Thursday, October 29, 2009

Michael Jackson: An Artist At Work, A Review

Michael Jackson and dancers from "This Is It" rehearsals
Yesterday I did something uncharacteristic. I saw a film at a movie theater on its opening day in New York City, no less. “This Is It,” is an amazingly well-made music documentary about Michael Jackson, the performer. For 111 minutes, you get to watch MJ at work, and you can't take your eyes off him. He was a gifted entertainer who could do it all -- sing, dance, choreograph, write songs, compose music and mesmerize an audience with the sincerity, intensity and originality of his performances. Director Kenny Ortega, his collaborator of nearly 20 years, brilliantly put together a loving tribute from rehearsal footage shot between April and June, 2009. The rehearsals were captured using high definition cameras, and the music was recorded in stereo. You get to see how much hard work goes into preparing for a live show. During many hours of rehearsals, a myriad of details come together. It feels like you have the best seat in the house to watch over the 3-month period. Clearly, Michael Jackson was a musical genius ... still at the top of his game. What a treat to see him interacting with his cast and crew, gently correcting a tempo or refining a group dance move and spurring his tour family on to aim for perfection. The music and dance is sensational, with full run-throughs of his famous songs from "Billy Jean" to "Smooth Criminal." He will be remembered as one of the greatest entertainers of our time. And for me, it was a must see movie on a big screen. I loved it. If you go, sit through the credits so you don't miss anything.

From "Dangerous," Jackson was involved in every aspect of the show.

Earth Song - From 1996's History tour. Both songs - words and music by MJ.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Keeping Up With The Joneses … In Denmark

On a recent show, Oprah visited families around the globe, featuring the lives of women. I'm a sucker for these kinds of programs. The place that appealed to me the most was Copenhagen, Denmark. I like the mindset and lifestyle of its people. Danes are ranked #1 as the happiest in the world by 30 years of scientisfic studies and polls. And if you watched Oprah, you learned why. Here's a summary:

1. In Copenhagen, people are concerned about the environment. – 1/3 of the population rides bicycles everywhere, even with small children and packages in tow.
2. The Danes don't worry about homelessness, poverty or unemployment. – If you lose your job, the government steps in to pay 90% of your salary for 4 years and helps you find new employment.
3. Health care is free to everyone. – The country wouldn't have it any other way.
4. The government takes special care of women and children. – Women get 6 - 12 months of paid maternity leave. Citizens get a free education and are paid $400 - $500 per month upon entering a university.
5. People are free to pursue careers based on interests and talents, in lieu of income. – Taxes are progressive. If you earn more, you are taxed more -- up to 60%. {Other sources say, the average worker pays 44% and the highest earner 62% in taxes. Details here.}

But the Danes support these equalizers. They don't mind paying higher taxes because they feel they get a lot for it. As explained by Nanna, a 44 year old resident of Copenhagen, “Then you have healthy, educated people in the world. What could beat that?”

I admire this way of thinking and how it carries into the home décor. I don't like clutter and apparently, neither do Danes. The typical Danish design is modern, clean, bright, sparse and organized. Plus, the big windows are divine! I'm use to more space (and coziness) than the family of five shown here. But what appeals to me – and makes my heart flutter! – is the idea of having everything you need, without the excess of things you don't need. Makes you think, doesn't it? Now you'll have to excuse me; I'm stepping away to get rid of extra stuff and to write a note.

Note to self: If you don't use it, lose it. Focus on what's important.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Save On Your Next Computer ... And Electronics

Would you buy a refurbished computer? I did -- the second time around -- and saved 18% off the sticker price. I bought my first computer, an Apple PowerBook, at retail. Last year after seven years of use, I replaced it with a refurbished MacBook Pro that I ordered from the Apple Store online. First I went to Apple's mega store on Fifth Avenue, so by the time I looked online, I had talked to several Mac Geniuses and knew just what I wanted. I bought a MacBook Pro -- perhaps a more powerful laptop than what I actually need -- partly because I saved hundreds of dollars by buying it refurbished. I got a 2008 model in September, 2008, the same year it came out. Apple tests and certifies all their refurbished products and offers a one-year guarantee. That was a deal too good for me to pass up. Apple's service is 150% positive; their technical support is awesome. When I took my laptop out of its Fed-Ex box, it was "good as new." To this day, I can't tell the difference between refurbished and what I play with at Apple's Fifth Avenue Store. My laptop is still a top performer; I've never had a problem with either its hardware or software. So I'd definitely buy refurbished again.

A few tips: 1) Do your research; 2) Stick with companies known for their outstanding products and customer service; 3) Look for free shipping and a full year product warranty.

Other businesses offering refurbished [aka, "reconstructed"] products, include Canon for printers and Bose for audio/video equipment. Maybe your favorite manufacturers do too. Check their websites to see. You could save big bucks on big ticket items.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Never Underestimate The Value Of A Sample

Receiving product samples is wonderful. Who doesn't like trying something for free? In our poor economy, businesses must scrabble to bring in and keep customers. This week while running my usual day-to-day errands – and just for walking into Kiehl's, a sales associate gave me samples of three new hair products to take home. It amounted to a full week's supply. Down the street at Godiva's – without even asking, I was handed two scrumptious gourmet truffles {at $44 a pound!} to try. 

 I've gotten a little spoiled because an introduction to an unknown luxury without opening a wallet is nice ... especially when the item costs a chunk of change. Trying before buying has made me a smarter consumer. By shopping with merchants, who dole out plenty of free samples, I've gotten good at figuring out what works for me, what is just a gimmick and what merchandize is worth its asking price. I don't waste money on goods I don't like once I get them home. And I don't clutter up my bathroom with one mistake after another. 

 Although the gourmet candies and snacks never see the light of day once in my hands, the trial sizes of shampoos, conditioners and moisturizers are perfect to take on overnight trips away from home. 

 Also retailers who offer lots of free samples tend to offer superior customer service and other shopping benefits like customer reward cards and free products with [and without] purchases. All worth considering to get the best deals. Naturally businesses are hoping if you try it, you'll like it. Meanwhile, you get to evaluate their goods risk-free. Go for it!

Extreme Sample Friendly Stores include:

For skin, hair and personal care products:
1} Aveda – They teach customers about skin care and wellness and give first rate massages and a "spot of tea" for free.
2} Bath And Body Works (sans make-up)
4} Kiehl's (sans make-up)
5} Origins
6} Sephora

For gormet chocolate and food:
7} Godiva – If you sign up for their rewards card, you get a free chocolate every month.
8} Lindt – Samples galore at their Fifth Avenue flagship store!
9} Williams-Sonoma – Especially on weekends and the weeks leading up to holidays
10} Zabars – For New Yorkers and visitors to NYC
Your local 11} delis, 12} gourmet, 13} grocery and 14} drug stores – Particularly on the weekends and near holidays

Even ladies' clothing:
15} Victoria's Secret - When you sign up for a store credit card, you receive free VS undergarments and toiletries 3-4 times a year.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What 6 Foods Are Always in Your Kitchen?

I know people who eat all their meals out and keep practically nothing in their cupbards or refrigerators, except for bottled water, or perhaps a single serving of yogurt. Not true of me. Although I can be a minimalist in other areas, I never let myself run out of certain foods. You will always find them in my kitchen. Here are six:

1) milk – I buy a gallon a week, per person. That's a lot, isn't it? Lots of Vitamin D!
2) eggs – Boiled eggs make easy snacks, or sandwiches on very short notice. {All you need for a serving is: 2 cut-up hard boiled eggs, salt, pepper, low fat mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, and diced red onion.} Plus, eggs are needed for baked goods and a variety of simple dishes like meatloaf, stuffed peppers, and even green salads.
3) peanut butter – I buy it freshly ground at a neighborhood health food store, and it only has one ingredient, peanuts. You don't need sweeteners, hydrogen vegetable oil, or anything else. Pure pb is delicious and a satisfying stick-to-your-ribs food.
4) solid white tuna – A quick and easy meal. Actually, “light” tuna has less mercury, but I prefer the texture of solid white. Just don't eat it more than once a week.
5) sharp cheddar cheese and 6) saltine crackers – This is my favorite "at home" snack. And when I get carried away, it becomes a dinner.

Other foods may come and go, but not these staples. Now do tell, what 6 foods are always in your kitchen?