Merry Christmas! + Thank you Charles Dickens!

First thing's first. In case you didn't know before, I come from a Jewish family. So, when it comes to Christmas, I normally don't make a very big deal out of this major holiday. But this year, all the days leading up to the 25th of December have been so full of happiness and cheer, as well as some very mercurial weather mood-swings. (One week it's 36 degrees, another week it's in the 80s. What is the deal?!)

Anyway, the month has been great. Channukah...Hanuka...khannnuckah...ooooohh...Candle Day, was fine and dandy. Next came Adam's 13th birthday bash, and, following that, his super-duper Bar-Mitzvah extraordinaire! What a turnout it was, and what a party! Too bad I haven't been a very diligent blogger this month, otherwise there might have been some pretty awesome posts about the things that have happened. As it is, the only thing I can write about right now is today, Christmas Day.

It was a beautiful, sunny, 72 degree Fahrenheit Saturday. I woke up relaxed and in a good mood. The past few Saturdays, my sibs and I have been attending rehearsals for Ms. Judy's latest stage production of "Mamma Mia" (of which Adam plays the part of one of the 3 possible father characters), but since it was Christmas, all the cast members were given the next 2 weeks off. No rehearsals until January 8th! Hurray! It is no surprise then that this has contributed to my generally jolly mood.

Anywaaaaayy, since it was such a good-weather day, my family decided to go to our favorite beach. On the way there, the roads were surprisingly clear (seeing as many people celebrate Christmas at home with their friends and family), so we got there in record time. The beach itself was pretty sparse; not many people choose to celebrate Christmas on the edge of the Atlantic. However many of our good friends were there, so we set up our blanket and umbrellas nearby.

Eventually the topic of conversation turned to the Charles Dickens classic "Christmas Carol" story. It turns out that I actually checked out the book from our library recently for a bit of light reading, and watched a few different movie versions on YouTube to compare how faithful they were to the novel. This year I have gotten mighty familiar with the characters Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, and the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. Don't ask me why, I just suddenly found myself inexplicably fascinated with "A Christmas Carol".

So I sat up straighter in my chair and joined in the conversation. Somehow, it turned out that some of the people present did not know the actual story of "A Christmas Carol", despite the uncountable screen versions available. Before I knew it, I found myself in the position of storyteller, relating the amazing tale in it's entirety and in great detail at that. It took me about 20 minutes or so, but by the time I ended with the words "God Bless Us Everyone", my friends were cheering and applauding! At that moment I just felt so good and happy inside that I couldn't stop smiling.

The rest of the day was very fine indeed. I literally ran into the ocean and had a good, bracing, cold swim, I got a little skin-color from having a good lie-down in the sun, and I even did a couple drawings today. Here they are right here.
<--- The guy in the picture is pretty much an "everyman", not really a representation of anyone I know. We stayed at the beach until about 5:00ish, and then we had to go. We wished everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and a "see ya next weekend". Then my family decided to go for some pizza on the boardwalk, so we sat down and sprung for a large pie topped with peppers and mushrooms. Tonight, my bro, sis and I have been enjoying various holiday movies on television, including the live-action "Grinch Who Stole Christmas" with Jim Carrey, the "Phineas and Ferb Christmas Special" (love those little guys ^_^), and even "Scrooged", a modern-day retelling of the Christmas Carol starring Bill Murray. That's pretty much it. For me, these little pleasures all add up to making this day the very best Christmas ever. It was merry, it was spent with family and good friends, and it was sunny almost all day! That's my idea of a holiday well-spent.
And now, a word from my good friend, Ebenezer Scrooge.


Happy Bar-Mitzvah Adam!

The day of Adam's Bar-Mitzvah started bright and early. Our clothes were set up the night before, and our parts for the service were rehearsed and well-refined. We knew exactly what we were going to do and when. All was ready, and we were prepared to create some happy memories. Don't you just love that feeling of control? It lasts a short time, but it feels good nonetheless.

Before we went inside the library multi-purpose room to wait for our guests, Aunt Lisa helped us do a photo-shoot in a park a stone's throw away from there. Here's a good shot of all 5 of us that very morning, pre-service (click to see the image full-size).

After about 5-10 minutes of quick picture-taking, using a digital camera and an iPhone, we helped make some last-minute preparations for the Bar-Mitzvah, such as putting an arrow-sign at the door to let people know where the party is, tying balloons up around the room, and finding a good place for our Flip camcorder to stand and record video footage of the entire hour-long service.

As our guests began to arrive, Bettina and I helped our brother greet everyone personally and show them to their seats. That was a really fun part, because since we were the hosts of the party we knew every single person that came in.

Eventually the room was full of people, and it was time for the service to start. Our friend Kellie led the whole thing, because she was the rabbi. After a bunch of prayer songs and blessings spoken in the Hebrew language, Bettina and I got up to present Adam with his Tallit (a special prayer shawl that one wears when reading from the Torah), just like we've rehearsed these past few weeks.

After that we didn't come up again until just before it was time for our brother to read his portion. Bettina and I had practiced a Bruno Mars number in honor of the occasion, and one of Kellie's sons played guitar as we sang.
The song was "You Can Count On Me", a simple little tune with a deep, meaningful message. Our performance was so good and got such an excellent response, and Adam even teared up after it was over.

Next came the actual reason for the whole Bar-Mitzvah: the reading from the Torah! There was a whole ritual where Benny carried the impressive scroll around the whole room so people could touch it and kiss it while happy-sounding Jewish music played, and then the Torah was removed from it's beautiful felt covering and presented to the congregation.
First, the Bar-Mitzvah boy's family had to go up to make Aliyah (hebrew for "ascent") before him, and first Aunt Lisa, then Bettina, then me, Shira, and Benny read a portion from the Torah. Then Adam read his part. He did great! Better than great. Fantastic. He did the chants right, he read loud and clearly, and he didn't make a single mistake.
He then read his Haf-Torah portion and gave a short speech to our friends and guests about what his two readings meant. After that, the formal service was pretty much over.

Of course next came the party! Oh what a party! There was food galore! We catered the whole affair ourselves; didn't hire anybody to cook or serve for us. We had a whole buffet of pasta salads, bagels and vegetables with spreads and dips, and 3 different cakes: one vanilla, one chocolate, and one carrot. Everyone enjoyed themselves immensely. At some point there was a moment where I helped my dad and a few of his man-friends lift Adam up for the traditional Bar-Mitzvah chair-raising, and Adam liked that a lot. Then someone, I forget who, said that they missed a photo-op, could we please lift Adam again? So we did, they took a picture, and Adam got to go up in the air a second time.

Eventually, all good things come to an end. It was time for us to call the party over. We only booked the library's multi-purpose room for 4 hours, including set-up and tear-down time. Before they left, most of our friends and guests actually helped us put away the chairs, clean up the food, and generally make the room a little tidier. By the time we were all through, you could never tell an entire Bar-Mitzvah had just taken place there.

Until next time, that is all I have to say, except for this: Happy Bar-Mitzvah you mensch of a brother you! Mazel Tov Adam!

Happy Birthday Adam!

To celebrate, we had a big traditional "Levy family" birthday-breakfast: watermelon, homemade ice-cream, a box of croissants, and a giant stack of pancakes.

After eating, Adam was presented with 3 very special hand-crafted birthday cards: 1 from me, 1 from Bettina, and 1 from both Shira and Benny, our mom and dad. Personally, I worked really hard on my card; I stayed up until almost 2:00 in the morning putting on the finishing touches. Here are pictures of the different sides of my card for Adam.

Later, after Adam finished reading all his cards, our Aunt Lisa arrived for a visit. This always means a swell time. After catching up with each-other and chatting for awhile, Lisa took Adam, Bettina and me to the theater to see "The Tourist", which was released on the very day we saw it. The movie, as a whole, was pretty awesome. The lead actors (Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie) were great, the locations that were filmed (Paris, France and Venice, Italy) were beautiful, and the story (female secret-agent pretends to be married to a tourist she just met to throw the bad guys off the scent of her criminal husband) was suspenseful and fast-paced.

After the entertaining cinema experience, we met up with Benny and Shira at the Weston Library multi-purpose room, where Adam's Bar-Mitzvah service and party would take place the next day. We all helped prep the room, arranged tables, chairs, and instruments, tested the sound equipment and projector (which we would use for a photo slideshow we created), and transported an abundant amount of party food to the kitchen area for storing.

It was so fun and exciting to be a part of making this long-anticipated event finally happen. The last time I've written anything about my brother's Bar-Mitzvah was October 10th, but since then my family and I have learned and accomplished so much in honor of this special occasion. In a matter of hours we would finally show our invited friends and family what we have been working on all this time. I remember thinking, "I can hardly believe it, tomorrow it'll all happen and then it'll be over".

We came back home after we did all we can do, and said "see ya tomorrow" to Lisa as she went off to her temporary accommodations. Then we all washed up, blow-dried our hair for the next day, relaxed with some televised entertainment, and went to bed at a decent hour.


The Thief and the Cobbler: A History

Do the names "Tack", "Zigzag", and "Yum-Yum" ring any bells for you? If not, then you haven't seen Richard Williams' magnum opus, "The Thief and the Cobbler". This animated film has a very interesting history behind it, which I was not aware of before watching the review that the Nostalgia Critic went and did.

At first I thought he'd verbally beat this movie to a pulp like he does in his other videos, but Doug Walker has actually taught me something about my old childhood favorite (the term "favorite" is used very loosely here, btw).

The movie was conceived in 1964 by Canadian animator Richard Williams, who would later go on to be the Director of Animation for "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" among other things.
Due to its independent funding and complex animation, "The Thief and the Cobbler" was in and out of production for over two decades. In 1990 Richard Williams went and secured a deal to have Warner Bros. finance and distribute the film.
Warner Bros. backed out in 1992, however, after the project went past deadline and Disney's "Aladdin" gave them all a run for their money. Still the movie had to be finished, so producer Fred Calvert took over the whole operation. Whole scenes were removed and replaced. Unnecessary musical numbers and voice-overs were inserted. To make a long story short, Richard Williams creation was changed beyond recognition.

2 different versions of the movie was released: one issued in Australia and South Africa in 1993 as "The Princess and the Cobbler" and the other in the U.S.A. in 1995 as "Arabian Knight" (which was later re-released on home-video with the original title, "The Thief and the Cobbler"). Talk about confusing!

Neither version received much financial success or positive reception, but the film has earned cult-status among animation-circles for it's rich history and creator's original intent.
Personally, I remember watching it with my sister when we were both little. It mustn't have made much sense to us at the time, but it was a piece of both our childhoods. "The Thief and the Cobbler" was just one of those movies that stay with you long after you outgrow it. I am glad that Nostalgia Critic decided to do this review.

Now I have more animated-movie trivia than I know what to do with. What now?
I know! *publish post*

There, now the rest of you know what I know. Thanks for reading!

*~Information courtesy of the "Thief and the Cobbler" and "Richard Williams" Wikipedia articles.~*


Do you LOVE Animation?

I have recently discovered Cartoon Brew.com, an incredibly awesome news website dedicated to animation. It is absolutely and totally amazing! I stumbled onto it on my Google-Reader account, and after exploring around for a bit I am hooked! All the articles and videos on this site are excellent and informative, and a few videos and articles really made me grin like a Cheshire Cat.

For example, here is a review for the new Disney movie Tangled (which I haven't seen yet by the way) that does not reveal any spoilers, but still gives me a balanced opinion of what I can expect from this movie. Personally, just from watching the trailers, I don't hold out much hope for a story of Rapunzel retold in "dazzling, modern" CGI animation, but I'll at least give the film a chance after reading the review.

If you are like me, you appreciate fine animation, the kind that makes you see things in a new, different way, pulls you into the world of the story that it's telling without making you feel self-conscious, and gives you something memorable to take away from it. Here is a short video that illustrates what I'm talking about. It's called "Howdy Doody and His Magic Hat", and despite the title or the time period it came from (1953), it's a short that'll have you giddy and smiling from beginning to end.

I've also seen a couple "silent-squeal-inducing" teaser-trailers for some upcoming animated movies (namely "Cars 2" and a brand new "Winnie the Pooh" movie).

(Wait, Pooh's getting a new movie?)
(Yeah, I was pretty surprised too.)

I am not going to give you the links to these sneak-peeks; you're just going to have to find them for yourself at Cartoon Brew.com: All animation, All the time!


Now it's November

  1. October is over, November is here,
  2. We're in the penultimate month of the year.
  3. So far it's been great, I've had some good fun,
  4. I've done a lot and learned a ton.
  5. I've discovered Doug Walker and deviantArt,
  6. Joined onto Twitter, for the most part.
  7. Toastmasters has helped me to grow leaps and bounds,
  8. My self-confidence today simply astounds.
  9. Also Thanksgiving will soon be here,
  10. My uncountable blessings fill me with good cheer
  11. As my poem ends, I'd just like to say,
  12. Have a good month and a very nice day.

Everything I write in this poem is true.
Line 1: Obviously a fact if you're reading it this time of year.
Line 2: "penultimate" means second-to-last.
Line 3-4: this applies to the year in general.
Line 5: Nostalgia Critic and Chester A. Bum are my favorite reviewers on the internet. Please check out some of their wacky videos on YouTube or their website ThatGuyWithTheGlasses.com. Be warned, he drops some f-bombs and other colorful curses sometimes, so if you'd rather not expose yourself to such things, then don't. My dA account is CartoonConnoisseur. I don't have a lot of art up yet, but I will soon.
Line 6: My Twitter account is here. I finally joined because my dad found a lost wallet at the library yesterday and because he had no email-address, home address, or phone number in his wallet, but he did have an ID card, we thought of Googling his name, and we found his Twitter account. It was private, so I decided to join Twitter and try to open up the lines of communication. This morning though Benny had a better idea: go to the bank and use the guy's credit cards to learn his information. Benny called him up today and the guy came to our house and got his wallet back. Hurray! And I'm on Twitter now. Hurray!
Line 7-8: On Tuesday the 2nd I was a speech evaluator for someone giving their Icebreaker. It was the first meeting of the month, so we had a whole potluck party that day. On a sidenote, have you ever had the experience of walking straight into a sliding door because the glass was so clean you couldn't see it? Well that actually happened to me 2 days ago, and I'm pretty sure a couple AIU students saw me. Now I've got a bruise on my nose and an eye on those clear glass doors.
Line 9-10: I love Thanksgiving. Right after my birthday and Halloween, it's my favorite holiday ever.
Line 11-12: I mean what I say. =)


Hello, I must be going!

I cannot stay, I came to say "I must be going".
I'm glad I came but just the same I must be going...
...I'll do anything you say, in fact I'll even stay!
But I must beeeee goiiiiiiiiiinnnngg

Today I will be visiting a friends house dressed up as Groucho Marx, for an early Halloween get-together. I took some pictures of myself on Tuesday when I dressed up for a Halloween-themed Toastmasters meeting (I led the meeting that day).
Go ahead. Laugh it up. I'm a 19-year-old girl dressing up as a guy from the first half of the 20th century. Well I'm going to win a few prizes with this outfit in the weekend to come. Just watch me.


Make Your Days Count...
Plus 8 Honest Answers for Rainy

Ian Fleming - I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.
This quote is a very appropriate one, because it's almost exactly what I've been trying to do with my days. I've been putting things off, hoping that my days would last, and procrastinating like heck. So after seeing that my online friends were continuing to post stuff and I wasn't, I decided to bring the balance back.

First of all, I apologize for disappearing without warning. Next time I have to spend a period away from my blog, I'll leave a short post explaining my temporary leave of absence.
Secondly, I'd like to tell you what I've been up to in these past 10 days:
  1. Celebrated my mom's birthday on the 3rd by spending a day at our favorite beach and showering her with love and presents (a puppy calendar, a Michaels gift-card, a pass for 6 Yoga sessions at our local country club, and "The Power", which is a sequel to the best-selling "The Secret".)

  2. My brother Adam has been practicing Torah-chants for his Bar-Mitzvah in 2 months, and he sounds really good. He sings in Hebrew as if he was singing in English. I'm very proud of how hard he works at what he does, and how well he's grown up. He's turning 13 and it's making me feel old. Next subject.

  3. I gave my 6th Toastmaster speech on Oct. 5th, and you can watch the video of it right here. The topic I chose was "Games and What They Teach Us", and my objective was to practice using vocal variety.

    It was a challenge because at one point I forgot what I was going to say next, and my whole train of thought got derailed right in mid-sentence, but then I saved myself by "phumphing" through and closing strong. My evaluation was really kind, and it gave me renewed confidence and positive energy to work with.

  4. Because of all the research I did for my speech, I've discovered all sorts of awesome videos on the internet, like the "Extra Credits" series on EscapistMagazine.com and the "Nostalgia Critic" videos on ThatGuyWithTheGlasses.com. These guys are really good at what they do and talk about. Trust Me.

  5. Finally, I've discovered the online version of the game Cashflow (referred to in my speech, please watch), and I've gotten hooked playing it, a contributing factor to my absence from the blog-o-sphere. I'm learning to be financially successful and I'm able to play with people from all over the world. Recently I played with someone in Canada, New Mexico, Washington DC, and Qatar. How cool is that? The game is free to play, and all one has to do is create an account using their email address and a password. The website is www.richdad.com. Check it out!

Now that I'm more-or-less caught up, I can turn my attention to answering some questions my good online friend "Rainy" Rani asked me. Her queries are in blue, my replies are in purple.
  1. I can hear random people having a very weird, very loud conversation outside my open window right now. So tell me, what was your weirdest conversation about?
    My weirdest conversation has to be one I had with my brother recently, which mostly consisted of us spouting lines from a kids' variety-show of the '90s called "The Amanda Show". The lines were from a recurring skit with Mr. Oldman. Look it up on YouTube. Does that count as a conversation though?

  2. If I suddenly became a transfiguration master, what animal or thing would you like me to turn you into? (I don’t know, like a silly band, for example.)
    If you had the power, I would ask you to turn me into a parrot, because they are funny, intelligent, colorful, and they live in the rain-forest.

  3. What are you going to be wearing for Halloween? If you’re not going to wear a costume, or if it’s a surprise, tell me about your favorite past Halloween costume(s).
    I'm actually not sure what I'm going to dress as this year. But I have lots of happy memories of the characters I've dressed up as from past Halloweens: the Cat in the Hat, Thing 1 (with Bettina as Thing 2), a little mermaid (not Ariel though), a hula girl, a Siamese twin (with Bettina by my side), and even a Blues Brother (another team costume with Bettina).

    But my favorite Halloween costume by far has to be the time I dressed as a mime. I would sneak up behind people and imitate them behind their back, and when they turned around I was off following someone else. I gave myself permission to act on my impulses. To do anything I could imagine. To pull on an invisible rope. To shake a strangers' hand without fear. To dance wildly to music only I heard. What a year that was. I like to come up with a new costume idea each year, but as a last resort, maybe I could be a mime again this Halloween. That would be fun.

    For pictures, check out my mom's blog-post here:
    Costumes From Halloweens Past. You'll have to scroll down a bit for pictures of me and my sister though.

  4. Can you roll your tongue?
    Yes. I can flip it upside-down too.

  5. What would you get a tattoo of? Even if you’re against tattoos or never plan on getting one pick something anyways. Something that you like or something that describes you.
    If I were to get a tattoo (which in real life I wouldn't, just because it's permanent), I would get a Yin/Yang symbol on my chest, a small one that would look like as if it were a necklace (until closer inspection), or an inspirational quote like "Carpe diem" or something wrapping around my arm like a bracelet. Nothing really obvious, something that might look like jewelry to the untrained eye.

  6. What was the last song you listened to (or last song you can remember you listening to)?
    That's a tough one, because I listen to music all day. Different genres, different artists, different albums, I love it all.
    I would like to make note of the fact that John Lennon, had he not been assassinated, would have been 70 years old today. There are many tribute videos on YouTube that one can see about it. My favorite John Lennon songs would have to be "Imagine" and "Give Peace A Chance". I've always admired how much John inspired people to "Make Love, Not War". He's my dad's hero.

  7. What’s your favorite number?
    Mine is seven, because it's the day I was born. The seventh day of the 9th month.

  8. What was something insane you did/said/believed in when you were a wee little you?
    Oh I remember lots of stories, and my parents know a lot more. One time, my family was at the theater, and we were watching the movie "Air-Bud" (You know, the one that started it all? With the golden retriever who played basketball? Before all these silly Disney talking-puppy movies came about?). It was the last part in the movie, where the cops take the mean clown (who was Buddy's abusive previous owner) away somewhere, and out loud in front of the whole theater my 6-year-old self says, "They're taking that clown to the dungeon!" Don't kids say the darndest things?

    I also used to think that time worked the same way it does in the movies. I believed that at any moment I would find myself all grown-up, just like in the movie Bambi. First you see a little fawn mourning for his mom, then in the next scene you see him with these huge antlers! What's up with that?

If you've read this far, then you certainly are a friend in my book.

As a treat, here is a cute picture I found on the internet.


I Should Have...

Sidney J. Harris - Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.
What do I have to regret? I'm young, I'm healthy, I have a family who loves me, friends too many to count on my fingers and toes, I'm free to be myself, and I don't have any enemies. What do I have to regret?

I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention:
  • I never got to play Sharpay in my local theater production of "High School Musical" 3 years ago, but then at least I got the role of Ms. Darbus and sang "There's No Business Like Show Business". I had fun "confiscating cellphones" and "sending the whole class to detention".

  • I haven't done any watercolor-painting for such a long time, but at least I've picked up photography. That doesn't mean I don't still have time to get back to watercolors; I even took out the DVDs that got me excited about painting to begin with. Maybe I'll take it up again. You never know.

  • It's been about a year since we last put up a "Leslie and Kyle" video. Still, eleven episodes on YouTube is quite an accomplishment, if I do say so myself. Plus Bettina and Adam still help me sometimes with ideas for our next "big come-back".
Lingering on regrets for too long is unhealthy. That's my philosophy. Any time you waste thinking about stuff you should have done or could have done is time you can spend actually living your dreams, and replacing those regrets with fulfillments. Like Sidney J. Harris says, regret for things you've done will pass with time, regret for things you haven't done is harder to get over.

So take chances! Get messy! Make mistakes! These are the words Ms. Frizzle lives by.

(Points if you remember where you've heard that name before.)


What are You Reading?

Bertrand Russell - There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.
How insightful! I love to read and tell everyone what I'm reading!

Right now I'm reading Robert Kiyosaki's latest book, "Rich Dad's Conspiracy of the Rich: The 8 New Rules of Money". Robert Kiyosaki is most famous for his "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" line of books, the first of which tells the story of how, as a nine-year-old boy growing up in Hawaii, he found a mentor in his best friends father, who taught him how to become rich and financially literate. Robert's real father was state superintendent for education, but he was the "poor dad" because he wasn't financially literate. Financial literacy is what you know about money, how to earn it, how to spend it, how to invest it, how to make it work for you rather than against you.

I've read many of Robert Kiyosaki's books, such as the original "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" book, "Rich Dad, Poor Dad for Teens", "Increase Your Financial I.Q.", and "Rich Woman" by his wife, Kim Kiyosaki. In this economy, learning more about money and how it works is the least you can do to become more financially literate. In his books, Robert says "Money is not the root of all evil; it is the ignorance of money that is the root of all evil"

And so, in this blog post, I have fulfilled both points in Bertrand Russel's quote. I'm enjoying Robert Kiyosaki's book, and I'm boasting about reading it. Ha!


Music is a Language Everyone Loves

John Erskine - "Music is the only language in which you cannot say a mean or sarcastic thing."
This quote is so true. Absolutely everybody in the world loves music. There are probably as many different kinds and styles and flavors of music as there are people on this earth. As human beings, we seem hard-wired to listen to and appreciate music. Even people who can't carry a tune with a handle on it can enjoy the many virtues of music, and the educational, social, and psychological benefits that come with it.

Recently from the library I checked out a cool book called "Learn to Speak Music", which I heartily recommend to all my friends by virtue of it's awesome illustrations, and the spot-on advice on choosing and playing an instrument, putting and keeping a band together, how to write music and lyrics, getting and performing live gigs, and recording your very own songs.

Even more recently, I have my dad Benny to thank for investing in our newest 88 key instrument: a Yamaha Portable Grand DGX-520 piano! We found it on Craigslist and traveled all the way to Hollywood (Florida) to get it. When we got to the guy's house, he let me and Adam play with all the styles and beats stored in it before Benny paid for it. It is so cool! These past couple days I've been practicing "Fur Elise" (or "For Elise", whichever works best) with both hands, because the piano has this cool feature that I've always wanted, that plays the song and pauses until you play the notes that it shows on the little screen. Bettina and Adam have been practicing as well, and all three of us are getting better and better at it.

In conclusion, music is universal, it crosses language barriers, and everybody loves it because there is not a mean bone in it's body (not that music has a body; it's more of an abstract, intangible type thing, but still). In a world that is, at times, an unfriendly and somewhat scary place, isn't it nice that we can always hum our favorite tune and feel that little bit better all in the same minute?


New Blog Post Format

Hello everyone out there in blogworld! I've decided to change my blog format, the content that I feature on my little corner of the web. Instead of day-to-day blah-blah, I'm going to write posts based on my quote-of-the-day feed, which will expand on my opinions and views on the quotes (or quotees) in question.

This exercise is so I can get used to writing regularly in a blog again. I've realized how much it means to document and create material for posterity, so that I may look back on myself 5, 10, 20 years from now and see how weird and smart and funny I was "back then". Plus anyone who's on this ride with me (by reading this and other blog posts of mine) will get some entertainment and enjoyment out of my thoughts and insights and silly pictures I found on the internet.
(Points if you know who this guy is. He's one of my all-time favorite British actors.)


Happy Birthday to me! (and my twin)

Today has indeed been a very happy day. I got to spend it with my family: the best brother, sister, mom and dad a teenage girl could ever ever ask for. We all had so much fun together.

First thing in the morning my grandparents called Bettina and me up to wish us a happy birthday. That started the day off right. Then we were presented with 3 beautiful handmade cards each; 1 from each-other, 1 from Adam, and 1 from Benny/Shira (combination deal), and I sang Bettina an original song Benny helped me record that I wrote the words and music for, after Bettina showed me a poem she wrote for me on her poetry blog. Also my twin and I exchanged gifts: I got her a new hardcover notebook with flowers on it, and she got me a crossword book with over 350 puzzles! *Score!*

After all that we had time to relax a while and watch a little YouTube. Recently we found this channel that has clips from the 4th Animaniacs volume set, which Warner Brothers, as of 2010, are not planning to release to the public! We have never seen these episodes before! And they (the episodes) are absolutely hilarious! (The funniest ones are "The Sound of Warners" and anything with Skippy and Slappy Squirrel in it. Check the link to the channel here)

What made this day even more brilliant was the fact that it fell on the same day as Toastmasters, and even Benny and Shira joined us for today's meeting! Since we were all away in Boston for 'bout 3 weeks I missed our friends at our home Toastmasters club. Sure Adam, Bettina and I visited 6 other chapters up in Beantown, but it just wasn't the same. Unfortunately only about 4 members showed up to today's meeting, so it wasn't as festive as I would've hoped, but we still had a lot of fun. One of the members gave an awesome Icebreaker (a TM's first speech after joining), and it was so nice to catch-up with everybody after so long. I'm absolutely amazed that me and my sister have been members for almost a year now! My parents are certainly impressed with how confident we've grown with the help of this organization.

Anyway...enough plugging Toastmasters, (awesome though it may be) I've still got some birthday left to share.

For a late lunch, my family and I all went out to our favorite restaurant "Sweet Tomatoes", and towards the end of our meal, Shira got some of the workers there to sing "Happy Birthday" to us and present us with 2 chocolate brownies and some frozen yogurt. I was too full at that point for any brownies, but hey, it's really the thought that counts.

Afterwards Benny treated us to see a movie. At first we had a little trouble choosing what to see, but then we just decided on watching "Grown-Ups" with the all-star cast Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James, David Spade, and Rob Schnieder. Believe you me, if you've seen any bad reviews for this movie, don't believe one word! I haven't laughed during a movie so much since seeing "Toy Story 3"! Not that it's the same type of humor, but no matter. In my opinion, "Grown-Ups" is a hilarious movie for the whole family. At least my family and I had a great time.

To perfectly end a day like today would be a challenge, but I take pleasure in the fact that my sister got a birthday phone-call from a long-distance friend she really cares about. I told her she must've been on "cloud 19". Also there was a "Phineas and Ferb" marathon on TV while I wrote this post, so that's pretty sweet.

Thanks to everybody who took time out of their day to send birthday messages and well wishes to me and/or my sister today. It really means a lot. Goodnight Everybody!

Boston August/2010

This picture is a link to my Picassa album where I stored all my favorite pictures I took during our 3 week trip in Boston, Mass.
In that time I've gotten to love photography even more than I did before. I hope it shows in the pictures. Enjoy viewing them. ^_^


YouTube's "Life in a Day" film project

Has anybody else visited YouTube recently and noticed that there's going to be a historical day of film-making coming soon? Come July 24 2010, Kevin MacDonald (director) and Ridley Scott (producer) want as many people as possible to film themselves and their day, and then submit their footage to be considered for being in the first ever user-generated documentary, "Life in a Day".

The film will show what happened around the world during that particular day of July 24 2010, and will be a sort of "time-capsule" that shows what real people experience, what they think about, what they do for fun, special moments, mundane moments, moments that in the distant future might be considered golden. This project is a creative and cinematic milestone, and my family and I will attempt, on July 24 2010, to be a part of history.

If you want to contribute to this film as well, all you have to do is take footage during the day July 24 2010 (the footage can contain anything from watching a sunrise to commuting to work, from special moments to regular everyday chores, in a serious or playful manner, doesn't matter what you take, only that you take it), and then submit that footage anytime between July 25-31 to lifeinaday's YouTube Channel. Read the rules and guidelines provided on their channel and decide for yourself whether you want to be part of history too.


Speech Number 5: Peace in the Desert.

Today I gave my 5th ever Toastmaster Speech! The basic manual has 10 speech projects in it altogether, so this means I am halfway there to attaining the rank of "Competent Communicator".
Objective: To use body language, gestures and facial expression to enhance the delivery of my speech.
Topic: A story of my first-hand experience camping out in the Negev Desert during the 10-day tour of Israel Bettina and I took in late May 2010. The underlying message of my story is that it's important to find quiet in our lives, and appreciate it when we have it.
Time Range: 5-7 minutes.
Video Record of my speech:

Video Record of my evaluation:

Compared to my previous 4 speeches, I'd say this presentation was my best. Still I have some improvements to make; I notice myself pacing back and forth unnecessarily when I could just be still, and towards the end I was getting a bit out-of-breath, losing steam so to speak. Plus, as my evaluator Salena said, I focused on one side of the room more than the other, so I need work on improving better eye-contact. These are all rungs on the ladder that will get me to being a better and more confident public-speaker!

Some extra news: Since the beginning of July, I became the Vice-President of Membership at my club. Yeah, for real; members voted, and they made me an officer. I'm now in charge of finding new members and also making sure our current members keep coming to meetings, which turns out to be a bit of a challenge during the summer. Still, it's a fun job.


Launching of Serve-A-Verse: A Triumph

This past week, Benny, Bettina and I have been working extra hard on a project we've been working on for months and months: revamping our Serve-A-Verse website's design layout and building a system that keeps a database of all registered users.

In the process, we've added many more useful features, become multi-lingual in a handful of computer languages such as HTML, CSS, Perl, and PHP, gained competence in using programs in the Adobe CS4 software collection, and discovered what it really takes to be a web-master. Anybody can slap together text, graphics, and links and call it a web page, but it takes some real brains and creativity (not as mutually exclusive as you might think) to put up an actual useful web application.
What is Serve-A-Verse? It is an interactive website that allows a registered user to select a single or range of verses from the Old Testament Bible and see the verses displayed in English and in Hebrew, the original biblical language. Our updated web-service also allows users to play an audio clip next to each individual verse of "the voice of God" reading the verse in Hebrew.

To see for yourself how totally awesome this website is, follow this link (Serve-A-Verse) to the home page.
To read more about the launching of Serve-A-Verse, see the post my sister Bettina wrote on her blog about it: We have a launch!/Ready to Serve!
To make my day, leave a comment and/or tell your friends to register to our site.
For other options, press 2. (Just kidding.)


Welcome to my Revamped Blog!

I'm back world, and I'm better than ever! There's no stopping me! I've returned to Blogger!

Really? It's you? It's actually you?

Yes my wonderful blog! And I've given you a nice new layout and design scheme as well!

Well that's all fine and dandy Ms. disappear-for-6-weeks. What the heck have you been up to since you've been gone? Huh?

Alright everybody, hold your horses. I've just been taking a temporary break from blogging because I had so many other things going on.
First off there was the road-trip my family took to get from Florida to New York, and then from there Bettina and I had a wild and wonderful 10-day tour of the land of Israel (where we made about 40 new friends and took about 350 pictures and videos with our digital camera), plus the road trip from New York back to Florida. In all, a 2-week chunk, from May 14-28.
Then there were the shows that me and my siblings were a part of: Adam in Ms. Judy's production of "Gypsy" (May 28 and 31), Bettina and me in Yasmine's original production called "Once Upon A Broadway Dream" (May 30). After both plays, I swore that it would be a very long time before I go back into show business for someone else other than me. If I'm going to be on stage or rehearsing for a show, I'd rather be the one calling the shots.

Then June came, with brutal South Florida heat and huge rainstorms competing for attention. This month marked my parents' 21st Wedding Anniversary (June 11), and the 5th Anniversary of when my Toastmaster Club, Beacon Point, first got chartered (June 23). Recently, my sister Bettina gave her 5th speech, thereby completing half of her basic 10-speech manual! Congrats sis!
A few other highlights include going to the theater to see "How to Train Your Dragon" (June 15) and "Toy Story 3" (June 19), 2 absolutely ├╝ber-awesome films and my 2 favorite animated movies of 2010 (if not of all time)! 3 days ago of course was Father's Day, so Benny received special handmade cards from each of his loving children and we spent the day at the beach.

Which finally brings us to the present day. Or the past, which is more likely anyway.
Today I have decided to give blogging another chance. I've changed my layout and my background with the amazing 1-stop Template-Design tool from Blogger, so now it's like a clean slate, a fresh start, only with all of my previous blog posts intact. Wait'll I have some fresh material to work with!


Mother's Day Post

This year, just like most years, everyone in our family had handmade cards to present. Adam's card had big red heart on the front with "I Love Shira" written in the same style as "I Love Lucy". Bettina wrote an acrostic poem for her (which was put up on Bettina's blog). Father Benny wrote a love note to the mother of his children. I wrote a poem to go inside of this:

Mothers are amazing, of that there is no doubt.
They are the type of people that one cannot live without.
They give us life, they give us love, they care, they cook, they clean.
With all the things that mothers do they should be treated like queens.
They help us when we need them, with poise as well as grace.
No matter what you look like, they'll always love your face.
Shira, you're a hero, believe me, it is true.
You're one of a kind, I'm glad you're mine, I'll always cheer for you.
You're more than just a mother, you're a teacher, friend, and wife.
The years I've spent within your care are the best years of my life.
You're the most special woman that I know, I'd never choose another.
You mean the very world to me, my dear beloved mother

This came straight from my heart, and I think even if you were to replace my mom's name with somebody else's, it would still mean the same thing. Do you think I have a future in Hallmark or something?

Next on the make-mom-happy agenda was to prepare a picnic for the beach, just like we did last year (only this year we remembered to bring the blanket and towels. ^_^)
It was such a glorious day! The sun was perfect, the water was perfect, and along with the salad and chummus that we made ourselves, we enjoyed three bags of pita bread from an Israeli market called "Sarah's Tent". Let me tell you there's a huge difference between pita you might find in a supermarket (which is thin, frail, and usually frozen and defrosted before being bought), and real fresh-baked Israeli-style pita (which is soft, substantial, and actually has a bit of flavor). Now I'm even more excited to visit Israel just so I can get another taste of authentic pita sandwiches, with falafel and salad and all the trimmings. Pita with falafel in Israel is like hamburgers and french-fries here in America.

Anyway, more about mom. Everything she does for my family is so special, and she's such an important part of my life. Shira is always around to talk with about absolutely anything; feelings, futures, failures, and favorite films. There's no academy or school or anything where a woman goes to learn to be a mother, but if there was I'm sure she'd get high marks in all subjects. Happy Mother's Day Mom!

P.S. Do you know that MOM is WOW turned upside-down?


Hebrew Heaven

I've been keeping secrets from my readers. It's been in the works for months now—Bettina and I are going to be in Israel in 6 days!

Let me explain: in February, my sis and I both registered for a 10-day trip, courtesy of an organization called Birthright Israel, which provides educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26, during the summer and winter seasons. Since our 18th birthday half a year ago, Bettina and I have been fantasizing about traveling on our own to the Holy Land, and now we're so excited to actually be going very soon! The last time we were in Israel was with our family, in Summer 2007, and we spent 10 weeks living in the amazing city of Tel-Aviv. I have so many fond memories of Israel; the beaches, the hummus and falafel, the history and culture, the thrill of hearing people all around me speak a different language...

And so, in preparation for our upcoming journey, I've decided to re-immerse myself in the Hebrew language. Guess which website I'm using to help me on my noble quest? Let me give you a couple of clues:
  • It's the 3rd most visited website according to Alexa.com
  • It's slogan is "Broadcast Yourself"
  • Google bought it for $1.65 billion 4 years ago
That's right! YouTube to the rescue! This month I've discovered a treasure trove of movies that I know and love translated to Hebrew, so I can pick up a bit of the language while understanding exactly what's being said! It all started when I searched for videos of the cartoon show "Animaniacs" in Hebrew. The search didn't yield much, but at least I got to see the "Monkey Song" in a different language.
The next jackpot I found was Disney films in Hebrew! There's this one YouTube channel that has about a dozen animated treasures all dubbed with stellar voice actors. Adam, Bettina, and I watched "The Lion King" altogether, and it was such an amazing experience listening to the character's voices in a different language. The translated songs are my favorite parts, especially "Hakuna Matata" and "I Just Can't Wait to be King".

Some other movies translated in Hebrew we saw were "Alice in Wonderland", "Beauty and the Beast", "The Jungle Book", and "Aladdin", my new favorite translated movie so far (the guy who plays Genie is so funny, comparable to Robin Williams even)

The YouTube Channel: 1guyofer

List of Movies Included (besides the ones I've already mentioned):
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  • Dumbo
  • Peter Pan
  • Pinocchio
  • Hercules
  • Pocahontas
  • The Sword in the Stone
  • The Little Mermaid
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Toy Story
  • Toy Story 2
  • Monsters Inc
  • The Incredibles
  • Enchanted
  • The Prince of Egypt
(Edit: 1guyofer is no longer an active YouTube account. Sorry.)


"Early History of Animation", Speech #4

Last week I did my 4th speech for Toastmasters. The objective of the presentation was to focus on the words I use to get my point across, by using good grammar, rhetorical devices, and simple language (technical terms and jargon are discouraged). The subject I chose was the history of animation during the early 20th century. Can you imagine that for over a century people have been fascinated by pictures that move and drawings that come to life? Watch my speech to learn more!
Next here is the evaluation I got from fellow Toastmaster, Jorge. He tells me that he learned a lot from my speech and that I did a good job delivering it, but I still need to improve on my posture and vocal variety.
For your viewing pleasure, here are a couple early animated shorts that I discuss in my speech, created by the "Father of American Animation", James Stuart Blackton. Though they are brief, they are charming and quaint, and they make you appreciate how far the art form of animation has come since then.


Toastmaster Speech #3: Wikipedia

To anyone who follows my blog and enjoys reading about me and my life, I'm sorry for being so quiet. It's a procrastination issue. Something always comes up and I tell myself, "Okay, I'll definitely blog about this," but then before I know it, the moment's gone and I'm off to do something else. Anyway, while I'm here I'll make the most of this post, so without further ado, here is a long overdue video of me delivering my third Toastmaster speech, on Tuesday, March 30. It's all about Wikipedia and the different parts that make up an article.

I wrote out this speech word-for-word in a matter of days and memorized it the day before and the morning of the Toastmasters meeting, but for some strange reason, in the middle of my speech, I freeze! I just completely lost my train of thought and forgot what I was supposed to say next! Thinking fast (although not quite that fast), I went right on to the next part of my speech and the rest of my speech went on without another hitch. I went a little over the standard 5-7 minute time-limit, but it was only by about 15 seconds or so.
Here's a video of the evaluation I got afterwards:
The evaluator's name is Tony Vivaldi. He's a very accomplished and distinguished Toastmaster member, and he doesn't always show up at meetings, so it was a treat having him evaluate me and give me such great speaking advice. He talks with a heavy accent, but I can still understand him enough to know what his main points are. After the meeting was adjourned he gave me a few other important tips, and he remarked on how much my sister and I have improved in our public speaking skills.
I hope that I can somehow continue posting on my blog without leaving gaping 2-3 week gaps between posts. Same goes for my Art Blog. I want to remember to post things up for posterity so I don't forget that certain things happened.


Freakazoid Fan.

Who is this wacky blue guy in a red suit? His name is Freakazoid, and he had a show that lasted from Sept. 1995 to Jun. 1997, produced by the great Steven Spielberg (who also has under his belt "Animaniacs" and "Pinky and the Brain", two other cartoon shows that rock my world).

Freakazoid is in the superhero genre of cartoons, but it's mixed with heavy levels of meta-humor and slapstick-comedy. I love it!

The cast of Freakazoid includes many voice actors from "Animaniacs" such as Tress MacNeille, Maurice LaMarche, and Frank Welker (don't worry about knowing who these people are, if you want to learn more go to Wikipedia or something), Joe Leahy as the very vocal narrator, and Paul Rugg as the titular main character, plus great acting legends Edward Asner and Ricardo Montalban.

Sadly, the whole show consists of only 24 episodes, all of which I found on YouTube this year. Just like "Animaniacs", "Freakazoid" was cancelled because it couldn't find the right audience. Blame the WB Kids Network people.

To honor the show, I posted a drawing of Freakazoid in a few poses on my Art Blog, so check it out!


Toastmaster Stories

I haven't given any more speeches yet, but I'd still like to blog about the happenings in my Toastmasters club for the sake of posterity. It's fun to go online and go through my own archives to read about my own stories, and the less I write about my days, the less I remember, so here I am, and here you are, so let's get down to it.

As of Friday, February 19, I have been given the responsibility of managing our club's website. I have taken this job and ran with it! My first assignment was to design a new logo, and my sister Bettina helped a bunch by being my brainstorming partner. Together we used the graphics program Adobe Illustrator CS4 to create 14 different designs, and then we picked the winning logo by seeing which got the greatest response. Here it is:
I also greatly improved the club's website by filling up the F.A.Q. page, taking it from 0 questions to 12 questions, and I added a few links that relate to public speaking in the main menu, after researching many different Toastmaster club websites to see how they do things. I am learning so much by being my club's Webmaster, and I can see how this position can be made to shine bright on my resume someday. ^_^ To check out the site, click this link: http://beaconpoint.freetoasthost.biz.

On Saturday, February 27, Bettina and I went to a big Toastmaster's event in our town, and listened to the best Toastmaster speakers in our Area. A member from our club, Mike Borrone, was there representing our club, and we came to support him and listen to him speak along with all the other Master Communicators. It was a swell to-do, and we rubbed shoulders with some fine people. My sister and I were the youngest Toastmasters members in the place, but that didn't matter in the least because we were treated just like any other respected adult. It was such a cool experience.

Today, Bettina and I brought a couple of guests to the meeting: my mom's friend Ruth and her 8-year-old son Eiza (in Toastmasters you can be any age and be a guest, but you have to be at least 18 to join a club). It's for a contest we're holding all month to see which member can bring in the most guests, and the winner will get a $20 gift card. Bettina and I are sharing the credit for our guests, so if we win we'll share the prize-money too ^_^.
Anyway, today we had other guests at our meeting besides Ruth and Eiza. One of them was a Toastmaster's member who belonged to a different club, and she came to practice a speech at our club. Her name was Annette Watkins, and I liked her almost immediately. (Primarily because of our shared first name, secondarily because of what I learned from her. Read on!)
Annette was the first speaker on our agenda, and her speech's purpose was to inspire the audience. She started out speaking strong, but in the middle of her presentation, Annette lost her train of thought and got so nervous and flustered that she apologized to everyone in the room and made an appeal to end her speech right there.
Everyone protested. I said, "Come on, let's show our support!" and I led the whole group in a supportive round of applause. Annette was still feeling nervous, but with renewed effort, she continued and finished her speech without her notes. After she finished, the applause was like magic.
Next we spent about 15 minutes doing Table Topics, and then I went up to the podium to deliver an evaluation for Annette's speech. The purpose of evaluations is to communicate to the speaker what he/she did right, and what he/she can improve on, as well as any opinions on the speech. I let Annette know that she was very brave to finish her speech after a stumble like that, and that she still needs improvement exactly like everyone else in our club. I also said that I was definitely inspired, after hearing her speak, to keep on attending Toastmaster meetings and learning public speaking so I don't have to end up like her (I got a couple laughs in agreement, and no offense was taken). I'm very proud of the evaluation I gave today because not only is it my second ever evaluation speech, but I feel like I changed somebody's life for the better. And that someone has the same first name as I do.

As you can see I am a very staunch supporter of Toastmasters. If there's a chapter in your area, I strongly recommend you visit the club and see what the fuss is all about. You might meet some very interesting people. To aid you in your search, here's a link to the Find-A-Club page on Toastmasters International's website. Good luck, good day, and goodnight everybody!