Saturday, April 30, 2016

ABC Reads: April Review

Today is the day to link up your ABC Reads!!  
And we have a fun video for you to enjoy, too!

Here's a refresher on the terms of the challenge:

What does the challenge entail?  Well, I'm glad you asked.  There are 26 letters of the alphabet and Mia and I challenge you, during the course of 2016, to read a book that starts with each letter.  For example, Atonement (A), The Bell Jar (B), Catching Fire (C), and so on.  Makes sense, right? You don't need to go in order - if you want to start with S, go for it.  On the last day of each month, we'll host a link-up for you to share your ABC Reads.  We will award one point for each letter you review AND a bonus point for linking up with us!  At the end of the year (or when the first participant reviews a book beginning with each of the 26 letters), the winner will be awarded a $30 Amazon gift card.  So, what do you say?  Do you accept our ABC Reads challenge?

It was a slow reading month for me.  We had SO much going on that I barely had time to catch my breath let alone finish a book.  The one I did manage to complete was fantastic though!  Hopefully, I'll make up some ground in May.  For this month, I completed the following letter: S.  Here are my thoughts...

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard 
by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

This book was incredible.  A wealth of knowledge...explained in an easy to understand and absorb manner.  There are basically three keys to change - directing the rider (our brains), motivating the elephant (our hearts), and shaping the path.  Everyone has an emotional elephant side and a rational rider side.  It is equally important to speak to both sides of individuals when attempting to affect change.  The book has numerous examples that illustrate various methods.

To direct the rider it is important to find the bright spots, script critical moves, and point to the destination.  When working on that rational side, it is best to investigate what is already working and duplicate it.  Often we focus on those doing it wrong and try to correct them instead.  I really thought the "find the bright spots" concept was novel.  Obviously, being specific can help our brains focus more clearly.  For example, instead of saying let's eat more healthy change the perspective to let's be sure to include at least one vegetable each night for dinner or let's only purchase whole grain bread.  Script small and specific moves to work toward the big picture goal.  Lastly, give yourself direction.  It's always easier to change if you know why it is worth changing! 

To motivate the elephant, find the feeling, shrink the change, and grow your people.  Finding the feeling often involves incorporating the senses - sight and touch specifically.  Showing someone the difference can be a powerful motivator.  A great example of shrinking the change explained in the book revolved around cleaning your home.  It can be a massive task that can spin you into emotional distress!  But, tackling one room or space at a time for a set amount of minutes can make it seem possible.  Plus, setting the timer for 10-minutes and going for it in the bathroom will more often than not leave you with a completely sparkling room...even if you go over the time limit you set.  The key is making it small enough to motivate your "elephant" to get started!  Growing your people has more to do with creating a sense of identity and honing in on things people with that identity do or don't do.  Group think is powerful! 

I was aware of the Rider/Elephant way of thinking before reading this book, but I found the final target of shaping the path to be critical.  Shaping the path revolves around tweaking the environment, building habits, and rallying the herd.  As a runner, I know that it is much easier for me to make it out the door if I lay out my clothes/shoes the night before.  Something so simple can change the environment enough to make the difference between me getting out there or me staying in bed a little longer.  Similarly, if I can make something a habit by doing it long enough that my brain just operates on autopilot, it makes it SO much easier to complete those tasks.  Building tasks like eating breakfast as soon as I wake up or reading my devotional in the morning as habits frees up my mind to not have to devote energy toward thinking about or motivating myself to do them.  The power of habit is important - especially when trying to make a life change!  Rallying the herd is simple - we all know that behavior is contagious!  When making a change, you should rely on the herd to help promote and encourage others - even if it means seeding a few people in the beginning stages.

I definitely recommend checking out this book.  It has several extremely thought-provoking insights and examples throughout.  I would suggest it for absolutely anyone!

Which letters did you cross off your list this month?

Andrea :)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Our Mystical Weekend Getaway

A weekend getaway can do wonders for a person - especially when they live in the hustle and bustle of New York City!  Chris did a great job planning just that for us last weekend.  We took a quick trip to Mystic, Connecticut.  It is a little over two hours away...and the perfect place to relax for a couple days!

We began our adventure with a trip to the Mystic Aquarium for a surprise penguin encounter that Chris planned for me.  You can read all about it HERE - such an awesome experience!  After the encounter, we spent time checking out all the other exhibits and even managed to catch the last sea lion show for the day!  The aquarium focuses on education which was unique and quite interesting.  I felt like I was learning all day!

After the aquarium, we popped next door to mill around Olde Mistick Village.  We stopped in Bleu Squid for a sandwich and some tasty cupcakes before making a loop around the shops.  My one suggestion for anyone visiting the area is to come hungry!  There was a chocolate shop, tea tasting, various honey blends to sample, and even a local coffee shop!  No shortage of treats to devour!

We stayed at the Hilton near the aquarium and enjoyed a live band as we ate dinner.  The hotel also had a really neat outdoor fire pit area that we took advantage of before heading off to bed for the night.

On our second day, we headed to the historic downtown area.  Grabbing a slice or two at Mystic Pizza was on the top of our list.  Neither of us had seen the 1980's movie that was filmed at the restaurant, but we were certainly familiar with the popular pizza joint.  And it did NOT disappoint!  They advertise a special ingredient in their sauce.  We couldn't put our finger on the exact difference, but we gobbled up our pizza pie in no time!

We spent some time browsing around the local bookstore before making our way down to a homemade ice cream parlor near the drawbridge.  It was a perfect day to enjoy a scoop as we ventured across the bridge and around the river for a bit.  As luck would have it, our timing worked out - we actually got to see the drawbridge rise for a boat!  Pretty neat!

We capped off our weekend trip with a round of mini-golf in a nearby town as we made our way home.  I started the game off with a hole-in-one.  The lead was mine throughout the course.  And then at the last hole, I sabotaged myself...and we ended the game in a tie!  I couldn't even make up the insanity that ensued on that final hole.  Maybe next time, right?

What is your favorite weekend getaway spot?

Andrea :)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Fully Committed

As huge Modern Family fans, we knew we couldn't miss Jesse Tyler Ferguson's new limited run one-man show on Broadway!  He plays a multitude of characters throughout the show - something like 40 different people!  His main character, Sam, spends his days taking reservations at one of New York's most exclusive restaurants. Sam's a struggling actor and has a bit of a family dilemma as well.  Clearly, Sam is juggling a lot!

We really enjoyed the show!  It was amazing to watch Jesse Tyler Ferguson keep all the characters straight.  Honestly, I can't even imagine how he kept it all together on stage for an hour and a half!  Super talented!  Not to mention the array of accents and voice tones he had to use throughout the performance.  Jesse Tyler Ferguson was simply fantastic!!

After the show, I convinced Chris to wait around with me to meet the star at the stage door!  Jesse Tyler Ferguson was incredibly kind and humble as various people offered their feedback on the show and asked for photos and autographs.  Definitely happy to have stuck around for the opportunity to engage with him.  

Andrea :)

Monday, April 25, 2016

It's World Penguin Day!!

Happy World Penguin Day!! Perfect planning on Christopher's part since he surprised me with an awesome penguin encounter at the Mystic Aquarium this weekend.  We had a wonderful experience with our new penguin friend.

We learned A LOT about penguins during our hour long encounter.  We were also able to pet Mr. Penguin.  And help the aquarium with some training by playing pretend veterinarian!

The most interesting portion of the day involved learning about the naming system for the penguins at the aquarium.  They are named using beads attached to one of their flippers.  The first bead is either blue or pink and indicates gender.  Gender can't be known by looking at the external body of the penguin.  It requires a blood test that occurs within the first year of the penguin's life.  The Mystic Aquarium assigns each penguin a two color name based on when they arrived at the aquarium.  Our penguin's name was Green Red because he was the 30th penguin at the aquarium.

We later learned about the mating habits of the penguins.  And discovered that Green Red's mate is named Green Green.  She is the 33rd penguin at the aquarium.  They recently hatched some baby penguins that were just introduced to the exhibit this past week.  They are the proud parents of Purple Purple and Purple Silver.  We were able to catch both Green Green and Purple Purple when we visited the exhibit during the afternoon feeding session.  In the photo below, you can see that Purple Purple has yet to be identified as male or female based on the white bead proceeding the naming beads.  We also learned that it is during the first yearly molt that the baby African penguins develop the signature black stripe across their chest.  Notice that Purple Purple currently doesn't have the stripe that Green Green and Green Red possess.  I told you we learned a lot! :)

Mystic Aquarium also does a lot of work to assist in keeping the African penguin from becoming extinct.  Sadly, it is currently an endangered species in the wild.  We learned about the aquarium's various efforts on the coast of Africa.  And discovered several ways we could help locally - recycling and using reusable grocery bags!

Interacting with Green Red during our encounter was such a special experience.  I have always loved penguins (and had a similar encounter experience at Sea World with my parents when I was a teenager), but as an adult this experience was much more educational.  I will certainly be looking into ways to go above and beyond to protect these amazing and precious creatures!  I hope you'll do the same!

Aren't penguins just adorable?  What is your favorite animal?

Andrea :)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Our 2016 Tribeca Film Festival Experience

About a month ago, Chris and I began studying the Tribeca Film Festival Guide and selecting movies we wanted to see.  We narrowed it down to four films in the Spotlight section.  Then, we stumbled upon a list of highly anticipated releases and added a couple more bringing our total to six.

We had an awesome experience from start to finish.  We saw the world premiere of Custody on our first night of the Festival.  The director/writer and nearly all the cast members were there for an insightful Q&A session after the film.  SO awesome!  As newcomers to the Festival, we didn't realize that Q&A sessions following the film were a standard so we really thought we struck gold that first night.  Especially since we also got upgraded tickets at the door.  Talk about a cool experience!

Overall, the director/writer from four of the films and cast members from two films were on site after the screenings we watched.  It was really fun to learn about the making of the film and to hear directly from the cast members regarding their roles.  I can definitely say that I am more informed about the movie making business after this past week!  Chris and I have reviewed and rated each of the six films we were able to watch below.  Enjoy...


Synopsis via Tribeca Film Festival

James Lapine’s family courtroom drama stars Viola Davis, Hayden Panettiere, and Catalina Sandino Moreno as the key players in a custody case set against the backdrop of the myriad struggles at New York Family Court. In one corner, there’s Sara (Moreno), a young, single mother of two who suddenly finds herself embroiled in a custody battle when her son’s teacher calls the Administration for Children’s Services regarding a cut above his eye. Then there’s Martha Schulman (Davis), a beleaguered family court judge struggling through a 23-year marriage to Jason (Tony Shalhoub), and finding that it might not be possible to compartmentalize work and home. Recent law school graduate Alexandra Fisher (Panettiere) is assigned to Sara’s case, and finds it brings up haunting memories of her own. Hanging over it all is the recent death of a young girl whom the system failed. At the heart of Custody, the individual is locked in a dance with the institution and human error butts up against broken systems.

Andrea's Review: 4 stars

Touching movie that deals with a very serious and real topic - family court - and all the issues it brings to the table.  The cast was fantastic.  The story remarkably well told.  I would love to see this movie released.  Heavy stuff, but stuff that really matters.

Christopher's Review: 4.5 stars

A movie that touched on where I work was a must see. The most interesting part was showing not only the complex situation of a mother fighting to get back her children but how the lives of all involved affected their work. 

The Phenom

Synopsis via Tribeca Film Festival

Major-league rookie pitcher Hopper Gibson (Johnny Simmons) has lost his focus. After choking on the mound, he’s sent down to the minors and prescribed sessions with an unorthodox sports therapist (Paul Giamatti), who pushes him to uncover the origins of his anxiety. Beneath it all is his fraught relationship with his overbearing ex-con father (Ethan Hawke), whose tough love is the source of both his success and his paralysis. The Phenom is not your typical sports movie. Tribeca Film Festival alumnus Noah Buschel (Glass Chin) brings depth and complexity to this gripping psychological portrait of an athlete at a crossroads in the big-league sports grind.

Andrea's Review: 2 stars

I got restless toward the last part of this movie.  The concept was solid, but it was told in a very random and somewhat difficult to follow manner.  It needed a lot more work on the editing end to make it more fluid.  Or something.  The idea was a good one though.

Christopher's Review: 1.5 stars

Disappointing. There was a good story somewhere in there but the end product left a lot to be desired. There were some good parts, but the movie did not flow well or use the talents of the actors to the best of their ability.

A Kind of Murder

Synopsis via Tribeca Film Festival

Architect Walter Stackhouse (Patrick Wilson), crime novelist by night, is quite unhappily married to Clara (Jessica Biel), a successful real estate saleswoman. As Walter becomes fascinated by the case of Melchior Kimmel, a bookstore owner in New Jersey suspected of murdering his wife Helen, he begins to imagine what it might be like to murder his own wife. In this faithful adaptation of the 1960s suburban thriller, The Blunderer, written by Carol author Patricia Highsmith, the question of how we judge a person’s guilty conscience in the death of another plays a central theme. When Clara turns up dead, Walter starts to seem increasingly guilty as he finds himself at the unfortunate intersection of a conniving murderer and a resolute cop. A Kind of Murder seamlessly combines philosophical musings on culpability with edge-of-your-seat Hitchcockian noir.

Andrea's Review: 3 stars

I enjoyed the mysterious nature.  There was a lot of predictability though.  This could have been a bit better if it introduced a twist of some sort toward the end.  As it played, it reminded me of similar stories.  Nothing truly unique, but interesting characters.

Christopher's Review: 3 stars

Good, but predictable. Gave the impression that it would be a mystery, but you could see where it was going the whole time. Good acting, but like The Phenom it felt a bit disjointed.

Little Boxes

Synopsis via Tribeca Film Festival

It's the summer before 6th grade, and Clark is the new-in-town biracial kid in a sea of white. Discovering that to be cool he needs to act 'more black,' he fumbles to meet expectations, while his urban intellectual parents Mack and Gina also strive to adjust to small-town living. Equipped for the many inherent challenges of New York, the tight-knit family are ill prepared for the drastically different set of obstacles that their new community presents, and soon find themselves struggling to understand themselves and each other in this new suburban context.  Director Rob Meyer (A Birder's Guide to Everything) returns to Tribeca with his second feature, a poignant comedy about understanding identity, featuring a robust cast including Melanie Lynskey, Nelsan Ellis, Armani Jackson, Oona Laurence, Janeane Garofalo, and Christine Taylor.

Andrea's Review: 4 stars

I really enjoyed this one.  Maybe because several parts of it were identifiable.  With a couple minor tweaks, this movie could be fantastic.  It covers a considerable amount of fairly heavy topics, but does so in an understandable and approachable manner.  I would love to see something like this released nationally.

Christopher's Review: 4 stars

Good story. I did spend some of the movie cringing, but that was more about the predicaments that the main characters had to go through. It gave me a lot to think about.


Synopsis via Tribeca Film Festival

Anthony Keller (Taylor John Smith) is the captain of his NYC high school basketball team, riding his way to Cornell on a sports scholarship. He is smart, well-liked, and confident. But he can only maintain his popular jock facade for so long, as his troubled father Lee (Michael Shannon) has a gambling addiction that threatens to derail his dreams both on and off the court.  Bart Freundlich’s powerfully directed drama features stand-out performances from its trio of leads—Shannon as the complex and compulsive Lee, Carla Gugino as Anthony’s well-meaning mother struggling to keep the fracturing family together, and newcomer Smith, who channels confidence and vulnerability as Anthony faces his first real adult decisions. Moving fluidly among the halls of affluent prep schools, the public courts of West 4th street, and tenements of the Lower East Side, Wolves is an emotionally-charged portrait of a boy becoming a man in New York City.

Andrea's Review: 5 stars

Loved this movie.  It was hands down the best we watched.  Wonderful characters that were portrayed in the perfect way.  Great story that kept my interest to the very end.  A must see for anyone.

Christopher's Review: 5 stars

Best movie that we saw. Phenomenal acting performances from all characters and great storytelling. A non-simplistic sports movie that I hope gets wider distribution.

My Blind Brother

Synopsis via Tribeca Film Festival

Robbie (Adam Scott) is a champion blind athlete and local sports hero doted on by the community and seemingly incapable of wrongdoing. His unassuming brother Bill (Nick Kroll) knows the real Robbie to be petulant and arrogant, but still runs every marathon by his side and never makes a peep when he doesn’t receive the same accolades. When Bill gets lucky with a charming lady (Jenny Slate), he thinks his karma might finally be coming due, until his brother introduces him to his own new paramour (the very same Jenny Slate). Now Bill must decide if he will put himself second again or finally stand up to his blind brother. With its original take on the love triangle and sibling rivalry stories, brimming with farcical humor and chemistry between its trio of leads, Sophie Goodhart has crafted a sharp and utterly delightful romantic comedy.

Andrea's Review: 3.5 stars

A fun comedy that had me laughing consistently.  Also, an unusual look at sibling rivalry and the bond between brothers.  Enjoyed the story from start to finish even if I didn't particularly love any of the characters involved.

Christopher's Review: 3.5 stars

Some of the characters that I thought we were supposed to like were unlikable. I probably had higher expectations due to some of the cast, but a fun story nonetheless.

Have you ever been to a film festival?

Andrea :)