous and patient. They were my saviors that day.

From Patrick Croley of Pickering - When I was 16, my parents sent me to Europe to help me learn French and gain an understanding of the rest of the world. One Sunday found me on the outskirts of Amsterdam, trying to hitchhike back to Brussels. It was hours and hours before an elderly Dutch couple stopped for me. They were only going as far as Utrecht, but when they found out I was from Canada, they exchanged glances. At the outskirts of Utrecht, the driver said they'd decided to take me as far as the border with Belgium, which was about about 100 km out of their way round trip. At the border, they said it would be difficult for me to walk across, so they drove me into Antwerp, and then, since the city was large and busy, out the other side and then looked for a good place for me to get another ride before they'd let me out. As I got out of the car, the lady asked me if I'd had anything to eat all day. I told her that I hadn't, because I hadn't expected to have so much trouble getting out of Amsterdam. She got out of the car, opened up the trunk, and took out their own packed lunch of sandwiches, juice and an apple and handed them to me. "Thanks for all the brave boys from your country in the war" she said.
Then they turned around and headed back the way they'd come. The feeling of gratitude between our two countries does indeed go both ways.

What a difference it makes when we care for each other instead of seeing everyone and everything as a threat to our way of life and well-being. If we remember our humanity and that we are each simple souls struggling to make our way in this often confusing and often lonely world we will be more likely to watch for a moment longer, stop in our tracks, and reach out with a helping hand.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

For the Incredible Fathers I Know and Love

Even though Father’s Day has already passed, I’d like to take a few moments to thank the men who tirelessly give of themselves to their children. These men are the anchors of their homes, the guiding light their children look for when they are lost, and the giver of the hugs that heal all wounds. These men teach lessons of integrity and responsibility by living the values they wish to teach. They roll on the floor and play with their little ones. They go to every special event. They coach football teams and volunteer to be Den Leaders when no one else wants to step up.Thank you, men, for the shining example you provide our next generation of fathers. Through watching you, your daughters will choose their husbands wisely. So here's to…

Robert Dollar – When his first daughter died, the impossible task of burial arrangements fell on him. And, how do you comfort a young wife, still in the hospital recovering from giving birth? What courage it must have taken to pick out the spot where your child would rest. Then, even more so, to open your heart again to adopt…me. You are one of the most honest men I know. You would go out of your way to take change back to a clerk if he gave you too much. You make sure my mother and your elderly sisters have everything they need. You open you arms to your grandchildren everytime we make the cross-country trek to see you. You gave me my first job in your auto shop and saved money so I could go to college. Thank you Daddy, for always being there for me, no matter what.

Garry McGlaun – A man who was born to be a teacher, not just of his own children but also in church, in the community, and in the college classroom. A man of compassion who quickly accepts what life brings him and makes the best of it all with a smile on his face. A man who takes his grandchildren on canoe rides and trips to his science lab to “play”. From the moment your son brought me to your table for dinner, your smile and easy manner endeared you to me and my children. Thank you for raising such a wonderful, honorable son. Much of what makes your son so incredible came from your quiet wisdom and guidance. Thank you for painting our deck and driving us to the airport and driving for three days with Todd to lug my belongings from the opposite coast.

Michael Leonard – A father who sits by his son’s bedside and prays with him for hours. A father who equally loves the daughter he gave up for adoption, who when she found him again presented her to his surprised family. Bursting with emotion he said, “This is my daughter. Isn’t she beautiful.”

Todd McGlaun – No one could have predicted he’d have five children to raise and one more to take under his wing. His children have his entire heart and soul. They know that no matter what they come first and he would lay down his life for any one of them. His children will always remember that it was Daddy who made and decorated their birthday cakes, Daddy who dropped everything to see them win awards and make touchdowns, and Daddy who held them close through tears in the ER. I’m lucky to be his wife.

Ray Finkel – Cub Master, football coach, tear and bottom wiper, laugh maker, his children’s biggest fan. What a joy it is to watch him with his three children. He’s about to be a grandfather, too.

Brandon Gibbs – Something magical happens when a man waits to have children. There is a rare patience and fascination with his offspring that only an older father brings to the table, a seasoned wisdom to know that with poopy diapers, screaming fits, and sleepless nights…this too shall pass.

The young man on the airplane who played with and soothed his daughter all the way from Las Vegas to Georgia – I don’t know your name or anything about you except that for almost four hours you kept your cool, you sang songs, you cuddled your child and never once said a harsh word to her when she cried.

I don’t know these men but from what I’ve read it would be interesting to spend a day in their homes watching them be the unique people and patriarchs they naturally are. Bono, Gene Simmons of Kiss (don’t laugh, he’s a devoted family man), Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, Nelson Mandela, Tony Blair, Bill Cosby, and Colin Powell.

This is the humble thanks of one woman, daughter, wife, and mother. Thank you for being men I can be proud to say I know and love.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Keeping up the the Jones in an Eco-Friendly Way

Do you like to decorate? Are you the type that likes to fill your home with unique, cool furnishings? Are you concerned about the manufacturing practices of the companies you buy from? Do you simply like to live and eat well but want to do so as a steward of the Earth? No worries. Domino Magazine did the research for you and compiled a list of 125 innovative, earth-friendly companies that produce products you can feel good about buying.

In order to make the list the manufacturers and suppliers had to meet certain criteria. The products had to be made from materials that are rapidly renewable, responsibly grown, reusable, and/or biodegradable. Bonus points were given for durability. Good manufacturing practices such as alternative power sources and fair labor conditions were considered. Domino divided the list into manageable categories for no stress decision making. Here is a sample:

Palecek – From day one, this furniture company has relied on farmed wood and fast-growing materials like rattan and sea grass. To visit a store near you and test out their global designs call (800) 274-7730.

ABC Carpet and Home – This six-story Manhattan storefront has long been a destination of top designers from around the country. Thanks to CEO and creative director, Paulette Cole, the company is undergoing a green makeover. The Grounded collection features pieces covered in old Indian sari fabric and the Pure Seating line relies on sustainable and nontoxic materials. Browse their collection at

Merida Meridian – This Earth-friendly rug company offers rugs made under fair labor practices from unusual materials like bamboo, paper, and tweed.

Trex – The beauty of this unique flooring material, a mixture of recycled plastic and sawdust from reclaimed hardwoods, is twofold: Unlike wood, it won’t rot or splinter, and the twenty-foot planks look just like the real hardwood floors when installed. At about $5.20 per square-foot it’s affordable and responsible. Look at for stores near you.

Tea Tree by Paul Mitchell – Tea Tree shampoo and conditioner is made with tea tree oil, peppermint, lemon and sage. Tea Tree products contain 95% organic materials and are highly recommended by salons nationwide.

Seventh Generation Paper and Cleaning Products – It means paying a bit more, but Seventh Generation paper towel rolls save trees, landfill space and water. Seventh Generation laundry detergents are made with a nonpolluting vegetable base and no artificial or chemical additives to contaminate ground water sources. Seventh generation is available at most better grocery stores.

Local Farmers and Growers – When making choices about meat and vegetables, take advantage of the quality products grown and raised on small farms in your community. Look for farmers markets. Ask you butcher about meat sources. Not only will you support the independent food grower, you will help cut down on the pollution created by transporting food items from far away to your local grocery store.

Have fun exploring these options. It never hurts to look at alternatives to Wal-Mart and to support companies making important changes for the welfare of our planet.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Four Agreements

During the events surrounding my brother's accident I was painfully reminded of a lesson I learned from Don Miguel Ruiz' book, The Four Agreements. Don't take anything personally.

The stress of having a seriously injured loved one brings out the best and the worst in people. That's just how it is. Tempers get short after long nights spent in uncomfortable waiting rooms. Emotions run on overdrive causing careless comments to go uncensored. And sometimes, people who do not like you use the situtation to twist the perverbial knife another excruciating turn. Don't take it personally. You can't, otherwise you would be filling yourself with the equvilent of poison.

In The Four Agreements, Ruiz relates Toltec wisdom passed down for over a thousand years from parent to child, shaman to apprentice, warrior to young man. I can imagine an ancient mother comforting her crying child. "What he said to you has everything to do with how he feels about himself and nothing to do with the kind of person you are." Similar words were taught to most children of my generation. It went something like this..sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. Easy to repeat, harder to put into practice.

It was a few days after the incident before I let the wisdom sink in and the next chance I had I pulled out my copy of The Four Agreements and scanned it again. Each of the concepts are designed to help you live a more peaceful, stress free, productive life. They are simple to think about but at the same time often difficult to do in a society that seems based so often on looking out for number one. It's worth the effort.

The concepts or agreements with yourself are:

Be impeccable with your word - Think about what you say before you say it. Mean what you say. Don't use your words to wound others. Do what you say you will do. Be honest always in your dealings.

Don't take anything personally - Everyone is living burdened by their own perceptions, world view, and view of themselves. Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.

Don't make assumptions - Instead of asking difficult questions of each other we make assumptions about the behavior of others. Then we misunderstand their intentions, we take it personally and end up creating a big drama where there need not be one.

Always do your best - Under any circumstance always do your best. Some days that will be less effort than others because you are tired. Other days you will be extremely productive and full of energy. No matter what is going on around you do your best and you will have no regrets. Do it not for reward but for how it makes you feel.

These are words to live by. I often have to remind myself that I will be happier if I do so and in these last few weeks I've needed more prompting than usual not to assume and not to take others words personally but I'm getting there. We are all works in progress and I'm happy for each day I'm given to practice being the kind of person I want to be.

If you only buy one book this year I would suggest The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. It's a small book that can be easily carried with you, left in the car or your brief case for times when life gets to be a little too much and you need some simple guidance.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Miracles are Happening

I am happy to report that my brother, Casey, is making a miraculous recovery with the help of many, many hours of prayer and the staff at Medical College of Georgia Hospital.

His fighting spirit has amazed everyone. Two days after his accident my family was gathering in preparation for a funeral and now we are celebrating each new day that Casey is still with us. Not only is he with us, he is struggling his way back to a normal life. His recovery is expected to be long and arduous but if anyone can do it Casey can.

During the days my husband and I spent at the hospital, we were amazed by the way Casey's friends have rallied around him. Someone stayed every night with his wife while she slept on a pallet of quilts folded in a dark corner of the waiting room. Brent and Julia organized benefits to help cover Casey's mounting medical expenses. Others rallied the local television and print media, pulling favors to have stories run about Casey's accident and the benefit fund that had been established in his name. Friends of Casey's mother organized a food-fest that will deliver food to her house for the next month. Chaplins and preachers from various churches visited to tell us that their entire congregations were praying for my little brother.

I'll never forget the look on the nurse's face when he explained how badly Casey was injured. "Imagine dropping a watermelon from head high. That's the effect on his skull and brain. He's a miracle. That's the only way I can explain it." He managed to grimmace and smile at the same time.

Casey's recovery is not the only miracle. His very existance in my life is just as miraculous. I met my baby brother when I was thirty and he was a wirey, rowdy, obnoxious sixteen. Our father had relinquished me as an infant to the state adoption system, the penance paid in the sixties by young people who found themselves expecting the unexpected. In 1996 after some searching, my birth family welcomed me with open arms as only the Carters and Leonards of Augusta can. It's the only way they know how to live, open and accepting of all life brings their way.

With the age difference and our circumstances, time together became a valuable commodity. Looking back, I'd give a fortune in gold for more. This time I studied him as if an A in Human Anatomy Class depended on my observation skills. I know the shape of each finger and the gentle feeling of his hand folded in mine. I'll never forget the exact placement of the shunt at his hairline or the color of the fluid draining from the tube. As his IPOD played in the background, I memorized a list of his favorite songs, everything from Nora Jones, Euro Club Music, to Elvis Costello. Listening felt like following an obscure trail, built with harmony and bass beats, along his emotional history. I listened intently and fought back tears as his friends and wife related stories about his crazy sense of humor and his incredible musical talent. Through this experience I know my brother better than if we'd grown up together and I'd shooed his little toddler butt out of my room as a teenager.

My family is extremely hopeful about Casey's future. The next time I go back it will be to see Casey at home with his children and wife. He'll spin some incredible tunes for me. We'll cook out in the backyard and laugh about the obsurdity of life and the incredible power of prayer and the human spirit.

Thank you to all who have read this blog and thought of Casey. Your prayers and positive thoughts are working. Much love and gratitude goes out to you.