Laura Fries

Alexandria, VA USA

Professional Experience

Alfred Hitchcock once said, "A film isn't a slice of life but a slice of cake." I like to think of my writing as less slice of life and more slice of cake. I have been writing about film and TV entertainment for more than 20 years. I approach my reviews and stories not only as someone familiar with the industry, but as a fan. I don't have disdain for movies and television. I grew up on them. I love uncovering a story, venturing on the road not taken and bringing the reader along for the ride.


11 Years
13 Years
26 Years


16 Years
Family, Children & Teenagers
10 Years
Other, Specify
16 Years


Magazine - Large Consumer/National magazines
11 Years
Magazine - Trade magazines/publications (B2B)
8 Years
Online/new media
4 Years

Total Media Industry Experience

26 Years

Media Client List (# assignments last 2 yrs) (6-10), Parents' Choice Foundation (10+), Variety (10+)

Other Work History

Senior Editor, Entertainment, 1988--February 1998 Satellite ORBIT, Satellite DIRECT Newswriter, 1987 to 1988, Realtor News Reporter, 1986 to 1987, Washington Business Journal Photographer, Valley Daily News, 1985 to 1986

Foreign Language Skills

Some French

Computer Skills

Word, Excel, Windows XP, HTML


Laptop Digital Camera Audio Recorder


Brian Lowry, Variety: Chuck Taylor, Billboard Magazine: Claire Green, Parents' Choice Foundation: Carla Branch,


City of Alexandria 2012 Civic Award, Bob & Cheryl Vann Parent Volunteer Award 2005


Television Critics Association Girl Scouts of the USA



Once, there was no such thing as a Summer Blockbuster, then Steven Spielberg introduced the world to Jaws. Now, every summer, movie execs try to recreate the summer sensation--usually a loud, action filled supernatural hero-type movie. Really though, one of the joys of summer is undiscovered film, the hidden gem of a movie --the one that doesn't come with action figures. Most of us have a little more time in the summer to expand horizons when it comes to fun family events--be it an unexpected rainy day on vacation or just a lazy day with time to kill. Granted, kids are the toughest sell when it comes to "new stuff"and when looking at independent or small budget films, it is important to read reviews to make sure they are age appropriate.
Say what you want about the pitfalls of TV, but during a summer of Midwest tornadoes, East Coast earthquakes, and all-encompassing hurricanes, television has brought us together. When cell phones fail, and e-mails go unanswered, we can count on getting a close up look at what is happening in other parts of the world. Sure, there are overzealous weather reporters standing in gale force winds for the money shot, but more often valuable information, including evacuation routes, closings and updated forecasts, help us plan for disasters.
My daughter looks at me with disbelief when I talk about growing up without Netflix, Internet, Nintendo or Ipods. It's just unimaginable to her. How did we know what was going on in the world? How could we live not knowing what our friends were doing every minute? I try to stress the point that now, as it was back then, an update about a random friend "chillin' in my room eating Doritos," isn't really a valuable piece of information.
Easy, not cheap is a subtle distinction and no, we aren't talking about personal reputations. Every day, busy parents face the dilemma of doing what is quick and easy over what is ultimately best for your family, be it food, television or exercise. We've all fallen prey to the easy road at some point, especially when life, school, activities, sports make the quick choices a no-brainer. The New York Times recently wrote an article about how junk food, the easy choice, isn't really cheaper than healthier alternatives. By now, most of us know that the long term investment in better food choices pay off, but the majority still believe that it's too expensive. What if that is no longer true? What if short and long term benefits make a lot of quick and easy choices just the lazy choice? Will it change the way you do things?
One of the fall's most heralded new shows is Fox's Terra Nova, a big budget sci-fi extravaganza from executive producer Steven Spielberg. So yes, there are dinosaurs as well as bad guys and lots of action and special effects. The basic premise is that in the future, we have wasted our natural resources beyond repair and the only way for humans to move forward is to go back in time. Through a one-way time portal, select individuals can go back 85 million and get things right. The show follows the Shannon family as they try to adjust to life in Terra Nova, the first colony in a beautiful but dangerous time on our planet. According to the show, life in 2149 was ruled by technology, so the Shannon's three kids, Josh, Maddy and Zoe, are thrown back to a world without iPods, TVs or movies. So far, the series doesn't dwell too much on that aspect of culture shock.
Panicked about back to school? It seems like the kids are hardly out of school before you have to start planning for the next academic year, especially when the marketing push for school supplies started the beginning of July (just when you were looking for more sunscreen for vacation). For most of us, school supply lists don’t come until a week before school or, when in high school, not until after classes actually start. These lists most certainly never coincide with any state tax exemption programs for school clothes and supplies. Then, when you finally have the list in hand and are ready to purchase everything, you’re staring down aisles of Halloween decorations at best, Christmas stuff at worst—no protractors in sight. Exactly whose schedule are the retailers on?
According to a recent story in the New York Times, failure isn't just an option for students; it just may be a necessity. The article looks at the teacher, scholars and psychologists who researched why some kids, despite good schools and parental support, don’t make it through college. Across all income levels nationally, only 31 percent of people complete college, and it’s not all about the level of education received as kids. According to Angela Duckworth, assistant professor of psychology at University of Pennsylvania, it’s all about character and “grit.” Grit, as described in the article, is a dedication to a goal, with a clear and unwavering focus to complete a mission or task–and it just may be the secret to academic success even if test scores say otherwise.
It has begun. Before the Halloween decorations are even put away, we adults feel the pressure of the impending holiday season upon us. Magazines, stores and television ads are all about creating the perfect, festive holidays. It seems like we were just at back to school night and now we have to think of gifts for teachers, Thanksgiving recipes and travel plans. While family, friends and good food (not to mention presents) seem like a win, win for everybody, it's easy to let the stress of the season take hold--especially for kids. Now is a good time to sit back and relax.
Take a look at the current TV line up and you'll notice a large proportion of teens with transformative powers. The newest is MTV's reworking of Teen Wolf, about a young lacrosse player juggling school, sports and the supernatural. ABC Family has The Nine Lives of Chloe King, which features a young girl who dies but comes back with super catlike abilities, like cat woman. The Vampire Diaries, H20, and even Harry Potter deals with some sort of magical transformation during the teen years.
As a nation, we've become obsessed with measuring the achievements and abilities of our kids. Perhaps it is just our competitive nature or possibly the skyrocketing costs of higher education that drive parents to push their kids to greatness. This phenomenon is deftly explored in Vicki Abeles' documentary Race to Nowhere, which looks at the adverse effects of pushing kids too far in our need to succeed. We want our children to excel in sports, academics and extracurricular activities. Some even believe that if you haven’t started at preschool with certain hobbies, chances are, they'll never go pro, get that scholarship or even get accepted to college. We simply don’t want our kids to be average--and that could be a big parental mistake.
Across most of the US, it's hot out. Record-breaking hot. It's the lead story on the news and it's not the first time that weather, good or bad, has been the main topic of conversation. TV Weather Forecasters are the new stars with entire channels dedicated specifically to climate conditions, downloadable weather aps for computers and phones, simulated games and programs so that anyone can be a weather expert. It wasn’t always that way. For a long time, weathermen were color commentators, jokesters or simply filler for the local news–How do you think David Letterman got his start? Granted, most folks just wanted to know whether to bring an umbrella to work, so the idea of a channel with endless loops of the national weather map was akin to watching paint dry. Blame climate change or summer reruns, but weather is hot!
Parents have seen loads of great information lately about how to combat bullying in schools and online. We've all had conversations with our kids about appropriate behavior, accepting our differences and utilizing constructive communication skills to achieve compromise. So it makes it all the harder for us when lately, the news is full of adults behaving badly. In fact, they have become the exact opposite of all that we have been trying to communicate to our kids: cooperation, respect, selflessness and moderation. So what’s a parent to do? How do we ease fears about current affairs when affairs, fighting and selfish behavior seems to be the rule of the day?
It's been all over the news--the TV study that proves watching SpongeBob will make your child fail in school. Ooops--Sorry. Got a little caught up in the media hype. Every couple of months, there's a new study that comes up with some proclamation that most conscientious parents already know--when it comes to anything concerning your child, especially television viewing, quality always wins over quantity.
In the world according to television, we all live in beautifully decorated homes, friendly small towns with hiddily-ho neighborly neighbors. That is, unless, you live in that alternate TV stereotype--the creepy town of supernatural creatures, disturbing characters and unsolved murders. The real fact is that home life is far more complicated than that, and according to urbanists, our world and the way we live is evolving. The old model of suburban life doesn't hold true. The suburbs could now be considered less idyllic then they once were (especially on TV)--at least, less user-unfriendly and more isolationist. City living means a high density population, but not necessarily more socialization.
Alexandria musicians move out of the garage and into the studio thanks to the new Lab Sound Studio and Rehearsal Space on Quaker Lane. Part of Convergence, an Alexandria non-profit arts group founded in 2006, the studio was designed as an affordable place for local artists to hone their craft. The Studio compliments The LAB All Ages project, which just marked its two year anniversary. The All Ages group meets the first and third Thursday of every month for Open Mike and a music market. This is a chaperoned all ages, alcohol- free show that extends to any type of music as well as comedians and spoken word. The markets serves as a place for musicians to trade equipment, swap CDs and also features a cafe lounge.
Despite the rising temperatures that eventually reached double digits on Saturday, July 7, the Chinquapin Wahoos swim team did not want to leave the hot deck of Old Town Pool. They were busy celebrating a narrow two-point win over the Sugarland Dolphins of Sterling, Virginia. The meet was nearly always within 10 points, but the Wahoos, the only public swim team in Alexandria, pulled the victory out in the relays. It is the first win of the 2012 Summer Season for the team.
"Crazy For You," a madcap comedy designed to showcase George and Ira Gershwin tunes, harkens back to the old days of the Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, "Let's Put on a Show"Â? mentality. Yet the T.C. Williams drama department, headed by Hope Bachman-Miller and Leslie Jones, is far more sophisticated than any ragtag production. The duo (along with student director Elaine Bledsoe) takes a big gamble with such an ambitious production --full of chart-topping songs, complicated dance numbers and a huge ensemble cast--and comes up aces with this crowd-pleasing winner.
More than 150 Alexandrians, some decked out in poodle skirts and greaser jackets, enjoyed the Sock Hop fundraiser for the Miracle Field League of Alexandria held at the Mount Vernon Rec Center on Saturday, Feb. 25. Thrown by Gayle Todsen Reuter and Miracle League Board members Carole Bailey and Pat Miller, the event raised approximately $7,000 to help pay for the proposed synthetic turf baseball diamond designed specifically for use by individuals with special needs.
Dipping fall temperatures couldn't stop the crowd of donors, business owners, city officials and Miracle League players--even the Washington National's presidential mascot Teddy Roosevelt-- from celebrating the completion of the Kelly Cares Miracle Field Saturday night in Old Town. Located across the parking lot from the Lee Center at 1108 Jefferson St., the field designed for use by special needs athletes has been in the works for six years.
We've all heard stories about big time celebrities surprising young fans as prom dates or showing up at hospital bedsides. These events always grab headlines and are great PR for the stars. Beyond the occasional publicity stunt, there are grants available that bring big name talent together with students that don't always make the news.
As funding for Art programs in schools continues to dwindle, students in the Alexandria and Arlington area this week get a rare chance to work with world-renowned violist Midori. Midori is here as part of her Orchestra Residencies Program (ORP), which brings some much welcome help to educational and community arts programs across the country.
Review of the original Lifetime movie
Masterpiece Contemporary's "A Song of Lunch" is nuanced storytelling, doting camerawork and tremendous acting. Popcorn certainly won't do, but a nice glass of Chianti or Grappa would provide the perfect pairing.
Actress Bonnie Hunt enters the cut-throat daytime talk show world.
Every fall season, TV networks promise a new slate of programming to entertain and entice. Problem is, it just seems like more of the same old thing. For instance, the "new"Â? season features no less than eight police or spy dramas, four shows with lawyers, three new reality shows and seven dysfunctional families representing the parenting sector. There are a couple of doctors, crooks and cataclysmic events, but not much in the way of realistic family drama.
The latest Hallmark Hall of Fame original movie.
Charles Dickens' perennial classic is as sacred a tradition as the Thanksgiving dinner menu. People always want to reinvent it, try something new. It's fine to spice things up a bit, but if ever there's a time to stick to tradition, it's with this holiday classic.
Kid Spirit is an online magazine for kids and by kids that provides an easy way to exchange personal and topical information. Kids can submit artwork, stories, poetry and photos or simply join in the group discussions and spout off on a range of topics.
As the saying goes, dying is easy, comedy is hard. A British madcap, mistaken identity, fish-out-of-water farce is even harder. The Little Theatre of Alexandria's production of Ray Cooney's West End hit play is a breezy crowd pleaser for sure. Subtle or plausible, it ain't.
A cop with a lot to prove returns to the force with a very new outlook on life.
Review of the tween phenomenon sequel High School Musical 2
Alexandrians don't have to travel far to see Broadway-level entertainment with productions like "Josephine Tonight" available at Old Town's Metro Stage. A musical rags to riches tale that chronicles the early, tumultuous and sometimes scandalous career of the iconic Josephine Baker, the play is an entertaining, toe-tapping glimpse into a remarkable life.
"Princess Protection Program" is as light as a summer breeze on the Louisiana bayou -- the perfect vehicle to further showcase Disney's newest franchise stars, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato. A fairy-tale story of an imperiled princess and the tomboy who befriends her, the pic should be a hit with the channel's target audience.
Lifetime's newest reality series feels like a "Project Runway" knockoff for Goths on speed. Dark, frenetic and full of torturous time constraints, the show is, by say, designer Christian Siriano's standards, a hot mess. Even host Alexa Chung looks like a Dickensian waif sporting a strange, starving English choir boy look in the premiere episode. Still, when measured by the yardstick of reality television, the show is clearly constructed to give viewers what they want -- conflict and confrontation.
"Hannah's Law," a revisionist version of Western "her-story," could have alternatively been called "The Good, the Bad and the Pretty." Set in the rough-and-tumble but surprisingly clean-looking old West of Dodge City, young Hannah Beaumont ("Vampire Diaries'") is a bounty hunter who always brings 'em in alive. Writer John Fasano cleverly weaves in legendary historical figures like Wyatt Earp, but hampers the tale with unimaginative dialogue and romance more befitting of Harlequin than Zane Grey. A clear attempt at an action-romance Western, the resulting pic is more like "Fifty Shades of Dust."
Metaphors and male-enhancement jokes aside, "Growing the Big One" isn't Cinemax fare but actually a family-friendly tale of novelty gourd farming. Shannen Doherty, once television's bad girl, stars in the corny, or more adequately, "seedy" original pic from Hallmark Channel. At its core, this made-for is akin to "Baby Boom" with pumpkins, as a fish out of water, high-strung city girl moves to the country and finds a man.
It only follows that a movie about a young girl whose ideas of love and romance come strictly from fairy tales and Disney movies would borrow so heavily from said stories. By invoking themes, plots and even images of everything from "Princess Diaries" to "The Parent Trap," Hallmark Channel's "Smooch" is a fluffy, hodgepodge feel-good family film. Better than the sum of its parts, the cast elevates the epic above its tired themes to deliver a little romance in time for the big smooch day.
Our instant access, text messaging, multi-tasking world seems more efficient, but Hallmark Channel's original pic "A Family Thanksgiving" presents a decent case for personal balance. Writer Emily Baer also crafts an interesting parable about rethinking careers, or at least redefining the idea of success -- a perfect message for troubled economic times as well as the reflective aspect of the Thanksgiving season.
Love 'em or hate 'em, bugs are a cool. According to Wired Science, 95 million-year-old bugs aren't all that different from the household pests we know and love/hate. Even if you may not share your child's fascination with insects, that doesn't mean you can't encourage and even nurture their interests. Sure, ant farms can be fun, but there other stimulating, hands on and imaginative ways to explore the life of bugs.
You've got to hand it to Oprah -- she shares all of her favorite things, she gives away cars, trips and schools. And, with this new reality series on her eponymous network, she teaches regular folks how to be her. Every week for eight weeks, 10 contestants selected from more than 15,000 Oprah wannabes will get the chance to prove they deserve their own show.
The mysterious and intriguing Amish community has been great fodder for movies, offering a haven for dramatic license and stories of longing and denial. Their simple, close-to-the-earth customs and beliefs often seem in direct contrast to our flashy 4G ways; how could they not want to leave the plain pine-board walls for free wifi and fast-food burritos? "The Shunning," directed by Michael Landon Jr. and based on the Beverly Lewis bestselling novel, offers the compelling story of a young girl torn between the modern world and the Old Order.
Taking its name from the Aesop fable that preaches honesty particularly in hairy situations, this original Nick movie owes more to the Wolfman than to old Aesop and his morality tales. Victoria Justice, star of Nickelodeon's hit series, "Victorious," takes center stage here as nerdy high schooler Jordan Sands. She's a shy, uncoordinated teen who can't make it through soccer try-outs let alone work up enough nerve to ask a guy out.
As we plot our migration to grandmother's house in search of turkey and cranberry sauce, we might want to think about the origins of our impulse to move from one place to the other. A rich, lush and beautifully filmed seven hour series, "Great Migrations," documents 12 different species in their drive to defy horrific odds of survival. The ambitious project is akin to DVD library must-haves such as "Planet Earth" and "Life"--its event television at its best, educational and entertaining, bringing together some of the world's premiere wildlife filmmakers for stunning, often, never-seen-before animal behavior. While it is appropriate for the whole family, nature does have its brutal moments. These are not manufactured happy endings.
Reality game shows like Survivor, The Bachelor or Big Brother draw the most public attention, but one of the best of the genre debuts its 5th season under the radar this October on PBS. It's not as well known as those spouse swapping, bug eating ratings grabbers--but it should be. Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman is a hybrid show geared for kids but appealing to all. A veritable kitchen sink of a program, it's a send up of game and reality shows, with an educational twist and some mystery, action and animation thrown in as well. Ruff Ruffman is an animated canine host who pits six tween contestants on tasks and challenges for points and prizes but the real fun is in the journey to acquire the goodies. You've heard of the three Rs. This season of Fetch is all about the three As-- art, animals, and adventure.
Big cats, such as lions, tigers and cheetahs rank almost as high in popularity with kids as dinosaurs, but according to conservationists, they too may soon be going the way of the T-Rex. Currently, there are more tigers in captivity than there are in the wild and the lion population has been cut in half in the last three decades. To get a close-up look at the everyday struggles of a big cat, filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert document a year in the life of lioness Ma di Tau (which means Mother of Lions) and her two cubs in the beautiful and thought-provoking National Geographic documentary, "The Last Lions."
A romance novelist helps others find love and marriage and discovers more about herself along the way.
Stephen Collins trains daughter Magda Apanowicz, a champion rodeo rider, in Hallmark Channel's telepic 'Every Second Counts.'
iCarly, the popular webshow, is in danger of becoming a network sitcom.
Jayne Seymour makes a comeback to television as this household diva turned small-town sleuth.
Amber Tamblyn, left, and Jennifer Ehle must confront the pain of a shared secret in Hallmark Hall of Fame pic 'The Russell Girl' on CBS.
Stars come together for “Stand Up to Cancer,” an ambitious effort spanning three networks, offered viewers a chance to become informed about and donate to the war against cancer.
The story of an inspirational man and his faithful dog sounds contrived enough, but throw in said dog owner being a homeless war vet, and the adorable Border Collie being deathly ill, and you have the makings of an epic tear-jerker. That's not even taking into account a long-absent daughter searching for her dad, a veterinarian with a heart of gold, and a community of kind-hearted people that rises up to help, a la "It's a Wonderful Life." Based on true events, Michael J. Murray's script tugs the heart with such precision it might touch even the hardest of them.
In the grand tradition of an epic country song, "Christmas in Canaan" pulls out all the stops, including endless drama -- not the least of which is a wounded puppy. Still, there is just enough well-meaning intent between the cliches to qualify as a feel-good holiday diversion.
Based on a true story detailed in a magazine article by Andrew Corsello, writer Teena Booth has penned a compelling, multifaceted script that tells the saga of Janet "Prissy" Gregory (Julia Ormond), a Louisiana paralegal and single mom who worked for 22 years to free Calvin Willis, convicted of raping an 11-year-old special-needs girl.
News vet Paula Zahn brings a personal approach to the genre that gets her subjects to open up. Compared with other Investigation Discovery shows such as "Wicked Attraction" (romances gone wrong) and "Most Evil" (think Manson, Dahmer), Zahn brings a lighter, more sisterly, Oprah-like style to the proceedings.
If healthcare reform doesn't work out, at least there's daytime TV. Self-ordained "America's doctor" Mehmet Oz debuted his syndicated series in 99 percent of the country the week of Sept. 14 in hopes of capturing a good chunk of our health- and beauty-obsessed culture.
Every fall season marks the promise of something new, but really, Hollywood has been recycling for years. This season isn’t so much new as it is familiar—old shows have been reworked and popular trends repackaged.
Director Andy Mikita's dark style, combined with "The Mist's" Rohn Schmidt's lensing, creates a deliberately unsettling milieu for Stargate's fourth spin-off.
It doesn't take a criminal mastermind to know that when establishing a TV mystery franchise, you need to call upon pros like Scott Turow and Mary Higgins-Clark. They and other bestselling crime writers have been tapped to inaugurate TNT's umbrella "Mystery Movie" banner, kicking off the six-film event with Turow's "Innocent," a sequel to the popular book turned feature "Presumed Innocent." While lacking the goods to impress fans of the novel or even of the 1990 Alan Pakula film, it should satisfy the average armchair sleuth.
You know you have a true mystery when the facts in a case don't add up, and Lifetime's original thriller "At Risk" is its own kind of mystery. Based on bestselling author Patricia Cornwell's book, it has a talented cast and polished tech credits, but they just don't yield much of a movie.
Identical twins Danielle and Deanna Warren may look alike but are quite different. When fate steps in, the girls find the man of their dreams, but it creates havoc for the siblings.
A review of the new Lifetime reality dating show.
A look at the decadent world of the Orange County party circuit in Lifetime's new reality show.
Carson Kressley of Queer Eye fame helps women with self-esteem issues in a new reality series from Lifetime.
Fun noun ˈfən what provides amusement or enjoyment; specifically: playful often boisterous action or speech <full of fun> Used in a sentence: The Little Theater of Alexandria's production of The 25th Annual Putnam county Spelling Bee is the definition of fun.
MetroStage's substitute for its originally announced performance "Playing Sinatra" doesn't feel anything like a replacement. In fact, the Steven Dietz PEN-USA award-winning drama, "Lonely Planet" is expertly written, deftly directed and performed with such tender nuances it remains as timely as ever. Director John Vreeke presents a poignant tale of friendship during the height of the AIDs crisis through metaphors, dream interpretations and the clever dialogue between two friends.
W.C. Fields famously once said never work with animals or children, but then again, he never got to experience Animal Planet's Puppy Bowl. The animal lover's answer to the Super Bowl is just about as far from gridiron gruffness as you can get. Instead of touchdowns and tackles, it's canine cuteness and animal athleticism—not to mention birds that tweet, water bowl cams and blimp steering hamster pilots.
Before Beyonce, Madonna, Shakira and other single-named stars, there was Elvis. From now until June 30, Little Theater of Alexandria pays tribute to the King of rock and roll by following his transcendence into fame and on to legend. A true slice of pop culture pie, the play is a tableau of Elvis trivia, peppered with American history, as seen through ancillary characters. From the Tupelo hardware saleswoman who sold him his first guitar, to the secretaries who arranged his infamous performance with a hound dog on the Steve Allen show, the audience sees how deep the roots of Elvis mania run.
Playwrights Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten appear to have a mainline link into the female psyche. Given their success with other plays such as "The Red Velvet Cake War" and TV shows like "The Golden Girls," they give voice to the plucky women that society often overlooks--those shall we say are past news anchor age. "The Dixie Swim Club" is one such tale of five women, friends from their college swim team, who reunite yearly at their beloved Outer Banks beach house. Southern foods, accents and ideals pepper the script, but "Dixie Swim Club" has universal appeal as it explores themes of personal identity, loyalty and humor in the face of obstacles--not to mention the benefits of a well-timed martini. Director Eddie Page keeps true to the script and has found a cast who, despite some opening jitters and line flubs, embody their characters with such appeal that any flaws are easily forgiven.
Based on the Noggin show Pinky Dinky Doo, the site from Sesame Workshop utilizes main characters Pinky and her little brother Tyler to let visitors create stories, play games, listen to podcasts and watch videos.
Instead of just watching TV, kids can become a part of the creative process through
Have sympathy for your audience. That's what "the actor" (Erik Harrison) advices Arthur Kipps (Elliott Bales) as he instructs him in how best to entertain a crowd. Kipps is less concerned with acclaim than he is compelled to tell his story--a hair-raising tale of strange houses and dark omens of death. The Little Theater of Alexandria presents this ghost story with bare bones simplicity yet delivers goose bumps with clever directing and transformative acting. Gripping and even funny at times, the play is adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from the Susan Hill book but is probably best known for the recent film version starring Daniel Radcliffe.
And now for something completely different; Viewers sick of the same old same old, get ready for a show that will knock your Christmas stockings off. Director and choreographer Michael Sharp offers a hilarious holiday farce with "A Broadway Christmas Carol" at MetroStage. The timely show, which comes when most viewers are suffering from holiday fatigue, offers an infusion of Christmas spirit via the great white way.
Director Vondie Curtis-Hall delivers an engaging original movie for Lifetime based on the true story of a baby abduction-- the first such reported case in a New York hospital-- where the kidnapping is the least of the drama. "Abducted: The Carlina White Story" is as much about class struggle, family bonds and nature vs. nurture as it is about a heinous crime. Dynamic performances by the pic's three female leads carry the movie, but a clear-cut happy-ending family-reunited movie this ain't.
"Girl vs. Monster," a new original movie for Disney Channel, is everything you would expect from the House of Mouse. It's slick and polished, not too scary, and peppered with toe-tapping tunes. Star Olivia Holt even looks like Britney Spears, Hilary Duff and Miley Cyrus rolled into one. Still, the pic is akin to a good piece of Halloween candy that's sugary sweet on the outside but has a chewy surprise in the middle.
Belgian song writer Jacques Brel is neither alive nor well, but, thanks to Metro Stage's stellar revival of this work, his music lives on right here in Alexandria. Brel's songs of lust, love and loss were first put into an off-Broadway show in 1968. Since then there have been numerous reincarnations. This bare bones production relies purely on the talent of its cast and fine ensemble of musicians. The result is a show-stopping two act musical extravaganza, which, by the last sweet note, brings crowds to their feet. Featuring no less than 29 Brel tunes, the performance isn't a story but rather a series of musical vignettes, told by four distinct personalities.
Skip the haunted houses this Halloween season and instead check out TC Williams' eerie production of The Island of Dr. Moreau. The H.G. Wells science fiction drama, made famous in three different motion picture movies, isn't what you would expect of a high school production. It's heavy on dialogue and special effects, including a full cadre of human/animal hybrid creatures. Executive director Hope Bachman-Miller and her multi-age cast pull it off with success for a memorably haunting production.
Poking fun at its own reputation as a purveyor of melodramatic TV movies, Lifetime debuts a new reality-hybrid series titled "My Life Is a Lifetime Movie." With a heavy emphasis on its trademark woman-in-peril motif, the show weaves flashy reenactments together with real-life interviews. More like great water-cooler gossip than actual true-crime material, the self-deprecating humor helps but doesn't exactly distinguish the series from other examples of this genre, which is already prevalent on channels like Investigation Discovery.
Hufflepuff, it turns out, is the house I would have been sorted into if I were a student at Hogwarts and part of the imaginative world created by JK Rowling. The author may be done with the Harry Potter series, but just this month opened up Pottermore, her formerly exclusive site, to the public. In it, fans will find cool graphics, authors notes, ghost plots and in-depth character information not found in the best-selling books.
Turns out, you can teach an old dog--even a dead dog--new tricks! Tim Burton's stop motion film Frankenweenie premieres nationwide tomorrow, but it's long been on my list of favorites. Frankenweenie was first conceived and made into a live action short back in 1984. Too dark for Disney, it cost Burton his job back then and wasn't seen again until the director had made a name for himself with movies like Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice and Batman.
Cinderella-themed movies seem to be the dramatic gauntlet young TV stars must run before officially graduating from the tween scene. Think Hillary Duff, Selena Gomez, Brandy and even Anne Hathaway. Now it's Nickelodeon stars Keke Palmer's and Max Schneider's turn to step into those shoes -- here a pair of shiny metallic high-tops -- to make the transition. "Rags," Nickelodeon's musical version of the Cinderella tale, is every bit as cliched as the others, albeit with a gender twist. Still, a fun soundtrack from Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins, great dance numbers, and appealing leads compensate for the overwhelming sense of been there, done that.
Kudos to Port City Playhouse and director Rosemary Hartman for bringing a play about prisoners of war to light in such a poignant, powerful way. Like the mournful sounds of the Ella Fitzgerald song, Someone Who'll Watch Over Me is a harrowing tale of three men bound to look out for one another under the most horrific of circumstances. Written by Frank McGuinness, the play is drawn from the experiences of Brian Keenan, who along with Terry Anderson and John McCarthy, was held for several years in deplorable conditions in Lebanon. Time and place isn't essential here; the men aren't even sure who their captors are or if they'll ever get out alive. Covering many facets of the human condition, the play explores the notions of survival through bravery, humor and brotherhood, and sometimes, even frat house humor.
Love her or hate her, you gotta give Kirstie Alley props for honesty, even if she does have quite the potty mouth. Few would fess up so matter-of-factly about drug use and other bad choices, all of which led to a 75-pound weight gain.
It requires Herculean effort for a single father to graduate from college, let alone Harvard; as far as parental feats go, that's definitely worth a "World's greatest dad" coffee mug. Based on a true story, Hallmark Channel's "Freshman Father" is a unique twist on typical heartwarming Father's Day sentiment, but gets bogged down by a slow-moving plot full of mixed messages and one-dimensional characters.
With Teen Life, kids can look at opportunities that allow them to explore careers through internships, volunteer programs, classes and semesters abroad without feeling like their life choices are etched in stone.
There's a song about having Bette Davis eyes but now, thanks to a new book, anyone can have Bette Davis' Red Flannel Hash. How about Katherine Hepburn's Brownies or Pan-Fried Okra ala Johnny Cash? Frank DeCaro, radio show host and former movie critic for The Daily Show has written the Dead Celebrity Cookbook,
A critique of the gossip web site turned TV entertainment show.
PBS' updates its flagship series Masterpiece with a modern retelling of the Charles Dickens classic Oliver Twist.
A sordid story of unbridled materialism and excess, The Two Mr. Kissels is based on the real-life account of brothers whose quick rise in the financial world was met with particularly gruesome downfalls.
Canada's new original show for SoapNet, Being Erica, is frothy fun.
Hallmark Channel's latest original movie is a thoughtful, poignant story that showcases the acting chops of Chandra Wilson.
Valentine, the new comedy from Kevin Murphy and Media Rights Capital, the fledgling independent studio, will certainly need divine intervention to make it on the CW.
Extremely topical, well acted and surprisingly touching, "Easy Money" is a promising new entry from Media Rights Capital.
Redemption, it seems, does have a price tag -- 50 grand and, apparently any shred of self-respect. Oxygen Network's competitive reality series "Pretty Wicked," a so-called social experiment, attempts to instill inner beauty within a group of good-looking beasts.
Bravo's look-alike replacement for "Project Runway" is what Christian Siriano would call a hot mess.
The experts say that the future of our economy depends on our advancements in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Simply put, that means we need to get better at piquing and keeping our kids interested in these subjects. Design Squad, a reality/game show hybrid that pits two teams of teens against each other for points and a chance for a college scholarship does just that.
Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman, a reality game show parody that treats kids with respect and cats with disdain continues its quirky charm.
Word Girl chooses her weapons carefully. But a rich vocabulary won't do any good if no one understands what she's saying, so each episode she introduces viewers to the definitions and context of new and challenging words. The stories and lessons are so entertaining most kids won't realize that - horror of all horrors - they are working on language art skills.
F. Murray Abraham narrates this 'Nature' special, which turns its lens on the powerful symbol of our country. Through specially designed nest cameras and some exceptional photography, viewers watch the stories of several eagle families unfold.
Smithsonian Channel's special jumps from canvas to canvas, giving a little back story about what it means to be captured for posterity and how a few brush strokes could change the way the world remembers a U.S. President.
Yo Gabba Gabba! is one of those unique shows that appeals across unexpected demographics. Made with the preschool set in mind, it’s found a following on YouTube and on college campuses.
"Safe Harbor" is exactly what it purports to be -- a haven of feel-good sentiments amid an onslaught of real-world bad news. A sound vehicle whose solid cast and based-on-real-life morality keep it afloat, this Hallmark Channel movie ultimately works, even if the characterizations don't always hold water.
The sequel to the popular series doesn't live up to the original.
Actress-singer China Anne McClain is the latest tween to get the Disney Channel star treatment, which starts with a goofy, slapstick series and, in the cases of Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato and Hilary Duff, has added music videos, a clothing/toy line, an eye toward made-for-TV/movie deals and a future option for personal scandal. Still given its star-making track record, the brand's success rate surpasses that of "American Idol." "A.N.T. Farm" is just such a vehicle, though this time, the model feels a bit rusty.
Wearing ribbons and outfitting football players in hot pink may be a great way to acknowledge Breast Cancer Awareness month, but they don't bring home the complexity of emotions and consequences associated with the illness like "Five," the star-studded original movie from Lifetime. With a dream team of producers, directors, writers and stars, this is more than a message movie; it's artful storytelling at its finest, focusing on the human considerations of a disease that afflicts one in eight women.
Genuine imitation. Jumbo shrimp. Airline food. Thanks to Oxygen's latest summer series, the world has a great new oxymoron to add to the list: "Jersey Couture." One could probably credit "Jersey Shore's" Snooki and friends for spawning more Garden state-based reality TV. High manufactured drama + low viewing standards = a reality TV hot mess, and to that end, "Couture" delivers.
An essay that explores age-appropriate humor in television and movies.
A good mystery movie is a great two-for-one deal--it's a puzzle and it can offer thrills without the full-blown chills of a scary movie. It also does what many family genre movies don't makes viewers think. Done well, it keeps you guessing right up until the last frame. Here's a selection of movies with mystery at the core.
Parents shouldn't be fooled by shows that claim to make your toddler smarter.
The truth about reality shows and how parents can determine which to watch with their kids.
Every fall season marks the promise of something new, but really, Hollywood has been recycling for years. This season isn't so much new as it is familiar--Â?old shows have been reworked and popular trends repackaged.
My teen daughter is a big fan of Glee. She's one of the millions of young viewers who've caught the singing bug and enjoy the musical frivolity that is the latest TV sensation. Just so we're clear, aside from musical numbers, Glee isn't anything like High School Musical. Compared to HSM, Glee is rough edges, dark comedy and, quite frankly, lots of sex.
Now is a good time to ask ourselves whether or not we are giving our kids the selections that reflect our values. Tastes for foods, books and television are developed, not ingrained. Sure, habits are hard to break and change is often met with resistance, but isn't it time we give them some good food for thought?
Getting kids ready for going back to school with the help of Hollywood.
My daughter, like me, is an avid reader. So it wasn't a big surprise that after finishing the Harry Potter series (for the fifth time), she moved onto Twilight. She begrudgingly took the book after ignoring my endorsement-- any suggestion from me is obviously tainted by uncool mom germs. Then something very surprising happened: I, her mother, was actually right. She liked it.
Kids are actually wired for thrills and scary movies and books are all part of the natural growth process.
Whether you are looking for inspiration or entertainment, you can find that and more through this sampling of musical films--a cross section of soul, rock, classical and Broadway, fiction and documentary.
The numbers on this monster are huge. It can sneak up on unsuspecting folk and take a giant bite--out of the ratings. Shark Week is that annual TV event that sends shivers down the collective viewing spine and yet draws record numbers year after year. Sharks are now hotter than dinosaurs--both feared and revered. Discovery Channel's week-long marathon of shows about the creatures often contain sensational footage and thrill seeking stunts, but it also serves as a great way to dive into the world of science, biology and conservation.
Rather than taking everybody out to the movies, try staying in for a full fledged family movie night.
By trimming away the excess, we remember to appreciate the small things--those seemingly insignificant moments that, when added together, make up some of the best family memories.
With a little savvy, parents can use films based on books to inspire a love of reading.
TV viewing should be a choice, not a habit.
Multi-tasking is a part of life, so "watching"? TV can really mean checking some e-mails or sorting papers. But when my daughter noticed I wasn't paying attention to her selected show, she got mad. A selfish pre-teen moment or missed parenting opportunity?
David Duchovny's role as the over-sexed writer Hank Moody makes fans all but forget about Fox Mulder and The X-Files.
Interviews with the hottest Hollywood stars in the 2007 Award season.
An interview with Danish film star Mads Mikkelsen and his international breakthrough role in Casino Royale.
An interview with the actress about her critically-acclaimed role in "Away From Her."
Anna Ostapenko, a young hand balancing performer in Cirque du Soleil's newest show, Quidam, has the kind of life that you read about in adventure books. At 15, she left her family and friends in her native Ukraine and joined the circus. Not just any circus, but the highly inventive, physically demanding Cirque du Soliel. "It's more than a circus," says Ostapenko, "It's art or theater with acrobatics and skill."
An essay about a random act of kindness amidst personal tragedy.
With all of the channels out there, it's easier than ever to find great programming for you and your family. The problem is that some of the best shows or channels aren't always available to all viewers. The good news is that many are available on your computer--when you want to watch them. It's the ultimate parental control. Sure, there's Hulu and YouTube for the most popular shows, but here’s a list for when you want that hard to find classics, foreign documentary or new independent shows and films.
It's Awards season--that time of year when Hollywood honors the best performances of the year. And while the glitterati of the red carpet don't seem to have much in common with the typical movie going family, it doesn't mean you and yours can't get in on the fun.
When most of us think of piracy, the image of Johnny Depp's infamous Captain Jack Sparrow in mind. But as the debate over SOPA continues in the news and on social networks, it makes for a good opportunity to talk about piracy--and censorship-- as a family. SOPA is a proposed bill to stop online privacy acts. It's a complicated debate that has confused many. The problem is, many look at Copyright codes as more of what you call guidelines than actual rules.
There was a time when kids dreamed of being doctors or astronauts or even the president. These days, it seems that most kids are practicing in front of the mirror for their 15 minutes of fame. Celebrity, it seems, is a must-have accessory for tweens and teens.
If you're a fan of the big group sing, you won't be disappointed in either High School Musical or Fox's new show Glee. The question is, do you like your musicals sweet or with a tangy twist?
In the post-ER world of American TV medical dramas, a raft of new shows is shifting the focus from the doctors to the nurses. But, says Gerard Gilbert, while they offer gore, adultery and drug abuse aplenty, one subject remains stubbornly out-of-bounds. Laura Fries of Variety, offers her opinion.
What's a parent to do when her child's favorite stars appear nude on the Internet or acts inappropriately in public?
Mort Marcus and Ira Bernstein, co-presidents of Lionsgate's Debmar-Mercury come up with a new business model to distribute "The Wendy Williams Show."
With so many options for family movie nights at home, you'll save enough money on gas and tickets to order pizza--with extra toppings.
There's both good news and bad news for TV patriots and for those who still cling to the belief that Britain makes the best television in the world. Laura Fries offers her opinion to UK's The Independent.
Pop star Lady Gaga debuted her latest project--not a new album or video, but an anti-bullying site called Born This Way Foundation. The singer, along with her mother, started the foundation because she remembers all too well what it feels like to be bullied at school.
Not that long ago, suggesting that someone was crafty had negative connotations. It meant they were either deceptive and manipulative--or even worse--they made macrame' owls or schooner ships from string art. Thank the Internet, the economy or simply the inventiveness of human nature, but being a crafter is back in vogue.
My daughter and her friends were running a lemonade stand many years ago when a very generous neighbor gave them a $20 for two 50 cent glasses. She donated the change and the girls were beyond thrilled. Initially the entrepreneurial experience-- a look into the nature of supply and demand-- seemed like a good lesson. But after that first windfall, instead of maintaining their original drive and work ethic, the girls came to expect that all of their customers would let them "keep the change" Don’t get me wrong, generosity is definitely something to instill in our kids, and not many can resist the cuteness factor of kid-run lemonade stand. Yet it's important to remember that to really teach a lesson, we can’t just hand over the money.
Advertisements for fancy diamonds and red bows on cars that appear around Mother's Day make me laugh. If your experience is anything like mine, most of the time, the day is about macaroni cards and bad food--if you’re lucky. One year, my sister asked for toiletries and her young son tied miniature toilets to a tree branch.
Television is often like looking in a fun house mirror. We see bits of ourselves, but often it is exaggerated or even distorted. Most of us expect this from series dramas and comedies, but the influx of reality shows has made this "mirror" image all the more distorted. Granted, most of us can assume that everything is amped for ratings, but one has to wonder what kind of effect the barrage of hyped-up reality TV has on our kids. The Girl Scouts Research Institute just released a new study, Real to Me: Girls and Reality TV that looks at this very subject.
A few years ago, I worked as a volunteer for an organization that promoted reading. Once a week, I would take my assigned struggling readers to the library, work on homework and encourage them to pick out books. The first time I read a book aloud to them, they just giggled. They kept giving each other looks and I thought perhaps I had food on my face. When I asked what was wrong, I was shocked to learn the truth: No one had ever read a book out loud to them.
Kids love a good story. That's something that hasn't changed with the advent of Nintendo. Movies, books and even video games can't hold your attention if there isn't at least some underlying story. Even if the basic plot doesn't seem all that deep or worthwhile, it can be a great creative starting point with just a little further coaxing of the kids. In fact, it's as simple as asking, "What happens next?"
Labor Day marks the symbolic end of summer. Even though the day is usually marked by pool parties or cook outs, it can elicit groans and sometimes a few tears from the kids. Summer vacation is over. Never mind that most of them are secretly anxious to see new friends back at school, try out a spiffy new wardrobe and, if need be, learn a few things. Sometimes the end of the vacation/beginning of school is a rough transition, especially if it still feels like summer outside. It wouldn’t hurt to remind kids that Labor Day was created to honor the toiling work force that helped build our nation. In fact, in its earliest incarnation, it was created to make sure children didn’t work more than 40 hours a week! That should help put chore time into perspective.
Faster internet. Quick bites. Instant news. Life in the fast lane has never meant more than it does today. In fact, if we are to believe "reality" TV, houses are built in a week, designer clothes are made in mere hours and weight loss transformation can happen overnight. TV execs were even were able to fit 24 hours in a day into one hour of television. Despite what feels like rapid acceleration everywhere, a movement has been afoot to slow things down. Slow Food, ( for instance, is a global movement developed to counter-act our fast food culture. It supports local farms, teaches folks where and how our food is processed and attempts to bring health and joy back to our eating experiences.
Steven Spielberg made his first movie when he was 12. Armed with his dad's 8 mm camera, he convinced his sister to star in "The Last Gunfight." While "Gunfight" may not have earned the famous director one of his many Academy Awards (although he reportedly completed his photography merit badge), it did start his life-long love affair with film.
Ever wish your kids came with an owner's manual? How about an instructional DVD? Sound ridiculous? A lot of parenting is instinctual, but a great deal is really trial-by-fire education. We don't often think of TV or movies as a tool to help us through the growing pains of parenting, but resources do exist if you know where to look. The trick is selecting entertainment media carefully. To get perspective on how kids are portrayed on television and in movies, parents can check out The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. This organization keeps tabs on how much and how well both boys and girls are portrayed.
Parents are usually careful to check social networks and online gaming sites, but it's far too easy to take educational and homework sites for granted. In the old days (we're talking before there were even computers or the Internet); home work was done with hard back books and volume after volume of encyclopedias. Today, homework help is just a click away, but not all of it makes the grade. As a general rule of thumb, if anyone can add to it without fact checks, chances are, it isn't completely accurate. Sites affiliated with reputable academic institution or ones with qualified help are a much better option. Here's a selection worth checking out:
Halloween is traditionally about thrills and chills-- not to mention candy. But all of the elements we love about Halloween, creating costumes, do-it-yourself decor, chunkin' pumpkins-- aren't necessarily frivolous fun. In fact, there are great concepts and projects that you can indulge in all year long (although it's probably a good idea to limit the candy). For parents, there's even the added bonus that these interests can easily be tied to lessons in science, engineering and even math, without feeling "educational." Just like hiding more vegetables in the spaghetti sauce, parents can even sneak in educational material in Halloween projects. Got a kid with a penchant for smashing pumpkins? There’s a whole show created toward discovering the best trajectory for catapulting the holiday squash. Want to create a super spooky Halloween yard? Learn how to build amazing effects with low-cost supplies.
The first cat I ever owned was named Elsa--not for the similarly spelled heroine of Casablanca (although I love that movie), but rather after the beautiful lioness raised by George and Joy Adamson. Before there was Willy to free, or marching penguins, the first animal superstar was Elsa, an orphaned lion raised by the couple and documented in the iconic movie "Born Free." Next January 24 marks 50 years since Elsa's death, but families can revisit and rediscover her story with PBS’ Nature series January 9. The legacy of these "eco-pioneers" still resonates today. Check out how much their story has influenced us.
The New Year comes with many expectations and resolutions. It can be exciting for kids at the thought of a new, blank slate of a year, but it can become quickly overwhelming if one adopts too many resolutions. One tradition our family has is journaling the year on the back of a favorite holiday card and tucking it away with the tree ornaments to be read the next year as a reminder of things past. It's a nice way to recall events, a good way to get kids journaling, but most of all, we always have a laugh or two (sometimes shed a tear) as we read the note the following year. It's like a mini time capsule, an idea that kids seem to really respond to, even if patience isn't their greatest virtue at a young age. Another yearly tradition is our New Year’s resolution to make better use of our time together.
If going by the sheer number of cooking and/or food related programs on TV, you would think that our society consists solely of Julia Child prodigies. We're obsessed with food, and as a nation, we're seriously overweight. There are several great public initiatives such as Michelle Obama's Let's Move and Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, but first we need to reconnect with our food at home. Sure, it can be fun to watch chefs compete in a battle over bouillabaisse on TV, but do your kids know basic food preparation?
If I were a Greek God, I'd be Hera. As far as Harry Potter characters go, I would be Cedric Diggory, yet tested as a Gryffindor for my Hogwarts house. My aura is Blue, my heart color is purple and I've seen 56 of the AFI 100 Years, 100 Movies list. Admit it--we have all wasted time taking quizzes online from different social applications. Most of them have no basis in reality, but what some lack in scientific methodology, they make up in fun and interaction with your kids.
Rarely do we think of chores and daily house work as part of an overall education, but when colleges start offering Laundry 101 and Personal Care as course selections, you realize that these aren't skills to take for granted. Still, how did we get to the point where we send our kids off into the world without any knowledge of self care? Have we become so preoccupied with test scores and extracurricular activities, that we may have lost site of the small details? Let’s face it, it's just easier to pick up the pile of dirty clothes on the floor of the kids room and throw them in with the general wash than to watch and wait as it grows extra smelly and moldy.
I can't help but feel partially responsible for the unending popularity of Scooby Doo. As a kid, I lived for Saturday mornings, watching the gang solve the latest mystery and that eventually carried over to my own daughter. Recently, I've been waxing nostalgic over other shows from my childhood and low and behold, Vivendi Entertainment has reissued the complete series of Sid and Mary Krofft's "H.R. Pufnstuff" to celebrate the 40th (gasp) anniversary of the show. Jack Wild (also known as the Artful Dodger of the classic musical film "Oliver!") stars as Jimmy, a young boy with a magical golden flute named Freddy.
We're lucky to have so many tools at our disposal to enrich and enlighten our children. We can supplement classroom work and sharpen minds through toys, web sites and even educational TV programming--and tha's just the extra stuff we have at home. Not everyone is so lucky and even schools can lack basic supplies--not to mention "luxury items" such as musical instruments or adaptive toys. Sharing is a great lesson in itself, so why not educate our kids about the gift of knowledge? As the kids outgrow books, DVDs and educational games, consider donating them to a local school, library or rec center. It's a great way to repurpose items while helping others.
There was a time when geeks and nerds were the social outcasts of the world--a source of jokes about living in basements and building toy models. They were simply the lowest people on the cultural food chain. With our fast paced technological world, it has increasingly become hip to be square. No longer is the nerd the outcast--but rather the go to for the hot new apps, games and programs. A nerd was "Time" magazine's Person of the Year (Mark Zuckerberg) Even nerd glasses are hot (apparently, I am way ahead of the trend!).
We've all done it--passed along that clip of the surprised kitten or the bridal party that danced down the church aisle. They're good for a laugh or a smile and are generally considered fun time wasters. Yet, there are a few tidbits that, every once in a while, are so marvelous that I have to share with my family. They can be funny, thought-provoking or just resonate personally. Best of all, they can often steer you to more than a few minutes of entertainment--a great documentary that you otherwise would have missed or even just a much-needed reminder that you are not alone. These are a few of my favorites. I would love you to share some of yours.
Tired of the same old movies and specials for the holidays? Sure, tradition can be comforting, but creating new memories can be just as fun. Want to know what the animals really do on Christmas? Check out "Nature: Christmas in Yellowstone" on PBS. Interested in other cultures and their celebrations? "Rick Steve’s European Christmas" looks at holiday festivities across the pond. Instead of tuning in to the same old shows for Christmas, check out these lesser known gems.
It's not uncommon to find DVDs of favorite TV shows wrapped under the tree--or maybe even a flat screen with a bow on it for the really extravagant. Giving the gift of TV this holiday season is much more than just DVDs and fancy television sets. TV is a launching pad to more interactive, interesting gifts. Got Manga fan? How about a DIY Manga Drawing Kit? What do you do with a sports fan who needs to inject some science into their routine? There are all kinds of clever ways to turn couch sitting TV watchers into doers and thinkers this holiday season. Get the big picture on small screen gifts with these TV-inspired ideas:
One of my earliest writing jobs was reviewing video games. Of course, they weren't as fancy and realistic as they are now, but it did make for an interesting day at work. It would seem natural then that I would jump at the chance when my 13-year-old asks me to play Wii with her. Most of the time I say no. My work days are different and I would prefer to relax my own way. But according to a study by researchers at Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life published in the Journal of Adolescnet Health, it's especially beneficial to teen girls and the whole family to say yes.
There is a delicate balance to the way the world works and even a small shift can have rippling consequences. One of the hardest workers on our colony called Earth is the honeybee. These guys probably don't get enough credit for all their busy little buzzing does for us humans. Now it's our turn to help. Honeybees are disappearing at an alarming rate.
Like thousands of fans, I have tickets to tonight's midnight showing of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1." I'm taking my 13-year-old daughter--on a school night no less--along with several other friends and their children. For mom Denise Fulton, the choice was easy. "Harry Potter inspired my 12-year-old non-reader to devour all seven books between Labor Day and Halloween. She now reads willingly every day. The least I can do is pay Harry -- and her -- back by taking everyone to the midnight show. I'm not concerned about missing one day of school for such an important event. In fact, my highschooler has decided to go to school on Friday to take a test."
We worry about how much TV our kids watch and concern ourselves with the particular shows they are viewing. Still, it's important for parents to think about what kids are seeing on TV. Do the families and people on the small screen look, live or act your family? Would you let your kids talk to you the way TV kids do? TV can be great a tool for entertainment and education, but it still lags far behind in a fair representation of us--especially when it comes to portraying disabled or special needs individuals. They are all but invisible on the small screen.
Lately, I've found myself pining for the good old days. When I look at the various shows on TV now, I don't see any really positive female characters. Sure, there are some that I like and enjoy, but if I scratch the surface for deeper meaning, life analogies, identifiable, empowering young female characters, I come up empty. What is out there for young girls? Think about it, do you really want your daughter to emulate a Kardashian? Or Snooki? Are the Gossip Girls relatable to anyone you know? Several channels geared toward young viewers often churn out young female stars, and lots of young girls want to dress and look like them. Still, their shows are just vehicles for stardom and not really a deep reflection of what it means to be a young and female. Recently, I started collecting some ideas for shows I would like my daughter to watch. What are your favorite girl power shows?
The NCAA Tournament seems like a big excuse for grownups to act like little kids. Ask around the office and chances are, you'll find copy machines clogged with basketball pools and complicated diagrams for predicting the final champion. Even President Obama is busy filling out college basketball brackets. To understand all of the fuss or just discover the love of the game, families might want to introduce their kids to hoop action via classic movies and documentaries. Sure, we've all seen "Hoosiers" and :Hoop Dreams," so here are a few lesser known, family friendly films.
The old adage suggests that time flies when you're having fun. Truth is, time simply flies by. Our kids grow up fast. Our lives change so quickly sometimes it's hard to keep track. Fortunately there are now easy and innovative ways to capture our memories. Kids can create their own story books illustrated with their own artwork (which sure beats just shoving them in closets or drawers) at sites such as Other services like Hallmark and, let parents personalize bed time stories with voice recordings.
This month, ABC Family debuts "Mean Girls 2," the sequel to the 2004 Lindsey Lohan movie. The original film, a social satire written by Emmy-winner Tina Fey, took a look at the brutal warfare that can go on between girls, all under the guise of friendship. And while it seems a little strange to look back on Lindsay Loan’s career fondly, this new sequel lacks any of the insight or heart of the original. It does bring viewers back to the national conversation about bullying. The key to remember is that bullying comes in many forms– for the teen boy, it is usually about black eyes and bruised egos and for girls, it can be much more subtle. Sometimes Hollywood does get it right. Here are few movies that would be a great way to jump start a conversation with your kids about the pressures of school, including bullies.
If one is lucky enough to afford a vacation this summer, chances are, it will be hard to swing all of the souvenirs that everybody inevitably expects. On one hand, souvenirs seem like just another marketing gimmick that can turn into a drain on your wallet. Truth is, when you really enjoy yourself on vacation, it's natural to want to somehow preserve that feeling. The problem is, you’ll rarely capture that complex range of emotions in a pair of novelty salt and pepper shakers. So what do you do?
Intrinsic to any discussion on education should be the idea that all kids learn differently. Sure, a good core curriculum that includes science, engineering, math and technology as well as history and literature is crucial to a child's success. But not every child learns best in a traditional classroom setting. It's important for educators to explore non-typical approaches to teaching. Using a Picasso painting as the impetus for a history lesson or even a geometry problem may work better than a straight text assignment for many students. Similarly, even a change of scenery can help most kids.
My parents desperately wanted a college education for all five of us kids and worked hard and sacrificed to make that happen. There was just one rule: Do it in four years right after high school. Times were different then. It was more affordable and going to college straight out of high school seemed crucial to your success. Times have indeed changed, and one could argue that kids aren't as prepared for college as they once were.
We are heartbroken to hear that the new little cub didn't make it. It just shows you how precious these creatures are and the importance of conservation programs like this. Here's the official release from the zoo.
Cirque Du Soleil's Quidam has been around since 1996, but the troupe is trying a different approach with the familiar story, taking it out from under it's traditional big blue and yellow tent and bringing it to arenas in North America. If you've ever attended one of Cirque Du Soleil's performances (you can catch 22 different stories around the globe this year alone), you know that it's not really like a traditional circus. There aren't any animals, cages or red-nosed clowns. Here, it's gymnastics to rock music, amazing feats of human strength, agility and imagination.
Summers in South Hampton, tennis and golf clubs and a big apartment in Manhattan seems like a charmed life, but as Tom Murray's poignant documentary "My Dad's in Heaven with Nixon" reveals, it was anything but.
Parenting comes with many challenges, but few are as difficult to approach as grief. It's a subject that most adults prefer to avoid or at least have difficulty addressing. At some point most of us will experience the loss of a family member or pet while our children are young, and it doesn't hurt to have some help on hand. The process of mourning is different for everyone, and there is no right or wrong way.
How many times have the kids asked for a puppy or kitten, promising with utmost sincerity that they'll take care of everything? Sooner or later, we usually cave in. After all, we've heard people say that getting a pet is great way to teach kids responsibility. But if we want to really teach our kids compassion, live animals shouldn’t be the family experiment.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month so it's not unusual to see people sporting pink ribbons, scarves and other items to serve as a reminder. Even NFL football players are decked out in pink this month. Considering that one in eight women will be affected by Breast Cancer in their lifetime, it's safe to say that most people know someone touched by the disease. Still, it's a hard concept to grasp for some kids and it can even be more difficult to discuss as a family. This month, Lifetime airs a groundbreaking original movie that explores the issue on a very personal level. Five, premiering Mon. Oct. 10 at 9 p.m. on Lifetime, is a series of five short films directed by Demi Moore, Jennifer Aniston, Alicia Keys, Patty Jenkins and Penelope Spheeris.
What exactly makes a kid spoiled? What are the factors that makes one look at the kid having a tantrum in the toy aisle and think, "sheesh, that's one spoiled child?" According to Bundle, the online data compilation site, it's the of total amount money you spend on your kid that defines them as spoiled. Sure, expensive gadgets like iphones, netbooks and trendy cloths such as Uggs, Burberry and North Face jackets definitely add up. But that would mean only the very wealthy are spoiled, and we know from experience that spoiling transcends income brackets.
In some parts of the country, it already feels like summer, but it's not even technically spring--that happens March 20. Still, many families will get a taste of the coveted vacation season with spring break. While the idea of this event can conjure up images of ill-fitting swim suits and underage drinking, spring break is an opportunity for kids and parents to recharge their batteries in order to finish up the school year right.
Adams Media has just released The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook: From Lamb Stew to "Groosling"-- More than 150 Recipes Inspired by The Hunger Games Trilogy (F+W Media, December 2011) by Emily Ansara Baines, to coincide with the premiere of The Hunger Games this weekend. Clearly, a well-timed marketing campaign, author Baines does make good points about the role of food in Suzanne Collins' best-selling novels.
For parents, the notion of being star struck conjures up images of Beatlemania and thousands of screaming young fans. Chances are you knew one of them. Heck, chances are, you were one of them. With our kids today, it seems different--or at least easier to become fascinated with the famous.
Budget cuts and the press for higher test scores often means classes such as art and physical education take a hit. Lots of news stories feature parents fighting to raise money and restore these programs, but rarely do you hear about kids taking on the issues themselves. That's exactly what the third graders of Desert Sun Elementary School in Cave Creek Arizona, did. Because Arizona can be dangerously hot during school months, students often have to spend recess and PE class inside. While thinking about ways to stay active--and not drive teachers crazy--Becka Korn and her friend Maja Agranius came up with the idea of an indoor climbing wall for the school.
When's the last time you've taken the kids to a live music show? Was it a kid's musical group or a band that you enjoy that is kid appropriate? Growing up, none of my siblings nor I were ever interested or invited to go any music concerts with our parents. But as Baby Boomers and Gen Xers get older, an interesting phenomenon is taking place. The music that we have grown up with becomes a new way to bond with our own kids. Check out a Springsteen show, and chances are, you'll see lots of baby boomers with their kids in tow.
The library books have been returned (hopefully), the school clothes put away (hopefully) and parents and kids will embrace summer with gleeful joy followed inevitably by a "Now what are we going to do?" In order to prepare our kids for the world, we sometimes forget to teach them how to relax. While making plans for summer camps, vacations and classes, feel free to schedule some do nothing time. Better yet, forget the schedule altogether and remember the fun of spontaneous adventures. Here's a suggestion list of easy and practically no effort summer fun ideas:
The Fourth of July is right around the corner and while you are adding red, white and blue bunting to the house and preparing for fireworks, be sure to stock up on supplies for International Justice Day as well. In case you didn't know, IJD is July 17. You may have overlooked this observance because you were also busy preparing to mark World Population Day on July 11.
While many kid movie characters have come and gone, the Muppets have endured. Their latest feature film, in fact, is a box office and critical success. It makes one wonder what it is that makes the Muppets so timeless, especially when most others fall to fads.
There's a theory that in the whole history of literature, there's really only seven basic story plots. If you ask me, there should be an addendum for Cinderella. This fairy tale has more incarnations than Madonna. Nickelodeon gives the yarn a bit of twist with Rags, an original movie that premieres Mon. May 28, 8 p.m.
It's that time of year when weekends are booked with graduation parties, be it high school, college or even kindergarten. It's a wonderful occasion to celebrate--a big milestone that deserves special attention. For a guest, however, it creates a gift- giving conundrum. Sure, cash or a savings bond is always a safe bet, but if you have more than one grad to honor, it can be tough on the budget.
We parents teach our children how to take their first steps, tie their shoe laces, remember multiplication tables. We try to instill table manners, kindness to others as well as an appreciation for friends and family. Still, there are host of lessons that we want to teach our children and never quite have the words to convey them. Recently, a friend of mine preparing to go to her high school reunion posted an interesting question on Facebook--If you could speak to the kid you were at age 16, what would you tell him/her about the life ahead?
When I was a kid, history seemed like just a bunch of facts to memorize. My parents would take the family to various historical sites, but to us kids, it seemed like boring grown up stuff--rooms full of cool objects that we weren't allowed to touch. This 4th of July, our family was lucky enough to visit Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson, on the birth date of our country’s independence (and as we learned, also the anniversary of his death).
Given all of the events that compete for our time and attention, it's not that surprising that a trip to the museum doesn't elicit the same excitement as it once did. According to Nicholas R. Bell, The Bresler Curator of American Craft & Decorative Art at the Renwick Gallery, part of the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, museums are too old. Sure, museums are supposed to have old stuff. That's not the problem. Studies show that the average museum visitor is from an older demographic. To make sure dinosaur museums don’t become, well, dinosaurs, curators are always looking for new ways to excite younger visitors. Says Bell, when looking for younger visitors, it's important to look for younger artists as well.
For the younger generations, it often seems like life experiences aren't real until they've been posted to your Facebook status. Of course, we all fall prey to this social media update phenomena at some point. Perhaps it's the braggadocio in all of us that wants others to view all 500 of our vacation pictures or the narcissistic side that believes our old grade school acquaintances are truly interested in the minutiae of our daily lives. While we are thinking about monitoring time spent on social media, we also need to make sure we are truly committed to experience the “real world� and not just planning our next tweet.
To the young, digital generation, VHS tapes seem like dinosaurs. Even sleek DVDs can seem clunky and cumbersome to someone used to touching a screen to watch a movie. Yet not everything is available in digital or DVD format. According to industry statistics, as of 2012, nearly 50 percent of movies released on VHS have not been upgraded to DVD.
The nationwide problem of bullying has taken center stage, with public discussions, outreach programs and web site groups. We all seem to think we know bullying when we see it: the name calling, the physical altercations. But not all bullying is so obvious. Sometimes good-natured teasing can quickly turn ugly and one person's practical joke can turn into a very public humiliation.
Halloween may be over, but you might not want to take down your skeleton decorations just yet. El Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead in English, began yesterday and continues today. It's not actually one day, but a couple of days that serve as a time of thanks and remembrance. Although it sounds like a horror movie title, it's actually a happy celebration and is one worth incorporating into your traditions
To read or not to read Shakespeare to your kids. That is the question. Of course you want your kids to learn the classics, but how do you introduce them to the Bard? Do you read it in the original sixteenth century play format, or do you go for modernized kid versions? At what age do you start? Does an accessible Shakespeare approach exist for children? Continuing in our theme from yesterday, when we explored what teaching the old-fashioned way means during a high-tech age, today we consider why and how parents can introduce Shakespeare’s classic works to their children.
It's always a challenge to keep materialism and money smarts in check during the holiday season. Nearly everything we see in the media at this time of year urges us to spend and consume. Over the last few years, a new trend has emerged--one that lets people enjoy the idea of gift giving while helping to make the world a better place. The New York Times just offered a great list of charitable gifts that actually change lives.
Part of our parental duty is to prepare our kids for the world. Too often, though, the world moves faster than we like, and our kids have to face harsh realities all too soon. So why not let our kids stay kids? Why not let our kids believe? When they are indeed ready for answers, what do you say? Here’s what I decided to pass along to my daughter a few Christmases ago when she asked is Santa exists:
Summer is the time for sleep away camps, beach vacations and lots of overnight visits. Like everything in life, that kind of fun takes some planning. Even the most disorganized person has to devote a little time preparing for adventure. And while you don't have to arrange things as if you are planning the Normandy invasion, you should at least have a good packing list.
As schools send out their supply lists and kids jot down the must-haves for fall, it is important to spend your hard-earned money wisely. Sure, you want to get the best bargains, but you may also think about what your purchase can do for others. A growing trend in the retail market is the "one for one" shopping experience. Simply put, it means when you purchase one particular item, someone in need gets its twin for free. From bow ties to soccer balls, flashlights to fashion foot wear, you can outfit your kids and make the world a better place at the same time.
Kids love tradition. Especially around the holidays. It's a little difficult though, to recount the good old days, when your first holiday hosting gig has become a cautionary tale. The first time I cooked a turkey, it was nothing short of a disaster. But like so many other things, I blame my mother.
Post Christmas winter always seems bleak. After weeks of anticipation and excitement, after lots of family time and presents, the dark days of January seem blah--especially to kids. We all feel a little let down and even the house looks empty without all of the festive decorations. Both adults and kids can suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder-- a very real condition that can turn even the most outgoing into a Gloomy Gus.
Since it is an election year, kids will hear about and perhaps even watch several debates. Unlike the style typically learned in middle school, political debates sound a lot like arguing. Difference of opinion is a common and even good thing. Still, there is a right way and wrong way to argue your position.
Most of the year parents work hard to have their kids eat right, with the exception of the one night where it is basically expected that they gather and eat as much candy as possible. Halloween. A nutritionist's nightmare, a dentist's retirement plan. How do parents reconcile this sugar-filled holiday with concerns about processed foods and of childhood obesity?
Around the holidays, it's not unusual to have lots of lists on hand, including honey do, gift wishes and even naughty and nice lists. There's one list, however, that may contain the best present idea parents can give to their kids. It's a Life Skill check list that defines age-appropriate responsibilities. Culled together from practical and professional advice, the list of life skills from Busy Kids--Happy Mom's is more like a set of guidelines than actual rules. It does, however, give you a good idea of when to get your kids involved in basic self care.
You don't have to feel like Scrooge if your wallet doesn't allow you to give as much as you would like this holiday season. After all, it's a time of year when people are really strapped for cash yet are expected to give the most. As we try to teach our kids fiscal responsibility as well as compassion for others, we need to think of innovative ways to accomplish both. Many of us can’t afford to simply write out a check (even if it is tax deductible) but it's important to remember that money isn't always the answer.
Face time still trumps status updates or badly spelled texts any day. Still, it is crucial to know how to navigate in her tech savvy world.
As Atul Gawande's documents in "The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right," lists are a vital yet underused tool.
I didn't think TV producers could find reality subjects to exploit that would be more obscure than "Ice Road Truckers" or Pregnant in Heels," but alas, they have.
While playing a popular trivia game not long ago, I was able to quickly answer a game-winning question. Who wrote the line, "To thine own self be true? "I knew it of course. I was, after all, an English major in college. I took a course in just Shakespeare. But to be perfectly honest, those years of reading and analyzing his works weren't the first thing to come to mind. In fact, what brought the answer to mind so quickly and vividly was an old episode of "Gilligan's Island."
It used to be that summer vacation meant trying to get kids back inside the house for supper or even bed time. These days, the challenge is tearing them away for the computer or TV screen. Summer vacation should still be about the outdoors, but it doesn't have to be entirely tech-free. Luckily, parents today have some creative options when it comes to our drive to be outside and a tech savvy kid.
If we looked at the world through the eyes of television, we'd see it populated mainly with lawyers, policemen and attractive young surgeons with messy personal lives. Of course, there would be the occasional teenager who, through a funny twist of fate, becomes head of a fashion design company or the young computer genius in a fish out of water comedy. By now, we know that TV doesn't really mirror what society looks like--in fact it exaggerates it
The most recent Black Friday seems to contradict all that we thought was true this year: that people have less money to spend frivilously and are getting by with fewer possessions. Hopefully, the shopping flash mob was just the rush of tryptophan from the Thanksgiving turkey and not a return to the old ways of doing things. Going simple, getting back to basics has been a good thing.
Experts say that pessimists who win millions in the lottery will, months afterward, become very unhappy and pessimistic yet again. Conversely optimistic people who develop cancer can remain optimistic and often do better even while undergoing tough treatment.
Shouldn't we celebrate everything we can?
As we try to teach our kids fiscal responsibility as well as compassion for others, we need to think of innovative ways to accomplish both.
The flu has hit everyone hard this season with record numbers of folks nationwide sidelined by the bug. Lots of rest, hydration and tissues are important. But when school-aged kids are home sick--too sick to go to school, but feeling good enough to get bored--what is a parent to do?
Sports is great way to bond with kids, be it on the field or in the living room, and addition to rules, rants and fantasy leagues, it's just as important to talk about good sportsmanship. The question of whether celebrities and sports figures should be or are role models will always be hotly debated. The fact of the matter is simply that their actions are watched by millions and sometimes mimicked.
Call them guilty pleasures, B-movies or camp classics, either way, they are a light-hearted, fun way to get the family together. These are movies are so bad, they're, well not good, but sure to generate groans and giggles.
A new article in The Atlantic, "How to Land Your Kid in Therapy," talks about an increasing phenomenon in which young adults, after childhoods filled with fair play, equal time for all and no hurt feelings, wind up with a disconnected and skewed view of the world. I agree, we don't want to watch our kids suffer, but losing, feeling bad--it's a part of the learning process. If we deny them the experience of losing or even failing, do we hurt their chances for success in the real world? Are we sending our kids into the world with over-sized egos and nobody out there to stroke it?
Garages and closets are filled with failed educational gifts--the unopened science lab, the dusty rock tumbler, the broken ant farm. Like a foreign language, these can fade from memory if left unused. Worse, if they require extra materials or a complicated set up, chances are they won't be a go-to activity.
Unless you live under a rock, then you have probably heard that the last Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, debuts this week. Though this marks the end of the series, it will probably not end the love affair many have with Rowling's wizard universe.