Friday, April 28, 2006

Urban Tumbleweed: A Poem

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This poem was written in early December 2004, while I was driving to work. (yes, at the red lights and stop signs, I wrote my catch phrases and polished them later; I've even written a children's picture book manuscript in that same way)

urban tumbleweed

plastic bags.
yellow...white...green
bearing logos of corner fruit markets,
designer gift shops and wholesome bakeries
toss about on the gray asphalt
or fly up in the air,
some clipping themselves on
naked tree branches
to pose as
brightly colored flags
flapping in the wind.

others --
they float high...and higher,
balloons without strings,
to the recycling station
in the sky.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Something from SLATE Magazine

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The following article was reprinted in our weekend newspaper, and I thought it was wonderful! Apparently, you can link to an audio version of this; click on the title of my post.

This Is My Last Entry: Why I Shut Down My Blog
By Sarah Hepola

Posted Wednesday, April 19, 2006, at 12:24 PM ET

One morning last month, I woke early, finished a book I'd been reading, and shut down my blog. I had kept the blog for nearly five years, using it as a repository for personal anecdotes, travelogues, and the occasional flight of fiction—all of which I hoped, eventually, might lead to a novel. And then, somewhere between the bedsheets and 6 a.m., I realized something: Blogging wasn't helping me write; it was keeping me from it.

I had come to this realization before, but the moment would pass, and I would find myself percolating with small, quotidian stories that I wanted to share: This funny thing happened on the subway; you'll never believe what so-and-so said. Not revelations by any means, but I live alone, and blogging was a way to vent the daily ups and downs that might otherwise be told to the cat. Also, I couldn't help but notice—even the cat couldn't help but notice—the growing number of successful bloggers-turned-novelists. They were sexy, dishy women with pseudonyms, Wonkette and Opinionista, like they were dispatching from behind enemy lines. I was starting to feel like the only one left in the blogosphere without a book deal.

Actually, agents and editors had contacted me before, based on my blog as well as the writing I did for an online magazine called TheMorningNews.org. At the time, I was living in Dallas, and to be e-mailed by an actual New York agent felt like the 21st-century equivalent of being discovered at the mall. The e-mails were flattering, but, ultimately, they all asked the same annoying question: Have you written a book? Apparently, this was a requirement. When I told them I hadn't, they moved on to the next blogger with potential, and I was left back in the mall where they'd found me, riffling through the sale at Hot Topic.
That is not a complaint. The arrival of such correspondence far exceeded my expectations when I started the blog in 2001, back when the word blog was still something you had to ease into conversation, like an obscure scientific term. I started the site at the beginning of a four-month trip to South America. I told only a handful of people, and the privacy of the blog—the illusion of privacy, that is—was the best thing I'd done for my writing since shelving the thesaurus.

Just prior to that, I'd been writing for an alt-weekly in Austin, Texas. What began as a great job had curdled into an anxiety nightmare. I would burn to write a certain profile and then, deadline looming, I would stare at the computer as another beautiful Saturday ticked away. I can remember crossing the street one night and thinking, absently, "If I got run over by a car, I wouldn't have to finish that story!" Don't get me wrong—I didn't want to die. I just wanted a really long extension. Thus my decision to leave the job. Thus my journey to the southern hemisphere. Thus the blog that I started, thinking no one would read it and secretly hoping they would. The blog was the perfect bluff for a self-conscious writer like me who yearned for the spotlight and then squinted in its glare. When I needed to pretend that people were reading, I could. When I needed to pretend that nobody was reading, I could. (For this reason, I never checked the reader stats on my blog, unlike most of my friends, who check it as regularly as their e-mail.)

Eventually, I began enjoying my writing again. I stopped worrying about deadlines, audience, editors, letters to the editor, all the stuff that had smothered me before. I was writing so fast that I didn't have time to double-think my sentence structure or my opinions. What came out was sloppier but also funnier and more honest. I started getting e-mails from people I'd never met, and they were actually encouraging. (At the paper, it seemed like most e-mails from strangers begin with a variant of "Hey, dumbass.") I continued blogging for years, through cities and jobs and relationships, and though the blog entries never amounted to much, they always gave me a fleeting joy, like conquering some small feat—opening a very difficult, tightly sealed jar—even when no one is around to see it.

And yet every once in a while those agents would check in, to ask how that book was coming. And the book wasn't coming, and wasn't coming, and I became one of those people who talk about a book but never write it. At times, I started to feel that jokes and scenarios and turns of phrase were my capital, and that my capital was limited, and each blog entry was scattering more of it to the wind, pissing away precious dollars and cents in the form of punch lines I could never use again, not without feeling like a hack. You know: "How sad. She stole that line from her own blog."

Blogging had been the ideal run-up to a novel, but it had also become a major distraction. I would sit down to start on my novel only to come up with five different blog entries. I thought of them as a little something-something to whet the palate—because it was easier, more immediately satisfying, because I could write it, and post it, and people would say nice things about it, and I could go to bed feeling satisfied. But then I would wake feeling less than accomplished because a blog wasn't a whole story told from beginning to end. I had shelves lined with other people's prose while my best efforts were buried on a Web site somewhere, underneath a lot of blah-blah about American Idol and my kitty cat.

I suspect I'll come back to blogging eventually. It will be something I quit on occasion, like whiskey and melted cheese, when the negative effects outweigh the benefits. Practically every blogger I know has taken their site down at some point—for personal reasons, for business reasons, for boredom reasons. It's no different from the way we have to turn off our cell phones or stop checking e-mail so that we can actually focus on something. As much as I loved writing online, it's a relief writing offline: taking time to let a story unspool, to massage a sentence over an afternoon's walk, to stew for days—weeks, even—on a plot line. What a modern luxury. Now, if I could just turn off the TV, I think I could finally get started.

Sarah Hepola is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, New York.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Yom Hashoah (A Day of Remembrance)

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I have written countless poems and fiction pieces over the years that have to do with the Holocaust. I wrote the following poem a few years ago, and thought it was fitting to share it with you today.


The Colors of My Rainbow

i.

A sunset.
Crimson sky
splattered with magenta
and hints of orange.

Then haze.
Smoke clouds rise,
then hover above,
obliterating beauty,
obliterating life.


ii.

The sky.
Cloudless.
Blue.
Like the techelet
of the tallit,
and the single blue thread
of the tzitzit.

A lone bird
flies overhead,
calling out for its mate.




iii.

A meadow.
Green.
The color of roots,
rebirth and regrowth.

Its sweet-smelling grasses
wave and beckon in the breeze.


iv.

Bright smiles.
Silly giggles.
Hushed whispers.
Gleeful shouts.

The aged man turns
to the children at his side
and says softly,
“Let me share with you
the colors of my rainbow…”

Monday, April 24, 2006

(A) Eh to (Z) Zed Meme

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Nobody sent this meme to me, but I like it, so I sent it to myself!

Accent: Depends who you're asking. People always tell me I have one. They think I'm from Boston or New York or Montreal. I definitely pick up accents very easily, though.

Booze: I typically don't drink, but if I do, I like sweet drinks: Kahlua & Cream; a Golden Cadillac; drinks that taste like a milkshake but offer just a bit more OOMPH!

Chore I Hate: Cleaning the oven. (even though it's self-cleaning)

Dogs/Cats: Last year we had Tyson, a pug. This year we have Max, a Shih-Poo.

Essential Electronics: Alarm clock-radio; my computer.

Favorite Perfume/Cologne: Beautiful; Carolina Herrera; Nocturne

Gold & Silver: Gold, but I also like very contemporary and artistically designed silver.

Hometown: Toronto (but I own a Swiss passport that links me to Basel, Switzerland, too)

Insomnia: N-E-V-E-R (watch, tonight I'll suffer from it!)

Job Title:Recently unemployed copy editor.

Kids: Three.

Living Arrangements: Homeowner; single-family home

Most Admired Trait: My sincerity. (no, really...!)

Number of Sexual Partners: Only Dr. Ruth knows the answer to that one.

Overnight Hospital Stays: Yes, I've had a few. (and no, that's not the answer to the previous question!!)

Phobia: I'm afraid to say.

Quote:"I wish for you the dearest things..."

Religion: Jewish.

Siblings: 2 brothers.

Time I Usually Wake Up: 6:30 am

Unusual Talent: I analyze people rather succinctly and accurately.

Vegetable I Refuse To Eat: I love veggies.

Worst Habit: Often jumping right into a conversation without any lead-in to let the other person know what the hell I'm talking about. I also have a bad habit of not completing a thought 'cause I go off on a tangent when I'm talking. And then I forget my original intent of the point I was making.

X-Rays: Y not?

Yummy Foods I Make: Veggie (leek-broccoli) soup. Sweet-and sour meatballs. Matzoh balls. Caesar salad.

Zodiac Sign:Virgo/Libra. Yes, I'm a bit of both...a virgin that's harmonious!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Tickling the Funny Bone


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A week or so ago, I saw a link on www.aish.com that had the header: "Are you the next Jerry Seinfeld?" So I linked and saw that Aish is looking for funny folks.

And my mind began to tick away, and I immediately thought of several bloggers whom I deem funny...and I sent them the link. Of course, it's their option whether they want to do anything with the link, but I'm hoping that some of them take my suggestion and run with it.

Foremost in the funny, ha-ha, offbeat look at the world is Neil Kramer. Does he spend hours and days dreaming up his outlandish posts, I wonder? Does he open up his dictionary and randomly select a word that will provide the backbone of a new post? Is he some mild-mannered geeky ex-New Yorker who, upon trying to make it in LA LA Land, decided he must take on a funny persona, a facade if you may? Whatever it is that Neil's doing, he's doing it right!

And we have Jake Novak. I first discovered Jake in the comments section of Seraphic Secret. Jake is a well-rounded individual -- he knows his politics and he knows his punchlines. Whether Jake is providing readers with a Top Ten List of why Muslims are fanatics, or a Top Ten List of things your mother wanted to tell you, but never did, he keeps his readers in stitches. While Jake stems from an academic family, he makes his living as a comedy writer. I once said to him, "So, when you were a kid and playing pranks and cracking jokes, and your mother said, 'Look at my son; he thinks he's a comedian," it was a self-fulfilling prophecy!"Jake hopes that Hollywood will come knocking soon, handing him the title of sitcom writer -- I hope so, too!

Cruisin' Mom is an L.A. suburban mom/wife who just lets the words fly. She covers a range of topics -- from TV to celebrity spotting, from "fat days" to death. When you read her posts, you think: "Oh. My. G-d. She is hysterical. Is she this funny in person, too?" I keep telling Randi to submit her stuff to print magazines, specifically to women's magazines because many of her readers and commenters are women, and they always band together in seeing the humor behind Randi's words. Interestingly enough, Randi has used humor as a personal tool since she was a young girl. I have a feeling that one of Randi's gifts is having the ability to make people cry until they laugh, and make people laugh until they cry.

PsychoToddler -- DOCTOR PsychoToddler, I mean -- is one funny, frum fellow. Even if he doesn't think that of himself. He writes about his world of medicine, his world of music and his world of family and community with such precision and a great comedic timing. I'm guessing that sometimes when life laughs at you, you learn to laugh right back, and that's what PsychoToddler does. And BONUS, he married a funny woman -- Mrs. Balabusta. With her dry wit and her motherly sageness, she is a great partner for the good doctor. When they take their show to new vaudeville, I'll be right there in the audience.

And on that same bill of a vaudeville show, we have some members of Kerckhoff Coffeehouse: Doctor Bean and his wife, Ball-and-Chain, and Ralphie. As individuals and together, these folks have set me smirking, giggling and guffawing. I think it's all about taking simple, everyday, mundane topics (hardware store visits, pharmaceutical rep visits) and putting a spin on them...whether in their own posts or in the comments sections of others' posts. We are very fortunate that PsychoToddler and Doctor Bean have befriended one another and we get to be privy to their IM conversations.

Rabbi Neil Fleischmann had the title "New York's Funniest Rabbi" bestowed on him a few years back. That's quite a privilege I'm sure, in that cosmopolitan city in which he lives. No doubt there are countless rabbis who think themselves funny...but whose congregations don't! But Neil is a teacher, and I think students learn through humor, something that Neil probably continues to inject into his lessons.Lucky them! The truth is, Neil's posts are more serious than they are funny, but given that honorary title at a comedy competition makes him a life member of the funny club.

There is a group of bloggers who are also managers. They manage...not their own talent, but their clients': their children, their friends' children, their nieces and nephews. They manage these little ones and their contributions to the world of funny, in Our Kids Speak. Do check it out -- these children are our future. They've got us laughing now; just wait a few more years...

Of course there are others I've missed naming, but each one of you bloggers whose words I read are funny in their own way -- even if your blog is a serious one. Because, as I mentioned earlier, sometimes we cry until we laugh, or we laugh until we cry...

Wishing you all few tears, but lots of laughter in your lives...

Monday, April 17, 2006

POSTscript

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When I posted and said that the romance with my job had fizzled after so many years, I was talking in wordplay.

I made my post sound rather vague and perhaps misleading...intentionally. Of course, having worked in the publishing world for so many years, and dealing primarily with romance fiction, my metaphors were intentional, too. Yes, the romance had fizzled out, and yes there was a lot of "It's not you, it's me" going on, but it wasn't I who walked out the door; I was shown the door.

Okay, there was some mutual dealings going on -- I didn't really want to be there anymore...it showed in my slipping work habits in the past several months...so they didn't want me.

I'd already wanted to be out of that romance bubble a long time ago, but continued to float along...and on that Tuesday, April 4, the bubble burst.

Now, I have to be honest here; I owe nobody any kind of explanation, but I want you to be aware of something...

My habit of staying up very late and blogging or e-mailing newfound blogger friends certainly did not help my concentration on my job. At first, I was handling it, and then during the day, the lack of sleep made me restless and not as alert as I could've/should've been.

Yes, I really had had my fill of this job for the last l...o....n....g while, but if you were to chart my performance trends turning downward, you'd see a direct correlation between the time I began to seriously blog and the time I was shown the door.

People have often said that blogging is not our life; no, it's not, but it has become a major aspect of mine. Maybe it was a factor in helping to close the door on my longtime job, but it has also opened many a door for me, business-wise, friendship-wise, and even creativity-wise. And I have a feeling that there are still a number of doors that are just waiting to be opened...

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Passover... The Circle of Life


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Passover is one of those "family" holidays -- eat, drink, sing, read, sleep, eat, drink, sing, read, sleep...and somewhere in the scenario is synagogue and visiting...oh, of course, and MORE EATING.

But Passover is one of those "family" holidays that is based on memory. As we sit in our homes conducting seders and hosting guests, or sit as guests at other seders in other homes, we remember.

We remember the story of the Exodus, and in reading the Haggadah, are retelling the story. Okay, not all of us are actually old enough to remember the actual Exodus, but some of us feel like we were there...or there are so many people who have experienced their own personal exodus--within their families, within their countries and culture.

We remember the seders of years past -- the grandparents and long-gone relatives and the customs they upheld; the sights, sounds and tastes of our seders of yesteryear.

And oftentimes, we remember to give thanks when and if we are all together again for seder. My father and mother joined us for the second seder. A month ago, my father lay in a hospital bed, and we thought it was the end of of him, or at least as we know him. People all over blogland and beyond were praying for his well-being.

When my father and mother arrived on Thursday night at our home, and my father began to climb the many stairs that lead up to my front door, I was elated. I called out that my father should say a "Shehecheyanu"; I knew that I was saying a silent one and meaning it. I was more than thankful that my father and mother were able to join us yet again for seder, that my father was able to partake in the rituals and read portions of the Haggadah to us in his 1920's cheder Hebrew. It was I as a child who would laugh at his foreign-to-me Hebrew pronounciation; it was now my daughter who was laughing at his pronounciation. It was now my two sons who were finding funny-sounding words when they were reading from the Haggadah, and laughing hysterically at the same spots in the Haggadah on both seder nights. And it was me, remembering how I did the same as a child.

Seder = order.
Order = details.
Details = memory.
Memory = family.
Family = holidays.
Holidays = eating.
Eating + Family + Drinking + Reading + Sleeping + Synagogue (repeat) = Passover.

The Circle of Life.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Aha...Foiled Again!


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Hey, don't Passover me,
do lend me an eye
'cause if you don't, might just mean
I'll have to start to cry...
*******************************

...so you had a bad day
the knaidels didn't rise
onion juice is
in your eyes...
*******************************

Red, red wine
goes to my head
imagine, in lieu of one
there are now four cups instead...

*************************************

Day-o, day, day day-o
daylight come and me wanna go
back to sleep
(after all, our seders ran very late last night)...

********************************************

Once again I reiterate: Happy Passover to blogging friends near and far. Enjoy your families, enjoy your friends, enjoy your congregations, enjoy your experience -- as if you came out of Egypt, like your forefathers did.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Seder for Bloggers

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I have "met" so many new people in the past year-plus of blogging. We are a multi-colored band of people, with varied beliefs, various levels of belief, but our differences make our interactions that much more interesting, that much more unexpected at times.

I propose that we have a Pesach seder for bloggers. In a recent personal correspondence with Danny Miller, he said, "Too bad we can't have a bloggers' seder!"

Danny, is it too bad? Who says it can't be done? It can...

I recommend we have a cyberspace seder...somehow -- and I know some of us will need to use a Shabbos goy to do this -- we all link up from our own homes or wherever else we're having a seder and combine our efforts.

Okay, so a cyberspace seder is not an original idea. Temple Emanuel in NYC already had the idea. And I'm sure there are bloggers out there who are, in fact, hosting bloggers' seders.

Seder = order. Okay, so with bloggers galore around the world all vying for "airtime", perhaps there won't be so much order, but wouldn't it be nice if perhaps:

A Simple Jew would make kiddush.

Ezzie, together with baby Elianna, would sing "Ma Nishtana," the Four Questions, and Cruisin' Mom who, although is 50 in years, is truly 12 years old at heart, would sing it at the same time. (okay, all Orthodox men would have to cover their ears)

When it comes to talking about the four sons, Robert Avrech would read about the wise son.

Any wicked son takers?

Jack could read about the simple son. And no doubt, in his recitation, he'd throw Cleveland in there somehow -- where it talks about G-d taking out of Egypt with a strong hand and freeing us from being slaves. I think he'd add "Cleveland" in there! AND he'd stick Stacey in there, too, ie. freed Stacey from being a slave!

And Jeremiah could read about the son who doesn't yet understand enough to ask questions.

The Ten Plagues could be read by TenLiKoach...just because "ten" is also in her blog's name.

Everybody, everywhere, would sing "Dayenu" together, and we could add a phrase about "If Hashem had given us computers, but had not made us bloggers, it would have been enough for us! If Hashem had made us bloggers, but had not made our cyberpaths cross, it would have been enough for us!"

In general, we would each read from the Haggadah in the language of our choice: American English, Queen's English, Hebrew, Swiss-German, etc. Everyone would take a turn reading from the Haggadah as we worked our way around the room -- um, I mean globe. And if anyone needed any translations, we'd have Sophia on hand to help you out.

And new niggunim/tunes would be taught to us by PsychoToddler and Life of Rubin.

We would, of course, have further discussions given on certain points that we are reading...with some jokes and wonderful stories thrown in for good measure.

And we have a couple of fine doctors who, during the course of the meal, would talk about matzah and how to avoid a backup problem; and eggs, and how to avoid high cholesterol. And their friend Ralphie who would talk about garden sheds and raccoons, and window screens and whales vs. dolphins.

And of course, there would be a kids' table -- many of us bloggers do have children. And there'd be a dogs' table. And a sweet table, open for dessert. (Sweettooth120, why can't I link to you anymore?)

And speaking about dessert, could you imagine the menu that a cyberspace, international seder like ours would have? I'll tell you what, I'll be responsible for the matzoh balls and the gefilte fish. Everyone else, it's a potluck seder...

So, people...this year our seder will be in cyberspace. Next Year in Jerusalem!

Wishing you all a very happy, healthy (& Kosher) Passover. Chag Pesach Kasher v'Sameyach.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

And Now, for Your Listening Pleasure

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Rest. Think. Write.


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Those were my friend Robert Avrech's words to me. He gave me that advice when I told him that the romance with my company had fizzled out and we'd broken up. I guess there was some of "it's not you, it's me" that led to the breakup. Oh, well, the relationship was nice enough for the most part, as long as it lasted -- 18+ years.

I took Robert's advice.

I was really tired yesterday evening, so I rested.

I've been thinking about the breakup.

And I'm writing about it in this post.

******

You will note that the accompanying photo has really nothing to do with this post. I just saw it and it made me smile.

I will therefore want to make an addendum to Robert's advice and thus this post's title:

Rest. Think. Write. Smile.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Hebrew Kid Rides Again

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Tomorrow is April 4.

Tomorrow, Robert Avrech, half of the publishing team behind Seraphic Press, will have his debut novel, The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden, re-released in paperback form.

Okay, I'm biased. I like this book. I've written about this book before. I'm writing about it again.

Seek it out for yourself. Seek it out to give as a gift. Seek it out...just because.

It's a captivating story -- featuring some great writing from a Hollywood screenwriter-- that endears itself to its readers, both young and old.

Buy it. Read it. Talk about it.

Ariel and Lozen will thank you. Mama and Papa will thank you. And Karen and Robert will thank you.

QUiNn cUmMiNgs

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Quinn Cummings. Two words.

Former child star. Presently a mom. And businesswoman.

And funny, funny gal.

Drop in to say hello to "the goodbye girl." After all, she's part of the [blogging] "family."

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Ya Ya Yiddish!!



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I LOVE YIDDISH.

There, I've said it.

Interestingly enough, I've always thought it to be the most beautiful language in the world because of our cultural history that is translated through its vocabulary. A vocabulary that cannot, in fact, always be translated to English. Some of the words and expressions work in this Germanic/Hebrew mother tongue, but one grasps for the words in English with which to define.
And believe me when I say "Lost in Translation" means much more than an offbeat film title featuring Bill Murray.

Not too long ago I worked on a freelance project -- a book featuring Yiddish curses. OY, OY, and a triple OY. To think that people in the old country -- and new! -- actually threw around some of these wonderful witty sayings is beyond me. Here is a sampling of some of the types of curses people threw/still throw around.

My father, who comes from shtetl-town Poland, hadn't even heard some of the expressions that I questioned him about. He explained that many would be 1) either REALLY old and not in use anymore or 2) they were particular to regions and not widely used

When I surf the Net or seek particular info, I often stumble upon wonderful Web sites that I normally wouldn't read about or hear about.

Tonight, lucky me discovered this site -- and as I was doing other computer work, I listened to bits and pieces of offered radio programs, listed in the GEMS column. I was smiling the whole time.

For me, it's a world gone by that's being depicted. The language has survived, but many of its people have not, which is bittersweet.

Please take a moment to check out the Yiddish Radio Project. Just tell them your Yiddishe Mama sent you...

And for those inquiring minds...no, I never learned Yiddish; my knowledge is pretty good, but it's based on what I've picked up while listening to others speak it. When I open my mouth to speak what I think is German or Swiss, I'm told it's Yiddish I'm speaking.

The Times, They Are A-Changin', aka Spring Forward



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Hope you all remembered to walk around your house or your apartment and change your clocks...one hour ahead. Don't forget to do the same on your wristwatches and in your cars!

It's after 2:00 a.m. in Toronto -- that's 3:00 a.m. NEW TIME. I'd better get to sleep....

Sitcom City

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I really never watch TV anymore...I'm busy with other things, namely family life -- and computer life. And I know that TV is not what it once was. Reality show after reality show permeate the channels.

Who needs reality TV when...you have real life to contend with? Watch A Birth Story or A Wedding Story or Life in the E.R. Such are reality stories worth watching.

Give me back the sitcoms of my early (1960's) childhood! Okay, today I would deem them VERY STUPID for the most part, but remember, I was innocent then, and almost anything made me laugh.

So for old times' sake, I'm gonna name-drop a bit. See if you remember these...

Petticoat Junction
The Beverly Hillbillies
Green Acres
The Mothers-in-Law
Gilligan's Island
My Three Sons
The Monkees
Hogan's Heroes
I Dream of Jeannie
The Courtship of Eddie's Father
Julia
Bridget Loves Bernie
That Girl!
Bewitched
My Favorite Martian
Gomer Pyle
Andy of Mayberry
The Munsters
I Love Lucy