Category Archives: In the News

Summer of the ice bucket

Last year around this time, I declared it was the Summer of the Rainbow Loom. In a matter of weeks, everywhere I turned, there were colorful rubber bracelets.

This year, it’s all about the #ALS ice bucket challenge.

#ALSIceBucketChallenge on carpoolcandy.com

It started with just a few posts here and there on social media but now it seems everyone’s got the ice fever. It’s reaching its peak this week for sure, but so far, I can’t resist clicking on any video that promises to show people getting doused. From my neighbor down the street to Lady Gaga, people all over the country are getting drenched in the name of charity.

Kudos to the geniuses who came up with this simple yet effective fundraising campaign. It’s worked so swimmingly, the ALS foundation has raised nearly $23 million! Last year in August, they raised about $22,000.

That’s alotta cold cash.

It’s also an amazing awareness campaign. I knew what ALS was only because it’s also called Lou Gehrig’s disease– after the famous baseball player who died from the condition– and my baseball-crazed boys knew his history.

The ALS website says: “Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. When the motor neurons  die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed (and eventually die.)”

It’s a cruel disease for both sufferers and the people who care for them.

But now there are literally millions of people talking about ALS, and inspired by the idea of doing good. I love that celebrities have gotten in on it. Here’s a link to some of the best celebrity soaks. I highly recommend Justin Timberlake (nothin bad about him in a wet t-shirt), Jimmy Fallon and Taylor Swift, who did group dumps. But Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner had the cutest one, with their daughters cackling in the background.

ben affleck jennifer garner #ALSIceBucketChallenge on carpoolcandy.com

It’s a social media success story.

I’ve read some negative pieces about the Challenge– claiming it’s a popularity contest, it’s taking attention away from other causes, it’s self-indulgent. I’m freezing out that soggy nonsense.

I love it!

I knew my time was coming as I watched the degrees of separation between me and the challenged get smaller and smaller in recent days. In the last 24 hours I was challenged by my friends Julie G., Holland G.,and Julie P.G.

There was no escaping my arctic assignment.

We prepared for the 30-second videos like we were on a Scorsese set. We set the ice-maker to make extra ice, made sure we had the proper spot to get the most effect, and argued over what to say.

I had a frigid friend in Aden who also got challenged today. Jacob was only too happy to do the dumping.

Aden went first. You can see his here.

My favorite part of Aden’s is watching the glee with which Jacob douses his brother. Watch it again just for the beaming older brother getting a free pass to torture his nemesis.

Then it was my turn as you can see here.

#ALSIceBucketChallenge on carpoolcandy.com

It aint pretty.

Who likes to see themselves on video, especially sopping wet??! But I’ve decided there should be no judgment when doing a good deed and spreading joy. And I’m sure watching me surprised by a waterfall to the head will amuse many.

I’ve seen scores of videos this week but can’t stop watching them. It’s 30 seconds of unscripted fun. When it’s your turn, you know what to expect but you’re still shocked.

And now I challenge MaryEllen Dawkins, Allison Levy, Shani Braffman, and Raquel Grosman. Ice, ice babies!!!

I’m sure this will all fade away in a week or two and we’ll put the ice bucket in the back of the closet….next to the rainbow loom.

But like any good trend, it’s fun while it lasts, right?

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Let’s not forget vets on Memorial Day

I hope you’re having a great Memorial Day weekend. Ours started out soggy. We had two tournaments– one baseball, one soccer— but rain that would make Noah shudder changed our plans. We managed to barbecue and see friends and family in between raindrops and the kids played 5 games so far.

baseball camo on carpoolcandy.com

I’d like to think our camouflage uniform was a nod to vets

But I never want to forget what the holiday is about, especially since—as you may remember from my Memorial Day blog last year-– my dad was a Vietnam Navy vet and extremely patriotic. Vets hold a special place in my heart.

I wrote a story Friday for FoxNews.com about an organization that is making sure the U.S. servicemen in World Wars I and II are never forgotten.

I had never heard of the American Overseas Memorial Day Association (AOMDA) and I bet you haven’t either, but their mission will move you.

The AOMDA is a non-profit organization dedicated to honoring the memory of those who gave their lives in the World Wars, whose final resting places are in American military cemeteries or separate graves all over Europe and even Africa.

AOMDA ceremonies in Belgium on carpoolcandy.com

Courtesy: Mark Hubis

The group’s efforts are mostly run by volunteers in big cities– where American cemeteries have thousands of graves– and small towns where maybe only a handful of men are buried.

On Memorial Day, hundreds of volunteers make sure there’s a new flag on every grave of a fallen U.S. soldier. They also pay for floral arrangements and coordinate huge memorial ceremonies with crowds as big as 3,000- 5,000 people, who come to pay their respects and express their gratitude for the sacrifices made by American veterans to liberate Europe.

AOMDA ceremonies in Belgium on carpoolcandy.com

American and Belgian flags at a US cemetery in Belgium                                                 (courtesy Mark Hubis)

There are both Europeans and Americans who attend the ceremonies– some of them World War II veterans, although their numbers are dwindling as many are in their 90’s. Members of the U.S. and many European governments and military also attend.

The AOMDA enlists the help of local embassies, civic and vets organizations—and sometimes, if possible, next-of-kin volunteers– to place new flags every year on the hundreds of isolated graves in France, Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

AOMDA American vet ceremonies in Belgium on carpoolcandy.com

Memorial Day ceremonies at American cemetery in Belgium   (courtesy Mark Hubis)

Many local Belgian residents have adopted graves of American vets at these cemeteries and honor them throughout the year. It’s a way of showing their appreciation for those who paid the ultimate price.

One of the organization’s goals is to continue to engage younger generations to always be mindful of American sacrifices. They do that through social media and interactive activities with young people like a recent local art competition asking the question, “Why should we remember them?” and an award that works like a Boy Scout merit badge.

AOMDA American vet ceremonies in Belgium on carpoolcandy.com

Courtesy Mark Hubis

I find it so impressive and meaningful that so many Europeans take the time and energy to remember our fallen vets on a day that isn’t even a holiday where they live. It also makes me wonder if we are doing enough here.

Fox also has a great story up now about a few simple things we can do here to honor all our vets. You can check it out here.

The AOMDA runs on individual donations and membership dues. If you want to donate to this noble cause or get more information, check out their website at http://aomda.com/ or www.aomda.org.

Why these unlikely triathletes are my heroes

Paralyzed triathlete on carpool candy.com

Cristina Ramirez (left) , Kerry Gruson (center) and Liliana Montes their swimming coach

One of the best parts about my gig writing features for the Today show website is the interesting people I get to interview. Last week, I wrote a story about two inspiring women who participated in a mini-triathlon in Florida Sunday. As I said in my lead, they are literally the last people you would ever think could compete in a triathlon, given their backgrounds.

But both Cristina Ramirez and Kerry Gruson are gals who like surprising people. By crossing the finish line Sunday, they probably even surprised themselves.

You can read details of their incredible story here.

Gruson is 66 and paralyzed after an attack 40 years ago. I spoke to her by phone for the story. Her voice is shaky and slow and it was difficult to understand her at first. But as we continued talking, it became much easier to communicate because her ideas and passion are so clear.  I was humbled by our conversation. Her spirit and energy outshine any of her disabilities.

Ramirez was also lovely and impressive. She has a family, trains for marathons and triathlons, and writes a blog called Triathlonmami.com. But somehow she finds time to train with Kerry, which has led to a friendship.

Paralyzed triathlete on carpool candy.com

The two were determined to finish the half-mile swim, 20.7-mile bike ride, and four-mile run and luckily had help along the way. There were several people assisting in Kerry’s transition from boat to bike carrier and many who knew their story cheering them on.

You can see video of the race and their triumphant finish here.

While Ramirez swam through the choppy ocean near Miami, she was tethered to a kayak by a long strap, pulling Gruson, who weighs about 100 pounds. The waves kept breaking over the boat, causing Gruson, lying supine in the kayak, staring skyward, to swallow sea water.

Here’s an excerpt from Cristina’s blog following the race.  You can read the full post and see pictures here. 

“Water rushes into my mouth and up my nose,” Gruson wrote after the race. “It hurts but I pay it no mind. More clearly than ever, I know why I am participating. And if it were easy, if there was no price to pay, this would have very little meaning.”

The two crossed the finish line in 3 hours and 23 seconds. Amazing!!

Paralyzed triathlete on carpool candy.com

I hope you’ll click on Cristina’s blog and read more of Kerry’s thoughtful comments about the race. Her mind is sharp and she and Cristina write beautifully about their experience.

I told my boys (8, 10, and 14)  about Kerry and Cristina and their incredible feat. The hook for them was the race. Any competition gets their attention. I’m hoping the women’s uplifting message that no challenge is impossible sunk in too.

Who won the Super Bowl? Budweiser!

The blowout Super Bowl was a huge disappointment to Wilson and my boys (ages 13, 10 and 8) but I’m no football fan so the shocking lack of competition didn’t disappoint me one bit. The commercials however, really let me down.

So many car ads!  Trunk-loads of cash was spent, but the ideas ran out of gas. Very few were memorable, most were far-fetched and off-topic. The only exception I would make were the KIA ads with the Muppets. I can’t ever diss Kermit, Animal, and the singing chickens.

There were some ads that stood out– to me and others at our Super Bowl party.

bud-light-ad

Bud Light won for most inspired with an ad taking a real guy and putting him in some crazy situations.  This is the long version of the Bud Light ad that combines reality with fantasy, celebrity with the everyman, and beer with unexpected fun. Outstanding!

–Greek yogurt got lots of love. The most popular ad at our party was the guys from the 80’s sitcom Full House-– featuring the ageless and still hot John Stamos–  who made us giggle in Dannon’s Oikos Greek yogurt ad.

–I also liked the giant grizzly bear who wreaks havoc when he breaks into a small town general store to get a Chobani yogurt.

–The moms in the room liked the ad with the obnoxious boy who won’t help his mom get the groceries out of the car…until she offers him Doritos. But as the little stinker is headed towards the chips, his little brother dressed as a cowboy, hops on his giant dog and rides him like a mechanical bull, while lasso-ing the Doritos.

–Many ads were jam-packed with celebrities. One of the best was for Time Warner Cable promoting its new packages and featuring P. Diddy, Jimmy Fallon, Anna Pacquin, Victor Cruz, Liev Schreiber, Jon Voight, and Drake.

–The other was a savvy ad for Radioshack. The idea is that the store is no longer stuck in the 80’s, it’s hip and new and ready for your modern tech needs. With Loverboy blasting in the background, a mob of 80’s stars descends on a Radioshack store to dismantle it. Seeing Erik Estrada in his CHIPS uniform, Cliff Claven from Cheers, Hulk Hogan, MaryLou Retton, and Alf, working together is hilarious.

ellen-degeneres-busts-a-move-as-goldilocks-in-a-super-bowl-ad-for-beats-music

–I never tire of watching Ellen Degeneres dance, so her ad for music streaming service Beats Music was entertaining and clever. A very modern version of Goldilocks and the three bears, it was by far one of the coolest commercials of the night.

— If there weren’t many ads to make you laugh, there were a few that yanked at the heartstrings.  One of my favorites was Microsoft’s “technology has the power to unite us,” message, told through a series of images of people overcoming disabilities through technology, space travel, medical advances, and international cultural hookups. It’s voiced by a robot saying words written by former NFL player Steve Gleason who suffers from ALS and can’t speak. Moving stuff.

–You can always count on Coke for good sap. This year it was a montage of scenes of every day life with “America the Beautiful” sung in different languages to celebrate all the cultures that make up the country, with the tag line “America is Beautiful.”

–My favorite ads of the night were two Budweiser spots that both elicited a group “awwwww!!” One was the puppy and the Clydesdale horse who become friends (with the adorable hashtag #BestBuds.)

Budweiser super bowl ad

–The other Budweiser winner was the soldier coming home from war. Following the young vet from his airport arrival to a hometown parade on a Clydesdale-drawn carriage felt intimate and real. The spot ends with the kid hugging his mom (and me crying) with the tag line “Every soldier deserves a hero’s welcome.”  It was a nice touch to have the soldier and his gal live at the game after the ad so we know they’re legit.

–Creepiest ad was definitely Audi’s “Doberhuahua.” The idea is a Doberman Pincher bred with a chihuahua to create a crazy hybrid who takes over a city. Random, bizarre, and not even remotely related to a luxury car. It was memorable so I guess that’s something.

–Most ridiculous might be the Taco Bell commercial with Olympic athletes touting enchiladas topped with Fritos. Really? That’s what world-class athletes eat when they’re training?!

Bruno Mars was definitely a highlight. I liked his goofy 3-foot pompadour, gold lame jacket, and tight pants. His energy was infectious, his voice sounded terrific, and his dance moves and look were reminiscent of a young Michael Jackson.  The lights and fireworks were pretty cool too.

More than 108 million people were expected to watch the game and companies paid an estimated average of $4 million a spot. Budweiser was one of only a few who got their money’s worth.

Favorite moments of 2014 Grammys

I don’t usually blog about music awards shows because I don’t know enough to opine on winners and losers. But the Grammys have become a pop culture must-see event, more for the performances than the mini gramophones handed out.

Grammy graphic

The Grammys were presented live from the Staples Center in LA, with L.L. Cool J as host. Let’s start with the red carpet…..

While at the Oscars or Globes we look for elegant couture, the Grammys is the place to take risks. J.Lo’s famous green cut-to-the-navel Versace dress and Lady Gaga’s Saturn-inspired space get-up were previous favorites. But with neither diva there, there was little to turn heads.

OFF THE CHARTS:

Taylor Swift won best dressed with a stunning Gucci metallic short-sleeved sheath with metal detail that was edgy and sophisticated.

–A svelt Miranda Lambert looked amazing in a sexy, black dress and long blond tresses.

Katy Perry won most whimsical in a Valentino dress literally inspired by music.

Jason Merritt/Getty

Jason Merritt/Getty

SOUR NOTES:

Daft Punk guys were wearing face-covering Darth Vader-ish helmets with tuxedos that I’m too square to understand. (More on them later.)

Cyndi Lauper had on a black and gold get-up with a cape, and bright red hair piled atop her head…which prompted my 8 year-old son to ask if she was in Shrek.

–I love Gloria Estefan but her red lace dress made her look like a blood-splattered shooting victim. Maybe the rhythm finally got her?

Kacey Musgrave won for best country music album and sang a cute song, but her bejeweled mini-dress made her look like a Neiman Marcus Christmas ornament.

For more Grammy fashion click here. 

Onto the show…..

Bey and Jay started it off with a sexy duet of “Drunk in Love.” All eyes were on the king and queen of the music prom. Sasha looked fierce with wet hair in a black sheer bodysuit and fishnets in a Flashdance-inspired chair dance.  Jay Z came out in a tuxedo and rapped around her. No sets, no dancers, watching just the two of them singing and dancing felt very intimate.

–Katy Perry never disappoints.  Singing “Dark Horse,” she appeared onstage dressed as a witch inside a crystal ball. Her number had crazy lights, acrobats, pole dancers, a life-size Trojan horse that broke apart to reveal rapper Juicy J, and pyrotechnics burning up the stage. Oh and Perry singing. Over the top? Sure, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen.

–Julia Roberts introduced Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr who played together in a rare duet. Not sure why she was there but she made up for her dowdy Globes dress with a hot, black, sparkly mini dress and long bed-head locks.

Robin Thicke teamed with Chicago for a medley that included “Blurred Lines.” Thicke minus twerking Miley and gangster suit = fun to watch.

–One of the coolest moments of the night was when Pharrell, Daft Punk, and Stevie Wonder had the whole crowd on their feet boogying to  “Get Lucky,” I loved seeing Yoko Ono, Beyonce and JayZ, Katy Perry, and Bruno Mars getting jiggy in the aisles.

daft punk grammys

Jason Merritt/Getty

–Jay Z, was the night’s front-runner with nine nominations, including best rap album, rap song and rap performance. When winning for best rap song/collaboration for “Holy Grail,” Jay called Beyonce his “light” and holding up the Grammy, had a message for daughter Blue: “Daddy got a gold sippy cup for you!”

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis won best new artist and pointed out that they made their album without a record label and went on to win a Grammy, giving hope to struggling artists everywhere.

–I had two favorite moments. The first was the amazing Pink. She puts everything into what she does. She sang ” Try” while flipping and doing the splits, dangling from scarves high above the audience. Next she belted “Just Give Me a Reason,” with fun’s Nate Ruess with such passion I wanted to cry.

–The other was the duet with Carole King and Sara Bareilles singing a mashup of “Beautiful” and “Brave,” while playing dueling pianos. King sounds as good as she did in 1985 when I’d listen to “Tapestry” over and over in my friend Debby’s basement. You could tell Bareilles was having a pinch-me moment.

–Taylor Swift got a well-deserved standing O after performing an emotional version of “All Too Well,” from her Red album.  Looking grown up and poised in a dramatic dress and Farrah Fawcett hair with just a piano and a spotlight, she sang better than I’ve ever heard her.

–One of the most talked about moments will certainly be when Macklemore and Ryan Lewis sang their hit about tolerance, “Same Love.” Mid-song Queen Latifah came onstage to officiate the marriages of 34 couples in the audience. As the group of gay and straight couples of different ages and races exchanged rings, Madonna appeared.  Channelling the Lone Ranger in a white suit and 10 gallon hat, Madge sang “Open Your Heart” intertwined with “Same Love.” She looked creepy. She’s had too much work done and although her ridiculous outfit proved she can wear anything and still look good, it seems like a wasted opportunity. Don’t get me wrong. I will always love Madonna. But I wish she were aging more gracefully instead of fighting it with everything’s she’s got.

Trending on Twitter:  Pharrell Williams’ giant mountie-inspired hat got its own Twitter feed…. Keith Urban was bashed for his new short haircut and accused of stealing Jennifer Lawrence’s do….and everyone loved Pink. 

The biggest winners of the night were Daft Punk, the French robots who won five awards, but never said a word when accepting because those darn helmets got in the way.

For a complete list of winners click here.

No matter what your musical taste, a night at the Grammys is the coolest concert around. Share your highlights in the comments.

The desensitizing effect of a smart phone

I was walking from work to the train station in Manhattan last week when I passed the aftermath of a horrible car accident. Sixth Avenue was blocked off from 41st to 42nd, cops were everywhere, and ambulance sirens wailed in the background as they tried to get through rush hour traffic.

The street was marked with yellow tape and scores of people lined the sidewalks, gawking at an overturned car. It was a mangled black Cadillac SUV perched upside down on its dented roof right in front of Bryant Park.

NYC fatal crash photo on carpool candy.com

I heard onlookers saying the car was going too fast and hit a bus when it turned onto 6th. The news junkie in me instinctively whipped out my phone to take a photo. I was trying to get a good angle when I saw a stiff plastic bag hanging out of a back window.

There were murmurs among the crowd that there was a body inside the bag, and there could be other dead passengers in the wreckage. I found out later the driver was the only person in the car when it crashed, and the 44-year-old male victim had a heart attack and was pronounced dead at the hospital. (For more details on the crash click here.)

I later discovered that what we thought was a body was actually the airbags sticking out of the shattered car windows.  But even when we all believed we could be staring at as many as three dead bodies,  almost every person on the street was snapping pictures with a smart phone.

Why?

To have evidence when recounting the story to friends? To send to a news site? To post it on Reddit, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook?

As I stood there gaping at the grim scene, I felt sorry for the victim… and sorry for where we are as a culture. It’s difficult for some of us to experience life’s impactful moments these days without resisting the need to document and share them.

Was it the great emotional jolt of the moment? Or the “I was there when it happened” cache? Or the peer pressure to capture it because everyone else is?

I sheepishly walked away feeling guilt and regret for not being able to resist photographing someone else’s tragedy.

This is the age we live in.

Anyone younger than 25 won’t even question the impulse to record every moving moment, even if the moment itself is interrupted or sacrificed in order to capture it.

But for old fogies like me, it still feels unnatural and wrong.

Apparently not wrong enough. There I was, one of a hundred minions taking a picture. And here I am sharing it with you.

nyc fatal car crash on carpoolcandy.com

If I’m using the photo to make a point, is it acceptable? I’m not sure.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

What Memorial Day means to this vet’s daughter

Dad holding me, Chicago 1968

Dad holding me, Chicago 1968

For many, Memorial Day means the beach,  parades, and barbecues. For the last several years my boys (ages 13, 10, and 7)  have played in a soccer tournament over the holiday weekend, so we watch at least 8 games during the days, and gather with friends around the grill at night.

But I want my kids to realize that Memorial Day is much more than a day off from school. The U.S. has been fighting wars for most– if not all – of our children’s lives, yet it doesn’t affect mine much at all. It’s easy to forget that there are soldiers still dying in Afghanistan, and military serving in perilous places all over the world, while we sit cheering goals and munching on cheeseburgers.

I watch the news with my kids and try to talk about the sacrifices soldiers make  for our freedom but I’m not sure what sinks in. In the past, we’ve gathered care packages and written letters to soldiers, and they’ve made cards in school to send overseas. They know a little about the wars we’ve fought, but since they don’t personally know anyone who has served, it’s difficult to make them understand how important it is to honor the military.

This year I started telling my kids about my father’s service in the Navy. After he graduated from college in 1964, my dad enrolled in officer’s candidate school. He went through a training program and served on an aircraft carrier for about 6 months.

In 1966, my parents got engaged on Valentine’s Day. Weeks later my dad was told he was being sent to Vietnam.  Faced with an uncertain future, my parents didn’t want to be separated by the war. They rushed their wedding plans and got married at the end of April before my father’s deployment in June.

Mom and Dad during his Navy service, 1966

Mom and Dad during his Navy service, 1966

My brave, intrepid mother got a history teaching spot at the International School in Bangkok, Thailand so they could see each other while he was serving his duty. That’s right, my 22-year-old mother lived in Thailand by herself at wartime.

My dad was involved in weekly press briefings on the war status as a protocol and public information officer for the Navy in Saigon, which was basically a desk job. He also helped establish one of the first Navy newspapers that year and found a printing plant in Bangkok so he had a reason to see my mother once a month.

He never saw combat, probably never even shot a gun. But he had friends and colleagues blown up in bombs, and survived several near misses himself during the year he served there.

When his year was up, he left Vietnam and served the rest of his commitment in New York before returning to civilian life.  My parents were lucky to have stayed safe during that time in their lives and they spoke of it often when I was growing up.  They told stories about the characters they met as we watched slide shows of their  year of living dangerously. When I was growing up,  we were taught to value military service and revere veterans.

I recently found a letter that my father wrote to a former Vietnam POW. As part of a military initiative to support the families of POW’s, my dad was one of many who wore a silver bracelet every day with the name of a POW who had not come home. I have a copy of the letter my dad sent to the commander, when he returned to the U.S. in 1973.  Here is an excerpt:

“I found myself unable to remove the bracelet for two reasons. First, I also was a Naval officer and served in Saigon. However I was fortunate to have been placed in a protocol billet, which kept me relatively safe.  Perhaps by wearing your bracelet I was expressing gratitude that I had not had your fate. Secondly, I found myself personally committed to you. I didn’t know anything about you– still don’t, really– but felt that if nothing else, on your return stateside you might find some satisfaction from knowing there were others besides your family and friends who were thinking of you and hoping you were well and would return home safely. 

And now you are back. I had intended to return the bracelet to you at this happy time, but instead I have decided to keep it among other mementoes of importance to me. I keep it so that I can remember you, and the courage you demonstrated during your imprisonment. I hope you find us worthy of your sacrifice. I have some small idea of what those years away from all that you love and admire must have meant. I hope that America can be worthy of that sacrifice.”

Letetr from my father to former POW thanking him for his service

My father died of cancer in 1993. I miss him every day and wish I could talk to him about so many things. But today I wish he could tell my kids about his time in the Navy and how it was an honor to play even a small part in serving his country.

I have no doubt that my boys would have been transfixed by my dad’s war tales. He was a great storyteller.

I’m going to have my kids read my dad’s letter and this post to remind them of the sacrifices courageous and selfless men and women– and the families who worry about or mourn them–  are making right now.  I’d like them to always think about those who’ve served on Memorial Day, but maybe now they’ll be proud of their Grandpa David too.