Thursday, 26 November 2015

The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and C. Cutler M.D - Review by Carlyn

I’m a Buddhist but I’m not a practicing one. I don’t know much about the religion at all. I’m a Buddhist because my parents are Buddhists. We’re Laotian and it’s the main religion of Laos. My parents occasionally go to the temple to pray and that’s mixed with the cultural aspect too. Going to temple is a good opportunity to mingle with other Lao people and eat food after the prayer sessions.  I think my parents are not that religious but there’s some Buddhist influence in how they interact with the world.

You may wonder about my ignorance over my religion, my answer is that while I did attend temple many times when I was growing up, I never learnt much about the religion at all. Whenever we went to temple, the adults would go pray while the head monk would chant something in Laotian and all the kids just played outside until it was lunch time or they would be in the Lao language school. Also, there is no baptism involved in Buddhism so it was not like I was on a path to follow Buddha.

 I wanted to read The Art of Happiness to learn more about Buddhism. The Art of Happiness was written by Howard C. Cutler who is a clinical psychiatrist. He had a series of interviews with the Dalai Lama on the subject of happiness. Cutler wanted a Buddhist perspective on how to achieve happiness to compare with western notions on happiness. 

The book features quotes from the Dalai Lama and some meditations, along with statistics and observations by Cutler.
It became apparent while reading this book the depth of the discussion on happiness. I found the prospect of reviewing the book to be an overwhelming task. My reluctance is also due to the fact that I identify as a Buddhist but do not have any real understanding of the religion but wanting to do justice to Buddhist teachings.

The book is divided into four parts with three or four chapters exploring an aspect of the human psyche such as self esteem and suffering. The main ideas that I got from this book is that everyone has a right to happiness, suffering is part of being human and that one should be kind to oneself and others. I think those themes are apparent in most religions but I think Buddhism is more philosophical and less doctrinal about it.

The Dalai Lama answered questions thoughtfully and I thought that many of his answers were practical solutions bordering on psychology. The focus for Buddhism is enlightenment which does involve training of the mind through meditations and stopping negative thoughts and actions after all.

What was most thought provoking for me was the chapter relating to anxiety. They described many forms of anxiety but this instance was the most poignant for me.  Cutler and the Dalai Lama discussed whether the Dalai Lama got nervous before making public appearances. His holiness said he did and that he overcomes it by reminding himself that his efforts to help people are sincere and he tries his best. He also mentioned how people come to him expecting miracles and cures. The Dalai Lama cannot give people miracles but he tries his best to comfort people as best he can which gives some people peace.

 Cutler later related the story to a young student who was suffering from social anxiety. The student he had the advice in mind when he wanted to ask out a girl. He was nervous but remembered that he his intentions were good which helped to ease his nervousness. The student didn’t get the date but he was content that he had tried and that was enough for him.

I tend to be an over thinker and worrier especially when I have to do something out of my comfort zone. So, that advice your good intentions and trying your best gives me some comfort.  While the book wasn’t a life changing read, I was glad that I read it. I think it is one of those books where you gain a new understanding each time you read it. I wonder what I will learn next time. 

Monday, 23 November 2015

Entertainment Monday: Teen Beach Movie 2 (Monday 23 November 2015)

I was thrilled to discover the sequel to Teen Beach Movie was out on DVD. The first movie was about two teenagers, Mack (Maia Mitchell) and Brady (Ross Lynch) who by magic find themselves stuck in a 1960s teen beach movie called Wet Side Story. You can read the review about it here.

In this movie, Mack and Brady are back in the real world. The two are about to commence high school again after the end of the summer vacation. Mack and Brady’s relationship gets tested when they return to school. They both have different lives and interests. The pair wonders whether their love was just a summer romance.

Meanwhile back in the Wet Side Story, the movie is not going according to plan. Lela (Grace Phipps) who is one of the main characters, has been altered from when Mack and Brady were in the movie. Lela doesn’t want to be just someone’s girlfriend or a damsel in distress. She leaves the movie by magic with her boyfriend Tanner (Garrett Clayton) to the real world.

Lela revels being in the real world. She loves going to school and the opportunities that she has in the modern world. Tanner is fascinated by everything but worries that Lela no longer needs him. The two sing and dance their way around to the bemusement of everyone else.

Mack and Brady try to persuade them to go back into their movie but Lela loves the real world too much.  The other characters in Wet Side Story don’t know what to do with themselves after Lela and Tanner leave. The Wet Side Story begins to deteriorate without the lead characters, so the secondary characters go after Tanner and Lela.

This movie is so cute and a perfect movie to watch for a movie night or a sleepover. I really enjoyed the sequel and thought it really built onwards from the first movie. I thought this movie was funnier because of how Tanner and Lela interacted with the modern world. I think Lela and Tanner were the highlight of the show and I loved their sunshiny dispositions. The movie reminded me of the Brady Bunch movies where the family lives in the 90s but everything about them comes from the 60s.

I liked all the songs in the movie that I want to get the soundtrack. I thought the dance numbers were really good and all the young people are really talented. I also think that this movie is empowering for young girls and a good base to discuss gender equality to children. 

Monday, 16 November 2015

Entertainment Monday: Reflections on Paris (Monday 11/16/2015)

Monday November 16th 2015: Reflections on Paris

Today is a very somber Entertainment Monday as the World tries to come to grips with how best to counter the terrorists attacks suffered by the people of Paris, France this past week.  It's in reflecting on the terrorist attacks and the mind-numbingly horrific loss of those most closely affected by those acts of terrorism that I wished to somehow try and share some of the sadness and grief as well as the hope and strength I have felt in watching and listening to the media coverage of the violence in Paris, here in the United States of America. I also wanted to try and stay true to our Entertainment Monday theme in discussing popular culture, so hopefully I am able to do that somewhat effectively. 

I can be a bit critical of how our public officials sometimes express sympathies and even unity at times like these, here and now.  For one, it's gets my hair up a bit when someone throws out how "France is our oldest Ally".  I know that the meaning is well and good, but it comes off as overly prideful and boastful in the way some people have said it... almost as if the reason we need to stand by France now is because of that link to the origins of our country.  The reason it gets to me a bit is because the way I feel is old friend, new friend or no friend at all, should not make a difference and not have to be announced one way or another.  What happened to the people of Paris, France is so awful on the level of  bad things that could be suffered in this day and age that reasons to support people at this time are not necessary.  Our history should not qualify that support. 

That is not the case for most people whom are expressing their support for the people of France and Paris especially at this time, but it rankles me a bit when it's being trumpeted each and every time I turn the t.v. on by certain personalities. 

 There is no adequate way to qualify the heartache and grief those who have lost loved ones are feeling.  The lost sense of safety in doing daily activities like going to a bar or restaurant with friends, or going to a concert, or going to the grocery store, while not equally as horrible, is, none the less, still devastating  on an emotional and mental level to so many people. 

Here in the United States some media outlets have mentioned that the song Imagine by John Lennon has become something of an anthem for many of those people in Paris who are grieving.  While I do not know exactly how pedantic that media depiction is I do know that Lennon's song has such a moving and appropriate message in light of the conflicts our World has faced in it's past and is facing in it's present. 

As a child I do not remember when I first heard Lennon's song.  The first time I really remember it though was during the television series Quantum Leap in the early 1990s.  It was a time when as a young teenager I was first beginning to gain a sense for all that is bad in the world and not merely sheltered or naive about everything being good, which can sometimes be the trappings of youth.

Quantum Leap was a Science Fiction series where Dr. Samuel Beckett, the main character in the Quantum Leap Series, jumps or leaps backwards in time from life to life (most often other people's lives) with the mission of "putting right what once went wrong".  In one episode he leaps into his teenage self (which is not supposed to be possible, but happens) and returns home giving him the chance to try and warn his older brother who dies in Vietnam to watch out and be safe on the particular day he dies in the future.  He also warns his little sister not to marry the man who he knows in the future will abuse her.  None of his family members take his warnings seriously and they think he is crazy.  Which frustrates Sam because he knows what is going to happen in the future and wants to prevent it from happening.  It's only when talking to his little sister and singing John Lennon's Imagine to her and telling her that Lennon will be shot and killed in December of 1980 that she believes him (which in turn makes her very upset because now she knows that Sam is not lying about their older brother dying in Vietnam).  Ultimately Sam's parents make him apologize to his little sister and tell her that he made everything up (even though he did not).   

Sam does not save his brother or change his sister's fate at all in that episode but eventually later on in the final season of the series he gets to save his brother.  

It's a very emotional episode in the series and probably the most memorable for me.  I wish it were that life were like that Science Fiction television series and there were someway that someone could leap back in time and put right what went wrong and ultimately save the lives of all those people in Paris who lost their lives this week.  And much like Dr. Beckett in the Quantum Leap television series did,  I wish it were that we could live in that World that John Lennon so beautifully Imagined. 

Another video that has received a lot of publicity here in the United States and is very moving is Placido Domingo's leading of the Metropolitan Opera in the singing of the French National Anthem.  Which can be viewed here at the New York Times website...

French National Anthem

May the Unity and Blessings and Love of  countless people world wide be at least a small comfort to the families of the Paris Terror Attack Victims and somehow, someway may our World find a way to effectively get rid of the violent and destructive heretics who act in the manner such as members of Isis and other Terror Organizations do.  

Monday, 9 November 2015

Entertainment Monday- Wayne and Gillian's Wedding Soundtrack (Monday 9 November 2015)

In 2011, my parents attended the wedding of Wayne and Gillian. My parents knew one of their parents and that’s how they were invited. One of their party favours was a CD of all their favourite songs. My parents gave it to me and I wasn’t interested in it at all. I didn’t really look at it until a week ago when we were clearing away some junk.

So I decided to listen it and I was delighted by the music. The playlist features 15 songs. The song list is a diverse selection including Australian pub rock, independent artists and mainstream songs.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Stacey vs the BSC by Ann M. Martin - Review by Carlyn

I’ve been collecting Babysitters Club books for some time now. I still haven’t read all of them nor do I have the entire collection. When I was little, I use to flick through them whenever I visited the library. I was too young to read them but I couldn’t wait to read them when I got older. I read these books for the nostalgia as it’s all in the 80s and 90s which was when I was growing up. It’s not quality writing but it’s entertaining.

The Babysitters Club series is about a bunch of teenage girls who babysit. The club is well organized with a club president, secretary, treasurer and alternate officers. The books focus on one girl in each book. Stacey vs the BSC is obviously about the babysitter named Stacey. Stacey is 13 years old, who loves fashion, boys and babysitting. She use to live in New York City but moved to the fictional town of Stoneybrook after her parents divorced.

Stacey made friends with members of the Babysitters Club and joined it as the treasurer of the club. As Stacey became more acquainted with life in Stoneybrook, she begins to make new friends and gets a boyfriend. Suddenly, she starts skipping club meetings and cancelling babysitting. She wants to hang out with her new friends much to the disapproval of the Babysitters Club.

I had some sympathy with Stacey in this book. Adolescence is a volatile time and it’s only natural for people to go through phases and meet new people.  In the book, Stacey’s has a hard time trying to balance BSC duties with hanging out with new friends. The girls have meetings three times a week and babysit regularly which is a lot for a thirteen year old girl. I can understand how Stacey would want to experience more and have fewer responsibilities.

Another issue I could relate to is losing a friend when they get a new boyfriend/girlfriend. I understand that they are so in love that they want to spend all their time together that they neglect their friends. I’ve heard of cases where girls break up with their boyfriends only to find that they have no friends anymore. The friends stop inviting them to things because they usually are too busy with their special someone.  
It was also interesting to see the Babysitters Club in a different light as Stacey became embarrassed by them when comparing them to her new friends. Some of her new friends are more fashionable and sophisticated than the BSC members.

It was easy to see that it all wasn’t going to end well. Resentment brewed between the club members and Stacey.  I think it could have all been resolved had they had an honest conversation instead of giving looks and terse remarks. What was interesting about this book was that the storyline continued in other books. Usually, issues are resolved by the end of the book and hardly ever mentioned again.   In the end, I know that the Babysitters Club will win out because Stacey is a key member.


Monday, 2 November 2015

Entertainment Monday: Songs from my youth (Monday, November 2, 2015)

Songs From My Youth (Monday, November 2, 2015)

Most everyone has songs that they associate with their childhood whether those songs were learned through school or at home.  Many of these songs are aimed at teaching lessons, while others are simply supposed to be fun/silly things for little kids to sing along with.  The songs of my childhood contain some songs that I still love today, while there are others that I realized as an adult were short-sighted and even prejudicial or portrayed stereotypes.  The world has obviously changed with heightened sensitivity to stereotypes over the 30 years since I was a little kid in grade school, so I would hope that some of the songs I learned in school are no longer part of what children learn today. 

One of the songs I really liked even though it was kind of sad was the Last Unicorn which we had on an old 45.  A 45 was a very small record that only had one or two songs per side.  The version I am sharing here is not the same version I had as a child but I don't remember the artist and could not find his version on YouTube. >.<

The Last Unicorn

My mom one year for Christmas bought me a record by the children's artist Raffi.  The album she bought me was Baby Beluga.  I remember it being one of those Christmas gifts I thought I really wouldn't like when I first got it but I ended up really enjoying it and even listened to it recently when visiting Mum's house once a few months back.  My favorite song off the album was Biscuits in the Oven. 

Here's a cute version off the internet.  That shows some of the dances you were supposed to do while singing the song.

Biscuits in the Oven

A different year at Christmas time Mom and Dad bought my twin brother Clifford and I two Disney records... or they may have been kind of hand me down records that were originally purchased for my brother Robert and sister Heather when they were younger.    There were lots of great songs off those records but three of my favorites were Everybody Wants to Be a Cat from the Aristocats.  It's not Easy from Pete's Dragon and I Wanna Be Like You from the Jungle Book.  Warning: Some of the Cat portrayals in the Aristocats video are cultural stereotypes regarding appearances.

Everybody Wants to Be a Cat

I Wanna Be Like You

It's Not Easy

As some other bloggers have shared I also learned the tune Big Chief Watopotami in School.  The song certainly perpetuates stereotypes of Indians (Native Americans) as lazy and uneducated. 

There is not a recorded version I was able to find but the lyrics go...

Big Chief Watopotami
Sat in the sun and said "Me hot am I"
Sat in the shade and said "Me cooler"
"This is the life of an Indian Ruler."

123... Ugh, 123... Ugh... Ugh, Ugh, Ugh 

I hope and imagine that today children do not learn this song in grade school.  Or if it is taught it is taught as an example of stereotype and not something to be laughed at or sung joyfully.  I'm not sure very young children should be taught it at all, as concepts of stereotypes may not be something they can fully understand.  I am not an educator though, and obviously there are different maturity levels for different aged kids which vary from household to household. 

So as not to end things on a sour note though I wanted to share a song off my oldest brother Robert's Muppet's Movie album from 1979.  I'm Going to Go Back There Someday.  A sad and beautiful tune sung by Gonzo.  I still miss Jim Henson and his genius.  I have not yet had a chance to watch the new Muppet's television series, but I loved the Muppet Show when I was little.

I'm Going to Go Back There Someday

Should you choose to...please feel free to share or reminisce about songs from your childhoods in our comments section. 

Thursday, 29 October 2015

I don’t mean to be rude but … by Simon Cowell- Review by Carlyn

This book first came out around the time that American Idol was still new. I wanted to read this book to learn about how the reality singing contest first got started and know more about Simon Cowell. Simon Cowell is a music producer and judge for various singing and talent contests such as X Factor, American Idol and Britain’s Got Talent. He is known for his blunt honesty, which can cause upset with the contestants, audience and other judges. Some people hate him for his remarks but I don’t have a problem with what he says. I think he’s just a straight forward person. The book even includes hate mail that people have sent to him.

Simon Cowell is the son of Julie Brett (1925-2015) and Eric Selig Phillip Cowell, Sr. (1918–1999).  He has a brother named Nicholas and four half siblings John, Tony, Michael and June.  The Cowells were an affluent family as the father was a successful estate agent. They lived nearby a film studio and often had celebrities over at their house.

Simon wasn’t that interested in school and did various jobs before deciding that he was interested in working in the music industry. His father helped him to get interviews through his connections; which some people didn’t like.  Simon worked his way from the mail room to music executive.

In 2000, he was approached by Nigel Lythgoe to be a judge in a new reality show called Pop Idol which became so successful that international versions were launched. Simon went on to judge on other reality contests like X Factor and America and Britain’s Got Talent.

My impression of Simon Cowell is that he is a hard worker, ambitious and cynical. I think his confidence has paid off for him throughout his career. He was never shy about talking about what he wanted and his persistence paid off. There are instances in the book where he would ring someone non-stop for an agreement.

I thought he was also good at spotting current trends and cashing in on them. When the Power Rangers was very popular, he got the idea to produce a soundtrack as well as one for the World Wrestling Foundation. Others scoffed at the idea but millions of albums were sold.  I also got the impression that his idea of success is selling a lot of records rather than music as an art form .I don’t think that’s a bad thing because the music industry is a business and he is a music executive not an artist.

I think he has a talent for spotting talented artists and finding hit songs. He knew the Spice Girls would be hugely successful and he had wanted to buy Baby One More time which at the time was going to an unknown singer called Britney Spears. He also wasn’t afraid of telling people if he thought they couldn’t make it even when some of them were already famous and wanted to branch into singing.

There’s so many artists mentioned in this book and their songs that I went on Youtube to find the ones that were in the book. As all the songs are old now, some are pretty dated but at the time they were quite good. I didn’t watch much of Pop Idol or American Idol when it was on tv so I went to watch some of the episodes he mentioned in the book as well.

I think aspiring singers and entertainers would benefit from reading this book. The book features advice for entertainers wanting to become famous. Simon suggests aspiring singers should work hard on their craft; they should know what suits their voice, train, work on their image and find a platform for experience. He lists examples of famous stars who were first actors before they became singers such as Kylie Minogue and how it’s good to have an established fan base. Now aspiring talent have so many avenues to become stars, there’s so many reality contests and there’s always Youtube.

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