OyChicago blog

Love at first sight

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03/06/2015

Love at first sight photo

I’m in love, and have been for a long time.

It’s a relationship filled with laughter, tears, intrigue, and surprise. It was love at first sight, back when I was a little girl—with an extra-terrestrial that longed to go home. 

From then on, that love has never wavered, and isn’t reserved for one, but for oh so many—Ferris Bueller, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Harry and Sally, Marty McFly, Atticus Finch, Danny Zuko, Yentl, that little dog Toto, Mrs. Doubtfire, and so many others.

Yes, I’m in love with the movies.

What’s better than settling into a crowded movie theater on opening weekend, the scent of $14 buttered popcorn wafting through the air, the larger-than-life screen, booming sound, and darkness enveloping us? Our daily worries melt away, and we’re swept into another world for 2-plus hours.

Sometimes movies are meant purely for escape, and other times their stories change the way we think about our own lives—our real-life dramas and comedies. At best, movies make us think, feel, connect, love, and even reach for greatness.  

Every winter—culminating with the Oscars airing this Sunday night—I cram in as many movie nominees as I can. In the last three months, I’ve watched a British mathematician break the Nazi code, witnessed peril through the eyes of a Navy SEAL sniper in Iraq, seen a boy blossom into a man over 12 actual years, marched on Selma, climbed inside the genius brain of Steven Hawking, hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, meandered “into the woods,” and more. 

We Jews, as a people, tend to love the movies, and we’re represented in so many interesting ways on film and behind the scenes.

In 2011, Tablet Magazine compiled its list of the top 100 Greatest Jewish films of all times. For the magazine’s staff to pick their favorites, they first asked themselves one crucial question: What the heck is a Jewish film? And since there’s really no formula for defining a “Jewish film,” they decided to think about their picks in terms of a broad definition of Jewishness— movies based on the identity of its creators, overarching Jewish themes, films that have a big influence on pop culture, and movies that simply possess a Jewish sensibility about them. Their list was eclectic, and included everything from The Jazz Singerto The Wedding Singer.

But their top choice for the best Jewish film might surprise you. They picked—drumroll please—E.T.the Extra-Terrestrial, the story of the little alien who made me fall in love with movies all those years ago.

Of course, the movie, one of the highest grossing films ever, was directed by one of our greatest Jewish filmmakers, Steven Spielberg. But there’s more to it: E.T.Tablet said, tells the story of a bewildered alien in a strange land, a metaphor for an immigrant’s tale. The film’s themes of home, love, family, friendship, and enchantment, according to the magazine, make it a beautiful choice for the quintessential Jewish movie.

Of course, any film school professor worth her salt would find it great food for thought to think about what makes a film Jewish or even what makes a decent film in general.

But the joy of movies, to me, doesn’t have to be proven like a mathematical equation. It’s really that je ne sais quoi quality that moves us to an almost transcendent place—that mystical, magical feeling that lingers with us long after the last frame ends.

No, we can’t always define what it is about movies that speak to us. All we know is—just like that sweet little Reese’s Pieces-eating alien—we love them.

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When I’m Gone

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03/05/2015

Annice Moses photo 2

A Rabbi once said that a person dies two deaths: The first is when you die; the second is when people stop remembering you.

On occasion, I like to play a terrible game. There are usually three scenarios and it goes something like this:

Scenario #1 - I am suddenly dead. My practical engineer husband, in an effort to appear “upbeat” for the children, never mentions me again. Why upset the kids, himself and his new trophy wife? It would be best not to burden the bunch with such unpleasantries.

Scenario #2 - I am suddenly dead. My husband Mike, in his paralyzing grief, tells no one I’ve died. Not even my friends on Facebook. No one attends my funeral.

Scenario #3 - I am suddenly dead. Mike alerts Facebook. Everyone and their mother attends the service. My ex-boyfriend reveals I was way more into him than he was into me. A girl named Wendy volunteers the story about how I peed on her in kindergarten. Someone farts loudly at the service. No one keeps to the two-minute rule.

My husband does not enjoy this game for a variety of reasons. (Well, duh. Add it to the list.)

This year I have a new “I’m suddenly dead” worry: what exactly is it that will be my “legacy” when I’m gone? How will my life be remembered?

My legacy with my kids will of course be inked with memories of my everyday perfection. They will fondly recall stories that equate me with Mother Teresa and most definitely name one of their children’s hamsters after me. But beyond my brainwashed offspring …?

This may seem very self-important, self-centered, grandiose … and maybe there is a tiny bit of ego in there, but truly, all ego aside (for the most part), I think we should all be thinking about this. How are we impacting the world? Are we making a difference? In other words, are we doing things that when we croak, our absence beyond the obligatory friends and family (assuming they like us) is felt and we are missed because of what we have authentically contributed to the greater good of humanity?

I believe we should all be missed in our communities and by communities outside of our own. Wherever we are and whoever we are, I believe we should be bringing something, doing something, adding something. I believe we owe it to the world to make it a little bit better since we have been given the incredible opportunity of living in it.

Maybe that’s where the answer lies. Instead of worrying about the long-term impact we will have made when we are gone – who will dedicate a plaque in our memory, who will make us a martyr as time erases the more human truths – maybe we need to be worrying more about who and what we are impacting while we are still here.

Because with all due respect to the Rabbi, I think it’s three deaths in a lifetime: 1) You die. 2) No one remembers you. And 3) While alive, you settle for complacency. Tikkun olam my friends! And you can put that on my headstone.

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4 Tips for Fat Trimming

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03/04/2015

4 Tips for Fat Trimming photo

Don’t get me wrong, we need fat. Fat stores energy; it is needed for growth, development, and function when there is a shortage of food supply. Fat also helps to keep you full. If you read the headlines, low-fat dieting is not a successful strategy for losing weight. I’m not telling you to eat burgers with bacon and cheese, but a little fat – namely more of the good fats – is good.

So if you want to shave off a little, here are four ways to do it without plastic surgery.

1. Eat more good fat

The low fat revolution started about 20 years ago, and obesity rates have exploded. Eat some fat – just don’t overdo it. There are even a group of people that eat high fat diets and lose weight, which is called a ketogenic diet. Then there are the paleo people who eat a ton of animal protein but little carbohydrates, and of course vegans, who eat zero animal products and claim their diet is the best.

The ketogenic diet was originally designed for children with epilepsy and has started to gain popularity with nutrition gurus. This diet is high in fat, moderate protein, and low in carbs. Bill Clinton switched from a vegan diet to a diet like this to lose more weight. I am not a nutritionist, but in my opinion, eating the following foods can help with feeling full and energized so you don’t snack from the office candy bowl:

Avocado (great smeared on toast)

Almonds, walnuts, cashews

Pumpkin, hemp, chia and sunflower seeds

2. Eat less sugar

This is a no-brainer: sugar is the enemy. Whether you drink soda, love candy, or are a choco-holic, eat less. I would never say to quit sweets. I have provided many tips in past blogs for enjoying sweets without overindulging, but here are some highlights:

Sample - try a tiny bite and only it’s good, go back for more

Share - my wife gets upset that I make her share sweets with me, but it forces to me portion control

Don’t buy it at home - there are certain things I can buy, like ice cream, that will last in my house for ever – then there are Oreos

Mini cokes - soda is empty calories that ruin your blood sugar level, waist line and teeth. It’s so easy to keep refilling the soda, but a small can lets you get the satisfaction without all the calories

Dark chocolate - because it’s so rich it’s hard to overeat; dark chocolate has less sugar and has many beneficial properties

3. Intensity matters

It’s not the weight you lift or how far you run – it’s the level you are working at. Not every workout should be super hard, but you need to intensify. I’m not recommending you work out so hard you puke, or feel light-headed; if you want to burn fat, short bouts of high intensity training are effective. Here are some examples:

Intervals: It doesn’t matter if you are walking, running or jogging, pick up the pace for 30-45 seconds, cool down and then speed up again

Mix it up: If you normally run, trying boxing; if yoga is your thing, try a different kind. Zumba your jam? Try pilates. Your body adjusts to how you train, so mixing it up will work different muscles

4. Have fun!  

The more you stress about your body, the harder it is to lose weight. Make exercise and eating healthy enjoyable. Experiment with different fruits and vegetables, or buy a new healthy oil like coconut and figure out how to cook with it. Keep it in the fridge and know it spoils and is best for cooking at lower temperatures. Take a different exercise class, enlist a friend, make a total 80s mix and enjoy the workout. And most importantly – don’t give up!  

If you want to work out with a trainer, get coached through the web, or just ask a question, email me at rkrit@fitwithkrit.com.

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An interview with former NFL QB Jay Fiedler

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03/02/2015

An interview with former NFL QB Jay Fiedler photo

Since Sid Luckman, the NFL has not seen its share of great Jewish players. Julian Edelman, Taylor Mays and a slew of offensive linemen have recently sparked our interest, but not too long ago, there was a man under center who was all the craze. His name was Jay Fiedler.

Fiedler revived the Miami Dolphins franchise, which showed signs of life for the first time in the years following Dan Marino. We recently got in touch with Fiedler, who not only has a great football story, but is an overall great guy.

1. What got you involved in football?

I grew up on sports. From the time I was 5 years old, I played every sport possible. At age 6, I began playing football, mainly because my older brother was playing in the town’s youth league. I started as a running back my first couple years playing, then became a quarterback at age 8 and stayed at that position ever since. I played all sports, but football became my favorite because of the intense physical and mental challenges it offers as well as the many team focused aspects that the game teaches so well. 

2. What was your experience playing in the Ivy League?

I went to Dartmouth College because of many reasons. First and foremost was to get a great education. Athletically, I wanted a place where I could participate in both football and track and field and Dartmouth not only allowed, but encouraged many of their athletes to play multiple sports. My experience on the football field at Dartmouth was great. The Ivy League, despite the perception, is an incredibly competitive brand of football with very talented players. Of course, winning league titles during my time made the experience extra special.   

3. Was it a tough transition to the NFL?

The NFL game is played so much faster than at any level of college football. For me, I was always able to process information very quickly, so I was able to transition my game on the field quick. The hardest thing for me was getting my opportunity to perform and climb the ranks. It took a long time and lots of persistence, but I finally got an opportunity to compete for a starting job six years after graduating college and made the most of it when I took over the starting job in Miami in 2000.

4. You took off with the Dolphins; why did you find so much success in Miami?

I had learned so much from many coaches and teammates I played with prior to joining the Dolphins and when I finally got my opportunity to prove myself with Miami, I felt I was extremely prepared to take advantage of that opportunity. Coach Wannstedt believed in me as his starter and I quickly earned the respect of my teammates in the locker room and on the field. 

5. What have you been doing since your NFL days?

I became involved in a few entrepreneurial pursuits, including owning and operating a minor league basketball team, before finally settling into my family’s business of running summer and sports camps along with my older brother Scott.

6. Tell us about Camp Brookwood.

The Sports Academy at Brookwood Camps is a summer sleep-away camp which combines the best of a traditional camp with the best features of a sports camp. We are bringing in world-class instructors no other traditional camp can attract to teach our campers in a number of different sports and activities while also offering the camaraderie and fun activities a traditional camp offers. Campers can learn football from former professional players, baseball from Leo Mazzone (former Atlanta Braves pitching coach), soccer from instructors who work with Manchester United’s Youth Development Program, basketball from two former Division I college coaches, and many more amazing instructors in tennis, dance, sports broadcasting and more. The best way to find out about our camp is to watch our videos on our website at www.brookwoodcamps.com/video

7. What was your Jewish involvement as a child?

I was raised as a Reform Jew and received bar mitzvah at Temple Avodah in Oceanside, NY. I remain very proud of my Jewish heritage today.

8. What is your favorite Jewish tradition?

My favorite tradition is spending Yom Kippur with family. While the fast can be a bit difficult, I enjoy spending time with family and feasting on a wonderful spread at sundown.

9. Who is the greatest defensive player you played against? Why?

The best defensive player I played against was Ray Lewis. He had all the physical tools to make every play on the field, whether blitz the QB, stuffing the run, or dropping into coverage. He also was incredibly instinctual and smart on the field which gave him the ability to get to the ball faster than any other linebacker I ever played against.

10. Manning or Brady? Why?

So hard to choose. Both are so smart and in command of the game. If I had to choose, I would pick Brady based on the overall battles we had in Miami against him. Throughout his career he has shown an ability to keep his offense at an elite level despite the fact that so many of his offensive teammates have changed over the years.

11. Anything else you'd like to add?

In addition to running The Sports Academy at Brookwood Camps during the summer time, I also really enjoy working with and coaching football players throughout the fall, winter and spring at the many passing clinics and training session I run through my Prime Time Sports Camp brand (www.primetimecamps.com). I am currently coaching up a few college players trying to make the jump to the pro level as well as many youth and high school players in my weekly clinics. Coaching these guys and watching them go on to success on and off the field has given me some great pleasures.  

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A Host of Oscar Advice

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02/26/2015

A Host of Oscar Advice photo

I have watched the Oscars since I was a kid, with my mother as a guide. She was the one who taught me how a movie wins because other nominees split the vote, and explained why certain people win or not regardless of how well they acted in a particular movie (e.g. this man is very old and this is his last chance; people thought this woman should have won many times so this is a make-good award, etc.).

And I have seen many hosts — Billy Crystal being the best, of course. Well, having Neil Patrick Harris disrobe in front of billions just to get a laugh made me think the Oscars jumped the proverbial shark this year. Harris already did the Tonys and had to step it up for the Oscars, but what’s left for the Grammys or Emmys? So here are my humble suggestions for next year and beyond, regarding future hosts.

The Duo Oscars
Most Oscars are presented by a man and a woman who have nothing to do with each other. Well, in these Oscars, presenters would be duos — male/female, male/male or female/female— who have acted in at least three movies together. Tribute could be paid to bygone onscreen couples or duos. And for the “In Memoriam” section, the presenters would be those like Dan Aykroyd and Jerry Lewis who have survived their long-time showbiz partners. Musical numbers would be performed by well-established duo acts like Hall & Oates or Simon & Garfunkel.

The Family Oscars
Taking further the idea that presenters should be somehow connected, in this version, the presenters would be actually related! They would be parent-child pairs, like Kirk and Michael Douglas, or siblings, like Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal … or husband-wife couples, like Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick. The musical numbers would be performed by family acts like Heart or Van Halen.

The “Stop Confusing Us” Oscars
Certain performers are confused by the general public. Well, here’s Hollywood’s chance to set us straight. One presenter pair would be Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton. Another could be Emma Watson and Emma Stone, or Ellen Burstyn and Ellen Barkin. And not just those whose names are confused, but look-alikes, or act-alike pairs like Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnon. Music would be performed by other confuse-ables, like a duet with Jeff Daniels and Jeff Bridges.

The Stupid Star Tricks Oscars
Remember the Stupid Pet Tricks shtick on David Letterman? So for the Oscars, have the presenters come out and show us some non-acting-related stunt they can do, like juggle or yodel. When Jack Palance did one-armed push-ups, it made Oscar history. Also, the Golden Globes have been stealing the Oscar spotlight with their irreverence, so this could be Oscar’s way to corner the viral-video market for a week instead. So many actors have side bands, it would be easy to find five to do the musical numbers.

The Star Trek Oscars
William Shatner and Patrick Stewart, of course, would co-host. The casts of all five series would serve as presenters. And, despite what Shatner said on Saturday Night Live — “It’s just a TV show!”— Star Trek is also one of the longest-running film franchises ever. So those who have been in any of the 12 Star Trek films, going back to 1979, could also present. (I suppose a Star Wars Oscars would also be possible, if they could find enough women in those casts to present).

The Kevin Oscars
The hosts should be Kevin Kline and Kevin Spacey, since they can both sing and the opener requires that. Presenters should include: Kevin Costner, Kevin Pollack, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Nealon, Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo … with Kevin McHale being one of the musical performers (he’s Artie from Glee). Every time a Kevin comes out to present, Spacey and Kline should interrupt him with warm greetings of “Kevin!” and walk over to for a round of introductions: “Hi! I’m Kevin.” “Kevin, this is Kevin.” “Nice to meet you, Kevin; have you met Kevin?”

The Eddie Murphy Oscars
Murphy was supposed to host in 2012 but stepped down because of something impolite a friend of his, who was supposed to produce the show, said. But Eddie should be asked again. There was nothing he did, personally, to disqualify him, and he should not be punished for sticking with a friend. Oscar should ask him to host again.

Other solid hosts could be: Jay Leno (let loose, he can be biting), Jim Carrey, Sandra Bernhard, Jimmy Fallon, Tiny Fey, Seth Meyers, Amy Schumer, Patton Oswalt, Kristen Wiig, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell … or Mel Brooks, why not. Hey, he’s only 88!                      

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The Ugly Side of Competitiveness

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02/27/2015

The Ugly Side of Competitiveness photo

By nature, I’ve never been a competitive person. In fact, people who are competitive make me nervous. Whenever the tense aura of competition seeps its way in, I’m usually the first in the group to silently retreat.

When I lived in Argentina during the past several months, one thing that surprised me was the relations between Argentine women. The women I would see ordering wine at a restaurant or waiting around for the bus seemed confident and self-assured, lounging comfortably in matching 5-inch platform heels and generously giving each other kisses on the cheek. They seemed to lack a competitive streak that often characterizes female relations in the States.

For instance, at Centro Hebreo Iona, a Jewish primary school in Buenos Aires where I was teaching, the girls in fifth grade were no older than 10, but every time I’d walk into the classroom, they’d huddle excitedly around, telling me not about themselves, but instead about each other.

“Go ahead, Cami!” little Romina would insist, nodding persistently at her friend. “Show Jessica your cartwheels!”

Camila would blush at first and politely decline, but within minutes she’d be doing gymnastics around the room at the insistence of her friends.

As proud as I was of the fifth graders for their maturity, it also made me realize what I lack in the interactions with my own friends. I may not be madly competitive, but I’m still plagued with the standard vices of jealousy or pride. How often do I praise their accomplishments? When do I encourage them to show off what they’re really good at?

Sure, competitiveness has its benefits, but when competition turns ugly, it often makes one do ugly things.

A couple years ago, public relations executive Justine Sacco was relaxing at JFK Airport, killing time before her flight to South Africa. Bored, she scrolled through her Twitter feed and decided to post: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS! Just kidding, I’m white!”

She thought it was clever. The rest of the world thought it racist.

By the time her plane landed 24 hours later, Justine was not only disgraced and fired from her job, but also publicly sneered at on an international scale. Her Tweet had gone viral, and she had transformed from a relatively obscure New Yorker to the global epitome of white privilege and ignorance.

One question that comes to mind is: Who circulated this Tweet? Justine had fewer than 200 followers, barely a touch in the vast world of social media. How did her Tweet, tucked into the discrete shadows of Twitter, suddenly burst into the spotlight?

It was a writer for Gawker Media, one of her followers, who was delighted to catch a PR pro in this awful fumble. He not only reposted her tweet to his 15,000 followers, but also continued to bully her for months after the incident. Was he just a bystander, eager to fight against racism online? Or was he simply an opportunist, grasping at the chance to topple a professionally successful woman in a similar field?

What about the hordes of Twitter followers, who felt the need to vilify Justine so publicly? Wouldn’t it achieve their purposes better to simply message her privately, and explain their outrage to her that way? Or did these Twitter mobs attack Justine just to show off how unlike her they themselves were?

In a similar move, when Patricia Arquette received an Oscar for Supporting Actress in Boyhood last weekend, she launched into a speech calling for wage equality for women. Backstage, she further expanded on her comments, and made several unfortunate remarks, including a plea for “gay people and all the people of color that we've all fought for to fight for us now.”

There are several options of how to respond at play here. One would be to deride Arquette as a detractor of intersectional feminism; another is to acknowledge that while she misspoke afterward, she also made several important points during her speech, and then point out that if there is any confusion about whom “feminism” encapsulates, then here it is: it’s all women.

Correcting Arquette is helpful and necessary — viciously attacking her is not. Yet many articles did exactly that. Does making a public mockery of others actually help anybody? Wouldn’t it be more helpful to teach others (privately) why they are mistaken, or how they misspoke? Isn’t this public mockery just … self-serving?

In Judaism, pride is regarded as a very serious vice. In fact, the Talmud goes as far as to claim that “God and the proud man cannot reside together in the same world.” Understanding that there is a larger plan, outside of yourself and your own world, is key to being humble. Making a public mockery of someone else’s misstep isn’t making progress — it’s simply a way to enhance your own pride in knowing that it wasn’t you who made the offensive comment.

In the case of Patricia Arquette, several feminists turned on her, decrying her as the epitome of what she was trying to fight against. Instead of correcting Patricia, her critics simply blasted her and placed themselves on a higher pedestal.

Did this sort of competitiveness among women help feminism? I shouldn’t think so. If the girls at Iona are any sort of example, it’s working together and encouraging one another that leads to progress. The other, the sort of prideful behavior of angry Twitter mobs, helps nobody, least of all the causes we’re all supposedly fighting for.

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The Write Goal

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02/25/2015

The Write Goal photo

Resolutions come and go, but at the start of 2015, I side-stepped my traditional resolutions for a straight-up GOAL – an enormous yet startlingly simple goal to guide my way through 2015; something to hang my hat on whilst wading through my 28th year. Mixed metaphors aside, I promised myself 2015 would be the year dedicated to “Writing More.”

“Writing more” means, “Write every day,” “Write something I love,” “Write something different than anything I've attempted before” – the list goes on.

So far I'm making good on this admittedly attainable, yet daunting task. I visit my digital archive of unfinished Google Doc jottings and half-stories with a purposeful frequency. It contains nothing overly significant, but working little by little on fine-tuning whatever skills I keep in my creative writing arsenal. In dedicating myself to this sort of goal, I thought it important to look outward in order to stay motivated and you know, not give up. So, I joined a writing group; I started volunteering at a creative writing non-profit; I continued to read voraciously about writers, writing, how to write, how not to write ... you get where I'm going.

The writing group is new for me and I find it incredibly helpful. I've invested hours in National Novel Writing Month only to come up short, but not without a few thousand words, a beginning of sorts. I asked myself, “What's missing?” Perhaps I'm lazy (likely true). Maybe I'm busy, maybe I lack focus; maybe I'm prone to over-thinking, obsessing over those 50,000 perfect words. Attending this small writing group on the North Side the past few weeks clued me into a couple of ideas quickly. Don't fight it, write it – no one is perfect, so why be so ridiculously arrogant to believe that any 50,000 words I ever churn out will be anything more than a quirky, evolving, imperfect work-in-progress? That, and writing in the company of other like-minded, spirited individuals makes the solitary act of mining one's brain for words, worlds and characters far less lonely of an endeavor.

At the tail end of 2014, I signed up to volunteer at 826CHI, the Chicago satellite of the national youth literacy non-profit/writing and tutoring center/publishing house 826Valencia. Founded by one of my favorite authors, Dave Eggers, I wanted to see what it was all about. This place is the real deal. It's the warmest space, complete with massive bookshelves, student work on display in every corner, even a huge wall you can WRITE ON! (Dry-erase board paint is an incredible invention.) Words do not do 826CHI justice, but I've learned so much about writing from taking time to craft poetry and stories with students of all ages in this Wicker Park oasis. This past weekend, myself and the other volunteers witnessed fourth and fifth graders write poems inspired by a musical piece, choreograph a dance based on the emotions of their writing, and perform for their parents. I am so grateful for the opportunity to play even the smallest part in some of the magic created at this place.

It's not a secret that a better reader makes for a better writer, and I'm hoping what I'm reading lately  helps to write with more pizzazz, truth, sophistication, heart, etc. If you are looking for a great book about why writers write, why writers read, why writers are the way they are, peruse www.brainpickings.org. Maria Popova's curated corner of the Internet is nothing short of stunning. Read any post and find a new book to pick up from the library. It's that simple. Over the seemingly endless expanse of the Internet, there is no shortage of brilliant literary-minded websites, filled to the brim with masterful suggestions, reading lists, commentary – easy access to whatever your little corner of the world might be. I'm currently enjoying Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby, a compendium of 10 years worth of columns featured in The Believer magazine. The monthly column highlights everything he read in any given month, brought to life by his wonderfully accessible commentary. Hornby is a delight. The columns are pithy, hopeful, wonderfully funny and packed with a lifetime's worth of book suggestions.

Here's hoping that a GOAL has more staying power than a resolution ... and to spring being just around the corner.  

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