The Golden Girls who beat Covid-19

Gin-soaked raisins, champagne, chocolate, prayer, and two elderly survivors of Covid-19 provide a spot of positive news. While the infection has been a devastating health scourge around the planet, two women – one at 117 years old and the other at 105 years old – have beaten the dreaded infirmity. Sister Andre is a blind nun in southern France and the oldest person in Europe. She enjoys eating chocolate every morning and celebrated her 117th birthday with a glass of champagne. When asked if she was afraid, she said, “No, I wasn’t scared because I wasn’t scared to die.” More HERE.
In New Jersey, Lucia DeClerck celebrated her 105th birthday with news that she contracted the virus. She weathered the storm and beat the infection. How has she lived so long? “Prayer. Prayer. Prayer,” she said. “One step at a time. No junk food.” Interestingly enough, she does not consider the nine gin-soaked golden raisins she eats every morning to be junk food. She stores them in a Mason jar and has eaten them throughout her long life. More HERE. Congratulations to both Sister Andre and Ms. DeClerck.
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Remembering Cicely Tyson

Cicely Tyson and Cuba Gooding Jr. performing on Broadway in “A Trip to Bountiful.”









By Steve Beard

Internationally-known for her six decades on stage and screen, award-winning actress Cicely Tyson died on Thursday at the age of 96.

“I come from lowly status. I grew up in an area that was called the slums at the time,” Tyson said while receiving an honorary Oscar award at age 94. “I still cannot imagine that I have met with presidents, kings, queens. How did I get here? I marvel at it.”

The revered actress knows that her fame is due to her superb dramatic roles over the years. “Yet I am also the church girl who once rarely spoke a word,” Tyson writes in her autobiography, Just As I Am, published shortly before her death. “I am the teenager who sought solace in the verses of the old hymn for which this book is named. I am a daughter and mother, a sister and a friend. I am an observer of human nature and the dreamer of audacious dreams. I am a woman who has hurt as immeasurably as I have loved, a child of God divinely guided by His hand.” Continue reading

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National Treasure

By Steve Beard

I spent the holidays with Dolly Parton.

Well, not literally. Like everything else in 2020, it was all virtual – and it was a whirlwind.

Throughout her rhinestone-studded career, Dolly has sold over 100 million albums, starred in countless movies and TV specials, launched an extraordinary book-gifting program, opened a theme park that attracts more than 3 million visitors per year, and has written over 3,000 songs. More than 200 of her songs have been covered by other artists.

One of twelve children, Parton was born in a log cabin in East Tennessee without electricity. At 74 years old, her literal rags-to-riches story continues to inspire fans across the spectrum around the world. Despite finding tremendous popularity under the bright lights of country music, Dolly’s magnetic folksy appeal has always extended far beyond Nashville. Continue reading

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Snake in the Manger

From “Love Actually.”

By Steve Beard

One of my dear friends bought a tree ornament featuring the Grinch in a Covid-19 mask muttering, “Christmas 2020: Stink, Stank, Stunk!” That exasperation and frustration is shared by so many.

Thankfully, some of our holiday traditions were able to be modified and reconfigured: Santa sat behind a plexiglass barrier at the mall to keep the kids safe. Handsantizer bottles and air-kisses replaced smooching under the mistletoe. Outdoor carolers wore those plastic face shields in order to keep audiences out of harm’s way as they sang “Joy to the World.”

Obviously, other Christmas traditions are not able to be modified. There are precious absent loved ones who would normally be sharing in the festivities. This year, instead, we will be cherishing our past memories with them.

Amongst my own family, the tradition of over-exaggerated yelling and cheering as gifts were opened ended up being toned down. We even connected via FaceTime with family members who were homebound.

Continue reading

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Brokenness, Burgers, and Redemption

By Steve Beard

At the height of the government mandated lockdown earlier this year, Kraft Heinz factories were operating around the clock in order to meet the demand for macaroni and cheese. According to the New York Times, retailers at the same time saw a 50 percent increase in demand for Slim Jim beef jerky and Chef Boyardee pastas.

Apparently, even some of those who had been eating organic kale and quinoa salads were turning to foods they had banished from their cupboards. “Consumers are reaching for foods that trigger a comforting childhood memory or simply their go-to snack when they need to relieve stress,” the Times reported. In an era of instability, we all look to the safe haven of comfort food – savoring the tastes, smells, and good memories.

My comfort food is a Double-Double Animal Style, a signature menu item at In-N-Out Burgers, a Southern California-based phenomenon. “No Microwaves, No Freezers, No Heat Lamps” is one of the company’s time-tested commitments. The simplicity, freshness, and mystique has garnered a passionate fanbase from Hollywood hot shots to celebrity chefs who crave an In-N-Out fix.

McDonald’s vs. Burger King, Shake Shack vs. Five Guys, Wendy’s vs. Jack In the Box. I leave the debate to others. I’m a lover, not a fighter. When I fly home to the West Coast to see my family, the first stop from the airport is In-N-Out. Go ahead, ask my mom and dad. In-N-Out reminds me I’m home.

Founded in 1948 by the innovative Harry and Esther Snyder, In-N-Out has had the same minimalist menu for the last 72 years. It is a privately-held, debt-free family company committed to strategic growth, high quality ingredients, and paying its employees better than any other fast food chain. As of mid-December, there are 361 bright red-and-white retro-style restaurants in seven Western states with a gigantic yellow arrow pointing the way to a premium burger. Continue reading

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Gratitude and the Socially-Distanced Thanksgiving

Robert F. Thomas Chapel at Dollywood.

By Steve Beard

Over the many months of the worldwide pandemic, our nation has weathered wildfires in the West, hurricanes in the South, “murder hornets” in the Pacific Northwest, stay-at-home orders, nationwide protests, shuttered business, postponed funerals, drive-up church services, video classrooms, mask mandates, and a deeply polarized election.

Lord, have mercy. It just seems exhausting to recount the events of the year. Even though the stock market continues to soar, the drive-up lines at food pantries have never been longer. There are a lot of conflicting messages to process.

Those in the white lab coats tell us that a vaccine is around the corner – but it is not here yet. Until it arrives, we wait. “How long, O Lord, how long?” we ask – six feet from our neighbor. These are the days we live in.

Somewhat fittingly, Sunday is the beginning of Advent, the start of Christianity’s liturgical year as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas.

Waiting was one of the hardest aspects of Christmas as a child. There was such an allure to the wrapped packages under the tree. You could see but not touch. So close – and yet, so far away. It seemed absolutely nerve-racking as a child. Continue reading

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Dave Alvin salutes his friends and heroes

By Geoffrey Himen, American Songwriter

“Dave Alvin is one of our best songwriters. He wrote almost all the original material for the Blasters’ brilliant first four albums between 1981 and 1985,” writes Geoffrey Himen in American Songwriter. “He wrote ‘Long White Cadillac,’ a top-40 country hit for Dwight Yoakam and ‘Marie, Marie,’ a top-20 U.K. hit for Shakin’ Stevens. His second solo album (Blue Blvd. ) and his ninth (Ashgrove) are two of the best Americana albums of all time. And yet, for all of Alvin’s achievements as a songwriter, he continues to record songs by other writers.”

So, why does Alvin spend so much time with other people’s songs?

One of the reasons, Alvin said, was the challenge of reinventing a song: “You take the original and then tear it apart,” Alvin told Himen. “How do you do a song like ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ that’s not like Dylan, not like Johnny Winter? Dylan did it as a blues, leaning on the one chord, but I brought it what I call spooky chords, these suspended chords, to set up the refrain at the end of each verse. I wanted to sing it somewhere between Mose Allison and Ken Nordine. The Dylan version has the siren and the jokey/jiving feel, but I wanted to bring it down to the darkness. I wanted the guitars to sound like avenging angels, like you’re driving down the road late at night, and you see these apparitions flying at you until we get back to the one chord.” Continue reading

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Do as I Say, Not as I Dine

By Thomas Fuller, New York Times

It was an intimate meal in a wood-paneled, private dining room in one of California’s most exclusive restaurants. No one around the table wore masks, not the lobbyists, not even the governor. Photos that surfaced this week of a dinner at the French Laundry, a temple of haute cuisine in Napa Valley where some prix fixe meals go for $450 per person, have sparked outrage in a state where Democratic leaders have repeatedly admonished residents to be extra vigilant amid the biggest spike in infections since the pandemic began.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who attended the dinner with his wife, has apologized, calling it a “bad mistake.”

But that has not assuaged his critics, who point to a cascade of other instances when Democratic leaders in California have been caught flouting the state’s coronavirus orders and guidelines. The revelations come as Mr. Newsom and other officials have asked Californians to make sacrifices to stop the spread of the virus, most recently beseeching them to stay home and avoid visiting extended family over Thanksgiving.

This week state lawmakers came under fire for their slow response in explaining how they ended up at a conference held at a resort in Maui, Hawaii, just as California issued explicit guidance on avoiding “nonessential travel to other states or countries.” The conference was organized by the Independent Voter Project, a nonprofit organization, and asked lawmakers in attendance, including 14 from California, to focus on the theme of reopening economies amid the pandemic.

Read entire article HERE

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Dolly Parton: Singer, Songwriter, Pandemic Savior?

She wrote “I Will Always Love You” and “Jolene” on the same day and built a theme park around herself. She has given memorable onscreen performances as a wisecracking hairstylist and harassed secretary. She even helped bring about the creation of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Now, Dolly Parton’s fans are crediting her with saving the world from the coronavirus. It’s an exaggerated, tongue-in-cheek claim, to be sure. But for legions of admirers, Ms. Parton’s donation this spring to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which worked with the drugmaker Moderna to develop a coronavirus vaccine, was another example of how the singer’s generosity and philanthropy have made her one of the world’s most beloved artists.

“Shakespeare may have written King Lear during the plague, but Dolly Parton funded a Covid vaccine, dropped a Christmas album and a Christmas special,” the author Lyz Lenz said on Twitter.

In April, Ms. Parton announced that she had donated $1 million to Vanderbilt after her friend Dr. Naji Abumrad, a professor of surgery at the university, in Nashville, told her about the work researchers were doing to come up with a vaccine. Dr. Abumrad’s son, Jad Abumrad, is the creator of “Radiolab” and host of the podcast “Dolly Parton’s America.”

To read entire article, click HERE

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Vince Vaughn and old school manners

Vince Vaughn, Los Angeles Times

In his profile on Vince Vaughn’s new movie “Freaky,” Los Angeles Times reporter Josh Rottenberg also explores the swirl of controversy around the actor’s public interactions with politicians:

“In the era of social media, navigating those sorts of career vicissitudes has only become more challenging. In January, Vaughn found himself being slammed on Twitter and Facebook when a video showing him chatting and shaking hands with President Trump at a college football game in New Orleans went viral. Some on the left called for Vaughn – a self-identified libertarian who has drawn fire in the past for his comments on hot-button issues like gun rights – to be canceled.

Vaughn insists the episode was overblown. “In my career I’ve met a lot of politicians who I’ve always been cordial to; I’ve met Nancy Pelosi and was cordial to her as well,” he says, noting that at that same football game he also greeted Democratic strategist James Carville, who had a cameo in “Old School.” “It was the only time I’ve ever met him. We said hello. He was very personable.” He laughs. “I didn’t get into policies.”

“I think people are more charged than ever about these things,” he continues. “But I don’t think most people take that stuff as seriously as the small percentage that’s making noise about it. I was raised with the idea that you could have different likes and beliefs and you should respect and defend that in other people, not shout it down. The people you disagree with the most, you should stand up for their right to do that.”

While some jumped to the conclusion that he was a backer of the president, Vaughn says, “The only candidate I ever supported is [former Libertarian presidential nominee] Ron Paul. … I don’t have a party that I support and endorse. In fact, for me sometimes it’s difficult to find a candidate that you feel is philosophically consistent and not just going along with whoever is funding their particular party. That’s as much as I’ll get into it at this point.”

Whether it’s his personal politics or the state of his career, Vaughn isn’t hung up on what other people might think.

The entire article can be read HERE

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